Thursday, March 21, 2013

The "WMD" justification

Scott Lemieux notices a lot of people reflecting on Iraq and trying to justify their support for the war based on the idea that they had "WMDs". And since they didn't and they feel they were mislead, their support isn't so bad in retrospect. Scott explains why the "WMD" argument is still an insufficient reason to go to war:

Let’s say that Hussein turned out to have something that could be called “unconventional weapons.” So what? 1)Such “unconventional weapons” posed no threat whatsoever to American civilians (even the least apologetic liberal hawks aren’t claiming that Hussein had any ties to anti-American terrorist groups or any independent capacity for deploying weapons abroad). And, even more importantly, 2)the whole “WMD” argument was in itself a massive con. WMD is an umbrella term that conflates the genuinely unique threat of nuclear weapons with many more chemical and biological weapons that don’t have any more destructive capacity than weapons that can be assembled with materials you can purchase at any Home Depot.

The reason the "WMD" argument convinced a lot of people, including myself, is that it was playing off the fear after 9/11. In normal circumstances, during which we weren't just attacked, it would be much harder to convince people that Iraq would use whatever weapons it had against us. Not only that, but if they already had the weapons, why hadn't they been used on us already? That they hadn't refutes the imminent threat argument. If Iraq wanted to use them on us and they really had ties to al Qaeda why not use them when we were attacked on 9/11? Wouldn't that have been the perfect time to get us?

These type of questions weren't asked by enough people because they were under a fog of fear from 9/11, which was being stoked by the Bush administration and the media. If you seriously consider those questions you would see that either they didn't have such weapons or they had little intention of using them against us. Saddam was many horrible things, but it wasn't clear at all that he was suicidal. And that's what you have to be to attack the US with any kind of weapon, especially a nuclear one. You have to wonder with the Bush administration and hawks now and days, whether they would invaded the Soviet Union during the Cold War given what they believe about nuclear weapons. They never explain why mutually assured destruction worked then while it wouldn't now.

Last set of questions. Why, if a country has nukes, would your solution to the problem of them imminently wanting to use them on you be to invade them? If you are right that they have nukes and they want to use them on you, wouldn't attacking them first (with the biggest military in the world by a mile) provoke a counterattack in which they use their nukes? At that point what would they have to lose? Surely Saddam knows that once we invade his fate is sealed. So if he wanted to attack us to begin with it would seem to make a ton of sense that once he thinks his power and life are threatened he wouldn't hesitate to attack us. That's what I would do if I was a horrible dictator.

When you consider all of these questions it's hard to fall back on the "WMD" justification for going to war with Iraq. At worst, if you thought Iraq had nukes, you should have wanted much more diplomacy. Starting a war in order to avoid being attacked by someone who already had the capacity to attack you but hadn't just doesn't make a lot of sense. But fear clouds judgement, which makes for poor decisions. That's not much of an excuse when the stakes are as high as war. But that's the tragedy of reality.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sometimes empathy is thrust upon us

A few posts from Kevin Drum made me ask that question. The first one is the story of Rob Portman changing his stance on gay marriage because of his son:

That isn’t how I’ve always felt. As a congressman, and more recently as a senator, I opposed marriage for same-sex couples. Then something happened that led me to think through my position in a much deeper way.

Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay. He said he’d known for some time, and that his sexual orientation wasn’t something he chose; it was simply a part of who he is. Jane and I were proud of him for his honesty and courage. We were surprised to learn he is gay but knew he was still the same person he’d always been. The only difference was that now we had a more complete picture of the son we love.

That's a nice story. I'm glad Portman and his wife we able to accept their son as he is, and that their son had the courage to come out and inspire this change in view by his father. In relation to that story, Kevin posted this data comparing how members of congress vote on women's issues when they have daughters and when they don't:

Sure, the effect is small, but among both Democrats and Republicans, members of Congress tend to vote better on women's issues if they have more daughters. Along the same lines, it's instructive to look at which Republicans in the Senate voted for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Personal experience makes a difference even here.

You don't have to have daughters or gay family members in order to take the liberal side on issues that affect them. But in relation to my last post about how my views changed, it seems to at least make people think about things when they are personally confronted with people that challenge their beliefs. That doesn't seem to work with logical arguments or data. Most people can rationalize their way around that. But it's harder to ignore family. Maybe we can force elected officials to spend time with each other's families, or better yet, families completely different than theirs.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My transformation and the Iraq war

This March marks the ten year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. Andrew Sullivan is rounding up reflections here and here. They mostly consist of people admitting they were wrong. Like Andrew, I supported the Iraq war. I was a freshman in college at the time. I had just started paying attention to politics after 9/11. I was fairly conservative. So I watched a lot of FoxNews and pretty much acted like a cheerleader in the lead up to the war.

What happened over the next few years in Iraq wasn't the sole reason I had a change in perspective. I think being on my own and being exposed to a bunch of different ideas for the first time in my life was the biggest reason. I started thinking about things I had taken for granted most of my life and began to change my views. The tragedy that resulted from the war certainly changed how I viewed war. But the more fundamental transformation occurred upon learning about how the Bush administration manipulated things, abused power, and acted immorally.

One of the big reasons I supported Obama over Hillary was that I thought Hillary was too hawkish and Obama had been opposed to the Iraq war. It was the most important issue for me. The events of 9/11 and Iraq had shaped so much of my politics up to that point. I don't think my core values changed a ton during my transformation. I think it was just more the perspective through which I view my values. Who knows? Maybe I wouldn't have been so skeptical or open to critical thinking if either the war had gone better or if they wouldn't have started it to begin with. Perhaps I would be writing this blog as a conservative rather than a liberal (though probably as a libertarian, not some bigoted tea party type; as I said, my core values haven't changed a ton, I never had much use for bigotry).

I'm not sure what grand lessons can be gleaned from this. I appreciate that Andrew is talking about it as a way to acknowledge past mistakes and learn from them. At worst this is just a way to hold myself intellectually accountable. After all, we aren't perfect. I like to think that now, I've given most issues that I hold a strong opinion about enough thought to not be too wrong about them. Like with Iraq, I hope I'm open enough to recognize when the data proves me wrong. That's not always easy to do. So I guess we should all take this occasion as a reminder to keep an open mind and not be so quick to start wars.

Monday, March 4, 2013

My favorite scenes in The Dark Knight Trilogy

Batman is back in the news regarding the latest Justice League rumors. So I figured this was a good time to rehash this post from Modern Myth Media and give my own. Though there is no such thing as a bad time to talk about Batman. I love nearly everything about the trilogy. So this was difficult to narrow down. But there are some moments that are more awesome than others. So here, we, go:

"Bats are nocturnal"

This is the scene after one of Bruce's first nights as Batman. He's tired and beat up. Alfred swings open the blinds, waking up Bruce who says, "Bats are nocturnal". I thought this was a nice moment of lightness and real emotion from Bruce. That realness is one of the things I love about the trilogy. Bruce gets hurt. He sleeps during board meetings, or til 3 in the afternoon, which according to Alfred is pushing it, even for a billionaire playboy. And to top this scene off, even though he is tired, the first thing he does when he gets out of bed is pushups. He is fully dedicated to his job as Batman, which takes a lot of work.

The Joker meets the mob

This scene is just a ton of fun. He makes jokes. He shows he can handle himself physically. And he begins to establish himself as the arch-enemy of Batman. A new class of criminal has arrived.

Rachel slaps Bruce

This is a key moment in the trilogy. In a way, this is what convinces Bruce to become Batman. He had just seen Joe Chill get killed, which is something he wanted to do on his own to avenge his parents. But Rachel explains to an angry Bruce that vengence is not justice. And that unless good people do something, more people will be hurt just like Bruce was. Rachel's courage and moral strength influence Bruce. Bruce isn't the same without her.

The first Batman vs Bane fight

Batman is a complete badass. He is a highly trained ninja who is really smart and has a bunch of cool gadgets. Not many people can match up with him. The Joker matched his intellect. But no one really matches him physically until Bane. Batman pours all of his energy, training, and gadgets at Bane and it barely phases him. Everything about this scene makes it very tense. And of course it culminates in Bane breaking Batman. Thematically I like it because it shows Batman's vulnerability. And it sets up the rest of the movie in which Bruce has to find a way to fight back as the underdog.

The end of The Dark Knight

Things have completely gone to shit. The Joker has won. Harvey Dent is dead. Batman has failed. But because Bruce cares so much about Gotham, he decides to take the blame for what Dent has done. He is prepared to do anything in order to save Gotham, even become the villain. That sacrifice is what makes him a hero. That, along with Gordon's speech and the awesome music make what was a tragedy a great ending.

The prison climb

Bruce spent months healing his back and building back up his strength so that he could make a climb only one other person had ever been able to make. I like this mostly because of the theme. Bruce fails multiple times. But he keeps working at it and finds a way to get out. It harkens back to the beginning of the trilogy where he learns from his father that you can either stay down or get up and keep trying.

The Joker interrogation

The similarities between Batman and The Joker are apparent throughout TDK. They physically fight each other in other scenes. In this scene they have a philosophical fight. The Joker is challenging the very idea of Batman, who he is and why he does what he does. And he's so close to the truth (if not on it) that he angers Batman to the breaking point. And even though Bruce is full of rage, he still can't break the Joker. To kill the Joker is to kill Batman. They can't exist without each other. This scene highlights why they are the greatest hero and villain.

"Not everything, not yet"

Selina tries to convince Bruce to not take on Bane and try to save Gotham. She thinks he doesn't owe Gotham anything more. She thinks he's given Gotham everything. But he hasn't. He knows he might die. He even suggests he will. But that's why Batman is the hero. He is willing to give his life to save the people of Gotham. There's just something so beautiful and heartbreaking about the line and the way Christian Bale delivers it. To me, it's the essence of Batman.

The end of Rises

Where I define the end of this movie might be slightly arbitrary. I'll start it when he decides to fly the bomb out over the bay. There's so much great stuff from that point until the last shot. He tells Gordon he's Bruce Wayne, and why Gordon never had to thank him for all he had done as Batman. He supposedly dies getting the bomb away from Gotham, leaving Alfred heartbroken and feeling like a failure. He leaves Wayne Manor to the city to be used to house orphans. We find out that Blake was basically Robin, or a combination of the three major Robins from the comics. And all that happens with the depressing music signaling the death of Bruce/Batman.

But then, when Lucius learns that the autopilot to the Bat was fixed by Bruce, the music changes to the triumphant tone that signals the rise of Batman. Gordon gets a new Bat-signal, putting a great smile on his face. Blake gets directions to the Bat-cave. It all builds up to Alfred seeing Bruce alive in Florence, fulfilling Alfred's dream that Bruce move on with his life. And Blake makes his way through the cave, swarmed by bats, and onto the platform where the cape and cowl rest to take on the mantel as Batman. The Dark Knight has risen. Bat-perfection.

The latest Batman & Justice League rumors

The latest rumors come from a source with a pretty good track record. Go to Batman on Film if you want all the details and Jett's thoughts. In short, the rumor is that Christian Bale will return as Batman to be alongside at least Superman, if not the Justice League. And Christopher Nolan will produce, Zack Snyder will direct, and David Goyer will write it. It all seems a bit unclear right now and obviously, it's not confirmed by Warner Brothers or anyone mentioned above.

If these rumor turn out to be true I'll be very conflicted. I love The Dark Knight Rises and the entire Dark Knight Trilogy. I love that it is a "realistic" Batman universe and that Rises ended it in the way it did. So I'm confused as to why anyone would want to mess with that. Well, as the guys at Modern Myth Media pointed out in their podcast, I can see why they want to do this from a financial perspective. It lends a ton of credibility to have Nolan and Bale attached to a project that will have Batman in it. But I just don't see how you have them attached without screwing with The Dark Knight Trilogy too much.

But a small part of me is kind of intrigued. I have a lot of trust in Nolan, Goyer and Bale, and some in Snyder. Nolan doesn't seem like the type who would risk screwing with his films just for the sake of getting paid what would probably be a ton of money. I've read that he didn't get notes from the studio for The Dark Knight Trilogy. He had so much clout that they let him do what he wanted. And it would seem to me that you don't demand complete control unless you place a high value on your creative freedom.

Maybe Nolan and Goyer have some ideas, some way to not screw up the awesomeness that is Rises and the trilogy. I don't see it, at least right now. But then again, I'm not getting paid to come up with ideas. They are and they have a great track record. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to see as much as Batman on film as possible. That doesn't mean I want a repeat of the Schumaker films. I'd take no Batman over that. But I love the character so much that I guess it's possible that even if they screwed with the trilogy it could be worth it. Who knows? I wish we had more answers. We're stuck waiting and seeing for now.

Update: It sounds like the rumors are that it won't be a Justice League movie, but rather just a Batman and Superman movie. I like this better than the Justice League route. It seems like it would be easier to pull off, especially if they are using the Dark Knight universe. And really, those are the two we are paying to see anyway. So I'm more optimistic if this is the route they go.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Thoughts on recent events, or, why we're all screwed

I'm still without a job. But I've been busy recently interning (kind of). So I haven't been completely up to date with my reading. Along with that, it just seems like a weird time in politics. Congress rarely seems to be in session. And when it is, they are dealing with such dumb stuff that I can barely muster the energy to comment on how dumb it is. But my nephew has the tv and I don't want to watch whatever the hell it is he's watching. So let's ratchet up the dumb.

Chuck Hagel was confirmed. Either some Republicans were convinced Hagel wouldn't single-handedly destroy the nation or it was all for show. The Violence Against Women Act was finally passed, but with just about every male Republican voting against it. That, along with the constant barrage of anti-abortion laws states are trying to pass, just makes the Republican disdain for women's rights all the more apparent. Obama's State Department just released a memo saying the Keystone pipeline won't be bad for the environment. Sadly, no Republicans (or probably many Democrats for that matter) will feign outrage about this. So the environment, and therefore us, will get screwed yet again.

As if those things didn't convince you that we're all fucked, the sequester (which I'm shocked, SHOCKED, to learn was a language choice of Democrats) has been enacted. As I said in my last post, it's ridiculous that we are cutting spending right now. Our wages have either fallen or stayed flat, we've racked up more debt, our retirement savings have been put in jeopardy, and the people who need help the most keep getting screwed. I don't think it's much hyperbole when Erik Loomis says we are returning to The Gilded Aged:

National parks are shut down. Small airports basically stop functioning because of air traffic control reductions. Scientific research grants are reduced. Furloughed federal employees stop buying things, creating negative investment that leads to layoffs through the economy. Health programs are slashed. Adios to environmental protections. These things have a negative effect on people’s lives, but we don’t experience them immediately or every day. Just when we need them. Poor person needs an HIV test? Sorry. And they are gone, unlikely to ever come back.

There’s just no reason for Republicans to cave on this. Obama agreeing to the sequester idea because of his faith that some kind of grand bargain could be struck and his belief that Republicans would never allow this to happen was a gigantic miscalculation.

Obama's ridiculous deficit obsession is just making Republican insanity worse. Yeah, this probably wouldn't have happened without Republicans holding the debt ceiling hostage. And Boehner seems to have a reasonable streak in him, which probably leads Obama to think a deal could be made. But he once again seems to have underestimated just how crazy Eric Cantor and his base are. Obama should just propose dropping the tax increases in exchange for a repeal of the sequestration and tell them to fuck off if they don't like it. The reality is that Democrats will probably lose seats in the midterms anyway. This strategy might at least mobilize some liberals who should be beyond fed up with Republicans.

Speaking of elections, the big story this past week was the Supreme Court holding hearings regarding Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 forces certain states (mostly the formerly Confederate ones with a long history of voter suppression) to get approval from the Justice Department before enacting any changes to election law. Some poor state thinks its sovereignty (this is where your bullshit alarm should go off) is being unduly infringed and thus thinks Section 5 should be repealed. Or in other words, racism is no longer a problem. States aren't enacting stricter election laws because they want to keep minorities from voting. They just want to clamp down on non-existant fraud. In fact, racism is such a non-problem that Justice Scalia is concerned that Section 5 is just another federal overreach in a long line of them that "perpetuates racial entitlement". Because you know, the right to vote is just another entitlement.

Actually, it is. That's the whole fucking point. Merely by the fact that you had been born and have lived to be 18 years old, you are entitled to vote. This is the foundation of democracy. But a fucking Supreme Court justice is talking about it like it's the equivalent of the welfare queen fallacy. Obviously I think people are also entitled to have enough money to be able to afford basic things to live on. Scalia and conservatives don't completely agree with me. But they are making a somewhat coherent argument when disagreeing. I have no fucking clue what Scalia's argument is regarding not thinking it's important to continue to make sure minorities have full access to voting. And that he thinks we are "perpetuating racial entitlements" suggests he thinks we are actually hurting minorities by ensuring that they can vote. That's just nuts. Scott Lemieux has more on Scalia. Here he is in 09:

Expressing skepticism about the significance of the 98-0 vote by which the Senate reauthorized the Voting Rights Act, Justice Scalia said, “The Israeli supreme court, the Sanhedrin, used to have a rule that if the death penalty was pronounced unanimously, it was invalid, because there must be something wrong there.”

Check the link for Scott's breakdown of why that's crazy. Here's Scott on how this relates to Section 5:

But, of course, the 15th Amendment was ratified and included a provision giving Congress the “power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation” precisely because it believed the right of the franchise was more important than the “rights” of states. And we also don’t need to ignore the fact that we tried nearly a century of trusting the states to enforce the 15th Amendment, with results that could scarcely have been more disastrous. To try to turn the 15th Amendment into a states’ rights manfiesto in which the “federalism interest” trumps the Congress’s ability to protect the right to vote is as perverse as asserting that a jury system would function better if it ruled out unanimous guilty verdicts.

This is another "federalism" case that makes me tend to agree with Andrew Sullivan that we are fighting a cold Civil War. Republicans keep trying to fight battles that were decided decades and over a century ago. And as Erik Loomis said, it's basically all in an effort to maintain and expand power for rich, white men. If you don't belong that entitled among all entitled class, you're screwed, unless we can mobilize enough opposition toward it.