Friday, October 28, 2005

Fitzmas Day

I was thinking it might be hard to prove that Libby was lying when he testified that he hadn't known Wilson's wife worked for the CIA until he heard it from reporters. Then I read the indictment. Oops. At least nine prior White House conversations about Wilson's CIA wife.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Who Killed Harriet Miers?

According to the National Journal Hotline, the White House wants us to believe Miers died at the hands of executive privilege.

I don't buy it. For one thing, there's no reason to believe that what Miers said and wrote in her capacity as White House counsel surpassed in excellence, competence or conservatism what we say from her publicly. In other words, they weren't protecting executive privilege. They were protecting what was left of her reputation, and Bush's besieged political fortunes, by suggesting that Miers had the right stuff, but it had to remain secret.

Me, I was skeptical even before the recent revelations about her past speeches that she was really as rabidly conservative as Karl Rove wanted (some of) us to believe. Which makes me worry about who Bush will nominate to replace her. That said, if the Democrats can muster the intestinal fortitude for a fight, it might be worth it.

I do, however, in Marc Ambinder's reporting for Hotline, find signs of future trouble for Pres. Bush. Specifically, Ambinder suggests that Miers failed not solely because there was opposition, or solely because of concerns about her credentials, but because even Bush's allies were, at long last, applying fact-based criteria to his claims. I've added emphasis to Ambinder's write-up:

...GOP Senators privately communicated to WH CoS Andy Card that unless they had access to hard evidence that Miers was conversant in constitutional issues, there was no way she would be confirmed. Her performance in private meetings was weak, at best, these senators told Card...
It remains to be seen whether Bush's base -- defined religiously or otherwise -- is willing to return to assessing Bush in a faith-based manner. I find that unlikely, however, since their reliance on fact-based assessment was such a resounding success for them. Maybe we'll all be lucky enough for them to rely on it in more and more matters in the future. In which case, the culprit behind offing Harriet Miers could well strike again.


Argument Against Evolution?

If we could go back four billion years and calculate the odds that humans would result from unguided evolution, the answer would surely be exceedingly small. Is this an even mildly strong argument against evolution? No.

First, an analogy: Suppose we had a trillion dollar lottery. We then find a trillionaire, and ask ourselves whether he won the lottery. If we say, "well, going back before the lottery, the odds that this guy would be a winner are exceedingly small," we are ignoring the fact that our method for choosing this guy (looking for a trillionaire) matched finding a lottery winner.

Back to evolution: If we go back four billion years and ask ourselves what we think is going to result from about a trillion (i.e., a million million) generations of slightly imperfect reproduction together with fierce competition to reproduce, the answer is, clearly, ... something amazing. That's the evolutionary lottery, and something was bound to win.

Whatever exists now is a winner, a trillionaire, and we shouldn't ignore the fact that our reason for asking questions about ourselves (we exist) matches our having won the evolutionary lottery.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Tenet and Cheney

I didn't post anything on this when the Times first reported that it was George Tenet who told Dick Cheney who told Lewis Libby who told two friends about Valerie Plame. I assumed there was something obvious I wasn't aware of. But I've seen nothing on it since then, so I'm casting the net. Can anyone explain to me the meaning, or possible meaning, behind the fact that Tenet told Cheney, and then, when the information went public, it was also Tenet who asked for the investigation in the first place?

Presumably, he didn't forget telling Cheney. Presumably, he realized Cheney would remember that it was Tenet who told him. In other words, was the investigation request a "fuck you" from Tenet to Cheney? For the leak itself or for Cheney's central role in cooking the Iraq intelligence? I honestly don't know ... does anyone have any guidance on this?


Even If You Don't Believe in FSM, He Believes in You

The Flying Spaghetti Monster needs our help. As you know, the media and the judiciary are waging a war against those of faith. Specifically, those of faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Now, it's time to fight back. Do you have technical skills -- such as, but not limited to, computer or legal expertise -- that may be of help in spreading the word and defending FSM against the FSM-less media and politicians?

If you can help, go here. Spread the word.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Fitzmas Blues

If you read other politically oriented blogs, you know that much of the blogosphere is referring, in advance, to the release of indictments by Patrick Fitzgerald as "Fitzmas."

There is, as the coinage would suggest, much rejoicing in the land at the prospect that some measure of justice might finally be meted out to the miscreants who've fucked up our nation so.

But, just as Christmas is often a sad time for some people, I find myself feeling left out, alienated, isolated from the rejoicing. Yes, I'm happy to see corrupt abusers of power brought low. But I guess I'm also ashamed. Ashamed for my government. Ashamed that the country I love elected and, largely, has stood behind these arrogant bastards. Ashamed that journalists haven't had the balls to fill the adversarial role they're meant to. Ashamed that Americans haven't demanded that of their journalists.

I understand why people are rejoicing. I understand why people are licking their chops over the prospect of juicy details yet to emerge. Me, I'm filled with dread. I knew full well that this administration had long ago killed any sense of patriotic governance, or principled leadership. But that doesn't mean I want to spend weeks and months immersed in the details of the murder, or the site of the decaying corpse.



Verbatim, from tonight's e-mail promo for World News Tonight:

For the first time, the trail in the CIA leak case may lead directly to the Dick Cheney himself. Terry Moran looks at the vice president's role in the disclosure of an agent's identity.


2K Why?

I know 2000 is a random number. But that's not the same as being meaningless.

Find out how to give it meaning by clicking here.


What, Are You Shitting Me?

The National Journal's "Earlybird" news roundup from this morning reports the following:

House Democratic leaders will meet today to consider a new slogan for the 2006 midterm elections. Two contenders are, "Together, We Can Do Better" and "Together, America Can Do Better."
I'd like to propose a couple alternatives for them to consider:

"Jesus Fucking Christ Will Someone Introduce the Democrats to Marketers with Brains or Balls?"

"How About Democrats Fire All the Student-Body-President Dimwits Running Things Over There and Start Acting as Though This Nation Is in The Crisis Everyone but Them Seems To Recognize?"
With shorter versions for bumper stickers, of course.


Monday, October 24, 2005

A Miers Scenario

I admit it, I haven't been paying the level of attention a true political blogger should to either the Miers story or the Plame leak investigation (and its sidebar, the Miller story). Why? I suppose all of them right now tend to involve much speculation, the facts of which will be resolved and/or known fairly soon.

But it does seem to me that the speculation about Miers has missed one possible mind-set Bush may have about the nomination. (And with my luck, he'll withdraw (by her proxy) her nomination right as I hit "publish".)

All along, Bush has said, "wait until the hearings." Tim Grieve over at's War Room speculates, relatively reasonably, I think, that Bush's stonewalling -- over what the Senate has specifically said is its request for documents NOT covered by executive privilege -- has the secret purpose of setting up an impasse with the Senate that can only be broken by Miers' withdrawal. That way, Bush (and, to some extent, Miers) get to save face by claiming to withdraw for ultimately bureaucratic reasons, rather than reasons implicating his and her competencies.

But I think there's a different possibility at work here. I think Bush may be stonewalling because he wants to minimize the level of substantive debate over Miers until November 7, when her hearings begin. I think Bush may have in mind, in essence, a bait and switch. The idea behind it is simply this: Tell the base, and the senators taking the most heat, "Just bear with me until the hearings." What happens when the hearings start? Bush just has to say, "Let's hear her out, and wait until the hearings are over to make our final judgments."

Once the hearings are over, however, Bush may then be in a position to say, "Look, the worst of it is over, and the hearings didn't produce any pubic-hair moments, so just bite the bullet and consider how much better it is to have me as a friend than as an enemy." This scenario only makes sense, I admit, if the hearings fail to produce either a pubic-hair moment -- highly unlikely -- or, more likely, a true wincer of a gaffe. The latter, however, isn't necessarily a big problem. Why? Because Miers isn't a total idiot. If she does make a goof, should we really expect it to be a goof of a sufficiently understandable and explainable nature for both the media and its audience to digest?

Without either a clear bonehead moment, or an easily understood legal bonehead moment, Bush will have the momentum on his side once the hearings end. And even in the event there is a legal bonehead moment, Bush can, in theory, bury it with some well-timed sabre-rattling. I think Bush has lived his life stalling and procrastinating judgments. And if he sees a clear timeline -- the hearings -- offering relief ahead of him, I think he'll stick out the criticisms rather than take the humiliation of a withdrawal. And I think once he makes it to the end of the hearings, he'll have the Senate's reluctance to go through another excruciation on his side. I'm not predicting that Bush will stick with Miers and that the Senate will confirm her. I'm just saying that I think there is a plausible narrative for this scenario to play out.


"Intelligent Design": Evolution In Action

There is one wonderful thing about the so-called theory of so-called intelligent so-called design.

It proves the inevitability of evolution and natural selection. In fact, we're seeing a new example emerge right now.

"Intelligent Design" not only fails utterly and embarrassingly to refute evolution, it proves by example how the process of evolution can be found not just in biological processes, but in conceptual ones, as well.

Creationism was a bad idea. Its success rate (i.e., its survival rate) in schools was poor, thanks to the exacting rigors (i.e., natural selection) of academia and the judiciary.

So what happened? Proponents of creationism (i.e., the biological hosts of the creationism meme) developed variations (i.e., mutations) that might enhance its ability to survive by propogating (i.e., reproducing) itself in a slightly (even cosmetically) different form.

Proponents of creationism even founded the misnamed Discovery Institute to hasten the mutation process. Various mutations were tried and failed. Now, however, we see one variation, "Intelligent Design," gaining some ground -- precisely because it has developed the survival mechanism of camouflage, enabling it to disguise itself (as science) to try to fool its predators (i.e., academia and the judiciary).

But now that "Intelligent Design" has been unmasked -- in other words, now that the predators have evolved enhanced sensory mechanisms to detect it -- creationism is in trouble again. So now we're at a privileged point in history when we can watch a new mutation emerge. Because now the traitors behind "Intelligent Design" have developed a new mutation designed to help it survive the increased rigors of academia and the judiciary.

This new mutation is an appeal to the free-speech value held by both academia and the judiciary. There are, of course, any number of possible rebuttals to this argument (just as predators may evolve any number of responses to the mutations of their prey). Teachers have never been free to say anything they want without legal or professional consequences. That they should be "free" to yield to religious-influenced parental and political pressure to endorse asinine, deadly and easily disprovable ideas is an absurd argument on the face of it.

Which, unfortunately, any student of political history or memetics will tell you is not necessarily a guarantee that it'll be weeded out by natural selection. Which is why patriotic Americans have to oppose it.


Judy Miller Should Be in Jail

I know, I know. Lots of bloggers have said the same thing. I confess I'm not sufficiently versed in the history of Judith Miller and Ahmed Chalabi and the selling of WMDs to the American public to join in the anti-Miller crowd. I'm talking about a less-popular (because it protects a scuzzball's anonymity) reason.

Today's Washington Post coverage closes with a tidbit that suggests Miller ought still be in jail -- protecting her source.

Miller has said repeatedly that she stayed in jail so long because she wanted to be super, super sure that Lewis Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, really, truly thought it was okey-dokey for her to testify.

In other words, Miller wanted to be absolutely positive that Libby had not waived his confidentiality under any coercion whatsoever.

But now the Washington Post reports:

In three single-spaced pages, the special counsel wrote Libby attorney Joseph A. Tate that it would be seen as "cooperation with the investigation" if Libby reiterated the confidentiality release he had previously given Miller.

But in a twist apparently designed to get Libby's attention, Fitzgerald said twice that he suspected Libby may have preferred Miller to keep quiet about their talks.

Libby, after months of silence, quickly wrote Miller. He told her she was missed. He declared that he would be better off if she testified, and he made clear he was freeing her from her pledge.
In other words, Fitzgerald coerced Libby into waiving his confidentiality. And if Miller knew that, she should have stayed in jail.


Sunday, October 23, 2005


I'm not entirely sure what "pro-" and "anti-war" mean. The latter phrase at least has one useful definition: It means you oppose fighting any war, any place, at any time. The phrase "pro-war" is a little trickier. Does it mean you support fighting every possible war, everywhere, all the time?

It can't, of course, mean that. I don't think it can mean anything other than support for a specific war. So it's with that meaning that I use it now.

I'm pro-war. I've been pro-war since September 11th, 2001. Pres. Bush wants us to forget this, but on that day and in the days immediately afterward, he spoke about the attack in terms of criminality. That's not how we thought about it in New York.

I knew, on that day, not that war had been declared, but that war had begun. The only question was whether and how we would fight back.

Right now, it seems pretty clear to the world that the Iraq war has been Pres. Bush's biggest mistake. But I wonder whether history -- and future events -- might not render Pres. Bush's biggest mistake as the failure to wage war in Afghanistan. Larry Johnson reports on upcoming revelations that Bush was essentially lying when he said the U.S. didn't know whether Osama bin Laden was at Tora Bora when the U.S. turned over the operation to local (and not-necessarily-loyal) forces.

I wanted the war in Afghanistan. Because that's where the guy who started the war with us was. I supported the war. I supported Pres. Bush for waging it. But somewhere along the line, Pres. Bush stopped expressing my motive for waging it -- to get the person and the organization waging war on us -- and started expressing a different motive: Democratization.

As the U.S. military-fatality count in Iraq approaches 2000 (the media love their round numbers), and as the numbers come in on Iraq's vote, the media's neglect of Aghanistan will only intensify. (Can neglect intensify? You know what I mean.)

Pres. Bush's failure to wage an actual war in Afghanistan -- due in part to his obscene zeal to go to Iraq -- has led to failure there. Yes, there's a democratically elected government there. But so, if I may venture some skepticism, the fuck what? The fact that a government is democratically elected can be meaningless if the voters are ignorant or stupid or evil.

Hundreds of Americans died in Afghanistan, without being allowed to get bin Laden. What did they die for, then, according to Pres. Bush? These Americans, including a rich young man who had no use for religion, gave their lives so that the people of Afghanistan could:

Establish a government that doesn't " equality."
Elect former warlords and members of the Taliban.
Elect to parliament the former Taliban governor who oversaw the demolition of 1,500-year-old cultural artifacts.
Do business with Iran's largest bank.
Establish laws punishing people for saying anything deemed un-Islamic.
Prosecute a journalist for the crime of blasphemy because the magazine he edits dared to question the legal practice of stoning women for adultery and dared to suggest that giving up Islam should not be a crime.

This is not the Taliban we're talking about. This is the democratically elected government that Pres. Bush told us was worth American lives to establish. And according to recent reports, even if the Afghanistan government wants to, it may simply not have the resources it needs to prevent Afghanist from becoming another...Afghanistan.

(Note: The story about the editor accused of blasphemy is out of date. I saw that piece before this weekend, when the story took on a new development. The editor has been convicted of blasphemy. Our ally, the government made possible with American sacrifice, has sentenced the editor to two years in prison.)


Are Blacks Dumber?

New York magazine's cover story is entitled, "Are Jews Smarter?" The unspoken, but unavoidable flip side of that question, of course, is, "Are Blacks Dumber?" Along with, "Are Latinos Dumber?" and "Are Arabs Dumber?"

Basically, "Are Gentiles Dumber?"

The article makes a lot of interesting points. Frankly, I got lost in some of the explanation regarding genetic ties between intelligence and diseases to which Jews are susceptible. But I think the article glosses over the most meaningful correlation.

As it points out, a dramatically high proportion of the Jewish males looked at in the study were involved in professions (as indicated by hundreds of years of records) that required mastery, or at least proficiency, of high-order mental skills. It seems to me that if a culture, or a sub-culture, places a value on intelligence -- and places that value in such a way as to positively influence reproductive rates -- it should be unsurprising almost to the point of being uninteresting that the culture's intelligence rate rises.

In other words, if the women aren't attracted to and won't marry and won't bear the children of the dumb Jews, the dumb genes die with their lonely, frustrated carriers. Repeat that for a few generations, then think about the fact that the cycle will keep repeating -- the dumbest of even this now-smarter culture will continue getting selected out.

Whatever inheritable trait gets you laid is the one that wins the battle of shaping future generations. If you live in a culture where short guys are a laughing stock, check back in a few hundred years and see how many there are. If you live in a culture where violence is a constant threat, women will likely flock toward capable protectors -- rewarding either the physicality and/or intelligence responsible for that capability.

I have no idea whether the article's "evidence" of Jewish smartness is valid or not (and even if it is, let's not make the racist's mistake of assuming that intelligence differences have any moral bearings on, well, anything). But assuming consistency over time, in the absence of countervailing factors, there's no way a societal emphasis and a corresponding reproductive emphasis on intelligence could not at some point yield a higher level of intelligence. If you keep selecting for a trait, you will get it.

The political component of this is not the standard PC argument about whether discussing genetics is racist. The political component of this is patriotism. Every day we as a nation make choices about what kind of behavior to reward and to celebrate. Right now, we seem to have elevated dysfunctional stupidity -- of the supposedly "moral" religious variety and of the supposedly immoral celebreality variety -- as the quickest route to fame. We have also embraced (well, not recently, but you know what I mean) a president who openly denigrates the value of education. In doing so, we tell our males that they can gain esteem, status and power by acting like idiots. We discourage females from seeking intelligent, educated males and encourage them to seek the idiots: Those likely to reap society's rewards of status, wealth and power.

If we continue this trend, for generation after generation, what will we turn America into? We saw a preview of it in a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution article that tracked the correlation between institutional southern ignorance and the social price paid. We're already starting to lose ground to other cultures -- Indian, Asian, European -- that value intelligence more than we do. Their economies and lifestyles and achievements increasingly rival, and sometimes surpass, our own.

Every time we make a choice about what we value, every time we buy something, praise something, ridicule something, discuss something, we're choosing either to help strengthen our country or to weaken it.

That's enough from me for now. "Breaking Bonaduce" is on...


Friday, October 21, 2005

Tom DeLay Making Long-Term Plans?

I haven't seen any mention of this in the Tom DeLay coverage, but that creepy forced smile on the face of the indicted former House majority leader isn't the only step he's taking to show just how gosh-darned optimistic he is.

Remember the anti-American "War on Faith" conference that boasted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tx) among its speakers? Well, it's been rescheduled. And the grand wizard of the get-together yesterday e-mailed his first announcement of the speakers list:

Although we're still in the early planning stages, I am excited to announce that to date our confirmed speakers include Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer, Congressman Tom DeLay and Janet Parshall. The conference will be an important stage in Vision America's campaign to activate, educate, energize and mobilize the values vote in 2006. For more information on the conference, visit the Vision America website,
That e-mail was from Vision America President Rick Scarborough, also acting chairman of the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration. The Vision America web site confirms DeLay's scheduled appearance.

The exact title of the conference itself is unclear. Scarborough refers to it as the "Countering the War on Faith and the Values Voter in 2006." It should come as no surprise that a thug as un-American and anti-American as Tom DeLay has agreed to speak to this group again. I've written about Scarborough and his anti-American plotters before. Simply put, they hate us for our freedoms. Our freedoms to make movies they don't like, to participate in a government limited in its endorsement of the majority's monotheism, to argue for fair and equal treatment of gays.

Also unclear is whether DeLay's booked the appearance because he thinks by then he'll beat the rap, which includes a possible life sentence. Or because he thinks he can keep delaying his trial until then. Either way, you'd think judges would be the last group of people DeLay would want to piss off these days.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bush and Cheney: The Hippie Kings

Remember hippies? No, not those loveable, ditsy, daffy, dope-smoking Wavy Gravy wannabes. I’m talking about a species of hippie largely forgotten these days: The Evil Hippie.

You could find The Evil Hippie somewhere on the socio-cultural spectrum between Hell’s Angels and Jim Jones. If you’re of a certain age, you remember The Evil Hippie first-hand. I’m just on the cusp of that age, but I do remember the lingering influence evil hippies had on pop culture. I seem to remember them showing up a lot on The Mod Squad and Adam-12.

Of course, no evil hippie both epitomized and transcended the species’ defining traits anywhere near as spectacularly as Charles Manson did. Manson created the hippie cult of personality known as the Manson Family, which eventually committed several grisly murders in California based on perhaps the most egregious misinterpretation of rock lyrics known to history.

I’m going to use Manson as an exemplar of The Evil Hippie not (just) because his reign ended in the spilling of innocent blood, but because the particulars of his case are by far the best-known instances of Evil Hippiedom.

But first, a quick, necessary tangent on the evolution of the genus Hippie. The nearest ancestor of the Hippie, of course, is The Beatnik (although many hippies erroneously claimed a stronger genealogical link to The Negro). The mutation from Beatnik to Hippie was triggered largely by the campus counterculture of the early ‘60s, led by student activists such as Mario Savio, and organized in groups such as Students for a Democratic Society. Bill Clinton is a rare extant example of this early breed of hippie, the Utopian Intellectual Hippie.

Mutations are, of course, the engine of evolution. And mutations arise, in essence, from mistakes in transmission of genetic code – inaccurately relayed information. That’s how The Evil Hippie was born. Early hippiedom rejected corporate, mainstream mores in favor of lifestyles and ethical codes that provided for personal fulfillment, stronger communal ties and greater commitment to one’s society and environment. The ethos of the early Hippie was expressed in such slogans as “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” “To live outside the law, you must be honest,” and “If it feels good, do it.”

Repeated transmission of the hippie code revealed rejection of the government's laws as a dominant gene, while almost no one inherited the recessive trait that obliged its carriers to adopt the code’s moral burdens. Thus, “if it feels good, do it” became an endorsement of short-term hedonism, rather than an injunction to ensure that your actions meet not just your sensory approval, but also your intellectual, logical and moral approval. “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” became a call to retreat from academia, the workplace and society, minus the prerequisite of “tuning in” to the broader, more meaningful society that lay unrealized in the future. And, “To live outside the law, you must be honest,” was seen as a simple urging “to live outside the law,” instead of what it was: A caveat that those who reject prevailing law must in that moral vacuum become even more scrupulous, and develop their own, more-exacting code.

From this replication error, the Utopian Intellectual Hippie swiftly gave way to the Hedonistic Drug-Addled Hippie, and its sub-species (marked by high rates of amoral ambition): The Evil Hippie. The Evil Hippie’s codes: “Turn on, drop out,” “Live outside the law,” “Do it.”

George Bush and Dick Cheney are Evil Hippies.

How can this be? How can such icons of mainstream, corporate, traditional America be hippies, of any variety? Don’t let the suits fool you. They’ve put clean shirts over the tie-dyes and tucked their pony-tails under their baseball caps so you’ll let them in the house to do odd jobs, never dreaming from their appearance that the real goal of these nice boys is to steal your Hi-Fi and drink all your Scotch. Remember, both Bush and Cheney came of age during the Age of Aquarius, uninterested in the philosophical challenges inherent in Utopian Hippiedom, but powerfully drawn by Flower Power, the appeal of both corporeal and ethical Hedonistic Hippiedom.

George Bush may be closer to the Hedonistic Drug-Addled Hippie than to the true Evil Hippie. But Cheney, clearly, defines the modern-day iteration of Evil Hippie. That this dynamic works well for the two should come as little surprise. It wasn’t unusual for a hippie commune to have a smiling, peace-and-love front man out on the porch, while real control of the operation lay with the surly, violent, sociopath who skulked in a dank, fetid, windowless room in the back. That’s the template for this White House: Dick Cheney is Charles Manson, George Bush is Cheney’s Bobby Beausoleil.

Like many of their fellow hippies, both Bush and Cheney had run-ins with The Man during their (extended) youths. Bush used to get into it with his uptight, straight-laced Old Man. And Cheney certainly wasn't the only hippie who had better things to do than serve his country: "I had other priorities in the '60s," he said. Hell no, he wouldn’t go. Bush couldn’t get out of it, but like a good hippie made sure he stayed far from all that uncool violence, man, hanging out stateside where he could skip out on his responsibilities and continue having a good time. "I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment. Nor was I willing to go to Canada," he said, referring to the tactics of some of his more courageous hippie brethren.

Academically, Bush and Cheney both failed. One professor said Bush scored in the bottom 10 percent of his class. Cheney took Timothy Leary literally, and dropped out. Bush and Cheney also both failed when they tried to make it on their own in the business world. Bush again failed when he tried to become a part of The Establishment. (In this regard, Bush/Cheney diverge from Manson, who actually did succeed in creating a commercially viable product, namely the song, “Never Learn Not to Love”, which was recorded by The Beach Boys). Only when the Old Boys Network enabled Bush's Old Man to set him up in the family business could Bush pass himself off as a successful, card-carrying resident of Squaresville.

And today? Today, the Bush/Cheney Family has embraced and champions and thrives within the intellectual legacy of the hippies: Relativism, or deconstructionism, if you prefer. Kurt Andersen alluded to this in a recent column for New York magazine and I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the past few years. Relativism (which I’m, lazily, going to use as synonymous with deconstructionism) is the philosophical analogue of the Hippie. It started well, with good, honorable intentions, but somewhere along the line it went awry, if only due to general misunderstanding and simplification of its principles.

Today, relativism has been misinterpreted in such a way as to make possible commonplace acceptance of such absurd corollaries as: We all deserve respect, It’s all a matter of perspective, and Everything’s relative. Well, we don’t all deserve respect, not all of it is a matter of perspective and not everything is relative (at least, not in every way). Relativism’s challenge that we rethink what we know and how we know it has led to the mistaken belief that we don’t know anything and we don’t know how to know anything. There's a principle in logic that if you can prove both a and -a, then you're entitled to conclude whatever you want. Relativism has been interpreted the same way, as if every proposition now carries equal weight, demands equal respect. That, initially, eradicated the left’s ability to challenge absurd ideas originating from the left.

Now, more dangerously, it's rendered the left impotent against absurd ideas originating from the right.

Thus, Democratic political campaigns eschew critical ads as "negative" or even "attack" ads. The media accept the bizarro notion that explaining creationism constitutes "balance." The media also never say what's demonstrably true; the most they'll do is quote whoever says that it's true. Bush's brand of Christianity is tolerated -- rather than subjected to rigorous scrutiny -- because everyone's belief system is entitled to respect. And so on.

Bush has taken this trippy notion of reality to extremes beyond the wildest phantasias of any '60s commune. Bush doesn't just have visions of an alternate plane of reality, he genuinely believes he's creating an alternate reality. How do we know this? A top Bush advisor said so, in a story written by journalist Ron Suskind:

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out."
The quotation would have been no more clearly a product of The Evil Hippie if it had read, "We create our own reality, man."

Manson, the Evil Hippie archetype:
1. Created his own reality in which he was a divine presence.
2. Twisted irrelevant and benign information (Beatles lyrics) into a casus belli.
3. Launched an unprovoked attack with the intent of fomenting a larger war (the Tate-LoBianco murders were intended to spark a race war, from which the Manson Family would emerge as dominant survivors).
Bush, the Evil Hippie front man:
1. Has "this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do," according to what Bruce Bartlett, a veteran of the Reagan and first Bush administrations, told Suskind.
2. Twisted information both irrelevant (Sept. 11) and benign (Iraq's alleged "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities") into a casus belli.
3. Launched an unprovoked attack with the intent of fomenting a larger war (the neo-con group Project for a New American Century suggested that it would take
"a new Pearl Harbor" to justify war with Iraq, a war that Bush has openly said is intended to spark political, if not revolutionary, change beyond Iraq's borders).
Bush told his first ghostwriter he wanted the chance for war with Iraq so that he could accumulate political capital and "get everything passed that I want to get passed." Cheney continues to make money as a war profiteer. The disparity in their goals and in the results they reap again shows us Bush on the front porch, the Jesus Freak grooving on the godhead-trip, while Cheney the Lizard King sits in the dark counting the money.

We even find in both Bush and Manson an aversion to cities -- those marketplaces of ideas, where rivals will scrutinize and criticize you. Instead, they prefer private, insular communes where they can be surrounded by unthinking, uncritical followers, with no gay guys in sight, but a special emphasis on compliant chicks (and what bad-ass hippie commune would be complete without at least one lesbian and someone's Old Lady who had once killed a guy?) Like Manson, Bush even chose as his compound of choice a ranch that isn't really a ranch.

So, what does all this tell us about Bush and Cheney? It helps us predict how they will behave, for one thing. But more importantly, I think it suggests how they and their followers can be beaten. They can be beaten the same way the hippies were. Yes, the hippie lifestyle largely crumbled under the burdens of its own consequences. But we can't wait that long, or bear that burden. We have to assault today's Evil Hippie the same way the right once confronted every hippie.

We must call a space case a space case. We must reject nonsense as nonsense. We must assert that some things are nonsense, and provably so. We must reject the claim that every idea is equal. We must do for real what the conservatives claimed they did: Defend not just the implementation of prevailing law, but the morality of it. Demand accountability. Impose consequences. Reject relativism. Impose the reality that 2+2=4.

Only after we genuinely embrace and hold ourselves accountable to "traditional" standards - that there is right and wrong, that actions do have consequences, that punishment for wrongdoing is proper - can we then begin to apply those standards to the president and his hippie friends.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

World News Tonight, via the Wabac Machine

Here's ABC's e-mail promo for tonight's on-air report (online writeup is here) by Jake Tapper:

And -- who should have the final say about what gets taught to children: parents or teachers? A school outside Boston taught about same-sex marriage to kindergarteners. Jake Tapper has the story of one father who was arrested for taking a stand.
Pop the copy into the WABAC machine and set the dial for, oh, let's say 1972 and we get this:

And -- who should have the final say about what gets taught to children: parents or teachers? A school outside Boston taught about interracial marriage to kindergarteners. Jake Tapper has the story of one father who was arrested for taking a stand.
I'd be interested to find out whether Tapper, or World News Tonight could explain why opposing mentions of same-sex marriage constitutes "taking a stand," but opposing mentions of interracial marriage would not.


Starring Nicolas Cage as Nicolas Cage's Face


1989 Questionnaire Still Lets Miers Thread the Needle on Abortion

The 1989 Texans United for Life questionnaire that Harriet Miers filled out certainly establishes Miers as a pro-lifer. But as her boyfriend Justice Nathan Hecht has said, being a pro-lifer doesn't automatically mean Miers will always rule with the pro-life (or anti-choice) side.

Specifically, the questionnaire asks:

If Congress passes a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution that would prohibit abortion except when it was necessary to prevent the death of the mother, would you actively support its ratification by the Texas Legislature?
Miers answers, "yes." A couple of points here. Miers' answer suggests that she would like to see women stripped of the right to choose abortion. This does not, however, mean that she interprets existing law as denying that right. It also does not mean that she agrees with legal arguments that there is no right to choose. You could even make the argument that, if Miers truly thinks a constitutional amendment is necessary, this might indicate that she thinks the current, unamended Constitution allows for abortion rights. Why else, after all, would an amendment be needed?

The entire questionnaire illustrates nothing more than a personal anti-choice agenda, and a willingness to pursue that agenda, legislatively, within the confines of the law. It does not, however, shed any light on whether this officially, proudly self-proclaimed non-legislator-from-the-bench sees any basis in existing law for denying women the right to choose.

An interesting test of how much faith the Christian right is willing to extend Bush these days will come when we see how legalistic the leaders of the Christian right are in interpreting this questionnaire. If they see the same wiggle room I've identified, and cite that wiggle room as cause for doubt, Bush's nomination remains in deep trouble.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Time to Choose: God or Country?

The proof is in: Believing in god hurts your country. Don't believe me? Ask the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on the bureau's findings, with a headline that attempts to mask the root cause of the problems it identifies. I've bolded the code words that tacitly refer to religion or its influence. And I've italicized the references to those forces that stand in opposition.

Southern states, including Georgia, often style themselves as the last bastions of traditional family values that other parts of the country abandoned long ago. Supposedly, this is still the kind of place where Mom, Dad and the kids traipse to church on Sunday and then show up at Grandmom's for chicken dinner.

...According to a new U.S. Census Bureau report...the South leads the nation in unwed births. In Georgia, nearly four in 10 babies are now born out of wedlock, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of state birth records...The newspaper review found that in 1980, single mothers accounted for 22 percent of births in Georgia. A decade later, the percentage increased to almost a third of births...

Georgia has the ninth highest teen birth rate in the nation, a list led by Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Georgia also shares a history of low educational achievement with those states.

That demographic shift toward single motherhood is troubling for a variety of reasons, not least because it often condemns both mother and child to lifetimes of grinding poverty...And it's no secret that the children of single mothers living in poverty have a hard time overcoming those hurdles. the calculus of teen pregnancy, girls without any plans for college or careers generally believe they have less to lose from early motherhood than those with higher aspirations. Education — and the opportunities that come with it — is often the best form of birth control.

But the most obvious — and the most controversial — strategies to combat teen pregnancy are to offer effective sex education, make birth control easily accessible and keep abortion legal.

States such as New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, for example, boast far lower teen birth rates than Georgia. In part, that's because fewer teens in those states become pregnant in the first place...

...It may be politically popular to try to persuade teens to remain celibate and to restrict their access to information and contraceptives, but those tactics generally backfire, according to research. They produce higher pregnancy rates, higher birth rates and higher abortion rates.

As long as Georgia refuses to acknowledge that fact, and also refuses to look at itself and its children honestly, progress will be very difficult.
It shouldn't be news to anyone that all three of the big monotheistic religions include important strains that marginalize and disenfranchise women. Still, a wily theist will at this point remind us that synchronicity does not imply causality. In other words, just because we find two things together -- religion, with its attendant ignorance and high pregnancy rates, with its attendant poverty -- does not mean we can conclude that one thing caused the other. Fair enough. But the fact is that one of the primary selling points behind just about every religion is its unexplained power to make life better. We hear all the time about the corrupting power of secularism. Twenty-first century American politicians still actually tell us that belief in god corresponds with an improved moral climate.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the U.S. Census Bureau have disproved that correlation. Better still, for the first time, a study in the latest issue of peer-reviewed, academic journal, the Journal of Religion and Society, has taken up the challenge of testing the hypothesis that monotheism makes life better. The study looked at democracies, and how their social progress (indicated by such factors as crime and health) compared with their intellectual progress (indicated by such factors as belief in a magic man who lives in the sky). It's a relatively new kind of study because only now are we entering a stage in history that allows us to gauge secular, stable democracies over time. With apparently zero help from the marketing department, the study's been titled, "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies." It offers the following observations (it's pretty user friendly, but I'll bold the highlights for you skimmers out there):
A few hundred years ago rates of homicide were astronomical in Christian Europe and the American colonies (Beeghley; R. Lane). In all secular developed democracies a centuries long-term trend has seen homicide rates drop to historical lows (Figure 2)....Despite a significant decline from a recent peak in the 1980s (Rosenfeld), the U.S. is the only prosperous democracy that retains high homicide rates, making it a strong outlier in this regard (Beeghley; Doyle, 2000). Similarly, theistic Portugal also has rates of homicides well above the secular developed democracy norm. Mass student murders in schools are rare, and have subsided somewhat since the 1990s, but the U.S. has experienced many more (National School Safety Center) than all the secular developed democracies combined...The positive correlation between pro-theistic factors and juvenile mortality is remarkable, especially regarding absolute belief, and even prayer (Figure 4). Life spans tend to decrease as rates of religiosity rise (Figure 5), especially as a function of absolute belief...

[16] Although the late twentieth century STD epidemic has been curtailed in all prosperous democracies (Aral and Holmes; Panchaud et al.), rates of adolescent gonorrhea infection remain six to three hundred times higher in the U.S. than in less theistic, pro-evolution secular developed democracies (Figure 6). At all ages levels are higher in the U.S., albeit by less dramatic amounts...The two main curable STDs have been nearly eliminated in strongly secular Scandinavia. Increasing adolescent abortion rates show positive correlation with increasing belief and worship of a creator, and negative correlation with increasing non-theism and acceptance of evolution; again rates are uniquely high in the U.S. (Figure 8). Claims that secular cultures aggravate abortion rates (John Paul II) are therefore contradicted by the quantitative data. Early adolescent pregnancy and birth have dropped in the developed democracies (Abma et al.; Singh and Darroch), but rates are two to dozens of times higher in the U.S. where the decline has been more modest (Figure 9)...
In other words, if you're anti-abortion, anti-STD, anti-homicide, anti-infant mortality, anti-school massacres and pro-longevity, the societies that reject your god manifest your values better than you do. And even if you aren't convinced that there's a causal connection, shouldn't the consistent pattern of correlation oblige you -- if you really value an infant's life more than your belief in a magic invisible man -- at least to demand that your religious leaders (which, these days, includes politicians) account for their failure to make good on their claim that adherence to their religion yields the benefits you value?

[18] 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 United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed 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...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...

[19] If the data showed that the U.S. enjoyed higher rates of societal health than the more secular, pro-evolution democracies, then the opinion that popular belief in a creator is strongly beneficial to national cultures would be supported. Although they are by no means utopias, the populations of secular democracies are clearly able to govern themselves and maintain societal cohesion. 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 developed democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted...

"Hey!" you cry, "There might be, um, mitigating circumstances!" You bet there are, but they mitigate away from the magic man:


[20] The United States’ deep social problems are all the more disturbing because the nation enjoys exceptional per capita wealth among the major western nations (Barro and McCleary; Kasman; PEW; UN Development Programme, 2000, 2004). Spending on health care is much higher as a portion of the GDP and per capita, by a factor of a third to two or more, than in any other developed democracy (UN Development Programme, 2000, 2004). The U.S. is therefore the least efficient western nation in terms of converting wealth into cultural and physical health. Understanding the reasons for this failure is urgent, and doing so requires considering the degree to which cause versus effect is responsible for the observed correlations between social conditions and religiosity versus secularism. It is therefore hoped that this initial look at a subject of pressing importance will inspire more extensive research on the subject. Pressing questions include the reasons, whether theistic or non-theistic, that the exceptionally wealthy U.S. is so inefficient that it is experiencing a much higher degree of societal distress than are less religious, less wealthy prosperous democracies. Conversely, how do the latter achieve superior societal health while having little in the way of the religious values or institutions? There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions, secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms (Aral and Holmes; Beeghley, Doyle, 2002). It is the responsibility of the research community to address controversial issues and provide the information that the citizens of democracies need to chart their future courses.

That's where the study gets it wrong. It's not the responsibility of the research community to address these issues, until our broader community, our American community, demonstrates that it supports such an effort. Until the Americans who go to the polls are willing to demand that our leaders account for the correlation between our primitive (creationist, theistic) thinking and our rapidly slipping status in comparison with secular societies, our politicians will neither fund the least nor heed the greatest amount of research on this issue. And we'll continue to pay the price until we're willing to decide: God or country?


Monday, October 17, 2005

Michael Barone's Patriotic Elite

For the life of me, I can't remember whether my jobs in journalism have brought me into contact with Michael Barone, of U.S. News and World Report. If they have, and if Mr. Barone treated me with civility and courtesy, then I will feel some measure of shame and remorse for calling him stupid.

But he is.

At least I'm not calling him evil. Or that most damning of all slurs: un-American.

In his latest column, Barone trots out the fecal chestnut that America's elite are un-American. I wrote yesterday about the fact that even a Republican senator is now championing elitism. This time, though, Barone adopts Samuel Huntington's argument that there's a growing trend among America's elite to reject identifying with America and to view matters from what's termed a "transnational perspective."

Barone's right about the latter, but doesn't understand why; which is why he's wrong about the former.

But let's look at what passes for his argument.

...Most Americans feel a shiver when they hear "The Star-Spangled Banner" played and reflect on the triumphs and tragedies that those serving under that flag have won and suffered over more than 200 years. You're part of something larger than yourself. But not all of us cherish ties to past traditions. "America's business, professional, intellectual, and academic elites," writes Samuel Huntington in his 2004 book Who Are We? have "attitudes and behavior [that] contrast with the overwhelming patriotism and nationalistic identification with their country of the American public. . . . They abandon commitment to their nation and their fellow citizens and argue the moral superiority of identifying with humanity at large."...
I've spoken before of Bush's unique style of personnel assessment, which I've branded Cardio-Meritocracy for its reliance on the cardiac qualities of applicants. Now, Barone and Huntington hope to expand the franchise of biologically-based criteria into what once was -- and may some day be again -- the realm of rationality. They're championing a brand of nationalism I'll call Neuro-Reflexive Patriotism. Solidarity by shiver. Specialness by spasm. The thrill that turns gooseflesh into goose steps.

Barone (whom I'll pick on because I'll never read Huntington's no-doubt compelling book) suggests that Neuro-Reflexive Patriotism's power to provoke such (literally) unthinking responses stems from the wealth of thought and knowledge underlying patriotism. Our skin dimples because our brains cherish past traditions. (The weight he ascribes to the past, however, suggests that we should thrill not lyrically at the patriotism stirred by Francis Scott Key's words, but melodically at the drunkenness celebrated by the music itself, which is an older, German drinking song).

But the reality (sorry) is that Neuro-Reflexive Patriotism can be generated by awe-inspiring displays not just of one's own nation, but also by those of other nations, those of rival nations and even by displays lacking any context whatsoever.

Barone unmakes his point even in the process of trying to make it, with a condescending example that pauses briefly for a swipe at people who don't believe in magic: "Even nonbelievers often feel a twinge of awe when they attend Christian or Jewish weddings or funerals and witness liturgies with centuries-old roots."

Wow. Even NONbelievers. And you know what THEY'RE like. Of course nonbelievers feel awe at religious ceremonies. That's a point against you, Michael, not for you. Why? Because it illustrates that awe can be provoked even by expressions of sentiments with which you disagree. Hell, the fact that such displays hold power enough to provoke awe among even the doubtful is precisely why so many religions have them. And it ain't the antiquity of the religion on display that provokes this awe, either. No one's coming out of the Wolfowitz wedding more moved than they were at the Bush wedding simply because Judaism has lapped a few more millennia than Christianity has. So if it ain't age (and that's important to Barone's claim that patriotism is tied to the past) and it ain't ideology, what is it?

I hate to scare anyone, but it's science. In fact, it's not even particularly new science. Newsweek wrote about well-known neural aspects of religious experience years ago. Here's a pertinent selection:

Even people who describe themselves as nonspiritual can be moved by religious ceremonies and liturgy. Hence the power of ritual. Drumming, dancing, incantations——all rivet attention on a single, intense source of sensory stimulation, including the body’s own movements. They also evoke powerful emotional responses. That combination——focused attention that excludes other sensory stimuli, plus heightened emotion——is key. Together, they seem to send the brain’s arousal system into hyperdrive, much as intense fear does.
So, can we consign the notion that biological reflex indicates intellectual endorsement to the same fate that awaits all biology? Great.

Barone goes on to argue that elites used to be American, but increasingly no longer are:

This gap is something new in our history. Franklin Roosevelt spoke fluent French and German and worked to create the United Nations, but no one doubted that his allegiance was to America above all. Most Harvard professors in the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s felt a responsibility to help the United States prevail against its totalitarian enemies. But in the later stages of the Vietnam War--a war begun by elite liberals--elites on campuses began taking an adversary posture toward their own country.
Barone forgets to make the point that most of the rest of the country came to agree with the elites. Which makes the crime of the elites what? Haste?

Furthermore, if he wants us to accept an example from the past as evidence of change, he ought to try the thought experiment of transposing his example into the present. If Franklin Roosevelt were alive, and last week had advocated forcefully for the United Nations in fluent French, does Mr. Barone really think he could claim today with a straight face that "no one doubted his allegiance was to America above all"? This is an important point, that I'll return to. Right now, sorry, but more Barone:

Later, with globalization, a transnational mind-set grew among corporate and professional elites. Legal elites, too: Some Supreme Court justices have taken to citing foreign law as one basis for interpreting the U.S. Constitution. This gap between transnational elites and the patriotic public has reverberations in partisan politics. Americans in military service and those with strong religious beliefs now vote heavily Republican. Americans with strong patriotic feelings are more closely split between the parties, but the growing minority with transnational attitudes vote heavily Democratic. Which doesn't necessarily help the Democratic Party.
(Aside: Why is that? How exactly is that votes don't "necessarily" help a political party?)

Democrats Bill Galston and Elaine Kamarck, both Clinton administration veterans, point out in a recent paper that two thirds of liberals, the dominant force in the party at least in 2004, reject pre-emptive use of military force and want to cut the defense budget, while only one third of the electorate agrees. "While social issues and defense dominate today's political terrain," they conclude, "it is in these areas that liberals espouse views diverging not only from those of other Democrats but from Americans as a whole. To the extent that liberals now constitute both the largest bloc within the Democratic coalition and the public face of the party, Democratic candidates for national office will be running uphill."
While I don't blame Barone for latching onto Democratic self-defeatism, the argument fails for two reasons. For one, liberals are still (last time I checked) part of "Americans as a whole." For another, the same argument could be directed more easily at the Bush wing of the Republican party. Most Americans don't agree with his views, but no one describes him as "diverging...from Americans as a whole." More on this (really!) in a minute.

"A nation's morale and strength derive from a sense of the past," argues historian Wilfred McClay. Ties to those who came before--whether in the military, in religion, in general patriotism--provide a sense of purpose rooted in history and tested over time. Secular transnational elites are on their own, without a useful tradition, in constructing a morality to help them perform their duties. Most Americans sense they need such ties to the past, to judge from the millions buying books about Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, and other Founding Fathers. We Americans are lucky to live in a country with a history full of noble ideas, great leaders, and awe-inspiring accomplishments. Sadly, many of our elites want no part of it.
Now we're in deep in the heart of Bullshit Country. Some quick exit routes:

  • Ask Barone and his historian friend what national past gave the America of 1776 its morale and strength.
  • Ask Barone whether he really thinks the elites don't make up the most solid bloc of those "millions" buying books about America's noble ideas and great leaders.
  • Ask Barone whether the cadre of revolutionaries he cites really, truly wanted us to ground our nation in the past, or whether their very lives provided evidence that greatness comes from challenging oneself and one's nation to do better than one's forbears did.
Now, I promised I'd explain why Barone's misunderstanding of the alleged move toward transnationalism led him to conclude that America's "elites" are rejecting America. I also said I'd explain why the Roosevelt example is so important; as well as why Barone can claim that the presumably liberal elite is "diverging" from America, while President Bush, freed by a compliant Congress to do his will, is finding fewer Americans support his policies the more they see of them and the more time those policies have to yield their results. The key to understanding all these things lies in a mistake Barone's intellectual, ideological and theological predecessors made:

Observing an object far, far away, they mistakenly concluded that the object was moving and that they were stationary. The reverse was true then and is true now. The sun was not moving, its observers were.

Liberal elites are not moving away from America or patriotism. Those things are being dragged away from us. It's not merely that the government has adopted principles that are inherently anti-American: It's that the government has done so openly, and millions of Americans have embraced it. Neuro-Reflexive Patriotism may explain why they've done so, but that doesn't make their embrace less real.

At some point -- surely even Barone would agree -- patriots have to decide whether their country is acting in the right or in the wrong. At some point, patriots have to ask whether a country, and a people, that embrace wrong over right can cease to become a country worth patriotism.

When the fundamental, historically-based principles of American patriotism become inoperative -- when questioning authority, demanding higher standards from our leaders than from our foes, seeking accountability for all, promoting social equality for the targets of racial or religious bias, defending the future of the country against those who would bleed it dry now and praising the virtues of adversarial journalism and politics are all portrayed as un- rather than quintessentially American -- to what are the liberal elites, the French-speaking U.N. defenders, supposed to turn as the standards for determining what is right? We've turned -- as Barone rightly observes, but from which he mistakenly extrapolates -- to other sources and exemplars of the virtues that we once proudly called American. To the extent we've become "transnational," it's because Barone and Bush and their ilk have dragged America itself away from its American character, the very roots Barone so hypocritically exalts.

America was founded not because the land upon which it was built merited sanctification, not because the name "America" possessed special powers. America was founded as a political and social mechanism to promote specific, reason-based virtues and enable Americans to live better, enriched, enlightened lives as a result of those virtues. Patriotism ultimately should be, must be (if the rational are to defend it), an allegiance first to the virtues our nation historically espoused and embodied. And if that requires standing in opposition to those who have, however temporarily, highjacked this nation away from its intended pursuit of those virtues, then rejecting Barone's version of patriotism becomes the very definition of the word.


Sunday, October 16, 2005

Chuck Hagel Shows How the GOP Split Is Helping...the GOP

The GOP is experiencing two painful, traumatic crises right now. As illustrated by comments Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel made today, however, Democrats, risk conflating the two crises. It's a risk because one crisis offers Democrats opportunity; the other poses a serious political threat. Here they are:

  • President Bush's low political and personal popularity
  • The resulting split among Bush's former supporters
Pres. Bush's waning popularity should be a (metaphorical) godsend for the Democrats. But not for all the reasons they might think. Pres. Bush's low popularity, in and of itself, carries zero implications for his political agenda. He honestly doesn't care whether he's popular, or his plans are; he knows he's right, so he'll ram his plans through no matter how unpopular they are, if he can.

However, whether he can depends on whether he has support in Congress. And Bush's support in Congress is waning just as fast (now) as his popular support is. This is good news in the short term for Democrats hoping to block Bush's legislative agenda between now and next November.

But this is bad news for Democrats next November -- and therefore potentially bad news for all of us after next November.

Here's what Hagel said on Sunday's Face the Nation about Iraq:

The longer American troops stay there, the more attractive we are as targets and excuses for insurgents and Sunnis.
And here's what he said about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers:

One other point I'd make, this nonsense about sexism and elitism. The fact is, this is an elite group of individuals. The fact is, we want an elite group of individuals. I'm not so sure I want my next-door neighbor, as much as I like him or her, to be on the Supreme Court because they're nice people.
Hagel's comments on Iraq are, of course, nothing new. And many bloggers before me have pointed out that Democrats have already ceded to Republicans what should have been the Excalibur of 2006 and 2008 -- that Bush botched the war by its execution and very initiation.

But Hagel's comments about Miers -- specifically, about elitism -- suggest that things are even worse for Democrats than we feared. Republicans are now championing elitism. Hagel didn't just cop to practicing elitism, he explained quickly and convincingly why elitism is a necessary and desireable part of the process.

This is a value that should, on the face of it, be obvious. Elitism is, essentially, betterism. Better is good. Doesn't seem like that should be a tough argument. But now, Democrats have let Republicans become the defenders of that most liberal sentiment: Elitism.

Pres. Bush's low popularity should have given Democrats a tool to block bad legislation. And it has. But Democrats have missed the point of why it's a tool to block bad legislation. It's a tool to block bad legislation because Democrats can use the consent of congressional Republicans to tie them to Bush in 2006 and 2008.

That's why the GOP split poses a threat to the Democrats. If Democrats allow the GOP to split from Bush -- on faith issues over Miers, on fiscal issues over the deficit, on martial issues over Iraq -- they'll have lost the one thing they had to hit Republicans with at election time: Their complicity with Bush.

By allowing Republicans to take the lead now in criticizing Bush, by failing to point out the hypocrisy of such Republican critiques, Democrats are forfeiting their ability to hold Republicans accountable for their empowerment and defense of Bush. If they don't get their act together soon, they'll have willingly, if unwittingly, laid down the best weapon they had to fight back.

And without it, we all stand a greater chance that Republicans will maintain their grip in 2006, and even 2008, perpetuating the effects of their bad policies. And if that happens, the country loses again, and Bush wins one final time.


Friday, October 14, 2005

Hilarious New Miers Defense

Matthew Scully, "special assistant to the president and deputy director of speechwriting for President Bush from 2001 to 2004," offers an indignant rebuttal to the critics of Harriet Miers who dared to expect distinction and brilliance from a Supreme Court nominee.

But the best part about Scully's defense is the fact that he rips on former Bush staffers who've gone on to betray Bush by daring to tell Americans what goes on in the White House.

Why is that so great? Because Scully then inadvertently does it himself. Here's the money quote from his NY Times op-ed:

It is true that Harriet Miers, in everything she does, gives high attention to detail. And the trait came in handy with drafts of presidential speeches, in which she routinely exposed weak arguments, bogus statistics and claims inconsistent with previous remarks long forgotten by the rest of us. If one speech declared X "our most urgent domestic priority," and another speech seven months earlier had said it was Y, it would be Harriet Miers alone who noted the contradiction.
So, Harriet Miers, the former Texas State Lottery commissioner, was the thin line of truth between the Bush White House and the American people. More to the point, the entire speechwriting apparatus, which includes Bush and his top aides, didn't know from speech to speech what Bush's most urgent domestic priority was!

(As an aside, he also says, "Whenever she was in the room, calmly listening and observing, you knew that on any matter, great or small, at least one person involved had in mind only the interests of the president, the office and the nation." So, at least one.)

But on to domestic priorities. While the White House speechwriters, and speech-vetters and speech-readers (i.e., Pres. Bush) didn't know what his top priority was, that didn't claim him from telling people was. And apparently Miers wasn't even particularly good at this task, either. A quick search of the White House web site reveals that, while education is the leading contender as "the" top priority, sometimes it was just "a" priority, and sometimes there seemed to be other priorities. Here, from the White House web site, is a summary of Mr. Bush's domestic priorities (so far):

"Education has got to be one of the top domestic priorities." - March 12, 2002, Washington, DC.

"We've got a priority to make sure our homeland is secure." - April 15, 2005, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"I want to speak to you about a few key domestic priorities. When I address Congress, I will urge them to pass my plan to strengthen our economy and help more Americans find jobs." - January 25, 2003, radio address.

"Strengthening and improving Medicare is also a priority for my administration in the coming year." - January, 25, 2003, same radio address, but a little later.

"Making sure every child learns to read and making sure every child is educated is a -- the number one domestic priority." - January 5, 2004, St. Louis, Missouri.

"Public education is a top domestic priority." - January 8, 2004, Knoxville, Tennessee.

"When I came to Washington, I made schools my first domestic priority." - October 27, 2004, Lititz, Pennsylvania.

"When I came to Washington, I made schools my top domestic priority." - October 27, 2004, Vienna, Ohio.

"Reforming Social Security will be a priority of my administration." - November 4, 2004, White House.

"With resources already provided to continue to fight the war on terror and to protect the homeland, we have held to the fiscally responsible limits Congress and I agreed to and still adequately funded our domestic priorities like education, health care, and veterans' programs." - November 20, 2004, presidential statement.

"I'm eager to move ahead with one of my top domestic priorities: strengthening and saving Social Security." - February 26, 2005, radio address.

"[Association Health Plans] are a fair, innovative, and commonsense approach to make health insurance more affordable and accessible, one of my top domestic priorities." - July 26, 2005, presidential statement.
Seems like lately, Mr. Bush's priorities are all over the map (literally, in the case of Louisiana and Mississippi). You almost have to wonder who's left to remind Bush what his priorities are. You have to wonder where Harriet Miers is these days, now that Bush needs her.

Oh, yeah.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Tony Perkins Breaks The Code!


This is kind of big.

I just finished a too-long explanation of why the media's misunderstanding of Bush's faith led them to hear something he didn't say. In it, I made the argument that Bush is no longer using The Code in the way the Christian right once understood it. And, in an earlier post this week, I predicted that the Harriet Miers nomination could be the first event of the Bush presidency to jeopardize his lock on the Christian right base.

Now, I've just read the latest posting by Tony Perkins, of the misnamed Family Research Council. It's clear that his rejection of a religious litmus test for nominees is simply a smoke screen to cover his opposition to Miers, but don't miss the potentially staggering implications of where he stands now. With apologies for anyone allergic to meta-cryptography, I've bolded his coded references to The Code, and italicized his coded references to the current disjoint between reality and White House use of The Code vis a vis Miers:

...Because Harriet Miers' philosophy has not been articulated by the one person that matters - Miers herself - we had little to go on. Now, 10 days post nomination, some of our friends are citing a White House message about her religious beliefs as a factor that recommended her for appointment.

We scored liberal Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and their interest group allies, for making comments and inferences about the fitness for office of Bush nominees because of their "deeply held personal beliefs." We argued then, and believe now, that this language was code for the Democrats' objections to any judicial nominee of orthodox religious conviction...

It's not just that religious conviction is an unreliable indicator of a judicial philosophy (though it clearly is), it's that inferences drawn from an individual's religious affiliation have no place in decisions to nominate or confirm a judicial appointee. Religious convictions do find their way appropriately into the law when they undergird and inspire norms of justice, as they have always done in the American experience. But that is not the same thing as drawing conclusions about a judge's potential rulings based on their personal faith.

In other words, Tony Perkins just ripped up The Code!

The big news here is not, as some will claim, that Perkins is abjuring a religious test. Hell, they've always officially claimed that. They could afford to do so -- because they had The Code!

Now, however, Perkins has put the White House on notice that The Code is no longer operable! First, he identifies Democratic language as an alleged code, to make sure everyone on both sides understands that he's been part of the semaphor club in the past. Then, he talks about the "message" that Bush proxies -- primarily Rove -- have used to sell Miers: Specifically, that she's a born-again evangelical. Rove, clearly, sold Miers' faith as code to suggest a correlation on the political spectrum. Perkins is flat-out clear about how the Christian right is reading The Code from now on: "...unreliable indicator," "...inferences...have no place," "...not...drawing conclusions...based on personal faith."

The new rule of The Code is, There Is No Code.

I've gone on (yes, at length) before about my theory that Bush's watershed negative moment will be the moment that the Christian right joins the rest of the world in evaluating Bush's works, not his faith, by applying quantifiable metrics to his results. The rejection of The Code sure seems to me like a strong indicator that this moment is nigh.


Is Anyone Actually Listening to Bush?

Maybe it's just me. But I keep not hearing Bush say things. Or maybe it's that I'm hearing Bush not say things. Either way, the next day, I read about the great tumult caused by the things he apparently did not not say.

First, there was his sweeping call for American energy conservation. I didn't hear it (as I outlined in a woefully overlooked posting), but it was front-page news thanks to the media execs who did hear it.

Then there was the time Bush said he hasn't sat down, which I heard as him saying he hadn't sat down, but which the White House press corps and their bosses back at the DC bureaus and in New York heard as him saying he and Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers had never, ever even mentioned the word "abortion" to each other.

Now, there's the religious test Bush didn't say Miers had to pass to secure her nomination. I heard him not say that. But, again, the mainstream media and the blogosphere have heard him say something that I missed.

The LA Times said:

President Bush indicated Wednesday that Harriet E. Miers' religious beliefs were one reason he nominated her to the Supreme Court — comments that drew quick criticism from liberal groups, which said religion should not be considered a qualification to sit on the nation's highest bench...

Bush previously has stressed his knowledge of her character, but this was the first time hepublicly referred to her faith when asked about picking her.
The Associated Press went even further, magically ascribing motives to what Bush said:
The White House tried Wednesday to patch a growing fissure in the Republican Party over Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers by pointing to her conservative religious beliefs. "Part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion," President Bush said.
Clearly, the thrust of the media coverage has been that Bush chose to raise the issue of Miers' religion, he did so for reasons that are (for unexplained reasons) apparent to mainstream journalists, and his comments can safely be interpreted as indicating that Miers' nomination stemmed from her denomination.

Let's examine those three premises by looking at the transcript:

Q Why do people in this White House feel it's necessary to tell your supporters that Harriet Miers attends a very conservative Christian church? Is that your strategy to repair the divide that has developed among conservatives over her nominee?

PRESIDENT BUSH: People ask me why I picked Harriet Miers. They want to know Harriet Miers' background; they want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions. And part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion. Part of it has to do with the fact that she was a pioneer woman and a trailblazer in the law in Texas. I remind people that Harriet Miers is one of the -- has been rated consistently one of the top 50 women lawyers in the United States. She's eminently qualified for the job. And she has got a judicial philosophy that I appreciate; otherwise I wouldn't have named her to the bench, which is -- or nominated her to the bench -- which is that she will not legislate from the bench, but strictly interpret the Constitution. So our outreach program has been just to explain the facts to people. But, more importantly, Harriet is going to be able to explain the facts to the people when she testifies. And people are going to see why I named her -- nominated her to the bench, and she's going to make a great Supreme Court judge.
Bush uttered all of one sentence about religion, saying solely that Miers has one. However, the questioner clearly raised the issue of religion, making its inclusion in Bush's response indicative of nothing other than that he chose to be responsive to the specifics of the question. Also, the question was not, as the LA Times reported, "about picking her" or even about the role of religion in picking her. In fact, the question explicitly concerned the campaign after the fact to boost Miers' chances. So, Bush's answer should be taken in the context of promoting Miers, not picking her.

Why did the mainstream media misread this? Partially, it's due to the same factor that led them to misread his comments on abortion and conservation: They think they're smarter than he is. They're not, on average, which is why the media's misreads so often work to his advantage.

This time, the misread isn't exactly working to his advantage. But this time it's not due to media arrogance about Bush's ignorance, it's due to media ignorance about Bush's arrogance.

Let's stipulate for a minute that all the bloggers and the mainstream media are wrong in their interpretation of Bush's remark that "part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion." The coverage suggests (or "indicates," to use the LA Times' word) that Bush was admitting that her religion influenced his choice. The reality is that Bush was admitting that religion was relevant in selling that choice to a religious audience. The Constitution may prevent applying a religious test to applicants for public office, but it certainly doesn't bar the use of religion to boost the popularity of those applicants.

Even if Bush did factor in Miers' religion when choosing her, the reporting is still wrong, because he didn't say he did. So, why would all the commentators get this one so wrong, when the proper context was right there in the question Bush was answering? The reason is that all the commentators -- mainstream, online and otherwise -- are now hip to The Code.

We all know The Code. It's the lexicon Bush used to discuss his faith in benign-sounding ways that actually signal political positions. It's how Bush could run as a compassionate conservative in 2000, while using terminologies that the Christian right recognized as shibboleths from the clan of anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-women, anti-Hollywood, anti-porn, anti-northeast, anti-intellectual crusaders.

Almost instantly, the blogosphere caught on. Five years later -- post-Iraq, post-Katrina -- the media, too, are eager to demonstrate they won't be had again. They're hip to The Code, too, now.

That's why everyone's reading Miers wrong. When Bush -- and therefore his proxies -- uses The Code now, in reference to Miers, he -- and therefore, without knowing it, his proxies -- is no longer signalling specific policy positions.

After all, while her career indicates a solidly Bushian view of corporate America and the executive branch, her approach to the social issues that underpin The Code has been scattershot. She didn't want the law changed to permit penis-to-anus contact, but she has endorsed some concept of civil rights for gays and certainly hasn't devoted any particular energies to demonizing them or legislating against them. She seems firmly anti-abortion, but doesn't seem to be as committed to the idea that the law should be anti-abortion. She started a lecture series to honor a pro-choice Texas lawyer who fought for women's rights.

What, then, does The Code now mean? Well, I've argued that it's usually instructive to take the president literally when he says something. And what he said was that her "religion" was a part of her life.

So, what is her religion? Here's what has to say about Miers' denomination:

In the Washington, D.C. area Miers has regularly attended a small number of different Episcopalian congregations. These include St. John's Episcopal Church (across the street from the White House, where Pres. Bush often attends services), Christ Episcopal Church (in Alexandria) and Falls Episcopal Church (a highly evangelical congregation near Alexandria which is in many ways similar to Valley View). Miers has also occasionally attended her family's church, the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. Miers clearly feels an affinity for Episcopalian churches due to her childhood experiences and the continued Episcopalian affiliation of parents and family. Nevertheless, Miers has clearly expressed religious views and exhibited a preference for moral/ethical standards which are regarded as more conservative than those held by mainstream American Episcopalianism and the leadership of the Episcopal Church. Despite her church attendance patterns while in Washington, there is no evidence that Miers currently refers to herself as an "Episcopalian."
So, she's Episcopalian. But not "Episcopalian." Her sometime boyfriend, Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, has called her "half Catholic, half Episcopalian." She also attended Presybterian churches as a child. So, could Bush have meant that he picked her because she holds an approved mix of Catholic, Episcopalian and possibly Presbyterian theological positions? But if theology were the driving factor, wouldn't Bush have wanted someone who holds the same theological positions he does? In other words, if he's applying a denominational religious test, why would Bush, a Methodist, have appointed a Catholic chief justice and now an associate justice who appears to be Episbytholic? Or at least Casbypalian?

So, clearly, theological tenets, especially in someone so ideologically opaque as Miers, are not what Bush was talking about when he referred to Miers' religion. Which makes it fair to ask, well, if he wasn't using The Code, and he wasn't shorthanding her religious beliefs, what the hell else could he have been referring to?

It's my belief (you can argue whether it's fact- or faith-based) that Bush was referring to her faith. Not her faith in religious facts, but the simple fact of her faith. What the mainstream media, and much of the blogosphere, has misunderstood about Bush's born-again evangelicalism is that it's not dogmatic. Bush is not a student of the Bible. He himself talks about his faith not as a belief in specific teachings or values of Jesus. When Oprah Winfrey asked him what role his faith plays in public policy, his answer was telling, in that it revealed that his faith is essentially a supernatural endorsement of egocentrism and masked insecurity:

Q: What part does your faith play on your policy decisions?
BUSH: My faith plays a big part in my life. Prayer and religion sustain me. When I make decisions, I stand on principle, and the principles are derived from who I am.
He said it himself. His principles are not those laid down by Jesus. They're derived from who he is.

He has said that he came to his faith not because the teachings of Jesus moved him, but because Billy Graham walked him through a fairly typical Christian born-again experience. It's hard to grasp the nature of this experience from the outside. But evangelical author Tim LaHaye reveals the internal experience of it when his characters accept Jesus in his best-selling phenomenon, "Left Behind."

Even in LaHaye's own words, the experience is not one in which unbelievers are exposed to the teachings of Jesus and come to believe in them. In fact, even in LaHaye's own book, the characters who accept Jesus don't even read the Bible first. All they do is plumb the depths of their worthlessness, confront the fears that can accompany disbelief (see: Pascal's Wager) and embrace the redemptive and, yes, salvational ecstasy that comes with believing that they could be loved by a divine entity. That's it. No theology. No asceticism. Nothin'. In fact, no meaningful denomination and no Code!

Bush genuinely likes Miers. And they clearly see eye to eye on many things. But they haven't seen eye to eye on everything (remember, she supported ABA input on SCOTUS appointments). So, unless Bush has secretly -- and I highly doubt this -- grilled Miers thoroughly on exactly where her religious beliefs have led her politically, the reality is that Bush may not know how she'd rule. Don't forget, Bush has misjudged born-again Christian appointees before. (And John DiIulio's sin? It wasn't just betrayal, or criticism. He dared to reveal that, once he got inside the White House, he discovered The Code didn't apply.)

What the mainstream and now, ironically, the Christian right, don't seem to understand is that he'd appoint Miers despite not knowing her every future ruling. Why? Because the nature of Miers' faith is, to him, the same as that of his own. In fact, he already revealed how he defines this faith, when he said Miers has "a good heart." That's why he, ostensibly a Methodist, is comfortable relying on religion when nominating a Catholic, or a Prethopalian: Because the values, the theology, the positions simply don't matter to him. All that matters is this vague notion of "faith." Because he feels safe, unchallenged, around people of this "faith" -- because he doesn't have to fear their judgment, as long as they, too, retain "faith" as the principle lens through which they view the world.

Bush's faith, this modern-day, context-free, Jesus-Lite mutation of self-elevating Christianity, is not a sham. I'm sure in its own way it's just as heartfelt as Miers' or the Pope's or Jim Jones' religion. But until the media wake up to what the Christian right is starting to understand -- that Bush's faith is really just a self-delusional self-worship -- then Bush won't be the only one hearing voices that aren't there.

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