Wednesday, November 30, 2005

When We Can Head Home...

The White House has just released its "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." I only skimmed the Executive Summary, but its a multipronged strategy that most importantly aims at separating the undeterrables from those insurgents willing to enter the political process. This maybe the most important of all goals because it will show what the likes of Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia want for the people of Iraq. Our best bet for large troop withdrawals will be whether or not we can isolate these fanatics from the general population and then detain or destroy them accordingly with the support of everyday Iraqis. When we make headway here, then most of our troops will be heading home.

More on this later...

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I Know I'm a Shill...

...for Christopher Hitchens, but this one on "the perils of withdrawal" is a must read. Here's a bit of an enticement though, Hitchens on the right time to split:
The perfect solution was hinted at by President Jalal Talabani on his last trip to Washington, several weeks before Rep. Murtha spoke up. He said he looked forward to the day when American troops could be withdrawn, and he said so plainly enough for the White House to issue a slightly nervous clarification about "deadlines." Iraq is not "occupied" by men like Talabani: He is a true son of the country and used to be a genuine insurgent at the head of an authentic peoples' army. It would be wonderful if an elected Iraqi government and parliament—which is thinkable after this December—took the decision to thank the coalition and to invite it to fold its tent and depart. But anyone who thinks that this would stop the madness of jihad need only look at Afghanistan, where a completely discredited and isolated minority continues to use suicide-murder as a tactic and a strategy. How strange that the anti-war left should have forgotten all of its Marxism and superciliously ignored the fact that oil is blood: lifeblood for Iraqis and others. Under Saddam it was wholly privatized; now it can become more like a common resource. But it will need to be protected against those who would shed it and spill it without compunction, and we might as well become used to the fact. With or without a direct Anglo-American garrison, there is an overwhelming humanitarian and international and civilizational interest in defeating the Arab Khmer Rouge that threatens Mesopotamia, and if we could achieve agreement on that single point, the other disagreements would soon disclose themselves as being of a much lesser order.
Now I have to say Chris leaves out one thing concerning Iraq's oil. If the U.S. and the Iraqi government do win, there won't be Iraqi oil, there'll be U.S. multinational corporate control of Iraq's oil, with the benefits mainly sucked up by the Iraqi elite and U.S. oil companies. Nevertheless, that doesn't invalidate his argument one iota.

I, like Hitchens, can't understand why the anti-war left still can't get it into their skulls that we actually are fighting terrorists in Iraq now. Sure it was a self-fullfilling prophecy to a large extent, our attack was the chum in the water for the sharks to start calling, but that doesn't mean we should withdraw from Iraq now and give Al-Qaeda and other Islamists another post-Soviet Afghanistan in which to breed and infest the wider Middle-East. Sure, the U.S. has many strategic and self-interested motives in its war on Iraq -- damn I'll call it what I always have and always will: imperialism -- but an American withdrawal would be giving Al-Qaeda another fabulous triumph over another superpower, thereby proving in their minds they are one step closer to the Caliphate they so desire. It would be in fact replacing a "liberal imperialism" with all its blood and guts with another imperialism with all its blood and guts. The difference is that with the former the Iraqi people are facing a superpower that voices progressivism, even if it doesn't follow what it preaches internationally. Regardless, it is constrained by voicing such liberal values, while those same values can be used against it to expand rights within Iraq. Hypocrisy's not good for PR and Iraq will eventually win the full democratic rights it deserves if it so desires them. The latter though will give the Iraqi people what they've already suffered for three decades -- poverty, torture, and death. The only slight variation will be their new dungeon will come thanks to divine dictates, not a dictator's sense of his own historical divinity.

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Monday, November 28, 2005

Moral Anxiety Squared

Hell, who am I to judge, but it seems the frequency of repeat abortions is increasing. Yet while I'm not comfortable passing judgement on any of these women, I have to say I'm not happy about this and the laissez faire attitude typical liberals take on this issue irritates me to no end. "It's not a child, it's a fetus." Whatever you say to yourself to make that sourness taste sweet, my friend.

With my two cents spent, here's TAPPED's Garance Franke-Ruta on this thorny issue and the wrenching and, let's be honest, wretched decision made by too many women today a second time.

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Next Left

My old stomping ground, The Washington Monthly, has an issue entirely devoted to a new progressivism for the 21st century. Check it out here. The one thing missing from their apt analysis and prescriptions is worker democracy. I know, I know, very commie Harwood, but hear me out. Democracy's a lie if you have to cede it for 8 to 10 hours of your conscious existence while you labor. There's no reason why workers can't be empowered and for businesses to still make profits in the process. It should be symbiotic.Actually there's a good example with W.L. Gore Associates, who manufactures Gore-tex, that worker democracy in post-industrial companies actually increases productivity and profits. So basically what I'm arguing is that capitalism in the macro view may actually be inviolable, yet there's no reason why socialism can't apply intra-firm. Wealth within companies should be distributed as equally as possible to increase society's equality overall. We all know CEOs don't deserve the salaries they make, so why know take the excess wealth and give it to joe nobody down in marketing.

Worker democracy is the future of the left, if we're smart enough and tough enough to take up its mantle.

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The Christmas Spirit

Friday, November 25, 2005

The U.S. Against the Universe

According to former Canadian Defense Minister Paul Hellyer, the U.S. is not satisfied with ruling this earth, but has staked its claim to rule the universe and will start a preventative war against ETs. If you're not a sci-fi geek or a Spielberg fanatic, then ET means "extra-terrestrial."
The United States military are preparing weapons which could be used against the aliens, and they could get us into an intergalactic war without us ever having any warning. He stated, "The Bush administration has finally agreed to let the military build a forward base on the moon, which will put them in a better position to keep track of the goings and comings of the visitors from space, and to shoot at them, if they so decide.
Naturally, his speech ended with a standing ovation at the University of Toronto. And people say the Bush Administration isn't part of the "reality based community."

Why would Hellyer risk his reputation as a rational human being, knowing his credibility was on the line? I'll let him explain:
I'm so concerned about what the consequences might be of starting an intergalactic war, that I just think I had to say something.
The air up there is thin, eh. As the likes of Mike Myers, Colin Mochrie, John Candy, and the Kids in the Hall attest, Canadians are very skilled at one thing: Making Americans laugh.

Paul Hellyer, intergalatic whistleblower and ET diplomat, we Americans salute you.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

That Radical From Nazareth

To celebrate the official kick-off to the Christmas season, which sets in tomorrow as the malls bulge and burst with parents trying to kick and claw there way to what little Jimmy wants, I post this song, "Rebel Jesus" by Jackson Browne, courtesy of John Nichols' Nation blog.

Just a little reminder from one Jesus freak atheist to a horde of Christians that Jesus didn't get delivered under no Christmas tree.

Heard a song 'bout it, hear it, hear it go:

All the streets are filled with laughter and light

And the music of the season

And the merchants' windows are all bright

With the faces of the children

And the families hurrying to their homes

As the sky darkens and freezes

They'll be gathering around the hearths and tales

Giving thanks for all god's graces

And the birth of the rebel Jesus


Well they call him by the prince of peace

And they call him by the savior

And they pray to him upon the seas

And in every bold endeavor

As they fill his churches with their pride and gold

And their faith in him increases

But they've turned the nature that I worshipped in

From a temple to a robber's den

In the words of the rebel Jesus


We guard our world with locks and guns

And we guard our fine possessions

And once a year when christmas comes

We give to our relations

And perhaps we give a little to the poor

If the generosity should seize us

But if any one of us should interfere

In the business of why they are poor

They get the same as the rebel Jesus


But please forgive me if I seem

To take the tone of judgment

For I've no wish to come between

This day and your enjoyment

In this life of hardship and of earthly toil

We have need for anything that frees us

So I bid you pleasure

And I bid you cheer

From a heathen and a pagan

On the side of the rebel Jesus.

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Monday, November 21, 2005

A Documentary Record of Horror

In 1954, the U.S. helped depose the democratically elected regime of Arbenz in Guatamala. The National Security Archive summed up the history neatly:
Although Arbenz and his top aides were able to flee the country, after the CIA installed Castillo Armas in power, hundreds of Guatemalans were rounded up and killed. Between 1954 and 1990, human rights groups estimate, the repressive operatives of sucessive military regimes murdered more than 100,000 civilians.
Guatamala was in a sense a giant torture house where leftists, Communist sympathizers, and peasants were tortured, murdered, or "disappeared." While there is no doubt all this occurred, the NYTs reports today that finally we might know the extent of the atrocities.
The reams and reams of mildewed police documents, tied in messy bundles and stacked from floor to ceiling, look on first sight like a giant trash heap. But human rights investigators are calling it a treasure hidden in plain sight.

In Guatemala, a nation still groping for the whole truth about decades of state-sponsored kidnapping and killing, the documents promise a trove of new evidence for the victims, and perhaps the last best hope for some degree of justice.
Yet there is much to be cynical about, despite recent history of grave human rights abusers -- Milosevic, Pinochet, Hussein and hopefully one day Kissinger -- being held responsible for their crimes against humanity. As Guatmalan historian Heriberto Cifuentes sardonically put it:
"Impunity reigns in Guatemala," he said. "So whether there are documents or not, people responsible for crimes do not expect to pay for them. They have always enjoyed blanket immunity."
And so as the old saying goes, "No Justice, No Peace." Yet as I grow older and learn more, I look pitifully at such sayings, because for far too many vicitms and their families, there is never justice, only perpetual peace through death.

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Rumor On The Hill Has It...

Democrats just defeated the awful Labor Education HHS Appropriations Bill...

To quote the source: "This is the first major victory for the Dems on a big piece of legislation in decades (ok maybe one decade!)"

Apparently it just closed half an hour ago and has yet to hit the news.

The Republicans are all in a meeting right now because they were going to vote on the budget but now it looks like moderate Republicans might be in revolt.

They were still a few votes short- they made changes this morning but they were not that extensive, and so moderate Republicans are still upset.

They are concerned with $12 billion in cuts to Medicaid (reduced to $11 billion this morning).

John M. McHugh, R-N.Y., a fence-sitting moderate, said that he still has problems with the Medicaid copayments, because they will have to be paid by more poor people than in the past, and most of the savings would come not from the charges but from an assumption that people would forgo medical care rather than pay.

The vote on the labor approps was 209-224 - and the only two votes missing were Dems.

One year out (yesterday) to the 2006 Elections and the Democrats are looking stronger than they have a year out from an election than they have in years.

--Mara Lee

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Good TV

If you're so inclined, you can watch one of your least favorite bloggers on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire today. Check your local listings, but if you're in the Philly area it'll be on in a half a hour on ABC at 12:30.


Oprah, how I loathe thee. You'll understand if you watch.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Finally We Agree

I know, I know, it's not without its hypocrisies but President Bush today suggested China should expand fundamental freedoms to its citizenry right before his visit there this weekend. It's hard to disagree with him on this one, and as history shows, we'll have to hope that over a billion strong Chinese want freedom as much as we all think they do.

I'm sorry, and it's hard for me to type it, but we all should applaud the President on this one. It's a stand that should be taken.

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Doom and Gloom Creationism

Christians and proponents of "intelligent design" (ID), meaning, well, less- fundamentalist Christians, believe that we've come to accompany this earth through divine help. Devout Christians will presumably be skeptical of evolution, believing the literal record described in Genesis, while ID'ers believe in evolution per se, but argue it got going by a higher power. But I think it's safe to say they both believe this creation was a product of love from a benevolent being of some kind.

Yet Noam Chomsky argues something rather different today. He has another alternative theory of design that's much darker than the rosy ID. One which those Christian defenders of choice will certainly want integrated into the curriculum to expose their children to all points of view. Plus his argument has the benefit of being proven at least logically correct by anyone with eyes and good ole commonsense. Something the ID'ers can't accomplish in the least. What is this theory you ask? Well, "malignant design" of course.
Unlike intelligent design, for which the evidence is zero, malignant design has tons of empirical evidence, much more than Darwinian evolution, by some criteria: the world's cruelty.
Think about it. A global AIDs pandemic, the threat of Avian flu, children afflicted with the most painful, horrendous debilitating diseases. If your God created these things, well let me just say, you can have him. How could a God that is ostensibly benevolent and all-powerful allow such suffering in his beloved creatures, espcially when it's not their fault? And if he didn't, well how powerful is he then?

So if God's real, at least admit he's the Almighty of the Old Testament -- vengeful, petty, and narcissistic -- and not the one of the Gospel. Which would provoke me to ask the next question: Why would anyone worship such a sadistic deity out of anything other than fear? I don't worship sadism or sadists and that's what it amounts to if you believe in God in a world such as this. We're already attacked by mundane terrorists -- aptly inspired by he we will not name-- I don't need another one watching down on me from the heavens.

If this relegates me to the abyss, then I say along with Keith Buckley, "... I'm going to Hell, and I'm taking the Renaissance with me!"

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Tricked into War?

A couple of posts back, I made the point that certain senators (Kerry, specifically) who are now claiming that Bush tricked Congress into declaring war on Iraq displayed far less self-righteous skepticism back in 2003 when the majority of Americans were in favor of going to war. I stopped short then, and I stop short now, of saying Kerry et al are merely flip-flopping to stay on the positive side of public opinion, but I think senators who voted to go to war need to accept at least a share of the blame for leading the country into what has become a long and bloody conflict.

Kevin Drum weighs in on this debate in a recent post, enumerating the ways in which the Bush Administration actively manipulated intelligence to make the case for war. Drum makes several good points and links to a TPM Café post that describes how the Bush administration suppressed the Senate’s ability to speak out in opposition to the war. I recommend reading the whole piece, but in case you don’t get around to it, I’ll cut to the punch line.
On October 1, 2002, Tenet produced a declassified NIE. But Graham and Durbin were outraged to find that it omitted the qualifications and countervailing evidence that had characterized the classified version and played up the claims that strengthened the administration's case for war. For instance, the intelligence report cited the much-disputed aluminum tubes as evidence that Saddam "remains intent on acquiring" nuclear weapons. And it claimed, "All intelligence experts agree that Iraq is seeking nuclear weapons and that these tubes could be used in a centrifuge enrichment program"--a blatant mischaracterization. Subsequently, the NIE allowed that "some" experts might disagree but insisted that "most" did not, never mentioning that the DOE's expert analysts had determined the tubes were not suitable for a nuclear weapons program. The NIE also said that Iraq had "begun renewed production of chemical warfare agents"--which the DIA report had left pointedly in doubt. Graham demanded that the CIA declassify dissenting portions.
Do reports like these excuse the Senate for signing off on a war that was peddled under false pretenses? No, but they place an even greater share of the accountability for the war onto the Bush Administration.

--Matthew McCoy

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Pat Robertson Sticks His Foot in His Mouth . . . Again

I’m not sure which is harder to believe: that Pat Robertson continues to spout such offensively tasteless drivel, or that Americans continue tuning into the 700 Club to hear what the moron has to say. Weeks after calling for the assassination of Hugo Chavez, God’s self-appointed soldier has found a new target for his wrath.

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson warned residents of a rural Pennsylvania town Thursday that disaster may strike there because they "voted God out of your city" by ousting school board members who favored teaching intelligent design.

All eight Dover, Pa., school board members up for re-election were defeated Tuesday after trying to introduce "intelligent design" — the belief that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power — as an alternative to the theory of evolution.

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city," Robertson said on the Christian Broadcasting Network's 700 Club.
This is the point in the post where I typically interject some smart-ass comments ridiculing my subject, but when it comes to making Pat Robertson look bad, nobody does it better than Pat Robertson.

Robertson’s remarks aside, it’s good to see that Dover citizens voted the Christian missionaries off their school board.

--Matthew McCoy

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Reflections on the Chamber

Albert Camus once wrote:
For centuries the death penalty, often accompanied by barbarous refinements, has been trying to hold crime in check; yet crime persists. Why? Because the instincts that are warring in man are not, as the law claims, constant forces in a state of equilibrium.
Today, WaPo reports that fewer inmates have been receiving the ultimate price for their crimes: Death.
The ranks of people sentenced to death and the number executed declined in 2004 as the nation's death row population kept shrinking, the government reported yesterday.
Naturally, the statistic has renewed arguments as to whether the death penalty is a deterrant to others that contemplate murder as an option. One proponent of death argued:
"There are less murders, less murder victims and less death sentences because, in our view, we have been giving this problem the right medicine," said Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento.
That medicine is hard to swallow for me, not only because it's unfeeling, but because it's most likely very wrong.

Everyone knows in the past couple of years many people on deathrow have been found innocent due to DNA analysis and whatnot. Also, we know statistically that the death penalty is disproportionately given to black offenders. In both cases, where's the justice in that. Nonexistent. Because of these inequities in the legal system, juries that have the option of recommending death or life-sentence, pick life in prison disproportionately.

Look I'm not absolutely against the death penalty. Quite possibly there are offenders that are just so dangerous, that even while incarcerated they pose an unacceptable risk to prison guards and fellow inmates. Although I can't see how solitary, maximum security confinement can't alleviate this problem. Maybe, even the slightest chance such an inmate can escape, warrants execution. The only person that immediately comes to mind in this case is someone like Ted Bundy.

Nevertheless, in the end, I'm uncomfortable with society having the power to kill off its own citizens, however viciously the offender ripped apart the most basic tenet of the social contract: Thou shalt not kill. But I'm also uncomfortable with some people's motivation against the death penalty as well. Many times I've argued over the death penalty with what I refer to as gooey liberals, and basically it's over my inability to absolutely rule it out in certain circumstances. The funny thing is a good amount of the time, a viciousness resides underneath that principled stance against the death penalty. It usually goes something like this: "Anyways, let them rot in prison for the rest of their life. The death penalty is too good for them. Too quick. Too merciful." I'm not sure if this is a outlook some liberals take to make themselves look strong or whether they succor their inner-sadist as much as everyone else. Probably it's a bit of both.

So here's my remedy and I don't think many will like it, but here goes. Everything being equal and ideal, people convicted of 1st degree murder should have the option of death or life in prison. Just as everyone has the choice to end their own life, so should 1st degree murderers. I know this suggestion probably offends everyone, but I can't rule it out and it seems the most humane option left. For people who don't want to stick around, let them end it. It will save the taxpayers money, while ensuring that those offenders that choose death will die peacefully. It also ensures that those who choose death won't ever kill again.

Individual choice is the most sacred thing to me and if possible, eveyone should have the right to pick how they should die -- whether that be at home nestled amongst loved ones, strapped down on a table awaiting the gas or the syringe or in a prison infirmary. Furthermore, the choice allows those that stole the most precious of all gifts -- life -- to contemplate just what they have done and whether they have the strength to take society's punishment, their freedom, or take the easy route out, euthanasia.

In the end I agree with Camus, that a just society never kills its own citizens no matter how grave the crime. Nevertheless, what if the murderer is willing to surrender his own life in retribution for his crime?

I can't rule out we take the murderer up on his offer, however constrained his unfavorable decision is.

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Saturday, November 12, 2005

Why Have One When You Can Have Two?

As I left the pub, Eva just told me that my response was typically American. Waldo gave me one kiss good-bye, Eva two.

I said - "Waldo: why only one?"

He said - "Because in Panama it is only one."

Eva responded - "But in Denmark it is two."

I responded - "Why have one when you can have two?"

Eva laughed - "That is very American. To me - that is American
thinking. Why drive a manual when you can drive an automatic?
Why walk when you can drive?"

I laughed - "I drive a stick shift and am damn proud of it."

Eva smiled - "You are different."

I asked - "Why?"

Eva said - "Because you moved to London. Because you have a

Then I remembered that in order to move to London, I had to sell my precious, bright-red Jetta. It's not that it was particularly nice or new or anything... but it was a symbol of freedom for me. It had a sunroof, a bike-rack and a bumpin' stereo. It got me up and down the California coasts; me and everything I owned to Arizona... then Las Vegas... and back up the West Coast. It weathered a DC winter and the New Jersey turnpike all summer. It still had the original John Kerry bumper sticker from the Spring of 2003... along with all of the other Democratic candidates I had worked for since then. It still had its' California plates, the Liz Phair sticker and a lai that had been around the stick since I bought it - in the '90s. What more could a 20-something girl ask for?

But besides just reminiscing about my car that defined much of my existence - this conversation struck me. Not because it was profound, or so unusual. It's that is typical.

It is a common understanding that people often identify more with their country when they travel abroad. They become more nationalistic, more proud because they are able to compare their culture to others' way of life. Naturally, people feel the most comfortable in the culture they were raised in.

Is this feeling what creates a rise of identity politics and strong ties to people's country of origin when they live elsewhere - such as in the States?

I have been reading the work of Samuel Huntington, an insightful and well-established scholar at Harvard who studies American identity and cultural issues in the U.S.

In his 2004 work, "Who Are We? America's Great Debate," Huntington writes at length of the identity crisis that America faces in light of the demographic challenges presented by immigration, the lack of a cohesive 'other' due to the collapse of the Soviet Union (and therefore the end of the Cold War) and the decrease in a consistent American identity.

I disagree with him on most of his conclusions, such that in order to rescue America from decline like that of Rome and Sparta we must recommit ourselves to Anglo-Protestant culture. But I am fascinated by his study of American identity as it stands.

What is American identity? Do we identify most with the governing principles of our Constitution? A shared history? A common language? A certain religious belief?

Or is it is exactly what Eva is referring to: a way of life, a way of thinking?

For me, she is right. It's not that everyone wants to drive used red Jettas, regardless of the bumper stickers that grace it. It's not that you can drive sleepless nights across the U.S. like Kerouac and Ginsberg. It's the symbolism that both represent: everyone wants to have a piece of Americana that is theirs.

It might be the SUV, it might be the road trips. It might be the single-family house or the cliche white picket fence. It could be the mom and pop diner or the stock options in Microsoft. These are things that I don't necessarily identify with... but as an American... I am identified with.

In all these examples, they are material posessions that are only temporily satifying. But if nothing else - it's theirs. It's this sense of identity through ownership and property that seems to be extremely American. If you can claim it as territory, than you have something to be proud of. You have something to invest in, something to work toward. And once we have that - why have one - when you can have two?

by Mara Lee

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Friday, November 11, 2005

Bush Goes on the Offensive

The thought process of the Bush team probably went something like this: What better use of a Veterans Day speech than to juxtapose our current efforts in Iraq with America’s legacy of sacrifice in war? We’ll leverage public sentimentality, drum up some sympathy, and, what the hell, take a few shots at Democrats for questioning our Iraq policy.

Bush put this plan (or a damn similar one) into action today during a speech at a military warehouse in Pennsylvania. The LA Times has a good, albeit latently opinionated, take on the event.
Launching a White House offensive to counter growing criticism of the war effort, Bush told soldiers and civilians that Democrats should reassure American troops that the nation stands behind them rather than revive a divisive debate over the war's origins.

"While it is perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the story of how that war began," Bush said in a Veterans Day address inside a military warehouse at Tobyhanna Army Depot in northeast Pennsylvania.

Bush did not respond directly to criticism that the intelligence that Saddam Hussein was seeking to develop nuclear and other unconventional weapons was wrong.

Rather, he said that others, including Democrats who are now highly critical of his decision to invade Iraq, had cited that same intelligence in announcing their support for the war in 2003.
I’m curious as to what “story” Bush is reading about the origins of the War. One of the highlights of the story I read featured then Secretary of State Powell in front of the United Nation explaining how a small vial of deadly chemical compound could wipe out a city block or two. Bush reminded his audience that “intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessments of Saddam Hussein,” but I remember the United State going to war with a Coalition of the Willing that was marked by heavy representation from nations in the Pacific Islands and a conspicuous absence of First World powers.

Bush made the point, and he’s made it before, that the war had bipartisan support from the Senate. He’s right, and this is an area in which we shouldn’t be too quick to let Democratic senators off the hook. It’s pretty easy for Sen. Kerry to say Bush “misled a nation into war by cherry-picking intelligence and stretching the truth beyond recognition,” but there wasn’t much Democratic opposition back in 2003 when the country was behind the war effort. Sure, Democratic senators and citizens alike can plead that they were tricked into supporting the war by Bush Administration sleight of hand, but gullibility is a poor defense.

But back to Bush. The rhetoric of his speech today reminds me a lot of the White House damage control in the wake of Katrina. Just as people were emerging from the initial shock of the flood and demanding to know why the response and relief efforts were so badly botched, Bush and his mouthpieces cautioned us not to play “the blame game” insisting that the country focus all its resources on solving problems rather than trying to determine their origins. That was bullshit logic then, and it’s bullshit logic now. I believe most Americans are intelligent enough to multitask when it comes to thinking about our country. We can pledge our support for the troops, push for sound Iraq policy that leads us towards withdrawal, and question the President’s motives for leading us into the war all at the same time. Unlike a certain smirking Texan, who shall remain nameless, we’re not idiots.

--Matthew McCoy

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Marriage is Suicide

Well, not as if it comes as a surprise, but Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda in Iraq has claimed responsibility for the Amman bombings. But there's this little twist:
The statement, signed by group spokesman Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, said the four included a woman ''who chose to accompany her husband to his martyrdom.''
Does this means she gets 72 virgin men upon arrival in paradise? Which as any woman would certainly tell you is a curse, since she'd be reverting back to the days when the man had no clue what he was doing. Let's just say girls attest that guy virgins are just not that good. And certainly who wants 72 clawing at her. But it's nice to know a woman would kill herself for an ideology that inimically hostile to her.

Yet there's a positive note to this story. Protest denoucing Zarqawi broke out on Amman's streets. Here's the AP's account:
''Al-Zarqawi, you are a coward! Amman will remain safe!'' chanted 3,000 protesters who marched through the capital, past its al-Husseini Mosque after midday prayers.
If Zarqawi continues to employ these tactics, he might just provoke a backlash against his movement. Muslims, like everyone else, don't like to fear going to a wedding reception or staying at a Days Inn. And I'm sure they don't like being killed in the name of there own religion as well.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

More Suicide Bombs

A string of suicide bombings in Amman, Jordan and in Baghdad have killed nearly 100 people and wounded approximately 130. The Jordan suiciding bombing:
tore through the lobby of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, hit a wedding party at the Radisson SAS Hotel down the street, and exploded at the Days Inn Hotel, all within minutes. The largest number of victims were at the Radisson wedding, where numerous Jordanian notables were in attendance.
In Baghdad:
Two suicide bombers blew themselves up near a restaurant frequented by Baghdad police...The bombers struck at about 9:45 a.m., when officers usually stop by the restaurant for breakfast. Police Maj. Abdel-Hussein Minsef said seven police officers and 26 civilians were killed in the blast and 24 others injured, among them 20 civilians.
Again, if any of you harbor any sympathy for these jackals in a wretched of the earth sort of misplaced liberal guilt sort of way, here's an Al-Qaeda statement claiming responsibility:
Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the suicide bomb attacks, and the terror group's Web posting linked the deadly blasts to the war in Iraq.

The Al Qaeda claim, which could not be independently verified, said Jordan became a target because it was "a backyard garden for the enemies of the religion, Jews and crusaders ... a filthy place for the traitors ... and a center for prostitution," according to The Associated Press.
It's telling to look at this quote. It essentially attacks Jordan for being liberal in the Western sense of the word. Extrapolating, the terrorists are pure and we are filthy. I hope the dirt forever stains our hands then.

A good thing could be happening as Al-Qaeda continues to slaughter innocent civilians: resistance to their violence is building. Marwan Qusous put it best: "I never expected something like this to happen to Jordan. This is our Jordan, and I will fight this with my every means." Well said.

The terrorists betray one of the axioms of traditional terrorists: they should want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead. Instead, they are interested in mass slaughter. Mass slaughter tends to alienate a terrorists base of popular support. If the West and Middle Eastern governments can steady their hands and not overreact resorting to disproportionately punative methods in an attempt to crush militant Islamism, the terrorists may do it for them. When Al-Qaeda's ideology becomes associated with purely death and not a sort of Islamic, quasi-liberation theology, then we have won our war on Al-Qaeda. Until then, the death and destruction will only draw more adherents to a vicious fighting faith that promises dignity and paradise. In essense, Western violence wielded against the terrorists must always be discriminate and surgical so that the wider Middle East can see the difference between us and them.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Dems Take 2005 Elections: Observations and Impacts

Guest Blogger: Mara Lee

Off-year elections are not typically seen as either momentous events, nor an indication of changing political currents. However, yesterday's competitions throughout the country are telling a story about the state of the two parties in America - one both sides were not necessarily expecting.

The outcome of the 2005 elections are significant for both what they represent, and what they do not. Democrats took the governorships of both New Jersey and Virginia. Democrats also soundly defeated ALL of Schwarzenegger's propositions in California in the special election he spent months criss-crossing the country fund-raising for.

Though Democrats didn't take all of the state-wide races up in Virginia (lost Lt. Gov and AG positions to GOPers), or all of the local races in other states (lost mayoral races in NYC and San Diego), when it's all added-up nationwide, the Democrats felt the sweet taste of victory in both blue and red states last night.

Democrats picked up governorships, state legisislative, and city council seats - but most importantly: Democrats picked up momentum.

The typical line since Democrats lost the 2004 presidential election has been that the Republicans, not just George Bush, has a political mandate in America. But Bush has been losing battles left and right (Miers, the Rove investigations, Scooter Libby just to name a few). So just as significant as Democrats succeeding in '05 is that Republicans DID NOT.

This change in political current might be just what the Democrats need: realizing their strengths through both messaging and campaign tactics.

In Virginia, first-time candidate David Englin crushed his Republican opponent (68-32%) by advancing a PROGRESSIVE agenda for Virginia. Though true the 45th House of Delegates district is in Northern Virginia and a safe Democratic seat, he won a fiercely competitive primary due to his strong convictions and commitment to progressive causes. Leslie Byrne (LG candidate) is an aggressive, progressive female candidate that received 49% of the vote statewide, with the moderate Tim Kaine winning the governorship over conservative Jerry Kilgore 51-46%. Afterall, this is a state that Bush won handily in 2004.

There is also another lesson to be learned from these impressive numbers in Virginia: it is not about MORE field, it is about SMARTER field according to campaign veteran Shayna Englin. Yesterday's victories were a signal of strength that Democrats can play on the ground in Virginia - and win.

In New Jersey, Senator Jon S. Corzine sailed to a staggering victory over fellow millionaire Doug Forrester. Here - it wasn't about access to resources - it was about messaging. Forrester came out slinging mud, and never stopped. Corzine continued to run an overall positive campaign; and when at the end of the campaign both candidates' morals were being called into question - this crushed Forrester. He didn't offer the state anything OTHER than Jon Corzine, a popular incumbent politician.

Even in the smaller contests like city council races in Tuscon, Arizona, Democrats returned the council to Democrats - ALL Democrats. In conservative San Diego, moderate, self-described 'green Republican' Kevin Faulconer picked up the District 2 seat against right-wing challengers. Democrats also picked up seats in Virginia and New Jersey state legislatures.

So what does last night mean for Democrats? I'll let the conservatives say it for themselves...

"The unexpected closeness of the Virginia race -- in a conservative state that President Bush carried by nearly 54 percent of the vote last year -- is a result in part to the GOP's eroding position in public opinion polls." -- Washington Times, 11/8/05

If nothing else, these wins give the Democrats a momentum to carry into the 2006 elections - in both blue and red states.

*Mara is writing as a guest blogger and is an active Democratic campaign staffer; temporarily taking hiatus from campaigns while studying politics abroad.

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Giant Grade Point Average

For all of you who could care less about the New York football Giants, I apologize. But I am absolutely gushing about this season.

Yesterday, the New York Daily News published a report card for the 1st semester of Giants football. And you know what, whipping out my handy calculator, they averaged a 3.5 on a university 4.0 scale. Not bad, but as the NYDN warns:
Still, don't book a flight to Detroit just yet. The schedule gets tough in the second half and they have yet to pull away in their surprisingly difficult division.
The next five weeks will be tough as the Giants play the Eagles twice, the seemingly playoff bound Seahawks, Bill Parcell's Cowboys, and the inept Vikings. So the Giants must take one away from the Owens-less Eagles, must beat Dallas, and must destroy Culpepper-less Vikings next week. But if you know the Giants, they have a tendency to play down to the level of bad teams.

So if the Giants want to make a statement, they must take three out of those five games. For their mental health and confidence they must beat Dallas, which should be doable this time since it will be at the frosty, swirling winds of the Meadowlands.

Hopefully in five weeks time I'll be trumpeting the 9-4 Giants, clearly on their way to a first week bye in the playoffs.

Knock on wood, with my fingers crossed of course. They still are the Giants -- you know?

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Supreme Court to Hear Case on Tribunals

The Supreme Court has decided to hear a case involving Osama bin Laden’s former driver that will test the constitutionality of Bush’s war tribunals. The Court won’t hear the case for several months, but just putting this issue on the docket is an important step in regulating Bush’s “war powers.” WaPo explains:
President Bush has claimed broad power to conduct the war against al Qaeda and said that questions about the detention of suspected terrorists, their interrogation, trial and punishment are matters for him to decide as commander in chief.

But the court's announcement that it would hear the case of Osama bin Laden's former driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, shows that the justices feel the judicial branch has a role to play as well. The court has focused on whether Bush has the power to set up the commissions and whether detainees facing military trials can go to court in the United States to secure the protections guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions.

The justices have chosen to intervene at a sensitive time for the Bush administration. The Senate is mounting its first sustained challenge to the administration's claim that it alone can determine what interrogation methods are proper for detainees. The United States has come under fire after disclosures that the CIA has been interrogating suspects at secret "black sites" in Eastern Europe.

All of that will be in the background as the court considers a case that will turn on its view of whether the other branches of government can and should permit the executive branch to make all the rules in the battle against al Qaeda.
The interesting wrinkle in the whole thing is that this case, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, is this same one Roberts decided as a member of the DC Circuit Court. Roberts and two other judges overturned a district court ruling that had stopped Hamdan’s military tribunal. Now that the case has made it to the Supreme Court, Roberts will have to recuse himself, leaving the remaining 8 justices to decide Hamdan’s fate. If the justices split 4 and 4 on this one (a definite possibility if Alito is on the bench) the ruling of the Circuit Court will stand, meaning Hamdan’s tribunal can continue. But, as the Post article notes, a split decision “would not create binding legal precedent,” leaving the issue of tribunals for suspected terrorist open for future challenge.

How ever the court rules in Hamdan, it has done well in deciding to hear the case. If Bush wants to conduct a war in the name of the American people, his efforts deserve the scrutiny of the other two branches of government.

--Matthew McCoy

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Rigtheous Indignation

Christopher Hitchens goes off on realism for the second straight week over at Slate. This time it's within the context of the Darfur genocide. I'll leave you to read his argument but I wanted to highlight this sentence he wrote:
Any critique of realism has to begin with a sober assessment of the horrors of peace.
I think that's fundamentally accurate. Who today would say we shouldn't have stopped the Holocaust or the Rwandan killing fields? (I don't include the Kurds or the Cambodians in this estimation because we had much to do with each groups' slaughter indirectly.)Sometimes war is the only option and it's a favorable one at that. Furthermore, it should be legally codified in international law that whenever a conflict reaches genocidal proportions that the Security Council must act. That said, it will never happen because, well, one of the members of Security Council would surely veto that law, particularly the United States.

Nevertheless, even if we did want to act, we must be able to admit certain things. One is that there is a problem of democracy here and I'll use American soldiers here as an example. When most soldiers volunteer for the military, their idea is to serve and protect their country, not distant countries far away in lands they can't find on a map. Therefore, any international peace-enforcing force under a UN or regional organization's mandate would have to be drawn from international volunteers if it were to respect the rights and liberties of the soldiers themselves. It would act as a new "International Brigades" that fought alongside Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War. However noble, I don't see enlistment being very high. I could be very wrong and indeed, I hope I am.

Second, the threshold for intervention would have to be relatively set and the benchmark would probably be atrocities on their way to genocidal levels. That means, a conflict like Iraq, to Hitchens scowl, would not pass the test since Hussein's crimes had ebbed and the Kurds were effectively protected by the no-fly zone. Humanitarian war would always be the last resort considering war may very well escalate the crimes against the vulnerable like it did in Kosovo.

Third, to stop any perception of imperialism, the intervention would have to be condoned by the international community in all except the most pressing of circumstances. Rwanda would have qualified as a most pressing circumstance. Also, the rebuilding of the country intervened in by the UN or by a regional organization with the UN's consent would have to be watched over by an impartial, international administration to ensure contracts were bid on fairly without the faintest hint of cronyism. (I know, I know, I live in a dream world.)

Nevertheless, I applaud Hitchens for attacking realism's callousness and we should be discussing new avenues for stopping the world's worst atrocities keeping in mind my little problem areas.

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Monday, November 07, 2005

Finally a Fatwa I Fancy

Via One News:
One of France's largest Islamic groups issued a fatwa against rioting after officials suggested Muslim militants could be partly to blame for violent protests scarring poor neighbourhoods around the country.

The Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF) quoted the Koran and the Prophet Mohammad to back up the religious edict condemning the disorder and destruction the unrest caused.
More evidence that revealed religion and its interpretation by "clerics" can be used to support or discredit almost anything -- maybe even in the same breathe -- however noble or contemptuous.

Thank goodness it was used tonight to stop a situation clearly out of control.

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More Big Bad Wal-Mart

Here's more to assuage a bit everyone's insatiable hunger for more horror stories filtering out of Bentonville, AK. The American Prospect has a profile of one whistle-blower suing Wal-Mart for unjust termination. His name is Jim Lynn and this is what happened:
In 2002 the company sent Lynn to Central America, in a new position in which he was to report on any abusive labor practices he came upon in the factories that make the clothes Wal-Mart puts on its shelves. Lynn was shocked: He discovered factories whose fire doors were padlocked from the outside, and where women workers were fired if they turned up pregnant. Lynn firmly believed that his reports to the home office would lead to improvements. Indeed, he believed he was doing just what the company expected of him, right up to the moment when he was fired.
According to Harold Meyerson's profile Lynn was an exceptional employee that had scorched up Wal-Mart's ladder to prominence. So what could he have done to get himself fired? Here's a lenghty segment from the article:
Lynn's inspection visits left him stunned. The night he visited Glory Garments, he called his wife and wept. He called Bentonville and complained. He shot reports back to the home office. He assumed things would change. Instead, Lynn soon found that the company was more alarmed by the existence of his reports than by the substance of them. He traveled to Bentonville to report his findings to Denise Fenton, Wal-Mart's director of factory certification -- who promptly instructed him in some of the finer points of certification policy. "First," Lynn recalls, "you can only interview 30 people [per factory]. If you get to the 29th and 30th and discover stuff, it doesn't matter -- you have to stop. Second, even though Wal-Mart says they want unannounced inspections, we had to notify the factories in advance. If there were any blatant violations, they had the opportunity to clean those up."

It was abundantly clear to Lynn that Violim was out to get him. Lynn says that soon after his arrival in Costa Rica, Violim took away his key to the office and changed the alarm codes, denied his requests for security when he traveled in the field, and was furious when Lynn went over his head to tell Bentonville that he would not travel without security to Colombia. The tipping point may well have come at a meeting in Costa Rica that April with Mike Duke, then Wal-Mart's executive vice president for administration and today its vice chairman (and possible successor to CEO H. Lee Scott). Lynn was kept out of most of the meeting, but at the end of the day he was allowed to give a PowerPoint presentation on the condition of area factories. When he was done, Lynn recalls, Duke asked him what grade he would give Wal-Mart on its factory-certification program. "I said, 'C-minus or D-plus.' I didn't realize what a surprise this would be to everybody."

As soon as the meeting was done, Lynn says, he was taken aside by Violim and Peter Allison, who was managing director of Wal-Mart's global-procurement division. "I was told, 'You don't tell a man like Mike Duke something like that.' I had never before in my career been told to lie."

Lynn's career at Wal-Mart was just about done. The following week, Violim sent Lynn and Martha Bolanos, a co-worker who reported to Lynn, to Guatemala for another inspection tour. Lynn had been repeatedly assured that Wal-Mart would provide security on this trip, as it routinely does in potentially dangerous countries. When he arrived, though, there were no guards in evidence. What Wal-Mart had arranged for instead was an undercover surveillance team to shadow Lynn and Bolanos, and it documented virtually their every move.

Two weeks later, Lynn was summoned to a meeting with Violim and Andrea Cooper, the human-resources manager for the company's global-procurement division, who'd come down from Bentonville for the occasion. Escorted by Wal-Mart security guards, who stayed just outside the room, Lynn was accused of violating the company's fraternization policy. In Lynn's account, Violim informed him of the surveillance, yelled and cursed at him, and told him he could not leave the room without forfeiting his job unless he signed a statement acknowledging his relationship with Bolanos. The statement Lynn signed said that he and Bolanos had kissed -- and Lynn does acknowledge that "there was a kiss." The following day, Lynn was discharged. Bolanos, who remains in Central America and is unavailable for comment, was discharged, too.

The company says that Lynn's firing was solely the result of his interactions with Bolanos. "This is not a whistle-blower case," says Beth Keck. "He was terminated because he had inappropriate contact with a woman who directly reported to him."
Hmmm, surveillance that bears fruit of "inappropriate contact" with an underling -- sounds shady. As Lynn tells it someone was sent a month before his kissy-kissy incident to effectively take control of his operation. So he was effectively fired before he was fired. As you probably know, this is just another example of Wal-Mart's culture of corporate impunity.

If you're interested in more documented cases of alleged and verified acts of Wal-Mart's various labor violations and immoral behavior check out Robert Greenwald's site for his new doc, "Wal-Mart: The High Price of Low Cost." And if you want more information on sweatshops worldwide, check out Charles Kernaghan and his excellent group of activists at The National Labor Committe. I first met Charlie working on a documentary for Bill Moyers and he was such a great, crusty, no bullshit kind of guy. He and his organization deserve your support.

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Fe Fi Fo Fum

Ladies and gentlemen, my beloved New York Giants look like they are the real deal.

Yesterday, in undramatic fashion the G-Men marched into Monster Park and walked away with an easy victory over the San Francisco 49ers. I don't know if any of you remember the Giants cataclysmic collapse against the 49ers in Candlestick park a few years back but the Gints have exorcised their demons hopefully. Unless the Giants fall apart over the next 8 games, the Giants may well be the team to beat in the NFC as Eli Manning blossoms into the next great NFL quarterback supported by such playmakers as Jeremy Shockey, Tiki Barber, and Eli's new favorite target: Plaxico Burgess.

Watch your back Eagles, the Giants are hungry baby.

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Survival of the Fittest Literarily

D.T. Max has a great article on a small movement within university English departments called "Literary Darwinism," in the NYT's Magazine today. What is this you ask? How does it differ from conventional literary theory and criticism? I'll leave it to Max:
It is useful to know a bit about current literary criticism to understand how different the Darwinist approach to literature is. Current literary theory tends to look at a text as the product of particular social conditions or, less often, as a network of references to other texts. (Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstruction, famously observed that there was "nothing outside the text.") It often focuses on how the writer's and the reader's identities - straight, gay, female, male, black, white, colonizer or colonized - shape a particular narrative or its interpretation. Theorists sometimes regard science as simply another form of language or suspect that when scientists claim to speak for nature, they are disguising their own assertion of power. Literary Darwinism breaks with these tendencies. First, its goal is to study literature through biology - not politics or semiotics. Second, it takes as a given not that literature possesses its own truth or many truths but that it derives its truth from laws of nature.

"The Literary Animal," the first scholarly anthology dedicated to Literary Darwinism, is to be published next month. It draws from the various fields that figure in Darwinian evolutionary studies, including contributions from evolutionary psychologists and biologists as well as literature professors. The essays consider the importance of the male-male bond in epics and romances, the battle of the sexes in Shakespeare and the motif in both Japanese and Western literature of men rejecting children whom their wives have conceived in adultery. "The Literary Animal" spans centuries and individual cultures with bravura, if not bravado...There is a circularity to an argument that uses texts about people to prove that people behave in human ways. (I'm reminded of the Robert Frost line: "Earth's the right place for love:/I don't know where it's likely to go better.") But Literary Darwinism has a second focus too. It also investigates why we read and write fiction. At the core of Literary Darwinism is the idea that we inherit many of the predispositions we deem to be cultural through our genes. How we behave has been subjected to the same fitness test as our bodies: if a bit of behavior has no purpose, then evolution - given enough time - may well dispense with it. So why, Literary Darwinists ask, do we make room for this strange exercise of the imagination? What are reading and writing fiction good for? In her essay "Reverse-Engineering Narrative," Michelle Scalise Sugiyama tries to simplify the question by picking stories apart, breaking them down into characters, settings, causalities and time frames ("the cognitive widgets and sprockets of storytelling") and asking what purpose each serves: how do they make us more adaptive, more capable of passing on our genes?
Personally, I think this is a great area for further research that could tell us alot about humans as social animals. Biologically speaking, why do we create stories? Why do we on average sympathize with some stories more than others? Why do literary archetypes span millennia and myriad cultures? Indeed, do certain aspects or themes have to be present for critics to accord "classic" status to the work? All good questions which could reveal the socio-biological continuum of emotion and experience from primitive man to modern man. (Sorry for being gender specific ladies.)

I'm fascinated by evolution and how it affects nearly every academic field -- personally I think a certain moral foundation essential to social cohesion was the product of natural selection -- so I'm interested in the Literary Darwinists findings. It should make for some fun academic reading, if academic reading can ever truly be "fun."

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Rousseau: A Fire Inside

Today's NYT's Review of Books has an excellent review of a new biography of Jean Jacques Rousseau by Leo Damrosch. If you've been on this site before, you may have noticed our little "Books That Matter" section on the right hand side when you scroll down. There you'll find Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality -- a great work on inequality and how it is perpetuated throughout the ages by illegitimate authorities. It's a revolutionary text in all the best and worst senses. The best because it opens our eyes to the realization that authority is usually illegitimate and that it holds power through avarice and violence. The worst because it's prescriptions for a new order when followed, usually amount to a deluge of blood that replaces one tyranny for another kind. The French Revolution is instructive here.

But what's interesting is that a man who caused so many problems in death was so easy to ignore for most of his own life. As reviewer Stacy Schiff writes:
[H]e was in no realm a stellar student. He was a lousy linguist, and could neither dance nor fence. He struggled with music. (The last did not stop him from composing, badly.) He proved somewhat more adept at petty theft; his various scams include one on which "The Music Man" appears to have been based. At 15 he defected to Turin where - evidently Rousseau was one tough customer - two baptisms were required to make him a Roman Catholic. His first adventure with the church came complete with his first encounter with a male seducer. On the subjects of both sex and religion he remained squeamish. (He would reconvert in l754.)

By the time he turned up in Paris in the early 1740's Rousseau had proved himself unfit as a diplomatic secretary, a monk's interpreter, a tutor, a bureaucrat. But along the way a funny thing happened. "To know nothing at almost 25, and to want to learn everything," he noted, "is to commit oneself to making the best use of one's time." On his own and between scams and scenes, he had begun to imbibe books.
It took nearly 15 more years before Rousseau penned something that brought him publicity. The amazing thing in his eventual success was that Rousseau kept the fire inside flickering just enough to start a conflagration as he entered middle-age. After 40 he would write the works that made him a legend: Emile, The Social Contract, Discourse on Inequality, and his autobiographical Confessions. All this from a man that had nothing to show for himself at 25, but by the end of his life had written originally about future trends that are today dominate. As Schiff argues:
Social inequality, the will of the people, inalienable rights were meaningless concepts when Rousseau began ranting about them. Imagination was out of fashion; he was tiptoeing around the as-yet-undiscovered unconscious. He advocated idleness in the age of Adam Smith. If he suffered for being so much out of step with his own century, he can too easily be overlooked in ours. Without founding a school - it would have been inappropriate - Rousseau stands squarely if unsystematically at the root of democracy, autobiography, Romanticism, child-centered education, even psychoanalysis.
Before there was even a United States, Rousseau in effect lived the American Dream due to a light that couldn't be stamped out. And this is apt, considering his philosophy had a great impact on the Founding Fathers, particularly Jefferson.

Rousseau may be French, but his character is more new world than old. This is a life you shouldn't let go unexamined.

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Friday, November 04, 2005

Honest Abe's Melacholia and What It Means for Us

Arguably the greatest president the United States ever had was clinically depressed. In a new book, Lincoln's Melancholy, Joshua Wolf Shenk argues Lincoln struggled with the disease throughout his life, but that it helped him to become the greatest American leader history remembers so reverently. Reviewing the book within the context of the depression debate -- disease, state of mind, etc. -- Field Maloney offers this anecdote from a friend of Lincoln's:
Lincoln's law partner, W.H. Herndon, once observed that Lincoln "crushed the unreal, the inexact, the hollow, and the sham." Lincoln's "fault, if any," Herndon said, "was that he saw things less than they really were." What Herndon is describing here, Shenk says, seems similar to what psychologists term "depressive realism": the idea that depression can stem from fundamentally accurate perceptions—a worldview that, in some situations, can be an advantage.
Maloney then reviews a letter by F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter where the author describes "depressive realism," a bit more poetically:
Make time, Fitzgerald wrote, "to form what, for lack of a better phrase, I might call the wise and tragic sense of life." He went on:

By this I mean the thing that lies behind all great careers, from Shakespeare's to Abraham Lincoln's, and as far back as there are books to read—the sense that life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat, and that the redeeming things are not "happiness and pleasure" but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle.
As Maloney writes the debate here is whether depression is a well-spring of creativity for those afflicted and just possibly an insight into the way things really are or simply a disease that needs to be wiped out. As the article reports, over 1 million people ends their own lives each year. Yet the question remains, would Hemingway or Camus or Van Gogh have created the works they did without the inspiration of that dark angel, depression. I don't know.

As someone who has struggled with severe depression before -- crying in the shower for no reason is a dead giveaway -- I feel that it was a necessary transition for me into adulthood. It was also a catalyst of creativity for me as well. Most of the stories I'm working on currently initially came out of those black times.

And I know I could very well be romaticizing it, but ever since I came out of the that dark tunnel I've been pretty happy-go-lucky without losing my sense that life's a tragedy -- no one gets out alive. I will go on to see those that are closest to me die eventually until the knock raps at my door, in which I'll follow over the precipice myself. After the inevitable there will be nothing -- no afterlife...just dare I say it -- peace.

Depressing, huh? Not really. From my emergence out of midnight -- which was helped by Paxil -- I've felt alive, free, strong. Today I feel that all we have is the now and that to let it pass worrying over our mortalilty or strain for an afterlife that we can't know exists, is in the punk band Pennywise's opinion, "a tragic waste of time."

So in the end I'm saying depression may be an existential crisis we all need to experience at least once in our lives, this doesn't mean we shouldn't seek help, we should. It's a delicate balance before driving through the guardrail seems like a wise choice. But I also think we shouldn't wage pre-emptive pharmacological warfare against melancholia either. We might just kill one of the sparks that propels us toward the life lived in service of humanity and vitality like Lincoln -- however dark our hearts may stay.

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Scowcroft vs. Wolfowitz

I just finished Jeffery Goldberg's much talked about profile of Brent Scowcroft and his public break with the Bush Administration over Iraq. It's very good and it's a must read if you want a good overview of the personalities and differences between Washington's realists and neocons. As anyone that's read this blog will know, I side more with the neocons of the Wolfowitz variety than the realists of the Scowcroft variety. Goldberg's piece shows why, using an example --the Kurdish and Shiite rebellion against Saddam in 1991 -- I used in a post two days ago in my "Irrational Realism" post. Here goes:
In the case of Iraq, Scowcroft was incensed by Saddam’s violation of an international border; he did not believe that Saddam’s treatment of his own citizens merited military intervention. A month into the war, Bush, in public comments, encouraged Iraq’s defeated military, and also its civilian population, to “take matters into [their] own hands” and to rise up against Saddam. “Here’s where we fell down,” Robert Gates said recently. “It was our hope that the magnitude of the defeat would lead the Iraqi generals to throw Saddam out, but we didn’t anticipate those uprisings. When the Kurds and the Shiites rose up, Saddam won back his generals. We speculated that Saddam ‘warned’ his generals that, without him, they could not control the uprising, and the country would disintegrate.” Gates, who went on to serve as director of the C.I.A. from 1991 to 1993, argued that the President never intended to provoke a popular rebellion. “When the President talked about the Iraqis solving the problem, he was absolutely not urging the Kurds and the Shiites to do it. He was talking about the generals taking him out.” In the book that Scowcroft wrote with the elder Bush, a passage about the uprising said, “It is true that we hoped Saddam would be toppled. But we never thought that could be done by anyone outside the military and never tried to incite the general population. It is stretching the point to imagine that a routine speech in Washington would have gotten to the Iraqi malcontents and have been the motivation for the subsequent actions of the Shiites and Kurds.” In Wolfowitz’s view, Scowcroft, “by overestimating the risk of supporting the rebellions that the U.S. had encouraged, bequeathed to George W. Bush a much more complicated situation ten years later.”
And there you have it. The realists simply wanted a cosmetic change in Iraq. As long as an internal coup replaced Hussein with another strongman then the U.S.'s strategic interests -- uninterrupted access to and control over oil -- would be secure. Wolfowitz's position was open to the possibility of chaotic change in the region and that U.S. immediate interests might be harmed by the uprising against Hussein. But the realists won, and now the U.S. -- not without hypocrisy or their eyes on Iraqi oil -- is doing what should have been done over a decade ago.

I just want to put it to my brethren on the left this way: if you had to pick a foreign policy for the right to wield, wouldn't it be that of Wolfowitz rather than Scowcroft?

It's the Scowcroft brand of realism that has led America to support of the hideous despots throughout the Arab world, our support for Suharto in Indonesia and his genocide of the East Timorese, along with our contempible overthrows of democracy throughout Latin America, especially the other 9/11 in Chile in 1973. It should be noted both Democrats and Republicans consistently followed this brand of realism -- yes, even Clinton. So I'm for a Wolfowitz foreign policy when it leads to the fall of vicious dictatorships like Marcos in the Phillipines and now in Iraq. The crime of the latter is that the American people had to be hoodwinked into supporting the Iraqi adventure, which has considerable imperial interests embedded within it. And let's be honest, the American people would neverhave supported a war to liberate Iraq from Hussein. For that reason alone, it should never have been pursued. But alas, it was, and I'm happy Hussein's gone and we're past the realism of the Scowcroft and Kissingers that value our "national interests" more than the people we tacitly and indirectly murder through supporting the likes of Hussein, the Shah, Suharto, Marcos, Pinochet, etc.

If you call this "peace" or "stability," then scrub your hands, for they're covered in blood.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Left Behind...Their Intelligence That Is

It seems Sony has financed the third installment of the Left Behind series, which if you're not into the whole evangelical scene, is the fictional account of those poor souls left back on earth after the Rapture to fend for themselves and their souls during the Apocalypse and the rise of the Anti-Christ.

But what struck me is that after screenings at whatever Mega-church these people go to -- what Christian humility by the way -- people are actually converting...because of this film starring...wait for it...Kirk Cameron and Louis Gosset Jr. (I guess royalties for such fine films like Jaws 3 and Iron Eagles 3 just aren't paying the bills for Louis.) I wonder if I switched the film for say, Boogie Nights or Strip Tease, if we wouldn't have a better social outcome. Anyway, via the NYTs, here's the films impact on the bleating sheep that viewed it:
Many of last month's church screenings were followed by an altar call for born-again conversions and fund-raising (cause nothing says "No" to the devil than a rectory stashed with cash.) Mr. Lalonde [the film's producer] said proudly that at a screening for about 900 people at a Costa Mesa, Calif., church on Friday night, "11 people became Christians after the film."

At a screening at an East Hollywood church, audience members said they had been inspired by the film. "It emotionally touched me," said Yolanda Figueroa, wiping away tears after the film. "It's scary for me, because I have kids. I do believe we're living this already - with the hurricanes, and murder. We live in a world that is dark. And Christians can shed some light."
No, I'm sorry, Christians cannot shed light onto the world's darkness. If you believe hurricanes are anything more than meteorological events then, I'm sorry, you're ignorant. Besides, if they are heaven sent, then you contradict your whole hypothesis that God is all-loving. And murder is a human choice, nothing more. God and his little red friend don't function into the equation at all, unless that is you're one of those moral midgets that displace moral responsibility by claiming one of these imaginative beings told you to commit your heinous act.

Oh, and if you want a real laugh, stroll on over to the Left Behind website where you can be told that Avian bird flu is a sign of the coming Apocalypse:
The [National Geographic] article says the current H5N1 virus that is killing poultry and a few people in Asia could be the next global pandemic it if gains the ability to quickly spread from person to person. But here's the incredible part. It is estimated that deaths from such a widespread pandemic could range from a conservative "7.4 million to an apocalyptic 180 million to 360 million." Yes, you read it correctly�180 to 360 MILLION.

Apocalyptic indeed!

According to experts, a virus today would move twice as fast as in 1918 due to rapid means of travel. This rapid spread of the virus would severely limit the time to stem with tide with a vaccine. Even during the pandemic in 1968 that lasted 342 days, the flu moved more slowly. It is estimated a flu virus today would spread twice as fast to the world's major cities as the flu pandemic of 1968.

If the Rapture were to happen soon, a virus such as the bird flu could be one of the apocalyptic plagues God uses to bring judgment on the Earth. It's just a matter of time. The Rapture will come, and then the great events of the end times, including plagues and pestilence, will begin to unfold.

Make sure you're ready. Trust in Christ and submit your life to him each day.
I love how the author is practically rooting for its spread, "Apocalypse indeed!" -- what love for humanity. Douchebag indeed!

And isn't it funny how they quote National Geographic Magazine when it services their nefarious, yet foolish, ends. I wonder if they'll quote NGM next time it publishes another atheistic article on evolution. Why doesn't the Book of Revelations tell us if our end will be death by chicken? That God, boy does he want us to read between the lines or what? Why didn't Jesus utter on his dying breath, "Whatever you do, don't eat the chicken?"

Come on, am I the only one that thinks this type of religious fanaticism isn't a form of mental retardation or at least a severe defect? Please, readers, tell me I'm not alone. Can I be truly left behind?

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A Failing Fiefdom

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's Baathist-fascist regime isn't looking too stable lately.

Here's some anecdotal evidence via the NYTs:
It is commonly heard here that the public would be willing to endure sanctions and international isolation if the government were in trouble for its stand on the Palestinian cause or for its positions on Iraq, but not over the Hariri affair. That was evidenced Tuesday when the authorities tried to organize a sit-in outside the United States Embassy. They hung flags, set up speakers and blared music. A few hundred people showed up at first, but the crowd quickly started to thin. Security agents were seen ordering young people to stay put as they tried to walk off. (my itl.)
In the interest of democracy, I can only hope Assad will continue to be a barrier to inquiries into the Hariri assassination of which a U.N. report implicated Syrian involvement. If he's smart, he'll cooperate as much as possible, because if sanctions are brought against Syria for noncooperation in the inquiry into Hariri's assassination, the public won't be too happy with Assad.

Now it's up to Syrian democrats and dissidents to steer their country away from Baathism and Islamism toward liberal democracy.

May the dominoes continue to fall throughout the Middle East.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Irrational Realism

Christopher Hitchens has a great article rebuking the realism of Brent Scowcroft. Novelly, he uses left arguments, rightly, for neoconservative ends.

Here's a taste of his conclusion, which made me smile:
Realism of the Scowcroft sort presided over the Iran-Iraq war with its horrific casualties and watched indifferently as genocide was enacted in northern Iraq. It allowed despots free rein from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, and then goggled when this gave birth to the Taliban and al-Qaida. If this was "fifty years of peace," then it really was time to give war a chance.
You may agree with this or not, but I think he's essentially correct. You can't bemoan American foreign policy being smitten with dictators for "reasons of stablity" that in a very real sense create the preconditions for terrorism and all its externalities and then make the point that we should coddle despots like Hussein because of the chaos it will reap if we overthrow him. What this reflects is that person's inability to even imagine American power being used constructively for beneficial ends. We live in a world where force matters, isn't it good that at least this time, American force was on the side of the Kurds, a true liberation army, and the beaten bloody Shias of the south.

Moreover, I think Hitchens is correct to argue that Iraq was a failed state that would have imploded anyway, unleashing many of the same problems we face today. Remember, I was against this war from the beginning, but my position has shifted considerably. I'm very scared of Bush's true intentions in Iraq, but I sure am jubliant that no one has to fear Saddam Hussein or his nefarious sons ever again. Would I have preferred other options like arming the Kurds and Shiites and protecting them with American air-power against Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle? Maybe, but we had the opportunity to do this at the end of the first Gulf War but to our everlasting shame we went with the devil we knew -- classic realism a la Scowcroft and Kissinger. Should we go back to that type of realism in favor of stability which brings anything but?

Also, Iraq has been the dinner bell to jihadist sharks everywhere. If you're interested in the Iraq War's increasing the likelihood of terrorism, the eminent Peter Bergen and Alex Reynolds have a new article on this here. While this is a disasterous consequence of an ill-executed war and occupation, let's face it, the Yanks and the Brits should try to exterminate as many of the jihadists as possible. I think it's safe to say that the foreign Islamist fighters that have answered U.S. chumming are undeterrable. There is no choice but to destroy as many of these people as possible, before they can wield what they learned in Iraq throughout the Eurasian continent and on North American soil. Just because the Bush administration bungled all of this, doesn't preclude us from considering what effects this mismanagement will bring and how we will respond to it.

In the end, do I think the United States is imposing an imperial regime in Iraq? I sure do and it's a shame. I expect permanent military bases to secure Iraqi oil for the long haul. This is wrong, but it will be better for Iraqis in the end because however horrible we may be, we're nowhere as bad as Hussein. Furthermore, we, the American people, especially the left, have the ultimate responsibility in ensuring we don't stay a minute longer than we have to. If all this sounds like I'm fudging the issue, then so be it. If we leave Iraq to the jihadists, then we are doing a worse disservice to the Iraqis then when we refused to go into Baghdad a little over a decade before.

We've created two monsters for the Iraqi people over the last half-century. We've dealt with one, now it's time to deal with the other.

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The War Room

Let's forget about Iraq for a second and take a gander at another war, this one on the homefront.

It seems that Wal-Mart has stolen a tactic from political campaigns
and has hired former political consultants to Reagan and Clinton to revamp their image in the face of effective broadsides by social activists and labor unions.
Inside a stuffy, windowless room here, veterans of the 2004 Bush and Kerry presidential campaigns sit, stand and pace around six plastic folding tables. Open containers of pistachio nuts and tropical trail mix compete for space with laptops and BlackBerries. CNN flickers on a television in the corner.

The phone rings, and a 20-something woman answers. "Turn on Fox," she yells, running up to the TV with a notepad. "This could be important."

A scene from a campaign war room? Well, sort of. It is a war room inside the headquarters of Wal-Mart, the giant discount retailer that hopes to sell a new, improved image to reluctant consumers.

Wal-Mart is taking a page from the modern political playbook. Under fire from well-organized opponents who have hammered the retailer with criticisms of its wages, health insurance and treatment of workers, Wal-Mart has quietly recruited former presidential advisers, including Michael K. Deaver, who was Ronald Reagan's image-meister, and Leslie Dach, one of Bill Clinton's media consultants, to set up a rapid-response public relations team in Arkansas.

When small-business owners or union officials - also employing political operatives from past campaigns - criticize the company, the war room swings into action with press releases, phone calls to reporters and instant Web postings.

One target of the effort are "swing voters," or consumers who have not soured on Wal-Mart. The new approach appears to reflect a fear that Wal-Mart's critics are alienating the very consumers it needs to keep growing, especially middle-income Americans motivated not just by price, but by image.
Think class warfare is an anachronistic term mingled in red and black revolutionary fantasies? Think again. The only difference between class warfare by conservatives and by the liberal-left is that corporate America, economic neoliberals, and the right-wing are more effective in relaying their message in gooey patriarchal tones or by simply scaring the ever loving shit out of workers and consumers alike through the loss of jobs or retail price hikes.

But the good thing is that social activists and unions are having an effect on the consciousness of middle-class and upper-middle-class consumers. This campaign against Wal-Mart's abysmal wages, poor or non-existent health benefits, and anti-union activity has led to its stock plummeting since 2000 and major defeats in trying to gain access to urban markets. The bad thing, as always, is that the poor will most likely continue to shop at Wal-Mart to get the perceived "more bang for their buck." And really, who can fault them for this.

But Wal-Mart will continue to argue that they help the poor by giving them low prices, but they will continue to face a determined argument that they hurt the working poor. Today Robert Greenwald will release his documentary expose of Wal-Mart's parasitic practices entitled "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price." He should be smart and accept the challenge by a second filmmaker that has produced a "rosier" account of Wal-Mart entitled, "Why Wal-Mart Works & Why That Makes Some People Crazy" -- naturally Wal-Mart cooperated with the second film, but not Greenwald's. The left should always be open to debate our ideas (or show our media) in open forums, unafraid of the opposition's intellectual assaults. Greenwald should respond with a smirk, followed by "Anytime, anyplace."

POSTSCRIPT: I guess I shouldn't be surprised that one of Bill Clinton's media people has signed up to spread Wal-Mart propaganda -- he was an unbelievable opportunist himself. It's good to know people in modern politics really do love profit more than principle. Leslie, if I believed in God I'd pray for you since it's an act of pity more than one of concern.

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