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saturday, november 13, 2004

Hell in a Handbasket
 
At WaPo, Dana Priest and Walter Pincus report that the CIA is coming unglued even as the agency is struggling to "stay abreast of a worldwide terrorist threat from al Qaeda, a growing insurgency in Iraq, the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan and congressional proposals to reorganize the intelligence agencies."
 
New CIA Director Porter Goss and some lackeys he brought into the agency with him have so pissed off the old hands at the agency that they are packing up and leaving, or thinking about it.
 
For example, the Deputy Director of Foreign Operations resigned yesterday after butting heads with Goss's top aide, Patrick Murray. When Deputy Director John McLaughlin announced his retirement yesterday, he warned Goss that Murray was "treating senior officials disrespectfully and risked widespread resignations."  McLaughlin was a 32-year CIA veteran who ran the agency for two months last summer after George Tenet resigned.
 
Officially, McLaughlin's retirement was just a retirement. The timing of his announcement to retire, however, makes the "retirement" story questionable. And Priest and Pincus report that several other senior officers are threatening to quit.
 
In a nutshell, the Bush Regime seems bent on screwing up the CIA the same way they screwed up the Pentagon.
 
The problem with Goss seems to be twofold:
 
First, senior CIA agents say Goss is disengaged from the actual running of the CIA, and instead seems to see himself primarily as part of the White House team. He is especially loyal to his chief political patron, Dick Cheney. Like his predecessor "Slam Dunk" Tenet, Goss can be counted on to tell the Bushies only what they want to hear.
 
Second, Goss brought with him a team of intelligence hacks, many of whom washed out of the CIA years ago. This crew seems to be out of the same mold as our famous Pentagon team of Wolfowitz and Co.
 
Think blazing arrogance. Think stunning incompetence. Think going to hell in a handbasket.
 
 
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8:17 am | link

thursday, november 11, 2004

Thoughts on James Madison ...
 
... in which maha wonders if mass media, communication, and culture will be the death of republican government.
 
As I'm sure you all know, the Federalist Papers were a series of articles written (ca. 1787) by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay arguing in favor of the ratification of the Constitution. The Papers are all about how the federalist government that the Constitution would establish would be way better than the confederacy set up under the Articles of Confederation.
 
I was reflecting on how the Religious right, or whatever you want to call them, has grown in power and influence to the consternation of many. And then I thought of James Madison and how this federalism thing might not be working out quite the way he thought it would.
 
In the tenth Federalist Paper, James Madision argued that a federalist system, which includes a national government, would remedy the pernicious effects of factions.
 
"The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice," Madison wrote. 'The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils [by factions], have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished."
 
"By a faction," Madison continued, "I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community."
 
Further,
A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.

I believe I've quoted enough 18th-century prose to establish that Madison didn't like factions. I'll mostly paraphrase from here on out.

There are two ways to deal with factions, Madison said. The first is to remove the causes of faction, and the second is to control the effects of factions.

There are two ways to eliminate causes. The first is to destroy liberty so that citizens cannot express or act on their opinions. The second is to be sure that all citizens have the same opinions. (If Madison were here to argue with, we could suggest that you'd have to do the first in order to accomplish the second.) But Madison wasn't keen on either, because, after all, the Revolution itself was all about liberty. And liberty to faction is what air is to fire; as soon as you turn people loose with lots of liberty, they're going to sort themselves into factions. There's no way to avoid that.

So, Madison says, the only way to go is to control the effects of factions so that they don't become so powerful and divisive as to tear the nation apart.

Minority factions, Madison figured, would be controlled by republican government itself. But what about majority factions? Majority factions could use "majority rule" to sacrifice public good and the rights of other citizens to their particular passions. In other words, some big nasty faction could take control and make itself the ruling oligarchy.   

What to do? Once again, there are two choices. One, be sure that no faction becomes a majority faction. Two, think of some way to render a majority incapable of oppressing others. (We know, Madison says, that "neither moral nor religious motives can be relied upon tas an adequate control.")

At this point, Madison launches into one of his more misunderstood passages. He argues that a pure democracy, meaning a government in which every citizen represents himself (e.g., 5th century BCE Athens), has no remedy for factions. Such a government can easily be taken over by a majority faction and thus be corrupted. But a republic, or representative, government allows for a remedy for factions.

Madison explained that the two differences between a pure democracy (he's established that's what he means by democracy, even though he doesn't always use the modifier pure) and a republic are that, first, governing is delegated to a small number of representatives elected by the rest. Second, a representative government can be used to govern a larger number of citizens extended over a larger territory than is true for a pure democracy, in which every citizen has to participate directly. Imagine several million people collectively writing income tax codes. 

Waxing idealistic, Madison imagines that in a republic, public views would be passed "through the medium of a chosen body of citizens" who would be wise and patriotic. Such virtuous persons would be unlikely to sacrifice public good for the sake of "temporary or partial considerations."

Of course, Madison admits, it's possible the representatives of the people would betray public interest. But if there is a big country (for example, the United States of America) covering lots of territory and many citizens electing representatives, there will be greater diversity of opinion than would be true of a small country (e.g., Rhode Island). Here we're getting to the heart of Madison's arguments for ratification of the Constitution and establishment of federalist government.

(Note: I don't know if Madison had agreed to the Bill of Rights when he wrote this; but of course the Bill of Rights has proved to be a vital protection against tyranny by faction.)

The tricky part of establishing such a government, Madison thought, would be to raise the number of representatives high enough to "guard against the cabals of a few" without going overboard and sending too many representatives for the government to be functional. And, of course, some problems need to be solved at a local level, hence the wisdom of federalism.

But Madison's primary point is to argue that a big country with more territory and a greater number of citizens is much less likely to be taken over by some nasty faction than a smaller country with fewer citizens. Here I'd like to stop paraphrasing and let Madison speak for himself --

The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other.  

A faction may be able to take over a local or state government but not "spread a general conflagration" to the other states, he thought. 

Finally, Madison touches on our current Religion Problem, which was what got me thinking about the tenth Federalist Paper this morning:

A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source.

To which I say, guess again.

Through mass media and communication a meta-faction has been born of many small religious sects, and this meta-faction is a threat to liberty, and over the next few years all of us are going to have to hang on to the Bill of Rights with all our might to prevent the articles from being overturned, by judicial and legislative fiat if not by the amendment process. 

Our Constitution is the one constant that's held us together as a nation all these years. Will our 18th-century Constitution finally be destroyed by 21st-century technology?

I don't know.

Postscript: Madison went on about the faults of democracy in this paper and how the Constitution would not establish a democracy, but a republic. When he introduced this theme he made it explicitly clear he was speaking of a pure, direct, and non-representative type of democracy as had been attempted in ancient Greece. Such a government would have been terrifying to 18th century aristocrats, who must have imagined hoardes of unwashed, unschooled peasants deciding policy. Thus, Madison went out of his way to reassure his readers that the Constitution would not establish such a government.

Today, when we use the word democracy we're describing any government in which authority rests in the people. Just because a people decide to be governed by elected representatives doesn't mean that government isn't a democratic one. 

I'm sure you've noticed that a disturbing number of righties take offense at the word democracy and have gotten it in their heads that America is not a democracy, never was a democracy, and anyone who says it is a democracy is a liberal elitist who wants to destroy the Constitution. A lot of this foolishness comes from mis-educated people taking Madison's words out of context. 

Such people will be the death of all of us, assuming pollution doesn't get us first. 

Postscript postscript: Happy Armistice Day.

 
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8:51 am | link

wednesday, november 10, 2004

The Un-Awakening

Mark Schmitt discusses our current Religion Problem–

We are clearly in the middle of one of the great periods of Christian revival in American history, the third or fourth of the “Great Awakenings” in American Protestantism. Each such period has begun with a change in the nature of worship itself, essentially a private phase, and moved onto a public phase where it engaged with the political process. These have been significant moments of progress for this country. The Second Great Awakening led in it public phase to the Abolitionist movement. What some historians consider the Third Great Awakening beginning in the 1890s led to the Social Gospel movement, settlement houses, and the beginnings of the progressive era idea of a public responsibility to ameliorate poverty.

The right question, I think, is not whether religion has an undue influence, but why it is that the current flourishing of religious faith has, for the first time ever, virtually no element of social justice? Why is its public phase so exclusively focused on issues of private and personal behavior? Is this caused by trends in the nature of religious worship itself? Is it a displacement of economic or social pressures? Will that change? What are the factors that might cause it to change.

Let’s look at these questions from a different perspective.

Historically, the original Great Awakening was the Axial Age, approximately 800-200 BCE. This was the golden age of the Greek philosophers. Judaism evolved from devotion to a fearful tribal deity and became genuinely monotheistic. The very awesome Mahabharata of Hinduism was composed. The Buddha, Confucius, and the founders of Taoism were children of the Axial Age. All religions and philosophies ever after were built on Axial Age foundations.

Before the Axial Age, religion was all about appeasement of primitive gods. But during the Axial Age mankind awoke to the importance of individual conscience. Compassion and social justice became more important than sacrificial rites.

Fast forward to the Eighteenth Century. This was the great Age of Reason, also called the Enlightenment. Educated men of Europe swept away centuries of old superstition and metaphysics in favor of logic and science. Last week Garry Wills wrote in the New York Times,

America, the first real democracy in history, was a product of Enlightenment values - critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences. Though the founders differed on many things, they shared these values of what was then modernity. They addressed “a candid world,” as they wrote in the Declaration of Independence, out of “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.”

But human civilization waxes and wanes. Remember, between the Axial Age and the Enlightenment fell the Inquisition.

In the late 19th century, during the Third Great Awakening, another movement was born. Fundamentalism was the name given to a Christian movement that grew out of a backlash to modernism and the various Great Awakenings. Karen Armstrong, in her book The Battle for God, documents that similar backlash movements arose in all the great religions, but especially in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Though their dogmas differ, all of the fundamentalisms share much in common:

They are embattled forms of spiturality, which have emerged as a reponse to a perceived crisis. They are engaged in a conflict with enemies whose secularist policies and beliefs seem inimical to religion itself. Fundamentalists do not regard this battle as a conventional political struggle, but experience it as a cosmic war between good and evil. They fear annihilation, and try to fortifytheir beleaguered identity by means of a selective retrieval of certain doctrines and practices of the past. To avoid contamination, they often withdraw from mainstream society to create a counterculture; yet fundamentalists are not impractical dreamers. They have absorbed the pragmatic rationalism of modernity, and under the guidance of their charismatic leaders, they refine these “fundamentals” so as to create an ideology that provides the faithful with a plan of action. Eventually they fight back and attempt to resacralize an increasingly skeptical world. (Armstrong, p. xiii)

Although what Schmitt calls “the current flourishing of religious faith” may seem to have burst upon the scene recently, in fact it’s been growing, and growing more radical, for over a century. Christian fundamentalism in America in part began as a backlash to the progressive era and has been antagonistic to liberal notions of social justice all along. For example, early in the 20th century fundamentalists opposed child labor laws. If parents wanted to send their eight-year-old children to work in factories, it wasn’t the government’s business to interfere.

It is no coincidence that the Bush Administration and its more radical followers want to roll back all progressive programs going back to the McKinley Administration. Our current religious revival is less an Enlightenment than an Unenlightenment.

It is a huge mistake, therefore, to consider today’s right-wing Christianity as a new Great Awakening. If anything, it’s a new Inquisition.

Beware.

 
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1:19 pm | link

tuesday, november 9, 2004

Framing Religion
 
There is a struggle going on about what to call the right-wing conservative Christian fundie/evangelical whackjobs for Jesus who support George W. Bush.
 
Timothy Noah writes in Slate that they don't want to be called the "Christian right" because they've gotten it in their heads that's a pejorative. ABC News seems to have adopted "evangelical Christians" as the more correct term for this group.
In the late 1970s, it was the "religious right." Jerry Falwell favored that term, and the media picked it up. Pretty soon, though, members of the movement perceived that the label had, for some mysterious reason, become pejorative, so the "religious right" was renamed the "Christian right." Now the movement is shedding "Christian right," because that term, mysteriously, has become pejorative, too. The new favored term is "the pro-family movement," but that's so overtly propagandistic—secularists are anti-family?—that it hasn't gotten much pickup. Hence "conservative Christian" or "evangelical Christian."
Of course, these people will still be obnoxious and unlikeable to many of us no matter what they call themselves. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, and whackjobs will still be whackjobs no matter title they go by.
 
At American Street, Julia proposes calling them "values voters," which has some merit, but one could argue that we all base our votes on values; just not the same values. Maybe "faith-based" voters (as opposed to reality-based voters) would be better.
 
Now, the problem with calling this little group we're talking about "evangelical Christians" is that there are, or at least used to be, people who call themselves evangelical Christians who don't fit the political mold. The words evangelical and fundamentalist, these days used as synomyms, have different historic origins and in the past defined two different subsets of Christianity. As Timothy Noah points out in the article linked above, there used to be liberal evangelical Christians. Part of me says that ceding the word evangelical to the whackjobs is just one more brick knocked out of the foundation of civilization. Fundies is good enough for 'em, I say.
 
However, it seems to me that a great smushing together of religion is going on all about us. I grew up in the Bible Belt and used to know all the distinct species and subspecies -- the evangelicals and pentecostals and Nazarenes and Southern Baptists and even the various unaffiliated Holy Gospel Jesus Miracle Tabernacles that spring up in the Ozarks like weeds. There used to be dogmatic differences that set these churches apart, and their members knew what these differences were and maintained them. Now it appears there is just one mongrelized herd of religious-something-or-others for Bush and Jesus. Even right-wing Catholics are taking part in this movement, which is a radical shift. The born-again Christians I knew in my youth refused to acknowledge that Catholics were Christians at all.
 
These days, it's liberals, not Catholics, who by their definition cannot be "real" Christians. 
 
(This perception is unfortunately strengthed by news media and "researchers" who assume that those who believe in a literal Judgment Day are "more religious" than those who don't. The concept that very devout, sincerely religious people may not believe in a literal Judgment Day isn't given a place in our current social/cognitive interface.)
 
I have a problem also with "conservative Christian," because "conservative" in the religious and political sense don't always go together. As Tim Noah points out, African-American Christians are often religiously conservative but not politically conservative.
 
This brings us back to definining this group as a "faith-based" community of voters and politicians. They all do seem to have a faith in something the rest of us cannot see, but I don't think that something is necessarily religious or conservative. Or even evangelical. Fundamentalist maybe, but I'll save that for another post.
 
 
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10:10 am | link

monday, november 8, 2004

Vote Corruption
 
This evening the BlackBoxVoting.org site is down. I hope this is just from too much traffic. Many thanks to maha reader Cat for alerting me to this DU post by Bev Harris -- Five Things You Can Do Right Now to Reclaim Democracy.
 
Among the five things: See Votergate.
 
I also suggest studying this Republican Election Theft Roundup by Shaula Evans at Blogging of the President.
 
Also at BOP: Ian Welsh provides some graphic proof of theft in Yeah, OK, It Was Stolen. I know Ian to be a careful, thoughtful guy, and if he says it was stolen, it was stolen.
 
I understand that Keith Olbermann had a segment on vote fraud on MSNBC Countdown tonight. Countdown repeats late at night, and I'll try to tape it. 
 
Kos writes that we should be careful to be well armed before making the charge: "...by crying wolf too soon, and too often, no one would believe us if solid evidence does present itself. We have lawyers tallying the irregularities and watching over the vote count. If there's reason to act in Ohio, we'll have it."
 
See also Suburban GuerrillaDigby on electon fraud; Jeanne d'Arc on Fallujah.
 
 
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10:23 pm | link

Great Balls of Fire
 
I have a new post up at American Street. Now I am going to take a walk. Later.
 
 
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9:27 am | link

sunday, november 7, 2004

The Dems and Their Learning Curve
 
Is Senator Harry Reid of Nevada the next Senate minority leader? This LA Times article says Reid already has locked up enough votes for the position.
 
I am very unhappy.
Republicans said they hoped Reid's elevation was a signal from Democrats that they might play a more constructive role in the more lopsided Senate. Reid, who opposes abortion, is seen as more conservative than Daschle and less confrontational in his personal style.

He voted for Bush's tax cuts, and in 1991, was one of a handful of Democrats who voted to authorize the Persian Gulf War. He voted again to authorize the use of force against Iraq in October 2002. He has frequently opposed environmental groups on Western mining issues.
 
Do you believe this shit?
 
Reid has a reputation for bieng able to out-maneuver the Pugs, but out-maneuver them on what? Caving in to gutting Roe v. Wade?
 
Please email, call, or fax your Dem Senators and tell them that this GOP-lite crap is not gonna stand any more.
 
 
 
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8:22 pm | link


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The Loyalties of George W. Bush

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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

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The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

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It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

[Mark Twain, 1905]

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