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Right-Wing Idiotarianism Redux

Extremism is so easy. You’ve got your position, and that’s it. It doesn’t take much thought. And when you go far enough to the right you meet the same idiots coming around from the left.Clint Eastwood to Time magazine. (Hat tip: Oakland mayor Jerry Brown, who now has his own blog.)

I’ve been vaguely aware of who Michael Scheuer is for a while, but I didn’t realize until now just how much of a whackjob the man really is. Andrew Apostolou read his book Imperial Hubris so I don’t have to. And he takes Scheuer’s latest outbursts apart in his newest Tech Central Station column.

Michael Scheuer, whose book Imperial Hubris lambasts US strategy in the war against al Qaeda, has attracted attention for recent public statements on Israel. The former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Scheuer claimed at the Council on Foreign Relations in February that Israel controls the debate on US foreign policy. As important as Scheuer’s hostility to Israel is his underlying message: that to keep Israel happy, the US must kill innocent Muslims.

While Scheuer’s views on the Middle East are unpleasant, they are not far from the orthodoxy among retired diplomats. The view of the superannuated foreign service mainstream is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core issue in the Middle East and that the stumbling block to a settlement is Israeli policy rather than Palestinian terrorism. No wonder that Scheuer went largely unchallenged at the Middle East Policy Council, which is headed by a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, with his remark in January that when the US deals with Israel it becomes “the dog that’s led around by the tail.”

Still, Scheuer has gone beyond the cocktail party consensus with coarser claims that Israeli diplomacy, and by implication its domestic and often American Jewish support base, is “probably the most successful covert action program in the history of man.”

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, Scheuer cited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum as evidence of the alleged Israeli “covert action” program. According to Scheuer, the museum is designed to make Americans feel guilty about the Holocaust, thereby preventing any questioning of US policy towards Israel. The ignorance of Scheuer’s statement is nearly equal to its chauvinism. Anybody who has visited the Holocaust Museum will know that its entrance is bedecked with the standards of American army units that liberated concentration camps, which the museum is currently celebrating with a special exhibition.

The obvious inconsistencies of Scheuer’s views are entirely lost on him. Replying to a like-minded questioner who called Israel “the spoiled child of Western civilization”, Scheuer said in February that “I certainly, as an American, find it unbearable to think there’s something in this country you can’t talk about. That’s really my spiel I guess on that, sir.” Scheuer’s use of the word “spiel” was an unintended irony on his part. Similarly, the most convincing refutation of Scheuer’s notion that US-Israel relations cannot be talked about is the frequency with which Scheuer talks about them, in every public appearance and in a best-selling, widely circulated book.

Scheuer’s views on Israel are not surprising given his politics. He is an old-fashioned Republican who scorns promoting democracy overseas. Speaking at the CFR, Scheuer called President Bush’s State of the Union address “warmed-up Wilsonianism”, which is not a compliment as he described Woodrow Wilson in Imperial Hubris as a “bloody-handed fantasist.” Responding to a questioner at the same event who asked if killing terrorist enemies would not simply create more enemies, Scheuer replied that “My books are pretty nationalist, ma’am. I don’t much care.” Indeed, Scheuer is so “nationalist” that he has recently written for LewRockwell.com, a neoconfederate, isolationist website that vilifies President Abraham Lincoln.

So far, so far to the right of Pat Buchanan, but Scheuer is more than a new eruption of a mildly irritating cyst on the extremity of the American body politic. The truly dangerous and inflammatory aspect of Scheuer is that, in essence, he blames the mayhem and bloodshed caused by Islamist terrorism not on bin Laden and al Qaeda, but on those who built the Holocaust Museum.

There’s plenty more where that came from, and it only gets worse. Scheuer advocates a savage war against the civilian population of the Middle East because, in his crackpot mental universe, those pesky Zionists leave us no other option. He goes so far over the top I can’t help but wonder if he’s looking for an excuse to indulge atrocity fantasies. He doesn’t seem to be bothered much by that sort of thing. After all, we’re talking about a man who looks at the Holocaust Museum and, instead of thinking never again, weaves conspiracy theories.

He defensively says such “bloody-mindedness” is “neither admirable nor desirable.” But he’s the only “important” person I know of who advocates it, so…feh. And yet, at the same time, he wants the US to adjust its foreign policy in order to placate the supposedly legitimate grievances of Osama bin Laden.

He’s a man who somehow, incredibly, managed to cobble together an ideology that incorporates talking points from the far-left goon squad at International ANSWER and the darkest fantasies of the right-wing lunatic fringe. All this while heading up the CIA’s hunt for Osama bin Laden. He’s the ne plus ultra of idiotarians, and has no business working anywhere near government ever again.

Friends of Democracy is Back

Many of you already know that I edited the Friends of Democracy site before, during, and after the Iraqi election in January. The job was a temporary one, or so I thought then. But we decided to keep going and re-tool the site so we can continue publishing news and views from Iraq indefinitely.

We’re finished with the transition now, and the new-and-improved site is ready to go.

The articles we choose to publish are English translations from Iraq’s new and expanding Arabic-language blogosphere. If you don’t understand Arabic you won’t be able to read regularly-updated authentic Arabic-language blogging anywhere else on the Internet. We’ll be adding new articles almost every day. So please be sure to bookmark the site, tell your friends and family if they’re interested in this sort of thing, and — if you have your own blog — help spread the word.

In my opinion, the site is better now than it was. That’s partly because I’m doing more work on it. I’m not only selecting the stories we publish. I’m also thoroughly line-editing the translated pieces so that reading our site will be easier and more enjoyable.

Please give it a look. And don’t miss Al-Witwiti’s excellent Letter to the Next Iraqi President.

Dueling Photo Galleries

Glenn Reynolds likes to post photos of protestors in Lebanon, both for and against Syria’s military and intelligence personnel, and asks “who would you rather hang out with”? It’s a compelling question when you take a good hard look at who goes to each kind of rally.

I went surfing around Yahoo’s vast collection of images looking for more. (See here and here, for example.) It’s incredible, really, how uniformly pleasant the anti-Syrian demonstrators look compared with the nastiness of the pro-Syrians. If anyone thinks Glenn has been cherry-picking photos they haven’t sifted through the reams of those that are out there. I can look through the galleries and instantly guess with very nearly 100 percent accuracy whether a given image was from a pro- or anti-Syrian rally.

Check these out. They really do speak for themselves.

Those Who Want Syria Out

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Those Who Want Syria In

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The Arab Street Revolution

Jonah Goldberg recently wrote:

I love the CBS News forged-document story. To paraphrase the abominable snowman from the Bugs Bunny cartoons, I want to hug it and squeeze it and name it George. Okay, I don’t want to name it

George, but you get my drift. If this story were hot fudge, I would smear it all over my body and then roll around in nougat.

That’s how I feel about the revolution in Lebanon.

On that note, my new Tech Central Station column is up: Our Friend, the Arab Street.

The Return of Anne

Anne Cunningham vanished from the blogosphere for a while, but I expected her to come back and I was right. Some of you may remember her as one of the infamous liberal hawks, and I guess she still is. She’s a bit more moderate about it than I am, though, and a lot less obsessive. Seems she would rather write about books and personal stories, for the most part, and that’s a good thing. There is a lot more to life than politics, obviously.

A Letter to Nancy Pelosi

Below is a letter to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi posted by the author in my comments section. I’m promoting it, so to speak, to the main page because it’s way too much fun to leave languishing in obscurity at the tail end of a thread. Don’t miss Rep. Pelosi’s response at the end. (The following has been slightly edited for spelling and punctuation.)

Fri, 11 Mar 2005 23:12:15 -0800 (PST)

From: “Warren Windrem”

Subject: Re: Join Me in Welcoming Howard Dean to the DNC!

To: “Rep. Nancy Pelosi”

Dear Rep Pelosi,

If I had to pick one guy who was most responsible for driving me out of the Democratic Party and into the arms of the Republicans, it would be Howard Dean. Welcome him to the DNC? I’d just as soon welcome Noam Chomsky, the late Edward Said, or Ward Churchill, or Juan “Israel is always wrong” Cole, or Leroi What’s His Name, former “Poet Laureate of New Jersey” (“The Jews didn’t show up for work on 9/11, ’cause they were in on the secret — the CIA/Mossad did it!), or the Middle Eastern Studies Department of Columbia University, or the Chairwoman of the Duke University Middle Eastern Studies Department (“Let’s boycott the International Gay Pride Celebration in Tel Aviv — we don’t want to give any encouragement to the International Zionist Conspiracy!), or Representative Cynthia McKinney, or her Jew bashing (not just Israeli bashing, but in-your-face Jew bashing) daddy.

Hey, normally, my being a Democrat would be a lead pipe cinch. Pro choice? Check! Pro Gay Marriage? Check! Pro women’s rights, whatever that is these days? Check! Do I have a pro-Democratic voting record? Check! (Voted for Jimmy Carter twice, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton twice, and even, God help me, Al Gore.)

But the promiscuous, intellectually and morally slutty Anti-War Movement (“We don’t care how bloodthirsty the Palestinian Extremist anti-war speaker is, he’s a bastard, but he’s our bastard” attitude) has driven me out. Now, Howard Dean probably doesn’t share all of the above views, but he certainly has legitimized them, and that makes him totally unacceptable to me.

I turn 57 day after tomorrow. Back in the 50′s and 60′s I rejected Bull Connor, Orville Faubus, George Wallace, the White Citizen’s Council, the Ku Klux Klan, and all the other people who murdered Condi Rice’s childhood friend in the Birmingham church bombing of nineteen sixty something or other. The Civil Rights Movement more than anything else drew me out of my Goldwater Conservative family into the Democratic Party for a generation (at least 35 years, anyway). Too bad the No-Enemies-on-the-Left anti-war crazies are driving me right back to the Republican Party, isn’t it?

You want me back? It will take a Sister Soulja speech straight to the black heart of the anti-war left. I suppose Hillary Clinton looks promising that way. She seems to have lowered the shouting on the abortion debate. (Interestingly enough, I personally would have been okay with a take-no-prisoners pro-choice position, but pragmatic compromise there is okay by me.) I do feel sorry for you. As a San Francisco politician you have to take the Neo-Stalinist idiots down at 24th & Mission (A.N.S.W.E.R.), and the disgraceful Medea Benjamin, and that Israel Bashing lady that runs a women’s shelter on city funding somewhere in S.F. (no coverage of THAT story in the Comical, I had to read that story in the Baltimore Sun — maybe your dad can send you a clipping) and makes life miserable for Jewish employees and clients…you have to take them seriously. Fortunately, I don’t, and I’m free to associate with people who, however much they might disagree with me on Social Security “reform”, or taxation policy, or Supreme Court appointments, or reproductive rights, or bankruptcy legislation, at least they share my abhorrence of racism and Israel bashing and Jew bashing.

Yeah, yeah, don’t tell me, I know, I know, Dean’s wife and teenaged kids are Jewish, so I shouldn’t worry. Do you remember the question some network guy (Tom Brokaw?) asked Michael Dukakis in 1988? “Governor, if some man raped/murdered (I forget which, it was 17 years ago) your wife, what would your reaction be?”

Okay, here’s my question for Howard Dean, and all you people who think he’s okay: Governor Dean, speaking as the husband of a Jewish spouse and the father of Jewish children, what is your emotional reaction when you see some old line neo-Stalinist geek or some don’t-know-any-better young protester carrying a sign that says, “Zionism is Racism”, or “Smash the State of Israel”?

When I hear the Democratic party addressing my concerns in that area, we can talk about contributing money, and not one nano-second earlier.

Warren S. Windrem

Oakland, California

P.S. I am ethnically Scotch-Irish/WASP, from a Presbyterian family background, raised in at-that-time predominately liberal Protestant Olympia, Washington (yes, sigh, the home of “Let’s burn the Israeli flag” Corrie What’s Her Name). I don’t belong to ADL, I don’t dynamite abortion clinics, if I should ever be so lucky as to be invited to the wedding of a gay or lesbian friend I would be honored to attend (I’ve lived in the Bay Area since 1976, almost 30 years, and I hold the typical gay tolerant attitudes). I didn’t grow up in Brooklyn, Queens, or North Jersey. I’d be happy to see the Israelis abandon most, if not all, the West Bank Settlements (BUT NOT THE WALL — a perfectly legitimate defensive measure against inexcusable murder). If you guys want to insult would-be liberals like me by endorsing Howard Dean, go ahead. Even here in the Bay Area there are more pro-war liberals than you think, even if the Comical, and Medea Benjamin, and Tom Meyer would never admit it.

*

Rep. Nancy Pelosi wrote:

Dear Warren,

On Saturday we elected a great Democrat as the chairman of our Party — Howard Dean. Governor Dean has used the power of technology, the force of his personality, and the depth of his ideals to energize the grassroots, and bring more people into the political process.

I have seen Howard Dean’s campaign strengths firsthand as he traveled across the country for House Democrats — organizing voters and raising money. I have seen people who have stood in driving rain for hours to hear his message. We all thank Governor Dean for his enthusiasm and support for our candidates.

This is a critical time for our Party.

https://secure.dccc.org/default.aspx?id=welcome

Governor Dean joins the DCCC’s new Chairman Rahm Emanuel as a pair of visionaries who are already working quickly to reform our party and refine our message.

Our new Chairmen need you on board. The 2006 elections have already begun. We need the support of loyal Democrats like you to continue in our fight.

Please renew your support in the DCCC today.

https://secure.dccc.org/default.aspx?id=welcome

Democrats are shaking up the status quo, reaching outside the Beltway for ideas and direction, and striving to strengthen the bonds with the great citizens of this country. We will restore a government that protects the interests of the people against the massive special interests that would use government to gouge them – rather than the other way around. You want real reform, and we will bring it to you. But we can only do it with your help.

https://secure.dccc.org/default.aspx?id=welcome

We will fight together, and together we will prevail!

Sincerely,

Nancy Pelosi

Pacific Northwest Fireball

I went sailing on the Columbia River this weekend with my friends Jeremy and Megan. After we tied up the boat and headed back toward the car I saw what first looked like a typical shooting star streaking across the early night sky. Then it got bigger. A lot bigger. And brighter. A lot brighter.

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(Image captured from home video)

“Hey,” I said to Jeremy, “it’s a shooting st…HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THAT!”

“Whoa!” Jeremy said as he looked up.

It didn’t burn out, as shooting stars almost always do. It just kept going, both across and down the sky.

“Where?” Megan said. She was standing far off to our right and couldn’t see anything through the trees.

It finally vanished, either because it passed over the horizon or was about to impact on the ground.

Jeremy and I looked at each other, our heads slightly cocked. We were listening for the explosion. Nothing.

“Do you think it was a meteor?” Jeremy said.

“Oh yeah. What else would it be? It was way too big and bright and fast to be an airplane.”

We went home and checked the news. Sure enough, it was a meteor. It startled people all over the Pacific Northwest in a radius that stretched from Northern California to Canada. Portland was in the exact center of that radius. It was literally right over our heads.

Just a few days ago Mt. St. Helens had its biggest eruption since I was a child. Then a huge flaming rock fell out of the sky. Both happened during the same week within eye-shot of Portland. Forest fires are next. We’ve had almost no rain at all for two months. Our rainy season just vanished. A few days ago Washington declared a state of emergency. Feels like disaster blogging (with photos, of course) might be on the agenda this summer. We’re a tinderbox here, and we’re supposed to be soggy and dripping.

Meeting Bloggers

It’s late, I got nothin’, and I need to get some sleep. But I met this guy – Asher Abrams – for coffee today and he wrote a post about it for those of you who are interested in that sort of thing.

Asher isn’t the most stereotypical person around. He joined the Marines, fought in the 1991 Gulf War, came home, moved to San Francisco, joined and actually volunteered for the Green Party, voted for Ralph Nader twice, moved to Portland, then voted for Bush in 2004. He has long hair, glasses, and a beard, and he likes to wear Bush/Cheney buttons while shopping at Whole Foods. 9-11 made him a more complicated person than he already was, and naturally we got along great.

The Rise of White Arabism

Chibli Mallat writes in Lebanon’s Daily Star about an important new liberal movement on the rise in the Middle East, which he calls White Arabism, to counter the fascist (his characterization) “Black Arabism.” He even mentions, at the end, that White Arabism should not limit itself merely to Arabs. It should be expansive enough to include neighboring Jews and Kurds, too.

For the past 20 years, so-called Arab civil society has been slowly denting the status quo. Initially, questions were defensive and focused on human rights, while participants in human rights gatherings were incapable of mustering the courage needed to name those leaders responsible for all kinds of violations, even the more egregious ones like Saddam Hussein. In part this was understandable, and the level of repression meted out against dissidents was uniquely high: Scores of dissenters were brutally assassinated, thrown in jail and tortured, while the usual “higher national interest” argument was put forward whereby Arab liberals saw their reform efforts condemned as giving sustenance to Israel. This trend was reinforced by the brutality of Israeli repression of Palestinian dissent and the inexorable shrinking of Palestinian land.

As time passed, however, the connection between brutality at home and the inability to stand up to anti-Israel rhetoric became increasingly apparent: From the condemnation of the Arab record in general, typified by the United Nations Development Program reports since 2002, particulars of repression were linked to people at the helm of power in every single Arab country. Local Arab democrats are still hesitant to accuse the emirs and kings in the Gulf, but the taboos have fallen in the Levant and North Africa: Tunisia’s Zein al-Abidin bin Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Lebanon’s Emile Lahoud and Syria’s Bashar Assad are being openly challenged, and the perceived weakness of the hard-liners in Israel, leading to the withdrawal from settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, will accelerate the trend of decoupling Arab domestic reform from the fig leaf of a united front against Israel.

The Arab nationalism that has prevailed since the Nasser revolution is increasingly being dubbed “black Arabism” by those of us who do not want to abandon a yearning for closer integration between societies separated by arguably artificial colonial borders. Black Arabism, in this perception, is characteristically fascist, and is epitomized by the former Baath system in Iraq and the present one in Syria. Against it we propose “White Arabism,” which harks back to such figures as Saad Zaghlul in Egypt, Kamel Chadirchi in Iraq and Kamal Jumblatt in Lebanon. At the core of the message is the need for democratic, non-violent change at the top in the Middle East, with Arabism read as a liberal call that unifies people irrespective of their religion or sect: in Egypt Copts and Muslims; in Lebanon the various communities that form the country; in Iraq Shiites, Sunnis and non-Muslim sects.

The example of Iraq, where Arabism is not capable of giving Kurds their due of equal citizenship, is particularly telling of the more advanced thought needed to accommodate all citizens – hence the surge of the concept of federalism as a further trait of White Arabism. Only federalism can allow forms of Arab identity to be preserved while Kurds are treated as equal both on the individual level and as a collective community.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of White Arabism will be to review the Palestine-Israeli conflict in the light of new parameters, guided mostly by visions of federalism and where human rights are no longer regarded passively, but are, instead, seen as an offshoot of democracy. While the establishment of a Palestinian state appears inevitable in the short to medium term, White Arabism may have far more to offer both Jews and Arabs in Palestine and Israel.

The Hezbollah Rally

The bad news for the liberals in Lebanon is that Hezbollah staged an enormous rally in support of Syria’s military occupation and intelligence agencies.

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Here’s the good news. Hezbollah and Syria already lost this fight. Before the rally even began Syria had already agreed to withdraw its troops to the border. And it’s under increasing pressure to withdraw to the other side of the border.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah is scrambling to keep up with world opinion, which is almost unanimously united against it and the Syrian regime.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah emphatically backed Monday’s decision by the Syrian and Lebanese presidents to withdraw troops according to the 1989 Taif Accord, not U.N. Resolution 1559.

So Hezbollah is actually contradicting what the people at its own rally are shouting. It, too, supports a Syrian troop withdrawal. The only difference is in the details. Granted the details are key. But if the leaders of Hezbollah felt as confident as they’d like us to think from the size of that rally, they wouldn’t agree to any withdrawal at all. The dissidents set the terms of debate. The pro-Syrian rally was an attempt at damage control.

The best part of the whole deal is that hundreds of thousands of Lebanese are having a loud, public, and so-far peaceful political argument. Middle Eastern politics is notoriously ruthless, illiberal, violent, and closed. Lebanon has been one of the more progressive Middle Eastern countries for some time, but it has been decades since anything like this has happened.

The whole point of democratizing the Middle East is to tame the jihad into a mainstream religious-right political party. If Hezbollah wants to shout at people at big scary rallies, it’s fine by me as long as they keep away from the semtex.

Boom!

Here’s what happened to Mt. St. Helens last night, an hour’s drive from my house.

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It looks like someone detonated a nuclear weapon just sixty or so miles away. The photo you see here was taken from suburban Portland. Amazing that I had no idea this happened until this morning. If I had looked to the northeast I would have seen it myself.

Trackback Disabled

Due to the ridiculous amount of spam I have been getting in the trackback box and the fact that I don’t know of a single reasonable countermeasure, the trackback feature has been disabled. Lately I’ve been getting at least ten times more spam than real pings from other Web logs, and it just isn’t worth it. Get stuffed, spammers. Then get a life, for God’s sake.

Winds of Change at Home and Abroad

This image of today’s left-wing Independent is just too much fun not to steal from LGF.

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These headlines are becoming more and more common these days.

Rupert Cornell, who wrote the cover story, says “As Syria pulls out of Lebanon, and the winds of change blow through the Middle East, this is the difficult question that opponents of the Iraq war are having to face.”

Sorry, I don’t mean to gloat, and I shouldn’t. It’s still possible that the whole thing will blow up in our faces and I’ll be the one who has to eat crow. I don’t think it will turn out that way, but I don’t know that it won’t. Nobody does.

What I find interesting here is that this shows the foresight of historians like Victor Davis Hanson. He has long argued that we should stop worrying about anti-American and anti-war jackassery and just win the damn war. If things work out in Iraq and the Middle East, he’s been saying, opposition to the U.S. and the war will largely evaporate. I have had my doubts about that since the opposition is often so reactionary and toxic. But this definitely belongs in his evidence column.

Syria Shudders

I have high hopes for post-occupation Lebanon, despite — and certainly not because of — Lebanon’s history of violent ethnic conflict. Lebanon’s politics are notoriously ruthless, but there also exists a dynamic, sophisticated, and partially liberalized civil society in that country that counters some of the darker strains in the system.

Things are different in Syria. Unlike the relatively freewheeling Lebanon (in some ways akin to Hong Kong under Chinese authoritarian rule) Syria’s political system is full-bore totalitarian. If the Baath regime were to crack or disintegrate all of a sudden, I wouldn’t be as optimistic about the prospects for a quick transition into democracy without a bit of luck or help from people outside the country. Syria isn’t Iran in 2005 or Poland in 1989, in other words. It’s more like Albania in 1989. Syria might do just fine on its own in an immediate post-Baathist environment, but the people there have been severely traumatized and damaged by the regime. It is impossible to say how things would turn out, and that goes for everyone inside and outside the country.

Marc Cooper found an outstanding blog by Ammar Abdulamid, a Syrian liberal who says the upheaval in Lebanon is reverberating inside Syria in powerful and terrifying ways. Reading his blog is like asking for an emotional punch in the stomach. But Ammar is so intelligent, so knowledgeable of his country, and such a painfully honest writer I can’t turn away.

The City’s air is rife with all sorts of untoward rumors, everything is now possible: there is talk of arrests, purges, coup d’états, assassinations, sanctions, invasions, anything and everything, except, of course, freedom. Everything is possible except freedom. Freedom is never mentioned. Freedom never comes to mind. Freedom remains a distant dream.

The world is changing around us, but we, Damascenes, Syrians, Sunnis, ‘Alawis, Muslims, Christians, Arabs, Kurds, Circassians, or however we define ourselves these days, including perhaps heretics, can’t feel any hope in that. Nothing has touched us so far. Nothing seems to loom in the air, except for rumors and hearsays, none of which particularly inspired or inspiring. The face of an ugly and malevolent god still stares down upon any possibility of hope within us.

A reported wave of arrests has already swept a variety of “low-key” dissidents, that is, those whose arrest is not likely to generate much notice abroad, or even here, no matter how terrible this may sound. But then, everything sounds terrible these days. Despairingly terrible. There is hope all around us, but somehow there always needs to be some pit of despair somewhere meant to serve as a continuous reminder of how things were or could again be. But those whose fate is to live in such a pit have themselves to blame as well. If history teaches anything it’s that such punishment is always earned somehow. We earned it with our long and studious silence.

Being a potentially high-profile case, not to mention, of course, a heretic, my punishment is doubled, tripled and quadrupled: I have to watch others arrested while I am spared, I have to live in the anticipation of a potentially worse fate when the “right” time finally comes, I have to face the look of sickly blame on my sullen wife’s face, and I have to come back home at the end of another long day feeling numb and defeated, regardless of any achievements made.

Khawla and I have indeed reconciled ourselves to the fact that things seem to be like a race against time now: our decision is not simply about leaving the country, but about leaving it before it’s too late, that is, before events catch up with us and prevent us from traveling, together, or at all…

All these years I spent abroad without ever trying to obtain if not another citizenship then simply another residency seem increasingly wasted to me now. All this misplaced love for and belonging to the homeland is coming back to haunt me.

But then, idealists never prosper, do they? Do they?

On the positive side though, I feel like I have enough materials for a quite a few bestselling novels. One day this should make us all rich. One day.

I want to say something encouraging, but it’s hard. These are dangerous days in Syria. Nothing good will happen there while the Baath regime is in charge. It’s an obstacle that absolutely must be cleared out of the way. So the fact that Ammar detects the odor of fear coming off the regime is at least some reason to hope. There are always reasons to hope. And there are some that Ammar seems to forget about.

Totalitarian regimes almost always disintegrate rapidly and seemingly out of the blue. I’m a bit surprised to find myself writing about the possible implosion of the Middle East’s other Baath Party state at all. I knew it would happen at some point, but in early February there was no way to say it would happen in early March.

If it really is the beginning of the end of the Assad regime (do keep in mind that it might not be) events on the ground one month from now will be just as astonishing and hard to predict. Ammar Abdulamid may have little hope at this moment, but history is swinging on its hinges again. In a few weeks he may find that he lives in a different and barely recognizable country.

The reason people in Syria aren’t talking about freedom may be because they don’t quite yet feel like they can. That is so often the story in these kinds of places. But a tipping point may be coming. It is too soon to tell, but soon Ammar and millions of others may find themselves – all of a sudden – saying in genuine astonishment to the people who live all around them: Gosh, it isn’t just me? You feel the same way that I do?

I hate to say it, but this also is true: The implosion of the Baath regime could turn Syria into an emergency-room case. The US, the EU, the UN, and NATO damn well better start thinking about what they will do if that happens.

UPDATE: I just had a thought. If no one in Syria is brave enough to talk about freedom just yet, maybe the U.S. and the E.U. should give it a shot. Give the the people of Syria an excuse to start talking about it.

UPDATE: As it turns out, Bill Clinton has his own blog. In his latest post he floats the idea of regime-change in Syria. (Hat tip: Marc Cantor in the comments.)

Does anyone know if the Clinton blog is a hoax? I poked around Technorati and only found one blogger who thinks it’s not real. But it’s hard to say for sure one way or the other.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Okay. Andrew Apostolou found some pretty convincing evidence that the Clinton blog is a fake. Funny! Check it out.

Sink McCain/Feingold

All right then. At last I am convinced. John McCain and Russ Feingold’s “campaign finance reform” is a threat to free speech. At the very least, the way some people interpret it is a threat to free speech.

Matt Welch put the seed of doubt in my mind in an interview with Norman Geras.

I used to think that enacting campaign finance reform legislation was the most important political issue in the United States, and that most people who worried about its effects on free speech were disingenuous. I no longer do.

Hmm, I thought when I saw that. Matt is a smart guy. Whether I agree with him or not (and very often I do) he knows how to make me think. I knew he must have a good point, that he must have learned something important, even though he didn’t hint at what it might be. I filed the thought and knew some day I would see or read or hear about something and it would click whether I changed my mind about it or not.

That day has arrived. The FEC may soon regulate blogging.

It’s shady when gigantic corporations cut fat checks to political parties and candidates. It’s even shadier when gigantic corporations cut fat checks to both parties at once. (This is otherwise known as “covering your bases.”) Don’t tell me it’s charity. Ted Kennedy and Trent Lott really don’t need anyone’s charity money.

But what on earth could possibly be shady about little old me linking to Barack Obama’s or Rudy Giuliani’s Web site? Not a damn thing, unless they pay me to do it and I don’t disclose that payment. But then we’re talking about ethics, not law.

Not according to McCain/Feingold as it’s being interpreted now by the feds. They seem to think if I link to a politician’s Web site it’s the equivalent of giving them money. I could be fined if I go over my limit. (Sigh.)

So Matt Welch (along with plenty of others) was right. It really is a threat to free speech, whether it was intended that way or not.

This has united the blogosphere. Everyone from Atrios and Daily Kos to Charles Johnson and Ace of Spades is rightly bitching about it.

Say what you will. Oh, now you’re against it when it threatens you personally. Well, yeah. I don’t give tens of thousands of dollars to senators so I can buy access and the expectation of getting my phone calls returned. I’m just a guy with a modem and an opinion.

I suppose the CEOs of multinational corporations are just guys (and gals) with opinions (and interests) as well. And I suppose they’re more “important” than me because they make stuff we want and provide jobs in the community. Maybe they should get their phone calls returned before I do. But I’ll bet ten to one that those who donate scads of money get more access and returned calls than those who don’t. I mean, come on, why be naïve about this?

So I don’t know. I still kinda like the idea of campaign finance reform. But that doesn’t change the fact that McCain/Feingold needs to be sunk. It goes way too far, and I’ll be damned if the federal government tells me what I can and can’t write on this blog. This is not Iran, and this is not Syria.

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