Posts from February 2004

The Neo-Conservative That Is Not One

photo: David Brooks

David Brooks: neo-conservative creepy spendthrift fascist

(Minor updates to fix typos)

David Brooks doesn’t want to be called a neo-conservative anymore. There was a great deal of hub-bub last month over his Op-Ed column in the New York Times, in which he opines that there is no coherent group of neo-conservatives, and that critics of the influence of neo-conservatism in the Bush administration are nothing more than full-mooner anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists:

In truth, the people labeled neocons (con is short for conservative and neo is short for Jewish) travel in widely different circles and don’t actually have much contact with one another. The ones outside government have almost no contact with President Bush. There have been hundreds of references, for example, to Richard Perle’s insidious power over administration policy, but I’ve been told by senior administration officials that he has had no significant meetings with Bush or Cheney since they assumed office. If he’s shaping their decisions, he must be microwaving his ideas into their fillings.

Now, this is a particularly silly bit of revisionism, well debunked by Michael Lind in his essay, A Tragedy of Errors (or, for that matter, by Irving Kristol, who explains at length what neoconservatism is, why he and others adopted the term for themselves in the 1970s in his Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea and more briefly in his recent essay for The Weekly Standard from August of last year, The Neoconservative Persuasion).

Nevertheless, it is possible for legitimate terms to become meaningless through uncritical overuse and misapplication, and there may be a case to be made that the uncritical uptake of the term by some anti-war activists to mean nothing more or less than pro-war Republican has at least made the use of the term a bit iffy. And in any case, it is kind of rude to call someone by a label that they would no longer like to be called by.

Therefore, in respect of David Brooks’ wishes, I will no longer use the word neo-conservative to describe him, or other conservatives advocating powerful, Executive-centric central government, traditionalist paternalism in domestic policy, economic command and control under the State-subsidized management of corporate leaders, belligerent military colonialism, a permanent wartime footing, and the revival of a sense of National Greatness. But then we need a new name to describe Brooks, Dick Cheney, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Bill Kristol, et al. I suggest: creepy spendthrift fascists.

What do you think, Dave?

Lies and the lying liars who recant them

In weather today, the forecast for Hell is cloudy and below freezing, with a chance of snow:

WASHINGTON – Conservative television news anchor Bill O’Reilly said Tuesday he was now skeptical about the Bush administration and apologized to viewers for supporting prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

The anchor of his own show on Fox News said he was sorry he gave the U.S. government the benefit of the doubt that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s weapons program poised an imminent threat, the main reason cited for going to war.

I was wrong. I am not pleased about it at all and I think all Americans should be concerned about this, O’Reilly said in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America.

What do you want me to do, go over and kiss the camera? asked O’Reilly, who had promised rival ABC last year he would publicly apologize if weapons were not found.

O’Reilly said he was much more skeptical about the Bush administration now since former weapons inspector David Kay said he did not think Saddam had any weapons of mass destruction. . . .

He added: I think every American should be very concerned for themselves that our intelligence is not as good as it should be.

(from Conservative U.S. anchor now skeptical about Bush; link via Tom Tomorrow, who got it from Pandagon)

I have no kind words to say for Bill O’Reilly; I think that he is an ignorant raver and his show is an on-going exercise in the worst sorts of thoughtless, anti-intellectual bullying. Moreover, on this particular issue I don’t have any sympathy at all: he was suckered in by a not-so-subtle propaganda operation producing ahistorical, politically expedient lies—propaganda that anyone should have been (and many were) able to see through without any great difficulty. Be that as it may, O’Reilly’s admission is an admirable act from a mostly regrettable man. He may be a bully, but he’s not a charlatan.

The same cannot be said, alas, for Donald Rumsfeld. Thus Tom Tomorrow:

photo: Donald Rumsfeld, looking particularly ghastly

He’s either a complete liar or he’s completely senile. Either way, he should resign tomorrow. This is just outrageous.

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he did not recall British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s pre-war claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction ready to be deployed in 45 minutes.

I don’t remember the statement being made, to be perfectly honest, Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference.

General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he didn’t remember the statement either.

The claim made headlines around the world after Blair leveled it in a 55-page white paper presented to the House of Commons in September 2002.

I can’t even begin to express my astonishment. . . .

…this is the biggest problem I face as a satirist these days: these guys keep outdoing my cartoons. How am I supposed to stay ahead?

The sorriest fact about this whole affair is not so much that Rumsfeld is mouthing such bald lies, but that the Bush administration has created and institutionalized such an environment of half-truths, duplicity, and deceit that it may actually be plausible to say that Rumsfeld and his gang actually believe this stuff; in their own echo chamber they may have begun to believe in the lies that they have created.

But if this is so, then the very insularity and deceit and secrecy may be a reason to take hope: the senior officials of the Bush administration, surrounded by yes-men and PR twists on every side, has become routinely accustomed to its spin and while Democrats are looking increasingly invigorated for the upcoming election, Bush increasingly seems simply out of touch with the fact that he might possibly have some difficulties being re-elected:

First of all, he’s [John Kerry’s] not the nominee, and I look forward

Are you prepared to lose?

No, I’m not going to lose.

If you did, what would you do?

Well, I don’t plan on losing. I have got a vision for what I want to do for the country. See, I know exactly where I want to lead.

(from Tim Russert’s interview with President Bush on Meet the Press)

You can’t fool all of the people all of the time, and there is good reason to hope that the American people are more and more prepared to rise up against Bush and his gang for what they have done. Even George Will and Bill O’Reilly are starting to think that this ship may be going down. I know that it’s very hasty to make predictions at this point, but if things continue to go as they have been going, then when will Bush and his gang realize it, and what will it do to them? As an administration that has spent the past 4 years feverishly working to construct their own pseudoreality and to break the whole American public to their will, what will it mean if they suddenly realize that they are on the brink of losing it all? Let’s hope that they find out—all too late.

And far away, as Frodo put on the Ring and claimed it for his own, even in Sammath Naur the very heart of his realm, the Power in Barad-dûr was shaken, and the Tower trembled from its foundations to its proud and bitter crown. The Dark Lord was suddenly aware of him, and his Eye piercing all shadows looked across the plain to the door that he had made; and the magnitude of his own folly was revealed to him in a blinding flash, and all the devices of his enemies were at last laid bare. Then his wrath blazed in consuming flame, but his fear rose like a vast black smoke to choke him. For he knew his deadly peril and the thread upon which his doom now hung.

For further reading:

Intelligence Failures

On second thought, I think that I was a little too hard on President Bush in my post yesterday. Huey Freeman set me straight:

The Boondocks: Intelligence failure

So Powell is finally admitting there aren’t any WMDs in Iraq.

But it’s not the President’s fault. It was an intelligence failure.

Well, if it was an intelligence failure, it’s not the President’s fault.

Not at all.

It’s his parents’ fault.

I guess they didn’t read to him enough as a child.

What you mean “We”?

Here are the facts as we know them.

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair, Donald Rumsfeld, and several other senior government officials in the U.S. and U.K. told us that Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. They told us that they were actively trying to find nuclear weapons. They told us that they had connections with the al-Qaeda terrorist network, and that therefore Iraq posed an imminent threat to the security of the United States. Therefore pre-emptive war was necessary, and nothing short of regime change would do.

photo: Dick Cheney

They lied. When Ambassador Joe Wilson told them that their evidence for claiming that Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire nuclear weapons was a forgery, they kept citing that completely spurious, forged evidence in public statements. When the U.S. intelligence apparatus was not giving the answers that they needed to justify their policy, they didn’t change the policy; they set up a new intelligence office to give them the answers they wanted [The Guardian]. Intelligence was cherry-picked and sexed-up and those who offered qualified or dissenting views were marginalized and went completely unmentioned in public statements [The Observer]. They had a goal, they looked for evidence to support that goal, and when they did not find good evidence they repeated evidence that they were informed repeatedly ahead of time was questionable or completely spurious evidence. And it turns out that what they claimed on nearly every point was false.

photo: Donald Rumsfeld

Iraq had no stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

Iraq had no connections with al-Qaeda.

Iraq was not any threat to the United States whatsoever.

Or, to put it another way: they are a bunch of big fat fucking liars and as a result some 600 British and American troops, and somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 Iraqi civilians are dead.

photo: George W. Bush

The administration’s line now is that in spite of all of this, it was really no-one’s fault that the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom went off to war on a lie. We got it all wrong, the story goes, but from the evidence that we had in front of us, it looked pretty reasonable to us at the time. To which the obvious response is: What you mean we, paleface? As Scott Ritter points out, IHT: Not everyone got it wrong on Iraq’s weapons [IHT].

In case you have forgotten, there were lots of people—gosh, maybe even a whole movement of people—who said that Iraq posed no imminent threat.

We showed that the administration’s case for war was based on shaky evidence, leaky-bucket arguments, politicized manipulation of data, and constantly shifting rationalizations.

We argued that there was no good reason at all to believe that there were links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

We also said, by the way, that the assault on Iraq would kill thousands of civilians and that it would result in a nasty, rudderless, destructive, costly, and hopeless occupation.

I am all for careful examination of the data on the table. But when the data on the table is this clear there are certain sorts of politically expedient mincing—much loved by blowhard teevee experts and newspaper columnists—that common decency demands we put to one side.

We didn’t get it wrong, Messrs. Bush and Blair and Cheney and Rumsfeld. You did. The facts are: the anti-war movment was right, and you were wrong. We told the truth, and you lied. But because you had the guns and the tanks and the bombs to do it, you unleashed this dirty war anyway. There’s no way to fudge that or qualify that or get around that, and the blood of the dead and maimed is on your hands. There is no we about it. There’s some moral clarity for you; stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

For further reading:

Because of assholes like this guy…

A little while ago in this space I knocked Bill Pryor for his role as the only state Attorney General to file an amicus brief opposing Subtitle C of the Violence Against Women Act. Under VAWA rape survivors were empowered to sue their rapists for compensation in federal court even when the local and state criminal system has failed them. Unconscionably, the Supreme Court struck down Subtitle C in Brzonkala v. Virginia Polytechnic Institute, thus giving rapists a King’s X from the well-established power of Congress to federalize civil rights cases when state or local remedies cannot be trusted.

Of course, that raises the question: why can’t state and local remedies be trusted? Well, because of assholes like this guy:

photo: Judge Gene Stephenson

During proceedings in the rape case Monday before the prosecutor and defense attorney, Stephenson looked at a photograph of the battered victim and said, Why would he want to rape her? She doesn’t look like a day at the beach, according to a transcript reviewed by the Orlando Sentinel.

The victim was not in the courtroom at the time.

Stephenson, 70, said he didn’t remember making the comment, but he acknowledged the transcript and said he thinks he probably did utter those words.

The victim, a 57-year-old woman, was not present for the apology. On Wednesday, she said she was shocked by the judge’s remark.

— The Orlando Sentinel 1/29/2004: Judge Apologizes for Comments

Judge Stephenson apologized; but then rather than recusing himself, as he was asked, he went on to offer a plea bargain against the wishes of the prosecution and the woman he had recently insulted. It was a pretty burly plea bargain–21 years in prison, two years of house arrest, and 15 months of probation–but if the survivor wants the case to go to trial and to push for the maximum sentence, who the fuck is he to circumvent that? (This highlights, incidentally, another purpose of Subtitle C: to empower survivors to fight for their own restitution, rather than putting it in the hands of a bunch of indifferent, and mostly male, government agents.) More generally, given the incredible prevalence of rape myths like these throughout the populace–especially among men, and judges are still much more likely to be men these days than they are to be women–why in the world shouldn’t we take serious measures to stop misogynist judges from letting rapists continue their sexual terrorism with impunity?

Nevertheless, you may say, the Supreme Court’s decision may seem weird at first glance; but they’re not a bunch of chumps when it comes to constitutional law. What about the reasons they advanced for striking down Subtitle C? Of course, the Supreme Court was right to say that there was no feasible way for Subtitle C to be justified under the Interstate Commerce Clause (and it’s unfortunate that that claim was advanced). But it was wrong to argue that it can’t be justified under the Fourteenth Amendment, the first section of which reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

And which goes on to say, in Section 5:

The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

If that doesn’t give Congress the power to federalize civil rights claims where the states fail to protect them, then what on earth does it give Congress the power to do? What principled argument can be given that justifies the traditional use of the clause (to federally protect Blacks from the racial terrorism of Klansmen that white Southern judges and juries often allowed to continue with impunity) but not the use in VAWA to protect women from from the sexual terrorism of rapists that male judges and juries often allow to continue with impunity today?

You might also argue that whatever the merits of VAWA, it looks like a further wedge towards the complete centralization of the justice system in federal hands, and that centralization of State interventionist power in the hands of a centralized, top-down government is far more harmful to the protection of rights from the power of the State and from violence and terrorism committed against oppressed classes by the classes of people (men, whites, heterosexuals, bosses, &c.) allied with State power. That’s a line of argument I’m quite sympathetic to–on anarchist grounds, yes, but also (and directly relevant to this case) on radical feminist grounds: the case for decentralized, bottom-up justice applies especially to women’s ability to defend themselves against wife battery and sexual violence, as radical feminist scholar R. Amy Elman has shown in her Sexual Subordination and State Intervention: Comparing Sweden and the United States. It’s not that I dismiss this argument–indeed, I emphatically endorse it. The problem, though, is that it is being misapplied in this case. What Subtitle C does is not to take over control of the local court system, but rather to create a competing jurisdiction in cases where the local court system is failing to protect its citizens rights. That’s not centralizing power; it is, rather, breaking up a state government monopoly (to a limited extent, yes, but to an extent) over the prosecution of a particular sort of case where it all too often fails. Better yet, it creates a competing civil jurisdiction to oppose failed criminal jurisdictions–that is, a jurisdiction in which more power is put in the hands of the survivor rather than in the hands of the government. (Again, this is a point borne out in radical feminist analysis; see, for example, Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, in which she givess a brief overview of how the medieval State first recognized a woman’s independent right to prosecute her rapist–and then, shortly thereafter, arrogated the power to prosecute into the safely male hands of the King. Anyone who knows how the prosecution of rape, and the defense of women’s rights generally, has fared in the modern age knows the consequences of this betrayal only too well.)

This is, it seems to me, an important test case where different sorts of decentralists come apart. Those who support decentralization out of the belief in the mystical humbug of state sovereignty will come out (and did come out) against VAWA, because it treads on an area where the state government is supposed to have carte blanche to rule as its (mostly male) rulers see fit. But that’s because they don’t actually support decentralization as such; they support a centralized, hierarchial system of power–they just disagree on where the pinnacle of the hierarchy ought to be. Those of us, on the other hand, who support decentralization because we believe that the only sovereignty is individual sovereignty, and a decentralized, anti-hierarchial system of justice is the system most likely to protect individual rights, ought to reject the Supreme Court’s reasoning and endorse Subtitle C.

For further reading: