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Monday, May 16, 2005

From The Beginning

Talking about inequality and social mobility, Ezra says:

I've little hope that we'll address this, though. The overarching evils of vast inequality and the transcendent good of do-it-yourself mobility are such foundational philosophical tenets of America's two parties that I can't see either coming to recognize that the fix, such as one exists, might be the same for both. Indeed, while the Democratic party may be convincible simply because the solutions line up with our proposed programs, Republicans will, for good reason, never relinquish the strict dichotomy they've created between individual mobility and general equality. The belief that large social programs must be avoided because they tamp down on individual virtues stretches back to Hoover and Associationalism, it's not going to be given up now.

As I have argued before,at some tedious length, it goes back further than that. It goes all the way back to the beginning of the Republic and relates very closely to our little "problem" with slavery. It might even be said that the whole concept of American individualism rests on the back of racism.

It was long held that government guarantees of equality meant that the wrong people would get things they did not deserve or could not handle. There have been many of "those people" over the years, but the concept originated with slaves and free African Americans. And the reason is that they, unlike virtually every other poor sub-group, had no economic support systems like churches and ethnic organizations and instead had to depend upon government programs. The face of government largesse was, for many people, black. The "welfare queen" was only the most modern description of a phenomenon that riled up certain citizens for a long, long time.

Individualism became part of the American ethos as much as an expression of racial superiority as personal virtue.

Old News

Asinine, uninformed comment of the day (and there are so many):

I really think that calling Newsweek's blunder "the press's Abu Ghraib" is unfair to the low-lifes who carried out the Abu Ghraib abuses. After all, they didn't even hurt anyone, let alone kill them. And the people they abused were almost certainly terrorists. One can't say the same for the people who were murdered in the riots that foreseeably followed Newsweek's story.

Hindquarter, Powerline

Except, except.... Highpockets, here's what your pal Lawrence DeRita had to say:

"The nature of where these things occurred, how quickly they occurred, the nature of individuals who were involved in it, suggest that they may be organized events that are using this alleged allegation as a pretext for activity that was already planned," said DiRita.

No kidding.

(I'm not even going to address the ridiculous assertion that the Abu Ghraib prisoners were terrorists. He needs to do some homework on that subject. Suffice to say that repeating anything that the addlepated James Inhofe says is always a mistake.)

To any of us who were closely following the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo story last summer, this Koran in the toilet thing is old news. Really old news. I wrote a lot about General Geoffrey Ripper and the interrogation techniques down there, and in the course of reading all the informatin that was coming out about Gitmo at the time, it was glaringly obvious that religious desecration was on the menu. (Juan Cole points out in his post this morning that this may actually be a standard US military training technique.)

When the first four British detainees were released, they made some claims that sounded ridiculous. The stuff about desecration of the Koran hardly raised an eyebrow by comparison to the wildly improbable assertion that American women were rubbing menstrual blood all over detainees to get them to talk. How could you believe anything they said when they made up crazy shit like that, right? Right.

What's so phony about the right wing explosion on this issue is that as Arthur Silber points out in this indispensible post, is that it's not as if the Muslim world wasn't already well aware of this practice. Detainees have been released and they have talked. As far back as December 2003, when Vanity Fair published David Rose's expose of Guantanamo (sorry, not online), it was known that throughout the Muslim world, Gitmo was seen as an abomination. And it was known that practices in Guanmtanamo were creating more terrorism and more violence than they stopped:

One senior defense intelligence source gives a grim assessment of the camp's backlash potential: "It's an international public-relations disaster. Maybe the guy who goes into Gitmo does so as a farmer who got swept along and did very little. He's going to come out a full-fledged jihadist. And for every detainee, I'd guess you create another 10 terrorists or supporters of terrorism."

The miracle is that the riots didn't come much sooner. Guantanamo is the greatest recruiting tool in the jihadist arsenal and our absurd insistence on keeping it going (even though it has long since been shown to be nothing more than a puerile expression of national rage) turns us from simple over-reactors into stubborn fascists and self-defeating idiots.

David Rose, in his recent book based upon the Vanity Fair reporting, called "Guantanamo: The War On Human Rights" says:

Across the middle east, those pictures of the newly-arrived detainees kneeling in the dirt in their shackles have become a trope for cartoonists and pamphleteers, a graphic rendition of oppression which speaks to millions of Muslims. The unjust suffering of families and individuals engendered by this aspect of "Operation Enduring Freedom" is sowing dragons’ teeth, turning moderates into fanatics determined to smite the west.

On Islamist websites and in the Arab press, Guantánamo is cited time and again as a rallying point for jihad, as a justification for creating more suicide "martyrs".

This little item in Newsweak is a pretext for action against interrogation techniques that are already well known. Which is why the quasi retraction over the week-end is such a chickenshit display of cowardice on the part of Newsweak. This is old news to anybody who's been paying attention. The jihadists know it, those of us following the story know it and the government certainly knows it. The riots last week in Afghanistan and now around the world are orchestrated to gin up support and their followers are already pissed off enough about this stuff to get with the program quite easily.

Of course, as Silber says, this is probably going to end up being just another scalping party. And until the mainstream media cares about being played and used, the shrill shrieking harpies of the right wing noise machine will continue to treat them like the lackeys they are ... and make examples of some of them every once in a while to keep everybody in line.

This will teach the media to report any more stories about fun loving hijinks and calling them torture. The Blog of the Year is on to you, MSM killers.


Sunday, May 15, 2005

A Guy's Gotta Make A Living

This is the only source I find with this information, so maybe it's not true; if it is, it's amazing:

The Syrian government signed an agreement with New Bridge Strategies to improve its image in the American society, convince President Bush that it seeks good relations with his administration and is willing to be extremely flexible in its cooperation with the White House.

The company was selected specifically because its CEO (Joe Allbaugh) had close ties with Bush. Allbaugh was Bush's Chief of Staff and Campaign Manager when Bush was the Governor of Texas. He managed his 2000 campaign and later became Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in charge of coordinating the public services and provide assistance to the victims of natural disasters.

I'm sure the fighting 101st keyboarders will will ensure that Allbaugh keeps his eyes open for all the WMD's Saddam spirited into Syria before the war.

Allbaugh is extremely close to Junior. He was the third in the "Iron Triangle" with Rove and Hughes. Josh Marshall has reported how unseemly it is that he's out there raking in huge bucks so soon after being in the administration anyway, particularly from the Iraq debacle which was never part of his portfolio. (He's never been anything but a political hack.) But for him to be making big money lobbying for one of the officially proclaimed terrorist states while his good buddy is the president goes beyond the appearance of impropriety. For all the shrill caterwauling about liberals committing treason every other minute, this little deal really looks like it could be.

But IOKIYAR. It's not like the guy went to a buddhist temple or had a haircut or anything.

Via The Left Coaster

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Populist Tango

Via Daniel Munz, who's pinch hitting over at Ezra's place, I see that my old pal "Mudcat" Saunders is offering some more good advice to Democrats:

"Bubba doesn’t call them illegal immigrants. He calls them illegal aliens. If the Democrats put illegal aliens in their bait can, we’re going to come home with a bunch of white males in the boat."

The thing is, he's absolutely right. To put together this great new populist revival everybody's talking about, where we get the boys in the pick-up trucks to start voting their "self-interest," we're probably going to need to get up a new nativist movement to go along with it. That's pretty much how populism has always been played in the past, particularly in the south. Certainly, you can rail against the moneyed elites, but there is little evidence that it will work unless you provide somebody on the bottom that the good ole boys can really stomp. As Jack Balkin wrote in this fascinating piece on populism and progressivism:

History teaches us that populism has recurring pathologies; it is especially important to recognize and counteract them. These dangers are particularly obvious to academics and other intellectual elites: They include fascism, nativism, anti-intellectualism, persecution of unpopular minorities, exaltation of the mediocre, and romantic exaggeration of the wisdom and virtue of the masses.

Is it any wonder that the right has been more successful in recently in inflaming the populist impulse in America? They are not squeamish about using just those pathologies --- and only those pathologies -- to gain populist credibility in spite of a blatant lack of populist policy.

Populism can have a very close relationship to fascism and totalitarianism. Indeed, it may be essential. Despite Dennis Prager's confused blather, it wasn't the intellectual elites who fueled the Nazi movement; the intellectuals were purged, just as they were purged by Stalin, by Pol Pot and by Mao during the "cultural revolution" in China. These are the extreme results of a certain populist strain --- or at least the misuse of populist thinking among the people. That Mao and Stalin were commies has nothing to do with it. Populism, in its extreme form, is inherently hostile to intellectualism.

That is not to say that populism is evil. It is just another political philosophy that has its bad side, as every philosophy does. Balkin describes it in great depth, but here's a capsulized version:

The dual nature of populism means that political participation is not something to be forced on the citizenry, nor are popular attitudes some sort of impure ore that must be carefully filtered, purified, and managed by a wise and knowing state. From a populist standpoint, such attempts at managerial purification are paternalistic. They typify elite disparagement and disrespect for popular attitudes and popular culture. Government should provide opportunities for popular participation when people seek it, and when they seek it, government should not attempt to divert or debilitate popular will. An energized populace, aroused by injustice and pressing for change, is not something to be feared and constrained; it is the very lifeblood of democracy. Without avenues for popular participation and without means for popular control, governments become the enemy of the people; public and private power become entrenched, self-satisfied, and smug.

Progressivism, or modern liberalism, takes a distinctly different view:

Central to progressivism is a faith that educated and civilized individuals can, through the use of reason, determine what is best for society as a whole. Persuasion, discussion, and rational dialogue can lead individuals of different views to see what is in the public interest. Government and public participation must therefore be structured so as to produce rational deliberation and consensus about important public policy issues. Popular culture and popular will have a role to play in this process, but only after sufficient education and only after their more passionate elements have been diverted and diffused. Popular anger and uneducated public sentiments are more likely to lead to hasty and irrational judgments.

Like populists, progressives believe that governments must be freed of corrupting influences. But these corrupting influences are described quite differently: They include narrowness of vision, ignorance, and parochial self-interest. Government must be freed of corruption so that it can wisely debate what is truly in the public interest. Progressivism is less concerned than populism about centralization and concentration of power. It recognizes that some problems require centralized authority and that some enterprises benefit from economies of scale. Progressivism also has a significantly different attitude towards expertise: Far from being something to be distrusted, it is something to be particularly prized.

That sounds right to me. What a fine tribe it is, too. Balkin goes on, however:

What is more difficult for many academics to recognize is that progressivism has its own distinctive dangers and defects. Unfortunately, these tend to be less visible from within a progressivist sensibility. They include elitism, paternalism, authoritarianism, naivete, excessive and misplaced respect for the "best and brightest," isolation from the concerns of ordinary people, an inflated sense of superiority over ordinary people, disdain for popular values, fear of popular rule, confusion of factual and moral expertise, and meritocratic hubris.

And there you see the basis for right wing populist hatred of liberals. And it's not altogether untrue, is it? Certainly, those of us who argue from that perspective should be able to recognise and deal with the fact that this is how we are perceived by many people and try to find ways to allay those concerns. The problem is that it's quite difficult to do.

In the past, the way that's been dealt with has been very simple. Get on the bigotry bandwagon. In some ways, everybody wants to be an elitist, I suppose, so all you have to do is join with your brothers in a little "wrong" religion, immigrant or negro bashing. Everybody gets to feel superior that way.

There was a time when the Democratic party was populist/progressive --- William Jennings Bryan was our guy. (He was also, if you recall, the one who argued against evolution in the Scopes trial.) He ran his campaigns against the "money changers" in New York City; the conventional wisdom remains that his Cross of Gold speech with it's economic populist message was the key to his enormous popularity in the rural areas of the west, midwest and south. I would argue that it had as much to do with cultural populism and Lost Cause mythology.

Richard Hofstadter famously wrote that both populism and early progressivism were heavily fueled by nativism and there is a lot of merit in what he says. Take, for instance, prohibition (one of Bryan's major campaign issues.)Most people assume that when it was enacted in 1920, it was the result of do-gooderism, stemming from the tireless work by progressives who saw drink as a scourge for the family, and women in particular. But the truth is that Prohibition was mostly supported by rural southerners and midwesterners who were persuaded that alcohol was the province of immigrants in the big cities who were polluting the culture with their foreign ways. And progressives did nothing to dispell that myth --- indeed they perpetuated it. (The only people left to fight it were the "liberal elites," civil libertarians and the poor urban dwellers who were medicating themselves the only way they knew how.) This was an issue, in its day, that was as important as gay marriage is today. The country divided itself into "wets" and "drys" and many a political alliance was made or broken by taking one side of the issue or another. Bryan, the populist Democrat, deftly exploited this issue to gain his rural coalition --- and later became the poster boy for creationism, as well. (Not that he wasn't a true believer, he was; but his views on evolution were influenced by his horror at the eugenics movement. He was a complicated guy.) And prohibition turned out to be one of the most costly and silly diversions in American history.

It is not a surprise that prohibition was finally enacted in 1920, which is also the time that the Ku Klux Klan reasserted itself and became more than just a southern phenomenon. The Klan's reemergence was the result of the post war clamor against commies and immigrants. The rural areas, feeling beseiged by economic pressure (which manifested themselves much earlier there than the rest of the country)and rapid social change could not blame their own beloved America for its problems so they blamed the usual suspects, including their favorite whipping boy, uppity African Americans.

They weren't only nativist, though. In the southwest, and Texas in particular, they were upset by non-Protestant immorality. According to historian Charles C. Alexander:

"There was also in the Klan a definite strain of moral bigotry. Especially in the Southwest this zeal found expression in direct, often violent, attempts to force conformity. Hence the southwestern Klansman's conception of reform encompassed efforts to preserve premarital chastity, marital fidelity, and respect for parental authority; to compel obedience to state and national prohibition laws; to fight the postwar crime wave; and to rid state and local governments of dishonest politicians." Individuals in Texas thus were threatened, beaten, or tarred-and-feathered for practicing the "new morality," cheating on their spouses, beating their spouses or children, looking at women in a lewd manner, imbibing alcohol, etc.

Yeah, I know. The more things change, yadda, yadda, yadda. The interesting thing about all this is that throughout the 20's the south was Democratic as it had always been --- and populist, as it had long been. But when the Dems nominated Al Smith in 1928, many Democrats deserted the party and voted for Hoover. Why? Because Smith was an urban machine politican, a catholic and anti-prohibition. Texas went for Hoover --- he was from rural Iowa, favored prohibition and was a Protestant. Preachers combed the south decrying the catholic nominee --- saying the Pope would be running the country. Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia went Republican, too. Now, one can't deny that the boom of the 20's was instrumental in Hoover's victory, but rural America had been undergoing an economic crisis for some time. However, then, like now, rural American populists preferred to blame their problems on racial and ethnic influences than the moneyed elites who actually cause them. It's a psychological thing, I think.

(By 1932, of course, all hell had broken loose. Nobody cared anymore about booze or catholics or rich New Yorkers in the White House. They were desperate for somebody to do something. And Roosevelt promised to do something. Extreme crisis has a way of clarifying what's important.)

So, getting back to Mudcat, what he is suggesting is a tried and true method to get rural white males to sign on to a political party. Bashing immigrants and elites at the same time has a long pedigree and it is the most efficient way to bag some of those pick-up truck guys who are voting against their economic self-interest. There seems to be little evidence that bashing elites alone actually works. And that's because what you are really doing is playing to their prejudices and validating their tribal instinct that the reason for their economic problems is really the same reason for the cultural problems they already believe they have --- Aliens taking over Real America --- whether liberals, immigrants, blacks, commies, whoever. And it seems that rural folk have been feeling this way forever.

It's a surefire way to attract those guys with the confederate flags that Mudcat is advising us is required if we are ever to win again. On the other hand, short of another Great Depression, how we keep together a coalition of urbanites, liberals, ethnic minoritites and nativist rural white men, I don't quite get. Nobody's done it yet.

*I should be clear here and note that Jack Balkin does not necessarily endorse my views on nativism and populism in his paper. He notes that there has been some revision of Hofstadter's analysis and that some scholars have found substantial regional differences among rural populists. I agree to the extent that I think this is a much more salient aspect of populism in the south. But history leads me to agree with Hofstadter that nativism and racism are powerful populist impulses pretty much everywhere. It may change colors and creeds, but it's always there.

Balkin does point out some of the difficulties in creating a coalition of progressives and populists and suggests that academics in particular have a hard time because they really are, well, intellectual elites. It's interesting. One of the more intriguing things his thesis alludes to is that the crusade against popular culture may be the least populist thing we could undertake. The rural populists really don't like the liberal elites telling them what's good for them.


Friday, May 13, 2005

Prescient Heckler

Back in the day, before talk radio became a stroke inducing wingnut nightmare (and before Air America) I used to listen to KABC in Los Angeles, which has always been an all talk station. In the mornings it had Michael Jackson (not that one) a very erudite, well informed personality who had the world's most impressive rolodex. He could get Nelson Mandela or Margaret Thatcher on the phone and callers, before everybody became a right wing asshole, were invariably polite and well informed. It was the kind of talk radio that people like me -- the snoozers who watch the History Channel and Lehrer --- love. No yelling, no controversy, just a bunch of smart people palavering endlessly. Needless to say, this is so far out of fashion it might as well be a Nehru jacket.

Jackson was on from 9 to 1 and then that sanctimonious prick, Dennis Prager, would come on and blow the whole mood. Guys like him are a dime a dozen today, but he was my first modern wingnut gasbag, so he holds a special place in my ... digestive system.

Today, on the Huffington Post, he says that the guy who heckled Ann Coulter is a Hitler youth. But the universities are also like Weimar Germany and Phd's led the way to the death camps and the gulags.

None of that is factual or makes any sense. Weimar "decadence" was the target of Nazism, not the cause --- unless you want to adopt the abuser excuse "she made me do it because she was bad." And Nazism may have ostensibly been "secular, but it sure as hell used Christian nationalism when it suited them:

In his first radio address to the German people, twenty-four hours after coming to power, Hitler declared, “The National Government will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built up. They regard Christianity as the foundation of our national morality and the family as the basis of national life.”

But whatever. That's just typical Dennis Prager dribbling confusedly about barbarians and brown shirts because somebody was rude to Ann Coulter. Rude to Ann Coulter --- something one would think he'd be embarrassed to bring up considering what a nasty piece of work she is.

Does everyone remember what the student's outrageous question in that Q&A was?

"You say that you believe in the sanctity of marriage," said Ajai Raj, an English sophomore. "How do you feel about marriages where the man does nothing but fuck his wife up the ass?"

Think about that for a minute. When I first heard about it I thought he was saying something for the pure purpose of being (as he admits) a jackass and trying to put Coulter off balance. But considering the revelations of this week, in which it was revealed that a prominent religious leader enjoyed forcing sodomy on his wife against her will, it's actually a serious question.

I agree with Prager that there are barbarians in our midst, but I think he needs to look a little bit closer to his own social circle.

Who Loves Ya baby?

Roy Edroso says:

Sometimes I wonder if I'm not being too harsh, and sometimes maybe I am, but I can safely say that I will never regret saying that Michelle Malkin is utterly delusional


Although I agree that these are fine words to live by, and I do, in this case he is specifically referring to her latest illustration of right wing paranoid victimology:

When was the last time you thanked a cop? And wouldn't it be nice if, for just a brief moment, the mainstream media would hold a ceasefire in its incessant cop-bashing crusades?

There are good cops, and there are bad cops. But national press outlets, predisposed to harp on law enforcement as an inherently racist and reckless institution, hype the hellions at the expense of the heroes.

Yes, and the MSM hates puppies and kitties and baby rhesus monkeys too. Goddamn evil bastards.

Roy swats down her absurdities like the pesky little nits they are and goes on to discuss the veritable deification of cops in our popular culture noting the somewhat disturbing CSI trend in which:

...cops are not only immaculate honest and zealous in pursuit of the truth, they are also scientifically predestined to find it. (Someday Minority Report will be done as a cop series, and young people will be shocked to learn that it was originally a dystopian vision.)

This may be working against the police, actually, since now prosecutors such as those in the Robert Blake case find their TV addled juries unimpressed with any evidence that isn't scientifically incontrovertible. They even call it the CSI effect. (I would imagine that the new series CSI:Wichita will solve that little problem by having the crime scene investigators simply pray for the suspects to confess. Looking very hot, of course.)

Meanwhile, here in California, cops and firefighters are on TV every five minutes taking issue with the powdered and pampered Republican Governor saying of them, “These are the special interests. Special interests don’t like me in Sacramento because I kick their butt." Seems these unionized public employees didn't care too much for that. Go figure.

As Roy says and I concur:

I don't begrudge the police this heroic treatment -- though I would prefer, as I suspect they would, that they got the love in their pay-envelopes rather than from mass media. But to say that the MSM is out to make cops look bad is just nuts.

And that is why I join Roy in saying I will never regret saying that Michelle Malkin is delusional. And nuts.

Doomsday Machine

Everybody go sign up for PFAW's "Nuclear Option" Mass Immediate Response:

By giving us your cell phone number, we will text message you as soon as Senate Republicans trigger the "nuclear option." Embedded in that text message will be a link to the Senate switchboard. With the push of a couple buttons, your call – along with thousands of others – goes right through to the corridors of power demanding preservation of the filibuster.

This the first time flash mob technology's been used for political purposes. Which means it's just cute enough to get some press.

Revival Hype

Both Matt Yglesias and Kevin Drum believe, based upon findings in the recent Pew poll, that we would be better off if we liberals lightened up and accepted the 10 Commandments on public buildings and certain other somewhat trivial religious issues. I'm not sure how we do this, considering that this has been the interpretation of the courts rather than a legislative battle, but I'm sure that if we just give in on Pricilla Owen et al, we'll see some change on this and other issues of importance to the Religious Right. I'm also sure we can then cherry pick those issues that are really important to us, but I'm not certain at all if the principle on which we make our argument will still be operative once we've tossed it aside for these trivial reasons.

As it happens, I couldn't care less whether the 10 Commandments are displayed on public buildings as long as all religions are treated equally. I certainly hope that when a Hindu requests that his religion be equally represented that we liberals will also uphold his rights. Otherwise, we will have established a state religion, which I think is a really bad idea considering the millenium's worth of blood that was spilled by our forebears in Europe over these issues.

Unfortunately, it seems we are on course to do just that. Or at least establish a "Judeo-Christian umbrella" state religion.

A federal appeals court has ruled that a Virginia county can exclude a member of a minority religion from offering prayers at county board meetings -- even though adherents of "Judeo-Christian" religions are allowed to lead invocations.

In a unanimous ruling April 14, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against county resident Cynthia Simpson, whom officials denied the opportunity to offer prayers at meetings of the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors.

Simpson is a practitioner of Wicca, a neo-pagan religion that she has described as interchangeable with witchcraft. She is a leader in a Wiccan congregation in the suburban county near Richmond. When she asked to be put on a list of those who could lead invocations at board meetings, the county attorney told her she would not be allowed, claiming that "Chesterfield's non-sectarian invocations are traditionally made to a divinity that is consistent with the Judeo-Christian tradition."

Simpson, working with attorneys from a pair of civil-liberties groups, sued the county. A federal district judge in Richmond sided with her, ruling in 2003 that the practice unconstitutionally discriminated against religions that do not stem from the dominant Western monotheistic traditions.

But the latest ruling reverses that decision, citing the Supreme Court's 1985 Marsh vs. Chambers decision allowing "non-sectarian" legislative prayers before the Nebraska legislature. Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, authoring the 4th Circuit's opinion, said the content of the prayers Chesterfield County officials allowed was broad enough, and the fact that Simpson was barred from offering one was immaterial to the case.

"The Judeo-Christian tradition is, after all, not a single faith but an umbrella covering many faiths," Wilkinson wrote. "We need not resolve the parties' dispute as to its precise extent, as Chesterfield County has spread it wide enough in this case to include Islam. For these efforts, the County should not be made the object of constitutional condemnation."

Wilkinson has been widely rumored to be among the candidates for a Supreme Court appointment, should any slots on that body come open before the end of President Bush's term.

Apparently, all religions that fall under the Judeo-Christian "umbrella" are non-sectarian, which I suppose is a form of progress. But you can't just let any old religion be officially recognized in public functions. Ones that aren't drawn from the old testament, anyway.

Clearly, just like guns and the death penalty and dozens of other things, the Democrats are going to cave on this issue. And in and of itself, it will not make much difference. Ever since the entire congress stood on the steps of the congress and sang "God Bless America" I knew that any pretense toward religious neutrality was over.

But, what makes anyone think that this will be enough to sway any votes or stop the rest of the theocratic agenda? Are people voting on the single issue of the 10 Commandments and if we give in on that we can start talking about the minimum wage? Just as people like Kevin and Matt and I don't care deeply about whether the 10 commandments are displayed or a creche is put in front of city hall at Christmas, I doubt whether the full 70%+ of Americans who thinks the 10 Commandments should be allowed on public buyildings actually vote on the issue. Most people agree, just like us, that it isn't a big deal --- all except those who are fighting for the principle of it. Those people aren't changing sides politically --- and the rest just don't give enough of a damn to change their voting behavior over it.

The danger is that the ones who are fighting on the principle that Christianity should be part of civic life are also the ones who are not giving any ground. And they won't. They are thinking long term -- patiently chipping away at the principle of separation of church and state, while the rest of us say "lighten up" to the ACLU, who is taking a principled stance on trivial issues so that we can make a consistent argument when it comes to fighting for the important ones. Like teaching creationism in the public schools.

As Matt points out, the other interesting finding in the PEW poll is that a majority believe that creationism should be taught along side evolution in the schools. (I suspect that most people do not realize that the goal of the Christian Right is to replace the teaching of evolution, and think instead that creationism is a worthy subject for a class on comparative religions, not science. But that's just a hunch.) Kevin says we shouldn't give in on that, but really, what's to stop it?

I realize that we liberals believe that this is a matter of teaching fact based science as opposed to faith based religious belief, but the truth is that schools that aren't funded by public money can teach creationism till the cows come home already. The state cannot compel anyone not to teach religion in place of science in the public schools unless we believe there is a constitutional prohibition against the schools promoting one religion over another.

So, on what will we hang our hat on once we've decided that religion --- or more specifically the "judeo-christian umbrella" --- is sanctioned by the state in regards to prayer in schools, the 10 commandments on public buildings and public displays of religion on community ground. These things are all trivial in themselves (although for some people, putting little kids in the position of having to pray or abstain is unconcionable.) But regardless of whether each little instance of religious tradition in the public square is in itself pernicious, taken together, if sanctified by the courts, it erodes one of the basic tenets of our system, which is the prohibition against the establishment of state religion. And that adds up to a greenlight to teach creationism or promote any other Christian dogma --- with my tax dollars.

On a pracical political level, I might point out that electorally, getting religion may not be the bonanza everyone thinks it will be long term. The largest growing religious cohort in the United States is "non-religious", doubling in the past decade and growing stronger. And it's particularly true in the western states where there is a growing preference for "spirituality" over formal religion.

Contrast this with the studies that show Protestants losing ground for decades, perhaps stabilizing now, but certainly not growing, while Catholics remain fairly stable, but divided politically. The Barna group, which does the most in-depth polling on religion in America recently wrote:

"There does not seem to be revival taking place in America. Whether that is measured by church attendance, born again status, or theological purity, the statistics simply do not reflect a surge of any noticeable proportions.

If we are to look at the electoral landscape, we will see that the hard core religious cohort is most influential in the south, which is no surprise. But if you take a look at this interesting map, created by USA today, you' will see that "non-religious" is a rather large minority in the west and midwest swing states; when you combine it with liberal mainline protestant churches and liberal catholics you will see that the Christian Right is not the electoral powerhouse it's cracked up to be. We should not fear them like this.

And needless to say, as our ethnic make-up continues to change, in which Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians and others continue to immigrate and pass their belief systems to their children, we are going to see a continuance of the explosive growth in those religions and philosophies as we've seen in the last thirty years. There is a huge potential for strife in our future if we continue down this road of establishing the "Judeo-Christian" umbrella as a quasi official religion.

There is good evidence that we are the victims of Republican hype on this religious issue, which perpetuates itself in the servile media, creating a faddish obsession with religiousity at a time when more people are actually leaving religion than coming into it. Like the phony campaign against Christmas, they are tying us up in knots with this theocratic correctness. For both practical and principled reasons, we shouldn't let them do it.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

Gandhi And His Rabble

And the "revisionist historians" proceed apace. Via Ted at Crooked Timber I see that the Highpockets and the boys at Powerline have endorsed the idea that the British should have held out against "Ghandi and his rabble" --- to prevent violence, of course, which is why all good white men have to keep the wogs in line, don't you know. Didn't the Raj have any purple ink to pacify the little bastards? Dear me.

"It's great to see someone standing up for colonialism, especially British colonialism. I agree wholeheartedly with this observation, for example:

Had Britain had the courage to face down Gandhi and his rabble a few years longer, the tragedy that was the partititon of India might have been avoided." (quoting Roger Kimball.)

But really dear boy, while we're praising British colonialism, let's not stop there. One can't help but observe that if they had just held out against Washington and his rabble a few years longer the tragedy of the civil war might have been prevented. Failure of nerve, I'm afraid. Yes, yes, it would have been bloody, but what isn't, I say? Best to keep the swinish multitudes under one's thumbs. (Of course, except for the slaves, the Americans were white, weren't they? Makes a difference; indeed it does.)

Hilzoy at Obsidion Wings offers the substantive response for trolls who require one.

Oil For Fools

I think the thing I love most about the right wingers is their commitment to principle and intellectual consistency. For instance, on the Un Foundation's blog UN Dispatch, Peter Daou took issue with Roger Simon's obsessing over the Oil For Food program, while never having a kind word to say about the good things the United Nations does around the world. The right blogosphere is incensed that he would dare to tell a blogger what he should blog about, and besides the oil for food scandal is, like, really really bad.

Now call me crazy, but I seem to remember some wingnuts bleating every five minutes or so about how the news media is obsessing about all the "bad news" in Iraq to exclusion of the "good." It's been their mantra for the last two years as a matter of fact. John Tierney of the NY Times even said just the other day that we shouldn't talk about the suicide bombers because it gives the wrong impression --- that suicide bombers are everywhere and people's lives are threatened. Even though the Iraqi people's lives actually are threatened and there actually are suicide bombers everywhere. Best not to harp on the bad news.

Here we have an institution, the UN, that is enmeshed in a corruption scandal --- and not one that appears to be unprecedented or shocking by corruption scandal standards. Certainly, it cannot be compared to the serious everyday violence that is taking place in Iraq. And yet we have right wingers obsessing about it to the exclusion of all its substantial and important good works around the world --- while they constantly complain that the news media focuses too much on wanton violence and social chaos in a country we occupy, to the exclusion of insubstantial and meaningless happy talk about schools being painted (for 2 million dollars a piece.)

The sad fact is that the UN Oil for Food scandal is becoming another one of these right wing masturbatory obsessions --- like Christmas in Cambodia and Vince Foster. There are always a few of these hobby horses out there, nobody knows why.

Meanwhile the UN actually does a lot of really important work, unlike the Pottery Barn debacle in Iraq, where we are supposed to get credit for fixing what we broke. Here are just a handful of the issues the UN has been working on while the wingnuts blather on:

Tackling the threat of transnational organized crime

Shipping supplies to millions of Iraqi schoolchildren

Controlling the Marburg virus

Building thousands of homes for tsunami victims

Partnering with the private sector to meet humanitarian needs

Reducing child mortality rates

Rehabilitating Iraq's marshlands

Eradicating polio

Rebuilding lives in Afghanistan

Fighting the global malaria epidemic

Curbing the world's most hazardous pollutants

Improving global disaster and emergency response

Building a sustainable future

This right wing UN fixation is another one of those issues that goes all the way back to the Truman era. I'll say it again; anybody who thinks the Republicans are the party of new ideas are sadly mistaken. They haven't even joined the last half of the 20th century yet.

Blasphemous Perverts

Everybody's talking
about the article in The Nation about Dr. David Hager, the Bush appointee to the Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs in the Food and Drug Administration. His wife Linda says he forcibly sodomized her. Often while she was unconcious due to her narcolepsy.

Now, this would noramlly be just a run of the mill GOP hypocrite story that doesn't deserve any more than a little laugh over beers. But it should be emphasized that many of of us knew Dr Hager was a scumbag when he was appointed back in 2002. And he has subsequently proven to be the extremist we knew he was by personally blocking, in unprecedented fashion, the FDA's decision to make Plan B, the morning after pill, a quasi OTC drug.

But, he was a very religious man so everyone had to shut up and let him have a job he was abjectly unqualified for because to do otherwise would be theocratically incorrect.

Dr Hager was primarily known at the time as the writer of scriptural cures for women's reproductive problems. But his cure for infidelity was just plain creepy:

Picture Jesus coming into the room. He walks over to you and folds you gently into his arms. He tousles your hair and kisses you gently on the cheek. . . . Let this love begin to heal you from the inside out."

I'm no Christian, but that sounds damned close to blasphemy to me.

Between the mule fucking, the narcophelia and the sexual fantasies about Jesus, I'm beginning to feel like a provincial schoolkid. To think that we impeached a president over a couple of half baked blowjobs in a hallway --- and listened to years and years of non-stop moralizing from these Republican perverts. I'm a pretty sophisticated person and I don't usually pass judgements on people's fantasy lives or their sexuality. But the Christian Right with their wild shedding of the most shocking of sexual taboos are starting to freak me out. And I'm from California.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

It's Still On?

I knew it was over when Bush's fawning sycophant, Dennis Miller, tried to pass himself off as a libertarian on Jon Stewart's show a couple of weeks ago. In fact, I found that little moment quite uplifting. There is nobody more trendy, more "finger in the wind," more faddish than the Rant man himself. If he's climbing off the conservative bun-boy train, then the zeitgeist has definitely shifted.

And his show's finally been put out of its misery, too.

Glory, Glory, Jalapeno

In honor of this great post by James Wolcott called "Godless Heathens Get No Respect", I am hereby no longer going to be polite or even mildly respectful to the morons of the Christian Right.

As Christian fundamentalism becomes more intrusive and oppressive, Pat Robertson's odious discharge being just the latest example, it is up to us adherents to reason, law, and unchained thought to revive and sustain the reputations of America's great individualists and nonconformists. It's understandable that Democratic candidates, sincere and insincere, feel they have no choice but to drag faith around with them like a little red wagon, but the we non-office-seeking nonbelievers are under no such obligation, and have been accomodating for too long.

He is right. There is a long tradition of religious irreverance in this country and I'm tired of holding back out of some misplaced sense that I'll offend some religious person somewhere. I'll cast my lot with this guy:

There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing and predatory as it is - in our country particularly, and in all other Christian countries in a somewhat modified degree - it is still a hundred times better than the Christianity of the Bible, with its prodigious crime- the invention of Hell. Measured by our Christianity of to-day, bad as it is, hypocritical as it is, empty and hollow as it is, neither the Deity nor His Son is a Christian, nor qualified for that moderately high place. Ours is a terrible religion. The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent blood it has spilt."

Mark Twain

Back in the late 70's the fundamentalist bozos were wandering around church parking lots like a bunch of blind salmon, sending money to perverts like Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert and handling snakes around children. Paul Weyrich and Morton Blackwell knew just what to do. Make them into Republicans. And now they are the very backbone of the Party.


Getting Antsy

Kevin Drum wonders what Bush's bizarre Yalta blathering was code for. We all know that when Junior dredges up some obscure historical reference (like his strange interjection of "Dred Scott" into the debates) you can be sure he's speaking in tongues to somebody. The question is who and why.

I think it's just possible that the neos are getting ready to turn up the heat on their old nemesis, Russia. They will not rest until some commie blood is spilled by the forces of good. And terrorism just isn't a grand enough enemy for these guys. It's messy, it's hard to define, we can't defeat it with bombs and military invasion. I think it's been much too hard for these guys to get their nut with this sneaky, asymetrical 21st century enemy, and the Iraqis just aren't cooperating enough with their "liberation" to be truly satisfying. Time to get back to basics.

If we're lucky, maybe before he checked in at his new job, Wolfowitz dusted off his 1992 plan to invade Russia. (Oh, excuse me, "defend our vital interests in Lithuania.") Now that was a war plan, goddamit.



Barton Gellman Washington Post Staff Writer
February 20, 1992; Page a1

A classified study prepared as the basis for the Pentagon's budgetary planning through the end of the century casts Russia as the gravest potential threat to U.S. vital interests and presumes the United States would spearhead a NATO counterattack if Russia launched an invasion of Lithuania U.S. intervention in Lithuania, which would reverse decades of American restraint in the former Soviet Union's Baltic sphere of influence, is one of seven hypothetical roads to war that the Pentagon studied to help the military services size and justify their forces through 1999. In the study, the Pentagon neither advocates nor predicts any specific conflict.

The Lithuanian scenario contemplates a major war by land, sea and air in which 24 NATO divisions, 70 fighter squadrons and six aircraft carrier battle groups would keep the Russian navy "bottled up in the eastern Baltic," bomb supply lines in Russia and use armored formations to expel Russian forces from Lithuania. The authors state that Russia is unlikely to respond with nuclear weapons, but they provide no basis for that assessment.


National security officials outside the Pentagon sharply disputed the scenario's premise, noting that the United States never recognized the Soviet Union's World War II conquest of the Baltic states but steered clear of interference there for fear of nuclear war. One State Department official said the Pentagon scenario "strikes me like being more of a Tom Clancy novel." Another official with responsibility for European security policy said flatly, "We have no vital interest in Lithuania."


Wolfowitz, who requested the scenarios in an Aug. 10 memorandum, wrote that they would "guide program formulation and evaluation." Wolfowitz asked for two scenarios centering on Russia: a smaller, more rapidly developing threat based on the consolidation of existing Russian forces, and a much larger, more slowly developing threat premised on "reconstitution" of a Russian-based hostile superpower.

The reconstitution scenario names no adversary, citing only a "resurgent/emergent global threat," or REGT. It describes a five-year U.S. buildup that would come in response to a Russian buildup, could exceed peak Cold War levels and could lead to a major global war.

The Lithuania Scenario

The Lithuania scenario is a potential diplomatic embarrassment, emerging as it has in the aftermath of a joint declaration Feb. 1 by President Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin that "Russia and the United States do not regard each other as potential adversaries."

It is also the only European contingency in the Pentagon document. Congressional advocates of drawing U.S. forces in Europe below the 150,000 troop level set by the Pentagon for the mid-1990s can be expected to challenge the realism of the scenario and assert that no plausible mission remains for large-scale NATO forces.

Finally, the Lithuania scenario is the most demanding single military contingency in the Pentagon document and, therefore, a potentially controversial yardstick for the military force required in the late 1990s. A working group from the Joint Staff's planning directorate, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the office of program analysis and evaluation estimated it would take 7 1/3 divisions, 45 fighter squadrons and six aircraft carriers to fight the Russians.


REGT Scenario

A "resurgent/emergent global threat," or REGT, becomes capable of threatening U.S. interests worldwide. According to national security sources, the scenario refers to Russia, with or without other former Soviet republics.

The REGT develops into an "authoritarian and strongly anti-democratic" government over about three years, beginning in 1994. After four or five years of military expansion, the REGT is ready to begin "a second Cold War" by the year 2001, or launch a major global war that could last for years. Pentagon planners assume that the United States would spend years of political debate before beginning a buildup in response to the REGT. "Reconstitution" of U.S. forces, as the Pentagon calls the buildup, would include expanded recruitment, weapons modernization and greatly increased production, and, if necessary, the draft.

No outcome is projected for a global war.

As you may have begun to notice, the right wing doesn't adapt well to change. They are still talking about McCarthyism and hippies and any number of other anachronistic topics. They are obsessed with being right, not only today, but fifty years ago. They still call liberals commies. It would not surprise me in the least if they are going to turn their attention back to their mortal enemy. Once a commie, always a commie. Hasn't that always been their motto?

And if Bush's pal Vladimir doesn't co-operate, we can always start asking "who lost China?" That one never gets old.

Kangaroo Justice

The Talking Dog has posted another one of his interesting interviews with attorneys for alleged unlawful combatants, this one with Joshua Dratel, the lawyer for the Australian David Hicks, who is being held at Guantanamo. Read the whole thing, but this passage is particularly stunning:

Talking Dog: Can you briefly summarize what you in particular find unfair about the military commission process at Guantanimo?

Joshua Dratel: Basically, there are no rules. The Uniform Code of Military Justice, which governs court-martials -- that's been thrown out. No standards at all. Total arbitrariness. No efforts at anything resembling fairness. Let's start with evidence and proof. People don't know this, of course.The government's "proof" consists entirely of interrogators reading from reports of their interrogations-- without any basis to challenge the underlying accounts of witnesses, such as the witnesses themselves (who have frequently been shipped out of Guantanamo) or their interpreters, or the conditions under which the statements were taken, which were frequently, to put it politely, "coercive." Just statements from the detainees themselves-- regardless of whether obtained from abuse, or coercion, even rising to torture. In the commissions, you simply can't challenge them-- you don't have access to the witnesses.

Talking Dog: I understand you spent a fair amount of time challenging the panels and their members themselves.

Joshua Dratel: I'm glad you brought that up. That's another area of unfairness. In a military felony case-- that's any case where the penalty might be more than one year in prison-- and remember that these detainees might get life in prison or even death sentences-- you need at least 5 panel members under the UCMJ. Under the commissions arbitrary set-ups, they envisioned between 3 and 7 panel members. In David's case, they planned 5 panelists and one alternate. But we challenged the panelists, for a variety of reasons, and 3 challenges were granted. We thought they would appoint 2 more officers to bring the panel back to 5, but they didn't. Now this makes a huge difference. And that's because under military rules, you need a 2/3 vote for conviction. On a 5 member panel, that means you need only coNvince 2 out of 5 for an acquittal; on a 3 member panel, of course, its 2 out of 3... a much higher burden, and not one required by the UCMJ. Conversely, the government's burden is halved: while it needs four of five votes to convict in a five-member commission, it needs only two in a three-member commission.

And then we get into the issue of the fact that in a court-martial,there is one judge, and the panel acts as kind of a jury. Under this set-up, the whole commission was supposed to make rulings. Of course, they had no legal training (except for one officer, Colonel Brownback). But the panelists couldn't absorb certain basic legal concepts-- such as 'ex post facto" and "jurisdiction". For example, if a citizien of Country A (we'll call it "Australia") is fighting in Company B (we'll call it Taliban Afghanistan) against Country C (we'll call it the Northern Alliance of Afghanistan), in Hicks' case, supposedly he was in a fox-hole guarding a Taliban tank position or something, before he was picked up by the Northern Alliance, then how does Country D, the United States, get jurisdiction over him? I mean, the United States has no jurisdiction over Hicks and his alleged actions-- completely lost on this panel. Of course, the panelists' response was "you mean he just gets away with it?" But the crimes he is accused of were not war crimes-- he was not even accused of shooting at soldiers-- as if that were a war crime, which it is not. At worst, it was either a domestic offense (like treason) in Afghanistan, or acting as a soldier of a military, in which case, he wouldn't be guilty of a crime at all, but a combatant subject to the Geneva Conventions. Also, of course, the evidence also is illegitimate because of the manner in which it was obtained-- all consisting of statements of detainees made under coercive interrogation or even torture. At the motions argument, we wanted to call witnesses who were experts on international and military law. But the panel didn't want to hear any of them.

Finally, of course, Rumsfeld has controlled the appeals process by stacking it with his own hand-picked cronies. The objections to the process are not just procedural. The government's entire case against everyone is based on interrogations of other detainees. Nothing else.

Even the Star Chamber was mostly made up of actual lawyers and judges. As we get farther and farther away from 9/11 doesn't this stuff seem crazier and crazier? I always thought that we behaved like a dumb wounded giant lashing out indiscriminately, but as time went on I assumed that we would pull ourselves together and begin to behave rationally. But we are not. Guantanamo is a gulag.

One other little bit of the interview I'd like to highlight is this:

Talking Dog:
Do you think that by and large the American people
really care about this issue at all, and why do you think that is?

Joshua Dratel:
They care about some of these issues in the
abstract, but they have no idea how things are being done at Guanatanamo. These are not proven terrorists. There has been no determination of any value at all. You would hope that Americans would care about torturing the innocent. Certainly, there would be concern for OUR personnel in the hands of another nation. I'll tell you that the military people are very concerned. They are concerned about the reciprocal effects of our runnning a process that isn't fair, or capable of making objective determinations, even if no Americans are subject to them. But think about when it's our personnel-- such as when Private Lynch was captured-- how we demanded that she and others be treated per the Geneva Conventions. In the future, how can we make demands like that with a straight face-- or will others pay any heed when we ignore the conventions and flout the rules ourselves?

I don't think people give a damn, or at least most people. The Pew Poll released this week found:

Republicans have succeeded in attracting two types of swing voters who could not be more different," the study reports. "The common threads are a highly favorable opinion of President Bush personally and support for an aggressive military stance against potential enemies of the U.S."

Bush voters are just fine with torture, probably even of other Americans, but particularly of "the enemy." And I doubt that they have any problem with the double standard of saying that you may not torture ours, but we can torture yours. God is on our side, after all, not theirs.

As you know, I'm gifted with from time to time by e-mails from a right winger. Here's what he had to say about torture recently:

On Sunday night "60 Minutes" did its 10th liberal anti-American segment in a row about the war in Iraq. This time it was about how we torture people at Guantanimo (GITMO.) The explosive incident in question, to which there was a direct and credible witness, involved using an American woman to sexually humiliate, in theory, sexually repressed Muslim prisoner.

The fist logical response to this has to be: if it were me or my son I'd thank God loudly and eternally to have such complete wimps as torturers. Second, the American version of torture might even be fun. Indeed, American torture is often, although I'm sure not always, a joke. We saw it in Abu Ghraib. In the same prison where Saddam Hussein would make movies (now for sale world wide) of his guards slowly cutting off the tongues and limbs of fully conscious human beings, or breaking as many bones as possible with a club, again on a fully conscious human being, the Americans would make their prisoners get into a gym class style human pyramid (no mat to cushion their tender knees), and, they would be naked too, as if to really insure that the torture was really really severe. Again, all a rational person can say is: if it were me or my son I'd pray to God to be imprisoned by the very gentle and civilized Americans.

The above, of course seems obvious to a monkey, although it is apparently not so obvious to a liberal. But it does give rise to another important question: why do the liberals devote more time to their delirious idea that is worse to torture someone, American style, than to kill him on the battlefield? After all, we are killing a lot more people in this war than were ever made to wear female underwear at Abu Ghraib? On the battlefield you die, and often very slowly and painfully. If the bullet hits you in the heart you are very lucky. More likely an Iraqi insurgent will be severely wounded by a bullet or explosion that leaves a significant part of his body on the battlefield, and only then will he slowly bleed to death or slowly be infected to death. This is far worse than a gymnastics class, in women's underwear no less, at Abu Ghraib, and yet it gets less attention from the liberal press?

I suppose the liberals prefer to focus on torture because it plays upon a universal subconscious fear of genuine torture that we all share. It is highly manipulative, and fraudulent though, to influence foreign policy in this emotionally deceptive way. Real thinking should prevail, not liberal blather. What remains inexplicable is that liberals largely ignore our real torture. When we pick up a high level al-Qaida official such as al-Libby who almost certainly has information on upcoming attacks on Americans, we obviously torture him, for real, to save lives, but this remains mostly off the liberal radar screen; perhaps because it is obviously necessary and obviously too nasty to talk about? Liberal outrage at the sex play at Abu Ghraib makes the point almost as well while being far more palatable to a broad audience.

He goes on to say that torture becomes problematic because the interrogators can't keep their mouths shut so it lets the enemy know what they will need to withstand (and gives liberal traitors ammunition) thus ruining the whole torture scheme. I don't know how many people there are like this in the country, but you can be pretty sure that all of them who voted, voted for George W. Bush. One expects this kind of talk from wingnuts.

But I also have to suspect that some version of this "tortured" logic was used by those swing voters who were so impressed by Commander Codpiece and his "aggressive military stance." And he knows it:

Q Mr. President, under the law, how would you justify the practice of renditioning, where U.S. agents who brought terror suspects abroad, taking them to a third country for interrogation? And would you stand for it if foreign agents did that to an American here?

THE PRESIDENT: That's a hypothetical, Mark. We operate within the law and we send people to countries where they say they're not going to torture the people.

But let me say something: the United States government has an obligation to protect the American people. It's in our country's interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm's way. And we will do so within the law, and we will do so in honoring our commitment not to torture people. And we expect the countries where we send somebody to, not to torture, as well. But you bet, when we find somebody who might do harm to the American people, we will detain them and ask others from their country of origin to detain them. It makes sense. The American people expect us to do that. We -- we still at war.

One of my -- I've said this before to you, I'm going to say it again, one of my concerns after September the 11th is the farther away we got from September the 11th, the more relaxed we would all become and assume that there wasn't an enemy out there ready to hit us. And I just can't let the American people -- I'm not going to let them down by assuming that the enemy is not going to hit us again. We're going to do everything we can to protect us. And we've got guidelines. We've got law. But you bet, Mark, we're going to find people before they harm us.

In other words, "don't worry your pretty little heads about torture; we do what we need to do." And the security moms swoon.

I'm hoping that when we begin our great Democratic moral crusade against dirty talk on TV (to show empathy to all these parents who vote Republican because we haven't done enough about Britney and Janet's nipples) that we can find a few minutes to also talk about why torture is wrong. I know it isn't as appealing to the religious among us who are so worried about their children being exposed to sex, but it might just save this country's soul, nonetheless.

Rick Santorum Knows What He's Talking About

Via NewsHounds, who watch Fox so we don't have to:

Last night, anti-abortion extremist Neal Horsley was a guest on The Alan Colmes Show, a FOX News radio program. The topic was an interesting one - whether or not an internet service provider should allow Horsley to post the names of abortion doctors on his website. Horsley does that as a way of targeting them and one doctor has been killed. In the course of the interview, however, Colmes asked Horsley about his background, including a statement that he had admitted to engaging in homosexual and bestiality sex.

At first, Horsley laughed and said, "Just because it's printed in the media, people jump to believe it."

"Is it true?" Colmes asked.

"Hey, Alan, if you want to accuse me of having sex when I was a fool, I did everything that crossed my mind that looked like I..."

AC: "You had sex with animals?"

NH: "Absolutely. I was a fool. When you grow up on a farm in Georgia, your first girlfriend is a mule."

AC: "I'm not so sure that that is so."

NH: "You didn't grow up on a farm in Georgia, did you?"

AC: "Are you suggesting that everybody who grows up on a farm in Georgia has a mule as a girlfriend?"

NH: It has historically been the case. You people are so far removed from the reality... Welcome to domestic life on the farm..."

Colmes said he thought there were a lot of people in the audience who grew up on farms, are living on farms now, raising kids on farms and "and I don't think they are dating Elsie right now. You know what I'm saying?"

Horsley said, "You experiment with anything that moves when you are growing up sexually. You're naive. You know better than that... If it's warm and it's damp and it vibrates you might in fact have sex with it."

Unless it was male, which would be so gay.

Hey, the First Lady was joking about this stuff a week ago and all the wingnuts said that it was just an old farm joke and it's another sign of how out of touch we coastal elites are that we thought that the right wing Christians would find anything unwholesome about it. Now I understand what they mean. Bestiality is an integral part of the "heartland lifestyle."

It turns that in this instance at least, they are right about liberals not understanding the red state culture. I am way out of touch with the mulefucking traditions in Real America.

Note to the DLC: Have next presidential candidate hump small pony on Meat The Press.

Hat tip to A. Signalstation
President Prick

Has any country ever had a more arrogant, insolent, contemptuous leader than we have? Really, I can't think of any monarchs or popes who behave this presumptuously, but then they only think they are God's representatives on earth, not God himself:

RIGA, Latvia -
President Bush is used to taking center stage, even when sharing the dais with other presidents in their own countries.

That made for some awkward moments at a news conference Saturday with Bush and the leaders of three Baltic republics. Host President Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia invited her counterparts from Lithuania and Estonia to make opening statements, but forgot Bush before opening it up to reporters' questions.

Bush interjected, and she demurred to her high-profile visitor.

"I think maybe somebody from across the ocean should be given a chance to make a statement, as well," she said, drawing laughs from Bush and the reporters.

After Bush finished, Vike-Freiberga then explained that they would take four questions — one for each president. Again, Bush tried to interrupt, saying, "Or you can have all four questions to me," knowing that foreign reporters usually want to use the opportunity to probe the U.S. president.

Vike-Freiberga ignored the remark as she called on a Latvian journalist, and Bush threw his arms up and looked to help from aides offstage. The Latvian journalist said he would prefer to question the U.S. leader, and Bush responded, "Yeah, I thought that might be the case."

And as he predicted, all four questions were for him.

I guess we know why John Bolton is such a favorite around this White House.

Boffo Republican

I think I'm going to have to adopt Mrs David Frum as my personal favorite Huffington blogger if she keeps this up. Today, she follows up with more advice on how to bring Hollywood and Washington together. This time she suggests how Hollywood might entice Washington to be sympathetic by proposing the following:

Briefly, the plot is this: A Mid-Western high school girl (think Lindsay Lohan) discovers that she is pregnant. She is scared and embarrassed—but also, she strongly wants to keep the baby. Now I know what you’re thinking. In every other Hollywood movie of the past three decades in which a girl gets pregnant, she is wisely counseled to seek an abortion by her school guidance counselor, while her father—a lay Evangelical minister, former Klan-member, and crooked car dealer—insists she must carry the baby because that’s what God would want. Eventually the whole story gets caught up in politics, with angry pro-life protestors waving pictures of dead fetuses at the weeping girl, whose cause has been taken up by a brave and kind Democratic congresswoman. This politician is determined to stand up for freedom of choice, because that’s what this country was founded upon. Well, all I can say is that’s not going to be this movie. Our twist: While the girl’s boyfriend supports her decision to keep the baby—he even offers to take a job, finish his diploma by night, and marry her—her environmentalist, anti-war activist father insists she get an abortion. The political fight that ensues takes place between pro-choice groups (think Kirstie Alley in a mumu, screaming through a megaphone) and a brave and kind Republican congresswoman. This politician is determined to stand up for the preservation of life and family values, because that’s what our country was founded upon.

Bravissimo. This woman has her finger on the pulse of Real America. The reason this film is going to be such a big hit is because it's something that young girls and parents everywhere can relate to. This is the story of everygirl --- a story being played out every day in trailer parks and tract homes and apartment houses of real America. Real Americans know that teenage motherhood is always good and should be encouraged. And there is many a 16 or 17 year old young man who would relish the idea of working all day, going to school at night and taking care of an uneducated wife and small infant these days. That's one of those old fashioned family values that never goes out of style. (If only the plot could feature the girl dying in childbirth, we could really re-enact the good old days --- and heighten the pathos and bathos too!)

I do quibble with the anti-war activist father who wants to force his daughter to have an abortion. Isn't that a little bit overdone? Who among us isn't fed up to the gills dealing with this type -- your familiar hippie, tree-hugging, authoritarian, misogynists. Can't we be just a little bit more original here? Send that back for a re-write. Let's make him gay.

Other than that, this movie is perfect. It will encourage girls everywhere to get pregnant so their boyfriends will marry them and they'll live happily ever after and never have to eat tofu or do yoga again. An adolescent dream come true!

Oh, and Kirstie Alley's fat --- so she's perfect for the Democrat because, as we all know, only Democrats are fat. (Well, except for Rush and Tony Blankley, but they have chemical imbalances.) I suggest James Gandolfini as the sociopathic gay dad, and Queen Latifah as the head of the pro-choice street gang. And 18 year old Lindsey Lohan is, as Mrs Frum suggests, perfect for the girl. She is, after all, dating that hot 50 year old Republican, Bruce Willis.

Come to think of it, maybe he could play the dad and the kid could turn out to be his, which would explain why he is so insistent on the abortion, and...and...Kirstie Alley could be a lesbian scientolgist and Queen Latifah could be a man and .... they could all go on Jerry Springer! Now we're talking Real America, baby! Let's Greenlight this thing!


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Freakishly Confident

Avedon Carol, pinch hitting over at Eschaton writes:

One reason I don't think it's at all paranoid to suspect that the Republicans have deliberately taken over the voting system in order to cheat is that they keep doing things that don't otherwise make sense. There's a rather long list of things you just wouldn't expect them to think they could get away with unless they really thought they could control the ballot box, because otherwise they would have to expect that the public would kick enough of them out to not only end some political careers but also make impeachment - and prison - a distinct possibility.

As pointed out to me this morning by my favorite correspondent, the item at the top of the list (that may just be the "real" nuclear option) is this provision in the "Real ID" bill that removes judicial review. This article calls the hoohaw over the filibuster a trojan horse ---- it's the elimination of judicial review that's the constitution buster.

The right has held for decades that judicial review has no constitutional foundation. Because of various rulings over the past 50 years on civil and individual rights with which they disagree, they have developed the dogma that the courts do not have the right to determine if a law is unconstitutional, despite more than 200 years of acceptance of Marbury vs Madison and the debate that came before. This is what Pat Robertson is talking about when he says, "if you look over the course of a hundred years, I think the gradual erosion of the consensus that's held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings." (It's actually the last 200 years he's trying to overturn, but what's a century or two?)

This isn't a new thing, but like so much else lately in wingnut governance, it was until quite recently a fringe position that nobody took seriously. Indeed, even conservative legal scholors like John Yoo, who is not one would ever call a moderate, disagrees with this interpretation. But, it has clearly gained currency recently. The Senate, for instance, has put forth several more or less symbolic bills that are explicitly exempted from judicial review. There's S. 1558, the "I can put the 10 commandments anywhere I damn well please and judge is going to tell me I can't" Act. And there's S. 2082, the "I can say God told me to do this and no judge can say it's unconstitutional" Act (also known as the "foreign govmint's got nothin' to do with our laws" Act.) And then there's S 3920 the "two thirds majority can overturn the Supreme Court" Act.

But these have no chance at passage. The "Real ID" bill, however, does. As far as I've been able to ascertain, nobody has ever actually passed and signed a bill that would explicitly exempt legislation from judicial review. This is unprecedented and if it happens it should trigger a constitutional crisis. If congress can pass any laws it wants and declare them exempt from judicial review --- as with the Real ID bill -- and also peremptorily "bar judicially ordered compensation or injunction or other remedy for damages" then our system of checks and balances has been gutted. There will be nothing to stop a majority, particularly if it ends the filibuster, from passing any laws it chooses with a simple majority and exempting all of them from judicial review for constitutionality. In other words, the constitution says what the majority says it says.

As Avedon Carol points out in the post I linked to above, you have to wonder why they would do this when the shoe could easily be on the other foot at any given time. You have to believe that it has always been that threat that kept previous majorities from enacting such a fundamental change to our system that could only help a party intent upon enacting its agenda unimpeded --- but which could be used by either party to do it. These last few elections have been close. The GOP majority is not solid. And while I have argued that the double standard is entrenched because of the republicans' willingness to make nonsensical arguments that confuse the press and render any accountability useless, it will not do them much good if the rules have been changed and a new Democratic majority operates as ruthlessly unconcerned with public opinion as they do.

No, you really do have to wonder how they think they can get away with such radical changes that have no constitutional or even popular support. It really does make you have to at least consider the possibility that they know they will not lose elections.

Not Ready For The Close-up

In the post below, I wondered why Jack Abramoff was so unsuccessful in Hollywood and surmised that it might be because Hollywood types aren't as gullible and easily led as those in the conservative movement (which is really saying something.) And what do I find immediately after I posted it, but proof, right on the new internet nexus of Hollywood and politics The Huffington Post, from none other than Danielle Crittendon of "What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us" (and marriage to David Frum) fame:

Maybe it is futile to hope that we can ever bridge the gap between Powertown and Tinseltown so long as the Republicans are in power. But if that day ever comes, perhaps it will go -- or should go something like this:


A young man in horn-rimmed eyeglasses and a Hollywood mogul are deep in conversation over a long table. In front of the mogul are a vinyl binder embossed with the Great Seal of the United States, a White House pen and pencil set, and a White House coffee mug. The mogul is fiddling with and admiring his new presidential cufflinks. The young man is taking notes.


Gosh, I wish the President could
hear what you just said! It’s so reasonable.
It’s so smart. You must be the only
one out here who thinks like you do.

(attempting modesty but failing)
Well, Mr. Vice President. There are a few of
us. We just wish we could
get our voices heard.

Oh the President will hear them all right.
He’ll certainly hear yours.
I was just talking yesterday to the Vice
President for Concepts and Planning and
the Vice President for Public Liaison.
And we agreed – you’ve surprised us.

Why surprise?

It’s, well—I probably
shouldn’t say this but we Republicans
too often take a stereotypical
view of Hollywood liberals.

How so?

I guess we see them as unpatriotic,
Jesus-hating environmental hypocrites who are
subverting the culture and are completely
out of touch with mainstream America.

The mogul snorts.

But if more Republicans could meet
liberals like you, I think we
could change that stereotype.
(Confidentially) You know,the president
was really impressed by your op-ed on
global warming in the L.A. Times. The
President disagrees with your conclusions
of course, but - .

The President read my op-ed?
He reads? I mean, he reads the
L.A. Times? Well … you don’t say.

Were you serious when you said
earlier you’d be willing to host
a casual discussion group with a
few of your Hollywood friends?


I think we could get you some
top people. Maybe Vice President Cheney.
Or Vice President Liz Cheney.
You know, you might be the
man to actually broker
a détente between Hollywood
and Washington.
And who knows where that could
lead? For you. For us.

I may even be able to get
Barbra out for this.

Thank you for everything you
do. It’s important to

And then the young man pitches his idea for a fascinating reality TV Series called "When Monkeys Fly Out of Your Ass!" and the mogul claps his hands and says "oooh you are so brilliant, little Republican, I love the way you think." And everyone lives happily ever after.

Hollywood moguls are used to being flattered, it's true. But they hire professionals to do this job. This kind of pitch would get you fired for the sheer insult of its puerile transparency.

No wonder the King of Republican lobbyists could only get two shitty Dolph Lundgren movies off the ground in 8 years. These guys are amateurs. Best they stick to trying to snow Rapture enthusiasts and confederate sympathisers. Hollywood is clearly above their paygrade.

Nixon's Babies

It's pretty clear to me that Beltway insiders are aware of the explosive "Watergate" style possibilities of the Tom DeLay scandal, but I don't get the impression that anyone knows quite what to make of it or how to exploit it. And perhaps it's one of those things that's best left to unfold naturally. If it does unravel completely it could be the end of the ascendency of the conservative movement and we could, perhaps, get down to the important business of spending the next generation undoing all the damage they've done. It is, after all, out specialty.

Franklin Foer writes a very interesting article in this week's TNR that gets to much of what's important about Jack Abramoff and how he fits into the bigger scheme of things. It's not just that he was a pal of Delay's or that he was a crook himself. It's much bigger than that; it touches upon important elements of the entire modern Republican Party and exposes the web of connections between the conservative movement, the right wing press, the Christian right and the Republican congress as entirely corrupt.

DeLay, though, was not the only prominent conservative to see Russia the Abramoff way. Two months before DeLay touched down there, Abramoff's firm shepherded a contingent of Washington journalists and thinkers around Moscow--an itinerary of meetings and meals designed to please the trip's funder, a Russian energy concern called NaftaSib. This journey included Tod Lindberg, then-editor of The Washington Times editorial page; Insight magazine's James Lucier; and Erica Tuttle, The National Interest's assistant managing editor at the time.

Such trips were essential prongs of Abramoff's lobbying campaigns. The conservative movement's think tanks, newspapers, and little magazines are filled with junketeers who have traveled the world on his dime. "It was like, you weren't cool if you didn't go," remembers Marshall Wittmann, former legislative director of the Christian Coalition. And that's precisely as Abramoff planned it. In a draft of a 2000 proposal to represent the Malaysian government, he and his colleagues boasted, "Our firm is one of the most expert in organizing effective trips to distant destinations, having already brought literally hundreds of such notables [as think-tank scholars and journalists] to destinations ranging from Pakistan to Russia to Saipan and within the U.S. mainland." They told the Malaysians that these trips produce a "certain outcome": "timely and powerful editorials and articles" conveying his clients' messages. "Our firm has facilitated hundreds of such articles and editorials."

It's one thing to imagine that politicians, with their need for campaign cash, could be swayed by a lobbyist. Journalists and intellectuals, on the other hand, even those who admit their ideological predispositions, aren't supposed to be so susceptible to influence-peddlers. Abramoff, however, proved otherwise. He understood how the universe of thinkers and activists associated with the Republican Party operated, how to manipulate them with ideological buzzwords, and how to influence them with access and money. Jack Abramoff didn't just corrupt Tom DeLay. He helped corrupt the whole conservative movement.

Foer makes much of this idea that Abramoff corrupted the conservative movement, but I think the evidence show that the conservative movement was bound for corruption from the get-go. The modern Republicans, from their earliest incarnation in the 60's, starting with still active operatives like Morton Blackwell and Karl Rove to the next generation of Abramoff, Norquist and Reed, have always operated as dirty tricksters, and corrupt power brokers. The modern Republican Party is not, and never has been, the party of Ronald Reagan, not really. It's the party of Richard Nixon.

Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist came together as a power in the College Republicans during the Reagan years. Blackwell, Rove, Atwater, and many others powerful operatives and strategists had cut their teeth there, as well, but these guys came in at the beginning of the heady Reagan years and they were fueled by the belief that they were on the permanent winning side of history. The triumverate of Norquist, Abramoff and Reed is legendary --- and they are all implicated in the burgeoning Jack Abramoff/Tom DeLay scandal.

They have come to represent the three most important wings of the modern conservative movement --- the Christian Right (Reed), the movement ideologues (Norquist) and the big money boys (Abramoff.) They are the Republican party. And they are all corrupt.

Reed is a total phony. I had long assumed, as most people probably did, that he came up through the Christian Right, a conservative Christian who got into politics through religion. He sure does look the part, doesn't he? This, of course, is not true. He wasn't "born again" until 1983, long after he had committed himself to Republican politics and proved himself to be a ruthless, unprincipled operative. He helped to create the Christian Coalition, it didn't create him. In fact, the Christian Right doesn't really exist independently of the Party, it is a wholly owned subsidiary, consciously created and nurtured as a Republican voting block.
(Morton Blackwell famously gave the Moral Majority its name.) Ralph Reed is now entering electoral politics himself, making the big move. He's probably the most dangerous Republican in America.

Norquist, as most people know is a great admirer of Stalin's tactics. He's quoted as saying to Reed back in the College Republican days:

[Stalin] was running the personnel department while Trotsky was fighting the White Army. When push came to shove for control of the Soviet Union, Stalin won. Trotsky got an ice ax through his skull, while Stalin became head of the Soviet Union. He understood that personnel is policy.

To that end, Norquist more than anyone else has ensured through carefully constructed alliances that movement ideologues like himself peppered the Republican power structure to the extent that over time, they have come to define it. This is why people like John Bolton, who has no more business being a diplomat than the Rude Pundit does, have become mainstream Republicans, even though they are clearly radical. He has made sure that Republicans are interdependent on each other through money and influence and that the money and influence flow through him and his allies.

Norquist is the truest of true believers, but he understands the importance of certain other inducements to keep people in line. Tom DeLay and Norquist created the K Street project and it's been a rousing success. Abramoff and DeLay were the guys who offered those needed inducements when true belief and solidarity weren't enough. Delay wielded the hammer and Abramoff (among others) offered the goodies. This is how they hold the GOP majority together. Ask Nick Smith how that works.

It's not surprising that Abramoff is the weak link in this. He was the front man back in the college republican days, but he doesn't seem to have been a real strategist in the way that Reed, with his ruthless single mindedness was or Norquist with his long term Soviet style political vision. In fact, the strangest thing about Abramoff is his almost decade long movie producing career that resulted in only two movies being made --- Dolph Lundgren's "Red Scorpion" and "Red Scorpion II" --- both of which were co-produced by his brother, a successful show business attorney. This is an odd chapter in Abramoff's life. It's hard to know why he was unable to parlay himself a real career in Hollywood, except to wonder if maybe Hollywood, for all its faults, just isn't as easily bought off as his pals in the conservative movement. After all, these kind of perks are just standard in the Entertainment industry and can't buy you much of anything at all (from Foer's article in TNR):

Over time, Abramoff's media management grew more sophisticated, and he dispensed largesse across conservative journalism. His junkets didn't just comprise meetings and site visits, they also included plenty of recreation time. Trips to the Choctaw Reservation, for instance, featured gambling at the Silver Star resort and rounds on a lush new golf course. Clint Bolick recalls, "I left the trip early, because it seemed to be so much about golf and gambling, activities I'm not much into." As an artful Washington schmoozer, Abramoff would go even further that. One former Washington Times staffer told me that Abramoff's practice invited his family to watch the circus and a Bruce Springsteen concert from its box at the MCI Center. (By my count, six Washington Times editors and writers attended Abramoff trips.)

Abramoff came back to Washington when his pals came to power in 1994. They suddenly had it all; their triumphant public leader, Newt Gingrich, was even considering a run for the presidency in 1996. (The ever humble Newt was quoted as saying, "Am I going to have to get into this thing?") This was the time to put into place their plans for a permanent Republican establishment ("personnel is policy"), with the power of big money behind them. The problem is that Abramoff got greedy, and so did his little college republican friends. Both Norquist and Reed have been named in the various scandals, right along with Delay. Everybody seems to be hold their breath waiting to see if this thing takes down The Hammer, but the undercurrent of excitement is really whether it will render Norquist, Reed and others impotent over time as the scandal unfolds. It's possible. These guys have always had the problem of hubris and premature triumpalism. They operate on a very emotional level that is a weakness. And they are, of course, incredibly greedy.

Much of this information can be found in Nina Easton's fine book "The Gang of Five" which you should read if you are interested in learning about the relationship between the players in this DeLay/Abramoff scandal. She thought in 2000 that these guys had already overreached, but clearly she was ahead of herself. And it should be noted that even if all three go down, the momentum of the conservative movement will only slow, not reverse itself. Barring a very serious crisis, it's going to take a long time and a gargantuan effort to turn that ship around, if we can do it at all.

But if these guys are irreparably discredited as a result of their own arrogance and avarice, it will be the final nail, I believe, in the Nixon legacy. These are his political heirs, raised and nurtured on the mother's milk of corruption and dishonesty, scarred while very young by the ignominious downfall of their political father; driven to wreak revenge and recapture what they perceived as their rightful ownership of American politics. They are the spawn of Watergate resentment and this country will never be healthy until this group of radicals are removed from positions of power.

Watch this Abramoff scandal. It may go nowhere, but the potential for a lethal, if not mortal, wound to the conservative movement resides inside it.