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Saturday, March 26, 2005

Cafeteria Moralists

Matt Yglesias writes:

I described the liberal as having a two-stage view about end of life issues. First, comes something like the "life as continuum" view Brooks attributes to us. Second, comes a principle of free choice -- I think that I should make my own decision on this, but that my view should not control others, though I may try to persuade others that my view is correct (non-relativism). The problem here is that I think a lot of liberals don't recognize that the second principle really does depend on something akin to the first. If you hold views about the sanctity of life and the doing/allowing distinction that lead you to the conclusion that failing to keep alive someone who could be kept alive is the equivalent to murder, then adopting a principle of free choise at the second level makes no sense. An absolutist view on the first question requires an absolutist view on the second question.

I agree that that the pro-life absolutist view on the first question requires an absolutist view on the second. The only problem is that in practice, the pro-life crowd doesn't take a pro-life absolutist view on either.

On abortion, which they call murder, they do not believe that the woman who has an abortion should be charged with a crime, which makes no sense. Many of them make an exception in the case of rape of incest, which also makes no sense if abortion is murder.

They do not believe that life support should be kept in place in all circumstances, just certain ones. If it is muder then there really cannot be any situation in which taking a person off life support or denying them a feeding tube ("a natural death") would be ok.

They believe that stem cell research should be banned because the embryo is a life, but they have nothing to say about the people who fertilize many eggs in the in vitro process which then are either frozen for no use or discarded.

When it comes to the death penalty, many of these same people are arguing for fewer legal rights for the accused, even in the case of evidence of actual innocence, so the idea of "innocent" life doesn't hold water either.

As Matt makes clear, the liberal position about freedom of choice is not moral relativism. But I would argue that a cafeteria moralism that uses the "life" issue as a cudgel in random situations in which one disagrees with individual decisions is.


Despite recommendations by Army investigators, commanders have decided not to prosecute 17 American soldiers implicated in the deaths of three prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, according to a new accounting released Friday by the Army.

Investigators had recommended that all 17 soldiers be charged in the cases, according to the accounting by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. The charges included murder, conspiracy and negligent homicide. While none of the 17 will face any prosecution, one received a letter of reprimand and another was discharged after the investigations.

To date, the military has taken steps toward prosecuting some three dozen soldiers in connection with a total of 28 confirmed or suspected homicides of detainees. The total number of such deaths is believed to be between 28 and 31.

In one of the three cases in which no charges are to be filed, the commanders determined the death to be "a result of a series of lawful applications of force." In the second, the commanders decided not to prosecute because of a lack of evidence. In the third, they determined the soldier involved had not been well informed of the rules of engagement.

A spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Command, Chris Grey, said in a statement: "We take each and every death very seriously and are committed and sworn to investigating each case with the utmost professionalism and thoroughness. We are equally determined to get to the truth wherever the evidence may lead us and regardless of how long it takes."

And if that doesn't work, we'll just go for the Schiavo Option. From Rox Populi:

Andy Warhol once mused that "in the future, everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes." If he were alive today, he might say that everyone would get the U.S. Congress to intercede on their personal behalf. As it turns out, the Schavio case wasn't even the first one this month. Get this:

The North Carolina congressman who represents Camp Lejeune introduced legislation that would dismiss all charges against 2nd Lt. Ilario G. Pantano, the Marine who allegedly wrongfully shot two Iraqis while deployed to Iraq a year ago.

House Resolution 167, introduced by Rep. Walter B. Jones, R, states that Pantano, 33, was “defending the cause of freedom, democracy and liberty” in his actions on April 15 that resulted in the deaths of two Iraqis.

“The ongoing war in Iraq has taken a toll on this nation. Families have been torn apart by the loss of a loved one who has paid the ultimate price in service to our country,” Jones wrote in a Feb. 25 letter to President Bush.

“Charging Pantano with murder is not only wrong, but is also detrimental to morale in America. This sends a potentially flawed message to those considering enlisting in the military.”

The president has received the letter and the matter is under review, a spokesman for Jones’ office said on March 18.

Hey, what's the use of having control of all three branches of government if you can't do whatever you want to do? The rule of law is for losers.

Here We Are

From Andrew Sullivan:

EMAIL OF THE DAY: "As I read through yesterday's emails, I am struck by the possible fruitfulness of moderate Republican conservatives joining forces with similar folks in the Democratic Party. Perhaps if we leave the extremists of both parties out on their respective limbs and offer a strong ideology of fiscal responsibility, "gentle" hawks only responding in war when clear need is identified, protecting our own public financially from being sold out abroad, protecting our borders (even at the expense of some very wealthy businesspeople) -- promising personal rights of privacy in the pew and the bedroom and on the deathbed -- I think a strong, pragmatic, sensible, workable "party" could emerge. We MUST ditch religious zealotry ASAP -- it is killing real moral values!!"

Can someone explain to me how this substantially differs from the vast mainstream of the Democratic party?

This illustrates how successful the Republicans have been in mischaracterizing themselves as reasonable and the Democrats as a bunch of flaky left wing weirdoes. The last Democratic president was so fiscally responsible he left office with a large surplus for the explicit purpose of funding the social security shortfall in 2040 or so. We all know what happened to that. It is the mainstream Democratic view that we should only use force when "clear need is identified." We are not pacifists and never have been. We are the party that protests outsourcing and off shore tax evasion and our "public being sold out abroad." We have never been for open borders, but we do think that if wealthy businessmen want to import cheap,illegal labor they ought to be required to pay a minimum wage and adhere to basic human rights. And clearly, the mainstream of the Democratic party have no interest in legislating what people do in their bedrooms, pews and deathbeds. None.

Your "strong, pragmatic, sensible, workable" party already exists, guys. If you like effective, fiscally responsible government that respects inbdividual rights, including a right to privacy, then come on over. We are not the party that impeaches presidents over private sexual matters. We may drink latte's and read the New York Times, but that doesn't actually make us communists. That's Rush talk. You know that. And while we have our share of crazies, they aren't running the party. In fact the more extreme on the left have their own Party and cost us the election in 2000. You know that too. And a sad day for this country it was.

All we needed was 60,000 votes in Ohio this time and we could have stopped these guys from doing their worst. Help us out next time. Your country needs you.

“NBC was a much more effective tool for us.”

What a perfect choice of words.

“With the departure of Dan Rather, this is a good opportunity for CBS to reach out,” said Ari Fleischer, the former White House press spokesman. “This is almost a curtains-up for CBS to improve relationships.”

Mr. Fleischer—the former Presidential press secretary who has published his Bush explication memoir, Taking Heat: The President, the Press, and My Years in the White House—was considering CBS News now that Mr. Rather, the bête noir of the conservative class, has departed the CBS Evening News.

Mr. Rather’s early retirement was good, Mr. Fleischer said.

But it wasn’t quite enough.

“Dan Rather became a symbol,” said Mr. Fleischer, who remains close to President Bush. “That’s why this is a new opportunity for CBS. But there’s a lot more to it besides who was in the anchor chair. There’s CBS as a larger organization. There is still largely a Democratic tilt that goes in their journalism.”

Dan Rather was a good start. But the White House wanted more. “A new chapter has opened up at CBS,” Mr. Fleischer said on March 22, “but we don’t know what’s in it yet.”


“Relations were really, really horrible during that whole thing, and then the White House took a different view when Dan stepped down,” Mr. Roberts said. “Everything was affected by the tenure of the guy at the head of the Evening News. It’s really subsided.”

In contrast, Mr. Roberts said, he and Bob Schieffer, the 67-year-old Texan and Face the Nation host who is temporarily replacing Mr. Rather as evening anchor, are held in higher esteem by White House officials.

“Now, don’t get me wrong,” he added. The White House was “still good at controlling information. They’re never happy to see you, but they’re less not happy to see you.”

But at the White House, there was a different view of the CBS News–reborn theory.

Adam Levine, who was the assistant White House secretary in charge of television news until January 2004—and who, like Mr. Fleischer, remains close to the Bush administration press office—said CBS News still had “a lot of work to do.”

To measure the relative credibility of news networks with press officials at the White House, Mr. Levine suggested a scale of one to 100: he put Fox News at 90, NBC News at 80 and CBS News at “about 10.”

Asked about that assessment, a current White House official, who declined to be named, said that figure was “probably generous given what happened.”

“It depends on where they go from here,” said the official. “Contrition is always nice, but it all depends on what gets on the air. That’s the true test.”

“Bowing and scraping is not going to please this White House,” said Mr. Levine.

“Results are going to please the White House.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being optimistic,” he said, referring to Mr. Roberts’ comments, but “I don’t think removing Dan Rather from the equation—that doesn’t make CBS on par with Fox.”


The calculus for the White House in granting interviews, said Mr. Levine, was more than just the fairness and balance of the network—it was a combination of “reach, fairness and enjoyability.”

He described the latter as “the respect factor,” in which an interviewer showed due deference to the office of the Presidency, thereby making it a more appealing experience for Mr. Bush.

By this calculation, Mr. Schieffer, the CBS Evening News interim anchor, had “the respect factor” going for him, said Mr. Levine.

“I found him to be very gracious,” said Mr. Fleischer. “The only thing was he seems to really dislike Tom DeLay. I think a lot of reporters do. I always had good workings with Bob Schieffer. I thought he gave issues a fair ear.”

What Mr. Schieffer and Mr. Pelley lacked was “reach,” said Mr. Levine, which meant the network had much less to offer the White House in terms of audience—unlike, say, ABC News, which Mr. Levine assessed as having more on-air real estate for White House officials to send their messages than CBS News, not to mention an esteemed political web site, The Note.

He recalled that when Mr. Pelley interviewed the President for two hours shortly after Sept. 11, the resulting segment was only 13 minutes long. Mr. Levine had arranged that interview, he said, but he might advise the President against it now. “If I’m advising him,” he said, “I’m not sure that’s the best use of the President’s time.”

Mr. Levine said that during his tenure, “NBC was a much more effective tool for us.” He said press officials in the White House liked Meet the Press host Russert, but not because he tossed softball questions

“Nobody is going to tell you that Tim Russert is easiest,” said Mr. Levine. “He’s by far and away the toughest. But he’s fair.”

Oooh, baby. And he's got big biceps too.

Tim Russert is as fair as Fox news. Proud as a peacock he must be.

Why are they called mediawhores? Because the Republicans treat them like whores and they act like whores. It's not a nice name and I know that it hurts their feelings, but when you read things like this you ralize that it is the most accurate term you can find for these servile, supplicating chickenshits. Jayzuz.

Avedon Carol reminds us that when reporters become courtiers rather than journalists, bad things result. And when they don't, when they actually look for the story instead of simpering and posing for those in power, they can actually get the real story.

But, why would they care, really? John Roberts is getting his phone calls returned from the chief liar in the administration. He has rationalized that to mean that he is a fair journalist. "What Liberal Media?" indeed.


Friday, March 25, 2005

What Will We Tell The Children?

I have been reading all this stuff about Wolfowitz's neocon World Bank girlfriend and her witchy influence over him, but I didn't know until today that Wolfie is married. To another woman.

The appointment of George Bush's leading hawk as head of the World Bank was heading for a crisis over his relationship with a senior British employee.

Influential members of staff at the international organisation have complained to its board that Paul Wolfowitz, a married father of three, is so besotted with Oxford-educated Shaha Riza he cannot be impartial.

Extraordinarily, they claim she played a key role in pushing the 61-year-old Pentagon official into the Iraq War. And the row comes amid claims that Wolfowitz's wife Clare once warned George Bush of the threat to national security any infidelity by her husband could cause.

A British citizen - at 51, eight years younger than Wolfowitz's wife - Ms Riza grew up in Saudi Arabia and was passionately committed to democratising the Middle East when she allegedly began to date Wolfowitz.
She studied at the London School of Economics in the Seventies before taking a master's degree at St Anthony's College, Oxford, where she met her future husband, Turkish Cypriot Bulent Ali Riza, from whom she is now divorced.

After they moved to America, Shaha worked for the Iraq Foundation, set up by expatriates to overthrow Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War. She subsequently joined the National Endowment for Democracy, created by President Ronald Reagan to promote American ideals.

Bulent Riza said Shaha started to "talk to Paul" about reforming the Middle East. And New Yorker magazine's respected commentator Paul Boyer observed that a senior World Bank official "named Shaha Ali Riza" was an "influence".

I'm most anxious to hear Jerry Fallwell and James Dobson weigh in on this. Is it ethical for the evangelical president to nominate such immoral people to positions of high rank? Doesn't he care? Quick, check the poker room and see if William bennet can enlighten us about this.

And then there is the espionage. As the bride of Jesu said so long ago, in another time of the Florida passion:

Was Mr. Clinton being blackmailed? The Starr report tells us of what the president said to Monica Lewinsky about their telephone sex: that there was reason to believe that they were monitored by a foreign intelligence service. Naturally the service would have taped the calls, to use in the blackmail of the president. Maybe it was Mr. Castro’s intelligence service, or that of a Castro friend.

Is it irresponsible to speculate? It is irresponsible not to.

Even his wife thinks he might be a threat to national security. It would be very irresponsible not to speculate that Wolfowitz is being blackmailed by a beguiling, invasion-mad, Tunisian she-devil. It really would.

Good Friday Middle Aged Mistress Pop Quiz:

Do you know this woman?

answer: Poppi's little friend Jennifer Fitzgerald. What will we tell the great-great-grandchildren?


Thursday, March 24, 2005

Too Far?

I think it's important to give John Cole credit here for recognizing what a threat to freedom these religious zealots are. It appears that more than a few Republicans are a little bit stunned by the hideous overreaching of the congress and the president in this case.

But I must also point out that this didn't happen in a vacuum. This started with the moralizing psuedo religious nonsense during the Clinton years when it was everybody's favorite sport to use the office of the "independent" counsel to rummage through Hillary Clinton's underwear drawer and clutch their lace hankies about a prosaic mid life crisis as if it were of the highest national importance. They impeached the president on the basis of a private sexual matter. Members of the house and senate stood on the floors of the congress and pontificated endlessly about sexual morality and trumped up a case for lying under oath that you could drive a truck through. And the only thing that stopped them from succeeding in making a federal case out of a blow-job was public opinion, which sharply turned against them as the silly spectacle lumbered on.

It was clear then that the modern GOP's small government and individual rights rhetoric was a crock. (I blame some Democrats for this too. A fair number of them fed the notion that this was worthy of official government disapprobation with their Liebermanesque preaching about how it was "deplorable" and "reprehensible.")

Cole notes that the NOW and NARAL slippery slope arguments don't seem so hysterical now. No they don't. Neither do those who have been a little bit kooky on the Patriot Act or the executive power grab that says the president can order torture because in wartime the president can do anything he wants. We are seeing this congressional majority and the president pretty much rip out any part of the constitution they don't care for.

I've been hoping that libertarians would realize that these guys not only have no intention of making government smaller but they have absolutely no respect for individual rights either. I realize that taxation is at the top of most libertarians' list of issues. But I think it's time for many of them to go back and re-read their John Stuart Mill "On Liberty" and expand their definition of freedom a little bit. Taxation can be onerous and tyrannous. But dear God, it's not the ONLY definition of tyranny nor are all levels of taxation onerous.

Maybe libertarians don't feel the yoke tightening around their neck from the corporate oligarchy and the religious right, but I sure as hell do. Maybe this circus is the last straw for some of them too.

You Eat Spinach

Atrios links to another of TAPPED's great posts about the "pain caucus." Earlier this week Sam Rosenfeld wrote an interesting piece on the same subject regarding the punditocrisy's reflexive conventional wisdom that says "political courage" equals average people suffering. He brought up one of the most egregious examples I've ever had the misfortune to watch on last week's Capital Gang:

HUNT: Bob, for Bush to succeed in this or have something he calls success, does he have to get something on -- on personal accounts?

NOVAK: To have any success, of course, he does. If he just has a changing of the index, which is a reduction in benefits, that's not going to do it. And he's not going to go for a tax increase.

I agree with Mark, which I rarely do, that the Republicans look like chickens. They look like they're afraid of combat. But I think the Democrats really look bad because I -- I was talking to some very prominent ones, and I didn't realize that not only is personal accounts off the table, any indexing of -- of the -- of how many -- how the benefits will be is off the table. They are saying, We will not go along with any reduction in benefits to our constituents in the future! I mean, they're being very responsible, and -- and...

HUNT: You meant to say irresponsible, I think.

NOVAK: Irresponsible. And Nancy Pelosi...


NOVAK: Nancy Pelosi, I thought, just typifies exactly what's going on when she says, Stop him, stop him, stop him.

CARLSON: I agree with Bob, in that Democrats have to pivot now and acknowledge, yes, there's a problem, and put forward a proposal for fixing...

O'BEIRNE: And when that happens...

CARLSON: ... Social Security...

O'BEIRNE: ... the Republicans are confident that personal accounts, plus some other things which do affect solvency, will look a lot better than what liberal Democrats are likely to come up, which happens to be tax increases!

CARLSON: Kate, not only would personal...

HUNT: Mark -- Mark -- hurt Social Security, they're going to hurt the economy.

HUNT: Mark, the problem is that people say the concept of personal or private accounts is not such a bad concept, but the minute you say it has to be accompanied by benefit cuts, that's when...

SHIELDS: And tax increases.

HUNT: ... it plummets.

SHIELDS: No, that's absolutely...

CARLSON: And all that borrowing.

SHIELDS: That's absolutely right, Al. And the reality is that the president said there was a crisis. The president said, I have a plan. He said that in the 2000 campaign, said it in 2004 campaign. We just haven't seen the plan unveiled.


SHIELDS: And I would -- I would point out if the people in the White House feel so good about the polls, thank goodness they haven't seen the CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll, which shows 35 percent approval for the president's handling of the Social Security issue.

O'BEIRNE: And it shows 76 percent of people under age 50 like the idea of the personal accounts, and people above that age won't be affected by them!

NOVAK: Let me just say that the idea that you have the benefit cuts, Mark, because you have personal accounts is ridiculous. It's absolutely ridiculous. You're going to have to have benefit cuts. Pat Moynihan said you had to have benefit cuts. Everybody knows it, and the demagogueing that's going on -- I was -- I was talking with two members of the Social Security subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee. They say, We will not have any benefit cuts for our constituents. They're crazy! They're going to have to have them!

HUNT: You know, Bob, you're right on that. I think there are going to have to be benefit cuts, but I also think that if you move to some -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) some kind of indexing, you can do it in a very progressive way.

NOVAK: I agree with that!

HUNT: And I think that's what...

NOVAK: But it's still -- they say they -- they want no benefit cuts!

CARLSON: Do you think borrowing a trillion dollars...

SHIELDS: Did the president...


CARLSON: ... personal accounts is a good idea? (CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: ... any of his three dozen appearances when he mentioned it, ever mentioned benefit cuts? He never did.

NOVAK: But he told...

SHIELDS: He never did! No, Bob, but I mean, seriously, he never has.

HUNT: Kate, they at some point...

NOVAK: Do you think -- you think you can get by in this -- with this system without benefit cuts?

SHIELDS: I think -- I think you have to have benefit cuts. I'd like to see you struck from the Social Security rolls, and people of your ilk

The sheer inanity of that dialog is just so depressing. How much money do you suppose those guys all make a year? Do you think that any of them will actually be affected by "benefit cuts?"

We will have to have benefit cuts. Just because we will. There is no other option and the Democrats are just being obstinate in not accepting what we all know will have to happen which is benefit cuts. Pat Moynihan said so! You Americans who will depend on Social Security top keep the wolf from the door are just going to have to deal. That's the way it is.

Taxes? What are these taxes you speak of?

This relates to a Talking Points post from last week in which Johnathan Chait wrote:

Yesterday, Josh argued here that "One of the Democrats' greatest problems -- far more insidious than many realize -- is their desire to gain the approval and approbation of establishment Washington and its A-list pundits."

Interestingly, a reporter friend of mine came across some evidence of this proposition that very night. As he told me:

I was talking yesterday with a very influential Democratic congressman who firmly defended the current Democratic position of not having a specific Social Security 'plan' on the table. Yet at the same time he was a little defensive about it. Why? "Because I keep hearing from you guys" -- i.e., Washington reporters -- "that we're going to be in trouble for not having a plan," he said. "And it makes me nervous."

It occurs to me that liberals should spend more time writing reasoned e-mails to the punditocrisy than we do. It would be nice to break the lock that these gasbags have on the Democrats but we shouldn't just pin our hopes on that alone. We should be working these refs with wily cunning. They seem to be pretty vacuous. It can't be that hard.

The New Front

Andrew Kohut wrote in yesterdays' New York Times:

While there were probably more votes of conscience in Congress on the bill than the public thinks, it is also pretty clear that the Christian conservative movement now has the clout on life-and-death issues to do what the National Rifle Association has done for years on gun control. Strengthened by the results of the November elections, the movement can convey to legislators that the intensity of their constituents' beliefs is more important than the balance of national public opinion. Swayed by this reasoning, more than a few Democrats may be more interested in moving to the right on moral values than in staking out the middle of the political landscape.

One of the first big skirmishes in the culture wars was gun control. It seemed for a long time that the forces of progress and enlightened self interest would dictate that we would enact reasonable restrictions on the ownership of guns. Even the police backed such measures as a matter of self defense. I took it for granted for many years that common sense would prevail. But in the end the right won that battle hands down. It's over. There isn't even a discussion about it when a kid gets his hands on a bunch of guns and mows down ten people. Nothing. Just collateral damage, folks. The price we pay for the right to bear arms.

Ron Brownstein wrote today:

Does the "culture of life" extend to the victims of gun violence?

That's the question critics are asking after President Bush's contrasting responses to the two events dominating national attention this week.

Although Bush made a special trip back to Washington from vacation to sign legislation offering a new federal right of appeal to Terri Schiavo's parents, the president and his aides have said almost nothing about the mass shooting in Red Lake, Minn. — the deadliest outbreak of school violence since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo.

The Minnesota tragedy has increased alarm among some school safety professionals about Bush's efforts to eliminate funding for two major programs meant to prevent classroom violence, including a Clinton administration initiative to help schools hire more police officers.

"It makes absolutely no sense that at a time when we are talking about better protecting bridges, monuments, dams and even the hallways of Congress, that we are going backward in protecting the hallways of our schools," said Kenneth S. Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a consulting firm.

Bush's responses to the Schiavo case and the school shootings track with the preferences of two of his core constituencies.

Conservative Christians pressed Bush to intervene for Schiavo, while the National Rifle Assn. and other gun-owner groups generally look to minimize the relevance of political responses to mass shootings.

"It seems callous to talk about politics or to try to push a legislative agenda on the back of this heart-rending crime," the NRA's chief spokesman, Andrew Arulanandam, said in response to the Minnesota shootings.

I wrote earlier that I had given up on that battle because of the bill of rights. While I think that most sentient beings would interpret the 2nd amendment to mean that members of the militia (a sort of national guard in today's parlance) should have access to weapons, I came to believe that any "interpretation" of the bill of rights was a mistake. In light of the zealots on the other side I decided that it was best to interpret the bill of rights as literally as possible or risk having these nutcases fool around with the fundamentals.

And they would. As Eugene Volokh said the other day, he doesn't see the BOR as sacred writ and it's pretty clear that these radical Republican Theocrats don't either. Normally, I would agree that enlightened people could look at the BOR and make changes to it as their culture evolved in different ways, so of course it isn't a sacred writ. But clearly we are not enlightened. I say now, don't touch it in any way.

The right had a very powerful weapon to gain the support of civil libertarians in the battle over gun rights but they don't have use of it in this next one. In fact, they are attacking the Bill of Rights and just as fundamentally, the independent judiciary that unholds them this time. And they are being quite open about it. Here's the smarmy Hugh Hewitt:

WHAT TO MAKE OF THIS, the latest in a string of judicial decrees that run contrary to the will of the representative branch? Here's one reaction that arrived in my email account an hour after the 11th Circuit chose to ignore Congress:

We are no longer a nation of laws. We are a nation of lawyers. It doesn't matter how carefully we frame a law. It doesn't matter what sort of initiative the voters pass. The elite judges do whatever they want. . . .

Lest you think I'm some sort of ignorant red-neck, I have a Ph.D. in History from the University of California. I am deeply troubled by the rise of the rogue courts. Unless
there is radical change--revolutionary change--we are doomed.

I don't share my correspondent's pessimism, but I think his anger is very widespread and fuels not only the strong support for Senator Frist's decision to break the Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees, but also a backlash against any Republican who sides with the Democrats on the coming rules change vote.

The polls don't support their position in the Schiavo case, but neither did they support the NRA. It's the zealousness of this constitutncy that will fuel their decision. Right now I am hearing that the zealots want to force Jeb Bush to send in troops to take custody of Schiavo and that he is thinking of doing it. (And BTW, any comparison between this and the Elian case is spurious. The Clinton administration was upholding the court's decision while Jebbie would be going expressly against it. That's something that normal people would call a constitutional crisis.)

If Democrats think that moving right on these alleged religious and "life" issues will help them, however, they are wrong. This is much bigger than the gun issue. If the GOP can destroy Americans' faith in the judiciary as being capable of making unbiased, apolitical decisions, and if they succeed in intimidating judges the way they have intimidated the media, we will see the Bill of Rights radically reinterpreted. (And the big money boys will slither along behind collecting all the money.)

Eric Alterman wrote yesterday:

This Terri Schiavo thing is a perfect paradigm for our politics. Republicans are fundamentally contravening their own alleged principles by trying to put the federal government in the face of an intimate family decision-making process—“In interviews, some conservatives either dismissed the argument that the vote was a federal intrusion on states' rights or argued that their opposition to euthanasia as part of their support of the right-to-life movement trumped any aversion they might have to a dominant federal government."-- and ignoring the structural problems (more here) they helped create vis-à-vis the nation’s health care coverage that are actually quite germane to the larger issues it raises. The Democrats, meanwhile, are taking a sensible position but are lack the confidence to defend it in public. And the media is covering the story as if it’s the Democrats who are risking the wrath of voters despite that fact that voters tell pollsters that 70 percent of the public supports their position.

The media, particularly the cable "news" networks, are what they are. Infotainment shows for news and tabloid junkies. (I just saw a story on CNN about a cat that was fitted with artificial limbs. I'm not kidding.) This is a problem.

But it is also a problem that Democrats can't seem to step forward and take the mantle of straight talking common sense on issues like these. We are intimidated on these social issues because we are buying into the frame the right wants us to use --- "the Bible" and "life." I think our frame for these social issues should be "the constitution" and "freedom." And from that we defend the judiciary on the basis of the separation of powers (checks and balances)and we defend people's right to live their lives freely on the basis of the Bill of Rights. Frank Luntz wants to use the symbolism of the constitution for his side and I think we are nuts to let him do it. They treat the constitution like toilet paper and plenty of people will see that if we just point it out to them, particularly if we repeatedly invoke the constitution as the means of protecting their right to live as they choose without interference from busy bodies.

While the Democrats may still be scarred by its alleged association with 60's libertinism, as Noam Scheiber writes here, the Republicans are revealing themselves to be contemporary radicals who are far more threatening. Scheiber uses the example of Bush flouting the UN as illustrative of how they win even when they are losing. But these issues that affect everyday lives are substantially different. People may be willing to give the administration the benefit of the doubt on national security, about which they acknowledge that the experts in the government know more than they do. But on issues like social security and medical care they are many degrees more confident in their own experience and many degrees more skeptical of the government's motives.

During the Clinton scandals, for instance, the Democrats came very close to taking back the congress in 1998 when the GOP went too far with their intrusion into his sex life. The public rejected the sanctimonious moralizing of the Republicans. Middle aged men having extra marital affairs is not shocking, nor is it something that most people believe is a public matter. Similarly, most people see this public spectacle of the Schiavo case for the political stunt that it is.

The problem is that Democrats failed last time to stake out for themselves the common sense argument with which people already agree and run on it. It's a terrible mistake because this is the very basis of the culture war.

These people want to dictate how you live your private life. They want to tell you who you can marry, how to raise your kids, what religion to practice (and you must practice it) and what "values" you must hold. And they want to use the strong arm of the government to do it. Sure, there are problems in our society. Yes we are living in a fast paced society in which it is difficult to raise children and the world is changing so quickly that it's hard to keep your balance sometimes. But most Americans don't wish for others to make decisions for them about how to live their day to day lives, regardless of the challenges. It's just not the American character.

That is not to say that we have no concept of the common good. Americans once came to a consensus that the government was the most democratic means of helping people to mitigate the pitfalls of capitalism and ensuring all of its citizens a fair shake. But we have never seen it as a means to legislate what people do behind closed doors or when making the most personal life decisions about their marriages, families or their own bodies. We believe that the government is far too clumsy a mechanism for such delicate matters. The individual reigns supreme over himself. All we ask is citizens pitch in for the national defense, the running of the government, social services to help the weakest among us and insure themselves against the risks they must take in a dynamic capitalistic system.

It's just this simple: The Republican party wants to tell you how to live your personal life while they systematically remove all government cooperation in ameliorating the risks this fast paced world creates. The Democrats want the government to leave you to make your own personal decisions while having it help you mitigate the social and economic risk our fast paced world creates. It is a stark choice. There is no reason we cannot begin to make the affirmative case for ourselves on this basis.

I don't know who it will be, but I think that the Democrats will win when they find a candidate who can speak in common sense terms to the American people about who we are and who they are. I think people are nervous about these guys but they don't know if we are any better. They are yearning for some clarity. If we provide it, they will come.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Welcome To Gilead

Have you heard the scoop on "The Cause USA"? You know, the weirdos with the tape over their mouths that say "LIFE." Catch has the details.

The Cause USA is yet another organization churned out by the frothing evangelist Lou Engle, a man who has set up quite a cottage industry for himself by praying on teens (INTENTIONAL TYPO ALERT!) in the name of the you-know-who. I got dizzy googling all of the different organizations that have his name stamped on them, but he's behind The Call, Bound4LIFE and the Elijah Revolution (no, not that Elijah, silly bunny) for starters.

Go over there and read the whole thing. Unbelievable.

As James Wolcott points out, we aren't seeing any reporting being done on these fruitcakes because reporters believe that they have to be reverent toward all religious fanatics no matter what planet they are from.

Today I happened to hear Bob Franken "reporting" on the scene of the solemn procession in front of the hospice where demonstrators were attempting to bring Schiavo a cup of water, intending to be arrested. Franken, as hush-voiced as a golf commentator on the 18th hole awaiting a crucial putt, described one of the scenes of demonstrators stepping forward and being led away by sun-glassed police as "poignant."

The scene? A father being arrested with three of his children. Another child, age three, was spared, left to the custody of her mother. The father and three children--all three under the age of sixteen--were gently handcuffed and taken away in squad cars.

There was nothing "poignant" about this moment of togetherness. It was idiotic and irresponsible. If Dad wants to get arrested and spend the night behind bars with Otis the Town Drunk, fine, but don't drag the kids into it, particularly children that young. Let them stay home with gran'ma as Dad and Mom enjoy a second honeymoon in handcuffs. Franken's sentimentalizing of this pious photo-op is more proof that the so-called MSM is so cautious about being respectful of religion that it refuses to recognize the raw face of fanaticism even when it's filling the camera lens. Practically nothing is said about the backgrounds of the nutjob organizers of these sickly pseudo-events, leaving the impression that is simply People of Conscience converging on Florida to bear witness and catch some rays.

Working those refs really gets the job done. If they can put enough heat on the judiciary they'll own this country.

Urban Legends

Reggie Graves, a student at Red Lake High School, said he was watching a movie about Shakespeare in class Monday when he heard the gunman blast his way past the metal detector at the school's entrance, killing a guard.

Then, in a nearby classroom, he heard the gunman say something to his friend Ryan: "He asked Ryan if he believed in God," Graves said. "And then he shot him."


Teresa Nielsen Hayden explains:

Thing is, Jeff Weise wasn’t imitating the actual Columbine shooters. He was imitating a pious urban legend (what back home we used to call a faith-promoting rumor) that sprang up in the wake of the Columbine shootings: that shooter Dylan Klebold asked Cassie Bernall whether she believed in God, and shot her when she said she did.

This story, in many variant versions, spread as fast as the internet would carry it. Cassie Bernall—a cute blonde who had a classic conversion-narrative history of turning to religion after dabbling in bush-league wickedness—was hailed as a martyr, and her story has since been repeatedly invoked to push the usual religious agendas. It’s been especially useful for WASP Chinos who want to think of themselves as being cruelly persecuted for their faith, but who are inconveniently short on evidence that this has ever happened.

Trouble is, the Cassie Bernall incident didn’t happen anything like the stories describe it, and the shooters weren’t targeting Christians. As has gradually become clear, the media coverage of Columbine was notably bad, and the Cassie Bernall story was the single most egregious example of slovenly journalism in the whole mess.


I’m sure Jeff Weise’s behavior will be trotted out as further proof that Christians are coming in for persecution. If I’m right, that claim will be purest codswallop. What this tragic incident really teaches us is that kids who are exposed to non-reality-based right-wing Christian propaganda may subsequently commit horrid acts of violence.

Yes. Despite the fact that Weise was evidently imitating an urban legend, I doubt very seriously that the press will report it that way or that the religious zealots will take the proper lesson from it. They are too busy trying to keep a dead woman's body alive right now to notice this latest example of their horrible persecution at the hands of liberals, but they will eventually. They must continually gather evidence that liberals are satanically omnipotent or they lose their raison d'etre.

This reminds me of an e-mail I got from one of my trolls:

Michael Jackson is a special case to be sure, but so are the 90 million in Africa who are expected to get AIDS. What is special is that both are, in large part, victims of liberal Democrats. It seems that neither was taught Republican family values and so both embarked into the brave new sexual world that conservatives had long warned against.

Yes, Jackson was born into a very odd and abusive family, and with incredible talent. He was given neither education, love, nor sensible religious values. And, lastly, he apparently was also born with a tendency to be an effeminate, homosexual, pedophile. But perhaps most importantly, he was born into a feminist, homosexual, liberal, tolerant culture which wanted to make room for the entire rich and sophisticated panoply of diverse lifestyles that the liberal mind could cook up. Johnny had two dads, Suzy had two Moms, Michael was boldly liberal androgynous, and it was ok that 10,000 years of human history had been instantly reversed, or so it seemed.

In fact, Mr. Jackson at one point was on the cover of Time Magazine where he was hailed as the liberal symbol of the "New Androgyny". None other than Elizabeth Taylor testified to his glorious combination of male and female qualities. A raft of feminists chimed in that he represented the death of traditional macho men and the dawn of a glorious, liberated new sexual future. Some men did seem to cringe, but mostly in intimidated silence, at the thought of lipstick and makeup. Ok, so the liberal attempt to rewrite human cultural history in an instant didn't quite work out as expected, and even liberals seem to have drawn the line at pedophilia, but other aspects of the attack on the traditional Republican family continued unabated. The American divorce rate is 50%, nearly 50% of all American children grow up in broken homes, and we are paralyzed on the world stage about seeming intolerant toward even Africa's genocidal sexual culture.

But now it may be time for liberals to punish Mr. Jackson for his excessive liberalism. It is hard though. When a priest in Boston (Father John Geoghan) was send to prison for pedophilia, guards noticed that other inmates developed a predilection for urinating on his bed. In time he was then transferred to another prison, for his own safety, whereupon he was promptly stomped to death by another group of very intolerant fellow inmates. Very sadly, there was almost no reaction anywhere to our inability to make the proscribed punishment fit the crime. If Mr. Jackson does go to jail we can only hope the state's proscribed punishment will be administered, and not usurped by an insane, blood thirsty, liberal mob.

A liberal mob? Yes, a liberal mob indeed, and Hillary Clinton knows this grotesque truth all to well and seems quite happy to exploit it. Convicts are liberal Democrats as certainly as soldiers are Republicans. Her very recent "make every vote count" legislation seeks to enfranchise ex-cons because she knows the concentration of liberalism among ex-cons is as great as it is on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It seems liberalism is everywhere: in Michael Jackson, Africa, Hillary Clinton, and in prison. And everywhere it is a horror.

I don't have the energy to deconstruct this incomprehensible mish mash. (I'm intrigued by the fact that liberals are responsible for the fact that Africans are not taught Republican family values, but whatever.) I think this is a pretty good representation of the cognitive ability of many of the right wing, so it's pretty clear that we are up against something that appeals to reason are not going to affect. It would be really nice, however, if the media could refrain from enabling their persecution fantasies as they did with the Cassie Bernal story and this Terry Schiavo circus. I'm not holding my breath.

Whose Family Is It Anyway?

One of my favorite readers (you know who you are) posited an interesting supposition in an e-mail last night that has been obliquely addressed today by Charles Krauthamer. My friend wondered if some of the lizard brain activity on the right surrounding this Schiavo issue might be wingnut parental reaction to seeing their children reject their conservative views. I know that it has been a bone of contention in my family for decades.

Krauthamer says this:

In this case, the loved ones disagree. The husband wants Terri to die; the parents do not. The Florida court gave the surrogacy to her husband, under the generally useful rule that your spouse is the most reliable diviner of your wishes: You pick your spouse and not your parents, and you have spent most of your recent years with your spouse and not your parents.

The problem is that although your spouse probably knows you best, there is no guarantee that he will not confuse his wishes with yours. Terri's spouse presents complications. He has a girlfriend, and has two kids with her. He clearly wants to marry again. And a living Terri stands in the way.

Now, all of this may be irrelevant in his mind. He may actually be acting entirely based on his understanding of his wife's wishes. And as she left nothing behind, the courts have been forced to conclude, on the basis of his testimony, that she would prefer to be dead.

That is why this is a terrible case. The general rule of spousal supremacy leads you here to a thoroughly repulsive conclusion. Repulsive because in a case where there is no consensus among the loved ones, one's natural human sympathies suggest giving custody to the party committed to her staying alive and pledging to carry the burden themselves.

First of all, a living Terri doesn't stand in the way. Michael Schiavo could have divorced her years ago if he just wanted to move on. He says that he believes he is carrying out his wife's wishes and will not abandon her to live as she said she would never have wanted to live. The rule of spousal "supremacy" does not lead to a repulsive conclusion at all, even to Krauthamer, who like 87% of the country says he would want his feeding tube removed if he were in Schiavo's position. In many people's minds the repulsive outcome is this ghoulish need to force this poor woman's body to carry on when it is clear that it is nothing more than an emotional crutch for her parents.

More importantly, I think that Krauthamer may be expressing the views of plenty of "conservative" people who want to control their children's lives long past the time they are legally and morally allowed to do so. That particular kind of control is often the default temperamental style of right wingers. They wish to control everything, particularly the people around them.

Krauthamer goes on to conclude that we have no way of knowing if Schiavo is really braindead (which puts him the same camp as the other Republican doctors who have discarded their fealty to reason for political reasons) but he also rightly says that the Florida courts upheld the law as we know it. His solution is to change the law:

There is no good outcome to this case. Except perhaps if Florida and the other states were to amend their laws and resolve conflicts among loved ones differently -- by granting authority not necessarily to the spouse but to whatever first-degree relative (even if in the minority) chooses life and is committed to support it. Call it Terri's law. It would help prevent our having to choose in the future between travesty and tragedy.

Essentially, he's saying that parents should have a veto over the spouse in these issues. (If it were the spouse who wanted to use extraordinary measure to keep the patient alive, current law would already suffice.) Therefore, he's promoting the idea that there are cases in which your "first degree relatives" have the power of life and death over you in circumstances where your spouse disagrees. What a concept.

I had a colleague years ago who was in a terrible car accident and severely brain damaged at the age of 33. He had been estranged for years from his abusive family and had been more or less raised by others to whom he was very close. He was quite wealthy and had left his surrogate family all of his money in his will. He was also unmarried and did not have a living will, although those who knew him said that he had expressed many times that he would not want to be kept alive by extraordinary measures. His estranged family were extremely religious and insisted that he be kept alive at all costs. Being "first degree" relatives they had the right to make that decision. I lost track of the situation after five years or so, but at that time he was still living in a persistent vegetative state. The money ran out and he was put on medicaid. I heard that his family rarely visited.

I know that this doesn't track exactly with the Schiavo case and that there could have been no legal rights conferred on the adopted family short of a durable power of attorney. It does, however, illustrate why it is important that adults be allowed to create their own families through marriage. For some people their experience with their parents is a joyful, lifelong relationship. But for others, adulthood marks the beginning of their freedom and separation from people who do not share their values. When they marry, their choice of spouse is often in conflict with their parent's wishes. If people truly value marriage they must also honor the fact that the people involved made a decision to create a new family when they did it. That new family is the one that must take precedence in situations like this.

My right wing dad doesn't come from the religious end of the spectrum; he's more of the old fashioned John Birch and racist variety. He doesn't go along with this Schiavo thing largely because he's had to face these decisions with my mother (who died of cancer) and now himself. Like many Republicans, he's remarkably pragmatic about these things. However, if I had married someone of another race or were gay, I think it is entirely possible that he would have easily stepped into a situation like this and demanded that he be allowed to make the decision. He would never have acknowledged that a person of whom he disapproved had the right to make decisions on his child's behalf. He's just that kind of man.

I would hate to think that my Dad (who, while he is a political abomination it should also be said has his good points) would have been given any legal standing to interfere in my family for any reason. That would go against my family values in the most important ways I can imagine.

Just A Bunch Of Numbers

"Just last week, DeLay marshaled a budget resolution through the House of Representatives that would cut funding for Medicaid by at least $15 billion, threatening the quality of care for people like Terri Schiavo."

DeLay spokesman Dan Allen fired back: "The fact that they're tying a life issue to the budget process shows just how disconnected Democrats are to reality."

Yes, the medicaid budget has nothing at all to do with reality. It's not a "life issue" It's a process. Sorry. Carry on.



I've been waiting for this:

As Terri Schiavo is being starved to death, reports indicate, the successor of St. Peter is finding it impossible to hold down his food. A young woman, martyred by the culture of death. An old man who has poured out his life combatting it.

Sitio. I thirst.

Posted at 10:24 AM

TBOGG notes

Meanwhile, the Brides of Jesus ponder whether the the Little Black Cocktail Dress will be appropriate for both mourning and wake binge drinking.

Living Forever

There are many fine articles all over the left blosphere about the social security trustee report written by people far more conversant with the details than I. So I'm not going to weigh in on the particulars except to note that I think I understand why the projected death rates have inexplicably gone down precipitously from last year to this.

Now that we are learning to respect the culture 'o life (as Dear Leader so endearingly puts it) we can expect that in the future no one will be allowed to have life support removed. The actuaries are simply factoring in the probability that many of the people who could be expected to shuffle off their mortal coil when their brains have liquified will be kept alive by artificial means for decades longer than expected just last year.

Let's just keep our fingers crossed that their private accounts do well in the market ...

The Poor Dears

Atrios has already issued the call to action on the sensitive, delicate Democrats of the NDN who were swooning over the coarse, indecorous criticism they received for voting for the Bankruptcy bill, so I'll just send you there for the information.

However, I'd like to make one little suggestion. When you obstreperous partisans write your e-mails you might want to ask them what exactly they mean by this:

“The center [CAP] could have made the argument on the merits, but it chose to do so in a personal way,” said Schiff, one of roughly a dozen lawmakers who attended the meeting.

“The [NDC] wanted to say, ‘We’re all under the same flag here, and let’s not forget that,’” he said


“The unfortunate thing about the e-mail is that it questioned the good faith of the Democrats who support the bankruptcy bill. Whenever you question the good faith, that’s problematic,” he [Artur Davis(D-Ala)] said. “But I certainly don’t blame John for that e-mail. I don’t think it was authorized.”

“Certainly there is a disagreement over the bankruptcy bill,” he said.

(Oh my stars, it was rude to get so personal and all, wasn't it? How ill-bred.)

Without upsetting their fragile nerves, when you send your e-mails you might want to ask politely why any Democrat would think that the bankruptcy bill would be good for their constituents who are, after all, who they actually represent. Are they creating jobs by doing this? Are they creating a more dynamic economy? Why would it be "pro-business", as Democrats define that term, to enable just one business --- the credit card companies --- to reap ever higher profits while they charge usurious interest rates to average Americans?

If it isn't that they've whored themselves out to such an extent that they are now the credit card companies' bitches, (pardon my french!) what exactly is the reason they support it?

Idle Hands

The Poorman has a copy of the House agenda for Wednesday. Our representatives are very busy these days.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Visual Aids

Via Media Matters, here is a CNN chart showing the partisan differences in the Schiavo case.

WTF? Did Daryn Kagan have her boyfriend design that for her last night while she was changing into something more comfortable?

This isn't really surprising. Here is one issue about which the media seem to have absolutely no interest in what the public thinks. Usually, they'd be pulling polls out of every orifice to try to explain things. Not this time. Eric Boehlert discusses this in Salon:

Imagine how differently the televised debate would have unfolded over the past few days if journalists had simply done their job and asked Terri Schiavo's pro-life proponents why an overwhelming percentage of Americans disagree with them about this case. Indeed, polls taken over the past two years show that Americans are adamant that the spouse, and not the parents, should decide on a loved one's right to die. And in the past week, an overwhelming majority -- 87 percent -- of Americans polled by ABC News and the Washington Post said that if they were in the same state as Terri Schiavo, they too would want their feeding tube removed.

Just as every judge who has heard the Schiavo case so far has ruled in Michael's favor, so has every poll taken shown that the majority of the public supports the husband's position. In survey after survey dating from 2003 to the present, asked who should have the final right-to-die decision, the majority of Americans have answered: the spouse. From national polls (e.g., ABC News/Washington Post, 65-25; and Fox News, 50-31) to statewide polls (e.g., KING-TV in Washington, 67-19; and St. Petersburg Times in Florida, 75-13) to unscientific, interactive polls (e.g., CNN, 65-26; and MSNBC, 63-37), the response has always been the same. A 2003 poll by CNN/USA Today had a similar result: Eighty percent agreed that a spouse should be allowed to decide whether to end the life of a person in a persistent vegetative state.

Which is why it has been so startling to find so few mentions by major news outlets of the recent polls regarding the Schiavo controversy. For instance, last Friday at 11 a.m., a Fox News reporter referenced a poll from earlier this month conducted by Fox that found that a strong majority -- 59 to 24 percent -- would remove Terri Schiavo's feeding tube if they were her guardian. According to TVeyes, a digital, around-the-clock television monitoring service, that was the last time a Fox News reporter mentioned Fox's own poll. Then again, that's typical of Fox, which on Friday night's "Hannity and Colmes" invited six strident pro-life advocates to argue why Congress should intervene on Schiavo's behalf. No guests were booked to appear on the show and argue Michael Schiavo's side.

But perhaps even more peculiar are ABC News and the Washington Post, which, like Fox News, commissioned their own poll regarding the matter, and yet, again like Fox, seemed to downplay the findings once the story became a political one. On March 15, when ABC devoted its "Nightline" program to the Schiavo story, host Chris Bury informed the audience, "A new ABC News poll suggests that a clear majority of Americans, 65 percent, believe that husbands and wives should have the final say in family disputes over life support. Only 25 percent say parents should make that decision. And when asked, 'Would you want to be kept alive in Terri Schiavo's condition?' an overwhelming number, 87 percent, said no."

The article goes on to show how the papers have ignored this finding as well. It might have been helpful, however, if certain pundits had their assistants and interns google the question because they might not sound so dumb. Here's what passes for insight on this issue from the media sages, Chris Matthews and Tim Russert last night:

RUSSERT: It becomes this symbol that becomes irresistible to the politicians and then irresistible to the media. And I‘m quite interested to see how this plays out with the voters, with the public. What are they thinking?

And, again, I go back to the point of, I‘m so intrigued as to why a Democratic senator wouldn‘t stand up and say, I don‘t know the specific details of Terri Schiavo. I do know it was heard in court after court, judge after judge in the state of Florida. But I also know that these kinds of issues and these kinds of decisions are being made every day in practically every hospital in every state in the union.

And all of us in our own families have probably been affected by this in one way, shape or form.

MATTHEWS: I can tell you, when you have an Alzheimer‘s victim in your family, like my mom, you know all about this territory. It‘s terrible territory. It‘s murky, morally murky in terms of medical science, and yet, in the end, in many of these cases, where there is a supreme almost diminution of human life, that eventually, you stop feeding, you stop hydrating. These cases happen all the time, as you said.

Let me ask you a question. This is a tough one. Are we living in an era where there is no middle ground?

RUSSERT: That is a great question, because life is filled with complexity and contradiction. We live in middle ground.

MATTHEWS: But these parties don‘t seem to operate in middle ground.

I was thinking, if somebody came on the floor last night and said, let‘s use some common sense here. If this woman is a vegetable, let‘s leave it up to her husband. If she is not, if she has emotional life, let‘s hold back and restrict it. But nobody seemed to be talking about the clinical questions.

RUSSERT: Yes. The phrase we all grew up with, middle America.


RUSSERT: That represents to me where most Americans really are. They live in the middle. And, on some issues, they‘re conservative, right of center, some left of center. They‘re not rabid ideologues.

Russert wonders what people are thinking even though there have been numerous polls taken in just the last few days telling him that a vast majority oppose the Republican right wing on this issue. There's no splitting the difference. It's clear. Even a majority of Republicans oppose it, for gawds sake.

Matthews wonders why nobody makes the common sense argument in this case. But the majority of the AMERICAN PEOPLE already hold the common sense position that Tim and Chris are advocating and the Democrats clearly are on the side of that common sense position. And who is backing this macabre sideshow? The Religious Right and the craven Republican leadership.

Don't expect these bozos to know that, however. Or care. They are too busy toasting each other's pumpkinheaded faux-populism to even look into it. Convinced of their intimate connection with the common man, these millionaire pundits proclaim from on high that this is a fiery partisan issue and then bemoan the loss of comaraderie in the senate cloakroom. Apparently, they just don't realize that the common men and women on both sides of the political aisle hold them both in utter contempt. You want common ground? I think I've found one issue even Hinderocket and I can agree upon. Kumbaya.

Competing Realities

Responding to Kevin Drum's post of the other night and mine which followed, Michael over at Reading A1 has posted an interesting piece extolling the virtues of partisan media and reminding us that this idea of a "objective media" is fairly new:

... to Kevin and Digby I say, stop worrying. A little historical perspective works wonders here. The simple truth is that, for most of its proper existence—from the beginnings of mass-distribution journalism in the mid-nineteenth century to roughly the start of World War II—the American press has been explicitly partisan. Newspapers were often the overt organs of political machines; when they weren't, they differentiated themselves for their audiences based on ideology and partisan identification. Competition was fierce, and was very often a competition over what facts were actually facts, and over what sorts of things ought to be reported. (Strangely enough, this situation was understood by no one during the period as some sort of "postmodern" hell. Nor was it considered a challenge to the very possibility of democratic self-government.) The neutral, "objective" press that we now think of as a natural property of democratic civil society is, broadly speaking, an invention of the corporate, managerial capitalism of the twentieth century, and tracks its growth.

As I've written previously, the elevation of the "objective" press to almost an institution of state, a semi-official fourth branch in the American constitutional system, is a phenomenon of the post-World War II period. Like so much of what we regard now as the natural order of political things, in other words, the constitutional place of our so-called mainstream press is an artifact of the Cold War. In its pose of objectivity, the corporate press had a central role to play during that struggle: both in the maintenance of the internal consensus necessary to confront the Soviet Union over a long period, and as a support for, and embodiment of, the claim of Western liberal democracy (over against Communism) to represent a universal, historically unconditioned solution to the question of political and social freedom.

I think this is largely true but I would take issue with a couple of things. I'm no expert, but my understanding is that the partisan press began to die out around the turn of the last century with the commercialization of the press and the big media barons (along with the general revulsion amongst the population at the corruption of the parties.) And I think that journalism reacted strongly to the new field of public relations in the 20's and 30's by developing this professional code of objectivity quite a while before the cold war. However, there is no doubt that there was a general disgust at the propaganda of both the fascist movement in Europe and the Soviet regime that propelled this new fetish for objectivity in the American press into the cold war consensus. And certainly our current lame definition of objectivity as "he said/she said" is thoroughly modern.

It appears to me that some of the conditions that created the concept of "Objective Journalism" in the first place have strongly re-emerged. The right is not running a partisan press. It is running a corrupt partisan propaganda machine based on the techniques of public relations and paid for by big money interests. That's why I was a bit rueful in my piece the other day. I don't particularly want to be part of a propaganda machine. I have no problem being a fiery partisan and working hard to persuade people to my side. But outright lying for the cause turns my stomach. And that's what the other side does.

But at this point I am resigned to the idea that we are going to have a partisan media battle for the forseeeable future so I'm not fighting it. It may, as Michael suggests, turn out to be a good thing in the long run, revitalizing our political system and getting people engaged. In the meantime, however, I would very much like the allegedly non-aligned media to come out from behind their absurd notion that they are objective because "both sides complain so they must be doing something right" and simply report when people are not presenting the facts accurately. That's all I want. When you have the government, business and the radical right consistently cooking the truth you really need somebody, somewhere who can be an honest broker of the facts. The mainstream press is the logical institution to do that, but they seem to have lost their ability to sort through the right's sophisticated propaganda.

Perhaps if they just concentrated on the simple reporting of the who, what, when where and get that right, we partisans could fill in the "why." Without that, I doubt very seriously that our modern society can rationally cope with what is shaping up not as competing political visions but competing realities. If that continues I think we are paving the way for demagoguery to become the default mode of political persuasion.

Update: Booyah. Read this superb post by Avedon Carol on this subject. I think she needs to be put on the rolodex for one of these media panels, stat.

The Big Baby

Tom Delay breaks down and has a good old fashioned cry:

One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America," Mr. DeLay told a conference organized by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group. A recording of the event was provided by the advocacy organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"This is exactly the issue that is going on in America, of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others," Mr. DeLay said.

Mr. DeLay complained that "the other side" had figured out how "to defeat the conservative movement," by waging personal attacks, linking with liberal organizations and persuading the national news media to report the story. He charged that "the whole syndicate" was "a huge nationwide concerted effort to destroy everything we believe in."

Oh, boo fucking hoo. He's crawled into bed with a severely disabled woman for the sole purpose of soaking up some of the sympathy people naturally feel toward her. In fact, her whole purpose in this is to show how the liberals are trying to destroy Tom Delay.

These radical Republicans are the tough guys who are the only ones with the guts to protect our country from the bad guys? People like this whining little baby of a man who is openly using a braindead woman as cover for his massive corruption and misdeeds? Gawd help us.


Monday, March 21, 2005

Judgment Day

What must underlie petitioners’ entire federal assault on the Florida election procedures is an unstated lack of confidence in the impartiality and capacity of the state judges who would make the critical decisions if the vote count were to proceed. Otherwise, their position is wholly without merit. The endorsement of that position by the majority of this Court can only lend credence to the most cynical appraisal of the work of judges throughout the land. It is confidence in the men and women who administer the judicial system that is the true backbone of the rule of law. Time will one day heal the wound to that confidence that will be inflicted by today’s decision. One thing, however, is certain. Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.

From Justice John Paul Stevens' dissent in Bush v Gore

That paragraph was often cited in the wake of Bush v Gore as criticism of the Supreme Court for ruling as it did. It was, but if you read it carefully you see that he was also saying that the petitioners were perpetuating the belief that the Florida state judges could not be impartial. (This despite the fact that the Florida courts had ruled in favor of Bush in the procedings a number of times.) This bothered Stevens because it undermined the nation's faith in the justice system everywhere, particularly the belief that judges would uphold the rule of law as impartially as possible.

Here's William Schneider on CNN:

PHILLIPS: All right. Bill, you've come out, you've told me, look, this is all political. Everything that we're observing here is political. You brought up a very interesting point, and that is the continuation of these grievances against judges. How does that play into this?

SCHNEIDER: Well, we saw signs last night in Florida among the people who were supporting the congressional action. They said stop renegade judges. They said starve the judicial system. This case, which was a case of a state court ordering that the federal -- the feeding tube be removed, this is the latest in a long series of grievances that go back more than 30 years, to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 allowing abortion rights, giving them constitutional protection.

Religious conservatives and other conservatives have protested judicial activism for all these decades on what issues? Abortion, school prayer, sex education, pornography, same-sex marriage, the mandated teaching of evolution, and now, of course, the issue of end of life decisions and assisted suicide. Again and again and again, they see the judiciary as power-grabbing activists, and most importantly, violating their own personal religious liberties. And this is the latest in that -- in those grievances that have been brewing for decades.

Nice frame old Bill gives the Republicans there.

Clearly, this entire line of argument is just trash. There could have been no more of an "activist" judicial act than the Supreme Court intervening in a presidential election. There can be nothing more activist than members of congress violating the separation of powers as they did this past week-end. Courts are called activist when they hand down decisions that the wingnuts don't like. States rights are a principle that the wingnuts hold dear when they don't hold federal power. Now they are holding midnight sessions of congress to overturn 19 state judges and interfere in people's most personal decisions. Please.

Sam Rosenfeld explains:

...the liberal critique of how Republicans have handled this issue has less to do with “federalism” than it does with the separation of powers and the rule of law. The sustained ideological assault against an independent judiciary -- components of which include this weekend’s shenanigans and the current congressional majority’s zealous efforts to strip the courts of jurisdiction over any number of partisan agenda items -- is itself only one facet of a pervasive tendency of modern Republicans to disregard wholesale the integrity of codified processes and the autonomy of institutions, to change the rules and to politicize all conflict in the service of totally unprincipled and narrow political objectives.


As far as I can tell, conservative advocates in this fight haven’t even bothered to engage these kinds of questions -- they just don’t care. An individual woman in Florida must be “saved” by any means necessary and that’s all there is to say about the matter. Thus legislation is passed that doesn’t even bother to offer a forward-looking rule change in the process by which these kinds of decisions can be adjudicated in the future. (Instead, the action should be considered non-binding and narrowly targeted at the specific case in question -- sound familiar?)

We’re a law-based society. Rules matter. Precedents matter. Separation of powers and institutional autonomy matter. To the Republicans in power and the conservative intelligentsia lending legitimacy to their governance, apparently, such things don’t matter at all. Congressional Republicans capped a week during which they definitively demonstrated that small-government fiscal conservatism as a guiding legislative principle is completely dead by whipping up this grotesque circus of ill-informed hysteria and rampant trampling of rules and procedural limits. There’s nothing “hypocritical” in pointing out the apparently direct relationship between the ideological bankruptcy of Republican governance and their inability to recognize any limits on their actions.

I wonder if judges throughout the country realize that they must now be whores for the right wing or they will be slandered for being unpardonably biased any time they rule against the interests of radical Republicans? Do they know that any judgment that differs from Randall Terry's or Tom DeLay's is no longer attributable to a difference in legal opinion but is instead considered a reflection of their dishonesty and corruption? Perhaps many of them don't mind being a rubber stamp for Grover Norquist and Jerry Falwell. It certainly makes the job easier.

I would imagine that some judges, however, might just think that they represent one of the branches of government and have a duty to uphold the rule of law even when Steve Forbes doesn't like the result. (It isn't just the religious freaks who want their way with this.) You would certainly think that conservatives would think it's a good idea for the nation to have some faith in the judicial system and not assume that every judge who rules in ways that certain people don't agree with is a hack for a political agenda. Sometime soon Republican legal scholors and judges may come to rue the day they let a radical vocal minority have this kind of power over their party. They gave away their own in the process.

Check Their Affiliations

I've been thinking that I'm going to have to ask whether a doctor is a Republican or a Democrat before I trust my health to him or her from now on. Doctors who vote for Republicans obviously have no fealty to science or reason or they wouldn't vote for them. Some, like Bill Frist blatantly violate medical ethics for political reasons:

Congressional intervention in Michael and Terri Schiavo's personal medical tragedy is unprecedented and dangerous. But Frist's comments are especially shocking. As a surprised and concerned Laurie Zoloth, director of bioethics for the Center for Genetic Medicine at Northwestern University, noted of Doctor Frist's statements, "It is extremely unusual -- and by a non-neurologist, I might add. There should be no confusion about the medical data, and that's what was so surprising to me about Dr. Frist disagreeing about her medical status."

This is not Frist's first abuse of his medical background for partisan political leverage. In December, the Senator tried to defend a federally-funded abstinence program which claimed that HIV/AIDS could be contracted through tears and sweat. Pressed by ABC News host George Stephanopoulos, Frist was forced to recant. “It would be very hard,” he said.

Dr Dave Weldon (R-Florida) said last night (video from Crooks and Liars):

"By my medical definition, she was not in a persistenct vegitative state based on my review of the videos, my tlaking to the family and my discussing the case with one of the neurologists who examined her."

This may explain why the Republican party is so anxious to eliminate medical malpractice laws. Republican doctors seem to flout science and medical ethics quite regularly. Caveat Emptor.

This is where we are today. Republican doctors are willing to say and do anything to protect their political power, including enabling pre-modern, unscientific superstition in medical matters. Tomorrow, we will see this:

Battle on Teaching Evolution Sharpens

Propelled by a polished strategy crafted by activists on America's political right, a battle is intensifying across the nation over how students are taught about the origins of life. Policymakers in 19 states are weighing proposals that question the science of evolution.

The proposals typically stop short of overturning evolution or introducing biblical accounts. Instead, they are calculated pleas to teach what advocates consider gaps in long-accepted Darwinian theory, with many relying on the idea of intelligent design, which posits the central role of a creator.

The growing trend has alarmed scientists and educators who consider it a masked effort to replace science with theology. But 80 years after the Scopes "monkey" trial -- in which a Tennessee man was prosecuted for violating state law by teaching evolution -- it is the anti-evolutionary scientists and Christian activists who say they are the ones being persecuted, by a liberal establishment.


Some evolution opponents are trying to use Bush's No Child Left Behind law, saying it creates an opening for states to set new teaching standards. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a Christian who draws on Discovery Institute material, drafted language accompanying the law that said students should be exposed to "the full range of scientific views that exist."

"Anyone who expresses anything other than the dominant worldview is shunned and booted from the academy," Santorum said in an interview. "My reading of the science is there's a legitimate debate. My feeling is let the debate be had."

Although the new strategy speaks of "teaching the controversy" over evolution, opponents insist the controversy is not scientific, but political. They paint the approach as a disarming subterfuge designed to undermine solid evidence that all living things share a common ancestry.


The efforts are not limited to schools. From offices overlooking Puget Sound, Meyer is waging a careful campaign to change the way Americans think about the natural world. The Discovery Institute devotes about 85 percent of its budget to funding scientists, with other money going to public action campaigns.

Discovery Institute raised money for "Unlocking the Mystery of Life," a DVD produced by Illustra Media and shown on PBS stations in major markets. The institute has sponsored opinion polls and underwrites research for books sold in secular and Christian bookstores. Its newest project is to establish a science laboratory.

Meyer said the institute accepts money from such wealthy conservatives as Howard Ahmanson Jr., who once said his goal is "the total integration of biblical law into our lives," and the Maclellan Foundation, which commits itself to "the infallibility of the Scripture."

"We'll take money from anyone who wants to give it to us," Meyer said. "Everyone has motives. Let's acknowledge that and get on with the interesting part."

Meyer said he and Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman devised the compromise strategy in March 2002 when they realized a dispute over intelligent design was complicating efforts to challenge evolution in the classroom. They settled on the current approach that stresses open debate and evolution's ostensible weakness, but does not require students to study design.

The idea was to sow doubt about Darwin and buy time for the 40-plus scientists affiliated with the institute to perfect the theory, Meyer said. Also, by deferring a debate about whether God was the intelligent designer, the strategy avoids the defeats suffered by creationists who tried to oust evolution from the classroom and ran afoul of the Constitution.

"Our goal is to not remove evolution. Good lord, it's incredible how much this is misunderstood," said William Harris, a professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City medical school. "Kids need to understand it, but they need to know the strengths and weaknesses of the data, how much of it is a guess, how much of it is extrapolation."

Schiavo, abortion, "the culture of life" and this teaching of creationism is all of a piece. And Republican scientists, doctors and intellectuals are enabling this for reasons that are very difficult to understand in any way but a lust for personal gain.

I will not be patronizing any Republicans who need to rely on science to do their job. Clearly, they are aligning themselves with the forces of superstition over reason and can no longer be trusted. Why would you ever put your life into the hands of someone who would sell out their professional ethics and their intellectual integrity for the sole purpose of appeasing a bunch of religious zealots?

Update: Sam Rosenfeld on TAPPED links to Amy Sullivan's terrific piece on this subject. Read both links. Republican doctors are dangerous to your health.

Dr Weldon's name corrected.
Bold Leadership

Unconfirmed Sources reports that The President will name convicted murder Charles Manson to head the government's Office for Victims of Crime. The appointment, yet another in a string of bold personal choices by the President, should have Manson installed in his new office in time for National Crime Victims' Rights Week, April 10-16, 2005.

Party_like_its_2004 on bartcop forum got the response from the Democrats:

Joe Biden: I was overjoyed when I heard the news. Chuck is a solid choice for the position. I've known Chas for years and I don't know anyone who has a longer or more distinguished career in the criminal area. And talk about management skills - WOW! The terrorist have got to know that we've got some terrifying people working for us too and Charles Manson is the man for the job.

Joe Lieberman: Bottom line, I like it when the President kisses me. It makes me all tingly inside.

Hillary Clinton: Crime is certainly an area where we need to roll up our sleeves and do what the American people want us to do. I stand by the President and share his concern about crime in America. I don't always agree with his choices, but I also don't always say WHAT I disagree with when I disagree with the choices that I am disagreeing with. At the same time, I STRONGLY stand with the President in his RIGHT to make the choices that he makes. Even so, I would like to inject a note of criticism in this particular choice which I am not going to explain further at this time.

John Kerry: President Bush has made an excellent choice for this position which I strongly disagree with. Its wrong for America.

Harry Reid: Look, I've got work to do, so please, just shut up.

Howard Dean: Shut your damn pie-holes. None of you is going to be President - got it? AEEEHAAAAAA!!

War Porn

Following up the dog story below, here's another one about our new cineaste army in Iraq:

When Pfc. Chase McCollough went home on leave in November, he brought a movie made by fellow soldiers in Iraq. On his first night back at his parents' house in Texas, he showed the video to his fiancee, family and friends.

This is what they saw: a handful of American soldiers filmed through the green haze of night-vision goggles. Radio communication between two soldiers crackles in the background before it's drowned out by a heavy-metal soundtrack.

"Don't need your forgiveness," the song by the band Dope begins as images unfurl: armed soldiers posing in front of Bradley fighting vehicles, two women covered in black abayas walking along a dusty road, a blue-domed mosque, a poster of radical cleric Muqtada Sadr. Then, to the fast, hard beat of the music — "Die, don't need your resistance. Die, don't need your prayers" — charred, decapitated and bloody corpses fill the screen.

"It's like a trophy, something to keep," McCullough, 20, said back at his cramped living quarters at Camp Warhorse near Baqubah. "I was there. I did this."

I don't blame these dumb kids. They are taught to have these attitudes. Maybe it's a natural consequence of being in a war zone. But war supporters really need to stop pretending that it isn't the usual exercise in cruelty and brutality because it is. You can dress up this "liberation" to make Americans feel good about their goodness all you want, but it's just another violent, dehumanizing war of domination. Certainly, that soldier thinks it is. And he's proud of it.

Via Gonzography.