Wednesday, October 29, 2003

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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Walt right on
The Harvard political scientist and well-known realist Stephen Walt, who lectured against the Iraq war in the months preceding the conflict, wrote an article for the Winter 2001/2 International Security that I believe bears revisiting today. He argued,
Finally, the United States would be wise to reciprocate the foreign support that it has recently sought by making some concessions of its own. Committing itself to a serious effort to negotiate a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol on global warming would be an ideal first step and would go a long way toward defusing lingering fears of U.S. unilateralism. Similarly, the United States could accelerate preparations for a new global trade round and declare that it was especially interested in lowering its barriers against exports from the developing world, even if this hurt some special interests at home.

Well, I hope Walt wasn't waiting by the phone for those things to happen. Global warming has disappeared from the Bush administration's foreign agenda (largely because the ideologues who have his ear don't believe in it), and the global trade talks in Cancun last month collapsed precisely because G-8 countries like the U.S. weren't willing to slash their wasteful agricultural subsidies.

Walt also chastised the U.S. for its Israel policy:
The United States is not as reflexively pro-Israel as many Arabs believe, but its policies in the past have not been evenhanded....The United States should also clarify its position on the requirements for a Palestinian state and emphasize that a viable state will require Israel to offer more generous terms than it proposed at Camp David in July 2000. Specifically, Israel should offer to withdraw from virtually all territories it occupied in June 1967 in exchange for full peace.

Walt further stressed the need to manage its coalition and rebuild its relations with the Arab and Muslim world.

Oh well.

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Elliott Smith dead
The media is picking up on the very sad Elliott Smith suicide story, as news of his death makes his way around the fan sites. Dreamworks has not, as of yet, posted anything.

I discovered Eliott Smith, along with the rest of the world, on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack, where his mournful melodies were a perfect counterweight to the too-cute storyline, and brought some soul and weight to an enjoyable, but improbable tale. Dreamworks signed him after "Miss Misery" was nominated for an Oscar. The fact that this lovely little song lost to "My Heart Will Go On" from the Titanic seems just a little bit more grotesque today.

For what it's worth, "No Name #3" from Roman Candle is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard, and worth the price of the EP. His later stuff, particularly the overproduced Figure 8, wasn't quite as good, but it always hurts to lose a talented artist. He was touted as the voice of a generation, and if he never lived up to the hype it was less his fault than the relentless music industry.

On "last call" Smith wrote:

i'm lying here waiting for sleep to overtake me
you're still here but just check to make sure
all you aspire to do is endure
you can't ask for more
knowing that you'll never get that which you ask for...
i wanted her to tell me that she would never wake me

So long, Elliott.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2003

What do prison rape and the right's case for war have in common?
Ask Jonah Goldberg, NRO's "idiot fratboy" (not my phrase, though I wish it was). Now that the Kay report has demolished the Bush administration's rationale for war, the right is reduced to this pitiful reasoning:
Q: If you're a new sheriff in a really bad town, what's one of the smartest things you can do?

A: Smack the stuffing out of the nearest, biggest bad guy you can.

Q: If you're a new inmate in a rough prison, what's one of the smartest things you can do?

A: Pick a fight with the biggest, meanest cat you can — but make sure you can win.

Q: If you're a kid and you've had enough of the school bullies pants-ing you in the cafeteria, what's one of the smartest things you can do?

A: Punch one of them in the nose as hard as you can and then stand your ground.

Q: If you're the leader of a peaceful and prosperous nation which serves as the last best hope of humanity and the backbone of international stability and a bunch of fanatics murder thousands of your people on your own soil, what's one of the smartest thing you can do?

A: Knock the crap out of Iraq.

Why Iraq? Well, there are two answers to that question.

The first answer is "Why not?" (If it helps, think of Bluto burping "Why not?" in Animal House.)

The second answer: Iraq deserved it.

Now. Here's the important part: Both of these are good answers.

"Why not?" This is the case for war? I'm sure the young men and women being dismembered, mutilated, and mortally wounded every day in Iraq will be glad to know they're dying for a cause so noble. The scary part is that U.S. foreign policy is currently being conducted by people with very similar mindsets, who are just itching to apply this logic to Iran, North Korea, and Syria, a course of action which would drain the military's already-depleted resources and committ the U.S. on a course of open-ended imperialism of the sort not witnessed since de Gaulle pulled the colons out of Algeria. But hey -- why not!

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Friday, October 17, 2003

Evil triumphs
No, I'm not talking about terrorists or the Bush administration, I'm referring to the victory of the Evil Empire (better known as the Yankees) in the ALCS and the Evil Fish (better known as the Marlins) in the NLCS. These two teams, having offed two of the most downtrodden and curse-ridden teams in professional sports, will now square off in a 7-game orgy of evil, televised, appropriately, by Fox, the official media network of international evil (apologies to al-Jazeera). My prediction: The Evil Fish in six. But please, spare me the shots of Jeff Loria celebrating -- the man's a fraud.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Implied preemption?
Andrew Sullivan and his band of merry neocon warriors are now arguing that since Bush never said Iraq was an imminent threat, the Kay report actually vindicates the administration. Let me get this straight -- a war that was openly and repeatedly called "preemptive" by the president and other senior officials was not sold as preemptive? Bull-shit.

Sullivan, who gets more unreadable by the day, quotes Richard Perle talking about Israeli's 1981 strike on Iraq's nuclear reactor as a preemptive strike against a threat that wasn't imminent. The reason it wasn't imminent? Here's Perle:

In 1981, the Israelis, after a long and, I gather, a heated cabinet debate, decided to destroy the reactor that Chirac had sent to Osirak, not because it was about to produce nuclear weapons. It wasn't. It was about to produce plutonium and it was under IAEA safeguards so the Iraqis would have had to siphon off small, undetectable quantities of plutonium and it would have taken them time to build a nuclear weapon based on what they would get from the Osirak reactor. But, nevertheless, the Israelis decided to strike some years in advance of the production of the nuclear weapon that they were concerned about.

This, friends and neighbors, is not a preemptive, but rather a preventive strike. The word "preemption" does not merely imply an imminent threat, it's included in the definition! It's like saying that "pro-choice" merely implies being in favor of abortion.

The issue here is quite simple. Whether or not George W. Bush actually used the words "imminent threat" with regard to Iraq is immaterial. The administration sold the war as preemptive (when if fact it was very much a preventive war). This rhetorical distinction was not merely an accident -- it was deliberate. Since the Bushies knew they couldn't sell a preventive war to the public, they packaged it as a preemptive war and created the unmistakable impression that Iraq posed an imminent threat the safety of every American. The neocons can't get out of this one by redefining the word "preemptive" and then throwing the ball back to the antiwar crowd. That's called dirty pool, and we've already seen too much of it from this administration and its apologists.

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Monday, October 13, 2003

Geneva and Palestine
Haaretz agrees that the Geneva Accord is the first hopeful thing to happen in Israel-Palestine in months. Negotiated by leading Israeli leftist Yossi Beilin and the Palestinian negotiator Abed Rabbo, the accord builds on the almost-but-not-quite negotiations at Taba in January of 2001, before Sharon took office but after the violence of the second Intifada had erupted. As sober voices like Penn's Ian Lustick have been saying for three years, the basis for a final settlement is tantalizingly close, if only negotiations would resume. Though Beilin does not, of course, have to answer to the Israeli electorate, 'and though Sharon has attacked the negotiations as treasonous, it is the negotiators who look good here and the embattled Prime Minister who looks obstinate.

Geneva gives the lie to the ridiculous notion that there's "no one to talk to" on the Palestinian side. Add to that the fact that the vast majority of Palestinians favor a cease-fire, and you have the stirrings of real progress. But so long as Bush and Sharon remain fixated on going around, rather than through, Arafat, nothing much will change.

The accord requires real, painful sacrifice from Israel, as well as the final abandonment of the right of return on the part of the Palestinians. In agreeing on the status of the holy sites in Jerusalem, the two sides have bridged the most yawning gap that had yet remained. Two questions are obvious - are Israeli voters ready for this compromise? And how do we get from academic-style negotiations to political reality with the odious Sharon in power? I don't have the answer to those questions. If I did, I'd probably be on the State Department's payroll (and the neocons hit list).

The political scientist Aleander Wendt wrote, in his 1999 book Social Theory of International Politics, about the different logics of anarchy. There's the Hobbesian logic, the war of all against all, the Lockean logic, of rivarly, competition, and grudging respect for sovereignty, and the Kantian logic, where Ego and Alter share a sense of common destiny and have a stake in the fate of the other. Israel and the Palestinians are stuck in the Hobbesian logic -- neither yet fully recognizes the right of the other to survival, and both states are led by men straight out of the Leviathan. They served their purposes, once upon a time. But it's not clear to me that Arafat, and particularly Sharon, have the vision to transform the relationship into a Lockean logic.

But despair alone is not a strategy, and hope, as we know after the Iraq debacle, is not a plan. Beilin and Rabbo should be applauded for their efforts, for their struggle to reconstitute the relationship between their long-suffering peoples into one of respect, if not love.

Kant can wait, but Locke beckons.

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Steal this primary
The Washington Post reports that South Carolina Democrats are considering allowing coporate sponsorship of the state's Feb. 3 primary. My feeling is that this proposal is so patently ludicrous that it doesn't really need a good thrashing. But if they're going to bring the corporations in, why not take things to the logical extreme and allow each candidate to be sponsored by a different company or union? "You're in good hands with Allstate -- and with Joe Lieberman!"

South Carolina apparently makes the parties fund their own primaries. Democrats are an endangered species in the South. Does anyone else see a problem here?

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Thursday, October 09, 2003

The Nazis made the Jews wear pieces of flair!
I'm not exactly the first person to jump on this bandwagon, but Grover Norquist's comments about the Estate Tax on NPR are without question the most outrageous thing I've heard in a long time. On Terry Gross's "Fresh Air" program, Norquist stated flatly that taxing the inheritance of the wealthy is akin to the slaughter of 6 million Jews. Referring to arguments about how the small number of extremely rich Americans should pay more in taxes, he reasoned: "I mean, that's the morality of the Holocaust. 'Well, it's only a small percentage,' you know. 'I mean, it's not you, it's somebody else.'"

No, Grover, you raving lunatic, the morality of the Holocaust was that it's acceptable to murder an entire group of people, while the morality of the estate tax is that the excessive concentration of wealth is both unjust and unhealthy for functioning democracies. You may disagree with the principle of progressive taxation (although I think it makes you an admirer of oligarchy), but to compare it the principles of Nazism is disgraceful and moronic.

Amazingly, Norquist has yet to repudiate these remarks. In fact, his website proudly links to the NPR interview. The incident, as far as I can tell, is a perfect encapsulation of the radical right's moral economy: roll back the New Deal, dismantle all checks on the untrammeled accumulation of riches, and paint anyone concerned about inequality and progress as either closet socialists or immoral class warriors.

There's been a lot of facile blather lately about "being on the right side of history." But if ever there were a right side and a wrong side of history, it's the unrestricted robber baron capitalism of the Gilded Age versus the humane social democracy of the postwar liberal order. Which side are you on, Grover? Better yet, on which side are the Republicans of George W. Bush and the Texas Republicans? Check out the Texas GOP platform and decide for yourself.

Only with that witless scion of old money in the White House, and with all three branches of government under the control of the Calvin Coolidge wing of the GOP, could a man like Grover Norquist be accepted in polite society. Come November 2004, anyone to the left of Tom DeLay needs to rally around Wes Clark, Howard Dean, Joe Lieberman, or even Carol Mosely-Braun before four more years of full-bore top-down class warfare succeeds in demolishing the meager remnants of social democracy in this country.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2003

O-Kay with me
Slate's Fred Kaplan offers here the ultimate smack-down of the conservative intepretation of the Kay Report. Don't miss it.

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The long view
Bill Safire thinks Iraq's Kurds should take the long view and not complain about Turkish troops manning the garrisons for the occupation. Considering that part of the quid-pro-quo here is the U.S. going after the PKK, the Kurdish insurgent group which fought a bloody battle against the Turkish government from the mid-80s to 1999, I wouldn't expect the Iraqi Kurds to roll out the red carpet for the Turks anytime soon. Safire should read After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness?, a harrowing chronicle of the betrayal and subjugation of the Kurds perpetrated by the U.S. and the West, with the gleeful and vicious collusion of the Turkish, Iraqi, Syrian and Iranian governments, before he tells Iraqi Kurds to turn the other cheek for Ankara's ethno-nationalists. Turkish troops in Iraq is a very bad idea. Don't say no one told you so, W.

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Stop the evil fish
I remember, writing in this very blog, arguing that the Marlins are a nice story. But after their heartbreaking 9-8 victory over the Cubbies last night, I can't imagine what came over me. The Fish are the incarnation of evil; the Cubs are part Rudy and part Cuba Gooding's Radio. The Fish are jointly responsible for 1997's Worst World Series Ever Played between the wretched Cleveland Indians and the nearly-as-wretched Miamians. They even have The Original Marlin, Jeff Conine, back on the squad. No one outside of South Florida wants to see them sully another October classic. Please, God, don't let Florida ruin another beautiful Fall!

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Despair not
There are plenty of reasons to be upset about the California recall, not least of which is that the Republicans now control the four largest states -- California, Texas, New York, and Florida -- going into the 2004 election. Once again, the principles of meritocracy in government have been spat upon gleefully, like the prisoner in The Life of Brian, and the new governor of California will take office having secured the votes of about 12% of the population.

But as one blogger notes:
Schwarzenegger is pro-choice, pro-gay rights (though not gay-marriage), and pro-free trade. He wants to legalize marijuana for for medical purposes. He opposes offshore drilling and supports a ban on assault rifles. He has been coy about whether he intends to raise taxes -- suggesting that he may do so to balance the budget. Indeed, he has about as much in common with Tom Delay or Trent Lott as Bill Clinton does. He even seems to have some of Clinton’s “women troubles”, if you know what I mean.

So we're not talking about the rise of the next Kurt Waldheim here -- just one of his friends. If he governs like the social liberal he's alleged to be, reproductive rights are not in danger. And remember, Al Gore blew away George Bush in New York three years ago despite George Pataki, and a plurality of Florida's voters went to the polls intending to vote for him (not to mention all the ex-cons who were disenfranchised) on election day despite W.'s brother running the statehouse. Scharzenegger's election changes the Democratic calculus for 2004 only marginally, at least at this point. Besides, chances are, despite the misplaced optimism (and tortured rationalization) of Kausfiles, Schwarzenegger will make a fool of himself pretty quickly.

But seriously, enough politics. My question is this -- couldn't Arnold have turned out the lights on his movie career with a better movie than T -freaking -3?

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Thursday, October 02, 2003

What international law?
Israel has announced plans to expand existing settlements in the West Bank. Maybe the late Edward Said was right when he argued against a two-state solution. The suicide bombs and settlements are propelling Israelis and Palestinians toward a day of reckoning which, paradoxically, may force them together into a single state.

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