Sunday, July 23, 2006

Bush "thinks he is playing in a longer-term game than the tacticians"

In terms of scary, that isn't quite up there with, say, "bin Laden obtains tactical nuclear weapons," but it's still well up there. Our President may not be clinically insane, but he's at such a remove from reality that apparently he's thinking like a crazy man.

I mean, how exactly is that long-term thinking of his doing, so far, now that we've got over five years' worth of track record to judge it by?

Iraq: in the toilet. Civil war killing people faster than Saddam used to; the people you'd want to build a country around are all headed for the border; the country's now a training ground for terrorists. Even Zarqawi's death didn't slow the collapse.

Afghanistan: slipping away. Taliban resurgent in the south, warlords running things everywhere else, Karzai doesn't even control Kabul, great opium crop. And this is the country that actually wanted our help.

North Korea: still making nukes out of plutonium, just like it wasn't when Clinton was President. Good thing its long-range missile was a dud.

Iran: by destabilizing Iraq, we made Iran the big guy on the block. And by having our army stuck in Iraq, we limited our options with respect to Iran.

Islamic terrorism: Osama bin Laden's still on the loose. Al-Qaeda's methodology is being widely copied by other groups, as the residents of Bombay were recently reminded. And terrorists get to practice their skills in Iraq.

Pakistan: our 'ally' has shared nuclear technology with Iran and North Korea. It appears to be harboring bin Laden's organization, as well as whatever terrorist group was responsible for the Bombay bombings. (Good thing for the world that India is capable of the restraint that Israel and the U.S. lack, as India and Pakistan both have nukes, and a war between the two could easily go nuclear.)

So Bush is a terrible long-term thinker, by all evidence.

I remember how I was in my pre-teen and early teen years. I was very smart, but severely introverted and disconnected from reality. I'd read Goldwater's The Conscience of a Conservative, and thought I knew all the answers. If Bush really sees himself as a chess player thinking several steps ahead, as Tony Snow said, then Bush reminds me far too much for comfort of the kid I used to be. And at least I actually was a chessplayer, and could think several moves ahead.

It gets better. Meaning, of course, "worse."

"The president believes that unless you address the root causes of the violence that has afflicted the Middle East, you cannot forge a lasting peace," said White House counselor Dan Bartlett. "He mourns the loss of every life. Yet out of this tragic development, he believes a moment of clarity has arrived."


The president would say: 'You have an opportunity to really grind down Hezbollah. Let's take it, even if there are other serious consequences that will have to be managed.' "

This is where Bush sees himself as playing the long-term game. Here we move from the delusions of grandeur of a person completely cut off from reality's lessons, to the insanity of doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting it to finally work this time.

Bush has a track record of focusing on some person, group of persons, or organization that can be taken out, and once we do so, the problem will be solved: Saddam. The Iraq "deck of cards." Zarqawi. His desire for photos of the al-Qaeda leadership so he could X them out as they were killed.

We know how well all of that worked out. Unfortunately, there's no reason to believe it should work any better here.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Dear Justice Scalia: 'Executive' =/= 'Legislative'

In his Hamdan dissent, Justice Scalia says:
Of course in its discussion of legislative history the Court wholly ignores the President's signing statement, which explicitly set forth his understanding that the DTA ousted jurisdiction over pending cases.
Dear Justice Scalia: they call it legislative history because it's the history of what the legislative branch does on its way to passing a law.

The President is the Chief Executive. That means he's part of the Executive Branch, the branch that executes the laws that the legislative branch enacts.

I know this will come as a surprise to you, but the executive branch isn't part of the legislative branch, and no action by the executive branch is legislative activity. Specifically, a signing statement by the Chief Executive cannot be 'ignored' by the Court in "its discussion of legislative history" because the signing statement is not part of the legislative history.

If such a thing as the 'executive history' of a bill were to be defined, Bush's signing statement would be part of that history. But so far, the judicial branch (the branch you're in, remember?) hasn't defined such a thing. And it certainly hasn't explained what part of the Constitution would ascribe any weight to such a statement to begin with.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Netroots in a Nutshell: Three Things the Netroots Want

I've got no special expertise for making this post. But I read the major blogs regularly, and I came up with this list awhile back. Time has only reinforced its accuracy, in my opinion. So here goes:

1. We want Dems who are more apt to criticize the GOP and build up their own party, rather than the other way around.

Especially since it's the GOP that's running America, and doing a pretty wretched job of it. DLC Dems who say things like "far too many Democrats view George W. Bush as a greater threat to the nation than Osama bin Laden" aren't engaging in constructive criticism; they're doing Karl Rove's work for him.

2. We want 'fighting Dems,' Dems willing to fight for what they believe in, and take the battle to the enemy when they've gone off the rails, as they have during the Bush years.

The view from out here is that Dems are (a) happy to compromise on practically everything, and (b) too often afraid to criticize Bush head-on.

Compromise is good much of the time, but every Dem in Congress should be able to list a half-dozen things that he will fight for, and not back down on, because they're the sort of thing a Dem should never stop fighting for.

And given the depravity of the current Administration, the Dems should never let a speech, a public appearance, or a moment in front of a TV camera, go by without reminding listeners of at least one or two of Bush's many debacles: Iraq, Katrina, the attempted gutting of Social Security, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, appointing incompetent hacks to run most of the government, the failure to do basic homeland protection even after 5 years, our adrift foreign policy, no action on global warming, out-of-control budget and trade deficits, the mediocre job situation in what's supposedly a booming economy, people getting denied the right to overtime or union get the idea.

Pick and choose your slams, paying attention to who your audience is, but never stop reminding your audiences of how badly this Administration and the GOP have fucked up this nation and much of the world.

3. 'Centrism' means appealing to center-right voters, not kissing up to money. We can live with the former (especially for red-state Dems), but not the latter.

Be pro-gun (Dean, Schweitzer), be pro-life (Harry Reid), be pro-flag-burning-amendment if you must, especially if you're running in a conservative district. But don't support class action and bankruptcy 'reforms' and call that 'centrism'; you're not winning over any moderate voters by taking those stands. When the moneyed interests and the interests of average Americans collide, a Dem's place is with average Americans. This is why you have a Democratic Party. Always remember that.

And that's really it. The netroots, in a nutshell.

Friday, July 07, 2006

More Good News from Iraq

Most of this is a few days old, but sometimes it's hard to keep up.

From the header link:

1) Formerly 'sleepy' Muthanna province goes kablooey.

This is important because this has not only been one of Arab Iraq's least dangerous provinces, but this is supposed to be the first one where Iraqi forces are supposed to completely take over security from Western forces when the Brits pull out at the end of the month. This was supposed to be a success story, the beginning of our being able to stand down as the Iraqis stood up.

Instead, we have fired police storming local government headquarters, the police chief resigning, and the governor quitting because he's afraid of violence once the Brits leave:

In southern Iraq, a provincial police chief resigned Tuesday and a governor said he would leave his post after coalition forces turn over security to Iraqi forces later this month, citing fears that violence will increase.

The decisions came after nearly 300 fired policemen stormed into the local government's headquarters in Samawah earlier in the day to protest their lost jobs, provincial council member Mohammed al-Zayadi said. Other former policemen also reportedly beat another council member after breaking into his house Monday night.

The panel accepted the resignation of Col. Mohammed Najim Abu Kihila, the chief of Muthanna police, "amid the deteriorating security, demonstrated by the assault on the provincial council's members and some citizens," al-Zayadi said.

He also said provincial Gov. Mohammad Ali Hassan offered his resignation and the council agreed to accept it as long as he stayed in his position until security was transferred from coalition forces to Iraqis later this month.

2) How many bodyguards do you need to be safe in Iraq?

At least a dozen, apparently.

Meanwhile, gunmen in camouflage uniforms kidnapped Deputy Electricity Minister Raed al-Hares, along with 11 of his bodyguards in eastern Baghdad, but he was released after several hours, officials said.

The gunmen stopped al-Hares' convoy in the Shiite neighborhood of Talbiya, then forced the Shiite official and his bodyguards into their vehicles, said police Lt. Ahmed Qassim. The Electricity Ministry said he was released in the evening but refused to give more details.

The kidnapping occurred three days after gunmen seized female Sunni legislator Tayseer al-Mashhadani in a Shiite area of east Baghdad. She and seven bodyguards are still missing.

3) Basra had also been relatively quiet until recent months, although it had been the quiet of a Shi'ite theocracy. Now it's blowing up:
Iraqi authorities, meanwhile, imposed an 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. car and pedestrian curfew in Basra to bolster a state of emergency that has failed to curb increasing violence in the southern city.
It seems that various Shi'ite factions are fighting one another for control of the city.

4) And neo-Nazis are infiltrating our military:

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and right-wing militia groups, estimated that the numbers could run into the thousands, citing interviews with Defense Department investigators and reports and postings on racist Web sites and magazines.

"We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," the group quoted a Defense Department investigator as saying in a report to be posted today on its Web site, "That's a problem."

...The report quotes Scott Barfield, a Defense Department investigator, saying, "Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces, and commanders don't remove them from the military even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members."

Mr. Barfield said Army recruiters struggled last year to meet goals. "They don't want to make a big deal again about neo-Nazis in the military," he said, "because then parents who are already worried about their kids signing up and dying in Iraq are going to be even more reluctant about their kids enlisting if they feel they'll be exposed to gangs and white supremacists."

...the report said Mr. Barfield, who is based at Fort Lewis, Wash., had said that he had provided evidence on 320 extremists there in the past year, but that only two had been discharged. He also said there was an online network of neo-Nazis.

Great: because we're having such a hard time recruiting a better class of people into the military, we're sending white supremacists to Iraq, where they can help win hearts and minds by shooting Arabs.

And, for comedy relief:

5) Joe Lieberman says things in Iraq are "a lot better" than they were a year ago.

Monthly Employment Stats

BLS says we picked up 121,000 new jobs in June. Not quite the 130,000 or so we need to keep up with population growth.

The running totals since January 2001:

Increase in nonfarm jobs: 2,759,000
Per-month average: 42,400

Increase in nonfarm private-sector jobs: 1,627,000
Per-month average: 25,000

Increase in nonfarm public-sector jobs: 1,132,000
Per-month average: 17,400

Share of net new jobs attributable to private sector: 59%

Obviously, the Bush job-creation record still bites.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Some thoughts about patriotism and conservative v. liberal Christians

I came to know the Lord back in 1970, in a time when Christianity wasn't strongly identified with a particular strain of American politics. Before any of us knew Jerry Falwell's and Pat Robertson's politics, back before Jimmy Carter gave born-again Christians a candidate they could identify with on the basis of their faith.

So I fortunately had lots of room to figure out God and country on my own, to draw my own conclusions before anyone came along to tell me what my politics had to be. And some things just seemed obvious.

For instance, God is bigger than country. There's really no getting around that one. God is bigger than the world He created, so He's bigger than America or (back then) the Soviet Union or whatever.

For a Christian, being patriotic in the standard sense is silly. If we are to be patriotic, what is our patrie, our fatherland? Well, we know who our Father is; presumably His land would be our Fatherland. We know from the Gospels that Jesus in His ministry spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God; if we have a true country, that would presumably be it. Certainly Jesus said his kingdom wasn't of this world, and the writer of the letter to the Hebrews said we are sojourners, passing travelers, in this world. And if our true country is outside of this world, that inherently limits the sort of commitment we can make to any of the countries in this world.

Which is important, because it would seem that anyone with a modicum of common sense - no deep theology or even book learning required - could see that God and country are going to ask very different things of us, and that there's going to be some conflict there from time to time. God is love, and He loves us all: God so loved the world, and He is no respecter of persons. Nations have strategic interests, for which God surely cares little; God cares about the people, not trade routes and resources. A nation might ask its citizens to bear arms against the citizens of a different nation, and a citizen who gives his allegiance to that nation will fight, kill, and die on its behalf. A Christian, in aiming his gun at the citizen of another country, has to ask, "Does God want that person dead? Am I called to kill that person?" If the answer to the first is No, or even I Don't Know, then the answer to the second question is No as well. (It could even be No if the answer to the first question is Yes: in the event that God wants someone dead, you may still not be called to be the one to kill him.)

Christians, in the true sense of the word, would make lousy soldiers. If you are serving God, then you must ask God what He wants you to do. In the military, they can't wait around for that. They have to know you will do what they want you to do.

Conservative Christians are generally quite patriotic. I have never understood this, and it's a fundamental part of my alienation from them. To be honest, I am not at all sure they believe in the God of the Bible, but rather in some tribal deity who blesses their tribe over against all the other tribes of the world, whether those other tribes be Communists, Moslems, or even American secular liberals, who they seem to view not as true Americans, but as a fifth column to be rooted out. (For the most part, I don't think they even believe in the existence of liberal Christians; I expect they think people like me are really secular liberals who are attempting to hijack their religion.) Certainly those I've talked to - a pretty large number, over the years - feel no tension between serving God and serving America, regarding potential conflict between the two as a rare and exceptional aberration that they're unlikely to ever have to deal with, if they think about it at all. And that's certainly symptomatic of a tribal religion. And if you were in an evangelical church this past Sunday, chances are excellent that you heard a lot of verbiage that wrapped God and America up together in the flag, with no caution that no man can serve two masters. That is also symptomatic of a tribal religion.

I don't know what to do about this. I feel some sort of need to call my more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ out of their tribalism, and into a deeper faith - for I believe many of the people in the pews have had genuine experiences with Christ, and have been led astray by the Falwell and Robertson wannabes in fundamentalist pulpits everywhere. But Lord knows I have no idea where to start.

But here and now, on the morning of July 4, I know that as a Christian, I cannot in any way, shape, or form be a patriotic American. I cannot pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands. That debt of loyalty and service to a liege lord that was the original meaning of 'allegiance' is already given; I already have a Lord. That doesn't bother me; I've known this for a long time now, and am quite comfortable with it. What I still find perplexing is that any Christian should see it another way.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The fake WMDs

Here's the letter I just sent off to the WaPo. Since they get so many letters, it probably won't see print, but I think it's got a chance; we'll see.

Some opportunistic Republicans claim that the discovery of some mustard gas shells from the Iran-Iraq war means that the infamous WMDs have at last been found. This claim seems to rest on a term-of-art definition: that WMDs include any nuclear, biological, or chemical weapon, regardless of its lethality or destructive power.

This is a fundamentally dishonest rhetorical gambit. The Bush Administration and its supporters did not educate the public about term-of-art meanings of "weapons of mass destruction"; rather, they actively played up the vernacular meaning of the phrase - weapons that could wreak extraordinary death and destruction, well beyond the capability of conventional weapons.

For instance, just between March 15 and March 19, 2003, President Bush described Saddam's weapons stash as "the weapons of mass murder," "some of the most lethal weapons ever devised," "biological and chemical agents...capable of killing millions of people," and claimed we were invading Iraq "to defend the world from grave danger."

The aging mustard gas shells bear no resemblance to the threat Bush described. Mustard gas isn't even particularly lethal, though it's still nasty stuff. It's a potent skin blistering agent that can incapacitate soldiers on the battlefield, thereby reducing the effectiveness of their combat units. If it gets into one's lungs in strong enough concentrations, it can be lethal, absent effective treatment. But a weapon of "mass destruction"? That's absurd.