Friday, March 31, 2006


New York City has released the September 11th emergency calls to 911, although they only contain the operator's direction to the callers to "stay put." The NYTs provides audio excerpts.

Be warned: it's heart-breaking stuff.

Continue Reading...

The More You Know

It's my pleasure to introduce you to a new television network poised to begin broadcasting in 2007: The Real News, formerly Independent World Television.

The mission of The Real News is simple,to give you unfiltered news away from the spin that characterizes the corporate media. How will they achieve this laudable goal: They won't take money from corporations and governments so there will be no advertisements. It will be the viewers' network, completely dependent upon your and my financial support.

The funny thing you hear today about the media is that their only job is to rely the facts, to be objective. But when the media is constrained by the pernicious hands of advertisers and the need to perpetually increase ratings, the news get sanitized for your protection and the special interests of big business and governmental power are catered to to increase profits and control costs. Remember most media outlets are owned by a few corporations and individuals and therefore is a business that must follow the logic of private enterprise -- grow or die.

This is why The Real News will be different: they won't follow this logic because their revenue source is democratically dependent upon the viewer and how much she values the service. The Real News remembers the real aim of a free, obstinate press is to arm the public with the facts the few don't want the many to know so that democracy doesn't die due to the machinations of an unaccountable elite.

This is why I got into journalism. Moreover, it's why I believe it to be the most empowering and important of callings. Without democracy, the individual has no voice, and with no voice comes powerlessness. The Real News is attempting to give people back that voice the corporate media has thwarted for far too long.

Please stop by their website and give your support.

Continue Reading...

Thursday, March 30, 2006


No I'm not talking about George W. Bush, but New York Rangers' right-wing Jaromir Jagr. Sorry I'm writing a paper and just wanted to touch on the greatest season a NY Ranger has ever had. Last night Jagr had four assists, two of which were incredible to give the Rangers a four point cushion division lead against the much loathed Philadelphia Flyers.

Do I have visions of Lord Stanley's Cup dancing in my head? Goddamnright I do.

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Wish I Had the Time/Knew Arabic

Via NYTs:
American intelligence agencies and presidential commissions long ago concluded that Saddam Hussein had no unconventional weapons and no substantive ties to Al Qaeda before the 2003 invasion.

But now, an unusual experiment in public access is giving anyone with a computer a chance to play intelligence analyst and second-guess the government.

Under pressure from Congressional Republicans, the director of national intelligence has begun a yearlong process of posting on the Web 48,000 boxes of Arabic-language Iraqi documents captured by American troops.

Less than two weeks into the project, and with only 600 out of possibly a million documents and video and audio files posted, some conservative bloggers are already asserting that the material undermines the official view.
Let the apeshit begin!

POSTSCRIPT: If you don't know Arabic, please, please, don't blog on this or take any blogger's word on this stuff. There're some nuts with bad intentions out there in the blogosphere.

Continue Reading...


Jailed Christian convert Abdul Rahman was released yesterday by Afghanistan's Ministry of Justice. Via WaPo:
An Afghan man who had faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity has been released from prison after the case was dropped, the justice minister said Tuesday.

The announcement came after the United Nations said that Abdul Rahman had appealed for asylum outside Afghanistan and that the world body was working to find a country willing to take him.

Justice Minister Mohammed Sarwar Danish said the 41-year-old was released from the high-security Policharki Prison on the outskirts of Kabul late Monday.

"We released him last night because the prosecutors told us to," he said. "His family was there when he was freed, but I don't know where he was taken."

Small miracles do exist. An even greater miracle would be for the U.S. to grant Rahman's wish for asylum on our shores. It would at least show some guts considering how timid our response to the Mohammad cartoon fiasco was.

Continue Reading...

Friday, March 24, 2006

Atheists of the World Unite...

...for all we have to lose is our possibility of tieing the knot? WTF! Via my fellow blogger/believer in my crude maxim, "There is no God, but no God," Kevin Drum:
From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.” Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

....“Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years,” says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study’s lead researcher.
So I'm happy to say that a white, middle-class male like myself can indeed still be legitimately discriminated against like any other minority -- how nice! And for all you Christians out there, M.M. and I are coming after your daughters. Watch out, because someday you may be sipping eggnog with one of us Godless heathens at your Christmas or Easter dinner tables. Hallelujah! Something sure has risen, but it ain't Christ.

Continue Reading...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Identity/Difference at the Gallows

I'm not a big proponent of ever constructing difference on a strict "us" vs. "them" logic, but this warrants it.
Afghan prosecutors have requested the death penalty for the 41-year-old convert, Abdul Rahman. Mr. Rahman told a preliminary hearing in Afghanistan last week that he converted to Christianity about 15 years ago while working with a Christian aid group helping refugees. When he recently sought custody of his children from his parents, family members reported his conversion.

Prosecutors have described Mr. Rahman as a "microbe" and said conversion is illegal under Islamic law. Conservative Afghan religious leaders dominate the country's courts and prosecutorial offices, but Afghanistan's American-backed constitution guarantees freedom of religion.
I particularly like their reference to Rahman as a "microbe." Essentially he's a disease that might taint the glorious Islamic purity of Afghanistan. If only we were so lucky.

Humans have a knack for determining who's "one of us" and who's the "Other." There is much danger in dichotomies such as this. But sometimes, just sometimes, it's appropriate. This is why liberal democracy or the "us" is so much better than theocracy, "the them." Americans should look at this with horror (and not just because he's a Christian there Reactionary Right). Freedom of worship is one of the most hallowed principles of a liberal democracy because effectively we say, "We don't care what you belief, as long as you allow others to believe what they want in the process of pursuing each's interest." I like it because, well, if I made Afghanistan my home or found myself unfortunately born in a period before the Enlightenment I'd lose my head or be a bit overcooked.

Also, as Americans, we should remember this type of tyranny intimately because like Rahman, there was a time in our history when neighbors and family ratted on individuals for not holding the "correct" beliefs. Incidents like this should allow us to travel back to our own checkered past, whether that be McCarthyism or the disgraceful foolishness and fear of Salem, Massachusetts.

And from this gut-check should come a harsh rebuke from all Americans of all confessions and beliefs as well as from the international community. Or are we too manically wedded to a perverse sense of multiculturalism for that?

Continue Reading...

A "Reason"ed Forum

Over at, libertarians of all stripes give their impressions on Iraq after three years.

It's worthy of a look as it shows the great diversity contained under the category libertarian, which can encompass both the left and the right.

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Spirit of 1871

The French take their labor rights seriously, if only we would in the United States. Via the NYTs:
Facing crippling strikes and growing civil unrest, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin of France on Tuesday discussed watering down his contentious new labor law with legislators.

But union leaders, who have refused to begin a dialogue with the government until it has rescinded the law, showed no signs of budging on their promise to carry out nationwide protests and strikes next week. The law gives companies the right to hire employees 25 or younger for a two-year trial period, during which they can be fired without cause.

"The basic demand of the youth and of employees is that the law be withdrawn," said Gérard Aschieri, head of the Unitary Union Federation, France's largest teachers union syndicate. "He has to respond to the people in the street."
(Here's WaPo's story as well.)

For a little trip down memory lane here's a backgrounder on the most rebellious French laborites during the inspiring days of the Paris Commune.

POSTSCRIPT: The NYTs article is honest enough to print that the lad lying in a coma in a Paris hospital was not from "violence" as WaPo reports, but the recipient of skull-cracking blows from a Paris police officer.

Continue Reading...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Mr. Test Tube Give Me a Treat!

Hey you guys, it seems we're becoming obsolete. We're simply the middlemen in the sex equation for certain upper-middle to upper class women. What do they want? Sperm. The NYTs Mag tells all about this trend of the wealthiest women bypassing the penis for the baster.
As recently as the early 60's, a "respectable" woman needed to be married just to have sex, not to speak of children; a child born out of wedlock was a source of deepest shame. Yet this radical social change feels strangely inevitable; nearly a third of American households are headed by women alone, many of whom not only raise their children on their own but also support them. All that remains is conception, and it is small wonder that women have begun chipping away at needing a man for that — especially after Sylvia Ann Hewlett's controversial 2002 book, "Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children," sounded alarms about declining fertility rates in women over 35. The Internet is also a factor; as well as holding meetings through local chapters around the country, Single Mothers by Choice hosts 11 Listservs, each addressing a different aspect of single motherhood. Women around the world pore over these lists, exchanging tips and information, selling one another leftover vials of sperm. (Once sperm has shipped, it can't be returned to the bank.) Karyn found both her sperm bank and reproductive endocrinologist on these Listservs. Three-quarters of the members of Single Mothers by Choice choose to conceive with donor sperm, as lesbian couples have been doing for many years — adoption is costly, slow-moving and often biased against single people. Buying sperm over the Internet, on the other hand, is not much different from buying shoes.
I'm sorry but I don't have a lot of sympathy for this "trend." My fear is that it's ultimately selfish. When having a child ideally, it should be about the child and not about the mother or the father feeling alone or without meaning or whatever. It's another side effect of American consumerism and it's corollary, instant gratification, when a woman can think I don't need a man, I just need some sperm to conceive.

And I'm sorry, we shouldn't be adding to our population when there are children out there who need homes right now. Living, breathing, suffering children that seem disposable -- not of the right genetic make-up, born to uncaring parents and possibly rife with disorders. Something that can be left to rot on the shelf because the consumer wants a better product and desires to experience first-hand the manufacturing process: gestation.

Humans are not products. When possible, conception should be the product of a loving union between a man and a woman. When things go awry and children become the victims of mistakes made by their parents, we in society should organize our resources to find them the best loving homes possible -- whether that be in a traditional family unit or with a gay couple or a single parent.

Let's keep our attention where it should be always: with those children that are already here. Until we solve their problems, why should we go about creating more children with modern science and someone's deep pockets?

Continue Reading...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Principles and Politics

I’m almost done talking about Russ Feingold and his call for censure . . . for now anyway. I’m interested to see how the implications of his motion play out over the next few weeks, but at present time I don’t have much to say on the matter that hasn’t been said already. But before I drop the subject . . . William Greider has an interesting Feingold rant in The Nation. Though the piece narrowly escapes drowning in its own sarcasm, he makes a good point.
The joke is obvious to everyone in the Washington club--politics trumps principle, especially when it is about something as esoteric as the Constitution. It's a nonstory, the club agrees, not a constitutional crisis.

The Washington Post runs an obligatory account on page 8, quoting Mr. Anonymous Democrat Strategist on the unwisdom of Feingold's gesture. The New York Times story on page 24 quotes the esteemed constitutional authority Dick Cheney. The House Repubican leader (who replaced the corrupt House leader who resigned) denounces Feingold's resolution as "political grandstanding of the very worst kind." Like the Republican impeachment of Bill Clinton for fellatio in the White House? Go away, Feingold, let us get back to the people's business.

The real story--naturally overlooked by cynical editors--is that an honest truth-teller is loose in the fun house and disturbing the clowns. Man bites dog, senator defends Constitution.
Despite the glut of Feingold articles and blog posts that have surfaced this week, a disproportionate amount of the writing deals strictly with the political implications of his actions: Did he alienate his party or sound a Democratic charge? In general, liberal journalists and bloggers spend a lot of time writing about the Democratic Party’s strategy, or lack thereof. This obsession is not surprising considering their poor showings at the polls recently. And hey, I’m the first to agree that Democrats need to get their house in order, but let’s not beat political strategy to death at the expense of actually discussing progressive principles. After all, the whole point of winning elections is to advance policies that reflect your principles. Playing the political game for the thrill of victory is reprehensible. Kudos to Greider for reminding us of that.


Continue Reading...

Public Opinion and Spying

Via Kevin Drum, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that the public supports the domestic spying program by a margin of 52% to 46%. Drum suggests that “apparently we've done a lousy job of mobilizing public opinion against the NSA wiretapping program.” I agree that these numbers are troubling but I see a faint glimmer of hope here. The poll shows that 35% strongly oppose the program while only 33% strongly support it. What tips the scales in favor of support for the program is that 19% somewhat support the program while only 11% somewhat oppose it.

We have to accept that a certain portion of the hardcore flag-waving population will pledge their support for anything Bush proposes under the auspices of fighting terror. That said, 35% is a solid base of strong opposition. Provided Democratic politicians and progressive media outlets continue to frame this as a debate about executive power and not national security (after all, even Russ Feingold has said he supports domestic surveillance if it is done legally) there is good potential to win over those on the fence and mobilize public opposition to unwarranted, unregulated spying.


Continue Reading...

To the Netherlands

Via the NYTs:
This is not exactly a run-of-the-mill homework assignment: watch a film clip of an attractive woman sunbathing topless, and try not to be shocked.

"People do not make a fuss about nudity," the narrator explains.

That lesson, about the Netherlands' nude beaches, is followed by another: homosexuals have the same rights here as heterosexuals do, including the chance to marry.

Just to make sure everyone gets the message, two men are shown kissing in a meadow.

The scenes are brief parts of a two-hour-long film that the Dutch government has compiled to help potential immigrants, many of them from Islamic countries, meet the demands of a new entrance examination that went into effect on Wednesday. In the exam, candidates must prove they can speak some Dutch and are at least aware of the Netherlands' liberal values, even if they do not agree with all of them.
Naturally, there's been criticism:
Abdou Menebhi, chairman of Emcemo, a Moroccan interest group in Amsterdam, said the film was just another example of how the Netherlands was trying to limit immigration from Muslim countries.

"This isn't education, it's provocation," Mr. Menebhi said. "The new law has one goal: to stop the flow of immigrants, especially by Muslims from countries like Morocco and Turkey."
And he's right and all I can say is "So what!" This is quite honest and has the effect of a pre-immigration orientation. It's message: "If you think nudity and homosexuality is an abomination before some supernatural guy upstairs, then you may not want to emigrate here." Seriously, what's the problem? If you've built a bastion of liberal tolerance -- and yes I understand it's not that tolerant toward "Islamic beliefs" -- where even gays have marriage rights, I'm sure you'd want to maintain that cultural integrity.

To be honest, the only thing a devout Muslim should worry about when emigrating is if his/her destined society allows freedom of worship. If so, he/she should be able to look past a tit here or there or tolerant two dudes making out on a street corner.

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The New Global Architecture

While the U.S. plays the game of "White Man's Burden" in the Middle East, Noam Chomsky argues in today's Guardian that America's quintessential sphere of influence, Latin America, has a new streak of independence marked by its drift toward Asia, another Brutus to America's Caesar. (Read it for a more detailed account of the new plate-tectonics of the global order.)

While I'm pleased by social democratic developments in Latin America, an Asian bloc led by China scares me. While Washington has been a perpetual bayonet in the bellies of both Latin America and Asia for over a century now, it was precisely Washington's hypocrisy between its liberty-loving rhetoric and its imperial actions that led to protest movements at home and abroad that stymied imperial designs intermittenly. The relatively open democracy of the U.S. allowed the American people to reign in their government as best they could (i.e. Vietnam).

If this century is going to be marked by a rising dragon and a fluttering eagle, what will stand in the way of an authoritarian China, unchecked by its populace, from being a more brutal hegemon than the U.S.?

While I'm indebted to Chomsky for the way I analyze global politics, I'm continually surprised he doesn't offer any analysis of whether a world marked by a more or less dominant China would be better or worse for the global south as well as the post-industrial north. Does he think a weaker U.S. would join with Europe and Russia (and possibly India) to check China's ascendency? Or would Latin America, India and Russia join with China to ensure U.S. defeat?

Certainly American hegemony since WWII has been horrific for much of the global south, but wouldn't an authoritarian, capitalist China be even worse?

These are the questions that keep IR a tragic discipline. They are also the questions that show the left's nearsightedness by seeking an end to U.S. hegemony without asking what will take its place after its fall. I want to see -- as much as the next lefty -- a world marked by at least social democracy, but if that's not possible, I'd much prefer liberal democracy over authoritarian capitalism anyday.

It's something for all of us on the left to ponder for awhile.

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

In Utero Tug O'War

No, surviving members of Nirvana are not fighting over royalties with Courtney Love, rather the NYTs looks at a new fascinating theory about pregnancy developed by evolutionary biologist David Haig.
Pregnancy can be the most wonderful experience life has to offer. But it can also be dangerous. Around the world, an estimated 529,000 women a year die during pregnancy or childbirth. Ten million suffer injuries, infection or disability.

To David Haig, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard, these grim statistics raise a profound puzzle about pregnancy.

"Pregnancy is absolutely central to reproduction, and yet pregnancy doesn't seem to work very well," he said. "If you think about the heart or the kidney, they're wonderful bits of engineering that work day in and day out for years and years. But pregnancy is associated with all sorts of medical problems. What's the difference?"

The difference is that the heart and the kidney belong to a single individual, while pregnancy is a two-person operation. And this operation does not run in perfect harmony. Instead, Dr. Haig argues, a mother and her unborn child engage in an unconscious struggle over the nutrients she will provide it.

Dr. Haig's theory has been gaining support in recent years, as scientists examine the various ways pregnancy can go wrong.

His theory also explains a baffling feature of developing fetuses: the copies of some genes are shut down, depending on which parent they come from. Dr. Haig has also argued that the same evolutionary conflicts can linger on after birth and even influence the adult brain. New research has offered support to this idea as well. By understanding these hidden struggles, scientists may be able to better understand psychological disorders like depression and autism.
This is a must read. The implications of this research, if its experimental results in mice are similar in humans, is astounding.

Continue Reading...

V for Vile?

New Yorker Magazine reviews V for Vendetta and the verdict isn't good.
The country “doesn’t need a building,” V says. “It needs an idea.” Yes, but “Vendetta” doesn’t have any ideas, except for a misbegotten belief in cleansing acts of violence. How strangely doth pop make its murderous way, as V might say. The quarter-century-old disgruntled fantasies of two English comic-book artists, amplified by a powerful movie company, and ambushed by history, wind up yielding a disastrous muddle.
I have to say, I'm still looking forward to this anarchic romp through a dystopic future where the jackboots receive their due. As for the critics who judge the politics of the movie and not it's cinematic value: You could hear the exclaims of "too soon" manifesting themselves once the trailer ran. But, again, this is just fantasy. Nothing to get worked up about. Seriously.

Continue Reading...

Philosophical Bitching

NYTs book review had an amusing review this weekend of Rousseau's Dog, where authors David Edmonds and John Eidinow tell of one pf philosophy's ridiculous and pretensious quarrels between heavyweights David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The best line from the review comes from Voltaire though, speaking about Rousseau:
"I have always made one prayer to God, a very short one. Here it is: 'My God, make our enemies very ridiculous.' God has granted it to me."
May we all be as lucky with the radical Right as Voltaire thought he was with Rousseau.

Continue Reading...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Censure Part 2: White House Response

Scott McClellan has responded to Feingold’s call for censure.
"I think it does raise the question, how do you fight and win the war on terrorism?" McClellan said. "And if Democrats want to argue that we shouldn't be listening to al Qaeda communications, it's their right and we welcome the debate. We are a nation at war."
Apparently McClellan missed the part when Feingold said:
There can be debate about whether the law should be changed. There can be debate about how best to fight terrorism. We all believe that there should be wiretapping in appropriate cases. But the idea that the President can just make up a law in violation of his oath of office has to be answered.
I’m amazed at the White House’s ability to willfully ignore the fact that this is a debate not about national security but about enforcing the limits of executive power—even when they’re reminded in plain English. Rather than addressing the arguments of the opposition, the administration keeps lobbing “fighting the terrorists” bombs. It’s rhetoric by brute force.


Continue Reading...


Though congressional Dems failed in their push for a full investigation of the Domestic Spying program, one of the louder voices of liberal dissent in the senate, Russ Feingold, used the Sunday morning talk show circuit to call for a censure of the president.
"What the president did by consciously and intentionally violating the Constitution and laws of this country with this illegal wiretapping has to be answered," Mr. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, said on the ABC News program "This Week." "Proper accountability is a censuring of the president, saying: 'Mr. President, acknowledge that you broke the law, return to the law, return to our system of government.' "
Not surprisingly, Bill Frist countered with a “rally ‘round the family” defense.
Mr. Frist, who appeared on another segment of "This Week," said support for a censure would undermine the nation's efforts to fight terrorism and defend itself against its enemies.

"We are right now at a war, in an unprecedented war, where we do have people who really want to take us down," Mr. Frist said.

"The signal that it sends — that there is in any way a lack of support for our commander in chief, who is leading us with a bold vision in a way that we know is making our homeland safer — is wrong," he added. "And it sends a perception around the world."
I recall hearing a prominent another Republican leader say that our “offensive against terror involves more than military action. Ultimately, the only way to defeat the terrorists is to defeat their dark vision of hatred and fear by offering the hopeful alternative of political freedom . . . the rule of law, and protection of minorities, and strong, accountable institutions that last longer than a single vote.” What better way to fight this ideological battle than by demonstrating our own commitment to the rule of law by holding our highest officials accountable? Seriously, all those living under the “dark vision of hatred and fear” might like what they see.


Continue Reading...

Quote of the Day

I've been perusing J.S. Mill's On Liberty online and I came across this essential quote:
[T]he only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right.
This should be the organizing principle for a society based on a left-libertarian belief system. Think of the tax money we'd save if we curtailed legislating things outside the legitimate concern of the state and only of concern to the individual-- yes, South Dakota I'm implying you. Then we might rightfully sit back happily and say we are indeed the land of liberty. Until the day the state is as weak as can be, but can still carry out its duty of protection and societal welfare -- directed and happily constrained by the popular will -- liberty will be as elusive as Plato's forms.

Continue Reading...

Friday, March 10, 2006

Sandra Day O’Connor

NPR recently broadcast a story about a speech the retired Justice gave at Georgetown, in which she openly criticized Court-bashing congressmen. You can stream the audio from NPR’s site, or you can read a transcript at The Raw Story.

Here’s a taste:

I, said O’Connor, am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning. Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O’Connor said we must be ever-vigilant against those who would strongarm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.
Read/listen to the rest. She gets in some good jabs against the Delay and the Justice Sunday mob. It's good stuff


Continue Reading...

Virtual Discrimination

Jeff Chester has a disturbing piece in The Nation detailing the communication industry's attempt to discriminate against online content they don't get a cut from.
The nation's largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online.

Verizon, Comcast, Bell South and other communications giants are developing strategies that would track and store information on our every move in cyberspace in a vast data-collection and marketing system, the scope of which could rival the National Security Agency. According to white papers now being circulated in the cable, telephone and telecommunications industries, those with the deepest pockets--corporations, special-interest groups and major advertisers--would get preferred treatment. Content from these providers would have first priority on our computer and television screens, while information seen as undesirable, such as peer-to-peer communications, could be relegated to a slow lane or simply shut out.
It's a truism that the internet allows communication and associational possibilities only dreamed of decades ago. It's a vital sinew of post-industrial democracy. Will Congress sell more of our rights -- however virtual -- on the market for campaign donations? If Vegas set the odds I'd say put your money of the special interests.

To support Net Freedom, click here.

Continue Reading...

Congress Wins a Round

DP World pulled the plug on the port deal, apparently under pressure from the government of the United Arab Emirates. Schumer gets a nice photo-op and maybe a surreptitious pump of the fist, but I hesitate to call this a great advancement of our national security. This deal was politically crass from the beginning and probably doomed to a watery grave. But let’s not lull ourselves into thinking we’ve addressed the port issue. I tend to agree with this sentiment:
"This is a case where we were arguing about the wrong part of the problem," said Stephen Flynn, a former Coast Guard officer and port security expert who has argued that the nationality of the port operations manager has little to do with the gaping holes in security. "Americans were shocked to learn that the vast majority of port operations in this country are handled by foreign firms. But transportation is a global network, and we're not going to own all of it."
Nevertheless, the deal deserved the scrutiny it got, and it's nice to see Congress call the President out for once.


Continue Reading...

White House Cracks the Door on Domestic Spying

Since the White House is fighting tooth and nail against full discloser on the domestic spying program and since Congress is veering towards capitulation, the powers that be from both branches of government have agreed that the first step towards reconciliation is the creation of a seven-member intelligence subcommittee in the Senate. That committee received its first briefing on the spying program yesterday.

According to WaPo:
Those who participated in the briefing, which lasted more than two hours, were close-mouthed about the details. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released a statement yesterday evening describing the meeting as "extremely productive and educational for the members" of what he called the subcommittee on the oversight of the terrorist surveillance program.

"It's too . . . sensitive to talk about" was the only message from the panel's vice chairman, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), as passed on by his press secretary. A White House spokesman said there would be no comment.
Hm. I sure feel better.


Continue Reading...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Keeping the Faith

The President is touting the success of his efforts to channel more federal dollars into religious charities.

In the budget year that ended Sept. 30, religious charities received $2.15 billion in federal grants to administer a range of social service programs for the needy. That represented 10.9 percent of the total grants from the seven federal agencies such charities were eligible to apply to in fiscal 2005, according to a White House report.

"It used to be that groups were prohibited from receiving any federal funding whatsoever because they had a cross or a star or a crescent on the wall," Bush said. "And that's changed, for the better.

"It's changed for the better for those who hurt in our society," he said. "So now when the government's making social service grants, money is awarded to groups that get the best results regardless of whether they're a faith based program. That's all people want. They want to access to grant money on an equal basis, on a competitive basis, so there's no discrimination one way or the other."
No discrimination one way or the other, unless, of course, you consider the potential for religious institutions receiving federal money to hire and fire based on religion. I allow that there are several differences here, but the conspicuous absence of rules governing the conduct of religious charities receiving federal funds seems especially glaring in light of the Supreme Court’s recent defense of the Solomon Act.


Continue Reading...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Open Up and Say "AH!"

It is my distinct pleasure to welcome a new band into the gristle of good straight-up indie-rock: Let's French. And shhhh! One of your trusty bloggy droogs here at Woodshavings mans the drums for this real horrorshow quartet -- one hint it's not me.

If you like the Decembrists, you'll love these guys. Show'em love, and most importantly sloppy kisses, if you're in the DC area.

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

When I Was in High School

Today, I had the great opportunity to hear the Heritage Foundation's Peter Brookes give a talk on the future challenges of U.S. foreign policy. Like the good bureaucrat he is, Brookes' talking points were along those lines inherent to DC security types: the world is a dangerous place and we, the U.S., have the right and duty to maintain order while pursuing our interests in tandem. He is a realist of the American exceptionalist vein -- our impeccable history and ideals give us carte blanche to dictate the structure of the global order.

Along realist grounds he pointed indeed to grave threats to international stability: Iran's nuclear policy and their record of international terrorism, China's tremendous growth, and related to both, the world's energy security. Actually I have no doubt that he and I would see eye to eye on many problems facing the U.S. and the world. For better, although I make this statement with reservation, the U.S. is the global hegemon and maintains a decently liberal global order when it's in our interest to do so. The main variable that always must be kept in play is just that: U.S. interest. Although I'm sure Brookes understands that U.S. interest doesn't necessarily mean it coincides with the world's interest, his job description precludes him from voicing such doubts or discontents.

And this is the problem I have with the Brookes' and the bureaucrats and the conservative intelligentsia in which he travels. They never allow it to creep into their minds that U.S. interests deter democracy and liberalization in many corners of the world. I posed a simple question to him and his answer is instructive to say the least.

I asked, "As a supporter of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, do you repudiate U.S. policy towards Iraq during the 1980s?"

He answered, "I don't know, I was in high school at the time."

He was ducking the question, so I pressured him a bit saying his answer was ridiculous. He hunkered in a bit and told me the story of the 1979 Iranian hostage situation and how Iran was our enemy and we were using Iraq to balance against Iranian expansion and the export of Khomeini's revolution. So basically he gave the tried and true answer that international relations is dirty business and that in makes for strange bedfellows. I agree it does and it probably always will. This of course is the logic of realpolitik most famously associated with Henry Kissinger during the Nixon and Ford Administrations.

That's fine. But the problem is that Brookes worked for an Administration who used the rhetoric of human rights along with national security concerns to garner support for our invasion and occupation of Iraq. If I remember correctly, Bush consistently pointed out that Saddam had gassed his people and this, if nothing else, should lead to his disposition. What Bush always forgot to mention was that the precusors for those same chemical weapons came from the West and were used throughout the war against the Iranians and the Kurds as we looked the other way. After reading the declassified documents, Joyce Battle of the National Security Archives concludes:
The current Bush administration discusses Iraq in starkly moralistic terms to further its goal of persuading a skeptical world that a preemptive and premeditated attack on Iraq could and should be supported as a "just war." The documents included in this briefing book reflect the realpolitik that determined this country's policies during the years when Iraq was actually employing chemical weapons. Actual rather than rhetorical opposition to such use was evidently not perceived to serve U.S. interests; instead, the Reagan administration did not deviate from its determination that Iraq was to serve as the instrument to prevent an Iranian victory. Chemical warfare was viewed as a potentially embarrassing public relations problem that complicated efforts to provide assistance. The Iraqi government's repressive internal policies, though well known to the U.S. government at the time, did not figure at all in the presidential directives that established U.S. policy toward the Iran-Iraq war. The U.S. was concerned with its ability to project military force in the Middle East, and to keep the oil flowing.
This is where Brookes' argument starts to lose coherence if morality, responsibility and accountability mean anything in the sordid affair we call international relations. If he was for the Iraq war on the grounds the president ventured -- i.e. human rights as well as national security -- then he should be able to say that prior U.S. policy towards Iraq was misguided because, in a sense, we are making amends for the wrongs we perpetuated on the Iraqi people more than a decade and a half ago and that it made the U.S. less safe in the process (a Hitchensesque argument). Simply, without the knowledge of chemical weapons the West gave him and our shut mouth policy toward his deployment of them, Hussein would have had a harder time killing innocents and violating the laws of war.

Of course Brookes can always fall back on realpolitik as a bulwark against this line of moralist reasoning, but then, all I have to ask of him is this: Could the Bush Administration have persuaded the American people initially into supporting the war in Iraq once they discovered WMDs didn't exist or at least weren't there in the volume the President maintained?

Continue Reading...

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Who's Who of Possible Assassinations has a provocative little web feature entitled "The World's Marked Men." Daniel Byman goes through the world's most likely to be assassinated leading men and then ponders the why, the who, the how, the then what, and finally, the worst case scenario. You won't be surprised by who's on it -- Karzai, Putin, Chavez, Musharraf, Abdullah, Bin Laden, and Sistani -- but you may be surprised by who isn't on it: namely, our own President Bush.

I don't think I have to tell you that President Bush isn't the most popular of world leaders, so what gives? Is it decorum? He's certaintly a target and to be honest I'd like to know what Byman thinks would happen if such a ghastly objective was achieved.

Am I bad for thinking this?

Continue Reading...

Dialogue's Reward

The NYTs profiles Brooklyn Sheik Reda Shata this weekend. It's a fascinating study of what this Egyptian born cleric brought to his neighborhood when he emigrated to the U.S. shortly after 9/11 and what America has done to him. My favorite quote of Shata is this:
"America transformed me from a person of rigidity to flexibility," said Mr. Shata, speaking through an Arabic translator. "I went from a country where a sheik would speak and the people listened to one where the sheik talks and the people talk back."

Continue Reading...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Social Gospel

Christians come under fire from us all the time. Today, we take our hats off to a gentleman that understands what Jesus was talking about -- it wasn't about homosexual marriage or abortion -- and has put it into practice. If this is what Jesus meant, and I think he did, let's all walk in his footsteps.

His advice to us on the secular left: open your arms to us because we've been standing next to you the whole time in every historic fight of the 20th century. Anytime, brother, anytime.

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Losing Sight of History?

You knew it was coming. Hitchens has set Fukuyama in his crosshairs after the latter pushed away once and for all from his neo-con brethern in last weekend's NYTs Magazine article (you can read it here.)
The charge that used to be leveled against the neoconservatives was that they had wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein (pause for significant lowering of voice) even before Sept. 11, 2001. And that "accusation," as Fukuyama well knows, was essentially true—and to their credit.

The three questions that anyone developing second thoughts about the Iraq conflict must answer are these: Was the George H.W. Bush administration right to confirm Saddam Hussein in power after his eviction from Kuwait in 1991? Is it right to say that we had acquired a responsibility for Iraq, given past mistaken interventions and given the great moral question raised by the imposition of sanctions? And is it the case that another confrontation with Saddam was inevitable; those answering "yes" thus being implicitly right in saying that we, not he, should choose the timing of it? Fukuyama does not even mention these considerations. Instead, by his slack use of terms like "magnet," he concedes to the fanatics and beheaders the claim that they are a response to American blunders and excesses.

That's why last week was a poor one for him to pick. Surely the huge spasm of Islamist hysteria over caricatures published in Copenhagen shows that there is no possible Western insurance against doing something that will inflame jihadists? The sheer audacity and evil of destroying the shrine of the 12th imam is part of an inter-Muslim civil war that had begun long before the forces of al-Qaida decided to exploit that war and also to export it to non-Muslim soil. Yes, we did indeed underestimate the ferocity and ruthlessness of the jihadists in Iraq. Where, one might inquire, have we not underestimated those forces and their virulence?
His concluding paragraph is also worthy of note and should be thought about long and hard about the liberal-left that always value accomodation over conflict -- and remember conflict doesn't have to necessarily be war (ex. the Cold War), although violence isn't that far away (ex. the Cold War's heinous proxy wars).
I have my own criticisms both of my one-time Trotskyist comrades and of my temporary neocon allies, but it can be said of the former that they saw Hitlerism and Stalinism coming—and also saw that the two foes would one day fuse together—and so did what they could to sound the alarm. And it can be said of the latter (which, alas, it can't be said of the former) that they looked at Milosevic and Saddam and the Taliban and realized that they would have to be confronted sooner rather than later. Fukuyama's essay betrays a secret academic wish to be living in "normal" times once more, times that will "restore the authority of foreign policy 'realists' in the tradition of Henry Kissinger." Fat chance, Francis! Kissinger is moribund, and the memory of his failed dictator's club is too fresh to be dignified with the term "tradition." If you can't have a sense of policy, you should at least try to have a sense of history.
I, like both Fukuyama and Hitchens, travel in Marxist dialectic reasoning. We all believe the material and the idea or the thesis and the antithesis clash in a dynamic process that propels history or human events forward. The material grounds for liberal democracies exist in much of the world, therefore the point is to propel the idea forward. If a true democratic socialism cannot be realized, the next best hope for humanity is liberal democracy. Who can deny that? What's stopping this generation or the next from formulating peaceful policies to promote this? (Which is precisely what Fukuyama starts to enunciate in his article, although a military component to this still remains.)

While I have many problems with the neoconservative movement, beginning with Podhoretz through to Wolfowitz and Fukuyama, I do respect, like Hitchens, that they saw the dungeon of Sovietism in the West before anyone else wanted to, except maybe Orwell, and now have been the main opponents of the aforementioned murderous states led by megalomaniacs. I will never be ashamed that I did not support the war in Iraq. We were led there on lies and hidden motives -- which Hitchens denies to his discredit -- mixed up with principled opposition to Saddam Hussein. But now that it's over, I'm glad Hussein's in the docket and that, at least, there's a chance for some semblance of liberal democracy to root itself into the sands and grow ever so slightly. The hope for Iraq lies in its long history of secularism and a proactive civil society led by its unions if the U.S. has the gumption to promote it and keep the peace.

If I maybe so crude: Isn't this end in our best interest - ideationally and materially?

Continue Reading...

More Cartoon Nonsense

But this time it's state-side, via the AP:
A student panel discussion that included a display of the Prophet Muhammad cartoons descended into chaos, with one speaker calling Islam an ''evil religion'' and audience members nearly coming to blows.

Organizers of Tuesday night's forum at the University of California, Irvine said they showed the cartoons as part of a larger debate on Islamic extremism.

But several hundred protesters, including members of the Muslim Student Union, argued the event was the equivalent of hate speech disguised as freedom of expression.

Although there were numerous heated exchanges, no violence was reported
Most of this stemmed from the ignorance of both the panel and its coordinators and Muslim-American protestors.
Tensions quickly escalated when the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, founder of the conservative Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, said that Islam was an ''evil religion'' and that all Muslims hate America.

People repeatedly interrupted the talk and, at one point, campus police removed two men, one of them a Muslim, after they nearly came to blows.

Later, panelists were cheered when they referred to Muslims as fascists and accused mainstream Muslim-American civil rights groups of being ''cheerleaders for terror.''

''I put out a call to Muslims in America: Put out a fatwa on (Osama) bin Laden, put out a fatwa on (Abu Musab) al-Zarqawi,'' said panelist Lee Kaplan, a UAC spokesman. ''Support America in the war on terror.''

Thousands of Muslims worldwide have protested, sometimes violently, after the cartoons were published in a Danish newspaper and in other European newspapers. Islam widely holds that representations of Muhammad are banned for fear they could lead to idolatry.

Osman Umarji, former president of the Muslim Student Union, equated the decision by the student panel to display the prophet drawings to the debasement of Jews in Germany before the Holocaust.

''The agenda is to spread Islamophobia and create hysteria against Muslims similar to what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany,'' said Umarji, an electrical engineer who graduated from Irvine last spring. ''Freedom of speech has its limits.''
Look, to call Islam an "evil religion" is ridiculous on so many levels -- not least historically-- that it's a baseless claim. Historically, both Judaism and Christianity had their imperial and reactionary phases where the "evil" epithet could be applied. Does Islam have many teachings counter to liberal democratic norms? You bet. But even a quick, cursory reading of both the Old and New Testaments will provide you with the same hostility toward what we call today democracy. Liberal democracy can probably only take hold when religion becomes a private matter separate from practical and pragmatic governance based on individual rights protected by the rule of law. As much as Western Christian "true believers" everywhere hate to admit it, the United States is not a "Christian" nation, although it does have a Christian tradition that influenced much of its development.

And then there's the Holocaust card. Why do people everywhere feel that they have the right to compare their suffering to one of the worst genocides in human history? In a liberal democracy you have the right to practice any religion you want, which comes with a corollary: you can criticize any religion you like as well. If I can say offensive things about Jesus or the Torah, then why can't I say or do things that violate Muslim beliefs? Do Muslims have a monopoly on being offended?

The sign of a mature mind is its ability to question and to be skeptical of everything, particularly belief systems that have claim on the truth. Muslims living in a liberal society need to get used to the fact they're not immune from criticism, even at its most vile and antagonistic. With the specter of Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists lurking in the global shadows, Muslims everywhere need to be global ambassadors of their religion and respect our right to question their every belief in the common search for the truth or its closest approximate.

Remember, it's hard to kill, harm, or incarcerate someone for a belief when you can't be sure you hold the truth yourself. This intellectual modesty is what freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry make possible.

Continue Reading...