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saturday, march 5, 2005

But We Knew This Already
 
Douglas Jehl and David Johnston of the New York Times report that George Bush signed a directive that gave the CIA authority to outsource torture.
The Bush administration's secret program to transfer suspected terrorists to foreign countries for interrogation has been carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency under broad authority that has allowed it to act without case-by-case approval from the White House or the State or Justice Departments, according to current and former government officials.

The unusually expansive authority for the C.I.A. to operate independently was provided by the White House under a still-classified directive signed by President Bush within days of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the officials said.

Jehl and Johnston talk about "interrogation," but Bob Herbert says "It's Called Torture."

Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen with a wife and two young children, had his life flipped upside down in the fall of 2002 when John Ashcroft's Justice Department, acting at least in part on bad information supplied by the Canadian government, decided it would be a good idea to abduct Mr. Arar and ship him off to Syria, an outlaw nation that the Justice Department honchos well knew was addicted to torture.

Mr. Arar was not charged with anything, and yet he was deprived not only of his liberty, but of all legal and human rights. He was handed over in shackles to the Syrian government and, to no one's surprise, promptly brutalized. A year later he emerged, and still no charges were lodged against him. His torturers said they were unable to elicit any link between Mr. Arar and terrorism. He was sent back to Canada to face the torment of a life in ruins.

According to Jehl and Johnston, "since the Sept. 11 attacks, the C.I.A. has flown 100 to 150 suspected terrorists from one foreign country to another, including to Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Pakistan."

Isn't Syria the nation we're self-righteously ordering to vacate Lebanon? Not that I'm not happy for a free Lebanon, but ...

Bob Herbert continues,

How many other individuals have disappeared at the hands of the Bush administration? How many have been sent, like the victims of a lynch mob, to overseas torture centers? How many people are being held in the C.I.A.'s highly secret offshore prisons? Who are they and how are they being treated? Have any been wrongly accused? If so, what recourse do they have?

President Bush spent much of last week lecturing other nations about freedom, democracy and the rule of law. It was a breathtaking display of chutzpah. He seemed to me like a judge who starves his children and then sits on the bench to hear child abuse cases. In Brussels Mr. Bush said he planned to remind Russian President Vladimir Putin that democracies are based on, among other things, "the rule of law and the respect for human rights and human dignity."

Even worse, I bet Bush doesn't see the discrepancy.

On the Italian front, Giuliana Sgrena is telling her homies that the car she was riding in was not speeding, and the shots that wounded her and killed an Italian agent were not fired from a checkpoint, but from a roadside patrol.

Note that I'm not assuming Sgrena's version of the story is true, any more than I'm assuming the official U.S. version of the story is true. We'll see.

 
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saturday, march 5, 2005

Here's One for You, Ma
 
My late mother, a registered nurse, would have gotten a kick out of this. James Wolcott quotes Alexander Cockburn:

Now it's Arnold Schwarzenegger's turn. California's nurses have got him rattled, and it's already costing him. A February 23 Field Poll showed his approval ratings declining ten points since last September, a significant drop. It should have been a no-brainer to realize that kicking Florence Nightingale's butt is not a surefire way to the public's heart. But the Governor is so used to browbeating the press that he thought he could do the same to the California Nurses' Association (CNA), one of the most militant unions in the country. Schwarzenegger has been trying to roll back the union's gains on nurse/patient ratios, safety standards and kindred issues.

Schwarzenegger's version of Howard Dean's scream came in December in Long Beach. As the nurses barracked him during a speech, he denounced them as one of the "special interests" and said, "I'm always kicking their butt." This witty response from the breast-grabber got plenty of play, and did the nurses nothing but good. [The Nation, March 21, 2005]

The nurses are fighting back with relentless demonstrating, and Ahnold is feeling the heat. When the Gropinator showed up for a screening of Be Cool, a nurse in the audience wearing hospital scrubs named Kelly DiGiacomo was hauled away by one of Ahnold's bodyguards.
A few days later a CHP investigator called. DiGiacomo asked why she should be considered a threat. The investigator replied, "Well, you were wearing a nurse's uniform." "Oh, sure, the international terrorist uniform," DiGiacomo scoffed.
Cockburn says Ahnold may be abandoning a plan to abolish the Board of Registered Nursing, but he has already used an executive order to roll back regulations on hospital safety standards.
 
In a rational world, we should all be stunned that anyone would consider standards for hospital patient care a "special interest." But we live in Republican World. Ahnold figures he can replace those highly trained but expensive registered nurses with semi-trained "health technicians" and save a bundle in hospital costs. And if people die as a result, well, they were sick anyway.
 
In the meantime, go California nurses. In her prime, my ma could've put some fear in Ahnold all by herself. I bet by the time the California nurses get done with him, there won't be anything left of Ahnold but his inner girly-man.
 
 
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Inscrutable
 
I agree with Dr. Atrios that we should not jump to conclusions about the shooting of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena and the killing of agent Nicola Calipari. War zones by nature are very dangerous places, which is one of several reasons not to start wars before all other options are exhausted.
 
Ah-hem.
 
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is demanding an explanation from the U.S. Juan Cole observes,
US military forces have killed innocent Iraqi civilians at such checkpoints on a number of occasions, and, indeed, statistics for spring-summer 2004 show that the US was responsible for killing more Iraqi civilians than did the guerrillas. I cannot remember interim PM Iyad Allawi reacting as stiffly to such incidents as Berlusconi just did
Still, some bloggers are forming strong opinions, such as:

Sgrena was a left-wing journalist. It is interesting to note that many journalists abducted in Iraq (French Jacqueline Aubenas is stil being held) are communist (or close) reporters very sympathetic to the so-called insurgency. One can wonder whether they are very naive, or if they fake the kidnapping with "insurgency" groups because they know what effect it has on the home opinion.

The blogger above linked to a Faux Nooz article that said Sgrena worked for the "leftist Il Manifesto," and Aubenas writes for "France's leftist daily Liberation." And this blog uncovers the spin being spun by the leftist London Times:
Leftist media already blaming US of interfering with hostage release, as if stopping at US checkpoint was more dangerous than, say, her time with the alleged terrorists. London Times:
Ms Sgrena was wounded when US troops opened fire on a convoy carrying her to safety, and an Italian negotiator who help negotiate her release was killed, her newspaper Il Manifesto said.
What Il Manifesto forgets to mention is that Sgrena was taken by the evil American forces to a US Army hospital for treatment. Right, very unafe.
I have it on good authority that a US Army nurse personally fluffed Sgrena's pillow while she was being treated for her wound. Yet this detail is nowhere to be found in the evil leftist media. Shameful.
 
I'm trying to imagine how the Sgrena story could have been written in such a way that no rightie blogger could possibly have detected a whiff of leftist bias. Maybe something like this:
Stupid leftist Italian bitch Giuliana Sgrena has been "freed" from the Islamic terrorists who pretended to hold her hostage in order to release a bunch of anti-American videos. Fortunately, the stupid bitch's stupid driver was too stupid to slow down at an American checkpoint, and some righteous U.S. soldier winged her good. Plus the stupid Italian secret service agent who must've been in on the phony kidnapping plot got killed. Score one for us.

Sgrena works for Il Manifesto, an Italian newspaper that is leftist and probably Communist, and which opposed the invasion of Iraq, which shows they hate democracy and want the whole world to be run by Islamofacists who are also Communist sympathizers.

US troops took Sgrena to a hospital for world-class American health care treatment in spite of the fact that the bitch didn't deserve it.

I dunno. Maybe that's too subtle for 'em.

Speaking of journalism in Iraq, there's a good article in the current Columbia Journalism Review that says not much journalism is actually going on in Iraq, because it's too dangerous even for Arabic reporters.

History is still being made in Iraq as the country struggles toward independence. But Al Jazeera isn’t there to watch it unfold. Last August Iraqi officials closed the station’s Baghdad bureau and barred it from operating in the country. Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera’s closest competitor, drastically cut its Iraqi operations after insurgents bombed its offices there in October, killing five employees and injuring fourteen. And Asharq Al-Awsat, one of the two largest pan-Arab dailies, shuttered its Baghdad bureau in December after insurgents threatened to blow it up. A number of Arab journalists have also been detained, some even killed, by jittery American troops.

In a war where the various factions seem to want everyone — including the press — to choose sides, the Arab media have found themselves under attack from every direction. That has far-reaching implications. Western reporters, faced with the threat of death, began retreating to fortified compounds months ago. Now, with pressure mounting, Arab journalists, along with Arab translators and fixers employed by international news organizations, are retreating, too. The result is that firsthand reporting is getting squeezed out. When it comes to covering the Iraq conflict — one of the most important stories of our time — even the Arab media are finding themselves increasingly reliant on secondhand accounts and official reports from Washington and Baghdad, and less able to gauge how events are playing out in the lives of ordinary Iraqis. “We can no longer get close to people’s suffering, people’s hopes, people’s dreams,” says Nabil Khatib, Al Arabiya’s executive editor for news. “We no longer know what’s really going on because we can no longer get close to reality.”

The CJR article doesn't mention Eason Jordan, but Majikthise does.

 
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friday, march 4, 2005

Betrayal
 
Medical bills account for half of personal bankruptcies.
 
According to a study* published online at Health Affairs, in 2001 between 1.9 and 2.2 million Americans (filers plus dependents) were driven into bankruptcy by medical bills.

David U. Himmelstein, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and three colleagues reviewed 1,771 personal bankruptcy documents in five federal judicial districts in 2001, and conducted follow-up surveys with 931 of those debtors to determine how illness contributes to bankruptcy in America.

While the number of overall bankruptcies was 3.6 times higher in 2001 than in 1980, the number of health-related bankruptcies increased 23-fold over the same period, which suggests that high medical bills were a major contributor to the growth in the number of individuals seeking federal bankruptcy protection.

“The medical debtors we surveyed were demographically typical Americans who got sick,” Himmelstein says. “They differed from others filing for bankruptcy in one important respect: They were more likely to have experienced a lapse in health coverage. Many had coverage at the onset of their illness but lost it. In other cases, even continuous coverage left families with ruinous medical bills.”

Among the survey’s findings:

—Between 1.9 million and 2.2 million Americans (filers plus dependents) were affected by medical bankruptcies in 2001
—Three-quarters of the debtors had insurance at the onset of the bankrupting illness
—Out-of-pocket costs for those bankruptcy filers since the onset of illness or injury averaged $11,854
—Medical debtors were 42 percent more likely than other debtors to experience a lapse in health insurance coverage
—As they experienced financial trouble, 61 percent of the filers failed to seek medical treatments they needed

Among other possible side effects of catastrophic illness or injury, the study found, is that the rest of one's life can go to hell. Many are able to keep their homes only by filing for bankruptcy.
Debtors’ narratives painted a picture of families arriving at the bankruptcy courthouse emotionally and financially exhausted, hoping to stop the collection calls, save their homes, and stabilize their economic circumstances. Many of the debtors detailed ongoing problems with access to care. Some expressed fear that their medical care providers would refuse to continue their care, and a few recounted actual experiences of this kind. Several had used credit cards to charge medical bills they had no hope of paying.

The co-occurrence of medical and job problems was a common theme. For instance, one debtor underwent lung surgery and suffered a heart attack. Both hospitalizations were covered by his employer-based insurance, but he was unable to return to his physically demanding job. He found new employment but was denied coverage because of his preexisting conditions, which required costly ongoing care. Similarly, a teacher who suffered a heart attack was unable to return to work for many months, and hence her coverage lapsed. A hospital wrote off her $20,000 debt, but she was nonetheless bankrupted by doctors’ bills and the cost of medications.

A second common theme was sounded by parents of premature infants or chronically ill children; many took time off from work or incurred large bills for home care while they were at their jobs.

Finally, many of the insured debtors blamed high copayments and deductibles for their financial ruin. For example, a man insured through his employer (a large national firm) suffered a broken leg and torn knee ligaments. He incurred $13,000 in out-of-pocket costs for copayments, deductibles, and uncovered services—much of it for physical therapy.
 
Most middle-class Americans have a faith that, if they work hard and play by the rules, they won't end up living on the streets in a cardboard box. Before the New Deal they might have, but since then falling from middle-class grace into the perdition of poverty and homelessness became nearly unimaginable, even though it still happened. But, many figured, those people who fell must have deserved it somehow.
 
And if reality came knocking in the form of catastrophic medical bills, there was always bankruptcy. That's still not a great solution -- it stays on your credit report for a decade and may prevent you from renting a new home or getting a mortgage -- but at least you probably can keep the home you've got and go on with your life.
 
Well, folks, that's about to change. The GOP's beloved Compassionate Conservative Bankruptcy Bill  is expected to pass in the Senate next week.
 
The bill doesn't eliminate bankruptcy altogether. However, it applies a means test so that people who make at least the median income in their state will be put on a repayment plan.
 
Senator Edward Kennedy proposed two amendments that the GOP (and some Democrats) shot down. The first would have exempted from the means test people forced into bankruptcy by medical bills. The second would have protected $150,000 of the value of patients' homes from being seized to pay creditors.
 
But the GOP doesn't see anything wrong with people having to choose between paying for mom's chemotherapy or keeping their home. The Kennedy amendments were voted down.
 
Other amendments brought forward by Democrats would have provided some protection for the elderly and people who are victims of fraud.
 
Nope. Can't have that, said the Republicans. "The only way we are going to change bankruptcy is by passing this bill. And the only way to pass this bill is to pass it without any amendments," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah).
 
Hatch doesn't say why that's true, but by damn, he is one resolute sumbitch. That bill is gonna pass.
 
Of course, American's big corporations and the extremely wealthy won't have to worry. According to Jonathan Chait, the bill doesn't address long-time loopholes that permit the rich to stash millions away in "asset protection trusts" that are out of bankruptcy's reach. "States actually compete with one another to offer the most generous trusts so they can lure businesses and affluent individuals to park their money in that state," says Chait. 
 
Chait points out that Delaware is the most popular state for setting up asset protection trusts. Delaware is also the home state of many credit-card companies. Delaware is also the home state of Senator Joe Biden, who joined with the Republicans to vote down the amendments.
 
It has truly been said that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. It's also often true that you don't realize what you're missing until you need it. Millions of Americans are about to learn those lessons the hard way, thanks to the GOP (and Joe Biden).  
 
The credit card companies complain that bankruptcies force customers with good credit to pay the bills of deadbeats. The bigger picture is that medical bankruptcy is one of our strategies for not dealing honestly with health care. We've turned paying catastrophic health care costs into a game of musical chairs played by patients, doctors, hospitals, and employers. When the music stops, somebody gets stuck with the bill. Insurers and the pharmaceutical/medical supplies industries, for some reason, get to stay seated. And when nobody is left standing, the bill gets passed to banks and credit card companies, and from there to the rest of us. And no, tort reform will not fix the problem.
 
Can somebody explain to me again why we don't have national, single-payer health care?
 
But now I'm supposed to be posting about the bankruptcy bill, so I'll try to stay focused.
 
Even as more and more people are being forced out of health insurance plans, and the White House plans to cut Medicaid, the Senate merrily rips to shreds one of the last safety nets left between the American middle class and ruin.
 
This is betrayal. And it's one more illustration of the fact that we left government "of the people, by the people, for the people" behind somewhere in the 20th century. I don't know exactly where we lost it, but it's sure as hell not here now.
 
My only question is, how many lives will be destroyed before the middle class catches on and fights back?
 
Relevant Links:
 
 
 
 
Last month, Congress passed legislation that could end most multi-state class action lawsuits—essentially handing a get-out-of-court-free card to manufacturers of defective products, negligent HMOs, sleazy credit card companies and other less-than-honorable residents of Corporate America—and the debate came and went in what seemed to be seven seconds. The deal was done by the time the talking heads had a chance to shout at each other about it. The Social Security debate has sucked up all the oxygen.
Update update March 5: Ian Welch has another take on the bankruptcy bill at BOP News.
 
 
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thursday, march 3, 2005

Frist Retracts
 
Hey Hey Hey Hey tell me what'd I say ...

WASHINGTON (AP) - Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Thursday that Congress must confront Social Security's problems this year, dialing back comments earlier in the week that action might have to wait.

``We need to do it this year. Not the next year,'' Frist said Thursday on the Senate floor. ``We are working towards this goal.''

Two days ago, Frist noted intense Democratic opposition and suggested he might not be able to move a bill to the Senate floor this year, as Bush has pushed for. ``I want to be realistic,'' Frist said on Tuesday.

I only wonder why Frist took two days to retract. He must've put up some tough resistance. No broken fingers that I can see from photos.

 
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Too Funny
 
Great Moments on the Web -- while I was researching the last post I found this Reuters page and just had to screen capture it.
 
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Social Security: What's Happenin' Now
 
At the moment President Bush doesn't seem to be backing down from the Social Security fight in spite of a flurry of new polls saying he's losing.
... two new public opinion polls found Bush losing ground. One, by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for People & the Press, showed mounting disapproval for his overall handling of the Social Security debate and, in particular, his proposal to allow individual to divert contributions into investments in stocks and bonds.

The poll found that only 46 percent like the idea of creating private accounts, down from 54 percent last December.

Social Security has become Bush's weakest policy area in terms of public support, the poll found, with only 29 percent of respondents saying he was handling the issue well and two-thirds saying he has not explained his overall plan clearly enough. The poll surveyed 1,502 Americans from Feb. 16-21.[Minneapolis Star Tribune]

Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder write in today's New York Times that

Americans say President Bush does not share the priorities of most of the country on either domestic or foreign issues, are increasingly resistant to his proposal to revamp Social Security and say they are uneasy with Mr. Bush's ability to make the right decisions about the retirement program, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

... On Social Security, 51 percent said permitting individuals to invest part of their Social Security taxes in private accounts, the centerpiece of Mr. Bush's plan, was a bad idea, even as a majority said they agreed with Mr. Bush that the program would become insolvent near the middle of the century if nothing was done. The number who thought private accounts were a bad idea jumped to 69 percent if respondents were told that the private accounts would result in a reduction in guaranteed benefits. And 45 percent said Mr. Bush's private account plan would actually weaken the economic underpinnings of the nation's retirement system.

And yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Frist said he'd rather delay the Social Security vote until 2006, which must have displeased the White House mightily. So far I haven't seen a retraction from Frist.

Nevertheless, Bush is charging ahead with what Josh Marshall calls the Bamblepalooza Tour. Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen write in today's Washington Post,

President Bush plans to intensify his campaign to win public and congressional support for restructuring Social Security, warning that it would be a bad idea to delay action as the Senate Republican leader has suggested and politically unwise for lawmakers to oppose private accounts, White House officials said yesterday.

Despite polls showing support for the plan slipping, Bush is confident he is winning the first phase of the public debate over Social Security and has no plans to significantly alter his strategy for enacting the most dramatic changes ever to the venerable system, said senior White House officials who have talked to Bush.

I'm wondering if those senior White House officials had the nerve to tell Bush he is losing in the polls.

Bush and action figure Dick the Dick are embarking on a "60 cities in 60 days" tour to sell the privatization scheme to a skeptical public by talking to "town meeting" audiences made up exclusively of people who already agree with it. (And you must read what Dan Froomkin said about that in yesterday's WaPo.)

Why isn't the Rove Playbook working for Social Security as well as it did for selling the war in Iraq? Shakespeare's Sister says,

I think the GOP is starting to discover some interesting things about their supporters. First they found out the churchly types in the red states actually are the religious nutjobs Bush & Co. only claim to be, so even though gay marriage might be little more than a wedge issue as far as Rove is concerned, Dobson and his minions aren’t about to be satisfied with mere lip service. (Wow—ever since Gannon, it really is impossible to talk about gay issues and the White House without everything becoming a double entendre.)

Now Bush discovers that lying to them about his reasons for killing some dirty Arabs isn’t the same as lying to them about their checks. Lying about the Iraq War, well shit—when the half-assed, badly concocted tale of national security using dubious intelligence was revealed as a fairy tale, sure red America shrugged. Such careful posturing had been an unnecessary political formality as far as they were concerned; they were quite happy to go along with bombing the ragheads for no reason at all. Lying about their checks, though—hold on a second now. They’re sitting up and paying attention on this one, and they don’t like what they’re hearing. Go figure. Each week, the figures look worse for the pres.

I'm afraid that second paragraph is more true than I wish it were.

It's important to remember that all is not won. Because Bush himself has offered very few specifics, he'll be able to take credit for just about any legislation that claims to save Social Security even if that legislation is written entirely by Democrats. For example, a majority of people surveyed by NY Times/CBS favored raising the payroll tax cap, which would make the program solvent for many more years without furthering tinkering. Even though raising the tax cap is heresy to rightie true believers, if Bush signed such a bill and claimed it as his own idea it might win him more support points than he would lose.

Just yesterday, Treasury Secretary John Snow said (according to some accounts) the White House was willing to consider a Social Security overhaul that does not divert the program’s payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts. But Reuters says that what Snow proposed was establishing private accounts that are separate from, rather than carved out of, the payroll taxes they pay. Whatever the proposal, I think the Dems must be extremely careful not to give Bush the appearance of a victory. Because, politically, that's all he needs.
 
What he wants, however, is to destroy Social Security.
 
Rightie blogger Orrin Judd quotes a Bob the Lizard column in which the Reptile points to a proposal from Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that would, among other things, change indexing to the inflation rate rather than the wage rate and establish a means test to end benefits for the rich. Mr. Judd, correctly, writes, "This has always been the ace in the hole, though folks don't seem to grasp it: any system that combines personal accounts and means-testing effectively ends SS."
 
The Left Blogosphere on the whole grasped that a long time ago. Let's see if the Dems in Congress have caught on. 
 
 
 
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wednesday, march 2, 2005

Fundies Diss the Ten Commandments

Today the Supreme Court is hearing arguments on the display of a ten-foot-tall Ten Commandment monument on Texas state capitol grounds. Which reminds me of a story.

It’s a story out of the Zen Buddhist tradition in which a master finds a young monk lost in adoration of a priceless and beautiful statue of the Buddha. In this story, the master found a stick and smashed the statue to save the student from the error of idolatry.

Now, I have doubts about this story. I think it’s more likely that the master took up a stick and gave the monk a few smacks in the head with it. I suppose I should report the story the way it was told to me, however. There’s another story I like better, in which a monk working in a monastery kitchen saw the Bodhisattva Manjusri – something like the patron saint of wisdom -- rise up out of a cooking pot to expound on the teachings of the Buddha. The monk beat the Bodhisattva back into the pot with a spoon and slammed down the lid. Zennies take a dim view of apparitions.

My point, though, is that Christians seem to hold a definition of idolatry that is out of sync with most other religions. Christians tend to think of idolatry as the worship of false gods. The more universal definition is using any image as an object of worship. And by this definition, you have to wonder if fundies have made the Ten Commandments into an idol.

You might remember that one of the Ten Cs (Number 4, on this list) forbids the faithful to “make unto thee any graven image.” The text actually says not to make graven images of anything. Both Judaism and Islam forbid making likenesses of God, and Islam takes this further by forbidding likenesses of humans or animals (although pure ornamentation is fine). I understand that Judaism also forbids speaking or writing the name of God. This is, I think, wise. Giving God a name and a form creates parameters. A being both omnipotent and omniscient shouldn’t have parameters.

Christians, however, tend to interpret the graven image prohibition loosely as a restriction on making statues for the purpose of worshiping them, although the Amish take it as far as forbidding photography.

Buddhism, which is either pantheistic or nontheistic, has a different take on idolatry. The Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh considers idolatry to be any belief or concept that binds you. The first of his Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism is, “Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.” Buddhism considers all teachings to be provisional and all cognitive understanding to be flawed. The perfection of wisdom is beyond description and human imagination. Therefore, binding oneself by believing in dogmas and doctrines gets in the way of realizing enlightenment.

You can see why the old master smashed the statue (or the student).

For years, fundamentalist Christians have been attempting an end run around the graven image rule by making the Ten Commandments themselves into an object of worship. But at the same time, they skirt the First Amendment by claiming the Ten Commandments aren't specifically religious at all. Attorney Andrew Cohen writes,

In the Kentucky case, officials in two counties have tried for years to figure out a way to keep public their Commandments' display. When they first posted it, and were challenged, they argued that the display did not violate the Establishment Clause because the commandments represented "the inseparable connection between the ethical conduct of [Kentucky's] legislative body and the Christian principles which permeate our society and its institutions." Sensing correctly that this argument wasn't going to cut it, the counties then tried to surround their Commandments displays with other displays that included references to God and religion.

A trial judge ruled that the counties were illegally endorsing religion by "narrowly" tailoring [their] selection of foundational documents to incorporate only those with specific references to Christianity…" The counties tried a third time, this time surrounding the Ten Commandments with less religious (and more patriotic displays), but by then it was too late. The courts had given up believing that the efforts by the counties were anything but a way to keep the Ten Commandments in the middle of public life.

Fundies like to argue that the Ten Cs deserve a special place of honor because, um, the nation’s legal system is based on it. Not really. First, the Ten Cs were not the first written code of law. The Code of Hammurabi, for example, very likely predates Mosaic Law. The Exodus probably began about 1450 BC, and Hammurabi is thought to have lived sometime between 2100 and 1600 BC, give or take. Second, early American law was based on British law, which traces its ancestry to the law of the Roman Empire.

The other claim is that this country was somehow founded on the Ten Cs, which is absurd. The Constitution, for example, makes no mention of God or the Ten Cs at all. This was not an oversight.

It is apparent that the real reason for putting up big displays or monuments of the Ten Cs on public property is to establish taxpayer-supported graven images that everyone is supposed to at least respect, if not worship. Cohen continues,

The Texas case was not nearly as long and winding on its path to the Supreme Court. The display in Texas has been standing for over 40 years and is now a part of a larger display that is more patriotic than religious. Indeed, Texas says that the whole display area is akin to an outdoor museum, like the National Mall in Washington, so that whatever religious impact the Commandments display offer is muted both by the space of the outdoors and the diffusion with other displays.

Moreover, unlike the Kentucky kafuffle, the Commandment display in Texas seems to have a built-in secular purpose that might protect it from First Amendment meddling. It was initially posted as an honor to the Fraternal Order of Eagles, its donor, as a monument to its work against juvenile delinquency, although for the life of me, beyond the Honor Thy Mother and Thy Father part, I cannot see the link between juvenile delinquency and the Commandments. "There is no secular purpose," says the brief challenging the Texas Commandments, "in placing on government property a monument declaring: 'I AM the LORD thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make thyself any graven image. Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain.'"

One has to be seriously delusional not to recognize the Ten Commandments as a religious text. However, Mr. Cohen continues, they might be viewed as secular if we deny they have any particular religious power. He writes,
… perhaps over time they have become what the law recognizes as "ceremonial deism;" as watered down as the phrase "In God We Trust" on our money or the invocation "God Save This Honorable Court" in halls of justice.
The choice facing the fundies is that they either have to keep their graven images to themselves or, to place them on public property, they have to acknowledge the Ten Commandments have no particular meaning. I wonder what Moses would say about that.
 
(Cross posted to The American Street.)
 
 
 
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3:13 pm | link

Social Security: Will Bush Back Down?
 
I just posted my reaction to this Washington Post story at American Street. In a nutshell, Bill Frist wants to postpone a vote on Social Security privatization until 2006. Seems to me this is a pretty clear signal that the Senate Republicans don't want to fight this fight now, if ever. But Josh Marshall reports the Bush Bamboozlepalooza Tour is rolling on to Alabama, Louisiana, and New Jersey. And the House Republicans are still fighting. The Hill reports that whipping will commence tomorrow.
 
I'm expecting a retraction from Frist any time now.
 
What do you think will happen next? Leave predictions here ...
 
 
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11:35 am | link

tuesday, march 1, 2005

A Shame They're Not Fetuses
 
Mahareader "Corrections Department" provided a link to a BBC article titled "US High in UN Poverty Table."
The US has one of the highest rates of relative child poverty among the world's wealthiest countries, according to a report by the UN.

The US, which is second only to Mexico in the UN children's agency report, is nonetheless one of few countries to see a recent decline in child poverty.

Unicef looked at child poverty rates in 24 of the wealthiest countries. The US had the second highest rate of the 24, saved by Mexico from being number one. But here's the mystery: poverty rates increased in 17 of these countries and fell in only 4. The United States was one of the 4.

What might have caused a decline in child poverty in the US? Look at the time frames on the table: "Recent" means "over the past 15 years." We're looking at the Clinton/Bush II years versus the Reagan/Bush I years. The Clinton economic boom might account for a decline in child poverty in that time period. We're not yet seeing the full impact of the Bush Administration.

Also note that Unicef's numbers are of relative poverty, defined as households with per capita income below 50% of the national average. Denmark and Finland have child poverty levels of less than 3 percent, meaning that only 3 percent of children live in households with a per capita income below 50% of the averages for Denmark and Finland.

The US has a child poverty level of 22 percent. Mexico tops the charts at 28 percent. These levels are relative to the national averages of the US and Mexico, not to all the other countries.

Much of the difference comes from the fact that some countries provide more benefits to children than other countries. Also, seems to me, nations with higher child poverty rates as measured by Unicef must have bigger income gaps between rich and poor.

And it's also a measure of how much we really value our children.

 
 
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9:39 pm | link

It's Only a GIF File ...
TOADY2.gif
 
Thank you Mama Yaga for this way cool animation!
 
 
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2:18 pm | link

They Call It Superstition
 
Albert Einstein was a thoughtful guy, and he thought about a lot of things other than science. For example, in 1930 he wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine on the development of religion and its relationship to science. It's a fascinating piece that I keep meaning to write about, but I never get around to it.
 
Well, I'm not going to get around to it today, either, except to call your attention to this little bit:
With primitive man it is above all fear that evokes religious notions - fear of hunger, wild beasts, sickness, death. Since at this stage of existence understanding of causal connections is usually poorly developed, the human mind creates illusory beings more or less analogous to itself on whose wills and actions these fearful happenings depend. Thus one tries to secure the favor of these beings by carrying out actions and offering sacrifices which, according to the tradition handed down from generation to generation, propitiate them or make them well disposed toward a mortal. In this sense I am speaking of a religion of fear. This, though not created, is in an important degree stabilized by the formation of a special priestly caste which sets itself up as a mediator between the people and the beings they fear, and erects a hegemony on this basis. In many cases a leader or ruler or a privileged class whose position rests on other factors combines priestly functions with its secular authority in order to make the latter more secure; or the political rulers and the priestly caste make common cause in their own interests.
Einstein went on to describe more advanced religious views, such as the belief in a god who promotes morality and good behavior. But there is a higher form of religion, Einstein wrote, in which belief in gods and dogmas has no place, and where the spiritual seeker and theoretical physicist find themselves on common ground. But I'm not going to write about that, either. Some other time
 
Instead, I want to write about this post I found (via Memeorandum) at the rightie blog Captain's Quarters. Captain Ed says,

[The New York Times] misses the point entirely, however, on Lebanon and elsewhere. It talks about developments there and in Egypt as if they were completely disconnected to events in Iraq, instead of the logical flow of events coming from the realization by the dictators in the region that (a) Bush got re-elected and will have four more years to command the armies that have split Southwest Asia, and (b) he means what he says instead of blowing hot air. The NYT wants Bush to continue pressuring Syria for a withdrawal; do they think for a moment that Bashar Assad would even consider it without having 150,000 increasingly available American troops on his eastern border? Do the editors think that Assad's intelligence and military would have stood for a Cedar Revolution two years ago, or even today without that massive military threat on their border?

As I wrote yesterday, I honestly do believe the events in Lebanon are mostly disconnected from events in Iraq. Clearly the recent demonstrations were triggered by the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, not by anything the U.S. did in Iraq. And the more you know about Lebanon, the clearer this point is. (I'll get around to addressing the 150,000 troops in a bit.)

Juan Cole provides an essential backgrounder on Lebanon, in which he also says,

It is often pointed out that presidents get too much praise and blame for the economy, since the domestic economy has its own rhythms. We are now going to see everything that happens in the Middle East attributed to George W. Bush, whether he had much to do with it or not (usually not). ... I don't think Bush had anything much to do with the current Lebanese national movement except at the margins.

Juan Cole goes on to explain how Syria got itself imbedded into Lebanon. You should read his entire post for a better understanding. But, in a nutshell, Syria wanted to use Lebanon as a buffer against Israel, and many sectarian groups in Lebanon (such as the Shiites in the south) wanted Syrian troops to  help them deal with Israeli troops occupying southern Lebanon. The Israelis were forced out in 2000, and soon after that some (not all) Lebanese wanted the Syrian troops to go away, too. However, some large sectarian groups in Lebanon, such as Muslims supporting Hizbullah, wanted Syrian troops to remain.

But last fall Syria intervened to amend the Lebanese constitution so that their favorite toady, Gen. Emile Lahoud, could remain president. The popular Hariri resigned over the constitutional change. Most of Lebanon became massively pissed off. When Hariri was assassinated two weeks ago, and it was assumed Syria was guilty, the people of Lebanon rose up as never before, finally pretty much united in the opinion that Syria had to clear out.

Like I said, this really has nothing to do with the invasion of Iraq. On the other hand, it does appear Washington increased pressure on Syria after the assassination, causing Syria to cough up Saddam Hussein's half-brother Hassan a couple of days ago. So it's probably the case that the White House was a factor in yesterday's resignation of the government of Lebanon. But it was not the primary cause.

By now, you might be seeing why Captain Ed's blog post reminded me of what Einstein wrote about primitive religion and understanding of causal connections. Unless you are seriously miswired, your brain automatically makes connections among myriad phenomena to try to understand them. This is what human brains do. The brain takes whatever knowledge it has to connect the dots. Where knowledge is lacking, however, the brain will grasp at just about anything to fill in the blanks.

So, for example, the capricious nature of rain caused primitive man to create causal connections that we would call superstition. Og the caveman wore his new purple socks, and later that day it rained. Og might assume the purple socks brought the rain. Later, someone might have the bright idea that a rain god made it rain, and if we can do something to please the rain god, maybe he'll end the drought. And soon you've got priests with a vested interest in maintaining that belief, because they're making a living tossing virgins into volcanoes, and a religion is born.

In the case of Bush believers, a causal connection between Iraq and Lebanon must seem self-evident -- less than thirty days after the Iraqi elections, Lebanese take to the streets and demand freedom from Syria. This is because they know little else about the Middle East except for Bush's interactions with it (and, usually, that they want the Israelis to whip the Palestinians). So, if the Lebanese want to be free, that must be Bush's doing. Or Og's purple socks, or my magic feather.

But if you look closely at what's been going on in Lebanon in recent years, it becomes more and more apparent that Bush and his war have little to do with it. Unfortunately, that's not going to stop Bush supporters in believing in the Almighty Power of Bush, because it's what they want to believe.

Now, what about the "150,000 increasingly available American troops" on Syria's eastern border? A belief that the troops are "increasingly available" is pretty astonishing on the morning after the deadliest attack of the insurgency. Syria might be more worried about U.S. air or naval attack than the very weary and overstressed U.S. troops in Iraq.

In sum, I'm not ruling out Bush saber-rattling as a factor in the resignation of the Lebanese government. But I do think the popular anti-Syrian uprising in Lebanon has little to do with anything happening in Iraq. Like I wrote yesterday, I think the White House is more directly involved in pro-democracy events in Egypt, but Matthew Yglesias pointed out yesterday that the Right blogosphere is weirdly quiet about Egypt. Go figure.

On to the question of Whodunnit? Yesterday I quoted Juan Cole saying that Syria is the most probable culprit in the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Maybe Israel, he said, but probably not. On the other hand, Mahareader Tom  - Daai Tou Laam pointed to this Guardian article that says Israel had more to gain from the assassination than Syria. I'm not taking sides in this argument, just pointing to expert opinion.

Finally, Thomas Oliphant writes in today's Boston Globe that it's been a century since the great Einstein shook the world with his breakthroughs in physics:

Between March and late September [1905], Einstein churned out five papers setting the elemental science of physics as it had existed until then on its ear. He submitted a sixth paper expanding on one of his earlier breakthroughs in December.

The giant forward strides taken inside his head set the stage for a revolution in human understanding of light, the atom, time, space, motion, and matter. His output that year included a certain equation about energy and matter that is known around the world by people who have no idea what it means. Taken together, these strides have had impacts far beyond physics into philosophy, politics, religion, even art and music.

Awesome.

 
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9:30 am | link

monday, february 28, 2005

American Taliban Strikes Again
 
A two-week World Conference on Women opened today at United Nations headquarters in New York City. Reuters says,

The U.N. meeting, with at least 100 government delegations, 80 ministers from Afghanistan to Peru, as well as 6,000 activists, is analyzing progress and setbacks since the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995.

Rather than producing a lengthy document, the organizers decided to keep controversies in check by writing a short declaration that reaffirms and pledges implementation of the 150-page platform of action agreed to in Beijing.

But, to the dismay of key delegates, the United States submitted amendments at a negotiating session Friday, declaring that the Beijing conference did not create "any new international human rights" and did not include the right to abortion.

In Beijing, abortion was treated as a health issue, with the platform saying it should be safe where it was legal and criminal action should not be taken against women who underwent the procedure.

According to Suzanne Goldenberg in the Guardian, Bush Administration stubborness is obstructing talks on more substantive issues.

The Bush administration was accused yesterday of trying to roll back efforts to improve the status of the world's women by demanding that the UN publicly renounce abortion rights.

America's demand overshadowed the opening yesterday of a conference intended to mark the 10th anniversary of the Beijing conference on the status of women, an event seen as a landmark in efforts to promote global cooperation on women's equality.

The US stand was also widely seen as further evidence of the sweeping policy change in Washington under the Bush presidency. The last four years have seen a steady erosion of government support for international population projects, due to the administration's opposition to abortion. ...

Organisers had hoped that informal discussions last week would reach a consensus on the draft [of a declaration], leaving the next fortnight clear for government officials and women's activists to hold more substantive talks on advancing economic equality and political participation, and fighting violence against women.

But those hopes were crushed in a closed-door session late last week when Washington demanded the declaration reaffirm its support for the declarations made in Beijing 10 years ago only if "they do not include the right to abortion", says a copy of the US text obtained by the Guardian. ...

...The chief of the US delegation, Sichan Siv, went on to tell his counterparts that Washington opposed the ratification of the international treaty on women's equality, as well as resolutions that would "place emphasis on 'rights' that not all member states accept, such as so-called 'sexual rights'."

The White House also opposes seeking funds from industrialised countries to implement the reforms called for under the Beijing declaration.

From the Christian Post:

The commission drafted a short declaration to reaffirm the Beijing platform, but was unable to adopt it by consensus before Monday’s opening session because of the United States’ reservations on the abortion language.

The U.S. instead presented an amendment to the draft declaration that would reaffirm the Beijing platform and declaration, but only "while reaffirming that they do not create any new international human rights, and that they do not include the right to abortion," according to the text obtained by The Associated Press.

The abortion debate began in the U.N. at a 1994 U.N. population conference in Cairo. At the conference, delegates approved a platform recognizing that abortion is a public health issue that must be dealt with. The Beijing meeting on women’s rights went further by asking governments not to punish women for having abortions.

The Beijing platform was stated for the first time that women have the right to “decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality ... free of coercion, discrimination and violence."

Wow, deciding freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexality -- imagine.

Naturally, the Heritage Foundation supports nonrights for women.

... much of the Beijing conference cen­tered on controversial topics relating to reproduc­tion and sexuality, notably abortion and sexual orientation. By focusing on such topics, the confer­ence gave short shrift to some of the most basic concerns shared by the great majority of women around the world. ... Delegates to the conference should use this opportunity to identify strategies to solve women’s most pressing needs. In some cases, women’s very survival is at stake.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 78,000 women die every year worldwide as a complication of medically unsafe (illegal) abortions. Every year 20 million women have abortions in nations where abortions are illegal.

Unsafe and often ineffective methods include taking various drugs or caustic substances by mouth; inserting objects into the vagina or flushing the vagina with caustic liquids; and having the abdomen massaged vigorously by women who are trained in this procedure.

Yes, women's very lives are at stake, and are being lost, where abortion is illegal. 78,000 women die every year. But where abortion is legal -- such as the United States, for now -- getting a penicillan shot is riskier than getting an abortion, says AGI.

The Heritage Foundation goes on to argue that the conference should focus on "basic health care," ignoring the fact that the overwhelming majority of gynecologists consider abortion to be part of "basic health care" for women. And for women, reproductive rights are essential to all the other rights. Providing access to jobs and education doesn't mean much to women whose lives are consumed by pregnancies and childrearing. Assuming they survive.

Heritage also waxes enthusiastic about marriage. Marriage is fine, but Heritage is an eyelash away from suggesting that women's problems will be solved if they could only get husbands.

Anyway, the Guardian article says the U.S. was isolated in its demands in the pre-conference sessions, getting support only from the Vatican. However, according to the Daily Times of Pakistan, the United States is allied with Islamic countries to oppose a right to abortion in the platform. That's comforting. What's next, support for honor killings?

 
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9:01 pm | link

I Did It With My Magic Feather
 
The government of Lebanon just resigned. The stomping you hear in the distance is the sound of countless rightie bloggers rushing to their computers to praise President Bush for bringing liberty to the Middle East.
 
For the past few days, thousands of demonstrators in Beruit have been demanding the government's resignation. In Rightie World, the demonstrators were inspired by President Bush to demand democracy. Jackson Diehl writes in today's Washington Post:
As thousands of Arabs demonstrated for freedom and democracy in Beirut and Cairo last week, and the desperate dictators of Syria and Egypt squirmed under domestic and international pressure, it was hard not to wonder whether the regional transformation that the Bush administration hoped would be touched off by its invasion of Iraq is, however tentatively, beginning to happen.
But other news stories say the demonstrations in Beirut are primarily about ridding Lebanon of foreign occupation by Syria. According to ABC News:
Defying a ban on protests, about 10,000 people demonstrated against Syrian interference in Lebanon on Monday, as opposition lawmakers sought to bring down the pro-Damascus government two weeks after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Hundreds of soldiers and police blocked off Beirut's central Martyrs' Square, but there was no violence, even as protesters evaded the cordon, waving hundreds of Lebanese flags, climbed the martyrs' statue and prayed before candles at the flower-covered grave of Hariri, which lies at the piazza's edge.
The current demonstrations began after Prime Minister Hariri was assassinated by a car bomb on February 15. It is widely believed that Syria, which has about 140,000 14,000 troops stationed in Lebanon, was behind the assassination. Juan Cole wrote on February 16,
... the Maronite, Druze and Sunni Muslim leadership has largely decided to blame President Lahoud and his Syrian backers for the assassination. In a sense, it does not any longer matter who precisely was behind the blast. The political opposition in Lebanon has made up its mind whom to blame. It is not that they are necessarily wrong. On any list of suspects in the killing of Hariri, the Syrians would have to rank high. They had means, motive and opportunity-- which does not, however, establish that they murdered Hariri.

The other angle, of al-Qaeda-like groups hitting out at Saudi-related targets (Hariri had Saudi citizenship), cannot in my view be dismissed. (If, as is now being reported, the blast was in part the work of a suicide bomber, that would rule out a mafia-type business dispute). Given the 250,000 tons of missing munitions in Iraq, there are lots of very high-powered explosives on the market in the Middle East. This proliferation of explosives may be among the major ways in which the Iraq war ends up destabilizing the Middle East, since the explosions are unlikely to remain only in Iraq. Already, some Iraq-related violence has spread to Saudi Arabia.
 
But the Lebanese opposition and most of the outside world have decided that Syria is guilty because it is guilty.

The US and Israel would like to see Syria withdraw its remaining troops from Lebanon. Especially the Maronite Christians (who are a kind of Catholic) largely want the Syrians out (they are probably now only about 20 percent of the population). Ironically, the Syrians came in to Lebanon with a US green light to stop the Palestinians and their allies from taking over Lebanon. At first, the Syrians actually protected the Maronites. But now that the Palestinians have long since been militarily defeated, the same groups and countries that were happy to see a Syrian intervention in Lebanon in 1976 are now the most ardent advocates of Syrian withdrawal.

The joining together of the Druze, Sunni Arabs (Hariri's group) and the Maronites in opposition to the government and in blaming it for Hariri's death, marks a new phase of Lebanese nationalism in modern history.

The big question, of course, is whether the crisis will draw in the United States and (less likely) Israel. Many in the Arab world are blaming Israel for the blast. While this possibility cannot be simply dismissed, since the Israeli Mossad has played dirty tricks in the past, it seems to me highly unlikely. But then, I personally doubt that Bashar al-Asad ordered the hit, either. The Neoconservatives in the Bush administration, like David Wurmser, have been trying to get up a US war against Syria for some time, and the death of Hariri may offer them an opening.

Background on what the Syrians are doing in Lebanon: Syrian troops have been in Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war. You'll remember that a car bomb (or a truck bomb, to be precise) killed 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983, prompting President Ronald Reagan to invade Grenada. You young folks may not remember that, actually, but it happened. That was the Lebanese civil war. It seems the Syrian troops never left. The Lebanese have been unhappy about this all along, and the assassination of the Prime Minister, whom they seem to have liked, really ticked them off.

Further, it should be noted that democracy is not some newfangled idea to the Lebanese. I understand that Lebanon had a perfectly functional democracy once, sometime between World War II and the beginning of the civil war in 1975. In those days Beruit was called the Paris of the Middle East.
 
From what I can dig up on the web today, the Lebanese national assembly is elected by popular vote on the basis of sectarian proportional representation, but Syria continues to dominate the government and determine policy. This makes Lebanon at least as independent and democratic as Iraq is today (she said, snarkily). Perhaps the people of Iraq will get inspired to demonstrate and toss us out someday.
 
In any event, I hope the people of Lebanon become truly independent. And if they do, the credit will be entirely theirs. I see no evidence that Bush did anything to help them.
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 
Regarding Egypt, Megan K. Stack and Sonni Efron wrote in yesterday's Los Angeles Times,
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called Saturday for a constitutional amendment to allow other candidates to run against him for the first time, a surprise move that could be a historic turning point in a country that has endured decades of repressive rule.
 
The announcement by Mubarak, a staunch U.S. ally, came a day after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice canceled a trip to the Middle East this week amid mounting tension over the autocratic Egyptian leader's crackdown on political opponents.
I think it's plausible the Bushies did nudge Mubarak. I've speculated in the past that there could be some back-channel communication going on between the White House and Cairo. Indeed, later in the LA Times article we read,
The United States has prepared a $1-billion economic aid package aimed at revamping Egypt's deeply troubled banking sector. The package was ready Jan. 23, but it has not yet been signed. The administration has given no explanation for the delay.
That's a clue.
 
 
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12:23 pm | link

Who Comes Up With This Stuff?
 
Via Rox Populi -- The Week magazine lists its nominees for Blogger of the Year. They are PowerLine, Matthew Yglesias, PressThink, Hugh Hewitt, and Low Culture.
 
What makes me suspect that whoever came up with this list is not really into the blog thing? I cannot imagine what criteria would have placed Hugh Hewitt and PressThink on the same list. And I'd never heard of Low Culture. It's mildly amusing, but not very bloggy.
 
Weird.
 
 
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10:42 am | link

War Without End
 
Reuters reports that a suicide car bomber killed 105 people and wounded 130 others in a market south of Baghdad. This is the worst attack so far.
 
In other Iraq news, via Juan Cole, the Christian Science Monitor reports that the provision of requiring a 2/3 majority in the Iraqi parliament to form a government is causing considerable gridlock.

The Kurds' assertiveness flows from their legal trump card. Under the transitional administrative law (TAL), written last spring by the Interim Governing Council with US guidance, a permanent constitution can be vetoed if three provinces do not ratify it. The Kurds control Iraq's three northern provinces.

"At the rate they are going, they will have to ask for an extension," in writing the constitution, says Nathan Brown, a professor of political science at George Washington University. "The really difficult issues are ones where we just don't have any idea how flexible they will be."

The current political wrangling has its source in laws designed to force disparate political groups to work together, and to prevent another authoritarian regime by giving significant power to minority groups.

Among other consensus-building mechanisms, the TAL requires two-thirds of the national assembly to approve the president, a new government, and a new constitution.

Those requirements have allowed small groups to play spoiler in order to extract promises of influence.

While we're in the Middle East -- Robin Wright reports at WaPo that Bush may have gotten a clue:

The Bush administration is close to a decision to join Europe in offering incentives to Iran -- possibly including eventual membership in the World Trade Organization -- in exchange for Tehran's formal agreement to surrender any plans to develop a nuclear weapon, according to senior U.S. officials.

The day after returning from Europe, President Bush met Friday afternoon with the principal members of his foreign policy team to discuss requests made by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac in particular. More discussions are expected this week, but the White House wants to move quickly to finalize a list of incentives to offer Tehran as part of European talks with Iran, officials said.

As they say in France, Chirac a fait le Bush une offre qu'il ne pourrait pas refuser. Pretty soon Bush will decide that offering incentives to Tehran was his idea all along.

 
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7:24 am | link

sunday, february 27, 2005

The F Word
 
There is no better reason not to read U.S. News and World Report than John Leo, who for years has written columns for the magazine consisting of unsubtle and remarkably unoriginal right-wing propaganda. There are plenty of other reasons, mind you, but avoiding Leo is at the top of the list.
 
His newest effort (do not read on a full stomach) dredges up the Martin Peretz article on the "death of liberalism" I took apart a few days ago. Leo begins,
QUESTION FOR THE DAY: IF LIBERALISM isn't dead, then why are autopsies performed so regularly?
Because so many of you righties want to believe liberalism is dead, you stupid twit. Every time liberalism so much as coughs you lamebrains crawl out of the woodwork to find out who's holding the wake.
 
The same issue of New Republic (February 28, 2005) that carried the Peretz article featured several other articles on liberalism that were much better, and much more positive about the future of American liberalism. The best of the lot, IMO, was by Jonathan Chait. I didn't get around to writing about it, but you can read more about it here. The issue (cover blurb: "To Liberalism! Embattled ... and Essential!") also carried an article about liberalism by E.J. Dionne that's a good read. You'll notice Leo doesn't critique Chait or Dionne.
 
Liberalism is going through a period of introspection and evaluation, from which (I believe sincerely) it will emerge strong and renewed.
 
In the meantime, what passes for conservatism in America is crumbling at the edges and could be about to implode. For evidence, head over to Whiskey Bar and check out this post by Billmon (essential reading!). Those articles he links are all by conservative writers who are alarmed at the direction the American Right is heading.
 
I don't want to repeat Billmon, so I'm picking out some different quotes from the same articles:
Just where in the Constitution is the federal government given the power or responsibility to manage citizens' family lives? ... Conservatism can't survive by religious extremism and tax cuts alone.

 

There needs to be something more than Ann Coulter's substanceless ranting and faux-provocative calls for a "new McCarthyism." There needs to be something more than immigration opponents comparing Mexicans to burglars stealing American jobs. There needs to be something more than treating the Log Cabin Republicans like a punchline conservatives would rather forget. [Ryan Sager]

 

The last weeks of 2004 saw several explicit warnings from the antiwar Right about the coming of an American fascism. Paul Craig Roberts in these pages wrote of the “brownshirting” of American conservatism—a word that might not have surprised had it come from Michael Moore or Michael Lerner. But from a Hoover Institution senior fellow, former assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, and one-time Wall Street Journal editor, it was striking. ...

 

... the very fact that the f-word [fascism] can be seriously raised in an American context is evidence enough that we have moved into a new period. The invasion of Iraq has put the possibility of the end to American democracy on the table and has empowered groups on the Right that would acquiesce to and in some cases welcome the suppression of core American freedoms. That would be the titanic irony of course, the mother of them all—that a war initiated under the pretense of spreading democracy would lead to its destruction in one of its very birthplaces. But as historians know, history is full of ironies. [Scott McConnell, The American Conservative]

What is the most pressing and urgent threat to freedom that we face in our time? It is not from the left. If anything, the left has been solid on civil liberties and has been crucial in drawing attention to the lies and abuses of the Bush administration. No, today, the clear and present danger to freedom comes from the right side of the ideological spectrum, those people who are pleased to preserve most of free enterprise but favor top-down management of society, culture, family, and school, and seek to use a messianic and belligerent nationalism to impose their vision of politics on the world. [Lew Rockwell]

Conservatives don’t assess opponents’ arguments, they demonize opponents. Truth and falsity are out of the picture; the criteria are: who’s good, who’s evil, who’s patriotic, who’s unpatriotic.

These are the traits of brownshirts. Brownshirts know they are right. They know their opponents are wrong and regard them as enemies who must be silenced if not exterminated. [Paul Craig Roberts]

The Bush administration's ability to con the American people on 9/11 helped fuel their frauds on Iraq. It is now beyond dispute that many of the specific statements made by Bush on Iraqi weapons were false. Even Bush has conceded that his frequent efforts to link Saddam Hussein to 9/11 were unfounded (though this has not stopped Cheney from repeating the link to audiences which have pre-signed loyalty oaths to the Bush administration)....Bush, in his comments at the Republican convention and in stump speeches, makes it stark that he feels entitled to be cheered and revered for his courage in "making a tough decision" on invading Iraq. It is as if the more Americans die from Bush's folly, the more undeniable his greatness becomes. [James Bovard; more about Bovard here]

Gil Smart wrote in the Lancaster Intelligence Journal (February 19):

It’s a mainstay of talk radio; last year Sean Hannity published a book titled “Deliver us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism and Liberalism.” Because, see, liberals are just as evil as terrorists and despots and should be dealt with in the same manner.

Ann Coulter’s the queen of this; shilling for her book “How to Talk to a Liberal” on Fox News, she said, “I think a baseball bat is the most effective way these days.”

(Coulter defenders say she’s kidding; this one’s a real knee-slapper. Or head-splitter.)

Then there was the guy who wrote to Editor & Publisher magazine advocating a rather interesting way of supporting the troops:

“We are fighting a war, the debate is over, you’re either for us or against us, there is no middle ground. I say start executing the leftists in our country, soon.”

...at some point, the simmering resentment boils over; at some point, someone makes good on the rhetorical threats, someone decides to make an example out of the likes of Ward Churchill.

“Reasonable” conservatives, I’m sure, will be horrified.

But will they say so when Ann Coulter goes on Fox News to announce that Churchill had it coming?

The oblivious John Leo continues to spew out rightie talking points about "liberal elites" and "militant secularism" and "no values culture" and liberals' alleged hostility to "moral sentiments." He is quick to seize any opportunity to bash the Left, but he remains blind to the arrogance and militance and lack of conscience festering in the Right.

See also Matt Welch.

 
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6:46 pm | link

Stuff and Nonsense
 
Following up on yesterday's post -- walking the walk vs. talking the talk -- this Washington Post editorial provides another example:
THE BUSH administration is quietly extending a policy that undermines the global battle against AIDS. It is being pushed in this direction by Congress, notably by Rep. Mark Edward Souder (R-Ind.). But some administration officials zealously defend this policy error, claiming scientific evidence that doesn't exist.
The righties are opposed to needle exchange programs, even though copious data shows that such programs slow the spread of AIDS without increasing drug addiction. But never mind; the Bushies have actually paid for fraudulent research so that they can point to something on a piece of paper that says needle exchange programs are bad. Because, you know, needle exchange programs are bad. Because.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Also in WaPo, John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei write that some Republicans on Capitol Hill are bailing on Bush's Social Security scheme.
With polls showing widespread skepticism of Bush's proposed individual investment accounts and Democratic lawmakers expressing nearly uniform opposition, some allies of the president are focused on possible split-the-difference deals. ...
 
But all this maneuvering assumes that Democrats are looking for compromise -- rather than the opportunity to hand Bush the kind of monumental defeat that President Bill Clinton suffered 11 years ago with his proposal to change the health care system. Clinton's signal error, most of his aides concluded in retrospect, was not dropping his plan in favor of a bipartisan deal on more modest legislation while he still had enough political leverage to bring Republicans to the table.

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid has declared that Senate Democrats are united in their opposition to personal accounts carved out of Social Security. That is a deal-killer if true, since as a practical matter the most controversial ideas typically need a supermajority of 60 votes to end filibusters and allow a vote. 

Be still, my heart! Dems with spines! But, as usual, some rats don't know when to desert a sinking ship.

Despite Reid's assertion, however, several moderate Democrats have not ruled out backing a more modest version of the president's plan.

Some of these centrists, such as Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), have been meeting with Republican colleagues to discuss whether there is a middle ground.

Jeez, PhotoShop is on my computer that's being fixed ... I was thinking of an animated GIF of Lieberman turning into a toad, or something. We on the blogosphere must get behind some Democrat who can take Lieberman's seat away from him. I suspect just about any respectable Dem who wants to challenge Lieberman next time he's up (2006, I think) could easily raise millions from the leftie blogs. In the meantime, write your Dem Senators and Reps and tell them to hang tough, or else.

If Lieberman is your Senator, explain to him that he needs to be planning his own retirement.

At the New York Times, Sheryl Stolberg and Robin Toner write that congressional Republicans came back from a recess week of trying to sell privatization. And they've learned much of the constituency ain't buyin'.

One leading Republican, Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, acknowledged that the opposition was better organized while another, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, said bipartisan compromise was unlikely unless the president can change the public mood. ...

The story was much the same throughout the country, as Republicans - some already skittish over Mr. Bush's plan - spent the week trying to assuage nervous constituents. Instead of building support for Mr. Bush's proposal to allow younger workers to divert payroll taxes into private retirement accounts, some of the events turned into fractious gripe sessions and others did not go nearly as well as their hosts had hoped. ...

Mr. Bush, meanwhile, speaking in his radio address on Saturday, declared himself pleased with how the recess week went.

Do you think anyone bothered to tell him how the week actually went? Or is he so lost in his own little world that there's no point?

"I am pleased with the progress of the national discussion on this issue, and I look forward to hearing everyone's ideas when the Congress returns," Mr. Bush said. He added, "Some in Washington want to deny that Social Security has a problem, but the American people know better and you have the power to determine the outcome of this debate."

AARP, the powerful retirees' organization that opposes private accounts financed by payroll taxes, has been tracking the meetings, and offered a different assessment.

Go, geezers! (Disclosure: I belong to the AARP.)

"We've yet to find one where there was an enthusiastic reception," said John Rother, the group's policy director. "The most positive reception people are getting is lots of questions, and there's significant skepticism. This is proving to be a tough sell, and our polling suggests that the more people know, the harder the sell."

Democrats, many of whom held their own constituent meetings, were practically giddy at the Republicans' dilemma.

This is called winning, Dems. The game ain't over, but you're ahead. See how good it feels to fight back and win?   

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mo Dowd is cookin' today.

"I live in a transparent country," Mr. Bush protested to a Russian reporter who implicitly criticized the Patriot Act by noting that the private lives of American citizens "are now being monitored by the state."

Dick Cheney's secret meetings with energy lobbyists were certainly a model of transparency. As was the buildup to the Iraq war, when the Bush hawks did their best to cloak the real reasons they wanted to go to war and trumpet the trumped-up reasons.

The Bush administration wields maximum secrecy with minimal opposition. The White House press is timid. The poor, limp Democrats don't have enough power to convene Congressional hearings on any Republican outrages and are reduced to writing whining letters of protest that are tossed in the Oval Office trash.

I've long wondered if Bush knows what the word transparency means. Maybe he thinks it means "people gotta agree with me 'cause I'm the preznit."

 
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Ben Merens, "Conversations with Ben Merens,"
September 9, 2004, WHAD Milwaukee, 90.7 FM

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September 15, 2004, 90.1 FM.

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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."

·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

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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