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Archive for January, 2007

Republican Party Jagoff of the Day, Subliterate Authoritarian Fantasy Division

[ 0 ] January 24, 2007 |

Jules Crittenden.

Republic Party Jagoff of the Day

[ 0 ] January 24, 2007 |

President George W. Bush.

E. Howard Hunt, 1918-2007

[ 0 ] January 23, 2007 |

Death. The ultimate covert operation . . . the black-bag job to top all black bag jobs.

For my money, Hunt’s character is best on display here. When asked about the consequences of the 1954 Guatemalan coup — which he helped organize to make the Western Hemisphere safe for bananas — Hunt brushes it all aside:

Slate: Some 200,000 civilians were killed in the civil war following the coup, which lasted for the next 40 years. Were all those deaths unforeseen?
Hunt: Deaths? What deaths?

I’m In Ur Think Tank Supporting Ur Opponents’ Policeez II: The Heretic

[ 0 ] January 23, 2007 |

Having Benjamin “legalizing abortion was a disaster for abortion rights” Wittes as a scholar at Brookings would be like having Kenneth Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon as foreign policy scholars at Brookings. Oh, wait

On "Vindication"

[ 0 ] January 23, 2007 |

Over the past six years, the administration of George W. Bush has been compared — favorably or not — to any number of past American presidencies. The Beloved and Respected Comrade Leader has been mentioned in the same breath, for example, as John Quincy Adams (the son of a former president who lost the popular vote); Harry Truman (whose inarticulate, tough-minded demeanor and foreign policy inexperience didn’t deter him from formulating the doctrinal template for the Cold War); Ronald Reagan (whose messianic historical vision aroused many a neoconservative nipple); John Kennedy (on whose inaugural address Bush’s speechwriters modeled their 2005 inaugural); Richard Nixon (whose executive abuses, secrecy and obstructionism ring familiar); Abraham Lincoln (who also urged the suspension of habeas protections); James Polk, Lyndon Johnson and William McKinley (who initiated pretextual, imperial wars); Woodrow Wilson (who chattered a lot about democracy); and now, implausibly enough, Gerald Ford (whose decision to pardon Nixon has been “vindicated by history”).

Leaving aside the question of how well these comparisons hold up — analogy, Darwin tells us after all, can be a “deceitful guide” — I’ll simply note here that this tendency strikes me as completely unprecedented in the history of American politics. Now, there’s nothing unusual about political figures evoking the past and tethering themselves to the legacy of their forbears. Every Democratic president after Woodrow Wilson, for example, utilized some version of his progressive wartime rhetoric. (This includes FDR during the Great Depression. It’s remarkable, for instance, how many people think Roosevelt’s “nothing to fear but fear itself” line comes from his “day of infamy” speech and not from his 1933 inaugural address.) And Republicans would be stupid not to drop Reagan’s name whenever possible — he’s really all they have to work with — or to remind the world that they’re “the party of Lincoln,” however pharisaic their praise for him actually is.

With this president, however, the comparisons are thrown together like a pig’s breakfast, underscoring what I think historians will eventually come to view as the utter soul-lessness of this administration. If Reagan was the ideal “postmodern” presidency — using cinematic techniques to promote a reactionary agenda rooted in depthless, nostalgic yearning — the Bush years have been a panicky, incoherent mess. Its most intentionally “Reaganesque” moment, in fact, has become its own sickening punch line.

I was going to write more about the nonsensical comparisons to Gerald Ford — who also was not elected to office — but I’ll just finish with this thought. Defenders of George W. Bush have nothing left now but to anticipate the “vindication” of history. They frequently cite “great” presidents whose reputations were later resuccitated, hoping perhaps to wake up one day and discover that Iraq has flourished, that the national debt has been retired, that the global Islamofascist conspiracy has bowed to the presbytery, that Katrina never happened, and that winged ponies shit golden eggs. But if they believe that some sort of worthwhile comparison exists between (a) the unpopular decision to pardon Richard Nixon from the jail time he deserved, and (b) the unpopular decision to send 20,000 more Americans off to prolong one of the most irresponsibly conceived wars in US history, I’m not sure there’s much we can do to deter that fantasy.

The Solution To Failed Wars is More Failed Wars

[ 0 ] January 23, 2007 |

Matt notes that there’s no discernible difference between the substantive positions of The New Republic and Liz Cheney’s widely and justly mocked op-ed on Iraq. Meanwhile, it seems as if Marty has discovered a new toy to play with:

So why did Marty take the unusual step of teasing Michael Orin and Yossi Klein Halevi’s forthcoming Iran piece on his blog? According to TNR office scuttlebutt, the piece is causing shpilkis about being yet another hysterical, warmongering embarrassment to the magazine. Right now it’s just a rough draft, but insiders fear it could still emerge in print as something pernicious — hence Marty’s preemptive guarantee of publication.

Great. Maybe he thinks TNR‘s circulation is too high.

Speaking of which, Glenn “more rubble less trouble” Reynolds asserts that the only problem with Bush’s foreign policy is that he hasn’t used more troops that don’t exist to start more disastrous wars. His innovation is to use Talleyrand to defend the Green Lantern theory of foreign relations: “you can do anything with bayonets except sit on them.” Leaving aside the fact that I’m quite sure that the point of the Talleyrand quote is the opposite of what Reynolds claims (it’s translated by a more reliable source as “the one thing you cannot do with a bayonet is to sit on it,”) somebody may want to explain to Reynolds what happened with the French Revolution…

Random Film Notes

[ 0 ] January 23, 2007 |

Upon the release of new versions of Sanjuro and Yojimbo:

As time passes, it is Kurosawa’s genre films that seem to be gaining in stature (chief among them the superb “Seven Samurai” of 1956), while his more self-conscious art house efforts, like “Ikiru” (1952) and “Red Beard” (1965), fall away into the same graveyard of good intentions occupied by John Ford’s non-westerns “The Informer” and “The Long Voyage Home.”

Really? While I can do without Redbeard, Ikiru remains one of my favorite Kurosawa.

In other news, I’m almost ready to complete my 2006 Top Ten list. Saw Letters from Iwo last night. I was prepared to wander from the theater in a cloud of self-loathing; really, how stupid do you have to be to see the follow up after you hated the first one? I was pleasantly surprised, though, as Iwo was quite good. Now need to see Last King of Scotland (which has finally arrived in Lexington), Pan’s Labrynth, and Notes on a Scandal.

speaking of which, I see that the Oscar nominations are out. Four of the five best picture nominees are defensible, with Little Miss Sunshine being out of place. How did Leo get a nomination for Blood Diamond and not for The Departed? Mirren would seem to be the prohibitive favorite for Best Actress…

Finally, check out this discussion of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road if you haven’t done so already.

The "Convienience" Trope

[ 0 ] January 23, 2007 |

It’s been widely linked, but this post by (former L, G & M guest-blogger) Lizardbreath is good enough to merit further discussion:

Continuing that pregnancy wouldn’t have been an epic tragedy for me; any proposal for abortion rights that requires abortion to be permissible only when the only alternative would be starving on the streets would leave me right outside.

But man, did I not want to be pregnant. I did not want to be locked into a minimum eighteen-year relationship with someone I’d been dating for a couple of months. I did not want to be responsible forever for someone who didn’t exist yet. I didn’t want to be physically pregnant. I had no idea of where I was going professionally — I was a temp receptionist, thinking about maybe taking the LSATs — or of how I would support myself or a child, and had no idea of how I’d find my way into a career with a new baby. The only thing being able to get an abortion did for me was give me some control over the course of the entire rest of my life.

So, politically useful as it is, I get a little edgy about rhetoric that stipulates that abortion is always a strongly morally weighted decision. I don’t think it is, and if it were I’m not certain that my reasons for not wanting to continue a pregnancy at the time qualify as sufficient to do a wrong thing — if abortion is an evil, it’s not clear to me what evil would have been the lesser under those circumstances. But I am thankful every day of my life that I had the option to end that pregnancy back in 1995.

Some other bloggers have already addressed one important implication: the long-term cost of the potential short-term political games inherent in “abortion is icky” rhetoric. To make a somewhat different point, LB’s post reminds me that a common rhetorical strategy of the forced pregnancy lobby is to describe an abortion obtained under any but the direst cirumstances as an abortion for “convenience”–Byron White used it himself in his dissent in the first abortion cases. As LB’s story suggests (see a similar one from A Rational Animal) , this is a grossly misleading and offensive description. “Convenience” invokes something nice, but trivial–it’s “convenient” to have a branch of your bank open up a few blocks close. A decision about whether to bear a child, conversely, involves large, irrevocable effects (or potential effects) on your employment, intimate relationships, education, and financial situation–the central pillars of most people’s lives, in other words. To describe large changes in these aspects of life reflects an essential belief in the subordination of women–do you think that if pregnancy had similar effects on men’s lives, an unwanted pregnancy would be a mere “inconvenience?” Implicit in such arguments is the assumption that for women educational and career advancement is sort of a luxury, nice if you can get it but easily displaced by a woman’s “natural” role as a mother (a role a woman apparently agrees to take on every time she engages in heterosexual intercourse, which is of course silly.) The description trivializes pregnancy, and trivializes women’s lives.

Shouldn’t "Gotcha" Questions… Um, Getcha?

[ 0 ] January 22, 2007 |

Insty links to this, which is apparently a set of questions that Bill Frist has posed to Hillary Clinton, presumably in order to embarass her and other Democratic candidates. This is a time honored tactic; it is intended to expose the compromise positions that a candidate has to make in order to satisfy her own base, but that are not popular with the general electorate. Here are the questions:

Do you favor personal savings accounts as a voluntary part of Social Security Reform?

Do you favor an increase in retirement age as part of Medicare reform?

Should Medicare have an element of means testing?

Do you favor opening up Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration?

How do you propose expanding Health Savings Accounts?

Do you favor giving citizenship to those who are in this country illegally?

Should the United States send troops to stop the genocide in Darfur?

I think Insty and Fristy need to review exactly how this works; the trick is to ask questions that force the opponent to take unpopular stands, and NOT to take positions that are both a) wildly popular with the general electorate, and b) highlight the distinction between the your own unpopular position and your opponent’s very popular stance. Now, as far as I can tell, on at least three of the above questions Hillary’s stance is favored by a prohibitive majority, and Frist’s stance is quite unpopular. The immigration question is a non-starter, and the Darfur question highlights in the inability of the President to do anything useful whatsoever in Sudan.

Christ. I really wonder how we ever lose to these morons.

How funny is it? It’s Mad Crazy Magazine funny!

[ 0 ] January 22, 2007 |

Now that Hillary Clinton has come out with full force against Ann Althouse, Mickey Kaus, and Victor Davis Hanson — and I really don’t know any other way to interpret her purchase of a BlogAd on this site — I’m that much more interested to hear her views on other, slightly less monumental issues. Meantime, I found myself distracted by quite possibly the worst BlogAd ever, prominently featured on Powerline’s “Blog of the Week,” Forward Movement by Jules Crittenden. The ad pitches this self-published novel by an author who claims to be a refugee from academia — a former Dean of Humanities, no less, who made a “painful” rightward conversion after “personal experience and 9/11″ proved his “political correctness” to be wrong. The author believes “his academic experience helped to sharpen his sarcastic skills and develop his sense of humor,” skills that are nowhere more prominently displayed than in the book’s promotional blurb:

A remote Massachusetts laboratory, just after the 2004 election… A genius scientist and his midget assistant are determined to clone the ideal liberal candidate to take back the White House. Finally, after many failures, they achieve a seemingly perfect creation–a multiple donor clone they name Liberalstein. Monster or perfect liberal leader? You decide!

Filled with all your favorite political characters:

Including Bill and Hillary Wimpton, Al Bore, Howard Steam, Rev. Al Sharlatan, Jane Fondue, Oliver Foam, Jean Garafoolo, Michael S’Moore, Phooti Goldberg, those lovable Dixie Ticks, and many more.

No mention of cameo appearances by Jimmy Farter, Dan Blather, George Snoros or Fancy Pelsosi, but I’m sure they’re in there somewhere.

If I ever get around to it, I’ll be sure to place this at the top of my Amazon wish list, nudging aside the $900 $662(!!!!!11!!ONE!1) Oxford English Dictionary set that has inexplicably not yet been purchased for me.

Blogging For Choice Day: Why I Am Pro-Choice

[ 1 ] January 22, 2007 |

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Honourable Madam Justice Bertha Wilson

This year’s Blogging For Choice topic is to write about why you’re pro-choice. On the merits of being pro-choice, I have an extensive body of work, and I will hopefully have a piece coming out at the Prospect later today about abortion as a class issue. So today perhaps I’ll take a slightly more personal tack.

My direct interest in the abortion issue is easily traced. The first court decision I remember hearing about and discussing was R. v. Morgentaler, the 1988 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that ruled Canada’s federal abortion legislation unconstitutional. I gave a speech defending it at that year’s persuasive speech at my high school, and my interest in the subject has never really waned. (One can probably also trace my eventual decision to become a scholar of law and courts back to that decision too, although I would have never dreamed it at the time.) Morgentaler is worthy of examination by American supporters of reproductive freedom, because it addresses some issues that its American counterpart (with the partial exception of William O. Douglas’s short, brilliant concurrence in Doe v. Bolton) doesn’t. While I strongly believe that Roe v. Wade was correctly decided (1, 2, 3), like almost everybody I find Blackmun’s opinion for the Court deficient in many respects. Morgentaler is not the perfect opinion, but is does a much better job with similar legal materials.

The Court in Morgenlater was divided and produced two broad rationales, both of them compelling. The first–based in procedural due process–I’ve already discussed. Canada’s abortion law required that a woman obtain a certificate from a “Therapeutic Abortion Committee.” (This is very relevant to the American case, because similar legislation was the preferred “reform” legislation in American states as well. Being more concerned with the rights of doctors than the rights of women, it’s sort of the holiest of holies for abortion “centrists.”) The opinions of Chief Justice Dickson and Justice Beetz meticulously detailed the irrational construction and arbitrary operation of these committees, and correctly argued that a women’s fundamental rights could not be violated in such a manner. As I’ve said before, I like this opinions because 1)they focus on how abortion statutes work in practice and their tenuous-at-best relationship to protecting fetal life, and 2)because they call the bluff of the “pro-lifers.” The other (and most famous) concurrence was by the first woman to serve on Canada’s highest court, Justice Bertha Wilson. I wish that she had linked her analysis to the gender equality provisions of The Charter of Rights and Freedoms rather than making a more straightforward substantive due process argument (although it’s embarrassing to Harry Blackmun that her opinion shows much greater command of the relevant American precedents than its American counterpart.) Wilson does, however, explain very eloquently why reproductive freedom is critical to the dignity of women, and her explanation is a good way to conclude a post on Roe‘s anniversary:

I agree with my colleague and I think that his comments are very germane to the instant case because, as the Chief Justice and Beetz J. point out, the present legislative scheme for the obtaining of an abortion clearly subjects pregnant women to considerable emotional stress as well as to unnecessary physical risk. I believe, however, that the flaw in the present legislative scheme goes much deeper than that. In essence, what it does is assert that the woman’s capacity to reproduce is not to be subject to her own control. It is to be subject to the control of the state. She may not choose whether to exercise her existing capacity or not to exercise it. This is not, in my view, just a matter of interfering with her right to liberty in the sense (already discussed) of her right to personal autonomy in decision-making, it is a direct interference with her physical “person” as well. She is truly being treated as a means — a means to an end which she does not desire but over which she has no control. She is the passive recipient of a decision made by others as to whether her body is to be used to nurture a new life. Can there be anything that comports less with human dignity and self-respect? How can a woman in this position have any sense of security with respect to her person? I believe that s. 251 of the Criminal Code deprives the pregnant woman of her right to security of the person as well as her right to liberty.

…In comments, Pithlord points out that s.15 of the Charter didn’t apply at the time of the alleged offense, so Wilson couldn’t refer to it (and, for reasons I don’t fully understand, the explicit guarantee of gender equality in s.28 has done very little work in Canadian constitutional law.)

IED Skepticism

[ 0 ] January 22, 2007 |

It’s taken as an article of faith in some parts that a large number of IEDs in Iraq are coming from Iran, and that this phenonomenon is indicative of clear Iranian hostility to the creation of a stable Iraq. To begin with, there are a couple of logical flaws; even if we accept that many IEDs do come from Iran, it’s by no means clear that they cross the border as part of Iranian state policy. There are many, many examples of insurgencies operating across borders (and receiving supplies from foreign actors) without the blessing of either state. The Viet Cong used Cambodia as a shelter and supply depot without permission, for example, and the Irish Republican Army drew heavily on the money of US sympathizers without the direct support of the US government. Similarly, I’ve yet to see a compelling argument for why Iranian IEDs would end up, as an act of Iranian state policy, in the hands of the Sunni guerillas who continue to conduct the bulk of attacks against US forces.

Alex at Yorkshire Ranter wonders whether, in fact, there’s much evidence to suggest that Iranian IEDs are making it to Iraq in any numbers at all. Noting how easy it is to make even relatively advanced IEDs (there’s a reason for the word “improvised” in the title), he points out that British forces don’t seem to think there’s compelling reason to believe that the weapons are coming from Iran. Given that the British operate in the part of the country (the Shiite south) most likely to see heavy use of Iranian weapons, the skepticism is relevant. It’s also important to note how politically convenient it is for the US government to blame instability on Iran. If Iranians are causing the mischief, then it’s easier to a) manufacture a reason for hostile action, and b) explain away the utter failure of the United States to quell the insurgency or win the support of the populace.

Via AFP.

Cross posted to Tapped.

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