Monday, January 31, 2005

The Carnival of the Commies #3: The best of the Left in the week eight days just past 

Welcome to the third edition of Carnival of the Commies (last week here), our periodic review of the best and most representative work on the left side of the blogosphere. We normally post Saturday night, but we delayed it for a day knowing that most of our readers would be following election returns.

We read the blogs that drive you nutty so you don't have to, and find within them the stories from the Left that you should know about. Why should you be reading them? Your reasons might range from a laudible desire to understand the other guy to simply knowing your enemy. In any case, this post links to points of view that don't often make it into our own echo chamber.

Since it is our highest ambition to respect the Best of the Left, we will refrain from snarkiness except when we can't resist it, but you should feel free to fill that void in the comments section. Nominations for future installments are not only welcome, they're solicited.

Of course, a lot of these posts will make you mad. Fighting mad. And you will have compelling arguments to discredit the arguments made therein. Don't point your rage to TigerHawk if you feel that way -- I can respect the style or even the substance of an argument without agreeing with it. And sometimes a lefty blogger even gets me to change my mind.

A couple of disclaimers are in order. First, we blow off "hat tips" in this series, not because we don't believe in them, but because they are too much work when you're link-dumping like a banshee. Second, I do not claim to an exhaustive search of the left blogosphere. I spend most of my time in the right side because I blog for fun and reading the writing of people you agree with is a lot more fun than wading through scorn heaped on everything that you think is right and dear in the world. So if you think that I missed an important post from the left, send me an email and we'll get it in the next time.

And, no, I don't really think that lefty bloggers are "commies." I chose the name because (a) it is delightfully alliterative, (b) it is juxtaposed to the Carnival of the Capitalists, a well-known "Carnival" brand and (c) it is so dated that it is much more goofy than insulting, and I'm really not interested in offending anybody (in this post, anyway). And it seems like good marketing. Don't forget the importance of marketing.

So, here are my candidates for the best and most representative work from the left side of the blogosphere in the week just past.

The race for DNC chair

Kos surveys the politics around the race for DNC chair, with no kind words for the candidacy of one David Leland:
David Leland was the most bizarre candidate on the stage. Here's a guy who ran the nation's most inept Democratic Party -- Ohio's -- and is trying to parlay that stunning lack of success into running the national party. His spin on his tenure? When he left the helm of the Ohio party, all of the state's big cities were held by Democrats. What is the guy thinking?

The lefty 'sphere appears to be very strong for Dean for DNC chair, which should not surprise anybody. Should the righty 'sphere agree? I think so. Common ground!

International affairs and the war

Kos links to this article, which describes Bush's visit with Canada's prime minister Paul Martin. Bush apparently failed to mend fences with our "neighbors to the north," and (according to Kos and the WaPo) made matters worse. Apparently the Canadians were all worked up over this:

But after Bush left, the Canadians were more furious than before.

They were stunned when Bush leaned across a table in a private meeting and lectured Prime Minister Paul Martin about opposing the U.S. missile defense system. And they were later taken aback by a speech filled with what they considered the same "old Bush" foreign policy pronouncements that opened the divide with the allies in the first place [...]

But Bush did confront Martin and used the sort of language that sets Canadians on edge. "He leaned across the table and said, 'I'm not taking this position, but some future president is going to say, 'Why are we paying to defend Canada?' " said the senior Canadian official who was in the room and noted that he had been assured by Rice and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell personally that Bush would avoid the subject.

Kos characterizes this as a threat. How is it a threat to speak the obvious: that if Canadians do not cooperate with the United States in security matters, the United States might conclude that it should not cooperate with Canada? Is Canada really such a childish country that it sees this entirely fair observation as a threat? Probably.

Doug Feith resigned from his job as Deputy Secretary of Defense for policy, effective this summer (I dished on the timing and manner of the resignation here). There was little or no meaningful attention paid to this on the right side, but it got a lot of attention on the left. Atrios declared that the "stupidest fucking guy on the face of the earth" had resigned (echoing Tommy Franks, I should add), and Rising Hegemon proposed Carrot Top as his successor. Ezra Klein was even crueller, predicting that Feith "[s]hould be getting a Presidential Medal of Freedom any day now." Ouch.

Juan Cole absolutely flogs Feith, particularly with regard to his connections with Israeli hawks:
Having a Likudnik as the number three man in the Pentagon is a nightmare for American national security, since Feith could never be trusted to put US interests over those of Ariel Sharon. In the build-up to the Iraq War, Feith had a phalanx of Israeli generals visiting him in the Pentagon and ignored post-9/11 requirements that they sign in....

Feith has been questioned by the FBI in relation to the passing by one of his employees of confidential Pentagon documents to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which in turn passed them to the Israeli embassy. The Senate Intelligence Committee is also investigating Feith. There seems little doubt that he operated in the Pentagon in such a way as to produce false and misleading "intelligence," that he created an entirely false impression of Iraqi weapons capabilities and ties to al-Qaeda, and that he is among the chief facilitators of the US war in Iraq.

Feith is clearly resigning ahead of the possible breaking of major scandals concerning his tenure at the Department of Defense, which is among the more disgraceful cases of the misleading of the American people in American history.

There are several downsides to Feith's departure, as welcome as it is for anyone who cares about US security in particular. The first is that now we probably have to see him forever on cable news channels as one of those dreary neocon talking heads flogged by the American Enterprise Institute, a far rightwing "think tank" funded by cranky rich people to obscure the truth. Another is that his departure now may help keep Bush from being blamed for his shady dealings in intelligence "analysis."

It is important to note that what is objectionable about Feith is a) his playing fast and loose with the truth, producing poor intelligence analysis that has been shown to be completely false and b) his doing so on behalf of not only American nationalist aspirations but also on behalf of a non-American political party, the Likud coalition of Israel, which desired to destroy the Oslo peace process initiated by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (and which was therefore on the same side of this issue as the fanatic who assassinated Rabin). There is no objection to Americans having multiple identities or love for more than one country. Someone of Serbian heritage would make a perfectly good Pentagon administrator. But you wouldn't want a vehement supporter of Slobodon Milosevic as the number three man in the Pentagon. It is ideological dual loyalty that is dangerous. Mere sentiment based on multiple ethnic identities is not dual loyalty, and hyphenated Americans mostly have other countries they wish well (and rightly so).

That you do not see righty bloggers springing to Feith's defense suggests strongly that he is, in fact, a tool. That Feith was an open supporter of Israel's hawks does not qualify as "ideological dual loyalty." In order to believe that, you have to assume that Feith was deliberately sacrificing American interests to help Israel. He may believe that in these matters Israeli interests are congruent with ours and that belief may be debateable or even manifestly incorrect, but that does not make Feith a traitor. It is more likely that he's a dolt.

Screwy Hoolie actually linked to TigerHawk approvingly, supporting our view that it is folly to defoliate the Afghan poppy crop. Screwy also calls TigerHawk "the most sensible blogger on the right hemisphere of blogistan," which I think is a devious plot to discredit me with my readers. Screwy was apparently acting on the widespread view that I am "susceptible to flattery." Which is embarrassing, even if true.

Crooked Timber's Daniel Davies reminds us that the study in The Lancet that showed significantly higher civilian casualties in Iraq than reported by other means is "still out there," substantially unrefuted, and he challenges pro-war bloggers to seriously engage the issues raised therein. The occasion of Davies post is a new article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that considers the attention, or lack thereof, paid to the original study. The most interesting news in the Chronicle article cited by Davies is that the State Department has approvingly cited studies of casualties in other wars by the same authors using the same methodology.

Kevin Drum thinks it is time that we had a public conversation about the appropriate size of the military:
Assuming that "several years" means at least three or four years, these guys are suggesting an increase of around 100,000 troops. This is roughly eight divisions.

A couple of years ago the CBO issued a report that estimated the cost of a new division at about $10 billion up front and then $5 billion per year to maintain and deploy. Eight divisions, then, would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 billion per year for the next few years and $40 billion to maintain after that. This amounts to a permanent increase in the defense budget of about 10%.

Should we do this? I have my doubts about an increase of this magnitude, although I think a smaller increase is pretty well justified. But regardless of my own view, which is open to change in either direction, this is a debate I'd really, really like to see us have. It gets straight to the heart of a question that our political leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, have been tap dancing around ever since 9/11: what are our future military plans in the war on terror?...

No one should be allowed to posture endlessly about America's enduring commitment to freedom if they don't have the guts to say clearly whether this means a military commitment — and troop strength is a concrete issue that requires everyone to put their cards on the table. Do you think the war on terror requires large number of American troops to be deployed overseas for long periods or don't you? Do you think we're likely to be involved in another Iraq sometime in the future or not?

This is certainly a fair question to ask the President. It is high time that the administration was more forthcoming about the need to increase the size of America's armed forces.

The elections in Iraq

Screwy Hoolie finds a way to deplore the war and the Bush administration, yet get behind the fight for democracy in Iraq.
While the U.S. invasion of Iraq, built on a foundation of brutishness and lies, has created a panoply of tragedies, I am beginning to believe that only through empowering the Iraqi democratic forces will any good ever come of this misadventure. [Friends of Democracy] offers a picture of what Iraq might look like should leaders guided by enlightened democracy come to the forefront....

Like Howard Dean's "You have the power" mantra and recent voyage into the esoteric, "I'm not much of a Zen guy, but I've learned that the best way to gain power is to give it away", the best way forward in this mess'o'potamia lies in struggling to establish a true democracy in Iraq.

I saw Screwy's post at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday night, and wondered whether any other lefty bloggers had linked to Friends of Democracy. I scrolled through the first five pages of links on Technorati, and did not see one link to FOD from a manifestly lefty blog. At that point Technorati sort of gave out on me, but it does make me wonder: Was Scrutiny Hooligans the first on the left to link to this wonderful resource?

Generally, the lefty blogs have been quiet about the elections, other than to raise all sorts of questions about their legitimacy. But Sunday afternoon EST, after hours of blogging on the right side of the 'sphere, many lefty bloggers were still silent. Neither Atrios nor Tom Tomorrow, for example, had anything on Iraq as of 12:40 pm Sunday. Maybe lefties just sleep later.

Others denied that the elections themselves meant much. Armando of Daily Kos:
This Election is simply, in my estimation, an exercise in pretty pictures. Why? Because Elections are to choose governments, not to celebrate the day. Are the people elected capable of governing Iraq at this time? Without 150,000 U.S. soldiers? Or even with them? I have been accused of gloating by people right HERE because of my focus on the continuing violence. But my focus has been on the realities of governing a land in chaos, in the midst of civil war, with 150,000 U.S. soldiers the only force with the ability to provide security. And this is 2 years after the invasion.

Of course, the election might be both a first step and a lot more than an "exercise in pretty pictures." On the off chance that anybody active in the Democratic Party reads this, consider that it is possible to be skeptical without being cynical. The difference between skepticism and cynicism is good faith, which has been sorely lacking (on both sides) in the coverage of and opining on the matter of Iraq's future.

Juan Cole, of course, is the American left's leading blogger on the situation in Iraq. In advance of the election Sunday he was very negative about its prospects, but by Sunday afternoon he was almost reserved:
Although the violence and attacks have been extensive and took place all over the country, the security measures put in prevented massive loss of life. Suicide bombers clearly could not get close enough to crowds to take a big toll.

On the other hand, if the turnout is as light in the Sunni Arab areas as it now appears, the parliament/ constitutional assembly is going to be extremely lopsided. It would be sort of like having an election in California where the white Protestants all stayed home and the legislature was mostly Latinos, African-Americans and Asians.

One might plausibly ask Professor Cole, "what would be the problem with that?"

Later on Sunday Cole gathered himself for a more precisely negative post. He argues that whatever these elections mean, Iraq is at the beginning of its struggle:
Iraq now faces many key issues that could tear the country apart, from the issues of Kirkuk and Mosul to that of religious law. James Zogby on Wolf Blitzer wisely warned the US public against another "Mission Accomplished" moment. Things may gradually get better, but this flawed "election" isn't a Mardi Gras for Americans and they'll regret it if that is the way they treat it.

Above all, according to Cole no credit should accrue to the Bush administration:
So if it had been up to Bush, Iraq would have been a soft dictatorship under Chalabi, or would have had stage-managed elections with an electorate consisting of a handful of pro-American notables. It was Sistani and the major Shiite parties that demanded free and open elections and a UNSC resolution. They did their job and got what they wanted. But the Americans have been unable to provide them the requisite security for truly aboveboard democratic elections.

Maybe, but Sistani would not be in the position to make such demands were it not for George Bush's persistance of vision.

Coercive interrogation/torture/Gonzales nomination

The Poor Man takes apart Max Boot's apologia for torture:
Boot, like others before him, claims that he is just trying to engage the question of what should be permitted, and that critics of torture are "grandstanding". Boot has his verb tenses wrong. The only debate that matters about what is permitted appears to have already occurred over the last four years, in secret, and the current fact of the matter is that any kind of torture is permitted, if authorized by an executive fiat.... How many foot-pounds of pressure it is appropriate to apply to a detainees chest is a question which concerns Boot, and which I don't know the answer to either, but it's kind of a ridiculous question to ask while the torturers are working.... So it may sound very sensible and reassuringly moderate to ponder the tricky questions and accuse your critics of grandstanding, what you are in fact doing is providing a smokescreen for the torture that is, even now, going on.

Social Security Reform

Social Security and the Bush Administration's proposals to modify it remain an extremely hot topic on the lefty blogs. As has been the case for weeks, Talking Points Memo is the be all and the end all in the fight to block Bush's program. As of the evening of January 27, for example, the last eleven posts in a row were about either the politics or the substance of Social Security. As of Tuesday morning, January 25, 17 of his last 20 posts were on one or another aspect of this political fight. Compared to Josh Marshall on Social Security, Andrew Sullivan's interest in gay rights is mere dilettantish dabbling.

Every now and then somebody else on the left has something to say on the subject. Atrios, for example, takes a shot at the idea that pension privatization in Chile has worked out well for those who went with the private option. Billmon, the left's master of snarky argument by juxtoposition, suggests that there is something Orwellian about Bush's refusal to say the "p" word. Finally, Kevin Drum rips up the Cato Institute's "agitprop" calculator program, which purports to show the benefit of private accounts.


The Rittenhouse Review reviews a review of Philadelphia blogs. Atrios got a "B." Apparently Philadelphia Magazine, the first order reviewer, has not implemented Princeton's tough new grading system.

Kos makes some bandwidth available for Barbara Boxer:
As you and I both know, [the Rice confirmation fight] is just one more of the many battles we'll be having as we fight for our nation's future. It started with contesting the Ohio vote, it continued with the debate over Dr. Rice's confirmation, and it will certainly continue over the Gonzalez nomination and on many other looming issues. We're going to need to keep working together to make our voices heard and build a better America.

I enjoyed the dialogue we started over the past few weeks, including the chat I had with Armando and DavidNYC on the eve of the committee hearings, and I look forward to future interactions with the Daily Kos community. I hope to have the time to drop by here and participate in the discussion from time to time -- I value your input, and I thank you for caring so much about the future of our country.

A TigerHawk prediction: Future oppo researchers are going to look deeply into the "Daily Kos community" for choice quotations with which to box Senator Boxer about the ears.

August J. Pollack points out that in criticizing lefty blogs for posting the Cheney/Auschwitz photos, Blogs for Bush is throwing stones from inside its glass house.

Drum thinks that the conservative bloggers are being too punctillious in their criticism of The New York Times.


Atrios thinks that the Left ("our side," in his parlance) suffers from a "hack gap" in arguments over public policy. In an post ragging on Stephen Pinker (author of The Blank Slate), Atrios thinks that the Left needs to do a better job of popularizing its arguments:
Another disturbing thing is that Pinker doesn't rely on peer-reviewed high level work by academic economists, but on right wing hack work. This is another area where our side suffers from the much discussed hack gap. One reason think tank publications get wider discussion than academic work is that it's more accessible. It's written with a more mainstream audience in mind, and since it's unencumbered by requirements to address alternative theories, it doesn't cloud the beautiful minds of journalists looking for a simple story.

If *I* had some money thrown at me to start a think tank-type organization, what I would do is set up a foundation which would provide grant money to liberalish academics which would free them up to spend some time marketing their research to a more mainstream audience.

Who knew there was a "hack gap," much less one that was "much discussed"? If ever there was a reason to read "Carnival of the Commies," this is it.

August J. Pollak clones Ashhlee Simpson and considers the real reason for the popularity of reality TV:
People talk all the time about how television is making Americans stupid. In the short form, that's true. But I think we can flesh that out a little more. Recently, I've come to the conclusion that subconsciously, Americans know that television makes them stupid... and subconsciously, Americans have a sadomasochistic desire to be berated by television for it.

I think there is no greater proof of this than the last few cycles of what we call "reality" television. The underlying theme in many of these shows is not the idea of people merely encountering new environments, but specifically the idea of people considered "better" that others pointing that out.

Kevin Drum figures out that the presence or absence of "self-esteem" has virtually no impact on performance, but self-control and self-discipline do.

Ezra Klein has left Pandagon for good on January 25 (you didn't know that, didja?) and went and started his own blog. First day on the new gig and he writes this post, which documents and the echoes of Barry Goldwater in Bush's Second Inaugural and passes along Theodore White's account of the sorry story of Barry Goldwater's speechwriter (and Michael Gerson's muse), Karl Hess:
Goldwater's defeat turned conservatives into pariahs. Theodore H. White tells a remarkable story about Goldwater's chief speechwriter, Karl Hess. Chief Speechwriters of losing campaigns usually find a safe berth in the party machinery, but not so Hess. First, he applied for positions with conservative senators and congressmen -- the very politicians who had been cheering him on months before. Unwanted, he lowered his sights dramatically. Could he perhaps work the elevators in the Senate or the House? Still no luck. The apostle of the free market was reduced to the ranks of the unemployed. He enrolled in a night-school course in welding and eventually found a job working the night shift in a machine shop.

That's actually quite a sad story.

Kevin Drum agrees with Glenn Reynolds!

Fester considers the importance of graffiti and the risk that smaller countries will start dumping the dollar, all in one post.

Tom Tomorrow finds a cracker with a pick-up truck who hates Arabs with an unusual, er, candor.

Alas, a Blog, finds an anagram in Jack the Ripper's confession. Or something like that.

The Poor Man comes down hard on Democratic election mischief.
[I]t is important to recognize that the ultimate reason why election-invalidating mischief is such a serious possibility, and hence why democracy-undermining cynicism is a certainty, is that the problems which were apparent after the 2000 election were not only not addressed over the last four years, they were made worse. This is a problem that won't go away unless it is addressed, and ignoring it because you are afraid of being associated with conspiracy theorists just insures that there will be more of them next time around, and makes it possible that, next time around, they will be right.

I'm going to be travelling eight of the next ten days, so expect the next regular "Carnival" in two weeks.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jan 31, 06:33:00 PM:

Re Canadians being childish: it's true that many of my idiot countrymen think being anti-American is hip and will bite the hand that feeds it. The majority of us, however, are mature enough to know who are friends are, believe we should join in missile defence and agree with President Bush's comments as you reported them.
Sure, the Canadian left makes a lot of noise, but they do not speak for all of us. Personally, I'm voting for the party that supports missle defence. See you at the polls!  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Jan 31, 09:46:00 PM:

Screetus! So happy to have you as a reader! How's it going?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Feb 01, 05:26:00 PM:

Life is always fun in Screetusville.  

By Blogger Gordon Smith, at Wed Feb 02, 09:02:00 AM:

Great Carnie, Hawk. And not just because I'm included. 8-)

Looks like Dean will head the DNC (mydd.com). Looks like SS privatization is DOA. Looks like the tort reform thingy will be passed. And the pro-torture republicans will have to defend themselves during the Al Gonzo nomination debate.

Keep Hope Alive!  

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