Hogan's Alley

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

SCOTUS Rules 8 -0 Against NOW

The Supreme Court has ruled 8 - 0 to effectively permit demonstrations by anti-abortion forces outside abortion clinics. This ruling confirms a similar 2003 ruling by the Court in this matter. Finally denied was the assertion by NOW that the RICO statutes against organized crime were applicable to these groups and could be used to restrict speech. The NOW position had been opposed, in addition to the anti-abortion groups like Operation Rescue, by the AFL-CIO and social activists as a potential muzzle on their right to free speech as well.

It strikes me that the recent additions of Roberts and Alito (who didn't vote on this case) made absolutely no difference to this outcome. It still seems possible to me that the dire predictions of a rightward swing on the Court were a vast exaggeration all along. The history of the Court is replete with examples of Justices behaving against commonly held expectations. I believe this Court will travel a moderate road, respectful of precedent. The ultimate test of this, of course, will be the anti-abortion legislation soon to become law in South Dakota.

If I am right, this will not be enough to make NARAL and NOW happy however. There will likely be enough nibbling at the margins of the abortion question that it will actually require the reentry of these organizations into the fray of political argument, an arena they have been sheltered from by the Roe decision. When was the last time anyone heard an argument for openly available abortion that wasn't essentially, "My body, my choice?"

I support a woman's right to abortion, but, like most Americans, I do not think that right is absolute, right up to the moment before full term delivery would otherwise occur. The anti-abortion forces have been able to craft powerful arguments that have essentially led the Court to limit abortions in the third trimester and may lead to further limitations.

Powerful arguments in favor of available, regulated abortion exist. Society and individual women and children do not benefit from forced childbirth in the face of health issues, rape, incest, and, more subtly, when the child is simply, but deeply, unwanted. These arguments need to be heard in the public arena if the passion of this issue is ever to come to some form of status quo so that we can focus on provision birth control and education that will prevent the necessity for most abortions.

The Growing Silence In Europe In The Face Of Militant Islam

Glenn Reynolds has an interesting post which quotes Douglas Murray about the high security measures required to hold an academic conference in Holland on the subject of Islam. He also points out the increasing cravenness of the British in the face of the rising wave of violent demonstrations by Muslims. Is it too soon to worry that the post-Enlightenment Europe of beloved memory will soon disappear and of its own volition?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Is Fukuyama The Tipping Point?

Todays Timesselect has a collection of reaction to Francis Fukuyama's piece in Sunday's Magazine declaring the failure of neoconservatism and the current Middle East policy. It also references Andrew Sullivan's apparent admission of his sinful thought and guilty responsibility for the deaths of Iraqis and western soldiers.

Fukuyama raises important questions that require more that snap, facile responses. I hope to write at some length on this topic in the near future. In the meantime, here's the quote for those of you walled off by the Times:

Francis Fukuyama, a onetime neo­con­ser­vat­ive famous for his 1989 essay “The End of History?” (later expanded into a 1992 book), pronounces the end of neoconservatism in an essay in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Because of the aftermath of the Iraq war, Fukuyama writes, the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive warfare in the face of gathering threats “is now in shambles.”

What should replace it? “Meeting the jihadist challenge is more of a ‘long, twilight struggle’ whose core is not a military campaign but a political contest for the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims around the world,” says Fukuyama, who sees the need for new international institutions to “confer legitimacy on collective action” and to more effectively promote democracy and “good governance” worldwide, without the reliance on “coercive regime change, unilateralism and American hegemony” endorsed by the Bush Doctrine.

A blogburst of commentary has followed Fukuyama’s essay, and almost all of it shares a central theme: “Fukuyama is almost exactly right, because he agrees with me.”

Iraq hawk turned Iraq war critic Andrew Sullivan (who, as a self-described “eagle,” might reject that characterization) applauds Fukuyama’s accurate dissection of how prewar hawks overestimated “the competence of government,” dismissed the importance of culture and narcissistically blinded themselves to the resentments caused by American power. Mea culpa, writes Sullivan: “The correct response to this is not more triumphalism and spin, but a real sense of shame and sorrow that so many have died because of errors made by their superiors, and by intellectuals like me.”

Joseph Knippenberg of the conservative Ashbrook Center, however, says Fukuyama rejects only a “caricature” of neoconservatism, and that his policy prescriptions are “neoconservatism properly understood, balancing its realism with its commitment to universal liberal principles.” Fukuyama is “willing to retain almost every policy originally advocated by neo-conservatives, from occasional military intervention to various more subtle forms of democracy promotion,” Knipperberg writes.

Wrong, says Matthew Yglesias at TPMCafe. Fukuyama is endorsing (without admitting it) “regular old liberal internationalism” when he says he wants to “retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about.” Daniel Larison of Eunomia agrees, saying that Fukuyama’s ideal foreign policy sounds suspiciously Clintonite, particularly his endorsement of the NATO-approved war in Kosovo, “interventionism based on ‘human rights’ that should transcend national sovereignty.” (Though it should be noted that Larison, unlike Yglesias, is a critic of both Clinton and Fukuyama.)

But wait, doesn’t Fukuyama sound just like the prewar critics of the Iraq invasion? That’s what Yale law professor Jack Balkin writes on his blog:

What struck me though, in reading it, was how many of his claims about what was wrong with the Bush Administration’s policies were available in 2001, and, indeed, were stated over and over again by critics of the Administration in the run up to the Iraq war. People in power simply didn’t want to listen, or if they did listen, they discounted the advice because they were completely convinced of the correctness and righteousness of their own world view. They ridiculed their critics as naive, cowards, sore losers, weak-willed conciliators, unconcerned with America’s national security, and sometimes even as traitors. And much of the country, which likes strong leadership, simply went along, trusting that its leaders had the knowledge, the wisdom, and the expertise to back up their bluster. …

Neoconservatives first emerged as disillusioned leftists who criticized the naivete of American liberalism, arguing that it was not enough merely to have good intentions to make the world [a] better place; that society was far more complex than human foresight could comprehend, and that direct and massive interventions into social arrangements would inevitably produce unintended consequences. How ironic that this lesson of the first generation of neoconservatives was lost on the next generation, who boldly, blindly, and smugly led the United States into a foreign policy disaster.

The anonymous blogger “Publius” at Legal Fiction is less interested in what the essay means for neoconservatism and American foreign policy than what it means for Fukuyama. He sees Fukuyama moving from “ideological and Hegelian” analysis in “The End of History” (a belief in ideas as the driver of history) to a “materialist and Marxist” analysis in his Times magazine essay (a belief in economics as the most important factor): “This is the philosophical equivalent of a Tar Heel fan slipping on a J.J. Redick T-shirt.”

Iran Is Getting Scary

Here's a post by Andrew Sullivan about Iranian leader Ahmadinejad's belief that he is channeling the "Hidden Imam". This is not a person susceptible to the normal persuasions of diplomacy nor a person who can always be expected to even do what is in the self-interest of his nation. He has a divine higher purpose. Frightening to think he may soon have nuclear weapons.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Andrew Sullivan Is Around the Bend On The Cheney Shooting

This evening we have Andrew Sullivan almost visibly hoping that Whitington dies so that the matter of criminally negligent homicide can force Cheney to finally come clean on all of Andrew's questions about how this event occurred. Shit happens Andrew. When guns are involved people are often hurt seriously. How in the name of God does this matter have anything to do with the conduct of government? If he gave the guy a blow job would it also be something inquiring minds need to know? As long as he doesn't lie about it I think the Lewinski matter should be the touchstone for all our positions on this issue. Can a special prosecutor be far off?

Hitch Defends M. Levy Against "Know-Nothing" Attack by Keillor

Since I previously featured an appreciative reference to Garrison Keillor's front page NY Times Book Review attack on Bernard Henri Levy's American Vertigo it seems only fair to link to Christopher Hitchens Slate counter attack on Keillor and his defense of Levy, a person Hitch admires.

Much of Hitchen's piece is a flowing and appropriate diatribe against what he calls, "Yellow-dog Democrats like Keillor", and our whole sad history of, "corn-fed, white-bread American nativist bloviation." Sadly, he spends too little time telling his readers if and why he thinks M. Levy may have something genuinely useful to say about our society. He seems to be largely venting his spleen against what may have confronted Hitchens himself during his time in country as a fancy pants, high fallutin' English feller.

The Cheney Shooting

I was fascinated to watch the press' feeding frenzy yesterday in the White House briefing room when they pounced on the hapless Scott McClellan about the failure of the Vice President to reveal his involvement in the accidental shooting of Whitington for nearly 24 hours. The media itself was apparently also taken with the scene and replayed portions of it on their newscasts and in the hourly news cycles of the cable networks. I'd like to see the daily White House briefing televised live every day. After all, the fourth estate is an essential part of our democracy, as they keep telling us. However, I don't expect to see that soon. It's a bit like sausage, you don't want to know what goes into producing the product. It's too ugly. The press would never allow us to see them at work, unedited.

To be clear, Cheney was foolish not to issue a press release ASAP. I leaves one with the impression that he harbored the hope that it could be kept quiet.

On the other hand, the issue is about an act of carelessness, not about the man's conduct of his role as VP. Also, I have never shot a friend in the head with a shotgun. If I had, I might be very upset and not think terribly straight. And now we learn that one or more of the pellets migrated into the man's heart. This was hardly a flesh wound. It must have been very ugly and frightening.

I'm not a hunter, but I can't imagine why someone in a quail hunting party isn't accidentally shot on every hunting trip. After all, the birds take off suddenly from cover and fly in any direction. They probably don't always cooperate by flying out only to the front of an entire group of hunters, not to mention the cadre of Secret Service and communications staff that accompany the VP. Anyone know how many bird hunting accidents occur each year?

Breathless Release of a US/Israeli "Plot" That Was Already Widely Guessed At

The lead story on the NY Times' website is a report, apparently "leaked" by insiders in the State Department and Israeli government, that both governments and probably the EU will cut off funds to a Hamas led Palestinian government. The article's writer, Steven Erlanger, alleges that these steps will be done in order to destabilize the Hamas government and force a call for a new election by Palestine President Abbas once the Palestinian government is starved and no longer able to function.

In the first place, the withdrawal of support from a Hamas government has been openly and widely anticipated in the media and the halls of power of all the governments involved, including by Hamas. Hamas has been and has been declared as a terrorist organization for years. As the Times article says:

Israel says it will cut off those payments once Hamas takes power, and put the money in escrow. On top of that, some of the aid that the Palestinians currently receive will be stopped or reduced by the United States and European Union governments, which will be constrained by law or politics from providing money to an authority run by Hamas. The group is listed by Washington and the European Union as a terrorist organization.

It doesn't require secret discussions to anticipate this likely outcome given that Hamas has so far publicly refused to modify its intent to continue to fight to remove all Jews from Palestine.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, what the hell is going on in the U.S. government? Apparently any one of the thousands of Federal employees in CIA, State, Defense, etc. feel they have an absolute license to talk to the press about any policy they dislike and put the worst possible spin on those policies as they do so. In fact, they seem to believe it is their moral and political duty to leak, presumably until they get the President and/or policy that they prefer, at which point those who oppose the then sanctified policy will commence leaking for all they're worth. Of course, the press and the political opposition will always support the leakers as patriots.

It seems to me that it is fine to leak regarding corruption, mismanagement or malfeasance of any kind. It is also proper to bring the unanticipated impact of domestic policies to the light of day, but to try to preempt the diplomatic options of the United States because your guy didn't get elected seems to me to border on kind of disloyalty that would have been called treasonous in former times.

Those currently unhappy with the Bush Administration may see this as a perfectly appropriate way to operate a kind of shadow government or government in exile. The problem is that, unless one assumes that there will never again be a Democratic government in America, what's good for the goose will become good for the gander. No American government may ever again be able to conduct foreign policy with a single voice or, when appropriate, in secret. The nation, all of us, will be the weakened on the world stage in this new era.

But at least the press will be kept busy.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Left Side of Blogosphere Silent on Cartoon Violence

It is striking how the "progressive" side of the blogosphere has virtually ignored the manufactured protest and violence in the Muslim world over the cartoons published in Denmark. The silence is deafening. Meanwhile, on the right, discussion of the threat posed by the attempt of Islamists to silence any western media content that offends them is rampant and daily. In a quick review of Daily Kos, Talking Points, Anti-Dotal and Matt Yglesias reveals that only Yglesias has posted on this issue and then only to dispute Andrew Sullivan's assertion that the reactions in the Muslim world should force liberals to rethink their opposition to the Bush and Blair foreign policies.

None of these liberal bloggers apparently see any significant threat to the concept of free speech, a cornerstone of liberal democracy, in the events in the middle east. Neither have they seen fit to write about why they think the reaction of the right side bloggers is wrong or overblown, if they in fact believe that to be the case. They continue to write exclusively about the perceived errors, crimes and various sins of the Bush administration. I am forced to conclude that if a Democrat were elected to the White House in 2008 these bloggers, after a suitable period of gloating, would loose the only passion that keeps them motivated to write and would soon drift off into the MSM, think tanks and/or the staff of the new president.

A quote by the poet Robert Frost may be apt: "A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel."

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Hitchens On l'Affair du Cartoon

If you haven't seen it already, please do yourself a favor and read Christopher Hitchens' Slate piece entitled, "The Case For Mocking Religion". Ever the provocateur, Hitchens boldly asserts that freedom to think and to speak trumps the sensitivities of those one may criticise, whether they be members of a religion or holders of any belief or rational position. To take offending one group off the table invites the proscription of any offensive speech. Those who take deeply help positions on any number of issues, abortion, equal rights, the sanctity of the Presidency, creationism, etc. are offended in America on a daily basis. And they should be, if freedom means anything.

Key quote:

The innate human revulsion against desecration is much older than any monotheism: Its most powerful expression is in the Antigone of Sophocles. It belongs to civilization. I am not asking for the right to slaughter a pig in a synagogue or mosque or to relieve myself on a "holy" book. But I will not be told I can't eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger. But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or kidnapping a Muslim at random and holding him hostage, or violating diplomatic immunity by attacking the embasy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings. The babyish rumor-fueled tantrums that erupt all the time, especially in the Islamic world, show yet again that faith belongs to the spoiled and selfish childhood of our species.

Muslim and Western Fanatics, Different Yet the Same

Anatole Kaletsky in The Times (of London) has a fascinating piece comparing the reaction of some in Islam to the infamous cartoons and the reaction of certain right wingers to his criticism of President Bush. Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the link.

Apparently Kaletsky's column came to the attention of Rush Limbaugh, who unleashed the hounds via his radio show and Kaletsky was bombarded by vile name-calling emails. As he points out, these are a far cry from the violence and threats of violence we are seeing in the so-called "Arab street" (highly organized variety).

There is one other difference worth noting and one similarity that is disturbing.

The difference is that while the vast right wing attack machine was set in motion by the self-anointed guardian of America and its values, Mr. Limbaugh, the demonstrations in the streets of the middle east were fomented, if not organized, by the governments of the region. Those governments survive by the constant distraction of their populace away from the backwardness, inequality, poverty and authoritarianism of these states toward the evil West and toward the afterlife, achievable only by absolute adherence to the received word of the Prophet.

The ugly similarity is that both groups of irrationalists have chosen to define the source of all evil in the world as the Jewish people. Muslim anti-semitism is famous and well documented. Limbaugh's minions like to "defame" Mr. Kaletsky as, among other things, a "Commie Jew-boy".

Both are seekers of the simple, albeit stupid, answer that explains the universe.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Let's Stop "Understanding" Islam's Medieval Intolerance

Andrew Sullivan has a spot on post here that quotes Fouad Ajami and adds his own eloquent defense of western post-enlightenment traditions.