Saturday, January 13, 2007

Still Not Listening

Apparently, Bush doesn't understand how policy is arrived at in a republic where legislative and executive functions are divided between co-equal branches of government. Having proposed an increase in troop levels for Iraq, and having the suggestion roundly condemned, not just by Democrats and liberals, but by Republicans and conservatives, Bush is allowing petulance to substitute for political delaing and diplomacy. In a piece on Yahoo News from the AP Bush is quoted as saying, "To oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible." Apparently he missed the fact that, for months, Democrats have talked about everything from complete withdrawal to a "phased redeployment", code talk for complete withdrawal to areas beyond the Iraqi hot zones, but available if need be. As such plans have much wider support from the American people than the President's own decision to offer 21,500 more American service lambs to slaughter, and as such talk echoes Joe Klein, we wonder who, in fact Bush listened to on his infamous "listening tour" just before Christmas.

The story continues:
Bush said lawmakers "have a right to express their views, and express them forcefully. But those who refuse to give this plan a chance to work have an obligation to offer an alternative that has a better chance of success."

Parsing such a quote is difficult, because there are so many ways one could go.

First, Bush has not offered a plan. Bush is simply shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. Second, "success" has no definition; if the idea is "ending the violence", offering more troops is not the answer, because it only adds fuel to an already raging inferno. Of course, wanting competent diplomacy from Condoleeza Rice's State Department is probably too much to ask, but diplomacy is the way to go. There is no way more guns, more bullets, more dead bodies will achieve whatever goals Bush thinks are achievable.

Let me be even more explicit. There is no policy, plan, ROE or TOE, in short nothing America can do to solve Iraq's problems. We may have created a chaotic situation, but it has spiralled so far out of anyone's control that fixing it is beyond the capacity of anyone currently in charge in the Executive Branch of the United States government. For our country's sake, for the the sake of the lives of our service men and women, for the sake of the lives and security of the American people, getting out and allowing Iraqi politics to take whatever course they might take is the only course of action guaranteed to keep the US from collapsing.

As far as Congress "expressing their views", forcefullly or otherwise, Bush just doesn't get the role Congress plays. This isn't about being vocal. It is about overseeing what the President does, of approving or disapproving, of ensuring that what the President proposes is in the best interests of the United States. It is the President who can express his views, offer a policy, and be forceful about it. It is Congress that decides the final form of that policy. Primus enter parum of the three branches of the federal government, Congress is the place where the people's representatives figure out what is best for all of us. It is messy, to be sure, and there are all sorts of disagreements and horrid politics that go on. Sadly, that is the way our country's government was designed, and it is well that Bush was reminded of that fact this week as his Secreataries of Defense and State appeared before Senate committees charged with oversight of Executive Branch policy-making. Rather than the Republican railroad on which we've all been riding since 2001, we are now witnessing how Congress and the Executive work as they are designed to work. The President proposes, Congress disposes.

No one need answer the President's challenge, of course, because the premises at the heart of the challenge are either wrong, nonsensical, or just plain wrong. It is the President who must do what has to be done to pull his own chestnuts out of the fire. It is the President who has the power to offer constructive solutions to the Iraqi mess, but consistently refuses to do so. It is the President who has brought us to this point, and he must be made to realize that, having done so, he must pull us back from the brink on which we currently hang.

Which means, of course, that we are, most likely, in for a very rough time. Echoing sentiments voiced by Sen. McCain, Bush most likely considers "failure" and "defeat" unthinkable, even though the first is entirely applicable to our current situation, and the last has no meaning of which I am aware. As the President has said repeatedly that withdrawal equals defeat - again, no meaning! - he won't even hear these proposals, so that leaves us with his as the only option available to America. It is a nice, neat, meaningless circle in which Bush arrives at policy and speaks to the American people. Since he has closed off the possibility of considering alternatives, to him, there aren't any. Our choices are few, and our options for dealing with such irrational intransigence are fewer. I fear for us over the next few months as this dynamic plays out.

The First Angry White Guy

Note: I can't get the link to the specific post to work, so I will just link to Digby's blog, and scroll down until you see a puffy face on the cover of Time magazine, and you'll know you're in the right place.

As a follow on to yesterday's post on left-wing anger, I think it wise to recall a bit of history. This is always a chancy thing, as we are a notoriously historically ignorant people. Our media are infected with this virus, to the point they cannot even bring themselves to remember what a politican said last week (unless it's one of Tim Russert's "gotcha" moments on Meet the Press, and that's not history but political and journalistic theater designed to catch a liar or hypocrite; I digress). I think it is important to recall, as Digby does, that anger is not a political phenomenon that is new or limited to the left. I also think it is important to think about that previous manifestation of political rage, and its mouthpiece, Newton Leroy Gingrich.

I think it is safe to say some generalities about the Republican take-over of Congress in 1994. First, there were multiple displays of political anger at the time, but what most fascinated me, then and now, was that they were directed not at America as it was then constituted, but rather at the counter-culture. Conservatives viewed Bill Clinton as the counter-culture icon par excellence, the archetype of the anti-war protestor/pot smoking/long-haried-hippie-freak who had tried to repudiate his past. Of course, they were not going to allow him to do that. Neither were they going to allow him to continue in office, as the Republicans in general, and conservatives in particular, viewed the Oval Office as theirs by right (to a certain extent they were correct; the times should have dictated a Republican President, but George H. B. Bush was so abysmal, he was tossed on his ear; that he is viewed with nostalgia by many today should tell us a whole lot about our current state of affairs; again, I digress). Clinton was not just Democrat, but a former pot-smoking/war-protesting/long-haired-hippie-freak who wanted to pretend he was reformed. The Republicans aimed their legislative and overight agenda at the 1960's in general and Bill Clinton specifically because they understood that they owed their existence as a reaction to that counter-culture. They wanted to erase any trace of it from the American consciousness.

Into this political-cultural mix was thrown the most unlikely figure one can imagine. Gingrich first made his name in the mid 1980's when, after a special order speech to an empty house, he was reprimanded by then-Speaker Thomas O'Neill in a rare intervention. Gingrich knew the rules of the House, and got the Speaker's words striken from the record. It was the first strike against a House establishment as bloated as the Tipster's nose.

His next target was House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas. In a deal not nearly as lucrative as one Gingrich would negotiate once he ascended to the Speaker's chair, Wright managed to wrangle all sorts of money out of a publisher for a book. Gingrich demanded an investigation and Wright was gone. The final stroke was the 1994 election, and the defeat of Speaker Thomas Foley for re-election, and Gingrich's rise to the top. Those who thought he was just a firebrand who could only stand against a fat, tired, and long-since dessicated Democratic majority did not know our Newt. They hadn't seen anything yet.

In a collection of essays originally published in The New York Review of Books, Political Fictions, Joan Didion had an amazing article that was bio/analysis of Gingrich the man-as-budding-political-figure. Two of the most striking things from that particular essay have stayed with me, because they have a certain resonance with my own experience in life.

First, Gingrich had a restless, almost hyperactive mind. Not necessarily a great thinker, Gingrich was wedded to a certain aphoristic approach, jotting notes he kept in shoe boxes. There was rarely any connections amongst the various thoughts, except for the fact that they were spawned in Gingrich's head.

As a precocious child myself, I recognize the almost constant stream-of-consciousness that Gingrich put on paper. I was not nearly as disciplined as the young Gingrich, devoting the time to putting on paper all that flitted through my head. As an intellectual discipline, however, such early habits are antithetical to analytical ability; part of being able to think is to follow connections between things, to be critical of one's own thought and thought processes, to use not just logic and analogy but all sorts of sources to move from A to Z. Impressed with his own precociousness, Gingrich never graduated to the analytical stage. The conclusions he managed to draw was that having a plethora of thoughts equaled genius and wisdom; actually it just means he probably should have taken Ritalin. Never having developed a critical stance toward his own intellect, he never developed an analytical habit; there were seldom conlcusion that could be drawn from all the thoughts scratched on scraps of paper, except within the fertile mind of the future Speaker.

The other thing I remember very distinctly is that Gingrich was a devotee of science fiction. Growing up with an older sibling who was also one such, I can attest that science fiction is poor soil in which to plant the seed of serious, critical thought. Rather, it cultivates a pre-adolescent fixation on "things", on the possibilties inherent in technology. As an antidote to the too-often messy, irrational world of politics, science fiction offers a view of the world that says, "What if we just . . ." and then fills in the ellipse with all sorts of improbables. Because these improbables "exist" within a certain limited rationality of science fiction - I say limited because they are justified from a story point-of-view, but the background to these stories is rarely examined in detail - to the devotee, they seem less improbable than they might otherwise. As my one sibling who still harbors a love for S-F has said, why aren't we mining the asteroid belt, since there are all sorts of minerals out there for the taking. That such a thought could occur, detached from any other reality, and be taken as a serious economic/industrial query, shows the corrosive effects of S-F upon one's perception of reality.

Taken together - the lack of analytical ability in a hyperactive/precocious child, and the fascination with the technical possibilties offered by science fiction - create a world in which the messy realities, especially of politics, interfere with the possibilities inherent in humanity. This combination is exemplified in Gingrich's almost constant preference for techinical over political solutions; if we just allowed people to invent new things, all our problems would be solved. Such techinical entrepreneurship, however, is stifled by liberals with all their concerns for social welfare, for the regulation of business, for their preference for a politics of the political and social rather than a politics of technique. If we just freed American mind from the strictures of the social, the political, and the analytical, all sorts of possibilities open up.

Of course, such a view is so devoid of reality, shallow, and lacking in the humility and recognition of human limitations that it is difficult to grant it anything other than a chuckle. Yet, the lower house of Congress, and the Republican Party, was once controlled by one who thought this way. I say "thought" only in the sense that, as a private citizen, Gingrich no longer lives in the public eye. There is no doubt he still thinks this way, as evidenced by his announcement concerning a possible Presidential bid. Rather than go the usual route - exploratory committee, surrounding himself with backers and donors, getting the word out, etc - Gingrich insists a movement will somehow coalesce itself in America that will demand his leadership, and he will not-so-hunbly acquiesce to this demand. These are not so much the thoughts of a deranged mind as the thoughts of an undisciplined, non-analytical mind still wedded to non-existent possibilities he first read in the stories of Isaac Asimov and Ben Bova.

Friday, January 12, 2007


I suppose I am taking my cue from the big guys on this one, especially Digby who provides some helpful historical context. Much of the "moderate" and right-wing blather about us lefties being so angry misses the point that anger has always been a goad to political action. Just because Joe Klein is put off by liberal displays of righteous dismay over the nonsensical destruction of life and treasure for no reason does not mean that anger is not justified.

Much of the anger one sees in lefty blogs is a result of our almost total dismissal by the media and political elites. Our voices have not been heard. Our concerns not taken seriously. Our views are belittled. Our motives are questioned. Our patriotism is disparaged. Glen Beck is given a forum on CNNHeadline News and ABC's GMA and we should remain silent and take our medicine like good American children always have. An ANC-Disney owned radio station transmits political pornography, and when they are called out, go after the blogger who outs them to the world. For some reason, we are to play nice by rules designed to keep us from having a voice.

Except those rules are disappearing. Liberals are finding their voice in a new medium. Just as right-wingers got in on the ground floor in AM radio after the demise of the FCC's Fairness Doctrine, lefties dominate the political discussions and, just as important, organizing tools, availiable through the internet. Not only do we set the agenda, we mobilize people to give money, volunteer time, and keep an eagle eye out for the ways the system is ginned against us.

But the anger is still present, because, despite being right - and consistently right - on any number of issues, not the least of which is the whole Iraq mess, we are counseled by our "betters" to make sure we don't allow our anger get out of hand:
Liberals were "right" about Vietnam, but they have paid a price ever since because they were so obnoxious about their correctness.

See? We were obnoxious about the fact that tens of thousands of Americans and over two million Vietnamese were dying for no reason. We were obnoxious about the fact that we were being lied to, then lied to about the lying. We were obnoxious about the fact Robert McNamara knew the war was lost, but prosecuted it anyway. We were obnoxious about the fact that Kissinger and Nixon illegally invaded Cambodia and Laos, then lied about it, then lied about the lying, then lied about lying about the lying. Kissinger continues to lie about it. He writes whole books to justify his lying, and is an advisor to President Bush. Those who call Kissinger and Bush out, however, are counseled to not be "obnoxious".

There is a two-word answer to these people, of course, which I shall refrain from using here, as I have already been called to the carpet for being snarky about Pres. Bush. Rather than limit myself to these two words, I shall quote from my vote for a future poet laureate, Maynard James Keenan of the band Tool, and the song "The Pot" (lyrics courtesy of Tool Shed, by James Maynard Keenan):
Foot in mouth and head up ass
So what you talkin' about?
Difficult to dance 'round this one
'till you pull it out. boy.

You must have been so high.
Who are you to wave your finger?
So full of it
Eye balls deep in muddy waters
Fuckin' hypocrite
Liar, lawyer, mirror show me what's the difference?
Kangaroo done hung the guilty with the innocent
Now you're weeping shades of cozened indigo
(musta) got lemon juice in your eye
When you pissed all over my black kettle

In the future, that is my response to those who complain about lefty anger. We are angry, and our anger is based upon very good reasons, not the least of them being the death and destruction being wrought in our names and against our express wishes and without our consent.

Politeness has failed. Playing by the rules has failed. Sometimes you have to shout in order to be heard. Sometimes, you have to allow yourself to be angry.

Second and Third Thoughts

It was late last night when I surfed over to my turlte-loving neighbors to the north and found I was being quoted and criticized for this quote. As I work overnights, I had eight hours ahead of me to think through things, and second and third thoughts occurred to me.

My first reaction was, "Wow, someone quoted me!" and I was patting myself on the back. Of course, then I considered what the words quoted were, and I wondered if I had been as prudent I could have been in using them. Of course, the context in which the words appeared should have disabused anyone from the notion that I was doing anything other than using hyperbole as an attempt at humor. The fact that I was thinking through the speech given by the President should have led most to realize that I took his words very seriously. Indeed, I do, and am frightened by them, but that is not the point here.

Then I thought of another context in which to consider my words. As someone who claims to be, and actually is, a Christian, how does such a phrase reflect on me, my claims to faithfulness and all that entails, and how others, newly come to my blog, might perceive me and what I write. It was then that I remembered the words of St. Paul, in which he admonishes people to a certain circumspection and discretion; he acknowledges that the freedom granted through grace permits "all things", but that those who either don't believe or know nothing of the Christian faith may not understand how such radical freedom, rooted in love, can sometimes lead people to do things that seem, well, outlandish. In other words, I am more than free to say whatever I want, but I have to remember there are consequences to what I say, and that part of these consequences are a certain reflection back on the faith. I have a responsibility to make sure there is no bad reflection on being a Christian just because I feel free to talk about consuming vomitus.

After thinking about that, I was all ready to take back what I wrote, pronounce multiple mea culpas, and sit and listen to Rush Limbaugh this afternoon as penance.

Actually, all I thought about doing was the first thing. I felt real remorse, because I realized that I may have led some to question my bona fides as a Christian, and as someone to be taken seriously.

After several hours of guilt and anguish, I realized that I was flogging myself for no reason. My expression of disdain for Bush's speaking abilities may have been a bit over the top, and if that was all I had written, then perhaps I should indeed be dismissed as a foul-mouthed crank. Yet, it was only a small part of a much longer piece that took seriously the President's words and their implications for the country and the world. Those who may have come across them only through the link provided by NPT could read the whole piece, or limit themselves to thinking I was shallow, nasty, and disgusting. I am not responsnible for other's thoughts or actions, especially as I had provided enough information on my own, and within the piece in which this one phrase appears, to disabue anyone from the idea that I was shallow, nasty, or disgusting - at least in this instance.

I do not necessarily "stand by" these words. What I do stand by is the piece I wrote, which was a stream-of-consciousness analysis of certain implications drawn from reflection upon the President's speech. I relied for part of that upon pieces written by other bloggers, journalists, and my own ability to draw conclusions from certain principles. I offered my own views on my own preferences as to whether or not to sit and watch or listen to the President by way of preface only.

I will not deny a certain conflict within myself; there is the possibility there was something impolitic if not downright un-Christian in my turn of phrase, reflecting poorly upon myself and my claims to being a faithful Christian. My only defense is that I am only human, am far from perfect, and need to work on being better at many, many things. I will not withdraw the comment, however, nor repudiate it, because it is out there, and accurately reflects how I felt at the time, and should not be taken seriously in any event because it was never meant seriously.

There is also this. I almost quoted a character, David Horton, from the British sit-com The Vicar of Dibley who replied, when asked if he would like to taste the latest batch of cooking from notoriously horrid chef Letitia Cropley:
I would sooner eat my own scrotum.

Had I said that, I might have something to apologize for.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Rice Couldn't Sell Water to those Parched Crossing the Sahara (And She isn't much of an Administrator, Either)

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, and, among other things, managed to try to ignore the fact she was called a liar by a protestor being dragged out by uniformed Capitol Police officers. She also didn't fair well in an exchange with Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) (see the update to the previous post). Part of the exchange between the Secretary and Sen. Hagel consisted of a disagreement concerning what to call what the President is planning to do in Iraq. Thanks to Think we have the exchange in detail. Rice objected to Hagel's use of the word "escalation", wanting to call it an "augmentation", instead. According to Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language Students Edition (NY:Simon & Schuster, 1976, 1981; this was the dictionary that my parents gave me as I went off to college, and has served me well since Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union the Evil Empire), "augment" means increase. "Escalate" on the other hand means to increase rapidly. Does anyone see the difference? Is this attempt at semantic confusion mean anything to anyone? After five years, is Rice's Golden Girl reputation actually tarnished, and is the honeymoon between Congress and the Secretary finally over? After this nonsensical attempt to try and change the subject, one hopes so.

Just in time for today's hearing, consummate insider and Valerie Plame-leaker Robert Novak (why does he still have a column?) cut Rice's feet out from under her in this column, in which, attributing unnamed Senate personnel, he claims the State Department is "a mess", which is one of the reasons John Negroponte is returning to Foggy Bottom. An excellent manager, Negroponte has apparently been sent to clear up the problems Rice has been unable to fix.

One of the problems Negroponte might want to address is the fact that the office of Counterterrorism Coordinator is currently empty. I mean, since we are supposedly engaged in a global war on terror, it might be nice to have someone at the State Department co-ordianting our diplomatic efforts in this regard.

Who do we have running our country, monkeys? Did they think no one would notice the Office of Counterterrorism Coordinator was not filled if no one looked?

Rice is clearly not suited for her current job. Which means she fits right in with the rest of this bunch in the Bush Administration.

Some Thoughts on Bush's Speech Last Night (UPDATED with a link)

One of the great benefits of not having cable or satellite hook-up is I missed the speech last night. I know I could have streamed it over the 'net, but why infect my computer? The truth is, I would rather eat my own vomit that listen to anything Bush has to say. It goes down easier, after all. Of course, there was also the fact that, for the most part, there was nothing either surprising or new in the speech. Since the release of the ISG report last month, it has been clear Bush would do the exact opposite of their recommendations, and he has.

We now have the spectacle of the Unitary Executive being opposed by the American people, the Democratic Party, the Wise Old Men of Washington, and now members of his own party in the Senate, including Sam Brownback and now, it seems (according to Joe Klein's interpretation, always chancy), John Warner. Kennedy and Murtha are working on different versions of the same idea, viz., that the President has to come to Congress with details (as opposed to, say, Joe Klein's argument that it is up to those opposed to the war who have to have details) before a dime is spent on escalation. Pundits are starting to notice that a President doing what the country most explicitly says it does not want done is problematic.

The most interesting thing about the speech, noted by Crooks and Liars, Think Progress, and Talking Points Memo, was the ramping up of the verbal threats against Syria and Iran, as well as a move against an Iranian consulate in northern Iraq. Last summer, I took Arthur Silber to task for his fear that the United States would use the Israel-Lebanon war as an excuse for military action against Iran. I noted that, while such an action has been part of the Republican dreamland for a quarter century, there were too many political, diplomatic, and military logistical reasons for not doing so. It seems, however, that I overestimated Bush Administration's reliance upon reality, and it now seems we are going to do even more stupid things we should not do.

It is bad enough we have an un-democratic President acting against the wishes of the majority of the people, and even against most of his own party. It is bad enough we are to force-feed 21,500 more troops into the gaping maw of the Iraqi sinkhole, not to mention the billions of dollars for which there is no accountability (at least until Congress ramps up oversight hearings). It is bad enough Bush wants us to believe him when he says he has a new plan, when more people is not a plan, but the military equaivalent of faking a punt on fourth and forty and hoping it works. Now, it seems, the nightmare of Arthur Silber may actually come to pass, entering the real world as military action against one or perhaps two of Iraq's neighbors. The results of such insane military irresponsibility are hard to imagine, and I need to time to get a grip on the situation myself. I mean, we could turn the entire world against us, and then where will we be? This is not some kid's game Bush is playing here. There are real dangers, horrible dangers here. Not just provinding more targets for insurgent snipers and IEDs; I am talking about provoking world-wide action against the United States . . . I can't even finish this sentence because the implications of it are too horrible.

I didn't want to believe Bush would be this insane. I didn't want to believe Bush would ignore everyone and do the least productine, most harmful thing he could possibly do. I didn't want to believe Bush would threaten the US with universal condemnation. Call me naive, but I just didn't want to believe that his detachment from reality had gone so far. I fear we are entering very dangerous waters, and we need to do something to stop this before it gets out of hand.

UPDATE: Steve Clemons at The Washington Note has a partial transcript from today's hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is, ahem, less than forthcoming concerning the President's intentions towards Iran and Syria. Toward the bottom of the piece, just before the transcript of the exchange, Clemons writes:
Bush may really have pushed the escalation pedal more than any of us realize.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Irrational, Fanatical, Cowardly Atheist

Last week I commented upon an interview at with Sam Harris. It seems he didn't like the fact someone might question what he says and thinks. In an update by Tara Lohan, it seems Harris' fans are appalled that the man might be questioned on his views. Harris himself wrote to insist he was quoted out of context, does not believe in torture per se, only when it is "ethically necessary", and that some metaphysical claims should be investigated (glossalalic children manifesting reincarnation) while others (the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead) are to be dismissed out of hand.

As to whether and/or how he was misquoted, I will grant that it happens, and happens quite frequently, as reporters are notorious at finding a phrase or even a paragraph and running with it as representative of a certain hypocrisy or inconsistency, rather than placing it in a proper context. The problem, of course, is that the original story did nothing of the sort; it quoted extensively from Harris' work to show he is a silly, shallow poser whose claims to be an apostle of rationalism are empty.

Furthermore, his defense of torture, under any circumstance whatsoever, as well as his constant claim that religion is detrimental in any and all cases except for when it happens to be Buddhism; that any and all metaphysical claims are to be ignored except when they are "interesting" and might validate his own beliefs; and his refusal to acknowledge that the views he has made publicly reflect what he actually believes when he is challenged - all of these show that he is not rational, he is not consistent, and he should not be taken seriously.

Now, as to consistency, I am far from being consistent myself, and I find consistency to eb a rather thin intellectual virtue. The problem, of course, is that Harris' rails against religious belief - then seeks to defend his own beliefs through some rhetorical slieght-of-hand. His defense of torture - even if in limited cases - shows he has aligned himself with the most fanatical wing of the Republican Party which includes those Christians he thinks are destroying the world. His refusal to admit that he believes in things that have no basis in proof or rationality, even though he has quoted from works that make such claims, and enthusiastically endorses such views shows he is not only a hypocrite, but what is worse, an intellectual coward. Hypocrisy is easy - we all do it every day. Inconsistency is easy - we all do it every day. For someone who wants to position himself as some brave fighter against the horrors of religion to refuse to acknowledge beliefs he has publicly stated he has, and to attack those who question his consistency and rationality shows he is a coward, and cowardice is something that stands out.

One more thing. I wish I had fans.


Thanks to Fire Dog Lake and the advent of Joe Klein's blog, I am given pause to reflect on this rather strange thing I do a couple hours each day called "blogging". The whole post linked needs to be read because it is almost eerily accurate in its descirption of what bloggers do and how they do it.

I started blogging last spring, and I really wasn't sure what I was doing, or what the whole blog thing was about. In the months since then, I have decided not to worry so much about these fundamental questions - what some philosophers call first principles - and have concentrated on making sure what I put down is coherent, honest, truthful to whatever facts I may wish to relate, and well-written (I suppose this last goes along with the desire for coherence, but not necessarily; one can be a bad writer but coherent, or a good writer and incoherent; just read James Joyce).

It is a strange thing, this sitting down each day, wondering what in the world is going on, what I think of it, and how to put those thoughts into some kind of structure that makes sense to others, at least a little bit. I worry less about the actual content of this blog - I write about what interests and fascinates me; what I enjoy; what I know about - than I used to, although there are times I know I need to make sure I stick to my own self-imposed guidelines (no personal attacks; as little profanity as possible; take comments and criticisms seriously) because I find myself wanting to rant rather than offer someething a bit more thoughtful.

I have had some really good exchanges here, with secular lefties who don't like or don't understand my faith commitments and with right-wingers who don't understand or don't like my political commitments. I doubt we have changed each other's minds, but we have taken a step toward the goal I set for myself when I began - communication with others, an honest exhange of views. I may not have been moved to seriously change my mind, but I have been forced to think through what I think and believe more thoroughly and honestly than I might otherwise have done. The fact that I recognize my own limits and have no illusions about my own wisdom and admit quickly my own fallibility adds to the possibilities here. I am open to the fact that I might actually be wrong, and hope to learn from others who have more wisdom, knowledge, understanding, insight, and a different point of view. I offer my views forthrightly and without hesitation; I also admit freely that my views may be as wrong as snow in July or Tony Snow each and every day at a press briefing.

There are of course, costs to this whole blogging thing. This is time spent away from my wife and children (although I try to limit that as much as possible). I cannot do as much as I want because I have to eat, sleep, I work forty hours a week, I have a house to help keep clean, laundry to do, shopping to get done, books to read, time I spend with friends. In other words, I have a life, and living is always about compromise. In short, I blog because I love it. I have no illusions about the impact this tiny blog with one or two hits a day (at most) has on our national dialogue. On the other hand, I don't care if I have a huge blog or not. I do this out of love - love for writing, love for participation in our society, love for America, and love for the fun of doing something I enjoy.

I open myself each and everyday to the public, and it is a risky thing to do. I never know who might try to shout me down, shut me down, take me down, or ignore me. I never know who is reading and not commenting, either out of anger, confusion, or simple apathy. I throw these little misives of mine out into the world in the hopes that someone somewhere might find what I have to say interesting, informative, insulting, enraging, mortifying, or ridiculous - and I keep doing it regardless of how many people stop by and say "Hi", and I will continue to do so as long as I can.

Short Take

With this post, we are given notice that Dinesh D'souza (known to his college classmates as "Distort D'newsa") has written another book. Can't wait to get it from the remaindered shelves. In about two weeks.

Debate Among the Undead

Note: I have added a link to Time magazine's new blog, Swampland, because I just can't deny myself the fun of watching Joe Klein swing in the public wind. Enter at your own risk.

Unnoticed and mostly unremarked in the reviews of Joe Klein's newest "journalistic" effort was a "debate" (discussion? dialogue? diasgreement? diatribe? [thanks to King Crimson for this list]) between Klein and another "Swampland" blogger on the whole Iraq-surge question. I found it all absolutely fascinating, because it was so far removed from the reality of the anti-war bloggers Klein attempts to caricature and belittle, and so shallow while attempting to appear "serious" and deep. Klein is an interesting character. He wants to be taken seriously, but his lack of seriousness, his lack of analytical ability, and his desire to be an insider all force anyone with a modicum of intelligence and thought to find him nothing but a small, grasping man.

In the course of this little blog-debate, Klein dismissed polls showing Americans wanting a quick exit from Iraq because of the fabled "complexity" of the issue, and yet explains none of these complexities and nuances himself. Of course, just to pronounce "complexity" is enough; as a pundit, Klein does not need to defend, merely expound as we all nod our heads and say, "Right, yeah, it is complex". Except, of course, it isn't really - it has become increasingly less complex as time has moved on. Pointless death and lack of leadership have rendered what might have been at one time a difficult and complex issue into something stunningly simple and easy to understand. Except, of course, for Joe Klein who wants to complicate it.

He doesn't, however.

Towards the end of this post, Klein writes:
Just because they're right about Iraq, and about this escalation, it doesn't mean they won't be blamed by the public if the result of an American withdrawal is lethal chaos in the region and $200 per barrel oil.

First, the "they" here are Democrats. Second, one can hardly imagine a less responsible, less serious comment on the whole Iraq mess than this. After saying the situation is complicated, he reduces it to a question of greedy Americans whining about high oil prices. This is the counsel of cowardice, really. Just because they're right, and want to enact policies favored by a majority of Americans doesn't mean they should do it, because, my goodness, somebody might complain about the results! Another thing to note is Klein's utter obliviousness to the fact that the American presence is responsible for the current chaos. Leaving may actually reduce said chaos.

After typing this irresponsible, un-serious comment, Klein goes on to say this:
All I'm saying is that those who oppose the war now have a responsibility to (a) oppose it judiciously, without hateful or extreme rhetoric and (b) start thinking very hard - and in a very detailed way - about how we begin to recover from this mess.

First of all, the responsibility for clarifying how we get out of this mess we're in is the responsibility of those whose policy it is. They have to admit (a) it's a failure, has been a failure, and will continue to be a failure until the last helicopter and plane carrying American troops leaves Mesopotamia; (b) once they admit that, they have to repair the damage they have done, to the military, to the Constitution, to our public trust in government, and to the Republican Party which, moreso than the Democratic Party, has been destroyed by Bush's war. Responsibility for repairs rests with those who broke it. Period.

As a side note, why in the world should we wait until we have all the details worked out before we actually do something? Good Lord, that's nothing but a recipe for a never-ending commitment! Withdrawal from Iraq is the easiest way to begin to undo some of the damage done to our civic, constitutional life; to our military infrastructure; to the consistent lack of candor (i.e., a consistent lying) on the part of the Bush Administration. To warn that the region might fall into chaos is just nonsense - chaos is the current situation there! That is why we must leave, because there is nothing constructive we can achieve, and sending more troops will only increase an already "target-rich" environment for insurgents. Whining about gas prices as American men and women die, then claiming it is somehow up to those of us who have stood against this madness from the beginning to solve the problems created by others is utter nonsense.

Finally, who among the various anti-war liberals has not been utterly serious and injudicious in their criticism? Who among those who are opposed to this war have used "extreme rhetoric"? Granted this is true - which I do not by any means - shouldn't they be given some credit at least for being right, and consistently right, when all the other professional pundits have been consistently, almost alarmingly, wrong? Klein can't grant that, however, because if he does, it only proves that punditry is all but dead, lacking any credibility whatsoever. That means he would lack credibility.

Which he does.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Opinions Have Consequences

With the advent of Joe Klein's blog, we have the spectacle of a prominent pundit opening himself to public scutiny in real time (one wonders how soon it will be before Klein closes himself off to comments), and discovering that the nastiness and anger (see Digby for an analysis) he so righteously condemns is not generalized but very specific and long on details. More to the point, when one's views are scrutinized, and as has happened with Klein, debunked, so quickly and challenged so publicly (see Ezra Klein, Greg Sargent, and Booman which I came to via Duncan) there is the thought that either (a) Klein will change his mind and learn something; or (b) be confirmed that us liberal bloggers are nothing but a bunch of dirty, foul-mouthed hippies who want America to lose (as Klein has claimed).

This brings up part of the changing face of our public dialogue, and the nature of punditry. On my bookshelf are biographies of Walter Lippmann (Walter Lippmann and the American Century) and the Alsop brothers, Stuart and Joseph (Taking on the World). These biographies chronicle the careers and lives of three of the most influential political commentators of the 20th century. These men set the standard. Lippmann was a distant, haughty man, accustomed to being welcomed by those in power, and his columns and books were written for the powerful as advice and admonition. The Alsops, unlike Lippmann who lived in New York City most of his life, were the quintessential Georgetown pundits, partying with Presidents, Congressmen and Senators, and opening their homes to those who wanted to see and be seen with the best and brightest of Washington.

Their careers were spent in detachment from the advice they gave. While the Alsops went to war in World War II (and Joseph Alsop and Madame Chiang in China became a pernicious influence on one another), for the most part, they did not participate in American life so much as view it from a distance and comment upon it. They saw themselves (at least Lippmann clearly did; the Alsops less so; Stuart did write for The Saturday Evening Post after all) as a bit like philosopher-kings, dispensing advice with the authority that comes from detachment and distance. Since these men set the standard, many have tried to emulate them (George Will is the pre-eminent Lippmann wannabe), and some even believe they have achieved that kind of status. Tom Friedman, Klein, Robert Novak (who was helped in his early career by the Alsops), Mark Shields, and the rest of the Washington lip-flapping class think of themselves as sages to be listened to, rather than mere human beings offering opinions that can be challenged.

With the advent of blogging, that is no longer possible. I think Klein's anger at liberal bloggers is based partly on his own view of himself as working within a long line of philosopher kings, and partly on his own view that he is in fact a liberal and that we should be his natural constituency. Except, of course, Klein has never been a liberal. I doubt he has an ideology at all, unless sycophancy is an ideology. More importantly, Klein is being challenged because having an opinion is not enough (it never has been; now, however, voice can be given to challenges). You have to back up that opinion with facts. You have to be willing to engage in argument, exchanging views, and you have to be willing to say, "I was wrong" on occasion. Pundits have rarely done that, because the great unwashed were always empty vessels into which they poured their wisdom. What Klein sees as anger is actually the give-and-take of actual political debate and public dialogue in America, something from which Klein and his cohorts are almost ritually protected.

It is fine that Klein gets paid to spout off on what he thinks is true. That is what makes America great. It is also a new and wonderful reality that these opinions can be challenged and that pundits can be called to account for their opinions in public. They may not like it - and Klein clearly doesn't - but that doesn't make it any less of a real change in the way the American public disalogue happens. Klein is learning that - surprise!surprise! - opinions have consequences.

Updates With Links that Prove I'm a Genius

I wrote the other day about Joe Biden's cowardly refusal to stand up to Bush's attempt to increase troop levels in Iraq. I said at the time that he was wrong, although I admitted that I am no lawyer or Constitutional expert, but if you go to Think here and here you will see that experts agree with me. Congress can, and has a duty, to "micromanage" as Biden said, what the Commander-in-Chief does, especially when he does it as continually and repeatedly horribly as Bush has done.

I have been saying for weeks that we are in a different political environment, and that part of the changes in that environment are the way ways blogs have changed the political discourse and public dialogue in this country. If you visit my hero Glenn Greenwald here he has a bit on Al Gore saying the same thing. There is also a note on the stories linked above about Congress' ability to check Presidential war-making powers.

Man. I'm on a roll.

Monday, January 08, 2007


A friend of mine recently used this word to describe me. I admit it, freely and without fear of the implications. What prompted this was a discussion of the merits or lack thereof of MP3 players versus CDs. My complaint about iPods and MP3 players is quite simple - the sound reproduction on them is usually pretty bad. While it may be convenient to carry around something the size of a pack of cigarettes that holds ten thousand of your favorite songs, what you gain in convenience you lose in sound quality. To me, they sound like the little AM transistor radio I had as a child in the very early 1970's.

Since the first days of recorded sound - Thomas Edison scratching noises onto wax cylinders - the goal has always been verisimilitude. Engineers have tried to create recordings that are as close to live sounds as possible. From acrylic discs to vinyl, from hi fidelity recordings to stereo, from the long playing record to the eight-track to the compact disc - try to get it to sound as if you were standing in the room with the musicians, listening to them play. All that has been discarded, however, as we have switched from fidelity to convenience. I find this opportunism dishearenting; companies would rather make a quick buck than continue their relentless search for faithful sound reproduction.

Unlike many of my peers (I came of age with the birth of compact discs and welcomed them with open ears), I have no nostalgia for the long-playing vinyl disc. First, too many of my records has skips, sticks, and scratches, even right out of the sleeve. Second, the snap!crackle!pop! of even the best turntable was an annoying distraction. Third, there was a limit to song length and LP length (unless an artist or record company was willing to shell out extra money for a multiple disc release; too often, except in the money flush mid-70's they weren't). Cds opened up avenues for musical experimentation, and with the advent of home-based MIDI recording technology, anyne with even a modicum of talent can get fairly professional sound reproduction with a few mouse clicks.

Except, too many of these sounds are turned into mp3 files, or itunes - and we are back in the days of tinny sounding songs. What possible use is a machine that gives us ten thousand songs that all sound like one-sided 78s from my father's 1930's record collection?

I suppose technology could fix that problem, too, but I hardly see the point. Even if your mp3 player only holds 200 songs, or five movies, or a few TV shows - what are getting for our convenience? What are we trading for the ability to lock ourselves behind headphones? Part of the joy of listening to music is becoming part of a community of fans who share information, criticism of recordings, go to concerts, share album and song reviews and the like. Now, safely locked away, listening to bad sound recordings, we are no longer part of communities, but individuals, atomized, bereft of the benefits a community of fans and fellow-followers of whatever music one might listen to.

Am I a cranks? Probably. But I am a cranck in a good cause. Music is a powerful force, in the world, in America, in our collective lives. The best music has always been part and parcel of our cultural, social, and political conversation and dialogue. How we listen is as important as what we listen to. I would rather isten to my "old fashioned" compact discs - on a stereo with an equalizer, no less - than the tinny sounds of an mp3 player that held the contents of all 350 of my discs at once. Call me crazy.

You Can't Be Serious

Over at is this piece by Joshua Holland that takes on the gorwing use of the word "serious" by Washington-based pundits to describe other Washington-based pundits and politicians like Joe Lieberman who have been, and continue to be, wrong about American policy in Iraq (they may not be serious, but they are consistent). I had read this after I followed a link at atrios to an article at American Prospect on-line describing Joe Klein's new blog. In his first blog, Klein manages to attack other bloggers for frothing, as he froths about them, and Paul Krugman for being right, even though he was wrong. Klein uses the word "serious" to describe journalists who are wrong, generals who are wrong - pretty much everyone who is wrong. Krugman is unserious, but Klein admist he is correct. It is almost touchingly irrational and incoherent; Klein has clearly made a serious ass out of himself in his first forays into blogdom.

I think it is important that we understand what the word "serious" means in this context. According to Joshua Holland at American Prosepct online, serious is Joe Biden saying the President is going to get his surge, even though it will fail, is destined to fail, cannot not fail; even though the American people are against it, Congress is against it, he's against it - because Congress can't do anything about it except cut off funding for it, which won't happen. Not for reasons of state, but out of political cowardice masquerading as constitutional propriety. For Klein, serious is being seen on television (although, in his first blog entry, Klein admits he goofed by advocating the nuclear option for Iran) and being a Washington-based journalist or one of those journalist's sources. Bloggers aren't serious because we don't interview people who mouth words they don't understand and don't believe anyway, or who exist without a connection between reality and the words they use to describe it, or whatever. Bloggers froth. Bloggers, though, have been right, and so has the occasional mainstream journalist like Krugman - but they aren't serious because they don't buy into the narratives that are used in the corridors of power.

Biden isn't serious because he has displayed ignorance and cowardice and wrapped them up as political manouvering. Klein isn't serious because he has yet to say anything I have ever read or heard him say that was either correct at an analytical level, and has too often displayed himself as the ugly bridesmaid at a wedding - the one the groomsmen refuse to dance with. In 1992, he courted Bill Clinton, and when Clinton ditched him, he famously wrote an anonymous book, a roman a clef about Clinton that told more about Klain's "Heart-on-my-sleeve" attitude toward politicans than anything about Clinton we couldn't figure out on our own. Rather than being tossed bodily from the Washington Press Corps, however, they embraced him in a "Aww, isn't that cute" kind of way. Yet, Klein has been wrong, and continues to be wrong. Fourteen years is a long time to have no political instincts and rely on bad sources for stories that rarely if ever get to the heart of any matter other than Klein's relentless defense of his own seriousness.

Klein wants to be David Broder, who is also serious. Yet, neither of them are really serious, although Broder is a good journalist with a surprising work ethic. Both of them, and most of those who are touted as "serious", are wedded at the hip to those in power, and are used by those in power to forward various agendas. Broder, like Klein, very often wears his heart on his sleeve, displaying man-crushes on such unserious persons as Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger, the Iraq Study Group and other former power types and insiders. Neither of them are serious for the very serious reason that they are part of our current problem and have no understanding of the new dynamics of power - including blogging and the communities on the net that inform and work for change - that are rendering them, and their serious counterparts, irrelevant.

From now on, whenever you read or hear the word "serious", understand that it means "Washington insider", "sycophant", or "someone who is wrong all the time". Or perhaps all three at once.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

More Civics Lessons

Over at Fire Dog Lake, there is this piece on Speaker Pelosi's public announcement that any attempt at increased troop levels will be scrutinized through the appropriations process for both tactical and strategic objectives. In other words, the President does not have a blank check anymore, and Congress has a voice in what is and is not truly "supporting our troops".

Recently-announced Presidential candidate Joseph Biden (D-DE), however, seems to disagree with the newly minted Speaker of the House.
"As a practical matter there is no way to this is going to be stopped."
Biden added that it would probably be an unconcstitutional violation of separation of powers if Democrats were to block Bush's efforts as commander-in-chief after Congress had voted to authorize going to war.

There is so much wrong with that little snippet - not just Biden's direct quote, but the "smmuary" provided - that I hesitate to find a place to begin.

First, as a "practical matter", Congress has every right, indeed a constitutional obligation, to ensure that our tax dollars, espcially in matters of war, are spent efficiently and wisely. Feeding more bodies into the bloody mill that is Iraq does not sound like the best use of our treasure, our young men and women, or our money, and so to pre-emptively give Bush a free ride on this is not only irresponsible, to claim such irresponsibility is outside the purvue of Congress is simple ignorance.

Second, Congress did not ever authorize the President to go to war. Congress gave the President permission to act against Saddam Hussein if it was shown that he had violated any of the United Nations Resolutions under which Iraq was then quarantined and being searched and contained. The President made the unilateral declaration that Iraq was so in violation and moved troops in. This thinnest of reeds is hardly a Congressional declaration of war, and I wonder if it even has the force of law, as it does not even meet the criteria of the War Powers Act, let alone the Constitutional provision that it is Congress alone that declares war.

Third, Congress can back out of a war - through witholding funding - anytime it so chooses. That is exactly a check on the abuse of power by the Commander-in-chief envisioned by the founders in separating war powers between the executive and legislative branches. To somehow say that once Congress gives the go ahead, it has to step back and let the President act in whatever manner he or she sees fit ignores the reason for separating powers in the first place.

Fourth, to frame the discussion in such a way that it becomes a partisan issue - it would be "Democrats" who would be acting against the President, rather than Congress as an institution and co-equal branch of government - ignores the fact that the American people don't want escalation. It is not some Democratic Party cabal that is creating the false impressions of American weak-kneed cowardice in the face of Iraq. It is the wise and honest understanding that we need to leave Iraq now before our military is exhausted, our treasury is bankrupt, and we are bereft of resources to face all the challenges we currently face - terrorism among the rest.

I seriously hope Biden is reminded of these, and a few other, home truths before his campaign gets too far along. I have no idea whol I will be supporting next year, if anyone - I have said it before and I will say it again before the week is out, I am quite sure - but Biden certainly has not made my Top 5 list, or perhaps even my Top 10 list, with these comments. We need real Democratic leadership, leadership that understands what the American people want, and how to go about doing it. From just this little blurb, Biden ain't it.

The McGovern Revolution

I have been thinking long and hard about this topic since before Christmas, at the best way to approach it, and how to set out the details of what I believe is happening. I have dealt a bit with it in very general terms - Setting the Agenda, Alignments, Re-, De-, and New - but I want to refer to something here that, I think needs some serious consideration from the history mavens and Poli Sci types who pretend to know what they are talking about when they are trying to be journalists (I am speaking here of the Broder/Klein nonsense scribblers who think they Have It All Figured Out). I believe that the failed 1972 campaign of Sluth Dakota Senator George McGovern was as pivotal for the liberal, Democratic wing of the Democratic Party as the equally disastrous campaign of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater was for the conservative wing of the Republican Party. More than the campaign, however, I believe the committee McGovern chiared, with its rules changes for the primary process and delegate selection and voting process were even more important than his campaign. I think it, like its mirror image eight years before in the Republican Party, laid the foundation for the direction the Democratic Party is moving, for the issues and policies they are highlighting, and, I think, for its success despite overwhelming odds in the previous election. I also think that, caught off guard by Democratic success, even in the wake of six years of demonstrable failure by the Republicans - I agree with all the big-time bloggers that the Bush Administration is like the anti-Midas: everything they touch turns to a big steaming pile of shit - the Washington Press Corps, comfortable with a predictable Republican majority (regardless of either their ability or intelligence) has no idea what to make of the in-coming majority.

I think this as much as anything else explains the attempt to frame "bi-partisanship" as part of the Democratic mandate. When everything else fails, fall back on tried-and-true tropes and framing devices in order to pull the rebels back within a frame of reference they understand. Except, of course, the current Democratic majority doe snot exist within such a frame of reference, because the make up of the elctorate is different, the current social, economic, and political realities are different, and they call for a different agenda and way of doing business. As I heard yesterday on NPR, when a reporter asked a member of the House if "some people might see oversight as payback" (those "some people", of course, are Republicans), this member responded, quietly, politely, and firmly, that oversight is part of the Congressional mandate. When asked about investigations of past abuses and their utility - because, of course, the memory of the press extends to about five minutes ago - the Congressman reminded the reporter that, as fraud and waste have already been documented (even without serious oversight), there is a need to go back and look at all these issues because laws have been broken, and people are dying. The press doesn't seem to understand that, either. People are dying, and it is Congress' responsibility to make sure they aren't dying because of Stupid and Criminal things done.

McGovern has been criticied for destroying the Democratic Party. I think he did, in some ways. He created a structure that elminated much of the New Deal dross that was old, tired, and no longer relevant. By creating a framework within which a whole new type of Democratic politician could live and thrive, however, he laid the groundwork for our current COngressional majority. At the same time, we now have the spectacle of the former, Washington/pundit/Press Corpse favorite "grown-ups" beings studiously ignored by the Administration (what about that ISG report again?), and the real grown-ups - Ed Markey, Henry Waxman, Jim Webb, Nancy Pelosi, Jack Murtha, Charles Rangel - are now in charge, and acting like grown-ups. I am sure that they will have a tough row to hoe with the Press Corps utterly incapable of understanding what it is they are doing and why. They seem to be forging ahead, however, and this is all to the good.

Long Live the McGovern Revolution!

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