" /> This is no Way to Organize Chaos.: January 2007 Archives

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January 31, 2007

Freezing out Fox

Barack Obama has the right idea.

I suggested this earlier, though rereading it, I wasn't very clear on my position. So I will state it more clearly. The normal subjects of news, politicians, should avoid appearing on Fox. There will be some, however, who will feel at home on Fox. Let them. It will only sharpen the distinction between factual news sources and fantasy news sources. Producers of news, on the other hand, should be ignoring Fox Fluff--the usual crime and chaos stories--while challenging outright lies. This will further distinguish Fox from factually-based news, as well as the people who watch and appear on Fox.

This is not to say that everything Fox produces is fluff and propaganda. As the article above points out, Fox reporters feel unfairly punished for propaganda that appeared on a different news segment. Well, that's a bummer. But I think those reporters who have integrity should consider using Fox as a stepping stone to something better. My interest is narrow in this regard: make the news the referee of facts again, and sever the sycophantic relationship to power that it currently fosters.

Our King

We are ruled by a maniac.

January 29, 2007

Fun with the Internet

US Presidential Speeches tag cloud.

Deep Political Analysis

God help us all, we are ruled by children.

(No offense to the non-middle aged children out there).

The Terror

And like all revolutions, the conservative one begins eating its own children.

John McCain is not a traitor, but I don't think he's particularly presidential material either. Let his contradtictions speak for themselves. Think the media will pin the "flip-flopper" label on him?

Clintons

Obsessed with the Clintons, hating the Clintons.

Take your pick of stories. Yglesias, Klein, Howler

And keep in mind, this is confined to the elite journalism club. The American people don't feel this way. But since the elite journalism club is old-school conservative, its not surprising they are obsessed with and hate the populism.

Savages

Dinesh D'Souza, apparent terrorist sympathizer, defending himself from the meanies:

Why the onslaught? Just this: In my book, published this month, I argue that the American left bears a measure of responsibility for the volcano of anger from the Muslim world that produced the 9/11 attacks. President Jimmy Carter's withdrawal of support for the shah of Iran, for example, helped Ayatollah Khomeini's regime come to power in Iran, thus giving radical Islamists control of a major state; and President Bill Clinton's failure to respond to Islamic attacks confirmed bin Laden's perceptions of U.S. weakness and emboldened him to strike on 9/11. I also argue that the policies that U.S. "progressives" promote around the world -- including abortion rights, contraception for teenagers and gay rights -- are viewed as an assault on traditional values by many cultures, and have contributed to the blowback of Islamic rage.

I've just quoted this for context. This is his argument, straight from him. Moving on:
Immediately following 9/11, there was a wondrous moment of national unity in which the American tribe came together. "Why do they hate us?" some wondered, but no one wanted to comprehend the enemy -- only to annihilate him. And I shared this view.

Statements like this lead me to believe that people lost their minds on 9/11. And it benefitted conservatives greatly. Here's Karl Rove in June 2005:
Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers

This is the same sentiment D'Souza expresses. Liberals are soft on terror. They don't sufficiently understand evil. And the most insidious suggestion is that "no one" wanted to conprehend the enemy, implying everyone wanted his destruction. D'Souza goes on to say that the prevailing liberal and conservative theories for 9/11 were wrong:
Contrary to the common liberal view, I don't believe that the 9/11 attacks were payback for U.S. foreign policy. Bin Laden isn't upset because there are U.S. troops in Mecca, as liberals are fond of saying. (There are no U.S. troops in Mecca.) He isn't upset because Washington is allied with despotic regimes in the region. Israel aside, what other regimes are there in the Middle East? It isn't all about Israel. (Why hasn't al-Qaeda launched a single attack against Israel?) The thrust of the radical Muslim critique of America is that Islam is under attack from the global forces of atheism and immorality -- and that the United States is leading that attack.

First, if revenge for foreign policy isn't motivating terrorism, then why did D'Souza say, only a few paragraphs earlier, that
President Jimmy Carter's withdrawal of support for the shah of Iran, for example, helped Ayatollah Khomeini's regime come to power in Iran, thus giving radical Islamists control of a major state; and President Bill Clinton's failure to respond to Islamic attacks confirmed bin Laden's perceptions of U.S. weakness and emboldened him to strike on 9/11.

It should be obvious why this contradiction exists. Its the same reason why only democratic presidents are cited. D'Souza scans history selectively for evidence that supports his thesis, no matter how flimsy it is and without regard for the total picture. This isn't surprising, though. After all should someone who says, "Bin Laden isn't upset because there are U.S. troops in Mecca, as liberals are fond of saying. (There are no U.S. troops in Mecca.)" be trusted with foreign policy analysis? Bin Laden was upset with the presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia--you know, the Holy Land--not Mecca. And that is something bin Laden himself has said. It is not a "liberal explanation." Did D'Souza merely make an error? Are the Washington Post's editors that lazy? I don't think so. I think that statement was and is believed to be true. It's an alternative reality. And in this alternative reality, there is a vast, vast, liberal conspiracy:
mine is a dangerous book. But if a book says things that are obviously untrue and can be disproved, then it is not dangerous -- it is merely fiction and should be ignored. A book is dangerous only if it exposes something in the culture that some people are eager to keep hidden.

And what is that? It is that the far left seems to hate Bush nearly as much as it hates bin Laden. Bin Laden may want sharia, or Islamic law, in Baghdad, they reason, but Bush wants sharia in Boston. Indeed, leftists routinely portray Bush's war on terrorism as a battle of competing fundamentalisms, Islamic vs. Christian. It is Bush, more than bin Laden, they say, who threatens abortion rights and same-sex marriage and the entire social liberal agenda in the United States. So leftist activists such as Michael Moore and Howard Zinn and Cindy Sheehan seem willing to let the enemy win in Iraq so they can use that defeat in 2008 to rout Bush -- their enemy at home.


I'm so confused. the far left wants to keep hidden their Bush hatred? Why are there regular protests against Bush then? D'Souza should have just kept his mouth shut. Now he looks even bigger the fool. But obviously there are people that believe in this alternative reality--sort of a parallel universe to our own--and it includes a version of history that sounds different from the one we all know.

The disturbing equation of liberals with islamic terrorists is not just insulting and incoherent but dangerous. If you haven't noticed, the right wing has become more outspoken in their belief that we are dealing with a people that cannot be "civilized." I noted this sentiment earlier with Marty Peretz's suggestion that we have a "higher standard" of civilization than they do. Glenn Greenwald examines Peretz's remarkable bigotry in this fine compendium. And this Greenwald post is worth a read as well. He starts begins with Instapundit's reaction to a story about deout Muslim families refusing certain 'un-Islamic' vaccinations: "JUST THINK OF IT AS EVOLUTION IN ACTION." Let that sink in for a moment. I don't expect people to be shocked by this, but consider how prominent it is. Conservatives constantly complain about being shackled by "political correctness" and it now seems they're throwing caution to the wind and saying what they feel. And apparently they believe a lot, if not most, people will agree with them. I wonder what D'Souza would say, author of "The End of Racism." But we're in an alternative reality here, which means when Glenn Reynolds says

it's also true that if democracy can't work in Iraq, then we should probably adopt a "more rubble, less trouble" approach to other countries in the region that threaten us. If a comparatively wealthy and secular Arab country can't make it as a democratic republic, then what hope is there for places that are less wealthy, or less secular?

Bomb the savages into submission. No, not racist at all. Bcause civilized people aren't predjudiced, right? And in America, we have no race problems, right? We don't produce extremists, right? Ask Martin Luther King Jr. Or how about the blacks who were lynched for decades in the South to preserve the white man's civilization. I don't expect D'Souza or Reynolds or Charles Krauthammer or Marty Peretz to see clearly on these matters. To them, the enemy is everywhere and must be eliminated. It's rational to them. There is no need for subtlety or study, just shock and awe. We are destined to rule the world, so let's start ruling it. I guess it's true that those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.

I know this alternative reality isn't going away and its adherents are going to become more shrill with time. But as always, the more light that is exposed on ignorance, the less it is tolerated. Conservatism, tied to the Iraq and all the sentiment it brings out, will be unable to call upon market fundamentalism, moral values, small government or any of its more positive selling points. All that will be left is incoherent rage over the decadence of liberalism at home and frustration with savagery abroad. That is not a pretty message and it will not compel Americans to vote for self-identified conservative candidates in 2008, regardless of what their views are.

January 26, 2007

More About the Liberal Media Establishment

Earlier this week Atrios asked (here and here) what to do about Fox News. The problem as I see it is twofold. First, Fox initially set out to "balance" the supposed liberal bias in media by giving viewers both sides of the story. But instead Fox has blurred the like between news and commentary, repeatedly ignored inconvenient facts, and provides sensationalism instead of news (Let's do another JonBenet Ramsey stroy! War on Christmas, anyone?). That's the first problem. The second, more corrupting problem is that the other cable networks started to mimick Fox. To this day I have no idea why. I suppose they were chasing ratings but if Fox is so good at what it does, why not provide an alternative instead of chasing the leader? (Hint: they used to call it journalism) This is not to say that suddenly we'll have better news in this country once the cable networks stop immitating Fox but it is a necessary step along the way to a responsible news media that strives for factuality instead of "balance."

Case in point: Fox is set to air deleted scenes from ABC's "docudrama," The Path to 9/11. Furthermore, Fox is billing this as "the scene Bill Clinton doesn't want you to see," as if they're doing a hard-hitting investigative report. Well, Clinton put pressure on ABC to remove the scene because IT WAS FALSE. IT DIDN'T HAPPEN. ABC made it up and wedge it into a loose narrative that leads the viewer to conclude that Bill Clinton--through his National Security Advisor--let Osama bin Laden go free. Folks, this is fucking propaganda. And Fox is touting it as news. They have no journalistic standards whatsoever. So I don't know how to answer Atrios' question but I will say it starts with ignoring Fox News. Anyone who believes in the facts instead of fantasy should refuse to appear on the network. Other media outlets should cease taking any news leads from Fox. They should be ignored and not taken seriously by anyone. Except to call them out on their errors. Respectable news outlets should police fantasy news. CNN did the right thing by pointing out the falsehood of the Barack Obama "Madrassa" story (even if it let resident bigot Blenn Beck off the hook) and Fox, predictably, made more shit up. I say keep the pressure on. It won't be long before it is abundantly clear to a majority of the country that Fox is the home of right-wing fantasies, and nothing more. But the other news outlets need to distinguish themselves or they themselves will be in the same crowd.

Question of the Day

Why is Tom Friedman a NY Times columnist?

Oh that's right. The Liberal Media Establishment. Damn hippies.

Godless Heathens

Oh, that Liberal Media Establishment that is outraging the sensibilities of tradition-minded people everywhere! Right, Dinesh?:

I actually believe that Arabs are feigning outrage when they protest what they call American (or Israeli) "atrocities." They are not shocked at all by what in truth must seem to them not atrocious at all. It is routine in their cultures. That comparison shouldn't comfort us as Americans. We have higher standards of civilization than they do. But the mutilation of bodies and beheadings of people picked up at random in Iraq does not scandalize the people of Iraq unless victims are believers in their own sect or members of their own clan. And the truth is that we are less and less shocked by the mass death-happenings in the world of Islam. Yes, that's the bitter truth. Frankly, even I--cynic that I am--was shocked in the beginning by the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq. But I am no longer surprised. And neither are you.

Yes, I know, I know, Islam is a peaceful religion. But peace does not rule in the world of Islam. Of course, if only Israel gave the Palestinians the peace they want, the Sunnis and Shiaa would not be killing each other in Iraq, and Hezbollah would not be fomenting a civil war in Lebanon, and democracy with democratic results would soon govern Egypt, and the Syrian dictatorship would finally become a free republic, and Saudi Arabia would allow religious freedom, and Pakistan wouldn't be torn by sect and tribe, and India wouldn't be harassed by Islamic fanatics. God damn you Jews. Don't you grasp how much waits on your surrender? And you keep on insisting on living a free life in your own land.


The right wing in this country has railed against the "liberal media" for decades, and often its target was the New Republic, from which the above quote was taken. Tell me this. How does it differ from this gem:
We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

After all, those godless heathens in the Middle East don't appreciate civilization. We have to force it on them. White man's burden, after all.

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

Washington Post:

Asked why he was going ahead with his plan without congressional support, Bush said, "One of the things I've found in Congress is that most people recognize that failure would be a disaster for the United States. And, in that I'm the decision-maker, I had to come up with a way forward that precluded disaster."

Here's a tally of where Congress stands on the surge, representative by representative:

262 on the record, opposing the "surge" (62 "lean oppose")
110 on the record, supporting the "surge" (37 "lean support")
4 refuse to answer and 60 are undecided

So even if all the leaners and all the undecided and the 4 refuse to answers joined up to support the surge, the total would be 273 to 262. That's an 11 member margin in favor if and only if everyone who does not explicitly oppose the surge begins to explicitly support it. Fat chance. So how can the president claim that "most people recognize that failure would be a disaster for the United States?" Maybe he meant the American people? Here's some interesting poll results:

"Do you favor or oppose President Bush's plan to send about 20,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq in an attempt to stabilize the situation there?"

35% favor, 63% oppose, 2% undecided ( 1/19-21/07)
32% favor, 66% oppose, 3% undecided ( 1/11/07)

"Suppose Congress considers a resolution which would express opposition to sending more troops to Iraq but would not take specific steps to prevent that from happening. What would you want your members of Congress to do? Should they vote to express support for sending more troops to Iraq or vote to express opposition to sending more troops to Iraq?"

32% 64% 4% ( 1/19-21/07)
34% 62% 4% ( 1/11/07)

And there's more polls there if you want to get a flavor. Nowhere does more than 35% support the surge or anything like it. Even 60-61% (depending on the poll) support Congress to block the government from spending money to send more troops to Iraq. Nope, it doesn't seem the American people "recognize that failure would be a disaster for the United States."

But my point is not to demonstrate that Bush has no support. That is patently obvious. Are the Democrats reading these polls? And if so, what is their impression? I don't see what is difficult about this. Allow me to summarize:

  • Bush is personally very unpopular and the Iraq war is very unpopular

  • Democrats were elected to Congress in a landslide in 2006. Republicans gained nothing

  • The vast majority of the public, of Congress and the military is opposed to the surge

  • The President does not believe he has to listen to Congress because he believes he makes all the decisions

  • We will still be in Iraq, and hence it will remain the most important political problem for 2008, if Bush acts unopposed

This is as clear as day. Oppose the surge. Oppose the war. Stand up to the president. Why do Democrats think they will suffer a political setback by doing this? Everything is in their favor. They get to rebuff the worst president in American history, they get to earn the respect and trust of the American people, they will increase their congressional majorities and likely capture the presidency and they will have a mandate for an effective electoral and governing majorities for at least one election cycle.

It's a no-brainer. And if the Dems blow this, then they do not deserve power in their current configuration.

January 25, 2007

Lemmings

I guess it didn't occur to me until after the election, but the notion that "everything Bush touches turns to shit" applies equally to the Republican party. In addition to ruining the fiscal solvency of the United States, embroiling us in a costly and pointless war, ignoring the pressing environemental problems we must face and trashing America's moral credibility in the world, Bush's legacy will also include destroying the GOP's chances for an electoral majority for a generation. As other bloggers have discussed, the Pledge being promoted by Hugh Hewitt that punishes any Republican who dissents from the "surge," is a perfect indicator of where GOP politics are heading during the 2008 election cycle. As much as Daily Kos gives one a flavor of the Democrats' activist base (at least those who are online regularly), I think Redstate.com plays a similar role for the right wing. I referenced a straw poll taken there after the 2006 election to look for evidence of Gingrich's support amongst GOP activists and largely found what I was looking for (with sizable support for Giuliani and others as well). If conservatism in 2008 is still tied to the Bush presidency and Iraq--and I think it will be--then the GOP field of candidates is going to be composed of the most hardcore conservatives who want to appease their base of supporters who have been so drilled over the years that they will sign things like Hewitt's pledge. The result is that some hardcore conservative--and from my point of view, I could care less who--is going to be the GOP's presidential candidate and he will do poorly in the general election. It's going to be like 1964 all over again (note that the map colors demonstrate that this red-state, blue-state bullshit is a recent media concoction). And not only do the Democrats have a lot of good contenders, any one of them will look even better when compared to a Gingrich, or a McCain, or a Brownback, or most recently, Duncan Hunter (campaign motto: "Peace through Strength").

Well, that's what happens when you get tied to a cult of personality. And it's even worse when that personality is defective in almost every conceivable way. Do what you must, my little right-wing lemmings. Follow your glorious leader right off the cliff into irrelevance. The country will be better off for it.

President Crybaby

I realize that the non-binding resolution opposing the "surge" which passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday is designed to symbolically show the president, "we have the votes to stop you" (which may or may not be true), but I hope they realize that Bush doesn't give a damn what Congress thinks.

In an interview, Pelosi also said she was puzzled by what she considered the president's minimalist explanation for his confidence in the new surge of 21,500 U.S. troops that he has presented as the crux of a new "way forward" for U.S. forces in Iraq.

"He's tried this two times — it's failed twice," the California Democrat said. "I asked him at the White House, 'Mr. President, why do you think this time it's going to work?' And he said, 'Because I told them it had to.' "

Asked if the president had elaborated, she added that he simply said, " 'I told them that they had to.' That was the end of it. That's the way it is."

She also said during the interview in her spacious Capitol suite that no one else in the White House had asked her what she would do, or what the administration should do about Iraq.


Gotta love that throwaway line--"her spacious Capitol suite"--that suggests great power removed from ordinary concerns, in an article that portrays the president as boy-king throwing a tantrum; "Because I told them it had to."

WAAAAAHHHHH!!!!

This is what the Democrats need to understand. Bush isn't going to sit down and get advice and make an informed decision. He has already decided: "we're staying in Iraq until I leave office." It's as simple as that. If you take this as your base assumption, then the course is clear: force him to change course. Introduce binding resolutions. And if that happens, Democrats should internalize another fact about this president: he doesn't care about the law, either. Will he accede to a binding resolution? I somehow doubt it. That's what is so precarious about this situation. And perhaps some lawmakers realize this and wish to avoid a Constitutional crisis. Just remember, avoidance is paid for with blood. Ball's in your court, Dems.

Updates

  • updated the blogroll to reflect the alternative media I most frequently read
  • posted spam-proof graphic of an email address for reader feedback
  • working on fix for the spam that accompanies the comments system here
  • will be updating the "Articles of Interest" in left-hand channel
  • RSS feed buttons coming soon
  • Not likely, but a site redesign might be on the agenda
This ends our public service announcement.

January 24, 2007

Our Lovely Vice President

I read the transcript for this earlier, but here's the video. If you can "stomach" it, that is.

Factions

I really wish conservatives would form a third party. And not just because it would splinter the GOP and create a long-term Democratic majority but because it might serve to demonstrate that we can do better than the two party system. To be clear, the political theorist in me fully supports a multi-party system in the United States. But the political analyst in me doesn't believe that is desirable in the short term. We are at a phase in our history where I think government has certain imparatives. So to get those imparatives done there must be a political coalition that can pull it off. The Democrats are and will be that coalition (the Republicans proved they could not over the past 12 years, particularly the last 4). But beneath these practical necessities lie fundamental questions about what government should and should not be doing and that is going to create tensions that threaten to splinter any coalition. Parliamentary, multiparty systems are a way of addressing those tensions by giving most everyone a voice and share in government. But creating multiple parties that share power is going to take time. And one of the major parties in this country will have to be sacrificed to start the process. Because of my partisan preferences, I'm hoping the GOP is that sacrifice. But that by no means guarantees that the Democratic coalition forming now will stay together forever. It will be threatened by factionalism as well and could result in a system where we have two ideologically pure parties and one party of compromise. This is all speculative, just a thought experiment, and in no way endorses efforts like Unity08 to create consensus from nothing. Not to mention the political theorist in me who nags, "maybe you ought to read Federalist 10 again", and heed Madison's warning of factions.

Political Revolution

Rick Perlstein's piece in Salon, "Why Democrats can stop the war," is a must-read. Analyzing the legislative history of Congress during Vietnam and presidential reaction (both Johnson and Nixon), Perlstein demonstrates what I've been saying all along: Being the party responsible for ending the war in Iraq is not only the morally right thing to do, but it's smart politics as well. Perlstein, to wit:

Every time congressional war critics made Congress the bulwark of opposition to a war-mongering president, they galvanized public opinion against the war. The same thing seems to be happening now. Already, the guardians of respectable opinion are sneering less; there are simply too many anti-surge bills on the table for that. The shame would be if today's only credible antiwar party, the Democrats, squander that opportunity by failing to harness their majority, not merely for a strong showing against escalation but in favor of a position to credibly end the war.

You know that whatever the facts, the right will blame "liberals" and "Democrats" for losing Iraq; that's as inevitable as the fact that we've already lost Iraq -- and as inevitable as an arrogant president playing into Democratic hands by expanding the engagement (he already is). What would be inexcusable is if wobbly Democrats managed to maneuver themselves timidly into a corner that made them only the right-wing's scapegoats -- and not the champions that truly made their stand to end the war.

In 2008, the Republicans are going to have to run either amidst an electorate convinced that Republicans will be staying the course or amidst an electorate they've managed to bamboozle into believing "peace is at hand." If they manage the latter, they'll have a good chance of winning the election. But the only way they can do that is if Democrats can't claim credit for ending it first. I hope to be able to watch the Democrats truly try to end the war; it will be glorious. Because even if they start losing votes in Congress, the president and the party that enables him can only become politically weaker by the day.


Nothing more to add. It's up to the Dems to do the right thing. They will be rewarded for it.

SOTU Impressions

I don't have much to say about the SOTU speech. Bush provided the usual "ambitious" domestic policy goals, talked about the "decisive ideological struggle" of our times, and took some time to highlight a handful of American heroes. It was not very coherent and clearly reflects the new power structure in Washington. I would say the most disturbing omission of the speech was the reconstruction of New Orleans. The president did not mention Katrina once. But don't worry, the Democratic Congress will have plenty to say about that in the coming months as they investigate what Barney Frank called "ethnic cleansing by inaction."

Obviously Bush's ability to rally people around "the enemy" has lost its power. This article in today's Washington Post dissects the president's persistant and inaccurate use of that term. Better late than never, I suppose. It would have been nice to see this sort of analysis before we stromed into Iraq.

As I suspected, Webb's response was the most poignant part of the evening. In a speech Josh Marshall reports to have been written by Webb himself, he rightly criticized the president's wrongheaded foreign policy, putting it in the personal context of his own family's history of military service as well as the national context of ending pointless conflict (When Eisenhower ended our involvement in Korea). Webb seemed choked up with pride as he spoke about his family, and put a new face on today's Democratic party. I do not know if Webb will become a media darling after this career-defining moment, but it seems clear the former naval secretary is ready to kick ass in Washington, not play national politics for personal gain. Service and duty were the themes, and I for one am very excited to see them thrust back into our national conversation.

Overall, I've never seen a more weakened Republican establishment. It's quite amazing how quickly things have changed. It used to be the Democrats sucking up to the Republicans. Now it's clearly the other way around. Even the House Minority Leader all but set a deadline for withdrawl from Iraq. This is probably the last time there will be public niceties between the president and Congress. It's the business of putting America back on track from here on out.

January 23, 2007

Terror-Free Oil

Only on Fox.

"Fill it up with regular...no terror, plesae."

Insight

Inside the mind of the Bush sycophant. Believe it or not, I'm pretty tired of this subject. These people simply exist in a different reality. I first became aware of this reality while reading this blog essay. I was new to the blogging thing and didn't know where it was leading. In a nutshell, the author concludes that invading Iraq (this was back in Feb. 2003) was akin to having the confidence to ask a girl out. I'm not making this up. The decision to go to war (a manly decision) took the same "stomach" as asking a girl a out (a manly decision). Bill Whittle, the adolescent behind this insight, has written other essays with inspiring titles such as "Honor," "Freedom," "Empire," "War," "Courage," "History," "Victory," "Magic" (don't ask), "Responsibility," "Power," "Strength," "Deterrence," "Sanctuary," and "Tribes." His essays are clearly designed to inspire the like-minded, like those office posters that use the same words against majestic backdrops, eagles soaring, etc. He talks about slaying dragons (I'm not making this up) and the stuff of fantasy. These essays also appear in a compendium called "Silent America: Essays from a Democracy at War." I'm actually at quite a loss about how to intelligently react to this line of thinking. The main problem is that I don't understand how someone can sincerely think this way, reducing reality down to empty slogans. The context, of course, is war. When men are at war, we are taught, these things become paramount because you could die at any moment. Life becomes simplified. There is no mystery about that. What puzzles me are people like Whittle who are not in combat, writing inspiring things to other people who are not in combat. His vision of war is at the grandest, Patton-esque level. It is Lord of the Rings. Where there are true heroes, tragedy, and grand sacrifice. There is not the ugly side of war, with carnage, torture, confusion and propaganda. This is war sanitized of reality. It is Hollywood war. It is Bush war.

Whittle is small potatoes, but his convictions are echoed by William Kristol, Frederick Kagan (an Napoleonic historian by training, not by coincidence), Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney, none of whom have seen combat, and all of whom say the same thing: we can win if we will it. Just like asking that pretty girl to dance. Deluded no doubt by the fog of war and their own sense of importance (not to mention the recurring theme of manliness), they are utterly blind to the realities of war, particularly one that is unconventional (guerrilla insurrgency, sectarian militias). The fact is that the era of great wars fought with tanks and planes and between nations is likely over. Iraq is what warfare of the future looks like. Just as Vietnam demonstrated (unsuccessfully) to a previous generation. The difference then was that no one recognized that the NVA was essentially a nationalist movement; today no one realizes that Iraq is sectarian war with a parallel globalized, information war (well, this guy does. I learned a few things in this essay). But all of this falls on deaf ears because these people have ignored reality in favor of comforting slogans while they live their comfortable lives far away from bloody urban guerrilla warfare. Even while embedded in the warzone, as Michelle Malkin has done, they ignore the bad and look only for the good. As if a new school opening or some pro-American kids are enough to tell yourself that we are fighting the good fight. It's the eternal problem of absolute truths. Once you believe in them, there can only be an either/or. We're either winning or losing. We have or lack courage. You're with us or against us. Absolute truths are useful as guiding principles. They point us towards an ideal, but are only useful so long as we recognize that the ideal can never actually be achieved in full.

That is why liberals in America have embraced policy and judicial decions that strive towards laudable goals such as freedom, equality and privacy. The policies implemented or the decisions reached might not work as designed but they were an attempt to preserve freedom, promote equality and ensure the privacy of American citizens. But we must temper those ideals when applying them to the rest of the world. One must recognize that every human being on this planet should have the privilege of experiencing those liberties and rights but that one nation, no matter how powerful, cannot simply will it to happen. Liberals and conservatives alike are both guilty of these utopian designs. It is inevitable, I imagine. But the genius of the American system of government is that it expresses both idealism and pragmatism. Each generation must decide how much to push the ideal at the expense of the reality. And I believe that we get closer to those ideals all the time. Sometimes we take huge steps backward. Yet progress and change are inevitable. Sound management is the key to handling these realities. Technical expertise alone will not suffice, as it leads to detached bureaucracy and waste. And theory alone cannot provide, for it cannot account for changing realities. Only the two together hold the potential to realize the best in humanity.

I hadn't intended to ramble into this territory. I was going to start this post by saying, "someday I will write a book on this subject." And indeed, someday I will. But there's too much to talk about in this short space. Too much literature for me to absorb. Only then will I be able to synthesize and criticize comprehensively. Suffice it to say though, these are the big topics not just for me, but for the whole world.

Criminal

I'd die a happy man if I could see Dick Cheney being put in handcuffs. But then, I enjoy the simple things in life.

Yo Joe!

Feel like having your intelligence insulted? Read Liz Cheney's op-ed in the Washington Post. In addition to calling Senator Lieberman "courageous," she trots out Vietnam-era bullshit like "Our soldiers will win if we let them," and "Retreat from Iraq hurts us in the broader war" (the 'domino theory' is back and better than ever!). But my favorite is her matter-of-fact assertion that "We are at war," followed by this adolescent drivel:

America faces an existential threat. This is not, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi has claimed, a "situation to be solved." It would be nice if we could wake up tomorrow and say, as Sen. Barack Obama suggested at a Jan. 11 hearing, "Enough is enough." Wishing doesn't make it so. We will have to fight these terrorists to the death somewhere, sometime. We can't negotiate with them or "solve" their jihad. If we quit in Iraq now, we must get ready for a harder, longer, more deadly struggle later.

Fuck yeah! Let's get the G.I. Joe team together and fight Cobra to the Death! I mean, come on. We're not in a "situation to be solved?" This is an "existential" threat? Grow up.

People this fucking stupid should not be writing opinion pieces for major American newspapers. Its embarassing.

Pathetic

Joe Lieberman.

Why does everyone say this is our "last chance" in Iraq? By what criteria? People have been saying that the "next X months are critical" or "we have just one last shot at this" for over a year now. It really loses force of meaning when something terminal turns out to just be political smoke. I have no doubt that Lieberman sincerely believes what he says. But his opinion is so completely out of sync with reality that he doesn't deserve to be listened to anymore. That's why he is "pleading" for his colleagues to just go along with the President's plan.

Pathetic.

Obstacles

Following up on my link yesterday about major corporations voluntarily aligning themselves with environmentally-friendly policy, the benefactor of this site alerts me this Business Week article that explores some of the same solutions. This is, of course, good news, coming at a time when problems such as global warming are rapidly approaching the point of no return. It is tempting for us to look at these initiatives promoted by the business community and compare them to the clunky efforts of government in the past somewhat haughtily and conclude that government is ineffective in this area. The problem, however, was never with effectiveness of government but what constraints are placed on it by its agents. Large organizations, whether private or public, will always be influenced by its most authoritative executives who giude policy. From this point of view, executives in business or in government who share an ideological aversion to environmental problems (i.e., they don't exist) will steer their organization away from addressing those problems. Nor is it simply a matter of rationality. Rational individuals, organizations and leaders have been calling attention to the environment for some 30 years to little avail. I'm not sure what has changed to make today's business leaders more receptive to environmental issues, but I think it has something to do with inevitability. They know that if they don't start policing themselves, the government is eventually going to force them to. Since my concern is with the problems themselves, I don't care where the initiative comes from. But it would be false to attribute any results to the supremacy of any given organization, when the real obstacle was and still is ignorant ideology.

January 22, 2007

The Answer is Never, Senator

From Crooks and Liars:

WALLACE: "Sen. Biden, I know this is not your intent, but in fact, wouldn't your resolution send a message that would embolden our enemies and discourage our troops in the field?"

BIDEN: "Absolutely not. And not only does Carl Levin and Joe Biden and Senator Hagel and Senator Snowe but the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Iraqi Study Group, every single person out there that is of any consequence thinks, knows the Vice President doesn't know what he's talking about. I can't be more blunt than that. He is yet to be right one single time on Iraq. Name me one single time he's been correct. It's about time we stop listening to that ideological rhetoric and Bin Laden and the rest. Bin Laden isn't the issue here, but Bin Laden will become the issue. The issue is there's a civil war, Chris..."


Dick "the insurrgency is in its 'last throes'" Cheney, has absolutely no credibility in an administration that never had any credibility to begin with. I would be overwhelmed if some bold journalist would ask, straightfaced, why we ought to trust anything this administration has to say after six years of being wrong.

Popularity

CBS poll: Bush approval at 28%.

And if you'll look to your right, you'll see Richard Nixon, circa 1974, approaching.

Even with the margin of error in his favor, Bush still commands only 31%. In fact, Bush is so unpopular that even his "base," corporate America, has abandonned him on one issue.

Is it 2008 yet?

State of the Union: Tense

The last entry I posted on this blog before disapearing until August 2006 concerned Bush's last SOTU address. At the time I wrote:

The words "quiet transformation," which I have placed in bold, were what pricked up my ears. According to Bush, this transformation has made America more "hopeful" and that "a life of personal responsibility is a life of fulfillment." (Bush also claimed that the number of abortions has decreased, which is true, but contrary to the claims of the pro-life crowd who say Roe allowed "abortion on demand"). This so-called quiet transformation is to me code for the conservative movement, much in the way Nixon invoked the "silent majority." Compassionate conservatism--the very platform Bush initially campaigned on for President--has now returned, and for the same reason.

Modern American conservatism--despite the crucial support of anti-intellectuals--is the product of ideas. Ideas about law. Ideas about economics. Ideas about social values. These ideas are not particularly mainstream and, most importantly, have failed to convince the academic community at large. In order for these ideas to succeed as policy they had to be dressed up a bit. I have remarked countless times on this blog how the conservative movement is a long-term strategy for reframing the debate to make bad ideas in the above areas appealing to a majority of the public. Bush campaigned in 2000 with ideas for "reforming" various strongholds of progressive policy, including taxation, Social Security, health care, and so forth. After being appointed to the Presidency by the Supreme Court, Bush set out to accomplish his agenda, the agenda of these conservative intellectuals.

One year ago, in the President's 2005 SOTU, conservatives were emboldened by crucial 2004 electoral victories. Top of the agenda was Social Security. One year later Bush's comment that "Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security" was met with thunderous applause from Democrats while Republicans sat silent (video here). Brazen from 2004 victories, conservatives sought to deal the death blows to the welfare state but were defeated by people who weren't willing to buy the bullshit the GOP was selling. The rest of 2005 was pretty bad for Bush and the Republicans: indictments, criminal investigations, botched government action during Katrina, and revelations of illegal surveillance. Yes, it's been quite a year for a party that controls every branch of government.

Bush's SOTU address is evidence that conservative government in America is a failure and conservatives know it. Desperate to put some distance between themselves and the criminality and incompetance that were their cardinal points in 2005, Republican conservatives, with Bush as their spokesperson, put forward some bold, vague and unrealistic goals. I recall Bush discussing a hydrogen-fueled car in his 2003 address. Where is it? I recall Bush discussing some initiatives to go to Mars in the near future (don't remember which address). Didn't happen. All Presidents make fluffy pronouncements during the SOTU address. But sometimes they put forth specific goals. We did land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, just as Kennedy proclaimed. But sometimes bold initiatives fail, like Bush and Social Security. And when that happens you lose the specifics and go for as much applause as possible.

This is why I am not interested much in the content of Bush's address. It is all hot air. But that "quiet transformation" comment still bothers me. He seems to be saying that America reformed itself over the last 30 years or so. Individual initiative or some such nonsense. In actuality he seems to be admitting that the conservative movement's crusade has acheived some victories, but the best they can offer for the coming year is to prohibit the creation of "human-animal hybrids." 5 years of unified, Republican, conservative government has done little to improve America, despite Bush's rosy, compassionate conservative pronouncements. Bush avoided reality and stuck to the usual script. My prediction is that the place to look for evidence of conservatives' continuing desire to roll back the clock is in the courts. Bamboozling the public doesn't work as well as it used to. Congress is corrupt to the core. Important court decisions are the place where conservative schoalrs--in particular the Constitution in Exile movement--will attempt to use the law to force the United States government to behave as if it were still 1789. Their belief in the perfection of the Constitution is so absolute that they cannot acknowledge that the expansion of the national government has occurred in every country in the world, and that despite this, America still became a superpower. I simply fail to understand what motivates these people. They want to reign in the Federal government because they make a explicit equivalence between economic and personal freedom. Yet the prosperity they seek does not seem to have been hindered by the Federal government. Without regulation wouldn't business simply have been "more profitable?" I'd also like to see what these scholars think about freshly-appointed Sam Alito, who is a proponent of strengthening the executive branch. So much for the Founder's intent. Perhaps I shouldn't criticize the CiE movement in this way. They might not endorse Alito at all for this very reason. But nonetheless their theories of constitutionality are quite disturbing and confused. My interest is in assuring that such views remain in the minority and not part of a "quiet transformation." I don't think the American people have changed much. What mattered to them in 1970 still matters to them today. And the only people who have have claimed that our "culture is doomed to unravel" have been the conservatives. The only transformation that has occurred has been the manner in which Republican politics has been conducted. And as I've also pointed out before, Democrats can't expect America to coming running into their arms just because the poll numbers are in their favor. Democrats need to offer an alternative to conservative government. The answer lies in the great successes of progressive government, the very social and economic policies that conservatives most despise. America hasn't been hindered by the size of the government. The problems of bureaucracy (very real, I realize) can be solved. The real problem is a misguided philosophy of individualism that leads to the erosion of the public trust: the tyranny of the individual.


I think what I wrote then still stands up today. And I think it is only enhanced by the historic electoral defeat of the Republicans last November.

Tomorrow we will hear a new SOTU address. I will being comparing Bush's allusions to the conservative movement in 2006 to whatever it is he will be talking about in 2007. I'm afraid I have no substantive predictions to make, so some observations will suffice. I think there will be open disdain (in the form of booing) for the president's proposals. I think he will attempt to argue why we should send 21,500 more troops to the Iraqi meat grinder. There will be the usual medicare privatization ponzi scheme. There will be the talk of morality and cultural decline. Michael J. Fox will look on as Bush attempts to explain why he thinks people should suffer from crippling disease (by vetoing stem cell research). The responses that follow will say a lot more. Webb will be fierce. The Republicans will sound and look tired. And the day after, Congress will begin what I believe is its showdown with the president over Iraq. Just another constitutionally-mandated presidential address. But the tension will be thick. Our Repubic is already shuddering from this criminal administration. And the next two years will become increasingly more rocky.

Populism

Now firmly aligned, rightly, with the Democratic party.

And speaking of which, Jim Webb will be giving the Democratic rebuttal to tomorrow's State of the Union speech. Webb, you might recall, wrote a piece in the Wall St. Journal that said things like:

The most important--and unfortunately the least debated--issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars. They own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people. The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes.

Populism.

Grave Threats

The next time you hear or read someone argue that Iran wants nuclear war with Israel, ask yourself this: what would be the immediate reaction if Iran launched, unprovoked, a nuclear weapon at Iran? The answer is that Persia would then only exist in the history books, having been obliterated by Israel and the United States' nuclear arsenals. You might also add that while Israel actually posseses nuclear weapons, it is not probable that Iran has even one. People become so hysterical when discussing nuclear war, but not because of the costs. Rather, nuclear weapons fit nicely into the "rogue madmen in control of goverments" theory of international relations. Conveniently, the bad guys on the world stage are always unhinged, which is why we must be strong in opposing them. It turns out then when the world has faced nuclear crisis in the past, the decisions leading there were quite rational and not the work of madness at all. I'm not saying that a madman couldn't become the head of state, but rather that it is the exception, not the rule, and a remote one at that. Iran's governmental (not religious) authority wants nuclear weapons for the same reason people keep guns in their homes: a false sense of security. And indeed, Israel feels the same way. This is how nuclear deterrence is supposed to work. Deterrence, however, contradicts the selectivity of the nuclear club. If deterrence is correct, after all, shouldn't we arm everyone in the world with nuclear weapons? That's not what the nuclear powers argue. They warn that nuclear proliferation will destabilize international relations. Yet they maintain that they alone should keep nuclear weapons to preserve the peace.

Notice this sick "logic" is nevertheless rational. Yet the Madman Theory comes up whenever convenient, and it is always directed at the weak states. China just demonstrated its military prowess recently but no one talks about them as madmen. That's because the potential threat they pose is real, unlike Iran, who is not a threat and will not cause instability in the reigon unless provoked by the United States or Israel. I'm not taking sides or bashing anyone, by the way. I just think cooler heads are in short supply when tackling this subject.

UPDATE: Here's Richard Perle, who has claimed no responsibility for Iraq, assuring us (at a conference in Israel, no less) that Bush will strike Iran before he leaves office:

"Would this president do it? I think that until the day he leaves office, this is a president that, if he is told, 'Mr. President, you are at the point of no return,' I have very little doubt that this president would order the necessary military action."

[...]

"I'm not convinced that we have a lot of time. Given the peril that would result, its astonishing to me that we do not now have a serious political strategy with Iran," he said, adding he thought regime change is "the only significant effective way" to deal with the Iranian threat.

"If we continue on our current course, we have only a military option. So what I'm urging, and this should have happened a very long time ago, is that we make a serious effort to work with the internal (Iranian) opposition," Perle said. (Emphasis mine)


Perle is a consummate liar, you might recall, and has fairly delusional ideas about how to make the world peaceful (through preemptive war). I don't understand how he can say the only option is military (bombing) and also say we must work with internal dissidents. How do those two things square up? It just takes my breath away. No one should be listening to this guy. No one. Unfortunately, he might be right about Bush bombing Iran. Except that it won't be because we "need to." It will be because George Bush needs to feel like he did in his heyday, and the only way he knows how is to use military force.

Let me be blunt. If George W. Bush preemptively strikes Iran, the Congress of the United States of America should immediately draw up Articles of Impeachment. There is no other way to reign him in and I will not stand by while he thrusts the United States into another pointless military conflict with a nation that has not attacked us. That is my position. Mr. President, you either obey the rule of law and the will of the people or you will be stripped of your office. I wish I had more to make this threat credible, but words are all I have.

Preconceptions

The more I read about how bad the political analysis of the journalistic elite (there are exceptions, of course) is, the more I realize that it has everything to do with preconceptions. For a variety of reasons I won't get into here, elite journalists have decided that adopting a never-changing narrative is the best way to convey politics to their readers. For the narrative to work, you have to believe certain a priori things like, "Democrats are weak and immoral," "Republicans are strong and moral," "Bush is a popular president," "Nancy Pelosi is/will be an ineffective House Speaker," "the anti-war left will destroy the Democratic party," and so on. If you believe something to be true and don't reevaluate it based on new evidence (or any evidence, for that matter), you produce shitty news stories and even shittier news analysis and opinion.

That being said, we all have preconceptions that allow us to interpret the world in a reasonably fast fashion. Obviously I have preconceptions about Republicans and conservatives that affects what I write about and how I write it. But hopefully I have demostrated that my interpretations are resting soundly on a bed of factual evidence more profound than facile impressions. I think I have done a reasonably good job at that, and I do take a good amount of time to ensure my conclusions make sense and don't devolve into rants (well, expect the occasional rant; this is blog, after all...). If I were doing this professionally, I would double, triple my efforts in those areas. But apparently when good journalists graduate to punditry, they stop being good journalists and start relying on facile preconceptions that turns them into bad pundits. I don't know how to stop this trend, but I think starting with the body of work produced by good pundits would be profitable.

The Red Menace

This Sunday Times piece on Bernie Sanders, the socialist (gasp!) elected by the people of Vermont to the U.S. Senate in November, is a nice read on a true iconoclast in conformist D.C. The story of Bernie Sanders is quite interesting as a tale in success and idealism, but also tells us a lot about who is opposed to him and why. I located a couple stories on Media Matters just to give you a flavor:

Following the election of self-described socialist Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) to the U.S. Senate on November 7, conservative television hosts Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly declared that Vermont no longer belongs in the United States.

On his November 14 CNN Headline News program, while referring to Ben & Jerry's, the Vermont-based ice cream maker, Beck said that "we should take the ice cream factory without the two fat guys, and we should vote them out of the union," adding: "I think you should have a renewal period on every state. I think the rest of the country should vote whether you're a state or not anymore."

Similarly, on the November 16 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly blasted former state District Court Judge Edward Cashman for purportedly giving light sentences to sex offenders and declared that one of the men Cashman sentenced was given three to 10 years in prison, but is "probably going to be out at three because it's Vermont, a state that's left the union." O'Reilly then stated that "Vermont is now a state that is San Francisco values, secular-progressive all day long. They elect a socialist -- as we just talked with [Fox News political analyst] Dick Morris -- as a senator: Bernie Sanders." O'Reilly concluded: "I'm not even eating their maple syrup anymore. That's how bad it is." (link)


Populist conservatives like Beck and O'Reilly are intellectually lazy, to put it lightly. Like their forebears on the right who made no doctrinal distinction between communists and socialists, Beck and O'Reilly assume the entire state of Vermont has been coopted by the worldwide left/liberal/communist/socialist revolution that exists nowhere but their fevered minds. And this comment by Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes is telling of the attitude of these people:
Weekly Standard editor and Fox News contributor Fred Barnes claimed that Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was "grandstanding" during the March 17 congressional hearing on steroid use in professional baseball because, according to Barnes, Sanders "pleaded with the press to come here when we have a hearing on health care." Barnes concluded: "What a dodo."

Media Matters puts this in context with an AP report:
Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders looked at members of the media, including more than two dozen cameramen, and wondered where everyone is when the committee handles other issues.

"Maybe we'll have to bring in great baseball players to talk about crime and poverty," Sanders said.


Sanders' comment that the media has twisted priorities is lost on Barnes. Apparently Barnes doesn't think government and media should focus on social problems. I know Barnes and Kristol (the Standard is his magazine) are elitists who kowtow to power (Barnes wrote a book about Bush with the nausea-inducing title "Rebel-in-Chief") but what are they suggesting here? Clearly they, like Beck and O'Reilly, believe Sanders and the state of Vermont are outside the limits of what are acceptably American values and thus shouldn't be taken seriously. So why then is so much of what they say outside the mainstream? I know there are people who read the Weekly Standard and listen to Beck and O'Reilly, but I've been looking at these figures for a while and it seems to me that they're increasingly associating themselves with the fringe. Is it time to boot them out of the country? No, because that would be un-American. You see, in America we believe people are entitled to their opinions, no matter how wrong-headed they are. But when it comes to policy, that's up to the law and the people. The new populist conservative elite (so many contradictions it makes your head spin...) don't believe in democracy or the rule of law. It's a wonder they have an audience at all, until you remember that being wrong pays handsomely in this day and age. So I guess we're stuck with these court jesters until that changes.

Worst National Security Advisor Ever.

Josh Marshall, while browsing Woodward's State of Denial, puts up this all-too-telling quote: "She was probably the worst national security adviser in modern times since the office was created." That's David Kay, Iraq weapons inspector, commenting on then-NSA Condoleeza Rice. Is this just one man's opinion? Think about it this way. Condi was NSA during 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, clearly the two biggest national security failures of the Bush administration, and arguably the worst in the history of the United States (not counting Vietnam, which smacked of the same hubris as Iraq). What did Condi get for these two major fuck-ups? A promotion to Secretary of State. I realize that Bush doesn't believe in diplomacy (which is what the State Department is all about), but really, what has Condi done in that capacity? Are we negotiating with anyone? Oh, that's right. We don't negotiate with evil. I forgot.

In an administration that has been a disaster and a disgrace, with incompetance and corruption abounding, you'd think this intelligent and educated women would be a bright spot. Alas, she is nothing more than a Bush sycophant, who has neglected her duty and helped the United States decline to the point we're at today. But apparently we live in an age where being wrong and incompentant is rewarded and the officious are branded as traitors who want America to fail. Rice is a prime example of this. And when she leaves office she'll return to Stanford, collect lucrative fees on the lecture circuit and continue to modestly decline offers to run for President.

Is it 2008 yet?

January 21, 2007

Breaking News

Dinesh D'Souza thinks terrorists have good ideas. The rest of America thinks he is insane.

I guess D'Souza's conservatives want to live in the Dark Ages. I would recommend that real conservatives tell D'Souza to go fuck himself.

This Cuckoo Has One Note

Lord William Kristol:

KRISTOL: They’re playing — they’re leap-frogging each other in the degrees of irresponsibility they’re willing to advocate. And I really think people are being too sort of complacent and forgiving almost of the Democrats. ‘Oh, it’s politics, of course. One of them has a non-binding resolution. The other has a cap.’ It’s all totally irresponsible. It’s just unbelievable. The president is sending over a new commander, he’s sending over troops, and the Democratic Congress, in a pseudo-binding way or non-binding way, is saying, ‘It won’t work. Forget it. You troops, you’re going over there in a pointless mission. Iraqis who might side with us, forget it, we’re going to pull the plug.’ It’s so irresponsible that they can’t be quiet for six or nine months and say the president has made a decision, we’re not going to change that decision, we’re not going to cut off funds and insist on the troops coming back, so let’s give it a chance to work. You really wonder, do they want it to work or not? I really wonder that. I hate to say this about the Democrats. They’re people I know personally and I respect some of them. Do they want it to succeed or not?

To which the more reasonable talking head replied
WILLIAMS: I think everybody wants it to succeed who believes in the idea that we are over there and our people are at stake. I don’t think there’s any question. I think that’s sort of a rhetorical tool on your part. But your analysis seems to be totally ahistorical. It’s as if mistakes haven’t been made repeatedly, as if people don’t feel like they’ve been misled down this path, that there’s been tremendous support for this president and war effort and it’s come to naught. It’s come to a bad place. Yesterday was the deadliest, I think, in two years. Nineteen Americans killed. There’s something going on here you might pay attention to as opposed to just the politics of, if you don’t support this president, you don’t really want us to win.

That rhetorical tool has been used by Kristol since he used to put on his Spiro Agnew t-shirt and find liberals to debate in the Harvard cafeteria in the 1970s. Today Kristol is a media celebrity which I suppose makes him believe he can say such ridiculous things. How is it "irresponsible" for Congress to have a role in government? Ever hear of Article I, asshole? It continues to amaze me that Kristol is given a prominent platform on which to fellate the president and stroke his fragile, fragile ego. It also sickens me. He already has a magazine, for christssake. Does he really need be on television?

Terminal Cancer.

January 20, 2007

Political Predictions and Blogger Convictions

Via Atrios, Rox Populi reiterates a March 2006 prediction that the 08 GOP candidate will be a hardcore conservative. Or, in other words, "Neither Frist, Romney, Allen, or McCain will be the Republican nominee in '08."

This blogger link-fest started because Josh Marshall noted that McCain's support among independents in New Hampshire had dropped from 49% to 29% over the past year. Since Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, the other two would-be frontrunners, are invariably going to have a difficult time reconciling their socially liberal positions (concerning Romney, Rox writes, "A Republican candidate from New England? Get serious. The Dems can't even nominate a candidate from New England.") with the conservative base (the 30% who still support Bush), this means McCain is the more moderate candidate, and hence the more electable one. But if McCain is bleeding independent support and can't satisfy the conservatives, then his campaign is as sunk as Romney and Giuliani's.

I'm citing all this to defend my prediction that McCain and Gingrich are going to be the two candidates vying for the Republican nomination. McCain, despite the impediments listed above, will still be considered the conservative standard-bearer. That is why he is cozying up to the fundamentalists (somewhat unsuccessfully) and expressing wildly unpopular foreign policy positions. I have argued that conservatism in 2008 will largely reflect the neocon vision of the world, and McCain is their guy (hell, they endorsed him, not Bush, in 2000). Gingrich, in my view, would represent an alternative vision of conservatism. In a hypothetical primary showdown, Gingrich would claim something to the effect that "McCain represents the conservatism of Bush, but that's not conservatism. We must return to our roots and our principles." At which point he would start quoting Russell Kirk or Milton Friedman or somebody else in the canon of conservative intellectuals. There is the concern that Gingrich is unelectable because of his past. But since conservatives have repeatedly demonstrated an ability to ignore inconvenient facts, this is less of a factor that it might appear on the surface. After all, Gingrich is not trying to cover up liberal positions like the three frontrunners, he merely carries the baggage of sin. That's why George Bush's youthful transgressions weren't a big problem for him in 2000. He was born-again. The slate was cleaned. Gingrich hasn't formally been born-again, but if you glance at his recent books, it is clear that he believes moral repentance is possible. And that makes all the difference.

Now, I haven't said much about challenges from other hardcore conservatives. Brownback announced today, and it seems likely that we'll see Huckabee and Tancredo making bids. I think at this point--due to problems of name recognition--that these guys are at a serious loss to compete with the frontrunners, who each have an organization in place, and Gingrich, who has cleverly avoided an official announcement by cultivating a nascent (perhaps imaginary) draft movement that gives him plenty of time to see how things pan out. I think a hardcore conservative is real possibility for the GOP nomination, but it is unclear who that will be. I think it's going to be Gingrich. Here's someone who agrees, for what it's worth. I suppose the weak point of my prediction is McCain, not Gingrich. But because he is the only frontrunner, in my opinion, that means I have to take him seriously. Of course that also means he has nowhere to go but down. I think that is already happening, still 22 months from Election Day. And if he is totally marginalized, then it will be a battle between conservatives for the top prize: the GOP nomination. And it will be bloody. And ugly. Contrast that with the Democratic candidates. A lot of good choices there. Optimism. And when the American people vote, are they going to side with the candidate who believes we're being overrun by brown people or the candidate that wants to put America back on track? Seems to me there will be no contest: a Democrat will be president in 2008.

January 19, 2007

Ayatollah Cheney

First we learn that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been putting pressure on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to cease the nuclear program in Iran. This confirms what people who are, you know, experts on Iran and the Middle East have been telling us for some time: Ahmadinejad does not wield the absolute power Iran's more bellicose critics would have you imagine. But then I read this:

London -- An Iranian offer to help the United States stabilize Iraq and end its military support for Hezbollah and Hamas was rejected by Vice-President Dick Cheney in 2003, a former top State Department official told the British Broadcasting Corp.

The State Department was open to the offer, which came in an unsigned letter sent shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Lawrence Wilkerson, former secretary of state Colin Powell's chief of staff, told BBC's Newsnight in a program broadcast Wednesday night. But, Mr. Wilkerson said, Mr. Cheney vetoed the deal.

"We thought it was a very propitious moment" to strike a deal, Mr. Wilkerson said. "But as soon as it got to the White House, and as soon as it got to the Vice-President's office, the old mantra of 'We don't talk to evil' . . . reasserted itself." (via Juan Cole)


You know things are bad when the frickin' Ayatollah--official title: The Supreme Leader of Iran--wants to broker a peace deal and the Vice President of the United States refuses because he doesn't negotiate with evil. Like I said earlier this week, neocons don't believe in diplomacy. They don't believe in peaceful negotiation. There's good and evil states in world affairs and it is the moral duty of the good states to crush the bad ones. That is seriously how simpleminded their worldview has become. Remember, neocons used to be considered formidable intellectuals. The reality is that they are whiny babies who exert influence over the foreign policy of the most powerful nation on earth.

Well, that's fucking great. And if you're not totally depressed by this, then go read this. God help us all.

(By the way, the Ayatollah Khamenei has long condemned nuclear weapons and terrorism. But since we in the US have been told since 1979 that the Ayatollah is a bad guy (the first one, that is), I played it up for effect. I think it's clear that only "evil" we should be concerned with is that of Richard "Dick" Cheney. Wow, see what you can learn with a few minutes of internet research! Also, read this to learn about Dick's Brain. Seriously, read it.)

Incoherent

Howard Fineman: Presidential elections are like high school.

It appears some of us haven't matured a bit since high school.

Cancer of the republic.

Question of the Day

Why is Thomas Friedman a trusted voice for foreign affairs?

This is the man whose insights into foreign affairs were "everyone wants a Lexus" and "the world is flat."

Such insight, such courage. Such pure brilliance. Or maybe it's just the moustache.

Colbert

A year ago, Stephen Colbert gave us the most significant political moment of 2006 outside of the Democratic takeover of Congress. At the White House Correspondants' dinner, he criticized the President more forcefully and courageously than anyone before him, all while George W. Bush sat less than 15 feet to his right. Here is the video. Some of my favorites:

  • "I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq."

  • "As excited as I am to be here with the president I am apalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America--with the exception of Fox News--Fox News gives you both sides of every story: the president's side...and the vice president's side."

  • "Because, really, what incentive do these people [WH press secretary] have to answer your [the press] questions after all? I mean, nothing satisfies you. Everyone asks for personnel changes. So the White House has personnel changes. And you write, "oh, they're just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titantic." First of all, that is a terrible metaphor. This administration is not sinking, this administration is soaring! If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg!"

  • "John McCain is here. John McCain...what a maverick. Somebody find out what fork he used on his salad...Cause I guarantee you it wasn't a salad fork. This guy could have used a spoon. There's no predicting him. By the way, Senator McCain, so wonderful to see you coming back into the Republican fold. I've actually got a summer house in South Carolina...Look me up when you go speak at Bob Jones University. So glad you've seen the light, sir."

  • "Mr. President, I wish you hadn't made the decision so quickly, sir. I was vying for the job myself. I think I would have made a fabulous press secretary. I have nothing but contempt for these people [gestures to audience]."

Occasionally the camera takes in audience reaction. There they sit, Washington's elite journalists, gaping, stunned, at Colbert (the only one to take it in stride was Justice Antonin Scalia). They didn't get it. They found it insulting. Columnists wrote the next day about being shocked by the vulgarity. Because, you see, they were as much a target as the President himself. Colbert said what needed to be said and the Washington Establishment did not like it one bit.

Yesterday Colbert and O'Reilly interviewed eachother on their respective shows. You can watch the videos here and here. What struck me was that it wasn't clear whether O'Reilly got the joke. I honestly couldn't tell if he knew that Colbert is a satirist. It wasn't clear if O'Reilly thought Colbert was just copying him sincerely or to mock him. And the fact that no one in Washington understands Colbert, and the most prominent conservative commentator in America might not "get" Colbert, speaks volumes to the state our news media is in today.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention the thing that made me write this (and transcribe video) in the first place. Colbert's successor at this year's WHCA dinner is softball comedian Rich Little. Little was given specific instruction from the WHCA to not knock the president or even mention Iraq. So let me get this straight. They're more worried about knocking the president and protecting his legacy than doing their job? Tell me why we even have a White House press corps?

Cancer of the Republic

Newt News

This Washington Post article discusses Newt Gingrich's potential presidential bid and the feasibility of it. Since I've been predicting Gingrich to be a serious contender for the GOP nomination, I feel obligated to review any information that sheds light into the candidacy. Select quotes:

Newt Gingrich suggested yesterday that he might not run for president in 2008 if a rival has all but locked up the Republican nomination by next fall.

The former House speaker from Georgia said it would not be too late for him to enter the race after Labor Day 2007, if he thinks that no candidate has a clear advantage. He cited Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani as the contenders to watch.


He's being realistic, as he should. Note that this does not contradict his earlier suggestion that he might be forced to run if drafted.
"Of course I'm thinking about it," Gingrich said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I hope between now and September to help create with every candidate in both parties a wave of new ideas, a wave of new solutions."

Gingrich still desires a battle of ideas between the right and left because he feels confident in the superiority of conservatism. Bring it on. The trap is that 2008 will not be an abstract discussion of policy but orbit around a host of critical issues for the United States and world, with Iraq at the top of the list. I think the Democrats--if they're willing to fight for it--have the clear advantage on the war, the environment, on health care, on foreign and domestic policy. That is why I welcome the debate. I guess we'll see whose ideas come out on top, and we'll see if the GOP wants that debate or if they cave to their most unaccomodating elements.

Grasping at Straws

Barack Obama edition.

I wonder if Fox News anchors are even literate.

January 18, 2007

Question of the Day

Why would someone pay to read Ann Coulter?

I'm the Angry Left

Reading some of Alberto Gonzales' responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee today made me quite angry. What the hell is wrong with this guy? Where do they come from? Why do they hate America? Haven't I already asked these rhetorical questions once today?

Is it 2008 yet?

The Politics of Global Warming

The hippies aren't used only as anti-war scapegoats, they're also useful for forging "moderate" positions on global warming, too.

In the future, when the world is embracing sound environmental policy (or underwater), people are going to wonder why there were so many political obstacles to something that was so obviously needed. I wonder if they'll blame the poor hippies, too.

About Those Dirty Hippies

Andrew Sullivan describes how uncomfortable he felt in the presence of anti-war demonstrators because of "reflexive hostility to American power, partisan hatred of Bush, and blindness toward Saddam's atrocities." This is all being discussed in the context of "who was right" about Iraq back then. Most of us on the left have argued that the dirty hippies were right all along, whereas the serious journalists argued that they were courageous for recognizing evil. And the neocons, well, they were never wrong (Bush fucked it up!).

Here's what I think, if anybody cares. I agree that the antiwar demonstrators were not making cogent arguments in the streets. But when have protestors ever done so? A protest is about emotion, solidarity and sending a message. Unfortunately, the message most people got was that we were suddenly back in 1968. "No blood for oil" is not a sophisticated argument against the Iraq war but protests are not arguments, per se. So while I understand where Sullivan is coming from, I think he misses the fact that there were cogent arguments being made against the war but no one noticed either because they were in awe of Bush, terrified of the false connections the administration made between Iraq and al Qaeda, or convinced that the dirty hippies were the sole voice of the antiwar movement. I knew at the time (hell, I even wrote about it) that no protest on earth (and they were worldwide) was going to stop this war. I knew Bush did not care about world opinion, just like he does not care about world opinion today. So I supported the protests even though I knew they had neither substance nor influence because stopping the war was (is) my goal.

There are valid criticisms to be made of the antiwar left. It is true that they are reflxiveky hostile to American power, as Sullivan claims, but they don't suffer from BHS and they weren't "blind" to Saddam's atrocities (don't you see how evil he is!?). I think the protestors were wrong in describing the motivations of the Bush administration (empire, oil) but that is a moot point given no one knows why the hell we are in Iraq. I certainly don't. WMDs? Nope. Ties to terrorism? Nope. Spreading democracy? Nope. battling Islamic fanaticism? Nope. I doubt even Bush knows why he's in Iraq. I would surmise that a bunch of previously unrelated interests jelled after 9/11 that made regime change in Iraq desirable. It satisfied personal vengence for Bush (Saddam took a shot at my daddy!), intellectual hubris for the neocons, and political ambitions for the GOP. I believe these people truly believed their own bullshit. I think they honestly thought they would be greeted as liberators, free markets would flourish, tyrants everywhere would shake in their boots, and the Middle East would be on its way to democracy and peace. If you read some of what the principle proponents of the Iraq war wrote at the time, they were unequivocal on these points. They really believed it. The criticism, as many pointed out before being drowned out by the drums of war, was that this was pure fantasy. I knew you couldn't just remove the dictator that was holding an artificial country together by force and expect a Jeffersonian democracy to flourish. I knew you couldn't privatize economy before using the government to modernize it. And I knew that chaos was going to ensue in the Middle East as a result.

As I've said before, I take no pleasure in having been right about these things. It makes me sick that this war was essentially unpreventable (particularly after the one man who might have stopped it, Colin Powell, forever ruined his legacy by feeding bullshit to the UN). And it's not as though one had to perfectly, accurately predict the consequences of invading Iraq. I think the spectre of those consequences were enough to make any rational person think twice about this adventure. But people didn't think twice. They took Bush at face value as he lied to the world. The scar of 9/11 was exploited most cynically. I remember when Bush gave his ultimatum speech two days before "shock and awe" and the channel I was watching jumped to Times Square after the address. The camera dispassionately watched two fratboys whoop after the speech and say something like "go get 'em W!" before heading off to debase themselves somewhere. That was the environment we were in. The reason the hippies get singled out is because they were making an unsophisticated argument at a time when unsophisticated arguements for the war were in vogue. No one listened to the nuanced, serious arguments against invading Iraq because the Bush administration had made factuality a subjective experience and independent thought tantamount to treason. The hippies were and still are a scapegoat for the opposition. That was the world we lived in back then. And despite popular opinion turning decidedly and permanently against this president and against this war, our national conversation is shockingly slow to catch up, nearly four years later.

We Have No Rights

I'm in total agreement with Atrios when he muses, "I really don't understand the deep hatred these people have for this country."

Linking to this. I don't get it either. I don't understand why these people hate America and the American system of justice. Why they hate democracy. Why they hate freedom. Why they hate the rule of law. All I hear from them is a defense of tyranny, and worse, the tyranny of George W. Bush. At times my head actually hurts when I hear him struggle with expression and reducing the world to child-like simplicity. He is not strong, he is not resolute and he is not wise. I know I suffer from BHS (Bush Hatred Syndrome), but come on.

All Hail Bush

More bad journalism.

C'mon, people. It's not hard to get the facts straight, unless you have an agenda where the facts are inconvenient. Oops! Did I say that out loud?

Paranoia and Conspiracy

The left blogosphere has been having a bit of fun at the expense of Swampland, the new Time Magazine blog featuring Anna Marie Cox, Joe Klein, Karen Tumulty and Jay Carney. What makes it such a ripe target is that you've got a panel of Washington insiders using the independent fiestiness cache of blogging to demonstrate how out-of-touch their political analysis is. As you may know, Josh Marshall and his TPM reporters have been following the Bush administration's purge of US Attorneys around the country. A good question to ask is why this is happening. Marshall has ccme to the conclusion that this is being done to cut off investigations into the administration before they start by appointing loyalists who will ride out the rest of the administration investigating anything but Bush's many crimes. Yet Carney at Swampland thinks this is "conspiratorial" thinking. I think it's time to add "conspiracy" to my list of most misused words, right up there with "fascist" and "revolution." A conspriacy, both by definition and in practice, is secretive. When someone is legally charged with conspiracy, it is because they were conspiring, furtively, to commit a crime. Conspiracies don't happen in broad daylight. When Marshall and others read between the lines to understand what motivates the purges, they are not looking for conspiracy. They are investigating. Just like members of Congress were doing this morning when they asked AG Gonzales how many Attorneys were asked to resign. Does this mean they too are engaging in conspiratorial thinking? By Carney's definition, yes. And that, of course, is absurd.

No doubt all of this is the result of believing the "Bush hatred" theory of cognitive lapse. In short, the theory states that liberals, and liberals alone, so enraged over Bush's very existence, have lost the ability to think rationally. Because of this, their opinion cannot be trusted. Journalists with proximity to power are especially fond of this theory because it helps them ignore the authority bias they suffer from. What they don't get is that when you've experienced six years of deceit from the President of the United States, it is natural to no longer trust him. There is no need for conspiratorial thinking when the administration admits it has broken the law, has claimed powers that appear nowhere in the Constitution, and ignores expert and popular opinion that disagree with its policies. All of this is right out in the open. And yes, there is still plenty we do not know about this highly secretive administration. That is why bloggers are investigating. That is why the Democratic-led Congress is investigating. And it seems the only people not investigating are the Beltway reporters. Here's a scoop, guys: DC cocktail party gossip is not news. The excesses of the most criminal administration in American history is.

Now go do your fucking job. Sheesh.

Obama and His "Critics"

I've made clear my reasons for supporting Barack Obama in these posts. And I would be equally happy with John Edwards as well. But one benefit of Obama running is that it brings out the most ugly right-wing hate. And it's about time some light was shed on these people. Since Obama doesn't have a substantial record to run on (at least at the national level), his opponents are reduced to highlighting his middle name, claiming he is a dangerous muslim, asking whether he will qualify for affirmaitve action, and using slurs to describe his mixed ethnicity. I know Obama can take the heat. I know none of these things bother most Americans. So please, go ahead and keep whipping up the bigotry, my right-wing brethren. Your insults bounce right off their intended target and stick to conservatives and Republicans. How long will it be before a majority of people realize that the once-respectable Republican party and once-respectable conservative philosophy have been co-opted by vile bigots and paranoid lunatics? How long before the GOP cracks wide open and exposes these sentiments to the public?

It's going to be interesting, these next two years.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, the GOP has bigger problems than their bigots. It's called Iraq. And as long as Republicans continue to support Bush in large numbers, the GOP is effectively a non-functioning political party. The above discussion was to point out that the GOP--even without the Iraq issue--still has to deal with the Brownbacks, Buchanans and Tancredos of the party who are the hammer driving the wedge of intolerance and division.

January 17, 2007

Winter

This slideshow of pictures from Germany shows the difference in the weather between this winter and the last. The contrast is pretty stark and I think the more regular people start realizing that you know, maybe, this might have something to do with that crazy liberal conspiracy of global warming, the better.

Of course there's snow on the ground here in Portland, OR, so I must be deluded.

I Heart Stephen Colbert

I've wanted to write about Dinesh D'Souza's new book for some time (I haven't read it by the way) but wasn't sure how I should approach it. The book, The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, argues that because Muslims only see American popular culture, which he asserts is the opposite of tradtional values, they become uncomfortable and angered and this leads to radicalism. Therefore, we must promote traditional values to show the "real" America is not hostile to more traditional Muslims.

I'm sure you can see why I've wanted to write about this.

Now, let's be clear: D'Souza is not only suggesting that we accomodate the sensitivities of terrorists, but that "real" Americans share the same sensitivities. Isn't that precisely the opposite of what we've been hearing from our glorious leader, his party sycophants and their media lapdogs since 9/11? Whatever happened to "they hate our freedoms?" Remember that one? D'Souza's argument is rather different.

Or is it?

Pardon my use of that cliche, but I think there is something very significant about this book and the fact that it is at odds with "conservative" policy towards terrorism heretofore. Underlying respectable conservatism--which includes conservatives I have excoriated here repeatedly--lies a dark current of eliminationist conservatism that cannot coexist with what it perceives as "liberal America." Respectable conservatism generally plays by the rules. Of course there is mudslinging, lying and the usual distortions of reality, but there isn't a militant attitude that advocates simply removing the competition by any means necessary. What is significant is that I think the respectable conservatives are beginning to be overrun by the the eliminationist variety. Worse, the line is becoming blurred between the two. I recently referred to Glenn Beck as a "professional racist," which I think he is. But he is mainstream by virtue of his presence on CNN and, more recently, ABC's Good Morning America. D'Souza, by virtue of his long-time affiliation with--and financial support of--the Hoover Institution at Stanford, gives academic gilding to a book that essentially argues for marginalizing, if not outright eliminating, liberal America.

D'Souza was on the Colbert Report last night. You can watch the video at the Comedy Central website. What makes Colbert such a brilliant political commentator is that he is able--like Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat--to induce his interview subjects to say plainly things that are rather unbelievable. Colbert essentially got D'Souza to admit that "real Americans", not "liberal America" share the same values as terrorists. Such a belief is absurd. Americans (forget this blue-state, red-state, liberal-conservative, real-fake bullshit for a moment) don't share the values of terrorists. Do some Americans? Of course. There is nothing surprising here. As was obvious to me from the beginning of the "war on terror," the conflict was between fundamentalism and progess. If you believe the modern world is decadent and you are sufficiently radicalized, then terrorism becomes a tool for you to lash out at the modern world. That rule applies to everyone, everywhere. Remember the Unibomber? Timothy McVeigh? Those people are no different from Osama bin Laden. They cannot deal with modernity, and they think their governments and institutions have betrayed them. The religious aspects fill out the picture for them, rather than being the impetus. And thankfully, these people are a minority. But D'Souza is claiming that a plurality of Americans--the Left--are radicalizing Islamic terrorists. And he thinks we should placate them. I know I'm not some important conservative think tank intellectual, but I think it's more than obvious that D'Souza is wrong and America's values are forward-looking and progressive, not reactionary, regressive and terrified of change.

UPDATE: It occurs to me D'Souza's argument further falls apart when you consider that he targets Muslims and their would-be propensity towards terrorism. If, as D'Souza claims, there are shared traditional values between the three great monotheistic tradtions, then wouldn't "liberal America" be inciting the same radicalism here in the United States? Or what about D'Souza's native India? They have, by anybody's measure, a pretty traditional social system (caste system, anyone?). Why aren't more terrorists being spawned there? I suppose D'Souza would counter that America's foreign policy towards the Middle East would be the difference. Gee, you think? The problem is that D'Souza, like popular conservative writers such as the vile Ann Coulter, selectively scan American history and only find fault with Democrats. Yep, all America's problems come from FDR, Truman, Kennedy, LBJ, Carter and Clinton. Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and both Bushes never made a mistake. (D'Souza even throws in the old "FDR betrayed Eastern Europe at Yalta" argument in the Colbert interview.) I suggest reading this article from Harpers last year called "Stabbed in the Back." Tells you all you need to know about paranoid conservatism in American history. Hell, while you're at it, read Richard Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politcs." Things haven't changed one bit.

January 16, 2007

Realignment: The Populist Connection

A week ago, while I was pondering our approaching constitutional crisis, I asked if Bush really could sustain this level of deception and stubborness with the American public for two more years. Given how condensed the news cycle is now, there are at least a dozen stories I could be following on a given day. Successful bloggers are able to keep up with all those conversations. I cannot, which makes me unsuccessful by my definition. But the point is that a lot of this news leads right back to the president and Iraq. Bush is taking a beating. Josh Marshall encapsulates it nicely in this brief post. Bush's approval rating has been in the 30s for well over a year, occasionally hitting a ceiling somewhere in the 40s. His unpopularity gave Democrats control of Congress and has demoralized Republicans. Conservatism has become difficult to define. All of this adds up to an unpredictable situation for the next two years. Can Bush really stay in Iraq for two more years? And if he tries to, what will be the Democratic response? In all liklihood, Bush's support will come from a fraction of the most hardcore of conservative Republicans, Joe Lieberman, and the handful of neocons who defined his presidency.

I guess what I'm asking is whether a modern US President can actually do his job with that kind of support. And what about when the veto pen starts bleeding ink? Bush will be linked to obstructing wildly popular legislation, and those members of Congress that support him. This adds up to a bloodbath in 2008. How many Republicans will sign onto the Democrats' domestic and foreign agenda to create veto-proof majorities in order to save themselves in 2008? And what will the reaction of the conservative base be? I never thought two years ago that I would write this, but I don't see how how the Republican party can make any gains in 2008 (my prediction that the 2004 election was the peak of the conservative movement's dominance wasn't until March 2005). They have hitched their fortunes to a core voting block that demands certain things from their candidates. These are the extremists of the Republican coalition, the more hardcore of the conservative movement. The Christian nationalists. The anti-immigrant xenophobes. The foreign policy adventurers. The radical free-marketers. The unlimited presidential power fanatics. The legal libertarians. I would consider all of these people to be in a very distinct minority yet they appear to have control of the party machinery, the organizations that support it, and the leaders who promote it. How can a moderate Republican survive in this climate, much less a liberal one? Lincoln Chafee left office with a 60% approval rating. He has long opposed Bush and his agenda. The voters threw him out solely because he was a Republican. Now that's in Rhode Island. What about the rest of the country? Take a look at Arnold Schwarzenegger. He tried to govern with a simpleminded libertarian agenda and he suffered setback after setback. He is now a consummate politician because he has abandoned the movement conservatives and started working with his Democratic rivals. Now, that's California, but hasn't California been, as we've heard for the past 40 years, the bellwether state? I think Republicans like Schwarzenegger are the only ones that stand a chance in hell for 2008, and that's if they're in blue or purple states. This isn't quite the "liberal Republican" conservatives complained about in the 50s, 60s and 70s, this is the Republican who is nonideological and who compromises. In short, the precise opposite of the Reagan and Gingrich revolutions. If the ideologues lose sway, then where will they go?

It seems that the Republican party will either become the party of Schwarzenegger or the party of the conservative (Whoever the standard-bearer becomes; it's unclear who that is right now). And either way, that splits the party, perhaps for a long time. I wonder too what will become of the conservative counter-establishment and alternative media that has proliferated over the last 30 years. Its certainly not going to disappear once Republicans lose control of government. In fact, it will be right where it is most comfortable: as the underdog. Nothing rallies the conservative base better than liberal dominance. The difference is that conservatives won their dominance through populism. If I am correct is asserting that the Democrats are now the populist party, then the conservative establishment will have a difficult time making the case that they alone speak for the people. One can't help but see cycles in all this. And the more I think about it, the key variable is who controls the populist agenda. That is the bind our binary system seems to be in, perhaps for all time. I fully expect the pendulum to shift back to the right within my lifetime, but for the time being, the bell tolls for conservative populism as the sun rises on a new Democratic, progressive, populist agenda.

January 15, 2007

Fundamental Assumptions of the Neoconservative Mind

I think Lieberman's ahead in the race between him and McCain for most despicable senator. Lieberman says amazing things, like:

When the people see suicide bombings on TV every night they get frustrated, they get angry. And what I wish they did was get angry because those suicide bombings of people signing up to be Iraqi police officers show how evil the enemy is*

This is a fundamental assumption of the pro-war crowd: only we sufficiently understand evil. And apparently, frustration with evil (as if that's going away anytime soon, Senator) is the morally courageous position whereas frustration with the entire buildup and execution of this war and the people responsible for it is unserious.
In war, ultimately there are two exit strategies. One is called victory. The other is called defeat. The President offered a proposal the other night that holds the hope of victory in a critical battle for the Iraqis and for us.

First of all, victory and defeat are not strategies, they are outcomes. Four-star generals don't get together in a room and say to eachother, "well, our strategy for this war is to win it." Winning is assumed from the start, because if you don't think you can win, then why would you go to war? But the key is that strategy is the nuts and bolts of how you achieve your goal. And as I asked below, no one has defined what that goal is. I assume the goal is something to the effect of stopping the violence in Iraq, which seems rather impossible without overwhelming force and all the negative consequences associated with it.
With all respect, the other proposals represent the beginning of a retreat. Of a defeat. And I think the consequences for the Middle East, which has been so important to our national stability over the years, and to the American people, who have been attacked on 9/11 by the same enemy we are fighting in Iraq today, supported by a rising Islamist radical superpower government in Iran.

More assumptions fundamental to the pro-war crowd: The people we are fighting in Iraq are the same as those that attacked us on 9/11. This is, of course, not true unless you define your enemy as "non-state-supported violence." That category is broad enough to include Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias, Saudi terrorists, and Al Qaeda, which is in conflict with the other fundamental assumption: Iran is a superpower at the center of a global Islamic jihadist movement. First of all Iran is not, repeat, not a superpower, unless Lieberman is defining "superpower" as "a radical ideology that threatens us." The beauty of this definition is that it renders irrelevant any notion of military parity and capability. Iran is not a threat to the United States precisely because they do not possess the military prowess to engage us directly. This is why Lieberman asserts that Iran is the mastermind behind global Islamic terrorism. It lets him make simpleminded and sweeping claims about various parties who each have various agendas and creates a superenemy for us to fight. I'm no expert in the Middle East but anyone who is literate can read a decent newspaper that covers international affairs and learn about the Middle East and the power struggles involved. Lieberman's brain is still shortcircuited after 9/11 into thinking this "axis of evil" bullshit is real.

I'm willing to bet that these people secretly desire nuclear obliteration of Iran but that would threaten the energy resources there (probably why the military is developing "low yield" nukes and "bunker busters"). You can't invade Iran and force regime change either (no troops) so what do you do? Apparently anything but diplomacy, which is the final fundamental assumption of the pro-war crowd: you can't negotiate with evil because all they understand is power. I'm sick of writing the word "neoconservative," which is why I've been calling them the "pro-war" crowd. But all of these fundamental assumptions are what drive the neoconservative understanding of foreign policy. They abhor international institutions precisely because they curtail sovereign states' ability to unilaterally use force. For all their talk about freedom and democracy, the neocons really believe in one thing: power. That's ironic, because foreign policy realists like Kissinger think the same thing. Power is important, but it is not the only thing that matters.

It seems pretty clear to me that the Bush administration is trying to force a war with Iran, to seek a causus belli. But that's another subject. The most important thing to note about all this is its inherent dishonesty. If this is the grand struggle of our times, with everything on the line, then why has it consistently been done on the cheap? To listen to Bush, Cheney, Lieberman, Kristol, Kagan and others you would think that the very fate of Western Civilization hangs in the balance. So why hasn't the whole country, indeed the whole West, been mobilized to seek an end to evil? Where is the grand Churchillian rhetoric about shared sacrifice? It's conspicuously missing because only the necons believe their own rhetoric. They were able to capitalize on a political moment--September 11, 2001-- to convince enough people for enough time that we could and would topple the dictatorships of the world and democratize them. As 9/11 fades further into memory the public's willingness to see the grand struggle has all but evaporated. That is why there is widespread disgust with Bush's "surge" plan. It looks like exactly what it is: Bush trying to salvage the centerpiece of his presidency. That is why Cheney is saying that we must show "stomach" to win in Iraq (without defining "winning"). It absolves him and his boss of responsibility and shifts it to the American people. And that is why Lieberman sounds like the Republican and the Republican sounds like the Democrat. Whether they're just trying to save their ass in 2008, or actually appalled by how far Iraq has deteriorated (I'm actually leaning towards the latter interpretation), Republicans are coming around to the fact that there is only one position on Iraq that makes sense: phased withdrawl. And those who insist on the victory "strategy" are going to find themselves irrelevant in 2008.

*Transcription of Lieberman video mine.

Winning

Question of the day: what does "winning" in Iraq mean, exactly?

Follow up question: why doesn't the media ask this question?

January 12, 2007

Gingrich/Giuliani '08!

God I hope one of these guys gets the GOP nomination.

There are many lessons from the successful welfare reforms in New York City that can be readily applied in Iraq. In the early 1990s, New York City suffered an average of 2,000 murders a year while more than 1.1 million people--one out of every seven New Yorkers--were unemployed and on welfare. Too many neighborhoods were pervaded by a sense of hopelessness that came from a combination of high crime, high unemployment and despair. "Workfare" proved an excellent method to change this destructive decades-long paradigm. It required able-bodied welfare recipients to work 20 hours a week in exchange for their benefits. In the process, we reasserted the value of the social contract, which says that for every right there is a responsibility, for every benefit an obligation.

New York in the 70's and 80's was a dangerous place. But to suggest it bears comparison with Iraq today? And that "workfare" programs will somehow magically stop civil war based on ancient hatreds? I'm a bit embarassed now that I previously called Gingrich the "intellectual" of the conservative movement. Clearly he is as ignorant about Iraq as everyone who advocated the invasion. Please run, Newt. Or Rudy. Please. I'd love a Democratic landslide in 2008 to put the nail in conservatism for good.

Credibility and Morality

Since the credibility of neonconseravatism on matters of foreign policy and national security has totally collapsed as a result of Iraq, it's no wonder that they blame everyone but themselves for it. But the new theme emerging closes the circle of neoconservative thought which began with American defeat and withdrawl from Vietnam. "At least Bush wants to win," claims Jonah Goldberg. Echoing the theme that the Democrats are weak defeatists, Goldberg claims

AMERICANS ARE torn between two irreconcilable positions on the Iraq war. Some want the war to be a success — variously defined — and some want the war to be over. Conservatives are basically, but not exclusively, in the "success" camp. Liberals (and those further to the left) are basically, but not exclusively, the "over" party. And many people are suffering profound cognitive dissonance by trying to believe these two positions can be held simultaneously. The motives driving these various positions range from the purely patriotic to the coldly realistic to the cravenly political or psychological perfervid. Parsing motives is exhausting and pointless, but one fact remains: "End it now" and "win it eventually" cannot be reconciled.

Speaking of dissonance, in the space of one paragraph, Goldberg turns the dyad of "success" and "over" into "End it now" and "win it eventually," with the brilliant insight that the latter pair are irreconciable. And who believes the two positions can be held simultaneously, as he claims? And since the two positions are irreconcilable and absolute, why does Goldberg insist there are shades of gray regarding motives?
With last night's speech, President Bush made it clear that he will settle for nothing less than winning it. He may be deluding himself, and his plan may not work, but he at least has done the nation the courtesy of saying what his position is, despite an antagonistic political establishment and a hostile public. What is maddening is that the Democratic leadership cannot, or will not, clearly tell the American people whether they are the party of "end it" or "win it."

Of course he's deluding himself. Americans want our involvement with Iraq to end precisely because it has no point. They're sick of being targets for insurgents and they're sick of Bush's shifting rationales and justifications. The only consistent position Bush has held, Goldberg correctly points out, is that leaving=losing and winning is the only option. To Goldberg this is a sign of strength whereas the "Democratic leadership" will not take a firm stand. First of all, the leadership has taken a stand, in the form of a letter to the President. Second, didn't Goldberg state in the previous paragraph that liberals are in the "over" category? Which is it? The reason this is so confusing is because Goldberg himself is not taking a stand on anything. He is merely praising Bush and conservatives and demonizing Democrats and liberals. Last paragraph:
Bush came up with the "surge" plan. Will it work? Nobody knows. But the one thing the American people know about George W. Bush is that he wants to win the war. What the Democrats believe is anybody's guess.

Summarizing his facile characterizations. As for "nobody" knowing whether the surge will work, what about the authors of the surge? You know, the neoconservatives who "choose" victory? And there are plenty of people who argue the surge will not work. Goldberg is reducing the serious matter of our involvement in Iraq to "who knows," "who cares," and yet thinks the serious question is "who is braver?" Winning is everything for these people, particularly the reprehensible Bill Kristol. His reaction to Bush's speech?
One thing that struck me, when Fred was talking, he said -- you know, he compared it with previous wars. One thing that sort of disturbed me about the speech, does the president use the word "war" in the speech? I'm not sure, I didn't hear it. I haven't done a word search here, but I didn't hear it. I wish there were a little more about winning the war and a little less about helping the Iraqis.

I thought we were building democracy in Iraq. Isn't that how we win? If not, what does Kristol mean? I suspect "winning" for him is pacification. And that means overwhelming force, civilian casualties and increased hostility towards us. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Kristol is absolutely certain of his moral superiority (which means he himself can be morally relativistic) and ultimately hostile to popular democracy. He wants to live in a world where he and small band of learned intellectuals advise a king who oversees ignorant, teeming masses. That world no longer exists but in the minds of people like Kristol. And that is an extreme view, radical, and pretty much out of bounds of reality-based debate and news. Yet there he is on the TV. There he is in Time Magazine. There he is in syndicated columns. It's astounding to me. Such is the world we live in today thanks to the "conservative" movement.

January 11, 2007

Anger

Too busy today to do any substantial blogging, so go read Eric Alterman instead.

The problem the war creates for the punditocracy and the rest of the political establishment is twofold. First, the leaders they backed have not only been wildly incompetent but also impervious to reality. Offered a face-saving exit by the Baker Commission, Bush, Cheney & Co. prefer instead to double down on disaster. Second, there is the problem of the pundits' individual reputations. If William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Lawrence Kaplan and David Brooks et al. are so smart, why were they so wrong about something so crucial? And why, given their sorry records, do they and their editors still think anybody ought to keep listening to them? At the very least, those they misled are entitled to an explanation.

And I think this episode demonstrates the mindset of an individual who still thinks Iraq was and is a noble cause
The purest embodiment of this tendency, perhaps, is a recent screed by Roger Cohen, formerly the foreign editor of the Times, now the editor at large of the International Herald Tribune, author of the "Globalist" column and international writer at large for the Times. According to Cohen, writing in the IHT and on the Times website, the people who tried to save America and the world from the horrific catastrophe we must now endure are nothing but "hyperventilating left-liberals [whose] hatred of Bush is so intense that rational argument usually goes out the window." We are "so convinced that the Iraq invasion was no more than an American grab for oil and military bases...[we] have forgotten the myriad crimes of Saddam Hussein." We are "America-hating, over-the-top rant[ers] of the left--the kind that equates Guantánamo with the Gulag and holds that the real threat to human rights comes from the White House rather than Al Qaeda." And for good measure, we also "equate the conservative leadership of a great democracy with dictatorship."

To support these amazing charges, Cohen quotes exactly one person: Scottish MP George Galloway, last seen making an ass of himself on the reality TV show for washed-up gossip fodder, Celebrity Big Brother. Galloway, who was thrown out of the Labour Party, can be said to represent the "left-liberals" here and abroad about as well as, say, ex-KKK Grand Wizard and Holocaust denier David Duke represents the right.

Naturally curious about the actual evil-doers he had in mind, I e-mailed Cohen and politely asked for specifics. He was on vacation with his family and replied by BlackBerry that he would not be able to respond. A few minutes later, however, he apparently changed his mind and replied with a lengthy and rather hostile set of questions regarding my own views on Iraq, including: "What makes you think you can express an informed opinion...?"


You know, the reason I and my brethren in the "angry left" are against this war is because we have seen how destructive this war is, not because we want America to lose (if that were the case we would have supported it). I am not smug in knowing I was right--it makes me feel nauseous. Those who still support this war appear to be the narcisists. For them, being right is more imporant than all the problems Iraq has created. I'm running out of words to describe these people, so reprehensible will do. How dare they acuse us of criticizing this war out of irrational hatred and a desire to see America fail?

No shame at all.

You're damn right I'm angry. It doesn't mean we have lost the ability to think straight. It means we have a sense of morality.

UPDATE: I realize that that last line makes me sound pretty self-righteous. What I'm saying is that I don't understand how someone could still support this war without, in my mind, being utterly cynical and misanthropic.

January 10, 2007

Revenge and Freedom

James Carroll, Boston Globe columnist:

THE HANGING of Saddam Hussein Dec. 30 offered a view into the grotesque reality of what America has sponsored in Iraq, and what Americans saw should inform their response to President Bush's escalation of the war.

The deposed tyrant was mercilessly taunted. As he stood on the threshold of the afterlife and was told to go to hell, the world witnessed a chilling elevation of the ancient curse, making an absolute villain an object of pity.

...

The harsh fact is that the Shi'ite dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki, in its contemptible treatment of a man about to die, laid bare the dark truth of Bush's war. This is what revenge looks like, and revenge (not weapons of mass destruction, not democracy) drove the initial US attack on Saddam Hussein every bit as much as it snuffed out his life at the end. The hooded executioners took their cue from George W. Bush.

And why should they not have? Let's remember who this man is. As governor of Texas, he presided over the executions of 152 people, including the first woman put to death in Texas in a century. Her name was Karla Faye Tucker. Bush's response to the world-wide plea raised in her behalf was an astounding display of cruelty, a mocking imitation of the woman begging not to be killed.

...

Capital punishment is to individuals what aggressive war is to nations. The 20th century, for all its brutality (or because of it), marked the watershed era when world opinion shifted against both. Once, princes exercised life-and-death power over subjects with unchallenged authority. Once, the only check on a state's freedom to attack another state was its power to do so.

These two absolutes of realpolitik have changed. From the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 to principles laid down at the Nuremberg tribunals to the United Nations itself, wars of aggression stand condemned. The force of state violence is to be exercised only in self-defense or in defense of a victim people, in circumstances defined by international agreement. Similarly, nation after nation has abolished the death penalty, understanding the absurdity of defending human life by destroying human life. If killing can ever be justified, individually or communally, it is only as an absolute last resort. In sum, an international moral consensus has taken shape against unnecessary violence, whether targeting a criminal or a rogue state.

George W. Bush is the impresario of unnecessary violence. America has followed him into the death chamber of this war, and now he wants us to believe that the way out is through more death.

...

With his lies at the beginning of this war, and his fantasy now that an honorable outcome remains possible, the president is a taunting killer, caught in the act. He lacks nothing but the black hood. Stop this man.


Strong words. Carroll is attempting to understand how a brutal dictator could possibly become a martyr and finds his explanation in the revenge George Bush sought not only for his family (Hussein took a shot at my daddy) but for America on 9/11.

Bill Kristol, Time Magazine:

An unusual thing happened last week. A man who had brutalized and terrorized his nation for a quarter-century was brought to justice. Saddam Hussein's trial and execution were imperfect. But the critics of the trial can't have it both ways. First, many of them told us that we couldn't expect Iraq to be a Jeffersonian democracy. Now they feign outrage that Saddam's trial didn't live up to Jeffersonian standards. Of course the trial was imperfect--but compared to what? The summary judgments accorded by their countrymen to Mussolini in 1945 and Ceausescu in 1989? The four-year-long, never completed farce of a trial of Slobodan Milosevic in the Hague before an International Criminal Tribunal under the auspices of the U.N., manned by the creme de la creme of international jurists?

...

Why? Because to dwell on the life and death of this mass murderer might remind Americans of the fundamental justice of the war. It might cause the American people to wonder why, having accomplished this, they should be so quick to give up on accomplishing more. It might cause them to hesitate before succumbing to despair when confronted by the challenges of continued violence and terrorism. It might cause them to wonder whether tyranny might not still be successfully replaced by liberty.

...

Based on what I've been able to learn about the situation on the ground, and based on conversations with soldiers and experts, I think a new strategy for victory supported by additional forces has a good chance of success. If others think the situation hopeless, they should make the case for withdrawal--and presumably for withdrawal sooner rather than later. They should also describe what they think would happen during, and after, our withdrawal--and why that outcome is preferable to trying for victory. The critics tend to say, "It's too late--it won't work--let's leave." Their feelings of disappointment and impatience are understandable. But those sentiments are not a responsible basis for policy.

To lose in Iraq would have real consequences. To succeed in reversing the deteriorating situation in Iraq would also have real consequences. The forces of liberty (if it's permissible to use so naive a formulation) could regain momentum in the Middle East. Jihadism could be set on the run. Individuals and nations might decide that it is once again wiser to be a friend of the U.S. than an enemy.

Why, the Bush presidency might even turn out to be a success! What a thought! Better to give up on Iraq, say the critics, and damn the consequences.


The ICC is a "farce." The "fundamental justice" of the Iraq war. The plan for victory produced by the intellectual heavyweights who brought us Iraq in the first place. Bush's presidency might be deemed a "success." These are the things Kristol is preoccupied with. And even though he publicly encourages debate--argue for or against escalation or withdrawl--its clear that Kristol still sees this in the most absolute terms. Framed as a global struggle to bring freedom to the oppressed, who wouldn't want to deny that chance to people? It allows things like the reality of Iraq and the details of military victory there to fade into the background. Think tanks can produce reports explaining how surging will allow us to win. But those facts are less important than exercising sheer will.

I am reminded of a good essay produced just prior to the war called "Our World-Historical Gamble." Harris argued that ivading Iraq would forever change the structure of world politics, particularly the Westphalian order of nation-states. He admits that while this could be either good or bad it was also inevitable. The subtext was that Bush recognized this and was taking the initiative, turning a "gamble" into a bold assertion of will. The ability of people to see Bush in this awe-inspiring manner after 9/11 never ceases to amaze me. As I've discussed before, Bush was routinely ridiculed for his first eight months in office before becoming "The Decider." I do not know why no one noticed that the same dunce they were mocking before 9/11 had not changed, and that we all should have been very worried about this development. Bush's messianic complex received some attention before the 2004 election but not enough people realized what was obvious: Bush was playing president, not being president. That's what that whole "MIssion Accomplished" aircraft carrier landing was all about. And for an uncomfortable amount of time, puffed up virility masked a weak and vengeful man who had unleashed war on the most volatile reigon of the world. This is what Carroll is getting at in his discussion of revenge and ruthlessness that has flavored the entire Iraq adventure. Kristol, however, still prefers to live in the Bush fantasy, which is why he still discusses Iraq in terms of the Harris essay.

No one wants to lose in Iraq, and no one (well, maybe Glenn "Nuke 'em" Beck) wants Iraq to suffer but here we are. Obsessing over victory is the sort of thinking that got us in Iraq in the first place. Now we have to acknowledge--and I think that acknowledgement is widespread--that we cannot stop the civil war in Iraq and that the cycle of violence and reprisal is not going to abate. Our presence there is propping up the central government and Americans need to decide whether we want to do that anymore. Its been a bad situation with no good options for some time and thinking about it in terms of freedom and victory is profoundly irresponsible. So by all means, let's take sides: favor the surge and see what happens or favor withdrawl and see what happens. Make arguments, discuss. It is inevitable that we will leave Iraq so the question is whether we start that process now or think about it some more, essentially preserving the status quo of daily death.

The Sovereign

White House Spokesman Tony Snow describing the power of our glorious king:

"You know, Congress has the power of the purse," Snow said, then added: "The President has the ability to exercise his own authority if he thinks Congress has voted the wrong way."

Really? Since when? Where in the Constitution does it say that?

Come on. This is as plain as day. Bush is claiming the power of a king. Didn't we fight a war of independence rejecting that very thing? News media? Hello? Asking why Bush thinks he has the power of a king?

Cancer thy name is the authority bias.

Good Morning Fellow Racists!

ABC's Good Morning America has hired professional racist Glenn Beck to be a regular commentator. "Glenn is a leading cultural commentator with a distinct voice," says the senior executive producer of Good Morning America. Media Matters has a roundup of some of Beck's insights. My favorites:

"[t]he Middle East is being overrun by 10th-century barbarians" and "[i]f they take over ... we're going to have to nuke the whole place."

or

During a discussion of the "politically correct world we live in," claimed that Braille on walls (used to identify rooms for blind people) "drives me out of my mind." He then said, "Just to piss them [blind people] off, I'm going to put in Braille on the coffee pot ... 'Pot is hot.' "

Apparently Beck gets high ratings on CNN, which is why he now gets to greet Americans in the morning with hatred. I know there are plenty of people out there who agree with Beck; I'm not so naive to be shocked by this. And I know professional news outlets have let their standards drop considerably in their effort to remain profitable. But to say that Beck is a "leading cultural commentator" is like saying Milwaukee's Best is a leading lager in the beer industry. Long ago, "culture" meant the highest civilization had to offer. Beck represents the low. I've never understood the angry white man syndrome represented by Archie Bunker and capitalized on by Republicans since the discovery of the "silent majority." Brown people, women, gays, social progress, the weak -- these are the targets for Beck. Tell me the difference between this and Ubermensch white supremacy? 40 years ago Beck would have been called what he is: an extremist. Nowadays bigotry is supposedly a mainstream view. If that's the case, put me on the record of being out of the mainstream.

Cancer of the Republic.

A Word About Numbers

I don't play fast and loose with facts, so I'd like to put some substance behind my claims that a majority of Americans oppose escalation in Iraq and Bush's plan to "surge." As you may know, the science of public opinion and polling is a mixed bag in terms of accuracy. The numbers produced are accurate insofar as the sample is indicative of the opinion of the general population but what makes polling inaccurate is the polling questions themselves. Words used, word ordering, and baiting can create false results. Pollsters, thus, must create questions that are as neutral as possible if they wish to be reputable. I'm going to use Gallup numbers because they've been in the biz a long time and have a well deserved reputation. Anyway, let's dive in.

Do you think George W. Bush does -- or does not -- have a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq?

This question is very straightforward. The only ambiguity might be in the word "situation" but I think we can safely assume that the "situation" is our involvement there. And on this question, only 25% believe Bush has a clear plan. Gallup notes this is the lowest score yet, down from 31% in June.

Do you think the Democrats in Congress do -- or do not -- have a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq?

25% answered affirmatively. This sounds bad for the Dems but I think this reflects the opinion that none of our political leaders have a clear plan for Iraq. That is not true of course, so Gallup asked about a specific proposal:

Bush's expected announcement of increased U.S. troop levels in Iraq runs counter to the public's expressed desire. Just 12% of Americans choose an increase in troop levels when presented with four U.S. options for dealing with Iraq, and only 36% say they would favor a Bush proposal that would temporarily increase the number of U.S. troops to stabilize the situation in Iraq. Of course, those numbers could rise if Bush is successful in persuading the American public about the rationale for his proposals in Iraq.

Unfortunately the Gallup poll doesn't ask about, say, Murtha's plan or the Democratic leadership's opposition to the surge. But it does ask this question (where the above analysis was derived):

"Here are four different plans the U.S. could follow in dealing with the war in Iraq. Which ONE do you prefer? Withdraw all troops from Iraq immediately. Withdraw all troops by January 2008, that is, in 12 months' time. Withdraw troops, but take as many years to do this as are needed to turn control over to the Iraqis. OR, Send more troops to Iraq."

15% support immediate withdrawl, 39% by Jan. 2008, 31% support taking as much time as needed and 12% favor sending more troops. How does one interpret these numbers? I would describe immediate withdrawl and and escalation as the most radical options. I am in favor of getting out of Iraq as soon as possible (possible being dependent on Bush) and I think the word "immediate" conjures up images of "cutting and running." No one is seriously suggesting immediate withdrawl, nor is it even possible to immediately withdrawl. That is why there is more than twice the support for getting out on a timetable (one year from now). If this question were asked with options for withdrawl (6 months, 1 year) and still included the other options, I think we would see clear majority support (over 50%) for withdrawl on a timetable. The 31% for "taking as much time" is probably the option most Americans would prefer and always have preferred but now that the situation has become so grim that "standing down as the Iraqis stand up" seems unrealistic. I predict this number to drop further as this war drags on.

Who do you think can do a better job of handling the situation in Iraq: President Bush or the Democrats in Congress?

This really is the relevant question, isn't it? I have claimed that the Democrats were elected because of disgust with Bush and the Republicans on Iraq. Here are the results. Bush gets 34%, the Democrats 45% and "neither" gets 10% (6 and 5% respectively for "Both Equally" and "unsure"). I think 11 percentage points is pretty significant. And even though the public doesn't think the Democrats have a plan, they do trust them more than Bush. This is why the Democrats need to deliver. Opposing the president and setting a timetable for withdrawl is good politics and good for our country. It benefits everyone but Bush and his supporters. And Democrats who are on the fence about this need to wake up and smell the coffee.

UPDATE: Here's a good example of how polls can be misused.

January 9, 2007

Constitutional Crisis

This subject is so important that it bears repeating: we are headed towards an acute constitutional crisis, accelerating the slow-motion crisis initiated by Bush v. Gore. I trust it's clear that this is not hyperbole nor motivated by disagreement with Mr. Bush's policies. I simply want this issue to receive the attention it deserves. We as a nation need to talk about this. In that spirit, I'm going round up the day's discussion on this critical matter. Let's start with Josh Marshall again, who I quote in full:

Paul Kiel's got more of our run-down here on the war-financing issues related to President Bush's claim to be a king. But it occurs to me that this 'debate' is really only a debate if you see this not as wrestling over policy between the president and the Congress but as President Bush as an epochal figure, a man of destiny in a grand historical struggle who has powers to answer to grander than Congress or the constitution. I know that may seem like hyperbole saying that. But if you listen to this conversation, I really think that's the subtext. Sure, Congress has the power of the purse, the thinking seems to go. But this is bigger than Congress. Bigger than the niceties of the constitution. This is his rendezvous with destiny in Iraq, the key battle in World War IV or IX (I don't remember which we're up to.)

At a certain level this isn't that complicated. The president and the Congress have a set of intentionally countervailing powers. And it is within that framework that we, as a nation, hash out our direction on great matters of the day like this one. But what I'm hearing is that what President Bush is up to in Iraq is bigger than all that.

And that leaves us in the dangerous position of the constitution vs. the president's grandiosity.


Emphasis mine. I'll have more to say about this notion of the President being bigger than the law in a future post but I would like to comment on Josh's suggestion that this isn't complicated. It isn't. I learned about balance of powers and separation of powers when I was a child, for christssakes. Having to explain this elementary stuff seems, well, odd. But that is where our national conversation has gone. I was taught about these features of American government when I was young, I presume, to inculcate me with a sense of respect for the thing the Founders built. And I think that it is justified; it is quite a piece of work. So naturally I get angered when that thing I respect, the US Constitution, gets trampled by a man who thinks he's the King.

By the way, the link Josh provides is worth quoting as well. And no, I didn't copy my arguments from Paul Kiel, I came up with them on my own.

The issue of whether Congress has the power to use the purse to direct Bush's handling of the war is pretty much settled: it does, and it has, several times in the past, as the Center for American Progress demonstrates here.

The question becomes, will Bush respect the limits Congress sets? Or will he push to escalate a war that the Congress and the American people don't want, and setting up a constitutional crisis?

The Bush White House, after all, has often claimed unprecedented executive power. This issue is no exception. "Until the Bush admininistration, no president had ever argued in writing to the Supreme Court that a statutory restriction on his war powers was unconstitutional," Georgetown Law Professor Marty Lederman told me (he expounded further on this question here and here).

"All of our understandings and practices are based on a White House that's more compromising and accommodating than some people feel this White House will be," Scott Lilly, a former House Appropriations staffer, told me. So what happens if Congress makes its move and Bush ignores it? Good question.


A nice summation that provides links to relevant information. And most important, it asks the important question of what happens when Bush ignores the law and the people. I mean, this is as serious as it gets. Power in the United States comes from two things: the law (Constitution) and the people (elections). Bush is setting himself up to disregard both. The would-be source for this authority is the President's powers as commander in chief (Art. II, sec. 2). Of course this power of the sword is countered by Congress' power of the purse and the power to declare war (Art. I, sec. 8). The House of Representatives was designed to be most accountable to the people (popularly elected every two years) so it is imcumbant on them to express the will of the people. Although Senators were not popularly elected until passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913, and they have different dutues than the House (the Senate was designed to be consulted on matters, ratify treaties, approve cabinet members, etc.), they are also theoretically subject to the will of the people. So if the people of the United States want out of Iraq on a timetable (they do) and oppose an escalation (they do) then Congress must make that happen. And if the 110th Congress was not elected for that reason, then I'm not sure why they were elected.

The President, having claimed powers that appear nowhere in the Constitution and who has admitted to and argued for ignoring those provisions in the Constitution that curtail his power, has claimed sovereign power for himself only. Sovereignty is power of the state, and the first man to provide a modern philosophical argument for sovereign monarchy was Hobbes. The sovereign is immune to dissent and his will is reality. Bush and the legalists who argue for for him are setting up a Hobbesean monarchy. It isn't sudden, like Hobbes' covenant springing forth from the state of nature, it has been gradual, and proceeded ostensibly from the national security interests of the United States. Enough people have finally noticed that our national security has actually been damaged by Bush that they no longer trust him with such matters. That is why the pundits and politicians and intellectuals who support Bush have turned against the people, blamed them for the problems in Iraq, and taken a position of moral superiority, casting the "war on terror" as a global struggle against Islamic Jihadism. I have no doubt that is always how the neoconservatives saw things, but they didn't bring out this argument in force until all the other justifications for Iraq had dried up. And saving their reputations as wise men has coincided nicely with Bush's desire to be powerful and make his mark on history.

In the process American democracy and the Constitution suffer. That is intolerable and that is why the crisis looms.

Constitutional Matters

Riffing off Josh Marshall's thoughts about the President and Congress, I think it is high time that bullshit is called, that the emperor has no clothes, whatever you want to call it. Like I said yesterday, when the only people supporting the president are 11% of the public, two despicable senators, and a discredited intellectual faction, it is time to be bold. The Democrats won Congress because the public doesn't trust the GOP with foreign policy anymore. It's that simple. Now it shouldn't have to be said, but neither presidents nor the people are always wise or right. But in this case It is clearly a matter of our Boy King refusing to admit he fucked up. And he is ignoring the will of the people--the vast majority, I might add, not the 51% "mandate" he's used to--in order to protect his frail sense of importance. There's no sense in repeating the fact that this is precisely why George Bush never should have been appointed president, but here we are. And like Josh says, he could give a fuck about democracy. The will of the people only matters to him when they agree with him. But the President is not a king and Congress has a responsibility to push back. The rule of law matters and without it we might as well be living in a dictatorship. When the Constitution of the United States is ignored it puts us in a crisis. I don't see any other way of looking at this situation.

Now I think it is widely acknowledged that we will not leave Iraq as long as Bush is president. But for two more years? Can this nonsense really be sustained for that long? Another way of asking it: has Bush's support bottomed out or do we still have a ways to go? I don't have answers to these questions but I do know that our constitutional crisis is directly related to support for the President's policies (whether make-believe or real). I've reached the conclusion--hence why I'm writing all this--that a showdown is inevitable. I don't see how this can be sustained for two more years without some sort of check on Bush. I don't think there will be a popular revolt but rather a determined Congress. The first steps have already been taken. When Murtha draws the purse strings closed and the Democratic leadership refuses to fund further escalation where will Bush go? He can't use the bully pulpit to make the claim that Congress is being "obstructionist" because he will have little support for that view. Currently the Washington elite still think the president and McCain and Lieberman are "courageous" and "serious" but I wonder too how long that will last. Reality (not to mention democracy) can't be ignored forever by cynical pundits who care a whit about the will of the people.

If this pans out the way I see it, Bush will have nowhere to go. The popular pressure will simply be too great. So Bush either holds out for two years in which case our crisis becomes greater (both because the President believes he is unaccountable and because Congress doesn't push back) or he buckles and ends our involvement in Iraq. That, of course, would be Bush admitting that he has been wrong all along and I don't think the man is strong enough to handle that admission. As Bush collapses he will check out and spend the remainder of his presidency on the ranch, probably in an alcoholic relapse, while Congress essentially operates without an executive. I don't find this hypothetical gratifying--we need leaders--but possible. Is Bush stubborn enough to hold out for two more years and can he hold out for that long? It is the dynamic to watch. But all of this turns on pressure. Without opposition Bush can ignore Iraq until he hands it to his successor. With pressure he is between a rock and a hard place. But any way you slice it, constitutional government in this country will be in peril. And that is the lesson historians will have for us in the future as they discuss the Worst Presidency in the History of the United States.

January 8, 2007

Socialism

Gov. Schwarzenegger, 2004 Republican National Convention:"The [1968] presidential campaign was in full swing. I remember watching the Nixon-Humphrey presidential race on TV. A friend of mine who spoke German and English translated for me. I heard Humphrey saying things that sounded like socialism, which I had just left."*

Gov. Schwarzenegger Today: "Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday proposed to extend health coverage to nearly all of California's 6.5 million uninsured people, promising to spread the cost among businesses, individuals, hospitals, doctors, insurers and government."

Is it still socialism?

*CNN points out that there was no presidential debate in 1968. This does not affect my point, however.

Despicable

Many months ago, in a conversation about politics with friends, I stated something to the effect that I couldn't decide who was the more despicable politician -- John McCain or Joseph Lieberman. My reason for thinking this was was that while both of them had essentially taken a radical stand on Iraq--defer to Bush no matter what--the way they were treated by the press was with words like "moderate," "cetrist," "bipartisan," and "serious." I still can't decide which is more despicable, but now the reason is because they desire to send more troops to Iraq to make themselves appear tough. Joe Lieberman:

In words that should trouble any Democrats counting Lieberman in their camp, Lieberman was praising Bush as a "great leader" for bucking American opinion, as expressed in the 2006 election, in his determination to double down in Iraq. Lieberman then said something incredible:

Even those opposed to the surge, he said, "ought to at least let us try it."

"The worst that could happen," he continued, is that this policy could become another partisan flashpoint in Washington.


Until the administration of King George, great leaders were described as almost precisely the opposite of what Bush is: cowardly, isolated and delusional. But Lieberman's sin is saying, in essence, that we need to sacrifice American soldiers in Iraq to a) see if it will work, and b) avoid partisanship in Washington.

Goddamnit, 89% of the American public is opposed to "doubling down." This isn't partisanship, this is the clear majority opinion in this country. Does Lieberman even realize why the Republicans lost in November? Does he notice any connection between the fact that he supports the war and he lost his own primary? Sure, he won in the general, but I guarantee that there is going to be major voter regret in CT after those people realize that they allowed this disgusting man to be their senator for another six years.

Then there's John McCain. He's such a maverick. In fact, he not only supports escalation in Iraq but he is such a wild hip-shooter that he doesn't even care how many troops we send, as long as we send 'em. As Think Progress documents, McCain has suggested a swing between 20,000-100,000 more troops, even stating that "We are not specific on numbers" during his recent appearance at the Neoconservative Welfare Office. Aren't "think tanks" supposed to house scholars who work with real numbers and statistics and who do academic work? I'm not saying McCain needs to be an academic, but you'd think that a prominent US Senator with a paid research staff who has the support of a think tank that recently released a "plan for victory" on troop escalation would have some sense of how many troops it would take to get the job done. You'd think that, wouldn't you?

In case I haven't been blunt enough, let me spell it out: McCain and Lieberman are NOT serious voices in this foreign policy discussion. They have repeatedly changed their opinion on whether to send more troops, when to send them and why it would or would not be necessary. And the only people who support them are the same neoconservatives who advocated for this war in the first place, the president, and the conservative activist sociopaths who think George Bush has a personal hotline to God. That's it. So take your pick. You can side with that motley crew or you can side with the growing supermajority of world opinion that either has always realized or is coming around to the fact that this war was a bad idea made worse by a failed businessman from Texas. Its that simple. And keep in mind that more people will die to satisfy that 11% and Dick and George and Joe and John.

These people are sickening and they do not deserve the trust of the American people nor the responsibility of guiding our military. And remember, there is a perfectly good alternative to this "strategy" of escalation: GETTING THE FUCK OUT OF IRAQ.

Spammers Can Go to Hell

I turned off the comments on this page about a month ago because of spam. Today I tried turning them back on. Within a half hour, five new spams. Comments are now off permanently. I will post an email address for feedback as soon as I can scan an image of the text so that doesn't get spammed too.

I'm not going to bother finding the link right now, but I read somewhere recently that spam had increased greatly in the past year as the spammers have found ways around the usual barriers. My position has always been that spammers can only be defeated through a combination of superior technology and tough law enforcement. After all, spam is not only a nuisance but it wastes time, sucks up computing resources, and can cause damage to property (network equipment). I think a strong case could be made for locking these bastards up and throwing away the key but it seems legislation would rather favor telco providers and harshly punish kids who download movies/music illegally (thereby promoting the movie/music for free).

I'm no expert in IP (intellectual property) but I think it is more than a little misguided to direct the lion's share of legal resources towards protecting the rights of the entertainment oligopolies to copyright material they merely own (even if they didn't produce it) rather than protecting consumers. I don't have anything profound to say about this, I just find who and what is protected in civil society to be rather out of whack, not to mention in conflict, with the supposed values of a democratic society.

January 6, 2007

Silence

Underlying my two recent posts comparing Washington Post columnists is the notion that the serious issues of the day are being ignored by those who are supposed to be the top voices in the field guiding our national political conversation. This Editor and Publisher piece examines this very problem, vis-a-vis the inevitable troop escalation, even pointing out that McCain will have his argument in a Sunday Post editorial.

With the Democratic leadership in Congress coming out in writing against escalation, no public support, and the widespread belief that we have failed in Iraq and our leaders are in denial, you'd think the Wise Men and Women of Washington would have something to say. They are silent. They aren't even supporting it. They apparently don't care. They'd rather move on to discussing how bad Hilary will be for America, or something like that. They are not serious, and whatever relevance they once had to politics in America is now drawing to a close, I hope, though unfortunately on the backs of 3000 dead Americans and a martyred dictator.

Cynicsm thy name is The Pundit

January 5, 2007

What Domestic Terrorism?

Last year Fox News tried to pull this shit. Now National Review's Corner. By the way, that committee is chaired by Dana Rohrabacher, who doesn't appear to disapprove of political vilolence, except when it's carried out by scary brown people.

Disinformation

I'm shocked, just shocked, by this.

Moral Righteousness

In discussing the puzzle that is Bill Kristol's continuing presence on news programs a couple days ago, I mentioned offhand that he represents the old "conservative remnant." I would like to elaborate on that now. The remnant is an elite group of men who carry the torch of civilization from one generation to the next even as civilization degenerates around them. Since it is impossible via human nature for all men to be wise, the remnant must exist and preserve the fruits of ancient thought. Because the conservative remnant is elitist, they are naturally opposed to populism in all its forms, particularly democracy. Neoconservatives like Kristol are not necessarily anti-democratic, but rather selectively democratic. Clearly the foreign policy goal of neoconservatism is worldwide democratization. And the obstacle to democratization is tyranny. This is what ex-neocom Francis Fukuyama meant in his End of History and the Last Man. History itself, as a progression of time and events, wasn't ending, but rather history in the sense of political change. It was inevitable, he argued, that all states would end in a form of democracy. Writing at the end of the Cold War, this thesis made a certain amount of intuitive sense. Fukuyama saw political dissidents and leaders as the agents of democratic change. Benevolent military force could be used as an option, however. Fukuyama realized in the wake of the Iraq disaster that he had been wrong in his advocacy of military force. But the other neocons only saw inept execution of their ideas. The split with Fukuyama is instructive because it demonstrates an intellectual who can see past his hubris. Kristol sees no error. He believes, in short, that he has never been wrong about anything. He is overly confident and his overconfidence is due to his belief in an intellectual elite, the inevitable product of his adherence to Straussian philosophy.

Kristol is morally righteous because he believes he has a unique understanding of good and evil. In fact, his foreign policy beliefs rest entirely on this understanding. With the world neatly divided into democracies and dictatorships, good and evil, the course of action is clear, in adherence to the End of History thesis. The problem is that Kristol and the neoconservatives have been inconsistent with respect to democracy and dictatorship. The Soviet Union was the great evil for these men and they forged a hardline stance towards it. If neoconservatives had been in charge of US foreign policy in the early Cold War, there would have been global nuclear conflict. One simply could not coexist with an evil that great. But today evil is diffused in vaguely-related terrorist movements whose scope is local but tecnique of insurrgency global and based on information. But neoconservatives apparently understand little the subtlety of this situation and insist instead on conventional military power to achieve results. This has not only exacerbated the terrorist problem but assisted them. We are losing the war on terror precisely because we insisted on calling it a "war on terror." The conception was wrong and now reality threatens to overtake us. With Kristol now about to get his long-stated goal of increasing the troop level in Iraq, the other goal of democratization has been lost. But I think in reality the institutional consequence of democracy--popular accountability--matters little to Kristol the elitist. Poll numbers (these are new and there are others to corroborate it) indicate that not only is Iraq the far-and-away, number one priority for Congress, according to the American people, but also that they overwhelmingly support either de-escalation or withdrawl. There is no public support or mandate for the Bush/McCain/Lieberman/Kristol plan of "surge." Bush himself considers this his Harry Truman moment: doing something unpopular now that will later be vindicated by history. But Bush's elitism and delusions of grandeur are based on his feeble and limited intellect whereas the elitism of Kristol and the neocons is based on theory. They truly believe that they, and only they, are capable of appreciating the moral division in the world and then recommending appropriate action. Take a look at this neocon nonsense in Slate from Anne Applebaum. Her argument is that we in the West never appreciate the evil of dictators like Hitler, Stalin and Hussein, instead working with them out of convenience until they cross that line--a neighboring country's border--with force of arms. She says of the controversy surrounding the circumstances of Saddam's lynching by his political enemies that

Even now, in the wake of his execution, our instincts are to argue about what Saddam meant to us, not what he meant to the Iraqis. His death is being analyzed for its impact on Iraq's civil war and therefore for its impact on our troops. The chaos of his trial and execution are another excuse to attack the White House. Write that Saddam really was an evil man, and you'll be thought an apologist for George Bush. Write that Saddam's regime resembled Stalin's, and you'll be called a right-wing ideologue.

In other words, no one but Applebaum understands how evil Saddam was. What bothers me about this is not the use of terms like "good" and "evil" but that it is obvious to everyone that Saddam Hussein was evil, regardless if you believe in moral absolutes. In other words, we don't need to talk about it anymore. The focus on Saddam's execution is not to absolve him of anything but to point out that for all our rhetoric about removing dictators and democratizing countries, we ended up with a band of thugs lynching the former dictator and martyring him in the process. That is pretty significant to me. But the neocon contingent is outraged that insufficient attention has been paid to Saddam's evil.

The Applebaum piece was brought to my attention by Talking Points Memo. One of Josh's readers wrote in to write, succinctly, about this problem of moral righteousness:

TPM Reader JM on Applebaum ... "It would be a bit easier to take Applebaum seriously if she could make a good case as to why we should have launched a war of liberation to free the Soviet Union from Stalin. Obviously, since no one with a hint of sanity seriously argued for taking out Stalin at the time, there were many American policy makers who understood how evil he was yet did not think it was worth a pre-emptive war to remove him from power. Yet Applebaum, like most neocons, implies that the only people who possibly could have understood Saddam's evil are those who supported obliterating his regime by force. In their fantasy world, there are two types of foreign rulers - those who are stable and good, and those whom we must destroy. Perhaps history holds no lessons for them except that we've had too few wars, too few chances to demonstrate our moral rectitude."

Absolutely. And what's odd is this: if these people consider themselves to be an elite, then why are they so desparate for public approval of their elitism? The conservative remnant did not worry about such things; they knew they were in the right. Kristol and Applebaum believe they're in the right but constantly feel the need to whine in public that no one acknowledges their wisdom. And there's a good reason for that: they are deluded warmongers that no one need take seriously except that they are given prominence by media outlets. And there's your problem in a nutshell.

January 4, 2007

More Columnist Fun

Dan Froomkin wins again this week for highlighting the Bush administration's claim that it has the right to read your mail, which I mentioned earlier. Froomkin points out that this is not an isolated event but a recurring feature of this administration:

Signing statements have historically been used by presidents mostly to explain how they intend to enforce the laws passed by Congress; Bush has used them to quietly assert his right to ignore those laws.

Froomkin continues to do his job by educating his readers and raising questions. He closes:
Bush's signing statements have been widely ignored by the traditional media, with the significant exception of Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage, who is on book leave right now.

And sadly, most of the questions about signing statements that I raised in a Nieman Watchdog essay last June still remain unaddressed. Foremost among them: Are these signing statements just a bunch of ideological bluster from overenthusiastic White House lawyers -- or are they actually emboldening administration officials to flout the laws passed by Congress? If the latter, Bush's unprecedented use of these statements constitutes a genuine Constitutional crisis.


You see, a Constitutional crisis is when the law is violated, that law being the Constitution. We've essentially been in a Constitutional crisis since Bush v. Gore but at the time journalists stated that the real Constitutional crisis was that America needed a quick resolution to the Florida recount, sparing the people the pain of being leaderless.

Ahem.

The paternalism of those journalists leant itself to the paternalism of the Bush administration after 9/11 and is the embodiment of the authority bias. But the real point is that the recount was not a goddamn "Constitutional crisis" because the Constitution specifically describes how to deal with, shall we say, abnormalities in national elections. In short, the Florida supreme court had jurisdiction because elections--national or otherwise--are run by the states, not the federal government. The US Supreme Court intervened only when it would it be to the advantage of the Bush team, that is, when it would stop the recounts. The final decision in Bush v. Gore was political and usurped Florida's authority in the matter. It abridged the Constitution and thus, by my definition, created a crisis. And from that first act of bad faith began the Worst Presidency in American History. (For details on Bush v. Gore I suggest reading Howard Gillman's All the Votes that Counted).

The other column appearing in the Washington Post today from George Will discusses why the minimum wage should be abolished. What's bizarre about the column is that Will doesn't spell out why he is against the minimum wage. He says things like

Today, raising the federal minimum wage is a bad idea whose time has come, for two reasons, the first of which is that some Democrats have an evidently incurable disease -- New Deal Nostalgia. Witness Nancy Pelosi's "100 hours" agenda, a genuflection to FDR's 100 Days. Perhaps this nostalgia resonates with the 5 percent of Americans who remember the 1930s.

Right. New Deal nostalgia. That's what's driving today's Democrats. Let's face it, Will is just being cranky and lazy. His second reason?
Second, President Bush has endorsed raising the hourly minimum from $5.15 to $7.25 by the spring of 2009. The Democratic Congress will favor that, and he may reason that vetoing this minor episode of moral grandstanding would not be worth the predictable uproar -- Washington uproar often is inversely proportional to the importance of the occasion for it. Besides, there would be something disproportionate about the president vetoing this feel-good bit of legislative fluff after not vetoing the absurdly expensive 2002 farm bill, or the 2005 highway bill larded with 6,371 earmarks or the anti-constitutional McCain-Feingold speech-rationing bill.

I have no idea what he's talking about. Apparently the minimum wage is nothing more than politics. I suppose Will would feel that way since he is profoundly unconnected with the rest of the country. He only sees what goes on in DC. But seriously: what the hell is he talking about in this paragrapgh? Can someone help me? Is he just phoning it in? Moving on...
Forty percent of American workers are salaried. Of the 75.6 million paid by the hour, 1.9 million earn the federal minimum or less, and of these, more than half are under 25 and more than a quarter are between ages 16 and 19. Many are students or other part-time workers. Sixty percent of those earning the federal minimum or less work in restaurants and bars and earn tips -- often untaxed, perhaps -- in addition to wages. Two-thirds of those earning the federal minimum today will, a year from now, have been promoted and be earning 10 percent more. Raising the minimum wage predictably makes work more attractive relative to school for some teenagers and raises the dropout rate. Two scholars report that in states that allow people to leave school before 18, a 10 percent increase in the state minimum wage caused teenage school enrollment to drop 2 percent.

I see. So raising the minimum wage makes working at McDonalds more attractive to would-be students than college. Sounds like a load of bullshit to me. Many young people choose to work rather than go to school because they want to make money. But that is independent of what the minimum wage is. And as to his citations that very few people are actually earning the minimum wage, well doesn't that make his arguments irrelevant? I mean, if hardly anyone is making the minimum wage in the first place, why get worked up about it?
The federal minimum wage has not been raised since 1997, so 29 states with 70 percent of the nation's workforce have set minimum wages between $6.15 and $7.93 an hour. Because aging liberals, clinging to the moral clarities of their youth, also have Sixties Nostalgia, they are suspicious of states' rights. But regarding minimum wages, many have become Brandeisians, invoking Justice Louis Brandeis's thought about states being laboratories of democracy.

But wait. Ronald Blackwell, the AFL-CIO's chief economist, tells the New York Times that state minimum-wage differences entice companies to shift jobs to lower-wage states. So: States' rights are bad, after all, at least concerning -- let's use liberalism's highest encomium -- diversity of economic policies.


So which is it? Sixties nostalgia or New Deal nostalgia? This is a straw man for Will to knock down, not a serious argument. And by the way, everyone selectively uses the old "states' rights" argument when it suits their needs. This is supposedly based on the Tenth Amendment which reads, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved for the States respectively, or to the people." Powers. Not rights. Ninth Amendment: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." States don't have rights. Only people do. So stop wasting my time with this BS about "states' rights." Sheesh.
The problem is that demand for almost everything is elastic: When the price of something goes up, demand for it goes down. Obviously were the minimum wage to jump to, say, $15 an hour, that would cause significant unemployment among persons just reaching for the bottom rung of the ladder of upward mobility.

Yes. An economy as complex as the United States can be reduced to Econ 101 principles. And no one is suggesting that the minimum wage suddenly jump to three times the current minimum wage. That would damage the economy. That's why it is implemented gradually. It's like Will isn't even trying here. And in conclusion:
But the minimum wage should be the same everywhere: $0. Labor is a commodity; governments make messes when they decree commodities' prices. Washington, which has its hands full delivering the mail and defending the shores, should let the market do well what Washington does poorly. But that is a good idea whose time will never come again.

O to wish for that which can't become. Apparently Will's job as a prominent columnist is to wish the world worked according to his dreams. Grow up. And I thought libertarians (isn't he making libertarian arguments?) were opposed to the Federal monopoly on the delivery of the mail. What in God's name is Will's argument here? I can't tell if he's defending the US economy, arguing for state' rights, arguing against aging leftists, promoting the value of college over work or making a classically liberal (libertarian) argument. I heard some right-winger on the radio a week ago who argued that raising the minimum wage would hurt "small business." I think that's a load of bull but at least it's an argument we can have. We don't even have that starting point with George Will. Will's column does raise more questions than Froomkin's, but in this case that is not a good thing.

Restoring the Constitution

I've long suggested that the radicals of the conservative movement not only need to be removed from government and power but also discredited and delegitimized. As long as places like the neoconservative welfare office remain open, however, these figures will always have a home. But at least they won't have a direct effect on policy. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld will not have an influence on us after this shameful administration finally comes to a close. But what of all the subordinates who are not only zealots but also far younger? These people could still have future careers in a Republican administration and represent a threat to America's future.

The last time I discussed impeachment it was to delineate the borders of a theoretical presidential impeachment. As I said, I think Bush and Cheney have certainly committed impeachable offenses and may even be guilty of war crimes. But I do not believe they can or should be impeached because impeachment is a political process (which carries political consequences), not one that is legally or morally required of Congress. In this article from John Dean last month, he discusses the impeachment of subordinates in the Bush administration, stating that "Lowering the aim of an impeachment effort to focus on those who have aided and abetted, or directly engaged in, the commission of high crimes and misdemeanors, would have all the positives, and none of the negatives, of going after Bush and Cheney." Dean highlights the language of impeachment used in the Constitution that not only affects all "civil officers of the United States" but also provides for "disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States." Dean suggests that disqualification (a majority vote in the Senate, post-impeachment) would prevent repeats of the Bush administration's many crimes, delegitimize them, and "send a powerful message" to the current administration that Congress is fully prepared to act as a co-equal, rather than subordinate, branch of government.

I think Dean's suggestion is brilliant and would discredit the officials who ultimately carry out the wishes of Bush and Cheney. America does not need more people working in government who think that the executive is above the law and can use the power of the Commander-in-chief to usurp the privacy of American citizens, including the unauthorized opening and reading of your mail. Nor does America need more foreign policy theorists that think the US military can and should invade foreign countries dominated by dictatorships and "allow" them to democratize. Nor do we need more people using the power of the federal government to ignore scientific evidence of climate change and other people using it to promote a sect of Christianity as the official state religion. Not all of these are "high crimes and misdemeanors" of course, but it would send the message that the first law of the land is the United States Constitution and it shall not be rescinded or abrogated to advance further a narrow-minded faction that is dangerous, ignorant, dishonorable and divisive.

Dean knows and states that all this requires Democrats to show some legislative cajones to stand up to the Bush administration. And like Dean, I'm skeptical whether they will. But I think politcally this is a winner. And it's only a matter of time before some sharp and principled and fearless Democrats take the lead and demand accountability. I think we elected some individuals of this character in 2006. So while I remain skeptical, I retain hope that these people will become heroes and restore American greatness and credibility.

January 3, 2007

Cancer Thy Name is Kristol the Younger

"Anonymous Liberal" at Glenn Greenwald's blog rounds up some of Bill Kristol's worst pieces of analysis from the last four years in light of Time Magazine's decision to hire him as a "star columnist." I've long wanted to write a piece on Kristol who is, I think, a striking example of what was once called the "conservative remnant" and neoconservatism's remarkable decline from high-minded criticism to ignorance, mendacity, pettiness and bellicosity. I'd really like to know what makes Kristol tick: he's clearly intelligent and is highly educated but apparently his ambition has blinded him to the point where he can see no error except in his political enemies. The fact that he is still sought after as a commentator is a separate issue to which I could speak volumes. Some of my favorites from the Kristol hall of shame:

April 4, 2003 -- There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America ... that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular.

Plain ignorance. And yes, Iraq was fairly secular: under a secular dictator who supressed religion. It's not hard to see that.
October 29, 2004 -- Is there any development in the war on terror, however grave, that the Kerry campaign won't try to exploit for partisan advantage?

Then why didn't Kerry win?
April 4, 2005 -- After all, we are a "maturing society," as the Supreme Court has told us. Perhaps it is time, in mature reaction to this latest installment of what Hugh Hewitt has called a "robed charade," to rise up against our robed masters, and choose to govern ourselves. Call it Terri's [Schiavo] revolution.

Gee, as I recall, the Republican Congress called an "emergency session" and Bush flew back to DC from his beloved ranch in Crawford to interfere with the personal lives of a few people in a state that had already made a decision in the matter. Individual liberty? States' rights? Tell me again what conservatives stand for?
November 30, 2005 -- All this made me think the 2006 elections could result in a Speaker Pelosi. I now think that unlikely. Pelosi's endorsement today of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq makes the House Democrats the party of defeat, the party of surrender. Bush's strong speech today means the GOP is likely to be--if Republican Congressmen just keep their nerve--the party of victory. Now it is possible that the situation in Iraq will worsen over the next year. If that happens, Bush and the GOP are in deep trouble. They would have been if Pelosi had said nothing. But it is much more likely that the situation in Iraq will stay more or less the same, or improve. In either case, Republicans will benefit from being the party of victory.

The party of victory lost in 2006 precisely because they backed the Iraq war and Bush. Now it might seem unfair to use this quote which was taken a year before the election but note that Kristol's position still hasn't changed. He still talks in terms of "surrender" and "victory" as if superior rhetoric is all that is needed to prevail in Iraq. Well, it looks like Bush is indeed going to "choose" victory so Kristol can rest well in his wisdom. Did I mention Kristol is going to be Time Magazine's "star" columnist?

Cancer
of the
Republic

Facing Reality

It's time again to play the columnist comparison game! First, Dan Froomkin, Washington Post, January 3, 2007:

The American voters in November made it clear that it's time to start withdrawing from Iraq. Political leaders from both parties and any number of experts are increasingly coming to the realization that American soldiers are dying, day in and day out, in pursuit of an unattainable goal.

So what is President Bush about to do? By all indications: escalate. His "new way forward" in Iraq appears to call for more troops -- along with a series of other measures that might have helped if he'd taken them three years ago.

News reports suggest that Bush's plan is not likely to win enthusiastic support, even from within his own party. But my question is: Where's the outrage?

If the vox populi and the cognoscenti agree that throwing more American bodies at the problem will only result in more American deaths, then how is the apparent Bush plan anything short of a betrayal of the troops and an expression of contempt for the will of the people?


Froomkin asks, "where's the outrage" and properly calls it an escalation, instead of the evasive "surge." And it's a great question. The reason I sound so angry on here and insult public figures I disagree with is that I am outraged. And I will continue to be outraged until everyone points out the emperor has no clothes. A big part of that problem is vacuous journalism, so here's our second columnist for the Washington Post, Richard Cohen, on January 1:
In the various books I've read about the Bill Clinton impeachment scandal -- a scandal because of what was done and a scandal because the president was impeached for it -- the same story is told over and over again. When the prosecutors or lawyers or whoever finally got to meet the storied Monica Lewinsky, they were floored by her. She was smart, personable and -- as the record makes clear -- dignified. This is more than can be said about some of the people who write about her.

Now, I can't say I disagree with any of that. In fact, it would be a great lead-in for a column about how far standards have fallen in professional journalism. But that is not the column Cohen writes. Instead, he focuses on Lewinsky herself:
She is a branded woman, not an adulterer but something even worse -- a girl toy, a trivial thing, a punch line. Yet she did what so many women at that age would do. She seduced (or so she thought) an older man. She fantasized that he would leave his wife for her. Here was her crime: She was a girl besotted. It happens even to Republicans.

But she is now a woman with a master's degree from a prestigious school and is going to be 34 come July. Her clock ticks, her life ebbs. Where is the man for her? Where is the guy brave enough, strong enough, admirable enough to take her as his wife, to suffer the slings and arrows of her outrageous fortune -- to say to the world (for it would be the entire world) that he loves this woman who will always be an asterisk in American history. I hope there is such a guy out there. It would be nice. It would be fair.

It would be nice, too, and fair, also, if Lewinsky were treated by the media as it would treat a man. What's astounding is the level of sexism applied to her, as if the wave of the women's movement broke over a new generation of journalists and not a drop fell on any of them. Where, pray tell, is the man who is remembered just for sex? Where is the guy who is the constant joke for something he did in his sexually wanton youth? Maybe here and there some preacher, but in those cases the real subject matter is not sex but hypocrisy. Other than those, no names come to mind.

This is the year 2007, brand new and full of promise. It would be nice if my colleagues in the media would resolve to treat Monica Lewinsky as a lady, to think of her as they would themselves, to remember their own youth and the things they did and to understand that from this day forward anyone who takes a cheap shot at Lewinsky has a moral and professional obligation to look in the mirror. To proceed otherwise is to miss the joke entirely. No longer is it Monica Lewinsky. It is now the people who write about her.


I realize I've given Cohen too much credit by quoting him at length. But once again he starts to expose some of the faults of the press only to hold back and hope earnestly that things work out OK for Lewinsky and that she'll find a man (the suggestion that women need men to be complete seems sexist itself). You know, it's great that Cohen feels this way, but why he chose this subject for his column for the first day of the new year is beyond me. Froomkin is engaging the public and asking serious questions. Cohen would like to forget about all the problems America faces (except for the perennial of finding one's soulmate). He's not being disingenuous but he is using his position to discuss the trivial at a time when we all need to engage in a serious conversation about America's decline in the world.

Civility and The Republicans

A big hurdle we as Americans need to get around is this minority-held idea that civility only exists within the Republican party. Remember calls that "the grownups are in charge again" when Bush was elected? I think this originated with Clinton's relationship to the media, and culminated with the Lewinsky scandal. There were repeated calls for Clinton to resign from the press and I can't help but consider this in light of the recent discussion of Gerald Ford and the "healing" he brought to Washington by pardoning Nixon. Little has changed: rather than go through the Constitutionally-delineated process for dealing with corruption, the Washington elite press prefered, in both cases, that the offending party be dismissed rather than formally investigated. Thus, rather than impeaching Nixon and investigating his role in Watergate, it was prefereable that Ford pardoned him to begin the healing process. Similarly, rather than bringing further shame upon Washington with an impeachment, Clinton should have simply resigned. The lesson is clear: the Washington elite press have no faith in our constitutional government to perform it's duties. Rather, they are cynically concerned with what is best for the intersecting political professionals that live and work in DC.

Because Ford and Nixon did the "right" thing and Clinton did the "wrong" thing, civility was bestowed upon one party. Nevermind the Republicans who entered Congress in 1995. Nevermind Republican Rule under Bush and unified government. To these same Beltway pundits and journalists, the Democrats are to blame for partisan rancor and only they can make government work in a bipartisan fashion. This is absurd. Nancy Pelosi's "Minority Bill of Rights" introduced two years ago wasn't even granted a hearing by those "civil" Republicans Dennis "Mark Foely who?" Hastert and Tom "The Hammer" DeLay but now the Republican minority is reintroducing the same bill (by the way, the Pelsoi bill would have applied to whoever was in the minority, not just the Democrats). And today Bush himself pleads for bipartisanship in the Wall St. Journal.

I trust this hypocrisy on the part of the Republicans is obvious. But you wouldn't get that impression if you uncritically watched or read the news. According to those sources, the burden is on Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats to bring civility back to Washington and to make the last two years of the Bush presidency "productive." Based on the American public's rejection of Republican partisan strongarm tactics (remember the "nuclear option?") and their rejection of the Republicans across the board in November, I would say that the public knows quite well who is responsible for "partisanship" in Washington. But the wise pundits of DC would prefer to reminisce about Ford's and the Republican's civility. Like I said before on this subject, those truly were the days "when the Vice President of the United States could politely tell a US Senator to go fuck himself on the floor of the Senate."

Cancer
of
the
Republic

Sacrifice

The reason Bush's talk of "sacrifice" (in regards to sending more GIs to Iraq to "win" there) will ring hollow is because sacrifice only makes sense, from a national standpoint, when it is shared sacrifice. WWII was an example of shared sacrifice. Americans were encouraged to buy war bonds. Women went to work (not a "sacrifice" by today's standards, but 60 years ago...). Industry supported the war machine. Iraq, by comparison, is not about shared sacrifice. The US military is the only one sacrificing anything for America. You don't see warmongers lining up to enlist in the military. And industry? Well, through contracting without oversight they've actually profited from the war effort in Iraq. No shared sacrifice at all. Keith Olberman has it right. This is human sacrifice.