Saturday, December 03, 2005
To the Editor:
Re "Bush Gives Plan for Iraq Victory and Withdrawal" (front page, Dec. 1):
Once again, this time before a United States Naval Academy audience, President Bush tried to trick the American people into supporting his ill-conceived and unnecessary war in Iraq.
He and his administration at first said the Saddam Hussein regime had weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but that was false.
They said Saddam Hussein was linked to Al Qaeda, but that was false.
They said our troops would be greeted with flowers and affection, but that was false.
They said the Iraq mission was accomplished, but that was false.
With more than 2,000 of our fellow citizens now dead in Iraq and the majority of Americans rejecting his war, the president offers a rehash of his argument for war.
After all those falsehoods and miscalculations, why should we believe him now? I certainly don't.
George F. Nelson
New York, Dec. 1, 2005
Monday, August 01, 2005
To Profile or Not to Profile?
The British Transport Police say they are not going to waste time searching “old white ladies” on the London tube. Here in the New York metropolitan area, we still haven’t come to grips with that sort of austere truth.
I’ve seen plenty of white women and middle-aged business executives getting shaken down on the platform at Grand Central in the past two weeks. Mind you , they’re headed OUT of New York City at that point. At least we can be reasonably sure that any suicide attacks against the Greenwich train station by fanatic seersucker-clad private equity dealers have been thwarted.
Many of those inconvenienced could take solace today in The New York Times letters page where indignation against transit searches and the inevitability of ethnic profiling is running high.
Nathaniel Falda, a lawyer of some sort in Brooklyn, makes what must seem to him to be the most convincing case against stopping young male Arabs with heavy backpacks on the Times Square shuttle . . . it’s unconstitutional!
“The Fourth Amendment guarantees that people will be safe from “unreasonable searches and seizures” barring a show of probable cause.
Of course, providing for a common defense is right up there in the first line of the Constitution. It’s not some secondary amendment they tacked on afterwards.
It seems to me that searching the purses of elderly white women from Connecticut in the wake of deadly suicide attacks carried out by eight young Middle Eastern men with rucksacks is by definition “unreasonable.” Far more reasonable would be the immediate frisking of anyone who looked even vaguely like this guy:
Jeremy Ginges, a “social psychologist in the Roots of Terror Initiative at the University of Michigan” adds his clever observation:
Using rigid profiles based on ethnicity, gender and age may give terrorist groups an opportunity to bypass security by selecting attackers who do not fit the profile and are thus overlooked by security forces.”
Of course, there is no need to select any other sort of attacker than dark-skinned Sunni Muslim fanatics because right now we aren’t going to stop anyone fitting that particular profile.
Ginges is certainly right, rigid profiles are easily evaded. But no one is recommending rigid profiles. Just the opposite, in fact. Mindlessly searching every tenth person regardless of whenthe4r they are schoolchildren or pregnant women is both rigid and ineffective.
Phil Hall of Fairfield, Connecticut chimes in with a helpful reminder:
Let’s not forget that there were Muslim victims on 9/11 and in the London attacks.
I’m all for that if Phil Hall agrees to not forget that every single one of the attackers on 9/11 and in London were Middle Eastern men between the ages of 19 and 30 who subscribed to an extremist strain of Islam. In fact, he might want to give some thought to why so many of the victims of such similar looking Muslim extremists are themselves Muslim? I mean, if American hegemony is to blame for the seething rage in the Arab world, why are the seethers killing so many Arabs?
While Phil Hill wrestles with that conundrum, far from Fairfield and Ann Arbor there are real people riding real subways and trains everyday in real crowded cities like New York. What do those people think of ethnic profiling? Down on the IRT it was all wide-eyed suspicion the day after the second London attack. It’s not a great time to be a swarthy straphanger with a backpack these days.
My sense is that most people riding mass transit today are practicing their own ethnic profiling without regard to the Fourth Amendment. I might even go so far as to say that even young male swarthies would be relieved if they knew that everyone who looked like them were being searched.
After all, we’re a community, right? If you’re asked to sacrifice for the safety and welfare of the greater whole, it’s an honor not a humiliation.
The rest of us in the suburbs can enjoy the luxury of burying our heads ostrich style.
Monday, June 06, 2005
Mark Schmitt agrees with Ralph Nader, and by extension, Osama bin Laden, Joseph Stalin, Panamanian "strongman" Manuel Noriega, Uday Hussein, Kim Jong Il, Judd Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, Nipsy Russell, George Galloway, Rage Against the Machine, Hello Kitty Crew and the proprietors and patrons of Galactic Pizza, in his/their fevered desire to impeach President Bush.
That is what you were calling for, right? The Decembrist: Clever Rhetorical Tricks
Saturday, April 30, 2005
Monday, April 11, 2005
The feature story of the Sunday New York Times yesterday was about two wounded soldiers who have sacrificed promising athletic careers and some limbs to the misguided wars of the Bush Administration. The big, above the fold, color photos of the two young veterans were chosen to extract the maximum amount of sympathy and compassion.
That this is the story the Times thinks is most important says more about the Times and its readership than about he times we live in.
Iraq and Afghanistan are remarkable success stories with the number of free and politically engaged citizens on the rise, the number of violent attacks on the decline and the vast majority of proto-fascists on the run. This is all possible because of the overthrow of the Taliban and Ba’athist regimes by U.S. led military forces.
But the Times isn’t interested in that story. More comforting is the sentimental tale of young Americans swept up in the confusion and jingoism of the moment only to live a lifetime with the crippling consequences of their unfortunate decision to enlist in the army. To the Times, and no doubt a great number of its readers, these wounded young soldiers are victims worthy of our compassion.
But they are not victims. Wounded, yes. Maimed in battle, yes. Struggling with rehabilitation, yes. But they are soldiers who volunteered for duty not because they were mislead or had no other opportunities. They joined to serve and to fight and put themselves in danger to protect others by achieving discrete military objectives. Objectives, by the way, that were achieved with remarkable professionalism and humanity.
These soldiers are paying a disproportionately high price for their service. But they are not victims. And they deserve more than compassion which, after all, promises nothing more than comforting feelings and well-placed intentions. They deserve our respect and gratitude.
The compassion of the reactionary Left, as articulated in the Times has little to do with respect, and everything to do with sorrow.
Sadly, the soldiers chewed up and spat out my the maw of war are not the children of friends and colleagues but of poor, ignorant, swamp dwellers somewhere off in the hinterlands where people work in Wal-Mart warehouses all week and attend megachurches on Sunday . . . people brainwashed by television, Jesus and Karl Rove . . . people who should know better yet vote against their long-term economic interests every four years . . . people who blindly followed the stampede to war and inevitable got trampled by reality.
These are the “troops” the armies of compassion claim to “support.” But the millions of magnetic yellow ribbons stuck on cars from Montauk to Bolinas are a mild ubiquitous irritation to these folks.
Lately, though, Ms. Green has been thinking a lot about the war. She said she has "never been patriotic" and is conflicted about American involvement in Iraq: she is against the war but supports the troops.
This is the classic Times money quote. Yes, dear readers, never fear, you to can oppose the war and still be patriotic and still support the troops.
Except that they don't support the troops. They pity them.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Imagine for a moment that Paul Wolfowitz was proved to have stolen classified documents from the National Archives and destroyed them by hand late one night in a lobbyist’s office on K Street in Washington. Somehow, I would guess, “honest mistake” would not be an adequate explanation for The New York Times..
Imagine, in fact, YOU getting caught destroying secret documents that you had stolen from the government. Wouldn’t you expect, say, felony charges to be filed? Maybe even treason? How about a 22 month interrogation at Guantanamo?
Yet when “Sandy” Berger, the former National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, admits to doing exactly that he is fined a couple of thousand dollars and has his security clearance suspended for a few years. No doubt there is some shame involved with an advisor to the President for national security matters losing his security clearance just as there might be if the nation’s highest law enforcement official were to lose his license to practice law, but the punishment seems a bit half-hearted.
I mean, what do you have to do to lose your security clearance permanently if stealing secret documents from a government facility, sneaking them past security guards and cutting them up into tiny bits with scissors in the darkened privacy of your office as a registered foreign agent doesn’t reach the standard?
No use lamenting Washington’s multiple standards. More interesting even than why a grown man would call himself Sandy, is why would Berger want to alter the historical record regarding the Clinton Administration’s national security activities? Do you suppose that out of modesty he wanted to conceal that fact that he and the Administration were doing an outstanding job of protecting the United States from terrorist attack and were working heroically behind the scenes to capture or kill Osama bin Laden? Was he afraid that some of the good work of his team would make the Bush Administration look bad in comparison and he was eager to save them from embarrassment?
I have no idea what Berger was doing in the office with the scissors. I do know that I’d be looking at some prison time had it been me instead of him. And that’s not just because I am the greater threat to national security.
Friday, April 01, 2005
Is Everyone Happy Now?
No doubt some may find the death by starvation of Theresa Schiavo with her husband, her husband’s lawyer, and her husband’s girlfriend’s brother by her side to be a happy ending.
After all, she died of dehydration after years of legal acrimony pitting her husband and parents against each other in a global media frenzy just like she wanted, no?
And the legal system worked by upholding her expressed desire to die slowly on national television surrounded by raving partisans shouting that she is either a saint or a “drooling idiot” not worth saving as Newsweek editor Jonathan Alter memorably described her on the Don Imus show one morning.
The Congress acted with courage by trying to trump the judicial branch of government not with legislation that would have established a universal bias in favor of saving an innocent life when ambiguity is present, but by passing a meaningless law that did nothing to ensure that Schivo-esque death dramas won’t occur over and over again.
The enlightened “progressives” carefully examined all the facts of the case and considered every possible dimension and consequence before concluding that they oppose anything advocated by anyone named Bush and thereby affirmed a woman’s right to be put out of her husband’s misery.
The faithful applied such extraordinary political pressure as to distort the fabric of time and space so that conservatives placed their hopes in activist judges and liberals became states rights activists.
Bravo to all involved who, despite all the emotion and anger, managed to maintain their composure and control so that no one got killed . . . well, almost no one.
Is there any redemption to be found in the sacrifice of Terri Schiavo?
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Bush Shoots . . . He Scores!!
"This has so far been a year of heartening surprises - each one remarkable in itself, and taken together truly astonishing.
The Bush administration is entitled to claim a healthy share of the credit for many of these advances. It boldly proclaimed the cause of Middle East democracy at a time when few in the West thought it had any realistic chance.
And for all the negative consequences that flowed from the American invasion of Iraq, there could have been no democratic elections there this January if Saddam Hussein had still been in power."
-- The New York Times, March 1, 2005
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Swallows and Bolsheviks?
Secret cables released yesterday call into question the loyalty of Arthur Ransome, the author of a series of quintessentially English adventure books for children.
The first of these books, Swallows and Amazons, is the idyllic tale of imaginary maritime heroics on the quiet summertime waters of the Lake District. The stories are standards for young British readers the way Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys are for Americans . . . except, of course, much better written and less gunplay.
The utter benevolence of Ransome's stories is what makes today's news in The Telegraph so fascinating.
Imagine for a moment that someone as benign as Mister Rodgers was revealed to have been a frequent overnight guest of Chemical Ali in Baghdad. Or that Tinky-Winky secretly spent lost weekends with Kim Jong Il at the Playboy Mansion in posh suburbs of Pyongyang. Or imagine if Michael Jackson were actually a . . . oh, wait a minute.
British Intelligence seems to have thought that Ransome was an ardent Bolshevik who dined with Communist revolutionaries in Petrograd and was cheating on his wife with the private secretary of Leon Trotsky. All this while the accepted legend of Ransome is that he was a patriotic first-hand observer of the Russian Revolution whose secret reports to the British government were read only at the highest levels.
In reality, British Intelligence never really knew for sure who Ransome was working for.
This all predated his wonderful books. It could be just youthful recklessness as were Philip Johnson's flirtations with fascism before he became a serious architect.
But come to think of it, the Swallows and Amazons stories do seem a little suspect.
The daring children were constantly fighting with authority figures and they seemed to share all their possessions quite freely. They were certainly living in a utopian fantasy world where lunch was always free and work was never repetitive or demeaning. And the whole operation turned on the talent and foresight of a single indispensable leader who was the first among equals and the other characters included literally nameless worker bees such as the twins called Port and Starboard.
And what about that time they imprisoned all the dissidents? Now it's all beginning to make sense.
Saturday, February 26, 2005
Respect Us, Eh . . . or We'll . . . We'll . . . ?
Canada's thoroughly Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin compounded his bold declaration not to participate in any American missile defense system by stating that, of course, the United States would need to ask Canada's permission to overfly the sovereign tundra of the great White North before defending itself against an incoming missile.
The withdrawal from the Strategic Defense Initiative surely came as a relief to Pentagon officials who dreaded the prospect of "partnering" with the Canadian military on a mission of military importance. But today's announcement is laughable.
I can hear the Joint Chiefs of Staff now. "Yeah, sure, we'll definitely being calling Ottawa as soon as we spot an incoming thermonuclear device. What's the area code up there again?"
It's getting pretty hard to hide behind soft power in a hard power world. I sympathize with my Canadian friends. Their government is cheating them and putting their lives at risk.
By trying to act tough and defend his nation's atrophied pride with Bushesque cowboy posturing, Prime Minister Martin only draws attention to the utter powerlessness of the Canadians. Does anyone doubt for a moment that any sane American national security official would delay shooting down a hostile supersonic missile until our neighbors to the north are okay with it? And what if they're not okay with it?
Believe me. If that scenario unfolds the U.S. is going to take its chances and run the grave risk of a hockey puck shortage as Canada severs relations in the ugly aftermath of a successful missile interception over Saskatoon.
The second Bush administration will go along with the charade. After all, the neutered Canadian government, like the neutered Old European governments, only want the respect that accords to nations of world standing. They don't actually want the standing or the responsibilities that go with it.
Martin addresses this embarrassment by claiming Canada has a "very large defence budget, which is designed to protect our coast, borders and Arctic sovereignty and also make sure we can play a role in the world."
Protect Canada's "Arctic sovereignty" against what and with what? As it is now, Winnipeg is entirely vulnerable to attack from a squadron of armed snowmobiles like those frequently deployed by S.P.E.C.T.R.E. against James Bond.
Canada's place in the world? The cold and dark periphery.
The Canadian Government, like many of the governments of Europe, clings to the pretense that military strength and armed conflict is passe in the 21st century and that when push comes to existential shove their good will and affirmative intentions will protect them from all the bad things in the world.
The United States enables that pretense by protecting Canada from the bad things, and preening like Martin's helps Canada bank more good will which is safely locked away in the good intentions lockbox.
Of course, Canada's bold new policy was not even covered in the U.S. media because 1) it's absurd on the face of it, 2) no one really cares, and 3) we save up all the news from Canada and present it all at once in a single News From Elsewhere program that's traditionally broadcast the morning after New Year's Eve.
Anyway, it's good to know that while we sleep peaceably in our beds, rough Canadians stand ready in the Arctic to do violence against invading penguins and seals.
Unfortunately for the Candians, their government is aligning them with a failed and reactionary approach to national security as practiced by the cynical Old World . . . reactionary in that the ministers in Ottawa, Brussels, Berlin, and Paris define their policy as anything that differentiates them from the United States.
Seems a little immature for a world leader, eh?
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Bush Amongst The Euros
President Bush is in Belgium and Germany this week massaging egos and stroking the vanities of the professionally affronted bureaucrats of Europe. It’s a feel good trip. Bush comes to Europe and pretends Belgium is consequential and the Europeans get a chance to preen and have the photos taken with an actual world leader.
The results are not always pretty:
What is it about Europeans and personal hygiene? I mean, here is the Prime Minister of Belgium representing his nation’s government on the world stage and he didn’t have time to get a decent haircut? And what exactly is the state of modern orthodontia in the EU?
Before he left God’s Country for the Old World, The New York Times bid Bush a fond farewell with an editorial page of rantings from obscure Euros along the lines of “what Bush must do now to make amends with the indispensable Europeans.”
Elfriede Jelinek led the parade of pygmies:
PRESIDENT BUSH needs Europe. He knows it himself by now. He started a war in defiance of international law and didn't pay any attention to the Europeans, and with that he split the continent into a "new" (good) Europe and an "old" (bad) one.
Now he ought to convince Europeans that he is not planning another war (for example against Syria or Iran), while at the same time professing to think highly of the opinion of European nations and to value them.
Why? Why should Bush do any of those things? He doesn’t need Europe and if he is planning another war to liberate swarthy people from theocracy or thugocracy what could Europe do about it but complain? No doubt he will profess to think highly of the Euros and that’s all they really want anyway. They’ll be happy with the gesture because they’d rather not have their irrelevance made obvious.
Next up, Gianni Riotta, managing editor of Corriere della Sera, tells President Bush what he should say in Europe:
"Dear European friends: from today on my administration will no longer address your noble and ancient countries one by one. From now on, we will address the European Union only as a whole. . . . I will deal with the Union only as a single organism. Europe wants to be a superpower? Then here I am, ready to deal with a superpower.
The curious reality here is that if Europe truly was a unified “superpower” they wouldn’t need some foreigner to tell them that. There is nothing binding Portuguese barbers and Swedish airline pilots aside from an ignorance of modern dentistry. Only transnational bureaucrats and chatterers see themselves as “Europeans.” And even then they need validation from the reckless lunatic cowboy before they can be legit superpower hombres.
Tariq Ramadan adds his calm and reasoned two centimes to the discussion:
President Bush should listen to the European street; he should prick up his ears and hear what the presidents and prime ministers cannot or will not say in public. The European people will remind him that his administration has deeply tarnished America's image: its unilateralism, warmaking and lack of respect for human rights.
Chided for violence and violating human rights by a religious fascist. Well, at least he’s authoritative.
Mr. Bush must allow the European governments to be in tune with their people's aspirations. Europe's leaders cannot afford politically to align themselves with America solely under the evocative banners of "war on terrorism" or "Western security." Their nations are experiencing deep identity crises and need to reconcile the new world with their traditional political ideals and ethical values. Mr. Bush needs to determine the kind of world he wants to build with Europe, and give up his obsession with the phantoms he considers our common foes.
What’s great about Ramadan are his world-weary winks and nods. The “European Street.” Does that mean voters or a violent mob of unassimilated immigrants?
European leaders “cannot afford to align themselves with America.” Is that because the spectre of violence from the simmering ghettos of Belleville and Rotterdam will frighten any French or Dutch officials who give voice to concerns about the very real threat of Muslim dis-integration?
“Deep identity crises” and “need to reconcile the new world.” What exactly is Ramadan saying? That the sheer weight of Muslim colonization has forced Europeans to confront a reality that requires them to abandon their “traditional political ideals” like fraternity and equality or their ethical values like religious freedom, tolerance, and civil rights for women?
Tariq Ramadan speaks fluent European, the language of nuance and ambiguity. Ramadan has made a career of deftly straddling the line between cosmopolitanism and Islamist fascism. The fact that he never takes a firm stand on one side or the other leaves one with the impression that he knows what he believes and he knows what the Europeans fear and neither is willing to allow the ugly truth to be raised and examined.
On the Continent where so much painful history, hatred, and resentment lives elbow to elbow, the price of plain speaking is far too high. They prefer the numb emptiness of platitudes to actual debate. As Pym Fortuyn and Theo Van Gogh learned, stirring the pot can get you killed.
Better to focus all that resentment at the Americans who clearly have no appreciation for the bitter history that forces Europeans to be oblique and banal.
Simply being able to talk to each other without mobilizing armies is a triumph by European standards. This triumph was achieved only by eliminating armies and neutering public discourse to the point of meaninglessness. Bush upsets this fragile equilibrium. And that upsets the Euros. They would rather pretend to be a superpower, pretend to be unified and above crass nationalism, pretend to be more cerebral about the ways of the world than actually be a superpower, or rise above their provincialism, or confront reality.
Indeed, confrontation is the worst possible outcome. Confrontation requires action and action requires making a judgement and making a judgement is sure to alienate someone and alienation leads to more confrontation . . . and somebody could get hurt. And it's always the Europeans who get hurt in the end.
In fact, it’s more like a hostage situation. Europe has a gun to its head and says over the hotline to W that everything is okay . . . no need for help . . . and get those policemen away from here!
But the question remains. Does George Bush “need” Europe? It’s hard to see what Europe has to offer.
Military power? Nope. The U.S. can probably muddle through without the help of the Walloon Special Forces or the Austrian Navy.
Money? There’s already plenty of overvalued euro-denominated dough rolling in from the stagnant economies of Europe.
Worldly insight? The Euros have proven themselves dead wrong on Afghanistan, Iraqi democracy, the nature of Islamofascism, global warming, appeasement, rock & roll, periodontal care, and anything having to do with coolness. (see Hallyday, Johnny)
George Bush says he’s in Europe to “listen” and the Euros swoon. All they really want is for someone to listen to them and take them seriously. So Bush is taking a week out from his busy schedule to listen. Then he’ll go home and do exactly what he was going to do anyway.
But at least the Euros will feel important and that’s really all that matters to them.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Having spent some time on the lunatic fringe of the Left and the Right I can confidently report that neither has a total monopoly on idiocy.
But as you step away from the fringe it certainly feels as though the grip of extremism loosens sooner as you move toward the center via the conservative route than from the "progressive" side. Abortion, for example, is a matter of lively discussion on the right. On the left such wavering is considered profane.
I think this has to do with the difference between ascendant viewpoints and declining ones. The declining Left is more concerned with spotting heretics than with recruiting new members which the acendant Right particularly good at.
This alone would be unremarkable except that it is the Left that defines itself as the more tolerant, open-minded, and eclectic political persuasion even though experience and observation would indicate just the opposite.
A good example of this is a story buried deep in The New York Times by a reporter who is essentially covering her own neighborhood . . . the immaculately liberal Park Slope in Brooklyn.
It seems a coffee shop, The Postmark, has opened in Park Slope that features a book club for parents and their children where neighbors and families can gather, meet each other and share ideas and experiences over coffee. Perfect, right?
Perfect except for one fatal flaw. The coffee house is run by a church. And not just any church but Church!, a newage evangelical outpost of Red State hegemony.
The church sponsors story hours, jazz concerts and knitting lessons, according to Joy Canning, the organizer, "to let people know we are here and are accessible."
This is totally unacceptable to some neighbors.
"I think this is sneaky and deceptive, Stephanie LaTour, an atheist who is the mother of twins. "If Postmark wants to convert people to Christianity, they should be upfront about it and not lure families with seemingly neutral activities, and then spring the Christianity on them by surprise."Yes, instead of simply springing that unconditional love for fellow-man stuff on unsuspecting fellow-men, these Christians deviously cloak it in unconditional love which can be a nasty surprise in New York City.
But, of course, there is much more:
Others worried about a hidden political agenda. "Ms. (Joanna Oltman) Smith (who has never taken her toddler to story hour) said she assumed the church was fundamentalist and that its beliefs might "pose a threat to our basic civil liberties and freedoms, and all the things we need to protect."The sort of things this self-defined bigot wants to protect presumably are some deeply held but tenuously understood beliefs about freedom and the nature of voluntary association.
There is rich irony here but the question remains, why are people who regard themselves as progressive so often intolerant of "the other?"
I have my theories. One of which is that liberalism makes impossible demands on its acolytes. For example: one cannot be truly open-minded and tolerant without at some point embracing insularity and intolerance as well as everything else. Add affluence to the mix and most liberals will buckle under the strain of hypocrisy, inauthenticity, and class shame.
Conflict like this can either be expressed rationally or emotionally. When channeled into intellectual expression it results in some very engaging and energetic progressive thinking. But the emotional expression of the conflict is ugly.
One person The Postmark has managed to convert is Nilaja Troy who says:
"My personal experience with some (neighbors) is once you cross the line where you have a $1 million home, $800 stroller and a nanny, then deep down inside you are a Republican, and because you fear that, you lash out at anybody who seems to fit that persona . . . They have to hate Christians and Republicans because deep down they feel 'I'm afraid I could be one.'"So the intolerant neighbors huddled together in Park Slope for protection from impure thoughts are actually tormented by lure of practicing their bigotry and intolerance openly as Republicans.
Strong and perceptive words for a mindless religious zealot.