Haggai's Place

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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan

:: Friday, May 02, 2003 ::

Guillaume le Flambeur?
The noted conservative morality activist William Bennett is apparently quite the gambler, as reported in this story from the Washington Monthly that Talking Points Memo linked to today. I don't know if it's that big a deal, and the article doesn't really conclude that it is, but we're not talking about small change:
On July 12 of last year, for instance, Bennett lost $340,000 at Caesar's Boardwalk Regency in Atlantic City. And just three weeks ago, on April 5 and 6, he lost more than $500,000 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. "There's a term in the trade for this kind of gambler," says a casino source who has witnessed Bennett at the high-limit slots in the wee hours. "We call them losers."
Ouch. The title for this post is a reference to the mid '50s French movie Bob le Flambeur, which translates as "Bob the high roller," or Bob the high-stakes gambler. I saw it a couple of weeks ago, and it was pretty good, particularly the actor who played Bob, Roger Duchesne. I rented it before I saw the remake that's out now, Neil Jordan's The Good Thief, starring Nick Nolte and some good European actors like Tcheky Karyo and Emir Kusturica. It's very enjoyable and well worth seeing.
3:47 PM
:: Thursday, May 01, 2003 ::
I'm not surprised
There's a Newsweek article up about how the Bush administration is trying to keep stuff secret vis-a-vis a Congressional report on 9/11:
At the center of the dispute is a more-than-800-page secret report prepared by a joint congressional inquiry detailing the intelligence and law-enforcement failures that preceded the attacks—including provocative, if unheeded warnings, given President Bush and his top advisers during the summer of 2001.

The report was completed last December; only a bare-bones list of “findings” with virtually no details was made public. But nearly six months later, a “working group” of Bush administration intelligence officials assigned to review the document has taken a hard line against further public disclosure. By refusing to declassify many of its most significant conclusions, the administration has essentially thwarted congressional plans to release the report by the end of this month, congressional and administration sources tell NEWSWEEK. In some cases, these sources say, the administration has even sought to “reclassify” some material that was already discussed in public testimony—a move one Senate staffer described as “ludicrous.” The administration’s stand has infuriated the two members of Congress who oversaw the report—Democratic Sen. Bob Graham and Republican Rep. Porter Goss. The two are now preparing a letter of complaint to Vice President Dick Cheney.
It's doubtful that there's anything in the report that actually makes a case against the administration for failing to do things that would have prevented 9/11. Still, the obsession with secrecy is typical for this administration, in addition to the total contempt for any oversight at all by Congress or anyone else. One intelligence official's explanation for the laughable attempt to "reclassify" things that have already been made public is singularly unconvincing:
A U.S. intelligence official cited international distractions as at least one reason for the delays. “In case you hadn’t noticed, there have been two wars going on,” the official said. The official added: “We’re working this [report] to try to get it out without putting lives at risk and without endangering sources and methods.” Asked why the working group was refusing to permit disclosure of material that had already been made public, the official said: “Just because something had been inadvertently released, doesn’t make it unclassified.”

3:04 PM
:: Wednesday, April 30, 2003 ::
As "fair and balanced" as always
Fox News was as untrue to their motto as ever in a recent article about a Belgian war crimes charge against Tommy Franks. First, a quick summary of what's actually going on, in a surprisingly balanced article from the loopy leftists at The Guardian:
Belgium is coming under pressure from the US to block a potentially explosive war crimes case against General Tommy Franks, commander of coalition forces in Iraq.

Jan Fermon, a Brussels lawyer, confirmed yesterday that 19 Iraqi plaintiffs were seeking to bring charges that would name the general and other US soldiers who had allegedly committed crimes.

Mr Fermon claimed there were 17 violations of Belgium's controversial 1993 war crimes law, which allowed universal jurisdiction until it was amended early this month.

The legal move could prove embarrassing for the government of Guy Verhofstadt, who opposed the war in Iraq along with France and Germany, and is now seeking to mend fences with the US.
The article mentions some of the amendments to the Belgian law that (I predict) will make it very unlikely that the charges will be filed successfully:
Changes to the law allows Belgium to refer foreigners facing war crimes charges to their own governments if these are democracies.

The new version also allows the judiciary to reject complaints filed by plaintiffs who have lived in Belgium for less than three years or those in which the victim or the alleged perpetrator was not a Belgian.

Complaints will be investigated only if the public prosecutor's office decides Belgium is the right place to deal with the matter. Officials say that will be the exception not the rule.

But a US state department spokesman said: "We believe the Belgian government needs to be diligent in taking steps to prevent abuse of the legal system for political ends."
Now here's the Fox News article on this incident. The Belgian law and its recent amendments are not mentioned at all. Instead, the entire thing is about the potential misuse of the new International Criminal Court. Here's how it starts:
The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, is supposed to bring justice for the victims of war crimes, genocide and other evils.

But a court case in Belgium offers a strange preview of what could be coming in the world of international jurisprudence.

It centers on U.S. war chief Gen. Tommy Franks, the architect of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In America, many people consider Franks a hero. But in Europe, there are some who are branding him a war criminal.
And here's the only other part of the article that deals with what the Belgian lawyer, Fermon, is actually doing--namely, attempting to get the case heard in Belgian courts:
Fermon plans to file a complaint with a Belgian court, but it's the type of case that has critics of the International Criminal Court saying "we told you so." These critics say the court likely will turn into an arena for attacking America.
They can't even finish the first sentence without going back to more ICC bashing. Anyone who only read this article, and no other ones, on this incident would get the clear impression that the case was actually being filed with the ICC, and that if the US ever joined it under any circumstances, Tommy Franks would immediately be in the dock. I believe the term for this sort of reporting is "bias."

Don't get me wrong, I find it ridiculous that Belgium has seen fit to empower its legal system to act as judge and jury for any and all war crimes charges, even taking into account the recent amendments to the law that have made it highly unlikely that trumped-up anti-American charges like this will ever get heard. But that's not the end of the story with the ICC debate. As the State Dept. official quoted in the Guardian story said, a problem with the Belgian law is that their government is ultimately the only one that can prevent abuses of that system. But if America joined the ICC, we would be part of the system, which would give us leverage in protecting US personnel. Now this is a tough question: do the benefits of having an internationally accepted legal forum for trying war crimes, crimes against humanity, etc. outweigh the risks of having it become an anti-American kangaroo court? Could we negotiate US entry into the current ICC in such a way as to benefit from it? It's a debate worth having, which is not served by "news" reporting that conflates one Belgian lawyer trying to use a (flawed) part of his own country's legal system into a potentially menacing international conspiracy to undermine America.
1:38 PM
:: Tuesday, April 29, 2003 ::
Expanding the English language?
In an article that's entertainingly accurate about Rumsfeld's post-war hubris (not all that different from before the war, really), Michelle Cottle of The New Republic uses a word I hadn't heard before, emphasized below:
Following Gingrich's assault, the White House promptly came out in support of Powell--and Powell's diplomatic strategies--and reportedly had a few words with the Newtster. Even so, it's troubling to think that Rumsfeld gave his pal [Gingrich] a wink and a nod to aggressively trash the State Department and Powell, especially since Powell seems to be the one carrying out the president's policy wishes. At this rate, any day now you expect a power-crazed Rumsfeld to crown himself Caesar and lead his troops in an assault on Foggy Bottom. With those wussbags at State out of the picture, surely President Bush could be made to see that Rummy's way is the only way to run a great empire. Then, on to France!
"Wussbag," not bad. To paraphrase Bush's most infamous faux pas from the 2000 election, maybe one could describe the likes of Chirac and Schroeder as "major league wussbags."
3:42 PM
:: Monday, April 28, 2003 ::
They say Judith is one bad motherf....Shut your mouth!
The Kesher Talk summary of a bizarre cross-blog debate about a supposed Israeli program to develop an Arab-killing bioweapon that would leave Jews unharmed reminds me of the plot of a very bad blaxploitation movie, Three the Hard Way. The title characters were played by two ex-football stars turned movie actors, Jim Brown and Fred "The Hammer" Williamson (the latter more famous as an actor than as a football player), along with martial arts expert Jim Kelly of Enter the Dragon fame. The three intrepid heroes do battle with a white supremacist multi-millionaire (whose mannerisms are similar to Montgomery Burns on The Simpsons, although this movie is from 1974) who's bankrolling a plot to poison the water supply of several major American cities with a toxin that only kills black people. I usually stick to watching movies that I think I'll actually enjoy on their merits, but this is definitely one of those "so bad it's good" movies that can entertain by the sheer force of its crappiness.
3:23 PM
:: Sunday, April 27, 2003 ::
I think they're missing the point
I'm reading a book now about the First World War by John Keegan, where I found about the French general Louis Franchet d'Esperey. The British gave him an entertaining nickname, which is mentioned in this bio on FirstWorldWar.com, which looks like a very impressive website:
A man of tremendous energy and intimidating demeanour - d'Esperey (known by his popular if unfair nickname 'Desperate Frankie') was not one to frequently invite or welcome advice from subordinates - d'Esperey's war career saw greatly mixed fortune, and was similar in some ways to that of British general Sir Edmund Allenby.
In his book, Keegan points out that the general got his nickname from his British admirers. So isn't it obvious that it came from the British inability to pronounce "Franchet d'Esperey," which led them to adapt the two names into English words that they closely resembled? Not exactly unfair, is it? The people who called him "Desperate Frankie" didn't actually find him to be desperate at all.
9:06 PM

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