Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Counter-Terrorism Crapshoot

Via Snarksmith, the Office of Homeland Security has once again gave New York City and DC the SU-FI finger. Far-flung archipalegos such as Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands and American Samoa will receive more money per capita than NYC citizens and DC denizens. WTF!

This just goes to show, never underestimate the noxious mixture of party politics, pork, and sheer incompetence.

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Sing the Song of Experience

Over at, Jackson Lears does a top-notch job of reviewing Martin Jay's Songs of Experience, an intellectual history pondering what authentic experience is and the disasterous effects the pursuit of it can have. I won't bother you with my two cents on what authentic experience is, because, well, hell if I know. But I will leave you with a money paragraph of Lear's explaining the way experience can be manipulated politically in an information age and therefore our zeal to experience the world unmediated by anything other than our selves.
In our mass-mediated image empire, the Bush Administration has constructed its own political reality without regard to evidence, putting radical epistemology in the service of reactionary politics. Under these conditions, old ideas about truth acquire a new luster, and the ideal of authentic experience remains a necessity.
I won't lie and say I don't delude myself into thinking I can achieve "authentic experience," because I do. But when I really get down to it, I think our pursuit of authentic experience isn't much more than our avoidance of boredom. The thing to always keep in mind during this pursuit is not to privilege our pursuit more than others, because as the past two cataclysmic centuries of history has proven, the tendency for "authentic experience" -- under the guise of U.S. Providence, Sovietism, and Fascism -- to produce murder and mayhem is ripe.

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Patriotic Dissent

Ralph Peters argues in the Washington Monthly that dissent from the top military brass is vital to our national security, especially in the age of the imperial presidency.
[T]he miserable road to Saigon--and Baghdad--was paved with the best intentions. Six decades ago, the National Security Act of 1947 inserted buffers between presidents and their top military men, leading immediately to a series of military debacles or, at best, stalemates. Instead of Marshall speaking--respectfully but frankly--to FDR, we got McNamara huddling with LBJ and, now, Donald Rumsfeld, who never saw combat, interpreting warfare to a president who never saw combat. Instead of making battlefield decisions based upon military necessity, the rise of powerful secretaries of defense resulted in combat decisions based upon political expediency.
What are the results of this type of "see no evil, hear no evil" approach to military planning? Look no further than Iraq says Peters.

Peters is not arguing that presidents should not appoint civilians to top cabinet posts to control the military.
The crucial issue, though, is the bogus charge of insubordination threatening the good order of civil-military relations. It's a spurious claim that has nonetheless been embraced uncritically by the orthodox on both the left and right. Instead of being alarmed that former soldiers--with no political ties or agendas--searched their consciences then went public with their criticism of a notoriously imperious defense secretary, we should celebrate the fact. Each of these men played by the rules, retiring before speaking out. None prejudiced good order. Not one stands to profit from his courage (quite the contrary).

If former officers cannot speak out on complex military issues, to whom can we turn for expert advice? To politicians who never deigned to serve in uniform themselves? To pundits equally lacking in military experience? To defense industry publicists? Surely, lifelong expertise should hold some value in our specialized society.
Washington is a place that thrives on equilibrium. When the balance goes askew, we pay the price. Iraq is a perfect example of this. Here, poor policy planning mixed with the best intentions and undermined by the most cynical of motivations has produced a quagmire in Iraq. Generals such as Shinseki had enough courage to throw their hands up and yell, "Stop!" But in today's Washington where loyalty is more important than performance, brave soldiers that criticize our venture into Iraq are now considered apostates of this Administration.

By valuing the neoconservative ideology and base business interests undergirded by a plethora of biased pundits and self-interested intellectuals, the Bush Administration has basically allowed the patients to overrun the asylum.

But the craziest of us are those that maintain criticism of the war is the mark of a subversive or worse, a traitor. That career generals are thought of this way only shows Washington's ideological fault-line is ripping farther and farther apart.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Hiatus Over

Sorry about the lack of posts over the past week or so but I just finished exams, made a jaunt over to Barcelona, and then made the voyage home from Scotland to the States to research and write my dissertation.

Tomorrow posts will resume.

Also, look for the possible demise of Woodshavings soon as M.M. and I brainstorm a new site, off of blogspot, with a more focused approach rather than mere libertarian-lefty blogging. The market is already much too much inundated with this type of stuff and to be honest we're getting a little tired of just adding our two cents to already reported news on or WaPo.

We'll keep you posted.

All the best and always thank you for reading.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hitler's Sense of Homicidal Humor

It seems if Hitler didn't become Fuhrer of Germany, he was hoping to become a real killer comedian.

Via The New Yorker:
One night in Berlin, Hitler, Göring, and Goebbels walked into a bar. Noticing that the bartender’s hands were shaking, Hitler asked him what was wrong. “We don’t get too many high-ranking officials of the Third Reich in here,” he said.

“Well, at these prices, I’m not surprised,” said Hitler, pulling out a Luger and shooting him.

Speaking before an audience of thousands at the Nuremberg Rally of 1936, Hitler departed from his prepared text to share one of his favorite jokes. “A patient complaining of a sore throat goes to see a doctor,” Hitler began. “After examining him, the doctor says, ‘Your tonsils have to come out.’ The patient says, ‘I want a second opinion.’ So the doctor says, ‘O.K.—you’re also of an inferior race.’ ”

On December 7, 1941, Hitler opened a meeting of the Nazi high command as he often did: with a knock-knock joke.

“Knock-knock,” he said.

“Who’s there?” said Goebbels.

“Tojo,” he said.

“Tojo who?”

“Tojo the Japanese would bomb Pearl Harbor,” Hitler said, roaring with laughter.
Sometimes I have a tendency towards gullibility, but this can't be real once you read on. Nevertheless, does anyone know if Hitler did indeed have a chilling sense of sociopathic humor?

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Beefing up the Border

In the latest and most bizarre twist in the ongoing immigration debate, Bush is now set to send “thousands of National Guard troops” to the Mexican border. I could be wrong, but I assume that the last 6 months have not seen a significant spike in illegal immigration. If that’s true, the decision to reassign National Guard troops to the border looks less like a response to changing conditions on the ground, and more like an attempt to pacify a conservative base still foaming and its collective mouth over Bush’s call for a guest worker program.

Mexicans have been illegally crossing the border ever since it was established. And at least since 9/11, Americans have had an understandable interest in protecting our borders. So why now, in May of 2006, does the president suddenly decide the situation on the Mexican border has become so urgent? Oh, the political winds are shifting.

Bush briefs the county on the details of the plan tonight.


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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Same Old Dealing with the Devil?

The United States foreign policy establishment seems to be up to its old tired and immoral tricks again, settling for the old maxim, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." This time on the happy streets of Mogadishu, Somalia,, where warlords are fighting Islamists in a new eruption of red.

Via the NYTs:
While the American Embassy in Nairobi called on all parties to cease fighting, the United States government has been accused of backing the warlords, who have fashioned themselves into an antiterrorism alliance, rooting out elements of Al Qaeda in their midst.

"It's a well-established fact for the last few years that U.S. counterterrorism officials and other intelligence officials have been working through Somali partners to fight extremists," said Suliman Baldo, director for Africa policy at the International Crisis Group, a Geneva-based advocacy group that studies wars around the world.

"From the little we know, the U.S. is not supporting the warlords with arms, per se," Mr. Baldo said. Instead, he added, American operatives were paying the warlords to help track down and apprehend those in Somalia suspected of being members of Al Qaeda.

In one episode outlined in an International Crisis Group report last year, American intelligence officers offered a Somali clan leader $4 million if he captured Tariq Abdallah, a suspected Qaeda leader traced to a Mogadishu guest house. When the clan leader's militia launched a raid on the house, however, the suspect (also known as Abu Talha al-Sudani) was not found there, the report said.

The warlords, who say they have joined America's fight against terrorism, are calling themselves the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism. They are led by Mohammed Deere, Mohammed Qanyare and Bahire Rageh, all powerful figures in Mogadishu.

In interviews, American officials declined to detail their relationship with the warlords, and said only that their goal was to support both the fight against terrorism and the recently formed transitional government that is struggling to gain a foothold.

But the president of that transitional government pointed his finger at the United States and said American counterterrorism efforts would work better if they went through Somalia's fledgling government, not through individual warlords.
Islamism is a product of the uneasy and fragmented transistion of many developing countries experiencing the ill-effects of globalization. One of the ill-effects of globalization in places such as Somalia is the ability of warlords to stop the process of modernization and democratization and essentially say to country's population, "Your money or your life."

As Mary Kaldor writes in Old and New Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era:
The new wars take place in a context which could be represented as an extreme version of globalization. Territorially-based production more or less collapses either as a result of liberalization and the withdrawal of state support, or through physical destruction (pillage, shelling, etc.), or because markets are cut off as a result of the distegration of states, fighting, or deliberate blockades imposed by outside powers, or more likely, by fighting units on the ground, or because spare parts, raw material and fuel are impossible to acquire...Given the erosion of the tax base both because of the collapse of production and because of the difficulties of collection, governments like privatized military groups, need to seek alternative sources of funding in order to sustain their violent activities...The simplest form of asset transfer is loot, robbery, extortion, pillage, and hostage-taking.
So as the president of Somalia's transitional government argues, the best solution is for the United States to go through the transitional government, establish its legitimacy and keep it accountable financially to the U.S. as well as democratically to Somalia's people. The U.S. needs to be concerned more with the long-term goal of stabilizing failed states than the short-term goal of killing Islamists. If the power of warlords is not curbed and a viable, accountable, and legitimate government does not bring order to chaos, then Islamism will only continue to grow as a response to what they consider the vulgar, immoral social order bestowed on it by the dark side of globalization.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006


When the most powerful religious institution and faith in the world has to defend itself from fictional or conjectural portrayals of its own history -- which is unbelievable from its origins -- we must ask ourselves: How long until the edifice of the Catholic Church and the whole Christian faith crumbles forever?

Let's hope, not long.

POSTSCRIPT: One critic complains the Da Vinci Code is "blasphemy on steroids." Let me just say this, if you believe in democracy and free expression even a little bit, the word blasphemy should be stricken from your vocabulary. It is a dark, despicable word that conjures up the worst of Christianity and the bloody trail it left throughout Europe during the Inquisition. If this word remains within your religious vocabulary, you are nothing but a sadist. As Thomas Paine wrote incisively: "Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man." It's time to leave the Grand Inquisitor behind.

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A Painite Vision for a New Century

During the Revolutionary War, Thomas Paine wrote in The American Crisis, "I dwell not upon the vapors of the imagination...I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as A, B, C, hold up truth to your eyes." Paine can be credited with being the most important propagandist for the American cause, bringing a radical democratic vision most of the Founding Fathers were scared of. What he wrote was not commonsense, but revolutionary. He was truly one of the first libertarian leftists of the Enlightenment.

Today the left is mired in back-biting, apologetics, and lazy intellectualism. Yet there seems to be a collection of leftists that have had enough with all that. They have written a new Common Sense for the Left, which they call The Euston Manifesto. Here's its opening statement:
We are democrats and progressives. We propose here a fresh political alignment. Many of us belong to the Left, but the principles that we set out are not exclusive. We reach out, rather, beyond the socialist Left towards egalitarian liberals and others of unambiguous democratic commitment. Indeed, the reconfiguration of progressive opinion that we aim for involves drawing a line between the forces of the Left that remain true to its authentic values, and currents that have lately shown themselves rather too flexible about these values. It involves making common cause with genuine democrats, whether socialist or not.
It's truly the time we took back the Left from those who seek inadvertently to destroy it by sullying our traditions with a virulent Anti-Americanism, support for pseudo-fascist Islamists and the "insurgency" in Iraq, a morbid multiculturalism that privileges "group rights" over individual rights, while believing human rights is a mere Western construction, with no authority outside its hemisphere.

Possibly the scariest thing about the Euston Manifesto is that we on the Left have to say this at all. Nevertheless, like the real Common Sense, the manifesto is written clearly and concisely, so that everyone can understand it -- whether they climb the steps to the Ivory Tower or merely look up at it. I implore everyone to read it and then sign it.

Let the Left once again to be the leading light of the Enlightenment Project.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Hitchens Still on the Libertarian-Left

Many of you might know about the internet/blog tiff between Christopher Hitchens and Juan Cole, whereby Hitchens accused Cole of being an Iranian apologist -- which he's not -- and Cole retorted by vulgarly going below the belt by proposing Hitchens was drunk when he wrote the article for Slate. Much of the original skirmish has to do with Cole's accusation that Hitchens stole a private email from a newsgroup Cole belongs to.

To be honest, this isn't really all that interesting. I only bring in up because Cole accuses Hitchens of being a hired gun of the far Right, which I think is preposterous. To smear someone with that label solely on one issue -- that being the war against Islamist totalitarianism -- seems rather illiberal. I still believe Hitchens, even with a somewhat neoconservative take since 9/11, is a good leftie/Painite. I think his recent article in Slate proves the point readily. It's good reading and Hitchens takes the appropriate stand that liberal democracy predicated on individual rights should always supercede multiculturalism and the ridiculous notion of "group rights" that Islamists are claiming in Amsterdam.

Please someone tell me how this smacks of the "far right?" Are we on the left stupidly mired in another scenario of groupthink where we give totalitarians the benefit of the doubt while ostracizing those still on the left that believe we must always rely on liberal democratic norms before appeasement?

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Sex, Lies, and Unfortunately No Videotape

Via Slate:
Teens who take virginity pledges can't be trusted, according to an analysis of follow-up surveys. Findings: 1) 52 percent of pledgers denied a year later that they'd pledged. 2) Among pledgers who later admitted to having sex the year after the pledge, 73 percent denied they'd pledged. 3) Among pledgers who conceded in the first survey that they'd had sex, nearly one in three claimed a year later that they'd never had sex. 4) Pledgers were four times as likely as non-pledgers to recant previous admissions that they'd had sex. Researchers' conclusions: 1) Teens lie. 2) Pledgers lie more. 3) Born-again pledgers (those who pledge after having sex) lie the most. 4) Pledges fail. 5) We have no idea what works or what the truth is, because all this revisionism makes the data worthless.
There is no doubt sex is a serious undertaking with many risks, but am I the only one that has a visceral hatred of the born-agains that try to influence kids to take this path and the self-righteous twits that agree to it?

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Moussaoui Sentenced to Life in Prison

Via the NYTs, Judge Leonie Brinkema:
''Mr. Moussaoui, you came here to be a martyr in a great big bang of glory,'' she said, ''but to paraphrase the poet T.S. Eliot, instead you will die with a whimper.''
By not choosing death for Mussaoui, the jury rose above revenge and in Camus' famous formulation, decided to be "neither victims nor executioners."

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Marketing Democracy, Supplying Dictatorship?

How good is the U.S.'s track record in supporting and nurturing democracies worldwide?

Nonexistent, according to Chalmers Johnson.

Worse, much of our foreign policy since the WWII has supported the worst violators of democratic norms and processes. The list is not pretty.
The United States holds the unenviable record of having helped install and then supported such dictators as the Shah of Iran, General Suharto in Indonesia, Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and Sese Seko Mobutu in Congo-Zaire, not to mention a series of American-backed militarists in Vietnam and Cambodia until we were finally expelled from Indochina. In addition, we ran among the most extensive international terrorist operations in history against Cuba and Nicaragua because their struggles for national independence produced outcomes that we did not like.
Johnson here is taking a page out of Noam Chomsky's devastating Deterring Democracy, a book I encourage everyone to read.

Naturally, Johnson astutely puts this into the Iraqi context, where democracy was deterred, because as always, "The wrong people could win." Yes, some semblance of democratic processes (although not norms)have been instituted in Iraq, but we can credit the Iraqis themselves for this, especially Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

After looking closely at U.S. foreign policy for the last seventy years, it's hard to argue that the U.S. is the bumbling, good intentioned superpower whose good intentions blow up in its face. Much of our foreign policy is the product of realpolitik that understands where we generate our power from: The exploitation of resources and markets that keep foreign countries mired in underdevelopment or semi-development. The U.S. usually achieves this through the international organizations it creates -- i.e. the Bretton Woods agreements that gave us the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-- which peddle money as long as countries liberalize their economies in the interest of foreign investment. Yet when countries' wouldn't submit to this new economic order and tried a different path to development (e.g. essentially the whole of Latin America as well as many east Asian countries) our robust military came to the rescue -- whether directly (Vietnam) or indirectly (Latin America).

These are the uncomfortable facts Americans need to come to terms with if we are truly ever are going to change direction and be a genuine force for liberal democratization. It also begs the question whether the U.S. government will ever be able to privilege democratic principles over material interests. Maybe. Maybe not. I'm not sure, considering our foreign policy has been strategically and materially oriented throughout our history. Is this culture of realipolitik ingrained so thoroughly that it's only wishful thinking to think we can extricate ourselves from it?

I hope not. What we need is a new generation of scholars, writers, political philosophers, and day-to-day bureaucrats who cherish liberal democracy, if not social democracy,based on individual rights, as both a means and an end of U.S. foreign policy. I don't know if I believe the Bush Administration truly believes that all people want freedom, but I do. The horrifying thing is that in many instances the U.S. has been the barrier to democracy. Maybe the best thing for global liberal democratization isn't a pro-active U.S., but a U.S. that stands aside and allows the democratic aspirations of the bottom to rise up and engulf the authoritarians in their midst. Maybe the U.S. should follow the Hippocratic oath in regards to liberal democratization and first adhere to the principle, "Do no harm."

Do we believe in liberal democracy enough to take a material hit in the interest of our supposed principles?

Color me cynical.

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New Court Order

It seems Chief Justice John Roberts is laying down a new rule on the bench, with lawyers saying the Supreme Court is more civil and efficient than ever.
In common with every other Supreme Court specialist contacted for this article, Professor Lazarus [of Georgetown University Law Center] listed several obvious changes. "They're not stepping on each other," he said of the justices. "They take longer before someone asks the first question. They give the lawyers more time to answer."
Lawyers with enough time to make an opening statement, that is an improvement. How great is it that the commeonsensical is almost never practicable in the real world?

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