30 November 2007

Bill Clinton and the Iraq Invasion

The former President got into trouble this week when he claimed while stumping for his wife that he had opposed the invasion of Iraq "all along." Critics pounced from across the political spectrum, since this was obviously untrue. I felt it to be untrue, but I've found proving it a frustrating experience. The critics have dug up plenty of evidence, but not the piece I most distinctly remember. I have a strong recollection of reading an article in the Weekly Standard back in the fall of 2003 that described Clinton lecturing an Arab group and telling them that, had he been President at the time, he would have done the same thing as Bush. Unfortunately, to look up anything from the Standard online, you have to subscribe to the magazine, which I no longer do. Worse, I've tried to Google similar accounts of this encounter but have come up dry. It looks like I'll have to dig through some hard copies of the Standard in order to back up my memory.

Yes, I subscribed to the Weekly Standard, the head neocon weekly, for about two years. I signed up during a period when I wanted as much diversity of opinion or ideology as possible and was also getting The Nation and The New Republic on a weekly basis. I gave up on the Standard because their renewal rate was too high and because I no longer found the magazine's articles provocative in the good way of challenging my preconceptions. Instead, its stubborn fealty to Bush and his war merely provoked me in the ordinary way of making me want to toss the typical issue into the garbage. I eventually replaced it with The American Conservative, which is probably the most consistently challenging journal available. This leaves me without a neocon outlet unless you count The New Republic on Middle East affairs, but I don't regret the loss. Over time I also gave up on leftist journals like Z Magazine and The Progressive because their ideologies and prejudices didn't seem to reflect reality for me, while I still get In These Times, which is about as far left as I go in my magazine reading.

Anyway, people want to make something of Mr. Clinton's apparent lie as if it reflected on Senator Clinton and her campaign for the Presidency. Is that fair? I'm afraid it is. If you accept that the first Clinton regime was a "two-for-one" deal that gave the President's wife crucial experience and exempts her from "on-the-job training," then you must expect that a second regime will work the same way. In other words, Bill Clinton will inevitably be a powerful and influential advisor to his wife even though the role of First Gentleman would entitle him to no power whatsoever. Catching the likely court favorite in a desperate crowd-pleasing lie is evidence against the character of the man today and the advice he might offer tomorrow. If Senator Clinton didn't give you reasons enough to resist her nomination (if you're a Democrat, that is), her husband's record should put you over the top.

29 November 2007

Venezuelan Showdown

Critical as I've been toward Hugo Chavez recently, I have to admit that he's no Vladimir Putin. That's demonstrated by the giant demonstrations he has not prevented from taking place against his referendum on constitutional reform. Granted, a favorable comparison to Putin isn't much, but it's worth noting at a moment when Chavez may find himself in a no-win situation in the eyes of the world.

Polls have appeared indicating that a majority of Venezuelans may now oppose the referendum package, which is apparently an all-or-nothing deal. Because Chavez has to an extent created cause for suspicion about his ultimate motives and ambitions, critics are now more likely than ever to cry Fraud if the referendum passes. It'll be akin to November 2004 in Ohio when the exit polls pointed to a Kerry win and have permanently clouded Bush's apparent victory there, which clinched his re-election.

Opinion polls are not an objective measure of the mood of a population. Just this week we Americans have been treated to polls that predict defeat for Senator Clinton at the hands of most Republican candidates, followed by polls that predict her victory. They really serve no good purpose, and in some cases might be subversive of real democracy.
Think what you will about what happened in Ohio, but do you really want to say that any sort of poll is a more reliable measure of public opinion than an actual election? More likely, apart from their sole practical purpose of inspiring politicians to pander and compromise their principles, polls allow defeated candidates to exploit the system's inconsistencies and suggest that elections have been stolen. This isn't to say that elections aren't stolen, only a warning that polls alone aren't perfect proof of the crime. Nevertheless, now that useful polls have appeared, Venezuelan dissidents are certain to say, should Chavez win, that he stole the election. That's what makes this a no-win situation for Chavez, the other option, of course, being that the referendum fails.

The irony of the situation is that, should Chavez lose the referendum and admit defeat, that will be the best possible evidence that the fears that will have driven people to vote against his plan were unjustified, or at least less justified than we've thought. In that case it may not be a no-win situation after all, but I doubt that Chavez would be thrilled with the prospect of winning by losing, especially since he did that already, in a sense, after his failed coup d'etat attempt back in the 1990s. On the other hand, who'd think that a failed coup plotter could go on to win a fair election? A properly chastised Chavez could try again later and possibly get some of what he wants once he figures out, if it turns out that he hasn't already, how to win more people's trust. But we should probably wait out the weekend before we speculate further.

Rep. Henry Hyde (1924-2007)

Somewhere Alec Baldwin is smiling, I suppose . . .

28 November 2007

What I Learned from the GOP "You Tube" Debate

I learned that Mitt Romney thinks it oppressive as an employer to have to check the immigration status of people who work for him; that New York wasn't a "sanctuary city" under Rudy Giuliani because he told the INS about those illegal immigrants "who committed crimes;" that both Giuliani and Mike Huckabee distinguish between the literal truths and the allegories in the Bible, without establishing how and on what authority they do so; that Fred Thompson will take advantage of the invitation to do a 30-second You Tube video in order to make an attack ad; that Duncan Hunter thinks it would be unfair to force conservative Christians to serve alongside homosexuals in the military; that John McCain still wants to wage war on the Iraqi people, but doesn't want to torture anybody; that McCain believes that we have the bestest army we ever had with existing rules on "unit cohesion," and that said army told him to tell Ron Paul to "let us win; that McCain thinks the line-item veto is constitutional in spite of a Supreme Court ruling to the contrary; that McCain would improve America's standing in the Muslim world by continuing the Surge, while Hunter would achieve the same goal by reminding them of how grateful toward us they all ought to be; that Ron Paul wants to restore the country's infrastructure by getting the government off our backs and out of our wallets; that Tom Tancredo is passionately opposed to space exploration, and that Huckabee, on the other hand, would like to send Hillary Clinton to Mars.

These are all particular details, but did I learn anything general? Nothing that I haven't known for months, I'm afraid. The thing I have to remind myself of after such an experience is that the Republicans' general badness doesn't make the Democrats more acceptable. There'll be another debate from that group soon enough to refresh our memories.

(Actually, there might not be such an opportunity, I learn, if current trends continue. One solution would be to not hold the debate in a TV studio. After all, Lincoln and Douglas managed without one, and it'd be interesting to see what kind of open-air crowd either pack of candidates could draw.)

27 November 2007

Oprah in 2008?

Read my latest piece of mischief on Daily Kos and see how the Democrats react. As I write here, it looks like Senator Clinton is getting very little love over there. The sad part is all the people desperately promoting Edwards or Obama over there will do their duty to their precious club and vote for Clinton anyway if it's required of them in November 2008. It's a significant symptom of the American Bipolarchy that they will hate Clinton now and love her later. They might say that they'll hate her now and hate Giuliani later, but it amounts to the same thing.

The Israel Lobby: A Preview

I got Mearsheimer and Walt's new book on the Israeli Lobby, an expansion of their controversial article from last year, out of the library today. On the bus home I was perusing it when a man seated behind me noticed what I was reading.
"That should be a bigger book," he remarked.
The book is almost 500 pages long, counting endnotes and other back material.
"It's a big lobby," the man explained.

I've gotten almost 100 pages into the book and the authors haven't really dealt with the lobby itself in detail yet. They've opened with a summary of U.S.-Israel relations from 1948 to the present and a further summary of Israeli history vis-a-vis their neighbors, taken in large part from Israeli historians. The purpose of the summary is to smash any notion that Israel is morally entitled to unwavering, unambiguous support from Americans, and they do a pretty effective job. At the same time, they reiterate that they're not trying to hold Israel to a double standard or rejecting Zionism as a concept. In fact, they accept the central premise of Zionism on page 92:

"There is no question that Jews suffered greatly from the despicable legacy of anti-Semitism and that Israel's creation was an appropriate response to a long record of crimes. This history provides a strong moral case for supporting Israel's founding and continued existence. This backing is also consistent with America's general commitment to national self-determination."

On the strength of that passage, Mearsheimer and Walt are more Zionist than I am, since I think the remedy for anti-Semitism is for all nations to treat all their citizens with absolute equality, not to grant Jewish people some compensatory right to conquest. Yet the hard-core pro-Israel media in the U.S. treat these two as if they've published the next volume of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The authors are actually quite perceptive about this point. The legacy of the Protocols forgery has made it nearly impossible for anyone to suggest that any Jewish people or institutions are behaving unjustly or exerting disproportionate influence without getting accused of a libel on the level with the original forgery. The morons who made up that book are the ultimate boys who cried wolf, and the present writers are paying the price. I will try to be more fair as I work my way through the rest of the book.

25 November 2007

But Who Redacts the Redacters?

Duncan Hunter is a U.S. Senator and the bottom feeder among the remaining Republican aspirants for the 2008 Presidential nomination. His current attempt to get free TV time is to throw a tantrum at the director Brian De Palma and the producer Mark Cuban for daring to make the movie Redacted. For De Palma, the movie is a sort of do-over of 1989's Casualties of War, since we again have soldiers raping a native girl, but in Iraq rather than in Vietnam. The similarity is a matter of De Palma's taste, since Redacted is apparently based on a true incident. Sen. Hunter doesn't deny that the incident happened, but he complains that De Palma presents it as if it were a typical incident. The Senator infers an indictment of collective guilt against the U.S. military in Iraq, and worries that the movie will somehow further embolden insurgents and terrorists.

Since he doesn't want the movie itself redacted, the only point of Sen. Hunter's outburst is to get some attention from those heartland folks who are supposed to get outraged at every new enormity from the media elite. That said, his comments slander the filmmakers. I haven't seen Redacted, and from reviews I gather that it's a stylistic experiment that doesn't quite come off. But to think that anyone needs to see this movie in order to hate the U.S. military and want to kill Americans is asinine. Even if the filmmakers meant to say that the military as a whole were beastly and deserved whatever the insurgents dished out, how different would such an attitude be from the viewpoint that justified invading two entire countries to avenge a crime committed by 19 men who came from different countries altogether? The Senator should scrutinize his own assumptions before condemning what he assumes to be someone else's message.

24 November 2007

No Country For Old Men

Two years ago, when I read Cormac McCarthy's novel, it reminded me of a Coen Brothers movie. That was because of the author's way with regional speech patterns and a certain spiritual resemblance to the Coens' Fargo in the opposition of a folksy sheriff to hapless and implacable criminals. Now the Coens have filmed a quite faithful adaption of the book and have earned plaudits for it nearly across the board.

No Country For Old Men is about a hunter who stumbles upon the remains of a drug deal gone bad, including a briefcase with millions in cash. A hired killer is sent out to retrieve the money but goes rogue so that other killers are sent after him. Throughout, the folksy sheriff tries to protect innocents while worrying over the new extremes of crime circa 1980, the time of the story. The hunter outwits or simply escapes from the primary killer several times. The killer himself becomes the most memorable character, being monomaniacal and convinced of his own personal code of conduct rooted in fate. The story seems to point toward a climactic showdown between the sheriff and the killer, but McCarthy tries to show that he's above genre conventions by denying his readers the consummation they expect. The Coens follow him in this, which makes the ending even more perplexing because they've filmed all that comes before in very effective thriller style.

McCarthy has a point. It became clearer to me after I read his next novel, The Road. That's a postapocalyptic fable about a father and son trying to reach the ocean following a nuclear war. As they survive the horrors of the ruined world, it becomes clear that McCarthy is challenging the whole survivalist, "country boy can survive" mentality in popular culture. The father in The Road is concerned only with saving his son and himself, and has to be goaded by the boy to help anyone else in any way. Ultimately we see that there's no future for the father, but there may be for the son in an attempt to rebuild a society.
Looking back at No Country now that the film is out, I see a similar message in the fate of the hunter who is determined to defeat his pursuers on his own. He has plenty of skills and has some success, but even without having read the book moviegoers should realize that his struggle is futile. The point isn't to confirm the killer's notions about inexorable fate, but that no one can win if we insist on depending only on ourselves. The more we do that, the more we're likely to succumb to notions like the killer has of being a mere instrument of doom but also a law unto himself. In this context, the denial of a mano-a-mano showdown is supposed to teach us that the larger picture, the social malaise the sheriff laments, can't be resolved by single combat. Toward the end, the sheriff confesses to feeling "overmatched" by events, but is reproached for his guilty feelings over retiring. To think that he alone might make a difference is vanity.

The novel was a best-seller and the theater I went to this evening was packed full, but I have to wonder what the word of mouth will say about the film. It's too soon for me to appraise the film on its own merits, since I couldn't help but see it the first time as only an illustration of the book. I will say that, despite the original affinity with the source material, the film is very unlike other Coen films. There's almost no music on the soundtrack, and the cinematography is more naturalistic than most of the brothers' previous efforts. The main actors are all new to the Coens; there are none of the familiar grotesques like Steve Buscemi, John Goodman or Jon Polito, nor the archetypal suavity of George Clooney. Most of the Coen-like dialogue comes straight from the novel. It's a stark, rigorous movie but most people are likely to find it fatally anticlimactic. At first glance, it's a major improvement on their weak work from earlier this decade, but I wouldn't rank it with the Coens' best efforts. Nor will I join the people who are calling it the best film of the year. Right now I'd put it behind Zodiac and Grindhouse, but there's still time to think this over, and there are more films to see before the year is out.

22 November 2007

New Hampshire: Add Plenty of Fertilizer

The following are words of wisdom from William Gardner, the New Hampshire Secretary of State:

"I think of it this way. A nut falls in the forest. The seeds take hold. The big tree happened a long, long time ago. You can't just plant the tree somewhere else. You can't just re-create this."

This enigmatic remark is meant to justify the state's decision to reschedule its primary elections to January 8 and thus retain its "first in the nation status." No other state is as qualified as New Hampshire to make the first choice from among the major party aspirants, Gardner claims, but as you see, tradition is the only qualification demonstrated here.

There's a case for giving a small state the privilege of the first choice. Doing so supposedly imposes a test of the candidates' skill at "retail politics," their ability to motivate manpower to get out the vote. The winner is credited with powers of leadership and persuasion. The case may have merit, but there's no reason why the first test should always be in New Hampshire. There are other small states, after all. Just staying in New England, you could send the candidates to Vermont or Rhode Island. There are states just as small in population to the west, like Montana and Wyoming. Nor should anyone fear the wrath of New Hampshire. What will they do if they lose their privileged position? Secede from the Union?

In any event, there are also arguments against the eccentric tradition of an allegedly decisive early primary. New Hampshire was once held in superstitious reverence because it was alleged that no candidate could win the White House without winning that state's primary. Bill Clinton made that claim a myth and earned the "Comeback Kid" label by winning the Democratic nomination and the Presidency in 1992 after losing the primary. George W. Bush also lost there in 2000, for what that's worth. New Hampshire can no longer claim to be a predictor of Presidential viability.
Nor should we take for granted that skill at "retail politics" shows that someone will make a good President, or even the best candidate in a general election. John Kerry was better at retail politics than Howard Dean, but was terrible in the general campaign, and has since given us little reason to think he might have been a successful President. Since whoever wins the nomination has to win a general election, he or she may as well try to win a national primary.
If you don't like the sound of that, and you worry that it would give relative small-timers even less opportunity than they enjoy now, then your problem is with the American Bipolarchy in general and not with its system of choosing candidates in particular. As long as we have national parties that claim to be democratic in character, then we may as well have national primaries. Eliminate the Bipolarchy and we can start to talk about alternate arrangements.

21 November 2007

Vote Huckabee or Die!

That's the implication of Mike Huckabee's new commercial, in which he basks in the endorsement of that Paul Bunyan of our time, Chuck Norris. Since Huckabee's own campaign site invites us to copy the ad, here it is:

Knowing the will of Norris, I defy him. I may risk my life doing so, given the many reported facts of Chuck's lethal temperament, but this is a matter of conscience with me. I can only combat facts with facts, so here's one: Bruce Lee faked his own death in 1973 because one day, Chuck Norris will let his guard down. If Mike Huckabee is around on that day, he'll find out about God sooner than he'd really like.

Housekeeping: New Link Added

I've posted a link to another island in the blogosphere I've just discovered. Robert Kemp's Fundagelical Watch is a running survey of the doings of the U.S. Christian Right, or as he calls them, the "fundagelicals." I recommend it just for the sound of that word, but what I've read there seems pretty cogent also. If my mostly anonymous readers find my comments or Crhymethinc's on religion congenial, they may also like what they see on Kemp's blog.

Happy Thanksgiving

In time for the American Thanksgiving holiday, the BBC posts a dire report from New York City. It makes you wonder what all those people should be thankful for. Obviously many dispensers of charity will say they or the god that inspires them should be thanked, but providing a meal on one day out of 365 seems a small occasion for the kind of gratitude that some people consider their right.

The concept of a Thanksgiving Day as an occasion for general gratitude to God for general generosity toward the United States has, dare I say thankfully, been superseded by a more secular sense of thankfulness toward family members on a day of reunions. The older concept seemed to put people under a sense of obligation, first to thank God and then to repay him with obedience. It's the same mentality that makes conservatives prefer charity to entitlement. The secular holiday is mostly harmless, depending on each family, but for those without families, or for families without resources, the only options are doing without or accepting charity and its accompanying shame. It should be an occasion for national shame that more people turn to charity this year.

Not all charitable givers of dinners tomorrow are vainglorious conservatives. Many have a stronger sense of social justice, but we have to wonder, without gainsaying anyone their Thanksgiving dinners, whether their energies wouldn't be better expended toward ensuring that everyone can eat a decent meal on a regular basis. If people head home from a charity dinner feeling a sense of obligation, it shouldn't be an indebtedness to the people who feed them, but a sense that the country has got to change.

Pluralism in Iran?

The BBC reports that an Iranian newspaper has shown some spine, or has borrowed some from the supreme ayatollah, and published an editorial that rips into President Ahmadinejad for a speech he made recently. The President apparently had a McCarthy moment and accused any Iranians who opposed his nuclear plans of being traitors. Despite assertions from America that Ahmadinejad is a "dictator," there are still people in Iran capable of calling him out when he does or says something asinine like this.

I'm not sure how unusual this is supposed to be. Ahmadinejad is the head of a particular political party that hasn't fared well since his election in 2005. We know that was a contested election, complete with competing advertisements. Liberals around the world griped that Iran's guardian council ultimately determined who could run, but that fact didn't mean that there weren't real differences between the finalists for the presidency. The Iranian condition is somewhat similar to ours in the United States; while dissidents can complain, with justice, that the "real" issues, or those they think the most real, aren't being debated in most elections, the privileged parties that get to decide things seem convinced that the issues that distinguish them from each other, rather than those that unite them as a class from the excluded parties, are the real ones. It's a matter of perspective. Most opinionated Americans suspect that real issues aren't debated in Iranian elections, because they think the existence of the Islamic Republic itself should be subject to debate, and the guardians aren't likely to allow anyone who proposes dismantling the republic to run for office. Similarly, while American dissidents might argue that the usurpation of power by the Bipolarchy should be subject to debate, the nature of the Bipolarchy is such that no debate is likely to happen under current circumstances, outside of your friendly neighborhood blogosphere.

Some observers are likely to be unimpressed by the Iran story for different reasons. They'll note, as the reporter did, that the paper that published the attack on the president enjoys some sort of sponsorship from Ayatollah Khamenei, the so-called Supreme Leader, and they'll recall that the same Leader has ordered newspapers closed down and editors jailed for publishing opinions he doesn't like. Perhaps we shouldn't be impressed if an opinion appears only at the pleasure of a Supreme Leader. However, this story is a timely reminder, especially if American media pick it up, that pluralism of a kind exists in Iran, and the country is not a dictatorship -- certainly not under any dictatorship of Ahmadinejad. If Americans think that he has absolute rulership of the country in the Saddam sense, they need to see stories like this one before they endorse any policy premised on the "evil" of Iran.

20 November 2007

Campaign '08: Are You Experienced?

Senator Clinton yesterday said that current conditions make it a bad idea to elect a President who will require "on the job training." By the lofty standard she has imposed, there are only four people in the country who are qualified to be President, and two of them are ineligible under the Constitution. That leaves two men, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, both of whom will turn 85 years old should they see the year 2009. Each served only one term and thus could be elected to another term.

Did I miss something? Some people interpret the Senator's comments as asserting her exclusive qualification for the White House compared to her current competitors. I'm not sure I understand the logic. For eight years Hilary Clinton was the "First Lady" of the United States, an office unlisted in the Constitution, by virtue of her marriage to President Clinton. She had the President's ear, and as a personal favorite was given certain privileged responsibilities, including supervision of a project to create a national health insurance policy. All this she did at the whim of the President, having not herself been elected as the President's wife (who knows what woman might win such a vote!) nor confirmed in any of her special responsibilities by Congress. Hers was a privileged position to which she had no right whatsoever, the "First Lady" having no more entitlement to a public role, much less a governmental one, than the obscure wives of Soviet leaders in the days between Lenin and Gorbachev. To assume that Sen. Clinton has Presidential experience that would exempt her from "on the job training" is to concede that Bill Clinton was right back in 1992 when he promised that voters would get two for the price of one, and that his wife was for eight years some sort of unelected, or at best implicitly-elected but nonetheless unconstitutional co-President, having perpetuated, with the connivance of her husband, a nearly unprecedented usurpation of executive power (the degree of precedent depending on whether you believe that Woodrow Wilson's wife ran the country when he was felled by a stroke in 1919). I hope I won't be thought of as a sexist pig if I consider this presumption a monstrous one; it would be just the same if Bill Clinton claimed or was granted similar privileges should his wife win the White House next year.

To sum up, Senator Clinton here baldly asserted her dynastic claim to the Presidency. She claimed, in effect, that her presence in the Presidential household counts for more than the Senatorial experience of Messrs. Biden, Dodd, Edwards, Gravel and Obama, the Congressional and mayoral experience of Rep. Kucinich, and the gubernatorial and diplomatic experience of Governor Richardson, not to mention her own seven years in the Senate. The only thing that puts her pretensions somewhere above those of George W. Bush is the fact that she did participate in her husband's administration, while W. did little apart from electioneering for his father. But saying that you're slightly better than the present President is like saying you're inches above the earth while falling at supersonic speed. In this case, may the crash come soon.

The French Strike

President Sarkozy says that economic reforms are necessary if France is to meet challenges "imposed" on it by worldwide competition. For him, the strike currently under way in his country is an ideological war. His is the camp that says the Market dictates the conditions of civilization in all countries. The other side we might tend to romanticize. We'd like to say that they're simply defending a civilized standard of living against the Market. Whatever our sympathies, objectivity requires us to admit that the government of any country has a right to question whether there are too many public-sector jobs, or whether early retirement with full pensions for certain workers is a tenable policy. Whether they bow to the Market or not, all countries have to make ends meet. For any labor activist to assert that the state can never reduce its workforce is unrealistic. So I can't support the French strikers wholeheartedly. At the same time, I reject Sarkozy's rationalizations. For any nation, when global competition threatens to force retrenchment of the civilized standard of living or civilized conditions in the workforce, the answer is not to capitulate to the Market and perpetuate competition, but to seek ways to end the competition and dedicate all the world's resources to providing a civilized standard of living to everyone on Earth. That's neither an easy task nor a "realistic" goal, but if civilization means the abolition of competition for existence, then this is the civilized goal and the civilized task. The French should know this better than almost anyone.

18 November 2007

Mike Huckabee: The Beginning of the End

Some reports today are suggesting that Governor Huckabee of Arkansas has hit the big time among aspirants to the Republican nomination by appearing on one of the talking-head shows this weekend. These interpretations seem a bit behind the curve, since Huckabee has been getting a lot of attention, quite a bit favorable toward his personality at least, in recent weeks. If his performance today represents any kind of milestone, it probably signifies that it's all downhill from here for him. That's because he explicitly rejected the "let the states decide" position on abortion. Acting like he's Lincoln, he says a matter of moral right or wrong can't have 50 different answers. For him, then, it's Roe v. Wade or a "Human Life Amendment," i.e., a national ban on abortion.

Before today, I considered Huckabee the favorite for the second spot on the GOP ticket, especially if Giuliani were to get the presidential nomination. In such a case, Huckabee would have provided important sectional balance. He might have done similar work for Romney. Now, however, I think he can't be nominated. He has killed his chances with that one comment. If Republicans hope to take back any recently blue states, if they want to sway independents, they cannot pick anyone so clearly committed to an absolute ban on abortion. Huckabee would now be poison for any running mate. He would do not better as the presidential candidate, but that's the only road open to him now. He must seize the top spot or vanish from the scene.

I might as well make my own position clear for all my occasional anonymous visitors. Abortion is a matter of inalienable sovereignty on the part of each individual mother. The public or the nation has no vested interest in the fetus while it remains in the womb. The positions of the mother and the fetus are unanalogizable: they cannot be compared to any other ethical situation. With the minimal respect to Gov. Huckabee, abortion cannot be compared to slavery, since slaves lived in symbiosis with their plantations only in the more eccentric imaginations of slavedrivers. The only other person who ever has even a voice in the question of an abortion is the father of the fetus. He might have the moral right to prevent an abortion, but only if he accepted obligations of his own toward the child. In more cases than men care to admit, of course, fathers encourage abortions. In many more cases, they are indifferent, and in some, they are unaware of the pregnancy, much less the abortion. But even should a father sue for his right to have a son, society might want to ensure him a fair hearing, but it cannot presume its own stake in the birth. In no stretch of imagination should a fetus be considered a citizen of the United States, and only the distinctly supernatural imagination of the fetus's autonomous soul makes such contentions possible. Any law requiring a mother to carry her fetus to term is an imposition of servitude without due process, which is why a constitutional amendment would be necessary to make it happen. Such an amendment would be inconsistent with the rest of the Constitution, and while that fact alone can't prevent an amendment, it makes for a strong appeal to conscience when the time comes to vote, and a strong argument for keeping such a vote from ever taking place.

16 November 2007

Click to the Left, Please.

My colleague Crhymethinc has some strong words in his newest blog entries. I especially commend "Democracy Hasn't Failed, We Have" to everyone's attention, since that is straight Think 3 doctrine. It even lists three preconditions for effective democracy. He's right about the crybaby Clintonites too, by the way.

The Noose

At one time, a hangman's noose may have symbolized the majesty of the state for most people, since hanging was how most people were executed, in English-speaking countries at least, before the advent of the electric chair. In the United States, it has always had a separate meaning, because the noose was also the preferred instrument of extra-legal executions, i.e. lynchings. Deep into the 20th century, the noose acquired a more exclusive meaning as fewer people were lynched across the country, and nearly all of those who were were black. In 2006, the display of a noose in Jena LA is seen by many as an exculpatory provocation for the beating by blacks of a white youth. The case of the Jena Six has become a cause celebre in liberal circles because the assailants faced the disproportionate charge of attempted murder, whereas, had the racial roles been reversed, so the presumption goes, six white thugs would not have been so charged for pummeling a black youth. Now we have a movement afoot to have any display of a noose treated as a hate crime. This was reportedly taken to an absurd extreme during the recent Halloween season, when someone had to take down an effigy of a hanging scarecrow because someone else took it as a symbol of lynching. This article summarizes several recent cases, each of which you can appraise as you please.

It seems sometimes as if radical representatives of ethnic minorities think that the only real power they have is to forbid certain words or symbols. Whether it's the "N-word" or the Indian sports mascot, or now the noose, some sort of satisfaction comes from telling the majority, the people with the power, that on certain occasions they cannot have their way, cannot boast of their vaunted freedom. These cultural struggles are always assertions of power. The reasons for any such commandment fail to sustain scrutiny. The ban on the N-word is hypocritical as long as some groups can use it freely (of course, that's part of the appeal of forbidding it). Indian mascots can't be meant as insults because the teams would otherwise be insulting themselves (but of course it doesn't matter what anyone thinks except those with the power to forbid). The noose is a more subtle matter. In Jena, it seems fairly obvious that the noose was meant as an insult to blacks. In the case at Columbia University, where a noose was hung over a professor's office door, the professor's race does seem relevant. But if anyone means to insist that a noose is always and only a symbol of lynching, or that its display is always and only an attempt to intimidate blacks, we must disagree. History tells us the truth in this case. The terror of the noose as a symbol of cruel punishment or mob rule is shared by everyone, which is why we hang scarecrows in some places at Halloween time. Nor were all lynchings hangings; victims were often tied to trees of iron rails and riddled with bullets, and some were simply burned at the stake. Honesty demands that we resist any attempt to put the noose under any sort of cultural embargo, and that we investigate the circumstances of any display of nooses before we draw conclusions about people's intentions. Otherwise, a sort of intellectual lynching will have arguably taken place.

14 November 2007

A Word on Fearmongering

Tom Tancredo has no credibility as a presidential candidate. He seems to be a genuine xenophobe and a dangerous militant Islamophobe in particular. That said, I think people are going overboard in condemning his bomb-in-a-shopping-mall ad for the Iowa market. You can see it on this blog with predictable scolding commentary.

I have no intention of defending Tancredo's message or his fears, but I think that liberals and leftists have gone too far in their reflexive hostility toward the "politics of fear." The usual complaint is that Republicans try to scare voters out of any proportion to existing dangers and thus simultaneously convince the same voters that the GOP alone is vigilant and tough enough to defend us from every threat. I agree that Republicans exaggerate the existing threat, but the liberal reaction comes close, as I see it, to forbidding people from claiming that threats uncomfirmed by liberals even exist.

Tom Tancredo most likely believes, sincerely and hysterically, that the threat he portrays in the commercial is real. Others believe sincerely that "Islamofascism," or whatever they want to call it, poses an "existential" threat to the United States. Others yet believe on the basis of observation, accurate or not, that the U.S. isn't doing enough to prevent terrorists from entering the country. They all have as much right to raise the issue and sound their warnings as liberals have to refute them.

I don't think it's cheating in some sense that liberals use for Republicans or anyone else to warn of dangers they perceive. If anything, it may be a useful service, for should such threats be so self-evidently absent as liberals assert, the mere advertisement of such baseless fear should discredit a candidate at first sight. Liberals, however, expect the opposite to happen, because they can't help presuming that voters are infinitely gullible. That's why they live in perpetual terror of offending Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly, because they presume that hosts or herds of voters take every word of these talkers as gospel and act accordingly at the polls. Even after retaking Congress, it hasn't sunk in for these liberals that all they really need to do is answer the right wing yakkers in kind (as Keith Olberman does, for instance) to break their vaunted spell on the public. Of course, if liberals actually believe that the people themselves are incurably stupid and helplessly susceptible to Republican "fearmongering," their future defeats should not surprise them.

13 November 2007

Blackwater Bats .176

If anyone thought the FBI investigation of the Blackwater killing of 17 Iraqis on September 16 was going to be friendly toward the mercenaries, they'll have to conclude that the beleaguered security contractor doesn't need enemies. Advance word on the FBI report indicates that Blackwater will be blamed for 14 out of 17 unjustified deaths on that infamous day. Even that estimate appears to be overgenerous to Blackwater, since they're excused for three murders of civilians only because, in those instances only, they abided by rules of engagement that entitle them to fire on suspicion of imminent attack, regardless of whether the suspicion was justified or not. Judged by killing insurgents, the mercs were batting a perfect .000. Now, before everyone starts arguing over who has jurisdiction and who has clout, let's consider another possibility. Sometimes justice can be served only when someone asserts jurisdiction in an area for the first time.

For Once, the People Rule

Governor Spitzer has capitulated to popular opinion. He's going to give up on his plan to issue drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants, according to the New York Times and other sources. The governor remains unrepentant, insisting that his was a "principled" position, but the latest poll numbers that put his approval rating at a bushy 41%, not to mention likely strong pressure from Senator Clinton and the state's Congressional delegation, have finally driven him to compromise his precious principles. The timing of the announcement is, frankly contemptible, because here was a self-styled leader who proclaimed his independence from polls, and now the news of his surrender will follow the news of a poll. It's a no-win situation, which is only fair, since Spitzer didn't deserve to win. He can only hope that people will forget over the next three years, and to be fair, there's plenty he can do constructively to help them forget. Now that Democracy has had a rare triumph, and of a kind, please note, that didn't depend on voting, we ought to judge Spitzer by his future acts as well as his thwarted bad intentions.

More on Mailer

What fascinates me about Norman Mailer is that he seemed to be the last survivor of a heroic age of American literature. Does any author these days actually aspire to fame based on anything other than sales numbers? Mailer idolized Ernest Hemingway, who was thought to have found a new way of describing human experience, and at the same time projected an ideal of adventurous manliness. Like Hemingway, Mailer was egotistically combative, determined to be recognized as the champion U.S. writer, and he had an early, massive success in the novel The Naked and the Dead to back his claim -- a success, in fact, that earned Hemingway's resentment, since he considered it his right to write the great novel of World War II. No present writer, to my knowledge, declares his ambition to top Mailer. In part, this reflects Mailer's failure to hold the summit of novelists, but who else might the modern writers see as a master to surpass? I suspect that they have surrendered the field of fame to the Stephen Kings, the John Grishams, and all those who win the numbers game. Stephen King is a celebrity, but does anyone think he's making an important contribution to civilization? Not even himself, I'd guess. This is not to assert recklessly that Mailer made such a contribution, but I admire his aspiration to do so, and I miss it in the present generation.

In my view, Mailer ultimately succeeded better in non-fiction because he was such a narcissist. Not having read The Naked and the Dead, I can't say that he came into his own until he made himself and his perceptions the principal subject of his writing. This is often dismissed as pure egoism, but it differs from, for instance, Hemingway's egoism in its concern for self-analysis and self-criticism. Mailer's writing is often criticized for self-indulgence, but he believed it necessary to face up to his own demons, admit his worst feelings and fantasies, and address them in a manner more objective than he often got credit for. Reading Advertisements for Myself, I see a harsh and not self-flattering honesty in his expectation of barbaric, psychopathic violence as the perhaps necessary alternative to the suffocation and slow death of everyone at the hands of an increasingly totalitarian society. Mailer is no Utopian and no pacifist. Here's something from an interview he included in the book:

"The trouble is that it's enormously difficult to return to the senses. We're all civilized, and to return to the senses and keep the best parts of our civilized being, to keep our capacity for mental organization, for mental construction, for logic, is doubly difficult, and there's a great danger that the nihilism of Hip will destroy civilization. But it seems to me that the danger which is even more paramount --the danger which has brought on Hip -- is that civilization is so strong itself, so divorced from the senses, that we have come to the point where we can liquidate millions of people in concentration camps by orderly process."

But in the next breath he allows that he could be completely wrong:

"If the divorce from the senses I talk about is becoming a human condition, then by all means, yes, civilization must be cashed in or we will destroy ourselves in the cold insensate expressions of due process of law and atomic radiation. On the other hand maybe this divorce from the senses involves just a small party of my generation, and the Square, in contrast, leads a sensuous life with sufficient contentments to keep him civilized (in the good sense) and equable. It is we -- hipsters -- who would then be the only ones alienated from our senses. If this be true, then everything I have said is merely an intricate and ingenious rationalization to defend my neurotic .. perversities, anh? [ellipsis in original] Of course, I don't believe this is true."

Your own appraisal will determine Mailer's worth for your own intellectual development. The important thing is not whether you take his word for it or not, but to ask the question yourself and appeal to your own experience and knowledge. In some cases you should by all means not take his word for it, because in those cases words like "style," "mood," "orgy" or "cancer" become a kind of jargon with special meanings to him that we don't necessarily share. Overall, though, his message is clear enough. But despite that claim, I'll probably discuss it more later this week.

Norman Mailer on the American Bipolarchy

Mailer had a lot to say about American politics, but this bit from one of his 1955 Village Voice columns amused me:

"But the curious contradictions of power and party politics are such, that if I were to vote on this principle, I wouldbe forced ever so slightly toward the Republicans. Not because I like them, mind you -- I rather dislike them, they are such unconscionable hypocrites. Yet the disagreeable fact of power in these politically depressed years -- like it or leave it -- is that the Republican Party is a little more free to act, precisely because it does not have to be afraid of the Republicans, whereas the Democrats do."

Since he was still publishing and making public appearances until a few months ago, Mailer was clearly aware of the behavior of Democrats in 2007. I doubt he would have felt a need to revise or retract his comments of half a century ago. The only thing different is that, in our time, many Republicans are afraid of themselves, to the extent that an ideological faction holds the power of career life-or-death over aspiring Republican officeholders, and that an ideological media has the perceived power to discredit Republicans and Democrats alike if either fails to toe the ideological line.

11 November 2007

In Memoriam

"Once one enters the land of massive social communication, of network communication, once one becomes attached to the machine-belt of the mass media -- specifically, in our case, the assembly line of the columnist -- there is no desire to retain even the father's ghost of a thought. There is only power for the sake of power, and it is cowardly power for it masquerades in coy and winsome forms. On the surface there is only the attempt to entertain in a conventional way.

* * *
"Therefore, I propose to try something I do not believe I can accomplish. I will try to write for you (this column to the contrary) as if I were talking in my living room, or in yours. So my opinions will be half-formed, if not totally inarticulate, but at least they can be awkwardly close to the questions I am really thinking about."
Mailer wrote the above in 1955, as he was embarking on a short career as a weekly writer for the Village Voice, a paper he co-founded. On the strength of it, let's declare him a patron saint of bloggers, because he seems to be aiming at what most bloggers aspire to, consciously or not. In the same column, he went on to complain that the Voice would not let him use obscenities, a handicap many bloggers have long since transcended, sharing Mailer's belief that "obscenities communicate a great deal in the living room and indeed in other places as well," and that "they awake, no matter how uneasily many of the questions, riddles, aches and pleasures which surround the enigma of life."
I got these quotes from Advertisements For Myself, a self-compiled compendium of Mailer's writings from the 1950s. In my view, he really came into his own as a prose stylist in the 1960s, and from that point could be fairly called the greatest American essayist of the latter half of the 20th century. I like his welding of an erudite vocabulary and an anarchic, aggressive sensibility, and in spite of his ultimate failure to reconcile a belief in social justice with a personal doctrine of perpetual rebellion and ambition. The more I read his work from 40 or 50 years ago, the more he strikes me as a prophet in many ways. I find may of his ideas congenial, and some repugnant, but I think he fares well in the balance. Here's one of the good ideas, again from his Voice columns:
"The glimmer of hope on all our murky horizons is that civilization may be coming to the point where we will return to voting for individual men (or individual women) rather than for political ideas, those political ideas which eventually are cemented into the social network of life as a betrayal of the individual desires which gave birth to them."
I picked up Advertisements after hearing of Mailer's death yesterday. Over the next week I intend to go back to some of my earlier readings and post more of his opinions that stand my test of time.

A History Lesson for Hugo Chavez

There was an amusing incident this weekend at an Ibero-American summit, during which someone finally told Hugo Chavez, to his face, to shut up. It was Juan Carlos, the King of Spain, who had been annoyed by Chavez's calling a former Prime Minister of that country a Fascist, apparently for no better reason that the man had supported George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq. The Venezuelan also insinuated that the King of Spain somehow had advance knowledge of the coup that temporarily deposed Chavez in 2002, implying, of course, that the apparent friend of fascists, his majesty, must have supported the coup. Well, we have a record of Juan Carlos's attitude toward fascists and coups. He faced down a military coup attempt in his own country back in 1981, even though he would have been left on the throne. The Wikipedia account includes some dissenting speculation about the incident, but the international consensus is that Juan Carlos has earned the right to feel insulted by Chavez's ranting. It's another mark against the Venezuelan that he seems to think that anyone who disagrees with him or his worldview is a fascist of some kind, outright or latent. The word for that kind of mentality is McCarthyism. The jury is still out on his actual performance in office, there being a lot to his credit there from most reports, but as a person he seems to be an obnoxious blowhard in love with the sound of his own voice. Some may say that such a personality is necessary to shake up the system, but no one has to like it -- at least there isn't a law in Venezuela yet saying you have to. Say what you will about the American president, but at least he doesn't force us to watch him perform on television for hours at a time. On the other hand, if he did, we might finally have a change in this country.

09 November 2007

Iraqis: Are You Better Off Now ... ?

President Bush's father, the former President Bush, has often been said to be a silent critic of his son's foreign policy. He has now broken any purported silence to defend his boy's invasion of Iraq. Presumed to be more of a "realist" than his "neocon" offspring, the elder Bush now employs the crudest neocon arguments, suggesting that anyone who questions the invasion must have wanted Saddam Hussein to remain in power indefinitely.

Let's leave aside the question of whether any nation or coalition of nations had a right to remove Saddam from power, since the answer is so obvious. The fact is, he's gone and won't be coming back. That leaves us with one question to ask: are the Iraqi people better off now than they were, for the sake of arguments, five years ago?

Neocons will answer instantly that, whatever hardships Iraqis suffer, all benefit from being free. It is self-evident, however, that the dead didn't benefit. Bushies may prefer to blame most of the deaths on the insurgents or the terrorists rather than on the invasion, but the fact is that Iraqis didn't suffer random acts of terrorism under Saddam Hussein. He persecuted dissidents and killed many of them, and should be cursed by history for doing so. At his worst, he made families suffer for the perceived offenses of one person. But to my knowledge, he did not subject the whole nation to random terror. He did not blow up marketplaces for the hell of it, or for his own amusement. If you suffered terror under Saddam, it was because you stuck your own neck out, knowing the risk of doing so. Since Saddam, people who probably never had a political thought have been slaughtered simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It may be that the people who might have suffered most under Saddam are the ones who have benefited most from his departure, since they are presumably publishing newspapers and ranting on radio and television, as long as they haven't been blown up, kidnapped or assassinated. But their theoretical benefit has to be outweighed by the terror imposed upon the apolitical silent majority of Iraqis by the state of chaos that the U.S. called into being. It seems indisputable to me that the average Iraqi, the ordinary complacent submissive civilian, was better off by most measures under the dictator than under the occupation and its poor excuse for government. It will only be disputed by those who think "freedom" alone matters, the ones who believe that, as long as you can complain, you have no right to complain.

08 November 2007

Every Rose Has Its Thorn -- Well, This One Does.

The "Rose Revolution" took place in the Republic of Georgia, formerly part of the Soviet Union. It was one of those "people power" uprisings cited here as evidence that democracy was on the march. But now the leader of that rosy revolt has pulled a Musharraf and declared a state of emergency, complaining that Russian agents were planning a coup against him. There followed the usual tsk-tsking from the U.S., but if anything it'll be less sincere than the complaints addressed to Pakistan. The Bush Administration seems opposed to Russia having a sphere of influence, so as long as Mr. Saakashvili is hostile to Russia we're likely to stick with him, if only to spite Vladimir Putin. The latest word is that Saakashvili has called snap elections, which leaves us wondering what he'll do if "people power" protests against the outcome, not to mention what the U.S. will say about it.

Give Robertson Some Credit

Mr. Peepers, the office liberal, was all atwitter yesterday over the news that Pat Robertson had endorsed Rudy Giuliani for the Republican presidential nomination. "He's a hypocrite!" Peepers protested, "Robertson always talks about family values, but Giuliani doesn't have any family values. He's divorced and he doesn't get along with his family."

I advised him to chill. Understand, please, that Robertson is an awful person and Giuliani a terrible candidate. But that being said, I think the Rev. should get a little credit, no matter how late in life, for some political maturity. By endorsing Giuliani, Robertson has transcended his monomaniacal focus on family values, abortion, etc. For right or wrong, the Rev. decided that there would be more important issues in 2008 than his usual pet concerns. His fear of Islam and terrorism has taught him to prioritize. Purity on family/moral issues now matters less to him than making sure there's a strong man in Washington who will crack down on the evil ones.

So how does this credit I grant the Rev. impact the balance of his reputation? Not much. Pat Robertson remains one of the most malignant elements in American politics. His infamous comments after 11 Sept. 2001 would almost make it incumbent on Giuliani to repudiate Robertson's endorsement. The fact that the former mayor is unlikely to do that may make Giuliani himself a hypocrite, since as mayor he was quick to throw back charity offered by a Saudi prince who blamed the attacks on American support for Israel. Robertson's charity, alas, he's more likely to accept, for all the good it may do him. But this is less about Giuliani than about Robertson, and my point remains: hypocrisy, if you call it that, is a step up from fanaticism, at least in this case.

Meanwhile, I look on with interest at an impending schism within the Religious Right. Other divines have denounced Robertson's choice, some favoring Mitt Romney, some favoring Mike Huckabee. There seems to be a class divide within the movement, with the grass roots favoring Huckabee, who has a common-man appeal, and many of the leaders leaning toward the more money-friendly Mormon. Talk from the leaders about breaking away from the GOP is simmering down for the moment, but the sense I get is that the voters are getting tired of getting sold out to the corporate wing of the party. Even if all they do is stay home next year, that can't hurt.

06 November 2007

Money Talks, but Does It Vote?

Ron Paul, the Texas congressman, has earned the biggest headlines so far of his campaign thanks to his devoted donors, who dedicated Guy Fawkes Day (5 November to us Americans) to setting a record. They fell short of Sen. Clinton's best day, back during the summer, but gave Rep. Paul, a libertarian Republican, more than $4 million in this single dramatic gesture.

Paul has run for President before as a capital-L Libertarian, and the Libertarian party fields a candidate every four years, but libertarianism itself has never drawn this kind of money before. The elderly Texan is obviously earning a lot of his cheddar through his uncompromising opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. It's unclear whether his antiwar supporters are fully aware of Paul's ideology, but they have no excuse for ignorance, since the hardcore Paul supporters will point you to websites that make his positions clear.

His libertarian ideology makes Paul unfit to be President of a civilized nation. Libertarians no doubt think themselves the most civilized people on earth, but they shouldn't confuse their quaint insistence on competing for survival according to some concocted code of rules with the truly civilized alternative of cooperation for collective survival. That said, if Ron Paul represents an authentic libertarian foreign policy, he might make an excellent secretary of state, whoever gets elected.

Paul himself has no chance of winning the Republican nomination. The key to winning the primaries is concentrating resources in Iowa or New Hampshire and committing yourself to old-school door-knocking, phone-ringing retail campaigning. That's how Kerry beat Dean in Iowa in 2004, when the internet-generated "perfect storm" dissipated into thin air. It's easy to donate money electronically to the candidate you love. It's another thing to do the grunt labor that seems to be required to generate true momentum. Idealists like those who support Paul now or supported Dean four years ago probably recoil from the prospect of having to convince someone not already in agreement with them not just to agree with them, but to go out and vote on such and such a day. Libertarians may have an advantage here because they tend to see themselves as super-salesmen or heroic entrepreneurs, but the sort of retail politics that primaries demand are the sort of politics a lot of them hate in the first place. They won't convince me that they have it in them until they pull it off. But even though I disagree with them on domestic politics, I wish them luck, and if they want to keep fighting after the primaries, I wish them more.

Why Didn't They Kill Each Other?

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia paid a visit to the Vatican today. During a cordial meeting, Pope Benedict reportedly lobbied for the rights of Filipino Catholic workers in the Muslim land. They are free to worship, the BBC reports, but not in public. That aside, the two theocrats seemed to get along and expressed hopes for collaboration in defense of family values. And why didn't they kill each other? They're old, for one thing, and not as spry as they might have been. Also, they're statesmen as well as fanatics, and thus have responsibilities. Furthermore, despite recent history, they're closer to brothers under the skin than their adherents would probably care to acknowledge. Rome and Riyadh have acted together as a "party of God," so to speak, to lobby for family values and against women's rights in international venues, often in collaboration with U.S. Republicans. All three of these powers know that their real long-term enemy is secular humanism, and in that case we humanists should probably thank blind providence that they so often fall to fighting among themselves, while regretting that we end up in the crossfire.

05 November 2007

Pakistan (continued)

The radio reported this morning that General Musharraf is leaving Pakistan's newspapers alone while cracking down on television to enforce his emergency rule. His policy appears to be based on a cynical calculation that most Pakistani people are illiterate and therefore won't pay attention to the press. He might think differently if people started taking their newspapers to the masses and reading them aloud, but maybe the general knows something about class relationships in his country that I don't.

Again, this is an area where the Bush Administration might offer Musharraf some advice. He has the right idea about newspapers, they might tell him, but otherwise his approach is crude. He doesn't censor newspapers because his people don't read. That's fine. In America, the Bushies could argue, we don't censor any media -- we're not worried about what the media say because our people don't think.

Did Publius Warn Us?

"Publius" is the collective pseudonym of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison, authors of the Federalist papers. On the History News Network, a historian sees a warning from Hamilton about militarism tending toward monarchy. Here's Federalist No. 8 in full, so you can judge for yourself. The thing I find interesting is Hamilton's supposition that a standing army in itself is a menace in a nation subject to frequent attack, but not so much to be feared in a nation generally at peace. Match that with the growth of commander-in-chief assertiveness as the country got into entangling alliances and put our armies into harm's way far from our home shores, and Hamilton may indeed have been on to something.

04 November 2007

Pakistan: A Disappointment

I can see why the Bush administration would deplore General Musharraf's latest stunt of declaring an emergency and suspending the country's constitution. First of all, it makes the U.S. look bad by backing a dictator again. Some "realists" think this approach is OK on the theory that someplace like Pakistan isn't really ready for democracy. The problem in the Pakistani case is that they've had democracy, and have had it frequently in the intervals between coups d'etat. This suggests to me that the problem isn't anything to do with Pakistani culture, but something very much to do with the Pakistani military. Nor does the war-on-terror excuse hold weight, once you recall that Islamic extremism had nothing to do with Musharraf's becoming a dictator in the first place. That happened when he objected to being sacked by the civilian government. Past civilian governments can be deplored for their corruption, but civilian corruption never justifies military dictatorship. You can find out more about Musharraf here.

As I said, I can understand Bush's own dismay. What's this about suspending the constitution? he must ask himself. Moosh is the president, isn't he? Then he's the commander-in-chief, right? Commander-in-chief's got the power to do what he's got to do to protect the country, right? Well, that comes from the constitution, donit? That's how it works here in the U. of S. I would never ever suspend the constitution, cause then I couldn't do anything!

Who are we to disabuse him of his fantasy?

02 November 2007

Bertolt Brecht on Immigration

"The people have lost the confidence of the government; the government has decided to dissolve the people, and to appoint another one."

The German playwright actually said that about the Communist government of East Germany following an uprising in 1953. For some reason, however, the quote keeps popping into my head as I discuss the topic of illegal immigration with certain liberals at DailyKos and elsewhere. I wonder why that is ...

So Much For Hugo Chavez

To the annoyance of some people, I used to defend Hugo Chavez's actions as President of Venezuela. To people who accused him of suppressing dissent, I noted that most media in the country remained critical toward Chavez. When others worried about his economic and social policies, I opined that the existence of an entrenched oligarchy in Venezuela required measures that might seem extreme in North American eyes for the sake of genuine democratization. But now that I read the latest from that country, courtesy of the BBC, I have to give up on the man. Amid all the social reforms he proposes, many of which are probably not unreasonable, is a provision granting himself, the President, unlimited powers in times of emergency. In other words, this man who so often blasts George W. Bush in his speeches is adopting Bush's concept of executive power. If Bush is wrong to claim such powers in his commander-in-chief mode, then so is Chavez. Circumstances may differ from country to country but certain principles are the same everywhere.

I've also seen footage of college students rioting against the Venezuelan reforms. I haven't yet looked into this business in -depth, so I can't say whether this is an outburst of spoiled rich kids (sad to say, but cries of "Freedom!" make me suspicious these days) or a genuine people-power movement. We'll know more as the days pass, both about the demonstrations and about Chavez's ultimate intentions.