Friday, January 27, 2012

Nuclear Option

Andrew Sullivan is an insightful and eloquent political commentator.

An original thinker who doesn’t tow any party line, he is a self-described political conservative who adores Ronald Reagan but who endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential election. An early supporter of the Iraq war, he lost faith in the Bush administration and has called the war a mistake. As an advocate of small government, he supported Ron Paul but he was not shy about criticizing the candidate for his irresponsible handling of racist newsletters. Sullivan is not afraid to change his mind, to wring his hands and to write from the heart. This is part of his appeal. Although his views can surprise and frustrate the reader, he doesn’t back down or squirm away - he defends his positions and shifting opinions thoughtfully.

Most of the time.

Earlier this month, Sullivan’s blog, The Dish, offered an entry under the  heading, “Why Ron Paul Is Right and Obama Is Wrong About Iran.”  OK, I’m interested.

According to Sullivan, Obama’s stance – that the U.S. must not allow Iran to develop or acquire nuclear arms – is foolish. Foolish because Iran will eventually have this capacity regardless of our demands. Sullivan says that Ron Paul, alone among the candidates, understands that Iran sees international sanctions against it as an act of war and that our own policies are only motivating Iran to try harder to obtain weapons. Sullivan also argues that 50 years ago the U.S. didn’t want China to get nukes either but things didn’t work out so badly. I’m not persuaded by this line of argument (Is theocratic Iran really like China?) but it’s standard fare. One side says that an Iran with nukes would be catastrophic. The other side says “oh, come on, How bad would it really be?”

But then Sullivan gets interesting:

"Obama also argues that he opposes Iran's nukes because of proliferation in the region. At which point one must loudly cough "Ahem." Only one country in the region has illegally, in defiance of internatinal [sic] law and the NPT and US policy, has nuclear weapons and it's Israel, not any Arab state."

This is hogwash. Yes, everyone understands that Israel has nuclear weapons. It’s probably the worst kept secret in the history of geopolitics. But possessing such weapons violates no law. Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and cannot be in violation of its terms. It’s certainly the case that most nations in the world want Israel to sign the NPT, which would subject Israel to international IAEA oversight and commit them to eventual disarmament. But as a sovereign nation they don’t have to sign the treaty.

But here is what a nation cannot do: 1) sign the treaty, 2) receive the benefits the treaty provides – exchange of technology, assistance and aid in developing nuclear energy etc. - and then, 3) violate, with impunity, the terms of the treaty and their agreed upon obligations to the IAEA, European Union and United Nations. That is precisely what Iran has done.

What are the United States and the International community to do about that?  What are we to make of Iran's history of proliferating the weaponry it already possesses to the likes of Hezbollah? These are fair topics for argument. But the familiar trope “If Israel has nuclear weapons, then why not Iran” attempts to draw a false equivalence. Sullivan ought to know better. It’s the sort of rhetoric that undermines an honest assessment of the vital issue – the consequences of allowing the Islamic Republic of Iran to enter the nuclear club and the costs of preventing it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gingrich Country

 "South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum"

- James Petigru, 19th century Congressman after South Carolina seceded in 1860

I didn't watch the full South Carolina debates - no man deserves that much entertainment. 

But there's that stunning clip of Rick Perry, the swaggering Texan, at the debate held on Martin Luther King day.   Here was the exchange:

Moderator:   Are you suggesting on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day that the federal government has no business scrutinizing the voting laws of states where minorities were once denied the right to vote?

Perry:  I'm saying that the state of Texas is under assault by the federal government.  I'm also saying that South Carolina is at war with this federal government and this administration...

The Myrtle Beach audience roared.  It may have been the the loudest applause of the night.  For Perry, it was his last big moment in the spotlight.  He would end his Presidential bid three days later and back Newt Gingrich. 

So did the Republic of South Carolina. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

25 Best Albums of 2011

I admit it.  I'm heavy on the retro-rock, alternative country and punk/power pop.  Here are my favorite albums of 2011:

25.  Drive by Truckers – Go-Go Boots

Another year - another solid Drive by Truckers album.

24.  Okkervil River – I Am Very Far

Literary rockers from Austin deliver a big sound.

23.  Middle Brother – Middle Brother

It might be a bit much to call an outfit consisting of members of Deer Tick, Delta Spirit and Dawes a "supergroup” but in the tradition of Monsters of Folk, these guys deliver like one.

22.  Sloan - The Double Cross

One of the truly underrated bands out there, Sloan has been making great  pop-rock records for 20 years.  This year's Double Cross is among their best.

21.  The War on Drugs - Slave Ambient

Nice album with an atmospheric, spacey classic rock feel.

20.  Tedeschi Trucks Band – Revelator

As one would expect, soulful singing and kick-ass slide guitar define this rootsy offering.

19.  Smith Westerns – Dye it Blonde

The kids in this Chicago band average age 20 – but their version of glam rock and power pop would have made T-Rex proud.

18.  Dave Alvin – Eleven, Eleven

The rocker from the Blasters and X is still going strong. Judging from this fine album, very strong.

17.  Beirut – The Rip Tide

Lush and full of diverse world influence, Beirut’s best and most accessible album to date.

16.  Gillian Welch – The Harrow & the Harvest

Welch’s spare and hauntingly beautiful album is aptly titled. It’s No Depression’s album of the year.

15.  The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

John Darnielle’s quirkiness and nasal delivery aren’t for everyone but there’s something beautiful and captivating about this album.

14. Dawes – Nothing is Wrong

In capturing their laid-back Los Angeles sound, Dawes has left nothing to chance – bringing in the likes of Jackson Browne and Benmont Tench.  It works. 

13.  Deer Tick – Divine Providence

Raw and surprisingly fun - Deer Tick’s John McCauley does his best to channel Paul Westerberg.

12.  Foo Fighters - Wasting Light

Dave Grohl’s best album in years.

11.  Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones

English folk singer with a punk heart, Turner wears everything on his sleeve as he delivers one convincing anthem after another.

10. Over the Rhine – The Long Surrender

The husband and wife team Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist have made a beautiful timeless-sounding album.

9. Decemberists – The King is Dead

Their loyal fanbase might prefer their earlier, more eclectic albums. I prefer this one – a solid, accesible roots rock sound with a touch of early REM.

8. Ryan Adams- Ashes & Fire

Writing great songs is like breathing for Ryan Adams. He makes it seem so easy.

7. Wild Flag - Wild Flag

An indie supergroup consisting of members of Sleater-Kinney and Helium, the garage rock energy of this album packs a punch.

6.  The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong

A great guitar sound reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain and the Smashing Pumpkins.

5.  My Morning Jacket – Circuital

The musical range of this band is so impressive – their style and influences range from Otis Redding to Radiohead. It's all really good.

4.  Portugal. the Man – In the Mountain in the Cloud

Terrible name, terrific band. A wonderfully listenable blend of glam rock and pyscyhedelia.

3.  Girls – Father, Son Holy Ghost

Impressive follow-up by the SF band. Lots of lush and infectiously catchy songs here.

2.  Ry Cooder – Pull up Some Dust and Sit Down

The political and social commentary is wittier and far more eloquent than anything you’ll hear from "Occupy Wall Street". But what really makes Cooder’s latest album work isn't the politics - it's the music.

1.  Wilco – The Whole Love

The best American band of the last 10 years - their latest album is among their very best.

Happy 2012!