Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood

In the first abortion case in over 5 years, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, the Supreme Court has decided to hear a case regarding a New Hampshire law requiring parental notification 48 hours before a child has an abortion unless a judge grants a “bypass.”

The problem, argue critics, is that although the law allows exceptions to the rule when a mothers life is at risk, it does not allow any exception if the mothers health (but not her life) is at risk. To get better sense of what this means, consider Justice Breyer’s hypothetical situation:

“It's the middle of the night in New Hampshire. A pregnant teenager, afraid to tell her parents about her condition, appears at an emergency room in distress. A doctor immediately diagnoses a spike in blood pressure that probably won't kill the teen, but could render her sterile if she doesn't have an immediate abortion. When he calls a judge to ask for permission to do the procedure, as state law prescribes, voice mail answers. What's supposed to happen then?”

In response to this, New Hampshire's attorney general suggested that the doctor could proceed, because state law would protect his good faith medical judgments against prosecution. But Breyer thought that this was too little assurance. The parental notification statute, he remarked, “doesn't say that. It suggests the contrary.”

The New Hampshire parental notification abortion law requires minors to tell a parent before getting an abortion, unless a judge grants a "bypass." The only stated exception is for girls who would die otherwise -- not for those who might face non-life-threatening health problems.

Why shouldn’t there be a health exception? According to New Hampshire, “Doctors would fear being prosecuted or sued if they performed an abortion on a severely sick minor who did not want to notify a parent, several justices said.” Besides, as Justice Scalia said, "It takes 30 seconds to place a phone call."

What do I think? I think that based on the legal standard in question (which is, does the law create an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion?) the law should be ruled unconstitutional unless an exception to the health of the women is inserted into the law. So long as that is done, I fully support parental notification laws, laws in effect in at least 33 states and supported by 69% of the country, according to polls. As Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, notes quite correctly, “You're not talking about parental consent; you're just talking about notification. In high school, a kid can't even have an aspirin without getting a parental slip, so the idea that they could have an abortion procedure without telling the parents that it's about to happen just seems to be outrageous.”

Monday, November 28, 2005

Irrational But Real Vitriol

I loathe "Fitness Celebrity" John Basedow with the white hot intensity of a thousand burning suns.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Two Quickie Reviews

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: I was able to go and see the latest installment of the Harry Potter franchise yesterday afternoon. I had read a bit about it, mostly positive, with a few reviews asserting that there was something missing with this one, that perhaps it lacked the heart of its predecessors. I am here to refute that assertion.

The latest adventures from Hogwarts has Harry, Ron, Hermione and the rest of them firmly in the grip of adolescence. they are 14. I don't know if you have all purged the years from 13 to 15 from your memories, but those are wretched years, full of insecurity, awkwardness, and out-of-control hormones, and HP: GOF captures these years as well as any movie I have seen. The events surrounding a Hogwarts Ball are almost painfully vivid in their recapturing of the dreaded junior high dance. I almost relived Carrie Pfenning rejecting me in 7th grade. Meanwhile at the heart of the plot is a competition for the most talented of the older wizards (age limit: 17) into which Harry somehow gets plunged (PLOT DEVICE ALERT!!!). The competition consists of three tasks with deadly potential. All of this culminates in the return of Voldemort.

This sequel is clearly transitional -- the stage is set for what is yet to come. I am one of those folks who comes to everyone's favorite bespectacled wizard-in-training via the big screen, and I only plan to read the books after the movie series is completed, because the movies have compellingly provided my image of the characters and the school, and besides, I don't have time to dive into a multi-book fantasy series at this point when books I need to read threaten to take over my desk and office. But as soon as the movie ended I lamented the fact that we will likely not see the next installment for quite some time.

One of the aspects of the movies that I most like also provides my one caveat: This is not one to which to bring your toddlers or grade-school children because as Harry and the others have grown up, the movies have grown with them. The movies are thrilling, but for the little ones, there is simply too much violence and gore, and even death. This is a series that grows with its first audience. Fture generations will get to grow along with them. But don't let advertising campaigns accelerate that growth. This is a more mature Harry Potter, and its heart might be somewhat hidden under adolescent pain and awkwardness, but that heart certainly beats clearly.

The Red Sox Acquire Josh Beckett:. Derek likes this one very much. Very, very much. Two Thumbs Up. A+. Five Stars. Five out of Five. It almost makes the Manny Trade watch a bit less painful.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Fair and balanced conservative news, or why Fox is refusing to air an anti-Alito ad

In the latest example of how they report (half of the story) and then let you decide, Fox News is refusing to air an ad critical of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, citing its lawyers' contention that the spot is factually incorrect.

The ad in question says that as an appellate court judge, Alito has “ruled to make it easier for corporations to discriminate … even voted to approve strip search of a 10-year-old girl.” Referring to a document Alito wrote in 1985 while seeking a job in the Reagan administration, it also quotes him as saying that “the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.”

However, according Fox News lawyers, the ad is “factually incorrect.”

There are actually several questions this move raises:
1) Is Fox News correct that the ad is “factually inaccurate”
2) Should a news station refuse to air factually inaccurate political ads, if indeed the ad is false?

Question I: Is the ad accurate?

With regards to the first question, the answer is that the charges are indeed factually accurate, even if the context is omitted, as the website demonstrates.

Did Alito rule to “make it easier for corporations to discriminate”?

In the case of Bray v. Marriott Hotels, Beryl Bray, a black woman who was housekeeping manager at the Park Ridge Marriott in New Jersey, applied for an open position to be the hotel’s director of services, but was rejected despite being told that she was the “top candidate for the job at a lunch meeting with one of the members of the panel reviewing her application.” Bray sued. When the district court threw out her case, she appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which then ruled in her favor, sending her lawsuit back to district court where she and Marriott later settled on undisclosed terms. Alito, the lone dissenter, argued that even though Marriot had failed to follow its own rules, which would have required either the promotion or a written explanation, it was not enough to allow a claim of racial bias to go to trial.

Alito then accused the majority opinion of weakening the burden of proof on Bray and other plaintiffs to the point where “all the plaintiff needs to do is to point to minor inconsistencies or discrepancies in terms of the employer’s failure to follow its own internal procedures in order to get to trial.” By implication then, if he was accusing the majority of weakening the burden of proof (i.e. making it harder for corporations to discriminate), than would not the opposite be true of him, that he argues strengthening the burden of proof (i.e. making it easier for corporations to discriminate)?

Did Alito vote to “approve the strip search of a ten-year-old girl”?

The case, Doe v. Groody, centered on whether a Pennsylvania couple had the right to sue local police officers who searched their home, themselves and their daughter for methamphetamines on the basis of a tip from an informant claiming to have bought drugs at the house. The police argued that a magistrate had approved the warrant based on a police officer's affidavit that sought permission "to search all occupants of the residence and their belongings" (emphasis added.) The strip search of the wife and daughter was conducted by a female officer, in private, in an upstairs bathroom. No contraband was found.

"John and Jane Doe" (as the anonymous couple went by) filed a civil suit in District Court against the officers for violation of their and their daughter's Fourth Amendment rights. The officers moved for summary judgment arguing the searches fell within the scope of the search warrant and therefore they were covered by qualified immunity, which protects them from civil liability for actions performed during the execution of their duties. The question the Third Circuit (including Alito) faced was this: Did the police officer's affidavit requesting the search warrant widen the parameters of the search beyond what was stated in the warrant itself?

The majority ruled that since only "John Doe" was named in the search warrant itself, and since the warrant makes no reference to the attached affidavit, the officers lacked probable cause to search the wife and daughter and therefore violated "their clearly established Fourth Amendment rights."

Alito dissented, saying that a "commonsense and realistic" reading of the warrant gave the officers the impression that "all occupants" of the home were to be searched, and that they were acting within their professional duties in searching the wife and girl.

Said Alito: “I share the majority's visceral dislike of the intrusive search of John Doe's young daughter, but it is a sad fact that drug dealers sometimes use children to carry out their business and to avoid prosecution. I know of no legal principle that bars an officer from searching a child (in a proper manner) if a warrant has been issued and the warrant is not illegal on its face.”

In short, the charge that Alito “voted to approve strip search of a 10-year-old girl” is factually accurate.

Did Alito say that "The Constitution does not protect the right to an abortion."

In a 1985 application he wrote for a position as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Reagan administration, Alito wrote the following:

“I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued in the Supreme Court that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect the right to an abortion.”

So yeah, he did say that.

In short then, Fox is (GASP!) wrong. Indeed, they are even more wrong than when conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Manuel Miranda, Pat Robertson, or Fox News’ very own Sean Hannity accused Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of believing in “polygamy, legalized prostitution, and lowering the age of consent to 12 years old.”

Question II: Should news stations refuse to air inaccurate ads?

First let me be clear: I do not believe, as the Supreme Court has ruled, that money equals speech and thus whoever can pay as a “right” to be heard. Furthermore, I do not believe that free speech requires every argument, slander, or viewpoint to be aired on national television and if a station wants to prohibit inflammatory or conspicuously false ads, then by all means do so. Indeed, perhaps if every station did this honestly and consistently, the tone of political campaigning would be very different.

However, political ads require more than editorial decision-making. For a news channel to refuse to air a political ad and for me to agree with them, the following conditions MUST be met:
  • The ad must indeed be “factually incorrect” and not simply misleading.
  • Commentators and news programs would not show the ad free of charge during their programming to debate, discuss, and explain an ad so dishonest, it has been banned from the station.
  • Standards must be applied equally to all ideological and partisan views

The reality of the matter is that very few ads (indeed, none that I can think of) are factually incorrect. They mislead, distort, and take out of context, but the factual foundation is almost always easily verifiable, if not by you and I than by the thousands of counter interest groups who keep an eye on these things.

Those very few ads that can be identified as false often generate so much controversy, the vast bulk of Americans are far more likely to see it for free on news programs than they are to see it as a commercial between them.

Finally, the last standard is simply unrealistic in today’s partisan world. Remember that CBS miniseries that was never aired called the Reagans, pulled because conservatives thought it was historically “inaccurate”? Remember when that same station aired a TV movie about Hitler that was so inaccurate, the award-winning author of the book from which the film was based on walked out when he saw the portrayal of Hitler as too… inaccurate? Apparently, making Hitler look too good was preferable to making Ronald Reagan look too bad since the Furor was aired while the Gipper was pulled. And how about when Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group (a huge media company with links to the White House) barred its ABC-affiliated stations from airing an episode of Nightline devoted entirely to listing and showing pictures of more than 700 US soldiers killed in Iraq?

If anyone doubts the reality that Fox News is nothing more than a mouth piece for the Republican party, a partisan arm of the RNC, feel free to read this analysis by FAIR. For anyone else, it is clear that Fox is chosing not to run the ad for one very simple reason: they disagree with the messenger and the conclusion. The decision is surprising to me only in the obviousness of its bias

Richard Cohen's take

From Richard Cohen's editorial in the Washington Post:

"The way things look now, [Bush] will go down in history as an amiable dunce -- Clark Clifford's scathing and misapplied characterization of Ronald Reagan -- who took his country to war for reasons that did not exist. This is a blunder without peer in American history and possibly an assault on democracy: The people, through their representatives, are supposed to make an informed decision about war. It is incredible to me that Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about sex, but nobody -- that's nobody -- in the entire Bush administration has been fired, not to mention impeached, for this shedding of American blood."

Monday, November 21, 2005

Bush's Troubles

It is not great secret that Bush’s approval ratings continue to drop every day and in virtually every area. For conservatives, the blame lay with the so-called “MSM,” or “mainstream media,” which supposedly are turning the nation against Bush. For liberals, the problems lay with his incompetent policies and the debacle of Iraq (guess which one I subscribe to).

One thing is for certain however and that is Bush is no leader and this fact has nothing to do with Iraq or really his policies (not directly anyway). No, the problem with Bush is that he simply does not care about the half of the nation that did not vote for him, and it has shown from day one. The polls reflect his polarization. As of early November (they have gotten worse since then), almost 8 in 10 Republicans support Bush, while just 11% of Democrats do. The problem for Bush is that along with the defections of moderate Republicans, among independents, his approval has plummeted. In the latest poll, only 33% of independents approved of his performance, while 66% disapproved.

The real problem with Bush, says William Galston, a professor at the University of Maryland, is that he is "the most partisan president in modern American history” and “as a result, voters in both parties are focusing on him, rather than on the specifics of the policies.”

According to Galston, Bush bears principal responsibility for that condition, saying that on three occasions he passed up opportunities to govern from the center and work more constructively with the Democrats and instead chose a path designed to mobilize conservatives.

  • The first came after the disputed election of 2000, in the early days of Bush's new administration, when he pushed through an ultra-conservative agenda and essentially ignored those few areas of bipartisan support.
  • The second came after the Sept. 11 attacks, when Bush's approval rating rose to 90 percent. Instead of uniting the country and practising what he preached about how 9/11 "changed everything," he instead simply went about implimenting his 9/10 conservative agenda with the national unity of 9/11 as a cover.
  • The third came after the hard-fought and polarizing election last year.

“While White House aides can provide familiar talking points on gestures of cooperation across party lines, the fact of the matter is on all three occasions, the principal thrust of Bush's policies was toward polarization rather than conciliation. We are now living in the shadow of nearly five years in which that has been the dominant political message coming out of the White House.”

Galston is not alone in expressing such sentiments. In this week’s issue of Newsweek, David Gergen, Republican advisor to Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and (famously) Clinton, accused Bush of making “one policy blunder after another while marginalizing moderates in its own party and riding roughshod over members of the opposition.”

Gergen goes on to note something Republicans have simply forgotten: “we elect someone to serve as president of all the people--not half the people. Our best leaders have always understood that it is important to strike a balance, sticking to key principles while reaching out and working with those not of their particular persuasion.”

Bill Clinton, in sharp contrast, was a national leader (even if Republicans tried to humiliate him with sordid details of his affair) and the polls showed it. In December of 1998, after two articles of impeachment were brought against him, Clinton had an approval rating of 73%, over twice Bush’s current ratings, and higher than Reagan's ever got. Perhaps most remarkable by today’s standards is that approval for Clinton among Republicans was almost 40%, or almost 4 times the number of Democrats who today feel the same about Bush!

How did Clinton do it? By refusing to govern as a left-wing liberal and instead governed as a man of principled compromise. He appointed Republicans to high-ranking positions and reached out through rhetoric as well as policy, all the while being accused of lacking conviction (those who make such charges would do well to remember that this so-called “opportunist” shut down the government rather than sign an unfair Republican budget).

But of course Bush is no Clinton. He treats Democrats with contempt and believes that winning an election because of the Supreme Court and winning another with the narrowest margin of victory for a sitting president since Woodrow Wilson in 1916- gave him a political mandate to destroy Social Security, balloon the budget deficit, and push through tax cuts for the rich regardless of their negative effects on the American economy. In the meantime, he invaded another nation with hyped-up charges of gloom and doom and destroyed all of the international goodwill that could have done so much to fight terrorism after 9/11.

For Bush then, the real solution to his current predicament is NOT (as he so often has done in the past) simply accuse his opponents of treason and partisanship. This may have worked when the country was still in shock after 9/11, but not today. The solution is also not to simply continue pretending that everything is going as planned in Iraq in the face of all of the facts.

No, the solution to this predicament is to do what I personally believe this man to be simply incapable of doing, and that is to reach out to Democrats and moderate Republicans and begin proposing policies that can be attractive to the vast majority of Americans that are neither right-wing evangelicals nor left-wing liberals. If Bush decides to pursue such a course, I will be ready to listen.

Guatamala's Dirty Little Secrets

One would think that it would be pretty easy to cover the paper trail of human rights atrocities if you are a nation state with an awful past. When you are set to leave office, or when the writing is on the walls, you simply set the shredder in motion, hire people with torches, and they shred and burn. But as this story in today'sNew York Times reveals, some states are like serial killers. They want souvenirs of their victims. Last year in a munitions depot in Guatamala representatives of the Guatamalan human rights ombudsman's office discovered what apeared to be the files of the National Police, which like the South African Police under apartheid, were less a force committed to maintaining law and order and more one dedicated to maintaining the dominance of the state. John Brewer has called this model "Colonial Policing" in his seminal but, alas, out of print book Black and Blue.

Guatamala went through something of a charade of a truth commission in the 1990s. Their version went largely unheralded in the face of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which for all of its shortcomings managed to walk a line between Nuremburg trials (which would have been impossible for a host of reasons, not least of which was that the negotiated settlement would never have happaned had the power brokers known they would face retributive justice) and blanket amnesty, which is what happened in other countries, such as Chile.

It remains to be seen whether or not it will be possible to use these files to seek justice for the victims of almost four decades of Guatamalan misrule. But the very existence of these documents speaks where silence reigned. It is slim solace for victims of the National Police, but history now has the fulcrum of evidence to do its work. What we long knew without being able to prove we can now begin to prove based on what we know. One Guatemalan historian, Heriberto Cifuentes, has seen the files. He exlained why the government did not destroy them: "Impunity reigns in Guatamala. So whether there are documents or not, people responsible for crimes do not expect to pay for them. they have always enjoyed blanket immunity." One can insert any of a number of names in place of "Guatamala" and Cifuentes' quotation would ring true. But in the latter half of the twentieth century it seems as if we have begun to challenge such seeming truisms. Let's hope that this discovery is part of that trend.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

A semi-tribute to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

I’ll admit it: I like Arial Sharon and believe that history will show him as one of Israel’s greatest leaders. Long derided by the left as being a war criminal and starting the second intifada, Sharon has proven to be effective, pragmatic, and indeed, brave. As it was once said that only Nixon could go to China, I truely believe that only Sharon can end this conflict (if indeed, anyone can at all).

I also believe that his decision to leave the Likud Party and form his own party for 2006 (which was the catalyst that prompted me to write this post) is appropriate and wise. Sharon is that combination of hard-line nationalist and realpolitik pragmatist that currently has no place in any of the major Israeli parties and belongs to a category of its own. Were I able, I would certainly cast my vote for him in 2006.

It might sound odd that a liberal American Democrat would say such things about a right-wing Israeli politician, particularly one with Sharon’s history.

Sharon is a native of the land he now governs and as a young man he joined the Jewish underground organisation Haganah, and fought in the Arab-Israeli war in 1948-49. Since then, he has fought in virtually every war Israel ever fought, eventually joining the new Likud Party shortly before the Yom Kipper war.

Sharon’s harshest critics (and at least one Dcat reader) call him a war criminal for the massacres at Sabra and Shatila during the 1982 Lebanon war. The reality of course, as it often is in the region, is not quite so simple. The Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia actually committed the massacre (although like all non-Jews in the region, they are accorded virtually zero blame by Israel-critics for the crime). Israeli troops allowed the Phalangists to enter Sabra and Shatila to root out terrorist cells believed located there. It had been estimated that there may have been up to 200 armed men in the camps working out of the countless bunkers built by the PLO over the years, and stocked with generous reserves of ammunition. Because of the incident, Sharon was fired as Defense Minister and publicly branded by an Israeli commission set up to investigate the incident, as indirectly culpable for the crime for not anticipating the Phalangist’s actions. Although I have no sympathy for Sharon's actions and take pride that while the Arab world was silent on the massacre, an estimated 300,000 Israelis demonstrated in protest, the scene of absolute chaos, anarchy and routine death and destruction as described by Thomas Friedman is always missing in the narrative.

Critics also (falsely) accuse Sharon for starting the second intifada by visiting the Templ Mount (something neither uncommon nor illegal for Jews to do), despite the fact that the PA’s own Communications Minister, Imad Faluji, admitted that the violence had been planned in July, far in advance of Sharon's visit. According to him, the intifada “had been planned since Chairman Arafat's return from Camp David, when he turned the tables on the former U.S. president and rejected the American conditions” and the “Mitchell Report,” which studied the incident in 2001, concluded bluntly, “The Sharon visit did not cause the ‘Al-Aksa Intifada.” Furthermore, Palestinian security chief Jabril Rajoub assured Sharon that so long as he did not enter the mosques (which he did not), no problems would arise.

Perhaps the most accurate charge that critics make is that he is considered the “father” of the settler movement, creating many of the problems that now fuel Palestinian rage. As housing minister in the early 1990s, he presided over the biggest building drive in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza since Israel occupied the territories in 1967.

Judged for a lifetime, Sharon may not get very high marks, even if most of the extreme charges are exaggerated or simply untrue. Nevertheless, as Prime Minister of Israel, Sharon became committed to making progress, with or without the Palestinians help. During his tenure, he is responsible for the following:

  • When terrorists continued to attack innocent civilians inside Israel, he built a defensive barrier which all but ended Palestinian terrorism (click here for Israel's defense of the barrier at the UN).
  • He authorized the assassination of so many Hamas leaders, the terrorist organization began keeping the names of their new leaders secret in fear of being killed.
  • Sharon’s refusal to deal with Yassir Arafat forced the Palestinians into reforming their political machine and prompted the creation of a Palestinian Prime Minister, the first person other than Arafat to ever have any say in the future of the Palestinian people.
  • Finally, most recently, and perhaps most importantly, Sharon put his life and political future on the line by withdrawing all settlements in Gaza

That Sharon did not due these things because he wants the Palestinians to be free and happy does not diminish for me the power of his actions. He did those things because he knows that any future with the Palestinians will be a future without Gaza and thus keeping it adds unnecessary danger to Israeli security. In time, if the Palestinians are unable to control their own people or if civil war erupts, it is likely that Sharon will withdraw from more settlements in the West Bank, probably incorporating some of the largest Jewish settlements into Israel, leaving the rest, and preparing to live with insecurity and instability at its borders indefinitely from a defendable and fortified position.

In 2005, Sharon delivered a speech before the UN General Assembly, the same body that once declared the very idea of a Jewish state to be racist: In it he said the following:

“I was born in the Land of Israel, the son of pioneers -- people who tilled the land and sought no fights -- who did not come to Israel to dispossess its residents. If the circumstances had not demanded it, I would not have become a soldier, but rather a farmer and agriculturist. My first love was, and remains, manual labor; sowing and harvesting, the pastures, the flock and the cattle.

I, as someone whose path of life led him to be a fighter and commander in all Israel's wars, reaches out today to our Palestinian neighbors in a call for reconciliation and compromise to end the bloody conflict, and embark on the path which leads to peace and understanding between our peoples. I view this as my calling and my primary mission for the coming years."

Later, he noted that "The right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel does not mean disregarding the rights of others in the land. The Palestinians will always be our neighbors. We respect them, and have no aspirations to rule over them. They are also entitled to freedom and to a national, sovereign existence in a state of their own.

This week, the last Israeli soldier left the Gaza Strip, and military law there was ended. The State of Israel proved that it is ready to make painful concessions in order to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians. The decision to disengage was very difficult for me, and involves a heavy personal price. However, it is the absolute recognition that it is the right path for the future of Israel that guided me. Israeli society is undergoing a difficult crisis as a result of the Disengagement, and now needs to heal the rifts."

I am sure there are many who disagree with what I have said here, and I respect other, less flattering views of the man, but to me, these are the frank words of a leader. For the sake of Israel's and the Palestinian's futures, I wish him all the best with his new (as yet unnamed) party.

College Football Quick Hits

A few observations about college football based on last night's USC-Fresno State clash:

1) One tendency that always drives me crazy in college football will manifest itself tonight when the latest polls come out: Fresno State played USC to the wire, could have won that game, and gave the two-time defending champs and one of the greatest college football teams of all time their greatest challenge yet. Fresno State came into the game ranked 16th. Anyone who cares about football would have to say that they closed that gap, and despite the loss they deserve to be ranked higher. What will happen? Everyone who votes will look at the end result and in knee-jerk fashion will drop Fresno a few spots. That is absurd. Fresno does not deserve to drop from 16th to, say, 20th.

2) I think I am the only person in the country left who feels this way, so take it for what it is worth, but if I had a vote for the Heisman Trophy I would vote for Matt Leinart. Don't get me wrong -- Reggie Bush is an awesome, awesome talent. But the burden of running that team, of making sure that winning streak is intact, of defending the championship again, all fall on Leinart's shoulders. He has been a rock for that team, and everyone seems willing to forget Bush's 80 yard games while elevating performances like last night, despite the fact that on two connected plays last night Bush jeopardized that winning streak -- the first on a return in which he fumbled, the second on a personal foul on the subsequent kickoff return after FSU scored as a result of the short field Bush's fumble gave them. Of course if USC loses to UCLA and Texas finishes the pre-Bowl season strong, Vince Young will walk away with the trophy.

3) I do not want to hear any more about the supposed "East Coast Bias" prevalent in sports. Here is the deal: It is not the east coast media's fault that the bulk of the population and media lives east of the Mississippi. And so if you have a game with the #1 and #16 teams in the country, and it is on the west coast, and you schedule that game for 7:45 local time, guess what? No one is going to get to see it. I live in Texas, far from the centers of east coast bias, and here that game ended at 1:30 am. It ended at 2:30 on the East Coast. Dumb scheduling on your part isn't the rest of the country's problem.

4) Supporters of the BCS are going to claim that their bizarre system works if USC and Texas end up undefeated. Really? Is anyone else asking whether or not a system really works when the #16 ranked team in the country can take the supposed clear #1 down to the last minute? Shouldn't we ask ourselves if maybe, just maybe, teams that play different conference schedules and widely variant nonconference schedules should not have their seasons judged by the simplistic matrix of going undefeated or not? And if that is our standard wouldn't it be wise to look at other NCAA sports and see if in, say, the last five years the team going into the postseason tournament with the best regular season record won it all? And if the answer is "no," shouldn't we be more than a bit curious why we then think that such a reductionist plan works for NCAA DI football? I'm just asking. I am always shocked when announcers and pundits who have been wrong as often as they have been right in their pronouncements and predictions over the course of a season pronounce with certainty that the system worked if two undefeated teams match up at the end of the season. A 16 team playoff is the only viable solution.

5) I just realized that I will be in South Africa for the entirety of the bowl season. I leave December 12 and get back January 16th. Maybe I should be easier on West Coast teams for dumb scheduling. Nah.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Courts and the Legislature

Using both Rosa Parks and the Brown decision as a springboard, Jim Cobb, one of the great historians of our time, addresses what many (especially on the liberal side of the spectrum) assume to be a disjunction between the courts and the legislatures in thisThe New Republic online piece. He effectively argues that the struggle for racial justice came about as the result of both court decisions and legislation prompted by the impetus of the Civil Rights Movement. To most historians this would seem blindingly obvious. But as Cobb reminds us, the celebrations of Rosa Parks' life have been wholly affirmative, whereas last year's commemoration of the 50th annivarsary of Brown carried with it quite a bit of pessimism. Cobb's piece quite effectively tilts the balance back where it belongs. I'd probably categorize this as essential reading, or pretty darned close to it.


I wish that some of the people who are defending the administration's stand on torture or who have narrowed the definition of "torture" to laughable limits could be made to sit through an hour of videotapes from South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. Water Boarding, beatings, hanging people from their limbs, putting guns to their heads and pretending to shoot -- these and many more awful, unacceptable behaviors are, by any reasonable standard, forms of torture. We would never want American POW's to go through them. We could not imagine our girlfriends or wives or brothers or fathers having to endure such atrocities. And yet there is a shocking number of people making ends justify the means type arguments to justify the most loathsome behavior, behavior unbecoming a great nation.

It is annoying, to say the least, to be lectured to about the gravity of terrorism by those folks who argue for lenience with regard to America's current torture laxity. But beyond that, it is a bit dumbfounding -- what does the one have to do with the other? Yes, you make a sterling point -- terrorism is bad. Does torturing alleged terrorists and enemy combatants (remember, 90% or so of the Abu Graib prisoners ultimately left with no charges and in most cases with little sustainable evidence against them) somehow prevent terrorism? From almost all accounts -- look at South Africa during Apartheid, or Chile during Pinochet's reign, or consider John McCain's experience of finally relenting to torture and giving the names of the offensive line of the Green Bay Packers -- torture does not work. Indeed, the South African Security Forces or Pinochet's thugs had little interest in torture as a road to anything other than as a form of extrajudicial punishment and sadistic entertainment. If our best trump card in the war against terrorism, or whatever we are calling it now, is that we are better than they are, it probably is an unwise policy to engage in actions that descend to their level. In an administration that argued that an intercepted memo talking about flying hijacked planes into skyscrapers was not actionable intelligence, to say the least it seems that whatever we might gain from nearly drowning supposed enemy combatants is neither actionable nor worth the cost in our reputation, our relationships with our allies, or our attempts to win hearts and minds. So never mind that our actions are morally repugnant and beneath us -- apparently Vice President Cheney does not care about such things. Instead focus on the fact that torture will not help us win this war. Then again, competence is not exactly high on the list of the administration's priorities these days either.

Conservative paradise

From Reuters: "A Chinese peasant woman who suffered a brain haemorrhage was left at the undertakers alive for cremation because her family could no longer afford hospital treatment, state media said Friday."

"The case," according to the article, is not isolated, but merely "the latest in a series of tragedies illustrating China's stretched health care system and the inability of rural workers to meet spiraling medical costs."

The devestated family noted that 3 days of care cost more than 10,000 yuan, or the sum of the family's life savings.

The fundamental reason foir this? Communism? Asian disregard for individual life? According to the official quoted in the article, the answer is "the absence of a social welfare system," the very system that many on the far-right in this country lament. Having experienced the welfare state for so long, many people take it for granted, assuming that things would be the same or better without it. What they fail to realize is that those same welfare policies that some conservatives despise allow families to invest their money somewhere else other than education or neccessary medical needs, such as raising their standards of living.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

More Americans don’t care of America falls from power

It seems that isolationism is becoming trendy again. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Council on Foreign Relations, an isolationist streak is emerging from Americans that the nation has not experience since the Cold War.

For example, the number of Americans that believe that the US should “mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own” jumped from 30% in 2001 to 42% now.

Perhaps most striking for me is that these numbers are even higher for Democrats and independents. A 55% majority of Democrats believe that we should mind our own business (up from 40% in 2001) and for independents, the number went from 27% to 42%.

The study also showed that over a third of all Americans (35%) said it would be just fine with them if a second superpower were to emerge to challenge U.S. leadership.

Americans have always been pulled by the two competing forces of isolationism and internationalism. The great American heritage of standing as a “city upon a hill” that later became the moral justification for Western expansion and intervention in Latin America often bumped up against Washington’s famous warnings not to become entangled with Europe’s problems. That all changed of course, with WWI and WWII, conflicts which left the United States with the almost universally accepted title of “leader of the free world.” Of course, critics exist and this is not to suggest that we ever truly lived up to our expectations, as Garry Wills points out in his Foreign Affairs article, Bully of the Free World.

Anyone who has ever read the inaugural address of Kennedy and Clinton, as well as Reagan and Bush, know that the belief in American exceptionalism remains firmly planted in our collective consciousness. This began to wane after the debacle that was Vietnam, and after the fall of the Soviet Union, traditional conservatives of the Pat Buchanan ilk made isolationism a relatively popular belief for a while. The 9/11 attacks silenced those voices for a time, resulting in surging interest in foreign policy for the first time in years.

Now, with our reputation at the lowest point perhaps ever, and the conflict in Iraq looking increasingly grim, the Pew survey confirms that people are less interested in America doing the business of leading in the world.

Suffice to say, I am NOT one of the 42% who believe that the US should “mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” I believe that such a philosophy is not only tremendously shortsighted, but dangerous.

Of course in many ways there is nothing that Americans can do about the change of status. A 2005 National Intelligence Council report titled “Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project” (available on the CIA's Web site) suggested that the era of American dominance could be coming to an end sooner than most people realize. Furthermore, according to the NIC, “America's current foreign policy is encouraging this trend.”

This is NOT something Americans should welcome. As Fred Kaplan of Slate points out, this shift to a multipolar world “will not be painless,” but will involve “not merely a recalibration in the balance of world power, but also—as these things do—a loss of wealth, income, and, in every sense of the word, security.”

Americans who simply want to close their eyes and facilitate these new trends do so at their peril. This country already suffers from massive trade deficits and outsourcing of jobs to more lucrative areas overseas, and one of the only reasons China does not reevaluate the value of the dollar (given how much of American debt it owns) that doing so would disrupt the global economic market. Our education system is barely even competitive any more compared to other countries and we are producing far fewer skilled workers than many other industrialized countries. In short, things seems to be going downhill.

But wait, you might ask. Wouldn’t America minding its own business improve our image in the world and thus prolong our dominance? The answer to this is no, although it is without question that the arrogance and incompetence of our current administration has certainly accelerated our downfall. The reality is that the more we retreat from international obligations, the more likely others will rush in to fill the void. We have already seen a reluctant China take on increasing importance in the North Korean problem. Ditto with Europe and Iran. This is only the beginning.

As Deepak Lal argues in his controversial book, In Praise of Empires: Globalization and Order, “After nearly two centuries of relative economic decline,” China and India “are at last rising from their slumber. On their present course, they may match US economic and possibly military prowess by the end of this century. If the United States is unwilling to shoulder the imperial burden of maintaining a global Pax, one of these emerging imperial giants may do so in the future.” But does anyone honestly believe that a world under Chinese or Indian dominance will be more just, more humane, and more stable than a world under American dominance. Thought a large degree of ethnocentrism clouds my response, I certainly do not.

Given the terrible debacle of Iraq and our numerous misdeeds in the international community, it is tempting for Americans to simply sit back and let someone else “make the world safe for democracy” (although I am not sure why, since they have not even been asked to pay for the conflicts they so hardily supported at the time). As Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration recently noted, "Isolated by the nationalistic unilateralism of the neoconservatives who control the Bush administration, the US can expect no sympathy or help from former allies and rising new powers." This may be trie, but welcoming our decline is shortsighted. If Americans believe that values such as freedom and democracy should matter at all, even if they are only given lip service, that weapons proliferation should be a concern of the international community, and the welfare state should survive despite competition from countries without labor laws, the United States must lead the way. Although the fall of our hegemony is perhaps inevitable, as it always is with world powers, it is a part of American tradition that if we are to go down, we will go down fighting.

3 Democratic Positions on Iraq

With the Iraq war becoming more unpopular by the day, and the “Lieberman-Democrats” (those Democratic hawks who differ with Bush only on tactics but not strategy) soundly rejected by the party rank-and-file, I can identify at least three different positions that are likely to be personified by individual potential presidential candidates in 2008.

1) I do not support invading Iraq by Russ Feingold


From his Senate floor speech in 2002: “Both in terms of the justifications for an invasion and in terms of the mission and the plan for the invasion, Mr. President, the Administration's arguments just don't add up. They don't add up to a coherent basis for a new major war in the middle of our current challenging fight against the terrorism of al Qaeda and related organizations. Therefore, I cannot support the resolution for the use of force before us.”

“An invasion of Iraq in the next few weeks or months could in fact be very counterproductive. In fact, it could risk our national security. In any event, I oppose this resolution because of the continuing unanswered questions, including the very important questions about what the mission is here, what the nature of the operation will be, what will happen concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as the attack proceeds and afterward, and what the plan is after the attack is over. In effect, Mr. President, we're being asked to vote on something that is unclear. We don't have answers to these questions. We're being asked to vote on something that is almost unknowable in terms of the information we've been given.”


In June, Feingold stuck his neck out to suggest a firm Iraq troop withdrawal date. While only one Democratic Senator was willing to co-sponsor Feingold's proposal a few months ago, 40 Senators voted for the idea this week.

Can he win?

Feingold is probably the only Democrat whose position on this issue has been not only 100% consistent from the outset, but tremendous easy to explain in a simple soundbyte (unlike Kerry’s consistent yet convoluted rationale). Feingold also wins accolades among liberals for being the ONE SINGLE Senator to vote against the USA Patriot Act (now you know the answer if someone asks who voted against the 99-1 bill). He also sponsored the famous McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. Despite these seemingly ultra-liberal credentials, Feingold won re-election in 2004 by 12%, his largest election victory ever, even carrying many countries that also voted for Bush’s reelection. My prediction however is that as a divorced Jewish liberal, Feingold will be seen as unelectable by Democratic primary voters and loose should he choose to run. If he did win the Democratic nomination, I see very few Republican candidates that could not wipe the floor with him in the general.

2) I did support invading Iraq but changed my mind due to new information by John Edwards (John Kerry?)


Both Kerry and Edwards voted for the authorization to go to war, both offering up the same overall rationale: Saddam Hussein’s WMD program. Although I am unable to locate Edwards Senate floor statement (if he even made one) Kerry’s position was actually rationale, arguing that “In giving the President this authority, I expect him to fulfill the commitments he has made to the American people in recent days--to work with the United Nations Security Council to adopt a new resolution setting out tough and immediate inspection requirements, and to act with our allies at our side if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force. If he fails to do so, I will be among the first to speak out.”

Although it may appear that he simply added that addendum so that he could later fall back on it if the war goes poorly, technically he has been relatively consistent on this.


“I was wrong,” John Edwards said referring to his 2002 vote to give the President the authorization for waging war.” He continued, “Almost three years ago we went into Iraq to remove what we were told -- and what many of us believed and argued -- was a threat to America. But in fact we now know that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction when our forces invaded Iraq in 2003… It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002. I take responsibility for that mistake.”

Kerry’s position on Iraq remains as consistently vague now as it was during his campaign. Since the election however, he has made no statement about whether he still would have voted for the resolution if he knew then what he knows now. During the entire campaign, he insisted he still would have voted for it even while dismissing it as the wrong war at the wrong time.

From the WP in August 2004: “Knowing then what he knows today about the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Kerry still would have voted to authorize the war and "in all probability" would have launched a military attack to oust Hussein by now if he were president, Kerry national security adviser Jamie Rubin said in an interview Saturday. As recently as Friday, the Massachusetts senator had said he only "might" have still gone to war.”

Can he (either one) win?

A resounding NO. Kerry was never the favorite choice among rank-and-file Democrats, merely the person perceived as the most electable. Polls showing either man as a favorite should not be taken seriously as they tend to highlight name recognition more than anything else (remember that Gore and Lieberman were the top names right after 2000 to run in 2004). People may run for president however many times they like, but history shows that voters tend to grant a nomination only once and Kerry/Edwards blew it. They are old news and have virtually nothing to offer that other, newer, more charismatic candidates have (except perhaps, a shit load of money that will not be enough to buy the nomination).

3) I support invading Iraq but not the way Bush has conducted operations by Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden


Both Biden and Clinton supported the resolution and Clinton even included some of the same concerns that Kerry had mentioned. From her floor statement:

“President Bush's speech in Cincinnati and the changes in policy that have come forth since the Administration began broaching this issue some weeks ago have made my vote easier. Even though the resolution before the Senate is not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first and placing highest priority on a simple, clear requirement for unlimited inspections, I will take the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a UN resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible.

Because bipartisan support for this resolution makes success in the United Nations more likely, and therefore, war less likely, and because a good faith effort by the United States, even if it fails, will bring more allies and legitimacy to our cause, I have concluded, after careful and serious consideration, that a vote for the resolution best serves the security of our nation. If we were to defeat this resolution or pass it with only a few Democrats, I am concerned that those who want to pretend this problem will go way with delay will oppose any UN resolution calling for unrestricted inspections.”

Biden also supported the resolution. From the New Yorker: “In the months leading up to the war, he often questioned the Bush Administration’s timing, its planning, and the grandiose scope of its mission. But as the invasion neared—around the time when former Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council that he had proof that Saddam Hussein was concealing an active weapons-of-mass-destruction program—Biden said, “The choice between war and peace is Saddam’s. The choice between relevance and irrelevance is the U.N. Security Council’s.”


Biden, like nearly all Democrats, argues that the Administration’s prosecution of the war has been inept. “The decision to go to war was the right one,” Biden said recently, “but every decision they’ve made since Saddam fell was a mistake.” Nevertheless, he not only stands by his 2002 vote, but chastised those who do not.

According to Ron Gunzburger’s, Biden criticized potential rival John Edwards in some interviews for apologizing for his previous Senate vote in support of the Iraq War. Said Biden in the interviews, “I think [Edwards] did made a mistake. He voted for the war and against funding it, I think that was a mistake. The only regret I had voting for the war is that I never anticipated how incompetent the Administration would be in using the authority we gave them to avoid war.”

For her part, Clinton said she is not sorry she voted for a resolution authorizing President Bush to take military action in Iraq despite the recent problems there but she does regret "the way the president used the authority."

Can they (either one) win?

I believe that they can, although whether they should remains to be seen. Both have been positioning themselves as moderates and people whose position on Iraq is consistent and based upon conviction (whether this is actually the case is irrelevant). Biden, in many ways, has some advantage in that he can claim everything good about Clinton but without having the name “Hillary Clinton.” However, in terms of money, he really doesn’t stand a chance if they go head to head. Furthermore, his continuous disloyalty to other Democrats (most notably Howard Dean and just the other day, John Edwards) has disappointed rank-and-file Democrats who want unity and not everyman for himself. Clinton is unquestionably the front-runner but for how long remains to be seen. Although it obviously depends on who her opponent is, liberals and conservative alike make a mistake by writing her off as un-winnable.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

He Said, They Said

This Ryan Lizza piece on The New Republic online will augment some of what Marc has been saying and also brings about an interesting potentiality: Even if Bush did not lie per se to get us into war, he sure as hell is lying now in his defense of what he has and has not done. Bush is misrepresenting what Democrats have said in the past in a shoddy, campaign-material sort of way. Lizza's conclusion:

Are there quotes from Democrats that look bad in hindsight? Of course. Several senators talked about Saddam's nuclear weapons program with a level of certainty not justified by the facts. They should also be held accountable. But no Democrat exaggerated the threat that Saddam posed to America in the way Bush and Cheney did. Just because Bush says so doesn't make it true. In fact, these days, just because Bush says so is a good sign it may not be true.

The President is simply lying when he says the Congress has the same access to intelligence as the president. This is manifestly untrue, and so it pits two accusations agsainst the President that I normally oppose (liar, stupid) against one another -- either he honestly believes that he does not and did not have access to more intelligence, in which case he is dumb. I do not think he is dumb. Which leaves only one other possibility -- he is lying.

My main hope in all of this is that for once Congress will learn what one might have thought it would have learned in the wake of the Tonkin Gulf fiasco -- either vote to wage war or do not. Blank checks are an irresponsible way to run foreign policy. If this leads to a conflict over whether the President has the power to wage war on his own, so be it. But next time around, perhaps Congress should either shit or get off the pot, because right now we're knee deep in droppings and it is all starting to stink.

A-Rod v. Ortiz

It pains me to say that A-Rod might be the best player in baseball, but hating the Yankees and idiocy are two different things. A-Rod is a great, great player. But he did not deserve the MVP.

Here is my main reason why: It is the bottom of the ninth in the Toilet Bowl. The game matters, so let's say it is the playoffs. The Yankees are down one run with men on second and third and two outs. Here is a simple question for those who propose that A-Rod is the MVP: Who do Yankee fans want up in that situation? If you are saying A-Rod, you are lying solely for the purpose of the MVP argument. The answer is Jeter; or Sheffield; or Matsui. Maybe even Bernie Williams. It is not A-Rod.

Now put the Red Sox in the same situation. Who do the Sox want at bat? The answer is Big Papi. Without a doubt. To me, the MVP ought to be the guy that his teammates and fans look to for big hits. A-Rod is not even the MVP of his own team. How can he be MVP of the entire league?

(Jason Stark has a pretty good article on today in which he makes a pretty good case about A-Rod v. Ortiz in the clutch. he also points out why A_Rod could get the award, but eschews defense.)

Just one small exmaple of a true Muslim radical

People often wonder where the so-called “moderate” Muslims are. I say “so-called” because the people who speak out against violence often do so at some risk to themselves and with great courage. Of all of the words used to describe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I don’t think I have ever heard him called a “moderate.” Indeed, there is a wonderful scene in the film Gandhi in which he rejects the phrase “passive resistance,” arguing that there is nothing “passive” about his non-violent struggle (last year, his grandson recently went to the Palestinians bearing the same message).

No, “moderate” is not the right word. It is the people who reject violence as a means for political action, who condemn terrorism even when it is committed against their enemies, and who speak out against the culture of death that permeates their societies who are the true radicals. Theirs is the voice of sanity.
Khaled Duzdar, the Palestinian co-director of the strategic affairs unit at the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information in Jerusalem, is just one such voice. In an editorial today in the Daily Star, Duzdar joins in the emerging chorus of Muslims who have spoken out fiercely against terrorism.

“Islamic governments and scholars shouldn't stay passive. They should assume their responsibilities now and think and plan how to cure and secure our families and societies from this widely spreading disease. They must not close their eyes and ears to the growing danger and say it isn't our problem. The insane missionaries of death are now knocking at our doors. Governments should act immediately to uproot them from our societies. Serious action should include preparing plans to cripple these people and their freedom of movement, to impede their receiving shelter, to draw plans to cut them off from their financial sources and to deny them the capabilities to recruit people. The authorities should also prevent mosques from being misused. Islamic scholars should draft plans on how to defend real Islam from the distorted allegations of those wrongfully acting in its name, and should raise public awareness that today our enemies come from among us. Society should also act in ensuring their children don't join such groups, while also isolating the latter….

Our condolences are not just for the four senior Palestinians killed in the last suicide attack in Amman; not just for the people we knew or for the families of the innocents whose only crime was attending the weddings of loved ones. Our condolences are for Islam and for what Islam should really represent. Our condolences are for ourselves, who have fallen into the mud of madness.”

Although many Muslims who are outraged are hypocritically angry only at the fact that now, the monster that they nurtured and supported (terrorism) has come to their weddings rather than, say, Israeli weddings, a hypocracy noted by Dennis Prager, some are taking this opportunity to condemn all terrorism, even though they are up against a culture that teaches children to hate (check out this Iranian cartoon for more). Duzdar is only the most recent example, but he is certainly not the first Muslim making his outrage known, and one can be certain that he will not be the last.

Monday, November 14, 2005

More “dissent-is-treason” charges from the President

Following his speech the other day, President Bush has continued his attack against Democratic critics of his Iraq policy in the only way he knows how… by attacking the messengers. The new message from the WH, as Fred Kaplan of Slate paraphrases it, is “Yes, we were wrong about some things, but everybody else was wrong, too, so get over it.” The Associated Press quotes Bush as leveling the following charge:
“Some Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force are now rewriting the past… They're playing politics with this issue and they are sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy. That is irresponsible.”

No sir, what is irresponsible is implying, as I have stated before, that questioning the very real discrepancies between what we knew and what the administration told the American people is somehow MORE harmful to our troops than allowing the President of the United States to lie to the American people and the US Congress in order to wage an unprovoked invasion of another country (if, in fact, that turns out to be the case). As John Dean wrote in 2003 (and recently expanded into a book), “manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be "a high crime" under the Constitution's impeachment clause. It would also be a violation of federal criminal law, including the broad federal anti-conspiracy statute, which renders it a felony “to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose.”

Of course, I am not saying that Bush is actually guilty of those charges (although it is my own personal opinion that he is). I am simply charging that raising the question should not be de-legitimized by the President.

Bush went on to say that “Reasonable people can disagree about the conduct of the war but it is irresponsible for Democrats to now claim that we misled them and the American people.”

I am a bit confused. If reasonable people can disagree about how the war was conducted, why can they not disagree on why the war was conducted? After all, wouldn’t questioning the conduct of the war (troop levels, disbanding the Iraqi military, failing to prevent chaos and looting taking hold, refusing to deal with powerful local figures in the beginning, etc.) hurt our troops and help the enemy just as much as questing the legitimacy of this conflict, if in fact either really did the harm that Bush says?

In any event, many prominent Republicans would disagree with Bush, though certainly few in today’s ultra-partisan Congress. Stanley Kutler reminds us of Lincoln’s wartime dissent, for example, in the middle of another American war. In 1848, while a Congressman, Lincoln challenged President James Polk's dubious response to alleged Mexican aggression against the United States. He voted to censure the president while the war against Mexico still raged. He contended that the president's justification for war was "from beginning to end the sheerest deception." Polk would have "gone further with his proof if it had not been for the small matter that the truth would not permit him." Lincoln threw down the gauntlet: "Let him answer fully, fairly and candidly. Let him answer with facts and not with arguments. ... Let him attempt no evasion, no equivocation.” Were American troops in 1848 less susceptible to low morale? Would the Spanish not be as emboldened as Iraqi insurgents at the questioning of the President’s rationale for war? Clearly, honest Abe had no such concerns.

Another Republican President, Theodore Roosevelt, leveled some of the worst accusations one can imagine against Wilson during WWI, saying in 1918 “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” Perhaps the ex-president was simply “playing politics with this issue.”

Indeed, no less than a member of one of the most famous Republican families in American history (or at least in the state of Ohio), Senator Robert A. Taft, said shortly after Pearl Harbor, "I believe that there can be no doubt that criticism in time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government… Too many people desire to suppress criticism simply because they think it will give some comfort to the enemy… If that comfort makes the enemy feel better for a few moments, they are welcome to it as far as I am concerned because the maintenance of the right of criticism in the long run will do the country more good than it will do the enemy, and it will prevent mistakes which might otherwise occur.” Today, Taft would be dismissed, like Richard Clark or Paul O'Neil, as a closet liberal, a Bush-hater whose motives are entirely political.

Later in his speech, Bush tried to deflect the issue of pre-war statements by quoting Democrats, hoping that Democratic rank-and-file are as blindly loyal to “their guys” as so many Republicans are to “theirs.”

Here are the quotes he offers:

  • “There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons.”
    - Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
  • “The war against terrorism will not be finished as long as (Saddam Hussein) is in power.” - Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
  • “Saddam Hussein, in effect, has thumbed his nose at the world community. And I think that the president's approaching this in the right fashion.” - Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., then the Democratic whip.

My response to these is simple: those Democrats were wrong. Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11, arguably little to nothing to do with bin Laden and arguably little to nothing to do with acts of terrorism against the United States. In short, Senator Levin, Iraq had nothing to do with the war on terror, let alone being a necessary component of it. As for Senator Reid’s statement, it may actually be accurate and true depending on when it was said (I recall applauding Bush’s courage to finally confront Iraq by getting a new and improved inspections process back in the country- it was only when Bush decided to arbitrarily invade that I turned against his policy).

Furthermore, as many others have noted, Congressmen do not receive the same information as the President, and thus like all Americans must rely a great deal on what they are told by him. Bush has been lying about this point for years, saying in 2004, “I went to Congress with the same intelligence Congress saw -- the same intelligence I had, and they looked at exactly what I looked at, and they made an informed judgment based upon the information that I had."

Back then, Senator John Edwards corrected him, saying that “I know the president of the United States receives a different set of information than we receive on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he receives more information, which he should.” Today however, it seems that Republican talking points have continued to spread this myth undisturbed.

But let’s pretend that Congressmen did have the same information as the President (which, crucially, they did not). What then? As presidency scholars such as Jeffery Tulis and Samuel Kernell have noted, modern presidents can influence and shape public opinion in ways that no Congressman can ever even hope. I don’t recall Bush sharing the credit with Democrats over the victory in Afghanistan, nor do I recall any honorable mentions in his infamous air-craft carrier landing. And yet as with much else in this administration, when the going gets tough, the buck stops anywhere else by with the president.

In short, Bush may be right on all counts about why we went to war with Iraq, but he is dead wrong to try and conflate legitimate criticism based on rather damning evidence with hurting the troops and helping the enemy. In matters of war-and-peace, it is the president who has all of the relevant information, the president who commands instant credibility and media attention, and the president who ultimately made the case and the decision to invade Iraq. Whether Iraq turns out to be a democratic paradise or a hotbed of instability, when the people responsible for this stand in the shadow of history, George W. Bush will stand first.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Bush’s speech and my reaction, Part II

Because of the length of the following post, I have decided to break it up into several sections. In my response to President Bush’s recent speech on Veterans Day, Bush’s statements will be in bold print and my response to them are in plain text.

And the civilized world knows very well that other fanatics in history, from Hitler to Stalin to Pol Pot, consumed whole nations in war and genocide before leaving the stage of history.

I’m sorry folks, bin Laden is not Hitler or Stalin or Pol-Pot. He has no country, no government. He has no modern military to invade other countries, and even if he was able to commit mass destruction with any type of weapon imaginable, bin Laden simply does not have the forces to “take over” anything militarily. In the region, bin Laden is probably considerably less popular than the KKK was in the US, and yet no intelligent individual would claim that the KKK was as powerful here as the Nazi party in Germany, even while they both shared a fundamental theology. If bin Laden is Hitler or Stalin, than Timothy McVeigh was Napoleon, John Brown was Caesar, and Lee Harvey Oswald was Mussolini. Although bin Laden may share some of Hitler’s ambitions, let’s get real and evaluate this man in context, rather than building him up into someone who can actually invade countries and annex them into his global empire.

The influence of Islamic radicalism is also magnified by helpers and enablers. They've been sheltered by authoritarian regimes, allies of convenience, like Iran and Syria, that share the goal of hurting America and modern Muslim governments and use terrorist propaganda to blame their own failures on the West, on America and on the Jews.

Two things require mention:
1) Syria has a secular government that is responsible for massacring tens of thousands of religious Muslims, and has tortured suspected AQ members for the US over the past several years (let us not forget Maher Arar, the innocent Canadian deported to Syria by the US to be tortured).

2) Iranians are not considered “real” Muslims by bin Laden. Since invading Iraq, Iran has supported the elections, and the new constitution. Thus far, all fears and concerns that Iran would promote instability and anarchy in Iraq have failed to materialize.

So please Mr. President, do not conflate these two regimes with AQ simply because you happen to not like them. If you want to make a case against them, do it for legitimate reasons, not because they happen to share a continent and are thus identical and supportive of each other.

Some have also argued that extremists have been strengthened by our actions in Iraq, claiming that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals. I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001.

This is perhaps one of the most absurd and insulting statement in his entire speech. NO ONE has claimed EVER that the 2003 Iraq war caused the 2001 terrorist attacks, or “created” terrorism. However many do argue that the Iraq conflict has in fact strengthened extremists, including our own intelligence agencies! From the WP: “Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of "professionalized" terrorists, according to a report released yesterday by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's think tank.”

According to David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, “there is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries” and according to a national intelligence council report, Iraq has joined the list of conflicts that have deepened solidarity among Muslims and helped spread radical Islamic ideology. It seems clear that, however justified it may have been (I believe not at all), it has come at the cost of strengthening radical Islamic fundamentalists by fostering hatred in the region and swelling the ranks of terrorist organizations. Bush’s own intelligence services confirm this to be the case.

we're determined to prevent attacks of the terrorist networks before they occur.

If Iraq is a model for our future strategy of “shoot first, ask questions later,” than I am not really certain what makes the US different from historically belligerent powers that simply invaded nations with impunity and without real justification.

Second, we're determined to deny weapons of mass destruction to outlaw regimes and to their terrorist allies who would use them without hesitation.

I am not really sure how it plans on doing this. So far, the only examples of nations wanting to develop nuclear weapons are Iran and North Korea and in both cases, this administrations' actions and threatening rhetoric has only exacerbated the problems there. Unless we are prepared to offer these nations carrots and not just sticks, I have seen nothing in the Bush administration’s foreign policy that leads me to believe that this is a serious goal.

In contrast, the elected leaders of Iraq are proving to be strong and steadfast. By any standard or precedent of history, Iraq has made incredible political progress, from tyranny, to liberation, to national elections, to the ratification of a constitution in the space of two and a half years.

Wow! ANY standard or precedent? That isn’t what Senator Chuck Hagel says. According to him, “Things aren't getting better; they're getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality," Hagel told U.S. News and World Report last month. “It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq.” As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, his comments on this should not be easily dismissed.

Furthermore, as the Washington Post pointed out, “after generally rejecting body counts as standards of success in the Iraq war, the U.S. military” has been embracing them as a standard for success, “just as it did during the Vietnam War.”

Don’t get me wrong, Iraq has made progress, but like Cheney’s ludicrous claim that the insurgency is “in its last throes,” Bush’s statement is simply premature and not reflective of the reality on the ground. Passing a vague Constitution and holding elections is the easy part. The hard part is getting legitimacy for those elections and Constitutions and preventing violence from sparking civil war.

Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war.
These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs.

Like many of the most blatant claims this administration has made, this one is intentionally misleading. Note how the first sentence includes the charge that the administration “misled” the American people, yet the second one only deals with political pressure towards intelligence agencies.

Again from the WP: “But the only committee investigating the matter in Congress, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has not yet done its inquiry into whether officials mischaracterized intelligence by omitting caveats and dissenting opinions. And Judge Laurence H. Silberman, chairman of Bush's commission on weapons of mass destruction, said in releasing his report on March 31, 2005: "Our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policymakers, and all of us were agreed that that was not part of our inquiry.”

In other words, a Senate committee found that Bush did not pressure intelligence agencies into producing particular results (although I happen to disagree with their conclusions). That committee did NOT exonerate Bush from misleading the American people.

They also know that intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein.

This implies that “we were all wrong.” In fact “we” were not all wrong, but many intelligence agencies turned out to be rather accurate.

As Fareed Zakaria noted in his editorial, We Had Good Intel—The U.N.'s, “there was one group whose prewar estimates of Iraqi nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities have turned out to be devastatingly close to reality—the U.N. inspectors… Despite claims by the U.S. government of the existence of specific stockpiles of weapons and active weapons programs, they found no evidence of either. In his reports to the Security Council, Blix was always judicious. "One must not jump to the conclusion that they exist," he said. "However, that possibility is also not excluded.” Blix wanted more evidence, arguing that the Iraqis were not providing trustworthy accounts of the destruction of their previously existing chemical and biological stockpiles. He asked that the Iraqis do more to convince him. Regarding missiles, despite administration claims that Iraq was churning out Scuds, the inspectors found none. They did, however, find some prohibited medium-range missiles, and were in the process of destroying them when the war began.”

Furthermore, a meticulous analysis of Bush’s 2002, speech in Cincinnati, where the president made a detailed case for war against Iraq, reveals that what he said did not always reflect what U.S. intelligence analysts believed at that time, as noted in this analysis from Foreign Policy.

Many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: "When I vote to give the president of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat and a grave threat to our security."

I find it interesting that Bush would quote John Kerry from his 2002 Senate floor speech on why is voted for the authorization for war. I would encourage everyone to read the speech in full, since it is perhaps the most thoughtful and articulate Democratic position on the war that I have ever read. It also demonstrates Kerry’s consistency on the Iraq issue, a consistency he was unable to convey during the campaign. Of course, what Bush neglected to mention was the following portion of the speech:

“Let there be no doubt or confusion about where we stand on this. I will support a multilateral effort to disarm him by force, if we ever exhaust those other options, as the President has promised, but I will not support a unilateral U.S. war against Iraq unless that threat is imminent and the multilateral effort has not proven possible under any circumstances. In voting to grant the President the authority, I am not giving him carte blanche to run roughshod over every country that poses or may pose some kind of potential threat to the United States.

Every nation has the right to act preemptively, if it faces an imminent and grave threat, for its self-defense under the standards of law. The threat we face today with Iraq does not meet that test yet. I emphasize "yet." Yes, it is grave because of the deadliness of Saddam Hussein's arsenal and the very high probability that he might use these weapons one day if not disarmed. But it is not imminent, and no one in the CIA, no intelligence briefing we have had suggests it is imminent. None of our intelligence reports suggest that he is about to launch an attack.”

Furthermore, contrary to what many conservatives claim, Congress did not have the same intelligence as the President. In point of fact, Bush does not share his most sensitive intelligence, such as the President's Daily Brief, with lawmakers. Also, the National Intelligence Estimate summarizing the intelligence community's views about the threat from Iraq was given to Congress just days before the vote to authorize the use of force in that country.

In addition, there were doubts within the intelligence community not included in the NIE. And even the doubts expressed in the NIE could not be used publicly by members of Congress because the classified information had not been cleared for release. For example, the NIE view that Hussein would not use weapons of mass destruction against the United States or turn them over to terrorists unless backed into a corner was cleared for public use only a day before the Senate vote.

These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them.

The implications of this last statement is clear: Disagreeing with the administration is hurting the troops and aiding the enemy. Ignore the evidence, Bush implores us, forget why we went to war in the first place, what the reasons for this entire misadventure were, pay no attention to all of the evidence that casts doubt on the reasons and my motives. Go and support my Iraq strategy or the terrorists win!

What a disgrace.

Bush’s speech and my reaction, Part I

Because of the length of the following post, I have decided to break it up into several sections. In my response to President Bush’s recent speech on Veterans Day, Bush’s statements will be in bold print and my response to them are in plain text.

“In the first four years as president, we increased spending for veterans more than twice as much as the previous administration did in eight years… We've increased the V.A.'s medical care budget by 51 percent, increased total out-patient visits, increased the number of prescriptions filled and reduced the backlog of disability claims. We've committed more than $1.5 billion to modernizing and expanding V.A. facilities so that veterans can get better care closer to home. We've expanded grants to help homeless veterans in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, because we strongly believe no veteran who served in the blazing heat or bitter cold of foreign lands should have to live without shelter in our own country.”

Although this is undoubtedly true, it should be noted that because of the recent military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, it would be inconceivable for spending on veterans NOT to go up, given the increase in demand for medical services and combat pay. In other words, yes, spending on veterans medical care has risen, but that is because so many more veterans require medical assistance. Has the increase Bush has given been enough to offset the rising demand? Maybe not. In 2003, for example, the Veterans Administration announced that it would start turning away many middle-income applicants applying for new medical benefits because it could not meet the demand. Click here for more.

Then, in Bush’s 2004 budget, the administration proposed making the VA's prescription drug benefit less generous. Currently many veterans pay $7 for each one-month supply of medication. The administration proposes to increase that to $15, and require a $250 annual fee as well. Congress rejected a similar proposal last year.

From the Washington Post earlier this year: The Bush administration disclosed yesterday that it had vastly underestimated the number of service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan seeking medical treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and warned that the health care programs will be short at least $2.6 billion next year unless Congress approves additional funds. Indeed, I believe that an argument could easily be made that while Republicans do tend to be stronger on “defense” in terms of more money for military weapons, Democrats are far stronger on defense in terms of more money for actual soldiers and veterans. Also from the WP: “For the past four months, House and Senate Republicans have repeatedly defeated Democratic amendments to boost VA medical funding.” The age-old party divisions: more money for things v. more money for people.

In June, the House of Representatives voted for a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration. I urge the United States Senate to pass this important amendment.

I will not take this opportunity to argue against this absurd amendment other than to suggest that aside from being totally unnecessary (is flag burning in the US really that large of a problem for this drastic step?), it is also unenforceable. If I throw my old flag in the trash, can I be prosecuted for desecration? I have an uncle that burns all of his trash that he cannot bury, will he be in violation of the Constitution now?

In the four years since September 11th, the evil that reached our shores has reappeared on other days in other places: in Mombasa and Casablanca and Riyadh and Jakarta and Istanbul and Madrid and Beslan and Taba and Natanya and Baghdad and elsewhere. … Many militants are part of a global, borderless terrorist organization like Al Qaida… Other militants are found in regional groups, often associated with Al Qaida. Paramilitary insurgencies and separatist movements in places like Somalia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Chechnya, Kashmir and Algeria.

Bush has made this argument before and since Juan Cole dissects it far better than I, I shall merely repost his comment from his blog, Informed Comment:

“The Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines is just a small mafia gang of 90 persons that lives on extortion. It could no more overthrow the Philippines government than David Koreish could have taken over Texas. I don't actually think that terrorist analyst Marc Sageman found many, if any, persons engaged in international terrorism from Kashmir. There has been a lot of political violence in Kashmir, but there are two sides to it, and heavy-handed Indian military tactics have killed a lot of Kashmiris. The UN had decreed that a referendum would be held in Kashmir on its future, which India has ever since 1948 refused to allow. Likewise, Chechnya is a rugged area of clannish Muslims that the Russians conquered in the 19th century, and where they committed a sort of 19th century genocide in the course of "pacifying" it. Chechen demands for more autonomy after the fall of the Soviet Union were greeted by Yeltsin with enormous brutality, and Putin has not been wiser. Chechnya and Kashmir are sites of local struggles for more autonomy in a post-colonial context, and just reeling their names off as sites of an "ideology" of "hatred" does not tell us anything useful. The list Bush gave is highly deceptive. Chechnya and Kashmir are trouble spots, but they are crawling with Russian and Indian troops, respectively, and big powerful states have honed in on them like a laser. In the Philippines, you also have a Muslim separatist movement. But the most virulent terrorist organization is just a small handful of people. The Algerian military government won its costly struggle against political Islam during the past decade and more, in which perhaps 150,000 persons perished. The Islamists were roundly and decisively defeated. This victory requires the US to do what, now?”

First, these extremists want to end American and Western influence in the broader Middle East, because we stand for democracy and peace and stand in the way of their ambitions.

The problem with this statement is by ascribing this goal to terrorists, it distorts the legitimate grievances many Arabs have about American intervention in the region. In the Middle East historically, the United States does not stand for democracy and peace, but for propping up and/or supporting corrupt authoritarian governments. It is no great secret that bin Laden’s original target was not the US, but the Saudi Arabian leadership. He moved to the US only because of our support for that leadership. It seems pretty clear that in most Mid East governments, it is the government that remains pro-US because of the support it gets even while the public, the vast majority of which has nothing to do with terrorist organizations, are so staunchly anti-US.

It is perhaps telling that the one country in the region in which this trend is reversed, in which it is the public that is perhaps the most pro-US in the region, is Iran. In his book, Longitudes and Attitudes, Thomas Friedman notes (reasonably) that this is because Iranians cannot blame us for their own government failures. America, to them, does not meddle in their internal affairs, or do anything to support or protect their government.

Secondly, the militant network wants to use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country, a base from which to launch attacks and conduct their war against non-radical Islam governments. Third, these militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia.

This may be true as far as it goes but so what? Every country, including the US, has fringe groups that have the same goals. But as Juan Cole asks, “But who thinks this particular crackpot plan is in any way feasible? Look at America's friends in the Middle East-- Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, Yemen, Oman, Pakistan, etc., etc. Which one of them is on the verge of being taken over by al-Qaeda? Why, al-Qaeda had to plan out 9/11 from Europe because it could not operate in the Middle East! An al-Qaeda meeting in Cairo would have had more Egyptian government spies in attendance than radical fundamentalists!”

In his article, The War Bin Laden Wanted: How the U.S. played into the terrorist’s plan, Paul W. Schroeder makes a compelling case that our rhetorical response to bin Laden (hyping the organization up to a great national and international threat with tremendous power and potential) is exactly what AQ wanted.

“A revolutionary or terrorist movement has much to gain from getting a real government to declare war upon it. This gives the movement considerable status, putting it in some sense in the same league with the government with which it is now recognized as at war. No sensible government wishes to give such quasi-legitimacy to a movement it is trying to stamp out.”

Schroeder goes on to explain why bin Laden attacked us on 9/11, despite that fact that there was zero chance it would lead to an American retreat from the region. “The only sensible answer,” he says, “once the foolish and inadequate ones are discarded, is that Osama bin Laden anticipated the American reaction and wanted it. His purpose in attacking the United States directly in its homeland was to get the American government to do what it had not done in response to his previous attacks: to declare an all-out war against him and al-Qaeda and a worldwide War on Terror led and organized by the United States, with every other country in the world summoned to follow and support or be considered an enemy…. Deliberately provoking the United States into open, declared war against him, his forces, radical Islamism, and worldwide terrorism was bin Laden’s way of expanding a struggle he was already waging but losing, one he could not win on account of its insoluble contradictions, into a larger war free from internal contradictions that he could hope ultimately to win. To put it in a nutshell, Osama bin Laden needed the United States as a declared enemy to enable him to win his war against his primary enemies and thus achieve his goals.”

When Bush implies that bin Laden and AQ actually have the potential to “use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country,” he does nothing but remind fence-sitters in the Middle East that instead of being a group of unorganized criminals, AQ has tremendous potential for political power, and might even be able to “establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia.” Not a smart strategy in my mind.