Monday, November 26, 2007

I'd Spend My $100,000 on Space Tourism

The New York Times just ran a piece pointing out that the because the GOP is having so much trouble raising money from voters, it's seeking out rich candidates who can pay for their own Congressional campaigns. So far, 14 Republican candidates have contributed more than $100,000 of their own money to their own campaigns.

According to the Times, the Democrats' campaign committee has raised $56.6 million and has $29.2 left in the bank. The Republicans' committee has raised $40.7 and has a balance of $2.5 million.

A couple thoughts:

1) If the Democrats can't use this to drive home the point that the Republican party is out of touch with voters who actually work for a living and uninterested in getting back in touch, they deserve to lose all 14 seats.

2) This strikes me really ominous. People shouldn't have to be rich to run for office, and the parties should seek to run a platform that voters can identify with enough to contribute to a campaign.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Mark Twain is Still Right

I don't repost items too often. But this one seems worth it. I posted a longer version of this over a year ago, and I think the questions have become more urgent since then.


Why Are We There? When Can We Leave?

I'd like to share with you Mark Twain's thoughts on the Iraq war:

You ask me about what is called imperialism. Well, I have formed views about that question..... There is the case of Iraq. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess.... We were to relieve them from Hussein's tyranny, to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Iraqis, a government according to Iraqi ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now -- why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I'm sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation.

Okay, obviously Mark Twain didn't say that about America's occupation of Iraq. But he did say it--with the nations' names changed of course--about America's occupation of the Philippines, a nation that which came under US control in 1898 as part of the terms the treaty that ended the Spanish-American War (the Philippines had long been Spanish colonies). We promised the Filipinos that we were freeing them from oppressive monarchic and colonial rule, but they decided they'd rather free themselves. In 1899, the Filipinos declared independence. We fought their independence movement until 1913, and we won. The islands didn't leave American control until WW II (when Japan occupied them) and didn't get independence until 1946. (We got Puerto Rico and Guam in the same treaty and kept 'em.)

I'm fascinated that Twain's sense of the problems of the problem with America's occupation of the Philippines in 1900 applies so well to America's occupation of Iraq in 2006. And I don't think it's a fluke. I think it tells us something about the dangers of pursuing a foreign policy based on military force.

Worse, a closer analog to Iraq than the Philippines is another island nation that fell under our control after the Spanish-American War: Cuba. We got Cuba in the same treaty that we got the Philippines. President McKinley was pleased to have Cuba under his control, and he declared that America would have a twenty-year trusteeship over it. Pres. Roosevelt was more sympathetic to Cuban desires for independence, so he granted independence in 1902. But that independence had a big catch. Not only did the conditions of independence require that Cuba lease of Guantanamo Bay in perpetuity, they also granted--explicitly in the Cuban constitution--the US the right to intervene in Cuba's domestic affairs when it saw fit.

In 1906, the US exercised that right when it wasn't satisfied that Cuba's fragile (and elitist) government would survive the death of Pres. Estrada Palmer. The US was directly and indirectly involved with appointing or deposing governments in Cuba until 1944.

The factional and racial violence that helped keep Cuba politically unstable over that period seems unnervingly analogous to the regional and ethnic tensions in today's Iraq. Of course, the new Iraqi constitution doesn't allow us the right to intervene at will in Iraqi affairs, but Iraqis' inability to establish a new government, the ongoing guerrilla violence, and our having a hundred and fifty thousand troops on the ground makes that constitution more a piece of paper than a compelling reality.

And I'm afraid that the temptation to intervene militarily in Iraqi politics will be enormously strong for this and future Presidents. We now know that Bush entered this war excited not so much by supposed WMDs as by the neocon aspiration of "regional transformation," of deposing Saddam and putting a democratic, pro-US government in his place. A lot of those people are still in various important positions in the US government and a lot of them will be reluctant to see the US leave Iraq before a strong, pro-US government is in place. The problem is, it seems less likely every day that left to its own devices Iraq will have either a strong government or a pro-US government any time soon, much less both.

And you don't have to be a neocon to be tempted to stay in Iraq until we somehow "get it right." We've lost thousands of soldiers, killed tens of thousands of Iraqis, spend hundreds of billions of dollars that could have been spend on education, or health care, or a night on the town. People want those lives and that money to mean something. And Iraq is hugely important--as a source of oil, as a check on Iran, as a potential ally. If things go badly there, all that could go down the drain.

It took only a few years for thoughtful people to realize that they couldn't understand why we were in the Philippines or Cuba, but it took the US forty-eight years to get out of the Philippines and forty-six years to get out of Cuba. We've been in Iraq four. When will we get out? When can we get out? And, at least as important, how can we stop getting into these situations?

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Let's Mean It, For a Change

The United States must stop supporting President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf.

President Bush has treated him as an ally in the war on terror, and Musharraf has managed to convince not just Bush but many Americans who are aware of his existence that doing so makes sense. Like many a strongman before him, Musharraf has earned American financial and political backing by rhetorically positioning himself as the only thing standing between his country and the enemies of America--in this case, Islamic fundamentalists. Pakistan's nuclear weapons make the threat of an Islamist takeover especially alarming and therefore make us more likely to listen carefully when Musharraf says he's the one keeping nukes out of Osama bin Laden's hands.

But that now seems like bunch of bunk.

For days now, despite martial law, Pakistanis have taken to the street to protest Musharraf's sacking of the Supreme Court and his feeble interest in holding elections as scheduled. But the people calling for Musharraf to resign aren't al-Qaeda and Taliban sympathizers. Many--maybe most--of them are lawyers.

It's easy to make lawyer jokes, but these should be America's best allies in the region. They have a commitment to the rule of law, to the democratic process, and a deep opposition to letting a bunch of Islamist thugs take office. Musharraf talks a good game about preventing the spread of radical Islam, but all his authoritarian rule does is encourage it because Musharraf's ultimate interest is in staying in power, not in improving life for Pakistanis. The more poverty, ignorance, and hopelessness in Pakistan, the better the chance al-Qaeda has of making real gains there. The more hopeful, educated, thoughtful people in positions of genuine authority, the more obvious al-Qaeda's stupidity and death worship will be to average Pakistanis.

Musharraf may be our dictator, but he's a dictator. Right now we have a choice between supporting him and supporting democratic reformers. That should be an easy choice, and it's one we should happily make while we still have the chance. If we continue to support Musharraf, we really will have to make the choice that he wants us to think we already have to make: the choice between him and some even less pleasant jerks. Why let it come to that?

We're always talking about spreading the rule of law and a faith in democracy. Now, in Pakistan, let's mean it.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Spineless Democrats

According to this article in The Hill, the Senate's five presidential candidates weren't there to vote on whether or not Mike Mukasey, who doesn't understand that waterboarding is torture, should be attorney general.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd had all promised to oppose the Mukasey nomination but they couldn't be bothered to show up and do it.

They wouldn't have made a difference, but they would have made a 53-40 vote much closer had they been there to oppose.

Also, Evan Bayh, Diane Feinstein, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Charles Schumer, and Thomas Carper are all aleged Democrats who are no longer worthy of your support. Of course, Joe Lieberman showed once again why the people of Connecticut made a big mistake last year.

This should have been a slam dunk rejection.

The only argument against sinking this nomination is that Bush would have just kept a temp in place for the rest of his term and the temp would have been worse than Mukasey. But that's a weak argument. Congress should have left Bush with an illegitimate AG.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Waterboarding Can't Be Torture!

Mike Mukasey, who refused to answer the simple question (with an obvious answer) about whether or not waterboarding is torture, is our new attorney general. Idiots like Chuck Schumer (D-NY) aided this travesty.

Obviously, tying some one down and convincing them they will drown, is torture. It's an easy question.

Mukasey refused to answer it.

The following is an excerpt from a press release just sent from Arlen Specter's office that explains everything. Specter is praising the confirmation. But in his praise, he accidentally damns:

"Now, I do believe there were reasons Judge Mukasey did not express a judgment on waterboarding as being torture, although candidly it would have been my preference if he had done so, if he had agreed with my vote on the subject. But Judge Mu

asey said in written responses that he believed he could not make that pronouncement without placing people at risk to be sued or perhaps even criminally prosecuted. We know a few weeks ago, former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was in Paris at a time when people sought legal process against him. It was unclear whether it was a criminal procedure or a civil procedure. But we do know that many nations are exercising extraterritorial jurisdiction when they may consider conduct to be a violation of the law against humanity."

This is Specter's argument... the new attorney general of the United States should not have had to say whether or not he thought an activity was a crime because... if he did... the people who committed that crime might be prosecuted for it.

Well... I guess they're the "law and order" party. "Ain't a law if it messes up our order!"

Friday, November 02, 2007

Maybe He Could Try It

This post's topic is precisely the sort of nonsense that makes me not want to comment on the Bush administration: I'm writing political and logical analysis but know that I should probably be writing a review of absurdist theater.

Anyway, Bush's nominee for Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, just finished telling Congress that he couldn't say whether waterboarding constitutes torture but that, if it does, it's unconstitutional. His explanation for his inability to give an opinion was that he hasn't been briefed on what waterboarding involves.

Where exactly is the fairy kingdom that all these lawyers live in before being nominated for office and what magical properties does it have to keep them from knowing basic information about and giving thought to Roe v. Wade, torture, warrantless government surveillance, and other such questions familiar to tens of millions of people who aren't being offered high level positions based on our knowledge of the law? Can I move to that kingdom? I bet the trees are made of gumdrops and the skies are made of love.

It's pathetic enough that Supreme Court nominees pretend that they've never given serious thought to the hot-button issues of the day. They at least can claim that they might be called upon to rule on them someday and must therefore maintain their neutrality. Attorneys General, though, have to make policy decisions that necessarily eliminate the possibility of neutrality. It will be the next AG's job to say whether waterboarding constitutes torture. If Mukasey doesn't have an opinion about it, he's not taking the job offer seriously enough to deserve the job.

And, Senators, what's wrong with you? You knew about these hearings weeks in advance. What stopped you from sending him a registered letter and an e-mail saying, "We take very seriously the threat both to democracy and to America's reputation abroad posed by allegations of torture. We will be asking you whether you think waterboarding is torture. Please look into what it is so that you can offer informed comment." C'mon. Try harder.

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