Archive for December, 2008

Stuck on the Terrorist Watch List

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Juan Fernando Gomez in the Washington Post:

It’s not the countless missed connections that bother me or the fact that I have to politely decline offers from well-meaning travel companions to wait for me, because they don’t know that they might be waiting for hours. It’s the powerlessness of being unable to clear my name and of having to go through this humiliation over and over.

Only in Illinois

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

From the American Thinker.

Irony Watch

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

As Justice Brandeis observed, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

So says the man whose governorship was felled by a bit too much sunlight on his sordrid sex life.

But an excellent new column by Eliot Spitzer in Slate on reforms to bring transparency to Wall Street.

Hypocrisy or Unknown Principles

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Hostilities between a small government on the border of a regional power turn into full-fledged war after the smaller power lobs a few military weapons endangering civilians and escalating the conflict into open warfare and violations of territorial sovereignty by the regional power. Both sides are generally considered responsible for increasing tensions with proactive actions in the extensive lead-up to the war. Both sides are accused of committing atrocities and killing or harming civilians during the war.

This description in broad strokes describes both the most recent flare-up of the Israeli-Hamas conflict and August war between Russia and Georgia.

Yet those on the left have tended to favor the regional power in the case of the Russian-Georgian conflict and to oppose the regional power in the Israeli-Hamas conflict. My impression is that while a majority of those on the left have no strong opinion on these issues, seeing each as complicated and unfortunate, a very prominent minority on the left have strongly favored Russia and opposed Israel. Looking at the conflicts and the issues themselves, it’s hard for me to find a single convincing reason that is not America-centric.

The American political establishment has tended to favor Georgia – as it is a liberal democracy on the border of a major competing power. Similarly, the American political establishment has tended to favor Israel as it is a liberal democracy in the midst of a region full of autocracies (as well as for domestic political reasons.) Both countries have been considered strong allies of America and have strong military support from America.

Yet aside from these facts, the circumstances surrounding their most recent wars and their history with their neighbors are very different:

Few would dispute that Hamas is a terrorist organization with a political branch that was elected in a relatively free election. Hamas refuses to recognize the right of it’s neighboring state to exist, accusing the Israel of driving it’s people from their homes over fifty years ago in the mass migration that resulted from the 1948 war for Palestine in which nearly 950 thousand Jews were expelled from or fled neighboring Arab countries and in which 750 thousand Palestinians were pushed out of areas controlled by Israel.

The United National Movement Party is a somewhat nationalist political party elected in a free election which refused to recognize the right of nearby disputed territories to be independent or to join neighboring Russia.  Many ethnic Georgians were driven from their homes in Abhkazia and South Ossetia nearly twenty years ago in ethnic hostilities. For example less than twenty years ago, nearly half of the residents of Abhkazia were ethnic Georgians. Over 80% of that population was driven out of Abhkazia or killed in ethnic hostilities in the early 1990s. After this ethnic cleansing of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – and ethnic Georgians were not blameless in this – a majority of the remaining inhabitants of these two traditional parts of Georgia sought protection from an international peacekeeping force and eventually, to ally themselves with and perhaps join the Russian Federation.

Israel is the strongest single power in the region but has been attacked by many of it’s neighbors since it’s existence. It is a democracy in an autocratic region. The descendants of  the former occupants of Israel’s land demand the right to return to the homeland of their parents or grandparents, and the official government of the Palestinians has often embraced suicide terrorism and attacks on civilians in order to achieve it’s goals. Israel has been granting the Palestinians some measures of autonomy but is still very wary of the security threat that exists.

Russia is a regional power with great power aspirations that has turned away from an open democracy in recent years in favor of some form of either tyranny or oligopoly. It has long supported the separatists in the disputed regions of Georgia in their bid to win independence. There has been growing concern in Russia that America’s support for Georgia was an attempt to check Russia’s regional influence. Georgia’s push to join NATO only deepened their concern – especially as Abhkazia has strategic importance to Russia due to an oil pipeline being constructed there.

So what am I missing here? Both Russia’s and Israel’s offenses hurt civilians as well as more legitimate targets. Both over-matched their opponents significantly. Both were in measure provoked (although both Georgians and Hamas believe they were the ones provoked.)

If anything, Hamas’ explicit embrace of terrorism should count against it. The fact that Israel is a democracy that faces an imminent security threat from the Palestinians – and especially Hamas, which is officially dedicated to Israel’s destruction – and has been attacked by Hamas and other Palestinian forces in the recent past would seem to partially explicate Israel’s actions, even if one considers them overreactions.

At the same time, Russia violated an international boundary when it was not facing an imminent threat. It has not been attacked by Georgia in the recent past if ever.

I think it’s probably true that most political convictions are based more on intuition than reason – but can anyone enlighten me as to a good reason to oppose Israel’s attacks on Hamas and to support Russia’s attacks on Georgia?

A Numerical Summary of the Bush Administration

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Harpers has compiled a numerical summary of the Bush administration. Here’s a taste:

Minimum number of calls the FBI received in fall 2001 from Utah residents claiming to have seen Osama bin Laden:
20

Number of members of the rock band Anthrax who said they hoarded Cipro so as to avoid an “ironic death”:
1

Minimum number of laws that Bush signing statements have exempted his administration from following:
1,069

Estimated number of U.S. intelligence reports on Iraq that were based on information from a single defector:
100

Number of times the defector had ever been interviewed by U.S. intelligence agents:
0

Days after the U.S. invaded Iraq that Sony trademarked “Shock & Awe” for video games:
1

Days later that the company gave up the trademark, citing “regrettable bad judgment”:
25

Minimum number of detainees who were tortured to death in U.S. custody:
8

Estimated amount Bush-era policies will cost the U.S. in new debt and accrued obligations:
$10,350,000,000,000

The State of Your Desk

Monday, December 29th, 2008

is a cluttered desk a sign of –

– a cluttered mind, or
– a mind that can bring order to chaos, and
a person who is doing his job?

From PonderAbout, Einstein’s desk.

I think he overestimates his ability to get people to put aside fundamental differences.

Monday, December 29th, 2008

I think he overestimates his ability to get people to put aside fundamental differences.

Barney Frank on Barack Obama. Frank was specifically criticizing Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation for the inaguration ceremonies, but I think his point gets to a more fundamental critique of Obama’s politics.

This sentiment is the core of John McCain’s and Hillary Clinton’s critique of Obama’s position on Iran; it was the reason for Paul Krugman’s and other liberal partisans’ reaction against Obama; and it’s at the heart of the negative response to the Warren invocation. The way this idea keeps cropping up makes me think this will be one of  the main memes used to attack Obama going forward. The difference between the first two and this later use of the meme is that the assumption of naiveite has been replaced by an assumption of cold political calculation.

Psychoanalyzing Glenn Greenwald

Monday, December 29th, 2008

This eviseration of hypocritical posturing is what makes Glenn Greenwald such an essential person to read:

This is the self-absorbed mindset that allows the very same people who cheered for the attack on Iraq to, say, righteously condemn the Russian invasion of Georgia as a terrible act of criminal aggression.  Russia’s four-week occupation of Georgia is a heinous war crime, while our six-year-and-counting occupation of Iraq is a liberation.  Russia drops destructive, lethal bombs on civilian populations, but the U.S. drops Freedom Bombs.  Russian leaders were motivated by a desire for domination even though they withdrew after a few weeks; Americans, as always, are motivated by a desire to spread love and goodness.

However in this passage, we can also see the exaggerated view he takes of his opponents views – as he caricatures their ideas. This particular caricature draws it’s effectiveness from how closely is resembles the position of his opponents. But more reading of Greenwald will demonstrate that he also denies his opponents’ good faith and humanity. Greenwald seems used to being the smartest guy in any room – and faults his opponents for either insufficient intelligence or glaring hypocrisy. He treats those who are sympathetic to his opponents similarly.

Greenwald argues to make his case rather than to formulate policy. But he is a useful gadfly, pointing out hypocrisies and exposing lies and propaganda.

Distractions

Monday, December 29th, 2008

The Bush administration has been praised often for doing their part to ensure a smooth transition to an Obama presidency. At the same time, many leading Republicans have said that they – like the rest of the country – are rooting for Obama to succeed. The consequences of him failing, especially on the economic front, are just too dire.

Yet, someone in the Bush administration hasn’t gotten the message. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt recently instituted a new regulation expanding the right of various health care workers to refuse to refer a woman to an abortion provider, to refer a woman to any service that might counsel an abortion, or to provide emergency contraception.

This regulation is set to take effect on Obama’s inaguration day. Leavitt could hardly think that such a regulation would survive past the inaguration of a pro-choice president. And for some reason, he had not instituted the regulation before this point despite being secretary since 2005 – so he obviously didn’t see it as a priority.

But it’s hard to think of a better way to drag Obama into the culture wars and reduce his political capital as he attempts to tackle our looming economic crisis.

[This picture is a work of the U.S. Federal government and thus part of the public domain.]

The Real Ghostbusters

Friday, December 26th, 2008

Now, I’m a Catholic – so I suppose this is supposed to offend me.

But one of the things that seperates religious extremists – like those Muslims that rioted and otherwise were violent in protest of the Dutch cartoons – from other believers in God is a sense of humor.

[By the way – I don’t know where this is from. Someone let me know if they know…]

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