Friday, March 31, 2006

Leaders of opposition quit in Japanese scandal

So says the IHT.

The leadership of Japan's biggest opposition party resigned Friday over a scandal surrounding an e-mail message falsely accusing a governing party leader's son of financial links with Livedoor, the disgraced Internet company.

The resignations of Seiji Maehara, the Democratic Party of Japan leader, and his lieutenants' resignations were the latest blow to the group in the scandal, which has damaged the major competitor to the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party.

"It is my responsibility that the problem was not dealt with immediately," Maehara said in a news conference after he resigned.
This leaves the dominant conservative Liberal Democratic Party with near-absolute power, and its leader, Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi, along with it. Why does this matter to North Americans? Because the PM is retiring soon, and there are indications that the people following him are pretty hawkish, particularly on the issue of China. Since the brewing Japan-China "cold war" is one of the most important (and under-reported) issues in the world right now, this sort of thing could have a huge impact on North Americans down the road.


Looks like Bush knew at least part of his case for war was a scam.

Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, cautioned other White House aides in the summer of 2003 that Bush's 2004 re-election prospects would be severely damaged if it was publicly disclosed that he had been personally warned that a key rationale for going to war had been challenged within the administration. Rove expressed his concerns shortly after an informal review of classified government records by then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley determined that Bush had been specifically advised that claims he later made in his 2003 State of the Union address -- that Iraq was procuring high-strength aluminum tubes to build a nuclear weapon -- might not be true, according to government records and interviews.
As the 2004 election loomed, the White House was determined to keep the wraps on a potentially damaging memo about Iraq.

Hadley was particularly concerned that the public might learn of a classified one-page summary of a National Intelligence Estimate, specifically written for Bush in October 2002. The summary said that although "most agencies judge" that the aluminum tubes were "related to a uranium enrichment effort," the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Energy Department's intelligence branch "believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapons."

Three months after receiving that assessment, the president stated without qualification in his January 28, 2003, State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production...."

...Most troublesome to those leading the damage-control effort was documentary evidence -- albeit in highly classified government records that they might be able to keep secret -- that the president had been advised that many in the intelligence community believed that the tubes were meant for conventional weapons.

The one-page documents known as the "President's Summary" are distilled from the much lengthier National Intelligence Estimates, which combine the analysis of as many as six intelligence agencies regarding major national security issues. Bush's knowledge of the State and Energy departments' dissent over the tubes was disclosed in a March 4, 2006, National Journal story -- more than three years after the intelligence assessment was provided to the president, and some 16 months after the 2004 presidential election.

The President's Summary was only one of several high-level warnings given to Bush and other senior administration officials that serious doubts existed about the intended use of the tubes, according to government records and interviews with former and current officials.

In mid-September 2002, two weeks before Bush received the October 2002 President's Summary, Tenet informed him that both State and Energy had doubts about the aluminum tubes and that even some within the CIA weren't certain that the tubes were meant for nuclear weapons, according to government records and interviews with two former senior officials.

Official records and interviews with current and former officials also reveal that the president was told that even then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had doubts that the tubes might be used for nuclear weapons.
Looks like the state of the union is even weaker than we thought. It is, perhaps, possible that this might come under the "cherry picking intelligence" category, albeit unlikely, but what's indisputable is that the president and his various Movement lickspittles presented both the Niger uranium and aluminum tube stories as if they were incontrovertible fact. Even if he didn't believe State and Energy and disagreed with their assessment, he still deceived the American people, and no amount of "b-b-b-but Saddam really wanted nukes" from The Usual Suspects can get around that. More than that, they knew they had deceived, or else Rove wouldn't have been so worried about it!

Heck, it wasn't even just about the public: as booman points out, they refused to hand over information to the (Republican friendly!) Senate Intelligence Committee.

"Mad props" to Murray Waas for the story, and hat tip to Booman and ol' Atrios for the chain of links leading there.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

An Aside on Candidates...

On the off chance that somebody out there thinks I'm a stalking horse for some Canadian Liberal candidate (or Democratic one, or British Labour, or whatever) because I have issues with Iggy, let's break down some of the other candidates, shall we?

-Belinda Stronach: Please. The "I'm learning french" bit only worked once, and only because Harper was going to let Quebeckers have a bigger international voice. That ship has sailed, and the french thing is a significant problem. Even if it hadn't, she's been in the party for a comparative nanosecond. The anti-Liberal soundbites from the Conservative war room would be a torrent during the next Canadian election were she leader. Iggy may be a mistake: she would be a disaster. Period.

-Bob Rae: Two words: "Rae days". He might not be bad, but he's got baggage galore. The progressives might support him if he demonstrates progressive cred, but Ignatieff seems to be hoovering those up. It's bizarre, considering the Iraq thing, but there you go. Also, party shifter, and even if NDP-Liberal doesn't inspire quite as much anger among loyalists, it's still an issue.

-Scott Brison: see "Belinda" above, and add the words "income trust" to the pile. He doesn't have the "dumb" baggage, which makes sense, because I don't think Stronach is actually dumb. I just think that she and Brison need to spend more time as Liberals to prove themselves.

-Stephan Dion: Oddly enough, his problem is communicating in English, and as far as I know he's got baggage in Quebec just as Rae has baggage in Ontario. It's the English thing that concerns me more, though.

There are others, of course, but these seem to be the frontrunners. There are also a few that I either honestly know too little about (Dryden, Volpe) or who don't seem to really have a shot (Findlay, Godfrey) .

My point is just that I don't have a dog in this race, any more than I do stateside. (Admittedly, I kinda liked Dean, but he needed better media training.) I'm just really bothered by what I'm seeing from Ignatieff, and the free ride he's getting on some very important issues.

"Iggy", Lefty Cred, and a Very Old Trick

One of the more interesting parts of the Canadian Liberal leadership campaign is that one of its main players, Michael Ignatieff, has positioned himself as one of those "liberal hawks" that have been such a problem in the United States. I addressed the issue of his support of torture below, and he certainly talks a good game (as seen in this "grab bag" piece in the Ottawa Citizen, taken from a speech yesterday)...

...but could it be that he's not actually really that liberal at all? The support of torture, the unconditional support of neo-conservative goals in Iraq (he claims that he supports it because Iraqis will "eventually build a decent society" in the Citizen piece without acknowledging the brewing civil war) : these both point to a position closer to Joe Lieberman than Pierre Trudeau: liberal on the "safe" issues (like the environment, bilingualism, the minimum wage and gay rights) but unwilling to go to the mat for the liberal position on important-yet-controversial issues like foreign policy. It's the way of building "left cred" without exposing yourself to criticism.

Yet this comment by "David M." in a Canadian blogger's comments thread is making me wonder about even the "safe" positions:

One other thing, Ignatieff is actually surprisingly right-wing. At the event last night, I couldn't believe how openly he was advocating dismantling things like dairy supply management and the CBC as part of his 'national productivity policy'. Hello? Anyone home? Mulroney's gone! For anyone on the fence, know that the guy's definitely not Trudeau, he's not progressive, and he doesn't really have any good ideas (even his nationalist ideas are like 20 years out of date...). Better to have the former Tory Brison (who speaks French only a little worse than Ignatieff and) who's actually got a platform and a commitment to Canadians that looks Liberal. A week ago, Brison, completely sober, actually explained to two complete strangers (me and another interloper) a pet plan of his to get Heritage to do a Sesame Street-style french language cartoon to be aired by the CBC. Guts and imagination from the Tory, diet-Harper from the Liberal... No wonder Brison flamed out in Vancouver (where they'll love Ignatieff, I'm sure).
The bolded stuff is what I want to focus on. Ok, this guy is probably a Brison supporter, but the rhetoric in the Citizen piece about the "national productivity policy" does fit this, especially the comment about "cozy rules that protect our banks, insurance and telecommunications companies from needed foreign competition".

If Michael Ignatieff wants to privatize the CBC and play around with Canadian agricultural policy, then that's a big story. If he wants to do it under the rubric of "productivity" then that's a bigger story, because it won't do squat for productivity and he knows it. "Productivity" is a very old trick used by Liberals when excusing right-wing economic policies that have nothing to do with real worker productivity. Ignatieff was the last person I'd expect to be employing it, but it looks like it's at least possible.

It raises the question: what else is he going to do in the name of "productivity", and will Canadians know about it before it happens?

Edit: Looks like he's pretty pro-American on BMD, too, at least according to this older entry by CalgaryGrit. It wasn't a clear endorsement, but it was that silly "we need a seat at the table" gambit. I've heard that lots of times, and every time I have, it was from someone who's real deal was "I value American ties over responsibility to the public, which hates the idea". Considering the controversy over his being parachuted into his riding, this ain't good, and doesn't exactly burnish those liberal credentials.

"People are joining in so spontaneously, it’s almost like the immigrants have risen"

So said Partha Banerjee in the New York Times a few days ago. Needless to say, the immigration issue isn't going very well in the U.S., and looks to be only getting worse.

The Poorman's reaction?

Isn’t that fucking cool?

Go on, motherfuckers, mess with the poor people that outnumber you some more. You’d think, with the black bag searches, the indefinite detentions, the giant fences, the eagle-eyed redneck sentinels, and warrantless access to the whole fucking internet, it wouldn’t be quite so easy for a million plus people to just sneak up on you like that. Especially since it seems to keep happening over and over again, doesn’t it? You fat little shitheads all grabbing for the
money in the water and hey, whoah, this raft is kind of tippy, and nobody said there were sharks in the water, just mermaids. Almost like there’s some kind of cycle going on. Some kind of wave.

Paraphrasing George Peppard, I love it when a giant, angry, highly motivated voting bloc (grass roots, spontaneous, exponential, virulently anti-GOP) comes together. Especially when that bloc’s been kicked around for, like, ever, and it’s all your fault, you and your racist bedfellows. And you were trying, on the ludicrous basis of a shared love of pickup trucks, to get them to LIKE you? To vote for you? How’s that going?
See, here's how it works. You can't play both sides forever. You can't court the nativist whites who think that a horrible brown wave is washing over the United States from the barbaric south and the members of said "wave" at the same time. It just isn't going to work; either you'll lean too far towards the latter and end up with Lou Dobbs calling you names on CNN, or you lean too far towards the former and, well, look at what's happening. Trying to paper over these difficulties with blather about abortion and shared Catholicism or whatever isn't going to work, because most people don't set their self-identity that way. Anti-Latino nativists don't care about whether or not immigrants feel the same way they do about conservative litmus tests, and immigrants aren't going to sit back and take it for that reason.

This isn't the death knell of the Republicans, of course. What it does mean is that cheap attempts to court Latinos by inserting a bit of spanish into a speech is now dead. You decided on the Southern Strategy, now you have to live with its consequences.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

It's official...

The only person with less political acumen than "screw the press" Stephen Harper is Michael Ignatieff, who (astoundingly) published another vaguely positive article about torture in the American Prospect.

Yes, he argues "I wouldn't be in favor of it because I think it's wrong", but then he turns around and says that others might disagree, and he also makes this howler:

Does an outright ban on torture and coercive interrogation meet the test of realism? Would an absolute ban on torture and coercive interrogation using stress and duress so diminish the effectiveness of our intelligence-gathering that it would diminish public safety? It is often said—and I argued so myself—that neither coercive interrogation nor torture is necessary, since entirely lawful interrogation can secure just as effective results. There must be some truth to this. Israeli interrogators have given interviews assuring the Israeli public that physical duress is unnecessary. But we are grasping at straws if we think this is the entire truth. As Posner and others have tartly pointed out, if torture and coercion are both as useless as critics pretend, why are they used so much? While some abuse and outright torture can be attributed to individual sadism, poor supervision and so on, it must be the case that other acts of torture occur because interrogators believe, in good faith, that torture is the only way to extract information in a timely fashion. It must also be the case that if experienced interrogators come to this conclusion, they do so on the basis of experience. The argument that torture and coercion do not work is contradicted by the dire frequency with which both practices occur.
In short: "People have been doing it for a long time. They believe in it, or else they wouldn't do it, and it doesn't matter that others (including former practitioners) claim that it's useless."

We've heard this sort of argument before. Never thought I'd say this, but...

Folks, meet Prof. Michael Ignatieff, THE ASTROLOGER.

Pity he doesn't actually do astrology. Maybe he'd be able to see how doomed he now is among the Liberal base. The torture issue is not something that you want to have around your neck, and now he's wearing it even more enthusiastically. This will tick off the liberal youth (who like Bush about as much as a herpes outbreak), tick off minorities (because they know who's being tortured, and it ain't statuesque blonds) and win him no friends among the more conservatives Liberals (who are more concerned with economic issues anyway).

He's an MP now, and should act like it. This is just sad.

Edit: Oh, and Warren is absolutely right. (Never thought I'd say that, but...)

It is not very often that one gets to witness a "leadership frontrunner" immolate his own candidacy so blithely, so recklessly, but if you click here and you peer inside, you will see the corpse of Michael Ignatieff’s vaulting ambition. He is done – and if he isn’t, he should be.
The defenses of "you took it out of context" are laughable. The entire piece does a better job of showing how much he likes torture than why he doesn't like it. Even it were true, the fact that he would say anything and not consider that he might have it used against him shows that he'd be a weak lawyer, let alone a lawmaker.

Monday, March 27, 2006

On the Other Hand...

Daniel Levy has written an excellent analysis of the aforementioned "Israel Lobby" piece that gets at its strengths, its weaknesses, and (this is critical) the division not merely between the "Lobby" and the views of many (if not most) American Jews, but between the Lobby and Israel itself.
Visible signs of Israel and the Lobby not being on the same page are mounting. For Israel, the Gaza withdrawal and future West Bank evacuations are acts of strategic national importance, for the Lobby an occasion for confusion and shuffling of feet. For Israel, the Hamas PLC election victory throws up complex and difficult challenges; for the Lobby it's a public relations homerun and occasion for simplistic legislative muscle-flexing.
Not much else to say, really, and it raises a core unexamined problem with the Lobby: that it is lobbying for policy that the lobbyists believe will benefit the cause of Israel, but those who actually live and work in Israel don't necessarily agree.

The Israel Lobby?

I almost wish I hadn't fired up James Wolcott's blog and found out about this study by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, two prominent realist professors from the University of Chicago and Harvard, respectively. It's called "The Israel Lobby", and it is causing a storm of controversy.

What's it about? Well, check the title. It's about AIPAC and the other panapoly of pro-Israeli think tanks and lobbyists and the influence they have over American foreign policy: about how they work, about why they win, and the extent to which they have made Israel and the U.S. closer allies than they might otherwise be.

A quote from Wolcott's own quotation:

"For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.

"Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical.

"Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars). Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli. This largesse is especially striking since Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea or Spain."

..."This extraordinary generosity might be understandable if Israel were a vital strategic asset or if there were a compelling moral case for US backing But neither explanation is convincing..."

I'll stop there. The reasons they give for there not being a moral or strategic case for US backing are pretty easy to understand: the US and Israel are different states, with different leadership, and different strategic goals- those goals don't always overlap, even if they're aimed against the same type of opposition. In the case of terrorism, for example, terrorists who are interested in targeting Israel aren't necessarily interested in targeting the U.S. (and, theoretically vice versa; South American anti-US communists probably don't so much care about Israel)... but they are treated the same, and the interests in that respect are equated. They point out that Israel is not a weak state; it's actually very strong and quite able to defend itself, and the moral case for the unconditional support it gets from the United States is lacking, considering the ongoing problems in the West Bank.

Their most controversial contention is that this is also the case with regards to the Iraq war- that one of the reasons (if not a dominant reason) why it happened was because it was in Israel's strategic interest, a variant on the old complaint that Israel has the United States fight on its behalf.

It's certainly not outside the realm of possibility and theory that this sort of thing could happen- WWI was partially an example of smaller powers trying to draw in larger powers, and Taiwan certainly wouldn't be sniffing around the prospect of independence without the American carrier fleets in the region. Yet, this is a complaint older than Israel; charges that Jews exploit the Gentiles to their own ends have a long and notorious history. It raises the spectre of anti-semitism, and the authors do the same.

(Wolcott again:)

"No discussion of the Lobby would be complete without an examination of one of its most powerful weapons: the charge of anti-semitism. Anyone who criticises Israel’s actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over US Middle Eastern policy – an influence AIPAC celebrates – stands a good chance of being labelled an anti-semite. Indeed, anyone who merely claims that there is an Israel Lobby runs the risk of being charged with anti-semitism, even though the Israeli media refer to America’s ‘Jewish Lobby’. In other words, the Lobby first boasts of its influence and then attacks anyone who calls attention to it. It’s a very effective tactic: anti-semitism is something no one wants to be accused of."
Errr.... see, this is why I don't speak about the Israel/Palestinian issue as much as I used to. The reason why the charge happens is because anti-semitism is still a very real problem; although Walt and Mearsheimer do point out that claims of rampant anti-semitism among Europeans and others is overblown anti-semitism certainly exists, which is precisely why the charge is so effective. Yet because the charge is so effective, I think they have a point that it can be and is used to stifle legitimate debate, and certainly debate over the power of the lobby.

And, in fact, the reaction to the article demonstrates this admirably. Some critics have been measured in their responses and one, Daniel Drezner, makes an excellent point that this article is "simply a massive exercise in explaining away a data point that realism can't cover", and that most of its flaws are rooted in the professors' inexperience in public policy debate and a lack of balance in the piece.

Both critiques fit my own reaction when reading the article. Yes, they make an important and necessary point that the power of lobbyists to affect policy also extends to foreign policy, that the pro-Israel lobby is extremely good at its job, that there's nothing wrong with that per se (a point often missed in the critiques I've seen), and that said lobby is extremely camera-shy. The problem is that they don't examine why American political culture might be inherently friendly to Israel, and they don't look at the other foreign policy lobbyists (notably the Arabic oil lobby) and the role they play. Both are necessary for decent public policy analysis, but the former is anti-Realist and the latter is a tricky job at the best of time.

Yet look at the comments thread for Drezner's own piece. Almost every entry is either empty repetition of anti-Arab and pro-Israeli talking points (which the wingnuts love, largely because of the "anti-Arab" part) or, yes, accusations of anti-semitism. Many have been playing the game of guilt by association, saying that anti-semites like David Duke and others agree with the professors and make similar cases, thus showing that the authors are anti-semites themselves. Personally, I think that's risible- the fact that David Duke and I may both like grilled cheese sandwiches does not make me a neo-nazi, and this claim is about as valid. Still, it's out there, and it's being leveraged to try to discredit two of the best-known and most influential scholars in the IR field.

And this is an extraordinarily dangerous game. It always has been. Using the charge of anti-semitism to try to discredit legitimate (if flawed) arguments doesn't just tar the legitimate argument, it legitimizes anti-semitism. There is always going to be the guy in the audience who says "hey, these guys make sense, and they're tarred as anti-semites. I wonder who else has had this happen to them?" He starts reading, then believing, truly anti-semitic material, and any legitimate attempt to dissuade him of this notion is doomed to be dismissed as no different than those spurious charges that started him down that road. There is a very real danger of the people no longer caring if they hear somebody cry "Wolf". A much greater danger than anything Walt and Mearsheimer wrote.

Is it anti-semitic? No. They're careful to draw a distinction between the American Jewish community at large and those Jewish Americans who are policy entrepreneurs for Israel. There is no monolithic "jewish influence" so conspiracy theories about "the Jews" simply don't work. That these sorts of policy entrepreneurs exist might be construed that way, but they acknowledge that similar lobbying efforts exist for other ethnic groups. The authors state that they "are only doing what other special interest groups do, but doing it very much better". While that may be a debatable assertion, (and, as I mentioned, it underestimates the power of the Arab lobby) it isn't anti-semitic. Nor is their contention that Israel is a strong country and can be seen as being on morally shaky ground in the Occupied Territories; the former is empirically verifiable, and the latter debatable enough to be an extremely poor test of anti-semitism.

Indeed, I'd argue that an analysis of the response sheds a lot of light in-and-of itself. The two other states that benefit the most from the United States' friendship and largess are the United Kingdom (who gets to be a world power by proxy, as well as torrents of SIGINT) and Japan (which gets American military protection). Were this article aimed at the power Japanese or British policy entrepreneurs, would it have aroused this much controversy? Clearly not. Were, on the other hand, it aimed at the outsized influence of, say, Saudi Arabia? The same people who are attacking this article would be praising that one to the skies, no matter how shoddy the scholarship!

That's why I'm not inclined to believe the critics out-of-hand, and think there is something to Walt and Mearsheimer's (admittedly flawed) study.

(It doesn't help that the critiques include such weak entries as this one from CAMERA, which makes the very same mistake of equating the Israel lobby with pro-Israeli Jewish Americans when attempting to discredit "The Israel Lobby". The recitation of tired and creaking pro-Israeli talking points doesn't help either; who honestly believes that all the Arabs who left Israel during the War of Independence did so willingly, that the reason why the Israelis won that war had nothing to do with skill, or (incredibly) that
Al Qaeda didn't care about Israel prior to 9/11? Bin Laden didn't justify their actions using the Palestinians until later, but that's an entirely different issue. I realize it probably takes experience to call someone else a "propagandist", but really.)

In the end, this is all kind of a shame, because what it really reveals is that there doesn't seem to be much point in even discussing American foreign policy in the Middle East vis a vis Israel. Even if the Israel lobby doesn't have the kind of power that Walt and Mearsheimer claim they do, they certainly appear to have the power to poison the well during any kind of debate. An endless number of pro-Israeli arguments I've read are weaker than "The Israel Lobby" (many of them on that CAMERA site), but they go unchecked, whereas even eminences like Walt and Mearsheimer are hounded if they write something with far superior skill and care. Open debate is difficult at best, which will only let the underlying issues fester.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

This is what happens...

...when movement conservatives get all Leninist.

And like Wolcott and Digby, I couldn't find it funnier.


Forget the factual inaccuracies that Atrios highlighed. How screwed up do you have to be to believe, like Jeff Goldstein apparently does, that plagiarism is somehow less of a sin than pseudonymity?

Especially when, as he acknowledges himself, Goldstein chose to use a pseudonym because

[i]n the early days of blogging, Ben had a blog he published under his own
name. From what I understand, he used an alias on Red State because he’d received threats. This has been corroborated by people close to Ben via email.
Is he so blinkered as to not realize that other people might just choose to do the same thing, for the same basic reason, yet not agree with his politics? IOKIYAR is unseemly at the best of times, but trying to claim that pseudonymity is somehow worse than plagiarism (if you're a liberal) is beyond the pale.

(And, no, Goldstein doesn't get an out by claiming that blog posts don't apply. The internet is a public forum, and Blogger has a "publish" button for a reason.)

The post would be ludicrous in any case, as Jeff is trying to claim that Plagiarist Ben deserves credit for coming forward and admitting fault after having been caught red handed, and that liberals deserve scorn for rejoicing in his fall. He resigned because he was going to get fired, not because of any moral strength. I don't know about the other liberals out there, but I'm happy because what appeared to be a truly terrible columnist has been evicted from the pages of the Washington Post. Schadenfreude be damned.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Stop, Thief!

So, thanks to mighty Atrios (who, sadly, probably doesn't remember that this site exists), we discover that the Washington Post's newest opinion journalist--and bastion of the right-wing blogosphere-- Ben Domench is apparently a bit of a plagiarist.

And when I say a bit, I mean "Atrios has something like a dozen examples after a single day of searching".

Oddly enough, considering this guy used to be a blogger, the old saw about "calling a blogger ethics conference" might actually be useful here. Me, I'm just a little sad, because I see blogging as an eventual popular substitute for academe more than reportage.

Even the faintest hint of plagiarism is anathema to any honest academic, though, so it's just going to make it that much harder for discourse on the Internet to be taken seriously.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The "BRIC" Theory gets a bit stronger

BRIC, of course, is Brazil, Russia, India and China- the four heirs apparent to the American hegemony.

Two of them, Russia and China, have just inked a deal to run pipelines from Russia's oil and gas fields to China. Although this does not include Siberian oil, it is still a big success for both China and Russia- China gets badly needed energy, and Russia gets badly-needed currency. More importantly, though, it signifies that they are now relatively friendly, opening the door to further Chinese weapon imports from Russia, and further coordination in global affairs.

This matters: not only do these countries control a huge swath of Eurasia between them, but its Northeastern coast. It creates the possibility that the United States and Japan will become even further strategically isolated in Asia, especially considering the lingering issues over the Kuriel Islands and the troubled Sino-Japanese relationship.

Plus, it means that Vladimir Putin has one more ally that really won't give him grief over anti-democratic practices.

Edit: That said, see this piece for info on the lingering tensions over China's disinterest in importing manufactured goods.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

More Goofy Jeff Fun

One can get truly tired of the "we needed to go to Iraq to show that we're goddamned crazy"
argument, but he resurrected it again (along with one of his more verbose commentators), pairing it with

...absent the war, [intelligence and diplomacy] would be futile, useless, because there would be absolutely no reason for anyone with useful information to cooperate in any way. In fact, there would be a positive disincentive, in that the Islamists will treat informants against them with vicious savagery, while the West would be seen as utterly unable to protect itself, let alone anyone who helped it.
The hole in this is obvious: Afghanistan shows that the west will respond, whereas Iraq only shows that they'll attack the wrong guy and do a crap job of it.

Look: these sorts of "analyses" are all essentially drawn from cop shows, so I'll run with it. Going to Iraq to intimidate Al Qaeda is like if a sociopathic drug dealer on a cop show was threatened to cooperate or the cop will shoot the dealer's biggest competitor when his buddy is close at hand, and then manages to shoot himself in the foot to boot! Does anybody honestly think the criminal in question would actually be coerced to cooperate based on that cop's demonstration of bad judgement and incompetence?

Hell, many Iraqis are more intimidated into cooperation with Islamists than they were under Saddam, thanks to the "militia" mobs running around!

(No wonder Atrios mocks his intelligence.)

In any case, the basis of this entire argument is, as always, missing the point that demoralizing potential terrorists isn't enough. There must be two parts to the conflict: one is showing strength, the other showing attractiveness. The west can't just be stronger, because then the Islamic theocrats really will be seeking weakness- it must also be better, so that those on the fence can feel justified in choosing the West's side. It's about soft power as well as hard power. Where these guys err is thinking that somehow America can do whatever it wants and still have its positions and system be attractive.

Sorry, Jeff and co. It just doesn't work like that.

More Comedy

Jeff Goldstein:

"bandwidth sucking c*cklords"

Oh, you want context?

In fact, his
(as seen on Digbysblog) —Loven stole HIS idea about the strawmans, we’re told / and Atrios was exactly right that I’m an idiot who doesn’t realize my own idiocy (a pronouncement, incidentally, that can only be made by one who assumes he is far more intelligent than the object of his scorn, which position essentially deconstructs the study in the Atrios post tristero fellates, or else proves it to his detriment, I’m not sure which)—is par for the course with these bandwidth sucking c*cklords.
That weird space in the middle of the link was in the original comment, by the way. As was the ironic bad sentence structure and misuse of the word "deconstruct" in a sentence intended to argue that he is not unintelligent.

Don't get me wrong; I'm no prude about profanity. It's still really, really funny, though, as is Jeff's in-text square-bracket responses in his comment threads. One brought up the perfect summary of Jeff's writing:

"You bring nothing to the discourse here other than your public masturbations."

Wank on, you shining star.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Holy Moly....

Anybody else seen Google Finance yet? I know Google really, really wants to become a one-stop shop for information on the net, but this is starting to get a little overwhelming.

(Not, say, frightening, like the quote I'd read somewhere that Google Books was scanning the books for the benefit of a future Google A.I. rather than human readers, but pretty overwhelming.)

That said, it's pretty well designed, and I like what I see of it. The blog/discussion integration is a good way of leveraging what they already have, and I like the way it handles stock price charts. I'll have to keep an eye on it.

I'm with Atrios

What was the story behind Bush saying "they told me what to say"?

I mean yes, he was coached. He's always coached. There's a convincing argument going around out there that that's the reason why he always sounds so condescending. Still, to out-and-out admit it?

CNN spun it as "wow, he was brave enough to take questions". Keep lowering that bar, folks.

Hoo boy

This Bush press conference is comedy gold. He's spinning like a top, but it doesn't seem to be doing much good. Helen Thomas eviscerated him, and answer to the question on Rumsfeld's incompetence contained more fantasy than a Lord of the Rings marathon.

....oh crap, he actually brought out Social Security and attempted to assert, still, that it's in trouble. he's calling for "bipartisanship" on the issue!

...he's being confronted on the censure/impeachment thing. He's chattering about "partisanship" and dodging it by saying "Dems hate protecting freedom". Like that's going to fly.

Anyway, enough liveblogging. I doubt this will change public opinion that much, but it reinforces that the white house press corps ain't happy, at the very least with Bush, and have turned the White House into a free-fire zone.

Even though their corporate masters seem to be moving in the opposite direction--working even harder to suck up to the right-- it's always a welcome sight.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Not Loving This

Judge Plans to Order Google to Turn Over Data to U.S.

From the Times:

After the Justice Department sharply cut back its request for search-engine data from Google, a federal judge indicated today that he would instruct the company to comply with a government subpoena in the department's defense of an online pornography law.

At a hearing in Federal District Court here, Judge James Ware said, "It is my intent to grant some relief to the government, given the narrowing that has taken place with the request and its willingness to compensate Google for whatever burden that imposes."

The government is now requesting a sample of 50,000 Web site addresses returned in Google searches, instead of what could have amounted to billions of Web addresses when the subpoena was first issued last August. And the government is now asking for just 5,000 search queries. Of those, a lawyer for the government said in today's hearing, the government would use just 10,000 Web sites and 1,000 search queries.

Although this means that Google is likely to be required to turn over the information, the amount of data is far less than previously demanded. The judge also indicated that he would apply greater scrutiny to the request for search queries than to the Web site addresses because of privacy concerns.
Nice to read that the numbers are reduced, but I loathe the precedent. Google has a choice in "doing no evil": either strip anything that can be used for personal identification, clean out the database on a regular basis (like Yahoo does), or fight harder against this. After the China debacle, they can't simply sit back and let this happen, or the internet goodwill they've enjoyed for so long will start seriously dwindling.

(I like Blogger, but there are limits.)

Fear and Feingold

Over at MyDD:

According to Progress Now, Senator Wayne 'Whiny' Allard, Republican of Colorado, accused Feingold of 'siding with terrorists' by introducing his censure resolution. They have a petition up demanding Allard apologize. Frankly, Senator Whiny Allard should be expelled from the Senate for accusing a colleague of treason.

Senator Feingold, you are a man of integrity and a real Democrat.

I'm proud of your strength and your leadership.

Senator Allard, your weak, cowardly nature means that you don't know what it means to fight the fear that terrorists seek to spread. You and conservatives like you enable terrorists with your weakness and posturing. May I recommend Depends brand undergarments, in case you soil yourself in the Senate as you cower in the corner?
This is just getting absurd- now it's treason to dare to formally say that the President is doing a bad job? That's all that Russ Feingold's censure resolution means, after all; it doesn't carry the force of impeachment. I mean, yes, this is an attempt at intimidation, and everybody knows that, especially those making the accusation. Still, one is forced to wonder just how egregious the crime would have to be before the "wartime prez" types relent.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Crashing the Blogosphere

Over at Crooks and Liars, there's a good discussion of the problems the "blogosphere" has in having Dems take it seriously, prompted by the NYTimes review of Kos and MyDD's new book. Here's some quotation:

One of the principal themes of the book raises a topic which I truly believe is of unparalleled importance -- the role of the blogosphere in influencing the nation's political debates as well as shaping the strategies adopted by the Democratic Party.

With very few exceptions, national Democrats in Washington see the blogosphere as composed of uninformed, ranting, dirty masses who need to be kept as far away as possible.
To be fair, I've seen some truly hairy comments threads that, perhaps, might bolster this perception. Plus, the problem of prominent right-wing bloggers and their commentators acting like racist thugs (LGF, anyone?) looms large, and shouldn't be discounted.

That said, one could just as easily ask questions about those people who ARE in charge, as by and large, they're really only experts in one thing: getting elected. Many of those who aren't tend to be "journalists" (at least on the right) whose chief skill is towing the party line and deliberate misinterpretation of liberals, or real experts who, nonetheless, are perfectly comfortable talking about things that they have little formal education in.

(Case in point: the spectacle of trained economists analyzing everything but economics, due to their all-encompassing faith in formalism and statistical inferrence.)

The way in which so many national Democrats run away from the blogosphere and try to pretend that it does not exist -- as though it is some sort of dangerous, poisonous sewer -- is really quite bewildering. Within the last two weeks, I had some extensive communications with a high-ranking staff member in a Democratic Senators' office (whose identity I promised not to reveal before the discussions began) in which I argued that systems should be created to enable Democratic Senators to work cooperatively with the blogosphere in order to prevent the Bush Administration from continuing to suppress investigations into its wrongdoing, including as part of the NSA scandal and other scandals.

I explained that there is a bursting and eager energy among the literally millions of people who write and read blogs to take meaningful action against the Bush Administration. The people in the blogosphere are highly motivated, informed, and politically engaged. Activating that energy and having national Democrats work cooperatively with the blogosphere (rather than ignore it or scorn it) could make an enormous difference in how these stories end up being covered and resolved. It is monumentally dumb not to embrace the one mechanism which has the ability to unleash genuinely impassioned, mass citizen action. And there are obvious and easy -- yet quite potent -- ways for national Democrats to work with bloggers and the blogosphere to maximize the force of these efforts.

This was the response I ultimately received:

I think there is an opportunity for us to figure out a better way to work together. But, you have to understand, my ultimate goal is to help [the] Senator [] achieve his objective of real oversight on national security matters by the Intelligence Committee.Even with the best of intentions, I’m not convinced that bloggers can help us meet that goal. In fact, I worry about it hurting our efforts given the increasingly partisan environment.

This response is not uncommon. Many - if not most - national Democrats really are afraid of working with actual citizens, and are particularly afraid of having any involvement at all with the blogosphere. It's as though they think they need to remain above and separated from the poorly behaved, embarrassing masses. They actually have been scared away from working with the very people who they are supposedly representing and who are on their side.
A long quote, but I think it's best seen through the prism of that one bolded quote: "increasingly partisan environment". Amato points out the elitism involved in the Dems' attitude towards blogs, and it should be pointed out, but it ultimately comes back to that same old bugaboo- Democrats' fear of their own name, and their own party, and the simple fact that by definition, they are the most left-wing of the two major parties. They are not a "third way", because there's no "second way" for them to array themselves against. They are the second way, and they should be proud of that, because history has shown that their way is the best of the two. They fear the bloggers because they worry that they'll be brought down by the company they keep, but let's face it: we're in bed together, whether they like it or not. There's no "sistah souljah" moment here.

(I've never been convinced, in any case, that that was as important to Clinton's success as is bandied about.)

As in so many cases, it comes down to group identity: "us" vs. "them". The most important part of the conservative movement is that they've carefully nurtured the perception among elite conservatives that they are "us" and their liberal counterparts are "them", while simultaneously widening the set of those who can be considered "elite conservatives" to the array of non-elected conservative pundits and writers in the think tank archipelago, as well as the hordes of otherwise-useless conservative "journalists" out there. Democrats are still trapped believing that "us" is Washington lawmakers and their hangers-on, including the Republicans, and "them" is everybody else. They need to support whatever consensus exists among those lawmakers in order to maintain their identity as part of the "us" group.

Bloggers challenge that consensus and are resolutely not part of that group, so why on earth listen to them? Why associate with them? Exploit them, certainly; exploiting the "other" is a proud and noble tradition. But certainly don't let them in, unless they demonstrate that they hold the right opinions and have the right background.

Which is sad, because in the end, the blogosphere is really only good for one thing: ideas. It's a factory and refinery for ideas, whether political or policy-oriented. If there's one thing the blogosphere's liberal contingent is screwing up, it's that there's little discussion of ideas and endless discussion of process and personalities. It's the latter that gets linked to, it's the latter that gets read, and it's the latter that gets commented on.

(Face it: gossiping about Harry Reid is meaningless. )

Right wing bloggers don't need this- they just support the ideas coming out of the right-wing think tanks, and attack the left. That's their job, and they do it with gusto. Left bloggers cannot do that, because there are no consciously left-wing think tanks of the Heritage and AEI stripe, and academe is still too particularist and resolutely non-partisan to play that role. If the Dems are going to get ideas, it needs to come from here.

(Well, not here. Maybe back when I had 1000+ readers a day. But you know what I mean.)

I'll leave it with Amato:

That obviously isn't going to happen. So the sooner Democrats realize that the blogosphere and citizen activism is something to embrace rather than scorn, the sooner it will be that they can find ways to finally cause the Bush Administration and all of its appendages to come crashing down.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


Over on James Wolcott's blog, we see a comment about Sharon Stone and Debbie Schlussel's obsessive attacks on her.

Schlussel--Dairy Queen's answer to Ann Coulter, the unthinking person's Monica Crowley--is incensed as only a rightwing blogger can be that the former star of Basic Instinct is making unauthorized noises about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while visiting the Mid-East. Here is one of the incredibly insensitive, inflammatory things Stone did while on tour in Israel.

"During her visit, Stone played football with a mixed group of Israeli and Palestinian children on Wednesday and later visited Israeli hospitals that care for Palestinian children."

For this outrage against all that is decent (how dare she!), Stone is called "crotch-woman" and other choice niceties.
"Crotch-woman"? Is that the best they can do? Weak.

Anyway, this obsession with celebrities actually opining on politics and international affairs is an old one on the right, and if you think about it, it doesn't really seem to make sense. I mean, sure, celebs can be somewhat idealistic and utopian, (on all sides- witness Arnold's belief that toughguy posturing could serve as effective governance), but it still doesn't really explain why they're so obsessed as to foam at their mouths whenever Bono opens his.

Now, however, I think I've figured it out. The common complaint is that celebrities don't know squat about policy. That is manifestly untrue in many cases- I'd match (as two prominent examples) Bono's knowledge of third world debt and Clooney's knowledge of foreign policy against most of the general public- including those rock-ribbed red staters that are lionized by Republicans for their common sense and insight. Sure, they might be wrong, but they aren't disproportionately uninformed, so why attack them for the latter?

See the title.. it's projection. Who the hell is Debbie Schlussel? What right does she have to talk about anything? Her bio says that she has a law degree and an MBA, but that doesn't qualify her to talk about foreign policy; hell, it barely qualifies her to talk about domestic policy, considering the type of people who are getting MBAs these days.

Going through her bio, her biggest credential is being a Republican and anti-Islamic hack; all her journalism credits are for "exposes" which, if as weak as her attacks on Roger Ebert for daring to support the case of an Iraqi Kurd, are beneath contempt. The "V" review shows that she has absolutely no idea how to write a review, as she completely ignored everything that, well, made the movie a movie...

...honestly, what kind of ace journalist isn't able to write a simple review?

This women is at the top of the heap, too. Most of the troglodytes that hunker beneath her are even less qualified to be "journalists", or writers, or analysts, or, well, much of anything. They are "journalists" because they're conservative hacks, not because they've actually written anything of note. Were they to switch sides, they'd be working in a factory. At best.

So, how to get credibility, when your bully pulpit is arbitrarily based on your political views? Criticize someone else's bully pulpit instead! Celebrities don't get credibility for being tools, they get credibility for being (generally, with key exceptions) good at something else. While Pitt and Jolie (as two quasi-activist examples) may be annoying at times, both have demonstrated that they're pretty good actors; Jolie in Gia, Pitt in River Runs Through It and Fight Club. Bono has had a longer and more influential musical career than almost everybody working today, and Clooney is a gifted actor and director, especially when handling the sort of political issues that Schlussel rants about in such a ham-handed fashion. All of these, and Sharon Stone, have demonstrated their dedication to the causes they espouse, Bono to a level that many would consider extreme.

So why the hell should anybody listen to a tool like Schlussel, when they could listen to someone like Clooney- who has demonstrated skill in a difficult and crowded field, and whose commentary is no worse than any number of Republican hacks?

Because the hacks made the accusation first! They insulate themselves from attacks by asserting their ability to judge who is, and isn't, a proper spokesman, and those already inclined to agree will go along with it. Nobody needs to know that Schlussel would be a non-entity if she were a Democrat. Nobody needs to know that she's a tool. If she and the rest scream loud enough about the other side, they'll be too busy with the accusations to think about them.

That's the only way that Schlussel and co. can dodge around the simple truth, as World o' Crap puts it:

Yes, Jolie only pretends to care about the world's poor, impoverished, poverty-stricken, not-rich children. Which is why she donated all that pretend money to UN children's programs, and contributed all that time and energy working on their behalf. Clearly, Angelina is a big poseur skank. (Unlike Debbie, who really helps needy children by, um, writing scathing blog entries about how some of them are being turned into camel jockeys.)
...the simple truth that there isn't a reason in the world to take them seriously, and listen to what they have to say.

To use an appropriate movie reference, they're Richard Gere, tapdancing as fast as he can go, trying to distract the audience. I liked that movie, but it's just no way to run a movement.

M is for Milk(?)

I should probably stop doing that.

In any case, while some are lamenting the news that bumper stickers at a conservative convention say "Happiness is Hillary's face on a milk carton", I've gotta say that I'm rather pleased and emboldened by it.

It means that there is now a single eight-word sentence that trumps the entire winger canard of "irrational hate of Bush". No matter what, just eight words and it's dead in the water.

So smile, "lie-brals". This terribly unfunny eliminationist bull actually does you a huge favor.

(Old news? Yeah, but I hadn't got around to mentioning it before, aside from a reference to Digby a while back... and it IS rather handy, isn't it?)

Friday, March 10, 2006

S for Serious

Slight change of focus.

Digby and Michael Berube both point out a simple fact about "theocons", one that should serve as a warning to those who think that the "I didn't think about the women" argument will solve things by itself:

They really mean what they say. They really want to do what they say. They really do want to get rid of abortion and birth control and everything else they say, and while moderates can be embarassed by the details, on a fundamental level they simply don't care.

First Berube, then Digby.

The idea is that an actual abortion ban would go too far: the first back alley death, and the Republican Party is in deep trouble. Well, maybe and maybe not, folks. You might think, along similar lines, “the first hideous death by torture in the War on Terror, and the Republican Party is in deep trouble,” or “the first unconstitutional power grab by the executive branch, and the Republican Party is in deep trouble,” or “the first data-mining program of domestic spying, and the Republican Party is in deep trouble,” or “the first systemic corruption scandal involving Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham and Tom DeLay, and the Republican Party is in deep trouble,” and you’d be, ah, wrong, you know. Besides, there’s a nasty time lag between that first back-alley death and the repeal (if any) of a state’s draconian abortion law, and in that time-lag, that state’s Republican Party might or might not be in deep trouble. It’s hard to unseat incumbents in this jerry-built and gerrymandered system, after all. So there’s no guarantee that popular outrage against back-alley deaths would jeopardize a state’s elected GOP officials en masse. But we can be pretty sure that women with unwanted pregnancies would be . . . how shall we say? in deep trouble.
This is a vital point that is often missed by the "strategists" out there: embarrassment is not necessarily going to stop someone from doing something. If you truly believe that what you do is right, and don't care about how you're perceived by those who disagree, then you aren't going to relent when you've done something embarrassing in their eyes. Besides, with news being what it is, embarrassing and extreme acts by people in "safe" positions are actually a hidden bonus, because the drive to create a "balanced" narrative will lead to your act having moved the goalposts of acceptability.

(We've already seen this happen. Even 10 years ago, something like South Dakota's proposal would have had the entire country screaming bloody murder. Now....)

They really mean it. This is no bullshit. There is no downside to overturning Roe for them --- and if there is, they don't care. If they want to overturn Griswald, they'll do that too. They fought the gun control fight when people were freaking out over crime in the streets and political assassinations. Conservative absolutists don't give up just because liberals get up-in-arms. They certainly don't care if we think they are shrill.

I believe that this fight is going to have to be fought on a number of fronts. We must make some decent people who have not fully explored the ramifications of their stand take a good hard look at it from a moral and logical standpoint. They need to be shown that their leaders (in the mode of Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed) are very cynical and deceitful. What they say to their flock is very different from what they believe...

....But more than anything else we must accept the fact that these people are serious. They want to outlaw abortion and they want to curtail people's access to birth control. They aren't lying. And as they've shown with gun rights, they are in it for the long haul. We must be just a stubborn as they are and seek to wear them down rather than let them wear us down.

This is not an issue for tweaking. Let's tweak on the Ten Commandments or public funds for parochial schools or something else if it is necessary to adjust for this family values crap in order to win elections. State mandated forced childbirth and denial of access to birth control cannot be negotiated or finessed. This one's going to have to be fought out head to head, day to day to a final reckoning. That's what they are going to do and if we don't recognise that and act accordingly, we will lose.
Similar words, but from a somewhat different standpoint. It speaks to the core problem that Dem strategists have: that it is not all about who is the best steward of the economy, and it is not all about the relative spending on entitlement programs, and it is not about how many times you try and fail to change the subject. At some point, you have put the polls away and actually believe in something.

They sure as hell do.

Edit: that said, I do disagree with the idea that Thomas Frank had totally ignored this in what's the matter with Kansas... one of his points that is often overlooked is that while the "money Republicans" had sought to simply exploit the religious conservatives, the latter have been slowly taking over the party due to their greater dedication and numbers. I don't think Frank was ignoring the threat they posed, just emphasizing the situation as it was. That situation is changing, and the means of that change was something that he did predict.

W for Wolcott

(Yeah, I'm getting rather partial to this naming scheme. Among other things, it's easy.)

I've linked to some critical (if not overly compelling) reviews of V, so it's only fair to link to James Wolcott, who was absolutely enamored of it.

A paragraph:

V for Vendetta may be--why hedge? is--the most subversive cinematic deed of the Bush-Blair era, a dagger poised in midair. Unlike the other movies dubbed “controversial” (Fahrenheit 9-11, The Passion, Munich, Syriana), it doesn’t play to a particular constituency or polarized culture bloc, it’s working on a deeper, Edger Allen Poe-ish witch’s brew substrata of pop myth. Cultural conservatives will loathe it without seeing it (they love not having to leave their houses to lament the latest installment of civilization’s decline and fall) once they hear of and read about the movie’s disturbing political parallels (a fascistic TV host with a witty resemblance to Berlusconi, fertilizer explosives a la Timothy McVeigh; torture, renditions, and subway bombings; black hoods that will be forever associated with Abu Ghraib). Yet lots of cultural liberals with educated tastes will find it anxiety-producing and irresponsible too, not only because they’re more comfortable with humanistic stories and documentary techniques than with pop spectacle (as Kael discovered whenever she praised upstart movies like DePalma’s Carrie or The Warriors and received letters from profs and Ph.D couples complaining about her soiling the New Yorker’s space on trash), but because V for Vendetta doesn’t just depict a 1984’s dystopia--it advocates radical remedy, and illustrates what it advocates with rhapsodic, operatic, orgasmic flourish. It follows the course of its own logic to its Kubrickian conclusion, but this isn’t a clinical exercise, like Kubrick at his most voyeuristically detached. This movie is fully engaged. Its masked, caped vigilante is both Batman and Joker, nocturnal enigma and nimble trickster, the Count of Monte Cristo, Zorro, and the Phantom of the Opera tucked into one suavely tormented frame, the antihero’s secret lair a gothic sanctuary equipped with its own Wurtlizer jokebox on which Julie London’s Cry Me a River sultrily plays. The river of tears is the Thames, on the bank of which sits London’s House of Parliament, the movie (based on Alan Moore’s graphic novel) drawing its inspiration from Guy Fawkes and the foiled Gunpowder Plot to destroy Parliament on November 5th, 1605, a day celebrated annually in Britain with fireworks and parties. In V for Vendetta, monochromatic tyranny so oppresses, represses, and depresses Britain in its totalitarian condition that the only proper way to honor the memory and insurrectionary spirit of Guy Fawkes is to finish what he started. V for vendetta, v for violence, v for vindication. The return of the repressed with a vengeance.
You know how I can tell he really liked it? Because any writer that good who writes paragraphs that breathlessly lengthy is really, really, really excited.

What the controversy about this movie is really about, though, seems to be dodged by all. It's a movie about a conflict between a repressive regime and a violent, terroristic anarchist. The film clearly sympathizes with the latter, and (if it is at all like the graphic novel) provides plenty of good reasons to do so. The problem is that there are rather a lot of people out there who cannot and will not accept that a terrorist could be right; either because of trauma over 9/11, or because they're apologists for power, or because anarchism's leftish elements bother them, they feel compelled to criticize those who create the scenario rather than accept that someone whose position and tactics they loathe could be a sympathetic character. The scenario long predates the current situation; even a note-for-note adaptation of "V" would be anarchistic, so it's not that "V" should be condemned as a reaction to Bush, the WoT, or the Iraq war; "V" would have the same message, no matter what.

The problem, though, is that sometimes the powerful are wrong, dangerously so; and sometimes they aren't easily identified Germans with funny mustaches, but people that belong to your own society and who appropriate your own traditions for their own ends. Tradition is no guarantee of morality (witness slavery), and neither is enjoying a governmental or quasi-governmental bully pulpit. It is that that makes this movie subversive towards conservatism; not the attacks on over-the-top fascism, but the idea that maybe, just maybe, traditional positions of power may not be the source of legitimacy they want to believe they are.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

F for Frightened

In the vein of the diatribe I linked to comes Debbie Schlussel's similar porcine squeal of fear and loathing.

It's simpler to sum up, though, with a one-line quote:

"It's an exciting, quality Bin Laden film."

What more needs to be said, really?

Well, ok. One other quote.

Under the religious Christian Chancellor, "unjust" Gitmo-style military tribunals and absurd NSA-style wiretapping is going on at every corner. Throughout the movie, we are shown vans of law enforcement personnel listening in to every home. As if that's what NSA wiretapping was about. It isn't, but "V" drills it into you the way the ACLU wants you to see it: every conversation in every kitchen, etc., secretly being listened in on and laughed at by guys in sweaty, rumpled shirts and ties.
This would be a more effective attack if this ditzy waste of oxygen remembered that the film is both set in Britain (where surveillance is omnipresent and an issue far more serious than the United States) and was almost certainly scripted long before anybody knew about the NSA issue!

Not to mention it's drawing on standard totalitarian imagery of annihilated privacy that predates ORWELL, for god's sake, let alone Moore!

Now I'm almost not sure if I want to see the movie, because I honestly can't see it as being anywhere near as entertaining as the right's terrified reaction to it.

D for Doctrinaire

I hadn't originally planned on seeing V for Vendetta, as I'm a big fan of Alan Moore and somewhat bothered by the fact that he distanced himself from the project, but after having read a hilariously ironic attack on the film for being anti-statist and and anti-authority on a site named, of all things, Libertas, how could I resist?

What's great about the review? Not one single word is given to the actual quality of the film as a film. It's just a stream of spittle-flecked invective, as seen here:

In the world of “V” anyone who is deemed an “enemy of the state” (specifically we are shown gay couples…and more gay couples) mysteriously contracts an incurable disease that we learn was created by — everyone sing along now — the evil Conservatives. Lions and Tigers and Elephants, oh my. Again, subtlety is not a gift of the writers or director. The paranoid message is that AIDS was created by conservatives to kill off all them heathen, immoral “fags.” Never mind that the conservative Bush administration has spent more money on AIDS research than the Clinton administration. But when facts get in the way of your fear-mongering, bury the facts.
So we've got a few words on a concept from the film, one that isn't even that rare in SF, and somehow it becomes about AIDS research spending by Bush v. Clinton? Never mind the fact that conservative hero Reagan wouldn't even admit that it's a problem, what the hell does it have to do with AIDS, and who on the left has ever actually believed that AIDS was created to kill gays? AIDS' genesis by a sentient creator is a fantasy of the RIGHT, not the left.

(Of course, the real problem he could have is anybody claiming that conservatives have an eliminationist attitude towards liberals. Don't know where they could have got that idea. .)

And then there's the issue of faith. He does make the case that the movie attacks the idea of faith (including, yes, Christianity) used as a means of supporting totalitarianism. Might have been more compelling if he hadn't responded to an imagined connection between conservatism and Nazism in the film by attempting to make the case that Liberals are Nazis due to the ACLU's "attacks on Christianity"- but he did make the case. Unfortunately, it's a pointless one. Yes, Religion is used as a tool of repression, and there's nothing new about that. I realize that many conservatives of this stripe see Communists everywhere, and Communists didn't use faith as a tool, but you'd be hard pressed to find any other repressive regime that didn't. A much more effective critique of the film would be that it's unsurprising and uninteresting, but instead, we get frothing idiocy from somebody whose desperate defense of an increasingly bankrupt philosophy knows no bounds.

That there's a heaping helping of censorious "this film should not have been greenlit by Time-Warner, because it puts someone I don't like in a good light and I like censorship as long as it isn't overt" twaddle only seals the deal.

So, yeah, I'm gonna go see V, if only to spite this foaming little tool and every other "conservative" who hates free speech and free expression.

(Free bonus: check out the "state's rights" loons in his comments, who somehow segue from a British film to the "war of northern aggression", for a little free comedy. Sometimes, I really do get why high-profile conservatives avoid comments on their blogs.)

Eschat-on the Warpath

Atrios is hitting tweety hard, with the common theme being (any surprise?) that although Tweety (Chris Matthews, by the by) can ask some tricky questions of his Republican guests, there is still an overall leaning towards said Republicans, and (as the exchange he quotes on abortion) makes clear, he can't bring it home.

Case in point: After raising the valid question of what the punishment would be to women who get abortions (one that the Republicans are dodging), his final response?

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Congressman Pat Toomey. Thanks for playing HARDBALL. You may well win this one.
"You may well win this one"? That's the best he could come up with? And considering the political climate in the country, what on earth compelled Matthews to say that? Yes, the Republicans are closer to tossing out Roe v. Wade than they've ever been, but the public mood isn't on their side, elite opinion probably isn't on their side, and (since it's abortion) it's not like there's a strong economic incentive for banning abortion, either. Trying to make any sort of anti-abortion regime work would be a policy and political nightmare. Chris as much as said it when he raised the question of punishment. Pity that he was, as always, too scared to follow through.

Also, how the hell did the United States get to this point? What happened to all the confident assertions that Roberts and Alito wouldn't be enough to shift the balance? Were they ever serious, or were they just cover?

Perhaps the only good thing out of this is that they're trying to punish doctors, rather than women. Any legal regime that even implies that women can abort, but doctors can't help will only lead to one thing: the wire hanger. Not that the spectre of dead young women is anything but horrible, but it should go a long way towards showing people that the choice is not between dead or living fetuses, but between dead or living women. Every politician who tries to punish the doctors and leave the women alone is arguing the hanger's case, and damned if he shouldn't have that shoved down his throat.