Thursday, August 31, 2006
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Ease My Tea Bags
Nobody on the whole Internet has used the phrase "Ease My Tea Bags" before now.
Just thought I'd share.
Serious posting resumes tomorrow.
Further Adventures in Ridiculous Electioneering
Ohio secretary of state J. Kenneth Blackwell has agreed to delay destroying ballots from the 2004 election. Meanwhile, Blackwell's critics are suing for stronger protections.
Ohio, you'll recall, narrowly went to George Bush in 2004, thereby deciding that election. You'll also recall that since then there have been repeated and credible allegations that the Ohio election was poorly and unfairly run, possibly outright fraudulent .
So it's good that the ballots are at least getting a reprieve. It would be nice to eventually find out whether, in addition to all the anti-Democratic (and anti-democratic, for that matter) selective purging of voter rolls, there was actual ballot-box stuffing, as now seems likely. If it did happen, Ohio needs to face up to it and fix the process.
On the other hand, it's horrifying that J. Kenneth Blackwell is doing this in part to look better while he's--wait for it--running for governor of Ohio. You gotta be kidding me. The elections official who bent over backward to help one party beat another in a Presidential election is really running for an important public office?
Surely it's a joke. Surely we're not that out of control as a nation. What's next, Katherine Harris running for Senate in Florida?
You'd think, living in Chicago as I do, I'd be over my surprise at electoral skulduggery. Somehow, I remain naïve.
You know, although genuinely fair elections would be the best, this time around, I’d settle for karmically fair elections. Wouldn’t it be nice to watch Blackwell and Harris smiling fake and funereal grins because they knew that, this time, the people in charge of registering voters and counting ballots were Democratic appointees holding themselves to precisely the same standards of integrity and fairness Blackwell and Harris adhered to when they were in charge?
(On the plus side, Ted Strickland seems to be beating Blackwell by a good margin, and Bill Nelson seems to be walloping Harris in Florida.)
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Appeasement à la Rumsfeld
Secretary of Preemptive Defense Donald Rumsfeld thinks that questioning his handling of the war in Iraq is basically the same thing as appeasing Hitler.
Speaking Tuesday to the American Legion in Salt Lake, Rumsfeld said that in facing this “new type of fascism” (i.e., the Iraqi insurgency), we must understand that we can't "afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased."
This adds to Rumsfeld's (and Bush's and other Bush appointees') earlier claim that opposing the Iraq war also appeasement.
I’m expecting to hear, any day now, that Bush has changed his name to Franklin W. Truman and that Rumsfeld is Eisenhower D. MacArthur.
How long are Bush, Rumsfeld, and the other loyalists going to keep trying this inapt, embarrassing, and offensive tactic of pretending that they’re leading the country against the Axis powers?
Unser Kampf notwithstanding, the Hussein = Hitler analogy was always a lousy one because the dumb appeasement of Hitler before World War II took place while Hitler was becoming war-ready. Hussein in 2003 was way more boxed in economically and militarily than Hitler was in 1938. The insurgency = Hitler analogy is just about as goofy. Hitler had a state, a growing army, and a unified (or imprisoned) populace. The insurgents have no state, a radically divided populace, and we have no idea whether their army is growing. (Bush, Cheney, & Rumsfeld keep telling us it isn’t.)
As long as we’re making half-witted historical analogies, why don’t we at least make one with some photographic evidence to back it up? To wit, actual photographs:
Rumsfeld & Hussein, 1983
Neville Chamberlain & Hitler, 1938
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Okay, Cal... that guy's wrong too.
Cal Thomas writes today that it's unfair that liberal bloggers have been so hard on Virginia Senator George Allen for referring to his an Indian-American worker for a rival campaign as a "Macaca," which is a racist term that Europeans use to call people monkeys. Thomas downplays Allen's comments by removing all of the content, by the way, (he also told the young worker, "Welcome to America."
Thomas then spins to the story of Andrew Young, head of "Working Families For Wal-Mart," who said that the mom and pop stores that Wal-Mart closes down tend to rip off their customers by selling them overpriced goods, bad meats, and wilted vegetables. Young went on to say that the owners of such stores have tended to be Jewish, Korean or Arab and that they "sold out and moved to Florida." Okay, Thomas is right that Young was out of line.
But, if you put the racial stuff aside, something seemed familiar to me about Young's argument -- the notion that the "Mom and Pop" stores basically overcharge captive communities is one that has its origins at Wal-Mart. The group, "Working Families for Wal-Mart," is Wal-Mart supported. Young has since resigned his post, but had he not included the racial comments, he likely would have been fine. One of Wal-Mart's arguments in favor of itself, after all, is that the big box retailers are good for communities because they bring prices down to levels that a myriad of smaller stores just can't match.
Thomas wants to focus on the racial part. But, just as he took George Allen's comment out of context in order to minimize it, he's taken Young's comment out of context in order to ignore the fact that it's just an example of old-hat Wal-Mart propaganda that probably says less about racism than it does about what happens when a civil rights activist takes a job as a corporate shill.
*Sorry for no links, am traveling.*
Monday, August 21, 2006
After Cow Escapes, Bush Closes Barn Door and Sets Fire to Barn
Excerpted from a BBC article:
Next up: Bush refuses to improve education, job opportunities for inner city--"If we don't continue to ignore it, a failed Detroit in the heart of Michigan will become a byword for urban blight and gang activity."
President George W Bush has ruled out any withdrawal from Iraq while he is president....
"A failed Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will provide a safe haven for terrorists and extremists."
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Peter Beinart Buys the Bush Doctrine
Over at the New Republic, editor-at-large Peter Beinart extends a backhanded compliment to Ned Lamont. In the process, he offers this bit of inanity:
"Lamont, by contrast [to Eugene McCarthy], is so desperate to prove that his opposition to Iraq does not imply some larger dovish orientation that he recently told The Hartford Courant that he considered North Korea an "imminent danger" to the United States--a statement that, if taken seriously, would imply preemptive military action."
Uh... Peter... thinking that seeing another country as an imminent threat immediately implies support for military action against them is a Bushy idea, at best. More thoughtful types might well notice an imminent threat but might also have ideas, other than launching an invasion, as a solution.
Perhaps we should have laws!
Fox News commentator John Gibson really amused me when he said, of a federal courts decision that the warrantless NSA wiretapping program is unconstitutional:
"I agree that the program might not be strictly legal, though I think it is strictly necessary. Perhaps Congress should amend the law to make it entirely legal. But whether we need it or not is beyond question."
Perhaps Congress should amend the law? Perhaps?
I don't agree with Gibson that the program was even necessary, given that there's already a law that provides the government with easy access to warrants, even after they've done their tapping, on the books.
But, if you do agree with Gibson, there's not a lot of room for "perhaps," here. It's as if the notion that the President should follow the laws currently on the books has become some sort of radical legal theory.
Oh, and I wish people would stop saying that "The Constitution is not a suicide pact." Of course it isn't -- it's the document that's kept our society from suicide numerous times. We'd do well to, you know, start having our government work within it.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
There Goes Health Care
So, as I was writing my last post about civilian deaths and aerial bombing in Iraq, I started getting buzzed by fighter jets practicing for this weekend's Chicago Air & Water Show. They're very loud.
I'm not paranoid enough to think the buzzing is any more than a coincidence, but it did remind me of a joke my friend tells every time the Blue Angels buzz the Superbowl: "There goes health care."
He's not far off, sadly. Since Bush took office, defense spending has gone up every year, in part because of Iraq, in part for other things. Last year, we spent $500 billion, which didn't include large chunks of the expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan (which were submitted under separate "extraordinary" budget requests). So for the past few years, we've been spending 4-6% of GDP on the military. The UK, our ally in Iraq, spends about 2.5% of its GDP, which is pretty standard for industrialized nations.
The US's GDP is about $12.5 trillion. If, instead of spending 5% of all money made in America on the military, we spent 3.8%, we could use that 1.2% ($150 billion) to provide $2,000 for health insurance to every one of the 75 million Americans under age 18. (And that's if you just granted the $2,000 as a tax credit. If you made it a government program and cashed in on economies of scale, you'd probably pay $1,000 per child.)
Sweet as the Blue Angels are, if I were a parent, I'd probably go with the insurance.
Counting the Dead
Iraq Body Count, the website dedicated to providing a count of civilians killed during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, can't get a break.
When the website first began, supporters of the war railed against it for being irresponsible, hysterical, treasonous, blah blah. Now that it's three and a half years old, anti-war pundits and groups are railing against it for being complicit, craven, inadequate, blah blah. (Les Roberts has been particularly vocal.)
The IBC has mounted its own thorough, persuasive defense of its methods and conclusions, and you can just go to its website to read that. But it's worth taking a minute to look at the IBC count and the problems with the way the anti-war activists are attacking it.
The IBC freely admits that even the high end of its own count for Iraqi civilians is an undercount. That's because the IBC is doing a literal count of press reports and not a statistical approximation of deaths based on sample data. But IBC has never pretended to give a complete count, just a best available count.
And that best available count is, right now, between 40-45,000 Iraqi civilians killed during the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. IBC estimates that 40-50% of those have been killed by US or UK forces.
IBC's critics want the figure to be much higher and particularly want to elevate the deaths attributable to US aerial bombings. (They prefer 100,000 or even 250,000 civilian casualties, 80% attributable to the US.) It's understandable--anti-war critics want (as do I) to make people think about the morality of killing civilians in the name of protecting civilians.
After all, when it happened the invasion of Iraq was widely seen in the US as 1) payback for 9/11 and 2) a preemptive strike against Saddam's WMD. Of course, Saddam didn't have the WMD and he had nothing to do with 9/11. But even if he had, the anti-war activists want people to ask themselves--how do we justify killing, say, 20,000 Iraqi civilians and enabling the violence that killed 25,000 more in the name of preventing the deaths of civilians? Why do 3,300 dead in NY and Washington justify 20,000 dead in Iraq? How different from terrorism is a "war against terrorism" that necessarily kills a lot of civilians?
These are all hard questions and good ones. But playing fast and loose with the civilian body count isn't the right way to ask them. One of the most devastating critiques one can make of the Iraq war is that the Bush administration sold it by using irresponsible misinterpretation of available information--sold it with mistakes about WMD and dishonest implications about Hussein's alleged links to al-Qaeda.
In fact, that's the critique that the body count analysis depends on: if Saddam really had been in bed with al-Qaeda, if he had possessed WMDs, and if he had been on the verge of using them, then the Iraq war would have been a war of self-defense. In that case, Iraqi civilian casualties, while still heartbreaking, could be seen the cost of every war between nations; innocent or otherwise, civilians will get killed as a byproduct of their governments waging war. (I'm not sure I buy that, but it's a long- and widely held belief.)
But the anti-war activists think--and I think--that the Iraq war was a war of choice, not of self-defense, and that civilian casualties are therefore not just heartbreaking but also the consequence of a moral crime attributable to the American civilian leaders who started the war as well as to the insurgent guerrillas who are continuing it.
Yes, the civilian death count in Iraq almost certainly is more than 45,000. But we don't really know how much more--10% or a 100% more? Until we're in a position to get a truly accurate count, 45,000 is an enormous enough number to make us ask all the military, political, and moral questions that we should be asking about how and whether to wage war. And since misinterpretation, misrepresentation, and overblown accusations made the Iraq war possible in the first place, it's no good for anti-war activists to engage in them now.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Fighting Who Over Where?
I said most of this in response to one of Mike's posts about the ludicrous ways in which idiots across America have decided that Ned Lamont is running on the al-Qaeda ticket in this November's Senatorial election, but I think it bears repeating. To wit: the argument that we have to stay the course in Iraq because it's better to fight the terrorists there than here is just lame, lame, lame.
The "better there than here" argument only makes sense if you're talking about a specific, limited group of enemies whom you absolutely have to fight. For example, you know that a band of 10 murderous thugs wants to kill you and your family. In that case, yes, it's probably better to get your friends together and take the fight to the thugs' hideout. That way, your kids don't get killed in the fight, and your home doesn't get blown up.
But the that hypothetical is a lousy fit for the Iraq war. First, it's not the same "them" we're fighting there as here. We got attacked by al-Qaeda. We're in a struggle with them. Since Saddam Hussein didn't have any meaningful ties to al-Qaeda, in the invasion of Iraq we weren't fighting Them-1 (al-Qaeda). We were fighting Them-2 (the Iraqi army). Even now, with the invasion having given al-Qaeda and its allies a foothold in Iraq, we're still mostly fighting Iraqi Sunni extremists (Them-3). And, since we got the wrong Them, we also got the wrong There--instead of attacking the thugs' hideout, we attacked their next door neighbors' house.
Worse, the 10 thugs in the hypothetical situation above don't get to recruit. Al-Qaeda does. By invading Iraq and opening it up to al-Qaeda and by killing at least 16,000 Iraqi civilians (and creating an atmosphere in which at least 24,000 more civilians were killed), we've increased the number of our enemies. Insted of wiping out the 10 thugs, we've added another 10 to the list. And the chaos in Iraq has given the new recurits fabulous opportunities for on the job training.
To review: Lieberman supporters and Bush apologists want us to think that the Iraq war has been and is an instance of fighting them  over there  rather than  here. But in fact it's an instance of fighting the wrong guys  in the wrong place  while we're still also  under threat here.
The only real case to be made for remaining in Iraq is that because we got the Them and the There wrong, we turned Iraq into an originally unnecessary but now crucial front in the struggle against jihadi terrorism. That's a perfectly rational position. I'm not sure it's right, but it at least makes sense. But you're not going to hear any politician who supported the invasion saying so any time soon, which is a huge problem for our troops and our struggle against jihadi terrorism. Because even if staying in Iraq is a much better move than going there in the first place, it still means fighting the terrorists here and there and in the other theres we can't afford to let up on either. And that's a mess.
Panning "The Plan"
"The Plan" is a new book by Democratic Representative Rahm Emanuel and Democratic Leadership Council president Bruce Reed that purports to provide "Big Ideas For America" and that obviously hopes to be a rallying cry for Democratic candidates in this election and in 2008. MyDD takes down the books tone here.
"The Plan," really stinks. Not so much for the ideas they put forward but for the ideas they completely ignore.
Nowhere in the book do they support the rights of same sex couples to marry.
The few words they give to cultural issues are ridiculous:
"We should regulate market aimed at children and make sure those in the entertainment industry understand that although the First Amendment is sacrosanct, they have a special responsibility to enrich the culture, not to make it more corrosive, and to make art worthy of their talent and worth their own children watching."
What a load of crap. An artist's responsibility is not defined by the needs of children.
What Emanuel and Reed seem to want is to avoid the culture wars entirely, but by doing so, they're actually giving in to the other side of that war. Are the culture wars a distraction from real economic and foreign policy issues? Sure. But that doesn't mean that it isn't a real war with real consequences.
Emanuel and Reed seem unconcerned with keeping people safe from domestic religious zealots who don't want evolution taught in public schools, they never advocate a homosexual's freedom to marry and they can't seem to bring themselves to tell the prudes of the cultural right to either grow up or learn not to watch what they don't like.
Where are the Democrats who stand up for cultural liberty and even some healthy libertinism?
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
A Telling Endorsement
Former New York City Council Speak Peter Vallone Jr. has endorsed Lieberman. I love his reason why:
"I'm endorsing Joe Lieberman because he is a friend and a great Senator who endorsed me when I ran as the Democratic candidate for Governor of New York in 1998, and whom I believe best represents our country in a time of great need. I believe that the terrorists are sworn to kill us in our homes and workplaces, so it is much better to be fighting over there than here, and it is not a time to place party over country. We can and should differ with the Republicans on how, but not why."
So, Vallone's first reason is that they're pals and, also, Joe endorsed him once.
I could point out everything else that's wrong with what Vallone had to say but there's really nothing worse than this tacit admission of mutual back scratching as the impetus for a political endorsement.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Polly Wants a Parent
Dan Savage has been hilarious lately because he's refusing (well, pretending to refuse) to answer questions about the sex problems of married straight people. Why? Because various American courts have recently handed down anti-gay-marriage decisions that don't seem to be much more than, "Silly faggots, dicks are for kids."
(INVENTED) SAMPLE QUESTION: Dear Dan, I'm a 27-year-old male who's been married for three years. My wife knows that I like to have a blind dude with a massive schlong stretch my asshole while I give cunnilingus to a woman dressed up like Pope Joan. My wife used to play the role of Joan, but recently she told me that she's no longer willing to do so. She says I can find another woman to take her place if I must but that she doesn't want to know anything about it. That's fine, except that the woman I really want to stand in for her is her half-sister, and I'm afraid that my wife would be hurt if she were to find out I'd licked her sister's clit. What should I do?It's kind of hard to argue with Dan on this one.
(INVENTED) SAMPLE ANSWER: Fuck you. I cannot fucking believe that you're allowed to get married and I'm not.
The reasons politicians and judges give in repudiating gay marriage are almost never the ones they really believe (roughly, "God hates fags" or "that's just gross.") Respectable suit- and robe-wearers tend to fall back on the argument that the purpose of marriage is to generate and protect offspring. And since straight people are the only ones capable of producing a child just by swapping fluids (lucky us!), marriage is for straights only.
Now, I'm about the billionth person to point out that by this logic impotent men, post-menopausal women, and the separately or jointly infertile shouldn't be granted marriage licenses either. Especially if their marriage licenses don't contain legally binding declarations of their intention to adopt.
In fact, the "marriage is for kids" argument implies that couples who go more than, say, three years without producing offspring should probably have their marriage licenses revoked. (Picture Alec Baldwin yelling at them: "Marriage is for breeders! The couple that makes the most babies gets a Cadillac Eldorado. Second place gets a box of Pampers. Third place is you're fucking divorced. You're not a family man? Then don't go home to your fucking family!")
Clearly, having two parents to raise kids is often better than just one. But the "marriage is for kids" argument ignores the other three big reasons that for milennia have prompted people to pair off: the religious, socioeconomic, and emotional. People get married because their beliefs encourage or oblige them to do so, because the economic and legal realities of their society encourage or oblige them to do so, and/or because they want the emotional rewards of a durable, reliable emotional (and sexual) connection with another human being.
I'd argue that the religious and emotional motivations aren't any of the American government's damn business. The dictates of someone's faith or the content of their romantic yearnings aren't fit topics for legislation. If, for example, your Catholicism requires you to be married in a Church ceremony before you sleep with your loved one, then, fabulous, by all means marry (or keep your pants zipped). But the American government should not be in the business of officially recognizing the sacrament of your marriage, any more than it should officially recognize (or prevent) your baptism, your bat mitzvah, or your hajj. Neither should the government have any obligation to solemnize your emotional fulfillment as the result of twelve years of marriage to a wonderful woman. If you and your wonderful woman need something official, Photoshop yourself a lovely certificate and hang in the foyer.
That leaves the socioeconomic reasons. For a long time in this country, women were obliged to get and stay married because it was unthinkable that they work for a living. (Unless of course, they were working-class. In which case, of course, they didn't matter anyway. Let 'em scrub laundry. Or, even more of course, unless they were slaves, in which case it was illegal for them to marry. Because married women produced children, but slave women produced property. Let 'em pick cotton.)
So, an unmarried, unemployed woman woman could be a drain on the resources of friends and family who had to look after to her. And if she had children, that was a bigger drain. So, if she was going to have kids, she damn well better have done it from the economic security of marriage. Given that long history and despite immense advances made by women in the last 150 years, there's still a legacy of legal arrangements from earlier times that makes marriage a better financial and legal arrangement for both partners and their kids. (Tax breaks, inheritance arrangements, the right to make health care decisions, etc.) But there's no reason to perpetuate old legal arrangements based on the assumption that heterosexual monogamy is indispensable for responsible parenting.
Yes, unless Americans decide that all our children should be raised in government or commercial nurseries, the American people (represented by their state) have a real interest in ensuring that parents--biological or adoptive--fulfill their responsibilities as parents. That means devising laws and tax codes that encourage responsible parenting. But there's nothing that says the parents have to be of different sexes and nothing that says that they need to be married to parent responsibly.
There are lot of powerful arguments against same-sex parents and same-sex marriages. But the power of those arguments comes from their appeals to religious and emotional convictions, not from a concordance with the economic and political principles that underlie what most Americans understand as good government. Accordingly, I think the US government should do everything that it can to encourage parents--straight parents, gay parents, bi parents, transgendered parents--to contractually determine and respect their specific responsibilities for child-rearing. If those parents, for emotional and religious reasons, also want to get married, let them go to their priests, their imams, or their touchy-feely commitment celebrants.
I've made these points to opponents of same-sex marriages, and they've usually nodded and said, "But, by that logic, wouldn't polygamy be acceptable?" And then they smile because they're sure they've zinged me. And I suppose they have zinged me because they've put me in the position of backing an unpopular view because, yes, I do think polygamy would be acceptable.
In fact, any arrangement in which adults responsibly work out a division of labor that ensures that a child has all the love, attention, discipline, schooling, health care, food, clothing, and safety that she needs is not just acceptable but desirable. Practically speaking, I have a hard time imagining that polygamy would work very often; long-term monogamy is hard enough. But the fact that most people, at least right now, couldn't make it work doesn't mean the government should make it illegal for them to try.
I'm not sure why I'm supposed to nod my head in liberal affirmation every time a nineteen-year-old with no GED decides that it's a good idea for her to have her second kid, whereas I'm supposed to recoil in liberal horror at the idea that some guy might marry two women. Or that some woman might marry two guys. Or, rather, I am sure, but I don't buy it.
The reason most liberals hate polygamy (other than they're just more conservative and uptight than they'd like to think) is that polygamy has a nasty history. Historically, polygamy has meant one man subordinating multiple women, some of whom enter the marriage too young to have really been able to decide soberly and freely whether they want to enter it. That sort of polygamy is basically a symbol of the patriarchy.
Of course, hardcore conservatives should embrace polygamy for precisely that reason. Conservatives who insist that the Bible defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman haven't read the Old Testament, in which it's often a relationship between a man and fifty-eight women.
But liberals should be inclined to tolerate polygamy, even if it creeps them out. If you want to embrace the "non-traditional family," you have to be ready for families even more non-traditional than a same-sex Cleaver family in which either June is a big chick or Ward doesn't need to shave his face. Other than offering a bunch of Queer Eye quips about tract lighting disputes or mixing up panties, can anyone who isn't homophobic tell me why three lesbians or three gay men or two lesbians and a gay man (etc.) are necessarily incapable of successfully raising a child whom they loved dearly? Or why a couple consisting of a straight wife and infertile husband couldn't form a functional domestic unit with the gay biological father of their shared child? I don't think you can, at least not if a few smart lawyers and judges get together and draft parenting contracts that allow prospective parents to understand their responsibilities and to commit bindingly to them.
And "polygamy" might be the wrong word here. Polygamy comes from the Greek (poly + gamy) for "often married." And I'm not talking about marriage here. I'm talking about parenting. So maybe "polyparentry" would be better.* If the straight couple and the gay man are partnered as parents, I don't see any reason why they should have to be imagined as lovers, cuddlers, or foot-massagers. They should go to PTA meetings together, but there's no reason they should go on romantic anniversary dinners. In this sense, polyparenting families wouldn't really be any different than the maiden aunts who take in their orphaned nephew or the father and grandmother who jointly raise their son/grandson while mom pursues her career in Jim Beam absorption and intermittent incarceration.
Would gay marriage and/or polyparentry require a shift in social attitudes and legal arrangements? Yup. Would it be "bad for the children"? Nope. If anything, it would provide a potential families for the hundreds of thousands of children in orphanages and foster care hoping to be adopted.
* The Greek terms for parent are gendered male (gennao) and female (tikto), which would undermine the whole point. Also, they sound dumb when affixed to "poly."
Sunday, August 13, 2006
In response to the clamor, here's the bumper sticker for my upcoming political campaign, whatever it may be.
Seriously, I'm baffled by this and would love to hear what people think.
George McGovern Speaks
Lieberman supporters keep saying that Lamont's win signifies a dangerous leftward swing by the Democrats towards failed McGovernite ideas.
McGovern just spoke on the matter to Newsweek. When the guy says stuff like this, I have to wonder why we assume being McGovernite is such a bad thing:
Q: The Republicans are saying Lamont’s win means the Democrats are anti-war and weak on national security.
McG: They’ve done that for 50 years—saying Democrats are soft on communism. Now they’re saying Democrats aren’t tough enough on terrorism. That argument is beginning to wear thin. In the time we’ve been in Iraq, the insurgents have gotten stronger and we’ve weakened our standing in the world. I used to say we were never more isolated than in the deepest jungles of Vietnam; now I add the Arabian Desert to that.
Friday, August 11, 2006
Raise Your Hand If You Hate Terrorism
You raised your hand, didn't you? Silly, this is a blog, I can't see you. But, I can be bipartisan on this issue. I can even be unpartisan. This Dailykos post details some of the recent "you support terrorism" charges made against candidates for national office. Hell, a CNN anchor even asked a question today that implied that Ned Lamont is an Al-Qaeda supporting candidate. Sheesh.
That we're even having "you support terrorism" arguments strikes me as wildly ludicrous. While I happen to believe that invading Iraq and focusing so much attention and money there, when the threats to America come from everywhere else, is a nutty strategy that helps Middle Eastern terrorists rather than hurts them, I don't think that anybody who supports that war, including the people who waged it, actually support terrorism as a concept. Nobody on either side of American politics actually supports terrorism. Well, not nobody. Some support killing doctors who perform abortions (and that's terrorism) and some are members of racist, extremist groups or supported Timothy McVeigh (homegrown terrorism) but nobody outside of a truly lunatic (to the point of being akin to whacked our serial killers) actually supports terrorism as a way to make changes in the world.
Some say we're at war with a fascist element of Islam and they think that war is the "War on Terror." I take a broader view and I even view 9-11 not within the context of Islam but within the context of desperate people from all walks of life and from all races and creeds who will sometimes create attrocities because they just don't see any other way to influence world events. To me, Mohammed Atta is less easily grouped with the Islamic religion than he is with Lee Harvey Oswald or John Hinckley Jr. or Timothy McVeigh or the folks down in Nigeria's Niger Delta who kidnap oil workers and bomb pipelines.
Nobody on either side of American politics supports terrorism. We disagree about how to effectively deal with it, but nobody supports it. Some folks on my side of the political spectrum avidly opposed our post 9-11 invasion of Afghanistan. I think they were wrong. I even think we should have had a much larger invasion and that we should now be doing far more to create stability there than we are in Iraq. Heck, had I had my way, we'd have put so much into Afghanistan that Iraq wouldn't even have been an option. Whatever. That's all about tactics and specific issues.
What I loathe is the notion, that primarily is coming from the right wing at the moment, that our political debates have recently devolved into people accusing each other of supporting terrorism as a concept. It's just not so. Nobody supports that.
The whole darned security debate as become, at least so far as elections are concerned, dangerously juvenile. We're debating about "who supports terrorism or not," when we should be debating about how to deal with the very broad issue.
Some liken America's current relations with the very fuzzy concept that's been called "Islamofascism" with the cold war. Mark Schmitt at TPMCafe tells why that's a false comparison. Back during our Cold War with the Soviet Union, especially during the early years, there really were Americans who took the communist side and who thought that the Soviets had it right and we didn't. The most thoughtful among them quickly stopped supporting the Soviets after they learned just how bad, and how far from Marxist ideals, Stalin was. But, it is true that back then, there were Americans on the other side of the issue. But... unlike what we face now, communism (or socialism or Marxism) was a real issue in that it was an ideology that was not only coherent but that purported to raise the standard of living for most people, not to kill innocents. Soviet communism, like Chinese communism and Cuban communism, did not live up to its own ideals and it became, frankly, evil. But there was a root philosophy that reasonable people could find reason to support.
Terrorism, as an ideology distinct from Islam or any religious or political structure, does not have a similar intellectual foundation that any reasonable person in America, particularly one accomplish enough to make a legitimate run for a national office, could possibly support.
As I started this post I said that we all raised our hands to say that we hate terrorism. Of course we did. That's a no-brainer. I'm pretty darn sure that we all (unless Ann Coulter is reading this) reject the notion of killing innocents in order to effect political change.
So we all need to grow up. We're against terrorism. It's been established. Even the person you hate most is against it. Now, let's have some real debates.
Did Lieberman Really Lose Because of Iraq?
Update: Bill Richardson, governor of my home state (that I'll never go back to) and influential beyond my expectations for him has called for Lieberman to drop out.
The post mortem on Ned Lamont's victory over Lieberman is that the sitting senator from Connecticut lost a referendum on the Iraq war and the Bush White House. In a sense, that's true. But I don't believe it tells the whole story.
I was pulling for Lamont and I wanted a much bigger victory for him than the 3.8% he got. I don't mean to take anything away from Lamont. Beating an incumbent in a primary by even one vote is unheard of. But, it was close. So close that Lieberman really could have and shoukd have run.
I think what killed him was his declaration that he'd run as an independent even if he lost. Had he never said that, he probably would have eked out a win (a win so close that he'd have to be blind not to realize was a rebuke, but still a win).
This wasn't just an election about Iraq or about Bush, it was about something larger -- it was really an election about whether or not sitting elected officials should feel entitled to keep their posts. What Lieberman said, when he said he'd run even if he lost, is that his parties voters don't know what's good for them. Those voters rejected that notion at least as fervently as they have rejected the Iraq war.
Honestly, I hate the two party system and I love fringe candidates and independents. But Joe Lieberman is no real independent. For nearly two decades, he let a party apparatus help him (all the way to a veep nomination). Now, when it doesn't serve him, he rejects it.
I wish we had proportional representation that would give parties other than the Democrats and Republicans a voice in the legislature and I've supported local green candidates in the past and I've often been intrigued by, and have voted for, minor party candidates in many elections. But Joe Lieberman isn't an outsider who's out to remake the system by challenging our current conventions -- he's an insider trying to preserve his own position after the conventional machine that he relied on failed him.
This campaign by Lieberman isn't about breaking the duopoly in American politics. It's driven, instead, by Egomentum. His current campaign is all about his belief that he knows what's best for everyone and that we should all shut up and follow along.
It's really about Lieberman considering himself a member of some sort of aristocracy. It's downright Platonic, really. He thinks of himself as a philosopher-king.
He might even win on that idea. I have faith that people will reject his bid because of his arrogance and presumptions. But, they might not. Given that we now have a two-term scion of a one-term president (from an infuential family in both government and finance) and given that the wife of a former two term president is a possible Democratic front runner and given that Democratic presidential nominees like Gore and Kerry were both from families of privilege and that it always seemed to me that either Kerry or Gore had more in common with their opponent than with any of their supporters... I kind of worry that we've fashioned an American aristocracy that functions within the confines of a democratic republic.
It's easy to look back at our founders and to mock them all for their suspicion of "the mob," or the unwashed masses. But, in a way, we're still having that same debate and we always have been. Lieberman is almost Hamiltonian in his point of view and by point of view, I don't mean his policy positions, I mean his broader philsophy -- he really believes that there are elites, and that he's one of them, and that they know better than the rest of us.
I've always been skeptical of charges of elitism, whether they're fronted by a guy like Dan Quayle (who pursued the "liberal elites") or by Noahm Chomsky (who has pursued elites who serve business and power to further a conservative agenda whether they know it or not). It doesn't make my case any easier that I have to point out that the election battle between Lamont and Lieberman was waged between two men who are among the richest citizens of the richest state in the Union.
But, I do see a real issue in that primary and in our current national discourse -- are we a democratic nation full of people who vote to be led, or are we a democratic nation that leads its representatives? I sadly think that we've become the former. I'm really sure that Lieberman's independent campaign is one that assumes the former as not only true, but proper.
Hands Off Our "Fascism"!
So some friends and I had a pretty good bull session last night. What time we didn't devote to television shows of the 1980s and 1990s, we spent on the word "Islamofascism," which Pres. Bush has used a lot lately in response to the (alleged) plot by British Muslims to use liquid explosives to blow up planes traveling from the UK to the US.
In it, we came to the following consensus: the right isn't allowed to use the word "fascism." Their designated irresponsible smear word is and always has been "communism." If Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity or Dick Cheney doesn't like something, he should call it "communist." Cindy Sheehan, the DNC, Amnesty International, that kid who used to take their lunch money and call them "sissy fatties": Communists each and every one.
But the right can't have "fascism." That's the left's irresponsible smear word. The right can't have both.
As a simple matter of fairness, that should settle the issue.
But since fairness is scarce these days, I'd also point out that there are actual reasons that the right shouldn't use "fascism" to describe our jihadi enemies. Actual fascist states have historically been defined by having powerful central governments with zero concern for civil liberties, national obsessions with having strong militaries, strong, charismatic leaders, and respect for (mostly) capitalist practices and laws. (Think Nazi Germany, Mussolini's Italy, Franco's Spain.) None of the countries in the administration's "Axis of Evil" are meaningfully fascist. In fact, the term "Axis of Evil" is another lame attempt to link those countries to our fascist World War II enemies.
Yes, some of our jihadi enemies are bastards who would love to implement an authoritarian state. But that doesn't automatically make them fascists. Kim Jong Il and Fidel Castro are also authoritarian bastards, and I think the right already has a label for them. What was it, again? Oh, right, "communist."
The real problem with our jihadi enemies isn't that they're fascist, it's that they're zealots. Unlike either fascists or communists, they're driven in large part by the warped, sanctimonious, bloody-minded bad thinking that masquerades as religion in so much of the world. "Islamofascism" is a pretty bad way of describing that.
And describing these enemies accurately is particularly important precisely because these enemies don't have a state we could invade even if we wanted to. (Iran is as close as it gets, and if you think the Iraq war has been bloody, counterproductive, and costly, don't even try to imagine the Iran war.) That is, in the physical world they're not making any obvious, overt self-definitions for us. They're not drawing borders and building permanent facilities. So, for efficiency and efficacy in the short and long term, we need to be able to understand our enemy and to identify it in a crowd. We need to be able to distinguish reliably between people who sympathize with standing up to Western countries and people who blow up or finance the blowing-up of planes and marketplaces.
And one of the reasons we need to be able to do that is that the better we get at finding and neutralizing actual terrorists while at the same time leaving in peace civilians (however much those civilians talk smack about us), the easier it will be to find the terrorists because the civilians will stop sympathizing with them. Sloppy definitions and lazy thinking will sink us in this struggle.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Ed Kilgore's New Donkey post about the Democratic Leadership Council is just hogwash.
Kilgore would like you to believe that the DLC is just another underfunded think tank that doesn't have any undue influence on the national debate. On one hand, he's right that at the present, with Democrats out of power, it isn't entirely powerful. But, the last time Democrats had the White House, under Clinton, it was. The New Republic magazine was known as "the in flight magazine of Air Force One," and Clinton made his reputation on "triangulation," which meant that (and a lot of Republicans said this) that he often championed what were typically Republican issues. Welfare Reform is a good example. I'm not even going to argue that Clinton's welfare reform didn't work (it kind of did, kind of didn't) but it was an example of a Democrat working hard on a right wing issue. It was, basically, a Democrat response to Rondal Reagan's charge that the system was being ripped off by welfare queens. Like I said, it wasn't wholly stupid. Because Clinton also led us to an economic boom, his welfare reform kind of worked (by pushing people into the labor force at a time when the economy demanded labor) but also kind of failed (some folks were left bereft and died, others entered the labor force during an economy that, even during the Clinton years, didn't provide an inflation-proof wage). It almost doesn't matter whether or not it worked. It was, in the end, a Democrat approach that was Republican to the core because it dealt with the problem of poverty on Republican assumptions -- the policy assumed that poverty is an individual's problem, rather than a failure of the state or the state's economy.
My point is that things like welfare reform were DLC issues. While Clinton was in power, and I do like Clinton and miss him as President, the DLC was powerful and its ideas were implemented. If we have another President like Clinton, the DLC will ascend again. When the Heritage Foundation or the CATO Institute or The American Enterprise Institute were founded, they were also in the place where Kilgore describes the DLC today -- underfunded, understaffed and without influence. But... those think tanks waited and when they had a guy in power who they could work with, they became powerful. Same for the DLC. Maybe, right now, it's underfunded and understaffed, but put one of their folks in the White House and it'll be a force, as it was under Bill Clinton.
Kilgore wants to claim, at the moment, that we shouldn't worry about the "little old DLC." At the moment, with Republicans running three branches of government, he has a point. But even the mainstream press is onto him, as DLC regulars like Al From are frequently quoted in nationally-read articles.
Right now, no insitution that's left of center (or that purports to be) is in power. But things change, just ask Joe Lieberman. We should take the DLC and its ideas seriously right now. Some of their ideas are really good (they have a free-market point of view that is still compassionate to Americans, for example) and some are really bad (they won't come out and support same sex marriage and they're often socially prudish on issues that involve the free expression of Hollywood and Game designing artists, and they're also too into the 'fight Islamofascism' idea).
The DLC isn't on top right now. But they have the ear of the mainstream media and they will have influence if their candidate reaches the White House. They did once before, under Bill Clinton. Those were good times. I don't think the DLC is evil. They have some good ideas. But Kilgore's argument that we should ignore them because they don't have power at the moment is very self serving. I already said that they have some good ideas. But they have some sucky ideas too. On social issues, the DLC are a bunch of prudes. On economic issues, they get some things right (free trade's a good thing) and other things wrong (they don't understand how much of an obligation a government should have to its struggling citizens) and on foreign policy they're insane (they by the "we're at war with Islam" meme that's ruined our society since 2001).
The DLC shouldn't be ignored now because they're undermanned and underfunded. It should be engaged now because we need to deal with it before it can have a White House and Congress that it can influence.
Lieberman blames the London terrorists on... Ned Lamont?
"Traitor" Joe Lieberman had this to say after the British foiled a terror plot today:
"If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them and they will strike again."
In case anyone missed the news today, what happened in London was that a bunch of terrorists tried to smuggle explosives onto planes but they all stopped, considered the fact that the U.S. had invaded and is occupying Iraq, and they all turned themselves in. The presence of our troops in Iraq created the perfect deterrent. Had we not invaded Iraq, these terorrists would have gotten away with it.
Also, if Ned Lamont wins the general election, terrorists will release snakes on a plane.
This is where Joe's bringing the discourse.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Is He Kidding?
Sometimes I think there are two huge problems with The Colbert Report: first, it gives right-wing shills and wackjobs pointers in fact-minimization techniques and, second, it encourages people to think (or hope) that the shills and the wackos are actually speaking tongue in cheek.
The National Review online has just posted a perfect example of this. In an opinion column, contributing editor James S. Robbins argues that global warming is great. If it's happening. Which it's probably not. Because capitalism is good and liberals fear change. Sez Robbins:
Personally, I don't know what all the shouting is about. Global warming is great. Granted, maybe it isn't really happening, and if it is there are strong reasons to doubt that humans have anything to do with it. But if the world is warming, I say "bravo." People in most parts of the globe should have no objection to a warmer, wetter climate. If the aliens were watching they'd conclude we were making our planet more habitable on purpose.I'm far from the first to pick up on Robbins article. And, like many bloggers, I don't know how to respond to it. It really does read like a Stephen Colbert argument, so it very possibly is a joke. I mean, I doubt it. Not from The National Review, which is seldom deliberately funny. On the other hand, it's hard to shake the feeling that if aliens were reading it, they'd conclude that he was making his case laughable on purpose.
In case Robbins is making the case to be taken seriously, I thought about critiquing the column's logical and factual errors. But the article makes that unnecessary by completely foregoing logic and fact. (It's usually a warning sign when somebody tells you that "there are strong reasons to doubt" something and then doesn't so much as mention a single one of them.) All we get are one-liners, goofily irrelevant anecdotal evidence, and unconvincing use of quasi-scientific jargon.
So, gentle reader(s), please have a look at the piece for yourselves and tell me whether you think a) he's kidding or b) he wants his readers to take him seriously but is undercut how hilarious anyone will sound when simultaneously arguing that global warming doesn't exist and that global warming is totally awesome.
Lieberman Finally Makes An Ass Out of Himself
There's supposed to be a scheduled outage on blogger, so I'll be quick -- Lamont's victory was so narrow (which make it no less impressive) that had Lieberman not threatened to continue running as an independent, he would have won. This was less a referendum about the Iraq War than it was a repudiation of Lieberman's insistence that he be a Senator from Connecticut whether the voters want him or not.
Loverboy Goes Independent
After losing the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D/R/Indep-CT) filed the paperwork necessary to run as an independent.
Mike's had some good posts on this, so I'll leave it to him to write something more if he's so inclined. In the meantime, I salute Sen. Lieberman and his courageous decision to defend the sacred principle of incumbency. (And to The Onion for their fearless reporting on the issue.)
I'm always a little suspicious of the accuracy of campaign prediction maps, but the New York Times has a shiny map of safe and disputed districts for the Nov. elections. It's fun to play with.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Just Raise the Minimum Wage, Already
We need to raise the federal minimum wage.
The current $5.15 per hour is ridiculously inadequate. It translates into about $10,700 a year for a full-time employee. It is also, adjusted for inflation, the lowest wage paid to employees since 1955.
The House has already passed a bill raising the wage to $7.25 over two years. The Senate is debating its own version of the bill. If passed, it would give a raise to about 15 million Americans (11% of the 136 million working Americans).
(Of course, the House Republican leadership set up the bill so that approving it would also mean approving a big cut to the estate tax. I guess the theory is that if the Congress is going to cut down on super-rich people's ability to screw the poor, it will have to make it up to the super-rich by tossing their salads. That's the only explanation I can come up with, anyway. The estate tax doesn't really affect anybody but rich people. Only the wealthiest 1% of American estates are taxed in any way whatsoever under the estate tax, and only the richest of the rich come anywhere near its maximum rate.)
I've heard two arguments against raising the minimum wage. The first is that a lousy minimum wage is a social good because it encourages people to get better trained and to work harder so that they can get better jobs. This argument is so cynical and disingenuous that it's hard to see as anything but a joke. A lot of people making $5.15 an hour already work harder than a lot of people making $50,000 a year. And a lot of people without the training required to move ahead would love to get that training, but when you're working forty hours a week and raising kids, you don't have a lot of time to get a finance degree from Wharton.
The whole reason for a minimum wage is that we as a society believe that people working full-time are making a real contribution and therefore shouldn't starve to death or die of exposure. To deliberately keep the minimum wage so low that it becomes a threat rather than a protection betrays that belief. You could also encourage people to study and work harder by requiring local police to pour hydrochloric acid into the ears of anyone over the age of 24 who doesn't have at least an associate's degree. But it would be, as the philosophers say, a shitty thing to do.
The second argument against raising the minimum wage is that employers only have so much money to pay their employees, which means that raising the minimum wage would force them to cut minimum-wage jobs. The main problem with this claim is that it doesn't actually seem to be true.
Right now, 18 states in the US already have minimum wages higher than the federal wage. (They range from Wisconsin's $5.70 per hour to Washington's $7.63). If you compare those states' economic indicators either before and after implementing those wages or to those of other states, there's no meaningful correlation between a higher minimum wage (HMW) and job loss.
Jeff Chapman at the Economic Policy Institute has done a study suggesting that HMWs have little or nothing to do with statewide job loss; instead, unsurprisingly, the most likely factor in job loss nationwide is the loss of manufacturing jobs, fairly high-paying jobs which aren't tied to the minimum wage. (This, I suspect, is why the strongest job growth has lately been in the West, where there were never a lot of manufacturing jobs to lose in the first place.)
Moreover, when compared to other states collectively or individually, my own (far less sophisticated) research indicates that HMW states seem to do at least as well as federal-minimum-wage states in terms of wealth, growth, or employment. In fact, if anything, they do a little better.
According to the US Department of Commerce, in 2005 the 18 HMW states accounted for 47% of the total of all gross state products (GSPs) but only 43% of the US's population. Taken as a group, the states with higher minimum wages (HMWs) generate 16% more economic product per capita than do federal-minimum-wage states. (Per capita GSP is $40,500 per year in HMW states and $34,700 per year in states using the federal minimum wage.)
Individual states with HMWs also tend to have better economies. Of the 11 states with the highest GSPs, 8 are HMW states.* And 15 of 18 HMW states are at or above the median nationwide per capita GSP. (There are 18 states above the mean nationwide per capita GSP; 12 of those are HMW states.) In contrast, of the states with the lowest per capita GSPs, only 1 is a HMW state. (The 9 worst all have the $5.15-per-hour minimum wage.)
One might say, sure, but rich states can afford HMWs and probably (due to higher cost of living) even need them to keep workers around. That's probably partly true, but it's also true that having HMWs doesn't seem to hurt states in terms of either unemployment rates or economic growth. According to the Dept. of Labor, HMW states were distributed evenly across the range of economic growth and employment. For both employment and economic growth, there were 5 HMW states in the top third, 6 in the middle third, and 7 in the bottom third. For both employment and growth, half of the HMW were at or above the median rates. (10 of 18 were above the mean employment rate; 8 of 18 were above the mean growth rate.)
So there's there's no excuse to overlook our moral imperative and and cultural incentive to raise the minimum wage. After all, this country isn't supposed to be run for the rich. It's supposed to be run for everyone. If the country is doing well on average, the average person should be doing well. It that's not the case, something unfair is afoot.
And something unfair is afoot. For the past three decades, the rich have been turning into the super-rich, and people who work for a living have been getting shafted. Don't take my word for it. Here's what the raving Communists at the CIA say about America:
Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20% of households.... Long-term problems include... stagnation of family income in the lower economic groups.
Raising the minimum wage wouldn't fix that. But it'd be a step in the right direction.
* - The District of Columbia (a HMW “state”) is included in the states with the 10 highest per capita GSP, but it has such a bizarrely high one (more than double the natioan average) that I've added an extra state to the top 10. My unresearched hunch is that DC (which actually does have high unemployment) has such a high GSP because it generates a lot of wealth but has relatively few permanent residents (because it has so many commuters from Virginia and Maryland). Leaving out DC, 7 of the 10 states with the highest GSPs are HMW states.
A New Special Relationship
California Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair have just agreed to cooperate to reduce global warming.
This is more of a pairing of equals than it might seem at first. With 60 million citizens, the UK has almost double California's population (36m), but CA's purchasing-power-adjusted GDP of $1.6 trillion is not too far off the UK's $1.8 trillion. (California, by itself, has maybe the fifth-largest economy in the world.)
There are a lot of political and legal questions to work out. Can California enter an emissions-swapping plan with the UK? Will Bush or Congressional Republicans try to make Schwartzenegger pay for doing an end-run around the US's withdrawal from the Kyoto climate treaty?
But it raises interesting possibilities. A lot of US cities and states have been quietly implementing part or all of the Kyoto treaty on their own terms, and it would be fascinating to see if the green states (much the same as the blue states, I suspect), start banding together with one another and with partners abroad to behave responsibly despite their federal government.