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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

help wanted (still)

Cambridge Common will be back on vacation for the next week and a half while I am a leader in the First-Year Urban Program.

In the meantime, I'm still looking for writers who would like to contribute to Cambridge Common now that Jamal and Clay have moved on to bigger and better things. For more info on what I'm looking for in writers and what the goal of this blog is, check out my previous help wanted post.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

summer reading

Not that I needed another reason to admire Barack Obama, but this graduation speech that he gave at Knox College in Illinois is yet another example of his ability to articulate progressive, leftist values in the context of history and in stirring rhetoric. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but take this section after he outlines some of the challenges we face today, for example:
Now, no one can force you to meet these challenges. If you want, it will be pretty easy for you to leave here today and not give another thought to towns like Galesburg and the challenges they face. There is no community service requirement in the real world; no one’s forcing you to care. You can take your diploma, walk off this stage, and go chasing after the big house, and the nice suits, and all the other things that our money culture says you can buy. (more in expanded post)
But I hope you don’t. Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a poverty of ambition. It asks to little of yourself. You need to take up the challenges that we face as a nation and make them your own, not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, although you do have that obligation. Not because you have a debt to all of those who helped you get to where you are, although you do have that debt. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, although you do have that obligation. You need to take on the challenge because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential. And if we’re willing to share the risks and the rewards this new century offers, it will be a victory for each of you, and for every American.
I'm not sure it is essential that Obama reach for some higher office as many (myself included) constantly hope. Don't get me wrong, I hope he has that opportunity. But what he does for the political left is bring both a spirit and a level of intellect that is so badly needed now. If just a few of us read this speech, it helps.

Friday, August 26, 2005

hitchens v. stewart

Jon Stewart continues to be the best journalist in America with this actually interesting, impassioned and funny debate with Christopher Hitchens over the War in Iraq. I really wish I had cable so I didn't have to steal these videos from websites...

UPDATE: an extra clip for the doubters: Jon Stewart's Guide to Talking Points.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

a white house (and a war) exposed

The LA Times today has exactly the piece I have been hoping for since the beginning of the Valerie Plame affair. I assumed that it wouldn't come until after special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald came back with a report detailing the ins and outs of the White House smear machine and the intelligence debacle that lead it into action (in this case anyway). But this article tells an amazingly comprehensive story about all of the aspects of Plamegate (or Rovegate, or whatever). All tied up into one disturbing, awful and fascinating narrative, the story includes detailed accounts of:
  • the massive arrogance of this administration's handling of intelligence
  • the facts and timeline of Joe Wilson's involvement in the Niger yellowcake mistake
  • the ongoing struggles between the CIA and the pentagon and DoD
  • the smear effort on the part of White House officials to discredit Wilson.

It's all there, and it's scary. You absolutely must read this story.

Monday, August 22, 2005

popular war President?


Sunday, August 21, 2005

fighting dumb news

A few people are doing it. Bob Costas refused to guest host Larry King Live because the subject was the girl in Aruba and the BTK killer. But the best, since it was angry, articulate and actually on TV, was CNN commentator/curmudgeon Jack Cafferty railing against the news networks and Wolf Blitzer for covering the BTK killer so extensively. Sensational non-news gets ratings, Blitzer argues. That's shameful, Cafferty responds. Watch it, it's great.

On a mostly unrelated note, Frank Rich today is an absolute must-read. He argues that Cindy Sheehan is not simply a turning point in America's understanding of this war and this President, but also in the success of Rove's tactic of personal destruction. Let's hope he's right.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Roberts and conservatism at Harvard...

The NYTs today has an interesting article speculating about the ideological origins of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. In order to do this, the article tries to give some idea of the political dynamics at Harvard College and Law in the early 70s. A fascinating read not only for those interested in politics at Harvard, but also for those interested in understanding ideological development:
"There was a 'Boy Named Sue' quality to being a libertarian or conservative at Harvard," said Mr. [Grover] Norquist, referring to the Johnny Cash song and Shel Silverstein poem ("Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean,/ My fist got hard and my wits got keen.") Conservatives at Harvard, he suggested, learned to be "tougher than anyone else.(more in expanded post)
Unlike students on the left, he said, they were constantly being challenged. There was this cowardice of the center to criticize the left," Mr. Norquist said. "Somebody would make some left-wing comment and no one would challenge it, whereas if you made some right-wing comment, you'd get 20 questions. We grew up and we built tougher, smarter, better advocates on the right than the left did. You see this all the time: The left gets frustrated if somebody asks a second question."
I don't think this is necessarily true any more. I think the dynamic is more that there is a mass of "liberal" establishment that rejects out of hand anything that challenges the facade of a tolerant, idyllic university and a well-intentioned, if inept, Democratic party as the clear moral force for good. Now, as opposed to in the early 70s when SDS had become the political "vanguard," both challenging leftists (non-status quo liberals and radicals) and conservatives are dismissed in the way conservatives were in the 70s. Does this mean they will develop stronger, more persuasive and more ideological positions for the future?

Friday, August 19, 2005

shifting winds

It's palpable. On TV, on the blogs, in the news, America is turning against this war. Cindy Sheehan is certainly indicative of that, and puts a sympathetic face on the movement. Republicans are growing bolder in expressing their concerns. Senator Feingold is offering a timetable for withdrawal. Members of the House are asking the President to do the same. Polling is bad.

But nothing exposes the shifting political momentum like this appearance by Ken "Talking Points Action Figure" Mehlman. His silly platitudes, empty rhetoric and totally false sympathy are so bad that it's fun to watch. You can sense that, as opposed to usually, this administration (Mehlman is RNC Chair, but is essentially another White House spokesman) is on the defensive and grasping at its old arguments for some support.

The intellectual challenge now for those of us who are loving to see the GOP and this lying President get hammered politically and are thrilled that the American people are starting to ask serious questions, is to disconnect the fate of Bush to the fate of the occupation of Iraq.(more in expanded post)
Simply because this war was based on a combination of idiotic fantasies ("they'll greet us as liberators!" or "the Shiite, Sunni and Kurds will get along no problem!"), manipulations ("9/11 = Iraq") and lies ("we know where the WMDs are") does not NECESSARILY mean that leaving immediately is the best answer. And while I celebrate that the people who are making that argument are gaining ground and destroying this President, I am wary. Serious questions that require serious analysis need to be answered before any conclusion about what to do now can be answered:

1. Will it be either possible or good for Iraq to remain as sovereign whole or will it be split up like India in '47 or Ireland in '21?

2. What effect do US troops have on this process? Are we making it easier or harder for Iraqis to determine the answer to question 1?

3. To what extent if any, does the US have the right to interject its own answer to question 1 either on behalf of Iraqi women, ethnic minorities or its own national safety interests?

4. How much and in what way will we withdraw, and what will the effect be?

I don't know enough to answer any of these questions, and I worry that the same may be true for many in the anti-war movement (as it seems to be true in the pro-war movement). They are right to protest an unjust war and the countless Iraqi and American deaths that have resulted, but both sides (those who believe we should remain and those who believe we should stay) need to answer all of those questions before their argument will mean anything.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

When Interest Group Politics Goes Wrong, Really Wrong

I just saw this story on Drudge, about NARAL's ad on Supreme Court nominee John Roberts and felt compelled to post about it. You can read the Annenberg Center's report here, which calls the ad "false."

It's certainly true that in the rough and tumble world of politics that the first casualty of any air war (ads) is the truth, followed closely by nuance, complexity, and perspective - just to name a few. Twisting, bending, and, let's be honest, lying, are to be expected.

But, from time to time, something comes along that surprises even "faux world-weary" jaded folks like myself. If the Annenberg FactCheck proves true, the NARAL ad would represent one of the lowest examples of political rhetoric - right up there with the Willie Horton ad run against Michael Dukakis.

I don't claim to be a legal scholar, but it seems that Roberts has earned pretty solid support from legal scholars on both sides. That, of course, didn't stop the predetermined interest group blitz, of which the NARAL ad is but one example. Others include conservative groups making Roberts out to be a paragon Originalist who will save the nation from those nasty "activist judges." Not to mention that those warning most against activist judges also fear justices who are too far removed from the hustle of daily life. Or, as Dahlia Lithwick put it more eloquently
But I am most baffled by the "out-of-touch" argument—which seems to suggest that judges must pass some sort of current-events test in order to be effective on the bench. It becomes even more baffling when one considers that so many advocates of an "in-touch" judiciary believe that current morals and mores shouldn't matter at all when a judge interprets the law. If you're truly an "Originalist," for example, the only society you need be intimately in touch with is that of the framers of the Constitution.
The Roberts nomination started the expected interest group air war with the expected pre-determined themes. It almost surprises one that left-of-center groups should expect a Republican nominated justice to be pro-choice (and that Republicans expect a Democratic nominee be pro-life). I'm surprised that such groups still manage to gin up faux-outrage (whether that be outrage at his nomination or outrage that his nomination go without question) at a nominee of which so little is known (although much more now than when he was nominated).

Setting aside the unsurprising debate on the nominee's opinion on abortion, and the equally unsurprising revelation that he probably does not (like most conservatives) favor affirmative-action, I'm still looking for a reason to think that the debate surrounding Roberts is something more than a pro-forma political sideshow featuring catchphrases and buzzwords from some interest group flack.

Until then, the impression I get is (and a lot of you, those of you still reading, that is, probably are yawningly unsurprised by this revelation) that John Roberts is someone who has a history of being that guy who always pulled the "A" in class without ever talking in section or writing something controversial. He's not flamboyant. He hasn't been gunning to be a poster-boy of conservative judicial thought all his life or cultivated a cult following of ideological ditto-heads(unlike some other nominees rumored to have been on the short-list). He seems, from most accounts, to be a smart and accomplished, yet bland, guy.

In short, he's not the type of person who would write for a blog.

And if for no other reason, I'm thinking that his nomination is going to sail through unless someone discovers that one occasion when John Roberts (in a legal fashion - or otherwise!) acted like Clay Capp on one of his "good" weekends.

We now resume our regularly scheduled summer blog slacking. You can, however, expect more frequent posts from me after this week, when my summer employment officially ends. More on that soon.

Friday, August 05, 2005

help wanted

with Jamal off educating the children, Clay assuming new responsibilities, and me getting old and washed up, Cambridge Common is in need of new blood. Kind of sad that after only a few months of functioning we already need a new staff of writers, but I guess that's the way of any college publication, whether half-assed annoying blog or half-assed annoying newspaper. SO, in the next two months I will be asking around for people (preferably classes '07 and '08) who are interested in challenging the political monologue that exists on campus with new perspectives. While progressives, liberals, radicals and other anti-conservative voices are preferred, I'm open to anyone who is a serious thinker, willing to be challenged and challenging. Drop me an email if you're interested, if you have a friend that you think I should talk to, or whatever.

Cambridge Common is a serious (albeit often self-serving) effort to broaden discourse on campus that I am hopeful will continue beyond my zealous leadership. Join the team, fight the power, and all that jazz.