Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Wounded Hitchens

An interesting article in the November Vanity Fair from Christopher Hitchens, and it's his version of the MOU’s "Look What They've Done to My Pretty Little War". But at least Hitchens attempts to grapple with the human consequences of policies he helped promote. Hitchens promoted the war with as much gusto as anyone and with considerably more style and he's never before come close to retrenching his position.

Apparently, Mark Daily, a 23-year-old UCLA honors graduate, was inspired, in part at least, by Hitchens' writings, to enlist to serve in Iraq and was killed there last year. A friend had sent Hitchens an article from the LA Times wherein Mark Daily's family said that Hitchens’ writings about the moral case for the war deeply influenced their son to enlist. For some reason, Hitchens is stunned to learn of this, as if he heretofore was completely unaware of the consequences of war on the families of those serving in the military.

Just as Philip Roth apparently believes it is harder on Roth to write about the Holocaust, than for others to have lived through the Holocaust, the costs of the war in Iraq only have real meaning when they reach such as Hitchens. Hitchens fancies himself a brilliant man but it is almost as if it never occurred to him that war meant killing and dying and families grieving.
Mark Daily was doubtless a wonderful person and his death a tragic senseless loss. It's entirely proper for reporters like Teresa Watanabe of the Los Angeles Times to report and to mark the passing of people like Mark Daily. But Hitchens hitches Daily's nobility to his own campaign for the war and there's something unseemly about it, apart from the spectacle of an arrogant blowhard like Hitchens making with the weepy stuff all of a sudden. It's awfully damn big of Hitchens to own up to his responsibility.

Hitchens goes on at length about the impressiveness of Daily's resume and the purity of his motives in Iraq. Again, Mark Daily may have been the genuine article, but you get the feeling that Hitchens is straining to invest the squalid debacle of Iraq with the personal qualities that Daily possessed. Hitchens sees in Daily the chance for him to quote William Butler Yeats and from Macbeth and from George Orwell. No wonder Hitchens loves the fallen young soldier. But I can't help feeling that Hitchens doesn't give a hoot in hell for the vast majority of riff-raff serving in Iraq who don't approach Daily’s credentials.

After reading the article, Hitchens got in touch with Daily's family and actually met with them and attended a memorial service where they spread their son's ashes on a favored vacation spot.
Hitchens takes pains to note that the Daily's are not your typical Orange County Republicans. Perhaps the Daily's, knowing of their son's feelings about Hitchens, wanted in some way honor his memory, so they shared their grief with the author their son admired. You can certainly understand the need for parents in this situation to make some sense, to find some purpose behind the death of the son. But Hitchens is up to more than simply honoring the memory of their son. He portrays the Daily's as being entirely without resentment, even to the point where they are concerned and worried that poor Hitchens might feel some guilt or responsibility. The Daily's absolved Hitchens from this and made him feel a little better. This is what Hitchens wants for the rest of us -- -- to feel a little bit better about all of the killing and the casualties.

Hitchens quotes from some of Mark Daily's writings to his family and friends. In one, Mark Daily writes about a conversation he had with a Kurdish man about whether insurgents could be viewed as freedom fighters wherein the Kurd states "the difference between insurgents and American soldiers is that they get paid to take life -- -- to murder, and you get paid to save lives." Of course, that's self-serving nonsense, (tell that to all the Iraqis permanently underground), but it's hardly surprising that Mark Daily would write such things to his family to try and reassure them not only of his well-being, but of the whole point of his being in harm's way in the first place. And now here's the big creep, Hitchens, quoting from private writings, bracketing them with fancy poetry, analogizing Iraq to the Spanish Civil War and himself to George Orwell. Certainly Hitchens is again stating his case for the war, but ultimately there is a difference in this article.

The Spanish Civil War analogy encompasses not merely the romanticism, but the brutal and ugly truths of it. Just as Orwell came to see that war as one “where betrayal and squalor negated the courage and sacrifice of those who fought on principle”, Hitchens has "grown coarsened and then sickened by the degeneration of the struggle: by the sordid news of corruption and brutality (Mark Daily told his father how dismayed he was by the failure of leadership at Abu Grahib) and by the paltry politicians in Washington and Baghdad who squabble for precedents while lifeblood is spent and spilled by young people whose boots they are not fit to clean."

What Hitchens will never admit is that the struggle was degenerated from the start and that people like Mark Daily should never have been sent there in the first place. That is a better way to honor the nobility of spirit that Mark daily show, far better than the weepy drunken poetry of Hitchens now that Mark Daily is dead. To not lie people like Mark Daily into war.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

It's Alright, Ma (It's Only Organ Failure) (Torture Memos)

“Secret U.S. Endorsement of Severe Interrogations”

The most basic premise is that it is a crime to torture, and reliance on the illegal memo, reduced to a field order or operating policy, would not be a defense, if it is beyond the bounds of good faith acceptance.

Even if interrogators reasonably believed in the legality of the memo (as reduced to an operating order to severely interrogate), the senior administrators issuing the writings would be criminally culpable.

A torturer's assertion of an affirmative defense of a mistaken, but good faith belief in the legality of an opinion or order, or an assertion of reasonable reliance on an illegal opinion, is entitled to no presumption of correctness or genuineness.

A fundamental distinction is drawn, in such instances, as a necessary matter of legal logic, in order to prevent a professed, inherently subjective reliance on a belief, as to legality, from obscuring the core proposition that base illegality is recognizable, even in the face of governmental authorities advising or instructing to the contrary.

There is well developed law on this. Even a combat soldier can not legally obey an illegal order to kill or torture.

There is the concept of the order from a superior which you are bound to recognize as being patently illegal and not perform, even under threat of punishment.

You may be entitled to a trial to determine mental culpability, and hear mitigating circumstances relevant to punishment rather than to guilt.

However, the blanket defense that "orders are orders" has long been rejected, at Nuremberg by way of one example, at least with respect to matters of irreducible illegality, such as killing or torturing unarmed humans in your custody or control who have not been first convicted of crime through regular legal process.

It also follows from these concepts that the factual information as to whether “severe” interrogations (torture) actually occurred must be discloseable.

There can be no legal privilege against disclosure of fundamentally unlawful conduct, or otherwise, the premise would be once again lost.

Contesting what constitutes "torture" along the continuum of physical abuse, is not a legal defense to the charge of engaging in torture.

It would instead be a factual defense, determinable by the trier of fact, on case by case basis.

Infliction of physical or mental abuse, having a reasonable probability of doing material, permanent damage to the subject, that is, posing an appreciable risk of rendering serious permanent psychological or bodily harm, would presumptively constitute torture.

The burden would then shift to the defense to introduce evidence that an interrogation procedure involved something short of this.

The memo probably reads much like the wire tapping memoranda, with its extra-legal assumption as to the existence of a reserve of executive discretion to determine measures (and their proportionality) used to respond to perceived threats to national security.

That position is not substantively a legal position, however.

It is instead a Hobsonian philosophical proposition, at best. (It is lacking in the grounding in disciplined reasoning that characterizes what credited scholars would recognize as a genuine political philosophy).

The concept of law must, by definition, reject the notion that there exits, outside of legal analysis, sanction in the law, for immeasurable uses of force or power, for some general value transcending law, left ultimately to the unreviewable determination of individuals.

To say that perceived war exigencies trump law, is not to use legal analysis or to make a statement of a legal disposition.

It is instead a statement that in the conflict between law, and an actor's assertion of a self-imperative of illegality, the dispute was "settled" by the practical reality that the actor had an insurmountable, working , political control (political , in the sense of the mechanisms of governmental power) of the means of law enforcement. This ultimately means control of the police power.

From that point the analysis is only historical or sociological -- the conflict is joined oat the point that police power, naked of legality, loses basic social, normative legitimacy that is needed to function without recourse to repression of majority sentiment.

Finally, needless to say, before that tipping point is reached, majority toleration, or even approbation for, illegality, does not, by itself, constitute a source of a new legality.

The idea, of passive popular acceptance of official acts being a source of legality, has also been well canvassed in the law of war.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Politics in the Post-Media (Post-Press) World

Very interesting article by Ezra Klein in this month’s TAP on the whereabouts and activities of one Al Gore. Gore has been eerily right on so much since he was so wrong in running his campaign for the White House, hitting hard on the failings and dangers of the Bush Administration. But what is of additional interest is the ways in which he went about getting his message out:

On August 7, 2003, Gore headed to New York University to offer one of his first major speeches since his concession address; it was a notably prescient condemnation of the Bush administration’s later bellicosity and overreach. But more visionary than the content was the distribution method: the speech was Gore’s first -- but not his last -- offered under the auspices of the online-activism powerhouse, an alliance that granted Gore a direct conduit to millions of engaged liberal activists nationwide.
“I know the word fell out of favor after the dot-com collapse,” mused Wes Boyd, founder of, “but he’s doing disintermediation. He contacted us in the summer of 2003, said he wanted to give a speech, and was wondering if we’d like to sponsor it. What we lend to it is some of that disintermediation.”
Disintermediation is a big word for a type of subtraction, the sort that excludes the middleman (the “mediator”). As a dot-com term, it described producers selling directly to customers rather than working through established retail channels. In Gore’s case, it describes a public figure distributing his words directly to the public rather than working through established media outlets.
The reason Gore sought this out, as former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, Gore’s friend since 1961, told me, is that “Gore wants to make change, not be part of the distortive, stifling process of the mainstream media.” Speaking into the cameras, the former VP had learned, was like talking into one of those gag gift bullhorns -- what came out had little relation to what went in.
“Gore’s own view,” says Hundt, “is that he sighed noisily in the debate and used the wrong telephone line to ask for money and the media said these are momentous events. Meanwhile, they ignore global warming and the failure to catch Osama and the destruction of the safety net.”
So Gore sought a way to bypass the filter. Every time he gives a speech under MoveOn’s auspices, a guaranteed 3 million MoveOn members get the address blasted directly in their inboxes, where it can be read in full. From there, the speech gets e-mailed around, promoted on the blogs, passed from friend to neighbor -- what tech types call “viral marketing.” At no point in this process does a news editor or television producer decide which sound bites will be emphasized for ratings. MoveOn allows him to speak on his own terms and individuals to distribute his speeches on theirs. It’s Gore Unplugged, and everyone’s got a ticket.

Gore came to this approach the hard way, having badly used and been badly abused by the traditional political discourse and dissemination through mainstream media and press outlets (“MSM”). Gore’s methods present some fascinating scenarios for dealing with a malfunctioning MSM, but I can see significant limitations and problems with the approach.

1) Already there are signs that it is an effective means (in terms of economics and distribution) of communicating with Gore’s base, and with his target audience of already committed political activists who might be convinced by his ideas. But it is not enough to have large numbers of people agree with you or to convince large numbers of people to agree with you through the unfettered force of your ideas. This support must be translated into street-level activity (there is ample evidence that Gore’s methods can also work well as a fundraising plan). Readers have to be moved to the polls, to volunteer and to organize to operate within the mechanics of elective politics. However, there is nothing in this method that prevents a simultaneous organization and marshalling of resources and funds, provided it is directed by experienced, talented and committed political operatives. There is nothing inherent in communication within the MSM media, that would suggest those results would more readily be accessible. But given the primacy of the MSM, as of this point, the political operatives, right down to the precinct level have been brought up and fed on a diet of MSM and it will be a hard habit to break.

The rise of the Republican Right was, in part, a product of a low-tech version of the Gore approach. One of the true accomplishments of the Right was its creation of a support and information network, in the form of alliances with religious organizations, Conservative think-tanks, and direct- mail political newsletters. By the time the talk-radio, and then the politically dedicated cable news networks came online in force, the groundwork and ground soldiers were already working in place, and there was a synergistic acceleration of influence. Gore means to use the web to automate these devices, and its my sense that such an approach is more suited to Democratic and Liberal potential constituents, as the internet is the way in which these groups prefer to get their information.

2. Today’s political milieu is nothing if not increasingly polarized, and the Republican Right have been the loss leaders in producing this sorry state of affairs. The polarization among the politically active is, if anything, more severe than is widely recognized, hidden by the presence of the majority of Americans within the natural center of the political spectrum, This natural centrism is hardly surprising, given the relative peace and prosperity of American postwar society. Even so, the center has been continually losing people to the margins, as single-issue controversies, such as the Viet Nam War, Watergate, abortion and 9/11 have produced fractures at the extremities of the center. The center will not hold indefinitely, when the operatives on either margin increasingly control the process and thereby the agenda.

To the extent that Gore (or some Democrat following Gore’s – and Dean’s – approach) succeeds in making headway in the nominating stage of the coming elections, there will be a tendency to discount the views of the center, despite all the blathering on and on about swing voters. The Bush Administration is like one long demonstration of the dangers of this approach -- of catering to those who are most easily accessible to and susceptible to your message. The danger is not merely one of losing contact with or support within centrist swing voters, but more significantly – losing contact with the aggregated wisdom of so many Americans.

With the rise of talk radio and politically committed cable news, and with specialty religious-oriented “news” services, such as those run by Pat Robertson, the Rove/Bush Administration had an embarrassment of media riches, only too willing to be malleable. Many of these new media outlets, when faced with troubling realities, increasingly drifted toward ‘making stuff up’ to fit their dogma. The accountability shoe never dropped. The kitten-weak attempts by the MSM to impose traditional standards were subsumed and eventually drowned within the daily cacophony of 24/7 confrontational news. The lesson was not lost on Rove/Bush, and has been largely institutionalized in their image management (see, for example, Swift Boat Veterans). Having seen the almost magic bullet quality of a distorted new media, Rove/Bush adopted these same techniques as a kind of working White House operating procedure. Where once these methods were resorted to only in times of unexpected crisis, they were soon incorporated directly into the policy-making and policy-selling process, with incredibly disastrous real world (as opposed to MSM world) results. However effective this approach has been for Rove/Bush, in terms of gaining and consolidating power, I have no wish to see a Democratic/Liberal version play out, as the Republic might not stand further success along these lines.

3. The other glaring limitation of the Gore approach is one that Howard Dean is painfully familiar with. To the extent that you are successful, you have to eventually come to terms with the MSM. I do not see within Gore’s methods, a dependable vehicle for breaking the message out into the general public, to the center, other than at last submitting to the traditional paddling gauntlet that is the MSM. From Gore’s perspective, there is less to lose than might be expected. The MSM is already pre-disposed to undermine Gore, just as it was throughout his campaign, and throughout Dean’s abortive run, and Kerry’s run, and more recently, the initial forays onto the national stage by Mark Warner. The MSM’s hostility will be even more pronounced, if they have been effectively cut out of the nominating process. But to what net effect? A more overtly hostile MSM might be less damaging in the near term, as part of the deadly impact of a biased MSM on Democrats recently has been that the attacks have been below the surface and under the guise of an ‘independent’ and ‘balanced’ MSM. Why not have at it, out in the open? Draw them out from under their cover, where their prejudices and compromised interests will be transparent, no matter the news ad campaign sloganeering. Gore’s approach is premised on an intelligent and ultimately independent electorate, if only he can be heard clearly enough.

I don’t expect the MSM to sit idly by and remain in a purely reactive posture. There have been a series of MSM articles and reports that reflect the first instinct of the MSM is to strike back at the upstart alternatives and at candidates that associate with them (the rapid take-down of Dean). You can see the MSM push-back in the deafening non-coverage of most of Gore’s major addresses during this period. Say what you want about Gore, but he is a former Vice President of the United States, and a well-informed one at that. Yet his blistering critiques on the Rove/Bush Administration’s environmental, civil liberties, and foreign policy debacles were all but ignored by the MSM (they preferred to run soft-focus pieces on how there were no strong voices within the Democratic Party).

But MSM is also busily and manically trying to co-opt the new process, with tepid results so far. Fox News is not suited to adaptation (although Murdoch is famously a political and commercial realist when it suits him), so it is not surprising to see their institutional hostility to new and independent outlets. Fox News is surprisingly calcified for a relatively young institution, so the strain from seismic shifting is starting to show within the rigors of the Fox Mindset. Nicholas Lemann has a hilarious but astute profile of Papa Bear O’Reilly in this week’s New Yorker (his description of O’Reilly’s forgotten novel “Those Who Trespass” makes me want to rush out to B&N tomorrow). Lemann makes this observation of the evolution of the O’Reilly Factor:

. . . . you’ll be surprised by how little of the content these days is political. “The O’Reilly Factor” is, increasingly, not a conservative show but a cop show—“O’Reilly: Special Victims Unit,” perhaps—devoted particularly to sex offenders; the host, in effect, is Shannon Michaels playing Tommy O’Malley. Once, when Howard Stern was asked to explain his success, he said that he owed it to lesbians. O’Reilly owes his to child molesters.

I won’t pretend to be a faithful Fox News watcher (shudder), but if ever you go out to lunch in a restaurant, diner or delicatessen, almost certainly you will be subjected to daytime spectacle of Fox News on the establishments’ large-screen televisions. At first, I expected to be confronted by hard news, Fox style (for hardheads), but what I have most often seen is America’s Greatest Police Chases and afternoon talk-show host, audience participation format shows about some lurid, not even marginal outrage (it’s like angry, amped-up Sally Jessie Raphaels have taken over). Fox personnel still affect the high-intensity, high-volume barking delivery, but what I am hearing (after the ringing in my ears quiets down) is the sound of politics passing them by. The more traditionally Aussie Tabloid format and subject matter is what sells these days.

So it is within the realm of possibility that the Gore approach could result in a change in the hard-wired-against dynamics of MSM coverage, at least over the long haul. In the pre-war era, the print media dominated political coverage. FDR rose to power and transformed America’s fortunes in the face of overwhelming editorial opposition. Radio was his secret weapon.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Mission Creaps (DHS Style)

The 9/11 Commission, co-chaired and controlled by a loyal old-line Republican, graded the Department of Homeland Security, Bush’s exemplar of post-9/11 governance, on its ability to perform its first and primary mission – responding to and preventing terrorist threats.

Provide adequate radio spectrum for first responders – Grade: F
Establish a unified Incident Command System -- Grade: C
Allocate homeland security funds based on risk -- Grade: F
Critical infrastructure risks and vulnerabilities assessment – Grade: D
Private sector preparedness -- Grade: C
National Strategy for Transportation Security -- Grade: C-
Improve airline passenger pre-screening -- Grade: F
Improve airline screening checkpoints to detect explosives -- Grade: C
Checked bag and cargo screening -- Grade: D
Better terrorist travel strategy (Border Security) -- Incomplete
Comprehensive screening system -- Grade: C
Biometric entry-exit screening system -- Grade: B
International collaboration on borders and document security -- Grade: D
Standardize secure identifications -- Grade: B-

The 9/11 Commission rightly focused on DHS’s stunning failure to meet the challenges directly relating to terrorism. They did not dwell in detail on the wisdom of broadening the brief of such an inept, ill-conceived and non-performing Department, to take on the additional burdens of overseeing and directing the response to natural disasters, like Katrina. The DHS Katrina performance was the subject of a Select “Bipartisan” Congressional Committee (Bipartisan in the sense that it was stocked entirely by Republican supporters of President Bush). The lead paragraph from the section of the Committee’s report dedicated to the performance of DHS needs no further explanation: “Critical elements of the national response plan were executed late, ineffectively, or not at all.” Here is another excerpt from the Republican Congressional report:

Not only did senior DHS officials fail to acknowledge the scale of the impending disaster, they were ill prepared due to their lack of experience and knowledge of the required roles and responsibilities prescribed by the NRP (National Response Plan).

I know of no parallel to the universal condemnation of the performance of the DHS, a potentially critical, cabinet-level department of the federal government. Bush, having butchered the preparation and response to the storm and floods, and having slept-walked and strummed through the political firestorm that followed in Katrina’s wake, begrudgingly mouthed qualified words of disappointment about his government’s shameful and abject failure. He promised to do better, and to “fix” the flaws in the DHS.

The fix is now in, in the form of a stealth Presidential Executive Order entitled, “ Responsibilities of the Department of Homeland Security with Respect to Faith-Based and Community Initiativesonce again broadening the mission of an already overwhelmed and destructively non-functioning department, this time reaching clearly into WTF territory. With respect to faith-based and community initiatives? Go ahead, link away to the order and search in vain for the words “terrorism”, “hurricane”. This is one expensive shoe dropping, and while we will get the bill, the President’s Pals will get the cash.

Here is a taste from the Executive Order:

Sec. 2. Purpose of Center. The purpose of the Center shall be to coordinate agency efforts to eliminate regulatory, contracting, and other programmatic obstacles to the participation of faith-based and other community organizations in the provision of social and community services."

Sec. 3. Responsibilities of the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In carrying out the purpose set forth in section 2 of this order, the Center shall:
(a) conduct, in coordination with the WHOFBCI Director, a department-wide audit to identify all existing barriers to the participation of faith-based and other community organizations in the delivery of social and community services by the Department, including but not limited to regulations, rules, orders, procure-ment, and other internal policies and practices, and outreach activities that unlawfully discriminate against, or otherwise discourage or disadvantage the participation of faith-based and other community organizations in Federal programs;
(b) coordinate a comprehensive departmental effort to incorporate faith-based and other community organizations in Department programs and initiatives to the greatest extent possible;

There is no acknowledgement in the Order that the DHS failed to execute on its reason for being. But something else is missing. I was struck be the absence of qualifying terms in the Order, so as to make clear that only those "obstacles" (read - regulations, rules, laws, US Constitution) which are unfair or illegal should be targeted for elimination. Reading this Order, I might be tempted to think our President wanted all obstacles purged, whether those obstacles served a legitimate purpose or not. But that would be silly of me.

Ever with their eyes on the ball, the Administration has impressively identified and quickly corrected the most pressing failing of the DHS, the gravest lost chance of them all. The bloated parish floaters and the water-logged wreckage that once was one of the Great American Cities was a golden opportunity to cash in on American’s empty-headed empathy and their childish impulse to lend aid to those in most desperate straights.

Brownie’s ham-handed attempt to divert relief funds to Bush-supporting, quasi-religious “charities” was the source of additional consternation directed toward the Administration, and this Brownie Bumble was the one thing he did that finally shook the President’s incredible faith in his man on the ground. FUBAR’ing away the lives and City was strict Administration S.O.P., but leaving money on the table that could otherwise have gone to Rightwing coffers was the cardinal sin. Bush’s famous loyalty has its price, and Brownie was dumped overboard.

The Bush Administration’s bottomless well of overflowing offenses unfortunately obscures gems like this, as fresh atrocities spring forth from the White House on a weekly basis. FEMA, DHS and the entire Bush Administration was in full, all-hands-on- deck, do-nothing-to- help-the- drowning mode. Americans across the land were shocked into near panic by the spectacle of a significant portion of the country going under, while the government played guitars, ate birthday cake and primped and preened for the television cameras. There was an immense and immediate outpouring of help from ordinary Americans, of the most meaningful kind. They were ready, willing and able to lend support, lend even the sweat of their brows, to what they somehow dreamed up as a rational response to unfolding and cascading disaster -- a genuine rescue and relief effort.

The awful prospect of American’s taking the well-being of their fellow citizens into their own hands at last spurred Brownie to action, and he fired off a Press Release ordering volunteers to stay the hell out of it, “Volunteers Should Not Self-Dispatch”. But do send “cash”, and to this list of charities. The original list of approved charities read like it might have come directly from one of Karl Rove’s direct-mailing Political Action Committee databases. Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed would soon be even more flush, and they could jet down with some de minimis remainder of the donations and have themselves a fine old photo op. The critical flaw uncovered by Katrina was that there remained within the gutted shell of FEMA and the newly minted and hollow propaganda arm that was DHS, some pesky contracting regulations, something about qualifications and the need for at least some of the monies donated for specific relief efforts to actually go to those relief efforts. These barriers and obstacles will soon fold up like crumbling levies, and the cash will find its natural and rightful level within the coffers of the Republican Religious Wing. I feel safer already. Bring on the hurricane season!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

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Thomas L. Friedman as Mr. Pither

Last week, the Moustache of Understanding counseled us to put aside our childish and “borderline racist” security concerns about the Dubai Ports Deal: “As a country, we must not go down this road of global ethnic profiling — looking for Arabs under our beds the way we once looked for commies. If we do — if America, the world's beacon of pluralism and tolerance, goes down that road — we will take the rest of the world with us. We will sow the wind and we will reap the whirlwind.” Spoken like the true Oracle of American Facial Hair.

But even the Moustache grows weary sometimes, of being so wise, so Wednesday’s column comes not direct from the Moustache, but from the Moustache’s tummy: “My gut told me this was the case, but it's great to see it confirmed by the latest New York Times/CBS News poll: Americans not only know that our oil addiction is really bad for us, but they would be willing to accept a gasoline tax if some leader would just frame the stakes for the country the right way.” The Gut must not be on speaking terms with the Moustache, because the Moustache’s sublime and surpassing generosity toward the Arab world is not shared by the Moustache’s Gut, as in the Gut’s view, just topping your tank off at your local Exxon station is now tantamount to treason, because when our engines combust and burn gas, which we must replenish, we are, in fact, financing “Al Qaeda, Iran and various hostile Islamist charities with our energy purchases.” Whoa, whiplash city! I think it best that we await reports from other parts of the MOU’s anatomy before we draw any definite conclusions. Personally, I am reserving judgment until I hear from the MOU’s Toenails.

Thomas L. Friedman has disappeared up his own tailpipe on the Dubai Ports Deal, and his self-nullification is a welcome contribution to the debate. But Friedman has other fish to fry in his Wednesday Column entitled “Who’s Afraid of a Gas Tax?”. He once again is beating the drum for a punitive, regressive gas tax, one that will artificially and permanently inflate the price of gas above $3.50 a gallon, preferably even higher. How can he ask such a dumb-ass question? Let me help out on this. The poor, the middle and working class and just about every other American class you can take attendance on would be rightfully afraid of Friedman’s destructive proposal if it weren’t so fantastically absurd. Sticker shock doesn’t begin to describe the impact of the post-Katrina spike, when suddenly your bi-weekly trip to the gas station cost as much as courtside seats at Madison Square Garden.

Much of America already lives in the gathering shadows of debt, and solvency for many would be numbered in weeks if they had to continually peel off C-notes just to get around. Friedman would have half the country hobbling around on foot, and the economy would soon follow to that crawling pace. As the country crashed around him into economic ruins, Friedman would begin a series of columns decrying the fact that his magical solution was not executed in accordance with his Masterful Plans. Just because my theories have resulted in Great Depression scale misery, doesn’t mean we should give up on the whole program! Think of the savings on otherwise necessary expenditures to prop up our crumbling infrastructure! Forget all that bridges and tunnels upkeep.

I-95 could be converted to the world’s longest skate park! Or better yet, as it became bucolic and overrun with various weeds, grasses and native trees, it could become an enchanted bike path, stretching from the top of Maine to Key West! George W.T.F. Bush would truly be our firstest and bestest Bicycle President. When he’s not crashing, his mountain-biking has kept him in fighting trim, and it could do the same for the rest of us. Suddenly, we are all Mr. Pither on “The Cycling Tour”. No Thomas L., Americans are not clamoring to have their gas bills doubled or trebled, no matter what the CBS/Times poll has told your Gut.

The Friedman Laughing Stock is a bubble that shows no sign of bursting, so his inane and insulting ideas are no real threat to damage the vital, and growing more so, interest in the development in an alternative, cleaner, sustainable energy source. We need an new Manhattan Project devoted to this, and it seems fairish that before we saddle the economically challenged with the lion’s share of the costs, we first consider the gargantuan windfall profits the energy sector begrudgingly has had to accept in the Bush years.

Freidman has self-applied the term Flat-Earther, but even so, what can you do with someone who says, “Green is the new red, white and blue, pal. What color are you?" and thinks it’s a cant-miss winning campaign platform. Oh yeah, pal, just ask President Nader about what a hard-luck color Green is in American politics.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

UPDATE: Mr. Sulzberger, Tear Down This Wall! (Let Krugman Speak)

FURTHER UPDATE: Steve Gilliard at The News Blog has also noticed something strange in Tierney and Brooks, as his title subtlety suggests.

Brad DeLong picks up from Krugman's column and adds this:

Say, rather, that five things are going on:

1. The rise of a very powerful, successful, exploitative upper class.
2. Further increases in inequality as the tax and transfer system becomes less progressive.
3. Increases in risk that threaten to move middle-class families sharply downward in the wealth distribution.
4. Skill-biased technical change that sharply raises the benefits to education.
5. Holes in the safety net--the fall in the value of the minimum wage, time-limited welfare, and so forth.


Mr. Sulzberger, Let Krugman be heard! In one sense, there is nothing particularly new in Krugman’s latest column, “Graduates Versus Oligarchs”, as it fits neatly with one of his central themes – the crushing and cruel concentration of wealth within the absolute pinnacle of American society. But the hard numbers tell such a harsh and unjust story that it stuns anew: “. . . . income at the 99.99th percentile rose 497 percent”. Four-Niner-Seven ladies and gentlemen, Four-Niner-Seven. Really wraps a pretty little bow around the Bush and Republican tax polices, doesn’t it?

The column may well be Krugman’s 497th wake-up call, but how well can he be heard behind the New York Times’ subscription wall? Of course, progressive bloggers and even other columnists will pick up the call, but they lack Krugman’s command of the subject matter, his authority and his focus. Inevitably, others picking up Krugman’s column will not so much amplify as distort and dilute it, as they are much given to digressions and ad hominine and long-past relevant attacks on President Clinton. President Clinton may have been riding the rising wave of wealth inequity, but at least he tried to channel some of it off and his tenure was nothing if not prosperous for the country at large. The Republicans, in contrast, have set about pumping wealth ever higher, and are morbidly busy plugging any and all leaks – not one drop, not one cent, to be lost on the inexorable journey to the summit.

Not only does the Times wall-off Krugman behind their pricey and elitist Select scheme, they also drown out his message by continuing to put out and promote the drek that Brooks and Tierney pump out. Bread and circuses have given way to HDTVs and SUVs. Brooks and Tierney work the cultural smoker, fogging up and fouling the air that surrounds Krugman. Tierney today has another cultural fantasy piece, one of a series he and Brooks seem to be running wherein they shapeshift themselves into middle class working moms, explaining everything away in a kind of warmed over Madison Avenue of the Fifties version of momhood and family life for the common folk. It’s more than a little creepy. Brooks, at one point, seemed to edge dangerously close to a sick pathology, when he peeped in on the schoolgirl set’s chatroom banter in “Bondage and Bonding Online”. I’m not kidding, you can link it up. It’s not hard to fathom what motivated Brooks in that particularly disturbing column, but his larger mission is to distract and divide the country with cultural folderol. Brooks blithely explains away the unconscionable siphoning up and off of this country’s hard-earned wealth by attributing it all to the good study habits and clean living of his kind. Brooks’ people aren’t merely guys born on third base thinking they’ve hit a triple; they’re born like they’re white Jackie Robinsons, halfway home down the third-base line with the ball just barely at the release point in the pitcher’s hand.

Never mind the Oligarchy, be afraid of everything else in this world. Be morbidly obsessed with clumps of DNA in strange women’s wombs in every hamlet across America. Go to the Corporate Church of choice. Meanwhile, the working class, the middle class, even the marginally wealthy class are slipping. Everyone knows it and doesn’t want to think about it, no less talk about it. Each of or our ends ends in a bed with a drip, but for those below the Oligarchy, it is a lifetime’s work dripping away through our IVs. No matter no mind. Most Americans are being stalked by debt and healthcare costs and the dimming prospects of our sons and daughters. Boomers are increasingly facing a choice between a reasonably comfortable retirement, or giving the kids at least a puncher’s chance of approaching their parent’s standard of living. You can’t have both.

And the Republican approach to all this is to accelerate the inequity by unconscionable tax breaks for the ultra rich and by trying to pull the plug on the New Deal’s life support. They seem intent on cut-pursing Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare and whatever other safety net the rabble is seen clinging to. What moves them to all-hands-on-deck panic? Not Katrina. What kicks the machinery of Republican activism to adrenaline rush status? Not the prescription drug debacle. No, we’re not sweating those details. Instead, what lights their fire is the awful, unthinkable, nightmarish prospect that the UAE’s ruling Oligarchy might have to forego one small (by their standards) trinket to add to their vast horded wealth. This is what moves the movers and shakers of the Republican Party.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Full Port Press

The New York Times (and other misguided liberal columnists and bloggers) are engaged in a bizarre full-court press to ram the UAE-Ports deal through. Krugman is, as usual, the sensible, if skeptical outlier, but The Moustache of Understanding, Brooks, and Kristof are falling all over themselves trying to make the ports into a litmus test for Arab-bias. It all sounds very noble, very Grey Lady-ish, but it still makes no real-world sense. I have to assume that despite their world-traveling, these guys have never encountered a foreign-run corporation operating on American soil. Sure, the UAE will keep a lot of white, American faces visible, but the nuts and bolts of the operations will certainly be controlled from the UAE, and we will all have to take it on faith that things will be done in strict good-faith.

The UAE has a long history of complicated (to be generous about it) relations with radical, militant Islamists. Even when they are in a public stance of direct and forceful opposition, the back-channel monies and communications continue to flow. From their point-of-view, there is no inconsistency because that is simply the way they keep the lid on the powder keg they sit on at home. They will present, and perhaps even believe, they are completely committed to protecting US interests, but that will be subject to the same sort of hidden hedge-betting that is an integral part of their home rules.

What all this translates into is an unacceptable risk. Perhaps not a certainty of disaster, but certainly a significant and unnecessary risk. So until further notice, they do not get the keys to our ports, or our airports, chemical plants, etc.

I have a suggestion for the Times and like-minded liberals, straining to reach out to the Arab world. A better way of demonstrating a just and enlightened attitude toward Arabs would be to not elect to invade their countries on false pretenses, not kidnap, not hold-without-charge, not murder, not torture, not humiliate and not rape their citizens. And the best and most meaningful way these guys can do this is to not support the Administration’s ongoing efforts to make that sort of treatment a permanent part of our foreign and domestic policy.

The difficulty with this approach for this sort of liberal (leaving out Brooks and his ilk) is that it frustrates the subtext of this support – the straining, unforgivable need to reach out once again to the Bush Administration. After having been seal-clubbed to a bloody pulp over and over again over the last six years, they still are asking, bleating, “why can’t we be friends”? The Bush Administration club is not a surgical instrument. It is the bluntest and crudest of instruments. It is all about battering away for all their worth, never pausing a second to engage in the kind of nuanced reasoning that these back-sliding, gutless liberals return to like a compulsion.