31 October 2007
To an extent, it's unfair for her Democratic rivals and Republican critics to accuse her of flip-flopping or of simulatenously supporting and opposing the Spitzer plan. She may have been caught flat-footed by the question, but her original answer was pretty carefully phrased. She "understood" why Spitzer was doing it, which isn't the same thing as affirming aliens' right to a driver's license. She backtracked after Senator Dodd condemned the plan to clarify that she had not explicitly endorsed the principle of the Spitzer plan. By comparison, Senator Obama was forthright in supporting the principle, while Edwards was merely opportunistic in crying flip-flop.
In any event, it wasn't a good night for Clinton, because the public wants a right-or-wrong answer on the license question. Excusing Spitzer on the ground of necessity while blaming the feds for the problem seems to put the Senator in line with the Governor's "illegal immigration is none of my business" position. His stance hardly seems justified, but hers is even less so, if I understand it correctly. Clinton is a United States Senator and a candidate for President of the United States. It is definitely her business to take a stand for or against states giving aid and comfort to those whom the American people, as polled repeatedly, for good or ill, want to keep out of the country. As a result, she should expect more questioning on the matter, especially if and after she's nominated.
For the record, this is what she said.
Another option, of course, would be undocumented immigrants. Here, apparently, are jobs that Americans (at least a few hundred) are unwilling to do. Here, also, is a line of work that some describe as a death sentence. Even Lou Dobbs could not object to giving people with at least some international expertise an opportunity to serve their adopted country, especially as long as they do so far away. Better yet, if things really fall apart, they can be depended on to escape across the border without expensive military assistance. It seems to me that everybody benefits, except perhaps for the Iraqis, but when have their interests counted for anything?
29 October 2007
"There is enormous support from those who understand these are the objectives and these have been the objectives," Spitzer told The Associated Press. "There is also opposition from fringe [sic] on the other side who simply don't want to give the immigrant community any rights."
I don't know what's more pathetic: Spitzer's intellectual dishonesty in conflating the "immigrant community" with undocumented, illegal immigrants, or his bizarre attempt to invoke the authority of Secretary Chertoff of Homeland Security in support of his plan. This is the state of New York, after all; whom did he expect to impress with that bit of name dropping?
This article clarifies some details about the three-tier license system. Most importantly, the basic license for which the undocumented will be eligible will apparently include a disclaimer warning that it does not prove legal residency in the country. This sounds like a half-measure at best, but realistically speaking, who would want a license that affirmed that the bearer is an illegal immigrant? I suppose this is a way for Spitzer to show that he's really only interested in giving the undocumented the opportunity to learn how to drive properly, since the basic license is theoretically no gateway to other privileges. But he's still given opponents of his plan no reason to abandon their belief that trespassers in this country shouldn't have the right to drive. Instead, he falls back on name-calling and blanket accusations that border (no pun intended) on slander. He still has a long way to go before this issue is past him.
28 October 2007
The new proposal has already gotten a mixed response. Advocates of unconditional immigration have called it a sell-out, while local Republicans predictably call it a meaningless gesture. Unfortunately, they come closer to the truth. Spitzer may think that he's answered a major objection by providing that not all licenses will be equal, but his constituents won't appreciate that they'll have to pay extra money for an "Enhanced" license. Requiring the undocumented to pay a higher fee just to get their basic license might balance things out, but to my knowledge that hasn't been proposed. In any event, Spitzer has refused to concede the major point in dispute. Most if not all opponents of his original proposal believe that illegal immigrants don't have the right to drive cars in New York State. They remain unimpressed by the excuse that nothing can be done about the multitude of illegals here, though on the other hand I haven't exactly seen a surge of volunteers for the work of rounding up and deporting them. Their main point remains a valid one, and Spitzer has done nothing to help his case by ducking the issue and saying that illegal immigration is a federal, not a state problem.
The governor has still neglected to go before the people and explain his own position on the question of illegal immigration or explain why New Yorker should not complain about it. Can he possibly believe the party-line rhetoric that dismisses all criticism as fearmongering? Even if that's the case, he still needs to try to explain why people shouldn't be afraid. He might not persuade anybody, but it would at least look like he respected people enough to make the effort.
Hitchens himself realizes that fascism has something to do with a theory of the state, so he offers some tentative comments along that line toward the end. This results to little more than assuming that bin Laden's dreamed of Caliphate must necessarily be fascist in nature. Since bin Laden appears to want a revival of the Caliphate of golden-age Islam, Hitchens would have to list the Ummayyids, Abbassids, Ottomans, et al as proto-fascists. He'd be better off not bothering. Enemy of religion that he is, you'd think he'd be happy using the "theocrat" label. That might signify ultimate evil for him, but the real reason anyone uses the word "Islamofascist" is that they want to recruit liberals into their war. It's a way of telling liberals that the Islamists are their enemies, not just the enemies of neocons, imperialists, or Zionists. Since most liberals won't deny the inherent enmity between them and theocrats of any kind, the further reason to talk about "Islamofascism" is to argue that Islamism is a problem unto itself that must be crushed without reference to context or larger geopolitical concerns.
People who object to the war on terror as currently waged generally do so because they think their leaders are doing nothing to prevent a recurrence of terrorism, i.e., nothing to change the conditions that inflame Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere. The dissidents suspect that to do nothing along this line is to endorse all the policies that have provoked the terrorist response. Hitchens himself has never endorsed those policies uncritically, being no friend of Zionism, for instance. But his hatred of religion makes him believe that nothing is more important than crushing the jihad as soon as possible if not by any means necessary. But if he thinks the terrorist impulse can be snuffed out simply by slaughtering Muslims, he has his work cut out for him, and I don't like his chances.
26 October 2007
25 October 2007
24 October 2007
The divisions within both parties on this question should serve as a warning for 2008. The immigration issue is volatile and can blow up in anyone's face, as Gov. Spitzer is learning in New York. Americans have an intellectual right to believe that this country should welcome anyone who wants to come in, but they also have an ethical obligation to respect the will of their fellow citizens, should it come to legislation or referenda, as the final word on the matter. Everyone should welcome debate, but the advocates of amnesty or similar schemes will have to do better than accusing their antagonists of bigotry or whining that nothing can be done about all the undocumented who are already here. The friends of unconditional immigration should not presume that anyone who disagrees is just a cranky Republican, because plenty who aren't may end up voting that way.
23 October 2007
Rep. Stark of California isn't about to be sent to a collective farm, but that aside, the ordeal he underwent today doesn't seem much different from something someone might suffer during the Cultural Revolution. You can read the article, but let's put Stark's offending comment on the record here. This is what he said that got him into trouble:
"You don't have money to fund the war or children. But you're going to
spend it, to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old
enough for you to send to Iraq, to get their heads blown off, for the
Aren't Republicans the most thin-skinned people on Planet Earth? They can't stand the thought of their leader's good name getting besmirched. They seem to take it personally that anyone might suggest that George W. Bush has a character defect. But aren't they hypocrites, too? The ad hominem argument is their favorite debating tool. Their first reflex is to ascribe opposition to Republican or conservative policies to character flaws. Yet they instantly demand apologies, recanting, self-criticism if anyone questions their character or that of their president.
But leave Republican hypocrisy aside. The main points for tonight are that Rep. Stark has nothing to apologize for and that the House of Representatives has disgraced itself by even debating a resolution to rebuke him for what he said. The enduring fact is that George W. Bush has earned the hatred of the American people, and that any rhetoric short of advocating his murder is more than justified by his decisions and policies. Democrats must share the disgrace with Republicans to the extent that any of them, from Nancy Pelosi on down, said anything, any single word critical of Rep. Stark. At this late date, if you hear a Republican whine and pout and bluster and demand apologies from someone for insulting Bush, the only appropriate response is the one that Mr. Cheney taught us.
Having said all this, I hasten to add that I dispute the accuracy of Rep. Stark's remarks. I don't think that Bush literally chortles over casualty reports. I suspect that he keeps the troops in Iraq not so much for his amusement, nor even mainly for strategic reasons, but to test his own will against that of "the terrorists." Part of the neocon mythos is that terrorists are emboldened when, once bloodied, Americans cut and run. My hunch is that Bush believes he can break the terrorists' will by refusing to cut and run, by showing them that, no matter how many other Americans they kill, he will not withdraw. You may decide that this is worse than keeping soldiers there to die for his amusement, but don't expect me to apologize.
21 October 2007
Summers makes it clear that the Democratic party clung to life after the Civil War mostly on the strength of terrorism. Successful efforts by any means necessary to prevent blacks and other Republican sympathizers from voting gave the Democracy a power base that made it an irrepressible national force. In response, Republicans across the country decided that all tactics short of violence were acceptable. Both sides cheated in a blatant fashion that makes modern-day schemers look like dilettantes. Bribery of voters, ballot stuffing and outright ballot theft were all taken for granted. Partisan legislative majorities constantly redrew maps of voting districts to maximize their own advantage and imprison opponents in as few districts as possible.
Complaints were common but nothing seemed to be done about the situation. In part, that was because the two parties had already mastered the art of co-opting or neutralizing dissidents. On one hand, you could already hear the familiar litany that voting for a third party was actually a vote for the intolerable first or second party. On the other, the parties had learned to be flexible and accommodating, giving in just enough on third-party issues to keep wavering voters loyal in the end. At the same time, at least in the era Summers writes about, the two parties maintained consistent and distinctive positions on issues that really mattered to voters, particularly regarding trade. Republicans were always protectionist, while Democrats stood for free trade.
Money had already become decisive for politics in the era Summers describes. It cost money to stage rallies with uniformed marchers, to print pamphlets and the party ballots that were necessary before the introduction of voting machines, and to bribe "floaters," the people who remained self-consciously undecided until Election Day. Most newspapers were party organs that depended on local government patronage and shut out news about third parties, except when it hurt the other major party.
The remarkable thing about Party Games is Summers's ability to tell an appalling story with style and wit. A reader might well wonder whether he just finds details funny, but it's clear that he has a serious point to make. For all the chicanery he describes, I also got the impression that both major parties still stood for their founding principles in this era. The American Bipolarchy as we know it won't have taken its present form until the parties had mastered the ability to adopt any position, even one polarly opposed to their original principles, and still survive.
I would have liked more detail on the inner workings of national party bureaucracies apart from dirty tricks, because that's where we'd probably see what the Republicans and Democrats had that the Whigs didn't. We also need to see what's going on at that level to determine whether the parties retained an institutional self-consciousness and survival instinct over time or if, as some apologists for the Bipolarchy might like to argue, they became empty vessels to be animated by whatever grass-roots mass movements got control of them. Summers doesn't see mass movements getting control of the two parties in his era of study, so we'll have to keep our eyes open when this seems to happen later, whether in 1896, 1932, 1972 or who knows when.
Overall, Party Games is a book you can recommend to any literate person who might appreciate the fact that, little more than a century ago, a lot went on that made the United States look a lot like the Third World countries whose practices we deplore today. Since Americans today tend to claim that adopting American-style democracy would eliminate these ills, Party Games should serve as a cautionary tale.
19 October 2007
This is all the group has to say about the U.S. this year:
There were slightly fewer press freedom violations in the United States (48th) and blogger Josh Wolf was freed after 224 days in prison. But the detention of Al-Jazeera’s Sudanese cameraman, Sami Al-Haj, since 13 June 2002 at the military base of Guantanamo and the murder of Chauncey Bailey in Oakland in August mean the United States is still unable to join the lead group.
Presumably one has to go to their backlog of reports to find the raw data that earned the U.S. its dubious ranking. As a caveat, I note that RSF factors "self-censorship" into its index. That's pretty much a non-quantifiable category and to some extent purely a matter of subjective perception. You may have firsthand confessions from editors or publishers about suppressing stories, but more likely in a lot of cases it comes down to one group thinking certain stories ought to be covered and crying "self-censorship" if they aren't.
I googled Chauncey Bailey and learned that he was a newspaper reporter whose murder is allegedly tied to stories he had written about a power struggle involving a bakery owned by Black Muslims. His example is apparently meant to show that circumstances other than government policy contribute to creating an unsafe environment for journalists. Josh Wolf was held in jail for all that time because the government wanted videos he had made of an anti-G8 protest in 2005, including footage of police brutality and intimidation. That's more what I think of when someone says press freedoms are endangered. Sami Al-Haj's story is detailed here, and while it's no credit to the U.S., I wonder whether the capture of an alleged enemy combatant on foreign soil should count against press freedom at home.
I don't raise these questions to suggest that the U.S. should get a higher rating. If it were a press diversity survey, my country would probably deserve an even lower rating. I just naturally wonder how anyone comes up with standards to judge concerns like press freedom objectively. My own subjective impression of post-911 America is that things have definitely been better in the past, and could certainly be better now.
17 October 2007
It does make you wonder, though: if the Americans are such special friends of the Kurds, why don't they force the issue and give them a nation and tells the Turks and the rest of the Iraqis and anyone else who complains to shove it? If every "nation" of people needs to have a nation-state of their own, why does the Bush administration even hesitate to create a Kurdistan? Do the Kurdish people somehow have less right to national sovereignty than the Jewish people, for instance? And if the supposed national rights of the Kurdish people can be sacrificed to geopolitical realities, but never those of the Jewish people, what does that tell us? No, this isn't about the Jews or any lobby in Washington. It's about American double standards, and it's a reminder that when American politicians tell you that this country is up to something abroad in the name of principle, you had better think at least twice about it before accepting their word without question.
16 October 2007
14 October 2007
Here's an article about the two bills, with a complaint from one of the dissidents, and here are links to H.R. 400 and H.R. 2740. Regarding the latter bill, it must be noted as a caveat that Blackwater itself supports this measure.
License to Break the Law? As far as the Governor of New York is concerned, it's none of his business if people enter the United States illegally. At the least, it should have nothing to do with whether the state issues drivers' licenses to undocumented immigrants. Mr. Spitzer condescended to address people's complaints in an interview published today in the Albany Times Union. Let's put him on the record here:
In other words, they're here, they're ... whatever, get used to it, to borrow someone else's slogan. Facts on the ground count for more than the law, which is an interesting principle to apply in other cases where the criminal law looks equally clear. For a former prosecutor it's especially interesting, but as you'll see, immigration isn't his problem:
The issue of our giving a privilege to those who are not here legally,
necessarily, I don't think is the right way to view it. These are individuals
who are here in our communities, going to our public schools, going to our
hospitals, working in our economy. And we are all better off making them part of the aboveground economy rather than keeping them beneath the surface where we don't even know they exist.
In that case, maybe what's needed is a federal law prohibiting all the states from issuing licenses to people who violate what is, after all, a federal law. It would be even more interesting to see whether the Governor would enforce such a law. He's been careful so far not to espouse any actual open-borders or "no one is illegal" doctrine. He's basically using lawyer tactics to narrow the focus of debate to his preferred public-safety-on-the-roads track, but it only looks like he has tunnel vision.
The fact that when you crossed the border you didn't have a visa, you
didn't come in properly, that is not the purpose of the driver's license. That's
the federal government's responsibility, and they have failed for decades to
enforce and do their job.
13 October 2007
Boot seems satisfied that any soldier who receives pay is a mercenary. By this logic, of course, ours is an entirely mercenary army, as are all other armies wherever governments can afford them. But does it make the foreign heroes we were taught to revere in school mercenaries that they received commissions and pay? My understanding was that people like Lafayette sympathized with the American cause and volunteered their services in the sense of freely offering them, not offering them for free. In fact, this source says the Marquis did fight for free, as did von Steuben, though the Baron initially expected pay and got a pension later.
It seems to me that Boot can only call such people mercenaries if he defines a mercenary as anyone who is not drafted or otherwise compelled to serve. A more just definition would be anyone who contracts to fight on a purely business basis, or to the highest bidder. We should allow for some flexibility or personal preference, since I doubt that Mr. Prince of Blackwater would hire out to fight for Osama bin Laden, but I also doubt whether he applies an ethics test to every potential client. Purely in pragmatic terms, Boot may be right that mercenaries might be useful to U.S. interests. On principal, however, hiring mercenaries is a confession that one's own people are unwilling to fight their country's battles, which should always throw the motives behind those battles into question.
12 October 2007
My first reaction when anyone complains about anyone else building a missile-defense system is to ask, "What? Do you think you have a right to nuke another country?" In effect, however, the balance-of-terror deterrence system developed during the Cold War acknowledged such a right. Each superpower was restrained, the theory went, by the assurance that the other could and would destroy it with a retaliatory strike. Ever since Gorbachev, the Russians have seemed to see it as a form of cheating that the U.S. wants to change the rules. In geopolitical terms, I understand the complaint. An effective missile defense system (however unlikely it may seem today despite U.S. propaganda) is presumed to give a country freedom of action around the world, since it would no longer be deterred by other countries' nuclear arsenals. From this funhouse-mirror perspective (so it must look to Americans), developing a defensive system is an act of aggression.
Secretary Rice assures the Russians that the missile defense apparatus is not directed at them, but at terrorist and rogue nations. In that case, she will need to explain more effectively to the American people as well as the Russians why such a system is ideally located in one or two former members of the Warsaw Pact, rather than in closer proximity to alleged rogue states. For that matter, why is the Russian offer to have their Azeri client state host the system unacceptable to the U.S?
I'm not happy to be taking Putin's side in this matter, because he seems to be an odious character out to centralize and consolidate power in the old Russian style -- and by old I mean before the Bolshevik Revolution. Like other aspiring authoritarians, he seems to be driving dissent off of TV while thinking of himself increasingly as an indispensable man. Maybe I'm reading and hearing too much American propaganda, but the bare facts don't tell an inspiring story. That's part of the problem with this missile-defense issue. To the extent that Putin is perceived as a dictator or would-be dictator (a la Hugo Chavez), our government and our opinion leaders tend to see Russia as an enemy.
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that conflict between the U.S. and Russia in Eastern Europe is ideological in nature. Putin's perceived turn toward dictatorship may influence American unwillingness to concede any sphere of influence to Russia, but the Russians are likely to demand a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe regardless of who rules them. Russia is a big country and its people have a cultural superiority complex. They think they are the natural leaders of the Slavic or Orthodox Christian world, and as a large country they think they are entitled to favorable economic relations with their neighbors.
Historically, Americans have had a hypocritically hostile attitude toward other nations' spheres of influence. Understandably, as a rising economic power, the U.S. saw these spheres of influence as shutting them out of trade opportunities. One hundred years ago, for instance, the U.S. opposed European plans to divide post-Boxer Rebellion China into spheres of influence, proposing instead an "Open Door" policy that wouldn't shut them out of a huge market. Principle and self-interest are intertwined here. The principle is that no country, no matter how big or how close, should have the right to assign another country to its sphere of influence if the people of the other country think they can do better trading with different nations. The self-interest is self-evident. The hypocrisy can be summed up in two words: "Monroe Doctrine."
My hunch is that the heart of the current conflict between the U.S. and Russia is an American refusal to concede Eastern Europe to Russia's sphere of influence. Capitalism wants markets everywhere, and ever since the rest of the world recovered from World War II, the U.S. has been losing markets. We're even losing them in our own sphere as South American countries discover they can do business with China, Iran, etc., without questions being asked about how their governments behave. The more that happens, the more the U.S. is likely to be "aggressive" about opening markets by preventing or breaking up spheres of influence. That will mean measures to prevent big powers from imposing their will within their accustomed or expected spheres of influence. A missile-defense system in Poland sounds like such a measure to me, but we need to know more about the plans before we draw conclusions. That said, there seems to be some cause for suspicion for both U.S. and Russian motives.
In general, as the superpowers compete for ever-scarcer resources, spheres of influence and trade relations will loom ever larger as potential flashpoints for war. China, India, Russia and the U.S., among others, are going to want to reserve as much of those resources to themselves as exclusively as possible. There ought to be a way out of this, but it would require everyone to be willing to share, which means learning to accept only one's proper share of resources rather than what any country thinks it deserves. How we bring that about is a topic for another time.
10 October 2007
As a private citizen and student of history, I do not dispute that the Turks were guilty of mass murder. As private citizens, members of the House of Representatives have the right to speak out in memory of the Armenians and against the Turks' refusal to own up as fully as many wish they would. As a nation among nations, the United States must be senstitive to the interests and biases of other nations, no matter how repugnant they seem to us. Americans ought to have learned from the Iraq debacle, when we were incited to war in part by propaganda against a "genocidal" dictator, that we ought to be careful about imposing our moral will on the rest of the world. The Iraq invasion was as much an act of moral vanity as it was a grab for resources or a social experiment. H.Res 106 is no less a piece of moral exhibitionism, even if it gets no Americans killed, and it can only add to the damage done to our international standing.
Like it or not, the United States is in competition with other powers for resources and influence around the world. Our competitors, particularly China, do not scruple about the character of leadership in countries that have resources they need. The Chinese consider their national interests first, well before any universal principles of humane government or human rights. As much of the world is still ruled by dictators or oligarchic cliques, those rulers will prefer to deal with countries that don't ask annoying or insulting questions about affairs that are none of their business. In the Turkish case, reasonable people will weigh the strategic costs of insulting the Turks against the benefit to their consciences. Modesty is called for at this low point in American diplomatic history.
I'm going to leave it to someone else to figure out the other time that Bush was right today.
09 October 2007
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything is Hitchens's entry in the growing library of "militant atheism," alongside Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion and Sam Harris's The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. These books are characterized by a rejection of tolerant attitudes toward belief; their common refrain is that it is not OK for people to believe in anything they like. They cover much of the same territory in their common effort to disprove the familiar arguments for faith in God. Even for the intellectually sympathetic reader, there's a certain monotony that sets in after reading several of these tomes. While Hitchens is often a brilliant stylist, his volume doesn't really relieve the monotony.
The Hitchens book is often overwrought, starting with the title. It's simply not true that religion poisons "everything." It doesn't even poison everything it touches, which is perhaps what Hitchens meant in abbreviated form. Worse, the further you go in the book, the more you suspect that it isn't even religion that's poisoning everything in the cases he diagnoses. After he establishes that faith in the monotheist God isn't the sole problem, and after he acknowledges the crimes of ostensibly secular regimes like the USSR and Nazi Germany (without conceding that they can be labelled atheist nations), it becomes more apparent that some factor like "culture" or "ideology" is the real problem. The author himself admits that the contemplative spiritualist isn't usually a menace to his neighbors, so the problem must be with the impulse to impose conformity on those neighbors, and there is nothing specifically religious about that impulse unless you choose to identify it as religious, which is what some authors do when they attribute, say, Stalin's purges to "dogmatism" rather than atheism. That approach turns atheism into the equivalent of capitalism in the Libertarian imagination: if you see an avowed atheist murdering masses, the argument goes, he's not really an atheist. I don't buy this, but I don't buy either the believers' counter-argument that atheism was a primary motive or authorization for Bolshevik terror.
While the book as a whole is rather a hodgepodge with little sense of an organizing principle, there are plenty of passages that are thrilling to read. Hitchens is probably the best stylist of the "militant atheists," and he's especially good at challenging the contention of liberal Christians that faith was necessary to motivate good works like the civil rights movement. As a sample, here's Hitchens on Martin Luther King, from page 176:
At no point did Dr. King -- who was once photographed in a bookstore waiting calmly for a physician while the knife of a maniac was sticking straight out of his chest --even hint that those who injured and reviled him were to be threatened with any revenge or punishment, in this world or the next, save the consequences of their own brute selfishness and stupidity. And he even phrased that appeal more courteously than, in my humble opinion, its targets deserved. In no real as opposed to nominal sense, then,was he a Christian.
Any reader will get the point, but not all will think to ask whether Dr. King himself would accept this description. I don't know as much about King as I should, but I suspect he would be among those who believed that there had to be eternal values, independent of human conception or imagination, for peace and justice to be possible, and that those values could only come from a Creator and final Judge of the universe. Hitchens makes no real effort to refute this idea, which means he's not going to make much progress among religious progressives, much less the more conservative believers.
This points to a general weakness among the "militant atheists." They'd like people to abandon unthinking faith in primitive revelations, and they understand that people cling to faith to answer important questions about the meaning of life and death and so forth, but instead of actually attempting to answer those questions themselves, they're content with telling other people that their answers are stupid. The sole exception to this is Sam Harris's recommendation of scientifically-verifiable (?) Eastern meditative practices as a path to personal peace, but Hitchens, noting Buddhist atrocities through history, might argue that even that approach might poison everything. In every case, these books seem like preaching to the atheist choir, even when Harris is purportedly addressing Christians. I would be greatly surprised if any of these books converted anyone over college age.
Let me make clear that I think it an admirable goal to wean makind away from faith in ventriloquist Gods and their dummy prophets, but this is one area in which the metaphor of the marketplace of ideas is justified. We're not going to sell atheism to anyone simply by shouting over and over that Brand X (pun intended) is junk. We've got to offer them a better product. In other words, we need to teach people that they will die, and that death will be the end of everything for them, but that they can still die happy and content. If you don't believe that's possible, then we might as well give up.
In any event, the debate was meant to focus mostly on economic issues, which boiled down to Giuliani and Romney arguing over who cut taxes more in their former jobs. Somehow, someone remembered to ask Ron Paul about Iraq, which makes me think the news channels know that people are tuning in to see Paul rip into the war. He didn't disappoint here, adding to his repertoire warnings against invading Iran. He condemns the notion of preventative war, rightly calling it unconstitutional, but most of his rivals appeared to think that the Commander in Chief has gotta do what he's gotta do.
Before I go overboard about Ron Paul, let me remind everyone that he is a Libertarian who wants to bring back the gold standard. Worse, he appears to be a Christian Right Libertarian, which you would have thought was an oxymoron. For all that, he's probably the best the Republicans have, indisputably so on foreign affairs, but that just serves as a strong argument against voting Republican next year.
07 October 2007
05 October 2007
Here's the crucial passage:
"The Iranian nation hates killing and considers Hitler and the executioners of the World War II as black and dark figures," he said.
"But the Iranian nation has a question and as long as there is no clear and reasonable response to this question, it will remain.
"They have made the Holocaust sacred and do not allow anyone to ask questions. Under the pretext of the Holocaust they are allowed to commit whatever crime they like," he added.
I take the first sentence as Ahmadinejad's acknowledgement that the event generally known as the Holocaust actually took place. Now jump to the end. This is what he means when he talks about a "myth" of the Holocaust; the idea that the event entitles Zionists to commit what the Iranian characterizes as "whatever crime they like." In other words, the "myth" is that the Holocaust is the justification for the existence of Israel.
As an aggrieved Muslim, Ahmadinejad should know that Zionists were settling Palestine long before Hitler took power in Germany. If he meant to suggest that Zionism only got going because of the Holocaust, he's just being silly. If he means to suggest that Zionism has gained international legitimacy because of the Holocaust, he's closer to the right track. His problem, of course, is that he thinks that by refuting the "myth" of the Holocaust, Israel will lose all legitimacy. Worse, he thinks that Jewish people will just pack their bags and head for some new homeland generously provided by the West. He suggests Canada or Alaska -- has he read Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union? Once we reach this point in the president's oration, we have to reiterate that he's a nut. Yes, I acknowledge that maybe the Arabs or Islam in general were treated unfairly when part of their patrimony was reserved for Jewish people, but there are millions of facts on the ground, and the idea that you can get rid of them without what some would call a Second Holocaust is, well, a myth.
04 October 2007
I've seen the press release Spitzer issued after the clerks took action. The stunning thing about the document is the governor's complete refusal to address the issue of illegal immigration. As far as he's concerned, this is all about auto safety and his version of homeland security. Sadly, some Republicans went overboard about the possibility of terrorists' exploiting the new policy, and that gave Spitzer an opening to keep the issue on that topic. On the question of whether undocumented applicants are criminals, this erstwhile super-prosecution apparently could not care less. I can't help but read this as an expression of contempt for his constituents. For them, the real issue is whether illegals should be "rewarded" with licenses to drive on New York roads. Perhaps Mr. Spitzer considers that a primitive, provincial prejudice, but as long as this country and the 50 states constitute a democratic republic, it is the people's right to set rules allowing or forbidding newcomers to enter the country. If Spitzer wants to tell us that we're wrong, that we should think differently about the undocumented, let him use his bully pulpit to talk honestly on the subject. This is no longer a question of safety on the roads. It's a question of the rule of law and the rule of the people, which ought to be one and the same thing.
My latest diary at Daily Kos also addresses this subject. It ought to be interesting to see how committed liberal Democrats respond.
03 October 2007
What alarmed me while reading the story was that all the House seemed to be asking for was the standard protections that civil service employees usually expect. That is, they won't be removed from office without proper cause being shown if the bill becomes a law. The President, apparently, would prefer that Inspectors General serve solely at his pleasure, subject to removal whenever he pleases. That's his power under the original 1978 law, which states: "An Inspector General may be removed from office by the President. The President shall communicate the reasons for any such removal to both Houses of Congress." It's odd that the old law says sets so few conditions (none, in fact) for removal, given the criteria it establishes for appointment. An Inspector General must be chosen "without regard to political affiliation and solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration, or investigations."
Congress is taking action against the President because his lackeys aren't abiding by the terms of the 1978 law. That document dictates: "Each Inspector General shall report to and be under the general supervision of the head of the establishment involved or, to the extent such authority is delegated, the officer next in rank below such head, but shall not report to, or be subject to supervision by, any other officer of such establishment. Neither the head of the establishment nor the officer next in rank below such head shall prevent or prohibit the Inspector General from initiating, carrying out, or completing any audit or investigation, or from issuing any subpoena during the course of any audit or investigation."
But as the MSNBC story notes, there have been numerous recent cases in which "heads of the establishment" are interfering with Inspector General investigations. The object of the current bill seems to be to give the IGs more leverage by stripping their superiors of the ability to deter investigations through the threat of a summary sacking by the President. The President's mouthpieces will doubtless say that the whole IG program is an executive branch effort at self-regulation and that the bill's grant of budgetary powers to Congress violates the separation of powers. Too bad for them: part of the separation and balance of powers should include empowering the different branches to act as watchdogs over one another. There seems to be proof enough that this Administration, at least, can't be trusted to be its own watchdog, or can't be trusted to treat its watchdogs better than a beaten pit bull at the Vick kennel.
Here's the 1978 law itself for those who want to research it further.