Monday, October 31, 2005

What Women Want

Well, it isn't what the feminists say women want, that's for sure.

Yesterday, Maureen Dowd penned in my opinion her finest work to date on the dilemmas of feminism, when it is women themselves that are increasingly disgruntled with the paradigm.

Normally I find Dowd as shrill as 50 car pile-up on the Belt Parkway, but in this essay she's articulate and I'd say counterintuitive from what I normally expect of her. For today's women it seems, the feminist revolution went a wee bit too far. It seems they like the door opened for them as well as the man to pay for dinner -- everytime I might add. As Dowd reports:
Throughout the long, dark ages of undisputed patriarchy, women connived to trade beauty and sex for affluence and status. In the first flush of feminism, women offered to pay half the check with "woman money" as a way to show that these crass calculations - that a woman's worth in society was determined by her looks, that she was an ornament up for sale to the highest bidder - no longer applied.

Now dating etiquette has reverted. Young women no longer care about using the check to assert their equality. They care about using it to assess their sexuality. Going Dutch is an archaic feminist relic. Young women talk about it with disbelief and disdain. "It's a scuzzy 70's thing, like platform shoes on men," one told me.

"Feminists in the 70's went overboard," Anne Schroeder, a 26-year-old magazine editor in Washington, agrees. "Paying is like opening a car door. It's nice. I appreciate it. But he doesn't have to."

Unless he wants another date.
Ah, how very true! Being in bars as much as I am, you also run into a creature I term, the pretty parasite. This is a girl that will fall all over you to get free drinks all night. I remember talking to many girls who went out almost every night it seemed and I'd ask, "How do you have all this money for drinking?" They'd giggle, smile, and say, "Well, silly, we don't have to pay for our drinks. You guys will buy them for us." And so feminism comes crashing down wiping away a considerable degree of advancement since the 60s, because if the girls aren't going to preserve it, we guys most assuredly will not either. And for those women that say, "I can have my cake and eat it too." I'd reply you can't because all that makes you is an opportunist -- not a feminist. To truly be a feminist is to assert your autonomous self and show that you don't need a man to survive and that doesn't mean you can't be sexy and seductive, but it does mean you should reach over the table sometime and say, "Honey, this one's on me."

But if you don't believe that we've reached the twilight of feminism, read Dowd on this one -- really good stuff.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

The King of Literature?'s Bill Gibron makes the case for Stephen King as literary giant and I must say I agree. I still remember the first time I cracked open a King novel. I was in the third grade and somehow I got my hands on "It." Let's just say when the wind blows just right, I can still hear Pennywise the Clown telling me that, "We all float down here, Matty Boy. We all float down here." Shivers down my spine everytime.

But scaring a little boy and making his teachers think his parents have a screw loose for allowing such trash to pollute a pristine mind doesn't qualify one for accolades we pour on writers that have withstood the test of time. I'm sure you think I'm crazy, "Stephen King as literature?" you say. "You must be joking." Don't snicker just yet Gibron says:
The calls for artist, though, have been there, albeit in a rather minor manner. Washed within the waves of dismissal and outright disrespect have existed a small, supportive group who believe that King resides with the masters in his handling of word and thought, not to mention his creation and management of both. They point to his growth, his ever-changing approach to subject and story, his experiments both inside and outside the genre and his vast, overwhelming oeuvre as proof that he is a prolific and polished craftsman. Has he left the world a Gravity's Rainbow? A Catcher in the Rye? A Finnegan's Wake? Probably not. Has he written works that will stand the test of time to translate across the years and into the realm of the well remembered and respected? Yes. Somewhere in the middle of those two statements lies his legacy. Somewhere in the middle of those two statements lies his fate as literature.
And a paragrpah from the conclusion, Gibron goes in for the kill:
Let this be the first volley in King's defense. Let this be the manifesto that corrects the conception of the author as high fat, high calorie content for only the most gluttonous of fiction gourmands. Let's look at what King has done inside as well as outside the field of writing (including work in defense of the First Amendment and in favor of the preservation of reading and writing in school curriculums) and begin the beatification. Let's not be so short sighted as those in the past who dismissed Van Gogh or raged against rock and roll. King's legacy will live on well past our passing on this Earth and it is up to us to build the bandwagon before another generation beats us to it.

Decades from now, fans will unearth his tomes and savor their sensational scares the way we lord over Stoker's violent vamp, or Shelley's modern Prometheus. They will acknowledge and accept his place in literature and laugh at those who ever discharged him outright. They won't have to wait to "know it" or "see it" -- the work will "say it" all. Stephen King is a talented writer of great literary merit. His work has fine artistic worth. He has earned the label of literature. So let's give it to him already.
The funny thing is though, King is starting to earn the esteem of the Ivory Tower as Carrie has been integrated into many a curriculum if I'm not mistaken. But Gibron's point is good, you can't deny someone their legacy because they're associated with a particular genre that you don't like. I loathe organized religion and can't stand faith much either, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate C.S. Lewis and the wonderful literature he created.

So enough's enough, give King the crown, he deserves it.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Miers Withdraws

I'm still not sure if I should be surprised. By sticking with Miers, Bush was marching into a political crossfire. Democrats were yelling cronyism. Republicans were yelling betrayal. But I honestly though Bush might just be stubborn enough to push a mediocre lawyer/talented lackey onto the Supreme Court. I guess cooler and more politically savvy heads prevailed.

The Washington Post has Ms. Miers’s letter to the president, in which she claims to be withdrawing her name in order to protect the confidentiality of White House documents that the Senate has requested.
As you know, members of the Senate have indicated their intention to seek documents about my service in the White House in order to judge whether to support me. I have been informed repeatedly that in lieu of records, I would be expected to testify about my service in the White House to demonstrate my experience and judicial philosophy. While I believe that my lengthy career provides sufficient evidence for consideration of my nomination, I am convinced the efforts to obtain Executive Branch materials and information will continue.

As I stated in my acceptance remarks in the Oval Office, the strength and independence of our three branches of government are critical to the continued success of this great Nation. Repeatedly in the course of the process of confirmation for nominees for other positions, I have steadfastly maintained that the independence of the executive Branch be preserved and its confidential documents and information not be released to further a confirmation process. I feel compelled to adhere to this position, especially related to my own nomination. Protection of the prerogatives of the Executive Branch and continued pursuit of my confirmation are in tension. I have decided that seeking my confirmation should yield.
Nice try, but this is a red herring. If the Roberts confirmation taught us anything about the dynamic between the Senate and the White House, it is that the Senate will push to see every piece of a nominee’s paper trail, and the White House (at least this White House) will stonewall with all its might. And really, what are the political consequences of this push-and-pull? After the Roberts confirmation, Democrats walked away mumbling about a lack of transparency in the Bush Administration, but we knew about that already. Nothing changed, and the White House got its nominee confirmed despite the fact that it withheld thousands of pages requested by the Senate. Besides, if Bush chooses another nominee from within the ranks, the Senate is going to ask the same questions and request the same types of documents.

No, despite what she says, I doubt Miers’s decision to withdraw had much to do with confidentiality. I suspect this was the White House’s call. Bush is hurting like never before for public approval and the Miers debacle was starting to look like political suicide. There probably came a point when Bush and his advisors decided to cut their losses and cut Miers loose.

At the risk of admitting he made a mistake in nominating Miers, Bush and his team have opted for a nice bit of political theater: Miers chooses to maintain her integrity, and that of the White House, by gracefully withdrawing in the face of threats from the Big Bad Senate. The truth is, Team Bush botched this nomination from the get go, and now they’re taking a do-over. Let’s wait and see what’s in store. My guess: a nominee far more conservative than Miers.

--Matthew McCoy

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Fallen

I won't play politics or interject any opinion into this post, just ask that you take the time to look at the NYT's Roster of the Dead -- an interactive graphic constructed after U.S. military deaths in Iraq hit 2,000.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

From the Back Seat to Immortality: Not a Bad Ride

Non-violent direct action practicioner Rosa Parks has died. You can read either the NYT's obituary here or the WaPo's here.

We all know the myth, a tired black woman refused to give up her seat. It has been portrayed in legendary proportions in American textbooks ever since: one thin middle-aged black woman had enough and spontaneously resisted. That's only partly true. Mrs. Parks was active in her local NAACP chapter in Montgomery and was actually rushing home from her seamstress job because as the NYTs article reports, "[s]he had to send out notices of the N.A.A.C.P.'s coming election of officers. And she had to prepare for the workshop that she was running for teenagers that weekend."

When she and three others were told to move from the middle seats to the back of the bus, Parks refused. Via the NYTs:
Recalling the incident for "Eyes on the Prize," a 1987 public television series on the civil rights movement, Mrs. Parks said: "When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up and I said, 'No, I'm not.' And he said, 'Well, if you don't stand up, I'm going to have to call the police and have you arrested.' I said, 'You may do that.' "
I just love her response: elegant, proper, and powerful. This simple response, "You may do that" sparked a 380 day bus boycott where blacks coalesced into a formidable movement demanding civil rights. Blacks car-pooled, walked or took black-owned taxis that only charged the bus fare. As the WaPo article succinctly puts it, her act of resistance:
[L]ed to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that desegregated her city's public transportation. Her arrest also triggered mass demonstrations, made the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. famous, and transformed schools, workplaces and housing.
Her death is a reminder of how far we've come as a country and that they're still many boundaries to be overcome before freedom rings out without hypocrisy. And if you don't know what I'm getting at, I mean full and equal rights, no mealymouthed bullshit, for gays and lesbians. The point of the American secular creed of freedom is everyone is guaranteed it, regardless of color or creed or sexual orientation. Those that deny it to others, like the South denied it to blacks, have the shame of history upon them forever.

Rosa Parks, 1913 - 2005

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Iraqi Poll

Via Political Animal, the Telegraph is reporting that the results of a poll commissioned by the British Ministry of Defense show that Iraqi support for military occupation is dangerously low. Here are some of the numbers.
• Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;

• 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;

• less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;

• 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;

• 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;

• 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.
Kevin Drum rightly points out that this is only one poll, but even if these numbers are slightly exaggerated, they don’t look good. Let’s assume that the 67 percent of Iraqis who feel less secure because of occupation are wrong, and that occupation is actually making them safer. Does it make a difference? At some point, the benefit of added security is offset by Iraqis’ negative perception of the U.S. occupation, and our presence there becomes more harmful than helpful. I’m not certain that we’ve reached that point yet, but it seems like we’re getting damn close.

On the bright side, it looks like Iraqis have approved the constitution. Hopefully this development brings U.S. troops one step closer to getting out of Iraq.

--Matthew McCoy

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Harriet the Bore

I’m bored with Harriet Miers. I know that’s a pretty irresponsible stance to take as a member of our nation’s democracy, but it’s the truth. Every day I cycle through the blogs and online periodicals looking for a new take on the whole debacle, but I keep finding the same old thing: The right doesn’t like her because she’s not right enough and the left doesn’t like her because she’s not very qualified. But the truth is, no one in the Senate is mounting a serious attack on her confirmation. She’ll probably limp across the finish line and onto the bench, not because she deserves it, but because no one cares enough to challenge her. Not exactly a high water mark for American politics.

But mediocre Supreme Court Justices are nothing new. I’ve been reading Peter Irons’ A People’s History of the Supreme Court, in which he documents a litany on non-entities who’ve sat on the bench. Some served their terms without leaving much of an imprint on American jurisprudence. Others stumbled their way onto the dark side of decisions that undermined equal rights in this country. I’ll spare you the book report, but if you’re interest in reading up on the underbelly of the third branch of American government, it’s worth picking up.

All this is a long introduction to me saying that this afternoon, I finally found a worthwhile Miers piece on the Web. Slate has just released the Miers-O-Meter, updated daily to reflect the nominee’s chance at confirmation. If this isn’t good online journalism, I don’t know what is.

--Matthew McCoy

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Changing of the Guard at the Federal Reserve Bank

With Alan Greenspan preparing to step down after 18 years at the head of the Federal Reserve Bank, Bush has nominated Benjamin Bernanke to replace him. While Bernanke has announced his intention to follow many of the examples Greenspan set during his tenure, he figures to diverge from Greenspan on at least one critical point.
"Where he differs from Greenspan is that Bernanke is more in favor of explicitly putting a rule on monetary policy," says Victor Zarnowitz, a fellow committee member and a retired University of Chicago economist now based at the Conference Board in Manhattan who's been forecasting recessions since Eisenhower was president. Greenspan, on the other hand, "would rely on judgment which in Greenspan's case depends so much on the judgment of a single man."

These rules, particularly inflation targeting--an approach used by many European central banks--would suggest directly how and when the Fed might spring into action to damp down inflation, and could provide greater confidence for stock, bonds, currency and commodity markets as to just what direction interests are headed.

"I assume that will happen now," Benjamin Friedman, who serves at the Conference Board and chaired Harvard's economics department while Bernanke was leading the Princeton department. "We will be replacing Alan Greenspan, who has been a very strong opponent of that idea, with Ben, who is a strong proponent of that idea."
An implication of strict rules on monetary policy is an increase in accountability for the Federal Reserve Bank.
Until now, there has been little or no transparency in just precisely what targets the Fed is seeking. All we've known is what Greenspan has wanted to tell us after each meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee. Now, all that may change in the very near future.
It will be interesting to see the public reaction if the Fed doesn’t measure up to its newly specified objectives. More obvious goals make for more obvious failures when things go wrong.

--Matthew McCoy

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Saturday, October 22, 2005


Since the post-9/11 terrorist scare, we’ve become the generation of duct tape and plastic sheeting, the generation of knee jerk panic reactions and home security. So it’s no surprise that with all the reports on Avian flu, Americans have started stockpiling Tamiflu, the drug shown to help prevent influenza. In the abstract, there is nothing wrong with Americans taking responsibility for their own health, but the Washington Post is reporting that personal stockpiles of the drug might reduce supply to the point of hampering a government response to an outbreak of Avian Flu.
The trend worries many physicians and public health experts because widespread home stockpiling could undermine international efforts to fight a flu pandemic. Some doctors are refusing their patients' requests except in special circumstances.

"I do know that I personally can't give everybody who wants Tamiflu a prescription for it. It just doesn't seem right to me," said Harry Oken, 51, an internist in Columbia. "If there really was an avian flu epidemic, people who don't need it have it, and people who really need it can't get it."
Call it old-fashioned American self-interest, or call it lack of trust in the government’s ability to respond to a large scale disaster (I wonder why?), but this is a worrisome trend. Like it or not the federal government is the only agency capable of reacting to a public health crisis on a national scale. If pandemic does hit and there’s a snatch and grab for all the available medicine, we’ll see the Katrina dynamic all over again: those with the means to take care of themselves will, those without the means will get sick and possibly die.

--Matthew McCoy

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

How To Piss Off an Iraqi

One of the wonders of digital, internet is it's democratizing tendency when wielded properly. Slate does this with Fray Watch, where readers take issue with Slate's writers. One of Slate's more controversial writers is Christopher Hitchens naturally.

His article, "Tribal Ignorance," elicited this funny, wry and very intelligent response from Anonymous_Veteran --a veteran of the "liberation of Iraq" -- entitled "Smells Like Imperial Spirit. Let me just set it up with the graf from Hitchens used by Anonymous Veteran to open his great "little" digression with the Hitchman.
Ever wonder how to piss off an Iraqi? It's relatively simple. Just ask one, no sooner than you have been introduced: "So you're an Iraqi? How absolutely fascinating. Do tell: Are you a Kurd or a Sunni or a Shiite?" This will work every time, just as it's always so polite and so useful to ask a brown-skinned American if he or she is Chicano or, you know … Latina.
Have at him Anonymous:
Well, if I wanted to piss off an Iraqi, I'd invade their country. Then, after the smoke cleared, I'd fail to restore peace, electricity, running water or economic stability. Also, instead of helping the Iraqis rebuild their country, I'd force them to accept brutally liberal economic policies and give reconstruction contracts to American companies in a process so rife with corruption and malfeasance that millions of dollars intended to be spent on rebuilding Iraq would simply be lost—unaccounted for. I would disband the Iraqi Army, too, just to put another 500,000 people out of work and dismantle what could have been the core of a working Iraqi security force. I would put expatriate Iraqis, especially criminals and CIA cronies like Ahmed Chalabi, in important positions of power. Then, in order to give the country "freedom," I would retreat behind the walls of a fortified complex, where in the luxury of Saddam's old palaces I would "guide" and "help" Iraq's "elected" government write a "constitution."

But that's not even my point.

Firstly, Hitchens' argument about the media's Shia/Sunni/Kurd nomenclature is facetious: Yes, the Kurds are Sunnis (they also tend toward Sufism), and yes, the news companies and reporters should make a point of saying Shi'ite Arabs and Sunni Arabs and Kurds, because these distinctions, whatever other minorities Hitchens in his jolly multiculturalism would like to use to illustrate his point, are the salient cultural divisions in Iraq. I fail to see what Iraq's pre-1947 Jewish population (which had its own problems—like the Farhud in 1941—and did not always, as Hitchens seems to want to imply, live in glorious peace and harmony with their Muslim brethren) or Christian Iraqis have to do with recognizing that the country is divided, roughly 60%-20%-20%, between Shi'ite Arabs and Sunni Arabs and nominally Sunni Kurds, and that these are divisions have—at least since Iraq was established as a British mandate after World War I—been at the root of a great deal of violence within the country.

It is interesting to read a little about Iraq's history, because you find guys named al-Barzani and al-Sistani rebelling against the British, rebelling against the monarchy appointed by the British (I'm sorry, not appointed but rather "freely elected" by 98% of the voting population. . . three cheers for "democracy," in all its wondrous forms), and rebelling against the Sunni Arab minority that ruled Iraq after 1932.

I also found it interesting that Hitchens said Sistani is ethnically Persian, rather than ethnically Iranian, which might have complicated his stupidly simplistic Pollyanna view of the Western Man's Glorious Burden of bringing Democracy to the Heathen Middle East. Edward Said would be ashamed today of his old friend, who has become if not a Bush shill, then at least a cheerleader for Imperialism. But I digress. . .

It is true that the "media," including Hitchens, have many boring and philistine habits, both intellectually and morally. One of them is that they often deliberately obfuscate an issue in order to make a point. Such as Hitchens' fond remembrance of the Balkan wars, when Serbs and Croats were actively seeking out Muslims—specifically Bosnian Muslims—to exterminate. I suppose any fool who thought that these two Christian apples were trying to eradicate the Muslim oranges because of some sort of "partitionist and segregationist language" would have been ruefully mistaken.

Another boring and philistine habit of the "media" is to establish false dichotomies. For example: "This same tribal habit of mind—tribal on our part, I mean, not on the part of the Iraqis—allows some people to make the lazy assumption that the liberation of Iraq has created these differences, or intensified them, rather than sought to compose and heal them." So the invasion and occupation of Iraq by a foreign country can only have either created the ethnic differences—which is patently ridiculous—or, and I love this, oh man, "sought to compose and heal them."

You know, when I was riding around Baghdad in the back of a Hummvee and pointing my M16 at suspicious Iraqis (I didn't care what their religious proclivities were), I don't remember a lot of "healing" going on. But I suppose it fits somehow in the twisted logic of Hitchens' beleaguered idealism that you can "heal" people through armed occupation. . . But I again digress. . .

Lost in this false dichotomy is the truth of the matter—these differences have existed as long as Iraq has existed as a state or as a "mandate," and even before—and in any case were in place well before Hussein took over. Sunni Arabs have been lording it over Kurdish Sunnis and Shi'ite Arabs for decades. If you want to blame anyone, blame the British. Or maybe the Ottomans.

I'm glad for Hitchens that in his fierce struggle, down there in the trenches, for Iraqi democracy, he can find "encouragement" in probably faked documents debating tactical arguments in Al Qaeda's international jihad. I certainly don't find much encouragement in the fact that our "intervention," which seemed a lot more like an invasion to me, got rid of one brutal dictator only to open the door to many lesser brutal dicators—"If you fall into conversation with an Iraqi," they might say they've traded one big Saddam for many little Saddams.

And while the US is not responsible for Al Qaeda (despite our early funding and support of the organization—blowback's tough. . .), the US is responsible for the results of its invasion of Iraq. Not only by any reasonable ethic or moral view, but as well by international law. If you invade a country and take it over, it's your responsibility. And it is morally reprehensible, absolutely disgusting and idiotic of Hitchens to continually contend that the United States is free from responsibility for the anarchy that Iraq and Baghdad have fallen prey to. He could argue that all the dead Americans and dead Iraqis are laying the foundation of a peaceful and prosperous democratic Middle East, and that the terrible burden of so much devastation is outweighed by the promise of the beautiful dream that Bush, Wolfowitz, Perle et al., have dreamed—but he can't really argue that the US isn't responsible for the effects of its invasion. He can assert it, and assert it he does, over and over and over again with tiresome righteousness, but he doesn't ever seem to really. . . argue it.

But what do I know? I'm apparently a moral cretin. Perhaps if I were a moral wizard like Hitchens and his neocon fellow-travelers, I would be able to find some way to reconcile imperialism with democracy. As it is, I'm at a loss.

PS- I'm not at a loss, though, for ways to "piss of Iraqis." I can remember a dozen off the top of my head, and they all involve myself or other American soldiers. To paraphrase Conrad, the conquest of Iraq is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. But then, we should all know that by know, if we'd bother to open our eyes.
Anonymous Veteran gets at all the salient points Hitchens frustratingly ignores in much of his writing, especially the dichotomy of imperialism and liberation. But more broadly, I'm just glad we have soldiers that are indeed critical human beings that are taking their experiences from Iraq and speaking out. Who knows, maybe a few good leaders will emerge out of this Iraqi adventure.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Oh, Those Were the Days

One of the first assignments I've encountered since assuming a seat at St. Andrew's has been profiling a terrorist group of our choosing. I chose Narodnaya Volya, or the People's Will, of the late 19th century, precisely 1878 - 1881 to be exact. They were Russian liberal constitutionalists who engaged in targeted assassinations of the Russian Tsarist hierarchy. Eventually, their success was their end as their assassination of Tsar Alexander II led to their eventual capture and execution.

I chose this group because it was such a stark reminder between a "good" terrorist and an "evil" terrorist. To be honest, I'm not much for the designation of evil on any group; I think the label denies responsibility. In Christian philosophy or theology, whichever you claim dear reader, evil is synonomous with Satan, Beelzebub, the Devil...We're the Devils...the Deviiiiilllllls! as Putty would say. Maybe to the surprise of everyone, they were essentially moral terrorists. Excuse me, moral terrorists? Yes, they concentrated their attacks exclusively on those who oppressed the "people."Their motto was "Not one drop of superfluous blood."

Why do I bring up such an obscure historical example of terrorism y0u may ask? The answer is simple; we are in an era where the likes of Al-Qaeda grab the headlines and a corner of our thoughts when we board a train or a bus in any metropolitan city. The difference between the advent of the modern terrorist: Narodnaya Volya, and the new fanatical post-modern, yet retrograde, terrorism of Al-Qaeda is simple: one chose freedom for all people and the other chose to run their murderous campaign for the re-establishment of the Islamic Caliphate. The Russian terrorists chose freedom, the Arab Afghans and their recruits of Al-Qaeda chose tyranny of the most insidious kind: one where private thoughts are exterminated and one where the human body should be veiled rather than celebrated. Killing for one was the most moral of choices for the freedom of mankind while for the other, killing was a way to a renew tyranny of a anachronistic master, which we thought we killed long ago.

Controversially I say, there is good terrorism and evil terrorism. One which targets the root of real terror and the one which murders indiscriminately the people who merely enter the market, the transit, the mosque, etc... to make a better day for their families and by extension, their respective societies.

Terror in the hearts of tyrants is a good is ultimately democratic. Terror in the hearts of the innocent though is the height of tyranny. I ask you: Where do you stand on this question?

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Pat Tillman, Chomskyite

Ewwww...this really has to be like sitting on a bike without a seat to the Bush Administration, via the Nation:
[A] September 25 San Francisco Chronicle story reporting that former NFL star and Army Ranger war hero Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan last year, believed the US war on Iraq was "f***ing illegal" and counted Noam Chomsky among his favorite authors...The very private Tillmans have revealed a picture of Pat profoundly at odds with the GI Joe image created by Pentagon spinmeisters and their media stenographers. As the Chronicle put it, family and friends are now unveiling "a side of Pat Tillman not widely known--a fiercely independent thinker who enlisted, fought and died in service to his country yet was critical of President Bush and opposed the war in Iraq, where he served a tour of duty. He was an avid reader whose interests ranged from history works of leftist Noam Chomsky, a favorite author." Tillman had very unembedded feelings about the Iraq War. His close friend Army Spec. Russell Baer remembered, "I can see it like a movie screen. We were outside of [an Iraqi city] watching as bombs were dropping on the town.... We were talking. And Pat said, 'You know, this war is so f***ing illegal.' And we all said, 'Yeah.' That's who he was. He totally was against Bush." With these revelations, Pat Tillman the PR icon joins WMD and Al Qaeda connections on the heap of lies used to sell the Iraq War.
Even better than all this, Tillman wasn't a self-aggrandizer.
When the Pro Bowler joined the Army Rangers, the Pentagon brass needed a loofah to wipe their drool: He was white, handsome and played in the NFL. For a chicken-hawk Administration led by a President who loves the affectations of machismo but runs from protesting military moms, this testosterone cocktail was impossible to resist. The problem was that Tillman wouldn't play their game. To the Pentagon's chagrin, he turned down numerous offers to be its recruitment poster child.
What I love about this new information is that Tillman seemed to be something so rare in America today: a democratic citizen soldier. He understood that there are things worth fighting for and literally put his money where his mouth was. Yet he never lost that desire to question everything: his leaders, their rationales for war, and understood that while Afghanistan was a legitimate theater for war, that Iraq was not and that it violated the basic principles of international law duly signed by the U.S., thereby making it domestic law as well.

And guest who Tillman was scheduled to meet when he returned from Afghanistan -- that's right, Noam Chomsky.
Mary Tillman says a private meeting was planned between him and Pat after Pat's return--a meeting that never took place, of course. Chomsky confirms this scenario. This was the real Pat Tillman: someone who, like the majority of this country, was doubting the rationale for war, distrusting his Commander in Chief and looking for answers. The real Pat Tillman, the one with three dimensions, must stick in the throat of the Bush-Coulter gang, a pit in the cherry atop their bloody sundae.
Tomorrow, if you see Bush walking like a "Boston Virgin," you'll know why.

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Do We Have a Constitution?

The polls are closing in Iraq (here, here, and here), let's hope we have a constitution on which the construction of a unified Iraqi identity can begin.

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Friday, October 14, 2005

When Tony Perkins Objects . . .

You know Bush has gone too far. Tony Perkins, the ultra conservative head of the Family Research Council, has taken issue with Bush’s words of reassurance on Harriet Miers.
"People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers," Bush said Wednesday. "They want to know Harriet Miers' background ... And part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion."
Of course this sounds like BS to liberals, but even Perkins found it hard to swallow.
"We are the last people on Earth to object to the news that she is a committed Christian," Perkins said in a statement. "By the same token, this fact is not grounds for certifying her to us or to the public. ... Inferences drawn from an individual's religious affiliation have no place in decisions to nominate or confirm a judicial appointee."
Unless Bush values his loyalty to Miers more than his standing with fellow Republicans, he should withdraw her nomination. I say this in terms of political strategy. Personally I would be happy to see Miers crash and burn in front of the Senate. I keep hearing that Republicans will close ranks around Miers, but I don’t see that happening so far.

The whole debacle poses an interesting question for Democrats, whose main complaints about Miers have been aimed at her lack of qualification. Do Democrats (and lefties in general) prefer a more qualified, but more conservative candidate? Because if Bush bags Miers, that may well be what we get. On the principle of their objection to Miers (that she’s an idiot) it seems like Democrats would have to take a smarter, more experienced, more conservative pick. But never mind, what do principles have to do with politics anyway?

--Matthew McCoy

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Choreographing Democracy

Apparently, yesterday's teleconference between our Commander-In-Chief and U.S. soldiers in Iraq was choreographed. No big surprise, yet the man behind the curtain says pay no mind, it was all off the cuff. Kevin Drum has snippets of the White House's (untruthful) response to questions of choreography and the AP article that proves they're lying.

If they're going to lie, could the White House have enough respect for the American people to at least do it well. We're getting to the point of a banana republic, where the leaders just do what they want because, well, they can. They have no fear of the people, a quinessential characteristic of a functioning, robust democracy.

Anyway, just keep tellilng yourself...only a little over three years to go...he can't do anything that bad, can he?

POSTSCRIPT: Can't you picture Bush positioned about seven feet away from a map of the Middle East with one dart telling Dick, "Wherever this lands, we're invading."

He throws the dart. It hits Iraq.


"But Mr. President, we already invaded Iraq. Actually we're in a bit of a quagmire there right now."

"Dick, you silly Sally, invade it again...hahaha...Shock and Awe...hahaha...Laura loves the Shock and Awe...did I say that out loud."

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Quote of the Day

I know, I know, it's rather early, but I like this one. Via
[T]he citizen can in no way be the property of the state, and...everyone has the right to go to Hell in their own way.
If only everyone actually believed this .

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Thursday, October 13, 2005


In the wake of the Delphi bankruptcy, the company’s chairman, Robert Miller, is asking unionized employees to do some serious belt-tightening, while management is enjoying a nice perk for a job not so well done.

Miller said Delphi increased severance packages for some top executives just before the bankruptcy filing because he had to act to keep his management team. Miller, whose own pay includes a $3 million signing bonus and a $1.5 million annual salary, said executives had to sign agreements to stay with the company to be eligible for the packages. "They can't quit. We blocked the exit doors," Miller said.

Delphi is demanding wage cuts of 50 percent or more from unionized workers, relief for Delphi's pension and health care bills and more power to close or sell factories.
The disparate fates of the executives and the rank-and-file at Delphi have naturally raised some eyebrows and some voices.

In Michigan, Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm has criticized the severance packages for upper management while Miller is demanding "brutal, draconian pay cuts" for other employees. Ronald A. Gettelfinger, president of United Auto Workers union, called the severance deals a "disgusting spectacle."
No doubt about it, the United Auto Workers union is staring down the barrel of a serious dilemma. Accepting the pay cuts sets a dangerous precedent by letting Delphi use bankruptcy to renege on the terms of a standing contract. Workers will walk away with 50 percent lower wages and the knowledge that during tough economic times, their employer reserves the right to call all bets of. On the other hand, Delphi cannot remain competitive (not that it’s been particularly competitive, having lost $4.75 billion in 2004) without lowering its operating costs. If Delphi continues to pay its workers what it is paying them now, more factories will shut down, leaving more workers jobless.

GM has been behind the times when it comes to automotive innovation. And perhaps if the company was making better cars and selling more of them, Delphi’s economic woes would be ameliorated. But the fact is, in the current era of free trade, American manufacturing simply can’t compete with cheap overseas competition. In his own insensitive way, Miller addressed this dilema.

"I do not blame these people," Miller said. "They are being hurt. Their expectations are being dashed, " Miller said. "Globalization has swept over them and they are extremely angry. They need to lash out at somebody . . . me."
He’s curt, and he’s dismissive about his own role in protecting the livelihood of Delphi’s workers, but there’s a sizable nugget of truth in what he says. Wednesday’s print edition of the Washington Post featured a graphic comparing "Average Manufacturing Wages and Benefits." According to the graphic, the average worker at Delphi earns $65/ hour including wages and benefits. The average car parts manufacturing worker in Mexico earns $3.49/ hour. It doesn’t take an economist to see that in this model of global competition, the American Worker is bound to lose.

There are potential remedies for the plight of American workers, but they’re not going to come from the negotiating table over at Delphi. Some kind of global wage standardization would certainly curb the race to the bottom that we see with outsourcing. But that’s beyond pie in the sky at this point and will remain so until we get around to that whole "workers of the world unite" thing. Until the revolution, the best hope for American workers is the federal government stepping in by creating laws that regulate industry and restrict free trade, making it more difficult for employers to look overseas for cheap labor. Unless there’s some systemic change in the way America does business with the rest of the world, don’t expect to see a reversal of fortune for American workers anytime soon.

--Matthew McCoy

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Bird Flu Migrates West

The NYTs is reporting that the same strain of avian flu that’s killed millions of animals in Asia since 1997 has made its way to European soil. Thousands of birds in Turkey have died of bird flu over the past week, marking the first documented cases of bird flu on the European continent. So far the spreads only through contact with infected animals, but the chance that the strain will undergo a mutation that allows it to pass from person to person has governments developing contingency plans.

Italy, for example, has ordered 35 million euro worth of human anti-flu medicines to protect its population in the event of a human pandemic, and the United States more than $100 million.
But Europe and the United States are not at the great risk for bird flu according to one scientist interviewed for the article, who maintains that veterinary services in western countries are prepared to respond effectively to outbreaks among animals. The bigger concern is Africa, which is distinctly lacking in "surveillance capacity and health systems to orchestrate a swift response." We don’t need to see any further proof that Africa is vulnerable to epidemics. Hopefully European authorities will beat back the spread of bird flu by eradicating the infected bird population. If not, Africa faces the threat of another serious health crisis.

--Matthew McCoy

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He Has the Snow, Man

I'm not the biggest fan of hip-hop in the world, actually it irritates the crap at of me most of the time: especially the way certain stereotypes are perpetuated by selling the thug and drug cultural safari to little, suburban white boys whose only problem is hoping Wal-Mart or their parents won't notice the CD's content.

That said, I appreciate it as an artform that likes to explore the underside of American culture -- sex, drugs, and conspicuous consumption. One or all of which most people desire, even when they're too frightened or coy to admit it. Which brings me to this article by Kelefa Sanneh that explores the rise of gangsta rapper, Jeezy and his wry symbol of self-promotion: the Snowman. Unbeknownst to me, but Jeezy's black t-shirt embossed with a Snowman happens to be the shit within the hip-hop scene right now. And to the surprise of some of those moral T-shirt distributors...that snowman isn't all wet and friendly, but it is powdery. Let Sanneh explain:
The snowman's success is proof that Jeezy has a knack for self-promotion, but it's also an example of the way rappers use coded language to juggle multiple constituencies. A casual observer might see the snowman as just one more improbable hip-hop fashion trend. (Half a decade ago, hip-hop fans bedecked themselves in oversize shirts and sweaters emblazoned with characters from Looney Tunes or "Peanuts.") Some listeners might be willing to accept Jeezy's deadpan explanation that he calls himself the snowman because of all his ice, or diamonds.

But most of his fans have heard Jeezy offer a different explanation for his deceptively cute alter ego. In one of his first hits, he rapped, "Get it? Jeezy the Snowman/I'm iced out, plus I got that snow, man." Jeezy's rhymes are full of cocaine-dealer boasts, and on his CD itself, the snowman rests suggestively atop a pile of something white and powdery. If the gnomic power of the snowman itself isn't enough, some T-shirts come with a quotation that drives the point home: on the back, they say, "I got that snow ... man!"
Don't you enjoy it when old, uptight white men find out the product they're slinging isn't cute and cuddly, but drug-related and depraved? I'm sorry, but I do.

Entrepreneurial capitalism: It isn't about widgets anymore.

But just you remember...where there's a market, there's a way. Jeezy can attest to that with a "Yeyo!"

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Why Talking Head Shows Suck

I found this odd bit of TV wisdom from MSNBC's Joe Scarborough at the conclusion of a NYTs article asking whether or not The Daily Show's spin-off the Colbert Report will boom or burn:
Asked if he had any advice for Mr. Colbert, who will also interview one guest each night, Mr. Scarborough passed on a nugget that he said had been given to him by an MSNBC executive.

"If you let someone talk for more than seven seconds on your show without interruption," he said, "then you are a failure."
Which is why talking head shows like Mr. Scarborough's or, even worse, Bill O'Reily's is the journalistic equivalent of McDonald's -- heavy on fat rhetorical flourishes but light on intellectual nutrition. Moreover, as Noam Chomsky argues, the structure of these shows makes it impossible to argue things like the United States sponsors terrorism or engages in imperialism since the person putting forth the proposition is attacked vigorously throughout, making it impossible to finish a sentence, let alone a well-reasoned argument bolstered by evidence.

Sometimes the truth is buried in little throw away articles like this one.

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Terrorism Love Letter

Via the Office of the Director of National Intelligence:
Today the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a letter between two senior al Qa'ida leaders, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, that was obtained during counterterrorism operations in Iraq. This lengthy document provides a comprehensive view of al Qa'ida's strategy in Iraq and globally.
Get the letter here.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Glimmer of Hope?

Via ABC news:

Iraqi negotiators reached a breakthrough deal on the constitution Tuesday and at least one Sunni Arab party said it would now urge its followers to approve the charter in this weekend's referendum.

Under the deal, the two sides agreed that a commission would be set up to consider amendments to the charter that would then be put to a vote in parliament and then submitted to a new referendum next year.

The agreement would allow the Sunnis to try to amend the constitution to reduce the autonomous powers that Shiites and Kurds would have under the federal system created by the charter, negotiators said.
I give Bush and Co. until tomorrow morning to start heralding this development as another sign of democracy at work. Let’s not get carried away yet, but productive negotiations are definitely a step in the right direction.

--Matthew McCoy

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Debating Iraq

William Shawcross has a contentious opinion piece in the LA Times under the headline “Peace is not the answer,” in which he argues against the likes of Michael Moore and Jane Fonda that the U.S. needs to continue its military effort against the terrorists marauding through Iraq. I agree with some of the points he makes, but others strike as dangerously optimistic. Like this passage:

Iraq was always complex — it is now vibrantly so. Despite the terrorist campaign to kill it, the country has become a school for free expression and for government elected by the people. The dread silence of half a century has given way to millions of opinions — as in the U.S., or any society that sees itself as free.

Sunni negotiators have refused to accept the draft constitution. That is certainly a setback. Now Sunnis' grievances — many of which are valid — need to be addressed peacefully. Fortunately, political discussion never stops. Three hundred conferences on the constitution have been held throughout the country, allowing 50,000 people to express their views. The 150 new, uncensored newspapers, the scores of radio stations and half a dozen TV channels that have been set up are all talking about this and other matters of political progress.
This kind of talk reminds me of Bush’s speeches praising the constitution in Iraq as a sure sign of progress in that country. The advances that Shawcross mentions are all good things, but like Bush, he has a tendency to get caught up in symbolic victories, while conditions on the ground remain as bad as ever.

As I was reading through the Shawcross piece, I started making a mental list of things I’d need to believe to agree with his assessment that a continued U.S. military presence is justified in Iraq. Some of these points are probably redundant, and they are all underdeveloped at this stage. I’m sure Harwood will have some comments. I’ll probably have some amendments and additions of my own. If you think my comments are bullshit, post your own. If all goes well, this will serve as the opening round of a discussion that will span across several upcoming posts.

With that out of the way, here’s a list of things I need to believe before pledging my support for a continuing U.S. military effort in Iraq.

Most important, I’d have to believe that the presence of U.S. troops was stabilizing Iraq. I don’t expect immediate success in a military and diplomatic operation as complicated as this one, but I’d at least like to see a trend in the right direction. Unfortunately, the body count in Iraq suggests that the country is not on the road to stability. Of course there are other measures in addition to the death toll by which we can gauge progress in Iraq. The constitution, for instance, is clearly a step in the right direction, although it looks as though the most significant product of the constitution might be the disenfranchisement of Sunni Iraqis. And besides, the constitution was not a military victory, and not, in and of itself, a reason to advocate the continued presence of American troops.

Second, I’d need to believe that there is no better ways of stabilizing Iraq. Considering that U.S troops are a target for insurgent violent and a source of discontent for frustrated Sunnis, it appears that for all they added security they bring to region, their mere presence exacerbates tensions. Officially, Iraqi forces are slowly taking over control of their country, but this transition of power seems to moving along with no real deadline, much like the operation itself. No matter how long we wait and train Iraqi troops, they’re not going to be as efficient as U.S. forces.

One of the gripes of the Islamo fascist terrorist is that the U.S military effort is a project of Western Imperialism. Now, I agree with Shawcross that terrorists are by no means “freedom fighters” who deserve a place at the negotiating table. Let’s be clear that that these are reprehensible men who have perpetrated heinous acts of violence against their own people and American soldiers. Nonetheless, to disregard the fact that Western policy in the Middle East is a legitimate source of Muslim rage (not a justification for the product of that rage) is unwise. Like it or not, the incensed terrorist blowing themselves up in crowded squares see Iraq as the latest chapter in Western dominance of the Middle East. I’m not saying we should empathize with maniacs, but we should consider more carefully the implications of their skewed world view.

I’ll finish by steering the discussion towards an issue morality. I agree that we owe the Iraqis something. We deposed Saddam Hussein, who we bolstered years before when he was at odds with Iran, and left the country in a state of chaos. Simply walking away from that mess would be beyond irresponsible. Apart from our specific commitment to Iraq, one could argue that as a wealthy and militarily able nation, the U.S. has a responsibility to promote human rights and democracy in embattled nations. I agree with that too. So the United States has a moral commitment to Iraq. But somewhere along the line, we need to weigh our commitment to Iraq against our commitment to American soldiers, who were marched into the Iraq under false pretenses. How many American lives is success in Iraq worth? I’m not sure. But I’d like to see the people who talk about what we owe the Iraqis at least consider what we owe the Americans who are dying over there beside them.

Alright, have at it.

--Matthew McCoy

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Never Miss an Opportunity to Cut Taxes

At the risk of sounding like a callous opportunist, I for one am shocked that Democrats haven’t been able to use Katrina to garner some political leverage. An article in the NYTs today notes how it has been Republicans and not Democrats who have used Katrina to push their agenda.

Conservatives have already used the storm for causes of their own, like suspending requirements that federal contractors have affirmative action plans and pay locally prevailing wages. And with federal costs for rebuilding the Gulf Coast estimated at up to $200 billion, Congressional Republican leaders are pushing for spending cuts, with programs like Medicaid and food stamps especially vulnerable.
Cut services to the poor to rehabilitate the poor in the wake of a disaster. I don’t follow the logic here. Even if lowering the minimum wage and cutting services boosts the rebuilding efforts (which I don’t believe it will) by channeling all available resources into restoring the infrastructure of the Gulf Coast, it ignores the real crux of the Katrina disaster: the middle and upper class got out and the poor didn’t. Homes in the cheapest and poorest parts of the city were destroyed, nicer homes built on high ground survived with less damage. Call me crazy, but I think a legitimate plan for recovery should address the economic disparities at the root of the problem.

I’d say the Republican plan seems misguided, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s right on target: cut taxes, cut services. Isn't that what they were looking to do all along? I guess they’re not worried about looking like callous opportunists either.

--Matthew McCoy

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George and Harriet's Excellent Adventure

To be honest, I don't know much about the judicial branch or its highest court, but I do know cronyism and comedy when I read it. An article in today's NYTs depicts the cozy relationship between our Chief Executive and one of the women that loves him -- Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. Throughout the article is sprinkled little portions of letters Miers had written to Bush over their decades long relationship. Here are some of the more humorous ones:
  • "You are the best governor ever - deserving of great respect," Harriet E. Miers wrote to George W. Bush days after his 51st birthday in July 1997. She also found him "cool," said he and his wife, Laura, were "the greatest!" and told him: "Keep up the great work. Texas is blessed."
  • On March 25, on the letterhead of her Dallas law firm, Locke Purnell Rain Harrell, Ms. Miers wrote to thank him "for taking the time to visit in the office and on the plane back - cool!"
  • "Hopefully Jenna and Barbara recognize that their parents are 'cool' - as do the rest of us."
It's good to see that the President has chosen someone with as limited a vocabulary as his. She's like the ugly chick in high school that fawns over the quarterback and his cheerleader girlfriend.

And can't you just wait to read the NYTs choice selects from a future Supreme Court ruling now:
Justice Harriet B. Miers, Dissenting Opinion: The majority opinion in this case is bogus! They are so not cool!
Where's Rufus? Cause we're in dire need of a Brandeis right now.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Indecent Judicial Behavior

Look, seriously go to this post from OutsidetheWhale... HILARIOUS. I don't want to give anything else away. It's that funny.

Good work guys.

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Wish I Had Wrote/Said It

Salman Rushdie on Bill Maher last Friday:
"That old-fashioned philosopher Karl Marx used to say that religion was the opiate of the masses. Now it's the crystal meth of the masses."
Man, that's T-shirt worthy. Well if you had a fatwa declared wanting your head, you'd be a bit skeptical of the faithful's good intentions too.

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Tell Us What You Really Think

Over at Slate, Christopher Hitchens just blasts the nomination of Harriet Miers and, gasp, argues there should be a religious test (meaning the Constitution trumps your faith everytime) for Supreme Court nominees. As Hitchens argues, for anyone to disagree is rather hypocritical, especially on the Right, considering Miers may have been chosen precisely due to her reactionary religious credentials. Indeed, there is much disagreement on her "credentials" on the Right, thus proving the President's base is clamoring for a religious test to these nominees, nay, fundamentalists -- I won't even attach the euphemism "evangelical" to them. Much too pleasant.

But I'm getting away from what I wanted to post, this selection from Hitchens' piece. He gives no quarter to our fundamentalist foes.
Either Miers takes her faith seriously, in which case it must be her life's mission to redeem those who have not accepted Jesus as their savior, or she does not, in which case she is a vapid and posturing hypocrite. And either she is nominated in order to gratify a political constituency, whose leaders such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family seem to have had advance notice, or she is not, in which case the president could see no further than his own kitchen Cabinet in searching for merit. So, the whole exercise is a disgusting insult.

And here is what you could not say and hope to receive the sacrament of nomination:

Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. You will naturally examine, first, the religion of your own country. Read the Bible, then, as you would Livy or Tacitus. … Those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. … I forgot to observe, when speaking of the New Testament, that you should read all the histories of Christ, as well as of those whom a council of ecclesiastics have decided for us, to be Pseudo-Evangelists, as those they named Evangelists.

That was Thomas Jefferson writing to his nephew Peter Carr on Aug. 10, 1787. But what is honest skepticism—and a regard for evidence and logic—when set against the profession of a mere "faith" that neither demands nor offers any evidence of any kind? And this latter "qualification" is now urged upon us with special fervor in the selection of—a judge.
It's good someone out there in the media has the nuts to argue verociously against superstition and for reason while maintaining morality doesn't stem from a questionable book where its questionable morality is second only to its depravity.

I have no problem with those who believe in God, but when a band of fundamentalists tries to alter the basic conception of our society -- secular, yet tolerant of all beliefs -- I must dissent and merely hold up the First Amendment of our fair Constitution separating church from state. To allow the likes of Miers and Roberts onto the Supreme Court is, pardon the expression, a bit like letting the foxes into the chicken coop.

I hope I only exaggerate the threat to our country, a republic based on law, not the private, unprovable beliefs of its highest court.

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The European Swamp

Via the NYTs:
On a damp, gray day in March 2004, the Dutch traffic police stopped a Belgian driver for a broken headlight and accidentally stumbled onto a major investigation of Islamic radicals.

The driver was Khalid Bouloudo, a sometime baker and former Ford autoworker born in Belgium. During a routine check, his name turned up on an Interpol watch list, for an international arrest warrant from Morocco charging him with links to a terrorist organization based in Morocco and involvement in suicide bombings in Casablanca in 2003.

The random arrest set in motion a cascade of events that underscored the extent of the radicalization of young Muslims throughout Europe - and a rapidly expanding and homegrown terrorist threat.
This is a very good article demonstrating the scope and breath of terrorist incubation throughout Europe. Although, I have no real evidence, you'd have to assume the same phenomenon is occurring throughout the United States as well. If you get a chance, check out Peter Bergen's Holy War Inc. and you'll find many instances of al-Qaeda successfully recruiting Americans, mainly blacks it seems, toward jihad against the U.S. and the "loathsome" West.

The scary thing in the Belgian case is that the Morrocan community, where the Islamism has cropped up, has been fairly integrated into Belgian society and aren't victims of xenophobia or crushing poverty. Are we witnessing a new phase in Islamism's evolution, whereby mere common Islamic identity spawns new recruits and a terrorist fifth column within the West?

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Tragedy of Good Advice Gone Unheeded

Presently, I'm trying to shovel out from underneath an avalanche of reading I have to do for my International Security Studies' courses. One of the better ways to cheat is to read the various review articles of the books if you can.

Employing this strategy, I came upon this interview with my teacher Professor Paul Wilkinson of St. Andrews, written only six days after 9/11. Within Wilkinson discussed the strategy that the U.S. should use to combat al-Qaeda if it wanted to maintain the moral high ground and harm the terrorists without making their recruiting goals easier.

Sadly, everything Wilkinson argued for, was disregarded by our wise foreign policy apparatus. I reprint the article down below, it's quite disconcerting considering he predicted our sorry state of affairs if the U.S. relied mainly on force. Anyway, Paul Wilkinson is another case of the tragedy of good advice gone unheeded. (I know some of you may think I'm brown-nosing here, but fear not: Do you think such a eminent soul such as Wilkinson would debase himself and read such a nasty, filthy little blog like Woodshavings? I don't think so.)

Copyright 2003 The Christian Science Publishing Society
Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA)

March 6, 2003, Thursday


LENGTH: 944 words

HEADLINE: His answer to terrorism lies not in war

BYLINE: By Christopher Andreae Special to The Christian Science Monitor


"We must try to find ways of dealing with terrorism in the dangerous world we live in," says Paul Wilkinson, "which do not actually spark off a war that could lead to a set of chain reactions of a truly disastrous nature."

Professor Wilkinson is a widely respected British terrorism expert. He is professor of international relations at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. In his most recent book, "Terrorism Versus Democracy," he argues (as he has for three decades) that terrorism should and can be effectively combated in ways that are compatible with the laws and values that operate in liberal democracies.
The phrase "war on terrorism" was, he says, understandable as a response to 9/11, "but if you use a phrase like that, it does create an expectation among some people that there is a solution to terrorism that is entirely military."

Wilkinson is not a pacifist, and says well-trained military forces sometimes must be used to attack terrorists when police forces cannot cope. But the better way to tackle the problem is "by the less glamorous, less dramatic form of counter-terrorism - through intelligence, good intelligence-sharing, getting such good information on the intentions and plans of the group that you can intervene before they carry out their attacks."

These, he argues, "are the patient and ultimately safe ways of dealing with such terrible crimes."

Wilkinson, who speaks quickly, logically, and calmly, is not some dusty, detached academic. Since 1989, he has directed the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St. Andrews, and is now chairman of its advisory council. He serves as a consultant to governments including his own, the United States, Canada, The Netherlands, Germany, and Australia. He is currently heading a two-year research project funded by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council on Britain's preparedness for future terrorist attacks.

A sense of proportion about the threat is vital, he says.

"I always point out that although terrorism is an evil and lots of people unfortunately lose their lives - including many civilians - through terrorism, it is not as terrible an evil as major wars in which hundreds of thousands and possibly millions can be killed.

"We have to be very careful," he says, "that we do not bring about those wider and more terrible conflicts of potential mass annihilation in the process of trying to suppress terrorism. That would be a tragic folly."

On this basis, he adds his voice to those of other terrorism analysts concerned that a war on Iraq by the West is bound to work against, not for, the world's "war on terrorism." He does not predict an intensification of terrorism merely as a "short term" result: In his estimation, Al Qaeda remains no "minor threat" but "a very big problem." A more urgent problem than Iraq, in fact.

He also maintains that Iraq and Al Qaeda are separate issues. "Al Qaeda does not depend on Iraq, and would continue in business regardless of what happens in the conflict."

But Al Qaeda will exploit a war on Iraq, a Muslim country, using it to excite even greater enmity between the United States and the Islamic world, gaining recruits for its ruthless jihad. Wilkinson is certain there is no real evidence of any partnership between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

Before 9/11, Wilkinson edited a book on the need to deal more effectively with aviation terrorism. He still believes security in the air, though improved in some ways, is far from perfect.

Terrorists will doubtless use or target civilian aviation again, he says, not to mention the maritime sphere, diplomatic facilities, and so on.

He emphasizes that the study of terrorism must be carried out within the larger framework of international relations. To make war on Iraq now will look to the Muslim world like unprovoked aggression by the West - even if it is based on "a Utopian vision" of a reordered, democratized Middle East.

He calls that vision "curiously grandiose," and likens the desire to reshape the world in the West's image to the desire of some Muslim fundamentalists to do just the opposite. "But the world, you know, isn't like that," he says. "The world is full of diverse interests and countries and groups, and religious groups which have their own values and desires and expectations."

The arrogance of the US position, he fears, is due to "a virtually fundamentalist, hawkish group" taking the driver's seat on antiterrorism policy.
In fact, he says, a war on Iraq "may simply deflect the efforts of the major Allies" from their attempts to beat terrorism.

Wilkinson does believe that formerly terrorist organizations can become legitimate, if they decide to enter politics and abandon violence. "Terrorism is an activity. It's not a permanent state of mind," he says. "Most of the significant perpetrators have also had political fronts, social and economic activities, guerrilla war, simultaneously."

"Some Basques, some Irish, some Palestinians have abandoned [terrorism] and decided to enter into a political process," he says. "Some have stood by the idea and have become legitimate political players.

As to whether the West is making progress against terrorism, and Al Qaeda in particular, he says, "There have been some quiet but nevertheless significant advances in intelligence cooperation among Europeans and between Europeans and Americans. And there is evidence that some rather nasty conspiracies have been thwarted.

"But that doesn't mean we can relax," he says. "We are far from having filled the deficit of intelligence that we had prior to 9/11."

(c) Copyright 2003. The Christian Science Monitor

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Unintended Consequence?

The only positive thing that could have come from yesterday's earthquake that savaged Pakistan and India is that it originated in the Hindu Kush mountain area and maybe, just maybe, could have killed Osama Bin Laden. It would be a fitting and ironic end if Nature, or Allah, did what Bush couldn't.

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Deepest Sympathies

Here at Woodshavings we'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the massive suffering and dislocation wrought by the earthquake yesterday that ripped apart much of Pakistan and India leaving over 18,000 dead. Words are a poor way of expressing our deepest human sympathies. Therefore, I propose a moment of silence for the dead and the survivors...who may wish they were among the former.

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Avian Flu

On Friday, HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt chaired the first meeting of the American Health Information Community (AHIC), a 16-member panel assembled to advise the Secretary on the development of a national system of electronic health records. As far as American health policy goes, AHIC is a pretty hot topic.

So considering the buzz around the AHIC, it was surprising to see Secretary Leavitt excuse himself before the group’s inaugural meeting had adjourned, announcing that he had to "meet with the President." What was so important that it couldn’t wait another few hours? Avian Flu.

News of a possible Avian Flu pandemic has been simmering around the second and third pages of major newspapers for awhile, but this morning it broke through to the front page of the NYTs whose reporters managed to get hold of the newly created "Pandemic Influenza Strategic Plan." As the NYTs reports, the plan shows that the U.S. "woefully unprepared for what could become the worst disaster in the nation's history."

I’m not saying we should panic yet. At present, Avian Flu is confined to South East Asia. According to the NYTs article,

It has infected more than 100 people, about 60 of whom have died, but nearly all of these victims got the disease directly from birds. An epidemic is only possible when a virus begins to pass easily among humans.
Nonetheless, I think the Administration is more worried about Avian Flu than it initially let on. Leavitt is leading a team on a ten-day trip of South East Asia. Bush is meeting with the chiefs of major vaccine producers. Whether or not Avian Flu is potentially a global crisis, the Administration is treating it like one.

I leave you with the Times’ description of the Strategic Plan.

Much of the plan is a dry recitation of the science and basic bureaucratic steps that must be followed as a virus races around the globe. But the plan has the feel of a television movie-of-the-week when it describes a possible pandemic situation that begins, "In April of the current year, an outbreak of severe respiratory illness is identified in a small village."

"Twenty patients have required hospitalization at the local provincial hospital, five of whom have died from pneumonia and respiratory failure," the plan states.

The flu spreads and begins to make headlines around the world. Top health officials swing into action and isolate the new viral strain in laboratories. The scientists discover that "the vaccine developed previously for the avian strain will only provide partial protection," the plan states.

In June, federal health officials find airline passengers infected with the virus "arriving in four major U.S. cities," the plan states. By July, small outbreaks are being reported around the nation. It spreads.

As the outbreak peaks, about a quarter of workers stay home because they are sick or afraid of becoming sick. Hospitals are overwhelmed.

"Social unrest occurs," the plan states. "Public anxiety heightens mistrust of government, diminishing compliance with public health advisories." Mortuaries and funeral homes are overwhelmed.
Scary Stuff.

--Matthew McCoy

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Friday, October 07, 2005

NYTs Weighs In

The NYT's editorial board has also weighed in on the President's lackluster speech yesterday. They are rightly harsh in their criticism.
Yesterday was an ideal moment for Mr. Bush to demonstrate that he was really in control of his administration. He could have taken any one of a number of pressing worries and demonstrated that he was on the job, re-examining the problems, working on answers. For instance, he could have addressed the crisis facing the overstretched military due to the endless demands made by Iraq on both the Army and the beleaguered National Guard.

The speech came one day after the White House threatened to veto a bill onto which the Senate added a ban on the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" against prisoners of the American government. This president could not find the spine to veto a bloated transportation bill that included wildly wasteful projects like the now-famous "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska. What kind of priorities does that suggest? If we ever needed the president to demonstrate that he has a working understanding of exactly where he wants to take this country, we need it now.

The president's inability to grow beyond his big moment in 2001 is unnerving. But the fact that his handlers continue to encourage him to milk 9/11 is infuriating. For most of us, the memories are fresh and painful. We mourn the people who died on Sept. 11, as we mourn Daniel Pearl and other Americans, not to mention innocents from other countries, who were murdered by terrorists. The administration's penchant for using them as political cover is offensive. It threatens to turn our wounds, and our current fears, into cynical and desperate spin.

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Victory Means What?

Fred Kaplan of Slate has an excellent critique of President Bush's morning speech yesterday at the National Endowment for Democracy, where he stated:
"We will never back down, never give in, and never accept anything less than complete victory [in Iraq]."
As Kaplan astutely asks, what exactly IS complete victory? The President never explained.

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Oooeww! The Grand Canyon

According to the NYTs, if you float down the Colorado River between the Grand Canyon, you have two choices as tour guides: creationist fundamentalists or good ole' scientists. Let's see if you can the tell the difference between the two.

  1. "You see any cracks in that?" he asked. "Instead of bending like that, it should have cracked." The material "had to be soft" to bend, Mr. Vail said, imagining its formation in the flood. When somebody suggested that pressure over time could create plasticity in the rocks, Mr. Vail said, "That's just a theory."
  2. "Look at the weathering, look at the size of the pieces," Eugenie C. Scott... "To a standard geologist, to somebody who actually studies geology, this just shouts out at you: This is really old; this is really gradual."
Can you pick who's the person with absolutely no evidence for his claim and the other one that actually has scientific, geological evidence for his/her contention?

Of course you can: Mr. Vail's the nut without any credentials, while Eugenie C. Scott's the one with the fancy-pantsy degree that actually says she studied something other than her fantasies.

As quote #1 shows, Mr. Vail is what you get when you combine Biblical fundamentalism and hippie culture -- religious righteousness and a bad beard. Getting away from ad hominem attacks though, you'll notice that once again a Biblical fundamentalist doesn't understand the difference between the everyday usage of "theory" and its scientific equivalent. They all seem to forget that a scientific theory means a whole bunch of scientists have looked over the same evidence and arguments while conducting similar experiments and couldn't debunk the theory. That's big stuff considering if you can debunk something that has risen to the level of scientific theory, you usually win prestigious awards and get your name in a bunch of fancy journals. Let's just say that Mr. Vail's name won't be appearing in any of them anytime soon. Yet, it would be nice if he would at least give credence to that most supernatural of events: erosion.

I kid the creationists -- that Bible does move mountains.

Wait a minute, no I don't, especially when this drivel comes out of their mouths.
To Kathryn Crotts, 56, a pastor's wife from Greensboro, N.C. , touching the canyon's basement rock was a spiritual moment.

"In the book of Genesis, it talks about God walking the face of the earth," Mrs. Crotts explained. "Maybe His footprints are there."
I know where I want to leave footprints and it isn't on the earth's surface at this moment.

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Watch Your Neck

What's better than Must See TV, well, al-Qaeda TV of course. According to the JPost, al-Qaeda has launched its very own internet broadcast.
The new TV channel is called Sawt Al-Khilafah (Voice of the Caliphate), a reference to the Islamic empire that emerged after the death of the prophet Muhammad. One of Osama bin Laden's declared goals is to reestablish the empire that once stretched from Turkey to Spain.
The name really inspires belief in al-Qaeda's credentials as liberation fighters.

But the worst development was the message contained in a recent broadcast.
Al-Qaida's new Internet TV channel on Wednesday branded Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas a "collaborator with the Jews," accusing him of assisting Israel in its war on Hamas.

The attack on Abbas is the first of its kind by Al-Qaida and is seen by some Palestinians as an indication of the terror organization's growing involvement in Palestinian affairs.

PA officials in Ramallah expressed fear that Al-Qaida was seeking to undermine Abbas by inciting against him through its broadcasts.

"This is a very dangerous development," said a senior official. "Al-Qaida and other Islamic terror groups are trying to replace the Palestinian Authority with a radical regime."
So the writing's on the wall and Abbass should watch his back because an attempt on his life cannot be far behind.

And for all those that are slightly amused when al-Qaeda's statements correspond to the Religious Right's in the U.S., this one's for you. According to Voice of the Caliphate:
"[T]he wrath of Allah [Katrina] visited the city of homosexuals [New Orleans]" and "the entire Islamic world overflowed with joy."
Hey, what's a little gay-bashing between enemies anyway?

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Paradox of the New Conservative

A quick word on Harwood’s last post, concerning the paradox of the new conservative. It always strikes me as hypocritical to see Republicans play the states’ rights card when it suits their agenda and disregard it when it doesn’t. For example, abortion should be an issue left to the states, but we need a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Doesn’t make much sense as a consistent logical framework.

But the conservative position of sometimes states’ rights/sometimes federal mandate is only paradoxical if you assume that its proponents begin with a broad political philosophy (e.g. the federal government should generally defer to state legislatures, except in matters concerning national welfare, safety, commerce, etc.) from which they derive the planks of their platform. In reality, just the opposite is happening. Conservatives are starting with their beliefs (homosexuality is immoral, abortion is immoral, business interests trump environmental concerns) and working retroactively to design a philosophy of government to justify them. It’s only natural that a philosophy designed in this way comes out looking inconsistent.

Harwood’s right when he suggests that the infusion of Christian conservatism has a lot to do with the Republican flip-flopping on the issue of states’ rights. Christian conservatism is at the heart of the paradox of the new conservative. Indeed, the party that once worked for limited government now requires a robust and active federal government to push its moral agenda through the states.

Yes, we are living in a bizzaro world of American politics where free market libertarians and born again Christians seek refuge under the mantle of the same political party. Strange days.

--Matthew McCoy

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The Right to Die

There's a good defense of Oregon's right to die law by the editorial page of the NYT's today, which will be the first case heard by Chief Justice Roberts' Supreme Court.
[T]he Supreme Court should make clear that Oregon, and all states, have the right to allow terminally ill people to end their lives with a maximum of dignity and a minimum of pain.
Damn right. It's always amazing to me how conservatives' defense of states' rights runs into the hardwood of the crucifix when their political ideology conflicts with their theological beliefs.

All I know is that if I'm ever terminal, I want my decision to end my own life to be respected and carried through. Period. End of story.

Heaven can wait.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Gaming the Constitutional Vote

I know I'm hours and hours behind on this, but Kurdish and Shiite representatives have apparently gamed the Oct. 15th vote on Iraq's Constitution. Here's how they did it:
Under the new rules, the constitution will fail only if two-thirds of all registered voters - rather than two-thirds of all those actually casting ballots - reject it in at least three of the 18 provinces.

The change, adopted during an unannounced vote in Parliament on Sunday afternoon, effectively raises the bar for those who oppose the constitution. Given that fewer than 60 percent of registered Iraqis voted in the January elections, the chances that two-thirds will both show up at the polls and vote against the document in three provinces would appear to be close to nil...Ms. [Maryam]Reyes [ a Shiite] said the assembly members had not changed election law, but only clarified the meaning of the word "voters" in the relevant passage. The legal passage in question states: "The general referendum will be successful and the draft constitution ratified if a majority of voters in Iraq approve and if two-thirds of voters in three or more governorates do not reject it."

In their vote on Sunday, the Shiite and Kurdish members interpreted the law as follows: the constitution will pass if a majority of ballots are cast for it; it will fail if two-thirds of registered voters in three or more provinces vote against it. In other words, the lawmakers designated two different meanings for the word "voters" in one passage.
Sometimes it seems the Kurds and Shiites are just asking for a full-blown civil war to break out. This is the rub of democracy, even when you don't like the opposition, you must give them a seat at the table if the system is to fair, transparent, and representative of the body politic. Minority rights are critical to a liberal, republican democracy. I wonder if the Kurds and Shiites have been getting lessons from Karl Rove on how to schmooze the opposition into "giving up ground," which in Rovian terms means keeping them out of the political process altogether.

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Alexander Hamilton on Harriet Miers

Well, actually it’s the WSJ opinion page invoking the philosophy of Hamilton, but the analysis is sound. Arguing against the nomination of Miers, Randy Barnett quotes a passage from Federalist No. 76:

"To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. . . . He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure."
That’s a pretty clear argument against cronyism and a pretty strong statement about the Senate’s role in checking it. Granted, this passage comes from the Federalist Papers and not the Constitution, but the “original intent” diehards on the right love buttressing their constitutional philosophy with secondary documents like this one. So this poses an interesting conflict for Senate Republicans who want to remain true to the “vision” of the founders while holding the party line. Of course, there is no conflict if the Senate deems Miers eminently “qualified” for the position, but so far that looks like a stretch. Here’s a quick sketch of Miers’ unimpressive career.

Barnett claims that cronyism is problematic for two specific reasons, namely, “because it leads to less qualified judges, but also because we want a judiciary with independence from the executive branch.” I agree, and would even go so far as to say that these two negative elements of cronyism potentially exacerbate one another.

A refined constitutional philosophy developed over years of wrestling with constitutional law and precedent is a Justice’s best defense against the caprice of the legislative and executive branch. It provides a solid foundation for decision making that lends the Supreme Court the stability it needs to protect the rule of law when hotheaded ideologues fire upon it. Say what you want about Roberts’ opinions (I’ve said plenty) but I don’t think he’s the type to be swayed by pressures from the other two branches of government. Based on what I’ve read, I don’t have nearly as much faith in Miers.

So if we assume that Miers does not have the cloak of independence offered by a strong constitutional philosophy (The fact that she has never written about constitutional law and never practiced constitutional law makes this a safe assumption.) then her close connection to the Bush Administration is all the more dangerous. Can we expect a years-long friend and confidant of the president to suddenly achieve objectivity on the high court, with nothing more than a newfound, overwhelming power to guide her? It's an awfully big chance to take.

As the philosopher Keith Buckley said, “The warrior with the deadliest weapon is the one without an instruction manual for his gun.” I think 1/9 of the decision making power on the Supreme Court is some pretty heavy artillery to hand over to someone who may or may not know how to use it. That’s something Republicans and Democrats should be worried about.

--Matthew McCoy

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Words of Hope

For some reason I'm feeling hopeful today, a state of mind that runs counter to my normally pessimistic existential angst. Whew, say that 5x's fast. In this state of utter delight, I just wanted to post a quotation from the American radical democrat, Thomas Paine, whose democratic principles always elevate me when fear of the future presses down upon me. So here it goes:
"We have it in our power to begin the world anew."
What I always loved about this quote is its total belief in the indefatigability of the human spirit as it reaches for freedom, equality, and a better tomorrow. Somewhere in the bowels of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the wider Middle East and Near East, there are radical democrats pushing the boundaries of their respective societies toward openness and democracy in the spirit of Thomas Paine. It is up to the privileged West to give them the resources and help they need to make their dreams a reality -- a foreign policy that Paine believed was the U.S.'s destiny.

Can the U.S. reorient its foreign policy towards this ideal? I'm skeptical, but it's what all us lowly leftist writers should be advocating nonetheless.

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Miers and Abortion

Check out this find by Garance Franke-Ruta of TAPPED -- Miers might not be so moderate after all.

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Of the Peanut Farmer and Peanut Brained President

I have an idea for Bush Administration relating back to McCoy's post about the Bush Administration's new cartoon character, the Energy Hog. Why don't they just bring back Jimmy Carter and his sweater? Oh yeah, I forgot that the pessimism of his plea to wear a sweater rather than make our abodes a comfortable 72 degrees earned him a U-Haul out of the White House.

I can only hope Bush's stupid approach will make his popularity rating so low that it infects the GOP and they lose the 2006 elections, once again bringing commonsensical approaches to critical issues like energy policy. I can hope, can't I?

POSTSCRIPT: Also, Democrats should listen to McCoy and push for tax cuts for those people who use energy efficiently and responsibly, whether that be driving hybrid cars or installing solar panels. For a good introduction to the economic feasibility of going green, check out Natural Capitalism.

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Bush the Conservationist

Via Reuters:

With U.S. heating bills expected to hit record highs this winter, the Bush administration on Monday dusted off mostly old energy conservation tips and urged consumers to add home insulation and turn down thermostats.

Critics said the conservation tips were nothing new and the administration was only trying to protect itself from consumer complaints this winter over high utility bills.
Sounds about right.

This seems like a great time to push tax credits for people who buy hybrid cars or install solar panels on their homes, a great time to channel public concern over energy consumption towards long-term solutions. That’s not going to come from the Bush camp though.

But here’s my favorite part of the story

To help sell the conservation campaign, the administration will use its new cartoon figure, the Energy Hog, to warn consumers about wasting energy. Hoping to have the same impact as Smokey Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog, the government's Energy Hog — a pig wearing blue jeans and a leather jacket — will soon appear in magazines and on billboards.
And you though Bush didn’t have good energy policy.

--Matthew McCoy

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More Cronyism

Ezra Klein makes a good point over at TAPPED concerning Bush's nomination of Harriet E. Miers for the Supreme Court:
This is cronyism. It should be called that. And all Democrats who ignore it because Miers isn't that bad should be quickly and forcefully reminded of one Mike Brown and the hand they had in confirming him.

I have one additional comment on this. With his overt policy of preemption as a legitimate tool of foreign policy combined with his fortuitous ability to stack the Supreme Court, George Bush may be the early 21st century version of a conservative counterpart to FDR in his ability to shake-up the status quo. And remember, I don't think that's a good thing.

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Strong Condemnation

Not to be all "on" Christopher Hitchens, but he has a strong op-ed today on Slate. The ending is worth quoting at length.
Consider this, look again at the awful carnage in Bali, and shudder if you ever said, or thought, that the bombs in London in July, or the bombs in Baghdad every day, or the bombs in Bali last Friday, are caused by any "policy" but that of the bombers themselves. Note the following:

1) East Timor was for many years, and quite rightly, a signature cause of the Noam Chomsky "left." The near-genocide of its people is an eternal stain on Indonesia and on the Western states that were complicit or silent. Yet Bin Ladenism wants not less of this killing and repression but more. Its demand to re-establish the caliphate is a pro-imperialist demand, not an anti-imperialist one.

2) Random bombings are not a protest against poverty and unemployment. They are a cause of poverty and unemployment and of wider economic dislocation.

3) Hinduism is considered by Bin Ladenists to be a worse heresy even than Christianity or Judaism or Shiism, and its adherents, whether in Bali or Kashmir, are fit only for the edge of the sword. So, it is absurd to think of jihadism—which murders the poor and the brown without compunction—as a movement against the rich and the "white."

So, what did Indonesia do to deserve this, or bring it on itself? How will the slaughter in Bali improve the lot of the Palestinians? Those who look for the connection will be doomed to ask increasingly stupid questions and to be content with increasingly wicked answers.
I don't totally agree with Hitchens here. Western imperialism combined with Islamic fanaticism certainly has played a role in increasing terrorism since 9/11. In most of Bin Laden's communiques to the outside world, he asserts the presence of U.S. troops throughout the Middle East and support for corrupt dictatorships as provocation for his attacks. So, naturally, there is a political element to all of this. The question "why?" is still a good one, if it allows the West, specifically the U.S., to formulate policies that dilute the legitimate hatred and rage caused by Western interference throughout the Middle East for the last century. Essentially this means the U.S. needs to lean on Saudi Arabia and Egypt to become more democratic while assuring both Iraqis and the broader Middle East that they have no plans for permanent military bases on Iraqi soil.

My problem though, which makes me continuously lean to Hitchen's side, is that if U.S. foreign policy was geared around promoting democratization and economic integration (and this a sketchy subject because the U.S. does promote liberal democracy in some places, most of the time much too late ex. East Timor and now Lebanon)Bin Laden and his fanatical Islamist cohorts would still be our enemies. As Hitchens argues rightly, Bin Laden and al Qaeda are seeking to resurrect the caliphate, which would cover the region associated with the Ottoman Empire. Being the humanitarian that he is, Bin Laden, or whatever miscreant that climbed Holy War Inc.'s ladder, would govern the caliphate according to sharia law. Basically, you so don't want to be born gay or as a woman and I'd argue that whoever or whatever you are, you wouldn't want to be born at all.

So if the choice is between an iffy democratic capitalist world lorded over by the United States or a brutal, reactionary imperial theocracy bent on retaking the Middle East and beyond, I'm pretty sure much of the world would pick the former, not the latter. Therefore, it's incumbent upon the United States now to show the world why an U.S. led international system is better -- more stable, more tolerant, more prosperous -- than any of their competitors, whether it be China or the delusional fanatics of Islamic franchise terror.

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