Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Sunday, October 8th, 2006.


Give ’em an inch …

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Bush Administration, Religion, Republican Party

Diana Henriques writes in today’s New York Times:

At any moment, state inspectors can step uninvited into one of the three child care centers that Ethel White runs in Auburn, Ala., to make sure they meet state requirements intended to ensure that the children are safe. There must be continuing training for the staff. Her nurseries must have two sinks, one exclusively for food preparation. All cabinets must have safety locks. Medications for the children must be kept under lock and key, and refrigerated.

The Rev. Ray Fuson of the Harvest Temple Church of God in Montgomery, Ala., does not have to worry about unannounced state inspections at the day care center his church runs. Alabama exempts church day care programs from state licensing requirements, which were tightened after almost a dozen children died in licensed and unlicensed day care centers in the state in two years.

The differences do not end there. As an employer, Ms. White must comply with the civil rights laws; if employees feel mistreated, they can take the center to court. Religious organizations, including Pastor Fuson’s, are protected by the courts from almost all lawsuits filed by their ministers or other religious staff members, no matter how unfairly those employees think they have been treated.

And if you are curious about how Ms. White’s nonprofit center uses its public grants and donations, read the financial statements she is required to file each year with the Internal Revenue Service. There are no I.R.S. reports from Harvest Temple. Federal law does not require churches to file them.

And they whine about a “war on Christianity.”

Henriques writes that some of the exemptions from taxes and regulations have existed since the beginning of the republic, but many more have been added over the past 15 years — more than 200 “special arrangements, protections or exemptions for religious groups or their adherents” since 1989.

As a result of these special breaks, religious organizations of all faiths stand in a position that American businesses — and the thousands of nonprofit groups without that “religious” label — can only envy. And the new breaks come at a time when many religious organizations are expanding into activities — from day care centers to funeral homes, from ice cream parlors to fitness clubs, from bookstores to broadcasters — that compete with these same businesses and nonprofit organizations.

But it gets better. According to today’s Boston Globe, under the Bush Administration our government has begun to sponsor Christian missionary work on foreign soil.

For decades, US policy has sought to avoid intermingling government programs and religious proselytizing. The aim is both to abide by the Constitution’s prohibition against a state religion and to ensure that aid recipients don’t forgo assistance because they don’t share the religion of the provider.

Since medical programs are aimed at the most serious illnesses — AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis — the decision whether to seek treatment can determine life or death.

But many of those restrictions were removed by Bush in a little-noticed series of executive orders — a policy change that cleared the way for religious groups to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in additional government funding. It also helped change the message American aid workers bring to many corners of the world, from emphasizing religious neutrality to touting the healing powers of the Christian God.

Bush’s orders altered the longstanding practice that groups preach religion in one space and run government programs in another. The administration said religious organizations can conduct services in the same space as they hand out government aid, so long as the services don’t take place while the aid is being delivered. But the rule allows groups to schedule prayers immediately before or after dispensing taxpayer-funded aid.

Bush’s orders also reversed longstanding rules forbidding the use of government funds to pay for employees who are required to take an oath to one religion. In addition, the president’s orders allowed faith-based groups to keep religious symbols in places where they distribute taxpayer-funded aid.

And in implementing the president’s orders, the administration rejected efforts to require groups to inform beneficiaries that they don’t have to attend religious services to get the help they need. Instead of a requirement, groups are merely encouraged to make clear to recipients that they don’t have to participate in religious activities.

Bush made some of the changes by executive order only after failing to get Congress to approve them; the bill faltered in the Senate, where moderate Republicans joined Democrats in raising concerns about breaking down the barrier between government and religion.

Are we having fun yet?

… the faith-based initiative overseas is almost exclusively a Christian initiative: Only two Jewish development groups and two Muslim groups of any type got any grants or contracts between fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2005, and Christians received 98.3 percent of all such funds to religious groups from fiscal 2001 to fiscal 2005.

The prime beneficiaries have been large groups including Catholic Relief Services and evangelical organizations such as World Vision — the former employer of Bush’s longtime USAID director Andrew Natsios — and Samaritan’s Purse, which is led by evangelist Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, who guided Bush to his own religious rebirth.

Groups counted on to be GOP “values voters,” I believe. The Bushies are using bleeping foreign aid to funnel money to their constituents.

However, Howard Fineman reports in Newsweek that the faithful are restless.

A Pew Foundation survey found an 8-percentage-point drop in Republican preference among “frequent churchgoers.”

Long before the Foley e-mails surfaced, the gears were grinding in the faith-based machine that Ronald Reagan inspired and Karl Rove perfected. It has been 30 years since evangelical, “Bible-believing” Christians flocked into politics. Figures such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Charles Colson of the Prison Fellowship have enormous clout within the GOP; Rove is a phone pal of both. But a younger crop of grass-roots activists views the elders of the cultural right as accommodationists who have failed to press a social agenda aggressively, and who now balk at calling for the ouster of Speaker Denny Hastert. “They need to wake up!” said Jamie Johnson, a religious broadcaster in Iowa. “Heads have to roll! The older generation is satisfied with a seat at the table. We want to build a whole new table.”

Interesting times.

If you missed it in the comments to an earlier post — here’s a good page on fundamentalism to bookmark for future reference.

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Facing a Dying Nation

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Bush Administration

Guantánamo defense lawyer forced out of Navy.

Also: If you didn’t see Hardball on Friday, watch this. It’s surreal.

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Foley Frolics

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Bush Administration, Congress, conservatism, corruption, Democratic Party, Republican Party

See if you can spot the flaw in Karen Tumulty’s otherwise spot-on article in Time magazine. It’s in this section:

If you think politicians clinging to power isn’t big news, then you may have forgotten the pure zeal of Gingrich’s original revolutionaries. They swept into Washington on the single promise that they would change Capitol Hill. And for a time, they did. Vowing to finish what Ronald Reagan had started, they stood firm on the three principles that defined conservatism: fiscal responsibility, national security and moral values. Reagan, who had a few scandals in his day, didn’t always follow his own rules. But his doctrine turned out to be a good set of talking points for winning elections in a closely divided country, and the takeover was completed with the inauguration of George W. Bush as President.

But after controlling both houses of Congress and the White House for most of Bush’s six years in office, the party has a governing record that has come unmoored from those Grand Old Party ideals.

Tumulty’s premise (illustrated by the graphic, which is inspired) assumes that Republicans started out as principled and reasonably pure but lost their way. However, if you assume that today’s Right is essentially the same critter Richard Hofstadter identified as pseudo-conservative back in the 1950s, then it follows that the “ideals” and “values” were always a sham.

Hofstadter wrote that pseudo-conservatism was “a kind of punitive reaction” to the New Deal era. Quoting Theodore W. Adorno, Hofstadter wrote in the essay “The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt” (1954):

I borrow the term [pseudo-conservative] from The Authoritarian Personality, published in 1950 by Theodore W. Adorno and his associates — because its exponents, although they believe themselves to be conservatives and usually employ the rhetoric of conservatism, show signs of a serious and restless dissatisfaction with American life, traditions, and institutions. They have little in common with the temperate and compromising spirit of true conservatism in the classical sense of the word, and they are far from pleased with the dominant practical conservatism of the moment as it is represented by the Eisenhower administration.

… From clinical interviews and thematic apperception tests, Adorno and his co-workers found that their pseudo-conservative subjects, although given to a form of political expression that combines a curious mixture of largely conservative with occasional radical notions, succeed in concealing from themselves impulsive tendencies that, if released in action, would be very far from conservative. The pseudo-conservative, Adorno writes, shows “conventionality and authoritarian submissiveness” in his conscious thinking and “violence, anarchic impulses, and chaotic destructiveness in the unconscious sphere… The pseudo conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.”

Later in the same essay:

The restlessness, suspicion and fear manifested in various phases of the pseudo-conservative revolt give evidence of the real suffering which the pseudo-conservative experiences in his capacity as a citizen. He believes himself to be living in a world in which he is spied upon, plotted against, betrayed, and very likely destined for total ruin. He feels that his liberties have been arbitrarily and outrageously invaded. He is opposed to almost everything that has happened in American politics in the past twenty years. He hates the very thought of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He is disturbed deeply by American participation in the United Nations, which he can see only as a sinister organization. He sees his own country as being so weak that is it constantly about to fall victim to subversion; and yet he feels that it is so all-powerful that any failure it may experience in getting its way in the world — for instance, in the Orient — cannot possibly be due to its limitations but must be attributed to its having been betrayed.

Over the years the pseudo-conservatives have managed to erect a facade of political ideology to cover their social pathologies, and I believe at least some movement conservatives came to genuinely believe in that ideology. But in truth it has been their seething, inchoate resentment that has fueled the American Right lo these many years. The Bush cult of personality is just a new manifestation of a long-festering disease. Glenn Greenwald may have wondered at how easily righties could chuck their almighty ideology to stand with Bush, but for most of them it was never about the ideology. In George W. Bush they found the pure distillation of their resentment and ignorance. His smarmy insolence is the one-finger salute they have long desired to give to the world.

Please do read Tumulty’s piece in Time all the way through, as it very good. For now I just want to quote a bit from the end:

… the way the House has operated under Hastert has been anything but humble. He quickly came to be viewed as little more than a genial front for then majority leader Tom DeLay, whose nickname—the Hammer—pretty much summed up his leadership touch.

“There has been no institutional rule, means, norm or tradition that cannot be set aside to advance a partisan political goal,” says Brookings Institution political scientist Thomas Mann, co-author of the recently published book whose title describes Congress as The Broken Branch. In 2003, instead of fashioning a compromise that might woo a few Democrats, Hastert and DeLay held what was supposed to be a 15-min. vote open for three full hours as they squeezed the last Republican votes they needed to pass a bill to provide an expensive prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program. Far more than in the past, they brought bills to the floor with no chance of amendment and allowed the normal appropriations process to be circumvented so that pet projects could be funded without scrutiny. When DeLay faced indictment by a Texas grand jury, Hastert changed the Republican rules so that DeLay could stay on as leader—though in the ensuing outcry, he had to reverse himself. Hastert was successful, however, in purging the ethics committee of its chairman and two Republican members who had reprimanded DeLay for misconduct. Stretching the limits of arcane House rules and shuffling committees around may not seem like earthshaking offenses, but they are the same type of procedural strangleholds and power plays that the G.O.P. had hoped to excise from the body politic 12 years ago.

The Dems were plagued by corruption in 1994, when the GOP took over the House, and the Dems had made use of “procedural strangleholds and power plays,” although I don’t know if they were as ruthless about it as is the current House leadership. The moral is not that one party is intrinsically superior to the other, but that all these politicians need OVERSIGHT. And no party should be able to manipulate Congress so that it can operate in the dark and shut out the opposition entirely. If the Dems do take back the House in November, I think we should lean on them heavily to make some reforms.

Another warning for the Dems comes from rightie blogger Rick Moran:

As it now seems likely that the GOP will be given the boot by voters on election day, America will turn toward the Democrats looking for leadership on budget issues, entitlements, the War on Terror, and other vital issues facing the country.

It says volumes that the American people will not find any new ideas or solutions from Democrats – only the promise that they will “drain the swamp.”

This assumes that Republicans have “new ideas and solutions.” The GOP has been dragging essentially the same mummified ideas around since Goldwater — hell, some of those ideas date back to Coolidge, if not McKinley — and the GOP had a clear shot at putting those ideas into practice. And (once again) they failed. But as I said here, if Dems get a shot they had better hustle to show voters that they can provide better government than the GOP, because otherwise the GOP will come roaring back in 2008. And Dems will have to deliver something tangible that voters can see with their own eyes, so that the mighty rightie media machine can’t spin it away.

At Orcinus, Sara Robinson thinks some right-wing voters have finally come to a moment of reckoning. On the other hand, Margaret Talev and Eric Black of McClatchy Newspapers write that “Polls show little national fallout from page scandal.” This is no time to be complacent.

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Happy Talk

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Bush Administration, Condi Rice, Iraq War, North Korea

Back in October 2002, Condi Rice was certain she knew how to keep North Korea in line.

North Korea’s collapsed economy gives the United States and its allies the diplomatic leverage to convince the communist regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions, Rice said.

“North Korea has been signaling and saying that it wants to break out of its economic isolation,” Rice told CNN’s “Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer.” “It has to break out of its economic isolation.

“This is a regime that in terms of its economic condition is going down for the third time. Its people are starving.”

But Rice said, “It’s not going to break out of that isolation while it’s brandishing a nuclear weapon.”

U.S. officials have launched a “full-court press of consultations” with other countries in the region to convince North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to give up the nuclear weapons effort, Rice said.

The North Korean disclosure comes as the Bush administration faces a possible military confrontation with Iraq over its efforts to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he considered North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and missile capability a bigger threat to the United States than Iraq.

Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged the White House to rethink its priorities.

But Rice said Iraq’s history shows the Baghdad regime is harder to contain than North Korea.

“These are not comparable situations,” she said. “They’re dangerous, both of them dangerous. But we believe that we have different methods that will work in North Korea that clearly have not and will not work in Iraq.”

Now it’s October 2006. North Korea claims it is about to test a nuclear bomb. This morning South Korean soldiers fired warning shots at North Korean troops that had crossed the border, and Pyongyang threatens “catastrophe.”

Where is Secretary of State Rice today, btw? She’s off the radar at the moment. She may be in hiding after her recent trip to Iraq. From an editorial in today’s Los Angeles Times:

AFTER CIRCLING THE BAGHDAD airport for 40 minutes because of mortar and rocket fire, traveling by helicopter to the Green Zone to avoid the deadly bomb-strewn highway into the city and holding a meeting with President Jalal Talabani in darkness because the power was suddenly cut off, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held a news conference Thursday to talk about all the progress being made in Iraq.

Latest news from Iraq, courtesy of the Washington Post:

The number of U.S troops wounded in Iraq has surged to its highest monthly level in nearly two years as American GIs fight block-by-block in Baghdad to try to check a spiral of sectarian violence that U.S. commanders warn could lead to civil war.

Last month, 776 U.S. troops were wounded in action in Iraq, the highest number since the military assault to retake the insurgent-held city of Fallujah in November 2004, according to Defense Department data. It was the fourth-highest monthly total since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Nicholas Kristof suggests we should listen to the Iraqis.

Iraqis are crystal clear about what the U.S. should do: announce a timetable for withdrawal of our troops within one year. They’re right. Our failure to declare a timetable and, above all, our coveting long-term military bases in Iraq feed the insurgency and end up killing more young Americans.

A terrifying new poll conducted last month found that 61 percent of Iraqis now approve of attacks on Americans. That figure, up from 47 percent in January, makes counter-insurgency efforts almost impossible, because ordinary people now cheer, shelter and protect those who lay down bombs to kill Americans. The big change is that while Iraqi Sunnis were always in favor of blowing up Americans, members of the Shiite majority are now 50 percent more likely to support violent attacks against Americans than they were in January.

The poll, by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, also found that 78 percent of Iraqis now believe that the American military presence is “provoking more conflict than it is preventing.”


Fareed Zakaria says it IS civil war
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Over the past three years the violence has spread and is now franchised down to neighborhoods with local gangs in control. In many areas, local militias are not even controlled by their supposed political masters in Baghdad. In this kind of decentralized street fighting, 10,000 or 20,000 more troops in Baghdad will not have more than a temporary effect. Nor will new American policies help. The reason that the Democrats seem to lack good, concrete suggestions on Iraq is that the Bush administration has actually been pursuing more- sensible policies for more than a year now, trying vainly to reverse many of its errors. But what might well have worked in 2003 is too little, too late in 2006.

Iraq is now in a civil war. Thirty thousand Iraqis have died there in the past three years, more than in many other conflicts widely recognized as civil wars. The number of internal refugees, mostly Sunni victims of ethnic cleansing, has exploded over the past few months, and now exceeds a quarter of a million people. (The Iraqi government says 240,000, but this doesn’t include Iraqis who have fled abroad or who may not have registered their move with the government.) The number of attacks on Shiite mosques increases every week: there have been 69 such attacks since February, compared with 80 in the previous two and a half years. And the war is being fought on gruesome new fronts. CBS News’s Lara Logan has filed astonishing reports on the Health Ministry, which is run by supporters of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. According to Logan, hospitals in Baghdad and Karbala are systematically killing Sunni patients and then dumping their bodies in mass graves.

If I were Condi Rice I’d be off the radar, too. I don’t believe she’s scheduled for the talk shows today; we’ll see.

I want to go back to Korea for a moment. Rightie mythos says that it’s Bill Clinton’s fault that North Korea has nukes. I explained here why this is nonsense; it was Bush who screwed up, not Clinton. See also “Rolling Blunder” by Fred Kaplan and the Blame Bush for North Korea’s Nukes page from The Mahablog archives. I’m not going to re-explain all that this morning, except to say that the series of Bushie blunders that led to North Korea resuming plutonium processing was partly a reaction to diplomatic talks between Japan and North Korea. And why was that a problem? Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had gone to North Korea to work out a long-range missile agreement without consulting the United States first.

Well, today it appears that Japan and China have stepped into the foreign policy vacuum created by the implosion of U.S. global influence. (And is it significant that Shinzo Abe, Japan’s brand-new Prime Minister, made China his first official overseas destination? China and Japan haven’t had bilateral talks for years.) This seems to me a pretty clear indicator of how much our standing in the world has fallen.

And if you want to hear more about the progress we’re making in Iraq, read Peter Beaumont in today’s Observer: “Hidden victims of a brutal conflict: Iraq’s women.”

All together now — we’re doin’ a heck of a job.

See also: Michael Hirsh, “Ike Was Right.”

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