Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Noam Chomsky, Bloggin' Fool

One of the worst blogs I've read recently has to be Noam Chomsky's exercise in hubris, Turning the Tide. It is billed as "the official weblog of Noam Chomsky" and boasts of his "exclusive, original observations." Oooh. So impressive.

The first thing you're likely to notice is the eye-wateringly garish color scheme. Then one is assaulted by a template worthy of a special mention in a junior high web design contest. (Thank god for him that there's a halfway decent art department at the publishing house that markets his loony screeds next to the Lindsey Lohan CDs and the Altoids display in the Virgin Megastore checkout line.) The four consecutive identical entries entitled "Invading Cuba" make it look suspiciously like Prof. Chomsky, genius that he is, hasn't mastered the art of deleting a post.

As they say, "form follows function," and the content doesn't disappoint.

Why won't the US abandon Iraq to internal conflict? Of course, it's because "it would mean abandoning the primary and quite crucial war aim of establishing the first stable military bases in a dependent client state at the heart of the energy-producing regions, a major lever of world control, as has long been understood."

I guess our bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar don't quite qualify as being in the "heart of the energy-producing regions."

He shows admirable restraint in his entry entitled "Iran's Threat" by waiting fully two sentences before changing the subject to Israel and then accusing the US of trying to manufacture pretexts upon which we can justify attacks on Syria and Iran.

The aforementioned "Invading Cuba" post hints at the Bush administration's sinister plans to attack Cuba as soon as its internal defenses have deteriorated sufficiently.

He makes these insane claims in the blase, paranoid voice of a cult leader speaking the gospel to his followers, or of someone so thoroughly embittered by his own irrelevance that he can do nothing but sneer.

As it turns out, Chomsky has abandoned this original blog and has set up shop over at ZNet Blogs. This one is, if possible, more ineptly put together than the old one. It's fitting, since his ramblings are truly approaching senility at this point.

For sheer incoherence and moral relativism, take a look at "Freedom: a Moral Hypothesis."

My favorite moment, however, is in a post entitled "State Terror vs. Resistance" where those who "lament piously when [insurgents] resort to criminal acts to try to free themselves from the horrendous conditions we impose on them" are compared to "Nazi and Stalinist apologists."

He really wrote that.

That he is incapable of recognizing that he is an apologist for beheaders and suicide bombers says it all.

Worst. Blog. Ever.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

President Moonbeam

At a pre-Inaugural concert last night, President Bush said, "We have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom, and America will always be faithful to that cause."

What the...?!?

Maybe all that talk about amnesty for illegal aliens had nothing to do with Mexicans after all. Or, perhaps he was simply boasting that the Republican Party is not the party of Hollywood.

Where's Peggy Noonan when you need her?

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Military Puts Bigotry Ahead of Terror War

According to a recent news item, the military discharged at least 26 Middle East linguists between 1998 and 2004 for being homosexual. The AP writeup quotes Department of Defense data that show 20 Arabic specialists and six Farsi specialists were dismissed . In the same period, 16 Korean linguists were purged thanks to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." That brings the total number of experts forbidden from helping America defeat the "Axis of Evil" to 42.

The UPI story provides this devastating context:

At a time when the Pentagon and federal government are scrambling for foreign language specialists — particularly those with skills in Arabic and Farsi — they have forced at least 73 and as many as 86 linguists to leave the military in that five year period, according to Pentagon data.

The 9/11 Commission's report last year noted the shortage of Arab linguists in the federal government caused a back up of intercepted messages to go without translation. The Government Accountability Office in 2002 similarly highlighted the problem as did the House Intelligence Committee in October 2001, one month after Arabic-speaking jihadis hijacked four planes and crashed them in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania (emphasis added).

Instead of talking seriously the threat posed by Islamo-fascist terrorists, the military's official policy is to focus on what is apparently a much more pressing concern:
The presence in the Armed Forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.
What will it take to get the bigots in the Pentagon to realize that there is no way to promote enlightenment abroad when we're incapable of practicing it at home?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Opposing Gonzales: Beyond Ideology

The other day I was perusing Nathan Newman's blog when I came across an entry entitled "Why the Liberal Focus on Torture?" that piqued my interest. The central argument of this post is that liberals are taking the easy way out by focusing on torture (which he calls a "simple, limited moral problem") rather than the more important issue of the war in Iraq. "The almost exclusive obsession with torture in the present [Alberto Gonzales] nomination fight," he says, "betrays a misguided set of moral priorities by liberals."

While I understand where Newman is coming from, I think his post actually betrays a misguided set of moral priorities across the entire political landscape. Why should opposing torture be a liberal value? Reasonable people may disagree on the war in Iraq, but torture is a different matter altogether. Like it or not, association with the Iraq war does not disqualify anyone from access to the levers of power in the Bush administration (in fact, it seems to be a prerequisite). The same is emphatically not true for torture—or at least it shouldn't be—and it is not merely a liberal position to argue that support for prisoner abuse does disqualify a candidate from becoming the Attorney General. Why the liberals, in Newman's opinion, should reject this common-cause issue in favor of one they're guaranteed to lose and in doing so reinforce the notion that they travel outside of the mainstream is beyond me.

In ending his post, Newman is so wrapped up in the politics of the confirmation hearings that it causes him to gloss over (unintentionally, I hope) the issue of torture:

If liberals don't continually concentrate on fighting over the core issue, like the justice of the war and its consequences such as mass civilian deaths, they won't win on subsidiary issues like torture.
Gail Davis had the good sense to take Newman to task for characterizing torture as a "subsidiary issue." She recognizes that it "is almost the last straw and symbolizes America's failure." This is a failure that all Americans can and should be alarmed about and, as such, it is nothing to turn into a political football.

Newman is not alone. Marie Cocco's recent article for commondreams.org takes this political football and runs with it:

Enabling the Bush administration's habit of escaping accountability for even the grossest failure isn't smart politics. It's cowardice. If Democrats are to compete on the political turf of values, they'd better find some they stand for (emphasis added).
Apparently this is not about moral values or doing what is right; it's about competition and smart politics. How best to express your outrage at the torture of detainees? Hold a strategy meeting, of course.

The unintended consequence of making torture a liberal political issue is that it legitimizes a conservative backlash that actually approves of torture and looks at criticism of Gonzales as a sinister leftist plot.

One of the more brazen attempts from conservatives to turn the Gonzales nomination into a partisan litmus test can be found over at CrushKerry.com where they are circulating a petition that makes this argument:

Recent news reports indicate the futility of the effort to block the nomination. Therefore, any attempt to stop it can only be chalked up to flagrant partisanship and stone-walling. Moreover, Mr. Gonzales' advice and counsel has helped the Bush administration run a more aggressive, more deliberate, and more results-oriented war against terror, thereby making Americans safer and more secure.
The moral bankruptcy (not to mention logical fallacy) of this stance is so stark that any attempt by people such as these to claim the "moral values" high road should be greeted with scorn. Sadly, when liberal pundits embrace the torture issue as one of their own and associate it with an anti-war position that is likely to have far fewer adherents, they actually facilitate these attacks from the right.

Newman takes a look at some polling data and draws conclusions that seem to support his argument:
While the American people strongly oppose torture, the reality is that support or opposition to torture is actually tied to the underlying issue of the justice and worth of fighting the underlying Iraq war. ("57 percent of strong war supporters say abuse is acceptable, while two-thirds who strongly say the war wasn't worth fighting say abuse is never acceptable.") While highlighting the issue of torture will no doubt make some war supporters who oppose torture uncomfortable, it's clear that the justice of the war itself is the issue driving divides over policies like torture.

Ironically, these data point to a very different conclusion: when torture is discussed in the context of the Iraq war (an issue rife with partisan rancor), the numbers bear out a left-right split, but when it is not explicitly associated with an already identifiable political position, the numbers are quite different (scroll down). I'd like to believe that these numbers more closely match the true feelings of the American population.

Turning torture into a partisan issue overshadows the core truth that Gonzales has so offended: The moral value of our mission in the war on terror depends upon the US living up to a higher standard than our enemy's. If we cannot make a case for the moral superiority of this "way of life" that we are trying to promote across the globe, then the war is lost already. It is in the best interest of all Americans, whether conservative or liberal, that this be avoided at all costs.

When revelations about prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib exploded onto the front pages, the shame and revulsion felt by most Americans was palpable (and nearly universal). Now that torture apologist Gonzales' confirmation hearings are upon us, however, the partisan camps are gearing up for the same old fight, as though whether the US should reward torture is no different than the debate over Social Security reform. Now is the time to resist the temptation to play politics. We should act as though our reputation and our future depend upon it.


Monday, January 10, 2005

Gonzales: Defending the Indefensible

In a recent post, MaxSpeak employs a tortured juxtaposition (if you'll forgive the pun) to argue against the appointment of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. His metaphor may be overwrought, but the reference to Orwell is apt. What other name than "Orwellian" can be used to describe Bush's attempt to ensconce a defender of torture and prisoner abuse at the helm of the Justice Department?

Andrew Sullivan, who has been blogging exhaustively (and persuasively) on the subject, has this to say:
After Abu Ghraib, you might expect some kind of reckoning. But what's stunning about this president is his complete indifference to these facts. His nomination of Gonzales to attorney general is a de facto statement that he believes that someone who enabled these things needs rewarding, not censuring. This from a president elected in part on something called "moral values." If "moral values" mean indifference to torture, they are literally meaningless.
It is in this sense that the Orwell reference carries the most weight: language must have a meaning that transcends the individual using it for it to have any value at all. To borrow the famous example from 1984, "war is peace" only if both terms have ceased to mean anything in and of themselves.

Everyone knows what torture is, and no creative definition of the term will ease the revulsion with which decent people view the practice. The Abu Ghraib photos show what they show and nothing can wish that away. The politicization of a subject that should be self-evident to anyone who takes the idea of American values seriously is indefensible and dispiriting. I would only ask the more zealous Bush backers to remember how they felt when a certain other president attempted a creative definition of "sexual relations."

President Bush is making a serious miscalculation by going forward with the nomination of Gonzales for Attorney General. His dismal past as White House counsel and Bush's legal advisor in Texas make him unfit for the office. His nomination will hurt our prestige abroad (moreso), but more importantly, it will disillusion all those loyal American who were scandalized and embarassed by what was being done in their name.

For all those people who looked at the Abu Ghraib photos and said, "this is not America": the Bush administration begs to differ.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Credit Where Credit's Due

Finally the Bush administration is getting serious about tsunami relief. On 12/31, they increased their pledge tenfold, bringing the amount of US aid to $350 million, up from a paltry original offer of $35 million. After a dismal initial response (Bush didn't even announce the insulting figure of $35M until three days had passed since much of Southeast Asia was wiped off the map), the administration deserves credit for getting it right. One hopes that they actually listened to their critics, but this would be so out of character as to be unimaginable. Bottom line: it doesn't matter. Cheers for making the right move.

Of course, Bush was not the only world leader to act as if the disaster was no big deal. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan remained on his skiing vacation in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for three days following the disaster before realizing that it might look a little insensitive to the rest of the world and scampered back to Manhattan. (What is it with three-day delays? It's not like the enormity of the disaster wasn't clear after just one day).

Much of the right-wing blogosphere bent over backwards to hypocritically take Kofi to task while continuing to support Bush, who was guilty of the same thing. See here, and here.

Cheers to one right-wing blog (scroll down to the January 2nd entry) that actually defended Annan because they had defended Bush earlier. I think they are 100% wrong, but it's nice to see that intellectual integrity means something to someone out there (I'm looking in your direction, Freepers).
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