Friday, June 30, 2006

"Bush = War Criminal" meme spreading (Yay!)

Calling Bush a War Criminal is often denounced as a bit of rhetorical excess from the loony left. But a sober look at the recent Supreme Court case reveals that it might be a rather pedestrian and obvious conclusion. Rosa Brooks has an op-ed in the LA Times (which unlike a certain other “Times” doesn’t charge people to read its columnists on the web) showing how straightforward it is (HT: Taylor Marsh):
But the real blockbuster in the Hamdan decision is the court's holding that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention applies to the conflict with Al Qaeda — a holding that makes high-ranking Bush administration officials potentially subject to prosecution under the federal War Crimes Act.
And then later, she connects the dots to US Federal criminal law:
But here's where the rubber really hits the road. Under federal criminal law, anyone who "commits a war crime … shall be fined … or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death." And a war crime is defined as "any conduct … which constitutes a violation of Common Article 3 of the international conventions signed at Geneva." In other words, with the Hamdan decision, U.S. officials found to be responsible for subjecting war on terror detainees to torture, cruel treatment or other "outrages upon personal dignity" could face prison or even the death penalty.
Of course, she doesn’t expect anyone to be frog-marched tomorrow:
Don't expect that to happen anytime soon, of course. For prosecutions to occur, some federal prosecutor would have to issue an indictment. And in the Justice Department of Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales — who famously called the Geneva Convention "quaint" — a genuine investigation into administration violations of the War Crimes Act just ain't gonna happen.

We have values, too. And ours are better!

Digby’s most recent post contains a rousing defense of secularism in politics:
Those who cherish secular values have too often allowed conservatives to frame public policy debates as conflicts between "value-free" secularists and religious representatives of supposedly unchanging moral principles. But secularists are not value-free; their values are simply grounded in earthly concerns rather than in anticipation of heavenly rewards or fear of infernal punishments. No one in public life today upholds secularism and humanism in the uncompromising terms used by Ingersoll more than 125 years ago.

"Secularism teaches us to be good here and now. I know nothing better than goodness. Secularism teaches us to be just here and now. It is impossible to be juster than just. Secularism has no 'castles in Spain.' It has no glorified fog. It depends upon realities, upon demonstrations; and its end is to make this world better every day -- to do away with poverty and crime, and to cover the world with happy and contented homes."

These values belong at the center, not in the margins, of the public square. It is past time to restore secularism, and its noble and essential contributions at every stage of the American experiment, to its proper place in our nation's historical memory and vision of the future.
May it be so! (And shame on Obama for his recent religious pandering.)

Catholic marriage rules debate fallout

(One of the advantages of being the blogmaster is that you can “front page” something instead of being relegated to the comments sections. This a reply to App Crit, but I felt it was important (and lengthy) enough that it should have its own post.)

Hey App Crit, sorry you feel you have to say “Adieu”. (“Goodbye” has equally theistic origins, and I’m fine with the relics of religion sprinkled throughout our language). In any case, even if you’re going, I’ll reply to some of the things in your farewell comment, for my own edification and that of my other readers (Site meter tells me there’s at least one or two).

I didn’t know that Catholics could get their outside marriages blessed within the church, and that is a pleasing concession to reality. But in a way it just reinforces the notion that the institution of the Church controls what is and is not a marriage. And I believe that what transpires between two people, their families, and society (i.e. what happens in the world) is what determines what is and is not a marriage. I understand that the Catholic Church has a “right” to determine what is and is not a marriage within its own institution. But I think I also have a “right” to criticize their rules.

I disagree with your statement that “all institutions operate on similar exclusive standards.” Certainly, all institutions must operate according to some standard, but those standards needn’t be similar to the Catholic Church’s in exclusivity. Example: My mother and father were married in a Catholic ceremony, and my father’s Presbyterian church seemed to recognize the marriage just fine. They would probably have preferred a Presbyterian wedding, but a Catholic one seemed good enough to “count”. They probably wouldn’t have recognized a marriage ceremony that consisted solely of my mother and father exchanging plastic decoder rings in front of a portrait of Elvis and devoid of any further religious, social, or legal backing. They did have a standard of some kind; it wasn’t “anything goes”. It just wasn’t as exclusive a standard as that of the Catholic Church. And I think that in this case, the Presbyterian standard was better than the Catholic standard, because it better accommodates the reality of what existed between my mother and father.

I’m sorry you think that this thread is Catholic bashing. Perhaps I should launch into some screeds against other beliefs and organizations to show that it’s not just the Catholic Church that bugs me. (I attacked Dobson, a Protestant, does that count?) I know that there is a long history of Protestant-based anti-Catholic prejudice in this country. And I don’t want to participate in that ugly tradition of bigotry. But I do not think this should prevent me from pointing out what I think are real dysfunctions within that institution. I think these dysfunctions cause real harm to real people, and they need to be pointed out at the very least, and corrected if at all possible.

For example, I have a Catholic friend who got married in a ceremony that wasn’t “Catholic enough”, and because of this certain people very close to this friend refused to attend the ceremony. This caused real pain and anguish. I have family members who have had similar difficult experiences. Now I think part of the blame lies with these no-shows for valuing the institutional control of the Church above the connections of blood, marriage, and friendship. But part of the blame lies with the institution itself, for insisting on this level of control over its members and over the definition of what a valid marriage is. I know that if the Catholic Church wasn’t so hung up on these rules, there would have been more family and love and community and support and joy, more God, if that’s how you see it, at these ceremonies. This is why I attack these ridiculous rules. Not just to demonstrate how much smarter and more in touch with reality I am (though that is certainly a part of it), but because people suffer real pain because of these rules I’m mocking.

And I must take issue with you when you say, “I respect the truly devout of any religion”. First of all, even if we respect someone, that does not mean we must respect every idea that they have. Wonderful people can believe ridiculous things, even awful things. The goodness or intelligence of a person does not transfer automatically to the beliefs they hold. If Gandhi thought the world was flat, then Gandhi was wrong, despite his goodness in other areas. (I don’t think Gandhi actually thought this.)

Secondly, I want to challenge the notion that devotion to religion deserves respect in and of itself. I think we can all come up with examples of people who are unquestionably “devout”, but not really worthy of our respect (any more than all humans deserve a certain amount of respect). The Heaven’s Gate cultists leap to mind. They strike us as weird, but one can’t question how “devout” they were. They were willing to commit suicide on the strength of their beliefs, which is more “devout” than I will ever be. Do they deserve respect? Compassion, pity, sadness, yes (and maybe a bit of condescension and ridicule, too), but not respect. Not from me. How about the Puritans who conducted witch hunts (more Protestant bashing, see?) and had innocent people killed in frighteningly large numbers? They were “devout”, but their devotion was to a twisted version of Christianity infected with supernaturalist paranoia. Let’s check Zac’s respect-o-meter reading…not very high.

This is the deeper point that underlies the whole thrust of my criticism of Catholic marriage rules: I don’t think beliefs should be shielded from criticism, just because they are part of a religion or are believed religiously. There are too many bad ideas sulking behind the cross (“George Bush was chosen by God to lead our country”), the crescent (“Martyrdom bombers go to heaven and are attended by virgins”), the Star of David (“God said we can kick everyone else off this land”), and the symbols of other religions for us to allow them to become “no criticism allowed” signs. (See? I can bash other religions, too). Now, I suspect that the majority of adherents of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism wouldn’t agree with these bad ideas (at least I hope not). But that doesn’t change the fact that those who do believe those bad ideas believe them religiously and devoutly. I seek to peel pack this “shield of automatic deference” that surrounds religious ideas. I think that this deference is a particularly bad an idea, as it allows other bad ideas to fester unexamined. There is much that is good in religion, too. But how can we tell the good stuff from the bad stuff if we don’t examine it, criticize it, argue about it? That is my objective, not to single out Catholicism in particular.

So App Crit, I’m sorry if in my zeal to ferret out nonsense and hold it up to ridicule, I have offended you. I don’t want to hurt feelings. I don’t want to single out a particular group of people as a target for hatred. Sorry you feel you have to bow out of the thread (or of this blog, I’m not sure which you meant). I love your blog and have enjoyed your contributions here greatly. But I will not stop calling something a bad idea unless someone convinces me it’s a good idea. (Or maybe pays me a whole lot of money. And I worked at Microsoft in the mid-to-late 90’s, so when I say a lot I mean A LOT.)

Dobson: Liberals more powerful than God

Wow! I was worried that conservatives were taking over the country. But I don’t have to, because apparently, Liberal judges are more powerful than God! Now, you might be skeptical of this statement, coming from an atheist like myself. And for an atheist to say it doesn’t really mean much: of course a Liberal judge (who exists) is more powerful than God (who doesn’t). But it isn’t me who’s saying it. It’s the king of wingnut theism himself, James Dobson, on CNN.com (HT: Sullivan):
If the battle to protect marriage takes even five more years, liberal judges and activists will have destroyed this 5,000-year-old institution, which was designed by the Creator, Himself. Even now, they are close to achieving that coveted objective.
Wow. So if I understand this correctly, unless the American Constitution is amended to exclude marriage for homosexuals within five years, marriage as an institution will be destroyed. It will be destroyed by liberal judges and activists (and bloggers? Can I be part of the marriage destruction club, too?) And this will happen despite the fact that it was created by an omnipotent being (whose existence I’m sure Dobson believes in).

All I can say is, I want my money back from the County of Alameda. My wife and I paid good money for our marriage license, under the assumption that it was valid indefinitely. But now Dobson tells me that unless a certain political event transpires within five years (and all the pundits say it’s highly unlikely), this license won’t mean squat. (Of course, according to the Catholic Church, it doesn’t mean squat even now, but I’ve already offended one of my best readers by dwelling too much on that subject.) And what about all the money we spent on our wedding? Will we have to give back the place settings? Can we still wear the rings? How devastated my wife will be when I have to refer to her just as “my girlfriend” again. Unless the institution of girlfriend-boyfriend is going to be destroyed by liberal activists, too. Oh no! But maybe that’s OK, since I’m not sure if the institution of boyfriend-girlfriend was designed by “the Creator, Himself”. Maybe it was just one of the archangels. In which case even a moderate judge might have enough Satanic power to destroy it.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Supremes smackdown the King

Will the court save us from King George? Sullivan thinks it might. Will King George even listen? He seems to be fine ignoring Congress. Let’s hope the other branch has a little more luck.

You can read more about it here. Scalia, Thomas, and Alito dissented, backing the president’s unchecked power. No surprises there. Let’s see if they give Democratic executives the same deference. Chief justice Roberts was sidelined because it was one of his rulings (when he was a lower court judge) that was being decided. His ruling was overturned.

UPDATE: Digby shares Atrios' skepticism (and my skepticism) that the Bush administration will actually pay attention to this ruling, and shows how the wingers are already spinning this. Greenwald has a very lengthy analysis.

Catholic marriage law debate

There’s lots of discussion in the comments sections of the posts about mocking supernatural beliefs, Roman Catholic marriage rules, and the Cruise-Kidman (non-)marriage. Sullivan’s still talking about it, too:
If the church is utterly indifferent to marriages conducted by other churches or the state, then why has it devoted so much effort to demonizing civil marriages for gay couples? Shouldn't they be as irrelevant to the Vatican as, say, civil divorce or re-marriages in other churches? The double standards abound.

This is my main exasperation with the Roman Catholic Church. Their twisted logic would be all fine and good if they kept it within their bizarre cult of Christian Voodoo (“Recite this incantation, and your sins will go away!”). But this is an organization that seeks to alter the laws of my country to suit its notions of morality. They don’t get to hide their weirdness behind the shield of “You have to respect our religion!” while at the same time denying communion to Democrats and pressuring congress to pass “sanctity of marriage” amendments. If you’re going to criticize my gay marriage laws, I get to criticize your Orwellian notion of annulment. (At the same time, I’ll praise you for your stances on the death penalty and pre-emptive war.) If you’re a public advocacy group, you can’t whine when your opponents attack your ideas. It comes with the territory.

I wanted to address some of the defenses of the Catholic churches rules offered by my very intelligent and articulate commenters:

Anthony: I understand your argument that applying non-RC norms and logic to RC marriage does not work. If Roman Catholics have a very different conception of marriage than I do, it doesn’t make sense for me to call their version silly. First, as I said above, the Roman Catholics are trying to apply their norms to the larger world, and the particular piece of the larger world that is me is not interested in their silly rules. So I claim the right of self-defense in my attack on Catholic nuptial logic.

Second, I don’t think the Catholic conception of marriage is really all that different than the mainstream Protestant conception of it. I don’t think there is some vast unbridgeable cultural gulf here that my non-RC mind can’t possibly grasp. It seems to me that the main differences involve the Catholic Church’s view of its institutional role in sanctifying and legitimizing marriage. So I don’t think I’m completely out of bounds in criticizing their rules.

Third, the cultural differences argument can only be carried so far before it falls off the cliff into complete relativism. If we can never apply our own moral laws to someone else’s situation, then we’ve basically surrendered the right to intervene or even criticize no matter how egregious, harmful, or dumb the idea from that other culture is. We must be cautious and ready to admit error, certainly. But I do not believe cultures are so different as to constitute other universes. Other galaxies, probably. But not other universes.

Grishnash: Your defense of the existence of legal fictions is good. Yes, sometimes, for the benefit of some larger system, institutions must act as if certain obvious things don’t exist or didn’t happen. But as a cognitive psychologist, I highly doubt people can really “pretend they didn’t see something” with any degree of accuracy. Our imagination machines just aren’t powerful enough to construct a hypothetical reality in which we didn’t see that big bag of cocaine obtained in an illegal search, and sustain that reality throughout the whole trial. Similarly, I imagine it is hard to sustain the hypothetical universe in which Nicole Kidman was not married before getting hitched to Keith Urban (what a ridiculous name for a country singer, by the way). We should arrange our rules so that this kind of great divorce from reality is minimized.

Secondly, when examining a legal fiction, we must ask what higher good is served by putting our head in the sand and pretending something doesn’t exist when it’s as obvious as Everest. In the case of ignoring the existence of the bag of cocaine, the higher goods are our Constitution, our privacy rights, our protection from government intrusion, and the maintenance of a system in which police do not benefit from illegal actions. With such important things at stake, I’m willing to try to pretend not to have seen that, and to encourage others to do likewise. With the Kidman-Cruise marriage, what are the higher goods that would be served from pretending it didn’t happen? (Aside from the higher good of not having to ponder why Nicole Kidman would marry an adherent of a religion whose ridiculosity exceeds that of Roman Catholicism and hasn’t produced nearly as much good art.) It seems to me that the higher good being preserved here is the institutional prestige of the Church, and its monopoly on the spiritual lives of its flock. Those don’t mean squat to me. I’m not going pretend something didn’t happen just to flatter the Catholic Church’s prerogative that only it can say whether its members are married or not.

App Crit: Your analogy about Princeton not accepting a community college’s calculus credit is not quite on target. In your example you say, “Instead [Princeton] would offer a placement test, as a way to validate the experience according to their own terms.” I think this is right and proper. But this isn’t what the Catholic Church is doing with the Kidman-Cruise marriage. It is denying credit no matter what. No “placement test”, no consulting with the professor, no matter if the class was taken at community college (is Scientology to Roman Catholicism as community college is to Princeton?), or Harvard, or MIT, or if the person has won the Field Medal and is considered the greatest mathematical mind of their time. Credit denied because you didn’t take the class here. Classic case of “not invented here syndrome”. Yes, your school can have that as a policy. But don’t expect me not to mock you mercilessly.

What about the revenue side?

Just in case you forgot Sullivan was a conservative, he comes out with this: “I'm fine with Porkbusters, but it needs to be said again and again that pork is not our real problem. Middle-class entitlements are.” He’s right that entitlement programs form an enormous portion of Federal Spending, and dwarf even the egregious amounts of pork these Republicans have feasted on, but I wouldn’t call entitlements “our real problem”. I would say our real problems from a fiscal point of view are our broken system of paying for health care (which will cause Medicare costs to skyrocket) and Republican eagerness for tax give-aways to those who suffer from having enormous amounts of money. Republican propaganda has turned this country into a bunch of revenue-sissies who want government to do a bunch of stuff but don’t want to actually pay for it. Sorry folks, stuff costs money (especially wars). No amount of Club for Growth talking point recital is going to change that.

That being said, I don’t think looking at Social Security and other entitlements should be the “third rail” of politics. Maybe some adjustments will have to be made to ensure their financial solvency, and we should discuss them sanely and calmly. But I have to say I’m deeply suspicious of the motives of Republicans on this subject. They say entitlement programs are in a “financial crisis”, yet they are very willing to eliminate the estate tax and the capital gains tax. I guess a “crisis” means it’s OK to cut middle class entitlements, but rich people’s money is sacrosanct. It’s this regressive agenda that makes me dig in my heels whenever Republicans attack social programs in the name of financial responsibility.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

This "treason" hysteria is manufactured and baseless

I just want to add my wee little voice to the defense of the New York Times against the furystorm the right-wing machine has unleashed against it. As usual, Glen Greenwald is a principled and reasoned voice on this matter. Just a few things I’d like to highlight:

  1. The information allegedly “given away to terrorists” (like the existence of the SWIFT program) has been in the public domain already. Some of it was apparently even announced by the Bush administration itself, in its endless touting of how its keeping us safe.

  2. The LA Times and the Wall Street Journal published this story, too. And yet talking heads aren’t calling for their editors to be thrown in jail. Could it be because their editorial pages are more friendly to the current administration?
UPDATE: Sullivan weighs in, and concludes that it's pretty obvious that this whole NYT thing is just Rove's propaganda theme of the week.

New Hampshire whiners and primary re-ordering

It’s about frickin’ time: According to Kos, The DNC rules committee is moving to shake-up the order of the presidential primaries and caucuses. What’s so special about Iowa and New Hampshire that presidential candidates should have to pander to them so much? It’s ridiculous. This is a most welcome beginning.

Is it OK to mock supernatural beliefs?

Digby goes all soft and nice on astrology of all things. Apparently, Jerome Armstrong (co-author of Crashing the Gate—see sidebar for link) believes in astrology, and some conservatives are using this to mock him. How do I feel about this? Well, in some sense, I agree with those mocking him: I think astrology, which I understand to be a system of divination predicated on the assumption that the position of various celestial bodies has an influence on events in our lives and on our personalities, and that by studying these positions we can gain useful information that would otherwise be unavailable to us, is total bunk. As on many subjects, one of Shakespeare’s characters has some choice words on the subject (Edmund in King Lear I.ii):

This is the excellent foppery of the world,
that, when we are sick in fortune,--often the surfeit
of our own behavior,--we make guilty of our disasters
the sun, the moon, and the stars: as if we were villains by
necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves,                             
thieves, and treachers, by spherical predominance;
drunkards, liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedi-
ence of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in,
by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion of
whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to                          
the charge of a star! My father compounded with my
mother under the dragon's tail; and my nativity
was under Ursa major; so that it follows, I am rough
and lecherous. Tut, I should have been that I am,
had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled                        
on my bastardizing.

So if Armstrong does in fact believe in astrology, I think his political opponents can mock him for it. However, if one can be mocked for a belief in something ridiculous like astrology, one should be able to be mocked for something as ridiculous as believing in virgin births, transubstantiation, young earth creationism, or that Nicole Kidman was never married to Tom Cruise. But oh, we must respect people’s religious beliefs! Especially if we Democrats wish to get elected, we must pander oh-so-carefully to the majority’s Christian sensibilities (i.e. religious prejudices). And the Democrats must encourage us atheists not to be too strident, so that the Democrats who are Christians can show the voters how hip to Jesus we are.

This whole situation puts me in a bit of a bind. I understand that if I’m trying to convince Americans to vote Democratic, I should do my best not to offend their religious sensibilities. And I respect everyone’s right to practice their own religion within the framework of our laws, and to have their own beliefs about theological matters. I believe this right is essential to the smooth functioning of society. And I do want to get Democrats elected. So as a Democrat, I feel I should say, “You conservatives should not mock Armstrong’s beliefs about astrology, because many people have such beliefs, and these supernatural beliefs are similar to those that many Christians preach. And these beliefs should be respected and not used to mock people. The Bill of Rights says there can be no test of religion for any office, and your mockery displays contempt for the principles on which this great Republic was founded. We Democrats, rather than mocking people, want to find ways people of all faiths can come together and build a better America.”

But as an atheist and philosophical materialist who lives in a society inundated with supernaturalist nonsense, I want to say this: “You rightly mock Armstrong for believing in astrology, a system built on premises that are false and frankly preposterous to anyone who has the vaguest understand of how the world actually works. But frankly, much of the stuff that many Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, and New Agers believe is just as false and often even more preposterous (“It’s REALLY the flesh and blood of Jesus now!”). It’s just that those ridiculous beliefs are cloaked with the mantle of “religion”, so people are either too deluded or too polite or too chickenshit to call them the stupidities that they are. But in substance they are no different than the astrology we all feel free to disparage openly. By mocking Armstrong’s belief in astrology, you’ve just declared open season for mockery all beliefs not grounded in a study of reality. To which I shout, ‘Amen, Halleluiah, and PRAISE THE LORD!’”

I think I am very outside the mainstream of our society in that while I believe we must respect each other’s right to practice different religions, we are under no obligation to respect the religions themselves, or the beliefs they espouse. Religious beliefs should not be granted any special dispensation from criticism, either philosophically or socially. In this respect, I agree with Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith. (I disagree with his view of how pernicious supernaturalist beliefs are.) I think an environment in which religious ideas were subject to open debate and criticism would be a radically different one than the one we currently inhabit. I don’t expect things to shift overnight, but I want to remove this “shield of politeness” that we put around beliefs that people justify with religion. A dumb idea is a dumb idea is a dumb idea, no matter what sacred text it comes from or whose infallible god said it. I just want to be able to say that. The same goes for good ideas, of which religions have plenty. Of course we’ll disagree on which ideas are good and which are dumb, just as we’ll disagree on politics, fashion, movies, music, and every other area of human belief and preference. I just want to pull the rug out from under the idea that supernaturalist ideas are somehow not questionable.

I’ll sign off with a quote I’ve used before: “We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.” -H. L. Mencken

Marriage is forever, unless it never happened

I didn’t quite realize how silly the rules were either. App Crit makes a few points in a comment on my Kidman-Cruise post, but I remain convinced that these rules are ridiculous. Andrew Sullivan points out that it is pretty funny that an institution pushing for a “sanctity of marriage” amendment routinely grants annulments. I guess with their reality-altering magic power they can make things un-happen or something. A quote from his post: "There is nothing that has a greater hold on the minds of people than ignorance fraught with technicalities."

War Nerd is an amoral sicko, not a Bushist

If Bush/Iraq War/Torture supporters are seriously quoting War Nerd to back up their positions, they need to get a clue.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Kidman-Cruise: it never happened!

Celebrity gossip hasn’t been Internal Monologue’s specialty, but when there’s an opportunity to trackback to Sullivan and make fun of the ridiculous rules of the Roman Catholic church at the same time, how can I resist?

Now, I was always skeptical of the Cruise-Kidman marriage. I’m skeptical of all Hollywood marriages. I think they’re publicity stunts. Or at any rate there’s an enormous incentive to turn them into publicity stunts. You get magazine covers when you get engaged, magazine covers when you marry, magazine covers when you have kids, magazine covers when you divorce, magazine covers devoted to who you and your former spouse are seeing now. You can’t buy that kind of publicity. Well, you probably could, but it’s much cheaper just to get hitched. And publicity is the currency of celebrity. How could they not take advantage?

Now maybe some of those celebrity marriages are real, but given the incentives that exist (to say nothing of the celebrity divorce rate) my skepticism meter shows a pretty high reading. Whether these stunts are arranged by the celebs themselves or by managers/PR flaks I don’t know. Neither do I know how self-deluded the participants are: I can picture anything from utterly cold and cynical calculation (“We could use this get an extra 2.3 million each on our next contracts with our studios.”) to complete and utter self-delusion (“We really love each other so much!”). And each partner may be in a different place along the scale. But every time I see some wedding announcement plastered across those magazine covers at the grocery store checkout stand, I smell bullshit. That visual real estate is far too valuable to let something as quirky and unreliable as actual human love determine who gets to park their face there.

And of course there’s the ubiquitous rumor that Cruise is gay. I have no particular information on whether this is true or false, but I admit it does color my perceptions and makes me even more skeptical of his nuptial antics (with women at any rate).

Well, guess what! For once, I, an atheistic reductionist Unitarian, am going to be outdone in skepticism by none other than the Roman Catholic Church, of all institutions! You see, the church is even more doubtful about the validity of the Cruise-Kidman marriage than I am. In fact, they think it never happened at all! A scientology ceremony, 10 years of legal marriage, and adopting 2 children just doesn’t constitute a real marriage in the eyes of the Mother Church. Now I’m no fan of Scientology, but c’mon. We let any wacko sect perform marriages. The moonies, the Universal Life Church, you name it. But if you’ve been baptized Catholic, I guess those aren’t real marriages, according to canon law! I guess my marriage isn’t real either, since I was baptized Catholic, but got married by Unitarians! What will I tell my not-wife? What a horrible surprise for my yet-to-be-born child when he discovers his parents are not really married! Andrew Sullivan (who gets his usual hat tip for pointing me to this story), comments on the absurdity of this:
I love my church. Its rules are inviolable and eternal, except when they're not. Kidman was legally married for ten years, had two kids, but, as far as the Catholic church is concerned, her marriage to Cruise did not exist! She didn't even have to seek an annulment. But the stricture against a Catholic's divorce and remarriage is absolute - and a Catholic who obeyed the rules all along, and got married in a Catholic first wedding, would be denied the sacraments and barred from re-marrying in church. I guess because I am deemed objectively disordered by my own church, I haven't been as aware of this transparent nonsense as I should have been.

(Now comes the part where I demonstrate that we Unitarian Universalists can be as smug and arrogant as the most self-satisfied born-again Christian who is convinced that they are going to heaven and you are not.) Is the Catholic Church trying to make itself into a ridiculous joke? The Leno monologues practically write themselves. With rules like this, is it any wonder that they’re having trouble getting enough priests? People are supposed to respect the august moral authority of an institution that thinks like this? All I can say is: BWAHAHAHAHAH! ROTFLMAO!

Liberal schadenfreude: Rush busted for Viagra

Rush Limbaugh smuggling unprescribed Viagra in from the Dominican Republic? A virtuous character like him would never do something as comical and dumb as that, would he? Well, he did admit to being addicted to pain killers, and has been arrested before on drug-related charges. Taylor Marsh points to this story and asks: “What does that do to his plea deal?” Commenters say it invalidates the deal. Of course, he could have brought the Viagra with him into the Dominican Republic, and only got caught bringing it back into the US. Taylor also asks, “Oh, and one more thing, what the hell was Rush doing in the Dominican Republic? My sex trade investigation nose is twitching, Samantha.”

Is it bad that I am enjoying the misfortune of another human being? Yes it is bad. Bad Liberal! <smack>. But I’m still smiling, so I must be a very, very bad boy.

Tell you what, Rush, you join the Drug Policy Alliance and rail against the stupidity of the drug war on your radio show, and I’ll forgive you for all your drug related indiscretions and criminal activity. (And I’ll command all my lefty blogger venom-dripping rabid soldier bunnies to do the same, because I am actually Markos Zuniga and I control the entire progosphere from my mind control station here at Internal Monologue. Daily Kos was just a diversion to throw the wingnuts off my trail.)

Conservatism, not Bush, is the problem

This is a great diary from The Rockridge Institute (of which George Lakoff is a member). It has actually changed my thinking on this issue. Its central thesis: Bush is not incompetent: the “failures” of his administration (Katrina, Iraq, massive budget deficits) are in fact successful implementations of conservative philosophy. It is conservatism itself that is wrong.

The political angle is this: if we call Bush incompetent, that does nothing to damage the political philosophy he represents. People might think that the next Republican will do better, and vote for him (unless it’s Rice, in which case it will be her). We must instead show that it is conservative governing principles themselves that are at the root of our problems.  

And yes, many “conservatives” criticize Bush for not being a “real conservative”, but Bushism is conservatism as it currently exists and is practiced in this country. There may be some philosophically pure “conservatism” out there in the ether that has nothing to do with Bush and the Republicans, but it is not relevant to what is going on today. Maybe Stalin wasn’t a “real communist”, but as far as what the world needed to actually deal with, Stalinist communism was communism.

Newsflash: Gospels can be "Left Behind"

Slacktivist has an interesting explanation of a phenomenon that has always puzzled us atheists enormously: Why aren’t American Christian Evangelicals more…Christian? We atheists can read, too. And we read the Gospels and the words of Christ we think, “Wow, those Christians must be awfully moral. All that stuff about turning the other cheek and shunning wealth, I sure don’t have spiritual strength for all of that. They may have completely wack metaphysics, but there’s no denying their goodness and moral strength.”

But then we atheists look at “Christian” mega-churches obviously flush with cash, and hear their vicious attacks on homosexuals, see the support for wars of aggression and their wholehearted leap into the Republican party, and we wonder what’s going on. Instead of being all ascetic and non-violent and humble, we find them to be opulent, arrogant, war-mongers. What about all that stuff the alleged Son of God actually said? What gives? Well, it turns out that under some versions of Christianity, the Gospels don’t apply to us. Yes, you heard that right. I’ll let slacktivist explain:
The aversion to the Gospels is even stronger in L&J's peculiar subset of American Christianity -- premillennial dispensationalism. Most of Jesus' teachings, the PMDs say, do not apply to our current "dispensation," but only to some future time in Christ's millennial (literal) kingdom. Don't worry about the Sermon on the Mount -- about turning the other cheek or considering the lilies and the birds of the air -- because those don't apply to now or to us. They are, in this "dispensation," irrelevant.
Wow. That was a strain of Christianity of which I was completely unaware. It makes sense though. Maybe they think the U.S. Constitution doesn’t apply under this dispensation, either: perhaps the Founding Fathers were referring to some future nation when they passed that pesky first amendment.

(By the way, slacktivist gives this explanation during a scathing critique of the popular “Left Behind” series. I haven’t read those books, but his savaging of the passage he quotes is quite delicious.)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sullivan on Dems and the Iraq war

Could he be coming around? On his blog he points to his column for the Sunday Times (the UK Sunday Times, not the New York Times, so you can actually link to it), Sullivan does his usual repeating of the Dems are wimps meme, but then concludes:
The president’s PR brilliance [brilliance? C’mon.] of the week, after the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, will fade if the results aren’t there in the autumn. And then the wimps might seem prescient, or even courageous.

Write what you know

David Brooks provides a wonderful illustration of this maxim in action. When he writes about what he knows, like in Bobos in Paradise, he’s hysterically funny and accurate. However, when he writes about blogs, blogging, and bloggers, like in today’s Sunday Times (click on that link to get a nice little message about how the NYT expects you to pay for opinion content online. Hah!), it’s obvious he really doesn’t get it:
The Keyboard Kingpin, a k a Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, sits at his computer, fires up his website, Daily Kos [with what? Propane?], and commands his followers, who come across like squadrons of rabid lambs, to unleash their venom on those who stand in the way. And in this way the Kingpin had made himself a mighty force in his own mind, and every knee shall bow.
Where to begin? The major misunderstanding that Brooks and just about everyone else makes when talking about the progosphere is treating Zúniga like some sort of lefty Karl Rove who’s pulling all these strings and controlling everything. They can’t help but see the progosphere as just another top-down power group with a powerful centralized leadership and a bunch of mindless foot soldiers that do the great leader’s bidding. The whole point of political blogs is that anyone can have an opinion and broadcast it to the world (or rather, to anyone who will read it.) Then people argue about those things and link to those things and agree with those things and from this frothy and sometimes unwholesome brew ideas come, movements emerge, money is raised. Yes, some figures are more influential than others, and Kos is one of those figures. But I promise you, David Brooks, and everyone else that Kos doesn’t have a bunch of whips enforcing Kos orthodoxy throughout the progosphere. (Orange-shirted Kossack thugs have not shown up outside Internal Monologue’s doors, that’s for sure. But maybe I’m not important enough to be worth arm-twisting.)

The vast majority of content on Daily Kos isn’t even Kos himself, but diaries posted and recommended by readers (I’ve done three so far, one of which made the coveted “Recommended List”), reader comments, and “front page” articles posted by a rotating group of bloggers. A great introduction to what DailyKos is really all about can be found here. (It’s a response by diarist goldberry to recent New York Times and Newsweek coverage.)

One fascinating narrative emerging from this media hoopla is that all political blogs are progressive/liberal blogs. This is totally false, of course. (Indeed, until recently, the conservative blogosphere dominated in terms of traffic generated.) If I was a right-wing blogger these days, I’d be pissed that my political opponents are getting all of the MSM ire (ire = attention, and people don’t blog if they don’t want attention. Believe me I’m speaking from personal experience on this.)

It’s understandable that The New Republic, David Brooks, and other doyennes political discourse of are so down on bloggers. We’re encroaching on their sacred territory. If anyone can have an opinion about politics and broadcast it and have it available for anyone to read for free (unlike NYT select), the business model and privileged standing of the established punditocracy are in big trouble. It reminds me of the Catholic Church’s reaction to the Protestant Reformation: “How absurd to think that an individual can have a relationship with God outside of our established hierarchy! How dare they disrespect our privileged priesthood that has exclusive access to infallible truth! The sheer uppity presumption of disagreeing with us is bad enough, but to consider us irrelevant is downright blasphemous!” (OK, this is probably an unfair characterization of the Church’s reaction to the Reformation. And for the record, I think the Catholics had better art, at least for a while.)

I think an analogous thing is happening in progressive politics: there is a movement towards a more bottom-up distribution of power, enabled by blogs and other forms of web activism. Those at the top of the old progressive hierarchy resent the loss of control. My reply to the whiners at the top is this: if you had been doing a better job at winning elections for our side, then maybe we would have been content with confining our blogging to personal exhibitionism and exhaustive commentary on our favorite television shows. But under your watch and benevolent paternal guidance, the Republican party took over the federal government. We’re tired of hoping you’ll take back our country for us. Now we are demanding that you do so. This burst of energy from the blogs is a force to help take this country back from the narrow interests that have hijacked it. Many Democratic politicians get this. If only the pundits and consultants would, too. Get on board, ‘cause this train isn’t waiting.

UPDATE: Atrios has a great critique of this column here. If only he had trackbacks. Sigh.

UPDATE 2: Digby weighs in here.

Guess who else wants to "pull back"

Newt Gingrich on Iraq: "It was an enormous mistake for us to try to occupy that country after June of 2003," Gingrich said during a question-and-answer session at the school. "We have to pull back, and we have to recognize it." Obviously a defeatist cut-and-run Liberal. When will the rest of the Republicans wake up? I think there may finally be a sea-change going on here. The fact that the Iraqi government itself is contradicting Bush’s talking points might cause some of the denial to unravel.

[I was at a D&D minis tournament today, so that’s why there was little activity. I got whupped: record was 2-5.]

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Guess who else wants a timetable: Iraq's government!

According to this article in the Telegraph (HT: DarkSyde on Kos), the Iraqi government (the one that we fought to have democratically elected) is going to “offer a timetable for American troop withdrawal, stop US operations targeting insurgents, and clamp down on violations of human rights abuses, according to a 28-page deal reported by the Times.”

Well. I guess the Iraqi government that we expended so much blood, effort, and money to set up didn’t get its talking point list from Rove this week. Don’t they know that a timetable “wouldn’t do any good”? They must be a bunch of defeatists!

If this breach between Republican delusion and Iraqi reality doesn’t become a major shitstorm in the mainstream American media, I’ll officially sign up for the blogger revolution (but I guess maybe I already have). Let’s see what tomorrows New York Times will bring.

But wait! There’s more! The Iraqi government is also planning to offer amnesty to Sunni insurgents who are willing to lay down their arms. This is something the US Senate passed one of those grandstanding non-binding resolutions against.

Digby thought this Amnesty offer by the Iraqi government was a bad idea, too. And I agree it might be a bad idea, and said so in the comments section of that post. But I also said that Iraq is its own country, and gets to make its own decisions, doesn’t it? Even if it means bursting the Bush administration’s bubble of denial. I understand why American soldiers might be pissed that the Iraqi government might be granting Amnesty to those who are trying to kill them. But if I were the Iraqi government, I’d gladly trade the ire of the Sunnis (who will always be around, barring genocide) for the ire of the Americans (who will be gone eventually) any day of the week.

Not everyone is on board...

…with the blogospheric revolution. Especially not this person (HT blogometer):

Blog: The word "blog" is literally shorthand for "boring;" a vulgar, overused word that strikes your ear with the dull thud of a cudgel to the soft spot of a child. It's an abbreviation used by journalism drop outs to give legitimacy to their shallow opinions and amateur photography that seems to be permanently stuck in first draft hell. Looking in the archives of the blogs, one would expect someone who has been at it for years to slowly hone their craft and improve their writing and photographs, since it's usually safe to assume that if someone does something long enough, he or she will eventually not suck at it. Even with lowered expectations, you'll get a shotgun blast of disappointment in your face.
It's an unspoken rule that every blog must use the same layout as every other blog: long, slender columns of annoyingly condensed text, thousands of links to other blogs, plugs for shitty political books, and more links to yet more blogs:

Iraq Alternatives?

Foreign Affairs has a good discussion of possible US alternatives going forward in Iraq (HT Andrew, as usual). It’s good to get beyond the “stay the course” vs. “get the hell out” level of discussion. Of course, the whole discussion is useless if the Bush administration won’t take good ideas and use them. One idea that was brought up is some sort of partition of Iraq into separate regions. One might cynically call this the “ethnic cleansing with a human face” option. The idea is that before withdrawing, the US should supervise and protect large movements of refugees to make Iraq’s regions more ethnically homogeneous. That way, when US forces withdrew, some of the worst neighbor-vs.-neighbor genocide might be averted. But many of Iraq’s large cities are very mixed and not easily untangled ethnically. So in practice this solution may be unworkable.

The panelists all seem to agree that present policy will not work, and that any solutions will be extremely difficult at best.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Impugning our troops: OK for O'Reilly?

Most people seem to be able distinguish Ann from Adolf, but can you tell American victims of a Nazi massacre from the SS soldiers who perpetrated that massacre? Easy, one would think. But apparently not for Bill O’Reilly. He gets an infamous atrocity committed by SS soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge (Dec. 1944) backwards, and attributes it to American soldiers, who were in fact the victims. He does this while interviewing General Wesley Clark, of all people. And he did it TWICE. And he altered the transcript of the event to cover it up. Video of Keith Olbermann delivering a smackdown can be found here.

Spotlight Lesbianism: girls kissing girls for guys

It has been far too long since Internal Monologue engaged in some gratuitous titillation thinly disguised with a veneer of social criticism. But upon finding this article on the phenomenon of “spotlight lesbianism” (my term! I invented it! I hereby claim it for my own!) via this analysis on Pandagon I knew that this prurience drought would end:
She and a friend were drinking at a party, and some guys dared them to kiss ... so they did. "It was like, look, I'm the center of attention! Everyone's looking at me and cheering me on. It felt good being in the spotlight [emphasis added]," she says. Then she adds, "And the kissing itself didn't really bug me. From then on it became a normal thing to do."
Now the thin veneer of social criticism: Is this phenomenon as widespread as breathless columnists portray it? Is it on the increase? Is it demeaning or empowering? The Pandagon article talks about this “craze”, and compares it to the whole “blowjob blowup” that has apparently wracked some feminist blogs with controversy. (If you can’t resist finding out more, “Feminist Politics of Blowjobs” is supposedly a good place to start.)

My thoughts:
  • Yes, it would certainly get my attention. Whatever the morality of this tactic, I do not question its efficacy.

  • It wasn’t nearly as common in my high school and college experience as these articles depict. Neither was oral sex. I’m always a bit skeptical about these articles that depict the years of high school and college as some sort of universal sexual free-for-all. It certainly wasn’t for me. Of course, I was I geek/nerd way before there was an easy way to parlay that into some kind of sex appeal, and very girl-shy to boot, so maybe I just missed out.

  • I do find it a bit creepy that someone would do something sexual with someone they aren’t attracted to just to get my attention. Is my attention worth that much? Maybe it is. Maybe I’m as great as all that. But really? Not that any of these issues would prevent me from gawking.

  • I can understand how girls who are actually lesbian or bi-sexual might be uncomfortable with this kind of activity. If people started carrying Dungeons & Dragons books around just because it got people interested in them sexually, I’d feel my genuine love of Dungeons & Dragons would be somehow cheapened. Or at any rate I’d be at great pains to tell everyone that I really liked the game, and wasn’t just playing it to get hot girls interested in me.

  • C’mon, are boys really that hard to get?

  • Do girls like watching boys kiss each other? There was that scene in the American Pie 2 movie, but how representative is that? I can see how it might be fun to get someone to do something humiliating, but are girls genuinely turned on by the act?

Trackback, Trackback to where you once belonged...

Atrios asks a great question: Why don’t Republicans Want the War to End? Maybe it’s because it’s a great excuse to push their agenda, or at least distracts/rallies people enough so they can get away with pushing their agenda.

For some sad reason, Atrios no longer has trackbacks on his blog. So of course I’ll be linking to him less. For anyone who’s looked at my Site Meter statistics referrals section knows, most of my traffic comes from me putting trackbacks on infinitely more popular sites. Indeed, I could rename Internal Monologue “Mooching off Andrew Sullivan” and I wouldn’t be that far off. So if you want me to link to you, enable trackbacks. I should get around to doing trackbacks on my site, too, so people can then mooch off of me. Andrew Sullivan’s site is great, because he doesn’t have comments. So if people want to know how others have responded to his posts, they have to click on the trackbacks.

Bush: Alexander the Great he is not

Great post by digby on Rove, Murtha, and the fawning coverage of Bush’s Iraq visit. A good quote:
One of the most infuriating things about the triumphal coverage of the Baghdad trip is the fact that the media didn't seem to think it was noteworthy that after all this time the president (or anybody else) still can't make a planned visit because he can't trust anyone and the situation on the ground is so dangerous. Why that's considered "good news" for him is anyone's guess. Rational people are right to conclude that there has pretty much been no progress since Bush dropped in exactly the same way for that stupid Turkey stunt. By this time we should have been able to have a state visit and a parade.
What if three years after conquering Japan, MacArthur could only visit Tokyo for a day at a time via surprise visit? That’s pretty much where we are with Iraq.

A guest blogger candidate?

Grishnash is frickin’ great. Yes, he’s also one of my closest friends. We’ve known each other since first grade. From the comments sections of this very blog:

On Ann-Adolf:
The rule that got me 13/14 was that the more well-written ones were Hitler.
On The Pledge:
I wonder if they'll want the Pledge banned if they ever figure out it was written by a Socialist.
Dude, that is a meme that so needs to be more widespread. FLAG PLEDGERS ARE COMMIES!!! I had heard this, but had forgotten it.

On Iraq-Al Qaeda:
Oh, but it's even better than that... That tenuous tie to al-Qaida in Saddam's Iraq? Turns out the worst of them were operating unmolested in the Northern No-Fly Zone. Why didn't Saddam shut them down? Because we would have bombed any forces he sent in there into oblivion. Why didn't we bomb them when we knew where they were? Because we needed there to be terrorists in Iraq when we invaded.

If the administration is looking for a good justification for another war, I suggest we invade Cuba and overthrow Castro to end the human rights violations in Guantanamo.

Sullivan: War Critic, War Advocate

Andrew Sullivan: sometimes wonderful, sometimes exasperating. He longs for a savior (McCain) to salvage the war. He’s too smart and good at heart to believe the deceptions and immorality put out by the Bush administration. But he won’t allow himself to believe that Iraq is an impossible quagmire. He sees that the Iraq war is being used for vile political purposes by an administration he despises, but doesn’t favor an end to that war. Here’s his latest:
Unable to access intelligence, forced to rely on news reports, blogs and other sources for information, I don't have an alternative master-plan to win either. I would support an increase in troop levels, a clear-and-hold strategy, a more aggressive military commitment to protect the infrastructure, and the kind of outreach to alienated Sunnis that Maliki and Khalilzad are attempting. But as long as Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are running the show, I cannot say I am optimistic that such a sane strategy will be employed or that it will succeed. It's like asking Ken Lay to turn Enron back into an ethical, profit-making company. But what else can I do?
The obvious answer to me is, “Support an end to the war”. But that option is not open to him:
I agree with John McCain that peremptory withdrawal or a fixed date would amount to surrender to an enemy that seems to be gaining momentum and strength. It would mean a historic betrayal of all those Iraqis who want a better future; and consigning Iraq to a new and more lethal version of the Taliban's Afghanistan. It would put us in a more vulnerable position than we were on September 10, 2001.
I agree, Andrew: withdrawal would expose us to all of this. But is staying preventing it? Not from all I’ve read. Yes, withdrawing from Iraq would be admitting defeat at the hands of the Iraqi insurgency. But that is not the same thing as admitting defeat at the hands of Al Qaeda/Taliban-style Islamism (despite the Bush administration’s deeply cynical, manipulative conflation of the two in its rhetoric). Are not the Iraq insurgency and international Islamic terrorism separate phenomena, with a small overlap? Indeed, I think the US would be much better poised to deal with the broader threat of politicized, international, violent Islamism (to say nothing of Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea) if it disentangled itself from Iraq.

Even if Iraq is as important as you and other pro-war advocates believe, how long do you think we should stay? Another 3 years? Another 10 years? How long before you are willing to declare Iraq a lost cause? How bad do things have to get? I never thought we should have invaded. But once we did, I found the “Pottery Barn Rule” pretty convincing. But now my patience with ineptitude, torture, and our soldiers getting killed is over. It’s time to invoke the “Bull in the China Shop rule” or the “Shit or Get off the Pot Rule” (coined by yours truly here).

Sullivan then goes on to bash Democrats for being ambivalent about the war in the first place, and for wanting to get out of Iraq now, and for disagreeing about how to do it. All I can say is, I would rather vote for a party that disagrees about how to get out of Iraq than one that agrees on how to “stay the course”. “The course” is the last place the US should be staying.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Guess who wants us to leave Iraq...

...our own troops, apparently, according to this Zogby poll from Feb. 2006:
An overwhelming majority of 72% of American troops serving in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within the next year, and more than one in four say the troops should leave immediately, a new Le Moyne College/Zogby International survey shows.
Of course, this same poll also says:
While 85% [of the troops surveyed] said the U.S. mission is mainly “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks,” 77% said they also believe the main or a major reason for the war was “to stop Saddam from protecting al Qaeda in Iraq.”
When I read stuff like this, I want to scream in exasperation. 85%?!?! Clearly, they think Saddam had a major role in the 9-11 attacks! My God. (No, that it not a renunciation of my atheism, merely “rhetorical deism”.) This is simply not true, though it seems some 30% of Americans continue to believe it. And the notion of Hussien protecting Al Qaeda is rather far-fetched. “Al-Qaeda was strongly opposed to the secular regime of Saddam Hussein” according to wikipedia’s Al-Qaeda entry. Why on earth would one of the world’s most paranoid dictators give shelter and comfort to a violent organization that hated him? Of course, after the first Gulf War, they did hate us more, and conservatives are constantly pointing to the tenuous contacts between the Saddam and Al Qaeda that do turn up (and you can rest assured the Bush administration has looked into every possibility). But I think it is far more likely that he was attempting to keep tabs on a potential threat, rather than conspiring with them.

Of course, if troops think our role was to retaliate against Saddam for 9-11, no wonder they want to leave. Saddam has been captured. Job done. Let’s go.

When contemplating the fantasy universe we seem to inhabit on this subject, my head spins and my heart sinks.

Ann or Adolf? Obey Godwin's Law...

…and take the Quiz! I got 12 of 14 correct. Andrew Sullivan claims 13 of 14! Can you get a perfect score? The challenge is to decide whether each quote about Liberals comes from Ann Coulter or Adolf Hitler! I was able to tell in most cases, but I found myself relying stylistic “tells” rather than substantive ones. Of course the quotes were selected to be similar, and the usual disclaimers about how Ann Coulter isn’t really a Nazi, hasn’t invaded Poland, hasn’t killed millions of people, etc. apply.

(Wikipedia has a definition of Godwin’s Law.)

One nation, under a certain religious assertion of dubious validity


Here’s a great cartoon for those of us interested in ridding our Republic of ceremonial deism (via Anglico on Kos).

End legalized bribery

One thing I think would go a long way to helping our democracy would be the public financing of political campaigns. If our representatives didn’t have to solicit bribes to fund their campaigns, they would be less subject to corruption. It won’t make politicians perfect, but I’d rather politicians pander to voters than to corporate donors. David Sirota has a post on Kos about this, and there’s this group, Just $6, that is fighting for this issue.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bush's "divine aura" doesn't apply to immigration

Ah, the tried-and-true tactic of attacking Democrats has run into a little snag on the immigration issue. You see, the position Republicans are attacking (the possibility of a “path to citizenship” for illegal immigrants) is essentially the president’s own position. So the trick: “’…is how to put the Democrats in a box without attacking the president,’ said one aide, speaking on condition of anonymity.” (From this article on My Way news. HT: Sullivan).

I suppose it’s OK for Republicans to criticize Bush’s immigration policy, but it’s not OK for Democrats to criticize his Iraq policy without being branded traitors. I find it rather mind-boggling that Republicans can try to bludgeon their opponents with this whole commander-in-chief-dear-leader-cult-of-personality thing. Yet when the House disagrees with his immigration reform package, they feel free to ignore him, to be embarrassed by him. What about the fact that he’s a born-again Christian who has heart-to-hearts with God? If God talked to him about invading Iraq, he probably talked to him about immigration reform, too. Surely it is nothing short of blasphemous to oppose him on immigration policy?

There’s this lazy narrative out there that the Republicans are united and the Democrats are divided (see today’s NYT article on Kerry for a prime example). But on immigration, the Republicans are divided between their xenophobic base on the one hand and their pro-cheap labor corporate backers on the other. Some Republicans think they can ride this issue to victory in November 2006. I say let them run with it, and the Democrats should actively court both the corporations and the Latino community. If the Republicans become the angry white people’s party, they may win the next election or two, but they are demographically doomed. Rove knows this; that’s why Bush is pushing (or appearing to push) “comprehensive” reform. But the angry, scared, Latino-fearing part of his base will have none of it.

Iraq: not good for our prestige, either

Well it’s probably not news to most of my readers, but according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project it seems our country is liked less and less these days (HT: Dan Froomkin):

America's global image has again slipped and support for the war on terrorism has declined even among close U.S. allies like Japan. The war in Iraq is a continuing drag on opinions of the United States, not only in predominantly Muslim countries but in Europe and Asia as well. And despite growing concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions, the U.S. presence in Iraq is cited at least as often as Iran - and in many countries much more often - as a danger to world peace.


Emphasis added by yours truly. Yet another reason to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Our Zombie President!


Not only is our president a zombie, he seems to have the ability to transform young Merchant Marine Academy graduates (in this case, one Gabriel Whitney) into zombies. Can you see the zombie love? Perhaps this explains why he thinks we can "stay the course" in Iraq: if we're zombies, there's no way the insurgents could harm us!

Sometimes I'm annoyed with the New York Times for lazily sinking into pro-Republican narratives (e.g. Getting caught up in pro-war hysteria, treating the Clintons' sex life as newsworthy, but not the sex life of Republicans, etc.). But clearly, whoever decided to run this Charles Dharapak/Associated Press photo in today's Times wasn't out to flatter the president. As a courtesy to the "paper of record" I'll link to the article, but I suspect you might have to be a TimesSelect subscriber to see it.

[Update: more photos from the Zombie Sequence]

Puritanical Hypocricy Watch

If thinking about our government’s practice of torture has got you down, let’s switch of a more cheerful topic: Republican sexual hypocricy. It turns out that three Republican front-runners for the 2008 presidential nomination are confirmed adulterers! In some mystical, distant past I might have said, “Ah, but that wouldn’t affect their job performance, so it really shouldn’t be a campaign issue.” But if the New York Times is going to salivate at the prospect of “reporting” on the Clinton’s sex life, I think it’s only fair that Republicans get some scrutiny in this area too. What’s the puritanical crowd going to think of their Republican leaders? Will they hypocritically overlook it, or will they puritanically savage them? I think the Democrats and the Progosphere need to shed some light on these issues, if only to inoculate our side against these kinds of attacks. If it doesn’t matter, that’s fine (and that’s the way it should be), but if it’s going to matter for the Clinton, it matters for McCain, Giuliani, and Gingrich, too.

The wonderful intelligence torture produces

I have nothing but disgust for this administration. If this is true, (torturing a mentally ill Al Qaida lackey and then acting on all of his “confessions”, all to “save face” for the president) they are even immoral and incompetent than I thought, and I had a damn low opinion of them before. Impeach Bush, Cheney, et. al. now. Other folk (here and here) seem to agree.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Torture from the other side

Just yesterday, Rude Pundit asked the following about what the US government reaction would be if the two captured US troops (Tucker and Menchaca) were tortured (hat tip: Sullivan):
What will our government do? What could it do? Could it condemn the actions as not abiding by the Geneva Conventions? Could it call the actions "torture"? Could it demand accountability? Could it demand that the soldiers be treated as POWs? Could it simply say, "Well, we don't do that shit...anymore"?
Tragically, these two troops were found tortured and killed. Here’s the story (Washington Post via Taylor Marsh):
BAGHDAD, July 20 -- Two U.S. soldiers missing since an attack on a checkpoint last week have been found dead near a power plant in Yusifiyah, south of Baghdad, according to U.S. officials, and Iraqi officials say the soldiers had been tortured.
In the past, the United States might have been able to point to this incident and say what an enormous moral gulf exists between us and our enemies. Now, we have to point out that we usually don’t torture people, and that when we torture people, they usually don’t die, and that the torture we do isn’t nearly as barbaric as our enemies’, etc. That we have to parse these differences so finely is shameful and sad and wrong.

I don’t think Iraqi insurgents or Al Qaeda terrorists would change their level of behavior or violence based on US treatment of prisoners. But how the rest of the world sees us in relation to them would change. How we see ourselves changes, too.

Close gitmo. End torture. End “extraordinary redition” (i.e. outsourced torture). If we are going to win the ideological struggle against politicized Islamic Fundamentalism, we must do these things. Yes, there is a military component to this struggle, but I think it is relatively small compared to the conflict of ideas. And it would be advantageous if we could point to a starker contrast between us and our foes.

As for ending the Iraqi insurgency, I think we should leave Iraq. It can’t be an insurgency against us if we’re not there.

Instead of pundits and shills, how about an Iraqi?

For an Iraqi perspective on the death of Zarqawi, here’s Riverbend of Baghdad Burning (hat tip: Pablo, who doesn’t have a blog but should):
"A new day for Iraqis" is the current theme of the Iraqi puppet government and the Americans. Like it was "A New Day for Iraqis" on April 9, 2003 . And it was "A New Day for Iraqis" when they killed Oday and Qusay. Another "New Day for Iraqis" when they caught Saddam. More "New Day" when they drafted the constitution… I'm beginning to think it's like one of those questions they give you on IQ tests: If 'New' is equal to 'More' and 'Day' is equal to 'Suffering', what does "New Day for Iraqis" mean?

How do I feel? To hell with Zarqawi (or Zayrkawi as Bush calls him). He was an American creation- he came along with them- they don't need him anymore, apparently. His influence was greatly exaggerated but he was the justification for every single family they killed through military strikes and troops. It was WMD at first, then it was Saddam, then it was Zarqawi. Who will it be now? Who will be the new excuse for killing and detaining Iraqis? Or is it that an excuse is no longer needed- they have freedom to do what they want. The slaughter in Haditha months ago proved that. "They don't need him anymore," our elderly neighbor waved the news away like he was shooing flies, "They have fifty Zarqawis in government."
Fortunately, I think the American people no longer believe in Bush’s PR stunts. But some in our media still do (how many “Bush had a good week” stories do we have to see?). I’m not sure how all Iraqi’s feel, but it’s pretty clear that at least one thinks Zarqawi’s death doesn’t mean a thing.

Hillary: a step to the left?

Taylor Marsh covers Hillary’s leftward tack after getting booed by Democrats for saying that setting a firm date for withdrawal would be not in our best interest. I don’t think the “stay the course” arguments are going to be very persuasive come November (to say nothing of 2008). By then, Zarqawi’s death will be a distant memory. I don’t picture Iraq improving much, barring a major strategic shift on our part (and even then, it’s iffy).

I’m not sure about Hillary. On the one hand, she is a force to be reckoned with. And she has an ability to work with people and win them over, as her work in the Senate shows. And her husband is one of the great political talents of our time. But her hawkish poses seem to spring from political calculation, rather than conviction (or from any sense of what is actually going on in Iraq). And her support among party activists is very low. (To say nothing of the irrational hatred she inspires among the some of the right.) I haven’t heard her combating the Bush administration much, which is what I think any Democrat with a spine should be doing.

How many times must I say it? Bush is not popular folks. I promise: nothing bad will happen to a Dem nomination seeker who stridently criticizes Bush. They’ll get a groundswell of support from the progsphere. And you’re not going to alienate the general electorate, because anyone you have a chance of getting already doesn’t like Bush. Of course, the right-wing noise machine and Karl Rove will smear you and attack you relentlessly, but they’re going to smear the Democratic nominee no matter what. This is what many Dems haven’t learned yet. They think if they compromise enough, defer enough, cave in enough, that Karl Rove will be nice to them. It aint gonna happen. He’ll slime you no matter what. That’s the reality. This Democratic “politeness” has allowed the political center of gravity to drift rightward and “Bushward” for far too long.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Your penalty for being raped is to bear his child

Atrios points to this Reuters story. Louisiana enacted a “trigger law” that would ban almost all abortions “even in cases of rape or incest” if Roe vs. Wade is overturned. This saddens me. I think people are going to have to start dying from botched abortions again before some states will come up with a tolerable compromise. Federalism (i.e. different states doing different things) may be the only way to go on this issue, but that means abandoning many to the punishments of the reactionaries. If you’re angry about this, there’s a Planned Parenthood link in the sidebar. Give them some love.

...We are now the knights who say "progosphere"!

We are now the Progosphere! I like this abbreviation for “Progressive Blogosphere” better than Progblog. “Progosphere” sounds like “blogosphere”, which is something people are already saying. “Progblog” sounds like one progressive weblog. Progosphere it is! Unfortunately, a Google search reveals that 15 other people have used the term already. So I won’t be able to claim credit for coining it. Still, only 15 Google hits means I’m one of the first. Maybe if I say “progoshpere” enough in this post, I will get a high-ranking search result.

ENOUGH! Now is the time on Internal Monologue when we take web quizzes!

Enough politics! Here's another fun web quiz, via App Crit. This one about your worldview. Here are my results. Not surprising for those of you who are familiar with how I see things.


You scored as Materialist. Materialism stresses the essence of fundamental particles. Everything that exists is purely physical matter and there is no special force that holds life together. You believe that anything can be explained by breaking it up into its pieces. i.e. the big picture can be understood by its smaller elements.



Materialist


81%

Existentialist


69%

Cultural Creative


44%

Postmodernist


44%

Fundamentalist


31%

Modernist


31%

Idealist


25%

Romanticist


6%

What is Your World View? (updated)
created with QuizFarm.com

Pottery Barn vs. Bull in the China Shop

Digby links to a June 6 cable sent by the American Embassy and signed by Khalizad to the American Secretary of State outlining the dire conditions under which their employees in Iraq have to work. It paints a very bleak picture: Creeping Taliban-like dress codes (“Indeed, she said, some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative.”), lack of electricity, paranoia that someone will discover they work at the embassy, threats of kidnapping, and a general sense of anxiety are making life for employees very difficult.

[UPDATE: Atrios links to this memo as well and comments that it "isn't getting much play". Let's see if our left-wing noise machine can change that. I bet it will.]
[UPDATE 2: Sullivan's got it now, too. I think the blogosphere is going to push this into the spotlight.]

Of course, for those of us in the reality-based community, this isn’t too shocking. We’ve been hearing this kind of stuff for some time now. But this document (if genuine-always keep in mind that strange documents turning up may not be the real deal) is interesting because it comes from Khalizad and was sent to the Secretary of State. So it’s some inside insight into what our ambassador really thinks is going on, and what he’s telling our administration.

So what is an anti-war person supposed to do with this kind of information? To me, there’s a lot of force behind the “Pottery Barn” argument: we broke it, so we own it, so it’s our responsibility to fix it. Straightforward and simple and clear. And if I thought this administration could “fix it”, I might be persuaded by this argument. But it seems to me that this administration can’t do it. In fact, it appears to me that this administration doesn’t even take the Iraq war that seriously. What!?!? Oh sure, they talk about staying the course ad nauseam, but I don’t see any actions that show they take what’s going on seriously.

If the folks in this administration actually took the war as seriously as they claim to, they’d get rid of Rumsfeld. (To Rumsfeld’s credit, he did offer to resign. It’s Bush who’s kept him on. And for all my frustration with Andrew Sullivan’s intermittent support of this war, he and I are of one mind on this point.) If they took this war seriously, they would make sure this country could pay for it. If they took this war seriously, they’d ask Americans to sacrifice for victory. If they took this war seriously, they’d come down like a hammer on anything that smacked of torture or mistreatment of Iraqis. If they took this war seriously, we wouldn’t be playing whack-a-mole with the insurgency because we would have enough troops to pacify a strife-ridden country.

Instead of the “Pottery Barn Rule”, I want to present the “Bull in the China Shop Rule”: If there’s a bull in the china shop breaking stuff, you don’t stomp your foot indignantly and demand that the bull glue the broken stuff back together. You get the bull out of the china shop before it breaks more stuff. The bull doesn’t know how to fix things, and you don’t want it to try. It would only make things worse. Maybe we should be talking about the “shit or get off the pot rule”: If you’ve occupied a foreign country, do what you’re going to do, or get out. Don’t just hang around getting shot at and pissing people off.

Not that there aren’t potentially disastrous consequences for withdrawal. I’m not arguing that at all. It could be hell on earth. It’s just that I’m not convinced that staying will avert those consequences. And as I’ve said before, at least if we aren’t there it won’t be us getting killed, and won’t be us killing others.

What would it take for me to support this war? Bush would have cut the bullshit. Bush would have to come out and say something like this: “Iraq is going horribly, and we’re going to do a major strategic shift. We’re going to increase our troop strength by 250,000. We’re going to launch a building and infrastructure plan that’ll make the Marshall Plan look like Tinker Toys. To pay for this, we’re going to repeal all of the tax giveaways we irresponsibly handed out. I’m firing Rumsfeld now and putting Shinseki in charge of the occupation. And I am personally moving to Baghdad and living outside the Green Zone so I can see first hand what the hell is going on there. And by the way, I’m also going to enact some stiff fuel economy laws and launching a “Manhattan Project” style push to come up with alternate sources of energy.” The sad thing is, even if we did all this, it would still be a tough slog. But at least I’d know he’s frickin’ SERIOUS about this war. Then I might support it. But if this administration isn’t even supporting this war, why should I?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

If Iran is such a dire threat...

How come we’re not worried about Pakistan? I mean, Iran doesn’t have the bomb yet. Pakistan does. And the whole A. Q. Kahn scandal/pardon fiasco shows that Pakistan has a history of selling this stuff. Taylor Marsh says the only person talking about Pakistan is emptywheel on The Next Hurrah. Here’s a bit of what emptywheel says:

Which is why I invite everyone, every time someone raises the "Iran problem" to respond with a question about the "Pakistan problem." By addressing the latter first, we're more likely to succeed. And we'll break the cycle of chasing down one after another "rogue state" crisis. More importantly, by addressing the problem of nuclear proliferation at its source, we might be able to stop invading all these other countries. And while we eliminate that threat everywhere, we can try to establish real relations with Iran before it becomes the problem it is promised to be, five years down the road.

Touring the progblog: Taylor Marsh

Taylor Marsh has a great site. What do I like about it? It’s graphically a cut or two above most other Lefty blogs. It uses the web as a visual medium, whereas most blogs (including this one) are primarily text-driven, with an occasional picture thrown in. She’s definitely a member of the Liberal blogosphere, but also seems to have a slightly different angle than the “core” Lefty blogs I tend to reference: Eschaton, Hullabaloo, Daily Kos, and Unclaimed Territory. For links, see the sidebar. (Andrew Sullivan, perhaps my most referenced blogger, is a conservative and is often loathed by the right for criticizing the war and torture, and by the left for his derisive comments about Dems and previous enthusiasm for the Bush administration and its reckless fiscal policies.) She deals a lot with military matters, and seems to get her material from a wide variety of sources. If you want some visual polish with your sharp pro-Democrat commentary, you could do worse than to check out her site.

I like this quote she posts from Chuck Peña of The Washington Note:

The key to winning the war on terrorism, then, is not a liberal internationalist version of neoconservatism or going back to the future by applying Truman anti-totalitarian liberalism against the radical Islamic threat. Rather, what is required is a real overhaul of U.S. foreign and national security policy based on an understanding that U.S. interventionism is a root cause of anti-American resentment in the Muslim world -- which breeds hatred and becomes a steppingstone to violence, including terrorism. Accordingly, the guiding principle for U.S. policy should be to stop meddling in the internal affairs of countries and regions around the world, except when they directly threaten U.S. national security interests -- i.e., when the territorial integrity, national sovereignty, or liberty of the United States is at risk. This is especially true in the Middle East and Muslim world.


(There’s some interesting discussion after the post. I don’t agree with everything Chuck Peña says, especially his claim that the current Iraq invasion and Clinton’s Balkan interventions come from a similar political philosophy.)

Human cost of prejudice

We progressives in favor of marriage for all gnash our teeth when Republicans ride the fear and prejudice surrounding homosexuality into elected office. They ride it, and they try to whip it up every election cycle. And they don’t give a damn about the targets of this hatred (at least not the extent that they’ll change their behavior or public posture). A very moving piece of testimony from a former Baptist preacher:

Given the fact that Alabama just voted overwhelmingly to reject the right of gays to marry, I found myself feeling like a stranger in a strange land. This state has been my home all of my 41 years. My parents, thank the Lord, are still here. I graduated with a degree in Mathematics from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. There have been days when I've felt the brush of God's grace through the warm, southern winds. And the sun rose like a thousand diamonds in the sparkle of the trees as I go on my long, crazy drives, praying to God. But now, I feel isolated, numb, as though I've been rejected by the very people I love. Never mind the fact that I've been partnered for 12 years.


How Mary Cheney can hear something like this and continue to support the Republicans who push it I just don’t know. How Dick Cheney can support his daughter’s open lesbian relationship and yet still be willing to inflict this kind of rejection and stigmatization on others who have the same aspirations she does I don’t know. I am heartened that among my generation, there’s a lot more acceptance of homosexuality. I’ll be so proud of my country when we take the simple step of recognizing that gay people are real and that their love and commitment deserves the same recognition as everyone else’s.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Money or Nuthin' (I want my VLWC)

From consortiumnews.com via Unclaimed Territory, here’s a lament about one of the missing links in the desperately needed left-wing counter-mobilization: big money Liberal donors taking media infrastructure seriously. Robert Parry’s piece on consortiumnews.com is particularly despondent about Liberal donors not “getting media”.

I hope that the building blocks of the much needed vast left-wing conspiracy will come into place soon. I think the progblog (progressive blogosphere) is a very important building block: it provides energy, a factory of ideas, a fast reaction force against lies, and a source of funding. But it needs to get connected to the larger media world of television and newspapers. It needs to be energized by enthusiastic wealthy donors and foundations. And it needs to be supported by think tanks, training programs, and policy institutes. We can’t afford to stumble along on our own anymore. And we can’t wait for the mainstream media to suddenly wake up and start telling our story. The right wing certainly didn’t. We can’t just be more right than our political opponents, we must be more convincing, and we must win.

Progressive Commercialism Justified!

Just what I needed! A rant by the notorious Kos diarist Hunter in support of progressives selling out and making money! I don’t know if I’d defend commercialism as vehemently as he does, but he’s got a point: wingnuts get paid to shill their ideas. Progressives should at least be in the same ballpark. We’re not even close to being there yet, but we are moving up the economic food chain rapidly. Heck, even I’ve made a whopping $8.52 in ad revenue since putting those Google ads on the site! (With my discount at Games of Berkeley, that is EXACTLY the price of one box of D&D minis!) But apparently some people decry our success as “selling out”. I guess they want us to remain “pure” and “ignored”. Hunter will have none of it, and is not shy about saying so.