Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Stalinist Democracy

I don't really have time to comment on this, but I finally got around to scanning a fascinating pamphlet I found at the Memorial Library's annual booksale a few weeks back. Not to be confused with the never-to-see-the-light-of-day, Guns N Roses album Chinese Democracy, I present to you, Soviet Democracy, a booklet written by Harry F. Ward. It was published in 1947 by a magazine called Soviet Russia Today, a sample issue of which is available here. The link to the book I scanned in full, making for a PDF of 25 pages, is here, or in OCR'ed Word here.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

A Harry Potter satire that's "off the chain!"

Normally, satires are supposed to be funny. It's typically a pre-condition. I guess it's possible to just have a bad satire, or a satire that does humorously mock itself, if only unintentionally.

Anyway, what I have for you today is Hairy Polarity, a Harry Potter satire from a fundamentalist Christian website. It's a comic book. Alas, unlike Chick tracts, it only provides you the first 8 pages, but that's plenty to give you the gist. We're told that it is "a creatively crafted fictional comic book story," revealing "the very real dangers of sorcery and witchcraft contained within the Harry Potter series!"

What I loved about it was that at first, I thought for sure it was mocking anti-Harry Potter Christians. The artwork was too professional (compared to Chick), and it was way too stereotypical - the caring Christian parents who try the art of gentle persuasion to reach their wayward son, the I-was-once-involved-in-that-too-before-I-found-Jesus trope, the kid walking into an obvious evil, and the ominous warning asteriks pointing to Bible verses. It even uses Chick-like stabs at kid's slang - it's the "wack" world of magic, "phat" story ideas that are "slammin" or "off the chain!" "No diggity," indeed.

Though like Titus 1:12, it poses a paradox. On page 3, Ari says to his friend Minnie, "Then again, Mom says just reading about witchcraft is how she got into that too - and that I shouldn't fill my mind with this stuff!" This comes, of course, in a comic book about the dangers of witchcraft... so we shouldn't read that either? But we wouldn't have gotten that advice unless we read about witchcraft in the first place. It's totally Titus 1:12! Or maybe Deuteronomy 25:19, which encourages the Israelites to wipe out all memory of Amalek - thus preserving the memory of Amalek in the Bible, forever.

Anyway, check out the rest of the site too. They also have stuff on rock music (a comic about a Satanic rocker named Madonna Dahmer), evolution, homosexuality, and of course, safe sex and abortion. It's sweet.

Hat tip - SpottyLogic.

Oh, and in a related note, it seems that Harry Potter's name might've been pilfered outright from a bad 80's horror film called Troll starring Sonny Bono, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, June (Lassie, Lost in Space) Lockhart, and The Neverending Story's Noah Hathaway as... Harry Potter, who finds himself in danger from magic, wizards and witches. I kid not.

UPDATE: It seems that Jerry Falwell has praised Hairy Polarity: "The unique format of Hairy Polarity and the Sinister Sorcery Satire grabs young people's attention with the biblical truths that will transform their lives."

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Maureen Dowd, Nihilist

Some people have observed that the New York Times editorial pages are unbalanced, staffed almost entirely with liberals, save for the milquetoast centrist Republican David Brooks (admired by no conservative I know), and William Safire's libertarian replacement, John Tierney. But this is too hasty - the various columnists do have different areas of emphasis, and some ideological variation between them. The Times, after all, also has a token nihilist - Maureen Dowd.

Maureen Dowd has to be one of the most intellectually vapid people to ever get a gig as a columnist. That she was hired by a paper with the prestige of the New York Times says a great deal more about that newspaper than about her own merit.

This all struck me about her this morning on Meet the Press. Tim Russert asks her, "Maureen Dowd, be counterintuitive here. Karl Rove calls you up and said, "Maureen, I've been reading your column for the last couple years. Give us advice. What should we do in the second term?"

Dowd answers with this sterling sage piece of policy advice: "Well, I think, you know, given what David said, people have talked about whether the Bushes are racist, and I don't think they're racist, but their problem is about class, because they never have understood that when they have this story arc where they go down to Texas and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, that that is--they think that's a true pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. They didn't accept the fact that they always have Daddy's friends to help them. And until they can see reality, then--you know, Bush's--say he's a good third- or fourth-quarter player, after Katrina. Well, that's not good enough for people who don't have Daddy's friends to help. And until he accepts that about himself, you know, he can't move on, I don't think."

Umm... what? Yes, Maureen, I realize that you have this weird obsession with all things Freudian, and that you've made half your career trying to read pathological stuff into people's ideological and policy stances. But what about your own ideas? What, exactly, would you do? (Russert, frustratingly, let Dowd's answer slide, turning to Brooks to ask him another question. What I would've given if he could've said the above).

Her answer reveals all you really need to know about her methodology. She has no specific proposals, no specific ideas of her own. She can sort of parrot a standard narrative about personalities, e.g. that Bush doesn't care about poor or black people (see Kayne West). But it has little to do with substantial political ideas, because she has none. This is why she was able to transition so easily from being a Clinton critic, Kenneth Starr critic, then anti-Bush critic. Someone, I recall, once called Maureen Dowd the political "mean girl." I think that's it in a nutshell. She is a social metaphysician of the highest order, and lacks either the acumen or interest in substantial political issues to actually have an opinion on them. And that is why she had no answer on what, exactly, a person in Bush's position should do, beyond making another character attack.

Nihilistic? You bet. But then, what else would one expect from a mean girl, possessed by an insatiable envy for power?

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Politics and Patterns of Blame

May I say that I've found it thoroughly distasteful the way that so many have tried to make ideological hay out of the Katrina disaster. But as I've been discovering, there's no shortage of that hay-making to go around.

Mainly what irks me about is something Madbard identified. How many of these critics actually know anything about how to run a government response to a category 5 hurricane and a city the size of New Orleans submerged under so much water? And when rescue workers are being shot at?

Naturally, the anti-Bushies are piling on in a giant cluster fuckbomb. But I realized they're not the only ones, and that there's a certain pattern emerging - from Anti-Bush/Anti-War Activists, enviromentalists, civil rights activists, Muslim clerics, welfare-statist liberals, and Christian fundamentalists. Note that these are hardly discrete categories - likely, many people are members of two ro three on this group.

Surveying these commentaries, we're given several candidates over who or what we are to blame:

1. Christian Fundamentalists

In an echo of Jerry Falwell's post-9/11 commentary, we find something called Repent America:

"We must help and pray for those ravaged by this disaster, but let us not forget that the citizens of New Orleans tolerated and welcomed the wickedness in their city for so long," [Repent America director Michael] Marcavage said. "May this act of God cause us all to think about what we tolerate in our city limits, and bring us trembling before the throne of Almighty God," Marcavage concluded.

In essence, blame goes to the moral decay of New Orleans, and in particular, of all the gay people who were about to celebrate Southern Decadence. (A Hit & Run commentor noted, interestingly enough, that this is a strange way for God to repay Louisiana for banning gay marriage).

2. Civil Rights Activists

Several merit mentioning. According to Rev. Lewis E. Logan II, "[I]t is no a coincidence that it is exactly 50 years from the time of [Emmett Till's] lynching and murder. That it is not a coincidence that the storm's name is a sister. Katrina. For she represents the collective cries of mothers who have lost their sons to the brutality and the murderous grip of this racist white supremacist American culture." (Jesse Walker notes, though, that Sister Katrina picked a really odd target, considering New Orleans is 70% black).

And it's not just people as obscure as the Rev. Logan. Jesse Jackson and rapper Kayne West couldn't wait to jump in. See this on Jackson's charges that the media and government are focussing too much on looters and thugs instead of on people who are just suffering, see this from Interdictor (who is holed up in New Orleans and seeing everything for himself), and this on the supposed media bias of looting photo captions.

3. Environmentalists

Well, there's RFK Jr. To name but one. But quite a number of people are trying to tie the hurricane to global warming, or the US's refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocols. RFK thinks Haley Barbour deserves special attention.

Says RFK Jr, "Now we are all learning what it’s like to reap the whirlwind of fossil fuel dependence which [Mississippi Governor Haley] Barbour and his cronies have encouraged. Our destructive addiction has given us a catastrophic war in the Middle East and--now--Katrina is giving our nation a glimpse of the climate chaos we are bequeathing our children."

Note RFK's religious metaphor - a striking parallel with our friends in #1 & #2. James Glassman gives a thorough fisking to RFK Jr & friends at Tech Central Station.

4. Anti-War/Anti-Bush Activists

So far, I haven't seen anyone come right out and claim that American military involvement in Iraq or Afghanistan actually created the storm. (Stay tuned!) But the extent of the devestation, these people think, can directly be attributed to military equipment, resources and personal that should have all been stationed in Louisiana. See Michael Moore for yet another brilliant example of why he's the Ann Coulter of the Left. And see this piece by a guy who thinks Bush is guilty of "murder, murder, murder."

Actually, Mikey, it doesn't appear that equipment or manpower was an issue. Moore, as always, sets things up in his arguments such that whatever Bush does, it's wrong. If he goes there in person and helps out, he's showboating for political gain. If he stays away, he doesn't care and he's a heartless human being.

5. Muslim clerics

Then we have Muhammad Yousef Al-Mlaifi, director of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Endowment's research center. Says al-Mlaifi, Katrina is "a wind of torment and evil that Allah has sent to this American empire. Out of my absolute belief in the truth of the words of the Prophet Muhammad, this wind is the fruit of the planning [of Allah], as is stated in the text of the Hadith of the Prophet."

And he adds, "But how strange it is that after all the tremendous American achievements for the sake of humanity, these mighty winds come and evilly rip [America's] cities to shreds? Have the storms have joined the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization?"

6. Leftist/Statist Types.

To read some critics, you'd think the real culprit here was libertarianism, or at the very least, a government too small to hand the difficulty. See the Daily KookKos's political cartoon posting, for example, or The New Republic, or EJ Dionne. Worth noting, of course, is that it was the government that designed and built those levees - and they were not designed to handle anything worse than a Category 3 storm.

The People for the American Way tried to use the disaster as an excuse to target the repeal of the death tax. David Corn tried the same trick at the Nation.

Julian Sanchez has it right on this: This is all profoundly stupid. There is no deep overarching ideological point here, because for pretty much everyone short of the anarchists, preventing the collapse of civilization into a huge Hobbesian clusterfuck makes the list—whether yours is short or long—of things governments are supposed to do—state governments when feasible (assuming adequate preparation on the ground is better than airlifts later), federal government when it isn't. Funding, Sanchez notes, doesn't seem to have been an issue here.

Lew Rockwell, with whom I disagree on many issues, retorts with the opposite, that if anything, too much government bureaucracy undermined the safety of New Orleans. See also Interdictor's post, in which he writes, And another thing to think about when we start pointing fingers is this. The government is never equipped to handle a crisis like this. There's too much bureaucracy -- initiative-stifling bureaucracy which prevents swift, effective action. ... The nature of that bureaucracy is such that you have very specific guidelines to follow for even the most minute tasks. You need approval for just about everything, and the person you need approval from usually needs approval to give you the approval. It's not as easy as say rounding up 4 of your co-workers and saying, "We've got someone at such and such an address, let's go grab her and get her out of there." Now add a destroyed or disabled command and control center to that bureaucracy and you've got a total and complete mess. You (as a civilian) don't need "Approved" stamped on 3 different forms before you can run into your neighbor's house and pull them out. I hope this makes sense. Anyway, I'm sure there's been human error in this catastrophe. How could there not be? But what I'm saying is that I've come to expect poor decision making and a total lack of initiative from government. They can't even balance a budget, at the federal, state, or local levels. I could balance my checkbook and spend within my means when I was a teenager. But I'm not gonna point fingers and get into the blame game. If you want me to blame something besides the storm herself, I blame the nature of government in the first place. It's too big, it's too slow, it's too inefficient, it's too bloated, and it's too intiative-stifling to be effective in normal circumstances, much less in a disaster. It's a systemic issue, more than an issue of individual people in government.

So, let's recap. Who do we blame for the disaster?
1. Christian fundamentalists: Sexual sin, especially of the homosexual variety, and government's willingness to tolerate it. God's the agent, but this is the fault of sinners.
2. Civil rights activists: Racism against blacks. This takes the form of a) God punishing America for its racism,
b) Racist government not caring about the fates of New Orleans' poor blacks until it was too late.
3. Environmentalists: Pollution enabled by Bush's environmental policies, spuring global warming, spuring increased hurricane activity.
4. Anti-War/Anti-Bush types: Government resources being tangled up in rebuilding Iraq. The War in Iraq, and Bush's drive for Empire in the Middle East can be blamed for the government's inablity to deal with the disaster.
5. Muslim clerics: Punishment by Allah for US foreign policy in Iraq & Afghanistan - and perhaps for US support of Israel.
6. Leftist/Statist Types: Government made too small, too unfunded, by Grover Norquist-led Republican conspiracy.

So am I wrong to see a pattern here? In essence, people from all of these groups blame the disaster on something they already hated and were aggitated enough against to fight. It's as if their beliefs systems had so directly identified Bush/polluters/sinners/infidels/etc. as the Devil Figure, that when something as catastrophic as Hurricane Katrina comes along, they need to draw a connection between their Devil Figure and the horror of Katrina's aftermath. Is this predictable? I hope not - but what I'm seeing so far is sad. It's such an immature response - something bad happens, therefore, it's the fault of who or what I already dislike. And I suspect that part of what I found so persuasive about Lew Rockwell was that I, too, may be falling prey to this mentality. I don't see what's wrong about his argument, or about Interdictor's, but I wonder nonetheless.

Just to be clear, we should never lose sight of one thing - that Katrina was (at least initially) a natural disaster, worsed by the collapse of levees designed in the mid-1960's to handle Category 3 hurricanes. Two causes of the disaster: Katrina herself, and levees too weak to handle her. The aftermath of the disaster, in which 1) law and order collapsed and New Orleans descended into a Hobbesian nightmare, 2) Superdome and Convention Center survivors were ill-equipped with food, security, and sanitation, and 3) Other survivors in their homes, schools, etc. were not rescued with satisfactory timeliness. Ben Stein, writing for the American Spectator, makes a few more important observations of facts to keep in mind.

To sort out any human responsiblity here, it will require knowning a lot of facts, and what facts we have now are murky. There will most certainly be a Congressional investigation or two, and I'm guessing the MoveOn and Moore-on types will have investigations of their own, and conservative groups will probably launch investigations in the other direction. There is a question about how much FEMA, Louisiana state officials, and New Orleans should have known about the intensity of the storm, and what precautions they should have taken against the possiblity of storms more intense than Category 3 ravaging the levees.

We will also need a pre-Katrina account of who was responsible for what in the run-up to the storm. How much went wrong that was within the normal pervue of the President? Or of FEMA? What about local and state officials? Was it Governor Blanco (D-LA)'s responsiblity to ask for federal aid action before it could be given? Especially in regards to National Guard deployments. Did indecisiveness lead to her stonewalling when the President wanted to move forward immediately? I'm especially curious about the Mayor C. Ray Nagin (D-New Orleans). What was his role in all of this? Was an ill-equiped Superdome his idea? Why didn't he mobilize the city's buses, seen useless and submerged here, to pick up all the poor, elderly, etc. who couldn't leave the city? Did it make sense for a "mandatory" evacuation to even have a Superdome option? How did the Convention Center disaster happen? Which agency first proposed that people relocate there? Etc. And again, as valid as all of these questions are, we should not lose site of just how unique, how outside the range of our normal experience, this event was. Even if one could predict that the levees would not survive Katrina, there is the shock of actually seeing it all unfold, one agonizing event after another, as the magnitude of this disaster spun out of control. I agree with Madbard - to even begin to know where to start or what to do is mind-boggling, and hindsight is a truly wonderful thing indeed.

I should add one other thing - I don't know if this affects the case for responsiblity for any party or another, but just as a personal thing. I remember initially thinking the storm hadn't been all that bad. I recall the media reporting that with the movement of dry air from Louisiana to the Gulf, the eye of the storm moved east, focusing most of Katrina's force against Mississippi, and hitting New Orleans in a relatively favorable way - with the winds and rain coming from land rather than sea. The Superdome lost a piece of its roof, but only a small piece, with no serious threat to its structural integrity. I believe as late as Monday, thinking that Katrina hadn't been such a big deal, that the doomsayers had been wrong once again.

I wonder - was this a common perception? Regardless of the forecasts and predictions, was it shared by people in the government - local, state, and federal? Or was it simply the case that no one could really believe that something like this could happen? I close with that question.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Smokefree - Subverted

I had some downtime at work, so in about 10, 15 minutes, I whipped up this letter to my city council. It's incredibly easy now that this well-funded, well-organized cabal of anti-smoking activists is starting to worry that support for the recently enacted smoking ban is evaporating. They provided this web portal that automatically faxes all 15 council members, the Mayor, and a few other parties. Man, this was fun to write, and get off my chest. I wonder if it will be persuasive? I'm already wishing I had been more specific, naming the studies (and court decisions!) that have thrown out virtually all the studies people cite to justify banning smoking on the grounds of a supposed link between second-hand smoke and disease.

For a short time, my letter was posted with all the others they've received here. But it's already been taken down, I noticed. So out of the 196 letters in support they've received (mostly from templates and talking points), I wonder how many other opponents of the smoking ban have done what I did?


I am a graduate student that University of Wisconsin. Madison has been my home now for more than two years, and I will probably live here for a minimum of another four. (With any luck, UW will hire me when I finish my degree, so I can stay in this beautiful city for even longer.)

Recently, the Madison City Council made a horrible mistake. It gambled with the city's economic prosperity on the basis of shoddy science and an ideology of paternalism by passing a smoking ban. Without reviewing the most recent studies, which demonstrate that the risks of second hand smoke to customers and workers is negliable, or even studying the possible economic effects to bar-owners, it unwisely passed this law restricting private property rights and the freedom of peaceful assembly.

You have by now already heard of some of the effects. Bowling alleys have lost entire league memberships to bowling alleys in subburbs, and those bars and taverns not in the inner city have seen their customer base relocate to subburbs. The littering of cigarette butts has increased, and some have already raised the question of what environmental effects could be caused by countless many butts finding their way to lake runoff.

While the economic impacts of this law should be sufficient enough to warrent a reconsideration of this law, the most fundamental reason to repeal the ban is liberty. At the end of the day, all laws and regulations must protect and enhance the liberty of the individual, and any law, no matter what its economic impacts, is unjust when it trespasses upon the individual. Smoking, though an unhealty activity, is still legal, and in bars, would be a protectable freedom of assembly.

This should not matter, but for what it is worth, I am a non-smoker. While I occasionally have visited smoking bars with friends who smoke, I enjoy going to places that have practiced voluntary bans, like Dotty Dumpling's, the Crave and the Ratheskellar in the Union. Without a smoking ban, those places lose their niche appeal, so if anything else, you might also consider the economic impact toward places that no longer have anything to distinguish themselves from their competition.

I urge a repeal of the ban. In its place, you may consider instead a ban of smoking in places where children could be present. If your concern is worker health and safety, you may consider establishing an anonymous complaint phone line, that could tip off inspectors to visit specific locations and issue citations for insufficient ventilation. Most people who work in bars, if not themselves smokers, at least have no problem with it, which is why they work in the one sub-sub-category of the hospitality industry that allows it on the job. I believe you find very few complaints, even without any supposed stigma from complaining about second hand smoke. (I can't speak to the motives of council members who supported the ban, but I find it suspicious that if the real concern here was the effect on worker health caused by second hand smoke, that _smokeless_ tobacco was also banned.)

Just as drinking is a risky, unhealthy activity that falls within one's personal liberty, so too is smoking. Given that the science does not support the public health justification of the ban, what's left is the liberty of the individual - which the Council has a moral obligation to respect. Please do the right thing.


A Tyranny A Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Good god - could the Madison City Council be any more anti-capitalist? Scarsely even a month after the Council anally raped clobbered the bars and restaurants with a smoking ban (that also banned smokeless tobacco and cigars in cigar bars), they are now contemplating mandating paid sick leave for all employees in Madison.

Not so surprisingly, many of the same arguments we heard with the smoking ban are here too. This would make healthier workplace, we're told, because sick employees wouldn't feel pressured to work. (How this is reconciled with the fact that most diseases are contagious before one has symptoms, or when symptoms are barely manifested, I do not know). If anything, we're told, this would be great for business, because they'd save so much money in the long run from having healthier, more productive employees. Once again, people sitting on a city council, most of whom have never worked in industry much less actually owned or managed a business, somehow know more about how to run a business than people who actually do. And once again, public health is the justification for abridging economic and personal liberty.

And again, the same paternalism we heard before. The smoking ban, likewise, was supposed to actually be good for business, since all of these people who hated to go to smoky bars would return. Naturally, that hasn't happened either. So forgive me for being suspicious that the Council knows more about business than actual business people.

And I wish this guy was my alder:

Ald. Zach Brandon, 7th District, who runs a laundry business near UW- Madison, blasted the proposal ... "What bothers me is, the same people who continually bring up these issues are the same people who fight all the economic development issues. They're always wanting to talk about how we re-cut the pie, but they're never there on how do we expand the pie."

NARAL's Daisy Girl Revisited

My post on NARAL was a bit longish, and still, I didn't quite make the point I wanted to make. Succinctly - the point of the slanderous Roberts ad was not to uncover a truth about Roberts we should all know - that much is obvious. The point is, as I maintained, to obtain free advertising as people discuss the ad more and more (see the 1964 anti-Goldwater Daisy Girl ad for the beginnings of that template). It's about setting the terms of the debate. As long as this ad is out there, outraging some, embarrassing others, and defended by still others, notice what we're talking about - Roberts and his position on abortion. Roberts' champions are put on the defensive, and we're now talking not only about abortion, but about pro-life extremism evocative of terrorism - instead of, say, Roberts' actual qualifications for the job. It's insidious - and very clever. NARAL doesn't have anything substantial with which to damn Roberts, so instead, they can set the terms of our "national dialog," and raise doubts in the minds of the Senators (and the supporters of those Senators) they need to persuade - primarily, the 14 members of the filibuster compromise, the moderate Democrats and RINO's who might object to a filibuster so much with these doubts in place.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

NARAL and the Price of Obsession

I think NARAL has recently been cribbing its notes about how to run a political campaign from the NAACP.

For those who don't know - NARAL has recently produced an ad, to run on CNN and elsewhere, that more or less claims that John Roberts supports abortion clinic bombing.

WTF?, you find yourself asking? Has NARAL discovered the smoking gun, the dark secret in Roberts' past that demonstrates his unsuitablity for the high court? Or are they lying? Well, Fact claims it's more the latter.

But NARAL is smart enough to know that getting sued for libel and slander sucks, so claim isn't entirely made out of thin air. Roberts once worked as general counsel for the Bush 41 administration, and during the Supreme Court case Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic (1993), argued the administration's position (which was later affirmed by a 6-3 majority).
Surprisingly enough, the Bush 41 administration did not argue that they supported clinic bombing or baracading the entrance. Rather, they argued against the clinics' attempt to federalize this case by sueing the defendants under a provision of an 1871 anti-Ku Klux Klan law, which federalized the crime of conspiring to deprive civil rights.

We studied this case in my Legal History seminar. The issue turned on whether the pro-lifers, some of whom bombed clinics and others, I think, baracaded clinics, were guilty of a Klan-like conspiracy to deprive people of their civil rights. And plainly, whatever the abortion protesters were guilty of, it wasn't that. For one thing, the law had racial oppression in mind, and at best, this was gender discrimination. For another, this wasn't gender discrimination. The clinics and victims were not targeted for being women, but for being either patients or providers of abortion. While all patients were women, the providers and workers equally targeted were men as well as women. They were victims in virtue of their relationship with abortion, not in virtue of their gender. (The KKK victims, in 1871, were victims in virtue of their race.) I also remember wondering how this exactly qualified as a conspiracy - if it was a conspiracy, it was one in plain sight, where the leaders and participants didn't wear masks and sheets and remained public figures.

Why would this distinction even be meaningful? In ordinary circumstances, it's not. The police powers vested in the states mean that the criminals in this case were liable under state law, and if memory serves, there was no evidence presented to the Court that the states wouldn't be prosecuting to the full extent of their laws. This of course, was the problem that led to the original 1871 law - the KKK was able to operate without fear of state prosecutions, as they enjoyed popular support in the areas of the South where they operated. The law was needed only insofar as the States weren't doing their jobs.

In essence, this was the position that Roberts defended to the Court (again, on behalf of his real client, the Bush 41 administration - he never worked for the bombers, calling them "criminals" in his brief). NARAL would have you believe, in this ad, that this position amounts to filing briefs supporting abortion clinic bombing. And to think, in my first year at UW, I attended meetings of UW's NARAL chapter. *sigh*... This reminds me of the antiwar movement. I sort of leaned against going to war against Iraq, but the antiwar movement was so deadset against my values that I couldn't support them. I'm pro-choice, but I think it would be humiliating to be associated with these people.

Remember - the point of this ad is most certainly not to get out the truth about Roberts, and it's sure as hell not about presenting a balanced portrait. Like the NAACP ad, there is only one purely partisan goal that all other interests, including especially the truth, are subordinated under - in this case, to defeat Republicans at all costs. They don't have to be right or factual. They just have to scare enough voters, and the Senators who are supported by them, to eek out a filibuster. And even if they fail to persuade anyone outright, they get a victory out of all the free publicity that the ad will get the more the media discusses, and if they at least raise doubts. The news consuming audience, broadly, has enough of a bullshit detector to know that Roberts doesn't support violence. But, NARAL succeeds as a long they raise doubts about Roberts. This is much more about poisoning the well then about actually presenting facts. Which is what makes this so despicable.

But why? Even if somehow they convinced Democrats to abandon the filibuster compromise, and Roberts were to be successfully Borked, surely they know that Bush will just nominate another conservative, possibly one even more dangerous to their agenda.

There are two possiblities that I can see. One, they may hope for a repeat of what happened with Bork - after Bork went down, a cowed Reagan administration nominated Anthony Kennedy in his place. Kennedy leans more to the liberal side of the Court, so this would be a happy outcome for these activists. Two, they realize that Bush 43 has learned the lessons of the Bork ordeal, so they know that Bush won't just give up and give them another Anthony Kennedy. But they are also looking at the clock - Bush only has another 3 years of his presidency left, and even more ominiously, mid-term elections are nary a year away.

My suspicion is that even now, even this far away from the next election, NARAL and its allies hope that they can run down the clock on Bush. Their hope is that by 2006, Democrats will make a turn around in mid term elections, Bush will be in full lame duck mode, and as of 2008, a Democrat (let's call her, for convenience's sake, "Hillary") will emerge triumphant. So regardless of how many nominees Bush has gone through, the 2006 opinion polls (and looming real polls) will effectively force Bush to nominate another Kennedy. And any other retirees in 2006 or later will get so held up by Democrats unless Bush also replaces them with Kennedy's.

So more than anything else, I think this is a matter of delay and forestall as long as possible. The longer they do that, the less likely it is that Bush will get who and what he wants on the Court.

Is their hope reasonable? I don't know - I'm inclined to think not. For all the troubles the Bushies are having these days in the polls, it hasn't really, that I can see, translated into any increased popularity for Democrats. And more to the case in point, especially after the disclosure that Roberts has also worked pro bono on behalf of gay rights groups, I can't help but think this will actually cause a net loss in support and crediblity for NARAL. They demonstrated not only rank dishonesty in this case, but even political stupidity in trying to paint a man who supports gay rights as a religious ideologue who supports violence against women. They would do well to remember the fate of the boy who cried wolf.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Rove-ing Reporter

Since I've been in NY all week, I haven't been able to follow the news as much as I normally do, so I should acknowledge that my understanding of where things stand with the Valerie Plame/Karl Rove "scandal" is weak. So I'll just ask a question in the form of a hypothetical. Suppose it's true that Robert Novak told Karl Rove (not the other way around, as was originally suspected) that Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative and that it was she who arranged for her husband to be sent to Niger. Novak tells Rove that his next column will mention this fact. So Rove mentions to Judith Miller and the-other-reporter-who's-name-I-can't-remember, "You know, Novak's about to publish a piece saying it was Plame, who used her status as a CIA employee, to get Wilson the job." If this is really what happened, did Rove do anything wrong?

I'm not so sure. I guess one thing it would depend upon is whether Rove used his prestige and position within the government to support the veracity of Novak's claim, and certainly whether Rove intentionally broke laws to do what Wilson and have claimed, which is to silence internal critics by putting them in danger. I'm dubious of this latter possiblity, but the investigation may find something to back it up. Who knows. But it does seem that Rove's actions were what we might call "epiphenomenal." Which is to say that Rove didn't actually make a difference here. Even if Rove kept his mouth shut, Novak still would have published the column, and there would have been the same investigation into the leak, and Wilson would have still said to the media that he wanted Novak to be "frog-marched" out of the White House into a squad car. So Rove played no essential causal role here.

Even if this doesn't necessarily absolve him from blame, it does place what he did in context. Had Novak not told him of his intent to publish that column, Rove could say that he wouldn't have said anything that wasn't going to be public anyway. The Valerie Plame story wasn't even really overdetermined, if Rove's discussion was, itself, causally dependent upon Novak's plans. No causal role - no foul - no crime?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Flow My Tears, the Senator Said

Alright, I'm getting over my perfectionism to return to this blog. I'm putting forward political opinions here that aren't perfect, that haven't been entirely rigorously researched to the letter, that haven't canvased the full spectrum of positions out there in the blogosphere. Because that's okay for a blog.

Anyway, here goes. About this Durbin thing, and subsequent tearful apology. It really comes down to simple issue - the man is guilty of a Godwin violation par excellance. One can only roll one's eyes when certain early 20th century German political movements get raised in political discourse these days. As for the situation at hand, I don't think I need to belabor what was wrong about the comparison to Nazis, Soviets and the Khmer Rouge - innocent people brutally tortured and murdered by the millions vs. a handful of bloodthirsty religious zealots abused in captivity. Nor is it necessary to say that the latter is wrong, or why it is. What's at issue is the ability to tell the difference.

In any event, Durbin is not only guilty of a Godwin, he's also a coward. He's worried enough about his public image to offer a quasi-apology. But he doesn't actually regret what he said – he just doesn't want people to hate him for it. So offers this “apology:”

Some may believe that my remarks crossed the line. To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies ... I'm sorry if anything that I said caused any offense or pain to those who have such bitter memories of the Holocaust, the greatest moral tragedy of our time. Nothing, nothing should ever be said to demean or diminish that moral tragedy. I'm also sorry if anything I said in any way cast a negative light on our fine men and women in the military.

Note that he doesn't actually take back anything he said. He's very precise with his word choice here. He only apologies insofar as you were offended by what he said, not for what he actually said. If somebody calls you a douchebag, and then apologizes if you felt bad for being called a douchebag, you haven't actually received an apology. You've received only a further insult. If Durbin had any real courage, he'd either offer a real apology taking back that idiotic analogy, or stand by his words. Such a typical politician.

For those inclined to defend Durbin, perhaps out of a concern that any Gitmo abuses are being whitewashed in all of this or because certain Republicans did it too, I'd point out that it is Durbin, not the right-wingers with whom I'm reluctantly siding here, who are discrediting the cause. Durbin's behavior only provides the ammunition to make critics of Gitmo behavior look like fanatics. There are few faster ways to lose credibility as a voice of moral conscious than by not being able to tell the difference between Auschwitz and Gitmo.

See here for a comparison between basic training and Gitmo. I wonder – can it be that soldiers who engage in abusive behavior do so, judging from their own personal experience of military training? If that's the frame of reference for how it is proper to treat a soldier, even affording the Gitmo detainees formal POW status could still make such harsh treatment acceptable. Still, I suppose there's an argument that the American solider voluntarily joins, and while there are obviously “soldiers” of sorts locked up in Gitmo, part of what gives me pause is the real possibility that some people currently in Gitmo were just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Then there was the report about Christina Aguilera music - eek. Dear god, how far have we descended? (People who know me, and know about my musical tastes, know that this question is not sarcastic, but is quite sincere.)