Category Archives: Politics

Self-justifying reporters and other things; a political linkpost

Judith Miller was notorious during the early years of the Iraq war for reporting evidence of WMDs that never panned out. In the Wall Street Journal, she argues that not only was she not a mouthpiece for the White House, but the White House itself was sincere, not lying, so it was all the fault of the crappy CIA analysts who were convinced the war evidence was sound.

While Miller may not have gotten her talking points from W, even the Times has admitted she relied too much on Iraqi exiles with their own agenda. And the evidence the White House cited for going into Iraq was never as unquestioned and sound as she claims. Saddam’s son told the government the WMD programs were destroyed. Other defectors said the same. The UN inspectors never found any evidence. It’s true, as she says, that Saddam wanted to start up the programs again; nobody disputes that. But we didn’t go to war because “Saddam wanted to have WMDs.” We went to war because the government supposedly had ironclad evidence he had one and wouldn’t hesitated to hand it to al Qaeda (evidence of links fell apart too). Oh, wait, actually the Deputy Defense Secretary said that was just a useful justification and the real reason was to eliminate him as a threat to Saudi Arabia.

in any case, as I’ve mentioned before, the intelligence did not automatically mandate we attack. Hell, we lived with the USSR and China having a way more deadly arsenal than Saddam supposedly had. We were fine with him using poison gas during the 1980s. Going to war wasn’t an intelligence decision, it was a policy decision. Heck, Dick Cheney specifically said that if there was a 99-percent chance Saddam didn’t have WMDs, we still needed to go in.

Case in point, John Bolton (former UN ambassador) recently wrote an editorial on why we needed to bomb Iran. His response to the conclusions that Iran isn’t working on nuclear weapons? Wrong! If he can question the intelligence, why didn’t W and Cheney?

The most charitable interpretation is that the White House was so eager to go to war with Iraq (Cheney had already advocated taking Saddam out. Bush had discussed how if he became a war president he’d use that to advance a dynamic domestic agenda) they ignored all inconvenient facts (including any warnings about how difficult it would be to keep the country stable).

So Miller is wrong. Again. Just as she is in the column when she says her 2003 book warned of the 2001 anthrax attacks … I’m sorry that doesn’t even make sense as bullshit.

•Echidne of the Snakes looks at what drives women to join ISIS.

•Weak arguments on how Democrats cause Washington gridlock.

•Here, on the other hand, is an argument that who gets in the White House isn’t just about big policy but about countless little decisions made throughout the bureaucracy: which rule to enforce, which battles to fight. And that for someone of my political bent, Dems are a better choice.

•Some of the people writing to protest against net neutrality didn’t send the letters.

•A nursing home sues a couple for discussing possible problems there with a lawyer. The home’s attorney has been named in the counter-suit.

•A Christian florist in Georgia says she’d be fine doing business with adulterers or people who don’t honor their father than mother but gays? No way! However conservatives who support right-to-refuse-gays bills have admitted that this would extend to discriminating against Jews or blacks for religious reasons while simultaneously insisting that would be Totally Different and Wrong.

This Ruthless World looks at feeble defenses of hateful humor.

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The Politics of Unreason

A number of left-wing writers have argued that despite the core of the Republican party being heavily older, whiter and pissed-off, the passing to a new generation may not equal moderation. Reading THE POLITICS OF UNREASON: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970 by Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab I can see why.

978-0-7864-4648-3I first read the book years ago, and tried to find it when working on Screen Enemies of the American Way but failed, possibly because I didn’t remember the title or the authors. Then I happened to stumble on it a while back and finally got to rereading it.

The authors’ focus isn’t so much on extreme views as anti-democratic extremism—the willingness to dispense with votes, procedural safeguards, legal mandates, to get a particular agenda passed (usually because it’s the Will of the People). This, as they point out, is something that turns up on both the left and the right, but they argue right-wing “preservatist” extremism (fueled by people afraid of losing money, power or status) has been a stronger force than left-wing extremism (where the goal is forcing the redistribution of money, power or status).

While the book came out in the seventies, the portrayal of a right wing terrified of losing ground to the Other (at various points Catholics, Jews, blacks and immigrants in general—though some of those groups would adopt the same stance once they’d made it in America) sounds depressingly familiar. Even the running right-wing focus on the Illuminati (a deadly threat in the eyes of the Anti-Masonic Party, the Know Nothing Party and the John Birch Society) is still around (Pat Robertson invoked them as the Big Bad in his early nineties book The New World Order along with the International Jewish Bankers).

Lipset and Raab argue that while different threats form in different times (Catholics, Jews, Commies, blacks), it’s simply a manifestation of the same underlying causes. Senator McCarthy, for instance, wasn’t attacking Soviet Communism as much as a supposedly Commie-riddled Washington establishment; George Wallace, likewise, was scathing in his attacks on “elites” and “pointy-headed bureaucrats” (the book’s focus on Wallace’s 1968 presidential campaign may date it a little). Likewise the most powerful conspiracy theories involve some vague, shadowy group coupled with individuals believers now have license to hate—Catholics as agents of the Vatican, Jews as agents of the Elders of Zion, Japanese-Americans as agents of imperial Japan (they don’t actually get into that, possibly because it was a more general paranoia than specifically right wing).

If a little dry and academic in some of its details, overall I found this fascinating to reread.

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How not to do satire

84190Given the repeated “problematic” stories in Andrew Offutt’s old Swords Against Darkness anthologies (case in point) I wonder if I’d pick them up today if I didn’t already have them (all rights to image with current holder; I don’t know the artist).

While Volume Three was problem-free, Swords Against Darkness IV, which is overall a good collection (details on the good stuff in this weekend’s reviews), does unfortunately also boast “Of Pigs and Men,” a satirical essay by SF great Poul Anderson taking on “the current furore over persecuted minorities and how society has got to make it up to them for the troubles their ancestors endured.” Offutt rates it as a stroke of genius and the best thing Anderson has ever done; I’m less enthused.

The premise is simple: WASPs are the true victims of persecution, though Anderson redefines them as PIGS (People Inhabiting Germanic Settlements). Attacked by Native Americans who valued “property rights over human rights.” Tromped on by Mediterranean oppressors from the Roman Empire to Napoleon. Stuck with insulting names such as “gringo” or the Chinese “foreign devils!” Tricked into buying Manhattan from people who didn’t actually own it. And yeah, occasionally buying slaves from all those Africans who were doing a roaring trade in the slave business.

I was going to cut Anderson a little slack—maybe he was responding to the more radical voices of the 1970s (this was a 1979 collection) rather than civil rights in general—but this is a reprint of something he wrote a decade earlier. And since he chooses not to specify, I see no reason not to assume he’s dumping on civil rights in general (or more precisely, on the movement’s criticisms of white America). After all he does think an observation that “yeah, white people bought a few slaves, but black people sold them first!” is witty.

The point of the essay, to the extent it has one, appears to be less really claiming white people are oppressed but that claims about how any particular group has suffered horribly are just silly. It’s history. History is all about oppression. If blacks and Native Americans can claim they’re oppressed, well so can PIGS, so there (conveniently, PIGS include Jews and Catholics, or at least “many” of them … but no nonwhites. Boundaries are drawn)

Except that doesn’t work. Okay, it works if the argument is that all through history, white people have been the bad guys and natives everywhere were noble savages. Just about everyone’s got blood on their hands over the centuries.  But while some nonwhites have made the White People Suck argument, most of the civil rights movement focused on relatively recent history. You know, like slavery, and then Jim Crow, and the willingness of many white people to use murder and terrorism to preserve white supremacy? Did Anderson seriously imagine those didn’t still affect the lives of blacks at the time he wrote? Or did he just not want to hear it? Because the line about slavery seriously undercuts the satire. He’s not joking that “yeah, well lots of people had slaves so why single Americans out?” (there are plenty of reasons, particularly the racial aspect, that made British and then American slavery worse than many cultures, but that’s a separate argument), he’s joking that American slavery is really no big deal. Nothing to see here. Move along. So possibly he doesn’t feel as sanguine as the column implies.

Likewise, holding up “foreign devil” and “gringo” to show how badly PIGS are treated is baloney. I’ve heard plenty of people, even today, write about how much the n-word bites (and as the recent controversy over the Washington Redskins has shown, plenty of other groups have their own stinging labels). I don’t believe for a minute that anyone, including Anderson, was ever hurt by “foreign devil” or “gringo” (maybe offended by the disrespect).

Brilliant is definitely not the word I’d use.

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The coming Republican race and other links

Digby catches a Washington Post article about high-powered Republican donors who were serious players in 2008 and 2012, but now they can’t get anyone to return their calls. Poor millionaires just can’t compete with billionaires who can dash off a seven-figure check without thinking about it. Which is actually scary, in a way, but damn, it’s also funny.

Given the scary part, I agree with another Digby post that it’s not entirely a bad thing religious conservatves are organizing to anoint its own chosen candidate, specifically positioning themselves in opposition to the Big Money (as Digby notes, this is an old, old conflict). Sure, anyone the religious right wants will be someone who makes me vomit, but they’re well within their rights to fight for the candidate of their dreams.

Case in point, Ted Cruz’ views utterly repel me. And they didn’t even include his proclamation that America needs 100 more Jesse Helms in the Senate (here’s some background on why that stinks). Although LGM links to some discussion that concludes Cruz doesn’t have enough support, even among the Republican base.

•Richard Cohen proclaims that liberal outrage over Ferguson is as absurd as Republican outrage over Benghazi. As noted at the link, Cohen’s views on race include that biracial families trigger a natural gag reflex and this in no way indicates bigotry.

•My own latest And article, on the topic of right-to-lifers who think rape is a beautiful way for God to give some lucky woman a baby.

•Roy Edroso often mocks right-bloggers (deservedly) for the fondness for proclaiming This Show/Music/Movie I Love Is Really Conservative!” Case in point, just because Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible about McCarthyism, if he were writing it today, he’d undoubtedly be attacking liberals! In point of fact he rewrote the play heavily for the 1990s movie adaptation and no, he didn’t suddenly become conservative.

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The sleep of reason

Despite all the insistence that the business world is a meritocracy, it ain’t. Hullabaloo links to a Guardian piece reporting that Wall Street bonuses have gone up the second years straight, while profits have continued to sink. Because they have to retain valued employees, dammit (the Guardian piece points out that’s not so). One might think the employees can’t be so great if profits are down, but the standard explanation for that (in the past, the Guardian doesn’t offer this as a quote) is “well, it’s been a rough year, they did the best they could.” Which somehow never applies when the years are flush, then the employees are super-geniuses.

The article says 40 to 50 percent of revenue raised by the Wall Street firms goes out in bonuses.

•Yet another Republican says rape can create a beautiful child. He’s not unique.

•The true leader of America and the free world? According to some conservatives, it’s the leader of Israel. So much for all that stuff about how Obama defers to much to foreign leaders … just kidding, that’s totally different.

•The federal investigation concludes Darren Wilson was indeed acting in self-defense when he shot Michael Brown (which doesn’t justify portraying Brown as a thug in the media because he liked rap). However it also finds massive problems and racism in the PD in general. Bill O’Reilly agrees the force was targeting black citizens. More here.

•Another police department claims medical-privacy laws prevent it saying anything about a man who died in custody.

•The White House has cracked down hard on leakers. Except when they’re someone important, of course.

•Michael Schiavo on the nightmare of trying to disconnect his wife from her life support (with court approval) when Jeb Bush didn’t want him to.

•Big business’s power to arbitrate our complaints is gutting the right to sue them.

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As twilight falls, I link politically

It’s common for the religious right to refer to evolutionary theory as “Darwinism,” implying it’s just some kind of cultish belief (it has “ism” on the end, just like Muhammedanism!). Jonah Goldberg not only uses the word, he accuses liberals of using evolution to “other” religious true believers. In other words conservatives are the real victims, as always.

•Lenovo laptops come with a pre-installed adware program that’s also a big security hole.

•A judge has ruled that American Express merchant agreements that prevent retailers from favoring cards with lower merchant fees violate antitrust law.

•Samantha Fields posts about consent, kink and boundaries for people who haven’t had much training or experience in them.

•The airline industry claims we love having fees for things like checking bags instead of one bulk price because that way we can carry onboard and save money. Consumerist disagrees.

•Echidne of the Snakes on sexist jokes.

•Despite the conviction of some conservatives that Obama not doing everything Israel wants from the US is some kind of abomination, Reagan was willing to disagree with the Israelis, vehemently. Although Franklin Graham still thinks the White House has been infiltrated by Muslims—why, they might have access to the president.

•No, the Republicans are not going to fix Obamacare if the Supreme Court kills it.

Another non-Muslim terrorist plot.

•Even though we’re dropping bombs on ISIS, some conservatives insist we haven’t taken military action.

•Yesterday I linked to David Brooks’ column on how we need to teach the poor better morals. Of course he doesn’t seem to think big banks that file inaccurate documents (leading to a $50 million settlement) indicates an ethical flaw. Nor the ethics of gutting workers comp. Or preventing cities from requiring businesses offer sick leave. Echidne also dissects Brooks’ theories.

•A right-wing blogger insists Todd Akin was right that rape can’t get women pregnant. After citing one theory that only a few hundred rape victims get pregnant (rather than the thousands in some estimates), said blogger asserts that nobody knows the true number but obviously the smaller one is right. How does he know this if the true number is unknown? Don’t ask.

And while the implication, I think, is that with so few rape victims, it’s not a big deal, doesn’t that cut both ways? Wouldn’t that also mean that a few abortions would be no big deal? I’m sure if asked the writer would say no. It’s the same logic by which the deaths of 9/11 were an unimaginable tragedy, but the deaths of even more soldiers in the Iraq war were nothing (“That’s less people than die in traffic accidents every year!”).

•A really detailed analysis by Echidne of ISIS’ views on women. And part two on the group’s views of sexual slavery and rape.

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Libertarians: less voting, more freedom.

One of the more obscure issues on the right is that we should go back to the days when senators were appointed by the states instead of elected. An economics professor says here this is a great idea: with less democracy, our government wouldn’t have to listen to the people and could focus on big, long-range plans for economic growth. According to this review of his work, he’s heavily influenced by Bryan Caplan, who believes anyone who disagrees with Caplan’s economic views (including that the 1800s offered so much more freedom to women than the 21st century) is just too ignorant to vote.

I would agree that there’s a lot of resistance to long-term planning. The government doesn’t spend on infrastructure because that would require either taking money from one of the untouchable sources (some of the $8 billion the Pentagon can’t account for in Iraq, say) or raising taxes. It don’t shore up the social safety net because it would require raising taxes. Some pols want to reduce the safety margins for oil trains regardless of the increased risk of disastrous accident. If appointing the senate would free them of the influence of rich and powerful people to make those kind of long-term national-interest decisions that would be great.

However I’m pretty sure libertarian professors are thinking more of “cut taxes on the rich for economic growth” even though it doesn’t work (it didn’t work under Reagan, or W. Clinton raised taxes and the economy still boomed). They’d much sooner prefer something like this GOP economic plan, I suspect.

And, of course, reducing democracy reduces what little leverage ordinary non 1-percenters have. Libertarian columnist Tibor Machan was the same kind of authoritarian, insisting that true freedom would be achieved when we privatized all government services so that whoever owned the roads/schools/hospitals/police would be able to decide what the rules were and nobody could vote them out of office or otherwise regulate them. Freedom!

It’s been a while since I wrote about that other authoritarian, David Brooks, but his tune hasn’t changed: the poor are barbaric savages who need strong moral leadership; the rich, by contrast, fail the poor by withdrawing into gated communities instead of enforcing a moral order on their inferiors. As Echidne of the Snakes has said, Brooks should be happy with a nation run like Saudi Arabia: an elite imposing a tight religious and moral code on the country. Charles Pierce weighs in on Brooks failings.

And as the dogs have come close to landing on my computer in their bouts of canine parkour, I think I’ll pause here

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