Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Pick Your Poison

Think about it. After November 7th, the country will be left in one of two scenarios. A continuation of the GOP status quo, where Congress serves as a rubber stamp (in most cases) for C-plus Augustus and some of his more heinous policies. Or the return of the jack Asses, and their thirst for political retribution for the past 5 or so years of being uninvited to the party.

A government that doesn't believe in fiscal solvency, with a blatant disregard for the environment and by extension the welfare of future generations of Americans, not to mention Americans in the average income brackets. Or a government that will be too embroiled in a "scandal of the day" mentality to notice that the Middle East is only one push of the button away from the coming of the twelfth Imam.

An administration that spends their entire time blaming the mistakes of an incompetent group of yes men on a so-called opposition party so inept at opposing. Or a newly crowned limousine liberal Speaker of the House only slightly more coherent than the current President, and even more painful to watch on C-SPAN.

We're so fucked.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

It's Just a Shirt, Man?

My barber wore a red shirt emblazoned with a solitary star and the hammer and sickle, the symbol of Soviet imperialism. I was annoyed but not moved to rage, so I was going to let it go until he started chatting with me while cutting my hair.

[Please note this is a paraphrase of the dialogue. The actual exchange was a little choppier and used some saltier language]

After a few basic pleasantries I lightheartedly asked, "So you kick it Stalin style, eh?"

He found this amusing and answered, "Nah, it's a cool shirt. So I bought it."

"A cool shirt emblazoned with the symbol of a murderous ideology," I replied.

"Well, I don't believe in Communism. It's just a shirt."

"Well, yeah, now it is since it's been defeated and all, it's just it's a symbol that stands for the Soviet empire which killed millions of its own people and enslaved millions of others."

"Yeah, I think older people get more worked up about it. I wore it once and this older guy gave me this crazy look, like he wanted to kill me. maybe I should be more careful about wearing it in the future."

"Yeah, I will give you that stylistically the design looks cool. But of course its history is a bloody one and its easy for us to forget that with the end of the Cold War and all."
There were a few other exchanges, but it struck me as interesting.

This guy is my age, maybe slightly older (he and I both graduated in 2001 from UMd.-- he has a degree in history)

His point about the shirt "looking cool" has some merit. Like I told him, divorced from the context of the dark annals of Soviet history, the hammer and sickle look kind of cool on a T-shirt. Ditto with Che Guevara T-shirts.

I can see how apolitical people, even those supposedly well-versed in history can wear such a T-shirt with no concern for the implicit agreement with the political ideology represented.

I'm sure this dude would not wear a shirt emblazoned with a swastika. He knows damn well the murderous history and ideology of Nazism and would not want to glorify it, and rightly so.

So why is it that although we have some inkling of Soviet atrocities we as a generation think Red-friendly T-shirts are cool? And beyond that, is it really a big idea?

Does the evolution of Soviet Communism from a global threat to peace and security to a cool T-shirt design in some way pile on to the fundamental weakness of communism which doomed the Iron Curtain to eventually fall with a resounding crash 15 years ago?

I'm inclined to think the latter, although I must confess it does disturb me that we are not as aware as we should be of the sordid history of Soviet imperialism and how it poured salt in the wounds of a world scarred with the scourge of Nazi, Italian, and Japanese fascism.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Let's Play (Your Liberty in) Jeopardy!

Answer: un-American patriotic idolatry.

Question: What is exemplified by Congress passing and the President signing a bill trashing the obligations of millions of freely-entered-upon business contracts, all in the name of patriotism?

Correct! How much did the politicians wager. You answered: Only the principle of limited , restrained government which embodies the American Republic for which the flag stands.

What the flappin flag are you talking about, Prince?

Why, only this moronic bill:

... legislation signed into law Monday by President Bush, would prohibit neighborhood and town groups from outlawing the American flag. The law is called the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act. It says you can fly the American flag even if your neighborhood says flags in general aren't allowed.

The law will protect Old Glory, but all other decorative flags will still be subject to local regulations.

So let's get this straight: somehow Congress and President Bush read into the Constitution the power to forbid non-governmental community or homeowner organizations from making regulations as to the time, place, and manner of American flag displays in private homes.

Keep in mind these homeowners AGREED to certain covenants and conditions for living in said neighborhood, including the flag restrictions!

How exactly does this work?

I see no place in the Constitution for the federal goernment to trash the sanctity of contracts to make such rules, and I sure as hell don't see warrant in the feds preventing community organizations from making these rules.

Look, I'm no fan of communities like the one in this story out of Apex, N.C. making such regulations binding upon community residents. But that said, it's a local issue, MAYBE even a state issue in terms of legislative or judicial remedy.

Getting the Congress of the United States to pass a law aimed at bringing the heavy hand of Washington to bear on this matter makes sense only if you believe some cockamamie notion like "this is an issue 'affecting' interstate commerce."

As with the misguided attempts to change the Constitution to ban flag desecration, we have here is patriotic grandstanding in an election year yielding legislation that can appeal to the most fervent of patriotic hearts, but should unsettles the deeper reflection the patriotic intellect.

At least with the flag burning controversy, had the proposed Amendment passed out of Congress, it would have faced strong scrutiny in the states and a high threshold (37 states' ratification), before becoming enshrined in the Constitution.

This instance of purported flag protection is a naked power grab by Congress and the President and a lost opportunity to educate the American people as to the nature of true patriotism: standing up for the principle of limited government.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bush's First Veto: Centrist Policy Arrived at from Conservative Principles

President Bush's first veto was long overdue. I'd have rather seen his first veto to have been the infamous Farm Bill or the Campaign Finance Reform Act. Nonetheless, Bush's policy direction on stem cell research is perfectly conservative in numerous disciplines within the conservative movement, and his veto should be welcomed by the various streams of conservatism.

1) It is socially conservative, predicated on the sanctity of human life and the unwillingness of the conservative movement to support the financing by tax dollars of morally repugnant research including the destruction of human life, as the President put it, "for spare parts."
2) It is constitutionally/federalistically conservative in that it aims squarely at the federal level. States are free to pursue completely policies. No attempt has or will be made by the President to coerce or blackmail the states on embryonic stem cell policy via federal highway funds or other federal monies.
3) It is economically conservative, advancing and promoting the free market over public entanglement in commerce. Bush's veto doesn't hinder private researchers from conducting stem cell research and that it sends the signal to investors that government will not finance and underwrite any and all research that the private sector can otherwise fund. Liberal critics will warn that funding will dry up without federal involvement, but I very seriously doubt this will be the case. With state, international, and private liberal and corporate financial backing, significant experimentation in embryonic stem cell research can and will continue.

Whether you agree or disagree with the morality of embryonic stem cell research, it's a no-brainer that removing government from interfering in private scientific ventures is crucial to the advancement of science.

At the same time, the federal government setting certain bioethical standards for federal involvement in research can be helpful in guiding the commerical scientific community towards pursuing science under an ethical rubric, comporting voluntarily to moral restraints agreed upon by the body politic.

In the end run, Bush's veto ends up being a moderate, sensible approach to policy that stems from moral, constitutional, and economic conservatism.

Friday, June 30, 2006

House Party

Bruce Reed gets it very right when it comes to Congressional dysfunction. Some in the more creative segment of the rightwing have long demonized the Senate (and it's damnable Moderate/RINO tendencies) and called for term limits there. I think Reed's piece lets us know we need to start thinking about that with the House, maybe more importantly for the House, given its recent shenanigans and the Supreme Court's celebration of those in one of its earthshattering rulings.

In the House, DeLay launched an unprecedented and successful effort to redraw congressional districts year after year to maximize partisan advantage. If DeLay had gone on to the Senate, he no doubt would have tried to rewrite state boundaries every few years to achieve the highest possible number of red states.

The Supreme Court's refusal this week to overturn the DeLay gerrymander in Texas suggests that another firewall has fallen. From now on, both parties will feel compelled to take the same politics that has brought down the House to every state capital in America. Instead of doing the job people elected them to do, state legislators will spend all their time fighting over how to write safe congressional districts so that members of Congress don't have to do the job people elect them to do.

Redistricting was at the root of DeLay's downfall, and may well be at the root of Washington's as well. In recent years, redistricting has made districts more polarized, homogenous, and friendly to entrenched incumbents. Competitive districts in which incumbents actually have to earn re-election are becoming an endangered species.

Reed's piece is smart because it takes the basic political science conceptions of the House (more partisan, more shrill, more polarized) and marries it to our problem of everlasting incumbency. He also, wisely, discusses Tanner (D-TN)'s efforts to end gerrymandering with Congressional legislation even though the effort went down in flames. Several other reforms are discussed, like making the House seats all at-large and sending them home and having the House run in an e-government fashion with many, many more representatives. No matter what your chosen experiment is, Reed paints a good picture of how broken the House is and how we need to get out the power tools if we hope of making it any better in the future.

The Incredible Idiocy of "Panda Sluggers"

Do I trust China? Of course not. Do I think they could be dangerous? Yes. Do I think they are that dangerous right now? Not really (except to Taiwan). However, the most irritating thing about China is its ability to keep a certain amount of nutty ideologue, the China hawk, in business. Whenever I go on one of my tirades about how absurd it is that there are weapons systems for everything from new submarines to new fighter planes when we are in budget deficits and fighting an urban war that those things have about zero practical use in, some interlocutor will often start spinning China hawk bullshit. They will begin to say we need to have such absurd weapons in order to counter future threats from China. As we STILL have the number one Air Force and Navy in the world and China is still decades and decades behind, I've always found that sort of argument a bit laughable. Why not make the same argument about the future air power of Venezuala? Or Cuba? Sure they're a little more behind, but what's a few decades here and there? Well these China hawks get a better takedown than I could imagine, and a spiffy new moniker, "Panda Sluggers" (because these people tend to call those who don't want a war with China "Panda Huggers") right here, especially current DoD golden boy and slugger-supreme, Michael Pillsbury.

Pillsbury dwells on the far-hawkish end. Where others view China's intentions as complicated, Pillsbury says that Beijing views the United States as an "inevitable foe." ("He makes simple what is not simple," says Mark Pratt, a former State Department official who has known Pillsbury for over 30 years.) Where others debate the merits of hedging, Pillsbury feels that things haven't gone far enough. "The U.S. can do much more to hedge in the next few years if the Chinese do not end their excessive military secrecy and begin to reassure their neighbors," he recently told The Wall Street Journal. And where nearly everyone agrees that China is far behind the United States in military capacity, Pillsbury has been among the first, and the few, to argue that Beijing is preparing for an asymmetric military conflict with the United States in which it would draw on secret "assassin's mace" weapons. The term "assassin's mace," more commonly translated as "trump card" (shashoujian) is, according to Pillsbury, integral to a Chinese notion of "inferior defeats superior." (The Pentagon's most recent annual report to Congress on China's military from May 2006 includes the term, mentioning Chinese efforts to exploit "perceived vulnerabilities of potential opponents--so-called Assassin's Mace [sha shou jian] programs.") An "assassin's mace" might take the form of a computer application, for instance, that would take over an enemy information system, rendering a foe the victim of his own dependence on technology. In Pillsbury's telling, China intends to leapfrog ahead in battle readiness by using assassin's-mace weapons to find breaches in U.S. armor. Moreover, he implies, they could be ready at any time.

The article goes on to portray the shoddy methods of Pillsbury and his shriller-by-the-minute proclamation of impending war, and basically expose him for the grandstander he is. More commentary from Drum and Yglesias, but I think Yglesias is especially onto something. The reason Pillsbury and his ilk have any credibility can be found in the support this line of argument gives to a booming industry in Cold War-style weapons systems that have already become useless for the most part, and will continue to do so. The fact that there is no counter-lobby basically guarantees their continued existence as well, even though their arguments make little sense and have almost no backup besides paranoid speculation.