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friday, march 11, 2005

The Liberal Mystique
 
Is Bush making America safe for liberalism? You betcha. Bush has legitimized a huge expansion of the welfare state, liberalizing immigration, and using force for democratization abroad. All the next Democratic president has to do to finish Bush's hard work is to raise taxes to pay for it all. And by the time Bush is done, the deficits will be so enormous, tax hikes will seem defensible. Advantage: the left.

Whenever I run into a statement like Andy's I find myself overwhelmed by the imperviousness of the rightie mind. I believe I speak for most liberals when I say we don't want tax hikes or anything I would call a "welfare state" yet it is fundamental to rightie groupthink to believe that's what liberalism is all about.

(And, of course, "liberalizing immigration" and "using force for democratization abroad" are code words for (1) Bush's proposed guest worker program and (2) the  Neocon Empire, neither of which is much beloved by liberals.)

In the February 28 issue of The New Republic, Jonathan Chait wrote that one distinction between liberals and conservatives is that liberals propose policy to achieve a desired outcome (e.g., reducing the deficit), whereas conservatives design policy to conform to ideological principle (e.g., raising taxes is bad).

So, to a liberal, raising taxes is not an end unto itself, or something to be done for the sake of doing it. Rather, it is something that sometimes needs to be done, like it or not, for the sake of making sure the government has the funds to fulfill its obligations. And liberals don't like "big government" for the sake of "big government." Instead, liberals think that government has a legitimate role in enabling a better quality of life for citizens, while conservatives, apparently, don't.

Chait writes that if there were empirical evidence (or a note from God) showing that beneficial outcomes like saving the environment or feeding hungry children can be achieved by cutting taxes, then liberals would have no qualms at all about cutting taxes. But no matter how much evidence piles up about the long-term damage caused by irresponsible tax cuts, the righties will continue to call for tax cuts.

Chait writes,

We're accustomed to thinking of liberalism and conservatism as parallel ideologies, with conservatives preferring less government and liberals preferring more. The equivalency breaks down, though, when you consider that liberals never claim that increasing the size of government is an end in itself. Liberals only support larger government if they have some reason to believe that it will lead to material improvement in people's lives. Conservatives also want material improvement in people's lives, of course, but proving that their policies can produce such an outcome is a luxury, not a necessity. 

The contrast between economic liberalism and economic conservatism, then, ultimately lies not only in different values or preferences but in different epistemologies.

Last April, Juan Cole wrote that "the two-party system in the US has produced a two-party epistemology." Epistemology is "The branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity," says the dictionary.  I'm not sure the two-party system is entirely to blame, but the two-party epistemology is a sad fact.

It isn't just that Left and Right in America hold different opinions; it's that we're living with different knowledges, assumptions, and frames of reference. This is why we can't talk to each other, especially when "debate" is limited to sound bytes and shouting.

Some of this comes from mental rigidity. Take, for example, the widespread perspective that if you don't support pre-emptive war you are "soft" on national defense. To me, this is a bit like saying that if you don't own earmuffs you must not like to ice skate. 

But most of our differences are not from being closed minded, but from not thinking at all.

Matt Taibbi wrote that for most Americans the words left and right have slipped their philosophical moorings entirely and have only symbolic meaning. And it's hard to pin down exactly what those symbols are.

When I see someone called a leftist or left-leaning in print, I'm never sure whether they're talking about an actual communist, or just some timorous capitalist yuppie whom David Brooks spotted drinking a latte, or standing in line to see Cinema Paradiso. Politically, it's just not a very concise definition.

But of course we all know exactly what left means, when we're talking about social labels. In common parlance, left is clearly code for "feckless, pseudo-intellectual wiener," while right is code for "winner" and "the people who are actually running things while you assholes are reading James Joyce." Left also emphatically stands for "wrong side of history," while right is explicitly understood to mean the only remaining legitimate vision for future social organization. All ambitious politicians run screaming from the word left, understanding it to be a fatal electoral contagion, whereas being labeled right-wing even adds a winner's aura to an openly drooling political psychopath, like Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning.

...

Obviously there's no way to really stop a group of people bent on demonizing dissenters by the tireless use of some all-encompassing, Satanic label. When even Nancy Pelosi can be described as a "left-wing torch-thrower" (a small California paper used that term last week), it's pretty clear the word is more meant as an insult, to describe a fuzzy-headed refusal to accept patriotic orthodoxy, than it is to refer to a concrete set of political beliefs.

Taibbi calls for lefties to fight back and not let the symbols stick. I'm not sure that's possible. Someone who's thick enough to believe that liberals want tax increases for the sake of tax increases is probably unreachable.

The irony of our current symbolic situation is that liberals, I genuinely believe, are on the edge of rediscovering themselves and a unified vision of what America can be. This is in spite of some of the numbskulls who allegedly speak for us, like Christopher Hitchens (who, truth be known, has also slipped his philosophical and other moorings in recent years), Peter "let's love war" Beinart, and Martin "liberalism is dead" Peretz. Judging by the Left Blogosphere, liberalism is alive and strong and ready to make a comeback.

Conservatives, on the other hand, are actually a fragmented bunch. The major fault line of the Right is between social conservatives and libertarians, and there is further fragmentation within those groups -- between pro-war and anti-war libertarians, for example, and fundamentalists vs. neocons.

What is it that is really holding those groups together, other than a dislike of "lefties"? Does anyone know?

 
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11:00 am | link

Oyez, Olé
 
Following up yesterday's post about the White House's antipathy toward the International Court of Justice (ICJ) -- it seems that the matter of compelling state courts to honor federal treaties is one of those little constitutional glitches we haven't quite worked out yet. Michael Froomkin, law professor and brother of Dan Froomkin, discusses these glitches at his blog Discourse.net.
 
Today Professor Froomkin answered one of my questions from yesterday -- Article VI of the Constitution does bind state courts to honor treaties made by the federal government. However, it's uncertain how this matter should be enforced. The "role of the President and of the federal courts in making that stick may be controversial;" writes the Professor, "but it is clear that the obligation exists in some form."  
 
But there are other questions. Yesterday, the Professor wondered if the President can withdraw from the treaty under international law. Maybe not, Froomkin says, and even if he could, another part of international law (that may or may not be binding on the U.S.) would require 12 months' notice. The Professor continues,
Ironically, were another state to attempt to invoke the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ under the Optional Protocol against the US during the next twelve months, the body that would have to decide when (if ever) the US withdrawal became valid is … the ICJ itself.
A commenter asked if Congress had ratified the protocol treaty, and if so, under U.S. law can the President withdraw from the treaty without permission of Congress? Seems like another good question.
 
Going back to today's post -- the Professor continues,

The decision to walk away from the Optional Protocol is thus revealed as being only one of three things: (1) It could be an act of simple petulance; (2) It could be a studied move of retaliation against the ICJ for other decisions in other areas, a retaliatory act whose subtlety would seem to exceed the capacity of the people who wish to make paleoconservative John Bolton our ambassador to the UN; or (3) most likely, it is an invitation to the states to take it easy on compliance with our legal obligations under the Consular Conventions, obligations which endure past our withdrawal from the Optional Protocol.

That third option is of course another poke in the eye, a destructive thrust aimed not at international system, but at the domestic commitment to the rule of law. That it emanates from people who do not, in their hearts, speech and writings really consider international law to be law in any binding way, and who see the basic sinews of international legality – the Geneva Conventions, for example – as at most annoyances, only makes it worse. And it further calls into question their belief in domestic law.

President Bush might be concerned that the withdrawal will piss off Mexico, since it was the plight of 51 Mexican citizens under sentence of execution in the U.S. that triggered the whole flap. Mexico says that U.S. state courts have a nasty habit of executing Mexicans without notifying the Mexican embassy. Like most of the industrialized world, Mexico does not sentence people to death (except in military courts). Like most of the industrialized world, Mexico considers capital punishment to be barbaric. So the execution thing is a major sore point.

Condi was in Mexico yesterday trying to smooth things over. In a typical Condi statement, she said (in effect) that the U.S. understands the importance of the protocol but believes it was "inappropriate" for the ICJ to expect the United States to enforce it. Also:

She and [Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Enrique] Derbez also attempted to push aside several weeks of back-and-forth criticism between the two governments that has created new irritants in the neighbors' always complicated and sensitive relations.

The State Department has criticized Mexico recently for heightened violence on the border and continued human-rights violations. Last week, U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza rebuked Mexico in a speech, saying Washington wants better border security before agreeing to freer immigration and that Mexico's economy depends too much on remittances sent home by immigrants.

Fox and his aides responded angrily, saying Mexico wants an equal partner across the border, not a neighbor who always is second-guessing it.

I'm sure the Mexicans enjoyed that part about human rights violations. Executing foreign nationals without allowing them to contact their embassies would be a human rights violation to most rational people.

 
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thursday, march 10, 2005

Priorities
 
Yesterday the Bush Administration pulled out of an international treaty that the United States proposed back in 1963. Writes Charles Lane at WaPo,
In a two-paragraph letter dated March 7, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice informed U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that the United States "hereby withdraws" from the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The United States proposed the protocol in 1963 and ratified it -- along with the rest of the Vienna Convention -- in 1969.
 
The protocol requires signatories to let the International Court of Justice (ICJ) make the final decision when their citizens say they have been illegally denied the right to see a home-country diplomat when jailed abroad.
I believe the protocol in question is this one. The section the Bushies object to is Article 36:

With a view to facilitating the exercise of consular functions relating to nationals of the sending State:

(a) consular officers shall be free to communicate with nationals of the sending State and to have access to them. Nationals of the sending State shall have the same freedom with respect to communication with and access to consular officers of the sending State;

(b) if he so requests, the competent authorities of the receiving State shall, without delay, inform the consular post of the sending State if, within its consular district, a national of that State is arrested or committed to prison or to custody pending trial or is detained in any other manner. Any communication addressed to the consular post by the person arrested, in prison, custody or detention shall also be forwarded by the said authorities without delay. The said authorities shall inform the person concerned without delay of his rights under this sub-paragraph;

(c) consular officers shall have the right to visit a national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention, to converse and correspond with him and to arrange for his legal representation. They shall also have the right to visit any national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention in their district in pursuance of a judgment. Nevertheless, consular officers shall refrain from taking action on behalf of a national who is in prison, custody or detention if he expressly opposes such action.

And later, it says that if a signatory to the protocol thinks another signatory is not abiding by the protocol, the matter can be brought before the International Court of Justice.

Lane of WaPo explains,
The United States initially backed the measure as a means to protect its citizens abroad. It was also the first country to invoke the protocol before the ICJ, also known as the World Court, successfully suing Iran for the taking of 52 U.S. hostages in Tehran in 1979.

But in recent years, other countries, with the support of U.S. opponents of capital punishment, successfully complained before the World Court that their citizens were sentenced to death by U.S. states without receiving access to diplomats from their home countries.

According to Adam Liptak in the New York Times, the withdrawal from the protocol came about because last year the ICJ ordered new hearings for 51 Mexicans under sentence of execution in the United States.  The ICJ said that the U.S. had violated the Vienna Convention by failing to notify Mexican officials when Mexican nationals were arrested and charged with serious crimes.
 
My first reaction to this story is that the death penalty is more important to the Bushies than the rights and safety of American citizens traveling abroad.
 
And my second reaction is that, if I were in jail in a foreign country, I sure as hell would want the U.S. embassy to be notified. In fact, I would want the bleeping ambassador himself to camp out in my cell and hold my hand.
 
But that's the problem with us liberals. We take the Golden Rule seriously. Real patriotic nonliberal Amerkins are not supposed to treat others as we would want to be treated. We got a right to treat bleeping furriners any bleeping way we goddam bleeping well please.
 
Rightie blogger Captain Ed says we lefties should look at the bigger picture. Which is:
 
1. The protocol only applies to the nations that signed it, which leaves out a lot of nations. Only 30 percent of nations signing on to the rest of the Vienna Conventions on consular protocol signed the 1963 optional protocol. Other nations that did not agree to sign the optional protocol include Brazil, Canada, Jordan, Russia, and Spain.
 
2. Agreement with this protocol allows the ICJ to interfere with state courts in ways that even a U.S. federal court could not. Writes the Captain,
Bush has sent a message to the world that we will brook no further interference in our sovereign government, especially with the independent judiciary. The method in which the World Court implemented this clause required the executive branch to interfere with the judiciary in an inappropriate manner, or for the judiciary to start separate foreign-policy contacts, neither of which passes Constitutional muster. Those separations of power have served us well for over two centuries, and they shouldn't be sacrified on the altar of multilateralism.
To which I reply: The Constitution of the United States, Article VI, second paragraph --
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
This says that state courts are bound by U.S. treaties, does it not? And if state courts defy the Constitution and refuse to honor U.S. treaties, does the President not have the authority to step in and order the courts to comply? That last question is a technical one, and perhaps someone can argue that such an order should come from the Supreme Court or some other part of the federal government. But the righties seem to be arguing that states are not bound to honor treaties entered into by the federal government and/or cannot be compelled to honor such treaties, and I think the Constitution says otherwise.
 
The other matter, that only a few nations honor the optional protocol anyway, so why bother, doesn't seem all that compelling to me, either. Being underdressed may not be ideal, but it is often preferable to being buck naked.
 
So, having looked at the big picture, I still say it looks like the death penalty is more important to the Bushies than the rights and safety of American citizens traveling abroad.
 
 
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wednesday, march 9, 2005

Ignorance and Bliss
 
Dan Froomkin writes in WaPo that there are two opposing narratives growing out of recent pro-democracy developments in the Middle East. In the first narrative, says Froomkin,

Bush is a historic figure, the Ronald Reagan of the Middle East, whose heroic invasion of Iraq is a historic turning point for worldwide democracy tantamount to the fall of Berlin Wall.

But the counter-melody can be heard as well: Bush is falsely taking credit for the pro-democratic movement in the Middle East, some of those moves are insignificant and transitory, the long-term impact of the Iraq war will be disastrous, and Bush is engaging in unseemly saber rattling.

I put myself in the "Bush is falsely taking credit" camp with this post last week. Today, Robert Kuttner goes into more detail in the Boston Globe. Developments in Lebanon, Egypt, and elsewhere have their own dynamics and causes that for the most part have little to do with our war in Iraq or with any American diplomatic efforts.
 
The righties, of course, are throwing the word vindication around with reckless abandon. Prompted by this piece in the Wall Street Journal, some of them are actually tossing around the idea that Vietnam will be "the next Iraq," which I take to mean the next place we effect "regime change" so that the simple peasants can breathe the free air of liberty under the benign protection of American military occupation. 
 
I am casting about in my mind for a word. I need a word that indicates a colossal ignorance of history and recent world events; an unsurpassed arrogance mixed with button-bursting jingoism; a willingness to drink whatever ideological Kool-Aid one is handed by one's fellow travelers; a stunning, almost willful lack of practical experience of the world; and all this mixed together with the cognitive abilities of an average nine-year-old.
 
I don't know what to call such people. I suppose "rightie" will have to do. The formal term might be "goddam bleeping rightie."
 
Regarding the pro-Syrian rally in Beirut, Juan Cole explains why the pro-Syrian rally was bigger than the anti-Syrian rally.
The largely Shiite crowds were huge compared to the smaller anti-Syrian demonstrations held for the past week.

The anti-Syrian protesters had mostly been Christians, with some Druze and Sunnis. But Lebanon is probably only now 20 percent Maronite Christian (the most anti-Syrian group), and may be as much as 40 percent Shiite.
The pro-Syrian rally was called by the militant Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah. You'll remember that, in Iraq, the Shiites are the "good" Iraqis who voted last January and got their fingers painted blue, whereas the Sunnis are the "bad" Iraqis who stayed home. Well, in Lebanon we're supposed to believe that the Shiites are the "bad" guys because they support Hezbollah and want to maintain Syrian troops in Lebanon.
 
My understanding is that Hezbollah originated in the Lebanon civil war in the 1980s as an anti-Israeli militia. Like it or not, it's a powerful force in Lebanon and not something imported into Lebanon from Syria.
 
The righties want to believe the developments in Syria are all about the simple peasants learning about democracy from Iraq and wanting to try it themselves. In fact, Lebanon is a nation with complex sectarian conflicts that, I believe, is already as much of a democracy as Iraq is allegedly becoming. Lebanon has a national assembly that is, I understand, chosen by popular vote. Iraq's recent election was in hopes of forming some sort of national assembly, although so far no one has been able to do it.
 
And both Iraq and Lebanon are occupied by foreign troops.
 
Ahem.

Juan Cole continues,

The simplistic master narrative constructed by the partisans of President George W. Bush held that the January 30 elections were a huge success, and signalled a turn to democracy in the Middle East. Then the anti-Syrian demonstrations were interpreted as a yearning for democracy inspired by the Iraqi elections.

This interpretation is a gross misunderstanding of the situation in the Middle East. Bush is not pushing with any real force for democratization of Saudi Arabia (an absolute monarchy) or Pakistan (where the elected parliament demands in vain that General Pervez Musharraf take off his uniform if he wants to be president), or Tunisia (where Zayn Ben Ali has just won his 4th unopposed term as president), etc. Democratization is being pushed only for regimes that Bush dislikes, such as Syria or Iran. The gestures that Mubarak of Egypt made (officially recognized parties may put up candidates to run against him, but not popular political forces like the Muslim Brotherhood) are empty.

Please read the rest of Juan Cole's post. It's very informative.
 
In other goddam bleeping rightie developments: Via Memeorandum, I found this rightie blogger who says of the bankruptcy bill,

This bankruptcy bill has been flying under the radar, so I don't know much about it. However, I do have confidence that the House New Democrats [who are said to support it] know enough about it, and are right. The venom spewed by Atrios and MaxSpeak only make me more inclined to think so.

Truly, the stuff that sheep are made of. This poor lamb even admits he doesn't know what he's talking about. But if lefties are agin' somthin', he is fer dern sure gonna be fer it.
 
 
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7:02 pm | link

Excuses, Excuses
 
I noted Monday that I hadn't yet seen the excuses from the Right Blogosphere for outsourced torture yet. I still haven't, although I don't monitor them 24/7.
 
But David Ignatius in today's WaPo provides talking points for any rightie blogger who is ready to move on from making excuses for the death of  Nicola Calipari (it's Italy's fault) and making excuses for the size of the pro-Syria demonstration in Damascus yesterday (it was faked).
 
Ignatius's excuse is that the CIA didn't mean for those poor people to be tortured. And he knows this because CIA and Arab intelligence officials tell him that torture isn't an effective tool for getting information out of people. And, of course, they wouldn't lie about something like that.
The implication is that the CIA is sending people to Egypt, Jordan or other Middle Eastern countries because they can be tortured there and coerced into providing information they wouldn't give up otherwise.
 
The problem with this argument is that it assumes that the CIA believes that torture works. But in 30 years of writing about intelligence, I've never encountered a spook who didn't realize that torture is usually counterproductive.
Now, this is a damn lame excuse, but any excuse counts in Rightieworld. Excuses don't even have to make sense. All the righties need is some Authority Figure to go on record with an excuse, and they'll embrace it as gospel. So I figure Ignatius has given them all they need. But for the rest of us, it ain't much of an excuse.
 
The biggest hole in Ignatius's excuse is that he thinks any agency working for the Bush Administration makes sense. He's assuming that George "Slam Dunk" Tenet made decisions not based on brown-nosing with his boss. He's assuming that Tenet's replacement, Peter Goss, is anything but a Bush/Cheney stooge. He's assuming that there's one dadblamed shred of rational thinking anywhere in Washington, DC.
 
This past Sunday, Jeanne d'Arc explained why no rational person would assume the "rendered" prisoners would not be tortured: 
Since the most notable charactistic of the penal systems in the chosen countries is the skill, imagination, and enthusiam with which they practice torture, and since the officials cited go to great pains to emphasize that we made really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really sure that the torturers would be good this time, and since there is no point to sending a prisoner to a country that practices torture unless you want him tortured, I think it's safe to assume that "interrogation" is something of a euphemism.
But wait; Ignatius has another excuse.
What's gained by transferring a prisoner to his home country for interrogation is emotional leverage, according to Arab and American intelligence chiefs. A hardened al Qaeda member often can't be physically coerced into giving up information, no matter how nasty the interrogator. But he may do so if confronted by, say, his mother, father, brother or sister.
Tell us what we want to hear, or little Fatima swims with the fishes.
 
Well, that's better than a previous excuse, which was that rendition saves money. The New York Times reported last week that 
The transfers were portrayed as an alternative to what American officials have said is the costly, manpower-intensive process of housing them in the United States or in American-run facilities in other countries.
I guess that excuse didn't fly. Time to move on.
 
And Ignatius does move on. Having written a column explaining that intelligence officials -- including Arab intelligence officials -- assured him that torture just doesn't work and that they don't even think about it, Ignatius writes,
Suppose the FBI had captured Mohamed Atta before Sept. 11, 2001. Under U.S. legal rules at the time, the man who plotted the airplane suicide attacks probably could not have been held or interrogated in the United States. Would it have made sense to "render" Atta to a place where he could have been interrogated in a way that might have prevented Sept. 11?
At the beginning of the Bush Administration, would it have made sense for Bush's national security team to ignore urgent warnings about terrorism given it by the Clinton national security team? Would it have made sense for the State Department to tell CNN in April 2001 that the Clinton Administration wasted too much energy on Osama bin Laden? Would it have made sense for President Bush and NSA Condi Rice to read a memo titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike In U.S." and blow it off?
 
No, those things would have made no sense at all, but that's what the Bushies damn well bleeping did. So don't even think of what ifs about rendering Atta. Atta could have faxed the bleeping plans for September 11 to the bleeping White House, and no one there would have stopped him.
  
No excuses.
 
 
 
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tuesday, march 8, 2005

No Conscience Required
 
Today the Republicans shot down another attempted Democratic amendment to the bankruptcy bill. But unlike the amendments the Dems proposed last week, which would have permitted people to keep the protection of bankruptcy when faced with catastrophic medical bills, this amendment would have barred people convicted of certain crimes from using bankruptcy to avoid paying legal judgments.
 
Yes, folks, you heard that right. Although the GOP permits no protection for families in danger of losing their homes because they had to pay for little Susie's leukemia treatments, they do want to allow people convicted of certain violent crimes to file for bankruptcy in order to avoid paying for those crimes.
 
And the crime in question? Violent protesting at abortion clinics. What else?
 
The amendment lost, 53-46.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the provision "goes right to the heart of what America is all about. It says those who use violence to achieve their political goals cannot get a benefit, in this case bankruptcy."
Schumer said the amendment would have applied to any violent protester, not ust to abortion clinic vandals.
 
(Nancy Keegan, president of NARAL, calls the abortion bill the "Firebomber Legal Protection Act.")
 
But the Pugs accused Schumer, the sponsor of the amendment, of injecting the polarizing politics of abortion into an otherwise pure and entirely unpolitical bill.
 
(If that doesn't make you gag, be advised that in today's New York Times David Brooks has a column praising Paul Wolfowitz. I'm not linking to it; you can find it for yourself if you feel a strong need to purge yourself. Personally, I think this is much more sickening than the story of the necrophiliac duck linked in the last post.)
 
Orrin Hatch said the provision was unnecessary, anyway, because no abortion protester has been able to discharge fines against through bankruptcy, although some had tried. (I'm not sure that's true; I believe some protesters have been able to wriggle out of paying fines, or at least keep their cases tied up in appeals courts for so long they have managed not to pay the fines after several years. But I'll have to check on that.)
 
Schumer said that if it's true no one uses bankruptcy to avoid paying finds, then the amendment is "like chicken soup; it can't hurt." Spoken like a true New Yorker.
 
Regarding the bankruptcy bill itself, Krugman the Incomparable gets it right in today's New York Times:
... over the past three decades the lives of ordinary Americans have become steadily less secure, and their chances of plunging from the middle class into acute poverty ever larger. Job stability has declined; spells of unemployment, when they happen, last longer; fewer workers receive health insurance from their employers; fewer workers have guaranteed pensions.

Some of these changes are the result of a changing economy. But the underlying economic trends have been reinforced by an ideologically driven effort to strip away the protections the government used to provide. For example, long-term unemployment has become much more common, but unemployment benefits expire sooner. Health insurance coverage is declining, but new initiatives like health savings accounts (introduced in the 2003 Medicare bill), rather than discouraging that trend, further undermine the incentives of employers to provide coverage.

And, of course, the GOP wants to destroy Social Security while they're at it.
 
Krugman says we're heading in the direction of a debt-peonage society, in which debtors are forced to work for their creditors. Libertarians? Are you paying attention?
 
 
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5:46 pm | link

For Better, For Worse
 
We had an interesting thread discussion going on here about hating the war but supporting the troops. Let's see if we can crank it up a notch.
 
Suzanne Goldenberg reports in the Guardian,
Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Brigade - the same military unit whose troops fired on the car carrying the freed Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena - were under investigation last year for raping Iraqi women, US army documents reveal.

Four soldiers were alleged to have raped the two women while on guard duty in a Baghdad shopping precinct. A US army investigator interviewed several soldiers from the military unit, the 1-15th battalion of the 3rd Infantry Brigade - but did not locate or interview the Iraqi women involved - before shutting down the inquiry for lack of evidence.

Transcripts of the investigation, obtained by the Guardian from the American Civil Liberties Union, show only the most cursory attempts by the investigator to establish whether the women were raped.

Let's be clear that we don't know if these allegations are true, and I sincerely hope they are not true. For that matter, I don't believe we know precisely what happened in the Giuliana Sgrena case. Just because the Bushies are pathological liars doesn't mean Sgrena's version of the story is true beyond a shadow of a doubt. It may take weeks, months, years for the whole story to trickle out. Maybe it will never trickle out.
 
Still, it's possible the allegations are true. How do we support these troops?
 
I cruised around on the web to find out more about the 3rd Infantry Brigade. I believe the report refers to these guys. The Brigade was deployed to Kuwait in August 2002 and (from what I can make out of this report, which is confusing) they've been in and out of Iraq ever since. You can read about their current deployment here.
 
We can go on and on about trained killers and machismo culture, but at the same time we should think about young people with poor impulse control under unimaginable stress. This is not a simple, black/white issue. My opinion boils down to those soldiers shouldn't be there.
 
Have at it.
 
Also in the Guardian: The necrophiliac duck. Plus breaking news -- Tut's death ruled not a homicide.
 
 
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monday, march 7, 2005

Tortured
 
Today the Bush Administration is defending its practice of outsourcing torture by simultaneously claiming (a) it's necessary for national security, and (b) what torture?
 
Reuters reports that both the CIA and the White House decline to comment on yesterday's New York Times story on "extraordinary rendition."

But White House counselor Dan Bartlett defended the administration's policies, saying it was important after the Sept. 11 attacks to take a ''hard look at our entire apparatus -- militarily, intelligence, diplomatic -- to see how we were going to fight and win the war on terror."

... The Bush administration has publicly said the United States did not hand over people to be tortured. ''At every step of the way, President Bush and his administration has made very clear that we abide by the laws of our land and the treaty obligations we have," Bartlett told CNN.

In other words, September 11 changed everything, including an assumption that humanity, honesty, and due process of law mean something.
 
Yesterday CBS' "60 Minutes" did a segment on Bush Regime torture practices. I'm sorry I missed it, but here it is online.
In recent years, well over 100 people have disappeared or been "rendered" all around the world. Witnesses tell the same story: masked men in an unmarked jet seize their target, cut off his clothes, put him in a blindfold and jumpsuit, tranquilize him and fly him away.

They're describing U.S. agents collaring terrorism suspects. Some notorious terrorists such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the mastermind of 9/11, were rendered this way.

But as Correspondent Scott Pelley reports, it's happening to many others. Some are taken to prisons infamous for torture. And a few may have been rendered by mistake.
I sincerely believe that if this practice had been uncovered during the Eisenhower or Kennedy or even the Johnson -- well, especially the Johnson -- administrations, public opinion would have erupted into a firestorm. Now it's just the Outrage du Jour.
 
Judging by the stories on Memeorandum this morning, the Right Blogosphere is still on a rampage about what a lying Communist bitch Giuliana Sgrena is and why the U.S. is entirely blameless in the shooting that wounded her and killed an Italian agent. They don't seem to have gotten around to making excuses for kidnapping and torture yet.
 
Jeez, righties, keep up.
 
But in spite of the New York Times and 60 Minutes I don't think this story is getting enough coverage in establishment news media yet, either. No surprise, of course.
 
Jeanne d'Arc is watching the story closely. She detects some maneuvering that suggests the CIA and the Bush Regime are planning to blame each other if the hammer does fall.
 
Also: See this post at No More Mr. Nice Blog to be thoroughly creeped out.   
 
 
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9:29 am | link

sunday, march 6, 2005

Their Hearts Belong to Daddy
 
Related to the last post -- you've probably read Lakoff on the "nurturant mother/strong father" dichotomy, but let's repeat it anyway.
 
[update: quote deleted]

Remember the essay by Philip Agre that defined conservatism as the domination of society by an aristocracy? He's saying the same thing Lakoff is saying, except Lakoff says "paternalistic authoritarianism" instead of "aristocracy."

Update: A couple of regular readers have drawn conclusions from the Lakoff quote that are entirely the opposite of what Lakoff says in the article linked. These are bright readers, and so the fault for not making the point correctly is mine. I assumed that readers would understand where Lakoff was coming from without quoting the entire article (which is copyright infringement), but now I see this was an assumption I should not have made. I apologize.

Lakoff's "thing," which he's articulated in many articles and books, is that liberals (which is what he is) believe government should be beneficial and protective, whereas conservatives (which he is not) want government to be like a strict father who punishes children who misbehave but otherwise let's them sink or swim.

I'll write something else about this later today.

 
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10:21 pm | link

This Way
 
Digby has some thoughtful posts up about where the Democratic Party is and where it might be heading. If you haven't been to Hullabaloo lately, go thou and read.
 
A point I've touched on a couple of times recently, although only in passing, is whatever happened to government of the people, by the people, and for the people? I think the righties killed it. I wrote a couple of weeks ago,

The fact is, Americans don't believe in government of, by, and for the people any more. Ronald Reagan's “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem,” was the obituary of government of, by, and for the people. If government is not a solution, not a means for the people to better their lives, then it is no longer of, by, and for the people. It has been surrendered to corporations and special interests. Reagan's words were a signal to the people: Don't expect government to do anything for you. 

And a couple of days ago I wrote,

... we left government "of the people, by the people, for the people" behind somewhere in the 20th century. I don't know exactly where we lost it, but it's sure as hell not here now.

We've all been conditioned to not look to government for anything any more. Makes me wonder why we bother to still have one. The Republicans are determined to "starve the beast" so that there is no government, just a powerful political oligarchy in service to big money interests. We, the People will be left to our own devices.

But Americans didn't use to think this way. Americans understood that government has a genuine role in the real lives of real people. But now as soon as somebody opens his mouth to say "the government should ..." he gets hooted down. Unless, of course, he's about to propose that government outlaw abortion or establish religious indoctrination in public schools.

Here Digby traces this no-government development from Goldwater. And he continues,

... there can be no doubt that what was once a national consensus that the government’s purpose was to deliver for its citizens is no longer operative. Instead we have a puny incrementalism that passes for liberalism, like the useless and expensive pharmaceutical company hand-out bill for which Democrats get “credit” merely because it is an expansion of government. If giving old people something that is considered a standard part of any insurance plan is considered to be a big liberal achievement then I think we can safely say that liberalism has lost its vision. ...

...  The difference between Republicans and Democrats isn't about who cares more for the people. All politicians say they care about the people and the people are always justifiably skeptical. The difference between us is how we believe the good of the people is best achieved and liberals have a fundamentally different philosophy than the Republicans. Government is our preferred method to advance progressive ideals. Capitalism cannot substitute for a democratic government that answers to all the people. The invisible hand doesn’t give a shit if children starve or old people have to work until they are eighty or if half the country has to work at slave wages to support the other half. Only government can guarantee its citizens the equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We believe that progress toward that end requires that the government be active and engaged in delivering those things.

We are at parity, politically speaking, but liberalism is clinging by its fingernails to a vague definition of itself as a collection of policies favoring light regulation, balanced budgets, the last vestiges of the New Deal and certain individual rights. The American conservative consensus is not far away if we continue to abdicate our responsibility to forcefully articulate the role of government in a meaningful and understandable way and convey in no uncertain terms the danger to average Americans when they put their faith in free market evangelism and phony appeals to patriotism and religion. Laundry lists cannot substitute for inspiration.

Seems to me the fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives today is that liberals believe government can and should be used to benefit the people, whereas conservatives think government isn't about the people at all, but about serving special interests and rationing power.

Awhile back I lifted this bit out of Franklin Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union Address (the "Four Freedoms" speech).  

For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
Jobs for those who can work.
Security for those who need it.
The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all.
The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

I think these words are still true. These are the basic things a competent government should do. And when I say that government should be doing these things for the people, what I really mean is that We, the People, should be using government as a means to providing these things for ourselves. That's what "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" means.

So when Digby says that liberals should "forcefully articulate the role of government in a meaningful and understandable way and convey in no uncertain terms the danger to average Americans when they put their faith in free market evangelism and phony appeals to patriotism and religion," -- I'm with you, bro' Digby.

Yesterday Digby wrote,

 It is past time for a passionate defense of liberalism for liberalism's sake. That is to say its philosophy and meaning as it applies to both our opposition to the Republicans and the affirmative case for progressive policy. For instance, I was very disappointed that we didn't draw the philosophical parallel between social security privatization and this bankruptcy bill. Essentially, the Republicans are saying in both cases that people must assume all the risk in their lives and that there are no second chances. (Interestingly, these are the same people who constantly screw up and claim that they have been redeemed by a belief in God. See Gannon, James and Bush, George W.) They are actively using the power of the government to make average people's lives more insecure. That we aren't standing fully in the path of legislating usury into law, especially in the current climate where people are clinging to the side of a mountain of debt with their fingernails, is just stupid. If we were smart at all we would have been talking about that right along with the social security mess at our all-star town meetings. It's all part of the same thing.

I realize that there has been a full generation of brainwashing about how the government is always bad and that everyone will get rich, rich, rich if the government just gets off their backs. But I have a sense that the force of this argument is getting stale. The assault on social security may just be the thing that opens people's minds to what their philosophy really means. And it may just open a window to allow the idea back in to the minds of the citizens that government programs can be an affirmative good. Social Security works. It's more efficient, more fair and more inexpensive than any of the alternatives. People apparently instinctively know this. Since the Republicans decided to bring this to the forefront we should take credit for it and piggyback our new progressive ideas on its back. It's been so long since anyone had the nerve to do it, that it sounds downright fresh.

Print these words out and tape them to a wall someplace where you will see them every day. This is the bedrock of American progressivism, and it's damn well time we remembered it.  

 
 
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8:11 pm | link

Peter Beinart: Lost in Space
 
Sometime, somewhere, Peter Beinart got the notion that he is the official spokesperson for American liberals and Democrats.
 
Somebody should explain to him that he's mistaken.
 
Beinart has an op ed in today's Washington Post that's just plain embarrassing. Makes me wonder what planet Beinart is living on. Can't be this one.
 
He starts out reasonably enough, suggesting that Democrats should do a better job of reaching out to military personnel and veterans. I endorse this idea. Military personnel and veterans have serious issues not being fully addressed by either party, seems to me. For example, Knight Ridder just put out a special report on the many ways our government is failing to deliver benefits promised to our veterans.
 
I think the Democrats should whole-heartedly embrace this issue, not because it's good political strategy, but because it's the right thing to do.
 
And then there's the little matter of George W. Bush grinding the U.S. Army into the gound in Iraq. There are myriad issues here beside the war itself, from doing right by our soldiers to maintaining a military that is ready to defend America wherever it (really) needs defending. The Republicans have shown they can't deal honestly with these issues. The Bush Administration in particular just loves to use soldiers as political props but can't be bothered to provide them with adequate armor in Iraq.
 
The Dems should be coming together on policies, writing their talking points, and hammering those talking points home, day and night, pound pound pound. And they should do this not because it's good political strategy (even though it is), but because it needs to be done. Individual Dems have spoken out on these issues, but the party as a whole still needs to learn to be as disciplined about delivering a message as are the Republicans.
 
So what's wrong with Beinart? He starts out by discussing the Dems and the military purely in strategic terms -- we've lost their votes, and we need them back to win elections. But then he falls into rightie groupthink and blames Democrats for hating the military.
 
"The biggest problem is cultural," says Beinart. "Democrats should acknowledge that at times the left's understandable anger over Vietnam degenerated into a lack of respect for the military. ... Democrats have been alienated from the military since Vietnam, almost as long as Republicans have been alienated from African Americans."
 
In other words, blame those 1960s hippies. Never mind that they're all suits in their 50s now.
 
Occasionally I do run into lefties who categorically hate the military. Let me be clear that I am not one of them. I haven't personally done a survey, but I suspect that the number of Democrats with knee-jerk antipathy to all things military is smaller in proportion than the number of Republicans who are racists. Yet Beinart gives the GOP props for racial outreach. "Between 1996 and 2004, the percentage of black and Hispanic delegates to the Republican National Convention more than doubled," he writes. (From three to seven?) 
 
Beinart fell into the "Republicans are better on defense" lie awhile back and can't climb out of it. In this article, he writes that what's needed is "a cadre of national Democrats with real defense expertise -- something the party has often lacked since Sam Nunn left the Senate and Les Aspin the House -- so Democrats can speak the military's language."
 
He's implying that the Republicans have defense expertise and do speak the military's language. I guess Beinart hasn't taken a close look at Donald Rumsfeld and his civilian Pentagon flunkies lately. Paul Wolfowitz ain't exactly a David Hackworth clone. And Beinart has embraced the Democrats-don't-serve-and-Republicans-do myth. And it is a myth.
 
I think it can be safely said that Republicans are better at speaking the language of defense contractors, but that's not the same thing.
 
And I understand that military personnel serving overseas get a steady diet of Rush Limbaugh served up by Armed Forces Radio. In other words, the GOP uses Armed Forces Radio as a propaganda tool to keep the troops ill informed and obedient.
 
But Beinart's biggest howler, the one paragraph that really makes me want to smack him upside the head, is the last:
Genuine multiculturalism is not just about race, ethnicity and gender. It's about embracing people whose culture differs from yours, in hopes of finding core principles that you share. Over the past four years, Republicans have done that. Now Democrats must too.
Right; as long as you are a discretely racist fundamentalist who wants to keep women barefoot and pregnant, abolish the Bill of Rights (except, of course, the 2nd Amendment), destroy the American middle class, and turn the United States into a corporate oligarchy, you are welcome into the Republican Party.
 
And if you aren't all those things you are still welcome, and once in a while they will trot you out in front of cameras to show how diverse the GOP is, as long as you don't say anything negative about George Bush. But when the cameras are gone you'll be expected to get back into your box and behave.
 
Beinart -- go home.
 
Update: Now I'm pissed off ... if you want to see how propaganda is written, just read how this lying bastard rightie distorted what I wrote in this post. The rightie distorts what the good Roger Ailes wrote as well.
 
I hate liars.
 
 
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8:17 am | link


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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

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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."

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