Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Illiberal Core of the Clean Hands Left

I have been thinking a great deal recently about the part of the American political left that advocates abandoning the South. The basic argument goes - the South is a hopeless morass of retrograde customs, laws, religion and attitudes, forever cemented to the legacy of racism and slavery. We can't change it and only hurt ourselves trying to win over those states because it makes us compromise on our fundamental liberal values. The Democratic party specifically and the progressive left generally needs to "write-off" the South and let it belong to the bigots and the religious fundamentalists. The recent mid-term electoral successes should prove that we can control the nation without having to deal with the South.

I wrote a post not long after the mid-terms, End of the Party of Lincoln, where I tried to distinguish between the South as a geographical location and the Southern Stain, which is a mind-set of a large minority of Americans, rooted in the legacy of slavery and race thinking from the original slave-holding states. What the left fights - what it always fights - is the anti-democratic impulse that can be found in any society, the dedication to tribalism and fundamentalism in preference to modernity. This may have a geographical stronghold in the US, but it is not a geographical problem. The senate race in Virginia, with a California boy ("Macaca" Allen) proudly defending the forces of anti-modernism, should put a firm and final end to that line of thought.

But there is something not entirely "clean" about the arguments of the Clean Hands Left. Ed Kilgore of New Donkey has been getting at it in oblique ways with a number of his recent posts (Hard Boys, Ford and the DLC, and The Netroots and Clintonism to name a few) where he points out the myths and blind spots of a certain portion of the progressive left. I was bothered by it again today in a comment thread on Carpetbagger Report where a commenter quite blithely said that the North should have let the South go rather than wage a civil war to keep them in the union, with the implicit argument that "we" would have been better off not having this retrograde bunch of states messing up our more perfect union. This is the ultimate bedrock of the "Abandon the South" argument.

Does that mean that it would have been preferable to leave several million people in chattel slavery rather than enforce the liberal tenant that all humans are equal beings, endowed with the same intrinsic rights? Evidently so. The arguments about how the civil war wasn't really about slavery, but about Northern economic dominance, begs the question of the foundations of the southern economic system, which was premised upon the illiberal assertion that slavery is an acceptable social and political practice, without which you cannot have the economic system. It also ignores the fact that the South was prepared to wage war to preserve the ability to expand a slave-based economy to the rest of the continent, as well as to require the North to treat US citizens by two sets of laws - freedom for northern state denizens, slavery for southern states. The "Abandon the South" argument sidesteps the core question that Lincoln answered decisively "Yes" - shall the rights of liberal society be extended to and enforced for all citizens, regardless of the retrograde interests of local and regional elites?

Abandon the South arguments also sidestep the role of violence and institutionalized bigotry in preventing liberal practices from taking root. Have the advocates of this stance really forgotten the structural mechanisms (KKK terrorism, Jim Crow laws, voter intimidation, deliberate disenfranchisement) used to prevent change from occurring? You would think that no one lives in the Bible Belt except white racist religious fundamentalists from the way they argue. Their implicit argument is that people who aren't like that should either leave the region, or somehow vote out the local power elites. If they don't, they have no one but themselves to blame.

This is profoundly disrespectful to those trying to bring about change in the traditional American stronghold of illiberal society, and it is strangely anti-political, as it presumes that there is no point in compromise, no advantage to long-term strategy, and no difference between Trent Lott and Mary Landrieu - they are both from the South and neither are progressive, so to hell with 'em both. Any Southerner who will not be more Northeast-Liberal-than-thou is simply a stealth Republican and must be "exposed" for the frauds that they are.

The way in which this perspective is far closer to the ideology of George Bush than to my own liberalism is found in its callous instrumentality. It is focused upon the needs and desires of a small, ideologically consistent group of "progressive" pundits, and simply cannot acknowledge that to "Abandon the South" in real, human terms means to abandon large swaths of the southern state populations to the reign of fascists and fundamentalists. We already know what this looks like. It is de facto apartheid, rigged legal systems and domestic terrorism.

It is treating the South as Bush is treating New Orleans - no advantage to me there, time to move on. It makes individuals who lack access to power responsible for removing the local and regional power elites, and says they deserve their miserable lives if they aren't "smart" enough to know to vote Democrat. It is the attitude that if you don't support the ideologically pure left, you are indistinguishable from Strom Thurmond.

This is in and of itself a profound abandonment of liberalism.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Hillary's In

I'm happy.

I want some combination of the following four on the Democratic ticket:
  1. Al Gore
  2. Wes Clark
  3. Hillary Clinton
  4. Barack Obama
That's my order of preference, too. I can vote with enthusiasm and a clear conscience for all of these people.

Now, whiners of the Neo-Naderite left, try not to fuck up our candidate's chances again, OK?


Monday, January 15, 2007

HotK - Ch. 56: Patrimony

For the fanfiction readers, I have just posted a new chapter for Hands of the King, Ch. 56 - Patrimony Click on the story title to go to the overview, click on the chapter name to go to the chapter.

Single Denethor POV chapter. Warnings for threats and acts of violence and some "Eeew" factor moments.

Denethor must confront what he did to Finduilas, and it is not pretty. The world is changing around him in ways both marvelous and unsettling, and he becomes acquainted with his son. Umbar looms on the horizon. Denethor and Thorongil's alliance becomes more complex as they confront the rock-meets-hard-place nature of taking battle to the Corsairs. Denethor does something that sets in motion a cycle of revenge he will regret. Or not.

Significant scenes with Finduilas, Beregar, Thorongil, Aiavale, Brandir and others.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Zbigniew Brzezinski - Five Flaws in the President's Plan

His editorial from the Friday Washington Post. There really isn't much else to say:

The president's speech gives rise to five broad observations:

  1. It provided a more realistic analysis of the situation in Iraq than any previous presidential statement. It acknowledged failure, though it dodged accountability for that failure by the standard device of assuming personal responsibility. Its language was less Islamophobic than has been customary with President Bush's rhetoric since Sept. 11, though the president still could not resist the temptation to engage in a demagogic oversimplification of the challenge the United States faces in Iraq, calling it a struggle to safeguard "a young democracy" against extremists and an effort to protect American society from terrorists. Both propositions are more than dubious.
  2. The commitment of 21,500 more troops is a political gimmick of limited tactical significance and of no strategic benefit. It is insufficient to win the war militarily. It will engage U.S. forces in bloody street fighting that will not resolve with finality the ongoing turmoil and the sectarian and ethnic strife, not to mention the anti-American insurgency.
  3. The decision to escalate the level of the U.S. military involvement while imposing "benchmarks" on the "sovereign" Iraqi regime, and to emphasize the external threat posed by Syria and Iran, leaves the administration with two options once it becomes clear -- as it almost certainly will -- that the benchmarks are not being met. One option is to adopt the policy of "blame and run": i.e., to withdraw because the Iraqi government failed to deliver. That would not provide a remedy for the dubious "falling dominoes" scenario, which the president so often has outlined as the inevitable, horrific consequence of U.S. withdrawal. The other alternative, perhaps already lurking in the back of Bush's mind, is to widen the conflict by taking military action against Syria or Iran. It is a safe bet that some of the neocons around the president and outside the White House will be pushing for that. Others, such as Sen. Joseph Lieberman, may also favor it.
  4. The speech did not explore even the possibility of developing a framework for an eventual political solution. The search for a political solution would require a serious dialogue about a joint American-Iraqi decision regarding the eventual date of a U.S. withdrawal with all genuine Iraqi political leaders who command respect and wield physical power. The majority of the Iraqi people, opinion polls show, favor such a withdrawal within a relatively short period. A jointly set date would facilitate an effort to engage all of Iraq's neighbors in a serious discussion about regional security and stability. The U.S. refusal to explore the possibility of talks with Iran and Syria is a policy of self-ostracism that fits well into the administration's diplomatic style of relying on sloganeering as a substitute for strategizing.
  5. The speech reflects a profound misunderstanding of our era. America is acting like a colonial power in Iraq. But the age of colonialism is over. Waging a colonial war in the post-colonial age is self-defeating. That is the fatal flaw of Bush's policy.

What is wrong with this country?

We're having extremely cold temperatures here in San Diego by local standards. Night time temperatures are below freezing and look to stay that way well into the coming week. I realize to people in North Dakota, this may not sound like any big whoop, but the change in the weather is very disconcerting when you're expecting a balmy Mediterranean climate.

As a result, even though the City Council declared that it would not open any shelters for homeless people, the National Guard is providing shelter. Here's the part that got me from this morning's Union-Tribune:

Although the City Council voted against having a shelter, one opened up anyway Friday night at the National Guard armory at 304 E. Park Ave., after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency.

About 35 people spent Friday night in the 50-bed shelter, and by 7 p.m. yesterday, many of those had returned and some new people had come in, said Mel Takahara of the Salvation Army.

One of those people was a man who had just been discharged from heart surgery and was transported to the shelter by hospital workers.

“They made sure they found a safe place for him,” Takahara said. “It's bitter cold, and it would be life-threatening to a healthy individual, let alone a person in frail health.”

What? Someone just recovered from heart surgery has been taken to a homeless shelter and dumped there? WTF? I've had major chest cavity surgery (a chunk of lung removed) so I know that recovery from that kind of invasive event takes months. If the Gropenator had not declared a state of emergency, would this guy have simply been turned out on the street with his healing chest incision and a bag of meds? And what hospital dumped this guy?

What the hell is wrong with this country that it is OK to toss indigent medical patients onto the street in the middle of inclement weather? Would it be because the guy doesn't have insurance? Has profit margin really overcome the Hippocratic Oath? Oh, duh, of course it has. Never mind.


Saturday, January 13, 2007


I think I am the only person in the universe immune to Apple hype. I see pictures of a huckster selling yet another pointless gadget that does nothing new, but is packaged in a pretty shell.

Apple produces status objects. Were it not for DOS and IBM-clones, there would not be anything like the tech industry, the internet, or the inflated housing market in Califonia. Apple, like George Bush, needs to have an evil boogey monster out there against which to compare itself. Think about it - every Apple ad campaign is, at base, We're not Microsoft. The great irony of the "1984" ad campaign is that Apple is the most rigid, regimented, Big Brotherish of all the major OS producers. Control at all costs. Sell your product by inciting insecurity and status envy in the user. Structure your products to obsolete themselves on a regualr timetable by deliberately preventing backwards compatibility.

iPods are MP3 players with pretty cases. iMacs are underpowered computers with limited and over-priced software. iPhones are just another beeping monster to carry around in your pocket and annoy me with at the movies. If you buy the hype, you demonstrate your frantic desire to appear cool, not that you are cool.


Friday, January 12, 2007

The Forever War

Back in September, I said that the Bush neocon thugocracy operates on the principle of End Times - impose your will and destroy what you can, because the Apocalypse will wipe out everyone anyhow.
You also have the case that these guys simply don't care if there is a future for anyone. "We'll all be dead," is the Chimperor's mantra, said with that smirk of his. These are people whose bad drug trips don't end because they don't need drugs to go on them anymore.
I had said that they had two agendas between now and when it came time to throw their sorry asses out of the White House - destroying Social Security and attacking Iran. The midterm elections have put the kibosh on the domestic agenda item, which has only intensified their lust for the latter objective.

The first round of reactions to the Preznit's sad-sack speech on Wednesday was ho-hum, nothing new. More careful analysis, particularly in light of the raid on the Iranian consulate in northern Iraq, is arriving at the conclusion that the "surge" has little or nothing to do with Iraq, and is the cover for an unauthorized assault on both Iran and Syria.

This is consistent with the neocon philosophy of Forever War, turning the nation into an attack machine that rolls over other nations for no reason save to do so, mobilizing paranoia and machismo among the populace to provide enough support to justify their continual condition of war. In this world view, "terrorism" is a *good* thing, as it keeps people in a heightened state of fear. They have no interest in actually being rid of bin Laden, indeed no interest in actually winning any contest because both of those acts would bring the reason for Forever War to an end.

Flynt Leverett, a former CIA and administration senior official who should know the thought processes of the goons occupying the White House, has this to say on TPM Cafe:
According to the President, the Iranians are providing "material support” to attacks on U.S. forces. That is a casus belli. It fits in with the administration’s escalating campaign -- encompassing rhetoric and detentions of Iranian officials in Iraq -- to blame Iran for a strategically significant part of the ongoing instability and violence in Iraq.
Click the link and read the whole thing. They are looking for a reason to engage Iran in war. In Condi Rice's appearance before Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she dismissed diplomacy as an option with Syria or Iran. This from our nation's top diplomat. The goal is to get into warfare, not prevent it.

They have only two years to make their war in the Middle East irrevocable, and they are determined to do it. The situation is only made worse by the fact that it is being done as much to attack Bush's critics in America as to advance the more general Apocalyptic desires of the neocon crowd. As I said in September:
It also infuriates the Chimp that people are already saying what an utter loser and fuck-up he is, and that he is held in contempt. Worst. President. Ever. He knows, down in that drug-damaged lump of cells that used to be a brain, that people are waiting for the day he is gone so that they can return to normalcy and try to undo the horrific damage he and his enablers have inflicted on the world.

And he's not going to let that happen. He will do everything in his power to commit the nation to an act of such irrevocable barbarity that his successors cannot even begin to restore the republic.
That is why, though the Chimperor is forging ahead with sending more American soldiers into the meat grinder, he is not really looking for a land war with Iran and Syria. Nope. Those soldiers are there to be targets for some kind of atrocity (and that will probably be ginned up, too) which will justify unleashing nuclear missiles on Iran.