Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Makes Me Laugh

This was linked to from some other blogs, but it always makes me laugh. Back from when the Pistons won the NBA Championship and had to visit the White House:

One player who wasn't as enthusiastic about the team's White House visit was Rasheed Wallace. Asked on Sunday what he would say to President Bush when they met, the Pistons forward told the Free Press: "I don't have [expletive] to say to him. I didn't vote for him. It's just something we have to do."

My guess, the expletive is "shit." Now, I would have shit to say to him, but what a way with words. Short and sweet.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

My Kingdom for a Horse

The right wing of the GOP is in quite a fix at the moment. The Council for National Policy, a secretive organization of Republican right activists (e.g., Grover Norquist, Paul Weyrich, James Dobson) and their big money allies, met this month to discuss whom to back in the GOP presidential primary. The NYT's David Kirkpatrick provides a lively account of the discussions.

Apparently, the CNP couldn't arrive at any consensus. None of the current candidates is satisfactory to them. Pathetically enough, they've even reached out to plead with South Carolina governor Mark Sanford to jump into race. (He said, "no"- and "firmly.") If they continue to sit out the race, they risk becoming completely irrelevant. But they can't agree.

I suppose, in the end, this points to how personalized politics is in the US. Here is this highly cohesive, powerful movement with access to great financial resources and a large, mobilized mass constituency. And it is rendered impotent because it can't find a credible candidate anywhere on the American political landscape? Weird.

Surely this can't last! How can the right wing of the Republican party not have an influence over presidential politics? How can they go from governing the country to being utterly sidelined? But they need a horse to ride.

Ever Heard of Blowback?

Sy Hersh is, as always, a must-read. But his latest entry is more depressing and alarming than anything he's written since his investigation into Abu Ghraib. He describes a "redirection" of US policy in the Middle East. Condoleeza Rice gave a highly sanitized account before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January:

Rice said that there is “a new strategic alignment in the Middle East,” separating “reformers” and “extremists”; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were “on the other side of that divide.”

In order to counteract the rise of Iran (a 100% predictable outcome of the collossally misguided Iraq war), the administration is now pursuing a policy of aiding Sunni militants in the region. Despite the enormous death toll these groups have inflicted on US troops in Iraq, the US actually sees them as a necessary ally in a covert war they're waging against Hezbollah and Iran. So US aid--partly from wealthy Saudi sources, party from the money we've given to the Siniora government--is going to Sunni militants in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and around Palestinian refugee camps in the south. Naturally, these Sunni militants are ideologically allied with Al Qaeda and hate the US at least as much as they hate their Shiite enemies.

This policy is motivated by the blinkered premise that the US can support "moderates" against "extremists" from all sides. An operating assumption in this scheme is that the Saudis are "moderate." Rather ridiculous on its face, but an article of faith among the Bushes and the Cheneys. And so, once again, the US and its Saudi "allies" are back together again, funneling aid to Sunni militants, in order to cause trouble for one of our regional enemies, just as was done against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Perhaps a non-military policy of aiding moderates against extremists in the Midle East might have been possible before the Iraq War. But in the widening sectarian polarization unleashed by that war, there are fewer and fewer "moderates" anywhere. As Martin Indyk of the Saban Center, notes, “The President sees the region as divided between moderates and extremists, but our regional friends see it as divided between Sunnis and Shia. The Sunnis that we view as extremists are regarded by our Sunni allies simply as Sunnis.”

And this crazy policy is being brought to you by the same folks who brought us Iran-Contra, especially Elliot Abrams and Prince Bandar. And they're following the Iran Contra playbook: go around Congress and use money from non-appropriated or black sources, in the service of wingnut visionary schemes. Indeed, Hersh reports that two years ago, Iran-Contra veterans held an informal meeting to discuss "lessons learned."

Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office”—a reference to Cheney’s role, the former senior intelligence official said.

Those are the lessons of Iran-Contra?!? Experience clearly makes no impression whatsoever on the ideological fantasies of our president's men.

Fighting the Last War

McCain launched his 2008 candidacy for president with an aggressive effort to shore up his right flank. He's done everything he can--hugging the president, groveling to the religious right, repudiating wholesale all the issue stances that made him a "maverick" back in 2000.

But recent polling from the Cook Political report shows that McCain's greatest vulnerability is on his left, not his right. Guiliani just kills him. Cook polls Republicans about their first choice for president, and McCain fares quite well when Guiliani is not listed as an option. McCain comes in first, with a 17 percentage point margin over Gingrich (his next rival). But when respondents are permitted to choose Guiliani, he vaults ahead of McCain into first place by nearly 10 percentage points. The other candidates don't move that much when the options shift. Clearly, Guiliani siphons support right out of McCain.

This result suggests (at least in the current field) that McCain's greatest vulnerability is to a candidate on his left, not his right. Depite all his pathetic flip-flopping, he has never succeeded in winning over conservatives. But his strategy has tarnished him with his actual base, moderate Republicans and independents. If these early polls are to be believed, they will jump ship right to Guiliani, when given the option.

Lost City

Yesterday was an away-from-the-computer Saturday, as I did some chores and read, basically cover-to-cover, Alan Ehrenhalt's Lost City: The Forgotten Virtues of Community in America, which is Ehrenhalt's communitarian sociological history of three Chicago communities in the 1950s and what has happened to them since.

I don't usually go in for communitarianism. But Ehrenhalt is probably the most reasonable communitarian I've ever read, and he's really a journalist. He's very honest about the trade-offs between community on one side and choice and freedom on the other. He is palpably on the side of community and even authority, a term not used very often in as positive a manner in contemporary thought. It's also a great, quick read on Chicago history, especially on "Bronzeville," the African American community. I'm not sure I buy everything--Ehrenhalt's sensibility is perhaps a little too authoritarian.

Btw, I'm about half a book behind on the book-a-week resolution at this point, chiefly because I tried to tackle a very difficult book, which I have yet to finish. I may catch up a bit, though, because I'm on the road for work, today and tomorrow. Plenty of plane time for reading. But I will have limited Internet access. So it may be a while before I post again.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Brooks Goes Insane in the Membrane

David Brooks had a NYT column last week that I can't leave uncommented. Unfortunately, it's behind a subscription wall. So I'll summarize. Rousseau sucks. He had a silly, optimistic view that human beings are good. The hippies picked it up and destroyed America, fraying our social fabric and making our public institutions fail so that people lost faith in government. Presumably, this is why people irrationally distrust Bush-Cheney. Meanwhile, we conservatives have a more "tragic" sense of human nature. There are lots of smart people who held such a view: Burke, Madison, Hamilton, Berlin, Hayek. They are mostly conservatives. Like me.

Brooks, teetering on the edge for so long, has finally lost his mind. A once thoughtful social critic has become one of those geezers who endlessly repeat the same ol' where-the-fuck-did-that-come-from stories of their youth to remind themselves who they are. I've blogged on Brooks's internal struggles before. But this exceeds them. Exactly how, pray tell, does Rousseauean optimism have any bearing on today's dour liberals? When exactly is the last time "hippies" controlled anything in this country, much less caused serious damage? Was it Jerry Brown, not Michael Brown, running FEMA? Where was that "tragic" sense when the Hayekians in the Pentagon and CPA were drawing up plans for a free market utopia in "liberated" Iraq? And were Madison and Berlin really "conservatives"? Not if you look at how they positioned themselves in the battles of their day, or how they defined notions of government--and executive--power. Hayek goes out of his way to say he's NOT a "conservative," although the movement ideologues adopted him. In fairness, it was his own damned fault, given his bouts of market extremism. How tragic!

What's really interesting here is that the GOP has become a deeply Rousseauean party: intensely anti-intellectual, obsessed with patriotism and civic unity, prone to flights of paranoia, and driven mad by the decadence of pop culture and its alienating affects on modern identity. So why do they insist on hating JJR so much? Cause he's French? Hell, he was Swiss, and he hated Paris and its effete snobbery with a passion that would make today's GOP proud. No, I think it's simpler. JJR isolated the source of all these ills in inequalities of wealth and power. In other words, he'd echo GOP social critique, but he'd blame it on GOP economic policies and institutional preferences. How tragic!

To be fair to Rousseau, this notion that he lacked a "tragic" sense is complete bullshit, as Judith Shklar and others have shown. Susan Neiman offers one of the most brilliant analyses of JJR's thought I've ever read in Evil in Modern Thought. As Neiman demonstrates, JJR was, to a degree rarely appreciated, a Christian thinker engaged in revisionist theodicy that attacked both Catholic "original sin" and enlightenment deism. His story of mankind in the Second Discourse is an attempt to retell "the fall" in a way that places the blame for our suffering squarely on our historical choices, i.e., our tragic exercise of free will over time, rather than attributing it to a defect in our heavenly design.

Of course, such a subtle point wouldn't fit with Brooks's little story. To define who you are, you need a simplistic enemy who defines who you're not. Brooks knew who he was in the 1960s and 70s. Back then, we could blame the dirty hippies for everything. But today? In an age where our social fabric is fraying as the result of tragic choices made by hubristic, conservative elites, we could use a little more of the real Rousseau, and a little less of the cartoon versions. With tragedy everywhere, we ought to start blaming the responsible individuals and stop musing about how such failures are merely inevitable. Despite his talk of tragedy, Brooks offers nothing but false hope.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

On a Lighter Note

So the last two posts were downers. (What can I say? There's a lot of bad shit in the world today.) But here's the funniest thing I read today ($), which was in the London Review of Books:

Derrida, in his essay 'L'Animal que donc je suis', admits to a flash of shame because his cat saw him naked. The cat stared 'with the gaze of a seer, visionary or extra-lucid blind person'.

We've all been there, mon frere. I remember this one time, when this somewhat lucid blind guy stared at . . . meh, never mind. Just put on a bathrobe, OK?


There's a great article ($) in the latest issue of the London Review of Books--I'm sure you all subscribe to that periodical, no?--on the current famine and, well, genocide in Zimbabwe. There hasn't been a lot in the U.S. news about Zimbabwe in the last few years, but things there are very, very bad.

The population has shrunk so rapidly and to such an extent that many believe it is now under ten million (some put the figure as low as eight) instead of the 18 million there should have been had nothing untoward happened. Even allowing for the four million people who are believed to have fled, several million are simply missing. The highest estimates suggest that six million have died. The minimum estimate, two million, is already twice the number who died in the Rwandan genocide. The fact that the margin of uncertainty is so wide is itself a measure of how close to total breakdown the country now is.

Why so little coverage of this story in the U.S. press? Especially given that, from time to time, the Darfur nightmare garners so much attention? (Not lately, though.) One possibility is that the call, by liberal hawks, to intervene in Darfur plays a political role in the ongoing Iraq debate. That calls for a humanitarian intervention in Darfur are really a kind of argument that support for the Iraq invasion wasn't seriously misguided. That is a distinct possibility. No one in the United States is calling for an intervention in Zimbabwe, where a minimum of two million people have died. Mugabe is a tyrant, same as Saddam was. Maybe worse. So ponder the silence . . . .

Walter Reed

Read Pat Lang's post on the Walter Reed story. Excerpt:

"There is a major general of the Army Medical Service who commands [Walter Reed Army Medical Center]. He is a doctor. Like all Army officers he is responsible for all that his command does or fails to do. Don't bother to tell me that this is an unreasonable standard. The Army is not a "reasonable" calling, and it should not be."

Btw, I know the Marine vet who appeared on the NewsHour this evening in the Judy Woodruff report. He lost his left leg, and his right leg was badly damaged, to an RPG in Fallujah in 2004. He's a fine young man, and he (and all his fellow disabled vets) deserve better. But the government is not really supporting the troops, I guess.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Will They Be Called "Kidney-Pie-Eating Surrender Monkeys"?

Looks like the Brits are leaving the coalition of the willing in a slow-bleed of troops. Then, the Danes (Danes?).

My favorite line: Johndroe said that "President Bush sees this as a sign of success and what is possible for us once we help the Iraqis deal with the sectarian violence in Baghdad ... It's the model we want to emulate, to turn over more responsibilities to Iraqis and bring our troops home." Except we're bring our troops home in reverse.

But . . . if the Brits have done such a bang-up job in Shiite-dominated Basra, why can't they redeploy to Baghdad to assist their American allies? Is it because we don't need more troops in Baghdad? No, we know that's not it. Is it that the "special relationship" is no longer that "special"?

Could it be because the Great Ideological Struggle of our Time (GIST), in which the Iraqi clusterfuck is the central clusterfuck, is nearing its end . . . and we won? That the dreaded Caliphate of Hate of the Entire World (CHEW) is no longer a possibility? I mean, to hear Blair talk about the clusterfuck . . . pulling out doesn't seem like a responsible thing to do. It sounds like what GOP flacks might call "cut and run." We can't cut and run from the War Against the Deathmasters (WAD).

Not "cut and run." Bush says "a sign of success" (SOS).

SOS indeed. Even if we've blown the WAD, and we're not yet getting the GIST, the spin war is still raging. CHEW on that.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Dick's Scholia

I had blogged here about the significance of The Dick's personal scholia on Wilson's NYT op-ed piece of July 6, 2003, arguing from this that:
In the end it is quite clear that The Dick was not even interested in combating the substance of Wilson’s claims, so he just went into bunker mode and sent his minions to make a ridiculous ad hominem attack on Wilson; Valerie Plame was just collateral damage.

What I didn't realize at the time was just what an integral role this annotated article actually played in the outing, but today at closing arguments, Fitzgerald made it clearer. If you look at FDL's transcription of the closing arguments here (start at 4:12) you'll see that Fitzgerald tries to demonstrate that these handwritten notes of the VP became the basis of the talking points for damage control sessions at the WH on July 7 and July 8. What it looks like then, is that The Dick literally gave his annotated NYT copy to Cathie Martin (secretary) and/or Scooter and directed them to work on discrediting Wilson off of those points in the article that he had underlined or from his comments scribbled at the top. Based on the VP's annotated article, then, Martin changed her first set of talking points for a presentation on how to discredit Wilson into a second version of talking points. O yes, some of Bush's hacks were also at these meetings, meaning that the office of the president was also intimately involved in the outing, not just the VP's. As Fitz brilliantly argues, bullet one of the second version of this presentation relates to Wilson's wife ("It is not clear who authorized Joe Wilson's trip to Niger") and, like the other bulleted points, undoubtedly came directly from the VP's scholia on this article ("Or did his wife send him on a junket?"). At any rate, what Libby claims is that in the next few days after these talking points were being discussed he forgot about the significance of talking point numero uno. Yeah, right.

It would be interesting to know exactly how Fitz got this copy of The Dick's newspaper. I would guess that when he interviewed Cathie Martin about the matter, she still had it in her files and her testimony got Fitz onto this. That's why Fitz keeps alluding the VP's role in all this (this newspaper combined with Martin's testimony are his hard evidence for that assertion). If Libby is convicted, one wonders whether this may pave the way finally to probe The Dick. Wouldn't it be rich if an actual hard copy of Judy Miller's former newspaper came back to bite The Dick's ass?


Can War on Iran be Averted?

The Pentagon is drawing up big plans for a major air assault. And Republicans inside and outside government are propounding incendiary charges to justify the planned assault. Koch says, "We are not at war with Iran, but Iran seems to be at war with us." Congresssional Republicans claim Iran has been at war with the US since the hostage crisis. SecDef Gates says that Iranians are currently involved in killing American troops.

Can such provocations be allowed to stand any longer? America has resisted attacking Iran for nearly 30 years! Does our patience have no limits?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Happy Presidents Day/Washington's Birthday

So, bonus--day off. Spent some of the day at the National Gallery, mostly to see this exhibit on British Romanticism--ahem, lots of pastoral scenes, Scottish mountains, one print of the Lady of Shalotte--but also some of the permanent collection. I even spent some time looking at the "Gothic" madonna and child paintings, actually. (But mostly for formal elements, not devotional reasons.) Then some walking around, a trip to the new Trader Joe's in the west end. Mostly relaxing. So I tried not to think of politics.

This weekend also watched Mike Judge's Idiocracy. Put this one in your Netflix queue, people. Funny and insightful.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Finding a Scapegoat, or Scape-elephant

Comments to this earlier post about refugees have gotten me thinking about the Iraq endgame. Most of the discussion to date has been about how and when we should remove troops, whether we should use benchmarks or timetables, and how far down we should adjust our definitions of "victory." That's the responsible discussion. But it ignores--or at least brackets--a key problem, which is that the Bush administration has absolutely no interest in these questions. Zero. While the rest of the country (and world) is debating the situation on the ground in Iraq, the Bushies have focused obsessively on the situation on the ground in the U.S. Namely, how do we find a scapegoat for this clusterfuck?

In other words, they believe that, politically, it's more important to control the American political narrative than it is to actually produce policy successes. Who says George W. didn't learn any lessons from Vietnam? Who says these guys don't think long-term? We need someone to blame. Abizaid? Casey? Rummy? The Iraqis, who refused to "stand up"? The liberal media (you know, the ones who hyped this war relentlessly for two-plus years before wussing out)? The Democrats in Congress, who demoralized the troops by debating the "surge"? The next president? Hell, they've even blamed the American people, on the grounds that we weren't tough enough to follow our burning Bush into the promised land. Just don't blame Bush, Cheney, or "conservatism."

Dems have noticed this, of course. But that's not the same thing as taking this meme seriously. How can we? It seems so farsical. Well, we better get serious about this, or Broder may be right and Bush may yet pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Not in Iraq. That's a done deal. The victory they crave is here in the U.S. The modern conservative movement was built on the wounded pride of losing Vietnam, a war LBJ, Nixon, and Kissinger all knew was lost by 1968. The genius of Nixon and Ford was to pin the loss on the war's opponents, despite the fact that we had called a draft, sent over more than 500,000 troops at our peak, and lost 58,000 soldiers over more than a decade of fighting that included illegal bombing runs of a neighboring country. If, after all that, you can still claim that Vietnam was lost because of lefty protesters and white glove military tactics, imagine what you can do with Iraq, where our investment has been much less and our tactics even more restrained.

Toward the end of the Vietnam War, the mantra was "Declare victory and get out!" The problem is that "declaring victory" involved pushing our exit back for years and allowing the politicians responsible to evade accountability for defeat. How to remedy this situation post-Iraq? First, I think Dems need to stop pretending that there is any uncertainty about the outcome. Every time a Dem appears on TV, they need to say, "Here's how Bush lost Iraq." I never want to hear the name Bush uttered without the words "loser," "weakness," or "failure" attached, as if it were his job title. Granted, this will be a tough sell. The wingnuts control most cable news outright, and wield disproportionate influence in the MSM. There will always be a segment of the U.S. populatuion that thinks we should always win unless we're betrayed or wimp out. So give them a betrayer wimp: George W. Give them a bogeyman: conservatism.

The battle over narrative has begun. If we don't take off the white gloves and define the terms of this debate, they'll eventually find a scapegoat that will resonate, no matter how implausible. Time will make people forget what really happened, as it did in Vietnam. Our narrative certainly has an uphill battle. On the other hand, it has the advantage of being true.

Can't Pass Without Comment

I've been on a two-day computer hiatus, for the most part, but this Friday column by David Broder cannot pass without comment. I've heard the same meme in a few other contexts: watch out for Bush comeback! The obligatory reference is Bill Clinton after the 1994 election.

Clinton, of course, wasn't bogged down in a failed war in 1995, and he wasn't pushing an escalation of any such failed war--an escalation opposed by an overwhelming majority of the American people. But details, details. (Broder does acknowledge this reality, toward the end of the column, although not in so many words.)

The media and the Washington establishment, including congressional Democrats, have been way behind the American people on the war and the Bush administration. The CW is that Bush's presidency isn't over, that there's a fourth act coming. But public opinion is fixated on the war, and the next act in that tragedy is not going to go Bush's way.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Memorial Magic!

On a snowy day in Nashville, the Vanderbilt Commodore basketball team beat the #1 ranked Florida Gators 83-70. Twas' a thumpin'.

Vandy took the lead halfway through the first half and never let go. Florida pulled to within six a couple of times, but the Dores kept playing aggressively and never let up. Vandy has now won 6 of 8 this year against ranked teams--one of the two best records in the country. They're 18-8 overall and 8-4 in the SEC, including a win over Kentucky at Rupp Arena (for the second year in a row, and a 3-game win streak against the Cats). Vandy had been ranked #23 until getting their asses handed to them last weekend by the Vols in Knoxville. This should get their ranking back for them and all but guartantee an NCAA tourney bid. The "Memorial Gym magic" has struck again. Over the years, the Dores have hosted nine #1 teams. They beat five of them.


Baby, You Don't Have To Live Like a Refugee

The Bush administration has agreed to allow 7000 Iraqi refugees to emigrate to the United States this year. How many did we let in last year? 202.

This is a really huge issue that we're only beginning to think through. By some estimates, 2 million refugees have already left Iraq for neighboring countries, with almost that many more displaced within Iraq itself. As most Democrats--and even a few Republicans--have come to understand, George Bush lost Iraq years ago. When he started this war, our swaggering drag-show cowboy borrowed some leather chaps and a big Texas hat, but he took the stage with a little pistol that fired only blanks. Now that he's been left standing naked in front of a jeering and unimpressed crowd, he's got to figure out how to regain some of our lost dignity. (Did we really put this reality show on TV? The characters are all so obnoxious and unbelievable!)

From a humanitarian standpoint, there's no question that we'll have to do more, a LOT more, to help those Iraqis who bravely stood beside us during the occupation only to find themselves in grave peril as the government we installed turns day-by-day into a sectarian satellite for the Iranian mullahs. NPR ran a story this morning comparing the situation to the one the US faced during WWII, when we turned away European Jews by the hundreds of thousands, including Otto Frank, father of Anne. Iraq may not be facing the Holocaust, but there should be little doubt that great violence will befall those moderate and modernist Iraqis from whom we sought support. We need a greatly expanded visa process in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, and we need to start thinking about how to integrate those Iraqis into American life. I can't imagine this will go over well with the Tom Tancredo wing of the GOP. If you fear Mexican immigration will allow terrorists to sneak into the country, what will you make of the new Iraqis?

Bush has always made a show of being immigration-tolerant. If the Dems wanted to, this is an issue where they could put some pressure on the C-in-C to put his money where his mouth is. He'll resist. Allowing large numbers of refugees is an admission of defeat, especially since they'll deplete the ranks of our in-country allies. So be it. This is a debate we need to have. Let Lou Dobbs rant. Exploding Arab immigration may be the ironic and unintended consequence of a failed foreign policy. But justice demands we address this crisis and address it SOON.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Bombings in Iran

Somehow I missed this story about how some Iranian Revolutionary Guards were killed in a car bombing last Wednesday in Iran. Now another bomb has gone off today. On the heels of Bush's blame-Iran-for-the-bombings-in-Iraq-propaganda campaign, these explosions certainly raise the question of who could be behind this.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

And a Little Child Will Lead Them

Check out the picture in yesterday's Post.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

This War Started 28 Years Ago

Watching the House debate, this has emerged as one of the leading GOP memes--that the current struggle against Islamic extremism started not on 9/11, not with the Cole bombing or the first WTC attack . . . but with the taking of the hostages in the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. If true, then the GOP needs to rethink a few things, like the greatness of Ronald Reagan--a president who actually sold missiles to our Iranian enemies. I don't want to go all Ann Coulter on y'all, but that could be described as treason--selling arms to our declared enemies?

Of course, this is a silly frame, and it's really silly as a frame for the Iraq clusterfuck. Whatever one can say of Saddam--bloodthirsty tyrant, megalomaniac, psycho, that he liked to play dress-up, etc.--he was not an Islamic extremist. So, even if we have been fighting Islamic extremism since 1979, the Iraq invasion was still a mistake.

But, strangely enough, I was reading the latest issue of the London Review of Books, in which James Meeks reviews Lawrence Wright's Looming Tower: Al-Qaida's Road to 9/11, and there's an interesting passage at the very end of the article. Here it is:

Although this is not what it explicitly sets out to do, Wright's book supports the conclusion that the direct struggle between revolutionary, counter-Enlightenment Islam and post-Enlightenment world began some time before the Cold War ended--specifically, in 1979. That was the year of Iran's revolution, in which, significantly, Islamic reolutionaries overcame not only the pro-American Shah but also their leftist counterparts; the Soviet Union sent troops to Afghanistan to protect its leftist regime against Islamic rebels; and the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, was seized by a band of Islamic fundamentalists. It took Saudi forces more than two weeks to oercome the four to five hundred insurgents involved, who had demanded that Saudi Arabia isolate itself culturally and politically from the West, remove the royal family, expel all Westerners and stop selling oil to the U.S. Before the battle ended, women among the insurgents shot the faces off their dead male comrades to stop them being recognised. It was the first fortnight of the new Islamic year, the year 1400, the dawn of Islam's 15th century. The rest of the world was still operating according to a different calendar.

I'd never read about that before. I don't buy that we've been at war with Islamic radicalism since 1979, but that passage about the shooting off of dead men's faces sticks with you, doesn't it?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Lives Wasted

So B.O. has already had to clarify his statement the other day, on the Campaign Trail, that over 3000 American lives have been wasted in Iraq.

Apparently, this is verboten. Why?

The first possibility is that no one could legitimately believe that U.S. casualties in Iraq are a waste of human life. But it seems to me that everyone who believes (1) that the war was a mistake, at best, if not an outright fraud, and (2) that the war has not made the U.S. or even the people of Iraq better off, but instead much, much worse off--everyone who believes those two things believes that the U.S. casualties were a waste of human life.

To believe this is, from a certain perspective--which, I will concede, is mine--to side with those troops. What our leaders have done to those young men and women--and not-so-young, given the number of Reservists and Guardsmen--is a betrayal and a disgrace. Because, specifically, they have wasted their lives and thrown them away, without reason. The proper emotional response to this is anger at the leaders who have done this. And, included in my anger are those who had positions of influence but did not use them to oppose the war before it happened--that includes many establishment Democrats and almost the entire national media.

But, apparently, to say that soldiers and Marines have died in a mistaken, tragic war, one that constitutes a betrayal of the American people by its leaders, but especially the troops--the one called on to make the sacrifice--is somehow to say something negative about the troops. Why?

I understand that it may be difficult for family members to deal with the tragedy of the death of loved ones who should not have been asked to sacrifice their lives at all. I'm sure that it helps, some, with the grief to believe that one's husband or father or brother (or mother etc.) died in a good cause. But I don't quite understand why we should, as a nation, be forced, forever and ever, to tiptoe around the grief of the families of the fallen. Or, more properly, why we should let the grief of the families of the fallen take a hostage--the truth about the war. Or, even worse, to let the leaders who have betrayed the fallen continue to betray them, through using their families as a cudgel to silence criticism of their reckless, misguided war.

That's where we are. One cannot criticize the troops, and therefore one cannot criticize their mission--by some twisted emotional logic of loss, used cynically by the same crew who lied us into this war. One cannot say the war was a mistake because that means that the fallen need not have died--and, since they have, that is to say that their lives were wasted, which pains their families--families understandably don't want to believe that their loved ones died in vain. But it seems to me that, as a nation, we have to be able to conclude that those deaths were in vain. Or we cannot stop a misguided war, ever, once it's begun. Because once it's begun, there is that cudgel of grief and loss.

This isn't about speaking truth to power. It's about speaking truth to the grief, which is powerful.

Note, nothing here is critical of how the troops themselves have comported themselves in Iraq. We know that there have been war crimes, but I'm sure that most of the troops, most of the time, have comported themselves honorably. But there is no contradiction to say that soldiers can serve an evil purpose honorably. They do not give themselves the orders, after all.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Do we expect more of Iran than we do of the US Military, FBI or our allies?

OK, so I'm making my weekly trek from AA to Cleveland, and I'm listening to an NPR report on this weekend's accusations by multiple quarters of the US brain trust that "the highest levels of the Iranian government" are knowingly supplying insurgents in Iraq with Iranian weapons that are responsible for killing American soldiers. As a part of the piece, NPR played a tape of Tony Snow's press conference today where he was asked about the accusation and whether the weapons could be smuggled there without government knowledge and he said "There's not a whole lot of freelancing in the Iranian government, especially when it comes to something like that." One NPR reporter even referred to this evidence as "compelling."

As soon as the story was over, without any sense of irony NPR then segued into a story about how the FBI can't keep track of its computers or weapons (click here to see MSNBC's blurb on this same story, which for some crazy reason focuses on the computers rather than the weapons). I also just did a Google search on the US military's ability to keep track of its weapons in Iraq, and guess what? They themselves are having trouble accounting for weapons.

But lest we think the US military is so singularly inefficient, it seems that several governments around the globe have had trouble keeping track of their weapons, such as Australia (I could have selected many other governments to highlight, but given Howard's comments on B.O. the last few days and because they've got soldiers in Iraq, I thought the Aussies deserved a spot light).

So let's get this straight. When the FBI, or US Military, or our allies lose their weapons, it's an accident or not officially sanctioned from the highest levels of government, but when miniscule amounts of Iranian arms end up in Iraq, it must be because "the highest levels of the Iranian government" are involved.


You'll Shoot Your Eye Out

The new-ish rightwing meme on Obama is that he attends a church . . . that is either racist ("black" values, on "Tucker" last week) or preaches black power. Now, these claims are silly, and I can't imagine that this story has legs. The real question is whether Republican operatives really want to put the religiosity of their own candidates into question. It's all well in good to claim "official religiosity," to stress the importance of one's Christian faith to one's moral purpose, whatever. But it's another thing to get into doctrine and specific teachings. For example, already-also-ran Sam Brownback converted from Protestant to radical Opus Dei Catholic, while a senator. Mitt Romney, beloved of the Cornerites, believes in a Golden Bible buried by Ancient Israelites on a hillside in Palmyra, New York, and unearthed by one Joseph Smith.

More significantly, I am curious how often Rudy goes to mass. My guess, not too often. Plus, weren't we just told, a few years ago, that Catholics shouldn't vote for pro-choice Catholics, and that, um, priests shouldn't administer communion to pro-choice politicians? (When was that? Not so long ago . . . but I just can't remember . . . .) I guess that doesn't apply, if the Republican party is desperate for a candidate.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Obama Inevitability Watch, Pt. 1

If the latest Obama "flap" is any indication, B.O. is going to roll to the White House. I'm speaking, of course, of the "Is he black enough?" flap. The question is whether he's black enough to win African American support. If you missed Colbert the other night, you should know that some people are actually making this argument.

This is the kind of criticism B.O. gets. He may not be "really" black. Um, no matter whom the Democrats nominate, that candidate will get at least 90% of the black vote. Even John Edwards, who is definitely not black enough, even for a white guy. So . . . is this an issue in the primaries, then? My guess is that African American voters will love Obama and that, to most people, white and black, the "black enough" question will seem silly. This is yet another reason HRC is fucked--I'm sure she's counting on the support of African American voters in the primaries.

Roger Simon on "Beat It" today hypothesized that white America will vote for Obama to say that it is beyond all that, er, racial unpleasantness of the last 400 years. There was a comparison to JFK and that whole Catholic thing. If that narrative catches on, then Obama will roll. B.O. was compared to JFK several times.

Btw, the Russert roundtable was a veritable Council of War for the Conventional Wisdom (C.W.C.W.): Broder, Kurtz, Ifill, Simon, and Russert himself. And they said only positive things about B.O., and only negative things about HRC. She is, did you know?, cold and calculating in everything she does, apparently. I know that, because all the participants in the roundtable said so. All of them. HRC is so fucked. I don't think she knows it, but she is. She cannot escape those narratives. One panelist (I can't remember which) stated that B.O. has "audacity" (he's the black JFK), and HRC is "cautious." And cold and calculating.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

In Your Heart, You Know He's (What's) Left

Despite his flawed position on cynicism, I'm afraid that the Three Household has to declare its present support for Barack Obama, or B.O., as we like to call him. Considering that our greatest presidents have been elected on platforms of complete vacuosity, B.O. is a shoe-in. Especially if, as appears likely, the Republic Party is going to be pushing the Iraq clusterfuck well into 2008. The more Mitch McConnell wants to talk, the better for the Obamaniacs.

My previous, negative posts on B.O. are here and here, and this one, which is not negative.

My biggest concern right now: Is "Barack" Swahili or Arabic? Why did he change from "Barry Obama"? (Probability that we will ever have a president named Barry: zero point zero.)

Btw, watching C-SPAN right now (I know, lame), and the black women calling in love Obama. I have the same love, sisters. (Who knew so many people watched C-SPAN on Saturdays?)

The Densest Element

Passed on to me by a colleague:

A major research institution has just announced the discovery of the densest element yet known to science. The new element has been named "Bushcronium."

Bushcronium has one neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons and 224 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 311. These particles are held together by dark forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. The symbol for Bushcronium is "W."

Bushcronium's mass actually increases over time, as morons randomly interact with various elements in the atmosphere and become assistant-deputy neutrons in a Bushcronium molecule, forming isodopes. This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to believe that Bushcronium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as "Critical Morass."

When catalyzed with money, Bushcronium activates Foxnewsium, an element that radiates orders of magnitude more energy, albeit as incoherent noise, since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons.


Stenographic Reporting

Well the pre-war stenographic reporting of White House talking points that characterized the run up to the Iraq war just reared it's ugly head again on the front page of the New York Times this morning. The headline of Michael R. Gordon's piece, which clearly originates from a dark, smelly place, blares out "Deadliest Bomb in Iraq is Made by Iran, U.S. Says." The article is then replete with inflamatory claims by anonymous intelligence officials about Iranian involvement in bomb production in Iraq, the veracity of which it is clear Gordon did not independently confirm. Or even try to confirm. Or even care to confirm. A bit of elementary logic may have helped our intrepid reporter, such as asking himself the simple question, "Is it really believable that Shiite Iran would be supplying Iraqi Sunnis with IED parts?" Somewhere today Judy Miller is smiling.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday Baby Blogging


The Marshall Test

My only feelings are those reserved for Mrs. Number Three. But seriously, if you don't read Pat Lang, one can only ask, why not?

Bad News Day

So, if you were in the White House press office, and you needed to release some bad news, today is the day. Between the "mysterious" death of Anna Nicole Smith, the love-crazed astronaut story, and the cold weather (again, is cold weather in winter a story? And it's snowing in upstate New York!), there just isn't attention span left for anything approaching boring details like the hearings on Feith's Office of Special Plans. My guess is that the death of ANS will even kill the Nancy Pelosi plane story and the Edwards blogger story.

You know what to do. Clear the decks today, White House press office!

Btw, the stories about the paternity case . . . make it stop.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Let Slip the Dogs of War

So . . . Obama at the recent DNC meeting said that, in the forthcoming election, "our rivals won't be the other party. Our enemy is cynicism."

Oh, my. Senator, please don't force me into the enemy camp.

Footnote on Edwards

Remarking on John Edwards' quick walk back from brinksmanship on Iran, John Judis writes:

Matt Stoller, who dubs himself an Edwards supporter, takes pride in how the blogs and The American Prospect "walked back" Edwards from his hawkishness on Iran. I draw a different conclusion from this experience. Edwards continues to fly blind on foreign policy. He says whatever he thinks an audience wants to hear. It's not that he has a fairly definite foreign policy, but adjusts his views to audiences and the circumstances. He has none, zero.

Judis is right. Edwards always has been weak on foreign policy. He obviously cares far more about domestic issues, especially equality of opportunity. 2008 will probably not be a good year for a candidate this focused on domestic policy.

Dead Presidents

"Who in their right mind would send 363 tons of cash into a war zone?"

That's what Henry Waxman asked L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer, former viceroy of the American Empire in our troubled Mesopotamian provinces. No matter how great that question was, Bremer's response was the kicker. Bremer defended this record amount of walking-around money as necessary for something called . . . wait for it . . . Iraqi reconstruction.

"Delay would have been demoralizing and unfair to the citizens of Iraq," Bremer said. "Delay might well have exacerbated the nascent insurgency and thereby increased the danger to Americans on the ground."

Yes, delaying pay to ghost Iraqi employees may have, um, made the situation worse. Worse than it is, like now? When the NIE explains that the term "civil war" does not begin to describe the complexity of the violence in the Iraqi clusterfuck.

But this story is largely being pushed out of the news cycle by the cold weather (because cold weather in February is news?) and . . . attempted murder by a love-crazy astronaut! Murder, jealousy, astronaut! It's like a flame to the moth of our Media Overlords. Or, maybe, like 363 tons of cold, hard cash.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Another Coverup That Failed

Speaking of the freedom of pundits to change their minds, it is interesting to compare the Washington Post's David Ignatius today with that of 2002-3.

Last week Ignatius wrote a column about the Libby trial that was widely praised in the blogosphere. Ignatius observed that the trial lays bare the White House's attempt to cover up the existence of widespead opposition within the CIA to the administration's bogus pre-war intelligence claims:

Why was the White House so nervous in the summer of 2003 about the CIA's reporting on alleged Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Niger to build a nuclear bomb? . . .

The trial record suggests a simple answer: The White House was worried that the CIA would reveal that it had been pressured in 2002 and early 2003 to support administration claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and that in the Niger case, the CIA had tried hard to resist this pressure. The machinations of Cheney, Libby and others were an attempt to weave an alternative narrative that blamed the CIA.

But what did Ignatius have to say about the administration's effort to bully the intelligence agencies in 2002? He knew about it. And he advised the administration that it needed to bring those bureaucratic skeptics into line. In a column of November 1, 2002, Ignatius wrote:

Mobilizing the United States for war is hard enough, but it becomes truly difficult when the State Department, the Pentagon brass and the intelligence agencies are all, for somewhat different reasons, expressing doubts about the mission. . . .

At a time when the CIA is waging a global anti-terrorism war against al Qaeda, the Iraq talk strikes many intelligence officers as a dangerous distraction. CIA analysts fear that in its eagerness to find an Iraqi "smoking gun," the Bush administration may be "cooking" the intelligence -- that is, implying connections between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that have not been established.

Rank-and-file CIA officers "don't want to do this war," says one former agency official of his former colleagues. They fear, in part, that an Iraq war will jeopardize the "liaison" relationships with other intelligence services that are crucial in fighting al Qaeda.

If President Bush is going to lead the country into battle, he needs to begin by convincing his own national security bureaucracy.

A foreign and intelligence affairs correspondent working for one of the nation's premier newspapers knew that the administration was pressuring the CIA to produce false or misleading intelligence that would justify an attack on another country. And what was his reaction to that in real time? That pressure needs to be more effective.

Now that things have turned out badly, Ignatius can carp from the sidelines about the administration's "coverup that failed." But he's as implicated as they are. He assisted in the cover-up by not describing forthrightly what he knew at the time. He failed to follow the only moral course of action when a journalist sees an administration trying to cook the books to gin up an unprovoked war: expose the liars.

No Cure for Bad Judgment

John Edwards, 2007:

"Iran must know that the world won’t back down. The recent UN resolution ordering Iran to halt the enrichment of uranium was not enough. We need meaningful political and economic sanctions. We have muddled along for far too long. To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table, Let me reiterate – ALL options must remain on the table."

John Edwards, 2002

"Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave threat to America and our allies -- including our vital ally, Israel. For more than 20 years, Saddam has obsessively sought weapons of mass destruction through every possible means. We know that he has chemical and biological weapons today, that he has used them in the past, and that he is doing everything he can to build more. Every day he gets closer to his longtime goal of nuclear capability. We must not allow him to get nuclear weapons."

Not to pick on Edwards: The entire Democratic foreign policy establishment was complicit in the grave misjudgments of American interests and capabilities that led us into Iraq. We desperately need a nominee who does not surround him/herself with the kind of advisors who fell into the Iraq trap. Because the world is filled with difficult problems, and there is no cure for bad judgment.

What Columnists Don't Understand

Watching "The Chris Matthews Show"--what can I say, I've got a problem--just now, and there was speculation that, in a year, John McCain might switch his position on the Iraq clusterfuck and say, "Bring the troops home." Um. Here's what columnists/pundits don't seem to understand. Unlike say, a NYTimes op-ed writer, a politician maintains power only so long as he or she maintains the support of a constituency. This limits the ability of politicians to "turn on a dime." It limits their flexibility. If one constructs a coalition to support oneself based on hawkishness in the clusterfuck, that coalition expects continued hawkishness. In constructing that coalition, one has alienated other potential supporters. If one wishes to change positions, one has to consider whether doing so will lose one's constituency--offset, of course, by the potential gains in new constituents based on the change.

So, GWB can't become a "green" candidate. McCain can't become a peace candidate. It doesn't work that way.

The problem, I think, is that columnists tend to view politicians as personalities. But, especially in primary politics, politicians are the sum total of the supporting constituencies they can attract. And attraction is based on policy as well as personality.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Go Wes Young Man?

So, waddaya think, should Wes Clark throw his hat into the presidential ring? I've been wondering about this lately. Probably more than you have.

I volunteered for the Clark campaign in '04 and have great admiration for the man. He's got a serious intellect and iron clad credentials in foreign and defense policy. For a political novice, I think he ran a pretty impressive campaign. Despite a couple of early gaffes, he managed to stay competitive longer than everyone save Kerry and Edwards. No one else, with the possible exception of Howard Dean (whose background made him a somewhat less credible critic), took a stronger stance against Bush's foreign policy and the Iraq War. Were it not for some guy named Obama, Clark would have been remembered for having given the highlight reel speech at the Dem Convention. He coulda been our rock star ("Iraq star"?) in waiting. Ah, but that coulda's the rub.

In '04, Clark dove into a weak primary field to save us from a Deaniac wipeout. In essence, he gambled that Dean, who had exceptional grass roots appeal, would flame out only after the famously grass roots Iowa caucuses, guessing that Dems, desperate to beat Bush, would coalesce around an electable anti-Dean. If Dean won Iowa, Clark could head him off with a strong second place in NH, coupled with a win in SC and elsewhere. But Dean imploded too early. Iowa Dems had already deduced Howie's weakness and scanned for plausible alternatives: Kerry, the only war hero with a campaign in Iowa, and Edwards, the only charismatic non-Vermonter. The rest is history.

Importantly, those opportunities that made a Clark nomination viable in '04 no longer hold. The '08 field is already crowded with rock stars: Hillary, Obama, and Edwards being the obvious headliners. The undercard is also plenty full: Richardson, Biden, Dodd (Dodd!? wtf?), Kucinich, etc. And if there's a rock star in waiting, a reluctant prince, it's obviously "Oscar Al" Gore (or is that "Nobel Albert"?). So I just don't see where Wes's oxygen will come from. Hilzoy has a good post that captures much of my own view of the current field. I might wish there were more room in it for a retired General. But I'm afraid that's not how the Wes was won.

New Camera Phone

The picture is a little blurry, I guess, but it was taken really up-close.
Btw, if you haven't received an email with the new number, let me know.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Another $245 Billion?

If Congress doesn't tell Bush to go fuck himself based on this request, then the whole lot of them--Democrats, Republicans, Connecticut for Lieberman--members of all three major parties--should be voted out. In 2008. Anyone who votes for this outrage will never get my vote, or money, again. That's a promise.

Who Will It Be?

Non-obligatory Super Bowl post. Who will be the first African-American head coach to lose the Super Bowl? Lovie Smith has the edge in the name department--sharing, as he does, a name with Mrs. Thurston Howell III. Tony Dungy has the edge in the "Jackson, Michigan" department--as he shares a hometown with one Number Three.

Dungy's Colts are a seven point favorite, which strikes me as a bit much. My guess is that the Bears cover but still lose. Any thoughts?

More Headwinds for the Hegemon

If there is one thing that History teaches us, it is that every hegemonic power eventually gets ganged up on and knocked off its perch. In this never ending game of King on the Mountain, History also teaches us that similarity in constitution amongst Vassal-states, even those with democracies, is no guarantee that the Vassals won’t eventually tire of the King’s self-interested actions and turn against him, especially if the King keeps resorting to brazen acts of military force to protect his self-interest. The alliances do not break down over night; rather, it usually takes years, or even decades, for the two to grow slowly, inexorably apart.

A good sign that a Vassal state is beginning to be dissatisfied and less cooperative than it once was is that it begins to put up small road blocks in the way of the King’s desires, especially in matters of military and economic cooperation, and these begin to create a headwind of opposition that challenge the King’s authority and position. Often, the King then responds with punitive measures to keep his Vassal in line, and this only causes the Vassal and other Vassals to resent and to oppose the King even more, which in turn leads to more roadblocks and headwinds and punitive measures. Eventually the Vassals even begin to foster closer ties with the enemies of the King. Finally, the King has a military blunder that not only weakens himself, but also outrages his Vassal states so much that they finally desert him or even unite with his enemies to push him off the mountain.

Those left standing then turn on each other and after a series of wars for the top of the mountain, a new Nation-King emerges – usually the one who sits on the sidelines just below the peak biding his time while all the others weaken themselves by struggling with the previous King and each other; then, while they are busy locked in a struggle with each other, he suddenly rushes upon them and pushes them all off the top and then assumes the mantle of King of the Mountain himself and the entire process plays itself out again.

There is no question right now that the US is the world’s Hegemon. The questions for us, then, are how do we avoid all the surrounding states ganging up on us and what are the signs that this is happening? One sure sign is the question of basing rights amongst allies. In an online chat session yesterday discussing his essay “Democracy v. Empire”, Chalmers Johnson revealed that, “… a grass roots movement in Italy seems well on its way to evicting the U.S. Air Force from Aviano Air Base." When we recall that a few hours south of Aviano (if the Autostrada isn’t backed up) the US is trying to expand another military base at Vicenza, Italy to service Aviano and that this base expansion is also being protested, then these are good signs that one of our Vassals is beginning to put up roadblocks that are creating headwinds for us. When we further recognize that the US has plans on the table right now for widening the wars in the Middle East to Iran and possibly Syria, despite the fact we are weakened from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and this will further weaken us and isolate us from our allies, and when we consider that the US is now the largest debtor nation and relies upon the good graces of Japan and China to finance our economy (including the military), then the argument can be made that the US is in a very precarious position right now, thanks to our own Kaiser wannabe.

Another interesting question might be who is the crouching power waiting in the wings to supplant the US? My money's on China.