Sunday, May 31, 2009

Proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy

Not sure if you can read that or not, but the rainbow ends at the Beer Store.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Populist and dissident conservatives have raised objections for years, indeed decades, that the party has never governed as they would wish it to, but over time the label conservative, emptied of meaning as it has become, has increasingly become a more common label for reliable Republican voters to apply to themselves.
-Daniel Larison
Daniel Larison has a post up from a few days ago in which he explains at great length that the conservative movement that's taken over the Republican party is not actually conservative, at least not in the way that he means it when he says that he's conservative.

Pardon me while I indulge myself with a Nelson Muntz-type moment.


While I do feel bad for those five or ten genuine old-school conservatives left out there who want to know what happened to their political representation, along with the genuine, if largely mistaken, principles for which it, and they, stood, I would like to take this moment to remind them that they are at least in part responsible for the dissolution of their brand. While they had some good points, they lost the big argument in the universe of discourse (the one they were having with liberalism), and had to resort to pandering to the cornucopian vein of American crazy in order to win elections. That the nutjobs staged a coup and took the steering wheel was, if not inevitable, then at least a very real possibility that was more than obvious at the time.

And so now Larison, last scion of the house Burke and Oakeshott et al, finds himself standing outside looking in, echoing the form, and indeed the content, of those on the inside who're busy purging their house of people like him, all of them saying, in unison, that they are the true conservatives, and that once they are shut of the unbelievers, all good things will come.

Sorry, man. You guys made your deal with the devil. Now the ride's over, and the bill's come due. Good luck out there in the wilderness. I hope your principles are still magnetized enough to provide you with a compass.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

North Korea's Nuclear Test

Any group or nation with sufficient funds to build the industrial capacity to create the necessary materials can build a nuclear weapon. The possession of such weapons isn't a guarantee of security, but it certainly makes invasion and occupation by a foreign power less likely. While America and its allies bicker about whether or not deterrence works, North Korea ably demonstrates that it most certainly does.
When George W. Bush made his famous Axis of Evil speech in the wake of 9/11, he singled out three nations, none of whom really had anything to do with one another, as the exemplars of America's enemies abroad. It was strange, even at the time, since neither Iraq, Iran, nor North Korea had had anything to do with the plot to hijack commercial aircraft and crash them into a couple symbolic and a couple strategic targets within the continental United States. That the plan for the attacks had originated in Afghanistan, among mujahideen that we'd been arming and funding for most of the Eighties and Nineties as a way of fighting a proxy war with our old sparring partner the Soviet Union, and had been planned and carried out mostly citizens of Saudi Arabia, our petroleum-spewing BFFs over there in the Muslim Holy Land, was seen as, frankly, a distraction from the real business at hand, whatever that was.

One suspects it had something to do with cheap oil, and securing ready supplies of same, but that is a matter for another time and another blog post. I mean, sure, we went to war in Afghanistan and all, but you could tell our hearts weren't really in it. Rumsfeld and Bush ran the Afghan conflict like Bill Clinton (or some other equally namby-pamby bleeding heart) would have, waging war through proxy forces and showing no stomach for American casualties, as evidenced by our still-unbelievable failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and the remains of the Afghan Taliban at Tora Bora.

No, we already knew who we wanted to go after. The list was already in place. And despite all claims to the contrary, we went after Iraq first because we thought it would be the easy one.

(It would have been, too, if only we hadn't so horribly bungled the aftermath of our wildly successful invasion. If we hadn't disbanded the Iraqi Army and basically told the Baathists that the game was over, things in Iraq would have gone much more smoothly. But again I digress).

People think Saddam Hussein was insane not to allow the inspectors in to confirm that he did not, in fact, harbor weapons of mass destruction, but what those people don't understand is that the perception that he might was the only real card he had to play. It's also evidence that the WMD argument for going to war was always a canard. If we'd thought Iraq really did have weapons of mass destruction, by which I specifically mean nuclear weapons, we'd never have invaded in the first place, because of the possibility that they'd have been deployed against us, to catastrophic effect. Imagine, if you will, the effect on the American electorate's stomach for war if Saddam Hussein had dropped a nuclear bomb on the Kuwaiti border where our much-vaunted and indeed impressive military machine was massing forces for the invasion. Sure, we'd have nuked his ass back to the Stone Age, but the damage to our national pride and our belief in our military invincibility would have been game-changing. If we'd thought for a minute he had the bomb, we'd never have given him the chance to use it. There was just way too much to lose.

The lesson has not been lost on the Iranians, or the North Koreans. Which is why they're both trying so hard to develop at least the capability of producing nuclear weapons. It's the only demonstrable way to guarantee your national sovereignty against the predations of the American military. After all, we seem to have at least one war for every Presidential Administration, because our national culture demands that every President must carry out at least one military operation, if for no other reason than to prove he's willing to make the decision to do so.

And let's not forget that we did actually invade North Korea, and that the war there hasn't technically ended. We still have tens of thousands of troops stationed in the DMZ between North and South Korea. In fact, you could say that the sole basis for the North Korean state in its present form is in reaction to American aggression. If we weren't there, looming over the horizon like we are, do you really think a joker like Kim Jong Il could maintain a dictatorship in which a million people are sometimes allowed to starve in a given year? Even the Chinese and the Russians do business with us now, and have largely given over the whole Communism thing.

No, the reason North Korea has developed nuclear weapons is because it's the only sure hedge against an American invasion. Yes, there are other considerations. It can be used as leverage in negotiating trade agreements, and also demands that attention be paid to what would otherwise be an almost laughable tinpot dictatorship. After all, the North Koreans were at least willing to talk with us, back at the turn of the century, before we got all distracted and George W. and crew totally dropped the ball. And now we're in a much worse bargaining position than we were before. But at the end of the day, the reason North Korea (and Iran, for that matter) want to develop nuclear weapons is not for the waging of aggressive warfare, or to sell them to terrorists who would like to smuggle them into the United States and set them off, but because they know that the only sure guarantee against American adventurism is to join the nuclear club.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dick Cheney

The bloviosphere is already awash with the Obama-Cheney National Security Smackdown, and I don't have much to add, but there is this one thing that's been bugging me these last few weeks, and it's something I haven't heard or seen anywhere else.

I don't remember any Senior Administration Official, from any Administration, ever, trying so publicly to undermine a President of the United States or his Administration in the way that Dick Cheney is currently doing with Barack Obama. Never mind the lack of respect for the President himself, or even the much-vaunted Office of the President, which Dick Cheney seemed to care so much about up until January 20th. The most egregious aspect of this behavior is the obvious lack of respect for the will and judgement of the American People.

On the one hand, we had Dick Cheney and what he believes is right, eight catastrophic years of it; on the other hand, we had Barack Obama, who talks to us like grownups and seems to believe that there is, in fact, an entire spectrum of color between black and white. We made our choice, and it was pretty clear that we not only positively chose Barack Obama, but that we soundly repudiated the ideas, beliefs, style, and indeed person of Dick Cheney, and I find it absolutely appalling that he will not take the hint and STFU.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Yes We Can

The administration took the same basic position as its predecessor but placed it in prettier wrapping.
President Obama has not changed much of substance from the late Bush practices, and the changes he has made, including changes in presentation, are designed to fortify the bulk of the Bush program for the long-run.
-Jack Goldsmith, The Cheney Fallacy in the New Republic

Jack Goldsmith is a law professor at Harvard, and was an Assistant Attorney General during the Bush Administration. He was also the guy in John Ashcroft's hospital room when Andy Card and Alberto Gonzales showed up to try and get Ashcroft's signature on the warrantless wiretapping memo.

In The Cheney Fallacy, he lays out eleven principles of the Bush era War on Terror, and then devotes a paragraph or two to how those principles, and the policies that flow from them, have evolved under the Obama Administration. The answer is not very much.

Aside from a rather tepid repudiation of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, the changes appear mostly to be rather superficial. Instead of altering the policies themselves, which is arguably what Barack Obama was elected to do, the Obama Administration has mostly just altered the way they are presented to the public. There's still warrantless wiretapping, we're still denying habeas corpus rights to the prisoners at Guantanamo (and afforing virtually no rights at all to the prisoners at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan), we're still killing fifty civilians for every Al Qaeda/Taliban leader we get with unmanned Predator drone attacks in the FATA in Pakistan, and we're still calling our conflict with several de- and semi-centralized non-state actors and terror networks a war, instead of a law enforcement action, thus triggering various commander-in-chief powers that Barack Obama, being only human, is apparently loath to give up.

And while the Bush Administration's various over-reaches and blunders were taken up and moderated, by Congress and the courts, during the last years of the Bush Presidency (the differences between 2002-3 and 2008-9 are significant, even if they don't go far enough for many, including this commenter), the case can be made, and Goldsmith makes it (unwittingly, perhaps, as he seems mostly to approve of the current state of play), that, so far at least, what Obama has done amounts, essentially, to putting lipstick on a pig.

Now, some of this stuff is not necessarily Obama's fault. The Bush Administration seems to have done its level best to tie Obama's hands, and many of the problems with the current state of play are the result of decisions made before Obama was elected President, decisions he might have made differently. I, for one, like to think that he would, partly for sentimental reasons, but mostly because I think they were the wrong decisions, from both a strategic and moral standpoint.

For those that take a Machiavellian view of the world, strategy and morality are separate spheres and, mostly, never the twain shall meet. Morality is lovely, no doubt, and most power players pay at least lip service to its virtue and desirability, but the world is a vicious and nasty place, filled with evil men who are willing to do anything to further their own interests, and we, powerful though we undoubtedly are, must bow to the realities we face in a Hobbesian state of nature and fight back with all means necessary. So, while we might, in a perfect world, extend civil rights to the 'enemy combatants' and other unfortunates sucked up in Af-Pak vacuum cleaner, and abstain from torturing them or extraordinarily rendering them to third countries that don't suffer the same (albeit shrinking) compunctions about torture that we do, or holding them indefinitely without charges while an ill-defined conflict with a nebulous, non-state network of enemies plays itself out, over the course of who knows how long, we do not, alas, live in a perfect world, and so, unfortunate though it may be, we must fight the enemy with all the means at our disposal.

Here's why this is wrong.

The real battlefield in this 'war' is the hearts and minds of world's peoples, most especially the world's Muslims. There are two sides, two alternatives for them to choose from. On the one hand, there's the Taliban and Al Qaeda, who represent the most radical and intolerant aspects of their faith (not unlike, perhaps, some of the more radical evangelical elements of the American population, only somewhat better-armed and more willing to actively kill people who fail to live up to their rather stringent standards of behavior and comportment), and who cut people's heads off on videotape and throw acid in the faces of women who take a walk in public without a male relative to escort them.

On the other hand, there's us, a more complicated case. We're more tolerant, more modern, have greater prosperity and more individual and collective freedoms. We also send evil robots to bomb the shit out of civilians in order to get at a few select targets who may or may not be players in the Taliban/Al Qaeda universe. We grab people off the ground, or buy them from their enemies, and put them in prison half a world away with little or no hope of freedom or even a fair trial.

George W. Bush used to say the terrorists hate our freedoms, and to some extent he was right. There is a hard core of dedicated Islamist nutjobs who genuinely hate the freedom we take for granted and exercise on a daily basis (never mind that there seems to be an almost equal number of radical evangelicals and conservatives that also hate this freedom). But the vast majority of people who take up arms against us do so for more personal reasons, like, say, we dropped a bomb on their cousin's wedding party, or we nabbed them and threw them in prison for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

And here's where the strategic meets the moral. To win the battle for hearts and minds, we have to be the good guys. We've already got the whole best outcome thing locked down. You can choose to live under Sharia law, and live in a medieval world of poverty and oppression, or you can choose engagement with the West, and move towards our greater prosperity, comfort, and freedom from undue government intrusion into your daily life (yes, I know we're not exactly doing a great job on this one lately, but compared to life under the Taliban, it's no comparison at all). If the world were made of rational actors pursuing enlightened self-interest, then it would already be no contest.

But the world is not made of rational actors pursuing enlightened self-interest, and so we must not only produce better societal outcomes in order to win the battle for hearts and minds, we must also be the good guys, the ones not willing to cross certain lines, even if the bad guys do. This is, in fact, the difference between being the good guys and being the bad guys, and while the bad guys almost always consider themselves the good guys, and the morally repugnant things they feel they have to do to win to be unfortunate negative consequences of the conflict they're in, in actuality, they are not the good guys, at least not in any objectively defensible sense of the term.

And while it may be that there's a case to be made about doing bad things in the service of good (there is certainly a strain of the American mentality that gets off on the notion, cf. every action flick ever), in the present case, where we are not engaged in a conventional war with a state or coalition of states that fields an army and meets us in battle, and our enemy, such as it is, relies on secrecy and terrorism, and depends on the good will of the surrounding population to stay hidden and thus out of our reach, it is not only morally necessary to fight with the proverbial one hand tied behind our back, it's strategically necessary, too.

Look, I understand that there is a hard core of dedicated extremists that will do anything, and I mean anything, in order to blacken our eyes and bloody our noses (which is really about all they're capable of doing at present), and that we have little or no choice but to hunt those men down and kill them, or, even better, throw them in prison for the rest of their lives (a much worse punishment in my, and probably their, view). But the vast majority of the world's Muslim population would almost certainly gravitate to our way of life and thinking if given half the chance, and the less we do to alienate them, the likelier we are to win the struggle for hearts and minds.

Win that, and we win the war.

Maybe then we can start ramping down from the national security state, and return America to the path it was meant to be on.

Friday, May 15, 2009

dept. of corrections

President Obama said on Wednesday that he is seeking to block the release of photographs that depict American military personnel abusing captives in Iraq and Afghanistan, worrying that the images could “further inflame anti-American opinion.”

dear mr. president,
it's not images of american military personnel abusing prisoners that inflame anti-american opinion. it's american military personnel abusing prisoners that inflames anti-american opinion.
dallas taylor

Thursday, May 14, 2009

torturing iraqis

so, the latest meme to burble up to the surface from the torture hearings/memos/debate/debacle is that dick cheney repeatedly urged the torture (i mean waterboarding. no, wait, i mean enhanced interrogation) of iraqi intelligence agents after our invasion in order to prove the saddam/al qaida connection.

so much for the ticking time bomb that supposedly justifies the use of these techniques. unless you think of it metaphorically, in which case one hopes that there is indeed a (metaphorical) ticking time bomb attached to the base of dick cheney's freedom from prosecution.

it does point up something, though, that can't be stressed enough. when you ask the experts, actual professional interrogators and intelligence agents and historians and the like, they'll tell you over and over that torture is mostly useless for garnering actionable intelligence, but that it's awesome for generating false confessions.

what amazes me is that, given the political climate in 2003, cheney apparently failed in his attempt to order torture on prisoners of war. i guess the system did not entirely fail, which is of some small comfort to this american patriot.

not as much as, say, a truth commision followed by war crimes prosecution would be. but i guess i'll take what i can get for now, and keep clapping my hands and believing in fairies.

catch 22

so, i've noticed lately that every time i pay down one of my credit cards, about two weeks later i get a letter saying the bank has decided to lower my limit by that much. the reason, the letters invariably say, is that my ratio of debt to credit is too high. which is funny, because that ratio would be less high if they didn't lower my credit every time i paid them.

i wonder if institutions are capable of perceiving irony.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

yeah. what that guy said.

I continue to find the whinging and apocalyptic fear-mongering from certain quarters of the finance and business community about the government's present involvement in economic affairs despicable. For chrissakes, people, what did you expect? The bloody economy has gone off the rails, the global financial system is in tatters, and millions of citizens are seething on the unemployment line. (2010 election motto: I'm unemployed, and I vote.) The market failed. Deregulation didn't help. And the only economic actor with the will and the financial wherewithal to borrow heavily enough from the future—our future, natch—to fix this shitstorm is the government. Did you really think you were going to get government help without a government (read political) agenda? What are you smoking?
-The Epicurean Dealmaker
can't say as i've got anything to add to that.

The Chattanooga Declaration

We, the delegates of the Secession movements represented at the Second North American Secessionist Convention, acknowledging our differences, yet agree on the following truths:
  1. The deepest questions of human liberty and government facing our time go beyond right and left, and in fact have made the old left-right split meaningless and dead.
  2. The privileges, monopolies, and powers that private corporations have won from government threaten everyone’s health, prosperity, and liberty, and have already killed American self-government by the people.
  3. The power of corporations endangers liberty as much as government power, especially when they are combined as in the American Empire.
  4. Liberty can only survive if political power is returned from faraway and self-interested centers to local communities and states.
  5. The American Empire is no longer a nation or a republic, but has become a tyrant aggressive abroad and despotic at home.
  6. The States of the American union are and of right ought to be, free and self-governing.
  7. Without secession, liberty and self-government can never be sustained, and diversity among human societies can never survive.

the part that freaks me out is that i agree wholeheartedly with about half of that.


i once had a girlfriend who (no kidding) got her ten-year-old son's name tattooed below/as a part of her tailbone tattoo. suffice to say, cognitive dissonance followed. but this is just awesome. the only worse (or better, depending) one i've seen was a girl i saw walk by the ladro once with the words 'god forgive me' tattooed across her lower back.