Tuesday, November 30, 2004

This is not a joke:

A Hush Over Hollywood

by Pat Sajak

...So I’m trying to understand the nearly universal lack of outrage coming from Hollywood over the brutal murder of Dutch director, Theo van Gogh...

Yes, folks -- we're now being lectured on morality by right-wing game-show hosts (with assent from an amen corner of right-wing bloggers.)

OK, Pat, I'll start slowly.

Here's van Gogh, your hero -- this guy, with the brassiere on his face. (Actually, I think that's a funny photo, but you're a conservative, so I don't think you're allowed to agree.)

Oh, and Pat, you do know about the near-naked breasts in the film that got van Gogh killed, don't you? Heck, if anyone tried to show "Submission" on broadcast TV in the U.S., your pals in the Bush/Powell FCC would levy a big, fat fine.

But -- most important -- what do we know about van Gogh's ideas and opinions? Well, here's a sample:

He pictured Jewish TV presenter Ms Sonja Barend in a concentration camp. Jewish author Leon de Winter he pictured in "Treblinka [camp] style fornication with barbed wire around his dick."

When Jewish historian Ms Evelien Gans criticized Van Gogh, he wrote in Folia Civitatis magazine: "I suspect that Ms Gans gets wet dreams about being fucked by Dr Mengele [Nazi doctor at Auschwitz]." He hoped (Volkskrant, February 1995) Ms Gans would sue him: "Because then Ms Gans will have to explain in court that she claims that she does not get wet dreams about Dr Mengele." ...

Anja Meulenbelt quotes Theo van Gogh, who said that feminists should stop campaigning against husbands' violence in marriages: "Gentlemen who give a tough hiding are quite attractive to some ladies really." ...

Van Gogh ... opposed all socialism in his columns. Van Gogh wrote on Paul Rosenmöller, ex dockworker, then Green Left party leader: "May he get a joy bringing brain tumor. Let us piss on his grave"....

Van Gogh routinely substituted “goatfucker” for “immigrant to The Netherlands from an Islamic country.” Including in his book Allah knows best, 2001: "There is a Fifth Column of goatfuckers in this country, who despise and spit at its native people. They hate our freedom." "Soon, the Fifth Column of goatfuckers will hurl poison gas, diseases and atomic bombs at your children and my children.” ...

There's your hero, Pat. Hey, why don't you organize a Hollywood tribute to him?
Stott is so embracing it's always a bit of a shock - especially if you're a Jew like me - when you come across something on which he will not compromise.

That's David Brooks in today's New York Times, singing the praises of John Stott, a British preacher and writer who is one of the major figures in the world evangelical movement.

Hmm -- I wonder if it would also be a bit of a shock to Brooks that Stott made this statement not long ago:

I have recently come to the conclusion that political Zionism and Christian Zionism are biblically anathema to Christian faith.

(I'm not sure what Brooks thinks of Christian Zionism -- the belief that the establishment of a Jewish state is good because it's a step toward the fulfillment of Christian prophecy -- but here he refers to political Zionism as "heroic.")

In today's column, Brooks praises Stott for his certitude:

... he has a backbone of steel ... of course he believes in evangelizing among nonbelievers.

But that's an understatement. It's not just that Stott believes Christianity is right (and believes he has a right to tell you so), it's that he believes your belief system, if it's not in sync with his, is flat-out wrong:

Pluralism is an ideology that asserts that every religion has its own independent validity and every religion has an equal right to our respect. Pluralism condemns as sheer arrogance the need to convert people to our opinion. Pluralism rejects the Christian claim to the uniqueness and finality of Jesus Christ and rejects evangelism as a totally unacceptable form of imperialism.

The great virtue today is toleration. We are being told never seek to change people or convert them to Jesus Christ. That's pluralism. Both syncretism and pluralism reign in the world today. But we must affirm both objective and universal truth because God has revealed himself to us supremely in Jesus Christ his incarnate son and in the total biblical witness to Christ. The existence of truth, revealed, objective, accessible, universal and timeless truth is fundamental to our Christian witness in the world today. The church is a community of truth. We confess, defend and proclaim the truth.

David Brooks would like everyone and everything to be like him -- traditionalist but, y'know, mellow about it. Earlier this year he wrote a column in which he said that

Americans are reasonably tolerant, generally believing that all people of good will are basically on the same side.... we have trouble sustaining culture wars.

This horrified Richard John Neuhaus, Charles Colson, and probably quite a few other people who would have no trouble whatsoever sustaining a culture war. In today's column, Brooks wants to make you believe that John Stott is just another mellow traditionalist, occasionally stiff of spine but generally a pussycat ("Stott is so embracing"). Alas, if you Google Stott you quickly realize that he's predominantly spine. Stott may not be a blowhard publicity hound, like the preacher Brooks sees as his antithesis, Jerry Falwell, but he and Falwell would agree that a large percentage of us -- Brooks included -- are headed straight to Hell.
Apologies for the technical glitches -- I think everything's OK now.
A few days after the election, Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler wrote about white Southerners' fondness for war. He quoted Michael Lind's book Made in Texas:

White Southerners are not isolationists or pacifists. On the contrary, from the eighteenth century to the present, they have been more eager than white Northerners to support American wars abroad. According to the historian David Hackett Fischer, “From the quasi-war with France [in 1789] to the Vietnam War, the two southern cultures strongly supported every American war no matter what it was about or who it was against. Southern ideas of honor and the warrior ethic combined to create regional war fevers of great intensity in 1798, 1812, 1846, 1861, 1898, 1917, 1941, 1950 and 1965.”

To this, Somerby added,

Of course, as we learned in this last election, when blue-state elitists try to stop red-staters from killing themselves in these wars, they earn themselves a lifetime of enmity....

That idea has stuck in my mind ever since I read it -- that we piss red-staters off when we try to save their sons' and daughters' lives by ending wars that have turned into quagmires.

Now along comes Russ Vaughn, a Vietnam vet who writes right-wing and pro-military essays and verse. Recently, to defend the honor of the Marine who was filmed shooting a wounded Iraqi prisoner, Vaughn wrote a poem called "Fightin' Words":

You media pansies may squeal and may squirm,
But a fightin’ man knows that the way to confirm,
That some jihadist bastard truly is dead,
Is a brain-tappin’ round fired into his head....

The poem goes on like that (suffice to say that the hypothetical jihadist is sent to meet "fat ugly virgins" in the afterlife).

Now Vaughn has written an essay defending his poem for a Web site called the American Thinker. And he says flat-out what Somerby said just after the election: Don't you stateside liberals wimps dare try to save our lives.

... You see, what I'm wholeheartedly for is the troops, and not in the sense that most liberal Americans profess to be, in that they believe they are demonstrating their support of the troops by calling for them to be brought home and removed from harm's way. If that's what you call supporting the troops, then take it from an old trooper who's been there and done that, the troops don't see you as supportive at all. They see you as undermining their mission, which is to go in harm's way, with deliberate intent to prevail by force of arms.

What the troops perceive as support is hearing you cheering not jeering when they are seriously kicking the butts of jihadi terrorists. So, on behalf of the troops you support, it's with you peace-at-any-price liberals and your synergistic media pals that I have an ax to grind....

I know Vaughn’s poem and essay are meant to address the shooting of the prisoner. But that’s not what he’s talking about here. He’s saying that civilians cross the line not when we question what one of the troops does in battle, but long before that, when we merely debate the merits of the war.

So all dissent must stop once troops are deployed; democratic debate must be suspended. The soldiers and Marines have butts to kick, and merely stepping back to weigh the costs and benefits is a betrayal of them.

OK, fine. I’ll still call for an end to this war, but I don’t expect most of the troops, or gung-ho veterans, to make any attempt to grasp what I’m saying or why I’m saying it. Many of these people think anti-war liberals have contempt for them; I try to understand the way the other side thinks, but I guess I shouldn’t expect supporters of the war to return the favor.


Here's a curious fact: Russ Vaughn wrote a poem that was posted on the Web site run by Kevin Sites -- yes, the journalist who filmed the shooting of the prisoner by the Marine. That poem is "The Sheepdogs"; it reveals a lot about what Vaughn thinks of civilians:

Most humans truly are like sheep
Wanting nothing more than peace to keep
To graze, grow fat and raise their young,
Sweet taste of clover on the tongue.
Their lives serene upon Life’s farm,
They sense no threat nor fear no harm.
On verdant meadows, they forage free
With naught to fear, with naught to flee.
They pay their sheepdogs little heed
For there is no threat; there is no need....

Feel a bit demeaned by this? Maybe in your life you've dealt with crime, cancer, fire; maybe at times you've had to work two or three jobs to put food on the table for your family. Sorry -- you're not a soldier, so you're just a sheep. When wolves attack -- they do, of course, on a "calm September morning" -- you’re just their "passive helpless enemy"; you’ve been living "a life of illusive bliss.” Only the “sheepdogs,” the “Dogs of War,” really understand how the world works.

Monday, November 29, 2004

...the numbers of millionaire households [is up] - way up to a record 8.2-million from 6.2-million a year ago. That's a whopping 33 percent gain of 2-million new households to achieve millionaire status in just the past year from June 2003 to June 2004....

Nationally, 3.3-million households have achieved or regained millionaire status since 2002....

The addition of 2-million households in one year to the millionaire market is the largest increase recorded by the TNS study, which began monitoring affluent Americans in 1981....

--Robert Trigaux in the St. Petersburg Times

Real average weekly earnings fell by 0.4 percent in October for the seventh time this year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Nov. 17.

After adjusting for a 0.6 percent increase in the consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers, BLS determined that real wages fell last month. BLS also reported that average pay was just 0.4 percent higher than a year ago after adjusting for inflation....

--International Labor Communications Association, citing this BLS report
Is the U.S. using napalm in Fallujah? Yes, according to England's Sunday Mirror:

US troops are secretly using outlawed napalm gas to wipe out remaining insurgents in and around Fallujah.

News that President George W. Bush has sanctioned the use of napalm, a deadly cocktail of polystyrene and jet fuel banned by the United Nations in 1980, will stun governments around the world....

Since the American assault on Fallujah there have been reports of "melted" corpses, which appeared to have napalm injuries....

Al-Jazeera also makes this claim.

The Mirror says that the U.S. has acknowledged the use of napalm in Iraq. In fact, as this 2003 story from the San Diego Union-Tribune notes, what the U.S. has acknowledged is the use of Mark 77 firebombs. Not everyone thinks that's a significant distinction

American jets killed Iraqi troops with firebombs – similar to the controversial napalm used in the Vietnam War – in March and April as Marines battled toward Baghdad.

...What the Marines dropped, the spokesmen said yesterday, were "Mark 77 firebombs." They acknowledged those are incendiary devices with a function "remarkably similar" to napalm weapons.

Rather than using gasoline and benzene as the fuel, the firebombs use kerosene-based jet fuel, which has a smaller concentration of benzene....

"You can call it something other than napalm, but it's napalm," said John Pike, defense analyst with GlobalSecurity.org, a nonpartisan research group in Alexandria, Va....

Although many human rights groups consider incendiary bombs to be inhumane, international law does not prohibit their use against military forces....

"Incendiaries create burns that are difficult to treat," said Robert Musil, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a Washington group that opposes the use of weapons of mass destruction.

Musil described the Pentagon's distinction between napalm and Mark 77 firebombs as "pretty outrageous."

"That's clearly Orwellian," he added....

I don't know whether the Mirror story is true, and I'll admit I don't know if death from a permissible firebomb is less horrific than death from napalm. I'm just passing this on.
A majority of Americans say President Bush's next choice for an opening on the Supreme Court should be willing to uphold the landmark court decision protecting abortion rights, an Associated Press poll found.

The poll found that 59 percent say Bush should choose a nominee who would uphold the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. About three in 10, 31 percent, said they want a nominee who would overturn the decision, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs.

--AP/ABC News

Impressive -- though it's not really surprising. Check out Polling Report's compilation of recent polls on this subject -- for years, a clear majority of Americans has wanted abortion to remain legal. (We're talking about a majority significantly larger than the one that allegedly gave Bush his "mandate.") In fact, the results of this new poll are almost exactly the same as those of an ABC-Ipsos poll taken days after the election. So why did we hear so much talk about "values" voters then, and not hear that 61% of Americans polled on November 3-5 wanted Bush to appoint judges who'd uphold Roe?

That's the rather Orwellian term for the practice of shipping U.S. prisoners to countries where torture laws aren't particularly strict. Today's Boston Globe reports on Premier Executive Transport Services, that is the owner of record for a plane known to have made 300 flights to such countries as part of the war on terror. The Massachusetts firm has a Virginia phone number and top executives who live in the D.C. area; the head of Premier's local law firm doesn't seem to know anything about the plane. There's more, and it's all shadowy.

"...The electrodes were put on sensitive parts of their bodies. It's no secret."

I see that on his Canada trip Bush is in no danger of being exposed to deadly disagreement germs:

Opposition leaders won't be welcome at any of U.S. President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Paul Martin's handful of meetings Tuesday. Both NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe have been all but frozen out of the president's two-day visit.

A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said the Bloc and NDP's written requests to meet with Bush will be turned down....

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper will get a brief opportunity to meet Bush on Tuesday, but only because rules require it, the official said.

Layton accused the PMO of pushing aside opposition leaders in an attempt to shield Bush from having to address touchy issues like ballistic missile defence....

--Winnipeg Sun

The story goes on to note that nothing like this happened when Vicente Fox went to Canada last month. Then again, it's not at all clear that God personally chose Fox to lead his country.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

A couple of days before Thanksgiving, I commented on a Fox News story about the way Maryland public schools allegedly teach the story of Thanksgiving. Fox says the Maryland schools refuse to tell their students that Thanksgiving was a religious holiday; as I noted, citing Fox's own source (the Web site of Plimoth Plantation), it's a bit more complicated than Fox lets on: Thanksgiving as we know it harks back to both a secular harvest celebration (what we think of as the first Thanksgiving) and a religious ceremony that wasn't a feast.

Then on Thanksgiving Day I saw this article in The Boston Globe (via The Washington Post). The article notes that, according to some sources, the first Thanksgiving in America was actually in Virginia, in 1619:

... a solemn day of fasting, meditation, and introspection, followed by a light meal of roasted oysters or Virginia ham.

That, some Virginians say, was how the real "first" Thanksgiving in the New World was celebrated Dec. 4, 1619, by a group of men who had just landed on the shores of the James River at what is now Berkeley Plantation, two years before the Pilgrims' harvest feast in Massachusetts.

So you're wonering why most Americans don't know this? Well, among other reasons, there's this:

The South's historic disregard for the holiday as a Northern tradition didn't help.... (In the 19th and even into the 20th century, businesses and state and city offices in parts of the South stayed defiantly open.)


Isn't that interesting -- especially in light of the Fox story. Fox suggests that schools in the blue state of Maryland are showing hostility to religion by not teaching that Thanksgiving was a godly day. But for many years the godly, traditional, and now solidly red South used to reject Thanksgiving altogether. If Thanksgiving is a holy day, isn't that a bit more hostile to God than not telling the Thanksgiving story in what Fox News would consider the correct way?

The Globe/Post story notes that Thanksgiving was first proclaimed a national holiday in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln. Apparently, showing respect to God was less important to Southerners, for decades after the Civil War, than showing disrespect to the Great Emancipator.

Then again, you might not agree that the people in Virginia who first had a Thanksgiving ceremony truly had good "moral values." Yes, they certainly made a point of showing their allegiance to God:

In 1619, 38 men, led by Captain John Woodlief, sailed from Bristol, England, on the good ship Margaret to seek fortune in the New World. Upon landing in Virginia, they waded ashore, opened their instructions from the Berkeley Co., which sponsored their expedition, and learned that the first order of business was to drop to their knees.

"Wee ordaine that the Day of our ship [arrival at] the place assigned for the plantation in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God," the order read.

But they didn't show their fellow human beings very much Christian charity:

But the Virginians at Berkeley and at Jamestown -- the earliest British settlement in the colonies -- were a bit more antagonistic with the Powhatans. When the dandies and fortune hunters of Jamestown first encountered them eating roast oysters and wild strawberries on the beach, they chased the Powhatans off and devoured their food, according to local historian Pat Butler.

Perhaps as a result,

By 1622, the Berkeley settlement was wiped out in a massacre by Native Americans.

So maybe it would be just as well if we just didn't bother to rethink the whole teaching-Thanksgiving thing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

I'll be away for the weekend. Thanks for being there when I vent -- I'll see you all Sunday night.
Am I not supposed to laugh at this story from Alaska? Am I being an arrogant blue-stater if I do?

Well, frankly, I don't care:

Matanuska Christian School's principal has been fired and a teacher has quit over a disciplinary incident in which the principal had himself whipped in front of two students.

When ... two seniors, 17 and 18, got caught kissing girls in front of younger students in late October, [principal Steve] Unfreid said that while contemplating what discipline to hand out, he woke at 3 a.m. and prayed how to avoid expelling them. He said that was when he remembered years ago he had cured his son of chronic lying by telling his son to hit him with a wooden ladle instead of spanking the youngster.

Later at school, Unfreid walked the boys down to a basement room with [a teacher, Joe] Brost. He told them, "'Guys, this has gotta stop,'" he said. "'I've let the atmosphere get too lax. I share in this discipline. This is a one-time deal.'"

Then the principal took off his belt, gave it to Brost, and instructed the teacher to "discipline me like you would discipline your own son," he recalled.

He told the teacher to stop only when the students acknowledged their mistake. The whole thing, starting with the trip downstairs, lasted 5 to 10 minutes, he said....

Yeesh. Five to ten minutes? I think a certain person has seen The Passion of the Christ a few too many times.

It's interesting: When someone from a "secular humanist" background goes off the rails -- John Walker Lindh, for instance -- people with conservative worldviews have no trouble blaming an entire culture (even though the vast majority of people from the same culture don't engage in the same behavior). And when they do, the culprit is inevitably "moral relativism," as contrasted with the rock-solid belief system of Christian conservatives, which tells them in no uncertain terms what's right and what's wrong.

This little story tells us things aren't quite that simple. Unfried thought God wanted him to do this; the parents and administrators of the school believe in the same God -- but God, or at least their religion-based moral code, told them (quite appropriately) that Unfried is nuts.

And Unfried isn't nuts because a secular message of "anything goes" made him so -- he's nuts because even a strict moral code can be interpreted more than one way. Because of his belief system, Unfried would never become a Muslim jihadist -- but with a few more turns of the loose screw in his head he might have decided that God wanted him to found a "boot camp" where he could subject troubled teenagers to excessive discipline.

The moral of the story: Secular people do good things and bad things. And so do religious people. Profound, no?

(Link via salto mortale and Steve Gilliard.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The folks at the Culture of Life Foundation are very, very happy about the budget that just passed -- health-care providers and insurance companies have been given more leeway to refuse to provide or cover abortions, and funding for abstinence education was increased 39%.

But here's something else they're happy about that seems to be a good thing, regardless of who's claiming credit for it:

Bush and pro-life forces scored another triumph by securing $25 million to fight sex trafficking that had been withheld last year by Congressional appropriators.

Sex trafficking -- we all want to stop that, right?

Alas, there's a catch:

Half of the $25 million came from money originally intended for the "family planning account" of the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Fewer condoms, more unwanted children in poor countries, more AIDS transmission? Gee, thanks, guys.

For as long as I can remember, he seemed half nuts. A few years back I used to watch his news broadcast regularly; it was in a period when he was obsessed with, transfixed by, El Niño. When he had a non-weather story, he'd introduce it by saying, "We're going to bring you a hard news look at" whatever the subject was -- big emphasis on "hard news." It was weird. And the news wasn't always "hard" -- sometimes it was the same old TV pseudo-news, oversold in this eccentric way.

That's how I'll remember Dan Rather.

Dan Rather was flaky when he tried to undermine George W. Bush's credibility with documents any young intern in his office could have spotted as, at the very least, questionable. Dan Rather was flaky when he said,

"George Bush is the president. He makes the decisions, and, you know, it's just one American, wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where. And he'll make the call."

"If he needs me in uniform, tell me when and where--I'm there."

Dan Rather was flaky when he broadcast fake tapes provided by a gung-ho right-wing bounty hunter.

Ideologue? Hell no -- Dan Rather's flakiness crossed ideological lines.

And, of course, Dan Rather was flaky when he began closing his show with the word "Courage," flaky when he claimed to have been attacked by men saying, "Kenneth, what is the frequency?," flaky when he joined R.E.M. in a performance of "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" on David Letterman's show.

A few more, from Slate:

... In 1981, Rather decided that he couldn't occupy Walter Cronkite's chair, so for his first Evening News broadcast he read the headlines while crouching behind the desk....

Once, during a tense moment at the network, he lectured his colleagues, "I only have one thing to say to all of you people. Syracuse, 413." Producers were baffled. Only later did they realize that Rather kept a copy of Sir Edward Creasy's
Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World on his desk -- Syracuse, 413 B.C., was in Chapter 2.

Dan Rather was not a hero to any liberal or leftist I know. Only right-wingers think he was. They're deliriously happy. We're not even mildly upset.

Fox News is trying to make its audience hate us evil liberal secularists, by lying and misrepresenting sources:

Students Free to Thank Anybody, Except God

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland public school students are free to thank anyone they want while learning about the 17th century celebration of Thanksgiving — as long as it's not God.

And that is how it should be, administrators say.

Young students across the state read stories about the Pilgrims and Native Americans, simulate Mayflower voyages, hold mock feasts and learn about the famous meal that temporarily allied two very different groups.

But what teachers don't mention when they describe the feast is that the Pilgrims not only thanked the Native Americans for their peaceful three-day indulgence, but repeatedly thanked God....

The title and lead paragraph of the story are, quite simply, a lie. Whatever may or may not be in the curriculum of Maryland public schools with regard to Thanksgiving, nothing in the story says that children are being prevented from giving their own thanks to God.

But the main thrust of the story is that, liberal propaganda notwithstanding, Thanksgiving is godly -- and Fox has a source to back this assertion up:

According to the Web site Plimoth.org... Thanksgiving ... derived from their belief that "a series of misfortunes meant that God was displeased, and the people should both search for the cause and humble themselves before him. Good fortune, on the other hand, was a sign of God's mercy and compassion, and therefore he should be thanked and praised."

Plimoth.org is the Web site of Plimoth Plantation, the "living museum" in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Here's the page from the Plimouth Plantation site that's quoted in the Fox article. But here's a passage from the same page that, interestingly, isn't quoted:

While the harvest celebration held in Plymouth Colony in 1621 has been mistakenly referred to as the “First Thanksgiving” since the 1800s, the first Thanksgiving Day as the Separatists [Pilgrims] understood it occurred in 1623.

Nor is this, from another page at the site:

The harvest celebration of autumn, 1621, was quite plainly neither a fast day nor a thanksgiving day in the eyes of the Pilgrims. Rather it was a secular celebration which included games, recreations, three days of feasting and Indian guests. It would have been unthinkable to have these things as part of a religious Thanksgiving. The actual first declared Thanksgiving occurred in 1623, after a providential rain shower saved the colony’s crops.

So Thanksgiving was religious, but the feast we think of as "the first Thanksgiving" wasn't religious -- according to Fox's own source. So should we teach Thanksgiving as a Godly day or not?

Clearly, to Fox, we should. But if we do, should we leave out half the story? After all, as yet another page at the Plimoth Plantation site notes,

The American custom of giving thanks did not begin with the arrival of European colonists. Spirituality was (and is) a deeply sacred and personal part of Wampanoag life. Everything is sacred, and giving thanks for the Creator’s gifts is an integral part of daily life. From ancient times up to the present day, the Native people of North America have held ceremonies to give thanks for successful harvests and other good fortune. According to the oral information of tribal elders, giving thanks was the primary reason for ceremonies or feasts.

Giving thanks was an important part of the celebrations, called Nickommo, which are still held by the Wampanoag. Give-away ceremonies, feasting, dancing and sports and games were common features of these occasions....

Apparently it's of no concern to Fox that most school districts show "hostility to religion" by failing to teach that.
The obvious conclusion to be drawn from today’s New York Times poll story is that George W. Bush has an anti-mandate:

There is continuing disapproval of Mr. Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, with a plurality now saying it was a mistake to invade in the first place.

...Even as two-thirds of respondents said they expected Mr. Bush to appoint judges who would vote to outlaw abortion, a majority continue to say they want the practice to remain either legal as it is now, which was Mr. Kerry's position, or to be legal but under stricter limits.

Americans said they opposed changing the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, which Mr. Bush campaigned on in the final weeks of his campaign....

About one-third of the respondents said the tax cuts passed in Mr. Bush's first term had been good for the economy; but nearly a fifth said they had done more harm, and just under half said the tax cuts had made little difference....

On Social Security, 45 percent said a proposal to permit people to invest their Social Security withholding money in private accounts was a bad idea; 49 percent said it was a good idea. The poll also found little confidence among Americans that Mr. Bush would assure the future solvency of the program: 51 percent said that Mr. Bush was unlikely to "make sure Social Security benefits are there for people like me."...

And then there’s this:

Americans now have a better opinion of the Democratic Party than of the Republican Party: 54 percent said they had a favorable view of Democrats, compared with 39 percent with an unfavorable view. By contrast, 49 percent have a favorable view of Republicans, compared with 46 percent holding an unfavorable one.

It would be easy to conclude from this that a better Democratic candidate would have won this year -- that Kerry is to blame for the loss.

I'm not so sure. Issue by issue, voters do favor the Democratic Party -- they certainly do when the Republican Party is embodied by crazies and radicals -- but they can always be persuaded that individual Democrats are odd, scary, dangerous, or all three. Voters like the Democratic Party, but they're more willing to think the worst of a candidate if that candidate is a Democrat.

We certainly saw that this year: the claims of the Swift Boat liars were debunked in the print press and the Bush National Guard documents were discredited, but the Swift Boat lies stuck and the Bush charges didn't. Kerry said a nice thing about Mary Cheney and suffered at the polls for it; GOP senator Jim Bunning said a nasty thing about his opponent (that he looks like Saddam's sons) and won anyway.

I think the Democrats need to hire a pollster to test whether this is true. List a series of scandalous acts involving hypothetical, unnamed candidates of both major parties and then, after each one, ask the poll respondents, "Would this surprise you, or is it something you'd expect a member of the [Democratic/Republican] Party to do?" I bet even Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would say they expect worse behavior and more lapses in judgment from Democrats -- because we've all been conditioned for so long to expect Democrats to have poor judgment. If I'm right, this is something the party really, really needs to work on.

Monday, November 22, 2004


(And yes, I do believe the small print at the bottom reads, "A political public service message brought to you by Clear Channel.")


UPDATE: Raw Story has more on this, including the text of a letter to the Orlando Sentinel:

...The first thing I thought was, when was the last time I have seen a president on a billboard? What is going on? Didn’t Saddam Hussein have his picture up everywhere? What next, a statue?...

That's what this right-wing blogger says (in response to this article).
The program described in this Stars & Stripes article sounds good, but forgive me if I'm a bit suspicious:

The Pentagon has a message for its troops serving in war zones: America Supports You.

That’s the name of a new campaign, introduced Friday at the Pentagon by Charlie Abell, principal deputy under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

Abell said the program is designed so that the Department of Defense can “realize what’s going on and to be able to tell our soldiers and their families that we support you.”

The effort is two-pronged, according to Allison Barber, special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, internal communication/public liaison.

“We’re going to go to Americans and say, ‘Join our Web site. Tell us what you’re doing to support the troops.’ The second part is we’re going to take the info to the troops.

“We have a myriad of ways to talk to the troops, to provide information, and we’re going to use them all,” Abell said....

I have to accept the reality that a lot of the troops aren't sure they have our support. Maybe they just can't get their minds around the notion that even those of us who oppose the war are on their side, or maybe once they're in the military they're fed propaganda that tells them that the many war opponents they hear and read about (including, presumably, the 49% of voters who didn't support Bush) are troop-hating traitors. So I guess I understand why the Pentagon might want to do this.

But it leaves me uneasy. I was having some trouble putting the reasons for my suspicions into words, but then I read this letter from Jamil Smith of Philadelphia, which appeared in yesterday's New York Times Magazine in response to an article about those "Support Our Troops" magnets that are showing up on cars:

... One might as well have a magnet with such condescending commands as "Love Your Children" or "Pay Your Taxes." Both might elicit the same reaction as "Support Our Troops": I already do, but why do I need you to tell me to do so?

What I was more interested in was the fact that the thinking behind these magnets might feed into the exclusionary zeitgeist that the Bush administration promotes with its nationalistic fear strategy: beware of neighbors who oppose our war, for they are against you.

Yeah, that sounds about right. And this seems like another way to demand conformity and create a sense of group identity: Sign up! We have! (And I bet those sandal-wearing peaceniks down the street haven't.)

Beyond that, is the Pentagon's program really necessary? After all, if you go to the America Supports You Web site and then to the How You Can Help page, you'll see 27 links to programs that are already helping civilians provide kind words and tangible aid to troops. In fact, as the Stars & Stripes article notes, the main point of the Pentgon program seems to be just to collect stories from people who are already helping the troops.

Now, why would the Pentagon want to do that?

Maybe the Pentagon really just wants to remind the troops that we care. But maybe there's another goal. Did you read the story in Friday's New York Times in which Ken Mehlman, the manager of Bush's reelection campaign, talked about some of the campaign's techniques?

Rather than dispatching troops to knock on doors in neighborhoods known to be heavily Republican, Mr. Mehlman said, the Bush campaign studied consumer habits in trying to predict whom people would vote for in a presidential election.

"We did what Visa did," Mr. Mehlman said. "We acquired a lot of consumer data. What magazine do you subscribe to? Do you own a gun? How often do the folks go to church? Where do you send your kids to school? Are you married?

"Based on that, we were able to develop an exact kind of consumer model that corporate America does every day to predict how people vote - not based on where they live but how they live," he said. "That was critically important to our success."

Hmmm ... what do you suppose happens when you log on to America Supports You and tell them a little bit about yourself? Who do you suppose gets the information?

Ken Mehlman, maybe?

Sunday, November 21, 2004

A theocrat gets the message:

Air Force Coach to Remove Christian Banner

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. - The Air Force Academy's longtime football coach has agreed to remove a Christian banner from the team's locker room after school administrators announced they would do more to fight religious intolerance.

Coach Fisher DeBerry agreed Friday to remove the banner, which displayed the "Competitor's Creed," including the lines "I am a Christian first and last ... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ." ...


I assume this is the banner in question, the work of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The text of the banner begins:

I am a Christian first and last.
I am created in the likeness of God Almighty to bring Him glory.
I am a member of Team Jesus Christ.
I wear the colors of the cross.

I am a Competitor now and forever.
I am made to strive, to strain, to stretch, and to succeed in the arena of competition.
I am a Christian Competitor and as such, I face my challenger with the face of Christ....

This is a freaking prayer, a prayer to the Christian God (or one notion of that God). Is it literally unimaginable to this coach that one or more of his players might be atheist or Jewish or Muslim, and thus might feel excluded or offended by this?

The hero of the story is the academy superintendent, Lieutenant General John W. Rosa, who is putting a stop to this and other practices that made the academy seem like a place where non-Christians are second-class citizens. The Denver Post's Jim Spencer explains the problem:

Since August, when plans for tolerance training began, the academy has identified 55 incidents of religious bias dating from 2000, said academy spokesman Lt. Col. Laurent Fox.

The complaints, Fox said, included a cadet who anonymously reported being called "(expletive) Jew" and "Christ-killer."

Academy officials have no knowledge of an incident, reported in the Colorado Springs Gazette, that non-Christian cadets in basic training were forced to march in a "heathen flight," Fox said....

Spencer says this about General Rosa:

Rosa is neither a heretic nor a patron of political correctness. He's a warrior who understands that religious one-upmanship undermines his troops.

When he looks at his wingman, Rosa has said, he doesn't care what religion, race or gender he sees. He's looking for someone to carry out a mission.

Sounds good to me.

The right-wing WorldNet Daily is eyeing all this warily, especially a decision to prohibit cadets from making Bible quotes part of their e-mail signatures. But that's not very different from a workplace rule that restricts political or religious advocacy on office and cubicle walls that are visible to other workers. I'd consider a rule like that reasonable at my workplace even if it meant I had to hide any signs of, say, support for John Kerry. Why isn't this acceptable to Christian conservatives? Do they really believe there should be no limit to their proselytizing -- even in a shared community such as a school (and a government-run school at that)?
The Powell who remains in power continues to create a climate of fear:

WUNC-FM sponsor can't say 'rights'

...WUNC-FM recently informed Ipas, a Chapel Hill-based international women's rights and health organization, that the phrase "reproductive rights" in the group's on-air announcement could be interpreted as advocating a particular political position. The station required Ipas to use "reproductive health" instead.

WUNC made the change to avoid trouble with the Federal Communications Commission, general manager Joan Siefert Rose said. The FCC prohibits public radio stations from airing underwriting announcements that advocate political, social or religious causes.

"We can accept sponsorships and make announcements from advocacy groups, but we can't use advocacy language," Rose said. "Unfortunately, the FCC doesn't specify what that is. There's no list of forbidden terms. The only way to find out if you've stepped over the line is if someone challenges it and the FCC issues a fine. So we are always pretty conservative in interpreting the announcements we make." ...

--Raleigh News & Observer

So that's where we are: The law says you have rights, and the courts have upheld those rights, but all of this displeases the King, so we must not run afoul of his Information Minister.

By the way, do you think there'd need to be this level of fear if (hard as it is to imagine) a gun shop decided to underwrite this radio station and submitted a pitch with a reference to "Second Amendment rights"? At the very least, wouldn't there be conservatives howling "Censorship!" and demanding that the station reinstate the original language, an uprising that would almost certainly stay Powell's hand in the (unlikely) event that he'd been considering a fine?

(Link via BuzzFlash.)
In the Week in Review section of The New York Times, business writer Eduardo Porter considers a thoroughly silly theory to explain America's religiosity -- and rejects, as obsolete, an explanation that seems perfectly satisfactory.

The silly notion:

...over the past 10 years or so a growing group of mostly American sociologists has deployed a novel theory to explain the United States' apparently anomalous behavior: supply-side economics. Americans, they say, are fervently religious because there are so many churches competing for their devotion....

Americans are more churchgoing and pious than Germans or Canadians because the United States has the most open religious market, with dozens of religious denominations competing vigorously to offer their flavor of salvation, becoming extremely responsive to the needs of their parishes.

Let's see: I'd need to travel less than a mile from my apartment here on the notoriously secular Upper West Side to attend a synagogue, a Catholic church, an Episcopal church, a Greek Orthodox church, a Baptist church (yes, really -- a block south of Zabar's!)... funny how this isn't making me any less of an atheist. Nor did the Catholic church that was across the street from me when I lived in the East Village (or the mosque that was just around the corner).

But I'm just one guy. Porter actually does a much more thorough job of debunking this nonsense -- even as he takes it seriously:

The free-market argument is not absolutely watertight, however. Islamic states, for instance, have very strong quasi-state churches and high religious participation. And some European sociologists argue that there is much more religious competition in Europe than the supply-siders acknowledge.

And in the United States, the most religious states and counties are those most dominated by a single denomination - Mormon, Baptist or Pentecostal - not those where there is most competition...

Reminds me of the caption of an old William Hamilton cartoon:

"You're leaving out one thing, Frank -- Asia."

Here's the rejected theory:

Old-school sociology holds that as nations become more prosperous, healthy and educated, demand for the support that religion provides declines.

Uh-huh. And what's happened to America, particularly red America in recent decades? The disappearance of manufacturing; the near-destruction of the union movement; the end of the social contract between employers and employees; lower pay and lost benefits, especially the loss of health insurance, in the jobs that remain.... Forget GDP growth -- in all those big, sparsely populated counties on the mostly red map of the U.S., things are simply worse for most people. (Yes, they're worse in other developed countries where secularism still prevails, but the safety net hasn't been eliminated, as it has here.)

Middle America is less prosperous -- and, apparently, more religious. Why entertain some crackpot notion that flatters theocrats and market-worshipers on the right when the old theory works just fine?

Friday, November 19, 2004

So a couple of nights ago -- stop me if you've heard this already -- the Bush daughters tried to get into a restaurant on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Here's what happened, according to the gossip column at Gawker:

Freemans tuesday night the 16th of nov. the bush twins along with 2 massive secret service men tried to have dinner they were told by the maitre 'd that they were full and would be for the next 4 years upon hearing the entire restaurant cheered and did a round of shots it was amazing!!!

Quite amusing (though I can imagine it will be described as a hate crime on right-wing blogs).

Now, even though I live here, I've never been to this particular restaurant. So I looked it up at Citysearch, just to see what kind of dining experience les soeurs Bush had in mind. It turns out that the place is frequented by "the uber-hip" and has "tattoed, waifish servers." And one of its best appetizers -- 'scuse me, starters -- is "nicely gamey wild boar pâté served with a few smashed raspberries and cornichon."

Er, what was that again about John Kerry and his effete, un-American fondness for green tea?

(Gawker link via Steve Gilliard. Thanks to Phil for the tip.)
Compare and contrast:


(From Patton Oswalt.)


(And speaking of graphics, check out Oliver Willis's "Brand Democrat" ads, if you haven't already. I especially like "We're Just Getting Warmed Up.")
Do you understand the timing of all this agitation about Iraq? Yes, it is "an eerie repetition of the prelude to the Iraq war," as Steven Weisman says in The New York Times, but what we're getting right now is an "eerie repetition" of the summer of '03 -- the period just before the full-scale rollout of the campaign to sell the war. That was timed for the midterm elections, which were a couple of months away -- what is this timed for? Are the Bushies planning to threaten Democrats in the new Congress with the treason card as a way of making sure they don't block far-right judges and Social Security privatization? And if so, aren't circumstances a bit different right now? Back then there was a lot of unfinished business in Afghanistan, but it wasn't a quagmire; right now, Iraq is a quagmire. Can Republicans accuse Democrats of not having the stomach to fight a new war when it's obvious to everyone that there just aren't enough troops to spare for that war? Or do the Bush people really believe that they'll be able to withdraw large numbers of troops from Iraq any month now?
I'm happy to see that Senator Russ Feingold and Mayor Davie Cieslewicz have condemned a liberal radio talk-show host in Madison, Wisconsin, who called Condoleezza Rice "Aunt Jemima" on the air. You know Feingold is both a Democrat and a liberal, and Cieslewicz calls himself a liberal Democrat in so many words, listens to Van Morrison, and wrote a book called City Ethic: Urban Conservation and the New Environmentalism (liberal enough for ya?). So right-wingers can't say liberal Dems won't condemn racist comments by one of their own.

Whoops -- too late. The Right's already saying that.

I'm with Feingold and Cieslewicz. I don't really have much patience with people who bring up race when criticizing Rice or Colin Powell (or Bush for appointing them). Powell's experience makes him precisely the sort of person a Republican would have appointed to a senior position in 2000 (a Republican, that is, who wasn't ideologically on the far right -- and I'm not sure Bush realized that he himself was on the far right in 2000); Rice's résumé also makes her a perfectly logical choice for Bush (if one overlooks the little matter of competence, which Bush obviously does, in himself and in all ideologically compatible others).

"He's not a bigot," one observer wrote in 2000. "...Bush truly doesn't know the meaning of the word 'intolerance.'" A fawning fan? No -- it was Paul Begala, on the very first page of his book "Is Our Children Learning?": The Case Against George W. Bush.

The Right these days is schizophrenic on race -- go to Free Republic or Lucianne.com and you'll see love letters to Clarence Thomas and Alan Keyes mixed with nastiness about Jesse Jackson and ordinary blacks who vote Democratic (a sign to the Right that they haven't left the "liberal plantation"). Is Bush like these people -- race-blind with regard to his friends, but not his enemies -- or is he truly non-racist? I don't know, but either way, his dealings with Powell and Rice seem utterly non-racial.
Juan Williams on NPR just now, in a story about Harry Reid, the Democrats' new Senate leader:

Reid's first job is to rally Democrats while realizing he's fighting a popular president.

Jeff Jacoby, in a column he published yesterday in The Boston Globe entitled "We Owe Ashcroft Thanks":

After the Sept. 11 attacks, it fell to Ashcroft to lead the administration's legal fight against terrorism. He made aggressive use of the powers given to him by law -- including the enhanced authority provided by the new Patriot Act -- to root out terror cells, arrest suspected Al Qaeda conspirators, and freeze the assets of groups suspected of terrorist ties. Since 9/11 the Justice Department has secured 194 terror-related convictions, including those of Richard Reid, John Walker Lindh, and radical Islamist cadres in Seattle, northern Virginia, and Lackawanna, N.Y.

Am I reading that right? Is he saying that Ashcroft deserves special praise for getting convictions against Richard Reid and John Walker Lindh?

Id there any prosecutor in America who couldn't have gotten these guys convicted?
New York Times yesterday:

Reports Suggest Economy Is Warming Up

Reuters yesterday:

Leading Indicators Down for 5th Month

Go figure.

Actually, what seems to be going on is that things have been getting better recently -- the gloomier Reuters article says indicators of current and recent activity have been improving -- but measures of what's going to happen in the future are down. The Times article has a few charts that make even this liberal think businesses are doing better. But the Times also notes one or two flies in the ointment, such as this:

A weak labor market is still acting as a drag on broader price increases, eroding the purchasing power of workers. Average hourly earnings fell 0.7 percent in October in real terms, and are still 0.5 percent lower than in October last year.

Think that might just be one reason consumer confidence (one of the leading indicators cited in the Reuters article) is down?

We may be in a real recovery (at least for now), but it's a Bush recovery -- a recovery for your boss, not for you.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

You know, when the Lincoln bedroom becomes the Motel 6, that resonates with the American people.

--NBC's Andrea Mitchell, January 4, 1997

Yeah, sure it does -- when a Democrat is president. When it's a Republican, well...

One-third of President Bush's top 2000 fund-raisers or their spouses were appointed to positions in his first administration, from ambassadorships in Europe to seats on policy-setting boards, an Associated Press review found.

The perks for 246 "pioneers" who raised at least $100,000 also included overnight stays at the White House and Camp David, parties at the White House and Bush's Texas ranch, state dinners with world leaders and overseas travel with U.S. delegations to the Olympics and other events, the review found.

Top fund-raisers say the real charm of the rewards was getting the chance to rub elbows with the president.

"All of us in politics, we've done so many parties and receptions it's old hat to us," said David Miner, a North Carolina textile executive and state lawmaker who helped raise more than $100,000 for Bush in 2000. He was rewarded with invitations to the White House, the vice presidential mansion and Bush's ranch.


It's hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons, but you can compare the AP article with this 1996 report on Clinton by the Center for Public Integrity; try to figure out why everyone in America knew about Clinton's rewards for donors and nobody knows about Bush's.

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican moderate seeking a key chairmanship in a party of conservatives, is drafting a written commitment of quick hearings and votes on President Bush's judicial nominees regardless of their views on abortion, party sources said Thursday....

Specter's written statement, apparently undergoing changes, largely covers positions he has staked out in public statements in recent days. Even so, several GOP sources said one early version was deemed unacceptable by Senate leaders in a meeting on Wednesday, particularly on the contentious issue of changing Senate procedures to eliminate the possibility of a filibuster by opponents of a nomination.

...Several sources said that inside the closed-door GOP meetings in recent days, Specter has been prodded to declare his support for such a change....


...after having been admonished by this Holy Office entirely to abandon the false opinion that the sun is the centre of the Universe and immovable, and that the Earth is not the centre of the same and that it moves, and that I was neither to hold, defend, nor teach in any manner whatsoever, either orally or in writing, the said false doctrine; and after having received a notification that the said doctrine is contrary to Holy Writ, I wrote and published a book in which I treat this condemned doctrine and bring forward very persuasive arguments in its favour without answering them: I have been judged vehemently suspected of heresy, that is of having held and believed that the Sun is at the centre of the Universe and immovable, and that the Earth is not at the centre and that it moves.

Therefore, wishing to remove from the minds of your Eminences and all faithful Christians this vehement suspicion reasonably conceived against me, I abjure with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith these errors and heresies, and I curse and detest them as well as any other error, heresy or sect contrary to the Holy Catholic Church....

--abjuration of Galileo, 1633


(UPDATE: So Specter went before reporters and "read from a statement he wrote that was cleared painstakingly in advance by committee members as well as the GOP leadership," and, in exchange for his dignity, he has his chairmanship.)

Could the next Secretary of Defense be ... Joe Lieberman?

Maybe. This article from The Forward (subscription only, but quoted at Democratic Underground) discusses the possibility:

Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut -- the leader of the hawkish "Scoop Jackson" wing of the Democratic Party -- is responding positively to the suggestion that President Bush offer him a post in his Cabinet....

The speculation that Bush might tap Lieberman, who flopped in the Democratic presidential primaries, for a Cabinet post has been advanced by his friend, Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, as well as by the neoconservative commentator William Kristol and by New Republic writer Lawrence Kaplan. Kaplan wrote in the magazine's November 16 online edition that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld "and the neoconservatives around him will be departing soon enough -- replaced, in all likelihood, by a senator, perhaps even Joe Lieberman."

Lieberman's a Democrat-bashing theocrat, so it's really kind of a perfect fit. Oh, and I'm sure it wouldn't bother Lieberman one bit that the replacement senator who'd be named by Connecticut's Republican governor would leave the GOP just four senators shy of a filibuster-proof 60-40 supermajority....
Atrios's reaction -- "Holy crap" -- is exactly right in reference to today's Washington Post article on Bush's plans for the tax code:

...the administration plans to push major amendments that would shield interest, dividends and capitals gains from taxation, expand tax breaks for business investment and take other steps ....

The changes are meant to be revenue-neutral. To pay for them, the administration is considering eliminating the deduction of state and local taxes on federal income tax returns and scrapping the business tax deduction for employer-provided health insurance, the advisers said.

Atrios says, "bye bye health insurance for a hell of a lot of people," which is exactly right. If this takes hold, a few decades from now employer-paid health insurance will be a quaint relic, like trade unions now. Those whose employers still pay for their insurance will be seen as the privileged, cosseted few, like union workers now.

And as for who will make up the shortfall in the wake of the tax cuts, Max Sawicky is not off base when he calls the elimination of the income-tax and property-tax deductions a

Bush blue-state tax ... a special tax on residents of New York, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and other states whose electoral votes went to John Kerry.

These are states with income taxes, and often with high property taxes; many taxpayers rely on the federal deduction of these taxes to stay solvent. Yes, the Post says the Bushies want to eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax; not having to pay the AMT will compensate some taxpayers for the loss of the tax deductions, but it won't compensate all of them -- many middle-class and just-above-middle-class taxpayers use the income- and property-tax deductions, but don't pay the AMT. Essentially, if you're at the low end of "more or less comfortable" in certain states, this is going to be a tax hike. In Bush's "ownership society," the result really might be a decrease in the number of homeowners.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Apparently not -- apparently he doesn't want to help build a filibuster-proof majority for Bush, Frist, and the hard right, though it seems to be for personal rather than political reasons, according to the New York Daily News:

Hillary vs. Colin?

That's the dream matchup that top New York Republicans would like to see in 2006 - a pitched battle for the Senate between Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Secretary of State Powell....

"This is an idea that has great potential," newly minted state GOP chairman Steve Minarik told the Daily News last night. "Colin Powell would have tremendous star quality, and I plan to talk to him about this."

Minarik noted that Powell is a New York City native....

A close associate of Powell's, however, told the Daily News that he will not serve in government again.

He'd probably win if he did run -- New York voters aren't really any smarter than, say, Maine voters, who don't realize that a vote for any GOP senator is a vote for Frist and Bush.


UPDATE The New York Post story about this doesn't add much, but here's a quote from the longer New York Sun story:

The scenario sent a shiver of excitement through Republicans, who delighted at the thought, however fanciful, of a titanic clash between the venerated soldier-diplomat and the celebrated Senator Clinton.

"You could sell tickets to this one," Rep. Peter King, a Republican of Long Island, said....

Mr. Powell's star power would lift Republican tickets statewide and could help the party win countless local races that come below the U.S. Senate on the ballot, such as judges, county officials, and seats in the Assembly, Mr. King mused.

"It would get more people on the Republican line and give an energy and vitality to the Republican Party that we haven't seen in years," he said.

I love that -- King doesn't even pretend to conceal the fact that the state GOP basically just wants to use Powell (in the campaign, after which Bush can use him in D.C.).
Did I fall asleep last night and wake up in a dystopian sci-fi novel? This is from The New York Times:

SPRING, Tex. - In front of her gated apartment complex, Courtney Payne, a 9-year-old fourth grader with dark hair pulled tightly into a ponytail, exits a yellow school bus. Moments later, her movement is observed by Alan Bragg, the local police chief, standing in a windowless control room more than a mile away.

Chief Bragg is not using video surveillance. Rather, he watches an icon on a computer screen. The icon marks the spot on a map where Courtney got off the bus, and, on a larger level, it represents the latest in the convergence of technology and student security.

Hoping to prevent the loss of a child through kidnapping or more innocent circumstances, a few schools have begun monitoring student arrivals and departures using technology similar to that used to track livestock and pallets of retail shipments.

Here in a growing middle- and working-class suburb just north of Houston, the effort is undergoing its most ambitious test. The Spring Independent School District is equipping 28,000 students with ID badges containing computer chips that are read when the students get on and off school buses. The information is fed automatically by wireless phone to the police and school administrators....

Isn't this the kind of thing that shouldn't happen in the South because the gummint just has no damn right?

And is this a good idea in general -- declaring children (including teenagers) a class of persons who have no right not to be tracked? What other subgroup will be tracked after that? How slippery will this slope get?

You may have already seen this Palm Beach Post story:

During a luncheon speech Monday to the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley shared an early memory from the campaign trail that may explain why John Kerry will not be president next year.

In January 2003, when his campaign was still young enough that Kerry would actually sit down with reporters in a relaxed setting, he and Crowley met for breakfast at the Holiday Inn in Dubuque, Iowa.

"I'd like to start out with some green tea," Kerry told the waitress, who stared at him for a moment before responding, "We have Lipton's."

Lipton's would be fine, Kerry said, but the memory stayed with Crowley.

"There were many green tea instances," she told the sell-out crowd of 450 at the Kravis Center's Cohen Pavilion. "There's a very large disconnect between the Washington politicians and most of America and how they live. Bush was able to bridge that gap, and Kerry was not."

And you may have already seen the response by Media Matters for America, which points out, among other things, that you can buy green tea made by Lipton at two Dubuque Kmart stores.

I'd just like to add this: Hain Celestial Group, the parent company of Celestial Seasonings (which, is probably the brand you think of first when you think of green tea), had sales of more than half a billion dollars in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2004. For what products? Go to the link and watch the brands scroll by -- Health Valley, Terra Chips, Westsoy, Westbrae Natural, and Garden of Eatin', to name a few, in addition to Celestial Seasonings. In other words, this natural-foods stuff is pretty big business. It can't just be effete richies who are buying it.

Also, as I've mentioned in the past, Bush goes posh in certain areas of his life as well. He's been known to buy the rather expensive cowboy boots made by Loveless, which specializes in the use of materials such as Anteater, African Wildebeest, and Water Buffalo. (UPDATE: Sorry -- I misread that; Bush's father was the boot buyer.) And parties at the Bush ranch have featured snazzy portable toilets provided by Black Tie Services, which, according to the company's Web site, typically feature

heating and air conditioning, oak cabinetry and wall trim, full-length mirrors, simulated marble walls, simulated wood laminated floors, china sinks with hot and cold running water, stereo music, art decor, porcelain toilets in fully enclosed stalls, and partitioned porcelain urinals for optimum privacy

and look like this:

So why was Kerry treated as the only elitist in the race? Because, when it comes to ordinariness, Bush is better at faking it?
Argh -- computer problems at home. Stabilized for now (I think), but it's been like a collaboration between William Gibson and Kafka. Now I've got to do some work -- I'll be back with you soon.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Gallup runs a mock '08 GOP primary and Giuliani wins, even among conservatives:

...In its most recent poll, Gallup asked Democrats and Republicans for their preferences as to their respective parties' presidential nominees in 2008....

Ten percent of Republicans each mention Arizona Sen. John McCain (who unsuccessfully sought the 2000 nomination) and Giuliani, both of whom actively campaigned for Bush this year. Seven percent mention Secretary of State Colin Powell, one of the most popular figures in government but also one who declined to run for president in 1996 and 2000. Also receiving mention were Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (brother of the current president) [3%], national security adviser Condoleezza Rice [2%], Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist [2%], and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger [2%].

That's an open-ended poll -- the reponses are spontaneous. Then

When asked for their preferences among the leading Republican contenders -- Giuliani, McCain, and Jeb Bush -- 47% of Republicans choose Giuliani, 27% McCain and 17% Bush....

Among conservative Republicans, 47% prefer Giuliani, 23% McCain, and 22% Bush. Bush's support drops dramatically -- to 8% -- among Republicans who say they are moderate or liberal, while 51% of this group prefers Giuliani and 33% McCain.

So in '08 even the "moral values" voters might go for Rudy. That could change, of course, when they learn where he stands on abortion, gay rights, and gun control, but for now they like him. He could win red states -- and also Electoral Vote-rich blue states in the Northeast, starting with his own.

(Top finishers for the Democrats were Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and John Edwards.)

...in The New York Times today -- praises him because, among other things, he "takes risks in his novels to describe the moral climate of the age."

Risks? What risks? The risk that his politics might prevent him from being invited to an Alec Baldwin party in the Hamptons?

Excuse me: Cops take risks. Firefighters take risks. People who work the graveyard shift at 7-Elevens in high-crime areas take risks. Tom Wolfe puts on a white suit and watches beery teenage couples tongue-kiss. Maybe he's in danger of suffering upper back pain from scrunching his neck to read the brand name on the waistband of a coed's thong, but that's not what I call risk.

Brooks wants you to think that, apart from brave, risk-taking Tom Wolfe, no American novelist has written about America's moral climate since they took prayer out of the public schools. Well, David, I'd be happy to lend you my copy of Philip Roth's The Human Stain as soon as I finish it. (Of course, when Brooks says "describe the moral climate of the age," he doesn't mean "describe the moral climate of the age" -- he means "fulminate against the moral climate of the age from a conservative point of view." Good is good, evil is evil, and anyone who sees the world as morally complex is not to be taken seriously and will burn in hell for all eternity.)
I don't find myself inclined to be self-righteous as I read about the apparent shooting of an unarmed prisoner by a Marine at a Fallujah mosque -- it lacks the sick premeditation of Abu Ghraib or certain atrocities in Vietnam, such as the mass slaughter of villagers. This matters, if it's true:

NBC's Kevin Sites, who witnessed the incident Saturday while assigned to represent a pool of news organizations, reported Monday that the man was shot by a Marine who appeared to be unaware that the Iraqi was a wounded prisoner and did not pose a threat.

Some have defended this soldier by pointing out that the insurgents booby-trap corpses. That doesn't seem like much of a defense -- why shoot at something you think is a bomb? -- but shooting someone who appears to be near death because enemy soldiers pretend to be dead doesn't strike me as crazy or sadistic.

I don't want to shrug this off, but this soldier may have thought he was doing precisely what we wanted him to do.
Condoleezza Rice will replace Colin Powell as secretary of state and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, will move up to her job; here's ABC's online story.

ABC's news broadcast last night contained this pre-announcement quote from Senator Chuck Hagel, one of the "good" Republicans:

What I hope we will see is some new blood in there, some new energy in there, some outside perspective that's fresh. Just rearranging people and putting them in different chairs isn't new energy and new blood.

Obviously, that hope has been dashed. But what on earth did Hagel think -- that this president sits around thinking he can do better? Beyond getting rid of people like Powell who disagree with him, Bush believes he's already achieved perfection -- there's nothing to change. He never slipped far below 50% in most polls, then he won reelection. That means there's no room for improvement. Rearrange those deck chairs!


UPDATE: Is it really possible, as Atrios is claiming, that Douglas Feith will replace Tom Ridge as homeland security secretary? Deck chairs indeed....

(Here's USA Today reporting that Ridge and Tommy Thompson will step down; CNN and MSNBC are cited, but no possible replacements are named.)

Monday, November 15, 2004

This (from The New York Times) was my favorite news story of the day. It says that the Teamsters' Central States Pension Fund was doing just fine back in the old days, when it was a slush fund for Jimmy Hoffa and invested heavily in Las Vegas casinos, but it's now in trouble, even though, under orders from the feds, it's been managed for year by the highly respectable likes of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.

Now, you might think the old style of Teamster investing was risky, but the fund stayed solvent. (Well, sure -- Vegas was a good inestment.) By contrast, the Wall Street fund managers who later stepped in put the money in "legitimate" investments such as, er, Russian banks.

A possible moral to the story: Fund managers aren't geniuses, even though they played geniuses on TV back in the '90s. Another possible moral: When you're gambling, the odds are always in the house's favor -- and the Central States fund is now the gambler, whereas in the past it was, in effect, the house. Something to keep in mind if you're rooting for Social Security privatization.

(By the way, when the pension fund of the Western Conference of Teamsters went legit, it invested primarily in stodgy long-term Treasury bills and bonds -- investments with zero excitement but guaranteed payouts. The Western Conference fund is boring, but it's still solvent, according to the Times.)
Chuck Schumer isn't going to run for governor in 2006. I think that's good news -- he's been part of the Judiciary Committeee team that's blocked some of Bush's worst nominees, and the Democrats already have a strong candidate for governor, crusading attorney general Eliot Spitzer. I grew up in a state, Massachusetts, that's dominated by Democrats but regularly elects Republican governors because the Democrats can't regroup after bruising primary battles; in that respect, New York sometimes resembles Massachusetts, though maybe now it won't in '06.

Jon Corzine of New Jersey is also thinking of running for governor; the Jersey Democratic Party has been hurt by the McGreevey mess, and in theory Corzine is by far the strongest Democratic candidate, much more so than the little-known acting governor, Dick Codey, who was just sworn in. However, Bob Hennelly at the local NPR outlet, WNYC, did a story on Codey this morning, and I wonder if people are going to get to like the guy:

[HENNELLY:] Sitting on the couch of his busy Senate Majority Leader office Codey has used not being recognized to his advantage. Several years ago, as a state senator, he learned that almost a third of the employees at the state’s psychiatric hospitals had criminal records. Some for murder. Codey, armed with a forgettable face, decided to assume the name of a dead felon to see if he could get hired.

CODEY: So I decided to go undercover. I got a job at Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital as an orderly working the midnight shift. My first day at work I was told ‘You're lucky -- the midnight shift is the easiest way to have sex with the patients.’ I saw things I did not see in the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". As a result of what I uncovered the President of the hospital and about thirty five to forty other employees were let go. We now require in our state psychiatric hospitals criminal background checks on every employee before they can go to work."

[HENNELLY:] ... Despite the fact that he will serve as Governor for 14 months he and his wife and two sons will not move to the Governor’s mansion in Princeton. He says for his family, working class Irish Catholics, a key goal was to get out of public housing.

CODEY: Born and raised in the City of Orange, one of five, raised in a small apartment house over my dad’s funeral home. My generation in my family is the first to get a college degree. My parents and grandparents never had an opportunity for an education or to even live in a private home. So I think I’m like the average New Jersey family--- each generation doing better.

[HENNELLY:] Codey says he got a grasp of the importance of knowing who was who in local politics parking cars at his father’s funeral home.

CODEY: Politics -- I know politics really well. When I was about thirteen I worked for my dad at the funeral home in the parking lot and my dad always told me if there are no parking spots left and a priest or a politician pulls in, find them a spot.

[HENNELLY:] A few years later when Codey‘s father was appointed county coroner a young Dick Cody would accompany his father on his rounds.

CODEY: At the age of 14 to 15 I was taking bodies off train tracks, out of plane crashes, out of rivers. You grow up very quickly....

I'm not saying this guy is a budding superstar, but this material is pretty good, no? I half-think that if the Democrats had a presidential candidate who could tell stories like this, Bush might be starting to pack up right now. Dammit, we have regular guys, too (and by "we" I mean Democrats and Northeasterners).
Trying to get rid of J. Edgar Hoover and then finding it was simply too difficult, [Lyndon Johnson] admitted, "Well, it's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in."

--David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest

Hmmm ... first Bush moves to purge the CIA of "officers believed to have been disloyal" to him (according to Knut Royce at Newsday) and now Colin Powell is resigning. I think Bush might want to get a few extra mops for his tent.


(Yeah, I know -- Powell was the "good soldier" for Bush all these years. But Bush won't be his superior officer soon, and after that, it's legacy time.)


UPDATE: Oh, and speaking of tents and calls of nature, the New York Daily News has this today:

Should Condoleezza Rice be worried about the memoir that ex- CIA director George Tenet is peddling?

The former spy chief "trashes" the national security adviser in his book proposal, one publishing insider tells us.

"He claims she was incompetent, that she didn't do her job" when it came to protecting the country from terrorists, the source says....

I think we're going to see a lot of this kind of thing in the near future.

Sunday, November 14, 2004


I see that a big Schwarzenegger campaign donor is funding ads that will call for a constitutional amendment to allow foreign-born citizens to run for president. You know what? I'm not sure this would be a terrible thing for the Democrats.

If the amendment effort gets some traction, the religious conservatives, who are obviously feeling their oats right now, might block it, thus creating a rift between themselves and voters who are favorably disposed to Schwarzenegger. Or, if the amendment passes and Schwarzenegger runs, religious conservatives might sabotage his campaign the way McCain's was sabotaged in 2000. If that happens, I very much doubt that Schwarzenegger will make nice, as McCain did -- he really might be seriously and publicly pissed off, with nothing to lose from lashing out (politics, after all, isn't his life). That would be delightfully divisive, just as the GOP gears up for a general-election campaign.

I also wonder what having Schwarzenegger in the race could do to the presidential hopes of Rudy Giuliani -- without Schwarzenegger, Giuliani will have a monopoly on favorable coverage from the "liberal media" on the coasts, whereas a Schwarzenegger candidacy will give us dueling media darlings.

I'm afraid of Giuliani because I think he could easily slip away on a "retreat" with a prominent right-wing priest sometime in '06 or '07 and emerge with a conveniently new attitude about abortion, gay rights, and stem cells; if that happens, he might be able to win red states and blue states in a general election. But it might not happen if he loses primary votes to even-more-macho man Schwarzenegger. Is this how we'd get an opponent like beatable dullard Bill Frist? Who knows, but I'd say maybe.
I finally got around to reading this New York Observer article, which argues that The Incredibles -- "The first hit of the Bush II years" -- is very much in step with Bushism:

The movie is about a family of superheroes forced by the government to go into a superhero-relocation program, suppress their awesome powers and hide out in the beaten-down, charmless miseries of suburbia—among tract homes, leftovers, cubicles, commutes, and dreary elementary-school commencement ceremonies in which every kid is celebrated for being "special."

Eventually, of course, the superheroes—up against it in a dangerous world—release their superpowers, break free of Anytown, U.S.A., and explode with enough personal initiative to make
The Fountainhead look like a bedtime story.

A. O. Scott also invoked Ayn Rand in his New York Times review of The Incredibles.

I haven't seen the movie, but I can't help noting that it bears some resemblance to a story by that big old liberal Kurt Vonnegut Jr. "Harrison Bergeron" concerns a godlike youth who lives in an America in which

Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Bergeron defies the authorities, shakes off his handicaps -- but it's a pulp tragedy, because he's finally brought to "justice," killed by the Handicapper General herself.

That's not the work of a Randian. It's the work of a guy who, in his 80s, thinks the Bushies are psychopaths.

Why is it necessarily Randian to believe that talents shouldn't be suppressed? Liberals are meritocrats -- sure, a lot of us support affirmative action, but the thinking behind affirmative action is that a nudge might help some people's latent gifts to flourish. The focus on "self esteem" in schools is liberalism in a mutant form, even though it's hung around liberals' necks. It's much more in keeping with liberalism to believe that the people who get to shine ought to be the people who deserve to shine, because they're good at what they do. Why do you think we can't stand Bush?

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Interesting article in the New York Sun. If what it says is true, Rumsfeld is staying on -- but perhaps only until the spring. Cheney's the guy who wants Rumsfeld to stay on longer;

Karl Rove and other White House advisers, however, have maintained that Mr. Rumsfeld has become a political liability and will undermine possible improvement in relations between Washington and European allies, the sources said. "The White House political shop wants him out now," a senior Defense Department source said of Mr. Rumsfeld.

Condoleezza Rice wants Rummy's job -- and if she gets it,

several neoconservative advisers brought in by Mr. Rumsfeld would be expected to leave.

(Douglas Feith has already said he's leaving.)

Oh, and "a Pentagon official says" that Colin Powell "may remain several months after Mr. Rumsfeld has departed."

If this is accurate, then Rove is pressing for a mandate from history for Bush and the GOP, while Cheney is defending his longtime pal Rummy, fighting for the neocon worldview, or both.

Where is Bush in all this? I think he'd like to work with Europe -- albeit 100% on his terms. Still, he doesn't think of himself as intransigent, he doesn't think he's looking to take on the world, so he may not step in to prevent the departure of Rumsfeld. It could be Rove vs. Cheney in a battle for Bush's brain. I can't tell who'd win that one.