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The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria
Polyarchy by Robert Dahl
The Nazi Seizure of Power by William Sheridan Allen
Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman
The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck
The Money Man
The Washington Post has an editorial on Bush's activities this past month during his "working vacation." It seems poorly timed in the first place to have a vacation for a month while an Iraq debate rages across the airwaves and across the blogosphere, but its even worse when that "vacation" is really just a month away from Presidential obligations to raise money for local candidates. As the Post editorial points out though,
"There's nothing illegal about bending your schedule and travel itinerary to the electoral map. But, just as some Republicans pointed out in Mr. Clinton's case, there are reasons to worry when speaking for money seems to be a president's chief pursuit. It doesn't enhance the prestige of the office when most people can meet or hear you only if they pay up front."
First off, a president should be concerned with the duties of his office. Surely there are famines or nuclear tensions somewhere that need resolving. Is the world really so perfect that a month long vacation can be accommodated?
Secondly, how can Republicans bear to think of themselves as the keepers of American moral standards (not a rare claim), when as soon as they get their candidate into office they immediately begin to carry out the same fundraising tactics that they villified for eight years under Clinton? What's more, Bush has not only copied Clinton's moneymaking ways, he has surpassed Clinton's fundraising totals and has, in the same amount of time, more than doubled Clinton's coffers. The tactic once scorned by Republicans has become its life blood.
Morals are only as good as those that live by them. Republicans can't have it both ways. Fundraising shouldn't be the job of the President. Oh, and don't do it while you're on vacation.
Players and owners did the right thing. They did what it took to avoid a work stoppage. Regardless of the fact that it was completed less than four hours before today's first game (my Cubs vs. the Cardinals), this is amazing. Never in baseball's greedy history has a labor dispute been solved without someone pouting and storming off. What this means:
1) Larger teams like the Yankees lose out because they are forced into revenue sharing with smaller market teams. This increases competitiveness and gives cash-strapped teams, or just plain tight wad teams (like the Cubs), a chance when it comes to bidding for the big name free agents. No doubt this will do little to encourage Tribune Co. (which owns the Cubs) to actually go after all star quality players, but it at least takes away their excuse.
2) Owners agreed not to try to reduce the league by cutting low revenue performing clubs. This saves the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins most likely. Ironically, these teams are not the worst in baseball. In fact the Twins are an incredible 16 games ahead of their closest division rival, the Chicago White Sox. The Expos are in the middle of the pack this year, but last year had an incredible year in which their young team was able to glide into first place.
The downside of keeping these teams is that the quality of Major League Baseball has diminished with the addition of more and more teams. Some have said that a true league of worthy players could only field 10 to 15 teams, not the 29 that exist today.
3) Players received a raise in the minimum salary from $200,000 to $300,000. We wouldn't want those bench warmers to be cheated out of that fourth Porche that their all-star teammates drive around in, now would we?
4) Players agreed to allow for steroid testing. Now we can see if those 66 home runs that Sammy Sosa had in 1998 were really the result of just Flintstones vitamins like he claimed. Hmm.
Anyway, despite my cynicalism about baseball's moral qualities, I am happy that baseball realized what a strike would do to its fans. Baseball saved itself. I'm glad that baseball saw itself from without and saw the mistake it was about to make. Baseball lives on, at least until 2006.
Of course no strike means I have to suffer through another month or so of watching the Cubs blow it. Hmm, maybe this isn't such a good thing...
The Economist has a great article that evaluates the state of liberty in the world since September 11. The assessment seems to be that across the globe nations rich and poor, strong and weak, free and stifled are being brought under a tighter grip, closer monitoring, and oftentimes, illegal enforcement of statutes by their governments. "The sad truth is that September 11th has given despots everywhere a licence to brand all their critics terrorists and take action accordingly." Governments all over the world are using terrorism as an excuse to quiet their political opponents and to imprison anyone who speaks out of turn. Surely when Bush announced his "war on terror" his intentions were solid, thoughtful, and held the highest premium on justice. So what happened?
For one, his own Attorney General decided that security was an American virtue above such things as freedom and liberty. Security is a prime concern of all citizens of the world, especially New Yorkers and Washingtonians, but for liberty to be sacrifice in order to live in a slightly more secure society one would have to largely disregard the truths that our founding fathers held to be self-evident.
Security can not be absolute. Nor can liberty for that matter. But the balance between the two is delicate. Sudden alterations in the balance between liberty and security transform the makeup of the American ideal. Above all, liberty and freedom should not be disregarded for the sake of a little safety. Similarly, the touting of these bedrocks of Americanism in the name of a "war on terror" that acts, in part, as their assailant is virtual ideological blasphemy. Liberty and freedom need to be protected above all other needs, otherwise the bell will, indeed, toll for thee.
Rooting out terrorists,huh? Why provoke the continually incensed Hamas with attacks like this? Granted the official Israeli government line has expressed regret for the incident, but that doesn't change the result. Attacks such as these are often seen by Palestinians as intentional, direct, evil-spirited actions no matter if they are accidental or not. The fragile ceasefire that has held for the past month or so can not stand to be destroyed because of an Israeli error. Peace will require perfection and discipline. It may be difficult, but it is certainly necessary.
This post was written by a friend of mine from a prestigious New York university. In my continuing attempt to show that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not need to be two-sided, hardline battle of ideologies, I have included this thoughtful account in order to shed some light on the sentiments of today's politically-minded college students. Read and consider:
About eight weeks ago, someone asked me if there was a lot of activism on campus that was related to the conflict in the Middle East.
"Of course there is," I replied. The Middle East is undeniably the big issue right now on college campuses, and my university's students are not exactly the type to shy away from a hot political controversy.
"Mostly pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian?"
"That's a tough one; it's about even, I'd say."
"Are a lot of the pro-Palestinian activists Jewish?"
I paused briefly. "A fair number."
"How can that be?"
"Well, most students at my school are left-leaning, and a lot of students are Jewish, and some of those left-leaning students are Jewish." My explanation was simplistic but not incorrect.
"Even on this issue?"
"That happens," I said, letting the subject change before I could be asked for further explanation.
This conversation confirmed my belief that those removed from the Israel/Palestine events on campus--namely the older generations--fail to understand them. They may be more informed of the issues (my conversation was with a Harvard Law grad who happened to be the daughter of a Holocaust survivor), but they usually hear of the political demonstrations only by reading slanted newspapers or hearing about them from their son's friend's roommate's dentist.
Not to sound pompous, but for the most part, the students on this campus who express their ideas on the subject seem well-informed. (Trust me; I've seen the same conflict at other schools where the students don't have anything intelligent to say and don't say it in an intelligent manner.) Many spent part of their teenage years in the Middle East or even grew up there. And the events here are made all the more personal by the fact that a significant fraction of the student body is Jewish, and there is a sizable Muslim population as well.
While the university's students are ethnically diverse, so are their opinions. Ask a hundred students for their thoughts on the Middle East tensions and you'll get a hundred different opinions. That is why I tried not to have to describe more in-depth the political scene on campus--it's too complex to be described easily. What outsiders seem oblivious to may seem obvious but that makes it no less important: that the views on campus cannot all be classified into one of two camps in a "pro-Israel/pro-Palestinian" dichotomy.
Most of my Jewish and Gentile friends are strong supporters of the state of Israel and those who are politically active are sometimes called "pro-Israel." Yet most of them think that Israel needs to withdraw from the occuppied territories (some of them don't) and support the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Some consider themselves Zionists, others call themselves post-Zionists, and others think that the controversy surrounding Zionism is irrelevant.
Likewise, my friends who attend the Free Palestine rallies don't represent a single, simplistic, doctrinaire view. Some use the soapbox to denounce terrorism as morally repugnant while still supporting an independent Palestine. But the occasional comparison to the Nazis is made (not by my friends, as far as I know), and Israel's right to exist is occasionally questioned, and one individual went so far as to say, "The suicide bombers die in dignity, because they die in the name of freedom."
Some of the more simplistic witnesses (and some of the activists) may lump all of the students at a rally into the same camp. So each side sees the other as a group of Meir Kahanes or Islamic Jihad leaders. The irony is that a lot of the students at the Free Palestine rallies agree 100% with some of the students at the rallies for Israel: terrorism's moral repugnance, military withdrawl from Gaza and the West Bank, an independent Palestine, etc. But many, including me, who support those ideals, are frightened by some of the more extreme elements, like the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades' euologizers.
I wrote this post for The Lofty not because I think that Kris's readers care about what's happening at my East Coast liberal arts school, but because I believe that the campus is a microcosm of the larger political sphere. Activists, voters, pundits, and politicians need to pay more attention to other individuals' ideas and not make judgments based on simplistic and misleading classifications.
I've got to thank VodkaPundit, and of course Robert Prather, for the incredible number of hits The Lofty has received today. My low budget operation (read: after-hours hobby) went from 18 hits yesterday to 80 plus today. Needless to say I'm shocked. Thanks!
Major League Baseball is scheduled to go on strike in two days. Should I care? I mean really, why should anyone care if its the owners or the players who are the billionaires? Its not as if the side that gets the lesser half of the eventual agreement will have to apply for welfare. When the dust clears both players and owners will still be richer than any typical American could ever dream of. Revenue sharing should not be something that puts the final nail in the coffin of baseball. August 30 will be the day football is crowned America's pastime. Baseball can not afford another strike, lockout, or any kind of work stoppage. It is on its last straw with fans yet doesn't realize it. Baseball has two days to realize that death is knocking. Football, are you ready?
Civil liberties have finally won another important battle in the courts. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that cases against individuals held on immigration charges should be open to the public and the press. In its majority opinion the court said,
"The Executive Branch seeks to uproot people's lives, outside the public eye, and behind a closed door. Democracies die behind closed doors. The First Amendment, through a free press, protects the people's right to know that their government acts fairly, lawfully, and accurately."
The judicial branch is just beginning to scratch the surface of injustices that the executive branch has created in the past 11 months. The courts truely began the snowball of resistance to unchecked executive power when they ruled against Ashcroft and said that the secret courts that were being used to obtain sensitive intelligence warrants were being deceived by Justice Department officials and legitimate warrants were being obtained based on exaggerated or false evidence. The courts have finally stood up for their equal power in the federal government. For the past 11 months few citizens, institutions or agencies were willing to stand up against the manufactured patriotic fervor that had led to the unlawful arrests and imprisonments of thousands of law-abiding people.
The executive branch is not the only one with power. Legislators and judges need to remember their checks and balances and use them.
Imagine for a minute that Chinese President Jiang Zemin, in a new policy initiative concerning Taiwan, remarked that, “Wars are never won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy." Imagine also that when asked about this new Chinese policy towards its "rogue province," Jiang responded by saying, “We now know that Taiwan has resumed its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Among other sources, we’ve gotten this from firsthand testimony from defectors."
With this public statement of offensive intention, what might be the response of the U.S. and the rest of the world? Possibly tremendous concern for the state of international diplomacy and the fate of responsible state interaction. In all likelihood the world would move to defend Taiwan against such aggressive actions.
Now, back to reality. Replace the word "Taiwan" with "Saddam" and you have today's public message from the White House delivered to you by Dick Cheney. In an effort to shore up public opinion, the administration is again trying to sell its new pre-emptive policy. The above example aside, this policy is teeming with flaws. The Chinese example would become a reality made legitimate with the U.S. pre-emption in Iraq. China would not be the only nation to take advantage of the new international precedent. Across the globe larger, more powerful nations would use the U.S. example to justify attacks on smaller countries regardless of how flimsy their reasons for such an offensive.
The precedent ripple-effect should be reason enough to disregard a pre-emptive policy. Over the course of the past 11 years since the end of the Gulf War Iraq has been contained incredibly well. Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war against his neighbors is nearly non-existant because of international military pressure. Creating a Gulf War II by pre-emptive means in a region who's peace diplomacy is already drawn up on tissue paper, would be a destructive blow to a cohesive international scene.
Israel's security would be theatened by any attack on Iraq. Israel has already said that it would respond, possibly with nuclear weapons. Is there any way that Israel's use of nuclear weapons would not invite a larger pan-Arabian war? This is a question that must be asked before a foolish policy of pre-emption is fully adopted and put into practice. It truely seems as if the Gulf War II strategy has not been thought out past the initial bombing campaign (which will likely accomplish little in a desert), and that those in decision-making positions have only envisioned the optimistic viewpoint that Baghdad will quickly fall into liberty-loving hands.
That having been said, my advice to Bush, Cheney, Perle and other arrogant administration hawks is simple: Think Harder, Think Smarter.