Sunday, January 30, 2005

Hurrah! Democracy in Iraq!

The habit of reacting negatively to anything the Bushies tout as good is so ingrained that many on the left seem to be unhappy about the elections in Iraq. The security is terrible, the risks are great, many of the Sunni minority may boycott, the Kurds may think it an irrelevancy – the list of problems could go on and on.

And yet, there is no reason not to celebrate this turn of events. Destroying a tyrannical dictatorship in favor of a democracy is a good thing. Reversing the usual roles, many on the left believe that the price we paid for this is simply too high, and cannot get over the undeniable fact that we were out and out misled into this war.

Few wars are ever about what the people who started them thought they should be about. WWI had something to do with Serbia’s failure to prostrate itself 110% in showing proper deference to the wronged Austrian empire, whose heir had just been killed in Serbia. Well, I guess those Serbians are really, truly, extra sorry now.

WWII would not have been fought at all if the prize were the liberation of Europe and the stopping of the Hitlerites. The thing went on for two years with a solid majority of our fellow Americans perfectly happy to let those foreigners duke it out.

And we have paid a heavy price to keep China at bay, in Korea and Viet Nam. Given the utter futility of trying to stop, let alone delay, China’s ascendancy to the role of the world’s first power, could any one say it was worth it?

America’s experience in Iraq today reminds me so much of Viet Nam. We were intensely interested in every little tidbit of news from this far away and tiny beacon of hope for freedom and democracy. A new defense minister? Why, front page news. The capture of a rebel leader? Time to break into Bewitched for an urgent update.

We all turn our attention today to Iraq’s terribly flawed elections. NBC will undoubtedly take us to some polling place and interview voters who will assure us that Iraq is finally on the road to freedom. With a bit of luck, CNN will find the Iraqi’s who are prepared to chant, “Thank you America!” on camera. And thanks, on some level, we are owed.

But soon our attention will wander. We’ll forget all about the ongoing battles between the Shii’as and and Sunni’s (which one, we’ll wonder, is aligned with Iran?). The troubles of the newly elected Iraqi government in keeping the peace will be forgotten. Even the efforts to keep terrorists – real actual terrorists, not just Bush-imagined ones – will fade without new terrors perpetrated on American shores.

Today, most Americans have returned Viet Nam to the place of obscurity they reserve for virtually all places not in the continental US. It is a distant, irrelevant place, the name only meaningful as a reminder of the terrible cost we incurred so many years ago, for gains that we can no longer even articulate or remember.
Sure, we were duped into this war by a President far too comfortable with bad faith. President Bush repeatedly and without any equivocation laid out that the sole reason to go to war was to disarm Saddam. Period. Any intimation that there was any other reason was blasphemy, not to be even entertained.

Since it appeared that Saddam didn’t actually need disarming, and that that fact should have been apparent to all who weren’t trying – really, really hard – to avert their gaze, we’ve embarked on a crusade to justify our incursion. (“Never mind” just won’t seem to cut it.) For now, we’ve settled on the notion that bringing democracy and freedom to the oppressed people of Iraq is what made this all worth while.

I welcome the right wing of the Republican party to the left’s long-standing campaign to bring freedom to everyone on the planet. When the tables are turned (as they will inevitably be), and we are back in power, I wonder how many of today’s ruling party will remember how much they were prepared to pay to secure the freedom of the great Iraqi people?

How many will support us as we seek to bring freedom to the great people of Saudi Arabia, where they are not voting today? Or Egypt? Or Pakistan? Or the Sudan? Or Russia? Did I mention Ohio, where the right to vote seems to be unavailable to those who would use it against our rulers?

I’d like to think that a deeply conservative President has been able to do a deeply liberal thing – use US military might to secure freedom for a people oppressed by a terrible dictator. And perhaps he has. But I suspect that the President’s people are in fact not on-board with the current justification for war, but are rather signed on to the traditional right-wing foreign policy: we’re OK with dictators who play ball with us, and those that seem prone to aid our enemies, well, if they keep that up for a decade or two, they’d better watch out.

I think celebrating the liberation of an oppressed people is something we shall not see again any time soon. We have paid far too dear a cost for this unilateral madness -- let us at least savor the fruits.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Everything in Timmy Russert’s Mind…

...would fit in a thimble. Or his navel, which he seems so fond of contemplating.

Somehow or other, Russert occupies a place of high esteem as an analyst, especially amongst those who work for NBC. (What is that saying about how it is impossible to convince a man of something if his livelihood depends upon not believing it?) Pretty good for someone who is 100% insight-free.

Over at MSNBC, Tim is holding forth on What the Iraqi Elections Means. He hasn’t the first clue. His opinions have less insight than a steaming bowl of NY Times Conventional Wisdom.

Here’s a few of my favorites from this MSNBC Interview of Timmy R.:


America’s entire exit strategy in Iraq is based upon a successful and legitimate election, where an Iraqi government could take hold and then create its own security and armed forces, so that Iraqis would be willing, frankly, to join the military and die for their new country. That’s the only thing that’s going to allow Americans to leave.



[E]verything rests on this Sunday – a successful election – as the first step. A year from now, perhaps, a lot of other people might share Senator Kennedy’s sentiments (that we should discuss a timetable for withdrawal with the winner, with an eye toward withdrawing substantially by the end of next year), but I do not see a lot of bipartisan support for an immediate withdrawal.

MSNBC: The longer the American troops stay; won’t it be harder to get them out?

Russert: No doubt about it. We have seen occupations that have lasted years and years and years. [Ed: We’ve also seen occupations that lasted just a few months.]The key is for the Iraqis to have an armed forces that is capable of defending their country. Unless and until that happens, Americans are there.

There you have it, folks. we won’t go “unless and until” the Iraqis “have an armed forces that is capable of defending their country. And, "everything rests on this Sunday."

Except that we will leave whether or not the Iraqis can provide their own security, just as soon as our willingness to keep losing soldiers runs out, and/or we’re distracted with something else.

And we'll all forget about Sunday in 6 weeks when President Bush tells us to.

I remember when people used to say that we wouldn’t leave South Viet Nam unless and until the South Vietnamese people were capable of holding the North Vietnamese at bay all by themselves. And then we did. Leave, I mean. With the South utterly and completely exposed. Thirty years on, it's harder and harder to see what we accomplished in Southeast Asia. I remember it had something to with freedom...

Saying “never mind” is an awfully painful thing to do. Let’s hope we say it sooner rather than later, for the sake of the many dead people we are in the process of creating.

One last tidbit, this from the “questioner” (probably Timmy’s secretary):


MSNBC: Afghanistan is something of a success story. Is there a possibility the
problems of Iraq are overblown and there is enough spirit toward democracy in
Iraq that might gain some momentum as a result of Sunday’s elections and we
could see more rapid progress than anyone expected?


Success story? Sheesh.

Shameless Piling On

I'd like to formally join the list (pile) of people urging a no vote. I'm sure my dozens of readers will find it no surprise that I am urging a strong "NO" on the Gonzales nomination, for reasons I've already covered at length (which are, in short, torture, jury duty, and unbelievably bad memory).

I'm finding the idea of a whole bunch of political bloggers joining together to state the obvious a peculiar one. Blogs tend not to have penetrated the SCLM in any significant way, other than as a brand extension of Drudge (i.e., "on-line crazies"). And I can't imagine our pile of anti-blogs will be any larger (and probably smaller than) their pile of pro-blogs. All in all, an interesting exercise in the power of community, which regular readers know is the #1 core value of the left.

For you newbies, welcome to the World's Most Reasonable Man, telling you What To Think.

You can check out the definitive pile of pilers-on at Kos (http://newsfare.com/no-to-gonzales/).

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Turning a Corner?

I believe I detect the first notes of a new, more assertive tone from the D.C. Dems. The confronting of Condi, the lack of support for Al G., calling Condi and the administration a “liar.” I believe this is a new day dawning, where establishment Dems begin the process of joining with the rest of their party to resist tooth and nail the evils perpetrated by the other side.


At some point, every journey in the desert must come to an end. Is this the end of ours?

This Guy Knows Why Republicans Win. Now You Do, too.

Here's post from blog called "Forest Through the Trees" (via Oliver Wills). The best graphs are these:

The Republicans win because the modern Right has developed around the core idea of persuading people to support their ideology, which then leads to support for their issues and candidates. In other words: marketing. The Right developed this ersuasion capability in reaction to the dominance of the existing "liberal establishment." Because of this, most of their organizations are designed as advocacy and communications organizations, with the mission of reaching the general public and explaining what right-wing ideas are and why they are better for people.

Today's Progressives, on the other hand, think there already is a public consensus supporting their ideals and values, so they have not developed a culture that is oriented around persuading people, and their organizations are not designed at their core to persuade the public to support them.For example, everyone used to think that it is moral to help the poor or protect the environment, so there are organizations that are designed to do that. Then along comes the right, funding organizations designed to convince people it is wrong to do these things. The result today is that on one side you have organizations trying to help the poor, protect the environment, etc. On the other you have organizations telling people what those organizations are doing is wrong. But now you have no one explaining to people that it is GOOD to help the poor and protect the environment so over time support for helping the poor obviously will erode and eventually the organizations that help the poor will be in trouble and have little public support.

Here's the link: http://seetheforest.blogspot.com/2005_01_01_

seetheforest_archive.html#110584065281446220

Well worth reading in its entirety.



I Know Why Senators Should Oppose Al Gonzalez

Many people point to Gonzalez’ role in crafting a legal structure to facilitate the government’s policy of torture as grounds for denying him the AG job. Others point to his dismissive approach in presenting clemency pleas to then Governor Bush. Myself, I’ve always like his rather unlikely hairdo as a reason to stop him from taking the nation’s top law enforcement job.

But now I’ve got a new one. He has some sort of memory problem. Can’t remember what he thought about a Justice Department memo explaining that the Geneva Convention wasn’t anything to worry about after all. Doesn’t remember using Texas taxpayers’ money to get his friend out of jury duty. Doesn’t remember a whole ton of things.

Like we need more reasons to vote no on this guy, here’s another one: You can’t run a large governmental agency if you have no functioning memory.



Wednesday, January 12, 2005

I Know Why SS is Team Bush’s #1 Priority

In all of the commentary I’ve seen about the latest, manufactured, fake, emergency crisis, I’ve seen precious little discussion of what agenda does this issue serve for the right. Like most on the left (which is becoming pretty synonymous for “those with a brain”), the President’s stated objectives have never seemed particularly likely to be true: to let workers have more control, to let retirees live better, to avert the disaster that will strike in 2042 when we may actually have to – gulp! – raise taxes a bit to cover the SS obligations.

No, this is all of course utter nonsense. But I think I’ve got the answer. If Iraq was about changing the landscape of the Middle East, SS “Reform” is about changing the political landscape of the US – for the next 50 years.

I saw the President’s remarks yesterday that he made to one of his patented “town-hall” events. On the stage with him were young workers who were worried that SS wasn’t going to be there. One after another, these poor deluded youths brayed, “I was raised to believe in personal responsibility, and I’ve taken responsibility for my life. I went to school, I worked hard, got married, and I want to know that when I retire, the money I put in for SS will be there for me.” And so on.

Then the President stood up and tried to make the case for the urgent nature of the crisis. (I always think of the comment of my friend, the litigator, on the case for Iraq: it just doesn’t take six months to argue exigent circumstances.) His basic point was that we owe to to today’s younger workers, whose future are so clouded by this crisis, to resolve it today, so that they can get on with their lives. Today’s young workers need to know that SS will be there, that we’ve honored our commitment to them, …etc., etc., etc.

And then I saw a Repub-robotron, Mr. Toomey, come on The Newshour to deliver the day’s Talking Points. And guess what? No matter what was asked, no matter what the other person said, all wind-up Toomey said was that all he knew was that today’s younger workers need to know that we will take the steps needed to protect their futures, and that the only way to do this was to let these young workers have their own private accounts that because they are private will be worth at minimum several hundred thousand dollars – dollars they will be free to use as they please once they get old. Oh, and by the way, these ideas are the purview of the ultra-wise Republicans, because the liberals are tied to the old failed ways of doing things.

And that’s when it hit me: the whole point of this exercise is to establish the right as the party of youth. This whole issue is meant to wed younger workers to the right the way retirees are wed to the Dems. The game is all about shifting the demographic so that as new voters enter the body politic, they will flock to the right, because that’s where the hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars-for-them-to-use-as-they-please are. Democrats will be the party trying to steal these young people’s future to squander it on governmental spending for special interest groups like old people.

If their anti-labor tax program is class warfare, this is age warfare. And by getting young voters on their side, they need only wait for the doddery old generation of liberals to die before there will be nothing but Republicans left, right and center.

After that, I can’t imagine what they will do, since there only real value seems to be the acquisition and retention of power. They don’t seem too terribly interested in improving anyone’s lives – hell, even rich people can only use so many homes and airplanes after a while.

So that’s the big insight. And it just confirms my own instinct that the way forward here is NOT to become the party of the old and just defend the New Deal wonder that is SS. No, the way forward here is for us to propose our own young worker retirement program, so that young workers can see that some of us actually want to improve their retirements, while others of us would be just fine if they’re eatin’ ALPO in their dotage.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Teach ‘Em Creationism – What do We Care?

In Dover Pa., local school board officials are planning to teach students a about “intelligent design,” which is somewhere between Genesis and the Prime Mover (i.e., the idea is that the universe is so totally awesome that it could only possible be the product of some intelligent designer.”

And like moths to a flame, liberals are rising in outrage. See, this would be a good chance to avoid “taking the bait.” This nonsense about where we came from seems rather obscure to me from virtually any standpoint. But the purpose of positing that we were created by God’s own hand, and that Mr. Darwin is a silly old poopy-head, is not to really argue the point about our origins. It’s their way of saying, “You pointy-headed intellectuals who think you know it all, you all are, are…poopy-heads.”

One of my favorite bumper stickers from Bible-land is “Evolution is just a theory.” As is the idea that lower taxes spur economic growth. Or that free markets are efficient distributors of resources. Or, for example, gravity. How about a counter-bumper-sticker saying “So’s Gravity (Just A Theory, I Mean).” (OK, OK, I’m not likely destined for a career in the automotive d├ęcor field. Shut up.)

On the range of issues that matter even a little, Were We Monkeys is way, way down the list. Let’s let the right play with themselves on this one. Instead of marveling at their stupidity, let’s applaud their deep interest in biology, philosophy and high school science in general. Sure they’re completely nutty – let’s let their nuttry collapse of its own weight.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Sheesh. Yikes!

Watching/hearing clips from the Alberto Gonzalez hearings, plus the circus of the formal selection of the President in the Congress, I’m struck by the pathetic awfulness of our situation.

Sheesh.


And then, when I thought about it, I had the faint, creeping and totally unmistakable conviction that we have gone too far. That our society has been corrupted so deeply and thoroughly that there will be no return to normal.

Yikes!

I can’t find the transcripts, but I heard an exchange with between Senator Spector of Pa. and Alberto. Senator Spector lobbed a softball: Are you against the kind of torture we saw depicted in the widely publicized Abu Greib pictures?

Now, the only correct answer to this questions is yes, of course. But that wasn’t Alberto’s answer. First, he responded that as a human being, he reacted with shock and horror to what was depicted in those infamous photos. And then he unwittingly revealed everything you need to know about this guy.

He said “but.” “But.” As in "in contradistinction to what I've just said."

But, he said, as someone who might be involved with the ongoing criminal investigation of the individual acts depicted, he thought it best if he did not condemn the acts. He thought it best for the legal processes against the people involved to run their due course.

So pretty cheesy-weasely, right? You bet.

Senator Spector then came to the rescue (presumably his job). He thanked Alberto, then went on to what started out as a chastisement: Sen. Spector said he had some experience as a prosecutor, and that in his judgment a prosecutor could condemn something without expressing a view as to whether or not something was criminal or not.

So, I thought, Senator Spector seems to be calling Alberto on his complete lack of candor and courage.

Not so fast. Sen. Spector then went to to say that in light of that, he was going to thank Alberto for his strong condemnation of the acts depicted.

Which Alberto had carefully not given. But which Sen. Spector pretended happened, right there, in front of all the TV cameras, senators, the world and God, pretended that Alberto hadn’t weaseled, had forthrightly and unequivocally condemned those acts.

It was when I heard this that I thought that we may have allowed things to get so far gone that there will be no return. (Yikes!) Sen. Spector figured he would just brazenly lie in front of everyone, and that no one would call him on it. Not only was he so divorced from his own conscience that he would be happy to lie, he knew his people so dominated the media that the men and women in the room would go along with it.

The checks and balances of our system are only as good as the men and women who operate them. If the people running our government, our businesses, our schools – hell, just the ordinary men and women of our society – are so corrupt that we no longer mind when the government lies to us, or are pretty much OK when companies scheme and deceive their way into the market, well, I’m not sure I see the way forward. Our government will only ever be as good as we are. If we are corrupt, so too will our government be. And more and more, it seems to me that we are terribly corrupt.

Are Canadians as bad as we are? Can we find salvation in the North? Is there any refuge for those of us who want to live in a society where we value community? Value intelligence, reason and analysis? Who abhor the hatred and violence that the US is coming to represent?



Monday, January 03, 2005

OK, So What's Up Since November 22?

OK, this whole regular/frequent updating thing has gotten past me, rather spectacularly so. But rather than continue to acquiesce in failure, I’m turning over new leaf with the new year.

Probably last a week or two, tops.

Let’s chalk it up to an extended holiday period, and move on, people.

First, the holidays. Bittersweet, overall, as is so often the case following the loss of a loved one. Well, that plus lots of other items that continue to conspire to provide me with a rich broth of depression, resentment, despair and plenty of doom and gloom.

But let’s accentuate the positive, shall we? And blather on about politics in a half-informed, sort-of-coherent manner.

On the positive side, I have resolved that 2005 will see me getting involved in owning my own business. Hopefully one that produces scads of revenues. Also, considering letting my hair grow a bit. We’ll see.

Now, turning to the main event: the tragedy of our nation’s politics. Over the last month or two, I have become despondent over the failure of so many Americans to openly embrace the progressive philosophy. November provided us with the clearest possible choice, and we clearly made a decisive choice against progressivism and in favor of stupidity, vulgarity, greed, and cynicism. Sheesh. Hard to pull the silver lining out of that one.

In fact, my pessimism over losing the election so clearly has spread and grown to a rather dark view of our society as a whole. The day after Christmas, a sub-oceanic earthquake in the Indian Ocean triggered a tsunami that killed 150,000 people. In virtually the entire world outside the US, this was seen as a human catastrophe and relief emergency of the first order. In the US, it played like an infomercial for Save the Children – lots of shots of wailing women in colorful exotic garb, and scenes of villages that could have been the “before” pictures in urban development schemes. The only news coverage was of the “news-for-budgies” variety – “White Child Feared Lost, Found,” “Europeans Find Vacations Cut Short by Asian Disaster,” and so on.

I didn’t see a single Hollywood mogul hop on the phone to organize a relief concert, or the NFL commissioner wonder how his league could help, or the Senate out front of the Capital singing Amazing Grace. Just didn’t see that.

And I couldn’t help but note the stark contrast between our rather pitiful reaction, and the reaction of the world on 9/11, when people all over the planet pured into the streets, the churches, mosques and temples, to show their solidarity.

We, on the other hand, enjoyed a spirited round of college football playoffs.

When I consider this against the backdrop of 50-something percent of my fellow Americans actually voting for GW Bush, I see broader problem far deeper than any single election, or the failure of our political system. I see a society that has collapsed, that may or may not revive.

I am an innately optimistic person, and continue to believe against all the evidence that the righteous shall prevail. But on November 2 I thought we were beginning the long journey back to a society that valued human communities. I’m now concerned that our long march toward the forces of greed and cruelty is not yet over, and that in fact things will get considerably worse before they get any better.

“The Bush administration yesterday pledged $15 million to Asian nations hit by a tsunami that has killed more than 22,500 people,” sayeth a right-wing paper on December 28. On January 1, the AP reported that the President’s Inauguration committee “planned to raise $40 million to $50 million for the inaugural events, scheduled for Jan. 18-21.”

Of course, the outcry over the initial $15 million pledge has resulted in a large increase in that amount being promised, though as a New Yorker I’d advise the nice people of Asia not to spend anything until Uncle Sam’s check clears. And the latest news is even more bizarre: President Bush has enlisted his dad and Bill Clinton to lead a fund-raising drive amongst American citizens. I’m having a hard time seeing what Bill Clinton is doing consorting with these bastards, though I suspect he in anxious to play a role in helping our fellow humans who have been hit so terribly hard. It’s just that it smacks of enabling these punks who feel the government has no role to play in disaster relief – except in doling out dollars to prospective voters in Florida.

I also read today that Senator Kerry is so far not releasing his core team members from their loyalty to him, holding the group together in contemplation of an ’08 run. I have decidedly mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I was as convinced as could be that John Kerry was going to make a fine commander in chief, and possibly help Southern people understand that We Do Not In Fact Hate Them (which is the key in my view to getting them back on our side, where they belong – hell, where everybody who’s not a billionaire belongs).

On the other hand, he is not someone that many working class or red-staters warmed up to, nor did he strike me as combative enough. I’d like a newer, tougher, far-less mealy-mouthed John Kerry to show his fighting spirit and rally for a crushing victory in 08. But I suspect that’s not what I’m going to get. John, call me!

As we head into what looks to be another year of Anti-Robin Hooding (taking from the poor to give to the rich), as well as a year of utter coarseness and cynicism, it’s hard not to be depressed. Where are the bright lights of hope? Where are the beacons of sanity? When I look back over our nation’s history, I see a disturbing and ultimately tragic pattern playing itself out yet again: we indulge our childishness by engaging in these flights of fancy that what goes on politically doesn’t really matter and it’s fine to use politics to make all manner of silly statements, all the while letting fester wounds that ultimately erupt in carnage. I sure as hell hope I’m misreading these particular tea leaves, but more and more, that’s what it looks like. We seem to be drifting helplessly toward a conflagration with the extremist Muslims, which is unnecessary, but which I fear will come at some point, perhaps much sooner than anyone could possibly guess.

And on that happy, note, Happy New Year Everybody! Happy 2005!