Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Article from Monday's Washington Post on checkpoints in Palestine.

On an unusually cold January day, hundreds of Palestinians waited to pass through the Hawara checkpoint. Snow dusted the ground, and tempers and patience rubbed raw on both ends of the lines that crept toward the soldiers of the 202nd Paratroops. A camera crew from the army's Education Corps maneuvered around the soldiers and Palestinians, collecting video footage and interviews for a training tape.

"Go home! What's your problem?" shouted the checkpoint commander, a gaunt staff sergeant whose face was partially hidden beneath his helmet. The camera focused on the sergeant -- a Bedouin, rare in the Israeli military -- as he continued yelling in Arabic at an agitated Palestinian man grasping the hand of a small child. "Shut up! Shut up! Go back, go back, everyone go back. No one through -- everyone go back."

The video did not capture the next exchange, but other soldiers at the checkpoint said in interviews that the Palestinian man began screaming at the 23-year-old sergeant. The sergeant handcuffed the man with disposable plastic cuffs and ordered him to sit on the ground.

Suddenly, the camera jerked toward the sergeant. He bashed the Palestinian man in the face with his fist. The man's hysterical wife and two weeping children tried to squeeze between him and the sergeant. The soldier shoved the Palestinian into a hut as the army cameraman followed close behind.

The man's toddler son clung to his father's shirttail until soldiers brushed him away like a fly. The soldier flipped a blanket over the window of the hut, and the camera's audio picked up the Palestinian's muffled cries as the soldier punched him in the stomach.

"For them, you see, they don't have a problem getting beaten up," the sergeant explained before the video camera a short time later. "It's the humiliation in front of all the people, the wife and children. I try to do it so they don't see me, so it's not in front of the people."

Understand the depth of this Israeli officer's perverted conscience: He asserts he is doing his victim a favor by taking him out of public sight to be beaten in private.

Note that the officer, who was found guilty of repeatedly and viciously assaulting Palestinian men for no other reason than to prove what a tough guy he was, was sentenced to a whole six months in prison. That's somewhat better than this settler, who several years ago was fined for killing a Palestinian child.

I know I repeat this ad nauseum, but here I go again: It is preposterous to demand that Palestinians curb terror while these conditions persist.


Through the wonder of TiVO, I was able to watch U2’s bonus performance of “I Will Follow”on Saturday Night Live (I've since found it on the web). As a major old-skool U2 fan, I had chills. It was fantastic. Edge had his Explorer out for it and everything.


Has anyone noticed the tendency of the more puerile Republican pundits and bloggers to refer to the Democratic Party as the "Democrat" Party when speaking publicly? Grover Norquist, Ann Coulter and various Heritage Foundation goons and foot soldiers do this quite a bit. Do they think this is clever? Are Democrats supposed to be insulted?

Monday, November 22, 2004


Excellent essay by Danny Postel in Open Democracy (via Altercation) on the current schism which is opening among neoconservatives, evidenced by Francis Fukuyama attacking Charles Krauthammer's concept of "democratic realism". You know I loves a good whuppin', especially when the one on the receiving end is a sanctimonious, bellicose twit like Krauthammer, whose reputation has always escaped me.

No surprise, then, that I think Fukuyama clearly has the better argument of the two. Of course, given that this is an argument between two neoconservatives, this is to say that Fukuyama is only slightly less insane.

Friday, November 19, 2004


Great site, via Metafilter:

Arofish is a stencil graffiti artist who recently spent 3 months travelling through Iraq and Palestine, painting on the walls and generally making a right mess, to the occasional annoyance of the occupying forces.

Check out the pictures, they're excellent.


There's been some speculation that Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, currently serving five life terms in an Israeli prison, might be released to run for president of the Palestinian Authority. Usually that would seem very unlikely, Israel has historically been very firm on not releasing Palestinians who have been convicted in the murder of Israeli civilians, but I've seen the possibility of Barghouti's release discussed in too many places to dismiss it.

On the NewsHour the other night, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom repeated his denial that there was any chance of Barghouti being released, but there was a palpable reserve in his statement that was new, and that made me immediately sit up.

Barghouti is by far the most popular Palestinian leader. He's the most prominent exponent of the new guard of militants who grew up in the occupied territories. He has repeatedly and explicitly recognized Israel's right to exist and the right of Palestinians to fight the occupation by any means necessary. He's one of the few Palestinian leaders, perhaps the only one, with the credibility to sell the Palestinians on some of the more difficult terms of a peace deal, such as compensation in lieu of the right of return.

Even if he's not released from prison, Barghouti will continue to exert influence over Palestinian politics, and it's unlikely that any new Palestinian leadership will be able to establish legitimacy without his blessing.


Peter Beinart has a piece on the silliness of the Christian Right crying bigotry:

...most of the time, what conservatives call anti-evangelical bigotry is simply harsh criticism of the Christian Right's agenda. Scarborough seized on a recent column by Maureen Dowd, which accused President Bush of "replacing science with religion, and facts with faith," leading America into "another dark age." The Weekly Standard recently pilloried Thomas Friedman for criticizing "Christian fundamentalists" who "promote divisions and intolerance at home and abroad," and Howell Raines, for saying the Christian Right wants to enact "theologically based cultural norms."

This isn't bigotry. What these (and most other) liberals are saying is that the Christian Right sees politics through the prism of theology, and there's something dangerous in that. And they're right. It's fine if religion influences your moral values. But, when you make public arguments, you have to ground them--as much as possible--in reason and evidence, things that are accessible to people of different religions, or no religion at all. Otherwise, you can't persuade other people, and they can't persuade you. In a diverse democracy, there must be a common political language, and that language can't be theological.

This is the heart of John Kerry's point in the third debate about the role of faith in politics. It's appropriate to use faith to guide you to your political conclusions, but when it comes time to write the laws, you must rely on facts.

Beinart also makes a great point that the Christian Right has taken a page out of the PC playbook by treating their political beliefs as integral to their identity, and thus above criticism. There's definitely a similar odor in the way the way that some hardcore multi-culti types challenge rationalism as an oppressive white-male construct, and the way that some evangelicals dismiss inconvenient facts as elite-liberal-academic treachery. This is their truth. Who are you to challenge it?

Thursday, November 18, 2004


In case you wondered what causes young men to turn themselves into human bombs (from the BBC):

As the houses thin out, something strange becomes apparent. Small signs of destruction, demolished walls, uprooted trees - the devastation increasing until all the houses we pass are all derelict.

"We are approaching Netzarim," says the driver, whose name I discover is Ahmed.

After a certain point, every feature of landscape has been erased - bulldozed out of existence by the Israeli army.

The only building visible for hundreds of metres is the fortified watchtower guarding the western side of the settlement. Behind in the hazy distance is the lush setting of Netzarim itself.

This is the reality of the occupation: family homes bulldozed and thousands made homeless, ancestral farmland which fed those thousands uprooted and expropriated, all to create a "security perimeter" for an Israeli settlement which is illegal in the first place. Now imagine this happening throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the last thirty years, and you'll understand why it's preposterous for Israel to demand that Palestinian terrorism abate while the occupation continues.

Or, conversely, why Israel's demand effectively ensures that the occupation will never end, and thus settlements may continue to expand.

The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem recently released a report on Israel's practice of demolishing the homes of suspected militants (and their families and neighbors). Read it if you can stomach it.


Nonsense from Andrew Sullivan:

I guess I should say that Condi Rice's race and gender are not the most important things about her career and abilities. But I'm still amazed at how little credit this president gets for promoting a black woman to such a position, and, more importantly, by his obvious respect and admiration for her. His management style is clearly post-racial, and his comfort with female peers is impressive. You know, Bill Clinton was celebrated for his progressiveness, and ease with African-Americans. But it's inconceivable that he would have given so much power and authority to a black female peer. Why does Bush get no respect on this score? I guess it reveals that much of the left's diversity mania is about the upholding of a certain political ideology, rather than ethnic or gender variety itself. Depressing.

"Inconceivable" that Bill Clinton would give "so much power and authority to a black female peer"? Inconceivable to whom? Not to Bill Clinton, whose administration saw the first black female Surgeon General, as well as the first female Secretary of State. It's silly to presume that Clinton wouldn't have nominated a black female as SoS had there been one he considered qualified.

Rice, on the other hand, has proven all but incompetent at coordinating national security policy and managing inter-agency conflict in her role as National Security Adviser. Her views and strategies in the war on terror are hopelessly mired in her background as a Cold War-Russia specialist and its paradigm of state-to-state conflict. Her value as an administrator lies entirely in her loyalty to the president, and in the fact that she hews completely to his political ideology. Her recent record suggests that as Secretary of State she will serve merely as a conduit for the president's one-page-summary-informed policy whims, enforcing the White House's line and tamping down any dissent from within the State Department, that is, from the very people who've been consistently right where the White House has been consistently wrong over the past four years.

And there's the big difference between Democrats and Republicans on affirmative action. Democrats openly recognize the benefits of diversity and support affirmative action as a means of achieving it, but at the end of the day they appoint qualified people regardless of race. Republicans decry affirmative action as "reverse-racism," but cynically use race whenever they can to indemnify underqualified racial minority conservatives from criticism.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Muqtedar Khan reviews the 9/11 Report, comments on its strengths and weaknesses, and suggests that this provides an excellent opportunity for American Muslims to help their fellow citizens better understand Islam and the nature of the Jihadi threat.


I can never keep up:

Nov. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives changed their rules so that Majority Leader Tom DeLay could stay in power if he's indicted under state law.

The rules change is designed to protect DeLay after three of his political associates were indicted in Texas on charges related to fund-raising for state political campaigns. DeLay, a Republican from Texas, led an effort to redraw congressional districts in his home state that led to the defeat or retirement of five Democrats. He denied any wrongdoing.

..."We are trying to protect members of our leadership from any crackpot attorney taking on a political agenda," said Henry Bonilla, a Texas Republican who drafted the rules change.

Crackpot attorneys taking on political agendas, now there's something Republicans know a little bit about.

And in case you were wondering, Bonilla voted for impeachment.

Jeffrey Dubner, in Tapped:

CALLING NEWT GINGRICH. Great find from the American Progress Action Fund. Will somebody ask Newt Gingrich what has changed in the last 11 years?

"And I think, frankly, we should adopt the rule the Democrats have prospectively, which I think is a sound rule that once indicted you step down." - Newt Gingrich, 7/26/93

Nothing's changed, except that the fox now rules the henhouse, raises the children, and sleeps in the farmer's bed.

Indeed. Whatta buncha punks.


...a debate he can win. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


Matt Yglesias on the Democrats' need to improve their national security message:

The first step is simply to recognize that the task will be a hard one. The Democrats burned a lot of credibility during the Vietnam War, did themselves no good during the Carter years, then had to sit and watch from the halls of Congress as Republican chief executives presided over the successful conclusion of the Cold War. After a rocky first term, Bill Clinton did much better in the second half of his administration but never got much credit for it -- in part because he didn't seek much credit and never made a serious effort to outline a liberal vision of national security for the 21st century. As a result, even though it was fairly absurd to think that George W. Bush was more personally competent to handle national security than was Al Gore, Bush took a clear majority of the "world affairs" vote in 2000, essentially on the strength of the much stronger Republican brand.

First, I think it's a very good thing that national security does seem to have been the issue that made the difference in the election, and not abortion or gay marriage as was first thought. As I see it, there's just not a lot of room for liberals to compromise on either abortion or gay marriage. It's not a perception problem, as I think it is with national security; the differences between the parties on abortion and gay marriage are about as black and white as things get in American politics, and liberals cannot back off on them.

I think Yglesias makes some great points in his article, but he, like a lot of liberals, misses a key element of the Republicans success on national security, and regarding the War on Terror specifically, which is that Republicans have cast the issue in existential terms, as a question of who we are as a nation. (Who are we? We're good. Who are they? They're evil. You're either with us or agin' us.) This pitch holds a lot of visceral appeal to voters, even for those who don't consider themselves particularly spiritual, as everyone likes to think that they're the good guys. Immediately after 9/11, Bush began weaving a narrative of a global crusade against evil, a crusade whose membership was open to anyone who would follow him, and he has been pushing this ever since. Democrats need to come up with a competing narrative.

More than any other issue, foreign policy is one which voters make gut decisions. Most people simply don't have too much information with which to analyze foreign policy positions, let alone any personal experience with foreign policy issues, as they might with domestic issues, such as having a cousin who had an abortion or who just lost her job or was killed by a handgun. This means that, in selling a set of foreign policy positions, style means a lot and substance means very little.

Election 2004 is a perfect example. Substantively, Kerry had Bush completely outgunned. Not only did Bush quite obviously have only the most tenuous grasp of the details of his own policies, those policies themselves have proven disastrous. But then, of course, Bush told people, among other things, that they were in danger of being eaten by wolves. Kerry really didn't have a sufficient response to that. I respect him (a little) for not playing that game, but I think it's obvious at this point that if Democrats want to win on national security, as I think we can and should, we're going to have to get our kabuki on a little.

No one ever won an election by being right, they won it by selling their ideas better. Being right only helps. I'm certainly not suggesting that Democrats should try and co-opt the Republicans' positions or rhetoric, only that Democrats recognize and learn from Republican success. It's going to be a difficult task, both because Republicans, with their reputation as the "strong on national security" party, already have a head start, and because their message is deceptively simple, as well as being simply deceptive. International relations is a complicated issue; Republicans have succeeded by pretending that it isn't. It's hard to counter "You'll be eaten by wolves!" or "America: Fuck Yeah!" with "Multilateralism works!" or "The UN enhances American power by appearing to constrain it!" but Democrats have got to figure how to weave these complex counter-arguments into a compelling counter-narrative which recognizes and appeals to the same psychological needs which the GOP has been manipulating for all these years.


With Condoleezza Rice's nomination as Secretary of State, it's now official: Bush is fighting the last war. Rice, a Russia expert, is the perfect choice to aid Bush in forcing a Cold War template onto the Islamist phenomenon.

Josh Marshall:

So is Bush moving to the right or the center in term two?

Wrong metric. He's moving to exert greater control.

Look at the pattern.

Neither Ms. Rice nor Mr. Gonzales are the neo-cons' or the conservatives' choice for their respective offices-to-be.

In each case they're acceptable; but no more.

What distinguishes each is their connection to the president, their loyalty and their fealty. Neither has any base in the city or standing anywhere else absent their connection to him. And in appointing them he has placed the State Department and the Justice Department under his direct and unmediated control as surely as the various members of the White House staff already are.

Though I completely agree with Marshall's assessment of Bush's plans to (further)centralize decision making in the White House, I'm curious why he thinks Rice's nomination wouldn't delight the neocons. This move is entirely in keeping with neocon plans to transform the State Department into essentially a rubber stamp for decisions taken in Cheney's office or in the Pentagon, and away from the interference of those stoopid, disloyal State Department analysts who've only studied these issues for their entire careers.

If you think I'm being in any way conspiratorial about "neocon plans," I wish I were. The entire program is laid out in uber-neocon Richard Perle and David Frum's book An End to Evil. Filling key State Department posts, which have previously been more or less apolitical, with conservative apparatchiks is a key part of it.

To spare you actually having to read Perle/Frum's book, which displays about as informed and nuanced a view of diplomacy and the modern Middle East as one should expect from an AEI publication, Fareed Zakaria's review will suffice, though it's almost beneath him to have to play whack-a-mole with these guys' silly, chauvinistic ideas.

In any case, they're the ones creating our foreign policy now. Sweet.

Saturday, November 13, 2004


Detailed article in the New Yorker on the CPA's disastrous de-Baathification program.

From the beginning, the question for the U.S. and British coalition was how to build a secure, stable, and democratic Iraq while dealing with the vacuum created by the fall of Saddam. The Baath Party, which kept its records secret, is estimated to have had between a million and two and a half million members, most of them Sunnis, like Saddam. For Iraq’s traditionally excluded and suppressed Shiite majority and for the Kurdish minority, de-Baathification was an urgent goal. But the Coalition also needed to address the fears of the newly disenfranchised Sunnis, and, on a basic level, to keep the country functioning. Given the difficulty of the project, the occupation policies were markedly lacking in pragmatism.

Lacking in pragmatism. Ya think?


Via Kevin Drum, a heartwarming story of heartland hysteria:

Parents and students say they are outraged and offended by a proposed band name and song scheduled for a high school talent show in Boulder this evening, but members of the band, named Coalition of the Willing, said the whole thing is being blown out of proportion.

The students told ABC News affiliate KMGH-TV in Denver they are performing Bob Dylan's song "Masters of War" during the Boulder High School Talent Exposé because they are Dylan fans. They said they want to express their views and show off their musical abilities.

But some students and adults who heard the band rehearse called a radio talk show Thursday morning, saying the song the band sang ended with a call for President Bush to die.

Threatening the president is a federal crime, so the Secret Service was called to the school to investigate.

I can understand parents getting worked up over an Eminem song, but Dylan? Good lord, these people are late. Probably still upset about that young upstart Johnny Carson replacing Jack Paar on the Tonight Show.

Anyway, here are the lyrics to the offending song. Just doing my part.

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

Friday, November 12, 2004


Neal Pollack takes on the South-haters:

I was born in Memphis, grew up in Phoenix, got married in Nashville, went on my honeymoon in North Carolina, and live in Austin. Many dear friends grew up in and still reside below the Mason-Dixon Line. The South is diverse. It's varied. And yes, it's ignorant in many ways. But I've never lived in a more segregated place than Chicago, the epitome of a great Northern city, and have never seen as much concentrated poverty and injustice in this country as when I lived in Philadelphia, the birthplace of our Constitution. So spare me the superiority rap.

The south gave us Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Michael Jordan, Hank Williams, Tennessee Williams, fried chicken, Gone With The Wind, Truman Capote, pecan pie, barbecue, Mark Twain, and manned flight. The list goes on and on. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were both from Virginia, both founding fathers and both gun-toting slave owners. If you say 'fuck the South," you're saying fuck Nashville and Charlotte and Charleston, and Atlanta, and Austin, and New Orleans, and Athens, Georgia, the city that gave us the B52s and R.E.M. and...OK, well, fuck R.E.M. But that has nothing to do with the South.

And that's a very, very partial list, one which leaves off Steve Cropper, Al Green, and Elvis, fer chrissake.

An article in the current issue of Seattle's weekly The Stranger convincingly argues that much of the conflict is between urban centers and rural outlyers, not simply Blue and Red States. If we scornfully write off "The South," we abandon all those fine Democratic-voting folks in the southern urban archipelago.


Following on Kevin Drum's post about the lack of awareness among liberals in general about the nature and breadth of militant conservative Christianity in this country, here's a Slate profile of Dr. James Dobson. Read it. Get to know him. He's going to play an ever increasing role in our politics, as is the apocolyptic ideology of Dominionism.


Josh Marshall notes, re: Bush's nomination of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General:

Democrats won't be able to prevent his appointment. But they should take the opportunity of his confirmation hearings to put him on the record about how he will handle these various on-going investigations, at least one of which directly involves the White House and thus also involves him.

It's unfortunate that so few seem to think that there is any possibility of stopping Gonzales' confirmation. Gonzales is the primary legal architect of some this administration's worst moves, notably the detention and treatment of enemy combatants, which effectively amount to a withdrawal from the Geneva Conventions. It is Gonzales' adept sophistry which has underpinned and sanctified the administration's secretive, anti-democratic authoritarianism.

If Gonzales's nomination as AG is, as is suspected, just a step toward putting him on the Supreme Court, then why wait to have that fight? Why not try to stop him now? Democrats always seem to be waiting for the fights that matter, well, this fight matters. Let's fight it.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


A great piece from Lenny Glynn in the New Partisan:

Because there is, in fact, a war-winning weapon close to hand that the Allawi government could use — with support from allies and from both Democrats and Republicans. This weapon could, at a stroke, put flesh on the bones of formal democracy, change the dynamic of the insurgency, begin to win the confidence of the Iraqi people and create a powerful, growing force for stability, national unity and economic development. The weapon, of course, is oil — and the huge flows of cash it generates.

The way to deploy it is straightforward. Iraq’s new government should simply announce that as of a date certain, it will establish a new national investment fund — call it The Iraqi People’s Freedom Trust — which will be credited with a major share of all future Iraqi oil earnings. A popular real world model might be the Alaska Permanent Fund, which grants a share of that state’s oil revenues to every citizen. Revenues directed to Iraq’s Freedom Trust could be invested in Iraqi government bonds, keeping a small cash reserve to provide for cash withdrawals from the Trust by individual Iraqis.

...By sharing some of Iraq’s vast oil wealth with its people, a new Iraqi government could foster the rise of a broad-based, democratic middle class. It could turn black gold into liquid freedom, the fuel for democracy and the engine of development. The Freedom Trust would give the Iraqi people, and their new police and Army, a future to believe in — and fight for. This single move would do more than any other initiative to help secure a lasting peace, grounded in justice. And such a peace may be the only outcome that could, in some small measure, redeem the sacrifices that Americans and Iraqis are now enduring.

I've toyed around with this same idea myself, as I'm sure others have, but Glynn does a very good job of fleshing out the details. It seems a rather ingenious way to immediately invest the Iraqi people in the stability of their country while seriously reducing incentives for supporting the insurgency. Even more significantly in the long run, it could provide a genuine alternative to the oil-fed kleptocracies which dominate the region, and one with very visible, tangible benefits.

What are the possibilities for such a plan to be developed? I suppose that depends upon how much control over Iraqi oil the Bush gang feels entitled after having spent over 1000 lives and hundreds of billions of dollars there. There's also the question of securing the pipelines, which the Iraqi government doesn't seem likely to be able to do on its own any time soon. But, again, it's very possible that the average Iraqi would take much more of an active interest in pipeline security if it was literally his money flowing through there.

Wouldn't it be something if, after having spent all this blood and treasure to overthrow a dictator and install a reformist government in Iraq, the new government nationalized the country's oil and socialized its profits? Given that this is essentially what provoked the U.S.-aided overthrow of a reformist government and installation of a dictator in neighboring Iran fifty years ago, I think that would qualify as irony.

Here's an open letter from Michael Lind advocating this idea over a year ago. It also has some links at the bottom to other similar proposals.


Arafat has died. Freedom fighter or terrorist? Hero or villain? Is it to be ping-pong with Gandhi in heaven, or an accordion duet with Nixon in hell? Okay, that last one is not a serious question, I only wanted an excuse to share with you my image of Tricky Dick sitting amidst the flames on an uncomfortable metal folding chair, gasping and heaving through endless renditions of "Beer Barrel Polka" with wee, red-eyed devil children biting at his ankles every time the tempo flags.

The legacy of Arafat is impressive, troubling, and (conservatives cover your ears) complex. In many ways, he helped usher in the era of international terrorism in which we are now living. He also personified the just aspirations of a wronged people. I can't condone the use of violence against non-combatants, but also I feel that it would be incredibly jejune of me to sit here in my cozy office in my Seattle condo and condemn Arafat for using the tools available to him.

The fact that a Palestinian State is now seen by most people as inevitable is largely due to Arafat's leadership, which is also to say that it is largely due to terrorism. Conversely, the fact that no such state yet exists is, I think, largely due to Arafat's unwillingness or inability to abandon terrorism, or to reign in Palestinian factions which still practice it.

In any case, the raw truth is that when the history of Palestine is written, the use of terrorism will be seen as having been instrumental in its creation, just as it was instrumental in the creation of Israel. A moral conundrum, that.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Matt Yglesias:

This has been hinted at elsewhere, but I think it's worth saying that there are some very direct analogies between the cultural backlash provoked by the American Northeast's efforts to reconfigure social relations in the American South in the 1860s and then the "heartland" writ large from 1965-onwards and the backlash against America's neoimperial transformative project in the Middle East. This is not to say that American social conservatives are the same as violent jihadis or even that American "Christianism" is the same as Arab "Islamism." Obviously, there are major -- and important -- differences. But there are also similarities. Nationalism is a powerful force. So is religion. In general, people are fairly wedded to their traditional ways of life. Even when people agree that some important element of their traditional political order (Jim Crow, Saddam Hussein) was bad and are glad to see it gone, they still resent outsiders who came in, wrecked the old order, put on airs of superiority, and start pressing for further changes.

Andrew Sullivan has more than hinted at the jihadist aspect of the culture war:

And for many of the true faithful, Bush is an almost messianic figure. At this year’s convention of the Texas Republican party, one pastor prayed: “Give us Christians in America who are more wholehearted, more committed and more militant for you and your kingdom than any fanatical Islamic terrorists are for death and destruction. I want to be one of those Christians.” That is the molten core of the Republican party.

...Who will win this religious war? It’s still too close to call. But inasmuch as people’s deepest and most mysterious beliefs are being dragged more and more into the public square, America loses. It is one thing to have religious rhetoric and language in public. That is the American way. It is another to base political appeals on religious grounds — whether crudely or subtly.

It is one of the saddest ironies of our time that as America tries to calm the fires of theocracy abroad, it should be stoking milder versions of the same.

A similarity that occurs to me is that many liberals don't seem to grasp that they have been declared war upon. Just as many Americans didn't comprehend the nature of Islamist jihadism before 9/11, many liberals don't comprehend the level of conservative hate towards them. If you doubt that war has, in fact, been declared, have a read:

For many decades, conservative citizens and like-minded political leaders (starting with President Calvin Coolidge) have been denigrated by the vilest of lies and characterizations from hordes of liberals who now won't even admit that they are liberals--because the word connotes such moral stink and political silliness. As a class, liberals no longer are merely the vigorous opponents of the Right; they are spiteful enemies of civilization's core decency and traditions.

...Having been amended only 17 times since 10 vital amendments (the Bill of Rights) were added at the republic's inception, the U.S. Constitution is not easily changed, primarily because so many states (75%, now 38 of 50) must agree. Yet, there are 38 states today that may be inclined to adopt, let us call it, a "Declaration of Expulsion," that is, a specific constitutional amendment to kick out the systemically troublesome states and those trending rapidly toward anti-American, if not outright subversive, behavior. The 12 states that must go: California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, and Delaware. Only the remaining 38 states would retain the name, "United States of America." The 12 expelled mobs could call themselves the "Dirty Dozen," or individually keep their identity and go their separate ways, probably straight to Hell.

Leaving side the obvious fact that Mr. Thompson doesn't understand the concept of liberalism (here's a hint: you're soaking in it), I find the idea that the Red States should want to expel the Blue States extremely amusing. To illustrate the stark absurdity of this proposal, I've written a short play.

You know, Daddy Warbucks, I just don't think this is going to work out. You can take your money and your atheistic elitism, and I'll take my conservative values and go back to living on the street.

Suits me fine. There are plenty of orphans to be had these days. There's a depression on, you know. Don't let the door hit you on your little orphan ass on the way out.

The End

Here's a state-by-state breakdown of federal dollars contributed versus those received. Guess who gets more than they give? Those self-reliant Red States. Guess who gives more than they receive? Those welfare-loving Blue States. If the Reds were to expel the Blues from the Union, I seriously doubt the tax revenues generated by NASCAR and the sale of Moon Pies and mayonaise would enable the Reds to continue enjoying the lifestyle to which they've become accustomed. The Blues, however, would have that much more money to spend on drugs, lube, and black masses, to say nothing of public education and health care.

Back to the main point, that American liberalism is under attack by a highly motivated and well-organized theocratic insurgency. The 2004 election was won, it turns out, mostly on the issue of terrorism and national security, as most expected it would. It was not won, as was thought immediately afterward, on "moral values." But that has not stopped these folks from acting as if it was. They are spinning this electoral victory into a Christian call to arms, and are intent on writing their illiberalism into the Constitution.

Look, I'm not equating the Islamist threat with the domestic conservative threat. That would be silly. The Christian Coalition is not al Qaeda, obviously. But the similarities in mindset are impossible to deny.

In some ways, I think the 2004 election will be looked back upon as the liberal 9/11. It will, I hope, galvanize us and bring into focus the threat gathering against us. In any case, we have no excuse for ignoring the threat any longer, or for misunderstanding its nature.

Friends, liberalism is the philosophy which underpins the modern, civilized world. The principles which define it, personal liberty, religious toleration, and government by consent, have made possible an era of freedom and economic prosperity unknown before in human history. It's time we liberals started acting like it.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


John Ashcroft has resigned as U.S. Attorney General, coming off a successful string of terrorist convictions...wait, what?

Give the man credit though, he performed his function admirably for the last four years, and that function was to make the rest of the Bush gang seem rational by comparison. This is known as the Derbyshire Effect. No word yet on who the administration's new Derbyshire will be.

Anyway, let's Let the Eagle Soar one more time, shall we?

Just in case anyone was wondering, John Derbyshire is still the Derbyshire of the National Review:

[W]e survived Carter, and he was followed by Reagan. One attempt at national suicide is quite enough for this writer's lifetime, though. Furthermore, the world is a less-stable place now than it was in 1976, and the wreckers loose in our own society are stronger, more confident, and more numerous.

It is those wreckers that most concern me: the arrogant judges, the academic deconstructors, the teacher-union multiculturalists, the media guilt-mongers, the love-the-world pacifists, the criminal-lovers and family-breakers, the inventors of bogus rights and destroyers of cherished traditions, the haters of normality and scoffers at restraint, the enterprise-destroying litigators and pain-feelers.

I do not fear that American civilization will be brought down by Osama bin Laden, or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, or any foreign force at all — not even (if you will permit me a quick sarcastic poke in the eye to my paleo friends here) not even by the arch-fiend himself, Ariel Sharon! I do fear that this country might be made unfit to live in, as the country of my birth has been, by a misguided and corrupt humanitarianism, sentimental wallowing in past wrongs both real and imagined, and class and race resentment petted and nurtured by opportunistic tax-eaters.

Opportunistic tax-eaters, oh yes. Please refer to my next post for something about that.

As for Derbyshire's use of the term "wreckers," you know something's up when a stark raving conservative, writing in what used to be America's foremost anti-Communist journal, openly uses such Communist lingo to refer to those whom he obviously regards as enemies of the State.

Saturday, November 06, 2004


Paul Freedman in Slate:
If the morality gap doesn't explain Bush's re-election, what does? A good part of the answer lies in the terrorism gap. Nationally, 49 percent of voters said they trusted Bush but not Kerry to handle terrorism; only 31 percent trusted Kerry but not Bush. This 18-point gap is particularly significant in that terrorism is strongly tied to vote choice: 99 percent of those who trusted only Kerry on the issue voted for him, and 97 percent of those who trusted only Bush voted for him. Terrorism was cited by 19 percent of voters as the most important issue, and these citizens gave their votes to the president by an even larger margin than morality voters: 86 percent for Bush, 14 percent for Kerry.

These differences hold up at the state level even when each state's past Bush vote is taken into account. When you control for that variable, a 10-point increase in the percentage of voters citing terrorism as the most important problem translates into a 3-point Bush gain. A 10-point increase in morality voters, on the other hand, has no effect. Nor does putting an anti-gay-marriage measure on the ballot. So, if you want to understand why Bush was re-elected, stop obsessing about the morality gap and start looking at the terrorism gap.

Having waited a few days for the conventional wisdom to form,David Brooks can now come out against it:

[Bush] won because 53 percent of voters approved of his performance as president. Fifty-eight percent of them trust Bush to fight terrorism. They had roughly equal confidence in Bush and Kerry to handle the economy. Most approved of the decision to go to war in Iraq. Most see it as part of the war on terror.

The fact is that if you think we are safer now, you probably voted for Bush. If you think we are less safe, you probably voted for Kerry. That's policy, not fundamentalism. The upsurge in voters was an upsurge of people with conservative policy views, whether they are religious or not.

Related: One wee, small, tiny bright side of this election is that, because the much anticipated youth vote didn't turn out (again), Brooks won't be able to use his newly minted, typically insipid sociological stereotype of "The John Stewart Voter," which he couldn't resist but bring out on the News Hour on Tuesday. Thank god we won't have to read (the reviews of) that book.


Great article on Bernard Lewis, favored Middle East scholar of the neoconservatives, in the Washington Monthly.

The administration's vision of postwar Iraq was also fundamentally Lewisian, which is to say Kemalist. Paul Wolfowitz repeatedly invoked secular, democratic Turkey as a “useful model for others in the Muslim world,” as the deputy secretary of defense termed it in December 2002 on the eve of a trip to lay the groundwork for what he thought would be a friendly Turkey's role as a staging ground for the Iraq war. Another key Pentagon neocon and old friend of Lewis's, Harold Rhode, told associates a year ago that “we need an accelerated Turkish model” for Iraq, according to a source who talked with him. (Lewis dedicated a 2003 book, The Crisis of Islam, to Rhode whom “I got to know when he was studying Ottoman registers,” Lewis told me.) And such men thought that Ahmad Chalabi—also a protégé of Lewis's—might make a fine latter-day Ataturk—strong, secular, pro-Western, and friendly towards Israel. L. Paul Bremer III, the former U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, was not himself a Chalabite, but he too embraced a top-down Kemalist approach to Iraq's resurrection. The role of the Islamic community, meanwhile, was consistently marginalized in the administration's planning. U.S. officials saw Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most prestigious figure in the country, as a clueless medieval relic. Even though military intelligence officers were acutely aware of Sistani's importance—having gathered information on him for more than a year before the invasion—Bremer and his Pentagon overseers initially sidelined the cleric, defying his calls for early elections.

It's frightening that anyone thought that Chalabi could serve as Iraq's Ataturk. Ataturk had enormous credibility as a military hero. Chalabi, having spent the last fifty-some years outside the country, mostly at various salons and cocktail parties, doesn't have anything comparable. Ataturk was also quite explicit about his intention of moving Turkey into the Western world, a goal that, if stated openly, would instantly delegitimize any Iraqi, and probably any Arab, leader at this point.

Thursday, November 04, 2004


Andrew Sullivan:
The war was not the issue. Gays were.

This narrative is shaping up pretty quickly: Bush won the election on values. The punditry have spoken. I don't completely agree with this conclusion.

In addition to being somewhat superficial, the "values!" analysis seems to me a way for a lot of pundits to compensate for having been blindsided by an issue on which the GOP has been successfully mobilizing for quite some time.

While it's undeniably true that "values" voters (or at least voters who named values as their primary motivation) made the difference in crucial states, I think it's a mistake to conclude that this means that these voters weren't concerned with the war, or even that concern over the war took a backseat to concerns over vaues.

The "moral values" pitch and the "war/terrorism" pitch are not exclusive of each other. It is the war on terror that created framework, or rather that enabled Bush to create a framework, from which to more effectively hang these other issues. He won because he was able to successfully weave values into his war agenda. Notice I don't say that he was able to weave his war agenda into his values agenda, because it is 9/11 and the war that allow him to speak in such Manichean terms, of a battle between tangible good and evil, and which have given this kind of talk such a substantial and receptive and motivated audience.

Anecdotally, I have a lot of this audience in my own extended family. I visited them a few months ago, and I was struck by a significant change in the tenor of the conversation. Talk of values and morals and the decline of America into a cesspool of crack smoking, butt sex, and rap music was always to be had, but it is the war that gave these concerns a much more immediate and more apocolyptic thrust. Armageddon is imminent. We are under siege by the forces of Satan. We must fight him and his allies. There can be no neutrality, and negotiation is tantamount to surrender. The forces of righteousness are on the move.

Incidentally, there is an Arabic word that describes this concept: jihad.

So what do we do about it, given that the war on terrorism is likely to persist for a long time to come? Obviously, you can't reason with people who believe that Satan actually physically stands over Osama bin Laden's shoulder and helps him pick targets. Again, speaking from experience, there's no arguing with such folk: if it ain't in the Bible or on Fox News, they ain't having it. I think the only thing to do is to concentrate, laser-like, on finding those people who can be reasoned with, and peeling off those votes one conversation at a time.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


Forget yesterday’s election, I had just recently gotten over the shock that the Republican Party would nominate this lout. And now I’m awed that I live in an era that would witness the reelection of such a person.

I saw my first bad omen when I went to vote yesterday morning, at T.T. Minor School on Capitol Hill. The voting booths were set up in the library, or “media center” as they call it now, and as I walked in I noticed a lone book placed prominently on the checkout desk: Don’t You Know There’s A War On? I put the book behind the desk and out of sight, but apparently it was too late.

The war was and is the issue. Anti-gay initiatives and other "morality" items surely contributed to conservative turnout in a few important states, most notably in Ohio, but it’s clear that Kerry, as solid a candidate as I think he was, just didn’t elucidate a position on Iraq or terrorism that resonated with enough swing voters. That’s not to say he didn’t have the right positions, just that they weren't ones that could be described simply or dumbly enough to compete with “You’ll be eaten by wolves!”

For my bit of Wednesday morning quarterbacking, I think Kerry overplayed his hand on Vietnam. I suspect that for every person for whom Kerry’s combat service strengthened his national security cred, there was someone for whom the Vietnam talk served only to remind them of the cultural divisions of the Sixties, and that no matter how honorably Kerry served, when he came back to the States he had big hair, testified against the war, and probably smoked the weed. By making his Vietnam service a central component of his campaign, Kerry also created an opening for the despicable and effective Swift Boat ads, which I realize is akin to suggesting the rape victim tempted fate by dressing sexy, but dammit Kerry did dress sexy.

So Bush wins reelection and Democrats win themselves another two to four years in the wilderness.

Now the self-recrimination: Did I do enough? Fuck, did I do anything besides talk to people with views similar to my own, and write on this blog which is read mostly, if not exclusively, by people with views similar to my own? Okay, I participated in a party caucus and voted, which is unfortunately more than I can say for most Americans in my age group, but other than that not much. And I'm feeling pretty shitty about it. So rather than retreat into the comparatively safe world of vampire fiction, as was my immediate plan last night, I've got to find a more meaningful way to engage.

The absolutely wrong move would be for liberals to use this election as an excuse to become even more insular, to alienate ourselves further from an electorate which many of us cannot fathom. Since Blue State secession is not a realistic option (though it is nevertheless an intriguing one...) we have to buck up (after drinking heavily of course. I've been looking for an excuse to go on a mezcal binge. Now I have it.) and prepare to confront the issue of national security and the war on terror head on. My goal: nothing less than a Democratic majority in the House and Senate in 2006, with impeachment following soon after. Damn, that mezcal is working already...

Two things I'm sure of: Our positions are the right ones. And our opponents don't fight fair. Now gimme that bottle.

Monday, November 01, 2004


I happened to catch most of James Wolcott and Jay Nordlinger on C-Span's Book TV yesterday, I found it a very interesting conversation, but I just have to mention the stone absurdity of Nordlinger condemning Michael Moore as "toxic," but then winkingly referring to Ann Coulter as "flamboyant" several moments later. I was also quite disappointed that Wolcott did not immediately pounce.