Sunday, December 31, 2006

In Tom's post below, he talks about the dangers of a foreign policy of distraction. Seems he and Richard Clarke are on the same wavelength. Clarke looks at a laundry list of problems that aren't getting the attention they need because of our involvement in Iraq. It's scary.

And in a completely unrelated comment, Happy New Year everyone!
Patterns of Religious Belief

In light of two of my posts last week having to do with religion and politics, I've been thinking about patterns or classifications of religious belief. Part of this thinking stems from having read both of Sam Harris's books (The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation) in which the author criticizes not only fundamentalist religion (Muslim, Christian and other monotheisms) but also religious moderates for enabling the cultural taboo whereby religious faith is shielded from the need to defend itself from empirical evidence and social criticism. As a religious moderate I've struggled a bit to reconcile my religious affiliation and experience with Harris's challenges, not to mention the need to reconcile it with the problem of religious fundamentalism and religious intolerance in general. What I sketch out below represents an attempt to come to some understanding of the different dimensions of religion and thus partly rationalize my present religious experiences and perhaps shed some light on religion more broadly. Maybe this sort of thinking would be useful for Democratic "consultants" or other politically-motivated persons. Or perhaps not. Anyway, here is my take, subject of course to future revisionisms.

In sum, I identify three categories of believer: the religious fundamentalist; the religious moderate; and the religious liberal. Each form of religious experience is defined primarily by its position relative to religious authority and the nature of religious truth.

1. For the religious Fundamentalist, their religion is the sole basis and rational for the totality of their beliefs, attitudes and actions. For the Fundamentalist, God--as defined by their religious tradition--is the sole, rightful source of authority for their own lives and deserves to be the sole rightful source of authority for the community as well. There is no distinction between the private and the public. The same holds for the nature of religious truth. For the Fundamentalist, religious truth=biological truth=political truth=economic truth. All forms of truth are one and the same and are made to fit within the overarching rubric of their religious beliefs. For the Fundamentalist, the U.S. Constitution is authoritative only in the sense that it is subsumed within the umbrella of (their) religious truth. For the Fundamentalist, every thought and deed is assumed to be determined by their religious beliefs. The important point is not whether the observer reckons the believer's actions or attitudes to be inconsistent with the believer's faith, but that for the believer himself (or herself), their own actions reflect and are determined by their religious life. For the religious Fundamentalist, truth is totalistic, absolute, and fixed.

2. The religious Moderate is similar to the Fundamentalist in that the religious Moderate holds their religion as authoritative for the believer's own life, but differs from the Fundamentalist in that the Moderate does not assume their religion as authoritative for the non-believer. While the Moderate may believe that ultimately every human being will need to answer to the God of the believer's understanding, the religious Moderate does not believe it to be their duty to force their religious authority onto others. For the religious Moderate, there is more of a distinction between the public and the private. For the Moderate also, only some truths are absolute and non-negotiable (say for example, the belief that Jesus was born of a virgin, died on a cross to save them and mankind from a life of eternal death and because of that sacrifice is now preparing in heaven a place for them). Other truths, be they political, economical, biological, or what have you, are seen as largely distinct from that of religious truth and as such, remain open to interpretation, allowing greater flexibility within the religious community and for society.

3. The religious Liberal differs from the Fundamentalist and the Moderate by denying religion any real authoritative role, either for the believer's life or for that of the community. For the religious Liberal, truth is a process of learning and incorporating a wide range of information and life experiences. The religious Liberal may hold to a number of absolute moral truths and values, but does not believe religion itself to be an authoritative or absolute source of those truths. For the religious Liberal, religion is a part of the mosaic of the experience of life, but does not enjoy any privileged status relative to other associations or systems.

I have in my lifetime belonged to each of these categories, although I would now most comfortably associate myself with the Liberal view or experience. But I recognize the limits of any type of classification schema, not to mention the significant limits to defining religious experience especially. Overall, I see religious experience as highly subjective, and open to a range of influences and changes. At the same time, for many of us, our religious experience represents that which is stable and existentially (although not empirically) certain, and for that reason, still viable and valuable.

As noted above, I have found Sam Harris's books to be highly informative. I have also benefited greatly from reading John Shelby Spong--a former Episcopalian Bishop; Philip Yancey, an evangelical author; Karen Armstrong, a former Roman Catholic nun, and a host of other more anonymous and unknown scholars and truth seekers. I'd would also highly recommend Barbara from the Mahablog, whose essay of some months ago helped to clarify in my mind the difference between religion as legalism and religion as mysticism.

Happy New Year

Farewell to the Bogeymen

Saddam Hussein and Augusto Pinochet are dead. Fidel Castro seems likely to follow. Two of them have had a grossly disproportionate place in the minds of the right; the third, arguably, has a similar role in the minds of the left.

The Pinochet obsession is more harmless--it may well have distorted, in our minds, the extent to which American policy is responsible for Latin American problems, but it's not as if that had any concrete effect on policy. The Saddam and Castro obsessions have been more destructive. The right's obsession with Castro gave us forty years (and counting) of an absurd embargo that has done nothing to promote freedom and much to impoverish the Cuban people. Their obsession with Saddam has (so far) resulted in 3,000 dead American soldiers, a failed state in Iraq, a stronger Iran, the likelihood of wider regional conflict, and a whole slew of missed opportunities in foreign policy--opportunities missed because the powers that be were obsessed with payback for Saddam.

They won't learn, of course. A reasonable person might conclude that basing foreign policy on inflated fears of a few bogeymen is a stupendously bad idea...but we are not currently governed by reasonable people. New bogeymen will spring up, have already sprung up: Ahmadinejad, Chavez, Kim Jong-Il. They're too useful a distraction, too useful for internal politics, for the conservatives to consider the costs of a fatally distracted foreign policy.

Saturday, December 30, 2006


I hope whoever has to clean up the champagne vomit this weekend at Christopher Hitchens's place gets union wages and has hazmat training....


UPDATE, 1/3/07: Well, apparently not -- apparently Hitchypoo is shocked, shocked, that his beloved war has led to an execution conducted by sectarian thugs. Share his amazement here.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Man, CNN has spent the evening sitting on the prospect of Saddam Hussein's execution like a vulture. Word was that the execution was to take place 10:00 PM EST. A less hardy network might have slipped a reminder of it into their regular news wrap-ups and then cut to Iraq, say, arounf ten o'clock. I don't know when they actually started the deathwatch, but for at least three hours, they were focusing on the execution single-mindedly, with a different anchor every hour, Larry King included, checking in with the same poor reporter framed shivering against the night sky to ask her yet again--anything new? Did they get antsy and waste him ahead of schedule and then go to dinner? Did he shoot his way out yet? When the anchors weren't torturing this poor woman, they were asking, over and over again, what will it mean for Iraq when Saddam has been executed? Then they'd interview someone, preferably a scholar or human rights worker who "suffered under Saddam's regime." They'd ask them what it would mean, and this person would invariably say that, although there would probably be a quick spike in violence, in the end it wouldn't mean a goddamn thing. Then the anchor would turn to the camera and say once again that he sure wished there was some way of knowing what it would mean. You kind of came away with the impression that none of the on-air talent at CNN can hear for shit.

You can understand their dilemna. Once upon a time, many basic cable ratings cycles ago, the Saddam-is-boogeyman story was the making of CNN. When Bush launched Gulf War II, it must have felt like old school week in their offices. It must be a bittersweet thing for them to deal with his absolute irrelevance to the current situation. It must sting and confuse them as much as it did Saddam himself. There were a few moments in tonight's coverage that may be as close as I ever hope to see to suggesting what the media reaction would be like if they ever caught Professor Moriarty, such as an interview with some doctor about the mechanics of hanging--the interviewer wanted to know just how much it hurts, and seemed very disappointed with the answer that we don't know for sure, because the only people who know for sure remain unavailable for comment--and people whining that "nobody blames" Saddam for all the Arabs that he killed. Yep, that's how the guy got two cans of whupass opened on him and wound up swinging from a rope--nobody ever held him accountable for anything. Okay, granted, these people aren't so stupid that they mean the things that come out of their mouths. What they're really trying to say is that nobody blames Saddam enough, because as long as there's one person who'd rather finish breakfast than dance on his grave, then he's not being blamed enough. Word of warning: this is how people like Pat Buchanan wound up as Holocaust deniers. They just start off hating Stalin so much that it bugs them whenever they hear Hitler described as the worst person in the world, and then after awhile they go haywire and start believing that because so many people hate Hitler, then people must not really hate Stalin at all, because if they hated him as much as they should then they wouldn't have any room in their hearts to hate Hitler too. The next thing they know, they find themselves hinting that they don't think Hitler was really all that bad.

The cutest moment in the coverage I saw was probably when Anderson Cooper said that there was some speculation that Saddam would be taken out of the protected Green Zone for the execution, but this must have been rejected because how could American soldiers go outside the Green Zone, with the hated Saddam Hussein in tow, and not risk violence. The likelihood that American soldiers who went outside the Green Zone might be asking for trouble if all they were carrying was Rice Krispies in milk was not considered. Saddam will not be missed, and anyone who tries to turn him into a martyr is making a sad comment on the validity of his own cause, but still, a hollow feeling remains. If it's possible for a guilty man to be railroaded, that's what's happened here, and it's possible to feel squeamish about the official mechanics of politicized "justice" without mourning the man. In a world where a Pinochet can die in his sleep, Saddam was executed with an unseemly sort of haste for the same reason we went to war in Iraq, evidence and arguments to the contrary be damned--because the Bush administration decided it wanted it to happen and was not inclined to consider that there might be reasons not to give itself what it wanted, or even postpone it. If it leaves a bad aftertaste, that may be because people who hold human life so cheaply, who can take anyone's life, even a monster's, as casually as correcting a bookkeeping error, should be a little more bashful when it comes to lecturing the world about who gets to live and who needs to die.

The Times on Saddam's Execution

Remarkably, they get it exactly right:
The important question was never really about whether Saddam Hussein was guilty of crimes against humanity. The public record is bulging with the lengthy litany of his vile and unforgivable atrocities....

What really mattered was whether an Iraq freed from his death grip could hold him accountable in a way that nurtured hope for a better future. A carefully conducted, scrupulously fair trial could have helped undo some of the damage inflicted by his rule. It could have set a precedent for the rule of law in a country scarred by decades of arbitrary vindictiveness. It could have fostered a new national unity in an Iraq long manipulated through its religious and ethnic divisions.

It could have, but it didn’t. After a flawed, politicized and divisive trial, Mr. Hussein was handed his sentence: death by hanging. This week, in a cursory 15-minute proceeding, an appeals court upheld that sentence and ordered that it be carried out posthaste....

What might have been a watershed now seems another lost opportunity. After nearly four years of war and thousands of American and Iraqi deaths, it is ever harder to be sure whether anything fundamental has changed for the better in Iraq.

This week began with a story of British and Iraqi soldiers storming a police station that hid a secret dungeon in Basra....It might have been a story from the final days of Baathist rule in March 2003...But it was December 2006, and the wretched men being liberated were prisoners of the new Iraqi Shiite authorities.

Toppling Saddam Hussein did not automatically create a new and better Iraq. Executing him won’t either.

[Cross-posted at If I Ran the Zoo]
Saddam's execution is imminent...

...but I can't celebrate. Yes, he's a terrible man who is responsible for atrocities I don't want to imagine. But where's our moral high ground? We'll be complicit in the taking of one more life. A quick and easy death won't repay Saddam for what he's done, and it won't help to unite this fractured world we occupy. Why is an execution better than life in prison? I see no upside.


July 2006:

BRIDGEPORT — U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman believes the U.S. will withdraw a "solid' contingent of its military forces in Iraq by the end of the year because of gains made by the Iraqi armed forces."

There really has been progress made by the Iraqi military," Lieberman said Tuesday during a meeting with the Connecticut Post's editorial board. "Two-thirds of it could stand on its own or lead the fight with our logistical support."

The three-term U.S. senator said he believes a complete withdrawal is possible by late 2007 or early 2008.

(h/t Atrios)


To turn around the crisis we need to send more American troops while we also train more Iraqi troops and strengthen the moderate political forces in the national government. After speaking with our military commanders and soldiers there, I strongly believe that additional U.S. troops must be deployed to Baghdad and Anbar province -- an increase that will at last allow us to establish security throughout the Iraqi capital, hold critical central neighborhoods in the city, clamp down on the insurgency and defeat al-Qaeda in that province.

In Baghdad and Ramadi, I found that it was the American colonels, even more than the generals, who were asking for more troops. In both places these soldiers showed a strong commitment to the cause of stopping the extremists.....

We need to win the war against Islamiscitic Fasicistm, blah, blah, blah

Glenn Greenwald has more.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Hi, it's Steve. I wanted to say I've been thinking for a while that the postponement of Bush's Big Iraq Speech until January was meant to push it forward to a time when it would steal thunder from the Democrats, just at the moment of their takeover of Congress -- and now I'm seeing that Saddam's execution might happen within days, and the whole thing now seems to be a coordinated strategy from a White House where everything is politics.

At the very least, the Bushies saw weeks ago that Saddam might be executed soon and concluded that they should hold the Big Speech until after the execution, so Bush could say, "What's my plan? Well, first let me remind you that I got Saddam killed -- I rule!" Quite possibly there's much more coordination than that -- quite possibly the administration and the Maliki government worked this schedule out. So Iraqi domestic politics is possibly being structured Bush's political plans.

Of course, it's still 2003 in Bushworld. Frankly, I don't think anyone in America except Bushite end-timers really cares anymore about Saddam, or thinks what happens to him matters. But the Bushies will feel good that they rained on Nancy Pelosi's parade. And well, you gotta hand it to them: they can still pull off this sort of political stunt, even if no one is impressed by it, and even if they still can't pull off any actual accomplishments.

...And if the execution really doesn't happen soon, it seems quite possible that the story is being floated right now to set the table for the speech.


(Gah! Dial-up. I probably won't be posting again until I'm back home next week -- too frustrating ....)
Now that the War on Christmas is over for another year1, why not enlist in the war against 'bless you'?

1Once again, it was a tie.
Democrats and Conflict

I think Tom is exactly right here. The need to think in terms of coalition-building and avoiding unnecessary conflict is important for creating electable and governing majorities. And it's particularly important for presidential candidates, who, unlike any other office, generally need, and try to, campaign nation-wide, where differences are most visible and in need of reconciling. Even the Decider attempted to run such a campaign (remember Compassionate Conservatism?) as a way of merging conservative and liberal sympathies. Bush II also successfully spoke in the code Republicans have relied on for many years, generally choosing to critique the Clinton Administration by saying things like "restoring the dignity of the White House" rather than point to specific Clinton scandals or criticizing Clinton personally or directly (although he may have, and probably did, get more down and dirty with the locals). The 2004 GOP convention and campaign was something else alltogether. But point being, parties and candidates need to be mindful of picking their battles with an eye towards assembling as broad and durable a coalition as possible (the exception being, again, the 51% strategery employed by Karl Rove and implemented by the Bush White House after they were elected, and especially after 911).

That being said, my particular concern, which may be slightly different than Matt Stoller's (who I referenced in my earlier post), is that Democrats have conceded a substantial portion of the issue space to conservatives, allowing right-wing memes about the ACLU, the Right to Privacy, "activist judges", "strict constructivist" interpretations of the Constitution, the Separation of Church and State, and ultimately, Liberalism itself, to go unchallenged. And from the talk of many Democratic Party spokesmen and elected officials, there either doesn't seem to be a recognition of this problem or if there is, there is largely a concerted effort to avoid talking or doing anything about it.

The result--as has been widely noted by blogs like this one--is that conservatives have by and large succeeded in pushing the issue space and what it means to be "centrist" further and further to the right. Liberal as an identification has gone out of style, with dire consequences for our discourse. If conservatives succeed at forcing Democrats to fight the issues on their--the conservative's--terrain, than Democrats are, and will be, in very troubling circumstances, to build sustainable majorities, or even to survive.

The results of last month's elections have gone a long way to soothing some of my most fears about the immediate future. But I still fear Democrats may fail to capitalize on the opportunities now available for countering the right-ward drift in our politics, leaving the angst over Iraq and Republican scandals to fade over time, and in two, four or eight years, be left again without a meaningful agenda or identity to present to voters.

And I don't believe it will be enough to campaign on education, jobs and healthcare. These issues all sort of lend themselves to a genial politics that Democrats would prefer to practice. But Republicans have spent years building an array of institutions and arguments challenging some of the most basic assumptions of our system, which Democrats are only now starting to counter (the establishment of the American Constitution Society and the Center for American Progress, for example).

In short, the growth of conservative dominance over the past several decades is owed in no small part to a dedicated, long-term, ideological, and confrontational effort to affect Americans' thinking on a wide array of subjects. On the confrontational end of this effort, Republicans have generally not shied away from saying offensive things and challenging conventional thinking. Much of this confrontational style has been racially opportunistic (welfare queens) and regressive (card-carrying ACLU member). But they have been able to forge an identity and mission for themselves that is designed to carryover from election to another and to survive periodic setbacks (like the 2006 elections).

In short, I fear Democrats have shied away from ideological combat. And this has hamstrung the Party as it seeks to reconfigure a new majority coalition and take advantage of Republican mis-steps and over-reaching.

Democrats need to again think and talk in ideological terms to people in way they can understand and relate to. Shortly after the election, David Brooks lamented the Republican Party's over-reliance on philosophy at the expense of problem solving policy solutions. Democrats have somewhat the opposite problem. They have many practical ideas about addressing traffic congestion, the environment, health care coverage, and making college education more accessible. But at the bottom of this lies the lack of a coherent, philosophical rationale that also embraces Constitutional issues, which unfortunately for battle-weary Democrats, tend to be more divisive.

And while the Separation of Church and State had a somewhat different meaning in JFK's 1960 than it does today (where such displays of public devotion like coerced school prayer have been decreated un-Constitutional), the principle is still, in my mind, a non-negotiable. Democrats need to try to assure religious folks that as Steven Benen argued so eloquently, the Separation of Church and State is as much for the benefit of believers as for non-believers, many of whom are minorites in their own right (Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Roman Catholics). But in any event, Constitutional and minority rights have been under attack for the past quarter of a century, and Democrats will need to be more assertive about protecting them then they have been.

On a final note, faux-Democrat Mickey Kaus recently complained that the aspiring field of
Democratic presidential candidates were insufficiently dedicated to saying offensive things to other Democrats and to our cadre of special interest groups. I agree with Mickey about the need for Democrats to begin being more offensive. But I would argue they need to start being offensive to conservatives (like Mickey Kaus), not for the sake of arguing, as Tom wisely cautions against, but out of necessity and principle.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Conservatives Sure Are Funny

TPMmuckracker catches the conservatives at NRO passing around last year's chain-email.

Be sure to read the comments. They're gold.

(h/t Atrios)
Bulworth wrote yesterday about John F. Kennedy's eloquent defense of the separation of church and state, and a current Democratic consultant who's advising clients to forget about it. It's an excellent post, and I mostly agree with it...but there's one bit I do think is worth commenting on:
But even more broadly, this tendency to pander to religious interests reflects an unwillingness on the part of many Democrats to engage in any kind of conflict whatsoever. While the issue is more economics than religion, Matt Stoller discusses this tendency among Democrats such as John Edwards.
True enough, as far as it goes. Certainly, Democrats as a whole have avoided conflict in cases where I would have liked to see them engage in it.

That said, while conflict may be necessary, that doesn't make it a virtue. Conflict should be avoided, except where absolutely necessary. We need the broadest possible coalition if we are to have any hope of governing, and unnecessary conflict diminishes the coalition. We cannot afford to discard our fundamental principles (like separation of church and state), but we also cannot afford to engage in conflict for its own sake, no matter how emotionally satisfying that may be.

(And to illustrate 'conflict for its own sake', I'll take the Matt Stoller example Bulworth brought up. As Ezra explains, Stoller is slamming Edwards for working with Al Wynn on a single specific anti-poverty strategy. Yes, Wynn is a whore for the creditors...but Edwards, and Edwards' advisor on bankruptcy issues (Elizabeth Warren), are not. Stoller's point seems to be that if somebody is bad on some key issue--or, hell, bad on a lot of them--any attempt to work with them at all is 'appeasement', even if it concerns areas of genuine agreement. That's the opposite of coalition-building.)

In the case of religion, conflict is inevitable...but we need to be very careful to choose the right conflict. Republicans have worked long and hard, with a good deal of success, to frame the conflict as 'Democrats vs. religion'. If that's the conflict, we lose. I think Vanderslice is deeply misguided about how to go about defusing this particular manufactured conflict, but I think she's right about the necessity of doing it somehow.

[Cross-posted at If I Ran the Zoo]
Taking up Prager

TPM is flabbergasted at Dennis Prager's latest belch of intolerance, where the conservative pundit and contributor extraordinaire says

If you want to predict on which side an American will line up in the Culture War wracking America, virtually all you have to do is get an answer to this question: Does the person believe in the divinity and authority of the Five Books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah? ("Divinity" does not necessarily mean "literalism.")

I do not ask this about "the Bible" as a whole because the one book that is regarded as having divine authority by believing Jews, Catholics, Protestants and Mormons, among others, is not the entire Bible, but the Torah. Religious Jews do not believe in the New Testament and generally confine divine revelation even within the Old Testament to the Torah and to verses where God is cited by the prophets, for example. But "Bible-believing" Christians and Jews do believe in the divinity of the Torah.

And they line up together on virtually every major social/moral issue.

I actually think people like Prager represent a real opportunity for supporters of church and state separation.


Because he talks too much, for one thing. For another, he shows such little insight on the modern mind. And for another, his claim or his implicit demand, that "good" Americans believe in the divinity (whatever that means) of the Torah is just, like the neo-con articles I linked to in my last post, a big giant curveball hanging out over the plate, ready to be launched into the upper deck over left field.

Do people like Prager really want an open, widespread debate about the "divinity" of the Torah?

Here is a passage from the Torah, Leviticus 12

1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean.
3 And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
4 And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled.
5 But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days.
6 And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest:
7 Who shall offer it before the LORD, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female.
8 And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.

Want to read Genesis 38?

1 And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.
2 And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her.
3 And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er.
4 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan.
5 And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him.
6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar.
7 And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him.
8 And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.
9 And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.
10 And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.

Does Prager really want to expose these texts to public scrutiny? That's what he's doing, however inadvertantly, by carrying on with a cultural civil war based on the supposed "divinity" of an ancient text. I know, I know, Prager qualifies his talk of "divinity" by seeming to suggest he doesn't mean liberality. But I don't think either usage gives him an out in trying to explain passages like these.

Want one more? Let's turn to Exodus 4: 20-26

20 And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.
21 And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.
22 And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn:
23 And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.
And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him.
25 Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.
26 So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.

Does Prager really want to debate the "divinity" of these passages? Does Prager think a woman is more unclean after bearing a female child than a male child? Does Prager think we a man should be required to marry the widow of his deceased brother (even if he's already married)? Does Prager believe God wanted to kill Moses for not having his sons circumcized?

Bring it on.

I'm afraid that one thing most people who praise Ford for healing the nation after Watergate mean is that, by pardoning Nixon, he shoved Watergate off the national stage and told us all to get on with it. There might have been a period when it was possible to see a kind of logic there, but now I'm not so sure. I think that, by keeping Tricky Dick out of the docket, Ford inadvertently made it possible for people to pretend that the prosecution of the Watergate criminals was a partisan indulgence and that Nixon himself was some kind of political victim, thus making it easier for him to grease the wheels for his inevitable "re-evaluation." In the end, this must have made it easier, during the Clinton impeachment, for the more wild-eyed Republicans to convince the half-sane in their ranks that it was okay to use the threat of legal prosecution of the President as just one more weapon in the kit. Maybe if Nixon had gotten the full Al Capone treatment that he had coming to him, both he and impeachment would be thought of now as something special. Or maybe not. I suppose it might have tipped his party even further into the batshit zone.

Ford was the first president whose administration and daily presence I really remember, which is kind of a hell of a note. John Updike once wrote a novel called Memoirs of the Ford Administration, whose title was itself a joke on the ludicrousness of the notion that anything that happened under Ford was worth remembering. The movie critic Pauline Kael, reviewing a movie of that period, referred to its "Ford-era nothingness," and that's one way of putting it. Ford seemed like a guy who it was equally hard to like or dislike. There were questions raised about his probity by such writers as Nicholas Von Hoffman and Garry Wills, but they were of a common, casual-corruption nature, and nobody much cared; when you've just driven Dracula out of the neighborhood, you don't complain too loudly when it turns out that the new guy on the block pads his expense account. That might be the real legacy of the Nixon era, setting the bar very high for corruption that we and the media are supposed to really care about, unless it has to do with a Democrat's sex life. Nixon himself may have suspected as much. When Spiro Agnew was still his vice-president, he used to openly refer to Spiggy as his "insurance policy" against impeachment, but for all Ford's reputation as the dullest tool in the shed, he never seems to have predicted that the possibility of a "President Ford" would set off panic in the streets. When Ford did become president, he quickly set a new record for the number of deranged women who stuck guns in his face, hoping to assassinate him apparently just for the hell of it. The fact that they kept failing to do so--this sparing us from having a President Nelson Rockefeller to try to explain to the rest of the world--gave a patina to harmlessness mixed with black comedy to his whole term in office. Swine flu might sweep our nation and New York City shuffle into bankruptcy court, but somehow it felt as if nothing really bad was going to happen to us; God, having taken a look at the head of the free world, was grading on a curve, granting us two and quarter years to be got through as uneventfully as possible, with all due respect to the Bicentennial display of the tall ships and the Ramones' first record. After all, until our current appointee, Ford was the only person ever to rise to the presidency without ever having been elected to either the presidency or the vice-presidency. It could scarcely have happened to a better Zelig.

From the Boy King's remarks on Gerald Ford:
For a nation that needed healing, and for an office that needed a calm and steady hand, Gerald Ford came along when we need him most.
I'm not sure what people mean about Ford 'healing' the nation after Watergate, and I suspect they don't know themselves. I think it probably means something like 'he was there while two years passed and people started to forget'. He was amiable (unlike Nixon) and reasonably honest (unlike Nixon) and he didn't make things much worse. Given a couple of the presidents we've had since, that now seems like a tremendous accomplishment.

Our own long national nightmare is far from over. At the end of it we will still have a nation where a significant minority are contemptuous of the Constitution, support torture, and embrace the notion of a supreme executive unchecked by what were once other branches of government. The wounds are far worse than those of Watergate, and we will need someone a whole lot better than Ford to heal them.

The Washington Post, instrumental as it was for creating the illusion of an elite consensus on invading Iraq, continues to offer its op-ed pages to the geniuses that promised us WMD's, democracy and rose gardens in Baghdad.

At the top is David Ignatius, who by the time I turned on my computer this morning, had already earned a Wanker of the Day designation by Atrios. It seems like it was only last week when I read that Bush himself claimed to be sleeping very well, despite the turmoil in Iraq, his party's mid-term election defeats, and so on. But here is Ignatius, trying to reverse the tide of opinion by claiming the president is out of denial, agonized about the loss of (American) life in Iraq, and back to being that sure-footed, if not sure-minded fellow we knew and loved from 9/12/01 to March 2003.

What gives with people like Ignatius? Is he that out of touch? Or is it that he's far too in-touch, too in-touch with the powers that be, the nation's movers and shakers, however incompetent and messiah complex-driven?

I suspect at least two forces are operative in people like Ignatius. There is first of all, his rank as Punditist and his contribution in that role to the catastrophe that is Iraq, and hence the need to change the public's opinion, or at least muddle it, on Iraq.

A second and somewhat related dynamic is the fear on the part of the Pundit class that it isn't just their reputations or access that's on the line in the success of the Bush presidency, or at least the assurance of the continuance of the elite consensus that the Bush II administration enables. The Pundit class is genuinely worried that the downward spiral in Iraq might spill-over to America, if not in outright violence, to an upsetting of the ruling power equilibrium. If things continue to disintegrate overseas, Americans might start getting uneasy, the kind of uneasy that is only partly accounted for in the turning over of Congress to the other elite party.

So Ignatius, after offering examples of disenchantedness with the administration's failure to adopt the Pundits' prescription for success in Iraq, is returning to the fold, and trying to signal to other opinion shapers the need to prop up the lame duck administration and its war efforts less their world soon resemble that of the denizens of Iraq. The duty is to get behind whatever is needed to assure the populace of at least the appearance of stability here, if not over there, whether that assurance takes the form of adopting all 79 ISG recommendations, or shelving the genial bipartisan group's wise suggestions and Escalating the conflict instead.

Which is what the other two pundits on the Wash Post's op-ed pages are recommending. Jack Keane and Frederick Kagan, members of high standing in the neo-con cabal of evil geniuses perched at the American Enterprise Institute that gave us Iraq now want the president to Decider and the public to embrace a long term "surge" of up to 30,000 more troops to drop in to Iraq for at least three more Friedman Units*. Then the war will be won.

But as Jim Henley at Unqualified Offerings notes, Keane and Kagan are offering, well, rather qualified conditions for urging the surge. They want a "surge" but insist the number of troops surging must be substantial and their stay enduring. If not, the surge will not succeed and the Pundit class will continue to be assured its dignified standing on teevee and in print for warning that if their prescriptions were not ably followed, they shouldn't be liable for the resulting mess.

But, asks Henley,

If “the surge we have” is not “the surge we’d like to have,” will Keane and Keegan call for withdrawal? Will they finally decide that enough is enough?

No. But we can rest assured that at that time, Ignatius, Friedman, Keane, Kagan, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, and the other geniuses that gave us Iraq, will have a new vision they demand we implement and accept.

*18 months
Gerald Ford's Legacy

One bad thing about getting the newspaper delivered (at least in my case): it's most likely to not catch the latest, overnight developments. So I heard of former President Ford's death when my CSPN-tuned radio alarm went off this morning. But neither my NYT or Wash Post editions covered it.


Democracy Now! provided some of what I'm sure will be the unreported context of Ford's brief tenure, including-- should be noted that the massacres in East Timor started while Ford was president and the US did and said nothing.

Well, it's worse than that - we armed their killers: Indonesia.

I guess Ford was worried that the East Timorese - like other Portugese colonies (Angola, Mozambique) headed for independence in 1975 would go communist.

(h/t MyDD commenter chaswinters)

The Democracy Now! transcript isn't up yet, but it also includes a discussion by author Robert Parry on how Ford's pardon of Nixon, and elevation of aides Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney inspired a "counter-insurgency" in defense of the imperial presidency, the realization of which we have come to know and loath these last six years.

It's too bad. Ford's one of those Republicans I always wanted to like. I don't remember Watergate (I was eight) or his pardoning of Nixon, but I have vague memories of the 1976 election. Even at that age, I was the lone Democrat in my elementary church school class mock Ford/Carter election. In later years Ford went on to co-author a number of op-eds with former President Carter, the latter of whom grew to regard the former warmly, despite their past competitive history.

And like Carter, Ford will probably be remembered more for his post-presidential life than for his actual White House stay, surviving as he did to live three decades after his presidency ended.

A proud and arrogant man, James Baker once thought of running for president, decided to stake his posthumous reputation on his standing as a "statesman", and by all accounts lives in terror of being best remembered as a fixer. During the glory days of George H. W. Bush's 1988 presidential campaign, he was the trusted consigliere. (George Junior, the blunt-witted, bullying Sonny of the family, who those who've never heard of Neil Bush often mistake for Fredo, served as his father's one-man good squad.) When the 2000 election went off the rails in Florida, it was Baker who was called in to ensure that the election wouldn't ultimately go to the candidate with the most votes but the one who, as they say on America's Next Top Model, was "fierce" and "wanted it more." After George Junior got the appointment to the highest office in the land, Bill Clinton felt compelled to tell Baker, as one smooth operator to another, "You were damn good in Florida." (He also felt compelled to add that he never would have gotten the chance to prove how good he could be if Al Gore hadn't listened to the media babble about "Clinton fatigue" and turned his secret weapon loose to roil the troops for him, and I'd like to think that's true.)

Baker has a memoir out. At one point, he writes, on the subject of the first Iraq War:

"For years, the question I was most often asked about Desert Storm is why we did not remove Saddam Hussein from power...If Saddam were captured and his regime toppled, American forces would still have been confronted with the specter of a military occupation of indefinite duration to pacify a country and sustain a government in power. The ensuing urban warfare would surely have resulted in more casualties to American GIs than the war itself, thus creating a political firestorm at home. And as much as Saddam's neighbors wanted to see him gone, they feared Iraq would fragment in unpredictable ways that would play into the hands of the mullahs in Iran, who could export their brand of Islamic fundamentalism with the help of Iraq's Shiites and quickly transform themselves into a dominant regional power... As events have amply demonstrated, these concerns were valid. I am no longer asked why we did not remove Saddam in 1991!"

Two things are remarkable about this passage: one is its source, and the other is how nakedly--how blatantly--it points to current events as a face-saving example of how much smarter Baker is than the family dumbass he helped install in office. If Baker has any remorse over his role in giving us President Myshkin, he keeps it to himself; and I doubt that he has such powers of clairvoyance that he wanted Junior to become president because he knew that he would end up making him, and everyone else who's served in the white House since at least Herbert Hoover, look so much better by comparison. But it does put his work in the Iraq Study Group, and the widespread speculative that he was encouraged by the family to go in there and save an ungrateful Junior from himself, in a different light. If Baker knew as far back as when he was writing his book that the current President Bush can only be of use to burnish his own reputation, then he's probably well aware--leaving the Bushes themselves are the last people who aren't aware-- that Junior is past the point where he can be fixed.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Not Democratic, Not Stable

Dr. Condi Rice, December 21, 2006

"This [Iraq] is a country that is worth the investment because once it emerges as a country that is a stabilizing factor, you'll have a very different kind of Middle East.

I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but if there's anything besides death and taxes I'm reasonably certain of, it is that Iraq is not now, and will not be any time soon, stable. And not being stable, it won't be democratic in any meaningful sense, either. These are points the administration and its cadre of lunatic talk show hosts and 101st Fighting Keyboarders have never figured out about military force: it's pretty good and flashy at blowing stuff and people up, but poorly equiped to rebuild stuff and people it's blown up.

About the best administration-apologists will be able to claim is that they rid the region of a potentially destructive and destabilizing force, which the U.S. government originally and for a number of years coddled--only to have of course replaced it with a series of smaller but actual destabilizing forces, any one of which could unite with Iran, Syria or Al Qaeda to form a still larger and still far more destructive and destabilizing force in the region.

While this has been common knowledge for the better part of at least a year, if not longer, the thing is the administration talking-action figures are still spouting about establishing stability and democracy in Iraq. And this means that either the administration is delusional or maliciously deceitful.

Well, OK, we know it's both. But what would be a welcome change is to have the major media networks acknowledge these realities and cease and desist from enabling the William Kristol's, William Bennet's, Frank Gaffney's, Ken Pollack's, Max Boot's and Ralph Peters of the pundit world and replacing them with people who actually were right about what we were getting into in Iraq?
American Theocracy

John F. Kennedy, September, 1960, Houston, TX

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew--or a Quaker--or a Unitarian--or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim--but tomorrow it may be you--until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

Mara Vanderslice, Democratic "Consultant", December, 2006

Party strategists and nonpartisan pollsters credit the operative, Mara Vanderslice, and her 2-year-old consulting firm, Common Good Strategies, with helping a handful of Democratic candidates make deep inroads among white evangelical and churchgoing Roman Catholic voters in Kansas, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Exit polls show that Ms. Vanderslice’s candidates did 10 percentage points or so better than Democrats nationally among those voters, who make up about a third of the electorate. As a group, Democrats did little better among those voters than Senator John Kerry’s campaign did in 2004.


Democratic officials in several states said Ms. Vanderslice and her business partner, Eric Sapp, pushed sometimes reluctant Democrats to speak publicly, early and in detail about the religious underpinnings of their policy views. They persuaded candidates to speak at conservative religious schools and to buy early commercials on Christian radio. They organized meetings and conference calls for candidates to speak privately with moderate and conservative members of the clergy.


But Ms. Vanderslice’s efforts to integrate faith into Democratic campaigns troubles some liberals, who accuse her of mimicking the Christian right.

Dr. Welton Gaddy, president of the liberal Interfaith Alliance, said her encouragement of such overt religiosity raised “red flags” about the traditional separation of church and state.
“I don’t want any politician prostituting the sanctity of religion,” Mr. Gaddy said, adding that nonbelievers also “have a right to feel they are represented at the highest levels of government.”

To Ms. Vanderslice, that attitude is her party’s problem. In an interview, she said she told candidates not to use the phrase “separation of church and state,” which does not appear in the Constitution’s clauses forbidding the establishment or protecting the exercise of religion.

“That language says to people that you don’t want there to be a role for religion in our public life,” Ms. Vanderslice said. “But 80 percent of the public is religious, and I think most people are eager for that kind of debate.”

Obviously, I think the suggestion to not use the phrase "separation of church and state"--by a Democratic consultant nonetheless--is a bad idea. One can argue about what the phrase means and debate the proper role of religion in the public square. And no one is arguing, so far as I know, that concepts of morality don't or shouldn't figure into policy decisions and voting choices. But to essentially throw the concept of a "separation of church and state" under the bus for purposes of political expediency is the worst form of opportunism and failure to lead there can be. Not to mention the fact that stating that the "separation of church and state" isn't in the Constitution is a blatant parroting of right-wing memes.

But even more broadly, this tendency to pander to religious interests reflects an unwillingness on the part of many Democrats to engage in any kind of conflict whatsoever. While the issue is more economics than religion, Matt Stoller discusses this tendency among Democrats such as John Edwards.

My own view is, Democrats could do far worse than to dust off some of the speeches by the party's historical standard bearers--like JFK--when it comes to discussing religion and public policy more broadly, rather than to take advise from Christianist appeasers like Ms. Vanderslice.
Predator Creditors

Short-term “payday loans,” which charge high interest rates for quick cash, are flourishing in 39 states.

And, naturally, screwing the less-fortunate.

Mr. Milford is chronically broke because each month, in what he calls “my ritual,” he travels 30 miles to Gallup and visits 16 storefront money-lending shops. Mr. Milford, who is 59 and receives a civil service pension and veteran’s disability benefits, doles out some $1,500 monthly to the lenders just to cover the interest on what he had intended several years ago to be short-term “payday loans.”

So what is the gubmit doing about it?

Efforts to regulate the industry in New Mexico bogged down this year. Lenders hired lobbyists to push for mild rules, and consumer advocates were split between those who wanted to virtually shut down the industry and others, including Gov. Bill Richardson, who promoted rules like mandatory reporting of loans, limits on fees and rollovers, and an option for borrowers to convert loans to longer-term installment plans.

Last summer, after legislation failed, Mr. Richardson issued regulations along those lines, but a court declared them illegal. The state has appealed.

OK. This is somewhat understandable. There is apparently no policy in place to confront the lenders and restrict their predatory practices, meaning that the messy process of crafting legislation to do so must proceed in its normal, slow, manner. You can't expect change overnight.

But here's what I don't understand:

In one indication of how common the problems are, his restaurant alone gets 10 to 15 calls each day from payday lenders trying to collect overdue fees from his workers, Mr. Richards said. At any one time, under court order, he must garnishee the wages of about a dozen of his workers to repay such lenders.

When did the courts start working for the credit mafia? How widespread is the practice of wage-garnishing and what institutions can make use of it? I know wage garnishing is applicable in cases of child-support, although I don't know how efficient it is or under what conditions it works. And I suppose there is some provision for garnishing wages in the case of back taxes, but I don't know for sure. But I don't think Citibank can have your wages garnished for not paying your credit card bill. So, I wonder what law it is that allows or requires the courts, in New Mexico or elsewhere, to act on behalf of these "payday lenders"?

If I can get all political scientific about it, this is an illustration of what I posted about here, regarding theories of pluralism and elitism. Elitist theories contend that the essence of politics and policymaking is the ability of certain interests to set the rules of the game, and to prevent demands for action--such as is the case with victims of predatory lenders--from being considered by public institutions, be it the legislature or the executive. Pluralist theories hold that policy outcomes are a reflection of the balance of interests arrayed on any one issue, and that access to the political system is essentially free and open.

Pluralist theories also recognize the difficulty of political change, not because access to the political system is impeded, but because change generally only occurs in the cases when the policy or political equilibrium undergirding the system itself changes.

In this case, at least at the state level, the current rules of the game favor the merchants of usury.

Speaking of which, usury is un-Biblical. Where are the Christianists on this?

Monday, December 25, 2006

[FADE IN: EXT. The roof of the White House. It is nighttime, and snow is falling. The camera slowly picks out a solitary figure standing disconsolately at the edge of the roof, staring down at the ground below.]

"Well, I guess this is it. It's just like my pop used to tell the servants, I'm nothing but a screw-up. My war didn't turn out the way it was supposed to, for some reason Osama never turned himself in the way I though he would if I just kept showing how resolute I am, I wasn't able to persuade the people of New Orleans to stop giving the almighty reasons to destroy their city before it was too late, and now my party has lost control of the Congress to the treason party. Soon they'll have a bunch of dumb ol' investigations and probably pardon Saddam so they can appoint him as special prosecutor. For somebody who's never made a mistake, I sure have gone and gummed things up. The only way I can save America is if my image as a martyr makes the voters feel bad about how they've done me wrong and sets them back on the straight and narrow. I guess I really am worth more dead than alive."

[Long pause]

"So, as I was saying, I guess I'm worth more dead than alive. I guess the only way I can set things right is by dying. Yep, that's about the size of it."

[Much longer, awkward pause]

"...So....anyway, as I was saying...just to you know, really spell it out, I guess I ought to take my own life, jump off this roof here and commit suicide, even though it's a mortal sin, because I've really screwed things up somehow, and there's no use pretending I haven't. I don't really get it myself, but I keep hearing people say that I've made a mess of everything, and I don't care how tough and resolute you are, after a while, a fella's feelings do get hurt. It's not as if some angel has appeared to tell me that they're wrong and I'm right and I should stay the course. So, here we go."


"So, I'm looking at those two Marines down there, and if the one on the left rubs his nose before the other one does, I'll know that God is telling me to..."

"Oh, for Christ's sake!"

"Who said that!? Who else is up here? Are you my guardian angel?"

"Yeah, I'm your guardian angel. I'm here to help."

"Step out from behind that snowdrift so I can see you."

"I'm not behind this snow drift, I'm right in front of you. I'm just making it seem like this is where my voice is coming from because it's magic. Oooo-oooooh. But I'm right in front of you. You can't see me because the eyes of mortal man cannot bear such a sight. But you'll be able to see me when you're dead. Trust me, you'll get a kick out of it."

"Oh mighty angel, messenger of our Lord, have you come to show me how terrible things would be if I had never been born?"

"Honestly, George, it wouldn't have made a tit's worth of difference if you'd never been born. It's not like your parents didn't give us a pretty fair-sized potpourri to choose from. Now, if you're asking about your death, it would have been pretty ideal if you'd kicked off right after the 2004 election. We now know that's when people would finally be far away from 9/11 that they'd start actually demanding something in the way of governing competence from you. If you'd dropped dead right after re-election, or better yet, if you'd been killed in mysterious, possibly terrorist-enhanced circumstances, the sympathy probably would have carried us another two years, at least. You live and you learn."

"But now it's important that I stay alive so that I can continue to decide what's best for America?"

"Actually, George, we've been looking over the books and weighing various cost-benefit analyses, and we'd like for you to pitch yourself off the roof. I want you to back up a ways and get a decent running start, so that you'll be carried over the heads of the Marines down there, we don't want one of those guys breaking your fall, and then if you could be sure and aim yourself to your right, that's when Mickey's little hand is on the the three, okay? We want you to land on the concrete there where..."

"George? George, are you up here?"

"Jesus Christ, it's like the stateroom scene in A Night at the Opera..."

"Hey, Laura, I'm over here, talking to an angel."

"Oh, George! You said you'd stick to the nonalcoholic."

"I did, Honey! The angel's right here. He's so majestic you can't see him, but he says that I've never made any mistakes, and it's all the liberal media's fault for lying to people, but soon they'll see the light, and seven plagues will be visited on the evildoers, and that little Korean guy will crawl over here and beg to kiss my big toe, and everyone will come to the White House and apologize for ever having doubted me, and they'll start a volunteer squad to chip off the old faces on Mount Rushmore and replace them with me and Dick and Mom and Dad and I'll be magnanimous in triumph, though I will have the Clintons hanged on the White House lawn for being such hippies, and everyone will laugh and laugh and...Dick? Is that you?"

"Yeah. Yeah, it's me, Mr. President."

"You better come out from behind that snowdrift before you catch your death."

"Yeah, thanks, good idea. So, Mr. President--this business about how right you are and everything--that's what you got out of what the angel said to you?"

"He did word it a little differently. Luckily, a big part of being a great war president is knowing how to read between the lines."

"I don't know why I bother..."

"Man, I feel about a million times better! C'mon, Honey, let's go back inside and have some more of that egg nog. You coming, Dick?"

"No, Mr. President, I think I'm just going to stay up here for a while and try to remember where it all started to go wrong."

"Sounds like a plan. You stay warm now, you hear?"

[GEORGE and LAURA depart. DICK stands on the edge of the roof for several minutes, seemingly lost in thought. Suddenly, a hissing noise and the sound of chains rattling are heard, growily steadily louder.]

"Richard Cheney! My name is Jacob Marley. I have come to tell you that you will be visited by three ghosts..."

[Without looking at the GHOST, DICK reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a government contract conferring on the bearer exclusive rights to process water for use in Iraq. He hands it to the GHOST, who, pacified, exits, leaving DICK standing alone on the roof, a faraway look in his eyes...]

[Cross-posted at The Phil Nugent Experience]

Sunday, December 24, 2006


Well, that's it for me for the year -- there'll be guest bloggers here, but I'm heading out of town. I'll see you next year. Thanks to everyone who read, commented, linked, put me on online radio.... You rock! Even the trolls! (Yeah, I've had a couple of drinks tonight.)

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with some seasonal entertainment:

I just stumbled on this. It's part 2 of a 1959 movie in which Santa battles Satan for control of the souls of the world's children. In this clip, Satan's subordinate devils do interpretive dance in Hell (and who hasn't wanted to do that?). Right-wingers: This is not a documentary.

This is a fine old R&B song from 1957. And hey, don't take my word for it -- Bob Dylan was playing it on his radio show on Wednesday. (The video is less sublime, though it's not bad; it was made by Some Guy With A Computer, who I understand was Time's Person of the Year this year.) I think the song is a bit geographically challenged on the country of origin of the mambo, but regardless, I hope it upsets Fox News commentators.

The Pogues, man. This chokes me up -- it's definitely my favorite modern Christmas song. Plus, it's a story about immigrants whose behavior falls short of perfection. HEY, DON'T LET THOSE DAMN IRISH IN THE COUNTRY! IF YOU DO, YOU MARK MY WORDS, NEXT THING YOU KNOW ONE OF THEM WILL BE PRESIDENT! TAKING HIS OATH OF OFFICE ON A CATHOLIC BIBLE!

See you next year....
Steve M marvels at the wingnuts' ability to feign outrage at 'happy holidays' while having no problem at all with a Wayne Newton holiday fleshaganza in Vegas.

It is, as Yul Brynner says, a puzzlement. But it's not the thing that most puzzles me. No, that thing is this: that the wingnuts would embrace a holiday that, in fiction at least, turns conservatives into liberals (or, failing that, reaffirms liberal values).

Go figure.

[Cross-posted at If I Ran the Zoo]

Saturday, December 23, 2006


A real kneeslapper of a scenario from the New York Observer (and yes, I'll grant that the first part is not implausible):

THE SENATOR (sipping from a gin fizz): Here's what you're going to do. Get his schedule. Hour by hour. The next time he's in New York, we give Al Sharpton the heads-up -- have Sharpton meet his fucking plane, for all I care -- and we make sure there are photographers there. And then we make sure those photographers snap a photo of him in the same frame with Sharpton. Even better if Sharpton has his arm around him -- yes, that would be perfect. The next morning, when that photo hits the papers? Bye-bye, Obama.

THE AIDE: But don't you think he'll see Sharpton and run the other way? He's got to know what a photo like that—

THE SENATOR: Am I hearing a no? Surely I must be imagining it?

THE AIDE: (dejected; mumbles something).

THE SENATOR: Oh good. For a second, I thought a nasty little fly had landed in the room. You know what one does with nasty flies, don't you? I'll tell you: You swat them. So hard that they leave just a smear of blood. Now it seems my gin's lost its fizz -- why don't you make yourself useful for once and get me a goddamn refill. And get me Rupert on the phone.

So let me see if I have the new portrait of Satanic Psycho Bitch Hillary straight: she's a cold-blooded automaton, but she also tosses off wickedly evil witticisms like Cruella de Vil. While swilling gin. So she's a lively automaton.

Is there any evil image that isn't going to be applied to her? Where do people get this crap?
I knew that the U.S. government kept files on John Lennon in the early 1970s, and that many of them were kept secret long afterward.

I didn't realize until just now that ten documents were still secret until this month -- and remained that way because the government believed disclosure could result in "military retaliation against the United States."

Jon Wiener has the story here. The documents are here.

Admittedly, letting our guard down regarding Lennon did result in multiple assaults by at least one foreign national on civilization itself.

But enough about Celine Dion singing "Imagine."

Brian Ross at his ABC News blog (emphasis added):

Zawahri calls on the Democrats to negotiate with him and Osama bin Laden, not others in the Islamic world who Zawahri says cannot help.

What Zawahri actually said (again, emphasis added):

And I tell both the Republicans and Democrats: you are attempting in panic to find a way out of the disasters which surround you in Iraq and Afghanistan, but you are still thinking with the same idiotic mentality. Thus you try to negotiate with certain parties to secure your departure, although these parties don’t have a way out for you, and your attempts will only succeed in further frustrating you, Allah willing, because you aren’t negotiating with the real powers in the Islamic world. And it appears that you shall embark on a painful journey of failed negotiations, after which you shall come back -- Allah permitting -- with no other choice but to negotiate with the real powers.

Ross may have been the guy who first published Mark Foley's IMs, but somebody in the GOP still likes him enough to have spoon-fed him this spin, which suggests that Democrats might agree to make a separate peace with Pure Evil -- and Ross happily typed it up, just the way the GOP wants it.

And here's blogger after blogger after blogger on the right, spreading it around.

(Via Memeorandum.)

Friday, December 22, 2006

There seems to be a sense among reasonable people that GOP congressman Virgil Goode ought to apologize for his recent bigoted pronouncements about Keith Ellison and Muslims, and that other Republicans will surely distance themselves from those pronouncements.

But why? Why would they bother?

If a public figure in America makes a blatantly anti-black remark, there's widespread outrage among non-African-Americans as well as African Americans. A large percentage of Gentiles regularly recoil at anti-Semitism. Many straight people are repulsed by anti-gay bigotry.

I'd love to see some evidence that there's a big group of Americans who've developed a similar instinctive reaction of disgust at attacks on Muslims. I know of no such evidence.

Whether or not this is a coordinated strategy, it seems clear to me that we're seeing a significant new GOP line of attack against Democrats: that the Democratic Party is the party of Muslims, who are, simply, America's enemies. (See also the attacks on "Barack Hussein Obama.")

The key question is whether the number of voters who wholeheartedly believe Muslims are America's enemies is greater than the number who are sure that's a bigoted viewpoint; I'm afraid the former group is bigger than the latter. (I think most Americans, alas, just aren't sure.)

If this viewpoint isn't repulsive enough to arouse widespread outrage, but is a rallying cry for a significant sliver of the electorate, then it's a winner for the GOP. So why should a sufficiently cynical Republican bother to denounce it?

All the 'pubs have to do is, at most, maintain a certain distance from Goode, while letting him pump up the bigots in the base. So what Goode said simply isn't a political millstone -- and nothing like this will be until large numbers of Americans reacts to such pronouncements the way they reacted to Mel Gibson's drunken tirade.
You may have already seen this story via Kevin Drum or AMERICAblog:

The United States offers some of the most lucrative incentives in the world to companies that drill for oil in publicly owned coastal waters, but a newly released study suggests that the government is getting very little for its money.

The study, which the Interior Department refused to release for more than a year, estimates that current inducements could allow drilling companies in the Gulf of Mexico to escape tens of billions of dollars in royalties that they would otherwise pay the government for oil and gas produced in areas that belong to American taxpayers.

But the study predicts that the inducements would cause only a tiny increase in production even if they were offered without some of the limitations now in place...

How bad is this? The report says that current incentives will cost the government $48 billion over a 40-year period. And how much extra oil do we get for that?

Total oil production from 2003 to 2042 would be about 300 million barrels more, or less than 1 percent, than it would have been anyway.

The U.S. uses (or at least it did in 2005) 20.8 million barrels of oil per day.

That means this $48 billion giveaway, over 40 years, gets us an additional 14-day supply of oil.

If you say "Happy holidays" or "Season's greetings," it makes the Baby Jesus cry. This, however is perfectly compatible with traditional Judeo-Christian values -- or so I assume because I've never heard Bill O'Reilly or John Gibson utter a negative word about it:

IN this season of merrymaking, the snow falls thick and fast in Las Vegas. It flurries over leaping pecan reindeer at the Bellagio, blankets "booty-shaking" holiday disco dancers downtown in Glitter Gulch.... Made of soap flakes or SnoWonder -- a plastic the texture of Jell-O (just add water) -- it is snow as illusion, snow as Las Vegas would have it: Not virgin....

...The ageless Mr. [Wayne] Newton begins his show at Harrah's with "Jingle Bell Rock," holding his audience in the palm of his bejeweled hand, his pompadour as black as night. "It's the holidays," he tells them, reciting the credo of Las Vegas. "So you might as well live it up, right?"

...For visitors seeking an Only-in-Fabulous-Las-Vegas kind of Christmas, ... the most dazzling and uplifting spectacles are two free Christmas shows -- the Rio’s third annual "Show in the Sky Holiday Spectacular" and "Holiday Fever" on Fremont Street, in which Santas have navel jewelry and serious cleavage, and N-O-E-L is spelled S-E-X.

Forget Donner. Think Vixen.

Here is the Christmas carol as double entendre, in which "the ring-ting-tingling" of a "sleigh ride together with you" becomes deliciously salacious. Afterward at the Rio, a bare-chested Chippendales Santa appears on the stage, bouncing an old lady from the audience on his knee. This is Vegas, baby: there is no doubt she knows exactly what she wants for Christmas.

When I was a kid, "keeping Christ in Christmas" was a real concern for a lot of people, including quite a few on the religious left -- that's basically what "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is about. None of today's culture warriors give a crap about that now. All they care about is keeping "Christmas" in Christmas -- the word is all that matters, and if you run a cash register you damn well better utter it, even if your customer is wearing a yarmulke or a hijab. Vegas? Who cares? Those people are secularists and vulgarians, but at least they're not liberals.

The ageless Mr. Wayne Newton. There's more botulinum toxin in this face than there was in Iraq under Saddam.
Shorter Peggy Noonan:

I know, I know -- everyone has done this "TV news reporters tracking Santa Claus" bit. But my version goes on endlessly and doesn't contain a single original or even mildly funny line. That's a new twist, isn't it?

Thursday, December 21, 2006


It's news to me that everyone in America is struggling to understand why Hillary Clinton is thinking about running for president, but Dick Meyer of CBS News assures us it's so, and Meyer -- who can occasionally be mistaken for a liberal under a dim light -- concludes (naturally) that this is yet another reason she can't possibly become president:

Sen. Clinton's psychological quest is just too obvious and determinative for most us. What exactly drives her we cannot know, which itself is frustrating. Is it redemption? Or resurrection? Would being leader of the free world erase the public indignities she suffered due to her husband? Does she have a messianic thing going on? Did she ever have a desire to completely escape public scrutiny and dissection altogether?

I'm agnostic on these therapeutic queries. But the sense people have that Sen. Clinton's drive is overly determined by her emotional issues is, I suggest, fatal. This is not sexist. Al Gore has a similar problem. Richard Nixon had that problem; he didn't solve it -- but George Wallace solved it for him. There is a balance between ambition, drive, earned confidence and reluctance that voters are comfortable with. For many voters, Sen. Clinton doesn't have that balance.

Sen. Clinton is also emotionally inscrutable. That adds a layer to the question of "what makes her tick?" that is very uncomfortable. In public, she's a robot. No compelling and satisfying account of her private side exists. In every election since 1972, the presidential candidate who gave the appearance of being the most emotionally available won. Sen. Clinton will never be that candidate.

He's right about "emotionally available" candidates winning since Nixon resigned, but the rest is utter hooey.

Do you find Hillary's motives puzzling? I don't -- Pataki's, definitely, but not Hillary's. She's running because she's smart, she's led a political life, and she has a large political base of support that, it's not unreasonable to assume, could get her elected. And she's running because she wants the freakin' job, just like a lot of other people.

"Redemption"? Did anyone ask whether Liddy Dole set out to run for president seeking "redemption"? Did anyone put her on the couch that way?

"A messianic thing"? Why are we asking this about her and not, well, everybody who runs for president? (I mention no names.)

"Did she ever have a desire to completely escape public scrutiny and dissection altogether?" Well, no -- and clearly, neither did any other graybeard who's stayed in Congress for forty years or shuttled in and out of a combination of appointed and elected government positions for decades. Why not ask that question about soap-opera-divorce veterans Giuliani and Gingrich? Or John "Keating Five" McCain?

But I think my favorite line is:

There is a balance between ambition, drive, earned confidence and reluctance that voters are comfortable with.

Yeah, that's so true -- especially the "earned confdidence" part. We really placed a premium on that in 2000 and 2004, didn't we?

From the New York Daily News:

Two publishing insiders allege the woman behind that O.J. Simpson book regularly compared Jewish people to "rodents."

"I heard her say it multiple times," one source told us. "She thought Jews looked or acted like rats. She called them 'rodentia.'"

Another source said, "I can attest to that. She would call them 'rodentia.' She would just say it in passing. Did I ask her why? I didn't even want to go down that road with her." ...

Regan was fired last week after she ranted that a "Jewish cabal" was "conspiring" to smear her in the media and ruin her career, a spokesman for her former employer claimed on Monday....

Regan and her lawyer, Bert Fields, deny all this. Fields also denies allegations posted a few days ago at Gawker:

A tipster writes of Regan, "She was constantly muttering about 'Jew agents' in the office and once claimed to staffers that, as a joke, she went through her old apartment building on the Upper West Side, took all the torah scrolls out of the mezzuzahs at the doors and replaced them with torn-up dollar bills."

But, er, The New York Times says today that two top HarperCollins executives and "a third person involved in the incident" have confirmed the mezuza story, and that the company reprimanded her for this at the time.


This is all going to get very complicated for the Murdoch Empire. Fred Goldman, father of Ron, has now sued O.J. Simpson, claiming that his If I Did It deal was structured in a way to sidestep the civil judgment against Simpson; according to yesterday's New York Times,

Lawyers for Mr. Goldman said their suit would ultimately include HarperCollins, News Corporation and Ms. Regan as defendants.

The second likely lawsuit, as Rachel Sklar points out at the Huffington Post, would be Regan's suit against the Murdoch Empire for defamation.

Was Regan fired to put some distance between Murdoch and the Simpson project, in anticipation of the Goldman lawsuit? (But as Sklar notes, the Simpson project was approved well above Regan's pay grade.) On the other hand, was Regan really anti-Semitic, and really fired for that reason? As Sklar says:

Sure, she may have said it, but were they slurs or just outrageous trash talk from a woman who was known to be offensive as hell -- and tolerated for same? ... if Regan was known to fling slurs about indiscriminately -- about Jews, gays, blacks, whoever -- then that lack of specificity accrues to her favor (i.e. the more awful she can prove she was, the better it will be for her case).

"Known to fling slurs about indiscriminately"? For that, let's go to the January '05 Vanity Fair:

And politically correct she is not. Many staffers -- and other colleagues -- had epithets according to their sexual orientation or ethnicity: "I was the lesbian cunt," says one former competitor. "Then there was the black cunt." When she got mad, people were called "fucking retards" and "fucking idiots"; if she got really mad, she'd accuse people of being either "fags" or "on drugs" or, preferably, both. "Judith was always insisting to me I was gay -- and if some issue came up that involved women, I knew nothing, because -- she'd shout at me -- 'You've never slept with a woman!' And I was like, O.K., whatever!" says Dana Isaacson, now an editor at Random House.

"She'd seem so normal at some points," he adds wistfully. "Then, you know, the next minute she'd be screaming about the faggot mafia."

I don't know who's going to win which lawsuit. I do know this, though: An awful lot of gaseous moral self-righteousness emanates from Murdoch Land, and I think the whole damn lot of them need to see an ophthalmologist to get that beam looked at.

(Vanity Fair link via Julia in the comments to this post.)