Thursday, September 06, 2007



Democrats -- who voters put in charge to end this war -- are panicked that "some" might criticize them for working to end an unpopular president's unpopular war. Yet the other side, instead of cowering in terror, show they have the cojones to take a patently unpopular position with the merest hint of fear.

Democrats still think voters consider them "weak" because of policy positions. In reality, it's because they don't have the force of conviction to act forcefully for what they believe in.


It's no contest. Democrats are on the retreat, Republicans are on the offensive. And all of this after Congress' own report showed that next-to-nothing has improved in Iraq during the "surge".

Meanwhile, those of us outside the Beltway are left looking on in bewilderment, scratching our heads trying to figure out how our party could be so terribly clueless.

last month:

It's amazing that they have to re-learn this lesson again and again, but what can we do. Eventually, you figure the lesson will have to sink in.

And to think it was only a few short years ago that Bush was being derided by Democrats for his unwillingness to learn from his "mistakes". How bad does it have to get in Iraq before Bush learns? How many times do the Dems have to get "beat" before they learn? How many times does the netroots have to re-learn a lesson again and again until it stops scratching its collective head? It is indeed amazing, although the rest of us have stopped expecting that the lesson will have to sink in. How do you break it to a man who can't understand why he hasn't scored a knockout that he isn't even standing in the goddamned ring?

Look. I've got plenty of philosophical differences with liberals. At the street level as well, I understand that, if history is any guide, when push comes to shove they will not have my back and will sell out in a heartbeat the movements and ideals about which I've come to care.

I'm also not ignorant of the tactical situation, and I don't relish fratricide, circular firing squads, or unproductive sectarianism. The Right is monstrous and must be stopped. We can agree on that much. But if the Democrats keep scratching their heads about Bush, and the netroots keeps scratching their heads about the Dems, the Right will just keep winning no matter how unpopular they become.

The only reason I'm singling out Kos is that he has a massive readership, an infrastructure and cash-flow, and is a clearly talented organizer. Although he denies being the leader of the Kossacks, and I agree he isn't, his opinions are exemplary of a certain faction. As are Atrios', as are Digby's, as are Greenwald's. As YearlyKos attests, this is a faction with some actual power. So all credit where it's due for all the hard work that's been done digging us out from under the avalanche of right-wing bullshit, and for the record, I have an especially great respect for Greenwald's work.

BUT...maybe its time to re-examine some core assumptions. Maybe it's time to change tactics or strategy. Maybe it's time to shift the focus on issues. Maybe if you can't figure out how your party can be so terribly clueless it's time to rethink your analysis and question your perception. What is more ridiculous, the clueless man or the person who continues to believe that such a man will eventually get a clue?

Is your party actually clueless? You don't believe Bush when he gives reasons for his actions, why do you believe Democrats when they talk about their fear? Do they have no reason to lie? What is your party anyway? What does it do? How does it work? What are parties for? What is a party? You've certainly won overwhelmingly in the court of public opinion. But you've failed so spectacularly in taking your government back and taking your party back, maybe its time to broaden your analysis and achieve a perspective that accounts for all the headscratching quandaries you find yourselves in. Maybe it's time to find out which courts actually count.

Maybe since you've pulled all the levers of control you can think to pull and are not getting the results you want, it's time to consider that there may be other levers of control. Maybe it's time to consider that the problem is NOT that you're not pulling hard enough, but that there are other things to pull. Or that there might be some things to push.

After Tet, in 1968, The Joint Chiefs of Staff considered sending more troops to Vietnam. They chose not to because they feared that they wouldn't have enough remaining for control of the domestic population. This was a problem for them because they believed, rightly, that the domestic population was out of their control.

Every day the top ten liberal blogs are visited by millions of readers. We could shut down New York City for at least a day with only 15,000 people acting non-violently. They'd be risking at most some minor bodily injury and a night or two in jail. Do you think our rulers would remain clueless after watching the Empire City grind to a halt and billions of dollars go out of their pockets? Do you think they'd ignore you then?

Do you want the war to end? Do you want to stop its expansion? Do you want to stop an historic atrocity? Do you want your government to stop being the greatest purveyor of terror on the planet? Are you willing to consider that the people you dismiss as crazy, just as Very Serious People dismiss you, might be on to something however vague and imperfect? That maybe they could use your help? Are you willing to consider that perhaps the people you deride for hiding behind ideological purity to zero practical effect could level that charge at you with equal justice? Or do you want to scratch your heads?

Recently Digby, after being punked by the Dems for the n-th time, to her credit simply admitted:

I honestly don't know what else to do.

Good. Me neither. Run with it.

law of institutions 

Two in a row. Jon Schwarz has an excellent post up about The Iron Law of Institutions which explains...well, it explains a lot. The Law runs thus:

the people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution "fail" while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to "succeed" if that requires them to lose power within the institution.

Schwarz gives a few examples and references the excellent Walter Karp, one of the most insightful writers on American politics bar none. It is heartening to see Karp's name pop up every now and again since he deserves to be much more widely read. One of Karp's most revealing and instructive anecdotes:

It was a Republican state party boss, Senator Boies Penrose of Pennsylvania, who early this century stated with notable candor the basic principle and purpose of present-day party politics. In the face of a powerful state and national resurgence of reform and the sentiments of the majority of the Republican rank and file, Penrose put up a losing slate of stand-pat party hacks. When a fellow Republican accused him of ruining the party, Penrose replied, "Yes, but I'll preside over the ruins."

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Harsh and dreadful love 

The above is a phrase from Dorothy Day.

At the Nation there is an excellent conversation about Mother Teresa with Richard Rodriguez, the gay Catholic essayist and scholar. I often think about the ambiguous figure of Mother Teresa, and was very interested in the recent release of letters expressing her lifelong doubts. The very common hatred of and resentment towards Mother Teresa today is incredibly revealing. I know that she is ambiguous. I know that her financial practices were potentially problematic--she received hundreds of millions of dollars in donations and most of that money went straight to the Vatican, not to her work with the Missionaries of Charity.

But the common criticism of Teresa, that she didn't work on the "root" of the "problem", that she treated the "symptom" but didn't try to solve the problem of "injustice," seems to me to prove, very powerfully, that Teresa was right. The idea that going to a forgotten place, washing and comforting forgotten people, holding them as they die, is somehow "not enough"; the idea that this is only permissible if one also engages in some sort of "program" or advocates for some sort of "policy" designed to "solve" the "problem" presented by these people and their suffering; the idea that it is more important to be rid of the suffering poor than it is to be with them in their suffering--these are precisely the ideas that Teresa was rejecting by going to Calcutta in the first place. Before one can worry about "solving the problem" of poverty, one is confronted with the actual poor--even if they are only going to be around for a few days before they die of a horrible disease.

Anyway, here are some bits from the Rodriguez interview:

It's a life-long struggle. It's not unusual in the history of saints in the church that there would be this experience of doubt. Christ himself on the cross experiences doubt. "My God, why have you forsaken me?" That is his last cry into the darkness. Why have you left me alone? This is not a consoling cry...

We think we go to church, temple or the mosque and it's all very clear to us. Especially people who do not have faith, they think that people who have faith have no questions. But in fact as the church teaches us, doubt is very much an experience that lives along with faith...

The Catholic Church is brilliant to publish these letters, though Teresa asked that they be destroyed. The church realizes these are very helpful to the world. The world of religion is in chaos, not because there is too little faith in the world, but because there is too much faith. People are killing each other in the name of God. In Iraq at the holy shrine of Karbala, Shia were killing Shia. It seems to me the world is afflicted with people who have no doubt...

Everything in the world that is most worrisome is this black-and-white sensibility. It has infected religion, brings scandal to religion, it seems to me, that people in the name of God have erased all doubt from their mind and denied the human experience of doubt. That's what the Vatican has done with these documents. I think the real value of these documents is that they teach us that certitude is not what we want in the world...

America now is very, very religious or very, very secular. [The release of the letters] feeds atheists. They say, "See, even she didn't believe."

People like Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens --they are precisely the kind of problem that they present the religious world to be afflicted by. They are people who have no faith. Period. The whole idea of transcendence, a metaphysical reality beyond that which they normally experience, is foreign to them. This is very dangerous. They appeal to the political left when they should have learned its lesson...For thirty years the political left has ceded religion to the political right in America. It has given all expression of religion to right-wing Christianity.

It seems to me what the left needs to do is shy away from this teenage-boy irreverence, these "farts in the chapel" that you hear from Hitchens. It's not persuasive, not intellectually challenging because it does not admit to doubt. Like the fundamentalists, they live in a world of such certitude the rest of us are left wondering, "Where do we belong?"

It seems to me what Teresa was looking for in the face of suffering was the face of God. It's very moving to me that she did not find that face so often but kept on doing it. It's an example of great heroism. If I were looking for a saint right now, she would be it...

The left in America and probably Western Europe have bailed on religion because the church has criticized their lives. I speak as a gay man. I don't know how many times I've heard priests refer to the love I have for another man as a "lifestyle." My own church denies me the central emotion within Christianity; the experience of love is denied me by own church. There is a tendency to retreat, or say that "religion is only a negative force in my life."

I find that in the struggle over abortion, gay marriage, the churches have taken the negative stance in their institutional life. But I find them very consoling. There is much in Christianity that I use, steal, learn from, borrow, depend upon. Its inability to teach me about my experience of love is insufficient for me to walk away from it.

In some way the people in the pew teach the priest--the Church--what it means to love. The left, like spoiled children, having been accused of being sinful by the Church, they decide the Church is really sinful. That's not useful. More useful is to spend a life of service to a Church that is not easily yours...

We are influenced by two things. We think our friends and villains are clearly identified. We live in a world where you are saved or unsaved. This is true on the political spectrum from right to left, believers and non-believers. The other thing is that America is a deeply Protestant country founded by Puritans who believed that financial success was a sign of God's favor...

We are presented with an Albanian nun who spends her life--tormented by doubts--nonetheless serving the very poor, the people we will not touch. What do we do with her? We sit around now thinking whether she was a good woman, or a hypocrite or she lied to herself.

We mock a life like this because we do not understand it. We do not understand the life that is given to poor people, because we are given only to the middle-class fascination and we have told ourselves that we--the middle class--are God's select. So what do we do when we meet a woman of great doubt, great faith, great durability, who spends her life on her knees, wiping the faces of the dying and dead?

Obama out for blood 

War with Iran is imminent.

See Chris Hedges (among many others):

The Pentagon has reportedly drawn up plans for a series of airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran. The air attacks are designed to cripple the Iranians’ military capability in three days. The Bushehr nuclear power plant, along with targets in Saghand and Yazd, the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, a heavy-water plant and radioisotope facility in Arak, the Ardekan Nuclear Fuel Unit, and the uranium conversion facility and nuclear technology center in Isfahan, will all probably be struck by the United States and perhaps even Israeli warplanes. The Tehran Nuclear Research Center, the Tehran molybdenum, iodine and xenon radioisotope production facility, the Tehran Jabr Ibn Hayan Multipurpose Laboratories, and the Kalaye Electric Co. in the Tehran suburbs will also most likely come under attack.

But then what? We don’t have the troops to invade. And we don’t have anyone minding the helm who knows the slightest thing about Persian culture or the Middle East. There is no one in power in Washington with the empathy to get it. We will lurch blindly into a catastrophe of our own creation.

It is not hard to imagine what will happen. Iranian Shabab-3 and Shabab-4 missiles, which cannot reach the United States, will be launched at Israel, as well as American military bases and the Green Zone in Baghdad. Expect massive American casualties, especially in Iraq, where Iranian agents and their Iraqi allies will be able to call in precise coordinates. The Strait of Hormuz, which is the corridor for 20 percent of the world’s oil supply, will be shut down. Chinese-supplied C-801 and C-802 anti-shipping missiles, mines and coastal artillery will target U.S. shipping, along with Saudi oil production and oil export centers. Oil prices will skyrocket to well over $4 a gallon. The dollar will tumble against the euro. Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon, interpreting the war as an attack on all Shiites, will fire rockets into northern Israel. Israel, already struck by missiles from Tehran, will begin retaliatory raids on Lebanon and Iran. Pakistan, with a huge Shiite minority, will reach greater levels of instability. The unrest could result in the overthrow of the weakened American ally President Pervez Musharraf and usher into power Islamic radicals. Pakistan could become the first radical Islamic state to possess a nuclear weapon. The neat little war with Iran, which few Democrats oppose, has the potential to ignite a regional inferno.

What does the standard-bearer for "liberal progressivism" do? (I do not note this to make an abstract point, but to express disappointment and fear.)

He writes a column in the NY Daily News with this title: "Hit Iran where it hurts: Democratic presidential hopeful takes a get-tough stance against tyrant of Tehran." And he makes some "get-tough" headlines by advocating for economic measures against Iran:

With Jewish campaign money more critical than ever and Jewish votes potentially important in a handful of key states, most of the 2008 presidential candidates are trying to carve out pro-Israel positions they can call their own.

Sen. Barak Obama (D-Ill.) has latched on to the burgeoning effort to increase the economic pressure on Iran through divestment. But Obama’s strong effort on behalf of a major divestment bill is being thwarted by an unnamed Republican senator — and Obama forces say the real culprit is the Bush White House.

The controversy involves the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2007, which would require companies with more than $20 million invested in Iran’s energy industry to divest those funds. The measure would also make it easier for state and local governments to purge their own portfolios of Iran investments.

I get Obama's "strategy" here. He wants to stake out a "tough" Iran policy that makes use of "diplomatic" measures (yes, sanctions are "diplomacy" for U.S. politicians) as opposed to bombs. The problem is, Bush is, by numerous accounts, preparing to bomb Iran right now. Given this situation, advocating for sanctions against the "tyrannical" Iranian regime, as Obama has been doing, is like giving words of encouragement to your long-time friend and partner in crime as he prepares to shoot his next victim in the head.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

scary stuff 


Democrats promised to get tough in September. They promised it time and time again.

They better deliver.

Or what?


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