Tuesday, February 28, 2006

More Fukuyama

This is a selection from Franics Fukuyama's Europe vs. Radical Islam in yesterday's Slate.
There is no question that what has come to be called "Eurabia" constitutes a major problem for democracy there, a problem that European elites have been inexcusably slow to recognize and address. They operated for too long under a false understanding that liberal pluralism meant respecting the rights of communities rather than individuals, and they were not willing to step in when, for example, a Moroccan family forced their daughter into a marriage or shipped her back to Morocco against her will. Trendy multiculturalism dovetailed with traditional European corporatism and left Muslim communities in isolated ghettos, which then became fertile grounds for the growth of a highly intolerant version of Islam.

Yet the deeper source of Europe's failure to integrate Muslim immigrants, as Bawer recognizes, is not trendy multiculturalist ideas embraced by the left, but precisely Buchanan's blood-and-soil understanding of identity—a mind-set that until five years ago prevented a German-speaking third-generation Turk from acquiring citizenship because he didn't have a German mother. According to Bawer, "Europeans … will allow immigrants into their country; they'll pay high taxes so that their government can dole out (forever, if necessary) rent support, child benefits. … But they won't really think of them as being Norwegian or Dutch. And they'll rebel mightily against the idea of immigrants living among them as respected, fully equal professionals." American identity, by contrast, has from the beginning been more creedal and political than based on religion or ethnicity. Newly naturalized Guatemalans or Koreans in America can proudly say they are Americans. Pat Buchanan may not like it, but that is precisely what rescues us from the trap the Europeans are in.
His answer to Europe is simple in theory yet ridiculously difficult in practice (although I happen to agree with it).
The problem that most Europeans face today is that they don't have a vision of the kinds of positive cultural values their societies stand for and should promote, other than endless tolerance and moral relativism. What each European society needs is to invent an open form of national identity similar to the American creed, an identity that is accessible to newcomers regardless of ethnicity or religion. This was the idea behind Bassam Tibi's concept of Leitkultur (guiding or reference culture), the notion that the European Enlightenment gave rise to a distinct and positive universalist culture based on the dignity of the individual. Muslims coming to Europe would be minimally expected to accept this perspective as their own. The German Christian Democrats timidly endorsed a version of this five years ago, only to retreat in the face of charges of racism and anti-immigrant prejudice from the left...Time is getting short to address these questions. Europeans should have started a discussion about how to integrate their Muslim minorities a generation ago, before the winds of radical Islamism had started to blow. The cartoon controversy, while beginning with a commendable European desire to assert basic liberal values, may constitute a Rubicon that will be very hard to re-cross. We should be alarmed at the scope of the problem, but prudent in responding to it, since escalating cultural conflict throughout the Continent will bring us closer to a showdown between Islamists and secularists that will increasingly look like a clash of civilizations.
Indeed, time is short, and anyone of good will and a modicum of international solidarity should start thinking hard about these problems -- especially the ridiculous reactionism of the European Left -- before Huntington's Clash of Civilizations thesis comes true.

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On Fukuyama

So I must have underestimated the attention that Francis Fukuyama's article has recieved in the past week - the scope is impressive. As I reprinted it here, I first became aware of it through the New York Times. Then I had my professor of my Neo-Cons class send it out; recieved it from a friend via email in the London paper, The Guardian; and then speaking with again with a friend today about how it came up in a student discussion about politics just a few short hours ago...

I have been meaning to write on this for some time now... I only just learned about Fukuyama and started reading his works in my Neo-Con course, focusing mostly on his 'End of History' thesis. In researching Paul Wolfowitz I also found out that Fukuyama was an apprentice of some sorts of his and worked under him on two different projects.

Overall my impression was that he had taken his culural ideas from Strauss and Straussian theorists, specifically in regards to moral relativism. Although a self-described neo-conservative, who most-often was consumed with foreign policy, my interpretation was that he was looking at the international system and looking at how it affected/determined society and culture, something most people only look at on a state-by-state level.

This article surprised me in two ways - first that he is repudiating neo-conservativism and second because his chief critique is over Iraq. As a new student to both international relations and specifically neo-conservativism, I was initially struck by the power of ideas and how theoretical and ideology-oriented the neo-conservative writers are. From Fukuyama I got the same sense.

What is shocking for me is that he is attacking neo-conservatives not only for their failures in policy in Iraq but also the principles that led to this situation in the first place. In his repudiation of neo-conservativism, he is attacking neo-conservatives at their very core.

I can't lie and say that I am not deeply encouraged by Fukuyama's both personal and public departure from the neo-conservative movement, and I think they have lost one of their strongest and well-respected players.

As he wrote in his article (that is part of a book due out this month), "Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support."

For the full text of the article, 'After Neoconservativism,' see my blog.

-- Mara Lee

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Old Reds

This warms my socialist heart, via the NYTs:
They are unlikely revolutionaries. Bearing walkers and canes, a veritable Merck Manual of ailments among them, the 12 old friends — average age 80 — looked as though they should have been sitting down to a game of Scrabble, not pioneering a new kind of commune.

Opting for old age on their own terms, they were starting a new chapter in their lives as residents of Glacier Circle, the country's first self-planned housing development for the elderly — a community they had conceived and designed themselves, right down to its purple gutters.

Over the past five years, the residents of Glacier Circle have found and bought land together, hired an architect together, ironed out insurance together, lobbied for a zoning change together and existentially probed togetherness together.

"Here you get to pick your family instead of being born into it," said Peggy Northup-Dawson, 79, a retired family therapist and mother of six who is legally blind. "We recognized that when you're physically closer to each other, you pay more attention, look in on each other. The idea was to share care."

The four couples, two widows and two who are now living solo live in eight individual town houses, grouped around an inner courtyard. Still under construction is the "common house" with a living room and a large kitchen and dining room for communal dinners; upstairs is a studio apartment they will rent at below market value to a skilled nurse who will provide additional care. It is their own self-styled, potluck utopia.
It is precisely these kind of cooperate endeavors that shows a socialist alternative may still be possible or at least survive precariously within a market framework. Yes, I still dream.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Extend a Hand

Hitch's at it again:
The incredible thing about the ongoing Kristallnacht against Denmark (and in some places, against the embassies and citizens of any Scandinavian or even European Union nation) is that it has resulted in, not opprobrium for the religion that perpetrates and excuses it, but increased respectability! A small democratic country with an open society, a system of confessional pluralism, and a free press has been subjected to a fantastic, incredible, organized campaign of lies and hatred and violence, extending to one of the gravest imaginable breaches of international law and civility: the violation of diplomatic immunity. And nobody in authority can be found to state the obvious and the necessary—that we stand with the Danes against this defamation and blackmail and sabotage. Instead, all compassion and concern is apparently to be expended upon those who lit the powder trail, and who yell and scream for joy as the embassies of democracies are put to the torch in the capital cities of miserable, fly-blown dictatorships. Let's be sure we haven't hurt the vandals' feelings.
For those in the DC area that are disturbed and disappointed by Washington's response to this nonsense and would like to show a sign of solidarity with Denmark, Hitch and others will be outside the Danish Embassy tomorrow between noon and 1:00pm.

Wish I could be there. And if you can't either, be like me and just drink enough Carlsberg to make up for it.

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Mohammed's Turban

This may be a little bit old, but I like Michael Radu's take on the whole Mohammed cartoon crap.
By now, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Muslim World League, and the Arab League have all charged Denmark with blasphemy, desecration, and sacrilege. A protester in Kuwait said he wanted Danes “to feel the harm as a people the same way they harmed our prophet.” And the World Assembly of Muslim Youth has decried Denmark’s “culture of Islamophobia."

It has taken a long time for Samuel Huntington ’s concept of a “clash of civilizations” to be taken seriously in European and American elite circles, but how else could one describe mass demonstrations in the street and such strong government reactions throughout the Muslim world against the concept of a free press, which is clearly a Western invention? And we should be clear that that is what is at stake. The Danish, French, and Norwegian governments have all tried, futilely, to explain that what newspapers publish has nothing to do with government policies, and it should be obvious that neither Arla Foods nor Novo Nordisk control the editorial decisions of Jyllands-Posten. Unfortunately, in most Muslim and all Arab countries, there are no such separations. Hence, the demand for government action against the newspaper — a call going directly against the very essence of Danish and European democratic systems.

The latest assault against Western values in the name of Islam is not the first. There have been similar, albeit smaller and briefer ones, attacks on free expression for almost two decades, in the cases of novelists Salman Rushdie and Michel Houllebecq, journalist Oriana Fallaci, and Dutch film director Theo van Gogh, who was assassinated, all in the name of punishing insults to Islam. The Jyllands-Posten conflict, however, seems to have accomplished two things in the West. First, it has made it clear that most Muslims simply do not comprehend but nevertheless oppose Western democratic values and diversity. Second and most important, it has forced the Europeans to begin to understand and react to that fact.
While Radu goes too far lumping most Muslims into his analysis, he does bring out a salient point: the trajectory of Muslim politics is quite disconcerting and dangerously departs from our liberal democratic norms.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Port Insecurity

Matt Yglesias has a quick, adept, and skeptical analysis of Bush's new port deal with a state-owned business of the United Arab Emirates. For some more background, here's a WaPo article on how the takeover will affect security and unions with some information on the UAE firm, Dubai Ports World.

This administration just gets crasser and crasser.

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Not Good...

Is an understatement.
One of the most revered shrines in Shiite Islam was bombed early this morning, causing the collapse of its dome, police and eyewitnesses said. There was no immediate estimate of casualties in the latest in a series of sectarian attacks in the country.
But there is a silver lining considering the violence and intimidation the cartoon melee started.
Iraq's most notable Shiite religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, announced a week long mourning and urged people to go to the streets in "peaceful demonstrations to denounce this criminal act." Sistani's office said a detailed statement would be released later today.
Could Sistani truly be the savior of a nascent Iraqi democracy?

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Historical Parallels?

I've been reading Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. It's a fascinating journey into early balance-of-power politics as well as normative structures within the Greek polis system marked by the bipolarity of Athens and Sparta. If you haven't touched it before, it's a good read.

One of the things I've taken away from it is how easy Athens slipped from relative democratic norms ( after all Athens did benefit from slave labor and incomplete franchise) that justified their power and its extension to justifying their power in terms of self-interest only. Ultimately it was their downfall as tenuous alliances crumbled and Athens was left isolated against the too powerful alliance between Sparta and Persia. As value-laden rhetoric about the benefits of democracy and commerce shifted to pure self-interested aggrandizement and power for power's sake, Athens hegemony suffered and it eventually lost the Peloponnesian War. As Richard Ned Lebow writes, paraphasing an argument from James Boyd White's When Words Lose Their Meaning:
As the [Peloponnesian]War progresses, the discourse shifts and changes until the language and community it constituted deteriorate into incoherence. Athenians can no longer use the traditional language of justification for their foreign policy. Struggling to find an alternate language, they resort to assertions of pure self-interest backed by military clout. Such a language is not rooted in ideas, is unstable and deprives its speakers of thier culture and identities. In using it, Athenians destroy the distinction among friend, colony, ally, neutral and enemy, and the make the world their enemy through a policy of limitless expansion.
We're not there yet, but I fear this is what could occur in the United States if democrats (small D) don't steer the conversation back towards the convergence of values and material capabilities. Let's be honest, many people see through the veneer of Bush Administration justifications for the Iraq War, at least in honestly entertaining the possibility that national security rationales disporportionately led to the war in Iraq and not idealist concerns of democratization.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

The Infantilism of "Stop Snitching"

Yesterday the NYTs had an interesting piece on a shooting that occurred two weeks ago in Greenpoint, Brooklyn outside a recording studio, which killed hip-hop artist Busta Rhymes' unarmed security guard. The guard,Israel Ramirez, was killed accidently as an altercation between two acquaintances exploded into gunshots. A tragedy no doubt, but here's the kicker:
Among scores of witnesses, including the rap artist Busta Rhymes and a half-dozen hip-hop celebrities who were present at the filming of a video at the studio, the lack of cooperation has been stunning, the authorities say.

"We believe there were between 30 and 50 people on the sidewalk at the scene of a homicide, and no one has come forward to volunteer information," said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. "It's challenging for investigators, and I find it disturbing."
There's no need to go into a long digression about the ridiculousness and immoral stupidity of gangsta rap and the inflated machismo that goes along with it. Events like this, compounded with the unsolved murders of Biggie Smalls, Tupac, and Jam Master Jay just go to show the anarchic world the darker side of hip-hop inhabits. What I do find worthy of comment on is this vacuous reply by Ms. Oh of Hot 97, a NYC hip-hop radio station:
What we're seeing is a head-on crash of art and reality," she said. "The concepts of snitching and justice have become open to interpretation, and the problem is that no one has a handbook on how to proceed."
You're kidding me. A handbook? How about personal responsibility and self-control. In a sense Ms. Oh is implying what I've always noticed about hip-hop, especially its gangsta sub-genre, and hated: the tendency toward lock-step cultural norms that attempt to make everyone look and act the same, whether you're black, white, etc.

It's amazing to see grown men act like such petulant little children on the playground. For all its claim to individuality, gangsta rap is just another expression of the herd silencing those who step out of line.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ode to Peter Benchley

The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail.
This is the opening line of Jaws. It would be an understatement to say I'm a fan of Peter Benchley's modern Melvillian horror novel. Ever since I first saw Spielberg's classic on VHS at no more than 5 years old I've been a shark enthusiast. When I graduated to reading the novel at around 12 or 13 I tore through it in a day. Every couple of years or so I return to it. It makes me feel like a child again, scared to peer into the abyss, afraid that glimmer of teeth will explode out of the water, wrenching me into the deep.

It's nice to feel that fear circulate and then attack your spine every so often.

In honor of Peter Benchley, who died this past Saturday at 65, Slate has a great little article dedicated to Jaws as a pulp novel. It's very good and worthy of your eyes.

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The Right Strikes Back...And Then Retreats

Andrew Sullivan made this passage from a George Will editorial his quote for the day.
Besides, terrorism is not the only new danger of this era. Another is the administration's argument that because the president is commander in chief, he is the "sole organ for the nation in foreign affairs." That non sequitur is refuted by the Constitution's plain language, which empowers Congress to ratify treaties, declare war, fund and regulate military forces, and make laws "necessary and proper" for the execution of all presidential powers . Those powers do not include deciding that a law -- FISA, for example -- is somehow exempted from the presidential duty to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."
I was interested enough to read the full editorial. Will chugs along pretty well for awhile, scoring some points by undermining the administration’s conflation of the authorization to use military force (AUMF) and the permission to spy.
Administration supporters incoherently argue that the AUMF also authorized the NSA surveillance -- and that if the administration had asked, Congress would have refused to authorize it. The first assertion is implausible: None of the 518 legislators who voted for the AUMF has said that he or she then thought it contained the permissiveness the administration discerns in it. Did the administration, until the program became known two months ago? Or was the AUMF then seized upon as a justification? Equally implausible is the idea that in the months after Sept. 11, Congress would have refused to revise the 1978 law in ways that would authorize, with some supervision, NSA surveillance that, even in today's more contentious climate, most serious people consider conducive to national security.
Good points, but Will fails to address the biggest flaw in the Administration’s defense, i.e., the argument that NSA spying was implicitly authorized in the AUMF cannot coexist with the argument that Congress would have refused to authorize the NSA spying program if it was asked; it’s a logical impossibility. If Congress would have refused the spying power, they would not have signed a bill which granted it.

These logical inconsistencies seem to suggest, once again, that Bush’s justification for the NSA program is more of slapdash response to public scrutiny than it is a set of principles which guided the implementation of the program. Will understands this to some degree, which is why his conclusion (shared by at least one Republican in the Senate) is so baffling.
But 53 months later, Congress should make all necessary actions lawful by authorizing the president to take those actions, with suitable supervision. It should do so with language that does not stigmatize what he has been doing, but that implicitly refutes the doctrine that the authorization is superfluous.
Not stigmatize what he has been doing? In other words, not stigmatize the fact that evidence indicates he knowingly flouted the will of Congress and then piled lame excuse on top of lame excuse to justify it? I guess as long as he keeps his hands off the interns, Bush doesn’t have to worry about anything more than a slap on the wrist for his bad behavior.


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Corporate Socialism

To add to M.M.'s point about who benefits from health savings accounts, I found this economic brief from the Economic Policy Institute which shows the economic mythology behind the Bush Administration's claim that while wages have stagnated, the total package (wages + benefits) have stayed in line with inflation.
Despite the fact that 2005 marked the fourth year of an economic expansion characterized by strong productivity growth, the inflation-adjusted wages of most workers' fell last year. The median (or typical) worker's wage fell by 1.3% (Figure A). The decline was even greater for those at the very bottom end of the wage scale, who saw their real wages fall by 1.9%. Only those at the very top of the wage scale had wage growth that outpaced inflation. Some have stated that the reason for this unsettling result is that increasing health care costs are squeezing wage growth. Allan Hubbard, economic advisor to President Bush, stated in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that, "Employers are spending more money on health care, and that's robbing people of wage increases" (January 12, 2006).

The logic of this claim is that dollars that would have gone into wage increases have instead gone to pay the increased cost of employer-provided health care. According to the view espoused by Hubbard and others, workers' total compensation—wages plus benefits—continues to increase at a clip commensurate with the strength of the overall economy, even if their paychecks are admittedly not going as far.

The evidence presented below refutes this claim. First, nearly half (47%) of the workforce do not get health coverage through their job. Second, employers' health care costs rose more slowly in 2005 than any year since 1999, in part because rising costs have led to less coverage (Gould 2005). Third, not only did wage growth slow last year, but overall compensation growth also slowed and by the third quarter, it too lagged inflation. Finally, the growth of corporate profits in recent years has solidly outpaced that of compensation as employers are trading away wage and benefit increases for higher profits.
What you can take away from this is simply American workers are getting screwed even when they work hard enough for productivity increases that boost corporate profits. This is an old mantra for corporations: Socialize risk (health-care costs) and privatize gains (the money they save from employee health-care). Standard economic theory predicts that when productivity rises, wages will raise as well as firms use the increase as incentives for even more growth. Which just goes to show that the ethos of corporate America doesn't care about theory, they care about profits regardless of the costs.

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When All Else Fails, Privatize

Having been largely rebuffed in his efforts to privatize social security, President Bush is putting his “ownership society” eggs into the basket of health savings accounts. "Health savings accounts are making health care more affordable," he says. If he means more affordable for employers, he’s absolutely right. According to a press release from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP):
These proposals would eliminate all tax advantages for employer-sponsored coverage (as compared to coverage purchased in the individual health insurance market). Those tax advantages were designed to encourage employers to provide insurance to their workers. As a result, some employers — typically, small business owners — would respond to the new HSA tax breaks by dropping coverage for their workers or (in the case of new businesses) electing not to offer coverage in the first place.
So health savings accounts and related tax credits are a boon to employers who want to lower their costs, but how would Bush’s policies affect the number of uninsured in the United States? CBPP suggests that:
• Under the proposed tax breaks, the number of people with individual health coverage would increase by 8.3 million when the proposals were fully in effect. Some 3.8 million of these people would previously have been uninsured; about 4 million of them would have switched from employer-sponsored coverage to individual coverage coupled with an HSA; and 500,000 would previously have received coverage through Medicaid.

• Some 8.9 million people would lose employer-sponsored coverage as a result of the tax breaks. About half of them — 4.4 million people — would become uninsured, while another 4 million would switch to individual coverage coupled with an HSA, and 500,000 would enroll in Medicaid.
For those of you who didn’t do these math, these figures point to a net increase of 600,000 uninsured Americans. But this isn’t the biggest problem. As the CBPP report indicates, and as critics have suggested all along, the Americans who stand to do alright under the HSA system (besides the wealthy, who don’t struggle much with health costs in the first place) are those who are healthy enough to purchase affordable individual coverage. The sickest Americans, those with chronic conditions and special health needs, will not find affordable coverage so easily, leaving the least fortunate only two choices: turn to Medicaid or go untreated.

Apart from our moral responsibility to look after the most vulnerable members of our society, Americans have a pragmatic interest in keeping the most expensive health care case from turning into Medicaid claims. As with so many of the president’s economic policies, the HSA plan does not generate savings, it merely passes economic burden from business owners to individual tax payers.


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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Cheney Speaks

Via WaPo:
"You can't blame anybody else," Cheney said in an interview with Fox News Channel. "I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. It's a moment I'll never forget."

Cheney said that after he shot Harry Whittington on Saturday afternoon at a Texas ranch, he ran over to him and said, "I had no idea that you were there. He didn't respond."

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"A Sickening Collaboration"

Finally Congress is standing against the the American internet corporations that have altered their products to assuage the Chinese government and helped it fingercuff its citizens' web freedom.
In a crowded House hearing room, Representative Christopher H. Smith, Republican of New Jersey, unleashed a scathing condemnation of four American Internet and technology companies — Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco — for a "sickening collaboration" with the Chinese government and for "decapitating the voice of the dissidents" there.
If you think this is just another vain attempt by government to hamstring corporations on vague ethical concepts and norms, then consider this:
Yahoo, which has been providing Web services in China since 1999, has been criticized for filtering the results of its China-based search engine. But its bigger problems began last fall when human rights advocates revealed that in 2004, a Chinese division of the company had turned over to Chinese authorities information on a journalist, Shi Tao, using an anonymous Yahoo e-mail account. Mr. Shi, who had sent a government missive on Tiananmen Square anniversary rites to foreign colleagues, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Last week, Reporters Without Borders, a group based in Paris, revealed that a Chinese division of Yahoo had provided information to authorities that contributed to the conviction in 2003 of Li Zhi, a former civil servant who had criticized local officials online. Mr. Li is serving eight years in prison.
Also there have been:
A series of episodes showing that the companies were bending to the restrictive demands of Beijing — filtering words like "democracy" or "human rights" from Chinese versions of a blog product, or censoring certain concepts from their China-based search engines — has leaked out from users inside China.
In response:
Christopher H. Smith, plans to introduce legislation by week's end that would restrict an Internet company's ability to censor or filter basic political or religious terms — even if that puts the company at odds with local laws in the countries where it now operates.

Although some advocates have argued that the companies may actually be violating existing trade laws, most experts concede that does not appear to be the case.

Mr. Smith's legislation, called the Global Online Freedom Act, would render much of what the Internet companies are currently doing in China illegal.

Among the act's provisions is the establishment of an Office of Global Internet Freedom, which would establish standards for Internet companies operating abroad. In addition to prohibiting companies from filtering out certain political or religious terms, it would require them to disclose to users any sort of filtering they undertake.
It's not often that we give kudos to a Republican, but today is the day.

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She Can't Be Serious

If anyone saw the Daily Show on Monday night, you saw how much fun they had with Cheney's "peppering" of Harry Whittington. Nothing was better than watching Ed Helms and Rob Cordry repeat ad infintum "Vice President Dick Cheney shot a seventy year old man in the face after mistaking him for a small bird."

Very funny.

But now Garance Franke-Ruta of TAPPED takes the bit a wee too far, insinuating that Dick Cheney's shooting of the man was anything other than a mistake.
Mark my words: Dick Cheney is going to be a victim of the CSI effect unless he comes clean, pronto. Thanks to CSI, we are all forensic scientists now, and, once you start asking forensic questions, there’s no end. I mean, has anyone examined the scene of the accident? Of course Cheney has not been charged with any crime, so there's no legal basis for a forensic examination, and the Armstrongs are under no obligation to let anyone onto their property. And yet...I can't help wanting to know all about pellet trajectories, and where the rest of the shot landed (what percent of the load went into Whittington?), and where exactly Cheney was standing, and where Wittington fell, and then maybe have a team of forensic scientists re-draw the pellet trajectories with tape, or maybe laser pointers. How loud do you have to shout to be heard from 90 feet away, anyway? How much clothing can a pellet penetrate at 90 feet? How much force does it take to lodge a pellet near a man's heart and how close to him do you have to be to do it? The Corpus Christi Caller-Times was totally on to something with their re-enactment: It is these forensic questions that will turn the Cheney shooting incident into news-stand and ratings heaven.

I know I'll watch.
How smug? I'm as deeply uncomfortable with Dick Cheney as anyone else that cares about transparency in government and fair business dealings, but com'on, whipping up the CSI Effect to say this was anything else than a tragedy. Are our spines that crooked, that we, the liberal left, is hoping he comes under prosecution for a mistake?

I think it's safe to say Dick Cheney is no Alexander Hamilton and that this "peppering" was a mistake.

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Congress Backs Down

WaPo is reporting that under pressure from the White House Congress is reconsidering an investigation into Bush’s domestic spying program.
Before the New York Times disclosed the NSA program in mid-December, administration briefings regarding it were highly secret and limited to eight lawmakers: the top Republican and Democratic leader of the House and Senate, respectively, and the top Republican and Democrat on the House and Senate intelligence committees.

The White House characterized last week's closed-door briefings to the full committees as a significant concession and a sign of the administration's respect for Congress and its oversight responsibilities. Many Democrats dismissed the briefings as virtually useless, but senators said yesterday they appear to have played a big role in slowing momentum for an inquiry.
Color me skeptical, but I’m not convinced. Closed door-briefings with the “gang of eight” didn’t do much to regulate the Administration’s spying. Briefing the full committees doesn’t pull the shroud from domestic spying, it just lets a few more congressman peak underneath.

The article continues:
Senate intelligence committee member Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) said in an interview that he supports the NSA program and would oppose a congressional investigation. He said he is drafting legislation that would "specifically authorize this program" by excluding it from the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which established a secret court to consider government requests for wiretap warrants in anti-terrorist investigations.

The administration would be required to brief regularly a small, bipartisan panel drawn from the House and Senate intelligence committees, DeWine said, and the surveillance program would require congressional reauthorization after five years to remain in place.
DeWine seems to miss the point. Congressional oversight is all well and good, but future authorization doesn’t change the fact that the White House has already conducted a domestic spying program without Congressional consent. We need an investigation to expose what the White House has done, not what it’s going to do.


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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Global Warming? What Global Warming?

An article in The Nation about embattled NASA climatologist James E. Hansen (The Nation Provide this link to the back story) suggests that another federal scientific body, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is getting tossed about on the rough seas of political pressure.

Hansen took aim at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for failing to recognize clear evidence of the link between increasing ferocity of tropical storms and greenhouse gases.

"We calculate an ocean surface warming in the region of hurricane formation, caused by human-made climate forcings," Hansen said. "So the categorical contention of the NOAA National Hurricane Center that recent hurricane intensification is due to a natural cycle of Atlantic Ocean temperature, and has nothing to do with global warming, is irrational. How could a hurricane distinguish between natural and greenhouse-gas warming?"

Hansen acknowledged that the topic is quite complex and still being explored by the scientific community, but he added that it seems "the public, by fiat, received biased information." Hansen asserted that NOAA scientists "were told not to dispute the hurricane conclusion in public" and that many of his colleagues at NOAA have told him their conditions are, in general, much worse.

"A NOAA scientist cannot speak with a reporter unless there is a 'listener' on the line with him or her," Hansen said, adding, "it seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States. The claim is that the 'listener' is there to protect the NOAA scientist. If you buy that one, please see me at the break; there is a bridge down the street that I would like to sell to you."
A few qualifiers: Hansen works for NASA not NOAA so his insight into NOAA is secondhand. And after being bullied by the NASA public affairs people, Hansen understandably has an axe to grind with the forces of scientific censorship.

Nonetheless, if even a fraction of what Hansen implies about NOAA is true, we’ve got a serious problem. NOAA’s vision is “[a]n informed society that uses a comprehensive understanding of the role of the oceans, coasts and atmosphere in the global ecosystem to make the best social and economic decisions.” That vision is an important one, but it can’t co-exist with implicit (or explicit) pressure to toe the party line with respect to climate change.


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Passion is for Liberals

That fun loving bunch over at the National Review has decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day by asking a cadre right wingers that timeless question: What is the greatest conservative love story ever told?



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Doing Good Without God

Via Slate's MeaningofLife.tv, comes a discussion with sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson discussing evolution, what theory means in science, the invalidity of creationism, and my personal favorite, doing good without any divine reward or fear of retribution.

Oh yeah, Wilson makes a point I make to all those who believe in heavenly rewards and immortality: How boring! Besides, if there is a heaven,and you're doing good merely for the benefits then you really haven't accepted "the good" in the religious sense have you?

You'll need either Windows Media Player or RealPlayer to view these files. RealPlayer loaded much, much faster for me.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Isn't it Ironic?

This is being discussed all over the left side of the blogosphere. Back in 2000, the conservative Free Republic published a memo warning against Clinton’s use of the FISA court.

Here’s a taste:

Seven judges on a secret court have authorized all but one of over 7,500 requests to spy in the name of National Security. They meet in secret, with no published orders, opinions, or public record. Those spied on May never know of the intrusion. Now, Clinton has expanded the powers to include not only electronic, but physical searches.

The aftershock of the Oklahoma City bombing sent Congress scurrying to trade off civil liberties for an illusion of public safety. A good ten weeks before that terrible attack, however with a barely noticed pen stroke President Bill Clinton virtually killed off the Fourth Amendment when he approved a law to expand the already extraordinary powers of the strangest creation in the history of the federal judiciary.

Since its founding in 1978, a secret court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA rhymes with ice -a) has received 7,539 applications to authorize electronic surveillance within the U.S. In the name of national security, the court has approved all but one of these requests from the Justice Department on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. Each of these decisions was reached in secret, with no published orders, opinions, or public record. The people, organizations, or embassies spied on were not notified of either the hearing or the surveillance itself. The American Civil Liberties Union was not able to unearth a single instance in which the target of a FISA wiretap was allowed to review the initial application. Nor would the targets be offered any opportunity to see transcripts of the conversations taped by the government and explain their side of the story.
Oh, how the tables have turned. I’d love to see Free Republic crank out an updated position paper, but I’m not holding my breath. If we're lucky, we’ll see a few right wing apologists offer up the “that was then this is now” argument. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.


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Picture This

Time has just published a photo showing Abramoff and Bush (sort of) together at a 2001 meeting at the White House. I’ll be the first to admit that this picture isn’t the smoking gun linking Abramoff to Bush. Still, Bush’s never-knew-him defense is questionable in light of reports like this:
The Bush Administration again faced questions about those ties after an e-mail Abramoff sent a journalist friend surfaced last week in which Abramoff wrote that he had met President Bush almost a dozen times over the past five years, and even received an invitation to the President's Crawford, Texas, ranch along with other large political donors. Bush "has one of the best memories of any politician I have ever met," Abramoff mused in the e-mail last month, adding that, He "saw me in almost a dozen settings, and joked with me about a bunch of things, including details of my kids."

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Purging the Ranks

The NYTs has a story about a republican think-tanker who claims he was fired for his public criticism of the President’s financial policy.
Mr. Bartlett, 54, the author of a syndicated newspaper column and articles in academic journals, was dismissed in October as a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a research group based in Dallas. In the interview, Mr. Bartlett said he had been fired because his increasingly critical comments about Mr. Bush, in his column, in his book and in other publications, had hampered the ability of the research institution to raise money among Republican donors.

He also provided a copy of an e-mail message that he said was sent to him in August 2004 by Jeanette Goodman, the vice president of the research institution. "100K is off the table if you do another 'dump Cheney' column and 65K donor is having a rebuttal done, in a national magazine, to your attack on the fair tax people so that 65K may be gone also," Ms. Goodman wrote about one of Mr. Bartlett's columns about the vice president. "Do you have any ideas on where I could raise that amount quickly?"
That’s one way to maintain a unified front.


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Cheney Shoots a Man

“The vice president didn’t see him,” [Karen Armstrong] continued. “The covey flushed and the vice president picked out a bird and was following it and shot. And by god, Harry was in the line of fire and got peppered pretty good.”
Don't get in between that man and his prey or else.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep

Bernard-Henri Lévy does his best Tocville imitation over at the Nation, offering up an outsider’s view of the States in his Letter to the American Left. I found myself nodding meekly at one or two passages, but the piece is pretty tepid overall. Still, it’s almost always valuable to examine ourselves from the perspective of another culture (perhaps that’s the theme of the day).


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At the Movies in Turkey

Via the BBC
At one of Istanbul's biggest multiplex cinemas the blockbuster is showing on five separate screens and nearly all the seats are sold out. It's the same story across the country.

"I'm back to see it for the second time already," says one student, waiting impatiently outside Screen 10.

"It is anti-American, but we already know what they've done in Iraq. That's the reality. Now we can see it on screen."

The movie opens with a real-life incident: the arrest in July 2003 of Turkish special forces in Sulaymaniyah, northern Iraq.

The soldiers were led out of their headquarters at gunpoint, with hoods over their heads. America later apologised, but it appears the offence ran deep.

At the time Turkey took the incident as national humiliation. In this film the fictional hero sets out for revenge.

From then on, the action pits good Turks against very bad Americans, in a mix of fact and fiction with a deeply nationalistic flavour.
I guess turnabout is fair play. Our action heroes have been killing evil Muslims ever since they stopped killing evil Russians. But I think the real winners here are Billy Zane and Gary Busey who managed to land spots in the film. God knows those guys needed some work.


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NSA Spying

Cheney thinks domestic surveillance should be an election issue in 2006.
"And with an important election coming up, people need to know just how we view the most critical questions of national security, and how we propose to defend the nation that all of us, Republicans and Democrats, love and are privileged to serve," Cheney said.
I couldn’t agree more.

The key to Democratic success on this issue is forcing the debate beyond the simplistic reasoning served up by Rove, Cheney, and the like. All the talk about pre- and post-9/11 world views is a red herring. This shouldn’t be a debate about the efficacy of wiretaps or even about debate about national security. It should be a debate about the executive branch running roughshod over the most representative branch of the federal government.

The spin coming out of the White House boggles the mind. If Bush and Cheney were so proud of this program, proud enough to make it an election issue, why didn’t they own up to it until they were outed by the press? Despite the administration’s obstinate insistence on implied executive power, their recent concessions to congress suggest that they know they overstepped on this one, even if they're not willing to admit it.

By the way, Kevin Drum has a good argument about the scope of the domestic surveillance program.


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Voice of Reason

Slate's Reza Aslan has a modest, reasonable response to the caricatures of the prophet Mohammad that originally appeared in the Dutch paper Jyllands-Posten. He's extremely even-handed in attributing blame to the various nodes of this silly debacle.
[T]he sad irony is that the Muslims who have resorted to violence in response to this offense are merely reaffirming the stereotypes advanced by the cartoons. Likewise, the Europeans who point to the Muslim reaction as proof that, in the words of the popular Dutch blogger Mike Tidmus, "Islam probably has no place in Europe," have reaffirmed the stereotype of Europeans as aggressively anti-Islamic. It is this common attitude among Europeans that has led to the marginalization of Muslim communities there, which in turn has fed the isolationism and destructive behavior of European Muslims, which has then reinforced European prejudices against Islam. It is a Gordian knot that has become almost impossible to untangle.

And that is why as a Muslim American I am enraged by the publication of these cartoons. Not because they offend my prophet or my religion, but because they fly in the face of the tireless efforts of so many civic and religious leaders—both Muslim and non-Muslim—to promote unity and assimilation rather than hatred and discord; because they play into the hands of those who preach extremism; because they are fodder for the clash-of-civilizations mentality that pits East against West. For all of that I blame Jyllands-Posten. We in the West want Muslim leaders to condemn the racial and religious prejudices that are so widespread in the Muslim world. Let us lead by example.
Nevertheless, while I agree that Jyllands-Posten's original publication was in bad taste and hypocritical (the paper wouldn't print caricatures of Jesus), I do stand with the various papers that decided to reprint, as I have, the original cartoon in the face of violence and intimidation. While the religious try to paint secularism as a hollow and vain belief system, we who believe in the advance of the Enlightenment beg to differ. From the minute those original thinkers unraveled the chains established religion had shackled them in, humans have demanded their freedom at the pains of humiliation, censure, and death. To boil it down concisely, we believe in a saying of Thomas Paine, which we also will pay the ultimate price for if it comes to it, "My mind is my own church."

It is a church that's open to all if they so desire.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Bad Analogy

In an otherwise good analysis of the Mohammad cartoon mess, Gary Younge of the Nation stumbles twice in one paragraph. The first gaft is one of ahistoricity.
The right to offend must come with at least one consequent right and one subsequent responsibility. People must have the right to be offended, and those bold enough to knowingly cause offense should be bold enough to weather the consequences, so long as the aggrieved respond within the law. Muslims were in effect being vilified twice--once through the original cartoons and then again for having the gall to protest them.
Nonsense. The Muslims that protested were vilified quite rightly for turning from the right to be offended to the resort to violence. Were they pawns to some extent of Middle Eastern dictatorships such as Syria, Iran, and Jordan? Sure. But doesn't that make it all the more distressing that these unpopular regimes can manipulate their populations so easily?

Lastly, Younge makes an unconscionable comparison to a totally unrelated and righteous struggle.

Such logic recalls the words of the late South African black nationalist Steve Biko: "Not only are whites kicking us; they are telling us how to react to being kicked."
To use a genuine freedom fighters words so callously to whitewash such vile acts as setting the Danish and Norwegian embassies aflame in Damascus is ghastly. How can you compare these media organizations and governments to the Afrikaner government in South Africa or the violent protesters to the ANC and be taken seriously. This is an inversion of guilt in magnitude.

This is a shame because Younge's overall analysis is spot on: We must do all we can to empower Muslim moderates if we ever want to prevail against Islamism and its Islamic terrorism corollary.

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Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Bush is dishing the details of an alleged al Qaeda plot to take out the Library Tower in Los Angeles.
Bush said that only a month after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, top Al Qaeda operative Khalid Sheik Mohammad, the 9/11 mastermind, already had "set in motion a plan to have terrorist operatives hijack an airplane using shoe bombs to breach the cockpit door and fly the plane into the tallest building on the West Coast."

Mohammad assigned the job of planning the attack on Los Angeles to a terrorist named Hambali, also known as Riduan Isamuddin, a leader of an Al Qaeda affiliate in Southeast Asia called Jemaah Islamiyah. J.I. already had carried out a series of deadly attacks in that region, Bush said.

The plan called for Hambali to recruit Asians for the attack because they would be less likely to arouse suspicion than people of Middle Eastern descent, he said.

"Hambali recruited several key operatives who had been training in Afghanistan. Once the operatives were recruited, they met with Osama bin Laden, and then began preparations for the West Coast attack," the president added. According to counter-terrorism officials, Hambali is believed to have chosen several men to launch the attacks, including a pilot, and had set aside funds to pay them.

He said the plot was "derailed" in early 2002, when a Southeast Asian nation he did not name arrested a key Al Qaeda operative with some knowledge of the plot, which began to unravel.

"Subsequent debriefings and other intelligence operations made clear the intended target and how Al Qaeda hoped to execute it. This critical intelligence helped other allies capture the ringleaders and other known operatives who'd been recruited for this plot. The West Coast plot had been thwarted. Our efforts did not end there," Bush said.

"In the summer of 2003, our partners in Southeast Asia conducted another successful manhunt that led to the capture of the terrorist Hambali," he told his audience.
I’m not sure if this is the truth or a pilfered plot line from season 6 of 24. In any event, it makes for compelling fodder from the White House’s perspective. I can picture the addendum now: “And we never could have done it without the help of our little friend, domestic surveillance. Up yours ACLU.”


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Breaking Ranks

I must admit, I’m a little confused as to why Bush is pushing a guest worker program destined to rile a large chunk of his conservative base. There’s been no shortage of rightwing grumbling about our porous boards lately, but on Wednesday opponents of the guest worker plan launched a full scale rally outside of the Capitol.

Things were going along swimmingly until two uninvited guests showed up.
The fervor subsided only when two men dressed in brown and wearing swastikas goose-stepped toward the Minutemen and gave a Nazi salute. The men, straight out of "The Producers," handed out fliers encouraging the Minutemen to "end your alliance with the Republicans!!!" -- and join the American Nazi Party. Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist called for an intermission "to resolve this situation."
Xenophobia makes strange bedfellows.


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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Free Expression?

How apt that the Muslim cartoon fiasco has coincided with the decision today in London to sentence a Muslim cleric to seven years for soliciting murder. Now, certain Muslims will find a double standard here, and I'm not sure they're wrong. Then again, the right to free expression the way I see it -- take it or leave it -- is to channel rage, hatred, animosity as well as other more benign tendencies into debate and contestation and away from violence. Abu Hamza Masri violated this tendency when he called on his followers to kill the unbelievers.

Still, I'm uncomfortable with someone going to prison, however vile, for speaking words.

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"Defensive" Work

Slate has an interesting dispatch from Iraq detailing the exploits of Russian security contractor, Erinys. The best line, being the most frightening that is, concerns a present employee who served in the Russian military in Chechnya. Regarding Iraq he laments:
"To tell you the truth, I didn't expect it to be this bad."

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Right On

The WaPo today carries an op-ed from Die Zeit's Washington Bureau Chief Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff on the Muhammad cartoon fracas. He's right on the money (which is why you'll find below this post that I, as well, have reprinted the cartoon in solidarity with those who have the courage to withstand violence and intimidation on principled grounds).
Much of the U.S. reporting about the fracas made it appear as if Europeans just don't get it -- again. They struggle with immigration. They struggle with religion. They struggle with respect for minorities. And in the end they find their cities burning, as evidenced in Paris. Bill Clinton even detected an "anti-Islamic prejudice" and equated it with a previous "anti-Semitic prejudice."

The former president has turned the argument upside down. In this jihad over humor, tolerance is disdained by people who demand it of others. The authoritarian governments that claim to speak on behalf of Europe's supposedly oppressed Muslim minorities practice systematic repression against their own religious minorities. They have radicalized what was at first a difficult question. Now they are asking not for respect but for submission. They want non-Muslims in Europe to live by Muslim rules. Does Bill Clinton want to counsel tolerance toward intolerance?

On Friday the State Department found it appropriate to intervene. It blasted the publication of the cartoons as unacceptable incitement to religious hatred. It is a peculiar moment when the government of the United States, which likes to see itself as the home of free speech, suggests to European journalists what not to print.
It's frightening to see that people -- particularly the U.S. journalism community and government -- just don't understand that if free speech isn't allowed for anyone then it's in jeopardy for eveyone.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

In Solidarity

The Enlightenment and Fanaticism

Maybe the most important triumph of the Enlightenment was the ability to understand that no one had a monopoly on the truth. This truism led to methodologies that allowed a proposition to be put forward and then to be debated through the prism of reason and empirically collected observations -- the scientific method to be precise. Essentially, you had to have proof for the statements you made. If you didn't, people, hopefully, wouldn't believe you. More importantly, people wouldn't kill and be killed for them.

The cartoon "outrages" show how intellectually progressive this notion was. As CNN is reporting, the protests sweeping the Muslim world have now turned deadly to add to the violence and intimidation of previous days. Here are the idiotic things that occur when you claim a monopoly on the right to being offended and then the resort to violence in response to that verbal or printed offence.
The protests came as Iran announced it had cut off all trade ties with Denmark.

A report on the state-run news agency IRNA said Iranian Commerce Minister Massoud Mirkazemi stopped trade with Denmark as the government's response to the cartoons.

It said that while trade has been stopped, certain machinery and medicine will be allowed in for another three months.

In Tehran, demonstrators protested outside the Danish Consulate and the Austrian Embassy. Austria is currently serving as president of the European Union. Reuters reported that about 200 people threw fire bombs and rocks. (Full story)

Meanwhile in Paris, France Soir -- a newspaper that published the cartoons of Mohammed -- was evacuated for nearly three hours Monday after receiving a bomb threat.

Police and bomb squads searched the premises and found no cause for concern.
More evidence that religion, while being the hope in a hopeless world for many, is a brutish force as each sect make their claims to absolute knowledge and therefore earthly rule. The values of skepticism and free inquiry and non-violent free expression run circles around this tyranny each and every time. It is a sign of the Enlightenment's strength and that of religion's weakness. So to the religious fanatics everywhere I call you out: Meet us, the free thinkers and skeptics and scientists, on the battlefield of ideas if you're so confident you're right. I have no doubt whose flag will flutter in the wind at the termination of hostilities.

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I'm Back

Regular blogging will begin tomorrow. Agadir, Morocco is a wonderful place and not even on the U.S. vacation map yet. I don't think I met another American outside our group, but heaps of great people from the U.K. Anyway, seven straight days of sun and fun are over. Back to the nitty-gritty tomorrow.

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