Friday, June 24, 2005

The Benefit of Context

Wow. It's amazing how Karl Rove gets worse with context. Here's my "favorite" part:
Conservatives believe in lower taxes; liberals believe in higher taxes. We want few regulations; they want more. Conservatives measure the effectiveness of government programs by results; liberals measure the effectiveness of government programs by inputs. We believe in curbing the size of government; they believe in expanding the size of government. Conservatives believe in making America a less litigious society; liberals believe in making America a more litigious society. We believe in accountability and parental choice in education; they don't. Conservatives believe in advancing what Pope John Paul II called a "culture of life"; liberals believe there is an absolute unlimited right to abortion.

Umm...what? Maybe once upon a time this was true. Today...not so much. Conservatives do favor lower taxes, I'll give them that. But they don't have much else. Meanwhile, liberals have, since Clinton and his third way, proven themselves to be more zealous in advocating governmental reform and accountability. Hillary Clinton has come out in favor of common-sense abortion policies--not knee-jerk crackdowns or reflexive claims to choice. And when a member of the Bush administration tells me that Republicans are interested in shrinking government, well, my response is the same as Dan Drezner's: "Spin Better!"

Do they have anything besides pathetic attacks? Shameful slanders? Bald-faced lies? I don't think they do. The benefit of context shows that this quote...wasn't out of context. It was indicative of all that is the modern GOP.

Balloon Juice tips me off.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The General and the Tactician

Note the difference. When a political tactician, for example, Karl Rove, talks about war, he can only frame it in political terms. There is no sense that we need to unify, or that there may be many different strategies to achieving the same goal. There is only one route--a political attack on (political) enemies. Thus, we get this hideous statement by Mr. Rove, which claims that the liberal response to 9/11 was to offer "therapy" to terrorists. Obviously, Rove would rather not talk about the unanimous save one decision to give the President authority to prosecute war in Afghanistan, or the decision of many Democrats to support the war in Iraq, or the aggressive Democratic support for the Department of Homeland Defense and the 9/11 commission (both opposed by Bush). Because to the political tactician, the war on terror comes second to the war on Democrats.

This is unfortunately the state of our terrorism discourse in America--mountains on demonizing political opponents, precious little on defeating terrorism. The latest absurd manifestation of this was Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham's (R-CA) argument in favor of the anti-flag burning amendment, which ran like this (link: Balloon Juice):
Ask the men and women who stood on top of the (World) Trade Center. Ask them and they will tell you: pass this amendment."

That's funny, because my guess would have been that if we could talk to those now-dead men and women, they'd be more likely to say "stop focusing on stupid sh-- and make our country safer."

On the flip side, while our elected officials can't see past the latest attempt for a smear job, at least our generals still occassionally talk straight. So, contra "Last Throes" Cheney, General John Abizaid testified before Congress and admitted that the Iraq insurgency is not, in fact, weakening. Who to trust, who to trust. Such a toughie, this is.

Of course, Generals don't always give you the straight and narrow. We've seen plenty of bobbing and weaving from the military over torture and Guantanamo, among other things (though that pales in comparison to the spin job our elected officials give it, IE, Rep. Duncan "Chicken or Fish" Hunter (R-CA). But since it is their people who are dying, Generals are far less happy about being forced to toe an inaccurate spin line when the on the ground reality says something different. For the tacticians on the right, every outcome is a winner--if we win the war, they're the hawks who supported the troops, if we lose, Democrats were the traitors who undermined them. Since the outcome doesn't matter, they can gleefully assault liberals as a whole, without any thought to how their claims measure up to reality.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

And Thus We Have Our Predicament

Perhaps more than anything else, this story illustrates the predicament Israel finds itself in when trying to fight terrorism:
A badly burned Palestinian woman was alternately defiant and tearful Monday after Israeli soldiers caught her trying to enter Israel with 22 pounds of explosives hidden on her body.

The woman, who suffered serious burns on her hands, feet and neck in a kitchen explosion five months ago, had been granted permission to cross into Israel from the Gaza Strip for medical treatment when she raised the suspicion of soldiers at the Erez checkpoint.

Video released by the military showed 21-year-old Wafa al-Biss taking off articles of clothing on the orders of soldiers searching for explosives, and rubbing her disfigured neck with her burned hands and screaming.

The military said she tried to blow up the explosives Monday but failed and was not injured.

The layers of difficulty present here are astounding. As the article says, something caught the soldiers interest, that led them to conduct a search. These sorts of hunches, however, are not sure bets. Imagine, for a moment, if the soldiers had guessed wrong. What would have been in the news, instead, would be stories about how Israeli soldiers strip-searched a burn victim on her way to humanitarian treatment. The world would have gone nuts. Israel knows this, and I bet money the soldiers know it too, which makes them politically brave as well militarily so.

The worst part is that Palestinian terror groups can continue to try to pierce Israeli defenses in this manner. Their use of Red Crescent trucks as arms smugglers is well documented, this is just the next logical step. If they are really clever, they will send alot of decoy persons into Israel with nothing on that at all, and reap the international backlash that occurs when folks in France see a poor, defenseless, burn victim being searched by the IDF. Then, when Israel begins to relent, they can sneak in real bombers under the net. To the media, it's "just another" suicide attack, to Israel it's another 20 dead teenagers, and to Hamas it's a successful tactic.

As long as the lens isn't cast on terrorist groups, showcasing the brutality of their terror and not giving them cover of political legitimacy, such tactics will continue to be used, and used successfully. This attack may have been foiled, but I fear in that respect it may have been the aberration, not the norm.

Link, Sullivan by way of Cole.

Rejecting the Quran

As anybody who has watched a courtroom drama knows, prior to testifying witnesses swear to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" while placing their right hand on the Bible. If the witness does not believe in God, then he can choose simply to raise his right hand and say an oath. Kind of quaint, really, but it's a nice tradition.

In North Carolina, a local Islamic group offered to donate some Qurans to the region's courts so that Muslims could swear on them instead of the Bible. And how did the judges respond? By rejecting the overture and proclaiming that an "oath on the Quran is not a lawful oath under our law."

I would say that such an action is blatantly unconstitutional, but North Carolina is in the 4th Circuit--the circuit perhaps most hostile to non-Christian religious freedom claims. I'm not sure this is any more outrageous than the anti-Wiccan policy the 4th Circuit upheld in Simpson v. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors (exclusion of Wiccans and only Wiccans from giving a county's legislative prayer is permissible because a "divine
appeal [must] be wide-ranging, tying its legitimacy to common religious ground" in order to be constitutional under the first amendment), so this policy may yet survive. It need not even be said how this will affect our reputation with Muslims who already are sympathetic to portrayals of America as an anti-Muslim nation.