Saturday, July 23, 2005

How Canada is falling behind in R&D

I love my country, but I don't love everything about it. And, right now, I'm somewhat ambivalent about the state of our political leadership. Same-sex marriage aside, we've got some problems, and one of them is that we're clearly falling behind both our G8 partners and up-and-coming powers like China, India, and Brazil in terms of R&D. Macleans blogger Paul Wells, who recently made his first appearance here at The Reaction, weighs in on a troubling (and under-reported, because nationally embarrassing) story here.

A country's commitment to R&D may be determined by calculating its GERD (Gross Expenditure on Research and Development, measured as a fraction of GDP). Currently, the U.S.'s GERD stands at 2.6%, Japan's at 3.2%. Both China and the E.U. are expected to be at 2.2% by 2010, but there was much hand-wringing going on in Europe when E.U. research commissioner Janez Potocnik announced recently that Europe's GERD had only increased by 0.2% from 2002-2003.

So what's the problem north of the 49th? Well, our GERD actually declined from 2002-2003, and, according to Wells, it has continued to do so. Paul Martin's Liberal government speaks proudly of our public-sector investment in R&D, but Canada's problem is relatively low private-sector investment in R&D. Now, this is hardly a problem that government is capable of addressing in any significant way (without further regulation of the private sector), and I'm not sure how Wells would solve it, but he may be right in his prediction that in this century "Canada will become more of a place where the new giants buy their steel and crude oil so the high-margin products of the future -- cities and machines and software and business processes -- get built elsewhere".

In other words, we're in trouble. We're falling behind because we're not investing adequately in the future -- and because our political leaders (both Martin and his opponents) simply aren't willing to address (and likely aren't even capable of addressing) the problem in any real way. For all the talk recently of Canada's paltry commitment to foreign aid, there won't be much room for foreign aid if our economy doesn't continue to expand. And that's not going to happen without a more serious commitment to R&D, both public and private.

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Eco-porn in the rainforests: What's up with them crazy Norwegians?

If I may reference The Beatles, this story should give a whole new meaning to "Norwegian Wood":

No, it's not a Sign of the Apocalypse, but it's a sign of some serious stupidity/immaturity (even if the cause, I suppose, is a good one). As reported in Der Spiegel, a young Norwegian couple... oh, hell, there's no way I can describe what they're up to. Just read the article here. Otherwise, let's just say it's about environmental porn, or porn for the rainforests (the good cause), and the story includes:

  • a website called Fuck for Forest (which apparently I've just promoted, if not necessarily endorsed, with a link from The Reaction: go see for yourself, if you're over 18, as "the [website] -- liberally interspersed... with scenes of woodland carnal abandon -- features informed discussions about our world's imperilled rainforests and information on the dangers they face");
  • public fornication (specifically, sex on stage during a performance by a band called, uh, The Cumshots -- in front of 50,000 people, believe it or not);
  • a trial at the Kristiansand City Court in southern Norway (where the young Norwegian couple was found guilty of "[c]onducting an improper act in a public place" and fined $1,400 each, a penalty which the couple -- which promptly absconded to "a slightly more liberal environment: Berlin" -- refused to pay);
  • a movement, if I may put it so officially, with (thus far) 1,000 members and $120,000 raised;
  • efforts to attract new volunteers and contributions from pros and amateurs alike (porn, that is); and
  • opposition from advocacy groups like the World Wildlife Federation (which, living in the real world, recognize that hyper-Catholic Brazil, home to much of the world's rainforest, wouldn't be too comfortable with eco-porn).

From the FFF website (I'm a creative guy, but I couldn't make this stuff up):

Each year, huge areas of rainforest are systematically being cut down. Invaluable animal and plant life is being decimated to make way for commercial interests.. . For too many humans, development has become more important than the balance of nature. Is humanitys cynical behave more powerful than idealism..?

FFF are concerned youngsters, using the freedom of open-minded sexuality to save nature. We believe it is possible to use people’s need for sexuality as a way to raise money for nature. And at the same time create awareness about what is happening to mother earth. It is time to pay respect, and give something back. Try to force peoples minds open, using free sexuality!

Lars von Trier should make a movie about these people. Oh, right, he did. It's called The Idiots (an offensive, jarring masterpiece that I gave ****).

Yes, this bird has flown... I hope you're all enjoying the weekend.

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Friday, July 22, 2005

The conservatism of Judge John G. Roberts

As I suggested in a recent post, I think it would be a good idea for all of us to adopt a wait-and-see attitude towards the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. Which is to say, let's try to figure out what he's all about before we judge him. Yes, he's a conservative -- surprise, surprise -- but two recent articles in the Times offer those of us who generally oppose such conservatism some hope that he'll be more of an old-fashioned conservative than a right-wing radical:

1. A one-year effort to market Roberts to social conservatives (see here):

For at least a year before the nomination of Judge John G. Roberts to the Supreme Court, the White House was working behind the scenes to shore up support for him among its social conservative allies, quietly reassuring them that he was a good bet for their side in cases about abortion, same-sex marriage and public support for religion.

When the White House began testing the name of Judge Roberts on a short list of potential nominees, many social conservatives were skeptical. In hearings for confirmation to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, he had called the original abortion rights precedent "the settled law of the land" and said "there is nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent."

2. A philosophy of judicial restraint (see here):

A look at the 49 published opinions of Judge John G. Roberts, President Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court, reveals a distinct judicial philosophy, one that favors a strong executive, a cautious and self-effacing judiciary, limited federal power, and individual responsibility.

That aligns him in many ways with the conservative wing of the current court. But his insistence, in the two years he has sat on the federal appeals court in Washington, that judges must engage in considerable self-restraint could add a distinctive voice to a court that has not been shy in recent years in asserting its own dominance.

In a decision last year, Judge Roberts referred to "the cardinal principle of judicial restraint - if it is not necessary to decide more, it is necessary not to decide more."

For two excellent takes on the Roberts nomination, one from the left and one from the right, see Dionne in the Post (here) and Brooks in the Times (here):

  • Dionne: "Judge John G. Roberts could turn out to be Antonin Scalia with a Washington Establishment smile."
  • Brooks: "John G. Roberts is the face of today's governing conservatism."

Needless to say, I'm more with Dionne on this one. See also the pieces by Ryan Lizza (here), Jeffrey Rosen (here), and Cass Sunstein (here) at TNR.

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Update: The same-sex marriage fallout

1. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, standing in for Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, has given royal assent to Bill C-38. It's now the law of the land.

2. Despite the futile objections of Premier Ralph Klein, Alberta, Canada's most conservative province, has issued its first marriage license to a gay couple.

3. Predictably, the Vatican has denounced the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada. Not that it really matters. Canada has moved ahead on this vital human-rights issue, and there's no looking back.

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Condi gets pushed around in Khartoum

Well, I've written both about Darfur (here and here) and Condi Rice (here) at The Reaction, and now the twain, finally, have met: "Security forces in the Sudanese capital manhandled U.S. officials and reporters traveling with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, marring her round of meetings with leaders of the new unified government. Rice demanded an apology, and got it." (They even pushed around NBC star reporter Andrea Mitchell, who felt "angry, embarrassed, humiliated" -- see here.)

I suppose worse things could happen to you in the Sudan, but at least this brings Darfur back into the news. It may be all talk and no action, but Condi continues to be one of democracy's great advocates, and she deserves a good deal of credit at least for saying the right things and for taking on some of the world's most atrocious regimes -- and, in this case, genocide. Not too long ago, it was Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Now it's the Sudan. Despite the manhandling, let's hope her trip leads to more than just empty talk and vague commitments.

(Mitchell: "It makes me even more determined when dictators and alleged war criminals are not held to account. If our government is going to establish a relationship and push for a new beginning as Sudan reforms itself, they have to live up to international standards. A free press is part of that process." Exactly.)

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Is Rick Santorum insane?

No, seriously, is he?

Here's a review of Santorum's odd behaviour at The Carpetbagger Report, which has some good links to recent stories on perhaps The Reaction's least favourite senator (well, he's down near the bottom -- no pun intended). And for those of you with a subscription to TNR (a must, in my view), here's a review of Santorum's soon-to-be-released book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good.

By the way, do any of you know what "santorum" means? It won the Most Outrageous Word award at this year's annual convention of the American Dialect Society. See here. It's dirty, but hilarious.

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Terror, opium, democracy: Afghanistan at the crossroads

For an update on what's going on in Afghanistan (remember that place?), see this article at The Independent. Elections are scheduled for September, but President Hamid Karzai is essentially the ruler of a divided country: "The US-backed President, who was democratically elected in November 2004 nearly three years after being appointed interim leader, rarely ventures outside Kabul. The country is virtually cut in two, with the northern provinces relatively quiet while conflict continues in the south, where the US-led coalition is on the trail of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leader Mullah Omar." I suspect that we all need to be paying much more attention to this now-forgotten frontier in the war on terror. After all, that's where the action really is, and surely 7/7 reminds us that that's where the focus needs to be.

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The Roberts nomination: A day later, with perspective

(I posted this at The Moderate Voice, where I'm now a co-blogger, last night, as well as at Centerfield, where I continue to be one of the group bloggers. The Reaction, however, remains my main blog, and, for the record, I thought I might as well post it here, in slightly revised form, this morning. I encourage you to keep checking in here for my complete work, but do give those other two excellent sites a look every now and then -- I'll mention here when I post elsewhere.)


It's been over a day, now that it's very early Thursday morning, and with that time comes perspective. So what do we know about Roberts now?

Tuesday night, both here at The Reaction and over at The Moderate Voice (where I'm now a co-blogger), I argued that Roberts is something of a "right-wing radical". On issues like abortion, the separation of church and state, criminal law, and habeas corpus, he is certainly on the right, though of course how you label him is very much a matter of perception. (See Slate's review of his background here.)

In this sense, I must say that I'm still somewhat disappointed with Bush's nominee. I was hoping for Gonzales, or perhaps Luttig, and I might even have been willing to consider an intellectual heavyweight like McConnell or a sensible conservative like Clement. But it seems that Roberts was the most conservative pick Bush could have made without risking a serious confirmation battle. Bush thus played it safe while simultaneously pushing the envelope and satisfying his base (in that sense, in terms of Bush's balancing act, Roberts's nomination is something of a master-stroke).

Yes, I'm somewhat disappointed, but I was enough of a realist not to expect a moderate nominee and, to be honest, I'm certainly not terribly outraged. Indeed, Roberts may turn out to be an excellent justice (whether or not I agree with him on any number of issues). Note: This is somewhat like the recent papal election. Some liberals and moderates bemoaned Ratzinger's win, but, honestly, what did they expect? There was no chance the conclave was going to pick a liberal or moderate pope (to go by our labels), and, similarly, there was no chance Bush was going to select a liberal or moderate for the Supreme Court. The question always came down to whether a specific conservative candidate was generally acceptable or unacceptable to liberals and moderates given what they could expect. Does Roberts fall into the "acceptable" category? Maybe, maybe not. Hopefully the confirmation process will tell us what we need to know.

I suspect that he'll be confirmed, and rather easily. There are hardly any "extraordinary" circumstances here, and there likely won't be any surprises or Borkian personality disorders, and he's spent much of his career inside the Beltway. This makes him something of a known quantity, and he's obviously quite likeable (given what we saw of him last night and given what people are saying of him), but there are also a few problems that worry me: First, he's only been a federal judge for a couple of years, and hence there's hardly any paper trail. Second, most of his career has been spent as an advocate for conservative causes and political appointee/operative under Reagan and Bush I. As the Times put it yesterday (see here for its editorial), "he has a thin record on controversial subjects". The Post even called him "sphinx-like". And, third, his tenure on the D.C. Circuit Court, however brief, indicates that he may very well be something of an ideologue.

What's interesting is that liberals seem to be adopting a wait-and-see attitude (see, for example, the Post's quite favourable editorial; some left-wing groups like People for the American Way, as predicted, are already attacking the nomination) while conservatives are in, well, disharmony (indicating perhaps a deeper dislike for the pick). It probably doesn't matter much what Ann Coulter thinks (on anything, but especially this), but over at The Weekly Standard, where many of the more thoughtful conservatives hang out, there is some disagreement. Bill Kristol sees Roberts as a courageous (i.e., good) pick, while Fred Barnes sees him as a safe (i.e., bad) pick.

For an interesting critique of one element of Roberts's judicial record, see Emily Bazelon's piece at Slate, where she reveals that "[a]s a member of a three-judge panel on the D.C. federal court of appeals, Roberts signed on to a blank-check grant of power to the Bush administration to try suspected terrorists without basic due-process protections". In addition, see William Stuntz's piece at TNR, where he argues that Roberts is essentially a Rehnquistian, more about political bottom lines than Scalia-like judicial reasoning.

I realize that there's been a lot of (perhaps even an overkill of) SCOTUS-talk lately, but, as the Times put it so well:

President Bush did the country a service by making his nomination early enough for the Senate to have ample time to investigate the judge's record and hold hearings. The leaders in both parties should resist any pressures to move quickly. It would be irresponsible to take a position on the nomination of Judge Roberts until his background is carefully reviewed, and until senators have a chance to question him at length. The nomination of a new Supreme Court justice is a great moment for the nation, providing new vigor to a great American institution. The entire country has a stake in the outcome.


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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Sign of the Apocalypse #12: Libraries without books

Poor Jonathan Swift. You can't have a battle of the books without, well, books.

And as far as I'm concerned, you can't have much of a civilization either. But the post-literary age is at hand, and we are all the more impoverished for it:

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education (see here), the University of Texas -- now home to one of my teachers, Thomas Pangle, who has always fought the good fight for the written word -- has taken the book out of the library:

When students at the University of Texas' flagship campus return in the fall, they will be greeted by a revamped undergraduate library with clusters of computers, a coffee shop, comfortable chairs, and 24-hour technical help. But one traditional resource will be in short supply: books.

Nearly all of the 90,000 volumes contained in the undergraduate library are being carted off this summer to other libraries on the campus to make room for an "information commons" -- a growing trend at colleges and universities around the country.

The goal is to provide students who are accustomed to downloading information in the comfort of their dormitory rooms with a one-stop center where they can collaborate with classmates on multimedia projects, consult with Internet-savvy librarians, and, in some cases, check out laptop computers or leave them to be repaired. About 1,000 books, most of them reference volumes, will remain in the building.

Hey, I like the internet as much as the next guy (or gal). Believe it or not, I'm sitting in front of my computer right now, and, yes, I'm logged onto the information superhighway. But I'm also surrounded by books, and, to me, a world without books is a world I want nothing to do with. No, the University of Texas isn't doing away with books, but this revamping is certainly a denigration of the written word.

Those undergraduate Longhorns may or may not accept the removal of books from their library, but their education will surely suffer and I suspect that in some important ways they'll all turn out to be lesser human beings for this.

Maybe they'll just have to download the Apocalypse when it comes.

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Same-sex marriage in Canada: We're #4! We're #4!

Bill C-38 has passed. Late last night, the bill to legalize same-sex marriage passed the Senate, our upper house, just a few weeks after it passed the House of Commons. The Globe and Mail reports here:

One of the most raucous debates in Canadian history resulted in a vote that made Canada the fourth country to sanction same-sex marriage on Tuesday.

The Senate erupted in a loud cheer as it adopted the Liberal government's Bill C-38, which will give gay and lesbian couples the right to marry in courthouses and city halls across the country.

The 47-21 vote came after years of court battles and debate that divided families, religious groups and even political allies.

The votes have been quite close -- 158-133 in the House, 47-21 in the more heavily Liberal Senate -- and the issue has divided Canadians despite a clear majority in favour of the legislation and widespread support for same-sex rights across the country. Opposition (and Conservative) Leader Stephen Harper, who is trying to market himself as a viable alternative to Prime Minister Paul Martin and his party as a viable alternative to the Liberals even as he continues to pander to social conservatives on the far right, has threatened to reopen the legislation if he's ever elected, but a recent Strategic Counsel poll indicates that 55% of Canadians support the legislation while only 39% oppose it. Here's the background:

Over the past two years, the courts in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, the Yukon, and Newfoundland and Labrador have ruled to permit legal same-sex marriages. In December 2004, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of allowing the federal government to go ahead with a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage. The country’s foremost tribunal said the constitution protects the rights of homosexual partners to formalize their bonds.

On Jun. 28, the House of Commons passed the bill that legalizes same-sex marriage in the entire country after a 158-133 vote. Most Liberal, Bloc Québécois and New Democratic Party (NDP) members supported the legislation. The bill is expected to be ratified in the Senate this month, where 64 of the 96 appointed members are Liberals.

On Jun. 29, Canadian prime minister Paul Martin explained his government’s rationale on same-sex marriage, saying, "In a country of minorities, it is crucial that the rights of the minorities be protected and that they not be subject of political whim."

All that remains for the bill to become law is royal assent (a formality in our parliamentary system). When it does, Canada will be the fourth country to sanction same-sex marriage after Belgium, the Netherlands, and, most recently, Spain.

I've said before that this makes me incredibly proud to be a Canadian. This is one day when our country truly shines.

(I've previously discussed same-sex marriage in Canada here and here.)

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Obscenity at Hewlett-Packard: When greed is (NOT) good

From the Times, one of the true obscenities of the year:

Hewlett-Packard announced Tuesday that it will lay off 14,500 workers, or nearly 10 percent of its staff, over the next 18 months as part of a revamping plan that the company's executives hope will turn around the struggling fortunes of the giant computer and printer maker...

The company also announced that starting Jan. 1, it would no longer contribute to the pension plans of its employees in the United States...

While the company will offer a voluntary retirement program, [CEO Mark] Hurd said "the majority of the head count reductions will be achieved through involuntary actions."

The company expects to complete the layoffs by November 2006, which marks the start of its fiscal year 2007. By that point, the company estimates that it will save $1.6 billion annually on labor costs with an additional $300 million in annual savings from reduced pension costs.

(Um, "involuntary actions"?)

Look, I'm a capitalist. I like business. Unregulated, it's a monster, but, properly regulated, it's part of the foundation of any healthy liberal society.

But as guest blogger Michael Hiltzik argues at Political Animal, "this is another example of how the rank and file pays the price of management derelictions and blunders, while the guilty get off scot-free". How so? Well, 10 percent of HP's workforce will soon be subject to "involuntary actions". That is: Laid off. Let go. Terminated. Get it? Meanwhile, former CEO Carly Fiorina, who resigned in February, received a $21 million severance package, along with a $7 million bonus and another $23.5 million in pension and benefit payouts. That's $51.5 million!

14,500 HP employees will soon be paying the price for executive incompetence -- because, in today's corporate America, share price means more than loyalty. 3,000 employees have already been laid off this year, and another 17,900 were let go after HP's failed merger with Compaq in 2002. Do the math. Fiorina walks away with $51.5 million while 35,400 employees, many of whom no doubt face hardship or worse, are terminated.

That's obscene. Truly, utterly, and outrageously obscene.

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The money post

Over at AmbivaBlog, Amba takes on... pornography (and quotes me in the process). See here. Once again, she shows that she's one of the most thoughtful contributors to the blogosphere. On this one, I suspect that I'm more of a cultural liberal than she is, and I do think there's more to pornography than she allows in her analysis, but, overall, she raises some excellent points.

If you're already tired of all the Roberts talk, her post is a good... release. (Sorry. That was lame.)

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Terrorism and the Left

Marc Schneider -- whose name will be familiar to my regular readers, given his many great contributions here at The Reaction -- has written an excellent post at Centerfield, where he, like me, is one of the group bloggers. He writes here on the Left's response to terrorism, and specifically to 7/7:

I have no great love for the way that our politicians spew forth with purple rhetoric everytime there is an attack, especially invoking evil and the threat to western civilization. We don't need politicians moralizing about evil. It seems counterproductive to rational thinking. But at the same time, we don't need people relativizing murder and equating blowing up subways with political activity. IMO, as long as the left cannot distinguish between murder and legitimate political activity, it has no call to govern civilized nations. Whatever the west has done or not done, it does not justify bombing subways or flying planes into buildings and our leftist politicians need to learn that.

I would add that Marc is referring to the radical Left, not the left-wing of the American or British mainstream. This radical Left, which seems to espouse enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend anti-Americanism, has indeed apologized for terrorism by laying the blame for the world's ills squarely at the feet of the West. For example, terrorism is a justifiable response to U.S. policy towards Israel. That sort of nonsense. Yes, that Left has a lot to learn. Good stuff, Marc (by the way, I also recommend the excellent discussion in the comments section to his post).

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So who's it gonna be? (Oh, right, Roberts...)

All day long, it looked like Clement -- that is, Edith Brown Clement of the 5th Circuit Court. And then Luttig. Until just recently, I'd been sticking with Gonzales, as many of you know, but his candidacy lost much of its initial buzz as "the Laura factor" took over. But forget "the Laura factor," at least for now. In a few minutes, Bush will announce (on national TV, so as to enhance exposure and to move certain other stories out of the headlines) that John Roberts of the D.C. Circuit Court is his nominee to replace O'Connor on the Supreme Court.

It's a surprise, I must say. Among the non-Laura factor conservative candidates, I'd been leaning towards Luttig, and, to be honest, I'd more or less forgotten about Roberts. McConnell or Wilkinson, sure, but Roberts? Here's what Slate had to say about him:

Roberts has been floated as a nominee who could win widespread support in the Senate. Not so likely. He hasn't been on the bench long enough for his judicial opinions to provide much ammunition for liberal opposition groups. But his record as a lawyer for the Reagan and first Bush administrations and in private practice is down-the-line conservative on key contested fronts, including abortion, separation of church and state, and environmental protection.

And, indeed, his record is scary. From Slate's review:

Separation of Church and State: For Bush I, co-authored a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that public high-school graduation programs could include religious ceremonies. The Supreme Court disagreed by a vote of 5-4. (Lee v. Weisman, 1992)

Criminal Law: Joined a unanimous opinion ruling that a police officer who searched the trunk of a car without saying that he was looking for evidence of a crime (the standard for constitutionality) still conducted the search legally, because there was a reasonable basis to think contraband was in the trunk, regardless of whether the officer was thinking in those terms. (U.S. v. Brown, 2004)

Habeas Corpus: Joined a unanimous opinion denying the claim of a prisoner who argued that by tightening parole rules in the middle of his sentence, the government subjected him to an unconstitutional after-the-fact punishment. The panel reversed its decision after a Supreme Court ruling directly contradicted it. (Fletcher v. District of Columbia, 2004)

Abortion: For Bush I, successfully helped argue that doctors and clinics receiving federal funds may not talk to patients about abortion. (Rust v. Sullivan, 1991)

Great, eh?

Look, I was realistic. I wasn't pushing for a liberal or even moderate candidate. Even Gonzales, my pick, is only a "relative" moderate. And I likely would have been willing to accept someone like Luttig, or maybe even Clement. (See here for what I wrote at Daily Kos not too long ago.) It might be too early to judge Roberts, but he is, as Wolf Blitzer just said, "a rock-solid conservative". I'd call him a right-wing radical. Bush could have gone a number of different ways, but this one's clearly for the base.

Well done, Mr. President. You continue to be a divider, not a uniter. And it looks like your "legacy" is more important than your country.

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Is Iraqi democracy made in Washington?

Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker wonders if Bush (and/or his people) didn't try to manipulate the Iraqi election earlier this year. Like all of Hersh's work, it's a fascinating and persuasive read, but I'm just not sure if I buy it all. Have a look yourselves, and, if possible, leave your comments here. I'm curious to know what you all think of it. Here's a key passage:

By the late spring of 2004, according to officials in the State Department, Congress, and the United Nations, the Bush Administration was engaged in a debate over the very issue that [C.P.A. senior advisor Larry] Diamond had warned about: providing direct support to Allawi and other parties seen as close to the United States and hostile to Iran. Allawi, who had spent decades in exile and worked both for Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat and for Western intelligence agencies, lacked strong popular appeal. The goal, according to several former intelligence and military officials, was not to achieve outright victory for Allawi—such an outcome would not be possible or credible, given the strength of the pro-Iranian Shiite religious parties—but to minimize the religious Shiites’ political influence. The Administration hoped to keep Allawi as a major figure in a coalition government, and to do so his party needed a respectable share of the vote.

If true, there's yet more ammunition for Bush's critics. But here's the perplexing question: Even if it's all true, does it matter?

Which is to say, doesn't democracy need some "direction" to get it going? Machiavelli understood that republics don't form ex nihilo, that a republic needs a strong and virtuous prince to set up its modes and orders before it can maintain itself through self-government. Indeed, one wonders what would have happened if American democracy had been so open and transparent back in the 1770s and 1780s.

After all, English democracy has taken centuries to develop into what it is today, from the Magna Carta through the Glorious Revolution through the establishment of liberalism in the 19th century. Did we really expect Iraq to become democratic so soon and without anything in the way of American intervention? We may object to what Bush did and to how he did it, not to mention to what's going on today, but let's not be so naive.

(Thanks to Laura Rozen at War and Piece for the tip -- see here.)

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The pint and the stiff upper lip

This one's a bit old -- well, a week, but that's an eternity in the blogosphere -- but it's worth a read (not least because many of you, I assume, are not familiar with Macleans, Canada's leading newsmagazine). Paul Wells examines the British response to 7/7 and finds what he calls "pluck": "The murderers of 7/7 caught Britain in the middle of a winning streak. But they failed utterly to cut it short. All the killers did was force the British people to show us the stuff that so often makes them winners."

More: "[A]nyone should be able to celebrate the reappearance of uncommonly sturdy fibre in a nation's character and a good leader's knack for bringing out the best in his people. Tony Blair shows some of the stubbornness that so enraged Napoleon at Waterloo: 'This man Wellington is so stupid he does not know when he is beaten and goes on fighting.' On Thursday, Blair's countrymen rose with him to the fight."

In their song "Time," on Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd say that "hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way". They're right, as they are about so much else, but the English -- the British, to be more inclusive -- are also capable of rising to the occasion when the chips are down. The Nazis learned that over a half-century ago, and now the fascist jihadists who would tear apart our civilization are, like the rest of us, witnessing British resolve at its finest.

Don't underestimate them. The British live in the birthplace of modern liberalism, and they know what's worth fighting for.

Hold on, while I turn on the Elgar.

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Sunday, July 17, 2005

The coalition of the (not-so-)willing (anymore)

Britain's defence secretary, John Reid, has announced that British forces will slowly be withdrawn from Iraq over the next 12 months. Britain's military presence in Iraq is quite overstated -- there are only 8,500 troops there, mostly in the more peaceful south -- but Britain has, of course, been America's chief partner in the Iraq War (and, really, Bush's chief source of legitimacy for what was, rightly or wrongly, an act of American unilateralism backed up by a measly coalition of small and in some cases tiny allies (nothing against Poland, but you know there's something wrong when it's one of your most important military supporters).

But what will a British withdrawal mean for the U.S.? What will it mean for the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of the occupation? Will the U.S. pull out sooner rather than later? Or will the U.S. at least scale back its military presence significantly? If so, what will happen to Iraq? Are Iraqi forces ready to take over the burdensome duties of securing peace and dealing with the insurgents? Will a decreased U.S. presence lead to chaos, anarchy, full-out civil war? Will Iran become an even bigger player in Iraq's domestic politics? Will the violence in Iraq spill out into its neighbours? Will Iraq become more or less of a training ground for international terrorism?

Ah, so much to think about. It's likely a no-win situation, at least in the short-term, but I do think the U.S. needs to stay there as long as is necessary to get the job done. It's Powell's old Pottery Barn rule:

Iraq's broken. Fix it.

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Rove at war, the war on Rove

At Newsweek, Howard Fineman has an excellent piece on Rove (both personal background and the build-up to Rovegate). It's quite long, but I highly recommend it. (Drum links to it at Political Animal, but without any commentary.) Key passages:

  • "In the World According to Karl Rove, you take the offensive, and stay there. You create a narrative that glosses over complex, mitigating facts to divide the world into friends and enemies, light and darkness, good and bad, Bush versus Saddam. You are loyal to a fault to your friends, merciless to your enemies. You keep your candidate's public rhetoric sunny and uplifting, finding others to do the attacking. You study the details, and learn more about your foes than they know about themselves. You use the jujitsu of media flow to flip the energy of your enemies against them. The Boss never discusses political mechanics in public. But in fact everything is political—and everyone is fair game."
  • "In a familiar Washington twist of fate, Rove's theory of politics is being turned against him—and he is being forced to deploy the Republican machine, which he built on Bush's behalf, for a more personal task: his own defense. A federal prosecutor is now coming to the climax of an investigation into whether any administration official committed a crime by disclosing the identity of a CIA agent—Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame—to reporters. The prosecutor may also be looking at whether anyone lied to the grand jury about the matter—the classic Washington crime of a cover-up. Democrats are in full cry, demanding that Rove be hauled before congressional-committee hearings, stripped of his security clearance, fired outright—or all three."
  • "It's unlikely that any White House officials considered that they were doing anything illegal in going after Joe Wilson. Indeed, the line between national security and politics had long since been all but erased by the Bush administration. In the months after 9/11, the Republican National Committee, a part of Rove's empire, had sent out a fund-raising letter that showed the president aboard Air Force One in the hours after the attack. Democrats howled, but that was the Bush Rove was selling in the re-election campaign: commander in chief. Now Wilson was getting in the way of that glorious story, essentially accusing the administration of having blundered or lied the country into war."
  • "If the polarities were reversed—if this were a Democratic White House—these are the kinds of breach-of-security questions for which Rove would be demanding swift answers. Which party was for protecting the shadow warriors in the war on terror? Rove would want to know."
  • "At the same time, the GOP machine he had built began clanking into gear. Rove has friends all over town, and the country—people he's put in office and, with ruthless efficiency, into key government and lobbying jobs. But they were slow to react, perhaps in part because the apparatus is built to attack more than defend. Last Monday, Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, was seared to a crisp during his press briefing. Only the following day did GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman—whose entire career is a Rove creation—respond. Some of the party talking points had a vaguely Clintonesque feel to them: that Rove was merely trying to help the reporters, that he never actually mentioned Valerie Plame's name, that he didn't call the reporters, they had called him. The Democrats, eager to seize the rare piece of high ground on a national-security issue, kept up the fire. But since they have no subpoena power on the Hill—Rove's GOP is in charge there—they can't call him to testify. And the louder the Democrats screamed, the easier it was for Rove and his allies to dismiss the whole affair as just another Red-Blue partisan smackdown."
  • "As for Rove, friends say that he was shaken by the speed with which the Wilson story moved—and in a direction he didn't expect. He's used to being in control. But now all Rove can do is mark time until someone else—Patrick Fitzgerald—says what comes next. After his re-election victory last November, Bush called Rove the "Architect." Now the hunter has to wait with everyone else to see if he has become the hunted."

All bolds are my own. This is something of a follow-up to my recent Krugman post, but Fineman, whom I don't like as much as I used to (largely because he seemed to me to be getting far too soft as a reporter), provides a wonderfully comprehensive account of what Rovegate's all about (and, given Rove's background, how and why it all came about). Excellent stuff.

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Truth is political, truth is relative

Well, it's provocative, but, hey, why not provoke? In his latest column in the Times, Paul Krugman takes on what he calls "Karl Rove's America," "a country in which there is no longer such a thing as nonpolitical truth" and where "the facts [are] irrelevant". To the extent that relativism of this kind has taken hold on the right, I certainly agree. Relativism is no longer just some dangerous intellectual phenomenon of the left, its political and cultural shockwaves emanating from an epicenter of university seminars on Heidegger and postwar French philosophy. Partisan politics in a divided red-blue America has much to do with its recent surge, with both right and left often clinging to faith, or political belief, at the expense of reason, both claiming to speak the truth even as the political culture comes increasingly to resemble Babel.

I'll leave my commentary at that. What do all of you think?

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Excellence personified: Tiger roars through St. Andrews

It's been a long time since I've written about sports here at The Reaction, perhaps because my fantasy baseball team is so disturbingly mediocre this year and because I'm still fed up with the NHL, but it's hard not to admire what Tiger Woods has done both throughout his career and, after a couple of "down" years, this year in particular.

And his victory at The British Open -- at St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf -- proves that he's back and as dominant as ever. It was Jack Nicklaus's last competitive tournament, and he went out with his characteristic grace. How fitting that Tiger, his heir as the greatest in the game -- took home the trophy.

The competition seems better than ever and everyone's gunning for him, but he's recovered his form and has reestablished himself as the world's preeminent golfer and, indeed, as one of the truly best athletes in any sport, period. We often look to sports for models of human excellence. That may sometimes lead to disappointment, when great athletes are revealed as frauds or otherwise as less than truly excellent (e.g., Barry Bonds), but, as Tiger wins his 10th major and as Lance Armstrong continues to lead the Tour de France, it's clear that there's still a good reason to do so.

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Apparently, the E.U. blows

A tip from VK (of DW&CS fame), who sent me the link to this BBC story on Friday:

Cocaine traces have been found at the European Parliament in an inquiry by one of Germany's main broadcasters.

The Sat-1 channel sent reporters to take 46 swabs from toilets and other public areas of the Brussels buildings. Nearly all tested positive for cocaine.

Yes, yes, I know. I'm sure there are any number of ways the cocaine could have gotten in there, and it may be somewhat presumptuous to point the finger at Europarliamentarians and/or their Eurostaffers and/or all those meddling, know-it-all Eurotechnocrats. But the next time the European Parliament does something stupid -- which could be any minute -- I'm sure this story will be in the back of not a few suspicious (and Eurosceptic) minds.

(Does the E.U. have a formal policy on Eurococaine?)

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Attila the Justice: How overturning Roe could help Democrats

Guest poster Morbo at The Carpetbagger Report argues that Bush will nominate Attila the Hun (or, more likely, some right-winger who resembles Attila the Hun -- ideologically and attitudinally, if not physically) but suggests that this might actually be a good thing. And it has to do with Roe.


Morbo: "[A] Bushified Supreme Court that starts trashing precedent in the area of reproductive choice might possibly provide the shock our political system needs to make people realize how scary the Republican Party's agenda really is... For too long, some moderates have felt they could vote for the GOP for fiscal reasons, even if they disagreed with that party's rigid stance on social issues... Perhaps when the Supreme Court can no longer be counted on to take a moderate course, [these moderates] will wake up, start living in the real world and confront the question they have so far evaded: What matters more to me -- my fundamental rights as a human being or a tax cut?" (Read the whole post. It's an interesting argument.)

In other words: In loss, Democrats will triumph. Well, maybe. I'm moderately pro-choice myself, and Morbo makes a good case that too much success will ultimately spell the Republicans' demise, but a) I still think Bush will nominate Gonzales; b) I don't think that Roe will ever be fully overturned -- there's no guarantee that a conservative like Luttig or McConnell would actually vote to overturn Roe (even if he or she would likely allow for further restrictions on abortion); and c) I've made the case -- to friends, if not yet at The Reaction -- that Republican over-reach on abortion, including a possible overturning of Roe by a more conservative Court, could blow the Republican "majority" to smithereens, but I'm awfully reluctant to take that risk for the sake of possible triumph down the road (after all, Morbo and I could be wrong).

Either way, it could be that Democrats/liberals will win... on abortion (if winning means maintaining Roe). And abortion is, to many, the key issue here -- for social conservatives and for many on the left. The problem is that an excessively conservative replacement for the moderate-pragmatic O'Connor would shift the Court's balance further to the right on many other issues. Abortion isn't the be all and end all of American jurisprudence, after all, and a more conservative Court -- a Court that embraces right-wing radicalism -- could end up wreaking havoc on American liberalism well beyond the single issue of reproductive choice.

And that's a bad thing.

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George W. and "the Laura factor"

Ann Althouse (see here) notes that Bush is looking seriously at women and minority candidates to fill O'Connor's spot on the Supreme Court. Why? Call it "the Laura factor":

Why is Bush homing in on Alberto Gonzales for the Supreme Court appointment, despite all the noisemaking by social conservatives who worry that he might not be pro-life? Maybe it's the Laura factor. Don't you think Laura Bush is telling him that he can't put someone on the Court who will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade? Appointing Gonzales is so perfect: he can pick his dear friend, he can have the distinction and the political advantage of appointing the first Hispanic Justice, he can deflect criticism from Democrats (who have to realize that Gonzales is the most liberal possible choice Bush can make) and from Republicans (who just don't have enough information to pin Gonzales down as pro-abortion), and he can do what his wife is (probably) telling him that he simply must do.

Put the Laura factor into the equation and the answer is obvious: Bush will pick Gonzales.

I'm generally against formal quotas, especially where an institution like the Supreme Court is involved, but it would make sense to replace O'Connor with another (qualified) woman or, barring that, with a (qualified) minority. I say "qualified" because I don't want to see token representation on the Court. I want qualified justices to make up the highest court in the land, and, obviously, there are many qualified women and minorities out there.

Bush has always had strong women around him, from his mother to Laura to Karen Hughes to Harriet Miers to Condi. I'm not sure if Ann is right -- no one knows what, if any, advice Laura is giving to her husband -- but let's hope that, in the end, Laura carries more weight than the extremists in Bush's base.

Thanks to Amba for the tip (see here). One final point: The Senate may have confirmed Janice Rogers Brown after the filibuster deal patched together by the Gang of 14, but I just don't think that Bush will go there again. Amba's right that Democrats would "fight her appointment tooth and nail". (I previously wrote about JRB here.)

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