Category Archives: insanity on the right

oh, great

Truck drivers are being recruited by the DHS to keep an eye out for “suspicious behavior.” You’ll never guess how it’s playing out:

After the session in Little Rock, two newly initiated Highway Watch members sat down for the catered barbecue lunch. The truckers, who haul hazardous material across 48 states, explained how easy it is to spot “Islamics” on the road: just look for their turbans. Quite a few of them are truck drivers, says William Westfall of Van Buren, Ark. “I’ll be honest. They know they’re not welcome at truck stops. There’s still a lot of animosity toward Islamics.” Eddie Dean of Fort Smith, Ark., also has little doubt about his ability to identify Muslims: “You can tell where they’re from. You can hear their accents. They’re not real clean people.”

Don’t you feel safer?

“my father crapped ones bigger than george bush”

George W. Bush’s characteristically ham-handed attempts to gain political advantage by claiming the legacy of Ronald Reagan are as risible as virtually everything else he does (when last I checked, the George Bush for President website redirected to a tribute to Reagan… subtle). As Kevin Drum puts it, “Bush comes off as a mediocre painter trying to emulate Picasso. He sees the brushstrokes on the surface and knows how to copy them, but because he doesn’t understand their underlying purpose he ends up being only a clumsy and ultimately damaging imitation when he tries to craft a painting of his own.” Even more damning are the words of Ron Reagan Jr., Reagan’s son, who says, “my father was a _man_ — that’s the difference between him and Bush. To paraphrase Jack Palance, my father _crapped_ bigger ones than George Bush.” Ouch.

Postscript: Drum actually has a reasonably balanced assessment of Reagan which you can read here, or here, or in more pithy form, here. Of course, as it is not budget-Shakespearean hagiography, conservatives will not enjoy.

wmdpra

Remember when in testimony before a grand jury President Clinton said, “it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is?” Remember when in defending fund-raising calls made from the White House Al Gore pointed out the lack of a “controlling legal authority”? If you follow politics even a little bit, you do remember, because these phrases were repeated over and over and over again in the media echo chamber. They were alleged to reveal the essential character of those men. Through sheer repetition, they entered our modern apocrypha. They are now legend.

If you pay heed to current media goings-on, you will see a search underway for a similar soundbite characterization of the current Dem candidates. Every possible verbal contradiction, no matter how technical or inconsequential, is being tossed against the wall to see if it sticks. Every tic, every quirk, is being spun furiously in an attempt to saddle the future candidate with baggage he won’t be able to get rid of. You could say this is being done with the tacit cooperation of the mainstream media, but that doesn’t quite capture it. It used to be that the Republican machine — think tanks, talk radio, websites and magazines — would throw this stuff around until they could, having through sheer force of will created a story out of nothing, plausibly claim that the mainstream media was “ignoring” it; at that point a lazy and cowed media would pick the soundbites up and repeat them uncritically. But at this point, the mainstream media seems to have joined in the game wholeheartedly; it’s become a de facto substitute for substantive coverage. The unbridled glee with which they descended on Dean’s yell to his supporters last week is a crystalline, and nauseating, example.

So you’d think that Bush’s recent statement in his State of the Union that the Iraq war is justified because we have found “dozens of weapons of mass destruction program related activities” would be a gift from God, no?

You’d think it would be fodder for late night comedians. You think it would be repeated and replayed again and again in every news outlet. You’d think it would be a national joke, appearing on bumper stickers and t-shirts.

But it isn’t. In fact, aside from a few lefty blogs — and the ever-reliable Daily Show with John Stewart — nobody has touched it. Bush’s free ride in the media continues no matter how cosmically absurd it all gets. We’re going to go to Mars? OK. No WMD, only program related activities (as Stewart said, “what’s that, buffet service for the scientists?”)? OK. Let’s all keep a straight face and pretend all this is perfectly legitimate, worthy of serious consideration.

The Bush administration exaggerated uncertain intelligence and, in many cases, lied, to convince the country that there was a Sword of Damocles hanging over its head, that it had to rush to war — couldn’t even wait three more months — because the danger was so great. Now it’s clear there was no danger, and they blithely say, well, at least we liberated the Iraqis. It’s a massive deception, a historical outrage, and it’s all crystallized in one phrase: weapons of mass destruction program related activities. But you won’t hear about it on the news.

more sotu

Bush’s speech is a target-rich environment, a farrago of feints, fibs, and red herrings sufficient to make the most hardened skeptic gasp. The best comprehensive debunking I’ve seen is here, by the Center for American Progress, whose website you should be checking regularly anyway.

Read it if you can stand it.

safe from saddam?

Political dialogue in our country these days, such as it is, just baffles me. After Saddam Hussein was caught cowering in a hole, everyone celebrated the good news. The guy was a prick and the world will now have a historical chance to hold a dictator/butcher accountable for his crimes, while he is present at the proceedings to hear from his victims. There will be much to learn (not only about Saddam’s crimes, but about the best way to conduct such trials) and much resolution and healing, one hopes, for the Iraqis.

But. A few days after the capture Howard Dean gave a major foreign policy speech asserting, among many other things, that we in the U.S. are “no safer” now than we were before Saddam was captured.

This is, on the face of it, quite obviously true.

Also in the days following the capture, many hawks crowed that it justified and sanctified Bush’s Iraq policy, and that it should finally silence war critics.

This is, on the face of it, quite obviously false.

Nonetheless, Dean has been the subject of relentless attacks for his statement, and the latter sentiment has rapidly become conventional wisdom. Up is down. Black is white.

The first first:

1. Saddam had been driven from power and his power structure (even his entire army) completely dismantled. He was on the run, hunted by a substantial percentage of the U.S. Army. He had an enormous reward on his head. He was finally caught, disheveled, filthy, and dazed, in a hole. _In a hole_. It’s pretty clear that he was not in any substantial way directing the insurgency in Iraq. Nobody is even trying to claim he was. Some analysts speculate that he was serving as a kind of inspiration to the insurgents; others speculate that the insurgency will now grow, since it can be unabashedly nationalistic now, with no taint of loyalty to the discredited Baath party. Since we don’t even yet know who the damn insurgents are, it’s kind of hard to say.

But one thing is obvious: Saddam, the man, was no threat to anyone any more.

In sum: there’s a very, very small chance that his capture will deprive the insurgency of some of its vigor. If this turns out to be true, it might make our soldiers in Iraq slightly safer. This doesn’t seem to be playing out, but who knows, it might.

The point is, though, that on no plausible interpretation are U.S. citizens any safer for this. It’s become obvious since the war that Saddam was no threat to us when he was in power; it’s certainly obvious that he’s no threat to us from a fucking hole in Tikrit.

It is thus true, almost trivially true, that, as Dean claimed, we are no safer since Saddam’s capture. Why, in today’s political discussion, are people not allowed to say things that are trivially true?

The second:

2. The capture of Saddam was alleged to have vindicated Bush’s Iraq strategy. WTF? Nobody ever doubted that we could get Saddam if we invaded the damn country. Was the wisdom of attacking Iraq predicated on our chances of bagging Saddam himself? No. Does bagging him then demonstrate the wisdom of the invasion? No. I don’t even see how Saddam’s capture does anything to show that Bush is succeeding in Iraq. All the same problems obtain there today that obtained there before his capture. The capture itself is not an argument; it shows nothing. It proves nothing. Whether we should have invaded Iraq is an open question.

The irony is, Dean’s speech actually described in some detail a strong, sensible, moderate foreign policy, the kind of muscular internationalism that he shares with most of the other Dem nominees, and most pre-2000 non-insane moderate Republicans. In the course of the speech he made the point, which I agree with, that going after Al Queda and insuring our success in Afghanistan would have been highly preferable to distracting ourselves from both goals to invade a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack on us. It’s at the very least an open question, and one worth debating.

Instead, Dean gets savaged and labeled a traitor for stating an obvious truth, and the media, as usual, bends over and takes it passively. Feh. Political dialogue in this country has become a joke.

please, buy an suv

OK, I could forgive the Bush administration for not penalizing SUV drivers. I could forgive them for not raising CAFE standards so that big gas-guzzlers are forced to become more fuel efficient. This would be short-sighted, but it’s a tough political row to hoe. But it turns out, in Bush’s recent economic stimulus package, there’s a huge tax _break_ for buying cars “above 6000 pounds.”

So, not only is Bush not working to make our air cleaner or reduce our dependence on foreign oil… he’s actively working against those goals.

cheney

As information comes out about the lead-up to the war, the intelligence failures along the way, and the grossly mishandled occupation, it becomes more and more clear that–contrary to conventional wisdom about the State Dept./Pentagon axis–the real power broker behind U.S. foreign policy is Dick Cheney’s office. Almost entirely behind the scenes, with little interaction with the media or the public, the VP and his staff have pushed hard for a maximally aggressive, ambitious, and unilateral pursuit of U.S. interests (very narrowly construed, in my opinion). Cheney is known around Washington as a “wise man,” almost entirely, if you read the encomiums, on the basis of his demeanor. This is in spite of his record of misprognosis and failure.

Regardless, if you want to understand the mind of Cheney, check out this fascinating new piece from Ackerman & Foer in _The New Republic_. There are few public figures that are more powerful and less scrutinized.

It’s long been my opinion that one of the most damaging aspects of politics in the U.S. is that, unlike domestic policy, foreign policy is almost entirely beyond the direct control and even view of the populace. Foreign policy is decided almost entirely by the executive branch, frequently by unelected ideologues, with virtually no wider democratic debate. If the populace really understood the how and why of U.S. actions toward other countries, much of it would horrify them. But they don’t hear about it, they just hear relentless self-absorbed and self-congratulatory rhetoric from politicians and a lazy national media. The rest of the world has a decidedly less rosy view of the U.S. than we have of ourselves, and as reaction to 9/11 shows, it baffles us. Only a baffled populace would accept Bush’s “they hate us because we’re free” pabulum. It’s a kind of cognitive dissonance that has become particularly pronounced and exacerbated under Bush’s watch. As to what can be done about it, well… that’s complicated. Let’s start with getting Bush the hell out of office.

bush and the environment

The country’s focus is on terrorism and war, and to a lesser extent, on recent bills regarding medicare and energy. The environment has moved to the back burner. That’s unfortunate, because Bush is racking up perhaps the worst environmental record of any President this country’s ever had. There is no area of policy where it’s more obvious that Bush is neither a liberal nor a conservative (as defined by a preference for smaller, less intrusive gov’t), but an advocate for big business. Executives and lobbyists for the coal, oil, and nuclear industries have literally written new policy, and successful regulations that have been in place for decades are being steadily reversed.

In poll after poll, when Americans are asked about specific issues and policies, they express Democratic preferences. And yet Republicans win elections. There are a variety of explanations for this, but the most simple is that Republicans are just better at politics and propaganda. This is clearest in the area of environmental policy, where the “Clean Air Act” and the “Healthy Forests Initiative” are names for policies almost certain to result in dirtier air and increased logging.

Anyway, don’t take my word for it. Read this essay by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. If you can read the whole thing in one sitting, you have a stronger stomach than me.