Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Office Hours

So, I'm teaching a class this semester, and the first paper is due Tuesday. So I held a few office hours, for the first time this semester. I thought, well, maybe I'll get a few students to come in and discuss the paper. Um, I was wrong. My sense is that more than half of the students in the course (enrollment 43) came to talk to me. At one point, I was literally surrounded by students worried about the paper. My sense was that this paper assignment, which is worth, I think 15% of their final grade, has really freaked the students out. Why? My guess: because it will be graded, and these students are really concerned about their grades.

I've seen grade-grubbing before, but this was at least an order of magnitude greater than what I've seen before.

I was discussing this with TMcD, and I offered him this twisted insight into my mind, as it stands now. So I'll share with all readers of this blog: At this point, I am so tired of the careerist, timid, afraid-to-take-risks mentality of the students today, that the students I like the best tend to be the ones who really don't take the schoolwork very seriously. Because there's little middle ground. Either students intensely care, today, but only for extrinsic reasons, or they really don't. (I'm leaving aside the students who actually don't care and don't do the work.) It's sort of refreshing to encounter a student who doesn't get too agitated about a minor assignment in one course. Almost as refreshing as the student who's actually interested in the material, and not just making sure that the argument they're making is close to "what I'm looking for."

Because, kids, I'm looking for brilliance, and if you have to ask, you're probably not there.

Final point: Student self-confidence is, at best, weakly correlated with ability. Have y'all noticed that?

Hilarious Book on the 2004 Election

I'm not sure that that post title makes a whole lot of sense, given what an unmitigated disaster the 2004 election was for the United States and, I think one can say without hyperbole, the world. But I just finished Matt Taibbi's Spanking the Donkey: Dispatches From the Dumb Season, which manages to be both insightful and, well, hilarious. I read it on the plane this morning (flying to the Twin Cities to run the Twin Cities Marathon tomorrow), basically cover-to-cover, and I laughed out aloud several times. So, yes, it's LOL.

Here's a nice point, on the massive flags, balloons, etc. (p. 66, on a Dean event): As much as the reporters snickered about campaign fakery, and occasionally cracked about it in print, there is no question that they were atracted to the big campign symbolism like moths to a lamp. To be full of shit in American politics is a signal to our political press that you are serious . . . .

On the Democrats dealing with potential vote loss to a Green candidate (p. 203): If [the Democrats] want to end the Green Party problem . . . [a]ll the Democrats have to do is renounce the WTO and NAFTA, create a universal health care system, and slash the defense budget . . . . But the Democrats won't do that; they're too addicted to corporate money. They're money junkies. And as anyone who's had any experience with junkies will tell you, junkies cannot be trusted. They'll say anything you want them to say about going straight, but at the critical moment, they'll still steal your television and shoot it right into their arms.

I'm not sure that Taibbi says anything that your typical leftist FFB reader hasn't thought before, but his skewering of the media, often from an insider's point of view, is really worth a read. In one of the more inspired sections of the book, he designs and conducts a single-elimination tournament to determine who is the worst political journalist in the U.S., based on 2004 campaign writing. This chapter, putting journalists and pundits head-to-head, and then taking apart their prose, is truly inspired.

There's also a chapter where Taibbi goes "under cover" to work as a Bush campaign volunteer in Orlando, Florida, for several weeks. This enables Taibbi to analyze the Republican mind, with interesting results. (The chapter is called "Bush Like Me," which is also truly inspired.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Modest Proposal

If, as several U.S. senators argued today, foreign nationals held outside the United States have no constitutional rights, even if held by the U.S. government, and they have no habeas rights, then, well, here's a simpler bill:

As of October 1, 2006, all detainees at Guantanamo Bay will be lined up, against a wall, to be specified by the Seceratry of Defense, and shot in the back of the head, until dead, without exception. No court of the United States shall have jurisdiction to hear challenges to said summary executions. That is all.

No constitutional problem there. Nothing to see, folks. Move along. Certainly not covered by the Geneva conventions.

See my earlier posts on suspending habeas corpus, here and here. In these earlier posts, I wasn't quite as angry as I am tonight.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Free at Last -- Not!

The Bush administration evidently was so chastened by TMcD and Madison it has swiftly freed and declassified parts of the April 2006 NIE judgments. There is one particularly purple passage – I see numerous news sites are especially zeroing in on it: The Iraq conflict has become the “cause celebre” for jihadists.... But having read through the 4-page document, which appears to me to be a somewhat truncated NIE in comparison to others I’ve read in the past (especially 2002), I would have to say that this document provides more cover for Bush’s Iraq War than it blows. The entire paragraph reads:

The Iraq conflict has become the “cause celebre” for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.

Undoubtedly the right-wingers will point to this and say the inverse must also be true: Should jihadists perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have been victorious, then more fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight, ergo, we must stay and fight. The logic of this astounds me, not because it isn't internally consistent, but because behind it lurks a false premise, namely that we can still actually win in Iraq. Since the chances of this are not appreciably greater than zero, the only thing we can do by starying there is create more terrorists. And by staying and continuing to bleed and lose ground we also embolden and create more terrorists. This may be obvious to some of you or me, but not to Bush nor to his partisans. In short, this version of the NIE, none of which is blacked out (meaning it is a free-standing, watered-down document and not the actual estimate) links success against the jihadists with success in Iraq and you can’t have success in Iraq if you “cut and run.” Bush could not have asked for more. It reminds me of the budget document that was released a couple of weeks ago that said how horrible the deficit and economic outlook for the US was, and then went on to blame this horrible outlook on social security and entitlement programs rather than out of control military spending or tax cuts.

It will be interesting to see how this document will be perceived in the election, but previous experience suggests to me that the Republicans, who seem to revel in taking any piece of shit and polishing it up to look like gold, will have the upper hand, unless the second known intelligence estimate (and probably the more accurate and full one) is also published and does not make the false link between staying in Iraq and having ultimate success against the jihadists.

Foreign Law

So teaching Constitutional Law has become something of a surreal experience. The casebook has all these old cases, addressing archaic controversies like . . . the constitutionality of the office of independent counsel, the line-item veto, presidential immunity from suit during office (Clinton v. Jones is in the casebook), congressional term limits . . . makes you remember the Clinton years. Good times.

But try to figure out what to even teach today. In a Constitutional Law class, I mean. We truly live in lawless times. I would date that era to a specific point in time--December 12, 2000. Bush v. Gore looks like a Supreme Court decision, except, well, there's no law in it. It's a one-time-only, one-and-off, pick of the president. I guess that the Supremos forgot to turn the law switch back on after they suspended the Constitution.

Now, the president claims the authority, not to be free from suit during his time in office, but to do whatever the hell he likes.

Btw, if you still don't think Clinton v. Jones was incorrectly decided, think of it this way. If GWB is right, and that the 1993 WTC attack marks some kind of start of the war against al Qaeda, then Clinton's case in Jones was even stronger. Because what kind of madmen would want to subject the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of Civilization, Goodness, and Light to a paltry civil suit for money damages, when he should be focused like a laser beam on defeating Evil and stopping the terrorists from "killing your families"?

Oh, yeah, I remember who those madmen were. They're the same madmen who today want to let the SCiCCGL have a free hand to torture, conduct domestic surveillance, whatever.

To get back to the point of this post, if it even has a point: The Clinton years, from a Constitutional Law standpoint, were a profoundly un-serious time. So my position is essentially like teaching a course in buying stocks on margin after the Crash. Because things have crashed.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Behind Enemy Lines

Paul's right--I'm on a secret mission in a target-rich environment. I've been at a loss the last couple days. Only one word has come to mind, and that word, the colorful "Motherfucker," is more expressive than communicative. This country passed the crossroads in 2004, and it's amazing how far down the road to despotism you can go in two short years. It's ironic that the gang on the high court that installed the president "decider" is being stripped of all power by "compromises" among "moderate" Republicans and the political team of the "decider." The decider's decisions are unreviewable, bitches. Now, back to the Marble Palaces, until we need you to rubber stamp something. (Judicial independence? Shit. You haven't been payin' attention.)

It would be easy to criticize the Democrats for being out of the game, sitting on the sidelines, in the Torture Debate. But really, what respectable role can one play in a Torture Debate?

If this thing comes up for a vote, I think the Democrats should just walk out. Not vote. Fuck that. Let the U.S. Senate pass torture unanimously.

Because that's where we're at. Behind enemy lines. And that's the word. And it's an obscenity.

Tigers make playoffs

I was waiting for super-top-secret-uncover agent #3 to announce this, but apparently he's off on some mission. Anyway, it's great to see the Tigers at least clinch a Wild Card spot. Last time they made the playoffs in 1987, Reagan was prez, gas was about a buck a gallon, and a much younger blogger had just matriculated to Michigan State.

Free the Intelligence!

How's that for a bumper sticker? Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall is leading a campaign to phone your members of Congress, calling on them to release the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was leaked to the NYT and WP over the weekend. The NIE apparently finds that the War in Iraq has made us much less safe against terrorism, undermining the repeated claims of the Bush administration to the contrary.

The NIE must be released before the midterm elections so that voters can take its analysis into account. As James Madison wrote in a 1792 essay titled, "Who Are the Best Keepers of the People's Liberties?": "mysteries belong to religion, not to government." I'd add that if anyone wants to see the venerable Madison acting the rabble-rouser, an angry left-wing populist with what can only be described as a proto-Marxist streak, demanding, for example, laws to prevent economic inequality and the accumulation of wealth by those who would subvert the nation's republican constitution through the excessive powers of the executive branch, the corruption of Congress, and its overly close relation to the "moneyed" interest (K Street Project, anyone?), take a look at some of his essays for the Jeffersonian National Gazette from 1791-3. Blistering stuff.

Might I suggest the highlighted Madisonian tidbit above to #3 as a pithy slogan for the masthead of Freedom from Blog?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Medical Malpractice

For a recent discussion on medical policy in this country, one may wish to read this. If you get through the entire thread, you’ll see that Holland has a “stealth” way to bring universal health care to America, which is to let all Americans, regardless of age and including those with private insurance, decide if they want to enroll in Medicare. Not a bad idea, and Holland lists quite a few impressive statistics to back up his arguments on why this would be more efficient than the current system of private, patch-work health coverage, but if you follow the thread you’ll see that Holland encounters a statistical adversary who undoubtedly is clever enough to throw dust in the eyes of many. There is, perhaps, a more straightforward and potent way to get change. See if you follow me.

In the posted images are found the medical bills of a patient who wishes to remain anonymous, but had sinus surgery (deviated septum and removal of polyps) at the Cleveland Clinic in the last year. The patient’s surgery lasted about 5 hours with a stay of one night in the hospital for observation. All the billing refers to this procedure and does not include some of the pre-surgery visits or follow-up. Image 1 and 2 are the bill from the Cleveland Clinic, and Image 3 comes from the insurance company, Medical Mutual, and details what the insurance company actually paid. It ought to be said that these billing statements say nothing particularly bad about the Cleveland Clinic or Medical Mutual – undoubtedly they adhere to industry-wide standards, so this could just as well be any hospital or insurance company in America. As one can see from Images 1 & 2, the total price tag of the Clinic, not counting prescription drugs, was $55,160.68. But in Image 3 one can see that Medical Mutual actually paid only a fraction of the total amount – roughly 1/9 (this comes out to about $6,130). For instance, on Image 3 under the first item listed we see that the “Repair of Nasal Septum” was billed by the hospital at $3389.00, but only $312.58 of this was reimbursed under “Benefits Paid.” But go back to Image 1 and notice that the hospital, in the middle column, says “Paid by insurance or adjusted” (my italics). One must assume this means that Medical Mutual told The Cleveland Clinic to jump in the lake in regards to the full amount and that they would pay only $312.58, and the Clinic said, “OK” and then adjusted the bill accordingly.

OK, so a total of about $6,130 is still a bit outrageous for a day’s work, but what would have happened to anyone who did not have insurance? In fact, we don’t have to wonder – given that somewhere between 45 and 50 million Americans do not have health insurance, and many more are underinsured, these stories are commonplace. Such a patient probably would not have even gone to the doctor and thus would have lived an uncomfortable, less productive and shorter life, full of sinus infections and breathing problems, or had he gone he would have been billed at the full rate and then would have had to beg for mercy, or would have sought outside help, or would have gone bankrupt -- it’s no wonder that over 50% of bankruptcies in this country are a result of medical bills. The plight of the uninsured or underinsured undoubtedly must be compounded by the fact that these hospital companies (yes, for-profit companies; the Cleveland Clinic calling itself a “Foundation” is an abuse of language) are difficult to deal with and would just as soon turn un unpaid bill over to a collection agency and let them harass the patient for payment. Shouldn’t the government step in and haggle for them?

So while this particular patient was happy with the hospital, happy with the doctors, happy with the surgery, even happier that the insurance company picked up most of the tab, and now feels much better, said patient wonders what could possibly justify health care being run, priced and rationed in such a way in this country? It certainly isn’t rational. It’s an utter indictment upon our government that it would allow so many citizens, whose numbers are growing every day, to live under such a cloud of uncertainty, which must be bad for business. Nor is it moral. What ever happened to being our brothers’ keepers? Maybe all citizens, especially those without insurance, should post their bills on the internet, or send them to their politicians. In the face of the sheer magnitude of the medical malpractice, against which even the most practiced sophist could not argue, maybe then something would be done about this.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

September Surprise

Reports are out this afternoon that French and Saudi sources are saying Bin Laden is ill or dead and this may have been known since August. Imagine that! If true, then I look pretty prescient, having just speculated last night that something was up with Bin Laden or al-Zahawiri before all this broke. I have to say, at this point this story just feels credible to me. Both Bush and Musharraf looked so smug all this past week, like a couple of Cheshire cats sitting on some big secret. Sure I, like all Americans, am happy that one of the true perpatrators of 9-11 appears to be ill or dead, but If it proves to be true, a formidable stake was just driven through the Democratic hopes for taking over one of the branches of our Republic.

Addendum: Reports indicate that bin Laden may have passed away on August 23. If this turns out to be true, or roughly true, it would go a long ways towards explaining why Musharraf met with and made a deal with the Taleban and tribes in Pakistan on September 6. It would also explain why Bush has not objected.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Election Prognostications

Anyone have any predictions about the upcoming elections? I imagine the lower gas prices are going to take away a lot of the angst at the polls and this can only hurt the Dem’s chances (although I’ve read some analyses that say this is overblown). I also have to wonder about the rumors of the October surprise reportedly promised by Rove and company. What could it be? With all the talk this week about Osama, Pakistan and Musharraf, I have to wonder whether or not we’re being set up for a pending surprise announcement that bin Laden or al-Zawahiri have been captured, but they’ve only just got around to publicizing it for purely “security reasons.” The only other big surprise (not that it would be a real surprise) I can think of is an attack on Iran, but that seems unlikely to me until next Spring since thus far the Iran story has eerily paralleled the Iraq saga, and why deviate from that marvelous template now? At any rate, even with the 75% disapproval of the Congress (which doesn’t tell me whether people in their hearts think the Democrats will do better), with gas prices lower, with all the money the Republicans are going to pour into negative attacks down the home stretch, with the Republicans having gerrymandered several states, with the traditional media’s kid gloves with these guys, with Americans’ inability to admit that we’ve already lost in Iraq (undoubtedly the argument that we can still win if we send more troops will be tried and fail before we pack it in), with Americans still traumatized and fearful and thus susceptible to warmongering demagogues, with the Republicans ability to have close-calls always miraculously go their way upon a recount, and with the inevitable October surprise, I hate to be a pessimist, but I think it unlikely the Democrats will win either chamber. But, please, someone tell this political hack that I am wrong and why.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Boo Yoo

Remember the name John Yoo. One day he'll be known as the primary theorist of "Bushism." Not that Bush has closely read and applied Yoo's academic writings or depended heavily upon his policy papers. Didn't need to. FDR didn't really model his economic policies after J. M. Keynes, and Teddy Roosevelt's progressivism didn't really follow Herb Croly. In each case, a writer came along in medias res who so embodied the presidential zeitgeist that he came to seem as if he had designed it. Although Yoo played an active role in forging Bush's defense of a "unitary executive" who exercises unlimited powers in time of war--even to the point of lawlessness and torture--Bush would have developed those policies with or without his young academic bootlick.

Yoo, however, has given voice to a movement at the highest levels of power, and, most importantly, he has sought to reconcile Bush's power grabs with an "originalist" theory of the Constitution. A daunting intellectual feat, as I've argued before. Alexander Hamilton certainly had a robust vision of presidential power, but his views were so extreme and unpopular that he was unable to voice them in public venues. This is a problem for any "originalist" argument, however, since originalists typically argue that since law is a public act, the private intentions of influential founders matter less than common understandings. This helps conservatives on issues like federalism and religion, where the public of 1787 was somewhat less nationalistic and "liberal" than were their leaders.

But executive power is an altogether different kettle of fish. Here, Jefferson and Madison represented the mainstream position, which was deep suspicion of executive power. Madison's alliance with Hamilton in writing the Federalist Papers lasted only until ratification, after which they became implacable opponents, convinced as Madison was that Hamilton's party was conspiring against the people's liberties. Intimidating the press, carrying out a bellicose and secretive foreign policy. You know the drill. To get around this problem, Yoo tries to argue that, all appearances to the contrary, the Constitution silently incorporated British common law conceptions of executive power, ignoring the fact that delegates to the Convention, even defenders of a strong executive, repeatedly say that they are NOT creating a Brit monarchy.

Then there's John Adams, the "conservative" president against whom Jefferson and Madison rebelled in the realigning Revolution of 1800. Although he wasn't at the Convention, Adams had sent copies of his A Defense of the Constitutions of the United States of America to delegates in an effort to influence their decisions.

In the Defense, Adams develops an idiosyncratic theory of executive power. Starting from a critique of Machiavelli, for whom he expresses admiration, Adams claims that the Florentine had neglected the role that an executive could play as a "check" within a "mixed government." Adams asserts, as he often will later in letters to Jefferson, that the primary concern of government is to find ways of limiting aristocratic power. Positioning himself as a defender of "the middling people, who it must be confessed, have been in all ages and countries. . . the most virtuous part of the community," Adams contends that the nobles and commons must be divided within the government to keep their interests distinct and visible, thus mandating a bicameral Senate and House. If elites are ghetoized in the Senate, they will have less power, especially those "certain families [that] will spring up. . . in every injudicious mixture of aristocracy and democracy, to be the pest and ruin of them." Nice irony there. Not that Adams trusts the masses, but his explanation of their threat is more complex than we might suppose from his reputation: "all history and experience shows, that mobs are more easily excited by courtiers and princes, than by more virtuous men, and more honest friends of liberty." Adams concludes that both nobles and commons will be prone to oppress, led astray by wealthy demagogues. The answer? "The great desideratum in a government is a distinct executive power, of sufficient strength and weight to compel both these parties, in turn, to submit to the laws."

Adams was disappointed by the Constitution, however, especially once he became Vice President. In a series of 1789 letters to Roger Sherman, a convention delegate whose influence rivalled Madison's, Adams complains that the executive powers granted by the Constitution are overly weak. Why? The delegates were obsessed with preventing the U.S. from being a "monarchical republic" like the Brits. In particular, Adams complains that the executive was deprived of legislative power (since his veto can be overriden), and he forecasts that legislative power will grow so overwhelming that the executive will no longer be capable of balancing the factional strife between Houses.

The next year, in his Discourses on Davila (1790), Adams jumped the shark. Repelled by the democratic passions of the French Revolution, Adams began to openly celebrate aristocracy and a monarchical executive to which all citizens could "look up. . . like the rays of a circle from all parts of the circumference, meeting and uniting in the centre," so as to provide "uniformity, consistency, and subordination." Adams now attacks Machiavelli as overly populist and goes on to defend elite inequalities: "It becomes the more indispensable that every man should know his place, and be made to keep it. Bad men increase in knowledge as fast as good men; and science, arts, taste, sense, and letters, are employed for the purposes of injustice and tyranny." Stop the people, before they can learn!

Adams later expressed shock when Jefferson accused him of being a scheming monarchist and his ally, John Taylor, dubbed Adams an American "Filmer," after England's great apologist of royal absolutism. In responding to his critics, Adams consistently claims that he intends a strong executive to be a bullwark against the true evil: aristocracy and its inevitable defenders in the Senate. But this self-defense is hard to reconcile with Adams's unabashed attack on democracy in Davila. Years later, Adams would explain the true source of this dispute in a June 30, 1813, letter to Jefferson. Jefferson was soft of "terrorism." No shit. His word. He uses it a dozen times in a nine paragraph letter. "What think you of Terrorism, Mr. Jefferson?," Adams asks in the accusative.

History records that Adams lost this debate. Davila was widely ridiculed. Jefferson and Madison created an electoral realignment in 1800 that dominated American politics for the first half of the 19th century. As Adams later concedes in a letter to Jefferson, "In Truth my 'defense of the Constitutions' and 'Discourses on Davila,' laid the foundation of that immense Unpopularity, which fell like the Tower of Siloam upon me. Your steady defense of democratical Principles, and your invariable favourable Opinion of the french Revolution laid the foundation of your Unbounded Popularity." As Machiavelli and Jefferson understood, but Adams did not, the democratic people will usually get it right in the long run.

So much for Yoo's "originalism."

The Triumph of Strategery

Gary Kamiya has a review in Salon of the new book by the NYT's invaluable Frank Rich, The Greatest Story Ever Sold. Here's the rub:

Of course, Rich is hardly the first to anatomize the decline of America's news culture. Far more compelling -- and originally argued -- is his insight into the real reason Bush went to war in Iraq. His answer to this endlessly debated question, and his related excursus on the personality of Bush himself, may be the single most lucid and convincing one I've ever read. Although it is almost painfully obvious, and wins the Occam's Razor test of being the simplest, it is put forward considerably less often than more ideological theories -- whether about controlling oil, supporting Israel, establishing American hegemony, or one-upping his father.

Perhaps this is because Americans, in their innocence, cannot accept that any president would deliberately launch a major war simply to win the midterm elections. Yet Rich makes a powerful argument that that is the case.

Playing the key role, not surprisingly, is Karl Rove. "To track down Rove's role, it's necessary to flash back to January 2002," Rich writes. The Afghanistan war had been a success. "In a triumphalist speech to the Republican National Committee, Rove for the first time openly advanced the idea that the war on terror was the path to victory for that November's midterm elections." Rove decided Bush needed to be a "war president." The problem, however, was that Afghanistan was fading from American minds, Osama bin Laden had escaped, and the secret, unglamorous -- and actually effective -- approach America was taking to fighting terror wasn't a political winner. "How do you run as a vainglorious 'war president' if the war looks as if it's winding down and the number one evildoer has escaped?"

The answer: Wag the dog. Attack Iraq.

Thank you. Someone finally said it. Aside from me, of course. I've been saying this for three years, right down to making Karl Rove the pivot-point in the story. Frankly, chalking the Iraq War up to a midterm election strategy is the only way to make sense of the war's timing. Why did Bush have to force out the inspectors before they were finished? Why did he have to shortcircuit diplomacy at the UN or with NATO? Why did he purposely frame the debate in such a way as to deliberately alienate Democratic support? Electoral politics. Plain and simple. There was no crisis on the ground in Iraq. The sanctions were holding, and the no-fly zones had Saddam hemmed in militarily so that he could no longer threaten either his neighbors or his dissident regions, Kurds in the north and Shi'a in the south.

From the start, the most conspicuous feature of this war was its manufactured urgency. Columnists like David Broder, wallowing in their weathered naivete, can't begin to understand the deep and abiding anger the Bush administration has provoked, even among traditional moderates. It's all so unseemly! But if you understand this war for what it is, it is truly unprecedented. Has America ever fought a war solely for the purpose of creating a long-term electoral realignment? And for what? High end tax cuts? Even if we had won this war in the "cakewalk" the Bushies imagined, it would have been a moral disaster. Frank Rich begins to set the public record straight.

You've Got to Be Kidding Me

Today's Broder column is a travesty of punditry justice. A somewhat longish excerpt:

That these Republicans [McCain, Graham, John Warner, and Bush's Whore, Powell] -- and others [i.e., other "good" Republicans] -- were ready to join the Democrats in rejecting Bush's plan caused the White House to scramble for alternatives and House Republican leaders to postpone a scheduled vote [on Bush's torture bill]. The revolt goes well beyond three men.

What it really signals is a new movement in this country -- what you could rightly call the independence party. Its unifying theme can be found in the Declaration of Independence's language when Jefferson invoked "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind."

When Powell wrote that Bush's demand would compound the world's "doubt [about] the moral basis of our fight against terrorism," he was appealing to Jefferson's standard.

It is a standard this administration has flagrantly rejected. Bush was elected twice, over Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry, whose know-it-all arrogance rankled Midwesterners such as myself. The country thought Bush was a pleasant, down-to-earth guy who would not rock the boat. Instead, swayed by some inner impulse or the influence of Dick Cheney, he has proved to be lawless and reckless. He started a war he cannot finish, drove the government into debt and repeatedly defied the Constitution.

Now, however, you can see the independence party forming -- on both sides of the aisle. They are mobilizing to resist not only Bush but also the extremist elements in American society -- the vituperative, foul-mouthed bloggers on the left and the doctrinaire religious extremists on the right who would convert their faith into a whipping post for their opponents.

The center is beginning to fight back.

Well, those of us associated with the vituperative, foul-mouthed left are happy that this "center" is finally joining the fight against, in Broder's words, the "lawless and reckless," Constitution-defying Bush-Cheney administration. I might add, though, that it's about time. Or, to be foul-mouthed about it, maybe I should say that it's about fucking time.

Broder's nostalgic longing for bipartisanship and centrism is so wrong-headed, he might as well be arguing for a return to the principles of Whiggism. If the "center" in American politics consists of three conservative Republicans, then the day of cross-aisle moderates working together are truly over. That's not to say that there aren't plenty of moderate Democrats--one might even argue that that "know-it-all" Al Gore is one of them. But haven't we seen a long train of abuses of the principle of bipartisan cooperation? What have moderates, even Republican moderates, won in the last seven years? Maybe Bush's 2000 schtick, the "uniter not a divider" persona, won Broder's heart. But that's why, like almost every other pundit, Broder has no credibility left.

Broder should be fired. Time has passed the old man by.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Oppenheimer on NewsHour

For the Vandy folks, saw Bruce on the NewsHour, talking about the Ford-Corker race. I have to say, Bruce is surprisingly telegenic--which, btw, I don't mean as any kind of general criticism of Bruce's appearance (who am I to cast aspersions, after all). I just mean, he actually looks pretty good on the tv, and he sure sounds polished. But Margaret didn't ask Bruce to call the race. He did say, "to the surprise of many people," the race is close. And he compared Ford's style to that of Barak Obama, as a new kind of African-American pol. But I'm interested in Bruce's opinion on Ford's prospects. Maybe I'll look into that . . . .

Coincidentally, I actually saw Obama tonite at a Jim Webb rally in Old Town Alexandria. As some readers of FFB may know, one of my former students works for the Webb campaign, in a position of significant responsibility, so I stopped by to get a chance to chat. My sense is that the Webb campaign is pretty energized by how well things are going for them. For one thing, Allen keeps making gaffes. For another, Webb is a really appealing candidate. He's not Obama smoo-ooth. No. But he's honest, and I think that really comes across live. My guess is that Webb will carry northern Virginia, by a wide margin. What will happen in the rest of the state, that's the question.

Obama was great, as usual. He riffed on Gingrich's line, "Had enough?" He used that as his refrain--yes, he had had enough, on a number of issues, and he needs help in the Senate. The crowd loved Obama, but what's new? Especially the ladies. The ladies love Obama.

It was, btw, a big crowd. I was pretty close up, so I don't have an estimate. But my source says more than 500 internet RSVP's, which is something like 500 more than you would usually get. So maybe over a thousand. Like I said, I couldn't get a good look, but Market Square was pretty much full.

Ich Bin Ein Juden

Time to come clean. Open that family closet. George Felix Allen has inspired me. Or maybe it was Cartman. And we can't exactly have a series of blog entries mocking the distinguished junior senator from the great state of Virginia without full disclosure, so here goes.

As it turns out, my Virginia Scots-Irish roots are, shall we say. . . "complex." They're actually Scots-Irish and German. And the German, well, it's partly assimilated German Jew. One of my ancestors, "Benedict Stern" (1800-1886), aka "Benjamin Plaut," was a Jew who was imprisoned in Germany during the revolutionary wave of 1847-8 for his radical political sympathies. He got smuggled out of the country and ended up in New York as a bookseller. He eventually dropped his Judaism and took a Christian-sounding name, although we're a bit fuzzy on that part of the story.

I've only known this family history for a few years, so any anti-semitic sentiments I may or may not have expressed during my youth were purely the product of dumbass southern Christian tribalism, and not the result of a deeply perverse, self-loathing, SoCal preppy confederate wannabe psychosis. All Clear? OK. Go about your business.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

South Park Republicans: Bigger, Longer, and Cut, Beeyatch

If you don't watch "South Park," you might not get this joke. And, it is tasteless. Also, I hasten to add, that I don't mean to cast aspersions on anyone--except George Felix Allen. (Backstory.) But you, Gentle Reader, are a Jew. Oh, yeah.

"Shut up, Cartman."

This "Allen's Jewish heritage" thing is such a strange story, the mind boggles. Literally. I mean, here's a guy who will talk "Southern heritage," 'til he's Stars and Bars in the face, but bring out the menorah, and it's like "private, family business." Maybe someone out there will disagree, but this SoCal mo'fo' is more kosher than Confederate. I reckon that I don't know many Johnny Rebs had grandfathers in Nazi concentration camps. Now Allen says, "never asked momma why gran'pappy were in that thar camp, never really came up." Oh, really? I guess Gramps mighta been a Communist, and then good ole boy wouldn't be so ashamed of his old granddad. But a Jew? Draws the retort: "Who's a-casting 'spertions on my kinfolk?"

This guy is ashamed of his family history (and SoCal, but that's a whole 'nother post). And why? Because his mother's family are God's Chosen People. What, now Allen has a problem with G-d? He disagrees with Yahweh's choice of people? Who is he? Moses or something?

If the voters in Virginia return this bigoted fool to the Senate, then they deserve at least seven plagues. Allen is, without a doubt, a (moon)calf made of gold.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Lessons from Greek Myth

Arianna Huffington recently wrote about some lessons from Greek myth for the War on Terror. Specifically she cited the myth of Heracles’ second labor of slaying the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra. As you might recall, each time the son of Zeus and Alcmene lopped off one of the Hydra’s heads, two more sprouted up in its place. Eventually Heracles learned that he could not just stay the course, so he changed tactics and had his companion Iolaus cauterize each head-stump immediately after he had chopped off a head, thus preventing more from sprouting up. In this way he defeated the terrible monster. Moral of the story: Bush is fighting the War on Terror like Heracles was originally fighting the Hydra and by such bone-headed moves like invading Iraq he is creating more terrorists than he is decapitating.

While teaching Greek Lit this semester I was struck by other lessons for Bush from Greek myth, specifically from the succession myth of Zeus in Hesiod’s Theogony. The backbone of Hesiod’s story is the succession myth of Ouranos to Kronos to Zeus. Ouranos (Sky) is a terrible tyrant and father who is afraid that he will be supplanted by a son, so he stuffs all his offspring in the belly of his mate Gaia (Earth), including one son named Kronos. Eventually Gaia is feeling rather bloated, so she grows a sickle in her bosom and gives it to Kronos, who castrates his father and takes over as ruler of the cosmos (seen above in painting by Vasari). Kronos, however, is paranoid like his old man (captured masterfully in this painting by Goya),

so in an attempt to outwit his father’s fate, rather than entrust his offspring to Gaia, he decides to swallow all his children to prevent a son from overpowering him too. Obviously this family romance has definite Freudian overtones. That’s one thing that has always struck me about W – how he wears his Freud on his sleeve, in effect attempting to castrate his father’s “Read-my-lips” legacy by cutting taxes religiously, or swaying from his father’s diplomatic bona fides by heaping scorn upon the UN and failing to build international alliances, and most poignantly in correcting his father’s “mistake” of not going all the way to Baghdad to take out Saddam.

Well, as always happens in life and myth, what goes around comes around. Kronos impregnates Rheia, who is tired of watching her children eaten, so with the help of Gaia she gives Kronos a stone wrapt in swaddling clothes and the baby Zeus is secretly whisked off to Crete where he is raised in the Diktaian cave. Funny how motivated conspirators can always find a way around paranoid tyrants. There the young Zeus is suckled by the she-goat Amaltheia and grows to manhood. He then sets upon a different course. Rather than being a paranoid, loner tyrant, he begins to build alliances with some of the other 11 Titans (members of his father’s generation, who himself was a Titan). He also enlists the help of the 100-Handers and the 3 Cyclopes, who create for him two key weapons, the thunderbolt and lightening. With the help of allies, he then battles Kronos and the other Titans in the Titanomachy (Battle of the Titans) and defeats them. With the help of these alliances and weapons, later on he also fends off the Giants in the Giantomachy (Battle of the Giants) and the great snake Typhoeus. It should be pointed out that one of the problems with Bush’s handling of the War on Terror, on a purely tactical level (of course there are also moral problems with his policy of pre-emption), is that he wants to fight the Giants (Iran) and Typhoeus (Syria) before he’s finished off the Titans (Iraq).

Once king of the cosmos, rather than indiscriminately swallowing all his offspring, Zeus only swallows one consort – Metis, or Cunning. When she comes to term inside him, rather than suppress the birth, he has Hephaistos slit open his head, and out pops Athena in full panoply. She goes on to become her father’s most loyal ally and is even given his aegis, one of his most potent symbols of power. When Themis (Law/Custom) tells him that Thetis (a nymph) will give birth to a son greater than his father, he thinks creatively and rather than eating her or stuffing her in the earth, he sees to it that Thetis marries a mortal (in this case Peleus, father of Achilles). In addition, Zeus does not crave all power, but he splits up the cosmos, giving his brother Poseidon to rule over the sea and earth and to his other brother Hades he gives dominion over the underworld. In a sense you could say he shared his power with two other branches of government. He also allows all the other gods and goddesses have their own turf and spheres of power.

But just as important, Zeus is not just about military and political might, he also mates with Mnemosyne and fathers all the Arts (9 Muses) and Justice (Dike) as well as most of the other Olympians. Yes, he fathers Ares with Hera, but he blames the war god’s tempestuous nature on his mother. His favorite in war is actually not Ares (the violence and madness of war), but rather Athena (the cunning and strategy of war).

So, here in Greek myth we have lessons for the enlightened Warlord of the 8th century BC that are still relevant today: make alliances, don’t be paranoid, don’t open wars on multiple fronts at once, use cunning more than brute force, share power in three branches of government, encourage and engender the Arts, and father, and uphold, Justice.

The Sweatiness of the Long Distance Runner

After spending the weekend in beautiful Chattanooga at the in-law family reunion, the Tenacious McDs sped back to the Boro at breakneck pace so that I could make the start of my first ever race, a little 5K that Frances and #3 could have sailed through without breaking a sweat.

Not so for the Tenacious one. We made it home with just enough time for me to throw on some running shorts and shoes and then hightail it to campus and sign in, with three minutes to spare. Whew. The race was a fundraiser for a Veterans' Memorial with which I am somewhat involved, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to lose my road race virginity. We were pleased with turnout for a first-time run/walk, with 255 registrants. Then there was the weather. The race began at 2PM on a beautiful, sunny, humid, 94 (!) degree day. Unshaded course. Let me just say that this kicked my old, white ass. I've been running slightly longer distances on a regular basis this summer, but at 7AM on a shaded trail when temperatures were about 15-20 degrees lower.

Damn. I'll just say that my athletic respect for the marathon runners on this site, always ample, has now shot through the roof. Me, I'll be recovering for a few days. My time was a not-too-impressive 23:32, or at least that's the time I saw on the clock as I crossed the line. I was hoping for some of that legendary race-day adrenaline burst to boost my time, but oh well, the heat took its bite. My first race, and I'm already making excuses. Must be a Democrat thing.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Meet the Press Showdown . . . Advantage: Webb

A few thoughts on the awesome Senate debate on Meet the Press this a.m. First, Russert actually asked Allen some tough questions, including follow-ups or -throughs to keep Confederate Heritage from SoCal Man on point when he failed to actually, well, answer the question. If you watched, you know what I mean. Also, Confederate Heritage SoCal Man, also known as George Felix Allen, was on the defensive basically the whole hour, with a few exceptions. He does have a record of supporting the worst president ever something like 96 % of the time. That's a lot of tough questions to answer or . . . not answer, as Allen usually did (not). He would not, for example, say that he would have voted for the Iraq War, if he knew what he knows now, and he wouldn't take a position on the torture bill debate. It can't help a guy like Allen when he's forced to answer questions like he's a politician. At times, today, he sounded like a GOP John Kerry.

Second, Webb started kind of slow, but he warmed up pretty quickly and scored some good jabs. My personal favorite was in response to SoCal Felix's strange attack on Webb's position on the first Gulf War, in which, "even the French" agreed. Webb's comment was to the effect that George Allen didn't fight in Vietnam, but, well, "even the French" fought in Vietnam. Ouch. I actually believe that Allen visibly reacted to that one. Anyone else see it?

Webb really isn't much of a "politician" . . . especially in contrast to the dippy Allen, who remembers to smile. But Webb actually answered questions, sometimes with simple declaratives. Like "Yes," we could have spent the $ 300 billion we've spent in Iraq in a more productive way. (This is such a no-brainer that for Allen to dodge the question shows that one can't answer the question "no" without completely losing your credibility.)

It's a shame that so few people (with a vote in this race) watched the MTP debate, because if Virginians actually gave Webb a look, I think that they'd prefer him to the alternative. Webb is actually a throwback Southern Democrat . . . which makes me wonder if the Tenacious One has an opinion on Webb? Webb seems like a TMcD kind of candidate, to be honest.

Russert did ask Webb some hard questions, especially on women in combat and affirmative action. Although Webb's views on these issues wouldn't endear him to Northeastern liberals, I can't imagine that they will alienate many Virginia voters--especially the voters Webb needs to win. And Webb might just win. It's a distinct possibility at this point.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Just Like Heaven

That's Comerica Park, a few weeks ago. What a sunset . . . let's hope not on the Tigers' playoff chances.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Lysistrata Lives

Looks like the Columbian gangsters have their bal--, er backs, to the wall. Hey, we could use a similar technique here in the US for the Iraq War, but naturally one targeted just towards war supporters...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Operation Sky Lord

I had this idea years ago, but I didn't have the animation skills to make it work. Oh well.

Plus, a funny website.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I Voted Electronically Today . . . I Think

So my D.C. polling place this morning had electronic voting machines (as an option; they also had paper ballots, but I'm always game to try something new). In terms of ease of use, I would say that the machine I used was as easy to use as an ATM. Touchscreen voting, by office, just like in the voting guide. It asked me if I wanted to leave some votes blank--which I did, for reasons I may discuss in a moment. And it let me see my votes for each office, before the vote was "cast." Now, of course, my votes might be deleted, accidentally or otherwise. And I didn't get a receipt, which really doesn't matter anyway. So I'm suspicious of electronic machines, in general, but they're not obviously worse than punchcards.

BTW, I didn't vote in the primary for nominees for House member and Senator, since I live in the frackin' District of Columbia, and we don't have a House member or Senators. (I did vote for non-voting Delegate, but that's different. That's a real, existent, but powerless office, like Emperor of Japan.) I refuse, as a matter of principle, to vote for non-existent offices. That's how I'm stickin' it to the Man, baby. Give me a vote, or don't. But don't pee on my leg and call it enfranchisement.

Oh, and Paul, I didn't have to show identification. But my last name was the same as one of the poll judges, so it was kind of a family affair.

Way to go, O-H-I-O

I just received my Cuyahoga County suppress-the-democratic-vote guide today. On the cover and inside we are told:

OFFICIAL NOTICE: Voters must bring identification to the polls in order to verify identity. Identification may include a current and valid photo identification, a military identification that shows the voter’s name and current address, or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document, other than this reminder or a voter registration notification, that shows the voter’s name and current address. Voters who do not provide one of these documents will still be able to vote by providing the last four digits of the voter’s social security number and by casting a provisional ballot. Voters who do not have any of the above forms of identification, including a social security number, will still be able to vote by signing an affirmation swearing to the voter’s identity under penalty of election falsification and by casting a provisional ballot (ORC 3501.19).

What kind of new deterrent is this realistically going to provide for voter fraud? Open letter to Ken Blackwell: Your suppress-the-vote scheme will not succeed in getting your 20-points-behind ass elected.

That Bottle in his Hand

Paul and #3 offer some eloquent thoughts on where we are five years after 9/11. For my money, however, the best commentary to date comes from MSNBC's Keith Olbermann.

To KO's sage words, I'll only add that we can't forgive until Bush repents. But like an old drunk whose only friend is the owner of the liquor store, he keeps holding out hope that truth lies at the bottom of his bottle. Unfortunately, while the sod's bottle eventually runs dry, the conservative swill Bush has been drinking comes in endless supply, and there are still too many Americans who refuse to notice that we've been sleeping in the gutter.

Monday, September 11, 2006

That Tragic Day

I can't beat this, but here are my 9-11 anniversary thoughts.

If I had told you, on September 12, 2001, that five years later, Osama bin Laden would still be on the loose, releasing videos, what would you have said?

If I had told you, on September 12, 2001, that five years later, U.S. troops would be bogged down in Iraq, what would you have said?

You would have said, I know, that neither of those things will come to pass. But they have. And why? Because our president and those around him have such poor judgment that their best defense today is that they honestly believed that invading Iraq was necessary because of the "grave and gathering threat" of Saddam's non-existent WMD. That's their best argument. After that, it's payoffs to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, and then . . . what? "Weapons of mass destruction program-related activities"? (Remember that one?)

And yet, these men and women of such poor judgment, they still appear on talk shows, and the hosts of such programs actually ask them questions about the state of reality, even though we have more than enough evidence never to trust their judgment again. It would be a funny joke, if it weren't so deadly serious.

The tragedy of 9-11 is that it set in motion a chain of events that will almost certainly have lasting and dire consequences for this country. Not because of the actions of our enemies, but because of the actions of our government. The poorly considered, unwise actions of the "grown ups." (Remember that one? It's an oldie but a goodie.)

The Tragedy of W, Prince of Crawford

Here's a snippet from the ecalectic summer reading list of our Prince-turned-King:

To bomb, or not to bomb: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of Ayatollahs,
And by opposing end them? To bomb: to kill;
No more; and by a killing to say we pre-empt
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To bomb, to kill;
To kill: perchance to save: ay, there's the rub;
For in that killing of Muslims what salvation may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal oil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of Saddam,
Osama's wrong, the neocon's contumely,
The pangs of despised Judah, the law's Delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bombing? who would OPEC bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after Babylon,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus prudence does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of UN resolutions
Sicklies o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action--Soft you now!
The fair Condoleezza! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember'd.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Damned Lies Continue

Some of those damned lies slapped down by Friday’s Senate report, including that Saddam Hussein had close ties with al-Qa'ida and al-Zarqarwi, were resurrected from the pit of Hell yet again today on the Sunday morning talk circuit by both The Dick and Condelezza Rice. Click here to watch both of them obfuscate, thus demonstrating that the Administration will continue to assert Psych Ops on the American public all the way to the election. That's not just chutzpah, that's goddamned, fucking chutzpah (please pardon the vulgarity, but to paraphrase The Dick, sometimes expletives are warranted).

The Path to "9/11!!!!!!"

Tonight ABC will run the first half of their two-night series, "The Path to 9/11." As most of you know by now, there's something rotten in the state of Burbank.

ABC marketed the series as an historically accurate "docudrama," including partnering with Scholastic Inc. to produce accompanying materials for schoolkids. Turns out, the film is actually a slanderous right-wing smear campaign to blame Bill Clinton for 9/11 while exonerating George Bush for his failures. Since the filmmakers could not establish such charges on the basis of any factual record, they invent scenes to show Sandy Berger and Madeleine Albright dithering about whether they could go after bin Laden--even refusing to attack when a CIA agent calls to say he's got Osama in his sights and that they should send the missiles--and then claim that pervy Clinton was so distracted by Monica that he couldn't protect the nation. Of course, none of this actually happened, as the 9/11 Commission Report clearly shows. Clinton was obsessed with bin Laden, telling his people to do whatever they had to, politics and scandal be damned. They never had a clear shot or even reliable intelligence about his location. And if anyone's to blame for the poisonous partisanship of the late-1990s, it's the GOP Congress, who were waging an unpopular impeachment over trivial matters, and who attacked any tough moves Clinton made as "wagging the dog." Meanwhile, Bush and Condi Rice are portrayed heroically, despite the infamous August 6 memo, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack in US."

Except for Fox News, the movie has been almost universally denounced. Counterterrorism experts, including Roger Cressey, who worked for both presidents, have called it a malicious fiction, and 9/11 commissioners Jamie Gorelick and Richard Ben-Veniste have slammed its distortions. Prominent scholars, including Arthur Schelsinger, Jr., and Sean Wilentz co-signed a letter assailing the film's view of history. FBI agents who were asked to advise the film quit after their criticisms of the script were rejected. Even the movie's star, Harvey Keitel, has said that he had big concerns about its accuracy during filming, concerns that were ignored, and that ABC shouldn't run it unless they fix all the problems, which appear to be major. Lawyers for Bill Clinton have demanded that ABC pull it altogether, and his spokesman called it "despicable." Even some conservatives, like Bill Bennett, have argued that ABC should back down.

It could be argued that ABC (and Disney, who made the film) was just sensationalizing events for dramatic effect. But worrisome facts undermine that naive view. First, there's the pedigree of the film's writer/producer and director, both of whom are conservative activists. The director was trained by a "Christian" film school purportedly trying to take over Hollywood from within. Wasn't there a commandment about "bearing false witness"? I forget. Probably not important. Second, the film was aggressively pre-marketed to right-wingers. Hundreds of copies were sent out to the blogs and to radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh. Advance screenings were done for wingnut groups so they could start a buzz, which they did. ABC wanted to generate a "Passion of the Christ" effect. At the same time, however, ABC refused repeated requests by Clinton administration officials to examine the script. Third, when called out on the film's errors, ABC incongruously claimed that (a) the film is a drama, not a documentary, so accuracy is unimportant, and (b) the film is based on the 9/11 Commission report. ABC's last-minute attempt to alter the film in minor details (surely driven by their legal department) is not encouraging.

Put all this together and what you've got is a maliciously planned and executed slander campaign designed to curry favor with the reigning GOP. I don't know if Clinton, Berger, and Albright are planning to sue, but they should. The evidence of "actual malice" and "reckless intent" are obvious and already well-documented. ABC has essentially given the GOP an unreported $40 million campaign contribution during an election year, and they need to get dragged over the coals for it. If there are no consequences, those bastards will do it again and again.

But enough about the evil ABC. What really burns me about this incident is something else. Even before I'd heard about the film's warped history, I cringed when I saw the ads. Just like I do any time I see 9/11-related footage on TV. Not because of the event itself, its violence and brutality, its assault on the "American idyll." No. It's that whenever I hear "9/11" a little voice in my head says, "Here we go again. More scripted patriotism. More Bush hero-worship. More Democrat-baiting." What angers me is how 9/11 became "9/11!!!!!": an endless campaign of right-wing fear-mongering designed to reap political gain from a national tragedy that affected all of us.

Under the guidance of Cheney and Rove, Bush took an event which should have been a nationally-unifying call to arms and turned it into a partisan war whoop. He's never understood that the enemy was actually al Qaeda. For him, that's ancillary. What really matters is crushing Democrats. And that's why his "War on Terror" has failed at every turn. Bush cast scores of patriotic Americans into the wilderness, with "9/11" as their scarlet letter, the mark of their ostracism. Any questions about his policies were labelled as "weakness on terror," and "giving comfort to the enemy." Rather than seeking consensus, he's used the deaths of almost 3000 Americans in NY, DC, and PA as a wedge issue to confuse his critics and divide the nation. So that now, when I hear "9/11" I can no longer mourn. I just stew.

Well, fuck you, George Bush. We're comin' for your lickspittle boys in November. And when we win Congress, get ready for investigations. You've spent a lot of time hiding your crimes and corruption from the American people, we're plenty pissed off, and we demand justice. 9/11 will rally us. Just not in the way you wanted it.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Damning Damn Lies

Here’s a rundown of some of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's conclusions from yesterday's released report entitled Postwar Findings about Iraq’s WMD Programs and Links to Terrorism and How they Compare with Prewar Assessments. From page 137 of the report we are told that “by a vote of 14 ayes and 1 no, the Committee agreed to adopt the findings and conclusions of the report...” It was a bi-partisan report with 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats. The lone nay was from Senator Lott (R- Mississippi). The findings speak eloquently for themselves.

Conclusions on Iraq's WMD programs:

Page 52, Conclusion 1: Postwar findings do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessment that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Information obtained after the war supports the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research’s (INR) assessment in the NIE that the Intelligence Community lacked persuasive evidence that Baghdad had launched a coherent effort to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program.

Page 52, Conclusion 2: Postwar findings do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessment that Iraq’s acquisition of high-strength aluminum tubes was intended for an Iraqi nuclear program. The findings do support the assessments in the NIE of the Department of Energy’s Office of Intelligence and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) that the aluminum tubes were likely intended for a conventional rocket program.

Page 53, Conclusion 3: Postwar findings do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessment that Iraq was “vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake” from Africa. Postwar findings support the assessment in the NIE of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) that claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are “highly dubious.”

Page 54, Conclusion 4: Postwar findings do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessment that “Iraq has biological weapons” and that “all key aspects of Iraq’s offensive biological weapons (BW) program are larger and more advanced than before the Gulf war.”

Page 55, Conclusion 5: Postwar findings do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessment that Iraq possessed, or ever developed, mobile facilities for producing biological warfare (BW) agents.

Page 56, Conclusion 6: Concerns existed within the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Directorate of Operations (DO) prior to the war about the credibility of the mobile biological weapons program source code-named CURVE BALL. The concerns were based, in part, on doubts raised by the foreign intelligence service that handled CURVE BALL and a third service. The Committee has no information that these concerns were conveyed to policymakers, including members of the U.S. Congress, prior to the war. The Committee is continuing to investigate issues regarding prewar concerns about CURVE BALL’s credibility.

Page 57, Conclusion 7: Postwar findings do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessment that Iraq “has chemical weapons” or “is expanding its chemical industry to support chemical weapons (CW) production.”

Page 58, Conclusion 8: Postwar findings support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessment that Iraq had missiles which exceeded United Nations (UN) range limits. The findings do not support the assessment that Iraq likely retained a covert force of SCUD variant short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs).

Pages 58-9, Conclusion 9: Postwar findings do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessment that Iraq had a developmental program for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) “probably intended to deliver biological agents” or that an effort to procure U.S. mapping software “strongly suggests that Iraq is investigating the use of these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.” Postwar findings support the view of the Air Force, joined by DIA and the Army, in an NIE published in January 2003, that Iraq’s UAVs were primarily intend for reconnaissance.

The Senate’s findings on Iraqi links to Al-Qa’ida:

Page 105, Conclusion 1: Postwar findings indicate that the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) assessment that the relationship between Iraq and al-Qa’ida resembled “two independent actors trying to exploit each other,” accurately characterized bin Ladin’s actions, but not those of Saddam Hussein. Postwar findings indicate that Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qa’ida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qa’ida to provide material or operational support.

Page 105, Conclusion 2: Postwar findings have identified only one meeting between representative of al-Qa’ida and Saddam Hussein’s regime reported in prewar intelligence assessments. Postwar findings have identified two occasions, not reported prior to the war, in which Saddam Hussein rebuffed meeting requests from an al-Qa’ida operative. The Intelligence Community has not found any other evidence of meetings between al-Qa’ida and Iraq.

Page 106, Conclusion 3: Prewar Intelligence Community assessments were inconsistent regarding the likelihood that Saddam Hussein provided chemical and biological weapons (CBW) training to al-Qa’ida. Postwar findings support the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) February 2002 assessment that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was likely intentionally misleading his debriefers when he said that Iraq provided two al-Qa’ida associates with chemical and biological weapons (CBW) training in 2000. The Central Intelligence Agency’s January 2003 assessment said the al-Libi claim was credible, but included the statement that al-Libi was not in a position to know whether the training had taken place. Postwar findings do not support the CIA’s assessment that his reporting was credible. No postwar information has been found that indicates CBW training occurred and the detainee who provided the key prewar reporting about this training recanted his claims after the war.

Page 108, Conclusion 4: Postwar findings support the April 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) assessment that there was no credible reporting on al-Qa’ida training at Salman Pak or anywhere else in Iraq.

Page 109, Conclusion 5: Postwar information supports the Intelligence Community’s assessments that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, using an alias, and members of his network, were present in Baghdad in 2002. Postwar findings indicate al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad from May 2002 until late November 2002, when he traveled to Iran and northeastern Iraq. Prewar assessments expressed uncertainty about Iraq’s complicity in their presence, but overestimated the Iraqi regime’s capabilities to locate them. Postwar information indicates that Saddam Hussein attempted, unsuccessfully, to locate and capture al-Zarqawi and that the regime did not have a relationship with, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi.

Pages 109-10, Conclusion 6: Postwar information indicates that the Intelligence Community accurately assessed that al-Qa’ida affiliate group Ansar al-Islam operated in Kurdish-controlled northeastern Iraq, an area that Baghdad had not controlled since 1991. Prewar assessments reported on Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) infiltrations of the group, but noted uncertainty regarding the purpose of the infiltrations. Postwar information reveals that Baghdad viewed Ansar al-Islam as a threat to the regime and that the IIS attempted to collect intelligence on the group.

Page 110, Conclusion 7: Postwar information supports prewar Intelligence Community assessments that there was no credible information that Iraq was complicit in or had foreknowledge of the September 11 attacks or any other al-Qa’ida strike. These assessments discussed two leads which raised the possibility of ties between Iraqi officials and two of the September 11 hijackers. Postwar findings support CIA’s January 2003 assessment, which judged that “the most reliable reporting casts doubt” on one of the leads, an alleged meeting between Muhammad Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague, and confirm that no such meeting occurred. Prewar intelligence reporting cast doubt on the other lead as well.

Page 111, Conclusion 8: No postwar information indicates that Iraq intended to use al-Qa’ida or any other terrorist group to strike the United States homeland before or during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Page 112, Conclusion 9: While document exploitation continues, additional reviews of documents recovered in Iraq are unlikely to provide information that would contradict the Committee’s findings or conclusions.

It’s hard to imagine that the intelligence community in 2002 made so many mistakes without having actively been pushed into them. Interestingly enough, the Democrats on the committee tried to introduce the pre-2002 National Intelligence Estimates to show how starkly the 2002 NIE deviated from the earlier ones, but the Republicans on the Committee quashed this attempt (see discussion at the end of the report for this). In addition, there is something terribly wrong with the reporting in America, when roughly 50% percent of our citizens still believe that Iraq possessed WMDs just prior to the invasion of 2003 and that Saddam Hussein had close ties with al-Qa’ida and was involved in 9/11.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Double, double oil and trouble, Middle East burn and cauldron bubble

The mass hysteria over Katie Couric’s epiphany at CBS overwhelmed this gem of an interview she had with Bush and posted on CBS’s website yesterday (September 6, 2006). The following is the utterly astounding money quote from our anxious Decider-in-Chief from that interview – a quote which if “Googled” (may I use that verb without risk of lawsuit?) yields only one hit (on CBS's site), thus indicating it has heretofore escaped the notice of the blogosphere:

I'm worried, Katie, strongly worried about a world if we – if – if we lose, you know, our confidence and don't help – defeat this ideology, I'm worried that 50 years from now they'll look back and say, "How come – Bush and everybody else didn't see the fact that these – this group of people would use oil to affect our economy?.

And here I thought we were in Iraq so we wouldn’t be fightin’ the enemy here on our own streets. I guess every once in a while even Junior lets a bit of the oily truth slip out from behind the barrier of his teeth.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Do Islamofascists Make the Tehrans Run on Time?

In his last post #3 takes on "Islamofascism," raised by the Bushies as justification for linking the War in Iraq to the War on Terror. We've discussed this before here. Since I've defended the idea that radical Islam is a variant of modern fascism, let me clarify my position. I do NOT defend either Bush's rhetorical use of the term or his strategery in the Middle East. So #3 shouldn't try to read Bushatista logic into my argument as he does in previous comments. That said, I think there is a strong case, on the academic merits, that Islamic radicalism is both more modern and more western than we might like to believe. Even if we reject Bush's facile use of the term, we're better off knowing these radicals for who they really are.

To begin, let's start with terminology. What is "fascism," and how does it relate to "totalitarianism"? The word "fascism" comes from Mussolini, who took it from the Italian "fasciare," meaning to "bind" or "fasten," which also allowed him to use the Roman symbol of the "fasces," axes bound by rope. WWI convinced Mussolini that Marxists had misunderstood the conflicts of the modern world, incorrectly assuming that economic "class" would bind people more closely than spiritual commitment to "nation," conceived as a kind of mystical unity. He thought that you could overcome factional strife through a mobilized "mass" politics focused on military virtue, national expansion (to demonstrate masculine virility), and a "totalitarian" state apparatus. Only such a unified purpose, realized in often violent and self-sacrificial "action," could overcome the fragmenting alienation of modern life and defeat the twin materialisms of Russian communism and Anglo-American liberalism.

Although originally specific to Italy, the term "fascist" quickly became shorthand for the right-wing "mass" movements sweeping Europe, including Germany, Spain, and Hungary. In each country, fascists positioned themselves, somewhat ironically, as organic anti-modernists, celebrating emotional authenticity over reason and reviving the purified unity of ancient paganism, Roman empire, or Catholicism, depending on where you were. #3 doesn't want to count Spain, but no less an expert than George Orwell saw the Spanish Civil War, in which he enlisted, as the first front against the fascist menace. Even if Franco, pragmatically wary of entering WWII, pulled back from the brink of full-fledged Hitlerian "totalitarianism," he was still a "fascist." But there's a lesson here. Although Franco was a brutal and long-lived dictator, he died without seriously threatening Europe, leaving Spain to undergo a slow but relatively smooth transition to democracy. Sometimes containment and diplomacy are the best options. But you gotta know your fascists, because they're not all the same. Plus, as Orwell records in Homage to Catalonia, sometimes when you nobly intend to fight fascists, you accidentally empower others who are just as bad if not worse, like the Communists.

Although all facsist movements are "totalitarian" in theory, they typically find it very difficult to institutionalize such a system once in power. This is why Hannah Arendt, in her famed The Origins of Totalitarianism, claims that only Hitler and Stalin actually succeeded in doing so, speculating (wrongly, I think, given Pol Pot in Cambodia and Kim Il Sung in North Korea) that totalitarianism could only emerge in technologically advanced, modern societies with massive populations. Arendt also argues, contrary to #3, that totalitarian movements have little regard for "the state." The revolutionizing force of the movement itself is everything. Any formal state apparatus is too inherently static and conservative, offering resistance to the leader who has energized the masses in the name of spiritual purification. That's why Hitler and Stalin multiplied bureaucracies and favored institutional unrest. It's also why Orwell depicts "the state" as a churning perma-purge with ever-changing enemies in 1984.

So what does all this mean for radical Islam? Well, for one, a mass movement elevating mosque--or pan-Arabism for that matter--over "the state" is eminently qualified to be either "fascist" or "totalitarian," at least in principle.

Paul Berman kicked off much of this debate in his book Terror and Liberalism by tracing the intellectual legacy of Ba'ath Socialism and Islamic fundamentalism back to mid-20th C. Europe. Berman sees himself as a faithful follower of the lefty Orwell, fighting fascists and backing a war in Iraq for the cause of liberal (or social-) democracy, and NOT as a "neo-con." Despite his early naivete, Berman has been very critical of Bush's war. We should also know who his academic targets are: first, the defenders of Nixonian realism, whom he sees as cynical and insufficiently committed to democracy; and, second, the "clash of civilizations" theorists, like neo-con Sam Huntington and the prominent Islamist scholar, Tariq Ramadan, who promotes a "You whiteys can't understand us, it's an Islamic thing" analysis. Berman's main objective is to demonstrate that we are, in fact, part of one big interconnected intellectual and political world.

The strongest parts of Berman's book come when he traces the direct intellectual connections between modern European radicalism (left and right) and the Islamists of today's Middle East. Remember, for example, that the Iranian Revolution was started by the western educated Khomeini who soaked up the alienation theories of Sartre and Fanon in the salons of Paris. Much more important for Berman is Sayyid Qutb, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and the key intellectual influence for the Sunni fundamentalist movement that included Osama bin Laden. Qutb, who received a western education in both Egypt and the US, adapted the existentialism of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Heidegger into a critique of western alienation, which he blamed, ultimately, on Christianity and its "hideous schizophrenia." Only Islam could recreate human life as a meaningful "totality." The movement would have to be led by an ideologically committed "vanguard" waging spiritual "jihad."

It's not hard to see the links here. To bring back Franco, there's a short hop between the Phalangist slogan, "Viva la Muerte!," and the Islamist celebration of suicide bombing. As Berman points out, the suicide and assassination fads began in the West, especially in 19th century Russia, Italy, and the US, before winding their way to Palestine and Iraq. Rather than being peculiar to some barbaric middle eastern "other," these tactics develop out of modern and western identity crises involving the meaning of "freedom" in an increasingly atomized "mass" culture. No surprise then that so many of the leaders of this movement are at least semi-western, or that the 9/11 bombers were deeply europeanized muslims. What's going on in the Arab world is a complex cultural reaction to western "imperialism," much as the Vietnam War was. As Berman realizes, we misunderstand this conflict at our own peril. Ironically, his argument, originally an attempt to bridge east and west, has been used as the rhetorical tool of our least self-conscious jingoists, dimwitted imperialists who turn this analysis into a black and white battle between American "freedom" and Arab "fascism."

Unfortunately, for both Bush and Berman, there are many ways to misunderstand a threat. Invading Iraq to fight the Islamic fundamentalism of bin Laden was deeply confused. It would have been akin to the Allies invading Spain in 1941 and toppling Franco to defeat Hitler. Can you imagine a bigger strategic blunder? And thank God for Stalin and the Commies. If we hadn't buddied up to those totalitarians, we never would have won that war. Radical Islamists may be "fascists." They may even be "totalitarians." But that doesn't mean we haven't been behaving like "idiots."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

That Boob in the White House

A funny tidbit from Sean Wilentz's The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. In 1840, when Martin Van Buren was running for a second term, what would have been a fourth consecutive for the Jacksonian Democrats, the Whigs came up with an ingenious strategy. Although they were the more "aristocratic" party, the Whigs campaigned as the party of limited government and the common man, nominating William Henry Harrison as their candidate. WHH wasn't much of an idea man, spending most of his time blathering vaguely about "liberty." But he latched onto a great symbol of popular bona fides: the log cabin, the 1840's version of the Texas ranch. Before long, log cabin kitch swept the country and newly popular minstrel shows sang for "Log Cabin Cotillions." Despite chugging a lot of hard-cider (another Whig icon) at campaign stops, WHH reached out to the evangelicals as the candidate of temperance (!), morality, and traditional masculinity.

The Whigs also accused MvB of being a perverted old champaign-drinking elitist. One of their most popular pamphlets was Charles Ogle's "The Regal Splendor of the Presidential Palace," which alleged that van Buren had turned the White House into a lacivious party palace, replete with French chef and Negro concubines. Damned Frenchies with their rich food! Van Buren had even demanded that his groundskeepers build him a massive earthen breast in the back yard, "topped by a carefully landscaped nipple" (2005, 501).

Turns out the White House under van Buren was actually somewhat run down. No fancy dinners or Nubian harams, but the roof leaked quite a bit. Oh well. That guy needed to go. "Old Tip" was just the man to restore honor and decency to the White House, which is why he ranks so consistently high in the eyes of historians. Unlike that perv, van Buren, Tip was a good guy to drink a hard-cider with.

Volksturm from the (Middle) East

I'm back. BTW, I just noticed, in the comments to an earlier post, a few weeks ago, that a certain reader of this blog was angry with me for not returning his email. I think that that reader must have sent that email to my old work email. I'll try to get in touch today.

But turning to matters of interest to more than one person.

A while back, I posted on the Administration's misuse of the term "fascism" in its war rhetoric. And TMcD disagreed, in comments. He thinks that "fascism" is a close-enough fit, and that we need a catch-all term for right-wing movements, anyway. I've been meaning to revisit this issue for a while, and this may be my big chance.

One thing about fascism, and Nazism, as well, is that both "doctrines," if they can be called that, posit the supremacy of the State versus every other institution in society. That is actually what makes them "totalitarian," a term Mussolini actually used to describe his version of fascism. Now, in practice, this was impossible to achieve, especially with respect to the Church--and here, I mean the Catholic Church, especially in Italy. Given deep historical roots, the Church had a relative degree of autonomy that is odds with the "all under the State" idea of totalitarianism. This was even true, to some extent, in Germany.

But with Islamic extremists, the idea that the State should be the supreme power is blasphemy, I think. My understanding of Islamist thought is that there is no conceptual distinction between the State and the Mosque. This is especially the case in Islamic fundamentalism as practiced in Iran. But we shouldn't leap to the conclusion that this means that these thinkers/regimes are positing fascism/Nazism. Because, in our Western terms, these thinkers/regimes are clearly positing the supremacy of the Mosque over the State, if anything.

This is to say, I think, that fascism is a thoroughly modern movement because it posits the secular State as primary, even if it rejects materialism (Mussolini) and emphasizes spiritual, or at least irrational, aspects of human experience. But the versions of Islamic fundamentalism at issue today are throughly pre-modern and theocratic. That seems like a big enough difference to require the use of a different term.

BTW, I've used the term Islamic fundamentalism twice in this post. And I think that it's a great term, if kind of "1979." Politically, there may be reasons that the administration avoids employing "fundamentalism" with negative connotations, but this term is much, much better than "Islamofascism," or "Islamic fascism."

Friday, September 01, 2006

South Pork Republicans

John Tierney has a NYT column this week, behind the subscription wall, about how the "South Park Republicans" are looking to abandon the GOP this fall. If you're not familiar with the term, it refers to the joyously vulgar cartoon series and the staunchly "libertarian" politics of its creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Apparently, Bush's recently-revealed penchant for loud, demonstrative farting (designed to humiliate new staffers) has failed to burnish his image with the "Terrance and Phillip" demographic.

It may come as a surprise that the creators of South Park, a show known for its anti-religious satires, obscene language, and talking poops ("Hidey-ho!"), are Republicans. But it's really common sense. Stone and Parker are perpetual adolescents: they hate paying taxes and eating vegetables, and they love blowing stuff up. Nobody tells them what to do. Plus, despite their popular image, they're unrelentingly preachy and moralistic. Their satire is fueled by an exaggerated sense of annoyance at society's rules combined with intense personal grievance over minor injustices. They're obsessed with the superficiality of media culture but clueless about the nuances of public policy. Perfect Republicans. (As if the talking poop didn't already give it away!)

I don't really want to denigrate South Park, which, it must be said, is often great bi-anti-partisan comedy. Although not a regular viewer, I've been impressed with several of the episodes I've seen, especially the skewering of the Terry Schiavo incident last year. The South Park movie may be the best musical made in the last thirty years, and Team America certainly had its moments, including the funniest and most vulgar sex scene ever filmed with puppets and the incomparable theme song, "America, Fuck Yeah!" I also can't complain much about a Tierney column where he documents the collapse of the GOP's internal alliances, especially its loss of the "hipper" and "younger audience" it so desperately craves.

On the other hand, there's something to be said here about libertarians, generally. In an interview with at the time of Team America, Stone and Parker discussed their politics and why they supported the Iraq War. Their argument was that, yes, Bush was being a "dick," but that Saddam was being an "asshole," and Democrats were being "pussies," meaning that the latter two groups needed to get "fucked." Has there ever been a clearer statement of the underlying logic of today's GOP? Talking with Tierney, Stone and Parker tell him that "The Republicans didn't want the government to run your life because Jesus should. . . less government, more Jesus. Now it's like, how about more government and Jesus?" It really is remarkable that, with foreign policy reasoning as subtle as the "dick-asshole" theory, Stone and Parker took so long to figure out the GOP didn't really want "less government." For cynics, these guys sure are gullible.

That's also my problem with libertarians as a group. They often start from perfectly good anti-authoritarian attitudes only to spiral into credulity and incoherence. They fear concentrated power in government but then worship the private sphere power found in corporate wealth, not recognizing that the latter will always buy the former. They cry about every threat to their "freedom," but they're so anti-government that they can't develop logical policies to promote individual choice and opportunity. They advocate unlimited self-interest, but then express shock when that manifests itself as the perqs and pork of big government corruption. Perpetual adolescents. All grievance, no gravitas. This makes for good comedy, but it's not so funny when the "dicks" in power actually start governing that way.

Libertarians haven't always been like this. Many of the early ones, like John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, who authored Cato's Letters, the namesake of today's whorish Cato Institute, understood that private liberties could not flourish without public virtue. But such recognition would require that the South Pork Republicans turned off the TV and picked up a book. When's the last time you saw an adolescent do that? Hidey-ho!