I think I've mentioned several times my belief that tea partiers are the biggest sore losers in modern American political history -- because if they really were so concerned about Big Government and deficit spending, they'd have spent the last eight years in the streets. The fact that they suddenly became concerned enough to protest, I thought, made them little more than shills for the GOP.
Whether it’s the loose confederation of Washington-oriented groups that have played an organizational role or the state-level activists who are channeling grass-roots anger into action back home, tea party forces are confronting the Republican establishment by backing insurgent conservatives and generating their own candidates — even if it means taking on GOP incumbents.
“We will be a headache for anyone who believes the Constitution of the United States … isn’t to be protected,” said Dick Armey, chairman of the anti-tax and limited government advocacy group FreedomWorks, which helped plan and promote the tea parties, town hall protests and the September ‘Taxpayer March’ in Washington. “If you can’t take it seriously, we will look for places of other employment for you.”
At first blush, this just looks like a new variation on the "Club for Growth" types like Pat Toomey who have chased moderates like Arlen Specter out of the Republican Party. These guys aren't my ideological cup of tea. But if they're willing to hold their own party to fiscal account -- instead of becoming deficit hawks only during Democratic administrations -- well, more power to them.
Frank Rich is a bad mammajamma in today's New York Times, making a pretty compelling case that the crowd calling for deeper entrenchment in Afghanistan pretty much has no credibility. It deserves to be quoted at length, and read in full.
Let’s be clear: Those who demanded that America divert its troops and treasure from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2002 and 2003 — when there was no Qaeda presence in Iraq — bear responsibility for the chaos in Afghanistan that ensued. Now they have the nerve to imperiously and tardily demand that America increase its 68,000-strong presence in Afghanistan to clean up their mess — even though the number of Qaeda insurgents there has dwindled to fewer than 100, according to the president’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones.
But why let facts get in the way? Just as these hawks insisted that Iraq was “the central front in the war on terror” when the central front was Afghanistan, so they insist that Afghanistan is the central front now that it has migrated to Pakistan. When the day comes for them to anoint Pakistan as the central front, it will be proof positive that Al Qaeda has consolidated its hold on Somalia and Yemen.
Along with his tribunes in Congress and the punditocracy, Wrong-Way McCain still presumes to give America its marching orders. With his Senate brethren in the Three Amigos, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, he took to The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page to assert that “we have no choice” but to go all-in on Afghanistan — rightly or wrongly, presumably — just as we had in Iraq. Why? “The U.S. walked away from Afghanistan once before, following the Soviet collapse,” they wrote. “The result was 9/11. We must not make that mistake again.”
This shameless argument assumes — perhaps correctly — that no one in this country remembers anything. So let me provide a reminder: We already did make that mistake again when we walked away from Afghanistan to invade Iraq in 2003 — and we did so at the Three Amigos’ urging. Then, too, they promoted their strategy as a way of preventing another 9/11 — even though no one culpable for 9/11 was in Iraq. Now we’re being asked to pay for their mistake by squandering stretched American resources in yet another country where Al Qaeda has largely vanished.
To make the case, the Amigos and their fellow travelers conflate the Taliban with Al Qaeda much as they long conflated Saddam’s regime with Al Qaeda. But as Rajiv Chandrasekaran of The Washington Post reported on Thursday, American intelligence officials now say that “there are few, if any, links between Taliban commanders in Afghanistan today and senior Al Qaeda members” — a far cry from the tight Taliban-bin Laden alliance of 2001.
The rhetorical sleights of hand in the hawks’ arguments don’t end there. If you listen carefully to McCain and his neocon echo chamber, you’ll notice certain tics. President Obama better make his decision by tomorrow, or Armageddon (if not mushroom clouds) will arrive. We must “win” in Afghanistan — but victory is left vaguely defined. That’s because we will never build a functioning state in a country where there has never been one. Nor can we score a victory against the world’s dispersed, stateless terrorists by getting bogged down in a hellish landscape that contains few of them.
Most tellingly, perhaps, those clamoring for an escalation in Afghanistan avoid mentioning the name of the country’s president, Hamid Karzai, or the fraud-filled August election that conclusively delegitimized his government. To do so would require explaining why America should place its troops in alliance with a corrupt partner knee-deep in the narcotics trade. As long as Karzai and the election are airbrushed out of history, it can be disingenuously argued that nothing has changed on the ground since Obama’s inauguration and that he has no right to revise his earlier judgment that Afghanistan is a “war of necessity.”
Those demanding more combat troops for Afghanistan also avoid defining the real costs. The Congressional Research Service estimates that the war was running $2.6 billion a month in Pentagon expenses alone even before Obama added 20,000 troops this year. Surely fiscal conservatives like McCain and Graham who rant about deficits being “generational theft” have an obligation to explain what the added bill will be on an Afghanistan escalation and where the additional money will come from. But that would require them to use the dread words “sacrifice” and “higher taxes” when they want us to believe that this war, like Iraq, would be cost-free.
For the last week or so, I've also been pondering a short op-ed by David Kilcullen, who was one of Gen. Petraeus' key counterinsurgency advisers in Iraq. Kilcullen bona fides -- and, incidentally, his personal bravery -- are well-established: He doesn't run away from fights because he lacks the stomach for them.
COUNTERINSURGENCY is only as good as the government it supports. NATO could do everything right — it isn’t — but will still fail unless Afghans trust their government. Without essential reform, merely making the government more efficient or extending its reach will just make things worse.
Only a legitimately elected Afghan president can enact reforms, so at the very least we need to see a genuine run-off election or an emergency national council, called a loya jirga, before winter. Once a legitimate president emerges, we need to see immediate action from him on a publicly announced reform program, developed in consultation with Afghan society and enforced by international monitors. Reforms should include firing human rights abusers and drug traffickers, establishing an independent authority to investigate citizen complaints and requiring officials to live in the districts they are responsible for (fewer than half do).
If we see no genuine progress on such steps toward government responsibility, the United States should “Afghanize,” draw down troops and prepare to mitigate the inevitable humanitarian disaster that will come when the Kabul government falls to the Taliban — which, in the absence of reform, it eventually and deservedly will.
This of course echoes Gen. McChrystal's own memorandum on Afghanistan strategy. He does ask for more troops, yes, but like Kilcullen he suggests that military efforts won't work unless the Afghanistan government reforms itself into a (relatively) uncorrupt and effective organization. We can assist the Afghans in doing that, of course, but we can't do it for them. And I've seen no signs that they really will. We must continue to try to capture and kill people who pose a threat to the United States -- and the president, after his initial bump up of troops in Afghanistan -- must clearly explain a new strategy and also be committed to it, or he'll be undone by a reputation for fecklessness; this is a one-time do-over, and as a political matter it is very risky. But doubling down in Afghanistan has costs that far outweigh the likely benefits. The president should reject McChrystal's troop request.
About a decade ago, I was the city editor at the Emporia Gazette in Kansas. A couple of great years working at a historic paper. (I was lucky: The Gazette was the first newspaper I remembered growing up.) I didn't realize -- until NBC ran this story -- that they've shut down their printing press. Scott Thomas, the lead press guy, worked at the Gazette about as long as I've been alive. He doesn't have a job anymore.
This is not a case of the MSM imploding because of its liberal sensibilities, though I suppose a few people in Emporia might argue. Chris and Ashley Walker, the publishers, are good people. These stories are common, and getting more so every day. It's necessary -- the world and technology move on, after all -- but it can be painful to experience and witness at times.
That's insane. I know the Nobel committee spent the last few years awarding the prize to anybody they thought would piss off George W. Bush -- and I can't blame them for the sentiment -- but c'mon. The man hasn't been president for a year yet. I prefer his greater willingness to use diplomacy in foreign relations, but he doesn't really have a "win" yet. The Nobel committee is sending a message without regard to accomplishment, which cheapens the award. If I were the president, I'd be embarrassed.
Here's Perry Link inadvertently making the case for American gun ownership:
The most striking feature of China’s October 1 celebration of sixty years of Communist rule was the spectacular and tightly choreographed military parade in the center of Beijing. The display of crass militarism—paralleled only by parades in Pyongyang or, a few years ago, Moscow—cannot have done much for China’s image around the world, but China’s rulers may not have cared about that or even been aware of it. They no doubt had a domestic audience in mind. Their aim was to stir nationalism and cast themselves as its champion, or—in the case of Tibetans, Uighurs, or protesters of various kinds—to make it very clear who owns the guns.
Emphasis added. I still think the flood of guns in our cities -- Philadelphia in particular, because that's where I live -- does more damage than good. The Second Amendment has enabled the rise of an industry that has, in turn, allowed for that proliferation of guns.
But one of the defenses of the Second Amendment is that it enables people to oppose and resist a government that overreaches its mandate and descends into tyranny. I really have little in the way of common political cause with the people who are armed for just such an event these days. And God help us if universal health insurance ends up being the trigger for revolution -- unlikely, but Tea Party rhetoric suggests otherwise -- but with those caveats out of the way: China might be a decent example of why it's good for people to keep their government a little bit fearful.
Just to be clear, right now the choice isn't between adding more troops or bringing them all home. It's between adding more troops or refocusing the mission that the existing troops have.
The White House also tried to make it clear on Monday that Mr. Obama did not envision actually pulling out of Afghanistan no matter how he rules on General McChrystal’s request. “I don’t think we have the option to leave,” said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary.
Even the option advocated by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. for a scaled-back approach would not reduce the current force of 68,000 troops, officials said. Instead, it would keep troop levels roughly where they are now but shift emphasis to the sort of Predator drone strikes and Special Forces operations that have been used more aggressively over the last year.
For what it's worth.
Oh, for crying out loud:
In an attempt to gain favor with China, the United States pressured Tibetan representatives to postpone a meeting between the Dalai Lama and President Obama until after Obama's summit with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, scheduled for next month, according to diplomats, government officials and other sources familiar with the talks.
The U.S. decision to postpone the meeting appears to be part of a strategy to improve ties with China that also includes soft-pedaling criticism of China's human rights and financial policies as well as backing efforts to elevate China's position in international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund. Obama administration officials have termed the new policy "strategic reassurance," which entails the U.S. government taking steps to convince China that it is not out to contain the emerging Asian power.
I'm not so naive as to think America can give China the cold shoulder. And I'm not so naive to think that America can keep China from becoming a great power (though China's own demographics might do that).
But I guess I am naive enough to think that America's president ought to make a pretense, at least, of honoring human rights and discouraging tyranny around the world. This is extremely disappointing.
I'm no expert on Honduran politics. President Obama's Republican critics say that he's standing against the rule of law there by continuing to support ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, whom they say was properly and legally removed by that country's Supreme Court and Congress. They might be right.
Still, I think I've got a pretty good nose for petty tyranny, and new Honduran president Roberto Micheletti sure sounds like he's fitting the bill:
The de facto president of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, appeared to have bowed to pressure at home and from abroad on Monday, saying that he would lift his order suspending civil liberties.
Since then, he has been in no hurry to keep his promise.
Mr. Micheletti spent the week consulting with the Supreme Court and other parts of the government about the decree, which his government announced on Sunday night. But while he has been discussing lifting the order, his security forces have been busy enforcing it.
Early Monday morning, they shut down two broadcasters sympathetic to the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya.
Mr. Zelaya’s allies accused Mr. Micheletti of stalling on lifting the decree as he tries to dismantle the network of Zelaya supporters.
“He has in his hands a repressive weapon to try to demobilize the resistance,” Rafael Alegría, the leader of the farmworkers’ union, said of Mr. Micheletti in an interview with Radio Globo on Friday. Radio Globo, which was closed and taken off the air on Monday, is broadcasting over the Internet
This wouldn't be quite so disturbing to me, except that this kind of leadership apparently has the endorsement of Congressional Republicans:
A delegation of Republican members of the United States Congress visited Tegucigalpa on Friday to offer support to Mr. Micheletti. The Obama administration has called for the restoration of Mr. Zelaya and it has suspended all military and some economic aid to the de facto government. Senator Jim DeMint, a Republican from South Carolina, said that calling Mr. Zelaya’s ouster a coup was “ill informed and baseless.”
Mr. DeMint and three other legislators traveling with him planned to meet with members of the Supreme Court, which backed Mr. Zelaya’s ouster, as well as with the presidential candidates.
They also met with Mr. Micheletti, who told them that he would lift the decree and restore civil liberties by Monday at the latest, Wesley Denton, Mr. DeMint’s spokesman, told The Associated Press on Friday night.
From where I sit, it appears to me that Republicans are rooting and working against President Obama no matter how benign his activities. But let me suggest that the events in Honduras are maybe somewhat more complicated than the right-left socialist-freedom template we've projected there. And perhaps Republicans would be better off not siding with an emerging tyrant merely to stick their collective thumb in our president's eye.
Awhile back, Christopher Hitchens stirred up a hornet's nest -- as he is wont to do -- by writing a long Vanity Fair piece baldly stating that women aren't funny. (I think Ben and I tackled it, actually, as a RedBlueAmerica piece.) Many people thought the piece proof of Hitchens' sexism (and maybe it was) but I think it's a hint of something else: Christopher Hitchens doesn't really have a sense of humor.
The man can be witty, sure. But go ahead and read his piece in the Atlantic that attempts a deconstruction of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and then try to tell me that Hitchens has a sense of humor. It's airless, humorless and stultifying. The man wouldn't know funny if it hit him in the face with a big cream pie.
The Supreme Court announced Wednesday that it will consider striking down state and local gun bans nationwide, on the theory that they violate the Second Amendment's guarantee of a right to bear arms. Considering that the court last year struck down a D.C. gun ban with a clear statement that the amendment does guarantee gun ownership rights to individuals -- not just militias -- it's not hard to see how this is going to end up.
My friend and nemesis Dr. Zaius calls this development "great news for liberty." Maybe. I'm dubious.
I'll risk offending some of my gun-owning friends with this statement, but: The Second Amendment is not always and everywhere a good thing.
In rural Kansas, where I'm from, it's not so bad: Guns are used mostly for hunting and to provide owners with just a bit of peace of mind that they can defend their families from threats -- but they're not often used that way.
In Philadelphia, though, guns are mostly used to kill other people. Violence plagues this and other big cities. Society doesn't really benefit from this.
My conservative friends would argue that striking down handgun bans in cities like Philadelphia would actually make the town more safe -- that a flood of legal gun owners would A) make the thugs think twice and B) provide law-abiding citizens with an opportunity to defend themselves. Often, after a gun massacre on a campus somewhere, they argue it could've been prevented or mitigated if only students and teachers had been allowed to legally tote guns into the classroom.
That seems unlikely. Check out this new study from Penn:
Epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine yesterday announced the findings of a study about whether guns are protective or perilous during an assault.
It found that those possessing a gun in an assault situation were 4 1/2 times more likely to be shot than those not possessing one, according to the study's author, Charles C. Branas, associate professor of epidemiology.
"I don't think this study is the end," Branas said. "I think it should help begin to raise awareness about gun possession and begin to question whether an individual is absolutely safe in possession of a firearm or whether it's promoting a false sense of security."
The study may not matter all that much. The Second Amendment is the Second Amendment, and this particular Supreme Court seems determined to read it in a fashion that gives the maximum latitude to firearms owners. Typically, this is the approach I'd prefer the court to take when it comes to the Bill of Rights. And you can call me a hypocrite for feeling somewhat differently in this case. But the Second Amendment is not always and everywhere a good thing.
...I think we can all agree that it's delicious to watch Andy Richter utterly humiliate Wolf Blitzer on Celebrity Jeopardy!
Hey, I liked Rosemary's Baby as much as anybody else. But he raped a 13-year-old girl and has spent three decades evading punishment for it. I'm somewhat bewildered that the man has defenders.
Like the L.A. Times' Patrick Goldstein, for instance:
I think Polanski has already paid a horrible, soul-wrenching price for the infamy surrounding his actions. The real tragedy is that he will always, till his death, be snubbed and stalked and confronted by people who think the price he has already paid isn't enough.
What price has he had to pay? That he had to spend 30 years living in France? He was arrested in Switzerland -- apparently feeling safe to go there because he had a chalet that he regularly visited. What price is that, exactly?
Then there's Anne Appelbaum:
I am certain there are many who will harrumph that, following this arrest, justice was done at last. But Polanski is 76. To put him on trial or keep him in jail does not serve society in general or his victim in particular. Nor does it prove the doggedness and earnestness of the American legal system. If he weren't famous, I bet no one would bother with him at all.
Ah, yes, the wages of fame: Being held accountable for child rape. Regular working-class child rapists don't know how good they've got it!
I understand Polanski's victim wants the charges dropped and the case to go away. I won't pretend to know her mindset on why she's made that decision. But the final decision doesn't really belong to her. A sexual assault on a 13-year-old girl is an assault on society and its good order; evading punishment for that crime is a further assault. Polanski was able to evade justice for three decades because he was rich and famous and could flee to France; I have no problem making an example of him.
Jackie Earle Haley
Joel Osment almost had me. But no.
You've probably heard by now about the case of Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan immigrant charged with plotting to carry out bomb attacks in the United States. It's a scary case, a reminder that there really is an Al Qaeda that really likes to do horrific things -- and wants to do them to us.
What's interesting, though, is how Zazi apparently came by his Al Qaeda connections:
If government allegations are to be believed, Mr. Zazi, a legal immigrant from Afghanistan, had carefully prepared for a terrorist attack. He attended a Qaeda training camp in Pakistan, received training in explosives and stored in his laptop computer nine pages of instructions for making bombs from the same kind of chemicals he had bought.
Pakistan? Isn't that country kinda sorta an ally in the war on terror?
Here's a problem with increasing the United States' commitment to Afghanistan in the name of waging the broader "war on terror": it may not matter that much.
Al Qaeda, after all, used to be headquartered in Sudan, but wore out its welcome there.
So Al Qaeda moved its headquarters to Afghanistan, under the protection of the Taliban. The United States invaded Afghanistan and Al Qaeda fled to Pakistan where -- though much diminished -- it has still been able to inspire attacks in Spain, Indonesia and England.
This is the thing about "stateless" terrorism: It's stateless. Which makes building up a fragile state like Afghanistan as a means of beating Al Qaeda a dubious proposition.
Stephen Biddle has an article in The American Interest arguing for continued war in Afghanistan. It says, essentially, that things might not get better -- but they could, maybe, get a whole lot worse if we leave. But even he has a hard time with the Afghanistan as "safe haven" theory of continuing the war.
The Taliban movement in Afghanistan is clearly linked with al-Qaeda and sympathetic to it, but there is little evidence of al-Qaeda infrastructure within Afghanistan today that could directly threaten the U.S. homeland. If the current Afghan government collapsed and were replaced with a neo-Taliban regime, or if the Taliban were able to secure political control over some major contiguous fraction of Afghan territory, then perhaps al-Qaeda could re-establish a real haven there.
But the risk that al-Qaeda might succeed in doing this isn’t much different than the same happening in a wide range of weak states throughout the world, from Yemen to Somalia to Djibouti to Eritrea to Sudan to the Philippines to Uzbekistan, or even parts of Latin America or southern Africa. And of course Iraq and Pakistan could soon host regimes willing to put the state’s resources behind al-Qaeda if their current leaderships collapse under pressure.
We clearly cannot afford to wage protracted warfare with multiple brigades of American ground forces simply to deny al-Qaeda access to every possible safe haven. We would run out of brigades long before bin Laden ran out of prospective sanctuaries.
Right. Winning Afghanistan doesn't win the war on terror; it doesn't even necessarily give us a draw. It doesn't necessarily make America safer. And that makes Afghanistan look like a big expense in blood and treasure for relatively little return.
That said: While I'm lately leaning toward withdrawal and an Al Qaeda-focused mission, there are still reasons that keep me from fully committing. One, I was reminded of last night while reading the New Yorker's profile of Richard Holbrooke, the Obama Administration's man in charge of crafting policy for the "Af-Pak" region. (I don't have a full link, so I'm paraphrasing from memory.) One of his aides is an Afghani woman; she makes the case that the United States has a "moral obligation" to Afghanis -- and particularly Afghani women -- not to abandon them to the Taliban. I'm not sure that it's a decisive factor -- we're not obligated, in the end, to do what we cannot sustainably afford to do -- but it haunts me.
The other is this: The United States was so eager to move on to Iraq after the initial fall of the Taliban that it never really committed to building national structures and guaranteeing security against Taliban remnants for most of the last eight years. We've half-assed it, in other words. Now we might have the opportunity to at least try to do it right. Maybe something good will come from it. Who knows?
That, however, is a slender reed upon which to hang one's support for the war. And there is still the problem of reforming Afghanistan's government into an effective and relatively corruption-free institution: America can do everything right, but it won't matter if Afghanistan's leaders don't get their act together. Yesterday I suggested that withdrawing might be a bad option, but there may not be any good options. Today, I'll admit that you can say the exact same thing about staying.
After my dithering the other day, I decided to actually go read Gen. Stanley McChrystal's memo about the situation in Afghanistan. While the media reports have focused largely on his request for more troops, that's not really what the memo is about about.
There are two big takeaways from this memo, as far as I'm concerned:
• America and its NATO allies have so far fought the war in Afghanistan horribly, committing too few resources and soldiers - thanks again for Iraq, President Bush! -- and not using the resources and soldiers it has in an effective manner: Not bothering, really, to learn the local culture or take the steps to attract the support and assistance of common Afghanis. These are things that America can change and fix -- and if it were simply a matter of making these changes, I'd be more enthusiastically rooting for the continuation of the war.
• But there's a problem that America, really, can't so easily fix: The Afghan government. It's ineffective and corrupt. Period. And while the Taliban is hardly popular among Afghanis, its ability to offer effective, corruption-free -- though certainly brutal -- governance in the areas it holds make it, for many Afghanis, a tolerable alternative to the current government and its Western allies. This is not my liberal whiny projection: This is McChrystal's analysis.
Winning the war, McChrystal says, will require remaking the Afghan government into an effective, relatively uncorrupt institution that can win the support of its own people. But where he's fairly specific about what the U.S. can do to improve its efforts in Afghanistan, he's rather less so when it comes to improving Afghani governance. There's stuff the U.S. can to do assist that process, but it will have to be done by the Afghanis themselves.
Given what we know of Afghanistan's history, do we really want to commit the lives of more American soldiers to fighting there on the hope the country's native government will get its act together?
McChrystal is, from what I can tell, honorable and smart. He wants to win the war he's been given, and that's his job. But his analysis about how to win the war has a gaping hole that I'm not sure can be filled. Perhaps it's time for the U.S. to give up the nation-building mission, leave Afghanis to make or unmake their own culture, and focus solely on military actions that bloody Al Qaeda's nose. This is far from a perfect solution; there probably are no perfect solutions.
I've been pretty disappointed in President Obama's embrace of the "state secrets privilege," under which the government -- under both him and his predecessor -- tried to get torture lawsuits dismissed on the basis of national security concerns. Judges haven't been able to see evidence that that such lawsuits would actually harm security; they've had to rely on the president's assertion. And that's bad.
It's not that I don't think that national security doesn't sometimes trump other concerns; but there has been no real process in place to ensure the privilege is used legitimately instead of as a means to cover up government misconduct.
The Washington Post reports today that the Obama Administration is promising to hold itself to a tighter standard when it comes to invoking the privilege:
The new policy requires agencies, including the intelligence community and the military, to convince the attorney general and a team of Justice Department lawyers that the release of sensitive information would present significant harm to "national defense or foreign relations." In the past, the claim that state secrets were at risk could be invoked with the approval of one official and by meeting a lower standard of proof that disclosure would be harmful.
Which sounds great. Except that if the Bush Administration taught us anything, it's that you can get whole teams of Justice Department lawyers to sign off on conduct that's plainly illegal if that's what the president wants. In the past, the executive branch's use the state secrets privilege has amounted to: "Trust us." Under Obama it's: "Now you can really, really trust us."
Only we can't.
This has nothing to do with Obama, personally, and everything to do with the nature of executive power. It wants to be untrammeled. But it should be trammeled, and under the Constitution's separation of powers it is. When it comes to the state secrets privilege, though, the executive branch is telling the courts: "No need to check us. We got this one."
That's not how it should work. And it doesn't have to be that way: You'll remember that Arlen Specter a few months back introduced legislation that would allow a judge to privately weigh the evidence that the government's assertion of the state secrets privilege is, in fact, warranted. It's a way of keeping the president in check, to make sure he doesn't use national security concerns to cover up misconduct.
Specter's bill appears to be going nowhere. That's too bad. Letting a judge check and balance the president would have minimal harm on national security, but it would mean a great deal for letting citizens hold their government accountable.
Hat tip: io9
I don't write about the war in Afghanistan very much because I'm not certain what opinion to have about it. On one hand, I think the initial invasion way back in 2001 very much made sense -- Al Qaeda had a haven there, and Al Qaeda was clearly behind the attacks on America.
But eight years have passed, and we seem to be digging in deeper. And though I've continued to support the war in Afghanistan as "the good war" -- Iraq never was -- I'm now not entirely certain that the war is actually keeping America safer -- which is what the war is supposed to be about, right?
Don't get me wrong: If we leave, Afghanistan will probably be a failed state that serves as a breeding ground for terrorists. But here's a problem: We're there, and Afghanistan is a failed state that serves as a breeding ground for terrorists. That's what Afghanistan does.
I'm still not certain what opinion to have. But I'm increasingly ready to lean toward withdrawal. We shouldn't kid ourselves: Bad things will happen in Afghanistan if we leave. But bad things are always happening in Afghanistan; the United States' job isn't to make Afghanistan awesome -- it's to make this country reasonably safe. I'm ready to be convinced that staying in Afghanistan actually does that job. Right now, though, this war is losing the benefit of my doubt.
Cross-posted from Cup O' Joel.
I'd planned to spend a good chunk of this weekend's free time digging into Lorrie Moore's new novel, A Gate At The Stairs. So on Saturday, I sat myself into a comfy reading chair ... and found myself so distracted by a minor detail on Page 6 that I can't bring myself to finish the rest of the book.
The narrator is 20-year-old Tassie Keltjin. Like me, she grew up in the rural Midwest. Like me, she had her horizons expanded when moving to a university town -- home, in her case, to Troy University -- that proclaims itself the "Athens of the Midwest." Because I share, broadly, a little bit of background with her, I found one bit of her experience jarringly unreal.
Here is the single sentence that ruined the novel for me:
"Before I'd come to Troy, I had never had Chinese food."
I call bullshit.
Hey: I grew up in Hillsboro, Kansas, population roughly 2,500 people or so. It was not a sophisticated, cosmpolitan place by any means. And there wasn't a Chinese restaurant in town when I was growing up. But there was a Chinese restaurant in a town 20 minutes away. I grew up loving Chinese food. I'd dare say that anybody in the rural Midwest who has ever wanted to try Chinese food has had the opportunity to do so. Chopsticks aren't as ubiquitous as McDonald's in the region, but they're far from unheard of.
This wouldn't be so distracting, I suppose, except Moore uses this tidbit as a jumping-off point to demonstrate the narrowness of Tassie's world before coming to university. The newly discovered love of Chinese food is the lens through which Tassie is discovering the wider world outside the farm where she grew up.
In combination with other details -- Tassie's parents had honeymooned in London, the family made regular trips to Milwaukee to sell potatoes at a farmer's market -- the idea that Tassie had never eaten Chinese food while growing up, with its implication that she'd never had the opportunity, is outrageously unlikely. If Moore had said Indian food or Ethiopian food or even Thai food, I wouldn't have balked. Chinese food? Bullshit.
And it's even more irritating, actually, because Moore in real life is a professor at a Midwestern university. I'm sure students come to her with narrow backgrounds and that she does a fine job of exposing them to a wider intellectual world than they previously knew existed. But she might be giving herself a little too much credit if she thinks her university is exposing young minds to Chinese food for the first time. Sorry, Lorrie Moore: I plowed on for 20 more pages, but I couldn't shake your error. I'm moving on.
The New England Journal of Medicine has an article proposing a one-cent-per-ounce tax on "sugary drinks" to discourage consumption, encourage weight loss and pay for health programs. The soda pop manufacturers are not amused:
Muhtar Kent, the chief executive of Coca-Cola, was asked about the tax on Monday during an appearance at the Rotary Club of Atlanta and he responded by calling it “outrageous.”
“I have never seen it work where a government tells people what to eat and what to drink,” Mr. Kent said, according to a report by Bloomberg News. “It if worked, the Soviet Union would still be around.”
Because a one-cent tax on cola is the exact same thing as sending people off to Siberian concentration camps.
Because I'm pretty sure I was every one of these guys. Except the Viking.
Baldwin’s more of a classical-music guy, and proud of it. It’s been fundamental to how he defines himself since the day in the early eighties when he flipped on his car radio and, as he has described it, “Mahler came and got me on the San Diego Freeway.”
I can hear a conservative heart melting right this very second...
I dreamed that Dr. Zaius and I were fighting off the zombie apocalypse ... and arguing about Glenn Beck.
What was that about?
About once every six months, Charles Krauthammer writes something I largely agree with. Today is one of those days:
He's gone for one reason and one reason only. You can't sign a petition demanding not one but four investigations of the charge that the Bush administration deliberately allowed Sept. 11, 2001 -- i.e., collaborated in the worst massacre ever perpetrated on American soil -- and be permitted in polite society, let alone have a high-level job in the White House.
Unlike the other stuff (see above), this is no trivial matter. It's beyond radicalism, beyond partisanship. It takes us into the realm of political psychosis, a malignant paranoia that, unlike the Marxist posturing, is not amusing. It's dangerous. In America, movements and parties are required to police their extremes. Bill Buckley did that with Birchers. Liberals need to do that with "truthers."
You can no more have a truther in the White House than you can have a Holocaust denier -- a person who creates a hallucinatory alternative reality in the service of a fathomless malice.
But on the eighth anniversary of 9/11 -- a day when there were no truthers among us, just Americans struck dumb by the savagery of what had been perpetrated on their innocent fellow citizens -- a decent respect for the memory of that day requires that truthers, who derangedly desecrate it, be asked politely to leave. By everyone.
I have nothing profound to add to the piles of profundity that you’ll find elsewhere today. But I will share some personal thoughts.
9/11 changed my life. When it occurred, I was living in Kansas and had done so my entire life. I’d never been to Pennsylvania or New York. But after the Towers came down, I remembered that I had become a journalist because I wanted to see history with my own eyes, and to document it. So a few weeks after the attacks, I took my own vacation time, got in my car with a camera, a computer and some notebooks and drove cross-country to see history for myself.
I visited Shanksville. And I drove into New York. I was expecting to find a defeated, somber city, but what I found was a New York that — even in the aftermath of its worst-ever disaster — was unmistakably vibrant. I had lime-flavored coffee in the tiny apartment of a Puerto Rican family that shared its experiences of the attacks with me. I sat with a Manhattan Mennonite pastor in her parlor as she lamented. I saw Times Square for the first time. And I realized, in a visceral way I’d never experienced before, that my Kansas life was not the only American life to be had. This country is bigger, wider, weirder than I'd really known. And I realized that I wanted to experience some of those differences myself.
Which is, frankly, probably why I’m in Philadelphia today instead of living in Kansas still. And I count myself lucky to be here.
She's in the Wall Street Journal, talking about the need for "market-driven" solutions instead of more government. For liberals, the temptation with Sarah Palin is to mock her and roll one's eyes because she's been pretty clearly out of her depth when it comes to federal policy matters -- it really does feel similar to watching a child put on grownup clothes and march around proudly.
But let me try to take her seriously for a moment. She does, after all, have a rather devoted constituency. Mocking seeming lightweights has never, ever served Democrats well. Who knows? She could be the next president of the United States. And op-eds like this one will lay the foundation for the kinds of policies she would implement.
An attempt to meaningfully engage Sarah Palin, after the jump. Please click the "read more" button below.
OK, that's actually old news, which is why I only have snarky jokes to make. Still, Media Matters' analysis that Fox showed only opponents of health reform in its town hall coverage would, I think, pose a challenge to serious conservatives. Doesn't a realistic view of the world -- and the ability to effectively counter your opponents arguments -- require depicting the existence of opposing views and understanding/representing them fairly?
I mean, I get it: "Liberal media" blah blah blah. But the angry opponents of health reform were certainly getting their air time on CNN and MSNBC the last month or so. On Fox, the opposition simply disappears when it's not being mocked.
If an "Islamic" regime has to choose between celebrating Ramadan and holding onto power and it chooses power, can we all agree that Islam is the tool, not the purpose, of that regime?
• Hollywood’s marketing machine doesn’t always know what to do with movies that don’t fit precisely into its templates. This ain’t news, I realize, but it’s proved afresh by the trailers for Inglourious Basterds. You might get the impression that the movie is a rollicking roller coaster thrill ride, wall-to-wall violence. There is some very graphic violence in this movie — it is a Tarantino movie, after all — but it’s a very, very small part of the movie. Brad Pitt, in fact, is on screen for a relatively miniscule portion of the film. There’s a lot of talking in this movie — it is a Tarantino movie, after all — and at least two scenes where the conversations create unbearable tensions. Hollywood isn’t very good at selling dialogue, apparently.
• You may have heard that Christoph Walz deserves an Oscar for his portrayal of Col. Hans Landa, and he does. But I also enjoyed Daniel Bruhl’s turn as a seemingly sweet-but-entitled Nazi sniper. And Melanie Laurent’s role as a French theater owner had me smitten, frankly.
• Once again, we learn a lesson we’ve known since Twelve Monkeys. Brad Pitt is way more fun when he’s playing eccentric, weird or over-the-top. Stop putting him in pretty boy parts like Benjamin Button, because those movies never end up being interesting, and he’s not interesting in them. Give him a Tennessee accent to mangle the Italian language with — and let us see the wrinkles around his eyes, like Tarantino does here — and you’ve got entertainment.