Wednesday, 30 November 2005

The Third Type of War Prisoner

Mike Houser makes a good catch of the erroneous categorization of war prisoners into three types by Charles Krauthammer at the Weekly Standard. Krauthammer makes a tortuous defense of retaining the option for torture, but divides war prisoners into ordinary soldiers, terrorists, and terrorists with information. Mike rightly inquires what about the innocent who are suspected of terrorism. Krauthammer conveniently ignores an uncomfortable category.

Independent Pride vs. Reality

How many times have you heard someone say "I vote for the person not the party." Such folks are called proudly independent. How can you argue with that? Political reality argues otherwise in an age when majority parties set the agenda, chair all the committees, and wield substantial power. When one party has succumbed to corruption and controls all the branches of government, such independence becomes foolish.

Jack Whelan sums up his most recent post with this:
And that's why it is so important that the Democrats regain control of Congress in 2006. Not because the Democrats are better human beings than the Republicans, but because the corrupting effect of unchecked power of the Republicans must be stymied. The Republicans have to know that they cannont act without impunity. They cannot control themselves; we shouldn't expect them to.
As ideological removed from Newt Gingrich as I was in 1994, I could not deny that many aspects of the first 100 days of that "Contract with America" had merit. The Democrats had controlled the House for 40 years without interruption, and their behavior had legitimately earned the scorn of the electorate. We see that it has taken the Republicans only 10 years to become as corrupt as the Democrats managed to become in 40.

I can hope that even some Republicans see the need for a switch in control, but must admit that I couldn't bring myself to vote for a Republican in '94, so can imagine how hard it must be for them to buck their ideology for a necessary righting of the ship. Nonetheless, if the Democrats can field a compelling crop of challengers, appropriately tailored to their districts, our country may well get the switch we need in '06.

Saturday, 26 November 2005

Where does "political enthusiasm" lead?

This morning I received an email from a distant friend who recently looked me up. He asked the question:
I would like to know if America's growing enthusiasm for "politics" is spreading lightness or darkness.
Though I've not asked it in quite that way, that is a question which I've been wrestling with as I view all of the newfound passion being exhibited by citizens for our political process. On the one hand I am heartened to see the dissolution of apathy among many who had been politically dormant. On the other hand, the natural tendency to "choose sides" when personal political passions take hold often results in an unhealthy clannishness, which serves to deepen divides along what I often see as false lines.

David Broder on Washington Week in Review last night spoke of a yearning among many Americans for moderation in the face of all the harsh rhetoric which is being served up these days. I cringed when he gave his example, however, because while I share the desire for greater civility in our society, that civility isn't best reached by simply settling on some mushy middle that supposedly only "extremists" would find objectionable. People of conscience should challenge us at the edges, when inertia would allow injustice to prevail.

We should be very clear. Speaking against injustice, against tyranny, against inhumane treatment, or against killing should not be considered divisive because it is "negative" speech. It is rather attempts to conflate ideologies with injustice, tyranny, inhumanity, or murder which are divisive. I am often unhappy with "anti-conservative" talk among my putative comrades which I see as unnecessarily divisive. I fully defend most of liberalism as an honest attempt to point toward a more enlightened future. I take strenuous exception to the dogged denigration of liberalism by the right wing noise machine. But I do not denigrate conservatism in return, in some kind of tit for tat competition. Sure I will decry what I am usually pretty careful to label as the current Republican leadership in the U.S., because it is my honest judgment that corruption and greed has long since overtaken classic conservatism as the driving force behind it. On a case for case basis, I will still defend a liberal position as superior to a classic conservative position where I believe that to be the case. Such a defense should never be shrill. But there are certainly cases where outrage is appropriate.

In the runup to the 2004 election I interacted with many local Democrats who had thrust themselves into the campaign out of a sincere desire to help our nation return to some sanity. I felt a genuine camaraderie there, and yes some of it was borne of outrage. I'm certain there was genuine camaraderie on the other side as well, often felt by truly decent people who felt they were working toward a noble goal. It too often feels like we're stuck in an us or them dichotomy. I desire a camaraderie which crosses the false divide without compromising our deeply held values. We really don't all need to believe the same thing. We can see the goodness of folks across the divide without sacrificing every radical notion, as long as we retain the humility to recognize that some of our ideas may not stand up to reality.

Hope lies in the possibility of synthesis, not annihilation.

Monday, 21 November 2005

Threat or Opportunity

In a recent fit of dismay over America's direction and the future of the planet I mused that maybe our best hope now is that China, in spite of her deeply flawed recent past, and burgeoning development in the face of dwindling resources, will somehow "get it right", and become the leader that keeps us afloat. There's plenty of reason for skepticism, with a human rights record which leaves much to be desired, and, for instance, the huge Three Gorges Dam hydro project there which hardly seems the model of environmental stewardship. Nonetheless, the sheer number of Chinese is a sobering reminder that their handling of their own development may be the single most important factor in determining humanity's future over the next century.

Mark Satin in his most recent Radical Middle newsletter, suggests that our greatest hope may lie in not perceiving the rising economic powers of China, India, and Brazil as threats, but rather as partners with whom our cooperation is essential if we are to move forward with everyone's interests in mind. He suggests following the advice of policy analysts such as Joseph Nye, Jr of Harvard and Lawrence Korb and Robert Boorstin of the Center for American Progress, who suggest a new approach in our engagement with these developing nations.
It involves de-emphasizing the “hard power” (economic and military carrots and sticks) routinely wielded by top officials like John Snow, and vastly increasing what Nye calls “soft power” -- a willingness, even an eagerness, to listen to each other, learn from each other, and work cooperatively with each other on the common problems that confront us all.

(In this view, to the extent that American values are “superior,” they’ll be adopted naturally in the course of cross-cultural exchange and common endeavor. The John Snows of the world will have little to do with it.)

Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have embraced the soft-power-first approach. It requires policymakers to embrace such dicey characteristics as humility and magnanimity, and to commit themselves to focusing more on long-term interests than short-term positions.
Sure, it's more than a little bit frightening to realize our fate depends on good faith partnerships among cultures which have condoned suppression of freedoms, honor killings, and oppression of women. But we see our own strengths in spite of deep flaws, so we should welcome an honest exchange with others in spite of their flaws, or else face the consequences of an antagonism which will bring out the worst in all of us.

By humbly acknowledging our own warts, perhaps we will give permission for new partners to do the same, enabling us to work together toward solutions with a little less of the bad stuff, drawing from the strengths that each of us have to offer. Every possible course is fraught with danger, but if we are to choose hope we must be willing to engage other powers in a cooperative spirit of mutualism, encouraging our better natures to blossom, while facing our common problems boldly and honestly.

Thursday, 17 November 2005

Insisting on a Higher Standard

White phosphorus should not be used as a weapon - period.

Regular readers know that I have a high tolerance for a diversity of opinion, while espousing my usually liberal but rarely strident views. I have a very low tolerance, however, for sanctioning the mistreatment of others, regardless of who they might be.

When Bush nominated the architect of a policy which sanctioned inhumane interrogation techniques to be the chief law enforcement official of the land, I cried foul. When Cheney seeks exceptions to a universal no torture policy, that's not just unwise, it is immoral.

War is an awful, awful business, and it is with good reason that one of just war theory's precepts is that it be used as a last resort. Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq looked more like one based on a last opportunity, not a last resort, and hence I unambiguously opposed it, and marched against it, before we went in. Once in a war, civilian casualties are all but unavoidable. I don't deny that compared to many previous wars, a great deal of effort was placed on minimizing civilian casualties in this one. As the war lengthened, it was inevitable that more lapses in this effort would occur, and it seems likely that one of the most scientifically credible studies which was under-reported in the mainstream American media estimated 100,000 Iraqi deaths, mostly civilian, one year ago. It matters not that the opportunity to go to war may have been lost, with the U.N. inspections process still underway and making progress, it was not a last resort. Period.

So when an Italian source reported about one week ago that the incendiary white phosphorus had been used against a civilian population in Falluja, I was concerned. I did not jump on the story which was being roundly debunked in much of the right leaning press and blogosphere, as I am disinclined to lend credence to a single source without corroboration. Yesterday's admission by the Pentagon that the chemical, colloquially known as 'Willie Pete', had been used as a weapon in Falluja, represented a change in their story from their claim of a week ago:
The US initially denied reports it had used white phosphorus as a weapon in Falluja in November 2004, saying it had been used only for illumination and laying smokescreens. However, the Pentagon has now confirmed the substance was used as an "incendiary weapon" during the assault.
(read the whole thing)

Though they continue to deny that it was used against civilians, and argue that its deployment was not illegal, is it any wonder that such claims have lost credibility with much of the world now that their story has changed?

I will not apologize for my insistence that my nation be held to a higher standard when it comes to the treatment of our enemies, suspected enemies, or those who may be caught in the crossfire.

When Senator Bond was debating Senator Durbin last week in defending his vote against McCain's amendment prohibiting torture and inhumane treatment, he fell back on the argument that the rules would prohibit treatment which is typical for our own recruits at boot camp. Well maybe we should look at our treatment of our own forces, but we should not give carte blanche to unknown agents to interrogate unknown prisoners at unknown locations outside the constraints of international law. Insisting on a higher standard is what America should be all about.

Thursday, 10 November 2005

Liberal Interventionism

Liberal interventionism seems to be something that a lot of bright people are writing about lately. Sam Rosenfeld and Matt Yglesias combined to produce this thoughtful article at American Prospect yesterday. My favorite local writer, Jack Whelan, has this to say over at After the Future, and points us to this Dan K reply at the TPM Cafe, including the following frightful observation:
A fire is raging that is threatening to burn the world down. Yet instead of arguing constructively about how to put the fire out, people are consumed instead with arguments about (a) whether it is ever a good idea to light fires and (b) who told the lies that tricked some of us into lighting this one.
Pride often tempts us to find some subtle truth that others are missing, and display it like a peacock's tail. Personally I wouldn't pretend to predict the outcome of bold intervention, whether the intention is noble or not. I was confident enough that going into Iraq was a huge mistake that I took to the streets back in February of 2003. Others on both sides of the issue knew more than me, but when the stakes are high we sometimes must make our best guess and take a position that our moral compass demands of us. I would have been happy to have been proved wrong. I wasn't. There is no joy in that.

I don't know what to do next. But we desperately need some smart, forward thinking, and morally directed people to put their best effort into suggesting some alternatives.

Monday, 7 November 2005

Splinters, Splinters, Everywhere

Here's more evidence that the UNholy alliance between corporate interests and the religious right is cracking up. It was bad enough for evangelicals to learn that their putative allies have been calling them 'wackos' behind their backs, but more are waking up to the fact that corporate interests are orthogonal (when not in direct conflict) to their interests. Already evangelicals as far right as Pat Robertson have bucked the Bush administration in calling on Congress to approve debt relief. The environment had been one issue on which the corporate and religious right leadership had been pretty consistently in lockstep against greener sensibilities, though I've personally known quite a few environmentalist evangelicals. But now evangelical leaders are speaking more forcefully for biblically mandated stewardship of God's creation creating splinters both within the evangelical movement, as well as between them and the corporate polluters. Thanks to Facing South for the inspiration.

Richard Viguerie, Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist, Rush Limbaugh, et al: I believe your glue is finally drying up!

Saturday, 5 November 2005

Tip of the Iceberg

This from Inflatable Dartboard is just brilliant.

Thanks to firedoglake for the find.

Wake Up & Shut Down are Opposites

I have unabashedly celebrated Harry Reid's bold move Tuesday to force the Intelligence Committee's hand in moving forward with their investigation of the Administration's use of intelligence to promote the case for war in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. To those millions of Americans who agree that Bush has been dishonest with the American people from the start of this sad chapter, this was a long awaited WAKE UP in the Senate, which for two hours forced them to address one of the most important issues we face. And yet repeatedly I've seen this action referred to as a 'shut down' of the Senate, including last night on Washington Week in Review.

Call it a stunt or grandstanding if you must, but that closed session was not a shut down, it was a wake up.

Friday, 4 November 2005

Alit... Shhhhhh!: War, Torture, Corruption, Deceit

The Democrats got an early Christmas gift from Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who correctly postponed hearings on the Samuel Alito SCOTUS nomination until January, rebuffing the anxious White House, saying "We have to do it right. We can't do it fast."

I agree with others who believe the GOP is in no position right now to be using the "nuclear option", so politically the Dems are in a great position to filibuster. But the process is important, and it seems to be clear that Alito is a thoughtful and decent man, as well as an intelligent constitutional scholar. The extent to which he would move the judicial philosophy of the court to the right, however, is a genuine concern to liberals and some moderates, and Senator Leahy, the ranking democrat on the Judiciary Committee will not rule out rejecting Alito on ideological grounds.

Two paragraphs, after saying "Shhhhhh!", I'm still writing about Alito. But the break until January gives Democrats more time to focus the nation on the Iraq war, use of torture, corruption, cronyism, and deceit, and that's what they should do in lieu of making more public comments about the Supreme Court nominee. Cheney's support is down to 19% in the latest poll, so I expect Bush's support to fall further. As much as I prefer the higher road, where people of disparate philosophies work together to hammer out sensible policies, the demonstrated unwillingness of the Bush White House or Republican Congressional leadership to engage with their adversaries, combined with their increasingly apparent criminality makes it clear to me that the best course is to pile on and do everything possible to discredit them and render them ineffective.

So I say it's time to be quiet about Alito, and make as much noise as possible about the outrages perpetrated on Americans and the world by Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, DeLay, Scanlon, Abramoff, etc. Reasonable Republicans like Specter can help us against the religious extremists, McCain against the torture promoters, Grassley against the too cozy relationship between Corporate heads and government regulators. Fully discrediting the current leadership will give an opportunity for reasonable voices to rise within the Republican party. We'll need those voices to be there if and when the Democrats take the reins of control back. For now, I will openly long for that day, and add my voice to the rising crescendo of dissent.

Tuesday, 1 November 2005

Give 'em Hell, Harry!

On the Senate floor today:

- - - - Harry Reid's Statement - - - -

I've not heard Senator Reid's name mentioned as a potential nominee for President on the 2008 Democratic ticket. I wouldn't blame him if he doesn't want the job, but after today I bet his name will start cropping up. Thanks, Jane!

Libby Replaced by Two Who Are Unfit

While most of the press dutifully follows the important Supreme Court nomination, someone is paying attention to our administration's willful disregard for common sense and decency, by replacing indicted insider Libby with two other insiders linked to spreading misinformation and authoring pro-torture policies. It's a pretty sure bet that if the truth were all exposed, it would be a lot more than just Scooter Libby confined to a prison cell. I'm all for due process, but there are some who have been executed for less egregious offenses than Cheney, Rove, and Rumsfeld, to name a few are probably guilty of. Those who have inside knowledge of any crimes have a patriotic duty to expose them to the American public. There seem to be a whole lot of people who have gotten it backwards, and are endangering our national security in the name of protecting it.

Thanks to Basie! for keeping his eye on the ball.