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

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September 30, 2007

William Kristol, Public Intellectual

William "The Butcher" Kristol on SCHIP:

First of all, whenever I hear anything described as a heartless assault on our children, I tend to think it's a good idea. I'm happy that the President's willing to do something bad for the kids.

There's all sorts of things one might say in response to this, most of which probably involve this asshole's personal safety. But let's just note that Kristol's career at this point is sustained by him saying increasingly outrageous things, which makes him little better than mental midgets like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter or Glenn Beck. They're just sensationalists. And at this point, Kristol's sensationalism comes at the expense of kids dying because the president has decided to veto health care for them.

What a heartless piece of shit.

Restoring Sanity

Far be it for me to describe Tom Friedman's Sunday column as "better late than never," but it does seem the oft-ridiculed Mustache finally understands what I've been calling the 9/11 syndrome. First this mea culpa:

What does that mean? This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 -- mine included -- has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.

I'm not sure why it took six years for Friedman to finally see what was obvious to many of us after 9/11. And I certainly don't intend to take a triumphant "I told you so" tone with regard to this. But this late understanding underscores the pervasiveness of the 9/11 syndrome and how it really did make us collectively lose our minds. The tangible outcome of this collective insanity was--and is--of course, Iraq. Friedman doesn't exactly say he was wrong on Iraq, but does seem to understand that we're doing little but chasing imaginary ponies there at this point:

I'd love to see us salvage something decent in Iraq that might help tilt the Middle East onto a more progressive pathway. That was and is necessary to improve our security. But sometimes the necessary is impossible -- and we just can't keep chasing that rainbow this way.

Friedman is more concerned about the future than he is about acknowledging past mistakes. And if the tangible policy outcome and mistake of 9/11 was Iraq, then the tangible outcome of this mistake must be a political corrective, that is, electing in 2008 men and women who run against the insanity unleashed by 9/11. Fortunately, Friedman understands this:

We can't afford to keep being this stupid! We have got to get our groove back. We need a president who will unite us around a common purpose, not a common enemy. Al Qaeda is about 9/11. We are about 9/12, we are about the Fourth of July -- which is why I hope that anyone who runs on the 9/11 platform gets trounced.

I agree, but I would add that hope is not enough. People running on 9/11 and the Iraq war (Giuliani in particular and the GOP in general) ought to be rejected with outright disgust by the public. The pundits who would use 9/11 to promote bombing Iran should be treated in the same manner. Friedman is exactly right about this, but there are still far too many people with too much influence over our political discourse who are still deranged by the 9/11 syndrome or cynically exploit it for their own gain. They must be amputated from the body politic in order to ensure the health of of republic. This is not hyperbole. It is patriotism.

September 29, 2007

Newt's Not Running.

Pity, that. I would have preferred to have as many conservatives as possible in primary to ensure that the whole movement is on display for voters.

Elbow Grease and Gumption

In right-wing fantasyland...

Once upon a time, our national leaders knew how to rally the population towards a patriotic goal...victory. Yes, there were the malcontents with socialistic leanings but they were widely ignored and placed in their proper place...obscurity.

Then, politics entered into the equation because they thought they knew better because after all, they were edjumakatid. I suppose had we lost WWI and WWII, the politicos would not have to be too big for their britches.

In WWI and WWII, our nation was able to determine the wickedness of the ways of the enemy. Apparently, not any longer. The nation would "Rather" play with their TIVOs and Nintendos and all manner of instant gratification. The threats we face as a nation both from without and within are masked by the inherent desire to be uninterrupted from our everyday and selfish lives as seen through a glass darkly.

At one time, if one of our citizens was kidnapped by a maniacal dictator, and their head was severed to make a point, the people saddled up and prepared to do battle. Not any more. This kind of patriotism died during the Carter administration and was slighty revived during the Reagan administration. It was completely buried by the likes of the Clintonistra and GWB, God bless him, doesn't have what it takes to rally the nation.

It is up to us in The New Media.

Some of us old salts know the deal and we know the drill.

Time to ruck up and saddle up. We have work to do.

As other bloggers have noted, if not by name, this is essentially the Abe Simpson school of foreign policy, which folks in the comments section helpfully filled out with observations such as

Congratulations on your decision to enlist, brave sir! I look forward to your posts from the front lines of the Greatest Crusade of Our Tim--

What's that? You're not enlisting?? You're sitting out the duration of the cause in your mother's basement???


Yes yes, work to do. So lets strap on that doughnut filled feedbag, grab a case of Mountain Dew and Jolt, and do what we do the best. Type, type and type some more. The cause of freedom is never in danger as long as we can type.

I guess it's true, war makes cowards of us all. At least all us Republicans.

prime fighting age chickenhawk or old coot? Doesn't really matter, does it.

Our Constitutional Heritage

Given that most Americans apparently haven't read or don't comprehend the US Constitution, efforts toward further perfecting it might be a bit premature.

But frankly, this is just really sad. Is this stuff taught in school anymore? Its neither a long nor difficult document to read, and in the places where it is clear, like the Bill of Rights, its very clear. Yet people still think the Founders intended or even established a Christian nation. Or as John McCain seems to think, founded a nation on "Christian principles," whatever that means.

And as always, a literal reading of the Constitution plainly demonstrates no special privilege for Christians or any religion at all. Not only does it not establish a Christian nation, it doesn't even "intend" to because if there was intent, the Founders would have put that in the document. They wrote it, after all! I don't understand what the difficulty is. The whole reason religion was kept out of government was to avoid what had happened in Europe. And while a secular document, it doesn't exactly found a secular nation either. On religion, the Constitution is clearly libertarian, and allows for people to practice their faith, regardless of what it is, as long as the state doesn't get in the business or regulating it. Pretty straightforward.

I don't know why I'm even writing this. I suppose that for someone like me, who has studied the origins of the American republic and understands the reasons why the Constitution was written the way it was, it annoys me that my fellow citizens are so ignorant of those origins and don't appreciate how novel and unprecedented our republican foundations are. Its not that I'm surprised, but saddened that I'm not surprised.

September 28, 2007

Meanwhile in Right-Wing Fantasyland...

On college campuses throughout the nation, we will be celebrating "Islamo-fascism Awareness Week" (Oct. 22-26), assiduously designed to alienate and marginalize the very people we need to win over in order to win the "war on terror." Featuring former ex-radical and apologist for violent extremism, David Horowitz. Learn valuable campus protest tactics such as

Perhaps most importantly, a petition forces students and faculty to declare their allegiances: either to fighting our terrorist adversaries or failing to take action to stop our enemies. For this reason, we encourage you to make a special effort to bring this petition to those groups who might be least likely to sign it, for example to campus administrators, student government officers, and the Muslim Students' Association. (emphasis mine)

Its not, as Al Gore argues, that these people are waging an assault on reason. Rather, logic itself seems the real demon here, otherwise how would one expect a Muslim to sign a petition promoting "awareness" of "islamo-fascism?" Or that the choice, as it were, is between fighting terrorists and failing to take action?

Nothing to add here, just posted for the sheer spectacle of it.

More Thoughts on War

Related to what I wrote below is my impression that this country, more than any other, openly and routinely discusses bombing other sovereign states and changing their regimes as if it were our right and duty to do so. Here political and journalistic elites are largely on the same page, which moves a troubled Glenn Greenwald to discuss the possibility that the military itself might be the only institution capable of preventing a potential war with iran. He writes

For obvious reasons, it is not a positive development to have the U.S. military serve as the primary check on the crazed warmongers who have control of our government. In a country that lives under civilian rule, that really is not and should not be the role of the military. Priest's claim that "the military would revolt" if it was ordered to bomb Iran is, at least in one sense, disturbing.

At the same time, the reason this is happening seems clear. Neoconservative extremists want endless war, and they are supported by the most powerful faction in our government, led by Dick Cheney, who has prevailed in every significant conflict over the last six years. And their radicalism has eroded not only the standing and strength of the United States as a country, but is close to shattering our military forces as well. Even with Iraq draining away all of our resources, they are eager, hungry and increasingly impatient for a new war with the much more formidable Iranians. (link in original)

Military force is a major fetish for these people and hiding behind "the troops" is repellent political ploy. How do you imagine this makes the military as an institution feel, to be used as props to make these people feel strong and virile? To be used, intentionally, as fodder in a pointless conflict by a political party that doesn't even apparently care about its own electoral promises (except, apparently those who are up for reelection next year)? It is revolting. And revolt might just be what results from this. It is hard to imagine a breakdown in the military chain of command, but increasingly it isn't the stuff of fantasy, either.

And of course the real tragedy here is that neither congress nor the press seems willing or able to check this madness. As Sen. Webb memorably said regarding the repugnant Lieberman/Kyl amendment (which many Democrats happily voted for), there hasn't even been one hearing on Iran. And yet here we are laying the groundwork for bombing them without any deliberation, discussion, evidence, cases being made, etc. It is literally shooting first, asking questions later. And if this all sounds familiar, recall that we were in the same position five years ago when we rushed to war with Iraq without any debate or discussion. Granted then the president and his party had much more support back then. But even with their fall from good graces, does anyone see a tangible check on the president's ability, should he decide, to bomb Iran? I certainly don't and that is terrifying.

It is arrogance and hubris which allows for this lack of caution and deliberation when discussing war. And if they get their way the warmongers will unleash a backlash that makes very clear the limits of American power. But they are blind to those limits--indeed they don't acknowledge limits--which is probably why such open, frequent and public displays of mindless will-to-power and moral arrogance are so prevalent in the corridors of power, whether on the op-ed page or in the chambers of Congress. And only the source of that power--the military--really understands those limits.

Mercenaries, War and the Draft

I've actually done a bit research into privatized military firms in the past, so there's much more I could say on the issue but what occurs to me is that our reliance on using privatized military forces (I hesitate to call them mercenaries, which I know confuses people, but there are good reasons to analytically separate mercenaries from the personnel of PMFs) is the product of two things: 1) an all-volunteer army 2) an offensive (rather than defensive) foreign policy. Resolving these two issues turns out to be related. Imagine this: an amendment which specifies that in order for Congress to declare war (or the president requests an authorization) the authorization/declaration must be tied to a reinstatement of the draft. This approach would mean that when America must go to war, instead of choosing to, there will be political costs and sacrifice--without having to resort to costly private contractors who exist in a sort of legal no-man's-land. I'm not saying a draft would be popular, but that's the whole point. I'm sure many were apprehensive (to say the least) about being drafted into WWII and that was supposed to be the good war. Ever since the reasons for going to war have become more murky; even the "good" first Gulf War involved far too much rhetoric about America "proving" itself militarily again or regaining what had been lost in Vietnam. Tying such a commitment to politics and people would ensure, I think, greater hesitance on the part of our political leaders towards making war as the first and best foreign policy option. It would certainly curtail blathering warmongers like Joe Lieberman from endlessly arguing that we need to immediately bomb Iran. It would, in short, make war rare and that, we seem to have forgotten, is a good thing.

Meanwhile in Right-Wing Fantasyland...

Michael Medved brings us the "Six Inconvenient Truths about the US and Slavery." Its not worth the effort to go into every detail of this nonsense, but essentially the piece is an exercise in arguing that while America's dalliance with slavery was brutal, it wasn't novel, long-lived, as bad as genocide, all that profitable, rapidly abolished and generally no worse than life on the African continent.

Boy, that's reassuring.

September 26, 2007

Your GOP

Surely news organizations other than McClatchy must think that a voter-suppression policy executed by one of the major political parties is, well, newsworthy.

I take their deafening silence as a confirmation.


Truly an intellectual giant on military affairs, Dr. Condoleeza Rice.

I'm still trying to understand what she meant by the comparison, which is probably a futile exercise.

The Big Con

Much more needs to be said about this tendency on the right wing to be fundamentally opposed to the idea of an open society. Not that I consider this conspiratorial, just plainly opposed to transparent government and anything but conservative.

Reporting the News

You know, if Katie Couric pulled a Cronkite and actually ended one of her broadcasts with clearly-identified "special commentary" and told us what she really thinks about the war, people might start tuning in more. After all, people hate this war and hate the fact that they lied to about the reasons for it in the first place.

Just a hunch.


Like I've said before, the insanity of rhetoric among American political elites seems to be premised on the idea that war is the best, instead of the last foreign policy option.

On to Iran!


What an asshole Ari Fleischer is. I'm in a testy mood today, so I don't hesitate to say that there's a special spot in hell reserved for propagandist hacks like him who profit off warfare built on lies, not necessity.

September 25, 2007

GOP = Pathetic

There's nothing "grand" about

  • Greg Sargent notes that for the first time in a Gallup poll, Democrats lead Republicans as the national security party. And while the break is 47-42 (within the margin of error), my impression is that the Democrats' gain of sixteen points in the last five years is more significant than the Republicans' relatively modest decline of eight points in the same period.

  • Chris Bowers wonders if the Republicans have simply lost the will to win elections, and prefer to simply be on the outside, criticizing the "liberal establishment" than actually running government. I think he may have a point.

  • Finally, David Kurtz looks at a NRSC email urging pressure on Senate Dems to waste more time condemning the MoveOn ad criticizing Gen. Petraeus. Given that they're broke, no wonder they have to resort to this. But since public opinion on the war was unmoved by Petraeus, Bush, or the MoveOn ad, one would hope that Dems would make a spectacle of this, pointing out to voters that Republicans would rather waste Senate time on a newspaper ad than pay attention to the fact that we are wasting billions of dollars and thousands of lives in Iraq with no end in sight so Iraq's civil war doesn't become a larger civil war.

Its staggering how much money and how many lives have been lost since Bush took office. Unfortunately it was the only thing able to demonstrate to Americans that Republicans are unfit for office. Let's hope they remember that lesson beyond 2008.

Ahmadinejad and Jingoism

I really only wanted to talk about nuclear deterrence in my last post, but brought in a little Ahmadinejad to make my point. But it really is worth making clear how pathetic a political figure he is and how only the Lieberman's of our country can make him into something bigger than he really is. Steve Clemons nails it:

An interesting lesson we all should be drawing from is the very short lived crash and burn tenure of Shinzo Abe, Japan's history-denying, right wing prime minister.

In my view, Abe was a god-send for those who hope for a better Japan, a Japan that is finally comfortable with its national identity and past -- and that can get beyond the history battles. Abe was one of the worst -- though not the worst -- that one could imagine leading Japan in this fragile period in culture and history wars in Northeast Asia.

But he was pro-Bush, and the White House supported him. But the Japanese people rejected him at the polls and punished severely his party. He hoped that jingoistic calls for nationalist pomp and circumstance would trump the dinner table/economic issues that most perturbed Japanese voters.

This is what we should be letting Ahmadinejad do -- crash and burn in the eyes of his own public that just doesn't buy his Cheney-like pugnaciousness. (emphasis mine)

Which is why bombing Iran is such a stupid idea: it would produce precisely the opposite effect desired. Only Iran can reform itself. Only Japan can accept responsibility for its own actions. Only Hindus in India can reject their jingoistic nationalists. And only Americans can reject the repugnant bellicosity that characterizes our intellectually vapid foreign policy rhetoric. And so on. It has always been the same problem in every country: xenophobic nationalism. Jingoes are not patriots, and rejecting them is, in my view, ultimately the same as rejecting the extremists throughout the world, foreign and domestic, who wish to weaken the modern world. Our world is not perfect, and perhaps never will be, but moving in that progressive direction is infinitely preferable to a world based on fear, mistrust, bloodshed and hate.

UPDATE: Juan Cole has more.

The Nuclear Deterrence Contradiction

From an interview with Wesley Clark:

Matt Stoller: Can we handle a nuclear Iran? Can we live with that?

Wes Clark: I don't think so. The reason is, there are three reasons. Number one is that I think a nuclear armed Iran would use its clear deterrent to promote conventional or unconventional aggression against other states in the region and believe it could sit back with its nuclear power and not be threatened in return. I think the second reason is you never know how these nuclear capabilities might be smuggled abroad or used in some way. Maybe the way we saw the Israelis strike at this nuclear depot in Syria is an indication of that and apparently that came from North Korea. And the third reason is that once Iran gets a nuclear weapon lots of other countries will want them and the more countries that have them the greater chance a nuke will be used and kill hundreds of thousands of people and so no I don't think you can tolerate a nuclear armed Iran. But I think the right course of dealing with it is to directly engage Iran in dialogue. (emphasis mine)

Two kinds of deterrence: the first, based on mutually assured destruction, presumes that the cost of using nuclear weapons (total annihilation) deters combatants from using them; the second, that your non-nuclear-armed neighbors will not retaliate against you because of your nuclear arms. It goes without saying that the upshot of the first theory is that everybody should be armed with nukes, because they deter. The second type is more realistic: hostile nations with nuclear and military parity will be more likely to use them as conventional weapons, since the object of total war is to unconditionally win. So really the only two scenarios that will prevent nuclear war under the two theories are 1) arm everyone with nukes 2) arm nobody with nukes. Then there is the middle policy, which is arm some people with nukes, which clearly is the worst case because it leads to, as Clark rightly points out, an arms race between hostile nations.

Unmentioned is the notion that one dominant power (the United States) gets nukes alone. Of course, that wouldn't go over so well with our allies, so we helped them get nukes as well. Obviously this played out over a bipolar scenario which made MAD possible in the first place. In the post-Cold Wart world the first order of business should have been to gradually phase out nuclear weapons altogether but by then the theory of nuclear deterrence was so entrenched in the foreign policy establishment that such notions were never taken seriously. The fallout--so to speak--of such a policy remains disastrous. Neoconservative proponents of American Empire did argue for keeping our nuclear dominance to ward off any potential challengers (China) to our dominance. But keeping nuclear weapons active after their original purpose (deterrence) expired meant that the possibility of nuclear materials getting into non-state actor's hands (terrorists) continued to increase. And while such a scenario would likely come from the collapse of a nuclear-armed failed state, the United States' failure to take the lead on the issue of nuclear de-proliferation ensured that others countries could continue to develop such weapons on the premise of...the deterrence argument.

Nuclear deterrence only made sense logical sense during a unique historical period, the Cold War, and even then was grimly macabre at best, horrifying at worst. Now the situation is much worse. After all, we can't negotiate arms reductions treaties with terrorists. At least with states--even states as opaque and untrustworthy as Iran--pressures can be put on them, inspectors can investigate, something can be done to check nuclear ambitions. A nuclear-armed Iran is not preferable, but neither will it be the end of the world. As I've said before, most of the doomsday scenarios regarding Iran are premised on knowledge of the mental state of the regime's leaders. If Ahmadinejad's visit to New York is any indication of his character, I would say that he is one of the biggest idiots on the world stage. Either that or he is a rank demagogue whose appeal is on the wane. He was rightly treated like a joke by those who listened to him speak. Ultimately my position hasn't changed. Saying a nuclear-armed Iran is "unacceptable" is pretty weak tea. Clearly the regime has ambitions and the best we can do is bog them down using the tools of international organizations and keep pressing for internal regimes change. Everything I've read and seen about Iran suggests that it is no longer revolutionary and that its people are ready to move slowly in a more progressive, liberal direction. I don't see how the leadership can keep that bottled up forever without sacrificing its legitimacy and goodwill. But on the nuclear question, Iran, I believe, can be managed.

The Center is not Eternal

Shorter David Brooks: The Center matters, even though it doesn't need a definition.

What's so ridiculous about this is that causal influences are simply assumed, not proven. Clinton leads in the polls--that proves that the center, not the netroots, rule the roost. But Brooks never really tells us what defines the netroots, the center, liberals, or even conservatives. He leaves these ephemeral labels up to our imagination to define. Worse is his presumption of having insider information. Take this:

The fact is, many Democratic politicians privately detest the netroots' self-righteousness and bullying. They also know their party has a historic opportunity to pick up disaffected Republicans and moderates, so long as they don't blow it by drifting into cuckoo land. They also know that a Democratic president is going to face challenges from Iran and elsewhere that are going to require hard-line, hawkish responses.

Really? This is a fact? Which Democratic politicians? At what point, policy-wise, does one drift into "cuckoo land?" Or how about Brooks' formula for success:
Finally, these Democrats understand their victory formula is not brain surgery. You have to be moderate on social issues, activist but not statist on domestic issues and hawkish on foreign policy. This time they're not going to self-destructively deviate from that.

Isn't this basically how John Kerry ran his campaign? Isn't this how "centrist" Democrats talk today? Yet in the decisive election of 2006--which Brooks never mentions--Democrats--netroots candidates, in many cases--won by opposing the war, supposedly a position outside of the center. So does that mean that the majority of the country are represented by the netroots, the majority that thinks invading Iraq was a mistake and wants to leave within a year?

The idea of the center is one which arose in an era of government which achieved consensus through solid majorities. Now that the parties have realigned themselves better with their constituents, consensus is more difficult to achieve. That is normal. The period when the center held was the abnormality. And even then, "centrism" wasn't a political philosophy, but rather the result of several factors: Democratic majorities in government since the New Deal; collusion between politicians and interest groups; widespread agreement on Cold War foreign policy; the rallying power of individual politicians; the weakness of a coherent opposition message. Today, these factors still matter (other than the Cold War) but their relative influence is less. Interest groups matter, but their composition is different. Individual politicians still command respect, but rarely can they influence bodies of government single-handedly (Show me one politician today with the influence of Lyndon Johnson at his peak). And the center-right conventional wisdom of Washington politics is grossly out of proportion with the rest of the country. The center is a mushy concept; it is the product of political moments, and today's political moment favors a center that is largely in tune with Democratic policy positions, which happen to be largely in sync with netroots policy positions.

Now I'm not writing this to defend the netroots. The netroots are simply political activists who have political preferences. There's nothing new there. So what about social, domestic (really the same, aren't they?) and foreign policy? Where do the (liberal) netroots stand? It seems to me that on social issues, the netroots are largely libertarian. Government shouldn't be taking away rights or imposing moral standards on the community. On the social issues dear to conservatives, they are activist. They want amendments banning abortion, gay marriage and laws prohibiting the teaching of evolution and promoting Christian tenets. The left simply opposes these things. Being "moderate," as Brooks says, on social issues is, by definition, being in the majority on the issue. There is no middle position. Do majorities support the right to abortion? Do majorities support the right to homosexual marriage? That's the issue. And while I doubt a majority would say they support a "right" to gay marriage, I also doubt a majority could be mustered to create a constitutional amendment banning it. On a state-by-state basis this plays out a bit differently of course, but at a national level being moderate on social issues is to be cautious, not activist. I just don't see don't see a lot of activism in favor of social issues in the netroots; it seems to me that they're playing defense to make sure a minority of conservative activists can't impose their narrow views on the world.

On domestic policy there is certainly an activist component to the netroots, which shouldn't surprise us, since they're political activists. Universal health care? You bet. Expanding the social safety net? Absolutely. Keeping our environment clean, infrastructure maintained and country safe? Yes. Now naturally this entails some expansion of the state, so the false choice Brooks gives us between statism and activism is meant to paint netroots activists as socialists. But in the main, on the issues I cited above, the netroots are largely in sync with the country. Of course people want security, safety and a clean environment. Liberals, Democrats and the netroots believe government can--not must--provide this. Conservatives do not. On domestic policy I think there is no doubt that the public at large is more trusting of Democrats on these issues.

Foreign policy. First an important distinction. Being "antiwar" is not a policy position. It is a reaction against particular wars. The netroots and the country at large hate this war because it is costly, pointless and based on shifting rationales and lies. They are opposed to this war, not war in general, and most people don't choose to protest on the street to make their feelings known. Obviously there are people who are simply pacifists. Fine. That's a principled position very much in the minority. I would wager that the majority of people absolutely are willing to fight to defend the country when the enemy is clear and the objectives for victory are clear. That is why people turned against Vietnam and now against Iraq. It is very true that hawkishness is in short supply in the netroots. But it is also true that hawkishness belongs to a very small minority of people who largely influence or make decisions regarding war without any of the consequences associated with it. Bellicose pundits and foreign policy analysts dominate here. Which is why, incidentally, the military is largely conservative regarding conflict. They know the costs of war, have served in war, and exist to prevent wars when possible, and decisively win them when necessary. Why hawkishness has infected mainstream Democratic politicians is a question I won't get into here. But I would argue that this is precisely the place where the netroots and the Democratic establishment are most at odds.

So there you have it. Democrats, the public and the netroots are largely in sync on policy. And leaving aside foreign policy, the big difference between the netroots and the Democratic party is that the former are activists (with all the attendant baggage that comes with being an activist) and the latter are politicians (who have their own baggage). They have a relationship. They need one another. Just like the public and the politicians need one another but don't necessarily get along. Trying to gloss this over with vague appeals to the center is intellectually dishonest and lazy. It is bad journalism. Fortunately I, and hopefully others, don't treat Brooks as a serious journalist. He's just another cowardly pundit, afraid to say what he really feels, hiding behind the civility afforded him as a proponent of centrism.

September 24, 2007

Newt and Me

A long time ago, I publicly mused that Newt Gingrich could be the GOP nominee for president in 2008. My reasoning was that Republicans would be so eager to distance themselves from the president that they would need an idea-man spokesman to argue that conservatism isn't to blame for the Bush era, Bush is to blame. What I did not foresee is that the candidates (for president at least) would all embrace Bush and try to go further. Conservatism as a political identity is bound up with the Bush era and in that climate, one wonders how Gingrich could possibly flourish. Furthermore, there doesn't seem to be a lot of enthusiasm for Gingrich in the Republican base and even his support for some of the more authoritarian aspects of Bush foreign policy merely makes him yet another face in an already crowded field. In sum, I made a pretty bad prediction.

It seems now that Newt might have found his base of support: America's prescient political pundits and journalists, who treat each new entrant to the GOP field as the savior of American politics (if they haven't already referred to him as the second coming of Reagan, by name). TPM has a roundup of recent Newt-fever expressed by a few news sources. What's funny to me is that I never actually considered Gingrich to be a real intellectual of the Right; I merely thought that that's how the Right sees him. I'm not sure if that is the case (are today's rank-and-file "conservatives" really all that interested in ideas, much less debating them? Were they ever?) but I never thought to consider that pundits would so openly embrace that characterization and disregard the evidence pointing to the contrary. Everyone seems to agree that Gingrich would never win the presidency, but that his entrance into the field of potential nominees would somehow elevate the debate on the Right. That, too, is pretty dubious. Perhaps Gingrich's slogan really could be Gingrich '08: Why Not?

Intellectually Lazy

Others have pointed out the irony of the White House calling Barack Obama "intellectually lazy" but I think this mischaracterizes them. I think it's more accurate to call the White House "anti-intellectual" because clearly in all areas of policy their motivation has always been ideological dogma and maintaining their party's grip on power, although these days the latter motivation has seemed to all but evaporate into "insulate the president at all costs."

Not Good

Norman "WWIV" Podhoretz spends 45 minutes in the Oval Office with George and Karl.

What do you suppose they were talking about? Bombing Iran back to the stone age perhaps?

Oh, and let's not forget that Podhoretz advises the Giuliani campaign, too.

September 21, 2007

Moral Weakness

Marshall on Ahmadinejad and Ground Zero:

But I'd like to return to my earlier post on Ahmadinejad's attempt to visit Ground Zero and some of the responses to it. The most common argument advanced as to why we shouldn't allow Ahmadinejad at Ground Zero was, 'How could we allow him such a huge propaganda victory?' Either vis a vis his own people or on the world stage.

Many readers put this argument forward in good faith. So I don't want to disrespect that. But when did we become such moral weaklings? And how brittle do we think our national reputation is that it's going to be damaged by Ahmadinejad going down to Ground Zero and at worst spouting off about whatever he wants to spout off about. To put it succinctly, who cares? Why should we care what he says? If there are any propaganda victories to be had I think the spectacle of our national overreaction has provided him with quite a nice one. But again, who cares? Am I alone in thinking that our national greatness and stature is best displayed by our indifference to these things? Especially when free speech and letting even the obnoxious have their say are supposedly central to who we are? But again, indifference. Who cares what he says?

Well, you're not alone. In fact I think this attitude of moral weakness runs through the series of catastrophes following 9/11 which preformed the ridiculous concept of "the war on terror." Minor threats were inflated to large ones. Large threats were ignored. I consider the right-wing reaction to 9/11 to be a cowardly one dressed up in phony "toughness." Rhetoric means nothing. Actions are what count. And in this case, rather than engaging terrorism for what it is, they converted it into something it is not. And they remain afraid to reassess their strategy (if they even had one to begin with) because it is and always was based on acting tough.

I don't give a fuck what Iran's president says. I can handle it without wanting to spill blood. Iran cannot influence the United States, only Americans can. And unfortunately the ones in power have demonstrated that their stewardship of the state is premised on lowering themselves to the level of mindless rants of some petty dictator screaming for attention on the world stage like some pathetic child throwing a tantrum. Real leaders don't debase themselves that way. And of course, that is why America lacks true leaders.

Senate Politics

Reed-Levin, mandating troop withdrawal begin in 90 days, fails in Senate 47-47 (vote for cloture). Think Progress notes that the last time this vote was held (July) the vote was 52-47.

The usual Republican defections appear on today's roll call, namely Sens. Hagel, Smith and Snowe, and six senators didn't vote at all (Sens. Bennett, Boxer, Domenici, Durbin, Lott and Sanders). Based on this and the roll call from July, I draw the following conclusions.

Potentially, the following Republicans could end up voting 'aye' in the future: Domenici, Dole, Specter, Sununu and Warner. That, combined with all the Democrats (including the recently recovered Tim Johnson, who voted 'aye' today plus Independent Bernie Sanders), plus the other Republican defections, would bring the total to 58, still not enough to overcome a filibuster, and that's only if those defections happen, which isn't that likely to begin with. Both this amendment and the Reid-Feingold amendment from yesterday have teeth--they force the president's hand--but the latter received significantly less support. I'm not quite sure why that is--the language of each will need to be closely parsed. But regardless, it simply doesn't look like the necessary cloture votes will ever be achieved with the Senate as it is configured now. Ultimately that means one thing: Democrats must continue to bring these amendments to the floor and make the Republicans do their filibuster. Like I said yesterday, if we can't end the war today, then the obstructing party must pay an electoral price next year. Its the only thing that can be done under the circumstances.

September 20, 2007

More Depressing Senate Votes

Well, looks like we're not leaving Iraq anytime soon. Reid-Feingold goes down 28-70. The legislation would have cut off funding in in June 2008, adequate time to begin withdrawal. Obviously those who voted against it were under the impression that this was tantamount to abandoning the troops, instead of realizing that this action forces the Commander Guy to order a withdrawal lest he abandon the troops.

Nothing more to add, its just pretty sad the whole affair. The measure got 29 votes in May, and we'll surely be seeing this legislation again.

Your Liberal Media

Yes, Howie, it is rather appalling that the press is scrutinizing Rudy Giuliani's performance as mayor on 9/11, especially given that Giulinai has based his entire presidential campaign on the fact that he was mayor on 9/11.

Cancer of the Republic.

Quote of the Day

From TP:

QUESTION: Do you think there's a risk of a recession? How do you rate that?

BUSH: You know, you need to talk to economists. I think I got a B in Econ 101. I got an A, however, in keeping taxes low and being fiscally responsible with the people's money.

487 days to go...

Liberal Values

At Paul Krugman's new blog (subject for another time, but the format is much better, IMO, than the twice-weekly column) he notes the difference in media response to the 1994 and 2006 elections:

For some reason a couple of people who have written to me in the last few days, on matters unrelated to this post, have mentioned in passing that the Democrats won a "narrow victory" in 2006. Apparently this is conventional wisdom, what you get from reading or watching a lot of commentary. So I thought it might be worth pointing out that it's absolutely not true.

In fact, it's quite strange how the magnitude of the Democratic victory has been downplayed. After the 1994 election, the cover of Time showed a charging elephant, and the headline read "GOP stampede." Indeed, the GOP had won an impressive victory: in House races, Republicans had a 7 percentage point lead in the two-party vote.

In 2006, Time's cover was much more subdued; two overlapping circles, and the headline "The center is the new place to be." You might assume that this was because the Democrats barely eked out a victory. In fact, Democrats had an 8.5 percentage point lead, substantially bigger than the GOP win in 1994. Also, the new Democratic majority in the House isn't just larger than any the Republicans achieved over their 12-year reign; it's much more solidly progressive than their pre-1994 majority.

It's just one election, and may not represent a trend (although I think it does.) But the 2006 election was, in fact, a progressive landslide.

I think the reason for this has everything to do with the changing connotations of the "liberal" and "conservative" labels. Today's liberals are sort of a blend of classical liberalism and New Deal progressivism. In fact, Roosevelt appropriated the liberal label to brand his governing coalition; strictly speaking, the social welfare programs he initiated didn't really fall under the purview of "classical" liberalism. As for conservatives, well, there never really has been an authentic conservative party in America since defining yourself as a conservative before the New Deal really meant protecting the status quo--that is, classical liberalism. Confused yet?

But if one leaves North America and goes to Continental Europe, the labels begin to align better. Conservatives in Britain during the French Revolution were opposed to the radical reforms of the French liberals: specifically the abolition of all rank, hierarchy and privilege. Conservatism, in this narrow sense, is then opposition to radicalism, and more concretely opposition to the egalitarianism of the French Revolution in particular. This is why canonical conservatives like Burke supported the American war for independence. The Americans weren't attempting a radical reorganization of society, they were simply trying to reclaim the prerogative of self-rule from what they perceived as a tyrannical crown. Their war was to perfect the British system and iron out the problems, such as hereditary monarchy.

So from this point of view, the founding of the American Republic was really rather conservative, not revolutionary, insofar as it didn't seek to alter the fabric of social life. But along the way liberal ideas, notably natural rights, gave the American experiment a novelty not seen in the world. Those Americans were starting without the yoke of feudal Europe around their neck. So in order to divide power amongst the three (classic) sources of political power in society (the monarchy, the aristocracy, the democracy) the Founders created a form of government that elected its king (president), appointed its aristocrats (the Senate) and let the people directly choose their representatives (the House).

Back to the present. Today's conservatives, by dint of their label, don't see themselves as radicals. The radicals are the New Deal liberals who wish to flatten society, eradicate wealth and privilege, and trend towards a more socialistic, egalitarian order. Or so the argument goes. In my view the moment conservatism began conceiving of itself as a political movement, it began to compromise its philosophical foundations (such as they were). Meanwhile today's liberals, while progressive by Krugman's analysis, are hardly social levelers. I think it is more accurate to see the conservative movement (embodied by the 1994 takeover of Congress) as the radical force in contemporary politics while "liberals"--who lack even a coherent movement--seem to be in favor of gradual change, fixing problems and generally trying to have a big tent. I'm not just pitching to my own team here, I'm suggesting that the reason "the left" is treated as inherently radical whereas the "the right" is not is because most of us regress to our earlier conceptions of liberals and conservatives. In the American scene the closest thing to Revolutionary France was the late 1960s. That is where most people--I would argue--derive their labels and impressions of the parties. Conservatives provide social order to Liberal social chaos. And the decision makers in the news media all came from or grew up in that turbulent environment. They can't or won't conceive the modern conservative movement as radical because their experience tells them otherwise. On the other hand, those of us (like me) who were born after the Sixties and experienced the conservative movement of the 1980s and 1990s, know what dangers that movement represents. There will have to be a generational realignment in the newsrooms of the country before that story really becomes internalized. And by then, the pendulum may well have shifted back to the right.

Ultimately this is about political values. The values that make America great, even if its actions are less than appealing. Does that make me a conservative? Perhaps in a technical sense. But ultimately those values are, properly, liberal values.


Yesterday Senate Republicans (and Joe Lieberman) filibustered two pieces of legislation related to restoring habeas corpus and extending rotation schedules for soldiers in Iraq, respectively. Most news reports I read carried a headline to the effect that the "Senate rejects X bill" instead of the more accurate, "Senate Republicans block X bill." But this post isn't about the press' inability to accurately describe congressional proceedings. It is about a bill the GOP introduced today to condemn the "controversial" MoveOn.org ad criticizing Gen. Petraeus. Sadly, this measure passed, handily, or to let someone else describe it

Correct me if I'm wrong here. But by my calculation, more U.S. senators (72) voted today to condemn a newspaper ad attacking Gen. Petraeus than voted yesterday (56) to lengthen the time off troops get from the frontlines in Iraq, thereby reducing individual soldiers exposure to actual attacks. Am I missing something, or is that about right?

Yes, that's right. To half of the Senate Democrats' credit, Barbara Boxer introduced a rival bill that would have condemned all attacks on military personnel, past and present (i.e., the GOP's numerous "swift boat" campaigns against both Dems and Reps). I understand this bullshit coming from the GOP since they are incapable of doing little when it comes to national security other than wrapping themselves in the flag and endlessly talking about how much they "support the troops" (as if the other side doesn't, by definition). But why would Democrats support it? They're trying to end the war--that's supporting the troops. Wasting time on pointless (the bill doesn't actually do anything, it just measures the "sense of the Senate') legislation is cheap and distracting. Apparently these Democrats are more worried about being accused of hating the troops by people who already viscerally hate the Democrats in general than standing up to the bullying tactics of the GOP. They could have stood against it--filibustered it, even--and argued that while this pointless bill is being debated, the Senate GOP is trying to distract from the fact that they consistently vote against any legislation that forces George Bush to do anything to bring our involvement in Iraq to a close.

Well, like I said. The difference between the parties has never been more clear than in the last couple of days, Democratic weakness aside. Take your pick: the rule of law and constitutionally granted rights or near limitless executive authority. Ending a costly, pointless, ill-conceived, unpopular and corrupt military occupation or extending it indefinitely with no plan for ending it. That's the difference between your parties. Its obvious who voters are going to pick next year. I just hope the Democrats continue to make this difference as plain as day by continually bringing up votes and letting the Republicans do their thing and George Bush use his veto pen. If we can't end the war now, then the GOP will cease to exist as a major party for some time.

September 19, 2007

Today in the Senate

The other high-profile Republican filibuster of the day, that of the Webb Amendment, was unable to achieve cloture today, ensuring that our military gets to continue being used as human targets in Iraq with little respite.

All Democrats and 7 Republicans (Sens. Coleman, Collins, Hagel, Smith, Snowe, Sununu and Warner) voted to invoke cloture. The remaining Republicans and the reprehensible Joe Lieberman led the filibuster.

And if Harry Reid keeps his promise to only consider funding legislation that is tied to specific withdrawal dates, expect future Senate votes to look much like the two today. The cumulative effect will betray the reality: Democrats are voting to end the war, Republicans are voting to continue it indefinitely.

I think this unpleasant fact is one voters ought to be reminded of regularly as they prepare to vote for a new congress and a new president in 2008. Unfortunately, a lot of people will pointlessly die between now and then. Hopefully a few of those Republicans who voted 'nay' today will look into their souls and vote to end this monstrosity. Not holding my breath on that one.


Mr. Sullivan gets a bit testy:

Previous war-presidents have gathered opponents into their cabinets, reached out to estranged former allies, engaged in aggressive diplomacy to maximize effectiveness and rallied the whole country for the fight. What does this one do? Gets a bunch of right-wing "journalists" into the White House to spread some partisan talking points. What a fucking disgrace this man and his journalistic lackeys are.

Excuse my language. But I can't take this any longer. We're at war; and he's still playing Rove's game. (hyperlink in original)

This is precisely why those of us who are less than flattering towards the president and his bloodthirsty enablers talk like this: we are frustrated, appalled and sickened by where our country has gone under this repugnant "leadership." I think we have every right to get angry and drop a few f-bombs. This is our country after all, and we're sick and tired of these asshole "conservative" warmongers flushing it down the toilet. And poor Mr. Sullivan, a classic conservative who initially supported the war, is simply expressing what all decent Americans feel. As for the 25%ers, they are utterly alien to me.

Disposable Rights II

42 Republicans and the reprehensible Joe Lieberman reject restoring habeas. Republicans led the filibuster.

I can't think of a starker example of the difference between the two parties and what political values they represent.

(Credit to Sens. Hagel, Lugar, Smith, Snowe, Specter and Sununu for voting against their party, although half of them might be motivated by retaining their senate seats next year.)

September 18, 2007

Disposable Rights

Whether you consider it ironic or downright scary, the fact that we need to introduce a bill that restores habeas corpus is a testament to the decline of our republic in the last decade.

Threat Assessment

Speaking of imperial rhetoric, Niall Ferguson, who once likened McArthur's failed presidential run to Caesar crossing the Rubicon, thinks Rudy Giuliani would be a terrible president. Glad to see that Ferguson tempers his desire for a new Anglo-American world empire with a dose of reality:

America, Giuliani says, must remain "on offense" to win the "terrorists' global war on us." What, like George W. Bush? No, no, no, no, no. In common with nearly all the Republican candidates, Giuliani's hero of choice is Ronald Reagan. But he also makes a point of likening himself to Winston Churchill.

That worries me. It shows that Giuliani buys the idea that since 9/11, the U.S. has been fighting World War III. You know how this routine goes. Al Qaeda is made up of Islamo-fascists; 9/11 was Pearl Harbor; Saddam Hussein was the Arab Hitler; the fall of Baghdad would be like the liberation of Paris. And so on. Now it's Giuliani's turn. "We should try to accomplish [in Iraq] what we accomplished in Japan or in Germany," he says. What, like bombing the place flat?

The reality is that the threat posed by Islamist terrorism today is wholly different from the threat posed by the Axis powers in 1941-42. To judge by Osama bin Laden's latest rant, he aims at mass conversion, not conquest (with low-interest loans as the latest inducement).

The Islamists have thousands rather than millions of trained warriors. Their most dangerous weapons are land mines and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, not aircraft carriers and guided missiles. The total number of American fatalities that can be attributed to this supposed world war is about 6,000 (adding together 9/11 victims with U.S. passports and the service personnel killed in action in Iraq). On average, the Axis powers killed about 20,000 Allied soldiers and civilians a day.

You know, these really are pretty obvious observations; it doesn't take a trained historian to recognize them. But the way our political leaders talk about the various threats to us always demonstrates a lack of understanding about the capabilities of those threats. That is why Iran is Hitler's Germany. That's why al-Qaeda is worldwide "islamofascism." The very existence of our civilization always hangs in the balance. And as Ferguson notes, this nonsense distracts us from the more pressing challenges of the 21st century. Giuliani doesn't have a plan for that stuff. He barely even has a plan for winning the "war on terror" (unless "winning" counts as a "strategy"). That alone, in my view, disqualifies him as a serious presidential candidate. Yet, terrifyingly, here we are.

When in Rome...

Reading Glenn Greenwald's devastating round up of serious opinion regarding the "controversy" surrounding the MoveOn.org "Col. Betrayus" ad taken out in the NY Times, this piece of conversation stuck out:

[DANA] MILBANK [THE WASHINGTON POST]: Bush had a terrible August down on the ranch and then has explosive Septembers. And I think he's won this battle already.


MILBANK: Petraeus --it's no accident he had a Latin name. It looked like he was the Roman general returning to the republic in his gold and purple toga, and they were celebrating him and slaying white bulls. They could not get enough of this man. And anybody's who's even critical of the war wouldn't dare criticize...


MILBANK: ... except in the most polite way, General Petraeus because then you appear to be criticizing the troops. I think it's game, set and match here.

Taken at the level of political analysis, this is utterly ridiculous. There is nothing remotely similar between a counter-insurgency Ph.D field commander who is subservient to civilian leadership appearing before a secular legislative body to give a report and a Roman general returning for his Triumph. So the only thing I can infer from Milbank's comments is that he actually desires us to behave more like the ancient Romans. That's...uh...interesting, to say the least. I wonder if Milbank thinks this is an awesome idea, too:

However, President Bush has a valuable historical example that he could choose to follow.

When the ancient Roman general Julius Caesar was struggling to conquer ancient Gaul, he not only had to defeat the Gauls, but he also had to defeat his political enemies in Rome who would destroy him the moment his tenure as consul (president) ended.

Caesar pacified Gaul by mass slaughter; he then used his successful army to crush all political opposition at home and establish himself as permanent ruler of ancient Rome. This brilliant action not only ended the personal threat to Caesar, but ended the civil chaos that was threatening anarchy in ancient Rome - thus marking the start of the ancient Roman Empire that gave peace and prosperity to the known world.

If President Bush copied Julius Caesar by ordering his army to empty Iraq of Arabs and repopulate the country with Americans, he would achieve immediate results: popularity with his military; enrichment of America by converting an Arabian Iraq into an American Iraq (therefore turning it from a liability to an asset); and boost American prestiege while terrifying American enemies.

He could then follow Caesar's example and use his newfound popularity with the military to wield military power to become the first permanent president of America, and end the civil chaos caused by the continually squabbling Congress and the out-of-control Supreme Court.

President Bush can fail in his duty to himself, his country, and his God, by becoming "ex-president" Bush or he can become "President-for-Life" Bush: the conqueror of Iraq, who brings sense to the Congress and sanity to the Supreme Court. Then who would be able to stop Bush from emulating Augustus Caesar and becoming ruler of the world? For only an America united under one ruler has the power to save humanity from the threat of a new Dark Age wrought by terrorists armed with nuclear weapons.

Notice that the link is to a Google cache (via Digby), on account of the original hosting organization, Family Security Matters, purging this fantasy drivel from their archives. Obviously this very serious organization that is "dedicated to men and women who are seeking answers to the most important question of our time: How to keep our families and our country safe and secure" thinks (thought) a military dictatorship was the best to go about this. And apparently they also thought that the rantings of a man with--as he states--an "incomplete public school education" was the right guy to turn to for serious national security analysis.

Now obviously this fringe lunacy isn't something we should be worried about since it doesn't particularly penetrate the mainstream of American thinking. So one has to ponder why it shows up in the "analysis" provided by a political reporter for the Washington Post and isn't really questioned by Chris "codpiece" Matthews.

Realism and the Madman Theory

From the AP:

"Iran is not a suicide nation," he said. "I mean, they may have some people in charge that don't appear to be rational, but I doubt that the Iranians intend to attack us with a nuclear weapon."

The Iranians are aware, he said, that the United States has a far superior military capability.

"I believe that we have the power to deter Iran, should it become nuclear," he said, referring to the theory that Iran would not risk a catastrophic retaliatory strike by using a nuclear weapon against the United States.

"There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran," Abizaid said in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank. "Let's face it, we lived with a nuclear Soviet Union, we've lived with a nuclear China, and we're living with (other) nuclear powers as well."

This is a sober and realistic assessment which assumes that the actors involved (Iranian leadership) aren't self-sacrificial and, for the most part, rational. This rationality is based on an awareness that the Iranian military is simply no match for the United States. In other words, our military power is an effective deterrent to Iranian military ambitions against us. But what about Israel? The article (that is, Gen. Abizaid) doesn't mention it. But if there is to be warfare between states involving a nuclear-armed Iran, it will be with Israel. There are several reasons for this, but perhaps the one that is overlooked is that Iran might actually calculate its odds for success as sufficiently good enough to launch such an attack. Israel and Iran might achieve military and economic parity and that in turn could lead to a fight for regional (Middle East) dominance. Of course there are other regional actors involved which might make this sort of planning unrealistic, and one other major non-regional actor which might make it impossible: the United States. So if we take seriously the idea that an attack on Israel is an attack on America, then the deterrence factor is still in play, and even a nuclear-armed Iranian regime wouldn't dare attack Israel for fear of retaliation by the United States who, while bogged down in Iraq, nonetheless could wreak countless military horrors on Iran from the air and sea, both conventional and nuclear.

The above is my interpretation of Abizaid's remarks and I think his is a realistic assessment. Yet this is not the predominate rhetoric we hear about Iran from our political leadership. In fact, the very idea of a nuclear-armed Iran is considered unacceptable, and increasingly the only way seen to deter such an outcome is to preemptively strike at Iran's nuclear ambitions. Frustratingly, it isn't clear why these people see Iran in this way. I suspect that they have bought into the madman theory of international relations which assumes that the Iranian political leadership is suicidal and irrational and will use its nukes the instant it gets its hands on them. Unfortunately there is no way for me to prove that this situation won't come to pass, but ask yourself which is more likely: the madman or the realism theory? After all, acting crazy is different from being crazy. Even Nixon knew the value of this when he dealt with China. He knew that appearing unpredictable would keep the Chinese leadership in the dark about his real intentions. Of course, having the US military to back up your bluffs helps, something that Iran simply can't rely on. So in the end the most paranoid assessments about Iran's ambitions are ultimately based on nothing. So what if the leadership of Iran denies the Holocaust and expresses a public desire to wipe Israel off the face of the map? Can they actually do that without sacrificing themselves? No. Will they do it anyway? Well, that's the question, isn't it?

Iran is openly seeking nuclear technology in defiance of international pressure and for what the regime says is non-military (that is, energy) purposes. That's probably a load of bullshit but what's going to stop them? Preemptively bombing Iranian nuclear research facilities isn't going to stop them from acquiring the technology and it will have the effect of rallying the people of Iran around their leadership when the better course of action would be to drive a wedge between the two. Get rid of the "madman" and replace him with someone who abandons the course of alienating Iran from the rest of the world. Easier said than done. But far more productive than insisting that the only way to deal with the prospect of a nuclear Iran is to not have to deal with it.

September 13, 2007

Yet Another Test Message

Please cooperate, MT 4.0.


September 10, 2007

Today's Bad Polling Question

This is a particularly strange poll question featured in the Times today. It asks, "If you had to choose, whom would you say you trust the most with successfully resolving the war in Iraq?" 68% chose "U.S. Military Commanders," 21% chose "Congress," 5% chose "The Bush Administration," and 3% chose "no one." It's not that I agree or disagree with these results. I just don't understand what the question implies. What does "successfully resolving the war" mean? Does it mean ending it? Does it mean winning it? What makes it successful? And why is trust an issue? We all know that the military is subservient to civilian leadership in our form of government, so in a sense, resolving the war is a political decision. It can be undertaken by either the president or congress. The military offers tactical information and advice but it cannot simply resolve the conflict even if it wanted to because it takes orders from the president.

Interestingly, the sidebar to the article contains other results from this poll. These questions ask pretty straightforward questions about how long we should stay, when we should leave, whether conditions will deteriorate further if we leave, etc. Those numbers actually tell us something about public sentiment. The Times even includes earlier poll results to show how opinion has shifted over time, especially with regards to the perceived success of the "surge." Yet the most meaningless of the poll questions is highlighted, presumably to further bolster the prestige of Gen. Petraeus, who is testifying before Congress today. That is pretty ironic, given that the article notes that

That is almost certainly why the White House has presented General Petraeus and Mr. Crocker as unbiased professionals, not Bush partisans. President Bush has said for years that decisions about force levels should be left to military commanders, although the decision to send an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq this year and keep them there was not uniformly supported by military leaders. It was primarily made in the White House, and specifically by the president in his role as commander in chief.

If other words, we ought to be skeptical about Petraeus' testimony. This seems to be a case of the Times' right hand not knowing what its left hand is doing. Either that or they have an agenda. I lean towards the more mundane explanation: this was simply a bad editorial decision. And bad editorial decisions, as I've said time and again, lie at the heart of modern journalism's malaise.

September 7, 2007

Democratic Indecisiveness

I realize that I have little sway within the Democratic party (sometimes you have to go with understatement for stylistic reasons) but will they listen to a NY Times columnist who essentially argues the same thing I argued yesterday?

Finally, the public hates this war and wants to see it ended. Voters are exasperated with the Democrats, not because they think Congressional leaders are too liberal, but because they don't see Congress doing anything to stop the war.

In light of all this, you have to wonder what Democrats, who according to The New York Times are considering a compromise that sets a "goal" for withdrawal rather than a timetable, are thinking. All such a compromise would accomplish would be to give Republicans who like to sound moderate -- but who always vote with the Bush administration when it matters -- political cover.

And six or seven months from now it will be the same thing all over again. Mr. Bush will stage another photo op at Camp Cupcake, the Marine nickname for the giant air base he never left on his recent visit to Iraq. The administration will move the goal posts again, and the military will come up with new ways to cook the books and claim success.

I'm not getting my hopes up. And should Democrats capitulate again, then they truly are the party of spineless wimps. I mean that. Either that or they actually believe it is a good idea to stay in Iraq forever, in which case they should come out and say it instead of, yes, flip-flopping. It's staggering that they continue to fall into traps set by the GOP years ago which by all rights ought to be rusted shut but are apparently lubricated by the blood of American GIs who continue to die while Democrats try to figure out their position on the war.

I don't know what else to say at this point.

September 6, 2007

Voodoo Economics

Saith Yglesias:

The point about the supply siders isn't that politicians sometimes lie. The point is that a vast superstructure has grown up around this particular lie. Most national leaders in the Republican Party subscribe to it. Those who don't, meanwhile, keep quiet about it. The major conservative opinion publications propagate it, as do the conservative talk shows on radio and cable, as do many conservative newspaper columnists, and the major conservative think tanks.

This is a weird phenomenon. If Hillary Clinton got up at the next presidential debate and said "I believe a policy of 'Medicare for all' could save enough money to pay for a universal preschool program and more generous Social Security benefits," Barack Obama would say she was out of her mind, major liberal commentators would agree, and if she started angrily defending the claim against all comers it would be big trouble for her campaign. By contrast, were Mitt Romney to attack John McCain's embrace of supply-side dogma, that would swiftly destroy Romney's campaign as all the major institutions of the right moved to expel him from the movement.

This is right on the money. Economists know that supply-side economics is fantasy, so we have to ask why such a ridiculous idea is kept on life support. And the obvious answer is that the above-mentioned institutions have made it a cornerstone of their ideology. It is literally sacred to them, inviolable. And as Matt notes, any Republican who strays from that orthodoxy pays a big political price from his apostasy (e.g., George H.W. Bush). And of course, there are times when it is good policy to cut taxes. But this isn't about good policy or bad policy. Its about a specific policy that is invoked regardless of the economic conditions. It is a mantra and it is fundamental to Republican politics. It helped usher in the "Reagan Revolution." And since Reagan is essentially a demigod to conservatives, they have chosen to ignore the fact that the 'gip himself committed the apostasy. That is the mentality of economic conservatism.

Politics Matters

The next time you hear talk that partisanship is tearing the country apart, keep in mind that the parties are supposed to represent opposing viewpoints. And isn't the public sick of having to choose between two choices which aren't much different from one another? Wouldn't they prefer a choice, not an echo (to quote one conservative activist from the 60s)? That being said, the data (more here) seems to be bearing out the notion that the parties and the ideologies and temperaments they represent are becoming better aligned than any time in recent memory. This is a bad thing according to the pundit class. The American people want bipartisan candidates, Unity08 tells us. Conflict must be avoided at all costs, lest we disrupt Broder's sleepy home town. Civility must be maintained, lest we let foul-mouthed bloggers who--gasp!--have political opinions dominate the conversation. And the American people don't have opinions on issues, they just want their bipartisan candidate.

Such is the conventional wisdom. Myself, I've never been more convinced that reality is that while uninformed, voters do have opinions on issues, do want a parties that offer a clear choice, and don't treasure bipartisanship as political nirvana. The above trends suggest this all might be coming true. But you wouldn't know that from the pundit class.

A Campaign Built on a Myth

Giuliani's incompetence, taken alone, is bad enough but it only affected the people of New York on 9/11. The problem for the rest of us is that he wants to be president based on a myth that covers up that incompetence. And that is even before one considers Giuliani's authoritarianism and his Bush-like inability to understand foreign policy which, again, is supposed to be his greatest strength.

These are things American voters ought to learn about Rudy Giuliani when they pick a president next year, assuming the GOP picks Giuliani to be their nominee.

Vox Populi

When David Broder tells us what the public thinks he is always wrong and I am reminded that the populist style of rejecting elites extends beyond political elites: it extends to media elites who apparently know jack shit about what the public thinks or wants. Perhaps if a particular politician of a particular political party were to work in that style he or she might connect with voters in a profound way and begin the process of reversing the rot that has set into our republic.

But what do I know.

Your Democratic Party

Apparently they still don't understand who they're dealing with in the White House.

What evidence is there out there that Bush has ever heeded the recommendations of Congress? What reason is there to believe that he will start now? The articles notes Carl Levin as saying, "If we have to make [withdrawal by] the spring part of a goal, rather than something that is binding, and if that is able to produce some additional votes to get us over the filibuster, my own inclination would be to consider that" (my emphasis). The Bush administration has demonstrated over the course of this war that goals are malleable and even when they are explicit, failure to meet them does not radically alter strategy. The linchpin of this is that the surge was supposed to create space for a political solution in Iraq. Give the surge a chance, we were told. Well, the verdict is in that the surge has not accomplished that goal, so the administration and its proxies subtly changed the goal from a political solution to a military one, so that when Petraeus gives his little report he will be able to proclaim that the surge has been a success and that by all means we should give Bush the additional $200 billion he has requested to keep the war going. But instead of putting caveats on that funding, the Democratic leadership is trying to create a filibuster-proof majority with electorally-minded Republicans to do...what exactly? Bush will cheerfully ignore any non-binding "goals" present in any funding bill presented to him. He will veto any funding bills which contain explicit dates for withdrawal. These are the realities of the situation and it saddens me that Democrats (at least the leadership) don't understand that. I don't really have much faith left in the Democratic majority at this point, which leads me to depressingly conclude that real change won't occur until after Bush has left office and better Democrats replace these spineless pols. I don't understand what they feel they have to lose by opposing Bush, opposing the GOP, opposing the pundit class and clearly standing apart from all that and with the American people. I really don't understand it at all.

September 5, 2007

Unidentified Religious Extremists

There's been a wealth of information this week about the Bush administration from an insider perspective. Most of it isn't too revealing for those of us who saw the fatal flaws of Bush the candidate in the last century, but some items stand out. MY highlights an excerpt from a larger Slate excerpt and I would like to look at one small piece of that excerpt:

The Iranian issue," he said as bread crumbs tumbled out of his mouth and onto his chin, "is the strategic threat right now facing a generation of Americans, because Iran is promoting an extreme form of religion that is competing with another extreme form of religion

Yglesias makes the observation--he calls it "gauche"--that Bush is either not too bright or simply doesn't understand the problems he faces. Nothing new there. But within the confines of this "analysis" of Iran, it is really unclear who these two opposed religious extremists are. Is he talking about Sunni vs. Shiite? I have no idea. But doesn't his identification of these two groups somewhat deflate the idea that Iran presents a unified and determined foe to the United States? I know Bush isn't as heavily invested in the WWIV thesis as his neocon boosters are, but isn't he admitting, in his own flawed way, that the situation is more complex than the usual rhetoric we hear coming from the US about Iran? And wouldn't it be prudent for the United States to let these extremists fight amongst themselves, rather than puffing the conflict up into the greatest strategic threat facing Americans of this generation?

Again, nothing new here. Sadly, I don't hear much in the way of alternatives from Bush's would-be successors on the subject of Iran. Have we learned nothing from our involvement in Iraq? It's staggering that our foreign policy thinking is perpetually stuck in arrested adolescence but perhaps the inevitable result of being the dominant power in the world.

Won't Get Fooled Again

These poll numbers on the CA electoral vote "reform" initiative are encouraging. And if the polling firm's analysis is correct, then this naked power grab by the GOP might be stillborn.

Stating the Obvious

I would have preferred a Democrat to make this criticism, but I'm glad someone with media attention has bothered to point out that Rudy Giuliani's claim to national security experience based on being mayor of New York during 9/11 is fraudulent bullshit.

Perhaps this will come up again in tonight's New Hampshire GOP debate, not that it will penetrate the minds of the authoritarian Republican base.


Technical problems and three-day weekends have kept this blog silent as of late. Apologies, and prolific posting to follow.

-The Management