Friday, September 30, 2005

The Fight for Fallujah

When the Marines blasted their way through Fallujah twice last year, I was extremely critical of the effort that may have killed over 600 Iraqi civilians during the first attack in April. The siege was in response to the brutal murder of four U.S. contractors -- their burnt remains hung from a bridge in celebration. Yet, the U.S. response was also brutal and disproportionate as reports had U.S. snipers shooting at ambulances. That said, Fallujah was an epi-center of jihadist activity, intimidation and violence and something did have to be done to purge those nasty elements. That something was another attack on Fallujah in November 2004. Not to beat the Slate drum to death today, but Bing West's Return to Fallujah is required reading. According to West, last November's raid found:
[I]nside 17 houses...cell blocks, chains screwed into ceilings, blood-splattered walls, the flags and propaganda pamphlets of al-Qaida, and mutilated corpses. There was a torture house somewhere on just about every major street—one torture chamber for every 20,000 residents. The Jolan district in the northeast, where the 2nd Iraqi Battalion was working, had the highest incidence of intimidation and killings.
Torture is 99.9% wrong all the time(I don't trade in absolutes), yet while I hear all the time about the U.S., U.K. torture centers, I've never heard about Al-Qaeda's or the resistance's own centers. And I don't think I'm being an apologist for our depraved practices to say I'd rather be tortured at Abu Ghraib than in a dank cellar underneath Fallujah.

The rest of West's dispatch demonstrates the courage of the Iraqi Lt. Col. Suleiman, who was murdered by insurgents, and two local sheik who have had enough of the "resistance," and want U.S. permission to arm themselves legally. The basic rationale behind West's essay is that Fallujah needs another Suleiman to hold back the insurgents or it will be hard for U.S. soldiers to leave. Will another courageous Iraqi patriot stand up against the reactionary forces of Fallujah?

I'm betting on it.

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A Modest Proposal

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick has a Swiftian proposal concerning the raucous debate between evil Science and Almighty God.
My modest proposal would be that, instead of using intelligent design merely to fill in the gaps and inconsistencies of our most intractable scientific puzzles, we roll back what we've already learned about science and plug God into the equation at the outset. Kind of cut out those annoying scientific middlemen. That apple didn't fall onto Sir Isaac Newton's head because of gravity. It was God. God didn't want Newton to study science, and he doesn't want us to, either. And I, for one, am relieved. As Galileo famously said, and Teen Talk Barbie famously paraphrased: "Science is hard."
Science, Schmience! Who needs it. Seriously, the laptop I'm using is merely a ghost in the machine. Pentium 5 Processor my ass! Anyway, I'm gonna go take a walk to the end of the earth and do a cannonball off. The earth is round...hahahaha...lunatics.

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Judicial Activism?

I need to begin this with a disclaimer. I heard this story on NPR’s Morning Edition as I was heading out the door this morning. I did a quick online search for a transcript of the program but couldn’t turn anything up. So I don’t have exact figures or quotes, but there’s an interesting point here.

Anyone who follows the news knows that Republican lawmakers love throwing around the term “judicial activism” to describe what they see as judges moving beyond interpreting the laws and using their power to shape legislation. This charge is almost always leveled at liberal judges. But I heard an interesting fact this morning. According to a recent study conducted by a law professor at Yale, in the past several years the Supreme Court has overturned far more congressional legislation than it used to. Ok, so that seems to reinforce the conservative position that judicial activism is on the rise. Here’s the interesting part though. The Justice who voted most frequently to uphold congressional legislation: Stephen Breyer, one of the Court’s liberal flag bearers. And the Justice who voted most frequently to overturn legislation: Clarence Thomas, a staunch conservative and the man in whose image Bush said he would nominate future Justices.

So maybe the Republicans are right. Maybe we do have a problem with judicial activism. But if that’s the case, liberal judges aren’t necessarily the ones to blame.

--Matthew McCoy

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Hitchens Turn Was No Turn At All

Outside the Whale has a good post analyzing pro-war writer Christopher Hitchens, his pro-war rationale, and why it's not so much that Hitchens turned from the Left as much as the Left turned away from socialist principles such as international solidarity.

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Confessions of a Millionaire?

Dear Readers,

Let me let you in on a little secret: I, your very humble blogger, sat in the "hot seat" yesterday on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." So if you're interested in seeing one half of Woodshavings on TV, you can check it out on Nov. 21st. Mr. McCoy was nice enough to act as one of my lifelines. I'm not allowed to reveal my winnings, but I can tell you when you sit in the seat, everything changes and you're not in your livingroom anymore, prostrate on your couch, all comfortable sipping coffee like I normally am when I watch the show.

But I can tell you about the overall experience. The day starts at 8:30 in the morning where you're led into the green room with the other contestants. The disorienting energy courses throughout the room like a blind man on meth. Everyone has fantasies of what they're going to do with the money, demonstrating that American trait of feeling entitled to money that you have no claim upon. Let's be honest, if the American dream used to be work hard, get ahead, it's been inverted to work as little as possible for as much as possible. My hands are as red as the next person.

In the green room you sit and meet with your producer and go over your personal details that Meredith Viera will talk about on-air.

"So you came all the way from Scotland for this?"

"You're a journalist and you blog?"

"You'll write something about this tomorrow, right?" Right, so let me get back to it.

Afterwards, you get debriefed by Millionaire's lawyers and producers of the do's and don'ts of Millionaire. Let me just tell you that the nervousness washes over you like the waters of Lake Pontchartrain. You anxiously drink water, well I did, which naturally leads you to the bathroom -- for me, my levee broke every fifteen minutes. The show's production assistants then lead you into the studio to practice getting in and out of the hot seat. There it hits you that you'll be sitting here not too long from now, which in turn made my stomach churn. At times the anxiety came over me so hard that I didn't know which end of the digestive tract I had to worry about.

One of the times I came back from the bathroom, I find that the contestant pool has grown by four. These are yesterday's contestants that never made it to the hotseat or were in the hotseat at the end of taping the day before. All of a sudden a flurry of trivia gets unleashed as people blurt out obscure questions and answers that Ponce De Leon's still hunting for. I look at the gentleman to my right, we give each other understanding looks, shrug our shoulders and hope the Q&A period of this day ends soon.

Then there's lunch, but no one really feels like eating. I eat half a sandwich and that's the most I saw anyone eat. My stomach growls, it doesn't want food, it wants to purge itself.

The show's about to start. The four remaining contestants from yesterday are led back into the studio. We all sit in the greenroom watching. One guys hits the hot seat as we pull for him, telepathically trying to transmit our knowledge to him. He finishes. The door to the green room opens and my name is called. My stomach goes plunging to my heels. I'm led out to the studio -- which feels like Anartica on a cold day -- where I proceed to wait...and wait...and wait. Just because you're called into the studio means nothing. It doesn't mean I'll be the first one to go on the show from my group. Oh, no, it certainly doesn't mean that. The first show ends and I wait. As the second show's taping begins I go to the on-deck circle with two other people. From this point on, it's seemingly random. Anyone of us could go next. It's up to the producers surrounding us. They want it to be as dramatic as possible, sending you into the arena liked a scared Christian waiting to meet the lions. Most of the time, it's rather anti-climatic as commercial breaks take 10 minutes and 15 to 20 minutes in between shows. So you wait, or you pee if you're me. The worst is the half hour or more wait in between taping sessions where we're ushered back into the green room as they change audiences. At least I can eat half a tuna sandwich.

I'm led back to the on-deck circle again. The random selection isn't feeling so random anymore as person after person goes before me and I'm feeling like this day's never going to end. I'm tired, I feel bloated and gaseous and we're into the middle of taping the last show. All told I've been there about 10 hours, four of them in the studio waiting for the other shoe to drop. The woman sitting in the hotseat finishes. My producer looks down from the first step of the stairway leading up onto the stage, "And the next contestant is...Matthew Harwood." More than the other shoe drops.

I run up the steps. "Big waves and smile," my producer shouts. "Go." I walk out into the blinding lights. I can't hear or really see the crowd, even though I'm waving at them. Meredith is smiling her beautiful toothy grin. I step up onto the platform and shake her hand.

"How are you," she says.

"I'm great."

I sit down. I position myself in the hotseat. It begins.

So if you want to see how it all turned out, watch the show on Nov. 21st.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Conservative Apologist at Work

Yesterday I wrote a post about Michael Brown’s testimony to congress, suggesting that liberals should hear him out before slaughtering him on the bloody altar of political scapegoats. That should be the stance of anyone serious about assigning accountability for the flawed Katrina response and ensuring that we don’t make the same mistakes again.

I think I’ve been evenhanded in my criticism of the Katrina criticism. And why not? A congressional investigation shouldn’t be a political issue. But some pundits are taking a different stance on the matter. Here’s a snippet from a conservative pundit whose first priority seems to be deflecting blows from Michael Brown.
No doubt FEMA's performance was imperfect. What else is new? But Michael Brown didn't flood New Orleans. Nor did he fail to order a mandatory evacuation. Nor, when the order was finally given by the appropriate authorities, was he the one who failed to carry it out competently. I thought it was a mistake when President Bush cashiered Brown, and his performance tonight validates that judgment. FEMA's position is eminently defensible. But the Bush administration, historically, has failed to defend itself aggressively, and instead has passively yielded to the news cycle.
Forgive and forget, huh? Someone get on the phone to New Orleans and tell them to stop overreacting. At the very least, tell them to lower their expectations. I mean seriously, do they have faith in the federal government’s ability to protect them or something?

Oh yeah, and the post I quote above, tastefully titled “Brownie Kicks Butt,” makes a point of reveling in the way Brown stood up to the sharp-tongued comments of some congressmen. After all, who cares about lives lost when there are political points to be scored?

So, can you guess who the mystery author is? Go on, guess.

Ok, fine. Here you go.

--Matthew McCoy

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More ID

I know, I know, I’m guilty of beating a dead horse when it comes to intelligent design, but what with the Pennsylvania trial in the news, I think the topic requires continued scrutiny. On that note, some of the facts coming to light in the trial are making the school board’s efforts to wedge ID into the curriculum look less like strides toward “well-rounded education” and more like Christian activism.

According to one teacher who testified at the trial, long before the school board starting pitching ID, some of its members were actually pushing for full-blown creationism to be taught alongside evolution.

Outside the courtroom on Tuesday afternoon, Alan Bonsell, a board member who the plaintiffs said was leading the charge against evolution in the science curriculum, said the board wanted students to learn about competing theories only because it was "good education."

The board ultimately abandoned the equal time idea, stopped using the term "creationism," and instead required that ninth graders listen to a brief statement encouraging them to learn about intelligent design as an alternative to evolution.
I think this lays bare the school board’s motivation for advocating the introduction of ID material. They realized that their attempts at integrating creationism into the biology curriculum would never fly, so they disguised their Christianity inside the Trojan Horse of ID and smuggled it into the classroom. Are we honestly to believe that the proselytizers on the school board suddenly dropped their campaign for Christian education in favor of one for “good education” based on competing theories? That’s a leap of faith I am unwilling make.

What truly bothers me is not that ID proponents are Christian, but that they shroud their obvious religious biases under the veil of “good education.” To the ID crowd out there, I say be honest with people. Let them know that you believe Christ died for our sins and that we should therefore mandate that public schools teach the religion of his followers. But don’t try to hoodwink us. I don’t think Jesus would approve.

--Matthew McCoy

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Michael Barone on Roe v. Wade

Citing the results of the recent Survey USA poll, Michael Barone suggests that even if the Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the practical consequences of such a decision would be minimal:

I wrote the other day that if Roe v. Wade were reversed, probably only three jurisdictions—Utah, Louisiana, and Guam—would criminalize abortion. That tends to be supported by the Survey USA poll that shows "pro-life" and "pro-choice" opinion in each state. Utah and Louisiana are Nos. 1 and 2, 61 percent and 57 percent antiabortion respectively. (Guam, a territory, is not included in the survey.) In the following states, between 51 percent and 55 percent are rated as "pro-life": Arkansas, Idaho, Alabama, Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. So I suppose it's possible that their legislatures would vote to criminalize abortion (though it's also possible that the Democratic governors of West Virginia and Tennessee would veto such laws).
Barone is correct in pointing out a fact often overlooked by the uninformed left, namely, that overturning Roe would not make abortion illegal across the country, but rather return the issue to state legislatures. And assuming his numbers are correct, Barone may also be right in assuming that very few states would actually outlaw abortion given the option. But these points do not justify Barone’s dismissive stance on possible challenges to Roe.

But efforts to criminalize abortion are unlikely to do anything but sputter in the large majority of states. The issue will quickly come to be seen as irrelevant in most. Some pro-choice voters and leaders may actually believe that a reversal of Roe v. Wade would produce widespread criminalization of abortion. But the more clear-sighted of them, I think, understand that it would not. What they are interested in is less facts on the ground than the exaltation and celebration of the right to abortion as an abstract idea.
In the context of judicial precedent, I wouldn’t call the right to abortion "abstract." The Court’s decision in Roe was based on the inherent "right to privacy" protected by the Constitution. According to Justice Blackmun, the right to privacy is not absolute, but it protects abortion unless "the state interests as to protection of health, medical standards, and prenatal life, become dominant." The extent to which compelling state interests outweigh the personnel right to privacy will continue to be argued on a case by case basis, but the fact that Roe currently sets the standard for such debates is of vital importance to civil libertarians. Barone may be right that the legal discussions surrounding Roe begin somewhere in the realm of the abstract, but the implications of these discussions inevitably cross the threshold into real life.

There is a reason that opponents of the pro-life philosophy call themselves pro-choice rather than pro-abortion. Nobody but the sick and twisted relishes the idea of aborting fetuses, but millions of Americans (about half of us) relish the idea that a thick wall stands between our government and our ability to make decisions affecting our personal lives. In spite of the political baggage with which it has been burdened, the Court’s decision in Roe continues to fortify the wall that stands between our personal lives and our government. While overturning Roe may not make it harder to get an abortion in the U.S., it would weaken the defenses we’ve erected around our civil liberties, defenses well worth protecting.

--Matthew McCoy

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Passing the Buck

Ex-FEMA Chief Michael Brown had his day in court, or, more accurately, in front of the House committee investigating the Katrina response. While he shouldered some of the blame for the mismanagement of the disaster, he took the opportunity to point his finger at the White House as well as the local and state governments in Louisiana.

Fair enough. I never bought the White House’s “let’s not play the blame game” line of reasoning, so if Brown wants to name names and explain how other people screwed up, let’s hear him out. If Brown thinks local government in Louisiana deserves more blame than it’s getting, let him make his case. We on the left shouldn’t fuss about getting to the bottom of things only when we expect to find a high level Bush appointee down there. That looks more like a witch hunt than an investigation.

Here’s Brown on the White House’s role in the disaster:

"I told them we needed help," Brown told a special House committee charged by the Republican leadership with investigating the government's handling of the monster storm.

Brown said he asked the White House for help in persuading Blanco and Nagin "to order a mandatory evacuation."

But Brown also blamed the Department of Homeland Security, and indirectly, the Bush administration, for what he said was FEMA's emaciated state. His agency, he said, has suffered from budget cuts and a shortage of qualified personnel since it was subsumed within the gigantic department.

The lack of funding for FEMA, Brown said, kept it from buying and pre-positioning better equipment that would have eased communication problems during the disaster.

"We put that money in our budget request and it was removed by the Department of Homeland Security" before the budget was finalized, Brown said.
This is good information to have on the record, but some of Brown’s other comments strike me as bogus, like this one regarding the tension between the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans:

"I very strongly personally regret that I was unable to persuade Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences, and work together. I just couldn't pull it off," he said.
I’m sorry, but Bush insisted on rolling up every lose federal agency into the leviathan that is The Department of Homeland Security, and now that super agency can’t resolve local political standoffs? What exactly is the point of Homeland Security then, besides of course shaving down the budgets of formerly independent agencies to divert money to the war effort?

So either A) Brown is a completely inept idiot, or B) Homeland Security isn’t capable of doing what it’s supposed to, or C) Both of the above. Take your pick.

--Matthew McCoy

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The ID trial in Pennsylvania got underway yesterday. One of the ACLU’s witnesses, Kenneth R. Miller, a biology professor from Brown University, had some good things to say.

"Intelligent design is inherently religious. It is a form of creationism," Miller said during four hours of testimony that often resembled an extended college seminar. "If you invoke a spiritual force in science, I can't test or replicate it.

"Scientific theories are not hunches," he added. "When we say 'theory,' we mean a strong, overarching explanation that ties together many facts and enables us to make testable predictions."
His comments here attack two of ID’s weaknesses.

First, the argument that intelligent design is not specifically religious is technically true but realistically a load of crap. Proponents of ID used a bit of semantic finagling to replace the word “divine,” which is what they really mean, with the word “intelligent.” But with the exception of Scientologists and the UFO obsessed, anyone who believes the world was intelligently designed believes the designer was God.

Second, Miller points out that statements like this one: "Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact," deliberately play upon a misunderstanding of the word “theory” as it is used in the phrase “theory of evolution.” A more suitable definition of “theory,” as used in a scientific context, is:

A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.
Courtesy of the American Heritage dictionary.

It’s almost impossible to argue against ID without repeatedly stating the obvious, but I guess that's what it takes to argue science against superstition.

--Matthew McCoy

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Picking the Top 5 Public Intellectuals

Foreign Policy and Britain's Prospect need your help picking the top 5 public intellectuals working today. They've already picked 100, but they want you to pick the best 5. Here's my choices, not in order of influence:

  1. Paul Wolfowitz -- Neo-conservative extraordinaire that helped push and plan the failing Iraq War and now is head of the World Bank. He's the bizarro Chomsky in another dimension and I don't completely disagree with a foreign policy that pushes for democracy, sometimes militarily. Whether Bush was on the same page as Wolfowitz or just used his theory and strategy as justification for a strategic grab is up to debate.
  2. Noam Chomsky -- As the ubiquitous NYT's blurb asserts, "arguably the most important intellectual alive." His anarchist socialism has been a constant inspiration to me as well as millions of others.
  3. Jared Diamond -- His "Guns, Germs, and Steel," is a wonderful theory that shows technological improvements combined with geography and natural advantages allowed Europeans to conquer much of the known world. It's a meta-theory so obviously a lot is probably wrong in the specifics.
  4. Pope Benedict XVI -- While I think he's a religious zealot, an enabler of pedophile priests, and helping to ensure the spread of AIDS, he's undoubtedly one of the most important intellectuals in the world considering he can persuade people in Latin America and Africa that Catholicism is more important than modernity. And that's to his shame.
  5. Ali al-Sistani -- Iraqi Shia cleric that arguably wields the most power in Iraq and is integral to a peaceful resolution of the Sunni-Shia divide. If he's murdered or dies, expect full-blown civil war, unless you think that's already here.

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Debating Withdrawal: Harwood Response (Well, Kind of)

I should start out by stating that I may have jumped the gun a bit, because I don't disagree all that much with McCoy. His post came on the back of the "anti-war" demonstrations in Washington, DC this weekend into Monday and I assumed he had jumped ship for the immediate withdrawal likes of Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, Ramsay Clark, etc...

When I have time to sit down for a couple of hours, I'll post a response chock full of links to the appropriate documents. Within it I'll discuss the likely effects a U.S. withdrawal with have geo-politically if the U.S. pulls out before the Iraqi security forces are ready. Remember, Iran and Syria have a huge stake as well in how Iraq turns out. If the U.S. fails in its objectives of leaving a semi-democratic Iraq (and I'm more than good and open to the possibility that this never was the Bush Administration's objective) then we could face southern Iraq being subsumed de facto into Iran, central Iraq remaining a wasteland -- which would only increase the militancy of Iraq's Sunni community, and Iraqi Kurdistan up north inspiring Turkey to again start repressing their Kurdish minority, which in turn could start a border war up north.

And if I may be so crude to bring up more pragmatic concerns, what would happen to the flow of oil in Iraq if any of the above occurs? I assure you Iraq will not be pumping as much as it did in the past, which would hurt the global economy. Moreover, it's very possible that if Iran has disproportionate influence down south then whatever oil pumped will be diverted away from the West to the East, China and Russia specifically. I'm sorry but we all should be concerned that the mullahs of Iran could have large deposits of black gold to gamble with geopolitically -- especially as they remain determined to go nuclear --which they will undoubtedly sell to our competitors, Russia and China. Again, U.S. foreign policy is wrong in so many ways, but I'll take it anyday over our Russian and Chinese counterparts.

More later with the links to prove it.

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Debating Withdrawal

When Harwood took issue with my suggestion that the U.S. make plans for withdrawing troops, he asked me if I was offering a political strategy for getting the Dems back on track or taking the position on principle. I answered that my stance contained elements of politics and principle but was fundamentally pragmatic. Depending on how long we decide to continue this exchange, I’ll delve deeper into moral arguments on war and withdrawal. But let’s start with the basics.

In order to make clear headed policy decisions about Iraq, we need goals, one of which certainly needs to be our eventual withdrawal from the region. But without some kind of timetable for withdrawal, that goal is rendered almost meaningless. As Kevin Drum asked in a post Harwood referenced yesterday, “once you've set out comprehensive goals, can you really avoid providing estimates for how long you think it's likely to take to meet them?” At the risk of robbing Drum’s question of its rhetorical force, let me answer, no.

Proactive Iraq policy demands that the U.S. set concrete goals for success. Saying, we’ll leave when the job is finished reduces the U.S presence in Iraq to a rudderless ship, beaten about in the seas of insurgent violence. We may be moving in one direction, but the coordinated attacks of a few suicide bombers are enough to reroute our policy, enough to change our vague plans for an exit strategy.

By setting a date for withdrawal, the U.S. will have to make policy decisions with that date in mind, and the Iraqis will have to do the same. The specific withdrawal date is not as important as the act of setting one. Regardless of the exact timetable for withdrawal, we will continue fighting an uphill battle in Iraq, but setting a date for withdrawal, even a flexible date, would focus U.S. policy in the region on a clear objective, something we’ve lacked since we ousted Saddam’s government.

The manager of a factory could never tell his customers, "I don’t know how many pieces I’ll make, and I don’t know when I’ll finish, but be patient with me." Granted, waging a war and then coordinating a rebuilding effort is more complex than cranking out widgets, but the same principles apply. Not having a plan for success based on finite goals and timelines is bad management plain and simple.

Moreover, as a representative body, the government owes Americans an exit strategy. By continuing on with the vague policy that we’ll leave when the job is finished, the Bush Administration conveniently side steps accountability for the growing quagmire in Iraq. The American people can’t say the Administration isn’t keeping its promises, since it never really made any in the first place. Scary as it sounds, Bush is fighting this war on the honor system as far as his dwindling base of American support is concerned. We can’t hold him to a plan that doesn’t exist. In this sense, the lack of an exit strategy does more than jeopardize our Iraq policy, it undermines one of the principles of our democratic system, namely, that a government should be accountable to its people.

I haven’t addressed the issue that U.S. troops, for all the security they bring to Iraq, are, by their mere presence, continuing to exacerbate tensions in the region. But I’ll leave that for a later post. In the meantime, I’ll let Harwood get a response in.

--Matthew McCoy

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Monday, September 26, 2005

A Government That Doesn't Believe in Government

Katha Pollitt just eviscerates the Right in her last article for The Nation. The gist of her essay, which couldn't be more correct, is that the creeping Christian fundamentalism is a mindset perfectly prepared, nay necessary, for accepting the decline of the American Empire. Read the essay, but all I need to do is post this perfect paragraph and allow it to sit squarely on your screen so that the fairies in your cranial cavity can do their work of providing us humans memory and understanding. (They are amazing creatures, aren't they?)
For decades the right has worked day and night to delegitimize concepts without which no society can thrive, or maybe even survive--the common good, social solidarity, knowledge and expertise, public service. God, abstinence and the market were supposed to solve all our problems. Bad news--climate change, rising poverty, racial and gender disparities, educational failure, the mess in Iraq--was just flimflam from liberals who hate freedom. Is there another world power that lives in such a fantasy world? Now, in old people left to drown in their nursing home beds, in police who reportedly demanded that young women stranded on rooftops bare their breasts in return for rescue, in the contempt for public safety shown by Bush's transformation of FEMA into a pasture for hapless cronies--we can all see what those fantasies obscured. A government that doesn't believe in government was a disaster waiting to happen.

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New Targets

Once upon a time it was the secular left of Iraq's nascent trade union movement that found themselves the target of Sunni Islamists, now it seems Shia teachers have to watch their backs. But, hey, at least they had enough decency to only execute male teachers. The compassion!

How can anyone claim this scum is fighting for liberation when all they want to institute is another tyranny of much more vile kind?

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Paul Wolfowitz: Liberal Feminist

One of the more irritating aspects of politics is the tendency to criticize individuals, parties, or certain organizations pre-emptively before they even have time to screw up or establish a record. When Paul Wolfowitz became head hocho at the World Bank the left went absolutely nuts with anger. But as this Financial Times article shows, not so fast left, he may be just what the doctor ordered. Besides talking bluntly about corruption to Africa's political elite combined with the amazingly leftish debt relief agreement that was just passed, Wolfowitz has taken up the mantle of women's rights in developing and underdeveloped nations. Here's a large excerpt from the Financial Times story.
An important part of this agenda is a focus on what the bank can do to help empower women in developing countries. Education and healthcare will remain priorities for the bank, but Wolfowitz is likely to focus its efforts on girls and women. “The role of women is something that has hit me very hard pretty much since my time in Indonesia, where you have a reasonably liberated female population in a predominantly Muslim country. And you can see that the country as a whole is the better off for it... It seems to me that it is an almost arithmetic equation that if half of the population is held back, then your development is going to be held back.”

Bank insiders say his thinking on this issue may have been influenced by Shaha Riza, a bank employee, Middle East expert and specialist on gender issues, with whom the divorced Wolfowitz has had a relationship for the past couple of years. “I have sympathy for someone who says that the Swedish model or the American model of relatively far-advanced feminism is not necessarily something that even women of other countries want,” he says. “But there is a point at which it is more than just a cultural thing and that is a fundamental violation of human rights and a fundamental denial of equality of opportunity, and when you do deny equal opportunity you are trying to run a race with one leg tied, sort of. And often your best leg.

In Pakistan, last month, Wolfowitz heard a better analogy: at a meeting in the Punjabi village of Dhok Tabarak, a woman told him that development is like a cart: it has two wheels, and if one of the wheels is not turning you will not get very far. Wolfowitz was so taken with the metaphor that during the rest of his visit to Pakistan he quoted the woman on 20 or more occasions. After the first few times, he added a horse to the story, to represent economic growth. “If the cart does not have something strong to pull it - the horse is growth - then it does not matter how fast the wheels can turn.”

Of the three full days Wolfowitz spent in India, one day was spent talking to assorted groups of rural women about bank-sponsored development programmes. Women were also notably present at all his meetings in Pakistan and India and when I asked him if this was a deliberate policy that he intended to continue, he said that it was. “We can empower people simply by meeting with them; I think there’s a tendency to think that if the World Bank president meets with people then they must be important.”

Wolfowitz told me one day that someone had just described him as a feminist. He laughed, and said: “It is the first time in my life I’ve been called that, I certainly don’t think of myself in that way. Look, we are not talking about a particular cultural way of male-female roles, but you can tell when women are denied equal rights or equal opportunities and that is not only unfair to them, it is unhelpful to the whole society.”
So I'm sorry to break with the left again, but Paul Wolfowitz is not the demon you make him out to be and he may just be the antidote needed to clean out the kelptocracies throughout Africa and enhance the rights of the small business and middle classes needed to create functioning democratic capitalist countries.

Can anyone argue that a democratic, yet capitalist, Africa is better than the failed continent it is now?

P.S. I'm also aware that Africa got that way because of Western imperialism, but that still doesn't invalidate my argument.

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Behar on Bush

I'm watching Real Time with Bill Maher right now via Comcast On Demand -- the goddamn greatest invention I've ever seen -- and Joy Behar of ABC's "The View" has the best similie I've heard on President Bush, "George Bush is like an abusive husband who beats the shit out of you and then shows up with flowers saying, 'It won't happen again.'"

I wish I thought of that one, but my genitalia precludes me from thinking that way I guess. Point being: A women's perspective is always needed.

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Will They or Won't They?

From Kevin Drum yesterday, more on a UK-US withdrawal from Iraq. Interesting stuff considering the Brit rags can't agree if this UK withdrawal plan has been torched due to the clashes within British occupied Basra last week.

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On War

In McCoy's post "The Dem's Dilemma," regular readers might have come aware that Matt and I don't particularly agree on the withdrawal option. He seems to be for it and I'm against it if a vacuum of power is left for jihadists and states such as Iran and Syria to meddle in. Because Matt and I blog from different outposts -- him in DC and me in PA and now Scotland -- we don't coordinate very often and we don't want to. When Matt initially came on board, we thought we'd get into a couple of fights intellectually. That's really yet to happen because, well, we think alike on most topics except hip-hop and now, possibly withdrawal.

So in the upcoming week, we'll try to explain our positions on withdrawal -- probably the most important decision to be made politically, strategically and morally this nation has faced in the last decade, if not since America's exit from Vietnam.

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Intelligent Design Goes on Trial

From the LA Times:

In the beginning, members of the Dover Area School District board wrangled over what should be required in their high school biology curriculum.

Some were adamant that science teachers should stick with the widely taught theory of evolution and random selection. Others said the teaching of "intelligent design" should also be required, arguing that certain elements of life, like cell structure, are best explained by an intelligent cause.

The debate had strong religious overtones.

"Nearly 2,000 years ago, someone died on a cross for us," said board member William Buckingham, who urged his colleagues to include intelligent design in ninth-grade science classes. "Shouldn't we have the courage to stand up for him?"

Today, a trial begins over the board's decision last year ordering that students be taught about intelligent design and flaws in Charles Darwin's theories.

Several parents, fearing the intrusion of religion into public schooling, filed a lawsuit to block the policy, backed by American Civil Liberties Union attorneys.

Activists on both sides believe that the stakes are high in the case, which has divided this small rural town about 100 miles west of Philadelphia.

The proceedings in a Harrisburg federal court will be the first legal challenge to the mandatory teaching of intelligent design, which is championed by a growing number of Christian fundamentalists. The verdict, to be rendered by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, could have a profound impact on America's cultural wars over religion and its role in public life.
But this is only a prelude to the real battle. Whoever loses this case will likely appeal to the Supreme Court where Bush’s next nominee will probably cast the deciding vote. There’s a lot hanging in the balance on this one. Either public education will withstand the Christian Right’s attempt at infiltration or students in PA, and soon other states, will being hearing nonsense like this on the first day of biology class:

"Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in theory exist for which there is no evidence…. Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin…. With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind."

--Matthew McCoy

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Dems’ Dilemma

In the October issue of TAP, Matthew Yglesias takes a look at the quandary facing anti-war Democrats are facing. The link will only get you the first paragraph, but the problem as Yglesias frames it boils down to this:

But despite the careful efforts at political positioning and the blows President Bush has taken on the Iraq issue, Democrats of all stripes face a painful political problem of their own. Most polls have support for withdrawal in the near future in the low 40s. That’s not nearly enough for an anti-war campaign to win. At the same time, those numbers suggest that an overwhelming majority of Democratic voters want the war to end soon. It’s hard to imagine Democratic politicians credibly positioning themselves as the leaders of a party of better war management as long as it’s clear that, in office, they’d be beholden to a deeply anti-war base. Moreover, there’s reason to think that even if a majority of Americans do come to favor abandoning the war effort, advocating withdrawal would be a poor political strategy. Defeatism, as the 1972 election showed, is not a very appealing political product, even in the context of a deeply unpopular war.
So the Dems are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Yglesias suggests that Democrats take a wait and see approach, at least through the midterm elections, to see how public opinion plays out at the polls. I agree that this is the right political maneuver. But what happens if the hawks win out again in 2006? Do Democrats adjust their national platform for 2008 to reflect public support for continuing the failing war effort?

Politicians who tell voters what they don’t want to hear don’t get elected. So using Yglesias’s scenario, I hope public opinion begins to move toward favoring withdrawal, which would give Democrats the leverage they need to start pushing a real anti-war platform. Withdrawal might look like quitting to Americans, but if we’re still losing soldiers in Iraq at the rate we are now come 2008, Democrats will wish they'd quit when they had the chance.

--Matthew McCoy

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Credit When It's Due

Naomi Klein has a way of forever annoying me, like when she wrote "Bring Najaf to New York" last year, but I like to give credit when it's due.

She writes a nice little burn in an issue or two back of The Nation, concerning the Bush Administration's creation of an Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, which will " be able to coordinate three full-scale reconstruction operations in different countries "at the same time," each lasting "five to seven years."

Her response:
Fittingly, a government devoted to perpetual pre-emptive deconstruction now has a standing office of perpetual pre-emptive reconstruction.
Nicely done.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Rita's Revenge

Via the NYTs:
Hurricane Rita's most battering winds reached here early today, with the powerful outer wall of the storm's eye raking the region along the Texas-Louisiana border with 120 mile per hour winds. As it approached, the storm prompted a mass evacuation in Texas, breached levees in New Orleans and sparked fires in Galveston. Rita was already blamed for dozens of deaths -- 24 elderly passengers who dead in a bus fire as they tried to flee to safety.
All we can say here is that we wish the people of the Gulf coast the best of luck and hope for a better local, state, and federal response if Rita is as big a bitch as Katrina.

Hang in there.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005


Chronic Failure

Do the math.

Congress has already approved $62.3 billion for recovery and reconstruction after Katrina and the eventual cost could reach $200 billion or more.

The Iraq war and occupation have cost over $200 billion so far. The United States is spending $5.6 billion a month there, or almost $186 million a day.
The article from which I took these figures speaks to the connection between Hurricane Katrina and dwindling support for the war in Iraq. Assuming that the $200 billion projection for the Katrina recovery effort is accurate, it certainly makes the $5.6 billion/month Iraq bill a lot harder to swallow.

But it’s not just Katrina’s price tag that’s compounding disapproval for the war (and by extension, the President), the mismanagement of the initial Katrina response has a lot to do with it. Comparing apples to oranges? Not really. Bush sold Iraq to Americans as part of the larger war on terror. Another strategy Bush undertook to fight the war on terror was reorganizing several federal agencies under the new Department of Homeland Security. The general idea was that Homeland Security would give the executive branch the type of quick decision-making power it needs to respond to threats and make Americans safer.

Katrina was the first real test of the Homeland Security’s ability (via FEMA) to respond to a large scale disaster. The result? Slow reaction, bureaucratic miscues, thousands of lives lost: a miserable failure. Sure Katrina was a natural disaster and not a terrorist disaster, but terrorists are certainly capable of producing similar chaos by detonating a dirty bomb, blowing up power stations, or perhaps even breeching levees.

The point of all this is that Katrina is not just another hardship Bush has had to deal with, it is an intrinsic part of the same problem that is marring the second half of his presidency: he claimed he was making Americans safer, and he’s doing the opposite. He’s mismanaging money, putting unqualified people in high level positions, refusing to take accountability for his mistakes, and sticking stubbornly to policies that aren’t working.

Assuming that Americans care primarily about being safe at home and not nation building in Iraq (“We will fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” etc.) they elected the wrong man for the job.

--Matthew McCoy

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Bottoms Up

After the release of a National Center for Health Statistic's survey last week, the American media went bonkers reporting the prevalence of oral sex among teenagers. Most of the media stuck with the tack that the shock relates to public health, but come on, we know it has more to do with the horrifying knowledge that Jane and Dick aren't playing video games behind their bedroom doors. Yet William Saletan of Slate digresses, arguing that if you want to find the really interesting statistics that should raise the eyebrows of public health officials and the media, then "you're looking at the wrong end of the digestive tract."

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New Rule

Last week's "New Rules" from Real Time with Bill Maher are just too funny. Here's his last "New Rule" reproduced in full. Go get'em Bill.
And finally, New Rule: For Christ's sake, no more devil movies. "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" opened huge last week, and it surprised a lot of people, mostly because Owen Wilson wasn't in it. But exorcism, or as the Catholics call it, "elective surgery," is a popular theme nowadays because it reinforces the comforting notion that evil resides outside of us.

Well, I'm sorry, but it doesn't. And whenever I hear someone blame a bombing in Baghdad or a levee breaking in New Orleans on the forces of evil, it makes me so mad I just want to grab my pitchfork and stick it right through my cloven hoof!

Now, Americans have always loved devil movies: "The Exorcist," "The Omen," "Rosemary's Baby," "The Devil's Advocate." The list goes on forever because Americans love the devil. Why? Because he's simple and he provides a simple answer. He did it.

But evil is not a demon with a tail and horns. That's a Jew. And evil - evil isn't some spectral goblin with red eyes and the voice of Anthony Hopkins. That's Anthony Hopkins.

Is George Bush purely evil? Of course not. And that's what's so evil about him. He doesn't twirl a mustache and smirk and cackle. Well, he doesn't twirl a mustache. He's like the Peanuts character Pigpen. Wherever he goes, he stirs up such a humongous mess it can only be cleaned up by Halliburton. But he is not pure evil.

Because evil is a chain. Did any one person doom New Orleans? No, it's a chain. People vote for a corrupt leader; a corrupt leader puts unqualified cronies in high places, and when those cronies fuck up, evil gets done. The devil didn't fly up from hell and knock a hole in that levee. The levee just didn't get built because the money for it went to rich people's tax cuts and pork projects and corporate welfare.

Evil isn't "Salem's Lot." It's Trent Lott. This week, an ailing American bald eagle was found to be dying from mercury poisoning. Republicans immediately tried to blame it on the eagle's lifestyle choices. But it's worth noting that also this week, the White House threatened to veto limits on mercury pollution. Now, pure evil would be if George Bush sat around the White House saying, "Let's poison eagles!" And even I don't believe George Bush would do that.

Cheney would do that. And even he is not pure evil. Dick Cheney doesn't hate poor children and caribou. They're just in the way.

Bottom line: some people think Satan is real and some people think global warming is real. If you think stopping gays from doing it is more important than the ice caps melting, the boogeyman is you...

Thank you. Excellent panel. That's our show. I want to thank Willie Brown, Joy Behar, P.J. O'Rourke, Dan Senor and Senator Charles Schumer. Thank you, folks.

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Mark Twain: Anti-Imperialist

It's almost an axiom of American culture that if heaps of praise and adulation come your way, then the American puritanical streak has largely lifted you of your private parts and your politics. Off the top of my head Thomas Jefferson comes to mind on the former and someone like Helen Keller, she was an avowed socialist, comes to mind on the latter. After reading William Grimes review of Ron Power's "Mark Twain: A Life," the same can be said to be true of Twain and his politics.

Nowhere within the review does Grimes make note of Twain's anti-imperialism even with the obvious example of Iraq to provide context. Maybe I'm being a bit unfair to Mr. Grimes, maybe Mr. Powers downplays Twain's radical politics. I haven't read the book, but I highly doubt this. Therefore I'd like to highlight Twain's excellent essay, "To the Person Sitting in the Darkness," which sets out his stance on the folly of empire.

Jump to the essay and you'll find gems like this:
The Blessings-of-Civilization Trust, wisely and cautiously administered, is a Daisy. There is more money in it, more territory, more sovereignty, and other kinds of emolument, than there is in any other game that is played. But Christendom has been playing it badly of late years, and must certainly suffer by it, in my opinion. She has been so eager to get every stake that appeared on the green cloth, that the People who Sit in Darkness have noticed it -- they have noticed it, and have begun to show alarm. They have become suspicious of the Blessings of Civilization. More -- they have begun to examine them. This is not well. The Blessings of Civilization are all right, and a good commercial property; there could not be a better, in a dim light. In the right kind of a light, and at a proper distance, with the goods a little out of focus, they furnish this desirable exhibit to the Gentlemen who Sit in Darkness:

-- and so on.

There. Is it good? Sir, it is pie. It will bring into camp any idiot that sits in darkness anywhere. But not if we adulterate it. It is proper to be emphatic upon that point. This brand is strictly for Export -- apparently. Apparently. Privately and confidentially, it is nothing of the kind. Privately and confidentially, it is merely an outside cover, gay and pretty and attractive, displaying the special patterns of our Civilization which we reserve for Home Consumption, while inside the bale is the Actual Thing that the Customer Sitting in Darkness buys with his blood and tears and land and liberty. That Actual Thing is, indeed, Civilization, but it is only for Export.
Whether this is actually occurring in Iraq today (I think in large part it is) is something to be debated upon and great American authors like Twain can be used as a path to this discussion.

But that won't happen, because Twain will only be remembered for his satirical writings as well as his outstanding novels that put America on the map literarily. So while Twain and Keller could be marshalled at certain times to provide an in to discuss issues such as imperialism or economic justice, they're given their sanitized accolades and pushed through the historical door before they start a commotion by saying something quarrelsome.

I'll leave you with one more taste of Twain's great essay, which is eerily prophetic considering where we are in Iraq today.
[We] have crushed a deceived and confiding people; we have turned against the weak and the friendless who trusted us...we have invited clean young men to shoulder a discredited musket and do bandit's work under a flag which bandits have been accustomed to fear, not to follow; we have debauched America's honor and blackened her face before the world. . .
Now, as then, perceptions matter, and this is how we are perceived the world over today. Whether the reality conforms to this perception 1:1 I don't know, but America has a lot of work to do if Iraq isn't going to be an ill-fated, tragic imperialist adventure or worse: a failed state that delivers the people of Iraq into the hands of a clique much, much worse than Saddam Hussein or us.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

One More Thing...

I just have a little something to add to McCoy's comments regarding the Right and their hatred for liberals. The problem is that this hatred of liberals has morphed into a movement that derides empirical evidence. The conservative movement used to be the bastion of reason as the left slided away from their heritage into post-modernism and utter relativism. Now it's the right that has embraced a world where facts are nothing more than the powerful's opinion. And by the powerful I mean that hulking, roid rage monster we all know as the liberal establishment -- which affirms my argument since we all know what was once a massive redwood from the New Deal until the late 70's is now nothing but a wilted weed. But the new Right is never above playing politics. And as Iraq, Katrina, and eventually global warming will show: when the Right play politics, they play with people's lives. Our lives.

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Close the Book on Global Warming

Members of the conservative blogosphere have just cracked the case. The scientific geniuses at Powerline and Instapundit are claiming that recent NASA findings about climate change on Mars show that humans are not contributing significantly to global warming here on earth. Who could have predicted that after the tireless efforts of scientists around the globe, a couple of right wing pundits would be the ones to set the facts straight? Amazing!

Is there anything that isn’t a political issue for these guys? I doubt they’d even care about global warming if Democrats hadn’t suggested that we think about environmental regulations. But the Web-based army of the shrill right never misses an opportunity to prove once again that they hate liberals. We get the point. Nice work guys.

--Matthew McCoy

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Reid Sets an Example

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has announced that he will vote against the confirmation of John Roberts. This is exactly the kind of symbolic leadership the Democrats need. Roberts will likely be confirmed despite the protest of Reid and other likeminded Democrats, but opposing his nomination is a smart move on a couple of fronts.

First, Reid identified Roberts’s dubious stance on civil rights as a major strike against him. Reid’s position should hearten civil rights groups in this country and remind them that Democrats are willing to listen to their concerns--at least more willing than Republicans. Reid proved that in his mind--and by extension, in the Democratic party--civil rights are not up for debate.

Second, although he didn’t identify a single issue as the deal breaker, Reid cited the White House’s refusal to release certain memorandums authored by Roberts as a major reason for his opposition.

[H]e made plain that an important factor was the White House's refusal to release legal memorandums written by Judge Roberts when he was deputy solicitor general in the first Bush administration. "The administration cannot treat the Senate with such disrespect without some consequences," he said.
Damn right. It remains to be seen whether the White House will be forthcoming with its next nomination, but Reid's statement sends the right message.

Roberts’s confirmation may be a foregone conclusion, but Reid is digging in his heels for the next nomination battle. It’s refreshing to see a Democrat willing to fight.

--Matthew McCoy

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Girls Like It Just As Much As Boys?

Slate's Laura Kipnis has a refreshingly frank discussion of girls, porn, and their new found freedom to experiment brought on by two new books: Pornified and Female Chauvinist Pigs.

Check it out and you'll get good insights like this:
[B]oth of these books also put me in mind of the Sadeian insight that dictating what people should do in bed, even in the name of virtue, is actually the height of perversity. Read Sade's 120 Days of Sodom if you can bear to, or watch Pasolini's brilliant, disgusting, utterly pornographic film version, Salo, which transplants the story to fascist Italy. The point is that people may like making their own preferences into norms, but that's a bit monstrous in itself.

So, returning to the betrayal question, Meghan, the rather Sadeian problem we find ourselves in, is that dictating the terms of intimacy and desire as stringently as Paul and Levy do invites a level of micromanagement, suspicion, and anxiety that's destructive of intimacy in its own right. After all, maybe the need to control another person and their body is also an intimacy issue.
Bravo, Laura.

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Basra Provincial Government Breakdown

Juan Cole has more on Great Britain's problems down south Iraq.

He includes a political breakdown of Basra's government with a pithy concluding sentence to this paragraph.
Some reports say that the jail was being run by a local Shiite religious militia, not the Basra provincial government. These reports seem not to take into account the fact that the Basra provincial government consists of 41 seats, 20 of them held by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and 21 by a coalition led by the fundamentalist Shiite Fadila (Virtue) Party. SCIRI has a paramilitary, the Badr Corps, which ran candidates in the Jan. 30 elections. So distinguishing between the Basra provincial government and the religious parties and their militias is like distinguishing the Bush administration's stand on abortion from that of US evangelicals. The latter is responsible for the former.

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British Pull-Out Delayed

The Guardian's reporting that Britain's hope to start a gradual pull-out of Iraq has been smashed with the latest troubles in Basra.
The fragile situation in the south of the country was dramatically exposed when Iraqi police arrested two undercover British SAS soldiers on Monday and handed them over to militiamen before they were rescued. The incident came after months of concern that local security forces in the region had been infiltrated by radicals.

Senior defence officials admitted yesterday that far from improving, the security situation in southern Iraq might well get worse over the next few months. They referred in particular to the Mahdi army, a militia headed by the radical Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr.

"Sadr is positioning himself as an Iraqi nationalist," a senior British defence source said. He added: "People want to use violence to create political power."

In July, the then commander of British forces in southern Iraq, Major General Jonathan Riley, predicted that Britain would hand over "two provinces, Maysan and al-Muthanna, this year and [the] other two [Dhi Qar and Basra] next year."

That hope was reflected in a secret memo sent by John Reid, the defence secretary, in July to cabinet colleagues. However, this is now regarded by military commanders and diplomats as hopelessly optimistic.
For much of the occupation the British controlled south was much more peaceful than the U.S. controlled central Iraq. Not anymore as more radical elements like Sadr are turning Basra toward Shia fundamentalism. More evidence of this radical surge has been the brutal slainings of two journalists, one an Iraqi working for the NYTs and an American, Thomas Vincent, that had published a NYT's op-ed critical of the occupation's inability to stop the increasing fundamentalism of Basra and the Mahdi army's ability to infiltrate the police forces.

And for argument's sake, let's take a look at who exactly this Iraqi journalist was. Via the NYTs:
Mr.[Fakher] Haider, who was born in Basra, fought in the 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein after the Persian Gulf war. He said that he later escaped to Kuwait and was lucky to avoid being killed when Mr. Hussein's forces regained control of southern Iraq.

During the uprising, Mr. Haider risked his life to help the daughter of a local Baath Party official secure a decent burial for her brother, who had been killed by rebelling Shiites. After the Baathists returned to power, the official spared his life for that reason, Mr. Haider said.

Before starting his work for The Times in 2003, Mr. Haider worked for years at a fertilizer factory in Basra, said his brother, Muhammad Haider. In addition to his wife, Mr. Haider is survived by three children, ages 5, 7 and 9.
Is this who we are to leave Iraq to? People whose religious fanaticism, whether Shia or Sunni, and thrist for power lead them to murder those who promote a new Iraq, one where your religion or party affiliation doesn't lead to a vicious, lonely death.

Another thing for those that think we should leave Iraq to Iraqis to ponder. There are tyrannies worse than an American or a British occupation. If the US-UK coalition does indeed pull-out of Iraq early and leave a vacuum of power to be filled, I wonder what the fringe, both left and right, will say when Iraq becomes the next Sudan or reverts back to the days of dungeon and dictatorship.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A Skip Across the Pond

Well, I'm here in Scotland, St. Andrews to be exact, and finally plugged in. Regular blogging will continue and hopefully Woodshavings will get a more international taste as I'm exposed to more foreign media.

But if you didn't know, I'm here in St. Andrews to get a MLitt (Master of Letters) in International Security Studies. The benefits of studying International Security in the cold, damp environs of Northeastern Scotland you ask? Besides the international reputation of the program and the attached think tank, the UK system gets me my master's degree in one year. You can't beat that considering back across the pond you're looking at 18 to 24 months. Also, St. Andrews looks like it does a decent job in attracting an international study body. Consider this: within my living quarters I have a Brit, a Chinese, and an Indian all under one roof. So while I'm looking forward to raucous debates about America's role in the world, I know the conspiracy theories are going to abound more than drunk freshman.

I've already had a "fresher" tell me that while he loves the American people, he hates the American government, especially George Bush. Most of the table I was sitting at laughed and joked that I should open every conversation with "Hello I'm Matthew and I hate President George Bush." I have a feeling his sentiments are going to be quite universal. George Bush has done much to destroy American credibility and legitimacy worldwide. If the new generation of politicians and foreign policy experts don't labor to introduce a new rational foreign policy that draws strength from multilateralism and soft power, then the world will continue to applaud the barbaric jihadists as liberation forces a la the vile British MP George Galloway.

More evidence from campus that the U.S. is bruised and bloodied: the St. Andrews' Union Debating Society's first scheduled debate was "This House Believes that China Could Take on America." I didn't get to see this, but I do hope the argument was that China could realistically overpower the U.S., and not that it should. I'm not that familiar with the British tradition of debating, but I'm sure someone had to take up the should argument and it would have been interesting to see how he or she went about reasoning this through.

Nevertheless, Americans have a lot to do if we ever want to garner the same esteem we had after 9/11. It won't be easy, but it is necessary.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Religion has all the answers . . . to its own questions.

This weekend, I read a sensible opinion piece on the intelligent design debate, authored by the pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church. The pastor, Henry Brinton, takes a liberal stance on religion and education.

People who want their schools to teach science with integrity have to be willing to draw lines, and to insist that their school boards maintain distinctions. Intelligent design will be worthy of mention in a science classroom only when scientists find empirical evidence to support it. Until then, it will have to be limited to classes taught in churches or religious schools.
I’ve read plenty of arguments against teaching an intelligent design curriculum, and Brinton’s is among the most succinct.

But (you knew it was coming) Brinton ultimately implies that religion, though no replacement for science, is the path to a realm of understanding that science never reaches.

Science . . . has never answered the question of why life exists, even through endless proofs based on observation and replication by multiple sources. Science can tell us how things work, but it can never answer questions such as why the Big Bang occurred, or why the first bacterium appeared.
This contention--that we need religion to answer the question of “why?”—has always bothered me. I agree that science cannot answer the big “why?” And I agree that religion can. But the question “why?” as Brinton posits it, is the product of a theistic worldview, and not the justification for one.

It is not until we believe in God, that the question “why?” demands answering. For if there is a divine being capable of shaping the world as he see fit, it makes perfect sense that we would ask why he has chosen the reality he has. The question “why?” implies motivation, and motivation requires intelligence, divine intelligence in this case. But take away the intelligence (God), and the question “why?” becomes absurd.

Although it might be convenient to say so, religion and science will never be equal halves of understanding—the “how” and “why” of the universe as it were.

Religion may be the only force capable of answering the question “why?” but it is also the only force capable of framing such a question. I am happy to see religious people acknowledging that science answers questions their faith cannot. But pardon me for not returning the favor when I say that science does not need religion to answer a question it never asked in the first place.

--Matthew McCoy

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Harwood Update

Perhaps you've noticed that Mr. Harwood hasn't been blogging for the last few days. He just moved to Scotland to continue his education and hasn't been able to set up blogging operations yet. He assures me however, that he will be back on Woodshavings this week. In the meantime, I'll keep the homefires burning.

--Matthew McCoy

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Jesus Bats Cleanup

The Sunday edition of the Washington Post has a story about the prevalence of organized prayer services in baseball clubhouses.

In 300 ballparks across the country, volunteer chapel leaders hold English and Spanish services for major and minor league teams. Baseball Chapel, the Christian ministry that organizes the prayers, estimates that nearly 3,000 people worship each week in services held in bullpens, under the stands, while sitting on towels in the showers, or huddled in the laundry room reciting the gospel to the thump of dryers.
My sense is that for many ball players, a notoriously superstitious lot, the crucifix is just another lucky charm. But surely, some do take their faith more seriously. Take, for instance, the comments of the aptly named Washington National, Ryan Church.

Church was concerned because his former girlfriend was Jewish. He turned to Moeller, "I said, like, Jewish people, they don't believe in Jesus. Does that mean they're doomed? Jon nodded, like, that's what it meant. My ex-girlfriend! I was like, man, if they only knew. Other religions don't know any better. It's up to us to spread the word."
Yes, Mr. Church, it's up to you. Unfortunately, the Nationals season looks like it’s winding down. I guess salvation will have to wait until next spring.

--Matthew McCoy

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Thursday, September 15, 2005


For the last two days, using a modified version of the Ginsburg precedent, John Roberts has evaded question after question probing his feelings about key decisions of the Supreme Court. I don’t think many critics really expected Roberts to be any more forthcoming than he was. He had two things working for him: First, the vague and broad privilege of refusing to answer any questions with which he did not feel comfortable, and Second, the ability to dance intellectual rings around most of the Senators questioning him, especially on the topic of the law.

Predictably, the Republican senators were mostly deferential to Roberts when he told them that he couldn’t answer a question. But from what I heard, even Democratic senators didn’t push that hard when Roberts dodged questions. Admittedly, I missed most of the end of the second round of questions. The best challenge to Roberts’s evasiveness, at least the best challenge I heard, came from Charles Schumer (D-NY). Rather than simply stomping his feet, Schumer attacked the logic behind Roberts’s “pragmatic approach” to questions.

Repeatedly, Roberts told the committee that he was unwilling to betray his thinking on certain cases whose issues might come before the court again, saying that he wanted to approach such cases with a clear head and no recorded bias that might influence his decisions or the legal strategies of the parties involved. But Schumer noted that as a law student, as a clerk, as a young lawyer in the solicitor general’s office, and as a circuit court judge, Roberts espoused all kinds of opinions on the law. And Schumer noted that as soon as he is confirmed, Roberts will go back to voicing opinions on the law. The irony Schumer pointed out is that Roberts could and did give his opinion at every point in his career expect the two day period during which he was being evaluated. Schumer then asked Roberts if he knew of any judges who had to recuse themselves from cases because of comments they made at their confirmation hearings. Roberts never answered.

Apart from the “bias” argument, which Schumer dismantled to no avail, Roberts frequently resorted to claiming that the confirmation hearing was not a political negotiation in which he’d agree to take certain judicial stances in exchange for the senators’ confirmation votes. On its face, I agree with Roberts’s statement that the confirmation hearing should not be about political promise making, but that fact doesn’t justify every single refusal to answer questions about legal decisions. If we accept that one of the purposes of the hearing is to suss out a nominee’s judicial philosophy, it follows that having the nominee expound upon legal decisions is a good way of doing so. Considering that every case is decided on the basis of its “facts,” as Roberts repeatedly indicated, a nominee should be able to talk generally about the facts and reasoning of past cases without tipping his hand for all future decisions.

I’ll be very interested to see what Roberts looks like once he’s on the court. Although at that point, it will be too late for Democrats to oppose him in any real sense. In the meantime, Roberts has taken a page from the Bush playbook: when the facts might look bad, just keep them secret.

--Matthew McCoy

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Pure Terror

Although reports of casualties differ, a string of bombings in Baghdad have killed at least 130 people today. But the terror doesn't end there. Via WaPo:
Panicked families ran from hospitals to morgues, many seeking more than one dead relative. Armed gunmen--both Shiite militia and Iraqi regular forces--held intersections and closed roads around the city as attacks, and rumors of attacks, grew.

"Explosion! Explosion!" a Shiite militia fighter yelled at one crossing, waving an AK-47 to turn back families looking for their dead.

Blackened burn victims twisted in agony on hospital beds. Outside, men ran fingers down lists of the wounded, searching for names of missing loved ones. Police closed off streets outside hospitals, fearful of second-wave attacks that in past months have targeted bombing victims taken to hospitals. Persistent rumors of bombers with suicide vests roaming hospital wards compounded the anxiety of victims and their families.
Just another day in the life of an Iraqi civilian.

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Bush Takes Responsibility

Unable to withstand the criticism any longer, Bush has broken down and accepted responsibility for the botched federal response to Hurricane Katrina. In his words:

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility," Mr. Bush said in an appearance in the East Room with President Jalal Talabani of Iraq. "I want to know what went right and what went wrong."
It’s about time. Now the question is, will his actions in the coming weeks back up his statement of responsibility or reveal it to be just another puff of hot air?

--Matthew McCoy

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

You're On Your Own

The Nation's Christian Parenti again proves why he is the premier radical journalist working in America today. His write-up of the New Orlean's tragedy and the conscious and subconscious racism and classism that played disproportionately into the death that followed the broken levees stokes fury and contempt like nothing I've read in awhile. It's worthy of a look.

Here's Parenti's excellent conclusion:
Traditions of racism, exploitation and exclusion are visible in every aspect of this crisis. One also feels the repressive reflexes of the war on drugs and war on terror. Rather than work on rescue and cleanup with the mutual-aid networks, like the distribution efforts of Malik Rahim and his neighbor, the increasingly militarized local, state and federal agencies have defaulted to their worst bureaucratic instincts toward the dispossessed: silence, exclude, control and intimidate. Never mind why or toward what end.
New Orleans provides another jolt to an apathetic public that in this nation of ours... race...class... and politics matter.

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Cheers to Cruise

We here at Woodshavings are not above making fun of Tom Cruise's crazy-ass, cranky antics he displayed this summer. He was a bufoon and Scientology is the one of the stupidest religions that ever made people look skyward --yet at least they attack pyschiatry and not liberal humanism like Muslims and Christians do. Nevertheless, he's one hell of a good movie star and as Amos Posner of argues, Cruise has consistently compiled a body of work any actor would envy, yet his career seems to have been discredited along with his religion and his private life choices.
But what's troubling is not the public outcry at Cruise's behavior or the doubts of his continued star power. What's unsettling is the sudden and ubiquitous idea that Cruise was nothing special in the first place, that his body of work is fungible and his talent replaceable, all in reaction to his latest slip-ups. If we are indeed witnessing the death rattle of Cruise's career, then perhaps it's time to give him some credit for what it was that made his stardom so impenetrable for so long.

Cruise may be limited as an actor, but he's always been outstanding as a movie star. He has been more consistently astute in his choices than any other star of his generation. Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt are often praised for avoiding the "easy" superstar path, but both have made some lousy choices both in and out of the mainstream (Sleepy Hollow and The Mexican come to mind). While Cruise has theoretically taken the path of less risk and greater reward, he deserves credit for consistently picking movies that are not just profitable, but actually very good. Risky Business, A Few Good Men, and Jerry Maguire were all forced to cradle his established persona, but all three have held up well over time.
To this day, it's hard to find a better performance in my mind than Cruise's cocky, misogynistic self-help guru Frank T.J. Mackey in Magnolia. Sure, Cruise has always played arrogant S.O.B.s his whole career (which may be indicative of who he is personally), but goddamn it he plays them better than anyone else in Hollywood today.

So while I think Cruise's personal beliefs make him an irrational, egotistical jerk, I raise my glass to his body of work which has entertained me for a good twenty years of my life.

Drink up, for tomorrow Cruise's career could die.

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A Voice From the Past

"The railroad embankment was gone and the man who had cowered behind it and finally, when the water came, clung to the rails, were all gone with it. You could find them face down and face up in the mangroves. The biggest bunch of the dead were in the tangled, always green but now brown, mangroves behind the tank cars and the water towers. They hung on there, in shelter, until the wind and the rising water carried them away. They didn't all let go at once but only when they could hold on no longer. Then further on you found them high in the trees where the water had swept them. You found them everywhere and in the sun all of them were beginning to be too big for their blue jeans and jackets that they never fill when they were on the bum and hungry."

This isn't writing from the Katrina disaster but an extract of "Who Murdered the Vets? A First Hand Report of the Florida Hurricane" written by Ernest Hemingway for the The Masses in 1935. In simple prose, Hemingway, full of class rage, describes the different ways the rich and the poor prepare for the hurricane and the horrid destruction and death wrought by the cane afterwards.

After reading it, you'll get the sense that George Santayana was on to something to declare, " Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Yet, after the Bush Administration and the locals' response to Katrina, it should be revised to "Those in government who are indifferent to the past condemn their citizens to repeat it."

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Who Are They Kidding?

I'm listening to Charles Grassley question John Roberts. Grassley just asked Roberts if a justice's personal values should influence his interpretation of the constitution, to which Roberts answered, predictably, no. Of course this is the standard line, but does anyone really believe that Justices aren't influenced by their own views? Would Scalia defend public expressions of religion so fervently if he was not himself a Christian? I doubt it.

It seems to me that all parties involved have tacitly agreed not to touch the topic of a Justice's personal beliefs, but common sense and history suggest that personal beliefs influence perception. Shouldn't we be allowed to probe them a bit?

--Matthew McCoy

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Monday, September 12, 2005

It Ain’t the Court’s Fault, Mr. Coburn

I just finished listening to the opening statements in the Roberts confirmation hearing. Most of it was the kind empty pleasantry you’d expect to hear, but I was particularly irritated/confused/amused by the comments of Senator Coburn (R-OK) a.k.a “Dr. Tom.”

Coburn argued that judicial activism is pulling the country apart, insinuating that with a less “activist” court, partisan squabbles would melt away and Republicans and Democrats would march hand-in-hand into the future. I kicked myself for not having a video feed on my computer when Coburn choked back tears while proclaiming, “We are all Americans.”

While I agree with Coburn’s impassioned statement about our common nationality, I sure as hell don’t agree with his assessment that the Court overstepped its boundaries when it ruled that counties could not adorn their courtroom walls with copies of the Ten Commandments or that the question of the right to an abortion should be left to the states. And despite what Mr. Coburn would lead you to believe, these contentions have nothing to do with the court, and everything to do with my principles.

Is he really pinning American dissention on the court? If so, it’s the most misguided case of scapegoatism I’ve come across in a long time. But then again, it’s the kind of thing I expect from conservative court bashers. After all, it's so much easier to blame the court than to admit that not all Americans share a Christian worldview.

The real confirmation fireworks start tomorrow. I’ll be posting my thoughts throughout the day.

--Matthew McCoy

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The Scapegoat Resigns

I'm watching Fox News right now and they're reporting via the AP that Michael Brown of FEMA has resigned. Obviously Mr. Brown was an inept pick to head FEMA considering he had not only no experience but that he actually "padded" emergency response experience on his resume.

I'm still astounded that that's not criminal, considering the consequences of that lie. But much of the responsibility also lays at the doorstep of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. This is supposedly the CEO administration and one of the very trite cliches that circulates throughout the corporate world is that "you're only as good as the people you hire." So how about some accountability from the chief executive officer? You have about as much chance as that as Britney Spears looking like the Virgin Mary. While the administration may be virulently evangelical, today's Yom Kippur in the oval office and it's covered in the remains of Michael Brown.

Pic courtesy of Novea Ministries.

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The Nuclear Option

Various news organizations have been reporting on a revised pentagon document that outlines scenarios in which the U.S. could use nuclear weapons for a preemptive strike against its enemies. Via The Times UK:

In a significant shift after half a century of nuclear deterrence based on the threat of massive retaliation, the revised doctrine would allow pre-emptive strikes against states or terror groups, and to destroy chemical and biological weapons stockpiles.

Presidential approval would still be required for any nuclear strike, but the updated document, the existence of which was confirmed by the Pentagon at the weekend, emphasises the need for the US to adapt to a world of worsening proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in which deterrence might fail. In that event, it states, “the United States must be prepared to use nuclear weapons if necessary”.

When it suits their purpose, the Bush Administration is quick to point out that terrorists are “non-state actors,” often operating in small, loosely-organized cells. But this policy treats terrorists like a conventional army, housed within a single state. By what stretch of the imagination are nukes an effective means of targeting terrorists, who, as the recent attacks in London prove, are often living in our own backyard? The whole thing is akin to swatting flies with a wrecking ball.

Can you imagine the collateral damage the U.S. would have to accept if it were to say, drop a bomb on Afghanistan to get a group of terrorists or a weapons stockpile? Can you imagine the reaction in the Muslim world?

The Times reports that “[t]he document’s key phrase appears in a list of pre-emptive nuclear strike scenarios, the first of which is against an enemy using “or intending to use WMD”.” So according to this provision, and based on its bang-up intelligence reports, the U.S. could have dropped a bomb on Iraq back in 2003.

Not to mention that the whole thing looks pretty damn hypocritical, considering that the U.S. is pressuring Iran to scale down its nuclear operations.

--Matthew McCoy

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Roberts Confirmation Hearing Begins Today . . . Does Anyone Care?

Via the NYTs

A survey last week by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 71 percent of Americans were paying attention to stories about gasoline prices and 70 percent to the hurricane, but only 18 percent to the Roberts nomination.
Given the urgency of the Katrina crisis and the immediacy of the spike in gas prices, it’s no surprise that John Roberts’ confirmation hearing isn’t the first thing on the minds of Americans. But ready or not, the hearing begins today. Since confirmation is a numbers game that, given the current make up of the Senate, Republicans are destined to win, the Roberts hearing is a foregone conclusion. That said, Democrats can still use the hearing to their advantage.

Before Rehnquist died, and before John Roberts was nominated for Chief Justice, I was feeling pretty cynical about the left’s response to the Roberts nomination. Liberal politicians and pundits alike were portraying the Democrats as the party of moral victory and practical loss, suggesting that while Roberts would certainly be confirmed Senate Democrats could stand up and prove that they weren’t happy about it. Who cares? Democrats can display all the principle they can muster, but when the president keeps getting his picks confirmed (Rice, Chertoff, Gonzales, Bolton) what difference does it make? The Roberts confirmation hearing was looking like business as usual, until Rehnquist died that is.

All of a sudden, Roberts is not replacing a moderate swing vote on the court, he’s replacing its conservative stalwart. Now, even with his imminent confirmation, Roberts does not stand to shift the ideological balance of power on the court as he did a few weeks ago.

With his approval ratings scraping all time lows, Bush has all but exhausted the “political capital” he touted after winning reelection. If Democrats make the Roberts hearing a referendum on issues of civil rights, privacy, torture, and abortion, they can deal a preemptive blow against Bush’s next pick for the court. At the very least, grilling Roberts will make it harder for Bush to put a reactionary conservative on the bench. But the best case scenario is that a strong opposition to Roberts will force Bush to consider a more moderate conservative next time around.

The timing is as good as it's going to get.

--Matthew McCoy

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

In Loving Memory and a Thought

Today we honor all those who perished in the attacks on NYC, DC, and those who fought valiantly on Flight 93, saving countless lives through their self-sacrifice. To the police officers and firefighters who ran into the flames so that others may live...well I cannot find words to express my gratitude.

And a thought...

9/11 made us a new nation and it's up to us to ensure that new nation is a better, more just nation intent on preserving a humane international system by living up to our historic ideals domestically as well as globally.

The United States is as much an ideal as a reality. If we live up to our ideals we create a new reality. This is our historic mission.

Pic courtesy of Cliff Wassman

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Exorcising Reason

David Edelstine of Slate has a hilarious, sardonic review of what looks to be an assault on our wallets and our rationality, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The themes of this movie are just too good to divulge, so you have to check out his review. But here's a taste of Edelstine's delicious septic wit:
In fairness, I should disclose one thing: I was born at 3 a.m. Could it be that the devil put me on this earth to raise objections to movies like The Passion of the Christ and The Exorcism of Emily Rose? As I mulled this over in the screening room, about an hour into the film, a priest sat down in the seat next to me, and I felt a sudden, demonic urge to strike him. In my defense, this was because his cell phone was going off. But still: It might have been Satan on the other end of the line, reaching out to me. I resisted, though. I'm not on any medication.

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Anytime's a Good Time to Sock It to Workers

Via Kevin Drum, George Bush is playing politics again. This time he has suspended the Davis-Bacon Act in the Katrina damaged "areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi, allowing federal contractors to pay less than the local 'prevailing wage' on construction projects."

What does this mean you ask? Federal Contractors can pay threadbare wages to those who rightly need a good job now to get back on their feet.

Rep. George Miller of California, senior Democrat on the House committee that oversees labor law, said the move would allow employers to pay "poverty wages" as they rebuild from the hurricane.

"The administration is using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to cut the wages of people desperately trying to rebuild their lives," he said in a statement, noting the prevailing wage for construction in New Orleans was about $9 an hour. "At under $9 an hour, workers certainly won't be able to rebuild their livelihoods," he said.
Again Bush goes against economic history to either show how religiously attached he is to neo-liberal economics and its associated contempt for unions and labor laws or how committed he is to lining the pockets of the private firms that bid on government projects. If Bush or his economic advisors were to go back to their days of intro to economic theory or even look back towards FDR, he'd know that Keynesian economics is the best recipe for the areas destroyed by Katrina. At this time government through spending can "prime the pump" as economists say, so both contractors and workers can both make out well and create the aggregate demand needed to get these areas back to relative prosperity. If not, the businesses won't come back and these areas will become ghost-towns.

But as we now know, President Bush isn't an economist, he's a CEO -- an incompetent CEO but a CEO none the less, which means cut costs even if it creates the conditions of your own destruction.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I Shit You Not

Somehow I think Karl Marx would find it funny that FEMA was able to invert his famous saying: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."

Via Garance Franke-Ruta of TAPPED
, it seems FEMA laid down a hip-hop track 'plaining to kidz just how important disaster preparation is. They wrote a song about it, hear it, hear it go:
Disaster . . . it can happen anywhere,
But we've got a few tips, so you can be prepared
For floods, tornadoes, or even a 'quake,
You've got to be ready - so your heart don't break.

Disaster prep is your responsibility
And mitigation is important to our agency.

People helping people is what we do
And FEMA is there to help see you through
When disaster strikes, we are at our best
But we're ready all the time, 'cause disasters don't rest.
It's funny at first, but then it's just simply tragic considering the consequences FEMA ineptitude wrought down South.

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The Ramparts Fall

The New York Observer has a great long article by Sheelah Kolhatkar that describes how the liberal interventionalist cadre of thinkers that supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq have faltered and fractured. Featured prominently within the article are none other than my personal favorite pugilist, Christopher Hitchens, along with other great, if misguided minds, Paul Berman and Michael Ignatieff.

While I'm not in the Sheehan or the Monthly Review crowd that says we must pull out of Iraq now, I'm still deeply suspicious of the ranks of pro-war liberals such as Hitchens and Ignatieff who supported the war initially (which I did not), because they refused to acknowledge the Bush factor and the history of U.S. foreign policy in the region.

Yes, Saddam Hussein needed to be dealt with, but it's hard to argue how containment wouldn't have worked. Arms inspectors manned out across the great Iraqi expanse to search, but were pulled out before they could complete their mission. Moreover, it's ethically problematic to be for war when a different strategy could produce better results (and how can anyone say today that containment wouldn't have been a better result.) Also, why couldn't have the U.S. just sold the various arms needed to overthrow Saddam to the various Kurdish and Shiite factions? If it was kept quiet, we wouldn't have to have dealt with the influx of the Islamist threat that now multiplies daily.

I'll even give the many proponents of war that Saddam probably was in cahoots with various Islamic terrorists or at least allowed them to breed, but could they have made the advances in Iraq that they have today if we didn't invade? I think not. Liberal hawks really haven't dealt with this reality yet and it's a shame.

Lastly, but certainly not least, the war in Iraq was illegal according to international law (it qualified legally as aggression), while the U.S. Congress didn't even have the balls to declare war -- another ubiquitious and overt sign of an imperial presidency. Something is wrong when a country bypasses their own constitution to allow its executive to conduct an immoral and ill-advised war against a neutered foe.

Yet today, the circumstances are different and much more complex. Today we actually do face an increased Islamist front in Iraq that has the same goals as Osama Bin Laden (say thank you to your President). If we do in fact leave, do we not abandon the many Iraqis that wished for the fall of Saddam and dread the advance of a theocratic Islamic government? Can Iraq's ill prepared security apparatus deal with the insurgency and the terrorist threat? Will we, and indeed the world, have to worry about Iraq the failed state that breeds and distributes terrorists throughout the Middle East and increases instability -- in which I mean the degradation of human rights and democracy, not economics or earthen resources, but nevertheless encompasses all of those areas?

These are all tough questions and I'm still mired in them. You'll find no resolution here that's for sure.

As always, to be continued...

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