Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Gathering Iran Delusion

An unintentional consequence of capturing and killing Saddam Hussein is that conservatives don't have Saddam Hussein to kick around any more. If Saddam didn't turn out to be the Hitler figure threatening to "take over the world," who is going to be the villain to "test American resolve," justify new military adventures, and provide the easy victories that conservatives crave. Neither Osama bin Laden (hiding in Pakistan) nor Moqtada al-Sadr seem to pass the super-villan test. So who is going to be the next target of right-wing delusion? We already have an answer. It's IRAN! While absorbing the horrors of American failure in Iraq, the right-wing media apparatus has also been pumping up "the Iranian threat." Indeed, Iran is a logical choice for the new "enemy." Because their Shiite theocracy actually is antagonistic to the United States and the West, the Iranians provide all kinds of statements that right-wing propogandists at places like the American Enterprise Institute can work up into a state of Nazi-like expansionism.

Here's a good example of Iran delusion-making in a Dec. 21 article Michael Ladeen of AEI. "With Ahmadinejad [the Iranian president], the mullahs [the actual leaders of Iran] bared their fangs to us. Convinced they were winning in Iraq, foreseeing the destruction of Israel, the domination of Lebanon, a jihadist reconquista in Afghanistan and the expansion of their domain into the Horn of Africa, they gave us the face of the unrepentant conqueror. He's played his role well, and he will continue to play it."

This has all the hallmarks of right-wing delusion. Most pointedly, there is the characterization of President Ahmadinejad as a Hitleresque "unrepentant conqueror." Indeed, Ahmadinejad has made several provocative statements concerning the Israelis, but Ladeen overlooks the important fact that no Iranian army has attacked or conquered anyone since Ahmadinejad took office. Given Iran's paltry defense budget of $6.2 billion in 2005, it is also unlikely that the Iranians will attack anybody. More importantly, it's unlikely that the Iranians would defend themselves very well if the U. S. attacks them. To compare, the U. S. had a defense budget of $419 billion for 2005 (more than 67 times the Iranian budget). It's also well known that the Iranian military are still using the 70's vintage American military equipment that they inherited from the Shah regime.

Of course, Ladeen and the other right-wingers who promote the "Persian Menace" know all this. Nevertheless, pumping up a cream puff like Iran into a world-class fighting machine is the standard method of right-wing delusion. For the right, the point is to have enemies who can be beaten without much effort or much domestic controversy in the U. S. Bush's people and pundits on the right all knew that the Saddam regime was weak even though they were promoting the fictional "bio-terror" threat posed by the Iraqis. That's much of what made attacking Iraq so attractive to the right.

The same is the case with Iran. The conservatives are promoting an attack on Iran know that the Iranians are not capable of retaliating against any American attack. Guys like Ladeen see an attack on Iran as a chance for the right to have its military aggression without paying a real price. In other words, attacking Iran would be the conservative utopia that attacking Iraq was supposed to be.

Second, there is a domino theory in which Iran conquers all the way from the Persian Gulf to Somalia and Ethiopia (the horn of Africa). That's the same domino theory that had the Vietnamese Communists moving on Australia soon after the fall of Saigon and Saddam Hussein (the last and now late embodiment of Hitler before Ahmadinejad) conquering his way across Africa, South America, and Mexico before reaching Texas. Or was that New Orleans. Every bit of Ladeen's scenario is either clownish exaggeration or wholly false. The Iranians are not "winning in Iraq" because they're not part of the struggle in Iraq. As a result of two elections, the U. S. handed the Iraqi government to political parties like SCIRI and Dawa that have long-standing ties to Iran. The Shiite parties in Iraq are winning, but that does not mean that Iran is winning in Iraq.

The same goes for the other scenarios. If there is a "jihadist reconquista" in Afghanistan, Iran won't be involved because the Iranians have been just as much enemies to the Taliban as they were to Saddam Hussein (with whom they fought an eight year war). Of course, Ladeen knows this, a fact that gives the whole scenario an aura of dishonesty as well as delusion. As has already been mentioned, Iran has no assets which would allow them to "destroy Israel," "dominate Lebanon," or conquer (unrepentently) through the Arabian peninsula and on to the Horn of Africa. Ahmadinejad has talked about the desirability of wiping Israel off the map, but if talk were conquest the U. S. would have conquered Syria and Iran by now. After all, administration neo-cons have been talking about "regime change" in these countries for at three or four years now.

Of course, proving that the Iranians are not a Hitler-like threat is not enough. American right-wingers are "unrepentently" bent on instilling the idea that the Iranians have replaced Saddam Hussein as a remorseless threat to American interests and national security. As they did with Iraq in the run-up to the invasion, the right-wing will exaggerate and lie to make their case, relentlessly repeat their lies as long as they have any credibility, and then make up new lies when the old ones no longer work. If the right-wing can sell the Iran delusion, they think they'll be able to salvage some part of their war-mongering foreigh policy despite the disaster in Iraq. That's why it's necessary to keep exposing the lies and distortions of the Iran delusion before the right leads us into yet another foreign policy disaster.


"Meet Me in St. Louie." In today's St. Lous Post-Dispatch, there's a picture of an American soldier being greeted a wheel-chair bound comrade as he disembarks his plane. The disconnects are painful. Spc. Nathaniel Krotzer of the 463rd MP unit exudes health, wholeness, and physical authority as he leans to talk with Spc. Brandon Breyer in his chair. But Breyer lost part of a leg while he was serving in Iraq and looks thin and helplessly eager in his chair. Any physical authority Breyer had is gone as the aura of his immersion in rehab and his dependence on government services hangs about him. Still, both men are aware of the thin line that separates their disconnected physical conditions. It's a big part of what ties them together.

Moqtada! The execution of Saddam Hussein was supposed to be a sweet moment of vindication for the Bush administration. But it's yet another measure of the disconnect between the Bush administration and events in Iraq that Saddam's death turned out to be a vindication of Shiite rather than American power. According to one of Saddam Hussein's lawyers, Prime Minister al-Maliki timed the execution to coincide with the Muslim holy day of Eid as " a gift" to the Dawa religious party without any expression of gratitude to Maliki's American allies. To add insult to injury, the guards shouted Moqtada in tribute to the firebrand Shiite cleric as Saddam was being prepared for hanging. It was Moqtada's power that was triumphing over Saddam Hussein not the power of the Americans. Indeed, Saddam's last word was "Moqtada."

The spectre of Iran. Neo-conservatives like Sen. Joseph Lieberman are working overtime to recast the conflict in Iraq as part of the regional struggle between "moderation" and the "extremism" directed from Iran. But the "spectre of Iran" is yet another attempt by the right-wing to promote the war by creating a disconnect between the American public and the situation in the Middle East. Iran is a bit player in Iraq. Moqtada al-Sadr might get a bit of financial help from the Iranians, but his power base is in Iraq's democratic political structures and popular Shiite resentment over the American occupation. The American occupation made al-Sadr into a popular leader not the Iranians. But once Sadr became an important figure, he felt much more of a natural connection with fellow Shiites in Iran than he felt with the American occupiers. The same has been the case with the other Shiite parties which look at the Iranians as a potential stabilizing force while they see the Bush administration as fundamentally disconnected.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Consolations, Fantasies, and Real Wars

Manhood Moment Almost Here. It looks like Saddam Hussein is going to be executed within an hour. In a lot of ways, this is the Bush administration and neo-con's consolation for failing so badly in the war in Iraq. Bush, Cheney, and the neo-cons may be incompetent buffoons, but they get to prove that they're bigger men than Saddam Hussein in the most definitive way possible--by executing him.

Meet the New Saddam. Given that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated so badly since the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003, it's been necessary for the neo-cons to conjure up a new enemy figure in the Middle East--Iran. Who's behind the Shiite militias? The neo-cons would have you believe it's Iran? The same with the death squads that working in Iraqi ministries. A good example of this kind of fantasizing can be seen in Joe Lieberman's Washington Post op-ed today. Also Hezbollah attacks on Israel. In fact, neo-con pundits have inflated the Iranians to such an extent that they now have the Iranians (with their Syrian lackeys) trying to create a greater Shiite empire in the Middle East. But neo-con fantasies about Iranian power and intentions are even less grounded in reality than their fantasies about Saddam Hussein. Iran is militarily weak, relatively poor, and fundamentally defensive. But neo-cons like Lieberman are going to inflate them into the next manifestation of Adolf Hitler as long as they maintain their independence from American influence.

Retaliation for Saddam's Execution. I would be surprised if there were extensive Baathist or Sunni retaliation for the execution of Saddam. The fact of the matter is that Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade have had the upper hand in the sectarian terror campaigns that have going on since the bombing of the dome in Samarra last March. They would still have the upper hand in any post-execution exchanges. The new reality in Iraq is that the emergence of the Shiite militias has shifted the locus of war from Sunnis vs Americans to Sunnis vs Shiites. Although the war in Iraq is still an insurgency, it is now much more of a civil war.

George Bush Inspires American Youth

One of the unintentional consequences of George Bush's disastrous presidency is a renewed interest in American history among young people.

My twelve year old daughter Katy was riding up to a ski resort in Indiana when one of her friends Egan started a conversation by arguing that she didn't think George Bush was the worst president in American history. "What about Richard Nixon," she asked? My daughter replied that "James Buchanan was the worst president. He just sat around while the Civil War got started."

And on it went.

Would kids have been having a historical conversation like that if Al Gore or John Kerry had been president?

I don't think so.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Saddam in the Mirror

Hanging Saddam. It appears that Saddam Hussein is going to be executed by hanging at about the same time that President Bush is going to announce plans for his mini-escalation of the war in Iraq. No doubt Saddam will richly deserve this death and many more besides. Mass executioners like Saddam, Pinochet, or General Suharto of Indonesia deserve more deaths than they can suffer.

Hanging with Saddam. It's hard to over-estimate what the execution of Saddam Hussein means to George W. Bush and the other gunslingers in the Bush White House. The toppling of Saddam's statue and the capture of Saddam confirmed the Dubya's image of himself as a frontier sheriff who is stronger and tougher than both the bad guys and the critics who worry about the rights of defendants, whether the death penalty is cruel and unusual, and all the complexities of invading and occupying. The execution of Saddam will do the same. It will prove that Bush is stronger than Saddam, stronger than all his "pussy" liberal critics in the United States, and stronger than global opinion.

Of course, the execution of Saddam has a special poignancy for Bush because he has his own version of Saddam's special kind of problem. For Saddam, the problem is how to keep thinking of himself as the strongest man in the world even as the hangman comes to his door. Of course, there will be no hangman at Bush's door, but the spectre of a definitive, unmanning defeat hangs as heavy about George Bush as the hangman looms over Saddam. Bush has already suffered a stinging defeat at the hands of his liberal enemies, been rebuked by a collection of his dad's friends, and abandoned by most of his neo-con allies. The invasion of Iraq that was supposed to be the enduring testimony to the president's manhood is now seen as a monument to blundering incompetence and immature egotism. Like Saddam, George Bush did not turn out to be such a tough guy at all.

The Damage Done. The second analogy between President Bush and Saddam Hussein lies in the enormous damage they've done to Iraq. Saddam Hussein will be known primarily by his pogroms against the Kurds and Shiites and his legacy will be the tens or hundreds of thousands Iraqi men, women, and children who died at his hands. Such is the price of tyranny. George Bush will also be known by the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have died as a result of the American invasion. The U. S. is spending 2 billion a day in Iraq and the American military has lost almost 3,000 men and women, but the most important testimony to the horrific failure of the American mission in Iraq will be the mounting number of dead civilians. Such is the price of having a fool at the head of the most powerful nation in the world.

Tasty Holiday Follow-Ups

The Opposite of War. My panoscopy turned out to be the opposite of the Iraq War. The Iraq War had such an easy build up that it's still hard to believe what a grinder it's become. To the contrary, my panoscopy prep was pretty tough. Unable to eat or drink anything after midnight, I had such bad indigestion that I only slept for an hour before I had to go to the hospital. After I got into the surgery room everything was easy. After being told to breathe through my nose, I took four or five breaths and woke up 90 minutes later in the recovery room. If only the Bush administration had been as well prepared for the Iraq War as my medical team was for my procedure.

Old-Looking Oden. I'm not the only one who notices how old Greg Oden looks. Sports writer Jerry Tipton of the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader notes in a parenthetical comment that Oden "looks like he's 30." Tipton further observes that freshman basketball players generally seem more mature these days because of AAU basketball and the extensive travelling of high school teams. The same could be said of college athletes in general. Because sports are much more intense and grueling than they used to be, the wear and tear shows.

Killing the Surge. The chances that an increase in American troops would help the situation in Iraq were always minimum at best. By putting off the decision until sometime in January, President Bush has reduced that chance even further. As a result of the delay, Bush lost any element of surprise and the new American troops and their officers will half expect to be useless once they arrive in Baghdad, an expectation which they'll share with the Iraq Study Group, most of the military establishment, and American public opinion. Even Jerry Ford is speaking out against the war in death.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

There's Old and Then There's Oden

Ohio State's Greg Oden is the poster boy for this year's college basketball season. Although he did not play particularly well against Florida last weekend, the 7' 1" Ohio State freshman is expected to be the first draft pick in the NBA next year.

Greg Oden is also the oldest looking college freshman I've ever seen. I can't generate pictures here, but Oden has deeply set eyes, an even more deeply lined forehead, and an expression that is so mature it looks almost world-weary. Most college football players and male basketball look older than the rest of the student body and I've heard female athletes make fun of football players for looking like old men. The reason is that the pounding involved in football and basketball takes its toll on young men. Six to ten months a year of organized sports not only damages knees, backs, and shoulders, it puts enormous stress on internal organs. However, Oden looks older than the oldest looking college football player. Greg Oden may be a "man among boys," but it won't be long before he's an "old man among men."

This is another reason people should not begrudge professional athletes their high salaries. They not only have relatively short professional careers, they sometimes have short lives as a result of their professional careers.

Showing the Iraqis Who's in Charge

More than anything else, the arrest of the Iranian diplomats in Iraq seems to be an exercise in showing the Iraqi government who's really in charge.

Details are sketchy, but it is clear that two of the Iranians were in Iraq at the invitation of Iraqi President Jalil Talabani. Likewise, at least one of the Iranians was seized in a raid on the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of Iraq's largest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). The American military has been telling the usual lies that the Iranians had "a lot of material" on them that justified the detentions. But, the obvious message to both Talabani and al-Hakim is that "you are being watched. The American government opposes official contact between Iraq and Iran and you are subject to arrest or worse if you continue such contacts. You may think you're leaders of a sovereign government, but we're in charge here."

It's a curiously stupid policy. No doubt, the Bush administration would prefer to see the Iraqi government view the U. S. and Israel as it's natural allies. However, Iraq has become an Islamist religious society in both both the Sunni and Shiite sectors. It follows therefore that the Iraqi government would be an Islamist government fundamentally opposed to Israel. Likewise, it should not be surprising that the Iraqi government is looking to Iran as a potential counter-weight to American influence. Even though the American military occupation is failing to pacify the country, the U. S. still has a commanding position in relation to the Iraqi government. One of the few ways that Iraq could gain a real independence from the U. S. is to counter-balance American influence through ties with other countries. Given that Iraq's Shiite leaders and President Talabani all have close ties with Iran, Iran is the most logical candidate for counter-balancing ally. The U. S. might grimace at the prospect of an Iraq allied to Iran, but the alliance is a sign of the independence that we want the Iraqis to have.

Over the last two years, the Iraqi government, in fact, has become independent from the U. S. in several ways. This is especially the case with the government factions that have sponsored Shiite militias like al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and SCIRI's Badr Brigades. However horrific the death squad activities of the militias have been, they constitute a source of power for the Iraqi government that is independent of the American military and thus are a sign of real independence for Iraq. At the same time, the militia campaigns against Sunni civilians and insurgents have demonstrated that the Shiite population is willing and able to defend itself against global terrorist groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq as well as Sunni insurgents. The Sunnis may still be able to establish an independent enclave in al-Anbar, but there would be no Sunni takeover in Baghdad even if the U. S. withdrew from Iraq tomorrow. Indeed, the main immediate danger created by an American withdrawal would be the possibility of Shiite militias engaging in a bloody ethnic cleansing campaign against Sunnis in the Baghdad area.

Even though the American military can still humiliate political leaders, Iraqi Shiites are gradually taking control of their own affairs.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to RSI readers.

Op-ed Published. On Christmas Eve, my "Why I Like Santa Better Than Jesus" article appeared as an op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader. I was happy about getting the piece published and even happier about not getting any hate mail.

At least not yet.

Don't Poison the Dog. Last night, we left milk, cookies, and a little fudge out for Santa as we were cleaning up the house. Unfortunately, our dog Missy beat Santa to the fudge and cookies. Given that dogs do poorly with chocolate, we're lucky that she didn't get very sick.

The Dreaded Panoscopy Prep. Tomorrow, I do my prep for my panoscopy on Wednesday. For those who are not connoisseurs of panoscopies, a panoscopy is a colonoscopy where they also stick a tube down your throat to check for damage to the esophogus from acid reflux. Two uncomfortable procedures for the price of one.

Actually, the prep is the worst part for anyone who does not have colon cancer. Besides fasting for 24 hours on "clear liquid meals" and water, you have to take enough in the way of laxatives to clear out your colon for the procedure. And all of that clearing is done while sitting on the toilet.

Wish me luck. I'm going to need it.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas And Remember to Forget Jesus

The "War on Christmas" has turned out to be a great fundraiser for right-wing Christian organizations. According to the LA Times, The American Family Assn., the Liberty Counsel and other conservative groups have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sale of "Merry Christmas" items.

But what about Jesus?

Of course, a big part of Christmas is the nativity scenes of shepherds, wise men, and parents standing aside the cradle in the manger. After all, the Christian gloss on the old Roman Saturnalia is that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus.

But what does the birth of Jesus have to do with Jesus?

The baby Jesus wasn't saying anything yet. It wasn't the baby Jesus who was supposed to have rejected temptation in the desert, spoken the Sermon on the Mount, attracted followers, formulated a "new law" for the Hebrew people, come into conflict with the Temple authorities, or been resurrected after a cruel execution. In celebrating Christmas, Christians seem to be celebrating the least "Christian" part of Jesus, the time when Jesus was least connected to the work and doctrine of his adulthood.

In fact, Christmas seems to be more about creating a personal mythology around Jesus than anything that Jesus would ever say or do. Given the resemblance to the story of Moses in Herod's killing of the young children in Bethlehem, the story of the birth of Jesus in Matthew 2 is one of the most mythological parts of the gospel. That's a big reason why it was easy for popular writers to use Christmas as a hook for stories about failing bankers and jolly old elves flying in the night or songs about the wonders of snow. Christmas has always been about creating and embellishing a "heart-warming story" first.

But why would Christians want the biggest holiday of the year to celebrate something as far away from the core of their religion as the birth of a Jesus? In Christian doctrine, Jesus is the "Word [of God] made flesh." To the contrary, what Christians are celebrating at Christmas is a wordless Jesus. Perhaps that is what Christians in fact mean to celebrate--the silent Jesus, the Jesus whose words no longer have authority in their lives, the Jesus who does not condemn wealth, possessions, authority, social respectability, family ties and other things that most people value in life.

Christianity is a very demanding religion. Even the most simple formulations to "love god with all your heart" and "love your neighbor as yourself" involve breathtaking claims on human affection that religions like that of the ancient Greeks never dreamed of. By celebrating the infant, silent Jesus instead of the Jesus who speaks this particularly harsh doctrine, Christmas gives Christians an opportunity to take an extended break from the adult Jesus and his doctrine just as it gives them a holiday from their jobs, schools, businesses, and other avocations. No doubt, the Christmas "vacation from Jesus" was one of the reasons why our Puritan forebears sought to ban Christmas celebrations. Celebrating Christmas is a way for Christians to be "Christians" and revel in Christian mythology without dealing without everything that's discomfiting about the adult "Jesus." For Christians, Christmas isn't so much about the birth of Jesus as it is about the sense of comfort and release in having Christianity without having to deal with the person of Jesus at all. Christmas is about forgetting Jesus.

This puts an ironic twist on the whole "Merry Christmas" business. If Christmas is about forgetting Jesus, then the secularization of Christmas means that Christians won't be able to forget Jesus during the "holiday season." Instead of celebrating Baby Jesus between Thanksgiving and New Years, they'll be stuck with the Jesus of "woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep" (Luke 6:25) all year long. That's a sure-fire prescription for guilt, failure, inadequacy, and self-doubt and a number of other burdensome feelings. So Everybody! Give your Christian brothers a break. Say "Merry Christmas" and remember that you're helping them forget Jesus.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Harry Potter and the Deathly Scar

Today's announcement that the title for the final Harry Potter book is going to be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sparked some renewed Harry Potter speculation at the local book store. The question wasn't whether Harry was going to live or die, but whether Harry's scar was a horcrux or a hiding place for part of Voldemort's soul.

If the scar was a horcrux, that would be a neat solution to the dilemna of whether Harry is going to live or die. If the scar is a horcrux, Harry has to die if Voldemort is ever going to be killed. So, Harry has to die and the series comes to a definite conclusion assuming that no one wants to explore Harry's existence after death, whether Harry gets involved in the life of his friends, or not. A second consideration is that Rowling has said that the last word of the last book is going to be scar. Harry's scar obviously has tremendous significance at the end of the book where Harry's fate will be decided. Perhaps, it's significance will be as a horcrux.

However, the scar/horcrux concept is a neat solution that does not quite work. At least in a simple way. If Harry's scar is a horcrux, Harry has to be able to get rid of the horcrux without dying. Because all the horcruxes have to be destroyed before Voldemort is killed, Harry has to live through the destruction of his own horcrux if he is going to be the one who kills Voldemort. If Harry is going to die, there has to be another scenario besides the possibility of his scar being a horcrux.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Dissecting the Surge

One of the good things in life is the wisdom comes out of casual conversation. At Morehead State, I've always been fortunate to have sensible friends with whom I could work out my ideas and theirs. Ed Reeves of Sociology is one of those friends. In talking with Ed on the steps outside our building the other day, I found that one of his other friends had discussed a "graceful exit" option to the upcoming build-up of American troops in Iraq. The Bush administration could increase the number of American troops by 25,000 for a year, claim in Spring 2008 that the U. S. had done everything it could in Iraq, and then begin major troop reductions in plenty of time for the 2008 election.

That makes three basic options connected with the troop buildup.

1. The Dissipation Option. Bush adds 25,000 troops, no progress is made, and the build-up is another embarrassment that hurts the Republicans in 2008. Hillary/ Obama get a ten point win and the Democrats pad their majority.

2. A Graceful Exit. Bush adds 25,000 troops, no progress is made, and the U. S. uses the lack of progress as a rationale for drastically reducing our commitment. The Hillary/ Obama ticket still wins, but the Republicans hold their own.

3. Making the Disaster Worse. Bush adds 25,000 troops, attacks the Mahdi Army militia, and makes the situation in Baghdad even worse than the current nightmare. The American public recoils in disgust, Hillary/Obama landslide, and Congressional Democrats get their biggest majority since 1964.

All of these options and more are being debated in the Bush administration. However, my bet is that the pressure for #3 builds up within the White House bunker. If attacking al-Sadr actually did stabilize Baghdad as the Bush administration hopes, Bush would be able to claim a real victory. So, there will be a lot of pressure from Dick Cheney's office and some military people to go for broke and take option #3. Unfortunately, the odds on the U. S. achieving a higher level of stability are a lot longer than the odds on making things worse. As a result, I conclude that option #3 will make the current disaster even worse and lead to a Republican apocalypse in the 2008 elections.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Evil of Abstinence

What everybody knows. The news that 95% of Americans have had pre-marital sex probably wasn't a surprise to most people. Given that rates of pre-marital sex were high even for people born in the 1940's, it's evident that American teens and singles were leading sex soaked lives even before there was a sex soaked media. I'm glad of it myself. Having been a product of pre-marital sex, I've always had a soft spot for the idea of sex before marriage.

The failure of abstinence. The author of the study, Lawrence Finer, used the results to question the federal government's support of abstinence programs. According to Finer, "the data clearly show that the majority of older teens and adults have already had sex before marriage, which calls into question the federal government's funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs for 12- to 29-year-olds." In other words, abstinence programs can't work because teens and singles are going to have sex in the way they've always had sex.

The Evil of Abstinence. Abstinence programs don't harm most young people because most young people listen to peer-group messages encouraging sex instead of the abstinence message of purity and virginity. Of course, the ones who don't listen are the lucky ones. The abstinence message harms those who listen intently to the advocates of purity and sign the pledge to abstain from sex until marriage, but are still involved in sex. Viewing sex primarily in terms of guilt and disease, these kinds of teens and singles are less likely to be knowledgeable about contraception, less likely to see sex in terms of building relationships, and therefore less likely to develop any maturity about sex as they go along. Those who listen to the abstinence message would be more likely to have unwanted pregnancies and less likely to be emotionally ready for marriage on the day of the wedding. Because so few people listen to it, the abstinence message is not one of the world's great evils, but it is still an evil nonetheless.

The Bush Truth Translator

I have no idea why the mainstream media is crowing so much over Bush admitting that we're no longer "winning" in Iraq. After all, the President only retreated to "we're neither winning nor losing," and the meaning of the rhetorical retreat might be that things are getting much worse, perhaps much worse than pessimists already belief.

Here's how the administration's rhetoric has translated into reality so far.

"Mission Accomplished" = "We have not yet begun to fight"

"A Few Dead Enders" = "The remnants of the Hussein regime have quickly organized an effective resistance

"The Insurgents are Desperate" = Insurgent attacks spiked again.

"The Last Throes of the Insurgency" = "We haven't been able to eliminate the insurgency despite continual offensives in al-Anbar"

"Very Tough" = "Baghdad has descended into a state of anarchy while al-Qaeda in Iraq dominates in Anbar.

"History will vindicate" = "I'm still better than Buchanon and Hoover"

This is how the President's latest formulation translates into reality:

"We're Neither Winning Nor Losing" = "It's too late to stave off disaster"

Tough on Hillary

Hillary Clinton lost the support of my 12 year old daughter when the senator from New York talked as if "national security" was a more important issue than global warming during an NPR interview. Maybe I shouldn't have bought An Inconvenient Truth for her after all.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Loaded Dice

The Throw. Today, President Bush threw the dice on his new Iraq strategy--increase the number of troops by 25,000, primarily by keeping the next rotation of troops in Iraq rather than taking them out as planned. Merry Christmas guys!

The Dice. As a result of his own incompetence and cynicism, the dice are heavily loaded against the President and American interests in general. What are the 25,000 troops going to do. If we had 25,000 troops, that would double the number of Americans in al-Anbar but still wouldn't allow us to maintain the continuous offensives and massive economic reconstruction needed to stabilize the province. In fact, it wouldn't come close.

The most likely deployment would be to Baghdad where the additional troops would either be driving around the streets trying to provoke attacks (it's called DAB--Driving Around Baghdad) or launching a major offensive against Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. The former deployment would be pointless; the latter a major disaster. Attacking and defeating al-Sadr would leave the remnants of his fighters fragmented, angry, and ready for the sort of long insurgent campaign being conducted by the Sunnis in Anbar. Defeating al-Sadr would also inflame a big part of the Shiite population into being more sympathetic with or joining a Shiite insurgency. The American military would "win," but the victory would be self-defeating. Just like the all the other American victories in Iraq.

Why Can' t Anybody Say Anything Good About Hillary?

Hillary Clinton is the leading early candidate for the presidency in 2008. Today, a Newsweek poll came out showing her leading John McCain by 7 points at (50-43) and Rudy Giuliani by 1. She's also far ahead of Barack Obama among Democrats at 50-32. Aside from the right-wing attack media, however, there is practically a blackout of any positive news on Hillary. Almost all the items about a Hillary candidacy from the mainstream media, pundits, columnists, and bloggers are bad. She's portrayed as either too much or too little--too polarizing on the one hand, but not charismatic enough, not visionary enough, not moderate enough, not liberal enough.

In addition, Hillary's popularity has grown without her doing much to promote it. Hillary isn't in the media nearly as much as John McCain or Barack Obama, does not say anything particularly noteworthy about the great issues of the day, and has intimidated her closest supporters into silence. There's been no Hillary hype, no Hillary media machine, and no Hillary for Hillary public relations campaign.

As a result of all this, there is a deep gap in our information. Hillary Clinton is the most popular politician in the United States, but hardly anybody has given any thoughts as to why a majority of people support her in head-to-head match-ups. What is it about Hillary that makes her popular even if it doesn't make her as lovable as Obama is on the left or George Bush used to be on the right?

Racism Central High in Kentucky

In many parts of rural America, white supremacist loyalties lead a semi-public kind of existence. White racism is in the public square, but not justified in explicitly racist terms. That's especially the case with the Confederate flag. Confederate flags and Confederate flag paraphernalia have popped everywhere in my home town of Morehead, KY since the flag controversies in Georgia and South Carolina in 2002. The Confederate flags are especially popular as bumper stickers on cars, but can be seen in yards, on shirts, as bandanas, and on motorcycle helmets. If Confederate flags aren't more popular than American flags in Morehead, they're running a close second.

The Confederate "flaggers" have all types of non-racial justifications for their displays that they'll tell you with a little smirk on their faces. For the flaggers, the Confederate battle flag is about regional pride, family, independence, rebel spirit, and opposition to political correctness instead of racism. However, the flaggers know just as well as everybody else that Confederate flags are the pre-eminent symbol of racism all over the South. In adapting the battle flag as a general symbol for everything they like about the South, flaggers have made white racism the uber sentiment that defines all things Southern.

The flag controversy has sprouted back up in Kentucky this week as controversy has erupted over the use of the Confederate flag as a school symbol at Allen County Central High School in Prestonsburg. The all-white high school uses a version of the Confederate flag as its school emblem, features rebel flags at all of its sporting event, and fosters "rebel pride" on its web site right next to educational cliches like "authentic," "interactive," and "learner centered." The few black students and athletes at other high schools in mountainous Floyd County and neighboring Pike County are offended by the flag but don't protest or seek boycotts. Members of the Louisville-based Justice Resource Center travelled to Prestonsburg to talk with the school superintendent about the connection between the Confederate flag and slavery and emphasize the need to prepare students to live in "a diverse society where these symbols have already been eliminated." Unfortunately, their appeals fell on deaf ears as students rallied to the defense of the flag, defending it as "our tradition."

And that's really the core of the issue. Many people in Eastern Kentucky and other rural areas bordering on the South have made the symbolism of slavery and bigotry into the defining element of "their tradition." Of course, Allen Central could embrace its tradition more closely if it just renamed itself "Racism Central High."

Monday, December 18, 2006

What the World Needs Now

More Gaffes from Public Figures: Last week, head coach Jim Mora of the Atlanta Falcons committed the bone-headed gaffe of talking on a radio show about how much he wanted the head coaching job at the University of Washington. Of course, Mora is already being paid a couple mill to coach the Falcons by the now unhappy owner Arthur Blank.

But few people realize how tough politicians, celebrities, and sports figures have it in their almost daily rounds of broadcasts, interviews, and call-in shows. All of these are impromptu forms of entertainment in which the person being interviewed--here the coach of the Atlanta Falcons--is supposed to be interesting, funny, emotionally compelling, or entertaining in some other way without having the benefit of a script or a writer. It's not easy to be creatively entertaining on the spur of the moment like that, especially if you're being asked about something that's personally touchy or something that you don't know anything about as all. A few weeks ago, the campus newspaper interviewed me about the presentation of an artist named Matuschka on my campus. I had gone to the presentation, enjoyed it, and had some vaguely formulated ideas, but I don't know anything about art and I was tired at the end of the week. So I tossed out a couple of boring platitudes and gave up to the disappointment of the interviewer who had been counting on me to say something interesting.

Personally, I think we should be more accepting of political, celebrity, and sports gaffes. If we expect people to say interesting things all the times, then we should also allow for a certain percentage of gaffes to allow for the human element. Maybe they get paid well, but politicians, celebrities, and sports figures are human like the rest of us.

More Brawling in the NBA. Well, David Stern handed down penalties from last weeks big NBA brawl. Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggests was suspended for 15 games while J. R. Smith of the Nuggets and Nate Robinson of the Knicks will sit for 10. Once again, I'm surprised that there aren't more brawls in both pro and college sports. Athletes play at tremendous peaks of intensity seeking to "impose their will" on their opponents and are expected to exercise the super-human self-control needed to stay within the rules of the game. In football and basketball, it's all about manhood--proving that you're nothing less than a man or "the man" and fighting against any aspersions on your manliness. Nobody should be shocked when a player like Mardy Collins loses control and commits a flagrant foul or when Carmelo Anthony steps in on behalf of his teammate. In fact, basketball and football players should be allowed the same emotional flexibility as coaches. Coaches, both professional and college, regularly explode into histrionics--often at their own players. For a variety of perverse reasons--quite often race-- the emotional outbursts of authority figures like coaches are much more acceptable than any loss of control by their subordinates.

Love, Sweet Love. Mrs. RSI says that I should include love in the things that the world needs more of. Who am I to argue with her or with Burt Bacharach? But one of the ways that we create a little space for love is to allow a little more space for the less dignified human emotions and enormous spur-of-the-moment errors. I'm not talking Oprah-like confessions or Bill O'Reilly bombast--just some more openness to the emotional irregularities of the human condition.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Crashing Republicans and Big Gestalt Shifts

The Bush Burden on the GOP. Like the rest of the country, the right-wing dreams of a time they'll be free of George W. Bush. According to an internet Republican styling himself as JackDallas, "a Republican can run, unfettered [in 2008]". There will be no Bush stigma attached to the next republican candidate." If Bush decides to increase the number of troops in Iraq by 25,000 and launch new offensives in Iraq, that won't be the case. What a burden for Republican candidates. Expected to show loyalty to the idea of "victory" during the primaries, Republican candidates have about as much luck selling the war during the general elections as Mondale had in selling higher taxes in 1984. And they'll drag down a lot of Republican candidates for the Senate and House with them. Instead of the McKinley-like long-term Republican majority that Karl Rover originally imagined, the Bush era is going to end in a Hoover-like disaster for the GOP.

The Hillary/Obama Choice. One of the major legacies of the Bush years is going to be either the first female president in the history of the U. S. or the first black president in the history of the U. S. Probably anyway. If the Bush administration drags down Republican candidates to the extent I am forecasting, the GOP nominee in 2008 could be beaten by a potted plant let alone genuinely popular politicians like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Obviously, any Democratic president is going to have a hard time cleaning up the Bush mess, but electing a woman or a black person as President will be a major event in American culture. Too bad the Bush administration is going to make us pay such a high price for our cultural breakthrough.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Notes From the Day After Yesterday

Keeping the Priorities of Political Junkies Straight. It looks like Sen. Tim Johnson's condition is very serious. I had brain surgery myself as an infant and three people I know have had brain surgery in the last two years. Johnson has my best hopes. As for a Democratic majority in the Senate--it matters a lot less than Johnson's life and health.

The First Idea That Lead to Defeat. During his news conference yesterday, President Bush said he had heard some ideas that would "lead to defeat." The main idea leading to defeat was that it would be a good idea to invade Iraq in the first place. The rest of the bad ideas just flowed from there.

Death to Plagiarists. One thing I can say in President Bush's favor is that his administration did not steal their disastrous ideas about invading Iraq from others. The same can't be said for my students. I've had three plagiarism cases with my final exams this week and I'm not very happy about it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

It Could Be Worse Than Staying the Course

I was glad to see that President Bush has put off his "New Way Forward" speech until January. Like the rest of the country, I want to see a change in American policy in Iraq. But I'm also convinced that the Bush administration wants to change policy in a way that would make the situation in Iraq much worse. In other words, the Bush administration wants to forge a new governing coalition, bring in 20,000 more troops, and then launch an all-out attack on al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Why they see that as a winner is beyond me. The Sunni population did not stop resisting once the American military had overcome large-scale units. Given that the Shiites won't stop resisting either, the U. S. is going to be faced with two insurgencies when we actually can't handle one.

My new slogan--Stay the Course: Don't Make It Worse.

The Sixers Cover Up Their Failures

All the initial press about Allen Iverson's trade demand was about controversy--missed practices, conflicts with Larry Brown, skipping a bowling event, not getting along with Mo Cheeks, and diddly things like that. Of course, the media has a template in which what is newsworthy about players like Iverson, Chris Webber, Shaquille O'Neill, Kevin Garnet, and Ben Rothlesberger are their controversial incidents and failures rather than their importance to an organization.

What exactly does a guy like Iverson do for an organization?

In the case of the Philadelphia 76ers, they've known for eleven years that they had a very special player in Allen Iverson. When there is an Allen Iverson on board, the problem for management is to create an environment where Iverson's special efforts have the best opportunity to produce team success. That means bringing in coaches, complementary stars, role players, trainers, and other people who can complement, play off, assist, or otherwise team up with the special players or players in order to win games and contend for championships.

The problem for ownership is to bring in a management team that can put all of these pieces together in an effective way. The Chicago Bulls of the Michael Jordan era had enormous success in bringing in coaches and players who played off, worked well with, complemented, and helped Jordan. The Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons are great examples of recent success. They've put presidents and general managers in place who had a nose for the trades and draft choices that worked with their players.

The Sixers management has failed pretty miserably. Nathaniel Friedman of Slate tries to develop a case that Iverson's talents don't mesh well with other players. How would anybody know? Allen Iverson has been in Philadelphia for eleven years and the Sixers have yet to bring in a power forward or center who has any prime time left in them. Say what you will about Jerry Krauss, but he did draft, sign, or trade for Scotty Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and John Paxson while getting some good mileage out of Bill Cartwright. The Sixers have traded for long-past-their-primes Glenn Robinson and Chris Webber while making almost singularly undistinguished draft picks. Their best pick-up was Derrick Coleman while neither Kyle Korver, Andre Iguodala, nor Samuel Dalembert could start for any other team in the NBA. Iverson has grown as both an offensive and defensive player but neither ownership nor management have done their jobs well enough for the Sixers to give their Hall of Fame guard really fruitful employment.

The deep irony of the situation is that the Sixers have been so anxious to get rid of Iverson now that he's expressed a desire for a trade. They won't let him play, wouldn't let him shootaround, took his nameplate off his locker, and seemed to efface all evidence of Iverson around their facilities. Management seems to think that banishing Iverson will mean that they will no longer be reminded of their own failures. Their next losing streak will disagree.

Deeper Into the Wilderness

Obama v Bush. The rise of Barack Obama is further evidence that American politics is more unsettled than it's been at any time since the sixties. Obama's admirers view him as a person who can get the country out of the intense partisanship of the Clinton/ Bush years. However, I would like to suggest that the Obama boom is fueled by the dream of a world without the right-wing--an America without the right's viciousness and arrogance, an America without the drumbeat of wedge issues, an America without the Iraq War, and an America that is more at peace with itself. Obviously, the Obama surge is bad news for Hillary Clinton, but it might be even worse news for the future of the Republican Party. If the Bush administration is not careful, the war in Iraq could keep the Republicans in the wilderness for the next generation as the nation lurches away from the era of right-wing government.

The Nightmare Option. One of the real dangers of the present is the disconnect between the Bush administration and the American public. The Bush administration has conducted the war so poorly that large majorities of the public have given up and want to withdraw. As a result, the U. S. no longer has a government that is credible with the American public. Ironically enough, it looks like the Bush administration is preparing reckless new initiatives in Iraq to re-establish a credibility that was lost because of their arrogance and recklessness. The outlines of President Bush's response to the Iraq Study Group are emerging and it looks like he wants first to reshuffle the Iraqi government to exclude Moqtada al-Sadr and then to attack Sadr's Mahdi Army in the Sadr City slum of Baghdad and other cities in Southern Iraq. The idea is that the removal of Sadr and his militia will make it possible for Shiite, Sunni, and Kurd politicians to form a government of real national unity.

This idea is so breathtaking in its foolishness that only the Bush administration could have thought of it. Of course, there wouldn't be much difficulty in defeating the Mahdi Army militarily and either arresting or killing Sadr. The problem is the the U. S. military would have to turn all of the towns and cities dominated by the Mahdi Army into more Fallujahs and Ramadis in order to destroy Sadr's military and social apparatus. Without Sadr, the Shiite militia movement would fragment in the same manner as the Sunni insurgency with Shiite guys from all over Baghdad and the Southeast taking up arms to fight the American occupiers and their Sunni "terrorist" allies. Not only would the anarchic situation in Baghdad get worse, but other Shiite towns and cities would start looking more like Baghdad.

Back to America. Projecting into the future, it looks like the Bush administration and the American right-wing are going to go down swinging in Iraq. This will only compound the current disaster. In many ways, the weak solutions offered by the Iraq Study Group have served as an indication of the extent to which the current American elite is not capable of devising a credible strategy for dealing with Iraq. If the Bush administration goes after Sadr over the next couple of years, the situation will be that much worse when a new President is elected. By that time, Bush will have led our country much deeper into the wilderness.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Fly-Over Notes

Where I am. My day job is teaching at one of the nation's real fly-over schools--Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky. As a rural, regional state university in a poor state, Morehead State is very low on the educational totem pole. Sure, we're above community colleges and regional state universities in states like Arkansas, Louisiana, and Alabama. However, Morehead has a hard time measuring up even to other regional universities like Western Kentucky and Murray State in Kentucky let alone places in wealthier states like Appalachian State in North Carolina.

Drafting. Today, I piled through drafts of take-home exams and research papers. Unlike places like Oberlin, Morehead State students need to be taught and examining early drafts is one of my most effective teaching techniques. It's a lot of work, but students benefit from having simple things pointed out to them like the need to refer to the assigned readings, the benefits of correlating their ideas, and the beauty of carrying out their arguments to the next permutation. It's simple editing work on my part, but the result is often rapid improvement on the part of students. Interestingly enough, the students have a lot of talent that only needs minor tweeking to come out.

Students. Students at Morehead State generally go to crummy high schools and usually don't have very good skills or much confidence as a result. Even the best students have a hard time believing that they're any good. But there's considerable advantage to that. Being poorly trained, Morehead State students aren't as wedded to the conventional wisdom as students at places like Oberlin which means that they are capable of highly original work. A fair number of Morehead State students burn with new ideas and original perspectives. Students often respond to small pointers or a little encouragement by embarking on first-rate work. Last year, a white student tore through a long paper locating herself within black feminist thought. Earlier this evening I read through an intense and tough-minded feminist reflection on virginity in a world of abstinence.

Needless to say. My work as a professor is usually very satisfying even if it's not taking me to the big time.

The Student Double Shift. Saturday, I took a walk down to the coffee shop where one of my students named Lindsey was working at the counter. That evening, my family went to the little Italian restaurant in town and there was Lindsey again working as a waitress. It turns out that she also has a work study job and baby-sits. Even though she has four jobs, Lindsey carries a 3.6 as a junior in the honors program. That kind of educational heroism is much more routine at Morehead than it is in the Ivy League. Almost 25% of the students in one of my classes work 40 hours a week with no guarantee that it will work out for them at all.

That's one of the reasons why I keep reading their drafts.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Two Shadows Over Bushland

Pinochet is dead. Today, Augosto Pinochet died at the age of 91. I'm sure that I'm not the only one to notice it, but the point needs to be made anyway. George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzalez, John Ashcroft, John Yoo, and other Bush administration figures are going to spend the rest of their lives under the same shadow of arrest and trial as Pinochet. Theoretically, all of the inmates at Guantamo, prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and suspected terrorists who were tortured in European and Middle Eastern prisons who have a case against the Bush administration will get to pursue charges. Perhaps the U. S. will still be able to stiff the International Criminal Court, but Bush administration figures won't be able to travel abroad in the future any more than Henry Kissinger is able to travel now.

That might be a long time for George Bush. Given that he'll only be 62 when he leaves office, Bush will be looking at 29 years of criminal liability if he lives as long as Pinochet. Bush and his people better hope that the Europeans never get any leverage over an American government. As discredited as the Bush administration is going to be, handing Bush and his advisers over to international courts might not prove to be that hard in the future.

Syria and Iran. One of the well-known recommendations of the Iraq Study Group was the re-establishment of direct communications with Iraq and Syria. Less well known is the fact that the Iraq Study Group concluded that Iran wasn't much of a threat to the U. S. and that Syria was even less of a threat. As the Iraq mission failed, the Bush administration and their neo-con allies have built up an image of Iran as a Shiite version of Saddam Hussein, armed to the teeth, relentlessly expansionist, and working without scruple to overthrow U. S. interests in the Middle East.

It's all nonsense. The Iranians have a run-down military, they're only able to give chump change of a couple hundred mill to their Hezbollah allies, and they're responding to their Shiite allies in Iraq rather than the other way around. Of course, the Bush administration will continue to pump the "Iranian threat" fantasy over the next couple of years. However, one of the shadows hanging over Bushland is the likelihood that a more credible administration will conclude that Iran doesn't even rate as a paper tiger.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Election 2008--Race Baiting Starts Early on the Right

The significance of race-baiting for the right. You have to give our friends on the right-wing credit. They waited a whole month after Barack Obama first expressed interest in the presidency to start race-baiting him. Because political racism is viewed as morally repugnant, there is very little comment on the the significance of racism in American politics. For the activist right, however, race-baiting is an important part of their rhetorical arsenal. Of course, race-baiting allows right-wingers to express their own racism and this is far from insignificant. It also serves the political purpose of connecting them with others who resist the "politically correct" orthodoxies concerning the worth of blacks, women, gays, immigrants, and disabled people.

Even more important for right-wingers is the way that baiting blacks, Muslims, and hispanics allows right-wingers to demonstrate what they see as their moral superiority over white liberals. Right-wingers see themselves as smarter, tougher, more determined, more willing to defy social convention, and more authentic than white liberals and race-baiting is one of the pre-eminent ways that the right demonstrates these qualities. The right especially relishes shoving their race-baiting down the "whiny little throats" of liberals while taking any outrage on the part of the left as a sign that they've won. In this sense, race-baiting is an integral part of the right-wing's "war against liberalism."

The Technique for Obama. The trick to public race-baiting is to express racial loathing without directly attacking blacks in the manner of Michael Richards. So, people on the right are constantly looking for clever new ways to employ symbols of racial hostility, remind minorities of racial stereotypes, attack minority public figures, or defend race-baiting as non-racist. When George Allen called the Indian-American guy a "macaca," he thought he was using a clever and defensible way to call a black person a racial epithet. Of course, that one blew up in his face.

With Barack Obama, what people on the right are doing is playing with his name. Ele_, a poster on Slate's Fray, notes that you get "Osama" when you substitute an "s" for the "b" in Obama's name. The race-baiting trick here is to associate Obama's African-sounding name with terrorism so that "Obama" can become a synonym for terrorism. What's clever here is that the rhetorical manuever is defensible as "word-play" used to score a point against Obama even though the effect of the word-play is generated through attaching Obama's name to a stereotype--i. e., race-baiting.

In the same thread, "JackDallas" sticks in the knife a little further by associating the Osama connection and Obama's middle-name of "Hussein" with a traditional symbol of racial animosity. "[Y]eah that's it," says "Dallas," "Just what this country needs, an arabic lawn jockey for president." Here, "Jack Dallas" fuses the Arab associations of Obama's name with a traditional American racial image. Once again, this is defensible approach to race-baiting. Even though lawn jockeys are well known as demeaning images of racial servitude, they don't have the same force as the n-word or cotton images. Consequently, if Obama himself or any white liberal were offended, they could readily be seen as "over-reacting," "emotional," or "weak" because they were upset over such a minor bit of racism. For a right-winger like Dallas, the lawn jockey image would be a two-fer. He gets to engage in some race-baiting at the same time that he has an opportunity to make liberals look bad.

The Prognosis. Assuming that Obama is going to run and that he's competitive, we're in for at least a long 18 months of race-baiting. And the race-baiting will hurt his candidacy because it will tend to transform Obama from a symbol of hope into yet another black symbol of "racial controversy." In my opinion, the best way to counter race-baiting in the context of Obama's campaign is to respond quickly and go beyond the accusation of racism to emphasize what the right-wing is trying to accomplish with their racism.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Obama: Clearing Out the Second Tier

Maybe I'd be more excited about Barack Obama if I had read The Audacity of Hope, owned a television, or hadn't been excited about Howard Dean in 2004.

But I'm not.

One thing that Obama is doing, however, is killing the long-shot candidacy of John Kerry. He's also making an Al Gore bid a little less likely than it already is.

In the most recent Fox polling, Obama polls at 12% among Democrats, enough to put him alone in the second tier of interested Democratic candidates but not enough to bother Hillary too much. Given that Kerry sinks from 13% to 6% and Gore dives from 15% to 11%, almost of Obama's support is coming from people who still support former candidates.

Not exactly a hip crowd.

And Obama hasn't taken anything from Hillary. Her support increased slightly from 32-33%

Assuming that Gore is not going to run, that means that Obama is the only Democrat other than Hillary with more than 10% support. Eventually, this will make Obama the anti-Hillary in a precedent-setting and high-quality Democratic primary campaign.

The third tier is made up of John Edwards and John Kerry drifting below the Lieberman futility line of 9% while Evan Bayh, Joe Biden, Tom Vilsack, Wesley Clark, and Bill Richardson all barely register.

What often happens is that third tier candidates drift along hoping to become the leading alternative to the favorite and then catch some kind of lightning to the top. For all the guys in the Democratic third tier, this means that they would be hoping to seize any opportunity afforded if Obama either faltered or decided not to run.

You have to wonder why they bother.

Right now, Barack Obama's main contribution to the Democratic presidential nomination process is to make it necessary for the third-tier riff raff to have a lot more audacity if they want to keep hope alive (to borrow a Jesse Jackson line).

I'm all for that.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Iraq Study Group and Credible Government

The odd imperative of bi-partisanship. As Matthew Yglesias has emphasized, the Iraq Study is an effort by Washington Wise Men to re-establish some sort of bi-partisan elite reconciliation in the United States. It's an important point. In fact, the Iraq Study Group is about the United States as much at least as much as it is about Iraq and the leaders of the Iraq Study Group are putting a strong emphasis on bi-partisanship. However, Yglesias is mistaken in thinking that the Iraq Study Group is simply trying to exclude the left (although they did that). He is also mistaken to think that James Baker, Lee Hamilton, and David Broder are trying to create bipartisan harmony for it's own sake. American government is confronting a real, difficult, and under-appreciated problem right now.

The Perils of Presidential Government. In fact, the U. S. is undergoing the most serious crisis of presidential government since Watergate. The Bush administration has been almost as universally repudiated in the United States as it is in world opinion. Bush policy in Iraq has been repudiated in the polls for months, a repudiation that was reinforced by the heavy losses of the Republicans in the Congressional elections. On top of that President Bush's conduct of the war has lost the support of the neo-conservative policy elite after first losing the loyalty of the CIA, State Department, and military bureaucracies. If Bush were a prime minister in a parliamentary system, his own party would have forced him to resign and make way for a different leader. Because the U. S. has a presidential system where even the worst leaders serve their full terms, we are stuck with an administration that has been repudiated by the public, the government apparatus, and opinion elites of all ideological persuasions. Having a government that has been almost universally rejected is a dangerous thing in a time of war because it prevents the various elements of our enormous society from coalescing around one or two approaches to conducting the war. That's what's happening in the U. S. in relation to Iraq right now. There is a broad sense that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating, but not the least bit of consensus about how to understand that deterioration or what to do about it.

A Substitute for Credible Government. Given that the Bush administration is no longer credible on Iraq and that the Democratic opposition has not found its voice, the Iraq Study Group is serving as an elite substitute for credible government. The fact that such a fragile mechanism is necessary constitutes one more embarrassing measure of the foreign policy and defense failures of the Bush administration. Nevertheless, the Iraq Study Group succeeded in a very basic sense. They re-asserted a sober sense of the reality on the ground in Iraq as the basis for mapping out future policy, a sense of reality initially developed on the left. For years, anti-war commenters have emphasized the failure to get Iraq's economy functioning at more than pre-war levels, Iraq's explosive sectarianism, and the general ineffectiveness of the Iraqi government, army, and police. All of these conclusions and more were adapted by the Iraq Study Group and now have the character of a bi-partisan, elite conclusion. With the work of the Iraq study group, we can have a national consensus about how bad the situation is in Iraq and how ineffective the Bush administration has been in addressing that situation.

Forward Movement. The Iraq Study Group has defined the problems in Iraq in termsthat Disaffected Republicans, the Democrats, and anti-war people can mostly agree on. The only question is whether the Bush administration and the right-wing will continue in their hyper-aggressive denial of reality. I suspect that the answer to that question will be "yes" and that the Bush administration will find themselves increasingly marginal to public debate.

What to do? The weak point of the Iraq Study Group was their suggestions for addressing the many dimensions of the problem in Iraq. Launching a new international initiative, challenging the Maliki government to engage in a broad national reconciliation, and concentrating more on embedding American advisers into Iraqi units are all worthwhile recommendations. However, these ideas don't provide the ballast needed for a comprehensive solution to Iraq's problems. The Iraq Study group wants to reach out to Syria and Iran but provides little reason for Syria and Iran to respond. Likewise, they demand that Maliki embark on broad national reconciliation but provide no idea on how that could happen. Here, the Iraq Study Group has not being able to prioritize Iraq in relation to other American priorities on Iran, Syria, and Israel. If the U. S. is going to seek to integrate Iran and Syria into efforts to stabilize Iraq, it might have to accommodate Iran on nuclear weapons and accomodate Syria on Lebanon. If the Iraq Study Group wants the Maliki administration to become a more forceful presence, it will have to allow Maliki to build on his strongest assets, the Shiite militias.

The Iraq Study Group could not come up with a magic bullet for making the Iraq situation better. However, the members of that group deserve a great deal of credit for agreeing on the nature of the target in Iraq. At a time when the U. S. desperately needed a substitute for credible government, the Iraq Study Group provided one.

Dick Cheney: Another Grandchild for Worst VP in 200 years

Early reports this morning are that Mary Cheney, the daughter of VP Dick Cheney is pregnant and expecting a baby with her lesbian partner Heather Poe. I'll forbear any cheap shots about the hypocrisy of Mary Cheney spearheading her father's 2004 campaign while the Republicans made attacks on gay rights their primary theme. It's not like Mary Cheney was the only gay Republican implicated in the ugly homophobia of the Republican campaign in 2004. There was Rep. Mark Foley, Kirk Fordham (former chief of staff to Rep. Tom Reynolds), Robert Traynham (communications director to Rick Santorum), and an apparently extensive network of gay staffers on Capitol Hill. According to David Corn, Sen. Mitch McConnell is supposed to have a gay staffer. Actually, the rumor in Kentucky is that McConnell himself is gay and that his marriage to Elaine Chao is a sham. Because there are so many influential gay Republicans, there is not much use in slamming Mary Cheney or Dick Cheney in particular.

Besides, Alan Keyes, Donald Widmon, James Dobson, and the rest of the homophobic bigots on the religious right are going to spend most of the day upbraiding Mary Cheney and her father anyway.

The only point I want to make is that his daughter's pregnancy is by far the best thing that Dick Cheney's been involved with since he became vice-president. Dick Cheney was supposed to be an adult mentor for the woefully ignorant president Bush when he took office. Instead, Cheney the adult turned out to be more of a weird little boy than the President. Cheney has used his position as the most powerful vice-president in American history to pursue the crazed project of trying to vindicate most of the worst qualities of the Nixon presidency. I'm not talking about cutting taxes for the wealthy or handing the Alaska National Wilderness Reserve over to the oil companies. Making life even easier for the "haves" is the ambition of any Republican, straight or gay. Rather, Cheney has been the worst vice-president since Aaron Burr because of his involvement with the Bush administration secrecy campaigns, torturing suspected terrorists, sending suspects off to other countries to be tortured, cooking the intelligence that led to the Iraq invasion, and dishonestly posing one "rosy scenario" after another to justify the whole misbegotten occupation. Cheney has been at the center of almost every Bush administration move to screw up the Iraq invasion, waste American resources, and lower American credibility in the world over the last six years and it literally will take decades for the U. S. to recover from Dick Cheney's vice-presidency.

So, congratulations to Dick Cheney for the upcoming birth of another grandchild. It's the only honorable thing he's been involved with for a long time.

Monday, December 04, 2006

George Bush and the "T" Word

Lately, there's been some comment on the left about whether George Bush is the worst president in the history of the United States. The bright yellow "W-Worst Ever" bumper sticker on my car says that I agree with Eric Foner and Douglas Brinkley in rating Bush the worst. However, it really is too early to tell.

It does seem likely that Bush will be listed either with the disastrous Presidents like James Buchanan, Herbert Hoover, and Richard Nixon or the weak but not quite disastrous presidents like Franklin Pierce. Whether Bush is dead last will depend on the priorities of the historians doing the rating. Reagan biographer Lou Cannon points out that future historians might lift Bush's ratings because of the success of No Child Left Behind or the Prescription Drug Benefit. But it's just as likely that that the future will make things worse for George W. For example, information may turn up that will lead either American or international courts to indict President Bush and members of his administration for crimes against humanity.

There's also the possibility that a shadow of treason will develop over the Bush administration. There was a time in late 2003 and early 2004 when the insurgency had taken root but was not as entrenched as it would be that the Bush administration could have dramatically increased the American military presence in Iraq in the attempt to defeat the insurgency before it got a lot worse. Certainly, John McCain and John Kerry were advocating significant increases in the number of troops on the ground in Iraq.

Of course, there might be several reasons why the Bush administration decided to stay the course with 137,000 troops. Given that Wolfowitz, Feith, and Rumsfeld were all still on board, the Bush administration might have sincerely believed that the troop deployment was adequate. Perhaps Bush's people thought that increasing the number of troops would be admitting that their initial deployments were a mistake and thus would be disadvantageous politically.

However, I have always had the sneaking suspicion that the Bush administration saw political advantage in the initial growth of the insurgency. Sure, they would rather that the insurgency not have come into existence at all, but some of the "unintended consequences" of the insurgency were good for the Bush administration. First, the insurgency could be used as a club to beat the Democrats in the 2004 election and beyond. Second, the existence and growth of the insurgency could remind the Shiites in control of the Iraq government that they still very much needed the American military and would do so for the forseeable future.

To the extent that the Bush administration decided that the growth of the insurgency was a good thing in some ways, they were coming close to committing treason according to the Constitutional definition of treason as providing "aid and comfort to the enemy." If the administration adapted a policy that knowingly allowed the insurgency to grow, that's as close as any government has come to aiding and abetting an enemy.

It will be interesting to see what emerges concerning the Bush administration's policy-making concerning the Iraq War. The thing that Bush's people have to fear most are war crimes accusations. However, it's conceivable that information could emerge that will make people start talking about the "t-word" in relation to the Bush administration's conduct of the Iraq War.

Doubts About Obama

A couple of days ago, a student in one of my classes listed three "good" people--Mother Theresa, John Paul II, and Barack Obama. I'm not as enthused about Sen. Obama. Barack Obama may be a good man. He may be a great man. So far, however, Obama has shown no evidence of one of the absolutely necessary qualifications for any Democratic presidential candidate or any Democratic President:

the toughness needed to grind out the daily political warfare against the right-wing.

So far, Obama has been about hope and vision and that is something that Americans yearn for after 3 1/2 years of occupying Iraq, 6 years of George Bush and 14 years of non-stop trench warfare of American politics since Bill Clinton's election in 1992. But the trench warfare is not going to stop as long as Rush, Sean, and Bill O'Reilly are on the air, the political right dominates Republican politics, and the most extreme conservatives are rolling in money. To be a successful president, Barack Obama would have to show that he can effectively convey hope and vision after the right-wing turns on the inevitable "war on Obama."

Right now, I don't see Obama as being that tough. That's why I'm supporting Hillary at this point. If Obama does run, it will be a good thing. Obama's candidacy will suck the air out the Democratic primaries for all the second and third tier candidates and get the race quickly down to Hillary vs Obama. It will also give the winning Democratic candidate a tough tough test before they come up against the still-formidable Republican attack machine. I think Hillary will prove to be stronger when the heat gets white hot, but Obama certainly deserves a chance to start proving himself.

John Bolton: A Conservative Martyr at Long Last

John Bolton has to be one of the happiest guys in New York this week. Having submitted his "take this job and shove it" letter to President Bush, Bolton now has only two more weeks of "building coalitions against Iran and North Korea," "promoting reform," having tea with Kofi Annan and consulting with the French, Angolans, Madagascans and other inconsequential parties.

Then, Bolton is free to begin his career as a conservative martyr.

The whole secret to the John Bolton controversy is that Bolton did not want to be UN Ambassador in the first place. When Condoleeza Rice became Secretary of State, Bolton lost out on a power struggle to become Rice's Under-Secretary of State and function as a "minder" making sure that Rice stuck to the neo-conservative party line. The UN job was a completely unwelcome consolation prize that ensured both that Bolton would not be in the decision-making loop and that he would be spending all his time on completely disagreeable tasks.

Work at the UN?--Bolton believed that the UN should be blown up and international law eliminated.

Organize coalitions against North Korea and Iran?--Bolton wanted to overthrow both governments. Syria as well.

Negotiate with other members of the Security Council?--Bolton believed that the U. S. should be the only permanent member of the Security Council.

The only redeeming feature of Bolton's nomination to be UN Ambassador was the possibility that the nomination would be rejected by the Senate. This way, Bolton could spend the rest of his life as a conservative martyr. Bolton would get a promotion at the American Enterprise Institute, his speeches would be much anticipated at the Hoover Institute on the West Coast, and his books on how "liberals opposed him because he stood up for America" would fly off the shelves of right-wing publishers.

As UN Ambassador, Bolton would be living his own private version of hell. As a conservative martyr, Bolton would be rich, famous, respected, and beloved. He could throw out his rhetorical bombs anytime he wanted. He could have fun.

Bolton must have been secretly disappointed when President Bush gave him a recess appointment. When the Senate refused to nominate Bolton again, he moved quickly to pre-empt any attempt by the President to shoehorn him into the hated UN job again.

Free at Last! Free at Last! John Bolton is free from the UN at last.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Conservatives Yearning for Another Country

Last night, the RSI family had a Superman Returns festival. Watching the most current version of the Superman story almost three times, we decided that it wasn't a bad movie at all. Brandon Routh also was a pretty good Superman for our Rwanda/Darfur/Katrina times. When Routh was standing above the world listening to the cries of millions of people as he was deciding who to help, he was representing the best of the American Way.

At the same time, watching Superman made me wonder about the extent to which our conservative friends still believe in the American Way.

Exampls of conservative disaffection with the United States are readily at hand. Yesterday, it was reported that the conservative San Joaquin diocese is fed up with American Episcopals consecrating female priests, appointing gay bishops, and making women into national leaders. Indeed, San Joaquin Bishop John-David Schofield has accused national Episcopal leaders of heresy and the Fresno-based diocese has endoresed a direct affiliation with the worldwide Anglican community rather than the U. S. Episcopals. Bishop Schofield has also explored the possibility of affiliating his diocese with the Argentinian Anglican Church.

That's right, Argentina.

It is important to understand the significance of the disaffection of Bishop Schofield and much of his diocese. Their objection to Episcopal policy is that the national church has made women and gays into full participants in the Anglican communion, with the assumption that women and gays have the ability to lead and religious integrity as heterosexual men. Given the traditional exclusion of women from priestly functions and higher administration within all Christian denominations, American episcopals were taking a tremendous step. The same was the case with their election of a gay man as a bishop.

In manuevering its way toward disaffiliation, much of the San Joaquin diocese is expressing its wish to disaffiliate from female priests and gay bishops. At the same time, conservatives want to end their religious association with those who would make women and gays full religious citizens. They want to disaffiliate so much with religious liberals that they're willing to look a continent away for like-minded conservatives.

The idea of equal rights for women is now intellectually dominant in American society even if male supremacy still has an enormous impact. Likewise, the idea that gays and lesbians should be able to live as full citizens is gaining enough ground that homophobes feel that the only way to preserve exclusions is to write them into constitutions.

To the extent that full citizenship for women and gays has become the American Way (for Anglicans), the conservatives in the San Joaquin diocese are looking to disaffiliate from the United States.

This yearning for other countries characterizes many other conservatives as well. Anybody familiar with the Confederate flag phenomenon--and Confederate flags, bumper stickers, shirts, and scarves are very popular in this part of Kentucky--knows that a lot of racists would rather live in the Confederacy. To give an example from public life, Republican Senate whip Trent Lott of Mississippi is on record as saying that “Sometimes I feel closer to Jefferson Davis [leader of the Confederacy] than any other man in America.”

Likewise, many neo-conservatives and other conservatives yearn to live in a country that's more like Israel than the United States. Admiring Israeli aggressiveness against the Arabs and the long Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, American conservatives view the Israelis as an "ideal imperialist"and are fervent in their desire that U. S. foreign policy become more like Israel's. Defense Department conservatives like Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith were so strongly identified with Israel that some of their critics began to wonder about their loyalties to the U. S. For ardent neo-cons, however, there is no problem because they hope to see a successful Israeli state serving as a role model or father figure to the more aggressive, more dominant U. S. they wish for.

One of the odd things about conservatives is that they see themselves as the "real Americans," but often have very tenuous cultural and ideological attachments to American society. Knowing that they are at best underdogs in the cultural warfare in American society, conservatives are beginning to cast about for places and times that their right-wing hearts can call home.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Failure in Iraq: I Blame It on Britney

Conservative attempts to blame the American people for the failure of the mission in Iraq are making Talking Points Memo sick.

Take it easy, Josh Marshall. It's not like the right-wing isn't nauseating about most issues. Have you ever checked out David Brooks' justification of CEO pay?

Personally, I blame the failure of the war on Britney Spears. The core of Bush's strategy on the home front was to keep the American people from paying attention. That's why the Bush administration put so much emphasis on shoring up consumer culture, cutting taxes, not instituting a draft, and not talking about "shared sacrifice." Why would people pay attention if they had no connection to the war?

Britney Spears, the uber-face of 21st century America, was the key to the success of this strategy. Personally appearing on every tv show, posing for every page of every magazine, and singing in every gin joint from the Florida Keys to Walla Walla, Spears was completely devoted to keeping the eyes of the American people on her, not on the war.

But then, Britney seemed to lose focus. She started seeing Kevin Federline, got married, became pregnant twice, and start having babies. Millions of people still adored Britney, but it wasn't the hundreds of millions needed to distract the American public from the war.

That's when the Bush administration got in trouble. Without Britney at top form, the public began to look at the Bush administration and the Republican Congress. In fact, you can trace the big decline in Bush's approval ratings to the beginning of the relationship between Britney Spears and Kevin Federline.

Of course, Britney did not become a complete traitor. She separated from Kevin at the personal request of the President. However, it was too late to save the Republicans in the mid-term elections and perhaps too late to save the war as a whole. Now that she's dumped Federline, Britney's trying to get the old mojo back. She's teamed with the powerhouse duo of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan to ensure that's she is visible every day and recent reports have all three allowing the paparazzi to get crotch shots of her without underwear. (What sacrifices these women make for the good of the country!) But nobody seems interested anymore.

If you want to know why the war has failed, the answer is simple. Blame Britney.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Notes on the Bush-Maliki Summit

What President Bush has to say is not very interesting because he cares so little about the real world. The same is the case with Bush's current summit with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Jordan. Bush talks about "finishing the mission" and victory. The whole world knows that a U. S. victory in Iraq is no more likely than the Kansas City Royals winning the World Series or Vanderbilt University winning the Super Bowl. So nobody particularly listens.

Maliki is a different story though. Today it emerged that he told Condi Rice that al-Sadr and the Mahdi army militia were "not a big problem." Now there's a formulation that's ripe for multiple interpretations. Perhaps al-Maliki meant that al-Sadr and his forces were not a very formidable force and that he could deal with them before his morning prayers if he really wanted. Al-Maliki--too tough to care.

Or perhaps Sadr is "not a big problem" because Maliki sees the Shiite militias as an important element in the power of the Iraqi government. That's a possibility because the ferocity of the Shiite militias has demonstrated indeed that Shiites are willing and able to defend themselves. With the Shiite militias integrated throughout the government, there can be little doubt that the elected Shiite government can defend itself against Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda.

Or perhaps, al-Maliki thinks that Sadr is "not a big problem" because he knows that an American attack on Sadr and the Sadr City slum of Baghdad would create a much bigger problem.

Maybe Maliki was saying that Sadr is "not a big problem" compared to Rice and the rest of the blundering Bush administration.

Bad News for a Noble Enterprise

Today's a bad day for my field. Political philosophy, the effort to think about political matters in moral terms, is among the more ambitious of intellectual enterprises. Many of the great figures of human thought have worked in political philosophy as a genre, including Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Hobbes, and Locke.

But political philosophy has its share of slimeballs as well. The German political thinker Carl Schmitt caddied for the Nazis. Likewise, Mihailo Markovic served the cause of Serbian nationalism under his brother-in-law Slobodan Milosevic. Now it turns out that Luis Echeverria, the former Mexican president was also a political philosopher. That would not be so bad except that Echeverria was responsible for massacres of Mexican students during the sixties. Today, the charges against him were reinstated.

The Shame!

Actually, it's worse. The Bush administration and their fellow travelers in the media have been loaded with people (actually men) with academic training in the right-wing views of Leo Strauss, a leading political philosopher at the University of Chicago after WWII. Key architects of Iraq invasion like Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith were trained in Straussianism--the same with William Kristol.

My only consolation is that Bush administration Straussians might end up like Echeverria-- under arrest for their crimes against humanity.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Newt Plays the Outrage Card

Newt in New Hampshire. Last night in Manchester, New Hampshire, Newt Gingrich proclaimed that the U. S. "will be forced to reexamine freedom of speech to meet the threat of terrorism." Newt's immediate reference was to changing "the rules" so that terrorist groups couldn't get their message out through the internet. But Gingrich is a complex guy and he was talking on many levels. As a result, we need to exercise care in parsing out what Newt meant.

Playing the Outrage Card. Frankly, I think Newt challenged the freedom of speech to incite liberal "outrage" as a way to keep his name in the media. In other words, he was playing people on the left for suckers as a way to promote his long-shot presidential candidacy. On right-wing radio, figures like Rush Limbaugh and their callers get special pleasure out of outraging liberals. It's a form of psychological power that they see themselves as having over the left. One liberal who's already taken the bait is Bob Cesca who couldn't resist the temptation to proclaim that he would be willing to die (and by implication, see whole cities go under) in defense of free speech.

So, let's resist the urge to be outraged.

Nibbling around the issue. Instead, what Gingrich said should be examined in the context of right-wing political discourse. People on the right have been talking about the constitution not being a suicide pact and you can't have civil liberties if you're dead for some time now. Conservative figures ranging from Bill O'Reilly to President Bush have been trying to establish a distinction between "responsible" dissent and "irresponsible" accusations that the administration engaged in systematic lying in order to promote the Iraq invasion (which they of course did). There's the everyday treason accusations made by Ann Coulter and all her bombthrowing imitators. Although the right has yet to launch a full assault on freedom of speech, they've certainly done a lot of nibbling around the issue, looking for a pretext to promote their own schemes for limiting free speech while complaining about the limits that McCain-Feingold puts on their ability to extort money from corporations.

Who's the target? Gingrich talked about curtailing the ability of terrorists to use the internet as if we already did not have laws against criminal conspiracy and recruiting for terrorism that apply to the internet. But, of course, the target is the left. What worries Newt much more than terrorism is the rise of a left-wing blogosphere that has been much more determined and effective than the Democratic leadership and the mainstream media in opposing the Iraq war, the Bush administration, and the right-wing in general. By the eve of the invasion in April 2003, the Bush administration had thoroughly cowed the Democrats and the mainstream media, but the internet turned out to be a powerful mechanism both for rallying anti-war sentiment and challenging the Democrats and the regular media to be more critical. Conservatives have always viewed the development of an anti-war politics as a treasonable exercise in giving aid and comfort to the terrorists. With Republican defeats in the 2006 election, it looks like the current anti-war movement is an intolerable threat to the war effort. As a result, Newt is taking his probe of free speech up another notch. If the Republicans lose another election in 2008, Newt will probably wonder if elections are really that necessary.

The Benefits of Free Speech. In the case of the Iraq War, the exercise of free speech rights has not only been a manifestation of the natural freedom at the core of human existence, it has also been extremely good for the nation. Outside the initial invasion, the Bush administration has bungled the war in Iraq so badly that Baghdad and other cities have become hells on earth. Because the liberal blogosphere and a few Republicans like John McCain and Chuck Hagel had the free speech rights to pount away at the Bush administrations failures from an early point in the occupation, the whole country has a context for understanding the current disaster and an intellectual basis for debating future policy. If dissenters had not had free speech rights, the Republicans would have occupied Iraq for ten or twenty years, wasting lives, money, and military assets, and getting nowhere.

Conclusion. I'm far from being outraged by the right-wing's little campaign against free speech. However, the right is just as wrong about free speech as it was wrong on Iraq, the Civil Rights Movement, women's rights, gay marriage, social security, McCarthyism, the New Deal, government regulation of business, and abolitionism. There are few things more reliable than the wrong-headedness of the right.