Friday, April 19, 2002

Recommended reading

I just wanted to make a quick note of this one in case any of you were unfamiliar with it. Joe Sacco's artwork is simply extraordinary in its detail, and his stories of life in the occupied territories are more timely than ever. You can buy it on Amazon, though if you are fortunate enough to live near a comic shop or independent bookstore that might carry it, you should of course give them your business, because god knows they probably need it. But you should buy it in either case.

Prevarication 101: a Presidential Primer

From Michael Kinsely:

One problem with reality of the traditional sort is that the pieces have to fit together. In alternative reality there is no such tedious restraint. We brag about our devotion to spreading democracy, especially in Latin America, but we don't care at all for this pesky left-winger these fools in Venezuela seem to have elected. Oh, him? "He resigned," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer with no basis and no twinkle in his eye. It would be convenient if he had resigned and so: He resigned.

And then two days later the coup fizzled and the elected president was back. I mean, how embarrassing is that? Not very, if you just stick to your story. "The people have sent a clear message … that they want both democracy and reform," Fleischer revealed. He went on to lecture the restored president—whose overthrow we at least tacitly supported—about "governing in a fully democratic manner." And National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice joined in to tell the Venezuelan president not to be so "high-handed." Who could blame the man for thinking, "Only one of us was elected president by majority vote—and it isn't you, George."

The loyal opposition

Israel's defiance of a call by President Bush to withdraw from the West Bank has prompted an unexpected political reaction in America: a backlash against Bush for issuing the demand at all.

In the last week, leading Democrats such as Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) have joined conservative Republicans in denouncing Bush's call for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to end military operations against the Palestinians.

Many analysts believe that the uproar on the home front has contributed to Bush's muted protest of Sharon's defiance. That pattern continued Wednesday, when the president included only five words on an Israeli withdrawal in his speech at the Virginia Military Institute. The domestic criticism could also signal difficulties for the White House in advancing any peace process viewed as pressuring Sharon or legitimizing Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat...religious conservatives (have) become an increasingly important pro-Israeli force within the GOP. A group of leading religious conservatives, including (Gary) Bauer and the Rev. Jerry Falwell, urged Bush in their letter to "end the pressure on . . . Sharon so that he has the time necessary to complete the mission he has undertaken."

Democratic and Republican senators also entered the fray, sending Bush a letter late last week that echoed the statement from the Christian conservatives.

Its signers included liberals such as Clinton, Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Jon Corzine (D-N.J.), as well as Republican moderates Susan Collins of Maine and Gordon Smith of Oregon.

Last weekend at the Florida state Democratic Party convention in Orlando, Lieberman and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) received loud applause in denouncing Bush's pressure on Sharon.

Complete story in the LA Times.

The Washington Times examines the reasoning behind this Democratic attempt to outflank Bush from the right. (Yes, I know the Washington Times is a conservative paper--but these are, nonetheless, Democrats explaining their own strategy...)

Democrats are stepping up attacks on President Bush in the belief that growing criticism from his conservative base over his handling of the conflict in the Middle East and his domestic policies has begun to weaken him politically. "The Republicans have been calling any legitimate policy difference unpatriotic, and you can't do that when the incoming artillery is coming from your right flank, and that includes the Middle East," said Erik Smith, chief spokesman for House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri...

Democrats believe such criticism from Mr. Bush's conservative base has not only revealed a chink in his armor but presented an opportunity to attack more aggressively his foreign and domestic policies without seeming unpatriotic amid the war on terrorism...

Democratic strategists for Mr. Gephardt pointed to "the growing political divisions" between House Republican leaders and the Bush White House in a recent memorandum to House Democratic leaders and party activists.

"Democrats will continue to look for opportunities to exploit these differences," the memo said.


Thursday, April 18, 2002

A small cry for help

Did anyone out there happen to get the whole run of the late, lamented live-action Tick series on tape? And if so, do you have dubbing capabilities? I'm kicking myself for not taping them, but gosh, who could have possibly foreseen that that one wasn't going to last long?

And one more

ASSOCIATED PRESS: Despite a massive number of tips, rumors and other intelligence, the U.S. military has never had good enough information on Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts to mount a mission to go after him, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday.

August caught this one, and it inspired a good rant on his part:

The Defense Secretary of the United States- the man who pretty much answers only to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President himself over the military actions of the country, announced today, without immediately resigning afterwards, that although we bombed an entire country, killed thousands of people, and intervened in specific governmental regime changes because it might have hosted a man from a different country, we didn’t really have enough information to merit doing it.

I can’t even attempt to feign some mellow rational tone of voice. I just can’t do it. It’s psychotic nutcase liberal hippie commie tree-hugger go-back-to-Russia screaming time.

Go to his site for the rest.

Democracy in action

One of the most shameful occurrences during the last few days was the support of America's leading newspapers for the Venezuelan coup. The New York Times  and The Washington Post  both resoundingly endorsed the military coup in their Saturday editorials. The editorial boards of these newspapers ought to engage in some serious soul-searching as to how they could so easily abandon the most fundamental principles of democracy.

More here. Link stolen from Narconews, which has more analysis of the coup that's also worth going through.

Cheery thought for the morning

George W. Bush is a geopolitical incompetent. He has allowed a clique of hawks to induce him to take a position on invading Iraq from which he cannot extract himself, one which will have nothing but negative consequences for the United States--and the rest of the world. He will find himself badly hurt politically, perhaps fatally. And he will rapidly diminish the already declining power of the United States in the world. A war against Iraq will destroy many lives immediately, both Iraqi and American, because it seems clear that high-altitude, surgical-strike air attacks will not suffice in military terms. Invading Iraq will lead to a degree of turmoil in the Arab-Islamic world hitherto unimagined. Other Arab leaders don't like Saddam Hussein one bit, but their populations won't stand for what they will inevitably feel is an unprovoked attack on an Arab state, leaving leaders with little choice but to be swept along in the turmoil or drown. And an attack on Iraq might ultimately spark the use of nuclear weapons, which, if unleashed now, will be hard to again make illegitimate. Iraq may not have such weapons yet, but we can't be sure. Even if it doesn't, might it not attack Israel with conventional missiles that would prompt Israel to respond with the nuclear weapons we know it has? For that matter, are we really sure that, if the fighting gets tough, the U.S. is not ready to use tactical nuclear weapons?

* * *

Bush promised the U.S. people a "war on terrorism" that "we will certainly win." So far, all he's produced is the downfall of the weak and impoverished Taliban. He hasn't captured Bin Laden. Pakistan is shaky. Saudi Arabia is pulling away. If he doesn't invade Iraq, he will look foolish where it matters to him most--in the eyes of American voters. And he is being told this, in no uncertain terms, by his advisors on internal U.S. politics. Bush's incredibly high approval ratings reflect his being a "war president." The minute he becomes a peace-time president, he will be in grave trouble--all the more so because of failed wartime promises.

Complete article here. Link via the invaluable Cursor.


Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Didn't there used to be a season between winter and summer?

I have this vague recollection of a sort of transitional phase--you know, blustery winds, pleasantly cool weather, that sort of thing.

On Fox News today, Neal Cavuto said something to the effect that "It makes you think Al Gore was right" about all that global warming craziness. And he and his co-anchor laughed nervously and quickly moved on to the next story.


Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Guess the author

My vote is that Ariel Sharon's offensive is the stupidest campaign in recent memory. Defined here as a campaign that has solved nothing, increased Israel's problems, intensified Palestinian hatred of Israel, estranged many Europeans and Americans, and fanned Islamic hostility ... What Sharon has been doing is to give way to Israeli rage. The rage is hot, deserved and purposive. But to proceed on the assumption that water and electricity lines and schools and hospitals are vital organs of terrorist excursions is untenable except on an understanding that General Sharon hasn't articulated.

Answer here. Link via Xoverboard.

Fun in the Bushes

Alert reader "Oscar O." brings this one to my attention:

Asked whether the administration now recognizes Mr. Chávez as Venezuela's legitimate president, one administration official replied, "He was democratically elected," then added, "Legitimacy is something that is conferred not just by a majority of the voters, however."

Overlapping realities

By Israeli novelist Amos Oz, a founder of the Peace Now movement:

Two Palestinian-Israeli wars have erupted in this region. One is the Palestinian nation's war for its freedom from occupation and for its right to independent statehood. Any decent person ought to support this cause. The second war is waged by fanatical Islam, from Iran to Gaza and from Lebanon to Ramallah, to destroy Israel and drive the Jews out of their land. Any decent person ought to abhor this cause.

Yasser Arafat and his men are running both wars simultaneously, pretending they are one. The suicide killers evidently make no distinction. Much of the worldwide bafflement about the Middle East, much of the confusion among the Israelis themselves, stem from the overlap between these two wars.

Decent peace seekers, in Israel and elsewhere, are often drawn into simplistic positions. They either defend Israel's continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by claiming that Israel has been targeted by Muslim holy war ever since its foundation in 1948, or else they vilify Israel on the grounds that nothing but the occupation prevents a just and lasting peace.

One simplistic argument allows Palestinians to kill all Israelis on the basis of their natural right to resist occupation. An equally simplistic counter-argument allows Israelis to oppress all Palestinians because an all-out Islamic jihad has been launched against them.


Signs o' the times

At the pro-Israel rally in DC yesterday, Paul Wolfowitz was booed down after making this remark:

"Israelis are not the only victims of the violence in the Middle East. Innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying in great numbers as well. It is critical that we recognize and acknowledge that fact."

So. It is not permissible for even Wolfowitz, the hardest of hardliners, the fiercest of hawks, to acknowledge the reality that "innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying."

Boy, are we screwed.

Surely it must be clear to any rational person that a truly independent Palestinian state is the only way out of this mess. And the only way to get there is for both sides to acknowledge the legitimacy of the other's grievances.

As one reader wrote me this morning, "What makes this whole Israel/Palestine situation so messy is that people think they can just 'choose sides', as if it is that easy to sort out the good from the bad . . . sounds like the Bush-doctrine-mentality (ie absolutism) to me..." He goes on to note: "Israel needs to do the honorable thing and withdraw troops to their side of the green line, and make the settlers return to Israel proper (ideally, buy them off). At this point it would be clear what the war is about, if it is still going on. ie, if the occupation is over, but terrorist attacks continue, then Israel obviously needs to do what it must preserve itself. (However) they cannot believably claim that it is not a war of occupation as long as the occupation is going on."

The Palestinians are a brutally oppressed people--and Israel is a nation under siege. The deaths of 400 Israeli civilians since the start of this latest intifada are senseless and tragic and maddening--as are the deaths of 1500 Palestinians during that same time.

And if you read that last bit and vehemently disagreed with half of it, and are already composing a response in your head to explain why the side with which you are aligned is morally superior to the side with which you disagree--well, that's kind of the problem at this point, isn't it?

I'm not so arrogant as to believe I have the One Absolute Answer here. I'm just thinking it would be kind of nice to avoid World War III this year, you know?


Monday, April 15, 2002

Hey, kids! Let's solve the Mideast crisis!

Or not. Two from the mailbag...

Hi, Tom - I'm a devoted fan who agrees with your perspective 99% of the
time. While your self-described futile plea in Salon today was
well-intentioned, I must disagree with this one - actually, defending
your homeland from a terrorist organization dedicated to driving you and
your people into the sea IS worth the loss of a human life - and the
people who risk their lives daily to fight this terrorist organization
that masquerades as the leadership of the Palestinian people are better
people than you or I, for that matter.

I feel for the plight of the Palestinian civilians caught in the middle,
but Israel has said repeatedly they want two independent states living
side by side, and the Palestinians (who, by the way, cheered as your
beloved WTC fell and rabidly support chemical weapons cheiftan Saddam
Hussein) have said repeatedly that they want to eliminate Israel from
the planet. For Israel, that is worth fighting and dying for.

I'm afraid you're promoting moral equivalence when in fact it's clear
the Palestinians have been itching for war; now that they have it, they
play victim. Tom Friedman was right: if the Palestinians had taken the
Gandhi appraoch instead of the Osama approach, they would have had a
state thirty years ago. Instead, all they want is Israeli blood, and
when they get a taste of their own, they wail.

A related question: All those protestors in Europe carrying placards
praising Arafat, why weren't they protesting when Israeli civilians were
being blown up as they sat in restaurants and commuted in buses?

Anyway, Tom, you can't be right all the time. I remain a devoted fan.

* * *

Oh, foul betrayal.

First there was Christopher Hitchens' metamorphosis of Sept. 12, when,
Gregor Samsa-like he became a busy little dung beetle, forever crafting
turd balls and feuding over them ever since. Then there was peace icon,
Richard Falk, defending unilateralism (and even the death penalty) with all
the ingenuous charm of Henry Kissinger. And look, there went Polly Toynbee
of the erstwhile Guardian -- "Bombing works!" she exclaimed happily. Todd
Gitlin -- "Doesn't American pain count too?" whined he in Mother
Jones" Salman Rushdie in the New York Times: "The Bush administration did
what needed to be done and did it well." Oh God -- thinking over it all, I
don't know whether to throw up or cry -- but I truly was adjusting and,
happily, in the process I made the wonderful acquaintance of Tariq Ali,
Robert Fisk, Arundhati Roy, Mark Steel and others. My Kevin McCarthy -
looking - stricken -at- Dana Wynter moments were less frequent. I was
getting better.

So imagine the setback when the nation's most consistently incisive and
funny political cartoonist today proclaimed his membership in the
Peas-In-a-Pod school of Middle East moral analysis. I am shocked. You are
clearly a well-informed human being, so I won't attempt to dissuade you
with facts you already know. I will however, ask you a few questions. I
am not asking them rhetorically, at least not entirely. When someone I
respect comes out of left field (or, rather, right field) I am truly
curious about how they came to that position. So, here goes:

Do you honestly see the Palestinian conflict as a clash of religious
extremisms and nothing more? Put another way, do you think the
Palestinians would readily indulge a brutual and illegal 36-year
occupation if its agents were Muslims rather than Jews? Do you believe that
having grown up a free agent in a prosperous and independent democracy, you
could spend even a year in Gaza without wanting to kill someone? Are you
so compassionate that, were you Palestinian, you could readily absolve all
the occupying power's citizens of complicity in your struggle when they
reside in a country that regularly congratulates itself for the regional
singularity of its democracy and free press, whose citizens voted
overwhelmingly in favor of someone their own government
officially implicated in war crimes against your brethren, where every
adult is an army reservist, and where population growth and dispersion is a
strategy for making your subjection permanent?

Please -- I'm dying to know. For me the good guys and bad guys here are so
obvious and the question of "Oh, what's to be done?" so incomprehensibly
stupid as to defy faith in the intelligence of anyone posing it. Since I
don't imagine too many people would give up their land and homes based on
ancient faith-based claims, (or even an ancient deeds, for that matter) I
keep wondering what the hell I'm missing. You're one of the prominent
voices in American media still worth listening to. So please explain.

And if you have a mind to, here's some more fodder for thought: all this
talk of good and evil, innocence and guilt, and the REALLY BIG DIFFERENCE
between intentionally killing someone versus not really caring if you kill
them or not has made me think a lot about morals and murder. Along side
this, tax day has made me think a lot about the idea of democracy and
complicity. This came to a head today when I filled out my tax form and
briefly considered not sending in the additional money I owed (as a protest
over our support for Israel and the way the War on Terror has been thus far
prosecuted) and then chickened out. At that precise moment, I felt I
chose, for purely selfish reasons, my government over those my government
might shit on and am thus responsible for whatever my government does with
the money I gave it. So a few questions on these lines:

1. Why shouldn't oppressed people hold the citizens in oppressive
democracies accountable, especially when we make much of just how
democratic we are to the rest of the world? Would the attack of 9/11 been
at all morally different if its agents really had a legitimate gripe? I
trust you won't respond by telling me it's wrong to even pose the
question. I would then have to stop reading you altogether as I have Hitchens.

2. When, if ever, is killing another human being defensible?

3. What is the moral distinction between killing a "civililian" and
killing some hapless 18-year-old conscript drafted by a dictator? Along
the same lines, what morally distinguishes killing a defenseless adult from
killing a defenseless child?

Ever since 9-11 I've felt that we're up to our eyeballs in
hypocrisy. Morality appears to be is whatever we say it is. Meanwhile an
army of pundits and editors has fortified us against any serious moral
discussion with an endless barrage of ad hominems lobbed at anyone in
search of nuance. I think all the outrage over suicide bombings is the
most dramatic example of this. Where, exactly, is the compass?

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Once again, the unpleasant reality of deadlines intrudes into my happy-go-lucky life. It's almost like having a job or something. I'll catch up with you in a day or two.


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