Saturday, October 02, 2004

The Folly of Empire  

John Judis's The Folly of Empire is an extremely important book, not the least because its arguments were used, and quite effectively, by Kerry in his recent debate with Bush.

Briefly, "The Folly of Empire" lays out and analyses some of the most important origins of the intellectual reasoning that led to the disaster of the Bush/Iraq war, the fallacy of attempting to achieve Wilsonian ends (Wolfowitz's shtick) with imperialist means (Perle's and Cheney's). Judis has done an excellent job of summarizing the views of Wilson, (T) Roosevelt, and the late 19th century American imperialists. His history of the tragic errors of intellectual and moral judgment in 2001-2003 is a model of concision.

"The Folly of Empire" has a few problems. I found some factual errors which, while not entirely germane to the argument, call into question the accuracy of parts of Judis's story that are new to me. More importantly, Judis clearly is enamored with the Wilsonian vision and apparently laments only the "clean break" that the Bush administration made with Wilsonian methods, a break clearly visible even before 9/11. However, Wilson's vision of making the world safe for democracy, while seemingly enticing, is in many ways just as flawed as the imperialist vision of the early TR.

Wilson's thought derived from American Christian ideas of exceptionalism, as well as the more secular strains of America's Manifest Destiny. Wilson, and Wilsonians, assume that America has a specific mission in the world. Many Wilsonians go further and believe that America literally has a divine mission to spread democracy.

In fact, America has as much a mission in the world as does Finland, Sweden, Britain, France, or any other country with a developed democracy. Its mission is simple: to safeguard its citizens' right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness while acting in a moral fashion with other nations. It is not America's mission to lead the world into a transformative change, nor is it America's mission to retreat from the opportunities to promote and spread its values. It is simply America's mission to be one great country among many. Such an attitude, which, as Judis makes clear, Clinton and Bush I may have believed even if they used the language of exceptionalism to promote it, is not Wilson Lite, but something quite different.

So Judis is right to reject Bush II's embrace of imperialism, and he is right to welcome a return to Wilson's recognition that peace among nations cannot be gained without genuine multilateral cooperation. But he is wrong to ascribe any sense of destiny or mission or unique role for America beyond those tha derive from the fact the US is, at present, the most powerful nation. Such power does not mean American democracy or culture is better than others. It is primarily an accident of history.

But my criticism, which I realize is, at best, half-articulated, in no way detracts from the considerable merits of the book, including the pleasure of reading something so well-written. "The Folly of Empire" is clear, compact, and quite serious without ever getting solemn or portentous. If you care at all about finding a way out of the present mess, it is an essential read.

Friday, October 01, 2004

America Won Last Night. But Now, It's Gonna Get Nasty  

Be careful what you wish for. George Bush asked for no filter, and last night, there weren't any. We* observed both candidates, at length, uncut, unplugged, unexpurgated (but well drilled). For most people, John Kerry won. So did the country.

While this is very good news, this is hardly a cause for celebration. We can now expect the rightwing to react bigtime. Will Bush cancel one of the debates left? Will a "national crisis" cancel all of the debates for him? Will Osama magically get killed/captured? Will Republican-induced voter registration fraud intensify? Will GOP-sponsored goons get majorly violent, as Dave Neiwert worries? Will Bush move rapidly to get oil prices lower or pull some other legislative rabbit out of his hat?

Chances are that whatever Bush is planning will surprise the hell out of all of us for sheer malicious sleaziness, including the most jaded and cynical Bushologists. One thing's certain: there will be a major retaliation from the right for Kerry's win last night. And guaranteed, in the next debate (if it is held), Bush won't be so easily rattled.

I sure hope that Kerry and the Democrats are prepared.

More later, hopefully. There were some extremely interesting things that transpired. But this classic George Bush moment stole the show for me:
We've climbed the mighty mountain. I see the valley below, and it's a valley of peace.
So now he thinks he's Moses, does he? Hell, Bush ain't even Charlton Heston.

Well-deserved mockery aside, let's not ignore this apparently trivial bromide. It's all of a piece with the rightwing appropriation of positive icons to associate with Bush. And marketing-wise, Bush-as-Moses is a beautiful setup for the imminent release of The Passion of the Bush dvd, that's being distributed free and in mass quantities to hapless churches around the land. Nope, Bush wasn't improvising, it was intentional. The image of Bush/Moses On the Brink of the Promised Land, his God-given mission to bring total freedom for his people nearly accomplished, was a carefully plotted nod in the direction of any American who's familiar with the Bible's most famous stories, ie, all voters.

*I only saw the first 20 minutes of Kerry's responses. I can't watch Bush speak for any length of time without risking a Colin Powell-style aneurysm so I left the rest to MSS. This morning I read the entire debate and hope to post some further observations on the text later today. The reaction shots of Bush I saw in the first part of the debate were telling: he didn't look like a President; he most resembled an angry, petulant, spoiled, and cornered child.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

My God  

35 Children killed. Plus 7 adults. And how did it happen?
Three bombs exploded at a neighborhood celebration Thursday in western Baghdad, killing 35 children and seven adults, officials said. Hours earlier, a suicide car bomb killed a U.S. soldier and two Iraqis on the capital's outskirts.

The bombs in Baghdad's al-Amel neighborhood caused the largest death toll of children in any insurgent attack since the conflict in Iraq (news - web sites) began 17 months ago. The children, who were still on school vacation, said they had been drawn to the scene by American soldiers handing out candy.
In addition, another bomb killed a US soldier and two Iraqis.

Diebold Rep Now Runs Elections  

Sounds fair to me. What's your problem?
An influential employee of voting machine maker Diebold Election Systems left the company recently to take a job as elections manager for a California county.

Deborah Seiler, a sales representative for the beleaguered voting company, was hired a week ago and started Monday in Solano County, northeast of San Francisco in California's wine country. The position puts her second in command of elections in the county, under the registrar of voters.

The move raises eyebrows because Seiler played a role in a recent scandal involving Diebold and the county. As the Diebold sales rep, Seiler sold Solano County nearly 1,200 touch-screen machines that were not federally tested or state certified. When the state banned the machines because of Diebold's business practices, the county had to find a replacement for the machines and pay Diebold more than $400,000 to get out of its contract.

"This is outrageous. This is just a total runaround of the democratic process," said Douglas MacDonald, of the Community Labor Alliance, an activist group that pressured Solano County to end its contract with Diebold. "There was an open debate and discussion, and the county (supervisors) decided that Diebold is not the company, is not the philosophy, that we want behind the running of elections in Solano County. Then what happens? They go out and hire the person who was advocating that philosophy."

But Ira Rosenthal, Solano County's registrar of voters and chief information officer, defended the hire, saying that Seiler was the best-qualified candidate for the job.

Obligatory Debate Question Proposal  

To George Bush:

Considering all the trouble you've caused the world, why don't you just pack up and go home?

Quote Of The Day  

John Edwards commenting on a speech to the Discovery Institute (yes, that Discovery Institute,home of IDiots) Cheney gave in 1992 warning against invading and conquering Iraq:
"[Cheney] was against getting bogged down in Iraq before he was for it."

Executive Incompetence Runs In The Family  

I guess the good news is that not ALL the voting shenanigans are malicious in Florida. Seems like out and out inept management might also be playing a role:
In another black eye for Florida's child-welfare agency, officials acknowledged that confidential records for nearly 4,000 abused and neglected children were available on the Internet until this week.

The files were accessible on the Web site of Kids Central, a privately run children's agency, and included names of children, as well as details such as birth dates, Social Security numbers, photographs, case histories and even directions to foster homes...

CoBRIS [the company responsible for the computer program behind the snafu]...was founded by James Bax, who headed the state welfare department in the 1970s. A friend of Bax who backed the CoBRIS project, Ben Harris, resigned as the agency's information chief in July after a report found he took gifts and trips from companies contracting with the agency.

Also Wednesday, a report by the department found that Florida's detention center for violent sexual offenders is plagued by incompetence and corruption.

Authorities investigating the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia found that a coordinator was fired after allegations that he dealt marijuana inside the facility.

The report was also critical of staffers' handling of a troubled resident who was hospitalized after jumping off a roof...

The center was created after the Legislature passed a law in 1998 allowing some sex offenders who have completed their criminal sentences to be held indefinitely for mental-health treatment.

IDiocy Update  

Wired has a decent article about the strategies of the Intelligence Design (IDiocy) movement entitled The Crusade Against Evolution. But shamefully they provide prominent IDiot George Gilder with an entire page to propagandize.

It turns out that in October, Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design will be published. Why they wrote the book:
Religious  interference in American science and science education is an old story. But intelligent design proponents’ cultivation of support for efforts to eliminate evolution from public school science, or to disparage it, and to secure recognition of creationists’ claims of scientific legitimacy, are today enjoying unprecedented, nationwide success. For the first time, such claims seem to many lay observers to have become respectable. In fact, however, they are no more respectable as scholarly inquiry, or specifically as biological science, than were their discredited “creation science” predecessors. Unfortunately, this is not widely understood. Nor is the seamless continuity of “Intelligent Design Theory” with other recognized forms of creationism. Having examined in detail claims made by members of the “Wedge,” we saw it as our professional and civic obligation to scholarship and science to prepare a fully documented account of their anti-evolution agenda. We came to understand that, for the well-being of science and science education, the seamless continuity of intelligent design and traditional creationism must be demonstrated for our colleagues and the knowledgeable public. The narrowness of Wedge strategists’ religious aims, which do not reflect the values of the broader, more tolerant religious community, must be exposed, as must ID’s pervasively sham methods of inquiry. People who value science and the benefits of life in an enlightened society must be alerted to the Wedge’s political, cultural, and religious ambitions.
Book description:
In Creationism's Trojan Horse, Forrest and Gross examine in full detail the claims and operations of the “Intelligent Design” movement, the most recent manifestation of American creationism. Explaining and analyzing what “design theorists” call their “Wedge Strategy,” they document the Wedge’s aggressive political and public relations campaigning. The most notable feature of the movement’s purportedly new scientific paradigm is an abject failure to produce scientific data in support of its claims or even a coherent research program. Instead, the Wedge maintains a crowded nationwide schedule of lectures, popular publications for its mostly conservative Christian constituency, and media appearances, all sustained by generous funding from religious benefactors. The Wedge has intruded itself efficiently into educational politics at local, state, and national levels.

Forrest and Gross detail efforts of intelligent design proponents to influence science standards in Kansas and Ohio, and to influence federal education legislation through the so-called “Santorum amendment” of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. They demonstrate the continuity of intelligent design with traditional creationism, including all the scientific claims, exposing its religious core and purposes. By displaying the movement’s alliance with Religious Right extremism, the book reveals the significance of William Dembski’s statement that the intelligent design movement’s challenge to the “evolutionary naturalism of Darwin” is “ground zero of the culture war.”
The website also has many groovy links to explore, including a link to a healthy chunk, if not all, of Chapter 1.

[UPDATE: On a related issue, the Bush administration's assault on science has infuriated scientists who wonder: Does George Bush even know what science is?.]

Right Wing Jargon Watch  

One thing that interests me is the remarkable extent to which rightwing discourse is crafted to deliver multiple, simultaneous messages. A typical rightwing statement about an opponent is short, pithy, and factless. Even more, it will not only try to rebut an argument, but at the same time also belittle or discredit the opponent, catch them offguard by introducing off the wall comparisons, and isolate them from rhetorical devices that would normally be used to help an opponent respond. The effect is deliberate: not to engage in argument but to disorient and eliminate dissent, no matter the cost to truth, clarity, or commonsense.

Even in the most trivial cases, the far-right launches sophisticated multi-pronged attacks. By now, it's so ingrained that it's instinctual and they can improvise, like jazz musicians on the chord progressions in a 12 bar blues. For example, check out the meticulously-crafted language recently used to characterize George Soros by the Republicans. Don't react emotionally. Don't try to rebut it. Just focus on the techniques in play here:
Even before Mr. Soros spoke Tuesday, the Republican National Committee issued a statement saying, "The only explanation for the Daddy Warbucks of the Democratic Party, George Soros, to step out from behind the curtain 35 days before the election is his obvious concern for his investment in John Kerry."
The seemingly incoherent imagery is far from illiterate or accidental.

Daddy Warbucks is, of course, the evil capitalist villain from Little Orphan Annie. But simplistic Warbucks comparisons weren't nearly enough of a diss for Mr. Soros.

The RNC reasoned that while Daddy Warbucks surely conjures up pictures of an evil man, he is rather a strong-looking older man, rampant with the power of money. Now the image of a strong Soros, no matter how satanic, does not fit the GOP agenda; he must be belittled and humiliated. Therefore, the image of Warbucks is combined with a reference to the Wizard of Oz, a doddering, scheming ugly old Jew wizened geezer appearing from behind the curtain.

Yes, of course we know this description fits men like Scaife and the numerous Bush Rangers and Pioneers far better than Soros, but leave the content aside for a moment. Leave off trying to rebut it logically which is child's play. Just examine the rhetorical strategy, which is where the action is and the effort it took to piece together that image. And consider how difficult it is to deflect such a tactic, to answer it at it's own emotional level.

And they do it all the time. With remarkable consistency, the right has hugged to their breast every possible positive icon. no matter how ludicrous. Bush has been compared to Lincoln, to Churchill, to Christ, to Solomon, and so on. Those who refuse to see Bush as bigger than Jesus are linked with the Wizard of Oz, with bin Laden, with Hitler and the Holocaust, with Chamberlain and so on. Bush opponents are even linked with traditional lefty scarecrows, like Daddy Warbucks or McCarthy.* Incredibly, one of the more inventive neoconservative propagandists apologists writers typists has appropriated a famous paper that made quick work of the right wing loons of the 60's and turned its meaning on its head so that the far rightwingers become the voice of reason and everyone else is deemed paranoid.

In addition, the right has consistently taken charges that were historically leveled against them and used them to pre-empt arguments. Thus, Bush immediately said Democrats play class welfare with taxes, which makes nearly any response descend into a "No, I don't, you do!" kind of childishness. It's a tactic white supremacists may have first used, crying racism and discrimination against white people since at least the time of Griffith. Most recently, the neocons, one of whom was caught passing information to AIPAC, are charging that their critics are anti-Semitic. Never mind that the charge is, of course, ludicrous. The reason the criticism was launched so quickly was for the right to lay claim to the use of the word, so it could not be used to attack the rightwing without creating confusion. Until the neocons pulled their scuzzy little rhetorical stunt, "anti-semitism," of course, aptly described the mindset of many Republicans and their apologists, including such "moderate" figures as Billy Graham.

I dunno what to do to wrest back the language, but no Democrat or liberal has confronted this effectively, and someone damn well better figure out a strategy soon (and Lakoff only grasps a piece of it). 'Cause the way things are going, Bush will soon be described as so utterly holy that mere mortals will no longer be allowed to gaze on his countenance and mockery punishable by...well, you saw the abu Ghraib pics, yes?

*For the purposes of disorienting and destroying an opponent's access to effective language, contradiction is often a virtue. The well-lubricated Tailgunner, like several other potent images, can serve different purposes depending on the currently desired effect. When Coulter wants to trash liberals, McCarthy's a hero, a veritable St. Joseph of the Bottle. But when the right needs a way to bolster the myth they are victims of liberal oppression, the rallying cry becomes Modern Day McCarthyism. [UPDATE: Of course, the party of McCarthy are the ones who have become quite adept at keeping the legacy of McCarthy alive.]

Whereas stubborness in the face of facts is Bushism at its purest, when you attack opponents, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Wow! What A Surprise!!!  

Major Networks Refused Ads for 9/11 Fahrenheit DVD

October Surprise #1: The Passion of the Bush  

Sheer blasphemy. This is what you get when you give a man as corrupt as George Bush a free pass on religion. Read all of Rich's article, but here's a taste:
"George W. Bush: Faith in the White House" [is] a DVD that is being specifically marketed in "head to head" partisan opposition to "Fahrenheit 9/11." ... Though you can buy the DVD for $14.95, its makers told the right-wing news service that they plan to distribute 300,000 copies to America's churches. And no wonder. This movie aspires to be "The Passion of the Bush," and it succeeds.

More than any other campaign artifact, it clarifies the hard-knuckles rationale of the president's vote-for-me-or-face-Armageddon re-election message. It transforms the president that the Democrats deride as a "fortunate son" of privilege into a prodigal son with the "moral clarity of an old-fashioned biblical prophet." Its Bush is not merely a sincere man of faith but God's essential and irreplaceable warrior on Earth. The stations of his cross are burnished into cinematic fable: the misspent youth, the hard drinking (a thirst that came from "a throat full of Texas dust"), the fateful 40th-birthday hangover in Colorado Springs, the walk on the beach with Billy Graham. A towheaded child actor bathed in the golden light of an off-camera halo re-enacts the young George comforting his mom after the death of his sister; it's a parable anticipating the future president's miraculous ability to comfort us all after 9/11. An older Bush impersonator is seen rebuffing a sexual come-on from a fellow Bush-Quayle campaign worker hovering by a Xerox machine in 1988; it's an effort to imbue our born-again savior with retroactive chastity. As for the actual president, he is shown with a flag for a backdrop in a split-screen tableau with Jesus. The message isn't subtle: they were separated at birth
Now what?

There is only one response, of course, but even Rich doesn't dare. That is to declare this infomericial a shameful, cynical, perversion of everything that characterizes true religious faith. But that means accepting the inevitable fury that would result.

Bush may be the first presidential candidate in the 21st Century to shamelessly masturbate in public over his "deep faith" and invite the rest of the country to join his circle jerk. But he is not the last. We better find an effective way to deal with this. And fast.

Falwell Thinks The GOP's Big Tent Is A Joke  

And Falwell's correct. The GOP is nothing but the host body for fanatical parasites:
The Rev. Jerry Falwell said yesterday that evangelical Christians, after nearly 25 years of increasing political activism, now control the Republican Party and the fate of President Bush in the November election.

"The Republican Party does not have the head count to elect a president without the support of religious conservatives," Falwell said at an election training conference of the Christian Coalition.

Falwell said evangelical Christians are now "by far the largest constituency" within the Republican Party, their route to dominance beginning in 1979 with his founding of the Moral Majority, a precursor to the Christian Coalition.

"I tell my Republican friends who are always talking about the 'big tent,' I say make it as big as you want to, but if the candidate running for president is not pro-life, pro-family . . . you're not going to win," he said.

FBI Hasn't Bothered To Translate 120,000 Hours of al Qaeda Recordings  

I don't know what the big deal is. True, the problem seems enormous and inexcusable:
Audio recordings that relate to Qaeda investigations are supposed to be reviewed within 12 hours of interception under F.B.I. policy. But the report found that deadline was missed in 36 percent of nearly 900 cases that the inspector general reviewed. In 50 Qaeda cases, it took at least a month for the F.B.I. to translate material.
But that's because you have forgotten what Bush said about al Qaeda's leader:
"I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."
- G.W. Bush, 3/13/02

"I am truly not that concerned about him."
- G.W. Bush, repsonding to a question about bin Laden's whereabouts,
3/13/02 (The New American, 4/8/02)
Well, if the Commander in Chief doesn't care, why should the FBI waste its time?

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