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saturday, april 9, 2005

Fetus People on the March!


A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again. Alexander Pope (1688-1744) - An Essay on Criticism.


Today Michelle Malkin is quivering with outrage over a Lancet report on euthanasia of newborns in Belgium. She quotes an article not linked to, which I assume is the Lancet article:


In 40 cases, opiate pain killers were used in doses with a potentially life-shortening affect. In 17 cases, a lethal dose or lethal drugs were administered. Overall, the research yielded information on 253 out of the total of 298 infant deaths in the region over the period. The lethal doses of painkillers, which broke Belgian law, were mainly administered to babies less than a week old.

Most were premature babies with severe congenital malformations or handicaps and what was described as a poor quality of life, or very premature babies with severe brain damage. Four fifths of the doctors who completed an "attitudinal survey" agreed that "the task of the physician sometimes involves the prevention of unnecessary suffering by hastening death".

Without knowing any more than Lulu does I cannot say if these physicians euthanized infants that other physicians might have tried to save. Although one can always find exceptions, most of us believe that babies should not be euthanized just because of an imperfection, and we don’t want to give the government or physicians or anyone else the authority to choose whether a life is worth continuing.


However, I suspect that if Lulu had even half a clue of what the “malformations” entailed, she’d be a little less outraged.


I’m probably not the person who should be writing this essay, as I have no personal experience with babies born with, as the medical texts say, conditions “incompatible with life.” My two babies were born full term and healthy.


However, back in the 1950s, when most kids learned about human anatomy from photos in National Geographic, my source was my Ma’s obstetric nursing journals. The articles about compromised neonates usually featured photographs of dead newborns laid out next to a ruler to provide scale. These were the babies born with conditions “incompatible with life,” meaning they lacked the use of one or more vital organs necessary to keep them alive. They lived in utero because, as long as they were attached to an umbilical cord, their mother’s body was doing the work of the missing parts. For such an infant, birth is a death sentence.


For example, a baby born without much in the way of a head might have enough brain stem to maintain a heart and circulatory system in the womb, but, lacking a nose and mouth, cannot take a first breath. Yes, this happens. I saw the photos.


In some cases, the infant’s body can sustain its life for a few hours or even days, but there is absolutely no hope for improvement of the infant’s condition. For example, little Sun Hudson, recently disconnected from a ventilator against the wishes of his mother, had a deformity of the lungs that provided no hope of survival.


My understanding is that for generations, the standard practice has been to keep the infant comfortable but provide no aggressive care until whatever little bit of life it was capable of had run its course. It may be that in some cases the infant is in great pain, however, and that takes us into another gray corner of medical practice.


For a great many years, doctors treating terminal patients in great pain—adults and children—smacked into an ethical/moral conundrum. The drugs that most effectively controlled pain had the side effect of suppressing the respiratory system, and sometimes the dosage required to make the patient comfortable was also a big enough dose to kill him. Nobody called this euthanasia, since the medication was given for the purpose of controlling pain. But the fact is that, through the years, a great many people who officially died of, say, cancer, really died of an overdose of morphine.


And I repeat, this has been going on for years. For example:


The following day he was so drowsy that Douglas thought he would die. But he did not die. Not malnutrition, massive bleeding, or pneumonia would rob the inexorable cancer of its power to destroy. The doctors, consciously or subconsciously, were practicing euthanasia with their injections of brandy and morphine and applications of cocaine, but Grant held on. The Reverend Dr. Newman hovered. The family gathered: Buck was summoned from New York. At eleven-thirty, Grant whispered to the doctor that he wanted them all, including the minister, to go to bed.


The next day, July 22, Dr. Shrady and Buck arrived by special train. All of the general’s children were now with him, and three of his grandchildren. So too was Julia. That evening a bed was brought down from the hotel, and Fred asked his father, who had not slept lying down in months, if he would give up his chairs and go to bed. The general finally surrendered and whispered that he would. His body was gaunt but his “beautiful hand,” small and strong, clutched the blanket. He lasted the night, and early in the morning the exhausted family left his bedside, but the morphine was doing its work. It accumulated in Grant’s brain and finally disabled the respiration and circulatory centers in the brain stem. At seven o’clock McQueeney, the nurse, ran for the doctor and for Tyrrell, who went up and hastily knocked on the bedroom doors. The family came downstairs. Julia had already come in to be with her husband. At 8 a.m. on July 23, 1885, Ulysses S. Grant died. [William S. McFeely, Grant: A Biography (W.W.  Norton, 1981), pp. 516-517]


I don’t keep up with advances in medicine, so today there may be effective pain medications with no lethal side effects. I don’t know. But since pain itself causes great stress to the body that can hasten death, it’s possible the morphine that eventually killed them also kept patients alive a bit longer than they would have lived without it. Who knows?


My point is that I would not be surprised if, in the case of a terminally malformed neonate who appears to be in pain, sometimes the physician administers a little dose of something to dull the pain but which also hurries death along. I don’t know that this actually happens; I’m just saying it wouldn’t surprise me.


And it’s possible that nothing goes on in Belgium that doesn’t happen in the United States; it’s just that the doctors of Belgium are able to speak more frankly about it without being targeted for execution by the Fetus People.


Further, since the infant mortality rate in Belgium is notably lower than that of the U.S. (4.4 per 1,000 infants in Belgium; 6.7 in the U.S., according to the Population Reference Bureau) I suggest that Lulu get outraged about all the American babies who die every year in the U.S. but who would have survived in Belgium. But I digress.


According to an article posted on Medscape (Tricia L. Romesberg, “Futile Care and the Newborn,” November 12, 2003; registration required):


With advances in medical technology, the concept of futile care has become more prevalently disputed. There are now so many stages between health and death that the medical profession and the legal system are forced to examine the boundaries in more detail. …

Three conceptual types of futility have been identified: physiologic futility, imminent demise futility, and lethal condition futility. Futile care may also be defined as quantitative: "When physicians conclude (either through personal experience, experiences shared with colleagues, or consideration of reported empiric data) that in the last 100 cases, a medical treatment has been useless." Qualitative futility describes treatment that "merely preserves permanent unconsciousness or cannot end dependence on intensive medical care."

The concept of futility is linked to the use of massive resources in the final days of life, which has been likened to a medical avalanche. Some feel that futile care is an appropriate place to start rationing health care dollars. Although this may seem unjust, care deemed as futile may be a more acceptable alternative to limiting resource consumption than rationing on the basis of social worth or ability to pay.


In other words, we have some hard choices to make, and we need to make them without hysteria and hyperbole. The author continues,


The majority of neonatal conditions requiring end-of-life care include extreme prematurity, lethal anomalies, and those that require continuing aggressive care that is considered to be more burdensome than beneficial. Once the decision to discontinue life support is made, the next objective is to guide the family through the withdrawal of support. Nurses strive to support the process of dying in a way that encourages healthy grieving and minimizes regrets. This includes full disclosure of what to expect in regard to the actual process of dying. Honest admission of the uncertain nature of a time estimate for death to occur is important. Perhaps most importantly, all involved parties must have a mutually agreed-upon plan: to reduce the potential for the family to doubt their decision.

As the plan of care shifts from curative to palliative, families are driven by the task of helping their infant through death, instead of by the hope of survival. Palliative care should add life to the infant's time, not add time to the infant's life.

Hysteria and ignorance cause politicians to step in and regulate medical care through legislation like the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act. In Fetus People Land, aggressive care should be applied even in futile cases, building up false hope and unrealistic expectations and thus more bitter heartbreak, rather than to allow for realistic and compassionate acceptance of what must be.


And just as the Fetus People arrogantly assume that women who seek abortions must be brainless and heartless twits, they also seem to assume that physicians don’t care about life and death and suffering. Actually, I suspect most of ‘em do.


But I’m afraid the Fetus People have found their new Cause. They will march forth in their self-indulgent ignorance, spreading suffering and inhumanity as they go.


Today a bunch of rightie bloggers are worked up over the case of a Georgia woman who, they say, is neither terminal nor comatose but is being deprived of care by a granddaughter who, naturally, will inherit a bunch of money when Granny dies. In other words, they’ve found their new Terri Schiavo.


Now, if the facts of the case are as the bloggers describe them, poor Granny is indeed being callously and cruelly starved to death. However, if the facts of the case are as the bloggers describe them, I will eat my sneakers.


For example, if Granny is lucid and wants to be treated, as they say, then I’m sure Georgia state law requires that she be treated. No court or next of kin could order otherwise. Further, if Granny’s condition isn’t terminal, then physicians are going to treat her, because to do otherwise would probably make them indictable for murder.


Makes me long for the good old days when the whackjobs were worked up about the government adding fluoride to drinking water. Well, folks, stay healthy, and keep your head down.


Update: Some rightie blogs are questioning the veracity of the Dying Granny story. Just One Minute discovered that Granny's nephew, who is giving radio interviews to draw attention to the story, is a long-time Democratic Party operative of some sort, which J.O.M. finds significant. Perhaps it's OK to euthanize Democrats. This blogger published an email from an evangelical minister who lives in the same community as Granny, and the reverend says

The details are many, but in short, the grandmother is not being denied anything, but refuses herself to eat (there never was a feeding tube). POA arrangements were made while the court was on break by the family among themselves. The judge was not in the room when the family agreed among themselves to give custody to the granddaughter.

However, if you read the attached comments, it's clear the Fetus People aren't buying the minister's story. The judge must be lying. He's a judge, after all. I guess the minister was either duped or is in on the scheme to kill Granny. You never know who's going to turn out to be a murdering death cultist, or possibly even a (organ glissando, F minor) liberal.  


Essentially, the Fetus People have found a glorious cause that gives them a heady self-righteousness fix, and they ain't gonna give it up, facts be damned.  


12:39 pm | link

Democracy on the March!
Democracy on the march in the Middle East! The Associated Press reports:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Tens of thousands of Shiites marked the anniversary of the fall of Baghdad with a protest against American troops at the same square where jubilant crowds toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein two years ago.

The protesters back radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militiamen led uprisings last year against U.S. troops before signing truces with U.S.-led forces.

Held in the shadow of the Sheraton and Palestine hotels - home to foreign journalists and contractors - the protest reflected frustration both with the U.S. government, which is slowly handing security responsibilities to Iraqi forces, and anger toward the Sunni Arab-led insurgency.

``This huge gathering shows that the Iraqi people have the strength and faith to protect their country and liberate it from the occupiers,'' said protester Ahmed Abed, a 26-year-old who sells spare car parts. ...

... The protesters filled Firdos Square and spilled onto nearby avenues, waving Iraqi flags. Mimicking the famous images of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis pulling down a statue of Saddam as Baghdad fell, protesters toppled effigies of President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Saddam - all dressed in red Iraqi prison jumpsuits that signified they had been condemned to death.

Other effigies of Bush and Saddam were burned. ...

... Demonstrators carried a symbolic coffin, draped with an Iraqi flag, and swung from a statue said to represent freedom and constructed on the pedestal where Saddam's statue once stood. Robed and turbaned Shiite clerics were seen among the crowd.

I checked with some of the rightie bloggers who were all over the anti-Syrian demonstrations in Lebanon a few days ago, but for some reason they're quiet about the Iraqi demonstrations. Maybe they just haven't seen the news story yet.

Yeah, that must be it. Otherwise, by now they'd have decided the demonstrations are fake and the demonstrators were all bused in from Iran. Give 'em time.


Via Avedon, we learn that back in 1980 Reagan-Bush campaign officials secretly negotiated with Iranian leaders for release of American hostages behind President Carter's back. But the report was kept hidden from the American people until discovered by reporter Robert Parry in a Capitol Hill storage room.
In other words, the October surprise weren't no surprise. But I'm sure you're not surprised.


8:07 am | link

friday, april 8, 2005

The Big Dog Rules

Ten minutes before the scheduled start of the funeral, the U.S. delegation arrived, headed by President Bush, and including his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and former President Bill Clinton.

President Bush sat on the aisle in the second row, next to his wife, Laura. Beside them were French President Jacques Chirac and his wife, Bernadette. The two presidents shook hands.

When Bush's face appeared on giant screen TVs showing the ceremony, many in the crowds outside St. Peter's Square booed and whistled.

Compare/contrast with Dan Froomkin at WaPo:
 David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "While Romans were unlikely to catch a glimpse of President Bush -- he moved only in motorcades and appeared only at a few official events -- Mr. Clinton was clearly reveling in the fact that shoppers, tourists having lunch at outdoor cafes and Italian business people walking to meetings all stopped to greet him.

" 'Isn't this a great city?' he said. Along the streets, people starting yelling 'Bill, Bill, Bill,' and a few shouted 'U.S.A.!' One shopkeeper raced out with a photograph of Mr. Clinton on a past visit. . . .

"He reminisced about his long walking tours of the backstreets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, during the last long foreign trip of his presidency. 'You go around the world and you see a lot of affection for Americans,' he said."

Apparently some Americans are more lovable than others.
See also:
Ezra Klein: End of the Power Line (hat tip: Oliver Willis)
Lapin at Daily Kos: DeLay conspired with Russians against Clinton in 1997
Armando at Daily Kos: What's the matter with Joe Klein?


1:17 pm | link

A Tale of Two Executives
David Ignatius writes about Bush's slump in today's WaPo:
Polls show striking erosion in support for the president and in confidence about the nation's course. An NBC/Wall Street Journal survey released Wednesday found that only 34 percent of those polled felt the country was headed in the right direction, a decline of eight percentage points since the previous survey in February. The president's job approval rating in the NBC/Journal poll had also fallen, to 48 percent from 50 percent in February.
The Bush presidency seems to be sinking like a rock in a pond.
In the L.A.Times, George Skelton writes that something similar appears to be happening to Governor Ahnold.
Fewer than half of Californians now approve of the way the governor is handling his job, a sharp decline since January.

Moreover, people think California has gotten off on the wrong track.

These are the findings of a statewide poll to be released today by the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State. It indicates that the Schwarzenegger luster is fading, especially among Democrats.

Other polls have found the governor to be slipping in popularity and the electorate becoming polarized as he acts more partisan and combative.
And to think a few months ago Republicans were talking about amending the Constitution so that a foreign-born person could be President.
According to Skelton, Californians are growing weary of Schwarzenegger's endless grandstanding.  The Governator's style of dealing with issues is to stage elaborate, gimmicky events to sell his proposals and apply pressure to legislators, rather than just work with the legislators. He's still behaving like the barnstorming political outsider, which is a tough act to pull off when you're the governor. Further, it appears Schwarzenegger made a huge tactical error by taking on the unions for nurses, teachers, firefighters, and police. People need nurses, teachers, firefighters, and police in their daily lives; it's media hog governors they can do without.
On the national stage, Ignatius and other pundits think that Bush's slump can be traced to his handling of Social Security and his widely unpopular intervention in the Terri Schiavo flap. Out-of-control gas prices may also finally be taking a toll, Juan Cole suggests. But Ignatius points to deeper reasons: 

A passive Bush is still waiting for Congress to take the lead on the benefit cuts or tax increases that will be necessary. "If you've got a good idea, we expect you to be at the table. . . . We want to listen to good ideas," the president said last week during a stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That hardly sounds like bold leadership. ...

I asked one of Bush's political advisers recently why the president hadn't worked more closely with congressional leaders to deal with America's serious financial problems. He answered that this president has no interest in dickering with committee chairmen over the details of legislation. Bush is a man of large ambition who wants big, bold victories -- who wants to hit home runs rather than singles and doubles.

To me that's the heart of Bush's problem. He's swinging for the fences, on everything from Iraq to Social Security. But leadership isn't just about soaring rhetoric; it's about responsible stewardship. And in the end, it's about solving problems. Perhaps that's the real reason the president has lost momentum since that remarkable Inauguration Day speech. The country elected him to be a leader, not a barnstormer.

In other words, neither Bush nor Schwarzenegger are real leaders. They just play the role on TV. 
Voters, please note: Both of these guys are good at swagger, bluster, and tough talk, but as candidates for office and as executives they were, and are, light in the accomplishment and experience columns. Are we learning a lesson yet?
Juan Cole writes that Bush "has been teflon in the US in the face of torture, intelligence failures, and gross mismanagement of the country he conquered, apparently because a majority of Americans just doesn't care." Certainly right-wing ideologues don't care about those issues. But imagine if we could, one on one, sit down with non-ideological Americans and talk to them about these issues, without having to scream over the rightie noise machine. I imagine a whopping large number of non-ideological Americans would care about these issues if they understood the facts. The problem is that, short of an armed takeover of "mainstream media" (which, please note, I do not advocate) there's little chance of the unfiltered facts seeping through.
jobsmirking.jpgBut domestic issues are different. The Right may be able to sell swamp water in regard to matters happening on the other side of the globe. But sooner or later most people do notice if the domestic talking points aren't matching up to what they're experiencing in their own lives. Bush can get his picture taken in front of inspirational posters all day long. Sooner or later, folks will realize that their lives are getting harder, not easier.
Over on BOP News, Stirling Newberry notes some of the Bush Administration's most recent accomplishments and proposals: Cuts in housing aid, the prescription drug plan from hell, and billions of dollars in defense overruns. Plenty of money for pork; not a cent for the needs of the people.
In yesterday's WaPo, Dan Froomkin wrote that even House Republicans are getting nervous about the costs of the Bamboozlepalooza tour. The road show is costing taxpayers millions of dollars in jet fuel and staff salaries. And the waste continues, even as everyone but Bush himself, it seems, knows that the privatization scheme is toast.
Meanwhile, the Right's lunatic fundie fringe, which was willing to maintain a (relatively) low profile to help get Bush elected, no longer has a reason to wait for payback. And as Mo Dowd says, "Before, Republicans just scared other people. Now, they're starting to scare themselves." I suspect the Republican Party may soon have to face its own Sister Souljah moment and cut the Religious Right loose in order to reassure mainstream Americans that the GOP isn't really a wholly owned subsidiary of Whackjob, Inc. But what will Karl Rove have to say about that?


11:18 am | link

thursday, april 7, 2005

By now you've heard that Memogate: The Sequel is a bust. The infamous "let's exploit Terri Schiavo for political purposes" memo that the righties were oh, so certain was a forgery was written by the legal counsel of a Republican senator and widely distributed to Repubicans on the Hill.
I don't recall that I blogged about this memo before, as I never saw it as being that big a deal, but not long ago some righties were blowing it up as a five-alarm scandal. For example, Captain Ed wrote on March 23,
This appears to be a coordinated effort to misrepresent the news by ABC, using misleading poll questions and a memo of highly questionable authenticity to cast Republicans in the worst possible light over the Schiavo issue. It smells of another Exempt Media ideologically-based attack, just as the Killian memos formed one during the final weeks of a presidential campaign. However, in this case, a young woman's life is at stake -- apparently a fact that ABC news missed in its zeal to discredit the GOP.
Translation: The righties needed an excuse for the fact that an overwhelming majority of the American people thought the feds should butt out of the Schiavo-Schindler controversy, and this was the best they could come up with.
Today, Captain Ed blames the author of the memo:

Quite frankly, based on the poor presentation of this memo -- with its typographical errors, mislabeled Senate bill number, and the inept political approach it took -- it's difficult to understand why Brian Darling ever got a job in anyone's political office, let alone that of a US Senator. Darling didn't do Martinez or the GOP any favors by staying silent about his role, either. Had he owned up to writing the memo the first day it became controversial, it would have disappeared from the headlines as quickly as it rose. His resignation should really have been rejected; Martinez should have insisted on firing him instead.

You can see the memo yourself here. Captain Ed says the bill number at the top is wrong--it should be S.539, not S.529--and I would have changed the punctuation in spots, but I've never yet met a lawyer who could punctuate worth a darn. Other than that, it seems lucid enough to me.
And Michelle Malkin is just quivering with indignation that anyone could have imagined she claimed the memo was fake. But never fear; MalkinWatch is here.
Update: OK, there's one other error in the memo -- the late Mrs. Schiavo's name is "Teri" on first mention, instead of "Terri." Errors like this do not "prove" that something is a forgery, however. They only prove something was cranked out in a rush and distributed without proofreading.
Update update: Bia Billmon, AMERICAblog chronicles the Wingnut Follies.


10:23 am | link

wednesday, april 6, 2005

I Can't Take It Any More
I call your attention to the transcript of yesterday's Abrams Report on MSNBC. You can read the entire thing here, or if you want to skip Michael Jackson and go to the really juicy stuff, go here.
Yesterday Dan Abrams interviewed a Republican congressman from Texas named  John Culberson regarding the infamous quote from Sen. John Cronyn, Texas, about judges:
We seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that‘s been on the news, and I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence. 
Dan Abrams thought this quote was outrageous, as it was. But I want to just review some of the excuses made by Congressman Culberson. For example, this part:
CULBERSON:  Judges are supposed to be interpreters of the law.  Their responsibility as Alexander Hamilton said, the president holds the sword, the Congress holds the purse, and the judiciary in Hamilton‘s opinion essentially had no power whatsoever.  He considered them the weakest branch because all they could do is interpret the law.  And over the years as a result of the not only the War Between the States, but reconstruction, the new deal, all powers become concentrated...
Let's take a look at what Hamilton really said. This is from Federalist # 78 (emphasis added):

According to the plan of the convention, all judges who may be appointed by the United States are to hold their offices DURING GOOD BEHAVIOR; which is conformable to the most approved of the State constitutions and among the rest, to that of this State. Its propriety having been drawn into question by the adversaries of that plan, is no light symptom of the rage for objection, which disorders their imaginations and judgments. The standard of good behavior for the continuance in office of the judicial magistracy, is certainly one of the most valuable of the modern improvements in the practice of government. In a monarchy it is an excellent barrier to the despotism of the prince; in a republic it is a no less excellent barrier to the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body. And it is the best expedient which can be devised in any government, to secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of the laws.

Whoever attentively considers the different departments of power must perceive, that, in a government in which they are separated from each other, the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them. The Executive not only dispenses the honors, but holds the sword of the community. The legislature not only commands the purse, but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society; and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments.

This simple view of the matter suggests several important consequences. It proves incontestably, that the judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power1; that it can never attack with success either of the other two; and that all possible care is requisite to enable it to defend itself against their attacks. It equally proves, that though individual oppression may now and then proceed from the courts of justice, the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter; I mean so long as the judiciary remains truly distinct from both the legislature and the Executive. For I agree, that "there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers."2 And it proves, in the last place, that as liberty can have nothing to fear from the judiciary alone, but would have every thing to fear from its union with either of the other departments; that as all the effects of such a union must ensue from a dependence of the former on the latter, notwithstanding a nominal and apparent separation; that as, from the natural feebleness of the judiciary, it is in continual jeopardy of being overpowered, awed, or influenced by its co-ordinate branches; and that as nothing can contribute so much to its firmness and independence as permanency in office, this quality may therefore be justly regarded as an indispensable ingredient in its constitution, and, in a great measure, as the citadel of the public justice and the public security.

The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution. By a limited Constitution, I understand one which contains certain specified exceptions to the legislative authority; such, for instance, as that it shall pass no bills of attainder, no ex-post-facto laws, and the like. Limitations of this kind can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing.

In other words, the congressman was utterly and totally misrepresenting what Hamilton said. (But what else is new?) Hamilton is very clear that the judiciary must remain independent of the legislative branch, and that any attempts by the legislators to control the courts must be resisted.
Also note the part about it being the duty of the medium courts of justice to "declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void." Looks like an endorsement of judicial review to me.
Back to the transcript:
CULBERSON: I think judges have an obligation to respect the law passed by Congress, the people‘s representatives, debate, and then pass legislation that the judiciary is obligated to honor and obey...

ABRAMS:  So they should just...

CULBERSON:  ... unless...

ABRAMS:  ... they should approve it all?  They should approve it all?

CULBERSON:  ... unless there‘s a specific violation of a very specific provision of the Constitution and that power is left up to the Supreme Court alone.  When it comes to district judges, the appellate courts, all of those judges draw their existence, their power and authority from the United States Congress period. 

When I heard this quote yesterday, I thought that at least the wingnuts should get their stories straight. The standard Freeper argument is that no branch of the judiciary has the right of judicial review, and that the Marbury v. Madison decision of 1803 marked the beginning of the judicial tyranny that oppresses all of us.  
Of course, the Constitution doesn't say bleep about judges drawing their "power and authority" from Congress. Congress has the authority to create federal courts as needed, and Congress can make regulations about stuff like appellate jurisdictions and how judgments are executed, but I believe that's it. Article III of the Constitution vests "the judicial power" in "one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." Congressman Culberson is just plain wrong.
I saved the best for last. Here's the ending of the interview:

CULBERSON:  ... You wonder why we haven‘t had any constitutional amendments in so many years, I think it‘s because the United States Supreme Court and our judiciary have taken it upon themselves to just simply amend the Constitution by a majority opinion.  And that is wrong and the Congress and the people need to pass laws.  We need I think all of us working with state legislators, the Congress and the state legislators through the legal process passing statutes...

ABRAMS:  Well...

CULBERSON:  ... through litigation and finally through a constitutional amendment such as the one I‘m proposing...


CULBERSON:  ... to limit the power of judges and make them accountable... 

ABRAMS:  Look...

CULBERSON:  ... and responsible.

ABRAMS:  ... I say you want to appoint more conservative judges, go for it...

CULBERSON:  You bet.

ABRAMS:  ... but the...

CULBERSON:  ... the Democrats and Ted Kennedy...

ABRAMS:  ... go for it, but the idea of the Congress getting involved in trying to restrict any judge‘s power, I don‘t care what their belief is, et cetera, I think is so dangerous.  But...

CULBERSON:  Well the president...

ABRAMS:  ... final 20 seconds...

CULBERSON:  ... I‘d say President Bush, the Congress, the people have spoken.  They want our president to be able to point to judges who reflect his will, and that is interpret and don‘t make law from the bench and the Senate needs to approve the president‘s judges and the judges need to respect the laws we pass. 

We don't need no steenking separation of powers ...
Dan Abrams is relatively innocuous compared to most of the other clowns on MSNBC, but one does wish he would have interviewed an actual constitutional scholar instead of an idiot. I can't blame him entirely, however, since scholars are so boooooring to most people. Idiots are better for ratings.


7:43 pm | link

Maybe They'll Like Us Better Now
Americans are asking, why do they hate us?  They hate what we see right here in this chamber -- a democratically elected government.  Their leaders are self-appointed.  They hate our freedoms -- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other. [President George W. Bush, address to Congress, September 20, 2001]
The speech quoted above may have been Bush's finest moment as President. It really was a good speech. And, looking at this speech and at the policies his Administration has pursued since, I think I'm catching on to his greater purpose.
If it's true that terrorists attack us because they hate our freedoms -- that doesn't make sense to me, but then I'm not a terrorist -- then it stands to reason we'd be much safer if we weren't so free! At least, that must be what Bush is thinking, right? Surely, whatever he does must be for our own good (wink, nudge).
Kevin Hayden has a couple of examples of The Plan in action over on American Street. For example, the Bushies (via flunkies in the National Archives and Records Administration) canceled a forum on Social Security to be held at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park. Organized by a coalition of women's groups (the National Council of Women's Organizations) that claim a combined membership of 10 million, the forum was meant to be a nonpartisan discussion of the effects of personal accounts on women. Two Republican members of Congress were invited to participate, but they declined.
NARA nixied the forum under provisions of the Hatch Act, which restricts political activity by government employees. As near as I can tell, the "public employee" involved is NARA itself. NARA seems to have decided that citizens and taxpayers cannot use government facilities for political purposes. Makes one wonder what government facilities are supposed to be for, if not political purposes.

“In keeping with the Bush administration’s determination to quash anyone who disagrees with them, federal agencies now consider it partisan to hold any opinion that is not identical to the president’s,” National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy said in a prepared statement. The group is a member of the council.

Seems to me this provision should apply to the Bamboozlepalooza Tour, which is paid for by taxpayer money.
I guess freedom of speech and assembly and disagreeing with each other is only all right up to a point, but we have to be careful not to let it get out of hand, huh? And don't get me started on the voting thing.
Kevin also notes here that the Bush administration has used the Patriot Act’s powers to listen to cell phone conversations and examine business records 84 times in 3½ years. Notes Kevin,

He [Alberto Gonzales] has yet to explain how court oversight of warrants existing before the Patriot Act hinders the war on terrorism, other than how the Act frees the government from having to demonstrate probable cause that a crime’s been committed.

And since he now lumps murder and drug offense searches together with terrorism-related searches, clearly the intent of the provisions has been exceeded by these practices.

Our rights are being stripped away without an accounting of any actual gains versus uses that proved to be empty fishing expeditions. Should we trust the co-author of the torture memos with extra powers at the cost of our rights? Should we trust an administration to use this law properly with its track record of flawed intelligence gathering and manipulation?

Via the Daou Report, here's a libertarian blogger who may have caught on that conservatives really don't like liberty all that much.
That’s right, folks.  If you put a boobie on TV or say the f-word on radio you’re going to have the awesome might of the behemoth federal government criminally prosecuting you for doing so.  Some of you Republicans out there, please explain to me how this isn’t an oppressive use of government force to threaten people into following a certain moral code (i.e. one dictated by conservative Republicans).
I don't remember exactly when I started running into self-described "libertarians" and "conservatives" who believed conservatives supported freedom but liberals were all about censorship and oppression. At first I assumed I had stumbled into the Twilight Zone. Later I came to realize that the wingers felt oppressed by people who disapproved of their bigotries. As Ampersand pointed out recently, wingers as a whole can't distinguish between disapproval and censorship.

A lot of the argument there seems to come down to the mysterious conservative belief that anyone has a right to a life free from criticism, and if they ever are criticized that’s the same as censorship. It’s the ultimate in entitlement politics, I think.

If you are old enough to remember the late 1960s, you might remember that all the attempts at censorship, like shutting down the touring company of the musical "Hair" or banning Catcher in the Rye from public libararies, always came from conservatives. And this has been true throughout American history, going back to the Alien and Sedition acts.
In the 1960s, liberals more often were the ones arguing for no censorship at all, including of pornography, although I'm personally happy if displays of pornographic literature are kept under the counter, thank you very much. But defense of freedom to publish is, I assume, what got us pegged as perverts by fellows like the guy who wants to expel 12 states from the Union --
...liberals promote the only other subjects with which they feel conversationally comfortable: Obscenity and sexual perversion. It's as if the genes of liberals have rendered them immune to all forms of filth.
Clearly, I am not being invited to the really good parties. But the point is that we liberals are simultaneously slammed for being in favor of and opposed to limits on freedom of speech at the same time. We can't win.  
But at least, at the rate we're going, pretty soon we won't have to worry that terrorists hate our freedoms.  


11:02 am | link

tuesday, april 5, 2005

Wrapping Themselves in the Dead
This week the Right suddenly loves the late Pope. I don't know how many news stories I've seen about how "President" Bush and Pope John Paul II had a "special bond." No fair, I say, now that His Holiness can't defend himself.
But wait, what's this? Think Progress remembers that, back in 2003, Sean Hannity called His Holiness a "wild-eyed liberal looney," and Bill O'Reilly called His Holiness a "Saddam enabler," "naive and detatched from reality," and compared John Paul's disapproval of the Iraq War with Pope Pius XII's enabling of Hitler.
Of course, now they're tripping all over themselves talking about what a great guy ol' John Paul was.
How can they live with themselves? Hannity and O'Reilly must have no conscience at all.


9:12 pm | link

This Is Who We Are, Part III


A few days ago I happened upon an essay that said,


Russell Kirk argued in The Conservative Mind that most radical event in American history, was actually a conservative counterrevolution against British empirical governmental innovations.


After reading this it took me a few hours to recover. Then I went scooting about the Web looking for the argument in question. And here it is, on page 6 of the book The Conservative Mind as presented in PDF form on Amazon:


Conscious conservatism, in the modern sense, did not manifest itself until 1790, with the publication of Reflections on the Revolution in France. In that year the prophetic powers of Burke fixed in the public consciousness, for the first time, the opposing poles of conservation and innovation. The Carmagnole announced the opening of our era, and the smoky energy of coal and steam in the north of England was the signal for another revolution. If one attempts to trace conservative ideas back to an earlier time in Britain, soon he is enmeshed in Whiggery, Toryism, and intellectual antiquarianism; for the modern issues, though earlier taking substance, were not yet distinct. Nor does the American struggle between conservatives and radicals become intense until Citizen Genêt and Tom Paine transport across the Atlantic the enthusiasm for French liberty: the American Revolution, substantially, had been a conservative reaction, in the English political tradition, against royal innovation.   


This was my introduction to Russell Kirk (1918-1994), and I don’t want to be too hard on him because I don’t know him very well and, since he is deceased, he’s not able to defend himself. But he seems to be leaving out a lot.


Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, which sold 150,000 copies in 1776, pushed three major themes: the superiority of a republican form of government over a monarchy; equality of rights among all citizens, and the significance of the American Revolution. In 1776, those were revolutionary ideas.


Republicanism was not a new idea, as the Romans had thought of it some time ago. Also, in the 18th century there were republican governments in The Netherlands and in the city-states of Italy and Switzerland. But 18th century conventional wisdom said that republican governments – sovereign states ruled by elected representatives of the people -- were weak and fragile and couldn’t be sustained in a large nation. Monarchies, on the other hand, provided strength and stability.


And the Rights of Man, the notion that humans have rights by virtue of being human, had been kicking around in one form or another since ancient Greece. But for most of history “human rights” had no place in the lives of most people. Outside of the debates of philosophers, many generations of common people had no rights that governments, or the nobility, were bound to respect.


Set against the philosophy of human rights (or “natural rights” in its earlier form) was the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings. This doctrine said that monarchs ruled by the grace of God and were accountable only to God. Through most of European history, the Divine Right doctrine was far more deeply entrenched than ivory-tower philosophies about natural rights. It is my understanding that in the 18th century the British were less absolutist about the Divine Right of Kings than the French were. Still, conventional wisdom of the time said that, Switzerland et al. excepted, people could not govern themselves. A nation could only be properly led by a monarch.


Thus, when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, the part about “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” he was drawing on a philosophical tradition going back to the Greeks. But the next sentence – “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” was far more radical. This was no “conservative reaction” to anything. This is pure and unadulterated liberalism.


The central point of the American Revolution is this: Our forefathers set out to prove that people in a large nation could govern themselves. Europe remained skeptical. When the Civil War broke out 85 years after the Declaration, Europe was still skeptical. As the American republic split between north and south, the European nobility nudged itself and said, yep. We knew it all along. Those unwashed peasants just can’t get along without a monarch. (And, while the U.S. was occupied with its little dustup, a pack of European royalty financed the military takeover of Mexico and the installation of Maximilian I as emperor. This was for Mexico's own good, they said.)


Today it is little appreciated that, had the Union broken apart in 1865, the eventual victory of republicanism over monarchism would likely have been set back several generations. But Lincoln understood that, ultimately, the cause of preserving the Union was the cause of the American Revolution – to prove that people in a large nation could govern themselves, without a king. It’s all there in the Gettysburg Address.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. … It is for us the living … to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us … that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

(You may remember that Gary Wills wrote about the importance Lincoln placed on the Declaration in his book Lincoln at Gettysburg. Highly recommended.)


I contend that this is the bedrock of political liberalism: The belief that people can govern themselves, and that through representative government people can work together to effect systemic improvement in their condition.


Thus, government can be a means for good. And, by means of the government established and institutionalized by the Constitution, we, the people, can work together to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. And, not coincidentally, form a more perfect Union.


Compare/contrast with the axiom of contemporary conservatism: Government can’t solve the problem; it is the problem.


The bedrock of contemporary conservatism is the belief that the Founding Fathers were wrong, and that republican government does not work. Plain fact. And it's way past time the Right was called to account for this.


8:32 pm | link

This Is Who We Are, Part II
Awhile back I got into an argument with this conservative/libertarian blogger about the "organizing principle" of liberalism. He argued that liberalism doesn't have an organizing principle or "coherent shared value." I fail to see that conservatism has an "organizing principle" other than hating liberals, but maybe that's enough.
Brooks said roughly the same thing in his column today:
Conservatives fell into the habit of being acutely conscious of their intellectual forebears and had big debates about public philosophy. That turned out to be important: nobody joins a movement because of admiration for its entitlement reform plan. People join up because they think that movement's views about human nature and society are true.

Liberals have not had a comparable public philosophy debate. A year ago I called the head of a prominent liberal think tank to ask him who his favorite philosopher was. If I'd asked about health care, he could have given me four hours of brilliant conversation, but on this subject he stumbled and said he'd call me back. He never did.

Liberals are less conscious of public philosophy because modern liberalism was formed in government, not away from it. In addition, liberal theorists are more influenced by post-modernism, multiculturalism, relativism, value pluralism and all the other influences that dissuade one from relying heavily on dead white guys.

As a result, liberals are good at talking about rights, but not as good at talking about a universal order.

There's some truth here, and some fallacies also. For example, as Mark Schmitt writes,

Finally, I would be remiss if I totally honored my promise, and did not bash Brooks on one point: He declares triumphantly that he called up the head of a liberal think tank and asked who his "favorite philosopher" was, and got a promise of a call back later which never came. Aha! Those liberals don't think about philosophy!

But is it really a measure of deep thinking to have a "favorite philosopher"? It reminds me of the argument going on in my household right now about whether everyone should have a favorite color. (My wife, it seems, has no fixed favorite, although my daughter would desperately like to persuade her to join her on the green team, having lost me to blue.)

Here's an intriguing snip from Brooks:
... nobody joins a movement because of admiration for its entitlement reform plan. People join up because they think that movement's views about human nature and society are true.
But liberalism isn't a movement, is it? Or at least, it hasn't been a movement for a very long time. It's more of a guiding principle, if not an organizing one, but we seem to have forgotten what that principle was. I'll get to that in a minute.
There really are more than two kinds of people (for example, in opera companies there are three kinds of people: men, women, and tenors). But if we had to sort humanity into two kinds of people, we might sort them into people who look outside themselves for some kind of salvation, and people who don't. Put me in the latter group. Mr. Conservative/Libertarian Blogger linked above seems to think that everybody's supposed to report to somebody to get his existence ticket validated, which doesn't strike me as a terribly libertarian point of view.  
 And above all else, I do NOT look to an ideology or philosophy or "guiding princple" to come up with a "universal order." Get away with me about universal order, unless you are a theoretical physicist. I understand the quantum guys are working on a grand unifying theory, and that's, well, grand. But when you're talking about human behavior and societies and institutions, my "universal order" is that there isn't one. People are infinitately complex and chaotic, and human behavior generally is illogical and unpredictable. And that's how I like it.
This brings me to why I'm not a libertarian, even though I value liberty as much as anybody. Libertarianism, and especially the Ayn Randian/objectivist libertarianism, could function in the real world only if most people behave logically and in their own best interests. Hah. Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.
Most people sleepwalk through their lives, stumbling away from things that seem frightening and toward things that seem desirable, and they are utterly unaware of the forces bubbling away in their own psyches that create fear and desire. When people really act in their own best interests, it's usually by accident.
However, I think people need to stumble and bump around as much as possible, as long as they aren't hurting anybody else, because that's how we wake up. And that's why I really, really, really hate all forms of authoritarianism, and most especially religious authoritarianism. Because, whenever you accept a dogma as the Truth, you've given up on learning anything.
That's why people who hang big ideological labels on themselves, whether "conservative" or "libertarian" or even "liberal," get invested in proving their ideology is the best one and all the others are less worthy, and before long you are flapping around squawking about "organzing principles" and obsessing over how awful it is that those poor liberals don't have one.
Anyway, more often than not people join movements or churches or stamp collectors' clubs or anything else because of existential angst, whether we admit it or not. In fact, if you are self-aware enough that you admit to your own existential angst, you're probably reaching a point at which you aren't running away from it any more and don't feel a big urge to be a joiner, or to hang labels on yourself to justify your existence.
And that's what I have to say about movements.
But back to liberalism as a guiding principle. I'm not sure what Brooks means when he says "Liberals are less conscious of public philosophy because modern liberalism was formed in government, not away from it." But having given it a lot of thought, I'd say liberalism is the principle that people can live as equals and govern themselves. And by "governing themselves" I do mean in a collective sense, as in
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The Founders committed an act of wanton liberalism when they wrote the Constitution. Granted, they didn't include a philosophical argument about self-government within the Constitution. They just wrote the thing, and the principle that guided all of them was that people could govern themselves. They didn't need a monarch, or an aristocracy, or a plutocracy, or a party, or even George W. Bush standing over the people, governing them.
We, the People, through the instrument of the Constitution, govern ourselves. And, over time, we've been working out the equality thing, too, although it hasn't been easy.
I will elaborate in Part III.


3:49 pm | link

This Is Who We Are, Part I
Over the past several weeks I've been thinking hard about the left-right political divide, as I'm writing a book it. So I've been soaking up arguments and analysis, history and sociology and philosophy.
One of the most common dichotomies mouthed on both Left and Right these days -- although mostly on the Right -- is that conservatives know who they are and what they stand for, whereas liberals do not. I agree that American liberalism lost consensus and cohesion a while back, so in a sense it's true that liberals as a group don't know who they are and what they stand for, but I don't think conservatives do, either. I just think they've done a better job of bullshitting themselves that they do.  
In today's New York Times, Bobo the Cabbage writes,
Conservatives have not triumphed because they have built a disciplined and efficient message machine. Conservatives have thrived because they are split into feuding factions that squabble incessantly. As these factions have multiplied, more people have come to call themselves conservatives because they've found one faction to agree with.
If that's so, why wouldn't it be true for liberalism as well? As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, in the 1970s liberalism splintered into myriad issue-advocacy factions competing with each other for attention and funds. So why were't liberals able to maintain cohesion as a meta-faction, as Brooks says conservatives have? Why didn't people call themselves liberals because they'd found one faction to agree with?
If anything, it should have been easier for liberals than for conservatives to hang together, so to speak.  My impression is that most of the feuding and squabbling goes on within liberal factions, not between them. On the whole, for example, feminists don't disagree with the goals of the environmentalists or racial minorities. Why can't we all just get along?
I think the glue (or solvent, as the case may be) can be expressed in one word: identity.
The old liberal consensus fell apart as liberals were sucked into identity politics, defined by Wikipedia as 
the politics of group-based movements claiming to represent the interests and identity of a particular group, rather than policy issues relating to all members of the community. The group identity may be based on ethnicity, class, religion, sex, sexuality or other criteria.
In the early 1970s Gloria Steinem made a sincere effort to bring the feminist and African American civil rights movements together, I remember. She and an African American woman (I regret I don't remember her name) went on a joint college-campus speaking tour and presented the case that the fight for civil rights was everyone's fight, and we should all be working together as one big movement. Of course they were right, but nothing came of the effort. I suspect this was partly because the leaders of the varous factions were unwilling to share power. "Liberal" faded as a meaningful identity.
Yet, all manner of people who in some cases have conflicting ideologies--consider, for example the small-government libertarians and the very authoritarian "values" crew--identify themselves as "conservative." I believe there are two causes for this.
The most obvious cause has to do with the rise of mass media in mid-20th century and the way the Right has brilliantly exploited that resource to keep the troops together. This has been especially true since the Reagan era, when all pretense of a "fairness doctrine" was dropped, and media outlets could be as biased as they wanted to be. As a result, a big chunk of American citizenry is continually steeped in media messages that cultivate and reinforce an identity with and of conservatism.
I have a little bit of a marketing background, but I don't think you need to be a professional to know that marketing has an impact on people. It's pretty basic that repetition drives a message into people's consciousness. And what is going on around us, on the radio, on TV, in the newspapers, and from the Right's politicians is repetition. Coordinated repetition of strategic messages.

In most parts of the country there is NO OTHER SOURCE OF INFORMATION. The public is saturated with right-wing messaging from radio, Fox News, and right-wing local newspapers. ...
There are a lot of people listening to this stuff. When you only have limited sources of information and everyone around you is in agreement on certain points, it's hard to resist joining them. Most people are not newshounds. They form their opinions based on hearing a few filtered news items, and from a sense of what most people around them are thinking. For example, everyone has heard about the woman who spilled coffee on herself and sued and got rich, and thinks there are too many lawsuits. This story is a flat-out lie, intentionally spread to further a right-wing agenda, but it is accepted as fact by almost everyone in this country. This is an example of manipulation of an information-poor environment to generate conventional wisdom. THIS is what is going on out there in America. Marketing professionals know how this works and know how to use it. When your message is repeated to a distracted public without opposition, your product sells.
Dave quoted an article by Tom Hartmann that's a must-read on this topic. I'll just quote this one little bit--

The result of conservatives buying their way into our airwaves has been a conservative transformation in average Americans' political viewpoints. Soccer Moms and NASCAR Dads tune in to coast-to-coast, dawn-to-midnight conservative talk radio, and many have come to believe the right's slogans and myths.

--but do read the whole thing.
It's particularly revealing, IMO, that support for conservatism is so much stronger in rural than in urban areas. There could be many causes for this, but one obvious cause is, as Dave Johnson said above, that in big chunks of rural America there are no other sources of information but those given to spewing out messages from the Right. In urban areas there are more choices. City dwellers can tune out the rightie noise machine without swearing off radio and television altogether.
Liberals don't have an organized, nationwide media campaign aimed at them 24/7 telling them to be a liberal. Liberals get no reinforcement or approval for holding a liberal identity. It may be that in some special environments, such as college campuses, liberals still get some reinforcement. As I haven't been in college since sometime before the Jurrasic Age, I wouldn't know. But if that's true, the reinforcement dissipates right after graduation.
So, one cause for cohesive conservative identity is media reinforcement. The other cause is a little harder to explain, but may be the stronger of the two.
In some typically brilliant posts written in February, Digby laid out the case that what's really holding conservatives together is a tribal identity based on resentment and defensiveness. I'm not going to repeat Digby's arguments, as you can read them here. Matt Stoller joins in with this explanation, which is both deep and elegant. Must read entire post. But here's just a snip:
As long as individuals can stand up outside of the tribe and claim Americanism as their own, the right is revealed as weak, because it is their own lies about themselves that they cannot stand. Proof in the form of our existence is enough to make them angry. This is why, as Digby wonders, they keep getting madder as they keep gaining power. They are not really after a conservative agenda in terms of policy; they are not even after power, really. They are after a complete and utter subjugation of the American consciousness to their tribal mentality. And they will not stop until they get it. Hence, the culture wars. And now, the real wars. And unfortunately, I don't think they are done.
And Digby writes (link above),
This explains why the dependence on hyper-religiosity (and the cloak of social protection it provides) along with the fervent embrace of "moral values" is so important despite the obvious fact that Republicans are no more "moral" in any sense of the word than any other group of humans. It explains the utopian martial nationalism. And although that map shows that the regional divide is still quite relevant (and why the slave states fought for the Electoral College at the convention) it explains why this culture has now manifested itself as a matter of political identity throughout much of the country. Wherever resentment resides in the human character it can find a home in the Republican Party. This anger and frustration stems from a long nurtured sense of cultural besiegement, which they are finding can never be dealt with through the attainment of power alone. They seek approval.
I repeat that these quotes don't do the arguments justice, and it's important to read the entire posts. Any commenter to this blog who disagrees with the quotes but who clearly hasn't read the entire arguments will be summarily snarked
I have more to say about conservative cohesion and cognitive dissonance and principles and other stuff, but it will have to wait for later today.


7:58 am | link

monday, april 4, 2005

The Hoover Thing
While looking for something else, I stumbled on this review of Tom Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas? from a conservative web journal. The reviewer, James Nuechterlein, disagreed with most of what Frank wrote. I was struck by this part of the review:
For those of us who grew up in a political America in which Democrats dominated Congress as a matter of course, it is stunning to note that Democrats are today numerically weaker in the House than they have been since the days of Harry Truman and in the Senate since before the Great Depression.

I cannot claim that I foresaw all this at the time. But there was a small moment that struck me then and that in retrospect grows in significance. It was a few days before the 1968 election, and the polls showed Hubert Humphrey trailing Nixon. Humphrey gave the kind of finishing speech that all Democratic candidates, especially those in trouble, had been giving since the days of Franklin Roosevelt: vote for the Republicans and you’re back to unemployment, bread lines, and general economic disaster. In its familiarity, the speech hardly registered with me. But the next morning I ran into a student at the university where I was teaching who was quite perplexed. He was basically of liberal persuasion, but as a child of the prosperous postwar era he was at a loss concerning Humphrey’s argument. “What was that stuff about Herbert Hoover all about?” he wondered.

That was for me a revelatory moment. For young people, at least, the Depression no longer mattered, and this had obvious implications for the long-term development of American politics.

Nuechterlein has a point here, although not exactly the one he thinks he is making. 1968 was that wonderful year of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, mob violence in Memphis, Martin Luther King's assassination, Robert Kennedy's assassination, increased troop numbers in Vietnam, the Prague Spring and subsequent Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, plus "Hey Jude" and "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay."

So, no, we Boomers weren't thinking much about Herbert Hoover. Although considering the protests of the Democratic Convention, it's astonishing to me that Mr. Nuechterlein hadn't already noticed that young people were a tad estranged from the Democratic Party at the time.

Most of us Boomers who were white and middle class had grown up in a world of economic stability and had enjoyed our parents' steadily increasing prosperity. Of course, the old folks had TOLD us about the Depression; we'd had it up to HERE about the Depression. Jeez, did they ever get OVER the Depression? But we didn't think that experience related to us because the causes of the Depression had been eliminated by FDR. Old News. No, we were worked up about Vietnam, Civil Rights, and Women's Lib, plus the Rolling Stones and Marvin Gaye.

Did I mention we had become accustomed to our parents' increasing affluence?

Nuechterlein continues,

If memories of the 1930s would no longer determine political outcomes, what would? ... Indeed, foreign-policy issues for the moment aside, it is not too much to say that the Democrats’ current electoral dilemma boils down to this: their old economic issues no longer work, and on cultural issues they lose.

Just about every sentence in this review contains an observation I think is downright screwy, but I'm going to focus on just this part. In 1968, we Boomers weren't too worried about economic issues (I don't believe our parents were, either) because the problems of the past had been solved. Within the framework of economic security built by the New Deal, individuals could still lose, but if they did, generally (we believed) it was their own fault. The system itself did not cause people to lose, or at least it didn't cause the white majority to lose.

Further, liberals eventually would succeed in reducing many social problems. The worst and most egregious aspects of our institutional racism were nearly eliminated, for example. Notice that the punditcracy today doesn't talk much about race as a "cultural" issue. That certainly wasn't true 40 years ago.

Just after I saw Mr. Nuechterlein's review, I read this news story in today's Los Angeles Times.

Terri MATTHEWS, a teacher's aide in East Palo Alto, spends $613 a month for her family's health insurance — 24% of her take-home pay. Rather than go without coverage, she skimps on other needs; her heat has been turned off twice in the last year and she recently had to drop her car insurance.

Peggy McPhee, a 52-year-old bridal dressmaker in Santa Rosa, spends more than a quarter of her salary on health insurance. She's recently given up her cellphone, buys clothing only at garage sales and no longer turns on her heat in the winter.

Ron Dybas, of Los Banos, chose to close his lumber company two months ago after 17 years in business. He says he took a job with a company that offers benefits after he no longer could afford to spend nearly a third of his income insuring his family.

Such sacrifices for health insurance are far from rare. As employees continue to absorb more of their healthcare costs, an increasing number of people — even healthy ones — are drastically altering their lives simply to hold on to their insurance. They are delaying homeownership, putting off saving for their children's education, or otherwise sacrificing their financial security to guard against a catastrophic medical bill.

Bread lines, here we come.

Back in 1968, my parents didn't worry much about paying for their medical insurance or catastrophic bills. My dad belonged to the AFL-CIO; my Ma was a nursing instructor and got state teachers' benefits. Even in our little Ozark Mountain community we got the best health care, especially since Ma knew every doctor in the county. (And when the local specialists didn't suit her, we'd drive up to St. Louis.) My dad's Union benefits would see them through the rest of their lives and provide first-rate care through their final illnesses.

Those days are gone. Thanks to the piece-by-piece dismantling of New Deal protections, we're sliding backward to The Way Things Were in the Hoover Administration. Middle class people are losing ground. Many families are a paycheck away from disaster.
Of course, the Dems can't respond to our current reality by making speeches about Herbert Hoover. To a lot of Americans, Hoover was just a guy they named a dam after. But there's got to be a way we can break through the Republican Noise Machine and get Americans to understand that providing a framework of stability is a legitimate role for government. And by a framework of stability we don't mean "handouts," but policies that reduce risks for working, wage-earning people, so that they don't have to feel they're walking a tightrope just to keep their homes or have access to a doctor.
In 1968, America had such a framework, which is why young people didn't worry about Herbert Hoover. So, just how thick does somebody (like Mr. Nuechterlein) have to be not to understand that?


4:30 pm | link

sunday, april 3, 2005

Help Wanted
If anyone out there has the time and inclination to figure out stuff involving numbers, I need to know what percentage of the total U.S. population lives in these twelves states:
California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, and Delaware.
That's one perentage for the group, not the percentage represented in each state.
I'm asking because some whackjob wants to expel these states from the Union, and I'm making a point about this in something I'm writing. Thanks much.


11:20 am | link

Sunday Nooz
If I had supternatural powers, every rightie blogger who is whining that Terri Schindler was cremated against the wishes of her family would be struck by lightning. Husbands are family, my dears.
Michael Schiavo wisely has made certain the body of his wife won't be exhumed, legally or illegally, for more examinations by who knows how many quacks, or that pieces of her will never be auctioned off on eBay. And now the Schindlers and Randall Terry and the rest of the clowns can't set up the circus tent in the cemetery.
Let's be clear: The Schindlers themselves are the ones who made cremation necessary.
And Randall Terry hasn't had this much attention for years, so I expect him to take his act on the road to exploit Terri Schiavo as long as she can be exploited. Thanks loads, Schindlers. Two bolts of lightning at you.
(Note to any passing rightie who complains about my lack of compassion for the Schindlers. Remember Rachel Corrie? Remember how "compassionate" you were to her parents when she died? Remember the "St. Rachel Corrie of the Pancakes" jokes? I do. So don't try to pull a "holier than thou" act with me.)
I think John Paul II was a fine man who deserves better than to have Peggy Noonan drooling on about him for hours on end. But it would be a good thing for the planet if the next pope were a tad more progressive. Another John XXIII would be nice, IMO.
Today's must-read op ed is Michael Kinsley's "More GOP Than the GOP" in the Los Angeles Times. Or, in it's WaPo incarnation, "Democratic Superiority by the Numbers." Clip & Save this one, folks.
Our text today is the statistical tables of the 2005 Economic Report of the President. I did this exercise a while back with the 2004 tables and couldn't quite believe the results. But the 2005 data confirm it: The party with the best record of serving Republican economic values is the Democrats. It isn't even close.
The pattern that has prevailed for the past 45 years:
Federal spending has been lower during Democratic administrations. A lot lower. $35 billion a year under Democratic presidents and $60 billion under Republicans.
Tax revenues go up under both parties, but only about half as fast under Republicans. But, says Kinsley,
Spending goes up faster under Republican presidents than under Democratic ones. And the economy grows faster under Democrats than Republicans. What grows faster under Republicans is debt.
Under Republican presidents since 1960, the federal deficit has averaged $131 billion a year. Under Democrats, that figure is $30 billion. In an average Republican year the deficit has grown by $36 billion. In the average Democratic year it has shrunk by $25 billion. The national debt has gone up more than $200 billion a year under Republican presidents and less than $100 billion a year under Democrats.
And on it goes. You can look at per capita income, inflation rates, whatever -- Dems are better.

See also David Broder, "The Heat Is On the GOP."


8:39 am | link

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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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[Mark Twain, 1905]

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