Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Thinking about the election
Part 1 – the problem

Ever since I heard last week that the Republicans planned on having their convention the week before 9/11 next year I’ve been pondering ways to counter it. On the face of it, doing so appears to give them a great advantage.

Bush will go straight from the convention to the ceremonies marking 9/11. The convention will make him the top news story for about five days. The press will feel that the 9/11 remembrance is too hallowed to allow it to be marred by political coverage, so they won’t give time anything the Democratic candidate says for another three to five days. Bush, of course will keep his face in the middle of all the ceremonies. In running the two together he gets to monopolize the media for over a week. If he chooses to mark the occasion by declaring war on some hapless Middle Eastern country, he may get even longer.

Besides giving him a media monopoly, the two events will allow Bush to rise to a commanding position in the polls. The usual convention bounce will be followed by the irrational lift that he gets whenever he can play wartime leader. David S. Broder in last Sunday’s Washington Post points out how effective this leadership boost can be. A mid-April poll by Public Opinion Strategies gave Bush a 68 percent approval score.
Only 4 percent of those approving said it was because of Bush's economic policies. Only 13 percent said it was because he had prevented additional attacks. Even though the poll was taken days after the fall of Baghdad, only 23 percent said it was because of his direction of the war. Fully 52 percent said they approved because of "his general personal strength and sense of leadership."

Any Democrat or leftie who follows the polls has noticed with frustration over the last year that in almost every poll Bush scores far higher in general approval or on leadership than he does on any concrete issue. In a Gallup poll released just today, 54 percent say he is not paying enough attention to the economy, 47 percent think his tax cuts are a bad idea, 48 percent think he is out of touch with the problems of normal Americans, yet 70 percent approve of the way he is doing his job.

Bush benefited from 9/11 to an extent that is positively obscene. He naturally benefited from the rally-around-the-leader effect. But that’s not the only advantage he gained. The attacks on top of the already weak economy, created a general sense of anxiety and insecurity in society. When people feel insecure they look for something stable. The very traits that made Bush look silly or contemptible before 9/11—his stubbornness and lack of imagination, his pompous and corny speaking style, his humorlessness—could now be recast as firmness, strength, and somberness. By constantly harping on how vulnerable we are through alerts, high profile arrests, saber rattling, and actual military action, the administration stokes that anxiety. By creating a constant state of emergency, they stifle any challenge to his actions. The “dissent equals treason” meme has been well planted in the American consciousness over the last year and a half.

So, the general election season, which usually runs from Labor Day to Election Day, will be cut by nearly a third, Bush will begin with over a week of media monopoly and a commanding lead in the polls, and the Democratic challenger will be faced with a general perception that there is something unseemly about being the first to break the funereal somberness of the 9/11 season by bringing up politics or by denigrating our wartime leader. Could things be worse for the challenger? Yes. The press will long since have decided what the narrative for the election is to be. It’s very possible that that narrative will be “invulnerable incumbent versus sacrificial goat.” If it all turn out like this, Bush will have a cakewalk.

Is there any point in even holding the election? It doesn’t have to happen this way. In the next few installments, I’ll suggest some ways the Democrats could level the playing field with the great uniter and mention a few ways the Republicans could help.

Update: I suppose I should point out the one other advantage Bush will have going into the general election. His campaign expects to raise 200 million dollars. With little or no primary fight, they can sit on that money and and only use it where it does the most damage. If they want, they can use it all in the general and spend 30 million a week for the shortened campaign after 9/11.
Questions that should be asked
During the war we were treated to images of angry foreigners attacking McDonalds' around the world. In some cases the accompanying stories mentioned boycotts of American companies. Meanwhile, talk-radio hosts and other idiots of the right called for boycotts of countries that didn't follow orders from Washington (usually France and Germany). Has all of this talk of boycotts and counter-boycotts had any measurable impact on trade? More to the point: has the Bush foreign policy hurt American business? If the answer is yes, why aren't the Democratic candidates making some noise about this? (If the answer is no, I guess I know the answer.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Forward into the past
William Greider at The Nation has an excellent piece on the long-term reactionary goal of the Right.
The movement's grand ambition… is to roll back the twentieth century, quite literally. That is, defenestrate the federal government and reduce its scale and powers to a level well below what it was before the New Deal's centralization…. Governing authority and resources are dispersed from Washington, returned to local levels and also to individuals and private institutions, most notably corporations and religious organizations. The primacy of private property rights is re-established over the shared public priorities expressed in government regulation. Above all, private wealth--both enterprises and individuals with higher incomes--are permanently insulated from the progressive claims of the graduated income tax.

The right's unifying idea--get the government out of our lives--has broad popular appeal, at least on a sentimental level, because it represents an authentic core value in the American experience…. The movement has a substantial base that believes in its ideological vision… and the right has created the political mechanics that allow these disparate elements to pull together. Cosmopolitan corporate executives hold their noses and go along with Christian activists trying to stamp out "decadent" liberal culture. Fed-up working-class conservatives support business's assaults on their common enemy, liberal government, even though they may be personally injured when business objectives triumph.

George W. Bush does not of course ever speak of the glories of the McKinley era or acknowledge his party's retrograde objectives (Ari Fleischer would bat down any suggestions to the contrary). Conservatives learned, especially from Gingrich's implosion, to avoid flamboyant ideological proclamations. Instead, the broader outlines are only hinted at in various official texts. But there's nothing really secretive about their intentions. Right-wing activists and think tanks have been openly articulating the goals for years. Some of their ideas that once sounded loopy are now law.

He lays it out in considerable detail. Go read the whole thing.

The Bush revolutionaries have already made great strides in returning our foreign policy to the 1890s. And they have ensured that their changes are harder to uproot than mere policies, which, after all, can be reversed by the next administration. By debasing and wounding the institutions of late twentieth century multilateral diplomacy (the UN, NATO, and the Geneva Conventions), they have changed the very atmosphere in which diplomacy must be conducted. They have created such a vast store of distrust that no one will take us at our word for a long time to come. They have assured that future diplomacy will be carried out on a basis of Gilded Age imperial might. How can this be bad when we have all the might?

But international law was a young and fragile thing. The social and economic structure of the United States is more robust and layered and will be harder to warp. But here too they have made progress. They are dismantling social programs, starving agencies of funds, chipping at the wall of church-state separation, weakening public education, redefining key regulatory terms to make them meaningless, and giving up any federal responsibility for a social safety net. More is coming.

More dangerous than any single policy or tax give-away is the current effort to fill the courts up with extremists. So far, the congressional Democrats have shown admirable spine in standing up against the worst of the lot. However, they need to address the whole pattern of Bush’s appointments, not just the individuals. Unless they make an issue of the fact that Bush is only sending extremists for them to examine, the Right will start forcing them to pass bad judges so as not appear obstructionist. Passing bad judges while stopping the truly awful ones isn’t enough. We need to pressure Bush into sending good judges.

Perhaps the most important point Greider makes is that this isn’t the vision of one president or one administration. This revolution has been building strength for thirty years and looks decades forward in its strategy. To fight it we need to think and work on the same scale. We need to force discussion of the implications of their policies. We need to lay out for examination just what kind of an America they are trying to create and get people to ask, "is this what I want for my children and my own old age?" To do this we need more than one good presidential candidate for 2004. We need good Democratic candidates at all levels. We need moderate Republicans to fight for the soul of their party. We need a press corps that thinks the job of news is information and education, not entertainment. We need to push the center back to -- well, the center. We can no longer allow ourselves to get discouraged and mutter about running away to Canada. Besides, Canada won't be safe if they win. This is America; it's worth fighting for.
Civilization - 1: Forces of Darkness - 0
From Americans United for Seperation of Church and State:

On April 22, U.S. District Judge Jimm Larry Hendren ordered the Cedarville School District to make the Potter books available for general circulation in school libraries. The ruling overturned an action of the Cedarville School Board, which voted 3-2 last year to require students to obtain a parent’s permission to check the books out.

Meanwhile, CNN reports that J.K. Rowling is now officially richer than the Queen.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Why I love Molly Ivins
Molly Ivins has the straight dope on the latest bad idea from the GOP. Like most of their bad ideas this one comes with a warm and fuzzy sounding name that completely hides its anti-worker nature. The Senate version is the Family Time and the House version is the Workplace Flexibility Act and the Family Time Flexibility Act. They have the same purpose: to get rid of the forty-hour workweek and eliminate overtime pay for millions of workers.

The new rules would:
  • Allow employers to recategorize certain employees as exempt.
  • Remove overtime protection for entire categories of industry (aerospace, defense, health care, and high tech).
  • Allow employers to require workers to take comp time in lieu of overtime pay.
  • Allow employers to delay payment of overtime for up to thirteen months, giving the employers, in effect, a forced loan from their workers.

Yes, this is just another example of the Bush administration liberating us from those stifling regulations that the liberal bureaucrats have used to oppress us for so long. Thanks fellas.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Friedman still doesn’t get it
In his regular column in today’s New York Times Thomas Friedman points out that Saddam was a bad man. “As far as I’m concerned we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war,” he proclaims. I don’t personally know anyone who opposed this war because they thought Saddam was a nice person who was doing a great job. I know such idiots exist, but their numbers are so insignificant that they don’t need to be part of this discussion.

Friedman has absurdly low standards for justifying a war. Without going into the rich philosophical tradition of just war literature, I’ll say justifying a war requires more than “he was bad and deserved it.” A convincing argument for war needs to cover at least: why the enemy deserves it, why the war needs to be now, why we should be the ones to fight it, and the process of justification needs to be done in the right manner. Although there were more than enough reasons why Saddam needed to go, the administration couldn’t agree on one and put forth a consistent message. Although legitimate why-now and why-us arguments could have been made, they never tried. And perhaps most importantly, in justifying their war they used dishonesty, misdirection, bullying, and divisiveness instead of openly and honestly making a case for war in the international marketplace of ideas. They lied to the American and world publics. They critically injured several of the institutions that have made the world safer over last sixty years (the UN, NATO, the Geneva Conventions). They demonized some of our oldest and ideologically closest allies and continue to do so. They set an example of the crudest might-makes-right diplomacy. They debased the very institution of diplomacy.

Friedman is right to be happy that Saddam is gone. The world is a better place without him and perhaps a few tyrants will clean up their acts to please Washington. But it is just as likely that the tyrants of the world will ensure their survival by following one of two paths: those that will try to make themselves dangerous enough that Washington will tread lightly in confronting them and those that will suck up to Washington and be our new best friends (Pakistan is managing to follow both paths). Neither path requires become less murderous or more democratic. The damage to the established mechanisms of international conflict resolution is too deep to heal anytime soon.

Friedman’s goes on in his article to ask why so few people are as happy as he is with the current happy ending. He lists a number of different constituencies and mentions why they may see this outcome as bad. The foreigners, he says, are sullen for impure reasons: Europe sees its influence waning and Middle Easterners have guilty consciences. He at least admits that Democrats and liberals at home might be a trifle justified in being reluctant to see a newly energized administration roll back a century or so of progressive legislation and rights. But this is small beer. We should put such small reservations aside, roll up our sleeves, and help Mr. Bush make Iraq a happy place.

Well, if he’s happy, I suppose I should say, “good for him.” He should enjoy the mood while he can. It won’t last.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

A thought on plagiarism
Last week I discovered an apparent plagiarism. This was the second such discovery for me. The first, about ten years ago, was an especially blatant case: a book that copied nearly one hundred pages verbatim from an unpublished doctoral dissertation. The new one is a less cut and dried case. A contributor to a libertarian website in Nevada signed his name to a piece that was essentially an abridgement of a Village Voice article of the same week. One third of the paragraphs in the abridged version were enclosed in quotes with the Voice reporter given as a source. The impression given was that the Voice reporter was only one of the website contributor’s sources and that the rest of the article represented original research.

It could be that this was just sloppy work on the part of the second writer. Sloppy citing of sources is one of the traditional defenses for plagiarism, but it could be the truth in this case (in the dissertation case, there was no question that it was anything other than malicious fraud; the original author wasn’t even mentioned in his bibliography). However, it’s not really my business to give or withhold benefit of the doubt. I reported my suspicions to the Voice. As the offended parties, it’s their decision whether or not to take action.

This brings to my mind the case of Sean Kelly at the Agonist. From the discussion that followed, I gather this was a painful loss of innocence for many in Blogistan (I’m new here myself, so I don’t know how common plagiarism is). Along with the predictable idiotic and irrelevant cries that “information wants to be free” was an odd discussion of whether or not bloggers should be bound by journalistic ethics. I say odd because the whole question of whether bloggers are journalists, something else, or something new is entirely misplaced. It’s a valid question and could provide an interesting discussion somewhere; it just has no bearing on plagiarism. As far as plagiarism is concerned there is only one set of ethics and it’s binding on all types of writers. Whether they are involved in creating poetry, software documentation, music, comic books, novels, marketing copy, newspapers, or blogs, plagiarism is theft. And it is the worse kind of theft. Plagiarism is not the mere removal of someone’s property; it is the violation of their soul.

I obviously feel strongly about this and that puts me in a difficult position getting involved again. Though I’m dying to know what happened with the Voice, I don’t really expect to hear anything. In my first case the whole business disappeared under a veil of secrecy brought down by the American Political Science Association (both men worked in PoliSci departments). Most suspected plagiarism is handled with kid gloves because people are afraid of libel lawsuits (or counter lawsuits). This, of course, is ridiculous. One of the founding principles of Anglo-American libel law, and one of the few things we still agree about on this subject, it that the truth is not libelous.

I wish I had a profound closing thought for this, but I don’t. So, remember kiddies: Plagiarism is wrong. Just say “no” to unattributed quotes.

Friday, April 25, 2003

They lied and they admit it
According to John Cochran of ABC News, unnamed officials and advisors of the administration admit the fabled "weapons of mass destruction" were not the real reason we went to war with Iraq. The WMDs were a red herring "to gain the legal justification for war from the United Nations and to stress the danger at home to Americans. 'We were not lying,' said one official. 'But it was just a matter of emphasis.'"

So what was the real reason? Cochran explains:

[T]he Bush administration decided it must flex muscle...

The Bush administration wanted to make a statement about its determination to fight terrorism. And officials acknowledge that Saddam had all the requirements to make him, from their standpoint, the perfect target.

Other countries have such weapons, yet the United States did not go to war with them. And though Saddam oppressed and tortured his own people, other tyrants have done the same without incurring U.S. military action. Finally, Saddam had ties to terrorists — but so have several countries that the United States did not fight.

But Saddam was guilty of all these things and he met another requirement as well — a prime location, in the heart of the Middle East, between Syria and Iran, two countries the United States wanted to send a message to.

They really are as bad as we thought. The administration really is cynical, filled with hubris, and unwilling to recognize that it is bound by any rules or laws. They have waged a war—at a cost of 135 American lives and uncounted Iraqis—just show that they were willing to do it.

At the same time this admission is going out over the airwaves, the same administration is claiming that there are WMDs to find and that they will, of course find them. They will not allow UN investigators in to look for the weapons. Even without this admission, most of the world barely trusted them not to stage a “discovery.” Now, who will trust us on anything? They don’t want to call it lying. Fine let’s call it deceit, double-dealing, duplicity, deception, or dishonesty. That’s just the Ds; the other letters have plenty of even better names for it. It all amounts to manipulating and misleading the American public and the world at large.

This is news that should be on the front page of every paper in the country. This is an admission that should have people howling for the blood the entire administration. Will they? Yeah. Sure. I suppose so.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

A ramble inspired by Alterman
Eric Alterman has an excellent article in The Nation this week, “Bush Goes AWOL.” He sums up the job (or lack of job) the leader of the free world has done so far in making us safer from terrorism. Most of the individual points are well known to us, yet it’s always stunning to see it gathered in one place. This is one of the messages that the Democratic Party and its candidates need to make loud and clear before the next election: we are less safe today than we were on September 10, 2001 and most of the blame lies squarely with Bush and his administration.

One of the dangers of political pontification as an avocation, is that it becomes a substitute for action. I’m not referring to the usual criticism of, “you’re good at complaining. How come you never try to come up with solutions?” Look around, there are lots of creative suggestions for policy coming out of the lefty blogs. What I’m thinking about this morning is that just saying it isn’t enough.

We’re in a battle with common knowledge and common wisdom. Everybody “knows” the Iraqis were behind 9/11. Soon they will “know” the Syrians did it. Everyone “knows” responsible to make tough choices and trade freedom for security. Everyone “knows” liberals and Europeans hate America.

Why do we always lose the propaganda battle? (That’s a rhetorical question. I’m busy reading What Liberal Media? Sadly, I know the answer). In the coming election cycle, it won’t be enough to have good candidates with good issues. We need to take control of the common wisdom. Heck, then we could win with dim candidates and incoherent issues, just like the Republicans do.

One way to influence common wisdom is to buy the media from Rupert Murdoch. I’m starting a collection. If we don’t have enough to buy it in time to affect the election, I’ll put your money to good use paying off my student loans. Okay, that’s not a realistic expectation. What is realistic is to pick a few messages and hound them into the ground. Write to papers. Call talkshows. Come down like a ton of bricks on the contrary wisdom wherever it rears its ugly head. It wouldn’t hurt to take over local Democratic Parties and push progressive messages and programs.

Am I saying anything we don’t already know? Not really. Actually, I’m very encouraged by the growing blogger chorus for the Democrats to stop talking about bad bologna, to stop allowing the administration to stampede them on everything it wants, and act like an opposition party that’s interested in ruling some day. I’m also encouraged by Democrats learning to say “no.” Filibuster is not a dirty word.

I started this with a recommendation of Alterman’s latest article and I’ll finish with a few of his words. This is the song of message every man, woman, child, and none-of-the-above in America should be able to sing in their sleep. We need to teach them the lyrics.

Thanks to Bush & Co., America is hated the world over as never before. Deficits are exploding, unemployment remains high, the stock market is still in the tank and interest rates are poised to take off. The country is headed to hell in a handbasket from so many directions one can barely keep track. And yet the increasingly Foxified media tell a story only of heroism: of the US military, of the American people and of the President of the United States, who has so far managed to avoid service to either one.

Friday, April 18, 2003

I'm beginning to like this guy
Howard Dean says what I've been trying to say, but says it better.

We have taken decades of consensus on the conduct of foreign policy – bipartisan consensus in the United States and consensus among our allies in the world community – and turned it on its head. It could well take decades to repair the damage this President and his cohort of right-wing ideological advisors have done to our standing in the international community.

Read the whole essay, It's well worth your time.
Happy Passover/Easter
On this, one of the most sacred weekends of two major religious traditions, many people's minds turn to thoughts of candy. And so, with the deepest of respect, I offer this.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Catch 22 of the word “fascism”
My friend David Neiwert in his ongoing discussion of the nature of fascism and our present risk of genuine emergent fascism in America replies to my suggestion that we discard the term "fascism”.

I'm not sure that we can discard the term "fascism”…, if we want to be accurate about the ongoing phenomenon. Certainly its widespread misuse and abuse has rendered it impotent to a degree; but if we start calling it, accurately, American Fascism, then I think that gets the point across simply and unmistakably.

He then elaborates a bit on why this is the right word. In this current essay, he moves forward, synthesizing the message of his whole series. In doing so he brings forth the conundrum of using this word. In grad school, I often heard the advice that for a good dissertation (or book) the author needs to have the thesis so clear in their own mind that it can be stated in one sentence (One short sentence. Most grad students I knew could have produced a three-page, grammatically correct sentence. And often did).

By the way, watching this synthesis happen is what I find attractive about blogging. Ideas grow in the telling. Feedback is nice, but even in its absence, it's valuable to be forced to form ideas into words and sentences through the act of explaining them in public. In blogging there is a danger that people of like ideas will form incestuous little communities that reinforce their pre-existing prejudices and substitute loud agreement for real dialog. But this danger exists in any medium and any forum. Commercial media play to their core audiences and intellectual journals cluster around exclusive schools of thought. This risk is far less dangerous than the risk of intellectual starvation in isolation.

Back to David and the fascists (which, despite its sound, would not be a good name for a band). It’s tempting to sum up the end point of synthesis that David is moving towards as: the fascists are coming, the fascists are coming! Tempting, but unfair; his thesis is far more sophisticated and involved than that. Yet it’s not an entirely inaccurate summary either. And that brings out the problem of the word. If I summarize David’s thoughtful and timely message that way, many people will dismiss it without another thought.

Personally, I’m torn on this. One part of me is my academic and pedantic side. I am very concerned about precision and accuracy in choosing words. “Fascism” is the right word to describe the ugly emergent force we are discussing. David makes this same point, quoting Robert Paxton:

We must have a word, and for lack of a better one, we must employ the word that Mussolini borrowed from the vocabulary of the Italian Left in 1919, before his movement had assumed its mature form. Obliged to use the term fascism, we ought to use it well.

The other side in my personal struggle is my tactical sense. To use the word fascism, outside an academic discourse, invites immediate dismissal for two reasons.

First, making the accusation of fascism is an element that immediately brands the speaker a parody of a left-wing radical. The image of a too-politically correct leftist calling anyone, who even temporarily frustrates his will, a fascist. This is primarily a self-inflicted wound by leftists. Enough of us live up to this stereotype and fling the word around with wild abandon, that it no longer has any power. “You guys think everyone is a fascist,” is the response. No serious hearing is given to anything we say after the F word crosses our lips. Furthermore, rightwing demagogues like Rush Limbaugh have further degraded and diluted the word by applying it to anyone on the left that they feel is being doctrinaire. To many, it has no meaning, it is just an all-purpose epithet.

Second, most people do not understand what fascism is. Correcting this, of course, is the one of the whole points of David’s series. However, the misunderstanding is so complete, that it would be hard to get many people to listen to an explanation. You see, they think they already know what fascism is. Fascism is the German Nazi party before 1945 and a few loonies who like to wear their uniforms since. Fascism is a uniform with a Sam Browne belt, high boots, swastikas, phallic salutes, and a desire to kill all of the Jews (or deny that any were ever killed). No one in mainstream politics is like that. Therefore we have no fascism.

They are wrong, but how can we tell them? Fascism is highly mutable: “…[E]ach national variant of fascism draws its legitimacy… not from some universal scripture but from what it considers the most authentic elements of its own community identity.” (Paxton again) American fascism will be folksy. It’s anthems will be country-rock fight songs, not military marching songs. It will drape itself in our flag (not Nazi Germany’s flag). It will be Christian (evangelical and protestant, but not of any identifiable denomination, and, paradoxically, somewhat ecumenical so even certain Catholics will feel at home in it). And—this I must emphasize—it will deny that it is fascist. Fascism equals Nazism, which is German and therefore foreign. Our fascism will think itself all-American and not beholden to foreign ideologies. They will deny that they are fascists and they will believe that they are telling he truth.

So what is the solution? Do we secretly use the word among ourselves and create some other political science euphemism for public discourse? No. The word “fascism” is probably inescapable. And it still has some utility. Despite its dilution to the point of disappearance, it still has a vestigial power to shock. When people can be brought to understand that the danger is real and that this really is what fascism means. Some of them will pause. Many will find some way to delude themselves and go on the same way, but some will turn back. We must assure that that some is enough.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Weapons of Mass Destruction
So far, much of the discussion of WMD has been focused on whether war-advocates or war-opponents will be vindicated retrospectively by how much is found. This way of framing the question, however, may miss the real issue -- what we may never find and why. Think about the ways people might dispose of WMD or WMD precursors if they were in a big, big hurry. It's not a comforting thought.
Josh Marshall

As an opponent of the war, my greatest hope was for a fast, low casualty, defeat of Saddam, followed by our troops finding no WMDs. This would meet my three top priorities for the war: 1) Least casualties, 2) most gain (getting rid of that bastard Saddam, and 3) maximum humiliation for the Bush administration. To meet all three criteria, we must find no WMDs.

However, to be honest, for me to be happy, I must be relatively confident that no WMDs were found because there were none to be found. In this, my goals only diverge from the administration on point three. What can we trust? Will a lack of such weapons be seen as evidence that they never existed, or as evidence that the evil axis moved them before we could catch them? Will lack of evidence become a causus beli to attack Syria, Libya, Iran, or Massachusetts?

My good friend Alan Unsworth, a librarian in New York, provides the following list of announced discoveries of WMDs that were premature (quoted from the Independent) or fradulent:

30 March British troops find protective suits, training materials and stocks defensive purposes
31 March US military spokesman announces discovery of chemical protection suits and decontamination equipment near Nasiriyah. Later admits they could be for defensive purposes.
4 April US forces find hoard of white powder in boxes in military plant south of Baghdad. Substance turns out to be explosives.
6 April US forces find 14 barrels of chemicals that could be the nerve agents sarin and tabun. Further tests suggest the chemicals were pesticides.
7 April US military official says 20 medium-range missiles loaded with sarin and mustard gas found outside Baghdad. US Secretary Donald Rumsfeld treats report with caution saying: "Almost all first reports turn out to be wrong."
8 April Tony Blair says Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and that US and British forces will be led to them as Saddam Hussein's regime collapses.

So far, the administration is willing to claim every can of Raid (TM) they find, a WMD. What will they say when they find none. Will they be as honest as they have been about links between 9/11 and Saddam?

Friday, April 11, 2003

Who starts the fires
This morning I walked through the lunchroom at work and looked at the teevee. Like many workplaces, we’ve had a teevee going almost all day, every day for the last three weeks. The channel switches between Fox News, CNN Headline, MSNBC, and MTV depending on the preferences of the last person who cared enough to pick up the remote. Most don’t care; we just look for a minute or five and move on.

Today I was looking at the images of “liberated” Baghdad. Some celebration. Some milling around, followed by frenzied attacks on portraits of Saddam whenever someone noticed a camera pointed in their direction. Looting. Heartwarming images of small boys giving American soldiers a hearty thumbs-up, which doesn’t mean what the soldiers think it means. More looting. Government buildings burning. Still more looting. I began to think about those burning government buildings. When the fires are over and something like order returns, how many personnel records from the secret police do you think will have survived? Or am I getting old in my cynical age?
So far I'm stroke free
This just in from the New Scientist:

A caffeine and alcohol cocktail similar to an Irish coffee could prevent severe brain damage in stroke victims, new research has revealed. The experimental drug, called caffeinol, has the potency of two cups of strong coffee and a small shot of alcohol. When injected into rats within three hours of an artificially stimulated stroke, brain damage was cut by up to 80 per cent.

The breakthrough with major quality of life implications would be if the mixture has any preventative efficacy. I'm willing to volunteer as a test subject, but to provide a meaningful statistical sample, I'll need to get all of the liberals and geeks I know to begin imbibing significant amounts of caffeine and alcohol.

What's that you say? Oh. Never mind.
Breaking ranks?
According to the Hindistani Times the US "has rejected the view aired by External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha that an Indian pre-emptive strike against Pakistan [would be] as justified as the one now being carried out by the US against Iraq." State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said "you can't - should never consider military force the first option. You should never consider that a situation has to be dealt with militarily. You should always look for other ways of dealing with it."

Is Boucher breaking ranks with the Bush doctrine of "if you're big enough, you can slap down whoever you want" or does the doctrine need an erratum note to add "do as we say, not as we do"?

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Water for conversion
The story so far:
Over the weekend, a number of the lefty blogs that I read carried a story about an army chaplain in Iraq. The story was by Meg Laughlin and syndicated by Knight-Ridder (and published in, at least, The San Jose Mercury and The Miami Herald) and concerned a chaplain named Josh Llano who had somehow found himself controlling a large quantity of water in a very hot and arid place. The story doesn't explain how he he found himself in this monopoly position. The good chaplain capitalized on his market dominance by insisting that any soldiers who want a bath must first sit through one of Llano's sermons (estimated at 90 minutes) and agree to be baptized (another hour). Laughlin treated the story as a cute human-interest piece about American entrepreneurship.

Most of the blogger response was outrage and disbelief (see Atrios, CalPundit, and Yglesias). And rightly so, I think. Some took action, tracked down the commanding general of the chaplain's corps, Maj. Gen. Gaylord T. Gunhus, and wrote complaints about Llano's behavior. American's United for Separation of Church and State, one of the premier religious liberty watchdog groups, had its legal department dash off their own letter. Gen. Gunhus promised an investigation and prompt action.

So far no one has managed to confirm the facts of the story or provide any follow up from Iraq. The whole business raises a bunch of questions. Does this guy really exist? How did he get a monopoly over that much water? The unit named is a supply unit; they should be handing water out, not sitting on it and making troops come beg to use it. In the article, Llano describes himself as a "Southern Baptist evangelist" and affiliated with the North American Mission Board, yet using coercion to gain converts is against their teaching. Is this just some late and not very funny April Fool's joke or reject from The Onion?

But if it is true, what's the big deal? Why do we lefties have our panties in such a collective bunch? After all, isn't the good chaplain just doing his job, doing what men of the cloth are supposed to do: using the tools at hand to try and save a few souls? Well no. That's not his job.

Chaplains are government employees. They get around the wall of separation by being regarded as necessary for the free practice of religion by the soldiers. Since the military is kept in a society that is often apart from many of the supporting institutions of civilian life, the government feels that it has an obligation to provide parallel institutions, so as not to create unnecessary, and possibly unconstitutional, hardship for the troops. Because soldiers are called on to work under extraordinary-potentially fatal-stresses, their desire for spiritual comfort is eminently reasonable. However, the responsibility of the government only extends as far as providing for the practice of a soldier's existing religion. The government does not have a duty to bring religion to those who do not have it. The government is strictly prohibited by the constitution from supporting one religion over any other. When a government employee uses his position to proselytize, he is in violation of the law. When he uses a strangle-hold over water in a climate with midday highs of 110 degrees to compel conversion he is in violation of common human decency.

Americans United's letter to the Army sums it up:

Especially at this time, it is imperative to be sensitive to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of all our soldiers regardless of faith. In fact, that is one of the requirements of the job description of an army chaplain. According to the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps, a chaplain is required to be "[s]ensitive to religious pluralism and able to provide for the free exercise of religion by all military personnel, their family members and civilians who work for the Army." Chaplain Llano's actions do not exemplify this commitment to religious pluralism and are therefore not in the best interest of our troops.

If there is an ounce of truth in the story, Chaplain Llano should be relieved of his position, shipped home, and subjected to the severest discipline available to the chaplain's corps. If the whole business is a hoax, someone needs to expose it as it is a terrible slander on an otherwise honorable and little publicised branch of the service.
The Bush revolution marches on
As with so many other things, the administration isn't even trying to hide its intentions anymore. They want to return us to some mythical "good old days" that they imagine existed before World War One. No unions. No income tax. Naked imperial power. Lesser peoples (women, foreigners, the non-rich) know their place. And equal public education...

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's public education leader has drawn fire for expressing a preference for schools that appreciate "the values of the Christian community."

"The reason that Christian schools and Christian universities are growing is a result of a strong value system," Education Secretary Rod Paige said....

"In a religious environment the value system is set. That's not the case in a public school, where there are so many different kids with different kinds of values," he said.

"All things equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith," Paige said in the interview with Union University, a Baptist-affiliated school in Tennessee. "Where a child is taught that, there is a source of strength greater than themselves."

To critics, Paige said, he would offer "my prayers."

This kind of naked reversal of all things that America stood for in the twentieth century outrages me. This man should not be able to hold any kind of public office. Yet, I imagine the public reaction will be deafening by its silence.

I'll have more on this tonight.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Quote of the day
The late, great Tom Lehrer gave an interview to The Sydney Morning Herald last weekend which proves that while he isn't late (a rumor he encourages in the forelorn hope that he'll get less junk mail if we all think he's dead), he's still great. When asked if he won't come out of retirement to satirize times that seem so ripe for it, he responded: "I'm not tempted to write a song about George W.Bush. I couldn't figure out what sort of song I would write. That's the problem: I don't want to satirise George Bush and his puppeteers, I want to vaporise them."

Sunday, April 06, 2003

I also hate it when this happens
Earlier that same Wednesday, I had thought about ignoring the real world for a while and taking up a subject that has rattled around in my mind for about a quarter century: an exposition of the value of discarding the right-left political scale for some sort of two axis analysis. Many of you can anticipate where this is going. Christian, the Mighty Reason Man, wrote my article before I could.

I came to find the traditional right-left scale flawed when I was in college in the seventies. The political science classes I took were strongly flavored by the then popular totalitarianism theories. These theories taught that ideology was meaningless at the extremes. All extremist governments behave the same: they become rights-denying, violent, and probably anti-Semitic dictatorships. Only the justifications differ. I still have one of my textbooks, ca. 1976. The back cover shows the right-left scale as a two-headed arrow, bent into a circle, with the names of countries around the perimeter. Red China and Burma pass each other at the extremes going in opposite directions. The US, of course, sits perfectly balanced at the center.

Aside from the obvious objections to this representation (ideology does matter, there are meaningful differences in communism and fascism, the US is not the golden mean), I was bothered by the lack of any place for an anti-state or anti-authoritarian philosophy. My first impulse was to draw a second circle for anarchists and libertarians of the right and left. The resulting figure eight looked stupid, so I spread the whole thing out into a graph with the previous four extremists at the corners. Authoritarian and anti-authoritarian-ness made the vertical axis to compliment the right-left scale.

I left it there for a couple years. A few weeks after the 1980 election, I thought about this idea again. I sat in a bar and doodled on cocktail napkins. At this point it occurred to me that leftness and rightness are highly subjective terms. What, I asked myself, is this thing we represent on this scale? To this day, I don’t have a clear answer. Every few years I try something different and then map different political philosophies and parties onto the chart. I also usually draw the current spectrum of American politics onto the chart, producing some interesting curves.

One of the best fits is to say the left-right axis represents a scale of collectivism-individualism. Collectivist-authoritarianism is state communism. Collectivist-anti-authoritarianism is some form of highly democratic anarchist commune. Individualist- anti-authoritarianism is something similar to Ayn Rand libertarianism. Individualist-authoritarianism is similar to a “triumph of the will” sort of fascism. Populism can be all over the chart.

One final note: when I returned for graduate school (in Balkan history) during the late eighties, I found a couple books that used the two-axis method for modeling factions in political groups. None of them seemed to feel that the chart needed to have a citation, so I don’t know if this is a common idea among hard core political philosophy people or not. The earliest use of it I’ve seen is from the late fifties. I'd love to know if this chart has a name and what the axes usually are.

Friday, April 04, 2003

I hate it when this happens
Wednesday my wife and I were staying home with a head cold (yes, one head cold. Two heads, one head cold, it's that kind of a marriage). I was online reading the blogs through my snot-clouded brain. I thought, since I'm not capable of nuanced socio-political thought, this would be a good day to write about my choice of blog title: why Archie. I went and got my most recent copy of Archy and Mehitabel. At this point the love of my life walked up, looked over my shoulder at the blog masthead, and said, "isn't Archy spelled with a 'Y'?"

"What?" I inquired, in the spirit of intellectual discourse. "Oh crap!" I conceded.

And so, my friends, as we sadly go to our blogroles to remove the late and lamented "Left in the West," please take a moment to correct the spelling of Archy. It is spelled with a 'Y.'

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Some notes on fascism, note 2
I have two words for you

After all our discussion of fascism, I'm not sure the word has any practical use in the situation we face. I'm speaking just of the word. I say this for two reasons.

First, the other side won't play along with us. Even if my worst paranoid fantasies come true and we have a police state by summer, they will not put on the black and brown shirts. They will not use the swastika. They will not put the politicians in uniforms. When they take umbrage at the word they will be genuine and sincere, because they will not see themselves as fascists.

Second, for the last forty years lefties of all stripes have so generously spread the word around that it has become a parody. Now that rightists are using it for any lefties to whom they object, it really is a joke. However accurate and perceptive its application may be, it has no impact on most audiences.

Imperialism has the same problem. We ruined it through overuse. By calling even silly exercises of authority like restaurant dress codes "fascist" or "imperialist" we have denied ourselves the use of the terms when faced with real fascists and imperialists. In the coming days, as we try to oppose these trends in our society, we will need to make up a new vocabulary.

I'm open for suggestions.
Some notes on fascism, note 1
Don't panic yet, but do be ready to make panicy noises

I promised some thoughts on my friend David Neiwert's series on fascism. David did an excellent job of discussing what it is and identifying some fascist trends in current political discourse. From my perspective, the most important part of his series were those parts that examined how ideas can migrate inward from a previously isolated fringe to be given reputability nearer the center. In part, this process is carried out through a marriage of convenience whereby groups on the fringe mutually exploit each other. This is not always a bad thing. Just because groups are relegated to the fringe does not always mean their ideas are bad. The fringe is often the incubator of new ideas (universal adult suffrage, abolition of slavery, and social security all started as dangerous extremist ideas).

Just so this doesn't get too abstract, let's be clear that we are talking about the Republican Party and the far right (although the same model works for the Democrats and the far left off and on from the 1890's to the 1970's). Since the Southern Strategy of the sixties, the Republican Party has played wink and nod with the far right to get their votes. The unplanned for result is that as these people vote and move into the party they have slowly become a more important part of it. As liberal Republicans ceased to exist and moderate Republicans have become an endangered species it has become a whole new party.

The party has absorbed racists, supply-siders, and fundamentalists. It has now moved far enough right that it is in direct contact with a potentially violent antidemocratic and xenophobic crowd. By most definitions, the Republicans are now rather openly flirting with fascists. They are, however, not themselves fascists (though a few individuals may as close as makes no difference).

The danger to our republic is that the far right is now offering to perform street-thug services for the administration. Right now it is all in a wink and nod spirit of plausibly denied "kidding" from talk radio hosts. That may change if the war goes really bad (today the Army started getting us ready for large casualties as we move to besiege Baghdad). When their exhortations to their listeners to break a few liberal heads escalate to serious violence, the administration could move to criminalize dissent in the name of public safety. This administration has shown itself eager to have us trade our freedoms for security. Already various laws have been proposed and hinted at that could do just that (Patriot II and the Oregon law to call blocking traffic an act of terrorism).

Are we just weeks away from a martial law, cancelled elections, and an overtly fascist dictatorship? Probably not. But we are on a very ugly trajectory and need have some sort of national dialog on what our country will be in this century. Already the international order has been irreparably changed in a cloud of spin and misdirection. We may be becoming an empire with all of the burdens and costs that that entails. Our representatives let themselves be stampeded into passing the first Patriot act in some cases without even reading it. Despite the damage that it did to the Bill of Rights, it was not enough for the administration. They hold numerous prisoners without observing any legal niceties-even citizens-and they want an expanded Patriot act to give them even more arbitrary power. We've seen that their ideal judge has some very scary ideas on the nature of sovereignty and rights.

It would be nice if the Democratic candidates took up the burden of conducting this dialog. It's not enough to hope that they will reverse everything after January 20, 2005. They need to use the bully pulpit of the election circuit to force the administration to defend its direction. The press needs to ask hard questions and shine some very bright lights on the working of this administration.

I'm not sure the candidates or the press are inclined to conduct this dialog without some pushing from below. I guess this is where we come in.
Call for nominations
Reuters had a little story this morning:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Forget Stalin or Hitler

The worst ruler in world history is Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the Pentagon says.

"The Iraqi people will be free of decades and decades and decades of torture and oppression the likes of which I think the world has not ever seen before," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke told a Pentagon news conference on Monday.

Clarke's comment was in line with a mounting stream of comments from Washington that have demonised the Iraqi leader as U.S. and British troops now look as if they may take longer than expected in removing him from power.

Saddam has been condemned for his exceptional brutality against his own people but historians generally agree that Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and Soviet leader Josef Stalin were responsible for killing more people than any other dictators in world history.

In the published transcript the Department of Defense amended her comment to read: “the likes of which I think the world has not ever seen before [SIC -- is one of the worst in history].” Now whether we call Saddam the worst dictator ever, one of the worst, orpPretty bad for that neighborhood is not a something that should be determined by military/industrial complex bureaucrats or by reporter. It should be determined by middle-aged history graduate students over vast quantities of beer. Lacking that, dear friends, I turn this over to you.

I’m putting out a call for nominations for worst dictator ever. All nominations must be accompanied by the reasons this nominee deserves this honor. Feel free to create subcategories (worst dressed, most insane, evilest). Also feel free to engage in pointless digressions on the proper criteria for determining “worst.” Prizes will be given for obscurity of historical references.
Objectively pro-Saddam?

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.

Teddy Roosevelt
May 17, 1918