August 01, 2008

Gone Fishin'

Summer vacation at the Pond. I figure since the President doesn't work during August, and we pay him $400,000 per year, then Waldenswimmer, who works for nothing, should be afforded at least the same benefit. See you in September.


Blogging While America Burns

An old friend of mine from way, way back, a man who has served this country honorably in several capacities, wonders why I do this. I've often asked myself the same question. Part of it has to do with that quote from Edmund Burke featured on the vertical masthead to the right, the idea that one ought to do something when you think your own country is going down the tubes, however humble, however small scale. I don't think what I'm doing here is very much, frankly. I have done more, in fact. In 2004 I worked in Florida for the Election Protection Coalition as a voting site observer and legal adviser, part of a nationwide effort to reduce the level of illegal crap which had gone on in the 2000 elections in that very state and others. My reactions to that experience were mixed. It felt good to do something so tangible but it was also a window into how very broken our electoral system really is.

Anyway, most of the time I'm just blowing off steam. It doesn't take very long to write the blog because I have a left brain which tends to think in complete sentences, probably a vestigial artifact of the verbal era in which my friend and I were educated in the public schools. Sometimes I research what I'm writing, particularly on legal issues where I want to be certain I never say anything which is clearly inaccurate. I can usually avoid most glaring errors, at least.

A great writer once noted that good writing should sound like refined conversation. That's a good rule of thumb. I try not to write in prose which is stilted or overly complex, and to use colloquial phrases instead of formalisms whenever possible. Most writers unconsciously repeat words in sequential sentences (the power of suggestion), and my editing (which takes about 5 minutes) is directed to that quirk, to avoid monotony. You can usually spot unedited writing in blogs if you pay attention to that tendency.

I got started writing the blog because I just couldn't believe what was happening to the United States, and with the grandiosity of the uninitiated I thought throwing a few more words on the pile could turn things around. Humans are like that; we earnestly believe we can reorder reality by imagining it different. Have you ever sat around a dinner table and completely revamped America's energy regime? Then you wonder why your brilliant idea isn't implemented the next week. Same with all aspects of politics. I thought that if Americans realized that the Bill of Rights was under assault from the very government which they elected, they would immediately do the right thing. It turns out this is not the case. I never thought I would live to see the day when American citizens could be arrested on American soil, thrown in a dungeon, denied access to counsel, and kept in the dark about any charges against them without so much as a word of official protest. It's happened three times since Bush took office. Nor did I believe that the United States would ever implement a program to systematically violate the Geneva Conventions, torturing and killing many prisoners in the process. We've done all that, too.

So we've changed. A lot. A blog is useful for recording your impressions of those changes, as a kind of public diary. I don't think it makes much difference whether you record them publicly or privately anymore, because the concept of "privacy" is also a thing of the past. The details of your entire life are now available on government, credit reporting and mailing list database computers. I'm not a conspiracy theorist and I don't wear a tinfoil hat. Far from it. I'm much less hysterical about all of this than a lot of the "celebrity" bloggers who write about the predations of modern American government.

Once, back in the mid Eighties, I was visiting German friends who live in Heidelberg. A good friend of theirs was an artist who lived in Czechoslovakia (when it was called that, Mr. McCain). I noted in talking to him, and to other people I met subsequently who had lived in police states behind the Iron Curtain, how utterly matter-of-fact they were about the impossibility of progressive change. One would think that a creative mind would be in a state of constant hysteria about the absence of free speech, about informers and arbitrary detention for dissent, the uselessness of the "elections." Quite the contrary. They possessed a wry and ironical detachment from the insanity of the social order. You can't go around in life all worked up and foaming at the mouth when you live in such places. You'll burn yourself completely out. I think, approaching things from the other direction (out-of-control, deregulated capitalism), we have arrived at a similar state. Big Money controls the organs of communication (television, radio and major newspapers) and Congress, through the lobbying system. That's enough to control everything. There is no need to lock up dissenters in the United States because their dissent is useless and unheeded. Seriously, all these Internet commenters and bloggers are just speaking quietly into hurricane-force winds. That's something you learn by writing one of these things. Companies which can write large checks to decision-makers do not need to worry about some guy wearing a pair of hiking shorts tapping away on his keyboard in his den. Similarly, major communications media are owned by a dwindling group of large corporate holding companies, and this has produced a kind of Pravda or Izvestia feel to the dissemination of "free speech" and opinion. Not just anything gets said - it has to fall within certain business-permitted and conventional parameters. These house organs drown out, by a thousand-fold, the whimpering of the Internet writers.

Our wholesale indifference to the huge changes in our government and legal system means that we are not going to return to those halcyon days when our system for maintaining civil liberties and human dignity were the envy of the world. I don't know exactly why we've become such a coarse, loutish and unprincipled country. My guess is that it owes to the deteriorating quality of our educational system. We still produce elites who can excel and make a lot of money, compete on the world stage, but we're growing a huge underclass in place of what was once the middle class, people who lead lives of quiet desperation and don't have time for the lofty musings of the self-styled blogger. That's a shame. The unexamined life, as the great thinker told us, is not worth living.

Philosophically, I think the time has come for the American people to think in terms of cultivating their own garden, perhaps literally as well as figuratively. Voltaire had that part right all along. And then my inspiration, Henry David Thoreau, fills in the rest of the blanks. Lead a principled life of your own and don't concern yourself over much with the stresses and problems of the world at large. Take care of that part of Mother Earth which lies close by you. America will proceed on its path of devolution and will become something else in time, maybe a fragmented regional confederation. As we see every four years or so, the strain of trying to strike balances between parts of the country which really do not see eye-to-eye, which have very little in common other than a collective memory of the way things used to be, has produced a political system which is utterly impotent to solve real problems. The only thing the country seems able to do on a consistent basis is to engage in war, and there's no future in that. Not one we should be interested in, anyway.

July 31, 2008

The Pushback Against Neoconservative Hijacking of American Foreign Policy

I was glad to see this commentary by Joe Klein in his Time magazine blog "Swampland,", analyzed approvingly by Daniel Levy on the TheHuffingtonPost:

"There is a small group of Jewish neoconservatives who unsuccessfully tried to get Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, and then successfully helped provide the intellectual rationale for George Bush to do it in 2003... Happily, these people represent a very small sliver of the Jewish population in this country...I remain proud of my Jewish heritage, a strong supporter of Israel...But I am not willing to grant these ideologues the anonymity they seek...I believe there are a small group of Jewish neoconservatives who are pushing for war with Iran because they believe it is in America's long-term interests and because they believe Israel's existence is at stake. They are wrong and recent history tells us they are dangerous. They are also bullies and I'm not going to be intimidated by them."
Klein has been viciously attacked by Jewish neoconservatives such as John Podhoretz, Jr. for his apostasy, or more colloquially, for his chutzpah in displaying such a shanda fur die goyim. As one who sympathizes with the plight of Israel, as unorthodox as that may be in modern liberal circles (lay it off to my love of George Gershwin and Philip Roth - I don't care), I have been distressed by the co-opting of right wing Jewish intellectuals such as Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Scooter Libby and, of course, the Senator from Israel, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, in Bush's scorched earth policies in the Middle East. Co-opting, of course, is too mild a word. They were active participants. I have always considered their influence fundamentally misguided and a near-disaster for Israel's image in the American liberal community. By throwing their lot in with George W. Bush's hamfisted, incompetent, violent approach to his "freedom agenda," they have made it more difficult to discuss rationally what is actually in Israel's long-term strategic (and existential) interest, particularly because Bush, in his monomaniacal focus on stabilizing Iraq by force no matter what the cost, abandoned the peace process in the actual Middle East (Palestine-Israel) in favor of an "Axis of Evil" bellicosity.

The American public, charming folk that they are, are often about as astute in discerning subtle distinctions as a kitten watching a string swinging before its face. Since these big Neocons represent the apparent weight of opinion in the American Jewish community, the tendency is to deduce that all American Jews have become, mutatis mutandis, Right Wing. This is simply not the case, as Klein and Levy point out, neither here nor in Israel. I have had occasion to refer admiringly to the "South Jerusalem" blog, for example, but one can multiply such examples endlessly. The Neocons are Jewish extremists. The identification of American Jewry with the worst aspects of Bush's foreign policy, such as the constant war drumming for a war with Iran, also gives those Americans with anti-Semitic tendencies, who were looking for something to hang their Jewish hatred on anyway, a "rational" hook for their bias. Lieberman, in his transparent cheerleading for yet another use of the American military in a preemptive war in the Middle East, is committing a form of treason, in my book, and the evidence for such a serious charge is supported by his shameless appearance at John Hagee's Christians United for Israel hullabaloo. Does he represent the USA, Israel, or does he just want to see the End Times roll?

Anyway - mazeltov to Joe Klein. I think what he's doing is therapeutic and heroic. Let's not forget that the official position of the U.S. intelligence agencies is that Iran is not working on development of an atomic bomb, and that as signatories to the Nonproliferation Treaty (unlike India or Pakistan, to name two examples without naming the third), they are currently within their rights to enrich unranium. Am I reassured by such legalities? No, I'm not, but it would be a welcome change if the United States operated within the bounds of treaties it has already signed. Bush's habit of ignoring all legalities (his unilateral rejection of the ABM treaty has been a disaster in American-Russian relations, for example) comes into play once again. If it is not permissible for Iran to enrich uranium, then change the damn treaty. It's nuts to threaten war over the legal exercise of an international right. It breeds utter contempt for American actions, which under Bush have become a series of ad hoc, unilateralist, rogue spasms apparently dictated by whatever his Magic 8 Ball tells him to do that morning.

Not an approach that any country, or ethnic group, should want to have anything to do with.

July 30, 2008

La Diva Sings Her Usual Aria

I caught Nancy Pelosi's act on Jon Stewart's Daily Show a couple of nights ago and was reminded yet again how much our elected Reps rely on the dismal state of American civics education to get away with forfeiting their Constitutional duty to rein in a runaway presidency. And was also struck again at how thoroughly out of place Nancy seems as Speaker of the House. She remains the perfect Pacific Heights socialite; all batting eyes, forced laughter, charming chit-chat. I don't say that as a sexist remark -- it's her choice to present herself as an airhead.

Maybe she's appearing on a comedy show but Stewart was asking her serious questions.

Like: did it ever occur to you people just to refuse Bush his allowance for his vanity war in Iraq? I was (somewhat) surprised to hear that the House of Representatives, under her leadership, had tried that very thing. Sure, they had voted the money; but they'd attached "conditions" to its use, like a "timeline." However, when the bill came back from the Senate, the timelines had been stripped out, so then they had no choice but to...And the problem all along was that darn 60 vote rule in the Senate, so poor Mr. Mumbles (Harry Reid) had no choice but to cave in to the wishes of the Republican, er, minority, because he couldn't get a timeline bill to the Senate floor for a vote.

Stewart, leaving behind his comedic persona, simply stared at her in disbelief. They're still using that pathetic excuse? Under Article I of the United States Constitution, no authorization bill for federal spending can originate other than in the House of Representatives. That's what Madison, Hamilton, et al. had in mind when they decided that the People's House should control the People's money. Really, it's the ultimate power; not even George W. Bush can do anything without money. He can rant and rave, hold his breath till he turns blue, blackmail Congress with the threat to expose them as a group of enemy collaborators, anything he wants - but he still can't do anything unless Nancy Pelosi agrees, as the leader of the majority party in the People's House, to give him the money to do it with.

One of the great ironies is that the Democrats, by funding everything in Iraq including the escalation in men and expense known as the "surge," have set the stage for their own unraveling. They have given McCain his best and only argument: I was right about the Surge, Obama was wrong. Let' face it, it resonates. As certain as I am this morning that it is a clear day in July, I am confident that those 30,000 troops were not decisive in bringing about the "progress" in Iraq. The prior ethnic cleansing, the walling off of sectarian neighborhoods, the cease fire called by al-Sadr, and sheer battle fatigue brought about a diminution of mayhem in Iraq, and the violence is far from over. The blood rivalries run so deep that Iraq will remain "fragile" (as the hawks put it) for a very long time, much longer than we can possibly afford to stay there. McCain talks as if what is going on there now is some sort of steady state that will sustain itself on its own momentum in perpetuity. This is crazy nonsense. Let's face it: we vastly underestimated how inherently unstable Iraq really is.

But such an argument, like the even better argument that the war was dumb to begin with, is slightly too nuanced for sound-bite America. Americans want to feel "safe," and the guy who can make you safe is the guy who can explain everything in a sentence -- there were bad people there, we stayed the course and got rid of them. Something along those lines. Never mind reality; we need something that will fit on an adhesive strip on my rear bumper. So La Diva and Mr. Mumbles needed to fulfill that mandate from the American people that was equally simple in its formulation: get this stupid war over with. They didn't do it. They played ball, played it safe, and Nancy, the perfect smiling hostess, is now serving canapes topped with roast crow, all washed down with a snifter of bitter gall.

July 28, 2008

An Open Letter to the Jews of South Florida

For Itz Brownstein,
to talk about at dinner (at 4 pm)

To begin with, I won't even pretend that I can appreciate, at an emotional, intellectual or visceral level, what you as a people have been through. Name another people and its genocidal treatment - Armenians, Rwandans, Bosnians, Native Americans - and what you will find is that they were once subjected to an awful pogrom which resonates through history, but that it was a singular experience, the product of specific historical circumstances. Not so the Jews. No, anti-semitism occupies a special place in human history, a blood libel and an institutionalized bigotry drawing its strength and endurance from religious sources, powered by hatred which never completely loses its potency. There are some, like David Irving or Ahmadinejad, whose hatred of the Jews is so complete, so consuming, that they even seek to deny you the dignity of remembering the truth about what happened in the Shoah.

Anti-Semitism is vile, diseased, a sickness which has served as the motive force behind the greatest crimes in history. The Inquisition, the wholesale pogroms and displacement in Russia and so many other places, and the most odious of all offenses against decency and humanity, the Holocaust. And beneath the skin of your supposed historical friends lies many an anti-Semite. Winston Churchill, who even after Kristallnacht in 1938 praised Hitler as a "great man." Charles Lindbergh, who was house hunting in Berlin even after the deportations began, who consulted with the Luftwaffe on their use of planes gladly sold to them by American aircraft companies. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who as a young lawyer in New York proposed a system for reducing the numbers of Jews at Harvard, finding their representation there "excessive." Gandhi, who worked against the establishment of a homeland for Jews except in Tanganyika - there was a brilliant idea from the Mahatma - why not a refuge for the Jews in a former German colony? Churchill and Roosevelt again, who blocked the escape of the Jews from Germany at every turn, refusing to expand immigration quotas even as your parents and grandparents were rounded up and sent to death camps.

So you learned to trust yourselves and only yourselves. You could do without the "help" of such false friends. Jews built a country of their own in Israel. They built a mighty nuclear arsenal, probably the second most powerful in the world with the additional advantage that it probably works. The American nuclear arsenal is run by the same people who managed FEMA's response to Katrina. As your ancestors did, you entered the learned professions in numbers vastly disproportionate to your representation in society, the kind of thing that bothered FDR so much. Yet it was a survival mechanism; corporations, clubs, neighborhoods all could be restricted. You needed a direct means of making a living which did not depend on the solicitude or occasional enlightenment of Gentiles.

You learned to think for yourselves as well. You are not easily persuaded by the reassurances of the goy; you've been down that road too many times, and it has led to tragedy. Even Albert Einstein, still in Germany in 1933, wanted to believe that Nazism was not as bad as it appeared to be. It was exuberance, he said, as the German people shook off the humiliation of the Versailles Treaty. They don't mean it.

Never again. If Albert Einstein could make such a mistake...So now here comes this smooth talking guy with the Muslim middle name running for President, and he sat in a church in Chicago for twenty years, and one of the things that this pastor whom he admired so much did was to confer a lifetime achievement award on the anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan. When I lay it out like that, it's pretty heavy. That doesn't look too good at all. It's small surprise that Barack Obama stopped just short of dancing the hora when he visited with AIPAC not long ago. And that prayer he slipped into the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem? I think I know what it said: "Fellas, please - hak mir nisht ken tshaynik with this Reverend Jeremiah shtick."

Here's my sense, from a guy who has searched his own soul for traces of anti-Semitism and has never been able to find anything worse than occasional envy at the professional excellence of some of his legal colleagues: I don't think Barack Obama is an anti-Semite. I just don't think he rolls that way. I think he's spent some time around anti-Semites. So have I. Know how I know I have? I'm not a hermit. So all I ask, as an American who's very concerned about the possibility of an unsuitable, quite possibly unstable candidate like John McCain winning this thing and leading America to ruin, is just give to Barack Obama what you have always asked of the world, but have not always gotten: a fair chance. That's all. If you vote against him, make sure it's for a reason you've thoroughly examined, and that you're convinced your decision against him is not based on the kind of prejudice which you, as a people, have always abhorred. I'm not talking about prejudice against blacks, because Yahweh knows the American Jews, as Barack acknowledged in talking so movingly about the deaths of the Jewish Mississippi Civil Rights workers, have done more for civil liberties than all other American nationalities combined. Even today it is Jewish legal leadership which champions the rights of Muslims detained unfairly at Guantanamo, who represented them, and won, in the historic habeas corpus case just decided. No one can fairly question your commitment to ethics and equal justice. So I draw on that and ask you to exemplify, once again, that spirit of fairness in November. Delve deep, in that peerless intellectual tradition which has always been your hallmark. And then decide. For we're all in this together.

Shifts in the Zeitgeist: The Attempted Citizen's Arrest of Karl Rove in Iowa

The Boston Massacre occurred in 1770, five years before the shot heard 'round the world at Lexington Green, and three years before the Boston Tea Party. John Adams successfully defended the British soldiers involved in the shooting incident, but the die was effectively cast from that day forward. A revolution was coming, and the act of insurrection in Boston harbor was a violent harbinger of the conflict to follow. Great seismic shifts in public attitudes begin with such small steps, I think. Certain members of the citizenry, "crazier" than others and perhaps more sensitive to perception of tyranny, act first and they embolden the rest.

Not that I advocate the overthrow of the United States Government by force, because I don't. It would be contrary to my sworn duty as an officer of the court to uphold the law of the land, and I take that oath seriously. I write this blog partly in response to what I perceive as a mandatory duty under the legal Canons of Ethics. I think the United States Constitution and the United States Code are routinely and systematically violated by the President of the United States, by Congress and by the Supreme Court. I am far from alone in this perception, especially among the legal community. Indeed, the more you know about law and its processes, the easier it is to see just how arrantly lawless the Bush Administration is, and how completely it has corrupted the Constitutional system of the federal government. I doubt seriously we will ever restore the system fully to its former greatness. When the people and their elected representatives casually countenance official lawbreaking without remark or action, then "extralegal" ways of doing things become the new norm and a kind of arbitrary anarchy descends on the body politic. That's where we are. It is interesting to observe, but only in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse.

Recently, four troublemaking citizens in Iowa, not themselves peace officers or deputized as such, attempted to arrest Karl Rove. For their efforts, they were arrested for trespass and cited to appear. Karl Rove, after all, enjoys the privileges of status and quasi-official protection. So law enforcement sided with Rove and he went on his way. A citizen's arrest is a dangerous thing to do; a citizen taking the law into his own hands is not protected by the police officer's privilege of probable cause. If you're wrong about the guilt of the person detained, you can be held liable for kidnap or assault. Nevetheless, all fifty states have some form of citizen's arrest on their books. Here is California's statute: A private person may arrest another: 1. For a public offense committed or attempted in his presence. 2. When the person arrested has committed a felony, although not in his presence. 3. When a felony has been in fact committed, and he has reasonable cause for believing the person arrested to have committed it. (Cal. Penal Code Sec. 837). This is slightly (but crucially) different from the police standard; for a police officer to be liable for false imprisonment or malicious criminal prosecution, it must be shown that probable cause (a reasonable belief) was lacking both for the commission of a crime and that the person arrested was the one who done it. So if you collar Karl Rove on the suspicion, for example (among many of his possible crimes), that he conspired to blow the cover of an undercover CIA operative, and a court subsequently rules that no such crime was committed, you're in deep trouble.

So it's somewhat reckless to engage in such a citizen's arrest. Why would they do it? I think the answer is simple. Such canaries in the coal mine have come to the realization that no official avenue of redress is available. No one in a position of power is going to do anything about the day-to-day crimes committed by members of the government. When Scooter Libby was tried and convicted, for example, his sentence was quickly overturned as a personal favor from George W. Bush, who barely troubled himself to offer the laughably inadequate excuse of "excessive punishment" (the sentence was briefer than federal guidelines, and Bush had the option of reducing the sentence). This sort of preferential treatment and defiance of the law registers in the psyche of the citizenry. When the federal government tortures human beings, it then passes laws exonerating itself and its agents from the War Crimes Act. If it violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Fourth Amendment, it passes a law legalizing the conduct and dismissing all civil actions attempting to find out when and against whom the spying took place.

What is unfortunate is that those of a conservative persuasion, seeing this criminal activity as part of the policy of the party which they favor, argue in favor of sanctioning criminality, and accuse those who simply point out, as calmly and methodically as they can, that crimes have been committed of "disloyalty." Yet these are not "Left/Right" issues. We don't care if a smash-and-grab mugger on the street voted Democratic in the last election; he's a criminal. The bravest of the dissidents are people like Bruce Fein, who served on the legal staff of Ronald Reagan, and yet points out (in my view irrefutably) that the Bush Administration operates outside the bounds of legal conduct.

Hosea 8:7: "For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk; the bud shall yield no meal." Citizen's arrests are one step up the legal ladder from mob rule. I don't know whether there will ever be a "Truth & Reconciliation Commission" in the United States, or any kind of organized legal response to what has gone on during the Bush years, but I'm fairly confident of one thing: if there is not, then I think we will be well down the road toward social and legal disintegration.

July 27, 2008

Thinking McCain Through

So I watched Senator McCain this morning on "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos, and decided to drop all preconceptions and simply come to terms with the somewhat improbable, but nonetheless existent, possibility that he might become the 44th President of the United States. In which case, I must ask myself, what then? What's he like?

The interview occurred in one of Mr. McCain's many nice homes, this one in Cottonwood, Arizona, where two chairs were arranged before a stone fireplace in a light and airy room. At one point two of McCain's dogs romped into the room, which had a homey, if somewhat contrived, feel to it. I mean, if an interview for national television is in progress, with all the tech and camera people present in and around the house, with electric cable and light stands everywhere, are we really to believe that the dogs were simply running loose? I'll let that go. I was determined to listen with an open mind.

The first thing I noticed was that Senator McCain is enormously proud of his decision to support President Bush's decision to add 30,000 American troops to Iraq in January, 2007. McCain sees this decision as the fulcrum point for the survival of Western Civilization As We Know It. Without his courageous support for a decision which Bush was going to undertake anyway, the opposition be damned, a kind of End Times scenario would be spooling out in Iraq even at this very moment. Genocide, Iranian invasion, Kurdish-Turkey combat, a wider war involving all countries with Arabs or Persians in them - you name it, it would be happening. A kind of Express Down Elevator to Hell. It's somewhat unnerving that Senator McCain recites the grim details of Armageddon in a completely wooden, almost somnambulistic monotone, as if he accidentally doubled up on the Xanax.

Back to the objectivity, the attitude of the day. None of these terrible things happened because John McCain had the courage of his convictions and voiced his support for the introduction of 30,000 additional troops into Baghdad. Since I am so utterly gracious in honoring his victory, the victory of being right, I know I can count on Senator McCain's similar magnanimity in granting the truth of the related observation that Iraq was in a condition to fall completely apart in January 2007 because of the dumb idea of invading the country in the first place. If I think this, Senator McCain has a few words for me, to wit: not so fast, my friend. For this very question was asked and McCain had the following, zinging comeback:

MCCAIN: I said that Saddam Hussein caused a -- imposed a threat to the United States of America and our security. And the Oil for Food scandal, the $12 billion he was skimming, the fact that he had said that he had in operation and he wanted to have weapons of mass destruction, the fact that this society that he ruled in such a brutal fashion was really awful. And he did pose a long-term threat to the security of the United States of America.
So let's take a look, objectively, and see what we have here. The first sentence and the last, in my opinion, do not follow from the factual predicates of the other sentences. The conclusion that Iraq posed a threat to the security of the United States needs some sort of empirical support, and that I don't see. In more detail:

1. I don't know of anyone, even W, who actually contends that we invaded Iraq because Saddam was skimming from the Oil for Food program. We knew he was doing so for about twelve years before we invaded, we knew he was building increasingly opulent monuments to himself with the money, but it's not why we went to war.

2. "The fact that he [Saddam] had said he had in operation and he wanted to have weapons of mass destruction." It was the public position of the Iraqi government, in the months immediately before the invasion and as announced by Tariq Aziz, Iraq's Ambassador to the United Nations, that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction. Hans Blix, as Chief Inspector of the UN weapons detail, said that he could not find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. While their contents have never been disclosed (only scoffed at by W), Iraq made a 13,000 page document dump to Blix's team shortly before the invasion, in an effort to verify the destruction of all weapons (all part of the very difficult task of proving the negation of a proposition). Adding the phrase "and he wanted to have weapons of mass destruction" does not add anything to the argument. Even under Bush's rather elastic standards for justifying "preemptive wars," I don't think we ever got to the point where we invaded based on "announced intention."

3. "The fact that this society he [Saddam] ruled in such a brutal fashion was really awful." I think McCain's saying that Saddam's brutal reign was awful, not the society itself, but that's one of the difficulties of McCain's very inarticulate way of expressing himself. It's hard to know what he means. Either way, this again is not a legitimate casus belli. Elsewhere in the interview, McCain talked about his desire to kick Russia out of the G-8 because of its "autocratic" tendencies, itself a very stupid idea, of course. We're not going to get anywhere with Iran or China if we drive Russia into isolation again. But I assume even McCain would draw the line at ostracism and not propose war because of the "awful regime" in Russia.

McCain's odd bill of particulars seems to betray an uneasiness about the actual reasons we invaded Iraq; essentially, he's admitting we didn't have any good reasons. McCain doesn't say, as Bush did, that "everyone knew" Saddam had WMD, probably because he knows that just isn't true and he lacks Bush's ease with casual lying (to McCain's credit). But despite the absence of a good reason, at least according to his own logic, the decision to invade was right.

Elsewhere, McCain confirmed that he's against gay adoption and affirmative action, and for nuclear power, drilling for oil and making permanent the Bush tax cuts. Remaining as objective as I can, I nevertheless found his talk more or less devoid of any important ideas which are commensurate with the serious challenges (economic and environmental, primarily, but also in terms of health care) actually facing the country. I don't think he really has any ideas about how to reinvigorate the country; I think the McCain presidential run is about a series of attitudes and positions on certain issues which he sees as (a) defense-related or (b) moral values. In that sense, I think he's a classic reactionary, and I think the election of a reactionary, at this perilous time, would be a tragic mistake for the country.