2005/04/30

Fisking of the President

[Fisking is a term invented by right-wingers that means doing a close and detailed examination of someone else's speech, article, etc. For some reason, right-wingers use the term in a disparaging manner.]

We must address the root causes that are driving up gas prices.

In the past decade, America's energy consumption has been growing about 40 times faster than our energy production. That means we're relying more on energy produced abroad.

To reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, we must take four key steps.

First, we must better use technology to become better conservers of energy.

And secondly, we must find innovative and environmentally sensitive ways to make the most of our existing energy resources, including oil, natural gas, coal and safe, clean nuclear power.

Third, we must develop promising new sources of energy, such as hydrogen, ethanol or bio-diesel.

Fourth, we must help growing energy consumers overseas, like China and India, apply new technologies to use energy more efficiently and reduce global demand of fossil fuels.

I applaud the House for passing a good energy bill. Now the Senate needs to act on this urgent priority.

American consumers have waited long enough. To help reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, Congress needs to get an energy bill to my desk by this summer, so I can sign it into law.

Back in the early days of Bush's first term, I was amazed to, all of the sudden, start hearing talk about an energy crisis. I tend to pay pretty close attention to the news, so this was a surprise to me. Now, could it be that Bush and his people were more informed and aware than I was? Consider that Bush was Vice-President of Arbusto Energy, which nearly went bankrupt and had to merge with Spectrum 7, after which Spectrum 7 reported a net loss of $1.5 million. Bush than joined the board of Harken Energy, where he attracted the attention of investigators due to the loss of $23.2 million and his suspected involvement in insider trading. So yes, with Bush's career being heavily involved in energy exploration, it's entirely likely that Bush & Co. were more informed on the energy problem/crisis than I was. But if the problem has been growing “over the past decade” and he's only been president for five years, then that suggests he had five years to plan for an energy strategy upon coming into office. Yet at his press conference of 28 Apr 05, he complains that “American consumers have waited long enough.” and that an energy bill is needed on an expedited basis.

Bush's desire for a “good energy bill” that includes “innovative and environmentally sensitive ways to make the most of our existing energy resources” is not a bad thing in and of itself, but where has this idea been for the past five years? In 2001, Vice-President Cheney's energy task force rather famously stiff-armed the renewable energy lobby. In the 2005 House energy bill, “Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass, ...noted that the bill does nothing to improve the fuel economy of automobiles.” and with $8.1 billion in tax breaks “going to promote the coal, nuclear, oil and natural-gas industries.” this is hardly a conservation-aware administration. As Business Week puts it:

Sadly, the plan Bush proposed would do little to increase existing supplies of oil, gas, or electricity, or decrease domestic demand for energy -- the two steps that would really make a difference.

They also point out that giving assistance to the nuclear industry is a waste of money as long as the issue of nuclear waste remains unresolved. “But the waste issue is a political hot potato, so Bush steered clear of it.“

Here's a classic:

"There will be no price gouging at gas pumps in America," Bush said.

He spoke on the same day the world's largest publicly traded oil company, Exxon Mobil Corp., announced that its profit for the first three months of the year had risen 44 percent to $7.86 billion from the corresponding quarter a year ago.

Sorry, but the new attention Bush is paying to energy policy priorities like renewable energy, public transportation, etc., is mostly just PR boilerplate. I'm prepared to give him credit for being serious when I see actual policy result from all of his wonderful words and hazily-defined good intentions.

Social Security

Franklin Delano Roosevelt testified in 1941 that the Social Security program initiated in 1935 was designed in a very deliberate and conscious way:

Those taxes were never a problem of economics. They are politics all the way through. We put those payroll taxes there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.

The Wall St. Journal editorial complains that FDR decided to make participation in Social Security universal (Wrongly suggesting that rich people stay in the program because they're stupid and don't know any better.) so that wealthier people wouldn't abandon Social Security. The editorial quotes Wilbur Cohen, who argued in 1972 that:

I am convinced that, in the United States, a program that deals only with the poor will end up being a poor program. . . . Ever since the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601, programs only for the poor have been lousy, no good, poor programs. And a program that is only for the poor--one that has nothing in it for the middle income and the upper income--is, in the long run, a program the American public won't support.

Contrast that with Bush's proposal:

We also have a responsibility to improve Social Security by directing extra help to those most in need and by making it a better deal for younger workers.

In other words, Bush would toss the whole Social Security program overboard by first turning it into a “program that deals only with the poor”. This would reduce the stake of all other Americans in the program and revive the old charges of welfare abuse that were such a staple of American politics before Clinton's welfare reform. To argue that either FDR in 1941 or Bush in 2005 are being cynical about human nature is 1. Entirely correct and 2. Beside the point. FDR was doing something good, creating a program that Americans have shown strong support for over the 70 years that it's been in existence. Bush is trying to destroy that program so that only the rich will retire in comfort. For everybody else to finish out their days living in a one-room apartment heated only by a single candle and eating cat food is obviously a scenario that Bush and Co. are perfectly comfortable with.

I'm also puzzled by this section:

First, millions of Americans depend on Social Security checks as a primary source of retirement income, so we must keep this promise to future retirees as well. As a matter of fairness, I propose that future generations receive benefits equal to or greater than the benefits today's seniors get.

Secondly, I believe a reformed system should protect those who depend on Social Security the most. So I propose a Social Security system in the future where benefits for low-income workers will grow faster than benefits for people who are better off.

By providing more generous benefits for low-income retirees, we'll make this commitment: If you work hard and pay into Social Security your entire life, you will not retire into poverty.

This reform would solve most of the funding challenges facing Social Security.

But both provisions would increase the cost of Social Security. By retaining benefits for older Americans and by having a system where “benefits for low-income workers will grow faster than benefits for people who are better off“, Bush appears to be suggesting something for everybody. But a problem with Bush's proposals that the media usually ignores is that the cost of establishing privatized accounts would hugely outweigh any potential benefits. Bush's plan is guaranteeing that Social Security would be more expensive, not less. Once the aware citizen includes the costs as well as the benefits of privatization, it becomes clear that no, Bush's “reform” does not solve any of the funding challenges.

Iraq

I just can't come up with the motivation to read anything Bush has to say on the issue after this:

But, nevertheless, there are still some in Iraq who aren't happy with democracy. They want to go back to the old days of tyranny and darkness and torture chambers and mass graves.

This sort of straw-man arguing has been a staple of Bush's political arguments for his entire presidency and probably well before that. This argument treats Iraqis as stupid, moronic dolts who can't tie their own shoes without assistance from “Dear Leader” Bush. It's a cowardly way to argue because he completely dodges the very real problems Iraqis have with the American occupation of their country. As the vile atrocities comitted in the Abu Ghrab prison showed, Americans did not leave the “torture chambers” of the old days behind at all.

Nothing else he says on the issue can possibly be of any significance.

2005/04/25

Interesting view on Vietnam War

David Horowitz has an interesting view on the American Left and domestic opposition to the Vietnam War:


In the Vietnam War the United States was supporting a dictatorship in South Vietnam on the grounds that the dictatorship was anti-Communist. “New Leftists” who believed by and large that Communism was a flawed attempt to create societies governed by the principles of equality and justice had an argument (whether one considers it plausible or not) for opposing the United States defense of the South Vietnamese regime. Perhaps (so they reasoned) a victory for the guerrilla forces of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam would mean the emergence of a society that honored the principles of equality and justice. This was an incentive to see that America was defeated. And this indeed is the delusional vision that motivated people like Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda other anti-war activists.


First off, Edward Herman wrote in Demonstration Elections about the US-staged elections in Vietnam:


Staged elections are not new. They are “demonstration elections” and have been around for a long period of time. From Vietnam in the 1960s to the recent Afghanistan elections. “The purpose of these elections - crafted by the US - was to persuade US citizens and especially Congress that we were invading these countries and supporting a savage war against government opponents at the invitation of a legitimate, freely elected government. The main purpose of a demonstration election is to legitimize an invasion and occupation, not to choose a new government”, wrote Edward Herman and Frank Brodhead.

For the Americans, “what happens before or after the elections concerns them not one iota. What matters is that the elections become a good PR exercise for the Bush administration”, Wamid Nadhim of Baghdad University told Al-Ahram Weekly. Furthermore, these elections are also seen as an excuse for Tony Blair and other “coalition of the willing” leaders to justify their support for Washington’s illegal war of aggression and occupation.


So yes, Horowitz' statement is literally correct, the US was supporting a dictatorship in Vietnam, but as Edward Herman and Frank Brodhead point out, the US leadership expended a good deal of time and effort to convince the American people that they were supporting a democracy there.


The idea that leftists among the American opposition to the war were trying to defend Vietnam's independence because Vietnam was trying to defend “the principles of equality and justice” is an interesting notion. Personally, I was only 15 when Saigon fell, but I've read a great deal about the Vietnam War since then and I'm still under the impression that I developed at a young age when I concluded that Americans were simply not wanted in Vietnam. The American soldiers were not welcome there, even though American soldiers, as individual persons, demonstrated all of the fine qualities that US myth and legend have talked about for the past two-plus centuries.

I also read the Port Huron Statement a few years back, the philosophical basis for the leftism of the 60s and I don't remember much there about anyone defending Vietnam because it was such a marvelous society. I remember the radicals of the 60s being very concerned about American society and how it could be improved.


Seems to me that the Left wanted the US out of Vietnam as 1. American troops were not wanted there and 2. Because America was expending a huge amount of blood and treasure there for no discernible purpose. As Steve Gilliard points out, there are also many other purely military problems with Vietnam then that are hurting us in Iraq now.

2005/04/24

Social Justice Sunday

"We religious progressives value the diversity of thought and opinion among people of faith. We agree that no individual, group or side of any issue owns our faith. As people of faith, we find hope and compassion in witnessing the questions and answers of others and honoring their struggles.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln: My concern is not whether God is on our side. My great concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right."

--Clergy and Laity Network

  • WHAT: Social Justice Sunday - Faith and Freedom Vigil
  • WHEN: 2:30 pm, April 24, 2005
  • WHERE: Central Presbyterian Church
    318 W. Kentucky St. Louisville, Kentucky
  • CONTACT: Clergy and Laity Network and DriveDemocracy
  • Progressive Religious Communities, our leaders and our community friends are gathering to witness:

    OUR OUTRAGE over the attempt by the Family Research Council and its radical Christian Right colleagues to highjack the judicial selection process for their politiclal/theocratic agenda

    OUR DISMAY Senate Majority Leader, Senator Bill Frist, is lending his name and influence to the Family Research Council's claim of universal support from "people of faith" for its strategy, thereby giving false religious credentials to a thinly veiled political agenda

    OUR POSITIVE COMMITMENT to defend and strengthen our social context in its commitment to fairness for all people, free of biased religious doctrines and prejudiced attitudes which are inimical to a mature religious understanding of the standards of inclusiveness and justice in American life

    The Social Justice Sunday invitation is available at the Building the Beloved Community. Please distribute the invitation to all progressives. You can download the invitation as a word document here.

    Senator Frist's Cynical Use of Religion and Politics

    Senator Bill Frist has joined with this organization and they are attacking the faith of Democrats and progressives in a cynical, partisan effort to win support for a handful of extremist judicial nominees. The Council is on record saying that Democrats are "against people of faith."

    For more information on the disheartening comments that Senator Frist supports, read the article at the New York Times.

    Click here to download Clergy and Laity Network and Drive Democracy's press release.

    Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs, Rabbi of Kol Tikvah Synagogue in Woodland Hills, California and Dr. Nazir Khaja, Chairman of the Islamic Information Service, have authored a joint statement in response to Senator Frist's actions. The statement is posted on the Building the Beloved Community website.


    Peace not Poverty Declaration

    Thank you to all 13,287 participants of the Peace not Poverty write-in. The successful Peace not Poverty Declaration was completed on April 2. It was read for the first time in Riverside Church, New York, on April 4 by the final consensus leader, Kelley Ogden, of Houston, Texas. Visit Building a Beloved Community to read the completed declaration. And while you're there don't forget to register and join the Beloved Community.

    Contribute and Learn More

    To contribute and learn more about this emerging progressive interfaith movement, visit Building a Beloved Community, Peacenotpoverty.org or DriveDemocracy.org.

    Co-sponsors include the National Council of Churches, United for Peace and Justice, Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq (CALC-I), Fellowship of Reconciliation, Unitarian Universalist Association, The Shalom Center, Faith Voices for the Common Good, Drive Democracy, Disciples Justice Action Network, Pax Christi USA, Progressive Christians Uniting, Baptist Peace Fellowship, Christians for Justice Action, Rainbow-PUSH Coalition, World Sikh Council - America Region, Faithful America, True Majority, Tikkun Community, Bruderhof Communities, Protestants for the Common Good, WHALE Center, Call to Action, Church of the Brethren Witness / Washington Office, The Witness Magazine, Global Justice and Peace Ministry - Riverside Church, Episcopal Divinity School, Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education, Lutheran Human Relations Association, People for Peace and Justice, Gold Star Families for Peace, Peace and Security Project of Iowa, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Mercury Public Media, House of Imagene Shelters, Jewish Voice for Peace, African American Women's Clergy Association, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Disciples Peace Fellowship, Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Episcopal Peace Fellowship of East Carolina, Plowshares Institute, The Witherspoon Society, United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, Independent Anglo-Catholic Church of America, OneLife Institute for Spirituality & Social Transformation, Jewish Peace Fellowship, American Ethical Union, Dare to Dream Network, Interfaith Alliance, The Mountain Retreat & Learning Centers, South Texas Alliance for Peace and Justice, Word and World, Sojourners, Starr King School for the Ministry, Topia.net, Peacecentral.org, South Texas Interfaith Coalition, Erie Benedictines for Peace, Lexington Diocesan Council for Peace and Justice (Catholic Diocese of Lexington, KY), Peace and Justice Committee of the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, CA, and a growing number of religious and social justice bodies. The Riverside Church is graciously serving as the April 4 host church. Clergy and Laity Network (CLN), also a co-sponsor, serves as coordinator. A regularly updated word document is also available that contains the growing list of co-sponsors. For links to the co-sponsoring organizations visit Building a Beloved Community.

    2005/04/21

    Having conversations with polemicists

    How does a right-winger go about having a conversation with that extremist fellow of the left, Michael Moore?


    Maloney began his film career by "staking out" Michael Moore "for four days," hoping to confront him and "provok[e] a flustered reaction," which he would then post on his weblog Brain-terminal.com. Moore didn't flinch; instead he told Maloney that documentary filmmaking "should be open to all people of all political persuasions." "It should not just be people who are liberal, or left-of-center, or whatever," the Oscar-winner said. "Make your movies, and then the people will respond or not respond to them."


    Sounds to me like Michael's a pretty reasonable kind of guy, one who believes in free speech, the legitimacy of political opposition, etc. Eric Alterman takes some grief from the author of the execrable Time Magazine piece for being mean to Ann Coulter:


    I think a pertinent thing about Alterman is that he has said publicly that he will not engage Ann Coulter in debate. He won't go on television with her. So his solution to Ann Coulter is to act as though she doesn't exist ... I don't agree with that approach to people that we don't necessarily like. I think you engage those people in open debate, you get those people to talk about their ideas, and then you weigh those ideas.


    Sounds like an eminently reasonable position. But I wonder how to debate someone like Coulter:


    COULTER (Slander; page 205): Except for occasional exotic safaris to Wal-Mart or forays into enemy territory at a Christian Coalition dinner, liberals do not know any conservatives. It makes it easier to demonize them that way. It’s well and good for Andrew Sullivan to talk about a “truce.” But conservatives aren’t the ones who need to be jolted into the discovery that the “bogeyman” of their imagination are “not quite as terrifying as they thought.” Conservatives already know that people they disagree with politically can be “charming.” Also savagely cruel bigots who hate ordinary Americans and lie for sport. (emphasis added by DailyHowler.com)


    Is this really someone that one can possibly hope to have a reasonable discussion with?


    COULTER (Treason; page 1): Liberals have a preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason. You could be talking about Scrabble and they would instantly leap to the anti-American position. Everyone says liberals love American, too. No they don't. Whenever the nation is under attack, from within or without, liberals side with the enemy. This is their essence.


    Keep in mind that liberals, according to how one defines the term, compose somewhere between 50 and 120 million Americans! I agree with Alterman, publicly debating Ann Coulter sounds to me like a complete waste of time. When someone begins her argument by claiming you're a traitor who sides with "the enemy", there's simply nothing more to say.

    The DailyHowler piece goes on to describe how Ann's hysterically rude and coarse comments are all meant in jest, Sorry, but I agree with the Daily Howler folks I saw the clip where Ann is interviewed by Katie Couric on the Today Show and Coulter is completely drop-dead serious. There's absolutely no question that she means every single word. Eric Alterman specifies


    Coulter has twice either wished for, or joked about the mass murder of American journalists. She has called for, or joked about, the assassination of a sitting American president. She has called for, or joked about, the mass murder of entire populations of Moslem nations. She has referred to the president of the United States and his wife as “pond scum,” among many other things. She has called Christie Todd Whitman a "birdbrain" and a "dimwit"; Jim Jeffords a "half-wit"; and Gloria Steinem a "deeply ridiculous figure" who "had to sleep" with a rich liberal to fund Ms. magazine--all of which makes her "a termagant."


    Coulter humourous? Huh? On what planet?

    UPDATE: Michael Berube reproduces Coulter's view on the Oklahoma City bombing of 10 years back.

    2005/04/19

    My letter to Time Magazine

    Every now and then, someone in the mainstream media scribbles out an article about how terribly unprofessional and unreliable the blogs are. As a lot of blogs are one-person shops that close down and reopen for personal reasons (A case in point is that immediately after the 2004 election, many liberal political bloggers ran recipes and cooking tips because they were burned out on politics. Within a week or so they were back to their old selves.) and as their fact-checking/correcting depends entirely on how conscientious the blogger is, a lot of this criticism is valid.


    But when mainstream media criticizes the blogs and then prints up complete junk like the 6,000-word-with-pin-up-cover of a whack-job like Ann Coulter, they completely forgo any claim to be putting out any kind of superior product.

    This is a woman who refers to “liberals” as traitors. Now, being a traitor is defined in the US Constitution as a specific crime. According to one's definition of “liberal”, whether someone self-identifies as a liberal or whether one (or one's parents) voted for John Kerry, liberals make up between 50 to 120 MILLION people!!! A conservative referred to Coulter as engaging in “parody”. Having read some of her writing, I assure you she is not engaged in anything of the sort. She writes with the complete conviction that what she says is true.

    The article makes it sound as though Coulter's work on the Paula Jones case was something to be proud of. As I remember it, Ms Jones managed to prove that she and Governor Bill Clinton attended the same convention and, well, that was about it. Everything else that was reported about their encounter was 100% dependent on us taking Ms Jones' word for it. The judge in her case told her that even if everything she asserted were true, she still would not have an actionable case of harassment to lodge against Clinton.

    April and May of 2004 were exceedingly bloody months for American troops in Iraq. For Coulter to assert in that June that the war was going “fabulously well” strikes me as the statement of a deranged lunatic, yet the Time article makes no comment upon the sanity of this statement.

    The assertion that Coulter's long bibliography contains only one misstatement of fact is simply a lie. One can't possibly be so ignorant of her writing as to think that her work is generally or even mostly accurate, There's also a reason I didn't repeat your term “mistake”. Coulter's misstatements are not “errors”. She knows full well that what she's saying isn't true. When her fellow polemicist Rush Limbaugh makes misstatements, it's far too kind to refer to them as errors as he doesn't even have a fact-checker on his staff. When he makes misstatements, they're the result of a deliberate and conscious policy. Both Ann and Rush engage in what can be legally referred to “reckless disregard” of the facts of the case. They just couldn't possibly care less about whether what they're saying is accurate.

    And...wow...Coulter “...can write about gender issues with particular sensitivity.”?? Her statement on feminism begins: “The real reason I loathe and detest feminists is...” And refers to a “girl general”??? If THESE count as sensitivity...hoo boy!!

    This letter is only tangentially about Ann Coulter, which is why I didn't. write it to her, but to you. Mostly, it's about Time Magazine's incredibly sloppy and careless editorial process. If the comment about Coulter's accuracy was not a deliberate and outright lie, then I have very serious concerns about the asleep-at-the-wheel editors and fact-checkers who work there. Media people have been heard to complain about how no one respects them, readership is declining, people don't believe them, etc., etc.

    I assure you, this type of article is not going to help matters.

    2005/04/17

    Further thoughts concerning war on terrorism

    One Steven Bodzin goes through:

    ...tens of thousands of pages of strategy objectives from government agencies and think tanks filled with negative goals like "disrupt and destroy terrorist organizations," "conquer this enemy," and "defeat the forces of evil wherever they are."
    But a definition of victory was nowhere to be found. (emp mine)


    Bodzio locates a document that seems to provide a clear blueprint, but several phone and email queries fail to uncover just who or even what department composed the document. Finally, he asks a few pundits and gets the following response from Michael Ledeen:

    Still, my question was: What would the world look like then? [That is, after victory in the war on terror]

    "There won't be people blowing us up," he said. "They won't have a nation-state supporting them. That's very important."

    "How will we know when we're getting close to victory?"

    "We'll start seeing defectors," he replied. "It will be all the usual signs when someone's getting ready to lose a war. A drop in morale, recruiting getting more difficult. You'll see their followers throwing down their weapons, giving up."

    The problem with this scenario, of course, is the same one that has made victory in Iraq so elusive. There's never been any indication that the insurgents or the resistance in Iraq has ever been organized in a top-down fashion. It's never been apparent that there has been anything like a centralized chain of command or a hierarchical structure. I've pointed out before that a Middle East think tank identified as many as 15 separate armed resistance groups as early as August 2003. Certainly, individual groups may conduct individual operations in an organized fashion, i.e., the assault on Abu Ghraib on 2 Apr 2005 most definitely shows organization, but that's a far cry from having an Iraqi "National Liberation Front". There has never been any sign of a country-wide organization coordinating resistance activities, either violent or non-violent. The idea that we'll see "defectors" and people "throwing down their weapons" is an appealing fantasy, but sounds to me like a vision far removed from reality.

    The conclusion is that no one in the Bush Administration appears to have any idea how to even define what victory would look like in a war against terrorism.

    2005/04/16

    So very, very sad.

    The State Department decided to stop publishing an annual report on international terrorism after the government's top terrorism center concluded that there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985, the first year the publication covered.


    An appropriate point is made:


    "Instead of dealing with the facts and dealing with them in an intelligent fashion, they try to hide their facts from the American public," charged Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA analyst and State Department terrorism expert who first disclosed the decision to eliminate the report in The Counterterrorism Blog, an online journal.


    Not only does the Bush Administration refuse to admit that their policies have made things worse than ever before, they don't have the courage to admit what a complete disaster those policies have been.

    Admitting a problem is the first step to solving it. The Bush Administration has demonstrated that they have no interest whatsoever in even attempting to solve this problem.

    2005/04/11

    Fairness versus Balance

    Major problem here, Media Matters quotes Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) as saying:


    I wonder if there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence.


    How to make this statement seem reasonable? How to make the Senator not sound as though he were advocating/justifying violence against judges who are performing their duties in a perfectly fair and respectable manner? How do we “balance” the conservatives versus the liberals and make it seem as though both sides are equally to blame? Why, that's simple! As DailyKos puts it, CNN decided to just “make shit up”.


    Were any of the judges in the Terri Shiavo case “making law”? Were any of them engaged in “judicial activism”? According to 11th Circuit judge Stanley F. Birch Jr., no.


    A popular epithet directed by some members of society, including some members of Congress, toward the judiciary involves the denunciation of "activist judges." Generally, the definition of an "activist judge" is one who decides the outcome of a controversy before him according to personal conviction, even one sincerely held, as opposed to the dictates of the law as constrained by legal precedent and, ultimately, our Constitution. In resolving the Schiavo controversy it is my judgment that, despite sincere and altruistic motivation, the legislative and executive branches of our government have acted in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers' blueprint for the governance of a free people -- our Constitution. [p. 3]


    So what do we hear from the commentators at CNN?


    In a segment that ran twice on CNN on April 5, on Inside Politics and on Lou Dobbs Tonight, CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider repeated Republican charges that "activist judges" were to blame in the Schiavo case without questioning this formulation:

    SCHNEIDER: Take the Terri Schiavo case. Republicans portrayed activist judges as the villains.

    Media Matters then cites several more cases where Republican charges of “judicial activism” are repeated verbatim without the commentator ever giving a clear explanation of what is meant by this phrase, without going into Karl Rove's part in popularizing the phrase and whether or not the phrase is even accurate. Plainly, on April 5, when talking about the Terri Schiavo case, it wasn't.


    The problem is one of fairness versus balance. It's nice to have both, but in this case, CNN clearly felt that they could either have balance, i.e. make both sides look to be equally at fault or they could have fairness, i.e. portray the judicial system as working the way it should and Senator Cornyn as a wildly irresponsible demagogue.

    2005/04/08

    Blast from the past

    In regards to the following quote from David Limbaugh (Is he related to Rush Limbaugh? Probably. They seem to have similar facial expressions. I could try looking it up, but I just can't get motivated to.)

    It seems the Bush administration bends over backward to avoid placing its predecessor in a negative light. Remember the way it buried the trashing of the White House by the outgoing Clinton personnel?

    No I don't and I paid close attention to the case at the time. Clinton's people left and a GAO investigation later established that the extent of the damage that could be blamed on the Clinton people was that a few computer keyboards were missing their “W” key. There was also some extremely minor damage of a similar nature. The Bush Administration blew this up into a minor-league scandal, accusing Clinton's people of “trashing” White House and Executive Building offices, without of course being able to produce the slightest shred of evidence to back up their accusations.

    We were told that a group of Republicans took money out of their own pockets in order to pay for extensive damages. Further, we were to told that they didn't keep any receipts and could not identify where they had purchased the new office equipment and furniture that allegedly had to buy. Nor could they identify where all of the damaged items were disposed of.

    This is not the slightest bit believable as I worked as a Personnelman in the Navy and consistently found that high-ranking personnel were extremely careful about money and always insisted on every last dime that the government owed them. I never worried about why this was so and simply accepted it as a fact of life. I noted at the time that by doing this, the Chiefs and Officers kept the Personnelmen and Disbursing Clerks on their toes and kept us sensitive as to how our jobs affected ordinary sailors. I simply can't believe that high-ranking government personnel of any branch or status would be so casual about money matters as to spend serious money out of their own pockets without worrying about being reimbursed. And had the described “trashing” taken place, reimbursment for replacing damaged equipment would have been granted without question, as a matter of course.

    David Limbaugh takes the same casual, fact-free attitude towards the truth that Rush does. The Bush Administration did NOT “bend over backwards”, it did NOT “avoid placing its predecessor in a negative light” and did NOT bury any news about it. They instead MADE UP news and created a scandal out of thin air.

    2005/04/05

    Krauthammer on the Middle East

    I read this:

    All this regional mischief-making is critical because we are at the dawn of an Arab Spring -- the first bloom of democracy in Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine and throughout the greater Middle East -- and its emerging mortal enemy is a new axis of evil whose fulcrum is Syria. The axis stretches from Iran, the other remaining terror state in the region, to Syria to the local terror groups -- Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad -- that are bent on destabilizing Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and destroying both Lebanese independence and the current Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement.

    and thought "Where have I heard extremist, uncompromisingly black-and-white drivel like this before?" Then I remembered the anti-pornography feminists of the 1980s:


    The year 1981 saw the publication of two major feminist attacks on pornography: Susan Griffin's Pornography and Silence and Andrea Dworkin's Pornography: Men Possessing Women. Griffin's study drew parallels between the porn industry's exploitation of women and the Nazi persecution of the Jews. Andrea Dworkin stated her case in the stereotypical and absolutist terms that would soon characterize the second wave feminist anti-porn crusade: "all pornography is made under conditions of inequality based on sex, overwhelmingly by poor, desperate, homeless, pimped women who were sexually abused as children".

    The last figure in the equation of pornography = women hating was the idea that pornography was entirely produced and consumed by men with women as its hapless victims. According to Catharine MacKinnon, pornography is produced for, "men to masturbate to women being exposed, humiliated, violated, degraded, mutilated, dismembered, bound, gagged, tortured and killed". (emp mine)

    First off, Krauthammer's reference to an "Arab Spring" evokes the term "Prague Spring" and images of Eastern Europeans struggling to cast off the communist yoke set upon them by the Soviet Union back in the glamorous and heady days of the late 1960s, when freedom was breaking out all over, only to be crushed by Nixon and Brezhnev, seemingly working together to snuff out the spirit of liberty and propel counter-revolution. As Professor Juan Cole points out, however, there is no single, monolithic enemy in the Arab world that comes anywhere close to playing the role that the Soviet Union played in Eastern Europe from the late 1940s to the end of the 1980s. Krauthammer's extremist and simplistic language evokes the anti-pornography feminists with pictures like "emerging mortal enemy is a new axis of evil whose fulcrum is Syria". This, for me, brings up images of hysterical, raving nutcases with wild hair, gleaming eyes and cries of "It's alive!", their background lit by flashes of lightning, rumbles of thunder and swelling organ music.
    Unfortunately, Krauthammer's ravings would be amusing, but I fear he speaks for the Bush Administration and the Neocons who would like to extend "liberation" Iraq 2003-style over the whole of the Arab world, with Iran and Syria merely representing the enemies of the moment, with the guiding question on their part being "What is our oil doing under their sand?"
    I was especially struck by the comment that: "Everyone also knows that Syria is abetting the terrorist insurgency in Iraq." Retired General Wesley Clark appears to leave open the possibility of a connection there:

    Engage neighbors for better border security. Iraq is now a magnet for every jihadist in the Middle East. Closing the borders requires cooperation from the countries bordering Iraq. But currently, Syria and Iran don't want us to succeed because they fear they are next on our invasion list. Wes Clark recommends engaging Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia with both carrots and sticks. We have serious issues with each of these countries, but closing those borders is the most urgent priority right now. We must show Iraq's neighbors that cooperation with us is in their interest and will help their region.

    Clark obviously does not refer to what "everybody knows" because (A) there is simply no proof of any serious role played by either country in the Iraqi resistance to the American occupation and (B) simply looking at the fact that virtually no reconstruction has taken place in Iraq over the past two years, along with other factors, seems quite sufficient to explain the resistance. The fact that Iraq also has veterans of past conflicts who were abruptly dismissed from service shortly after the American occupation began seems quite suffficient to explain where the expertise in recent attacks like that on Abu Ghraib in the past week were staffed by. It's also noteworthy that Clark explains possible Iranian and Syrian help to Iraqis as being a reasonable reaction to America's aggressive unilateralism over the past few years.

    2005/04/04

    "Curveball" and WMD claims

    The Guardian story makes it absolutely crystal clear that the Iraqi agent named "Curveball" could not possibly have succeeded in convincing American intelligence that Iraq possessed WMD unless the Amercans were fully prepared to believe such claims. Such phrases as:

    The commission concluded that Curveball's information was worse than none at all. 'Worse than having no human sources,' it said, 'is being seduced by a human source who is telling lies.'
    ------
    It now appears there were problems with Curveball from the start, but the intelligence community was willing to believe him 'because the tales he told were consistent with what they already believed.
    ------
    While the results were inconclusive, a US official was surprised to find Curveball had a hangover and said he 'might be an alcoholic.'
    (emphasis mine)

    These are not phrases one uses unless one is describing an agency that was in an extreme state of credulousness. And why would they be willing to be so gullible? Let's look at this passage:

    [Curveballs] information was central to an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that concluded Iraq 'has' biological weapons, and was widely used by President Bush and Dick Cheney to make their case for war.

    People have previously noted that the NIE was widely used to justify the Iraq War, but that Cheney first began hinting at the "necessity" of going to war with Iraq as early as July 2002 and that Bush made a speech to the UN in September 2002 that purportedly made the case for going to war (My own personal estimation at the time was that Bush's speech didn't justify the death of a single person, American or Iraqi, solder or civilian My feeling afterwards was that "If he had a case to make, that was the time when he would have made it."), but that the NIE wasn't produced until a month after that. George Tenet, being a good bureaucrat, rather obviously decided that he had better get with the program and produce a National Intelligence Estmate that backed up what his bosses were saying.

    2005/04/02

    Terri Schiavo vs Elian Gonzales

    Well, old boy Jonah Goldberg is at it again, making points that I disagree with. His points tend not to be obviously wrong, they usually need some exploration and examination before we can dismiss them. So what can I say? Jonah's a good writer for me to beat up on.
    BTW, I saw the comment "Can we beat up Jonah about the expansion of eligibility for join the Army? He can put on a uniform and fight in Iraq now!" We probably could, but the only people who would care are fellow progressives anyway. Here, Jonah disagrees with the notion that the legislative overreaching in the Terri Schiavo case will politically harm conservatives:

    First, keep in mind that what has prompted the most recent bout of panic is the passionate — and legitimate — differences over the Terri Schiavo case. Just as hard cases make bad law, they also tend to make for bad analysis. Lots of people are pointing to the fact that the polls do not support Congress's decision to intervene on Schiavo's behalf (even as the nature of that involvement has been often wildly exaggerated). The Republican party has exposed itself, if these pessimists are to be believed, with a dangerous overreach that will haunt it for years.

    Uh, not likely. Whatever you think of the legislative branch's involvement, it's doubtful the issue will be a political albatross for the GOP any more than, say, the Elian Gonzales scandal permanently tarnished the Democrats. Indeed, recall that the Clinton impeachment drive was far more deleterious for the GOP's standing in the polls over a far longer period of time, and if that effort did permanent damage to the Republican party, it's hard to find today. The federal government is run by Republicans for as far as the eye can see.

    Was the Elian Gonzales case a matter of overreaching? Certainly it got people excitable, it prompted much hate and discontent towards President Clinton and Janet Reno, Clinton's Attorney General, certainly came in for her share of verbal abuse as well. There are extremely significant difference's in the two cases, though. One, the Gonzales case was not Clinton's idea. Elian was found at sea clinging to a raft. This was quite naturally seen as a dramatic moment and for his father, a patriotic Cuban who didn't object to Fidel Castro's rule over the island, to ask for his son to be returned was seen by "America the Beautiful" conservatives as an outrage. The seizure of Elian from his relatives in America was legally correct, but was seen as a betrayal of American values.
    The Terri Schiavo case, on the other hand, was a case of Republicans President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Florida Governor Jeb Bush deciding to make a major federal case out of what should have remained a private family matter, a subject for the courts as opposed to being a subject for national debate.
    Another problem is that the courts were very firmly on the side of the husband Michael Schiavo and against Terri's parents, the Schindlers. Republicans took the side of the Schindlers against the courts. In the Gonzales case, Clinton took the same side as the courts did. In both cases, Democrats stood for legal principles and the rule of law. In both cases, Republicans have stood for immediate political advantage, taking the easy, unprincipled and what they thought would be a popular position.

    As I've mentioned in my occasional comments on the abortion issue, the Schiavo case for me boils down to "Who has the authority to make a final decision?" In both cases, authority cannot be split or shared. The final decision must be unambiguous and final. People can't "split the difference" and people can't reach a meaningful compromise. The fetus must either be brought to term or aborted, Terri could either hang onto life support forever or she could be allowed to perish.
    The authority could have been placed in the hands of her parents, it was instead given to her husband. People have argued that as Michael had a relationship with another woman while Terri was in the condition of "Lights on, but nobody home", than he surrendered his right as a husband and authority should have instead gone to her parents. Law simply doesn't work that way. If the relevant law does not specify that adultery makes a husband ineligible to decide on his spouses fate, then Michael's adultery is legally beside the point. Michael was given the authority to represent his spouse and he was fully competent to exercise that authority. All the bitching and griping and whining and complaining about how he was unfit misses the point that legally, he never became incompetent to retain the authority to make the decision to withdraw Terri's life support. The fact that her life support was described as merely her being fed is irrelevant.
    If people don't like his decision, then their only option is to rewrite the law to prevent a recurrence.

    As far as the ultimate political impact of the Schiavo case goes, Jonah is correct that the impact may not amount to much of anything. What might make it matter is if the Democrats draw parallels, make explicit connections, present the Schiavo case as representing something larger, something that reveals something unpleasant and repellant about the Republican Party.
    Winning a political fight is not enough. The victory must be exploited if it's to have any long-term impact.