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Archive for February, 2007

Are Congressional Democrats Vertebrates?????

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Truer words were never posted. From BarbinMD, writing at The Daily Kos:

When is enough enough? How much more clear do the American people have to be? Fifty-six percent of us want our military forces withdrawn from Iraq. Sixty-seven percent oppose Bush’s escalation of his war. Fifty-eight percent support Rep. Jack Murtha’s plan to place readiness requirements on troop deployments. So, what is the latest plan to get us out of Iraq?

It’s time for Congress to stop with the non-binding resolutions and meaningless gestures. It’s time…no, it’s past time for them to ask:

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

And then do something about it.

I sincerely hope the Democrats realize that they are playing with electoral fire if they do not do everything within their power to try  and end the war.

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February 28th, 2007 at 11:22 pm

Mendacious Incompetence

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February 28th, 2007 at 8:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Seven Days inMarch?

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I just found this from the Times Online (UK not NY) on Raw Story:

SOME of America’s most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defence and intelligence sources.

Tension in the Gulf region has raised fears that an attack on Iran is becoming increasingly likely before President George Bush leaves office. The Sunday Times has learnt that up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack.

“There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,” a source with close ties to British intelligence said. “There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.”


(snip)

A generals’ revolt on such a scale would be unprecedented. “American generals usually stay and fight until they get fired,” said a Pentagon source. Robert Gates, the defence secretary, has repeatedly warned against striking Iran and is believed to represent the view of his senior commanders. The threat of a wave of resignations coincided with a warning by Vice-President Dick Cheney that all options, including military action, remained on the table. He was responding to a comment by Tony Blair that it would not “be right to take military action against Iran”

(snip)

A second US navy aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS John C Stennis arrived in the Gulf last week, doubling the US presence there. Vice Admiral Patrick Walsh, the commander of the US Fifth Fleet, warned: “The US will take military action if ships are attacked or if countries in the region are targeted or US troops come under direct attack.”

But General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said recently there was “zero chance” of a war with Iran. He played down claims by US intelligence that the Iranian government was responsible for supplying insurgents in Iraq, forcing Bush on the defensive.

(snip)

Hillary Mann, the National Security Council’s main Iran expert until 2004, said Pace’s repudiation of the administration’s claims was a sign of grave discontent at the top.

…(A)rmy chiefs fear an attack on Iran would backfire on American troops in Iraq and lead to more terrorist attacks, a rise in oil prices and the threat of a regional war.

One retired general who participated in the “generals’ revolt” against Donald Rumsfeld’s handling of the Iraq war said he hoped his former colleagues would resign in the event of an order to attack. “We don’t want to take another initiative unless we’ve really thought through the consequences of our strategy,” he warned.

If this is what it takes to slow down the mendacious incompetents who run the Executive Branch, I am all for it. Strategically timed resignations from the military might begin the final decoupling of the U.S. from self defeating wars in the Middle East. And they would fall well short of an actual military coup.
I wonder if Petraeus is in on this.

If this is what it takes to slow down the mendacious incompetents who run the Executive Branch, I am all for it. Strategically timed resignations from the military might begin the final decoupling of the U.S. from self defeating wars in the Middle East. And they would fall well short of an actual military coup.

I wonder if Petraeus is in on this.

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February 24th, 2007 at 9:54 pm

Politics and Religion – Trinity

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In our last episode, I noted that what we think of as religion began with the invention of cities and civilization. I should add that what we think of as religion in the civilized sense is organized religion, religion that is with a professional priesthood, sacred texts, temples and other adornments. Religion existed in a less organized form long before the first cities were built. This is only speculation, but it would seem that religion was one of the first topics when humans first discovered they could talk – and sing, dance and draw pictures.

What function, what need of society did religion fill, both before the invention of civilization and since. has been religion’s function civilization? Let’s consider the question hierarchically.

Long ago, shamans and other holy persons told stories to their people to explain the origin of the world and of the tribe. They delivered answers to the ultimate questions, however darkened by superstition they may seem now, and in doing so imposed order on a chaotic universe. The clergy of all religions try to provide this service today, but as we shall see later, there is competition now from science. More on that point anon.

Down a level, religion has a political function. Again, citadels are found in the first cities, indicating an alliance, between martial classes and the priesthood. The king and his generals needed the temple to confirm their authority. This is not an issue that concerns hunter gatherers, and is therefore exclusive to civilized societies.
Finally, somebody has to define morality and it might as well be the priests. This too is less important to tribal societies than it is to city dwellers.

Let’s review. Religion serves at least three functions in a civilization. Religion:

  1. Provides a way of talking about the big questions about the nature of existence, of human nature and many many other topics
  2. Provides authority and credibility to the temporal powers
  3. Is the arbiter of ethical conduct and defining authority of moral values

But we need to change tenses at this point in the discussion,  because religion no longer plays its traditional role perfectly in all societies. Certainly not in Europe, which has at last put the Hundred Years War  behind itself.  Nor in Japan, where there are three religions: Shintoism, Buddhism and electronics (the last one is a joke; ha ha). China is Communist but grudgingly tolerates a variety of religious beliefs and practices. Africa is too diverse to make a generalization about, animism, Christianity and Islam each claiming some territory its own there. In Latin America, the Catholic Church retains influence, but has found itself too often on the wrong side of cultural and political change.
In most of the world, then, no one religion can claim to dominate sufficiently to be the glue that holds a society together. Those days are gone. OTOH, Some Islamic countries take their religion very seriously, as we have seen very vividly in recent years.

And what of the United States? Unlike Canada and much of Europe,  there is a constitutional proscription against an established, state supported religion in the U.S. Yet religion here still carries a powerful political punch. But even here, things are not as they were in this regard.

A major cause of religion’s decline here and around the world is the intellectual revolution that began hundreds of years ago in Europe and continues today and into the foreseeable future. Science and philosophy have stripped religion of most of its authority. The religious impulse is still felt widely, but people are learning to honour that impulse outside of organized religion. In turn, this has caused the remaining American loyalists of religion to become frantic and to respond hysterically to any perceived further assault on religion’s place in society. One result has been that American politicians have to pay more lip service to religion than do their counterparts in other countries (that are not Muslim).

Again, Marcotte and McEwan wrote things on their blogs that are not controversial to many Americans  – and Canadians, French men and women and others. But organized religion is fighting for its very existence, and no insult is too small to ignore. This is the reality that the Edwards campaign forgot to include in its calculations before hiring the two bloggers.

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February 20th, 2007 at 9:50 pm

Posted in Religion

Religion and Politics, Part Deus

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To conclude what i was saying about l’affaire Marcotte/McEwan/Edwards, let me respond to commenter Catus Magnus, who wrote:

Ms. Marcotte got done in by her own statements – nothing more to it than that. Her problem: Edwards needs to appeal to more than just the left-wing, anti-church/anti-clerical atheist wing of the Democratic party. He needs them to get nominated, but not to get elected.

You see, I didn’t know there was an anti-church/anti-clerical atheist wing of the Democratic Party. Left wing, sure. And I am prepared to stipulate that the Democratic Party contains proportionally more non or anti religious people than does the GOP. The Democratic Party also boasts more Catholics (though a pretty close call, IIRC) and Jews than does the Republic Party. And more Muslims, and for all I know more Buddhists and new agers. One of the Republics biggest problems is their shrinking, monochromatic base.

The Democratic Party may have more than its share of nonbelievers, but they seem quite content to render unto Caesar only that which is Caesar’s. There is a political reason for the party not to tolerate the existence of an organized atheist/agnostic wing. It wouldn’t play in Peoria. And believe me, I know. I work in Peoria (IL).

Even in a huge, amorphous coalition party like the Democratic one, there is room for only so many agendas. It is hard enough for the party to stay on message without having to sell the abolition of religion. Even a proposal to require churches to pay taxes would be smothered in its cradle.

So, while the previous writings of Marcotte and McEwan are easily defended intellectually, politicians are playing with fire when they seem to countenance criticism of religion – and let’s be honest, in the U.S. it is only Christianity that is so exalted.

OTOH, Edwards had a chance to show leadership by embracing a wider ranging discussion of all sorts of ideas. But the compromise he felt he had to make (I don’t believe the official story that they resigned voluntarily) was to sacrifice these two on the altar of a vengeful god.
Only in America could this happen. Well, the United States is one of the few Western countries where provocative ideas about religion would be an issue. Now, that is, in the 21st century, long after Galileo, the Hundred Years War and Darwin.
Post Enlightenment, the status and stature of religion has diminished in Western civilization, but religion was in on the ground floor.

Years ago, while reading Lewis Mumford’s The City in History, I learned that the word civilization means literally the life that is lived in cities, and that the first cities included a Citadel, indicationg an aristocratic/priestly ruling class and more generally a social hierarchy.

Gee, thanks, civilization.

So, if we accept Mumford’s interpretation of the evidence available to him, organized religion is built into the fabric of early civilization as a source of power and authority. Thus what we think of as religion began with the invention of cities and civilization. The question is, what has been religion’s function civilization? Also, how has religion become diminished in the last two centuries, ands will this process continue? How will religion’s fate impact political theory and practice in the U.S. and other parts of the world?

All to be revealed in the next post.

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February 16th, 2007 at 11:45 pm

Posted in Religion

Politics and Religion

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Don’t try to get yourself elected
If you do you’ll have to cut your hair

David Crosby

John Edwards just shaved his friggin’ head, man.

You see, I have always interpreted the lyric quoted above as meaning that it is impossible to maintain one’s pure integrity and run for office. That compromise is built into electoral politics. You can’t say what you really think and get elected.

Example 1: Candidate X calls for the legalization of some currently proscribed herb or other. Boom! Political suicide.

Example 2: Candidate Y utters mild criticism of the Catholic Church, or the Southern Baptists, or Orthodox Judaism. Repeat Boom! Political suicide.

Nowadays, a candidate doesn’t even have to say something controversial to suffer political damage. Just putting someone with provocative and radical opinions on your staff will do the trick.

There is something called National Review Online (no link for you Righty) and someone who writes for that site named Kathryn Jean Lopez. Lopez has been offended over the years by various opinions expressed by the blogger Amanda Marcotte at her site Pandagon. Here is something Marcotte wrote that uset poor Lopez:

Q: What if Mary had taken Plan B after the Lord filled her with his hot, white, sticky Holy Spirit?
A: You’d have to justify your misogyny with another ancient mythology.

What she is saying , I would contend, is that the Catholic church is misogynistic and that it uses the Virgin Mary and the myth of the immaculate conception to reinforce and perpetuate that misogyny.

And? No doubt I could Google this topic and find dozens of respectable articles and books that make the same point, though in a more conventionally academic manner. But Marcotte is writing satire and satire is not always appreciated by those who perceive themselves to be its target.

Personally, I think there might be a funnier way to make the same point, but I agree with it and don’t really see how it is overly provocative. Humour or lack of it is not the issue here. Professional political attack dogs look for excuses to damage their political opponents by using the sort of guilt by association the right has just used on Edwards.

Lopez, of course is not the leader of this month’s get Edwards project. Catholic apologist by the name of William Donohoe is the one in charge. From the Washington Post, here are further examples of Marcotte’s thought crimes as judged by the likes of Lopez, Donohoe et al:

Among other things, Marcotte had written: “The Catholic church is not about to let something like compassion for girls get in the way of using the state as an instrument to force women to bear more tithing Catholics.” She also questioned, in explicit language, what would have happened if the Virgin Mary had taken the emergency contraceptive called Plan B.

Last month, Marcotte wrote of the Duke University rape case: “Can’t a few white boys sexually assault a black woman anymore without people getting all wound up about it? So unfair.”

If Marcotte had asked my advice, i would have suggested that she be very circumspect when commenting on a criminal case before a verdict is reached. But the point she makes in this last comment is worth considering. Was the white and conservative outrage about the Duke rape case strictly about prosecutorial misconduct? This is a question that makes me go”Hmmm.”

Melissa McEwan, another blogger who has written for Shakespeare’s Sister, has also come under attack for saying bad things on the internets. She has been charged with thinking and writng the following:

McEwan, whose status with the Edwards campaign is apparently unchanged (old news), has referred to President Bush’s conservative Christian supporters as his “wingnut Christofascist base.”

So, does anyone not think that at the very least, the Bush base may include a few wingnut Christofascists? If there are, I would like to bring to their attention the film Jesus Camp, a documentary.

In the preceding paragraphs, I have defended the truth and validity of selected quotes from Marcotte and McEwan, not just their right to an opinion. I am very disappointed that they were forced from the Edwards campaign, because the result is a less tolerant and open political and cultural environment.

Edwards is the big loser here. He gave the right what it wanted and like insatiable zombies, they still want more and more and more. And now it seems as though he does not know how to deal with a crisis or think strategically. He just lost a lot of Democratic primary voters to Obama.

In the next post I will further discuss religion and politics and why I think the the reaction to Marcotte and McEwan was so vicious.
I am afraid I have lost a significant degree of respect and sympathy for Edwards. He

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February 15th, 2007 at 12:36 am

Posted in Religion

Another Argument Against the Iraq War

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Back in the early 90’s I read Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of Great Nations. Therein, Kennedy forges a theory about how and why nations rise, build empires and then fall. From a NY Times review by Michael Howard:

Paul Kennedy of Yale University has broken ranks with his colleagues. In a work of almost Toynbeean sweep he describes a pattern of past development that is not only directly relevant to our times but is clearly intended to be read by policy makers, particularly American policy makers. ”The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” is, as Mr. Kennedy states, a book that can be read on at least two levels. On the one hand it presents a clearly defined and closely reasoned thesis explaining the subject matter of the title – why nations rise and fall, and why the process is still continuing. On the other, in order to provide the data for his thesis, Mr. Kennedy gives a clearly written and fairly uncontentious history of the rise and fall of Europe and its empires and the confrontation between the superpowers which had followed. He unashamedly endorses the view of the German historian Leopold von Ranke that history is fundamentally about high politics, and that politicians will be better at their jobs if they understand the historical processes of which they form part.

He expands his thesis in the introduction and epilogue. It can be easily summarized: The more states increase their power, the larger the proportion of their resources they devote to maintaining it. If too large a proportion of national resources is diverted to military purposes, this in the long run leads to a weakening of power. The capacity to sustain a conflict with a comparable state or coalition of states ultimately depends on economic strength; but states apparently at the zenith of their political power are usually already in a condition of comparative economic decline, and the United States is no exception to this rule. Power can be maintained only by a prudent balance between the creation of wealth and military expenditure, and great powers in decline almost always hasten their demise by shifting expenditure from the former to the latter. Spain, the Netherlands, France and Britain did exactly that. Now it is the turn of the Soviet Union and the United States.

I was very impressed with Kennedy’s theory and could easily see that the courrse the U.S. was on even then could one day lead to a drastic reduction of its influence in the world and its standard of living.

I was not the only one:

As revealed in a 2005 strategy document, al-Qaida hopes to repeat Osama bin Laden’s victory over the Soviet empire in Afghanistan by eliminating the chief obstacle in the way of establishing an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East. The goal is not, as Bush administration and right-wing pundits proclaim, to conquer or directly destroy America. Osama bin Laden wants to provoke the United States into destroying itself.

The game plan owes at least part of its inspiration from Paul Kennedy’s book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. In his investigative report The Secret History of Al-Qaeda, Abdel Bari Atwan writes that top al-Qaida ideologist Ayman Al-Zawahiri is a reader and “great admirer” of Kennedy’s book. The New York Times Book Review‘s Michael Howard summarized the book’s insights in a manner that must have clicked with budding jihadists observing the Soviet Union’s fall at the time: “Power can be maintained only by a prudent balance between the creation of wealth and military expenditure, and great powers in decline almost always hasten their demise by shifting expenditure from the former to the latter.” (Thanks to Adam Elkus in Alternet)

The game plan is working, and the longer we stay in Iraq, the happier is al-Quaida. Kennedy’s book and Howard’s review were both written nearly two decades ago, and now we Kennedy’s prophecies will apparently be fulfilled.

Unless, of course, the Democratic Congress can exercise the power it now holds and quickly get the troops home.

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February 7th, 2007 at 9:05 pm

Posted in Iraq

Why the Iraq War Was a Bad Idea: Reason # 2467 x 522

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There were and are many reasons for Americans to oppose the war in Iraq. Some of those reasons can be agreed to by citizens of other countries. One could, for example, oppose the war in Iraq because it is a war, and all wars are evil as is the institution of war.

Or, if one could, if not a total pacifist, oppose because it increases the risk of other wars breaking out in the Middle East. Anytime I want to I can sit down and make a long list of altruistic reasons to be against this war.

Across the great divide, the dwindling band of war supporters have given up, it seems to me, trying to argue that the United States invaded Iraq to spread democracy or help the oppressed peoples of Mesopotamia. To the extent they have any arrows left in their quiver, they try to argue that it is in the best interests of the U.S. to stay in Iraq until something good happens. Oil, the largest incentive for invasion, is to be mentioned but rarely.

Let us stipulate that any nation, including the United States,  should not engage in war if it is against the national interest to do so. Then let us hold the Iraq war to that standard. Finally, consider this article by Jonathan Marcus from the online BBC:

The US invasion of Iraq and its quest to spread democracy throughout the region has had a series of profound but unintended consequences. Of these, the most important is the rise of Iran.

Washington’s destruction of the Taleban regime in Afghanistan and its toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq served to destroy Tehran’s main strategic competitors.

For a brief moment Iran too feared US intervention. It was at this moment that Tehran appeared most willing to explore talks.

But the Americans’ increasing problems in Iraq showed that for the Iranians the cloud of US ascendancy did indeed have a silver-lining.

And that silver lining is the rise of Iran as a major regional power. That nations power and influence are growing, motivating a panicking Bush trying to provoke Iran into some sort of hostile act that would precipitate war.

Marcus also describes how:

The invasion of Iraq has paradoxically also served to bring an end to the era of US diplomatic primacy in the Middle East, says Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former State Department official.

“For much of the last two decades the US enjoyed an ahistoric advantage in the region, with the end of the Cold War and the domination that it showed in the region after Iraq invaded Kuwait,” Mr Haas says.

“Now though, we are seeing something fundamentally different.” It was, he says, the end of American primacy.

Slowly, the U.S. is being  driven from the Middle East.

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February 7th, 2007 at 12:04 am

Posted in Iraq,Uncategorized

A Good Day for the GOP

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Ya gotta give it to those Republicans, They have more nerve than a toothache.

President W threw his budget at the Congress today. More money for war, less for health care for kids. He’s spent 6 years shoveling tax breaks into the hands of rich mofos, and now he wants to take money away from seniors and kids. Wotta guy!

Later, as the sun prepared to set over the Potomac, the Senate voted to not debate the Warner non-binding resolution about the Iraq escalation/surge/Great Leap Forward. It wasa almost a straight party vote. Even Warner voted against his own resolution. If the White House told a male GOP Senator to castrate himself with a rusty razor blade,  his reply would be”Sir! yes sir!.”

Russ Feingold was on Olberman, touting his own proposal to end the war and blasted both Republicans and Democrats for their failure to stand up to Bush. One of the wise things he said was that public pressure needs to be put on legislators of both parties. I would gladly contact Senators Durbin and Obama, but they are already on the side of the angels. Maybe I will call Rep LaHood.

It seems to me that last November, the U.S. electorate spoke pretty loudly and eloquently about its desire for a different set of priorities both domestically and especially  regarding Iraq.  That’s a pretty deaf Congress we have.

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February 6th, 2007 at 12:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized