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Friday, May 30, 2003  
Point and counterpoint A couple of weeks ago, Tacitus posted a long explanation of Why I'm Not A Democrat. The reasons were essentially what you might expect from a thoughtful libertarian-rightist:

1) I don't trust the Democrats on national defense.
2) I don't trust the Democrats on the Federal budget and big government (and state intervention)
4) The Democrats are not committed to the values of the American Founders as enumerated in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
5) The role of religion in public life. (one can't really separate religion from culture)
6) Regional prejudices. Probably the least rational of my reasons not to be a Democrat: I strongly identify with the American South in my cultural sympathies.

Why am I posting this? As a gratuitous assault upon the Democratic Party? Well, maybe a little. But mostly to explain why, despite my many, many problems with the present-day Republican Party, I can't swap sides.

[heavily edited, Tacitus is a good, clear writer, and I have eviscerated his context - go read the whole thing]

Well, Jesse from the redoubtable Pandagon has responded with great vigor:

Could I ever imagine myself becoming a conservative? Probably not, and here's why:

1.) The Elitism Of The Right. The American right thrives on an exclusionary, splintering principle.
2.) The Theocrats. Government has [no] business whatsoever in religion beyond ensuring the free private exercise thereof.
3.) Economics. Tax cuts are not an economic policy. Tax cuts are all the Republican Party has.
4.) Foreign Policy. The use of force should be rare, justified, and broadly supported.
5.) Race. Republicans have no constructive solutions to racial problems in America besides getting rid of the meager stopgap programs already in place and arbitrarily declaring America a true meritocracy.
6.) Personal Freedom and Big Government. Elements of the right would deny people religious, social, cultural, and sexual freedoms that the government has no right whatsoever to interfere in, while simultaneously denying the government even the basic right to govern economic activity as laid out and demanded in the Constitution.

There are more, minor issues, but these are my main qualms with the Republican Party, and until they're fixed, I'm voting Democrat/liberal.

[also heavily edited, also left out most of the good stuff, go read it]

So why am I posting all of this? Because when I read Tacitus' post earlier this month, I was powerfully motivated to respond, especially to his argument about respect for the Constitution (which essentially states that if you don't believe that man's natural rights derive from God, you are not being true to the Founders). That kind of argument, to me, is like listening to the language of sparrows; I don't understand the root, animating wellspring of that kind of argument because, essentially, I don't believe we derive our "natural rights" from God or anywhere else, but rather, we create and propagate the doctrine of individual rights, of the worthiness of individuals to have and exercise rights, by respecting each other, and recognizing that we can't be cruel, or greedy, or generous without, in some way, fostering and abetting cruelty, greed, or generosity in others. What bothers me about natural law is it makes no allowances for personal responsibility for deserving the rights you have - how can a person deserve, in any meaningful way, what God gives to everybody?

But I never did respond, and now Jesse has done it on behalf of myself and every other lefty who read Tacitus' post. The interesting thing about it from my perspective is that these two individuals look at the same events, the same history, the same context (and forget the librul media, I'm sure these guys would disagree about the Spanish-American War, and nobody's spinning that one way or the other on Fox News or in the Nation), and they are deriving almost completely opposite lessons about identical questions. Who is the party of big government? Oh, that's obvious, its . . . Who do you trust with our foreign policy? Don't be ridiculous, of course we must trust the . . . Who will be more responsible with the public fisc? History teaches us that the only choice is . . .

But here I risk falling into a welter of relativism. For the record? Jesse's right. Tacitus is wrong.


Thursday, May 29, 2003  
Speechless. Why say anything? This brief article from kind of speaks for itself:

WMD emphasis was 'bureaucratic'

The decision to highlight weapons of mass destruction as the main justification for going to war in Iraq was taken for "bureaucratic reasons", according to the US deputy defence secretary.
But in an interview with the American magazine Vanity Fair, Paul Wolfowitz said there were many other important factors as well.

The famously hawkish Mr Wolfowitz has been a long-time proponent of military action against Iraq.

Picking weapons of mass destruction was "the one reason everyone could agree on", he says in the interview.

The other factor he describes as "huge" was that an attack would allow the US to pull its troops from Saudi Arabia, thereby resolving a major grievance held by al-Qaeda.

"Just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to open the door to a more peaceful Middle East," Mr Wolfowitz is quoted as saying.

Last month, the US announced it was pulling most of its troops out of the country.

The BBC's Ian Pannell in Washington says that although Mr Wolfowitz's remarks will be seized upon by critics who claim there was little justification for the war in Iraq, it is unlikely to have any political consequences in the US.

All opinion polls show most Americans are unconcerned about the failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Speaking earlier this week, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed Iraq may have destroyed them before the US-led invasion.

Ak . . . splutter . . . guh . . . but . . . arg . . . splutter . . . [face gradually turning purple]

UPDATE: Buh . . . gack . . .wha?

FURTHER UPDATE: Hahahahaha[*snifff*]hohohono, no, no [*choke*] no, no, no...[laughter turns to sobbing].


Wednesday, May 28, 2003  
The invaluable SpinSanity has a long post up reviewing the status of various myths and tropes regarding Iraq that have gusted through the media over the weeks since the fall of Baghdad. On any story, foreign or domestic, the media seeks to reduce the complex facts to a handful of polarizing controversies that can be endlessly hyped.

This effect is obvious in the Iraq coverage, and Spinsanity does a great job of drilling through the noise on several of these questions: Have weapons of mass destruction been found in Iraq? (No.) Has evidence of links between Saddam Hussein's regime and Al Qaeda been found in Iraq? (Yes, but no evidence of support or cooperation.) Were thousands of items looted from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad? (Probably not, but what was stolen was very valuable.) Where did the American flag come from that was placed on the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad? (Chuck Schumer.) What actually happened to Pfc. Jessica Lynch? (Still unclear. Truth is probably less dramatic than the initial tales, but no evidence exists for the allegations that the raid was staged.)

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Monday, May 26, 2003  
Good question from Josh Marshall:

[How] do you explain the following situation: the House Majority Leader was directly and intimately involved in activities that are now the subject of investigations by two cabinet departments and grand jury proceedings in Texas. Yet Washington is still barely paying the matter any attention. How do you explain that?

I dunno. Magic? Mass hypnosis? The increasingly apparent intervening hand of a Republican God (the only god on the block these days, since the Democratic deity decided to spend a couple of years on hiatus, backpacking through Asia to "find Himself?")?


Sunday, May 25, 2003  
I'm finding less and less time to post these days. However, I'll keep up the amen blogging, just so the site doesn't start to grow weeds around the foundations. Today's installment is from Jesse at Pandagon, who notices the foolishness of anyone (in this case, James Carville) implying that either party needs an infusion of "populism" in their campaign strategy. As Jesse points out, what is needed is perhaps a retreat from the fundamentally indistinguishable brands of populism that control the current political climate so completely:

Both major political parties breed their own brand of populism. The major fringe parties for the most part also run on a platform of populism - in a two-party, polarized system where you're battling over the same electorate, no party can afford not to embrace populism as a political tool. Bush ran as a politician with center-right populist principles and governs as a rightist populist. Gore ran as a center-left populist, and would have governed as a center-left populist. When the Republican party was viewed as anti-populist because of its stance towards favoring businessmen over workers, they switched to the talking points of "small businessmen" and "job creation". Politics ceased to be a battle of the populists versus the elite a long time ago - now, it's a battle of warring populisms cascading over the apparatus of government.

Populism is the window dressing of American policy, becoming as meaningless in real terms as patriotism is with regard to describing any actual distinction between mainstream political ideologies. They're rhetorical clubs wielded with varying degrees of skill by the various spinsters and politicians of the present day, but all they are is clubs, blunt, graceless weapons unsuited to the business of running the intricate machine that is the American government.

Amen! Populism has a long, complex, troubled history in this country. Populism, as it was once defined, was a particular kind of appeal to the working class, scapegoating the wealthy and powerful, calling for income and land redistribution, proposing abolition of the Electoral College, demonstrating a determined ignorance of and withdrawal from international affairs, and generally exalting the poor, particularly the agrarian poor, above all others in society. There was a lot wrong with it, but it was a potent national movement that bore different fruit in different places; in the rhetoric of the early labor movement, in the us-against them ideology of the segregated South, in Roosevelt's New Deal pledges to rededicate the federal government to the defense of the little man.

Certainly populism has always been exploited by ambitious or unscrupulous people to bolster their political ambitions. However, Jesse is right; such attempts at exploitation have become so routine that there is no point in calling it "populism" anymore. Once the term stood for a distinct set of beliefs that were often adopted by those who sought political office by posturing as apostles of the proletariat. Now, the bad guys are fungible, the philosophy, however flawed and contradictory, has been jettisoned, and all we are left with is the demagogues.


Thursday, May 22, 2003  
On the off-chance... Come to the Royal Lee tonight to see Bingo Strategy, Koshari, and Paper Doll. Music starts at 9, cover is 5 bucks.


Off the air for a while, not a lot of time right now, but I wanted to pass along a link to alicublog, a repository of genuinely interesting writing from New Yorker Roy Edroso. Sure, it hits on politics, both local and national, but the fact is that the guy is a fine writer on any subject. Take this recent meditation about the changing Upper East Side of Manhattan:

UES, US, ME. I took my usual Saturday afternoon walk through the Upper East Side today and had all sorts of thoughts about the neighborhood. One of my first jobs in the City was as a waiter in a now-defunct UES bistro called Daly's Daffodil. That place is a story or twelve in itself (ask me sometime about our three-hundred pound night manager, who would get drunk on Bushmill's every night; we used to pop Irish songs on the jukebox at about 10 pm just to get him roaring along with "Danny Boy," and to get the customers to complain about him). I loathed the district then. I hated its obnoxious wealth. (I was poor.) Moreover, I hated the style of that wealth -- still blow-dried and flair-legged, even in the late 70s, a redoubt of Farrah Fawcett-Majors gloss and cocaine-burnished insouciance in the middle of a City that was still sweatily thrashing its way out of financial default.

In later years, still poor, I took a perverse liking to the Upper East Side, mainly because it was out of style. The mass exodus of otherwise sober youngsters to the hipper precincts downtown (and the more spacious digs to the west) left the place in the custody of dowagers with thick makeup, dazed middle-agers in minks and $500 sport jackets who had not fucked off to the suburbs (or were fucking mistresses or rent boys during the gaps in their appointment books), and young preppies who aped their style and got vomiting drunk each weekend in frat bars along First Avenue. I began also to visually appreciate the queer mix of scrubbed brick townhouses and the blank-faced, modernist architectural abortions that tycoons had placed among them in the 60s and 70s, when they thought the zeitgeist would roll like river branches through their canyons for eternity. Everything was just a little stale and out of mode, though washed each morning with money and daubed with Floris cologne. That, in my jaundiced eye, gave it character. And if that wasn't character enough, you could always go to the Germantown enclave and get some boiled meat, liver dumpling soup, and glass boots full of Weiss beer

Now the Upper East Side is still rich, and its residents still strive to present themselves accordingly. Even their goth granddaughters spend a ton on their dour threads. But what has changed is this: so does everyone else. Even the hippest of hipsters in the hippest of hip nabes drops a wad on his or her dishabbile. Style points vary from geography to geography, but the instinct is the same: if I buy this, I will fit. Which was also true back when, in some places, it cost twenty bucks to fit. But when there's a serious investment at stake, fashion becomes desperation. And that sort of desperation is more far-ranging than once it was.

So of course I don't hate the Upper East Side anymore. How could I? It's just like everywhere else, even though it may be easier for its people to be that way than it is for most.

And, as it happens, the City is still sweatily thrashing its way out of financial default. And, as it happens, so am I.

And Germantown is gone.

Now, I'm not a New Yorker, and I don't know the Upper East Side, but goddamn. "I began also to visually appreciate the queer mix of scrubbed brick townhouses and the blank-faced, modernist architectural abortions that tycoons had placed among them in the 60s and 70s, when they thought the zeitgeist would roll like river branches through their canyons for eternity." That's some pretty good street level personal journalism, if you ask me.

Via Tapped and, you guessed it, CalPundit.


Monday, May 19, 2003  
Calpundit has been doing a bang-up job tracking down the latest tortured explanations for the lack of WMD in Iraq. Last week, he brought us The Mustachioed Dupe: Jim Lacey's theory that Saddam was set up by his greedy underlings, who assured Saddam that Iraq had lots of WMD's, but then just stole the VX money out of the cookie jar and bought, oh, say, a hundred and fifty thousand Mercedes Benzes. Today he presents Kenneth Adelman's theory - We Got Snookered:

THE MISSING WMD....THEORY XVII....Über-hawk Kenneth Adelman offers up yet another possible explanation for the missing WMD:

"It's just very strange," said Kenneth Adelman, a member of a Pentagon advisory board who had predicted weapons would be found a month ago. "There will certainly not be the quantity and proximity that we thought of before." Adelman says Hussein may even have launched "a massive disinformation campaign to make the world think he was violating international norms, and he may not have been."

The weird thing is that I might even buy this theory if I had a couple of drinks in me. The idea that Saddam no longer had WMD but couldn't stand the thought of fessing up to this — well, it kinda fits his personality, doesn't it? He just had to be the biggest, meanest kid on the block. And who knows? Being the out of touch guy that he is (was?), maybe he never believed that we'd actually invade.

Er, okay, except that Iraq was saying over and over in the international arena that it didn't have any WMD. We (the US) always ascribed our knowledge of these weapons' existence to covert and overt surveillance, and to our ability to sniff out Saddam's damnable lies. I guess I don't really understand Adelman's theory - what "massive disinformation campaign" is he talking about? A covert campaign to convince US intelligence assets that he had the weapons at the same time he stonewalled the rest of the world by telling them he didn't have any? So that if we didn't invade we bolstered his credibility, and if we did invade, the lack of weapons would make us liars? Man, the guy is deeper than we thought. Maybe the evil genius just teleported all the WMD's to his orbiting space lab, where he is assembling an army of supermen riding atomic jetskis.

The alarming thing about the Post article CalPundit quotes from isn't Adelman's half-assed theory. It's the headline and lead paragraph:

No Political Fallout for Bush on Weapons

President Bush appears to be in no political danger from the failure to find chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq, with Democrats reluctant to challenge Bush on any aspect of the war and polls showing Americans unconcerned about weapons discoveries.



Friday, May 16, 2003  
Calpundit wants to know if the DLC's recent memorandum warning democrats not to sign on with Howard Dean's "elitist" agenda is a "shot across the bow or [a] nuclear strike." I agree with Calpundit's point that the explicit criticism of Dean is pretty muted in the memo, but I think the authors' implication was intended to be pretty clear - Dean is associated with a segment of the party early on, and then that segment of the party is bludgeoned for the rest of the memo without mentioning Dean.

In any case, I kind of doubt that a "shot across the bow" would provoke responses from two Senators and a Congresswoman (posted on the Dean campaign blog):

Senator James Jeffords (I-VT):
“As the Independent Senator from Vermont, I have worked with Governor Howard Dean and I know his long-standing record. I am disappointed to see leaders of the Democratic Leadership Council characterize his positions as extreme and elitist, and I call on them to stop their divisive tactics. Since when did it become extreme and elitist to balance the budget, extend health care coverage, offer equal educational opportunity and protect our environment? I have heard such charges coming from Republicans most of my political life, but I find it incredible to hear such charges coming from Democrats."

Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT):
“Lumping Governor Dean with the so-called “liberal elitist” wing of our party will make Vermonters of all political stripes chuckle Governor Dean’s twelve year record in the statehouse was not liberal, conservative or elitist. He inherited a deficit, balanced the budget, pinched pennies, provided healthcare to all Vermont’s children, protected the environment and created jobs. That is a record of accomplishment, achieved with the broad support of Republicans and Democrats in Vermont.”

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA):
“When I go home every weekend, my constituents talk to me about health care, education and the economy. Dr. Howard Dean has an outstanding record of achievement in all of these areas. As governor, 96% of Vermont’s children had health coverage, and an additional 3% were eligible. He passed fiscally responsible budgets each and every year. He built a strong educational system, and as a result, Vermont’s students rank 6th in the country in overall performance. Dr. Dean’s record is one that ALL Democrats can be proud of.

In the end, I'm not particularly concerned about the "circular firing squad" problem - as far as I'm concerned, lets get the dirt out now, pick off the candidates with dirty little secrets before we commit to someone, because the Bush/Rove machine is going to be merciless, and it's better to vet the criticisms now, and see what has traction. If this means we lose an essentially principled, honorable man like John Kerry, so be it. I regret the loss, but if other Democrats could take him down, then Bush would have knocked the shit out of him. Dean has had the knives out from the get go, and if that has made him look like he's not a team player, too bad. Nobody doubts that after the convention, if he's not on the podium, Gov. Dean will sheath the knife and hit the trail for the nominee, and will bring all of his people with him.

Until that point? Let the moderates go after Dean. Frankly, it's good for him, because Dean needs to craft a convincing rebuttal to exactly this case against him if he wants a shot at the nomination, let alone the White House. To employ a hackneyed sports metaphor - you gotta have some full-contact practices if you ever want to win the Super Bowl.


Wednesday, May 14, 2003  
The March of Progress. War prompts both great upheavals and small, iterative adaptations. For an example of the latter, I present the following email I received today:

Dear Sir,

I have made this contact to you with the hope that you can help me out in this
my dilemma / problem. I was the personal aide to the Iraqi minister of education
and research. Dr Abd Al-khaliq Gafar. That died in the war. Before the war, we
had traveled to France to negotiate a contract payment deal on behalf of the
Iraqi government on procurement and payment of educational materials and
components for the ministry, which entailed him to pay off our customers by cash
for onward delivery of the goods via Turkey. Because of international / UN
monetary restrictions /sanction on Iraqi. Since our entire operating bank
accounts had been frozen.

In gust of this he had cleverly diverted this sum ($28.5m) for himself and
secured it properly with a security vault in Spain for safekeeping. As he had
kept these documents in hidden and secret with my knowledge. Now that he is Dead
and I was able to escape to Egypt for safety on political asylum with this
document with me now. Hence I am left with these problems of how to recover and
collect this fund for re-invest in a viable venture in your country with your
assistance and cooperation. Because of oblivious traveling restricts and
sanctions as an Iraqi.

I would really want us to do this deal together if only you can be trusted with
this information and project. For more details do reach me via my direct email : for further instructions and details. I most remind
you that my entire life depends on this fund so please do not relay this top
secret to a third party if you are not interested.

I await you immediate response.

Remain Blessed.

El - Mustapha .

Ah, the unstoppable adaptive mind of the human species. It's kind of inspiring, if looked at a certain way.


More on libertarianism. From Julian Sanchez comes this interesting post about the schism between social conservatives and the libertarians of the GOP:

It's also a bit bizarre to see a conservative saying things like "just as conservatives must remember the limits of government, libertarians must understand the importance of virtue." Well, for one, some of the alleged conservative virtues are highly overrated and stultifying. But there are plenty—prudence, commitment to one's (chosen) community, fidelity to loved ones—that I've never known libertarians to deny. We just don't see a role for the state in promoting them. The notion that libertarians don't "understand the importance of virtue" if we don't want a federal program to promote it is as misguided as the ready inference some liberals make that if we're not prepared to enforce redistribution and federal antidiscrimination laws, we're in favor of poverty and racism.

This quote seems to encapsulate what is so appealing about libertarianism - it seems a rational, evenhanded response to the difficult problems that arise whenever government endeavors to fix or incentivize anything, whether sexual morality or affirmative action.

I have argued before in this space that libertarian arguments are often used as a philosophical fig leaf to provide an intellectual rationale for an essentially self-obsessed worldview. However, this position I have taken is essentially unfair and unsupportable, as it casts aspersions on the motivations of people I don't know, and essentially accuses libertarians of either consciously lying or being in denial about their true motivations. This is almost certainly a gross oversimplification.

More importantly, such generalizations could easily be ginned up and applied to those of my ideological stripe, i.e.: "Liberals are people who are so afraid of confrontation that they have developed a subjectivist philosophy that congratulates them for validating all perspectives (except the perspectives of those who have the courage to confront the Left about its cowardice; the Left calls those people fascists and racists)."

I dont think the above caricature of liberals is true, but I'm sure a right winger who saw it would give it a hearty "Amen!" The point? I guess I should be reluctant to presuppose dishonesty on the part of those who don't agree with me. Oh, well.

Sanchez post via Ted Barlow, who also has posted a great letter to the Post ombudsman about this execrable Howard Kurtz column.


Tom Bevan at RealClearPolitics is upset about what he feels is biased coverage of the Al Qaeda strikes in Saudi Arabia:

DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE: I should have expected - but didn't - the headlines around the world this morning trumpeting the "resurgence" of al-Qaeda."Al Qaeda May Be Back, and Stronger" shouts the LA Times. "Al-Qaeda Thrives Where Roots Began" says the Philadelphia Inquirer. The BBC has a round up of more media breathlessness.

I'm sorry but I just don't see it. Al-Qaeda hasn't done much of anything in the last 18 months - except get rolled up by anti-terror police forces around the world. I don't want to make light of the fact that 25 people just perished in a terror attack, but it would seem to me that if America and the West are al-Qaeda's main targets and the best they can manage is blowing up a couple of trucks full of C-4 in downtown Riyadh, then I'd say that's a sign of their weakness, not their strength. A more accurate headline would read, "Riyadh Bombing Desperate Act of Crumbling Terrorist Organization." Or something like that.

Er...maybe a minor point, but isn't the problem with the LA Times headline (and, to a lesser extent, the Inquirer's) that it characterizes the internal strength of Al-Qaeda without any real data about the truth of that characterization? And wouldn't "Riyadh Bombing Desperate Act of Crumbling Terrorist Organization" be guilty of the same sin? Worse, in fact, because not only does that proposed headline characterize the group as "crumbling," (as unsupported an adjective as "Stronger" in the LA Times version), but it goes further and actually ascribes a motive to the killings - desperation.

I think this says something about the histrionics over so-called liberal media bias. It isn't that those on the right want objectivity, or an absence of spin. They are merely bothered that the characterizations that are found don't sympathize with their positions. Bevan doesn't want an unbiased headline. He just wants a bias he can agree with.

The fact is that no one, on the left or the right, can accurately say what this attack indicates about the strength or resolve of Al-Qaeda. Clearly the group has been damaged by the international police and military campaigns of the past 18 months. But this latest attack does somewhat contradict and complicate easy conclusions about the real status of the group. The LA Times went too far in their characterization, I agree, but there is no reason to leap to either conclusion in a headline about these attacks, and doing so in either direction just tends to confirm presumptions rather than inform the public. An unbiased headline would be something like "Saudis Tie Al Qaeda to Attacks." But, of course, the librul meedya would never say something like that.


Tuesday, May 13, 2003  
Daily Kos is on a roll today, and as I'm short on time, I am going to indulge in a shameless display of "amen blogging":

Congressional GOP resentful of Bush

Losing control of the Senate in 2002 may have been the best thing to happen to Democrats in a long time. Besides forcing the party to do some soul-searching (the results which should become apparent in this coming election season), it also removes the "obstructionist" boogeyman from Rove's bag of tricks.


Illinois senate seat all but Democratic

The lone Illinois Republican statewide officeholder has rejected pressure from Rove and company, and announced she will not run for Fitzgerald's soon-to-be vacant Senate seat.

Her withdrawl from consideration all but seals the deal for Democrats, who are virtually assured a pickup.


Incompetent Senate GOP debates wrong tax bill

Ha ha! I didn't think things could get more bizarre, but this incident ranks up there:

The Senate was supposed to be debating Bush's tax proposal this week, as Bush himself toured the nation trying to "pressure" wavering senators to support his sop for the rich.

Except that Senate Republicans, led by the obviously inept Frist, debated the wrong bill.

Senators began what was planned to have been a week of intense deliberations over President Bush's biggest domestic initiative, only to discover they were debating the wrong bill.

Democrats refused to give GOP leaders an easy way out of their mistake Monday, and the Senate's tax-writing committee will have to meet again and send new tax-cut legislation to the floor.

Under the Senate's original schedule, senators would have spent the early part of the week debating the legislation as President Bush toured New Mexico, Nebraska and Indiana to bring pressure on senators at home and drum up support for a bigger tax cut than the Senate bill would allow. Because of the gaffe, the president will be back at the White House when the Senate wades into the debate.

The mix-up mattered because the bill that landed in the Senate did not carry special protections that block filibusters — infinite debates — which require 60 votes to end [...]

Other Democrats said the confusion, though funny, unmasked the Republicans for taking advantage of Senate procedures to push through a large tax cut on a party-line vote the same week they plan to increase the nation's debt limit by $1 trillion.

Amen! Hallelujah!


Monday, May 12, 2003  
I am surprised more attention hasn't been given to this Washington Post article, which strikes me as a neoconservative's wet dream; explicit acknowledgement by Syrian government officials that the Iraq invasion is forcing them to adopt democratic reform:

Syrian Reforms Gain Momentum In Wake of War
U.S. Pressure Forces Change In Foreign, Domestic Policy

[ . . . . ] With tens of thousands of U.S. troops positioned just to the east and U.S. officials warning Syria it could be the next object of American ire, Syrians acknowledge they are feeling vulnerable. These regional developments -- nothing less than an "earthquake," according to Khalaf M. Jarad, editor of the state-run Tishrin newspaper -- have prompted Syria to alter its foreign policy to accommodate U.S. demands, while rethinking its domestic affairs. "When your neighbor shaves, you start to wet your cheeks," said Nabil Jabi, a political strategist in Damascus, citing an Arabic proverb. "It means you must study the new situation in your neighborhood."

[ . . . . ] During the past two weeks, the Syrian government has licensed its first three private banks, considered an essential step in modernizing the state-dominated economy, while approving two new private universities and four private radio stations. Officials are now reviewing the possibility of removing military training from the curriculum of schools and universities and eliminating a requirement that all students join youth groups affiliated with Syria's ruling Baath Party, according to sources close to the leadership.

While discussions about reforming the Baath Party have been underway for at least three years, they have taken on a much greater urgency since the collapse of Iraq's Baath Party government, said Syrians close to the leadership.

"If now people feel a more pressing need to do that, so much the better," said Buthaina Shaaban, spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry. "I think it's normal to be affected by external events and to use it for your own benefit, to reform your reality."

Among the issues now being debated more vigorously by Baathists is whether the position of prime minister should be limited to party members. Shaaban said the upheaval in Iraq had strengthened Syrian President Bashar Assad's case for opening the post to non-party members.

[ . . . . ] Syrians are increasingly saying that the disaster Hussein brought on his country underscores the need for a representative government in Damascus that will not invite a similar calamity. "Whatever policy they make, whatever stance they take, people's lives and livelihoods will be affected. Seeing what happened in Iraq, it's not a joke anymore," said a university professor.

The questions this raises are obviously myriad, but foremost among them:

(1) How reliable is societal change that is prompted by the barrel of a gun? I would argue that it depends on whether the notion of representative government in Syria is a genuine possibility. Assad may make some token gestures towards rapprochement and openness, but so long as he retains ultimate and absolute control, I think these gains would remain unreliable. Institution of actual representative (i.e. democratic) government, on the other hand, is the genie freed from the bottle, and the consequences would be much less predictable.

(2) More broadly, do the ends justify the means? If the most optimistic possible consequences of these facts are true and there is a fundamental change welling up in Syrian politics that results in the flowering of democracy, is it tainted by the invasion that preceded it? Given my previous position on the war, I am deeply conflicted by this question. Do I think that it can be appropriate for external entities to apply military force to topple cruel and repressive regimes? Yes. Do I think that a fuck-y'all Anglosphere expeditionary force is a good (or even legitimate) vehicle for such an application of force? Absolutely not, because the former is only legitimate when the consensus for change is extermely broad and deeply credible. Unless such a wide consensus exists, or unless a unilateral force is responding to a credible threat to itself, the invasion is just an invasion, just like any other invasion in the long, sad, bloody history of man.

NATO was saved in Bosnia and Kosovo from the above contradiction by the geographic proximity of the Balkans to the Eurpoean center. Even a conventional brushfire war was a significant and credible risk when it was occurring within an hour's flight from the capitals of Europe. As Iraq is far removed from the American heartland, the only available corollary to that proposition (that the Iraq situation presented a present danger to the security of United States) was by necessity based on allegations of widespread WMD's, which we have since seen to be be, at the very least, not quite as advertised.

But I still don't have a complete answer to #2, because it's hard to stake out a position where you don't celebrate cracks in the facade of a dictatorship. So I remain divided, wanting to exult, but unable to shake the implications of the doctrine that got us here.


Thursday, May 08, 2003  
Too long to post here, but seriously, go read this.

Via Oliver Willis


If anyone is actually reading this, and lives in the DC area, come on down to the Velvet Lounge tonight, and see Bingo Strategy, a band of which I am a member. Show starts at 9:30, with excellent opening band Jurkat.


Ted Barlow is back, and he's mad, kinda. Especially recommended is this extended metaphor, featuring fictional bullheaded lefty blogger "Steve". Steve is a knee-jerk Catholic-basher, and whenever he sees an example of poverty or suffering, he chimes in, with, for example:

“I guess that the Catholic Church was too busy condemning gays to worry about these people."

Reasonable conservative replies to the effect that the Catholic Church is, in fact, a worldwide charitable force against poverty and suffering. Steve ignores this, and continues with his unjustified venom, equating world suffering with Catholic unconcern, in brazen disregard of the real facts. This happens over and over.

At this point, you’ve lost your temper. And who can blame you? You point out that you and your family have been giving money for years to the Catholic charities that built a school and a water treatment plant in this town. You’ve been doing this for years, while Steve was spending his activist energy picketing to legalize pot. You wonder where this holier-than-thou attitude came from, and why it's aimed at people who are actually fighting the problems you claim to be concerned about. And you wonder why he feels that it's OK to lie about about organizations he doesn't like.

I would expect that you would stop reading Steve altogether, and start treating liberals with less respect.

You’ve probably guessed what I’m getting at by now. Steve would be showing the same bull-headed resistance to actual facts that I see again and again when conservatives set their sights on human rights organizations. I just about lost my lunch a week ago when I saw this post at the Corner:

WHAT ABOUT THE ANIMALS?! [Kathryn Jean Lopez]
Perhaps human-rights groups will take an interest in Saudi Arabia now….
Posted at 02:13 PM

I could email Ms. Lopez and say, "Here are 99 examples of Amnesty International's interest in Saudi Arabia. Here are 28 examples from 2002-2003 alone demonstrating Human Rights Watch's interest in Saudi Arabia. I believe that these organizations have shown far more dedication to human rights in Saudi Arabia than the Bush Administration, which specifically rejected the recommendation to place Saudi Arabia on an American blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom." (In fact, I just did.) But honestly, I'll be very surprised if it has any effect.

As they say, read the whole thing.


Wednesday, May 07, 2003  
If you buy books online, check out Fetchbook. It searches new and used sites and comes up with a list of prices, availability, and links. I just checked it, and I could have saved about 14 bucks on my last set of Amazon purchases.

Via Road to Surfdom


Tuesday, May 06, 2003  
Much has been said about what Ahmed Chalabi represents; by some accounts, he's a symbol of U.S. unilateral neo-colonialism, by others he's a brave, misunderstood martyr of the liberal media. But none of these accounts actually discuss what the hell the man actually stands for, and what he might do with the power that he may be handed, deservedly or not. Which is why I read this Robert Pollock op-ed with interest. Pollock clearly admires Chalabi, and that may be coloring the profile a bit, but the piece contains more policy specifics than I've seen elsewhere:

The first topic was Iraq's economy, and Mr. Chalabi held forth like a modern-day Ludwig Erhard, the father of the Deutsche Mark--and of Germany's postwar economic miracle. Mr. Chalabi understands the urgency of replacing the many jobs that have disappeared from Iraq's state-run economy. "It has to be privatized immediately," said the former banker, referring to state-owned industries. As for trade, "we should immediately streamline customs regulations and investment regulations." And if that means Iraqi companies "will be slaughtered" by foreign competition, that "is not a bad thing." "I am advising Iraqi managers to learn from the [postwar] Japanese," about quality control, he adds.

Mr. Chalabi rejects the Nasserism (protectionism, "self-sufficiency") that has handicapped Arab economies for decades. Privatization means "we will sell to foreigners." And he hopes that Iraq will be able to draw on the experience of its four million exiles. Rebuilding the country, he concedes, is a "sophisticated process which requires foreign financial expertise."

Where Mr. Chalabi echoed Erhard was in saying that "what you must address first is the question of the currency." At the current exchange rate of about 2,000 per dollar, there's an estimated $750 million worth of Saddam-faced dinars in circulation. Mr. Chalabi suggests the "transfer of bank balances from dinars into dollars at a fixed rate." Government banks, he says, have hard currency reserves to cover that. At a later date, those dollars could be redeemed for hard dinars--Saddam-less, of course.

An important step in enabling Iraqi reconstruction will be the end of U.N. sanctions and the oil-for-food program. But even with the country back in control of oil revenues, Mr. Chalabi hints some debt forgiveness will be necessary. He estimates commercial debt to foreign banks (never mind Gulf and Iran-Iraq war reparations) at over $100 billion. But at current oil prices and with Iraq's OPEC quota of about 2.1 million barrels a day, the country can pump only about $18 billion worth of crude a year. And "we cannot just summarily leave OPEC." Why? "Because the U.S. will I think be against it." The U.S. has many oil-producing friends, he notes.

Mr. Chalabi also rates de-Baathification high on the list of priorities. "The Baath Party should be eradicated"--outlawed, assets confiscated, uprooted from civil society. And the party's upper echelons--about 30,000 people--"should be excluded from politics." Mr. Chalabi suggests that the State Department and the CIA would prefer to eschew such a radical restructuring in favor of a smoother transition. Their rationale "is the same explanation that Mussolini gave--the fascists make the trains run." But though the level of support for American involvement is amazingly high here--the word on the street is "Garner good," referring to administrator Gen. Jay Garner, and "Don't leave too soon"--a number of Iraqis say the best way to sour opinion toward the U.S. is to allow Baathists back into positions of power. Mr. Chalabi notes that de-Baathification is critical for economic reform too, to prevent the crony privatizations that have hamstrung post-Communist economies.

Agree with it, disagree with it, whatever. It's better, or at least more useful, than just hearing the meta-political discussion over and over.


Monday, May 05, 2003  
Senate Democrats apparently have figured out that voting with Bush wins you no favors from the White House come election time. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu supported Bush's first tax cut, and Bush paid her back by staging an all-hands on deck, no-holds-barred campaign to unseat her. Understandably, she's kind of pissed off, and won't be supporting the latest round of cuts:

[Landrieu] opposes Bush's tax cut this time and she's not budging. "Basically the [jig] is up," she said. "We're not confused about what this is anymore. It's a one-way street, all about raw party politics and winning at all costs."

Recalling Bush's campaigning against her last year despite her support for his earlier tax cut, she concluded: "He's kind of burned his bridges with most of us [Senate Democrats], maybe all of us."

Amen. If centrist/conservative democrats like Landrieu will stay on our side of the line, this bodes well not only for the defeat/reform of the tax bill, but for the Owens/Estrada/[insert extremist judge here] filibuster as well. I know there is no hope for Zell Miller and his ilk, but the stiffening of Landrieu's spine is a good sign.

Via Hesiod.


Small gestures: It looks like India-Pakistani cricket matches will resume in 2004, barring any new outbreak of hostile posturing. This in the wake of an apparent thaw in the brinksmanship of the past 18 months.

India is in a contradictory position. On the one hand, India is stronger militarily, it has strong civil institutions, and a government an order of magnitude more stable and responsible than the Musharraf regime in Islamabad. On the other hand, the very weakness of Musharraf's regime makes it very difficult for Pakistan to be the first to back away from escalation of the Kashmir conflict. Pakistan's population is deeply committed to a Muslim future for Kashmir, and support for the Muslim rebels there is deep and broad. Musharraf, in fact, ramped up his anti-India rhetoric in the wake of the war in Afghanistan in part to deflect criticism (and civil unrest) arising from his support of U.S. action against a Muslim neighbor. This current exchange began with a telephone call from the Pakistani Prime Minister, but it was incumbent upon Vajpayee to make the first public gesture, which he did:

The thaw in relations came after Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Indian Prime Minister, told parliament that he was restoring civil aviation links, broken last year, and would appoint an ambassador to Pakistan.

Mr Vajpayee said that he was willing to grasp every opportunity of improving relations with Pakistan.

[ . . . . ]

Mr Vajpayee told parliament that he would like to leave a legacy of peace between India and Pakistan.

I don't know much about Indian politics, or how damaging this step is or will be for the electoral prospects of the incumbent BJP party. If my hunch is right, however, it's ironic that a democratically elected leader is more empowered to risk alienating his population than an unelected autocrat.


Friday, May 02, 2003  
Eric Alterman wonders when the soccer moms are going to shake off the wartime-president glamour and the 9/11 paranoia and recognize the current administration as the ideological extremists that they are. In support of his question, he points to this Newsday account of recent U.S. maneuvering at the UN Commission on the Status of Women:

The United States sided repeatedly with Iran and other repressive regimes at the annual session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women last month. The commission's agenda was to address women and technology, and violence against women.

The first topic wasn't controversial. The second was.

The American delegation joined with Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Libya and others in efforts to delete a phrase - included in previously agreed-upon UN statements dating back a decade - that calls on countries to condemn violence against women and "refrain from invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration" to avoid the obligation to stop the violence.

It joined objections to a passage about women in armed conflict, aligning itself with fundamentalist regimes in trying to change a reference to "forced pregnancy" - listed along with murder, rape, systematic rape and sexual slavery as by-products of war and societies emerging from conflict. The term "forced pregnancy" is seen by some anti-abortion groups as a pretext for promoting abortion.

This is pretty scary stuff, and is an action so fraught with possible political fallout that the only reason the Administration would take such an action is if they really believed that it is more important to protect religious perogatives and stifle abortion rights than to join a global call to halt violence against women. This is something that should be carefully considered by any middle-of-the-road American voter who thinks that Bush is a centrist.

This is especially galling when it is considered that the U.S. position seems to represent tacit acceptance of practices like stoning women accused of adultery and honor killings over divorces (or even mere accusations of flirting). Islamic governments have often refused to prosecute such killings, and the UN statement was intended as a rebuke to such governments. Now, the U.S. has joined the very govenments that have utilized the fig leaf of religion to cover their failure to protect their own citizens. The U.S.'s action severely lessens the reach and authority of that rebuke. This is fucked-up, fringe political stuff, driven by an explicitly religious agenda.


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