Sunday, September 28, 2003

a media worth a damn after all

the BIG Story was not buried, it has actually been picked up over the weekend by the Washington Post and the New York Times (which nicely renders moot Billmon's fears that MSNBC's lead would be left hanging in the wind).

This story illustrates why the blogsphere is so essential - there is a wealth of inference from the WaPo and the NYT stories that I would not have picked up on from reading them cold. But the major lefty bloggers, with combined experience in journalism and politics, are able to really shed light on the shorthand and the subtext. The major revelation was by the Washington Post:

A senior administration official said two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and revealed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife. That was shortly after Wilson revealed in July that the CIA had sent him to Niger last year to look into the uranium claim and that he had found no evidence to back up the charge. Wilson's account eventually touched off a controversy over Bush's use of intelligence as he made the case for attacking Iraq.

"Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the senior official said of the alleged leak...The official would not name the leakers for the record and would not name the journalists.

This is an amazing excerpt in its own right - it highlights the direct "shopping around" nature of teh vendetta by the White House to deliberately try and payback Wilson. But there's so much more to learn. First, Kevin Drum summarizes the implications:

  1. This involves two top White House officials who blew the cover of a CIA agent solely for payback against a minor political enemy.
  2. They systematically called six different journalists.
  3. Only Robert Novak went with the story. (Which, by the way, actually speaks pretty well of the rest of the Washington press corps.)
  4. There are a whole bunch of people, including Mike Allen and Dana Priest, who know who the White House officials are.

I find point #4 astonishing. The names of the people who blew Plame's (alleged) cover are well-known by journalists. And Billmon takes it further, pointing out that "when the Post reporter gets up at the Monday press conference and asks Scott McClellan if Mr. X or Ms. Y was involved, everyone else will know, too."

Kos speculates that the "two top White House officials" can only be Ari Fleischer and Karl Rove, and Billmon theorizes that the source for the WaPo quote above is likely George Tenet, who has to still be smarting from being forced to eat the Administration's feces on the whole yellowcake affair (which is nicely being re-summarized by the current flap). Apparently, journalists have a spectrum of explicit monikers when they quote sources off the record, which dramatically limits who "top White House officials" and "senior administration officials" can possibly be.

Kevin comes to the same conclusion, belatedly, that most of us who have been following the Administration since before 9-11 already arrived at. But he puts it much more succinctly:

these are radical ideologues who care about nothing except staying in power and will do anything, no matter how craven and malevolent, to get what they want.

That's the reason in a nutshell we need to boot Bush in 2004, not for partisan gain but for the safety and security of our nation itself. That's why I've changed my mind and will even vote for Lieberman is necessary. But only Howard Dean offers the chance to heal these wounds in a meaningful sense - only Dean offers a chance to rebuild American politics on a foundation of civil responsibility to our nation as a whole rather than the naked pursuit of power.

Disappointingly, amongst righty bloggers, only Tacitus has been following this issue. Glenn hasn't touched it yet. I sincerely hope that changes on Monday. But I fully expect that when the right-sphere does address the issue en masse, it will probably resemble the desperate spinning that partisan hack Macallan frantically spews in Tacitus' comments than any substantive critique.

That won't stop those erratic defensive talking points from being appropriated by Fox news, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh in a last-ditch effort to capitalize on their carefully cultivated ditto-head legions to reject the facts. By the end of next week, the story may just be another non-issue. I'm often quite hard on the media for not doing their part, but the public also has a responsibility too.

UPDATE: Initial responses from righty bloggers are starting to appear. John Cole, Daniel Drezner, and NZ Bear join Tacitus in acknowledging the seriousness of the Plame affair and agree that whoever shopped Plame's identity around should be punished to the extent of the law. Josh Chafetz acknowledges the seriousness, but insists that it's not indicative of the modus operandi of the White House as a whole, which strikes me as either strikingly naive or crudely disingenious.

Hesiod surveys other major righty bloggers and finds that most are still silent. Drudge doesn't even have a link to the Washington Post story!

Glenn did respond, however - but his post was hugely disappointing:

THE PLAME/WILSON STORY remains, in Roger Simon's words "too complicated" for me to feel I really understand it. ...My big question on all of this is "why?"

Too complicated for a tenured professor of law? The big question is NOT "why" - it's "who". The Why question clouds the issue by facilitating the rationalization "well, it makes no sense... there's no reason to do it... therefore it must not have happened" line of thought that exculpates the Administration of any wrongdoing and seriously marginalizes the severity of the crime. Already Donald Luskin of NRO is tying himself in knots trying to argue that the story is deeply flawed, invoking Jayson Blair and the Liberal Media.

In the words of George HW Bush on blowing CIA cover:

Even though I'm a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors.

Especially since 9-11, these words have taken on new urgency. I hope that Glenn and others step up to the plate here.

The legacy of Edward Said

Christopher Hitchens had been an unwilling critic of Edward Said's academic work, but in his moving eulogy focuses on the larger picture of the man himself, and his legacy in the context of the Palestine-Israel conflict:

His feeling for the injustice done to Palestine was, in the best sense of this overused term, a visceral one. He simply could not reconcile himself to the dispossession of a people or to the lies and evasions that were used to cover up this offense. He was by no means simple-minded or one-sided about this: In a public dialogue with Salman Rushdie 15 years ago, he described the Palestinians as "victims of the victims," an ironic formulation that hasn't been improved upon. But nor did he trust those who introduced pseudo-complexities as a means of perpetuating the status quo. I know a shocking number of people who find that they can be quite calm about the collective punishment of Palestinians yet become wholly incensed at the symbolic stone he once threw�from Lebanon! Personally, I preferred his joint enterprise with Daniel Barenboim to provide musical training for Israeli and Palestinian children. But for Edward, injustice was to be rectified, not rationalized. I think that it was, for him, surpassingly a matter of dignity. People may lose a war or a struggle or be badly led or poorly advised, but they must not be humiliated or treated as alien or less than human. It was the downgrading of the Palestinians to the status of a "problem" (and this insult visited upon them in their own homeland) that aroused his indignation. That moral energy, I am certain, will outlive him.

It's worth noting that Mustafa Barghouti and Sari Nusseibeh are the true heirs to Said's legacy - a vision of secular democracy and a unification of self-interest for both Jews and Arabs in Greater Israel-Palestine. It's not irony but simple tragedy that the ardent voices defending Zionism declare that the Palestians have no voices committed to peace - but then decry such voices who are their natural allies in self-interest as outright enemies. I'm not surprised to see Yourish or LGF spewing bile, but it was quite distressing to see Joe Katzman adopting the same binary viewpoint:

Said's conduct goes beyond mere intellectual disagreement. He was a key advocate on the side of an enemy that declared war on all of us many years ago. To win, those are the people we want dead or out of the picture. ... Is it right to be happy that Edward Said is dead, and to despise him in death? Would you feel that way for Stalin, Osama, Uday Hussein, and others...And if you did feel glad in those instances, then what's the key distinction that protects Said from similar scorn?

This is deeply dishonest - Said was never an advocate or supporter of those groups that desired to see Israel destroyed and innocents murdered. He was a key advocate of Palestinian self-determination, but the attitude expressed above amounts to declaring that the only moral and just outcome of the Israeli-Palestine struggle is for the Palestinians to be a subject and conquered people, with the illusion of sovereignity on their bantustan-reservation ghettos.

This is an attitude fundamentally at odds with the essential core of true Zionism, expressed thus by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom:

The Zionist vision of Israel's founders was to bring into the world a state in our ancient homeland to serve as a haven for our people from persecution. A place where the Jewish people could fulfill its right to self-determination in the modern era. A bastion of democracy and opportunity for all its citizens.

Our founders also made a promise not just to the people of Israel, but to the people of the Middle East as a whole - to pursue peace and to work for the common advancement of our region.


Israel stands ready to complete the circle of peace with all its neighbors. Real peace. Not just peace for the headlines, but peace which brings an end to violence and hostility, and positive change for the citizens of our region.

That vision is noble, and just, and Said's work was aligned with it in a way that Joe presumably doesn't understand, despite his Jewish heritage. Zionism has been hijacked from the Jewish visionaries, and turned to the cause of the Israeli partisans, much as Islam has been hjijacked from its 1400-year history of intellectual diversity and turned to the cause of Wahabbi partisans.

Despite the efforts of neo-zionists, the ideals expressed in the original Zionism live on - and partly due to Edward Said's efforts. Said co-founded the Palestinian National Initiative, which he talked briefly about in his visionary essay Emerging Alternatives in Palestine.

If you desire peace, work for justice. This is the path to a better future for Jews and Arabs alike in the Middle East. A path that Israeli partisans who decry Said as "high in the councils of the enemy" reject.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

I'm not holding my breath

The CIA has asked for an investigation of the Valerie Plame affair. By far the best commentary and summary of the issue is provided by Meteor Blades, a frequent commentor on Tacitus:

It's simple all right. Cheney's office sent Wilson off to Niger, got his report back and chose to ignore it when the time came to exaggerate the threat from Saddam. Then the Administration got nailed in Wilson's Op-Ed and somebody, apparently high enough up the White House food chain to have access to classified knowledge about undercover CIA agents, went to Novak and played their little smear game.

That rotten odor ain't in Denmark. It's in the Oval Office. Five minutes after Novak's column was published, any president worth a damn would have called in his top aides and demanded that they find out immediately if there was any truth to the claim that senior officials had leaked such information. Phone logs would have been reviewed. Et cetera. Anything less effectively condones the alleged behavior.

(links added). And any media worth a damn would have blasted this story across the airwaves from day one. The only intelligent analysis has been in the blogsphere (such as this discussion on Patrick Nielsen Hayden's blog back in June) and as usual, on NPR - which was the only news outfit to even bother mentioning that the very laws that have been violated were initiated by George HW Bush, 41st president and former head of the CIA.

Any media worth a damn would be all over the elder Bush, asking for his opinion.

I think we had a better media back during the Clinton Administration. It just kept a far better leash on the Executive Branch than the one we have now.

Friday, September 26, 2003

a win for Rev. Falwell and the ACLU

next time a conservative rants about the ACLU's liberal agenda, point them to this case in April 2002:

In Win for Rev. Falwell (and the ACLU), Judge Rules VA Must Allow Churches to Incorporate

April 17, 2002


RICHMOND, VA--A federal judge has struck down a provision of the Virginia Constitution that bans religious organizations from incorporating, in a challenge filed by the Rev. Jerry Falwell and joined by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, the group announced today.

"The judge applied well established constitutional principles to reach the conclusion that Virginia's archaic ban on church incorporation cannot pass constitutional muster," said Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director of the ACLU of Virginia.

The ACLU joined the lawsuit as a "friend of the court" last fall, challenging the ban on the grounds that it violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of free exercise of religion.

Judge Norman K. Moon agreed, and yesterday ordered the State Corporation Commission to grant Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church a corporate charter.

Islamic Spirituality

Islamic Spirituality: The Forgotten Revolution. I came across this essay via Winds of Change - it is lengthy and detailed, and will require some careful reading on my part before I am qualified to comment. But I was struck by this passage early on:

A young Arab, part of an oversized family, competing for scarce jobs, unable to marry because he is poor, perhaps a migrant to a rapidly expanding city, feels like a man lost in a desert without signposts. One morning he picks up a copy of Sayyid Qutb from a newsstand, and is 'born-again' on the spot. This is what he needed: instant certainty, a framework in which to interpret the landscape before him, to resolve the problems and tensions of his life, and, even more deliciously, a way of feeling superior and in control. He joins a group, and, anxious to retain his newfound certainty, accepts the usual proposition that all the other groups are mistaken.

This, of course, is not how Muslim religious conversion is supposed to work. It is meant to be a process of intellectual maturation, triggered by the presence of a very holy person or place. Tawba, in its traditional form, yields an outlook of joy, contentment, and a deep affection for others. The modern type of tawba, however, born of insecurity, often makes Muslims narrow, intolerant, and exclusivist. Even more noticeably, it produces people whose faith is, despite its apparent intensity, liable to vanish as suddenly as it came. Deprived of real nourishment, the activist's soul can only grow hungry and emaciated, until at last it dies.

On a whim, I did a search through the text for "Shi'a" and "Shia" but apparently the essay does not reference Shi'a theological perspectives.

Edward Said dies

Edward Said has died at the age of 67.

Said was a complex figure. His writings about Orientalism suggested that the sole purpose of Western study of Arab and Eastern culture was to try and sublimate it. There may have been some truth to that, but I always disagreed with that basic premise.

The net effect of his scholarship, regardless of its veracity, was to create a rich field of academic analysis on the ties between the East and West. Said's work always seemed to me to be an effective counterargument to the Lewis thesis of a Clash of Civilizations - much like Irshaad Husain[1] and Sayyed Hossein Nasr[2], Said's work pointed (implicitly rather than explicitly) to the essential continuity of civilization between the Arab and Muslim world and the Christian West. As Jonah Blank wrote in his book, Mullahs on the Mainframe (an ethnography of my own sect, the Dawoodi Bohras) :

It is my hope that the portrait of the Bohra community presented in this study will help dispel some commonly held misperceptions about fundamentalist Islam. I do not argue that traditional Muslim values are identical (or even particularly similar) to those of modern Western society�merely that they can be compatible with so-called modern Western values. I would argue that the values Western triumphalists like to claim as their own (respect for human and civil rights, pursuit of social justice, equality of sexes, promotion of liberal education, aptitude for technology) are hardly limited to the West. And "modernity" (whatever its definition may be), is something far broader than a taste for sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.


Are the Bohras themselves an anomaly among Muslims? Whether or not they are representative of Islam's future, the Daudi Bohras shatter stereotypes about traditionalist Islam today. As a community of up to one million devout Shi�a whose faith is every bit as fundamental to them as it is for Afghans, Saudis, or Iranians, they present an example that must be taken seriously. While adhering faithfully to traditional Islamic norms, the Bohras eagerly accept most aspects of modernity, strongly support the concept of a pluralist civil society, boast a deeply engrained heritage of friendly engagement with members of other communities, and have a history of apolitical quietism stretching back nearly a thousand years.

Not all traditionalist Muslims are like the Daudi Bohras�but not all are so very different.

Jonah also rejects Said's thesis of cultural imperialism, arguing that (as his study of the Bohra community demonstrates) "what is needed is more cultural outreach rather than less. The best way to defeat ignorance is through knowledge, imperfect as such a search may be." I strongly agree.

However, as applied to the context of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, I think that Said's work was critical. Said has made a determined effort to document the crisis of survival that the ordinary Palestinians, and their culture as a whole, faces while under assault from external and internal threats. Of course, his work was routinely and disingeniously interpreted to be an apologia for terrorism, when in fact Said had always been a staunch advocate of alternate solutions to the Palestinians' problems than violence. And his commentary has always been prescient.

While I expect Israeli partisans to crow about his death in due course, I think that his death is a net loss for the peace process. He was an optimist on human nature, and believed that the Israelis and Palestinians would indeed resolve their differences in the future. He was pessimist enough not to expect that resolution within his lifetime. He was right.

UPDATE: That didn't take long. Yourish: "One of the pillars of the development of modern anti-Semitism." And a follow-up. LGF: "Sad he wasn't taken out by the IDF." Idiotarian Dog: "filthy bastard apologist for child murderers." Surprisingly, Joe Katzman takes the low road as well, celebrating the fact (if not the method) of Said's death calling him "high in the councils of the enemy"

Judith Weiss of Kesher Talk provides a classy counterexample to the above.

UPDATE 2: Adil Farooq posts a strong critique of Said's Orientalist legacy at WindsOfChange, with excellent links. And Reason Online has a nice illustration of how Said's Orientalist perspective tinged his awareness of 9-11. For the record, Said's observations contradicted mine.

I should clarify that while I agree with Adil on his opinion about Said's Orientalism work, I separate that entirely from his writings on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The IP struggle is not about East vs West, or about Islam, or about cultural imperialism, it is a raw example of old-fashioned colonialism and imperialism which needs no broader subtext to understand. As such, Said's analyses were largely free of his Orientalist mindset.


[1] Aql: The Place of Intellect in Islam

[2] Science and Civilization

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Akila al-Hashemi dies

One of the members of the Iraqi Governing Council, Akila al-Hashemi, died of wounds suffered in an broad-daylight ambush five days ago:

Iraqi and American leaders said Ms. Hashemi, one of only three women on the Governing Council, had been a force for peace and tolerance and vowed to continue her work.


This morning a bomb outside a hotel used by NBC News killed one man and wounded two others. The attack was the third fatal blast in as many days.

Because of its relationship with Mr. Bremer's administration, the Council is a particularly obvious target for attacks, and some members of the Governing Council have harshly criticized the occupation administration in Iraq for failing to properly guard them.

Ms. Hashemi's brother Zaid has said that his sister had received threats in recent weeks, warning that she would be punished for collaborating with the occupation authorities.

At a news conference today, Lieut. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said the coalition had helped council members improve their security. "We have been working with the Governing Council in enabling them to stand up their security detachments," he said. "That work continues on a daily basis."

In response to another question, he declined to say whether he believed Baghdad and Iraq were generally becoming safer or more dangerous.

"There isn't a security crisis in the country at this point," General Sanchez said.

That the Governing Council is a target is obvious. However, it's doubly obvious that women serving on the council, especially women such as Al-Hashemi who publicly rejected the fundamentalist interpretation of women's roles, are at corresponding greater risk. The fact that the Council members can not be protected from daylight assaults by thugs is outrageous and just another example of how under-manned and strecthed thin we are. It also speaks to an ignorance of priorities.

Riverbend, the female Iraqi blogger, posted a damning indictment shortly after Al-Hashemi was attacked:

It's depressing because she was actually one of the decent members on the council. She was living in Iraq and worked extensively in foreign affairs in the past. It's also depressing because of what it signifies- that no female is safe, no matter how high up she is...

Everyone has their own conjectures on who it could have been. Ahmad Al-Chalabi, of course, right off, before they even started investigations said, "It was Saddam and his loyalists!"- he's beginning to sound like a broken record... but no one listens to him anyway. The FBI in Iraq who examined the site said they had no idea yet who it could be. Why would it be Ba'athists if Akila herself was once a Ba'athist and handled relations with international organizations in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before the occupation? Choosing her was one of the smartest thing the CPA did since they got here. It was through her contacts and extensive knowledge of current Iraqi foreign affairs that Al-Chalabi and Al-Pachichi were received at the UN as 'representatives' of the Iraqi people. She was recently chosen as one of three from the Governing Council, along with Al-Pachichi, to work as a sort of political buffer between the Governing Council and the new cabinet of ministers.

But there has been bitterness towards her by some of the more extreme members of the Governing Council- not only is she female, wears no hijab and was the first actual 'foreign representative' of the new government, but she was also a prominent part of the former government. The technique used sounds like the same used with those school principals who were killed and the same used with that brilliant female electrician who was assassinated... I wonder if Akila got a 'warning letter'. She should have had better protection. If they are not going to protect one of only 3 female members of the Governing Council, then who are they going to protect? Who is deemed worthy of protection?

Yeah, Baghdad is real safe when armed men can ride around in SUVs and pick-ups throwing grenades and opening fire on the Governing Council, of all people.

However, there certainly do seem to be resources galore for pointless and humiliating raids of the local populace.

facts on the ground

illusion vs. reality:

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I challenge to you go there with me, Mr. Perle, because I was there in July, I was there in August, I don't stay in the presidential palace, I don't go around with bodyguards and helicopters and sniffing dogs like Paul Bremer and Colin Powell. I challenge to you go with me, without any bodyguards and let's walk around the streets of the cities of Iraq and see what it looks like six months after the U.S. occupation.

RICHARD PERLE: With all due respect, your sojourns in the cities of Iraq are hardly the appropriate measure of how well we have done in restoring electricity and getting water back on track. I don't think --

MEDEA BENJAMIN: You know better sitting in Washington, D.C.?

In fact, the best (and most balanced) coverage of what's happenning is NPR's Iraq coverage, which also shun the Presidential Palace tours and goes straight to the Iraqi street. The situation is much more complex than "they hate us" or "they love us". The War Diaries and Essays from the Field are especially informative. The main theme underlying all of NPR's coverage is just how essential it is that we suceed, now that we are committed.

diluting the debate

behold a glorious straw man, erected for the sole purpose of establishing beyond polemical doubt that if you criticize the State of Israel, you're really a raving anti-Semite.

The rise of anti-semitism certainly does seem alarming, especially when you've diluted the term so that if you spell Isreal wrongly it qualifies. Which is just about were we have arrived.

Meanwhile, the real anti-semites, who actually think that killing innocent jews is justified, that Israel doesn't have a right to exist, that jews drink blood, etc - get a free pass.

Ah yes - the same author is well on his way to establishing that dissent is treason. Nice to see a country in the middle east adopting our Amerian values.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003


Jimmy Carter makes the essential point that Israel alone faces a choice:

No matter what leaders the Palestinians might choose, how fervent American interest might be or how great the hatred and bloodshed might become, there remains one basic choice, and only the Israelis can make it:

Do we want permanent peace with all our neighbors, or do we want to retain our settlements in the occupied territories of the Palestinians?

The rest of the editorial is interesting for Carter's personal perspectives - and I didn't know that there were once Israeli settlements in the Sinai.

on Iraqi sanctions and WMD

We will always try to consult with our friends in the region so that they are not surprised and do everything we can to explain the purpose of our responses. We had a good discussion, the Foreign Minister and I and the President and I, had a good discussion about the nature of the sanctions -- the fact that the sanctions exist -- not for the purpose of hurting the Iraqi people, but for the purpose of keeping in check Saddam Hussein's ambitions toward developing weapons of mass destruction. We should constantly be reviewing our policies, constantly be looking at those sanctions to make sure that they are directed toward that purpose. That purpose is every bit as important now as it was ten years ago when we began it. And frankly they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors. So in effect, our policies have strengthened the security of the neighbors of Iraq, and these are policies that we are going to keep in place, but we are always willing to review them to make sure that they are being carried out in a way that does not affect the Iraqi people but does affect the Iraqi regime's ambitions and the ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and we had a good conversation on this issue.

-- Secretary Colin L. Powell, Press Remarks with Foreign Minister of Egypt Amre Moussa, Cairo, Egypt (Ittihadiya Palace) on February 24, 2001

It's not surprising that the Administration moved the goalposts from weapons of mass destruction to programs of mass destruction. and why they are un-hyping the upcoming Kay report - which was not even able to find evidence of the weaker "programs" standard.. Via Josh Marshall:

David Kay is in charge of our effort now, with some 1,500 inspectors and analysts and experts. He will provide an interim report later this month, and I am confident when people see what David Kay puts forward they will see that there was no question that such weapons exist, existed, and so did the programs to develop one.

Colin Powell

Meet The Press

September 7th, 2003

David Kay is not going to be done with this for quite some time. And I would not count on reports. I suppose there may be interim reports. I don't know when those will be, and I don't know what the public nature of them will be.

Condi Rice

Press Briefing

September 22nd, 2003

There were a great many critics of teh Administration, lefty bloggers, liberals, etc who supported the war on Iraq solely due to the WMD issue. I would like to know if any have admitted that the rush to war was indeed a false pretext yet?

Tuesday, September 23, 2003


regarding a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage:

[Ed Gillespie] accused homosexual activists of intolerance and bigotry by attempting to force the rest of the population to accept alien moral standards. As a result, "tolerance is no longer defined as my accepting people for who they are," the Republican National Committee chairman said.

tell me again why libertarians support the GOP? Because it's better to be rich than free?

do your job!!!

Senator Kennedy deserves his Backbone Award:

Kennedy also said the Bush administration has failed to account for nearly half of the $4 billion the war is costing each month. He said he believes much of the unaccounted-for money is being used to bribe foreign leaders to send in troops.

....Kennedy said a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office showed that only about $2.5 billion of the $4 billion being spent monthly on the war can be accounted for by the administration. "My belief is this money is being shuffled all around to these political leaders in all parts of the world, bribing them to send in troops," he said.

And yet it's always Republicans harping about the EVIL gummint spending YOUR money without oversight! Hey, GOP-controlled Congress! Get a clue from Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy. DO YOUR JOB.

federal spending and social impact

Steve Verdon is a good man, and I've had many interesting email conversations with him in the past. We also have completely opposite politics, in the sense that he subscribes to the "government social spending axiomatically bad" meme and I believe that government spending, under suitable reforms, can actually lead to a net positive effect on the economy - and more importantly, the social fabric of the country.

So it's with keen interest that I've been following the debate between Matthew Yglesias and Steve about spending cuts. It started with Matt, who made the obvious observation that if we need a bigger military (an assertion supported by conservative blogger Tacitus), we are going to need to actually pay for it.

Steve (predictably) responded that we could pay for our imperial adventurism in Iraq by cutting social spending, and points to the US Department of Agriculture, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Education as likely targets.

I'm not a fan of farm subsidies either, but I hope Steven isn't trying to imply that subsidy support is a unique affliction to the Democrats in Congress. And Matt does a great job in his response of explaining the HUD funding of Section 8 vouchers, and putting the argument about the Department of Education in its proper context. But Matt's main point is that this kind of social spending is a trivial fraction of the budget.

That's a point that deserves further detailed examination. Bush has asked for $87 biliion dollars in additional spending for Iraq. This graphic from the Washington Post puts that figure into perspective:

The graphic takes its data from the submitted budget for fiscal year 2004, which is available online. The Department of Education has a budget of $53.1b, of which $12.7b is for Pell Grants, $9.5b in state grants, and $12.3b in Title I grants to local educational authorities (funding increase as part of No Child Left Behind, Bush's signature program co-sponsored by Ted Kennedy). The Department of Housing and Urban Development has a budget of $31b, of which $12.5b is housing vouchers. The US Department of Agriculture has a budget of $53b, of which $37b is for food safety and nutrition. It would be an interesting debate to take a more detailed look at the spending breakdown and discuss the line items. However it's also clear that the budget-busting items are not social spending, it's actually the war in Iraq ($87b), Bush's enormous tax cuts ($107.8b), and paying interest on the national debt ($173b).

Steve directly addresses the incongruity between arguing for responsible federal spending and looking the other way on the mounting federal debt:

The problem with balancing the budget is that it is unreasonable to expect it to be balanced from year-to-year. This is one reason why many states are in trouble. They have a balanced budget requirement that forces them to either cut programs, raise taxes or both. The problem is that in times of recession these things tend to prolong recessions. The ideal that one is introduced too in introductory macroeconomics is to cut taxes and/or increase spending during the recessions (i.e., run one of those super evil deficits) and then raise taxes and/or cut spending during the expansions. The problems is that when you run a deficit during the recession you get that reeking political opportunism from the other side.

Steve's example of state budgets is especially salient - every state except Vermont has a constitutional requirement for balanced budgets - and every state except Vermont has a budget deficit. Curiously, the GOP national platform still echoes Newt Gingrich's Contract with America, however, "[reaffirming] our support for a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget." Go figure.

Steve's second point is also valid in that running a (temporary) deficit is a valid component of an economic strategy to combat a recession. However, his example doesn't quite address the reality of today's situation. First, we aren't in a recession. Second, the Bush deficit is not a temporary economic stimulus, but are intended to be permanent.

Finally, Steve decries "reeking political opportunism" as "THE problem" when the government tries to combat recession by running deficits, but makes no mention of the fact that there is a pretty strong whiff of the same when things are going well and it's time to raise taxes, from conservatives who equate government spending with Communism in their rhetoric and who breathlessly rage about "the gummint spending YOUR MONEY!!" So there's plenty of blame to go around.

Matt's final point really gets to the heart of why I'll never be able to support the Steve's a priori assumption that government spending is bad - that conservatives, by (selectively!!!) focusing on dollar amounts, fail to take into account the actual real-world results of that spending. Or it's lack:

[Steve] also states, however, that he resents it when liberals depict conservatives as "mean jerk[s]" who "want to throw people on the street." I appreciate conservative consternation at this characterization, since most of the conservatives I know are very nice people who never say things like "we should throw those people out on the street." On the other hand, they are inclined to say things like "we should cap expansion of Section 8 voucher spending at 5% per year." For the reasons I explained above, however, the effect of limiting Section 8 growth in this manner (and especially of freezing it at '01 levels) would be to throw people on the streets.

UPDATE: Dwight Meredith's essay "Choose Wisely" (Google cache) is essential reading in this context. From the OMB's Mid-Session Review, he did the following calculation:

$1.8 trillion: OMB�s estimate of FY 2004 receipts of the Federal Government

- $165b (interest on the national debt)

- $409b (military)

- $492b (Social Security)

- $164b (off-budget SS surplus)

- $259b (Medicare)

- $187b (Medicaid)


= $121b remaining to fund the rest of the federal government. Look at the chart above and consider the Bush tax cuts in that perspective.

Dwight concludes with a simple question:

When Ronald Reagan faced huge budget deficits and the fiscal challenges of the retirement of the baby boomers, he raised taxes. When George H.W. Bush faced large structural deficits, he raised taxes as part of deal that also restrained spending. Bill Clinton faced down the deficits and turned them into surpluses in part by raising taxes on the wealthy and restraining spending growth.

George W. Bush promised to keep the operating budget in balance and pay down all publicly held debt to prepare for the retirement of the boomers. Instead he has reacted to a deteriorating fiscal situation by cutting taxes and going on a spending spree.

We have several choices. We can retract some of the tax cuts. We can make cuts in popular and effective programs like Social Security and Medicare. We can do a little bit of both. Alternatively, we can hide our head in the sand and pass the pain down to the next administration. Mr. Bush has chosen the last alternative. Is that a wise choice?

Sunday, September 21, 2003


The attitude of the Administration towards our military is exemplified by these stories - first, overwork them:

The chief of the U.S. Army Reserve is taking the unusual step of warning all 205,000 soldiers under his command that the Army Reserve is "on a war footing" and will need to take tough measures to meet commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Last, week, the Pentagon said the worse-than-expected situation in Iraq means thousands of reservists there will have to serve tours of 12 months, as opposed to the six-month overseas tours typical before the Iraq war. Counting the time it often takes reservists to get ready to go and demobilize once they return, some part-time soldiers could be away from home for 15 months or longer.

This gives reservists virtually the same burden as active-duty troops, who are typically assigned to Iraq for one year as part of the U.S. occupation force.

then throw them away:

The Third Division supplied more than 20,000 troops to the Iraq war, most of them front-line combat soldiers. They saw more action than just about any other outfit. Some of them returned to the U.S. only three weeks ago.

"America is grateful for your devoted service in hard conditions," Mr. Bush told the troops. Their applause was described as "polite." They probably knew that some of their units already were being redeployed back to Iraq and that they probably would follow in a short while.

"You've made history,'' Mr. Bush went on. "You've made our nation proud... " And he presented the Third with a Presidential Unit Citation for "extraordinary heroism" in action.


another story that ran the same day as the one about the president's trip to Fort Stewart. This story said that senior Republicans on the House Veterans Affairs Committee were joining with the Democrats in an attempt to keep the Bush administration from taking benefits away from disabled veterans.

Under the Bush plan, the Department of Veterans Affairs would disqualify about 1.5 million veterans, two-thirds of those now in the VA disability program.

Remember the Administration's rhetoric during Election 2000?

The former defense secretary today criticized the Clinton-Gore White House in harsh terms for presiding over an �overused and under-resourced� military. Cheney described the Democrats� record on defense as �Eight years of neglect and misplaced priorities. Eight years of multiplying missions and unclear goals.


�When you triple our commitments around the world, while at the same time taking the Army from 14 divisions down to 10,� he continued, �that, Mr. Gore, is �running down the military.��


�I do not presume to speak for the military, but I am now speaking to them,� Cheney said. �To all of our men and women in uniform, and to their parents and families: Help is on the way!�

well, Clinton-Gore's military was good enough to conquer Iraq. But no military could possibly survive the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld reconstruction afterwards. The era of the volunteer armed forces is rapidly fading under their watch.

Friday, September 19, 2003

a few more good men (and women)

Tacitus asks the question "do we need a larger military" and finds a number of answers. But at this point, it is doubtful that any other country will find any reason to help us out in Iraq - this is our Imperial mess, and so it's going to end up being our burden. The Administration ismore obsessed with control than with success in the post-war mission - and not having enough troops in Iraq is the single biggest obstacle to ensuring that a stable and democratic Iraq can arise from the newly-filled flypaper-dotted swamp.

So where will the troops come from? If the military were funded accordingly, could we actually recruit and train and deploy another two divisions from scratch? I honestlyhave no idea and no way to estimate whether such a demand can be filled on a volunteer basis. I wonder if a draft proposal can'tbe that far off. I'm sure that in the insulated neocon echo chamber, it might even seem like a politically sound move.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

slash and burn

Steven Den Beste pokes holes in the idea that "noble savages" used to live "in harmony with nature" - and provides a few salient examples. Another example is the famed feather cloaks of Hawai'i - bird species such as the mamo have been driven to extinction from harvesting of feathers, for cloaks such as the one worn by King Kamehameha I which has an estimated 450,000 feathers culled from over 80,000 individual birds (admittedly, the cloak is spectacular, I've only seen pictures).

The main flaw in the reasoning of those who romanticize such aboriginal cultures is the assumption that human societies sprung from the earth fully-formed. In fact, apart from a localized area in Africa, all human cultures on the planet are immigrants. And all have left a trail of ecosystem devastation, since human socities, regardless of their technological achievement, are fundamentally creative. I may be wrong, but I believe only certain Native American tribes really found a balance between their needs and saw themselves as part of the ecosystem rather than astride it.

It is desirable to try and limit such damage, but there will always be a burden imposed upon nature by human activity. It can be reduced, but never eliminated. And technology and conservation must be applied in sync to achieve that goal, if we are to preserve the Commons that ultimately nourish our civilizations.

posthumous baptism?

via Yourish, I see this article on how Mormons are baptizing Jews posthumously:

Mormons believe proxy baptisms give those in the afterlife the option of joining the religion. It's primarily intended to offer salvation to the ancestors of Mormons, but many others are included.

Baptisms for the dead are performed inside Mormon temples, with a church member immersed in water in place of the deceased person. Names of the deceased are gathered by church members from genealogy records as well as death and governmental documents from around the world.

The article also mentions that Ghengis Khan, Joan of Arc, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Buddha, and Anne Frank have all been baptized in this way. No offense to any Mormon readers, but this is pretty loopy. Isn't the point of religion to determine your status in the afterlife? I mean, why not just be a hedonistic pagan and ask to be baptized by Mormons in your last will and testament? It's even more of a get-out-of-jail-free concept that the whole deathbed-conversion thing.

And I don't really understand why its offensive. Is there a religious or doctrinal conflict here? It seems about as pointless (and ridicule-worthy) as wrapping the bodies of dead muslims in pigskin. They can try to baptize the Prophet SAW too if they want, but it's their time to waste.

the purpose of business: the liberal perspective

Brian writes:

I had the following get stuck in my brain like a kidney stone, so here it is:

Q: What is the primary function of a business?

Liberal: To give jobs to employees.

Conservative: To make money for the stockholders.

Free-Floating Whatever: To create goods & services.

These answers are only accurate if you accept cartoonish stereotypes for the labels. But it's a great question.

The actual answer to the question is that the purpose of a business is to make a profit. Not for stockholders, not for employees, not for anyone else except teh person who started the business.

Liberals believe that it is possible to pursue the profit motive with an enlightened sense of self-interest. For example, if you treat your employees like chattel, pay them rock bottom minimum wage, begrudge them benefits, deny them maternal leave, etc, then you will (1) attract only the most desperate employees, and (2) have poor productivity of those dregs of employees you do retain. Note that there is also a parallel moral imperative, drawn from multiple philosophical and religious sources, that states that exploitation of the poor and abuse of the human spirit is wrong in a fundamental sense. For a true liberal, the moral imperative drives the enlightened self-interest, not the other way around.

Note that NPR had an excellent profile of a company called Mission Control that has a policy of no employee layoffs. Regardless of whether you disagree with enlightened self-interest or not, you should give it a listen. You'll at least find it stimulating for debate.

The label "Liberal" above in Brian's formulation is really "Marxist" (not Communist). And the label "Conservative" above is really "Corporatist", not Conservative. Maybe I can convince Tacitus to lend his opinion on the Conservative perspective...

Superimposed on these issues is the problem of the Commons. There are certain public domain resources such as clean water, mineral wealth, spectrum, etc that are collectively owned by the people. Businesses often make use of these resources to derive their profit. They have no self-interest whatsoever in attempting to preserve these resources - there is no enlightened argument that can justify (from a purely self-interested POV) things like air scrubbers in smokestacks or water treatment for effluent. However, the price of doing business with public resources is that you aree then subject to regulation in the self-interest of the owners of that resource (the People).

Capitalist arguments that businesses will Do the Right Thing with regard to the various Commons that they are priveleged (not entitled) to utilize are dishonest, since Capitalism is the pursuit of the profit motive alone, without consideration of the self-interest of any entity larger than the business itself. Enlightened self-interest such as a nolayoff policy are in accord with Capitalism, but environmental regulations are not. Therefore there is a conflict of interest, and Capitalism cannot be trusted to safeguard the Commons.

I greatly favor small-business. I think that small business shoudl be taxed less, given incentives to hire, freedom to fire, and a whole bunch of other advantages to enable them to pursue the profit motive, and assisted with the cost of enlightened self-interest (including partial sibsidy of benefits for employees).

I think large businesses need to assume correspondingly greater responsibilities since they on the whole utilize and rely on the Commons more for their success.

I think that employees who have decent wages, have reasonable vacation, retirement security, and health care will be more productive, helping the profit motive. I also think that they will be economically more productive to society, able to raise healthy children, contribute to society and charity, get involved in the community, etc. in ways that a wage slave slaving under unpaid overtime to barely keep food on the table, cannot.

I think that health insurance keeps health costs and premiums down for society at large. I think that healthy children mean healthy adults, and more productive and healthy workforces.

My belief in enlightened self-interest is what makes me a liberal, even though I profoundly agree with conservatives on the benefits of capitalism. And I'm proud of that label.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

democracy is politics, not religion

Bill has an interesting series of posts about Islam and democracy. He makes a comparison to Thomas Paine in quoting Alija Izetbegovic's Islamic Declaration - and my attention was drawn to this specific sentence:

The first four rulers in Islamic history were neither kings nor emporers. They were chosen by the people.

That's a very polemical assertion - not even all Sunni historians agree with this (especially Tabari). For the record, the Shi'a perspective is that the first threecaliphs were usurpers. There was in fact a clear and very public declaration of succession after the Prophet, at the Event of Ghadir e Khum, which is heavily documented by hundreds of sources, both Sunni and Shi'a alike.

But my disagreement is more basic - I shy away from drawing democratic inferences from religious authority models. I think that Islam is democratic, but in the sense that it encourages believers to excercise their reason, and seek knowledge (the famous "seek knowledge, even if in China" hadith of the Prophet comes to mind), and abide by their principles.

But religious authority and doctrine is by definition divine, and opening up that interpretation to a democratic debate becomes a debate on divinity itself. That's fine for theological and philosophical inquiry, but in terms of practical application leads to a weakening of the authority. Ultimately, religion becomes "merely" philosophy and is as easily discarded. But that is not the intended purpose of Islam.

Is representative democracy a requirement of Islam? Not necessarily - the only political requirement for an Islamic state is that each Muslim be allowed to pursue the faith, and that non-Muslims are free to not pursue it. In other words, the basic requirement is freedom of religion, not representative democracy per se - as stated in Ayat 2:256: "there is no compulsion in religion."

Of course, representative democracy and political freedom are not necessarily identical concepts either. There's a struggle for political freedom in Iran, but forcing an American-style representative democracy as a pre-condition is almost a guarantee of failure. But there is at least one representative democracy that does meet the Islamic ideal, and currently ranks in my estimation as the single most Islamic country on earth - The United States of America.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Gov. Riley's tax plan defeated

I blame this on Democrats and Democratic interest groups such as the ACLU and the NAACP, who failed their own principles in refusing to assist a Republican governor with much-needed reform:

Alabama's conservative Republican governor yesterday met resounding defeat in his highly publicized crusade for a $1.2 billion tax increase -- eight times the biggest previous increase in state history -- to resolve an unprecedented fiscal crisis, shift the tax burden from poor to rich and improve public schools funded at the nation's lowest level per child.

With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Alabama voters were rejecting Gov. Bob Riley's ambitious package 67 percent to 33 percent, consistent with recent polls that had shown it likely to fail by 20 or more percentage points, even among low-income people who stood to receive large tax cuts.

I disagree with the WaPo article's contention that this vote was a warning shot for the nation about how raising taxes is bad. State budgets (except for Vermont) are in record deficits, state constitutions (er, except Vermont) do not allow deficit spending, therefore the states will cut services. Basic ones, like public education, prisons, and state troopers:

Alabama has the nation's lowest state and local taxes per capita and ranks near the bottom in tests of public school performance. It also has more than 28,000 inmates in a prison system built for 12,000, and its state police force has only six troopers patrolling 67,500 miles of roadway after midnight. Riley's plan also aimed to shift the tax burden to the wealthiest Alabamians, who pay an effective tax rate of 3 percent, from the poorest, who pay 12 percent.

Withourt funding for schools, Alabama's workforce will become increasingly labor-oriented and there will be a continued exodus of skilled jobs. Crime will increase because there aren't enough troopers and not enough room for prisoners. These two issues have a powerful synergy working to undermine the very foundation of the state's economy - people.

This is a victory for cheap-labor conservatives who benefit from a massive gap between rich and poor and eradication of the middle class.

choose two

NYT Editorial defends Howard Dean's perspective:

In Israel itself, there are 1.3 million Arabs and 5.4 million Jews. This means that the number of Jews and Arabs living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River � in Israel and the occupied lands � is approaching parity. By 2020, Jews will be a minority. The longer Israelis continue to settle in the West Bank and Gaza, the harder it will be to cleanly divide the land between two nations with separate identities. Talk of two states will end. Two options will remain: an apartheid state run by a heavily armed Jewish minority, or a new political entity without a Jewish identity.

The conclusion is clear. Israel must begin to plan its exit from the West Bank and Gaza not only to permit the creation of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state but to preserve its own future. Polls show that most Israelis understand. They do not want to drain their treasury and lose their children to protect West Bank settlements. At the Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday night, Senator Joseph Lieberman criticized former Gov. Howard Dean for calling on Israel to dismantle most of its settlements. "That's up to the parties in their negotiations, not for us to tell them," the senator said.

We strongly disagree. True support for Israel means helping it see through its pain and rage to its own best interest. You do not have to believe in Mr. Arafat's sincerity or the Palestinians' good will to grasp the need for a radical course shift. You need only understand the meaning of self-preservation.

(emphasis mine). Democracy, Jewishness, or Greater Israel. Pick any two.


Hasidic extremism has long been a problem. While fanatical religious zeal might be commonplace amongst the settlers on the West Bank, it's truly disturbing to see it in New York City:

The eruv is literally a stick and string contraption that delineates an area in which Orthodox Jews can do a form of labor - carrying - that would otherwise be forbidden to them on the Sabbath except in their homes.

Wolfgang Duffal, one of the security guards hired by the ultra-Orthodox group, said Friday's clash nearly erupted into an all-out street fight.

"Up to 100 people were involved in the dispute," said Duffal.

"The [ultra-Orthodox] were like animals. There was a huge mob, and they tried to grab things out of people's hands to stop them from carrying things."

Duffal said that during one altercation, a group of Satmars "grabbed one guy's fur hat and threw it over the fence . . . and I think they hit him and beat him up."

And yesterday, Satmar members kept up the heat, harassing and taunting people on the street.

"I just got screamed at back there," Rabbi Yitzhak Stern said yesterday afternoon during a stroll down Lee Avenue with his four kids.

"You know the sign outside the hall on Bedford Avenue? That is discrimination. We are allowed to do what we do because there is a string around the area."

A man said the harassment and intimidation isn't kosher. "The Satmar group are the majority around here, and they want to impose their interpretation of the religious law on everyone," said the man.

"They harass and shout at anyone they see carrying anything in their hands or pushing a stroller on the Sabbath. It's not right."

I'm reminded of the religious police in Saudi Arabia. I've previously posted on the categories of religious fundamentalists - which transcend religious beliefs.

seeds for the next 9-11?

Riverbend of Baghdad Burning blog is, well, on fire:

�Since the end of major combat operations, we have conducted raids seizing many caches of enemy weapons and massive amounts of ammunition, and we have captured or killed hundreds of Saddam loyalists and terrorists.� (Bush's speech)

Yes, we know all about the �raids�. I wish I had statistics on the raids. The �loyalists and terrorists� must include Mohammed Al-Kubeisi of Jihad Quarter in Baghdad who was 11. He went outside on the second floor balcony of his house to see what the commotion was all about in their garden. The commotion was an American raid. Mohammed was shot on the spot. I remember another little terrorist who was killed four days ago in Baquba, a province north-east of Baghdad. This terrorist was 10� no one knows why or how he was shot by one of the troops while they were raiding his family�s house. They found no weapons, they found no Ba�athists, they found no WMD. I hope America feels safer now.

Not to mention the fact that Bush's poor-to-nonexistent postward planning (based on super optimism by the neocon cabal) means that we are recruiting the Mukhabarat, and leaving power vacuums for religious fanatics to fill:

On top of it all, the borders between Iraq and Iran have been given to Badir�s Brigade to guard. Badir�s Brigade. Unbelievable. I thought the borders needed guarding to prevent armed militias like Badir�s Brigade from entering the country. We have a proverb in Arabic: �Emin il bezooneh lahmeh� which means �Entrust a cat with meat.� Yes, give the Iranian borders to Badir�s Brigade. Right on.

Just a couple of days ago, two female school principals were �executed� by Badir�s Brigade in Al-Belidiyat area in Baghdad. They were warned to resign their posts so that a �sympathetic� principal could replace them. They ignored the threat, they were shot. It�s that simple these days. Of course, that�s not terrorism because the targets are Iraqi people. Terrorism is when the Coalition of the Willing are targeted.

Where will all this lead? I stand by my pessimistic prediction.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

9-11: classified

The Bush Administration is determined to keep the results of the 9-11 investigation secret:

April 30 - Even as White House political aides plot a 2004 campaign plan designed to capitalize on the emotions and issues raised by the September 11 terror attacks, administration officials are waging a behind-the-scenes battle to restrict public disclosure of key events relating to the attacks.


AT THE CENTER of the dispute is a more-than-800-page secret report prepared by a joint congressional inquiry detailing the intelligence and law-enforcement failures that preceded the attacks�including provocative, if unheeded warnings, given President Bush and his top advisers during the summer of 2001.

The report was completed last December; only a bare-bones list of �findings� with virtually no details was made public. But nearly six months later, a �working group� of Bush administration intelligence officials assigned to review the document has taken a hard line against further public disclosure. By refusing to declassify many of its most significant conclusions, the administration has essentially thwarted congressional plans to release the report by the end of this month, congressional and administration sources tell NEWSWEEK. In some cases, these sources say, the administration has even sought to �reclassify� some material that was already discussed in public testimony

I'm sure they have more to hide than how the President shirked his duty that morning. For example, the investigation might reveal exactly how the Rowley memo was ignored. Or how the CIA could fail to act even though it had tracked two of the 9-11 terrorists from Malaysia to Los Angeles well in advance. Or why the Air Force failed to provide protection from nearby Andrews AFB to Washington, even though the Pentagon was attacked a full 40 minutes after the first WTC tower. Or why NORAD decided speed wasn't of the essence.

Of course, the real reason has probably more to do with re-election than with coverup:

The tensions over the release of 9-11 related material seems especially relevant�if not ironic�in light of recent reports that the president�s political advisers have devised an unusual re-election strategy that essentially uses the story of September 11 as the liftoff for his campaign. The White House is delaying the Republican nominating convention, scheduled for New York City, until the first week in September 2004�the latest in the party�s history. That would allow Bush�s acceptance speech, now slated for Sept. 2, to meld seamlessly into 9-11 commemoration events due to take place in the city the next week.

astoundingly, a Bush apologist in my comments section accused me of trying to leverage 9-11 for political purposes with this post. I encourage others of similar cluelessness to consider the President's record of invoking 9-11 for his political advantage.

9-11 and the 2000 election

This post was originally posted last year on the first anniversary of 9-11. I am reprinting it with some minor edits.

Reflecting on 9-11, I came to the conclusion that it's the exact opposite of the 2000 Election. The 2000 Election (11-3?) was about Government, 9-11 was about People.

the 2000 election was a battle between partisans, an excercise in routing your grass roots troops, a game of strategy and PR and above all else, your funding. In these things, the Bush team simply outperformed the Gore team. But the essential lesson was that given a contest for the most powerful position (elected or otherwise) office in the world, the final decision was handled in a court of law. The highest court, but a court nevertheless. There were no tanks in the streets, no calls to violent struggle, none of the baggage associated with anti-American concepts like "coup" and "usurp" (and any Gore partisans who invoke those words need to travel a bit to get a feeling for what those terms really mean. Start in Liberia.)

In the end, Bush was uniquely positioned to win, and Gore uniquely positioned to concede (in possibility the greatest concession speech in history). I cannot even conceive how they would have acted had the roles been reversed. I imagine Bush would not have been nearly as gracious, and that the Republican grassroots would have erupted in low-intensity PR warfare. It would have been the Clinton era of GOP activism but ten times worse. And I simply don't see Gore as having been able to make the tactical decisions necessary to win (count the overvotes, demand a statewide recount not just in Miami Dade). Gore tried to keep the federal courts out of the fray, at first, and thus lost significant traction to Bush (who brilliantly went straight to the Circuit courts even as GOP PR minions were accusing Gore of trying to make a federal issue out of something clealrly a states-rights issue. Hypocrisy can often be a masterful tactical weapon).

But again, the essential point was that the system worked. The Constitution held up, there was a clear line to be drawn and the Supreme Court in the end drew that line. You can argue that the SCOTUS was partisan, but the fact remains that it was the SCOTUS that was partisan and not some military tribunal. Scalia is better than Musharraf, and if you disagree, you are hopelessly ignorant of the basis of American freedom.

So, Election 2000 gave me a great rush of pride in the Government - a shining ideal of the Constitution, and our Three Branches as institutions playing a role far greater than the sum of their partisan workings. And yet, that pride was tinged by a feeling of despair about People - the partisan warriors, the influence of money, the rabid bile of the Republican supporters especially whose venom paralyzed those of us in the middle with their sheer volume and ferocity. It was a paradox of sorts - a beacon of Democracy astride a reeking swamp - great Institutions in Check and Balance, looming above teeming and warring masses engaged in trench warfare.

And what was 9-11? The exact opposite. It instilled a great pride in me, for our people - the response in terms of blood, of aid, of time, of sweat. The heroism of the FDNYPD. And the Minutemen of Flight 93. And Rick Rescorla. Even the domestic everyman response was a source of comfort and pride - the feeling in the air that we shall overcome. The hundreds of flags waving at each and every corner and window and lapel and soul[1] .

Yet, that pride was something apart from a darker current of fear and despair about what has happenned to our Government. The list of rights we have lost is astonishing, and there are real parallels to be drawn with history. The marginalization of our justice system continues apace - and the Bush Administration demands more. If you dismiss the case of Jose Padilla out of hand, then again, you are hopelessly ignorant of the basis of American freedom.

So, in opposition symmetry to Election 2000, 9-11 was about pride in my People, but Despair about my Government. I see the sham of airport security, aimed solely at appeasing fears instead of securing the skies. I see events like the special registration of muslim men and bearded men sttracting FBI attention. I see a partisan-dominated Congress bent on accomodating a secrecy-loving and federal-power-grabbing Executive Branch, so that the Party may prosper at the expense of the Nation.

9-11 changed America, and not for the better. But it didn't change Americans. Eventually, we the People will take back the givernment, and we can have Pride in both.

[1] I confess I did not fly a flag of any kind. I wanted to, but for two reasons. One to express my ride in my country, but the other out of fear, to avoid the stares I was starting to receive, to appease the demons of my own paranoia, which even now I have no way of knowing was what part justified and what part imaginary. That part of me that wanted to fly a flag to say to the world, "look! I'm not a terrorist! Target your anger elsewhere!" seemed to taint the part of me that said, "look! I'm an American too! Include me in your resolve!". In the end, I chose not to fly one at all, reasoning that the emotion needed to be pure. Hypocrisy in my self is the most hated hypocrisy of all.

9-11 remembered: Rick Rescorla

It doesn't matter what you're doing right now. Stop. And go read this biography of Rick Rescorla, one of the greatest American heroes in our history. Rick Rescorla died on 9-11-01, but not as a victim, as a hero, who helped save the lives of 2600 people that day.

The story of Rick Rescorla encapsulates the fact that 9-11 was an American tragedy. We famously remember the French declaring "nous sommes toutes l'Americains" and even Yasser Arafat donating blood, but it was a worldwide recognition that what happenned on 9-11 was a tragedy borne by the United States alone. 9-11 was ours.

This is why I am somewhat offended by what Robert S. Wistrich (author of Hitler and the Holocaust) has to say about 9-11 in Ha'aretz:

The dream of Atta and many other Islamists was to create a Muslim theocracy from the Nile to the Euphrates, "liberated" from any Jewish presence. To achieve this goal, the Al-Qaida fanatics based in Hamburg struck at New York City, the "center of world Jewry" and the "Jewish-controlled" international financial system. In this ideological sense, they showed themselves to be direct heirs of Hitler and his genocidal mind-set. The failure of so many people, including Americans, Jews and Israelis, to grasp this crucial fact about the

motivations for 9/11 is a stunning example of how little has been learned from history.

I don't doubt that the Al-Q terrorists were probably anti-semitic and would love to see Israel wiped from the map, but they didn't crash their planes into Tel Aviv. To re-interpret 9-11 as an attack upon Jewish power is brazenly self-indulgent. He subsequently attempts to invoke the Palestinian struggle as part of the motivation for 9-11, though Al-Q's interest in the Palestinians' fate was precisely zero until expedient.

9-11 was an American tragedy, not a Jewish one. nor a saudi one, either. It's our heroes who gave sacrifice that day, it's our blood that was spilled, and it was our nation that was targeted for its past perceived sins. The mempry of Rick, the Minutemen of Flight 93, and the FDNYPD are American heroes whose heroism shall not be claimed by others to further their ends.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

collateral damage II

Yourish writes:
Next time, drop the one-ton bomb. They don't care. We shouldn't, either.

Amish Tech Support writes in response:
One ton isn't enough. Two tons isn't enough.

It's time to end the silence about the Israeli nuclear program. Fuck the Arab League. Fuck the UN. And, as much as it hurts to say it, fuck America. (emphasis mine)

I don't give a shit if Yassin and his evil bastards are meeting in the basement of a Gaza hospital next door to a kindergarten and an old folks home... the time for using lighter explosives to minimize collateral damage is over.


hmm. intent matters?

after my last post, Conrad commented:

i) Acts of suicide bombing which kill civilians expressly with that intent successfully are morally wrong.

ii) Targeted assassinations, whose main function is that of political reprisals, that kill (wilfully or otherwise) uninvolved civilians are morally wrong.

iii) In terms of equivalence, (i) and (ii) are equal to each other in moral terms.

iv) No real ordinal measurement of morality can be reached so (i) and (ii) cannot be compared in any quantitative way despite both being immoral.

v) Despite (iv) above and difficulties in comparison, both (i) and (ii) and not equivalent, though they are both deeply immoral and cannot be justified in any moral fashion.

Now I think we both agree on (i) and (ii) and you argue for (iii) while I think either (iv) or (v) are tenable positions and (iii) is not.

We do indeed agree on (i) and (ii) but I think you've mis-stated my position on (iii). When I say "morally equivalent" I am not invoking a quantitative measure. The morality of killing is binary. It either is immoral, or it is moral, to kill someone.

Therefore i reject the statement (iv) that a comparison cannot be made. I feel that trying to argue on semantic terms about "quantitative" comparisons is dodging the issue.

Conrad goes on to argue:

How from this can you think that either of the former two can somehow lead to justifications of suicide-bombing is not clear to me. Deliberate targeting of civilians is wrong, as is lack of concern for their safety when carrying out military operations. Neither can ever (as far as I can see) ever be morally defended, though they may well be necessary; however saying that they are not morally equivalent to each other does not imply some sort of acceptance for either, latent or otherwise. To argue otherwise seem a variant of the Orwellian 'objectively pro-fascist' argument abused so frequently these days; I may not use an absolute moral viewpoint to condemn both acts equally, it does not follow from this that I support or would support either course of action as morally justifiable.

From my reading of these comments, it seems that Conrad thinks that I am advocating ascribing legitimacy to suicide bombings if the Israelis insist on carrying out bombing of civilian targets. If so, he owes me an apology, because the absolute wrongness of suicide bombing is inviolate, regardless of whether Israel willingly jumps into the sea or whether they proceed to tear the heads of all puppy dogs in the region.

I have repudiated suicide bombing many times. That is a moral and religious argument which is completely independent of Israel. The reason suicide bombing of cvivilans is wrong is not related to Israel in any way. It can be considered in a vacuum, and to the standard of the Qur'an 5:32-33.

Likewise, the attitude of Yourish and Amish is wrong, regardless of what happenned today in Jerusalem. The attitude of the IDF in dropping bombs of any size on civilian targets in an attempt to kill a single target is wrong.

The reason it is wrong is the same reason - killing innocents is wrong. That is the universal principle of morality being applied.


As Almighty Allah revealed in the holy Qur'an,

We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land. Those who wage war against Allah and His prophet, kill the believers and plunder their property shall be disgraced in this world, and for them is a dreadful doom in the hereafter. (5:32-33)

When innocent children are slain, it is indeed as if the whole of mankind are slain. And those who perpetrated, those who planned, those who approved, those who conceived, and those who attempt to justify acts of harabah by invoking the Qur'an are hypocrites, and will indeed face a dreadful doom in the hereafter.

fathers and daughters, II

the cycle of violence always exacts a heavy toll, and there are surely stories like this in every terror attack:

As the hospital's doctors and nurses waited to treat the wounded, they received word that the attack had killed the head of their emergency room, Dr. David Appelbaum.

Appelbaum, 50, had taken his daughter, Nava, 20, to the cafe on the eve of her wedding, which was to have taken place Wednesday night. Both were among the seven Israelis killed in the suicide bombing.

I now have one more piece of ammunition for debate, as I challenge most generic Muslims on their knee-jerk support of the Palestinan cause. But what a terrible price... I again react viscerally to this story in the same way I did to the last one - as a father.

Monday, September 8, 2003

dare not criticize the Fuehrer

I've never equated Bush with Hitler, family history aside. But the Administraton continues to borrow pages from the Reich's playbook - Rumsfeld now says dissent is treason:

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Monday opposition to the U.S. President was encouraging Washington's enemies and hindering his 'war against terrorism'.


He said if Washington's enemies believed Bush might waver or his opponents prevail, that could increase support for their activities.

"They take heart in that and that leads to more money going into these activities or that leads to more recruits or that leads to more encouragement or that leads to more staying power," he told reporters traveling with him on his plane.

The Administration has waged a War on Dissent from the first hours after 9-11, starting with Ari Fleischer's famous Orwellian warning to all Americans that:

"they need to watch what they say and what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is."

or John Ashcroft who labeled debate on the tradeoff of security vs. liberty as "tactics" that "aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve." Ashcroft went on to later explicitly label dissent as "traitorous" and claimed that "those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty" are aiding the terrorists.

The conservative apologists had rallied to this banner, starting with Andrew Sullivan's "5th column warning" against the Blue states that voted for Gore:

"The middle part of the country - the great red zone that voted for Bush - is clearly ready for war. The decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead - and may well mount what amounts to a fifth column."

and the trend continued with Ann Coulter's book Treason.

These latest coments by Rumsfeld are further validation of the Neiwert Thesis - that there is a nascent American fascism rising. The Administration brings comparisons to Hitler upon itself. And we need to start making those comparisons more, loudly.

UPDATE: I did not, and do not, consider Bush to be Hitler. Nor do I think that the current Administration could ever become a fascist entity, or that America could become the Third Reich in the next decade.

The point being made here (with the optimistic assumption that people would read Neiwert's thesis carefully instead of skimming it) is that by using the same levers that the fascist states in history used, this Administration is facilitating the continued growth of those elements in our society that are fascist - and are enabling the far-fringe elements. This is not an overnight process. In fact it is sufficiently long-term as to be nearly imperceptible, unless we don't shy away from calling out the Administration on them.

oil pays, eh?

Bush asked for $87,000,000,000. No mention of Iraqi oil being used to pay for the recon. And I wonder how much of this figure goes to inflate Haliburton's bottom line?

The reconstruction of Iraq is held above our heads like a promise and a threat. People roll their eyes at reconstruction because they know (Iraqis are wily) that these dubious reconstruction projects are going to plunge the country into a national debt only comparable to that of America. A few already rich contractors are going to get richer, Iraqi workers are going to be given a pittance and the unemployed Iraqi public can stand on the sidelines and look at the glamorous buildings being built by foreign companies.


Well, of course it�s going to take uncountable billions to rebuild Iraq, Mr. Bremer, if the contracts are all given to foreign companies!

(be sure to read Riverbend's full post.)

For the record, I pointed out back in April that the idea that Iraqi oil could pay for reconstruction was absurd. :

Suppose reconstruction costs $100 billion, and only takes 1 year. At $30 a barrel of oil, that amounts to 3 billion barrels (about 8 million barrels per day, or bbl/d). This is equal to Saudi Arabia's current output (and Iraq does not have anywhere near Saudi Arabia's reserves, nor the oil infrastructure to process and refine such a colossal amount of oil even if it did). In addition to the ludicrously cheap and quick estimate of the reconstruction cost and duration above, note that there is also an implicit assumption that every dollar of revenue will go to reconstruction cost, without any middlemen (which as anyone familiar with the oil industry knows, is a laughable assertion).

Re-reading teh comments on that post, I wonder what those who apologized for the idea back then have to say about it now? (even the Freepers are up in arms...)

Sunday, September 7, 2003

Jewish Arrival Day

(It's Jewish Arrival Day! See Jonathan Edelstein's master index to the blogburst)

It's hard sometimes to free yourself from stereotype when trying to make an honest appraisal of how a given culture has contributed to America. That's true of Arabs, blacks, Indians (the Desi kind, ahem), Latinos, etc. Jewish culture is no different - my own first reaction is to think of bagels in particular and New York City in general. I'm a bagel maniac. My personal favorite at Einstein's is the potato bagel with veggie cream cheese, but there was this bagel joint in Lexington MA called Aesop's Bagels that had simply the best sun-dried tomato cream cheese in existence. I haven't been in Lexington since 1998 but I still remember fondly eating my bagels while waiting for the bus back to the lab, standing in front of the Minuteman statue on battle green.

And as for New York City, well, it's just a Jewish town. And a Chinese one. And a ... well, NYC is NYC. Take any group away and you're left with only an approximation. But I've spent a fair amount of time in the city and I always felt that its Jewishness was essential in a way that the other ethnicities weren't - there's just a sense of continuation, as if someone was writing the history of an ancient people in a single sentence and needed a modern exclamation point at the end. It just fits.

These thoughts, while mostly sentimental, are really just manifestations of stereotype. I wanted to find something more substantial for Arrival Day than these, so I have decided to share this little anecdote - a confession of sorts.

In college, my friend Meredith and I both lived on Detling House, the honors dorm at UW-Madison. She and I have had enough shared adventures to probably fill a book, and our mutual interaction was rich enough that the question of our respective religions was more of a footnote. I can't even recall a single discussion about belief or culture with Mer, we were too busy talking about Hot Salsa, batholiths, and badly-timed jokes told by a completely oblivious teller.

I can't speak for her, but the aversion to religious topics was probably at least partially conscious on my part. It was around the time of Oslo and there was optimism about the peace process in the Middle East, but I was shockingly ignorant (and at the time, was extremely partisan against the Palestinan cause). My own self-identification on "Muslim issues" was also meager, though I did eventually join a group called Truth in the Middle East (TIME) because a cute acquaintance suggested it. I lasted about two meetings, but after leaving UW I did join a few mailing lists and started doing some actual fact-finding.

Still, Mer and I were indeed the Muslim and the Jew. And there was always the occassional comment about "shouldn't you guys be stabbing each other" thing. That expectation and surprise that two friends couldn't just be friends without bringing our religion and ethnicity into play was a kind of pressure, that eventually resulted in a game Mer and I would play. It was stupid as games go, but it went like this - upon seeing each other in the hall, if there were other people around, we would greet each other thus:


Meredith: (with somewhat less drama): INTIFADA!!!

Would you believe that at the time I actually thought "intifada" was the jewish word for jihad? It never occurred to me to ask.

While silly and deliberately playing into stereotype for lampooning's sake, I realize in retrospect that we became a kind of living endorsement of the idea that we were supposed to be at each others' throats instead of sharing class notes and bad salsa. It was essentially meaningless for us, but to an observer, it must have only served to entrench the stereotypes. Mer and I were examples of how things should be - ie, religion was a non-issue. We weren't doing cultural exchanges or teaching each other our religious beliefs. We just hung out together. But when we engaged in that little bit of play-acting, suddenly we were the Jew and the Muslim on television, satirizing but also acknowledging the image of eternal enemies.

I've done a lot of writing about jihad (and hirabah) since then, and of course my own feelings on teh intifada are well-known to my regular readers. But there's a lot of work to do in overcoming the stereotypes and misconceptions that are attached to these concepts and historical events. Those are formidable barriers, and they were built one small piece at a time. I carried a few rocks myself in erecting it.