Wednesday, August 31, 2005

THE SHAKESPEARE BEAT? Does The Times have a reporter tasked exclusively with challenging William Shakespeare's authorship of the Shakespeare canon?

Sort of.

The Playgoer explains.

SERIOUSNESS WATCH Andrew Sullivan publishes a reader e-mail that gets to the heart of the matter:
What has always horrified me about Bush's approach to the war on terrorism, and the invasion and occupation of Iraq in particular, has been that his stated goals and motivations have not been supported--even contradicted--by the actions he has chosen to take.

WMD? Why didn't we attempt to prevent weapons from leaving or coming into Iraq, when we were concerned they might get into the hands of terrorists from outside Iraq's borders?

Yellowcake uranium? We didn't even bother to secure the known Al Tuwaitha yellowcake storage site, so it was looted.

Protecting Iraqis from the insurgency? How can they trust that we're serious about that when we did it Rumsfeld's way (on the cheap) and still haven't even stabilized the key areas (including the road near the Baghdad airport) after 2 1/2 years?

Bringing freedom and democracy to the Iraqis? Why should anyone believe that--just because we say we mean well? What do those concepts mean to Iraqis when lawlessness and fear and destruction are still so widespread? Are we just going to pay lip service to the idea of a "constitution" and an "election," declare victory and then "turn it over to the Iraqis" and run like GHW Bush did in 1991?

Why won't Bush reassure Americans and Iraqis with a concrete set of initiatives and steps to achieving them? Apparently, according to Krepinevich, it's because the Bushies still don't have any plan, any strategy, or any serious desire to achieve success. If they think they are serious about achieving a recognizable democracy in the Middle East, then why aren't they doing the things necessary to achieving it?

It blows my mind that people like Christopher Hitchens can rip apart a symbolic mom like Cindy Sheehan and not see that the greater threat to the success of the Iraqi invasion comes from the ignorance, ineptitude (and, perhaps, political cowardice) within the Bush administration itself.

Are they serious? Where's the evidence since March, 2003?
Any Bush defenders in the audience? We'd love to see refutations of these points.

The "comments" tab is at your disposal.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Senator Tom Coburn says he'll continue practicing medicine whether the US Senate agrees to allow him to do so or not.

Coburn is a doctor and specializes in high-risk pregnancies, but the Senate Ethics Committee has told him to wind down his clinic by September 30th.

Coburn is asking the US Senate to allow him to continue and a vote is expected next month.

But Coburn says he'll either continue by paying for it himself or to make other senators censure him.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

THE TYRANNY OF CROWDS In Silicon Valley, Google is now viewed more as a threat than as an innovative underdog--that's the upshot of Gary Rivlin's piece in today's Times.

But the article never mentions a recent development that reinforces the idea that Google deserves to be feared rather than cheered.

Namely: Last week, in a stunningly tone-deaf move, Google subsidiary Blogger--the platform used by many blogs, including CONTRAPOSITIVE--added a flagging button to most of its web pages. The button provides blog readers a user-friendly mechanism to notify the company when "objectionable content" has been encountered:

Have you ever found yourself clicking the Next Blog button over and over again only to come across a blog that wasn't exactly to your taste? Maybe it was politically incorrect, potential hurtful, or just plain gross? Well, one person's vulgarity is another's poetry. Or something like that. When it comes to judging which is which, things can get a little tricky.

That is why we have launched a new feature on the Blogger Navbar called Flag As Objectionable. This feature allows the blogging community as a whole to identify content they deem objectionable. Have you read THE WISDOM OF CROWDS? It's sort of like that.
(For complicated reasons not worth going into, the "Flag?" button doesn't appear on CONTRAPOSITIVE. But you can see it here and on most Blogger blogs.)

Elsewhere, Blogger clarifies:

The Flag button is not censorship and it cannot be manipulated by angry mobs. Political dissent? Incendiary opinions? Just plain crazy? Bring it on...

We generally do not review the content posted through our service but our responsibility extends beyond Blogger users to casual readers of Blog*Spot.

The "Flag?" button is a means by which readers of Blog*Spot can help inform us about potentially questionable content, so we can prevent others from encountering such material by setting particular blogs as "unlisted." This means the blog won't be promoted on Blogger.com but will still be available on the web.


We track the number of times a blog has been flagged as objectionable and use this information to determine what action is needed...

When the community has voted and hate speech is identified on Blog*Spot, Google may exercise its right to place a Content Warning page in front of the blog and set it to "unlisted."
The development has received scarcely any press so far (at least according to Google-owned Google News) and the few mentions it has received were written in praise of the anti-spam aspect of the new program.

But clearly, we're dealing with a slippery slope here: On the one hand, Google informs us that the new flagging mechanism has nothing to do with censorship. But at the same time, without defining the term "hate speech" the company tells us:

When the community has voted and hate speech is identified on Blog*Spot, Google may exercise its right to place a Content Warning page in front of the blog.
I concede: I'm not even sure what a "Content Warning page" is. But for a company with a core mission of making information accessible and useful, Google has done frighteningly little, thus far, to explain what safeguards are in place to prevent blogs from being delisted simply because large numbers of people find their content distasteful.

And that's troubling.

It's troubling because when it comes to assessing the admissibility of speech and creative expression, bringing popular will into the equation is exactly the wrong approach.

Look: I'm all for taking advantage of group dynamics and open-source solutions in any number of arenas--particularly on the internet.

But, simply put, the limits of public discourse shouldn't be defined through a popularity contest.

And I'd hope that a company at the center of worldwide information aggregation and dissemination would be sensitive to even the appearance of doing that.

That said, don't get me wrong: Delisting blogs from Blogger.com isn't, substantively, that big a deal. The company isn't de-activating these blogs, or--just as destructive--removing them from Google search results.

But it's hard to see what principle stands between this recent step and an expansion of the new program into something broader:

Find a website with objectionable content? Use the Google toolbar to flag it. If enough people agree, the site gets excluded from Google search results and effectively flushed down the memory hole.

Run a newspaper that takes questionable editorial stances? You may find yourself excluded from Google News and effectively shut out of the public discussion.
We're not there yet--not nearly. But it would be encouraging to hear Google explain at much greater length why the flagging feature doesn't start us down that road.

Monday, August 22, 2005

COSTAS DRAWS A LINE Bob Costas seems to have had the audacity to question the news judgment of CNN producers:
Costas, hired by CNN as an occasional fill-in on "Larry King Live," refused to anchor Thursday's show because it was primarily about the Alabama teenager who went missing in Aruba. Chris Pixley filled in at the last minute.

"I didn't think the subject matter of Thursday's show was the kind of broadcast I should be doing," Costas said in a statement. "I suggested some alternatives but the producers preferred the topics they had chosen. I was fine with that, and respectfully declined to participate."

Sunday, August 21, 2005

MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA Tonino Delli Colli, director of photography on Pasolini's MAMMA ROMA and THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW, and more recently LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL is dead at 82.

FEINGOLD STEPS UP Russ Feingold, the maverick Democratic senator from Wisconsin, has raised his profile in the last few days by calling for a target date to be set for Iraq withdrawal.

Here's some of what he had to say this morning on Meet The Press:

MR. GREGORY: Explain why you've taken this step at this point. Why set this target date?

SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, it's been a long time coming. I didn't support the war in Iraq in the first place. But once the country decided to go into Iraq, I felt it was very important that we do the best we can to success and support our troops...

I tried first to simple offer a resolution a couple of months ago to ask the president to give us a sense of his own of how long this will take and give the world a sense of when we might finish what some people call an American occupation. We didn't get any response from the president. His last speech was just a bunch of the same slogans we hear all the time.

And, frankly, we got very little reaction from the members of the Senate. So I felt it was time to at least put on the table an idea, get the discussion going, break the taboo and say, "Look, let's see if we can remove the troops after we succeed with a series of steps by the end of December 2006. Let's see if we can have a target date that will work."

MR. GREGORY: Do you think that target date is knowable, that a success date is knowable at this point and that the president is simply holding back?

SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, I think it's possible. This is what I've noticed in the other times that we've done things well in Iraq. This is what we've done. We've set a target date for the transfer of sovereignty, and we said it was a good thing that we did it a day early. We set a target date for elections, in January 31, and some people said it would never happen. When it happened, it was a good thing. We set a target date for the constitution, and it's taking a few days more, but when that constitution is achieved, it's going to be a wonderful thing for the Iraqi people and a step forward.

Why wouldn't you want a vision, an idea of when we can measure success in terms of time and when the American people can know that our brave and courageous men and women can come home? It seems better than just having a stay-the-course concept, which is what the president seems to have.


SEN. FEINGOLD: You know, the Democrats are making the same mistake they made in 2002, to let the administration intimidate them into not opposing this war, when so many of us knew it wasn't a good idea. And same thing with this taboo on talking about a timeline. It doesn't make sense. If the terrorists and the insurgents really thought that, why wouldn't they just stop blowing us up right now? Why wouldn't they just let us leave and then take over?

More importantly, let me tell you the conversation I had in the Green Zone from one of the top generals in Iraq when I was there with Senator Clinton and Senator McCain. I said, "Off the record, your own view, would it help if we had a timeline to let the world know that we're not staying here forever?" And this is what he said, verbatim. He said, "Nothing would take the wind out of the sails of the insurgents more than having a timeline in place." So this is a false argument. It's a phony argument that doesn't really address the reality that we are actually causing more insurgents, more terrorism and more problems from all around the world coming into Iraq because we don't have a vision for success and completion of the mission.


SEN. FEINGOLD: The question here is do we succeed in the fight against al-Qaeda and the extremist elements around the world that are attacking us? That's number one. As important as the Iraqi democracy is and as wonderful as it is that we make progress in that regard, the most important thing is protecting the lives of Americans here and abroad, and if this Iraq operation is inconsistent with that, at some point, we may have to consider leaving. And that's why I'm hoping that we can create a time frame for success and then bringing home our troops.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

SECOND CLASS CITIZENS From The Washington Post:
An internal TSA document last week detailed proposals that focus on protecting the nation from an inflight suicide bombing attack and suggested that certain categories of passengers, such as high-ranking government officials and airline crews, could be exempt from security screening. (Emphasis added.)
Just another day in George W. Bush's America.

THE BENJAMINS If Michael Crowley--the writer of this post at the Etc. blog--hasn't been duped by a hoax, the recruitment arm of the Army National Guard may have some explaining to do...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

ROBERTS ON JACKO, PRINCE The Times informs us:
In 1984, Mr. Roberts twice wielded his wit to stop other White House staff members from writing letters for Mr. Reagan lauding Michael Jackson for charitable work.

"I recognize that I am something of a vox clamans in terris in this area, but enough is enough," he wrote in a memorandum in June 1984, using the approximate Latin for "voice crying in the wilderness." He added, "The Office of Presidential Correspondence is not yet an adjunct of Michael Jackson's P.R. firm."

Three months later, Mr. Roberts was batting away a new request. "I hate to sound like one of Mr. Jackson's records, constantly repeating the same refrain, but I recommend that we not approve this letter." He noted that a press report said that some young fans were turning from Mr. Jackson "in favor of a newcomer who goes by the name 'Prince.' "

Mr. Roberts asked, "Will he receive a presidential letter?"

Monday, August 15, 2005

PLAME WATCH Via, of all things, The Village Voice:
Justice Department officials made the crucial decision in late 2003 to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the leak of the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame in large part because investigators had begun to specifically question the veracity of accounts provided to them by White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, according to senior law enforcement officials.
Drip, drip.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

DEPT. OF EXEGESIS In Sunday's paper, the Washington Post fronts an article by Robin Wright and Ellen Knickmeyer about the Bush administration's efforts to recalibrate its message on Iraq. The piece runs on for 1,444 words, but the main point is summed up in the first two paragraphs:
The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.

The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.
So: The Bush administration is embarking on an effort to lower expectations about Iraq--news certainly worth sharing with readers.

But what follows for the next 1000+ words isn't evidence of a shift in the administration's public stance: There aren't excerpts from recent statements or leaked passages from upcoming speeches.

Instead, we get an article chock full of sober, dismaying quotes about Iraq's future from anonymous officials.

But doesn't that off-the-record approach raise questions about the story's premise?

After all, doesn't the act of "lowering expectations" entail direct, deliberate communication between the people who are lowering expectations and those whose expectations are being lowered?

To put it another way, if the Bushies really are in the process of lowering expectations, shouldn't there be evidence--outside of anonymous statements--to corroborate this?

Ah, but there's the rub.

The unspoken truth: The article isn't about the administration's effort to lower expectations. It is that effort--or at least that effort's product.

Simply put, Wright and Knickmeyer have been used--by Bush administration officials hiding behind the cloak of anonymity--to lower the expectations of the American public on Iraq.

Wright and Knickmeyer know this. They aren't stupid. But the quotes they've been given are journalistic gold, so it's not as if they've been taken advantage of: They get something out of the exchange as well.

Meanwhile, an essential truth gets glossed over: That the article is less a journalistic account of an objective political reality than it is a piece of political theater meant to effect a new political reality.

That doesn't mean it shouldn't have been written: The administration has decided to recalibrate its Iraq message, and to share news of that recalibration with the Washington Post. That's an important scoop.

But Wright and Knickmeyer might have given the piece a slightly different slant.

A more forthright approach, in the story's opening lines, might have looked something like this:

The Bush administration has embarked on a campaign to get two reporters from the Washington Post to write an article about the administration's desire to significantly lower expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq. These administration sources appear to be counting on the fact that, by communicating to Post readers that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, the American public might begin a process of lowering the bar for success in Iraq.

These officials wanted to get readers of the Post to believe that the United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges. But they would like this expectation to become widely held among the American people without the administration having to address the issue head-on or publicly acknowledge failure.
A bit clunky, granted. And the post-modern style probably wouldn't make it past the Post's editors. But in this instance at least, a self-referential approach would have given readers something much closer to the truth than the opening Wright and Knickmeyer delivered.

MEN WITH GUNS Baghdad Mayor Alaa al-Tamimi was removed from office at gunpoint this week. But after a flurry of early, barebones accounts, the story has garnered remarkably little coverage.

In the most recent article on the subject I can find--a Reuters piece from Friday--we learn:

Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari...was quoted this week as saying he had responded to a request from the city council to remove Tamimi.

Tamimi said Jaafari had rejected his previous offers to quit under pressure from [rival local official Hussein] al-Tahhan supporters: "What Jaafari said is very bad. Why now? This means he supports a state where armed men can just remove elected officials from office," said Tamimi.

"When Saddam was here we had one bad person. Now we have thousands running around with militias."


"When they removed the governor of Samawa, Jaafari sent a delegation to rescue him. I was removed by gunmen because I am a secular technocrat with no ties to [religious Shi'ite-dominated Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)] and not backed by a militia," said Tamimi.

"This is terrible for Iraq. It means any future elections will mean nothing because gunmen can just walk into any office and remove and install whoever they want."
I don't know enough about the feuding to know whether Tamimi is right--whether his removal was a pure militia-backed power play.

But if he's wrong, shouldn't someone on the American side have explained to us by now why he's wrong?

Friday, August 12, 2005

ALONE IN THE CROWD Via Kevin Drum, 40 YEAR-OLD VIRGIN director Judd Apatow recently aired an interesting observation:
Thanks to the small tweaks, the movie was playing better than ever, even in a stadium-seating multiplex, which Apatow is convinced hurts comedies because he believes laughter doesn't easily reverberate and spread in a steeply pitched auditorium.
Is it true? Does stadium seating break up the audience in a way that undermines the communal nature of the moviegoing experience?

I haven't been in a stadium-seating theater in--literally--years. But I think I have a sense of what Apatow's getting at.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

CHECKING INTO IT From yesterday's gaggle:
Q Trent, the mayor of Baghdad says he's been deposed by armed gunmen and replaced by a member of a Shiite militia. Is the President aware of that? Is it a point of concern for the administration, in terms of how Baghdad is being run?

MR. DUFFY: I don't have anything for you on that, Bill. I can check into it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

YOUR MILITARY'S INTEGRITY A post by Spencer Ackerman, copied in full from The New Republic's Etc. blog:
Yesterday, Army chief of staff Peter Schoomaker relieved General Kevin Byrnes of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command of his duties on the eve of Byrnes's retirement. The four-star general, who never before had so much as a blemish on his record, is accused of cheating on his (now-ex) wife.

Having an extramarital affair is against the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So is overseeing an interrogation regime whereby enemy combatants are subject to, in the words of two generals, "degrading and abusive" treatment--at least according to the military JAGs. And, one assumes, so is lying to Congress about what you did. (Actually, that last one may just be plain old contempt of Congress or perjury.)

Now guess which of these infractions gets you stripped of command and which gets
you either protected by your superior officer or even promoted.

The Washington Post provides the final kick in the teeth for Byrnes:

Army officials said relieving Byrnes was meant to show the public that the service takes issues of integrity seriously.

GO FIGURE Time Magazine, August 7:
Rice told TIME she believes the insurgents are "losing steam" as a political force, even though their ability to kill and maim at will appears undiminished.
New York Times, August 10:
Armed men entered Baghdad's municipal building during a blinding dust storm on Monday, deposed the city's mayor and installed a member of Iraq's most powerful Shiite militia.

In continuing violence, the United States military announced today that four American soldiers were killed on Tuesday and six others were wounded when insurgents attacked a patrol near Baiji in northern Iraq. Two Iraqi policemen and four civilians were killed in a suicide car bombing in western Baghdad, the Interior Ministry said.

The deposed mayor, Alaa al-Tamimi, who was not in his offices at the time, recounted the events in a telephone interview on Tuesday and called the move a municipal coup d'état. He added that he had gone into hiding for fear of his life.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

RALL RIGHT OR WRONG? In Ted Rall's August 8 comic-strip, the controversial cartoonist suggests that when you factor in Iraq war casualties who died after they left the country, the number of American dead climbs from 1,800 to 9,000.

He cites "internal Pentagon documents" but I haven't been able to turn up news articles mentioning any discrepancy. And his numbers are, to put it mildly, difficult to believe.

Am I missing some hidden satirical point? Is Rall exaggerating? Taking an awkward stab at a metaphor? Are his figures actually correct?

UPDATE: This Editor & Publisher story explains that Rall got his number from TBRNews.org.

That site includes a credulity-straining article--if you can even call it an "article"--about the discovery of mass graves of unreported US military dead in Iraq. It also features a link (one of only two on its "link" page) to this page, run by a publishing company that has more than a passing interest in Nazi memorabilia.

I wouldn't swear to it--at least not yet--but it appears that Rall was duped.

On his blog he says that he sourced the allegation independently, using "previously reliable informants" but that, "[I] ended up doing a cartoon that I wouldn't have done had I known then what I know now."

Still, Rall owes his readers an explanation: What did he learn that made him doubt his "previously reliable informants"? Why did he initially cite the TBRNews piece--which delivers no solid evidence to support its claim of a discrepancy?

(You can read the original TBRNews item here).

Monday, August 08, 2005

PLAME WATCH The plot thickens. From The American Prospect:
I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, has told federal investigators that he met with New York Times reporter Judith Miller on July 8, 2003, and discussed CIA operative Valerie Plame, according to legal sources familiar with Libby's account.

The meeting between Libby and Miller has been a central focus of the investigation by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald as to whether any Bush administration official broke the law by unmasking Plame's identity or relied on classified information to discredit former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, according to sources close to the case as well as documents filed in federal court by Fitzgerald.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

NIGHTLINE'S DECLINE The New York Observer managed, this week, to run an entire article about the changes afoot at NIGHTLINE without mentioning that the show has more or less gone to crap.

The closest scribe Rebecca Dana comes to addressing the show's transformation is in this sentence:

Much about the new format of the show remains to be decided: who will anchor, how many topics NIGHTLINE will cover each night, and what those topics will be.
Those issues may not have been officially "decided." But in recent weeks, many of the program's nightly installments have stuffed several topics into the half-hour format.

Once you factor in the commercials, that comes to 6-8 minutes per topic. In other words, about as much in-depth coverage as can be found in your average episode of HANNITY & COLMES.

To be sure, the NIGHTLINE producers have continued to sprinkle in a decent number of no-nonsense pieces about international issues. But there's no question that the show has drifted toward the kind of approach that viewers have come to expect from CNN's prime time line-up.

And that isn't a complement.

Friday, August 05, 2005

PLAME WATCH "Americans are skeptical about the Bush administration's behavior and public statements about the 2003 leak of the name of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame to reporters. Only 12 percent think the Bush administration is telling the entire truth about the matter."

Kos has more.

NOVAK NEWS NETWORK MediaBistro publishes an e-mail from inside CNN:
It is a bit silly that for revealing the identity of a CIA agent, CNN does nothing to him...but for using a swear word, oh, THEN we suspend Novak.
Not a bad point.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

SERIOUSNESS WATCH J. Peter Scoblic's article "Moral Hazard" is locked behind a New Republic subscription firewall. But it's worth quoting at length.

The short version? The Bush administration isn't serious:

The war on terrorism is, at some level, a war of ideas: To the extent that we can substitute democracy and liberal values for autocracy and Islamic fundamentalism, we will probably improve our security--and we should therefore try to do so.

But freedom--as Richard Haass, Bush's former director of policy planning at the State Department, has written--is not a doctrine. That is, the spread of freedom cannot be our guiding principle in the war on terrorism, because the spread of freedom cannot protect us from all terrorist threats, particularly the immediate ones. In fact, in the short term, democratization appears to exacerbate, rather than ameliorate, terrorism.

The case in point is, of course, Iraq, which, according to the National Intelligence Council, now serves as a training and recruitment ground for the next generation of jihadists--its popularly elected government notwithstanding. Even nations that successfully transition to democracy can breed terrorism: As former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke has written, "In Indonesia, which just achieved its third democratic transfer of power since Suharto's rule ended in 1998, the jihadist movement is growing stronger, as it is in other Asian democracies.

In Algeria, free elections in 1990 and 1991 resulted in victories for those who advocated a jihadist theocracy." Even if the president's assumptions about the pacifying effects of representative government are correct, democratization is a long-term process, taking years, decades, even centuries. Bush doesn't dispute this; in his second inaugural address, he said that spreading freedom would be the "work of generations."

Unfortunately, we don't have that kind of time--not when the next terrorist attack could be nuclear. According to a recent survey conducted by Senator Richard Lugar, proliferation experts believe on average there is about a 30 percent chance of a successful nuclear attack somewhere in the world within the next ten years.

Former Secretary of Defense William Perry has put the odds of a nuclear attack on U.S. soil by 2010 at 50 percent. Graham Allison, author of Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, has put the odds at better than half within ten years. Unlike an attack with a conventional weapon--or even a chemical, biological, or radiological weapon--a nuclear bomb has the potential to radically alter the U.S. economic and political landscape.

Although we think of the September 11 attacks as having "changed everything," they did not. Nearly 3,000 lives were lost, but the political and economic fabric of the country was not torn apart. Clearly, our foreign policy underwent a massive shift, but day-to-day life in the United States proceeds much as it did on September 10, 2001.

That would not be the case if the next terrorist attack were nuclear. A ten-kiloton bomb detonated in a U.S. city would immediately kill tens of thousands--perhaps hundreds of thousands--of people. A plume of fallout would waft from the site of the explosion, sickening and killing thousands more and contaminating 3,000 square miles of land. Hundreds of thousands of people would need to be evacuated.

The infrastructure damage would be enormous: Everything within a half-mile radius of the explosion would be flattened; beyond that, buildings still standing would be mere shells, their façades stripped. The immediate economic damage--the damage from the "hole in the ground," as one expert put it to me--could total $500 billion.

But the greater cost would come from disruption to the national and international economies. Combined with the blow to U.S. productivity from lives lost, the cost of an attack would total trillions of dollars. No other terrorist incident could do that much damage. Indeed, of 15 scenarios discussed in a 2004 report by the Homeland Security Council--including terrorist attacks with chemical, biological, and radiological weapons--only a nuclear attack is certain to require years of recovery time.

This leads to a simple conclusion: In the near term, the war on terrorism--whatever else it is--should first be a war on nuclear terrorism.

It has become all too clear, however, that this is a war the Bush administration is spectacularly ill-equipped to fight, handicapped as it is by a worldview that revolves around our enemies' intentions rather than their capabilities. Democratization is a strategy to change the behavior of our enemies by draining them of hatred. But we cannot fully erase hatred, and Bush's "hope and compassion" are thin defenses against a nuclear weapon.

A better tack would be to strip our enemies of the ability to acquire nuclear weapons in the first place--a difficult goal, but an achievable one, given that there is a finite amount of the fissile material needed to make nuclear weapons and that, by themselves, terrorists can't produce more. Alas, the very ideology that has led Bush to embrace democratization has also mired him in a nonproliferation strategy that emphasizes regime change while eschewing diplomacy.

The administration is consumed by the idea that the character of states is of primary importance to U.S. security. This ideology, this conservative fixation, explains why, for much of Bush's presidency, his administration focused on Iraq to the exclusion of North Korea and Iran. It explains why Bush stood by while Pyongyang moved to produce enough plutonium for half a dozen nuclear weapons.

It even explains why he has acted so slowly in securing the hundreds of tons of vulnerable nuclear material in Russia. Indeed, an examination of the Bush administration's ideology shows that, not only has it made some bad decisions for U.S. security, but that it is constitutionally incapable of making the right ones.


Preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear material, however, will require more than securing existing fissile stockpiles--it will require revamping the NPT, which allows only five signatories (the United States, Russia, China, France, and Britain) to possess nuclear weapons but allows the rest to enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium for peaceful purposes, such as generating energy.

This provision is the back door that Iran and North Korea have exploited to advance their nuclear programs, and a politically diverse constituency--from Bush to Kofi Annan--agrees that the NPT needs to be strengthened or supplemented to prevent further abuse. Doing so, however, will take considerable political capital, because the 183 members of the treaty that are barred from having nuclear weapons must be convinced that they should consent to further restrictions on their nuclear activities.

Unfortunately, not only does the United States not have the political capital to effectively make that case, it's not even clear the Bush team would spend it if it did.


When Bush decided that the United States needed to stop countries from legally developing nuclear technology that they could turn around and use in a weapons program, it was hardly surprising that he proposed voluntary restrictions instead of legally binding measures.

Rather than trying to revamp the NPT or negotiate a new set of rules governing nuclear technology, he merely suggested that members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)--a loose consortium of 45 states who are supposed to coordinate their exports of atomic technology--more tightly restrict their sales. It wasn't a bad suggestion, just an inadequate one.

After all, the NSG does not incorporate all nuclear suppliers--including countries like Pakistan that are known nuclear exporters--and compliance with its rules is optional, meaning that members can violate them with impunity, as Russia has done. Indeed, the Bush administration itself threatened to seriously undercut the NSG's authority last week when it agreed to export nuclear technology to India, one of the few states that doesn't belong to the NPT.

HELLO, COLUMBUS A first-prize winner in the 2005 Eileen Heckart Drama Competition, LAPSES, a full-length play by CONTRAPOSITIVE editor Dan Aibel, will receive a staged reading in Columbus, Ohio later this month.

The reading, to be staged by the Senior Repertory of Ohio, is set for 7pm on August 13 at Ohio State University--the contest's sponsor--in the school's Drake Performance and Event Center.

UPDATE: The Columbus Dispatch article is here.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.