Tuesday, March 28, 2006

cry uncle

so much for the radical conservative plan for a permanent republican majority. it doesn't appear to have had any more staying power than the "thousand-year" reich.

i guess a taste of absolute power — or as much as could be had within our system — over both the government and the media will do that to a movement as morally bankrupt as this one proved to be.

if i could isolate the hamartia, the single critical flaw responsible for the downfall of the conservative agenda i would point to its rampant cronyism. cronyism is of course nothing unique to this administration, nor is it inherently evil; it is quite natural for people to want to extend their largess to those whom they like, a characteristic that makes cronyism impossible to eradicate.

cronyism is typically harmless when its beneficiaries are rewarded with positions that exist in title only, even if those positions do contribute to administrative bloat. but tangible harm looms when qualified people are prevented from assuming or are forced out of positions where their expertise is mandated. people like former treasury secretary paul o'neill, who disagreed with bush on his tax cuts. people like former counter-terrorism advisor richard clarke, who disagreed with bush on the threat of al quaeda. people like retired generals anthony zinni and eric shinseki, who disagreed with bush on invading iraq.

cronyism breeds incompetence when it elevates unqualified and untalented people into positions of importance and influence. people like former nasa press director george deutsch, who attempted to turn the science agency into a propaganda organ. people like former fema director michael brown, whose incompetence in the face of hurricane katrina delivered fatal consequences. people like president george walker bush, who of course needs no further introduction.

the bush administration is a potemkin government: by virtue of their elevation of politics over policy and appearance over substance, they eventually and inevitably reveal themselves to be completely inept in every instance where actual governance is required. disaster follows them like a love-sick dog.

it is actually quite amazing the speed with which the hard-line conservatives have burned through their so-called "capital". after forty years in the wilderness, they blew their gains in just ten years. so it looks like it's back to the desert for this sorry crew. the lesson has become painfully obvious to all, even to the members of a party so practiced in the art of denial:

time.com: former speaker of the house newt gingrich, who masterminded the 1994 elections that brought republicans to power on promises of revolutionizing the way washington is run, told time that his party has so bungled the job of governing that the best campaign slogan for democrats today could be boiled down to just two words: "had enough?"

connecting the dots

courtesy of professor pollkatz, i bring you a graph of president bush's approval rating, as reported by 14 leading polling organizations, during the life (and tortured death) of his ongoing presidency. click either the graph or the following link to see the graph in full size.

notice that i've taken the liberty of mapping the key events that i believe triggered the various crests and troughs in the public's perception of their dear leader.

also notice the scatter in public opinion prior to the terrorist attacks on september 11, 2001.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


all good things, it is said, must come to an end.

it is now entirely possible that within your lifetime and mine a historian will one day record:

on friday, march 24, 2006, democracy in the united states passed into oblivion, escorted not with the blast of an explosive but only the hush of a smothered breath.

but what happened on friday, march 24, 2006, such that the founding principles which had carried the nation, at times lurching, but never completely collapsing, through almost 230 years of blood and sweat and toil, should so quietly vanish?

on friday, march 24, 2006, the united states department of justice delivered its answer to the house judiciary committee regarding its basis in law for conducting domestic surveillance on american citizens without judicial writ.

by way of background our historian will write, perhaps with a wistful sigh, that the united states:

was once based on a quaint system of checks and balances, now obsolete, designed to distribute the three primary functions of government among three interdependent and complementary bodies. the congress was created to write and enact the law. the judicial branch was created to interpret the law and ensure its conformance to the constitution. the executive branch was created to enforce the law. and no citizen of that nation was considered exempt from the law.

james madison, destined to become the fourth president, writing in the federalist papers, in his argument for ratification of the fledging constitution, claimed that "there can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body of magistrates," or, "if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers".

on friday, march 24, 2006, the forty-third president and chief executive, one george walker bush, speaking through the department of justice, the enforcement arm of the executive branch, in his answer to the house judiciary committee, assumed sole authority and expanded his "unitary" claim to power over the whole of government, limited only by his "special and unique competence" alone.

his words were like the seal on a tomb:

the constitution is the supreme law of the land, and any statutes inconsistent with the constitution must yield. the basic principle of our system of government means that no president, merely by assenting to a piece of legislation, can diminish the scope of the president's constitutional power. ...

just as one president may not, through signing legislation, eliminate the executive branch's inherent constitutional powers, congress may not renounce inherent presidential authority. the constitution grants the president the inherent power to protect the nation from foreign attack, and congress may not impede the president's ability to perform his constitutional duty. ...

in order to execute the laws and defend the constitution, the president must be able to interpret them. the interpretation of law, both statutory and constitutional, is therefore an indispensable and well established government function. ...

the president's power to interpret the law is particularly important when he is engaged in a task — such as the direction of the operations of an armed conflict — that falls within the special and unique competence of the executive branch.

and thus, on friday, march 24, 2006, the president so declared himself not answerable to the other two bodies of government.

and thus, on friday, march 24, 2006, the president so usurped their powers and claimed them for his own.

and thus, on friday, march 24, 2006, democracy did die its quiet death.

however — it is yet possible to avert that future and stay our historian's hand.

because the events he will ultimately record shall depend upon the other two branches of government and their willingness to assert their respective inherent authorities to write and interpret the law.

will they claim the powers rightly granted them by the constitution?

or will they bow in craven bondage to their newborn king?

the future is now and history awaits us.

can't stand up for standing down

while efforts to recruit and train iraqis into a competent, independent and professional fighting force have been purportedly ongoing, with halting progress, since the overthrow of saddam hussein, at the end of last november the president officially declared these efforts to be one of the linchpins of his exit strategy, during his "strategy for victory in iraq" tour, a series of speeches aimed at once again shoring up his dying support among increasingly skeptical americans:

as the iraqi security forces stand up, their confidence is growing. and they're taking on tougher and more important missions on their own.

as the iraqi security forces stand up, the confidence of the iraqi people is growing, and iraqis are providing the vital intelligence needed to track down the terrorists.

and as the iraqi security forces stand up, coalition forces can stand down. and when our mission of defeating the terrorists in iraq is complete, our troops will return home to a proud nation.

— president bush, annapolis naval academy, november 30

his strategy has been compared to "vietnamization", nixon's handing over of military operations to the south vietnamese army — a comparison the administration understandably has ignored, not wanting to evoke unsettling images of the fall of saigon.

the exact number of trained and ready iraqis once again became controversial in february when the only battalion — comprising 700 to 800 men — with a "level one" rating, meaning that it should be able to fight on its own, was downgraded by the pentagon to "level two", meaning that it requires support from coalition forces. "level three" battalions must be chaperoned by coalition forces.

in october the pentagon raised the number of iraqi battalions at level two to 53 from 36. 45 battalions are at level three. almost 100 iraqi army battalions are considered operational, and more than 100 iraqi security force battalions — those "under the direction of the iraqi government" — are operational at levels two or three. according to this accounting then, there are between 68,600 and 78,400 iraqis under the coalition's wing and at least 70,000 or more than 80,000 iraqis available to the iraqi government. (one question: those iraqi security force battalions at level three, therefore requiring a chaperone, are they under the command of the government or the coalition? my bets are on the coalition.)

meanwhile, either because of or in spite of the explosion of full-blown chaos after the bombing of golden dome, the newly-elected iraqi government remains stillborn amid intense sectarian disagreements, among them ibrahim jaafari's re-nomination to prime minister. it seems incapable of forming a "unity" government:

ap: leaders offered a myriad of reasons for the delay in forming a government, and their reasoning often reflected their religious or ethnic loyalties. shiite leaders accused american officials of interfering too much, saying the americans want to give sunnis more power than they earned in the election. sunnis charged that the other parties are not committed to a national unity government and are unwilling to share power.

beyond the simple act of opening parliament, the government is long overdue to perform any of its mandated duties, the very first being the naming of the speaker of the house:

juan cole: the iraqi parliament opened on thursday [march 16], and the 275 members took their oath of office, administered in the absence of an elected speaker of the house (on whom parliament could not decide) by senior statesman adnan pachachi (on the grounds that he is the oldest mp). some of the members objected to the form of the oath administered by the chief justice, on the grounds that it differed from the text that had been distributed beforehand, and some said it the way it had been written (-al-sharq al-awsat). the autnorities [sic] decided to let that pass.

pachachi attempted to make a speech from the floor, lamenting the recent sectarian violence, but was interrupted by shiite cleric abdul aziz al-hakim, who said it was inappropriate for pachachi to do more than swear in the members of parliament.

and the non-"civil war" rages on unabated with its clearly ethnic bombings, reprisals and executions, with the continuing participation of iraq's security forces:

ap: also since the start of march, gunmen — mostly masked, many wearing police uniforms — have stormed at least six baghdad businesses. on wednesday, eight people were killed at the al-ibtikar trading company when they were lined up against a wall and shot, and six others were wounded. at least 90 workers have been kidnapped and tens of thousands of dollars stolen in the five other assaults.

can "iraqization" succeed under these conditions? not bloody likely. in at least one crucial aspect it is a very different process from "vietnamization". the government of south vietnam, corrupt and unpopular as it was, was not wracked to the core by sectarianism. the south vietnamese government could reasonably count on the loyalty of its troops, if not their strength.

there has been almost no reportage whatsoever on the issue of troop loyalties. to me it seems to be one of the elephants in the room regarding bush's exit strategery.

in order for "iraqization" to succeed, first, the mutually antagonistic elements of the duly elected iraqi government must come together as one and begin governing. until then it is a government in name only. second, the mutually antagonistic elements of the iraqi military and police forces will have to put loyalty to the government and its laws above loyalty to their particular family, tribe and imam. unfortunately, i don't see that happening with the current generation, certainly not while ethic violence continues in a self-consuming orgy. loyalty to the government cannot be taught in eight weeks of boot camp. what the bush administration calls "standing up", i call building american-trained and american-armed death squads.

if american troops are going home anytime soon, it won't be because the iraqi army is ready to "stand up".

(image courtesy of get your war on.)

Sunday, March 19, 2006

changing the storyline

abc news washington correspondent jake tapper discussing charges of media bias in the persistently bleak coverage of iraq with howard kurtz, host of cnn reliable sources, march 19 2006:

kurtz: jake tapper, in this morning's washington post, donald rumsfeld, the defense secretary, has an op-ed pieces which says, in part, "history is not made up of daily headlines, blogs on web sites, or the latest sensational attack. history is a bigger picture."

now, since you are just back from iraq, do you believe the journalists provided a distorted picture, or did it seem different to you when you got there than you might have expected?

tapper: it's a very complicated question, obviously. what journalists, when, who, what are you talking about specifically?

i think that there is a lot of violence still in iraq, and i think that if you listen to commanders on the ground and if you go to iraq, you'll see that that security situation is an incredibly important one. and as much as the pentagon may not want to talk about it or may want to talk about the positive, the parliament and the elections and the things that are being achieved, which are tangible achievements, the violence makes it very difficult to get past, you know, the daily boom.

let me just — one quick story.

we wanted to do a story about the freedom of the press in iraq, and we went to the set of a new iraqi sitcom that they're filming, because there's been — there's all this entertainment now, and it's one of the things that the ambassador there has trumpeted.

kurtz: so what happened?

tapper: we got there, and the guy who had set it up with us — we shot — we shot for a little while, and the guy who had helped us arrange it was assassinated the very morning while we were there on the set. and so our cameras were rolling while the director and the producer and the cast and crew found out that the guy that had green-lit the show and the guy that had set up our being there was killed.

so no matter how hard we try to cover the positive, the violence has a way of rearing its head.

kurtz: talk about changing your storyline.

Friday, March 17, 2006


adele fergusen's column is a huge pile of manure — and those are the author's own words, not mine.

not that i disagree.

in her march 13 political column, "why do blacks continue to support democrats?", that appeared in the kitsap peninsula business journal — which has already scrubbed the article from its site — adele enjoined her "black brothers and sisters" to abandon their "perpetual victimhood" and recognize that their past enslavement was in fact "the work of god", and that being bought and shipped as cargo was their big ticket to the so-called land of the free.

along the way, in building her case against the democratic party, she takes aim at those who criticized president bush at the february 7th funeral for coretta scott king and fires several shots at unions. curiously, she cites not a single positive reason for blacks to support the republican party.

one of these days before i die, i hope to see a shift in the attitudes of so many of my black brothers and sisters in this great country we share, from perpetual victimhood, to pride in their achievements on the road from slave to american citizen.

remember ronald reagan’s story about the kid who had to shovel a huge pile of manure? he went about it with such joy he was asked why and said, “with all that manure, there’s got to be a pony in there somewhere.”

the pony hidden in slavery is the fact that it was the ticket to america for black people. i have long urged blacks to consider their presence here as the work of god, who wanted to bring them to this raw, new country and used slavery to achieve it. a harsh life, to be sure, but many immigrants suffered hardships and indignations as indentured servants. their descendants rose above it. you don’t hear them bemoaning their forebears’ life the way some blacks can’t rise above the fact theirs were slaves.

besides freedom, a job and a roof over their heads, they all sought respect. but even after all these years, too many have yet to realize that to get respect, you have to give it.

the treatment given president bush at coretta king’s funeral was shameful. and these weren’t poor, uneducated black people who “dissed” him. they were among the country’s top-drawer blacks, there to bury black royalty. while bush got the cold shoulder, former president clinton was welcomed as if he still held the office.

it mystifies me why the black population remains in thrall to the democratic party. black parents want a good education for their children yet they are consistently denied two opportunities that have proven enormously helpful in the few places where they are allowed because the d’s oppose them. school vouchers and charter schools.

the teacher unions, among top contributors to the democratic party, oppose them for fear of losing control of the public schools which continue to turn out kids who have to be slipped through graduation by finding alternatives to standard requirements for learning, and where black kids fall behind whites. and what the teacher unions are against, the democrats are against. many a school board member is a democratic activist there to be on the ground floor against vouchers and charter schools.

in the few places where vouchers to attend private schools and innovative charter schools are allowed, the unions file lawsuits claiming damage to the public schools by diverting the voucher money to poor families and limiting as much as possible the number of students who can attend the charters. they won one in florida last month.

sure, the ultimate solution is to jack up the performance of the public schools, but so long as the unions are running the show, that isn’t going to happen. the unions don’t care if you’re a good teacher, just that you’re a member and pay your dues. it is nearly impossible to get rid of an incompetent teacher. their interest is themselves, not the kids, and their answer to the poor performance of the schools is more money.

black students regularly trail white students because they get the more inexperienced and less qualified teachers and are plagued by low expectations. results of the use of vouchers and charter schools have been outstanding, yet the democrats say no, so why do black parents support them? why do they act the victim?

blacks have no cesar chavez. jesse jackson isn’t going to buck the democratic party. neither is the naacp. black parents should confront democratic leaders at all levels and demand these tools of learning be made available or expanded or don’t count on our vote for your candidates. you’ve let the unions keep your kids down too long already.

(adele ferguson can be reached at p.o. box 69, hansville, wa., 98340.)

as in my previous post "shaft's final solution" i'm not going to bother enumerating the absurdities in this column. i'm fascinated instead by two specific points.

first, obviously, racism manifests itself not just in the form of hatred, genocidal or otherwise. hatred is just the most visible and destructive manifestation of racism. affection, in a very counter-intuitive manner, can be another manifestation, whose pernicious effects are much more subtle:

patronize: 1. treat with an apparent kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority.

adele addresses african americans as her "brothers and sisters" but clearly she adopts the patronizing tone of the sweetly-scolding grandmother, who of course knows what is best for her troubled and "mystifying" charges.

second, it is amusingly ironic that adele utterly fails to grasp the point of reagan's joke about the pony, the point being of course that the pony doesn't exist.

by insisting that somewhere in the steaming pile of manure of slavery there actually existed a "hidden pony", adele only shows herself to be as hopelessly deluded as the child joyfully shovelling away.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

shaft's final solution

kamau rashidi kambon wants to kill white people.

not just some white people. not just any white people. kambon wants to "exterminate white people off the face of the planet."

who is kamau rashidi kambon? according to wikipedia, kambon is a multi-degreed educator, author and spokesman on issues of concern to african americans.

on october 14, 2005, at the "hurricane katrina & issues facing african americans" symposium hosted at washington, d.c.'s howard university and broadcast live on c-span, kambon made the following remarks, transcribed in their entirety:

i want to say a couple of things, and i really don't want you all to miss me before we get ready to go. my wife was here and she was the president of the association of black psychologists a couple of years ago and she was responsible for taking about five hundred people including about three hundred black psychologists to ghana, west africa for their national conference.

the reason i point that out is because i want to say a couple of things and i'm gonna go out of bounds with what i have to say, relative to what we've been talking about. first of all, i grew up in brooklyn, and i saw, looking back on my life, i saw about thirty of my friends die. y'know, getting shot, overdosing on drugs, any number of things that took them off the planet, y'know, beautiful brothers. so as i started to become more conscious, i looked around, i started asking this very important question, i think the most important question that i asked myself and that you can ask yourself is "why?" and i wanted to find out what was going on.

so i began to change. i began to examine everything, i don't like to use the word "critically", but i started to really check things out. so i went through a very very serious change. i mean serious change.

and what my wife and i did, we decided that we were going to drop out from this system. we delivered two of three of our children at home using midwives. she didn't take any medication, we didn't go to a doctor. she talked me into doing that, but it was a beautiful experience for me to be there to help deliver our children. they were born, by the way, two years apart on the same day, and our oldest daughter helped us deliver our children.

we also changed our diets. we saw the hospital system was killing our people, so we changed our diets. we have been vegan for about thirty years. that means no meat ...


no meat at all in any form, no dairy products, no sugar, no white flour, the same thing that dr. whittaker talked about. because we understood that we were in a war. i want to emphasize that to you. we are in a war.

we left new york and went to north carolina and we, and really, it's on her again, we decided that we were not going to go in debt because the new form of slavery was economic slavery. and we got some land, we were very fortunate, and we built our own house. we built a log house. took us sixteen months, we worked night and day, every day, for the sixteen months, and she was out there with a chain saw, in the cold, in the rain, and we worked and we built the house so we would not have to give white people any money.

i taught on the college level for a number of years at a so-called "black college", and i'm down against "black colleges", i'm'a tell you straight up, 'cause of some of the madness that's going on in these schools.

but what i want to say is that there are two things going on on the planet now. one is that when white people came to us and said we're going to free you, we're going to emancipate you from the plantation, what they did was extended the boundaries of the plantation and made it a international plantation. made us think that we were free. in addition to that they made every white person on earth a plantation master or owner.

so there are two things in operation. we are in an international prison. not just in america but everywhere we go our people are dying. so the things that are in operation on this planet is that white people want to kill us. i want you to understand that. they want to kill you. and it has nothing to do with what kind of degree you have, what kind of car you have, what kind of title you have, what fraternity you belong to, what religion you belong to, they want to kill you because that is part of their plan. there are any number of reasons why they want to do that but i'm not gonna waste my time trying to figure out why they want to kill us. but i know that's what they want to do.

and they want to do it in many different ways — psychological, economic, cultural, spiritual, social, biological, chemical, electromagnetic — they want to kill you. but they also want to make money in the process of your death. now i saw a brother when i was coming in and he was smoking a cigarette. so now he going to kill himself but they're going to make money off of his death process.

the other thing is that they want us to — if they don't kill us, like they tried to kill the brother by beating him up in new orleans, they don't kill us that way, or shooting like they killed the brother in cincinatti, or like they killed malice green in detroit, or like they killed gammage up in pittsburgh, if they don't come out, right, and kill us straight, they want to get us to kill ourselves. now these are the only two operations on the planet.

the other thing is that there's only one nigger on the planet — i never use that word. this is the first time i've used, i don't even think that word — but there's only one nigger on the planet. and the nigger that's on the planet is the one that is destroying the water, the one that's polluting the air, the one that is exploiting people and resources, and the only nigger on the planet is the white man and the white woman. and that our people are not niggers, we are imitation niggers.

now what we have to do is we have to devise a system or a plan for ourselves, and i said earlier that each one of you is a system. and everything that you do, every thought that you think, either you are supporting white world terror domination, by your actions, what you buy, what you wear, where you go, what you eat, how you use your time, you are either supporting the white people in their process of death, or you're for african liberation, it's one or the other.

and if we don't use our time wisely, then we are engaging in a form of subtle suicide, because as i said earlier their system is still going on. they still have these images on t.v. that are going on, they're still warehousing our children in the special ed, giving them ritalin, there're no jobs, we filling the hospitals, so their system is not stopping.

and then finally, i want to say that we need one idea. and we're not thinking about a solution to the problem. we're dealing with all these other things but these are diversions from the solution to the problem. and we have to start to think about a solution to the problem so that these young brothers and sisters who are here now, who are fifteen, sixteen and seventeen, are not here twenty-five years later talking about these same problems.

now how do i know that the white people know that we are going to come up with a solution to the problem? i know it because they have retina scans, they have what they call "racial profiling", dna banks, and they are monitoring our people, to try to prevent the one person from coming up with the one idea. and the one idea is how we are going to exterminate white people, because that in my estimation is the only conclusion that i have come to. we have to exterminate white people off of the face of the planet to solve this problem.

[sparse applause]

now i don't care whether you clap or not, but i'm saying to you that we need to solve this problem because they are going to kill us. and i will leave on that. so we have to just set up our own system and stop playing and get very serious and not be diverted from coming up with a solution to the problem, and the problem on the planet is white people.

[sparse applause]

"out of bounds" did he say? let's try "out to lunch".

i could enumerate the many ways in which kambon's remarks are absurd, but i would be belaboring the obvious, and that sort of accounting is not the reason why i chose to post this article and not why i find his remarks so fascinating.

i've often heard that racism is rooted in ignorance, but clearly there are many racists like kambon who are intelligent and well-educated. in fact, kambon himself invites us along on his intellectual journey, which he describes as the result of a search for answers to deeply compelling questions about black mortality in america. what most people, and most evidently kambon, do not recognize is how the vehicle we choose for the journey drives us towards the conclusions we reach at the end.

kambon's choice of vehicle was probably the most fateful choice in his search: he decided to withdraw from society.

and what my wife and i did, we decided that we were going to drop out from this system.

like ted kaczynski, the so-called "unabomber", kambon decided to go meditate in a cabin.

one profound effect of this type of isolation is a loss of perspective. on a very basic level everyone believes that they are right in what they think. we have to, because otherwise we could not justify the things that we do. but social contact provides other voices as yardsticks against which we may measure our beliefs.

another profound effect of isolation is the emergence of misanthropic tendencies. most people have some level of antisocial impulses and our belief in our own correctness keeps us in conflict with everyone who does not think as we do. they must be wrong. they are either stupid or blind or brainwashed or misguided. they have to be — for how can i be right if they are not wrong?

when a person becomes isolated, whether by choice or circumstance, the misanthopic voices, no longer required to rebut the opinions of others, begin to sound more and more convincing, and are free to roam, grow louder and dominate, especially if the person listening is not particularly stable or equanimous or mature. it is also worth noting that whatever siren song these misanthopic voices might be singing, it might not always be pleasant, but it is usually personally gratifying for the listener.

but isolation in itself probably did not drive kambon to his final solution, or at least drive him to take his solution on tour. since there are no prior records of his making public charges like these, presumably he had been quietly nursing his ideas in his log cabin for a number of years, until some catalyzing event finally compelled him to openly proselytize genocide.

which brings us to hurricane katrina.

the catastrophic failure of government at every level that doomed a historic hub of african american culture must have come as the ultimate vindication of the most horrific schemes whispered to kambon in his nightmares. of course white people are trying to kill black people. all black people. white people obviously no longer felt the need for either subtlety or patience. if there remained any chance of saving his people, kambon could no longer afford to remain silent. one cannot miss the hints of messianism in his voice:

and then finally, i want to say that we need one idea.

... they are monitoring our people, to try to prevent the one person from coming up with the one idea.

kambon is not alone in his feelings. indeed, the aftermath of katrina made it impossible for anyone, white or black or lime-green, not to question the commitment of the bush administration to the well-being — even survival — of minority citizenry. no one can forget grammy-winning rapper kanye west's spontaneous on-air indictment during the september 2nd nationally broadcast nbc "concert for hurricane relief" telethon:

i hate the way they portray us in the media. if you see a black family, it says they're looting. see a white family, it says they're looking for food. and you know that it's been five days, because most of the people are black. and even for me to complain about it, i would be a hypocrite because i’ve tried to turn away from the tv, because it's too hard to watch. we already realize a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way, and they have given them permission to go down and shoot us.

... george bush doesn’t care about black people.

after the 9/11 attacks, bush enjoyed a robust 51% approval rating among blacks, but it had dropped to 19% by the time katrina hit. after the disaster an nbc/wall street journal poll pegged his approval rating at an unheard-of 2%, "one of the biggest free-falls in the history of presidential polling". given its statistical margin of error of ±3.4%, it might as well have been zero.

in his 2000 run for the white house george bush made a famous pledge: "i'm a uniter, not a divider." six years later, race relations have never been more strained, and now we can add one more genocidal voice to the mix. never more hollow does that pledge ring.

Friday, March 10, 2006

the architects of human destiny

dreams die hard when you're a neocon. it's just that the rest of us do the suffering.

in francis fukuyama's recent eulogy to neoconservatism, the newly repentant and newly retired acolyte laments that "the idealistic effort to use american power to promote democracy and human rights abroad that may suffer the greatest setback." "The problem with neoconservatism's agenda," he has come to realize, "lies not in its ends, which are as american as apple pie, but rather in the overmilitarized means by which it has sought to accomplish them."

it would be snide to suggest that fukuyama and his shadowy braintrust neither appreciated nor calculated, in their machiavellian way, the negative consequences of unleashing upon the planet yet another series of ideological wars, with their attendant destruction, mayhem, atrocities and moments of brazen television horror.

nonetheless we are forced to wonder if they also anticipated the renunciation of long-established international legal norms, the kidnappings, the secret gulags, the extra-legal detentions and last but never least the torture. did the constriction at home of civil freedoms that are "as american as apple pie" in order to expand them abroad enter into their cold calculus? how much of the neocons' original thought went into the actual implementation of american strategic policy, the so called "bush doctrine"?

while we may not know for decades the bush administration's real goal for intervention in the middle east, for the sake of this discussion let us temporarily put aside dark murmurs of oil and schemes of american hegemony. let us for the time being grant the administration its stated mission of furthering the development of freedom and democracy across the globe, even so far as to grant the terms "freedom" and "democracy" with the best possible meanings and all the visible blessings that go with them. are not these goals in themselves worth the price?

"imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death one tiny creature — that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance — and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?"
— fyodor dostoevsky, the brothers karamazov, 1880

in the 2001 action film swordfish, john travolta's super-slick and super-glib super-spook starkly justifies himself by citing the classic theologic defense of god's apparent tolerance of evil, which defines evil as a necessary means towards a greater good. his character's name suggests, despite the hellish and high-casualty havok his plots unleash, that gabriel the spook, like his namesake the archangel, is in the service of a force for benevolence:

"[you're] not lookin' at the big picture, stan. here's a scenario: you have the power to cure all the world's diseases but the price for this is that you must kill a single innocent child. could you kill that child, stanley? no? you disappoint me. it's the greatest good."

neither dostoevsky nor poor stanley could take that step, but for others, like gabriel and the neocons, the question proves too compelling and the logic seems inescapable: indeed, how could one deny peace to the long-suffering billions of earth for the sake of only a single life, one child?

however, the logic is inescapable only if one presumes the power of a god: that one has perfect control over events and perfect knowledge that the intended outcome is absolutely guaranteed. since mere mortals, even neocons, are blessed with neither omnipotence or omniscience (much less omnibenevolence), that any human should answer such a question with not simply "yes, i would kill that child" but righteously "yes, i would kill untold thousands of children" demonstrates the epitome of arrogance and the source of the hubris only now admitted to by neocons like fukuyama:

"... successful pre-emption depends on the ability to predict the future accurately and on good intelligence, which was not forthcoming, while america's perceived unilateralism has isolated it as never before. it is not surprising that in its second term, the administration has been distancing itself from these policies and is in the process of rewriting the national security strategy document."

so without any guarantee that our goal, the spread of freedom and democracy, is achievable, can we still justify these machiavellian visions, the failures of the bush administration nonwithstanding? after all, though repentant he may be, fukuyama still sees, as quoted above, the failure of the neocon dream as a failure only of implementation:

"the problem with neoconservatism's agenda lies not in its ends, which are as american as apple pie, but rather in the overmilitarized means by which it has sought to accomplish them."

so long as men like fukuyama continue to believe that even though the execution be flawed, the neocon dream remains worthwhile, the rest of us shall remain the pawns of the would-be architects of human destiny.

to the architects then let us honestly restate dostoevsky's conundrum, and ask them to take into account the limits of human knowledge, power, competence and will:

if you believed that you might be able to make some men somewhat happier by torturing to death thousands of tiny creatures — those babies beating their breast with their fist, for instance — would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

why ann coulter isn't funny

(cross-posted at daily kos)

i wrote the following after reading michael kalin's op-ed piece "why jon stewart isn't funny" in friday's boston globe. i found his piece intriguing, but thought it could use just a wee bit of tweaking, so i decided to tighten up his essay. i'm sure he won't mind.

(note: non-subscribers may view kalin's article by logging-in as dkos@dailykos.com with the password dailykos.)

why ann coulter isn't funny

not by michael kalin  |  march 4, 2006

the selection of ann coulter as the host for february's annual conservative political action conference undoubtedly marks a career milestone for the aspiring queen of drive-by punditry. unfortunately, however, the ascension of coulter and her hate-speak into the public eye is no laughing matter. coulter's ever-increasing popularity among young angry white males directly correlates with the declining rationality of conservative thought in america. coincidence? i think not. let me explain.

meet the young college republican, a not-fictional-enough composite of the typical apostle of ann coulter. born just outside richville, he attended silver spoon high school where he played an integral role in buying the school's debate championship. his doctored 3.8 grade point average and dubious array of extracurricular activities earned him a scholarship to bob jones university, where he majored in political science and enjoyed toilet-papering jewish synagoges. throughout his formal education, the young college republican stayed up-to-date on national politics through a steady diet of right-wing talk radio and even led a petition to protest the appearance of michael moore at cannes.

many of coulter's die-hard supporters might use this persona as proof that her little black dresses engage sexually-frustrated viewers who otherwise could not be reached. this argument, however, fails to consider the ultimate career path of the young college republican: upon graduation in 2004, he accepted a prestigious job as a blogger at pajamaline media. and as he bloviates on washington's daily political squabbles, the young college republican gives a significant annual contribution to the k street project.

the irony of this portrait is not that blogging corrupts young souls (although one could argue otherwise), but rather that the young college republicans who adopt politics out of a craven self-preservation often represent our country's most hypocritical minds. coulter's daily dose of political polemics characterized by puerile epithets leads to a "holier than art thou" attitude toward national service in iraq. people who possess the bile, sanctimony, and self-centeredness of these apologists for coulter would never choose to enter the military. content to remain hunched behind their orwellian plastic keyboards, these bright leaders head straight for their one-bedroom kitchen-offices.

observers since the days of newt gingrich have often remarked about america's unique dissociation between conservatives and citizens of "outstanding character." unfortunately, the rise of corporate media and the domination of television faux news give coulter's goebbels-esque voice a much more powerful influence than critics in previous generations. as a result, a power-mad sociopath who may have become the richard nixon or george w. bush of today instead perceives politics as an escape from national service, rather than a powerful avenue for personal aggrandizement.

most important, this disturbing cultural phenomenon overwhelmingly affects potential leaders of the republican party.

the type of folksy banality muttered by soon-to-be-impeached-president bush deeply resonates with ann's demographic. according to a survey by somebody, not a single member of her audience identifies himself as iraq-bound. at a time when our flagging military desperately need inspired recruits, coulter's self-conscious hate-speak pervades the conservative punditry.

although coulter's comedic shticks may thus earn her some laughs at the conservative political action conference, her routine will certainly not match the impact of her greatest irony: ann coulter undermines any remaining integrity that republicans in america might still possess.

i sent a copy to the globe.

why are we still there?

(cross-posted at daily kos)

iraq: dateline, february 2006.

insurgents. jihadists. militias. suicide bombers. death squads.

at least 30,000 and up to 100,000 or even more dead; many tortured, executed. over 40,000 injured. perhaps 1,000 more each month.

in the midst of this abbatoir: a 20-something, over-extended guardsman from anytown u.s.a. who doesn't speak the language, doesn't look like the locals. her assigned task: "security". what can she secure? according to respected middle-east scholar juan cole, not much, not even her own safety:

"sunni arabs in iraq blamed us troops for not protecting sunni mosques and worshippers from violence. the us military ordered the us soldiers in baghdad to stay in their barracks and not to circulate if it could be helped. (later reports said some us patrols has been stepped up.) this situation underlines how useless the american ground forces are in iraq. they can't stop the guerrilla war and may be making it worst [sic]. last i knew, there were 10,000 us troops in anbar province with a population of 1.1 million. what could you do with that small force, when the vast majority of the people support the guerrillas? us troops would be useless if they hcad [sic] to fight in alleyways against sectarian rioters. if they tried to guard the sunni mosques, they'd have to shoot into shiite mobs, which would just raise the level of violence they face from shiites in the south."

it seems crystal clear that u.s. forces have been reduced to serving only one function in iraq: target practice. the majority of iraqis feel that attacks on u.s. troops are justified. with reconstruction effectively halted, and no further funds forthcoming, guess who bears the brunt of civilian frustration? as long as u.s. troops stay in iraq, they remain too convenient as scapegoats for everything there that continues to go wrong:

"on saturday, al-sadr's movement joined sunni clerics in agreeing to prohibit killing members of the two sects and banning attacks on each other's mosques. the clerics issued a statement blaming "the occupiers," meaning the americans and their coalition partners, for stirring up sectarian unrest." (AP)

having successfully alienated all the rival factions, the u.s. no longer can find any meaningful candidate to partner with. cooperation with the u.s. has become the literal kiss of death in iraq, delegitimizing and rendering impotent any iraqi that might still wish to help implement any american plan for recovery.

there have been many calls, out of feelings of both guilt and pride, to, in so many words, clean up the mess that iraq has become. such calls, even if somewhat narcissistic, might be lauded for their acceptance of our ultimate responsibility. others call for us not to allow iraq's oil infrastructure to become incapacitated or be altogether destroyed. such calls are compelling for their sobering practicality. still other calls demand that we keep the conflict from engulfing the entire region, for the sake of stability and security. but our guilt, pride, practicality, stability and security cannot be helped by staying in iraq if in fact our presence has no positive influence whatsoever.

withdrawal from iraq removes both a focus for much iraqi anger and an easy excuse for iraqi dysfunction. most importantly, withdrawal will save lives that can be saved. the time for withdrawal is long overdue.

karl rove: super-genius

(cross-posted at daily kos)

i've noticed commenters throughout the blogosphere claim that portgate is actually another brilliant behind-the-scenes rovian masterstroke designed to help the republicans distance themselves from the white house in time for the midterm elections and move cheney's embarrasing shooting cover-up off the front page.

curiously, during the media storm following the shooting i also noticed commenters claim that the cover-up was another brilliant behind-the-scenes rovian masterstroke designed to help the republicans distance themselves from the white house and move the wiretapping hearings off the front page ... and who also had previously claimed that those hearings were arranged to move the abramoff mess off the front page, which in turn was arranged to move the libby/delay indictments off the front page ... ad nauseum.

buried within this "karl rove: super-genius" meme lies a not-very-subtle scandal fatigue, a defeatism and resignation to the idea that rove in his god-like omniscience will always be just one step ahead of us dullards, that the latest counterfeit-scandal is really just a trap, artfully designed to make his gullible attackers look foolish, having taken their eyes off the ball, while ever-boosting the mojo of the republicans. what rot.

juan cole: "i think they get up in the morning and they face a set of situations in iraq and they try to develop policies to deal with those situations, and they get up the next day and there's a new set of situations and they develop policies to deal with those. i think it's reactive. i think it's ad hoc. i don't think there's a big picture. i think they're hoping that they can ultimately muddle through, that things will settle down enough so that they can get out of it with some dignity. i think it's probably a forlorn hope."

portgate and its handling was no more or better planned than was the shooting cover-up or its handling. once again they got caught with their pants down and their bloody red hands in the cookie jar full of cash for their cronies. since a number of our port affairs are already handled by foreigners, they obviously did not expect the public to suddenly notice or care, and are again not prepared to deal with the blowback from such attention — blowback they set themselves up for after five years of stoking their supporters' jingoism and xenophobia.

after having twice delivered the white house to the unlikely george bush, i can see why some would call him a genius. there's no doubt that he's a very sleazy smart operator when it comes to running election campaigns. so sleazy smart in fact that he got himself booted off george sr.'s campaign team.

but genius in one area does not translate to genius in another, and it is of course possible for otherwise apparently smart people to make horrifically bad decisions. nor are they immune to bad luck. while bushCo™ seems to have a talent for electioneering, they display none whatsoever for governing. it could even be argued that they have no real interest in governing, as opposed to ruling — with a big stick, a short leash and piles of treasure to shower on the court cronies and toadies.

just look at bushCo™'s poll numbers: <snark>you'd think a super-genius could keep the sheeple happy while ruthlessly fleecing them.</snark> clinton's numbers remained in the 60s throughout the worst of his pummeling. (presiding over a boom and a surplus obviously helps.) bushCo™ has been reeling from a different new crisis every week and has been badly hemorrhaging supporters since fallujah.

i find it impossible to believe that rove (or any other supposed intelligent being, for that matter) would think that any strategery that would worsen the administration's deathly poll numbers and inflame not just his congressional opponents, but also his apologists and the last of his die-hard public supporters could possibly be a good one. what kind of genuis tries to put out a fire in one room of his house by repeatedly setting new fires in another? a super-genius, no doubt.

the new republicans: a taxonomy

(cross-posted at daily kos)

glenn greenwald's recent examination of president bush's supporters has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention on both the left and right wings of the blogosphere. some commenters have noted that glenn's characterization of bush's supporters fails to account for other bases or wellsprings of bush support, i.e., lust for power, wealth, etc., but i don't believe that glenn was attempting to be all-inclusive.

to that end i've assembled a brief taxonomy of the different species of bush supporter that i've observed. note that these classifications are not meant to be exhaustive or mutually exclusive; many republicans will fit easily into multiple categories. ultimately, there may be as many reasons rationalizations for supporting bush as there are bush supporters.

afterthought: anyone taking bets on how long before some snarky right-winger posts their own democratic taxonomy?

the new republicans: a taxonomy

1) republicanus cultus

idolizes bush; disdains criticism and dissent of bush; will support any act of bush and entertain any justification of his actions. example: pat roberts

2) republicanus potentia

seeks power; will support any act and entertain any justification that may increase or perpetuate their hold on power. example: tom delay

3) republicanus pecuniosus

seeks wealth; will support any act and entertain any justification that may increase or perpetuate their fortunes. example: ken lay

4) republicanus bellicosus

loves force; disdains diplomacy and dissent; will wield force as an all-purpose tool towards achieving their goals, as opposed to a means of last resort. example: charles krauthammer

5) republicanus imperiosus

loves being number one; will not accept second place or share power; will not rest as long as any other power exists to thwart republican political supremacy or american international hegemony. example: john bolton

6) republicanus fundamentalis

loves righteousness; disdains tolerance; will not rest until all others either submit to their moral yardstick or are annihilated. example: james dobson

7) republicana contraria

hates liberals; will support any act and entertain any justification that may offend liberals; will categorically denounce any statement made by a liberal; will denounce as "liberal" anyone or any statement that criticizes or contradicts them. example: ann coulter

8) republicanus oportunitas

a grab-bag of special interests; not staunch republicans, but will take advantage of any opportunity to further their own causes, which in the current political climate means supporting republicans. example: lobbyists

9) republicanus goldwaterus

respects traditional conservative principles; respects rule of law; disdains waste and adventurism; now becoming increasingly disillusioned with bush; sadly, a dying breed. example: bob barr

10) republicanus democratus

a wolf in sheep's clothing and/or judas goat; may fit within any of the other categories; registered or professed democrat. example: joe lieberman