Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Creed and Crazy

Glenn Greenwald, "The New York Times' Muslim problem" (April 26, 2010)

It looks like Ross Douthat picked the wrong month to try to pretend that threat-induced censorship is a uniquely Islamic practice. Corpus Christi is the same play that was scheduled and then canceled (and then re-scheduled) by the Manhattan Theater Club back in 1998 as a result of "anonymous telephone threats to burn down the theater, kill the staff, and 'exterminate' McNally." Both back then and now, leading the protests (though not the threats) was the Catholic League, denouncing the play as "blasphemous hate speech."

I abhor the threats of violence coming from fanatical Muslims over the expression of ideas they find offensive, as well as the cowardly institutions which acquiesce to the accompanying demands for censorship. I've vigorously condemned efforts to haul anti-Muslim polemicists before Canadian and European "human rights" (i.e., censorship) tribunals. But the very idea that such conduct is remotely unique to Muslims is delusional, the by-product of Douthat's ongoing use of his New York Times column for his anti-Muslim crusade and sectarian religious promotion.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Frum on Waterloo

David Frum, "Waterloo" (March 21, 2010)

Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.

It's hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. Conservatives may cheer themselves that they'll compensate for today's expected vote with a big win in the November 2010 elections. But:

(1) It's a good bet that conservatives are over-optimistic about November – by then the economy will have improved and the immediate goodies in the healthcare bill will be reaching key voting blocs.

(2) So what? Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now.

So far, I think a lot of conservatives will agree with me. Now comes the hard lesson:

A huge part of the blame for today's disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama's Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton's in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton's 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thinking Is For ....

Chez Pazienza, "On Second Thought"

Admittedly, there is such a thing as overthinking -- becoming paralyzed by your own ability to analyze the potential effect of every choice to the point where you become perpetually lost in minutiae and unable to act. Barack Obama is certainly wonky enough to get hamstrung by his own intellect, but have we really regressed to the point where we can't tolerate a few weeks worth of careful consideration before our president makes a choice with such potentially devastating ramifications? Have we already forgotten the last time a U.S. presidential administration, filled with hubris and certitude, barreled headlong into committing American lives to a war before trying to discern any clue what they hell they were doing?

Just a decade ago -- maybe even less -- the notion of taking a little while to think things over before rendering a decision still seemed like the wisest course of action, an action in and of itself. Now? Take even a day or so to measure your options and it's considered glacial -- because 24 hours, one full news cycle revolution on cable and in talk radio and the span in which 850-gazillion tweets were fired back and forth on Twitter, is like an eternity to us. While you were sitting there analyzing, Mr. Smarty Pants, everyone else was actually doing.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How It Goes

Andy Worthington, "Justice Department Pointlessly Gags Guantánamo Lawyer"

One of the saddest stories in Guantánamo is that of Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi, a Libyan married to an Afghan woman and with a newly-born baby daughter, who was running a small bakery in Jalalabad, Afghanistan at the time of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. Fearing that he would be seized in the widespread anti-Arab sentiment that followed the collapse of the Taliban, he traveled with his family to the house of his wife's parents, but instead of finding safety he was seized by bounty hunters and sold to US forces.

Al-Ghizzawi is clearly an innocent man. Back in 2004, when the Bush administration convened military review boards — the Combatant Status Review Tribunals — to review the prisoners' cases, his panel of three military officers concluded that there was insufficient evidence to declare him an "enemy combatant," and that he should therefore be released.

We know this because one of the members of this particular tribunal, Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a veteran of US intelligence who also compiled the information used in the tribunals, and who memorably declared in 2007 that they were severely flawed, relying on intelligence "of a generalized nature — often outdated, often 'generic,' rarely specifically relating to the individual subjects of the CSRTs or to the circumstances related to those individuals' status," wrote about serving on al-Ghizzawi's tribunal, explaining:

On one occasion, I was assigned to a CSRT panel with two other officers, an Air Force Colonel and an Air Force Major, the latter understood by me to be a judge advocate. We reviewed the evidence presented to us regarding the recommended status of [Mr. al-Ghizzawi]. All of us found the information presented to lack substance.

He added:

On the basis of the paucity and weakness of the information provided both during and after the CSRT hearing, we determined that there was no factual basis for concluding that the individual should be classified as an enemy combatant.

Lt. Col. Abraham also explained — as was backed up in October 2007 by a second whistleblower, an Army Major who had taken part in 49 tribunals — that unfavorable decisions were overruled by those in charge, who then convened a second tribunal to produce the desired result, and added that this is what had happened in the case of Mr. al-Ghizzawi. Lt. Col. Abraham and his fellow tribunal members were prohibited from taking part in any more tribunals, and a second, secret tribunal was held in Washington D.C., at which it was duly decided that Mr. al-Ghizzawi was an "enemy combatant" after all.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Got meat?

Nicolette Hahn Niman, "The Carnivore's Dilemma"

It's true that food production is an important contributor to climate change. And the claim that meat (especially beef) is closely linked to global warming has received some credible backing, including by the United Nations and University of Chicago. Both institutions have issued reports that have been widely summarized as condemning meat-eating.

But that's an overly simplistic conclusion to draw from the research. To a rancher like me, who raises cattle, goats and turkeys the traditional way (on grass), the studies show only that the prevailing methods of producing meat — that is, crowding animals together in factory farms, storing their waste in giant lagoons and cutting down forests to grow crops to feed them — cause substantial greenhouse gases. It could be, in fact, that a conscientious meat eater may have a more environmentally friendly diet than your average vegetarian.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Election Day: A brief consideration of a before and after

Frank Rich, "The G.O.P. Stalinists Invade Upstate New York" (Oct. 31, 2009)

David Horsey, SeattlePI.com, November 6, 2009The New York fracas was ignited by the routine decision of 11 local Republican county chairmen to anoint an assemblywoman, Dede Scozzafava, as their party's nominee for the vacant seat. The 23rd is in safe Republican territory that hasn't sent a Democrat to Congress in decades. And Scozzafava is a mainstream conservative by New York standards; one statistical measure found her voting record slightly to the right of her fellow Republicans in the Assembly. But she has occasionally strayed from orthodoxy on social issues (abortion, same-sex marriage) and endorsed the Obama stimulus package. To the right's Jacobins, that's cause to send her to the guillotine.

Sure enough, bloggers trashed her as a radical leftist and ditched her for a third-party candidate they deem a "true" conservative, an accountant and businessman named Doug Hoffman. When Gingrich dared endorse Scozzafava anyway — as did other party potentates like John Boehner and Michael Steele — he too was slimed. Mocking Newt's presumed 2012 presidential ambitions, Michelle Malkin imagined him appointing Al Sharpton as secretary of education and Al Gore as "global warming czar." She's quite the wit.

The wrecking crew of Kristol, Fred Thompson, Dick Armey, Michele Bachmann, The Wall Street Journal editorial page and the government-bashing Club for Growth all joined the Hoffman putsch. Then came the big enchilada: a Hoffman endorsement from Palin on her Facebook page. Such is Palin's clout that Steve Forbes, Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor (and presidential aspirant), promptly fell over one another in their Pavlovian rush to second her motion. They were joined by far-flung Republican congressmen from Kansas, Georgia, Oklahoma and California, not to mention a gaggle of state legislators from Colorado. On Fox News, Beck took up the charge, insinuating that Hoffman's Republican opponent might be a fan of Karl Marx. Some $3 million has now been dumped into this race by outside groups.

Who exactly is the third-party maverick arousing such ardor? Hoffman doesn't even live in the district. When he appeared before the editorial board of The Watertown Daily Times 10 days ago, he "showed no grasp" of local issues, as the subsequent editorial put it. Hoffman complained that he should have received the questions in advance — blissfully unaware that they had been asked by the paper in an editorial on the morning of his visit.

• • •

Eugene Robinson, "Attack of the Palinites" (Nov. 6, 2009)

The "tea party" conservatives -- led by Palin, Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Dick Armey and others fed up with the GOP "establishment" -- managed to get Democrat Bill Owens elected in a solidly Republican Upstate New York congressional district. They accomplished this feat by driving the Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, from the race because of her apostasy on abortion and gay rights.

The Palinites -- because of her star power, she's the de facto leader of the movement at this point, so it's fair to name it after her -- backed a third-party conservative named Doug Hoffman. Scozzafava pulled out and threw what support she had to Owens, who won by four points.

The net result is minus-one for the Republicans and plus-one for the Democrats in the House. That arithmetic seems to have escaped Erick Erickson, editor in chief of the Web site RedState.com, which is almost as influential in the tea party world as Palin's Facebook page. He wrote: "This is a huge win for conservatives. . . . We did exactly what we set out to do -- crush the establishment-backed GOP candidate."

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele crowed about winning the two governorships. "Assume the Heisman position. Yeah, baby. That's my moment," he said Wednesday on MSNBC. But even Steele couldn't find joy in the New York debacle. "I don't see a victory in losing seats," he said, quite logically.

The tea party people have made clear, however, that logic doesn't count -- and that this is just the beginning. The next target, now that they've made the world safe from Scozzafava, seems to be Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for the Senate. Crist committed the unforgivable sin of supporting Obama's stimulus bill and must face a conservative former state legislator, Marco Rubio, in the primary.

Erickson wrote that "if Crist wants to own the mantle of 'GOP Establishment Candidate,' let's tie it around his waist and throw him in one of Florida's many lagoons."

I guess Florida lagoons are a substitute for Siberian tundra.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Scary Future

Daniel Costello, "Golden Opportunity"

Historically, U.S. Treasury bills are considered to be one of the world's safest investments. But growing insecurity about the long term health of the U.S. economy and recent weakness in the dollar benefits gold, which is often used as an alternative asset hedge to a depreciating dollar.

What if investors are moving away from the dollar for good? Foreigners own a little more than half of publicly-held U.S. government securities, according to the Treasury Department. So if these foreigners - both central banks and private investors - decided to give their Treasury portfolio a heave-ho, it could leave to a devaluation of the greenback and rising interest rates, and the cost of borrowing for consumers and businesses could rise. That would be bad for economic growth.