Monday, July 16, 2007

What Impressed Me This Week

Introducing WIMTW: One of the reasons I started blogging was that the things I wanted to talk about weren't being covered very well in the larger media. I was having that I-must-be-crazy feeling, because so many important and dangerous things were happening and nobody else seemed to care.

Since then a lot of the issues I care about have started getting more attention. And because I don't want to repeat what other people are already saying just to hear myself talk, I've been blogging less about politics and court decisions. Glenn Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory blog on the Salon web site, for example, has claimed a lot of the territory I used to cover, and does a darn good job with it. (He also writes often and fast, and somehow manages to complete books on the side. I don't think there are any performance-enhancing drugs for writers, but I've started to wonder.)

But it has occurred to me that just because I'm finding this stuff, that doesn't mean everybody else is. So I've been thinking I might do more good in a more editorial role. I'm not going to stop writing my own articles, but my new goal is to put out a post every Monday morning about What Impressed Me This Week. The target audience is people whose lives don't allow them to obsessively trawl the Internet and would like somebody to show them where the good stuff is.

Iraq: Most of the really good coverage of Iraq comes from foreign journalists. This week the British paper The Guardian put up a video by photographer/film-maker Sean Smith. He follows an American battalion around Baghdad for a few days and talks to a couple of the guys during their downtime.

It's a powerful and complex portrait: Everybody is scared. The Americans are scared of being blown up or picked off by snipers. The Iraqis are scared that the Americans will get trigger-happy and shoot them for no reason. While Smith is with them, the Americans kill a couple of Iraqis. Were they bad guys, or just ordinary Iraqis who panicked when the Americans challenged them? It's hard to say. Tomorrow the same Americans have to go out and patrol again, without knowing whether or not they did the right thing today.

How NeoCons Think: Another British reporter, Johann Hari of The Independent, did an interesting and at times hilarious bit of undercover reporting: He went on the National Review cruise. National Review is the iconic conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley. They charter a cruise ship every year so that readers can hobnob with the celebrity conservatives whose writings appear in the magazine.

If you want to know what such people say when they think no liberals are listening, Hari's article Ship of Fools will tell you. One tidbit just to whet your appetite: When people find out that Hari is British, they keep asking if he's planning to move to the US when the Muslims take over Europe. They're serious.

Blowing My Own Horn.
Over on my religious blog Free and Responsible Search, I wrote something about the God-is-a-crutch metaphor that atheists often use dismissively. It's called The Go(o)d Crutch, and it examines the ways in which a God-concept could be useful even if there turns out to be no actual God.

In general, I've tried to keep my religious writing separate from my political writing, because I figure that the potential audiences are different. Until lately I had a separate email list for my religious pieces. But I'm going to try to blog shorter religious pieces more often, and I don't want to pepper people with email. So the way to keep track of my religious writing is going to be on the blog.

Constitutional Crisis: Back in January I wrote a piece about impeachment, and how I thought the overall confrontation between Bush and Congress would play out. It's been going more slowly than I expected, but following the course I predicted:
We won't know for sure whether there's a smoking gun until someone tries to find one. Personally, I believe the investigations were ignored or suppressed [by the previous Republican Congress] because there is a smoking gun, probably a whole arsenal of them. I expect this to become increasingly obvious as the Democratic Congress starts asking reasonable questions and getting stonewalled by the administration. I expect this to escalate into a full-scale constitutional crisis, where Congress will either have to threaten impeachment or admit that it isn't an equal branch of government any more. ... Maybe it shakes out like this: Congress sets the cut-off date [for withdrawing from Iraq] some time in the summer, and Bush ignores it, opening up the prospect that our troops in the field will suddenly have no supplies. Congress relents, because they care about the lives of our troops and aren't willing to play chicken with them. But Bush has proved that he is willing to play chicken with the lives of our troops. Congress votes another two months of funding and starts impeachment hearings.
Well, the Democrats have been more cowardly than I expected, particularly about Iraq, but the Constitutional showdown is fast approaching. Bush is taking an across-the-board position that Congress has no right to whatever information he decides he doesn't want to give them. This goes down to such simple questions as: When did the White House find out that ex-football-star Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, and were they involved in hiding this fact? You may think it's hard to argue that this issue has such national security implications that Congress can't be allowed to know, but they're arguing it. Basically, Bush has decided to wave red flags in front of Congress and say, "Impeach me. I dare you."

Anyway, the central front in the battle right now is Harriet Miers' refusal even to show up when subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee to talk about the US attorney firings. The White House is asking the old playground bully question: "What'cha gonna do about it?" Over on the FindLaw web site, John Dean has this situation analyzed far better than I could have. And Glenn Greenwald has a clear discussion of the Tillman case and what it means about White House secrecy policies.

So that's what impressed me this week.


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