Osama Bin Laden had one noteworthy theme in Friday's tape: "Your security," he told Americans, "is in your hands." Some observers have translated this to mean, "You leave us alone, and we'll leave you alone," which would be a very different message from those that he and his hysterical minions have been sending for three years.
Another attack on the U.S. could obviously come at any time, but there's a good case to be made that OBL may be asking for a truce. Indeed, The Washington Post's lead editorial this morning discerns a note of "desperation" in Bin Laden's words.
"Something is clearly troubling Osama bin Laden," writes the Post. "Could it be the millions of Afghans who eagerly turned out to vote in the country's first democratic elections this month and who overwhelmingly supported the moderate, pro-Western Hamid Karzai for president? Or the growing support for democratic government in Iraq, especially from senior members of the Islamic clergy? Al Qaeda suddenly finds itself on the wrong side of a swelling debate about freedom in the Middle East -- one triggered both by Osama bin Laden's bloody extremism and the powerful U.S. response to it."
As the French Arabist Gilles Kepel and others have argued, the 9/11 attacks have backfired dramatically on the Islamist agenda. Afghanistan now has an enlightened constitution, and has just staged a hugely successful election despite Al Qaeda's empty threat to disrupt it. Arabism may dominate Al Jazeera's programming and the arguments of many bypassed Arab intellectuals, but it appears to be dead in practice, as the journalist Mona Eltahawy recently argued in Asharq Al Awsat. An important debate about the future of the Arab world has erupted, one featuring the long-muffled voices of Arab liberals. The actions of Bin Laden and of such admirers as Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi have disgusted and alienated many millions of Muslims. (One Iraqi insurrectionist leader recently told the Post that the Jordanian Zarqawi is "demented" and has "defamed" the anti-occupation struggle.) There are reform movements of varying strength throughout the Muslim world, and a civil-society movement nurtured by the U.S. is gradually progressing in Arab nations. As the Post observes, there are many changes observable throughout the Muslim and Arab worlds, and many of them can be attributed to the aggressive U.S. response to Al Qaeda's attack.
Of course, the Post's speculations presuppose that Bin Laden is a rational actor. But even if he cannot be described in quite those terms, he has at least shown in the past that he knows the difference between a strong horse and a weak one.
Any thoughts on the discrepancies in Osama bin Laden's views on the vote?
From November, 2002:
You may then dispute that all the above does not justify aggression against civilians, for crimes they did not commit and offenses in which they did not partake:
This argument contradicts your continuous repetition that America is the land of freedom, and its leaders in this world. Therefore, the American people are the ones who choose their government by way of their own free will; a choice which stems from their agreement to its policies. Thus the American people have chosen, consented to, and affirmed their support for the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, the occupation and usurpation of their land, and its continuous killing, torture, punishment and expulsion of the Palestinians. The American people have the ability and choice to refuse the policies of their Government and even to change it if they want.
From yesterday's address:
We didn't find difficulty dealing with Bush and his administration due to the similarity of his regime and the regims in our countries. Whish (sic) half of them are ruled by military and the other half by sons of kings and presidents and our experience with them is long. Both parties are arrogant and stubborn and the greediness and taking money without right and that similarity appeared during the visits of Bush to the region while people from our side were impressed by the US and hoped that these visits would influence our countries. Here he is being influenced by these regimes, Royal and military. And was feeling jealous they were staying for decades in power stealing the nations finances without anybody overseeing them. So he transferred the oppression of freedom and tyranny to his son and they call it th e Patriot Law to fight terrorism. He was bright in putting his sons as governors in states and he didn't forget to transfer his experience from the rulers of our region to Florida to falsify elections to benefit from it in critical times.
Maybe it's just standard election-season waffling, but it seems to show a pretty stark difference in his characterization. As villains go, I prefer the old down-with-freedom Osama to the new taunting-us-directly Osama.
The meme of the moment among the right-wing bloggers -- they've already said it a hundred times or so on The Corner -- is that Osama bin Laden's new 'Vote or Die' tape sounds an awful lot like Michael Moore. And they're right: He does sound like Michael Moore. Or, at least, like he's been watching Michael Moore.
Frankly, this makes me wonder if the tape is a hoax. I'm no expert, but I was under the impression that bin Laden was more likely to complain about the Reconquista of Iberia than the Florida recounts and the Patriot Act. (At least he didn't mention Kyoto.)
For the record, the CIA has "a high degree of confidence" that the video is real.
An Afternoon with Reason Magazine
Saturday, October 30, 2PM
Barnes & Noble Booksellers
Preston & Park
2201 Preston Rd, Suite E
Featuring Editor-in-Chief Nick Gillespie, editor of Choice: The Best of Reason, and Senior Editor Brian Doherty, author of This Is Burning Man.
Drinks and Smokes with Reason Magazine
7-9PM Saturday, October 30
Tap In Bar & Grill and Old Grapevine Cigar & Tobacco Co.
120 South Main Street, Suites 50 and 60
Celebrate the publication of Choice: The Best of Reason and This Is Burning Man with Reason editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie and Senior Editor Brian Doherty.
OK, perhaps a tad strong, but I simply do not see how this development helps John Kerry. Despite the claim that the winner of the election will not determine America's security, bin Laden explicitly makes it personal between George Bush and himself. (And the bit about the girl and her goat was a nice touch, you gotta admit.)
The Bush administration need only tacitly and calmly ask Americans who do they stand with, Bush or bin Laden? Can the White House screw this up between now and Tuesday? Absolutely. Reach too far or protest too hard on the Tora Bora issue, and voters may catch a whiff of grandstanding.
But Kerry can only watch from the sidelines, it seems.
Video game maker Nintendo is apparently waging a trademark crackdown against porn sites that make use of Nintendo characters. (I'm not going to think too hard about what exactly that entails.) Apparently, though, one of their lawyers got a little overzealous and sent a legal nastygram to the owners of the alternaporn site SuicideGirls. The reason? One member had listed Metroid and Zelda among his favorite video games on his profile page. To its credit, an embarassed Nintendo promptly apologized for the error and offered both SG and the user a free Nintendo system and game. (Hat tip: Boing Boing)
Addendum: While Nintendo actually deserves praise for so quickly recognizing this as a goof and making amends (unlike so many other TM holders), Penny Arcade's take is still pretty damn funny.
For those who missed it this week, a little civics lesson on the vital importance of voting, courtesy of the boys from South Park. (Movie, not work safe.)
Looks like there's no shortage of school officials who could stand to be reacquainted with Tinker v. Des Moines. A high school senior in Missouri was sent home for wearing gay pride T-Shirts (one of which was, as it happens, the shirt produced by his previous high school's gay-straight alliance), which officials apparently feared might "offend" someone. The student, Brad Mathewson, notes that he finds some of the anti—gay marriage stickers common on cars in the school parking lot offensive, but had never imagined this gave him a right to censor them. One always wonders what those who imagine there's a "controversy" or "offense" exception to the First Amendment imagine it was intended for. When else would you ever need to invoke a free speech right? To protect speech everyone approved of?
They all follow the same formula: Bush and Kerry trade insults to the tune of a well-known song; in the end we're instructed to vote. I give the Queen clip some credit for parodying the mis-en-scene of the original "Bohemian Rhapsody" video. But the Rocky Horror satire is just awful.
Victor Davis Hanson says no:
It does not matter what Kerry would "really" wish to do, since the last two years of campaign rhetoric have earned him the worldwide reputation of the Bush antithesis, and thus his victory would, rightly or wrongly, be interpreted as a complete rejection of toppling Saddam and fostering a constitutional government in his place. His supporters and financial backers on the left would not tolerate anything less than a withdrawal.
Virginia Postrel says yes:
Contrary to what you might think from reading some libertarian-leaning bloggers, John Kerry is not running against George Bush's extravagant new Medicare entitlement or his expansive domestic spending. He is running against "tax cuts for the rich" and prescription drugs without price controls. Voting for "Not Bush" means voting for "not enough domestic spending" and "not enough taxes on the rich."
Ken Layne says hell no:
Worrying about "John Kerry" today is like worrying about what sort of steak you want as you die of starvation in a cave.
Twice in the last two weeks, Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling has limped out to the mound, dislocated ankle tendon literally held together by threads, and pitched his team to gritty victory through his bloody red sock.
Today, Schilling cancelled a scheduled meeting with his favorite candidate for president, George Bush. Why? Sore ankle.
This will be of admittedly limited interest, but a little birdie has informed me that wannabe media mogul Al Gore has just hired David Neuman to run the nascent INdTV in San Francisco. This probably seals INdTV's doom.
Neuman is the 21st century version of Pat Caddell, minus the sputtering smarts and wild sense of humor. Caddell, in the fitting words of LA Weekly columnist John Powers, "lost 49 states for Walter Mondale, just as many for George McGovern, and all 50 for the New Coke." He was a wunderkind-turned Doonesbury joke, though entertaining to be around.
Neuman, a television wunderkind during his twenties, is the guy probably most responsible for transforming boring & reliable old CNN Headline News into an unwatchable riot of hot-looking anchor-dopes babbling about entertainment while a thousand information-tickers scroll across the screen. As the press release brags, "he spearheaded the hiring of Anderson Cooper, Soledad O'Brien and Paula Zahn, as well as new program development, including 'American Morning.'" Thanks for nothing. Before that, he was a senior executive for one of the dot-com era's most notorious flame-outs, the Digital Entertainment Network, which burned through more than $60 million in less than two years of producing bupkus, and collapsed in fantastical scandal. It was at DEN that I met and even worked for the Stephanopolous look-alike, an experience so scarring that I spat out this screed a year later. He wasn't very pleased about it, but his career certainly hasn't seemed to suffer. Al Gore's TV network, though, may not be so lucky.
Surprising news, if it's accurate: John L. Allen, the highly regarded Vatican correspondent for National Catholic Reporter, projects that employees of the Holy See are split 60-40 in favor of Kerry. That's quite a bit better than Kerry is said to be doing among Catholic voters in the USA, and Allen notes that the vote would probably change if you only counted red hats:
First, the estimate of 60-40 support for Kerry is based on the assumption that all personnel of the Holy See would vote. If the focus is just on the cardinals and other senior officials, the balance would probably shift in favor of Bush. Second, that 60-40 split in favor of Kerry represents a change from the 2000 election, when I suspect a similar straw poll in the Vatican would have found at least a 60-40 vote in favor of Bush over Al Gore. In that sense, it's not an endorsement of John Kerry, who frankly is even less known in Rome than to many Americans, so much as opposition to Bush, above all his foreign policy.
The methodology boils down to: Anybody who works in an international-affairs section is going for Kerry. But Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Council for Justice and Peace (which Allen fingered as pro-Kerry), has objected, in true hierarchical style, that Allen "did grave damage to the understanding of [his] readers" by not being more mealymouthed. Anyway, neutrality is being preserved, much to the consternation of this person.
Meanwhile, check out this godawful instructional film for Catholic voters and you'll wish Martin Scorcese had realized his ambition to become a priest.
Reader RDale sends along this charmer about the day when Stephanie Cox, owner of a toy store in Oregon, got the call from two Homeland Security agents:
"I was shaking in my shoes," Cox said of the September phone call. "My first thought was the government can shut your business down on a whim, in my opinion. If I'm closed even for a day that would cause undue stress."
What did they want? For Cox to remove a Rubik's Cube knock-off called the "Magic Cube" from her shelves. Quote of the day comes from Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (yes, that's "Kice from ICE," and I can testify personally that she looks and acts the part):
"One of the things that our agency's responsible for doing is protecting the integrity of the economy and our nation's financial systems and obviously trademark infringement does have significant economic implications."
Jacob Sullum condemns an eminent domain abuse.
Alexander Cockburn on peaceniks for Kerry:
[V]oting for John Kerry now is like voting for LBJ in 1964 with full precognition of what he was going to do in Vietnam for the next four years. By all means vote for the guy if you think your ballot will really count in keeping Ralph Nader out of the White House, but don't do so with the notion that all along John Kerry has been holding a secret withdrawal plan close to his chest and that his first three months in office will see the US Marines haul down the colors from the US embassy in Baghdad, scoop Ambassador Negroponte off the roof and head for home.