Sunday, November 30, 2003

A good sign
Blake Ashby has begun filing to challenge George Bush for the Republican nomination next year. Atrios reports that he is on the ballot in Missouri and New Hampshire and working on other states.

I’m pleased to see this, not because I think an inexperienced outsider has a snowball’s chance of taking out, or even weakening, Bush, the insider favorite of an absurdly powerful political machine. He doesn’t. I am pleased because of the reason he is running.
Dismayed by a growing national deficit, disheartened by the Party leadership’s apparent loss of faith in the free market and the right to compete, frustrated by it’s drift away from the traditional Republican values of fiscal prudence and limited government, Blake is committed to using this campaign to bring the party of Lincoln, of Teddy Roosevelt, and of Eisenhower back to its core values.

The revolt of the moderates might finally be here. This is more than a good thing; it is a vital prerequisite to saving our system of government. Bush and the radicals who now run the Republican Party are a danger. Merely voting Bush out of the presidency or changing the majority party in one or even both houses of congress is not enough to end that threat. We need a new Republican Party.

The truth behind all of the pieties about a breakdown of civility in government is not that Democrats are being bad sports; it is that the whole system is starting to crumble. Rude discourse, dirty tricks, and even one-party domination of the decision-making heights are not the end of democracy in America. What is the end, is when faith in the system is replaced cynical enactments of its form.

It has taken us thirty years to get to this point. I won’t go into the whole historical narrative here (but I will soon). The short version is that at the same time that a particularly ruthless and effective cohort of far Right political operatives has come of age in the Republican Party, the public has been numbed by a cynical intellectual movement of moral equivalence. The Roves, Perles and Norquists of the world have been assisted in their rise to influence by a press and public that yawn and say, “that’s just how it’s done; this is no worse than that thing the other guy did.” We have two problems: bad guys have taken over our majority party and we are in a state where this can happen with no one caring.

This brings me back to the good Mr. Ashby and why we need more Republicans like him. If the Democrats just take power from the Republicans, the basic crisis will not be solved, we will only have postponed its worst effects. We need Republicans of conscience to take their party back. Ashby’s words are encouraging:
We as Moderate Republicans need to send a message to our party that these beliefs do matter, very deeply, and if we cheat on them we do not win. If enough moderate Republicans stand up for what they believe, we can bring the party back to the middle – we can save the values we hold dear. If enough Republicans protest by voting for me in the primaries, then at some point the party will have to pay attention, the administration will have to address these very critical issues. I am running because I believe we can save our party. I am running because I believe the good of the Nation demands we save our party and its values. I am running so that years from now I will be able to look children in the eyes, so that I will be able to say to them, “Yes, our generations did take their stewardship seriously”.

We should help him get on the ballot in as many states as possible and help him win delegates in caucus states so he can go to the convention and start a food fight in the platform committee.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Top secret election stunt
They just broke into the Macey's parade to let us know the popular wartime president is on his way home from a top secret election stunt to have dinner with the troops in Iraq. This has Karl Rove written all over it. Look at how many images they managed to combine in one stunt: thanking the troops for their sacrifice; on a semi-religious, semi-patriotic holiday; flying into a danger zone crawing with potential assassins, the plane's lights darkened; just Bush and a hand-picked cadre of a few hundred of his closest security people and pandering reporters.

Wow. As an American, I'm proud to foot the bill for this completely pointless election stunt.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Gravity: Friend or enemy?
Atrios found this nugget:
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) - A bullet fired in the air during a Ku Klux Klan initiation ceremony came down and struck a participant in the head, critically injuring him, authorities said.

Gregory Allen Freeman, 45, was charged with aggravated assault and reckless endangerment in the Saturday night incident that wounded Jeffery S. Murr, 24.

About 10 people, including two children, had gathered for the ceremony. The man who was being initiated was blindfolded, tied with a noose to a tree and shot with paintball guns as Freeman fired a pistol in the air to provide the sound of real gunfire, Sheriff Fred Phillips said.

A bullet struck Murr on the top of the head and exited at the bottom of his skull, authorities said.

This kind of story provides a real challenge for a snotty liberal like myself. Normally we liberals are against people shooting their friends in the head, though if anyone must do that, I suppose I’d rather it was a pair of kluxers. Really, this is an embarrassment of riches. The smartass comments are just bursting to come out (A kluxer shot through the brain? Thank God they didn’t damage anything he uses).

Just the other day, in the context of Dean’s confederate flag comments, I was worrying about the need for liberals and Democrats to show white Southerners that we don’t look down on them all as a bunch of stupid, inbred goobers. What are we to do when the news from the South is actually about stupid, inbred goobers? If we laugh and make snotty comments, can we convince their neighbors that we don’t mean them? On the other hand, the kluxers need to be ridiculed. Publicizing them when they look like drooling idiots is one of the few effective strategies we have to disarm them.

Naturally this one will go to the Darwin Awards.
Things that make me proud to be an American
This isn’t one:
The last time he dined with the Queen — in 1992 at his father's White House, wearing cowboy boots emblazoned with GOD SAVE THE QUEEN — he asked if she had any black sheep in her family. "Don't answer that!" his mother Barbara interjected, trying to avoid embarrassment.

Neither is this:
George W. Bush has allegedly offended Queen Elizabeth II by bringing no fewer than five of his personal chefs to Buckingham Palace.

"Her Majesty greeted the news that Bush was coming with his own chefs in absolute silence," a snitch tells London's Daily Telegraph.

"That's her general way of expressing disapproval. She's not thought to be [thrilled] about the whole visit anyway, but when you consider that she has excellent cooks herself, you can see why this would be taken as a bit of an insult."

Nope. Not this one either:
Palace staff said they had never seen the Queen so angry as when she saw how her perfectly-mantained lawns had been churned up after being turned into helipads with three giant H landing markings for the Bush visit.

The rotors of the President's Marine Force One helicopter and two support Black Hawks damaged trees and shrubs that had survived since Queen Victoria's reign.

And Bush's army of clod-hopping security service men trampled more precious and exotic plants.

The Queen's own flock of flamingoes, which security staff insisted should be moved in case they flew into the helicopter rotors, are thought to be so traumatised after being taken to a "place of safety" that they might never return home.

The historic fabric of the Palace was also damaged as high-tech links were fitted for the US leader and his entourage during his three-day stay with the Queen.

The Palace's head gardener, Mark Lane, was reported to be in tears when he saw the scale of the damage.

"The Queen has every right to feel insulted at the way she has been treated by Bush," said a Palace insider.

Gosh. No pride in our popular wartime president. I guess I’ll have to become a Dixie Chick, be denounced by pinheaded Country and Western AM announcers, and sell a gazillion and a half albums. Now if I only had some musical talent. Maybe I could show my age by reading some Rod McKuen poetry. Or not.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Not the answer I wanted
Those wacky kids over at Kos answered a question I’ve had for some time. Unfortunately, they did not come up with the answer I wanted. Last Spring the Republican Party (read Karl Rove) announced that they planned to hold their convention in New York in September so they could piggyback off of the patriotic excesses of the 9/11 anniversary and use the insane amounts of primary money they expect to raise as long as possible. At the time, it was reported that some states had filing deadlines that might keep Bush off their ballots if he was not formally nominated before the end of August. What, I wondered, came of this obstacle.

After a passionate, but mistaken, start, Kos discovered today that all of the states in question timidly rewrote their electoral laws so George Bush can stage his patently manipulative spectacle. Only in Illinois have the Democrats at least demanded something in return. Why did the Democrats in the other states roll over and play dead? Why didn't anyone demand that Bush play by the same rules as everyone else? Why didn't they, at least, raise an ungodly ruckus over this? This is, of course, exactly the kind of behavior that lifelong Democrats and liberals have in mind when they sneer at their own party as gutless and useless. This is exactly why those same lifelong Democrats and liberals vote Green or stay home when they know they are just enabling the victory of the newly radicalized Republicans. Why should we fight for the Democratic Party when the Democratic Party won’t fight for us?

The Republicans have shown utter contempt for the established elector rules and norms in this country. Elections are just one way to take over the offices they want and not even necessarily their first choice. Out of season redistricting? Fine. Bought and paid for recalls? Fine. Lawsuits and court decisions instead of counting votes? Fine. Staged “riots” to intimidate vote counters. Fine. Packing the courts? Fine. What’s next? Postponing elections? No, that’s just a paranoid fantasy (except that they did suggest it for the suddenly beloved Giuliani in New York after 9/11). Bush’s plan to ride into a second term through shameless appropriation of the 9/11 deaths as a mere stage prop for the Republican convention is more disgusting and calculated than anything since Rutherford B. Hayes stole the 1876 election from Samuel Tilden, and far more dangerous to the republic.

When I had government classes in high-school and college, I was taught that it was against the rules to pass laws for the advantage a specific individual (unless of course you are Tom DeLay passing laws for someone who gave lots of money to your “charity” (wink, wink)). This, I was told, was one of the basic definitions of corruption. The states should be embarrassed to offer such clearly preferential treatment to a single candidate. Would any of them do the same for a third party candidate?

If the Democrats are not interested in objecting, then all of the third parties should be out suing the electoral commissions and legislatures of the states. If they are so willing to change their rules for George Bush, they have no business setting any roadblocks before any candidates. If Republicans don’t have to bother with filing deadlines, why should Libertarians be required to bother with fees, why should Greens be required to bother with petitions, why should the Natural Law Party be required to bother with residency? Let a thousand lawsuits blossom!

Once again, we must apply the Clinton test. How much noise would the Republicans and “liberal” press have made if Clinton, or any Democrat, would have asked for such blatant special treatment. This kind of double standard makes me sick.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

All time best
I love all-time-greatest lists. They are completely subjective, unscientific, and unverifiable. Their only real purpose is to provoke discussion. The book The 100 and all its spinoffs have provided a full generation of history students with an excuse for endless pontification and argument and provided history teachers with a fast lesson plan. Today, I ran across two good lists on the Web, both based on polls.

Next week Rolling Stone will put out a special issue for "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time." Their top ten list contains four Beatles, two Dylans, a Beach Boys, a Stones, a Marvin Gaye, and a Clash album. The list is narrow in time and narrow in scope. “Greatest Albums” seems to mean rock related English language albums. That shows three of the biggest problems with these lists.

First, the writers never define what best-of or greatest means, and even when they do the respondents ignore the criteria and respond with a mix of most influential, best selling, and personal favorites. At one point, Time’s person of the year cover went to the most influential. They gave it to Hitler and to Stalin. Lately, they’ve gotten timid and never give it to unpleasant people. Did Osama get the cover in 2001. No.

Second, these lists inevitably have no historical sense. All through 1999, BBC put out monthly lists of the greatest of the millennium. When the got to the most beautiful women of the last 1000 years, they had nine women who were living English-speaking media figures under forty years of age (the tenth was Marilyn Monroe). What an amazing coincidence! How lucky we are to live at the exact moment when the most beautiful women of the millennium are young and active!!

Third, of course, is the cultural subjectivity. Do you think the Stones list will have any albums by King Sonny Ade? Antonio Carlos Jobim? They don’t even have any women till you get to Joni Mitchell at 30. How aware do you think they could be of the stars of Brazil, Nigeria, Iran, Thailand, or from behind the Iron Curtain during most of the album era?

The Stones list has another problem for me, and that is that I just can’t get that excited about it. And not because I don’t care about music. I do very much. But Anglo-American pop music has been largely driven by lists, American Top 40, the Billboard Hot 100, and Top of the Pops. Every music related show and magazine puts out a special issue for the end of the year and a double special issue for end of the decade best of. Another top pop list just isn’t interesting. To get excited about another pop music list it needs to be more novel. My favorite has been to create a ten album primer for jazz (listen to these ten and you’ll be able to fake expertise). The same sort of history of rock would be fun, but, of course, we’d have to define rock first (do we include Big Joe Turner? How about Run DMC?).

The poll that came out this week that is more interesting to me is Joshua Cherniss’ Top Marxists poll in Sitting on a Fence. Unfortunately, I wasn’t familiar with Cherniss and the poll was over and the results in before I discovered it. I would have loved to nominate Milovan Djilas (the topic of my never-completed dissertation – sob!) and a bunch of other obscure Balkan revolutionaries.

The obscure Balkan revolutionaries would have been for the perverse joy of skewing the poll results (“How could you leave out Sima Markovic, Anna Pauker, Karl Renner, Georgi Dimitrov, or Andrija Hebrang?”) and showing off my erudition. After all, I get so few chances to play this game anymore. In my own studies on Marxism and Balkan national questions, I could even make a case for including all of these footnote figures, but in the larger sphere of general Marxism, only Djilas really deserves a position.

In Cherniss’ poll, Djilas was in a seven-way tie for seventeenth place with Eugene V. Debs and Simone de Beauvoir among others. Cherniss himself puts Djilas in seventh, which is probably close to where I would have put him. Djilas is an interesting case. For many years he was invisible as were most of the Balkan revolutionaries. Prior to WWII most of them were pseudonymous underground conspirators. According to Fitzroy MacLean, as late as 1942, the British intelligence services weren’t even sure what gender Tito was. After the war Djilas was thrust into the public eye as one of the most unwavering Stalinists among the bunch. In 1948 he morphed into the author of an interesting orthodox Leninist challenge to Stalinism (and as such, one of the leading proponents of the idea that Stalinism was a separate phenomenon from Leninism). In 1953, he pushed his critique further by beginning a Marxist challenge to the right of Leninist (and Stalinist) parties to rule. This critique was finalized in his book The New Class. By then he had resigned from the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and was cooling his heels in prison. Certain elements of the American Right adopted his critique (they inevitably called it an expose) and made him the world’s most famous political prisoner for a few years (a dubious honor he shared with Sakharov and Mandela).

After prison, as an ex-Marxist, he became a favorite interview of journalists and graduate students (myself included) who wanted to understand the Balkans. He always resisted any portrayal of himself as an apostate; he did use in a conversion narrative to describe his intellectual journey. For nearly fifty years as his restless mind moved across the political spectrum, he was a major figure in forming the West’s understanding of Communism and the Balkans.

Other than demanding recognition for the subjects of my own expertise (of course they are important. I studied them, didn’t I?!), when I get serious, I really just one comment to make about the poll results. They look rater heavily weighted toward intellectuals and prominent politicians. Most of them are European. Some of Marxism’s most powerful influence was in the third world, especially emerging post-colonial states. Part of this was due to their being made proxies for the superpowers during most of the cold war. But part of this was due to the genuine appeal of the Marxist critique of the Western economic model. By that painful social science phrase, I mean they didn’t always like what they saw when they looked at us. Marx allowed the third world, which had been defeated and conquered by the West, to argue with the West in terms the West had to accept. Although Marx’s solutions were themselves often a bad fit when applied to non-Western economies and cultures, the credibility of his language was too seductive to refuse.

Frankly, if I had to name names to represent the third world Marxist tradition, I’m not sure whom I would name. Nkruma? Sandino? Chao? Nyerere? Ho? DeBray? Roy? When I’m out of the Balkans, I’m out of my depth. I just know someone needs to be there.

Also, for it’s appeal in the third-world, the revolutionary/insurrectionist strain of Marxism needs more weight. Djilas writes in his memoirs that most of the Balkan revolutionaries knew little else of Marxism until they were in power. Only then did they actually study the vast body of Marxist social and economic critiques.

Ultimately, I think that these lists press against the limits of usefulness for the Web. Comment strings, bulletin boards, and chat rooms are a poor substitute for conversation. To get the full collegiate experience of debating a best-of list you need loud music and alcohol.

Me: “How can you say Kwame Nkruma doesn’t count? To think, five minutes ago I called you my best friend, and now I find out you’re a Eurocentric wanker.”

Peter: “This has nothing to do with Eurocentrism. My point is that if you separate socialism from its urban industrial origins you are no longer talking Marxism. You have something new.”

Me: “Socialism isn’t a product of the industrial revolution. Peasants have always practiced primitive socialism. Didn’t Engels go on at great tedious length about this?”

Joe: “Not socialists; Marxists. By the way, whose turn is it to buy a round?”

Alan: “I think it’s Byron’s.”

Joe: “Byron isn’t here.”

Alan: “Slacker. Just like him to not be here when it’s his round.”

Glen: “Ah. They’re refilling the pretzel baskets.”

Peter: “Did you know pretzels were ennobled after the last siege of Vienna?”

Me: “I thought that was croissants.”

Alan: “I like croissants.”

Peter: “No. It was pretzels.”

Me: “That’s silly. Pretzels are dangerous. You could choke on a pretzel and die.”

Peter: “What kind of an idiot chokes on a pretzel?”

Alan: “I think croissants are one of the three best bread products ever.”

Joe: “ What are the other two?”

Me: “Tortilla chips.”

Glen: “Tortilla chips aren’t bread.”

Me: “How can you say that? To think, five minutes ago …”

Like that. The discussion needs to be as free ranging as a bug-fed chicken and about as serious.

Happy arguing.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Some thoughts on ideology
When the mainstream news media first discovered the neocons last spring and summer there was a lot of talk about their Trotskyite origins. Many of the Trotskyite references came in the form of loud denials from the right, “I am not now and never have been a member of the Fourth International and anyone who says so is a dirty anti-Semite.” That may be true for the current members, but their founders were, for the most part, old lefties. As a review article in Foreign Affairs explains it:
Many of the founders of neoconservatism, including The Public Interest founder Irving Kristol and coeditor Nathan Glazer, Sidney Hook, and Albert Wohlstetter, were either members of or close to the Trotskyist left in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Younger neoconservatives, including Penn Kemble, Joshua Muravchik, and Carl Gershman, came through the Socialist Party at a time when former Trotskyist Max Schachtman was still a commanding figure.

This should be no more than a historical footnote, a curiosity that deserves a slight “imagine that” response before we turn to the comics page. So why the heat? Conservatives usually like to parade liberal apostates and repeat their stories of having found the light. How many times have we had to listen to David Horowitz drone on about his conversion? Trotsky seems to bring out terribly conflicted feelings among the neocons. Writing in NRO, Stephen Schwartz managed to make the anti-Semite claim and get quite nostalgic for Trotsky in the same article.

I think the reluctance to let go of Trotsky is based on a desire to claim his undeniable genius and intellectual rigor for their own movement. The intellectual underpinnings of the American Right are very weak. This is not a cheap shot at the Right; the intellectual underpinnings of the mainstream Left are also very weak. Until about a decade ago, the only part of the American political spectrum with any kind of rigorous intellectual underpinnings or philosophical consistence was the Marxist far Left. They never had much influence on political discourse in this country, except as a boogie to the Right and lately they have become reduced to three depressed guys who sit on the corner opposite the LaRouchie table trying to sell dogeared copies of Granma.

American political parties are not ideologically based. I heard this statement enough times in high school and college that it almost became a meaningless slogan. Only years later did it make sense to me. Our parties are coalitions of interests. Some of the goals of these interests have become so dogmatic for the parties that they sometimes masquerade as an ideology, but hey have no philosophically consistent basis. The Republicans believe in small government; that explains their military budget. The Democrats believe in empowering the powerless, unless they are foreigners competing for jobs with unionized Americans. Neither party has a philosophically defensible stand on both abortion and the death penalty (I suppose pro-death penalty Democrats do). Both parties support and oppose free speech depending on content. Both parties support weakening separation of church and state when it benefits supporters of their agendas.

There is really nothing wrong with this. That’s just the way things work here. However, it does cause problems. Both parties contain some ugly marriages of convenience. People who do care about philosophical consistency often either cannot abide either party, or must make unconscionable compromises to participate in our political life (libertarians are a prime example of both groups, some divorce themselves from the world and become survivalists, some sell their souls and become Republicans. Finally, the chaotic and changing nature of political coalitions sometimes makes it easier for one party to represent its program in a sound bite that it does the other. The Democrats are currently the disadvantaged party on that score.

Kos spent yesterday at a conference given by a group called the New Democrat Network. They are a moderate Democratic group that is aware of the sound bite problem. Kos explains:
One key point that was repeatedly made was the ease by which Republicans can define themselves. "Pro-family values. Anti-tax. The party of patriotism." It may all be b.s., but at least they know what they stand for. Ask ten Democrats what the Democratic Party is all about, and you'll get ten completely different answers.

The NDN conference attempted to come up with a rough draft of a statement of something we should all be able to agree on.
The Democratic Party is the party of progress. Progress means strengthening our defenses and strengthening our alliances. Tax policies that help working people and the middle class, closing loopholes for corporations and making sure that wealthy Americans do not get all of the benefits. Investing in people so all those who make the grade can afford a college education or the training the need to get ahead. Moving people from welfare into the workforce through training they need to get ahead. Moving people from welfare into the workforce through training and job placement. Making American energy independent while cleaning our environment. And progress means ensuring that all Americans have access to healthcare and are able to save for a secure retirement.

This is a rough draft so I’ll try not to nit-pick grammar and wordsmithing issues too much. I’ll also assume this is supposed to be a bullet list following “Progress means…”
  • Strengthening our defenses and strengthening our alliances. I don’t think this should be first. Though it will be a big issue in the 2004 election, this is not the key item that defines being a Democrat, unless the statement is just meant as an election year throw-away. This point needs lots of work (i.e. strengthening isn’t what progress means; it might be a means of assuring progress). Is “strength” the totality of what we have to say about foreign and military affairs?
  • Tax policies that help working people and the middle class, closing loopholes for corporations and making sure that wealthy Americans do not get all of the benefits. No real argument here.
  • Investing in people so all those who make the grade can afford a college education or the training the need to get ahead. This only refers to higher education. We need an unambiguous statement in support of public education.
  • Moving people from welfare into the workforce through training they need to get ahead. Moving people from welfare into the workforce through training and job placement. Getting off welfare needs to mentioned as a follow-up to a strong support for a system of societal safety nets. Also, make it one sentence.
  • Making American energy independent while cleaning our environment. This is two very important points that deserve separate commitments. Energy probably needs to be stated as a commitment to reducing dependency and expanding alternate resources. Environment is more than cleaning existing problems; it is preservation, understanding, and reducing our impact without surrendering a strong economy.
  • Americans have access to healthcare and are able to save for a secure retirement. Again, probably two points and needs to be higher up.

I would add points for crime reduction through prevention, equal justice for all, preservation of our historic rights, being good global neighbors, and cats are better than dogs.

The two major American political parties have no consistent philosophical underpinnings. We are not intellectual creations. We are pragmatic groupings. But there is a little more to it than just that. I’ll try to get to that next time.

Postscript: I fixed some bad punctuation.
There are no chickens in the Old Testament
I just thought you needed to know that.

Friday, November 14, 2003

No double standards here
Let me see if I have this straight.

On Tuesday FBI agents arrested Stephen John Jordi near Miami (actually, off the coast and with the aid of the Coast Guard). The FBI watched Jordi as he bought propane tanks (full and empty), gas cans, starter fluid, flares, a pistol, and a silencer. Jordi and an FBI informant discussed using these items to blow up “abortion clinics, ‘apostate’ chucrches - a reference to churches that he felt weren’t doing enough to prevent abortions - and gay bars.” Jordi expressed admiration for doctor killer Paul Hill and clinic bomber Eric Rudolph.

The FBI were on to Jordi because his brother and other members of his church, who feared the direction he was going, turned him in. “‘He specifically asked if we felt it was biblical to blow up abortion clinics to combat those who perform abortions,’ the Rev. Jerry Williamson wrote police on Nov. 7.” Jordi’s brother-in-law says he once mentioned to a relative that he might "do something to an abortion clinic," that he is "overzealous about the Lord," but he is “not a violent person.” The authorities described him as a fanatical abortion opponent and religious activist in South Florida. He listened to gospel music, had fire-and-brimstone tattoos and even had a bumper sticker on his vehicle saying Jordi and his family "eat and sleep Jesus."

Jordi exchanged admiring letters Paul Hill over the summer, prior to the latter’s execution for the cold-blooded murder of an abortion doctor and his body guard in Pensacola. Jordi has also been associated with the Army of God. The Army of God has claimed responsibility for a number of anti-abortion acts of violence including shootings, bombings, and a wave of anthrax hoaxes in November 2001. At least one veteran terrorism authority, Fred Clarkson, has compared them to al Qaeda. "They both have a violent religious vision opposed to the government of the United States, and are going to use all means necessary to carry it out. It absolutely is a holy war, and they believe they're doing God's will."

Marcos Jimenez US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida charged Jordi with solicitation to commit a crime of violence and possession of an unregistered firearm or destructive device.

Note Mr. Jimenez’s title. He works for Attorney General John Ashcroft. This is the same Ashcroft, you will recall, who just seven weeks ago directed all of the federal prosecutors to seek maximum charges and penalties in criminal cases and to limit use of plea bargains.

Why isn’t Jordi being charged with terrorism?

This is like some very sick Rodney Dangerfield joke: “who does a white Christian have to blow up to get a terrorism charge around here?”

Note: Hesiod is also outraged by this. He has Jimenez’s phone number and website up so you can complain and demand a single standard for all terrorists.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Corrupt or fanatical
When my mother was sick earlier this year, and before we knew she had cancer, my wife and I used to drive over to her house to spend weekends with her. The trip is five hours each direction, so we got to talk a lot.

On one trip, we got into a variation of the old stupid or evil debate. You know the one; do Bush and his camarilla behave the way they do because they are stupid or evil? We all know it’s a trick question. The correct answer is that stupid and evil are not mutually exclusive categories; it’s perfectly possible (heck, probable) that they are both stupid and evil. On this trip we started handicapping the various administration insiders as either corrupt (opportunistic, cynical, lying out of calculation) or fanatical (true believers, naive, lying out of self-delusion). I put Dick Cheney down firmly on the corrupt side. Now I’m having doubts.

Over the last two months or so Cheney has clearly revealed himself to be a true believer. The current Newsweek profile explains how he came to associate and surround himself with a crowd like Ahmed Chalabi and the neo-con American Enterprise Institute who had a particular narrative to sell. Cheney came to believe their story and as VP selectively read only that intelligence that supported the narrative he already believed. Newsweek grants this dangerous act of self-deception far more dignity than it deserves, characterizing him as a Cassandra and Hobbesian (apply the Clinton test; how would a pessimistic, self-deluded Democrat be characterized?)

Normally, it wouldn’t matter if the vice president was barking mad or not. No one cared what the VP thought. As FDR’s first VP, Cactus Jack Gardner, famously put it, “the vice presidency isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.” (Personally, I don’t think he said “spit,” but that’s neither here nor there.) Unfortunately, that’s changed in the last decade or so. Gore and Cheney have each been described as the most involved VPs ever. Cheney, powerful and self-deluded on matters of war and peace, is one of the most trusted advisors to perhaps the most un-curious, intellectually isolated, and ill-informed head of state ever to hold office outside a hereditary monarchy.

And according to a new Gallup poll, we like Cheney, we really like him. Fifty-five percent of Americans view Cheney favorably this week. His numbers are far less volatile than Bush’s. At this point I should say one of those rude comments about the American public that rich, white, Republican opinion makers like to point to when they denounce the Left as The Elite. I’m too tired to think of anything clever; insert your favorite Mencken quote here.

This is interesting. While Cheney, clearly deluded and bearing major responsibility for getting us into this unnecessary war, retains the support of the majority of the American people, his old comrade Rumsfeld has become a lightening rod for the administration’s failed foreign policy. Charles Rangel has 26 House Democrats ready to support a resolution demanding Rummy’s resignation.

Rumsfeld openly lies, denies the words that just issued from his mouth, and bullies anyone who calls him on it. We have grown tired of his shtick. Once we thought him gruff and loveable; now we just find him a boorish loudmouth. Cheney, on the other hand, sticks to his guns. Despite the fact that everyone knows he’s wrong, we admire his conviction. When we say, “Oh my God, he really believes it,” our pity is mixed with more than a little admiration.

Irony is one of the great myths of the age. We continually tell ourselves that no one believes anything any more and so we stand in awe of a defiant believer. (It doesn’t matter that this bit of wisdom is completely wrong and that belief is all around us.) This is where the fanatics have the advantage over the corrupt. They have sincerity. Americans like sincerity. In one of my favorite aphorisms, Eugene Weber said, “Sincerity has no intrinsic value. A sincere fool is still a fool.” He’s right, but no one cares. We like our sincere fools.

Rumsfeld is a lying, corrupt old bastard, but it will be a shame if they manage to make a scapegoat out of him for the failure of the whole administration. If he goes and Cheney stays, then the administration gets credit for cleaning house while the same dangerous structure of fanaticism, willful blindness, and ignorance that caused the war will stay in place and be encouraged to continue on the same track.

Our one hope in all of this is that corrupt or fanatical like stupid or evil is a trick question. It’s perfectly possible to be both corrupt and fanatical. And Cheney is both. Before he was a neo-con nutcase, he was a bloodsucking oil executive. His old instincts never died, they were merely supplemented by new bad character traits. There is still hope that the sweetheart deals for the energy sector will come back to drag him down into hell (or at least retirement with a generous golden parachute). Our best hope is not to quickly get rid of Cheney or Rumsfeld but to hope they stay on and become bigger liabilities as the election grows closer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Minority is a gender
Someone needs to call Rick Santorum and find out who minorities can have sex with and not be unnatural. I suppose we can file the latest bit of Trent Lott wisdom under “Who Knew:”
I don't usually join in the gleeful trouncing of misstatements by the politically notable, but maybe we can file this one from Trent Lott under Logical Malapropisms instead of Racial Distemper: on NPR this morning I overheard him say that the upcoming Senate filibuster on judicial nominees was a disservice to "men, women and minorities". I certainly hope no one else noticed this slip of the tongue and puts it on a web site or something.

Our tax dollars at work
Elijah Wald writes in an article on AlterNet:
Discussing the worries of civilians in Baghdad, where missiles are destroying hotels and suicide bombers are killing or wounding hundreds, the Times assured its readers that, "The United States is doing everything it can to fight their fears. All over the city, the occupying authorities have put up large billboards featuring bucolic scenes of date palms arched over a riverbank. Inspirational messages are splashed over the pretty pictures. 'Baghdad is getting better,' says one."

This sounds like the most cynical political satire. Iraqis have lived for decades with a constant barrage of optimistic pronouncements from Saddam Hussein's government, even as they lost wars and underwent suffering from an international embargo. They are among the least likely people on earth to believe cheery billboards that are contradicted by the evidence of their own eyes and the experiences of their friends and neighbors.

During the seventies and eighties, a regular political event was Senator William Proxmire’s (D-WI) monthly Golden Fleece Award for the most “wasteful, ridiculous or ironic use of the taxpayers’ money.” Since Proxmire’s retirement in 1989 a number of taxpayer groups have taken up the cause and name and issued their own Golden Fleece Awards, but none has garnered the attention that the original did.

Pouring good money after wishful thinking like this is just the kind of waste that needs a good public skewering like Proxmire used to give.

Historical note: Although he pointed out a number of genuine boondoggles, I found Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Award as often to be annoying as it was enlightening. Proxmire frequently went for the easy laugh by taking cheap shots at basic scientific research. It's hard enough to explain the the benefits of basic research when given the time and space to do so, it's almost impossible to defend it in an arena of fifteen second soundbites and sloganeering.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Sarcasm is wasted on children
The Stanford Daily is having one of those wonderful principled fights over an ad they published that only a college paper can have.

“You shouldn’t have published that because it’s racist.”

“Wait a minute, you saying they shouldn’t have published our ad takes away our free speech.”

“Does not, you hate-speaker.”

“Does too, you censorer. Besides, you’re a reverse racist ‘cause you hate us.”

“Am not, you oppressor.”

Et cetera.

If any ten commercial newspapers had as much concern for abstract principles as one college paper, the republic would be safe and uncorruptable.


Anyway, the Stanford Daily published an ad from some group calling itself the One Truth Foundation. I am assuming they are some variety of Zionists (Christian or Jewish), but I haven’t checked because it doesn’t really matter. The ad is part of series, parts of which have appeared in many college papers across the country and usually stirred up some controversy. The ad that has Stanford in a tizzy depicts Israelis lighting candles in remembrance of the 9/11 victims, with the caption, “On September 11, 2001, Israelis mourned in Tel-Aviv.” Next to this is a photo that was well circulated by neo-cons after 9/11 showing Palestinian men and children cheering, with the caption, “On September 11, 2001, Palestinians celebrated in Lebanon.” The punch line to the ad is the tag line for the entire ad campaign, “There are two sides to every story, but only one truth.”

A group called the Coalition for Justice has called the ad racist and is petitioning for the removal of the Daily’s editor. They have met with the editor in question, Ramin Setoodeh, who points out that he himself is of Middle Eastern origins, and the issue is chugging along.

So far, so good. Dozens of nearly identical controversies erupt every year. As far as this one is concerned, let’s just drop both of the terms “racism” and “hate” and say the ads are dishonest, misleading, and stupid. Now, although people have a free-speech right to be dishonest, misleading, and stupid out loud, newspapers are under no obligation to present them with a forum to be dishonest, misleading, and stupid in their pages.

Meanwhile, over at Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein feels the need to comment from a right-wing perspective:
It seems like anyone these days can throw around the term "racism" to try to suppress any campus speech that they don't like. How, exactly, can pointing out in an ad that Palestinians in Lebanon celebrated the 9/11 attacks possibly be construed as racism? Bravo to the editor-in-chief of the Stanford Daily, who refused to kowtow to such nonsense.

Setoodeh is to be commended for “refus[ing] to kowtow to such nonsense.” Except that’s not what he has done. He has engaged the protestors in a dialog that is, as yet, still continuing.

At this point, Atrios, seeing Bernstein’s comments, adds his own two cents worth. He posts two pictures. The first shows a French tribute to the victims of 9/11 with the caption, “On September 11, 2001, French people mourned in Paris.” The second shows Fred Phelps’ followers in a typical moment of celebrating human pain with their “Thank God for Sept. 11” and “God Hates Fags” signs above the caption, “On September 11, 2001, Kansans celebrated in Topeka [Phelps’ home base]” (actually, the photo is from the opening of Harvey Milk High in NYC just a few weeks ago, but it was the best Atrios could do on short notice). He then linked to Bernstein, an article in the Stanford Daily about the controversy so far, and added his own punch line, “I hate those evil Kansans.” He follows this with a parenthetical caveat, “also, please read the two links for context, in order”.

Could the fact that this is sarcasm be clearer? Yes, it could. At this point, no fewer than three comments are protesting the unfair stereotyping of Kansans.
“Hey now, I grew up in Topeka, KS, where those abhorrent protesters have their base. Don't stereotype us all, please.”

“I also must take offense with the generalization of Kansans. I happen to live in that state…”

“It really sucks when y'all talk about disenfranchising ((STATE X)) 'cause they're not sufficiently urban/Northern...” This one seemed to be aware that Atrios was being sarcastic, but couldn’t resist complaining anyway. Go figure.

When I was growing up, one of my mother’s favorite sighs was, “sarcasm is wasted on children.” My wife has adapted that phrase to, “irony is wasted on Americans.”

Just to make sure no one gets me wrong, let me present Shorter John McKay, even though that sounds like a comment about my height.
College students caring enough about abstract principles to get hot under the collar and argue them in public is a good thing. Atrios is funny. Irony is wasted on Americans.

The education president strikes again
Tom Spencer over at Thinking It Through and Atrios both have pieces up today on a bizarre article in the Christian Science Monitor concerning new history textbooks being introduced in Iraq. Under the summary, “As revised history books roll off Iraq's presses this month, some critics charge that they have moved from one-sided to 'no-sided'” the article begins:
For 15 years, high school history teacher Abtsam Jassom has dutifully taught 20th-century history according to the Baath Party. In it, America was the greedy invader, every Iraqi war was justified and victorious, and Zionists were the cause of world suffering.

Now, however, with the ouster of former President Saddam Hussein, US officials say teachers will finally be free to teach a more factual account of historical events. But the question is: Whose account will that be?

The first indicator of what a Saddam-free education will look like is arriving this month, as millions of newly revised textbooks roll off the printing presses to be distributed to Iraq's 5.5 million schoolchildren in 16,000 schools. All 563 texts were heavily edited and revised over the summer by a team of US-appointed Iraqi educators. Every image of Saddam and the Baath Party has been removed.

But so has much more - including most of modern history. Pressured for time, and hoping to avoid political controversy, the Ministry of Education under the US-led coalition government removed any content considered "controversial," including the 1991 Gulf War; the Iran-Iraq war; and all references to Israelis, Americans, or Kurds.

"Entire swaths of 20th-century history have been deleted," says Bill Evers, a US Defense Department employee, and one of three American advisers to the Ministry of Education.

Think about that for a second. Going catatonic in the face of any hint of controversy is pretty common for school districts in the US, but removing all references to the Kurds? How are they going to use these books in Kurdistan? It’s one thing to ignore uncomfortable events. But how do you ignore the second largest ethnic group in the country. Imagine a US history textbook that avoided any content considered controversial by having no references to women, African-Americans, or US relations with Latin America (now that I mention it, I think I did have that textbook in junior high).

Further down in the article we see the Bush administration’s strong commitment to helping democracy flourish.
In months ahead, Hussein [head of the text revision committee] will begin organizing a curriculum committee that represents different religious, political, and ethnic groups from around the country. US officials say most curriculum decisions will be made after the civilian government leaves Iraq, and that they will play a limited role - unless things go in a direction they don't approve.

"We will strongly recommend concepts of tolerance, and be against anything that is anti-Semitic or anti-West - content that would only sow the seeds for future intolerance," says Gregg Sullivan, spokesman for the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau of the State Department. "We'd hope it's only an advisory role, but if something develops that's disadvantageous to the Iraqi people, we'd weigh in on a stronger level."

In a democracy, you are free to say anything we want you to say. That whooshing sound you hear is the last vestige of American credibility going down the toilet.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Grammar fun
Okay, grammar fans, parse this paragraph. This is a complete and unedited paragraph from Mona Charen’s column of last week as presented at the right-wing site
Have they thought this through? In the first place, Bush was hardly alone in believing Iraq possessed WMDs. All of the Democratic candidates thought so, too. As did the U.N., the British, the French (yes, the French should know, they built Saddam's first reactor back in 1981), the Russians and even Scott Ritter. He certainly possessed them in the past, and used them on the Kurds and the Iranians. And why would Bush lie about something that would so rapidly be revealed?

Does anyone really believe that former weapons inspector Scott Ritter used WMDs on the Kurds and the Iranians? On what do you base this stupid belief?

At one time most conservatives were language purists. Apparently they no longer believe in the necessity of unambiguous subject antecedents.

Friday, November 07, 2003

We should just stay drunk
According to a report presented this week at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America as reported in Scientific American, global warming gets a lot of the credit for better and more consistent wine vintages over the last half century.
Gregory Jones of Southern Oregon University and his colleagues analyzed data from 27 of the top wine-producing regions worldwide from the last 50 years …. Overall, they found an average temperature increase of two degrees Celsius for the wine regions and higher vintage ratings for their products. "There were no negative impacts," Jones notes.

No negative impacts for the wine industry, he means. In the future, as we paddle through our malaria-ridden, flooded costal cities and try to feed ourselves on the produce of dried out continental interiors, we will have the consolation of washing down our dinner of starling-on-a-stick with a really fine Pinot Gris. I suppose there are worse futures that we could look forward to.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Dean and the CSA flag
I suppose everyone has heard the noise that followed Dean's public musing that he wanted to be the candidate for guys "who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag decals." Yesterday Dean apologized for the comment. That won't quite be the end of it. Some of his Democratic competitors will have to harrumph a few more time before they let it die, but they will let it die. If the noise persists, most of it will come from the right. We can expect deep thinkers like Ann Coulter to bring this up forever as an example of liberal racism and hypocrisy.

This is not the first time Dean has used that line, though in his previous use I think he made his underlying point more clear. That point, is that socially conservative rural folk also need the social services that Democrats are better at providing and Democrats need to find a way to connect with them. It's a good point, one that I've also worried over. Many of the people who vote Republican are not served well by the Republicans.

However in searching for a nice sound-bite formula to make that point, he managed to make three mistakes in one short sentence. In his apology he showed that he clearly aware of, and sorry for, two of those mistakes.

The first, and most obvious, mistake was to give the appearance of being prepared to disregard two of the most dependable constituencies of the Democrats in order to reach out to a lost constituency. The dependable constituencies are, of course, African-Americans and non-Southern liberals to whom the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of raw hatred, slavery, insurrection, vigilante violence, segregation, and some of the most shameful episodes in the past of the Democratic Party. For us the Confederate battle flag is a zero tolerance issue. As a symbol it is so loaded with negativity that we can't even hint at endorsing it.

The second, and more subtle, mistake was to use the larger formula "guys in pickups with Confederate flags." Just as African-Americans and non-Southern liberals are hypersensitive to the symbolism of the flag, Southern liberals and moderates (and, I suppose, conservatives) are hypersensitive to any hint of patronizing and stereotyping by outsiders. Dean may as well have said "I want to be the candidate of toothless, inbred, redneck hillbillies." In an attempt to reach out to rural and small town poor whites, he instead reinforced the existing wall of suspicion between them and Democrats. It is very much to his credit that he got this point, and it is to the credit of those who helped him understand it (those included, at least, John Edwards and Jimmy Carter).

His third mistake, which he may or may not have gotten, is that it is just bad tactics to discuss strategy in public. You don't go around talking third-person about manipulating people, even if if you have their best interests at heart. "I want to get these goobers to vote for me," sounds too Machiavellian. If he wants their votes he needs to speak directly to them, in second-person. He needs to spend time with them and listen. He can't cry out, "we're better for you; why can't you get that?" and expect a favorable response. He need to go to them, in their space, and listen respectfully to their concerns. Only then should he say, "I can help you." He needs to ask as much as announce.

Large portions of the South, Midwest, and real West vote Republican for no other reason than that they are suspicious of Democrats. They find Republicans more likeable and sympathetic even as they get screwed by them. Some of that is the result of some really skillful propaganda work by a generation of Republican operatives that appeared on the stage in the seventies. They are sharp and embarrassingly well funded. But there is a limit of how many of our troubles we can blame on them. We need to take a good look at some of our self-inflicted injuries.

Dean may or may not recover from this (I'm betting he will). However, we shouldn't dismiss this as just Dean's problem. Too many Democrats make the same kind of mistakes. So do Republicans, but they can afford it. We can't; we are the opposition party. If we are going to retake some of the levers of power and begin to undo the damage of Bush and the radical Republicans, we need to expand our base and stop making avoidable mistakes.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Fast moving poop
I cannot figure this one out:
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is shifting policy so cities and towns can skip a required treatment procedure for sewage they pump into rivers, lakes and coastal waters during high rains.

All I can figure is it must be the speed; when water is at high flood and moving fast, it’s okay to put poop in it, but when water is moving slow it’s not okay to put poop in it.

The rationale of the EPA seems to be that utilities shouldn’t have to bear the cost of treating extra water during storms. It might make some sense if they were allowing the treatment plants separate storm drain water and actual raw sewage. Treating poop is more important than treating runoff. If the runoff threatens to overwhelm the sewage treatment, then it would make sense to vent some of the runoff and keep treating all of the poop. That’s not what the new guidelines say. The new guide lines allow water treatment utilities to just start skipping treatment steps at peak times and dump diluted poop into rivers.

But perhaps they’ve overlooked something here. When rivers flood during storms they not only go faster, they rise and break free of where we would rather their banks were. This means poop filled water gets in yards, basements, cars, offices, and wells. I know the only science this administration cares about is bookkeeping, but I think it might be in all of our interests if someone explained to them where cholera comes from. And as long as they are in an explaining mood they might mention what the “P” in EPA stands for.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Time's up
I majored in history, not math or law, so don't take this to the bank. But by counting on all my fingers and toes, using two cats, and a chipped coffee mug full of pencils, I do belive the 72 hour deadline set by the stalker Luskin's idiot lawyer has passed. As of 10:25 PM Pacific Time both of the non-libelous posts that had Luskin whining like a kindergardener are still up with comments.

Now that he has drawn shame and ridicule upon himself and his kin, is Luskin going to 1) draw the inevitable counter-lawsuit by outing Atrios' secret identity, 2) expand his cowardly legal actions to everyone who made the same libelous remarks by repeating his own characterization of himself as a stalker, 3) shut up and hope everone forgets, or 4) grow a beard, change his name, and move to coffee plantation in Costa Rica?

PS - I am Atrios.