Friday, February 29, 2008

Bigotry Double Standard

Andrew Sullivan:
Much, much milder than Obama on Farrakhan. And Farrakhan didn't hold a rally for BHO. Can you imagine the vapid outcry if such a thing happened? And yet the GOP parades its bigots in the open. Just like Huckabee and the Reconstructionists. There really are double standards for white fundamentalists, aren't there?
UPDATE (10:10, 2 March):
TPM:
Let's be clear what happened here. John McCain solicited the support and endorsement of Hagee and then he held a joint appearance with Hagee in which he formally endorsed him. In these terms, Obama has no connection whatsoever to Farrakhan. He's just someone who said positive things about Obama. So the premise for even asking Obama is dubious in itself, whereas McCain has openly embraced Hagee.

America Imprisoned

One in 100 Americans is in prison. Untold others are on probation or parole. And millions of the rest of Americans work in cubicles.
Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.

Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.

Pacai

Photo: Dave

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

It is curious to observe the triumph of slight incidents over the mind:--What incredible weight they have in forming and governing our opinions, both of men and things,--that trifles light as air, shall waft a belief into the soul, and plant it so immoveably within it,--that Euclid's demonstrations, could they be brought to batter it in breach, should not all have power to overthrow it.

- Laurence Sterne, Tristam Shandy

Dionne on Obama Rhetoric

Yes, Obama gets his crowds swooning. So did Reagan. It's laughable to hear conservatives talk darkly about a "cult of personality" around Obama. The Reaganites, after all, have lobbied to name every airport, school, library, road, bridge, government building and lamppost after the Gipper. When it comes to personality cults, the right wing knows what it's talking about.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Invisible Men

More here.

Obama on Israel

From the Carpetbagger Report:

“I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel. If we cannot have a honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we’re not going to make progress.

“And frankly some of the commentary that I’ve seen which suggests guilt by association or the notion that unless we are never ever going to ask any difficult questions about how we move peace forward or secure Israel that is non military or non belligerent or doesn’t talk about just crushing the opposition that that somehow is being soft or anti-Israel, I think we’re going to have problems moving forward. And that I think is something we have to have an honest dialogue about.”

UPDATE:

More here from Tony Karon on Obama and Israel:

...The problem with Obama, for the Zionist establishment — and some Israeli politicians have made this clear — is that he may be too even-handed in dealing with Israel and the Palestinians. He may not muster quite the same degree of racist contempt for the Palestinians that can be safely expected from a Hillary Clinton (they’re not entirely sure of John McCain, either, fearful that he might send Republican “realists” of the Scowcroft-Baker variety to the Middle East rather than Irgun fighters like Elliot Abrahams, Bush’s Mideast point-man). As the Sydney Morning Herald reports, “Visiting the region in 2005 as senator for New York, Senator Clinton shunned the Palestinians completely, meeting only Israeli leaders and hearing and expressing only Israeli positions. She particularly galled Palestinians by enthusiastically backing the 700-kilometre complex of walls and fences that Israel is building inside the West Bank.”

When Obama gently but firmly suggested to Ohio Jewish voters that there was a difference between being a friend to Israel and embracing the toxic Likud view of how to approach its neighbors, some Zionist commentators went apoplectic — Haaretz’s manic U.S.-based nationalist watchdog Shmuel Rosner howled that Obama was interfering in Israeli internal affairs! But then Rosner represents the Zionist alte-kakker perspective to a tee, with grading of American political candidates solely on the basis of their level of hostility to Israel’s foes and willingess to give it carte blanche to destroy the Palestinians and itself. Why Haaretz publishes this crank, I have no idea, but it should be embarrassed to run this sort of tribalist drivel which most American Jews find acutely embarrassing.

The reality is that Obama may be just the sort of friend Israel needs; the sort of friend that restrains you from driving home drunk.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

My original copy of that glowing masterwork of 1967 psychedelia, Love's album Forever Changes, has that warm vinyl crackling throughout the album that was eliminated in the age of the cd and mp3. I've handled the record like a Vermeer, but when I bought it there were a couple of preexisting pops, especially a two-rotation skip on the first song, "Alone Again Or." And I've listened to it a hundred times. Now, when I hear "Alone Again Or" from another source my mind's ear follows the song to the skip and experiences a brief moment of confusion when the song plays through. I know the song with the skip.

How about knowing songs with screams? Wouldn't it be a nightmare if you could "hear" the Sesame Street theme song only with accompanying screams of pain?

Mother Jones has what is purported to be the torture playlist - used during sleep deprivation techniques - for US military prisons (via Crooks and Liars). Pretty bad stuff, in my view. Notice the choice of songs, however. They don't appear to be designed primarily, simply for the purpose of keeping detainees awake and disoriented. For that goal, I'd probably alternate hyperactive Shibuya girlpop with Einstürzende Neubauten.

The songs here also seem to serve another purpose. Note the several songs about America or the USA. The song saying "Fuck Your God." The BeeGees' "Stayin' Alive." They're clearly designed to humiliate as well, but also apparently to boost the guards' or torturers' sense of national and religious superiority while dehumanizing prisoners. Further, several of the songs here are what are known as "cold jokes," the sense of humor derived from dehumanization of others. Cold jokes are common in war (dressing an enemy corpse in a hat and sunglasses, for example). But they're a crucial sign of moral distancing, of that inability nurtured in war of seeing others as human beings. This is the psychological state that makes atrocities possible.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Making Friends Around the World

Or maybe new nationalisms? Or what could we call it? How about networkisms? Or, to stick with the French, réseauxismes? Clunky, but you get the idea.

Le Monde has the graphic:

Auto-Abuse

The Guardian runs a story on a perhaps lesser-known side to prisoner abuse: the damage it does to the abusers. It's not the strongest article, but it's an important one in pointing up another element of the institutionalization of torture (as I also pointed out here in my Helsinki Commission testimony). No one involved, except those who are already morally deadened or too distant from the practice, is spared damage.

The taunts of prisoners and the things his superiors required him to do to them had a severe psychological impact on Mr H. "He was called upon to bring detainees, enemy combatants, to certain places and to see that they were handcuffed in particularly painful and difficult positions, usually naked, in anticipation of their interrogation," said Smith.

On occasion he was told to make prisoners kneel, naked and handcuffed, on sharp stones. To avoid interrogation the prisoners would often rub their wounds afterwards to make them worse so that they would be taken to hospital.

Some of the techniques used by interrogators resulted in detainees defecating, urinating, vomiting and screaming.

Mr H told Smith he felt profoundly guilty about his participation. "It was wrong what we did," he said.

The prisoners also threatened Mr H. "They would tell him they had networks of people throughout the world," said Smith. "If he did not take letters out and mail them then they would see to it that his family suffered the consequences."

Jaboticaba

Soviets

CBS' 60 Minutes broadcast Sunday regarding the alleged political prosecution of Democratic Alabama governor Don Siegelman went dark in the northern third of Alabama last night. According to WHNT-TV, the local CBS affiliate, the issue was caused by a technical malfunction.

"We apologize that you missed the first segment of 60 Minutes tonight featuring a report titled, 'The Prosecution of Don Siegelman,'" a WHNT story said.

CBS News – which owns 60 Minutes – denied any problem on their end.

Scott Horton of Harper’s magazine reported late last night that CBS was directly pointing back at the local outlets as the cause of the problem.

“I contacted CBS News in New York and was told that “there is no delicate way to put this: the WHNT claim is not true. There were no transmission difficulties. The problems were peculiar to Channel 19, which had the signal and had functioning transmitters.” I was told that the decision to blacken screens across Northern Alabama “could only have been an editorial call.”

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Heroes*

In keeping with the big media theme that the small-media blog world is a fickle place (for which, if one or a handful of blogs says something, all 20 million must also say the same thing), The Washington Post has an article this morning on a supposed Obama backlash. The paper then lists a few of the sites, which all poke fun at the Obama phenomenon. They're not bad. Is Barack Obama the Messiah? is more typical of Republican snark, including the obligatory photo of Obama speaking near George Soros. The humor-value is weak once you get past the initial snark. But BarackObamaIsYourNewBicycle is brilliant. It's the best use I've seen of Jenny Holzer's aesthetic. But funny.
...
Here's a claim to consider: 2008, it is turning out - with a couple of steps left to go - is the year of the end of the Cold War. Neither the Soviets nor the Americans won. Fidel Castro won.

In one of the only reflective and temperate pieces I've seen on Castro's resignation, Tony Karon writes,
Take a survey among today’s Latin American leaders on Fidel Castro, and he’ll get a huge popularity rating. For the likes of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, he has, rather unfortunately, been a role model in every sense; for the more sober and pragmatic social democrats of the Lula-Bachelet-Kirschner variety, Fidel nonetheless represents an inspiration that opened the way for their generation to cut their own path and stand up to the U.S.-backed dictators that imprisoned and tortured their ilk. In Latin America, Castro personifies nothing as much as defiance of the Monroe Doctrine, by which the U.S. had defined the continent as its backyard, reserving the right to veto, by force, anything it didn’t like. Get a Mexican conservative politician drunk in a discreet setting, and you’ll probably discover a closet Castro fan.
...
For such an honorable man, John McCain keeps getting himself into trouble. McCain seems to have a problem with his image of himself, and the reality of his ties to the money world of politics. If he says a lobbyist is a good guy, then there's just no worry because John McCain - convinced of his own honesty - says so. Note the circle - not a recipe for accountability. But, even if it's only a matter of public appearance, lobbying from the Straight Talk Express bus pushes the matter too far. We've had eight years of a presidency that says, contrary to all evidence, that we ought to trust it. We've seen the results of that.
...
Jonathan Schwartz:

NPR: One of the criticisms Mayor Fenty has gotten from parents since taking over the schools is that his decisions are being made from the top down, with not enough input from grassroots education reformers. What advice would you, Mayor Bloomberg, give to him—

BLOOMBERG: That's what mayoral control is about!

NPR: —based on mistakes and changes you've made with your own system over the years?

BLOOMBERG: I don't know of any—the last time we had an organization try to be run where everybody had a say, it was in Russia, it was called communism, and we all know how well that worked.

Exactly: if there's anything that was wrong with Stalinism as a political system, it's that it wasn't top-down enough. People would wander through the gulag, plaintively wondering why no one in society had the power to make important decisions.

...
Maciula:

President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was awarded an international order “For Outstanding Achievements in information science. The Turkmen leader received the award and an relevant certificate today from the Head of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the UN Secretariat Alexey Tikhomirov and another UN employee, President of the International Informatization Academy Alexandr Khariton....

...there is only one word that comes to my mind as a comment to what the United Nations have done: shame. How can one award an order for achievements in the development of informatiology to the president of a country that has practically no access to Internet, where only state-owned media are allowed to function and independent journalists are either in prison or in exile and the only independent source of information is satellite TV ( access to which has recently been limited as well)?
...
Pascal Boniface and Lilian Thuram (via Dani Rodrik):
When it comes to wishing for peace in the Middle East – virtually a New Year’s tradition ­– one needs to be careful. So many hopes have vanished in the bitter failure of so many negotiations. But we have a wish for the Middle East – one that, while perhaps not bringing peace, can create one of peace’s preconditions: goodwill. Israel and Palestine should jointly bid for, and be awarded, the Football World Cup in 2018.
...
...it was only natural for Koreans to think that their first astronaut must have the beloved national dish when he goes on his historic space mission in April. Three top government research institutes went to work. Their mission: to create "space kimchi."

"If a Korean goes to space, kimchi must go there, too," said Kim Sung Soo, a Korea Food Research Institute scientist. "Without kimchi, Koreans feel flabby. Kimchi first came to our mind when we began discussing what Korean food should go into space."

...
* Phronesisaical does not endorse heroes. In fact, it prides itself on being anti-hero. Besides, it is not certain what a hero even is, especially in a day in which anyone can be a hero for doing nearly anything. Phronesisaical also does not intend to suggest that the aforementioned people have anything in particular in common with each other. If forced to, we might consider choosing Obama, Thuram, and the kimchee-porting astronaut as heroes, but would nonetheless be uncomfortable doing so as such.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The End of the Campaign Road

Oh, my. The great tragedy for the Clinton campaign is that it is run by nincompoops. I have great respect for Hillary Clinton, but zero respect for her overpaid campaign staff. Over the past several days the campaign, apparently out of ideas, has pushed the inane plagiarism charge against Obama. It's sad that that's the best they can do. Yet, it culminated in what otherwise appears to have been a graceful debate tonight in Clinton's catchy "change you can xerox" remark. Now, if you're going to rest the waning days of the campaign on an attack on Obama's rhetorical originality, you probably ought not to commit the same fault. Now, however, we're going to suffer through another round of this silliness in the press, only this time directed towards Clinton. It's a rather sad end of a campaign.

¡Viva Obama!

Amigos de Obama. Make sure to watch the video.

UPDATE:

Friend CM Mayo, in the comments, mentioned this op/ed piece by Barack Obama in the Dallas Morning News. It really is worth reading. The clarity of this message - a policy statement - is why, on the ground, he has caught up in Texas, especially among tejanos. (And note the micro-financing addition - good stuff because it shows good results).

...It's also time to develop a bilateral strategy for lifting up our border communities. Six and a half million Americans live in cities and towns next to the border, and 61 million Americans live in the four states that border Mexico. Too often we neglect the unique needs of these communities, which are integrated with their sister cities across the border. As president, I will work with state and local governments to enhance cross-border partnerships in transportation, law enforcement, environmental protection, health care and water usage.

At a national level, our diplomacy with Mexico must aim to amend NAFTA. I will seek enforceable labor and environment standards – not unenforceable side agreements that have done little to curb NAFTA's failures. To reduce illegal immigration, we also have to help Mexico develop its own economy, so that more Mexicans can live their dreams south of the border. That's why I'll increase foreign assistance, including expanded micro-financing for businesses in Mexico.

Finally, we have to recognize the connection between our rhetoric and our relations – both with Mexico and within our own borders. We can and should have a robust debate about immigration reform, but we should never demonize or scapegoat any ethnic group. Already, we have seen an unacceptable spike in hate crimes aimed at Latinos across America. This has proven divisive here at home, and it risks poisoning our relations with Latin America.

White People

Alterdestiny turned me on to this hilarious blog: Stuff White People Like. It's going in the sidebar in the "Miscellaneous Works of Genius" section. White people like things like living near the water, Sarah Silverman, renovations, gifted children, Asian girls, basketball assists, plays, and making you feel bad about not going outside.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The New Torture President(-ial Candidate)

The one thing John McCain had going for him was his resistance to the Bush administration's attempts to legalize and overtly institutionalize torture. Although it's neither legal, moral, nor practical, McCain decides after all that torture ought to be okay. That is, non-torturous "additional techniques," as the administration has also pushed. Why? Is that peculiar moral illness actually a vote-getter? I've never been so proud of my country....

See here.

See also this a priori shammery for the coming Guantanamo trials.
"I said to him that if we come up short and there are some acquittals in our cases, it will at least validate the process," Davis continued. "At which point, [Haynes's] eyes got wide and he said, 'Wait a minute, we can't have acquittals. If we've been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can't have acquittals, we've got to have convictions.'"

Monday, February 18, 2008

Bananas

Danger Abroad

Taken entirely from Scott Horton, this seemed worth passing along.
The management of foreign relations appears to be the most susceptible of abuse, of all the trusts committed to a Government, because they can be concealed or disclosed, or disclosed in such parts & at such times as will best suit particular views; and because the body of the people are less capable of judging & are more under the influence of prejudices, on that branch of their affairs, than of any other. Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions agst. danger real or pretended from abroad.

James Madison, letter to Thomas Jefferson, May 13, 1798 in: Writings of James Madison, p. 588 (Library of America ed. 1999), in: The Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, vol. 2, p. 141 (J. Lippincott ed. 1865).

Republican Attack Plan on Obama

Campaign propaganda is largely designed to frame the image of one's opponent in terms favorable to one's own candidacy. Nothing controversial or surprising about that. What is astonishing is how many people fall for it. So, while you can find as much policy substance out of the Obama campaign as you can from Clinton or McCain, the Clinton campaign's caricature of Obama as big on rhetoric but short on policy substance has had great success in the media and in everyday political discussions in framing Obama's candidacy. Hillary Clinton even used the "all hat, no cattle" expression the other day in El Paso (that line, I believe, is originally Ann Richards', directed presciently at George W. Bush during the gubernatorial race in 1994), obliquely directed at Obama.

In the most successful propaganda, the truth is set to the side, but there must always be at least some plausible connection to the truth. There's nothing empirical about the "all hat, no cattle" claim in Obama's case, at least not in any way that wouldn't also apply to Clinton herself. But it has had some degree of success sticking to Obama in the broader public discussion and its shepherds in the media.

The propaganda maneuver is designed to hit Obama where he's clearly stronger than the other candidates - his inspirational speaking abilities. One further clever effect, however, for the Clinton campaign is that, as the media caricature gains further public traction, it will call out Obama into the open to detail substantive policy proposals, perhaps even much more so than Clinton and McCain. The assumption is that Clinton has the upper hand when it comes to policy wonking. I'm not so sure about that. The Clinton campaign may have fallen for its own propaganda. Nonetheless, as I've mentioned before, any policy will always have its detractors. So, the more concrete the policy proposals, the easier the campaign is to attack by generating more voters who may have liked the general policy idea but now have reservations about the details. The Clinton strategy is akin to Bush's claimed strategy of ostensibly drawing al Qaeda into the open in Iraq all the better to attack it.

Of course, more details on policy proposals is generally a good thing. Citizens can make better informed decisions based on the greater policy transparency. But, as a propaganda maneuver, it is designed not to apply equally to all candidates. In this schema, only Obama has the problem of being all about the rhetoric. A savvy electorate will call out all three candidates. Basically, that's the risk of the propaganda move. I suppose the hope is that the damage to the Obama campaign will have been done by then.

Still... it's astonishing how many people fall for such techniques, even when applied to their own candidate. Maybe it's helpful if we see what's coming before it takes fuller form in the media.

TPM takes a rough stab at the first Republican attack themes to be used against Obama. Keep an eye on how these develop.

He is not ready to be commander in chief.

Taking a page from the Hillary Clinton campaign, he had a "pattern of voting 'present'" in the Illinois legislature.

The Republicans "can be confident in a campaign about issues," seemingly in contrast to his mere rhetoric.

He is inexperienced.

P.s. And don't forget the "shady Chicago socialist."

See also the NY Times jumping on the same bandwagon.

UPDATE:

See also this National Review Online piece strategizing the McCain attack on Obama.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Double Immunity

You've got to wonder why the president and other Republicans are so insistent that the FISA extension needs passing absolutely immediately or we all blow up. As Kevin Drum remarks,

Look, if it's that important, there's a simple answer: pass the bill without telecom immunity. Then come back and introduce immunity in a separate bill. If you've got the votes for it, fine. If not, too bad. I'm against immunity myself — though hardly hellbent on the subject — but whichever way the vote went, in the meantime we'd have the FISA extension and surveillance could continue normally.

But that's not on the table. The supposed grownups in the GOP are, apparently, perfectly happy to play around with "life and death" if it's in the service of a bit of demagogic brinksmanship over telecom immunity. Why?

Jack Balkin has an answer,
Mike McConnell's call for immunity for telecom companies in today's Washington Post would be far more persuasive if we didn't recall why the issue arises in the first place. The Bush Administration repeatedly violated FISA and told telecom companies that it was ok to do so based on a crazy constitutional theory that the President couldn't be bound by the law.

Of course telecom companies will be less likely to cooperate in the future with an Administration whose legal advice has proven to be so unreliable. But giving them immunity whenever they recieve bad advice from the White House gives the White House no incentives to stay within the boundaries of the law. As I have pointed out before immunity provisions make it much easier for an untrustworthy White House to cover up its misconduct. In essence, the President wants legal assurances that nobody will have incentives to reveal what his subordinates did and what he asked the telecom companies to do.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Rebate This

Tony Karon:
I’m no economist (that much ought to be clear), but it would seem blindingly obvious that to stimulate the economy, the government needs to invest — in activities that create jobs, while addressing urgent needs of the economy and society. Spend that $1.5 trillion upgrading America’s crumbling infrastructure, and you’d be doing both. You know, public works programs. Commission engineering firms to build new roads and bridges, or (heaven forbid) create a 21st century rail network to replace the current 19th century affair, and you’d create quality jobs up and down the country, and generate domestic demand and its multiplier effects.

But I guess they can’t do that, because that would be socialism.

Have a nice recession.

Green Mango

Photo: Helmut

John McCain or John McCain?

The prevalent view of McCain is that he is a generally conservative figure with a few maverick stances and an unwavering authenticity. Nearly every liberal editorial board that has made a Republican endorsement has chosen McCain, and nearly all have offered variations on the same theme. "Voters may disagree with his policies, but few doubt his sincerity," editorialized The Boston Globe. "The Arizona senator's conservatism is, if not always to our liking, at least genuine," concluded the Los Angeles Times. This is the consensus: McCain's basically a right-winger, but at least you know where he stands.

Actually, this assessment gets McCain almost totally backward. He has diverged wildly and repeatedly from conservative orthodoxy, but he has also reinvented himself so completely that it has become nearly impossible to figure out what he really believes.

Here.

Space Balls

The Pentagon says it has to shoot down a malfunctioning spy satellite because of the threat of a toxic gas cloud. Space security experts are calling the rationale "comedic gold."
More....

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pruned Agriculturus

Alex Trevi of Pruned organizes his agriculture posts. Go check them out.

Torture Questions

Darius Rejali, one of the contributors to the forthcoming torture book that I edited is interviewed here by Scott Horton. Darius recently published the magnum opus on torture, the nearly 900-page Torture and Democracy. I'm glad to see him getting the publicity he deserves.

A few choice excerpts from the interview:
I grew up in Iran at a time when the Shah’s secret police, the SAVAK, did not hesitate torturing Islamic and Marxist insurgents. No one thought torture was something incompatible with cars, fast food, washing machines and other parts of modern life. I remember talking to a high-ranking SAVAK officer years after the Shah was gone, and he certainly felt he played an important role in modernization. It wasn’t the last time I’ve heard torturers say how important they are in making their country safe for economic opportunity. Another point: Everyone forgets that the Iranian revolution of 1978-1979 was the revolution against torture. When the Shah criticized Khomayni as a blackrobed Islamic medieval throwback, Khomayni replied, look who is talking, the man who tortures. This was powerful rhetoric for recruiting people, then as it is now. People joined the revolutionary opposition because of the Shah’s brutality, and they remembered who installed him. If anyone wants to know why Iranians hated the US so, all they have to do is ask what America’s role was in promoting torture in Iran. Torture not only shaped the revolution, it was the factor that has deeply poisoned the relationship of Iran with the West.
...
Torture may be compatible with democracy, but it is not compatible with liberalism, and we live in liberal democracies today. What I document in Torture and Democracy, is how modern liberal democratic states try to get around violating the dignity of others by becoming hypocrites. To this end, they use a lot of techniques that are physically painful, but don’t leave marks. A prisoner who doesn’t have marks is simply not credible when he makes the accusation of torture. So now they can say, “There was no torture see? So go home now.” Instead of embracing the ideals of dignity and freedom, states become cleverer in methods of oppression and deception. As John Locke said brilliantly in his Letter Concerning Toleration, a state that tortures is always a state of hypocrites.
...
Torture casts a very long shadow. When a state tortures, many decent professionals retire, leaving the police forces, the military and the intelligence services in disgust. So those who stayed behind create a culture of impunity. Torture also has a powerful deprofessionalizing ethic, damaging other intelligence efforts. Why do the hard work of using proper police and interrogation techniques when you’ve got a bat? Considering that most recent whistleblowers have had to hide in fear, including the man who revealed the Abu Ghraib tortures, it will be difficult to recruit good people to do this work. How can you prevent waste or fraud, much less torture, if you are not going to protect whistleblowers? You can’t.
...
...the Battle of Algiers turned in favor of the French only after Paul Aussaresses, who ran the torture policy, was replaced by the very smart and canny Col. Yves Godard, and it was his informants, not Aussaresses’ torture policy, that gave the French the big breaks they needed. Goddard knew how intelligence really worked.
...
So it can be done. And whoever does it is going to have the backing of the American people. Every scientific national poll I’ve looked at since 9/11, for example, shows consistently anti-torture majorities in America. This number hasn’t varied, always hovering between 55 to 65% opposition, and includes both Republicans and Democrats. When pollsters ask not about “torture” in general but specific techniques like waterboarding, the opposition spikes to 80% opposed even if there is a ticking time bomb. What best predicts whether you’re for torture turns out not to be a partisan issue, though there is a slight Republican trend. What predicts whether you’re for torture best is if you approve of President Bush’s policies; basically it’s a loyalty vote. The protorture folk have always—and I mean always, in every poll I’ve seen—been a minority of 35-45% and I’m pretty sure the number is shrinking as the President’s approval numbers dip.
...
Yes, that’s right. The historical record is clear. Waterboarding is torture, and yes focusing on just waterboarding is a distraction. Waterboarding is serious, but only the tip of the iceberg.
...
I think we need to understand that torture just doesn’t hide in a vault in the CIA. It hides in all the dark pockets of society—military barracks, schools, frat houses, our supermax prisons and immigration lockups. When torture happens, the top authorizes, and the people at the bottom come running with the techniques... Most dangerously, I think we need to pay attention to our new culture of irresponsibility. We live now in an age where something is or is not torture depending on when and who it is done to. Zapping an angry businessman on an airplane cabin will be called torture, but zapping a foreigner might just be good security and completely excusable.
...
So torture always comes home. And the techniques of this war are likely to show up in a neighborhood near you. Likewise, the techniques that appeared in the War on Terror were already documented in INS lockups in Miami in the 1990s. There is no bright line between domestic and foreign torture; the stuff circulates.
See also Nicholas Kristof here discussing Guantánamo in Spiegel/The NYT.

Steroids Questions

Roger Clemens' disjointed testimony on steroid use yesterday before Congress is another case of focusing the country and the media in the wrong direction. Yes, the guy lied his way through the testimony, thus setting himself up for later perjury charges. Others toss around the "hero" language for this man who - humor me with the ad hominem - has basically shown himself repeatedly to be a jerk. But... there I go getting distracted... there are two problems with the focus on the steroid-use hearings.

For one thing, there is a priorities issue. As John Cole, points out exasperatedly,
I simply am stunned that our Congress, who has rolled over and played dead and abdicated every opportunity for meaningful oversight of this administration, actually is making a stink about Roger Clemons and steroid use and the NFL tapes. Stunned. I really don’t know what else to say. The day after rolling over and giving the administration precisely what they wanted, congressmen come out with puffed up chests, red-faced, screaming at a pitcher about whether or not someone shot him in the ass with steroids... It is obscene and beyond absurdity.
Right. The misplacement of priorities makes the mind reel.

Secondly, however, it's usually a good thing when assessing any policy or political activity to ask, what further interests or purposes are served by this? In this particular case, is Congress trying to protect baseball as an institution? Trying to ensure that sportspeople have no artificial advantages over each other in the name of fairness and sportsmanship (and why would enforcement of sportsmanship be a congressional role?)? Attempting to check the increased use of performance enhancement (and why not Viagra, then?)? Is this some larger claim against the new biotechnological frontier and what humans may become in the future, an attempt to begin mapping that territory to congressional liking? Is it a God/Nature vs. Man/Artifice concern? What are these hearings supposed to do?

Henri Salvador

The great French songster/trickster, Henri Salvador died yesterday at the age of 90. He was a huge figure in French culture for 60 years, from playing Paris cabarets with Django Reinhardt in the 1930s to having produced one of his best albums, Chambre avec Vue, in 2001 (download a song from the album here at Filles Sourires). To select one bit from a career overflowing with such influences, Salvador composed 1957's lovely "Dans mon île," which - it is now written into the great books - provided the inspiration for Antônio Carlos ("Tom") Jobim in creating Bossa Nova in Brazil.

Salvador lived such a rich and inspired life that sadness about his death comes with happiness that this wonderful man enjoyed such a life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lessons from the Potomac Primary

And who better to provide these lessons than Al Giordano of The Field, who has been consistently offering up the best election analysis I've seen yet. A few interesting items from tonight:
- For the first time in a primary where exit polls were taken, Obama won among Catholics. (Obama victories in heavily Catholic towns and cities of Maine on Sunday hinted at this trend.) Catholics had been a Clinton “base vote” …until today. Catholics are a huge vote in Ohio, upcoming on March 4. Interestingly, he scored highest among devout Catholics (those that go to church weekly) which skew more working class and female...

- Here’s an interesting number (and I’ll tell you what it means): Of the 22 percent of voters that thought that TV ads were “very important” in making their decision, 72 percent voted for Obama and only 27 percent for Clinton. You know what that tells us? That Clinton is still having money problems. That figure is only possible if Obama vastly outspent Clinton on the TV airwaves. Is it possible that the Clinton campaign hype about having raised millions of dollars last week is greatly exaggerated? I’d say that these numbers suggest that very strongly to be the case. That’s also an omen for the states ahead.
Go here for the rest.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

War and the General Election

Max Boot says this,
...ask yourself which presidential candidate an Ahmadinejad, Assad or Kim would fear the most. I submit it is not Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or Mike Huckabee. In my (admittedly biased) opinion, the leading candidate to scare the snot out of our enemies is a certain former aviator who has been noted for his pugnacity and his unwavering support of the American war effort in Iraq.
Kevin Drum responds thusly,

There you have it. If you think the most important aspect of a president is the ability to "scare the snot out of our enemies," then McCain's your guy.

Now, you might think that after seven years of trying exactly this, with only the current collapse in our fortunes to show for it, the neocon establishment might at least pause for a moment to wonder if there's more to foreign policy than scaring the snot out of our enemies. But no. The real problem, apparently, is simply that the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld administration wasn't good enough at it. Not bellicose enough. Not unilateral enough. Not warlike enough. What America needs is someone even more bloodthirsty than the crew that got us into this mess. Time to double down, folks.

And, elsewhere, Ezra Klein says this,
Unlike Spencer, I think Leon Wieseltier is exactly right to worry that Obama's signals on foreign policy do not convey "the hardness I seek, the disabused tone that the present world warrants. ... [Obama] seems averse to the hurtful, expensive, traditional, unedifying stuff." When Obama talks about changing "the mindset" that led us into the Iraq War, he's talking, almost specifically, about Leon Wieseltier's mindset; the belief that "hardness" is analogous to wisdom, that seriousness requires being "disabused" of one's instinctual aversion to brutality, that the "hurtful' and "traditional" stuff has worked. "One of the striking features of Obama's victory speeches," writes Leon, "is the absence from these exultations of any lasting allusion to the darker dimensions of our strategic predicament. He makes no applause line out of American defense." Leon wants a leader to brings crowds to their feet with talk of war. His skepticism of the Obama campaign on these grounds is among the most powerful arguments I've yet heard for Obama's candidacy.
There's our game developing for the general election, at least regarding the war (continuing for now with the assumption that Obama has the nomination locked up). If that's how it remains, it's not much of a contest. And it especially won't be when the "surge" winds down.

Bananas


7200 of them. (via Sullivan)

Potomac Primary

I live in Washington, DC where today we're doing our primary voting. I go over to a local union building for the vote in my neighborhood. I'm pretty much set regarding who I'll vote for, but I've curiously found myself having some anti-anointment pangs. I felt this way when Clinton looked like the "presumptive nominee" and I feel this way now that Obama is nearly the presumptive nominee. Obama will win all the primaries today. He is steam-rolling through the primaries and caucuses in general, he has overtaken Hillary in national polls and appears slated to win key upcoming primaries, and I'm pretty sure now that he'll be the Democratic candidate come March 4th. In other words, I think it's over. This is perhaps getting ahead of things, but the signs are undeniable, in my view. So, today's vote - whose outcome is all but certain - feels like an anointment.

My colleague Peter Levine and his outfit, CIRCLE, have been doing the numbers on the so-called youth vote. But, anecdotally-speaking, you should see my students. I haven't seen this before. Obama is a rock star. Actually, more than that. It's near-religious. I know this theme is not new, but it's interesting to see it in the concrete. Look, in the majority of their adult life, they have known only the Bush administration. They know only policy disaster and political dismay. Obama in many ways represents their multicultural, hopeful world. The excitement is clear.

These are policy graduate students. They're not unaware of concrete policy issues and political machinations. In fact, many of them are already close to being experts who will eventually take leadership roles on policy issues. Our school has many connections in government and the policy world, but this isn't Harvard or Yale where the students are already themselves anointed into well-connected positions of leadership whether merited or not. This means that the future is less certain for them. After experiencing years of an administration that has closed off much of the government to smart, motivated, and right-intentioned people, where some - such as at the State Department - explicitly state that they've been biding their time until the next administration, and others have simply turned towards other career paths, Obama represents in his very person - regardless of campaign policy pledges - a promising, open future. Shouldn't any of us be voting for those future generations as well as ourselves?

Although I'm not keen on anointments, less of the future is mine and my generation's than my students'.

Monday, February 11, 2008

These Backassward States

Regarding the aborted count of votes in the Washington state Republican caucus, in which 13% of votes had yet to be counted with McCain leading Huckabee by a mere 1.8% of the vote.
It seems that Washington State GOP chair Luke Esser spent most of the day avoiding calls from the Huckabee campaign. And when he finally got back to them he told a lawyer for Huckabee's campaign that they'd probably count the rest of the votes some time next week. When the lawyer, Lauren Huckabee, the candidate's daughter-in-law, requested that a Huckabee lawyer be present when the remaining votes were counted, Esser hung up on her. Before the hang up, Huckabee also asked Esser about the DIY statistical analysis he did to conclude that he should call the race (Esser's expertise in statistics apparently stems from previous work as a state prosecutor and a sports writer). Was there an analysis of what precincts the remaining votes came from? According to Huck campaign manager Ed Rollins, Esser admitted that he didn't know which precincts the remaining votes came from.
More here.

Alabama Corruption

Scott Horton has been doing a spectacular job investigating the deep-rooted corruption in the US Attorney's office in Alabama. It's a story well-told that runs from Karl Rove to US Attorney Alice Martin to the apparently conspiratorial Birmingham News and more recently to Michael Mukasey. Read.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Korean Melon

Photo: Helmut

Si el migrante no es tu hermano . . .

La Señora de Chiva and I went across the border last night into Nuevo Laredo -- our first trip in more than a year to the city whose economically crippling, violent, and interminable fighting among drug cartels for control of this NAFTA port has resulted in a surprising and menacing new Mexican federal military presence along the physical border itself -- in order to spend a few hours serving dinner to migrants at the local Casa Del Migrante. One of a network of migrant shelters (in Mexico and Guatemala) administered by Scalabrinian Missionaries, this Casa regularly hosts several dozen for dinner. We dished out 85 trays of guisado de pollo last night to men, women, and kids from El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, and Mexico (of those we had the opportunity to speak with for a few moments). Some were first-time migrants; others had been deported and would soon be attempting to rejoin families in Nebraska, California, and Florida.

Talking and writing about migrants has become tricky: what leads people to feel angry about immigrants in America -- for as long as we have had what is presently characterized as a “national debate” (nothing about popular and popularly-accessible discourse about immigration can really be called a “debate,” can it?) -- what seems to anger people, or to scare them, about migrants is difference. Am I wrong about this? People make all kinds of claims that sound logical: immigrants take jobs from Americans, they are a strain on health care and educational systems, they drive like crazy lunatics. The closest people will come to articulating their fear of the less-than-white Other from the South is to claim that their value systems are incompatible with American democracy, that folks capable of making two-thousand-mile continental journeys -- trips totally unimaginable, I think, for most Americans, in their sordidness and difficulty and even in their natural and human landscapes -- sustained by little more than faith in the Virgin cannot possibly be expected to understand the rich heritage of civil democracy in our country, cannot really be expected to “contribute.” Setting aside the degree to which the majority of Americans themselves fail to “contribute” (and ignoring the absurd reality that we congratulate one another for casting votes and behave as though this constitutes contribution), this concern strikes me as most worth discussion. Even (especially?) if it amounts to little more than veiled fear: it could only help all of us to talk a little more plainly about what it means to be a citizen, to take that discussion beyond simplistic claims in which taxes buy things like “education” for people like “our children.” I admit that imagining that our putative debate could ever become a discussion is crazy optimism.

In addition to the billions of dollars of material goods that flow freely back and forth through Laredo, we continue unconscionably to export -- La Señora de Chiva never tires of pointing out -- the dream. It’s still our favorite story, and it has been wonderfully mixed up since the start: is it about hard work? Yes! Is it about leisure? Yes! Is it about wealth? Of course! Is it about living modestly and responsibly? Yes! Is it about working for yourself? Yes! Is it about fencing off the land your great-grandfather worked and insisting that it is rightfully yours? Damned straight! See this gun?

Who, John Smith wanted to know,

would liue at home idly (or thinke in himselfe any worth to liue) onely to eate, drink, and sleepe, and so die? Or by consuming that carelesly, his friends got worthily? Or by vsing that miserably, that maintained vertue honestly? Or, for being descended nobly, pine with the vaine vaunt of great kindred, in penurie? Or (to maintaine a silly shewe of brauery) toyle out thy heart, soule, and time, basely, by shifts, tricks, cards, & dice? [ . . . ] But rich men for the most part are growne to that dotage, through their pride in their wealth, as though there were no accident could end it, or their life.

Seriously. Who wants to live like that, spending his inheritance carelessly, sponging off of hardworking friends? Those “men of small means” who want the satisfaction of providing for themselves should head to New England, Smith tells his readers, because

Who can desire more content, that hath small meanes; or but only his merit to aduance his fortune, then to tread, and plant that ground hee hath purchased by the hazard of his life? If he haue but the taste of virtue, and magnanimitie, what to such a minde can bee more pleasant, then planting and building a foundation for his Posteritie, gotte from the rude earth, by Gods blessing & his owne industrie, without preiudice to any?

On the other hand, Smith tries the abundance angle:

Heer nature and liberty affords vs that freely, which in England we want, or it costeth vs dearely. What pleasure can be more, then (being tired with any occasion a-shore) in planting Vines, Fruits, or Hearbs, in contriuing their owne Grounds, to the pleasure of their owne mindes, their Fields, Gardens, Orchards, Buildings, Ships, and other works, &c. to recreate themselues before their owne doores, in their owne boates vpon the Sea, where man woman and childe, with a small hooke and line, by angling, may take diuerse sorts of excellent fish, at their pleasures ? And is it not pretty sport, to pull vp two pence, six pence, and twelue pence, as fast as you can hale and veare a line?

Fish for leisure, and get rich at it. Smith, of course, was open about the fact that he was looking for passage back to America: he was hoping for some green immigrants to shepherd to the New World. It was a pitch: pick the part of the dream you want: the honor of hard work, fish jumping into your boat, whatever. John Smith, our first coyote. Well, except he failed at that, too.

OK, even for a bloggy rumination, I can see this getting out of hand. We’ll spend more time at the Casa in coming weeks, partly in preparation to travel to Casas in Guatemala – in Guatemala City and Tecun Uman – and Chiapas in March to assist in the production of a documentary being made by a colleague. I’ll plan to post what I’m able both before and after that trip.

Friday, February 08, 2008

What's In the Oceans?

For us, of course. Article here.

More on the Skewed "Torture Debate"

Scott Horton, as always, has another good piece rounding up recent US torture news. [It occurs to me that there's enough daily "torture news" and legal and rhetorical contortions about torture in the US to publish a quotidian newspaper called The Torture News]. He points out again how the "debate" continues to be framed by certain questions that the administration has an interest in maintaining.
Questioning and discussion continues to focus on waterboarding. Alabama’s Jeff Sessions says he just doesn’t understand all this focus on waterboarding since it’s closely controlled and rarely used. The debate focuses on it for a simple reason: if Attorney General Mukasey and his sidekick Steve Bradbury can conclude that waterboarding—which is iconic torture—is lawful, then there is very little that they won’t be able to approve. In effect, the practice of waterboarding is being used to bash through the prohibition against torture altogether. But in another sense, Sessions is right. Other torture practices are far more widespread and therefore arguably still more important. I’d focus on four techniques which are plainly torture and are being used by the CIA today:

• Hypothermia

• Long-time standing

• Sleep deprivation in excess of 2 days

• Psychotropic drugs

In addition to these techniques, there are the almost ubiquitous Kubark techniques, which used a combination of sensory deprivation followed by sensory overload and which can effectively turn their subject into a vegetable. The application of the first four certainly constitute criminal acts under U.S. law. The Kubark process probably does as well. And on these points, a debate has hardly even been engaged.

That's right. The torture issue is a sly one. The administration takes two interrelated tacks: one plays out on specifically legal terrain, the other on conceptual and normative terrain. On one hand, they seek to make as precise as possible the referent of the definition of torture. The more precise or concrete the definition, the more the law might circumscribe a small area of prohibited practices, leaving vast possibilities for other techniques. If "waterboarding" is clearly defined as torture, and is thus illegal (which it is), then try "jello-boarding." The other tack is to allow some success for the administration's opponents on the question. Endless hearings on waterboarding, the slow drip of information about American use of waterboarding, the occasional outlandish claim designed to refocus the public view on a few rhetorical excesses, and a slow, delayed retreat. But then what are we left with? The acknowledgment that the US uses waterboarding? We already knew this.

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

I think it is better not to say that the liberal West is better informed about rationality and justice, and instead to say that, in making demands on non-liberal societies, it is simply being true to itself.

- Richard Rorty

Valencia Pride Mango

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Romney Drops Out. Obama Wins?

An interesting point (via Sullivan).
How does Mitt Romney’s departure affect the Democratic race? Let’s look at next Tuesday. In my home state of Virginia we do not register by party, so on Tuesday Independents and Republicans can vote in either race and many will choose to vote in the Democratic contest, the only active primary. Barack Obama would seem to be the natural beneficiary of this. Independents who want to “turn the page” and Republicans who want to dispense with the Clintons may find common cause with the “Yes we can ” crowd.

Torture Nation

Lamar Smith (R-TX) holds this shopworn and rather sick fantasy,
It's not even a close call, says Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). If you've got a terrorist, and he has information that could save thousands of Americans lives, waterboarding is a no-brainer: "99% of the American people" would support such a technique, he said.

Happiness Sucks

Whatever. Like it matters....

Pakistan Is the New Chile, But a Lot Worse

U.S. military advisers are helping the Pakistanis double the size of their elite commando force in a continuing effort to blunt the rising threat of terror groups and anti-government militants operating in Pakistan's unruly tribal areas, a senior Defense Department official said.

The U.S. military presence in the country is fewer than 100 people, said the official, Mike Vickers, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, and is focused on what he called "targeted training." That includes assisting Pakistan's Special Service Group and teaching specialized fighting techniques, like helicopter assaults...

"We have certain capabilities that we can do in a low-visibility manner that can enhance the operations of Pakistani forces," Vickers said.

Is It a War Crime Yet?

Jack Balkin has an important question for John McCain.
The White House has now admitted that the United States has waterboarded, that President Bush believes the practice is not torture, and that it violates neither the anti-torture statute, the McCain Amendment (which you sponsored) nor the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (which you voted for).

Will you condemn the White House for its latest admission? Will you say to the President what you said to Rudy Giuliani back in October?
"All I can say is that it was used in the Spanish Inquisition, it was used in Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia, and there are reports that it is being used against Buddhist monks today," Mr. McCain, who spent more than five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, said in a telephone interview.

Of presidential candidates like Mr. Giuliani, who say that they are unsure whether waterboarding is torture, Mr. McCain said: "They should know what it is. It is not a complicated procedure. It is torture."
And if that is so, Senator McCain, do you agree that the Administration is subject to criminal liability under the torture statute and the War Crimes statute? Do you agree that the United States, under the leadership of George W. Bush, has committed war crimes and has stated that it sees no obstacle to doing so again?
And from the Toronto Star, "The alarming consequences of two John McCains."

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Sentences Removed, Links Remain

Life intrudes.... Here are a few links worth your while.

* Thomas Pogge, in Dissent, on the spinning of economic growth indicators, and the reality of poverty.
Most of the massive severe poverty persisting in the world today is avoidable through more equitable institutions that would entail minuscule opportunity costs for the affluent. It is for the sake of trivial economic gains that national and global elites are keeping billions of human beings in life-threatening poverty with all its attendant evils such as hunger and communicable diseases, child labor and prostitution, trafficking, and premature death. Considering this situation from a moral standpoint, we must now assess growth—both globally and within most countries—in terms of its effect on the economic position of the poor.

Designing economic institutions and policies by this standard may well entail a sacrifice in aggregate economic growth. But this sacrifice is morally imperative. It is also highly desirable for ecological reasons. To be sure, the consumption expenditure of the poor may be slightly more resource- and pollution-intensive on a per-$ basis. This would detract from the short-term ecological benefits of slowing aggregate growth for the sake of poverty avoidance. The long-term ecological benefit, however, would be massive, as poverty eradication would retard population growth and thus lead to an earlier leveling-off of the human population at a much lower level.
* The world's rubbish dump - on the massive plastic "soup" drifting in the Pacific Ocean.

* The Nature of Walls. A nice little essay on walls in Orion Magazine.
What possibilities await if we consider that we are the “other” as we are “us”?
* A new website, conceived by a friend, that estimates the carbon footprint of a given conference or meeting: HubCalc.

* And... a little comment on my present inabilities, courtesy of VVORK.

Sentence Removed (O’s Remain), 2000 by Jonathan Monk

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Monday, February 04, 2008

Tepid Tuesday

The Obama campaign is pre-spinning tomorrow's primaries one way; Hillary the other. The polls have been wild over the past couple of days (different late polls show California, for example, ranging from a four-point lead for Obama to an eight-point lead for Clinton) and seem to say one basic thing: it's all going to be very close and nothing is going to be finished come Wednesday morning. That said, state polls generally show Hillary winning handily where she is ahead, and Obama winning by a hair in states in which he's ahead. This suggests that, given the narrowing gap in the national polls, an overall win for Obama, albeit unlikely, would say something quite devastating.

In the meantime, let's see what the Republicans are up to:
Bob Dole tells Rush that McCain is as conservative as Jesse Helms.

Torture Architecture

Flaco sent this Guardian piece by email.
An architectural school was at the centre of a row last night after it emerged that students were required to design a fully operational torture device.

The project, part of a masters course aimed at first-year students of the University of Kent's School of Architecture, was described as "sick". One student has lodged a complaint on the grounds that he was uncomfortable about carrying out the brief. Illustrated by a skull and a view of a Gestapo electric torture chamber, the brief handed to a class of students at the school was to "design, construct and draw a fully operational prototype torture device based on ergonomic principles".

The pedagogical value is obviously suspect, perhaps especially as the article ends with this: "The two-week project was designed by course tutor Mike Richards, in advance of a project to design a new headquarters for Amnesty International." But it's perfectly consistent with a Bush-Cheney program of institutionalized torture. They would need lawyers, data analysts, and janitors too.

Minister of Ideas

Jim at Politics, Theory and Photography posts this news item about Roberto Unger, the Brazilian philosopher.
...I want to call your attention to this profile of Roberto Mangabeira Unger from The New York Times yesterday. As I have noted here repeatedly [1] [2] [3] [4] [5], I think Unger is quite interesting insofar as he is trying to export a quite radical version of American pragmatism to Brazil. I do not agree with Unger in all the details, but his views on institutional experimentation, radicalizing democracy and disentangling systemic political-economic reform from crisis all are crucially important.

Can you imagine a U.S. Presidential candidate who promised to appoint a 'minister of ideas' or a council of intellectual advisors who were not narrow-minded economists? Lula has appointed Unger in Brazil. And, in a similarly remarkable move, in France the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy has solicited the views of Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz [1] on what might be included in a plausible metric for economic growth only to be ridiculed by the anti-intellecctuals at The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times. It is astounding how fearsome ideas and inquiry can be. In a country where we are hostage to neo-conservative and neo-liberal ideologues, this is a fear I wish we could overcome.
If you're a regular reader of Phron, you know I agree. Tell me, who among the US presidential candidates could you see creating a cabinet position (or any space) for Philosophical Ideas?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Sausage Tree Fruit

Mp3 Find of the Day

Some early Willie Nelson, courtesy of Jamie's Runout Groove.

The Republican "Islamofascism" Campaign

Juan Cole in Salon:
Giuliani complained that during their debates, Democratic rivals "never mentioned the word 'Islamic terrorist,' 'Islamic extremist,' 'Islamic fascist,' 'terrorist,' whatever combination of those words you want to use, [the] words never came up." He added, "I can't imagine who you insult if you say 'Islamic terrorist.' You don't insult anyone who is Islamic who isn't a terrorist."

But people are not "Islamic," they are Muslim. And one most certainly does insult Muslims by tying their religion to movements such as terrorism or fascism. Muslims perceive a double standard in this regard: Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols would never be called "Christian terrorists" even though they were in close contact with the Christian Identity Movement. No one would speak of Christofascism or Judeofascism as the Republican candidates speak of Islamofascism. Muslims point out that persons of Christian heritage invented fascism, not Muslims, and deny that Muslim movements have any link to the mass politics of the 1930s in Europe...

Current GOP front-runner John McCain has been prone to hyperbole and has let some bigoted statements escape his lips as well. He has said that the threat from Islamic extremism is greater than the one presented by the Soviet Union. Recently, McCain proclaimed, "I'm not interested in trading with al-Qaida. All they want to trade is burqas... " The senator seemed to be relating the Muslim custom of veiling to terrorism. The Detroit Free Press, whose city has one of the largest Muslim populations, reported on Jan. 12 that McCain's remarks were hurtful to American Muslims. "Local Muslims say that criticizing al-Qaida is legitimate, but wonder why he would make a snide remark about a dress? The remark was especially bothersome, some said, considering that McCain's adopted daughter, Bridget McCain, is from one of the biggest Muslim countries, Bangladesh." One would think that raising a daughter from the Muslim world in the United States today would be difficult enough, even without the adoptive father's denigrating the customs of the women from that culture.

On another occasion, asked whether a Muslim candidate for president would be acceptable, McCain replied, "I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles ... personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith. But that doesn't mean that I'm sure that someone who is Muslim would not make a good president. I don't say that we would rule out under any circumstances someone of a different faith. I just would -- I just feel that that's an important part of our qualifications to lead."

But according to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." Secularists and Jews joined American Muslims in condemning McCain's assertion that the United States was founded on Christian principles, and that Christian faith could be a key determinate for taking the Oval Office.

Exxon and the Free Market

The new site, The Washington Independent, reports briefly on Exxon's record 2007 profits.
It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s filled the station wagon recently, but ExxonMobil announced today that its 2007 net earnings totaled $40.6 billion—the single largest annual profit, not only in the company’s history, but in the country’s. (That $40.6 billion is not income, mind you, but profits after all expenses and taxes have been paid out.)...

These profits are made possible, of course, with the help of federal subsidies, which total anywhere between $15 billion and $35 billion a year, according to independent estimates. (In 2005, President Bush—himself a former oilman—signed into law an energy bill which, by itself, granted more than $14 billion in tax breaks and incentives to the industry.)

Total subsidies are difficult to pin down because they take so many different forms. For example, Washington props up the industry by issuing tax-free or low interest construction bonds, assuming the legal risk for development projects, or lending money to international institutions like the World Bank, which in turn subsidize international oil production.
What a deal! And if you're wondering about how the worrisome "dependence on foreign oil" is going, note that the DOE has the US increasing imports by about 7.5% throughout the Bush years.

And for the peak oil freaks out there, check out DC Velocity's "End of Cheap Oil." [GM apparently gets the peak oil idea].

McCain and the Abramoff Affair

Sure, John McCain investigated and called to task a number of figures involved in the Abramoff Indian gaming scandal that stole $80 million from the tribes. Not Ralph Reed, however. Quaintly, CNN hired Reed as political commentator. That might end up being quite fortunate for McCain. (via BookForum).

Functionaries, consultants, lawyers and lobbyists testified before McCain's committee. Yet Reed—like Grover Norquist whose Americans for Tax Reform served as a conduit for more than $1 million in Indian gaming money for Abramoff—was never called to testify.

McCain's reluctance to get all the way to the bottom of the scandal is understandable. The millions Abramoff and his associates were donating to the Republican Party was building the permanent majority that Texas Congressman Tom DeLay promised would be paid for by lobbyists.

While John McCain is running for president on his success in pursuing Jack Abramoff, some reporter will inevitably ask him why he failed to pursue big funders who were considered too powerful to challenge.

Don't expect to hear Ralph Reed raise that question as a news analyst for "the most trusted name in news."

Details here.

Stealing Elections Handbook

A nifty little guide from Foreign Policy on how to steal elections, if you're in that game. And remember,
‘Only amateurs steal an election on election day'

Friday, February 01, 2008

Kiwi Berries

Undividing?

Jonathan Raban (via Sullivan):
...there is one major social divide, almost as important in its way as race itself, that Obama has already proved he can bridge, though the significance of his success has gone largely unnoticed. To see it clearly, you have to look closely at the results of the Nevada caucuses, which Obama narrowly lost to Clinton because he failed to carry Clark County, site of Nevada's only big metropolitan city, Las Vegas, with its enormous population of Hispanic voters. But in more rural counties he beat Clinton decisively - 63% to her 37% in Elko, 51% to 34% in Humboldt, 50% to 40% in Washoe (the missing percentages belong to John Edwards). I've been to those counties, their miles of lonely roads where you can drive for half an hour before encountering another vehicle, their scattered ranches and isolated towns, their seasonal creeks marked by lines of spindly cottonwood trees, the overwhelmingly Caucasian cast of their people. Out there in the mountains, sagebrush and high desert, Obama carried the day by far greater margins than his overall loss of the popular vote to Clinton across the state, and came out of the caucuses with one more delegate than she did.

Remember that in 2004 every American city with a population over 500,000 voted Democrat, and the Republicans won by taking the countryside and the outer suburbs. The blue state/red state division is better expressed in terms of the persistent conflicts between the big cities and their rural hinterlands, over land use, water rights and environmental, class and cultural issues. Red states are simply those where the country can outvote the urban centres, while in blue states the opposite is true. The perception that America has liberal coasts and a conservative interior merely reflects the fact that the coastal states are home to the largest metropolitan areas with the most electoral muscle. Last time around, for instance, Bush easily won the heartland state of Missouri, but was as crushingly defeated by Kerry in St Louis as he was in the cities of New York, Boston, San Francisco and Seattle.

So Obama's victory over Clinton in rural Nevada says something important about his ability as the apostle of national reconciliation. To win against Clinton in Elko County (black population: 0.8%), he had to convert not only white Democrats, but a large number of independents and people who had voted Republican until caucus day; a feat he pulled off with dazzling facility. Any Democrat nominee who can do that, deep in Republican country, is likely to gain the presidency; and Obama has proved that he can. Clinton, laden with the moral, cultural and political baggage of the 1990s, is likely to fare as badly in Elko County as Kerry did in 2004, when he collected just 20% of the vote.

The entire article is great.