Friday, November 25, 2005

Coulter dissed

Hunter indulges in a first-class rant on ur-harridan Ann Coulter:
Make no mistake about it; Ann is, in word and deed, anti-American. She is one of the few voices in America that can be compared directly to the voices of prewar Nazi Germany without fear of running afoul of Godwin's Law, simply because the combination of disinformation, rabid nationalism, more disinformation, depersonalization of political opponents, even more disinformation, and nothing-resembling-subtle calls for violence is torn right from the playbooks of earlier propagandists.

Coulter deserves to be metaphorically eviscerated as often as possible -- not that, generally speaking, she's worth expending any energy on. Still, everyone should try their hand at it when the mood arises.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/25/2005 10:04:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Intellectual property

Matthew Yglesias:
Record companies and their movie studio allies have managed to convince a shockingly large swathe of opinion that the purpose of intellectual property law is to prevent copyright infringement. In fact, the purpose is to advance the general welfare of society. Infringement should be defined, and the law should be enforced, in a manner designed to improve overall welfare. There's essentially no reason to think that a hard-core crackdown on file-sharing programs would achieve that goal.

Just to refresh everyone's memory, this is an issue that's defined in the Constitution, in Article 1 Section 8, which enumerates the powers of Congress:

The Congress shall have the power ... To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

So Yglesias is right, the purpose of copyrights and patents is not to guarantee profits to those which hold them, but to further the advancement of science and the arts for the benefit of society in general.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/25/2005 09:20:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Break the media's paradigm

Digby wrote something recently that's very smart (not an unusal occurence):
I hope that Democrats are prepared for the fact that they are going to have to wage the 06 election as if they are 30 points down and Bush is still astride his destrier cutting a swathe through every competitive district in the country. No matter how low he goes in the polls, or how much the public is disgruntled with republican rule, the media are going to portray the Democrats as even worse. We'll have to win a few "surprises" before they can adjust their plot line.

Now, one doesn't have to be as fixated on the subject of the deficiences of the media as Bob Somerby (of Daily Howler) is to recognize that, primarily by herd instinct (sometimes prompted by those adhering to carefully organized and distributed talking points promulgated through the right-wing media), the media does tend to stick to one particular interpretation of political reality well beyond the point where that framework has lost its usefullness for understanding what's going on, and because of that it goes through a difficult (and slow) transitional period when exchanging one paradigm for another. As Digby points out, the Democrats need to provoke that crisis in the media by doing things that blatantly do not fit into the conventional view, and can't be understood using its preconceptions, and in this way force a new worldview on the press.

These paradoxical events ("paradoxical" in terms of the agreed upon media frame of reference) don't have to be consistent, or come out of the same philosophy or way of working, they simply have to be inexplicable using the conventional viewpoint. A liberal Democratic candidate polling well in a normal conservative district, a Republican candidate losing ground after Bush campaigning, a conservative Democrat going up against a conservative Republican and doing well -- all of these are examples of things that aren't explainable using the current paradigm that Bush is loved, the Republicans can do no wrong, and Democrats are disorganized, disoriented and unable to win.

As Digby wrote:

This is something that the elite media and the Bush administration have in common. They can't adjust to changing circumstances. Once their narrative/gameplan/talking points are set, you have to pry them out of their brains with a crowbar.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/25/2005 12:32:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, November 24, 2005

FEMA: What's to protect?

Time magazine looks at the state of the restoration and resurrection of New Orleans, and finds that the effort hasn't even gotten to "restoration and ressurection" yet, it's stalled in the very first steps of the process, and the Bush regime and the Republican party seems totally uninterested in getting it going:
Most disasters come and go in a neat arc of calamity, followed by anger at the slow response, then cleanup. But Katrina cut a historic deadly swath across the South, and rebuilding can't start until the cleanup is done. In much of New Orleans, the leafy coverage of live oaks is gone. Lingering in the sky instead is a fine grit that tastes metallic to the tongue. Everyone's life story is out on the curb, soaked and stinky—furniture and clothing, dishes and rotting drywall, even formerly fabulous antiques. Dump trucks come periodically to remove the piles, taking some to a former city park, now a heap of rubbish several football fields long, towering above the head. The smell is sweet, horrific.

They're still finding bodies down here 13 weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit—30 in the past month—raising the death toll to 1,053 in Louisiana. The looters are still working too, brazenly taking their haul in daylight. But at night darkness falls, and it's quiet. "It's spooky out there. There's no life," says cardiologist Pat Breaux, who lives near Pontchartrain with only a handful of neighbors. The destruction, says Breaux, head of the Orleans Parish Medical Society, depresses people. Suicides are up citywide, he says, although no one has a handle on the exact number. Murders, on the other hand, have dropped to almost none.

Mayor Ray Nagin opened up most of the city to returning evacuees last week, but only an estimated 60,000 people are spending the night in New Orleans these days, compared with about half a million before Katrina. The city that care forgot is in the throes of an identity crisis, torn between its shady, bead-tossing past and the sanitized Disneyland future some envision. With no clear direction on whether to raze or rebuild, the 300,000 residents who fled the region are frustrated—and increasingly indecisive—about returning. If they do come back, will there be jobs good enough to stay for? If they do rebuild, will the levees be strong enough to protect them? They can't shake the feeling that somehow they did something wrong just by living where they did. And now the money and the sympathy are drying up. People just don't understand. You have to see it, smell it, put on a white mask and a pair of plastic gloves, and walk into a world where nothing is salvageable, not even the mildewed wedding pictures.

Beyond an island of light downtown, most of Orleans Parish is still in the dark. Of the city's eight hospitals pre-Katrina, only two are open to serve a population that swells to 150,000 during the day. The public school system—destroyed by back-to-back hurricanes—is in limbo while the state considers a takeover and charter-school advocates vie for abandoned facilities. One lone public school for 500 students is set to open this week. The once flashy city has become drab. The grass and trees, marinated for weeks in saltwater, are a dreary gray-brown. Parking lots look like drought-starved lake beds, with cracks in the mud. Within a few hours, anyone working outside is covered in a fine layer of grit. The trees that gave New Orleans such character—the centuries-old live oaks with their grand canopies and graceful lines—are toppled, exposing huge root balls 10 ft. or more in diameter. It's all the more surreal because the Garden District, which survived the flood, is lush and beautiful once again.


Repair and cleanup are linked, to some degree, with planning what New Orleans should look like five years from now. The Louisiana Recovery Authority, appointed by Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, met in November with hundreds of New Orleans residents to develop priorities, brainstorm ideas with planners and businessmen, and present a unified voice. The Authority vice chair Walter Isaacson petitioned Congress last week for help in establishing a "recovery corporation" as a vehicle for the city's rebuilding neighborhoods. Donald Powell, the new hurricane czar appointed by George W. Bush, said his job is to listen and gather facts to help the President "understand the vision of the local people." The one-time banker, who admits he has a little boning up to do on levees, says he will spend the next few weeks shuttling in and out of the hurricane area, developing a blueprint for federal reconstruction help. Washington approved $62.3 billion to help hurricane victims after the trifecta of Katrina, Rita and Wilma. With an additional $8.6 billion in tax breaks and programs for the region, the total tab of nearly $71 billion is far beyond the $43.9 billion dedicated to emergency spending after the 9/11 attacks. But congressional Republicans are picking up strong signals from the White House that the Administration is not going to move forward with any grand coastal plan. "There's not a sense of urgency anymore," says a senior House Republican aide.

Louisiana's recent request for $250 billion, perilously short on details, got a contemptuous reception from Republicans ("Nonstarter," said a Senate aide), editorial writers (who dubbed it the "Louisiana looters' bill") and even a few Democrats ("They're thieves," said a House aide involved with budgeting for Louisiana relief). Michael Olivier, Louisiana's secretary of economic development, points out that Katrina devastated a far larger area—23,000 acres—than 9/11 did and destroyed nearly 284,000 homes. With 71,000 businesses shut down by Katrina and a further 10,000 by Rita, and with local governments short on tax revenues, he says, "We're looking at potentially the largest business insolvency since the Depression, and a government insolvency." FEMA continues to be a four-letter word in Louisiana. In Kenner and Metairie, suburbs west of New Orleans, blue tarps provided by FEMA dot the roofs of homes damaged by wind, but there are few in the worst-affected neighborhoods like Lakeview, the Ninth Ward and East New Orleans—a policy defended by the agency. "What's to protect?" asks FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews in Washington. [Emphasis added -- Ed]

The good news is that FEMA's decided not to throw Katrina victims into the street during the holiday season. Damn nice of them.

[via firedoglake]

BTW, with Bush's FEMA planning to act in such an uncharitable and decidely unchristian manner, where's the outrage from those who protest the phoney "liberal war on Christmas"? Christians haboring a persecution complex ought to take a look at what real religious persecution is.

Update: Via Josh Marshall, FEMA lists the Katrina response as one of its top accomplishments in fiscal year 2005.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/24/2005 10:31:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


What philosophy do you follow?

You scored as Utilitarianism.

Your life is guided by the principles of Utilitarianism: You seek the greatest good for the greatest number.

"The said truth is that it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong."
--Jeremy Bentham

"Whenever the general disposition of the people is such, that each individual regards those only of his interests which are selfish, and does not dwell on, or concern himself for, his share of the general interest, in such a state of things, good government is impossible."
--John Stuart Mill

More info at
Arocoun's Wikipedia User Page...



Justice (Fairness)








Strong Egoism






Divine Command


What philosophy do you follow? (v1.03)
created with

[via The Green Knight]

Addenda: Also of interest from The Green Knight, the Right Wing Christian Dictionary.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/24/2005 04:19:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


I went to the supermarket after dinner tonight, to pick up a few things we needed for Thanksgiving (our first Thanksgiving at home in many years, and only our second ever), and it was clearly "Send Your Clueless Husband to the Grocery Store Night" -- lots of guys standing in the aisles, lists clenched in their hands, staring blankly at nothing, not moving. Victims of culture shock.

An old hand, I maneuvered around them, got my stuff and got out of there before the virus spread.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there in Lower Blogovia.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/23/2005 10:44:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Dawkins on Design

Richard Dawkins:

The world is divided into things that look as though somebody designed them (wings and wagon-wheels, hearts and televisions), and things that just happened through the unintended workings of physics (mountains and rivers, sand dunes, and solar systems). Mount Rushmore belonged firmly in the second category until the sculptor Gutzon Borglum carved it into the first. Charles Darwin moved in the other direction. He discovered a way in which the unaided laws of physics — the laws according to which things “just happen” — could, in the fullness of geologic time, come to mimic deliberate design. The illusion of design is so successful that to this day most Americans (including, significantly, many influential and rich Americans) stubbornly refuse to believe it is an illusion. To such people, if a heart (or an eye or a bacterial flagellum) looks designed, that’s proof enough that it is designed.

No wonder Thomas Henry Huxley, “Darwin’s bulldog,” was moved to chide himself on reading the Origin of Species: “How extremely stupid not to have thought of that.” And Huxley was the least stupid of men. The breathtaking power and reach of Darwin’s idea [...] is matched by its audacious simplicity. You can write it out in a phrase: nonrandom survival of randomly varying hereditary instructions for building embryos. Yet, given the opportunities afforded by deep time, this simple little algorithm generates prodigies of complexity, elegance, and diversity of apparent design. True design, the kind we see in a knapped flint, a jet plane, or a personal computer, turns out to be a manifestation of an entity — the human brain — that itself was never designed, but is an evolved product of Darwin’s mill.

Paradoxically, the extreme simplicity of what the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett called Darwin’s dangerous idea may be its greatest barrier to acceptance. People have a hard time believing that so simple a mechanism could deliver such powerful results.

The arguments of creationists, including those creationists who cloak their pretensions under the politically devious phrase “intelligent-design theory,” repeatedly return to the same big fallacy. Such-and-such looks designed. Therefore it was designed. To pursue my paradox, there is a sense in which the skepticism that often greets Darwin’s idea is a measure of its greatness.

Paraphrasing the twentieth-century population geneticist Ronald A. Fisher, natural selection is a mechanism for generating improbability on an enormous scale. Improbable is pretty much a synonym for unbelievable. Any theory that explains the highly improbable is asking to be disbelieved by those who don’t understand it.

Yet the highly improbable does exist in the real world, and it must be explained. Adaptive improbability — complexity — is precisely the problem that any theory of life must solve and that natural selection, uniquely as far as science knows, does solve.


In any developing science there are disagreements. But scientists — and here is what separates real scientists from the pseudoscientists of the school of intelligent design — always know what evidence it would take to change their minds. One thing all real scientists agree upon is the fact of evolution itself. It is a fact that we are cousins of gorillas, kangaroos, starfish, and bacteria. Evolution is as much a fact as the heat of the sun. It is not a theory, and for pity’s sake, let’s stop confusing the philosophically naive by calling it so. Evolution is a fact.

That should be our bumper sticker:

Addenda: There's this, but there's really no reason to bring in an extraneous idea, which just muddies the water and would have the tendency of putting off the majority of people in this country.

Update: An alternative

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/23/2005 06:06:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Nobody loves Darwin

At least Corporate America doesn't love him, according to Nicholas Wapshott writing in the Telegraph (U.K.):
An exhibition celebrating the life of Charles Darwin has failed to find a corporate sponsor because American companies are anxious not to take sides in the heated debate between scientists and fundamentalist Christians over the theory of evolution.

The entire $3 million (£1.7 million) cost of Darwin, which opened at the American Museum of Natural History in New York yesterday, is instead being borne by wealthy individuals and private charitable donations.

The failure of American companies to back what until recently would have been considered a mainstream educational exhibition reflects the growing influence of fundamentalist Christians, who are among President George W Bush's most vocal supporters, over all walks of life in the United States.

While the Darwin exhibition has been unable to find a business backer - unlike previous exhibitions at the museum - the Creationist Museum near Cincinatti, Ohio, which takes literally the Bible's account of creation, has recently raised $7 million in donations.

The outbreak of corporate cold feet has shocked New York's intellectuals. "It is a disgrace that large companies should shy away from such an important scientific exhibition," said a trustee of another prominent museum in the city, who was told of the exhibition's funding problem by a trustee of the AMNH.

"They tried to find corporate sponsors, but everyone backed off."


Asked which companies had refused to give money, Gary Zarr, the museum's marketing director, said he would have to ask those concerned before he could identify them.

Steve Reichl, a press officer for the AMNH, said a list of forthcoming exhibitions was sent to potential sponsors and none wanted to back the Darwin exhibition. He declined to reveal which companies, or how many, had been approached.

The Bank of America previously sponsored a similar exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci and the financial services provider TIAA-CREF funded an Albert Einstein show.

A prominent Metropolitan Museum donor said: "You can understand why the Museum of Natural History might not want to admit such a thing. "They are concerned about finding corporate funding for exhibitions in the future."

The museum will have to depend more heavily upon the profits of its Darwin-related merchandise to finance the cost of staging the exhibition, including a 12-inch Darwin doll, Darwin finger puppets and, for a $950, a replica of the vessel Beagle, made in China and assembled in Vietnam.

It's shameful, but not at all surprisng.

[via Portside]

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/23/2005 05:48:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Weak, very weak

Here's the map for the November Survey USA poll of Bush's approval ratings:

Analysis by dreaminonempty is here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/23/2005 04:52:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


War or not, Yoo and cry

Leslie H. Gelb & Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic:
Our Framers could not have foreseen the present age of nuclear missiles and cataclysmic terrorism. But they understood political accountability, and—as their deliberations in Philadelphia attest—they knew that sending Americans into battle demanded careful reflection and vigorous debate. So they created a simple means of ensuring that debate: in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution they gave Congress the power to declare war.

Declarations of war may seem to be relics of a bygone era—a time more deeply steeped in ritual, when ambassadors in frock coats delivered sealed communiqués to foreign courts. Yet a declaration of war has a great deal to recommend it today: it forces a deliberate, public conversation about the reasons for going to war, the costs, the risks, the likely gains, the strategies for achieving them—all followed by a formal vote.


[A] more public vetting of the decision to go to war, culminating in a solemn declaration of war by Congress, would most likely ensure stronger public support for the war, by involving the people in the decision and assuring voters that the war had not been launched hastily or under false pretenses. Setbacks and sacrifices might be less surprising and more easily accepted. Because the declaration process would address problems beforehand, it would help us win wars once they started.

The process and the declaration itself would strengthen American credibility—and negotiating power—in the diplomatic run-up to war. Troublemakers abroad have seen the pressure that our government feels to cut and run when conflict turns ugly. Beyond that, many have doubted that the White House would follow through on its threats at all. Saddam Hussein apparently didn't think either President Bush would have the support to attack him. Nor did the Haitians think President Clinton had the stomach for war after he precipitately yanked U.S. troops out of Somalia. But if a president ran the declaration gauntlet and built public support, he would gain enormous credibility for his threats.

And in those cases where the president was unable to persuade Congress to make war, the United States would almost always be better off. The legislation we propose would not diminish the president's considerable stature as commander in chief as he made his case to Congress. If his arguments still failed, the case could not have been very compelling. Far better if we knew that before the killing began.

I've been bitching about this since back during Vietnam (I did my bitching from the cradle, you understand). Here's what I wrote after 9/11:

If we are going to engage in a war, then it needs to be an officially declared war. The only entity in the United States that can declare war is the Congress, and if it is to be war, then they alone can say it. This is not the Gulf of Tonkin, some flimsy puffed-up excuse for hostilities -- we've been hit hard on our own shores, and a Declaration of War, if military action is necessary, is certainly justified. But don't ask us, the American people, to sacrfice without declaring war, and don't ask the people to sacrifice without asking the same of corporations.

It's one thing for the President to arrogate for the Executive powers that aren't explicitly defined, or about which there can be reasonable debate as to the purpose of the founders, but it's another thing entirely for the Imperial Presidency to, with the complicity of many Congresses over the years, take to itself responsibilities which are clearly and explicitly given to Congress in the Constitution.

I mean, what part of

Congress shall have the power ... To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water...

does John Yoo not understand?

Speaking of Yoo, there's an informative review of his latest book in the New York Review of Books, which takes pains to sum up Yoo's positions on torture (he's for it), Presidential power (he's against almost all restrictions on it), and war powers (he thinks it's the President's perogative, of course). The reviewer, David Cole, points out that

In all likelihood, the policies and attitudes Yoo has advanced have made the country less secure. The abuses at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib have become international embarrassments for the United States, and by many accounts have helped to recruit young people to join al-Qaeda. The US has squandered the sympathy it had on Sep- tember 12, 2001, and we now find ourselves in a world perhaps more hostile than ever before.

With respect to detainees, thanks to Yoo, the US is now in an untenable bind: on the one hand, it has become increasingly unacceptable for the US to hold hundreds of prisoners indefinitely without trying them; on the other hand our coercive and inhumane interrogation tactics have effectively granted many of the prisoners immunity from trial. Because the evidence we might use against them is tainted by their mistreatment, trials would likely turn into occasions for exposing the United States' brutal interrogation tactics. This predicament was entirely avoidable. Had we given alleged al-Qaeda detainees the fair hearings required by the Geneva Conventions at the outset, and had we conducted humane interrogations at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Camp Mercury, and elsewhere, few would have objected to the US holding some detainees for the duration of the military conflict, and we could have tried those responsible for war crimes. What has been so objectionable to many in the US and abroad is the government's refusal to accept even the limited constraints of the laws of war.

Cole summarizes Yoo's legal philosophy concerning the Executive branch: "The president can do whatever the president wants." (Poor George W. Bush heard this, and marveled to Bob Woodward about how he, as President, wasn't required to explain anything he did. He's finding out now the ultimate result of taking that kind of arrogant attitude in a modern democracy.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/23/2005 02:44:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


I learn (occasionally)

I try to stay open to learning something everyday, even if it's only a new awareness of my limitations (physical or mental). Today, I learned that "bund", as well as being a political association (as in the pro-Nazi "German-American Bund" of the pre-World War II period) also means an embankement or dike, or a street running alongside a waterway or harbor, especialli in East Asia.

I did not know that.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/23/2005 02:37:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Why support went south so fast

Christian Science Monitor:
Why did Americans go sour on the Iraq war so quickly, and what can Bush do about it?

John Mueller, an expert on war and public opinion at Ohio State University, links today's lower tolerance of casualties to a weaker public commitment to the cause than was felt during the two previous, cold war-era conflicts. The discounting of the main justifications for the Iraq war - alleged weapons of mass destruction and support for international terrorism - has left many Americans skeptical of the entire enterprise.

In fact, "I'm impressed by how high support still is," Professor Mueller says. He notes that some Americans' continuing connection of the Iraq war to the war on terror is fueling that support.

In addition, intense political polarization gives Bush resilient support among Republicans.

But among Democratic voters who supported the US-led invasion initially, most have long abandoned the president. In polls, independent voters now track mostly with Democrats. And, analysts say, once someone loses confidence in the conduct of a war, it is exceedingly difficult to woo them back.

"[Bush's] best option is bringing peace and security to Iraq," says Darrell West, a political scientist at Brown University. "If he can accomplish that, people will think the war's going well and that he made the right decision. But that's proving almost impossible to achieve."

Pollster Daniel Yankelovich, writing in the September/October 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, states that "in my judgment the Bush administration has about a year before the public's impatience will force it to change course."

Not helping the president has been the modern phenomenon of 24/7 cable news coverage, which brings instant magnification to the daily death toll and the longstanding media practice of focusing on negative developments.

And there is the lingering public memory of Vietnam itself, which, in the Iraq war, may have made the public warier sooner of getting stuck in a quagmire.

Note that we see here the first glimmerings of what is bound to become the Republican excuse for failing in Iraq, that it was the media's coverage which doomed the whole thing. That's the excuse that worked so well for Vietnam (where it wasn't the 24/7 cable news cycle that was the villain, but the new technology will allowed combat bloodshed to be the main ingredient of American dinnertime while watching the nightly news) and it will be trotted out again for this debacle as well, despite the fact that the military, with the concept of embedding, did a fantastic job of co-opting the media, just as they intended should happen (a direct result of their experiences in Vietnam and the Gulf War).

The military will probably "learn" the lesson that the media needs to be even more tightly controlled, but that's really not the right moral to take away from the tale of Iraq. The correct lesson is really for the politicians and policy makers, and it's that we should only get involved in wars that (a) we can wrap up quickly, or (b) are morally justified. It's not that the American public is any less able to stand deaths and casualties in war than they were two or three or four generations ago, it's just that they won't abide them for very long when the cause is indistinct, undefined and unjustified.

Pace Yankelovich, I very much doubt that Bush has as much as a year before the hammer falls, not with his approval rating continuing to go south, his administration under multiple investigations, and the Republican party beginning to lose its coherence. Besides that, there really is no viable solution for the problem that Bush has created in Iraq, because Iraq was never a viable country in the first place. Attempting to keep it together as a single nation is a doomed enterprise, and the insurgency won't stop just because we remove ourselves from the scene -- it will continue and break out into full-scale civil war, in which the Iranians will back the Shiites against the Sunnis, and the Kurds will withdraw into their borders to continue as a de facto independent country.

Ironically, it's the oil that makes the situation impossible. If it weren't for all three major claimants (Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds) wanting a share of Iraq's oil money, we could probably have gone ahead and divided the country back into the constituent parts it was before the Brits assembled it as part of the Sykes-Picot Agreement after World War I. (The Turks would have been pissed off, but we could have guaranteed the borders of the new Kurdish country and bribed both parties to behave long enough for the situation to settle down a little.) Dividing up still seems to me to be a likely long-term outcome -- although with one of the parties controlling the oil, which will (of course) eventually lead to destabilization.

Of course, another long-term possbility is that a new Saddam Hussein will take charge and set up a dictatorship, perhaps even under cover of the new constitution. Who will there be to prevent it?

Bush really has opened up a fearfully complex and perhaps totally unmanageable can of worms. I keep looking for some sign of a way in which the unbalanced state of the conflicting interests can be reorganized, in hopes that a solution might present itself out of that realignment, but I can't see it.

[Thanks to Jeremy for the link]

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/22/2005 02:04:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


What will he do?

Presumably Karl Rove can read the graph of Bush's approval ratings as well as anyone. It shows three significant, if diminishing, spikes: after 9/11, after the invasion of Iraq, and after the capture of Saddam and the Iraqi election. What does that say about what's needed to raise Bush's numbers right now? Obviously, visiting foreign countries (a traditional way for a President to raise his public standing when things aren't going good at home -- a point that was covered by the press when Clinton went abroad, but for some reason appears to have been forgotten now) doesn't work so well with Bush, since almost nobody in the rest of the world likes him, so what other options will Rove come up with?
  1. Invade another country, like, say, Iran, or, possibly, Syria.

    Normally, I think Rove might prefer this, but the plain fact is we can't do this, not until we withdraw from Iraq and allow some time for our strength to be regenerated. Between Iraq and Afghanistan and our other commitments, our military is stretched incredibly thin, and, as much as Rove might like us to just march into Iran or Syria, or wherever, that's not going to be possible. Even bombing Iran, which is more feasible, is probably less of a possibility than it once was, as I assume we've used up a significant portion of our stockpile of armaments. I suppose he could drop some A-bombs, but I'm not sure the public response would be to rally around the Chief, except perhaps to string him up.

  2. Withdraw from Iraq.

    This might actually work. Public sentiment seems to have turned almost 180 degrees, and it's possible that if Bush came up with some face-saving scenario for withdrawing (the equivalent of "declare victory and get out") and, for good measure, in the process, blame the Democrats for his inability to do so earlier (Fox News watchers will believe almost anything, after all), he might actually reap the benefit in a spike in his approval numbers. Bush did show with the withdrawal of the Miers nomination some small capability of understanding that digging in one's heels is not always the best possible policy, but whether he'd be able to do the same thing regarding Iraq is anyone's guess. My guess is probably not. Perhaps if Cheney told him pointblank to do it...

  3. What else?

    So what's left? Some positive news from Iraq would help, but the situation there seems to have moved past our ability to control the news, or to create a positive picture even on a local scale. Capturing bin Laden or Zarqawi or yet another al Qaeda "number 2" would help, but if they could have done that, they'd've done it already, I think. Something surprising and completely out of character, like rejoining the Kyoto convention or giving our approval to the International Criminal Court might merit a bit of a blip, but it's doubtful that enough people would be impressed to cause a spike. Raise the terrorism security level? People have gotten wise to that. Stage a fake terrorist incident? This is what conspiracy buffs fear might happen, and I wouldn't put it past the Bush team to consider it (although I'm not convinced they're so far gone as to actually do it), but I don't think they're capable of pulling it off successfully without being found out, and maybe, on the heels of the Fitzgerald investigation, they might realize the same thing. A treaty with North Korea?

What will Rove do to get Bush's numbers up?

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/22/2005 12:22:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Pew uncovers a public turn towards isolationism:
[A]mong the general public, the proportion who thought that America should “mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own” rose from 30% in 2002 to 42% this year. This is comparable with the peaks of isolationist sentiment after the Vietnam war and after the cold war ended. [Guardian]

It would be terrible if the public's response to the aggressive, insensible, incompetent, irrational interventionism of the Bush administration was a return to isolationism. Neither extreme in the proper course for this country. We need to be positively engaged with the world that we're a part of, not holding everyone at bay, either because we're being a bully or because we've got our heads stuck in the sand -- it's the only way to repair our reputation with the world and restore the good image of America.

[Thanks to Cathie for the link]

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/22/2005 12:14:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, November 21, 2005

Bubp v. Murtha

Max Blumenthal has the skinny on Colonel Danny Bupb who Jean Schmidt quoted on the floor of the House the other day in her attack on John Murtha.
A quick glance at Bubp's background reveals him to be a low-level right-wing operative who has spent more time in the past ten years engaged in symbolic Christian right crusades than he has battling terrorist evil-doers. And throughout his career, Bubp's destiny has been inextricably linked with Schmidt's. Bubp may be a Marine, but his view of Murtha as a "coward" is colored by naked political ambition. He is nothing more than cheap camouflage cover for the GOP's latest Swift-Boat campaign.

[via Political Animal]

Read the rest of Blumenthal's post for the evidence that Bubp is nothing but a low-level Republican operative. That inspired me to take a cursory look at the military careers of Bubp and Murtha:

The outline of Danny Bubp's service is this:

1978 - Commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps
1978-Present - Continues to serve in United States Marine Corps Reserve as a Colonel of Marines
1997-Present - Serves on the staff at the National Defense University, Washington, D.C. as Team Leader for the Reserve Component National Security Course
2003 - Graduate of Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island
2003 - Served on the J-3 Staff at United States Central Command, Tampa, Florida for General Tommy Franks in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom

As knobboy comments "Doesn't sound like he's seen a lot of combat, does it."

John Murtha's bio says:

He learned about military service from the bottom up, beginning as a raw recruit when he left Washington and Jefferson College in 1952 to join the Marines out of a growing sense of obligation to his country during the Korean War. [...] He rose through the ranks to become a drill instructor at Parris Island and was selected for Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia. He then was assigned to the Second Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. In 1959, Captain Murtha took command of the 34th Special Infantry Company, Marine Corps Reserves, in Johnstown. He remained in the Reserves after his discharge from active duty until he volunteered for Vietnam in 1966-67 [...] He remained in the Reserves until his retirement. [...] He was awarded the Navy Distinguished Service Medal by the Marine Corps Commandant when he retired from the Marines.

Bupb lists the following military awards and commendations he's received:

  • Joint Service Commendation Medal;

  • Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal;

  • Army Commendation Medal

Murtha lists the following:

  • Distinguished Service Medal of the United States Marine Corps, upon his retirement from the Marine Corps Reserves for 37 years of distinguished service to his country, 1990.

  • Distinguished Service Medal, Pennsylvania's highest honor, 1977.

  • Meritorious Service Medal, Pennsylvania's second-highest honor, 1976.

  • Bronze Star with Combat V, 1966.

  • Purple Heart, 1966.

  • Purple Heart, second award, 1966.

  • Vietnamese Cross of Galantry, 1966.

  • American Spirit Honor Medal of the Marine Corps Recruit Department, 1952.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/21/2005 10:50:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


American Fundamentalists

Check out the website for Joel Pelletier's painting "American Fundamentalists (Christ's Entry into Washington in 2008)", especially his list of the cast of characters portrayed on it -- a list that's very similar to my "little list" (see the sidebar to the right).

This full-size acrylic adaptation depicts current American religious, corporate and political fundamentalists and their lackeys whooping it up in a big parade celebrating the return of Jesus, as 2008 Washington burns, the sky is a permanent nuclear red, and everywhere snipers and military aircraft stand guard. Designed to roll up and be easily transported, he is touring the United States showing and discussing the painting, its depicted event, the depicted participants, and the ramifications to American democracy and freedom of faith.

There's a list of scheduled events associated with the painting, you can order a signed poster, or download a lo-rez version -- but do also dig into the research he's put up on his "cast" of American fundamentalists, people like Tom Delay, Ann Coulter, Pat Robertson and Dick Cheney:

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/21/2005 04:31:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


News flash: Gays caused Katrina!

Just to show everyone that we're not the only Western country with feeble-minded idiots in positions of public importance who really should be measured for a cork:
The idea that Hurricane Katrina was part of God's judgment against homosexuals is now being proclaimed by a lawmaker in Northern Ireland.

Maurice Mills of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) believes the catastrophic storm was sent to impact "Southern Decadence," a festival celebrating debauchery and the homosexual lifestyle which had attracted some 125,000 people last year.

Katrina struck New Orleans just days before this year's event, but Mills says most of the media failed to report that fact.

"Surely this is a warning to nations where such wickedness is increasingly promoted and practiced," Mills said, according to the Belfast Telegraph. "This abominable and filthy practice of sodomy has resulted in the great continent of Africa being riddled with AIDS, all at great cost to the nations and innocent children." [WorldNetDaily]

[via Dispatches from the Culture Wars]

Addenda: PZ Myers lays out a nice dichotomy. One side includes

people who are committed to reason, empiricism, and natural evidence—those who believe in the complete (or near complete) significance of the real world, the universe, all matter, energy, and laws of science to our lives. We agree that we lack a comprehensive understanding of the universe, but experience (that important empirical component) leads us to expect that studying our world ever more accurately is going to lead us to greater understanding.

He calls this side of the dichotomy the "Naturals," and they contrast with the "Unnaturals," who

are those who think inspiration and intuition and all the internal imagery of their minds define their external reality; that what they wish to be so will be so if only they can articulate it and select and distort evidence for the purposes of persuasion. What they see is only applicable and interesting if it reinforces their presuppositions, and all else is a lure and a distraction, an illusion that must be disregarded or rationalized to fit into a predetermined explanation.
There are people of differing politics and religious beliefs on both sides of the line (something I keep bumping into with some of my fellow liberals who are also deeply and disturbingly Unnaturalistic in their mindsets), but obviously evangelicals, creationists, Pat Robertson and the Irish pol referred to above are all on the Unnatural side of the divide.

Also: For a quick refresher on why Supernatural causes of any kind cannot (by basic definition) be considered scientific, go to Ambient Irony.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/21/2005 01:54:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Incontrovertible logic

From Digby:
There is no legitimate reason for a top administration official to anonymously leak classified information to support the administration's position. You can see a case in which a top official would legitimately leak classified information to cast doubt on the administration's policy with which he disagrees, but not the other way around. The executive branch classifies information in the first place, presumably because it's not supposed to be public. If they feel that the information is important and necessary to make public in order to support their policy, they can declassify it, call a press conference, give an interview, write a paper. Or they can shut up and find another way to advance their position. What they shouldn't be able to do is have it both ways --- use classified information to wage turf wars or discredit administration critics by having the press cover their asses. And yet that's what happened. Top members of the Bush administration know they can get away with this because they believe that the chumps in the press will even go to jail rather than reveal their dirty deeds (which they went to great pains to remind the press to do.) That is "up is downism" taken to an extreme. [Emphasis added -- Ed]

This is essentially the point I was making in my earlier post about the journalist's privilege. Bush's people have learned how to game the media system entirely.

Just as the right-wing uses the media's fetish for "balance" against them, by positioning themselves in stances that are more and more extreme, thereby moving the media's perceived center, and in that way shifting the debate in a way that's not supported by the way most people actually think and feel politically in this country, just as they've learned that they can use the "he said/she said" style to legitimatize their outlandish ideological dogma, Bush's courtiers counted on reporters protecting their sources and acting as if a leak designed to smear a political opponent was functionally equivalent to a leak designed to expose government corruption or malfeasance.

With the help of reporters -- some of whom, like Woodward, should certainly know better, unlike others (such as Miller) who are ideological soulmates of the administration -- the Bush cabal has totally co-opted mechanisms designed to protect the public into yet another tool for suppressing debate and punishing their opponents. That is the reason why I did not cry for Judith Miller, and thought that Fitzgerald was correct in pursuing her until she revealed what she knew.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/21/2005 01:17:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Leading from behind

Reed Hundt has what I think is a clear expression of the current strategy of Democratic politicians:
Following the country, some distance behind is the basic Democratic Party strategy. The elected officials are afraid, for good reason, to be ahead of public opinion. Out there, in the zone of leadership, they know they will be assaulted by the Administration and its agents in the media, from Fox to Woodward. They know that the mainstream media will be witnesses to alleged crimes and cover them up in the name of a privilege that the courts do not recognize. They know that the media will report whatever is dictated by the White House. They note that careers are destroyed by getting in the way of the political attacks mounted by the right. Their hope is that by following, instead of leading, public opinion they will be handed a majority in the Senate or the House, or at least some more seats, and then in 2007 they can gain a little more influence over political power. The Presidential election will commence in earnest at the beginning of 2007, and in that context they hope that the R's will pick a nominee like Goldwater in 64 -- that is, someone who is certain to lose. This strategy is not ill-informed. It is fairly common in politics. It reflects lessons of America as it exists today. But it opens the door for any number of Democrats to jump ahead of the waiting crowd and try to become now the voice of the public. So far, except for John Kerry, the would-be Presidential candidates are all staying off to the side, avoiding risk, letting events take their course. But I doubt that for all of 2006 that will be the case.

The trick will be in the timing -- take the lead too early and it could be dangerous, wait too long and the field will be more crowded. It feels to me that the moment is here right now, or, at the very least, will be here very shortly, so someone ought to speak up pretty damn soon, or risk not picking up the momentum that's available.

(Not that there's any guarantee that being in front now will translate into being the frontrunner 2 or 3 years down the line, nor will being an early proponent stop others who take up the position afterwards from overtaking later on -- cf. Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy in 1968.)

From comments:

A Rational Being writes:

"There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them." - Alexandre Ledru-Rollin

Really, what politician these days (right or left) actually leads. Most are using the Ledru-Rollin approach. Unfortunately, Ledru-Rollin had a different meaning than what politicians often do today (wait for the polls, pick the most popular position, go with what will get you re-elected)

Ledru-Rollin, I think, was talking about learning of the peoples' needs then taking them there. Hardly a fear- based strategy as described in your post.

I responded:

I'm reminded of something that Geoffrey Stokes wrote about George Frayne ("Commander Cody" of the band "Commander Cody and His Lost-Planet Airmen") in his 1976 book Star-Making Machinery:
[His] success as a leader was based partly on waiting until he was sure everybody wanted to be led.

There are occasions where it's necessary to be out front of the people, showing them the way to go, and times when that course can be dangerous and unproductive. In a political situtation where one party (an authoritarian, vindictive and radically transformative one) controls the entire apparatus of the government, as well as the vast bulk of the media, and can therefore to a large extent set the terms of the public debate, or whether there is any debate at all, it can be perilous (in more ways than one) for a politician to be too exposed. When that's the case (as it obviously has been until very recently -- Katrina being the catalyst for the change), there's nothing untoward or cowardly about waiting until the atmosphere changes and the situation allows for positive leadership to come to the fore.

Once the balance has shifted, however, that is the time for making judgments against politicians who do not take advantage and come forward. We're clearly at that point or very close to it, and Democrats who have pretensions toward the nomination in 2008 had better be prepared to stand tall now, or forever be branded for their cowardice.

There were legitimate reasons for Democratic politicians not to come forward before, but no longer.

Update (11/23): Kos makes much the same point in his analysis of the dKos November presidential straw poll:

Hillary Clinton is increasingly aligned with the "stay the course" in Iraq faction of the party. And the longer she stays in that group, the more nakedly political her inevitable flip in favor of withdrawal will look. Because like it or not, Iraq will continue to grow as an issue.

There will be an optimum time to come out against the war, and a penumbra surrounding it of sub-optimum but still positively-valued times -- and then there's too early (over now) and too late (still to come, I think).

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/20/2005 04:10:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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the proud unfutz guarantee
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.

If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.

(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)

Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.

original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


take all you want
but credit all you take.

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