Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Al-Qaeda Oil Tycoons and Liberal Willful Obtusion

Yesterday, President Bush made a speech where he said this:
The terrorists and insurgents are now waging a brutal campaign of terror in Iraq. They kill innocent men and women and children in the hopes of intimidating Iraqis. They’re trying to scare them away from democracy. They’re trying to break the will of the American people. Their goal is to turn Iraq into a failed state like Afghanistan was under the Taliban. If Zarqawi and bin Laden gain control of Iraq, they would create a new training ground for future terrorist attacks; they’d seize oil fields to fund their ambitions; they could recruit more terrorists by claiming an historic victory over the United States and our coalition.
While I agree with much of what the President said, he goes way too far in the last two clauses. First off, even if Al-Qaeda could seize oil fields and get production up and running and ready for export, who would buy it from them? Any country buying oil from Al-Qaeda would instantly make enemies with the United States as that purchase would rightfully be construed as a declaration of war considering they'd be funding terrorism. Furthermore, as BTC News argues:
What isn’t possible is that the Kurds and the Shia, both of which groups have differing but very good reasons for detesting al Qaeda, both of which are armed to the teeth and both of which are sitting on top of that oil, would just stand around and watch as someone stole it.
So basically Bush's prophecy is pure hyperbolic bullshit; yet there is one element of truth to it. If Iraq does indeed fracture and descend into a civil war, it will become a failed state reminiscent of Afghanistan. In that chaos, Al-Qaeda along with unassociated Sunni militants could set their sights on furthering the damage to Iraq's already crippled oil infrastructure. This would not only be catastrophic for Iraq's people, who will depend upon oil sales to rebuild their society, but for much of the world -- primarily Europe and Asia -- that will come to rely on Iraq's reserves to power their economies. So at least in that vein, I agree with President Bush's assertion that if the oil fields fell into Al-Qaeda's hands it would be very bad for everyone.

And for those squeamish and strategic left-liberals that never had the courage to add oil into the arithmetic of this war, but now will say,"Look, look, Bush even admits to it now," I ask: How long have you been willfully obtuse? Of course, Iraq oil reserves factored into the war. How much? I don't know. But to use this quote as evidence of the U.S.'s imperial intentions is ridiculous. Keeping Al-Qaeda and other nefarious sorts away from Iraq's oil is a legitimate security concern, not just from the standpoint of U.S. foreign policy, but for all of Iraq as well as the world.

Continue Reading...

Haitian Heart of Darkness

Michael J. Kavanagh files a wrenching dispatch from Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's pooerest country, for Slate. There, he reports from the ironically named Bel Air, where people do their damnest to cope with the grueling poverty and incessant violence that grew worse after Aristide's downfall.

Kavanagh describes Haiti today as:
a miasma of self-interested power-brokers, violent gangs, and a distrustful, victimized citizenry. No single center of power—not the United Nations, the interim government, nor any political or armed group—has filled the void left by Aristide's departure, and the result has been a year of violence where chaos has reigned and it isn't clear who is responsible for reining it in.

At times over the past 18 months, Port-au-Prince's poorest neighborhoods—places with upwardly mobile names like Bel Air and Cité Soleil—have seemed like killing fields. Thousands have been wounded and displaced; hundreds have been killed. A wave of kidnappings terrorized Haitians to the point where parts of Port-au-Prince looked like a ghost town, even in broad daylight.

And while many blame Aristide's supporters for the continuing violence—his partisans insist he's still the president, and some have vowed to fight (clearly with his blessing) until he returns—at this point, the blame extends far beyond the former president's gangs. Anti-Aristide gangs, drug-traffickers, members of the defunct Haitian army, and corrupt elements of the Haitian National Police have all played major roles in the conflict. All benefit in some way from the chaos—and all could play a role in ruining the upcoming elections.
While the U.N. security force and Haiti's National Police have sought to curb the influence of these violent gangs, the people's real hope is a national identification card that presents a slim chance a small minority of Haitians will receive a passport and therefore freedom from Haiti's endemic poverty and violence.

POSTSCRIPT: Americans should remember that President Aristide alleged he was the victim of a U.S. supported coup. When he left Haiti, it was in the confines of a plane sent by the Pentagon. Today, he's in exile in South Africa. For a little history lesson in the ends the U.S. has gone to keep its "backyard" quiet, here's Paul Reynolds from the BBC. More scholarly works on this subject are Peter H. Smith's Talons of the Eagle and Lars Schoultz's Beneath the United States. Both are excellent introductions to the U.S.'s hegemonic role in maintaining the status quo throughout Latin America.

Continue Reading...

Frayed Neoconservative Ends

Arch-theorist and neoconservative Francis Fukuyama gives a composed, but harsh criticism of American foreign policy as directed by the Bush Administration on today's NYTs editorial page.
With the failure to secure Sunni support for the constitution and splits within the Shiite community, it seems increasingly unlikely that a strong and cohesive Iraqi government will be in place anytime soon. Indeed, the problem now will be to prevent Iraq's constituent groups from looking to their own militias rather than to the government for protection. If the United States withdraws prematurely, Iraq will slide into greater chaos. That would set off a chain of unfortunate events that will further damage American credibility around the world and ensure that the United States remains preoccupied with the Middle East to the detriment of other important regions - Asia, for example - for years to come.

We do not know what outcome we will face in Iraq. We do know that four years after 9/11, our whole foreign policy seems destined to rise or fall on the outcome of a war only marginally related to the source of what befell us on that day. There was nothing inevitable about this. There is everything to be regretted about it.
Ouch. Fukuyama has been critical of the Bush Administration since the invasion of Iraq, but it would be interesting to see how many other conservative intellectuals -- especially neoconservatives -- are also on the outs with our executive's handling of the Iraq war.

Regardless, it's been a rough month home on the Ranch for our fearless leader. Hopefully, it follows him back to DC today.

Continue Reading...

Mass Panic

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

What’s the Matter with Robertson?

Early today, I posted on Jesse Jackson’s justified condemnation of Pat “Take Him Out” Robertson’s suggestion that the U.S. assassinate Hugo Chavez. I said that Jackson’s forceful comments called attention to the conspicuous absence of such remarks from the Bush camp. Via Alternet, Matthew Rothschild examines the nature of Bush’s “Robertson Problem.”

He argues that Robertson’s call for assassination creates two basic problems.

1. It requires that Bush distance himself from Robertson, who represents (directly and/or indirectly) a major part of his constituency.

I’m not so sure about this. It would be smart for Bush to distance himself from Robertson’s comments, but he hasn’t been very adamant about it so far. Bush does have the option of simply ignoring Robertson’s comments, in which case he comes off looking like a partisan hack. But hey, that’s never stopped him before.

2. It makes it even more difficult for Bush to effect the overthrow of Chavez, something Rothschild argues Bush has been hoping to do all along, by galvanizing support for Chavez among Latin Americans and the general population of people who don’t believe in political assassinations. Yes, they’re still out there.

Rothschild’s second point is a good one. It’s no secret that the Bush Administration would probably like to see Chavez out of power. Rothschild provides some evidence to bolster this supposition:

Condoleezza Rice, in her confirmation hearings as Secretary of State, called him "a negative force." Echoing Henry Kissinger's infamous line about Allende in Chile ("I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people)," Rice said that "leaders who do not govern democratically, even if they are democratically elected," need to be held accountable.

CIA Director Porter testified in March that Chávez was "very clearly causing mischief for us."

Rumsfeld denounced him for planning to buy 100,000 assault rifles from Russia.
One of Rumsfeld's aides recently called Chávez "a menace."

And Roger Pardo-Maurer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs, accused him of "downright subversion" in Latin America.

In June, the Bush Administration proposed to the Organization of American States a new policy that would have enabled that group to intervene militarily to "promote democracy" in Latin America. But many governments in the OAS balked at this, seeing it as a transparent threat against sovereignty in general and Venezuela, in particular.

Just last week, Rumsfeld, who doesn't have enough to do fighting insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, took time out to go to Latin America to try to isolate Chávez. The New York Times headlined its story on this, "Rumsfeld's Tour of South America Is Directed at Stability," when it may have been more focused on the destabilization of Venezuela.
So what’s the matter with Pat Robertson? From the point of view of the Bush Administration, probably just his timing and lack of tact. As Rothschild writes, “When your crazed friends start getting in the way of your crazed policy, it's a real shame.”

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...

Religious Fatigue

The Wash Post reports today that the rise of evangelical Christianity is spreading into our military, where a minority of the Christian fundamentalists are trying to impose their faith on other soldiers and even engaging in Anti-semetic slurs.
A team of observers from Yale Divinity School criticized one of the academy's ministers for urging Protestant cadets to tell their classmates that anyone who is "not born-again will burn in the fires of hell."...Among other incidents, the academy commandant had urged cadets to use the "J for Jesus" hand signal with the thumb and index finger, the head football coach had told players that he expected to see them in church, and Jewish cadets had experienced anti-Semitic slurs after students were urged to see the Mel Gibson film "The Passion of the Christ."
Mikey Weinstein, formerly of the Air Force and the Reagan White House, sums up my thoughts exactly:
"Could there possibly be a worse time for this fundamentalist Christianity to be pushed in our military, when we're in a war and the people we are fighting are recruiting their members by saying we're Christian crusaders?"
Onward Christian soldiers, you bleed for Christ first and foremost.

Continue Reading...

Obsession? Damn Right

I hate to be all up on Christopher Hitchens nuts, but I found his recent interview on The Daily Show highly entertaining and informative, because both he and Stewart didn't pull punches and had a genuinely interesting dialogue with each making great points.

You can check it out here, via The Political Teen. You'll need Windows Media Player to view the clip.

Continue Reading...

Oh Katrina Why Must You Punish Our Nearsightedness

I'm not an environmental wack job, but I do respect nature and its violent potential. The NYTs editorial page makes a good case today that the U.S. Senate and New Orleans' politicians and planners didn't have that same due deference.
An immediate priority is for the Senate to restore some $70 million that the House, in a singular act of poor timing, slashed from the Army Corps of Engineers' budget for the New Orleans district. The cuts could hurt the corps' ability to rebuild levees protecting the city. Meanwhile, the city itself must attend to a pumping system that is much in need of upgrading.
The basic gist of their argument: Nature pushes back.
At the same time, there must also be an honest recognition of the fact that no amount of engineering - levees, sea walls, pumping systems, satellite tracking systems - can fully bring nature to heel. Indeed, the evidence is indisputable that systematic levee-building along the Mississippi upstream of New Orleans has blocked much of the natural flow of silt into the delta. That, in turn, has caused the delta to subside and made the city and its environs even more vulnerable to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, which itself has been rising.

Upstream levee-building has also had the effect of turning a sluggish river into a fire hose, helping to destroy marshes and barrier islands that once provided some protection. The steady destruction of coastal wetlands by residential development and years of oil and gas drilling hasn't helped much either. The combination of subsiding land and rising seas has put the Mississippi Delta about three feet lower than it was 100 years ago.
This isn't to say that most of the destruction could have been avoided, but it certainly could have been ameliorated.

Why does the Kyoto Protocol keep knocking at my cranium's consciousness?

Oh yeah, blithe political indifference to that bitch, Mother Nature.

President Bush take note, she, unlike Mrs. Bush, doesn't give ultimatums.

Continue Reading...

Why is Jesse Jackson Leading Operation Damage Control?

Even though Pat Robertson is a nut job, and even though most people probably didn’t take him seriously, and even though he apologized, sort of, somebody needed to make a public demonstration to show that the United States condemns his call for the assassination of Hugo Chavez. Well, reconciliation is finally underway, but apparently Bush was too swamped to spare one of his own flock for diplomatic duties. No, instead, Jesse Jackson is in Venezuela, visiting with Chavez, and making some good points.

“We must make it clear that talk of isolating Venezuela, talk of assassinating its leader, this is unacceptable, and it must be denounced roundly by our president and by our secretary of state,” Jackson told The Associated Press in an interview shortly before meeting Chavez.

“The U.S. and Venezuelan leadership must have a detente on rhetoric. That exacerbates tensions,'' Jackson told the AP. “We need to have a cooling down of divisive rhetoric.”
I should note that Jackson’s trip was planned before Robertson’s incendiary nonsense. Nonetheless, Jackson's doing the right thing by using his time in Venezuela to mend the fences Robertson kicked over.

Jesse Jackson is no stranger to arguing on the basis of morality, but his comments reflect a pragmatic understanding of the relationship between Venezuela and the US.

“The Pat Robertson statement was the threat that was heard around the world,” Jackson said. “It reinforces ancient fears because the U.S. has had a policy of eliminating leaders in this region, in Guatemala, in Chile.”

Jackson, who arrived Saturday for a visit along with members of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, cited record-high oil prices as one major reason the U.S. government should seek better relations with Venezuela, which is the world's fifth largest oil exporter and a major supplier to the U.S. market.

“We need a good relationship with this energy problem now,” Jackson told the AP, adding that both sides should work to establish a “good-neighbor policy.”
Don’t get me wrong, I respect Jesse Jackson, and I agree with what he’s saying. But the Bush Administration is letting him steal its diplomatic thunder by not using the opportunity of Robertson’s tirade to make some headway in relations with Venezuela. By failing to issue anything more than a flaccid statement about the inappropriateness of Robertson’s comments, the White House shows the world that it’s more interested in guarding its Christian constituency than maintaining foreign relations. Business as usual I guess.

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...

Monday, August 29, 2005

Circumsizing Faith

Proud infidel Christopher Hitchens lobs more "subtle" broadsides at faith and its discontents in Monday's Slate. This time Hitch looks on in horror as religion coincides with blood and blowjobs. Quoting the NYTs, Hitch reproduces this tidbit from the Aug. 26 Metro section:
A circumcision ritual practiced by some Orthodox Jews has alarmed city health officials, who say it may have led to three cases of herpes—one of them fatal—in infants. … The practice is known as oral suction, or in Hebrew, metzitzah b'peh: after removing the foreskin of the penis, the practitioner, or mohel, sucks the blood from the wound to clean it.
Hitch goes on to gleefully attack NYC's Mayor Bloomberg for not stopping this practice immediately. But what's more disconcerting, although in no way surprising, is a local rabbi's response to the practice.
Let's by all means hear from Rabbi David Niederman of the United Jewish Organization in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who emerged from his meeting with Bloomberg to inform us that: "The Orthodox Jewish community will continue the practice that has been practiced for over 5,000 years. We do not change. And we will not change."
Hitch's response:
You can preach it, rabbi, but you have no more right to practice it than a Muslim imam who preaches the duty of holy war has the right to put his teachings into effect. And Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer, the 57-year-old man who ministered to the three boys in question, is currently under a court order that forbids him from doing it again—pending an investigation by the health department. What "investigation?" If another man of that age were found to be slicing the foreskins of little boys and then sucking their penises and their blood, he would be in jail—one hopes—so fast that his feet wouldn't touch the ground. If he then told the court that God ordered him to do it, he would be offering precisely the defense that thousands of psychos have already made so familiar. Preach it rabbi. Preach it to the judge.
Isn't it funny how if you belong to an established religious sect, criminal acts become relative and open to interpretation according to "theological" taste?

This reminds me of a time I had dinner with a young lady that identified herself as a "liberal" concerned with human rights. By the end of our conversation I had wished she never opened her mouth as she had defended the hideous act of female circumcision, admonishing me not to judge another's culture. How dare I indeed, considering the U.N. has supported the right to grant asylum to those courageous young women who flee this devilish practice. How is this relevant you might ask? While her opinion wasn't theology per se, her multi-cultural relativism travels in its auspicious company due to the loss of critical thinking and the absence of the most human of traits -- empathy. Apparently she didn't even have the prejudice to defend her own team. Regardless, neither tradition nor culture grants anyone the right to violate, especially violently, another's human rights.

As Hitchens concludes:
Jewish babies exposed to herpes in New York, thousands of American children injured for life after the rape and torture they suffered at the hands of a compliant Catholic priesthood, prelates and mullahs outbidding each other in denial of AIDS … it's not just your mental health that is challenged by faith. Anyone who says that this evil deserves legal protection is exactly as guilty as the filthy old men who delight in inflicting it. What a pity that there is no hell.
What a pity indeed.

Continue Reading...

Terrell Owens: Proletariat?

Not exactly, but Marc Lamont Hill of argues that the Terrell Owens spectacle does highlight the inextricable exploitative nature of corporate capitalism in which management stacks the deck against labor -- even when they're wealthy prima donnas like Owens -- while telling them how lucky they are even to be at the table in the first place.
Unlike the NBA, NHL, and Major League Baseball, NFL contracts drastically favor the interests of owners. While the other leagues offer guaranteed contracts that ensure that players are paid regardless of performance level, health, or status with their respective team, the non-guaranteed NFL contract enables owners to cut players from the team with no further financial obligation. Of course, the better NFL players are able to negotiate this dilemma by demanding guaranteed signing bonuses, frontloaded contracts, and easily attainable performance bonuses, as Owens did for the first season of his contract. However, the majority of NFL players, particularly those with average talent and those near the middle or end of their contracts, are at-will employees with little financial security.

As Owens has continually noted since the beginning of the dispute, it is this power that owners leverage against players whenever they see fit. For example, while Owens stands to earn more than $40 million over the remainder of his contract, he will receive only $3.5 million this year. In all likelihood, the Eagles will ask Owens to take a drastic pay cut if he were to remain with the team beyond the 2006 season. If he refuses, the Eagles would likely cut Owens and pay him nothing. Similar instances occur every year with most NFL teams, who force players to reduce their salaries with little or no recourse.

With this in mind, we can look at Owens' claims and the owners' self-righteous response in a new light. The notion of "outperforming" a contract is not nearly as pompous and absurd as it has been presented to be in the media. If owners have the ability and the willingness to terminate contracts with little regard for players, why should players have such concern for owners? While we can safely assume that Owens' intention is not to represent for the NFL proletariat, his stand nonetheless spotlights the highly problematic power balance between league owners and players.
There's no doubt that Owens is a major asshole, but his improprieties shouldn't dilute the power of his argument. I hate to admit it, but Mr. Lamont Hill's right to take Owens' argument seriously and produce an analysis that basically supports Owens' accusations against Eagles management. While professional athletes are maligned for wanting what seems like insane salaries to the blue-collar brethren that root for them, one must recognize that they are the grist for the mill of a multi-billion dollar industry.

Marx once wrote in regards to labor that "[i]t produces palaces - but for the worker, hovels. It produces beauty - but for the worker, deformity." While the first sentence doesn't necessarily fit today's NFL, can there be any doubt that the second sentence still remains true even for those "overpaid" athletes of the NFL -- or for that matter any sport. For considerable money and fame, they satisfy our lust for entertainment and our longing to share in superhuman feats, yet in return many become crippled masses of bone and flesh forgotten the moment the lights go dark.

While Owens maybe hard to take, he broaches a topic too often forgotten when people piss and moan at the extraordinary sums paid to today's professional gladiators.

I'd rather see the people who entertain me and allow me to forget my problems for a few hours get the cash, rather than the suits lining the luxury boxes up above fattening themselves on the blood and sweat of those below.

Continue Reading...

The Rift Widens

Via the SF Chronicle:

A leader of Iraq's largest Sunni political group blamed Shiite-led security forces Monday for the deaths of 36 Sunnis found shot in the head and said such acts could have unforeseen consequences.

Tarek al-Hashimi, secretary-general of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said the Sunnis were abducted by squads in police uniforms from Baghdad's northern neighborhood of Hurriyah. Their bodies were discovered last week in a dry riverbed south of the capital.
I don’t want to exaggerate the impact of one man’s comments, but these accusations are characteristic of the growing tension between Sunnis and Shiites. Along with his accusations, al-Hashimi offered a bleak forecast for retribution.

"How were groups in government cars and wearing government uniforms able to do this act?" Al-Hashimi asked. "We warn that the indignation created by this matter may cause a reaction with consequences that only God can predict. I hope this message will be clear to the authorities in charge of security in this country."
If Iraq is to avoid civil war and division into separate states, reconciliation needs to come from somewhere. And so far, the constitution, which many had hoped would unite a divided Iraq, seems to be driving the wedge even further between Sunnis and Shiites.

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

About Face

If you watched the president’s 2004 State of the Union Address, you probably remember the woman in the picture. She held out an ink-stained finger. She hugged the mother of a dead soldier. She was a symbol of sacrifice and progress in Iraq.

But now it appears Ms Souhail, an anti-Saddam activist who became Iraq's ambassador to Egypt, may be having second thoughts about the "success" she celebrated with a two-fingered victory sign.

Having seen the negotiations for the country's constitution fall into disarray and the prospect of a secular constitution severely undermined, she expressed her concerns last week.

"When we came back from exile, we thought we were going to improve rights and the position of women. But look what has happened: we have lost all the gains we made over the past 30 years. It's a big disappointment. Human rights should not be linked to Islamic sharia law at all. They should be listed separately in the constitution."
Whether or not they foresaw it as a possible consequence of removing Saddam from power, the Bush Administration now refuses to acknowledge the fact that fundamentalist Muslims are shaping the new Iraq in their image. Considering that one of the justifications for the war, at least in terms of the rhetoric we heard, was "liberating the Iraqi people," Bush’s ambivalence to the rise of fundamentalist Islam looks pretty hypocritical. Trading a violent dictator for a theocracy is not a means to securing liberty.

Bush remains inarticulate as ever on the subject:

"There is not, as I understand it, the way the constitution is written, is that women have got rights, inherent rights recognized in the constitution, and that the constitution talks about, you know, not 'the religion' but 'a religion'," he said.
His inane babble insults me. I can’t even begin to imagine how Iraqis feel when they hear this bullshit.

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...

Evolution's Eye

Daniel C. Dennett has a superb editorial in today's NYTs debunking intelligent design and its defenders argument that something cannot exist without a creator. One of the more amusing parts of his argument is when he assails the supposed intelligence of the designer, if we take their opposition seriously, by using the eye as an example of a flawed design.
Brilliant as the design of the eye is, it betrays its origin with a tell-tale flaw: the retina is inside out. The nerve fibers that carry the signals from the eye's rods and cones (which sense light and color) lie on top of them, and have to plunge through a large hole in the retina to get to the brain, creating the blind spot. No intelligent designer would put such a clumsy arrangement in a camcorder, and this is just one of hundreds of accidents frozen in evolutionary history that confirm the mindlessness of the historical process.
I'd also like to ask that intelligent designer why I still have an appendix if I don't need it, yet, if it becomes infected it could kill me.

How smart is that?

You know the answer, it's not. My appendix, like my retina, is a product of evolution, regardless if that knowledge dampens my faith that I'm a unique snowflake lovingly created and endowed supernaturally with special worth.

Continue Reading...

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Hard Labour

My new piece, "Hard Labour," about Iraq's trade union movement, is up at Progress Magazine. Check it out.

No, not later, now!

Continue Reading...

What Are You Reading?

The FBI wants to know.
The American Civil Liberties Union today disclosed that the FBI has used a controversial Patriot Act power to demand records from an organization that possesses "a wide array of sensitive information about library patrons, including information about the reading materials borrowed by library patrons and about Internet usage by library patrons." The FBI demand was disclosed in a new lawsuit filed in Connecticut, which remains under a heavy FBI gag order.

The lawsuit challenges the National Security Letter (NSL) provision of the Patriot Act, which authorizes the FBI to demand a range of personal records without court approval, such as the identity of a person who has visited a particular Web site on a library computer, or who has engaged in anonymous speech on the Internet. The Patriot Act dramatically expands the NSL power by permitting the FBI to demand records of people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.
What makes the stakes particularly high in this case is that the NSL provision allows the government to demand records "without court approval." That the government has been able to obtain information on persons under investigation is nothing new. It’s the removal of judicial oversight from the process of information gathering that has civil liberties groups up in arms. With good cause I might add.

Although details are still scant, the NYTs fleshes out the story here. A hearing on the gag order is slated for Wednesday. If the gag order is lifted the facts of this particular case, filed on August 9th, will see the light of day.

Only the most radical civil libertarian would disregard the need for increased security measures in light of the proven threat of terrorist groups. That said, endowing the government with an unfettered right to pry into our private business is an unacceptable solution to the problem. When Congress returns from its summer recess and begins to hammer out the details of the Patriot Act, the implications of the Government’s newfound power need to receive the public scrutiny they deserve. Democracy that operates in the shadows isn’t really democracy at all.

You can read a censored version of the ACLU’s complaint in the Connecticut lawsuit here.

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...

Friday, August 26, 2005

Iraq's Islamic Predators Would Love Our Immediate Withdrawal

TIME magazine has an interesting article in their latest edition detailing the murder spree occurring across Baghdad. According to TIME's Tim McGirk:
A murder spree has erupted in Washash, as in countless neighborhoods across Baghdad. Death squads, which tend to move in Opel sedans, are entering what once were tight-knit communities and killing ordinary citizens, apparently to stir up sectarian hatred. The goal: to incite a civil war that each side hopes will give its sect dominance over the other. In Baghdad, a city of more than 5 million, there were at least 880 violent deaths last month, according to Faiq Amin Bakr, director of the Baghdad central morgue. (In New York City, with a population of more than 8 million, the total number of homicides for all of 2004 was 571.) And the figure for Baghdad excludes those killed by car bombings and suicide attacks, which, if included, would add nearly 100 to the total. Most of the victims were felled by gunshots. Some were beheaded. Few of the murderers have been captured. "Nobody knows who is doing this killing," says Bakr. "It seems they're trying to destroy our society."...[T]he violence in this neighborhood is an extension of the war the U.S. is waging against Iraqi insurgents. If the direct attacks on American troops are aimed at driving the U.S. out, the killings in Washash are a grim portent of the kind of chaos that may lie in Iraq's future, whether or not U.S. soldiers stay on in force. "If the U.S. troops leave, we will have a civil war," says a Sunni ex-army officer who prefers not to reveal his name. "It will go on until one sect wipes out the other."
The risk of civil war and the possibility that the most violent extremists in Iraq could eventually gain power is why the bereaved calls of mothers of the fallen for immediate withdrawal from Iraq are misguided. While I agree with Sheehan that Bush lied and manipulated the American public into supporting an ill-advised and immoral war, the U.S. government as well as the American public have a deep moral responsibility in making sure Iraq does not become a failed state run rife with murderous Islamic militants. Again, it was our illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq that gave rise to the present conditions.

Also, this is better for the West's collective security for an Iraq infested with political Islamists with certainly use the anarchical country as a base to destabilize surrounding Middle Eastern countries. Now I want to make clear that doesn't mean the U.S. shouldn't state a draw-down date that will kick Iraq's security forces in the ass so that they can take control of the country's security. We should also be recruiting other countries not affiliated in any way with the occupation to replace our draw-down if need be.

Yet, the tragedy of Iraq, which Sheehan's cry makes apparent, is that the Bush Administration caused a self-fulfilling prophecy: The Islamic terrorists Bush claimed were getting succor from the dictator (and we should be open to the fact that there were probably some) now operate freely and strike American soldiers and any Iraqi that disagrees with their vision with impunity. Nevertheless, if these fanatics are not dealt with now, American soldiers will become a permanent presence on Iraq's sands regardless of which party is in power.

So we shouldn't be so willfully obtuse or self-centered to think that the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops won't play into the hands of Zarqawi and his Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia thugs. And that's the worst possible situation for U.S. and the broader Middle East's security as well as Iraq's civilian population.

QUICK NOTE: Another aspect of this discussion of withdrawal that gets short thrift is that if the GOP stays in power, we'll never fully withdrawal from Iraq because we'll be putting down an array of military bases to ensure "Middle Eastern stability," or wink, wink, control of and access to oil reserves.

Continue Reading...

America's Eventual Decline

Yesterday, journalist Timothy Garton Ash, analyzed America's eventual decline from the world's spire and its geopolitical ramifications. His analysis is top-notch and well worth a read.

And for all you out there applauding this development, or Allah forbid, shooting your Kalashnikov's into the air (a little physics: what goes up must come down), Mr. Garton Ash has something for you to ponder:
[F]irst, that major shifts of power between rising and falling great powers have usually been accompanied by major wars; and second, that the next top dog could be a lot worse.
While I'm no fan of U.S. foreign policy --which has essentially made the world the prebellum American South: half free, half enslaved -- can anyone think a global order run by the Chinese would be more respectful of human rights and liberties?

I think not.

The thing now to do is ensure every democracy bans together for their collective security so no totalitarian nation or bloc of nations has the ability to be successors to the Axis Powers -- an idea the Bush Administration has damaged with our foray into Iraq.

Continue Reading...

Oi Vei: Iraq Might Split Three Ways

Majority Shiites have threatened to bypass the National Assembly and box out the minority Sunnis to duck any changes to Iraq's draft constitution. If this proceeds, the constituion will be presented to the Iraqi public on October 15th in a referendum vote. The likelihood that it would be passed doesn't seem good considering only three out of Iraq's 18 provinces have to vote "no."

I'll the let the LA Times explain:
The three-province veto provision in the constitutional referendum rules was originally crafted at the behest of Kurds, who dominate three northern provinces. They feared the constitutional review process could be dominated by Arabs.

But after parliamentary elections in January handed power chiefly to Shiite Arabs and Kurds, the constitutional veto clause has become the last bargaining chip of Sunni Arabs, who make up about 20% of Iraq's population and constitute majorities in at least two provinces. They could be joined in a "no" vote by a group of Shiites loyal to cleric Muqtada Sadr who also oppose key elements of the draft.

"All anyone needs to get is three" provinces, said Hassan Bazzaz, a University of Baghdad political science professor. "It won't be that hard."

Sunni Arab politicians, many of whom boycotted the January parliamentary election, have been urging supporters to register to vote in recent weeks. Some Sunni clerics have ordered worshipers to election centers. According to Iraq's election commission, some of the most active registration centers are in Sunni-dominated areas.

Even before negotiations broke down among drafters of the constitution, representatives for Sunni parties and a coalition of Sadr followers were meeting privately to map out a strategy for rallying a "no" vote in three provinces. Sunnis and Sadr loyalists, who forged ties last year when each battled U.S. troops, share concerns about federalism in the draft constitution.
Hopefully, the Shiites will revive the spirit of compromise necessary to a pluralistic democracy or Iraq's on its way to splintering three-ways.

POSTSCRIPT: Within the NYTs article, America officials said "substantial and real progress" had been made on the impasse by day's end.

We'll see, but I smell the faint aroma of bullshit wafting from that statement.

Continue Reading...

Trade Unionizing Barriers in Iraq

From Unison, Britain's largest trade union: the Iraqi government looks to be brandishing its claws at Iraq's most progressive civil society member: its unions. The story's so short I reproduce in full below.
Iraqi trade unions under threat

(22/8/05) The new Iraqi government is attempting to control trade union activity by overturning an agreement that allowed them to operate without any undue interference or harassment from the state.

A new decree adopted by the Iraqi Council of Ministers stated that the government would be ‘taking control of all monies belonging to the trade unions to prevent them from dispensing any such monies.’

The decree also says that a new paper on how trade unions should function, operate and organise will be prepared.

In a letter to the foreign secretary Jack Straw, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said the decree represents a major attack on the ability of independent and democratic trade unions to organise.

He pointed out that under the former agreement trade union issues were the responsibility of the Labour and Social Rights Committee whereas now the responsibility has been transferred to a new committee which will include a number of government ministers, but not the employment and social affairs minister.

“I am concerned that this decree, and especially the measures relating to trade union financial assets, is an attempt to curb the growth of free trade unions in Iraq,” said Prentis.

“On behalf of UNISON I would request that you raise this matter with the Iraqi authorities at the first possible occasion.”
There's no doubt that Iraq's labor movement is the most progressive and secular civil society institution in Iraq. It's enemies -- the Islamists and the now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority -- are evidence enough. If the movement is strangled by the Shiite-dominated government before it has the ability to organize itself into a social movement, then where will Iraq's progressive ideas come from?

Something for the left and the liberals to think about.

Continue Reading...

Vote Hip Hop in 2008

The Nation has an article about the possible emergence of a Hip Hop voting bloc.

[A]ccording to the League, African-Americans and Latinos accounted for more than half of the new voters aged 18 to 29 in 2004. There were certainly many factors that contributed to the increase, such as the Florida debacle in 2000 and the simple demographic increase in young voters. However, the political influence of hip-hop moguls such as [P. Diddy] Combs and Russell Simmons, as well as other rap stars engaged in registration and get-out-the-vote efforts, was undeniable. Massive registration drives, marketing campaigns and even music videos by the likes of Eminem and Jadakiss all helped create a heightened awareness of the importance of voting in young communities of color.

While Simmons's Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN), Combs's Citizen Change and the nearly dozen other hip-hop-affiliated activist groups have always been officially nonpartisan, their supporters were overwhelmingly anti-Bush, which had a lot to do with their success in the last election. The consensus among the behind-the-scenes hip-hop activists is that, although John Kerry lost, youth voting-drive efforts showed the potential of organizing young people around electoral goals and pointed the way forward to a time when the mobilization of new young voters could equal the Christian right's grassroots efforts.
I’d like to see groups like the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and Citizen Change move beyond nonpartisanship and begin taking positions on political issues. Jerry Falwell tells his followers to “vote Christian,” why shouldn’t Mr. Combs tell his to vote hip hop? I assume that most of the voters Mr. Combs mobilized with his “Vote or Die” campaign in 2004 voted for Democrats anyway, but why not organize a more aggressive campaign that urges young people to vote and endorses certain issues and candidates?

I wouldn’t want to see Mr. Combs trying to enlist brainwashed minions of young voters who simply do what Diddy says. But if a hip hop voting bloc does emerge around these coalitions, it would force candidates to pay more attention an otherwise easily overlooked group of voters.

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Jesus Transcript

It's a miracle, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, descended, literally, into Crawford, Texas sometime this August for a GOP fundraiser. Burn in hell, Jim Wallis, you bleeding heart false prophet. Luckily, Thomas Peyer transcribed it for Slate and wouldn't you know it, Jesus has indeed revised that previous remark he made in the synoptic gospels ( Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:24-25 and Luke 18:24-25) about the rich man, the camel, and the eye of the needle. His views on the separation of church and state will also strike terror into the hearts of secularists everywhere. Now that you think about it, Iraq's Shiites should take heart from his statement as well considering Jesus is a lesser prophet in Islam.

Spread the good word people.

Continue Reading...

An Abomination But Oh So Permissible

Everybody, say thank you to Slate's Timothy Noah for finding this hilarious, but all too real, website of that most wise cleric, Ayatollah Sistani. Within this ridiculously state-of-the-art website, Islam's practitioners can ask Sistani what Islam permits and what will depart your lousy head from your shoulders. This is what I was surprised to learn: anal sex, permissible but abominable.

If I'm getting sloshed at a table and my friend Muhammed has joined me, if he does not move from the table he's in violation of Islamic law. Note to self: Don't drink around devout Muslim friends. What a bummer.

And the Ayatollah's position on birth control is down right liberal by the standards of our Christian American Right. One example:
Question : Is it permissible for a woman to use contraceptives in order to prevent conception?

Answer : It is permissible for a woman to use contraceptives (the pill) to prevent pregnancy, provided that it does not damage her health in a serious manner, irrespective of whether or not the husband has agreed to it.
All you men out there whose eyebrows just raised because of the anal sex thing and the contraceptive thing, don't bother moving to Iraq (don't lie, you thought of it) because without alcohol, you have no chance of getting any ladies, burqa or not, back to your Pleasure Dome.

Kidding aside, there's a serious undercurrent to all this as Noah notes because of Iraq's constitution that's trying to combine Islam with democracy. As he rightly identifies:
"democracy" and "basic liberties" don't necessarily go hand-in-hand. As Fareed Zakaria noted in his 2003 book The Future of Freedom..., a polity may choose, democratically, to deny basic freedoms prized by a minority—or even freedoms that, on any other day, might be prized by the majority.
This should show that while Islam and "democracy," or majoritarian rule, may be compatible, individual freedom and Islam are not.

Nevertheless, that Sistani's a randy dude. Meow.

Continue Reading...

Eat the Rich

Sorry to use such a tired quote from Fitzgerald, but "[l]et me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me." From yesterday's print Journal:
The race to build the most exclusive resort club has reached a new extreme: a $10 million membership fee.

In the next few months, the Montana-based Yellowstone Club, a private ski and golf community, will start marketing what's believed to be the world's most expensive resort club. For a one-time fee of between $4 million and $10 million, depending on the sign-up date, members will get to stay for a set period of time at a castle in England or Ireland, a villa in Tuscany, a private golf course in Scotland and several other beach, spa and golf properties around the world. They'll also get to use one of the club's two mega-yachts and a fleet of private jets.
Didn't Jesus talk about the rich man, the eye of the needle, and...why do I even bother. Hey superrich: Eat, (binge) drink (cosmos), and be merry, and then drive home along that dark dirt path lined with trees to your spacious time share mansion.

I'm such a hater.

Continue Reading...

Walter Reed To Close

The panel responsible for determining which military installations to close has voted to close Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, DC. According to the NYTs:
The independent commission reviewing a Defense Department plan to shut or shrink hundreds of military bases nationwide voted this morning to close the historic Walter Reed Army Medical Center...The Pentagon plans had called for the closing of the medical center and the construction of a $1 billion national military center with the same name on the campus of the naval medical center in Bethesda, Md., about seven miles from the present Walter Reed.

Panel members noted that the cost of retrofitting the 96-year old medical center would be higher than those of building a new facility. They voted 8 to nothing in support of the Pentagon's recommendation, with one abstention.
While I'm a bit worried that closing the medical center could hurt the care some of our wounded veterans get, the plans to rebuild a new state-of-the-art VA hospital is something to rejoice over. According to Phillip Longman's "The Best Care Anyway" in The Washington Monthly, the VA medical system, especially Walter Reed, was "producing the quality of care in the country." If you've never read this article, it's one of those perception changing works all journalists wish to write. Basically it banishes the nightmare visions we have of VA hospitals which were ingrained in the popular consciousness through films like Born on the Fourth of July. What's even better about the article is that Longman argues that by using the VA example we can truly reform this country's crazy expensive healthcare system without giving up care.

But before we get all exurberant though, the Pentagon should pledge that the new facility will be built and operational before Walter Reed is shut down so that our returning injured aren't sacrificed because its bureaucratically expedient.

Continue Reading...

Truth Hits Everybody (Well, Almost Everyone)

Yesterday, McCoy posted about how secular Iraqis were worried that the draft constitution would institute Islamic law and treat women like second class citizens. During the course of that post, McCoy presented Bush's patented "what, me worry" response to the possibility that Iraq's going down the same path as Iranian style theocracy.
President Bush, in an appearance in Idaho on Tuesday, asserted that the Iraqi document guaranteed women's rights and the freedom of religion in a country that in recent decades had only known dictatorship.

Labeling the Iraqi constitution an "amazing event," he said, "We had a little trouble with our own conventions writing a constitution."
McCoy's starting to believe Bush is "irreparably out of touch with reality." I've heard some intimation of this constantly for over five years now, and my feeling about Bush's apparent inability to grasp the facts on the ground still remains the same: He's not ignorant or out of touch, he's just indifferent. Truth and falsity just don't matter much to him. Some people point to his born-again faith as a determining factor for this outlook, but I think he's essentially a bullshit artist.Philosopher Harry Frankfurt wrote in his best-selling On Bullshit about the difference between the bullshit artist and the mere lier. The difference is illustrative of what Bush does when he makes statements like the above.
This [misrepresentation] is the crux of the distinction between him and the liar. Both he and the liar represent themselves falsely as endeavoring to communicate the truth. The success of each depends upon deceiving us about that. But the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality; we are not to know that he wants us to believe something he supposes to be false. The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it. This does not mean that his speech is anarchically impulsive, but that the motive guiding and controlling it is unconcerned with how the things about which he speaks truly are. (my itl.)
Check out Frankfurt's last sentence and tell me if Bush's statements aren't part and parcel of bullshit. His whole presidency has been marked by bullshit, in which he consistently tells the people what they want to hear regardless of whether his statements even approximate reality. This is nothing new, politicians have been doing it for time immemorial. But what makes it a graver offense this time is that his bullshit is causing both innocent American soldiers and Iraqi civilians to die en masse.

As The Police song went, "The Truth Hits Everybody," and I believe the Sheehan protest is starting that inevitable process of sorting the truth from the bullshit. Hopefully, Americans will learn to move before they get dumped on by the President again.

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Decisions That Matter

Who said democracy's dead? I so prefer Sheng Hua to Hua Sheng. An absolutely pivotal decision awaits. Peace on earth is in the balance.

Continue Reading...

Review From an Asylum

Holden Caufield gets out of his straight-jacket and padded room long enough to review Benjamin Kunkel's Indecision for the NYTs Book Review.

This is really novel (ha,ha) and took me back to the first time I read Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, which honestly, I thought was good, but not the earth-shattering, question your existence book a lot of my friends thought it to be.

Nevertheless, read Holden's review, it's been so very long since he blathered on and on and...

Continue Reading...

A Match Made in Heaven?

I was planning to post on this yesterday but never got around to it. The NYTs has a series of articles investigating the uneasy relationship between religion and science. The third piece in the series addresses the increasingly vocal population of scientists who proudly proclaim their religious faith.

Although they embrace religious faith, these scientists also embrace science as it has been defined for centuries. That is, they look to the natural world for explanations of what happens in the natural world and they recognize that scientific ideas must be provisional - capable of being overturned by evidence from experimentation and observation. This belief in science sets them apart from those who endorse creationism or its doctrinal cousin, intelligent design, both of which depend on the existence of a supernatural force.
On a practical level, I have no problem with this position. If a scientist privately believes in God, but understands that natural phenomenon, and not magic, explain the processes of the natural world, I wouldn’t suggest curbing his/her right to his faith. Sacrificing the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause to preserve the Establishment Clause is no victory for civil liberties.

At least one scientist interviewed for the article, a man working on the human genome project, acknowledges that faith doesn’t trump the evidence for evolution.

[H]e acknowledged that as head of the American government's efforts to decipher the human genetic code, he had a leading role in work that many say definitively demonstrates the strength of evolutionary theory to explain the complexity and abundance of life.

As scientists compare human genes with those of other mammals, tiny worms, even bacteria, the similarities "are absolutely compelling," Dr. Collins said. "If Darwin had tried to imagine a way to prove his theory, he could not have come up with something better, except maybe a time machine. Asking somebody to reject all of that in order to prove that they really do love God - what a horrible choice."
Like I said, on a practical level, I embrace the thinking of men like Dr. Collins. If nothing else, it provides Christians with an alternative worldview that finds a place for faith without throwing science out the window. And throwing science out the window is exactly what ID proponents want to do, no matter how loudly they proclaim otherwise.

That said, I’m still wary of statements like the following, also from Dr. Collins:

"You will never understand what it means to be a human being through naturalistic observation," he said. "You won't understand why you are here and what the meaning is. Science has no power to address these questions - and are they not the most important questions we ask ourselves?"
Those he’s far more sensible than his counterparts in camp creation, Dr. Collins is unwilling to accept that humans can live fulfilling lives without religion. He may have kicked God out of the laboratory, but the big guy is still waiting on the other side of the door. I resent the implication that religion is the only means to morality. That’s preposterous. Collins suggests that science falls short because it does not address the questions of “why you are here and what the meaning is.” Maybe that’s not the concern of say, chemistry, but secular men and women have certainly approached that question without appealing to divinity. Maybe Collins skipped the chapter on existentialism in his philosophy 101 primer.

I have great deal of respect for people of faith, scientists or otherwise, who know where God belongs and where he doesn’t. I disagree about the necessity for and the existence of God, but a Christian doctor is not a clear and present danger. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, I concur with physicist Steven Weinberg: "I think one of the great historical contributions of science is to weaken the hold of religion. That's a good thing."

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...

Stuck in the 18th Century

Kevin Drum has a good post on "originalism," the doctrine which argues that judges today should try to determine the Framers’ original intent when interpreting the Constitution.

Of all the pillars of modern conservatism, the one that has long struck me as the most obviously absurd is the doctrine of originalism. Think about it. Are we really supposed to take seriously the idea that the Supreme Court of 2005 — in an era of spyware, genetic mapping, and billion dollar hedge funds — is supposed to make its judgments based on divining the intent of a small group of men who lived in a simple agrarian community 200 years ago? Presented baldly, it's an idea that wouldn't pass muster with a bright 10 year old.
Conservatives inevitably start crowing about originalism when it comes time to debate the Supreme Court. Drum suggests 3 reasons why:

. . . a substantial fraction of the country would very much like to reinstate 18th century social values. . .

. . . originalism provides a congenial guarantee of certainty. . .

. . . it's a great soundbite. . .
Drum’s conclusion, one with which I agree, is that originalism has become the Constitutional doctrine de jour because liberals have failed to posit an alternative system. It’s not written in stone (or in the Constitution for that matter) that there’s only one way to read the Constitution, but conservatives have done a pretty good job of convincing Americans otherwise. Thanks to the lack of vocal opposition, they haven’t had to work very hard to do it.

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...

Secular Iraqis Speak Out Against the Draft Constitution

This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following the debate.

The secular leaders said the draft, which was presented to the National Assembly on Monday, contains language that not only establishes the primacy of Islam as the country's official religion, but appears to grant judges wide latitude to strike down legislation that may contravene the faith. To interpret such legislation, the constitution calls for the appointment of experts in Shariah, or Islamic law, to preside on the Supreme Federal Court.

The draft constitution, these secular Iraqis say, clears the way for religious authorities to adjudicate personal disputes like divorce and inheritance matters by allowing the establishment of religious courts, raising fears that a popularly elected Islamist-minded government could enact legislation and appoint judges who could turn the country into a theocracy.
They make a good case considering that two provisions of the draft constitution are "Islam is a main source for legislation," and "No law may contradict Islamic standards."

But George Bush, not surprisingly, isn’t worried.

President Bush, in an appearance in Idaho on Tuesday, asserted that the Iraqi document guaranteed women's rights and the freedom of religion in a country that in recent decades had only known dictatorship.

Labeling the Iraqi constitution an "amazing event," he said, "We had a little trouble with our own conventions writing a constitution."
I’m really starting to think the President is irreparably out of touch with reality. Some of you are probably asking yourselves "It took him this long to realize the President is out of touch with reality?" Good point. But Bush is hitting a new low here by blithely ignoring the rise of theocratic forces in Iraq. We haven’t even finished cleaning up the remains of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and already our President has forgotten about the dangers of Islamic theocracy.

Granted, if the United States is serious about turning over Iraq to the Iraqis, we can’t dictate what goes into their constitution. But certainly more could have been done (and hopefully can be done) to support secularism in that country. At the very least, Bush can drop his "amazing event" routine and get serious about the facts.

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...

Hard to Disagree With

In response to Australians' inane ability to get busted with drugs in Asia despite the draconian consequences, Austrailan Prime Minister John Howard had this to say:
"It's beyond belief that any Australian could be so stupid as to carry drugs into any country in Asia..." and that..."People have to understand that if they defy that, and they get caught with drugs, they can't expect the government to bail them out."

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Equal TIme for Doubt

This is why I love Christopher Hitchens: today in Slate he argues for equal time for non-belief and inviscerates the unintelligent perpetrators of "intelligent design." He also unknowingly gives a nod to an argument by Matt Yglesias, which Kevin Drum quoted today:
When George W. Bush and Bill Frist had their respective "teach the controversy" moments, it seemed to me that most liberal bloggers took these as moments to simply point, sneer, and mock. But it's not such a great idea to mock a guy who has 55 percent of the public on his side when you have only 12 percent on yours. The evolution-only view is less popular than gay marriage, less popular than the abolition of the death penalty, and generally speaking one of the very least popular liberal cultural causes. We need to take this seriously and actually persuade some people — or, rather, a lot of people — that we're right.
Matt's right. We do need to persuade people we're correct, and that's not a liberal issue, it's an issue for anyone concerned that we can indeed understand the physical world we inhabit by dispassionate scientific experimentation and the evidence it produces.

And this is essentially Hitch's point.

But first he explains lucidly the fundamental problem with the "theory" of ID:
We do not and we should not teach rubbish and superstition alongside science. "Intelligent design" is not even a theory. It is more like a mentality. It admits of no verification or falsity and does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as a series of hypotheses and experiments that have served us well in analyzing the fossil record, the record of molecular biology, and—through the unraveling of the DNA strings—our kinship with other species. And this is to say nothing of the possibility of medical advances that may astonish us in our own lifetimes. To put astrology on the same blackboard as the Hubble telescope would be an approximate analogy.
Or that bloodletting is a medically proven substitute for antibiotics for curing illness.

But the real gist of Hitch's argument is to relate why he became to believe in evolution over the Genesis version and other silly precusors to ID. As a child he learned in conjuction with biology the history of how Darwin and his successors did intellectual battle with Biblical literalists and won. While he has a British example, he makes mention of the later American collorary: The Scopes Trial.

As Hitch explains, if schoolchildren were to study the history of the argument, along side of biological experimentation and evidence such as the fossil record of course, "[i]t would show them how to weigh and balance evidence, and it would remind them of the scarcely believable idiocy of the ancestors of 'intelligent design.'"

This should be part of any self-respecting history curriculum, but let me voice my skepticism that this would help at all considering how illiterate most U.S. students are in U.S. history.

Nevertheless, Hitch has another idea that those within the reality based community should take up.
If we take the president up on his deceptively fair-minded idea of "teaching the argument," I think we could advance the ball a little further in other directions also. Houses of worship that do not provide space for leaflets and pamphlets favoring evolution (not necessarily Darwinism, which is only one of the theories of evolution and thus another proof of its scientific status) should be denied tax-exempt status and any access to public funding originating in the White House's "faith-based" initiative. Congress should restore its past practice of giving a copy of Thomas Jefferson's expurgated Bible—free of all incredible or supernatural claims—to each newly elected member. The same version of the Bible should be obligatory for study in all classes that affect to teach "divinity." No more Saudi Arabian money should be allowed to be spent in the United States on the opening of jihadist madrasas or the promulgation of a Wahhabi Quran that preaches hatred and contempt of other faiths and of atheism until the Saudi government permits the unmolested opening of Shiite and Sufi places of worship; Christian churches and Hindu temples of all denominations for its Philippine, Indian, and other helot classes; synagogues; and Thomas Paine Society libraries. No American taxpayers' money should be given to Israel unless it can be shown that it is not being used for the establishment of religion by Orthodox messianic settlements in the occupied territories and/or until the Israeli rabbinate recognizes Reform and Conservative Judaism as authentic.

Equal time. It has a nicer ring the more you say it. Bring it on.
How nice it would be to see The Origin of Species in the pew next to The Bible. Naturally it won't happen, but fantasy has been a leitmotif today.

Continue Reading...

Salute the Red, White, and Green

Bill "never-inhaled" Clinton came clean with the American people about his drug use. Well, sort of. And George "nose candy" Bush’s history of drug use received some scrutiny, though I don’t think he ever released a statement. In any event, it seems that disclosures of drug "experimentation" are becoming a right of passage for White House hopefuls. Sign of the times I guess. I can see it now: The year is 2008. Hilary is at the podium. Yes, she "tried" acid as a young co-ed, but she didn’t trip very hard.

Anyway, over at Andrew Sullivan’s page, guest-blogger Walter has a modest proposal.

The next time a presidential candidate makes his ritual drug confession, I think they should be given a choice: serve out the prison term or pay the fine that applied when they offended or recuse themselves and their administration from enforcing the same laws. Better yet, let them commit to changing the laws that they were fortunate enough not to have been caught breaking. Fair? I think so.
It’s an interesting, albeit implausible, idea. His point about the hypocrisy of harsh drug laws is well taken though.

While we’re strolling through the realm of fantasy, I’ll let you in on one of my own. I long for the day when a presidential candidate addresses the nation and says, "Sure, I smoked pot when I was younger. I drank until I threw up at least a couple of times. I even took some ecstasy. But I graduated at the top of my class and built an impressive résumé. I was never an addict and I haven’t touched the stuff for thirty years."

I’m not talking about striking a blow for drug culture. I’d be perfectly happy to elect a candidate who had never touched a drug, provided he or she had the right credentials for the job. I’m talking about looking at what matters when we decide who should lead the country. As far as I’m concerned, a few joints in a dorm room shouldn’t be at the top of the list.

I hope more people come around to my way of thinking. But like Bill Clinton, I’m not holding my breath.

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...

Red Letter Day

This has absolutely nothing to do with politics, but I have to share my enthusiasm. Two of the best heavy bands out there released new albums today. The bands are Every Time I Die and The Bled. The albums are Gutter Phenomenon and Found in the Flood, respectively. Yours truly just got his hot little hands on both of them. Today is like Christmas for hardcore kids across the country. Sorry Jesus, nothing personal.

I’m not really sure how my employer expects me to work today. I’ll try, but it’s going to be tough with so much rock ‘n’ roll burning a hole in my pocket.

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...

In Black and White

Since we’ve spent a lot of time talking about Iraq this week, it’s only right that we take a look at some actual passages from Iraq’s draft constitution. Via The Washington Post, the AP provides a sneak peak. Here are a few items I picked out. Good, bad, contradictory? I have my opinions. I’ll leave you to yours.

Islam is a main source for legislation

No law may contradict Islamic standards

No law may contradict democratic standards

This constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the Iraqi people and guarantees all religious rights; all persons are free within their ideology and the practice of their ideological practices.

Any organization that follow a racist, terrorist, extremist, sectarian-cleaning ideology or circulates or justifies such beliefs is banned, especially Saddam's Baath Party in Iraq and its symbols under any name. And this should not be part of the political pluralism in Iraq.

Human freedom and dignity are guaranteed.

The central government administers oil and gas extracted from current wells, along with governments of the producing regions and provinces, on the condition that revenues are distributed in a way that suits population distribution around the country.
I encourage you to read the rest. And I promise, the next post won’t be about Iraq.

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...

Iraq Update—Three More Days

The Iraqi delegates have submitted their draft constitution to the parliament, but a vote on the constitution has been delayed three days in an attempt garner additional support for the controversial document. The Sunni delegation is unhappy with significant provisions of the new constitution.

The constitution as written would formalize and broaden the autonomy enjoyed by the Kurdish north since creation of a U.S.-protected "no-fly" zone following the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The charter's definition of Iraq as a federal union also would clear the way for a southern Shiite state made up of as many as half of Iraq's 18 provinces, negotiators said. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite religious party that is the country's strongest political bloc and that has strong ties to neighboring Iran, called for such a sub-state this month.

Sunnis fear they would be left with an impoverished, weakened state in the west and center.

Negotiators said Monday that the draft would put Iraq's existing oil production under control of the central government. But control of new oil production would go to the south and north, where the oil is produced, meaning revenue for the central government, and Sunnis, would likely ebb within a few years.
It’s unlikely that the three day extension will result in any significant changes to the draft document. And while it remains unclear what will happen if the draft constitution is signed into law, one Sunni delegate predicted that "The streets will rise up."

Meanwhile, the Bush administration continues to march along to the beat of its ever-optimistic drummer:

"We welcome today's development as another step forward in Iraq's constitutional process," said a White House statement. "The progress made over the past week has been impressive."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also praised the Iraqis in a statement for their "statesmanlike decision" to use three more days to build a national consensus.
Are we reading the same headlines?

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...

Monday, August 22, 2005

Fundamentally Unbelievable

Pat Robertson, the uber fundamentalist, looks at Jesus sitting there on the cross and then, well, he looks the other way, disregarding his whole social gospel. Here's his call for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez via Kevin Drum over at my old haunting ground, The Washington Monthly.
I'll be damned. Pat Robertson really did call for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. Via Media Matters:
You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war....We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.
Excuse me for a second while I peruse my Bible. Was there a part I missed where Jesus taught the parable about killing people who make trouble for you?
Is there anything to do other than laugh this insane hypocrisy off? He does have a lot of oil, though. Hmmmmm. I have been told that it was God's cruel joke that most of the oil of this world was hidden underneath earth cursed by brown people. Oh Jesus, save us from this tragedy.

Continue Reading...

More On Iraq's Constitution

According to the Wash Post:
Shiites and Kurds were sending a draft constitution to parliament on Monday that would fundamentally change Iraq, transforming the country into a loose federation, with a weak central administration governed by Islamic law, negotiators said.

The draft, slated for action by a Monday deadline, would be a sweeping rejection of the demands of Iraq's disaffected Sunni minority, which has called the proposed federal system the start of the breakup of Iraq. Shiites and Kurds indicated they were in no mood to compromise.

"We gave a choice -- whoever doesn't want federalism can opt not to practice it," said Shiite constitutional committee member Ali Debagh. Debagh acknowledged the Sunni minority would be unlikely to accept such a draft in a national vote scheduled for October, saying, "We depended upon democracy in writing the constitution and will depend upon it in the referendum."

Sunnis, who had complained of being shut out of talks in recent days, said they still were negotiating. "I don't think there will be a constitution tonight," said Salih Mutlak, the most vocal Sunni moderator.
Is this the start of the fracture of Iraq or can dialogue and moderation rule the day and give Iraq a unified, yet federal, state. The draft goes to the Iraqi Parliament in a little more than 30 minutes.

Updates to follow.

Continue Reading...

Iraqi Constitution

I was just watching CNN and it seems Iraq's Shiite Islamists have said a draft constitution has been agreed upon and the Sunni's are not happy.

More later. Stay tuned.

Continue Reading...


The NYTs is reporting a general serving in Iraq has written an essay criticizing any military policy that does not give equal treatment to reconstruction and democratization. The essay's author, Maj. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, commander of the Army's First Cavalry Division, writes in his piece coauthored with Maj. Patrick R. Michaelis that:
"A gun on every street corner, although visually appealing, provides only a short-term solution" and "does not equate to long-term security grounded in a democratic process."
I'm sorry, but the only response I have to this is duh. The U.S. has been in Iraq over two an a half years now, and if this policy advice is just beginning to rise into respectable circles within the policy elite, then we are doomed. As I've said before, the U.S. has the disproportionate responsibility of ensuring Iraq's public infrastructure is rebuilt and its people are put back to work. Right now, the U.S. has done virtually everything backwards by privatizing Iraq's economy to ensure the money made in Iraq flows back to the States. Worse, no preferential hiring requirements for Iraqis were pursued, so low-wage labor from around the Middle East was used rather than domestic labor. If you don't give people a stake in their own country, then you can't expect anything less than an insurgency plagued failed state.

And that's what we have right now.

Continue Reading...

Constitutional Differences

As the Iraqi delegates struggle to write a constitution, members of the Bush administration have been quick to remind us that the strife in Iraq is a natural byproduct of the transition to democracy. Rumsfeld and Bush have both compared the current situation in Iraq to the period between the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the United States Constitution. Fred Kaplan has six reasons why this is a bad analogy.

•A major dispute at both constitutional conventions was how to divide power between the central government and the regional provinces. But in the American case, the provinces—i.e., states—were well-established political units, with governors, statutes, and citizens who identified themselves as, say, New Yorkers or Virginians. There are no comparable authorities, structures, or—in any meaningful sense—constituents in Iraq's regions (except, to some degree, in the Kurdish territories, and many people there want simply to secede).

•America's Founding Fathers shared the crucible of having fought in the Revolutionary War for the common cause of independence from England. This bond helped overcome their many differences. Iraq's new leaders did not fight in their war of liberation from Saddam Hussein. It would be as if France had not merely assisted the American colonists but also fought all the battles on the ground, occupied our territory afterward, installed our first leaders, composed the Articles of Confederation, and organized the Constitutional Convention. The atmosphere in Philadelphia, as well as the resulting document and the resulting country, would have been very different.

•America had a natural first president in George Washington, the commanding general and unblemished hero of the Revolutionary War. Amid the climate of political brawls and duels that make current tabloid fare seem tame, Washington was the one figure who could not be criticized, whose decisions were accepted by all. Had Washington rejected politics and retired to his estate, the union—and the Constitution that enshrined it—would have fallen apart. Perhaps if Ahmad Chalabi—the Pentagon's handpicked Washington wannabe—had led a few brigades into Baghdad, his prospects would have brightened.

•Among America's Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton aligned the principles of the Constitution with the Enlightenment tenets of property, law, and individual rights. Islam may not be incompatible with democracy, but Locke and Montesquieu take you there more directly.

•Sectarianism did not exist in early America. Yes, there were sharp regional differences between mercantile New England and the agrarian South, as well as moral splits over slavery. But no groups exacerbated these tensions by asserting an exclusive claim on God.

•Early America saw armed revolts, notably Shays' Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion. But they were protests led by debt-ridden farmers against rising taxes—not pervasive or murderous insurgencies against the entire established order. They were also put down fairly promptly—Shays' by a state militia, the Whiskey Rebellion by a mere show of government force.
If these comparisons prove anything, it’s that the difficulties the United States experienced in forming a national government will most likely be experienced tenfold in Iraq. It’s an unpleasant fact, but it’s one the administration needs to confront. Analogies between present day Iraq and the first days of American independence may be comforting, but they’re not justified.

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Drumming For Withdrawal

Kevin Drum believes it's time the U.S. packs its bags and gets the hell out of Iraq. There's nothing really new here and I'm pretty much in agreement with him as long as the U.N. or some other bloc of nations steps into the fray to help with security. But the one thing I did want to acknowledge from Kevin's post is this:
I don't think there's any question that we owed the Iraqi people a sustained and intense effort to rebuild their country. We are, after all, the ones who invaded and occupied it in a war of choice.
No American should forget this. The U.S. government has always been the Iraqi people's worst enemy. It was the U.S. government that armed Hussein and enabled him to pursue his whacked out fantasies of becoming the reincarnation of the Arab leader, Saladin. It was the U.S. that pursued a sanction policy that killed at most 500,000 children while continuously bombing Iraq's public infrastructure. Now the Iraqi people have had to endure the U.S. invasion and occupation of their country, which has helped turn their country into the epicenter of jihad.

If the U.S. doesn't do everything in its power to help Iraq become a prosperous, democratic state (which could very well mean drawing down troop levels), then the U.S. shouldn't be considered the champion of liberty we all like to think it is.

POSTSCRIPT: Whatever does happen regarding a draw down of troops or an immediate withdrawal, I must say the U.S., and I hope much of the internationalist left, understands that this country must not go jihadist. That is the worst possibility for not only the people of Iraq, but for the West in general. Those who call for an immediate withdrawal without a plan to continue the fight against the thugs of Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia I must say are morally vacuous and have little concern for Iraq or those who have fallen believing they were indeed fighting for freedom and democracy.

Continue Reading...

Friday, August 19, 2005

Damn This White Skin

Are you just so damn tired of your privileged, middle-class, white ass? Does a stable home life make you look like the Beav to your cooler classmates? Do you want to break all grammatical rules without really knowing it? Are you looking to become "down," just like your pseudo-peeps you watch on MTV?

Well, Mark Harris of has the answer for you. In 10 short steps, he'll show "how you, too, can undermine an entire ethnicity, Tinsel Town style."

Chex its out, it HOT!

Continue Reading...

Crackpot Quote of the Week

Via our reactionary friends over at Power Line:

President Bush is having a tough summer, for reasons that are pretty much out of his control . . .
He used a twofaced strategy to get the country behind a war that’s proving to be far more difficult that he ever imagined. He signed a $286 million transportation bill after vowing to wage war on pork barrel spending. He’s gone on the record as saying he thinks intelligent design should be taught in public schools. And he’s taken a 5 week vacation to reflect on it all. Yeah, he’s pretty much the victim here.

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...


Get ready for a new front in the abortion wars. According to the International Herald Tribure, Swiss researchers have found a novel way to treat severe burn damage to our body's largest organ.
Using human fetal cells, Swiss scientists have developed a new type of "biological bandage" for severe burns, a treatment that speeds and improves the healing process and may prove effective for other serious skin wounds, according to a preliminary study being published today.

But because the bandages are derived from the skin cells of aborted fetuses, the novel therapy is likely to generate controversy in countries like the United States and Italy, which restrict the use of human embryos in scientific research.
If stem-cell research is a heated, visceral topic, then I expect a procedure which conjures up the imagery of cutting large swathes of skin from an aborted fetus to be even more controversial. In the study, the Swiss researchers used "a postage-stamp-size sample of skin taken three years ago from a fetus aborted at 14 weeks," which to their surprise didn't act like a simple graft but stimulated restorative healing. (Just so you know what a fetus around 14 weeks looks like, here's some pics from the pro-life}

Now the Christian Right will probably sieze on this to make really bad metaphors like this is a medical version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but their concern is warranted. Whereas stem-cell research is most promising at the embryo level -- which looks like a glob of goo -- using fetal tissue to treat burns strikes me as more Mengelian in nature considering a fetus is pretty much anatomically developed, despite its promising curative aspects for those suffering from massive external trauma.

Deciding where you stand on this issue will depend on whether, philosophically speaking, you're a Kantian or a utilitarian.

If you're a Kantian and a follower of the categorical imperative, then no one's humanity should be used as a means to an end. (While Christians don't follow the categorical imperative, which is based on reason, they would no doubt agree with it on this matter.)

But if you're a utilitarian, then your moral logic will follow this simple analysis: will the benefits outweigh the costs.

Both are valid positions to take in my opinion.

The one thing I do know for sure right now is I'm genuinely torn. Abortions will persist despite attempts to stop them, whether through persuasion or, if the Christian Right gets its way, legal sanctions, and it would be a shame to stop research that could potentially improve the lives of so many whom suffer. Nevertheless, being someone that believes abortion is morally wrong in most circumstances, it's hard for me not to be revulsed imagining a fetus's skin taken from its body after it has been aborted, especially if the possibility exists that more abortions will be performed because of this medical breakthrough.

So for now, I'm proudly a flip-flopper.

Continue Reading...

Batshit Insanity

This is really unbelievable. I just discovered a Web site called God Said, Man Said that lays waste to the competition when it comes to dishing out moronic, pseudo-scientific, religious drivel. The archives on this site are overwhelming. Its author(s) have written ridiculously long explanations of every piece of Biblical nonsense imaginable, including why: whites are white and blacks are black, Islam is a false religion, the world is six thousand years old, gays are an abomination being punished for their wickedness by the plague of AIDS. This is only the tip of a massive iceberg.

Here’s a little wisdom on dinosaurs:

In A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians, which is part of the Patterson Field Guide series, and which is sponsored by the National Audobon Society and National Wildlife Federation, I found the following statement:

Size: Reptiles and amphibians may continue to grow as long as they live, rapidly at first but more slowly after maturity. Hence, giant specimens may be encountered on very rare occasions.

The older it is the bigger it gets. Note, before the water canopy was eliminated, the average lifespan was 13 times longer than it is today. Remember the air was near perfect, the water was clean and diet near perfect, no harmful rays from the sun and the lifespan was 13 times longer. Consider the present day Chinese Iguana that grows as large as 12 feet long. Suppose before the flood, in a near perfect environment, he lives 13 times longer and because he never stops growing gets 13 times bigger. That Chinese Iguana would be 156 feet long and about three stories tall. Dinosaur...terrible lizard...the dinosaur is simply a giant lizard which was created by God in the same six-day span as man.

GOD SAID He created all life 6,000-plus years ago and that there were dinosaur-like creatures on the earth.

MAN SAID, foolishness; the dinosaur is over 200 million years old.

Now you have THE RECORD.

I’m sure there are plenty of Web sites out there authored by like-minded idiots, but this one is pretty well polished, all the way down to the Flash intro. What’s more, my confidant, who directed me to the site in the first place, tells me that Howard Stern was talking about the site on his show. Apparently the God Said Man Said brigade is running commercials in New York. So I guess the born again Christians are taking Manhattan.

But do yourself a favor and check out the site. Take a break from the Web pages you usually surf when you’re supposed to be working. This is funnier. Trust me.

Maybe I’ll post a few more pieces highlighting some of the page's richer content. In the meantime, I leave you with what God said. . .or. . . what man said he said . . . whatever.

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Stating the Obvious

The NYTs is reporting that the quickly souring public opinion of the war in Iraq might hurt Republicans in the 2006 Congressional elections. Go figure.

Some said that the perception that the war was faltering was providing a rallying point for dispirited Democrats and could pose problems for Republicans in the Congressional elections next year.

Republicans said a convergence of events - including the protests inspired by the mother of a slain American soldier outside Mr. Bush's ranch in Texas, the missed deadline to draft an Iraqi Constitution and the spike in casualties among reservists - was creating what they said could be a significant and lasting shift in public attitude against the war.
When in comes time to go to the polls in 2006, Democrats need to drill the Republicans for leading the country into a war. Sure, a lot of Democrats supported the war, but Republicans won out as the tough-on-national-security party.

Regardless of what the next few months bring, there are at least 1862 reasons to question the war in Iraq. If Democrats want to win votes, they need to distance themselves from the war, in words and deeds, and convince Americans that a Democratic Congress, and eventually a Democratic administration, will save lives.

Am I suggesting using the war for political leverage? Damn right. Republicans made this bed; they should have to lose in it.

--Matthew McCoy

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Iraq's Progressive Labor Movement

The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) continues to show why they are an invaluable element of Iraq's nascent labor movement which is part of a broader, but weak, civil society movement. According to their website they have pressed the UN Support Team to ensure their progressive demands are included within the Constitution.

Their demands boil down to four areas:
1. Rights of Children: IFTU wishes to insist on the rights of Children aged younger than 16 years of age, not to be allowed to work and to have a full education. IFTU expressed its concern that the draft Constitution made general references to the rights of children without defining at what age these rights apply. In IFTU’s estimation this is a serious weakness, which would have the effect of undermining future attempts to improve the terrible situation for Iraqi children.

2. Right to Strike: IFTU expressed its strong dismay that an explicit Constitutional right of workers to take strike action has been removed from the draft version of the Constitution, although such a right exists in the current Transitional Administrative Law. The draft Constitution refers only to the right of workers to representation, without defining the right of workers to join or form the trade union representation of their choice, or as mentioned the right to withdraw their labour.

3. Rights of Women: IFTU made clear the complete opposition of the trade union to any attempt to revive the notorious Decree 137, which sought to remove the fundamental human rights of women in the name of imposing sharia law. Womens’ rights to marriage, divorce, to own property, inherit and pass on property to their children and others, to access education at all levels, to work and to play a full part in all aspects of civil society and political life must be guaranteed in the Constitution of a modern democratic, federal Iraq.

4. Separation of Politics and Religion: IFTU insists on the complete separation of the powers and authority of ‘the mosque’ from the constitutional state law. Freedom to practice religion must be guaranteed by the Constitution. The Constitution should not take Islam as its sole source of legitimacy.
Thank Allah for Iraq's labor movement, a much ignored group, which could have, and still could,help rebuild Iraq and remain the nucleus for a democratic and secular state. Whether or not they can influence the drafting of the Constitution to include these areas is extremely slim, but damn its heartening to know someone's fighting the good fight in Iraq.

Continue Reading...