Monday, March 26, 2007

"I'm not sure of the physics, but..."

Is it just me, or does every harebrained scheme e-mailed to Danger Room contain some version of the phrase above? As an employee of a famous learned society, I have been favored with one such e-mail myself, proposing a method of time travel, and it also contained a similar admission. I'm not terribly informed of physics myself, but that doesn't seem to be as stimulating to my imagination as it is to some others.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Gonzales predictions

What did he know, and when did he know it? Or, if you're feeling more pessimistic about the future of our current AG, Alberto "Fredo," "Geneva Conventions are quaint" Gonzales: When will he go, and how will he do it?

With Republican senators offering at best lukewarm support, Fredo's days may, indeed, be numbered. But the senators seem to have fixated on the need for Gonzales to clear up the record about his involvement in the firings. As others have pointed out, this is only part of the cover up. The question at the heart of the matter is why were the USAs fired in the first place? Even admitting that it was for 'political reasons,' as Trent Lott seems very willing to concede, does not really answer the question.

The real answer, I suspect, is a combination of the mundane and the Machiavellian. Look for the White House and DOJ, once they regain their senses in the face of actual or threatened subpoenas from the House, to emphasize the mundane half of the explanation: that the firings were just part of an effort to build the Republican bench of people eligible for higher political and/or judicial appointments. They fumbled this very badly, of course, in the way the firings were handled, and the lying to cover up their fumbling may still cost Gonzales his job even if the 'bench-building' explanation is accepted by the media and public.

The more sinister side of the firings involve efforts to derail investigations into Republican corruption, and to punish those who would not play along with the GOP's phony voter fraud charges. Most likely, Rove saw the chance to kill two or three birds with one stone (or eight stones, as the case may be), and the USA's were dismissed for a combination of mundane and sinister reasons. Alas for the White House, they seem to have grown to used to a rubber-stamp Congress and press, and figured they could slip this by without attracting attention. (I'm not saying we've yet regained a fully-functioning opposition party and fourth estate yet, but there have been improvements.) If they had just gone with the bench-building explanation in the first place, they might have succeeded, too.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Mike Davis on Recent Politics

At long last, I've rejoined the blog after my delay in signing up for the new blogger (compounded by buying a new house and moving--I know, real estate is in terrible shape right now and possibly getting even worse, but at least I'm in a low-price small town market!) I just came across a very thoughtful and comprehensive article on recent and future political developments in the wake of the '06 U.S. elections that I want to commend to our blog's readers:

Historian and social commentator Mike Davis--known for his deeply researched yet elegently written critical books such as Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World and City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles--wrote a very thoughtful and comprehensive article entitled "The Democrats After November".

I encourage you to read it for yourself as a stimulant to thinking about the current options for the Progressive Left. It covers everything from Iraq to corruption to economic policy. Here are just a few of my own comments on the article:

1. On Pelosi's Iraq bill recently passed: Davis's article was written before the recent passage of the House's Iraq bill, which continues Iraq funding along with some deadlines. But Davis's discussion resonates strongly with heated debates over Pelosi's bill that have been tearing apart much of the anti-war Left over the past few weeks. I find myself torn. On one side, the "realists" claim that the bill is a monumental achievement that finally attaches a timetable to disengage from Iraq and incorporates serious concessions from Progressive opponents of the war. Since the bill is sure to attract Bush's veto, they claim, it will provide brilliant rhetorical cover and will push the debate in a good direction--and, moreover, is far better than the straight-ahead funding bill that apparently would have passed if this bill had failed. On the other side, "idealists" picket outside Pelosi's office and lambast groups like and some Congressional progressives (e.g., David Obey of Wisconsin) for compromising with the immorality and insanity of continuing Bush's war. I have found myself leaning towards the "realists," despite some agreement at heart with the "idealists" about keeping our eyes on the prize for the long-term instead of merely savoring short-term compromises and incremental gains. I think David Sirota made the most convincing case for me to grudgingly side with the "realists." Yet after reading Davis, I have become undecided once again. He makes a convincing case that we absolutely, fundamentally need a robust anti-war movement that can push hard from the outside towards a broader critique linking the Iraq War to the fundamental idiocy, imperialism, and immorality of current U.S. foreign policy. "Indeed," contends Davis, "only mass protest, unfettered from theRealpolitik of Howard Dean and, can shift the balance of power in Congress towards a decisive debate on withdrawal."

2. Political factions within the Democratic Party. Davis's most novel and intriguing analysis is about the various groups in the Democratic coalition. In particular, he traces the emergence of a near 100% "Silicon Valley" money support of Democrats for high-tech industry policy, which is quietly driving a huge proportion of the policy agenda favored by leading Democrats such as Reid and Pelosi. Channeling Thomas Frank, but turning the spotlight of analysis more on Democrats than Republicans ("What's the matter with New Orleans and other centers of urban poverty?"), Davis contrasts this well-educated, Silicon Valley wing of the party with the other 3/5 of the party made up of Blacks, Latinos, working-class whites, etc., who may not stand to benefit from the global high-tech industry policies promoted by Democratic leaders. Very interesting food for thought.

3. He concludes with the issue of populism and anti-immigration, and this was the section that unsettled me most. I have long been a defender of anti-corporate populism but always worried about the Lou Dobbs/Pat Buchanan refraction of that position into nativism and xenophobia. I was mostly glad to see renewed economic populism in the '06 elections by many Democrats who won--Webb, Tester, Brown, etc. But I was also worried about some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric used by some Democrats, especially in border states like Arizona. Will that dark undercurrent overwhelm the trenchant critique of corporate elites? I still think not, but Davis is less sanguine than me. Dissecting Webb's views, in particular, Davis has given me more points to ponder.

Well, I've posted way too long. I am looking forward to whatever reactions anyone has to Davis's article, either the issues I raised or other ones he discusses (or doesn't discuss but should!)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

'Mistakes were made'

For the life of me I cannot understand why politicians and bureaucrats continue to use that phrase, but here it is again, fresh out of the mouth of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Bloggers are prognosticating ('Blognosticating'(tm)) that Gonzales's resignation is coming soon. Maybe, but remember how long Donald Rumsfeld lasted?

Gonzales, in typical Bush administration fashion, stepped in front of the cameras and microphones at a press conference today to make the standard third person announcement, and promptly accepted responsibility for the mistakes, but said that he would not resign. Basically: 'I accept responsibility for mistakes that some unknown person or persons have made, as long as that acknowledgment is the only consequence of said responsibility.'

Update: I see Matthew Yglesias had a similar reaction.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Are you a left-wing extremist?

Joe Klein at's Swampland blog helpfully provides a checklist to determine whether one is, or is not, a left-wing extremist. Let's see how I measure up:
A left-wing extremist exhibits many, but not necessarily all, of the following attributes:

--believes the United States is a fundamentally negative force in the world

Mmm... What does he mean by 'fundamentally'? If an extremist believes that the US is always, necessarily, a negative force in the world than I'm afraid I don't meet that standard. The US is at the moment a very negative force in the world, in part because of our terribly wasteful use of resources, in larger part because of the stupid, stupid people currently in charge of the government. The US could be a very powerful force for good in the world, and I hope it will be soon.
--believes that American imperialism is the primary cause of Islamic radicalism.
The primary cause? Maybe not, but it's not an easy call. Certainly US policies in the Middle East have been a huge factor. The Bush gang has made things a lot worse than I thought they could ever be, but US presidents back to Wilson can all share some of the blame.
--believes that the decision to go to war in Iraq was not an individual case of monumental stupidity, but a consequence of America’s fundamental imperialistic nature.
There he is again with that word 'fundamental.' I'd guess I'd have to say both. The war in Iraq was a case of stupidity, but it was hardly individual stupidity. The collective stupidity of our political leadership and their best buds in the 4th estate got us into the Iraq mess. And the set of beliefs that allowed Bush's stupidity to become US policy is certainly related to the long history of US imperialism in the Middle East (see above).
--tends to blame America for the failures of others—i.e. the failure of our NATO allies to fulfill their responsibilities in Afghanistan.
The United States (which is not really the same as 'America,' Joe), does bear responsibility for the failures of diplomacy, planning and execution that have made many of our allies leery of throwing more resources at an important, but badly managed endeavor.
--doesn’t believe that capitalism, carefully regulated and progressively taxed, is the best liberal idea in human history.
Definitely not. It's not a bad idea, necessarily, but I'm not going to join Klein in kneeling before its altar. I think the idea of inalienable human rights is much better; and democracy is pretty cool, too.
--believes American society is fundamentally unfair (as opposed to having unfair aspects that need improvement).
Fundamentally again? Jeez. No, the US is not fundamentally unfair, in the sense that it is and always will be unfair. But it is and always has been unfair, and after some real progress toward a fairer society in the decades between 1930 and 1980, it's become a lot less fair.
--believes that eternal problems like crime and poverty are the primarily the fault of society.
Why are those 'eternal problems'? Crime will always be with us, I imagine, but if we had more people who were really committed to doing something about the problem of poverty, crime would be less of a problem. And it's important to note that crime really is not a big problem for me and most people of my socio-economic status. The poor are disproportionately hurt by crime, not the relatively well off.
--believes that America isn’t really a democracy.
It's a republic, and a pretty good one. But more and better democracy would certainly be welcome.
--believes that corporations are fundamentally evil.
Evil is a strong word, but I do think that any large hierarchical organization, such as a corporation, that does not derive its power from the freely-given consent of the people whose lives it governs is bad.
--believes in a corporate conspiracy that controls the world.
Sure, I'll sign onto that. It's not a conspiracy in the sense that there's a boardroom somewhere where corporate executives and the Queen of England decide among themselves who will be the next president of the US, but there is a community of interest among those at the top of political and corporate hierarchies around the world, and that community acts in ways (sometimes consciously coordinate, sometimes not) that help keep the rich rich and powerful, and the poor poor and weak.
--is intolerant of good ideas when they come from conservative sources.
I'm not intolerant of good ideas, whatever their source. But I certainly would be especially careful these days before accepting anything from the ranks of the modern conservative movement. It's not intolerance, but a learned mistrust.
--dismissively mocks people of faith, especially those who are opposed to abortion and gay marriage.
I don't dismissively mock people of faith, and even have some sympathy with abortion opponents. But I don't understand why the ideas of 'people of faith' are automatically deserving of respect, either. Are they so much more sensitive than atheists? And if proponents of forcing women to have unwanted children and anti-gay bigots do and say ridiculous things, why should they not be mocked?
--regularly uses harsh, vulgar, intolerant language to attack moderates or conservatives.
I don't as a matter of course use a lot of profanity or harsh language, but that's more a reflection of my personality than of the level of scorn I have for many moderates and conservatives. And if someone wants to use profanity, what's the big deal? Why should lefties--who in the US have been ridiculed and vilified in the starkest terms for going on thrity years--be censured for finally responding in kind?

On the whole, I think I qualify! Thanks, Joe!