Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Bloody Flag of Life

The Day. Derby Day is the Kentucky version of Super Bowl Sunday. Everybody gathers for parties whether they care about horse racing or not. Mrs. RSI and I got together with five or six other couples and our kids for a Derby Day party even though nobody in the group has followed horse racing in years. We talked shop talk, kids, politics, and culture for a couple of hours, watched the race, then talked for a couple more hours after we forgot the race.

The Shadow. It was a good day. The scientists in our group were still celebrating the removal of their chair earlier in the week and everyone was happy for them. I had a hard time working up a lot of enthusiasm though because I had heard that something about the death of Janet Gabriel last week that was extremely disturbing. Mrs. RSI told me that Janet was pinned under a lawn tractor for five hours before her husband reached her. As well as I thought of Janet, it was disorienting to think of 800-900 pounds of equipment pressing down on her torso and killing her over such a long time. She was still conscious when her husband got there and told him that she knew she was dying. In fact, the only thing keeping Janet alive at that point was the weight of the tractor itself which was acting as a tourniquet on her internal injuries. As soon as the tractor was removed, massive internal bleeding began and she quickly fell into a coma.

One of the things that's lost in all the reports of human deaths is just how much force it takes to kill a person. In Janet Gabriel's case, I can't help but think of the horrible trauma she went through. At the same time, it's important to emphasize that it took so much to kill Janet because she had enormous vitality, a vitality that I want to defiantly reaffirm in myself when I think of her. When I hear of people I know dying, I often feel a surge of defiant energy in the thought that I want to fuck everything and have another 5,000 children just to show how alive we human beings really are.

I feel just as defiant about Janet Gabriel's death. Yes, Janet died even though she was bright, energetic, friendly, and in tremendous physical condition as a marathon runner. And it's a horrible thing. But damn it, I'd like to think it would take just as much to kill me as it took to kill her. Although death is the inevitable consequence of what the philosopher Hannah Arendt called our "natality," I'll wave the bloody flag of life as long as I can. Just like Janet Gabriel.

In this way, Janet Gabriel's death, and the ferociousness of my own reaction to learning some of the details, hung like a shadow over the day.

New Thoughts on Harry Potter

This is part of the RSI continuing series on what RSI thinks is coming up in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Today, my daughter and I are thinking about horcruxes again.

Voldemort's horcruxes are objects within which he has concealed part of his soul. In order to kill Voldemort, Harry Potter will have to destroy the horcruxes first. Harry has already destroyed the horcrux in Voldemort's diary and Dumbledore has destroyed the ring. Now, there are four horcruxes left--Slytherin's locket, the snake Nagini, Hufflepuff's cup, and an undetermined relic from either Ravenclaw or Gryffindor.

My daughter Katy has found the locket in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The locket was originally in the basin with the green potion in Voldemort's cave but evidently was stolen by Regulus Black (Sirius' brother) and taken back to the Black house years before Harry and Dumbledore arrived at the cave. In The Order of the Phoenix, the locket was mentioned as one of the objects that was cleaned up as Mrs. Weasley, Sirius, and the gang were clearing out the Black house.

There was a musical box that emitted a faintly sinister tinkling tune when wound, and they all found themselves becoming curiously weak and sleepy until Ginny had the sense to slam the door shut; also a heavy locket that none of them could open
. . . (116).

Finding the locket will be a different problem for Harry than finding the other horcruxes. RSI's theory is that Harry will find the cup, the snake, and the relic through "legilimency"--breaking into Voldemort's mind and finding the objects in Voldemort's memory. It was established in The Goblet of Fire that Harry was mentally stronger than Voldemort and Harry's ability to delve into Voldemort's mind was a big part of The Order of the Phoenix. So, the ground is set for Harry to break into Voldemort's mind to find those three horcruxes in Deathly Hallows.

However, Harry won't be able to find Slytherin's locket that way. After all, Voldemort doesn't know where the horcrux is now. According to Katy, Harry (or Hermione or Ron) will have to figure out that the locket was in the Black house and had been saved by Creacher the house elf. Ultimately, RSI and Katy agree that Harry will find Slytherin's locket by asking Creacher for it.

Katy's other thought was that Voldemort hid one of remaining horcruxes at Hogwarts.

RSI's other thought is that Harry will be able to use legilimency to set Voldemort up for the kill and that Voldemort is going to die. Whether Harry himself lives or dies in the effort depends on the path Severus Snape ultimately takes.

I think Harry will live myself.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Harvey Mansfield Waterboards the Constitution

THE RIGHT IN ECLIPSE. The right-wing definitely seems to be in fin de siecle mode as they anticipate the end of the Bush era. Given the over-all immaturity of the right, that means that conservative commentators are abandoning message discipline altogether and indulging in wishful thinking about transforming American politics so they can always win. It's difficult to say whether the right is just venting their frustration over their inability to control American democracy, harmlessly beating their chests about how tough they're going to be the next time they hold office, or thinking seriously about whether they should launch a Hitler-like constitutional coup the next time they're in power. Maybe all three. However, there's now a fair amount of conservative thinking about how to take the democratize out of American democracy.

THE POLITICAL HACKS AS SKIRMISHERS. Unsurprisingly, Newt Gingrich was the first to jump on the bandwagon last fall by arguing that the First Amendment should be revised to limit the advocacy of terrorism. But Newt's real target is the domestic American opposition to military adventures that he saw as being all too successful in last November's elections. More recently, Thomas Sowell has been hinting at the need for a military coup to deal with the general "degeneracy" of American politics, culture, and education. Although more ambitious than Newt, Sowell is thinking along the same line. Given that the right can't control the United States as it is, they're wondering about the desirability of transforming fundamental American institutions in ways to allow permanent right-wing control. In other words, they're wondering about "regime change" in the U. S.

THE PHILOSOPHER AS CLOSER. A couple of days ago, Harvard political philosopher Harvey Mansfield weighed in with an argument for an American president over-ruling the Constitution and statutory law, taking away individual rights, and ruling as a one-man government--in other words as a tyrant. Unlike Newt and Thomas Sowell, Mansfield takes the idea of suspending or overthrowing American democracy seriously enough to attempt to give it an intellectual justification and he refers to Machiavelli, Locke, Montesquieu, the American Founding Fathers, Alexis de Tocqueville, and others in an effort to "prove" that a dictatorial executive can be justified by American and Western intellectual traditions.

NOT SO HONEST AFTER ALL. According to Glenn Greenwald, Mansfield's article is "a clear and honest embodiment of . . . the Bush movement." Where many conservative spokespeople as disguising their true believes in "politically palatable slogans," Greenwald sees Mansfield as "stating -- honestly and clearly -- the necessary premises of the model of the Omnipotent Presidency which has taken root under the Bush presidency. "

However, Mansfield's honesty is strictly limited. Although he is being honest in his unadorned advocacy of one man rule over the rule of law, Mansfield's intellectual justifications for one man rule are just as thick with lies, distortions, half-truths, and deliberate misinterpretations as any Dick Cheney speech, William Kristol article, or Paul Wolfowitz pronoucement.

Let me demonstrate Mansfield's dishonesty by referring to one of his early passages.

The first instance of a Mansfield distortion is his argument that one of the defects of the "rule of law" is that "the law does not know how to make itself obeyed." The obvious point here is that laws need executives authority and a police apparatus to be administered or enforced. Where Mansfield distorts John Locke and the American founders is in his idea that executive authority is something outside the rule of law. That's ridiculous. In Locke, the rule of law would be the mechanism through which the "people" governs itself subsequent to the formation of a society. Broadly stated, the purpose of the rule of law is to promote "the common good" and protect property (defined as lives, liberties, and estates). In this context, executive administration of the law is just as much a part of the rule of law as the legislative function of formulating law or the judicial function of adjudicating disputes. In the American Constitution, the presidential executive is even more deeply implicated in the rule of law because the veto power makes presidential approval a crucial element in the process of making law.

Harvey Mansfield knows all this just as well if not better than I do. In treating the executive as inherently separate from the rule of law, Mansfield knowingly distorts the arguments of Locke, the Federalist Papers, and the Constitution.

In other words, Mansfield is lying with political theory.

Waterboarding the Constitution. The second example of Mansfield's distortions comes with his implication of one-man rule in the conception of the American president. First, Mansfield argues that the best embodiments of the executive "energy" desired by Alexander Hamilton are Machiavelli's prince and Aristotle's "best man." It will be seen that Mansfield is mistaken here, but a mistake is not a lie. So, I'm not accusing Mansfield of doing anything deceptive with that.

Where Mansfield begins deceiving is when he associates the presidency with Machiavelli's prince. According to Mansfield, the vesting of "executive power" in the president ultimately means that "the American Founders showed a similar understanding to Machiavelli's when they argued for and fashioned a strong executive."

The argument is self-refuting and Mansfield efficiently refutes himself. He mentions that taking "care that the laws be faithfully executed" is part of the oath of the President. The President has other powers such as serving as commander in chief, entertaining foreign ambassadors, and making treaties, but none of these powers entails overriding the law. In fact, the power to act as commander in chief of the military is heavily circumscribed by Congress' power to declare war and the need to raise and appropriate money for the military through a law-making process. Mansfield emphasizes that the president's pardoning power has a "whiff of prerogative," but Mansfield tortures the sense of the Constitution when he claims that his one "whiff" of semi-arbitrary authority (semi-arbitrary because it's still authorized by the Constitution) adds up to a Machiavellian understanding of executive power.

Perhaps Mansfield's intellectual method could be referred to as "waterboarding the Constitution."

IN THE NAME OF A MISTAKE. In the final analysis, Mansfield's argument comes down to the idea that energetic government is most commonly associated with one-man rule (and Mansfield means "man" when he refers to "one-man" rule). This is a typical mistake for a Straussian. As an opponent of modernity and democracy (and Mansfield makes his contempt for the "democratizing" of everything very plain), Mansfield is incapable of recognizing the enormous energies that have been unleashed by the partial democratizing of modern societies. In the U. S. , government has become more not less powerful with each successive wave of democratization. Jeffersonian Democracy, Jacksonian Democracy, the New Deal, and the civil rights movement all freed up energies that made American government stronger, wealthier, and more ambitious. To the contrary, the stifling of democracy in the South through the end of the segregation era suppressed the whole population black and white.

This should be the lesson that Mansfield learns from the Iraq War. The Bush administration's attempts to act outside the law and public opinion have been de-energized the war on terror. That's because Bush and the right have had to devote much of their energy to fending off domestic opposition. If American government took away the freedoms of the American population as Mansfield recommends it should do on occasion, it would have to expend much of its energy on suppressing an American public that would be resisting the revoking of its long-established rights. As Mansfield well knows, Machiavelli believed that the best solution for a new prince in dealing with a population that's used to living freely is to destroy that population. Even if that's not the case, a one-man American government would have to devote much of its energy to maintaining a police state (not just a police force) to enforce one-man rule and the effect of enforcing one man rule would be to suppress the energies of the population.

That's why one-man rule is weak government. The government's "energy" is ultimately the energy of the people being governed and strong governments like American government has been since the Depression feed off the energy of the population. With "one-man rule," the energy of the government is devoted to suppressing the energy of the population and the energy of both eventually declines.

In other words, Mansfield's ideal of one-man government is a prescription for making American government as weak as Italian governments were during Machiavelli's time.

Like the Bush administration, Harvey Mansfield has been lying up a storm and waterboarding the Constitution in the name of a tremendous mistake.

Tom DeLay's Faux Work Ethic

Disgraced former Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay criticizes the Iraqi Parliament for planning to take a two-month vacation this summer while our troops are fighting to stabilize Baghdad.

I'd also like Iraq's corrupt politicians to do a better job of running their country.

But Tom DeLay is the last person to have any credibility on political work ethics. The GOP Congress he helped create only met for 79 days altogether in 2006 and DeLay himself didn't work even that much because of his early resignation.

Of course, DeLay might not have resigned because of his indictment on corruption charges. Maybe the killer pace was getting to him.

Say It Ain't So, Karl Rove

TPM quotes Christopher Hitchens as claiming that Karl Rove is an atheist. Here's Hitchens:

Well, I don’t talk that much to them — maybe people think I do. I know something which is known to few but is not a secret. Karl Rove is not a believer, and he doesn’t shout it from the rooftops, but when asked, he answers quite honestly. I think the way he puts it is, "I’m not fortunate enough to be a person of faith."

There's nothing more calculated to cause a crisis in my own faithlessness than to know that someone as vicious and unprincipled as Karl Rove would also be an atheist.

Hopefully, Rove will have a denial out by five this afternoon and be very visible when he attends the church of his choice on Sunday.

And all will be right with the world.

Roots of the Netroots

One of the odder developments from my time as a blogger/internet poster is that writers like Joshua Marshall of TPM, Jonathan Chait of the New Republic (TNR), and Mickey Kaus of Slate have become household names in my mental house.

I'm not sure that's a good thing, but I'm willing to live with it for now.

Chait has a big article out on netroots politics by which he largely means DailyKos with its 500,000 hits a day (a couple of which are from me).

Chait gets some parts of the netroots story right. By the time, Gore lost the 2000 election, audiences for new liberal blogs like Kos and Atrios were highly frustrated with the Democratic establishment of Clinton officials, consultants, pollsters, and journalists at places like the New York Times and TNR.

And the blogs were right.

Democrat elites were worn out by the fights over Bill Clinton and dominated by their fear of the activist right. They played defense on issues like abortion, affirmative action, and military spending, listened more closely to Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge than their own constituencies, and triangulated themselves so much that they no longer stood for anything but compromise with the right.

As a result, internet activism has been about making American left just as tenacious and energetic as the right. Here Chait has some more insight. In fighting the right, net activists like Markos Moulitsas Zuniga at Kos and Matt Stoller at MyDD (where I have a diary) view conservative activists like Grover Norquist as both role models and enemies. Norquist has been especially effective at uniting the vast right-wing apparatus of Republican officials, big money donors, evangelical groups, business lobbies, and pundits around a common conservative agenda. Net activists are trying to do roughly the same thing.

I see this in myself as well. I have always had a lot of respect for the political creativity of Tom DeLay who was always coming up with new ways to create and press advantages for the right. The same was the case with Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, Rush Limbaugh and the evangelical right. They were united in purpose and tenacious in their everyday politics. Outsider that I am, I always believed that anyone who wanted to oppose the right had to take them very seriously.

Having had some real insight, Chait then goes off the rails as he seeks to defend the Democratic journalism establishment against the liberal bloggers.

Chait sets up a dichotomy between the "non-partisan" approach of outlets like TNR and Slate and the relentless "partisanship" of the netroots.

It doesn't work that way.

By the Gore/Bush election of 2000, the "non-partisan" outlets had become the left-wing of the right-wing media machine and were too dumb to realize it.

The formula for both TNR and Slate was first to take right-wing personalities, proposals, and criticisms of the left and reformulate them in liberal political language. Then, "liberal" and "neo-liberal" writers like Michael Kinsley, Jacob Weisberg, and Mickey Kaus would make the right-wing case against "liberal orthodoxy" to their liberal readers. Conservatives like Norquist or Mitch McConnell were always "not as bad as you might think" while liberal figures like Al Gore and John Kerry were always "too ridiculous to be taken seriously." Liberal proposals always got nit-picked while right-wing proposals were always "interesting."

The effect was that "liberal" journalism was just as critical of liberalism as the right-wing media machine but in different, liberal, terms. Political debate was reduced to two poles--the conservative attack on liberalism from the right and the liberal attack on liberalism from journals like TNR and Slate. Worse, the mainstream media stopped inviting "real" liberals to forums and debates and started treating people like Slate's Michael Kinsley as the only voices on the left. The ultimate result was a "liberal media" that was promoting a right-wing agenda but wasn't smart enough to know it.

Chait doesn't realize this any more than Jacob Weisberg or Mickey Kaus at Slate. But the result is that Chait's "liberal intelligentsia" has become irrelevent to either liberal opposition to the Bush administration or liberal politics in general. They've been displaced by liberal bloggers. What politically aware liberal would look for information or opinion from TNR at this point. For the war, they'd go first to Juan Cole at Informed Comment. If liberals wanted to know about the 2008 election, they'd go to Kos, Atrios, or MyDD, and if they wanted to check out the latest on the federal prosecutor scandal, they'd click onto Talking Points Memo. All the liberal blogs do extensive media criticism with Glenn Greenwald being the most determined and tenacious.

Jonathan Chait sounds like he would like TNR to find some footing in the more partisan left-wing journalism and commentary being produced by the netroots. But Chait won't succeed until he realizes how much he has contributed to the recent domination of the right in American politics.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Last Day of Class

Today was my last day of teaching for the semester and I held my traditional little feast for all three of my classes. Here's some brief notes.

1. Corrupting the Youth. Socrates was convicted of corrupting the Athenian youth and denying the gods. Although I've never had much interest in Socrates and he's always been one of my least favorite figures in the history of political philosophy, I have to admit that I was very Socratic in my teaching of The Sermon on the Mount and the Gospel of St. Luke. My argument was not that I didn't believe in Jesus (although I don't). Instead, I argued that my Bible Belt students don't believe in Jesus as he is presented in the Bible and that what most Americans really believe in is a Lockianized re-interpretation of Jesus as a modern figure of freedom, rights, moderation, and responsibility. Like Socrates, I didn't get much resistance.

2. Turning Back the Specter of Heterosexuality. For some time, I've been thinking that the most important consequence of feminism was the specter of a generalized heterosexuality. In other words, feminism raised the possibility that males would see the homo-erotic worlds of education, work, sports, bars, and porn would either be forced to integrate women or forced out of existence. But guys can rest easy. Yes, women have not only been integrated into education, female students get better grades, receive more approval from teachers, and are starting to elbow their way into good jobs. However, guys have responded to the encroachment of women by turning video games into a homoerotic arena, greatly increasing their consumption of pornography, and advertising their masturbation as an alternative to involvement with women. And a lot of college guys seem to be de-emphasizing the importance of the newly hetero worlds of school and work as well.

Today, guys in my honor's class mentioned the popularity in their dorm of "rule," where guys seek to spank each other by surprise and can do so without retaliation unless the target sniffs out the attempt and shouts "rule" first. The homoeroticism here is in the spanking in the same way that towel-snapping used to be the homoeroticism of high school locker rooms. My twelve-year old daughter mentioned that "rule" was popular among eighth-grade boys last year at the local high school as well.

It's my impression that all the new strategies for homoeroticism have worked. In this sense, straight guys have defeated the specter of heterosexuality in their lives.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Thomas Sowell Yearns for Apartheid, or Something Like It

Thomas Sowell is a long-time conservative African-American commentator who might be described as the ultimate in Uncle Toms if there weren't so many other black conservatives vying for the title. I remember Sowell and Walter Williams (another black conservative) deriding contemporary black public figures like Jesse Jackson before justifying slave-owners like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as "products of the times."

In about as morally reprehensible position as he could take, Sowell seemed to think that the sins of slave-owners were much easier to forgive than the sins of black liberals.

Yesterday, in a National Review Online (NRO) column (via Matthew Yglesias), Sowell wonders if the "degeneracy" of American society doesn't call for a military coup.

Here's the degeneracy:

Our education system, our media, and our intelligentsia have all been unrelentingly undermining the values, the traditions, and the unity of this country for generations and, at the same time, portraying as “understandable” all kinds of deviance, from prostitution to drugs to riots.

And here's the yearning for the coup:

When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.

But thinking about the possibility of a right-wing military coup (the only kind in which Sowell is interested) in any kind of precise way leads to the conclusion that a kind of coup would have to be accompanied by an apartheid-like regime.

A military coup in the United States would be almost impossible. That's not for any sentimental reasons like the traditional subordination of the military to civilian rule. It's perfectly possible that a right-wing civilian president could someday order the American military to occupy the capital, arrest opposition leaders, and declare martial law in the same way that it's happened in other countries. Conservative thinkers like Harvey Mansfield, Newt Gingrich, and John Yoo have no problem justifying presidential authority that ignores the law, overturns the First Amendment, or engages in torture. Justifying or advocating a presidential coup would be the next logical step. In the case of a presidential military, the military still would be subordinate to civilian leadership. It would just be dictatorial rather than democratic civilian leadership.

Of course, Sowell might be thinking of a military coup to overthrow a Hillary or Obama administration instead.

The problem for a military coup is that there are only 2.8 million men and women in the combined active and reserve forces of the American military. Even if local, county, and state police forces (another 243,000) are thrown in. that makes an armed force of barely 3 million to control a country of 300 million with enormous urban areas that would be hostile to a right-wing military dictatorship. Even assuming that the whole American military would be devoted to the occupation of the United States, that's a 100-1 ratio where the Petraeus counter-insurgency doctrine holds that there should be 25 troops for every 1000 citizens, or a 40-1 citizen/troop ratio.

The military couldn't control the American population alone. Indeed, it might prove even more difficult for the American military to hold the United States than it already is to occupy Iraq.

For Sowell's dream of a military coup (the right-wing version of the American dream) to bear fruition, the military would need a form of mass assistance like a fascist movement, the racial "occupation" regimes of the segregation South, or apartheid South Africa. We can eliminate fascism because that's "so European." We can also eliminate the segregation South. Where the white South was a majority maintaining an occupation regime over a significant black minority, a Sowell style coup would require a right-wing minority of the population to control a large majority.

That's why the S0uth African apartheid regime does seem to fit the bill. In South Africa, a 20% white minority exercised brutal control over the vast black majority. That's what would have to happen in the U. S. for a right-wing coup to work. Evangelicals, neo-conservatives, economic conservatives, and hard-right talk show audiences--altogether about 20% of the population-- would have to mobilize to maintain dictatorial control over the rest of the population for a coup to succeed. Like Augosto Pinochet in Chile, they would have to engage in mass executions and disappearances during the first stages of a coup and maintain an enormous police/intelligence/ spy apparatus to sniff out dissent as the coup stabilized. Even more though, carrying out a right-wing coup would require the kind of large-scale control of residences, occupations, and mobility that characterized South African apartheid. Extremely intensive mechanisms of control are the only way that a 20% minority can control a majority of 160,000,000.

For that to happen, the right-wing would have to have a fratricidal fury like that of the Hutus in Rwanda or the Serbs in Bosnia.

As bad as the American right is, I don't see them as engaging in a fratricidal dictatorship.

At least not yet.

But then again. Neither Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama has been elected president either.

Liberal Blogs vs the Mainstream Media

The Mainstream Media has an interesting problem with the liberal bloggers like DailyKos, Atrios, MyDD, Matthew Yglesias, and Talking Points Memo. Liberal Bloggers like the admirable Glenn Greenwald savage the television networks, newsmagazine writers, newspaper reporters, and op-ed writers like Maureen Dowd and David Broder on a daily basis.

Even worse from the mainstream media (MSM's), Greenwald and the other liberal bloggers are almost always right. The MSM kowtows to the Bush administration and right-wingers like Matt Drudge, doesn't take Republican corruption or war critics seriously, was completely wrong about the war, and seems bent on taking a sneering personal posture toward Democratic politicians and presidential candidates.

But that's not the worst problem for the mainstream media. The worst problem is that they're in danger of losing their audience of politically-aware white liberals. I'm not sure of the ideological composition of the audience for the NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, or Newsweek and Time, but I bet it skews toward liberal whites and the rise of the liberal blogosphere has created competition for precisely that white liberal audience. The question is whether the MSM is going to do anything to keep its prosperous liberal audience. With Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, and Atrios developing into full-scale liberal news services that don't have to compromise with moderate and conservative views, the MSM might have to fight if they want liberals to continue paying attention.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

What Should the Democrats Do About the Veto?

Tonight President Bush vetoed the Iraq war funding bill with a short, exhausted-sounding speech on national television. Bush's argument for getting more war funding without strings attached boils down to "give Gen. Petraeus a chance." That's disingenuous. Bush wants one more chance for himself and his administration to succeed in Iraq with their new general and new strategy in place. But Bush, Cheney, Michael Hadley, and Condoleeza Rice have run out of chances to succeed in Iraq and the Iraq war funding bill effectively takes the war out of their hands. The extent to which the Bush administration is no longer a credible leadership is illustrated by the fact that Bush vetoed the war funding bill on the fourth anniversary of his "Mission Accomplished" celebration aboard an aircraft carrier. It's a devastating illustration of the self-deception, cluelessness, and feckless of the Bush administration's conduct of the Iraq occupation.

Unfortunately, Democratic responses to Bush's veto haven't been very effective yet either. Sen. James Webb claimed in his response that we've really won the original war but are fumbling the occupation. But that's just a semantic distinction. The occupation is part of the Iraq War as well and Sen. Webb can't wish it away any more than President Bush. Wordplay also characterizes the response of the liberal bloggers at DailyKos when they emphasize that it is really President Bush who is refusing funding for the troops. Technically speaking, Kos is correct. But it's also a distinction that doesn't make a difference. The question isn't about who is denying money to American soldiers. The question is who ultimately is going to control the military effort in Iraq--President Bush or the Democratic leadership in Congress.

For their part, the Democratic leadership is criticizing the veto, but not revealing what they intend to do about it.

As I've stated before, there seem to be three options for the Democrats:

1. The "Full Cave Surrender." This seems to be the media favorite. Congress would give Bush a funding bill with no mandatory strings attached and then revisit war funding in September when the regular budget is considered. This would allow Democrats to avoid accusations of undercutting the troops, but would undermine the credibility of the Democratic leadership with anti-war activists and public at large. But the Democrats wouldn't look bad for long. First, public opinion strongly supports a "full cave surrender" by the Democrats. So, they wouldn't look tremendously weak for following the will of the American people here. Moreover, Given the non-stop bad news out of Iraq and the enormous number of scandals plaguing the Bush administration (fired prosecutors, Jack Abramoff derivatives, violations of the Hatch Act, Bush's marital problems, etc.), the Democrats would start looking good again before anybody really new it. For better or worse, the Dems are the only alternative to the incompetent Bush administration in town.

However, neither House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seem disposed to go in this direction. According to Pelosi, Congress is not going to give the president "the blank check" he wants to run the war while Reid emphasized the determination of the Democrats to "change the direction of the war in Iraq." At least for now, it doesn't appear that Pelosi or Reid want to engage in a "Full Cave Surrender."

2. The "Second Veto Strategy." In this scenario, Congress could apparently give in to Bush's demands, but could incorporate provisions that Bush would find unacceptable and thus force Bush to veto the funding bill again. Forcing a second veto would put more pressure on Bush to accept compromise because then he really would look like he was petulantly keeping American troops from being funded. The most popular "apparent cave" strategy would be for Congress to put a short time frame on the funding like two or four months and then retry the issue in June or August.

There are other things that Congress could do to provoke a second veto as well. The Dems could take out the withdrawal deadline, but leave in the "readiness" provisions that were in the first bill. Bush would veto those provisions as "micromanaging." The Democrats could also make the "benchmark" requirements mandatory for the Iraqi government to end "de-Baathification," spread around the oil wealth, and settle other regional issues. The benchmark idea is Jack Murtha's, but I also believe that what Murtha really wants is a second veto that would put more pressure on the president.

Like the initial deadline legislation, the "second veto" strategy would take the war out of President Bush's hands. It would just do so in a less direct fashion.

3. All-Out Confrontation. There are several ways that Congress could force a confrontation with Bush. The most direct strategy would be for the Democratic leadership to just sit on the war funding bill and let the money run out for the military. The disadvantage is that that would give the Bush administration and the right-wing media a strong talking point about Democrats undermining the military. A further disadvantage is that the Democrats would be in the disadvantageous position of not doing anything during a time of war. That would be extremely hard if not impossible to justify.

A more plausible way for the Democrats to confront the president would be for the leadership to formulate a bill that funds troop withdrawals now rather than waiting until this October or next March. That would provide the president with two options--the original withdrawal date or immediate withdrawal. Bush could decide that he liked the original withdrawal date better. Getting votes for an immediate withdrawal bill might be a dicey proposition though.

My personal preference is for the "All-Out Confrontation" option. However, it's unrealistic to expect the Democratic leadership to undertake something that risky with a general election coming up in 2008.

Ultimately, "The Second Veto Strategy" is the option that provides funding for the troops, takes control of the war from Bush, and is politically doable for the Democrats.

And that's what I think we'll see from the Democratic leadership over the next few weeks.

The Right Gets Ready To Surrender

This from Bruce Bartlett of

As each day passes, it becomes increasingly clear that the Democrats will win the White House next year. It’s not quite 1932, but it’s getting close to a sure thing. All the energy is on their side, they are raising more money from more contributors, and there is little if any enthusiasm for any of the Republican candidates—even among Republicans.

"Surrender" is increasingly on the minds of Republicans. Pundits like Rush Limbaugh referred to the Iraq Study Group as the Iraq Surrender Group and Iraq withdrawal deadlines as "Surrender Dates." Likewise, Tom DeLay and other right-wing writers have been sure to put "No Surrender" into the titles of their books.

But Bruce Bartlett is the first right-wing writer I've seen to identify Nov. 4, 2008, as the real surrender date for the American right--the date they surrender power to people who want to "promote the general welfare" in the language of the Constitution. Having little or no commitment to governing themselves, the right-wing proved to be disastrously bad at it.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Alberto Gonzales and Other Grotesque Mixtures

Bad news! If someone has called you the "Alberto Gonzales" of professors, students, your workplace, writers, travellers, your car pool, or your family, they didn't mean it as a compliment.

Alberto Gonzales has replaced Mike Brown of Katrina-incompetence fame as the gold standard for incompetence in the Bush administration which itself is the gold standard of incompetence for American presidencies. Last week, David Broder labored to make an analogy between Gonzales and Harry Reid's statement that the Iraq war was lost. Of course, I don't remember when telling the truth became a sign of incompetence. Maybe Broder is the "Alberto Gonzales of columnists" instead.

But what does it mean to be the "Alberto Gonzales" of something. Six former CIA agents take a stab at defining Gonzales-ness in a letter criticizing George Tenet for his role in justifying the Iraq invasion. Tenet was "the Alberto Gonzales of the intelligence community-- a grotesque mixture of incompetence and sycophancy shielded by a genial personality." What made Tenet the "Alberto Gonzales of intelligence" was that he didn't resign when he realized the extent to which Dick Cheney was lying to justify an invasion. Cheney himself is grotesquely incompetent enough to be the "Alberto Gonzales of Vice-Presidents," but he does not have a genial enough personality (or the squeaky, high-pitched "man's man" voice) to really reach the Gonzales standard of ineptitude. Maybe the next politician who lies our nation into a failed war and then shoots one of his friends will be known as the "new Dick Cheney, a grotesque mixture of incompetence and bitterness fueled by his arrogant disdain for anything limiting his power."

Ultimately though, it will be George Bush who serves as the signature "grotesque mixture" of the "Bush era." In the final analysis, the horrors of Mike Brown, Alberto Gonzales, Condoleeza Rice, Karl Rove, and Dick Cheney are all reflections of George W. Bush's own qualities. Bush's grotesque mixture of incompetence, petulance, and frat boy smugness will long serve as a negative reference point in American life.

That will be the main way we remember not to elect another George W. Bush as president. The Dems should start framing Rudy Giuliani as the "George Bush of Republican candidates" now.

Why wait?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

RSI Goes to Wolfe County, KY

Yesterday, Mrs. RSI and I drove down to Campton, KY in Wolfe County to attend a funeral visitation for Janet Gabriel Turner. Janet grew up in Athens, PA, five miles from RSI's birthplace in Waverly, NY, and was a basketball star at Athens High School and the University of Oklahoma. RSI knew Janet from her five years of coaching women's basketball at Morehead State University where RSI is a professor. A great person who had been living with her husband and daughter around Campton, Janet died from massive internal injuries suffered when a lawn tractor rolled over on her. She was 47 years old.

Wolfe County in Kentucky is a very poor place. RSI grew up in Tioga County and went to college in St. Lawrence County in rural New York and both of those were poor places. Wolfe County is poorer still. A large number of houses had wood stoves, cows were grazing within sight of Main Street, and there seemed to be hardly any stores. In fact, the funeral home looked like the largest and most modern building in town.

It's safe to say that a town's not doing very well if its most prosperous-looking property is a funeral home.

But Campton was also alive with festivity and color. Wolfe County High School held its prom last night and the center of attention was the young women whose brightly colored, form-fitting prom dresses announced them as "women." Guys were there wearing tuxedos but parents were snapping pictures of the young women with the other girls. Like weddings, it was a high time to be female. The convenience store parking lot at the center of prom activity was bursting with happiness, pride, and laughter. In one car, the beaming couple was riding like they were in a parade. It was a great thing.

I was glad to be in Campton, Kentucky to pay my respects to Janet Gabriel.

Hopefully, there will be more later.

Surging Toward Disaster

The surge is failing and it's getting worse.

The U. S. military knows that Sunni insurgents are launching big attacks on Shiite areas in the attempt to stimulate Shiite retaliation.

But guess what! The insurgent strategy is working. The Sunni insurgent groups are much more active now that the Shiite militias have been standing down and American troops have not been able to secure Shiite areas from attacks.

Yesterday's car bombing in the Shiite holy city of Karbala (which killed 58) was the second big attack near the Shiite shrines to Imam Abbas and Imam Hussein.

If the insurgents succeed in damaging the shrines themselves, the militas will start springing back into activity.

At that point, it will be all over but the shouting.