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saturday, may 7, 2005

Then and Now
I've been reading 13 Seconds: A Look Back at the Kent State Shootings by Philip Caputo. It's pretty good, marred by a couple of small glitches--the book misquotes a line from "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and attributes "Bad Moon Rising" to Jimi Hendrix instead of John Fogerty--ouch. That may be the fault of bad copyediting, though. 
The author is the same Philip Caputo who spent a year in Vietnam as a Marine lieutenant and wrote the highly recommended A Rumor of War about his experiences. In 1970, Caputo was out of the Marines and working as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He was on his way to Kent State to cover campus unrest there when the shootings occurred, so he was one of the first reporters to get to the scene. The account in the book is partly investigation and partly remembrance, and well written.
Reading this has brought back a lot of memories of The Way We Were. As angry as people are now, I remember the Vietnam War era as a lot worse. But was there really more anger than there is now, or just more shouting?
People are expressing their anger on the Web now instead of in the streets, which is probably a change for the better. But the other differences are worrying.
Then, news about the war was in your face. Nearly always film of the day's events in Vietnam, major or minor, would be on the network evening news, which had no cable competition. And the film and newspaper photographs showed us mostly unsanitized carnage and destruction.
Now, you'd barely know there is a war; it lingers at the edge of public consciousness like a mild headache. Only extraordinary events get news coverage, and the criteria for what constitutes "extraordinary" are hard to pin down--as violence escalates, we seem to hear less and less about it. Were it not for the Web ...
Even more troubling, whenever news of death and violence does get exposure, the Right is outraged that such things are reported at all, or that the reports aren't "balanced" by reports of U.S. progress. Whether the reports of violence are accurate or not--or whether there is much in the way of progress to report--is rarely the issue. The Right seems to think the press exists only to whisper sweet, soothing lies into our ears about how wonderful we are.
I remember watching Lyndon Johnson take questions from the White House press corps. Those guys didn't pull punches. They put him on the spot; they aggressively demanded answers to tough follow-up questions. That's what I remember, anyway.  (It was Nixon, of course, who counter-attacked by having Pat Buchanan write the famous "nattering nabobs" speeches for Spiro Agnew. This taught righties to dismiss as "biased" any news they didn't want to hear. They've gotten better at this in the years since.)
I googled for transcripts or film clips of old LBJ press conferences on Vietnam and came up empty. I'd really like to be able to compare a 1960s-era press conference for what passes for press conferences now. Today, the press has been muzzled, and George the Princeling is well protected from ever having to answer a tough question or even hear a discouraging word. And the only citizens allowed into His Highness's presence must prove themselves to be groveling sycophants first.  
Then, the divide was mostly generational, although of course there were plenty of older people against the war and younger people for it. But most young people today seem to view Iraq as a mildly interesting abstraction, if they think about it at all. From time to time we lefties jeer at the hawks for not enlisting (Jonah Goldberg, for example). The hawks have other priorities, of course, and anyway Harrison Ford is going to make a movie about Fallujah. Watching that will be almost as good as being there, huh? 
Then there was a draft, which put a whole different light on the matter. It's one thing to wave the flag and cheer and honor the glorious dead, especially when the dead are people you never met personally. It's something else entirely to expose your own flesh to bombs and bullets. I think then many young men (and the young women who cared about the young men) felt betrayed by a country that snatched them out of their lives and sent them into a pointness meatgrinder of a war. So they were angry. Older people--the World War II generation--were more likely to assume the government must have a good reason for the war, even if few could articulate exactly what it was. They were shocked at the rebellion against the government. So yes, there was a lot of anger.
The antiwar movement was not as violent as some on the Right claim, but it was more violent than many on the Left want to admit to today. The antiwar movement was overwhelmingly a youth movement, and young people are famous for poor judgment and a lack of impulse control. They took their anger to the streets because, then, there was no where else to take it. For the most  part they had not yet been admitted into Adult World, where the power is, so they stood outside the gates and made noise. There was no Internet, and young people had limited access to mass media, so demonstrations were organized on campuses through posters and word of mouth. Marches, street theater, and teach-ins were the way people in the movement communicated with each other.
Today there's the Web, and the Blogosphere, and opposition to the war does not fall along generational lines. Most of us old enough to remember the Vietnam era realize the more extreme demonstrations were counterproductive, and anyway osteoarthritis takes all the fun out of marching around waving signs. So we clack away on our computers and zap emails to politicians and newspapers, and fear for our country.
Most people against the Vietnam war were not looking to overthrow the government, just to change the leadership and end the war. There were exceptions, like the Weather Underground, portrayed by Caputo as bourgeois white youths who fancied themselves to be revolutionary street fighters. They believed, foolishly, that the U.S. was ripe for real revolution. It wasn't, but it felt at the time we were on the edge of something extraordinary that would change everything. When the dust settled, however, it was the same old country run by the same old political machines, and the youth movement faded into middle-age respectability.
Even so, the Vietnam era was capped by the televised Watergate hearings, which by the end had reassured many of us that the system worked after all, and that there were still honorable people in government. Can you imagine televised hearings about the "intelligence" that got  us into Iraq? As if. But twenty years ago, thirty years ago, there would have been televised hearings.
If the Vietnam era was marked by a pretend revolution, I think now we're dealing with pretend normalcy. We're not supposed to notice what a colossal blunder it was to invade Iraq. We're not supposed to notice that the President is giving away the nation's resources, from lumber to oil, to his campaign contributors. Even the attempt to dismantle Social Security, although it's hurting Bush in the polls, isn't raising nearly the alarm such a thing would have raised ten or twenty years ago.  
The sun rises and sets, flowers bloom, rain falls, the earth turns. On television news, the bobbleheads smile and chatter about runaway prides and Paula Abdul doing something vaugely scandalous. I'm certain Michael Jackson is getting more cable television coverage than Iraq. We see video bits of the President strutting around in a suit and of the First Lady telling mildly bawdy jokes. Surely, if something really bad were going on, they'd tell us. Wouldn't they? 
I saw this editorial in today's Los Angeles Times:
Laura Bush has been drawing laughs lately for her quips at her husband's expense. What's more of a joke, though, is that the first lady is embarking on a $10-million campaign to get more kids to visit the national parks while the president's budgets have resulted in cuts to the campfire talks and guided hikes that are geared to youths. ...

The neglect culminated in an internal memo in February 2004 to park superintendents asking them to specify the cutbacks in service they would make because of reduced operations funding. ... The memo also told the superintendents not to let on publicly that they were cutting back and to refer to cuts as "service level adjustments."
This is a minor episode in the life of Bush Regime America, but to me it exemplifies the false normalcy of our times. What the hell is the point of sending the First Lady around at considerable expense to promote usage of programs that are being cut? Why, to give the impression that everything's just fine, of course. And to the Bushies, that's all that counts. The Bush White House isn't about governing, it's about smoke and mirror and artifice. It's about pretending everything is normal, when it isn't.
"It has become clear to me," Digby writes, "that we are frogs being slowly boiled to death."
Maybe we should be out on the streets, after all.

11:27 am | link

friday, may 6, 2005

Follow Up to Yesterday
I started to write this in a comment to the comments to the last post, but it was getting long, so I'm making it a post.
Regarding Mr. Lincoln and the causes of the Late Unpleasantness, never forget that it was the South that wanted that war, and the South that started it. The South began its military buildup in preparation for that war before Lincoln was elected. South Carolina forced a military confrontation at Fort Sumter that Lincoln had hoped to avoid. And, in restrospect, the crisis at Fort Sumter was entirely avoidable. It became a crisis only because hotheads in South Carolina were spoiling for a fight. Once South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter--which was a military reservation and therefore federal, not state, territory--all bets were off.
It was alleged that there might be a connection between Lincoln's work as a railroad attorney and the causes of the war, but Lincoln didn't start the war and didn't want to fight it. Lincoln had initially hoped that after a few months the secessionists would cool off and agree to remain in the Union. But by 1860 southerners had become inflamed with grievances about what the awful northern states were doing to them, which was sitting around up north being northern states.
Most northerners were not abolitionists. Most northerners didn't give a hoohaw about slavery in the South, so long as it stayed in the South and didn't wander into their back yards. However, northerners were keenly interested in limiting the spread of slavery into the federal territories, which in 1860 was most of the country west of the Mississippi. This was more for economic than moral reasons. Slavery and capitalism simply can't function in the same place. Slavery sucks the life out of capitalism. Many northerners at least flirted with the idea of moving West to claim farmland on the prairies or to start up some kind of business, but if the slaveowners got there first those opportunities would be lost.
It's true that by 1860 abolitionist sentiment was growing in the North, thanks partly to the popularity of Uncle Tom's Cabin, but northerners generally were not so enflamed about how awful slavery was in the South that they wanted to go to war over it.
At the same time, the plantation class in the South came to believe that they had to expand slavery into the territories in order to protect the institution itself. They were keenly interested in being sure new states entering the Union would be slave states. Otherwise, at some point in the future there might be a big enough majority of "free" states to amend the Constitution and ban slavery.
(And, in fact, there had been a nasty guerrilla war going on in Kansas for a few years before the Civil War proper actually started, and this was over the issue of Kansas's entering the Union as a free or slave state, and Stephen Douglas's role in getting Kansas admitted as a "free" state made him an unacceptable presidential candidate in the South, which was why in 1860 when Douglas became the Democratic presidential candidate the southern Democrats broke off from the party and nominated another guy for president.)
Also, cotton depletes nutrients in the soil, and if the same fields are used for growing cotton year after year, eventually there will be a reduced yield. Apparently crop rotation didn't occur to anyone back then. So, the plantation class wanted to move slavery into new territories (and not just U.S. territories) in order to keep production up with demand.
I'm sure our resident gentleman and scholar D.R.Marvel is right (always is!) about the poor overall state of the southern economy in the 1850s. However, most of the wealth of the South was concentrated in the hands of the plantation owners. Most southern whites were dirt poor, illiterate farmers, but the plantation class lived in lordly splendor. By the 1860s those people were so spoiled they couldn't even dress themselves without a body servant to help them. That is no exaggeration. And the antebellum South was, in effect, a plutocracy controlled by the plantation class.
The southern plantation class believed slavery to be necessary to maintaining their wealth. And they didn't call it King Cotton for nothin'. The U.S. South was the chief supplier of high-quality cotton to Europe at the time; and I believe (but this is memory, so don't quote me please), more than 90 percent of the South's cotton crop was exported overseas. This was a huge cash cow for the plantation owners. 
So, rightly or wrongly, antebellum plantation owners believed that their futures depended on the expansion of slavery into the territories, which Lincoln opposed and pledged to stop. Hence, as soon as Lincoln was elected the Southern states began to secede.
The Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Texas secession conventions wrote "declaration of causes" documents that explained their reasons for secession. The reasons were slavery, slavery, slavery, and also slavery. What caused secession is what caused the war. You can find links to these here. This is what Mississippi had to say:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

And that's why there was a Civil War..
Remember, in 1860 there was not a big movement up North to end slavery in the South. And Lincoln hadn't planned to end slavery in slave states, because he thought the federal government didn't have that authority without a Constitutional amendment. So slavery in the slave states was in no immediate danger. However, if you read diaries and letters written by plantation families of the period, there did appear to be a growing paranoia about northerners inciting slave rebellion (especially after John Brown's fiasco at Harper's Ferry). The more inflammatory hotheads imagined that armies of damnyankees would march into the South and free the slaves, which is actually what happened, but this notion didn't occur to the damnyankees until after the South had started the war.
In other words, the plantation owners' antagonism and paranoia caused the very thing they most feared. And the incessant whining about "The War of Northern Aggression" belongs in the same pile of horseshit as the "Culture of Death" and "liberals hate America."
Other points:
Lincoln had run on a "free soil" platform and was pledged to prevent slavery from moving into the territories. If there is a connection between railroad interests and Lincoln and the war, it might be there. By 1860 the capitalists in the North had laid way more railroad tracks than the agrarians of the South. Somewhere in Battle Cry of Freedom, James McPherson provides a map of train tracks in the U.S., and the difference between North and South is startling. So, free territories could be assumed to be better for the railroads than slave territories, but free territories were better for just about all business than slave territories, except for slave marketing. Slavery kills off industry and innovation along with capitalism itself.
One other point I want to address is the fact that, in the case of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the victors did not write the history. In the century following the war the bulk of both popular and scholarly history was written by southerners, who were obsessed with rationalizing that the war wasn't really about slavery, even though it was, and blaming the damnyankees for starting the war, even though they didn't. A vast amount of popular history in particular amounts to Confederate apologia, culminating in the image of poor Scarlett O'Hara rooting for turnips in her garden. And most of this is horseshit. But historians who rely on actual documentation and play down the moonlight and magnolias mythology are accused of "revisionism."
Finally, there are a lot of parallels between old southern hysteria about northern "aggression" and today's rightie antagonism toward "liberal elitists" and how liberals are out to destroy America. Then as now, for example, "states' rights" arguments may be used to defend conservative policies but are dropped like a hot potato when federal power is desired to enforce conservative policies. Awhile back Digby wrote some posts examining this phenomenon in more depth, and I recommend these highly. Please see:
Next: Why the Blogosphere may help prevent Civil War II
Update: It may have been radishes, not turnips.

9:17 am | link

thursday, may 5, 2005

I missed the Vegetable's column this morning and was going to blog about something else, but now I feel compelled to say something about David Brooks. Sorry, but ignorance such as Brooks's is too terrible to leave wandering around unchecked.
Armando at Daily Kos already took today's column apart pretty well, but I want to add some points to what Armando said in regard to this passage by Brooks:
Abraham Lincoln gathered his cabinet to tell them he was going to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. He said he had made a solemn vow to the Almighty that if God gave him victory at Antietam, Lincoln would issue the decree. Lincoln's colleagues were stunned. They were not used to his basing policy on promises made to the Lord. They asked him to repeat what he'd just said. Lincoln conceded that "this might seem strange," but "God had decided the question in favor of the slaves."
That clacking you hear is the sound of every Civil War historian in the hemisphere keyboarding a rebuttal. I don't know where Brooks got this version of Lincoln's decision to issue the Emancipation, but it, um, leaves out a lot.
It is well acknowledged that the Proclamation, which freed enslaved persons in Confederate states but not states that remained in the Union, was issued primarily to influence public opinion in Britain. British industrialists were putting a lot of pressure on Queen Victoria's government to send military support to the Confederacy so that Southern cotton could be shipped to British textile mills once again. But by the 1860s much of the British public was queasy abut slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation made it clear for the first time that a Union victory would end the slave-plantation economy in the South. British public opinion then shifted in Lincoln's favor, and plans to enter a military alliance with the Confederacy fell through.
Further, as Armando points out, the Proclamation paved the way for allowing escaped slaves to enlist in the Union Army. (Early in the war, when enslaved persons were found behind Union lines, they were returned to the plantations.)
Lincoln did not free enslaved persons in Union states because he feared stirring up secessionist sentiment in "border" states like Missouri and Kentucky. Also, he thought the federal government did not have the constitutional authority to ban slavery in a state.
As I remember (my copy of McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom has wandered off) Lincoln made the decision to issue the proclamation early in 1862, but decided to wait until some time when the public was  hoo-rahing a Union victory before he issued it. The Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), in which Union troops chased Robert E. Lee out of Maryland, was the best he could do.

I like to think about this episode when I hear militant secularists argue that faith should be kept out of politics. Like Martin Luther King Jr. a century later, Lincoln seemed to understand that epochal decisions are rarely made in a secular frame of mind. When great leaders make daring leaps, they often feel themselves surrendering to Divine Providence, and their strength flows from their faith that they are acting in accordance with transcendent moral truth.

It may be that Lincoln believed God wanted him to issue the Emancipation Proclamation--we can only guess at what was in Lincoln's head--but it's a lie that Lincoln issued the Proclamation only because he thought God wanted him to do it.  

And I also think back on Lincoln at moments like these, when other boundaries between church and state are a matter of hot dispute. Lincoln is apt, because this emancipation moment was actually exceptional. Lincoln was neither a scoffer nor a guy who could talk directly to God. Instead, he wrestled with faith, longing to be more religious, but never getting there.

Lincoln called upon God in his speeches, but he kept his actual religious beliefs to himself and didn't belong to a church while in the White House. I don't think any of us can know whether he "got there" or not. I suspect that if there was ever a President who "got there," though, it was Lincoln.

Today, a lot of us are stuck in Lincoln's land. We reject the bland relativism of the militant secularists. We reject the smug ignorance of, say, a Robert Kuttner, who recently argued that the culture war is a contest between enlightened reason and dogmatic absolutism. But neither can we share the conviction of the orthodox believers, like the new pope, who find maximum freedom in obedience to eternal truth. We're a little nervous about the perfectionism that often infects evangelical politics, the rush to crash through procedural checks and balances in order to reach the point of maximum moral correctness.

Boldface is Armando's. I fail to see what's so smugly ignorant about the view that we're dealing with enlightened reason versus dogmatic absolutism. Brooks seems to think that "enlightened reason" is anti-religious. In fact, "enlightened reason" can be religious, also. And I'm more than a little nervous about "the rush to crash through procedural checks and balances in order to reach the point of maximum moral correctness."

Brooks's column essentially amounts to his admitting the whole church-state debate is way over his green, leafy head.

12:33 pm | link

Down the Rat Hole
The special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction says that about 100 million dollars in cash cannot be accounted for. From the New York Times
American officials rushing to start small building projects in a large swath of Iraq in 2003 and 2004 did not keep required records on the spending of $89.4 million in cash and cannot account at all for another $7.2 million, a federal watchdog reported yesterday.
 Most of the poorly documented spending appeared to involve incompetence or haste, but in some cases the auditors said they suspected theft.
Jeez, ya think? And note that this is in addition to the $8.8 billion the Iraqis say vanished without a trace sometime last year. Says the Association Press:
Examples of possible misspending in Iraq revealed in recent months include:

''Less than adequate controls'' over $8.8 billion given to the interim Iraqi government between the March 2003 invasion and the hand over of power to Iraqis on June 28, 2004.

Projected totals of nearly $20 million in missing or unaccounted-for equipment in Baghdad and Kuwait.

A lack of proper rules governing some $600 million in cash handed out by U.S. authorities.

Critics say the freewheeling postwar spending in Iraq is, at best, providing a poor example for the new Iraqi government to follow. ...

...''The U.S. risks fostering a culture of corruption in Iraq,'' said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis

Is fostering, Sen. Feingold, and not just in Iraq.
Meanwhile, please note, the righties are gloating over a report that John Kerry used $300 in campaign money to pay for parking tickets. Will any of these same bloggers express similar outrage over the taxpayer dollars misspent in Iraq? Of course not. IOKIYAR.
In other news, a couple of small grenades were detonated outside the British consulate in New York City early this morning. No one was injured.
Also unrelated, but excellent--Hunter at Daily Kos blasts members of the Washington cocktail party set who lecture Dems that they don't understand the Red states.
6:22 am | link

wednesday, may 4, 2005

Awhile back I wrote a post on charting the political spectrum. Today while looking for something else I stumbled on more charting, here. Some of you might find this interesting.
Over on American Street, eRobin writes that the "Mexico City" gag rule is about to go into effect in Missouri: "No public money can be used to fund abortions in Missouri. But a bill approved last week by the Missouri Senate would deny state aid to hospitals, clinics or counselors who so much as mention the word 'abortion.' " eRobin links to this site with information on how well the gag rule is working elsewhere.
12:47 pm | link

American Street 8:54 am | link

tuesday, may 3, 2005

The Sex Tax and Other Stuff
Once again, Stirling Newberry turns an issue on its head so that we can gain a new perspective. Highly recommended. 
BTW, a Florida judge has ruled that L.G., the pregnant 13-year-old discussed below, may have an abortion.
Speaking of judges, via Memeorandum we learn that Pat Robertson has well and truly earned the grand title "Il lunatico di tutti i lunatici."
Federal judges are a more serious threat to America than Al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 terrorists, the Rev. Pat Robertson claimed yesterday.

"Over 100 years, I think the gradual erosion of the consensus that's held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings," Robertson said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

"I think we have controlled Al Qaeda," the 700 Club host said, but warned of "erosion at home" and said judges were creating a "tyranny of oligarchy."

Confronted by Stephanopoulos on his claims that an out-of-control liberal judiciary is the worst threat America has faced in 400 years - worse than Nazi Germany, Japan and the Civil War - Robertson didn't back down.

You know Pat has gone too far when even other righties (e.g., Captain Ed) say he's gone too far. However, you can't say Pat jumped the shark. He's been that outrageous before, yet he still gets invited to speak on a Sunday bobblehead show. Some people are immune from the effects of shark jumping. I guess it helps if the public already knows you are nuttier than a peanut farm.

The Rev. Mr. Nutjob also expressed contempt for the Constitution by coming out in favor of a religious test for judicial appointees

Weirdly, the Reverend endorsed pro-choice, pro-gay rights, but otherwise anti-integrity Rudy Giuliani for president, but dissed Religious Right houseboy Bill Frist. 

Robertson told "This Week" that he didn't think Frist would run for president and said, "I just don't see him as a future president." But he praised two other senators as possible GOP presidential contenders: Sam Brownback of Kansas and George Allen of Virginia, both of whom are well liked by the Christian right.

Robertson acknowledged that Giuliani did not "share all my particular points of view on social issues," but added, "Rudy's a very good friend of mine and did a super job running the city of New York. I think he'd make a good president."

Maybe a few weeks' rest at the Peanut Farm would do the Reverend some good.

9:03 am | link

Amen, Bro' E.J.
In today's Washington Post, E.J. Dionne speaks my mind:
There is a name for those who continue to sit at a gambling table even after they learn that the game is fixed. They are called fools.

Now that President Bush has proposed Social Security benefit cuts through "progressive indexing," his critics are said to have an obligation to negotiate in good faith to achieve a solution. There are just two problems with that sentence: The words "good faith" and "solution."

Preach it, Bro'!
Bush's "plan" is still not a plan, just a few ideas. If the president is serious, let him first persuade members of his own party to agree to a detailed proposal so everyone knows what the trade-offs are. If what he has in mind is a good idea, Republicans will be eager to sign on. And if Bush can't get Republicans to go along, might that say something about the merits of his suggestions?
That's right. We hear from the "pundits" that Democrats are supposed to come up with a "plan." But a plan for what, exactly? There are many ways the money could be found to ensure the system is solvent until late in this century. The problem, however, is that these many ways all involve the "T" word. And you know the Rigid Right would rather let Grandma starve to death in the streets that raise the taxes of rich people by a penny.
Some press reports have suggested that Bush's willingness to cut Social Security benefits for the wealthy turned him into some latter-day Karl Marx, or at least Ted Kennedy.

This is nonsense.

Bush has refused to put his own tax cuts on the table as part of a Social Security fix. Repealing Bush's tax cuts for those earning more than $350,000 a year could cover all or most of the 75-year Social Security shortfall. Keeping part of the estate tax in place could cover a quarter to half of the shortfall. Some of the hole could be filled in by a modest surtax on dividends or capital gains.

But Bush is resolute about protecting the interests of the truly rich by making sure that any taxes on wealth are ruled out of the game from the beginning. The Social Security cuts he is proposing for the wealthy are a pittance compared with the benefits they get from his tax cuts. The president is keeping his eye on what really matters to him.

I think that on this very day, Democrats should make it absolutely clear that they will not budge on Social Security until taxes are on the table. On the same WaPo page, Richard Cohen writes, 

This column is about Day Two. Day One is the first day of the work year. On that day, the average American worker earns about $142.31 and, of course, has a piece of that withheld for Social Security. Since the cap on such payments is $90,000 a year and the average American earns only $37,000, he or she pays Social Security tax all year long. Now we come to Day Two. For some people, it's not like Day One at all.

A couple of those people happen to be Tom Freston and Les Moonves. They are co-presidents of Viacom, the entertainment conglomerate that owns CBS and Paramount Studios. Last year they each took home more than $50 million. Of that, about $20 million was in salary and bonuses (I'm rounding like crazy here), which means that if they get paid for 52 weeks a year and work a five-day week, they earned about $77,000 on Day One. By, say, 10:15 in the morning of Day Two, their Social Security obligation was behind them.

I give you these data so you will see what suckers we Americans are. Here is the president of the United States, a certain Mr. Bush, attempting to sell us a revision of the hallowed Social Security program -- FDR, Warm Springs and all that -- that would reduce benefits for many of us while at the same time ruling out any increase in the cap. The cap would stay where it is, about $90,000, because to raise it would mean a tax increase, and it is dogma in the Republican Party and the White House that such a thing must not be done. Instead, taxes must only be reduced, which they have been under George W. Bush. To refer back to Freston and Moonves, had they been in the money back in, say, the 1980s, their marginal tax rate -- the rate paid on anything over the first couple of hundred thousand dollars -- would have been 50 percent. (It's been as high as 94 percent.) It is now around 35 percent. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Cohen suggests that if Bush says he is willing to raise the cap, the Dems should be willing to move toward private accounts. I disagree. The kind of private accounts Bush wants to set up would require borrowing trillions. The words that need to be spoken to Bush's face are: We can't afford it. We might have been able to afford it had we not given mega-tax cuts to the rich. We might have been able to afford it if billions of tax dollars weren't being poured down various rat holes in Iraq (and you'll notice that Bushie business cronies and GOP campaign contributors all seem to be at the bottoms of those rat holes). We might have been able to afford it had the Bushies not blown the Clinton budget surplus.

But Bush did these things, and now, thanks to his own policies, we can't afford his policies.

Looks like the public is catchin' on. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken after Thursday night's monkey show reveal even less support for Bush's scheme than before.

So, 'splain to me why Dems are supposed to negotiate, again? Looks like it's the Bushies who have some negotiatin' to do.

Speaking of negotiating, check out this editorial in today's New York Times:

In the Republican legislative dictionary, a "Clear Skies" law means one that allows more pollution, and now "compromise on judicial nominations" means no compromise at all. The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, wants Senate Democrats to accept a deal that would strip away their role in approving the most important federal judicial nominees. His proposal is an assault on checks and balances, and a power grab. Democrats should not go along.

Time and time again, the Rigid Right makes it clear that they will tolerate no disagreement with their plans. But they will nurture falsehood over truth when it works for them. In today's Los Angeles Times, Rutgers history professor David Greenberg writes,

To justify banning Senate filibusters in judicial nomination debates, Republicans are claiming support from history. Until now, say Republicans such as Sen. John Kyl and former Sen. Bob Dole, no one has used filibusters to block nominees to the federal courts. Because Democrats have broken an unwritten rule, their logic goes, Republicans are forced to change written ones.

But the charge that filibustering judicial appointments is unprecedented is false. Indeed, it's surprising that so few Washington hands seem to recall one of the most consequential filibusters in modern times, particularly because it constituted the first salvo in a war over judicial nominees that has lasted ever since.

Greenberg goes on to describe the way conservative Senators--Republicans and some southern Democrats--used the filibuster to block Lyndon Johnson's nomination of Associate Justice Abe Fortas to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Possibly the most egregious of Bush's judicial nominees is Priscilla Owen. Eric Boehlert has a good background article about her in Salon.

Update: See this Associated Press story by David Espo.

7:39 am | link

monday, may 2, 2005

Clip & Save
Over at TAPPED, the editors announced the winner of a liberal agenda contest. The winning entry came from Todd Washburn:
Liberals believe our common humanity endows each of us, individually, with the right to freedom, self-government, and opportunity; and binds all of us, together, in responsibility for securing those rights. 
The editors write,
Todd powerfully captured the two intertwined sensibilities that underlay the liberal project: that every person should have the chance to thrive, but that that goal can only be achieved in a community that recognizes the obligations it entails. From there, of course, we can all argue about what is specifically required, but the core principles are clear.
Works for me. What do y'all think?

3:48 pm | link

Why We're Better
Yesterday I noticed a new liberal bashing book on the New York Times best seller list--Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder: Savage Solutions by Michael Savage. I haven't read it, but I assume it's along the same lines as Savage's earlier books, The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Schools, Faith and Military; and The Savage Nation: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Borders, Language and Culture. 'Course, I didn't read them, either.
Awhile back I observed that (based on my haphazard surfing of the Web) righties define liberalism in more broad-brush, demonic terms than lefties define conservatism. Although there is copious and robust snarking going both ways, I found that it's easier to find condemnations for liberalism itself on the Right Blogosphere than it is to find condemnations for conservatism itself on the Left Blogosphere. As I wrote earlier, "when liberals attack conservatives, liberals tend to be person- or issue-specific, and give reasons -- This guy is a jerk because he did thus-and-so. This policy stinks because it's going to have such-and-such effect."
The Michael Savage book title reminded me of that  post. So, just for fun, I spent some time on Amazon searching for titles with the words liberalism, liberals, conservatism, and conservatives, plus combing through customer readings lists, to see if there is a pattern. Here's what I found:
Books by conservatives with the words liberal or liberalism in the title (not including the Michael Savage titles already named above): 
Ann Coulter, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism
Ann Coulter, Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right
Ann Coulter, How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must): The World According to Ann Coulter
Mona Charen, Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First
Mona Charen, Do Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help (and the Rest of Us)
Sean Hannity, Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism
Sean Hannity, Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty Over Liberalism
John Podhoretz, How Dubya Became a Great President While Driving Liberals Insane
David Limbaugh, Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity 
Michael S. Rose, Goodbye Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption Into the Catholic Church
Robert Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, Modern Liberalism and American Decline 
If I expanded this search to include "The Left" I could list a great many more titles along the same lines, and most of them sold a respectable number of copies.
Now here's my list of books by liberals with conservatives or conservatism in the title:
Thomas Frank, What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America
And that was the only title I found, unless you include:
Michael Lind, Up from Conservatism: Why the Right Is Wrong for America
Mr. Lind is a recent convert from neoconservatism, and I don't know for sure that he's calling himself a liberal. So that title may not count.
Hmm, looks like a pattern to me.
Expanding the search: The most broad-brush smearing of the Right in a book title were two books by a fellow named Clint Willis, The I Hate Republicans Reader: Why the GOP Is Totally Wrong About Everything and The I Hate Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity. . . Reader: The Hideous Truth About America's Ugliest Conservatives. After those titles, one wonders what he had left over to put in the books.
The title of Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right is pretty inflammatory. But so might be Tammy Bruce's The Death of Right and Wrong: Exposing the Left's Assault on Our Culture and Values. Franken writes with tongue in cheek; I suspect Ms. Bruce may not.
Then there is David Corn's Joe Conason's Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth; along the same lines is David Brock's The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How It Corrupts Democracy. I've read these; they make a persuasive case, IMO. But for each of these titles I promise you that you can find a dozen more along the lines of Dan Flynn's Why the Left Hates America: Exposing the Lies That Have Obscured Our Nation's Greatness.  
But see the distinction: Brock's and Corn's Conason's titles talk about behaviors the Right engages in. Mr. Flynn points to motivation--the Left hates America
I say we're better.
Unrelated link: This is funny.

9:41 am | link

sunday, may 1, 2005

My Choice of Words
Friday I linked to this story about a 13-year-old girl, a ward of the state of Florida, who is being blocked from having an abortion by a judge who says she is too young and immature to make an informed medical decision. I didn't have time to write comments about this story when I linked it, but I believe I will now.
My comments:
Regarding an "informed medical decision": According to Alan Guttmacher,

When a woman becomes pregnant before age 18, birth can be dangerous for both mother and baby. If the mother's pelvis is undersized because of incomplete skeletal growth, she may suffer prolonged or obstructed labor. The risk of death during childbirth is 2-4 times higher among mothers aged 17 or younger than among mothers aged 20 or older.

Further, while mortality risks for childbirth are low these days, this document says "The risk of death associated with childbirth is about 11 times as high as that associated with abortion."

So let's not even pretend this judge's decision is about making an "informed medical decision." It is not. Rather, it is about this judge's "moral" decision that this girl is no more human than a Holstein. Cows are supposed to drop those calves, whether they like it or not. 

The BBC article says "The judge's ruling comes in spite of Florida state law which specifically does not require a minor to seek parental consent before an abortion." So, in other words, he's making law from the bench. I'm sure all those righties who keep screaming about "judicial activism" are speaking out against this judge's activism, also, aren't they? [Cue sound effect: Cricket chirp.]

A thirteen-year-old is considered too young to make the decision to have sex in most states, so seems to me this child is the victim of statutory rape. Isn't rape supposed to be one of the exceptions most anti-choicers are willing to make? Guess not.

And, speaking of rape, I say that the continued use of this child's body against her will is an extension of rape, and the judge, the whole dadblamed state of Florida, and any other mouth-beathing twit who agrees with the judge are no better than rapists.

On second thought, forget "no better than"; they ARE rapists. And child rapists, at that.

I hope that last comment isn't too subtle for the twits to understand.

Update: Catholic hospitals in Colorado are rapists, too.  

7:16 am | link

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The Loyalties of George W. Bush

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


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."

ˇ   ˇ   ˇ   ˇ   ˇ   ˇ

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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