Tuesday, December 31, 2002

While on David and Oxblog, I might as well bring up this entry as well:

Anyway, the real issue here is how supporters of American foreign policy can address the perennial argument that America's record of immoral actions in the Cold War invalidates any aggressive initiatives the United States plans today...

I think the proper response is to admit what the US did wrong and shift the discussion to the merits of its current policy. As Ken Pollack tells the WaPo, what we did in the 1980s "was a horrible mistake then, but we have got it right now."
The reason for the "America supported Iraq then, and therefore shouldn't invade now" doesn't, in my view, have much to do with the moral culpability of the administration, but their credibility. Rather a lot of the rhetoric about Iraq relies on assurances by the Administration that they have evidence and reasons that for various reasons they can't bring to light, but that they should be trusted to have. This whole point basically boils down to "why on earth should we believe you, and why on earth should we trust you to do it properly and improve the situation"? (Assuming, for the moment, that the silly argument that "it can't get any worse" is rightly ignored; it can get worse, very much so.)

Sure, everybody would like to see Saddam gone, but the question is whether or not an American invasion is the right thing. That is a harder question, and the one that this whole thing strikes at. To say "no, really, we've got it now" is to invite the question "what if you're saying the same thing ten years from now?" It's a legitimate question, and one that remains to be answered.
I'm not a regular reader of Oxblog, but I ended up finding a link by Instapundit to supposed takedown of Josh Marshall. At the heart of it is an odd assertion:

Schroeder in Germany, Lula in Brazil, now Roh's victory in S. Korea…[this is the] latest 'wake-up call' to [the] U.S., but [it's] not clear what's being heard." Marshall notes that each of these election outcomes had "deep local determinants" and was fundamentally "multi-causal." Fair enough. But, Marshall concludes,

...add these and other election results up and you start to see that hostile reactions to America's newly strident and confrontational stance in the world are becoming an important force in world politics and an important force in the domestic politics of many of our allies.

Not so fast. First of all, Lula's victory in Brazil is an indication of the strength of American values, not a backlash against them. Lula was once a true working-class radical who campaigned in denim and spoke of socialism. As a result, he lost three consecutive presidential elections. This year, Lula decided to wear a suit, accept a binding commitment to IMF economic policies, and pledge to fight inflation and budget deficits.
David is correct in that Lula had moderated his position somewhat, but it's very different to say that said moderation is why he was successful; as David (somewhat misleadingly) noted, Lula's popularity has been building for a while, and he managed to achieve victory against Cardoso's hand-picked and resolutely pro-American successor, Jose Serra. Even if Lula had moderated his position, he's still to the left of his opponents and certainly to the left of the United States' government.

(Heck, look at how financial markets reacted to his election. They knew quite well what it would mean: that it was a rejection of the Washington Consensus, and that Lula's moderation might not prevent him from acting in the interests of the poor Brazilian North.)

Besides, Lula has pretty clearly set himself apart from the United States: he supports both Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, and has been openly hostile towards the FTAA due to the possibility (heck, certainty) that it would be little more than an invitation for the United States to access whichever markets it wishes and prevent access to its own market in turn. His advocacy of the Brazilian-led MERCOSUL trading body has little purpose except as a way of ensuring that South American interests are represented; and the only reason why that would even be an issue is if he didn't trust the United States' leadership of the FTAA.

No, David, Lula's win was definitely a message to the United States by the Brazilians as well as a rejection of the ruling cabal, and the moderation doesn't make sense as a movement towards the United States, but only the moderate elements within Brazil itself. I personally think that Marshall has a point; anti-Americanism has become a force in world politics. Whether that's good or bad is immaterial; it's practically inevitable, as people are not going to react kindly to a great power that is attempting to wield that power in ways that may not be in their own interests, and that claims an exceptional level of insight and morality that many probably consider overstated if not fallacious. (Except when exploiting it for their own purposes.)

More interesting is his followup on power:

Not by a long shot. What Marshall doesn't ask is whether anti-American rhetoric results in anti-American actions, or whether it is just a diversion from fundamentally pro-American foreign policies. Take Schroeder's latest speech for example. While he talks about searching for alternatives to war, he also refuses to rule out German support for a UN-authorized invasion of Iran. And Schroeder adds that: "We Germans know from our own experience that dictators sometimes can only be stopped with force."
I'm going to assume that that was a typo, and that he meant "Iraq". (Then again, given time...) Anyway, the key point there is not the "invasion" aspect, but the "UN-authorized" aspect. Most of the opposition of a unilateral invasion of Iraq comes not just from the "invasion" part but the "unilateral" part; the Germans (like rather a lot of people both inside and outside of the United States) are deeply ambivalent about the idea of the United States acting as a hegemonic power, and Iraq is seen both by advocates and opponents of the invasion as a testing ground for this idea; that it will be a symbolic gesture much more important than Saddam Hussein, Iraq, or George Bush himself. The whole point of the U.N. authorization is not to watch the U.S. get what it wants, but the symbolic element of asking permission. That's what the Germans were interested in, and still are.

(It's kind of a variation of the importance of civilian oversight of the military, although on a much different scale and involving a different kind of relationship).

See, here's the thing. David said that "If I've been a little harsh, it's because I'm worried that a lot of very intelligent and well-intentioned individuals have begun to see multilateralism as an end in itself rather than a means of promoting democracy and human rights across the globe." That's right, they have, and it's for the same reason that democracy is often seen as an end in itself, even if it doesn't promote what some consider the right things; it's because many people understand (not believe, understand) that no single individual, no single people, and no single nation should wield unchecked power over another, whether well-intentioned or not. Even a power with the best of intentions can and probably will eventually become corrupt without a counter-pressure to keep it in check. A relatively benign dominant political culture simply ain't good enough, exceptionalism or no. That culture can be changed, can be subverted, and can be ignored if things are kept below the radar- which is pretty easy with the disinterest that the American public has in foreign policy. Multilateralism is a check, and an important one, whether it fits the United States' short-term strategic interests or not. I'm sure Americans would feel the same if it were the Brits that ran the show.

Monday, December 30, 2002

Most regular readers have probably run across the political axes that I normally use to define political positions; one being whether society should be hierarchical or egalitarian, and the other being whether or not their conception of society is as a collection of independent individuals or an organic body, with each person making up a part of the whole. It's as useful and fairly reliable as any two-dimensional political classification system I've ever seen, but I do have to admit that the system Kevin Drum devised is pretty interesting itself:

There are plenty of possible choices, and one possible matrix is shown on the right. The vertical axis is a reflection of your basic view of human nature: people are naturally selfish and bad vs. people are naturally good if you allow them to be. The horizontal axis describes your view of what molds people: people are mostly responsible for their own actions vs. people are substantially shaped by their society and their environment.

Does this work? Here are the four political "types" that it produces:

"Limbaugh Conservative": This type believes that people are basically out for themselves and are responsible for their own actions. No blaming society for these folks! They have an instinctive belief in law and order and traditional values.

"Principled Conservative": These folks also believe people are responsible for themselves, but they basically view their actions as good. Thus: free market capitalism, in which self-interest turns out to be a good character trait, and a principled view that society is best when government interferes least and allows human nature to come to the fore.

"Practical Liberal": This type reluctantly agrees that people are selfish and often untrustworthy, but believes that bad luck and poor upbringing have a lot to do with it. Like FDR, they tend to believe that government programs can help produce better people by creating a better society.

"Academic Liberal": These are the people at anti-globalization rallies. They believe that people are fundamentally good but are corrupted by big business, big religion, and other societal forces. Get rid of the corrupting influences of powerful institutions and human nature will make the world a better place.
As I said, interesting. It does loosely fit the framework I mentioned, however; the "people are good" vs. "people are bad" can be fairly easily mapped onto the "hierarchy vs. egalitarian" axis, and the "responsibility" axis is a variation of the question asking whether society or individuals are the key actors.

Kevin goes on to ask:

All right then, try it yourself. This is the game I promised you at the beginning of this post: try to figure out two dimensions of underlying temperament that do a good job of predicting political views. Here are a few possibilities besides the two I already used:

Long-term view vs. short-term view.

Personal view of the worlds vs. big picture/root causes view.

Emotional vs. analytical.

The goal is to find two dimensions that (a) categorize 80% of the population reasonably well, and (b) do a decent job of predicting political viewpoints. For example, in my scheme, does the knowledge of what quadrant somebody is in do a good job of predicting their views on abortion, gun control, environmental regulations, etc.?

And now for the final question, left as an exercise for the reader (of course!): using my matrix, can you classify people's attitudes toward racism in America? You just knew it would get back to that, didn't you?
Welp, let's see. I've already got my two axes, so how do these fit?

a)I'd say it works pretty well; there's a lot of hierarchical individualism within American society, but there's a strong current of hierarchical organicism as well, as the religious do tend towards an organic conception of society. (We're all God's children/members of the church/sheep to be shepherded or whatnot). What isn't generally present is strong egalitarianism, which explains part of the reason why socialism never really took off in the United States. (There are others, and lots of them, but that is part of it.) There is some egalitarianism on certain issues, of course, but the strong acceptance of "winners and losers" shows an America that believes strongly in some measure of hierarchy based (ideally) on merit.

b)It's been done. A quick breakdown:

-Organic+Hierarchy=old-style Conservatism. Simple. Maybe not relevant today, but still certainly fits the temperment of a lot of the religous, and is part-and-parcel with historic conservatism. Divine Right of Kings and all that.

-Organic+Egalitarianism=Socialism and Social Democracy. Also simple; Marx was quite clear in arguing that the individual is a part of a larger group, and socialist and social democratic systems are designed on that principle. This would be the "hard left" in American politics, and the entire left in a fair bit of Europe.

-Individualistic+Egalitarian=Anarchism. Not anarcho-capitalism, but good old fashioned left-wing anarchism, the land of "property is theft" and of tearing down Locke's beloved enclosures. On a (much) lesser level this would also describe modern democratic liberalism; individuals have rights, and equality is something that should be strived towards without a damned good reason not to. (John Rawls made this point.)

Finally:

-Individualistic+Hierarchical=Helllo, Libertarianism! (And Anarcho-Capitalism). We're all individuals, some are better than others, and the fundamental principle is Don't Touch My Stuff.

As for those issues, (abortion, gun control, or environment) it really depends. Abortion is a battle between the individualists and the organicists; women's control over their own bodies vs. society's desire to protect those who cannot protect themselves. (Assuming, for the moment, that the fetus is not as of yet an individual, but that's a big battle that can split apart individualists too.) Gun control is another one, although made tricky by the specificities of American culture; an organicist would argue that society should be the ones protecting people and (in turn) should not be at the mercy of well-armed individuals, whereas individualists disagree. Environmentalism is a little of all four: individuals' right to do with their property as they wish vs. society's desire for the protection of the environment and the battle between those who think that those who can afford clean air and water should pay for it and the others can go hang (which would be a relatively extreme hierarchical view) against the view that all people have a right to clean air and water no matter what.

And as for Kevin's final question? Three words:

Hierarchy of races.
Aside from arguments about the Observer and neutrality and the like, this article contains a really fascinating blurb:

Bush insisted last week that America must become less dependent on foreign oil producers 'who don't like America'; but last month the US Department of Energy forecast that, by 2035, 51 per cent of world production would come from Opec - compared with 38 per cent today.
This a long time off, of course, and it's quite likely that other sources of energy will become much more competitive. Still, an OPEC that powerful is a somewhat disturbing thought; both in terms of what it would mean for world stability, for American foreign policy (and its repercussions), for the Middle East, and the west as a whole.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

An absolutely classic Tolkien moment in this article about propaganda and the Lord of the Rings:

Tolkien also squashed a German publisher's inquiry into the possible Aryan origins of his surname by expressing his regret that he appeared to lack Jewish ancestors. (Tolkien's ancestry was, in fact, German.)
Elegant and brutally effective. One of those quotes where I wish I had thought of it.
Edit: Screw subtlety. I wasn't actually originally going to post on this, but I like the show a lot and friends of mine are obsessed, so what the hell. If you watched or know someone who watches Firefly (or, for that matter, Buffy and/or Angel), you should know that IT HAS BEEN CANCELLED. However, Fox is allowing Joss Whedon to shop the show around, and he's in talks with other networks to pick it up. The example of the X-Files shows that loud action by dedicated fans *can* make a difference. Go here, get an address, send a postcard, and strike a blow for entertainment that doesn't insult the intelligent or appeal solely to people's lizard brains.

And by the way.. anybody with a blog who likes the show can feel free to plagiarize as much of this post as they wish, as long as they post on it. I'd call for one of those "blogbursts", but I doubt that enough bloggers have watched the show to make a difference. So I'll just ask them, and you, to assist in the fans' attempts to save what is probably the best show on television.


Y'know, I didn't think that Jay Reding and I had a damned thing in common. Turns out I was wrong.

Meanwhile, shows that don't assume their audience has actual functioning brains and show an ounce of creativity and life like Firefly get cancelled.

I can only hope that there is a very special place in hell reserved for television executives. Hopefully it involves watching dreck like Friends for all eternity while being dry-humped by prong-phallused sore-covered imps.
I doubt the imps would be necessary. Still, it shows what a damned good show Firefly is that it can bring even Jay and I together to shout out "Fox execs are utter bastards" in perfect and beautiful unison.

Of course, the Fox executives were only following the poor ratings. The cancellation of Firefly was really your fault. Yes, you. You, reading the blog. If you didn't watch Firefly, you were complicit in the cancellation of one of the best shows ever to hit the phosphors on a television set. It's a belaboured point, but the networks wouldn't keep on putting crap on the screen if we didn't keep telling them to do it!

Of course, it's not too late to redeem yourself.

On December 13, 2002 Tim Minear announced at Buffistas.org that FOX would be ordering no new episodes of Firefly. Later that same day, Joss Whedon announced that 20th Century Fox Television had indicated to him that they would be willing to air the show on networks other than their sibling company.

The current goal of Firefly: Immediate Assistance is to convince a network other than FOX to broadcast Firefly.

What do we need to do?
To achieve this goal, we need to do three things:

One:
Write to networks and let them know that Firefly is available and has a strong fanbase.

Two:
Write to sponsors thanking them for their support of Firefly and asking them to support Firefly at its new network.

Three:
Make the press aware of our efforts and encourage them to discuss Firefly.
I don't have an amazon button or a paypal button. There are reasons for that, not all of my own choosing. If you were inclined towards supporting the site if such buttons existed, however, then I'll ask you to instead support something that I support, go to that site, get some addresses, and send a simple bloody postcard or two. It's cheaper, and you get to harass television executives. That is a good work that people of all political stripes can agree on.
Politics in the Zeros shows that the INS registration/detention debacle is being repeated in Houston and Cleveland, although he notes (and quotes) that "fears raised by the detention of hundreds of foreigners last week could discourage future turnout for a registration process designed to detect potential terrorists, Muslim leaders and immigration lawyers are warning."

Hmm... let's get a little Machiavellian here. What if this is the entire point? Sure, this is largely due to INS screwups, but this sort of thing is pretty predictable... both the mobs of people that show up during the last day and the panicky response. It was the White House that was behind this whole thing in the first place, however, and it's not outside the realm of possibility that they were able to predict that the overwhelmed INS would start detaining people wholesale. In fact, it's pretty likely. More to the point, however, is a related question:

What if they also knew that it would mean that people wouldn't show up to be registered? What if that was the point?

After all, if immigrants don't show up to be registered, then they can be detained and/or deported free and clear; and they're certainly not going to show up if they think they'll be arrested whether they're abiding with the (contradictory) INS regulations or not. Sure, most people will be let out, but each immigrant will ask themselves "will I be let go" and will probably say "I can't take the chance". If that's the case, though, then the White House will find itself able to instantly and easily deport any and every immigrant from a Middle Eastern country that they wish without needing to find a pretext first. Anyone in the Bush administration could point, nod, and the guy would be on a plane later that day.

Sure, it's quite possible that this was never the intention. Still, people should be careful not to assume that there's no manipulation going on. While I believe that this administration is dangerously deluded on many important issues, it has demonstrated that it can and will do whatever it takes to get what it wants, and is quite able to employ some rather devious tricks to that effect. This could be one of them, and to assume that "there's no way they'd ever do that" is terrible naivete.
Very, very disturbing news is coming out about a September massacre in the Northeastern Congo village of Nyankunde:

Wearing crowns of leaves and screaming war cries, 6,000 tribal fighters and their allies attacked the mission hospital in Nyankunde, slaughtering patients in their beds.

Then they turned on the town itself and, over the next two weeks in September, burned, shot and speared thousands to death, according to some of the 1,200 survivors who made a nine-day trek to safety in Oicha.

The Democratic Republic of Congo's government signed a power-sharing accord with two big rebel groups and the political opposition on Dec. 16 to end a four-year civil war. But the lawless northeast of this vast central African country has been a killing field of tribal conflicts for decades. Bringing peace to the region will be a key test for any post-war government.

Information is only now emerging about the massacre in Nyankunde, which began Sept. 5.

The attackers used rifles, machetes, knives, spears and arrows, said Kakani, head nurse in the intensive care ward at the Evangelical Medical Center...

...The bloodshed occurred in Ituri province, a beautiful region nearly 1,100 miles northeast of the Congolese capital, Kinshasa. It is rich in gold, timber and other resources that tribes have fought over for decades, but the violence worsened after the civil war broke out in August 1998.

"Tribal clashes in Ituri are increasingly lethal due to proliferation of heavy weapons and emergence of ethnic-based militias," said Jackson Basikana, an aid worker who fled the region. "The end to the bloodbath lies in disarmament and restoration of effective government on the ground."
Aside from all that heavy quotation, there's some important lessons and trends to be understood from this news.

First, is the seemingly self-evident (but often forgotten) fact that mass murder and even genocide need not come at the hands of weapons of mass destruction, but can be simply the work of a lot of dedicated killers with relatively simple implements. To eliminate the more powerful weapons does not necessarily mean that the problem of mass murder will be eliminated; far from it.

Second is a point that is buried within the story and not really focused on when people look at conflict nowadays: the tribalism. Tribalism and nationalism are on the rise worldwide, and have been ever since the Cold War ended and the pressure cooker of ethnocentric warfare that had been kept tightly closed throughout the World Wars and Cold War finally exploded. A lot of commentators and pundits go on about the religious aspect of conflict, without recognizing that there are usually strong ethnic aspects as well. In other words, not everything has to do with Islam, whether some of the people involved are Muslims are not.

Third is the question of what to do about it. I'm sure that some would argue that the best solution for these sorts of situations (assuming, for the moment, that the current peace deal in the Congo doesn't last) would be for a Great Power to step in and impose peace and order on "these uncivilized people". (Very Victorian, yes, but the widescale adoption of a cartoonish version of Huntington's thesis has revived some rather Victorian attitudes in many westerners.) It's certainly a solution constantly advocated for in resolving the conflicts in the Middle East. Yet it should be understood and remembered that the last time this sort of thing was attempted was the Colonial period itself, and many of the problems of the non-European world are linked to, if not stemming from, the self-serving behavior of colonial powers. To argue that there should be a return to such attitudes (with a remaining and much-revived tendency to justify similar self-serving actions by saying that it would "civilize the savages") requires the assurance that the New Colonialism wouldn't end up making things worse, just like the old one. That hasn't been proven, and barely passes the laugh test.

(This isn't a pie-in-the-sky notion, by the way; what the U.S. has planned for a post-war Iraq is very similar to the pseudo-colonial "mandates" that characterized the great powers' exploitation of the Middle East in the interwar period and (thanks to their flagrant betrayal of the Hussein-McMahon agreement) that convinced most Arabs that westerners were not to be trusted.)

Finally, the most important lesson that one can learn from this is that mankind is capable of rather horrible things. Not a new lesson, but one that needs to be remembered.

Friday, December 20, 2002

I know this is petty, but this is just a little too funny to ignore:

Krauthammer asserts that Trent Lott has exposed the real fault-lines among conservatives. He relies on the overused dichotomy between "neocons," "traditional cons," and "paleocons."
Great choice of words, Jonah! No doubt inspired by his invigorating trip to work on a really spiffy three-wheeled bicycle.

(I know I shouldn't be mocking someone about something so trivial, but how on earth does someone make the obvious mistake of using the word "dichotomy" for three choices?)
So much for Trent Lott.

Props to Atrios for playing both Woodward and Bernstein and Deep Throat on this one. I'm honored by your association.
Good news and bad news about the INS roundups from the NY Times.

The good news is that they're likely to be released soon:
Immigration officers have arrested hundreds of men in the last week after they appeared voluntarily to register, with an unknown number still in custody today. An I.N.S. official in California told family members and immigration lawyers that virtually all of those still held would be released in the next 24 hours, with instructions to report back in 30 to 60 days to complete the registration process, lawyers said.
The bad news is that it looks like this wasn't really the work of the INS itself, but somebody higher up:

An agency official in Southern California said that Justice Department officials in Washington dictated the rules of the program and gave local authorities little leeway to determine who should be detained or released. As a result, hundreds of men with minor visa violations were handcuffed and locked up for days while officials sorted through mountains of paperwork and bail applications.
It's good to see that most of these people will be released. It doesn't change the fact of the original arrests, of course, and doesn't matter one whit as to the possibility of it happening again, but at least the detention was not a long-term thing. Actually, it looks like the whole thing was something of a cockup and that the people at the INS weren't exactly happy about it:

There was apparently no plan for mass detentions, so many were kept overnight in temporary lockups or local jails, some with no sleeping facilities, said people who went through the process...

"Our objective was to hold people only until we had completed confirmation of records checks," the I.N.S. official said. "But a staggering number of people showed up on the last day and we couldn't keep up..."

..."Monday was the worst day I've ever spent at I.N.S. in 20 years of working with them," Mr. Paparelli said. "We were on the eighth floor of the federal building in Los Angeles and everyone in the corridor was weeping or in a state of extreme anxiety. Across the hall was the employee health center where aerobics music was blaring."
This isn't surprising, really; the idea that a sweeping order from the top that was poorly implemented can lead to civil rights violations isn't exactly a new one. It doesn't excuse anybody, of course, least of all the INS people that winked with one eye while preparing the handcuffs with the other, and it certainly doesn't change the precedent this sets for the wholesale and discriminatory arrests of peaceful immigrants... but at least it proves that the people at the INS were as bothered as everybody else by this. That's a hopeful sign.
Oh look, and here's more good news:

U.S. to propose Net monitor system

NEW YORK, Dec. 20 — The White House wants Internet service providers to help create a system to monitor Internet use, the New York Times reported on Friday.
The system could be potentially be used for surveillance of Internet users, the Times said.

The Bush administration plans to submit the proposal in a report, “The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace,” which will be released early next year, the newspaper said, citing several people who have been briefed on the report.

The plan is part of the Bush administration’s efforts to intensify national security following the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. The report will suggest options for public and private cooperation to defend computer networks from viruses as well as malicious attacks, the Times said.
Now, I'm not going to pin this solely on the Bush administration by any means; it was the Clinton administration that first proposed the Clipper chip, and that was and is one of the biggest problems I had with the Clintonites (although they do deserve credit for backing off when the cries of outrage started). What's different now is that the same people who would have normally yelled the loudest about the implementation of an idea like this are the ones that are involved in the same administration that is pushing it, and (in the case of many of the pseudo-libertarians out there) are probably too protective of the promise of tax cuts to actually raise a hue and cry about this. This is their guy after all. Plus, of course, there's the perception that one's privacy is unimportant compared to the collective security of the country as a whole.

It does make me wonder, though. Most of the somewhat-repressive actions that the U.S. government has been engaged in have happened in the wake of the first real territorial threat to the United States since the Civil War. The idea of trading freedom for safety isn't exactly a new one outside the United States, and I think it's only within the North American continent that such an idea became unacceptable. How much of that, however, had to do with the fact that the security of the United States from any real external threat was protected by friendly nations on two sides, and bloody big oceans on the other two? How many of the vaunted ideals of the Revolution were kept safe and protected not due to the vigilance of those that succeeded them, but the simple luck of geostrategic positioning?

Honestly, I'd love for that to be wrong. I'd be happier than a pig in mud (so to speak) if this long-term territorial threat was not reflected by long-term abrogation of freedoms, liberties, and civil rights. I'm sure that the people of the United States would be better off as well. I'm with Principal Skinner: "Prove me wrong, kids, prove me wrong!"

More important, though, is the fact that any removal of civil rights in the United States will have repercussions all over the world. American exceptionalism is a double-edged sword; although it does mean that the United States can hold itself high as (what it considers to be) the best, freeest, and most prosperous country in the world, it means that any movement away from freedom will inevitably prompt similar movements from countries around the world. All the governments need to do is point to the United States and say "see? Even the Americans are cracking down, and they value freedom above everything else and are protected from threats on all sides! We've got to act to protect the security of the state or we'll be doomed!" So they do crack down, much harder than the United States ever did, and all of a sudden the case for freedom around the world becomes a little weaker, one step at a time.

That's why attempts by the United States to curtail freedom is more important than the United States, more important than terrorism, and more important than the Bush administration and its satellites and hangers-on. Whether the United States likes it or not, its insistence of exceptionalism means that its lead will be followed, and any abandonment of civil rights by its government and its citizenry here will have enormous effects around the globe. It sucks, and the United States shouldn't really be in this position as it's really just another state like any other, but regardless of that the responsibility exists.

The only real question is what's to be done with it.
On Eriposte, another summary of exactly what went on with the INS arrests. Most of the posting is from the L.A. Times (a site I don't yet a username for), so those who have read the L.A. Times will be familiar with most of this. Still, a few highlights:

INS ads on local Persian radio stations and in other ethnic media led many to expect a routine procedure. Instead, the registration quickly became the subject of fear as word spread that large numbers of men were being arrested. Lawyers reported crowded cells with some clients forced to rest standing up, some shackled and moved to other locations in the night, frigid conditions in jail cells — all for men with no known criminal histories....Some, he said, were hosed down with cold water before finding places to sleep on the concrete floors of cells. Lucas Guttentag, who heads the West Coast office of the American Civil Liberties Union's immigrant rights project, fears the wave of arrests is 'a prelude to much more widespread arrests and deportations.'
I don't remember who it was (maybe Foucault?) who said that a society can be judged by how it treats its prisoners. A few days ago, I would have thought that this reflected well on the United States for the most part. Times have changed.

The arrests have generated widespread publicity, mostly unfavorable, in the Middle East, said Khaled Dawoud, a correspondent for Al Ahram, one of Egypt's largest dailies. He questioned State Department official Charlotte Beers about the detentions Wednesday after a presentation she made at the National Press Club in Washington. Egyptians are not included in the registration requirement.

Beers, undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs, was presenting examples of a U.S. outreach campaign for the Middle East, which includes images of Muslims leading happy lives here. Dawoud asked how that image squared with the "humiliating" arrests in recent days. 'I don't think there is any question that the change in visa policy is going to be seen by some as difficult and, indeed — what was the word you used? — humiliating,' Beers said. But, she added, President Bush has said repeatedly that he considers 'his No. 1 ... job to be the protection of the American people.'...
Actually, Mr. President, (and I use this only because the word "asshat" might be misinterpreted) the oath you swore was to uphold the constitution, both it's spirit and its letter. The whole argument that non-citizens don't have any rights is a dodgy one in terms of the letter of the Constitution (at least in my opinion), but only the most xenophobic would argue that the spirit of the country and its founding allows the United States government the right to treat harmless quasi-illegal immigrants like this.

Honestly, however, that's not the real issue here, outrageous at it would seem. This piece from the author of the eriposte article sums it up:

There are many progressive moderate Middle-Easterners in the U.S. who could play a major role in convincing the rest of the world that there is a moderate and democratic Islam practiced in places like the U.S., that there are places like the U.S. where freedom and rights mean something. If you look at the article above you will see that Iranian Jews and Muslims are a significant contingent amongst those arrested. Why is this important to point out? Progressive Iranians are revolting against the fundamentalist mullahs in Iran, for freedom and liberty, and have been mentioned in positive light in the U.S. on many occasions. (Is there also not talk about Iraqis who might be willing to overthrow Saddam? - we need their help too). We need the support of moderates to remove the fanatics in the Middle-East! We need as many voices of Muslims to sound moderate and supportive of the U.S. internationally, to help bring about changes at a lower psychological and monetary cost to us, because we cannot spend hundreds of billions of dollars fighting battles all the time, when it financially costs much less to win umpteen times the good will constant war will generate.
People, this sort of thing plays into Osama's hands. In fact, it doesn't just play into Osama's hands, it does his job for him. Kindly remember that the entire point of Osama's quest is to convince Muslims that they need to reject the west and its embodiment, the United States, as a corrupt and evil influence. He wants to start a war between the west and Islam, and (I'm sure) is hoping that the United States will start it for him, so Muslims around the world will believe that they are next; that they are targets no matter how moderate, peaceful, and westernized they are. By doing this, the United States is reinforcing that belief. By arresting Iranians, the United States is showing that this is not limited to the Arab world and never was, and is ensuring that the clerics have a powerful weapon to keep the population in line and supporting their government- fear of the United States. Indeed, people that might not have been bothered or offended by attempts to keep terrorism in line will be forced to be suspicious, because the United States government has proven through this action that it doesn't matter who you are or where you live... as long as you come from the wrong country, you're a suspect.

(Yes, it hasn't extended to citizens. Yet. That we know about. Do *you* know which citizens that new mega-database and the new wiretapping and surveillence powers are geared towards tracking? I get the feeling it ain't caucasians. Well, at least ones that aren't critical of the government.)

The problem isn't just that these people are being arrested. The problem is that everybody outside the United States is going to know that they've been arrested, why they've been arrested, why it's a scam, and what it says about the respect the United States government has for the human rights of those it thinks may at some point threaten its security. And no amount of spin doctoring from bloggers, the punditry, the administration, or God Himself is going to make a whit of difference. They're going to know, and they're going to understand, and it's quite possible they're going to do something about it. And if they think that they're targets, not all the American pop culture in Hollywood is going to make a lick of difference.

Somewhere in Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden is smiling.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

From Atrios' message board, two stories (the links are to the original postings):

First, from "ck":

Is this why "They hate our freedom"?

I have a freind in the process of immigrating. His wife is American and he's been here for 10 years, first going to school on a student Visa and now he has a work permit. INS called him in to 'register' last month and then threw him in jail and threatened to deport him. If his wife wasn't an American they would have deported him the next day despite the fact that he's spent the last 10 years building a life here-legally. He's, of course, scared out of his mind but fortunately they have the resources to secure a good lawyer to help them, many immigrants do not. I'm thankful that they can read the comments of people here and know they are not alone and that some people here do care about them.
Second, from Nick Sweeney:

For the sake of contrast, my friend Danny has shown the necessary documentation for his application for permanent residency. As he says, he has a big advantage: he's British. Were he from a Middle Eastern country, the INS would most likely not be returning forms with slight errors for resubmission; they'd be having him arrested.
And finally, from zarathustra2101, an insight:

According to the AP "The Iranian protesters said many of those detained were victims of official delays in processing visa and green card requests."

And the OC Register "all are in various stages of obtaining their green cards. Most had received INS letters telling them their applications had been accepted."

We need to get these letters scanned and uploaded where everyone can see them. We need to document every instance of "official delay" - before the evidence "disappears".
Let's be honest here. This has nothing, absolutely NOTHING, to do with the legality or illegality of their immigration status and everything to do with arresting "undesirables" solely due to their country of origin by whatever means are possible. This is like emptying an M-60 into a crowd in order to bring down the one guy who you think might be a drug dealer. It's absolutely unacceptable.
My apologies to readers of Tapped who are trying to get at my "fisking" of the Prospect and getting a "404". I've been getting those bloody "503" errors for a while now, and none of the usual workarounds are, well, working.

It's almost enough to get a guy to switch over to movable type or something like that. Pity that MT blogs are extraordinarily difficult to keep one's anonymity on. Maybe I'll just move up to Blogger Pro or something.

For the record, I don't actually have a problem with the Prospect, and actually don't like the term "fisking" in the first place. I do think that they're being unnecessarily critical of Somerby, however, and am still curious as to why.
Heh. Looks like not all conservative organizations online are quick to blame Lott. While on a site called ChronWatch (which is a conservative watchsite for the San Francisco Chronicle), I came across a poll about Trent Lott.

The question was "Should Trent Lott Resign as Majority Leader?" Here were the choices:

Yes, damaged goods. Make life difficult for GOP (42.6%) 83 votes
Yes, Just not good enough for the job (18.5%) 36 votes
No, Byrd's comments just as bad (5.1%) 10 votes
No, This is all liberal selective moralism (12.8%) 25 votes
No, Demos are just race-baiting (21.0%) 41 votes

Notice something missing? The "Yes, he's a racist putz and a blight upon both the country and the party"? Yep, I noticed it too. It would appear that away from the prying eyes of liberal bloggers and the mainstream media, at least one group of conservatives ain't as ticked about Lott as the ones in the public eye. Not surprising, but very enlightening.

(And that doesn't even get into the choice of votes. Selective moralism, my ass.)
The Farmer brought up something really bloody disturbing on my message board:

"Dictatorship in the United States would most likely be demobilizing, seeking to keep people in their homes, rather than putting them on the streets in or in uniform. An American dictatorship would clothe itself in constitutional and legal forms; it would cultivate an aura of non-partisan technocracy and business expertise, not a feverish cult of the genius-leader and the masses. An American Feuher would not rant and stut, but crack jokes and adopt the relaxed, ironic, "cool" style of a television host."
source: - Michael Lind, "The Next American Nation; The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution"
I'm not quite sure that Bush fits that latter description, and my vision of what a fascist American state would look like differs (looks more like the movie version of "Starship Troopers", which is one of the reasons why I liked both the book and the movie for different reasons), but it's close enough that it's bloody disturbing. Especially considering that, as I mentioned last night, they are now rounding up peaceful immigrants and throwing them in jail for the crime of being Iranian.

If this keeps up, somebody's going to have to declare Godwin's law suspended. Or, if not, start talking about Italians an awful lot.
Roger Ailes ferrets out hate crimes:
Conservatives have discovered hate crimes.

They've also discovered that they are the victims of those crimes.

Pat Buchanan declares Trent Lott "the victim of a hate crime."

Paul Craig Roberts declares Confederate soldiers and their descendants the victims of "a hate crime." Because, you know, the Confederacy wasn't about persecuting and torturing blacks, and "free blacks had fewer rights than slaves in the South."

Pat and Paul want so badly to be persecuted you can't help but hope their wishes come true.
Somebody please call somebody at the Daily Show: this is far beyond the (still impressive) powers of internet satirists. If there was ever a subject worth a a "whuuuuuuh?" this is it.
So much for being a shining beacon of truth and justice:

Hundreds of Iranian and other Middle East citizens were in southern California jails on Wednesday after coming forward to comply with a new rule to register with immigration authorities only to wind up handcuffed and behind bars.

Shocked and frustrated Islamic and immigrant groups estimate that more than 500 people have been arrested in Los Angeles, neighboring Orange County and San Diego in the past three days under a new nationwide anti-terrorism program. Some unconfirmed reports put the figure as high as 1,000.
Whether this was a collossal cockup or a deliberate monstrosity doesn't really matter. What matters is that right here, right now, people are being rounded up by the authorities and thrown in jail for no better reason than their ethnicity. And, if Atrios is right, it's being done despite INS having sent letters to all of them that their applications had been accepted and their green cards were in the pipeline.

So, let's see what we've got here:

-a ruling party that is, if not out-and-out racist, uses racist tactics and has a powerful racist minority;

-techniques being used to snow the press, and a propaganda machine without compare in the Might Wurlitzer;

-people of the wrong ethnicity being rounded up in flagrant violation of everything that said country stands for;

-arguments running thick and fast from the sycophants and ideologues aligned with the party that "freedom must be traded for security";

-the wholesale abrogation of anything approaching civil rights in the name of state security;

-the deployment of weaponry that ensures that the United States can eventually check the second-strike capability of any other nuclear power and, thus, hold them all by the scrotum;

-the systematic alienation of every possible foreign ally due to the desire for power;

-a plan for the Middle East that echoes the worst days of colonial mandates;

-and a system designed to collect every piece of available information about every citizen in order to build up a file on them and check for suspicious behavior.

So, tell me... when do we hit the part when people can start legitimately using the "F" word that doesn't describe coitus? And how the hell is the United States supposed to be the country that builds up great 'n wonderful liberal democracies around the world (through conquest, somehow) when it appears that both the "liberal" and "democratic" aspects of the country that's supposed to be the model for the concept are rapidly and spectacularly breaking down due to facing its first real territorial threat since the Civil War?

(If you listen closely, that whizzing sound you're hearing is every single Founding Father spinning so quickly they're warping space/time around them. Poor bastards.)

Polemic? Yeah. I get that way when innocent men are rounded up and caged like cattle.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

UggaBugga has another graphic (this time about Trent Lott), and it's glorious.
The Face of Moronic Strawmen.
Looks like I was right about the "Who is Atrios" bit, at least according to Max.

Hrml, wonder if there's money in this? I like Atrios and all, but wouldn't say no to a BIG CASH REWARD.

(Of course, I'd just start listing off random names, but who's gonna know?)
Well, this is pretty twisted:

It may take them some time to regroup, to digest their prey, as it did after the first Pickering trial, but the next time they will be even bolder. The Lott turmoil was entirely manufactured by Democratic operatives — namely by unrepentant Clintonite James Carville, who first made an issue of the remarks the same night on Crossfire — and then pushed the story behind the scenes wherever they could, explaining to pundits and politicians how this could be used to sock it to the GOP.
I hadn't realized that Atrios and Josh Marshall both were actually Carville. The devilish bastard! He even went so far as to have this "entirely manufactured" incident get a lot of play on NRO itself!

Or, for the rest of us, it looks like NRO hasn't quite given up the "meet every accusation with a greater one" scheme from the Wurlitzer playbook.

Hmm... a thought just came to me. Around, say, last summer, the biggest question for Washington insiders was "who's MWO"?

Considering his now-acknowledged role in ruining Trent Lott's career and his blogging tear following said feat, I wonder whether Atrios is next?
More Josh:

You can pretty much tell Trent Lott is toast when he tells Black Entertainment Television that he "absolutely" supports affirmative action.

One of the subtexts of the intra-Republican fight going on right now is that congressional Republicans are already looking to push an agenda that is, let's say, racially edgy. They don't want to hit that fight with Lott's baggage in tow.
Ed Kilgore is the Policy Director of the Democratic Leadership Council -- in other words, not exactly like a proxy for Al Sharpton or anything. And today he told me this ...

The angle some people may be missing about conservatives and Lott is that they are eager to pursue a number of things--a scaleback of affirmative action policies, private school vouchers, appointment of conservative judges with backgrounds more questionable than Lott's--that will create some concerns that the GOP is not exactly the reborn Party of Lincoln that appeared on TV screens at the 2000 convention. Given this agenda, conservatives don't want the task complicated by a Senate Leader (whom they don't like anyway) whose very name will conjure up racial dissension for the foreseeable future. For one thing, they're afraid the Bush White House will put the kibosh on controversial conservative initiatives if Lott has carry the water. So don't be fooled into thinking that GOP conservatives will drop an anvil on Lott strictly because they are horrified by his words.

I think that's exactly right. If Lott now tries to remake himself as a born-again civil rights man, that just makes him doubly useless to the fire-eaters in his caucus. Certainly not all Republican Senators see it in this light. I doubt Linc Chafee or McCain or Olympia Snowe look at it this way. But then that's why it's the conservatives in the caucus who are pushing hardest to dump him.

Also be sure to read this New Dem Daily (I'm sure written by Ed) on what the Lott scandal really means.
I like that euphemism. "Racially edgy". All of a sudden this looks a hell of a lot worse than it did a few minutes ago. If they're jettisoning Lott because they're going to be engaging the full spin machine to run cover for what amounts to a wholesale assault on minorities, that says more and worse than if they had simply ran cover for him.
And while I'm on media handling, here's Josh:

Compare and contrast ...

"There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus," DiIulio tells Esquire. "What you've got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis"
-- Esquire, January 2003

The [decision over which side to take on the Michigan affirmative action case] is ultimately likely to be resolved by Bush's chief political strategist, Karl Rove, who is the architect of Bush's effort to broaden the GOP appeal to minorities.
-- Washington Post, December 18th, 2002

Looks like DiIulio had no idea what he was talking about ...
Of course, this is for the the five people left who don't think that this is the most political white house in decades. People thought that Cheney ran the show, but he doesn't.

Rove does.

And it shows.
"Penalcolony" on Atrios' message board about Bill's newfound guts:

It's said that the great jazz composer Jelly Roll Morton once faced off against Tony Jackson (composer of "Pretty Baby") in a piano-playing contest. Both were popular entertainers in the New Orleans of their time, with Jackson enjoying an edge with the paying customers thanks to his beautiful singing voice. After Morton took the first turn at the keyboard, he moved to a seat beside the piano, ceding the bench to Jackson. Then, at odd intervals throughout his rival's performance, Morton whispered, quietly as was possible, "You can't sing now... you can't sing now..."

Guess who won.

They can't impeach now . . .
Both Bill and Al seem to be enjoying a very interesting position: having a bully pulpit from which to speak without having to worry about the electoral or professional consequences. They don't have to be afraid anymore, and damned if it isn't showing.

(Kinda reminds you of the "I'm not a journalist, I have a real job, so I don't give a rat's ass whether the media and the punditry like me or not" Gamma Girl Krugman, don't it?)
Atrios predicts a "shitstorm":

(Report from CNN)
Former President Clinton said Wednesday it is "pretty hypocritical" of Republicans to criticize incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott for stating publicly what he said the GOP does "on the back roads every day."

"How do they think they got a majority in the South anyway?" Clinton said outside a business luncheon he was attending. "I think what they are really upset about is that he made public their strategy."

He added: "They try to suppress black voting, they ran on the Confederate flag in Georgia and South Carolina, and from top to bottom the Republicans supported it."
Atrios' reaction to this?

The sound you hear is that of the squeals of self-righteous fury being angrily tapped into 5000 Blackberries in DC bars.
Yeah, except where the hell are they going to pull out the "righteous"? Mini-Bill, erm, pales in comparison.

Unless they get really stupid and start talking equating the sort of evil that Bill was talking about with, say, Affirmative Action. Which they may, and nobody not pushing that line of spin is gonna take it very well.
While I'm on the American Prospect, a small point about an interesting article:

But for all the declared unity over Iraq, there's one little thing America and Britain disagree on: whether Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party regime has links with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. Behind the claims of "common purpose" and "unity of mission," U.S. and U.K. officials are at loggerheads over the Bush administration's allegation that Hussein and bin Laden are in cahoots.

Leading Bush officials have made claims of a Hussein-bin Laden link central to their justifications for invading Iraq. "There clearly are contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq that can be documented," said National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in September, though she didn't provide any evidence for these "contacts," much less documentation. Asked whether there is a link between Hussein and bin Laden, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld replied, "I have no desire to go beyond saying the answer is 'yes.' "
Last I checked, the only officials that were trying to make that connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq were political appointees; the civil service (including, especially, the CIA) has been pretty clear that they haven't really found any clear proof that there are real links between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Yes, the Bushies are saying that they are, but they also say that the tax cut doesn't go to the wealthy; you've gotta be careful trusting them. The civil service has less reason to be deceitful, and they're pretty open about the lack of connections.
Ok, this thing between Tapped and Somerby is getting weird. Case in point is the latest Tapped piece on the matter:

We can see why he's embarassed, though. Somerby's email is a good example of what bothers Tapped about much, though not all, of his writing. Somerby wrote:

While editor of TNR, Chuck Lane wrote nothing about the War Against Gore. Result? Promotion to the Washington Post. At Brill's, Seth Mnookin went in the bag for Connolly and Seelye ion [sic] a major piece in 8/00. Result? Promotion to Newsweek. If they had written freely about what was going on at the Post, they would both be running web sites today.

Needless to say, Somerby hasn't the faintest clue why the Post hired Lane or Newsweek hired Mnookin. Yet he asserts that Mnookin was hired by Newsweek because the conservative boss-men at the Washington Post Co. wanted to reward him for a piece he wrote two years earlier about a couple of Post reporters; and that the Post hired Lane as a Supreme Court reporter as payback for not blowing the lid on how biased the press was against Gore. This is not serious media criticism. This is paranoia masquerading as media criticism.
One of the most effective ways of pushing criticism away from a real problem is to label the person who brings it up as mentally ill, and Tapped knows it, so why on earth are they (without proffering any evidence to the contrary) engaging in such a Stalinist tactic? To be blunt, this isn't the Tapped that I used to read on a daily basis.. this is more like something that Kurtz would write.

More:

CLIFT: How does [Bush] get away with such crass duplicity? The media doesn't want to disturb the story line. Gore was the prevaricator; Bush was intellectually challenged. So when Bush fiddles with the facts, the media doesn't see malevolence. They see a man who’s not articulate, who doesn't speak with lawyerly precision. And they can’t believe how believable he is.

Sorry. Pundits have peddled that excuse since October 2000. We find it profoundly unconvincing.

"The media doesn’t want to disturb the story line," Clift writes -- offering one of the gum-toothed self-critiques permitted inside the media. Media regulars are allowed to chide the corps for wanting to stick to "story lines." But they are not allowed to ask why these "lines" were preferred to begin with. For example, why did the corps go so easy on Bush budget thrusts -- the tax cuts, the estate tax, the private accounts? Could it be because the corps' opinion leaders are all multimillionaires who benefit from the Bush budget plans? It's the law: Pundits are allowed to say that their cohort obeys "story lines," but they mustn't ask where the story lines come from. In this case, these "story lines" began with the corps' "Clinton backlash," and (almost surely) with its changing class interest. You will read many columns by Clift without hearing her wonder about that.

We agree that Bush has received a free ride. But Clift shows little curiosity about why that might be. But for the record, the Bush campaign had little to do with the nonsense known as inventing the Internet. That campaign was made a great cause by the press. Eleanor Clift surely knows that's true. She also knows that good pundits don't say it.


See the problem here? Without evidence, Somerby idly speculates that unnamed pundits actively suppressed the truth about Bush's tax and budget policies because, as millionaires, they all stood to benefit from them. Using his ESP, Somerby also intuits that Clift refuses to write about various topics -- the budget policies, the apparently secret "rule" about beginning all stories with a discussion of the Clinton scandals, the provenance of the "Gore invented the Internet" lie -- because she's protecting, variously, her class interests and her career as a pundit. It's hard to take this stuff seriously. And in fact, it doesn't deserve to be taken seriously.
I most certainly see a problem, but it isn't with Somerby. Somerby's taking the (fairly standard) "media whores online" position on Clift... that she's worried about getting attacked by the right, because her stories might be spiked, and because if you don't behave nicely with the Bush administration you might get frozen out of any access. He's also dealing with this tendency to deliberately move away from any explanation that might actually imply that the media softpedals stories about conservatism (which a damned near universal idea these days) by trying to attribute it to some sort of "love of narratives" or the like, which, while true, is entirely misleading and may well be only part of the story. Yes, he's polemical, but since when has that been an issue? It certainly isn't for the right... Rush says worse stuff than this on a regular basis.

And for that, he gets the stupid "ESP" crack? Tapped may not like that they're at the receiving end of Somerby's fire, but this is just dumb. More ominous is this "it's hard to take this stuff seriously...it doesn't deserve to be taken seriously" line. Since when has a line of inquiry into the media been all of a sudden made verboten, and on what kind of authority does Tapped get to make that determination? Even if Somerby is wrong, he has every right and in fact a duty to ask these sorts of questions; to try to say that that entire idea is illegitimate simply because Tapped says it is... again, pretty damned Stalinist, comrades.

Heck, watch them continue:

Now, it's true that when Somerby is correcting specific errors or omissions of fact in the work of mainstream reporters, his work is very useful and on firm ground, albeit invariably shrill and sanctimonious. (See his grating favorite rejoinder, "Try to believe that he wrote it . . .") But when Somerby launches into one of his pet theories about why and how the media is biased, his posts frequently descend into little more than rampant innuendo and conspiracy theorizing.
Ok, this is getting even weirder, because it was the American Prospect THEMSELVES who brought the Wurlitzer to light in that article about David Brock. Whoever wrote this piece is either ignorant of or deliberately ignoring real evidence that one should be damned careful about whether or not "conspiracy theories" actually might have a basis in reality. The big revelation of Brock's book stripped of the sensationalism, after all, is the revelation that, yes, there really is a vast right wing conspiracy and one should keep it in mind. Even aside from that, however, Somerby's recognition that pundits have to be very careful about whose feet they step on nowadays isn't paranoia, it's simple common sense. The whole "alpha girl" idea was built pretty directly on that idea. It's hardly new, so why is Tapped going off on him?

In a sense, the way Somerby feels about the media eerily parallels the way conservatives do. The right imagines that Howell Raines, for instance, is a ruthless partisan who orchestrates New York Times coverage down to the sentence, forever looking for ways to screw Republicans. Somerby, for his part, seems to imagine that half the reporters in Washington sit around in a room together, drinking coffee and figuring out ways to screw Al Gore. From what Tapped has read, Somerby's arguments are incredibly reductionist -- in Bob's World, there is only one explanation for anything that happens in the world of journalism, and that is that reporters are Covering Up the Truth and Sucking Up To Power. When reporters criticize the Democrats for anything at all, it's because they're buying into GOP spin. When reporters don't write stories that Somerby feels they should be writing, like the Lott story, it's always because they are placating conservatives.
Curiouser and Curiouser. This sort of fallacious equality is one of the things that the media has been (effectively) accused of prior to the Lott affair; that they imagine that because one person on the right says something and another person (theoretically on the left, but usually in the center) says something else, they're being objective simply because they present both views equally- despite it being perfectly clear that the former is pushing a carefully-crafted, media-aimed spin and the latter is just trying to say their piece. This sort of nonsensical "objectivity" has been widely recognized, so why is Tapped engaging in it here by implying that what Somerby is saying is no more valid than the blather aimed at Raines? It's not only inaccurate, it's wildly illogical!

And what the hell is up with that silly-ass Gore comment?

This, on the other hand:
It never seems to occur to Somerby that there are many different pressures that affect what stories make the cut for a given newspaper or television show, and that most of them have nothing to do with partisanship or ideology per se. (Laziness -- leading to reliance on press releases and canned quotes -- is a big one. So is the reigning "dog bites man" sensibility; when liberals criticized Lott, it was par for the course, but when the National Review did -- that was a story.) Now, no doubt there are many cases where a reporter's politics or their personal animosity for the politician they are covering fuels biased reporting. But for Somerby, there is only one explanation, and it explains everything: Conservative Media Bias, of the crudest kind. Whatever Somerby thinks deserves coverage is, in his opinion, unquestionably the story everyone should be covering. And if they don't, they're patsies. In Bob's World, any edition of "Reliable Sources" that doesn't involve the panelists prostrating themselves on the studio floor to atone for their awful coverage of Gore represents a continuing stain on the soul of the press.
...is just stupid. Period. On many, many levels. Everything from ad hominem attacks to acres of rich 'n meaty strawmen to answering questions that haven't been asked. Stupid. Which is weird, because neither the American Prospect as a whole nor Tapped specifically is stupid in the slightest. If they aren't stupid, though, then why make a stupid argument?

But then again, maybe we're just covering for conservatives, too -- right, Bob?
As of a week or so ago, I would have enthusiastically said "no". Now I'm starting to wonder. This may simply be a pissing match, though: Tapped doesn't want Somerby to gain the upper hand and is therefore trying to get in all the shots it can. Why on earth it would matter is beyond me; I happen to like both, and have no idea why Tapped would ignore trends and ideas that are neither excluse to Somerby nor originated with him.

To be blunt, We Don't Need This, Guys. I can understand the desire to eliminate simplistic reasoning, but to say that it's just about cliquishness or narratives is willfull blindness. There's a reason MWO became a sensation, and that's because there's more going on here. To deny it out of a desire for personal aggrandizement is attempt to be a key on the Wurlitzer that the Prospect recognized itself.
Well, this is a blast from the past:

Russia expressed regret today over the U.S. decision to begin deploying strategic interceptors to defend the United States from missile attack, a move Moscow said threatens to destabilize international security and lead to a new arms race.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also expressed concern that the development of such a system would divert resources from other real threats — above all the fight against international terrorism.
I think we're beginning to see the way things are going to move in the future. The war on terrorism is one of the key policies of the American government, but it's not going to be the only thing going on. It's certainly not going to bridge the gap between the United States and other governments, like Russia or the European governments, that are nominal competitors with the United States in the strategic realm and have clear differences in priorities. After all, most governments have more pressing priorities than international terrorism, although there's no doubt that it is a priority. Russia's no different: Russia's worried about an increasing US presence in what Russians consider their sphere of influence, and knows that this limited Star Wars capability may grow into one that eliminates Russian second-strike capability. That would allow the United States to operate conventionally across the globe, including Eurasia, without fear of Russian nuclear power being employed to tell the Americans to back off.

(This may not be an issue now, but sooner or later Russian interests and American interests will clash, and the U.S. has shown it is perfectly willing to employ military force to defend and forward its interests, a willingness that will only increase as long as the "Preemption Doctrine" is government policy. Heck, it doesn't even have to be Russia; there are a number of current nuclear powers whose interests could easily clash with the U.S. in the future.)

What makes this more interesting is the new role that the War on Terrorism will no doubt play in framing those much older priorities. We're already seeing it with the Chechnya issue; a conflict much older than the War on Terrorism that is nonetheless being (quite deliberately) recast as a part of it in order to ensure American support. This will likely continue; it's a fairly easy way of getting American support, and no rational government would ignore the opportunity.Sooner or later, though, we're going to see a conflict between an American interest in a region or government and another government labelling them as "terrorist" in order to get U.S. blessing for military action. At that point, there's going to inevitably be a choice made, and it's almost certainly going to be made in favor of the greater priority. This might be the end of the "War on Terrorism" as a visible entity.. although there will still be the "dirty underground war", the U.S. government will need to justify its actions and it will have to do so by throttling back the War on Terror rhetoric and pushing something else. (This wouldn't necessarily be the Bush administration, BTW, but some future administration.)

Of course, this could end up becoming a Huntington-esque "Clash of Civilizations". Some have argued that it must. That will change things somewhat, but won't change the inevitable problems of the conflict of real state interests and these more nebulous concepts of "civilizations"-- which, of course, is the main reason why Huntington's thesis is extremely problematic and has been sharply criticized by others in the field, not that you'd know it from the rhetoric heard nowadays. Sooner or later the United States is going to need to make a choice, and I think I know what that choice is going to be.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

HOOOOLEEE SHIT.

By the way, one piece of that biblical worldview involves scientific education. After the Columbine school shootings, Mr. DeLay suggested that the tragedy had occurred "because our school systems teach our children that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized out of some primordial mud." Guns don't kill people; Charles Darwin kills people.

Mr. DeLay isn't an obscure crank; he's the most powerful man in Congress. Still, is he an outlier? No. Don Nickles, now challenging the wounded Mr. Lott for Senate leadership, is less given to colorful statements, but is as closely aligned with the religious right as Mr. DeLay.

And the influence of the religious right spreads much further. The Internet commentator Atrios, who played a key role in bringing Mr. Lott's past to light, now urges us to look into the secretive Council for National Policy. This blandly named organization was founded by Tim LaHaye, co-author of the apocalyptic "Left Behind" novels, and is in effect a fundamentalist pressure group. As of 1998 the organization's membership contained many leading Congressional figures in the Republican Party, though none of the party's neoconservative intellectuals.
Congrabulations, Atrios, you just got mentioned by the most popular columnist in the New York Times.

Finally, the man gets some cred.
Daily Show in in rare form tonight on the Lott issue. Case in point, Steve Corell on black reactions to the BET interview:

"Several non-culinary uses of the word 'cracker'..."

and, of course, Stewart doing Lott as Movie Weaselly Guy Trying To Get Out of Trouble.
Steam is probably going to shoot out of his ears when he sees this, but I think that Doug Turnbull has a good point:

While this is certainly a real phenomenon, for me this weekend has illustrated a larger and more pernicious echo chamber—that of those who really pay attention to politics. This is a pernicious echo chamber not because of it’s effects on those inside, but because the majority are outside and either don’t know or don’t care.


What brought this home to me was the whole Trent Lott affair. I generally don’t spend much time on the internet on weekends, and rarely watch the network news programs. So I was completely ignorant of the entire issue until I took my morning stroll around the blogosphere, and found it all abuzz with the huge controversy. It was the big news of the day, and everyone was weighing in. I spent my weekend like everyone else in the country, and had no idea what the heck everyone was atwitter about.


But outside this tiny group of pundits and journalists, no-one cares. If you went to the mall and pulled aside the average person of voting age and asked them what they thought of Trent Lott, even if you happened to find someone who knew who he was, I can almost guarantee you none of them would have any clue about this recent flap.


And that’s a problem. On the one hand you have a vocal and involved political active minority, throwing around stories back and forth and building them up or tearing them down. In this insular little world, the biggest news of the day really is the Trent Lott gaffe. But for the 98% of the population who aren’t political junkies, the group that actually decides elections, this might as well not have happened. The echoes can be deafening inside the chamber, but outside they are almost inaudible, drowned out by the hum of everyday cares.
This is actually quite accurate, and actually echoes a common problem in modern democracy and particularly in American democracy. There is a large amount of people who are disconnected from political activity for some reason or another, a large enough group that it affects democracy itself. There have been a number of reasons given for this phenomenon:

-the tendency of candidates to seek out small compatible segments of the electorate to "activate" for political participation;

-the increasingly ideological nature of candidates, legislators and activists alienating the relatively moderate electorate;

-and the problem of people's social networks crossing partisan lines, and the inevitable conflicts that arise when one becomes politically active when that will increase friction and tension between one's peers (and within oneself) when trying to take a position on an issue.

It's actually a very complex phenomenon.

Hmm... actually, I don't normally do this (yet.. I've been thinking about it), but I'm going to link to a book. It's called "By Invitation Only: The Rise of Exclusive Politics in the United States", by Steven Schier, and it actually does a pretty good job of exploring exactly why this sort of phenomenon exists, and what can be done to rectify it.

(It's actually somewhat counter-intuitive in some respects. One of the reasons why so many people are frozen out is, oddly enough, the primary system: it weakens political parties, and parties are one of the best mechanisms for the sort of mass political participation that you just don't see anymore.)

I've been actually thinking about following Atrios' lead and putting some books that I think would be good reads on the sidebar. I'm not planning on doing it right now, and it's not really for the (vanishingly unlikely) prospect of making cash from them... it's just that it'd be nice to point to a number of books and say "go read these". This is one of those books.

Otherwise, nice post Doug.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Methinks that Tapped has somewhat missed the point in this entry. They go off on Somerby for being ticked at them that they're echoing Instapundit's argument that:

One reason (one!) the Lott story almost died was that Washington is in many ways a very small town -- that is, a place where reporters, politicians and lobbyists are both friends and adversaries; where a strong "don't rock the boat" ethic sometimes prevails; and where the big division is often the gap between the permanent establishment and everyone else.
(That was Tapped, by the way, not IP. Yeah, this is pretty meta.) Somerby responds:

Why did the corps go slow on Lott? TAPPED endorses Instapundit, who says it shows that everyone is too buddy-buddy inside Washington. Amazingly, it doesn’t even occur to TAPPED that the press tends to bow to conservative power, especially when "dirty secret" segregation groups are involved. Does TAPPED’S buddy-buddy theory make sense? For example, did the corps ignore the Georgia flag flap because it was just so chummy with Peach State participants? Plainly, that story did not involve an insider class -- but the pundit corps punted there, too. Pathetic, isn’t it? In citing Insta, TAPPED recites Andrew Sullivan’s line (Insta voiced it first)...Sully says that “DC socialization” explains the pundit corps’ lazy response. Thank goodness! This way, he doesn’t have to voice an unwelcome thought. He doesn’t have to say that Washington’s pundits may not be so liberal after all. This view makes perfect sense -- from Sullivan. But TAPPED buys it hook, line and sinker. Readers, where oh where is liberal bias? We suffer from such a brainwashed insider clique that even liberals can’t seem to imagine that the pundit corps bows to con power.
Tapped calls this a "mush of twisted logic and impenetrable non sequiturs", arguing that the idea that they're bowing to conservative power is "deranged".

C'mon. I'm sure there's points to both of these, but I think Tapped did Somerby a disservice. It's pretty obvious by now that for various reasons (fear of losing access to the White House, desire to keep the neo-cons onside instead of attacking you, worries about the supposed ratings powers of conservatives) the press has been playing softball with conservatives for a while now, up to and including the nastier racist aspects of the Republican party. That's really the crux of this whole story. While I can understand Tapped's desire to find a more comfortable and less damning reason for this and the attractiveness of the "it's washington culture" argument, Somerby has a point- the press isn't liberal, has never really been, and is becoming less so by the day. To ignore that is to ignore the real picture, one that asides about cliqueishness serve only to distort. Whether it is (as Tapped says) a "liberal complaint, not a conservative one" or not.

Besides, this sort of thing plays into the hands of conservatives who are always whining about how bad Washington is and how they'll "clean up that town". Nobody's interests are served by perpetuating that sort of pablum.
From an article that already shows conservatives skirting self-parody by arguing that the poor need to pay more taxes:

William W. Beach, an economist at the Heritage Foundation think tank, said he was sympathetic to Lindsey's argument that the Social Security tax is not really a tax. But, he said, it was a dangerous argument for a Republican to make.

"Do I allow defense spending to offset my income taxes since I like to be defended? Do I allow road taxes to offset my profits taxes because I use the roads?" he asked. "If you do start down that road, it's hard to see anything as taxes."
Sure, if by "taxes" you mean "money that gets thrown into a government incinerator somewhere", as many devout anti-tax advocates undoubtedly believe. If taxes are actually, y'know, used to pay for something, well that's entirely different isn't it?

(Well, let's be fair. The question is whether it might actually be used to benefit somebody else, instead of the taxpayer in question. Because there's no such thing as citizenship and whatnot.)

Saturday, December 14, 2002

A little note to SDB:

One way to tell if someone is intellectually honest is if he's willing to admit when he's made a mistake. One way to identify an intellectually honest movement is when it will condemn its own for their stupidity or venality.

The left has been failing that test, and the only real conclusion that the rest of us can come to is that they reason they don't condemn the kinds of things that Pinter said is that deep down they actually agree with him at least in part.
A question, predictably, goes begging here. (And no, it's not whether or not his rank assertion about "intellectually honest movements" that he has demonstrated little ability to objectively critique). The question is this: is the left a "movement"? Hardly. It is actually notoriously not so. It is political position and actually a very, very wide one, stretching all the way from hard-core Marxians to center-left DLC types. There is absolutely no way in which it can be described as a movement and there is no pretension by anybody involved that it would do so.

Given that, the entire thing (vile slander that it is) is meaningless.

The Lott case is different, of course; first, because there are "movement conservatives" in a way that simply isn't found on the left (at least, yet) and second, because as a leading member of a political party his actions are tied to and reflect those of the party itself. If Pinter were a Democrat, it'd be different. He isn't. Hell, he isn't even an American.

Oh, and Steven? Raining down epithets upon your ideological opponents (like "inept", "unreasonable", "elitist", "utterly failed" and "pathological") is poor debating and, in fact, is in no way superior to that Pinter guy. As, for that matter, is trying to paint all your opponents as extremists by focusing on one extremist. Not only poor debating, but poor taste.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Oh, I love this line from Max Sawicky on the Republicans:

"They are the piano player who is shocked, shocked to learn that illegal sexual commerce is being transacted upstairs."
Hey, I hadn't noticed Martin Wisse's new blog, Progressive Gold! It's a collection of what he considers "best of the left" stuff.

I may have a new homepage.

Anyway, he responds to something I wrote:

I actually think that blogosphere politics had a hand in this one, although not in the way you'd think. The right side of the blogosphere has been making a lot of noise about how fairminded and forward-thinking they are, especially compared to the humorless and racist and sexist and P.C. left. (Nonsense, but bear with me.) Thing is, in this case, if they had let this go or tried to explain it away when people like Atrios were all over it like the proverbial cheap suit, there is absolutely no way that they could ever claim the moral high ground. So they jumped on it. (To be fair, most aren't that fond of racism anyway; neo-cons are more libertarian than that.)

I'm not sure about Demosthenes's last statement; in my experience there is certainly a bigoted streak in libertarian and neocon thinkink; at the very least both groups tend to be extremely myopic about race relations, as well as gender and sexuality issues. Partially this may be because both groups are overwhelming made out of white boys --it's easy to downplay the existence of racism when you're not part of the group it is targeted at.

(The paranoia about government programs and fetishising of personal "liberty" and "responsibility" --sometimes ending up as hostility against people who cannot make it "on their own" -- don't help here as it often means libertarians/neocons oppose just those laws/programs intended to help minority or disadvantaged groups. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to notice this looks a lot like bigotry from the outside.)
I personally think one should be very, very careful not to fall into the "objectively" pit that Glenn is currently wallowing in right now. The paranoia about government programs might disproportionately affect minorities, yes, but remember that a lot of the real libertarian types believe that those minorities are hurt more than they're helped by that sort of thing. I disagree, but I cannot in good conscience call them racist for it.

I will agree, however, with the "white boys not getting it" thing. Because they are on the same partisan side as the racists (whether it's unwittingly or unhappily or not), they have tended to reflexively react negatively to ideas and policies from the "other side", especially if it goes against their cherished belief that the state is useless and creates more problems than it solves. If you're against affirmative action on principle, then first you have to claim that the problem that it purports to solve (unconscious hiring biases) is not a problem; and if you honestly believe that the market will prevail, then you aren't demonstrating real racism. At worst, you're demonstrating tendentiousness and naivete.
Ok, I know I've been a little out of the loop over the last little while, but Mickey Kaus is still trying to score points on Krugman? I had thought that he would have, sensibly, decided to give up by now. If the best he can come up with is that Krugman was "snippy" while he corrected one of Kaus' (many) mistakes, he should probably let go and find something else to do.
I should probably lay off Instapundit, but keerist, why the hell did he quote this?

And we on the right, who have driven the anti-Lott sentiment, can at least brag about this. The left was willing to go to any length to keep a president in office who had committed felonies. We conservatives, though, have much higher standards for our leaders. We are eager to dispense with a mere congressional leader for a careless and tone-deaf opinion.
Aside from the complete horsepucky of calling falling into a perjury trap "committing felonies", it is absolutely indisputable now that Lott had been saying these things for decades, and he's been given a free ride this entire time. Don't try to regain the moral high ground here. It's too bloody late. Accept, release, move on.
Hrm.. that little bit about Glenn and Hesiod I mentioned earlier (in the "objectively pro-" post) appears to stem from this letter from Hesiod to Glenn. It's interesting stuff:

If you do EXACTLY what Osama wants, then you're "objectively pro Osama Bin Laden."

Right?

I don't believe you're pro-Osama, of course.

But...by pushing an unnecessary war against Iraq [see how my perspective colors my interpretation of your arguments], and letting Al Qaeda cause problems everywhere else in the world [including Afghanistan, by the way] then you are only "helping the terra-ists."

Surely, it's unintentional. But...it doesn't have to be intentional to be "objectively" pro-Al Qaeda, right?

That was your point, I believe. Except you accused those who were against a pretextual war with Iraq of being "objectively" Pro-Saddam [even if that wasn't their intent].

The whole argument is offensive, and silly at the same time.
On the whole "offensive and silly" part Hesiod is undoubtedly true, and I'm amazed that Glenn was desperate and tendentious enough to actually try it; it's a half-assed, nasty, deceptive, Stalinist way of getting people to do what you want. What's reeeal interesting, though, is Hesiod's contention about "doing what Osama" wants.

What does Osama want? He wants a clash of civilizations, because he thinks that Islam will win.

How does he plan to get it? Several ways: by bringing Muslims onside by showing his strength and resolve and by scaring the West into declaring war on Islam first. There's a third way, though, a blend of the two: the more the west seems to be at war with Islam, the more likely it is that Muslims will decide that they're in imminent danger and respond. They might not even be "objectively pro-Osama"; it might (and probably would be) simply because they were afraid that they were going to be targets and wanted to preserve themselves before they end up forcibly converted, imprisoned, or even killed. (Keep in mind it doesn't matter whether or not the West is going to do that or not; the point is the perception, and the fear.)

So what does Osama really want? He wants LGF. Specifically, he wants xenophobic, anti-Islamic rhetoric designed to give westerners the impression that all Muslims are bloodthirsty sub-human zealots, so that those who are not become afraid. He wants people to say that the religion is anti-modernity, anti-science, and anti-reason, so that all those Muslims who are all three will become afraid. He wants people to say that "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to christianity" so that those who live in those countries and are devout enough to consider forcible conversion forcible damnation to become afraid. He wants the United States to invade Iraq on the flimsiest of excuses, so that they'll know that the rule of international law is meaningless and therefore everything is fair game. He wants all of them to become afraid, and decide that before the west gets them, they'll get the west.

Glenn, whenever you link to someone who says any of these, according to your own logic, you are "objectively pro-Osama". No if, ands, or buts about it. You are aiding his cause, building his war, and comitting virtual treason.

Unless, of course, your logic is wrong.

Thankfully, it is.

Edit: Hesiod also links to Eugene Volokh and Ted Barlow on the subject of "objectivity".