Tuesday, December 19, 2006

GOP and Race in The South

An important entry on a topic I've tip-toed around before:
Let's look at my neighbour across the street from my house in Chamblee (15 min outside central Atlanta). He recently had a meeting of minds with my wife over the FUH2 website which posts pictures of people "saluting" Hummers. He carries stickers in his car that read something like "H2: Fuck the environment, I'm rich", along with an assortment of anti-Bush stickers. Yet he is not a Democrat. Like most other white and sensible people I've met in the South he says he's a "Libertarian".

I don't know exactly what it is, but there's some powerful force that keeps Southerners away from the Democratic party. If you're a white male who grew up in the South, and you don't work in a very liberal-minded profession such as education or healthcare, then you're just not going to admit any allegiance with the Democratic party no matter how liberal, environmentalist or even socialist your political views are.
I wasn't ready to say this back in March, but I've been thinking about it a lot and now I am: Like Digby says, this "powerful force" is race.

That doesn't mean I think all white conservative Southerners are consciously racist in the sense that they will be hostile to or think badly of individual blacks. The young white Southerners I know treat black colleagues with respect and professionalism. (By the way I heard Barack Obama talk about progress in this area lately although I can't remember where. He said that when he's dealing with a white person one-on-one he doesn't feel that his race is on the white person's mind.)

But when I am in social settings outside of work surrounded by fellow whites I hear views about blacks and black neighbourhoods that don't make empirical sense to me. These assumptions are, I believe, rooted in tradition and history. Talk about how un-safe certain neighbourhoods are, for instance. I get a sense there's no point in asking if they've ever visited these neighbourhoods, or know somebody first-hand who has. That's irrelevant. There's just a clear sense that "they" are very different from "us".

Monday, December 04, 2006

Big Brother is Here

Get this: Commenter "Baggi" posts this comment on a right-winger Kevin's blog:
Kevin,

Glenn Greenwald departed the United States on June 22, 2006 and hasn't come back since. If you want to know how I know that and more, send me an Email.

Posted by: Baggi at July 21, 2006 06:30 AM
Glenn confirms:
The information provided there by "Baggi" was accurate. I left the U.S. on exactly June 22, and as of July 21, had not re-entered the country.
So, then, how did Baggi know this? Simple. He probably for the Department of Homeland Security (from UPDATE II of Glenn's post):
Via some creative Google and Technorati searches and the like, Todd Larason and Mona in comments have rather conclusively established that the "Baggi" referenced above is (or at least repeatedly claims on right-wing blogs to be) an employee of the Department of Homeland Security.
So there you have it: When they want to smear and intimidate those who disagree with them, sympathizers of our Dear Leader have the full resources of the Department of Homeland Security ($36.5 billing in 2004, 184,000 employees), including domestic spy data obtained without Congressional approval, at their disposal.

Who said the spirit of the Soviet Union was dead?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Reaction to Elections 2006

My thoughts? Like Glenn Greenwald I am relieved that our post-9/11 flirtation with authoritarianism may be over for now:
The basic mechanics of American democracy, imperfect and defective though they may be, still function.
...
Karl Rove isn't all-powerful; today, he is a rejected loser. Republicans don't possess the power to dictate the outcome of elections with secret Diebold software. They can't magically produce Osama bin Laden the day before the election. They don't have the power to snap their fingers and hypnotize zombified Americans by exploiting a New Jersey court ruling on civil unions, or a John Kerry comment, or moronic buzzphrases and slogans designed to hide the truth (Americans heard all about how Democrats would bring their "San Francisco values" and their love of The Terrorists to Washington, and that moved nobody).

All of the hurdles and problems that are unquestionably present and serious -- a dysfunctional and corrupt national media, apathy on the part of Americans, the potent use of propaganda by the Bush administration, voter suppression tactics, gerrymandering and fundraising games -- can all be overcome. They just were.
But I shudder to think what would have happened if another terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 had happened before November 7, 2006. If two thousand dead Manhattan workers led to suspension of habeas corpus, warrantless wiretapping, re-discovery of medieval torture practices and people "disappearing" into secret prisons I would hate to think what a dirty nuke attack could have accomplished.

Bush and his fellow loyalists in Congress have vividly reminded us that Herman Goering's famous Nuremberg quote is as relevant as ever:
Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.
Let's hope we do better at proving Herman wrong when the next terror attack on US soil happens.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

George W. Bush on This Week

Bush appeared on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos this past Sunday. I just listened to it and I wanted to note my reaction. I think he's got good intentions, and he should appear more often on unscripted events like this where he actually takes real questions and gives real answers. Of course his answers reveal a world view that gravely lacks nuance and knowledge. But like most people he is not an evil man. I agree with those who say that he's a good guy who is simply in over his head.

A good critique of Andrew Sullivan's The Conservative Soul

By Geoff Arnold:
The great social and political leaps of imagination and courage did not spring from conservatism, and it’s silly to pretend otherwise. Yet in Sullivan’s world view, liberalism is squeezed out: it’s either an economic aspect of conservatism (in the spirit of The Economist, perhaps), or a barely-restrained flavour of socialism.
Via Andrew Sullivan's own blog on Time.com.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Voters decide For Life when they're 20?

Kevin Drum shows a chart that suggests voter party allegiance is decided when they turn 20, based on whether the current president is popular or not. So, people who turned 20 when Reagan was president are likely to be Republican, whereas people who turner 20 when Clinton or Bush Jr. were presidents are likely to be Democrats.

On some level I guess this is good news, in that it proves the existence of SOME sort of a feedback loop (i.e. bad politicians/parties will be punished). It's just a shame that it may take generations for the feedback to show up in election results (as the 2004 elections showed - it didn't matter how much Bush Jr. screwed up, we still have to wait for those Reagan-era youngsters to be replaced because they're not going to change their minds).

Friday, September 15, 2006

Sullivan reader: What We've Lost

I don't have much time to blog anymore but I just had to re-post this gripping letter from a reserve soldier who fought in Desert Storm - the first war in Iraq:
I was deployed in my reserve unit (USMCR) as part of operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Marine infantry, and we were on the front lines, supposedly to guard a gunship base, but really, though, the gunships guarded us.

Not too much later, it was time to take prisoners. One of the platoons went north, and when they came back, there were stories about how Iraqi soldiers lined the roads, trying to surrender. I spent a week guarding Iraqi men in a makeshift prison camp, a way-station really, and more than I could count. They didn't look like they were starving or dehydrated. Apparently, once the ground war began, they just pitched their weapons and headed south at first opportunity. The more I've thought about it, the more I realize that they knew bone deep that they'd get fair treatment. We gave them MREs (with the pork entree's removed) but almost immediately some Special Forces guys arrived and set up a real chow line for them. We gave each man a blanket, (I kept an extra as a souvie) and I think I saw a Special Forces doc giving some of them a once over.

Once, only once, one of them got all irritated and tried to get in one of the Corporal's faces, loud. (I was a lance-corporal). He wouldn't back down, so the Corporal gave him an adjustment, a rifle butt-stroke to his gut, not hard, but he went down. The Corporal sent me for the medic. The guy was ok, and now calm (or at least understanding the situation), and hand-signed that he was out of smokes and really, really needed one... Not a bad guy, just stressed-dumb and needing a smoke. None of the others prisoners in the camp even registered it.

We went north to mop up not long after that. I saw the Iraqi weapons: rocket launchers a little smaller than semi-trailers, hidden in buildings, AKs in piles, big Soviet mortars and anti-tank mines, everywhere but unarmed. They had food too. Pasteurized milk to drink, but most gone bad by then. Some of the mortar rounds were still in crates. They had long trenches that were hard to see in the dunes, bunkers with maps, fire-plans laid out, and blankets, all placed with decent vantage for command and control. They even had wire laid for land-line communications. The point is, they could have fought. Not won, no they couldn't have won, but they could have fought. Instead, they chose to surrender.

Looking back, I think that one of the main drivers in these men's heads was that they knew, absolutely, that they'd get fair treatment from us, the Americans. We were the good guys. The Iraqis on the line knew they had an out, they had hope, so they could just walk away. (A few did piss themselves when someone told them we were Marines. Go figure.) Still, they knew Americans would be fair, and we were.

Thinking hard on what I now know of history, psychology, and the meanness of politics, that reputation for fairness was damn near unique in world history. Can you tell me of any major military power that had it? Ever? France? No. Think Algeria. The UK? Sorry, Northern Ireland, the Boxer Rebellion in China... China or Russia. I don't think so. But America had it. If those men had even put up token resistance, some of us would not have come back. But they didn't even bother, and surrendered at least in part because of our reputation. Our two hundred year old reputation for being fair and humane and decent. All the way back to George Washington, and from President George H.W. Bush all the way down to a lance-corporal jarhead at the front.

Its gone now, even from me. I can't get past that image of the Iraqi, in the hood with the wires and I'm not what you'd call a sensitive type. You know the picture. And now we have a total bust-out in the White House, and a bunch of rubber-stamps in the House, trying to make it so that half-drowning people isn't torture. That hypothermia isn't torture. That degradation isn't torture. We don't have that reputation for fairness anymore. Just the opposite, I think. And the next real enemy we face will fight like only the cornered and desperate fight. How many Marines' lives will be lost in the war ahead just because of this asshole who never once risked anything for this country?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A Fascinating Admission by a Republican

This quote from former Republican National Committee official Allen Raymond speaking to the Boston Globe is worth noting:
"Republicans have treated campaigns and politics as a business, and now are treating public policy as a business, looking for the types of returns that you get in business, passing legislation that has huge ramifications for business," he said. "It is very much being monetized, and the federal government is being monetized under Republican majorities."
There's a good word for this: Feudalism.

Friday, June 09, 2006

San Diego: How RW uses its Media to Win

This is important. Digby quotes Robert Parry:
At dinner a few weeks ago, a well-placed Republican political operative was oozing confidence about GOP prospects in the November elections, not because the voters were enamored of George W. Bush but because the Democrats and liberals had done so little to improve their ability to reach the public with their message.

By contrast, he described to me a highly sophisticated Republican system for pouncing on Democratic “bad votes” and verbal gaffes and distributing the information instantaneously to a network of pro-Republican media outlets that now operates down to the state, district and local levels.

This huge conservative media advantage has now contributed to dooming Democratic hopes for snaring the vulnerable suburban San Diego seat of imprisoned Republican congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

In the June 6 special election, Republicans reported a last-minute surge of support after conservative media outlets trumpeted a verbal blunder by Democrat Francine Busby, propelling Republican lobbyist Brian Bilbray to victory by about four percentage points.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Media, explained (by Rob Corddry)

This attitude on the part of MSM reporters helps explain how America got where it is today.

Conservatives and Gov't

Interesting:
Governor Jim Risch tells Oliver Burkemann of the Guardian:
Here in Idaho, we couldn’t understand how people [in Louisiana] could sit around on the kerbs waiting for the federal government to come and do something. We had a dam break in 1976, but we didn’t whine about it. We got out our backhoes and we rebuilt the roads and replanted the fields and got on with our lives. That’s the culture here. Not waiting for the federal government to bring you drinking water. In Idaho there would have been entrepreneurs selling the drinking water.
Turns out the dam he's referring to collapsed while the Federal government was building it:
The dam was built despite concerns about its safety as well as environmental impact. That’s because Idaho politicians of both parties -- pushed by a small number of ranchers and farmers -- insisted it be built. Idahoans didn’t build it, though. The Federal Government -- the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation -- built the dam at a cost of about $100 million.
This kind of idiocy gets you elected to the post of Governor in today's America.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Poverty and Welfare

Nathan Newman compares the US with Nordic countries, and Uncle Sam don't look so great:
Many US political leaders engage in happy talk that welfare reform was a success, but the documented reality is that both over the last few years and over the last few decades, the low level of US spending to help the poor has meant less opportunity for the children of the poor to attain the dream of a better life than the poor in Europe, where more welfare spending and fairer education systems gave them a chance to join the middle class.
Nathan quotes this Economist article (subscription required):
Around three-quarters of sons born into the poorest fifth of the population in Nordic countries in the late 1950s had moved out of that category by the time they were in their early 40s. In contrast, only just over half of American men born at the bottom later moved up.
...
The Nordic countries are distinctive in one further way: the sons born at the bottom (into the poorest fifth) earn roughly the same as those born a rung above them (the second-poorest fifth). In other words, Nordic countries have almost completely snapped the link between the earnings of parents and children at and near the bottom. That is not at all true of America.
So why is this?
The obvious explanation for greater mobility in the Nordic countries is their tax and welfare systems, which (especially when compared with America's) deliberately try to help the children of the poor to do better than their parents. One might expect social mobility and economic flexibility to go together—in fact, to be two sides of the same coin. But to the extent that redistribution is an explanation, it implies the opposite: that social mobility is a product of high public spending, a bit like the low incidence of poverty or longer life expectancy (on both of which Europe also does better than America). But greater public spending tends also to be associated with less economic flexibility—which is why Nordic countries have sought to limit the more arthritis-inducing features of their tax-and-spend programmes.

Yet redistributive fiscal policies cannot be all there is to it. If they were, Nordic countries would not do as well as they do (their welfare states are not appreciably more generous than Britain's). The other part of the explanation seems to be their superior education systems. Education has long been recognised as the most important single trigger of social mobility—and all four Nordic countries do unusually well in the school-appraisal system developed by the OECD.
So... why did I leave Norway again? Good question. The best answer I can come up with is an early-stage wanderlust coupled with later-stage inertia. And then there's luv, of course.

Monday, May 22, 2006

New England Yankees

A fascinating take on American political history:
From John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams to Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, Massachusetts politicians associated with the Greater New England traditions of reformism, intellectual elitism, and anti-militarism have been defeated by rivals who embody the southern synthesis of social conservatism, populism, and martial patriotism.
..
Today, outside of big cities with large black and immigrant populations, the Democratic Party is slowly being confined to Greater New England. The political heirs of the Federalists, the Whigs, and the Progressives, today’s Democrats are in danger of following those parties into oblivion.
What to do?
For Democrats today, the Midwest is the key to the White House, for the same reason it was crucial a century ago: Its location at the confluence of the major cultural regions of the United States means that its politicians must appeal to more than one tradition. During the era when it was the party supported by Greater New England, from 1868 to 1932, the Republican Party sent only two New England presidents to the White House: Chester A. Arthur and Calvin Coolidge, both from Vermont. Of the 11 Republican presidents during this era, seven -- Ulysses Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, William Henry Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Warren Harding -- were from Ohio. Democratic talent scouts should be eyeing midwestern governors.
..
Greater New England will be the regional core of the Democratic Party for a long time to come. But the next Democratic majority, if there is one, will be one in which the New England political tradition is merely one of several. The Democrats may remain the party of New England. But the Democrats must not be the New England party.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Am I a Liberal?

Atrios posted a list of policies that he thought most liberals would agree on a while back. He was trying to counter centrist (DLC) arguments that the liberal blogosphere had extremist viewpoints. But it turned out to be an interesting list anyway. Kevin Drum refined it a bit, and then today I saw that Dan Drezner went through it to see where he stood (he concluded he's 36.6% liberal). So anyway I figured I would do the same, just for the hell of it:
  • Undo the bankruptcy bill enacted by this administration Yes.

  • Repeal the estate tax repeal Yes! I'm all for capitalism, and I recognize that people need something to work for. But inheritance (i.e. lack of inheritance taxation) screws it all up because some kids have huge advantages over others.

  • Increase the minimum wage and index it to the CPI
    No. Not a big fan of minimum wages. They often lead to higher unemployment (as in Europe). Some amount of workers rights, yes. But minimum wages are not necessary and fraught with market-distorting problems.

  • Universal health care (obviously the devil is in the details on this one) YES! It would cut the paper-pusher/doctor ratio at most medical offices dramatically, vastly improve healthcare for the bottom 50% of the population, and decrease overall healthcare spending and waste.

  • Increase CAFE standards. Some other environment-related regulation Yes (even without knowing the details). The US is far too polluted.

  • Pro-reproductive rights, getting rid of abstinence-only education, improving education about and access to contraception including the morning after pill, and supporting choice. On the last one there's probably some disagreement around the edges (parental notification, for example), but otherwise. Yes.

  • Simplify and increase the progressivity of the tax code Big yes to both.

  • Kill faith-based funding. Certainly kill federal funding of anything that engages in religious discrimination. Yes.

  • Reduce corporate giveaways Yes.

  • Have Medicare run the Medicare drug plan Sure (don't know what this would entail but Atrios is usually pretty smart about this stuff).

  • Force companies to stop underfunding their pensions. Change corporate bankruptcy law to put workers and retirees at the head of the line with respect to their pensions. No. At least not without careful research. Mucking with established corporate law is often counter-productive and may produce undesired results.

  • Leave the states alone on issues like medical marijuana. Generally move towards "more decriminalization" of drugs, though the details complicated there too. Yes.

  • Paper ballots Whatever.

  • Improve access to daycare and other pro-family policies. Obiously details matter. Yes.

  • Raise the cap on wages covered by FICA taxes. Not sure.

  • Marriage rights for all, which includes "gay marriage" and quicker transition to citizenship for the foreign spouses of citizens. Yes.

So that's 12 yes, 2 no and 2 don't know, which comes out to 86% liberal.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Media Explained?

This over at Josh Marshall's TPM, along with this response strikes me as an important contribution to the question of why MSM journalists are doing their jobs so poorly. An MSM (presumably) political journalist explains:
I have had people (three men) show up at my front door at 9 am on a Saturday morning to complain about my coverage of their cause and demand to be invited in. I had another two guys stalk me, waiting until I left my office at 10 pm to accost me and take issue with my coverage of their pet issue.
So, MSM journalists don't investigate challenge administration views because they are afraid of right-wing threats. Makes sense. Now how do we fix it?

UPDATE: In case anybody wonders what I mean by the media "doing their jobs so poorly", here's Digby putting it better than I ever could:
After 9/11 when they helped the president promote the idea that the country was at "war" (with what we didn't exactly know) I knew it was a terrible mistake and would lead to a distorted foreign policy and twisted domestic politics. But I didn't blame the media because it was very difficult to fight that at the time. They're human, after all.

And when they helped the government make their case for this misbegotten war in Iraq, I assumed that they knew what they were talking about. After all, I had been defending their credibility for years now, in spite of everything I've mentioned. If they would screw up something like this, then for what was I holding back my criticism? This was the most serious issue this country had faced in many a decade.

When no WMD were found and I was informed that the NY Times had assigned a neocon shill to report the story, and then defended her when she was implicated in a white house smear to cover up its lies going into Iraq, I no longer saw any need to defend them or any other mainstream media outlet who had rah-rahed the country into Iraq because of promises of embedded glory on the battlefield and in the ratings.

This is fifteen long years of watching the Times and the rest of the mainstream media buckle under the pressure of GOP accusations that they are biased, repeatedly take bogus GOP manufactured scandals and run with them like kids with a brand new kite, treat our elections like they are entertainment vehicles for bored reporters and generally kowtow to the Republican establishment as the path of least resistence. I waited for years for them to recognise what was happening and fight back for their own integrity. It didn't happen. And I began to see that the only way to get the press to work properly was to apply equal pressure from the opposite direction. It's a tug of war. They were not strong enough to resist being dragged off to the right all by themselves. They needed some flamethrowers from our side pulling in the opposite direction to make it possible for them to avoid being pulled all the way over.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Wesley Clark Watch

Doin' stuff:
.. Wesley Clark fans will be pleased to hear that Senate Democrats will host a retreat in Philadelphia this weekend, and Clark will help lead a discussion on how the party should go 'Head to head with the GOP on National Security in '06.' Clark also hosted a fundraising in New York last night for his political action committee. Among the attendees was billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

How the American "Conservative" Mind Works

Glenn Greenwald has a terrific insight into the world of contemporary American right-wingers.

In fairness, I should say that I've seen examples of the same phenomenom in the liberal blogosphere. Not long ago I saw some liberal bloggers who claimed that Michelle Malkin had posted the phone numbers of members of UC Santa Cruz "Students Against War" (SAW). The original posts failed to mention that those phone numbers had first been included in a press release that SAW itself had put out. Yet the outrage trickled down the liberal blogosphere as blogger after blogger referred back to the original claims of this heinous crime committed by Malkin.

However, I see this type of thing much more often in the right-wing-nut-job half of the blogosphere. And what's more important is that I almost never see the right-wingers apologizing or correcting themselves after the facts are unmistakably on the table. The notable exceptions here (among the bloggers I read) are Andrew Sullivan and Greg Djereijan. Which, I suspect, is why true RVNJ's no longer think of them as "real" conservatives.

UPDATE: Glenn's powerful follow-up and response to his critics. His writings are amazing. I just pre-ordered his #1 Amazon ranked book. Wifey yelled at me (citing a history of buying books I don't read) but I don't care - I'm a fan! To me this guy is like the Yankees, Braves, Hawks and the Norwegian national soccer team rolled into one! :)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Israel Lobby Revisited

A great contribution to the debate about the Israel Lobby:
The damage that is done by America's fear of anti-Semitism when discussing Israel is threefold. It is bad for Jews: anti-Semitism is real enough (I know something about it, growing up Jewish in 1950's Britain), but for just that reason it should not be confused with political criticisms of Israel or its American supporters. It is bad for Israel: by guaranteeing it unconditional support, Americans encourage Israel to act heedless of consequences. The Israeli journalist Tom Segev described the Mearsheimer-Walt essay as "arrogant" but also acknowledged ruefully: "They are right. Had the United States saved Israel from itself, life today would be better ...the Israel Lobby in the United States harms Israel's true interests."

The Spineless Democrats

Have you ever wondered why Democrats are so spineless about everything? I know I have. But thanks to Glenn Greenwald, Brad Friedman, and Russ Feingold I now know the answer.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Go Read Michael Yon


Go read Michael Yon if you care about what's going on in Iraq (hat tip: Greg). Yon is a former member of US Special Forces who went to Iraq to "find the truth". His reporting is patriotic and honest, and he does it for the right reasons:
I do not report this because I harbor animosity for the current administration, or to magnify any mistakes it has made, but only so that the American people, and readers around the world, can be presented with at least one set of eyes and ears that are reasonably politically color-blind and tone-deaf. If the truth helps the administration, so be it. If the truth damages the administration, so be it. More important is to provide information people can use in their own decision cycles.
I just donated $10 to his online magazine.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Creating Democracies

A noteworthy observation:
As I see it, through my sociological lenses, a much more considerable shift in US foreign policy is called for. In the short run, instead of seeking liberals throughout the Muslim world to ally ourselves with (the US just allotted 85 million dollars to democracy promotion in Iran)-- the US should recognize that the majority of the people in the Muslim world are moderates but not liberals. They do not favor free speech or women’s rights, but they do hold that other people should be free to follow their religions and, above all, they oppose violence, whether it takes the form of invading other nations or terrorism. Polls show that among the 140 million Muslims in Indonesia, the 70 million in Turkey, and the 32 million in Morocco, less than fifteen percent support suicide bombers. There are also numerous indications that there is little support for terrorism among Muslims in India, Malaysia, and Bangladesh. And eighty-four percent of Palestinians favor a peaceful solution to the conflict with Israel. (Many of the 44% that did vote for Hamas did so because of its integrity and the services it provides).

In the longer run we should realize that the end state of history may well be a regime that combines liberal forms of government with stronger commitments to the common good and greater concern for spiritual, religious, and cultural matters than the Fukuyama model calls for and the US promotes.

While it is true that nations such as China are now engulfed in a ‘making it,’ consumerist craze, I see this preoccupation as a child disease that nations outgrow. Europeans have long shown their strong interest in a social market and their preoccupations with cultural matters compared to economic efficiency. The same holds for many nations that are lumped together as the East. Moreover, the US itself regularly goes through periods in which it exhibit is a strong quest for more “social capital”, commitment to the common good, and moral values rather than merely various rights and liberties and material goods. The “end of history”, if there is such a thing, may lie somewhere between the individualism the US and the traditionalism favored by the Mullahs.

None of this will be of much importance until the end of the Bush Administration is followed by what might be called an Age of Restoration, in which the US conventional forces, credibility, good name overseas, alliances, and financial health are restored.
Shorter version: When dealing with rogue statest we should support those who want peace, not those who want to create a "market-driven" society like America. Yet another reason why sending twentysomthing Republican idealists recruited at the Heritage foundation to do post-war reconstruction is not such a bright idea.

Friday, April 14, 2006

On McCain

For the record, I don't agree with Krugman's assessment that McCain is a "man of the hard right". He may be more conservative than most liberals, but he's a good man.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Whiskey Bar: Why People Think the Economy Sucks

Another great Billmon post, this time on the economy. I'm re-posting these charts just so that I know where to find them next time I hear a Bush-sycophant bragging about the economy has helped ordinary people:


UPDATE: Changed "bragging about the great economy" to "bragging about the economy has helped ordinary people". Obviously this economy, under its Republican leadership, is good for some.

Billmon on Iran

Lots of blogs are linking to this important post:
What I'm suggesting here is that it is probably naive to expect the American public to react with horror, remorse or even shock to a U.S. nuclear sneak attack on Iran, even though it would be one of the most heinous war crimes imaginable, short of mass genocide. Iran has been demonized too successfully -- thanks in no small part to the messianic delusions of its own end-times president -- for most Americans to see it as a victim of aggression, even if they were inclined to admit that the United States could ever be an aggressor. And we know a not-so-small and extremely vocal minority of Americans would be cheering all the way, and lusting for more.
Read the whole thing.

Also note Brzezinski's prediction:
Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, makes a similar argument about Iran. "I think of war with Iran as the ending of America's present role in the world," he told me this week. "Iraq may have been a preview of that, but it's still redeemable if we get out fast. In a war with Iran, we'll get dragged down for 20 or 30 years. The world will condemn us. We will lose our position in the world.

Billmon on Iran

Lots of blogs are linking to this important post:
What I'm suggesting here is that it is probably naive to expect the American public to react with horror, remorse or even shock to a U.S. nuclear sneak attack on Iran, even though it would be one of the most heinous war crimes imaginable, short of mass genocide. Iran has been demonized too successfully � thanks in no small part to the messianic delusions of its own end-times president � for most Americans to see it as a victim of aggression, even if they were inclined to admit that the United States could ever be an aggressor. And we know a not-so-small and extremely vocal minority of Americans would be cheering all the way, and lusting for more.
Read the whole thing.

Also note Brzezinski's prediction:
Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, makes a similar argument about Iran. "I think of war with Iran as the ending of America's present role in the world," he told me this week. "Iraq may have been a preview of that, but it's still redeemable if we get out fast. In a war with Iran, we'll get dragged down for 20 or 30 years. The world will condemn us. We will lose our position in the world.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Iraq: Accurately predicted in January 2001

Try this one on for size:
"[W]e should be prepared for armed melodrama. Bush is not a worldly man. His father was head of the CIA, ambassador to China, and president of the United States. The son stayed home. During the Vietnam War, he hurried into the Texas National Guard, defending the skies over Houston. He has visited only two foreign countries, one of them Mexico (the other seems to have slipped his mind). He was the first presidential candidate in memory who needed briefings about geography.

But he knows where Iraq is, and is completely aware of what his father failed to do in that country: remove Saddam Hussein. A son in rivalry with a father can be a very dangerous man. To show "leadership", the new President Bush might defy the European allies of the United States, and risk another oil crisis, by seizing on some slight -–real or imagined – to finish off Saddam Hussein. He would thus force his father to admire him and get a boost in the public opinion polls."

-- Pete Hamill
Not bad, eh?

Monday, April 10, 2006

More on Iran

While the threat has to be taken seriously, this is also true of course:
I missed the day in Civics class when it was explained that the U.S. is the ultimate arbiter of who's allowed to have a Bomb, and that we reserve the right to unilaterally, preemptively attack any nation that tries to build a Bomb without our approval.

This is hubris, and it is going to get one or more of our cities vaporized by a terrorist nuke attack.

Right now, al-Qaeda & a few of its admirers are probably the only crazies who would actively pursue nuking a U.S. city.

After we attack Iran, they will have a lot of company.

Springer on Iran

I was listening to Jerry Springer (on the radio) this morning. While I like him a lot (he is surprisingly moderate) he sometimes starts paddling fast in the wrong direction when he gets asked about things he hasn't thought through yet.

This morning, for instance, he got a call from somebody who pointed out that Iran might make nukes and deliver them in a suicide-bomber's backpack instead of using missiles. Jerry responded by claiming that even though a nuke smuggled in a backpack went off we would know "for sure" that it was Iran that was behind it. The caller then referred to "plausible deniability" and said we would have no way of proving that Iran was behind the attack. Jerry stuck to his guns and then he switched topics. He had no real comeback, so he just dismissed the caller's legitimate argument by saying "oh we'll know it's Iran".

It seems to me the better response would have been to point out that there's very little stopping a suicide-bomber from acquiring a post-Soviet nuke and bringing it into the country today. So nuking Iran to dust would not eliminate this threat.

Also, Jerry could have pointed out that even though we might not know for sure that Iran was behind it if a nuke went off in New York, an Iranian government would have to factor in a risk of their planning being exposed. So if the bombing attempt was somehow thwarted, Iran would face the very real possibility of a US retaliation, which would presumably serve as a cold-war style deterrent.

Bottom line: Liberals should not respond on auto-pilot to these types of arguments, even if we instinctively despise the simplicity of the "nuke-em-all" diehards. Iran is a real issue that has to be dealt with one way or another. Simply calling for "peace and love" is not going to cut it, and the sooner Dems/liberals start to really think about these things the better off we'll all be.

Friday, April 07, 2006

MIT steals Caltech Cannon

I used to think these people were just silly, but now I can't help but feel a sense of pride in these nerds:
Massachusetts pranksters, posing as professional movers, stole the beloved Fleming Cannon — traditionally fired at each year's commencement — from the Pasadena campus last week.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Response to Daniel Drezner on the Israel Lobby

Kudos to Daniel Drezner promoting further debate on the Israel Lobby issue. I will attempt to answer the responses to The Israel Lobby cited by Dan.

The first critic is Josef Joffe:
Would they all have to apply to the self-appointed guardians of the national interest for certification as true Americans? Do they have to be a Hancock or Huntington if they want to speak up? Let's say I am a Ukrainian-American. Am I automatically suspect because I plead for an American policy that would resist Russian pressure against Kiev? I certainly would want to be opposed on the basis of my analysis, and not of my presumed ethnic loyalties....
Joffe seems to be addressing two separate issues here. The "Do they have to be a Hancock or Huntington" comment asks whether your right to speak out on foreign policy issues is determined by the time of your ancestor's entry into the United States. (Presumably a "Hancock" means somebody whose ancestors came over early.)

That is a fair question. My take is that any American, regardless of the time of immigration, should have the same rights to support foreign policies. And in my reading of Mearsheimer/Walt I don’t see anything that suggests they disagree. Nowhere do they make the argument that members of the pro-Israel lobby should be "banned" from supporting Israel simply because they haven’t been in the United States as long as the Huntingtons.

The other issue is whether or not "hyphenated" Americans (such as a Ukrainian-American) have the right to advocate specific US policy directions with regards to the country their ancestors came from. And this, I believe, is a point worth discussing. It can be inferred from the M/W paper that excessive advocacy of US policy towards a "home" country can produce outcomes that are not favorable to the US as a whole.

But what exactly constitutes excessive? In my mind that's far from clear. For instance, if I’m a Norwegian-American and I advocate extensive US military support for Norway then I would say that is fine. But what if Norway is in a bloody war with Sweden, brutally occupying a large portion of it, causing severe grief for the native Swedish population? If the Norwegian-American influence is roughly equal to the Swedish-American influence the I still think we're fine.

But, for argument's sake, let’s say it’s not just a few Mid-Western Norwegian-Americans and I. Imagine that Norwegians occupy a special place of power in American society, both in terms of intellect and money. We’re 3.7% of the population, but 23% of the wealthiest 400 Americans. We count among us 45% of leading intellectuals, 30% of professors at major Universities, 21% of high-level civil servants, 40% of partners in leading law firms in New York and Washington, DC, 26% of the members of print broadcast media, 59% of writers, directors and producers of top-50 grossing movies. (Numbers from "Exceptionalism" via Matthew Yglesias.) Now, does it seem wise to allow Norwegians to support their native "Land of the Fjords" however they see fit? Should the US allow Norwegian-Americans in senior Defense Department positions, for instance?

In my view it would be very un-American to screen cabinet members based on ethnic/national background. And it would be even worse to prevent certain immigrant groups from acquiring wealth or prominence in media, academia or other important places in society. Maybe it would be prudent for a Norwegian-American member of Congress, say, to excuse himself from certain votes about aid to Scandinavia. But such restrictions might be difficult to enforce.

However, if I’m reading M/W correctly, they are not specifically advocating any extreme un-democratic measures to "keep Norwegians out" of positions of power. What they do advocate is a right to demand full transparency. Attempts by pro-Norwegian groups to intimidate pro-Swedes by calling them "racist" should not be tolerated.

That, to me, seems to be the central point of the paper: The Israel Lobby works in subtle, non-accountable ways that have produced a current state of affairs where any critic of contemporary Israeli policies towards Arabs or anybody else is immediately labeled "Anti-Semite". And this has consequences for work and social relations, especially in the media. Saying the "wrong thing" about Israel can kill a professional journalist or politician's career prospects. Matt Yglesias put it well:
Last but by no means least, I'm going to make one final point that requires me to constantly re-iterate that I'm Jewish, lest the anti-semitism police come after me. But (I'm Jewish) I (I'm Jewish) hold (I'm Jewish) to (I'm Jewish) the (I'm Jewish) radical (I'm Jewish) proposition (I'm Jewish) that (I'm Jewish) America's (I'm Jewish) policy (I'm Jewish) toward (I'm Jewish) Israel (I'm Jewish) should (I'm Jewish) be (I'm Jewish) primarily (I'm Jewish) concerned (I'm Jewish) with (I'm Jewish) the (I'm Jewish) interests (I'm Jewish) of (I'm Jewish) America (I'm Jewish) and (I'm Jewish) not (I'm Jewish) those (I'm Jewish) of (I'm Jewish) Israel (I'm Jewish). Insistence from Bush that Sharon deal with Arafat as long as Arafat was alive and in power very well might not have accomplished anything in terms of solving the conflict or protecting Israelis from terrorism, but it certainly would have advanced other US foreign policy goals.


Dan then quotes Eliot Cohen’s Yes, It's Anti-Semitic article:
The authors dismiss or ignore past Arab threats to exterminate Israel, as well as the sewer of anti-Semitic literature that pollutes public discourse in the Arab world today. The most recent calls by Iran's fanatical -- and nuclear weapons-hungry -- president for Israel to be "wiped off the map" they brush aside as insignificant. There is nothing here about the millions of dollars that Saudi Arabia has poured into lobbying and academic institutions, or the wealth of Islamic studies programs on American campuses, though they note with suspicion some 130 Jewish studies programs on those campuses. West Bank settlements get attention; terrorist butchery of civilians on buses or in shopping malls does not. To dispute their view of Israel is not to differ about policy but to act as a foreign agent.
Cohen has a point about the lobbying done by Saudi Arabia in the US. Insofar as such lobbying is also not very transparent, it is probably not aligned with the interests of the majority of Americans. Personally, I think lobbying should be reformed in general to be made more transparent.

But I don’t see how this is a serious counter-argument to the thesis presented by M/W. First of all, the motivations of the Saudis are very different. They essentially lobby the US to ensure their own survival as heads of state. While that may not be a good thing from the point of view of Saudi citizens (who have to live under the kleptocracy) they are not geographically "expansionist" in the way that Israel is. Also, there is a rather large difference in raw scale here. The influence of Saudi residents in the US pales in comparison with the Israeli-American influence. And lastly, when was the last time you saw somebody be publicly labeled an "Anti-Arab racist" in a mainstream forum for being critical of the Saudi regime?

Having said all that, I think Saudi lobbying is essentially another part of the overall problem of hatred of the West in the Muslim world. So the "the Saudis do it too" argument is more an argument for clipping the wings of all undemocratic special-interest lobbies, rather than an argument for the benign nature of the Israel lobby's activities.

Then we have Alan Dershowitz:
First, quotations are wrenched out of context (for example, the authors distort a Ben-Gurion quote to make him appear to favor evacuation of Arabs by "brutal compulsion," when he actually said that, because an evacuation would require "brutal compulsion," it should not become "part of our programme").
Ok, this could be corrected by M/W including the full quote in their paper. I don’t see how that changes the basic tenets of their argument.
Second, facts are misstated (for example, that Israeli citizenship is based on "blood kinship," thus confusing Israel’s law of citizenship with its Law of Return; fully a quarter of Israel’s citizens are not Jewish).
Again, this may be poor wording but I don’t see how it changes any of the fundamental arguments.
And third, embarrassingly poor logic is employed (for example, whenever America and Israel act on a common interest, it must be the result of pressure from "the Lobby," and that "the mere existence of the Lobby" is proof that "support for Israel is not in the American national interest".
I don’t think this "poor logic" is pervasive in the paper. Mearsheimer/Walt point to several policies favored by Israel that have not been in the American interest. Their argument does not rest on solely on the "mere existence of the Lobby" as proof. One of many examples of diverging interests is this:
Backing Israel was not cheap, however, and it complicated America’s relations with the Arab world. For example, the decision to give $2.2 billion in emergency military aid during the October War triggered an Opec oil embargo that inflicted considerable damage on Western economies.
And this:
The relationship with Israel actually makes it harder for the US to deal with these states. Israel’s nuclear arsenal is one reason some of its neighbours want nuclear weapons, and threatening them with regime change merely increases that desire.
Bottom line, I don't think any of these three critics refute the central arguments that
  • the Israel lobby is real;
  • the Israel lobby often succeeds at changing US policy in the Middle East;
  • those changes are not always in the national interest of the United States;
  • the Israel lobby routinely intimidates and silences critics by calling them Anti-Semites;
  • there are moral issues here considering the effects on occupied Palestinians that stem from the disproporionate size of Israeli lobbying efforts vs. Arab/Palestinian lobbying.
UPDATE: frustré, one of Drezner's commenters, posted an excellent reply. Thank goodness there's somebody out there who both writes well (unlike me) and is not afraid to speak the truth:
I have been very disappointed in the reactions of otherwise smart people to this debate. The original article was sloppy, and its conclusions are questionable. But the most prominent responses -- Dershowitz, Cohen, etc. -- offer a crash course in common logical fallacies. A small sampling:

1) Guilt by association: Support for an argument from a dislikable person does not make the argument false. (David Duke also believes that the earth revolves around the sun, presumably.) Dershowitz's response paper on the Harvard website is a particularly sharp example of this logical fallacy, devoting many pages to showing how lots of bad/extreme people agree with the authors' claims. Death penalty opponents often make the same claim, asserting that since only "bad" countries (Iran, Syria) have capital punishment, then it must be wrong.

2) Non-sequitur: Pointing out that Walt and Measheimer failed to mention other lobbies (Cuban, Saudi, etc.) or the sins of other groups (Iran, the Palestinians) in no way disputes the paper's argument that the Israeli lobby is powerful and that supporting Israel is not in our best interests. Likewise, just because I neglect to detail the (plentiful) logical flaws of Walt and Mearsheimer's article here doesn't mean my arguments against its critics are invalid. Changing the subject merely evades the original argument; it does not defeat it.

3) Straw man: Nowhere in the original article can I find accusations of "occult powers," "disloyalty, subversion, or treachery," or evidence of the authors "selecting everything that is unfair, ugly, or wrong about Jews" (Cohen, Washington Post, 5 April). These would be easy arguments to defeat, but they are not contained in the original article. In fact, the authors explicitly refuse to generalize about Jews as a group, noting that "not all Jewish-Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them" and that the Israel lobby "also includes prominent Christian evangelicals."

4) Ad hominem: The basic charge of anti-Semitism proves nothing (and, I should note, is impossible to prove). Even if the authors were anti-Semitic, it does not make their argument wrong. Name-calling is a cheap tactic, not an argument. Calling me "anti-New York" doesn't disprove my argument that the Knicks suck.

5) False choice: Questioning U.S. support for Israel is not tantamount to concluding that the U.S. "no longer ha[s] a vital interest in the continued survival of the only democracy in the Middle East" (letter, London Review of Books, 6 April). The choice is not (necessarily) between supporting Israel unconditionally and condemning it to death. The authors argue that Israel would do just fine on its own; where is the contrary evidence?

6) Reductive reasoning: Dershowitz claims that the existence of terrorism in Europe and elsewhere proves that U.S. support for Israel is not the cause of its "terrorism problem." This presumes that if one terrorist act was unrelated to Israel, then they must all be unrelated. But there is no reason to believe this -- the presence of another motive in one case does not refute the existence of anti-Israeli motives in other cases.

7) Unpleasant implication: Ruth Wisse writes in the Wall Street Journal (22 March) that the authors' argument "heaps scorn on American judgment and values." This may upset people but it does nothing to disprove the argument itself. Just because one does not like the implications of an argument does not mean it is false (see: Evolution vs. Creationism).

8) Appeal to authority: We all love Dan, but being Mearsheimer's colleague at Chicago does not strengthen his argument that the paper is "piss-poor, monocausal social science." Cohen's appeal to a phony authority here is especially awkward considering that Mearsheimer, as Chicago's preeminent IR scholar, probably had some influence over Drezner's recent tenure denial. Is there a personal motive here? I have no idea -- I don't know how Mearsheimer voted, nor do I have any reason to doubt Drezner's objectivity. But anyone citing Drezner as an authority must address this potential credibility problem.

9) Hasty generalization: neither Walt nor Mearsheimer have ever written a word about the Israeli lobby over the course of their lengthy careers, and all of a sudden they are anti-Semites? No. One data point does not demonstrate a trend.

Of course, just because these critics have employed logical fallacies does not mean their arguments are wrong, either. But it does mean that Walt and Mearsheimer's critics have not made a strong case, despite apparent presumptions to the contrary.

Sadly, for all the heated replies the article has generated, I have seen none that engage the central claim of the authors, which is that the current level of support for Israel is not in the U.S. national interest. A few, but only a few, contest the argument that U.S. politicians are deterred from altering policy toward Israel in large part due to the political influence of domestic pro-Israeli actors. Most simply scream "anti-Semitism," which is a lazy scholar's way of dodging these central questions.

It is unfortunate that instead of engaging the debate, Cohen et. al chose to smear the authors with hysterical charges that only trigger emotional responses and inhibit a reasoned discussion. They lend support to Walt and Mearsheimer's assertion that those who raise the issue are met immediately with accusations of bigotry. Dershowitz and others are famous for their diatribes, but I expected better of Eliot Cohen. Shame on him for helping to muddy the waters.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Fareed Zakaria: To Become an American

Most readers have probably seen this, but when considering US vs. Europe it's important not to forget the areas in which the US clearly excels:
Compared with every other country in the world, America does immigration superbly. Do we really want to junk that for the French approach?
As an "immigrant" and a Green Card holder myself I can confirm that America is truly unique in the way it empowers immigrants from day one and allows them to compete on an even footing when it comes to jobs and entrepreneurship. Not just in terms of official laws and regulations (many European countries come close on that score) but also in terms of social barriers at work and in business.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

What if the UN handled post-war Iraq?

I've been participating in a comments thread over at Belgravia Dispatch lately. I've tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to get Greg Djerejian, whose opinion I value enormously, to comment on the impact UN participation might have had on in post-war Iraq. I think my final comment was important so I'll re-state it here (with minor edits).

Sean: "The reality is that, as erg notes, the vast majority of world opposed the war in Iraq, and they did so for perfectly sound reasons- the United States failed to make a case for war."

While that is definitely true, I keep wanting to stress the role of international collaboration in raising the competence of post-war nation building. Like many I predicted the lack of credibility that would result from not having UN Security Council backing for the Iraq war, but I did not anticipate the gross incompetence. Looking back, however, it makes perfect sense: If an administration is left to do invasions "as it sees fit" it has no reason to listen to anybody, be it Democrats, the State Department, UN nation-building experts or heads of European states.

Many people are starting to realize this. I already pointed out what Fukuyama said:
The one area that I've rethought concerns international institutions. I believe that the conservative critique of the legitimacy and effectiveness of the UN is right, but that we need a world populated by a multiplicity of others kinds of organizations. Iraq has changed my view on this.
(Of course he's been a proud "conservative" UN basher for years so he has to put in a disclaimer about the "legitimacy and effectiveness" of the UN, but I we get the picture.)

And departing Economist editor Bill Emmott in his farewell editorial hints at the same thing:
The only argument against our decision that seems to me to have force is that a paper whose scepticism about government drips from every issue should have been sceptical about Mr Bush's government and its ability to do things properly in Iraq.
He doesn't say explicitly that being forced to run decisions by allies through some sort of UN cooperative mechanism would have made for better decisions on issues like army disbandonment, prisoner treatment and the importance of law and order, but in that seems like a logical conclusion.

Governments tend to benefit from a bit of checks and balances. It seems reasonable to assume that Republican idealists engaged in nation-building might as well.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Paper: The Israel Lobby

Via Steve Clemons at TPMCafe; a great paper on the Israel lobby in America by John Mearsheimer of Chicago and Stephen Walt of the Kennedy School at Harvard:
For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.

Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical.
Predictably, Alan Dershowitz responded to the paper with the kind of counter-attacks and language often used by members of the Israel lobby to suppress dissent:
Dershowitz, who is one of Israel’s most prominent defenders, vehemently disputed the article’s assertions, repeatedly calling it “one-sided” and its authors “liars” and “bigots.”

He criticized three piece on three grounds, alleging parallels with neo-Nazi literature, saying that Walt and Mearsheimer’s characterization that Israeli citizenship is based on “blood kinship” is a “categorical lie,” and taking issue with the representation of the lobby as all-encompassing.

Dershowitz said that the article used “quotes from [Israel’s first prime minister] David Ben-Gurion and [former president of the World Jewish Congress] Nahum Goldmann that are found repeatedly on hate sites,” and that in asserting that the Jewish state was founded on “blood kinship,” the authors were mistakenly conflating the right of Jews to immigrate to Israel with citizenship.

Walt and Mearsheimer countered in an interview that “the principle of ‘blood kinship’ refers to the fact that Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and that whether or not you are Jewish is normally a function of ancestry, especially maternal ancestry.”

Dershowitz also disputed the existence of a unified “Lobby,” which the authors defined in their piece as a “loose coalition of individuals and organizations.” He contended that while the authors define the lobby as a “loose coalition” at the start, they expand the definition in the body of the piece, and that in the end, any Jew who supports Israel could be considered a member.

The authors responded that their use of the word “Lobby” is not meant to imply that it is “a unified movement with a central leadership or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues.”
Good stuff. The mere existence of this paper means this country might some day realize why 9/11 happened. Make sure you read the whole thing!

UPDATE: What I read, and quoted, was a shortened essay. Here's the full paper. Also Daniel Drezner has a good comment here and here. He raises some good points (I also thought the bit about living with a nuclear Iran was over the top). But he keeps saying he's surprised and disappointed that the paper hasn't received more mainstream meadia coverage. For an explanation, if I may be so bold, I would suggest he re-reads the paper, especially the bit that explains why "It is hard to imagine any mainstream media outlet in the United States publishing a piece like this one".

UPDATE II: That's it, Dan Drezner is an idiot, I'm taking him off my blogger list:
A) They fail to demonstrate that Israel is a net strategic liability;
They strongly suggest that the Israeli influence on US politics is responsible for 9/11 and the Iraq war. You'd have to have a hell of a lot of net strategic "assets" to counter those two miserable failures!
B) They ascribe U.S. foreign policy behavior almost exclusively to the activities of the "Israel Lobby"; and
That's the topic of the paper, dude. They're not excluding the influence of oil or countering Soviet influence.
C) They omit consderation of contradictory policies and countervailing foreign policy lobbies.
Oh, like the all-powerful Arab lobby? Name three Arab-American counterparts to Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Richard Perle? Man, for a smart guy Drezner is really dumb.

UPDATE III: I take back what I wrote about Dan Drezner above, he's definitely not an idiot and I will continue reading his blog daily with great interest. Drezner is at least open to debate on this issue, even though I think he was too quick to dismiss the M/W paper.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Conservative Books

Via Kevin Drum, this is just too funny not to post:
Somewhere there's a conservative publishing house trying to brainstorm book topics. It has a room with a white wall on which there are taped a series of placards. On the left you have a list of enemies: Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, The Democrats, The United Nations, France, Michael Moore. On the right you have a list of plots to match with the villain: Apologize for Terrorists, Raise Your Taxes, Destroy Christmas, Steal Your Guns, Sodomize Your Children. Just mix and match. Voila! The books write themselves: "Hillary Clinton's War Against Christmas"; "Traitor: How Howard Dean Apologizes for Terrorists"; "Bonjour, Garcon: The French Plot to Sodomize Your Children"; and so on.

Okay, maybe there is no such room. But it sure would explain this.

--Jonathan Chait

Friday, March 31, 2006

Russ may be on to something..

A good post from blogger Mike Stagg.

I think Russ Feingold is doing a good job on this, and if Bush keeps dropping in the polls (which I think he will) I think Russ will benefit from this censure stunt in the long run.

Back in 2002, when almost all Democrats supported the Bush invasion of Iraq, I felt in my gut that this was going to come back to haunt them. Now I'm feeling the same thing about Bush and wiretapping. As details keep appearing Bush may comet to look worse than Nixon. And he's still got 3 years to commit further screw-ups.

UPDATE: Based on this blogsearch it seems that the Republican wingnut-choir is going after Russ in a big way. That's a great indication that he's on to something.

Prayer Hurts

Please hold the Godspeak if I get sick:
NEXT time you're sick consider asking your loved ones not to pray for you.

A study of more than 1800 patients who underwent heart bypass surgery has failed to show that prayers said for their recovery had any impact. In fact, some of the patients who knew they were being prayed for did worse than others who were only told they might be prayed for.
UPDATE: Removed an earlier comment that just didn't make much sense. I really have no further comment on this.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Why American Companies Rock

An interesting take:
The best guess about the "X factor" is that America's business culture is peculiarly well-suited to contemporary challenges. American business is not especially good at coaxing productivity out of factory workers: The era when this was all-important was the heyday of Germany and Japan. But American business excels at managing service workers and knowledge workers: at equipping these people with technology, empowering them with the right level of independence and paying for performance. So the era of decentralized "network" businesses is the American era.

Fighting Terrorism vs. Promoting Democracy

A sobering piece by Fukuyama.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Christians For Torture

This is just great:
In other words, if you are an American Christian, you are more likely to support torture than if you are an atheist or agnostic. Christians for torture: it's a new constituency.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Brzezinski on Iraq

A must read that starts with an effective description of Iraq today and options for tomorrow. It ends with this nugget, which goes to the heart of the question of why it took over 5 years for substantial critisism of Bush' foreign policy to emerge:
What troubles me the most is not that which that I have criticized, but that which hasn't happened. That is to say: a serious and comprehensive Democratic challenge on this subject. Democratic leaders have been silent or evasive. They have not offered an alternative to the war in Iraq. It's easy to criticize - that was the first part of my speech. That is easy to do, although some of us did it sooner than others.

But they haven't offered an alternative. Also they have not seriously challenged the view of the world that is being propagated from the top. At a time of a deepening and widening crisis in Iraq, and a widening gap between America and the world, that to me is a form of political desertion.
And do you know what's really, really scary? The best and most substantial war critics today are Johnny-come-lately conservatives like Bruce Bartlett, Andrew Sullivan and Greg Djereijan.

I see now, more clearly than ever, that the Republicans have a monopoly on foreign policy expertise. I'm not a religious man but I think I'll start praying for the emergence of a competent Democratic challenger like Wesley Clark or else we're all fucked.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Gays and Kids

Andrew quotes Mitt Romney:
Today, same-sex couples are marrying under the law in Massachusetts. Some are actually having children born to them. It's not right on paper. It's not right in fact. Every child has the right to have a mother and a father
I know I am a horrible liberal and an even worse Scandinavian for saying this, but being a father myself I think Romney has a point about the kids. I see no reason at all for gay couples not to marry, and even though I suspect having a mother and a father is best for a child I would never support banning people (gay, straight or single) from bearing children. But, if it's done in a tactful and non-discriminatory way, I do support upholding the ideal of traditional mother-father parenting through practices such as restricting (though not eliminating) same-sex (and single) parent adoptions.

The South and Republicans

Kevin has a good post on Republicanism in the South where he quotes a book review as saying:
The engine of partisan change in the postwar South was, first and foremost, economic development and an associated politics of social class," they conclude after sifting through reams of electoral and polling data. "The impact of legal desegregation and an associated politics of racial identity had to be understood through its interaction with economic development." In other words, the Southern realignment wasn't about white racial backlash. Rather, it was about a new, middle-class South that focused mostly on economic issues and only secondarily on race.
Kevin doesn't buy this, and I don't either. I'll use a personal anecdote to illustrate why.

Let's look at my neighbour across the street from my house in Chamblee (15 min outside central Atlanta). He recently had a meeting of minds with my wife over the FUH2 website which posts pictures of people "saluting" Hummers. He carries stickers in his car that read something like "H2: Fuck the environment, I'm rich", along with an assortment of anti-Bush stickers. Yet he is not a Democrat. Like most other white and sensible people I've met in the South he says he's a "Libertarian".

I don't know exactly what it is, but there's some powerful force that keeps Southerners away from the Democratic party. If you're a white male who grew up in the South, and you don't work in a very liberal-minded profession such as education or healthcare, then you're just not going to admit any allegiance with the Democratic party no matter how liberal, environmentalist or even socialist your political views are. I didn't go to high school in the South but I'm pretty sure boys who support Democrats get wedgies until they learn to stop.

My own theory is that white kids down here are taught to associate Democrats with poor work ethic and a desire to milk other taxpayers for as much money as possible. And if so, there is clearly a historically racist element in this view (although I would not classify any of the people I've spoken to as racists). I've posed this theory to many white Southerners, and nobody really denies it. They usually utter an embarrassed laugh and try to change the subject.

American Intellectuals For Sale

Here's an interesting discussion between Francis Fukuyama and Bernard Henri-Levy. Andrew Sullivan thinks the Frenchman is the loser in the exchange, but I disagree.

I respect Fukuyama's superior understanding of American society and I share his view that America provides unique opportunities for immigrants. But he clearly doesn't understand what a European-style intellectual is. Like most non-Europeans he sees nothing wrong with America's leading thinkers like himself being "for sale", switching their allegiance in order to retain employment (and getting fired when they dare to disagree):
I myself worked for more than ten years at the RAND Corporation, the original "think tank" satirized in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove that did contract research for the U.S. Air Force and Defense Department. Obviously, one cannot be a free thinker in a place like that (Daniel Ellsberg tried to be and he was fired), and that is one of the reasons that I eventually left to go to a university. But overall, I believe that a democracy is better off having intellectuals pay systematic attention to policy issues, even if it is occasionally corrupting. Having to deal not with ideal solutions but with the real world of power and politics is a good discipline for an intellectual. There is a fine line between being realistic and selling one's soul, and in the case of the Iraq war many neoconservatives got so preoccupied with policy advocacy that they blinded themselves to reality. But it's not clear that virtue necessarily lies on the side of intellectuals who think they are simply being honest.
What Fukuyama doesn't understand is that it's more about independence than honesty. European intellectuals may get as wrapped up in their own pundit franchise as anybody else. But at least in Europe they are not expected to conform to the views of their employers.

Bernard says it well, although I have never succeeded in communicating the real meaning of these words to a non-European:
The problem lies with the definition of what you and I call an intellectual, and beyond its definition, its function. Unlike you, I don't think an intellectual's purpose is to run the RAND Corporation or any institution like it. Not because I despise RAND, or because I believe in Kubrick's burlesque portrayal of it. No, I just think that while some people are running RAND, others no more or no less worthy or deserving should be dealing with, shall we say, the unfiltered truth. A democracy needs both, imperatively and absolutely both—"realistic" intellectuals and "idealistic" intellectuals. Both types and the functions they embody have recognizable places inside society, even if some societies value one type more than the other. America needs intellectuals with a selfless concern for sense, complexity and truth. This is just as essential to its equilibrium (possibly even to its moral fiber and therefore to its good health) as the existence of universal suffrage or the separation of powers √† la Montesquieu.
Now that the press has relinquished much of its watchdog function in American public life the lack of truly independent intellectuals is becoming painfully apparent. And it has allowed conservatives to perpetuate the silly myth that "all news is biased" which has led to a stunning disconnect from reality.

UPDATE: It appears that Daniel Drezner (an American) is also concerned.

Another Hawk Apology

Greg Djerejian says he deserves scorn from sensible war skeptics:
In good time, I will write my personal mea culpa in this tragic affair. I had greater faith in this Administration, and they have let us down time and again. But it's too easy to say it would all have been OK but for the dumbies who effed up the show. People who supported the war, and there were many of us (on both sides of the aisle) lest we forget, had to keep in mind the abilities of those charged with prosecuting it, and the resources that would be brought to bear. We knew the Powell Doctrine had been shunted aside in favor of utopic transformationalist nostrums, and we knew that some who were listened to in the leading counsels of power had memorably declared the effort would be a cakewalk. We should have smelled the danger signals better, and we deserve the scorn of those who were against this effort from the get-go, at least those who honestly believed we were doing the wrong thing rather than just opposing anything the horrible Bushies would bring to the plate. Also, it should be said, war is a tremendously complex endeavor, and while it's a cliche to state, it's very true that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. We can beat up on the war-planners, and their arrogance and reluctance to admit mistakes makes it feel good, but their jobs are never easy ones, and those of us brandishing laptops to castigate all and sundry do well to recall this now and again.
Good for him. I value his opinion, thus I am glad to see he is a man of integrity. Even though, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, it "took him a while to do the right thing".

Friday, March 10, 2006

Krugman on Bartlett and Sullivan Flip-Flops

Loved this:
Bruce Bartlett, the author of "Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy," is an angry man. At a recent book forum at the Cato Institute, he declared that the Bush administration is "unconscionable," "irresponsible," "vindictive" and "inept."

It's no wonder, then, that one commentator wrote of Mr. Bartlett that "if he were a cartoon character, he would probably look like Donald Duck during one of his famous tirades, with steam pouring out of his ears."

Oh, wait. That's not what somebody wrote about Mr. Bartlett. It's what Mr. Bartlett wrote about me in September 2003, when I was saying pretty much what he's saying now.
Andrew attempts a defense of the indefensible:
But then, in times of peril, some of us feel that supporting the president, whoever he is, and hoping he gets things right, are not contemptible impulses.
Those impulses may not contemptible, but they are foolish. History teaches us that such impulses allow leaders to lead countries into ruin:
"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."
-- Joseph Goebbels, German Minister of Propaganda, 1933-1945
Intelligent writers like Andrew should know better. But, it's tough when you spend a whole lifetime building up a opinion-franchise like most pundits do. To quote myself paraphrasing Julian Sanchez:
People who produce political opinion for a living (i.e. "pundits") may start out with the noblest of intentions. But informal social pressures make it increasingly difficult to deviate from the ideology they started out with. Thus over time they turn into partisan/ideological hacks -- defending "their side" not in earnestness but to keep from upsetting sympathizers while protecting the "opinion franchise" they've built up over time.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Bible

Via Andrew Sullivan (a Catholic), a review of a book which charts what happens when a born-again fundamentalist Christian with a knack for languages start looking closely at Biblical texts. He finds, among other things, that all references to the resurrection were added centuries after Christ supposedly died.
Ehrman slowly came to a horrifying realization: There was no real historical record. It was, he felt, all incense and myth, told by illiterate men and not set down in writing for decades.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Scandi Mafiosi

California news:

You can say it: "That poor Ferrari." Fortunately, the car (pictured) was the only casualty. The owner, Stefan Eriksson, former executive of Gizmondo Europe with alleged ties to the Swedish mafia, was involved in the crash but not seriously injured. The police are still investigating if Eriksson was the passenger as he claims.
There's a mafia in Sweden? Man, nobody tells me anything.

UPDATE: Turns out Stefan isn't only connected to the Swedish Mafia, he IS the Swedish Mafia (a.k.a. the "Uppsala Mafia") along with fellow mafioso Peter Ulf and Johan Enander:
In early 1990 the three companions got the infamous name “The Uppsala Mafia”. They where sentenced to long punishment in jail in several different trials, one of the crimes was trying to fraud 22 millions Kronas from the Swedish Bank Giro central. Stefan “Fat-Stefan” Eriksson 43 yrs was 1993 and 1994 sentenced to 10 and a half years prison for major economic frauds. His companion Peter Uf, was sentenced to in total 8 and a half years prison. Ulf is today a manager in the Gizmondo organization. Johan Enander, 46, that was called the Uppsala-mafia torpedo got over 6 years prison in different trials. He was sentenced for different crimes as for example physical assault, blackmail etc. In December 2003 he was again sentenced to one and a half years of physical assault of a women. As soon he had served hi punishment he was assigned as Head of security at Gizmondo.
Source: Swedish Newspaper Aftonbladet (English translation, weirdly, on a Gizmodo site). LA Times has the full story.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Another Republican has had it with Bush

Of course the Democrats won't do:
With an often meek opposition party (the Democrats have few, if any, standard-bearers who have really grappled with the torture issue seriously, and this includes Al Gore's sour grapes and poor venue selection for hyperbolic showmanship), people like me increasingly have no party to turn to. We recall the Clinton years with dismay, given his episodic and ineffective reaction to al-Qaeda as it grew in strength, culminating in the 9/11 attacks--as well as his morally bankrupt inattention to genocidal action in the Balkans pre-Richard Holbrooke's insertion in '95. We continue to be fearful the Democrats don't understand the full panoply of stakes with regard to the war on terror, and will over-compensate for what they too simplistically deride as Bush's unilateral militarism, and replace it with an overly supine resort to treating terrorism as a criminal law issue, so as to likely revert to a more isolationist posture at a time when continued major American involvement is absolutely critical on the world stage.
I share his fears. But I'll take a Clinton who is "ineffective" at foreign policy over a Bush who actively destroys it any day. I think I'll give some more money to Wes Clark.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Islam and Democracy

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers (an Hindu), writes:
"I am so tired of Muslims of blaming 'culture' not the 'religion' for any trouble inside Muslim countries. If you need an example of the falsehood of that statement - look at India and Pakistan. The people are ethnically identical, speak the same languages and eat the same foods. (In fact they were the same country until Muslims demanded they get their own country).

Today Pakistan is a military dictatorship and has been for most of its 50 plus year life. Its only claims to fame are killing journalists, operating jihadi camps, beating up women who try to run marathons, possessing nuclear weapons and blowing up the local KFC to prove that Islam is not violent. India on the other hand is a striving (albeit Third World) democracy that is home to Gandhi, yoga, computer programmers, hugging saints, doctors and spelling bee enthusiasts. Thus once again demonstrating that it isn't the 'culture' but the 'religion' that is truly incompatible with the modern world.

In fact, it's sad to say this but in the eyes of many Hindus, myself included, September 11th is just another horrific example of the 1400 years that Islam has been fighting 'the other'. We don't view it as some sort of perversion of Islam but rather the way it has been since its birth. I'm also tired of liberals blaming marginalization in Europe and Britain for everything. That is just rubbish. Hindus in Europe are the same colour as their Muslim counterparts and therefore would face the same discrimination and barriers but choose to direct their energy to better education and assimilating into the culture. Not to building better bombs."
I think he raises an important point. After all, Islam is in part a "model" for how to run a state created by a political leader. That there are problems reconciling it with Democracy (a competing political "model") is not surprising. And since Democracy seems to be the "winner" of the two (based on GDP per head of Democracies vs. Islamic states) then it follows logically that the Muslim world can't have its cake and eat it too. It has some tough choices to make:
  1. Recognize that Democracy must come before Islam and try to compete with the world's leading nations while de-emphasizing political Islam
  2. Continue unsuccessfully to try to mix the two while falling further behind
  3. Forget about Democracy and try to re-invent or modernize Islam (in a cohesive way) so that modernized Islamic states can compete with democratic ones
  4. Create pure Islamic states and try to live as they did 1400 years ago
The trouble with option 1 is not losing "face", especially since Muslims tend (with reason) to view Democratic states as "Christian". The troubles with option 2 are clear for everyone to see in many Muslim countries today (Pakistan being one of them). Option 3 is difficult without a visionary leader, and since Islam is also a religion this leader would have to be a deity of some sort (a new Prophet). These folks don't grow on trees. Option 4 is also difficult, especially since the Muslim ruling classes tend to enjoy the material goodies available in Democratic states, thereby corrupting the "purity" of old-fashioned ways (witness Saudi Arabia).

My take: The West should help encourage progress towards option 1. One of the ways to do this is to continue divorcing Democracy from Christianity. Having an American President who is a founding member of the Religious Right does't help. State-funded churches in Norway don't help either.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A Neocon Admission

A fine display of integrity by my favorite blogger:
The correct response to this is not more triumphalism and spin, but a real sense of shame and sorrow that so many have died because of errors made by their superiors, and by intellectuals like me.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Anti-Semitic Cartoon Contest

Andrew Sullivan:
A group of Israelis launch a contest: for Jewish cartoonists to produce the most anti-Semitic cartoons imaginable. Nothing could better distinguish the difference between the West and the Arab-Muslim world.
Very healthy.

More about pre-war Intelligence

Former head of CIA's intelligence gathering in the Middle East speaks (via Andrew Sullivan):
The administration defended itself by pointing out that it was not alone in its view that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and active weapons programs, however mistaken that view may have been.

In this regard, the Bush administration was quite right: its perception of Saddam's weapons capacities was shared by the Clinton administration, congressional Democrats, and most other Western governments and intelligence services. But in making this defense, the White House also inadvertently pointed out the real problem: intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs did not drive its decision to go to war.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Olympics: Counting Medals

American media seems to focus on total medal count, which right now puts Norway on top:

Meanwhile Norwegian media (NRK, the Norwegian version of the BBC) puts the US on top:

Then again, some purists think the recently added tv-friendly judged events,
Judged events, which hardly merit the appellation “sports,” are the bane of right-thinking viewers everywhere, but are manna to the non-sports fans whom NBC must court in order to justify charging the exorbitant advertising fees necessary to recoup the 3.57 billion dollars it spent for the right to televise the Olympics until 2008. The credulity and general lack of any interest whatsoever in the minutiae of competition, which characterize this audience, are also responsible for such reportorial abominations as tape delayed broadcasts, commercial breaks during live play of hockey games, interminable chatter throughout actual competition and time-wasting human interest stories between them, when NBC could be showing less popular but live events.
which are dominated by Americans,
Of the 71 medals the U.S. won in the last four Winter Games, 31 came in events that were not in the Olympics before 1992 and in skeleton. Team USA's 2002 Olympic medals included 16 won in events that never had been Olympic sports until 1992 or later and in skeleton.
should be removed.
1. Immediately cap the number of events at the present level and forget about adding any new ones. There must be no further nonsense about adding any more non-sports to the Games. Ballroom dancers, ski ballerinas, I’m looking at you. Events included in previous Olympics, but currently out of favor, are exempt from this provision (more on them later).

2. Integrate as many events as possible. Until Atlanta, in 1996, ladies competed against gentlemen in the shooting events; now they compete separately. No more. Shooting, curling, and archery should henceforth join equestrian events as co-ed sports.

3. Events requiring the participation of large teams should be kept to a minimum. One way to eliminate some of these events would be to require the participation of the best athletes in the world in order for the sport to be included in the Olympics. Immediately, dropping baseball and soccer (which is really a modified Under-23 tourney) would pare several hundred athletes from the Summer Games roster. The Olympics is no place for merely good athletes; it is for the very best of the very best. The passing into history of the noble ideal of the gentleman amateur is a deplorable matter, but now that the best athletes in the world have chosen to sacrifice that ideal on the altar of Mammon, the Games has chosen to accommodate them rather than to disavow its claim to be the ultimate athletic competition. A corollary of this decision, which cannot be gainsaid, is that there is no place in the Olympic Games for any but the best athletes.

4. Sports with too many sub-events should be cut down to size. In 1932, there were four shooting events; today there are seventeen. Four is more than enough. The same goes for Sailing, where eleven classes could be profitably reduced to two or three. (This might be a tough sell to IOC President Jacques Rogge, a former Olympic yachtsman, but even he might sanction the elimination of boardsailing.) As a core sport, and essential to the Summer Olympics, Athletics (or Track and Field to Americans) should be spared this process of reduction.

5. Ideally, Gymnastics, Rhythmic Gymnastics, Figure Skating, Ice Dancing, Boxing, Diving, and all other similarly subjective events should be eliminated. This will never happen, of course, but I would settle for exscinding the subjective, judged components of Ski Jumping and Moguls. In the former event, the longest jump should win. Period. As in the long jump, style in ski jumping should be measured by the result of the jump, not vice versa. In moguls, the “tricks” make a mockery of what is otherwise a pure, downhill race.

6. There should be a return to pure sports. By pure, I mean athlete-determined (as opposed to judge-determined) events that rely on athletic ability or sporting skill rather than artistic merit. The level of fitness, strength and agility required in events like gymnastics and figure skating is truly admirable, but neither of these events is any more a sport than is ballet, which requires a similar combination of athleticism and artistry. An example of a laudable recent addition to the Games is triathlon, which debuted in Sydney and should be a regular event in future Summer Games. For more such pure events, the IOC would do well to look to the history of the Games. Tug-o-war (included six times between 1900 and 1920) seems an obvious and potentially riotously successful candidate for re-inclusion. Pigeon shoots and Polo would also make lively additions to the Summer Games.
I agree but I don't care all that much. I stopped watching the Olympics after I moved to the US. American TV turns it into infotainment with human interest stories and commentators who don't know the first thing about the sport. Growing up in Norway I would sit there with a stop-watch and write down lap-times on a piece of paper. NRK would show the entire event, all contenders, with no commercials. Maybe some day I'll get back into it; if digital TV takes off and I can watch NRK in Atlanta.