Edwards is an Untrustworthy Opportunist, Redux

February 3, 2007

Bora thinks that Ezra Klein’s interview with Edwards means he’s actually pro-peace. I think it means he’s an opportunist who tells people what they want to hear. To the Herzliya conference, which is all about supporting the Israeli right’s foreign policy, Edwards said that Iran is a global threat. To Ezra Klein, a liberal writing for the liberal American Prospect, he said he was mostly for peace.

However, even there, he can’t help it but waffle on some questions. Ezra asks, “Can we live with a nuclear Iran?” Edwards’ best route here is to dodge – one answer is factually wrong while the other is politically wrong – but he does it really badly.

I’m not ready to cross that bridge yet. I think that we have lots of opportunities that we’ve … We’re not negotiating with them directly, what I just proposed has not been done. We’re not being smart about how we engage with them. But I’m not ready to cross that bridge yet. And I think the reason people react the way they do — I understand it, because, when George Bush uses this kind of language, it means something very different for most people. I mean when he uses this kind of language “options are on the table,” he does it in a very threatening kind of way — with a country that he’s not engaging with or making any serious diplomatic proposals to. I mean I think that he’s just dead wrong about that.

A while later, when Ezra pressed him about his comments to the Herzliya conference, he said,

You know when you’re president of the United States you carry an enormous responsibility and there are consequences to what you do. And I just, I would never ever prejudge something that serious in advance. I don’t think we’re anywhere remotely close to having exhausted diplomatic avenues. I don’t think we’ve done anything close to what we should be doing, and there are devastating consequences to a military strike. So, that’s my judgment about where we are today and where we ought to proceed.

One of the things, one of the realities, I think, of the responsibilities of the president, are that, is that, the criteria for ever using American force is pretty clear. You know when there’s an imminent threat to America, or our allies, when we have a treaty obligation, or when there’s some huge humanitarian crisis. But those are very broad, obviously, and so the kind of human being you have in the White House is enormously important — I would argue more important than trying to have somebody predict, off in the future, what you’ll do when confronted with it, because I think its unknowable. I think what’s more important is to know that you have a good and decent human being who, who really wants to do the right thing and understands what the consequences are.

To be perfectly honest, I’d rather Edwards had pulled a Lieberman in the interview and said he thought Iran was indeed a global threat and that he stood by his earlier comments. That way, I’d have categorized him as a war hawk who’s no worse than Obama or Clinton on foreign policy, but is better on economic issues.

Instead, this interview paints him as an untrustworthy opportunist, which lowers his credibility on all issues. I no longer trust him to really do something to reduce poverty anymore. Given his comments on deficit reduction, it’s now likelier that he’s just looking for a way to avoid being fiscally responsible. Throwing a $30-billion bone to the poor is nothing compared to not having to eliminate a $250-billion deficit.

As an added bonus, he’s also the only one of the three Democratic contenders who does not support civil unions. The Washington Blade says gay activists like the fact that he and Obama are upfront about their opposition to gay marriage while Clinton hides it, but its candidate factsheet says only Clinton and Obama support civil unions.

Given that, I’m switching my support in the Democratic primary back to Obama, on the following grounds:

a) It’s not entirely clear he’s pro-war.

b) He’s far more honest than Clinton and Edwards.

c) He opposed the Iraq war in 2002.

Against these grounds there are the following negatives, which I still don’t think outweigh those of Clinton, Edwards, and Giuliani, to say nothing of those of Romney, McCain, and Brownback:

a) He’s inviting the Dominionists into the Democratic Party. He suggests that they won’t move it right on abortion or gay rights or freedom of and from religion. I’m more pessimistic.

b) McCain looked honest in 2000, too.

c) He never had to vote on the Iraq war.

I might revise my support later on.


More Racist Bullshit About Islam

February 2, 2007

I hope this post will settle the shrill anti-Muslim comments that sometimes get posted on this blog. The argument that Islam is evil because it commands the believer to kill all unbelievers is bunk. It’s not “not nuanced enough to be true” or “overly simplistic,” but just plain wrong.

If you don’t believe me, pick up a copy of the Bible, and read chapters 7-9 of Joshua. Then turn to Psalms 137:9, which Biblically motivated pro-lifers might find risible. Then go to Matthew 10, especially 10:34, which will certainly explain the Crusades.

After you’re done, practice explaining why that doesn’t make Christianity and Judaism evil religions whose members must be persecuted and killed, until you can do it with a straight face.


Jacques Chirac is an Idiot

February 1, 2007

Chirac said it wouldn’t be very dangerous for Iran to have nuclear weapons, reminding everyone why it is very dangerous for world leaders to say things they didn’t think out. The main question about Iran isn’t whether it’s appropriate for it to have nuclear weapons; it’s whether there’s an urgent issue at stake, and whether war is the right solution.

French President Jacques Chirac has said it would not be very dangerous for Iran to have a nuclear bomb, but later retracted the remark, according to an interview with two U.S. newspapers and a French magazine published on Thursday.

Chirac spoke to reporters from the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and Le Nouvel Observateur earlier this week, and in initial comments said Tehran would be razed to the ground if Iran launched a nuclear attack against Israel.

I presume Chirac doesn’t want any war involving Iran. In that case, it’s in his interest not to start talking about Iranian nukes as if they’re right around the corner. The most salient feature of the Iran situation is that Iran is years away from a nuclear bomb, which means it’s beneficial to ignore the issue until the two warmongering saber-rattlers, Bush and Ahmadinejad, are out of office.

Whenever someone goes on about the consequences of a nuclear Iran, he plays to the misconception that political calculus from 2007 is at all relevant to it. In 2007, the situation is that Iran has a conservative government with a radical loudmouth who thinks he’s in charge, Israel has a Prime Minister who’s under fire for being a pansy, Iraq is in a civil war situation in which the Iranian-backed Shi’as are winning, and the US has a lame duck President and seven politicians vying to replace him. The only one of the four that has any chance of remaining the same by 2012 is Iraq.

Chirac is trying to fight the last war, i.e. the political battle to prevent the War on Iraq. And he’s failing miserably, because there is no analog of the argument that Saddam had no WMD. Given that all three players – Bush, Ahmadinejad, and Olmert – are extremely unpopular in their respective countries, the best argument is that it’s safe to delay acting on the situation.

Chances are the situation will resolve itself by 2010, with a democratic revolution in Iran. In that case Israel will still complain about Iranian nukes, but nobody will take it seriously. If the situation doesn’t resolve itself, then it will warrant attention, based on parameters from 2010 rather than 2007 (for example, Iran’s either hit or about to hit its oil peak).


There Exist Anti-Abortion Terrorists; Therefore, All Christians are Murderers

January 31, 2007

On Winds of Change, Joe Katzman is trying to show that he’s even more extreme than Sam Harris by writing about a bunch of Jihadists in Britain who plotted to behead a Muslim serving in the British Army. Personally I would give kudos to the British security services and rant about British cultural policy, but Katzman has another comment:

Such nice people. Maybe if we treated them better and offed the Jews as a show of good faith, they’d be kind to us….

Katzman’s post’s title is “Religion of Submission Watch,” which takes me back to when I read about Harris’s positively kooky views on torture and the War on Terror.

There exist anti-abortion terrorists, but the only people who conclude that all Christians are murderers are the sort of extremists who complain that PZ Myers is too soft on religion. There exist settlers in the West Bank who abuse and kill Palestinian civilians, but the only people who generalize from them to Jews are recognizably anti-Semitic. And there exist mobs of Hindu extremists who burn Muslim slums in India, but the only people who call Hinduism the religion of live burning are Muslim terrorists in South Asia.


Why Science is Important

January 29, 2007

A thread on Feministing that degenerated into a series of dumb arguments against Ashley’s growth stunting reminded me just how important it is to argue from science, or facts in general, rather than personal experience.

It’s very attractive to argue from personal experience. It’s your own safe space, which no hierarchist can deny. When you’re sure you’re right, it immunizes you against having to defend yourself to people who just don’t get it. Unfortunately, it also immunizes you against being able to make any headway with people who don’t already agree with you.

Everyone has personal experiences. But the experiences that make it to the mainstream are those of people who are connected in some way. The personal experience of a President or Prime Minister matters more than this of a member of Congress or Parliament, which matters more than this of someone who is merely connected to a politician, which matters more than this of a plebian.

Unsurprisingly, social movements that are based on members’ personal experience fail. Feminism that’s based on personal experience is doomed, because when a woman’s personal experience conflicts with a man’s, absent any evidence the man’s experience will be favored.

In contrast, science is by and large objective. For all the stories of systematic bias, the scientific community has only had two or three cases of lingering bias: early anthropology, eugenics, and maybe psychanalysis. It’s been wrong a few more times, but given that the only methodology with a better batting average than the scientific one is the mathematical one, which isn’t generalizable to most real world questions, attacking science for having been wrong has no merit.

The center and the right successfully characterized the left as all about good feeling for decades. Heart-wrenching moral arguments rarely work in politics. The last time they did in the US was when MLK was fighting segregation. Even MLK couldn’t apply the same organizing strategy that had worked in the South to poverty in Chicago.

In the last forty years, the social movements that have done any good were those based on empirical data. Even within the same movement, battles that were based on empirical data succeeded, whereas those that were based on personal experience failed. Feminists could get extensive anti-discrimination laws on the books, but personal stories of sexual harassment never went anywhere. They could pass laws against domestic violence and strengthen laws against rape, but they could never get criminologists or police departments to apply feminist theories to rape reduction.

As I’m fond of saying, a safe space is a powerless space. Serious political activism requires getting into the mainstream space and working from there. And that requires showing that you have strong enough a case to be allowed in. If it weren’t an excruciating process with fewer successes than you think you deserve, Bismarck wouldn’t analogize it to making sausages.


Clinton has no Shame

January 28, 2007

Clinton has just reminded me why I hate her: because she’s a panderer who tells people what they want to hear and takes no responsibility for her actions.

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton blamed President Bush on Saturday for misusing authority given him by Congress to act in Iraq, but conceded “I take responsibility” for her role in allowing that to happen.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Clinton also said she would not cede black votes to Barack Obama and that she had proven as a U.S. senator that gender is irrelevant.

Her “I take responsibility” concession looks like a way of wooing Catholics. The Catholic Church has a long tradition of committing transgressions, apologizing for them, and then committing more transgressions. Clinton is essentially saying, “Now that the occupation of Iraq is unpopular, I’m against it. But if I’m under pressure from Republicans, the Israel lobby, and Saudi Arabia to attack Iran, I’ll do it.”

Her point about gender is even more shameless. She believes gender is irrelevant, and then turns around and stresses her gender when she can use it to attract female voters. She can’t even properly craft a persona based on polling data; she has to scramble for support from different groups by being a different person to different people.

The most idiotic thing in her sales pitch is that she tries pitting herself as Ms. Experience.

“I have a lifetime of experiences as well as qualifications from all the work that I’ve done that make me particularly well prepared to take office in January 2009,” she said.

If I were Edwards or Obama and trying to attack Clinton from the left, I’d point out that her lifetime of experience began with doing activist work for Barry Goldwater. The first time she did anything related to policy was when she pushed through her ill considered health care plan in 1993. That’s still more experience than Obama or Edwards has, but Clinton has still only served six years in elected office.


People Should Learn the Canon More

January 25, 2007

Schools and universities should do more to ensure that people who graduate from them know something about the traditional canon. The second most obnoxious type of people to talk to about anything are the people who think people should be canonized based on their gender or race rather than quality. The most obnoxious type are people who may agree with teaching the canon, but are entirely ignorant of it.

Rachel Moran, whose motto could be “I’m violent toward homeless people and proud of it,” is an example of the latter. In her latest diatribe about homeless people, she says,

On the way to the Benz, I saw a homeless gentleman that I’ve seen for some time.  He looks disarmingly like Snoop Dogg, with very handsome, canine features and clean, thick cornrows and a long, blue jacket (I wear my shit on the left side, ’cause, yeah, that’s the Crips side).  He is perfectly non-intrusive, but lives off your money, simply by asking for it, without providing service in return.  Read your Locke.  Yes, it’s common.  I don’t care.

The above paragraph clearly demonstrates not only that Rachel flunked or didn’t take any serious writing class, but also that she hasn’t read Locke. Locke’s methodology was to go to a hypothetical state of nature and look for the rights people enjoyed in it, whence he got the triad of life, liberty, and property.

However, his view of property was very pre-capitalist. In the state of nature, he showed, people (he wrote “men”) have the right to the fruits of their own labor. In a Lockean system, there are no employers and employees, only individual producers who trade with one another. This served to contrast mainly with feudalism and absolutism, where people had to surrender the fruits of their own labor to the aristocracy.

Smith (who, unlike Locke, I haven’t read) then appropriated that to argue against mercantilism, in the process throwing out much of the stuff that was too outdated. Smith and Ricardo were no Jeffersonians; although unlike such industrialists as Hamilton they were adamantly for free trade, they were also for growth and free labor.

Obviously, their economic theories say nothing about homelessness. Why would they? Homelessness is associated with a form of poverty that only arose after the industrial revolution. Basing one’s view of homelessness on pre-1850 writers is like basing one’s view of evolution on pre-1800 writers or one’s view of airborne transportation on pre-1900 writers.

Reading canonized writers, philosophers, economists, and political theorists is priceless. In contrast, whining about how a homeless person is a parasite based on a misreading of canonized figures marks you not as an intellectual but as a faker who someone like Skatje would characterize as a waste of oxygen.


Outrage Links

January 25, 2007

Lindsay has an ongoing series on Julie Amero, the teacher who is facing jail time because some spyware showed porn to her students. She has an article up on the Huffington Post about it, and a further explanation about why Amero didn’t immediately closed the offending windows.

Steve Gilliard embeds a video of someone who needs a Queer Eye makeover singing “God hates fags.” Personally I was most bothered by the line, “With a man you shall not lay.” It wasn’t the implicit sexism, but the use of “lay” when “lie” is needed (hat-tip to Bruce).

Jenny writes about the history of lobotomy, which was to treat for every psychiatric condition, real or imagined. Lobotomies have a specific purpose: to remove damaged brain tissue. Psychological problems aren’t usually about damaged brain tissue, but rather about overall chemical imbalances. To quote Simon on Firefly, “Why anyone would cut into a healthy brain…”

Skatje complains about nationalist hysteria, as manifested in the American notion that the US flag should have rights (which, incidentally, Clinton is happily flip-flopping on). Skatje comments, “Nationalism terrifies me. A country should never come before human rights. If that’s not a step towards a fascist regime, I don’t know what is. To add to my disgust, America packages nationalism as a virtue called “patriotism.” They’re more or less synonymous, but patriotism is a euphemism.”

Skatje’s dad PZ writes about a political science professor who’s under fire because she sent people an email from her university account asking to “put together a Team Franken.”

Echidne notes that the State of the Union address included lengthy references to freedom in a Middle Eastern context, without saying a single word about the USA’s role in destroying Iraq, or Israel’s role in increasing the sympathies for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Tyler posted a picture of himself. If that’s not outrage, I don’t know what is.

Jill stumbled upon a site for the vanguard of a Christian version of the Taliban‘s dress code for women. Discussion topics on the website include the importance of modesty, the need for women to make sure men don’t sin, and micromanagement to ensure that no behavior, including turning heads, causes men to sin.

On My Left Wing, There Is No Spoon is writing about the Republican threat to filibuster the minimum wage increase in the Senate. My first response is, “How the hell is Reid unable to get cloture on a bill that passed the House 3 to 1?”. My second is the same as There Is No Spoon’s: “I have absolutely no problem with watching the GOP bring Speaker Pelosi’s incredibly popular 100 hours legislation to a dead halt in the Senate by filibustering the one most popular piece of that agenda.”


State of the Union Notes

January 23, 2007

The State of the Union was about as bland as expected. Bush mispronounced a few words, deflected attention from the defeat in Iraq by focusing on the few successes (at least he didn’t invoke Saddam’s execution…), and proposed a tax cut to people who don’t pay income tax as a solution to the lack of universal health insurance.

Bush’s promised tax cut is a 7,500 deduction. People who lack insurance are mostly in the 15% bracket, but get enough back in the Earned Income Tax Credit that they don’t pay federal income taxes. The lion’s share of the taxes they pay is in FICA and sales taxes.

The education policy he tried advocating was uninteresting enough that when he talked about local control, we switched to mathematical jokes. “I’m more into global stuff,” I said. Then it escalated to “The terrorists’ scheme will not succeed,” “Joint Chiefs of Staff” (think “adjoint sheaves”), “killing fields,” “rings of terrorists,” “free groups of citizens,” and “we will push forward and never pull back.”

The most interesting part wasn’t the address, but the responses to it. Besides being more articulate than the address, Jim Webb’s response was contained such gems as (rough quote) “If the President understands the need for eventual withdrawal, we’ll work with him. If he doesn’t, we’ll show him the way.”

John McCain tried explaining why he supported the surge. What he ended up admitting was that the US strategy in Iraq was a failure. He couldn’t explain why a 21,500 troop surge would help anything, or why the new strategy was materially different from the one he admitted was a failure. He said he trusted General Petraeus and that’s it, more or less.

Hillary Clinton was was asked point-blank if she supported withdrawing. Needless to say, she evaded the question, answering instead with general platitudes about the surge. The only thing she was specific about was that she didn’t like Bush, a position she adopted promptly after Bush’s approval rate fell below 40%.

Barack Obama was a bit more specific. He mentioned something about withdrawing someday, but like Clinton said nothing of substance.


The Rats are Abandoning the Ship

January 17, 2007

Four Senators – Levin (D-MI), Hagel (R-NE), Snowe (R-ME), and Biden (D-DE) – have introduced a non-binding resolution telling Bush they oppose the war. Sadly, they seem to be under the impression Bush, a lame duck President who’s more radioactive than the Chernobyl fauna, gives a damn about non-binding resolutions.

At the same time, House liberals are introducing binding resolutions for withdrawal. Even if they pass, there’s a fifty/fifty chance Bush will abide by them, but 50% is still better than nothing.

And on the other side of the Capitol, antiwar liberal Democrats in the House, led by Californians, unveiled a more sweeping plan for withdrawing troops from Iraq over the next six months.

The White House responded to the flurry of activity by asserting that the resolutions would have no impact on its policy.

“The president has obligations as a commander in chief,” said presidential spokesman Tony Snow. “And he will go ahead and execute them.”

Rep. Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma, along with Reps. Maxine Waters of Los Angeles and Barbara Lee of Oakland, was one of the Californians who sponsored the sweeping resolution in the House.

“The November elections showed just how fed up the American public is with the president’s failed Iraq policy,” Woolsey said. “It is now up to the Congress to catch up with the will of the American public.”

Bush seems to think that sharing a name with a few English kings makes him one. His defenders cite a few fringe Constitutional scholars, like John Yoo, in defense of their belief that separation of powers is for lesser beings than the President.

That, mind you, is only a recent development. In the 1990s, they sported, “I love my country but fear my government” stickers. Every politician supports the President when it’s popular and then jumps ship when it’s not; three of the four cosponors voted for the war. Every politically-minded person supports a strong executive when his party controls the White House but not Congress, and a strong legislature when it’s the other way around.


Noam Chomsky, Standards of Criticism, and Race

January 16, 2007

I don’t want to interrupt Tyler and Whig’s flamewar in my comment thread, so I’ll respond to Emma’s questions about Chomsky here. I criticized Chomsky’s totalization of class a few months ago, in response to which Emma fielded a few questions worth answering.

1. “Radical anti-Americans like Chomsky have no trouble rationalizing violence whenever it’s committed by groups that aren’t allied with the United States.”

Can you back this up with anything? Also, how do you justify the use of “anti-American”?

2.) You mentioned Brad Delong’s criticism of Chomsky. Have you read Edward Herman’s response to Brad Delong? Any thoughts?

http://www.counterpunch.org/herman07262003.html

First, the second question: people who think the US does more harm than good are in fact anti-American. That doesn’t justify the bad rap anti-Americanism is getting – pro-Americans have their Ann Coulters just like anti-Americans have their Bin Ladens – but it’s descriptively accurate. People who consistently attack French culture, vilify French history, and support anti-French forces are radically anti-French. People who act the same toward the US are anti-American. Further, Chomsky is a radical anti-American, since he tends to defend people solely on account of their opposition to the US or Israel, even when they deserve defense less than flu viruses.

Second, the first question (plus the third). In the perennial debate over Chomsky’s pro-Khmer Rouge comments dating back to 1979, the traditional pro-Chomsky argument is that he was concerned over anti-communist propaganda, or over pro-American atrocities, or over inconclusive evidence. That may be so, but it’s legitimate to ask how come the same person who’s always been the first to point out American atrocities was the last to acknowledge atrocities committed by an anti-American regime.

It’s entirely possible for a consistent skeptic to have doubted that the Khmer Rouge had killed millions and even said it “elicited a positive response,” or to have assumed that just because someone is a Holocaust denier doesn’t make him anti-Semitic.

However, Chomsky is not such a consistent skeptic. Whenever the US or an ally of its is the culprit, Chomsky is at the forefront of the criticism. He blamed Israel for actively perpetrating the Sabra and Shatila massacre, which it didn’t. His writings about Vietnam posit dark motives instead of normal mission creep. Similarly, Edward Herman’s article invents pernicious US interests in the Balkans going far beyond standard realist politics. Worse, Herman claims that data from the Khmer Rouge government itself was credible at the time, a courtesy neither he nor Chomsky has ever extended the US.

3. You say: “Chomsky’s argument is typical for a class warrior. Class warriors, such as Chomsky and Howard Zinn, portray The People as essentially good creatures, corrupted and made fatalistic by predatory capitalism. In their conception, sexism is a historical accident that only a few misguided whiners rail specifically against, and racism is either that or a deliberate ploy by the rich to divide the underclass against itself.”

Can you back this up with more specific quotes?

In Understanding Power, Chomsky says without evidence Americans are obsessed with sports because of an elite conspiracy to a) distract them from politics and b) make them more chauvinistic. I don’t have the exact quote, but I know occasional commenter Bushbaptist does. Zinn isn’t so conspiratorial, but does say 99% of Americans have the exact same interests but are being duped by the top 1%.

In the interview I linked to on UTI, Chomsky explicitly says class is all that matters.

You say that class transcends race, essentially.

It certainly does. For example, the United States could become a color-free society. It’s possible. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but it’s perfectly possible that it would happen, and it would hardly change the political economy at all. Just as women could pass through the “glass ceiling” and that wouldn’t change the political economy at all.

That’s one of the reasons why you commonly find the business sector reasonably willing to support efforts to overcome racism and sexism. It doesn’t matter that much for them. You lose a little white-male privilege in the executive suite, but that’s not all that important as long as the basic institutions of power and domination survive intact.

And you can pay the women less.

Or you can pay them the same amount. Take England. They just went through ten pleasant years with the Iron Lady running things. Even worse than Reaganism.

The part Emma quotes is a sincere observation about the difference between radicals who totalize class, like Chomsky and Zinn, and radicals who totalize race or gender. People who write radical books about the Native American experience don’t say white Americans are good people who are duped by the establishment; they say whites are genocidal colonialists. Black and Hispanic nationalists don’t even extend white Anglos the courtesy Zinn extends to the upper middle class – they often say all whites are categorically racist.

The US could become color-blind without changing anything else. The Gini index would remain .47, and the intergenerational income regression coefficient would remain .47 as well or drop to the intra-white level that I think is about .4. Welfare would remain humiliating and poverty-entrenching.

Or it could become class-blind without changing anything else. The Democratic Party tried to do just that between Reconstruction and the New Deal – support more income equality and redistribution of wealth without doing anything about racial equality. The Dixiecrats would have been perfectly happy with universal white-only health care in the 1930s.

Obviously, racial tensions have been an obstacle to economic reforms. Roosevelt’s universal health care scheme failed precisely because it was color-blind. But that goes both ways: affirmative action schemes encounter opposition from business, and many black Americans are kept in poverty because of popular opposition to welfare. It’s possible to construe both kinds of problems in a way that puts class above race, but that’s just playing with the facts to fit the theory.

Since Marx, radicals pretending to be serious sociologists have tried constructing simple, monolithic theories of oppression, which almost invariably totalize the form they’re most familiar with and ignore the others. Exposing their intellectual bankruptcy is one of the goals I’m aiming for in my radical pathologies series.

I don’t think Chomsky is personally invested in downplaying gender and race. The next radical pathology I’m going to write about is extremism, which shows how on the contrary, radicals seek to be as extreme as they can. But to accept that the combination of class and imperialism isn’t everything would require people like Chomsky to complicate their worldviews too much, which might necessitate rethinking their radical anti-Americanism.


Obama Isn’t My Least Favorite Democratic Presidential Candidate

January 16, 2007

It’s official: Obama officially declared that he’s exploring a Presidential bid. He did not announce his candidacy explicitly, but at this stage there’s no difference between going around the country and giving speeches, and being an official candidate. Said Obama,

Running for the presidency is a profound decision — a decision no one should make on the basis of media hype or personal ambition alone — and so before I committed myself and my family to this race, I wanted to be sure that this was right for us and, more importantly, right for the country.

SLC has referred to him as “PZ and Alon’s whipping boy.” Although PZ and I hardly like the guy, I certainly don’t think he’s the worst person in the Democratic primary, and apparently, neither does PZ. He’s completely right when he says,

The only ones with a hint of charisma are Obama (who I will not support) and Edwards; the others just put me to sleep. I guess we just wait to see which drone will receive the DNC coronation—and it won’t be the most interesting candidate, or the one who promises to shake anything up—and we pull the lever for not-Giuliani or not-McCain.

I’ll add to that that although Obama and Edwards have the ability to inspire an audience, they don’t even come close to Bill Clinton in warmth and ability to connect to people. Even Feingold, who managed to win in an insurgent campaign, isn’t up to WJC’s standards.

Of course, inspiring an audience isn’t enough. Hitler was probably the most inspiring major politician of the 20th century. My criticism of Obama and Edwards – Obama more so than Edwards – is that as with the Clintons, the product they’re selling is ultimately an annoying mediocrity.

Obama’s shtick is that he’ll make the trains run on time. Much as I appreciate being able to travel to Philly with relatively few delays, it’s not my top concern; that status is reserved for keeping abortion legal, rolling back the Patriot Act, and scrapping the plan to invade Iran and Syria. Now that Bush seems to be preparing for an invasion of those two countries, it’s even more important to have a candidate with a sufficiently firm foreign policy to be able to say “no.”

Unfortunately, Obama is a complete wildcard on most of those issues (I think he made pro-choice remarks, but his speeches to Evangelicals make me suspect he’ll sacrifice that issue to gain the support of the Sojourners). The official exploratory website’s video mentions that in the Illinois Senate race, he was the only major candidate to oppose the Iraq attack.

Now, I appreciate that; I really do. In 2003, I supported Dean’s bid mostly on account of his opposition to the Iraq war. But as I later learned, Dean’s opposition was a sham, a political ploy. In late 2002, his position on the issue was perfectly mediocre, talking about Saddam’s hypothetical WMD. Taken alone it was still alright, but as Joshua Frank notes, he supported every other American war, when he couldn’t use his opposition to carve out a niche for himself.

For someone with background in international relations, Obama talks surprisingly little about foreign policy. He’s said nothing that I know of about Iran or Syria, the next major issues. Getting out of Iraq is important, but not destroying Iran and Syria is even more important. Right now, the only American politicians I can trust not to mess that up are those who voted the right way on Iraq in 2002. Edwards’ “Sorry, I was duped” apology doesn’t quite cut it.

One of the things I appreciate about Lieberman is that I know where he stands on the issues that matter to me. His stances are usually the diametric opposites of mine, but at least I know what he really thinks and have reasonable grounds to believe he won’t flip-flop.

So Obama is an empty suit who’s being deliberately obscurantist about his politics, except that he thinks that God is great. He’s black, but I’d rather have a black President who isn’t a complete political wildcard. Al Sharpton, who I loathe for his race-baiting rhetoric, would make a better President. Even Condi Rice would make a better President.

But as I said, I don’t think he’s the worst person in the race. He’s certainly not my favorite whipping boy, unless “boy” is interpreted in a gender-specific way. Everything I’ve said about Obama here applies to Hillary Clinton, only she voted for the war, and proved herself to be totally unable to create a workable health care proposal. Obama is untested; Clinton has been thoroughly tested and found woefully deficient. Obama might actually not be a mediocre meanderer if he wins; Clinton will be anything but a mediocre meanderer when she sees the back of her own ear.

Personally, the sort of candidate I like the most is the type that combines competence with vision. The only thing that’s worse than a politician whose slogan is “I’ll make the trains run on time” is a politician who can’t make the trains run on time. I could get excited over Feingold and even Warner because they have very concrete, forward-looking visions, and a record of success in their respective elected offices to prove that they can execute their visions. Obama and Clinton have no vision I can discern; even if they had ones, Clinton couldn’t execute it, and I don’t know if Obama could.


Hacks Playing Media Watchdogs

January 8, 2007

Whenever political activists criticize media bias, I’m uncomfortably reminded that what they actually criticize is the media’s failure to display their own bias.

This is especially true on the blogosphere, which has as many hacks pretending to be serious media watchdogs as Saudi Arabia has barrels of oil. It’s more acute on the right, which is more adventurous in that respect and has produced both the greatest successes of blogospheric anti-media rants (Dan Rather) and the greatest failures (Jamail Hussein).

So right-wing bloggers twist themselves into non-orientable shapes now that it’s becoming clear Jamail Hussein exists. It’s standard for hacks not to admit mistakes; there’s no reason to get agitated over that.

The left doesn’t do that kind of media-bashing, partly because it’s less used to hating on the media and partly because the reality of the situation in Iraq is largely what its official party line says it is. Instead, it engages in a different kind of vicious attack, namely claiming an inalienable right to scream and be partisan.

And if you think it’s bad in partisan American politics, you haven’t looked into the politics of the I/P conflict. The best one-line summary of the pro-Israeli position isn’t “The occupation is good,” “the conflict is the Palestinians’ fault,” or “Israel’s behavior is more moral than the Palestinians’.” It’s “The global media is biased against Israel.” Likewise, the best summary of the pro-Palestinian position is “The global media is biased against Palestine.”

If I were the editor of the New York Times, every time someone unreasonably complained of bias in reporting, I’d write an editorial explaining, “The New York Times does not exist to cater to the whims of political fanatics. Shrill, narrow-minded, one-sided magazines are a dime a dozen. If you’re interested in that kind of reporting, that’s what the National Review is for.”

Unfortunately, the same media outlets that do their best to report real facts rather than spin also tend to view themselves as above the fray. As such, they’re likelier to accommodate hacks playing media watchdogs who mount sufficiently vigorous campaigns, instead of treating them with the contempt they deserve.


“I Told You So” is Not a Good Foreign Policy

January 7, 2007

As long as complaints centered on the fact that war supporters had gotten it wrong 4 years ago were confined to the blogosphere, I ignored them. But now Chirac is engaging in the same stale rhetoric that makes me go read Thomas Friedman in frustration.

Says Chirac,

As France had foreseen and feared, the war in Iraq has sparked upheavals that have yet to show their full effects… This adventure has worsened the divisions among communities and threatened the very integrity of Iraq. It has undermined the stability of the entire region, where every country now fears for its security and its independence. It has offered terrorism a new field for expansion.

(…)

The priority, more than ever, is to restore full sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

The last sentence makes Chirac’s statement more palatable – “We should withdraw now” is a constructive idea – but the rest is pure crap. France didn’t foresee anything. Most of the French people had a rough idea the war would be a bad idea. But Chirac wasn’t about the only right-wing leader in Europe to oppose the war because of his foresight, but because of a pathological anti-Anglophone hatred.

And even then, Chirac’s statement was a lot better than the usual complaints about why the US media still tilts toward people who supported the war.

It’s not that the media has any inherent bias; it’s that when one side gives a multitude of detailed ideas that won’t work, and the other alternates between sloganeering “Bush lied; people died” and saying “Withdraw now,” the media will tilt toward the former. The sooner activists understand that, the sooner they’ll be able to get the media to adopt the slant they want it to adopt.


Bring On the Hair Splitting

January 2, 2007

The Washington Post has an article noting that in the last Congress, Obama and Clinton voted together 90% of the time. So, naturally, one should assume that being a bastion of objectivity and rationality, the paper would write about the two Senators’ political similarities, right?

Wrong. The headline is, “Clinton-Obama Differences Clear in Senate Votes.” Shailagh Murray even kindly supplies each candidate the material to base the attack ads on.

The two front-runners for the 2008 Democratic nomination are newcomers to the chamber. But in the two years that Clinton and Obama have overlapped, they have taken opposite sides at least 40 times. That’s a lot of material to mine, and even misrepresent.

(…)

In corn-growing Iowa, the first stop in the presidential nominating process, Clinton will have to explain the ethanol vote she cast on June 15, 2005. The senator recently softened her stance, but she is on record opposing a large federal boost for the grain-based fuel.

And Obama voted to increase taxes when he opposed a package of business breaks that included the extension of middle-class provisions. Clinton voted for the tax bill — before she voted against it, as did Obama, in the legislation’s final form.

Of course, reading between the lines reveals the exact conclusion the article should have led with in the first place: Clinton and Obama are basically the same middling candidate, but one has charisma while the other has money (unfortunately for Obama, Edwards has even more charisma and the ability to pretend to be experienced).

The one thing I’ve learned from this is that Clinton voted against an agricultural subsidy. The bad thing is that she started softening her position not just because of the Iowa caucuses a year from now, but also because New York State’s first ethanol plant opened earlier this year. It’s nice she won’t spend New York City’s money to subsidize an inefficient fuel in Iowa, but when she will spend its money to subsidize the same fuel in Buffalo, it’s worrying. It indicates she has a very narrow sense of her constituents’ wishes, as well as that she’s running for Senate reelection in a navy blue state.

According to the article, the key issues the candidates differ on are,

– Ethanol subsidies (sort of)
– Expanding oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico
– Pork belly funding for a Pentagon travel system and a railway line along the Gulf Coast
– Funding for propaganda broadcasting aimed at Cuba, which the Cuban government blocks
– The legality of confiscating legally held guns during national emergencies
– Permitting Senators to practice medicine on a non-profit basis
– Restructuring FEMA
– Tightening lobbyist rules

The last two some voters might actually care about, so of course Murray burys them right at the end of the article. Readers can get to them only after wading through issues that not even the We’ll Make the Trains Run on Time people give a damn about.

The race would’ve been a lot more fun with Feingold in it. Then it could be about boring issues like civil liberties and how to provide universal health care. Even Warner, who actually is a competent technocrat rather than just someone who plays one on TV, spiced up the race. For one, he helped keep Clinton out, which is always good.


Bigfoot Pseudoscience

December 29, 2006

Since nothing of interest happens in Canada, on the taxi ride from the University of Victoria to the airport, CBC blurted a story summarizing 2006’s Bigfoot news. The interesting thing the announcer said was that “Bigfoot is known by many names,” like Yeti around the Himalayas. He could have done something extraordinary for popular media and gone into cross-cultural studies of Bigfoot legends, for example the similarity between Bigfoot and trolls (as in epic fantasy, not the blogosphere).

Instead, he replayed interviews with Bigfoot proponents who went on and on about how awful it was that nobody was taking them seriously and how any evidence against them didn’t count. One was a Vincent Chao, an environmentalist and Bigfoot believer, who talked with glee about a state-supported search for Bigfoot in Johor Bahru. A few months later, when not a single person had signed up for the government’s drive to look for Bigfoot in the forests of Johor, he started saying that there had been insufficient publicity for some mysterious reason.

Hearing him come off as smirking but actually dreading defeat was unbridled joy for a skeptic like me. The interviewer wasn’t as hostile as Bill O’Reilly is to non-fascist guests, but she asked enough hardball questions to make skeptics radiant… and believers just as content. I’m pretty sure Bigfoot believers wouldn’t think Chao totally botched the interview, even though he did.


Taking a Stand

December 25, 2006

Not making any apologies here: this is stupid, offensive, or oppressive, take your pick. If you’re not masochistic enough to click through to I Blame The Patriarchy, a short summary is that Twisty quoted something not especially sane from Sheila Jeffreys, a radical feminist who makes Andrea Dworkin look mainstream; a commenter noted that Jeffreys hates transgendered people; and, a few dozen comments later, all her broke loose.

I don’t normally admonish radical leftists who do stupid things, especially when they’re entirely outside the mainstream. Prejudice against transgendered people is mainstream, and the people who harass trans coworkers or won’t let them use the right bathroom or exclude them from equal rights laws or refuse them IDs reflecting their genders are usually not radical feminists.

That said, Vanessa Gatsch is right on.

 And yes, I realize that these were comments left on a post, not content written by the owner of this particular blog herself. However, that’s the same excuse what’s-his-name from Little Green Footballs uses. It’s a bullshit excuse.

I’ve decided I can’t live in a blogtopia (y!sctp!) where the feminist version of Little Green Footballs exists with little to no objection.

So, after a few days I will be removing from my blogroll anyone who links to I Blame the Patriarchy in their blogroll.

I don’t think this will do anything other than make me feel better about my daily reading material.

Sometimes, big bloggers let their echo chamber deal with trolls. That’s entirely understandable. What’s not understandable is that a blogger who has expressed admiration for a moonbat with anti-trans sentiments is letting her echo chamber rant about trans bogeymen. I don’t expect bloggers to take a position on every issue, but when the issue comes up in their comment threads or is important to their idols, silence is tantamount to agreement.

Unlike Vanessa, I’m not going to delink people, not unless they engage in the same anti-trans oppression as Twisty. I just hope that people who do link to her know that they have an anti-trans moonbat on their blogroll and act accordingly.


Two Wrong Kinds of Unity

December 22, 2006

Progressive movements are prone to radicalization, which invariably makes them splinter, self-marginalize, and reduce their effectiveness to zero. As such, some movements have tried coming up with ways to prevent splintering and marginalization, which in most cases cause more problems than they solve.

Broadly, the focus in these would-be solutions is on unity, which can take two forms – the egalitarian kind, and the hierarchical kind.

The egalitarian kind of unity is based on very high levels of solidarity, and on demanding members to suborn their personal differences to the grand agenda. That kind of unity fails more often than not, because unless the members themselves think the movement focuses on the right issues, asking them for solidarity will only increase the likelihood of a schism. Not coincidentally, movements that require more solidarity – usually the more radical ones – split more, and governments that tolerate less dissent are more prone to a violent revolution.

But lately, progressive movements go the other way, that is hierarchical unity. Whereas egalitarianism is based on high levels of solidarity, hierarchy is based on enforced solidarity, which expresses itself in asserting control over all avenues of activism. An organization like NOW or the NAACP would like to have a large network of organizations and sub-movements totally subordinate to its leadership’s wishes. Not coincidentally, NOW only associates with other hierarchical organizations and distances itself from what it can’t control, like blogging.

Ideally, this sort of hierarchism increases efficiency, by letting a stable circle of movement leaders use their knowledge to spend political capital wisely. In practice, that’s what they say about dictatorships, too, and yet authoritarian governments fall behind democratic ones in increasing their residents’ standard of living.

First, hierarchical organizations are skewed toward the views of older people, who are likely to fight the battles of yesterday. NOW spends most of its political capital on abortion – how could it not, when its leaders grew up in an era when abortion was illegal? Although officially its platform is broader, in fact it worries too much about abortion and too little about equal pay and family-friendly workplaces, to say nothing of daycare.

Second, a hierarchical structure is bad when it comes to listening to groups of constituents. The Democratic Party brushes off feminists; NOW brushes off young feminists and has just discovered the existence of low-income women. I don’t think there’s a single liberal organization whose leadership is truly representative of its constituents; pretending that individual constituents don’t matter unless they hold leadership positions is enough to skew the agenda.

Third, liberal movements with a hierarchical structure fail to recognize why the left developed its atomistic movement structure in the first place. Left-of-center parties have learned the hard way that a group whose agenda is equal rights for various marginalized groups can’t do any kind of issue triage without alienating large numbers of voters. Individual left-wing organizations have just narrow enough a gamut of issues to not need to learn this lesson to survive, but just broad enough a gamut to need to learn it to be politically effective.

And fourth, hierarchism throttles any increases in political capital that might come from grassroots action. It’s not a coincidence that no liberal movement in the US has seriously allied itself with bloggers. Bloggers are an annoying people who are hard to control; Kim Gandy doesn’t have and won’t have any way of forcing Amanda Marcotte and Jessica Valenti to write about what she cares about.

The focus on the hierarchical kind of unity here might predispose you to think the answer is egalitarianism. It isn’t, at least not until egalitarian groups manage to get a single platform plank written into law. Instead, it’s individualism, of the same type that has helped Dean almost win the 2004 primary and the left to stop being a circular firing squad of feminists, labor liberals, antiracists, and civil libertarians.

I wrote about the need to reduce expectations of solidarity in my first non-fluff post on this blog. I’m not going to repeat what I said; what I will note is that there already exists a fairly successful formula for progressives.

Left-wing political parties have largely given up on exciting people over specific issues, instead derogating that responsibility to movements like feminism and civil rights. Individual movements can do something similar, that is let sub-organizations deal with specific issues and become umbrella organizations instead. The AFL-CIO works fairly successfully that way. NOW can and should devolve along similar lines, letting separate organizations take over the task of agitating for reproductive rights, equal pay, and so on, and shrinking its responsibility to supporting these organizations.

At the same time, a more relaxed attitude toward what the movement’s leaders can’t control should also help the movement take advantage of new forms of communication. It’s not a coincidence that although opposition to the Iraq War was nearly universal among liberals almost from the moment Bush first trumpeted it, the coordinated protest of 2/15 was organized by ANSWER. Liberals are squeamish about surrendering the limited level of power they have; radicals have no power to surrender, which is why the net has been inundated with them since the days of USENET.


Apparently, I’m a Communist

December 17, 2006

My excuse for not finding this earlier is that at the time, I didn’t notice the comments to the post, or possibly read the post before there were comments. Apparently, a commenter of Timothy Shortell’s took exception to my welfare post, and felt the need to start a longwinded rant about the government taking his money.

Welfare is basically a collection of money transfer programs from the government to people the government deems to need assistance.

Apparently this communist thinks all wealth belongs to the government. The above should read, “Welfare is basically a collection of money transfer programs from the productive citizens hard work to people the government deems to need assistance. This money, taken by force with the threat of imprisonment or great bodily harm is then transferred to the group of individuals in this country who refuse to provide for themselves, continue to make poor decisions and demand financial equality. Government uses this stolen money to purchase votes from society’s dead weight, thus ensuring its continued growth and power.”

At this point, 50% of U.S. citizens pay absolutely no federal income taxes. This rate will continues to increase as politicians use these large numbers to turn wealth envy into political gold by promising to punish the wealthy and reward those with the open hands. Soon my long lost relative, Timmy here, will have his idea of socialist utopia and the US will look more like Europe with enormous unemployment rates, a bloated welfare system, and now, the rapid transformation of a once secular society into an Islamo-fascist insane asylum where Sharia law will usurp their already nutty legal system.

Perhaps Aloon should seek a profession that is in demand enough to pay him enough to afford better insurance, or (GOD FORBID!) to pay for his own MRI. I would bet that a quick examination of his purchases for that past year or so would reveal expenditures that could have been curtailed in order to provide that $1000 needed for his MRI. Or perhaps he (or she. I don’t know who this whack job is) could solicit donations from his/her readers before wishing for Uncle Sam to put a gun to my temple and rob me of my hard earned money.

First, a quick political rundown: anyone who’s stupid enough to think anyone with a functioning brain would rather go through the humiliation that is TANF than work should be barred from posting comments on blogs; meanwhile, Sweden, which has non-humiliating welfare, has marginally more unemployment than the US, and Denmark and Norway have less.

Besides, so much of an individual’s income comes from government assistance such as public education, roads, and various and sundry policies that increase income mobility that anyone who’s clueless enough to make a moral “It’s my money” argument should be deported to Namibia and made to live on an income equal to the Namibian percentile corresponding to his country’s percentile.

Oh, and since single-payer systems spend less on health care than the US, a “bloated socialist system” for health care won’t increase his taxes by a cent, create any additional deficit, lengthen waits for procedures, or restrict his choice of doctors. He’ll only become worse off if he works for a health insurance company or is a redundant health care bureaucrat, in which case he should seek an alternative job that doesn’t require the economy to be grossly inefficient to sustain.

Now, a personal breakdown: it’s hard to underestimate the amount of money I spend that isn’t on food, rent, or travel. It’s there, but I don’t buy clothes, I download my movies (if you think it’s stealing, you already want the government to enforce things you support on pain of imprisonment or serious bodily harm), and I usually don’t care enough about owning things to spend money on them.

Okay, I travel. I realize that in the libertarian utopia, the poor barely have money to eat, let alone see any place other than their own neighborhood, but see my above comment about deporting people to Namibia. But even then, a lot of my travel expenditures are for my Metrocard, which pays for a subway system that wouldn’t even be up if libertarians had their way (note, by the way, that the set libertarians doesn’t equal the set of rich people; Upper East Siders use the subway just like everyone else).

And, on top of everything, I have to pay taxes. The 50% figure is a lie. Even if it weren’t, it wouldn’t apply to me, because not being even a permanent resident of the US, I can’t take advantage of a lot of deductions. I have 14% of my income withheld in income taxes, and on top of that I pay an 8.375% sales tax on everything I buy, which works out to paying about 20% of my income in taxes. As a percentage of disposable income it’s a lot higher; going by even the national poverty rate, which barely covers my rent, I pay 40% of my income to the government. Counting health insurance as income, it goes down to about 33%.

Actually, since health care is about 23% of government spending in the US, counting both my insurance premium and taxes means I pay almost $3,000 per year for health care, in a system that discriminates in pricing based on criteria that depress my premiums to the minimum possible. I’d pay less if I were Canadian, and get better health care even if the American myth that Canada has prolonged waits for everything were true.

On the other hand, I still have a few hundred Euros I haven’t converted into dollars. If the US keeps cutting taxes on the rich and fighting wars of aggression, it’ll depress the dollar so much I’ll be able to live off the interest my Euros will pay me.


Rape Porn

December 15, 2006

Ever satisfying the desires of the tens of people who find my blog every day by Googling for porn and rape, I suppose I should write about rape porn specifically and rape generally. I haven’t looked at any, but I’ve read a few stories, and all I can say is, they’re bad. It’s not necessarily that the writing is bad, although I would like them more if they didn’t use a euphemism for “penis” once per three sentences; rather, it’s that it gives me the impression that the writer hasn’t ever been raped or heard or read a real rape account.

For example, take this (NSFW). It’s basically a story of a woman who gets raped in her hotel room, and finds it both distressing and titillating, as her rapist forces her to say that she likes it. This just serves to highlight how different rape fantasies are from real rape, I suppose. Rape fantasies range from passionate sex to passionate BDSM. Real rape involves someone having violent sex with someone who isn’t consenting and who will probably see the event as a major psychological trauma and never as a positive experience.

In the late 1990s, there was a serial rapist in Tel Aviv who marked certain women as victims, stalked them for a bit, and then systematically raped them, typically in their homes. The police only caught him by sheer luck; in fact, he escaped from prison recently, but was caught two weeks later.

At one point in 1998 or ’99, when he was still at large, one newspaper ran an account by the rapist’s first victim, who described in detail what he did to her: how she got out of the shower only to find him in her apartment, how he overbore her, how he tied her up and blindfolded her, and how she could only keep track of time by the songs her CD player kept playing. At the time the description didn’t seem unusual, although now it’s striking how dry and realistic it was, as opposed to the fantasies that make up virtually all erotica.

In case it’s not already clear, most rapes have little to nothing to do with sex. Sex maniacs usually content themselves with masturbating to bad porn. Both the British Crime Survey and the USA’s National Crime Victimization Survey establish that about 10% of all rapes are male-on-male, even though gays are only about 4% of the male population. There’s nothing that suggests gays are more prone to committing rape than straights – in fact, since admitted homosexuals tend to come from higher social classes, it’s likely that they’re actually less prone to committing rape. Direct profiles of men who rape men confirm that they’re typically straight, and in fact often rape men they perceive as gay.

I know it’s popular to think about rape as sex gone awry, but if it were, it’d be the most gender-equal crime instead of the least gender-equal one, and the pattern of same-sex rape would correspond to the pattern of homosexuality. Given that by and large rape rates rise and fall with general violent crime rates, it’s safe to conjecture that rape is just another violent crime.

Women are the vast majority of rape victims because most men are too uncomfortable with the idea of even raping men; the gay taboo is a powerful one (unfortunately, crime surveys need to have millions of respondents to have figures accurate enough to test that). Men are the vast majority of rapists for the same reasons they’re the vast majority of robbers and assaulters: women are socialized to be docile, so women who have troubled upbringing grow up to be abused wives rather than abusive husbands. In addition, women are also socialized to view sex as shameful, so they’re even less likely to rape men than they are to rob them.