Archive for February, 2010

Brief Thoughts for the Week of 2010-02-26

Friday, February 26th, 2010

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Brief Thoughts for the Week of 2010-02-19

Friday, February 19th, 2010
  • Liz Cheney trying to rally conservatives: "There is no polite way to put this: Obama's incompetence is getting people killed." #
  • Glenn Beck: The USA needs to "get away from anybody who’s calling for a revolution…whether it’s a Tea Party revolution or a communist one." #
  • Sarah Palin: "America is ready for another revolution and you are a part of this." #
  • Dick Cheney earlier today: “A welcome like that is almost enough to make me want to run for office…" http://nyti.ms/9EbxAf #
  • The Left's Top 25 Journalists. http://bit.ly/asnZ03 #
  • I can't tell if this is interesting or disturbing. http://bit.ly/9CZPqj #
  • "We're all screwed if you don't get something real on health care," Bayh told the White House. http://bit.ly/aulfbn #
  • John Mellencamp for senator from Indiana… http://bit.ly/bMsnlD #
  • How credit cards were deregulated: Sale a/c state lines allowed, then, "Citibank actually drafted the legislation.'' http://bit.ly/cGXArG #
  • The term now used to describe the Twilight movies used to refer to a device that caused pain and misery to millions. http://bit.ly/bTh7C6 #
  • A very modern dating guide for women. http://bit.ly/bK9bwl #
  • A backyard snow tracking guide. http://xkcd.com/ #
  • Cheney claims Bush was soft on terrorism as well. http://bit.ly/aejZXV #
  • A point I've made myself: According to Cheney, Bush too was soft on terrorism. http://bit.ly/aejZXV #
  • Be not afraid, New York; the truth shall set all of us free, all of us except for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that is. http://bit.ly/cCD8g0 #
  • When did Republicans news outlets start calling Democratic politicians, "Democrat politicians" instead? Did I miss a Frank Luntz memo? #
  • Wes Anderson remakes Spider-man! http://bit.ly/chaxID #
  • Her salary as an 18-year old providing the voice of Snow White was $970. The rest of her life was anticlimax. http://bit.ly/dzvtUO #

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The 2parse Winter Recess

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

2parse will be taking a winter recess from today, February 16 until Monday, March 1.

When March starts, 2parse restarts.

[Image by me.]

Brief Thoughts for the Week of 2010-02-12

Friday, February 12th, 2010

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Wieseltier owes Andrew Sullivan an apology. And The New Republic owes its readers a retraction.

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Leon Wieseltier launched a graceless and rather paranoid ad hominem attack on Andrew Sullivan in the latest issue of The New Republic - accusing him of being an anti-Semite. The New Republic is my favorite magazine – but since reading this piece, I’m considering unsubscribing. It would bother me that any magazine would give itself as a platform for such an article, and is even worse that it is one I feel ownership over (as I have been a regular reader for some 12 years and a subscriber for 5, from the moment I graduated college.) Wieseltier further attacks my religion (Catholicism) as “a regress to polytheistic crudity” and seemingly marks the magazine as meant for Jews rather than Christians – saying that “readers of The New Republic” would clearly see what was wrong with Sullivan’s writings – just as they saw what was wrong with the concept of the Trinity. (Perhaps this was meant lightly. It’s a bit hard to tell as he levels such ridiculous charges.) I don’t consider myself the type of person who would cancel a subscription over offensive content – but it angers that the magazine would run a piece with so few redeeming features and such serious unsubstantiated charges.

Sullivan’s main and heartfelt response to the piece is here. He also points out the context to one of his quotes, including email correspondence with the current editor of The New Republic, Franklin Foer. Other comments and a roundup of outside opinion from Sullivan here, here, here, here, and here. The Atlantic Wire has a more complete roundup.

Let me – as briefly as I can – make one point that I haven’t seen made. Most of Wieseltier’s piece concerns all sorts of damning positions Sullivan has taken: being moved by the Palestinian suffering in the Gaza attack, Sullivan’s anger at the Netanyahu government for refusing any substantial concessions to his government’s main patron, and the fact that Sullivan cites the respected Middle East scholar Stephen Walt “frequently and deferentially” when Walt was one of the authors of The Israel Lobby for which Wieseltier believes he should be shunned. About the only item cited by Wieseltier that could be construed as stereotyping of Jews is a Sullivan response to an article in the very self-consciously Jewish and right-wing Commentary on why Jews don’t like Palin because they’re educated, elitist, socially liberal, etc., but should support Palin because she has what Rubin considers the most important thing right: she opposes “the administration’s effort to put ‘daylight’ between the U.S. and Israel.” Sullivan begins his most anti-Semitic piece by quoting Jonathan Chait (of The New Republic) who puts Rubin’s piece in context elsewhere in his post:

The complaint of the Jewish Republican is a small but hardy feature of our political discourse. The complaint runs as follows: Jews are foolishly ignoring their self-interest by voting for Democrats on the basis of sentimental concerns (secularism, concern for the poor) rather than pursuing their true self interest (maximal hawkishness on the Middle East, low tax rates on the rich) as represented by the GOP.

Sullivan replies to Chait:

I worry about elements of proto-fascism becoming mainstream in the GOP.

But there is something particularly disturbing about the way in which neoconservatives, in their alliance with the Christianist heartland, increasingly argue for a strong and unchecked charismatic leader in the Palin/Bush mold, a disdain for reason in political life and a yearning for what Rubin calls an “instinctual skill set” in a leader…

Most American Jews, of course, retain a respect for learning, compassion for the other, and support for minorities (Jews, for example, are the ethnic group most sympathetic to gay rights.) But the Goldfarb-Krauthammer wing – that celebrates and believes in government torture, endorses the pulverization of Gazans with glee, and wants to attack Iran – is something else.

Something much darker.

Wieseltier’s response entirely ignores the blatant stereotyping that Jennifer Rubin uses as the basis for her article as well as Chait’s easy categorization of “Jewish Republicans” who identify their “true self interest” as “maximal hawkishness on the Middle East.” Wieseltier instead goes after Sullivan:

I was not aware that [Goldfarb and Krauthammer] comprise a “wing” of American Jewry, or that American Jewry has “wings.” What sets them apart from their more enlightened brethren is the unacceptability of their politics to Sullivan. That is his criterion for dividing the American Jewish community into good Jews and bad Jews–a practice with a sordid history.

It is really quite something that the above cite is the closest Wieseltier gets to Sullivan “hating on” Jews. No fair-minded observer could believe that is what is going on. Sullivan posts a quote from DiA today that seems to offer a more reasonable explanation: that Sullivan is “pigeonholing” political actors which DiA acknowledges that “we all do this to some extent,” including Wieseltier himself.

However, I want to take a minute to defend discussing the religion’s effect on politics in exactly the way Wieseltier is accusing Sullivan of, as today, most people’s religious and political identities have become fused. One’s religion – whether it be evangelical Christianity, Judaism, Catholicism, Methodist, Islam, Buddhism, or whatever else – is a profound influence on one’s outlook on the world and as such must be a matter for public debate and discussion. Andrew Greeley for example makes this case with reference to Catholicism in The Catholic Myth. He describes the profound effect growing up steeped in any mythology has on how any one sees the world, how it shapes our imagination and how we see how the world works.

Yet Leon Wieseltier either maintains that this type of thinking is out of bounds or that Charles Krauthammer’s specifically aren’t based on his Jewishness:

Moreover, Krauthammer argues for his views; the premises of his analysis are coldly clear, and may be engaged analytically, and when necessary refuted. Unlike Sullivan, he does not present feelings as ideas…[T]he grounds of Krauthammer’s opinions are no more to be found in, or reduced to, his Jewishness than the grounds of the contrary opinions–the contentions of dovish Jews who denounce torture, and oppose Israeli abuses in the Gaza war, and insist upon a diplomatic solution to the threat of an Iranian nuclear capability–are to be found in, or reduced to, their Jewishness. All these “wings” are fervent Jews and friends of Israel. There are many “Jewish” answers to these questions. We all want the Torah on our side. And the truth is that the Torah has almost nothing to do with it. [my emphasis]

Parsing the bolded sentence closely, you can see how hedged it really is – how Wieseltier’s actual point seems to be that there are multiple interpretations of Judaism and none should be called Judaism definitively. Which of course Sullivan does not – which Wieseltier acknowledges. But the clear intention of this passage is to claim that Sullivan is stereotyping Jews and reducing their political opinions by connecting them to Judaism. Specifically, he is offended that Krauthammer’s opinions are associated with his “Jewishness” when they are instead based on logical premises.

Yet this Jay Nordlinger profile of Charles Krauthammer in the National Review seems to offer Krauthammer himself refuting precisely these points. [Full access only to subscribers. However, someone posted the whole thing at the rightwingforum.]

Of Israel, Krauthammer has long been a leading student, defender, and explainer. Asked the bald question of whether Israel will survive, he says, “If it doesn’t, I think it will mark the beginning of the terminal decay of Western civilization.” He notes that he is not a believer. But he quotes from the Bible, where God tells Abraham — actually, Abram, at that point — “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.” It is interesting, if only as a historical matter, that those nations that have been kind to the Jews have flourished, and those that have not, have not. Krauthammer points to Spain, after 1492. “And we don’t even have to look at Germany, though that’s an obvious example.” Krauthammer believes that Israel needs two things to survive: the will to live, and the support of the United States. He believes that Israel has demonstrated a very great will to live, especially in its defeat of the “second intifada.” And he has “great faith in the goodness of America,” a goodness that will not let Israel go to the dogs. Europe could do all sorts of things to bedevil and imperil Israel: impose economic sanctions, prosecute Israeli soldiers, etc. But the key is America. And “if we ever reach a point where we become indifferent to Israel, that will mark a great turn in the soul of our country.”

Many Jews, particularly American ones, are nervous or scornful about the support that American evangelicals have shown for Israel. They say that this support is double-edged, or bad news, or embarrassing. Krauthammer will have none of it. “I embrace their support unequivocally and with gratitude. And when I speak to Jewish groups, whether it’s on the agenda or not, I make a point of scolding them. I say, ‘You may not want to hear this, and you may not have me back, but I’m going to tell you something: It is disgraceful, un-American, un-Jewish, ungrateful, the way you treat people who are so good to the Jewish people. We are almost alone in the world. And here we have 50 million Americans who willingly and enthusiastically support us. You’re going to throw them away, for what? Because of your prejudice.’ Oh, I give ’em hell.” [my emhpases]

So, let me be clear: Wieseltier claims that “the ground of Krauthammer’s opinions” shouldn’t be “found in, or reduced to, his Jewishness” because Krauthammer’s views are actually based on his cold and clear rational analysis of the world and that he doesn’t present “feelings as ideas.” To claim otherwise for Wieseltier is evidence of anti-Semitism. Yet a recent profile of Krauthammer attributes to him the rather debatable view that “as a historical matter, that those nations that have been kind to the Jews have flourished, and those that have not, have not” as Krauthammer “quotes from the Bible, where God tells Abraham — actually, Abram, at that point — ‘I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.’ ” Krauthammer then brags that he scolds Jews who disdain people like Palin, saying: “It is disgraceful, un-American, un-Jewish, ungrateful, the way you treat people who are so good to the Jewish people. We are almost alone in the world.” In each instance, Krauthammer explicitly grounds his view of history and of foreign policy and national security in his Jewishness – and appeals to his audience to be properly “Jewish” and be grateful for the support Israel receives. Yet – Wieseltier accuses Sullivan of “demand[ing] Jews behave apologetically in America” and “defends” Krauthammer’s ideas as not being related to his “Jewishness.” Absolutely ridiculous.

Wieseltier owes Andrew Sullivan an apology. And The New Republic owes its readers a retraction.

What Obama Is Trying to Accomplish With the Bipartisan Health Care Summit

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

One thing I had noticed but not managed to fit into my post on why Republicans didn’t want to go to the health care summit that they had been demanding was how perfectly Obama’s proposed summit fit into “the Obama method.” Jonathan Chait makes the point I would have:

Obama knows perfectly well that the Republicans have no serious proposals to address the main problems of the health care system and have no interest (or political room, given their crazy base) in handing him a victory of any substance. Obama is bringing them in to discuss health care so he can expose this reality.

I’m not saying this is some kind of genius maneuver. I’m not even saying it will work. (I wouldn’t bet against it, though.) I’m just saying that this — not starting over, and not pleading for bipartisan cover — is what Obama is trying to accomplish.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

The Disparity Between the President’s Foreign and Domestic Powers

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Matt Yglesias makes an extremely important and fundamental observation regarding our system of government:

If the President wants to do something like implement a domestic policy proposal he campaigned on—charge polluters for global warming emissions, for example—he faces a lot of hurdles. He needs majority support on a House committee or three. He also needs majority support on a Senate committee or three. Then he needs to get a majority in the full House of Representatives. And then he needs to de facto needs a 60 percent supermajority in the Senate. And then it’s all subject to judicial review.

But if Scooter Libby obstructs justice, the president has an un-reviewable, un-checkable power to offer him a pardon or clemency. If Bill Clinton wants to bomb Serbia, then Serbia gets bombed. If George W Bush wants to hold people in secret prisons and torture them, then tortured they shall be. And if Barack Obama wants to issue a kill order on someone or other, then the order goes out. And if Congress actually wants to remove a president from office, it faces extremely high barriers to doing so.

Whether or not you approve of this sort of executive power in the security domain, it’s a bit of a weird mismatch.

The Hypocrisy of Hoekstra

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Thanks to an officemate listening to talk radio, I just heard Lou “Mr. Independent” Dobbs,  follow the new right talking point that the Obama administration is “politicizing” national security. He had on Rep. Pete Hoekstra to claim exactly that, specifically commenting on how the Obama administration “politicized” the Christmas Day bombing – which is especially rich given that Hoekstra himself sent out a fundraising letter citing the attempted bombing THREE (3) days after Christmas.

It is infuriating to hear this level of blatant hypocrisy go unchallenged.

The next thing we’ll see is a Wall Street Journal op-ed from Karl Rove chastising the Obama administration for “politicizing” such an important issue as the War on Terror while the journalist whose show he is on nods seriously.

[Image by republicanconference licensed under Creative Commons.]

How the Media Undermines Civility

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Civility in political discourse is a difficult thing to maintain – as people engage in politics often because they believe strongly in what they are advocating. One of the ways to maintain this is to politely refrain from accusing your opponents of dastardly deeds – and instead, be circumspect and try to make uncontroversial points of agreement that undermine your opponents. For example, when debating the recent Supreme Court decision on corporate political spending, you might plausibly say in the course of argument that, “Without free speech, we would live in tyranny,” or “Attacking the First Amendment is un-American.” While the thrust of your argument may be that your opponents are – given the rest of what you’re saying – undermining the First Amendment, you don’t claim that they are advocating tyranny or are un-American. You don’t call them names, in other words. You criticize their actions as you perceive them. It’s a fine line – but an important one.

However, the news is 24/7, right?

And every minute needs to be filled up with some new scandal, some new story-of-the-day. This is how uncontroversial statements become provocative headlines – specifically provocative headlines that tap into a narrative the public already knows. These provocative headlines then quickly become talking points for someone as they attempt to use the news to push their message. So, for example, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer publish an op-ed in USA Today which – rather uncontroversially – claims:

Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.

Suddenly, the right wing begins complaining of the McCarthyite push for health care. (Pelosi called the Tea Party crowd “un-American”!!!!)

Now, again, John Brennan, Deputy National Security Advisor, writes in an op-ed for USA Today:

Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda. Terrorists are not 100-feet tall. Nor do they deserve the abject fear they seek to instill.

Relatively uncontroversial, you would think. But for those lacking the time to read this short piece, Jake Tapper summarizes it:

WH: Some Critics ‘Serving the Goals of al Qaeda’

Matt Drudge though saw the need to remove a few qualifiers in his big headline of the day:

WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA CRITICS HELPING AL QAEDA

The common thread here is this: in the midst of making an argument, an uncontroversial point is made. News reporters, eager to make their quota of new scandals for the day, remove all qualifiers from the sentence, take only a word or two, and recast the entire argument as pure demonization of the overall target of the piece.

This is one of the essential aspects of the Freak Show that is our Washington news.

——

Of course, some politicians seem to deliberately cross over these lines to make their points. Perhaps I’m biased here – and if so, tell me. But I think there’s a difference in how Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin often talk. At one point, for example, Cheney claimed that:

I think [the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad as a civilian is] likely to give encouragement — aid and comfort — to the enemy.

By rather directly describing the Obama administration’s actions as meeting the legal standard of treason, Cheney seems to be crossing a line. And of course, Sarah Palin famously “asked”:

Our opponent though, is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country?

I wonder – is it just my bias that makes me see the distinction between these two sets of statements? Or are they clearly of a different sort?

[Image by me and sysop licensed under Creative Commons.]

Why the Republicans Don’t Want to Go to the Obama Health Care Summit They’ve Been Demanding

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

When Obama agreed to the Republicans’ demand for a televised summit to discuss health care, Republican leadership was faced with a quandary: How could they say no and not look like the bad guys?

Their solution is apparently to demand that Obama preemptively give up the reforms he has been working for the past 8 months on (the framework of reforms that is broadly popular even though the legislation creating the framework doesn’t poll well). To make their demands even more unreasonable, they also demand that he tell everyone in advance what he plans on proposing to allow Republicans “at least 72 hours beforehand” to figure out reasons to oppose it and give up his only way to push his agenda without Republican support.

Eric Cantor and John Boehner – the Republican Whip and Leader – made these demands in a letter that didn’t include an ultimatum that they would boycott the summit if their demands weren’t met. But their tone was clearly meant to agitate. They must know that they didn’t come off well in their last televised back-and-forth with the president – and they must also know that despite recent polling, Democratic health care ideas are far more popular than Republican ones. But they also suspect – rightly in my opinion – that whoever the public blames for scuttling these talks will hold this against them.

The White House is eager to go forward – because it is difficult for them to lose this: The public largely believes reform is needed. The Republicans so far do not agree on an alternative. The Democrats – after great struggle – have coalesced around a “next step,” which is undoubtedly part of the reason the Republicans want this “next step” off the table. This plan the Republicans are trying to scrap is – indeed – similar to the Republican alternative to Bill Clinton’s plan, a point which the president has made. Yet the Republicans cannot endorse this – or any – alternative offered by the Democrats for partisan reasons because it will hurt their prospects in the 2010 midterms, giving Obama and the Democrats something to run on in 2010 and 2012. And in the long term, Republicans have even more to fear, as Will Kristol explained in a confidential strategy memo on the risks of allowing Clinton’s health care plan to pass:

It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle-class by restraining the growth of government.

Further, one of the core goals of these health care reforms finally agreed to by the Democrats is to cut the long-term growth of health care costs. The rapidly growing health care costs are the largest part of the unsustainable deficits America will be facing in the long-term. The prospect of this deficit though is one of the driving forces motivating the anti-Democrat and largely pro-Republican Tea Party. At the same time, the fiscal catastrophe that would result from failing to deal with the deficit is the conscious goal of the more ideological Republicans with their “starve the beast” strategy. The ideal outcome for the Republicans would be for the Democrats to force this plan through and for it to fail miserably, either as its implementation is sabotaged by the Republicans or on its own.

There is – in other words – absolutely no fundamental incentive whatsoever for the Republicans as a party to endorse any health care reforms Democrats might want.

The Democrats alternatively will be faulted for the perceived shortcomings of the bill should it pass or not in the 2010 elections, and stand to gain significantly if the bill does anything like what it has promised. Passing such a significant piece of legislation also gives them something to rally their base around, even if some portion of the Democratic base is disappointed with the bill itself.

The fundamental politics of this situation has determined what has happened and will happen: that the Democrats will seek a compromise, and be strung along by the Republicans who will never come to an agreement. The President’s summit on health care with the Republicans and Democrats seems the perfect venue to demonstrate these fundamentals to the public – which is exactly why the Republicans are seeking a way out.

Update: Ezra Klein suggests a brilliant counter-proposal for the White House to offer:

I think the administration should release a counter-proposal. They will agree to literally every one of the GOP’s demands — including the ones that don’t make any sense — in return for one, simple promise: The final legislation is guaranteed an up-or-down vote in the House and the Senate. No filibusters. No delays. No procedural tricks. If the GOP wants a clean process, I bet a deal can be struck here.

The problem is that this type of proposal would muddy the waters – and cause those individuals paying less attention to not know who to blame. Whatever the last deal offered was will be the primary focus of attention. Better it be this sham of a Republican proposal.

[Image by talkradionews licensed under Creative Commons.]