The Mahablog: Truth and the Bush Administration

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saturday, february 5, 2005

Snark Wars
Juan Cole and Jonah Goldberg continued to lob snark bombs at each other throughout the day. It's a futile exercise -- Goldberg is too thick to recognize when he's been beaten -- but it makes for fun reading. Catch up on the fun by clicking here, here, here, and here.  
Oh, wait, there's more ... here, here, and here. Lots of piling on.
This blogger calls Goldberg an "overfed, underread hack." I think that means Goldberg doesn't read enough, not that not enough people read Goldberg. Fact is, way too many people read Goldberg. He's representative of the many second-rate thinkers the Right presents to the public as "intellectuals."
Over the past several months I've found Juan Cole's blog, Informed Comment, to be the single best source of daily information about what's really going on in Iraq. And I say that not because he says what I want to hear, but because what he says, time and time again, turns out to be accurate.
10:00 pm | link

Today's Snark
Juan Cole demolishes Jonah Goldberg. Jeanne d'Arc deconstructs Sean Hannity. The ever-readable James Wolcott mocks Andrew Sullivan. Atrios presents another episode of Bobo's World. Jesse at Pendagon exposes GOP race baiting as presented by Bob the Lizard.
11:08 am | link

friday, february 4, 2005

Some Restrictions May Apply
A pro-gun rights blogger, Kim du Toit, takes a look at some Muslim literature being disseminated in America and suggests "putting an asterisk on the First Amendment."

The Constitution can be amended, and if you try to use its protections to undermine the society which holds it dear, don’t be surprised if you’re suddenly excluded from its umbrella.

There are some misfirings of logic going on here, since Mr. du Toit says he is not opposed to disseminating the literature but rather to violent actions that the literature promotes. The First Amendment doesn't protect violent action. Otherwise, I could claim First Amendment protection for murder if I published a public notice about it first. Clearly, that's silly.

Over the years government bureaucrats have tried to censor speech made by anarchists, and communists, and the Ku Klux Klan, and various other people wanting to do harm to other people. And over the years the SCOTUS has adopted various guidelines regarding speech that promotes violent action. My understanding is that, as it stands now, speech that advocates violence cannot be prohibited "except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action [Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969)]."

As I interpret that, if a bunch of guys are just sittin' around, and one of 'em says, yeah, we oughtta overthrow the gubmint one o' these days, that's protected by the First Amendment. A bunch of guys outside the gates of the White House saying they've got bombs and are looking for volunteers to charge in and blow the place up would not be protected.

But I'm not a lawyer, so don't quote me.

Those of us who still care about what happened on September 11 still want a closer look at the connections between al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, the fundamentalist Wahabi sect of Islam, and the rulers of Saudi Arabia. This is a much more complicated topic than I want to get into right now, but for many years the Saudi royals have played elaborate games, simultaneously appeasing and sheltering the Wahabis and terrorists like Osama bin Laden, while pretending to be friends of America. And you don't even want to get me started on the services performed by George W. Bush and Co. to cover Saudi royal butts. But let's continue ...

It's true that speech plays a role in inflaming hate that leads to violence. Sometimes it's hard to judge where venting crosses a line and becomes inciting violence. Reasonable people can disagree. If there is literature being disseminated that urges American Muslims to commit acts of violence, that really concerns me. I was in lower Manhattan on September 11, remember. I have a daughter who lives and works in Manhattan and rides subways every day, and I can work myself into a genuine panic if I start thinking about terrorism.

But when it comes to civil liberties, the operative phrase should be equal protection under the law. Whatever guidelines are applied should be applied regardless of where the speakers fall on the political spectrum. The law should not care whether the speaker is a Muslim or a Marxist or a Klansman or a member of the Randy Weaver Chapter of the Defenders of the Second Amendment Militia. The government must not be given the power to selectively choose people who don't enjoy the protection of the Bill of Rights. 

(And yes, the Bush Administration already has taken that power and stripped American citizens of their rights under the Fifth and Sixth and several other amendments by calling them "enemy combatants," and why is it that us "big gubmint" liberals are more concerned about this that allegedly freedom-loving righties?) 

But I'm getting away from what I wanted to write about, which is the literature that concerns Mr. du Toit. And here it is, from his site:

  • Reject Christianity as a valid faith: Any Muslim who believes “that churches are houses of God and that God is worshiped therein is an infidel."
  • Insist that Islamic law be applied: On a range of issues, from women (who must be veiled) to apostates from Islam ("should be killed"), the Saudi publications insist on full enforcement of Shariah in America.
  • See non-Muslims as the enemy: “Be dissociated from the infidels, hate them for their religion, leave them, never rely on them for support, do not admire them, and always oppose them in every way according to Islamic law."
  • See America as hostile territory: “It is forbidden for a Muslim to become a citizen of a country governed by infidels because this is a means of acquiescing to their infidelity and accepting all their erroneous ways."
  • Prepare for war against America: “To be true Muslims, we must prepare and be ready for jihad in Allah’s way. It is the duty of the citizen and the government."

For the first three, how is any of that in any way different from the crap spewed out day and night by the Fundie Christian Right? Just switch the position of the words Christianity and Islam, and there you go. Either way it's odious to me, but it's protected under the First Amendment whether I like it or not.

[Update: Well, OK, maybe the Christian fundies don't openly advocate killing non-Christians. But that doesn't mean I'm gonna turn my back to 'em.]

As far as seeing America as hostile territory -- well, it is now, isn't it? I can't argue with that. But as I said, the Wahabis have been inflaming people with rhetoric like that for years, and one would have wished the Saudis had done something about it, and might still do something about it, but somehow it's an issue that isn't on anyone's front burner. Including Bush's.

Last item -- after all of Bush's saber rattling, not to mention little episodes like the destruction of Fallujah -- Mr. du Toit, what the hell do you expect?

If one were to be honest about it, one would admit that invading a Muslim country was a rather provocative and inflammatory act. Especially for half-assed reasons that change every three months.

But here's my point -- I remember, after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, President Clinton requested that people tone down the hate rhetoric that really did play a part in inflaming Timothy McVeigh. And the righties had a bleeping fit. There are still documents from the 1990s drizzled about the web expressing outrage that anyone dare suggest their hate speech was any of the gubmint's business.  

Funny how that works.

Fact is, when civil liberties are for me but not for thee, then the gubmint can take them away from any of us eventually. Why is it that righties don't get that?

8:30 pm | link

Um, About That Election ...
According to this story in the Los Angeles Times, Bush's puppet government in Iraq was a big loser in the recent election. Voters overwhelmingly supported a list endorsed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani, Iraq's senior Shiite cleric.

Sharif Ali bin Hussein, head of the Constitutional Monarchy Party, likened the vote outcome to a "Sistani tsunami" that would shake the nation.

"Americans are in for a shock," he said, adding that one day they would realize, "We've got 150,000 troops here protecting a country that's extremely friendly to Iran, and training their troops."

The partial totals so far show the Iraqi List headed by Allawi, a secular Shiite and onetime CIA protege, trailed far behind with only 18 percent of the votes, despite an aggressive television ad campaign waged with U.S. aid. A lopsided majority of votes, 72 percent, went to the United Iraqi Alliance list, topped by a Shiite cleric who lived in Iran for many years and whose Sciri party has close ties to Iran's clerical regime. More than a third of the alliance's vote came from Baghdad, the cosmopolitan capital where Allawi had been expected to fare well.

Juan Cole says that the United Iraqi Alliance list may fall short of a 2/3 majority needed to form a government, however, and would need to form a coalition with other lists, possibly the Kurds. Professor Cole discusses the pros and cons of such an alliance.

Let’s see if Karl Rove can fix this election.

According to Friday's NYT, the religious Shiites who are backed by Iran have opened what may be an insurmountable lead over the party headed by our stooge Allawi in the votes counted so far in Iraq. Worse yet for the Bush Administration, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s forces, sensing victory, are already laying the foundation for a coalition government with the Kurds, and are bypassing Allawi.

Steve speculates that Judith Miller's good buddy Ahmed Chalabi, Iranian spy, might find a nice spot for himself in the new government. But the Bushies might find him to be a lot less friendly.

Also, it turns out that the voter turnout might have been a tad less glorious than originally reported. Says Greg Mitchell in Editor & Publisher:

For days, the press repeated, as gospel, assertions offered by an election official that 8 million Iraqis went to the polls on Sunday, an impressive 57% turnout rate. I questioned those figures as early as last Sunday, and offered the detailed analysis below on Wednesday. Finally, on Thursday night, John F. Burns and Dexter Filkins of The New York Times reported that Iraqi election officials have quietly "backtracked, saying that the 8 million estimate had been reached hastily on the basis of telephone reports from polling stations across the country and that the figure could change."

Then, in Friday's paper, Burns and Filkins noted that one election commision official was "evasive about the turnout, implying it might end up significantly lower than the initial estimate." They quoted this official, Safwat Radhid, exclaiming: "Only God Almighty knows the final turnout now." They revealed that the announcement of a turnout number, expected to be released this weekend, has been put off for a week, due to the "complex" tabulation system.

Although turnout probably was heavy in some areas, we're learning that the news coverage presented to Americans was a lot of gush and hype. Yet the righties will still whine incessantly about the liberal media.

3:45 pm | link

Phun With Photoshop 10:59 am | link

Be Nice
According to today's New York Times, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska is the only Senate Democrat who did not sign a letter "calling any [Social Security] proposal that would boost the deficit 'immoral, unacceptable and unsustainable.'"
The article also says,

At the same time, two Republicans certain to play a role in shaping any Social Security legislation, Representative Jim McCrery of Louisiana and Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, expressed deep reservations about Mr. Bush's idea of allowing workers to divert a portion of their payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts, though for different reasons.

Mr. McCrery, the chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees Social Security, said Mr. Bush's idea of diverting payroll taxes left Republicans open to attacks that they were weakening the program from Democrats and advocates for retirees, including AARP, a powerful group whose support helped pass Medicare prescription drug legislation in 2003. ...

[Note: Josh Marshall discusses McCrery's concerns at more length.]

Ms. Snowe, a moderate Republican who serves on the Senate Finance Committee and who represents a state with a sizable elderly population, said she had "serious concerns" about the idea, and strongly favored continuing the current system in which retirees receive a guaranteed payout every month.

"It has worked exceptionally well for 70 years," she said. "I think it's in our national interest."

Bush has been barnstorming red states that have Democratic senators to whip up support for destroying Social Security among Dem constituents. (Typically, locals known to have brains were blacklisted from the speeches.) He's going all out to implement his plan to dismantle what's left of the New Deal.
Fortunately, this is an issue that requires 60 Senate votes to pass. If the Dems stay together, Bush won't get 60 votes. Even if, say, the Slimy Six defect, by my calculation just two Republicans (or one Republican plus Jeffords) voting no would save the day. This is a fight that can be won.   
For more on why Bush's scheme is a really, really bad idea, read today's columns by Paul Krugman and E.J. Dionne. See also this WaPo article that explains why you will be especially ripped off if you are under 55 years of age.
8:09 am | link

thursday, february 3, 2005

Torture Tales
Today the Senate voted on the Alberto Gonzales nomination. The bad news is that the nomination was confirmed. But the good news is that all but six present Democratic senators voted no. (Two senators, Max Baucus and Kent Conrad, were "fighting Bush misinformation in their home states" according to Kos. I believe this has to do with the fight to save Social Security.)
The six tories were Joe Lieberman, Ken Salazar, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Bill Nelson, and Mark Pryor. Those six slime creatures plus all of the Republicans voted yes.
Independent Senator Jeffords voted with the Dems.
See more comments at Body and Soul and Kos (Armando).
[Update: The Senate vote was 60 to 36. Keith Olbermann just said the 2001 vote to confirm "Crisco John" Ashcroft was 58-42, so we may not be making progress. There were more Dems in the Senate then, but eight Dems voted yes on Ashcroft.]
I'm having a hard time keeping up, but apparently today Donald Rumsfeld at least tacitly acknowledged that "he may skip an appearance at a security conference in Germany next week because of a lawsuit there accusing him of war crimes," according to the AP.
I can't tell from the news stories how significant lawsuit might be.
Attorneys from the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights filed a suit with German federal prosecutors last November charging that U.S. officials, including Rumsfeld, are responsible for acts of torture against detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. That is the prison where U.S. soldiers were photographed abusing and sexually humiliating Iraqi detainees.

Rumsfeld has maintained that the U.S. government has no policy to permit or encourage torture and that U.S. investigations of the Abu Ghraib abuses showed he was not directly responsible. ...

... The lawsuit against Rumsfeld was filed in Germany because its laws allow for the prosecution of war crimes and human rights violations across national boundaries. Because the United States is not a member of the International Criminal Court, the case could not be filed there.
Just because a lawsuit has been filed doesn't mean the court is going to act on it. But this tells us the Bushies think the court might act on it.
Along these lines, be sure to read Nicholas Kristof's NY Times column from yesterday:
Two weeks ago, President Bush gave an impassioned speech to the world about the need to stand for human freedom.

But this week, administration officials are skulking in the corridors of the United Nations, trying desperately to block a prosecution of Sudanese officials for crimes against humanity.

... Mr. Bush's sympathy for Sudanese parents who are having their children tossed into bonfires shrivels next to his hostility to the organization that the U.N. wants to trust with the prosecution: the International Criminal Court. Administration officials so despise the court that they have become, in effect, the best hope of Sudanese officials seeking to avoid accountability for what Mr. Bush himself has called genocide.

Mr. Bush's worry is that if the International Criminal Court is legitimized, American officials could someday be dragged before it. The court's supporters counter that safeguards make that impossible. Reasonable people can differ about the court, but for Mr. Bush to put his ideological opposition to it over the welfare of the 10,000 people still dying every month in Darfur - that's just madness.

Yeah, it's outrageous, it's insane, it's immoral. And, for the Bushies, it's typical. Why is Kristof acting surprised?
(Comic relief moment: Check out this rightie blog post in which the blogger speculates that Bush will receive the Nobel Peace Prize.)
And the other little bomblet today was that Rummy told Larry King, in an interview to be aired tonight (I thought it was "Larry King Live"?) that twice he submitted his resignation to Bush because of the Abu Ghraib scandal. Might be interesting to check out the program.
7:07 pm | link

Conserving or Preserving?
When people talk about conserving things, whether resources or institutions, you need to pay careful attention to what they mean by conserving.
According to the American Heritage dictionary, to conserve means,
1a. To protect from loss or harm; preserve: calls to conserve our national heritage in the face of bewildering change. b. To use carefully or sparingly, avoiding waste: kept the thermostat lower to conserve energy. 2. To keep (a quantity) constant through physical or chemical reactions or evolutionary changes. 3. To preserve (fruits) with sugar.
Compare to the meaning of preserve:
1. To maintain in safety from injury, peril, or harm; protect. 2. To keep in perfect or unaltered condition; maintain unchanged. 3. To keep or maintain intact: tried to preserve family harmony. See synonyms at defend. 4. To prepare (food) for future use, as by canning or salting. 5. To prevent (organic bodies) from decaying or spoiling. 6. To keep or protect (game or fish) for one's private hunting or fishing.
There is a lot of overlap in meaning, and in some circumstances the words might be used interchangeably. But if you are a butterfly, you definitely want to be conserved and not preserved. Conserving butterflies means protecting them as a species so that they can live; preserving means dropping them into jars with a solution of ethanol and mounting their little buggy corpses in a glass case.
Before marching too far into the Agre essay, I think we need to challenge the notion that conservatism in the political sense is about conserving what is good about human civilization. I'm going to argue that often conservatives are more into preserving (in the bug sense) than conserving.
The Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, provides a good example. All of American history can be understood as a struggle between a liberal view, in which the Constitution remains living, active and vital, and a conservative view, in which it is preserved in a glass case to be admired but kept as dead as possible. Especially the Bill of Rights part.
Put another way, American history has been a struggle between liberalism, which wants to fully realize and actualize the civil liberties protected in the Bill of Rights, and conservatism, which stands in the way.
For example, the ink was barely dry on the Bill of Rights before the conservatives of 1789 introduced the Alien and Sedition Acts, which curtailed the rights of citizens to assemble "with intent to oppose any measure of the government" and to "print, utter, or publish ... any false, scandalous, or malicious writing against the government."
Some of the Federalists who supported the Alien and Sedition Acts had also supported the ratification of the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment. How could they not see the contradiction? IMO in order to answer that question you'd have to walk in the shoes of an 18th century upper-class man and see the world as he saw it. Good luck with that. Fortunately some upper-class men of the day did see the contradiction, and when the liberal Thomas Jefferson became president, enforcement of the Acts ended.
When thinking of a "living" versus a "preserved but dead" Constitution, think also of the 14th Amendment. The clear purpose of the amendment is to strengthen the Bill of Rights. Before the 14th was ratified, state governments could (and did) censor political speech. In many states of the antebellum South, for example, you could be imprisoned merely for owning a copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin. And when the Civil War ended, many of the former slave states passed laws that would have given the freedmen the status of medieval serfs. The 14th Amendment stripped states of the power to infringe upon the rights of citizens:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.  
But the 14th Amendment was barely out of the box before the Supreme Court stepped in and declared, in the Slaughterhouse cases, that the amendment didn't really say what it said, and didn't really guarantee equal protection under state law as under federal law.
(The Slaughterhouse decision also has a prominent role in the history of "corporate personhood," which has enormous implications in the struggle of liberalism versus conservatism, and which is also very worthy of discussion.)
Thus the 14th Amendment was robbed of its power and vitality. But in the 20th century, little by little, it was brought back to life. A big chunk of "liberal activist" case law passed in the 20th century, such as Brown v. Board of Education or Engle v. Vitale, amounted to taking the 14th Amendment out of the glass case and applying it to the law as it was meant to be applied.
Now, you would think that people who march around talking about the importance of individual liberty and the evils of Big Government would like the 14th Amendment. But you would be wrong. The 14th Amendment stands in direct opposition to states' rights, that doctrine so beloved by slaveowners and, later, by segregationists. Even libertarians go to remarkable lengths of historical revisionism to disparage the 14th Amendment.
(I don't have time to go into all the historical inaccuracies of the Lew Rockwell article linked above, but if anyone is interested I can post a reading list that would help.)
I've flamed with many righties over the years who wail that "states' rights" stand for individual liberty, when in fact it's a doctrine that says state government retains the power to oppress your sorry ass if it wants to. Why libertarians would be in favor of this is beyond me, but it's one of the reasons I keep 'em at arms' length.
Agre deals with this subject on page 4 (Section 1, Part 3, "Freedom"):

But isn't conservatism about freedom? Of course everyone wants freedom, and so conservatism has no choice but to promise freedom to its subjects. In reality conservatism has meant complicated things by "freedom", and the reality of conservatism in practice has scarcely corresponded even to the contorted definitions in conservative texts.

To start with, conservatism constantly shifts in its degree of authoritarianism. Conservative rhetors, in the Wall Street Journal for example, have no difficulty claiming to be the party of freedom in one breath and attacking civil liberties in the next.

The real situation with conservatism and freedom is best understood in historical context. Conservatism constantly changes, always adapting itself to provide the minimum amount of freedom that is required to hold together a dominant coalition in the society. In Burke's day, for example, this meant an alliance between traditional social authorities and the rising business class. Although the business class has always defined its agenda in terms of something it calls "freedom", in reality conservatism from the 18th century onward has simply implied a shift from one kind of government intervention in the economy to another, quite different kind, together with a continuation of medieval models of cultural domination.

Reading that, I can see our little twerp of a president using liberal rhetoric and liberal icons, such as FDR, to sell his regressive and extremist conservative agenda.  
Agre defines conservatism as "the domination of society by an aristocracy." It's important to understand that aristocracy is as aristocracy does; history is full of examples of wealthy persons advancing liberalism and poor persons willingly serving conservatism. In fact, conservatism cannot exist unless the non-aristocratic masses willingly buy into it. That's why it's a bad idea to view history through a "haves versus have-nots" lens, as lefties often do. It isn't that simple.
As the wealthy and privileged Theodore Roosevelt said,

One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows. ...

At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of free men to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth. ...

TR's "New Nationalism" speech, delivered in 1911, made the case for modern American liberalism. Parts of it relate to issues we're still struggling with --

...The fundamental thing to do for every man is to give him a chance to reach a place in which he will make the greatest possible contribution to the public welfare. ... No man can be a good citizen unless he has a wage more than sufficient to cover the bare cost of living, and hours of labor short enough so that after his day's work is done he will have time and energy to bear his share in the management of the community, to help in carrying the general load. We keep countless men from being good citizens by the conditions of life with which we surround them.

We're still fighting a "living wage" fight. Think Wal-Mart.
TR used the words conservative and conserve many times in this speech, in the sense of avoiding waste or protecting from harm. But TR was all about action and vitality, not preserving things in glass cases, which is why people loved him. And TR was no conservative in Agre's sense in spite of his privileged upbringing.
Unfortunately, George W. Bush is.
11:08 am | link

Still No Guts
I've been cruising around looking for commentary on the SOTU. The left blogosphere is unusually subdued, possibly because we're all tired from four years of countering Bush lies, and it seems there weren't any new lies in this speech. Just the same old lies, tweaked. The only sentence that seems to have raised a collective eyebrow was,
Justice is distorted, and our economy is held back, by irresponsible class actions and frivolous asbestos claims - and I urge Congress to pass legal reforms this year.
Those naughty frivolous asbestos claims! I hadn't noticed what a problem they were. But here's a WaPo article from January 7 in which Bush warns that the evil asbestos claims were bankrupting good, honorable companies and must be stopped.
One of those companies is Halliburton, by the way.
The two major themes of the speech were that Social Security must be destroyed and that we can expect the situation in Iraq to deteriorate into a power struggle between Iranian mullahs and American imperialists. That's not what Bush said, of course, but that's what it boils down to.
There's a New York Times commentary that's not too bad, here.
In cruising around looking for SOTU commentary I found a non-SOTU article that needs attention, and it's by Richard Cohen, who's been unusually sensible lately.
Synopsis: Hamilton College had invited Ward Churchill to give a speech on American Indian activism. Churchill is the new liberal darling of the Right, meaning the Right has embraced him as the representative face of liberalism, even though most of us liberals had never heard of him before. The Right loves him because he says stupid and indefensible things that the Right can hold up as representative of liberal thought, even though it isn't.
In any event, even though Churchill seems to be a nutjob, in the U.S. even nutjobs are allowed to speak, last I heard. And Hamilton College seemed determined to give Churchill a forum.
Writes Richard Cohen:
Then Bill O'Reilly struck. The Fox TV commentator went to town on the controversy, finding the usual liberal idiocy at the usual liberal college perpetrated by the usual liberal morons. Having rounded up his usual suspects, O'Reilly ended a segment about Hamilton by providing the name of the college's president, Joan Hinde Stewart, her e-mail address and the school's phone number. Then, blood dripping from his evil heart, he asked his deranged viewers to "keep your comments respectable."

The school caved. Stewart reported getting 6,000 or so messages, and I know, because I get them all the time, that many of them were vile and obscene and even threatening. But this is the true cost of free speech. It is not some rarefied principle, not some slogan, not some trivial right for professors to abuse in comfortable distance from the targets of their ideas, but the most powerful and dangerous right of them all. And because O'Reilly had, in effect, organized an Internet lynch mob, a collection of cyber-goons -- one of whom threatened to bring a gun -- the school simply junked the program. It chickened out.

Charles of Little Green Footballs (and I don't link to the genuinely evil LGF; you can find it yourself) was miffed that Hamilton College cancelled Churchill's speech, "not because his monstrously inverted opinions deserve to be shunned, but because of alleged 'threats of violence.'"
This proves once again that the fascists have no clue what democracy even is and that they are a greater threat to it than Ward Churchill, or Saddam Hussein, or even Osama bin Laden. But we'll get into that eventually when I get around to more discussion of the Agre essay. As Max of Maxspeaks writes, their goal is to destroy political criticism -- by violence, if necessary.
8:17 am | link

wednesday, february 2, 2005

I'm Not Watching
No guts, I know. I am following the speech through Kos threads.
9:13 pm | link

Viewers Guide to SOTU
I just posted a viewer's guide to the State of the Union speech at American Street. It may be useful. Or not.
One viewing tip that occurred to me that I didn't include, because you have to be at least as old as I am to get it -- if Bush slips up and says privatized accounts instead of personal accounts for Social Security, here's something to do to savor the moment:  Close your eyes and imagine that a stuffed duck wearing glasses and with a $100 bill in his beak drops from the ceiling. And imagine the press corps singing "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" in the background.
Also, thanks to everyone who helped retrieve the old archives out of the wastes of cyberspace. I think I've got most of the old stuff that was any good, and since I don't remember what else there was I won't miss it.
2:44 pm | link

tuesday, february 1, 2005

Mahablog Archive Destroyed by Tripod
Sometime in the past few days my archive of the first 13 months or so of The Mahablog was taken offlline by the web host, Lycos Tripod, and the files destroyed. I had backups of some of it but not all of it, so a lot of it is gone.
The URL of the original site was
I was given no notice this was going to happen and no means to contest the decision. The reason, according to Fred, Lycos Network Abuse Specialist, is that my site (online since July 2002) "was found to be in violation of the Lycos Network Terms and Conditions."
Tripod also destroyed my first web site, the Timeline of Terror, which was a timeline of Bushie activities before and after September 11. I created the Timeline in the spring of 2002 and added on to it occasionally. There are better timelines and I hadn't updated it for several months, so that's not so much of a loss, but I occasionally used it to jog my memory as to what happened when.
I noticed the sites were down when I went to the Timeline yesterday to look up a date. Like I said, I was given absolutely no notice of this.
I moved my active site from Lycos Tripod in 2003 because their tech support sucked. It would have been a massive undertaking to move the archive, however, so I left the old site online as it was. The old site still got a few hits every day.
Fred would not tell me exactly what "terms and conditions" I had violated. The site was not pornographic, did not provide instructions for building bombs, was not infringing anyone's copyright (in my opinion, and I know stuff about copyrights). It was the same stuff I've been writing on this site.
I can only assume that someone at Lycos Tripod decided to destroy the old sites because they were critical of George W. Bush.
One of the several reasons tech support sucked is that Lycos Tripod makes it nearly impossible even for paying customers to actually communicate with them. The only contact I have is the email address Fred used, which is:
If you can provide names, phone numbers, fax numbers, email addresses, etc., of Lycos executives please post them in the comments. Also, please drop a line to Fred and tell him Tripod sucks. And please let him know you are writing in reference to my original site, which is 
And if you are a blogger, please pass this on. Thanks much.
7:55 pm | link

Your Assignment
So yesterday I gave a reading assignment, which is an essay by Philip Agre titled "What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong With It." And it is a tad long -- I printed it out to read it, and it came to 28 pages. But it's so excellent I really, really think it's worth reading all of the way through.
For those requesting a Cliff's Notes version, Jeanne d'Arc already wrote one, at Body and Soul. That's how I found the essay. But I didn't link to Madame d'Arc first because I don't want people to just read her synopsis, even though it is excellent. I can tell that some of the commenters -- most of 'em, probably -- didn't read Agre's essay, and didn't get it.  
The essay settled one of my own conflicts. I've been struggling to reconcile my (Eisenhower era) notions of conservatism with the right-wing whackjobs we're dealing with today. Today's whackjobs don't seem conservative to me, which is why I've been calling them righties.
But if you accept Agre's definition of conservatism as "the domination of society by an aristocracy," it makes sense. The Eisenhower-era conservatives, many of whom were Democrats, were heavily invested in maintaining a whites-only power structure. And of course the McCarthyites and fellow travelers, like the House Committee for Un-American Activities, were heavily invested in cutting back civil liberties and making sure we freedom-loving people didn't get too free for our own good.
As Thomas Frank explained so well in What's the Matter With Kansas, today vast numbers of ordinary Americans seem hellbent on undermining their own lives, jobs, futures, civil liberties, access to health care, pensions, education, etc., in order to strengthen a financial/corporate/political aristocracy headed by King George W. Bush.

But in my lifetime, I don't think American conservatism has ever been as boldly aristocratic as it currently is: Do not ask questions. Do not expect even minimal accountability. Whatever they do is, by definition, perfect,  because they do it and they are God's chosen. L'etat c'est moi. There's no denying we've had a few embarrassing presidents in our history, but when, before this millennium, have we seen the ascending of the idiot prince to the throne? And yet they call us an elite, those of us watching the little hope and security we have -- our pensions, our access to health care, the laws that keep us from being poisoned or losing our jobs unfairly, the investment in our kids' schools -- slip away.

No, perhaps those of us watching those things happen are not considered an elite. But those of us daring to notice and complain about it are. The fundamental civic obligation (not right, obligation) in a democracy -- paying attention and speaking up -- is deemed arrogant.

Americans have been deceived into supporting this aristocracy to their own detriment. The brainwashing is so complete that democracy itself cannot survive here unless significant numbers of Americans can somehow be un-brainwashed. Just winning a few elections is not going to save us. Trying to scare them by telling them the truth about what Bush is really up to is not working. We must, literally, change minds. We must wake people up to the danger and get them to change the way they see their role as citizens and their relationship with government. And that won't be easy.

Agre's essay is divided into five parts, and I propose to introduce a separate discussion for each part over the next few days. That way, you only have to read a few pages at a time. :-)

The parts are,

1. The Main Arguments of Conservatism (pp. 1-5)

2. How Conservatism Works (pp. 5-12)

3. Conservatism in American History (pp. 12-15)

4. The Discovery of Democracy (pp. 15-19)

5. How to Defeat Conservatism (pp. 19-28)

Reading pages 1-5 isn't too much, is it?

10:05 am | link

You Won't Hear This From O'Reilly
Az-Zaman reports that 150,000 angry Iraqi Christians in Ninevah Province came out to protest on Monday. The ballot boxes arrived in their areas too late on Sunday, and they say they were promised that they could vote until 10 am Monday to give them time to cast the ballots. In the end, however, the Electoral Commission declined to make an exception for them, and they just won't get to vote. Iraqi Christians have been the victims of terrorist attacks, many have emigrated, and many fear Kurdish control over their regions. [Juan Cole]
Looks like the Iraqis are modeling their elections on ours. The GOP pulls tricks to keep blacks from voting; Iraqis pull tricks to keep Christians from voting.

Juan Cole has more good info (including a reminder that Bush originally didn't want Iraqis to have one person, one vote elections, as Sunday's election was), so be sure to read the whole post today.

A history professor interviewed in the Green Bay News-Chronicle points out that Iraqis had elections many years before Saddam Hussein, so Sunday's exercise was not a first, as many assume.  

Sami Ramadani writes in The Guardian,

With the past few days' avalanche of spin, you could be forgiven for thinking that on January 30 2005 the US-led occupation of Iraq ended and the people won their freedom and democratic rights. This has been a multi-layered campaign, reminiscent of the pre-war WMD frenzy and fantasies about the flowers Iraqis were collecting to throw at the invasion forces. How you could square the words democracy, free and fair with the brutal reality of occupation, martial law, a US-appointed election commission and secret candidates has rarely been allowed to get in the way of the hype.

If truth is the first casualty of war, reliable numbers must be the first casualty of an occupation-controlled election. The second layer of spin has been designed to convince us that an overwhelming majority of Iraqis participated. The initial claim of 72% having voted was quickly downgraded to 57% of those registered to vote. So what percentage of the adult population is registered to vote? The Iraqi ambassador in London was unable to enlighten me. In fact, as UN sources confirm, there has been no registration or published list of electors - all we are told is that about 14 million people were entitled to vote.

... Those who insist that the US is desperate for an exit strategy are misreading its intentions. The facts on the ground, including the construction of massive military bases in Iraq, indicate that the US is digging in to install and back a long-term puppet regime. For this reason, the US-led presence will continue, with all that entails in terms of bloodshed and destruction.  

Regarding a long-term puppet regime: A letter-writer in yesterday's Los Angeles Times complained that Senator Kennedy's recent speech on Iraq called for pulling out of Iraq before "the mission" was completed. The treasonous, cowardly thing that Senator Kennedy said was,

The elections in Iraq this weekend provide an opportunity for a fresh and honest approach.  We need a new plan that sets fair and realistic goals for self-government in Iraq, and works with the Iraqi government on a specific timetable for the honorable homecoming of our forces.

Um, I thought that is the mission.

The original mission was, of course, to depose Saddam Hussein. Check. And there was that little matter of the WMDs, which turned out not to be there. Check. But now we have a new mission, which of course was our mission all along (and we've always been at war with Eastasia), which is to turn Iraq into a free and independent nation.

Freedom is Bush's favorite word these days, after all.

The irony that the Kool-Aiders are too cognitively challenged to appreciate is that Iraq will not be a democratic, independent, sovereign nation until we are no longer occupying it. Iraq will not be free until it is free of us.

As long as we are there pulling the strings, and as long as Iraqi officials act as mouthpieces for Bush instead of as servants of the Iraqi people, Iraqis will not be free. We might argue that we are a more benevolent dictator than Saddam was, but that's not giving the Iraqis freedom. And a significant majority of the Iraqi people want us to go away.  

People whose opinions I respect argue that a precipitous, premature withdrawal of U.S. forces would leave the nation in chaos and vulnerable to takeover by extremists. That could be. But as soon as the newly elected Iraqi government is in place, the Bushies should be working with that government to establish a timetable, or at the very least a series of benchmarks, for the withdrawal of U.S. and British and whatever other troops are still hanging around, if any.

If we are sincere about freedom and democracy for Iraq, going away should be our mission.

Update: Read Kos:

So listening to the latest rash of "mission accomplished" talk in the wake of the elections, it's striking how the other side has convinced itself that we have spent $200 billion and over 1,500 US and allied lives so that Iraqis could vote.

These people couldn't give a rat's ass about Saudis not voting (in any meaningful fashion), they couldn't care about Uzbekistanis suffering under their own torturing regime, they couldn't care about that great Democratic nation -- Pakistan -- with its military coup-installed dictatorship.

Iraq wasn't about WMDs. It wasn't about a torturing, murdering regime (since we've done a great job of giving Iraqis more of the same). It was about GOTV.  

6:38 am | link

monday, january 31, 2005

Your Assignment
Read this. Discuss. Test to follow.
6:12 pm | link

There Are Drugs for That, Y'Know
Today many rightie bloggers are indignant with us lefties because we are insufficiently delirious with joy about the Iraqi elections. (Via the Daou Report, this one's my favorite.)
Of course, we went through the same thing after the fall of Baghdad, when we lefties were insufficiently delirious with joy over the toppling of Saddam's statue that turned out to have been staged. And we were insufficiently delirious with joy after the "Mission Accomplished" howler. And we were insufficiently delirious with joy after the "transfer of sovereignty" that, somehow, didn't change a blasted thing.
I am glad for the righties that they achieve delirium so easily, but I'm waiting for something significant to happen. Like Iraq becoming a truly independent country. And our troops coming home.
The Iraqi election commission backed off its initial estimate of 72% turnout rather quickly. It then suggested that 8 million voted, or 60%. I don't think they really know, and would be careful of using these figures until they can be confirmed as the vote is counted. I saw them on Arab satellite tv estimating the turnout in Irbil in the Kurdish north at 60 percent. The turnout in Irbil should have been very high, since it is Kurdish and security is good. If that figure is true and holds, it would be an argument against the overall voting rate being 60 percent.

That's still an excellent overall turnout, under the circumstances. But I read somewhere that the Bushies had sent a benchmark of 50 percent participation in order to call the election "legitimate." As if the Bushies cared about legitimacy. But this means there is an incentive to inflate the numbers.

Also, Bob Herbert writes in today's New York Times,

Much of the electorate was voting blind. Half or more of those who went to the polls believed they were voting for a president. They weren't. They were electing a transitional national assembly that will have as its primary task the drafting of a constitution. The Washington Post noted that because of the extreme violence that preceded the election "almost none of the 7,700 candidates for the National Assembly campaigned publicly or even announced their names."

As John F. Burns put it in The Times yesterday:

"Half a dozen candidates have been assassinated. As a result, the names of all others have not been made public; they were available in the last days of the campaign on Web sites inaccessible to most Iraqis, few of whom own computers."

Herbert's entire column is very much worth reading.

What you also must read is this essay by Eliot Weinberger, "What I Heard About Iraq," from the London Review of Books. And I'm going to shut up now and let you read it.

10:19 am | link

sunday, january 30, 2005

Update II
Just read James Wolcott.
I haven't watched TV news all day, and after reading Wolcott I am grateful I didn't. I would have been throwing large objects at my TV. I am fond of my TV and don't want to hurt it.
A few days ago some troll left a message (quickly deleted) to the effect of, we have Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, and you lefties have CNN and MSNBC and the New York Times and the Washington Post, etc. etc. I'm sure you've heard that song before.
But the fact is, folks, we got shit.* U.S. news sources are all Bush Administration shills. The only distinction is how blatant they are about it.
Update: Besides The Daily Show, there is one television cable news show I can stand to watch, and that's Countdown With Keith Olbermann. Via Kos, James "Destroyer of Dachshunds" Dobson and his Focus on the Family organization have targeted Olbermann to be beaten with a belt and driven into his crate, or whatever it is Dobson does to those who defy him. Here's the most recent Bloggerman post on this situation.
Dobson is outraged that Olbermann dared jest about Dobson's crusade against SpongeBob Squarepants. In the words of another great cartoon American, Bugs Bunny -- what a maroon.
*Unless you count Comedy Central, of course.
7:25 pm | link

Iraqi Election Update
Polls have closed in Iraq, and Reuters reports that 35 people died today trying to vote (or trying to prevent others from voting). The turnout, Reuters says, was higher than expected.
On the other hand, Reuters says,
... in parts of the Sunni Arab heartland, where the insurgency has been bloodiest and many people boycotted the election, polling stations were empty. ... in Samarra, where streets were largely deserted, fewer than 1,400 ballots were cast from a population of 200,000, preliminary figures showed. "Nobody came. People were too afraid," said Madafar Zeki, president of a polling center in the mostly Sunni city.
... if the turnout is as light in the Sunni Arab areas as it now appears, the parliament/ constitutional assembly is going to be extremely lopsided. It would be sort of like having an election in California where the white Protestants all stayed home and the legislature was mostly Latinos, African-Americans and Asians.

Juan Cole predicted the no-show act by the Sunnis yesterday. He also said that pre-election polls showed the "Shiite United Iraqi Alliance coalition will do best in Sunday's election, but won't get a majority." Allawi's group, Iraqiya, should come in second, and the Kurdish list should do well, also. This is a parliamentary-type election, which means there's going to be some shuffling before we know who the leaders will be, even after we find out who won.

Apparently there is considerable fear in Sunni-majority nations, like Saudi Arabia, that Iraq's election will lead to the formation of a Shiite crescent 

In the 22-nation Arab bloc, the distinct prospect of a Shiite-dominated government in Iraq causes the deepest anxiety among Sunni Muslims, who have largely dominated Middle East societies since the faith was founded 15 centuries ago. Shiites have been a largely disenfranchised underclass even where they are the majority -- as in Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon.

Several Sunni governments have expressed concern to the United States that a Shiite government -- the first in the Arab world -- could inspire the rise of a new Shiite "crescent" stretching from Iran on the Persian Gulf to Lebanon on the Mediterranean, U.S. officials said.

For some in the region, the balloting is a worrisome prospect whether it succeeds or fails.

This article from the January 23 Los Angeles Times provides more background.

All I can say is that today's elections will no doubt have consequences that even the wisest of us cannot see, including me.

Update to the update: Juan Cole cautions against uncorking champagne bottles, so to speak. Please read the entire post for all the reasons the election was flawed. And note this memory hole moment:

... the Bush administration opposed one-person, one-vote elections of this sort. First they were going to turn Iraq over to Chalabi within six months. Then Bremer was going to be MacArthur in Baghdad for years. Then on November 15, 2003, Bremer announced a plan to have council-based elections in May of 2004. The US and the UK had somehow massaged into being provincial and municipal governing councils, the members of which were pro-American. Bremer was going to restrict the electorate to this small, elite group.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani immediately gave a fatwa denouncing this plan and demanding free elections mandated by a UN Security Council resolution. Bush was reportedly "extremely offended" at these two demands and opposed Sistani. Bremer got his appointed Interim Governing Council to go along in fighting Sistani. Sistani then brought thousands of protesters into the streets in January of 2004, demanding free elections. Soon thereafter, Bush caved and gave the ayatollah everything he demanded. Except that he was apparently afraid that open, non-manipulated elections in Iraq might become a factor in the US presidential campaign, so he got the elections postponed to January 2005. This enormous delay allowed the country to fall into much worse chaos, and Sistani is still bitter that the Americans didn't hold the elections last May. The US objected that they couldn't use UN food ration cards for registration, as Sistani suggested. But in the end that is exactly what they did.

Remember that when Bush brags in his SOTU speech that, in spite of the (evil Democratic) nay-sayers, he delivered democracy to Iraq.

2:41 pm | link

Turning Point II
Reuters reports that Iraqis are turning out to vote in large numbers, in spite of the danger. This is good news for all of us. A large voter turnout, seems to me, will confirm the legitimacy of the new government and prevent the nation from becoming a failed state.
Reuters also says that suicide bombs and mortar fire have killed at least 22 people. Juan Cole says 27 have been lost. You've got to admire the Iraqis for going to the polls under these circumstances. 
The real test of the new government may be a test for George Bush, also. A large majority -- 80 percent, it says here -- of Iraqis want American troops to go away. But Bush is saying the troops must stay, and he refuses even to suggest a timetable for withdrawal.   
So what happens if the newly elected government of Iraq orders the troops out of their country?
Of course, Bush has a long history of turning on a dime when political winds change. He'll stubbornly hold a position until it occurs to him (or Karl whispers in his ear) that the opposite position would really be to his advantage. Then he'll make a 180 degree turn and embrace whatever plan he resisted for so long, pretending it was his position all along.
He did this with Iraqi sovereignty. As Christopher Dickey wrote in this Newsweek article dated June 9, 2004, the United Nations pressured Bush on the sovereignty issue until he complied --
The U.S. occupation has been, for most Iraqis, a humiliation, and nothing breeds violence more surely than that. The message from the U.N. is that the humiliation is coming to an end. Iraqis will run their own government, write their own checks, and they at least have to be consulted before American troops go storming through populated areas. Washington kept saying it had good intentions about all these things. France and other members of the Security Council made the Bush administration put those intentions in writing. ...

... Washington, you’ll recall, could have had pretty much the same U.N. resolution nine months ago. The French and Germans offered in September to recognize the sovereignty of the U.S.-appointed regime—many of whose members are the same people in the “new” interim government. But Washington dismissed the suggestion as premature. The Bush administration insisted the Iraqis just weren’t ready for that sovereignty stuff.

Then came the bloody month of November, when the insurgency really started to take off and American casualties mounted dramatically. Suddenly, the Bush administration decided the Iraqis actually might be ready for, well, some kind of sovereignty.

I noted on The Mahablog on June 10,
This explains why I so enjoyed the GOPUSA web site banner headline, "Bush Convinces UN to Support Iraqi Sovereignty." And we've always been at war with Eastasia.
And I'm sure you remember that Bush fought against forming a Department of Homeland Security, tooth and nail. Then one day in early June 2002, in the midst of a number of corporate scandals, he announced he was forming a Department of Homeland Security. Hence he took ownership of the idea and blamed Democrats, who had been pushing for such a department for many months, for getting in his way.
You can find many more such examples on the American Progress flip-flopper-in-chief list.
Last week Senator Kennedy said, "Iraqis need a clear signal that America has a genuine exit strategy." He said this in a speech at Johns Hopkins.
Wrote Glenn Reynolds, "Will the Democrats be willing to do to Ted Kennedy, for his remarks on the war, what Republicans did to Trent Lott, for his remarks on Strom Thurmond and the 1948 election?" Earlier, Glennie said the speech was "borderline-traitorous." Another blogger wrote, "I firmly believe that Ted (hick!) Kennedy’s recent speech borders on the classic definition of treason (giving aid and/or comfort to the enemy) and makes him worthy of censure."
I haven't seen any blogger point specifically to what Kennedy said that was treasonous, or even to anything he said that isn't true. Apparently it is an act of treason for Senator Kennedy to speak. The best explanation I've seen for Glennie is from Oliver Willis -- "Oh God, He's Even Dumber Today."
But my point is that if Bush holds true to his pattern, he'll resist making any plans for withdrawal of troops in Iraq until, suddenly, he'll decide it's a good idea to withdraw troops from Iraq. And it will have been his idea all along, and it would have been done sooner except Ted Kennedy was in the way. And Glennie will write a post on the wisdom of withdrawing troops from Iraq and, by the way, Ted Kennedy is a traitor.
But I won't complain if the troops come home.
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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918


The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

[Mark Twain, 1905]

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