Monthly Archives: November 2003

“True” Republicans

Reponse to a Comment

Ken Miller takes legitimate issue with my use of the phrase “True Republicans” in the two posts (so far) dealing with the origins and development of the Cult of Personality that has built up around Bush. I was going to answer in Comments, but the Haloscan program has a limit that forced me to cut my response into little pieces, which is annoying. However, since Ken’s comment may well reflect a more general response, I thought it would be appropriate to put both his comment and my answer here, so that they could be seen in their totality by anyone who has read the posts.

Here’s Ken’s original comment:

I enjoyed reading your essay here and enjoy your comments on reject your use of the term “True Republicans”. Bush reflects the philosophy and platform of the Texas Republican Party which includes planks to: withdraw from the UN, cancel all UN treaties; abolish the IRS and replace the income tax with a sales tax and return to the gold standard. These are not “True Republican” policies–they are extreme right wing ideas that suggest their authors have not been to college.

I am concerned about Bush lies and will not vote for Bush because of them. But we have to remember, Lyndon Johnson lied, Nixon lied, Reagan lied and Clinton lied.

By the way, who would you consider to be a “True Democrat”:
Thomas Jefferson
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
John F. Kennedy
George McGovern
Jimmy Carter
Mike Dukakis
Bill Clinton
Hillary Clinton
Al Gore
Howard Dean
Dick Gephart
Joe Lieberman
Kenneth William Miller II

Here’s my response, uncut:

Ken Miller says, “I reject your use of the term ‘True Republicans’.”Would you prefer “Root Republicans”?

The point I was trying to make was that Neiwert’s idea that the current crop of Republican radicals are some kind of aberration just isn’t accurate. They–and yes, the Texas Republican Party that spawned them–are overt expressions of fundamental Republican values that have been covert since the 20’s. All that’s happening now is the re-emergence of those fundamental values into the open.

Until Nixon–and even for a while after, though with reservations–I, too, thought that the Republican Party had matured in the Depression just as the Democratic Party had. I thought that the Republican Party had moderated if not abandoned its extremes and were representing an important point of view from rational and defendable, even admirable, core beliefs around the protection of individual initiatives and choice, fiscal responsibility, finding a balance between the needs of business and the needs of society as a whole, and smart, careful foreign policies. I often disagreed with them about specifics, but even then I thought their perspective was valid and important to hear. I voted for people like Ed Brooke, Sargeant and Weld in Mass and Lowell Weicker in Conn, and would cheerfully have voted for people like Arlen Specter, Bob Michel, Warren Rudman and Henry Hyde (prior to the Impeachment idiocy) had I lived in those states. I was enormously proud of the fortitude, honesty, and courage of moderate Republicans like Howard Baker during the Watergate hearings. They stuck by their principles and refused to play the partisan game: what Nixon had done was wrong, and they weren’t going to pretend it was right or defend it just because he happened to be in their own party.

But what has become clear over the past 25 years is that I–and others, including moderate Republicans themselves–were just plain wrong, fooled by a moderate Republican bubble that was a defensive response to FDR’s coalition, not a legitimate maturation. Personally, what proved that to me was Henry Hyde’s shameful performance during the Impeachment hearings. I had been a big fan of Hyde’s before that. I believed that he was a man who put the country’s interests above his own when necessary, that he had enormous integrity, admirable principles, and a strength of character second to none. To watch him turn into nothing more than another political hack at the behest of whacko extremists like Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay was a gut-wrenching experience for me. I still haven’t gotten over it. I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach by a mule. That was the moment when I realized–or more accurately perhaps, accepted what I had been in the process of realizing since Reagan: that the Republicans of the Robber Barons were back, in force, and that moderates were going to lose all influence in the party; if they didn’t knuckle under as Hyde had done, they’d be out. Like Jeffords, like Weld, like Weicker, like dozens of others. The Barbarians were past the gate: they had invaded the city and were now in charge. And the moderates had let it happen; they hadn’t even put up the shadow of a fight to protect what they had believed and built since Eisenhower.

In retrospect, it’s now clear that the extremists have always been there, waiting and plotting for their chance to take over again, and that the moderates were never able to amount to more than cover for them. There are lots of good people, moderates, left in the Republican Party, but they have little or no national influence and, frankly, if they don’t resist the onslaught of the Barbarians with more fortitude than they’ve shown so far, their days are numbered; they will be eliminated one-by-one as the Barbarians solidify their hold and replace them with extremists. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is.

The moderates can still stop the extremists–contrary to appearances, they outnumber extremists in the Congress and in the local party machinery–but so far, although there have been rumblings of protest, they’ve largely come to nothing. The extremists have to be challenged within the party, and they’re not, nor is there any sign that they will be. Not yet, anyway. I live for the day when Henry Hyde will find his balls again, stand up on the floor of the House, and say what you just said–that the Bushies are extremists who represent the whackos of the Texas Republican Party, not the vast majority of moderate national Republicans. I live for it, but I don’t expect it to happen. And as long as the moderates are willing to let the extremists call the shots and run the show, I can’t give them respect and I won’t give them support.

“I am concerned about Bush lies and will not vote for Bush because of them. But we have to remember, Lyndon Johnson lied, Nixon lied, Reagan lied and Clinton lied.”

Yes, but to protect this or that program, initiative, or policy. Bush is the first since Nixon to use lies as an everyday tactic, and even Nixon told the truth occasionally. Bush hasn’t told the truth about ANYTHING at any time, before or after his (s)election. His speeches are chains of platitudes laced with lies and his programs have Orwellian DoubleSpeak names that mean the opposite of what the programs are actually intended to do. It’s almost pathological.

As for who I would consider a “True Democrat”, it depends what you mean. There are 2 distinct and quite different source groups–before and after FDR.

If you mean in the same sense that I was using “True Republicans”, ie, those who represent the original Democratic template, then I would have to point out that the Democratic Party was created in the shape it would maintain for most of the next century in the early 1800’s as a party that existed to defend slavery. By that definition, the last True Democrat was probably George Wallace, altho Zell Miller sometimes comes awfully close.

If you mean in the current sense of “Democrat”–the post-Rooseveltian paradigm the party has maintained for the past 60 years as the party of the working class and the disadvantaged–then I would probably choose Adlai Stevenson, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, and/or Lyndon Johnson.

Further comments are certainly welcome,. but be aware that the program limit is 1000 characters (roughly, 2 long paragraphs).

Hardly suitable for a long-winded SOB like me….

What Drink Am I?

What I am: Going for the classic choice, none can go wrong with a classy Long Islander!
Congratulations! You’re a Long Island Iced Tea!

What Drink Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

This can’t be good…..

(By way of Randy at Beautiful Horizons)

The Cult of Personality 2: The Source of Polarization

Neiwert’s post goes on to argue that the intemperate language from the right-wing over the past 20 years has now reached a fever-pitch. He noticed the first signs of it not long after the SCOTUS selected Junior:

What I observed over time was that none of my conservative friends would seriously defend Bush v. Gore but would switch subjects or revert to a “get over it” kind of response. None would acknowledge that there were perfectly good, perhaps even patriotic, reasons not to get over it. None would acknowledge that, were the shoe on the other foot, they too would be seriously outraged — and I mean long-term outrage.

And so the feeling grew on my part that they neither were being honest nor being, at base, civil in its core sense. Maybe I was wrong to feel this way, I don’t know; but I felt it. I tried not to let it show, but it was there. And it was a wedge in our friendships.

He’s quite right: so blatant was the theft that there were only two possible responses for partisans: outrage that people they believed in would act this way, or denial. In overwhelming numbers, they chose denial. Why? Because, as Neiwert explains, the ground had been prepared in advance. They had been set up for that response.

For the past decade liberals have been increasingly subjected to a brand of conservative ridicule that has explicitly blamed them for every one of society’s ills, and it has come relentlessly and from every quarter of the increasingly politically dominant conservative sphere. Now that rhetoric is reaching a violent pitch — and if Oklahoma City should have taught us anything, it was the consequences of spreading this kind of hate. Much as conservatives like to argue that liberals are guilty of the same thing, there really is no parallel to this on the left, at least not since the early 1970s.

What relatively mild incivility that liberals now exhibit is comparatively minuscule in proportion and prominence. Liberals have in fact been, by comparison, the picture of civility, especially since Sept. 11. Remember all those Democratic votes for Bush’s war initiatives and the Patriot Act. Remember that there still has been no serious investigation of the causes of Sept. 11, in no small part because the White House has refused to cooperate — but also because neither Democrats nor moderate Republicans have collected the political will to get it done, and done right.

Too civil, perhaps. Neiwert’s argument is that 9/11 boosted right-wing rhetoric, already plenty nasty and getting nastier, to the level we see now:

It is in the last of these failures — painting dissent as treason — that the president, his administration and the accompanying pundits (or rather, the choir of sycophants) all have affected us all personally, and badly. Because that view has become the worldview of mainstream conservatives in all walks of life. It’s manifested itself not just in nationally prominent scenarios like the attacks on the Dixie Chicks and other entertainment folk, but in other smaller and lesser-known ways, too, like the way conservative officers are driving liberal soldiers out of the military. The clear message in these cases: Dissent is disloyalty.

Even conservatives who have dared dissent have been drummed out of “the movement.” The Stalinism inherent in this mindset was vividly on display, I thought, when longtime conservative Philip Gold of The Discovery Institute announced he was opposing an attack on Iraq — for reasons, I should note, that were almost identical to mine, and which I think have proven prescient — and he was promptly dropped from the Institute (which has, it must be noted, increasingly come under the influence of Christian Reconstructionist Howard Ahmanson in recent years). It should be noted, too, that Gold has been forced to reach the same conclusion as I: that “conservatism has grown, for lack of a better word, malign.”

Most of all, the prevalence of the “dissent is treason” meme has affected how ordinary people relate to each other, in profoundly negative ways.

I have heard all kinds of anecdotes about interpersonal alienation over Bush and his handling of the “war on terror.” Some of these involve family members, others longtime friendships. One can only imagine what scenes will erupt from the coming Thanksgiving and holiday seasons too. For myself, it is not profound, but noticeable: invitations to traditional camping and fishing trips not issued; letters ignored; cold and brusque treatment when we do get together. A decided lack of communication and a clear sense of rejection.

And it’s too plain why: I and my fellow “Saddam-loving” liberals are all traitors. They know, because Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and everyone else out there has told them so. Indeed, these right-wing “transmitters” have been pounding it into their heads for years now, and it’s reaching fruition.

While laying out the behaviour and its consequences clearly and eloquently, Neiwert doesn’t identify the source of this campaign. Maybe he doesn’t know it. Maybe he doesn’t even know it was a deliberate campaign, but it was.

After Goldwater ignited the sleeping core of True Republicans, they tried to attach themselves to Richard Nixon, whose credentials as an anti-Communist crusader with few scruples and an instinct for punching below the belt they found attractive. But Nixon, who had played dirty in every campaign for every office he’d ever sought and basically gotten away with it, got caught in ’72, though too late to prevent his winning re-election.

It’s important to remember and to understand what happened next because it is the fuel that feeds the fire under True Republicans and their determination to turn back the clock and destroy liberalism once and for all. But not just liberalism — moderate Republicanism as well, for it was not the liberals who nailed Nixon’s coffin lid down, it was Republican moderates who would not countenance his undemocratic, un-Constitutional actions, specifically and most crucially, Howard Baker.

Nixon’s use of the CIA to affect the break-ins of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in an attempt to find damaging material they could use to stop his publication of the Pentagon Papers and of the Watergate Hotel offices of the Democratic National Committee were meant to be covered, should they ever become known, by the twin moated-castle-keeps of National Security and Plausible Deniability. Both these protective mechanisms, however, broke down under intense scrutiny by the nation’s press, particularly the Washington Post. As the cover-up unravelled fed by daily revelations in the press that brought the story closer and closer to the very top, Nixonian partisans, most of them radical right-wing conservatives, grew increasingly angry at the furor over what they considered “trivial” incidents.

But that anger was as nothing compared to the anger they felt when moderate Republicans joined liberals in decrying Nixon’s Consitutional abuses. They felt betrayed, stabbed in the back by their own people. At first Baker’s repeated questions–“What did the President know? and when did he know it?”–promised cover, the protection of Plausible Deniability: if the President didn’t know what his aides were doing, he was off the hook. What they failed to see until it was too late was that the questions were a two-edged sword: if the President did know, then he was quite firmly on the hook–a hook Baker had fashioned.

As the evidence mounted up that Nixon was directly involved (and involved early on), as Dean testified against his boss and the WH tapes were first discovered and then played on national television, the defection of the moderate Republicans that True Republicans had put in place, they thought, as a matter of expediency grew to epidemic proportions, a rout. Baker’s questions had become the criteria by which Nixon’s guilt had to be judged, and the verdict was becoming inescapable.

What liberals saw as the unmasking of a high crime, Nixonian conservatives saw as a vendetta by the “Eastern Liberal Establishment” that had never liked Nixon and was panting to take him down on any pretext. Where liberals saw a profoundly anti-democratic President willing to trash the Constitution for the petty purpose of furthering his own career, conservatives saw what they called the political “assassination” and “crucifixion” of a great statesman and towering presence in American history for a single, unacceptable reason: that he was a conservative anti-Communist. They never forgave Baker or the other Republican moderates (who were the ones who went to see Nixon and convinced him to resign) for joining the “liberal establishment” and betraying their President. They never took the charges against Nixon seriously and didn’t see how anyone else could, especially other Republicans, unless they were hellbent on finding an excuse to destroy a political adversary and didn’t much care how flimsy that excuse was.

Sound familiar? Liberals — and other ordinary folk — with no sense of their own history have been asking for a decade the question, “Why do conservatives have such a hatred of Bill Clinton?” It seemed way out of line, what with Clinton pushing a center-right agenda. Why should they hate somebody who was supporting some of their own policies and even making them law when conservatives had been unable to do so (in the same way that Nixon could go to Communist China when no liberal could)?

The answer is simple enough but it lies in the past: Clinton was their worst nightmare: a Rooseveltian coalition-builder who stole their issues and was threatening to forge a series of new Democratic alliances that could keep them out of power for another 50 years. He couldn’t be allowed to succeed. If he did, the progress True Republicans had made under the witless but attractive conservative icon Ronald Reagan would vanish like morning fog. But even better, taking Clinton down would avenge the “liberal witch-hunt” that had, in their view, destroyed Nixon. True Republicans like revenge for wrongs real or imagined. They never forgive and they never forget. Clinton was payback.

The destruction of the Clinton Presidency wasn’t by any means an improvised affair. After Nixon was forced to resign, hard-right True Republicans were determined to see that what happened to him could never happen again — at least, not to a Republican — and they began a series of meetings and conferences to devise a strategy. At the center of the plotting were conservative think-tanks like The Heritage Foundation and The American Enterprise Institute, whose ultra-conservative members had already begun to lay out the elements that would be needed for them to prevail.

Item 1 on the agenda was an attack on the “liberal” press that had been so instrumental in Nixon’s downfall. The press had to be neutralized, taken out of the equation. How to do it? Easy, said the lawyers of the HF: when a witness’ testimony can’t be disproved in court, you attack the witness directly. You cast doubt on his credibility, expose the dirty linen in his personal life, characterize his professional life as incompetent or corrupt, connect him to questionable activities and unappetizing associates, interpret everything he has ever done in the worst possible light and force him to defend himself against charges irrelevant to his testimony. Muddy the waters but keep the charges simple enough that the jury won’t have to think too much to understand them. And the beauty of it was that the witness wasn’t on trial so you didn’t have to prove any charge you made; all you had to do was “suggest” strongly enough to put doubts in the minds of the jury. Spiro Agnew had had some success — though it was brief — in keeping the press away from reporting his construction swindles using this tactic, famously labeling the press “nattering nabobs of negativism”. What they needed was to do that, only more, bigger.

But “How?” was the question. It would take forever to replace enough of the liberal reporters and editors in the nation’s newspapers to make a difference. Not necessarily, came the reply. The reporters and editors may be overwhelmingly liberal, but the owners are not. Forge alliances with them, convince them that their papers aren’t “fair” to conservatives, that they’re overbalanced with too many liberals, that conservative voices are stifled. Urge them to provide more “balance” by hiring conservative commentators. Let the liberal reporters report the news, but let the conservative commentators interpret it.

It was a good strategy but it needed a lot of repetition to succeed with the public. It needed a drumbeat that was always the same and never stopped. It needed constancy and consistency. It needed to be treated like Madison Avenue treated the selling of a product: ads all day every day, all playing variations on the same theme until it was part of the air the consumer breathed. And so the echo chamber of the Mighty Wurlitzer was born.

The first real test of this strategy came, oddly enough, not in the 1980 campaign but in the early years of Reagan’s presidency when he made statement after statement that was untrue, everything from the bogus anecdote of the “Welfare Queen” to the bogus science of “trees pollute”. When reporters called him on statements clearly disconnected from reality, conservative pundits responded that the “biased liberal press” was picking on him over simple, unimportant mis-statements, that the “biased liberal press” was unfair and out of control, that the “liberal press was biased” against any and all conservatives and that the “bias of the liberal press” made them untrustworthy.

By 1984, it seemed impossible to say the word “press” without prefacing it with the phrase “biased liberal”, and the tactic of the meme was born. Without proof — with the proof in fact going in the other direction — the echo chamber had, by simple but pervasive repetition, convinced the American public, a public that only 10 years before had been celebrating the press as the last bastion of truth and the only institution left that could keep politicians honest, that that press was actually full of prejudiced liars and liberal partisans twisting the truth to advance a hidden agenda. It wasn’t a fancy or complicated tactic. It was as simple as the most primitive kinds of brainwashing techniques, and it worked like a charm.

Confronted with the spectacle of Reagan’s appealing “everybody’s grandfather” character being “unfairly” bashed by a “biased liberal press” before he’d even done anything, the American public reacted by bashing the press. Letters poured in excoriating the papers who were “picking on” Reagan, there were boycotts, sales slumped, and talk radio emerged as the antidote for all that “biased liberal” poison. At first driven by a preponderance of conservative Libertarians (Alan Berg was an anomaly, almost unique in the business), talk radio was soon the almost exclusive province of far-right conservatives, for whom it was tailor-made. The more outraged — and outrageous — they were, the more fun they were to listen to.

When Rush Limbaugh first appeared in the late 80’s, even liberals listened to him, tuning in just to hear what crazy thing he’d say next. Nobody then took Rush very seriously; he was treated like the entertainer he always insisted he was. At the time, I was the only one I knew who thought Rush and his Dittoheads represented a real threat to the political discourse of this country, and even progressives who disliked Rush insisted that I was over-reacting.

But I had been watching, and I could see the elements of the overall strategy being put into place. The press had blinked at the fierce reaction to their reporting of Reagan’s constant gaffes and had stopped reporting them; newspapers were backing away from reporting any story critical of an extremely popular Presidential Image; more people were getting their “news” exclusively from television, soaking up pap carefully edited so as not to offend as if it were the real thing; talk radio was pounding away at the same conservative themes day after day after week after week, their screeners making sure that callers opposed to the conservative line never got on the air to express that opposition; and conservative media owners were enlarging their empires and exerting more control over the daily content of their news departments at the same time that they were cutting staffs and salaries to, in one fell swoop, increase their profits and decrease opposition to their new policies in the press room.

It wasn’t a pretty picture. It was frightening. I was watching the destruction of a diverse press and its replacement by a dumbed-down press corps chasing sexy but meaningless stories for the sake of the bottom line and endlessly parroting the views and beliefs of its owners without much regard for little things like truth or the public good or its role as a check-and-balance on political skulduggery. The Fourth Estate was being gutted, turned into a vat of irrelevant, toothless mush right before our eyes, and nobody seemed to notice, let alone care.

The travesties of the press orgies around OJ, Brittany Spears, Laci Peterson, et al didn’t happen by accident.

to be continued….

The Cult of Personality 1: The Nature of True Republicanism

In a long and more personal post than he usually indulges in, David Neiwert of Orcinus lays out his journey from mainstream Idaho-conservatism to a sort of liberalism-by-default, convincingly pegging the change in his own attitudes to the changes in conservatism over the last quarter-century:

Working-class values, and my belief in blue-collar virtues — like integrity, decency, hard work, honesty, common sense, and fair play — all were quite deeply ingrained. When I was younger, I really believed that conservatism best embodied those values.

Over the years that morphed, especially as I worked as a newspaperman (beginning in about 1976, when I was just turning 20). I was confronted innumerable times with realities that conflicted with my old preconceptions. I came to know hard-working Democrats who had the highest integrity and greatest decency (people like Frank Church and Cecil Andrus). I got to know Republicans who were prolific liars of the lowest integrity (like George Hansen, Steve Symms and Helen Chenoweth). And, of course, I got to know scumbag Democrats and honest Republicans as well, people who jibed with my old worldview. But it was obvious that the old construct was not really valid.

What became especially clear was that — even though I had always believed, and still do, that upper-class and urban liberals are prone to a phony compassion that only extended to various victim classes, rather like a parlor game, often rationalized with a tortuous intellectualism — conservatives likewise were fond of wrapping themselves in my old-fashioned, working-class values (along with the American flag, of course) while utterly undermining the ability of ordinary, working-class people to make a decent living and obtain equal opportunity.

Conservatism, especially in the past 20 years, has come less to represent those old-fashioned values, and instead has become a watchword for rampant, unfettered corporatism. Republicans in Idaho particularly were fond of gutting my state’s heritage — letting “free enterprise” pollute our streams, wipe out fish runs and wildlife habitat, destroy the forests in which I used to hunt and fish — while proclaiming they were doing so in the name of “liberty.” They weren’t the party of the little people, despite their pose, which so many people I knew bought into. They were the party of the fat cats who bellied up to the public trough, trashed our lands, and walked away fatter and fancy free.

Mr Neiwert seems here to be blissfully unaware that what he is describing has been the GOP agenda since the days of the Robber Barons 130 years ago. Whenever the Republicans have been in control, they have encouraged the rape of resources (the Republicans who controlled Maine in the 19th century allowed logging interests to clearcut the entire state, for example) and the unfettering of business to the point where corruption, fraud, and even murder were condoned to a degree we would find hard to believe even now.

The rise of moderate Republicanism began after Teapot Dome when a reaction set in against the revelations of a naked corporate rapacity so arrogant, so unbridled, that it thought nothing of reaching into the White House itself and buying a President. What I will call the standard GOP agenda had to be brought under control and modified to blunt the animosity Teapot Dome had ignited among ordinary voters or the GOP wasn’t going to survive the backlash.

The election of FDR in ’32 was a repudiation of Republican policies (which were widely seen as the prime cause of the Stock Market crash and the Depression which followed) that was to herald a sea-change in American politics. By the beginning of the Second World War, the GOP had lost not just the White House but the Congress as well, at least in part because they had fought Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease program, which aimed to help Britain defend itself from Hitler, by offering a platform of Isolationism and warm words for the German leader which were not remembered fondly when he declared war on us.

At that point, moderation was solidified as the only acceptable strategy – GOP isolationists and extremists were being thrown out of office after office. The election of Eisenhower – a moderate centrist – which regained them the Presidency served to confirm the strategy, but they never really forgot their roots. They compromised only because they had no choice.

To be personal for a moment, I grew up in conservative New Hampshire and well remember the burning hatred that surfaced among them whenever Roosevelt’s name was mentioned – and that was 20 years after his death. Nor was the hatred confined to the generation which had lived under him. Fathers passed their hatred of the New Deal and its creator to their sons like an heirloom. As the South has never forgotten or forgiven the Civil War, conservatives had clearly not forgotten or forgiven the man they blamed for “socializing” the US and destroying their party in the process. Even then they dreamed of reversing everything Roosevelt stood for: “socialized medicine”, Social Security, Welfare (called “Relief” in the Depression), unemployment insurance, all of it.

I was lectured over and over again about how these things were “anti-American”, Communist-inspired “perversions” (a word the John Birch Society was particularly partial to using about Roosevelt personally as well as his policies) of “their” Constitution, despicable “invasions of privacy” (which turned out to mean, when you questioned them, govt “interference” with business) that would destroy the fabric of America and the American promise.

Their hatred rarely seemed to have any bounds. They fantasized about military rebellion against what they interpreted as a “Communist takeover” of their govt by “Soviet-backed” liberals, seeing any move to weaken the Second Amendment as an obvious attempt at disarming them and preventing their ability to raise armies of opposition. They talked about seceding from the Union – not necessarily peacefully – if they didn’t get what they wanted. A common statement you might hear from any of them was, “We should have killed that son-of-a-bitch (FDR) when we had the chance.” And they meant it.

At first I dismissed them, as did everyone else, as a fringe group of whackos. But as I got to know more of them, I discovered that they were supported – quietly but steadily – by people who sounded, in public at least, like moderate centrists who would be appalled at the excesses of, say, the Birchers. The dichotomy between the public and private statements of “moderate” Republicans at that time was extreme, a gulf so vast it couldn’t be explained except by hypocrisy and political expediency. For a while (I was young) I became convinced that every moderate Republican was really a closet Bircher plotting in secret to overthrow the “Liberal/Communist Conspiracy”.

Of course that wasn’t true. Some moderate Republicans were legitimate moderates, not radicals; as time went on and the extremists were no closer to their goals, perhaps most of them were legitimate. But the strain of GOP radical idealism I noted then remained just under the surface all during the 60’s, given new life by the twin towers of Viet Nam and massive social change. By Nixon’s second term, plans were already afoot in the radical wing to win back the govt, and their goals had not changed one whit in the intervening 30 years: to reverse Roosevelt’s Communist Programs and Johnson’s Great Society extension of them, and to once again make corporations safe from democracy and democratic “interference”.

So where Neiwert sees a moderate GOP that “morphed” into a radical, intemperate beast–

I’ve become much more concerned about conservatism, largely because it has itself morphed from a style of thought, like liberalism, into a decidedly ideological movement. One never hears of a “liberal movement,” while the “conservative movement” proudly announces its presence at every turn. Conservatism has become highly dogmatic and rigid in its thinking, allowing hardly anything in the way of dissent — indeed, it is nowadays practically Stalinist itself, especially in the way it punishes anyone who strays from the official “conservative” line.

–I see a GOP that is simply returning to the core philosophy and goals it had to abandon for practical reasons of survival, jettisoning a “moderation” it never really embraced except as a tactic. The evidence for this can be shown by the periodic outbreaks of Republican attempts to come out of the closet: 1948, when they were beaten back by Truman’s relentless exposure of their greed and arrogance; the early 1950’s when Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon tried to destroy the Democratic party – and liberals of any kind – by “proving” that they were Communists; and 1964 when they chose Barry Goldwater as their standard-bearer and for the first time since WWII declared their intentions in the wide open spaces of a national campaign. What Niewert rightly decries is not an abberation, however, but the re-emergence of the GOP’s long-stifled Prime Agenda.

The radical right-wing extremists have not “hijacked” the party, they’ve just come out of hiding and re-assumed their rightful place: in the open, as representatives and advocates of the true Republicanism that has been underground for 100 years. Like locusts, they may not have been visible but they were there all the time, waiting for the right time to emerge.

to be continued….

Liberalism and the Military Aren’t Mutual Antagonists

There were a couple of things I wanted to cover today, but then I ran across this brilliant essay in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and it drove everything else out of my mind.

It was written by a woman named Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, and it ought to be required reading. (One of the reasons I like the SPI is that it has a real nose for good writers who aren’t journalists–or even writers, to speak of–but have something important to say, and SPI is willing to let them say it.) As an Army wife (her husband is serving in Iraq), she makes a persuasive case for melding left-wing strengths with military goals:

I do a lot of things other Army wives do. I watch the news obsessively or not at all. I pray a lot more than I used to, and I try to be nonchalant about the danger my husband is in. Sometimes I cry in the middle of the day. When someone else’s soldier dies, I am relieved, then guilty for being relieved and then not guilty or relieved, just sad. The grief is something we carry as a group. And while the “No Iraq War” signs in my neighborhood comfort me, so do the American flags.”Do I contradict myself?” Walt Whitman once wrote. “Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes.”

Whitmans’ quote describes all the interesting people I know; all the great books, the worthwhile movies, the inspiring leaders. It also describes the essential element of our national character. For better or worse, this country is racially, economically, culturally and philosophically diverse. So if we are going to be the Johnny Appleseed of democracy, we need to give our military the benefit of our national diversity.

We need to give Army uniforms to hippies.

OK, maybe not all the hippies. But there’s a big chunk of Leftish America that could contribute to the military and the military could gain by having them.

As a liberal married to the Army, I believe the separation between the political left and the military is maintained at great peril. And that peril comes not just to those two groups, but to the nation and global security as a whole.

Nation building is the primary objective of our foreign policy, and it will be for some time. While most Americans, including the president, fear the “entangling alliances” of nation building, too bad. Nations must be rebuilt because broken nations are dangerous. And the United States has to do it because a) we have the most to lose, and b) we’re the only ones who can.

It’s also inevitable that the military will continue to be the first and largest American presence in any broken country. In order to show the world a kinder American face, the left must seize the opportunity to help create security in places where there has only been tyranny and oppression.

The Pentagon has long tried to avoid such missions, with the plea that “We’re not trained to nation-build.” But there are people trained to do exactly that, and the Pentagon should start finding ways to recruit them and put them to work.

There’s a lot more. It’s beautifully-written, thought-provoking, and passionately eloquent. Read the whole thing. Spend some time thinking about what she says. It will be time better spent than it might be pondering my clumsier and less penetrating chickenfeed.

We could all stand to learn the lesson she teaches here.

Judy Miller Takes a Holiday…and Works

Judith Miller, who earned a reputation as a BushCo shill by trumpeting Ahmad Chalabi’s fantasies on behalf of Perle and Wolfowitz in the months leading up to the Second Gulf War, hasn’t been seen much in the NYT since the blogosphere blew the whistle on her. When she has appeared, it has been as the junior member of a team. The Times apparently felt it necessary to re-train her as an actual journalist. Smart of them. I would have canned her sorry ass.

But now she’s back and writing on her own again, only not in the news section; in Arts: she’s reviewing a book by Sir John Keegan, a British military historian.

Keegan’s book, which seems to rely heavily on the 19th century (Britain’s Golden Days of Empire), advances the idea that intelligence isn’t really all that important in warfare, at least not compared to overwhelming military force:

“War is ultimately about doing, not thinking,” writes Sir John, the author of 16 other books about war and military tactics, including the instant classic, “The Face of Battle.” In his latest offering, “Intelligence in War” (Alfred A. Knopf), he insists again and again, “Only force finally counts.””Decision in war is always the result of a fight, and in combat willpower always counts for more than foreknowledge,” he argues. “Let those who disagree show otherwise.”

A thesis like that would seem tailor-made for a Bushie to use as justification for the pre-emptive war in Iraq, but surprisingly Miller doesn’t take the bait this time. She actually does her homework (something she consistently failed to do when reporting the neocon/Chalabi version of history previously) and talks to more up-to-date experts for a bit of balance:

Bruce Hoffman, director of RAND’s Washington office and a terrorism analyst, said that although Sir John analyzed the role of intelligence in countering Al Qaeda, most of his examples were drawn from 18th- to 20th-century wars rather than 21st-century conflicts. “Keegan is largely right on the role of intelligence in conventional wars,” Mr. Hoffman said, “but he is not right about counterinsurgencies in any century, when intelligence is the sine qua non of success.” Modern wars, he argued, are not fought only with military tools. “So intelligence has a very different role today. You can no longer fight, much less win them just with military strength.”Mr. Hoffman maintained, for instance, that poor intelligence on the radical jihadists and pro-Saddam Hussein loyalists who are killing both Iraqis and American soldiers today “is one of our major problems in Iraq.”

Roger Cressey, the former chief of staff to President Bush’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board and a former director for transnational threats at the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton, agrees, noting that America is being forced to fight modern wars under far greater constraints than ever before. “Intelligence isn’t particularly important if you have a scorched-earth policy or are spending a lot of time in the Soviet archives,” Mr. Cressey said. “But if you are trying to win hearts and minds by killing as few civilians as possible, good intelligence on, say, where insurgents, as opposed to noncombatants, are located, is hugely important.”

Good point.

Sir John is concerned about the Western reliance on high-tech intel-gathering, and while his suggestion that it can be dispensed with entirely may be a bit loopy, he isn’t wrong about its weaknesses:

In the war against terrorism, good intelligence may be extremely hard to obtain, particularly against Al Qaeda. A “coalition of like-minded but separate groups” despite its name, which in Arabic means “the base,” Al Qaeda is a diffuse target, and one that has thus far been fairly resistant to America’s high-tech, electronic surveillance prowess, he says. The United States, he warns, will have to rely on old-fashioned spies rather than gadgets. But in this regard the America he so obviously admires is decidedly weak.On this point Edward N. Luttwak, a maverick defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, shares Sir John’s concern. For all its electronic surveillance wizardry, the “humint” or human intelligence needed to combat Al Qaeda’s terrorism is not America’s strength, Mr. Luttwak argues. “Overhead technical means of collection do you no good,” he said. “And Al Qaeda members have learned how to evade intercepts. Humint over the past years has yielded virtually nothing. It doesn’t suit Americans.”

“To be a case officer you have to be a poet,” he continued. “You need to romance and seduce. You need to be able to learn Urdu in six months.” Woefully short of language skills, many American intelligence officials, “can’t even ask for a cup of coffee.”

Some of us have been saying for years that the official preference for gadgets and the corresponding starvation of programs aimed at training intel agents for running on-the-ground networks was a huge mistake. Noticing the flaws of high-tech intel-gathering isn’t new outside the higher levels of the IC, but inside those levels raising these questions has just begun for almost the first time since the days of the U-2 spy planes. Satellites and wireless interceptions are fine as aides, but they’re of little use in penetrating the minds of enemies who don’t have armies to shift around and who may be smart enough to either encrypt their communications or use low-tech means that aren’t subject to electronic eaves-dropping.

Most of this one-note-Johnny dependence on electronics is the result of an even more basic mistake: the concentration of resources on the Soviet Union and Cuba to the exclusion of all other considerations during the Cold War. That concentration gutted our intel capabilities in every other area of the globe for so long that networks in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America simply faded away for lack of attention. Efforts in those regions tended to circle around the identification of “Communist” insurgencies (which were often not Communist at all but populist uprisings as in Chile and Nicaragua) and the propagation of pro-American or pro-govt propaganda (which rarely had any effect at all on the populations at which they were aimed, good, bad or indifferent).

We relied on the Israelis for our Middle East intel, on our connections with Latin American dictatorships for intel in that area, and on military juntas in Asia. Our concentration on the Soviets didn’t allow either the time or the money to develop our own intel resources, which left us at the mercy of the private agendas of “allies” whose interests were not always synonymous with our own. They fed us what they wanted us to know, and we based our policy decisions on that totally skewed information.

It isn’t all that much better now, but if we’re beginning to re-examine our assumptions about the efficacy of electronics, this can only be good.

And for a change, Ms Miller may actually have helped that discussion. Will wonders never cease?

Werewolves of London

On Lydon’s BBS a while ago, I responded to the posting of an article in the Jewish magazine Forward which stated that at least 2 members of a group of young men who had been seen in an alley “celebrating” while videotaping one of the planes that crashed into the WTC on 9/11 had been identified by the FBI as agents of Mossad. Despite dismissing the report of a “celebration” and the charge in a British newspaper that the incident might show that the Israelis knew ahead of time both the date and target of the attack, anonymous trolls (they’re almost always “anonymous”; we call them “mice” for short) instantly accused me of anti-Semitism for accepting the FBI’s conclusion and then proceeded to call me a series of other foul names for attacking the “celebration” and claiming that Mossad knew ahead of time that the attacks were coming, both of which I had specifically cast doubt on or outright debunked.

The right-wing attack-dogs of the GOP have pioneered the tactic of labeling anyone who criticizes a Bush policy as anti-American or a Sharon policy as anti-Semitic. The jingoist “patriots” of LimbaughLand have cheerfully accepted and spread this nasty strategy for so long that it’s almost an article of faith for them–they now believe their own propaganda. Certainly it functions well in cutting off debate on questionable policies–at least, it does as far as they’re concerned. Once you say something–anything, really–that allows them to call you a traitor, all hopes of rational discussion are over. I mean, what can you say to a traitor? What could he say that you might need to listen to? Nothing. And that’s the name of the game for the Bushies and the radical right wing that supports them: stifle the criticism, cut off the debate.

Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds, the two most influential of the right-wing bloggers, have made this tactic a centerpiece of their approach; Ann Coulter has written a whole book equating Democrats with traitors; and various members of the Bush Administration themselves–most notably Rumsfeld and Cheney–have resorted to the tactic freely and often on national tv whenever questions are raised about their decisions.

So it didn’t surprise any of us when Bush-buddy Blair mimicked the tactics of Junior’s minions and slammed the quarter-million protestors in London by calling them anti-American. Mother Jones reports that:

Blair denounced “resurgent anti-Americanism” and called on Europeans to use Mr. Bush’s trip to drop their caricatured view of United States policy. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw echoed his remarks last week and described criticism of George W Bush’s state visit to Britain as “fashionable anti-Americanism”.

But it apparently came as something of a surprise to the Brits, who aren’t used to this sort of thing. George Monbiot, writing in the Evening Standard (available online at, sounds both bemused by the charge and a trifle angry:

Those of us who oppose George Bush’s policies are often accused of being “anti-American”. It’s an odd charge. No one suggests that people who don’t like Tony Blair are “anti-British”. It seems to be an attempt to discredit us by suggesting that we are motivated not by reasonable political objections, but by an old and visceral contempt for an “upstart nation”.But perhaps the gravest of the charges we can lay against George Bush is that he is himself an anti-American. His style of government stands at odds with everything we were led to believe the United States of America represents. There is first the question of his election. The evidence that the electoral roll in Florida was rigged in order to exclude black voters appears to be compelling. The conduct of his party both during and after that election appears to be a grotesque insult to the nation which invented modern, Jacksonian democracy.

Then there is his assault upon civil liberties. The Patriot Act he pushed through Congress erodes many of the freedoms the American constitution appears to guarantee. In the offshore prison camp of Guantanamo Bay, Bush appears to have built his own Bastille, in which people are jailed indefinitely without charge or trial. George Washington and Thomas Paine must be turning in their graves.

But the greatest of all his offences against American values is his construction of what looks very much like an imperial project. If the US stands for anything in the popular imagination it stands for national sovereignty and self-determination. It tore itself away from a grasping empire – our own – and declared its opposition to all subsequent attempts to bend sovereign peoples to the will of a distant nation. It came to the rescue of its old imperial oppressor when our own sovereignty was threatened by Hitler, and ever since then we have identified America as the champion of those nations which struggle against occupying powers. But now Bush has invaded and conquered a sovereign nation and installed in it a regime scarcely distinguishable from the old European colonial authorities.

What we have been enduring the past couple of years must finally be called by its right name: a Cult of Personality, the “L’etat, c’est moi” religion of “The Leader Can Do No Wrong”. Bush and his supporters have cut through democratic platitudes about govt ruled by the people straight to a Stalinist identification of the Leader as the State. For them the two are synonymous–to criticize one is to criticize the other since they are one and the same.

Monbiot is onto something here: Bush and the Bushies are profoundly anti-American in outlook and actions. The Cult of Personality suits dictatorships just fine but is at root virulently antagonistic to the plurality and diversity of democracy–so antagonistic, in fact, that it is virtually impossible for the two to co-exist. Even DeGaulle eventually learned that.

Monbiot ends his essay with a plea for protestors to “flood the streets”:

This week, Tony Blair will be showing Bush around town much as an imperial prefect might have led the Roman emperor around a newly-acquired domain. We cannot depose this new emperor (it is even doubtful whether his own citizens can do so), but we can show him that his policies, and our government’s submission to them are unwelcome here.It is sometimes easy to forget, in the midst of a furious crowd, that all our liberties were acquired not through polite representation, but by means of insurrection and protest – from the Boston tea party to the demonstrations of the suffragettes. When the governing powers lose sight of the people, protest is often the only means of reminding our leaders that we still exist. It is messy and troublesome, but it is often all we have.

Our purpose is to show the American people that even the people of the nation Bush regards as his closest political ally reject his policies. Nothing could be more damaging to a man whose credibility is already gravely challenged at home. Let us peacefully flood the streets of London on Thursday, not because we hate George Bush’s country, but because we love the values it is supposed to embody.

Reports suggest they’ve followed his advice. May we do likewise when our chance comes.

Bush in England

This is one of those rare occasions I once spoke of when it seems to me worthwhile to reproduce a short piece in its entirety. In this case, an editorial from The Independent reprinted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer concerning Bush’s visit to England:

Wednesday, November 19, 2003Guantanamo hangs over Bush visit


The state visit of President Bush has come to signify all that has gone wrong with transatlantic relations. The royal pageantry that should be a public demonstration of amity is being hidden behind the walls of the Buckingham Palace. The crowds that would, under other circumstances, be cheering this country’s most stalwart ally, will be marching in protest. The president will move only in a sealed bubble of security. It will be a tense and contentious three days.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, for all his assertions that this is the right visit at the right time, has been let down by Bush over the postwar strategy for Iraq, over the Middle East and, most urgently, over the disgrace that is Guantanamo Bay. Common values — that mantra of the U.S.-British relationship — repeatedly were invoked by both sides on the eve of this visit. There have been times in the past when this concept may have seemed a little too elastic for the tastes of one side or the other; rarely has it been so thoroughly betrayed.

There is much that we do not know about the prison regime at Guantanamo Bay, for the simple reason that the U.S. authorities — traditionally a beacon of openness compared with their counterparts in Europe — have kept international observers out. The administration, therefore, has only itself to blame if we draw the most negative of conclusions based on the few crumbs of information that have escaped from behind the barbed wire.

We do know, for example, that the United States has refused to recognize its captives as prisoners of war and that it is flouting the terms of the Geneva Conventions. We know that most of the prisoners have no contact with their families for months on end, if at all, and no access to lawyers. We know that they have been held in this U.S.-leased corner of Cuba for the best part of two years now, without charge, without trial and without any idea of when, if ever, they will be released. We know there have been suicides, attempted suicides and depression. We know, most disgracefully, that some captives have been subjected to torture.

We also know that, of the 400 or so prisoners remaining at Guantanamo, not one is an American citizen. Any Americans were whisked away many months ago to face their own justice — a relatively merciful brand, as it turned out, in most cases, thanks to plea-bargaining and the information they were deemed likely to impart.

The prison camp at Guantanamo Bay is an absolute negation of everything the United States professes to stand for. There is no openness. There is no accountability. There is no justice. There is only the assumption that because these individuals were captured in and around Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s fall, they are, in Bush’s own words, “bad guys.”

What chance can there be of fair treatment when such a tone is set from the top?

The one glimmer of hope came two weeks ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the pleas of lawyers who are challenging the prisoners’ lack of access to the law. All lower courts had upheld the rights-deprived limbo in which the prisoners find themselves: held on U.S.-administered territory, which is nonetheless judged to be outside U.S. jurisdiction. The case will not be heard until next year.

Blair and his ministers have tried to secure guarantees that the British citizens at Guantanamo will — at very worst — receive a fair trial in the United States, and — at best — be repatriated to this country. In interviews before he left Washington, D.C., Bush said he envisaged a solution to the Guantanamo conundrum that Blair would be “comfortable” with.

That does not inspire confidence. No solution to the shame of Guantanamo should be about comfort or compromise. It is about human rights, state obligations and the sanctity of the law in a democracy held up as an ideal for the rest of the world. Anything less is as much a travesty of our common values as Bush’s three-day stay in Britain is a travesty of a state visit.

The Independent is published in Great Britain.

Now contrast the solemn anger and serious charges of that editorial with the carefully-crafted happytalk of Richard Stevenson’s coverage in the NY Times here and here.

In neither of these pieces does Mr Stevenson so much as mention Gitmo or Junior’s refusal to address the British Parliament or his insistence that he wouldn’t meet with the families of slain British soldiers unless the members of those families agreed with his policies or any of the international issues that have sparked huge protests in London (in fact, he barely mentions the protests at all). The closest he comes to dealing with Bush’s cowardice in refusing to face the British public, instead choosing to hide out in Buckingham Palace “for security reasons”, is this:

Mr. Bush never ventured more than a mile or two from Buckingham Palace as concerns about the protesters and terrorist attacks restricted his schedule. The White House canceled a plan for Mr. Bush to lay a wreath across from the United States Embassy because of security concerns.

Mr Stevenson doesn’t even attempt to summarize the protestors’ reasons for taking issue with Bush. After a scant mention of pretty large numbers on which he dcoesn’t bother to remark, he allows only one view of one protestor–for comic relief:

Mr. Bush got his first taste of the protests during the welcoming ceremony at Buckingham Palace. As the president moved down a receiving line with the Queen in the palace’s forecourt, a British protester with a bullhorn started singing, to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” a ditty mocking what Mr. Blair’s critics say is his subservience to Mr. Bush: “If you think Blair is a poodle, shout woof woof.”

Very substantive, Richard. Certainly this fawning copy that completely ignores British opinion and the British people, and that buries Bush’s arrogance and cowardice in a couple of sentences in the middle of the article is in the finest tradition of American journalism: kissing the ring of power

To be blunt, Mr Stevenson has no business working for America’s only national daily newspaper if he’s going to write this kind of tripe. If this is his idea of reporting, let him go back to the small-town newspaper where he started because he’s not ready for the Big Time.

Who hired this feeb?

The GOP Has Lost Its Way

In today’s AJC, Martha Ezzard says something I’ve been wanting to say for some time but never got around to: it isn’t Democrats who’ve lost their way, it’s the GOP:

If the Democratic Party is the captive of the “loony left,” as [Zell] Miller claims, the Republican Party has sold its soul to the radical right and divorced itself from the First Amendment to marry church and state. Institutionalizing such extremism, the Texas GOP even has a plank in its platform pledging to dispel “the myth” of church and state separation.*****************

With the election of Ronald Reagan, the GOP turned its back on a long history of defending individual liberties and environmental preservation. Oil rigs now replace antelope. Party members pledge anti-abortion allegiance. Affirmative action must end.

I’m so old that I can remember when a moderate could be Minority Leader, when Republicans were against deficits and for less government interference in people’s ordinary lives. Now moderates are driven out of the party for insufficient intolerance and zealotry, Republicans have created the biggest deficits in our history in their effort to starve govt to death, and the right-wing radicals who now control the GOP have insisted that (their) govt have the right to control people’s private lives to a degree undreamed of when I was a kid, from which books we’re allowed to read or not to read to who we can sleep with and which positions and activities are acceptable if we do. As Ezzard points out from personal experience, it’s a long, painful way from the GOP of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt to the GOP of George Bush and Tom DeLay:

When my husband’s career took us to Colorado, I took a position as press aide to one of the nation’s last liberal Republican governors, the late John Love. Later I was elected as a Republican to the state Legislature, just in time to bump up against the Coors’ funded Reagan revolution in the West.”Isn’t this the party of Abraham Lincoln?” I’d ask my GOP colleagues as I marched with Democratic women for equal rights and abortion rights. No, came the answer, this is the party of Phyllis Schlafly and the cookie-baking Eagle Forum.

“Isn’t this the party of Teddy Roosevelt?” I’d ask, as I watched my environmental initiatives shot down by my own party. No, came the answer, this is the party of James Watt, the GOP interior secretary who was finally forced from office after opening wilderness areas to energy exploitation.

“Isn’t this the party of Dwight Eisenhower?” I asked as Republicans spent billions on a flawed Star Wars defense system that only kept safe the pocketbooks of the military-industrial complex.

In each case, Ms Ezzard, the answser is, “No.”

Blogosphere Round-Up: Bush Won’t Face Parliament in London

Ezra at pandagon:

Murdering terrorists attacking our troops?Bring it ON!

Heckling by old white men?

Um, I’d rather not bring it on, if it’s all the same to you.

That’s the problem with the Bush Administration. When it comes to them, they never “Bring it ON!”, preferring instead to bury the offending report, release the unpleasant news on Friday night, or ignore the British Parliament. I want to see more of this stuff brought on…

Kieran at Crooked Timber:

One might have thought that a leader with thicker skin might have told the begrudgers to “Bring it on.” Bush’s aversion to explaining himself to people who might talk back is well known, of course, but it seems insulting to treat the representative body of your staunchest ally in this way. Some Tories appear to think so, too, though most of the anglospheroids seem content to bash Red Ken instead.Needless to say, the spin on the visit — see the same ABC news story — is that Bush is in London to “address” and “confront” those who doubt his policy in Iraq. He’ll just be doing this without, you know, addressing or confronting anyone.

Tim Dunlop at The Road to Surfdom:

Does it matter that George Bush won’t address the British parliament during his current visit? Of course it does. If the President is willing to launch wars and involve other nations in that adventure, the least he can do is explain himself to their elected representatives and hell, take a bit of verbal flack. It won’t kill him, which is more than you can say for many of those who marched off to fight his war for him.****************

Then again, I don’t agree with those who say it is a particular snub to the British parliament: it’s not like he opens himself up to hostile questioning at home. Presidential press conferences, especially ones where the questions aren’t vetted, are as rare WMD in Iraq.

I also don’t think it is a matter of cowardice on Bush’s part – it is simply arrogance. And that’s ultimately the point, I guess. Nothing underlines the haughty arrogance of this guy more than his unwillingness to explain himself at length in front of the democratic institutions, at home and abroad. Even in Austalia, where he actually did make one of his trademark charm-bracelet speeches of interlocked platitudes he was well-protected from the very mild interjection by an overly protective Speaker of the House and thuggish members of the government.

And so having experienced that little bit of turbulence in Australia, he has seen to it that he doesn’t experience anything like it in Britain.

Bush Won’t Meet with Troop Families Who Think He’s Wrong

Via BUZZFLASH, London’s Daily Mirror is claiming that while Bush will meet with some families of British troops killed in Iraq, he won’t meet with any who think he’s wrong

White House aides were still locked in dispute over which relatives of dead British troops will meet the president amid fears he may be met with hostility.*****************

Downing Street admitted the president would meet relatives, and soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, on Thursday.

But asked if that included relatives of troops killed in this year’s Iraq conflict, Mr Blair’s spokesman replied: “The precise composition is still being worked on.”

It implied Mr Bush will not meet those bereaved families who believe the public was misled into conflict.

Wouldn’t surprise me if they’re right, After all, he’s refused to meet with the familes of any Americans killed in Iraq, or even acknowledged their deaths, for political reasons. And it’s typical of him that he would refuse to meet with the families of dead soldiers who disagree with his policies for fear “he may be met with hostility.” Junior is a serious weenie–it appears he can’t brook disagreement even from the families of people who have died for him.

But then, shameful behaviour is becoming routine for the Bushies. Tom DeLay’s using a children’s charity to do an endrun around the soft-money financing laws; Billy Tauzin and Pete Domenici got a so-called “energy bill” passed which is little more than a gift package of protection from lawsuits, yet more tax breaks, and obscene subsidies to the oil and gas gang; and the Publican Congress as a whole is busy “supporting our troops” by cutting their pay, benefits, and health care, and making them buy their own equipment.

Make you proud to be an American, don’t they?

Judge Roy Beaned

A woman named Mary Schulken who is the editorial page editor for something called the Greenville Daily Reflector (good name for a paper) does some reflecting on Judge Roy Moore in a guest editorial in today’s AJC. It’s worth reading both for what it says and the clarity in the way she says it. It ends:

When a judge flaunts the law and wraps that act in God, it tells us what we need to know. The controversial slab of granite in Alabama is nothing more than a monument to arrogance.But when he becomes a folk hero, it suggests a perilous ignorance of the fundamental principle that safeguards religious freedom in America. For the good people who measure the worth of their souls by the Ten Commandments, those words are a source of constant hope and inspiration.

Yet freedom of worship requires more than the vigorous practice of one’s own faith. It demands, without fail, we exercise respect, tolerance and sensitivity toward differing beliefs.

Those acquainted with the teachings of Jesus Christ recognize that philosophy.

“Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them,” he says in the book of Matthew.

Funny, Judge Roy Moore didn’t say anything about that

James Madison couldn’t have said it any better.

Addendum: I posted the above before reading the other editorials, and look what else I found: a smart, acidic take on Moore and other Christian theocrats written by a Georgia high-school senior, JC Boyle. Here’s a sample:

Moore must have been attending an abstinence rally the day they covered the First Amendment in law school, because two tons of Judeo-Christian religious law sitting in a courtroom constitutes an establishment of religion.Even his argument that Mosaic law influenced the American legal system is absurd. The first four commandments are clearly religious in nature and serve no other purpose, and only three of the commandments (murder, theft and bearing false witness) are established law.

Moore’s supporters are guilty of a peculiar hypocrisy. When a federal judge ordered “Roy’s Rock” away from the courthouse, an angry supporter of theocracy shouted before the television cameras to the movers, “Take your hands off my god!” thus violating the fourth commandment against “graven images.”

Good point, JC.

Terrorist Futures Market: Place Your Bets

This little gem was brought to my attention by Kryton over at I don’t know whether to thank him or wish he had minded his own business.Remember John Poindexter’s flyer at the Pentagon a couple of months ago? The one where he was going to create a Terrorism Futures Market so rich investors could bet on when and where the next bombing or kidnapping was going to be? Remember how shocked and outraged we all were? Remember how the reaction was so negative, appalled as we all were, that the Pentagon was forced to kill the project? Bet you thought, “Well, that’s the end of that bad idea.” I did.

Well, we were wrong:

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – A U.S. government plan to create a market allowing traders to bet on the likelihood of terror attacks and other events in the Middle East has been revived by the private firm that helped develop it.The market, called the Policy Analysis Market (PAM), will allow traders to buy and sell contracts on political and economic events in the Middle East, including assassinations, the overthrow of regimes and terrorist attacks. The market is scheduled to start trading next spring.

Yup. To quote Kryton, “It’s ba-a-ack!” Only this time it’s going to be run by only one of the original private partners:

The Pentagon’s partners in the venture would have been San Diego-based market technology firm Net Exchange and the Economist Intelligence Unit, publisher of the Economist magazine. The Economist is no longer involved, and Net Exchange is pursuing the venture alone, according to its president, Charles Polk.In response to the highly charged criticisms that ended the Pentagon’s association with the project, Polk noted the market is designed mainly as a research tool, not unlike the Iowa Electronics Markets, which have done a pretty good job of predicting the outcomes of presidential elections.

“It is potentially an interesting alternative to Gallup polls or to specialists reporting from the region,” Polk said. “It’s a way of going directly to individuals in the region or outside who have knowledge or interest in the political and economic events in the area.”

Polk said Net Exchange would initially limit the amount of money traders could invest in the market, so that people won’t be profiting from violence or upheaval in the region.

What’s more, the futures contracts would be based on general questions, such as the likelihood that the King of Jordan will be overthrown at some point during the second quarter of 2004, for example, rather than on specific acts or events, which could lend themselves to manipulation by terrorists.

“There are no financial incentives for nefarious activities,” Polk said.

No? Then how are your investors going to profit, Polky? Hmmmm? I mean, isn’t “what’s the likelihood that the King of Jordan will be overthrown at some point during the second quarter of 2004?” a fairly specific question? You so naive that you think disallowing use of an actual date will deter bettors from trying to fix the game? All that does is widen the window of opportunity:

“Hurry, Habib–we only have until the end of the second quarter to foment rebellion!”

“Calm yourself, Zayed. I am lining up the last of the disaffected Colonels now. We’ve plenty of time–the end of the quarter is still six weeks away.”

“You move too slowly, Habib. It’s a good thing the market is so open-ended. If we were tied to a specific date, you’d probably sleep through it and our $100K investment would go down the camel’s chute.”

And btw, what does “limit the amount of money traders could invest” mean? I can readily believe that a limit of $10 wouldn’t yield enough reward to justify assassinating a public figure or blowing up a hotel. But then, it wouldn’t be enough to draw the kind of people they need to make the market fly. We have to be talking a fairly high 6-figure maximum at least. Maybe Mr. Polk from his Central Ave penthouse wouldn’t kidnap an American Consul’s kid for a mere $50,000, but I’ve got a flash for him: there are plenty of others who would. Form a syndicate and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

It was a bad idea then, it’s a bad idea now.

And while we’re at it, could we shut down those obscene Iowa “Electronics”(?) Markets?

Jeezum crow….

SEC Failed to Police Mutual Fund Industry

The NY Times, which has been specializing in understatement of late, has a lulu of a headline today: “S.E.C.’s Oversight of Mutual Funds Is Said to Be Lax.”

Lax. That’s a good one. What the article actually shows, like we needed to be told at this point. is that SEC oversight was–and is–non-existant:

The Securities and Exchange Commission failed for years to police the mutual fund industry effectively because it was captive to the industry when writing new regulations, was preoccupied by other problems on Wall Street and was severely short of staff and money, current and former officials say.

Since Reagan began lifting banking and stock market restrictions in the early 80’s, the financial sector has been acting like a 5-year-old whose Mom put him in charge of the cookie jar and then…left. We’ve had a series of scandals since then, each more severe than the last, ranging from the S&L debacle to Enron and Arthur Anderson, and on each occasion we were assured by the corporate financial community that these were one-offs, unique, individual criminal acts, not signals of widespread patterns of abuse of power or position in the industry. And in each case, we’ve chosen to accept this rationalization and ignore any evidence that countered our wishful thinking. The result was, as many of us have been saying for years, predictable: while we looked the other way, corporate and financial institutions have been stealing us blind.

The latest bunch are involved in mutual funds and the investment bankers that oversee them. A partial list of their…um, activities:

In numerous instances, top executives are accused of trading rapidly in and out of their own funds to reap profits at a cost to other fund investors.Many brokers failed to give appropriate discounts to customers.

And a large percentage of funds appear to have provided confidential and potentially lucrative portfolio information to large customers, possibly in exchange for their business.

Some regulators say that while many of these practices may have existed during the boom years of the 1990’s, they may have accelerated in more recent years as the market declined.

Uh-huh. And it’s also possible that oft-repeated messages from the Bush Admin that they weren’t interested in taking any action that might curtail in any way the brokers’ wholesale theft-ring may have goaded them on to new heights of larceny, maybe. Huh?

“There have been decades of looking the other way,” said Gary Gensler, a former Treasury under secretary in the Clinton administration, former co-head of finance at Goldman Sachs and co-author of the book “The Great Mutual Fund Trap,” published in 2002. “At its core, the scandals reflect the fact that mutual fund governance is broken and Washington has stood by and allowed it to remain broken, for a long time, without any real effort to reform the system to the benefit of investors.”None of the more than a dozen cases that have now been brought resulted from routine inspections by the commission, current officials said. Before the recent scandals, which were exposed by state regulators, the commission’s examination unit was never specifically assigned to look for the sorts of trading abuses that have been revealed.

While the last statement is factually correct, the reporter–Stephen Labaton–writes it with the implication that the examination unit was instructed to look for other abuses in other parts of the financial community. Well, it wasn’t. In fact, the “examination unit” has been starved for operating cash, manpower, and clout since Reagan de-regulated the industry specifically in order to cut down oversight, which he said “wasn’t needed”. Reagan conservatives have been whining for years that the interference of govt regulators was stifling the growth of the financial community and “preventing it from being flexible in responding to changes in the new economy”.

Well, now we know what they meant. They meant, “We could steal a lot more and be a lot richer if only those damn Federal busybodies weren’t looking over our shoulders all the time.” And we can now see that they were right: they did steal more. A LOT more.

The hipper of of those among you may be asking, “Well, what about Sarbanes-Oxley ( the law that was passed to replace some of the trading restrictions Reagan removed after Enron was unmasked)? Why didn’t that stop them?” Primarily because it turns out that under intense lobbying from the mutual funds industry, they were made exempt from a lot of its strictures:

[A]t the urging of the institute [the industry’s trade organization, the Investment Company Institute–m], the drafters granted the mutual fund industry significant exemptions from some of the more important provisions. Those provisions enacted stringent conflict-of-interest rules, required greater disclosure of transactions between management and large shareholders, and imposed tougher requirements on management to monitor internal controls. (The institute ultimately failed, however, to persuade the commission to exempt it from requirements under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that mutual fund executives certify their financial results.)

Oh, too bad. They didn’t get everything they wanted. This is a little like a kid being disappointed at Christmas because even though he got the pony, the new Nintendo, a Ferrari, a $5000 gift certificate from Neiman-Marcus, his own tv set, a new laptop, and those fur bedsheets he wanted, he didn’t get the 40 lbs of chocolate bunnies because his Mom thought that was overkill.

All-in-all, I’d say the institute’s lobbying efforts were fairly successful, wouldn’t you? And of course, they didn’t stop with gutting the law meant to slow down their rate of thievery:

Moreover, some critics and former officials say that the commission has not imposed tougher disclosure rules and tighter management requirements because of the influence of the institute, an accusation that its executives strongly deny.Lynn E. Turner, a former chief accountant at the S.E.C. during the 1990’s, said that it was routine in weekly senior staff meetings for officials to consider the views of the institute and that senior staff members were always concerned about taking on the organization. He also said that it was rare for the commission to adopt a regulation against the institute’s wishes.

“They were one of the more forceful organizations,” Mr. Turner said. “You’re talking about people that were pretty wealthy. They had influence. Influence on the Hill, and influence with the staff.”

And they weren’t shy about using it. But what did we expect, really? We have become a country that worships money, and we don’t much care how that money is acquired. Why should we be surprised when people who have our money flowing through their fingers pinch a little of it off for themselves? Why should it shock us when powerful forces use their power to protect their own interests?

The harsh truth is, we shouldn’t be. What the mutual funds brokers did and the institute protected are actions embedded in the very nature of the beast. That’s what they DO, people. Like a lion hunts, like a scorpion stings, like a a piranha devours–that’s what they DO. If you’re in the middle of the jungle and lions are on the prowl, do you throw your rifle away because you expect the lions to use their better judgment and pace their tourist consumption? If you’re in the desert and surrounded by a scorpion colony, do you take your boots off under the assumption that the scorpions will respect the fact that you didn’t stamp them out when you had the chance and leave your feet alone? If you live near a river full of piranha, do you remove the fence that contains them and then blithely go swimming because you believe they’ve learned their lesson? If somebody did any of those things, we’d expect them to be dead within the hour and we’d probably add that they deserved what they got.

But that’s exactly how we’ve been treating corporations and financial institutions for the past 25 years: we’ve thrown away our protections like we expected they would go against their own natures on our behalf. Our behavior has been either remarkably naive or monumentally stupid, take your pick, and we have made ourselves a meal for them. We have put up huge neon signs reading, “Come and get it! We’re tasty, we’re tender, and we won’t lift a finger to stop you,” and then we profess ourselves surprised when the predators line up on our doorsteps, knives and forks at the ready.

Look, people, the Bible says that in a perfect world the lions will lay down with the lambs and everything will be hunky-dory. But this ain’t that world and we have to stop acting like it is. In this world, a lamb who lays down with lions expecting to get up in the morning whole and unscarred is in for a rude shock, and it’ll be the last thing they ever feel. We have to finally accept the fact that corporations and financial instiututions are by nature man-eating sharks, not harmless minnows, and take precautions against being eaten alive.

There was a time when we understood this, but then we let ourselves be talked out of our understranding by slick lobbyists who were either working for the sharks or sharks themselves, and we allowed our protections against them to be dismantled. Let’s just admit that we were bamboozled, that it’s our fault for listening to such tripe in the first place, and put the protections back. If we don’t, we might as well put our kids in lunch baskets and leave them on the stoop for the wolves because they’ll be coming for them next.

Is Public Financing Dead?

Bush, Dean, and now Kerry have opted out. Clark indicates he would if he could but he can’t. Is the Great Hope for clean elections dead in the water?

Junior bailed because his strategy of selling off the govt to major corporations is working like a charm, so what does he need with PF? He expects to raise an obscene $$200MIL$$ to run on, enough to buy every vote in the Electoral College with enough left over to present each member of his staff with a new yacht. The PF limitations would just get in his way.

Howard Dean bailed because, he said, he has to be able to compete with Bush.

Kerry bailed because, he says, Dean did:

“I wish that Howard Dean had kept his promise to take federal matching money but he did not,” Mr. Kerry said. “He changed the rules of this race, and anyone with a real shot at the nomination is going to have to play by those rules.”

So three of the major players have abandoned the funding mechanism that once promised to prevent the rich from buying the WH. Is this it? Are we all done with fantasies about honest elections and level playing fields?

Bush never seriously considered voluntarily limiting his fund-raising in order to stay in line with the PF laws and prevent the Presidential election from becoming just another commodity sold on the open market like pork bellies or toaster-ovens. In fact, there’s no evidence he ever considered it period, seriously or otherwise. The option apparently never entered his head. After all, it was his Justice Dept that argued to the Supreme Court that money was free speech. Why should it occur to him to prevent something he doesn’t believe in? To him, elections are commodities like any other and the “free market” should prevail (Translation: like mansions in Beverly Hills, elections belong to those who can afford to buy them).

Dean, who is acting like a man already looking past the nomination to the general election, can’t afford to wait until after the primaries to crank up the funding machine, not if he’s going to have any reasonable chance of competing with Junior’s financial juggernaut. He has to start planning and collecting for the GE now, or his potential nomination becomes an exercise in futility before he’s even won it. Frankly, the same could be said for all the other candidates who have any real hope of winning.

So the ripple effect has begun and soon makes its way to Kerry, who is forced to raise the ante in order to compete with Dean who was forced to raise the ante in order to compete with Bush. And so on. Like the arms race, this is a vicious cycle in which there are no winners and the electorate is the biggest loser of all. Bush has single-handedly forced national elections to become nothing more than sales pitches and marketing ploys in which he who can buy the most toys wins.

This isn’t going to be pretty, especially for those of us who need govt to be something more than a plaything of the rich.

So is PF dead or just temporarily unplugged? It looks dead to me, but the Boston Globe thinks, “Maybe not.” In an editorial yesterday, the Globe suggested a series of changes that could make PF relevant again:

[R]epairs to the system should be made well before 2008.State-by-state spending limits are unrealistic for the current system with its crucial early contests and should be eliminated.

The $45 million individual spending limit for the primaries should be raised substantially.

Provision should be made for spending in the period between the effective selection of the nominee and the party convention. In this campaign, a Democrat in the system could secure the nomination by March but reach the $45 million limit and be defenseless until the national convention in July.

Costs could also be curtailed by mandating low-cost TV time and postage.

Their proposals might make some sense in the world as it used to be. But that world doesn’t exist right now. For the time being we are living in Bizarro RepublicanWorld, a world where the House Majority Leader feels perfectly free to announce openly that he’s going to use a children’s charity as a cover for his fund-raising, even going so far as to produce a full-color brochure–with pictures–detailing the lavish parties, yachting trips, and even door prizes that the money supposedly contributed to the charity will be used to furnish, without any fear of a public outcry, without having to worry about repercussions of any kind.

In such a world, there is Zero hope that today’s Publicans will suddenly see past the riches to the common good the PF was meant to protect just because the air-time is cheaper.

For Publicans, Money Talks and the rest of us can Shut Up.

So? How do you like our Brave New World?