The Mahablog: Truth and the Bush Administration

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saturday, april 23, 2005

Andrew Sullivan notices that conservatives are confused.
Conservatism isn't over. But it has rarely been as confused. Today's conservatives support limited government. But they believe the federal government can intervene in a state court's decisions in a single family's struggle over life and death. They believe in restraining government spending. But they have increased such spending by a mind-boggling 33 percent in a mere four years. They believe in self-reliance. But they have just passed the most expensive new entitlement since the heyday of Great Society liberalism: the Medicare prescription-drug benefit. They believe that foreign policy is about the pursuit of national interest and that the military should be used only to fight and win wars. Yet they have embarked on an extraordinarily ambitious program of military-led nation-building in the Middle East. They believe in states' rights, but they want to amend the Constitution to forbid any state from allowing civil marriage or equivalent civil unions for gay couples. They believe in free trade. But they have imposed tariffs on a number of industries, most famously steel. They believe in balanced budgets. But they have abandoned fiscal discipline and added a cool trillion dollars to the national debt in one presidential term. 
This is all the same stuff every bleeping keyboarder of the Left Blogosphere has been raving about lo these past four years. A little slow, there, Andy. But it gets better.

One reason for conservatism's endurance in the face of such contradiction, of course, is the extreme weakness--intellectual and organizational--of the opposition.

Right; if conservatism is screwed up, it's liberalism's fault. Everything is our fault, you know. I bet we even kidnapped the Lindbergh baby. In fact, since the beginning of time, liberals have yearned to destroy the sun.

Liberalism ceased being a vibrant force in the American public weal two decades ago. The left never recovered from the collapse of communism, the dismal failure of social democracy across Western Europe, and the demise of Japan's command economy in the 1980s.

Considering that liberalism fell apart as a movement in the 1970s, I can't see how the fall of communism in the 1980s affected it much, either way. The degree to which social democracy across Western Europe is a "dismal failure" is a debatable point. And I am genuinely baffled about Andy's link of "Japan's command economy" to liberalism. Hello? Dots to connect? Anywhere?  

Domestically, a liberal claim on the presidency never recovered from Jimmy Carter and the first two years of Bill Clinton. Conservatism, broadly understood, has occupied the White House for 23 of the past 25 years. No unreconstructed liberal stands a chance of winning it in the near future--hence Hillary Clinton's moderate makeover. 

Plain fact: conservatism has been the dominant power in American politics since the ascent of Reagan in 1980. Liberals win an occasional battle, but they've gotten the bleeping stuffing beaten out of them in the war.  

Conservatism has endured also because it slowly absorbed much of the old liberal spirit. Who, after all, are the most vocal moral crusaders of today? Christian conservatives, who deploy government power against all sorts of perceived wrongs--sexual trafficking, aids in Africa, gay unions, poor parenting, teen sex, indecent television, and euthanasia, among many.

Andy seems to think that in the past "moral ferver" distinguished American liberalism from American conservatism. But American conservatives--especially "Christian" conservatives--have been a fire-and-brimstone bunch since Cotton Mather. Liberals never once burned women at stakes for practicing witchcraft, for example. It wasn't liberals who seceded from the Union to protect the institution of slavery. Liberalism didn't inspire the Ku Klux Klan, nor is liberalism responsible for the approximately 4,749 Americans, mostly black, lynched by mobs between 1880 to 1960.  And during those times in which liberalism exhibited moral ferver, you can be sure that conservatism exhibited plenty of ferver right back at 'em

And even when conservatives take up a worthy cause, such as slowing the spread of AIDS in Africa, they are more concerned about sex than in saving lives. So they've gone from burning women to pharmacists who won't fill birth control prescriptions to hangups about condoms. Variations on an old theme.  
President George W. Bush is focusing his program against AIDS in Africa on sexual abstinence and marital fidelity, relegating condoms to a distant third. It's the kind of well-meaning policy that bubbles up out of a White House prayer meeting but that will mean a lot of unnecessary deaths on the ground in Africa. ...
... There's a bit of wiggle room in the administration guidelines. But the U.S. Center for Health and Gender Equity reports that in several countries, the United States is already backing away from effective programs that involve condoms. [Nicolas Kristof]
Andy continues,
Almost no Democrat speaks with the moral conviction of religious Republicans.
A big reason I tend to vote Democratic. History teaches us that conservatives with moral convictions can be dangerous. 

And, when liberalism has been outrun on moral fervor, precious little oxygen remains to revive it--especially with austere, patrician leaders like John Kerry and Al Gore or angry pop culture ranters like Michael Moore. 

Maybe one man's moral ferver is another's pop culture rant. But I'll take Michael Moore any day over all the Coulters, Rushes, Dobsons, Hannitys, O'Reillys, etc. you can pile together. And ain't nothin' wrong with being a little patrician.   

But conservatism's very incoherence may be one reason for its endurance. In its long road to victory, the Republican Party has regularly preferred the promise of power to the satisfaction of schism. It has long been pro-government and anti-government. It has contained Rockefeller and Goldwater, Nixon and Reagan, Bush I and Bush II. As a governing philosophy, it has been able to tack for decades from statism to laissez-faire, from big government to individual freedom, with only occasional discomfort. Conservatism's resilience has been a function of its internal ideological diversity and balance.

Conservatism is "resilient" because, in the end, their beloved ideologies don't matter. American conservatism in all its many forms comes down to a backlash against modernism, fueled by shared resentment. All they really care about is power. And, having achieved power, they are still not satisfied.

After spending a lot of time cruising the Right Blogosphere of late, I'm convinced that conservatives in general have been in denial about the major ideological fault lines in their movement. They're dimly aware that, somewhere, there are people calling themselves "conservative" who believe X instead of Y, but those people are an aberration, and as long as those other conservatives are fighting against liberals and for George W. Bush, it doesn't matter if they aren't pure.

But now that Bush has been awarded his final term in office, and liberals remain scattered and voiceless, they are finally moving into the "eating their own" stage.

The more closely you look, however, the deeper the division has become in the last few years, intensifying dramatically since last fall's election. Which is why, this time, the balancing act may finally be coming undone. 

American conservatism has nowhere else to go but toward totalitarianism and the establishment of an American Reich. If that doesn't succeed, they've either got to become more moderate or implode. I think the latter is more likely.
Andy goes on, but isn't any less clueless. So instead of reading Andy, try this Colbert King column. It's  pretty good.

9:57 am | link

friday, april 22, 2005

Good Golly Miss Molly
This has been Cat House Week at Chez Maha. Along with the new official feline in residence, currently named Miss Lucy ...
... I've was kitty-sitting Miss Molly, who lives with my daughter.
Miss Molly figured out that she could avoid the frequent wroth of Miss Lucy by hanging out on high, mostly on top of the fridge and the kitchen cabinets. Miss Lucy is not into climbing.

8:43 pm | link

Bite the Wall
Or, why righties make me want to pound my head on a rock and scream.
Neal Boortz writes in favor of drilling in ANWR [emphasis added]:
The potential is is estimated that there is 10.4 billion barrels of oil under the barren, frozen wasteland.  This is just what we need to be doing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

But the left doesn't want us to reduce our reliance on foreign oil.  Their goal is a weaker America.  An energy dependent America is a weaker America.  Sure. they talk about it. give it a lot of lip service.  But how many of those limousine liberals get into their fuel-guzzling private jets or their gas-hogging SUVs and ride around bitching about gas prices just like everyone else?  The answer is all of them.  An independent energy policy in the United States would bring down gas prices, make us less vulnerable to the whims of the terrorist-supporting Islamic sheiks that make up OPEC.

But alas, cheaper gas prices are good for the Bush administration. Remember, if it's good for America, expect Democrats to be opposed.  The bill now goes to the Senate. Don't  hold your breath. 
Wow, where do I start?
Last night I filled the tank of my no-frills '97 Nissan Sentra (purchased new in 1997; today has only 45,000 miles on the odometer). Regular is up to $2.29+ in New York. If you have to ask what premium costs, you can't afford it. OK, so I just bitched about gas prices. Check that one off.
But this is the sentence that just plain goes beyond the pale:
"But the left doesn't want us to reduce our reliance on foreign oil."
If you feel a need to go pound your head against a rock and scream for a while, go right ahead. I understand. But pad your head first. Otherwise, you might damage your brain and turn Republican.
Yes, we lefties have given the problem of reliance on foreign oil a lot of lip service. We would have done more, Mr. Boortz, but we haven't had the bleeping power to do more for the past several years, you bleeping moron.  And Republicans, who have had the power to deal with this issue, lo these past few years have dug in and refused to deal with this issue, while it got worse and worse. 
The Reagan Administration wouldn't deal with it. The Bush I Administration wouldn't deal with it. The Clinton Administration had only a brief window of opportunity before Newtie and his minions took over the House in 1994. And when Vice President Al Gore made speech after speech about reducing dependence on foreign oil, the GOP accused him to trying to destroy the auto industry.
But now that gas prices are high enough that the problem of foreign oil dependence finally has caught Mr. Boortz's attention, suddenly it's all the fault of the Left. Because, you know, we hate America.
Boortz writes that eventually ANWR could produce 1 million barrels of oil a day. Whoop-di-doo. In 2004, the United States imported 12.8 million barrels of oil a day. And the rate of consumption keeps going up.
According to this 2002 pro-drilling document, "ANWR resources, concentrated in a 1.5-million-acre portion of the refuge called the ANWR 1002 area, were estimated by the USGS in 1998 to range from 11.6 to 31.5 billion barrels of oil--enough to supply total U.S. energy needs for roughly 2 to 5 years at current rates of consumption."
But as I said, "current rates of consumption" keep going up. IMO the ANWR "solution" is just a band-aid.  And this, of course, is the Left's point; drilling at ANWR means doing long-term damage to pristine wilderness for the sake of a couple of years' worth of oil. And let's not even get into the environmental hazards of offshore drilling. And the oil industry is looking into ways to retrieve oil from further offshore, moving out into deeper parts of the ocean.
For years, the Left has argued that we must practice conservation and develop alternate sources of energy, and for years the Right has laughed this off. (Like, the oil will just grow back, right?) I remember back in the bleeping 1960s handing out fliers in support of some long-forgotten and never-adopted proposal for alternate energy.
So eventually, maybe, the ANWR drilling will produce a million barrels of oil a day. But there are estimates that raising CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards for mileage in the auto industry to forty miles per gallon would reduce dependence on foreign oil by 2.5 million barrels a day. And guess who nixied the proposal to raise CAFE standards? Here's a hint:

A more immediate and promising solution would be a federal law mandating higher fuel efficiency ratings for cars and trucks on American highways -- the so-called CAFE standards. But that won't happen. CAFE standards are opposed by two of the biggest corporate coat-holders and contributors to Bush and the GOP -- the oil and auto industries. And where big business and big contributors lead, George W. Bush and Tom DeLay are sure to follow.

What about those terrorism-supporting Islamic sheiks? After 9/11, the Left immediately made the Saudis-oil-terrorism connection, and we've been prattling on about it ever since (for example, Michael Moore, but there have been many others) while the Right called us crazy or liars, or both (again, think Michael Moore).
But what about this new energy bill? A look at the provisions suggests to me that it's going to be great for energy industry profits, but I'm not seeing gas prices come down in the foreseeable future.
Dan Froomkin made the same observation in yesterday's White House Briefing at WaPo.
For months, the stock White House response to question about high gas prices has been to call for passage of President Bush's energy plan -- as if the two were related.

So it was a bit of a shock yesterday when Bush himself bluntly acknowledged what's been obvious to most observers for quite a while now: That his energy proposals won't lower gas prices in the short term one bit.

"I wish I could simply wave a magic wand and lower gas prices tomorrow; I'd do that. Unfortunately, higher gas prices are a problem that has been years in the making," he said in a speech to members of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Yes, and it's also been years in the ignoring, especially for Republicans.

 Froomkin says there are steps Bush could take to reduce oil prices in the near future, however.

• Develop an exit strategy for Iraq. Fear of continued instability in the Middle East is widely seen as contributing to a "risk premium" that's driving up crude oil prices.

• Tamp down speculation on the oil-trading exchanges, either by re-regulating the markets, raising interest rates, or both. There is some evidence that avaricious speculators have driven the price way above the levels justified simply by supply and demand conditions.

• Do something about the weak dollar. The dollar's dramatic drop against major currencies directly translates to higher gas prices for Americans. (But strengthening the dollar might require serious deficit reduction.)

• Tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

• "Jawbone" producers into increasing production.

• Aggressively investigate the possibility of price gouging by the oil industry.

Like Boortz says--don't hold your breath.

8:32 am | link

thursday, april 21, 2005

Still Vegetating
TBogg already wrote the perfect response to today's David Brooks atrocity. I just want to elaborate.
Brooks echoes the common myth that if only the evil Supreme Court hadn't stepped in and made the Roe v. Wade ruling, by now liberals and conservatives would have engaged in a reasonable national discussion about abortion, and the state legislatures would have written nicely moderate laws that most people could live with.
To which I say, hah. Fat chance.
I remember well the years before Roe v. Wade. Liberals and conservatives were engaging in the same shouting-past-each-other arguments they engaged in after Roe v. Wade. And the legislatures of several states spent so much time fighting over abortion little else was getting done. I was living in Missouri when the Roe decision was handed down, and it seemed to me the state legislators were, if anything, relieved they could shove abortion up to the federal level and get back to running the state.
The only difference Roe made to national discourse is that it briefly changed which side was playing offense and which was playing defense. That didn't last long, however, because the major abortion-rights organizations, like NARAL, made one stupid decision after another that played right into the hands of the anti-rights activists. I'll leave that to another post, though.
Brooks writes,  

Justice Harry Blackmun did more inadvertent damage to our democracy than any other 20th-century American. When he and his Supreme Court colleagues issued the Roe v. Wade decision, they set off a cycle of political viciousness and counter-viciousness that has poisoned public life ever since, and now threatens to destroy the Senate as we know it.

Absolute nonsense, as I've already explained.

When Blackmun wrote the Roe decision, it took the abortion issue out of the legislatures and put it into the courts. If it had remained in the legislatures, we would have seen a series of state-by-state compromises reflecting the views of the centrist majority that's always existed on this issue. These legislative compromises wouldn't have pleased everyone, but would have been regarded as legitimate.

But Roe didn't really take the abortion issue entirely out of state legislatures. For example, under the Roe provisions the states are still free to ban abortion after 23 weeks' gestation (earliest possible viability) as long as exceptions are made for those rare circumstances in which the fetus must be sacrificed to save the life or health of the mother.
Yet in all these years only 19 state legislatures have managed to write such a law. Given this fact, how can anyone argue that if only those poor state legislatures had been left alone to their own devices, everything would have turned out just fine? And the answer is, only an idiot would make such an argument. Hence, David Brooks makes it.
Religious conservatives became alienated from their own government, feeling that their democratic rights had been usurped by robed elitists. Liberals lost touch with working-class Americans because they never had to have a conversation about values with those voters; they could just rely on the courts to impose their views. The parties polarized as they each became dominated by absolutist activists.
First off, what "rights" were "usurped" from conservatives? They had and still have the "right" not to abort if they choose not to. It wasn't a right they lost, but a power, to impose their rigid and narrow beliefs on all Americans. Second, through the years liberals have made repeated attempts to talk about values with the Fetus People. One might as well talk to a rabid wolf. The only words the Fetus People can hear is "let's ban abortions."
And third, it is true that national discourse has been dominated by absolutist activists. But this is the fault of mass media, not the courts. Since the rise of mass media in the 1950s and 1960s, political discourse has been taken out of the hands of We, the People. Instead, proxies debate for us, in newspapers, television, and radio. And the editors/producers think the proper way to have these proxie debates is to pick a spokesperson from both "sides" of the issue, as if there can be only two sides to an issue. And the proxies shout past each other for the allotted time, and no minds meet.
And I say again, this nonsense didn't start with Roe. It was already well underway, and had been for a few years, when Roe was decided.
Brooks complains that the federal government has caught "abortion fever." But this same disease infected most state legislatures before Roe.  
I'm scratching my head over this paragraph from Brooks:
Those who believe in smaller government would suffer most. Minority rights have been used frequently to stop expansions of federal power, but if those minority rights were weakened, the federal role would grow and grow - especially when Democrats regained the majority.
Minority rights have been used frequently to stop expansions of federal power? When was that? The usual complaint from the states' rights crowd is that enforcement of the rights of minority citizens gives the feds too much power over the states.
Brooks concludes:
I know of many senators who love their institution, and long for a compromise that will forestall this nuclear exchange. But they feel trapped. If they turn back now, their abortion activists will destroy them.

The fact is, the entire country is trapped. Harry Blackmun and his colleagues suppressed that democratic abortion debate the nation needs to have. The poisons have been building ever since. You can complain about the incivility of politics, but you can't stop the escalation of conflict in the middle. You have to kill it at the root. Unless Roe v. Wade is overturned, politics will never get better.

But Roe v. Wade isn't the "root." If Roe were overturned tomorrow, the disease would still infect the land. Maybe the federal legislators would be let off the hook, but at this point I doubt even that would be true.
Because, my dear Vegetable, the "disease" isn't Roe v. Wade. The nation is infected by right-wing extremists who will not rest until their entire religious/moral agenda is engraved into law, state and federal, so that they can control the behavior of all of us.
If Roe were overturned, in fact, they'd probably just get worse, and those of us who believe in freedom would still have to fight them.
Awhile back in a different context, Digby wrote a post in which he quotes Abraham Lincoln's 1860 speech at Cooper Union and compared what Lincoln said about slaveowners and secessionists to today's Rabid Right. This is what Lincoln said:

Will they be satisfied if the Territories be unconditionally surrendered to them? We know they will not. In all their present complaints against us, the Territories are scarcely mentioned. Invasions and insurrections are the rage now. Will it satisfy them, if, in the future, we have nothing to do with invasions and insurrections? We know it will not. We so know, because we know we never had anything to do with invasions and insurrections; and yet this total abstaining does not exempt us from the charge and the denunciation.

The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly - done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated - we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas' new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

Ain't it still the truth? There is no compromising with the Fetus People. I suspect that even if their entire agenda were enacted into law, and all reproduction rights organizations were to disband, it would still not satisfy them. The next step would be to make it a crime to even speak in favor of abortion rights, and then birth control would be criminal. And then on to burkhas. Their fevered obsession with controlling women won't stop with banning abortion.

9:32 am | link

wednesday, april 20, 2005

By now you've probably heard how Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, balked at voting John Bolton out of the nominations committee.
I was going to write that Bolton must be the worst possible individual in the galaxy to be a UN ambassador, but that would be hyperbole. I'm sure if we sniffed around we could find some criminal psychopaths who shouldn't be allowed anywhere except in chains. It can be argued that such persons would actually be worst nominees to the UN position than Bolton. But not much worse.
As explained in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

When the White House says Democrats are trumping up accusations against John Bolton, nominated to be U.N. ambassador, it's kind of like the White House saying Martin Luther King Jr. trumped up accusations of racial bias: sad, laughable and demonstrably untrue on its face.

But that's the line the Bush administration is taking on Bolton, despite an almost certainly fatal wound his nomination suffered Tuesday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. After an impassioned plea by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said what he had heard troubled him enough that he didn't feel comfortable voting for Bolton. If Voinovich voted no, the outcome would have been a tie, killing the nomination. So the vote was put on hold for a few weeks while more information is collected.

The best outcome of this hiatus would be for Bolton to do the right thing for himself, the administration and the country, and withdraw his name. He is unfit to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and he is now such damaged goods that his effectiveness as ambassador would be nil.

Yet the White House indicates it will fight to shove through the Bolton nomination. Even worse, the VRWC has already re-tooled to smear Senator Voinovich. Via Liberal Oasis, check out Michelle Malkin cheering 'em on. The Senator was "making iggly remarks and prattling about his 'conscience,'" says Little Lulu.
Conscience! Imagine!
Malkin's verdict is that Voinovich is a coward. Yes, it takes real cowardice to stand up to the GOP Power Machine. Heroic people know when to shut up and go along.

8:34 pm | link

It's All Relative
I just posted a defense of moral relativism over on American Street.  

11:32 am | link

tuesday, april 19, 2005

NOT What Liberals Want
John Hinderaker of Power Line writes in the Weekly Standard online about a Yale conference that proposed changes to the Constitution.
And I don't know who is more annoying--Hinderaker or the Yalies who ran this conference.
According to Hinkeraker, the conference generated the notion that Franklin Roosevelt's "second bill of rights" should be enshrined in the U.S. Constitution--literally become a second Bill of Rights with the same status as the first, even though I doubt FDR himself meant his 1944 speech to be taken that literally.
Naturally, this idea feeds nicely into rightie mythology that liberals want to trash the Constitution and replace it with something like the Communist Manifesto, updated to be more politically correct. Never mind that extremist flakes of the Right want to litter the Constitution with amendments banning abortion and gay marriage and flag burning, and they're eager to replace the First Amendment with something that would permit fundie Christianity to become America's established religion. (Seriously, going by this list, it seems to me the Right is far more into proposing junk amendments than the Left is.)
You know the drill; all liberals are judged by the most extremist dingalings of the Left; but if you judge the Right by their extremist dingalings, they get all huffy about it. Or, even worse, they don't recognize right-wing extremist dingalingism as such even when it stands on its head and whistles "Dixie."
Now, make no mistake; I agree wholeheartedly with Roosevelt's "second bill of rights," which are:
  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation.
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living.
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.
  • The right of every family to a decent home.
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.
  • The right to a good education.
... and sincerely wish they could become the focus of U.S. policy, foreign and domestic. These are goals our nation should always strive to meet, IMO. But giving them Constitutional status is anti-liberal.
You might ask, why wouldn't a liberal want to write FDR's list of rights into the Constitution? There are two reasons; the first has to do with what the Constitution is supposed to be, and the second has to do with what "liberalism" really is.
The Framers of the Constitution provided us with a remarkable tool that We, the People, can use to govern ourselves. It is specific enough to provide clear parameters, divisions of and restrictions on authority, and procedures; yet enough is left unspecified so that new generations may adapt the tool to their own needs without having to revise the thing entirely every 40 years or so.
I like this explanation from The Reader's Companion to American Literature:
[T]he Constitution has served at once as a symbol of national unity and the continuity of basic ideals amid change, as a supple (but not mushy) framework of government, and as a binding code of supreme law. Its grant of powers and its constraints on power are addressed to governmental action, national and state, not to private conduct. The latter is reached by legislation enacted pursuant to the specific constitutional grants of power to Congress, together with the vital auxiliary "necessary and proper" clause. The design of the whole is to maintain a government that is effective, adaptable, and safe for the rights of its people.
Dingalings of the Right often disagree that the Constitution is or should be "supple." They get really twitchy if you suggest the Constitution is a "living" document. No, sirreebob, it ain't, they say. And if it is, they want to smother it with a pillow and vacuum seal it so it's perfectly preserved but no longer viable. If it were up to Righties the Constitution would become nothing but a totem, at once revered and ignored; sort of the way fundies treat the Ten Commandments.
By contrast, liberals want to keep the Constitution strong, vital, and relevant, which means not clogging it up with provisions born of fleeting passions or grand but (probably) unobtainable ideals.
More than anything else, IMO, the Constitution is what has held us together as a nation through the generations, through expansion, through wars and other challenges. It has held us together becase we all take it very seriously and endeavor to follow it. Lots of nations write wonderful constitutions and then ignore them. 
What seems like a good idea to one generation may appear ridiculous to the next, which is why the Constitution, a document designed to span generations, is just not the place to enshrine every policy ideal, good or bad. For example, a dozen or so years ago Republicans in Congress made much noise about a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget. People who opposed the amendment (usually on the grounds that, sometimes, the nation needs to engage in deficit spending) were accused of being against balanced budgets. And of course the real purpose of the proposal was to bash Democrats; notice you're not hearing the GOP talk about a balanced budget amendment now.  
But my point is that, while a balanced federal budget is a worthy goal that IMO should be standard policy most of the time, it doesn't belong in the Constitution.  
So, why is junking up the Constitution anti-liberal? This takes us to what liberalism is.
IMO liberalism is the principle that people can live as equals and collectively govern themselves. No more, no less.
Over the years many changing policies have been identified as liberal. In fact, liberal ideas sometimes morph into conservative ones in a few generations; free-market economies come to mind. But policies themselves do not define liberalism. Ideas about policies change from generation to generation, but the principles of equality and self-government--government of the people, by the people, and for the people--remain.
Whatever gets in the way of equality and self-government is anti-liberal. And one aspect of self-government is that it is the people living and working with that government who should decide what policies they want to follow. We alive today make choices our ancestors would reject, because we're living in different times. People who will live after us will make choices we can't even imagine. That's up to them.
It's not up to us to dictate policy to the future, any more than the generation of 1787 can tell us we can't have federal meat inspectors or air traffic controllers if we want them.
Liberalism and progressivism often go together, but I do not think they are synonyms. Within the principle of liberalism is the understanding that people who are collectively governing themselves may make un-progressive choices. What's important is that the people make choices without being manipulated by demagogues and propaganda, or coerced by dictators or powerful factions.
Back to the Yalie conference and John Hinderaker. Hinderaker's report reminds me of a column Matt Taibbi wrote awhile back. The Left, Taibbi says, "is always described as a tiny minority of over-educated elites, desperate to seize power and impose some blockheaded, sweepingly sinister grad-school theory on decent folk." That's Hinkeraker's description of the Yalie conference, to a T.
Some of the Yale participants seem to be saying that, because the United States has un-progressive policies, we must write progressive policies into the Constitution so that they have to be followed. But this is nonsense. There is nothing stopping the people of the United States from demanding progressive policies of their government, and nothing stopping the government from instituting progressive policies, except for the will to do so. That's where the problem is, with national will; not with the Constitution.
Why there is a lack of will is the stuff of a great many other blog posts. For now, I just want to assure Mr. Hinderaker that the Constitution is in no danger from liberals.

1:45 pm | link

It's Eve's Fault
Shouldn'ta listened to that serpent in that fruit tree. No, ma'am. We womenfolk have gotten beaten up ever since, often literally.
Avedon links to a story about the real reason Osama bin Laden is still at large. It's women's fault. 
It may have been the best and last chance to grab chief terrorist thug bin Laden, the architect of 9/11, who infamously remains at large despite huge bounties on his head and a U.S. intelligence machine that gobbles billions.

A Pakistani official later suggested that some 4,000 al-Qaida members escaped - although it isn't clear whether bin Laden and his top aide, Ayman al Zawahiri, were among them.

At that critical moment, one well-connected military source says the U.S. was unable to commit desperately needed personnel because women had been mixed into units that were at strong risk of seeing combat.

This "story" appears to have originated at Newsmax, a right-wing site run by a pack of limp, pathetic, sniveling boy-child weenies with unresolved issues about their mothers.

Over on BOP News, Shauna Evans suggests a Lysistrata Strategy for dealing with pharmacists who won't fill birth control prescriptions:

If Big Pharma and the GOP are turning their backs on women, let's turn our backs on them.

  • Don't sleep with republicans. (Not that you would, of course.)
  • Stop using prescription birth control.
  • You heard me. Assault them in the sales figures--it is the closest you can get to kneeing a corporation in the balls.

    I have reservations about this. I can endorse the first step, but you younger ladies still in your childbearing years might want to think hard about the second. Keep in mind that sleeping with Republicans may be a reasonably effective form of birth control in and of itself, so if you're moving on to real men, don't be so sure that "natural" birth control will be effective for you.

    Further, keep in mind that Republicans account for something like 94 percent of Viagra purchases (the remaining 6 percent are Libertarians), which is one reason they control Big Pharma.


    In an entirely different vein -- Part II of Stirling Newberry's "American Thermidor" series is posted at Truthout. If you missed Part I, it's here. Highly recommended.

    6:38 am | link

    monday, april 18, 2005

    Be Afraid
    There are many people who understand the economy better than I do. Hell, there are philodendron that understand the economy better than I do. Even so, I know that if you buy something you have to pay for it, which makes me a bleeping genius compared to a lot of Republicans.
    Today a couple of guys who do understand the economy say the good times are about to stop rollin'. (You didn't know these were the good times? Hah. Just you wait.)
    Billmon says we're about to witness "the inevitable fading of the various artificial stimuli that powered the U.S. economy out of its painful 2001-2002 brush with deflation." Bottom line, "the U.S. economy has become dependent on ever high rates of debt accumulation to sustain the levels of consumption growth to which we (or at least, some of us) have grown accustomed -- but is getting progressively less economic bang for the buck, so to speak."

    One obvious explanation for this trend is that credit has become ever so much easier for American consumers to get -- and abuse, which is why the credit industry spent the past six years lobbying Congress to bring back debt peonage. And nowhere has the industry been more inventive, or successful, than in its ability to persuade American homeowners their houses are actually giant credit cards made of brick, wood and plaster.

    Which means the mainline pumping the Fed's monetary smack to the pleasure centers of American economy hasn't been the stock market -- which after all hasn't gone anywhere for over five years now -- but the housing market, which hasn't gone anywhere but straight up....

    It seems reasonable to assume ... that the main fuel source for the current expansion has been the Great Refi Gravy Bowl, the memory of which no doubt will cause a generation of mortgage bankers go misty eyed long after thay have retired and moved to Florida.

    By cashing out their winnings from the housing bubble, U.S. consumers have been able to keep their consumption budgets growing well in excess of incomes, pushing the personal savings rate to ever lower lows, but also pulling the U.S economy -- and, by extension, the global economy -- out of a rut (with a little help from the U.S. Defense Department and the Medicare budget.)

    However, as Billmon shows with a nifty line graph, the refi boom is over. Mix in the federal budget deficit, oil prices, etc., "it's not too surprising that U.S. growth is slowing, perhaps sharply. Nor it there any immediate reason (such as absurdly rich equity valuations) to expect a boom in private investment to take up the slack."
    Billmon places our looming economic slowdown in a global context, but I don't have the heart to explain that part of it.
    At the New York TimesPaul Krugman warns that we're seeing the beginnings of stagflation,  "a combination of high inflation and high unemployment."  
    You may have already noticed that job growth is sluggish and wage increases anemic. Yet the feds are worried about inflation.

    What's driving inflation? Not wages: labor costs have been falling, because wages are growing less than productivity. Oil prices are a big part of the story, but not all of it. Other commodity prices are also rising; health care costs are once again on the march. And a combination of capacity shortages, rising Asian demand and a weakening dollar has given industries like cement and steel new "pricing power."

    It all adds up to a mild case of stagflation: inflation is leading the Fed to tap on the brakes, even though this doesn't look or feel like a full-employment economy.

    Essentially, says Krugman, we're very badly positioned to manage economic challenges like, say, the bursting of the housing market bubble.  

    9:10 am | link

    sunday, april 17, 2005

    Depressives in Exile
    Jeff Rosen's NY Times Magazine article on the alleged "constitution-in-exile" movement is being discussed all over the Blogosphere.
    When I saw this article yesterday, I knew that it would be discussed all over the Blogosphere. I began reading it. I began to get a headache. I went to the next article, "There's Nothing Deep About Depression" by Peter Kramer, and devoured it. Note this part:
    ... depression is neither more nor less than a disease, but disease simply and altogether.
    Audiences seemed to be aware of the medical perspective, even to endorse it -- but not to have adopted it as a habit of mind. To underscore this inconsistency, I began to pose a test question: We say that depression is a disease. Does that mean that we want to eradicate it as we have eradicated smallpox, so that no human being need ever suffer depression again? I made it clear that mere sadness was not at issue. Take major depression, however you define it. Are you content to be rid of that condition?

    Always, the response was hedged: aren't we meant to be depressed? Are we talking about changing human nature?

    I took those protective worries as expressions of what depression is to us. Asked whether we are content to eradicate arthritis, no one says, ''Well, the end-stage deformation, yes, but let's hang on to tennis elbow, housemaid's knee and the early stages of rheumatoid disease.'' Multiple sclerosis, acne, schizophrenia, psoriasis, bulimia, malaria -- there is no other disease we consider preserving. But eradicating depression calls out the caveats.

    It's also the only disease I can think of in which seeking treatment is considered tantamount to admitting to a character flaw. Even screening programs for depression are suspect. And, unfortunately, there are too many health professionals who still don't get it and either under-treat depression, or go the other way and hand out antidepressive meds to every patient with a behavioral problem or mood disorder.

    And then when the sociopathic teenagers shoots up his high school, they blame the meds and frighten people who really need the meds into not taking them.

    But I was going to write about the Rosen article. So I went back to it. Got a worse headache. Flipped forward to read the profile of caberet singer Barbara Cook, then backward to the tapioca recipes. See, for example, Coconut and Tapioca Soup. Interesting.

    But about the Rosen article. If you sweep aside the legal details, beneath it all is a vast difference of opinion about what a Constitution, and a government, are for. Some people think in terms of regulating power; other people (like me) think in terms of serving the needs of the people. And then there's the "preservative" view, which looks at the Constitution as a museum piece to be locked up and revered, and the "utilitarian" view, which says the government established by the Constitution should meet the needs of people alive today and not be limited to meeting the needs of people living in 1787.

    This is not to say that the Constitution can be ignored whenever a powerful faction decides it gets in the way of their agenda. No, that's what Tom DeLay argues, not me. There are limits to governmental power. Americans have been arguing about what those limits are since the Articles of Confederation, and I'm sure we'll continue to argue.

    But rigidity can be fatal. Some of the people Rosen discusses are so rigid about what they consider to be constitutional principles they would sacrifice the needs of the people, even the needs of the planet, for the sake of legal abstractions.

    Let's skip to the last three paragraphs:

    If they win -- if, years from now, the Constitution is brought back from its decades of arguable exile -- and federal environmental laws are struck down, the movement's loyalists do not expect the levels of air and water pollution to rise catastrophically. They are confident that local regulations and private contracts between businesses and neighbors will determine the pollution levels that each region demands. Nor do they expect vulnerable workers to be exploited in sweatshops if labor unions are weakened: they anticipate that entrepreneurial workers in a mobile economy will bargain for the working conditions that their talents deserve. Historic districts, as they see it, will not be eviscerated if zoning laws are scaled back, but they do imagine there will be fewer brownstones and more McMansions. In exchange for these trade-offs, they insist, individual liberty -- the indispensable guarantee of self-fulfillment and happiness -- would flourish far more extensively than it does today.

    Of course, there would be losers as well as winners in a deregulated market economy, and history provides plenty of reasons to be concerned about the possibility of abuse. Even the relatively modest deregulation of today's increasingly global and fluid U.S. economy may provide something of a cautionary tale. From Enron to illegal trading by mutual funds and bid-rigging in the insurance industry, corporate scandals are keeping consumer advocates like Eliot Spitzer quite busy. America, at the moment, is engaged in an important debate about the relative merits and dangers of the market economy, and the advocates of the Constitution in Exile are aware that they cannot achieve ultimate success without persuading a majority of the American people to embrace their vision.

    But a political transformation in their favor remains, for the moment, remote, and they appear content, even eager, to turn to the courts to win the victories that are eluding them in the political arena. Advocates of the movement are entirely sincere in their belief that the regulatory state is unconstitutional as well as immoral and that a principled reading of the Constitution requires vigorous enforcement of fundamental limits on state power. Nevertheless, it is a troubling paradox that conservatives, who continue to denounce liberals for using courts to thwart the will of the people in cases involving abortion and gay marriage, now appear to be succumbing to precisely the same temptation. If the lessons of the past 60 years teach us anything, when judges try to short-circuit intensely contested democratic debates, from the New Deal cases to Roe v. Wade, they may provoke a fierce political backlash that sets back the movement they are trying to advance. In this sense, even if the Constitution in Exile movement manages to transform the courts before it has transformed the country, it may find that it has won less than it hoped.

    First off, anyone who thinks the planet will be just fine without environmental regulation--who thinks that "local regulations and private contracts between businesses and neighbors" will not lead to catastrophe, is an idiot. The very fact that I can live as close to New York City as I do and still breathe the air is thanks to countless regulations of coal-burning, auto exhaust, factory emissions, etc. going back more than a century. And local regulations do not cut it. A factory in Pittsburgh can dump toxins into the Ohio River and poison residents of Cincinnati.

    And after the recent corporate scandals, from the 1980s savings and loan debacle to Enron, how can anyone argue seriously that deregulation will not lead to more financial piracy? And the answer is, you'd have to be an idiot to make that argument. Never mind that the people making these arguments are well educated and boring and wear nice suits; they are still idiots.

    Via memeorandum, you can find links to bloggers who actually read the Rosen article all the way through, and who discuss the specific issues Rosen raises, and did not just take two aspirin and skip to the end as I did.  See especially Ann Althouse and TalkLeft. For other perspectives and discussion, see Susan at Suburban Guerrilla and DavidNYC at Daily Kos.  


    10:29 am | link

    Hell for Hypocrites
    Following up the last post -- after Howard Dean said the Dems will use the Terri Schiavo incident against the GOP, rightie bloggers (like this one and this one) accused Dean of politicizing Terri Schiavo.
    What the GOP did was not politicizing Terri Schiavo, of course, it was, um, something else. But if the Dems dare bring up the way the GOP tried an end run around the Constitution and exploit a family tragedy for political purposes, that's, um, wrong.
    The mind, it doth boggle.


    7:35 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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