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saturday, october 1, 2005

You just got time to say your prayers ...
 
Today's question: Does religion cause societal dysfunction, or are dysfunctional societies more likely to be religious?
 
Citing this report in the Journal of Religion and Society, Rosa Brooks writes in today's Los Angeles Times,
The study, by evolutionary scientist Gregory S. Paul, looks at the correlation between levels of "popular religiosity" and various "quantifiable societal health" indicators in 18 prosperous democracies, including the United States.

Paul ranked societies based on the percentage of their population expressing absolute belief in God, the frequency of prayer reported by their citizens and their frequency of attendance at religious services. He then correlated this with data on rates of homicide, sexually transmitted disease, teen pregnancy, abortion and child mortality.

He found that the most religious democracies exhibited substantially higher degrees of social dysfunction than societies with larger percentages of atheists and agnostics. Of the nations studied, the U.S. — which has by far the largest percentage of people who take the Bible literally and express absolute belief in God (and the lowest percentage of atheists and agnostics) — also has by far the highest levels of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Last week there was some discussion of this report at Pharyngula. If you read the comments you'll notice a number of righties jumping in who clearly had not read the report, or even the newspaper articles about the report. (How come there aren't any Islamic countries in the study? Because the study was limited to prosperous democracies.) And as always, some argued that high rates of crime in the U.S. are the result of racial "diversity"; i.e., it's black peoples' fault.
 
The problem with the latter hypothesis is that, even though the United States overall is more racially diverse than most other countries, some parts of the U.S. are more "diverse" than others. And I doubt you can find a consistent correlation within the U.S. between "diversity" and crime rates. New York City, arguably about as "diverse" as anyplace on the planet (I'm told Toronto might be the only place more diverse) has lower rates of violent crime (homicide rate 7.3 per 100,000 inhabitants) than a lot of less "diverse" cities, such as Cincinnati (homicide rate 20.0 per 100,000 inhabitants.  
 
Toronto's homicide rate, btw, is 2.3 per 100,000.
 
Show me a place with a really high crime rate, and I'll show you a place in which a big chunk of the population is very poor and short on economic opportunities. Because racial minorities are often ghettoized and discriminated against, there might seem to be a relationship between race and crime. But in places that are racially integrated and with reasonably equitable opportunity, such as New York City, it's not so clear. But I digress.
 
Last week I ran into a number of rightie blogs that mischaracterized the Gregory Paul study as claiming that religion "caused" violence and crime, but that's not what it said. The conclusion Paul states was that secularization does not cause violence and crime. American Bible thumpers, of course, continually argue that we have to be well-saturated with religion in order to be moral and orderly. Clearly, Paul's study proves that is not so.
 
Even within the United States, the least "religious" parts of the country tend to be the most orderly. Rosa Brooks continues,
This conclusion will come as no surprise to those who have long gnashed their teeth in frustration while listening to right-wing evangelical claims that secular liberals are weak on "values." Paul's study confirms globally what is already evident in the U.S.: When it comes to "values," if you look at facts rather than mere rhetoric, the substantially more secular blue states routinely leave the Bible Belt red states in the dust.

Murder rates? Six of the seven states with the highest 2003 homicide rates were "red" in the 2004 elections (Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina), while the deep blue Northeastern states had murder rates well below the national average. Infant mortality rates? Highest in the South and Southwest; lowest in New England. Divorce rates? Marriages break up far more in red states than in blue. Teen pregnancy rates? The same.

But then we come to the chicken and the egg:

Of course, the red/blue divide is only an imperfect proxy for levels of religiosity. And while Paul's study found that the correlation between high degrees of religiosity and high degrees of social dysfunction appears robust, it could be that high levels of social dysfunction fuel religiosity, rather than the other way around. ...

... We shouldn't shy away from the possibility that too much religiosity may be socially dangerous. Secular, rationalist approaches to problem-solving emphasize uncertainty, evidence and perpetual reevaluation. Religious faith is inherently nonrational.

And y'know what? There's not a thing wrong with nonrational religion (notice I don't say "irrational"). Religion is about matters that cannot be measured or quantified or objectively observed. That's what distinguishes it from science. And that's OK. I think religious people who try to explain religion in rational ways are being very foolish. But this tends to be true of religious people who emphasize adherence to rigid dogmas rather than the spiritual journey itself. 

The Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh wrote,   

Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. All systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.

Do not think that the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to receive others' viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout our entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.

Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness.

Good luck with that.

Over on The Left Coaster, eriposte has been posting an excellent series on the Stevens Creek Elementary School controvery (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV). Stevens Creek is the school that had allegedly banned the Declaration of Independence. This was a false charge made by the far right Alliance Defense Fund, a group attempting by any means to inject a fundamentalist Christian curriculum into public schools. For background, read eriposte and also a web site set up by parents of Stevens Creek students who fought the charges brought by ADF.

In effect, this "religious" organization engaged in lies, smears, deceit, and intimidation to make people "good." Perhaps you see the problem.

The evolution-creationist/"intelligent design" flap presents a similar situation. The "religious" side lies, deceives, and misrepresents both science and religion to make their case. To be fair, I'm sure some "ID" proponents don't realize they are spreading lies, because they are lying to themselves as much as to everyone else. But as Thich Nhat Hanh would explain, not lying to yourself is essential to the spiritual path--"observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times." The flip side of the teaching is that people who can't face the truth generally are afraid of it.

This takes us back to our chicken-egg question--is the United States more dysfunctional because it is religious, or more religious because it is dysfunctional?

Historians have argued for years about why religiosity so flourishes in the United States. Many point out that in colonial days groups run out of Europe for being religious whackjobs tended to settle here. But those persons were, I think, only a small portion of the early immigrants. And most of the early whackjobs gravitated to New England, which got over it. So I don't think that's the answer. Here's my hypothesis:

A little known Fun Fact provides a clue. In 1812, in the then-frontier of Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and western Virginia, membership in the Methodist church increased by 50 percent. In the rest of the nation, membership increased by less than 1 percent. What happened? Hard-core history buffs might recognize that in 1811 and 1812 this region was impacted by a series of massive earthquakes. A couple of these quakes are estimated to have been at 8.1 and 8.0 on the Richter scale. Before the earthquakes, the majority of settlers of this region were unchurched. Although there were backsliders (known as "Earth-quake Christians"), ever after religiosity in the region remained considerably higher than it had been before. [Source: James Penick, The New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812 (University of Missouri Press, 1973), pp. 118-119]

The earthquakes alone are not responsible, but I think much of America's early religiosity might have been caused by fear. The settlers had to deal with many strange and frightening things--rattlesnacks, endless forests easily lost in, natives who didn't always roll out the welcome wagon. Extended family and familiar institutions were far away. People turned to religion, but in a superstitious way--as a talisman against harm, rather than as an answer to life's great mysteries.

And to this day, much of "Christianity" as found in the United States is based on fear. The God of fundies is more like the fearsome primal deities who wanted virgins to be tossed into volcanoes than the benevolent Providence of, say, Albert Schweitzer. The fundie God must be catered to and appeased, as opposed to a more progressive God who calls on people to be good human beings and love one another. Therefore, lies, deceit, and smears in His name seem justified.

It is important to recognize that these [fundamentalist] theologies and ideologies are rooted in fear. The desire to define doctrines, erect barriers, establish borders, and segregate the faithful in a sacred enclave where the law is stringently observed springs from that terror of extinction which has made all fundamentalists, at once time or another, believe that the secularists were about to wipe them out. The modern world, which seems so exciting to a liberal, seems Godless, drained of meaning and even satanic to a fundamentalist. [Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God (Ballantine, 2000), p. 368]

And if you think about it, fear is pretty much what the extreme Right is all about; from their check-your-brain-at-the-door ideologies, the "I got mine and the hell with you" domestic agenda, and their be-like-us-or-we'll-bomb-you foreign policies. At the core, it's all about fear. And functional societies don't run on fear, but on trust.

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friday, september 30, 2005

Till one day they call your name ...
 
Don't miss Arianna's post on Judy Miller. Follow up with "Miller's Big Secret" by Dan Froomkin. Then, all together: "WTF?"
 
[Judy Miller update: Was Judy holding out for assurance Fitzgerald wasn't going to pursue her bogus WMD claims?]
 
Now, if you missed Hunter's brilliant rant "Bush Supporters of the Far Right: Cries from the Lake of Fire" read it right now so that you can follow the rest of this post.
 
The rightie slammed by Hunter in the rant rebutted by whining about nasty remarks made about him "by Kossacks."  Here's the follow up, or the rebuttal of the rebuttal, by RNinNC:
[The rightie] has listed some UGLY comments that he supposedly culled from responses to Hunter's diary. Problem is, I skimmed ALL of the responses, and found none of them. I looked in Hidden Comments, I even tried to search the comments of the User's he cited. Only one of them even existed, and he had no comments listed on his user page.
In rebuttal to the rebuttal to the rebuttal, the rightie says he didn't say the ugly comments were posted on Daily Kos. The comments were, he clarified, received in email. However, in his original post he said the comments were made "by Kossacks," meaning members of the regular Daily Kos posting community, a charge the rightie cannot prove. And the rebuttal post was titled "From Daily Kos, With Love." You see the problem.
 
And ain't nothin' in the nasty comments that were any nastier than comments I've received from righties. Considering that righties occasionally get my phone number and scream obscenities at me over the phone, I'd say I've had it worse.
 
Conclusion: Righties are weenies.
 
More recently, the weenie complained that people on Air America Radio were threatening to beat him up. You can listen to audioclips on the weenie's site and giggle. But remember that Hunter's original post came about because this same weenie threatened a civil war and said Democrats had better start accepting Republican rule "before things get really bad." And on Air America, Mike Malloy said the weenies needed to be responded to in kind.
 
Proving once again that weenies can dish it out, but they can't take it.
 
And notice something else? At no time did the weenie attempt a substantive rebuttal of what Hunter wrote. He just started whining about how mean the ol' bad "Kossacks" were.
 
(Weenies--try to complete the following sentence: "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the ________________.")

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Just Waiting for the Hammer to Fall
 
Big day today. Judy Miller is supposed to testify to Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury this morning, although it's doubtful we'll learn anything about her testimony today. And it's possible Boy Wonder will announce his second Supreme Court nominee.
 
While we're waiting for those developments, let us consider Tom DeLay.
 
DeLay's operations are at the heart of one of the most glaring hypocrisies of the Right. Righties warn that U.S. participation in international institutions such as the United Nations amounts to a surrender of American sovereignty. Yet it bothers them not at all that our sovereignty is being sold off to big corporations to finance the GOP election machine.
 
His indictment is an indictment of the whole way the Republican Party operates. The central theme of DeLay's tenure has been to break down barriers to greater corporate influence in American politics.

Some of these barriers are mere social norms. It once was considered completely beyond the pale to, say, threaten political retribution against corporations that give donations and lobbying jobs to the other party. DeLay and his "K Street Project" made this a regular practice.

Some of these barriers are formal rules that lack the force of law. The House of Representatives forbids its members from accepting trips from lobbyists. DeLay regularly accepted such trips, financed through transparent front groups.

And some of these barriers are actual laws. Texas law forbids the use of corporate money in elections. DeLay allegedly masterminded a scheme whereby corporations would donate money earmarked for Texas races to the Republican National Committee, which would then pour the money into the Texas races.

The central vision of DeLayism is of a political system whereby business gains almost total control over the Republican agenda, and in return the GOP gains unlimited financial influence over the electoral process.
The indictment of Tom DeLay challenges a system of power. It is a blow against a national political machine that blurs the lines between parties, interest groups and the relentless pursuit of political money.

Defenders of politicians under attack typically say, no matter what the abuse is: "But everybody does it." That excuse does not work here. DeLay, who was forced to step down as House majority leader, was a pioneer in something entirely new: a fully integrated political apparatus that linked Republican Party committees, lobbyists, fundraisers, corporations, ideological organizations and the process of governing itself.

DeLay's modus operandi is explained by Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten in the LA Times. Beginning with the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994, DeLay began a campaign to be sure K Street lobbying groups are dominated by loyal Republicans, who in turn make sure the bulk of corporate donations go to the GOP. And then the GOP sees to it that the corporations are repaid with laws taylor-made for corporate benefit. And let the public, by whose consent the just powers to govern originate, be damned.
 
With the help of his buddy Grover Norquist, DeLay oversees hiring by lobbying firms to be sure they don't slip up and employ a Democrat. And those who do slip up are punished. Hamburger and Wallsten write:
Last year, conservatives fumed when the Motion Picture Assn. of America hired Bill Clinton's former Agriculture secretary, Dan Glickman, to run its Washington office. Afterward, Republicans removed tax-relief provisions for the film industry from a pending tax bill. Later, Glickman hired prominent Republicans, including a senior aide to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.
But when everyone follows the Hammer's rules, the process works like a well-oiled machine:
Many of the Republicans who have taken lobbying and trade association jobs recently owe their positions to GOP benefactors in Congress. About two dozen former DeLay staffers work as lobbyists. In these jobs, they often have access to funds they can use as donations to campaigns and conservative causes. The corporate world also supplies contacts in congressional districts that can help Republican candidates with grass-roots campaigns.

The Bush administration has sought to take advantage of these ties in building unified support for judicial nominees, the president's Social Security proposal and, more recently, immigration overhaul — issues that in the past did not draw much trade association activity. DeLay and other GOP leaders used business contacts to push for passage in 2003 of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, which was a priority of the pharmaceutical industry.

E.J. Dionne explains,

The corporations that forked over the cash to DeLay's PAC did so not because their hearts were filled with affection for those particular Texas legislative candidates but because they recognized DeLay's power over federal legislation. It put an innovative gloss on one of the oldest rules in politics: Power begets money, which begets more power, which begets more money.

That's why this case cannot be viewed apart from other aspects of the DeLay empire. He extended his influence by muscling lobbying firms to hire Republicans of his choosing and to ostracize Democrats. DeLay's majority happily invited lobbyists in to help write bills. The Medicare prescription drug benefit is far more expensive than it has to be because of big concessions to drug companies and HMOs. Tax bills are littered with very specific loopholes to benefit very specific interests.

One can imagine corporate boards having the final word even over matters of war and peace, with wars approved or denied depending on their profit potential, not on whether national security requires them. (Hey, wait a minute ...)

The Kool-Aiders will defend this mess as "pro-business." But when big-money corporations can pay Congress to crank out "boutique" legislation, it turns the Right's beloved rhetoric about "free markets" and "invisible hands" on its head. In this case, the only reason the "hand" is invisible is that it operates in the dark. I don't think that's what Adam Smith had in mind.

See also:  "The Dispensable Man"; "Immoral Majority"; "The Hammer Falls."

Update: Good resource at The Left Coaster--"Tom DeLay's Culture of Corruption and Criminality."

Update update: This is from the New York Daily News:

President Bush hit the political panic button yesterday, calling a strategy session with top Republicans to salvage their shredded agenda.

A day after House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was indicted, and with Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq war hanging over him, Bush convened the summit with new House Majority Leader Roy Blunt, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and a few others.

"The Republican Congress is united," a defensive Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said earlier. "We are going to press ahead on important priorities."

But the leaders, who ordinarily speak to the press after such confabs, ducked out a White House side door.

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thursday, september 29, 2005

Scootin' Scooter
 
Tonight's breaking news is that Judy Miller is out of jail, and that Scooter Libby was The Source.
Mr. Fitzgerald has said that obtaining Ms. Miller's testimony was one of the last remaining objectives of his inquiry, and the deal with Ms. Miller suggests that the prosecutor may soon bring the long-running investigation to an end. It is unknown whether prosecutors will charge anyone in the Bush administration with wrongdoing.

The agreement that led to Ms. Miller's release followed intense negotiations between Ms. Miller; her lawyer, Robert Bennett; Mr. Libby's lawyer, Joseph Tate; and Mr. Fitzgerald. The talks began with a telephone call from Mr. Bennett to Mr. Tate in late August. Ms. Miller spoke with Mr. Libby by telephone earlier this month as their lawyers listened, according to people briefed on the matter. It was then that Mr. Libby told Ms. Miller that she had his personal and voluntary waiver.

But the discussions were at times strained, with Mr. Libby and Mr. Tate asserting that they communicated their voluntary waiver to Ms. Miller's lawyers more than year ago, according to those briefed on the case. Mr. Libby wrote to Ms. Miller in mid-September, saying that he believed her lawyers understood that his waiver was voluntary.

Others involved in the case have said that Ms. Miller did not understand that the waiver had been freely given and did not accept it until she had heard from him directly.
OK, let's see if I've got this straight--Libby gave Miller a personal and voluntary waiver "earlier this month." But Libby says he communicated a waiver to Miller over two years ago. And Miller decides today she's ready to be sprung? Does this make sense? Does it make you wonder if Miller has something else to worry about than journalism ethics? Do I have a headache?
 
That's an affirmative on the last question, buckaroos.
 
Miller is supposed to testify to Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury tomorrow. Fitzgerald has said Miller's testimony is the last detail he needs to wind up the Traitorgate case.
 

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GOP: Gaining SCOTUS, Losing Congress?
 
To mess around with an old Scottish Middle English poem--
Roberts is icumen in,
Lhude sing goddamn.
Will the Dems grow a spine for the next nominee? Is Karen Hughes a Muslim scholar?
 
Probably not.
 
Avedon provides the names of the Dem senators who voted yes: Baucus, Mont.; Bingaman, N.M.; Byrd, W.Va.; Carper, Del.; Conrad, N.D.; Dodd, Conn.; Dorgan, N.D.; Feingold, Wis.; Johnson, S.D.; Kohl, Wis.; Landrieu, La.; Leahy, Vt.; Levin, Mich.; Lieberman, Conn.; Lincoln, Ark.; Murray, Wash.; Nelson, Fla.; Nelson, Neb.; Pryor, Ark.; Rockefeller, W.Va.; Salazar, Colo.; Wyden, Ore. Clip & save.
 
To be fair, part of the Dems' problem with Roberts is that the television and newspaper political pundits tripped all over themselves praising Roberts and gushing about how supremely qualified he is to be a Supreme Court justice. And this happened because Roberts is a long-time Washington insider, and he and the pundits and the rest of The Powers That Be in Washington all go to the same parties. And he's such a nice guy, etc. 
 
Remember what Peter Daou wrote about the power triangle of blogs, media, and the political establishment? If one side of the triangle caves, the other two don't have much of a chance. 
 
Will Bush find someone equally charmed to be the next nominee? We'll see.
 
On the bright side, seems to me that George Bush's presidency has grown considerably weaker since Roberts was nominated. As Rick Santorum is learning, being aligned with the White House is a political liability these days. And today Dan Froomkin writes, 

His second-term agenda is in shambles. His spending plan for Hurricane Katrina has torn his party apart. Support for his increasingly unpopular war is eroding. His political capital is spent.

And now he's lost his Hammer.

 For President Bush, who was already seeing his influence wane in Congress, yesterday's indictment of Rep. Tom DeLay -- forcing the iron-fisted House majority leader to step down from his leadership post -- was an enormous blow.

 Furthermore, DeLay's troubles add to the sense that the Republican Party and the White House are under siege, plagued by missteps and ethics scandals.

Froomkin goes on to provide an overview of the many "GOP Is Screwing the Pooch" stories in newspapers today. There's one piece he missed, though, by WaPo's Terry Neal.  Neal advises Tom DeLay and his supporters not to rely to much on the "my enemies are out to get me" strategy. 

Buried under a sea of political scandal in the late 1980s and early 1990s, congressional Democrats often evoked the same defense. And it didn't work ....

... The reason was simple: It is entirely possible both that your enemies are out to get you and that you did exactly what you are being accused of doing. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

The fat lady ain't sung yet.

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Idiots Abroad
 
As you know, Bush Mommy Figure Karen Hughes is now U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. She received this honor last March, with much fanfare, and was charged with the job of changing perceptions about "brand America" in the Muslim world.
 
At the time, no one seems to have noticed how spectacularly unqualified Hughes is for this mission. She has no background in diplomacy and no expertise in the Middle East. In fact, she had never been to the Middle East before this week. In light of recent empirical evidence that unqualified people really can screw up royally, perhaps it's time to revisit Hughes's appointment.
 
But too late; after messing around in the U.S. for seven months or so, she finally bit the bullet and went off on a tour of Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. 
 
The Washington Post reports that Hughes "has generally met with polite audiences -- many of which consisted of former exchange students or people who have received U.S. funding -- during a tour of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey this week."  That's good; if you want to change perceptions about America in the Middle East, stick to audiences who are already inclined to like you. Saves time and effort.
 
This is a tactice long used in the Bush Administration. You might recall the President's "town meetings" to sell Social Security "reform" to America were attended only by Kool Aiders who would follow Dear Leader off a cliff. The point of this is to make the salesman look good, although it doesn't seem to move the product very well. The Bushies may need to work on that.
 
Hughes appears to have embraced her role with enthusiasm. Last week, it was clear she had prepared for her first trip by spending at least a couple of hours with an encyclopedia. Sidney Blumenthal provides this quote:
You might want to know why the countries. Egypt is of course the most populous Arab country ... Saudi Arabia is our second stop. It's obviously an important place in Islam and the keeper of its two holiest sites ... Turkey is also a country that encompasses people of many different backgrounds and beliefs, yet has the -- is proud of the saying that "all are Turks."
OK, maybe not two hours. She probably just had an assistant skim through an encyclopedia instead. But you can't say she was utterly unprepared.
 
Hughes seems to be less an ambassador than a missionary. A 19th century missionary, to be specific; the kind of well-meaning rube who preached to the simple native swarthy people about Jesus and hygiene and covering body parts. This was usually right before the Great White Investors moved in and sent the simple native swarthy people off to dig for diamonds or harvest sugar cane or whatever. 
 
That approach may work in America--in Red states, anyway--but it seems Middle Easterners don't care for it much. They find it patronizing and an insult to their intelligence. And they've got the oil (nyah nyah nyah). The Great White Investors have to kiss up to them
 
Still, Hughes gave it her best shot. In Saudi Arabia she boldly questioned the ban on women driving cars. She explained to an Egyptian that the phrase "one nation under God" is in the U.S. Constitution (betcha didn't know that). But most of all, Hughes's message is that everything is better in America, and the simple native swarthy people would be so much happier if they'd just give up their simple native swarthy ways and try to be more like us.
 
Oddly, this expression of compassion seems to anger the Middle East more. Go figure. Sidney Blumenthal writes,

With these well-meaning arguments, Hughes has provided the exact proof for what Osama bin Laden has claimed about American motives. "It is stunning ... the extent [to which] Hughes is helping bin Laden," Robert Pape told me. Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist who has conducted the most extensive research into the backgrounds and motives of suicide terrorists, is the author of "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," and recently briefed the Pentagon and the National Counterterrorism Center. "If you set out to help bin Laden," he said, "you could not have done it better than Hughes."

Pape's research debunks the view that suicide terrorism is the natural byproduct of Islamic fundamentalism or some "Islamo-fascist" ideological strain independent of certain highly specific circumstances. "Of the key conditions that lead to suicide terrorism in particular, there must be, first, the presence of foreign combat forces on the territory that the terrorists prize. The second condition is a religious difference between the combat forces and the local community. The religious difference matters in that it enables terrorist leaders to paint foreign forces as being driven by religious goals. If you read Osama's speeches, they begin with descriptions of the U.S. occupation of the Arabian Peninsula, driven by our religious goals, and that it is our religious purpose that must confronted. That argument is incredibly powerful not only to religious Muslims but secular Muslims. Everything Hughes says makes their case."

Back to Karen's Crusade ... er, tour. It appears she hit a snag in Turkey. Instead of cherry picking Hughes's audience itself, the U.S. Embassy asked a Turkish group called Ka-Der, which supports women running for office, to provide a guest list. They must've figured activist Middle Eastern ladies would feel awed and humbled just to be in the presence of the Great White Woman Who Wears Pantsuits, so pre-screening wasn't necessary.
 

"War makes the rights of women completely erased, and poverty comes after war -- and women pay the price," said Fatma Nevin Vargun, a Kurdish women's rights activist. Vargun denounced the arrest of Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq, in front of the White House this week.

Hughes, who became increasingly subdued during the session, defended the decision to invade Iraq as a difficult and wrenching moment for Bush, but necessary to protect the United States.

[Note that Hughes didn't explain how or why the Iraq War was necessary to protect the United States. This is disappointing; at this point I'd pay money to hear anyone in the Bush Administration even try to explain why the Iraq War was necessary to protect the United States.]

"You're concerned about war, and no one likes war," Hughes said. But "to preserve the peace, sometimes my country believes war is necessary," she said. She also asserted that women are faring much better in Iraq than they had under the rule of deposed president Saddam Hussein.

"War is not necessary for peace," shot back Feray Salman, a human rights activist. She said countries should not try to impose democracy through war, adding that "we can never, ever export democracy and freedom from one country to another."

Tuksal said she was "feeling myself wounded, feeling myself insulted here" by Hughes's response. "In every photograph that comes from Iraq, there is that look of fear in the eyes of women and children. . . . This needs to be resolved as soon as possible."

Why do they hate America? Suzanne Fields explained in the Washington Times that for Muslim women "freedom is frightening." Or maybe they think Karen Hughes is frightening. To me, the women of the Middle East seem keenly interested in freedom... from war, from want, and from the Bush Administration. 
 
Update: See "Karen of Arabia" by Juliette Kayyem at TPM Cafe.
 
Update update: JimmyJeff says Hughes was "ambushed" by the Turkish activist ladies! Snort.

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wednesday, september 28, 2005

Culture of Corruption
 
"Culture of corruption" is a phrase used by Paul Hackett in his recent Ohio congressional seat race. I see Nancy Pelosi has picked it up. She called Tom DeLay's indictment  "the latest example that Republicans in Congress are plagued by a culture of corruption at the expense of the American people."
 
Well ... yeah. For a while now. And the corruption manifests in so many ways ...
 
Conservatives, enraged by talk of spending $200 billion on the Hurricane Katrina recovery, are calling on the leadership to slow down popular programs and to find spending cuts to offset the expenses. But congressional leaders have rejected most of the conservatives' entreaties.

Just before Pence gave his toned-down speech, a fellow member of the Republican Study Committee, lunching with reporters at Charlie Palmer Steak, accepted that Congress would not find cuts to pay for the $62 billion spent so far on Katrina -- much less the $250 billion more that Louisiana wants from the feds. If "we find $20 billion in offsets, we'll probably declare victory," said the congressman, who spoke on the condition that he not be named.

OK, so we'll borrow the money from China. But look at where the money is going--

As fiscal hawks surrendered, would-be government contractors were meeting in the Hart Senate Office Building to figure out how to get a share of the money. A "Katrina Reconstruction Summit," hosted by Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and sponsored by Halliburton, among others, brought some 200 lobbyists, corporate representatives and government staffers to a room overlooking the Capitol for a five-hour conference that included time for a "networking break" and advice on "opportunities for private sector involvement."

The pigs are at the trough. But at the same time, we learn via AMERICAblog, Bush and congressional GOP are blocking health care coverage for hundreds of thousands of hurricane victims.
With Gulf Coast governors pressing for action, Senate Finance Committee members complained Wednesday that the Bush administration is blocking a bipartisan $9 billion health care package for hundreds of thousands of evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita....
 
...Sen. Charles Grassley (news, bio, voting record), R-Iowa, chairman of the committee, said four or five senators have been blocking action on the bill after the Bush administration raised objections to provisions that would extend Medicaid coverage to thousands upon thousands of adults who otherwise would be uninsured, including those whose applications have been rejected in Louisiana.
The White House claims an extension of Medicaid isn't needed, because health care would be paid from another fund. But the Bushies were a tad vague about what that fund was, how much money was in it, and how it would be administrated. Meanwhile, hurricane victims need medical care. Now, please.
 
Corruption takes many forms.  Via AMERICAblog--today the Army cancelled its investigation of the "death porn" photos. They cancelled it because they said, (1) no federal crime had been committed; and (2) the investigators could not determine from the American soldiers in the photos if American soldiers were involved, or if the dead were dead were war dead, as opposed to civilians suffering from spontaneous head explosion syndrome.
 
John Aravosis is considering publishing uncensored photos to bring these atrocities to light. Go over there and let him know what you think. I say that as long as it's not a federal crime ...
 
Today the Washington Post published a letter from  Army Capt. Ian Fishback to Senator John McCain. Captain Fishback has been trying to determine what standards of humane treatment the Army is applying in Iraq. Via Dan Froomkin, we learn there are no standards. "Inhumane treatment" is a term not "susceptible to a succinct definition."  Sort of like "justice," "freedom," and "compassion." Think of it as "definition corruption."

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5:53 pm | link

DeLay Indicted!
 

A Texas grand jury on Wednesday charged Rep. Tom DeLay and two political associates with conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme, an indictment that could force him to step down as House majority leader.

DeLay attorney Steve Brittain said DeLay was accused of a criminal conspiracy along with two associates, John Colyandro, former executive director of a Texas political action committee formed by DeLay, and Jim Ellis, who heads DeLay’s national political committee.

What about DeLay’s House Majority Leader gig? The plan is for DeLay to “temporarily” relinquish the post. DeLay gets to keep his seat in Congress, though.

More stuff from WaPo:

DeLay, 58, also is the center of an ethics swirl in Washington. The 11-term congressman was admonished last year by the House ethics committee on three separate issues and is the center of a political storm this year over lobbyists paying his and other lawmakers’ tabs for expensive travel abroad.

Wednesday’s indictment stems from a plan DeLay helped set in motion in 2001 to help Republicans win control of the Texas House in the 2002 elections for the first time since Reconstruction.

A state political action committee he created, Texans for a Republican Majority, was indicted earlier this month on charges of accepting corporate contributions for use in state legislative races. Texas law prohibits corporate money from being used to advocate the election or defeat of candidates; it is allowed only for administrative expenses.

With GOP control of the Texas legislature, DeLay then engineered a redistricting plan that enabled the GOP take six Texas seats in the U.S. House away from Democrats--including one lawmaker switching parties--in 2004 and build its majority in Congress.

Let’s hope this is just the warmup … Josh Marshall writes,

So let's see.

House Majority Leader Indicted for Criminal Conspiracy.

Senate Majority Leader the target of an increasingly serious probe of potential insider trading.

Rumors of October Rove indictment in the Plame case.

Is this a problem yet?

Heh.

Update: Via Atrios, if convicted the Bugman could face up to two years incarceration.

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1:06 pm | link

Weenies and Their Friends
 
Only a ten-cup-a-day Kool Aider could believe this. For the reality-based version of Michael Brown's testimony yesterday, see Dana Milbank and Oliver Willis.
 
Brown is a weenie. He looks like a weenie. He talks like a weenie. He's got "weenie" written all over him in neon letters. Any reasonably rational person can see this.
 
Of course, George W. Bush is also a weenie, but he's been carefully taught to hide his weenieness with swagger (a combination that renders one into an asshole), helped along by costumes and good lights. But Brown doesn't know how to fake it. He is what he is--a weenie.

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9:38 am | link

tuesday, september 27, 2005

More Religion = More Violence?
 
Via Shakespeare's Sister, here's a fascinating report in the Journal of Religion and Society that argues secular societies are more functional and less violent than religious societies. Here's just a sliver:
Among the developing democracies absolute belief in God, attendance of religious services and Bible literalism vary over a dozenfold, atheists and agnostics five fold, prayer rates fourfold, and acceptance of evolution almost twofold. Japan, Scandinavia, and France are the most secular nations in the west, the United States is the only prosperous first world nation to retain rates of religiosity otherwise limited to the second and third worlds (Bishop; PEW).
But compared to other prosperous first world nations, the U.S. has higher rates of homicide, higher juvenile mortality rates, and higher rates of sexually transmitted disease, among other little problems.
In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies (Figures 1-9). The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S., is exceptional, but not in the manner Franklin predicted. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly. The view of the U.S. as a “shining city on the hill” to the rest of the world is falsified when it comes to basic measures of societal health. Youth suicide is an exception to the general trend because there is not a significant relationship between it and religious or secular factors. No democracy is known to have combined strong religiosity and popular denial of evolution with high rates of societal health. Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction, and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional. None of the strongly secularized, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction. In some cases the highly religious U.S. is an outlier in terms of societal dysfunction from less theistic but otherwise socially comparable secular developing democracies. In other cases, the correlations are strongly graded, sometimes outstandingly so.
The report makes a strong case for correlation, but of course correlation is not necessarily causation.  Are we a screwy nation because of religion, or are we a religious nation because we are screwy? Let us pray ...
 
In the August issue of Harper's Bill McKibben wrote that "America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior." America is, he says, " a place saturated in Christian identity." 

But is it Christian? This is not a matter of angels dancing on the heads of pins. Christ was pretty specific about what he had in mind for his followers. What if we chose some simple criterion—say, giving aid to the poorest people—as a reasonable proxy for Christian behavior? After all, in the days before his crucifixion, when Jesus summed up his message for his disciples, he said the way you could tell the righteous from the damned was by whether they’d fed the hungry, slaked the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoner. What would we find then?

In 2004, as a share of our economy, we ranked second to last, after Italy, among developed countries in government foreign aid. Per capita we each provide fifteen cents a day in official development assistance to poor countries. And it’s not because we were giving to private charities for relief work instead. Such funding increases our average daily donation by just six pennies, to twenty-one cents. It’s also not because Americans were too busy taking care of their own; nearly 18 percent of American children lived in poverty (compared with, say, 8 percent in Sweden). In fact, by pretty much any measure of caring for the least among us you want to propose—childhood nutrition, infant mortality, access to preschool—we come in nearly last among the rich nations, and often by a wide margin. The point is not just that (as everyone already knows) the American nation trails badly in all these categories; it’s that the overwhelmingly Christian American nation trails badly in all these categories, categories to which Jesus paid particular attention. And it’s not as if the numbers are getting better: the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last year that the number of households that were “food insecure with hunger” had climbed more than 26 percent between 1999 and 2003.

McKibben provided a preview of the Journal of Religion and Society report:
Indeed, the data examined in this study demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical “cultures of life” that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developing democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards.
Basically, we're just screwy:
Despite the Sixth Commandment, we are, of course, the most violent rich nation on earth, with a murder rate four or five times that of our European peers. We have prison populations greater by a factor of six or seven than other rich nations (which at least should give us plenty of opportunity for visiting the prisoners). Having been told to turn the other cheek, we’re the only Western democracy left that executes its citizens, mostly in those states where Christianity is theoretically strongest. Despite Jesus’ strong declarations against divorce, our marriages break up at a rate—just over half—that compares poorly with the European Union’s average of about four in ten.
And on and on. It ain't lookin' good for religion. But McKibben argues that none of this is Jesus' fault.
Since the days of Constantine, emperors and rich men have sought to co-opt the teachings of Jesus. As in so many areas of our increasingly market-tested lives, the co-opters—the TV men, the politicians, the Christian “interest groups”—have found a way to make each of us complicit in that travesty, too. They have invited us to subvert the church of Jesus even as we celebrate it. With their help we have made golden calves of ourselves—become a nation of terrified, self-obsessed idols. It works, and it may well keep working for a long time to come. When Americans hunger for selfless love and are fed only love of self, they will remain hungry, and too often hungry people just come back for more of the same.
I've long believed that most of what calls itself "Christianity" in this country is more of a socio-cultural phenomenon than religion, or at least the religion that developed from the ministry of Yeshuah ben Yosef centuries ago. Religion itself may not be the problem as much as a toxic soup of nationalism, tribalism and religiosity that seems to be unique to the United States.

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8:39 pm | link

Can't You Read the Sign?
Earlier that day, there had been a demonstration downtown that dwarfed official expectations. In an interesting abandonment of post-9/11 paranoia, the parade permit allowed a virtual encirclement of the White House by a throng that easily exceeded 300,000 peaceful souls from around the country. I have either been in or covered every peace demonstration around here since 1967, and this one was more than reminiscent of the whoppers in the Nixon years.
The paragraph above is from Thomas Oliphant's column in today's Boston Globe. Needless to say, the righties' insistence that Saturday's march was a bust is becoming more and more, well, pathetic.
 
 Saturday had that vintage feeling. Cindy Sheehan was there to play her iconic earth-mother role, while the Rev. Jesse Jackson's presence somehow made the whole thing official. In the crowd there were next-generation merry pranksters bearing caricature puppets, legions of praying Buddhists, ranks of earnest Presbyterians for Peace and files of silver-haired Raging Grannies. There were countless young adults whose baby boomer parents had marched these same streets in protest over three decades ago. All that was missing was the sour tinge of tear gas in the air.
(Sigh) I missed all the really big protests of the Vietnam era, and Woodstock, too. I'm glad I went to at least one big anti-establishment event before I go off to the Great Be-In Beyond.
 
Back to Thomas Oliphant, who continues,

The people are currently leagues beyond the politicians. The link between the ongoing war and the literal storms of the past month is in the opinion polls, with solid majorities not only of the opinion that the invasion of Iraq wasn't and isn't worth its cost but demanding that money being sent overseas be invested in reconstruction at home. The problem is that no one prominent in politics is really listening.

Today in the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne echoes this sentiment:
Over the past several weeks, it was impossible not to run into Bush critics who would shake their heads and complain: "Yes, but where are the Democrats? Who are our leaders? What do they have to say?"
Dionne offers an explanation:
But the party's problems are structural and can be explained by three numbers: 21, 34 and 45. According to the network exit polls, 21 percent of the voters who cast ballots in 2004 called themselves liberal, 34 percent said they were conservative and 45 percent called themselves moderate.

Those numbers mean that liberal-leaning Democrats are far more dependent than conservatively inclined Republicans on alliances with the political center. Democrats second-guess themselves because they have to.

Thus, the famous "move to the right" strategy that drives so many of us up a wall. But the problem with this explanation is that the word liberal has been so demonized by the Right that even liberals don't know what it means any more. I'd be willing to bet that a whopping large amount of people who call themselves "moderate" are liberals who don't know it, or who would be liberals if someone could make a case for liberal government without some rightie goon dancing about shrieking "Tax and spend! Tax and spend!"
 
(Note, if you don't know: Liberalism is not and never was about tax raises, and profligate spending. Rather, it is about effective government that meets the needs of We, the People, and taxes that are adequate to pay for what We, the People, ask it to do.)
 
Frankly, I think genuine liberalism has been absent from public discourse and policy for so long that I think today's voters might find it quite refreshing. Considering the younger ones have never been exposed to liberalism before, maybe we should call it something else and tell 'em it's a new new thing. I bet they'd take to it like ducks to a pond.
 
What Does "Antiwar" Mean?
 
Over in Slate, Snitch Hitchens struggles to hold together whatever brain cells he may yet have that remain unpickled to produce a screed, quickly seized upon by rightie bloggers, about the radicalism of International ANSWER. And he trots out the same stuff I've been saying, and that David Corn and Marc Cooper, among others, have written about ANSWER these past couple of years. But of course the leap Snitch makes is that, because ANSWER was one of the sponsors, the protest Saturday was actually about Marxism and not about the war in Iraq.
 
"It is really a disgrace that the liberal press refers to such enemies of liberalism as 'antiwar,' when in reality they are straight-out pro-war, but on the other side," Snitch writes. At least he gets one thing straight--ANSWER is an enemy of liberalism. And ANSWER's parent organization, the Workers World Party, is not at all squeamish about supporting war, oppression, and even genocide if the perpetrator is China and the victims are, for example, pro-Democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square or Tibetan Buddhists. I've written about this before.
 
But the enormous majority of people who marched around the White House on Saturday were there for one purpose--to oppose Bush's War in Iraq. And the enormous majority of people who marched around the White House on Saturday likely have nothing else in common with ANSWER but opposition to the war in Iraq. Surely, I think if people at the march had known ANSWER was hijacking the speaker's podium and displaying the mummified remains of the Popular Front for CSPAN's cameras while everyone else was marching ... well, the word "smackdown" comes to mind.
 
Steve Gilliard wrote at the Newsblog that it's way past time for the antiwar  movement to cut ANSWER loose.
Let's face facts. ANSWER are parasites who use our good intentions to push their agenda. So instead of rejoycing about the massive turnout, a hint that Bush's war is extremely unpopular, we're debating the speaker list and their abuse of their audience.

The reason ANSWER does this shit is because no one stands up to them. They get the permits, but UFPJ draws the crowd. If Leslie Cagan said no to their antics, ANSWER would have like 3000 people.
In New York City, events sponsored by ANSWER alone are always busts. UFPJ was the real organizational power behind every really successful event, such as the August 2004 march on the eve of the Republican Convention. Yet whenever I've criticized ANSWER, I can count on at least one commenter to say, "Well, they do all the work so we have to accept them." No, we don't.
 
But let's go back to the adjective antiwar.  Via Daou Report I found a rightie blogger using the adjective quite literally.
Many of the blogs had pictures of the demonstrators, both the anti-war protesters and the pro-troops supporters. (I won't say "pro-war" because they support the troops and THIS war...they are not 'warmongers' who love 'war'.)
Do we have to go to the bother of writing "anti-Iraq War" and "pro-Iraq War" every time? Although in a broad sense any properly socialized person is "antiwar," most recognize that sometimes a nation finds itself having to fight a war, like it or not, to survive. (Even Crazy Bill Sherman himself recognized that war is hell, even though making war was about the only thing he was good at.) The protest Saturday was about the Iraq War, not all war.
 
And what's this crap about "pro-troops"? The Right, having lost the argument over the war a long time ago, to comfort itself clings to a fiction that only they support the troops. But in some very concrete ways the "antiwar" Left has been more genuinely supportive of the troops than the Right has been.  It was the Left, not the Right, who shouted the alarm about lack of armor, for examle, and about deprivation of water and food endured by the troops in the months after the invasion. In these cases the Right abandoned the well-being of the troops in an eyeblink; their first reaction is always to defend the Bush Administration, not the troops.
 
 

It’s the right time. The country is in a crisis of leadership. The deaths of fourteen Ohio Marine reserve troops in Haditha in early August gave the national media a heartland tragedy to focus on. Days later, Cindy Sheehan’s brilliant bivouac in Crawford, Texas, provided a TV-ready image of the president’s aloofness, which was only reinforced by Katrina and its aftermath. Now public opinion appears to be in an avalanche. Polls say a firm majority regard the war as a mistake, with a recent New York Times–CBS poll showing that a remarkable 52 percent of Americans think we should withdraw immediately. Even John Kerry has said that the failures of Katrina underline American failures in a misbegotten “war of choice” (one he voted to fund). And the blood you see running in the Washington gutters belongs to the neocons, their heads now impaled on spikes of They will welcome us with open arms. And last Saturday, in Washington, the movement had its biggest moment since last year’s Republican convention in New York.

All this signals an opportunity for the antiwar brain trust. “The rate of change is going to be very swift, and we’re right in the middle of it now,” says Eli Pariser of MoveOn.org, the movement’s Wal-Mart. Pariser adds that any politician who thinks he can straddle the issue in 2006 is courting disaster—a Democrat who takes the DLC line that success is possible in Iraq or the Republican line that we must stay the course is going to face a challenge from a dark horse who gets a pile of money off the Internet. “People want to see change,” he says. “They want to see Democrats standing up and making policy calls Bush doesn’t want to make.”

Update update update: Anyone out there who thinks I'm being unfair to ANSWER (and to learn why we should all be grateful to Hurricane Rita) should read this.

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8:41 am | link

monday, september 26, 2005

El Encomienda
 
Of all the weird "reforms" President Bush wants to inflict on America, the weirdest has to be his guest worker program, a.k.a. "immigration reform."
 
As far as I can tell, nobody likes Bush's proposal, which would allow illegal immigrants to obtain temporary work visas for one to three years before deportation. Even the most knee-jerk righties don't seem to like it. Yet Bush won't let it go. Indeed, even last week, when the White House was frantically chasing Hurricane Rita, Karl Rove was selling the program on Capitol Hill. Mary Curtius wrote for the Los Angeles Times:
White House political strategist Karl Rove is offering lawmakers new details of an administration-backed guest worker program that would temporarily legalize the status of millions of illegal workers, according to Republicans who have attended the meetings.

Some lawmakers see the White House sessions as evidence that Bush intends to pursue his plan as soon as this fall -- despite the strains Hurricane Katrina has put on the legislative agenda and despite opposition within his party.

Weird, yes? But maybe there's a plan...
 
Think about it. Massive contracts to GOP Party cronies for reconstruction of hurricane damaged areas. Suspension of Davis-Bacon, so the contractors can pay slave wages. Easing restrictions on illegal aliens, most of which will be poor Latinos desperate to find work...
 

Bush said that "as many jobs as possible should go to the men and women who live in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama." Indeed, rebuilding the region -- its levees, roads, energy grids, homes -- is to become the work of those affected by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

So far, however, the government has acted in ways that would seem to encourage a different segment of the U.S. population to do this work. On Sept. 8, Bush issued an executive order lifting the Davis-Bacon Act mandating that construction workers on federal contracts be paid at least the average wage in the region. The decision was followed days later by a Homeland Security Department announcement that it will not apply sanctions toward employers who hire people unable to provide proper documentation.

In recent years, says Sanchez, the U.S. construction industry has become a magnet for Latino workers. "According to the Pew Hispanic Center, foreign-born Latino workers accounted for 40 percent of the total growth of employment in the construction trades last year," she writes. And two-thirds of those workers are undocumented.
 
I'm sure you see what I see. Sanchez says,

The suspension of Davis-Bacon rules and proper documentation requirements have been justified by the government as ways to lower federal costs, accelerate reconstruction and facilitate the hiring of Katrina victims who lost everything including their documents.

Yet, Latino and immigrant advocacy groups say the word is out and immigrants are on the move. There is a lot of work to be had on the Gulf Coast. Spanish-language media and blogs report that U.S. cleaning companies are quickly hiring Latinos, no questions asked.

Cheap labor. It's what the Republican Party is all about.

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9:37 pm | link

Meanwhile, Back in Iraq...
 
[Update: Cindy Sheehan arrested while protesting outside the White House today.]
 
 
Via Stirling at BOP News, Juan Cole is now calling for getting the troops out of Iraq now. This is noteworthy, because in the past Professor Cole was in the "pulling out suddenly would make things worse" camp.
 
It's worth reading Professor Cole's entire post, but his arguments boil down to these:
 
1.  "The first reason to get the ground troops out now is that they are being fatally brutalized by their own treatment of Iraqi prisoners. ...  The brutalization of the US military and of its prisoners is a brutalization of the entire American public. It is an undermining of the foundational values of the Republic. We cannot remain Americans and continue to behave this way routinely. "
 
2.   "The second reason is that the ground troops are not accomplishing the mission given them, and are making things worse rather than better."
 
Billmon is also, cautiously, moving in that direction.
Like Juan Cole, I have a strong suspicion that at this point a complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq could be the starting gun (so to speak) for a more conventional civil war, one fought by battalions or even divisions, instead of death squads and suicide bombers. This would probably lead to ethnic cleansing on a massive scale, the collapse of anything even resembling a central goverrnment, and the crippling of what little is left of Iraq's public infrastructure -- schools, hospitals, power stations, waterworks, etc.

Given the chaos and destruction Iraq has already experienced, the result could resemble Somalia more than Lebanon. But Iraq's highly urbanized population would in some ways be even more vulnerable to the horrors of civil war. Literally millions of people could die, or be brutalized, or turned into homeless refugees.

However, 

I came across the Nation article on nonwthatsfuckedup.com, which meant I had to take a good, hard look at the psychopathic side of the American spirit, and consider its implications not just for the war on terrorism and the occupation of Iraq, but its role in the emergence of an authentically fascist movement in American politics, one which feeds on violence and the glorification of violence, and which has found an audience not just in the U.S. military (where I think -- or at least hope -- it's still a relatively small fringe) but in the culture as a whole.

I don't have time at the moment to explain fully why and how this peek at the banality of evil changed my thinking, although I'll try to cover it in a future post. Suffice it to say that my visit to nowthatsfuckedup.com was a reminder of the genocidal skeletons hanging in the American closet. It left me with the conviction -- or at least an intuitive premonition -- that an open-ended war in Iraq (or in the broader Islamic world) will bring nothing but misery and death to them, and creeping (or galloping) authoritarianism to us.

We have to get out -- not because withdrawal will head off civil war in Iraq or keep the country from fallling under Iran's control (it won't) but because the only way we can stop those things from happening is by killing people on a massive scale, probably even more massive than the tragedy we supposedly would be trying to prevent.

Senator John McCain is investigating new abuse allegations and is backing an amendment to "force the American military to live up to its international obligations under the Geneva Convention and 'not engage in torture' of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan." I hope he sees the "death porn" sites revealed in AMERICAblog; see this and this.
 
An urban myth floating about for years after Vietnam was that many of the returning vets had been rendered into drug-addled psychopaths. This turned out to be way overexaggerated, although readjusting to "normal" life certainly wasn't easy for them. But, America, do you really want one of the "death porn" vets to move into your neighborhood? Do you want him losing his temper, and control of his actions, at you
 
I hope these soldiers represent a very small part of the military in Iraq. I am inclined to think well of soldiers, since those I have known have been good, principled people. But ...

A year ago I agreed with the "we've got to create some stability before we pull out" faction. That would have been the right thing to do and the best thing not only for Iraq but also for America, since a stable Iraq would be less likely to generate terrorists. And, I think, a year ago Iraq might still have been stabilized, if some competence and intelligence had been applied to the situation. But now I think the situation is too bleeped to salvage. As Stirling says, the basic reality of Iraq is:

1. George Bush is in charge of any solution until 2009.
2. George Bush isn't capable of being dog catcher.
3. Therefore, the only stance to take is to remove as much authority from George Bush as is humanly possible until someone capable of walking upright is in office.

(singing) "It's too late, baby, now it's too late ..."

Other developments: Pam of Pam's House Blend discusses loss of freedom for women in Iraq.

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12:17 pm | link

Pay Attention
 
Someone (possibly a troll pretending not to be a troll) left this comment. I want to answer it as a regular post to be sure most people who come here see my remarks, so I don't have to keep explaining this stuff in the comments. 
 The Washington PD said unofficially "maybe 100k", but no official estimate was made as far as I can read. If you have a URL which shows an official estimate with a PD name attached to it, please show it.

The Washington PD did not say "maybe 100K." They said "definitely 100K and maybe 150K." I have already provided links. From the 9/24 Washington Post:

Protest organizers estimated a crowd of about 200,000 rallied at the Ellipse, then marched around the White House and along Pennsylvania Avenue. Police downgraded the count to about 150,000. 

From the 9/25 Washington Post:

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who walked the march route, said the protesters achieved the goal of 100,000 and probably exceeded it. Asked whether at least 150,000 showed up, the chief said, "That's as good a guess as any.

I don't believe the police give "official" estimates any more. The above quotes are as authoritative as any. A lot of people who were there insist the number was much higher. 

I don't blame the police for not giving an official estimate, since the National Book Day group was at the other end of the mall (which attracts 70K-80K yearly) and so they couldn't accurately separate the two crowds and do a count.

Anyone who believes the "National Book Club" dodge is an official idiot. Congratulations.

Had you been there, as opposed to have just watched on television, you would have seen that the two group activities were, in fact, physically separate, especially the march, which was the main event. There is no way anyone trying to do crowd estimates from, say, a helicopter could have mixed the two groups together.

And if you were on the ground, you could tell the difference at a glance. (People wearing preppy clothes and carrying tote bags full of books = Book Fair. People carrying signs and wearing "Bleep Bush" T-shirts=protesters.)

The 100k attendance is improbable because the 2 main events---the speeches covered by C-SPAN and the gathering on the elipse--displayed crowds of several K, but definitely less than 10K.

Those were not the main events. As I have written several times on this blog already, only a small portion of the crowd ever made it to the Ellipse. And whatever was going on on CSPAN was definitely a sideshow. (I've yet to figure out what CSPAN was showing, because I did go to the rally at the Ellipse and didn't see any of the stuff people say they saw on CSPAN.)

The main event was the march, not the speakers. The head count comes from the march. The march that wasn't in the the Ellipse or around the National Book Fair. Got that? Thanks much.

Usually in protest events, there are 1-2 activities planned which intentionally gather the numbers, so pictures can be made illustrating the power of the gathering. So either the crowd was not there, or the organizers were incompetent.

When I went to the morning rally I found myself getting mightily annoyed at the huge numbers of people who were hanging back and not joining the rally, just for that reason. From where I was on a corner of the Ellipse I could see an ocean of people with protest signs and other antiwar displays spreading for blocks all around. The Pink Ladies by themselves had a contingent of a few hundred marching around with pink balloons, but they were off doing their own thing.

As I've remarked several times before already,  at no time did the entire mass ever assemble in one place, which means "mass crowd" shots were impossible. This was terribly disappointing to me, but that's what happened. Was this the fault of the organizers? Possibly; maybe they needed "march marshalls" stationed for a few blocks around the White House to get people to move to where they should be.

Given the event had experienced professional organizers (confirmed by the press) and (I'm told) $1M from Soros in advertising and free busing to bring people in, the odds are that the 100K crowd was not there.

And the odds are that you make no sense at all. I win. I'll take your word about Soros donating money for advertising, but I hadn't heard that, and I think most people learned about the march from blogs, news stories, and word-of-mouth. I never saw advertising, but maybe I missed it.

I hadn't heard about the free busing. I don't believe there was free busing, unless some particular group organized it for their own members. People were driving themselves or taking group chartered buses (not free) or Amtrak. In fact, I am told several thousand people didn't make it because Amtrak and bus service out of New York was screwed up early Saturday morning. I'll post a link if I can find one.

Watching C-SPAN, the event looked pretty sad. There was no core focus. Just a bunch of speakers with various complaints, most of which weren't very related to the original purpose of the gathering.

Once again, I am baffled at what CSPAN was showing. I suspect some groups took over the rally stage and held a separate event while the march was going on. The official rally speakers were not all great (Jesse Jackson was the best speaker, but they didn't give him enough time to get warmed up) but they mostly stayed on message. Nobody spoke for long enough to get off message.

Sheenan's speech was off-the-cuff. As as keynote speaker, I expected her to have a prepared speech with hard-hitting points, but it was just rah-rah stuff.

Cindy's speech at the official rally, which may or may not have been the speech you saw, was refreshing, IMO. Not a great speech, but not annoying. Yes it was rah-rah stuff. It was a rally, for pity's sakes. Rallies are about rah-rah.

The Plan was to have a rally at the Ellipse and then go march by the White House (the route is on the United for Peace and Justice site, if you are interested), and then go back to the mall around the Washington monument for a concert. I didn't make it to the concert because of arthritis pain, and maybe the bad speakers you saw hijacked the concert. But it wasn't supposed to be a day for serious speaking.   

Having people isn't enough. One needs to have content in order to sway minds. Watching C-SPAN, it just wasn't there. Lots of little groups with their own angry niches, but no center, no common philosophy.

Once again, whatever CSPAN was showing was a sideshow and not representative of the protest.

The freeper stuff which followed the next day on C-Span was mostly rah-rah as well, but at least it was positive rah-rah. The negative rah-rah really wears the viewer out.

Which is why I am mightily pissed that idiots such as yourself who weren't there continue to assume that what they saw on CSPAN was the entire show.

Sheenan is no Martin Luther King. She should be ditched, fast. Time to find someone with vision. That's the key.

I agree that Sheehan is no Martin Luther King. As I wrote in this post, Sheehan is the movement's Rosa Parks. We are still waiting for Martin Luther King to show up. However, she should not be "ditched" any more than Rose Parks should have been "ditched" (you, though, I can do without). She's done more than anyone else to give the antiwar movement some hope. Now if we can get some leaders, we'll be all set.

NOW HEAR THIS: Any more trolls who get on this blog and say anything about how the crowd estimate is wrong because of the Book Fair or that the stuff on CSPAN proves the event was a bust will be included in a new Mahablog feature, The Flaming Idiots Hall of Fame.

Update: This Salon article by Jeff Horwitz provides a clue:

Though Saturday was the first day a permit had been granted for an antiwar march past the White House since the Iraq war began, one could be forgiven for having low expectations for the event.

To begin with, the joint organizers, International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), feud so regularly that they had to sign a pact promising not to attack each other until the event was over.

Then there was ANSWER's rejection of message control -- its leadership demanded that each of its component organizations be allowed to protest issues besides the war. Starting at 9 a.m., therefore, the Palestinian boosters took over Farragut Square with their own signs and chants, while bands of anarchists, affordable housing advocates, and Hugo Chavez supporters staked out intersections around D.C.'s downtown.

That's it. No more ANSWER. If we want a mature, effective antiwar movement, we absolutely must ditch ANSWER, now. No more toleration of these a**holes.  

But yesterday's protesters beat the odds and pulled off what was certainly D.C.'s biggest antiwar demonstration since the Iraq occupation began. Organizers claimed as many as 250,000 demonstrators attended; though D.C. police estimates were more conservative, none pegged the crowd at below 100,000. By the time the rally convened at 11:30 a.m., scores of demonstrators filled the Ellipse, spilling onto the Mall, the streets around the White House, and the Washington Monument -- a hopeful sign that the effectiveness of the peace movement may have reached a turning point.

And if we could ditch ANSWER, maybe some actual leaders could emerge.

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7:09 am | link

sunday, september 25, 2005

Opinions à la Carte
 
The current issue of The Atlantic has the fourth installment of "In the Footsteps of Tocqueville" by Bernard-Henri Lévy (sorry about the subscription wall). As the title suggests, Lévy traveled around America following up on Alexis de Tocqueville's famous travels in America in the 1830s.    
 
In light of perpetual rightie guilt-by-association smears (e.g., anyone attending a protest event partially sponsored by International ANSWER must be a Communist) I thought this section, an interview of William Kristol, illuminating. Kristol present himself as an intellectual. But Lévy writes,
I see that the Weekly Standard is a magazine in which you can read, under the byline of Matt Labash, an article crammed with the vilest gossip about the private life of the former president. Paula, Gennifer, Monica, Connie, Sally, Dolly, Susan—they're all there, the "WOCS," the "women of the Clinton scandals," the Miss Arkansas, the women who aren't quite whores, the ex—cover girls turned into married women, they're all set down in ink, slammed, denounced, in this cartload of filth and accusation that presents itself as an article.

I sense that Kristol is annoyed when I mention it.

I sense that he thinks a European can't accept this mingling of politics with such trash, so he plays it down.

Don't jump to the conclusion that I believe in it, he seems to be saying. That's just the deal, you understand—supporting a crusade for moral values is just the price we have to pay for a foreign policy that we can defend as a whole.

Suppose it is.

Let's agree that his annoyance isn't feigned.

In that case the whole question lies right there, and in my mind it's almost worse.

When you uphold one goal of a given faction, do you have to uphold all its goals?

Because you're in agreement about Iraq, do you have to force yourself to agree with the death penalty, creationism, the Christian Coalition and its pestilential practices?

When I have dinner with someone in a restaurant, do I have to order all the courses on the menu?

Or, on the contrary, isn't it the privilege of what we call an intellectual—isn't it his honor and, at core, his real strength, as well as his duty—to continue to defend his own colors, even the shades of those colors, even and especially when he lends his support to the government on a specific point?

Bill Kristol is listening to me, but I sense I'm not convincing him. And here I grasp, at least for now, the crux of what separates us.

A neo-conservative? No—he is a Platonist without the ideas. An adviser to princes without detachment or reservations. An antitotalitarian who at bottom, and whatever he may say, is not as faithful as he would like to think to the heritage of Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt—and who, for this reason, deprives himself of the necessary freedom that the status of intellectual should imply.

I think most mature people understand that person A and person B might agree on Y but disagree on X. Only the blindly partisan and the ideologically hidebound think that two people who agree on Y must also agree on X--Dick and Jane are opposed to the war in Iraq. Dick is a vegetarian. Therefore, Jane must be a vegetarian. An obvious logical fallacy. 

This weekend people who disagree on a lot of other policies came together to protest the war in Iraq. It is unfortunately the case that some people--a minority, but a loud minority--used the event to promote other causes.

Although I don't think what Steve Gilliard saw on television was an honest representation of the Saturday demonstration as a whole, he has a valid point:

You know, it's time for the campus radicals to go home and take ANSWER with them.

I watched an hour or so of the rally and I wanted to smash my screen.

Why can't they have adults who can speak in words, not slogans
.

I think there must have been public speaking going on while most of us were marching, because I've heard stories of all manner of odd speakers showing up on the CSPAN coverage of the demonstration that I sure as heck didn't know about. According to Steve, some of these people were anti-Israel, and one guy said he was a Communist.

Frankly, if I'd heard any of that I would have tried to boo them off the stage. I don't think I would have been alone. Steve continues,

Too many people on the left glom on to any protest and use it as their hobby horse. You know, the only people I wanted to express solidarity with were the families of the soldiers, the soldiers and the people of Iraq suffering from US occupation. It may be cute to have diversity, but it takes away from the seriousness. You have a rally where only soldiers and their families speak, with a few pols, and even Bush couldn't ignore that.

He's right. And as I wrote in my previous posts on the demonstration, even the speakers I saw, who were more mainstream than the ones reportedly on CSPAN, were mostly pretty awful. And I've had it up to here with hotheaded young guys who incessantly scream their empty slogans over bullhorns. (See rule #1.)

Do we need an organization called Americans Against the War in Iraq and Leave Your Other Opinions at Home?

Unlike Bill Kistol, I don't think I have to order all the courses on the menu, or adopt opinions as my own for the sake of a "movement." I will defend my own colors, even the shades of those colors, even and especially when I lend my support to any movement on a specific point. And I'll thank others not to assume I agree or disagree with them until I say so.

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9:43 pm | link

A Void in Leadership
 
Today in Washington there was a well-publicized pro-Iraq War rally. I wasn't there, as I spent the day traveling back home (an undisclosed location north of the Bronx).  Apparently only 400 people showed up.  
 
Speaking of busts, our buddy the Connecticut Yankee (you will recognize the name if you follow Mahablog comments) was spotted on Protein Wisdom:  

I took the fight over to Mahablog and exposed her cherry-picked numbers. I got banned.

How surprising is that?

1. I still don't know where he got "cherry picking," as I quoted every independent source I found, including the Washington Police Department. And I said the organizers' estimate of 200,000 could be high. That isn't honest enough for him? I don't recall that he provided an authoritative source with another number, just numbers pulled out of the butts of various righties who weren't there.

If I had used numbers pulled out of leftie butts, I could have gone up to 600,000 (apologies to Stirling, who is a good guy. And maybe there were 600,000. And dontcha love the cartoon?).

Bottom line: There were at least 100,000 people there to protest the war. Every source in a position to actually know something, including the Washington PD, agrees to the 100,000 figure as the minimum.

2. I banned the CY because, once he lost his argument, he threw a temper tantrum and resorted to name-calling and insults. And I didn't even ban him after that first tantrum, but after the second tantrum I lost patience.

As I predicted here, the righties have seized upon a Reuters photo to argue that there were fewer than 100,000 at the protests. And as I explained in the same place, the photo only showed a small portion of the crowd. Most of the people who marched didn't bother to attend the pre-march rally on the Ellipse, which is what the photo shows. I explained that in my first protest post before the photo was published.

The other straw righties are grasping is that, somehow, the Washington Police Department confused attendees of the National Book Fair with the protest march when they came up with their estimate (of at least 100,000 and possibly 150,000). This is too funny. Believe me, the two activities were not so close to each other that the Washington Police Department could possibly have been that confused.

As I've been traveling today I haven't been able to cruise around to all the good blogger posts on the protest. Here are just a few: NTodd has some more great photos. Also via NTodd, I endorse this post from Metacomments.

 The strange thing about the march was that such antiwar demonstrations are supposed to be countercultural. That's the legacy of the Vietnam era, anyway. And there were certainly freaky hippy types in attendance.

But solid majorities are now against the war, and have been for for months now. There is simply no question that as far as the American people are concerned, the mainstream position is that the war was a colossal mistake, an unmitigated disaster.

The march was not countercultural. It's cultural. It was America on the streets of Washington DC yesterday, and America is against this war.

RenaRF has a photo journal of the march at Daily Kos. And MaxSpeak has more commentary

The news coverage of the demonstrations reflects journalistic objectivity, not bias. The relevant news lede, as they say, was the strong showing of nuclear families, soccer moms with their kids, old folks, veterans, church groups, and college students.

Mixed in was the inevitable melange of left-wing sects, anarchist freaks, and assorted loonies you find at every big demonstration. Assorted lyin' "photobloggers" go to these things and look for nuts and extremists, of which there is never any shortage. If I wanted to impress stupid people, I'd go downtown today and find goofy pro-war demonstrators to photograph.

No matter. The jingoists are on the losing side of this argument, not to say history. This war effort is sinking every day. Those who claim to support the troops are doing their feeble utmost to see that more are sacrificed in a lost cause, all for the sake of propping up a bankrupt, incompetent administration. They're not against terrorism; they're just toadies of the Bush White House.

Not to mention a shrinking minority. The marginalizers are becoming the marginalized.

But what of the antiwar movement now? In spite of the success of the weekend, it's still a movement without leadership. As Max says, Democratic politicians mostly stayed away. Part of the problem is that some of the organizers really are radical, and the rest of the organizers have been smeared as radicals-by-association. But the bulk of the attendees were mainstream Americans who came because they oppose the war, not because they give a flying bleep about International ANSWER. Max continues,  

So where are the moderate and liberal luminaries? To be sure, their constituents and audiences were at the demonstration. I doubt anybody was impressed by some of the ultra rhetoric that could be heard, not so much because it was ultra, but because the thinking underlying the weak presentation was also crap. Not a few of the participating radical celebrities are spent bullets, not to say dud firecrackers.

The leadership void is gigantic.

Y'know what? If Hillary Clinton or John Kerry or any other Dem who wants to go for it in 2008 had showed up for the rally and march on Saturday, they'd have scored big with the Democratic Party base. But they're afraid to be associated with their own base. They don't want to be seen with actual grassroots Democratic voters in public. 

Cindy Sheehan has been called the antiwar movement's Rosa Parks. That's about right. But where is our Martin Luther King? I think whoever steps into that role will become the Democratic Party frontrunner for 2008 real fast.  

A big demonstration can draw the nation's attention, but without reliable leadership will it, in the end, make any difference? I don't know.

We don't have leaders. The Left has no leaders. The Right has imaginary leaders. Which is worse? Depends on whether you prefer to live in the Real World or on Rush Limbaugh Planet. 

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5:04 pm | link


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

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The War Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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