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news & opinion with no titillating non-news from the major non-news channels.


I am: progressive, not a wild-eyed Progressive; liberal, but shun liberals and Liberals; conservative, but some Conservatives worry me; absolutely NOT a libertarian. I am: an idealist, but no utopian; a pragmatist, but no Machiavellian. I am a realist who dreams.


I welcome all opinions.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Deficit Question:
   How to change the status quo

G-Scobe asks a very non-rhetorical rhetorical question.

And so are we. The question is how to actually change the status quo. You certainly can't count on the Republican party to realign spending priorities and balance the budget; they've proven to be far too irresponsible with the purse strings. The Democrats would only push the accelerator harder on entitlements. There is no organized, coherent opposition to the coming fiscal train wreck. It's like a man walking over a cliff that he can see a mile away. He won't stop walking even though he knows he's going to plummet. Step by step. Inch by inch.
I wish I had an answer.

(Un)Protected Free Speech:
   The heavy hand of Detention at Bucknell U

From the Brain Terminal, this little piece of offensive Political Correctness:

On August 29th, the Bucknell University Conservatives Club sent out a campus-wide e-mail announcing an upcoming speaker: Major John Krenson, who had been in Afghanistan "hunting terrorists." Those two words -- "hunting terrorists" -- resulted in three students being called to Bucknell's Office of the President by Kathy Owens, the Executive Assistant to the President.

According to the students, when they arrived at the President's Office for the meeting, Ms. Owens held up a print-out of the offending e-mail and said "we have a problem here," telling the students that the words "hunting terrorists" were offensive. For the next half-hour, the three students were given a lecture on inappropriate phrasing.

My thanks to MBMc at Port McClellan for bringing this to my attention and he adds this comment:

Perhaps next time they should say "Krenson was in Afghanistan righteously smiting terrorist filth."

Does anyone think that statements made by a left-wing organization decrying the "evils" of "capitalist pigs" or "hateful evangelicals" or "Zionist fascists" would elicit a similar lecture on sensitivity?

Radical political activists:
   Strangling a grand ol' party and the country

In a recent article at InTheseTimes, the venerable lefty, Bill Moyers, writes a scalding critique about a party that has been hijacked by elitist radical activists and is gripping the party and country in a stranglehold of fear-mongering.

I just wish he'd open his eyes and critique his own party. I used to have a great deal of respect for the man.

The thrust of the article is to marginalize the Republican party through the ol' divide and conquer. You see,

"The radical religious right has succeeded in taking over one of America’s great political parties-the country is not yet a theocracy but the Republican Party is-and they are driving American politics, using God as a battering ram on almost every issue: crime and punishment, foreign policy, health care, taxation, energy, regulation, social services and so on."
And the charge is being led by the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and General William Boykin. It is a pity that Moyers couldn't name any real Republican heavyweight religious radicals. Now, the Democratic Party has people like Howard Dean right up there at the helm leading the charge.

You know, I would have no problem carrying the flag of the Republican party without the religious right. But they have no more a stranglehold over the party than they do of the country as a whole. Unlike the Democratic activists who control that party (don't even get me started on DailyKos' attacks on the Democratic Leadership Council).

But back to my point, Bill Moyers says,

"Having lost faith in all else, zealots (the 9/11 terrorists) have nothing left but a holy cause to please a warrior God. They win if we become holy warriors, too; if we kill the innocent as they do; strike first at those who had not struck us; allow our leaders to use the fear of terrorism to make us afraid of the truth; cease to think and reason together, allowing others to tell what’s in God’s mind. Yes, we are vulnerable to terrorists, but only a shaken faith in ourselves can do us in."
Yea, verily.

Yet the not-so-implicit assumption being made throughout the entire piece, and not being challenged, is that America has become a nation led by holy warriors, that we have become a nation fearful of the truth.

Au contraire, mon ami.

The truth is somebody punched us in the nose and have since made it verily clear they will continue to do so.

Putting up your dukes is not the behavior of a fearful man; turning tail and running to the nearest sand pit and burying your head in denial, is.

Email Fraud Alert:
   This is making the rounds again


It is my wish to inform you about my interest of investment/partnership with you. I am a Liberian, Now in a DUBAI U.A.E I inherit a large sum of money from my late father which is $5.Million USD, my late father who was a Senior Government ,official before he died during the advent of war in my country Liberia, but before the war started he took all his money away and lodged with a SECURITY COMPANY IN AFRICA.

Now that I am the only benefactor to this fund I now look for a trusted GOD fearing investor to be my beneficiary for the claim of this fund deposited in the SECURITY COMPANY IN AFRICA. I had map out the percentage for the beneficiary status of the fund, the percentage is as follows 10% for the miscellaneous expenses that is going to be incure, 25% for the beneficiary (you),55% for the investment then you keep the rest 10% for me in a domiciliary account.

This transaction is 100% risk free so you can contact me anytime through this email

Expecting your urgent response.
Best Regards
Mr Kema Madu.

Federalist Patriot Daily Quote:
   John Hancock "In Your Face!"

"There! His Majesty can now read my name without glasses. And he can double the reward on my head!"

-- John Hancock

Mergers Promote Competition?:
   An "Independent" speaks out

So sayth the Independent Institute, which has often come under fire for being anything but independent. The fact that they won't even come out and say AT&T had a monopoly in the telephone industry before the Feds broke them up is telling.

"Some could claim that when AT&T had all the land-line telephone business, they had a monopoly in instant two-way communication technology."


The argument presented in the latest edition (Vol. 7, Issue 39; September 26, 2005) of the Lighthouse, the Institute's weekly e-mail newsletter, claims that two telecom mergers currently under review, Verizon and MCI, and SBC and AT&T, are vital if these telecom giants are to compete in "today's communications market (made) far different than that of twenty years ago ... (by) innovations such as e-mail, instant messaging, high-speed wireless communications, and Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP)".

I disagree.

If the intent of the mergers are specifically to compete in the world of IP connectivity, why are these very similar companies merging? If each of the four companies are trying to compete in an industry that has left them behind, why are they not looking for companies that specialize in those new technologies? This is a consolidation of one specific industry, telecom. The proposed mergers do nothing to enhance the abilities of these four giants, except to reduce the competition.

It is true that VoIP has devastated long-distance telecoms, but only because for two decades they wouldn't let go of out-dated market-inefficient pricing strategies . These mergers are a rear guard action by corporations whose actions in the wake of IP telephony were anything but friendly to consumers.

And isn't the whole point of free markets to promote efficiencies that benefit the market?

No, this is all about corporatism and oligarchies, not free-market principles.

Feel free to copy this to any legislature of your choice.

The House website, the Senate website, or Congress.org (a private organization)


Friday, September 23, 2005

Middle East Democracy:
   Saudis are running scared; let's blame GW!

The Washington Monthly reports that the New York Times reports (now, there is a pair of unbiased rag sheets) that the Saudi Foreign Minister is "so concerned that ... Iraq was hurtling toward disintegration ... (and) he was carrying this message (of doom) "to everyone who will listen" in the Bush administration."

Neither NYT reporter David E. Sanger nor WM reporter Kevin Drum seem to understand that what scares the Saudis is not the disintegration of Iraq, but rather the establishment of a democratic Arab sovereignty at their doorstep.

Of course, the commentary of WM readers lays the blame square on GW.

Rebuilding cities:
   Three Card Monte

Over at the American Prospect, Jim Sleeper lauds a decidedly modern conservative approach towards rebuilding New York City, devasted a decade or more ago by incompetent local politics. Faith-based efforts, local initiatives, private homeownership are all highlighted by Sleeper. But despite (or because, as Sleeper perversely argues) this happened during an era of Republican control, Sleeper insists that it was da liberals that get all the credit, or at the very least, he denies any the credit to the Republican administration of Rudy G.

Is this what is called in NYC the Three Card Monte?

Reblogged - The Future of China:
   It's not your Father's 3rd World dictatorship

G-Scope "finds it hard to believe that the 21st century will "belong to China" when their leaders are this pathetic" and believes "they can succeed on sheer exploitation of both their citizens and environment for only so long."

What G-Scope fails to understand is that the Chinese government is not some petty third world dictatorship that rules a hostile populous. Say what you will, but the average modern Chinese attitude towards the government is little different than that of their ancestors, going back two thousand years. Social Harmony is even more a universal cultural value among the Chinese than liberty and personal freedom ever was to Americans.

The old Chinese ideas of sovereign legitimacy is just as strong and pervasive as it ever has been, whether you are talking to mainland Chinese officials, Shanghai residents, Taiwanese businessman or Chinese ex-pats around the world. Governments in power have a divine right to rule; a divine right that is lost only when the rulers lose faith with the gods, losing that right by the force of history (eg, when Mao took over from the Nationalists, he did because the "gods lost faith with the Nationalists and graced Mao").

Chinese society isn't a house built on sand. Or on the backs of a disenfranchised and repressed public. It is a vibrant, dynamic, integrated and viable culture, socially, economically, politically. Ask any Chinese and they will tell you it has a bedrock firmer than any nation, government or civilization extant today.

Not that I personally believe Chinese cultural and values are far superior to American (I most fervently don't), but by and large, they do.

Reblogged - Progressive Big Spending:
   Liberals vs Conservatives

G-Scobe has an aversion to any big government spending.

I beg to differ.

Iraq End Game:
   This will make you stand up and think!

I find myself lingering in Tech Central Station, like a tourist at Grand Central Station, admiring the spaces and architecture and doing some really intense people-watching.

Nathan Smith draws some very interesting, and wholly unexpected, parallels between Vietnam and Iraq. But he is looking ahead towards solutions, not in the rearview mirror with some Monday morning quarterbacking.

In fact, Smith ends with a surprising, "but of course!" epiphanic revelation.

It is rather lengthy, with a lot of recent history and plot twists, digging through a lot of well-plowed ground, Smith even features a little ol' time religion and resurrection, and the punch line comes late, but I'll give a teaser.

Only Nixon could have gone to China.

ps - Smith references a James Kurth article in the recent American Conservative magazine online. I am not sure if the two articles are independent or if one led from the other.

USN too small?:
   Compared to what?

The StrategyPage.com has some interesting naval statistics in response to that question.

H. Katrina Relief:
   Efforts thus far

A laundry list of relief efforts, from Tech Central Station.

What's the Matter with Kansas:
   The Dems still don't get it

What's the Matter with Kansas?, is the common dumbfounded reaction of Democrats to the plethora of Red States in recent elections. Lee Harris, in a Tech Central Station piece, demonstrates the inherent comprehension between equal opportunity and equal outcomes of the "dupes and dopes" that inhabit the Red States.

Attempts by Democrats to limit accumulation of wealth is meet by an acceptance of "the inequality of wealth in the United States ... so long as they (have) a chance to do the same thing -- no matter how infinitesimal this chance might be".

So, What's the Matter with Massachusetts?

Federalist Patriot Daily Quote:
   Ben Franklin and Lilfting up the Poor

"I am for doing good to the poor, but...I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it."

—Benjamin Franklin

   A view from the other end of the horse

Conor Friedersdorf has posted an interesting article at the Claremont Institute's web site on the contradiction between two not-so-widely-discussed racial stereotypes: "The Model Minority Myth contends that Asian Americans are stereotyped as unusually successful citizens" and they benefit from a "native intelligence" and a culture that encourages success and compliance with the law (ie, low crime rate), and the "White Male Privilege (that) refers to the notion that ... white heterosexual males benefit from an inherent position of privilege".

Yet, as Friedersdorf anecdotally documents,

"It's a testament to academia's insularity that no one seems to realize White Privilege and the Model Minority ... are the same thing! After all, both concepts involve racial groups who are stereotyped as successful because of their skin color rather than judged according to their individual merits. But academic theorists and student activists act as though this "success stereotyping" hurts Asians even as they argue that it helps the privileged status of whites. Yet one could just as accurately talk about Asian American Privilege and Model Majority Myth without changing anything else about the theories save the skin color of those affected."

And people wonder with scorn and ridicule over past and current attempts to give Affirmative Action programs a hard, critical second look.

Spammed and Slimed:
   The Attack of the Pol Spams

Consumer warning:

I took a couple spam hits.

here and here

Since I manually update the Recent Comments sidebar, though, you won't find it there.

My take on this almost-spam political advertising is that it is a lot of glam with a dash of idealism.

I've got no problem with the idealism, but the heavy-handed "branding" and suffocating name-dropping just turns me off.

My impression is they are just rebranding, repackaging a gentler Libertarianist philosophy. I may be wrong; I probably am wrong. But you wouldn't know it from all the fluff.

I asked Mr. Piper, the spammer, the following question:

What is a Pro-Con?

Beyond cute labeling, that is.

I have read a bit of what you have offered with great interest, but I am still unable to say, in a single simple paragraph, what is a Pro-Con. Qualitatively. So far, it sounds like a kinder and gentler mixture of Paleo-Con, Neo-Con, FiSo-Con and a dash of sensible Libertarianism. But mixing flour, salt, yeast and baking powder doesn't make bread. It can still be reduced to its independent elements.

I have my own notion (in one sentence) of what I consider to be Progressive Conservative philosophy, but I'd like to hear your Readers Digest version first.

With Regards and Great Curiosity,

Jay Cline

Well, all I got was more flour and yeast.

So, to answer my own question and bake a little ol' fashioned bread:

A progressive does not believe in the "fall from grace". Political evolution is as valid, and necessary, as biological evolution. The phrase "a more Perfect Union" implies that we can, and should, strive to make it better. "A Government constituted ... " implies that government, specifically our federal government, is a legitimate and absolutely necessary institution, when serving the interests of the sovereign people.

Government is necessary, but it is not evil. Evil reigns in the hearts of men, not in the halls of government. But, being a creation of temporal man, it can get stale and obsolete; even corrupted. A living Constitution, to bastardize Winston Churchill, is far from perfect, but it is the best we have come up with thus far.

A conservative (modern American-style) believes that the individual must not be sacrificed for the glory of the greater good. The Individual IS the greater good.

The difference between a traditional progressive (ie progressive liberal) and a progressive conservative is actually very small; yet the chasm that separates the two is very deep. It is not the bureaucrats, the technocrats, the philosopher-kings that know best; but the individual. That, despite post-Cold War socialist apologies, is why the Soviet Union failed, whether you tag the failure in 1989 or 1924.

The philosophy failed.

Government can, and should be used for the greater good. Without it, we live in anarchy, juvenile libertarian utopias notwithstanding.

In counterpoint, the traditional logic of a states' rights conservative, who believes in the supremacy of the state over the union, is an exercise in circular logic and resembles the Tyranny we left behind over 200 years ago. There is little difference, save proximity, for the individual who contrasts the state and the union. To say the state knows better than the union is something teenage boys do when no one is looking. And in today's world of high-speed transcontinental transportation and instantaneous communications, that proximity difference is mostly irrelevant.

(ok, so it was more than a sentence or even a simple paragraph, but at least it is honest. Besides, it is my blog...)

Now, all the name-dropping that Mr. Piper employs is interesting, and may serve as a starting point for an investigation into the (I hope) changing face of conservatism, but don't substitute it for Sunday Morning prayers....

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Blog sightings:
   Dixon Webb

Dixon Webb offers some kind words on sufrensucatash.

I have added to my Blogroll a link to his blogger profile that has the links to three of his blogs.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Batter Up!:
   John Roberts hits a Supreme home run

From the pen of Dahlia Lithwick, on the John Roberts Confirmation hearings,
...Here's a man long accustomed to answering really hard questions from extremely smart people, suddenly faced with the almost-harder task of answering obvious questions from less-smart people. He finds himself standing in a batting cage with the pitching machine set way too slow.

     The Changing Face of Unions

The American Prospect reports that the unions who recently departed the AFL-CIO umbrella, castrating its membership, and union dues revenues, by 30%, will meet in "St. Louis for a one-day founding convention of their own new federation". One departing union president, John Wilhelm, claims that the new federation will devote 75% towards union organizing efforts, reaching out to service industry workers that have been largely ignored by the entrenched union gangs.

Now, I believe in unions, as much as I believe in Marxism and communism. Great ideas that invariably fall victim to Animal Farm politics. I have a personal connection with the failure of unions that I would like to share, if only to explain that my best wishes, against all rational hopes, go out to the new federation.

My brother-in-law is in the trades. For a couple decades, he built up a reputation of competent craftsmanship and consistently scorned unions and its membership as lazy and lacking any sort of work ethic, short of acquiring that third family snowmobile and ATV. But he got a job that included union membership and had a conversion of sorts and put his considerable efforts towards unionizing. In fact, he ultimately became a full time union rep, helping workers organizing their own unions.

On the other side of my family, my own in-laws are Asian immigrants who eschewed union work, and their prohibitions on working too hard, in favor of companies that promise overtime work at time and a half pay. The difference in net weekly union pay and non-union pay heavily leaned in favor against union work, when that overtime pay was calculated, and that was the bottom line they looked at. Also, they were afraid of being forced into strikes at the whim of distant union bosses.

There were downsides that I found appalling, but they merely downplayed. Work related accidents, sometimes costing fingers, were paid off in lump sums rather than claiming workers compensation; on-the-spot layoffs without benefits; etc.

By the time I saw what was happening, and mentioned this to my brother-in-law, he had already become disenchanted with the union. "They don't want to hear about it. Those old farts are only interested in planting flabby asses in soft chairs until retirement."

As he had peeled the layers of union bureaucracy, his frustration towards the "don't rock the boat" and "seniority first, last and always" policies mounted. He felt that the unions were throwing way too much hard earned union money into politics and not enough on primary interests. His experience taught him that unions had devolved into absolutely no interest in unionizing. To hell with the movement, all they cared about was their, and only their, pension.

Ultimately, my brother-in-law got blindsided, not by a heartless corporation, but the very union who was supposed to represent him. See, he started advocating change, sponsoring, on his own personal web site, election of new union officers who wanted to change the union. The official (read: entrenched) union response was to accuse him of using union resources for personal use (he also ran the local union's web site for the membership).

So, you can understand that when 4 million union workers walked out on the union, I was not surprised. At least the rank and file hadn't forgotten the power of collective bargaining....

Progressive Conservatism:
   Rebuilding New Orleans and America

Harold Meyerson, on the American Prospect web site, criticized Bush's New Orleans speech as a return to the "failed" compassion conservatism ideas of Jack Kemp.

The only thing Meyerson got right was that the ideas are all Kemp.

The main bone of contention is this,

"... banks and other lending institutions -- had scant interest in getting such businesses up and running even under perfect Milton Friedmanite conditions. Inner-city entrepreneurial cultures did arise, of course, but more frequently among immigrant groups, such as Koreans, with a strong entrepreneurial culture and lending institutions of their own."

What Meyerson seems to fail to understand is that he has provided his own rebuttal and condemnation of progressive liberalism (as opposed to the progressive conservatism of Kemp). Is Meyerson implying that newly immigrant peoples have something that Americans have lost, namely the ability to build nations? Is Meyerson implying that America has lost its way because of a welfare state that mollifies the entrepreneurial spirit with economic Ritalin?

Need I say more?

Monday, September 19, 2005

More Fingerpointing:
   Actually it's the Sierra Club's fault

Levees in New Orleans would have survived if not for a 1977 environmental lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club.

(from The Federalist Patriot)

A congressional task force reported that the levees that failed in New Orleans would have been raised higher and strengthened by the Army Corps of Engineers were it not for a lawsuit filed by environmentalists led by the Sierra Club. A 1977 lawsuit filed by Save the Wetlands stopped a congressionally funded plan to protect New Orleans with a "massive hurricane barrier." U.S. District Judge Charles Schwartz, Jr. found that New Orleans' hurricane barrier would have to wait until the Army Corps of Engineers filed a better environmental-impact statement, as the region's natural environment "would be irreparably harmed" if the project continued as planned.

Subsequently, the Corps opted for a plan to strengthen the city's existing levees—at twice the cost of the original plan—to withstand a Category Three hurricane. With the exception of the environmentalists who now blame George Bush-spawned global warming for the hurricane, we all know how the story ends.

   The Power of Myth and the Strength of Morality

(from Port McClellan - Some Monday Morning Wisdom)

From C.S. Lewis's essay "Men Without Chests" in The Abolition of Man:

Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite sceptical about ethics, but bred to believe that 'a gentleman does not cheat', than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers. In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use. We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the 'spirited element'. The head rules the belly through the chest -- the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment--these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by hisintellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Clarion Call

Calling for all good progressive conservatives to rise to the aid of their country....

Thursday, September 15, 2005

   A view of the left, from the left....

Some one from the New Republic had called for a purge of liberals back in December...

   The Efficacy of the Conservative Movement

I have been responding and reresponding to criticisms on the soundness of the conservative movement.

H. Katrina:
   Was the Response Handled Well?

From the pen of Alex, son of famed science fiction writer (and one of my favorites from younger days) Jerry Pournelle.

Alex "is involved in the California emergency response teams".

Hmm. Well. "Well." Certainly not well-handled as compared to what we'd like.


Compared to building the canals high enough, and compartmentalize the city enough, that the damage would have been limited?

Compared to having NO evacuated before the hurricane hit?

Compared to having the state, parish and city officials follow their own emergency plan?

Compared to federalizing the response on Saturday the 28th? (Remember, the State has to ask before the Feds can move in. Few talking-heads seem to know this.)

Compared to having the Governor call out the LA Guard on Sunday...Monday... umm... before Wednesday?

Compared to not having the 17th Street and Industrial Canals collapse and scour?

Compared to not having the NOPD completely collapse?

Compared to being compelled to restore order in the city before establishing a post-flood evacuation?

All those bad things happened. So: Compared to reality?

Compared to reality, the Federal response has been both wretched and nothing short of awesome.

Wretched at the top, and awesome below that. Wretched: Lack of coordination at the top, the know-nothing head of FEMA, the lack of immediate acceptance of non-Federal (and foreign) support, et very cetera.Many died unnecessarily. More will still.

Awesome: The early repair (24 hours before the already optimistic deadline) of the 17th Street canal, the air bridges, the movement of displaced persons, the medical evacuation, the beginning of restoration of infrastructure in N.O., etc. A quarter million people moved to TX in four days. With help, another quarter mil moved to other places. Without a single NO City orNO school bus usable.

10,000 rescues--TEN THOUSAND--by the Coast Guard alone, with one (non-fatal) helo crash.

Monday, September 12, 2005

   Leftist Law Prof Sacrifices Respectability to teach Lesson
A Classic Strawman Attack

On the Left2Right blog, Assistant Law Professor Neil H. Buchanan and L2R contributor from Rutgers posits a classical strawman attack on the right and (gasp) takes on all comers.

You gotta admire the man's chutzpah; he must have tenure or something.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Swatting the Gadfly:
   Mr. Phillips responds

I'm not interested in your shallow and biased writing.

David L. Phillips
Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, Center for Preventive Action
Council on Foreign Relations
58 East 68th Street, New York, NY 10021
Ph: 212-434-9495 Fax: 212-434-9832

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Iraq Constitutional Draft:
   Civil War Risks?

The recently drafted Iraqi constitution is not perfect. It is flawed, seriously flawed, perhaps even fatally. But it is a constitution of a people with little experience in things democratic; of a people newly throwing off the yoke of tyranny, a centralized oppressive tyranny controlled and peopled from just one minority faction.

Does it necessarily follow that from an imperfect constitution, civil war will inevitably and invariably result? Have the Iraqis democratically doomed themselves?

Detractors of the Administration’s foreign policy in Iraq have always been quick to criticize, quick to find fault, quick to portend doom. Anything to salt the tail. And before the Iraqis have a chance to vote on their own proposed constitution, these doomsayers are in hot pursuit of Armageddon.

President Bush has called the democratic process of drafting an Iraqi constitution, and the success of that process, an “amazing event“. It is a process that attempts to resolve political conflicts in peaceful and agreed upon institutions, substituting the sword with the pen and the word. Something that has been in short supply in Iraq for a very long time.

In an Aug. 26 Newsday piece, reprinted on the Council on Foreign Relations website, Senior CFR Fellow and Deputy Director for the Center for Preventive Action David Phillips takes issue with Bush’s characterization, declares the Iraqi draft constitution dead on delivery and claims “the process has actually increased chances for civil war."

His first argues that it is not a legitimate democratic expression because, “(it) lays the groundwork for theocratic rule.” It also lacks legitimacy as it does not properly represent “all of Iraq's ethnic and sectarian communities (who) must buy into the constitution as a vehicle for upholding their interests.

Phillips asserts that “U.S. officials should tone down their exuberance” because “(a)bsent a political process restoring full sovereignty to Iraq, the United States has little hope of pulling off its exit strategy and reducing the number of its troops in Iraq ... (and) Iraqis may yet veto the constitution in October.

Let us deconstruct this tortured logic.

First, regardless of whether Iraqis accept or reject the draft, it is still an “amazing event”, no less amazing than the drafting, and acceptance, of the Articles of Confederation after the American Revolutionary War. It doesn’t matter that those Articles didn’t survive the decade; it doesn’t matter that they failed because they were fatally flawed from the start. What matters is that in the wake of the Revolutionary War, the Articles were the best that could be negotiated among a freed people who had little, if any, common national interest. And little desire to replace one central authority with another, democratic or not.

In the wake of the failure of the Articles to create a viable national government of the people, the proponents of the Articles of Confederation, the advocates of the supremacy of states’ rights, lost political clout and currency and the federalists won the day with the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, which still remains the supreme law of the land, well over two hundred years later.

Likewise, the forces for regional autonomy in Iraq are much stronger than those calling for national unity. Those calls for unity are generally tainted and discredited by association with the regime of Saddam. And that would be mostly Sunni.

Indeed, as the Iraqis work towards national reconstruction efforts, as Sunnis attempt to sabotage those constitutional initiatives, from boycotting national elections to armed insurgency, it is amazing that a peaceful negotiated process was even started, it is amazing that a National Assembly was even seated (and remains seated), it is amazing that a draft constitution was even negotiated and put up for a vote, more or less on time and under budget.

In judging an outcome as democratic or not, is it not at least as important to judge the process itself? How has the process, of electing an Iraqi National Assembly and parleying a draft constitution between the three factional groups, not been democratic? Phillips makes the argument that of the 55 members on the original constitutional commission, only 2 were Sunni. That is less than 4% representation of a people that constitutes 20% of the Iraqi population. Yet, Phillips acknowledges (trivializes) that “(t)o placate concerns about legitimacy, 15 Arab Sunnis were later included.

Do the math. That is 20% representation for a people that is 20% of the general population; a people who incidentally had decided en masse not to participate in a representative government. Phillips dismisses this, "(m)ost Arab Sunnis were too scared or chose not to vote on Jan. 30." Being scared didn't stop millions of Iraqi and Afghan women from voting. Being scared is no excuse. Freedom isn't a piece of candy you get for being good. And choosing not to vote is not germain to the argument, except to say it was a choice. A democratic choice.

But back to the issue of legitimacy. Sunni representation on the commission that drafted the constitution was increased more than seven-fold to demographic and proportional representation and yet this commission still lacks legitimacy? Didn’t those 15 Sunnis participate in the negotiations? Or did these 15 Sunni representatives boycott the commission as the Sunni people boycotted the national elections that put them in such a poorly represented position in the first place?

The issue here is not that Sunni interests have not been properly represented; the issue is that the Sunnis have not properly represented themselves. And as those states’ rights advocates found out a couple hundred years ago, representative democracies require compromise and acknowledgement to the sovereign will of the majority.

Of course, it is entirely probable that the Sunnis already know that.

Phillips’ argument of legitimacy doesn’t pass the smell test.

But, the larger point of Iraq’s future is not the mere fact that the Iraqis have thus far averted civil war, taking the road of peaceful politics, but whether there are forces strong enough to pull the country back together after a confederation fails, if in fact it does fail. Certainly, the only people currently calling for national unity are the Sunnis, and a broad, if diffuse, secular contingent.

Civil war has been an enormous threat since Saddam fell; Saddam held the country together with tyrannical and sadistic verve. With Saddam and his edifice gone, long suppressed tensions between the three largest ethnic groups have exploded. What is amazing is that, thus far, the only real violent manifestations of this explosion have been limited to initial looting and lawlessness and an armed insurgency that, despite the violence, is sporadic and isolated.

Democratic setbacks like an imperfectly drafted constitution did not and does not raise the specter of civil unrest, and it is far from the end of the world. The National Assembly still exists, with measured legitimacy, and the Iraqis have not dismissed the upcoming October plebiscite on the constitution as irrelevant, regardless of how they individually intend to vote.

To grossly misquote Shakespeare, the vote is the thing.

That is what is amazing.

Furthermore, to condemn the draft constitution because it offends our American sensibilities of religious freedom ignores the fact that the Iraqis are, by and large, Islamic. Religion is not evil; religion is not undemocratic. The seeds of American freedom and democracy had similar theocratic overtones in the seventeenth century New England Colonies. True, few of us would care to live in that religiously intolerant society now, but democracy in the New England did not suffer a death blow because they were theocracies. And Iraq is essentially just as religiously homogenous as those societies were 350 years ago.

Theocracy is not necessarily and inherently incompatible with democracy, and if Phillips insists it is incompatible in Iraq, he needs to make a better showing in his argument.

The second point that Phillips misunderstands (or misrepresents) is that Bush's strategic intentions in Iraq is not one of bugging out of Iraq. If it were, we wouldn’t be there in the first place.

The American strategic objective is to neutralize Iraq as a base of operations for terrorist organizations. As a democracy, as a fully functioning and open democracy of laws, terrorists would find little sanctuary in Iraq, or so the theory goes. Whether you agree with that or not, you cannot (nor can Phillips) argue that is not the stated objective here.

Finally, it would be unconscionable for America’s leader not to trumpet this amazing demonstration of democratic impulse. This is who we are. We are a democratic republic. To stay silent whilst Iraqis attempt to do what we have already done, to reach for what we cherish, would be treasonous to our character. And if that were to happen, Bush’s very political opponents would seize upon that and launch a massive political broadside.

The only fatal flaw I can detect is in Phillips' reasoning.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Opinion:Looting during disasters
   should be a federal felony, like kidnapping or drug trafficking

Nuf said