Saturday, August 13, 2005

Democrats, Republicans, and the NARAL controversy

And what a controversy it is. Kevin Drum compares NARAL's anti-Roberts campaign to last year's Swift Boat ads and concludes that Democrats just can't compete with Republicans on the playing field of negativity. But:

I think that playing by a higher set of standards than Republicans is in the best interests of the Democratic party in any case. Liberalism simply doesn't flourish in the climate of fear and rage that works so well for conservatives, and I think that in the long run we do ourselves a disservice when we help create a climate like that.

Which is not to say that Democrats shouldn't be vigorous and unyielding in their views. They should. They just shouldn't be dumb about it. Public support for George Bush and the Republicans may be slipping, but it would be nice if that eventually turned into active support for Democrats, rather than merely an occasional grudging vote because the other guys are worse. So far it hasn't.

Yes, how nice it would be.

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Friday, August 12, 2005

Vivek Krishnamurthy at The Reaction

Just a quick post to let you all know that I'll be on vacation -- in Prince Edward Island, the most beautiful place in the world -- from today, Aug. 12 to Monday, Aug. 22. I intend to post while on vacation, but I may only be able to do so irregularly.

I've invited my friend, colleague, and fellow blogger Vivek Krishnamurthy to be The Reaction's guest blogger while I'm away. He intends to post daily, and I think you'll like his stuff a great deal. He's an excellent writer, he's always engaging, and, well, he's got a lot to say on a wide array of topics. More, he's one of the smartest people I know, and it's a pleasure to welcome him to The Reaction and to introduce him to you. I hope you keep coming back to read his posts, and, as always, I encourage you to offer your comments.

Take care, everyone.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Iranian leader issues fatwa against nuclear weapons

Iran today broke the seals at one of its nuclear facilities. Needless to say, that seems like awfully bad news, though Iran may be as much as a decade away from nuclear weaponry. But there's a bigger story out there, and it's not getting nearly enough coverage in the media:

The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the real leader of Iran, has issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons. At an emergency meeting of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Iran issued the following statement, which I quote from the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA):

We meet when the world is remembering the atomic bombings of the civilians in Hiroshima (Aug 6) and Nagasaki (Aug 9) sixty years ago.

The savagery of the attack, the human suffering it caused, the scale of the civilian loss of life turning individuals, old and young, into ashes in a split second, and maiming indefinitely those who survived should never be removed from our memory. It is the most absurd manifestation of irony that the single state who caused this single nuclear catastrophe in a twin attack on our earth now has assumed the role of the prime preacher in the nuclear field while ever expanding its nuclear weapons capability...

Indeed, it is not only Iran but also many members of NAM (the Non-Aligned Movement) that are denied the peaceful uses of nuclear technology by some of the NPT nuclear-weapon states and their allies through the mechanisms of export controls and other denial arrangements. In 1995, they adopted the so-called "Iran clause" under which they agreed to deny nuclear technology to Iran in any circumstances.

You can then understand, why Iran after being denied nuclear technology in violation of the NPT, had no other option but to rely on indigenous efforts with precaution on full transparency and we succeeded in developing our nuclear technology. Iran is a nuclear fuel cycle technology holder, a capability which is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

The Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued the Fatwa that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who took office just recently, in his inaugural address reiterated that his government is against weapons of mass destruction and will only pursue nuclear activities in the peaceful domain. The leadership of Iran has pledged at the highest level that Iran will remain a non-nuclear-weapon state party to the NPT and has placed the entire scope of its nuclear activities under IAEA safeguards and additional protocol, in addition to undertaking voluntary transparency measures with the agency that have even gone beyond the requirements of the agency's safeguard system.

Yes, there's the predictable anti-Americanism here -- and one worries about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's blend of anti-Americanism and economic populism -- but the fatwa itself is extraordinary. It may be seen as something of a smokescreen, even as a lie, and there may be nothing to prevent Iran from shifting its allegedly peaceful use of nuclear power over to weapons-production sometime down the road, but, for now, Iran's pledge seems to be a promising development.

We shall see. (In the meantime, remain hopeful, if skeptical.)

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So much for the mayor of Baghdad

From the Times (see here):

Armed men entered Baghdad's municipal building during a blinding dust storm on Monday, deposed the city's mayor and installed a member of Iraq's most powerful Shiite militia...

The deposed mayor, Alaa al-Tamimi [appointed by Paul Bremer, then by the central government], who was not in his offices at the time, recounted the events in a telephone interview on Tuesday and called the move a municipal coup d'├ętat. He added that he had gone into hiding for fear of his life.

"This is the new Iraq," said Mr. Tamimi, a secular engineer with no party affiliation. "They use force to achieve their goal."

The group that ousted him insisted that it had the authority to assume control of Iraq's capital city and that Mr. Tamimi was in no danger. The man the group installed, Hussein al-Tahaan, is a member of the Badr Organization, the armed militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, known as Sciri.

Ah, local politics. This looks like a coup, but it may reflect nothing more than political rivalry between the mayor's office and the city council:

Baghdad is the only city in Iraq that is its own province, and the city council had previously appointed Mr. Tahaan as governor of Baghdad province, with some responsibilities parallel to Mr. Tamimi's. But the mayor's office was clearly the more powerful office, a fact that proved to be a painful thorn in the side of Mr. Makkia [the elected city council chief, and a member of the Shiite party that dominated the January elections], who believed that the council, which he controls, should hold sway in Baghdad.

And now, apparently, it does.

For more, see:

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Oil-for-food-for-money: Kickbacks at the United Nations

I've never been one to pile on the United Nations -- I generally like it for what it is, a forum for international dialogue with limited capacity to manage relief and peace-keeping efforts around the world -- but this isn't good. You don't have to support Bolton to know that something has to be done to reform this corruption-plagued, scandal-ridden institution.

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Valerie Plame's husband speaks the truth

Over at The Left Coaster, eriposte has a fascinating Q&A with Ambassador Joseph Wilson (you know, the no-uranium-in-Niger guy, now a supporting character in The Plame Game -- a.k.a., Rovegate), along with some excellent commentary. Good stuff, and a must-read.

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Rough waters for John Roberts

Maybe.

Advocacy groups are emerging to take stands on the Roberts nomination. Predictably, the right is for it and the left is against it. But there is now at least one exception to that rule of polarized partisan politics: A group called Public Advocate of the United States (a "pro-family" organization) has declared its opposition to Roberts. Why, you ask? What could have driven them to such a heretical position? Why, gay rights in Colorado, of course:

The Colorado gay rights case involved Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1992 that would have barred laws, ordinances or regulations protecting gays from discrimination by landlords, employers or public agencies such as school districts.

Gay rights groups sued, and the U.S. Supreme Court declared the measure unconstitutional in a 6-3 ruling in 1996.

What was Roberts's grave sin? Well, "[his] role in the case included helping develop a strategy and firing tough questions during a mock court session at Jean Dubofsky, a former Colorado Supreme Court justice who argued the case on behalf of the gay rights plaintiffs". Shame on him, obviously. (In case you're a literalist, this is called sarcasm. I think my views on gay rights are quite clear (and well-known to many of you): see here, here, here, and here.)

Last year, Eugene Delgaudio, the president of PAUS, criticized Vice President Cheney for saying that "freedom means freedom for everyone". How did Delgaudio put it? "'Freedom' is not embracing perversion." That should tell you all you need to know about this latest addition to the anti-Roberts campaign.

I understand (and sympathize with) the opposition of certain liberal groups who worry about Roberts's views on abortion, privacy, and civil rights, but, as I've written before, he seems to me to be an acceptable nominee who could turn out to be a pleasant surprise as Supreme Court justice.

Don't get me wrong: He's not perfect, and he wouldn't exactly have been my pick, but is he really so bad?

For more, see:

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Is Maureen Dowd worth $1.15?

After a long summer leave, Maureen Dowd's back at the Times.

And -- guess what? -- she picks up right where she left off back in May, writing snappy one-liners, gluing them together, and calling the resulting patchwork of banality -- usually either an attack on "W." or a complaint about masculinity -- a column.

You know, I used to like her. And I want to like her again. I really do. (Honest.) But now, like Thomas Friedman and his "flat" earth theory, she just preaches the predictable with repetitive abandon. Read one and you've read 'em all. Such is the unoriginality that plagues the formidable op-ed page of the nation's newspaper of record.

And it's not just Dowd and Friedman. Tell me honestly that anything one of the other columnists writes ever surprises you. Paul Krugman and David Brooks are fine writers, but do you ever read one of their columns and say, "Wow, that's brilliant!" Hardly. Nicholas Kristof occasionally does some really good stuff, like his work on the Mukhtaran Bibi story, and Frank Rich exhibits dashes of brilliance that set him apart from the mass of mediocrity that is the mainstream commentariat, but these days I find myself mostly looking and clicking away to much better stuff elsewhere.

So is Maureen Dowd worth $1.15, as I suggested? Or how about $3.42, as Slate's readers suggested?

Either way, I just wish she -- and the Times -- would do better.

Because, otherwise, who cares anymore?

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Hiroshima, mes amis

Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Tuesday will mark the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki.

(How about a moment of silence in the blogosphere -- or at least here at The Reaction?)

I'm not sure what to write.

Nothing seems appropriate, but I wanted at least to mention these anniversaries and to acknowledge two of the most gruesome events in history. In our sped-up world, a world dominated by present sensations and future-oriented longings, a world in some respects careening out of control, we seem to be losing much of our historical memory. We barely remember what happened 60 days ago, let alone 60 years ago. To some extent, this is necessary, and we seem to be even more aware of this post-9/11. How are we to deal with what happened on 9/11 without at least some irony and self-forgetting? This is why Gilbert Gottfried's now-(in)famous "Aristocrat" joke was so cathartic and why -- as I learned from Wim Wenders's ode to Yasujiro Ozu, Tokyo-Ga (***) -- so many Japanese turned to mind-numbing games like pachinko to help them overcome the emotional devastation of World War II (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

But what happens with the passage of time, especially six decades? Who now remembers, for example, that virtually an entire generation was lost on the battlefields of World War I (see Paul Fussell's magnificant The Great War and Modern Memory, as well as Jonathan Vance's fascinating Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War)?

Except in highly nationalistic countries like Serbia (or the philosophically-oriented and deeply patriotic U.S.), where history has been turned into mythology for the sake of national self-identity, modern (and postmodern) societies seem to be losing their connectedness to the past through the encroaching diminution of historical memory. Again, some degree of self-forgetting is understandable (and even advisable), but what happens, say, when Germans forget their Nazi past or the Russians their Soviet past? Or when we all forget that hundreds of thousands of innocent people died at the end of World War II?

Perhaps, as Max Boot has put it in the L.A. Times, the "the atomic bombing of Japan" wasn't "a uniquely reprehensible event," and those who continue to attack the U.S. for its decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki often fail to take into account what would have been the alternative course of events -- that is, a long, drawn-out, and horrendously bloody ground invasion of Japan and its network of outlying islands by mostly American and British forces, leading perhaps to even greater loss of life and an annihilated Japan that wouldn't have been able to recover as quickly and as peacefully as it did. But this doesn't mean that what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki shouldn't continue to be remembered, or that the loss of life shouldn't continue to be mourned. On the contrary, they may be taken a single discrete event that both ended a war and, in more lasting terms, provide us with a sorrowful glimpse into what we are capable of as human beings. We must remember what happened, but we must also learn from what happened.

And the Japanese? I can hardly imagine what Hiroshima and Nagasaki mean to them. Akira Kurosawa's Rhapsody in August (***1/2) tells us something about the long-term, Shohei Imamura's Black Rain (***1/2), based on the Masuji Ibuse's novel, something about the short-term, Alain Resnais's Hiroshima, Mon Amour (***1/2) about historical memory more generally, but the collective Japanese memory of the bombings and their aftermath seems to be mired in complexity and generational drift. For someone like Joichi Ito, who was born in 1966, "the bombings don't really matter," either personally or to his generation:

For my generation, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and the war in general now represent the equivalent of a cultural "game over" or "reset" button. Through a combination of conscious policy and unconscious culture, the painful memories and images of the war have lost their context, surfacing only as twisted echoes in our subculture. The result, for better and worse, is that, 60 years after Hiroshima, we dwell more on the future than the past.

Yet about 55,000 people turned up at Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park in remembrance of the 60th anniversary of the bombing, with countless others around the world remembering that awful day along with them. Memory may be fading, interest may be sagging, and the remaining hibakusha (survivors of the bombings) may slowly be passing away, but it remains imperative that those of us caught up in the whirlwind of modern life, those of us for whom history may be a burden, remain connected to the past and to the events that have shaped our world and our places in it. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively, are two such milestones of human history.

And we must never forget.

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That giant sucking sound you hear is President Bush's support among the American people evaporating into oblivion...

According to Newsweek, Bush's approval rating on Iraq is down to 34 percent -- his disapproval rating is 61 percent. It's the lowest it's ever been. In addition: "50 percent of those polled say the United States is losing ground in its efforts to establish security and democracy in Iraq; just 40 percent say the U.S. is making progress there."

I'm not one to place too much emphasis on polls (even though I've written about them here, here, and here), but these numbers are staggering. Bush, after all, ran for re-election as a war president, but neither the war on terror (where's Osama?) nor Iraq (is it getting worse?) seems to be going all that well. Again, what if we could do 2004 all over again?

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The Norquist model: How important is party unity?

Mark Schmitt has an excellent post at The Decembrist on whether or not the Democrats should emulate the Republicans in terms of party unity (specifically, the unity-enforcement strategies of Grover Norquist and the Club for Growth). Some on the left argue that the Democrats should mirror the Republicans and enforce ideological unity/purity: "The latest expression of this view is from David Sirota, who argues that Democratic members of Congress who voted for CAFTA should be held "accountable" by the same vicious mechanism by which Norquist holds moderate Republicans accountable."

In my view, Mark is quite right. Whether you support CAFTA or not -- Mark opposes it, I support it with serious reservations -- there's no need for Democrats to enforce party unity on trade. Or, indeed, on most other issues:

There are issues that call for absolute party unity. Social Security was certainly one of them, the cornerstone of FDR's legacy. It was absolutely right to discourage Democrats from even opening the door to negotiations on phase-out, knowing what the consequences would be. But this has not been without cost. The public perception that Democrats were not allowed to think for themselves or collaborate on a bipartisan objective is part of the reason we have a damaged brand. Insisting on party unity was the right thing to do on Social Security, but that cannot apply to every issue...

There are moments when absolute party unity should be enforced by those who are in a position to enforce it. But for each of us to demand absolute party unity around the issue positions that we ourselves happen to hold, as Sirota does in insisting that Dems who don't hold his views on trade be "held accountable" seems to me a recipe for a much deeper form of divisiveness. There are ways to gain and exercise power in this democracy other than the Norquist way, which is unprecedented and ultimately self-destructive.

The U.S. doesn't have a parliamentary system, where the governing party (or coalition of parties) must be able to push through its legislation or step aside for lack of confidence. In the American presidential system, the executive and legislative branches of government are separate, which means that the government does not reside exclusively in the legislature and is not simply formed by the party (or coalition of parties) with the most seats. Thus there are no "confidence" votes in Congress because there is no "government" in Congress. Every vote in Congress is a free vote, where each individual member is free to vote either with his or her party or against it.

Simply put, the two parties in America's two-party system are umbrella parties. As I've put it before, they're "big-tent parties, and electoral success often means harnessing the strengths of internal diversity and translating them into a coherent platform with broad appeal to a diverse electorate. (If you want ideologically rigid parties, go to Europe and seek out PR electoral systems.) Internal debates may be useful in a stimulating sort of way, and I certainly prefer parties that allow for dissent over ones that enforce conformity, but narrow ideological squabbling tends to be counter-productive by diverting attention away from the ultimate goal of electing candidates."

To be sure, a party does need unity in order to win -- to a degree. The different factions within a party need to agree to disagree and to rally together behind a common platform against a common opponent. But such unity doesn't require ideological purity, and there's no need for Democrats -- who are doing well already -- to emulate Republicans in this regard. The Norquist model has contributed to Republican electoral success, but the price of ideological purity is, in the end, extremism and, as a consequence, electoral failure.

And that's exactly where the idolized Republicans are headed.

(Thanks to CommonSenseDesk for the tip.)

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