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Friday, April 29, 2005

Goldilocks Logic

By the logic of modern journalism, in which they are considered to be "getting it right" if both sides of an issue criticize them, we now know that James Dobson is a moderate on gay rights:

Gay rights supporters from around the country, angry at James Dobson's stance against homosexuality, are expected to converge Sunday and Monday on his Focus on the Family headquarters.

A second demonstration is also set for Sunday by a handful of extreme anti-gay activists from the Rev. Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan.

Ironically, both groups will be protesting the stand taken by Dobson and his ministry on homosexuality. The gay rights advocacy group Soulforce accuses Dobson of "spreading lies about same-gender families."

Phelps' group says Focus officials are headed to hell because the ministry is soft on homosexuality.

One's too hot, one's too cold and this one's juuust right.

"They're talking about my burrito"

A call about a possible weapon at a middle school prompted police to put armed officers on rooftops, close nearby streets and lock down the school. All over a giant burrito.


The drama ended two hours later when the suspicious item was identified as a 30-inch burrito filled with steak, guacamole, lettuce, salsa and jalapenos and wrapped inside tin foil and a white T-shirt.


Russell said the mystery was solved after she brought everyone in the school together in the auditorium to explain what was going on.

"The kid was sitting there as I'm describing this (report of a student with a suspicious package) and he's thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, they're talking about my burrito.'"

Afterward, eighth-grader Michael Morrissey approached her.

"He said, 'I think I'm the person they saw,'" Russell said.

The burrito was part of Morrissey's extra-credit assignment to create commercial advertising for a product.

"We had to make up a product and it could have been anything. I made up a restaurant that specialized in oddly large burritos," Morrissey said.

The terrorists have won.

Hat tip to senior blog research assistant, Gloria
Hello-oh? Pope Is Dead

I know that most of you probably read The Howler and don't need any reminding, but this one is a particularly good observation and I haven't heard anyone mentioning it. Tim Russert has turned his show into a religious seminar for the last month and a half. Last week really was the final straw. Here's Sommerby:

THROUGH THE TUBE DARKLY: Refresh us—when exactly did Meet the Press become an openly Catholic program? Last Sunday, for the third time in the last five weeks, Tim Russert devoted his entire show to a religious discussion. Early on, Russert popped this question to Father Thomas Bohlin, U.S. vicar of the conservative Catholic group, Opus Dei:

RUSSERT (4/24/05): Father John McCloskey, who was also an Opus Dei with you, was on this program. He has a Web site where he predicted basically in 2030 that the number of Catholics would go from 60 million to 40 million; almost a smaller and purer church. Is that, do you think, the vision of our pope? [Russert’s emphasis]

No, Russert’s emphasis didn’t make sense, but it was quite pronounced. Moments later, we heard from Joseph Bottum, one of two other guests whose bull-dog conservatism made Bohlin seem like a poodle. Bottum responded to the claim that the Catholic hierarchy needs to consult with Joe Sixpack more often:

BOTTUM: I'm not sure that there's any solution in all of that... I'm not sure it's any solution to the problem the church faces addressing the concerns that arise in a democratic experiment like the United States. We have characteristic abuses, as I said, that are going to happen in these places. And the church needs to be to some degree countercultural, to stand against that and to speak out and say, "We can't kill our babies."

Did we say conservative? Yes, when Bottum discussed the “characteristic abuses” that occur “in these places,” he was referring to democracies—to “places” like the U.S.!

Question: Were we the only ones who gazed with surprise at Sunday’s Meet the Press discussion? Who wondered what this odd debate had to do with the American news agenda? Who wondered why we were hearing this on NBC’s one weekly news hour?

SISTER MARY AQUIN O’NEILL: I'm grateful for an opportunity to return to the question of truth. Truth is another name for God and so it cannot be something that we possess. It's something that we hope to dwell within. The truth is always larger than we are, greater than we are. And it is not something that we can attain by ourselves.

Say what? O’Neill seemed like a very nice person, but were we the only ones wondering why this rumination was occurring on Meet the Press, which was once a well-known news show? In fact, we found ourselves puzzling again and again as the conversation veered into the weeds. For example, why was Father Joseph Fessio, siting in Rome, saying this on a one-time news program?

FESSIO: The point is if Jesus Christ is the bridegroom of the church, if God has sent his son to us as a man to unite himself in a marital act, a nuptial act to his whole people, to make us one flesh and one body with him, there's something very deep and mysterious about that. It's what the church has always taught is that, not that men are better than women, not that men should be given more honor than woman, but that men image forth the bridegroom because Christ is essentially someone who's married to us, and therefore you can't have a woman who gives that iconic image of Christ who's the bridegroom of the church.

But why exactly is that “the point” on a weekly news program? And why exactly was this a topic for such a weekly show:

O’NEILL: Frederic Herzog wrote many years ago that the two things that distinguish Catholicism are the sacraments and the Blessed Mother, Mary. They are both under siege right now. And the sacraments are in trouble because we don't have ministers. That's the question for me. We must find a way to solve that. The people are hungry for the sacraments, and without the sacraments, we don't have the church.

That’s a perfectly fine conversation—but what was NBC News presenting it? O’Neill continued, but what was the connection between her rumination and the traditional Meet the Press?

O’NEILL: I believe that one of the most important things for this church now is to really act on Christici Fidelis Laici, where we were told there's a complementarity between the laity and the ordained. Complementarity means one cannot trump the other. And so, in all the questions that the church faces, the lay-people and their experience and their insights have to have an equal place at the table with those who are ordained.

Of course, you know how these news shows can be. Once one guest opines about Christici Fidelis Laici, everyone has to spout off:

BOHLIN: I think there's another way of looking at this whole issue, which is the way that John Paul II has looked at it, coming out of Christici Fidelis Laici, the great document on the lay-people in the church, which is that, really, talking about priests, bishops, Catholic professionals, is talking about an infinitesimal portion of what the church is, and really, the forefront of the battle of the church is waged by every baptized person. And that's what's has to be—that's the battle. That's where the battle is, where those people are.

For ourselves, we don’t have a view on this great document. Meanwhile, why would the Meet the Press audience have a dog in the following hunt?

RUSSERT: But if you're a sacramental church, you need priests to administer the sacraments. And if there's a shortage of priests, what do you do?

Why can’t “our pope” just figure it out, then tell us what we should do in “these places?” In the meantime, why couldn’t Russert spend a few minutes on the actual news, which might affect the actual American people, the people who live in such lands?

But enough of the negative! In the good news department, the very ’umble Parson Meacham was there, preaching the gospel according to Newsweek:

MEACHAM: If you are a person of faith, particularly in the United States, you live in hope. You live in the hope that one day there will be a God who will wipe away all tears from your eyes and there'll be no more pain, an image from Revelation that's drawn from Isaiah. And if people of faith are to play a role in the public square, they must, I believe—a humble layman's opinion—they must practice humility and be—understand that the peace of God does passeth all understanding and that no one has, I believe, a monopoly on truth.

Of course, this ’umble layman is always inspiring. Just consider this earlier bite, where he ’umbly impressed with his detailed knowledge of every known item of scripture:

MEACHAM: You know, in the words of the Elizabethan Prayer Book, we are all seeking the means of grace and the hope of glory, and the road by which we—the road we take to attempt to do that can be different and obviously have been throughout history. I would draw a distinction between the teachings of the church and ultimately the broader force of Christianity. There is a sense, I think, of—as God said to Job in the Old Testament in the longest sustained monologue from the Lord in the Bible, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?" So he should not be presuming to act as though we know everything and that we understand all truth.

In fact, St. Paul said, "For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face-to-face. Now, I am known in part, soon I will be known in full." So we are all on a journey. St. Augustine defined this as the soul's journey back to God. And my sense is, the more that Benedict XVI can speak in the spirit of the past week as opposed to the past generation, he will become a force for at least an ecumenical spirit if not reconciliation.

Let’s face it—Meacham really isn’t the man to be talking about “longest sustained monologues.” Or, as we normally paraphrase Meacham, Blah blah blah blah harrumph zzzzzzz.

Meachum is, of course, the dunce who wrote:

The uniqueness—one could say oddity, or implausibility—of the story of Jesus' resurrection argues that the tradition is more likely historical than theological.


I was rather stunned by Russert's show this past week-end. It was, after all, Justice Sunday, a "religious" event that was actually newsworthy. Russert spent the hour talking Catholic theology instead. And it wasn't as if we hadn't just spent five long weeks with wall to wall religion on all the networks covering every possible issue that could be of interest to anyone who hadn't actually taken vows --- which I'm expecting to see Little Russ do any day now. That priest shortage is a big problem. His pope needs him.


Matt Yglesias over on TAPPED makes a good point about the new parental notification law. It pretty much clears up any remaining notion that repealing Roe vs Wade will solve the abortion issue once and for all so we can put all that unpleasantness aside as various progressive states will do as their constituents require and everybody will live happily ever after.

Pro-lifers are driven by a very serious moral commitment to the idea that aborting pregnancies is a serious wrong. They're not going to be happy sitting idly by while Virginia women travel to Maryland or the District of Columbia to have abortions any more than they're happy with inter-state travel to avoid parental notification laws.

That is correct. I don't know how long it's going to take Democrats to understand that those who vote one way or the other on that issue alone cannot be finessed. We can try to sound sympathetic to the "ick" factor and whittle away at the rights of women over time until there is only the most bare right to abortion if the woman's life is threatened and it won't make a difference to those who believe it is a fundamental issue of morality. We have to fight this one on the merits.

This reminds me of an interesting article by Paul Rogat Loeb in USA Today from a while back in which he writes that one of our problems with abortion is that we have not told personal stories:

Even if you've heard enough about Terri Schiavo, it seems useful to consider why President Bush's political grandstanding in her case backfired. More than 70% of Americans, including solid majorities of self-described evangelicals, opposed the intervention of the White House and Congress. Those surveyed mistrusted the Bush administration's disregard for local control, the rule of law and the right to be protected from a capricious federal government.

Their responses also speak to a broader shift in how we deal with difficult end-of-life issues. For 20 years, gradually increasing majorities have agreed that for all our technological inventiveness, what some people need most is the right to die in peace. You'd think this belief — that the most difficult decisions must be our own — would also raise support for maintaining the right to abortion. But it hasn't. In the 30 years since Roe v. Wade, support for keeping abortion legal has stayed even, at most, and new onerous restrictions keep getting imposed.

The difference comes, I suspect, from the stories we tell, and those we keep hidden. Many families have wrestled with end-of-life choices. But they're brought on by the illness and aging of loved ones, not by our own actions. No one judges us for having a sick parent as they might for our sexuality. So we're likely to talk in public about such choices.

But most women don't publicly discuss their abortions. Although a third of all U.S. women have abortions by age 45, they're more likely to view the dilemma as a product of their own failures — to use adequate birth control or to have the financial or emotional resources to afford another child. They're more likely to feel shame.

When the movement to legalize abortion began, advocates talked about the human costs of prohibition. They told the complex stories of why women would choose to value their own lives, choices and possibilities over the potential life of the fetus. They framed abortion as an act of compassion. We see this in the recent film, Vera Drake. Its working-class protagonist in postwar England views her actions "helping young girls in trouble" as part of the same ethic of caring as looking after her aged mother. Pro-choice activists eventually told their stories powerfully enough to convince America that its abortion policies had to change.

Since Roe, these voices have been neutralized by those speaking for the humanity of the fetus. Some oppose abortion from compassion and conviction. The motive of others, who also campaign against sex education, access to birth control and financial support for poor families, seems more like punitive vindictiveness. As the stories of the women involved faded, the reasons why women have always made this difficult choice, and will keep doing so, got told far less often.

Schiavo was a soap opera that everyone could understand in narrative terms. And most people underestood that it was a complicated story in which all of the characters were drawn in various shades of heroism, love, selfishness and grief. The discussions around the Easter table in many homes, I suspect, were characterized with sighs and stories of "remember your Aunt Millie's first husband Bill back in Baltimore? She had to pull the plug and her son wasn't happy about it at all" kind of dialog. "Morality" was probably not the way in which this topic was overtly discussed because the morality of the issue was so complicated.

Abortion, I think, has always been difficult to talk about because it had to do with sex --- and therefore, in some people's minds, sin. But I do remember back in the day that one of the things that made abortion finally come out of the closet was the willingness of people to talk about the issue. The stories were of the horrors of the back alley abortions they endured and the complexity of circumstances that led them there. For instance, here's just one example from Gloria Feldt's book "Behind Every Choice is A Story" of a complicated situation and the horrible way the women was forced to deal with it:

In 1970 I had a back-street abortion. I had a young daughter of 18 months at home and was separated from an abusive husband. When I found out I was pregnant with another child right after finally having the courage to leave an abusive man, I cried and cried. This was before abortion was legal. I told a close friend who said she knew of a doctor who performed these abortions.

I went to his clinic, which was dirty and sleazy underneath an underpass in Metairie, Louisiana. I was treated as a criminal and so were all the other women in the room. You had to give $150 in cash before they would even speak to you. I was led to a back room where there was no caring or anesthetic to be found. It was very painful and I threw up immediately and kept throwing up for over an hour after the procedure. My girlfriend who went with me was worried as I did not come out right away as others had. She inquired about me and was led to the back room where she saw that I was in pain and throwing up. She held my hand and got a washcloth to wash my face and help me. She asked the nurse if there wasn't something wrong and she replied "this is how some of them get." My girlfriend was horrified at the coldness and uncaring atmosphere of the place. We left sometime after and she drove me home and called a friend who was an intern at the time. He came to the house and prescribed some antibiotics and pain medication. He was very kind.

This ABC News poll says that 81% of the public believe that abortion should be available to rape and incest victims. That is not an absolutist "culture of life" position. However, 57% of the public believe that abortion should be illegal if the reason is to end an unwanted pregnancy. The question, of course, is what does "unwanted" mean and who decides? If you were to tell that personal story, a woman with a toddler already and an abusive husband she is trying desperately to leave, would 57% agree that this particular unwanted pregnancy should be dealt with in that horrible back alley situation? Should she have been forced to have this child under those circumstances? I doubt it.

Certainly, a fair number would say "tough" --- that women should have to carry the preganacy to term and give it up for adoption. But suppose that meant that the abusive father would have the right to take full custody? And, after all, how easy is it to give the sister or brother of your two year old up for adoption? And what about money or health care or legal fees? People don't want to think about the practical, financial aspects of having a child under stressful stituation, but it is likely to be a primary concern of the person who is going to have to pay the price. I know that in the discussions I had about the Schiavo case, the issue of cost was somthing that came up in every single conversation. Who pays and where will the money come from are things that real people talk about when they deal with these issues.

I understand the impulse of those who say "I'm not sorry" as a way of expressing their right to dominion over their own bodies. As a knee jerk civil libertarian, I am very sympathetic to a straight forward expression of individual rights. But from a political point of view, it makes far more sense to present this issue as one of complicated morality which individuals see differently in different circumstances and which politicians are much too craven and self-interested to intervene.

There are probably cases in which large numbers of people would see abortion as repugnant on some level. But there are many, many cases that would evoke the dinner table conversations that happened around the Schivo case if people knew the stories. 16 year old girls who made mistakes and 34 year old struggling mothers of two whose birth control failed and women who have no money and low paying jobs and medical students with a mountain of debt and a year to go. These stories may or may not meet every single person's criteria of what constitutes a "good reason" for having an abortion. But every single one of those women might very well decide that the circumstances are so dire for them that they will take their chances with a back alley abortion if a legal one is unavailable. That is the stark, dramatic choice that this country faces in this debate. And as Matt says, don't count on being able to just drive to California or Canada (even if you can come up with the money) because repealing Roe vs Wade will not be the end of it. They will not stop until it is outlawed nationally.

It is important to introduce back into the dialog the fact that this is not an abstract moral issue, but a multi-dimensional, intensely human dilemma. When people understand things in those terms they are far more likely to want the government to step back than step in. It seems they know instinctively that the blunt instrument of government in the hands of moral absolutists is a bad idea.

Update: And yes, it would have been very helpful if people knew the horrible situations in which some of these young girls affected by the new parental notification laws find themselves. Parental notification laws do not hurt the healthy familites that just want to help their girls make a good decision. Those kinds of families can deal with complexity and have probably built up a lot of trust over the years. These laws hurt the girls whose families are cruel, violent and authoritarian. Many adult women have had their lives ruined because they were forced to bear the burden of their parents' obsessive religious or political zealotry.


Ezra notices this Andrew Sullivan post and argues with Sully's complaint that Democrats just love raising taxes for its own sake. He makes the observation that Democrats don't really care how we raise the money, we are interested in how it's spent. He contrasts that with the Republicans for whom cutting taxes is a virtue, no matter how much is being spent --- leading to George W. Bush. (I'm pretty sure that Democrats prefer to raise money from filthy rich plutocrats who should be patriotic enough not to begrudge the country that gave them everything a little piece of the action, but maybe I'm wrong on that.) In any case, it's true that Democrats see taxation as a tool that must be used to ensure a stable and prosperous society, while Republicans see it as evil in itself --- or more precisely, they like to market it as evil in itself while they spend like Paris Hilton.

I have noticed this new singular reliance on the tax and spend canard among Republicans who are appalled at the current warm embrace of bigoted theocrats and/or inchoate, messianic global adventuring. It seems to be the last GOP identifier these people have and they are rather desperately clinging to it.

Sullivan says in this unusually (for him) confused article in TNR:

Retreating to the Democrats is not an option. Small government conservatives are even less powerful within the opposition's base than in the GOP's. Bill Clinton's small-c conservatism was made possible only by what now looks like a blessed interaction with a Republican Congress. The only pragmatic option is to persuade those who run the Republican Party that religious zeal is a highly unstable base for conservative politics: It is divisive, inflammatory, and intolerant of the very mechanisms that keep freedom alive.

Good luck with that.

All that remains of Sullivan's Republicanism is a knee jerk conviction that Democrats love taxes and big government for its own sake. But the truth is that most of the time Democrats are forced to raise taxes to fix the messes that Republicans have left us in. For decades we've been bailing out these reckless bastards. And when we have the opportunity, we like to put some brakes on their future rash and irresponsible economic performance by creating some social insurance so that average Americans don't get ruined every time these assholes take power. Ezra is right; we don't believe in "government" and "taxes" as some sort of values in themselves. They are the necessary tools to mitigate the excesses of the market --- and most often these excesses were exacerbated and enabled by Republican governments in the name of individual economic freedom. We just don't think that freedom from taxes trumps the gritty reality of being well and truly economicaly fucked by Republican policies. I guess that's just the difference between us.

Yes, we would like to roll back tax-cuts on the rich because somebody has to pay for all this and they are the ones with all the money. To ask that they pay a higher percentage of their already huge incomes is simply not an outrageous request --- particularly since they are mostly GOP cronies who financed and benefitted from raping the treasury in the first place. We do not believe that rich people are morally superior because the "market" rewards "productivity" with wealth, so they must be more productive and, therefore, more important to a successful economy. (Paris Hilton creates jobs, but I don't think the kind of "jobs" she creates are what we have in mind here.) We believe that the backbone of the economy is a thriving middle class and we believe that the government has to offer some support to make that happen.

Sadly, Democrats are undoubtedly going to have to spend a generation cleaning up the horrible mess the Republicans are creating right now. This is why it's so important that we preserve the social safety net and enhace it in the areas of health and job retraining. People are going to need it. They always need it after the Republicans come along and wreak havoc on the economy.

"Small government" whatever that really means, is a chimera. Nobody actually does it. The way you tell the difference is that the Democrats pay their way honestly and then clean up after the Republicans once they've spent the country into oblivion. Who are the grown-ups again?

Editor, Jeff Gannon

This sounds pretty funny, to be sure. But I wouldn't laugh too hard. Where's the money for this little venture coming from?

Link fixed


Thursday, April 28, 2005

Check It Out Now

I'd just like to make a plug for the advertiser over to your left --- BagNewsNotes. I happen to love the ever-changing news photos when I see them on other blogs and I really like them here. But you should click on them and take a look at the site itself. It's an unusual look at the way our politics and culture are seen by people in this country --- or, at least, should be.

(And, hey, if anybody feels like complaining that I'm endorsing one of my own advertisers, take it to Paul Harvey.)

Born To Rule

Billmon has written a wonderful review of Shadia Drury’s book, Leo Strauss and the American Right which I urge everyone to read. I was reminded of a conversation I had with my older brother (the smart one in the family) about fifteen years ago. We were listening to Newt Gingrich smarmily intone about God and family values on CSPAN and my brother turned to me and said, "They want to repeal the enlightenment." I thought, as I have often thought in my life, that my brother was full of shit. And as has often been the case, I was wrong. When the neos really started to flex their muscles back in the late 90's it was clear that they were, shockingly, hostile to the enlightenment. I had many an argument with libertarians(which I have since abandoned for lack of hours in the day and cells in the brain) trying to tell them that the modern Republicans think John Stuart Mill was a dangerous radical and that the American constitution is a piece of toilet paper.

I would only add a couple of thoughts to Billmon's extremely interesting post. The first is that I think one of the untold stories with the neocons is how they have put post-modern techniques in service of pre-modern ideology --- and how that may undo them. That is to say that while they fully believe in their own inate superiority, they have quite masterfully used modern marketing and business techniques to sell the exact opposite concept to the public --- that everyone is master of their own destiny. As Billmon puts it in his piece, they believe "the people just need their opium" and they decided that the opium of the modern era was an illusion of freedom. At the same time they introduced the idea that we need more traditional values and that we should have no taxes but high spending, culture of life and culture of war, and a myriad of impossible to reconcile ideas. (It's possible that they originally thought to supplant opium with confusion.)

The problem is that when you have consciously created several competing discourses out there in the ether, it becomes quite difficult to control them. The concept of the winner writes the history may be true --- but it's damned hard to do it in real time. It's just not a simple as it used to be to round up the rubes and tell them what they believe. And I don't think this Elmer Gantry Salvation Show is going to fix it. They are part of the entertainment industrial complex with an agenda all their own.

Billmon also says:

One of the Straussians’ most important innovations has been to reconcile their brand of elite conservatism with Southern fried demagogic populism ala Huey Long and George Wallace. That’s a pretty radical concession for a movement with its mind (or at least its heart) planted firmly in the fifth century BC. But it's solved the traditional dilemma of old-style conservatives in America: How to win power in a society that has no landed gentry, no nobility, no established church – none of Europe’s archaic feudal institutions and loyalties.

The rationale – or rationalization – for the populist ploy is that the common folk are a hell of a lot less liberal (again, using the Enlightenment definition of the word) than what the Straussians like to call America’s “parchment regime” – that is, the ideas and principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The masses want their opium, in other words, and with the right guidance, will happily sweep away the liberal elites who have been denying it to them.

This makes quite a bit of sense in another way as well. There actually is an echo of feudalism in America, isn't there? It's in the Lost Cause confederacy. In that sense, there is a lot more in common between the Straussians and the southern demagogues than might be readily apparent. Just as the feudal lords and the church could be counted upon to keep the masses in line, the right wing decendents of the old confederacy can be counted upon to also answer smartly to their higher authority and serve their leige lord.

As I mentioned, however, the southern church is going to cause some problems. Not because it doesn't agree that they and their allies are preturnaturally gifted with the ability to govern the masses as they see fit --- but because they are not truly organized around a hierarchy. The religious right is a bunch of loosely affiliated entrepreneurial businesses, not a top down corporation. They are quite nicely sharing the overlord duties right now, but I do not expect that human nature has been repealed. With power will come competition among them. In fact, it may end up being a world wide wrestling, NASCAR flame out, free-for-all, right in front of God and everybody.

And lest we forget, it was that bullshit that led to the enlightenment in the first place.

The problem for the Straussians and the Southern feudalists, I think, is that both the Po-mo marketing and the religious right fervor are taking on lives of their own. It's getting away from them. And I think it is because neither modern media with its diffusion and reliance on sensation and spectacle, or evangelical religion with its newfound populist insistence that it actually knows better than the party mandarins, are controllable in the long run. These are not entirely manageable or malleable cultural instruments the way that feudal institutions were. I'm sure the right would like nothing more than to institute these feudal institutions in the US --- it's clear that William F Buckley and his confederate bretheren veritably yearn for it. But America is not a very good cultural fit for these ideas. Mega Churches are circus tents, not cathedrals. And we fought a very bloody war already, essentially over the idea that the Southern aristocrat knew what was best for everyone.

I don't believe that there is any putting the enlightenment genie back in the bottle. But I do believe that that is what they are trying to do and the result is going to be a mess beyond our imagining --- as Billmon says "insane, potentially catastropic."

My smart brother, by the way, emigrated for good back in 1996.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

They're Heee-ar

Kevin Drum, citing a very interesting article in Dissent by Michael Walzer, says:

In the end, then, we have a stalemate. The left in America has limited energy because its goals are fairly modest and its story is disjointed. The right has energy and vision to spare but its goals aren't widely supported. Someone — or something — is likely to come along in the near future and smash this stalemate, but what? Or who?

It's already happening. See post below:

Read Kevin's entire post for context and read the Dissent article as well. Very interesting stuff.

Slow Boil

I didn't have a lot to say about The Pope Show because I like to show respect for other people's beliefs and when a pope dies it's a very big deal to catholics. (And judging by the wall to wall TV coverage, it was a big deal to many other people as well.) I also haven't said much about the new Pope because while I know that he has had an influence on politics in this country, I haven't felt that it was primarily my business to weigh in on religious dogma that I don't share.

But on this, I call bullshit:

A key part of the Republican strategy is to claim that it is hatred of religion that has moved the Democrats to oppose these judicial nominees. "Justice Sunday: Stop the Filibuster Against People of Faith," a TV program produced by evangelical leaders, was simulcast Sunday via the Internet, just as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was preparing to call for a vote on the anti-filibuster measure. Evangelical Protestants have led the way in portraying Democrats as enemies of God, but the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has chimed in on the issue of judicial nominees in a mass mailing to parishioners timed to yield constituent letters just as the matter comes to a vote.

I thought it was wrong during the campaign for the church to take sides as it did, particularly after ruling that priests were not allowed to be involved in politics. (Apparently, this was only because the priests involved at the time happened to be liberals.) But it was a political campaign and individual catholics were ultimately going to have to decide for themselves what their priorities were. I didn't like it, but it wasn't completely out of bounds.

This, however, is something else entirely. This is the church weighing in on an obscure senate rule that does not have anything overtly to do with religion or even morality. It's a partisan political power play. It's not that I don't realize that all these conservative evangelizal churches are doing the same thing. But the Catholic church is an international, political body as well as a religious institution that has up to now been quite cautious about injecting itself into American power politics. It's one thing to have that crank Donohoe preaching on the same pulpit as James Dobson; it's quite another for the Bishops of the US Catholic Church -- presumably under the direction of Pope Benedict --- to get involved.

The author mentions Fritz Stern, who I wrote about a while back, and his views on if "it could happen here." He had some very important insights into how religion plays into this. I took an unusual amount of flack for posting it (alongside the TIME cover with Dobson et al.) It's worth repeating now, I think:

...the rise of National Socialism was neither inevitable nor accidental. It did have deep roots, but the most urgent lesson to remember is that it could have been stopped. This is but one of the many lessons contained in modern German history, lessons that should not be squandered in cheap and ignorant analogies. A key lesson is that civic passivity and willed blindness were the preconditions for the triumph of National Socialism, which many clearheaded Germans recognized at the time as a monstrous danger and ultimate nemesis.

We who were born at the end of the Weimar Republic and who witnessed the rise of National Socialism—left with that all-consuming, complex question: how could this horror have seized a nation and corrupted so much of Europe?—should remember that even in the darkest period there were individuals who showed active decency, who, defying intimidation and repression, opposed evil and tried to ease suffering. I wish these people would be given a proper European memorial—not to appease our conscience but to summon the courage of future generations. Churchmen, especially Protestant clergy, shared his hostility to the liberal-secular state and its defenders, and they, too, were filled with anti-Semitic doctrine.

Allow me a few remarks not about the banality of evil but about its triumph in a deeply civilized country. After the Great War and Germany’s defeat, conditions were harsh and Germans were deeply divided between moderates and democrats on the one hand and fanatic extremists of the right and the left on the other. National Socialists portrayed Germany as a nation that had been betrayed or stabbed in the back by socialists and Jews; they portrayed Weimar Germany as a moral-political swamp; they seized on the Bolshevik-Marxist danger, painted it in lurid colors, and stoked people’s fear in order to pose as saviors of the nation. In the late 1920s a group of intellectuals known as conservative revolutionaries demanded a new volkish authoritarianism, a Third Reich. Richly financed by corporate interests, they denounced liberalism as the greatest, most invidious threat, and attacked it for its tolerance, rationality and cosmopolitan culture. These conservative revolutionaries were proud of being prophets of the Third Reich—at least until some of them were exiled or murdered by the Nazis when the latter came to power. Throughout, the Nazis vilified liberalism as a semi-Marxist-Jewish conspiracy and, with Germany in the midst of unprecedented depression and immiseration, they promised a national rebirth.

Twenty years ago, I wrote about “National Socialism as Temptation,” about what it was that induced so many Germans to embrace the terrifying specter. There were many reasons, but at the top ranks Hitler himself, a brilliant populist manipulator who insisted and probably believed that Providence had chosen him as Germany’s savior, that he was the instrument of Providence, a leader who was charged with executing a divine mission. God had been drafted into national politics before, but Hitler’s success in fusing racial dogma with a Germanic Christianity was an immensely powerful element in his electoral campaigns. Some people recognized the moral perils of mixing religion and politics, but many more were seduced by it. It was the pseudo-religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured his success, notably in Protestant areas.

German moderates and German elites underestimated Hitler, assuming that most people would not succumb to his Manichean unreason; they didn’t think that his hatred and mendacity could be taken seriously. They were proven wrong. People were enthralled by the Nazis’ cunning transposition of politics into carefully staged pageantry, into flag-waving martial mass. At solemn moments, the National Socialists would shift from the pseudo-religious invocation of Providence to traditional Christian forms: 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.”

Makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, doesn't it?

A Reverent Moment

Josh Marshall has been following the Princeton Filibuster which is being held in front of the Frist Campus Center. Among the many things they read throughout the rainy night, along with excerpts of the constitution, was the American classic "My Pet Goat."


And to the pedants among you --- and you are legion --- please refrain from correcting the name of the book. I know it is "The Pet Goat" I prefer "My Pet Goat" because "My Pet Goat" is funnier; thus it will always be "My Pet Goat" on this blog.

Impulse Control

Quick, somebody ask head security mom, Cokie Roberts, if she thinks it's ok for Republicans to act like juvenile delinquents on the taxpayers dime? The children are rewriting Democratic amendments to make them sound as if Democrats are trying to protect sexual predators. And no, this isn't happening in some obscure local backwater. It's in the US House of Representatives:

DEMS: a Nadler amendment allows an adult who could be prosecuted under the bill to go to a Federal district court and seek a waiver to the state’s parental notice laws if this remedy is not available in the state court. (no 11-16)

GOP REWRITE:. Mr. Nadler offered an amendment that would have created an additional layer of Federal court review that could be used by sexual predators to escape conviction under the bill. By a roll call vote of 11 yeas to 16 nays, the amendment was defeated.

DEMS: a Nadler amendment to exempt a grandparent or adult sibling from the criminal and civil provisions in the bill (no 12-19)

GOP REWRITE: . Mr. Nadler offered an amendment that would have exempted sexual predators from prosecution under the bill if they were grandparents or adult siblings of a minor. By a roll call vote of 12 yeas to 19 nays, the amendment was defeated.

Thank goodness the chairman of the committee stepped in and took control of his unruly charges.

Oh wait; he didn't:

"And instead of decrying what I certainly expected would be revealed as a mistake by an overzealous staffer...The Chairman stood by those altered
amendment descriptions.

"He made very clear to the Rules Committee that the alterations to these members' amendments were deliberate.

"When pressed as to why his committee staff took such an unprecedented action, the Chairman immediately offered up his own anger over the manner in which Democrats had chosen to debate and oppose this unfortunate piece of legislation we have before us today.

"In fact...He said, and I quote..."You don't like what we wrote about your amendments, and we don't like what you said about our bill."

Oh boo fucking hoo. The Republicans are in total control. The Democrats can sit around all day long and call them a bunch of fascist nazi bastards and it doesn't mean anything. And they still can't stop whining.

The problem is that these people don't really want to achieve anything. They are both in love with being victims and insist on being right. And they want everyone to acknowledge they are both right and victimized. What a bunch of big babies. It's not enough to win, the other side must completely capitulate --- and apologize.

As Tim Noah observed in this Slate article:

The fact is that the GOP doesn't have an agenda. It has impulses: to cut taxes, to increase Pentagon spending, and to mollify the Christian right wherever possible. Does it act on these impulses? Of course. But what mostly gives the party appeal to the electorate is its ability to scream and yell while seldom being granted the opportunity to ban abortion or eliminate the Securities and Exchange Commission or declare war on France. It stirs things up satisfyingly, while never requiring anybody to pay the price.

The Republican party has a bunch of action items and a bunch of constituencies who want specific things, but this erstwhile great party of sober, prudent conservatism has shown that when it comes to running the country is more like an wild gang of teen-agers, terrorizing the neighborhood and drawing graffitti on the capital building. They operate on impulses that they cannot control.

There is a strain of macho, pouty, puerile, "Lost Cause" psychology in American politics going back a long way. These same people wielding almost total power and attempting to run our government as an expression of their sense of righteous victimhood is a uniquely undignified and degrading spectacle.

Charming The Ladies

There has been a lot of talk on the left about how to appeal to the married woman voters who migrated to George W. Bush.

Perhaps we should just tell them that the spiritual leader of the conservative movement for which they are voting (and dear friend of Tom Delay and George W. Bush) has this to say:

"My observation is that women are merely waiting for their husbands to assume leadership."James Dobson

I just have a feeling that the vast, vast majority of American women might find that a little but insulting. In fact, they might just find George W. Bush's metaphorical soul kiss with the religious right kind of insulting when they see it in those terms.

Check out this post by Publius at Legal Fiction for an excellent rundown of quotes that we should put on posters and bumper stickers in anticip[ation of the next election.

Here's one more from our favorite dachshund beater:

Newt Gingrich chooses somebody to respond to the president. Who did he choose? Christine Todd Whitman, the absolute antithesis of everything that [our] constituency stands for. She is pro-homosexual activism. She's pro-condom distribution. She's pro-abortion. She's pro-partial-birth abortion. . . . They put a symbol [Whitman] of the immoral, amoral constituency up in front of the people who had just handed leadership to the Republicans.

That big tent is getting a little bit claustrophobic, isn't it?

Who Are We?

Ezra takes Kos to task for his proposed slogan "The Democrats are the party of people who work for a living" saying that it isn't as effective as the successful Republican mantra "small government, low taxes, family values and strong national defense." He says that the slogan should reflect an actual agenda, not some ephemeral platitude. I actually think they are both misunderstanding what that Republican list really is. Kos thinks it identifies who the party represents and Ezra thinks it's a legislative agenda.

I don't think it's that simple. The Republicans say they stand for small government, low taxes etc, not that they'd like to pass "small government, low taxes, family values etc." It isn't a specific legislative agenda. Neither does it identify who the party represents. It's a statement of belief. (Which, by the way, is used most successfully as a contrast to the "big government, high tax, 'make-love-not-war'" hippie straw man they've constructed to represent liberalism.)

I'll take a pass at a simple description of what Democrats stand for that we might successfully use to contrast our beliefs with the other side.

How about "fair taxes, a secure safety net, personal privacy, civil rights, and responsible global leadership?"

Update: Attaturk has a more straightforward idea:

"We aren't as big a fuckups as those dumbasses."

That's good too.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Hans and Franz

worries that using John Bolton's malevolent personality as a reason for scuttling the nomination is bad news for us because it gives people like Bill Kristol an excuse to make the argument that Democrats are sissies.

It seems to me that nominations are almost always scuttled on trivial charges rather than the substantive ones. Nowadays, people are creating nanny problems for troubled nominees who don't even have nannies. There seems to be a unspoken agreement that nominees will be allowed to bow out for some mistake or character quirk rather than a charge of incompetence or malfeasance. Perhaps it's a strange form of face saving for the president who nominated the person.

And anyway, this isn't really the Democrats' play. As we all know, if it were only Democrats opposing Bolton he'd be in New York destroying the UN as we speak. It's Republicans who are standing in Bolton's way and it's Republicans who Kristol is really taunting with that painfully stupid "girly-man" line.

I guess Voinovich is a girly man by Kristol's standards, but he looks like a he-man to everybody else. He's bucking a very powerful Republican machine and that takes cojones. That's what Kristol is trying to stop. Who knows what might happen if the Republican moderates really start to flex their muscles?

How Ever Will They Resolve This?

Can you believe this kabuki bullshit?

The Bush administration issued a veto threat again Tuesday against a popular highway bill, saying the president would be likely to reject any legislation that exceeds a White House-set spending ceiling or adds to the deficit.

The administration, in saying the legislation "should exhibit funding restraint," was at odds with many in Congress, including some conservatives, who say the deteriorating state of the nation's roads, bridges and public transport demands more aggressive spending.


The bill currently on the Senate floor, like the House bill passed in March, approves $284 billion over a six-year period for highway, mass transit and safety programs. The White House says anything above that number would subject the legislation to a veto.

It issued a second veto threat Tuesday on any new borrowing that "negatively impacts the deficit."


The popularity of the bill was demonstrated when the Senate voted 94-6 on Tuesday to proceed with it. All six voting no were Republicans, several because they said the bill was too expensive.

But the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, James Inhofe, R-Okla., said, "Those of us who are conservatives really believe this is something we should be doing here."

Man, that codpiece is tight. Junior's not gonna let a renegade Republican Majority pass that deficit spending crap. He's tellin' 'em to straighten up and fly right, damn it.

Still, with a vote of 94-6, it's a little but unusual for a president to issue a veto threat since it could easily be over-ridden. How odd.

But hey, guys like Inhofe can at least say they voted for the highway bill which is almost as good as actually passing one. And heck, even if they end up passing one, The Big Kahuna shows that he's a tough guy, which is almost as good as actually being one.

Giving Voice To The Voiceless

I must admit that I too am very excited about Ariana Huffington's new blog. As Roger Ailes put it so well:

The "MSM" has for too long silenced the voices of Jann Wenner, Barry Diller, Walter Cronkite and Norman Mailer.

Tony Blankely for too long has been denied a platform to slander George Soros.

Where else could Conrad Black's dogsbody, David Frum, find a space to suck up to his beleaguered master?

Where else would Michael Medved find an wide audience for his completely sane theory that "oil companies are always anti-semitic."

Where would the malnourished John Fund find a buffet that hasn't blacklisted him?

And where but such a blog could Mort Zuckerman publish his thoroughly researched, scholarly papers on tort reform?

Finally, a forum for those who've been shut out of the dialog for far too long. This could be the blogging breath of fresh air that could finally shake up the establishment.

As the New York Times reports:

Having prominent people join the blogosphere, Ms. Huffington said in an interview, "is an affirmation of its success and will only enrich and strengthen its impact on the national conversation."

Absolutely. None of these people have nearly enough influence on the national conversation. It's long past time they spoke out.

Update: Lest anyone think I'm being a snotty nobody, let it be known that I think it's great that Democrats (which Huffington now proudly calls herself) are putting some money into countering Drudge. But I do think the idea that these people need a separate media platform to be heard is kind of hilarious. Is anyone in the least bit in the dark about what Tony Blankley thinks about everything?

I am, on the other hand, curious to see if Maggie Gyllenhall has anything interesting to say. She was one of the few celebs who had the guts to speak out against the Iraq war when she was getting an acting award (Independent Spirit) so I find her admirable. Everybody ese, except for the Dixie Chicks and Michael Moore were disgustingly chickenshit. So, I'll give her posts a read, out of appreciation for her courage if nothing else.

Reading The Tea Leaves

Citing Yglesias for the second time (how does he do it?) I have to wholeheartedly agree with him on this one. This report by the PPI on why we should take on popular culture seems to follow all the blog talk in which it's just assumed that this is an issue that will move votes. I've seen absolutely no actual data to indicate that people will vote Democratic if we join the moralizing bandwagon.

I do however, see evidence in the polls that says people don't like this incursion into people's personal lives by the Republican party --- which would suggest that adopting this "morals-lite" agenda may just backfire.

Here's some data from the Washington Post poll (pdf):

Do you think a political leader should or should not rely on his or her religious beliefs in making policy decisions?

Should Not:55%
No Opinion:2%

Would you rather see religion have GREATER influence in politics and public life than it does now, LESS influence, or about the SAME influence as it does now?

No opinion:1%

23; Do you think that people and groups that hold values similar to yours are gaiing influence in American life in general these days, or do you thinks that they are losing influence?

No opin:2%

No opin:4%

24. Which political party, the Democrats or the Republicans, do you think better represents you own personal values?

No Opin:2%

No Opin:3%

25. Generally speaking, which political party, the Democrats or the Republicans, do you think is more:

a. tolerant of different
kinds of people and
different points of view:

No opin:4%

b. sympathetic to religion
and religious people

No opin:7%

a. tolerant of different
kinds of people and
different points of view:

No opin:8%

b. sympathetic to religion
and religious people

No opin:11%

27. Do you think religious conservatives have too much influence, too little influence or about the right amount of influence over the Republican Party?

Too Much:40%
Too Little:17%
About the right amount:37%
No Opin:6%

Do you think liberals have too much influence, too little influence or about the right amount of influence ovewr the Democratic Party?

Too Much:35%
Too Little:21%
About the right amount:38%
No Opin:5%

Now, none if this proves anything with respect to whether the Democrats should attack popular culture as a way of connecting with voters on the allegedly all important values issues. Clearly, this doesn't address that specifically. But it does address the fact that people seem to be more concerned at this point that politicians are too influenced by religion than that they are not influenced enough. And that tells me that we would be going in exactly the wrong direction if we think to capture a majority by twisting ourselves into pretzels on morals and values. The proponents certainly haven't produced any data that would say otherwise.

It is true that the Republicans are perceived as more sympathetic to religion nowadays than they were back in 2000, but why wouldn't they be? They are drenched in religious rhetoric and seem to be wholly at the mercy of the religious right. (You'll note that at least some of their gain on the issue stems from many fewer people saying they have no opinion on the matter. It didn't used to be understood that politics and religion were so intertwined.)

And in that respect, it doesn't appear to be a net positive that they are now perceived as more sympathetic to religion, particularly considering the first question I highlighted, which is "do you think a politician should or should not rely on his or her religious beliefs in making policy decisions?" A clear majority say no. And 71% of people say that religion should have the same or less influence as it has today.(Significantly, more people think it should have less influence than think it should have more.) It does not appear to me that people are clamoring for more religious moralizing from politicians.

Indeed, the most interesting result in all of this is that more people say that Democrats represent their personal values than Republicans, and that number hasn't changed since 1999. So if more people have identified with Democrats on personal values since 1999, the genesis of the Bush Frist Travelling Salvation Show, it seems pretty clear to me that values aren't the reason we are losing. In fact, if they keep it up, it's looking as if the Republicans will be the ones to lose on that issue in 2006.

I think that the question that pollsters have to ask is if people think it is more important for the government to be tolerant of different kinds of people and different points of view or if they think it's more important for government to be sympathetic toward religion. In that choice lies the answer to how we should proceed.

Living In The Now

Matt Yglesias makes thepoint today (along with a number of other liberal publications and intellectuals) that the Democrats would be better off without the filibuster:

"...however opportunistic the judges-only anti-filibuster stance is, the reality is that the nuclear option will pave the way for Democrats to eliminate legislative filibusters as well whenever they find themselves in the majority. When that happens, the GOP will find that while their only big legislative idea -- tax cuts, tax cuts, and more tax cuts -- is already immune to the filibuster, they can no longer block Democratic ideas."

I think that this would be true only in a world where double standards and lack of accountability did not rule. One would think that in the future, you could argue quite reasonably that the Republicans insisted back in 2005 that the filibuster against judicial nominees was undemocratic and the Democrats now just want to end that undemocratic practice altogether. Surely, since the Democrats acted out of principle then, the Republicans will act out of principle now and support this change. After all, they wouldn't want to be called hypocrites for saying one thing in 2005 and another now, would they?

Needless to say, this will never happen. The modern Republicans do not worry about such things as consistency and the press shows no inclination to hold them accountable for anything they've ever done.

Crooks and Liars has the video today of the Walter Cronkite broadcast of October 2, 1968 --- the day that Abe Fortas withdrew his nomination for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Why? Because THE REPUBLICANS FILIBUSTERED IT!!!!

Here's the quote from the Republican minority leader at the time Robert Griffin:

I believe that any chief justice should have widespread support among the people and the senate of the United States. In view of the deep division and the controversy that surrounds this nomination, I think Mr Fortas' decision was very wise.

Just as the GOP argues that the fact that Orrin Hatch routinely prevented Clinton's nominees from getting an up or down vote bears no relationship to filibustering nominees for the same end, the Republicans say that the principle involved in the Fortas filibuster was entirely different. He was being nominated for Chief justice which is nothing like being nominated for federal judgeships or just plain old Supreme Court judges. The principle is entirely different! Apples and oranges, my friends.

And I have read almost nothing in the press that makes it clear that the Republicans are being hypocritical on this issue. In fact, the Sunday gasbags and the likes of Dean Broder seem to be more concerned about the "principle" that Bush should be allowed to get anything he wants while the Democrats negotiate for the right to breathe the same air as he does. And Broder, anyway, should surely remember that Fortas was filibustered. He wasn't young, even then.

And just as the Republicans would not be held responsible for their hypocrisy on this issue, neither would the Democrats be given any credit for being consistent. Nobody in the chattering classes gives a shit about any of that so it has absolutely no salience for future battles. The only thing that matters in these situations is if one of the parties reaches a point at which it will force the other to play chicken. This only happens when one party is so arrogant that they are willing to bet that they will not be retaliated against in the future. This battle is the Democrats' way of saying that they most certainly will face retaliation --- and right here and right now. Damn the future of the filibuster. At some point you just have to let bullies know that you won't be rolled.

I suspect that the American people would find it disconcerting if they knew that the GOP is shamelessly hypocritical, but there is no evidence that they will be informed of this, so it isn't going to happen. What does appear to be happening is a common sense response to majoritarian bullying --- by more than 60%, the public doesn't want the filibuster to be eliminated. I suspect this is because they figure it's always good to have some brakes on the party in power. And that would very likely be the response if Democrats tried to end it when they are in power as well.

At this point I think there is no margin in trying to strategize with the idea that we will want to do something when we get back into power. As they have often done in the past ten years, the Republicans will merely adjust the argument to suit their needs at the time and the media will not call them on it.

Besides, we need to win as many battles as we can, right now. Our biggest problem isn't that the American people don't agree with us on the issues; I think it's that they don't think we are willing to fight for them. Look at this Washington Post poll (pdf). Not only does it show that a majority of Americans agree with our position on the issues, it shows that they agreed with our position on the issues before the election. The Repubicans have convinced themselves that our losing record on elections proves that the country is strongly behind them and that they cannot lose again. And just as they did in 1992, they are going to lose their minds when this is proven wrong.

This Democracy Corps (pdf) poll says:

The most visible political battles of the last three months have taken place around the Congress – the president’s Social Security initiative, Terri Schiavo, Tom DeLay’s ethics issues and the debate around the filibuster rule for consideration of judicial nominees. Even when presented in the most neutral way, people respond to the totality and say, most often, that something is very wrong. Indeed, in the open-ended follow-up to this discussion in the survey, the mostfrequent reactions are “wrong, wrong, wrong,” “very wrong,” “wrong in every sense.” One in five offers a simple declarative negative: “bad,” “horrible,” “pathetic,” “unbelievable,” “disturbing,”or “shocking.”

Other sets of comments, each mentioned by about 6 percent, focused on the Republicans
acting irresponsibly or recklessly (“out of control”) and the Republicans being intrusive and (interfering in personal matters.]

The open-ended reactions focused on the totality, though more about Schiavo than any
other piece – which included interfering and being moralistic – and some talked about wrong priorities, wrong direction and the conservatives’ ideological agenda, but there was very little specific recall of the Social Security reforms.

When given a list of options that might describe these events, the voters gravitated to “arrogance of power” (35 percent) and priorities (26 percent), that is, Republicans devoting their time to the wrong things. Somewhat further down were people saying “out of touch” (20 percent)and “forcing views on others” (20 percent). But for independents and moderates, 45 percent say this is arrogance, the top mention by far.

The Republicans are finally showing their spots. We must allow that revelation to unfold and as we do it, we will show that we stand for something by standing together against this arrogance of power. I doubt that eliminating the filibuster for judicial nominees will accrue to our advantage even when we obtain a majority; I'm certain it will not accrue to our benefit today. Acceding to the Republicans' arrogance and hubris is the surest way to reinforce the idea the Democrats are simply useless.

Updtae: This is rich. Read this post by DHinMI at The Next Hurrah about the Fortas nominations. The son of above mentioned Republican leader Robert Griffin, is one of the judges being denied an up or down vote. Sweet.

And be sure to read the tortured argument from that hack C. Boyden Gray about why this is entirely different. Not only is it absurd, it's factually incorrect.

Public Service

I am on a couple of right wing mailing lists for which I am grateful because it allows me to keep up with the real Americans and what they are thinking. Here's what they are sending around on social security.


Democrats, and Republicans too, have got us all confused about Social Security, but here is an explanation that even the mentally retarded can follow. The average American makes $16.05 per hour according The Bureau of Labor Statistics; lives to age 77 according to the Center for Disease control, officially retires at age 66 according to a law passed by Congress, and contributes 12.4% of his income to Social Security according to a legalized scam perpetrated by the Democrats.

So, $16.05 (per hour) x 40 (hours per week) x 52 (weeks per year) x 46 (years worked) gives you $153,566 that is now stolen by the Democrats, but might have been put in your mattress. To disguise this grand larceny the Democrats give back $952 (average Social Security monthly check) and say, " the math is very complicated but trust us, this is a great deal; we love you and care for you, and those Republicans are just so selfish and mean."

But, if you had been free from Democrats to put the 12.4% each pay period ($153,566 in total ) in your mattress until retirement, and then lived the average 11 years longer, you could take 22% more ($1163) per month in retirement income than the Democrats give you!

For those who are fortunate enough to fall above the retarded level of intelligence it is known that money, rather than being invested in a mattress, can be invested in a balanced Republican fund of stocks and bonds where it might return, conservatively, 5%, in which case the return would not be 22% above the Democratic grand theft return, but rather 422% above the Democratic grand theft return.

In point of fact, many Americans retire to a life at or near the poverty level because the Democrats steal their money by convincing them they are the caring Socialist Party. Sadly, those who can't understand this are not functionally above the mentally retarded level, but rather have fallen prey to the same pack animal mentality that throughout history caused them to worship and trust strange Gods and stranger men who were far more likely to use that trust to kill or abuse them rather than to care for them. It all makes you wonder if the Jeffersonian concept of freedom from Gov't is too unnatural to prevail in the end.

It's interesting that they use the term mentally retarded, isn't it? But then, it's real Americans like this who elected fellow math whiz and actuarial expert, Junior Codpiece, to the presidency.


Monday, April 25, 2005

Diluting The Argument

Via Talk Left, I find this interesting article by constitutional scholar (and self-professed moderate) Marci Hamilton. She seems to be a true centrist, seeing the limitations and extremism coming from both sides of the political divide. She's obviously very smart, which is why I cannot believe that she begins her argument with this:

In recent years, the Supreme Court has been pilloried by the far right for being "activist" - while at the same time also being castigated by the far left for being "imperialistic." When these kinds of allegations are trotted out by both ends of the political spectrum, it is very good evidence that what the Court is doing is neither activist nor imperialistic.

That's not good evidence at all. All it means is that both sides have criticized the court; it says nothing about whether those criticisms are correct. Her reasoning is that if two parties criticize something, the object of their criticism must,therefore, not be guilty of either sides' criticism. That's nonsense. It could very well be true that the court is activist or imperialist or both or neither.

The press often uses this fallacious reasoning to fail to investigate whether criticisms of them might be true. If both liberals and conservatives are angry with something they wrote, then what they wrote must be correct. It's lazy rubbish.

In fairness Hamilton goes on to make a persuasive case that the court is neither activist nor imperialist, but it is based upon her analysis of the arguments not the "evidence" that the court is criticized by both sides.

I would argue, however, that there is a difference in scale and power that she should have taken into account. The alleged attacks coming from the "extreme" left about imperialism are many magnitudes less significant than those coming from the right. By framing this argument as if both "extremes" are equal in the daily discourse she gives a false impression of the weight of the arguments and their practical implications in the coming judicial battles.

The liberal argument about "imperialism" is simply not on the table. Nobody is talking about it and there is no notion that any judicial nominee or any public criticism of the court is going to be swayed by this point of view. Hamilton makes an excellent argument against the idea that the Supreme Court is activist. But to offer this analysis as if the left's criticism of the Court has the same level of relevance at this time and place is to dilute the power of her reasoning.

These are difficult times for moderates of all stripes, I know. But the present danger is coming quite clearly from the far right. Left wing legal arguments are simply not important at the moment and trying to use their academic musings to create a sense of balance, when the real danger the court faces is from right wing extremists who have the ear of a very powerful and ambitious Republican establishment, is a mistake. This is no theoretical discussion. Moderates can make a real difference this time and they need to be careful that they don't give anyone reason to believe that this is politics as usual. This is one issue on which they need to take a clear and uncompromising stand --- if they don't, the default goes to those with the political power and the consequences of that are quite stark.

correction: spelling corrected

Master Of Disaster

Republicans who have been lobbied by Bush say he is uncommonly engaged in the issue and more passionate than they have seen him since he was pushing his signature education initiative in 2001.

"You could see him sitting on the edge of his chair," said Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.).

Bush typically focuses his pitch on detailing the long-term strain on Social Security's resources and argues that it should be addressed sooner rather than later. "If we are going to be able to address and fix this problem, people need to be educated about the scope of the problem," one Republican quoted him saying.

Whereas some analysts and associates have portrayed Bush as a brusque manager impatient with policy details, lawmakers see a different picture when he discusses Social Security. He has become a master of actuarial arcana, such as the concept of a "bend point" — a feature of the complex formula for calculating benefits.

Yes. His mastery of actuarial arcana is very impressive:

Because the -- all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those -- changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be -- or closer delivered to what has been promised.

Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a series of things that cause the -- like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate -- the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those -- if that growth is affected, it will help on the red.

One can certainly understand why people would feel comfortable trusting their financial security in retirement to this man. I'm quite sure it's why he's been so successful with the issue so far.

Confirmation Conundrum

I haven't written much about the Bolton nomination because I pretty much said everything I thought about him in the first year of this blog, when I railed considerably about the bizarre notion that an insane, Jesse Helms protege should be in charge of arms control. Garance writes about this over on TAPPED today confriming one of the things that's bothered me about the Bolton fight; if he isn't confirmed for the UN, he just goes back to the State Department where he can do even worse damage in his current position. Remember, he was given the UN nomination in order to get him out of there in the first place.

I have no reason to believe that the loyal Bolton will be shamed into quitting the administration entirely. Has anyone? It just doesn't happen. No, he'll just continue running around the world having temper tantrums in front of people like Kim Jong Il and browbeating the intelligence community into giving him the names of Americans on whom they are spying.

Nobody leaves a Bush administration official in the corner...any Bush administration. Hell, they've revived Eliot Abrams and John Negroponte. Unless Bolton wants to leave, nobody will ask him to. He'll be back in charge of arms control.

Not that we shouldn't have fought to take him out. The Republicans have shown that in modern politics you fight every battle to the death and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. It's a helluva way to run a country, but there it is.

I Know You Are But What Am I

Matt Yglesias wonders why the Republicans have been so blase about nominees lying outright to the Senate during their confirmation hearings when they may very well be at the mercy of Democrats in the future. Yesterday, Bill Frist righteously rebutted the argument set forth by some Republicans that the nuclear option would leave them powerless when Democrats came into power, by saying that if it was wrong for Democrats today it would be wrong for Republicans tomorrow. In truth it doesn't matter.

The trouble is that the IOKIYAR (it's ok if you're a republican) phenomenon is not just a little blogospheric joke. It's quite real and it's been demonstrated over and over again. There is absolutely no reason for the Republicans to fear that they will be held to the same standard as they hold Democrats, ever. These lies by Bush appointees are not going to be investigated and they will always remain in the realm of he said/she said, old news, whyareyoubringingthisupnow. Fuggedaboudit.

For instance, Matt brings up the fact that the Bush administration has hired convicted congressional liars from the iran Contra era. But, one must also remember that those same convicted liars were all pardoned by George Bush Sr at a time when he was personally under investigation by a special prosecutor, thus effectively ending the probe. Immediately after Senior left office, however, there began a relentless series of demands by Republicans for special prosecutors investigating a list of shockingly trivial charges that eventually led to the impeachment of the president. The Republicans didn't worry that someone would make comparisons that would embarrass them. They are unembarrassable because they have found that they can ignore the prinicples of relevant difference, the universality principle, the golden rule or whatever you want to call it, and there will be no repercussions.

It may be that this is caused by a media that refuses to take a stance on even factual matters, which leaves people with the impression that there are no standards except those which are imposed by the loudest, the most powerful, the most entertaining or whatever. It's a big problem for us in the reality based community, however, because we remain stuck in this rational mode of argumentation while they careen off into a relativist fallacy whenever they choose.

In other words, there are no rules --- only actions that will keep them in power or strip them from it. The fight each battle separately and don't worry about the one they are going to fight tomorrow. And when the worm has turned and Democrats gain power again, everything will go back to square one and all of the the crimes that we spent that last five years screaming to get covered and investigated will be turned by the Republicans into indictments of Democrats.

Yesterday, James Dobson, alleged arbiter of moral standards, came to a ringing defense of Tom DeLay. Using the approved right wing talking points, he claimed that DeLay was the subject of a witchhunt financed by liberal millionaires. This is, of course, exactly what they did to Bill Clinton for eight long years. They have no sense of embarrassment at this; no sense of irony; not even a little bit of shame for unoriginality. No, it is as if these arguments have never been uttered before and have the full force of moral righteousness even though it is, to our eyes, infuriatingly absurd. And, in truth, because we have uttered these words for so long they are out in the ether with some feeling of received wisdom to those who don't follow the details of political warfare. (They are good at taking our received wisdom and turing it to their advantage. I wish we would start doing the same.)

The Republicans are rejecting reason in science, economics, rhetoric and governance and therefore we cannot expect that rules based upon a rational assumption that they will be applied to both sides equally are even relevant. We fight each battle anew. It's never over. Nothing is settled. This is why they hate the courts. Reason and finality are their enemy. These are the "I Know You Are But What Am I" Republicans and they have taken us into a new world of post enlightenment reality. We'd better get used to it.


Sunday, April 24, 2005

Who Made Mr Gannon?

Huckster Sunday is positively reeking with big huckster news. Raw Story has the results of the Gannon FOIA requests that show that he had some very unusual access to the White House. Why, he was there on days there weren't even any press briefings. And he frequently appears to have spent the night. (Well, he didn't sign out, anyway. One wonders if that's normal protocol.)

But that's not all the Gannon goodness we have today and it's not even the best. Michael Dietz of Reading A1 has a great investigative piece on Alternet about how Jimmy became Jeff.

Reading this would almost make you think that somebody helped him form a new identity.

When JD pulled up stakes at the beginning of 2002, Bulldog went with him, at least for a time. His profiles, some of which were live on the web until recently, seem to have stopped being updated after May of that year. His last client review, though, posted Nov. 12, comes weirdly late in the game. Perhaps significantly, that review describes Bulldog as "a very well-rounded man who is interested in talking about everything from the Orioles to politics." It seems almost like a coded message, a kind of sly wink. Because politics, now, was on the agenda: and Jeff Gannon, the D.C. insider of Bulldog's dreams, had that very day published his first editorial.

The Birthing of Jeff Gannon

Jan. 18, 2003, a day of nationwide Iraq war protests, was clear and cold in Washington hovering just above the freezing point. The tens, even hundreds of thousands who rallied on the Mall and marched to the Capitol needed whatever warmth they could husband. So did the relative handful of counter-protesters organized by an apparently one-off group called MOVE-OUT (Marines and OtherOther Veterans Engaging Outrageous Un-American Traitors) and by the D.C. chapter of the national Free Republic organization. For those 50 or so pro-war right-wingers, who managed to attract almost as many attending press, warmth was conveniently available in the form of a sympathizer's apartment located close to their rally point at 8th and I Streets. Joel Kernodle of MOVE-OUT made sure to mention it in his after-event thank-yous:

I would like to thank the Marines who went there with me, the folks at FreeRepublic and especially Kristinn Taylor and Raoul [Deming], U.S. Navy Capt. Frank Davis who gave us a place to call home while we were there, [and] Jeff Gannon "The Conservative Guy" who has a web site and writes and speaks to conservative issues, who let us use his place just off the march route for an on-site headquarters.

JD Guckert had left his two-bedroom duplex in Wilmington just a year earlier, and he had left "his guys," the TKEs, under a small cloud of mystery. It was a deliberate effect. "The only time [JD] had ever actually mentioned working for a living," the Mu Alpha brother who spoke to us said, "was when he moved to D.C., and even then all that he mentioned was that he needed security clearance and that he would be working as a 'contract negotiator' for a DoD subcontractor." Though likely no more real than JD's Marine play-acting, in one respect the hush-hush fantasy rings true: having arrived in D.C., James Guckert vanished. His appearance in the background of the Free Republic rally (along with his attendance at another D.C. Freeper event, a Sean Hannity book-signing) marks one of the only times in an entire year when the man who had been JD is visible in any location outside of cyberspace.

Everything solid in JD's life -- his residence, his place of work, his circle of friends -- melts into air. We can surmise the actual date of his move only from its probable trace in the internet records: on Jan. 25, 2002, the domain "theconservativeguy.com" was created. (The registration, to a "J. Daniels" of Bedrock Corp., referenced a Delaware address, a mail drop just down the road from JD's old duplex.) It would be at least another four months of silence before a web site appeared at the new domain, and the Conservative Guy announced his existence.

What was happening in those blank, incubatory months? (An almost identical period of latency, oddly, separates the registration of "jeffgannon.com" in mid-June from the first appearance of Jeff Gannon's byline on the web in November.) With its crude layout, minimal graphic design and limited, untimely content, the Conservative Guy web site itself hardly demanded so much lead time. Perhaps the work had gone into crafting the identity.

And how, exactly, did he make a living during this period? Did someone "meet" him and think that a man who not one person remembers ever making a political remark in this life could be a perfect blank slate? Did this man whose entire life has been spent as an office worker in dull and colorless businesses in rural Pennsylvania just suddenly have a Walter Mitty fantasy that happened to come true?

Who created Jeff Gannon?

Huckster Sunday

James Dobson is quoting Thomas Jefferson right now, a man who would never stop PUKING if he knew what these religions extremists were trying to do.

The delusion is so extreme that he just said that the ultra conservative Rehnquist Court is out of control --- because they aren't conservative enough.

And the Supreme Court caused the civil war.

Bill Frist said some Republicans are opposed to ending thefilibusters, because they may someday want to use the same tactics against the Democrats. He said, "that may be true. But if what Democrats are doing is wrong today, it won't be right for Republicans to do the same thing tomorrow." He could have added, "besides, right or wrong for Republicans is irrelevant because we did it yesterday and got away with it and we can get away with it tomorrow; nothing we say or do is based upon any principle whatsoever."

It is important for people to understand how the Republican Party sold its soul to these radicals and blame those who made it happen. An article from some years back in TNR called "The Right's Robespierre" which predicted a conservative crack-up back in 1997, laid it all out. The crack-up didn't happen then and it may not happen now. But if it does, there are some very particular individuals to blame --- Paul Weyrich and Morton Blackwell notably at the top of the list:

Finally, on the verge of realizing his right-wing utopia, Weyrich harvested what his friend Morton Blackwell termed "the greatest track of virgin timber on the political landscape": evangelicals. "Out there is what one might call a moral majority," he told Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg, Pennsylvania [sic], in 1979. "That's it," Falwell exclaimed. "That's the name of the organization." Weyrich, who had converted from Roman Catholicism to the Eastern Orthodox church after Vatican II, did more than coin the name; with a handful of activists, he engineered the alliance between the Republican Party and the growing number of evangelicals angry over abortion rights and federal intrusion in parochial schools. Less than a year later, Ronald Reagan walked into the White House.

It seems that people like me have been predicting that the Republican party would splinter because of these extremists in their midst for a long time now. The coalition has never made much sense. Weyrich and Blackwell and their proteges like Grover Norquist don't give a damn about religion, of course -- or at least any religion other than "conservatism." Evangelicals are just a special interest voting block to these people. And I suspect that being the hucksters they are, most of the preachers who are agitating for political power today don't really give a damn either. Most of them are simple hypocrites at best and violent immoral power mongers at worst.

Regardless, I think it's clear that they believe their time has come. They are flexing their muscles. Maybe Weyrich and Blackwell think it's just fine and maybe they will win in the end. But, when they invited religious zealots to sit at the table with them and run their movement they gambled that a majority of the American people would go along if it came down to it. It looks like we're about to see if it paid off.

And it's interesting to note that on Tim Russert's Sunday Mass, it wasn't even mentioned.

Update: Here's a sincere and righteous liberal vow on Justice Sunday from Shakespeare's Sister.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Shaking 'Em Up

Just in case there's any question about what the Religious Right is up to:

An audio recording obtained by the Los Angeles Times features two of the nation's most influential evangelical leaders, at a private conference with supporters, laying out strategies to rein in judges, such as stripping funding from their courts in an effort to hinder their work.


"There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way to take a black robe off the bench," said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, according to an audiotape of a March 17 session. The tape was provided to The Times by the advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

DeLay has spoken generally about one of the ideas the leaders discussed in greater detail: using legislative tactics to withhold money from courts.

"We set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse," DeLay said at an April 13 question-and-answer session with reporters.


The March conference featuring Dobson and Perkins showed that the evangelical leaders, in addition to working to place conservative nominees on the bench, have been trying to find ways to remove certain judges.

Perkins said that he had attended a meeting with congressional leaders a week earlier where the strategy of stripping funding from certain courts was "prominently" discussed. "What they're thinking of is not only the fact of just making these courts go away and re-creating them the next day but also defunding them," Perkins said.

He said that instead of undertaking the long process of trying to impeach judges, Congress could use its appropriations authority to "just take away the bench, all of his staff, and he's just sitting out there with nothing to do."

These curbs on courts are "on the radar screen, especially of conservatives here in Congress," he said.

Dobson, who emerged last year as one of the evangelical movement's most important political leaders, named one potential target: the California-based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Very few people know this, that the Congress can simply disenfranchise a court," Dobson said. "They don't have to fire anybody or impeach them or go through that battle. All they have to do is say the 9th Circuit doesn't exist anymore, and it's gone."


"Folks, I am telling you all that it is going to be the mother of all battles," Dobson predicted at the March 17 meeting. "And it's right around the corner. I mean, Justice Rehnquist could resign at any time, and the other side is mobilized to the teeth."

The remarks by Perkins and Dobson reflect the passion felt by Christians who helped fuel Bush's reelection last year with massive turnout in battleground states, and who also spurred Republican gains in the Senate and House.

Claiming a role by the movement in the GOP gains, Dobson concluded: "We've got a right to hold them accountable for what happens here."

Both leaders chastised what Perkins termed "squishy" and "weak" Republican senators who have not wholeheartedly endorsed ending Democrats' power to filibuster judicial nominees. They said these included moderates such as Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. They also grumbled that Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and George Allen of Virginia needed prodding.

"We need to shake these guys up," Perkins said.

Said Dobson: "Sometimes it's just amazing to me that they seem to forget how they got here."

Every day that Dobson and Perkins are on television is a good day for Democrats. Keep them in the spotlight.

Via Crooks and Liars. (Go there for the latest Jeff Gannon media appearance.)