Wednesday, July 11, 2007

In Iraq, what exactly constitutes "extremism"?

Over the past several weeks, many leftists have been criticizing the mainstream/corporate/commercial/lazy/brain-dead news outlets for just parroting the administration's lines regarding the war in Iraq. All American operations are against "Al-Qaeda", all enemies are "terrorists" or "extremists".

Here's one example I noticed yesterday in Forbes: "Extremists unleashed a barrage of more than a dozen mortars or rockets into the Green Zone..."

First, do they really have any idea of who shot the mortars? Is the fact that these people shot mortars into the Green Zone sufficient to label them as extremists? What exactly does it mean to be an extremist in Iraq?

I think that "extremism" must be judged with respect to the political center-of-gravity for that society, or alternatively, to the political traditions of that society. From that perspective, Baathists are conservatives. And proponents of national independence are fairly moderate (as they are world-wide). In Iraq, I think that Iraqi liberals (i.e. "republicans" or "democrats") are fairly extreme, since they have never held power in Iraq and there is substantial evidence that most Iraqis are not "unity liberals". The major political parties seem to be either socialist or Islamist. On top of that, there are a few influential separatist movements. Any of these groups--which deserve the title "moderate" or "centrist" could be in opposition to the American-installed Iraqi government.

I think Forbes just fed us a bunch of bullshit.

The Second American Revolution

Cross posted at Freedom Democrats

Every so often, I come across an activist claiming to be part of a "Second American Revolution". I generally find these assertions to reflect the ignorance of the person making the assertion -- after all, haven't we already had more than one revolution in this country?

Looking around the web, it seems that the term Second American Revolution is used to represent a few different historical conditions. First, there is the war of 1812, which might better identified as the "Second Revolutionary War": as John Adams wrote of the first revolutionary war, the revolution was not in the war itself (though others assert that the war was revolutionary), but was a change in the "principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people." With that perspective, I have to think that the revolution was not complete with our independence from Britain in 1783; instead, it only completed once our institutions had all been modified to recognize the fundamental equality of everyone in our society.

To some, this means that the American Revolution had two aspects, the first being anti-monarchism and independence, the second being a broader anti-elitism. This second aspect was never seen to conclusion, but was expressed in post-independence resistance to the new government such as Shay's Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion.

Another way to parse this interpretation of the American Revolution is to identify the first revolution as embodying the ideal of fundamental equality among members of a society--in this case, "society" was defined as white males. This "first" American Revolution only reached its conclusion in the period of Jacksonian democracy, around the mid-nineteenth century. This was immediately followed by a strong push for the "second" American Revolution, which sought to expand our definition of "society" to include every person involved--specifically blacks and women. This revolution was only completed with the social and political reforms of the 1960's, and its gains are still being consolidated.

This is my favorite interpretation, though I realize attempts to delimit social evolution are far from objective. Still, I think this paradigm provides some context for thinking about contemporary changes in American society. Has America stagnated, such that we will have no more revolutions? Is there a "top-down" revolution being forced upon us by the ruling elite? If there is to be another populist revolution, will it be a "reactionary revolution", such that we are just going to put the government back in it's proper place, as it supposedly was in some mythical past? Or have we entered into a new, progressive revolution that builds upon the accomplishments and experiences from the previous revolutions?

I suppose only time will tell, but your thoughts are appreciated.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Happy Rebellion Day

On Independence Day, you may be invited (and pressured) to participate in rituals demonstrating unconditional submission to the government, such as pledging allegiance. In these situations, remember the signers of the Declaration of Independence, who publicly renounced their allegiance to their former government. Remember that these rituals are in opposition to the spirit of this holiday, where we celebrate a document that declares the innate human right to "alter or abolish" one's own government when it becomes a threat to liberty.

Not only have authoritarians hijacked The Fourth for the celebration of the state, but they also use it to promote a cult of the soldier. They promote the absurd and insulting claim that our liberties were given* to us by soldiers; again, perverting the meaning of this holiday. The Americans who led the struggle for independence recognized that certain rights were essential to prevent the return of tyranny, and they made these rights sacrosanct by listing them in the constitutions for the new governments that they created (e.g. the Bill of Rights).

Only a tyrant would minimize the importance of these liberties (among them are speech, assembly, publication, and privacy). The misled soldier is the enemy of freedom, not its defender; it is the reporter who assures that soldiers point their guns in the right direction. Only an idiot would deny that there is often risk in the exercise of these essential liberties--that many people (including Americans) have made great sacrifices to bring information to the public or to organize non-violent opposition to tyranny. As important as the role of soldiers is, many others play a role that is no less essential.

When we criticize the American government, we may be told to "love it or leave it". On Independence Day, we are reminded that the government is not America--America is the people. Each of us is part of America, just as each of us is a part of humanity, and we strive to reform the government so that we will not have to fight it in the future. We must resist every step towards slavery. If we permit our enslavement, resistance will be impossible--our lives will be in the hands of our masters. This existential truth is enshrined in a Revolutionary era motto: "Live free or Die."

Cross-posted to Daily Kos and Freedom Democrats

* Footnote: Soldiers protect our rights, they don't give them to us. Just as soldiers protect our rights, the threat to our rights comes from other soldiers. What makes our soldiers different from enemy soldiers? It is the very institutions (academia, journalism, civil society) that are dismissed by the cult of the soldier.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Libby's commutation in context

Cross posted at Freedom Democrats

Scooter Libby obstructed justice in order to defend his political masters. He was convicted, but was let off the hook by those very masters. This is especially interesting in light of the numerous investigations of the executive branch that are coming to a head. Bush has just sent a clear signal to his underlings that perjury is just fine, when it protects the President's interests.

This administration has been obsessed with secrecy (and avoiding accountability) since day one. Even as Bush undermines the fact-finding ability of the criminal justice system, we need to keep in mind that the main tool of the general public -- the Freedom of Information Act -- is likewise constantly obstructed by the government.

It seems that government outrages are coming to light faster than I can keep track of them (definitely faster than I can write about them), but before this one fades into the shadows of history, make sure you take a moment to look over the "top ten items among the CAI's "Family Jewels" --released 15 years after the National Security Archives at GWU filed a suit under the FIOA.