Saturday, April 12, 2003


It would appear that Congressional GOP'ers, now that they hold the reigns of power in the Federal Government, are finding things to fight about -- just as Democrats did in 1993. The latest example is Bush's wholly irresponsible budget:

Senate GOP leaders agreed yesterday to block any tax cut that exceeds $350 billion, slashing President Bush's proposed tax reduction by more than half and dealing him a rare setback at the hand of fellow Republicans.

The president has insisted that a $726 billion, 10-year tax cut is needed to spur investment and rev up the economy. But even his high poll ratings, apparent success in Iraq and GOP control of both houses of Congress weren't enough to win over a handful of crucial Republican moderates who oppose major tax reductions in times of war and high budget deficits.

As a result, the centerpiece of Bush's tax plan -- a proposal to eliminate the tax that investors pay on corporate dividends -- appears in deep jeopardy. The move also angered House Republican leaders, who said their Senate counterparts had agreed to keep the door open to a larger tax reduction.

It should be noted, of course, that this budget is still very irresponsible -- we should be increasing spending and considering repeal of Bush's unaffordable tax cuts, not passing new, long-term, deficit enhancing ones. And on this as with virtually every issue, even today's moderate Republicans (who swung this vote) are promoting policies that run counter to the priorities of the American People and do not improve the country.

However, this budget deal is better than what the Dubster clearly wanted. And, of course, it's nice to see GOP lockstep unity coming apart at the seams, coming as this does on the heels of Senate rejection of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It's starting to look like there's hope that the GOP can be stopped from causing permanent damage.

Friday, April 11, 2003


As regular readers of this blog have no doubt guessed, posting is a little light right now. The Iowa State University VEISHEA celebration is being held this weekend, so additions here will be somewhat sporadic.
Talk about spin...

Don Rumsfeld, fresh from defeating the awesome power of the Iraqi military (before which superpowers trembled), is claiming that the problems with lawlessness and looting in Iraq are actually very limited and part of a "phase". To prove his claim, he said the same scene of one looter is being shown over and over. That one looter must be mighty busy, stripping hospitals and government buildings in multiple cities, to say nothing of starting lots of fires. "Stuff happens," he said, saying conditions in Iraq right now represented the "untidiness of freedom".

How seriously are we to take a man who describes anarchy (e.g. civil and ethnic unrest, looting, murder, arson, etc.) as "untidiness"?

One wonders, also, why Don Rumsfeld wasn't complaining about clear media misrepresentations when a few dozen Iraqis tearing down a statue of Hussein in central Baghdad were depicted as a throng of thousands?
The aftermath

Potentially serious trouble is starting up in Iraq (ethnic and religious strife, lawlessness...) now that no one is in charge. This was one of the serious things we were concerned about going into this war (we were surprised by some of the early problems, but never in doubt that the war would be won), and if the US and UK don't get a handle on things quickly, the rejoicing will be awfully short. It will also be an unforgiveable mistake, considering the planning that supposedly went into the war over the last year and a half -- plenty of time to come up with equally-competent solutions for keeping the peace once the war was over. Should it turn out that such plans were not made, it will also put the lie to the notion that this war had anything to do with improving the lives of the Iraqi people.

Thursday, April 10, 2003


Calpundit earlier noticed that long-range photos of the square where Saddam's statue was pulled down indicated only a couple of dozen people participating in the jubilant event (out of nearly five million Baghdad residents). Every media outlet, though, showed only pictures that gave the impression hundreds or thousands of Iraqis were involved. However, there may be something else going on here, as a Democratic Underground poster noticed today.

It looks like the "spontaneous outpouring of jubilence" witnessed yesterday when American soldiers took Baghdad may have been orchestrated, at least in part, by friends of the administration hawks -- many of whom are no strangers to covert operations or dirty dealings.

Evidently, a member of an Ahmed Chalabi-affiliated group called the "Free Iraqi Forces" who arrived with Chalabi in northern Iraq on April 7 bears a striking resemblence to a man seen in Baghdad enthusiastically greeting American servicepeople two days later. If the two were the same person, it calls into question whether those in Baghdad greeting Americans as liberators were in any way representative of Iraqis as a whole, or whether the rally was orchestrated for the benefit of the cameras.

Unfortunately, it's rather difficult to tell whether the two are the same man, since the lighting is quite different, the expressions are quite different and in one picture we only see 2/3 of his face. And it's important to remember there are a lot of people in Iraq. But again, the resemblence is strong.

Chalabi claims he plans on operating in Iraq largely through intelligence networks, rather than through grassroots support. This would be consistent with his extensive links to American Intelligence.
We new blogs have to stick together

A new meta-blog started at about the same time the Weasel's web log came into existence, and the blogging group is doing superb work. I highly recommend paying a visit to Demagogue -- we've included a link on our sidebar. Definitely Weasel material!
We didn't know Saddam's status?

You know, the second "decapitation strike" on Saddam Monday was supposedly based -- again -- on inside information. If we have an informer near Saddam with information reliable enough to justify the immediate dropping of 4-2000-lb bunker-busters on a restaurant in Baghdad in an attempt to get him, then very likely we did know that Saddam was alive and well, along with his sons, for most of the war, despite Pentagon assertions that we didn't know his status.

Food for thought...
Repubs try to game the election system

From the same story cited, below, a Republican (Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.) is trying to change the due date for tax filing to the day before election day.

Clearly an attempt to game the system in favor of anti-tax zealots, this proposal aims to make elections about disproportionately negative feelings over paying taxes, rather than an honest appraisal of all aspects of government.

This proposal isn't likely to go anywhere, but it's another telling comment on the priorities of some extremists in Congress. Last time I checked, I elect public servants to make my life better, not to do as little as possible while collecting a salary. As a great philosopher once stated, "that's just stupid".
Repubs try to rachet up the pressure

Right-wing groups are trying to use resolutions introduced into State legislatures to convince Senate Dems to stop their filibuster on a confirmation vote for judicial nominee and right-wing extremist Miguel Estrada.

Once again, your Senators could use your voice of support to counter this vocal minority's astroturf campaign!
From the archives: abortion

This piece was written in response to the question, "Why is it not immoral to end the life of a potential human being?" It is based in part upon argumentation by Milt Shook. Parts of the exchange are paraphrased, and were carried on in multiple venues.


I think abortion should stay safe and legal. Why?

Imagine that you wake up one day and find another human being has been surgically grafted to you, such that they depend upon you for life. You cannot remove the other human without killing him or her.

What do you think? Do you have the right to have the other removed, even if it means his or her death?

Anti-choice people must say "no" to the above question. In other words, despite the fact that you didn't want the graft, you have no choice but to keep it.

Fortunately, the law says that you do have the right to remove the graft, since you have final say over your body. This right is independent of whether the other human being is a person, can feel pain, etc. Ethically, people have the right to control their own bodies.

Some will say that there's a flaw in the analogy; namely, that a pregnant woman must have engaged in risky behavior that might lead to pregnancy (assuming rape wasn't involved). Fair enough. The trouble is, there's no reason that this should mitigate your rights to control your own body, any more than choosing to ride in a car means you forfeit your right to medical attention if you get in a traffic accident. Likewise, most unwanted pregnancies occur despite responsible precautions. Women who have abortions, overwhelmingly, did not choose to become pregnant,

No one is pro-abortion. Abortion sucks, and it is far better to do everything possible to avoid unwanted pregnancy in the first place. IMHO the degree to which this is done is a much more accurate measure of who is "pro-life".


If you concede that risky sexual behavior is tantamount to pregnancy consent, then wouldn't your analogy for that case become "I agreed to have this person surgically grafted to me, but now I want to change my mind, even though s/he will die because of it."? What do you think of this situation?


This frames the debate in terms of contracts. Unfortunately, it doesn't present the anti-abortion side with a reasonable objection. For one thing, in the case of someone waking to find another person's been surgically attached, one could say consenting to the surgery amounted to a contract with the person. However, in the case of sex, who is it with whom an implied contract is made? Perhaps the partner; if not, I'm unaware of any legal precedent that allows an implied contract with someone who doesn't exist at the time the contract is supposedly created.

Additionally, it's a difficult case to make that engaging in sex, especially when birth control is used, amounts to an implied contract agreeing to any pregnancies that may result -- this is an existential view that basically holds engaging in any behavior (e.g. riding in a car) amounts to consent to worst-case consequences (e.g. death). Do people engaging in sexual activity agree to catch AIDS? Even were this the case, it's clear we do not feel HIV-positive people have not forfeited the right to treatment as a result.

Furthermore, an agreement to a surgical graft would not be legally binding regardless, if someone subsequently wanted to have the graft removed. Just as a contract selling oneself into slavery would be held unenforceable (and most likely illegal), there are certain things that one simply cannot consent to in any legally binding fashion. The alternative, I believe, holds some very nasty consequences (legally and morally) most people would be unwilling to accept.

Finally, it should be noted that the right to control one's own body, like most rights, doesn't go away unless one is convicted of a felony. Thus, one must put consensual sex on par with a felony to believe having it means one should lose the right to decide whether or not to sustain another life.

Bits and pieces

Wednesday, April 09, 2003


As I'm sure that I've made clear by now, I believe it's reasonable to say that the Iraqi war plans were influenced negatively by neoconservative civilians in the administration and without -- a fact that will be relevant should the administration decide to attack other states. One of the most dangerous neocon characteristics is oversimplification, driven as it is by ideology:

Ideology means taking some idea -- often legitimate in its own sphere -- to the extreme... Ideology offers certainty -- clear cut choices between good and evil, truth and falsehood. It pretends to have scientific answers to complex problems and holds out one easy standard to judge all cases. It thus relieves thinkers of the tedium involved in making difficult distinctions. In Procrustean fashion, ideologues cut facts to fit their ideas, rather than ideas to fit the facts. More often than not, their claims to science turn out to be little more than manipulative quackery.

-- Walter Adams and James Brock, The Bigness Complex

Regardless of what actually happened regarding the war plans, where we go from here is what's important. I doubt many people could watch images of Iraqis in Baghdad today celebrating freedom from Saddam's oppressive, tyrannical rule without feeling happy for them. For me, however, seeing the Iraqi people so happy brought on amplified feelings of apprehension. Because of the "one-solution-fits-all" nature of neoconservatism and the track record of broken promises from this administration, I have grave concerns for the future.

As Thomas Friedman said so eloquently in his column today, we will be judged by what we do from here for the Iraqi people, both by those people themselves and by the rest of the world. Here are a few suggestions:

Whatever happens, we'll be watching.

UPDATE: Tapped discusses this today, too. They point out (rightfully) that having the UN take a lead role will earn us many changed minds and also help to spread the cost around (instead of using Iraqi oil to pay for things, surely to our enduring sorrow).

Dick Cheney's revisionist history

It would appear that administration neocon hawks are busy attempting to erase the memory of their mistakes. In a speech today, Vice President Dick Cheney touted the success of the war in Iraq, claiming vindication for the "brilliant plan" that fellow neocon Don Rumsfeld rammed into production and arrogantly dismissing critics as "retired military officers embedded in TV studios".

Folks, let's be clear: no matter what the administration says, if the Iraqi military hadn't been nearly as weak (through lack of training and resources), if the plans hadn't been revised when "shock and awe" didn't work as advertised and our vulnerable supply lines were attacked, if Saddam had had and used chemical/biological weapons, if Don Rumsfeld had been able to reduce the size of the invasion force further, if fortune hadn't favored us in several ways...the celebrating in Baghdad right now might be of a very different nature. And the administration's diplomatic failures cast even the finalized plans into doubt, thanks to bumbled handling of Turkey resulting in no northern front. In other words, the "brilliant plan" left us with very little room for error.

We won this war in spite of this administration's incompetence, not because of it's "brilliance". When we consider future wars against considerably tougher enemies that haven't been weakened by 10 years of "ineffective" sanctions (e.g. Iran or North Korea), we had better remember just how poorly the Bush administration planned this one, and how little it's been willing to own up to its mistakes.

NOW, that said, I must say the war (such as it has been thus far) clearly could have been much worse, for which I do credit our military planners to a degree. Whatever else we may say about the neocons, it's clear they did have an eye to reducing civilian casualties, and although the best way to have done that would have been not to go to war in the first place, and the second-best might have been a more comprehensive force, I will give credit where it's due.

It remains to be seen whether this administration is up to the task (ideologically and in terms of talent) of making Iraq a place in which it's truly worth living. Given their skill at wrecking our own country, this was my main concern going into the war, and it remains so now.
Why hasn't this been widely reported?

NEAR NAJAF, Iraq (AFP) - A facility near Baghdad that a US officer had claimed might finally be "smoking gun" evidence of Iraqi chemical weapons production turned out to contain pesticide, not sarin gas as originally thought.

A military intelligence officer for the US 101st Airborne Division's aviation brigade, Captain Adam Mastrianni, told AFP that comprehensive tests Monday determined the presence of the pesticide compounds.

Initial tests had reportedly detected traces of sarin -- a powerful toxin that quickly affects the nervous system -- after US soldiers guarding the facility near Hindiyah, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Baghdad, became ill.

Mastrianni said: "They thought it was a nerve agent. That's what it tested. But it is pesticide."

(Reported at http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&printer&u=/afp/20030407/wl_afp/iraq_war_wmd)
PATRIOTS on the march

For a bunch of people who seem enamored with the past, right-wingers are awfully ignorant of it. Evidently, the abuses of J. Edgar Hoover, the NSA, CIA, etc. are now a distant memory.

First, we heard that Ashcroft's Justice Department was preparing "Patriot Act II", draconian legislation that would further undermine civil liberties and Constitutional rights for US citizens in dramatic fashion.

Now, it looks like some of our super-patriotic Senate GOP Leaders are pushing to make the big-brother provisions in the "USA Patriot Act" permanent. The idea is to repeal the sunset provisions built into the original bill, which withdrew the "War-On-Terrorism" law-enforcement powers enhancements come 2005.

Fortunately, it would appear that Democrats and a good many Republicans are not all for a police state. Unfortunately, many appear to be buying the Justice Department's spin on things without considering the civil-liberties consequences.

If the steadily-snowballing erosion of our civil liberties and Constitutional rights bothers you, it's time to contact your senators, folks! John Ashcroft and his allies in Congress are pushing unnecessary, ineffective and dangerous legislation in the name of combatting terrorism. This has to stop!
A very nice Friedman piece today

Thomas Friedman today warns us of the realities on the ground in Iraq (you know, the ones CNN can't make room for, what with all the flashy war pics and all). It's pretty striking stuff:

America broke Iraq; now America owns Iraq, and it owns the primary responsibility for normalizing it. If the water doesn't flow, if the food doesn't arrive, if the rains don't come and if the sun doesn't shine, it's now America's fault. We'd better get used to it, we'd better make things right, we'd better do it soon, and we'd better get all the help we can get.

So much of the current attitude towards military action reflected in polls seems to assume "someone else will clean up afterwards". People, as Friedman said, we now own Iraq. Its people are our responsibility. We undertook this action largely of the notion that Saddam is a bad man who was oppressing his people. We've never doubted that was true. But we'd better make sure that we leave them better off than when we found them -- because (as al Qaeda proved on 9/11) our messes will come back to haunt us.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

A humble suggestion for activism

I have an idea that might make a difference in 2004. Print out a stack of voter registration forms. Attend the next anti-war protest near you, pass out the forms, and register everyone to vote (naturally, we feel you should suggest everyone register as a Democrat -- we need a united voice in 2004, and the Democrats won't become more liberal unless liberals rejoin the Democrats) and submit the forms to your local voter registration office.

All this effort would require is some time, paper and printer ink, and the rewards could be enormous.

(note: read the instructions on the voter registration form linked-to above -- Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, and South Carolina only accept voter registration if it's printed on heavy card stock).

I plan on trying this soon, and will post the results.
How to stimulate the economy

I'm not sure where we'd be without the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. An extremely informative article published on their website today compares the short-term "bang for the buck" obtained through different economic stimuli options (reprinted here; original is from Economy.com):

"Bang for the Buck" For Economic Stimulus Proposals
One Year Change in Real GDP Relative to Each Dollar of Federal Government Revenue Loss or Spending Increase

Extend Emergency Federal UI Benefits


Accelerate 10% Bracket


State Government Aid


Child Tax Credit Rebate


Marriage Tax Penalty


Alternative Minimum Tax Adjustments


Accelerate Reduction in Personal Marginal Tax Rates


Business Bonus Depreciation Expansion


Small Business Investment Writeoff


Dividend Taxation Reduction


Business Health Insurance Tax Credit


Source: Economy.com

As can plainly be seen here, most of the administration's proposals have very little to do with stimulating the economy. Only two proposals (acceleration of the 10% tax bracket and child tax credits) generate greater-than-break-even return for the economy's investment (these represent only a minor part of the "stimulus" proposal). Additionally, tax cuts/changes in tax credits tend to have a delayed stimulative effect, compared with spending proposals that pump money into the economy immediately.

The article also examined the long-term potential for economic growth thanks to various proposals. The conclusion: considering the losses in revenue and extended deficits Dubya's proposal would generate, the net effect on the economy in the long term is charitably judged to be "negative" -- even using the most optimistic of assumptions.

In other words, there's absolutely no reason to enact the Dub's economic plan. Unless, of course, you happen to be very, very rich.
Since false patriotism is the theme today...

Michael Moore has written a column regarding the "backlash" against him over comments he made at the Oscars:

...take a look at my Oscar "backlash":

-- On the day after I criticized Bush and the war at the Academy Awards, attendance at "Bowling for Columbine" in theaters around the country went up 110% (source: Daily Variety/BoxOfficeMojo.com). The following weekend, the box office gross was up a whopping 73% (Variety). It is now the longest-running consecutive commercial release in America, 26 weeks in a row and still thriving. The number of theaters showing the film since the Oscars has INCREASED, and it has now bested the previous box office record for a documentary by nearly 300%.

-- Yesterday (April 6), "Stupid White Men" shot back to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. This is my book's 50th week on the list, 8 of them at number one, and this marks its fourth return to the top position, something that virtually never happens.

-- In the week after the Oscars, my website was getting 10-20 million hits A DAY (one day we even got more hits than the White House!). The mail has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive (and the hate mail has been hilarious!).

-- In the two days following the Oscars, more people pre-ordered the video for "Bowling for Columbine" on Amazon.com than the video for the Oscar winner for Best Picture, "Chicago."

-- In the past week, I have obtained funding for my next documentary, and I have been offered a slot back on television to do an updated version of "TV Nation"/ "The Awful Truth."

The next time we liberals start to despair over how impossible it is to counter the right-wing message, we should consider what Moore said here. Right wingers have a small, loud group of easily-outraged and moved-to-action lemming followers. They are not a majority.

And the next time Democratic strategists think Dems have to shut up and sit down in order to be popular, think about Moore's tremendous boost in popularity after he said what he said.

GOP false patriots and mercenaries have managed to convince Democrats that it's all they can do to just avoid offending people. I say to you: the American People are far more offended by Dubya and his actions than anything the Democrats have done. It's time to speak out loudly!
Speaking of fighting the good fight...

Tapped today suggests that the other Democratic candidates issue a joint statement supporting John Kerry, under partisan fire from the GOP -- exploiting the sacrifices of American servicepeople -- for saying the United States needs a "regime change".

We second that notion. It is critical that the GOP be held up for the scoundrels and false patriots they are, if we hope to vote the incompetent idiots out in 2004.
God=America=George Bush

Kinda sad that so many modern right-wingers are so confused about what it means to be an American, isn't it? Of course, were this not the case, Rush wouldn't have much of an audience...

Via American Newsreel, the San Fransisco Chronicle is evidently taking some heat (no doubt at the direction of the GOP, or perhaps even faked by them) over their decision to run an add calling for the impeachment of President Bush.

"We consider it an outrage that you accepted the advertisement to impeach our United States President," said one letter faxed to Dick Rogers, readers' representative for the paper. "I find this type of advertising anti-American and in poor taste," complained another reader.

"Most of the calls were from people who said it was distasteful to run the ad while our troops were dying overseas," Rogers said. "There weren't many calls in favor."

Several have pointed out the utter nonsense of this misguided idea. A quick recap: We've had six presidential elections during wartime since this country was founded, including one in 1944. In that election, which took place during the depths of World War II (wartime conditions arguably much more dire than the ones in which we find ourselves now), Dewey questioned the competence of Truman, calling him a "tired old man" among other things (gasp! the horror!). Strangely, no one questioned his patriotism for doing so.



As the title of this page notes, "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel". Samuel Johnson wasn't referring to patriotism in general with that statement; rather, he was referring to "false patriotism" -- claims of patriotism made to deflect criticism.

We have an awful lot of scoundrels making a lot of noise these days.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Latest SARS stats

Taken with slight modification from the World Health Organization SARS incidence page:

Country Cumulative number of case(s) Number of deaths Local chain(s) of transmission 2
Australia  1  0  None
Brazil  1  0  None
Canada  90  9  Yes
China  1268  53  Yes
China, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region  883  23*  Yes
China, Taiwan  21  0  Yes
France  3  0  None
Germany  5  0  None
Italy  3  0  None
Malaysia  1  1  None
Republic of Ireland  1  0  None
Romania  1  0  None
Singapore  106  6  Yes
Spain  1  0  None
Switzerland  1  0  None
Thailand  7  2  None
United Kingdom  5  0  None
United States  141**  0  None
Viet Nam  62  4  Yes
Total 2601 98  


Cumulative number of cases includes number of deaths.

As SARS is a diagnosis of exclusion, the status of a reported case may change over time. This means that previously reported cases may be discarded after further investigation and follow-up.

1. The start of the period of surveillance has been changed to 1 November 2002 to capture cases of atypical pneumonia in China that are now recognized as being cases of SARS.

2. National public health authorities report to WHO on the areas in which local chain(s) of transmission is/are occurring. These areas are provided on the list of Affected Areas.

*One death attributed to Hong Kong
Special Administrative Region of China occurred in a case medically transferred from Viet Nam.

**Due to differences in the case definitions being used at a national level, probable
cases are reported by all countries except the United States of America, which is reporting
suspect cases under investigation.

From the "American Courage" department...

Some aren't meekly going along with John Ashcroft's big brother dreams:

SANTA CRUZ, Calif., April 4 — The humming noise from a back room of the central library here today was the sound of Barbara Gail Snider, a librarian, at work. Her hands stuffed with wads of paper, Ms. Snider was feeding a small shredding machine mounted on a plastic wastebasket.

First to be sliced by the electronic teeth were several pink sheets with handwritten requests to the reference desk. One asked for the origin of the expression "to cost an arm and a leg." Another sought the address of a collection agency.

Next to go were the logs of people who had signed up to use the library's Internet computer stations. Bill L., Mike B., Rolando, Steve and Patrick were all shredded into white paper spaghetti.

. . .

The move was part of a campaign by the Santa Cruz libraries to demonstrate their opposition to the Patriot Act, the law passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks that broadened the federal authorities' powers in fighting terrorism.

Among provisions that have angered librarians nationwide is one that allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation to review certain business records of people under suspicion, which has been interpreted to include the borrowing or purchase of books and the use of the Internet at libraries, bookstores and cafes.

In a survey sent to 1,500 libraries last fall by the Library Research Center at the University of Illinois, the staffs at 219 libraries said they had cooperated with law enforcement requests for information about patrons; staffs at 225 libraries said they had not.

There is hope, after all...
Impact in the Arab World

Neoconservatives hope that the war with Iraq will be the first step in uprooting counter-American forces in the Middle East and elsewhere. Interventionalist liberals such as Thomas Friedman hope that the aftermath of overthrowing Hussein will be used to help bring democracy to the entire region.

Unfortunately, at least at this point, the attack on Iraq seems to have resulted in changes exactly opposite of those hopes.

In a chilling article in the New York Times, Susan Sachs reviews what educated Arab moderates -- those whose support upon which hopes for a more modern, democratic and less-dangerous Middle East most depend -- are feeling more alienated and less hopeful than ever before. A number of bits are brought here for your convenience, but I highly recommend the whole thing:

Early in the morning, while most of Cairo is asleep, Ahmed Kamal Aboulmagd watches the war on television and despairs over the path taken by the United States. Even in the gloom of 4 a.m., this is not a normal emotion for Mr. Aboulmagd, a sprightly man of 72 who has lived through more than his share of revolutions, wars and international crises, yet has maintained a marvelously sunny outlook.

. . .

Mr. Aboulmagd is one of Egypt's best-known intellectuals, a senior aide to former President Anwar el Sadat, consultant to the United Nations and ever-curious polymath whose interests range across the fields of Islamic jurisprudence, comparative religions, literature, history and commercial law.

Like many educated Egyptians of his generation, he is a man whose views on democracy and political values were shaped by reading the United States Constitution, the Federalist papers and the writings of Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson.

. . .

Yet these days, in his opinion, something has gone terribly wrong.

"Under the present situation, I cannot think of defending the United States," said Mr. Aboulmagd, a small man with thinning white hair who juggles a constant stream of phone calls and invitations to speak about modernizing the Arab world.

"I would not be listened to," he added. "To most people in this area, the United States is the source of evil on planet earth. And whether we like it or not, it is the Bush administration that is to blame."

When speaking of President Bush and his administration, Mr. Aboulmagd uses words like narrow-minded, pathological, obstinate and simplistic. The war on Iraq, he said bluntly, is the act of a "weak person who wants to show toughness" and, quite frankly, seems "deranged."

Such language from a man of Mr. Aboulmagd's stature is a warning sign of the deep distress that has seized the Arab elite, those who preach moderation in the face of rising Islamic radicalism and embrace liberalism over the tired slogans of Arab nationalism.

Similar opinions can also be heard these days from wealthy Arab businessmen, university professors, senior government officials and Western-leaning political analysts - the people whose support could help advance the Bush administration's professed mission: to bring democracy to the Arab world.

It's almost enough to bring tears to your eyes. Yes, it's still not too late to turn things around, just as it's not too late to undo the Bush administration's damage to the United States in other areas (both domestic and foreign). But it will take years, perhaps decades. The opportunities that have been squandered over the last two years boggle the mind, and we and our children will be considerably worse off because of this.

A telling comment

Judy Fortin on CNN was just interviewing two arabic journalists, including one from Turkey. They were discussing the Turkish media and the anti-war reaction of the Turkish people, and noted that viewers there see a much less sanitized view of the war -- civilian casualties are "played up" much more.

Judy then asked something I found very telling: "Why are they so against the war? Are they not hearing the Pentagon view of what's happening?"

Implicit in her question, of course, was that differences of public opinion between the US and Turkey were due to Turkish media not giving giving the Turks the whole story. It evidently didn't occur to her that it could the US media, which has adopted the corporate marketing policy of maximum patriotism and minimum dissent in reporting, which is presenting a biased view.

As if that weren't enough of a right-wing skew, Bill Schneider was just reporting on polling results that indicate the public would rather Bush concentrate on the economy. Schneider reported that the "public, unrealistically, believes the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the economy, too".

This slant is clearly intended to benefit Bush, and implies that the President can do nothing regarding the economy. This is simply false: fiscal policy is one half of the government's economic arsenal, and although the Federal Reserve has much more real-time power over economic performance, the President's policies can have a huge impact. Furthermore, one of the things that has been ailing the economy is concern over corporate crime, which this adminstration has utterly failed to address.

The administration has had two years to respond to the weak economy, and has not done so effectively. Worse, it is no secret that this President's policies run contrary to all economic knowledge.

Clearly, even the "Clinton News Network" is failing to uphold standards of balanced reporting now.
Stocks surge due to Monday Giddiness

And then wiped out most of those gains, as investors remembered Dubya is in the Whitehouse.

Hey! I can assign motives to the second-by-second ups and downs of the market, too!
Liberals and the nature of human beings

Calpundit today discusses charges he's seen recently that liberals have an unrealistic view of human beings as perfect:

This strikes me as odd, however, because when I examine my own beliefs, I find just the opposite. I'm a liberal precisely because I have a rather dim view of human nature. I am, I suppose, a neo-Hobbesian of some kind, and I fully agree that life in a state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short.

The thing is, I think that's a bad thing, and, like Hobbes, I believe that the purpose of government (and civilization in general) is to force people to act like decent human beings even if they don't want to. Ronald Reagan's claims notwithstanding, all of human history leads to the conclusion that not only can you legislate morality, it's actually the primary purpose of governments everywhere. The other tasks of central governments tend to be little more than glorified bookkeeping.

As with so much of Kevin's commentary, I find myself in broad agreement with his views.

I think I would put it slightly differently, though: everyone has values (goals), and everyone tries to achieve those goals in the most expeditious way possible. Without some sort of system of enforcement, this generally means a few people will be very effective at using forceful and direct methods to achieve their goals (e.g. murder, stealing, etc.), and most of the rest will end up not achieving theirs. Moreover, the presence of a system of enforcement itself tends to influence the values people hold, emphasizing group (altruistic) goals more than would be present otherwise.

I have made the exact same point regarding legislating morality on several occasions, and agree with Kevin completely -- not only can governments legislate morality, it's their main job.

Much of my view of morality was expressed succinctly by the writings of Mike Huben (in an article on moral relativism I feel everyone on the planet should read):

Morality is the set of heuristics we use to try to optimize the results of our actions towards satisfying our values in a social setting. I say heuristics because the effectiveness of one moral variant over another is pretty much a quantitative guess at the individual level rather than an analytic decision based on a theoretical understanding of the principles involved. The simple reason is that it is too much work to analytically evaluate the alternatives when we are faced with the pressing demands of life. If we see a moral heuristic work well for somebody else, we're likely to adopt it even though we may not understand why it works. Or we may trust parent's or religious leader's claims that these are "true" (read: good heuristics).

The key thing here is that morality is thus based on OUR VALUES AND THE VALUES OF OTHERS.

Based on this definition, it's clear that morality is simply the methodology we find acceptable to achieve our values, and clearly, what people see as acceptable behavior, and the values they hold, are heavily influenced by law.

I think it's certainly true that liberals hold with the idea that people and society can improve. That notion seems to be an anathema to right-wingers, who evidently believe we've already seen the best we can expect, and should go back there (circa late 19th century, it would seem). However, if anything, I believe it's what passes for the right wing, with their simplistic assumptions regarding how people will act without oversight and regulation, who expect perfection from man. The libertarians are worse, of course, but right-wingers in general seem to hold to broad notions that people will behave themselves on their own.
We Are Losing Afghanistan

If we wonder whether Bush will follow through on his promises to give the Iraqis a better future, we might want to look to Afghanistan for an example.

After public pledges from the Whitehouse to not abandon Afghanistan (including direct pledges of aid for roads and various other programs)we have renewed information that we are doing exactly that.

First came the news that exactly zero dollars in the Dolt-in-Chief's 2004 budget were allocated towards foreign aid to Afghanistan (later added by embarrassed Congressional Republicans). Now, more ominously, we are seeing a destabilizing Afghanistan with renewed Taliban/al Qaeda influence and power structure:

the Taliban is not only determined to remain a force in this country, but is reorganizing and reviving its command structure.

There is little to stop them. The soldiers and police who were supposed to be the bedrock of a stable postwar Afghanistan have gone unpaid for months and are drifting away.

At a time when the United States is promising a reconstructed democratic postwar Iraq, many Afghans are remembering hearing similar promises not long ago.

Instead, what they see is thieving warlords, murder on the roads, and a resurgence of Taliban vigilantism.

. . .

International workers in Kandahar don't feel safe anymore and some have been moved from the Kandahar region to safer areas, said John Oerum, southwest security officer for the United Nations. But Oerum is trying to find a way to stay in southern Afghanistan. To abandon it would be to let the rebel forces win, he says.

The Red Cross, with 150 foreign workers in Afghanistan, have suspended operations indefinitely.

Although it's become common practice for the ultra-rightists in the administration to bribe their way through the world, even bribery won't continue to work if we don't pay up. Perhaps Dubya, fresh from a life of having people around him defer to him because of his name, thinks the rest of the world should do the same?

It may be difficult for people to remember, but it was al Qaeda, not Iraq, who crashed three airliners full of people into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Perhaps it's time we insist the media ask Bush some hard questions about what's happening in Afghanistan, and what he's doing to ensure the Taliban/al Qaeda don't use that country once again as a base to launch attacks against America.
Why worry about media deregulation? That's why

The Weasels have been warning for years that consolidation of the media under the control of a few giant corporations would lead to less diversity and more right-wing content, thanks to corporate interest taking center stange.

American Newsreel today discusses the fact that the war coverage has brought those fears home in stark fashion:

"The antiwar movement in this country is far bigger than it was during the first few years of the Vietnam War, but you wouldn't know it from the coverage," sys Adam Eidinger, a Washington activist. "I think the media has been completely biased. You don't hear dissenting voices; you see people marching in the streets, but you rarely hear what they have to say in the media."

. . .

Since many radio and TV stations are controlled by a handful of broadcast conglomerates like Clear Channel Communications and Gannett, consultants like Magic and McVay can, and do, exert tremendous influence over what people see on the news.

This bothers Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project, a public-interest law firm in Washington.

"What troubles me is that the most important part of the system of checks and balances in media coverage has been the diversity of ownership," Schwartzman says. "With increasing concentration of ownership, if one or two big companies are using the same corporate-wide policy, or relying on the same consultants, there aren't effective competitive forces" to ensure alternative opinions."

To me, this overwhelmingly one-sided misinformation campaign was illustrated by two things. The first helped to explain the public's belief in an Iraq-al Qaeda link, when CNN ran as a news headline, "Let's Roll!" for discussing the incursion into Baghdad (you may recall that "Let's Roll" became the country's battle cry against terrorism thanks to the heroics of Todd Beamer).

The second are current poll results that suggest the US populace is in favor of "taking military action" against Iran if that country is building weapons of mass destruction. Shown only images of victorious Americans, cool-looking weaponry and no information about Iran, how could the American public not get the impression that military action is a clean, effective solution to this "problem", too?

The only way I can see to turn this around is through direct appeals to Democratic leaders (DNC, Congressional Democrats) and the media. I believe we can make a difference, but only if the media corporations are convinced that their bottom line is being hurt by the nature of the coverage, not helped by it.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

The Great Mystery

Jane Galt at Asymmetrical Information asks the ultimate question:

Everyone to the right of Professor DeGenova has been lining up to declare their support for Our Brave Boys and Girls on the Front. The speaker may be against the war, we are solemnly told, but they still Support Our Troops. My question is, why?

This is not Viet Nam, the war whose mistakes both sides seem grimly determined to avoid. All of our troops are volunteers. From what I can glean, a landslide majority of them support this war. In essence, they are going over to a foreign country, bearing immense personal hardship to do so, in order to fire deadly weapons at perfect strangers. If you think this is the kind of horribly wrong thing that most anti-war protesters, to judge from the signs, do, why on earth would you declare your support for the people carrying it out? It's like saying that you're against murder, but simultaneously declaring your "support" for the DeGenovese foot soldiers whacking errant customers.

The answer's pretty straightforward, really.

Regardless of what you think of this war, the fact remains we need a military who will fight when told to fight. It sucks, but the world still has people and countries in it who will attack others and take what they have if they cannot defend themselves. No, we don't help matters by pissing people off for no good reason, throwing our weight around and shooting first/using diplomacy later, but the threat would exist, regardless.

Soldiers (as I understand it) are under obligation to refuse unlawful and/or unconstitutional orders. Other than that, you really don't want a goodly portion of your armed forces refusing to fight when they see fit. Not only could that put us in danger from external threats, it would be a direct threat from within: having a military that takes it upon itself to do whatever it wants is terribly dangerous. If soldiers can decide on their own not to go to war, what's to stop them from deciding on their own to go to war?

War sucks by any measure, but if we're going to have a military, I want it firmly under civilian control. Making the decision whether or not to go to war, when and with whom (and disagreement over that policy) is the People's job.

Bush the neocon?

Calpundit discusses the neoconservatives in greater detail today, pointing out that Bush himself was likely not a neocon coming into the Presidency, and the jury is still out as to whether he's become one of the faithful.

Because of the various "grand plans" neocons espouse, identifying a one seems easier if done not based upon the specific results they want to see, but rather on the means to be employed and the belief that those means are the only way to produce the outcome they want. By doing so, we can see that two of the main commonalities are a shunning of traditional methods of dealing with the world (e.g. diplomacy, the employment of existing alliances and deterrence) in favor of the use of ample, direct military intervention, and a fear that nothing less will address problems the United States is now facing or will face. This process is supposed to produce a tamer world, a more isolated set of dictators and reduced threat of terrorism to Americans and Israel.

If defined in this way, I believe it is entirely reasonable to say that George Bush has largely adopted the neocon vision of the world. This was indicated by his voicing of approval for Don Rumsfeld's statements a few days back regarding starting wars with other countries -- an expression of his clear hope that other regimes would be cowed by active use of military power and start to fall in line, and approval for Rumsfeld's attitude. This expression indicates a larger purpose in invading Iraq than simply stopping cooperation with terrorism and freeing the Iraqi people.

Kevin points to some hope that Bush may not have bought completely into the neocon "one military solution fits all" world view, as others around him (e.g. Powell) are not of that persuasion and have at times carried the day in debates. As he says, the jury is still out. It's possible that, like Tony Blair, Bush has just found himself agreeing with the neocons' call to action, but for different reasons, or that he only agrees with some of the reasoning. Considering Dubya's demonstrated propensity to go with whatever far right fad presents itself, though, and his statements and actions so far, I think the neocons have a friend in the Oval Office.

UPDATE: It looks like Sam Rosenfeld at Columbia Political Review comes to much the same conclusion. They note something we missed: Bush's Born-Again Christian beliefs make him especially susceptible to the neocons' worldview. Very good point, and one that should make it tough for me to sleep tonight.
Good stuff from Atrios

As always, Atrios dishes up the good stuff today. Here's a nice list of quotes he complied regarding Republican ideas about supporting the troops and the President:

"US troops will be deployed in Bosnia no matter what the Congress does," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania. "Congress should support the troops without endorsing the president's policy."
"I deplore the action of the president, but it is his decision and I will abide by that decision and support it, but, know well that it is a tragedy about to unfold," said Rep. George Gekas, R-Pennsylvania. "
Sen. HANK BROWN, (R-CO): We should not send young men and women to their death without being fully resolved that what they might die for is worth the price. I don't believe that the mission that's been outlined is worth that price.
Rep. WALLY HERGER (R-CA): Why should you ask blood be spilled for a cause that is not in the interest of the American peopl
PAT BUCHANAN: Well, I don't support the policy so much as I support the troops.
BOB EDWARDS, Host: On the eve of the signing of the Dayton peace accord a reluctant Congress gave President Clinton only partial support for American involvement in the NATO mission to implement the agreement. Late last night the Senate
approved the deployment of American troops to Bosnia; the House expressed opposition, voting only to support the troops.
CANDY CROWLEY: Senator Gramm says he does not believe that the old adage 'politics should stop at the water's edge and that when it comes to foreign policy the president should be given the- the benefit of the doubt' work anymore in this post-cold war era. Senator Gramm intends to vote to cut off the funds for U.S. troops as well as for an amendment which will support the troops but not the mission, although the Democratic leader in the Senate says that is a distinction to him without much difference.
Just because President Clinton has made a decision and the troops are already landing, Mr. Lott said, "I'm not going to endorse a wrong decision after the fact."
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who angered many Republicans by backing the peace enforcement mission, made it clear that last night's vote was a show of support for American troops, not for Clinton.

"It would be wrong," he said, "to make our young men and women bear the brunt of a decision not made by them."

"We don't support the president's decision," he said. "We do support the troops."

What a shock: it looks like the GOP is exploiting the lives and sacrifices of America's finest for blatantly political purposes. Again.

So much for Bush's neo-con delusions...

Looks like administration proponents of a "demonstration war" (i.e. the current war against Iraq, as discussed yesterday in this column) showing the world who's boss were dead wrong, exactly as we predicted. Today, North Korea promised to develop a "tremendous military deterrent force" to dissuade the US from attacking:

The statement today from the North Korean Foreign Ministry suggested that the government there is closing off previously suggested options. It appeared to withdraw North Korea's long-standing demand for a non-aggression pact from the United States.

"Even the signing of a non-aggression treaty with the United States would not help avert a war," said the statement, distributed by the official Korean Central News Agency.

"Only the physical deterrent force, tremendous military deterrent force powerful enough to decisively beat back an attack supported by any ultra-modern weapons, can avert a war and protect the security of the country and the nation," the statement said.

People, this was predictable. Why was it reasonable to assume that other countries would respond to the US show of force by racheting up their military buildups and tough rhetoric? Because they've always done that! Did these administration fools really think they were just so damn tough that everyone would suddenly start kowtowing?

This administration is one long string of gross, obvious miscalculations. Virtually the only thing they've gotten right is a few domestic political moves (thanks to Karl Rove) designed to keep them in power. Almost every other policy has failed disastrously, from the economy, to the environment, to homeland security, to foreign policy, to planning the Iraq war.

The United States simply cannot afford to have four more years of Dubya!

Bits and pieces

The New York Times Magazine has a very thorough article today about how the Bush administration is full of crap on its claims about the economy and is actively making things worse. Written by Jeff Madrick, the piece is titled "The Iraqi Time Bomb". Highly recommended, and scary as hell.

Also, the Chicago Tribune today has an article regarding the failure -- thus far -- to find any Weapons of Mass Distruction in Iraq. While few doubt some will eventually be found, the failure to find any thus far is becoming a bit of an embarrassment, and raising some eyebrows.

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