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saturday, april 30, 2005

The Persistence of (False) Memory
Once again, a brave soul comes forward to debunk the protesters-spat-on-soldiers-in-airports myths of the Vietnam War era. Jerry Lembcke writes in the Boston Globe:
GIs landed at military airbases, not civilian airports, and protesters could not have gotten onto the bases and anywhere near deplaning troops. There may have been exceptions, of course, but in those cases how would protesters have known in advance that a plane was being diverted to a civilian site? And even then, returnees would have been immediately bused to nearby military installations and processed for reassignment or discharge.
I'm going from memory here, which is perilous, but I do remember seeing a lot of soldiers in airports in those years. Soldiers left Vietnam in military aircraft, but at some point very often they transferred to commercial airplanes and traveled alone for the final part of the journey home. I occasionally wandered through airports during the Vietnam War era, and I never once saw a war protester in them, spitting or otherwise. Protesters just didn't hang out in airports all day long looking for a soldier to spit on. It's possible people saw Hare Krishna devotees, who used to hang out in airports to sell books and flowers, and mistook them for "hippies." But the HKs, however annoying they could be, were not spitters, either. 

The exaggerations in Smith's story are characteristic of those told by others. ''Most Vietnam veterans were spat on when we came back," he said. That's not true. A 1971 Harris poll conducted for the Veterans Administration found over 90 percent of Vietnam veterans reporting a friendly homecoming. Far from spitting on veterans, the antiwar movement welcomed them into its ranks and thousands of veterans joined the opposition to the war.

As Lembcke says elsewhere in his article, the spitting protester stories didn't begin to circulate in earnest until well after the war. "I looked back to the time when the spit was supposedly flying, the late 1960s and early 1970s," he says. "I found nothing. No news reports or even claims that someone was being spat on." This is not to say that no soldier was ever spat upon in an airport, or out of an airport for that matter. But if it happened it was a spontaneous thing, and the spitter was just as likely to have been a hawk as a peacenik. In the 1970s, it was hawks who spread the story that returning Vietnam vets were mostly drug-addled psychos and bums. Hawks blamed the soldiers (along with the antiwar movement) for "losing" Vietnam and spoiling what had promised to be a splendid little war and the inspiration for a great many flag-waving, shoot-'em-up Sal Mineo movies.

That's how I remember it, anyway.

I am more inclined to believe that once in a great while a soldier might have been called a "baby killer," and by peaceniks, because there was an element of assholeness in the antiwar movement. This is not to say that all war protesters were assholes, but that there always seemed to be a few assholes in the crowd who acted out and made the whole group look bad. These were the jerks who showed up at marches waving North Vietnamese flags. Somebody should have taken their flags away from them and explained to them that they were being assholes, and to cut it out. Of course, some of these guys were probably paid asshole agents of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (you do remember CREEP?).

Anyway, I never personally witnessed a soldier being called a baby-killer, nor was I aquainted with anyone who opposed the war who would have done such a thing. And I certainly don't believe this was a common occurrence. I'm just saying it could have happened. But the person making the baby-killer accusation might just as easily have been a hawk, also.

The persistence of spat-upon Vietnam veteran stories suggests that they continue to fill a need in American culture. The image of spat-upon veterans is the icon through which many people remember the loss of the war, the centerpiece of a betrayal narrative that understands the war to have been lost because of treason on the home front. Jane Fonda's noisiest detractors insist she should have been prosecuted for giving aid and comfort to the enemy, in conformity with the law of the land.

Jane was one of the assholes I mentioned earlier.

But the psychological dimensions of the betrayal mentality are far more interesting than the legal. Betrayal is about fear, and the specter of self-betrayal is the hardest to dispel. The likelihood that the real danger to America lurks not outside but inside the gates is unsettling. The possibility that it was failure of masculinity itself, the meltdown of the core component of warrior culture, that cost the nation its victory in Vietnam has haunted us ever since.

Many tellers of the spitting tales identify the culprits as girls, a curious quality to the stories that gives away their gendered subtext. Moreover, the spitting images that emerged a decade after the troops had come home from Vietnam are similar enough to the legends of defeated German soldiers defiled by women upon their return from World War I, and the rejection from women felt by French soldiers when they returned from their lost war in Indochina, to suggest something universal and troubling at work in their making. One can reject the presence of a collective subconscious in the projection of those anxieties, as many scholars would, but there is little comfort in the prospect that memories of group spit-ins, like Smith has, are just fantasies conjured in the imaginations of aging veterans.

I believe that false memory syndrome  is a real and common phenomenon. It's possible most of us are dragging around memories of things that never happened, or didn't happen the way we remember them. This doesn't (necessarily) mean we're all crazy.  I don't understand how something soft and squishy and organic like a brain can store memories anyway, but however it's done memories are not exactly engraved in granite. Our brains and neurological systems change (and deteriorate) over time. Memories can get mixed up with other memories, or even with dreams. I think it's probable that memories of events we review frequently, like weddings or births of children or disasters, remain fairly stable, but memories that we allow to sink out of consciousness for long periods of time can be pretty garbled when we try to retrieve them.

Further, I think memory is very susceptible to suggestion. If we hear over and over again that a certain event happened a certain way, eventually that's what most of us will remember, even if the event happened some other way, or never happened at all.

I think the Swift Boat episode had false memory syndrome written all over it. The ringleaders are just liars, of course, but a lot of the vets who got sucked into it probably believed that their accounts of what John Kerry did in Vietnam were true, never mind that all the documentation said otherwise. The fact that many of these memories were "retrieved" after talk sessions with the organizers is highly suspicious.

Lembcke continues,

Remembering the war in Vietnam through the images of betrayal is dangerous because it rekindles the hope that wars like it, in countries where we are not welcomed, can be won. It disparages the reputation of those who opposed that war and intimidates a new generation of activists now finding the courage to resist Vietnam-type ventures in the 21st century.

Exactly so.

Other good stuff to read:  Fred Kaplan on what Bush doesn't understand about Iraq and North Korea; Dana Milbank on the endless Bamboozlepalooza Tour.

9:19 am | link

friday, april 29, 2005

Jeanne d'Arc says that "Christian" activist groups opposes the development of a vaccine that would protect women from the virus that is responsible for most cervical cancer. Why? Because the virus is transmitted sexually.
 "Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," says a spokesperson from the Family Research Council, a "Christian" lobby group.
In other words, they'd rather their daughters died of cancer than engage in premarital sex. What's next? Honor killings?
These are the same people whining about how us liberals are mean to them because they are "people of faith." But they aren't. They are people of pathology. Call 'em CINOs--Christians in name only. Ain't nothin' in the Gospels that would justify crap like this.

9:48 pm | link

We Interrupt This Program
I was not home last night and missed the press conference. All I know about the press conference I learned from the Web.
President Bush looked to jump start his moribund effort to overhaul Social Security Thursday, proposing a two-tier system that would let benefits grow faster for poor people than wealthier Americans.

"I believe a reformed system should protect those who depend on Social Security the most," Bush said in a prime-time news conference from the White House.

Bush's proposal would let benefits grow as already promised for the poorest Americans. It would cut promised benefits for those making more. The proposal marked the first time Bush has offered any specific recommendation to change the retirement system since he proposed allowing younger workers to divert some of their taxes into private retirement accounts.

Of course, the biggest reason for the success and popularity [of Social Security] is that, as everyone, rich and poor, is in the system, it isn't perceived as a "welfare" program.

Brad DeLong asks,

They [Republicans] are supposed to worry about whether Bush's private accounts are structured to be a good deal for beneficiaries (they are not). They are supposed to be worried about raising national savings (the Bush plan doesn't, except through very indirect and improbable channels). They are supposed to be worried about competence in government.

So where are the grownup Republicans on this? I don't hear a peep.

So let's check with the children. On the NRO corner, they're bored. (This is a standard response to anything the Righties don't want to deal with.) The Nice Doggie hasn't written about it yet, but he does claim to be a Christian, which seems rather blasphemous to me. But I'll leave that for another post. Captain Ed hasn't written about it yet, either. Nothin' at WizbangGlennie punted to a couple of other blogs. One of the Ankle Biters says,

On Social Security the President was fabulous. We have been saying for months that the President needed to highlight the VOLUNTARY nature of personal accounts, and he did so tonight. You could tell the word "voluntary" will be preceding "personal savings account" in the future. He also did a great job of allaying the fears of those who may be uneasy about investing in the market and highlighting the fact that you could invest in savings bonds. If people stuck around to the end they heard a great justification for PRA's when one spouse dies before retiring - the ability to pass it on rather than getting nothing from the SS system.

As to the "new" proposal of means testing future benefits it was a good political move. The Democrats may now have to face questions about why they're standing in the way of something that will assure the poor an income above the poverty level from social security. As political ju-jitsu goes it was pretty good. However, you can bet the Dems will be screaming about "cuts" in social security and saying "What about the middle class". When they do - turn it around and say "OK, what about the middle class when we do nothing and their benefits go down 27% and don't even have a PRA to help them out?".

As far as the substance of means testing goes I'm generally in favor of it, especially with regard to entitlements. I'm aware of valid criticisms that ask why should someone be "punished" for being successful. But here, the system is going bankrupt and it may be the 'least worst" option that has a realistic chance to get somewhere.

But if we're going to "punish" wealthier citizens, why don't we just raise the tax cap to secure future solvency, and then leave the program as it is, which I suspect is what most people want? Nah, makes sense, and there's nothing in it for Republican donors in the investment sector.

Another Rightie blogger, Tiger Hawk, writes,

... "All Americans born before 1950 will get their full benefits." We have a responsibility to improve Social Security by helping those most in need, and by making it a better deal for younger workers. We must focus on three goals. Keep the promise to future retirees. Benefits should be equal to or better than the current deal. Second, make it progressive! We want to give more generous benefits for low income employees. Holy triangulation! It is going to be interesting to watch the Democrats fight this one.

Not a problem, actually. Once Social Security becomes a program "for the poor," it becomes welfare, and once it's welfare, it's toast. I think most middle class citizens are smart enough to realize that. In fact, "Bush plans to turn Social Security into a welfare program" seems to me to be a sure-fire talking point for the Dems.

And, as Atrios points out, "Bush has not proposed increasing benefits for very low income workers. He's just proposed not cutting them - and cutting everyone else's a lot."

Tiger Hawk continues,

Third, any reform must replace the empty promises being made to younger workers with "real assets." Voluntary personal retirement accounts are the answer, because they will generate a higher rate of return. The money would supplement the check on receives from Social Security. They would offer workers a number of investment options that are simple and easy to understand. One investment option would be entirely of Treasury bonds (how does this solve the problem? -- maybe it doesn't, but it is the bait that gets others into private sector investments).

Hasn't Bush been claiming the Social Security trust fund is a sham because it consists of Treasury bonds? Josh Marshall caught that, too. Says Josh,

There was so much bamboozling going on tonight in that press conference that it was easy to miss one essential contradiction in the president's argument. You don't have to worry about private accounts, he said, because if you want you can fill your account with US Treasury bonds which have no risk at all. They're backed by the full faith and credit of the US government. But he says that the very same Treasury notes, when they're in the Trust Fund, are just worthless IOUs.

Funny how that works.

John at PowerLine writes,

A Great Job... President Bush tonight. President Bush can be his own best spokesman. For whatever reasons, he doesn't like doing press conferences. But if I were advising him, I would tell him to do a press conference every thirty days. He stands head and shoulders above his Democratic rivals, intellectually, politically, and morally.

Lord, what is it that these people smoke?

What I don't know is, was anyone watching?

Were you? Or did you stumble into a rerun of "West Wing" by mistake?

Some will be upset about his suggestion that Social Security could be means tested, and understandably so, since if that proposal were enacted, the people who pay the most into the Social Security program will get the least out of it. Frankly, however, I think some kind of means test is inevitable.

Why would a means test be "inevitable" for a, what, seventy-something  year old program that hasn't needed to be means tested before? And why is it the words "raise the tax cap" cannot cross Rightie lips?

Yeah, I know, it hasn't crossed many Democrat lips, either, but I think they're in a box. If taxes are raised while Bush is in office, he's just going to raid the piggy bank as he always does and pour the money down one of his many rat holes. Item one for "saving" Social Security is removing Bushie fingers from the national treasury.

Atrios explains what John at PowerLine hasn't figured out:

Let's be clear, by "low income" we're really talking about "low income." Everyone else gets big benefit cuts. Here's the CBPP analysis of the Pozen plan, which is basically what Bush is embracing.

A "medium" earner, one earning $36,507 in 2005, would see benefits cut by 16% in 2045 and 28% in 2075.

A "high" earner, one earning $58,411 in 2005, would see benefits cut by 25% in 2045, and 42% in 2075.

By 2100, basically everyone earning above $20,000 would earn exactly the same benefit, no matter how great their tax contribution was. You think Social Security provides a poor rate of return now? Just wait.

This turns the system into a modest welfare program.

And, let me add, for most workers this is worse in the long run than the "do nothing" plan - the one which assumes given current projects benefits would have to be cut 28% or so starting somewhere between 2040-2050.

Moving at the speed of light and confounding linear time, Boortz goes ahead and declares Social Security a welfare program because it will be means tested, and this proves it always was a welfare program.

Then there was the big proposal last night to make Social Security more solvent by trimming future benefit increases for the rich, while at the same time boosting the raises for lower-income retirees. This is good old-fashioned class warfare and once and for all cements the notion that Social Security is nothing more than an income redistribution program.

And now that we've settled that, the bashing of the poor can commence:

Why should those who are the most successful and have thrown the most down the Social Security rat hole be the ones to lose the most money? The answer is because it is politically popular. It feels so good to screw the rich, doesn't it?

Stop and ask yourself...have you ever gotten hired by a poor person? 

And the next question is, have you ever gotten hired by Boortz?

The president finally explained that the private accounts would be voluntary, saying that younger workers could opt in or out of the current system. He seems to have made some headway on the issue.

Bush has been saying the private accounts would be voluntary all along, however. Even I noticed that, and I can't stand to listen to the fatuous weenie.

A Fox News poll shows that 64 percent of people under the age of 55 are in favor of personal accounts.  Voluntary private accounts are a good idea.  An employer, for instance, could ask a potential employee whether he had a private Social Security account, of if he had stayed in the government system.  Me?  If the choice was there, I wouldn't hire any younger person who didn't opt for the private account.  Who needs idiots working for them?

But then again, who but an idiot would want to work for Boortz? My understanding is that the "private" system would not be outside the government, but would be an unholy mess of government bureaucracy mixed with Wall Street sharks. You'd have to be an idiot (i.e., Donald Luskin) to think that's going to work to anyone's advantage but the sharks.

Speaking of idiots, Michelle Malkin complains that the "MSM" "uncritically" echoes the "claim" that Bush's plan would result in a cut of benefits. (See, for examplle, this WaPo article, "Bush Social Security Plan Would Cut Future Benefits.") But another Rightie blogger, James Joyner, provides crunched numbers. And the numbers say, um, yeah, benefits will be reduced. But Joyner doesn't think this will be a problem.

To which I say, hah. We'll see about that. 

The Left Coaster has more analysis. And don't miss E.J. Dionne, "Bush the Egghead," and Paul Krugman, "A Private Obsession." Brilliant as ever.

Update: More comments. Rightie blogger Professor Bainbridge has a clue.

Has Bush suddenly become a redistributionist, soak-the-rich pinko? I doubt it. Instead, I suspect there may be something else going on here. William Voegli recently reminded us of what he calls The cynical idealism behind Social Security:

Wilbur Cohen, who devoted half a century in government to designing and defending America's social insurance programs, gave his answer in a 1972 debate with Milton Friedman on Social Security: "I am convinced that, in the United States, a program that deals only with the poor will end up being a poor program. . . . Ever since the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601, programs only for the poor have been lousy, no good, poor programs. And a program that is only for the poor--one that has nothing in it for the middle income and the upper income--is, in the long run, a program the American public won't support." In other words, people who don't need Social Security and Medicare are enrolled as beneficiaries for the sake of people who do. Cohen doubted that people could be persuaded to support programs to help the poor, but he was confident that they could be induced to support them.

Since Social Security long has been the third rail of US politics, maybe Bush thinks the prospects of serious changes in the program will be stronger in the long-run if political support for it is weakened. It would be consistent with suggestions that Bush's real goal in pursuing private accounts is to expand the investor class, which leans GOP. In other words, the whole thing could be just another move in a long chess match.

If I'm right, the nice thing about Bush's plan is that it forces the Dems to make a tough choice: Do they publicly disavow their adherence to soaking the rich progressivity as a solution to income inequality or do they risk weakening long term political support for their signature program?

Unfortunately, I don't think the Dems are dumb enough to fall for it.

I think the Dems have been waitin' for that shoe to drop since 1935.
Matt Yglesias says that Bush's plan would cut disability benefits while only closing about 50 percent of the 75-year actuarial gap in Social Security, not 50 percent as the Bushies claim.

9:32 am | link

thursday, april 28, 2005

There Are Christians, and Then There Are Christians
This morning I quoted Matt Stoller on the "systemic literalist dishonesty" of the Right and lo, an example of such just came to my attention.
On Monday I keyboarded a bit of "Feeling the Hate With the National Religious Broadcasters" by Chris Hedges from the May issue of Harper's. Today Stanley Kurtz at NRO's The Corner claims that Hedges and I are saying that conservative Christians are fascists:
One thing I didn’t mention in my piece is the remark that appears to caution liberals against playing by the “old, polite rules of democracy” when dealing with conservative Christians. If I’m reading that right, then not only do we have a systematic attempt to identify conservative Christians with fascists in a mainstream organ, we also have a call to disregard democratic principles when opposing them. How’s that for the side that claims to respect “checks and balances?”

Kurtz is playing a semantic game, although he may not understand Christianity well enough to realize it. Let's revisit the Hedges quote:

 ... fascism, Adams warned, would not return wearing swastikas and brown shirts. Its ideological inheritors would cloak themselves in the language of the Bible; they would come carrying crosses and chanting the Pledge of Allegiance.

... Then as now, Adams said, too many liberals failed to understand the power and allure of evil, and when the radical Christians came, these people would undoubtedly play by the old, polite rules of democracy long after those in power had begun to dismantle the democratic state. Adams had watched German academics fall silent or conform. He knew how desperately people want to believe the comfortable lies told by totalitarian movements, how easily those lies lull moderation into passivity.

It is clear to me that Adams wasn't saying that Christians are fascists. Nor is he saying that conservative Christians are fascists (unless radical has suddenly become a synonym for conservative, which these days may be the case). He is saying that fascism will come to us in a Christian disguise.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Righties cannot read. And they were definitely AWOL the day God handed out critical thinking skills.

The fact is that the "Christians" Hedges and others write about in the current issue of Harper's are not Christians. Sure, they wave their Bibles around and talk about JEE-zus, but what they are doing is anti-Christian. Instead of submitting themselves to the will of God, as Jesus taught, they have hijacked the trappings of Christianity to further their own agenda.

Here's another bit from the Hedges article I think reveals a lot (emphasis added):

[Radio host James] MacDonald quotes liberally from the Book of Revelation, the only place in the New Testament where Jesus (arguably) endorses violence and calls for vengeance against nonbelievers. It is, along with the apocalyptic visions of St. Paul, the movement’s go-to text. Rarely mentioned these days is the Jesus of the four Gospels, the Jesus who speaks of the poor and the marginalized, who taught followers to turn the other cheek and love their enemies, the Jesus who rejected the mantle of secular power.

Anyone who is or ever has been a genuine, devout Christian should hear alarm bells after reading this passage. A "Christianity" that downplays the Jesus of the Gospels is not Christian. At the very least such a Christianity should be required to divest itself of the adjective evangelical, which comes from a Greek term meaning "the good news," which is understood to refer to the Gospels.

Along the same lines, please read this op ed by Jack Hitt from Tuesday's Los Angeles Times:

Instead of taking orders from temple chieftains, Jesus provoked his followers into thinking for themselves. His preferred media outlet? A literary genre called the parable. It's a style of Q&A wherein the teacher doesn't give the answer but challenges the listener with a half-finished story that forces him to think through to the answer by himself. The radical right has swapped out this genius preacher for some easy listening. They insist that everything will be fine if we just nail the Ten Commandments above every courthouse.

Curious. Jesus updated the Ten Commandments in his most famous speech, the Sermon on the Mount. In it, one finds the Eight Beatitudes. Why don't we ever hear about nailing those somewhere? Here's why: It's not simply the law in the Ten Commandments that attracts fundamentalists. Rather, it's the syntax. The authoritarianism of so many "Thou Shalt Nots."...

... Ironically, mass-market Christians rarely cite or emphasize the living Jesus, the Jesus who speaks. They like their Christ dead. Or nearly dead, as in Mel Gibson's movie. In that film, the entire Sermon on the Mount — the most important words Jesus spoke — is relegated to a few seconds of flashback.

Amen, Bro' Jack. Years ago it struck me that institutional Christianity put way too much emphasis on Good Fairy Jesus--just believe!--to the detriment of Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and his various parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. Without going into a long theological treatise, I think Jesus taught that entering the Kingdom required some serious personal effort. But too often institutional Christianity provides no guidance on how to undertake that effort. The Christian Right in particular offers little more than endless pep rallies that whip up emotion about pollitical and social agendas but, if anything, discourage the "faithful" from thinking too much about what Jesus actually taught.   

Kurtz writes,

For a very long time now, secular liberals have treated conservative Christians as the modern embodiment of evil, the one group you’re allowed to openly hate. Although barely noticed by the rest of us, this poison has been floating through our political system for decades. Traditional Christians are tired of it, and I don’t blame them. That doesn’t justify rhetorical excess from either side. But the fact of the matter is that the Left’s rhetorical attacks on conservative Christians have long been more extreme, more widely disseminated, and more politically effective than whatever the Christians have been hurling back. And now that their long ostracism by the media has finally forced conservative Christians to demand redress, the Left has abandoned all rhetorical restraint.

The first Big Lie Kurtz is pushing is that criticism of the Christian Right amounts to a criticism of Christians, which is garbage. The Christian Right has a much to do with Christ as the People's Republic of China has to do with republicanism. 

Which brings me to the second Big Lie, the Mega-Big Lie, that the Right and their monkeys of the media are pushing, which is that the political Right--I guess we have to call them "conservatives," whether they are or not-- is "religious," while liberals are "secular." But I'd need to do a whole 'nother long post to unpeel the many layers of hypocrisy and prevarication behind that howler, and I don't have time right now. Maybe next week.

Kurtz, for once in your life, try to get facts straight--the people described in the May Harper's are not "conservative Christians." They aren't conservative, and they aren't Christian. Nor are they "traditional," another adjective you used; evangelicals of a century ago would not recognize these mutts.

And if we're asking WWJD--what would Jesus do?--I think he'd do to Dobson et al. what he did to the money changers in the Temple. Anyone who's read the Gospels knows what I'm talkin' about.

Update: Via Avedon, what Al Gore said.

"This aggressive new strain of right-wing religious zealotry is actually a throwback to the intolerance that led to the creation of America in the first place," Gore said as many in the audience stood and applauded.

Amen, bro' Al.


10:34 am | link

Dave Johnson of Seeing the Forest writes that we're on the brink of a constitutional crisis, if not a coup d'etat.
The Republicans are saying they just will not follow the rules of the Senate, because they have the power to say this, and that's that. Rules will no longer apply. And as I understand it the Democrats can't take this to the courts, because separation of powers prevents the courts from getting involved with the internal rules of the Senate. (And if they could take it before the courts, would judges appointed under the Republican rules hear the case...?)

So this is a bigger deal than just a battle over appointing a few judges. This will be a full-blown Constitutional crisis, well beyond the 2000 Supreme Court decision to set aside the election and appoint Bush as President. This will be about the Republicans saying they will just make up the rules as they go along, because they have the power to do so.

My question is, how is this different from a coup, takeover, whatever you want to call it?

Individually, these rules have been bent or broken here and there. The WSJ article itself notes that something similar happened with Ken Adelman's nomination in 1983. But when you take together the nuclear option business, this new part of the Bolton drama, and other recent developments, you see a leadership (and really, because that's who's controlling this, a White House) which wants to win every time at any cost and is pretty much indifferent to the existing rules if they get in the way. ...
... It's like I said a couple weeks ago, the Republican party is becoming an anti-constitutional party. They're not comfortable with the rule of law -- inside the Capitol or out. ...
...The simple fact is that there is no outside authority that does or can pass judgment on how 51 senators choose to interpret the rules or how Dick Cheney chooses to interpret the constitution. So, I stick to my assertion that so long as they are not bound by a good faith interpretation of the rules or the constitution, 51 senators and/or a vice president of their own party, pretty much can do anything they want. When you push past the soft tissue of law, almost anything becomes possible.
A few weeks ago some people were saying the GOP had finally jumped the shark in the Terri Schiavo case. But seems to me they've jumped a few more sharks since, or else that's one big mother shark and the righties are still trying to get over it.
Rightie vindictiveness is becoming more and more pathological. Raw Story's revelation that Republicans rewrote Democratic amendments just to make the Dems look bad.
Rep. Louise Slaughter explained,

"The Rules Committee discovered yesterday that the Judiciary Committee Report on this very bill, which was authored by the Majority Staff, contained amendment summaries which had been re-written by committee staff for the sole purpose of distorting the original intent of the authors.

"This Committee Report took liberty to mischaracterize and even falsify the intent of several amendments offered in Committee by Democratic Members of this body.

"At least five amendments to this bill, which were designed to protect the rights of family members and innocent bystanders from prosecution under this bill, were rewritten as amendments designed to protect sexual predators from prosecution and were then included in the committee report as if that was the original intent of the authors. The thing is, sexual predators were not mentioned anywhere in any of these amendments.

"I asked the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee about this deception yesterday afternoon at the Rules Committee hearing.

"And instead of decrying what I certainly expected would be revealed as a mistake by an overzealous staffer...The Chairman stood by those altered
amendment descriptions.

"He made very clear to the Rules Committee that the alterations to these members' amendments were deliberate.When pressed as to why his committee staff took such an unprecedented action, the Chairman immediately offered up his own anger over the manner in which Democrats had chosen to debate and oppose this unfortunate piece of legislation we have before us today.

"In fact...He said, and I quote..."You don't like what we wrote about your amendments, and we don't like what you said about our bill."

My first reaction was the same as Digby's--
There is a strain of macho, pouty, puerile, "Lost Cause" psychology in American politics going back a long way. These same people wielding almost total power and attempting to run our government as an expression of their sense of righteous victimhood is a uniquely undignified and degrading spectacle.
The Democrats whose amendments were rewritten were Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas and Jerrold Nadler of Manhattan, plus one of the two Congressman Scotts, although it's not clear to me which one. Jackson-Lee and Scott (either one) represent southern states, and maybe the GOP thought they could manufacture something to smear them with come campaign time and replace them with Republicans. But Nadler represents a big chunk of the Upper West Side, and even if the GOP could smear him out of office (doubtful), another liberal Dem would take his place. So, truly, we're just looking at pettiness here.  
Or are we? It's possible we're looking at the work of someone--and be clear the someone is a conservative Republican--so demented that he/she believes Democrats want to protect sexual predators from prosecution, and the amendments were re-written to reveal the Dems' "true intentions." Farfetched, I know, but people on the edge of psychosis do stuff like this, and seems to me lots of righties are dancing close to the edge these days.
Awhile back Matt Stoller at BOP News wrote a post called "Tribal Governance" that hits the nail on its head:

The right is the party of tribal relationships. Hence the nationalism, and the systematic literalist dishonesty. ... The budget, Social Security, Iraq, Afghanistan, payola, Guckert, Swift Boats - these aren't isolated lies. They aren't even a pattern of dishonesty - they are a pattern of tribal governance. No matter how much John Kerry assuaged Americans that he too wasn't in favor of gay marriage, it didn't matter. No matter how much John Kerry promised to prop up tribal social relations, it didn't matter. The reason the right accepts no one on the left - except Joe Lieberman and Zell Miller - is because they will not deal with anyone who is not in their tribe and accepts their norms completely, totally, and utterly.

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.

Matt wrote this in February, and of course the Right has gotten worse since. And I don't think the extremists will be able to moderate themselves, or pull back from the brink. They cannot pull back, because their impulses have taken over whatever reason they might have once had.

The extremist, tribal Right has become a cancer. There can be no living with it. There can be no appeasing it, or compromising with it. If we do not cut it away from political power, it will destroy America. Please note that I am not calling for the elimination of all conservatives--or any conservatives, as the tribespeople aren't conservative--and am most certainly not calling for the persecution of all Christians--or any Christians, as tribal Christianity is a Christianity gone over to the Dark Side--or Republicans or white southern men or any other group the tribe claims to have assimilated.

It really is them or us. If they don't self-destruct soon ...


5:33 am | link

wednesday, april 27, 2005

Running Out of X
President Bush's approval numbers continue to sag. Let excuses be heard throughout the land.
Yesterday Paul at PowerLine responded to an E.J. Dionne column in which Dionne says moderate voters are turning away from Bush. Dionne wrote,
Many who reluctantly supported the president and the Republicans in 2004 are turning away. The party's agenda on Social Security, judges and the Terri Schiavo case is out of touch with where moderate voters stand. Worse for Bush and his party, most moderates have a practical, problem-solving view of government and think these issues are far less important than shoring up a shaky economy and improving living standards.
The "biggest drops" in the Republicans' standing, the pollsters noted, "have come from people who do not identify with a party," with "those who describe themselves as ideologically moderate" and with "mainline Protestants," that is, Protestants outside the ranks of the evangelical and fundamentalist churches. These are classic middle-of-the-road groups.
The PowerLine PowerExcuses are these:
  1. E.J. Dionne is a liberal Democrat; therefore, he doesn't know what he's talking about.
  2. The poll Dionne discusses was conducted by Democrats; therefore, it is wrong.
  3. Dionne says Bush turned Right after the election, but he hasn't. His plans for Social Security, etc. are exactly what they were when he first took office. 
  4. Bush's approval ratings have been about the same for about a year.
  5. If Bush's approval ratings are down a couple of points, it's probably because of gas prices.
As point number 1 is entirely subjective, there's no way to respond to it (except, e.g., "Oh yeah? Well, you stink."). As far as number 2 is concerned, I don't know enough about polling methodology to make an informed comment. And Paul's point number 4 is pretty much right. If you look at the numbers, according to most polling organizations Bush's disapproval/approval numbers were as bad last summer as they are now.
ABC News/Washington Post, Gallup, CNN/USA Today, and CBS polls all show Bush's numbers dropping as much as ten points in January 2004. They've been bumping along at around 50 percent, give or take, ever since. His numbers right now are in the low end of his range, but as I said he was in about the same place last summer. So it's not quite time to break out the champagne.
Regarding point 3, Paul says there is a "lack of evidence that Bush has moved to the right since the election. Dionne cites the president's attempt to reform social security. But that's something Bush has been promising to do since he ran in 2000. Hard to see a betrayal of the moderates here."
The problem here is that Dionne didn't say Bush had moved to the right, proving once again that righties can't read. I believe it's true that the agenda Bush is pushing in his second term isn't news to anyone who's been paying attention. But that's the catch; lots of people don't pay attention. And in the first term, the mega-message coming out of the White House was WAR ON TERROR. Iraq, Saddam Hussein, 9/11, WMDs, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. Little of Bush's domestic agenda could be heard through the noise about his foreign agenda. I seem to remember Bush went several months in 2003 and 2004 without talking about Social Security.
The second term has brought a major shift in Bush's focus. Athough he occasionally went through the motions of doing something about the economy -- e.g., phony "economic summits" and his brilliant (not) 2002 speech on Wall Street -- Bush's first term was all about his "war president" schtick, plus tax cuts. But after the Iraqi elections in January, Bush dusted off some of his old 2000 domestic agenda campaign promises and, finally, went to work on them.
Bush still has Iraq, but there's a rub. He's managed to keep lipstick on that pig by promoting ever shifting benchmarks to give the impression of progress. Bush's boilerplate speech on Iraq boils down to, we're having to show lots of resolve now, but everything will be just peachy once we [fill in blank -- take Baghdad, find WMDs, catch Saddam, transfer sovereignty, hold elections].   
But the boy's run out of benchmarks. He's not saying "everything will be fine once X happens." There are no more Xs. It's possible the Bushies will come up with some new Xs later this year, but he doesn't seem to have any in his pocket at the moment. The last benchmark, the Iraqi election, was probably good for the purple ink business, but Iraq has yet to form a government (although they may be getting close).  As noted this morning, violence is increasing. In truth, there is no end in sight.
As indicated by the Iraq page, support for the Iraq war took a dive in January 2004 and generally has been under 50 percent since, with the exception of a couple of short-lived spikes. At the moment, the war is even less popular than Bush, a fact that makes this Right Wing News excuse almost humorous--

The biggest (but not the only reason) George Bush's numbers have dropped is -- counterintuitively -- because of the wildly successful election in Iraq.

The primary issue George Bush and John Kerry duked it on in 2004 was foreign policy and Iraqi war. Bush was telling the American people to stay the course while Kerry -- although his position on the war was all over the place -- consistently argued that Iraq was about to implode, that elections should be postponed, and that Bush was screwing things up royally.

Then a funny thing happened: the Iraqi election in late January went really well. So well in fact that I believe that it settled the issue of Iraq in the American people's minds. Not to say that everyone agrees with Bush's policy, far from it, but it reassured the public that Bush had a pretty good handle on what was going on.

The  most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll (see pollingreport) says 42 percent of adults nationwide approve of "the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq." 56 percent disapprove. I don't think the public is all that reassured. But the same poll says his Social Security scheme is hurting even worse -- 31 percent approve of "the way Bush is handling Social Security." 64 percent disapprove. And in spite of the Bamboozlepalooza effort, support for Bush's scheme is dropping.
I agree that gas prices are hurting Bush, finally. Bush is going through the motions of doing something about it by pushing his energy bill. But the energy bill won't do a dadblamed thing to reduce gas prices for at least several years, if ever. Consumer confidence is down. The jobs market is weak. So what's Bush doing? According to The Note,
The Republican White House is standing firm in support of DeLay, Bolton, private accounts, nuclear power, a lean budget [since when?--maha], and the constitutional option on judges.
I'm betting the average moderate voter doesn't give a hoo-haw about DeLay or Bolton or filibusters or judicial nominations, one way or another. Their lives are getting harder, and Bush ain't doin' squat to make them any easier.
Dan Froomkin made a good point yesterday when he wrote,
In a campaign, all that matters is getting 51 percent of the vote.

But governing is a different story. Governing with only 51 percent of the people behind you is hard. And governing with less than that is even harder.

The fact is, Bush has never been interested in governing. He's into the power and the trappings and the adoration. He's into campaigning and strutting around in military jackets. But there are no more election campaigns for him, he can't blame Bill Clinton any more, and 2008 is a long way off. I predict Bush will be spending record amounts of time hiding out in Crawford. He may be planning an all-out effort for the 2006 midterms, but by then the GOP may not want him to play a big, visible role in the 2006 midterms. We'll see.
Bottom line: I think Bush has got to come up with some shiny, new Xs to help him maintain an illusion of accomplishment, or he's going to become irrelevant in a hurry.

12:38 pm | link

Hello Mullah, Hello Fatwa
The insurgency in Iraq is "about where it was a year ago," in terms of attacks, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said but he said American and Iraqi troops are gaining ground in the two-year-old conflict.
Top Pentagon officials yesterday acknowledged a recent jump in insurgent violence in Iraq but described the escalation as nowhere near the peak levels of the past year and disputed suggestions that it represents a lack of progress.

At a news conference, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the level of attacks is about the same as it was a year ago, with the insurgency retaining the ability to surge. But he and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld cited other developments -- including a greater willingness by Iraqis to provide intelligence on insurgents and growth in Iraqi security forces and political institutions -- as evidence of improvement. ...

... over the past month, the daily total has edged up to about 50 or 60 attacks, about half of which are resulting in significant damage, injuries or deaths, according to Pentagon figures.

Of particular concern for U.S. authorities has been a rise in the number of suicide car-bomb attacks, some of which are now being used in tandem. Myers singled out this trend yesterday. ...

... Rumsfeld and Myers characterized the recent increase in attacks as relatively small and said it is not identifiable as a clear trend.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Johnson: We've come to the end of another year at Le Chance de Grosse Academy for Academic Excellence. You son Chauncy's final grades are enclosed.
Although Chauncy's grades are no better than last year's, we want to assure you that we see clear signs of progress.  Since the unfortunate incident last March when he shoved Mrs. Cartwright, the music teacher, out of a third-floor window, the staff has become less rigid about Chauncy's remaining in his seat and paying attention in class. This "laissez-faire" strategy has resulted in 30 percent fewer detentions for Chauncy in the last quarter, which demonstrates clear improvement in his classroom deportment. 
In spite of his poor academic record, Chauncy continually demonstrates an ability to integrate his lessons into daily activities in creative ways. For example, by building a bomb to blow up the science room, he utilized the skills to do online research and follow written instructions. Sending the bomb into the classroom via a remote-controlled toy car showed both creativity and superior hand-eye coordination.
Therefore, in spite of the fact that he failed most of his classes (physical education the happy exception!), we have decided not to ask him to repeat fourth grade again. We believe he will find fifth grade more stimulating. Also, since he is considerably larger than the other fourth graders his natural boisterousness caused some concerns about safety for the other children.
Because we are committed to Chauncy's success, we have made a special effort to be sure all of his classes are held in rooms with barred windows, and we have arranged for increased security, including metal detectors, in all of our buildings. These provisions are causing an increase in tuition and fees, but I'm sure you agree that Chauncy's safety and well-being are worth the cost. And, anyway, our insurance carrier insisted. 
We at Le Chance de Grosse Academy for Academic Excellence look forward to another exciting year with Chauncy. We sincerely believe that, barring further parole violations, Chauncy will satisfy state requirements for an elementary school education. Eventually.
Dr. Hawley Smoot, Principal

10:29 am | link

tuesday, april 26, 2005

According to Raw Story, our boy Jimmyjeff Guckert-Gannon has been workin' hard.

Guckert made more than two dozen excursions to the White House when there were no scheduled briefings. On many of these days, the Press Office held press gaggles aboard Air Force One—which raises questions about what Guckert was doing at the White House. On other days, the president held photo opportunities.

On at least fourteen occasions, Secret Service records show either the entry or exit time missing. Generally, the existing entry or exit times correlate with press conferences; on most of these days, the records show that Guckert checked in but was never processed out.

In March, 2003, Guckert left the White House twice on days he had never checked in with the Secret Service. Over the next 22 months, Guckert failed to check out with the Service on fourteen days. On several of these visits, Guckert either entered or exited by a different entry/exit point than his usual one. On one of these days, no briefing was held; on another, he checked in twice but failed to check out.

Clearly, JimmyJeff is an enterprising young man who believes in service to his country.

BTW, has anyone ever seen Karl Rove with a woman? Just askin'. 

More background on JimmyJeff at AlterNet.

7:05 am | link

monday, april 25, 2005

Economic Tribalism
Another article that makes the May issue of Harper's a must-read is "Let There Be Markets: The Evangelical Roots of Economics," by Gordon Bigelow. It's not yet online, unfortunately, but I'll provide a quickie overview.
The author traces right-wing faith in the virtues of "free markets" to 19th-century evangelical Christianity. According to Bigelow, these evangelicals believed the free market to be "a perfectly designed instrument to reward good Christian behavior and humiliate the unrepentent." They saw the suffering of life as atonement for original sin. Hard work and self-denial are the keys to righteousness, and wealth the reward of virtue (I guess if you are really virtuous you get to stop practicing self-denial). People who sink into debt and hunger are meant to experience deprivation so that they may repent. Therefore, helping people out of poverty is wrong, because it thwarts God's plan and threatens the immortal souls of the poor.
I wrote about free market economists and the Great Hunger of Ireland last St. Patrick's Day. Bigelow adds more detail. When the Hunger began in 1845 the Tory government of Britain responded with a food support program, importing cornmeal from the U.S. and selling it cheaply to wholesalers to provide a low-cost source of calories for the starving Irish. But then a Whig government took over and stopped the food program. The Whigs believed that letting the Irish go hungry would "stimulate the industry of the people" and somehow bring about modernization of agriculture and perhaps a manufacturing boom.
Instead, a million Irish starved to death. Another million emigrated. Ireland lost a quarter of its population within one decade.
After the failed Irish experiment, notions about the perfection of virtue through free markets faded--for a while. But "when the next phase of economic boosterism emerged," Bigelow says, the former political/religious philosophy of economics was repackaged as science. The "Theory of Economy" was equated with physics, and the "Laws of the Exchange" were compared to the "Laws of Equilibrium." The "scientific" economists saw the free market as a natural system that would, like an ecosystem, always remain in balance if not interfered with. 
In the century or so since a pack of overprivileged twits came up with that nonsense, real world experience has shown, time and again, that markets do not regulate themselves. Economies do not spring from nature, but are artificial creations of human society. People do not make logical choices about investments and purchases; "self-interest" is rarely "enlightened." CEOs do not make decisions based on the long-term well-being of their corporations, but on the short-term, end-of-quarter bottom line. Thieves and scoundrels game the system to their advantage, thereby throwing economies out of balance.
As Bigelow observes, "The wages of sin are often, and notoriously, a private jet and a wicked stock-option package. The wages of hard moral choice are often $5.15 an hour."
Yet ideology continues to trump experience.
Example: One of the enduring myths of the Right is that the New Deal utterly failed. (See, for example, this recent post by one of my favorite whackjobs, Orrin Judd, and the comments thereto.)  I wrote recently that back in 1968 us Baby Boomers were not wound up about Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression because we'd been raised in a world of ever-increasing affluence and economic stability. When I gave credit to FDR for that, a commenter chirped that, no, no, no, the New Deal failed. It was World War II that ended the Depression.
First off, I want to assure all you young people that the "World War II ended the Depression" meme is not news to us geezers. We've heard it. We've heard it a lot. If I had a nickle for every time I've heard it, I could buy out Bill Gates. And there's some truth to it, of course, but it's also true that the nation entered World War II in better economic shape than it was in when FDR took office.
The New Deal consisted of myriad programs, some of which helped, and some of which didn't, and some of which helped some parts of the recovery and hindered others.
But the point of the New Deal wasn't just to end the Depression, but also to enact preventative measures so that there wouldn't be another Great Depression. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and banking regulations restored faith in the nation's banking system; citizens no longer had to fear that a run on the bank would wipe out their life's savings. Money came out from under mattresses and into banks, providing more capital for investment. The Security and Exchange Commission put some checks on piracy and fraud in the stock market. The National Labor Relations Act helped millions of Americans get better wages and benefits, which in turn gave us the consumer-driven expansion we Boomers took for granted in 1968. Finally, Social Security saved many elderly people from utter destitution.
These provisions were successful. They stabilized the economy and made it possible for working people to live a better life.
On the other hand, we've seen time and time again that the unregulated, free market policies favored by the Right do not work. The savings and loans deregulation debacle of the 1970s is a perfect example. Another is the direct link between deregulation of the energy industry and the rise and fall of Enron. Yet the billions of dollars plundered by the S&L pirates and corrupt corporate executives have not shaken the Right's absolute faith in deregulation and free markets.
They still believe that deregulation promotes competition, which makes the economy better and better and better. But in the real world, the wrong deregulation does not promote competition; it delivers too much money and power into the hands of an unscrupulous few, and the rest of us are burned. 
The ideologues won't acknowledge this. But the ideologues also never acknowledge that the Great Depression came along after a decade of conservative, free-market, tax-cutting, laissez-faire Republicans presidents had been steering the ship of state. Somehow, the policies of the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations are not held responsible for the Depression.    
But in the 1930s, as noted this morning, conservatives opposed to the New Deal expressed admiration for Mussolini. For more about this, please see this sermon by Davidson Loehr, minister of the First Uniterian Universalist Church of Austin, called "Living Under Fascism." 

As I mentioned a few weeks ago (in "The Corporation Will Eat Your Soul"), Fortune magazine ran a cover story on Mussolini in 1934, praising his fascism for its ability to break worker unions, disempower workers and transfer huge sums of money to those who controlled the money rather than those who earned it.

Few Americans are aware of or can recall how so many Americans and Europeans viewed economic fascism as the wave of the future during the 1930s.

The Rev. Mr. Loehr provides several examples of FDR-era American conservatives who believed fascism was the way to go, and says that Mussolini himself saw liberalism as the enemy of fascism. "Mussolini thought it was unnatural for a government to protect individual rights: The essence of fascism, he believed, is that government should be the master, not the servant, of the people."
To say that markets need regulation doesn't mean total market control. There is a point at which too much government control creates other kinds of problems. But history shows us, over and over, that markets cannot run themselves and remain healthy.
I want to revisit this quote from Mark Kleiman:

It looks as if General Motors will be bankrupted by its health insurance obligations to retirees. That was predictable two decades ago.

It's hard to see the end of GM as anything but a gain for the art of automotive design, but it will be rather inconvenient for the shareholders, not to mention the employees and retirees.

The astonishing thing about the story is the fact that GM management was offered a way out, and turned it down. The Clinton health plan was disfigured by the inclusion of a provision that would have relieved the industrial dinosaurs, including GM, of the burden of their imprudence in promising health benefits when they were large that they could no longer afford after downsizing. Everyone knew it was an unjustified giveaway, but the idea was to peel off the big manufacturing firms from the coalition of small businesses (which didn't want to give up the competitive advantage they gained from chintzing on health coverage for their employees) and the health-insurance and health-care giants whose bread and butter was on the line.

But GM and the other big-business beneficiaries turned the deal down flat. Partly this reflected the threats of payback from the Republicans on the Hill against any firm that did business with the Clintons. Partly it reflected the self-interest of the corporate Human Resources bureaucrats, whose importance within their firms would have shrunk if health care was no longer a corporate problem. But in large part it reflected an almost Marxian expression of class solidarity over individual interests. GM's managers decided that denying a triumph to a Democratic President was more important than keeping their own firm from going broke.

In other words, for the corporate heads of GM their tribal loyalties were more important than the future health of the company. That's why "free" economies don't work.

But the fact that blind faith in the virtue of free markets continues to prevail in our country means we cannot have rational discussions about our economy. Do a million people have to starve before our policies reflect the real world? 

12:28 pm | link

Onward, Christian Fascist Soldiers
The current (May) issue of Harper's magazine is dedicating to exposing the Christian Right's war on America. This issue is well worth the cover price, IMO. The articles aren't online, although eventually probably some of them will be. But you'll have to wait a while.
As a teaser, I keyboarded some paragraphs from one Harper's article, "Feeling the Hate With the National Religious Broadcasters" by Chris Hedges.
I can’t help but recall the words of my ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, Dr. James Luther Adams, who told us that when we were his age, and he was then close to eighty, we would all be fighting the “Christian fascists.”
He gave us that warning twenty-five years ago, when Pat Robertson and other prominent evangelists began speaking of a new political religion that would direct its efforts at taking control of all major American institutions, including mainstream denominations and the government, so as to transform the United States into a global Christian empire. At the time, it was hard to take such fantastic rhetoric seriously. But fascism, Adams warned, would not return wearing swastikas and brown shirts. Its ideological inheritors would cloak themselves in the language of the Bible; they would come carrying crosses and chanting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Adams had watched American intellectuals and industrialists flirt with fascism in the 1930s. Mussolini’s “Corporatism,” which created an unchecked industrial and business aristocracy, had appealed to many at the time as an effective counterweight to the New Deal. In 1934, Fortune magazine lavished praise on the Italian dictator for his defanging of labor unions and his empowerment of industrialists at the expense of workers. Then as now, Adams said, too many liberals failed to understand the power and allure of evil, and when the radical Christians came, these people would undoubtedly play by the old, polite rules of democracy long after those in power had begun to dismantle the democratic state. Adams had watched German academics fall silent or conform. He knew how desperately people want to believe the comfortable lies told by totalitarian movements, how easily those lies lull moderation into passivity.
Adams told us to watch closely the Christian right’s persecution of homosexuals and lesbians. Hitler, he reminded us, promised to restore moral values not long after he took power in 1933, then imposed a ban on all homosexual and lesbian organizations and publications. Then came raids on the places where homosexuals gathered, culminating on May 6, 1933, with the ransacking of the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin. Twelve thousand volumes from the institute’s library were tossed into a public bonfire. Homosexuals and lesbians, Adams said, would be the first “deviants” singled out by the Christian right. We would be the next. 

Update: If you are dropping in from The Corner, you can read what I have to say to Stanley Kurtz here.

10:07 am | link

sunday, april 24, 2005

Oh to Be a Fetus
They agitate not, neither do they lobby; yet in America an infant "born alive" after an abortion or miscarriage has a right to health care.  
So here's what I want to know: Assuming such infants exist, how many hours or days pass before they lose the right to health care and are thrown into the American health care system to sink or swim with the rest of us? At what point do the provisions of the Infant Protection Act cease and, say, those of the Texas "futile care" act kick in? Has anybody figured this out?
The Born Alive Infant Protection Act became law in 2002, but at the time physicians didn't see anything in it that would cause them to change the way they practiced medicine. Apparently that wasn't good enough, because last week the Bush Administration issued guidelines. 

The Bush administration issued guidelines yesterday advising physicians and hospitals that under a 2002 law they are obligated to care for fetuses "born alive" naturally or in the process of an abortion, and medical providers could face penalties for withholding treatment.

The law, signed by President Bush nearly three years ago, conferred legal rights on fetuses "at any stage of development." It specifies that a fetus that is breathing, has a beating heart, a pulsating umbilical cord or muscle movement should be considered alive and entitled to protection under federal emergency medical laws and child abuse statutes.

The act itself came about because the Fetus People were spreading horror stories about babies who survived late-term abortions and even regular childbirth who were just put aside and allowed to die. Apparently the Fetus People are still spreading these stories, causing the Bush Administration to warn doctors they'd better clean up their act.

The doctors are a bit mystified.

David Grimes, a licensed obstetrician/gynecologist who previously worked for the abortion surveillance division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the act and yesterday's instructions were medically unnecessary.

"I don't see this as a big issue; physicians are going to do what's appropriate," said Grimes, who now practices in North Carolina. "It's all rhetoric from persons with political views they want to advance."

He said the act's definition of alive is "silly," given that it implies a fetus miscarried at 14 or 16 weeks "with no chance of survival" would be legally identified as a living person.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post that discussed futile care of newborns. It is a sad fact that some infants are born with no hope of survival. They may last a few hours or days, however. With aggressive care maybe they could squeak out a few months of life, if you call being stuffed into a little glass box and hooked up to machines "life." For many years, it's been standard medical practice to simply keep these babies comfortable for what little time they had, and to counsel the parents to accept the death.

But that's not good enough for the Fetus People.

"The 2002 law and today's actions by the agency were both badly needed, because there are those in our society who have convinced themselves that some newborn infants -- particularly those born alive during abortions, or with handicaps -- are not really legal persons," said Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee.

Let's think about this. If in fact there are viable infants surviving abortions in the U.S., why would that be? Roe v. Wade permits states to ban elective post-viability abortions. And if the procedure is not elective, if a pregnancy must be terminated to save the mother, but the baby is viable, the practice is to induce labor or do a C-section and try to save the baby. I understand that situations in which a viable infant has to be sacrificed to save the mother are extremely rare.

One suspects that late-term, nonelective abortions are performed mostly when the baby is already dead or has no chance of surviving, in which case the Fetus People should butt out. They won't, of course.   

If anyone can document that healthy, viable infants are being left unfed and uncared for and allowed to die, I want to know about it. If anyone can document that handicapped but viable infants are being left unfed and uncared for and allowed to die, I want to know about it. 

But there is no documentation. There are just uncorroborated anecdotes, brought to you by the same people who believed a woman with a flat EEG was trying to talk. I assume that what the Fetus People are demanding is aggressive care even for babies born too early to be viable, or born with conditions "incompatible with life" like anencephaly.      

Speaking of futile health care,

Hundreds of thousands of poor people across the nation will lose their state-subsidized health insurance in the coming months as legislators scramble to hold down the enormous — and ever-escalating — cost of Medicaid.

Here in impoverished southeast Missouri, nurses at a family health clinic stash drug samples for patients they know won't be able to afford their prescriptions after their coverage is eliminated this summer. Doctors try to comfort waitresses, sales clerks and others who will soon lose coverage for medical, dental and mental healthcare.

I say those waitresses, sales clerks, etc. should march to the courthouse and demand to be given the legal status of "born-alive infants."

Waiting in the Southern Missouri Health Network's clinic the other day to ask a doctor about Dixon's headaches, the women said they expected to lose their coverage this summer. Sevic, 50, said the loss would be devastating; she wasn't sure how she would afford her medications, much less any doctor visits.

"If they take it away from me, I'll just go downhill," Sevic said. "I won't be here much longer. It's that plain and simple." Eyes weary, she said she thought she deserved better: "If you get out and try, really try to make a living, the government ought to step in and help you."

Spoken like a true liberal. Not to mention a true Democrat. Speaking of which, wouldn't this be a good time for Democrats to go all-out to educate people about our health care crisis and why Republicans have let it fester all these years because the solution violates their bleeping ideology? Wouldn't this be a great time to make the point that while conservatives talk about moral values, they don't blink an eye about allowing hard-working people to go without adequate health care? So what's moral about that, huh?

(In fact, if Missouri Dems were to make such an effort, I pledge to fly on home and volunteer to help. I got the attitude, and I got the accent. Hell, half the trailer park residents of the Ozarks are kin to me. I'm a natural for the job.)

But finally, our long-term practice of pretending the health care crisis would go away by itself is hurting corporations. Mark Kleiman and Matt Yglesias write that General Motors is sinking in part because of the cost of health benefits. Mark writes,

It looks as if General Motors will be bankrupted by its health insurance obligations to retirees. That was predictable two decades ago.

It's hard to see the end of GM as anything but a gain for the art of automotive design, but it will be rather inconvenient for the shareholders, not to mention the employees and retirees.

The astonishing thing about the story is the fact that GM management was offered a way out, and turned it down. The Clinton health plan was disfigured by the inclusion of a provision that would have relieved the industrial dinosaurs, including GM, of the burden of their imprudence in promising health benefits when they were large that they could no longer afford after downsizing. Everyone knew it was an unjustified giveaway, but the idea was to peel off the big manufacturing firms from the coalition of small businesses (which didn't want to give up the competitive advantage they gained from chintzing on health coverage for their employees) and the health-insurance and health-care giants whose bread and butter was on the line.

But GM and the other big-business beneficiaries turned the deal down flat. Partly this reflected the threats of payback from the Republicans on the Hill against any firm that did business with the Clintons. Partly it reflected the self-interest of the corporate Human Resources bureaucrats, whose importance within their firms would have shrunk if health care was no longer a corporate problem. But in large part it reflected an almost Marxian expression of class solidarity over individual interests. GM's managers decided that denying a triumph to a Democratic President was more important than keeping their own firm from going broke.

So is ignoring a crisis until it ruins you what the Bushies mean by the "business model" of running government? Just askin'.

There's one more paragraph in the the WaPo article about the born-alive infants:

The most significant impact of the 2002 law, Grimes said, was a record-keeping change. Previously, a miscarriage before viability was classified as a spontaneous abortion. Under the new provision, it is recorded as a live birth followed by a neonatal death, and parents can claim the child as a tax deduction for that year, he said.

Comments: (1) Why is it always about tax cuts with these people? (2) If you can get a tax deduction for a miscarriage, isn't that, um, going to cause a few miscarriages? I'm just sayin'.

Clip & save: The Angry Bear Health Care Round Up.

10:56 am | link

Tonight's the Night 7:42 am | link

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

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


The War Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

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

[Mark Twain, 1905]

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