Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fox News Guarding the Henhouse

The dissembling of so many conservatives, high- and low-profile, withers me. I’m constantly amazed by how often conservative perspectives on certain issues are founded on things that just aren’t true. The war in Iraq is a classic example. I distinctly remember George W. Bush saying that we needed to invade Iraq when we did and the way we did because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that he was going to use against us at any moment — a very creative interpretation of the intelligence at the time. If the Bush administration thought that invading Iraq was such a good idea, couldn’t it have come up with a better reason for doing so, a reason supported by maybe ... I don’t know ... reality! And the conservative dissembling continued when no stockpiles of weapons were found in Iraq. I vividly remember Bush and his advisors before the invasion hyping fears about the certain devastation that Hussein was about to launch onto the world with his weapons. But rather than admit that they were wrong about Hussein’s weapons, conservative Bush apologists began saying that “weapons of mass destruction” wasn’t the primary reason we went to war. What kind of denial do you need to be in to say something so false with a straight face?

Looking at so many conservative beliefs based on things that aren’t true, I have to wonder, why do conservatives think that these beliefs are good ones to hold?

This thought came to me again today after reading a letter in the Los Angeles Times in response to an op-ed about the Obama White House regarding Fox News as an opponent rather than a trustworthy source for reporting news in an unbiased way — and, incidentally, I think that the Obama administration is correct to regard the mendacious Fox News as such. I haven’t heard anything about the Obama White House trying to shut down Fox News or to get the pseudo-news cable channel to change in any way; as far as I know the administration is just giving it the cold shoulder. And — wouldn’t you know it? — Fox News and its adherents trumpet the story as Obama’s neo-Nixonian “war” on the plucky little channel.

I didn’t read the op-ed that the letter was responding to, but the letter itself read:

How about a little something called the 1st Amendment as a compelling reason for the Obama administration to stop its Nixonian war on Fox News, not to mention the likes of Limbaugh and “right-wing” bloggers?

Yes, Barack Obama won an election. No, that did not mean the country agreed to repeal the Constitution or end political debate.

When an administration wages war on such a fundamental and well-established right as the 1st Amendment, that alone should raise a giant red flag to all Americans — regardless of the supposed characterization of the speech or how many people are supposedly listening to it.

What should really raise a fed flag to all Americans is an argument based on assertions that aren’t true. Notice how the letter writer changes the story from what it really is — the Obama administration denying Fox News recognition as a news outlet — to something that it isn’t — an effort by Obama to deny Fox News its First Amendment rights. I haven’t heard anything about the White House prohibiting Fox from doing its dubious business — I haven’t even heard anything about the White House denying Fox reporters access to press conferences — but the station and its apologists are twisting this story into the government nefariously clamping down on free speech itself. So, the letter writer’s characterization of the White House infringing on the First Amendment and repealing the Constitution is just plain wrong.

Now, there may very well be reasons why logical people would disagree with the White House’s stance towards Fox News and the administrations dealings (or lack thereof) with the station. I would probably disagree with such reasons, but I can imagine a rational person making this kind of an argument. However, when you need to misrepresent the story — to twist it into something that it isn’t — to make your point, is such a point worth making? When you need to distort what is real in order for your perspective to prevail, maybe you should start re-examining your perspective. What principles are you upholding when one of them isn’t the truth?

Friday, October 30, 2009

So-Called Political Correctness

“‘[P]olitical correctness’ isn’t a real thing. Rather, the term is a sort of catch-all charge that’s used against people who ask for more sensitivity to a particular cause than we're willing to give — a way to dismiss issues as frivolous in order to justify ignoring them. It’s a way to say that their concerns don't deserve to be voiced, much less addressed.”   —Amanda Taub,

I wanted to post something before the month was through, so I thought that I would reprint another letter of mine that was published in the Los Angeles City Beat, this one on June 2, 2007:

Thanks to Thomas M. Sipos for his informative letter on so-called “political correctness” [Re: Letters, May 26]. However, I don’t think that the letter dealt fully with the use of the phrase by the political right.

The right’s negative use of the term “political correctness” may have begun as an objection to ill-advised campus speech codes, as Mr. Sipos says, but it didn’t stay there. The term eventually came to be used against many kinds of liberal thought on the presumption that voicing conservative opposition to those thoughts was a daring thing to do. Before long, conservatives were using the phrase … well … liberally to characterize virtually all left-of-center opinions — however well-reasoned and well-argued — as inherently unthinking and doctrinaire.

Today, “political correctness” in the right’s imagination has taken on the dimensions of a pervasive, oppressive ideology that dwarfs conservatism. As a result, even though conservatives control both the White House and Congress (and the Supreme Court as well), and even though conservative organizations are much better financed than liberal ones, the right can still play the underdog courageously standing up to a monstrous behemoth. In other words, the idea of “political correctness” allows Goliath to masquerade as David.

The phrase “political correctness” wouldn’t be as problematic if it were popularly applied to conservative dogma in the way that it’s applied to more liberal ideas. But when George W. Bush refuses to consider further government funding of promising stem-cell research for ideological reasons, or when a conservative commentator instantly dismisses a substantive opposing argument as “liberal whining,” such right-wing inflexibility isn’t usually characterized as “political correctness.”

Update, August 7, 2015: I have added the quote from’s Amanda Taub at the top of the post.  

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The A Word

I wanted to post something here before the end of the month, but my enthusiasm for writing is apparently waning. So, I thought that I would dig up another one of my replies to Phil Dillon on his blog “Another Man’s Meat.” On October 6, 2006, he wrote a post titled “There’s More to It Than Choice,” explaining his opposition to abortion, his discontent with the status quo of the abortion debate in this country, and his desire for a “dialogue” between the pro-choice and pro-life sides. I posted my response to his article shortly afterwards:

Another factor in perpetuating the status quo is misleading, politically driven language and policies.

An example of such language is “abortion on demand.” This politically inspired term glosses over the agonizing that a pregnant woman usually goes through before deciding on an abortion.

Another example is the phrase “partial-birth abortion.” The anti-choice movement came up with this name in order to taint a procedure that doctors usually call a “dialation and extraction” or D&X. Some medical authorities say that a D&X may be the safest abortion procedure to protect a woman’s health. However, the Republican-led Congress ignored these medical authorities when it inserted language into its “partial-birth abortion” ban, saying that the procedure was never medically necessary.

A member of my extended family had a D&X. Into her third trimester, this family member learned that the fetus she was carrying had developed an abnormality: its brain was developing outside its skull. Doctors told her that, if delivered, the baby would probably die before its first birthday. Moreover, because my family member’s husband was not in the income bracket affected by the estate tax, caring for the deformed baby until its imminent death would have been an expensive proposition. She had the D&X. A year later, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl. This happened during the 1990s. I shudder to think what my family member would have had to do if this had happened after Congress’ ban on the procedure.

If Phil wants to have an honest, open dialogue about abortion with those on the pro-choice side, he will need to get past such emotionally charged, politically driven language as “abortion on demand” and “partial-birth abortion.”

Also, if so many women have abortions for “socio-economic” reasons, perhaps those who push for fewer abortions should also push for economic policies where more women could afford an unexpected pregnancy. For example, they could start by supporting an increase in the federal minimum wage. Instead, many self-proclaimed pro-life politicians have pushed for Bush’s regressive tax cuts and economic policies.

“...The pro-life movement in America is pretty much dormant”? Maybe as far as marching in the street is concerned. But this would only be because many of its adherents are now in positions of power. South Dakota’s state legislature this year [2006] passed a sweeping anti-abortion law that bans every procedure short of needing to save the pregnant woman’s life, even in cases of rape and incest. It’s no secret that many South Dakotan legislators hope that their law will ultimately overturn Roe vs. Wade. [The law was repealed by voter referendum on November 7, 2006.]

On its website, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington lists ten restrictions on abortion that Bush has supported since taking office. These range from reinstaing the gag rule on international family-planning agencies receiving government funds to support for a “consciousness clause” protecting pharmacists who refuse to fill contraceptive prescriptions.

Speaking of contraceptives, maybe one reason why some of the women in the abortion survey didn’t use any is because of Bush’s “abstinence only” policy on sex education. If their schools want to receive federal dollars, public-schoolchildren can only be taught how contraceptives can fail, not how they can work. New surveys say that pregnancy rates among high-school-age girls are on the rise [I’ve since read that this information isn’t true].

Personally, I think that if you have sex before you graduate from high school, you’re doing something incredibly stupid. But there are apparently some who disagree with me. As much as I wish it were otherwise, there are more than a handful of high-school-age kids out there eager to explore their sexuality, and they’re not going to be swayed by an adult’s admonitions — mine or their parents’. But they’re also not being given all the facts about contraception.

Gag orders on family-planning providers, consciousness clauses, abstinance-only sex “education,” criminalizing abortion in South Dakota — none of this sounds very “dormant” to me.

Many opponents of abortion describe themselves as “pro-life.” But too many of them do not recognize the life of the pregnant woman. It’s no small task to take nine months out of one’s life to bring another into the world. Not every woman can afford it. Should she have had sex in the first place? Maybe not. But an honest effort to use birth control may not have been successful. And even if she had been unwise enough not to have used contraception, forcing her to endure an unwanted pregnancy for nine months would be excessive punishment, I think. Adoption sounds like a good idea, but some pregnant women who agree to adoption change their minds upon having the baby, and thus put themselves in the position of having to raise a child they might not be able to afford. There are vagaries that women face when they become pregnant, and the law of the land must recognize these. It would help if the “pro-life” movement recognized them too.

Maybe some forms of abortion should indeed be made illegal, but if so, such procedures should be criminalized on their merits. However, if arguments for their criminalization rest on misleading, emotionally charged language like “abortion on demand” or “partial-birth abortion,” that is not a discussion held in good faith.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Return to the Present

Well, below are some political opinions that I wrote during the dark days of the George W. Bush administration. Sadly, quite a few of the problems that Bush left us with don’t seem to be going gently into that good night. Closing the off-shore prisons in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, looks like it won’t make Barack Obama’s January 22, 2010, deadline. Also, Bush’s “faith-based” initiative — in other words, Bush’s funneling of government money to religious institutions, effectively a government subsidy of sectarian religion — isn’t going to meet its maker any time soon. But I never expected Obama to undo all of Bush’s catastrophes in one fell swoop.

The conservative political forces that Obama is up against were made clearer to me by Neal Gabler’s October 2 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. Titled “Politics as Religion in America,”Gabler’s point was that political conservatism has reached a kind of absolutist mind-set that ignores evidence of its own shortcomings and refuses to question its own questionable political beliefs out of blind faith:

Perhaps the single most profound change in our political culture over the last 30 years has been the transformation of conservatism from a political movement, with all the limitations, hedges and forbearances of politics, into a kind of fundamentalist religious movement, with the absolute certainty of religious belief.

I don’t mean ”religious belief” literally. This transformation is less a function of the alliance between Protestant evangelicals, their fellow travelers and the right (though that alliance has had its effect) than it is a function of a belief in one’s own rightness so unshakable that it is not subject to political caveats. In short, what we have in America today is a political fundamentalism, with all the characteristics of religious fundamentalism and very few of the characteristics of politics.


Rationality won’t work [when arguing with conservatives] because their arguments are faith-based rather than evidence-based.

That explains a lot. One thing it explains is why so many are uncritical that Bush inherited a peaceful, prosperous nation with a surplus in its treasury, and proceeded to drive the country into a ditch, leaving a warring, economically troubled nation with a record deficit — and many conservatives think that he was a better president that his predecessor, Bill Clinton.

Of course, Gabler’s article drew some dissenting opinions. One that caught my eye was a letter, published October 8, by Anne Kaufman of Los Angeles:

I abhor behavior such as [Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.)] shouting out “you lie” at the president during his [September 9 health-care] speech, but people on the left are hardly in a position to criticize after the ugly and uncivil behavior they engaged in toward George W. Bush.

But since Ms. Kaufman didn’t cite any examples, I’m left to ask, What “ugly and uncivil behavior” is she talking about? I’m sure that there were some nasty screeds about Bush from the fringe of the political left, but the ugly and uncivil behavior that is currently directed against President Obama is coming from mainstream Republicans, like Rep. Wilson, and high-profile conservatives, like Rush Limbaugh — the two aren’t equivalent. So, what is the “ugly and uncivil behavior” towards Bush of which Ms. Kaufman speaks?

Is it the unanimous way that the Senate in 2000 confirmed Bush’s presidency, after he lost the popular vote and won the Electoral College under dubious circumstances, without letting any Democratic congressional representatives voice any objection? Is it the way that CBS fired Dan Rather after documents about a story on Bush’s National Guard service turned out to be bogus? (Limbaugh accused Clinton of murder and other despicable crimes, but he still has his job.) Is it the way that the new Democratic majority in Congress in 2006 took impeachment of Bush off the table in their investigation of the build-up to the Iraq War, after their Republican predecessors rushed to impeach Clinton on a far more trivial matter? Is it the way that liberal audience members shouted vulgar things at Bush during his speeches? Wait a minute — most of Bush’s speeches were in front of pre-screened conservative audiences, so there were hardly any catcalls.

I’m stumped. I would certainly like a better idea of what Ms. Kaufman considers “ugly and uncivil behavior” by liberals against Bush. And by that, I mean disrespectful behavior by the Democratic establishment which would be comparable to the clearly ugly and uncivil behavior now directed against Obama by the conservative and Republican establishments.

Monday, October 5, 2009

September 7, 2006

Sometimes, I think that liberals and conservatives are living on two different planets. Increasingly, it seems that the two groups can’t agree on a common history — much less a common standard for dealing with important tasks ahead.

It appears to me that virtually everything that George W. Bush has done to wage the “war on terror” has been deliberately to help the Republican Party and to hurt the Democratic Party. I think that a truly great U.S. president after 9/11 would have put partisanship aside and established a genuine dialogue among experts of all political pursuasions to determine how to fight Islamic jihadism effectively, while still adhering to the Bill of Rights as closely as possible. Instead, because “national security” has been an issue working in the Republicans’ favor, they constantly use it as a hammer to beat the Democrats. In effect, Bush would rather be President of the Republican Party than President of the United States of America. It didn’t have to be this way.

Now that Bush’s standing has plummeted in the polls, conservative commentators are scolding the American people that they are being too hard on Bush. And I can’t imagine these pundits using the language they do if they were discussing a Democratic president. Here is an example of such a tactic, from conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg, and my replies:


The president’s most stubborn critics won't stop beating the Iraq and Katrina drums despite much success elsewhere

by Jonah Goldberg

August 31, 2006

Lord knows I have my problems with President Bush. He taps the federal coffers like a monkey smacking the bar for another cocaine pellet in an addiction study. Some of his sentences give me the same sensation as falling backward in one of those “trust” exercises, in which you just have to hope things work out. Yes, the Iraq invasion has gone badly, and to deny this is to suggest that Bush meant for things to turn out this way, which is even crueler than saying he failed to get it right.

But you know what? It’s time to cut the guy some slack.

I think that voters have “cut [Bush] some slack” ever since the 2000 election. I can’t imagine them turning a blind eye to a Democrat with Bush’s poor powers of communication.

Of course, I will get hippo-choking amounts of e-mail from Bush-haters telling me that all I ever do is cut Bush slack. But these folks grade on the curve. By their standards, anything short of demanding that a live, half-starved badger be sewn into his belly flunks.

Maybe lines like “half-starved badger” are primarily meant to be funny, but they are a symptom of a common tendency among conservative commentators: to use extreme language to caricature — and thereby dismiss — people of opposing political tendencies. In other words, Goldberg is setting up a straw man to knock down. [I also think that Goldberg’s use of hyperbolic language serves to mask how serious Bush’s blundering and over-reaching have been. If you use such excessive imagery as sewing half-starved badgers into human skin, it makes more realistic human excesses — such as starting a war on false pretenses — seem more mundane and, therefore, no big deal.]

No, we liberals are not demanding that feral animals be sewn to Bush’s belly. All we are asking for is Bush to be held accountable for what he’s done. And it’s hard to have an accountable president when the Republican-controled Congress sees itself primarily as an extension of the Bush White House, rather than a seperate branch of government. In fact, if it weren’t for moderate Republicans like Sens. John McCain and Arlen Specter, I daresay that there wouldn’t be any oversight of Bush at all.

Also, note Goldberg’s use of the word “haters,” which makes our criticisms of Bush sound irrational and unreasonable. What makes these criticisms “hate”? Bush has done virtually nothing to reach out across the aisle. After losing the popular vote in 2000, and winning the presidency only on a technicality, he proceded to govern as if he won in a landslide. When some Democrats compromised in good faith with Bush on some of his pet projects, he would then turn around and campaign against them. After winning the 2004 vote by the narrowest of margins for a sitting president, he proceeded to crow that he had a “mandate” and “political capital.” He continues to use issues to advantage the Republicans and disadvantage the Democrats. He doesn’t consider himself answerable to the 49% of the American voters who voted against him. I wouldn’t call my feelings for Bush “hatred,” but I am very frustrated by his behavior and his unwillingness to compromise. Should I love a guy like this instead?

Besides, the Bush-bashers have lost credibility. The most delicious example came this week when it was finally revealed that Colin Powell’s oak-necked major-domo Richard Armitage — and not some star chamber neocon — “outed” Valerie Plame, the spousal prop of Washington’s biggest ham, Joe Wilson. Now it turns out that instead of “Bush blows CIA agent’s cover to silence a brave dissenter” — as Wilson practices saying into the mirror every morning — the story is, “One Bush enemy inadvertently taken out by another’s friendly fire.”

Even though Plame was outed inadvertently by Armitage, it seems to me that the Executive Branch was more concerned with concocting an excuse to overthrow Saddam Hussein than it was with the accuracy of Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address. (This was the speech where Bush asserted that Hussein had tried to buy uranium from Africa in order to make nuclear bombs, an assertion subsequently challenged by Plame’s husband, former amassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who had investigated this charge earlier for the CIA. Conservatives wondered if Plame, an undercover CIA agent specializing in weapons-of-mass-destruction issues, had nominated her husband for the investigation out of nepotism. If so, conservatives contended, Wilson’s conclusions were at least debatable.)

And then there’s Hurricane Katrina. Yes, the federal government could have responded better. And of course there were real tragedies involved in that disaster. But you know what? Bad stuff happens during disasters, which is why we don't call them tickle-parties.

The anti-Bush chorus, including enormous segments of the mainstream media, see Katrina as nothing more than a good stick for beating on piñata Bush’s “competence.” The hypocrisy is astounding because the media did such an abysmal job covering the reality of New Orleans (contrary to their reports, there were no bands of rapists, no disproportionate deaths of poor blacks, nothing close to 10,000 dead, etc.). It seems indisputable that Katrina highlighted the tragedy of New Orleans rather than create it. Long before Katrina, New Orleans was a dysfunctional city in a state with famously corrupt and incompetent leadership, many of whose residents think that it is the job of the federal government to make everyone whole.

The Mississippi coast was hit harder by Katrina than New Orleans was. And although New Orleans’ levee failure was a unique problem — one the local leadership ignored for decades — the devastation in Mississippi was in many respects more severe. And you know what? Mississippi has the same federal government as Louisiana, and reconstruction there is going gangbusters while, after more than $120 billion in federal spending, New Orleans remains a basket case. Here's a wacky idea: Maybe it's not all Bush's fault.

Note that Goldberg says nothing about the video of Bush being briefed on Katrina before the hurricane struck, a video that showed an intellectually disengaged president. Also, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which had worked so well under Clinton, became a dumping ground for cronies under Bush, thereby undermining its effectiveness. No, it’s not all Bush’s fault, but I think that a more engaged president wouldn’t have let his response to the disaster get so out of hand.

Then, of course, there’s the war on terror. Democrats love to note that Bush hasn’t caught Osama bin Laden yet, as if this is the most vital metric for success. Yes, it’d be nice to catch Bin Laden — no doubt Ramsey Clark, the top legal gun for both LBJ and Saddam Hussein, will be looking for a new client soon. [Note Goldberg’s unnecessary dig at a Democratic operative.] But even nicer than catching Bin Laden is not having thousands of dead Americans in New York, Washington and L.A. Contrary to all expert predictions, there hasn’t been a successful attack on the homeland since 9/11.

Indeed, the current issue of the Atlantic Monthly contains a (typically) long, exhaustively reported cover story by James Fallows about how the U.S. is in fact winning the war on terror, thanks largely to Bush’s policies (though Fallows works hard not to credit Bush).

I can’t imagine conservative commentators holding a Democratic president to this low a standard: no Bin Laden, but no new attacks either. This seems especially bewildering when so many conservative pundits are blaming Clinton for not capturing or killing Bin Laden when he was president, such as Rich Lowery’s book Losing Bin Laden. More important to me is that — after the 9/11 attacks, when Bin Laden had actually done something that made his capture imperative — Bush passed up a chance to get the terrorist mastermind in Afghanistan, in order to redeploy U.S. troops for the overthrow of Hussein in Iraq.

Political dissatisfaction with the president rests entirely on Iraq and overall Bush fatigue. The rest amounts to little more than Iraq-motivated brickbats gussied up to look like free-standing complaints. That's how hate works: It looks for more excuses to hate in the same way that fire looks for more stuff to burn.

Again, what makes our criticisms of Bush’s behavior “hate”? I find it very ironic that some conservatives — even lawmakers in Congress! — considered it acceptable political discourse to accuse Clinton of rape and murder when he was president. But even the most sober, fact-based, constructive criticism of Bush’s policies is considered “hate.” To call this a double standard is an understatement.

That’s why Bush's Democratic critics flit about like bilious butterflies, exploiting each superficial or transient problem just long enough to score some points in the polls and then moving on. Bush’s Medicare plan was an egregious corporate giveaway, they cried, until seniors overwhelmingly reported that they like it. And the Patriot Act? Can anyone even remember what the Democrats were whining about? I think it had something to do with libraries that were never searched.

Look, things could obviously be a lot better. But they could be a lot worse too. John Kerry could be president.

How would a John Kerry presidency be worse?

In the end, Goldberg still hasn’t convinced me that the war in Iraq, the erosion of our constitutional rights, and FEMA’s disastrous response to Katrina are all “superficial or transient problems.” Just the fact that someone is making so far-fetched an argument — in order to tell us that the naked emperor is wearing a wonderful suit of clothes — nauseates the hell out of me.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

May 29, 2006

Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2006


Why isn’t Bush getting credit for economic growth on his watch?

by Jonah Goldberg

EVEN IF YOU think President Bush deserves the pasting he’s getting in the polls on Iraq, domestic spying and other front-page gloom, it’s hard to deny he’s getting a raw deal on the economy.

Just look at the numbers. The economy grew 4.8% in the first quarter of 2006 (and for the 18th quarter in a row). Manufacturing is surging; construction spending is breaking records. The Dow is surging. Unemployment is 4.7% — lower than average for the last four decades. More than 5 million jobs have been created since 2003. Personal incomes are up more than 6% in the first quarter, and so is consumer confidence. Housing prices have risen dramatically and — knock on wood — it appears the boom isn’t ending with a crash, which means that all that increased wealth won't vanish the way the 1990s stock market boom did [!]. Layoffs are way down; productivity keeps moving up. Blacks and Latinos are starting businesses at far above the national average. ...

To the Editor [of the Los Angeles Times]:

Jonah Goldberg’s recounting of recent U.S. economic history (“It’s Iraq, stupid,” May 18) doesn’t jibe with my memory. Goldberg says, “Republican presidents rarely receive such fairness [on the economy]. The media held Reagan responsible for the 1981-1982 recession but merely darn lucky for the boom that followed.” Well, I was around in the 1980s, and I don’t remember it that way. During that decade’s economic rebound, the mainstream media, which I closely followed at the time, referred to it several times as the “Reagan Recovery.” I even vividly remember Reagan taking personal credit for the economic uptick during his 1984 re-election campaign, but I don’t remember anyone disputing him.

Goldberg goes on to say that “the media credited Clinton with ‘fixing’ the economy in the 1990s.” Maybe it was because President Clinton so clearly shaped his economic policies as compromises with a Republican-controlled Congress, but I don’t remember him being credited with the economic boom of the 1990s the way that Reagan was credited with the boom of the 1980s. Only recently and in retrospect have liberal economists begun referring to the 1990s as the “Clinton Prosperity.”

If Goldberg is wondering why there is discontent with the current economy, he should re-examine his statement: “Personal incomes are up more than 6% in the first quarter.” Other economists say that this is a misleading figure, since the percentage is an average that hides how much more disproportionately incomes are up among wealthier Americans than they are for middle-class families. In Paul Krugman’s words, “Average incomes rose [during the George W. Bush years], but only because of rising incomes at the top.” Furthermore, some social services that used to be better funded by tax dollars, such as health care and student loans, are now being increasingly passed on to the consumer.

But my main complaint with Goldberg’s column is that it marks a disturbing tendency among conservative pundits these days. Republicans have controlled both houses of Congress for ten of the last twelve years. A Republican has occupied the White House for the last six years, and opposition to his policies has effectively been paralyzed as “unpatriotic.” Furthermore, conservatives now have a commanding presence on the Supreme Court. In short, much of our nation’s direction is largely the result of Republican control of our government. Now, conservative commentators like Goldberg are rewriting history to portray Republicans as victims.

Well, I’m not buying it.

May 10, 2006

Here is an example of what is so desperately wrong with this country. Supposedly, we, the U.S., are fighting a “war on terror.” However, we can’t have an honest discussion about what this war entails. Virtually all inquiries into Bush’s response to 9/11 or the logistics of the war in Iraq are squelched as “unpatriotic” or “harming the troops.” Our government deserves and demands better. But I’m not sure that “better” is what the voters want.

Take Bush’s recent nomination of Gen. Michael V. Hayden to be the new director of the CIA. Hayden oversaw the White House’s use of warrantless wiretaps against U.S. citizens, in direct defiance of 1978’s Federal Intelligence Surveilance Act (FISA), which specifies that such wiretapping be done with court oversight. Bush’s nomination of Hayden was a thumb in the eye to his critics. Now, some Democrats want to use the nomination of Hayden as a means to explore Bush’s spy program. And some Republicans welcome this exploration as a way to paint the Democrats as “soft on terrorism” in the run-up to the November elections.

May 9’s Los Angeles Times quotes Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) as saying:

If the president’s opponents hope to argue that we [Republicans are] doing too much to prevent terrorism, that the intelligence agencies are fighting too hard against terrorists around the world, then we look forward to taking that debate to the American people.

This is a nauseating response to a legitimate issue. The Bush administration’s possible excesses in its conduct are misrepresented as “fighting too hard” against terrorism, and misrepresented for short-term political advantage. I would have had much more respect for Sen. Cornyn if he had honsetly said: “The administration needs to bypass FISA because...” And I would hope that his reasoning would include (1) why the very un-cumbersome FISA courts were too cumbersome to be dealt with, (2) why the Bush administration never asked Congress to change the FISA law before the wiretapping program was uncovered, and (3) how Bush’s circumventing FISA squares with an open government and the rule of law.

But this is not the kind of discussion that we’re getting. Simply asserting that warrantless wiretapping is a “necessary tool for the fight against terror” and impugning the patriotism of anyone who says otherwise doesn’t make it so.

In other news, White House staff secretary Brett M. Kavanaugh has been nominated by Bush for a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He had previously been a part of Kenneth Starr’s investigation against President Clinton, including writing a draft of Starr’s report saying that Clinton must release mountains of documents for inspection. But Kavanaugh made a 180º turn when entering the Bush White House, arguing that President Bush’s records must be kept secret. This is clearly a double standard, one that conservatives will surely defend by saying that “9/11 changed everything.” If the American people are willing to accept this kind of ruined reasoning, then we deserve to have our constitutional rights eroded.

April 1, 2006

“Of course there have been mistakes [in the Iraq War]. But it was not a mistake to overthrow Saddam Hussein; it was not a mistake to unleash the forces of democracy in the Middle East.”  —Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

As you may have read in the news recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is gallivanting around the globe saying what a good thing the war in Iraq is. When challenged about the war, she always reduces it to Saddam Hussein being out of power. I agree that seeing Hussein out of power is a good thing, but Rice speaks as though all of the war’s other attendant elements — chaos, insurgency, factionalism, inadequate planning, inadequate funding, inadequate armoring, overblown misstatements about weapons of mass destruction — don’t enter into discussion. She seems to be saying that the ends (Hussein removed from power) justify the means, however excessive or egregious those means may be.

I would reply to Secretary Rice that, to the contrary, however noble one’s intentions may be, it is a mistake to initiate a war of choice if you don’t have adequate plans to win the peace. In choosing to go to war, the Bush administration relied on unrealsitic assumptions and best-case scenarios to plan for attacking Iraq. Any more pessimistic projections by more experienced experts were dismissed — if not the basis for retribution. Most famously, in 2003, when the Army’s then-Chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, contradicted the administration’s optimistically small number of troop requirements after the invasion — saying that a more significant numer of combatants would be needed on the ground — the administration prematurely announced his successor to the office, effectively rendering Shinseki an irrelevant lame duck.

So, as good as it is to see an out-of-power Hussein, this single deposed dictator (when there are so many tyrants in the world) doesn’t justify the misleading and sloppy way that the Bush administration rushed to war.

But I’m sure that my argument will fall on deaf ears.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

February 27, 2006

Lately, I’ve been thinking of Bush’s re-election as the political equivalent of the awful television program that becomes number one on the Nielsen ratings. Just because more people watch The Jerry Springer Show than watch Gilmore Girls, for example, does that make Jerry Springer the better program?

Okay, a (narrow) majority chose Bush for president over John Kerry, but does that necessarily mean that the choice was a wise one?

As I have been reading the opinions of Bush apologists recently, the fact that Bush has prevailed in the 2004 election and other endeavors is everything; the fact that Bush’s various victories have been so narrow and so polarizing means nothing to them. The assertion “Bush won the election” settles everything. A win is a win, apparently.

To me, the great thing about American constitutional democracy is that it establsihed a system in which we could all get along by negotiation. That wonderful tradition is now being trampled by a tyranny of the majority. American government these days is increasingly less about negotiation than about destroying your opponents.

Prayer in public schools? If the majority wants it, says the new thinking, let them have it! What about the constitutional rights of religious minorities? If they are only a minority, comes the reply, their opinion doesn’t count. And there seems to be an increased hostility towards enforcing a minority’s constitutional rights via the courts.

Of course, this is a big U-turn from the 2000 presidential election, where Al Gore won the popular vote, but Bush’s apologists said that the rules governing the Electoral College were more important than the majority’s opinion.

The United States may be a country based on majority rule, but it is also based on the constitutional rights of the minority. It may be heretical to say this, but just because a majority decides on something, that doesn’t always make the decision a good one.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

December 12, 2005

In an unusual and agreeable move, President Bush [on this date] took some questions from his audience for a speech in Philadelphia, an audience that was (reportedly) not pre-screened. As a gesture of reaching beyond his insular White House bubble, Bush’s question-taking was welcome. However, I thought that his answers were incomplete, especially his answer about why his administration continually associates Saddam Hussein with 9/11. Here is how Bloomberg News reported Bush’s answer:

Asked why he and other members of his administration continue linking the conflict in Iraq to the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes on the U.S., Bush said the attacks in 2001 “changed my look on foreign policy.”

Most of the world agreed “that Saddam Hussein was a threat,” Bush said. “The 9/11 attacks accentuated that threat, as far as I'm concerned.”


Bush said he had no regrets about going to war, even after finding the threat from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction was empty.

“Knowing what I know today, I'd make the decision again,” Bush said in response to one question. “Removing Saddam Hussein makes this world a better place and America a safer country.”

[Applause from audience.]

Dear Mr. President:

You say that America is “a safer country” because you overthrew Saddam Hussein in an unprovoked military action. All right, that is your opinion. But how would you back that opinion up? What can you point to that would quantify how much safer America is than it was when Hussein was in power? And saying that the Iraqis will soon be holding democratic elections isn’t a good enough answer; there’s no guarantee that Iraqi elections will create a country that doesn’t produce terrorists. I don’t ask this question as any great fan of Saddam Hussein, and so far, the fact that this villainous tyrant is now out of power is the very thin silver lining to the dark cloud that is Iraq. As you know, Mr. President, simply saying that something is true doesn’t make it so.

It could be argued that America is less safe now than it was when Hussein held Iraq in his iron fist. Even leaving aside the obvious example that our brave troops are in harm’s way now that Hussein has been overthrown, the reverse of what you say may very well be the more demonstrable position.

By deciding to go to war in a hasty manner, with an insufficient number of soldiers, poorly funded, and without a true international coalition to support us with troops and treasure, you have now strained our armed forces, strained our economy, and strained this country’s international standing. By ordering troops into Iraq, you also stretched thin the U.S. forces in Afghanistan — a nation that actually was directly involved in 9/11 — and made their job of rebuilding the post-Taliban country more difficult than it needed to be.

And by invading a Muslim country that our troops couldn’t leave in a timely way, our military presence is now viewed with suspicion by the Arab world as an army of occupation, and this perception doubtlessly encourages Muslims around the world to sneak into Iraq and help fuel the insurgency. How does any of this make us safer?

Also, by rushing to war against a nuclear-weapons program that didn’t exist, you enabled Iran and North Korea, two countries with better documented unconventional-weapons systems, to resume theirs. Now, with our soldiers and diplomats distracted by the chaos in Iraq, it seems more likely (but hopefully not inevitable) for Iran or North Korea to deliver a nuclear device into the hands of anti-U.S. terrorists. Again, how does this make us safer?

As monstrous as his dictatorship was, at least Saddam Hussein kept a lid on the ethnic and religious tensions in Iraq that get in the way of smoothly establishing a successful democracy there, the same tensions that now put our troops in danger. Though cruel, Hussein maintained a secular state in a widening sea of Islamic fundamentalism, and terrorists find greater refuge in this theocratic philosophy, I would submit, than they ever found in Hussein’s regime. Rather than “accentuating” any perceived threat by Hussein, the 9/11 attacks demonstrated the destructive religious forces that Hussein’s dictatorship kept in check. Once again, how are we now safer?

It’s hard to say this stuff without sounding like a supporter of tyrannical regimes, which I most definitely am not. Unfortunately, not every place on the planet is conducive to U.S.-style democracy, as much as I wish it were otherwise. If the country of Iraq had not been artificially carved by colonial Britain out of three different ethnic regions of the defeated Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, the history of the land may have played itself out differently, and a dictator like Hussein might never have emerged. But your administration didn’t seem all that interested in Iraqi history. In particular, it didn’t seem to concern itself with how post-invasion U.S. forces would pacify an ethnically heterogenous country vastly different from the more homogenous countries of Germany and Japan, countries successfully pacified by the Allies after World War II. But perhaps democracy could have eventually arisen in Iraq without us invading it.

And for all your uncompromising talk about America not abiding this particular dictator, Mr. President, he was abided by several U.S. administrations, including your father’s, before his fatal mistake of invading Kuwait in 1990. Also, this particular dictator may be gone, but others still exist. Do you propse overthrowing them militarily as well?

So, Mr. President, I strongly question your unsupported assertion that America is now safer than it was when Hussein was still in power. The next time that you make this dubious claim, I would like to see hard evidence for it.

Monday, September 7, 2009

December 10, 2005

Duh-bya has nominated ultra-conservative Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. It is the president’s prerogrative to nominate whomever he (or — if the fates allow — she) chooses. Just as it’s the Senate’s prerogative to ascertain that the nominee is a wise (in both senses of the word) choice. After Bush was (re-?) elected in November 2004, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before the legacy of the Warren Court — a legacy of fairness — was jeopardized.

One would hope that a president re-elected with a measly 51% margin would acknowledge the substantial 49% of the country who voted against him, and that he would look to a moderate choice for the High Court. But with George W., that’s just too much to hope for. For him, a win — no matter how narrow or how dubious — is a win. He’s deaf to all criticism, however well taken, and seems perfectly content to be president of the Republican Party — the Democrats and liberals of America be damned.

When Bush nominated his legal advisor, Harriet Miers, to the Court earlier this year, she seemed agreeably moderate, but her nomination implicitly said volumes more about the president’s insularity and his rewarding of loyalty than it ever did about Miers’s qualifications for the job. Indeed, it was Miers’s very non-committal stance on such red-meat red-state issues as abortion and gun control that led Bush’s base to object to her nomination. Her withdrawal on laughably disingenuous grounds and her replacement with the hard-core conservative Alito also speak volumes about Bush being more devoted to his narrow base than he is to the country as a whole.

The “smoking gun” regarding Alito’s hard-core conservative views came in the form of a 1985 application to the Reagan administration’s Department of Justice, in which Alito blatantly proclaimed that the Constitution did not protect a woman’s right to choose or racial “quotas.” Some conservative apologists are now saying that this statement reflected only the youthful views of an eager job applicant, and at any rate, Alito would never allow his personal views to interfere with his judicial views. But syndicated columnist Marianne Means concisely rebuts all of these that-was-then arguments:

Argument one: He was only 35 at the time of the Reagan job application, and he is a wiser person now. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) quickly demolished that one, pointing out that by the time he had attained the age of 35, he had served in the Senate for five years, and nobody ever gave him a pass for youthful voting mistakes.

Argument two: Alito was an advocate seeking a job and therefore the document should not be considered definitive. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) wasn't impressed by that dodge. “Why shouldn’t we consider the answers that you're giving today an application for another job?” Kennedy inquired. Kennedy suggested that if Alito would sacrifice principle to pander to a prospective employer back then, why wouldn't he do so now?

Argument three: Alito respects precedent. Phooey. As a lower-court judge, he had no choice but to do so. But on the Supreme Court, he has the power to fiddle with precedents all he wants. It's been done before.

If events continue on their present course, it will only be a matter of time before Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that recognized abortion as a woman’s constitutional right, is overturned. This saddens me. I don’t say this as any great fan of abortion. If a woman is contemplating getting an abortion but still has some doubts, I would encourage her not to go through with the procedure. But if she does want to have one, it should be in a safe and legal setting, preferrably before the fetus is viable. The choice should be hers. And as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said, if a woman is compelled by others to carry a pregnancy to term, this puts her at a disadvantage with her male competitors on the job market, who would never face the physical predicament of pregnancy. In this instance, abortion is an [employment] equalizer.

I’m not dead-set against any kind of limitation on abortion, provided that there is a legitimate necessity for the limitation, but every piece of abortion-limiting legislation that I have heard of seems more like a bad-faith means to overturn or disempower Roe than a good-faith legislative solution to a genuine need. Some pro-choice liberals argue, quite sensibly, that abortion should remain legal but is not in the Constitution, and therefore, Roe ought to be overturned. But at the moment, constitutionality is the only thing keeping abortion legally alive. If the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe anytime soon, I’m sure the Republican-dominated Congress would quickly ram through a bill outlawing abortion — with Senate Republicans probably employing the “nuclear option” to thwart any Democratic fillibuster.

The sad thing is that this is a country of great legal talent, both conservative and liberal. If presidents were to nominate judges based on the distinction of their legal performance — whether they were pro-Roe or anti-abortion — we could have a Supreme Court of which we could all be proud. Instead, we now have a “stealth” court, a court where the nominees have little paper trail and opaque legal opinions. Once they get on the Court, we finally realize how conservative their opinions are.

As much as I appreciate many of Justice David Souter’s opinions, he was also a stealth judge, nominated for his ideological opacity and not his judicial distinctiveness. The Republicans who voted for Souter obviously thought that they were getting a conservative, and he surprised them. But one Souter does not legitimize this ill-advised way to choose justices with lifetime tenure, and President Clinton wisely — and realistically — conferred with Senate Republicans before nominating Justices Ginsberg and Bryer.

Some conservatives will say that that we have a “stealth” Supreme Court because of the hostile way Democrats treated the nomination of openly conservative jurist Robert Bork, but Bork was nominated by President Reagan more for his ideology than his legal reasoning.

Alito’s nomination is the logical result of picking judges in a highly politicized atmosphere. It marks a sad predicament where true believers try to overturn a Supreme Court decision that they don’t like, instead of respecting it. But the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the law of the land. And it’s sad to see it subjected to the forces of petty politics. Is it any wonder that we get a Court majority that writes such intellectually dishonest, results-oriented decisions as the election-subverting Bush vs. Gore?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

December 1, 2005

I swear, I would give conservative commentators the benefit of the doubt more often if they would stop making such disingenuous arguments to support their claims. But instead of reasoned logic, they fall back onto extreme either/or propositions or bumper-sticker slogans to paint those with differing perspectives as beyond the pale. Actual, thoughtful debate seems to be alien to them.

To illustrate my point, I like to cite some examples by our old friend Max “Give Him The” Boot:


by Max Boot

And the Democrats wonder why they are considered weak on national security? It’s not because anyone doubts their patriotism. It’s because a lot of people doubt their judgment and toughness.

As if to prove the skeptics right, Democrats have been stepping forth to renounce their previous support for the liberation of Iraq even as Iraqis prepare to vote in a general election. Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry, John Edwards, John Murtha — that’s quite a list of heavyweight flip-floppers.

Again, the disingenuous description of the Iraq War as the “liberation” of the country. The main reason that we went to war, Bush told us, was to disarm Saddam Hussein of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction which he was going to use against us at any moment. Removing Hussein from power and the liberation of his people were portrayed by the administration only as secondary effects of this “disarmament.” Now that no stockpiles have been found, the administration and its apologists are insisting that the liberation of Iraq was the primary causus belli. They know that it wasn’t. But they keep referring to our near-unilateral invasion of Iraq as a “liberation” because it makes the administration’s intentions sound more noble than they actually were.

Clinton characteristically wants to have it both ways. He says the invasion was a “big mistake” but that we shouldn’t pull out now because “there's a lot of evidence it can still work.” (You mean, Mr. President, that we should continue sacrificing soldiers for a mistake?) ...

Well, Bush didn’t leave us much choice. Going into Iraq militarily was indeed a mistake. But now that we’re there, we can’t just immediately pull out. To do so would, as Bush himself now says, lay the groundwork for civil war and the emergence of a Taliban-like theocracy (funny how Bush’s outlook for a post-war outcome was a lot rosier before the invasion). So, yes, Max, thanks to people like you, our troops are put in the position of possibly having to die for a mistake. Maybe democracy in Iraq will indeed work out, as Clinton says, but if it does, it will be despite — not because of — the misguided notion that Jeffersonian democracy can be imposed from without at the point of a gun.

Just a few years ago, it seemed as if the Democrats had finally kicked the post-Vietnam, peace-at-any-price syndrome. Before the invasion of Iraq, leading Democrats sounded hawkish in demanding action to deal with what Kerry called the “particularly grievous threat” posed by Saddam Hussein. But it seems that they only wanted to do something if the cost would be minuscule. Now that the war has turned out to be a lot harder than anticipated, the Democrats want to run up the white flag.

Kerry was going on intelligence — misleading intelligence — passed onto him by the Bush administration. The administration knew — or should have known — that much of the “information” about Hussein’s weapons program came from an Iraqi asylum-seeker in Germany called “Curveball,” a source that German intelligence said was very unreliable. The Bush administration did not pass along to the Congress the caveats and dissenting opinions that were included in the intelligence that they received. Consequently, several Democrats in Congress echoed the administration’s misleading warnings about what an imminent threat Hussein was.

Now that the Congress knows that the information given to it by the administration was so much hooey, several Democrats are speaking out against the war on the basis of what is now known. So, administration apologists are throwing the Democrats’ pre-invasion words back at them in an effort to portray them as flip-floppers. The administration and its supporters must know that this is an intellectually dishonest thing to do, and the fact that they resort to such a tactic, instead of a more honest one, tells me that they have a very untenable position.

Furthermore, it was the Bush administration — not the Democrats — that expected the costs of this war to be miniscule, allocating only a fraction of the troops and treasure that experienced military advisors told them that they would need. Now that the war has turned out to be harder than he anticipated, Bush has shown a stubborn unwilingness to acknowledge the facts on the ground, insisting that we “stay the course.” His speech in Annapolis yesterday [November 30, 2005] was his first real acknowledgement that the war (or counter-insurgency or call it what you will — it won’t change the fact that Americans are dying needlessly) has not been going that well. Choosing between Democrats who recognize that news from Iraq is not good and want to change things accordingly (on the one hand) and a president who will not recognize this and only talks about “staying the course” (on the other), I’ll take the Democrats. To Boot, this is “running up the white flag” — what a pathetic argument.

They are offering two excuses for their loss of will. First, they claim they were “misled into war” by a duplicitous administration. But it wasn’t George W. Bush who said, “I have no doubt today that, left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons [of mass destruction] again.” It was Bill Clinton on Dec. 16, 1998. As this example indicates, the warnings issued by Bush were virtually identical to those of his Democratic predecessor.

But Bush’s stampede to war was — to put it sarcastically — not identical to that of his Democratic predecessor (who, of course, did not go to war). Clinton found a way to contain and disempower Hussein without costing the lives of thousands of U.S. troops. I know that some war apologists say that Hussein’s remaining in power was an obvious destabilizing influence on the Middle East, but — given the destabilizing influences that Bush’s invasion has unleashed — it’s not at all obvious to me. Furthermore, the fact that Clinton said similar things about Hussein does not argue against the possibility that the Bush administration indeed misled the country to war. Bush said that Hussein was an imminent threat; Clinton did not.

The Democrats’ other excuse is that they never imagined that Bush would bollix up post-invasion planning as badly as he did. It’s true that the president blundered, but it's not as if things usually go smoothly in the chaos of conflict. In any case, it’s doubtful that the war would have been a cakewalk even if we had been better prepared....

But throughout the build-up to war, Bush portrayed the invasion as something that would be quick and relatively bloodless. Then-CIA director George Tenet told Bush that the invasion would be a “cakewalk.” [I was incorrect about that attribution. The word “cakewalk” as applied to the invasion of Iraq was originally used by Kenneth Adelman, a war supporter and member of the think tank Project for a New American Century.] Now that Bush’s propaganda has proved untrue, it’s the Democrats’ fault in the Republican-controlled Congress that things haven’t gone as smootly as Bush said? [I was unable to conclude this sentence because I was at a loss for words.]

Even most Republican senators are demanding a withdrawal strategy. But it is the Democrats who are stampeding toward the exits. Apparently the death of about 2,100 soldiers over the course of almost three years is more than they can bear. Good thing these were not the same Democrats who were running the country in 1944, or else they would have pulled out of France after the loss of 5,000 Allied servicemen on D-Day. ...

This is a duplicitous argument that really drives me up the wall, and other war apologists have made it. Conservatives keep comparing the war in Iraq to the Civil War or World War II and wonder what Iraq War opponents would have done in those situations. I’ll state the obvious: The Civil War was a war of necessity. World War II was a war of necessity. The war in Iraq is a war of choice. We didn’t need to invade Iraq when we did or the way we did. And I would submit that we did not need to invade Iraq at all. The fact that war apologists keep making such a dishonest comparison of the Iraq War to wars of necessity also tells me that their position is a dishonest one.

“Things may develop faster than we imagine,” Al Qaeda's deputy commander, Ayman Zawahiri, apparently [!] wrote to Abu Musab Zarqawi, the top terrorist in Iraq. “The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam — and how they ran and left their agents — is noteworthy.” Even more noteworthy is that so many Democrats seem so sanguine about letting history repeat itself.

Unfortunately, if there is any sanguinity, I think it’s from war supporters affected by “Gulf War syndrome.” Now, I supported the Gulf War back in 1991, and I support it today. I think that Saddam Hussein did an absolutely monstrous thing by invading Kuwait, and it was right for President George H.W. Bush and an actual coalition of the international community to drive Hussein out of that country, out of a respect for international borders. So, although I usually prefer peace to war, I’m not in the peace-at-all-costs camp, and I was relieved that the 1991 Gulf War was over so quickly and with a minimal loss of life.

However, because of the Gulf War, I think that a lot of war buffs began to think of military conflict as something that could be waged quickly and easily. They ignored the prudent way that the elder President Bush put together a genuine international force in the build-up to war — assembling a true coalition, getting U.N. approval, etc. — which was largely responsible for the Gulf War’s success. And these war buffs began to think that America, as the world’s only superpower, could do whatever it jolly well pleased around the world. In doing so, they overlooked some of the obvious similarities between Vietnam and Iraq — for instance, between the “Gulf of Tonkin incident” and WMD, the lack of a realistic exit strategy for either, etc. — which made the possibiity of a quagmire more likely.

Lately, I’ve become increasingly convinced that this is what went down: Being run by oil executives, the current Bush administration wanted control of Iraq’s petroleum from the moment it entered office. They made plans for an invasion of Iraq and eventually saw the 9/11 attacks as an opening for implementing them. Neocons in the administration then cherry-picked intelligence, however dubious its origin, and passed it off to an intellectually lazy president as proof that Hussein had meaningful ties to 9/11 and was reconstituting his nuclear-arms program. Bush and his surrogates then went around the country saying that Hussein was an imminent threat to America and questioning the patriotism of anyone who said otherwise.

Now that the administration’s dire warnings have been utterly discredited, the Bush administration and its apologists are changing their story about why we went in and what they told us at the time. To say that this is dishonest would be an understatement. And the fact that conservative commentators are making such deceitful arguments in support of the war tells me that the administration’s reasons for war were deceitful from the very beginning.

Unfortunately, you can’t reduce all of this to a bumper sticker, so I imagine that most Americans will continue to be bamboozled by Bush’s lies.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

November 24, 2005


by Max Boot

WHEN IT COMES to the future of Iraq, there is a deep disconnect between those who have firsthand knowledge of the situation — Iraqis and U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq — and those whose impressions are shaped by doomsday press coverage and the imperatives of domestic politics.

A large majority of the American public is convinced that the liberation of Iraq was a mistake, while a smaller but growing number thinks that we are losing and that we need to pull out soon. Those sentiments are echoed by finger-in-the-wind politicians, including many — such as John Kerry, Harry Reid, John Edwards, John Murtha and Bill Clinton — who supported the invasion. ...

Yes, Max, I’m sure that several things are going well in Iraq. I hope that some things are going well in Iraq because I don’t want U.S. forces — excuse me, I mean coalition forces — to become a permanent occupier, which might be the case if nothing at all were to improve.

But your article, Max, overlooks an important issue: The war that we are now fighting in Iraq is not the war that the Bush administration sold us. If enthusiasm about how things are going in that country is starting to sag, it’s because the Bush administration all but promised that a military invasion of Iraq would be a quick and bloodless fix for that particular front of “the war on terror.”

As Atlanta Journal-Constitution op-ed writer Jay Bookman says in a recent column, the Bush administration egregiously underestimated how long and how costly a military engagement with Iraq would be. “As proof,” he writes:

•They budgeted a total of $1.7 billion to rebuild Iraq — we now spend more than that in Iraq in about a week.

•They thought they could occupy Iraq with a third of the troops that experienced generals told them they needed; today, our troops are getting maimed and killed with explosives looted from Iraqi weapons sites because we lacked the manpower to guard those sites.

•They expected to have the country on its feet and financing itself from oil in 90 days; 30 months later, we are farther from that dream than ever.

Bush’s now infamous “Mission Accomplished” photo-op aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln in 2003 marked what the president surely thought was the end of the war. He was predicting a quick Desert Storm-like victory, all the while ignoring warnings from Gulf War architects like Brent Scrowcroft that a military invasion of Baghdad would be a different kettle of fish entirely.

Now that the administration’s fairy tale of a swift and painless victory has not come true, administration officials and their neocon apologists are chiding us because we should have expected war with Iraq to be, in Rumsfeld’s words, “a long, hard slog.” But in their build-up to war, the Bush administration did not prepare us for a slog of any sort. I wonder if the term “bait and switch” means anything to them.

I’m tired of being lectured by war apologists that, because the Bush administration’s unrealistic and ill-advised fantasies about a quick and easy victory in Iraq have not come true, the American people are at fault for not energetically supporting the administration’s catastrophic blundering. Why don’t you say anything about that in your article, Max?

Old Rants

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before. I recently came across some writings of mine on another Internet site, and I got the idea to repost some of them onto my blog. Looking over them after a while, I can’t believe how informed I kept myself on the issues of the day. That will be a hard habit to get back into.

A recurring topic of all these writings is the disaster that was the presidency of George W. Bush. It would have made more sense to repost these things I wrote when he was still in office, but better late than never.

In most cases, my pieces respond to other writings. I will quote a portion of the essay to which I’m responding (printing the whole thing would violate copyright), but whenever possible, I make a link in my post to the entire article. And the titles of my posts will be the dates that I wrote them.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

alias babyporridge

Some of you may have noticed that my July 1, 2008, post is hawking a CD that isn’t real. No, there isn’t to be any compact disk called Calamities & Codswallop, although I think that would make a good title for something (anything!), and I’m a little impressed with myself for thinking of that wacky moniker on the spot.

There is, however, such a person as Nikki Malvar. She is the very presentable person in the picture, and under the sobriquet “babyporridge,” she makes
YouTube videos as well as her own music on her MySpace page. At its best, her music reverberates with the kind of haunting notes and quirky lyrics reminiscent of The Roches or Suzanne Vega and is definitely worth a listen or two.

But where the mischievous Ms. Malvar made her most lasting impact on my neurons was with her YouTube videos, whose sublime silliness is about as far away from the reflectiveness of her songs as the Marx Brothers are from Jacques Brel. For quite some time, I wanted to put my bemused musings about her videos down on paper (or the electronic equivalent thereof), but I had no idea what to say: such anarchic absurdity can’t be contained by the strict structures of nouns, prepositions, and adverbs.

Then, on July 1, 2008, the date of my aforementioned blog post, I was visiting her own
blog, where she posted the picture of herself that you see below. I liked how most of the photograph was taken up by the empty space surrounding her, while her own image was scrunched into a corner. (Very “Zen,” don’t you think?) I immediately thought that the picture would make a good album cover and set about mocking up my own mock CD package. Not having any other way to show her the results, I posted the image here on my blog and let her know about it, fully expecting to delete the image once she had viewed it. However, after a couple of hours had hobbled away, I felt a fondness for the fake CD cover and asked Nikki if I could leave it up. She graciously consented, and I promised that I would write something about her on my world-famous blog.

Days went by. Then weeks. Then months. Summer turned to fall. America elected a new president. Fall turned to winter. Christmas came and went.
High-School Musical 3 came out, and people actually went to see it. Nearly a year had passed, but I still hadn’t written anything. Worse, I was feeling bad for not living up to a promise, so much so that I could barely bring myself to blog about anything at all. My blog, already sadly neglected, drifted into dereliction.

So, these comments are as much an effort to resuscitate my blog and assuage my guilt as they are an attempt to squeeze the square peg of my words into the round hole of the most indescribable videos on YouTube. When you watch a babyporridge video, don’t expect a coherent story. Don’t expect a comprehensible idea. Don’t expect anything to make sense. All that you can reasonably expect is the sight of a young lass in her late-teens/early-20s frolicking in front of her video camera, sometimes showing off her musical skills, delighting in her own nonsensical sense of humor, and exuding her infectious zest for life.

Here’s a video of hers called “I Was a Fetus Once,” in which she announces her nineteenth birthday. In this shot, she’s flipping a clear plastic ruler through her pitch-black locks. In the next shot, she’s lip-synching to “Delicious Demon” by The Sugarcubes, sometimes clad in a black dress, sometimes in male drag with a mustache scribbled on the finger resting just below her nose. Now, she’s concocting her famous booger soup (a recipe she obviously stole from Rachel Ray) and dancing around her kitchen. Did I miss anything? In her video “Paperbananas,” she holds a banana in front of the lens. Wait a second! That’s not a banana! That’s an avocado with a hand-drawn sign saying “banana” tacked to it. Could’ve fooled me! The video titled “What Disney Left Unsaid” features her as Cinderella opposite herself as her own Shakira-wigged fairy godmother, singing in high-speed overcrank. What’s it all about? Haven’t the foggiest. But why am I laughing so hard?

Hmmm ... I’ve written this much without mentioning that babyporridge currently lives in Australia after spending her childhood in the Philippines, Malaysia, and the United States. So, even though she presently resides in Sydney, she sounds like she comes from middle America — give or take a broadened A or clipped R. There’s no way of discretely inserting that info into this blog post. I’ll need to find another way.

If anything can be said, it’s this: babyporridge’s baffling videos demonstrate how viewing habits and expectations have changed since the advent of digital video and its transmission on demand via computer. Back in the days before home video (yes, I was around then), the idea of watching an audiovisual presentation without a readily identifiable point to it would widely be seen as a waste of time. But with the availability of webcams and streaming video, any “rules” about what makes for a worthwhile viewing experience fly out the window. Now with YouTube, a cat playing the piano carries as much viewer fascination as Lucy Ricardo stuffing her face with chocolates. If instant video weren’t just a mouse-click away, would there be room for the stupefying silliness of someone like babyporridge? And to what extent is the appeal of these videos connected to the concept of a virtual community? In other words, are some viewers drawn to videos like babyporridge’s because they feel that they are getting to know someone socially?

But at the end of the day, babyporridge videos are fun to watch, pointlessness and all. They are reminders that some of life’s magical moments don’t need any meaning. Lewis Carroll understood that. Unfortunately, babyporridge/Nikki has not been particularly prolific of late. After a year or so of regularly producing about a video a week, she has made (or not deleted) only four videos in the last eight months. A much-needed hiatus? If so, she’s earned it. Here’s hoping, though, that the video gods will instill babyporridge with inspiration once again. Every now and then, the world needs to stop making sense.

a babyporridge video