Tuesday, 25 July 2006

The Salient Condition

Amos Oz, longtime Israeli peace activist, whose 2003 account of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations brought a human face to both sides of that debate, last week defended Israel's recent incursions into Lebanon "as long as this operation targets mostly Hezbollah, and spares, as much as possible, the lives of Lebanese civilians". Israel Hezbollah Lebanon

I must ask Mr. Oz if his salient condition has been met when I read reports from Human Rights Watch such as this account of Israel's use of cluster bombs corroborated elsewhere in the media and not denied by Israel. I find less, but some recent corroboration for the Lebanese President's accusation that Israel is employing white phosphorus as a weapon. The characterization of Israel's recent military operations as targeting mostly Hezbollah, certainly seems well off the mark.

I'm more than a little troubled by Oz's phrase "targets mostly" anyway. I would have opted for "strictly targets, with an emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties." If a significant minority of the targets are not demonstrably Hezbollah or terrorist, and the munitions used against those that are are prone to inflicting indiscriminate civilian casualties as well, then I find this action indefensible. Certainly Amy Goodman's daily broadcast summarizing events in Lebanon on Democracy Now leaves this listener horrified, even as others are appropriately horrified by the indiscriminate shelling of Haifa by Hezbollah.

Here is an interview Amy conducted with Noam Chomsky and others in the early days of the conflict. I know Goodman and Chomsky will be dismissed by right leaning pundits as extreme or "far left", but while I'll not take every word they say at face value, I cannot dismiss so easily the voices they bring to us which the mainstream media so easily ignores.

Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Gitmo & the SCOTUS decision revisited

Jack Grant of Random Fate asked this salient question 10 days ago:
In what twisted universe is it that the President of the United States has to be TOLD by the courts that an extra-legal prison that uses “stress positions” and other “coercive” means of interrogation is not only ill-advised in a war that depends more on image than on casualties but also completely contrary to the most fundamental of American values including the rule of law?
I've been catching up a little on some blogs I used to frequent but had dropped the habit. Jack and the "Rev. Gisher" are always good for keeping both sides of our political divide on their toes.

Monday, 17 July 2006

Opposition to Tyranny

Ideologues of all varieties often think of themselves as opposed to tyranny. And so they ascribe to opposing ideologies a tendency to produce tyranny. On this point they may be largely correct, while remaining blind to the tendencies of their own ideology to do the same.

Years ago I took on the mantle of liberal, and still I like it as well as any - though arguments can be made that progressive is the better label for the ideals I ascribe to. And so it was that "conservative" philosophy was what supposedly stood in opposition to my ideals, and indeed it has been rare that I could rightly be described as conservative. And yet I have often found individuals who self-label as conservative to be decent folk as genuinely committed to principles founded on moral behavior as many of my liberal colleagues who are quite genuinely committed to principles of equity and opportunity for all.

During my college years I still recall the excitement with which a friend extolled a new ism, which seemed to capture the piece of liberalism which was true and right, but without some of the naivete often ascribed to it. I listened, not fully convinced, to his description of libertarianism which in the late 70s was far less well known than it is today. Certainly the notion of individualistic freedom which was already engrained into me as an American was appealing. It seems that only a few days or weeks later, that the same friend came back disillusioned, describing these libertarians as nothing more than laissez-faire capitalists minus the puritanical authoritarianism of our caricature of traditional conservatives.

Reagan co-opted the economic piece of libertarianism and branded the Republican party with it, much to my dismay, but undeniably to the political advantage of Republicans who now tapped into a whole new constituency raised in a more permissive generation not likely to go back to the more restrictive brand of conservatism, but amenable to this new animal. But it is this economic libertarianism which I now find more pernicious than the stodgy old-fashioned conservatism, and more in opposition to my own ideals.

But there are pieces of truth in any way of thinking. What we should agree on is that tyranny must be avoided. Libertarians seek to avoid the tyranny of big government, liberals seek to avoid the tyranny of big business, conservatives the tyranny of permissiveness, et cetera. The ideals always feel principled, but the reality is that mundane concepts like checks and balances remain the best weapon against encroaching tyranny, and at any given time the greatest threat of tyranny lies in the hands of whomever it is that holds the most power. Jack Whelan, at After the Future writes:
in the world we live in the real threat of tyranny comes not from the political sector, but from the economic. For me the fundamental flaw in Libertarian thinking is its failure to recognize this. Tyranny derives from the abuse of power, and so it follows that the greatest threat to freedom comes from those who have the greatest concentrations of power. Look around you. Does that power lie in the hands of Liberal congressmen and professors? Of course not. It lies with those factions within American society which have enormous economic power. And the greatest threat to American democracy lies not in the power of big government if it serves the will of the broad electorate, but in the power of big government if it serves the will of those with enormous economic power.

The Libertarians fixation with freedom and economic prosperity seems to blind them to how their emphasis of them leads to problems with the distribution of power. They seem not to care at all about the dangers associated with the growing concentration of economic power in fewer and fewer hands. They seem not to realize how that concentration of power is the direct result of their hard work to pull back government power as a counterbalance to economic power. The kind of crony capitalism that we're seeing in Washington now is not caused by a failure of conservatives to live up to their ideals; it is the inevitable result of economic power moving into the territory from which good government has retreated. If the government won't stand as a counterbalance to economic power, it inevitably winds up being coopted by it. And then neither principled conservatives nor principled Liberals get what they want--they both have to deal with a big, bloated government serving the needs of big pharma, big oil, or the big companies that make their money from military spending.

He also points to an excellent article at Washington Monthly by Alan Wolfe "Why Conservatives Can't Govern"
Eager to salvage conservatism from the wreckage of conservative rule, right-wing pundits are furiously blaming right-wing politicians for failing to adhere to right-wing convictions. . . . A conservative president and an even more conservative Congress must be repudiated to enable genuine conservatism to survive. . . . [They say the Bush presidency failed] because Bush and his Republican allies in Congress borrowed big government and foreign-policy idealism from the left. . . . Of course, many of these dissidents extolled the president's conservative leadership when he was riding high in the polls. But the real flaw in their argument is akin to that of Trotskyites who, when confronted with the failures of communism in Cuba, China and the Soviet Union, would claim that real communism had never been tried. If leaders consistently depart in disastrous ways from their underlying political ideology, there comes a point where one has to stop just blaming the leaders and start questioning the ideology.
The brilliance of liberal democracy as conceived by our founding fathers was that it spoke to ideals but relied on the mundane instruments of checks and balances to keep new tyrannies at bay. If it needs any tweaking, that should be based on any new imbalances that may creep in. It's why I am often a broken record here concerned about corporate wealth and power, for surely that is the primary clear imbalance in our own country, and by extension to a large degree throughout the world, which of course has plenty of pockets of extreme tyranny of other descriptions which are also to be despised. One tyranny cannot justify itself simply by spending some of its energy in opposition to another tyranny. I suspect Osama bin Laden is genuinely appalled by Western profligacy even as he is blind to the horrific nature of his response to it. We should rightly oppose the tyranny of bin Laden or Saddam or Mugabe or Kim Jong Il, but we needn't therefore champion the growing disparity of power in our own country just because it can be manipulated in opposition to the former -- even if it had been done more competently.

Right now the most important thing we can do as Americans is to preserve our democratic institutions and insure that we retain pluralism and restore trust in our vote counting mechanism. We are certainly due for a correction - if that correction is made unavailable by corruption and tampering with our democratic processes it will be huge loss not only to America, but to the world at large as well.

Friday, 14 July 2006

Damned Week

Violence in Mumbai.

Violence in Iraq.

Violence in Lebanon & Israel.

Violence in Sri Lanka.

May the peacemakers persevere. It would be so easy to give up in this world.

I'll take solace in knowing that for many the week past was a damned good one. Celebrations must be allowed in the midst of horrors, else we cannot refuel to fight future horrors. Current horrors will always be with us, whether open or hidden. This past week just seemed especially bad.

And so it was good to see Bunnatine Greenhouse almost giddy over the Army's announcement finally that Halliburton's gig as a no-bid contractor has been cancelled.

But let's not forget the pain of those who lost so much this week. And let's not abandon the peacemakers.

Tuesday, 11 July 2006

Shine on You Crazy Diamond

I always thought of him as relatively obscure, but Syd Barrett's passing is receiving huge attention among bloggers. Says something about the staying power of a good tune. Since I heard this on the midday news, his tunes and those of Pink Floyd about him have been bouncing in my brain. I see it was noted that the other members of the band always made sure he received his royalties. Would that society at large so reliably take care of her casualties.

"I'd give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it."

Monday, 3 July 2006

Mexican Election Follow-up

Yesterday's national election in the United States of Mexico, are still officially too close to call, but with 98% of the vote counted, fiscal conservative Felipe Calderon appears to have a 1% edge and is speaking confidently. Concerns about unrest on the heels of a narrow Calderon victory are not yet laid to rest, but populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador stated:
Have patience. We are always going to act responsibly. If we lose the elections I will recognize that. But if we won the vote, I'm going to defend my triumph.
If the results hold up, there will certainly be those who suspect a stolen election, regardless of Obrador's own stance. Let's hope frustration does not descend into violence. If fraud seems very likely, perhaps Ukraine's Orange Revolution can serve as the model. I fear Americans are still just too comfortable to follow that model if and when our elections become systematically stolen.