Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Dammit, I didn't get a free ice-cream sundae on my birthday

Kerry’s position on the Iraq War this week, as I understand it, is that he was right to vote to give Bush a blank check, even if he’d known that all of the intel was cooked, but Bush was wrong to use it the way he did. Kerry is obviously looking towards the future, when he might want to lie to Congress and be given absolute power. You have to keep those options open.

Tim Russert = Elia Kazan.

One-point plan.

The ACLU reports that the federal government increasingly bypasses privacy laws by using private companies to collect data on Americans. Of course we know about airlines passing along info on passengers to the gov since 9/11, sometimes without being asked. But the ACLU (in a pdf that keeps stalling when I try to download it) says the practice has grown tremendously, with the gov buying data, using court orders or simply asking for it. I remember something from early in the Reagan administration. There used to be an ice-cream parlor chain called Farrell’s, one of those olde-timey things where the staff wear straw hats and striped shirts, there are too many banjos, and you bring children on their birthdays, when they get a free sundae. Farrell’s was found to be handing its birthday list over to the Selective Service, which was harassing people who hadn’t signed up for the draft on their 18th birthday. This was discovered because people had, naturally, made up false identities to scam a free ice cream sundae.

The NYT has an editorial today against the banning of Al Jazeera in Iraq. It is against it, as am I. But the article makes some rather odd assumptions while trotting out its clichés. It says twice that "Owie" Allawi is "supposed" to be moving Iraq towards democracy (actually, the second reference is that he is supposed to be merely "pointing the way toward a more democratic Iraq," possibly in the manner of pointer breeds of dog which have been bred to indicate the location of a bird that has been shot out of the sky. And really, "more democratic Iraq"? Could you possibly set that bar lower?). He’s "supposed to" be doing that? Whose supposition is that? The NYT says that he "has begun yielding to the same kind of authoritarian mentality that has stifled democracy in too many neighboring states." Too many? What’s the right number? So are we meant to believe that Allawi was a liberal democrat who is being corrupted by power? Where’s the evidence that Allawi’s mentality was ever anything other than authoritarian? And when was democracy stifled in a Middle Eastern state; when was there ever a democracy to be stifled? The problem is that the Times is assuming that democracy is the normal state of affairs if there is no untidy interference from tyrants, ethnic strife, etc. That, I think, is what they really meant by "supposed to": that the natural flow of events is towards democracy, like one of the laws of the universe: a nation-state in motion tends to moves towards a state of representative democracy and civil rights. This is not the case. Democracy is hard, democracy is not natural or inevitable. This is not to say that Arabs are incapable of democracy--that straw man Bush keeps trotting out--but the laws of history do not ineluctably lead towards American-style democracy, and it will be much harder work to create representative democracy and, especially, liberal democratic values, than it would be to create another dictatorship. Only if you own up to that do you have any chance of accomplishing it.

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