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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Friday, 18 August 2006
Two Cases: What Legal Matters are Hot, and What Legal Matters Are Not
Topic: The Law
Two Cases: What Legal Matters are Hot, and What Legal Matters Are Not
As we out here in Hollywood all know, Americans are fascinated by the law, even if in an odd way. The old Perry Mason show is long gone but Dick Wolff became a very rich man with "Law and Order" and its spin-offs. That's a mini-industry out here, propelling various actors and actresses to fame and fortune they never expected, and made the late Jerry Orbach a hero with the real-life cops on the streets of New York where it is filmed. That's more than the role as the tight-assed father in Dirty Dancing ever did for him. Sam Watterson retired from real acting to play the district attorney in the series, trying to prove this and that to a puzzled jury each week, and Senator Fred Thompson retired from politics to play his boss. Who needs Washington? The general rule seems to be play a lawyer and argue your case, and become a star - Spencer Tracy as Clarence Darrow in "Inherit the Wind" to Tom Cruise (before he went all scientology) as the conflicted JAG lawyer in "A Few Good Men" and all the rest. Folks eat it up. They watch.

And then there's the real world. There's the nasty Nancy Grace on CNN Headline News saying who is really guilty in real cases, and why, and a there's whole cable channel - Court TV - for those who need this sort of thing all day, all the time. From OJ to Michael Jackson, we all tune in to the case of the day, or at least many do - more than enough viewers to sell the advertising slots at a fine rate.

So what were the big cases that fascinated folks in the middle of August, 2006?

Just glancing at the news, the winner, by maybe a ten to one margin, was this - "The breakthrough arrest of a suspect in the long-unsolved murder of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey started to look distinctly shaky yesterday, as legal experts and former investigators in the case poked holes in the confession of expatriate schoolteacher John Mark Karr and even Colorado prosecutors said they were proceeding cautiously."

Well, it had sex, and dead child, and a pervert. Karr was arrested in Thailand on Wednesday and was paraded before reporters. He claimed he was with the kid when she died in the basement of her family home in Boulder in 1996 and that her death "was a horrible accident for which he took responsibility." The Thai officials said he had admitted drugging her and having sex with her before she died, but then that just didn't match the autopsy results - no drugs or alcohol in her system. The former Denver prosecutor said "this confession seemed delusional" and added - "He looked like a drugged-out Lee Harvey Oswald." The Thai immigration police backed off - he had only told them whole encounter was "a blur." Sorry about that.

The case is ten years old. The mother, once a suspect, and who dressed the kid like a little hooker and entered her in beauty contests, died a while back. And the case is not very significant in the greater scheme of things. Outside the family, whatever happened is, really, nobody's business. It's certainly a bad business, but means little. It's just titillating and slightly freighting entertainment for those whose lives are a bit dull. If you live a life of "quiet desperation" it's best to import some nasty stuff you can safely contemplate, as it has nothing to do. It fills the time.

The loser, by ten to one, receiving far less coverage, was this - a federal judge ordered all entities to stop participating in warrantless surveillance because the National Security Administration's program is unconstitutional. The president had to stop that stuff - it violates First and Fourth Amendments by monitoring communications without warrants and "interfering with the ability of journalists and scholars to do their jobs." She ordered an immediate halt to it all. You want to tap phones and read email? Get a damned warrant, just like it says in the constitute, and use the system set up by law in 1978 for such things. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor up Detroit (US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan) was blunt - although she dismissed the argument that data-mining should be subject to obtaining warrants, saying perhaps those could not be discussed without revealing state secrets. The administration had boasted about the phone and email business, and said they had the right to break the law and ignore the constitution. They hadn't said anything about data-mining, so maybe that was off limits to the plaintiffs - secret stuff.

But the thrust of the matter was clear - listen all you want, go after the bad guys, but follow the law. If you're dealing with US citizens, the rules are you get a warrant. It's kind of a no-brainer. Do your job, but don't jerk us all around, saying the law just doesn't matter any longer.

This is not sexy, and it's not titillating stuff, but it kind of does matter to everyone. If laws don't matter any longer we're in a world of hurt, unless you implicitly trust the authorities in power. Some do. Some don't.

An this decision is the first ruling by any court on the legality of the NSA program - one that was secret until it was revealed, so to speak, last December by the New York Times. And it rejected every single argument the administration made to defend its "right" to eavesdrop without warrants. And too the court also rejected the administration's claim that mere "adjudication by the court "of the legality of this NSA program would risk the disclosure of "state secrets." They say that all the time about stuff they don't want reviewed in any court (see this). But that didn't fly here. They'd already talked about it quite enough, and no more details were actually necessary.

The decision has already been appealed by the administration to the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals, conservative-leaning some say, and the parties have agreed that the Michigan District Court's order will be stayed until September 7 - it won't be enforced. We'll see what happens then.

But to be clear about what this decision means and what it does not mean - it does not prohibit eavesdropping on terrorists. It prohibits illegal eavesdropping in violation of the clear law in the matter. The White House is saying this is a real blow to the administration's efforts to fight terrorism (see this press release), but doesn't explain how the law was getting in their way. They seem to assume everyone knows it was.

But just what does everyone know? Some perspective is in order. But where do you go for that?

There is Erwin Chemerinsky. He's been at Duke since July 2004, but spent twenty-one years out here, not in Hollywood but at the University of Southern California Law School - a professor of Public Interest Law, Legal Ethics, and Political Science. His four textbooks are standard. In April 2005, was named by Legal Affairs as one of "the top 20 legal thinkers in America." There's also the 2003 President's Award from the Criminal Courts Bar Association. the 2003 Freedom of Information Award form the Society for Professional Journalists, the 2001 Community Service Award from the Anti-Defamation League, the 2001 Clarence Darrow Award from the People's College of Law. Take that Spencer Tracy. And he's argued the big cases - Van Orden v. Perry (a challenge to a Texas Ten Commandments monument) and Tory v. Cochran (a First Amendment case concerning the permissibility of injunctive relief as a remedy in defamation cases), and in the Supreme Court Scheidler v. National Organization for Women (suit for injunction to stop violent protests of reproductive health care facilities) in November 2005. He testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the hearings of Samuel Alito for confirmation to the Supreme Court in January 2006. He might know something.

And he says this -
The Constitution is the winner in Thursday's decision by a federal judge in Detroit to invalidate the National Security Agency's program of warrantless wiretapping. The Bill of Rights is a constant reminder that the ends do not justify some means. Surely, there would be less crime and more safety if the police could search anyone's person or property, at any time, without a level of suspicion that meets the legal definition of probable cause. But a society that values privacy and dignity does not accord the police such authority, even when the objective is fighting terrorism.

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor followed basic constitutional principles in ruling that the NSA must not engage in warrantless electronic surveillance. The core requirement of the Fourth Amendment is that, subject to narrow exceptions, police searches and wiretaps must be authorized by a warrant issued by a judge and based on probable cause. The framers of the Constitution were deeply distrustful of executive power and wanted to make sure that searches and arrests were authorized by a neutral magistrate.

Federal statutes reaffirm this by requiring the government to obtain a warrant when it engages in wiretapping. Under these laws, the government usually goes to federal district court for the required warrant. Or, if the person it wants to listen in on is thought to be acting at the direction of a foreign power, then the government goes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The law is explicit: The government must follow one of these two procedures before engaging in electronic surveillance.
That's clear. Why was there even an argument about it? The administration decided against meeting the requirements for a warrant and probable cause mandated by the Constitution and specific federal statutes. The judge had little choice here. The president has no such power.

But here's the problem -
Under the Bush administration's argument, federal law enforcement could seemingly go into anyone's home, at any time, without a warrant by claiming that it might better catch terrorists. There is simply no obvious stopping point, and that's what makes the president's claim of broad executive power so alarming. Nor is there any reason to believe that warrantless wiretapping is needed to protect national security. The administration could have gone to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves more than 99 percent of all government requests for warrants. Under the procedures of that court, it even could have gotten the warrant after the surveillance had been done.
But they didn't. The obvious question is why. Put on your tin-foil hat and work on that a bit.

Chemerinsky goes over the argument that the Joint Resolution Authorizing the Use of Military Force, that authorized the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and notes the Supreme Court shot that down in the Guantánamo case (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld) - it did not provided the necessary authority for it to set up those special military commissions to try the folks there and could be taken to override specific statutes and treaties. The thing gave the president permission to use troops and take military actions - it said nothing about special military commissions, and it this case, it said nothing about eavesdropping electronically on US citizens. Neither is military force. That's kind of obvious.

As for the flak coming down now -
Judge Taylor's ruling has been criticized because it did not offer a full explanation for why the NSA's warrantless eavesdropping is unconstitutional. And the judge herself has been derided for overstepping the judiciary's proper role. But critics would have objected to Taylor's opinion no matter how it was written. As for the notion that the judge went too far, it is precisely the role of the federal courts to interpret the Constitution and to determine if it has been violated.
She was just doing her job.

And he offers this perspective -
The most important thing to keep in mind, in weighing Judge Taylor's ruling against the government's arguments, is that no administration in memory, and perhaps none ever in American history, has so frequently claimed that it can ignore the Constitution, as well as federal statutes and ratified treaties, to pursue important goals. Lawyers for the Bush administration have argued that the government can engage in torture in violation of federal statutes and treaties in the name of national security. They have claimed the power to detain American citizens as enemy combatants without complying with the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments. They have argued that the administration can ignore federal statutes and the Geneva Conventions in imprisoning individuals indefinitely in Guantanamo.

It is the role of the federal courts to say no to such actions. Judge Taylor did exactly that on Thursday. Now it's up to the federal court of appeals and the Supreme Court to back her up.
We'll see what happens. Suddenly Joe Lieberman's breaking with his party to support the nominations of Alito and Roberts matters more now.

But what does this guy know? In a smug and nasty editorial here the Washington Post says the ruling just wasn't sufficiently thoughtful. The warrantless wiretapping program "exists on ever-more uncertain legal ground" but this ruling was "neither careful nor scholarly, and it is hard-hitting only in the sense that a bludgeon is hard-hitting." Maybe something you need a bludgeon?

The Wall Street Journal just gets hysterical here - they accuse this judge of gunning for a "Civil Libertarian of the Year" award and then complain that voters will have no way to hold her accountable for "any Americans who might die as a result" of her ruling. And she was appointed by Jimmy Carter way back when (1979) and she's black. She must have an agenda and doesn't care of we all die. Damned liberals.

Then there's this in the National Review - "Virtually every intelligence agency in the world is pursuing al Qaeda operatives and intercepting their communications. In Judge Taylor's perfect world, only the US - the primary target of al Qaeda - would be forbidden to do so." Of course that's not what the ruling said - the intercepts were not forbidden at all - but they have to feed their readers that red meat.

And there was Rush Limbaugh with this - "Make no mistake: this enemy is all over this country. It's all over the world, and this same type of surveillance program that was used by Bill Clinton and a number of other presidents, nobody beefed about it, nobody complained about it. This is liberals, ladies and gentlemen. This is leftists."

Clinton never ordered the warrantless wiretapping of Americans' telephone calls. There was that warrantless search of Aldrich Ames' home, a search that occurred before FISA was amended to require warrants for physical searches. But what's the point of arguing?

Friday, August 18, the president himself spoke, saying it was really naïve to believe in these special time he should follow the law, with this - "I would say that those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live." Sure the fancy-pants lawyers and people who read books know the law and the constitution, but he knows the real world. He has no use for such things. Of course he's banking on the cowboy thing - people don't like thinkers and readers, they like doers who cut through all the crap. And that may work. It's worked for six years.

And who's arguing against that? Glenn Greenwald, the attorney and best-selling author of How Would a Patriot Act? - he worked at the New York firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and left to co-found the law firm of Greenwald Christoph & Holland, now Greenwald-Christoph. He has litigated cases with constitutional issues, but then he's openly gay and splits his time between Brazil and New York City - because only Brazil, and not the United States, recognizes his same-sex relationship with his Brazilian partner as the basis for emigration. Are you going to trust that sort of fellow?

Still he says this -
This ruling … has critical implications for the administration's efforts to change the law so as to legalize its warrantless eavesdropping activities. Sen. Arlen Specter, working in collaboration with the White House, has introduced legislation that would effectively eliminate all restrictions on the president's power to eavesdrop on Americans. That bill would make the process of obtaining warrants optional, rather than mandatory, and it would all but kill off judicial challenges to the legality of the president's eavesdropping.

But the court's ruling today strongly suggests that the Specter bill would be just as unconstitutional as the president's current eavesdropping program. This is because the court found warrantless eavesdropping generally to be a violation of the Fourth and First Amendments. Thus, Congress cannot authorize warrantless eavesdropping via legislation - Congress cannot authorize activities that are unconstitutional - which would preclude enforcement of the Specter bill.

Still, commentators of every ideological stripe have quickly agreed that this opinion is argumentatively weak and thus vulnerable on appeal with respect to several critical issues. The court, for instance, barely explains why warrantless eavesdropping violates the Fourth Amendment, and its discussion of why such eavesdropping violates the First Amendment borders on the incoherent. And with respect to the most difficult hurdle the plaintiffs faced - whether they have "standing" to challenge the NSA program in light of their inability to prove that their conversations were monitored - the court made the best case it could as to why the plaintiffs should be allowed to proceed, but it relied on reasoning that is far from decisive.

Nonetheless, the political significance of this decision cannot be denied. The first federal court ever to rule on the administration's NSA program has ruled that it violates the constitutional rights of Americans in several respects, and that it violates criminal law.

And in so holding, the court eloquently and powerfully rejected the Bush administration's claims of unchecked executive power in the area of national security. The court observed that "it was never the intent of the Framers to give the President such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights ... We must always be mindful that '[w]hen the President takes official action, the Court has the authority to determine whether he has acted within the law.' Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 703 (1997)."

Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration has insisted that nothing can restrict the president's decisions in any way with regard to national security, including laws enacted by the coequal branch of government, the Congress. Such a theory is wholly alien to the most fundamental principles that have defined this country since its founding. The court's decision today reaffirms that even in times of war, the president is bound by the rule of law and constrained by the protections guaranteed to Americans by the Bill of Rights. And that the Bush administration simply has no justification for acting outside the parameters of the law.
Well, if that writing is a little too dense, watch CNN's Jack Cafferty here be a little more succinct - the man broke the law, on purpose, and told us he did -
You know Wolf, it seems like were having this discussion about this judge's ruling sort of in the abstract, as if there's no precedent for what the judge decided. The judge in effect upheld the ruling of the FISA court which says that 'if you want to wiretap phones you need a warrant to do so'. The court was created by Congress in 1978 I think it was and the law of the land says, "Get a warrant". The actions of the administration have ignored the law of the land in that regard. So it's not a discussion in the abstract. It's not hypothetical. There are laws on the books against what the administration is doing and it's about time someone said it out loud.

This Federal district judge ruled today President Bush is breaking the law by spying on people, in this country, without a warrant. The judge said the President is violating the First Amendment to the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act FISA, passed by Congress 1978, specifically to prevent this kind of abuse of power. It was being done before. That's why the FISA court was created in the first place.

So what does this mean? It means President Bush violated his oath of office, among other things, when he swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States. It means he's been lying to us about the program since it started, when tells us there's nothing illegal about what he's doing. A court has ruled it is illegal. And it means a 75 year old black female judge in Michigan has finally stepped in and done the job that Congress is supposed to do, namely oversight of the executive branch of government. But the gov… but the Congress is controlled by Republicans. They are controlled by the President, and they have done nothing in the way of oversight.
If someone would do their job it might be impeachment time?

See Glenn Greenwald here -
… judicial decisions are starting to emerge which come close to branding the conduct of Bush officials as criminal. FISA is a criminal law. The administration has been violating that law on purpose, with no good excuse. Government officials who violate the criminal law deserve to be - and are required to be - held accountable just like any other citizens who violate the law. That is a basic, and critically important, principle in our system of government. These are not abstract legalistic questions being decided. They amount to rulings that our highest government officials have been systematically breaking the law - criminal laws - in numerous ways. And no country which lives under the rule of law can allow that to happen with impunity.
My, my, things are heating up. And conspiracy theorists wonder if Karl Rove worked with the Thai police on the timing of the arrest and confession of that strange man in Bangkok. That got most of the press. But no, that's just a lucky coincidence.

What's going to happen? We'll pay attention to the odd man who may have killed the little tarted-up beauty queen ten years ago, but may not have done that at all. It's even more scandalous that the noseless Michael Jackson and the little boys. We have our priorities. Everyone lives in Hollywood.

__

Reference:

The ruling on the NSA program is here and the stayed injunction stopping it here. Both are in PDF format - you'll Adobe Acrobat Reader, or an equivalent, to review them. A few regular readers are attorneys. These might be of interest.

Posted by Alan at 22:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 18 August 2006 22:32 PDT home

Thursday, 17 August 2006
Conservatism: What's God Got To Do With It?
Topic: Political Theory
Conservatism: What's God Got To Do With It?
Yes, years ago Tina Turner had a big hit with "What's love got to do with it?" - and then she went off to live in the south of France in a sort of Josephine Baker move. The song (lyrics here) touched a chord in people. It's that cynical, disillusioned thing - everything you call love is physical and the rest is emotional crap. You just need to know the emotional stuff really is powerful and unavoidable - but it's crap nonetheless - and all it does is hurt you. So get over it. The lyric suggests that last part is hard.

The political analog now may be the dialog playing out in conservative American political circles, where, as the Republicans seem to be in deeper and deeper trouble as the midterm elections approach, everyone on that side of things is wondering just what went wrong.

One of the ideas floating around is that the conservative movement may have just gotten too mixed up in religion, at least in the evangelical, fundamentalist, born-again, anti-science kind of religion.
In terms of conservative political governance, the question is actually being raised. What does God have to do with conservative values - the values that inform how things should be run? How did He get in there? And should He be in there at all? What up with that?

The Tina Turner in this case is Heather MacDonald, dropping her bomb in the August 28, 2006 issue of The American Conservative with this, a major article arguing that the conservatives should make some room for the skeptics in their midst, those for whom their God and their religion is a private matter, and really kind of irrelevant to how the country should be run. And some might even be atheists. Is there room for them - or is that heresy? Do we have a "big tent" here, or just a tent meeting?

MacDonald basically suggests the conservative God business is rather silly, or at least not very logical. She notes that when Attorney General John Ashcroft left office in November 2004 he carefully and sincerely thanked his staff for keeping the country safe since 9/11 - they did their job and that made all the difference. But then he said it really wasn't them - the real credit belonged to God. If you thought about it, it ultimately must really have been "God's solicitude for America that had prevented another attack on the homeland." Well, maybe that's more faith without evidence than it is "thought" - but you see what he was getting at. God did the job, and there were no more attacks.

MacDonald is having none of it -
Many conservatives hear such statements with a soothing sense of approbation. But others - count me among them - feel bewilderment, among much else. If God deserves thanks for fending off assaults on the United States after 9/11, why is he not also responsible for allowing the 2001 hijackings to happen in the first place?
The answer that "God's funny that way" just won't do. She applies logic and you see the problem. Just what is the God up to?

She senses nonsense here. Ashcroft and the like have made the movement seem just stupid, although she doesn't put it quite that bluntly. She merely thinks maybe folks with different views could make things better for the conservative side. She considers herself a "skeptical conservative" - and she'd like back in the movement.

Here's her main argument -
Skeptical conservatives - one of the Right's less celebrated subculture - are conservatives because of their skepticism, not in spite of it. They ground their ideas in rational thinking and (nonreligious) moral argument. And the conservative movement is crippling itself by leaning too heavily on religion to the exclusion of these temperamentally compatible allies.

Conservative atheists and agnostics support traditional American values. They believe in personal responsibility, self-reliance, and deferred gratification as the bedrock virtues of a prosperous society. They view marriage between a man and a woman as the surest way to raise stable, law-abiding children. They deplore the encroachments of the welfare state on matters best left to private effort.

They also find themselves mystified by the religiosity of the rhetoric that seems to define so much of conservatism today. Our Republican president says that he bases "a lot of [his] foreign policy decisions" on his belief in "the Almighty" and in the Almighty's "great gifts" to mankind. What is one to make of such a statement? According to believers, the Almighty's actions are only intermittently scrutable; using them as a guide for policy, then, would seem reckless.
Well, the alternative is to base your policies, foreign or domestic, on the best facts available as to what happening, carefully thinking through the alternative actions available, and using your best judgment to decide what to do, or not do. Of course that kind of bypasses God, and He might be offended. Still, that's how things used to be done.

And here's the kicker -
The presumption of religious belief - not to mention the contradictory thinking that so often accompanies it - does damage to conservatism by resting its claims on revealed truth. But on such truth there can be no agreement without faith. And a lot of us do not have such faith - nor do we need it to be conservative.

Nonbelievers look elsewhere for a sense of order, valuing the rule of law for its transparency to all rational minds and debating Supreme Court decisions without reverting to mystical precepts or "natural law." It is perfectly possible to revere the Founding Fathers and their monumental accomplishment without celebrating, say, "Washington's God." Skeptical conservatives even believe themselves to be good citizens, a possibility denied by Richard John Neuhaus in a 1991 article.
Of course that's just a subset of the argument, so often made, that an atheist and agnostic cannot be "moral" - a claim as old as the hills, made over and over in spite of the clear evidence of quite good and moral nonbelievers in every culture and throughout history.

As for what has been said over and over for the last six years - what makes conservatives superior to liberals is their religious faith, "as if morality is impossible without religion and everything is indeed permitted" - she's just not buying it.

There's this argument -
Skeptical conservatives do not look into the abyss when they make ethical choices. Their moral sense is as secure as a believer's. They do not need God or the Christian Bible to discover the golden rule and see themselves in others.

It is often said, in defense of religion, that we all live parasitically off of its moral legacy, that we can only dismiss religion because we are protected by the work it has already done on our behalf. This claim has been debated ad nauseam since at least the middle of the 19th century. Suffice it to say that, to many of us, Western society has become more compassionate, humane, and respectful of rights as it has become more secular. Just compare the treatment of prisoners in the 14th century to today, an advance due to Enlightenment reformers. A secularist could as easily chide today's religious conservatives for wrongly ignoring the heritage of the Enlightenment.
Now that's getting down to basics. The evidence is that secular government makes things better, and faith-based government makes things worse. When you think about the why and how of how the Untied States came to be, she almost makes those excluding her and the other skeptics seem, well, un-American.

Her wrap-up -
A secular value system is of course no guarantee against injustice and brutality, but then neither is Christianity. America's antebellum plantation owners found solid support for slaveholding in their cherished Bible, to name just one group of devout Christians who have brought suffering to the world.

So maybe religious conservatives should stop assuming that they alone occupy the field. Maybe they should cut back a bit on their religious triumphalism. Nonbelievers are good conservatives, too.
As you see, she's a trouble-maker. This kind of was heresy, and it spilled over onto the pages of the National Review, in The Corner, where the hot topics of the day are discussed.

Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor for the magazine - who also writes for The Weekly Standard, Policy Review, The New Republic and First Things - was all over her case, saying there were so few non-believers on the conservative side that they just weren't worth worrying about. The religious conservatives were the ones who really mattered - so be a nice kid and just go away. She was just an oddball.

And her response -
Plenty of conservatives have arrived at those core values through close observation of human society and history, by plumbing the wisdom of philosophers and poets, or simply through a sound upbringing. It is just not the case that only Bible study could lead people to conservative, disciplined lives."
But he was having none of that. He is, after all, the author of The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life, with a blurb form Ann Coulter on the cover. You get the idea. He's the deep religious thinker on the conservative right (see his interview with Steven Colbert here where Colbert urges him to write the sequel - "The Party That Eats Their Own Children.")

It seems the battle lines are drawn - skeptics versus believers, death versus life, reason versus faith. There is no middle ground. Read your Bible.

Here MacDonald responds to the very odd Jonah Goldberg (you remember, his mother, Lucianne Goldberg, advised her friend Linda Tripp to secretly tape her phone conversations with Monica Lewinsky in order to protect herself from reprisals from the Clinton Administration) -
I agree with Jonah that the truth claims of religion are "slippery." Yet I hear them made all the time. A recent article on The Da Vinci Code in The American Spectator stated that it was a matter of "historical fact" that Jesus was born of a virgin and ascended to heaven after the crucifixion. I simply don't know what to make of that statement or its appearance in a powerful, justly respected journal of conservative opinion. It does not conform to what I thought was a common understanding of "historical facts." Ditto when the president claims that freedom is God's gift to humanity. He is not talking here about free will. I see little evidence in the Bible that God advocated the democratic government that we are bringing to (or imposing on) Iraq, not to mention the gender quotas that we fixed for the Iraqi National Assembly. The Bible seems to be relatively easy about slavery, patriarchy, and despotic tribal leadership; its concerns lie elsewhere. And if the freedom that we have created in the West is indeed God's gift, it sure took a long time for us to open it. If it turns out that our conception of political freedom is in fact a human creation growing out of very specific cultural soil, that may explain why it is not blossoming forth as we expected it to following the invasion of Iraq.
Heather is not playing nice.

In all that dialog at The Corner the oddest may have been this from Andrew Stuttaford -
Conservatism is being changed (to use a more neutral word) by the greater role that an explicitly religious activism is playing within it. Specifically, it's easy to discern a strain of conservatism emerging (and within the GOP and the administration it has emerged a long way) that more resembles European Christian Democracy (or, in its more robust forms, Gaullism) than the small government, skeptical, 'leave me alone' conservatism that brought so many into the fold and which (for what it's worth) I, for one, prefer.
So the problem isn't religion at all, it's that Bush is turning into a Gaullist? Oh, the irony. The conservatives want to turn us into religiously-centered big-government France, circa 1959 or something. That's amusing, non?

The odd man out here of course is the devout Catholic but quite gay, HIV-positive but old-fashioned conservative, Andrew Sullivan, who says this -
It may be that turning conservatism into a religiously-centered Southern-based, big-government movement makes electoral sense. I doubt it. But my objection to it is not that it hinders Republican dominance, but that I disagree with it. I believe in a separation of church and state, balanced budgets, low taxes, law that is as neutral as possible between competing moral and religious claims, and a "leave-me-alone" presumption when it comes to government power. And I'm sick of being told that excludes me from being conservative any more. I venture to suggest I'm not the only one.

No, there are many who feel that way. They're Democrats. You know, they're the folks who believe on looking at the available and quite empirical evidence at hand and figuring things out - what is best to do or not do. Most are quite religious, but they don't push it, as it's not what matters in, say, environment policy, or healthcare policy, or dealing with trade matters, or with those out to harm us. God may want is to work these things out ourselves, after all, using our brains.

It's that Enlightenment thing - Jefferson's God was the deist God so popular in the Enlightenment, the watchmaker who set things in motion and moved on to whatever was next, assuming we'd work things out down here ourselves just fine without Him.

Well, Sullivan endorsed Kerry last time around, so who knows?

He is, however, writing a new book - The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back. The first part should be interesting, the second part quite Quixotic, as in noble, hopeless but silly battles, tilting at windmills and all that.

One chapter of this upcoming book is supposed to be on what he calls the "fundamentalist psyche," about which he says this -

I don't think you can understand the actions of this administration - i.e. make them make internal sense - without understanding the depth of the president's fundamentalist mindset. He's a fundamentalist convert and an alcoholic. Faith is the one thing that rescued him from a life of chaos. So fundamentalist faith itself - regardless of its content - is integral to his entire worldview. And fundamentalism cannot question; it is not empirical; it is the antithesis of skepticism. Hence this allegedly "conservative" president attacking conservatism at its philosophical core: its commitment to freedom, to doubt, to constitutional process, to prudence, to limited government, balanced budgets and the rule of law. Faith is to the new conservatism is what ideology was to the old leftism: an unquestioned orthodoxy from which all policy flows.

Cheney and Rumsfeld, however, do not strike me as the same. They're just bureaucratic brutalists, thrilled to have complete sanction to do as they please because they have the mandate from the leader-of-faith. Bush and Rove provide the fundamentalist voters; Cheney and Rummy get on with the war they want to wage. If they have to condescend to Bush's recently discovered faith in democratization, they'll humor him, while they bomb, wiretap and torture along what they think is the only path to security. They are enabled by the Christianist; but they're just plain old "bomb 'em to the stone-age" reactionaries.

Sooner or later this guy moves to the other side. He joins the sons and daughters of the Enlightenment. Count on it. He just needs to understand how reasonable the other side can be.

Ah, maybe he isn't coming across. Reasonableness is, as it always has been, relative. At least the other side gives it a go now and then, and doesn't dismiss the whole concept.

In any event, this flare-up inside the conservative movement is interesting. There's something authoritarian in it all, as John Dean pointed out in his new book, and cruelly exclusive. But at least they're organized and unified. They're not Democrats.

It's just too bad they roped in God on their side. It makes you wonder why He agreed.


Posted by Alan at 22:55 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 18 August 2006 19:18 PDT home

Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens
Topic: World View
Our Man in Paris - New York, Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens
Our Man is Paris is Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, who this August isn't in Paris at all. One leaves Paris in August, of course. At least the Parisians do.

So Ric is in the Big Apple. Well, actually he's not in Manhattan. He's across the East River in Long Island City, Queens. Oh, you know - Astoria, Hunters Point, Blissville, Ravenswood, Dutch Kills and Bowery Bay - where you'll find the former Silvercup bakery, now home to Silvercup Studios, where they film The Sopranos for HBO. And there's the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, and the largest fortune cookie factory in the United States, owned by Wonton Foods, producing four million fortune cookies a day. That place.

This is not Paris, but Ric is having a fine time -
Arrived here with 100 degrees at JFK. No air-conditioning. But now New York has settled down to best summer weather many can remember. Coney Island doing fine. Had my cheesecake at Junior's. Been on the terrace of the Athens Cafe in Astoria, twice. Dancing on dirt at Flushing town hall - plus fancy eats for cheap. Man, New York City at 85 degrees, 35 percent humidity, 10 mph breeze - very, very fine. No need for Florida.

Here, Long Island City's very own and unique Water Taxi Beach, right across from 34th Street. Blindingly white sand blitzed most photos - overexposure! The photos - beach entry, beach flag, and beach cocktail area.

Here they are -

New York, Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York, Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 New York, Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editor's grab from Google Earth - Manhattan on the left, the East River in the middle, and Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens, from about 6,750 feet up.

New York, Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens - Google Earth image grab


Posted by Alan at 18:18 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Wednesday, 16 August 2006
The Dog Days: Everything Turns Sour in the Heat
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
The Dog Days: Everything Turns Sour in the Heat
It's August, the dog days of summer, so not the time to be too serious (or is that Sirius?) In case you don't remember, in the summer, Sirius, the "dog star," rises and sets with the sun. During late July Sirius is in conjunction with the sun, and early astronomers believed that its heat added to the heat of the sun, creating a stretch of hot and just nasty, uncomfortable weather. They named this period of time, from twenty days before the conjunction to twenty days after, the "dog days" - after the Dog Star. There are a few more days to go.

But here we see that August is the Worst Month Ever - August has failed us. The contention - "August sucks. Need proof? Look around you. Liquids are being banned from airliners. Californians are dropping dead from heat. Princeton professor Bernard Lewis has predicted the apocalypse for August 22. What's not to hate?"

Princeton professor Bernard Lewis predicted what? There's a discussion of that here. His thoughts appeared on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. We all could die. That editorial page under Paul Gigot has gotten pretty strange. The news - the reporting - is first rate. The editorial page is just wacky. The word on the street is that the current owners, Dow Jones, will be selling the paper to Rupert Murdoch, who will no doubt turn it into the print version of Fox News - fair and balanced and all that. The reporters will all probably move on, sensing what they'll have to do. Ah well, the apocalypse will shift from the opinion page to the news pages. That's for next August, perhaps. In any event, Princeton professor Bernard Lewis seems to have spent too much time in the August sun this year. It got to him. (For a dissenting view, scroll down to the footnote at the end of the column.)

As for August, conceptually if you will, in 2001 David Plotz said it's just a crappy month. His evidence - "August is when the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when Anne Frank was arrested, when the first income tax was collected, when Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe died. Wings and Jefferson Airplane were formed in August. The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour debuted in August. (No August, no Sonny and Cher!)"

That's a thought. No Sonny and Cher. And his idea was to cut August - to ten days only. That would be quite enough - "Purists will insist that we shouldn't tinker with the months, that August should be left alone because it has done workmanlike service for 2,000 years. That's nonsense."

So let's just say it's September. The "worst month ever" writer is on board with that - "Recent history has only made the need for August reform more urgent. August 2003 saw the New York blackouts. August 2004 took Rick James from us. Then, August 2005 did its worst with Hurricane Katrina. It may be too late to salvage 2006. But there is still time to prevent an August 2007 from ever happening."

Rick James aside - he used to be pretty dangerous behind you, glassy eyed in his big black SUV a half inch off your rear bumper coming down twisty Laurel Canyon Boulevard into Hollywood - August seems to be an awful month. Maybe it is time to change the calendar.

The president, of course, is having a bad August, as noted in this item in the New York Times (August 15, Thom Shanker and Mark Mazzetti, with Jim Rutenberg).

It seems on Monday the 14th the president had a long lunch at the Pentagon with his "war cabinet" and selected outside experts (there's an effort to get him outside the bubble). It was private but the Times reporters talked to people who were there, and found out what went on. They said the president made it clear he was "concerned" about the lack of progress in Iraq and really, really frustrated that the new Iraqi government, although he refused to criticize the new prime minister we've got there, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. He did ask each of the outside academic experts for their assessment of the prime minister's effectiveness, but didn't say what he thought.

But the thing that really caught people's attention was that he was really disappointed with the Iraqi people - those ungrateful and strange folks had not shown the appropriate public support for the American mission. After all we had done for them he just didn't understand what their problem was. It made no sense to him -
More generally, the participants said, the president expressed frustration that Iraqis had not come to appreciate the sacrifices the United States had made in Iraq, and was puzzled as to how a recent anti-American rally in support of Hezbollah in Baghdad could draw such a large crowd. "I do think he was frustrated about why 10,000 Shiites would go into the streets and demonstrate against the United States," said another person who attended.
Well, it's pretty clear he doesn't understand his own foreign policy, or doesn't attend to the details of what we've done and who we've aligned with, or maybe never knew because he leaves that sort of thing to his subordinates - but he's trying to get a handle in this, on why things are not as they're really supposed to be, or what he's been told they are. It's a start.

Others aren't so kind. On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman from Florida and now host of Scarborough Country, the same day as the Times piece ran a twelve-minute segment - "Is Bush an Idiot?" Those words were on the screen the whole time (video of it all here and transcript here).

Now that was odd. That idea had moved from the lefties - or at least from Linda Ronstadt and the Dixie Chicks - to the center-right (and Joe is a bit right of center). The concept can now actually be discussed on national television, and Lawrence O'Donnell and John Fund discussed it with Joe. Even Bush-backer Fund admitted the man really does sound like an idiot - but then it may be just that he has a language problem that makes him incapable of articulating his thoughts. The other two weren't buying that.

August is an awful time. Add this television discussion to the list.

As for what the Times reported about that ninety minute lunch meeting, they did say the president appeared "serious and engaged" - and there was "lengthy discussion" of the political, ethnic, religious and security "challenges" in Iraq. So maybe he's not an idiot, but they all said he "showed no signs of veering from the administration's policies." As they stand up, we stand down, so it's very simple. And there's no civil war there either.

And one participant - Carole A. O'Leary, a professor at American University who does work in Iraq on a State Department grant - said the president insisted that "the Shia-led government needs to clearly and publicly express the same appreciation for United States efforts and sacrifices as they do in private." They need to be publicly thankful, damn it. They say nice things to me face-to-face. Why won't they say those things to everyone else?

The answer is pretty obvious - you don't insult the man with the big club and short temper to his face. You make nice, no matter what you really think. Small talk is not diplomacy, or policy. He doesn't get it. He's a simple man. Complicity confounds him. And it's just not fair.

Actually, that's more dangerous to us all than deciding he's an idiot. People are fond of Forrest Gump simplicity, and they embrace it (Tom Hanks was so charming) - but they laugh at idiots. Being "a simple man" inoculates him. We'll accept the lovable scamp who understands very little but triumphs, but not the moron who screws everything up and ruins things. The trouble is that more and more he looks less like the former, and more like that latter. Remember August gave us Sonny and Cher.

The Pentagon lunch meeting - private but with careful leaks - was to help keep the latter view (moron) from gaining too very much traction. You see, folks, he really is thoughtful.

But even here there had to be damage control, the White House flatly denying that the president is frustrated with Iraqis and with their prime minister - and, by the way, Iraq has not slipped into civil war. Not at all -
"We don't expect him to be an overnight success in dealing with all these problems - nobody can be. But the president certainly supports Prime Minister Maliki," countered White House spokesman Tony Snow.

"You've got a government that is brand new," Snow told reporters. "This is a guy who has a series of challenges before him with his government, and the president is impressed not only by his determination to get the job done, but the fact is that he is working aggressively to do these things."

Bush believes that "when you're facing a situation, you don't sit around and get frustrated. You figure out how to get the job done," said Snow. "The president is somebody who's intensely practical about these things."
The short form - he's just a simple, practical man who wants to fix problems - and, by the way, Americans "don't see are the operations ongoing, the apprehensions of terrorists, the seizure of weapons caches, all of which are going on on a daily basis."

So things are fine. And no one is reporting that. It's just August madness, perhaps. People think too much. It's bad for them, and for everyone.

People are certainly thinking too much about last week's airline bombing plot - the big August story (so far).

First there was NBC News with this, reporting that the timing of both the arrests and the announcement of the plot was a subject of real clash between the British and the Americans -
A senior British official knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner.

... The British official said the Americans also argued over the timing of the arrest of suspected ringleader Rashid Rauf in Pakistan, warning that if he was not taken into custody immediately, the U.S. would "render" him or pressure the Pakistani government to arrest him.
Ned Lamont has just defeated the White House's favorite Democrat, Senator Joe Lieberman, in the Connecticut primary - and it was a Eugene McCarthy moment. The population was turning on the war government, just like back in 1968 - something had to be done. A victory was necessary. Lieberman had been, for the last year or more, saying all the other Democrats were fools and idiots - Iraq was a great success and any who disagreed with the president was doing great harm to the country and aiding our enemies. And the voters tossed him out. On top of that, at the time Hezbollah was just not folding in southern Lebanon and this particular demonstration project to remake the Middle East looked like a bust. A "big scare" and "we got the bad guys (and the Democrats didn't)" was necessary, immediately.

The threat was interesting too - arrest the ringleader or we'll kidnap him and no one will ever hear from him, or of him, again, and you'll be without anything - or we'll have the Pakistanis arrest him and you'll look like fools and wimps. This was hardball.

And now no one is saying anything about the plot. There are a lot of hard feelings, one would assume.

And then there was the plot itself. James Galbraith in The Nation has been thinking about that, and has some thoughtful observations -
No bombs have been found. No chemicals. No equipment. No labs. No testing ground.

... Apparently, not one ticket had been purchased by the detainees.

... [And] you need something else. It's a document called a passport. Apparently, some of the detainees don't have them.

... Finally, confessions. Twenty-four suspects have been arrested [and] they will have a chance to make an uncoerced statement of their intentions in open court. By then the authorities will have found the labs, testing grounds, airline tickets and passports. Credible witnesses too will have emerged. By then the young zealots will have no expectation of acquittal or mercy, and nothing to lose. We may therefore confidently expect them to face the judges and declare exactly what their motives and intentions were.

If they do that, I'll eat my hat.
There may be no case. That extra week would have been helpful. Damn you, Ned Lamont! And the Connecticut voters just messed everything up - or something like that.

And then there's Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, with this -
Many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year.

... Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests. Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance.

... We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why? I think the answer to that is plain. Both in desperate domestic political trouble, they longed for "Another 9/11". The intelligence from Pakistan, however dodgy, gave them a new 9/11 they could sell to the media. The media has bought, wholesale, all the rubbish they have been shoveled.

And then of course there's this - the Guardian (UK), reporting that the testimony of Rashid Rauf, the British citizen who was picked up in Pakistan, is suspect since it came only after he had been "broken" under torture.

It's inadmissible. For centuries British law - all western law in fact - say you cannot use such evidence. You just cannot tell whether his testimony real - factual in any way - or if he just telling his interrogators whatever he thought they wanted to hear to stop the pain. (The administration is working hard to make us the first country in modern times to allow torture confessions to be admissible as factual evidence in legal procedures - juts like in the days of the Spanish Inquisition.)

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly looks at all this and concludes -

As little a year or two ago I would have rolled my eyes at the idea that even the timing of the arrests was politically motivated, let alone the possibility that the plot itself was being exaggerated. But today? I don't know. I can only quote Teresa Nielsen Hayden yet again: "I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist."

Beyond that I'll just say this: there better not turn out to be even a shred of evidence that any part of this was exaggerated or timed or hyped for any reason that's not related with absolute certainty to the requirements of the police and counterterrorist community. Bush and Blair better be purer than Caesar's wife on this one.
We'll see.

But the skeptic (one who thinks too much) who caused the greatest buzz was Andrew Sullivan with this -
So far, no one has been charged in the alleged terror plot to blow up several airplanes across the Atlantic. No evidence has been produced supporting the contention that such a plot was indeed imminent. Forgive me if my skepticism just ratcheted up a little notch. Under a law that the Tories helped weaken, the suspects can be held without charges for up to 28 days. Those days are ticking by. Remember: the British authorities had all these people under surveillance; they did not want to act last week; there was no imminent threat of anything but a possible "dummy-run [and] Bush and Blair discussed whether to throw Britain's airports into chaos over the weekend before the crackdown occurred.

He also quotes from the Craig Murray item, noting that Murray "was Tony Blair's ambassador to Uzbekistan whose internal memo complaining about evidence procured by out-sourced torture created a flap a while back."

And he selects this -

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth.

… We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why?
Sullivan adds this -
I'd be interested in the number of plotters who had passports. How could they even stage a dummy-run with no passports? And what bomb-making materials did they actually have? These seem like legitimate questions to me; the British authorities have produced no evidence so far. If the only evidence they have was from torturing someone in Pakistan, then they have nothing that can stand up in anything like a court. I wonder if this story is going to get more interesting. I wonder if Lieberman's defeat, the resilience of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the emergence of a Hezbollah-style government in Iraq had any bearing on the decision by Bush and Blair to pre-empt the British police and order this alleged plot disabled. I wish I didn't find these questions popping into my head. But the alternative is to trust the Bush administration.

Been there. Done that. Learned my lesson.
Yep, he was one of those "all for the war and those who aren't for the war are traitors" types way back when. Fool me once, shame on me - fool me twice, shame on you. (See the president's version of that here.)

So people really are thinking too much. And that makes things fall apart, and it makes the main thing fall apart, as Josh Marshall notes here (emphases added) -
Everybody and their brother - at least anyone who has any sense and isn't on the payroll of the GOP - has been saying for years that our occupation of Iraq has nothing to do with fighting radical Islamists who want to commit mass casualty terrorist attacks in the US and around the world.

'Nothing' is a very big word. Clearly, there is a relationship. Indeed, I think there's a pretty solid argument to be made that our invasion and occupation of Iraq has expanded the pool of terrorist recruits. And in other indirect ways with Iraq and international terrorism, we are all blind men touching different parts of the same elephant. But on the basic ground of 'Is fighting in Iraq helping reduce the threat of terrorism at home?' the answer is clearly 'No'.

And yet, I wonder if this recent terror scare out of London may have actually driven that point home in a new and more resonant way.

Living in a major American city, I take it for granted that my wife and I live under a certain general threat of major terrorist attacks. In that sense I'm not really different from everyone else in the country to this or that degree. Back in late 2001, when I was living in DC and we were in the midst of the Anthrax scare and various reports of sleeper cells in the United States, I remember having moments where I hoped the FBI and CIA were doing everything imaginable to shut these guys down, whatever the constitution might say.

Now, here's the point I want to focus in on. I want to make a basic distinction between the things we might think or feel impulsively when in the grip of fear and things we really think ought to be done. I never thought we should be torturing people or rounding people up. What I am saying is that I remember the atmosphere of those days just after 9/11 and the primal gut instincts that made part of me wish those things were happening.

It now seems that even this London bomb plot may not be all it's cracked up to be. But it did give me a moment of that gut level fear. And in that moment, as much as I've thought what I've thought about Iraq, I'm not sure I ever felt as clearly how completely beside the point Iraq is from the real threat we face of deracinated Islamic radicals (in the Muslim world and sprinkled about the West) trying to perpetrate mass terror attacks.

It hit me like a sort of epiphany even though it was a realization of something I and countless others have been saying for years.

I'm curious to know whether anyone else experienced something similar and even more whether anyone else's mind (about Iraq) actually may have been changed.

Is there anyone in the country who can say honestly, in their heart of hearts, that when that moment of fear hit them after the recent reports out of London, they said to themselves, "God, I'm glad we're in Iraq"?

Anyone?

Nope. No one.

T. S. Eliot had is wrong. April is not the cruelest month. It's August. And it's not just the death of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, or the birth of the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a long time ago. This year it's something new - the old tricks are not working. There was that "idiot" thing right there on television, being openly discussed, and the big coup - stopping the bomb threat, if that's what it was - had the opposite effect on far too many people. They weren't grateful at all. Yep, the president just won't understand that, but you can't jerk people around forever.

August is a problem, again.


___


Footnote:

Regarding the "end of the world" item by Bernard Lewis in the Wall Street Journal, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, adds a corrective -

Despite the impression left by the gawkers at Gawker, Bernard Lewis is not some nutbag but instead a well-respected Islam expert. Shortly after 9/11, I really enjoyed reading his "Crisis of Islam" - although, since it was an audiobook and I listened to while jogging, it was really a case of Lewis doing the reading while I just listened. He really knows his history and tells it well, although after a while you get the feeling that, in the clash of civilizations, he's definitely rooting for the West.

It's worth noting that, in his WSJ piece, Lewis doesn't say August 22 will be "the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world," only that the Iranian president may have had this in mind when he picked that date as when he will be "giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development."

If it happens, remember that you saw it here first; if it doesn't, then just forget we mentioned it.
So noted.

Posted by Alan at 22:22 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 17 August 2006 18:35 PDT home

Tuesday, 15 August 2006
Race: A Minor Incident Turns Major as People Put Two and Two Together
Topic: Race
Race: A Minor Incident Turns Major as People Put Two and Two Together
The incident occurred the week before but didn't hit the wires, or whatever they're called these days, until August 14, and the whole thing exploded in the press and other news media on Tuesday, August 15 - Republican Senator George Allen has said what? He's in an increasingly pesky reelection campaign - still ahead by quite a bit but things keep shifting. And he's considered one of the front runners for the Republican nomination to run for president against whoever the Democrats settle on in 2008.

The New York Times sets out the problem quite succinctly here -
If Senator George Allen of Virginia is thinking of running for president in 2008, as is widely believed, what he said in a little town in southwestern Virginia several nights ago may haunt him.

"This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is, he's with my opponent," the Republican lawmaker said on Friday night at a rally in Breaks, next to the Kentucky border. "He's following us around everywhere. And it's just great."

Mr. Allen, a Republican running for re-election to the Senate, was singling out S.R. Sidarth, a 20-year-old volunteer for Mr. Allen's Democratic challenger, James Webb. Mr. Sidarth's mission was to trail Mr. Allen and videotape his speeches, in the hope they would yield grist for the Webb campaign.

But it was Mr. Allen who supplied grist for his rival with his use of the term "macaca," a genus that includes numerous species of monkeys found in Asia.

Mr. Allen said Monday that he meant no insult, that he was sorry if he hurt anyone's feelings and that he did not know what "macaca" meant, according to the Washington Post, which reported about the incident today.

Mr. Sidarth, who is of Indian descent, was not convinced. "I think he was doing it because he could, and I was the only person of color there, and it was useful for him in inciting his audience," Mr. Sidarth told the Post.

The senator's communications director, John Reid, said in an interview today that Allen campaign workers had good-naturedly nicknamed Mr. Sidarth "Mohawk" because he would not disclose his name and the sobriquet seemed appropriate for Mr. Sidarth's hair style.

Perhaps, Mr. Reid suggested, "Mohawk" morphed into "macaca," with results that turned out to be regrettable.

After his initial use of the term, Mr. Allen went on to urge the crowd to "give a welcome to macaca here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

Unfortunately, Sidarth was born in Fairfax County, right there in Virginia.

And what's this "macaca" business? Asian monkeys?

The Times is being kind.

As noted below, it's a coded racial slur seemingly well understood in the South. No one who wasn't an "insider" was supposed to get it. But that's just not how things go these days. And this wasn't supposed to hit the national media. The whole thing is on tape and all over (see it here) - CNN and all the rest run it and people talk about it. And folks use Nexis and Goodle these days on who uses this odd term, and how it has been used in the past. There's nowhere to hide.

The Times quotes Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, saying that this "verbal gaffe" would probably not keep Allen from being reelected to the Senate, but if he runs for president the word "macaca" will hurt him, "not only because it is offensive on its face but also because it fits into a long pattern of insensitivity by Allen on racial and ethnic matters."

Sabato knows the guy - he was student council president at the University of Virginia when Allen was class president there thirty years ago. And the Times notes that Allen opposed a state Martin Luther King holiday back in the eighties, and when he was governor he issued that 1993 proclamation honoring Confederate History Month, and he kept a Confederate flag in his home and all the rest.

Of course George Allen has been discussed in these pages before - April 30 here - and he seems like a dumbed-down version of George Bush (imagine that), just another Texan good ol' boy, except he grew up out here in Palos Verdes Estates while his father was with the Los Angeles Rams, and his mother is French. It's kind of funny that when his father coached the Washington Redskins Nixon used to call up the elder Allen and tell him what plays he ought to run - although there's no evidence the senator's father ever did that. Small world.

He's one piece of work, and the buzz last spring was the Ryan Lizza profile of the younger Allen - George Allen's Race Problem -

But, while Allen may have genuflected in the direction of Gingrich, he also showed a touch of Strom Thurmond. Campaigning for governor in 1993, he admitted to prominently displaying a Confederate flag in his living room. He said it was part of a flag collection - and had been removed at the start of his gubernatorial bid. When it was learned that he kept a noose hanging on a ficus tree in his law office, he said it was part of a Western memorabilia collection. These explanations may be sincere. But, as a chief executive, he also compiled a controversial record on race. In 1994, he said he would accept an honorary membership at a Richmond social club with a well-known history of discrimination - an invitation that the three previous governors had refused. After an outcry, Allen rejected the offer. He replaced the only black member of the University of Virginia (UVA) Board of Visitors with a white one. He issued a proclamation drafted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans declaring April Confederate History and Heritage Month. The text celebrated Dixie's "four-year struggle for independence and sovereign rights." There was no mention of slavery. After some of the early flaps, a headline in The Washington Post read, "Governor Seen Leading Virginia Back in Time."
At the time of the profile Ezra Klein said this -
Potentially worse, Allen comes off as a garden variety of sadist, a high school bully and vandal who hurled his brother through a glass door when he wanted to stay up past his bedtime, cracked another brother's collarbone for the same offense, and so tormented his youngest sister that she wrote a memoir packed with instances of his cruelty and thuggishness. It's grotesque stuff, and considering the perpetrator is being seriously considered as the chief executive and primary symbol of our country, Lizza's article is a definite must-read.
But Kevin Drum suggested Allen would get a pass -
The press corps is a sucker for "authenticity," and it's something that both George Bush and John McCain have cleverly exploited - because for most reporters, speaking in complete sentences or having smart ideas about policy are way less important than being a "straight talker" or "comfortable in your own skin." But just as McCain's embrace of Jerry Falwell has shown him to be a wee bit less of a straight talker than his handlers claim, Allen's "authenticity" also turns out to be barely skin-deep.

... Allen may reasonably claim that what he did as a teenager four decades ago shouldn't be held against him now. But the consistent evidence in Lizza's piece that his red state good 'ol boy shtick is little more than a personal invention, carefully cultivated and maintained through the years, should at least give the press corps pause as they cover his campaign. They've gotten suckered by this act before, and both McCain and Allen are currently gearing up to sucker them again with the same song in a different key. Caveat emptor should be their watch phrase this time around.

But the senate race in Virginia turns out to be a classic of the sort Drum feared.

As noted in these pages here, running in Virginia against the incumbent George Allen, is one James Webb - the former Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, the best-selling author (Fields of Fire from 1978), and a former United States Marine Corps officer decorated for valor in the Vietnam War. He's left the Republicans. He's running as a Democrat. And the dynamic is clear - Allen is the tobacco-chewing good ol' boy wannabe, son of the famous football coach, with the confederate flags all over, be challenged by the done-everything, intellectual and writer and lawyer and man of action. The "I don't read nothin' much" never-in-the-military Man of the Old South, who went to high school out here in chic Palos Verdes and cut classes a lot, is ahead. Webb likes to point out that when he was fighting in Vietnam, Allen - emphasizing his middle name, Felix - was spending his summers at an exclusive dude ranch, pretending to be a cowboy. But it's not going that well.

Will this little incident change things? Probably not.

But the Washington Post is certainly annoyed -

"My friends, we're going to run this campaign on positive, constructive ideas," Sen. George F. Allen told a rally of Republican supporters in Southwest Virginia last week. "And it's important that we motivate and inspire people for something." Whereupon Mr. Allen turned his attention to a young campaign aide working for his Democratic opponent - a University of Virginia student from Fairfax County who was apparently the only person of color present - and proceeded to ridicule him.

Let's consider which positive, constructive or inspirational ideas Mr. Allen had in mind when he chose to mock S.R. Sidarth of Dunn Loring, who was recording the event with a video camera on behalf of James Webb, the Democratic nominee for the Senate seat Mr. Allen holds. The idea that holding up minorities to public scorn in front of an all-white crowd will elicit chortles and guffaws? (It did.) The idea that a candidate for public office can say "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia!" to an American of Indian descent and really mean nothing offensive by it? (So insisted Mr. Allen's aides.) Or perhaps the idea that bullying your opponents and calling them strange names - Mr. Allen twice referred to Mr. Sidarth as "Macaca" -- is within the bounds of decency on the campaign trail?

We have no inkling as to what Mr. Allen meant by "Macaca," though we rather doubt his campaign's imaginative explanation that it was somehow an allusion to Mr. Sidarth's hairstyle, a mullet. Mr. Allen said last night that no slur was intended, though he failed to explain what, exactly, he did have in mind. Macaca is the genus for macaques, a type of monkey found mainly in Asia. Mr. Allen, who as a young man had a fondness for Confederate flags and later staunchly opposed a state holiday in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., has surely learned too much about racial sensitivities in public life to misspeak so offensively.
The Post has no idea what the word means, but Jeffrey Feldman does -
I did some Google searches to find out what it meant. As it turns out, the question is not if 'macaca' is a racist term, but which of the three definitions of the word 'macaca' did George Allen intend when he used it?

Here are the three choices:

1. 'Macaca' - French : racist slang; similar to English 'nigger,' used to describe Arabs.
2. 'Macaca' - English : racist slang; similar to 'nigger' used to describe Arabs.
3. 'Macaca' - English : racist slang; used by American white supremacists in 'insider' talk about African-Americans.


Which one is it?
That's a good question.

And there are some other points, like whether the word was used intentionally -
So far, George Allen's campaign is saying that the word was Allen's mispronunciation of 'Mohawk,' but reasonable people can discount that answer. The word 'macaca' (three syllables) is no closer to 'mohawk' (two syllables) than are the words 'Madison' or 'Mac n' Cheese.' And since Allen pronounced the word twice in a short period of time - each instance with emphasis, as if he was setting up 'macaca' to be the keyword that everyone would hear - we can conclude without hesitation that his use was conscious. He used the word because he chose to use it in advance at that moment and to make sure that everyone in the audience heard him use it. 'Macaca,' in other words, was the keyword in his communication strategy to handle the situation of a campaign staffer from his opposition following him around with a video camera.
And was 'macaca' a word he learned from his mother, but did not understand? Hardly -
This is another potential misinterpretation of the events. Since George Allen's mother was raised in France and French-speaking Tunisia, some have surmised that 'macaca' might just be a nonsense word he had heard from his mother, but did not understand. This cannot be true, however, because it has been shown that George Allen studied French and did quite well. The idea that he would not understand a word used by his mother, but use it twice in a campaign stump speech - this makes no logical sense and can be discounted.
The conclusion - George Allen used a white power word in a stump speech -
George Allen's used 'macaca' at his campaign stop (1) consciously, (2) specifically in order to signal to people who knew what it meant, and (3) with the goal of showing that he was not intimidated by the staffer from his opponent's campaign attending his campaign events.

The entire statement was designed to humiliate the person in question by drawing attention to them and insulting them with a coded racial slur - all with the intention of showing confidence in response to intimidation from his opponent.

It is likely that George Allen did not believe many people would understand what was being said, except for 'insiders' already familiar with the word 'macaca.'

George Allen used a white power word in his stump speech. And he did it on purpose.
It's a white power thing. It will serve him well in Virginia. It's a no-no nationally, perhaps.

And he apologized and still claims he knows nothing -
Reached Monday evening, Allen said that the word had no derogatory meaning for him and that he was sorry. "I would never want to demean him as an individual. I do apologize if he's offended by that. That was no way the point."

Asked what macaca means, Allen said: "I don't know what it means." He said the word sounds similar to "mohawk," a term that his campaign staff had nicknamed Sidarth because of his haircut.

Yep, it's one of those apologies where it not his mistake for what he said. But he's sorry, really, that the other guy was too dumb to understand him, and of course he graciously regrets there was a misunderstanding (you know how these folks are, of course). Oh, and by the way, someone on his staff came up with the nickname. It wasn't even him, but, then, he's a big man and will say these regrets himself, even if some low-life staffer who screwed up.

Heck, maybe he really is presidential material.

Hell, his audience got it, and that's what mattered.

Ah, this is one guy and an isolated incident.

Would that it were, but it isn't an isolated incident. All you need is reminders, which James Wolcott of Vanity Fair lines up here.

He notes that Conservative New York radio talk show host Bob Grant once said on the air that then-New York mayor David Dinkins reminded him of a "men's room attendant". (See this.) Don Imus of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning one said of the black journalist Gwen Ifill, now moderating PBS's Washington Week in Review -"Speaking of reporter Gwen Ifill, he's said, 'Isn't the [New York] Times wonderful? It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House.'" (See here.) Mickey Kaus's at SLATE.COM recently said this - "Congresswoman Maxine Waters had parachuted into Connecticut earlier in the week to campaign against Lieberman because he once expressed reservations about affirmative action, without which she would not have a job that didn't involve wearing a paper hat." And there's the cover of the latest Weekly Standard here - Al Sharpton as a Driving Miss Daisy faithful retainer "who dares not look his master in the eye."

Wolcott -

Washroom attendant. Cleaning lady. Cafeteria worker. Chauffeur.

Notice a pattern?

No matter what height of prominence a black person reaches, conservatives will always find a way to reduce him or her to low-paid, low-status, low-skilled caricatured servitude. That's their idea of cutting black personalities down to size and putting them in their place. Whatever uniform they wear, it's still a monkey suit in the eyes and mouths of the white-makes-right contingent, which should make it no surprise that Senator George Allen, adopted son of the Confederacy, would reach back for a race-baiting jibe as his beanball pitch.
It's just the latest in a series.

And see Digby at Hullabaloo here -
There is some debate as to whether George Felix Allen was making a deliberate slur or whether he was just repeating his French mother's phrase for "dirty Arab" without fully realizing what he was saying (or thinking nobody would know what he was saying.)

I don't think so. I think this is racist code of the worst sort. Allen isn't just another southern good old boy who can't tell the difference between his family heritage and racism. He chose to become a neoconfederate long after it was out of fashion, in defiance of accepted norms of his time and he has built his good old boy reputation partially because of it. He didn't inherit his brand of racism - he chose it.

The evidence suggests that "macaca" is a slur that American white supremacists have adopted from European white supremacists to apply to dark skinned people. And what this means is that George Allen is conversant in the language of white supremacists and he uses that language in his conversation. And while it's impossible to prove, I believe he used that word deliberately because it is a word that a racist like him would know that "certain" people would correctly identify.

It's right out of the Lee Atwater playbook, at whose knee Mary Matalin, Allen's biggest supporter, studied.
What's he talking about? Lee Atwater, the last generation's Karl Rove. And the New York Times's Bob Herbert, who is their black editorialist, on October 6, 2005 discussing a 1981 interview with Lee Atwater in which he explains the GOP's Southern Strategy -
You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" - that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me - because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."
There's more here but basically -
That was Atwater, even as he was trying to say that racism was dying, helpfully explaining that the GOP mantra of "tax cuts" was another way for a candidate to say that you didn't believe in government hand outs to black people. (Too bad nobody listened to him at the time and figured out a way to fight that, but it's too late now.) But what he really revealed was that racism had just gone underground. "Macaca" is as abstract as it gets - to anybody but a white supremacist who knows exactly what it means. It's just one of the newer code words for "nigger, nigger, nigger" and Allen, who kept a noose in his office for years, is the type of guy who would know it.

George Felix Allen is the most disgusting serious candidate for president this country has produced in many decades. The fact that he's backed by a large number of powerful mainstream Republicans for the nomination shows what that party really is, even now, after all this time.
People do put two and two together. And George Felix Allen may have inadvertently set up the real issue here, that the Civil War of the 1860s never really settled anything. The South fights on, and they're stronger now than any time since that business at Fort Sumter.

On April 10, 1861, Brigadier General Beauregard, in command of the provisional Confederate forces at Charleston, South Carolina, demanded the surrender of the Union garrison of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Garrison commander Major Anderson refused. On April 12, Confederate batteries opened fire on the fort, which was unable to reply effectively. At two-thirty in the afternoon on April 13, Major Anderson surrendered Fort Sumter, evacuating the garrison on the following day.

For some, those were the days. And it's not over yet.

Phillip Raines, whose words and photographs have often appeared in these pages, explains it best -
Was it racist slang - used by American white supremacists in 'insider' talk about African-Americans?

That's it, that's why he said it, and back-peddling and saying he didn't know what it means is just another way of him saying "Aw shucks, I was just funning." As a native born southerner immersed in a culture of racist and class supremacy I can assure the readers of Just Above Sunset his true sentiments were drawn out by the videographer as provocateur. He thought he was speaking in code, and racist will create a feeling of inclusiveness by sharing their racism with other people, usually quietly, by saying something like "between you and me… nigger, you know."

It's better explained by example -

I was in Mississippi visiting my wife's relatives. Atlanta is in the south, but Mississippi is Deep South, making Atlanta look socially transitional between Boston and Jackson. A cousin-in-law was skinning a deer under the carport after a Thanksgiving morning of hunting. He was mid-twenties, a lawyer, a nice looking guy even in a camouflage jacket and red hat. The family, in general, likes me, though I'm somewhat of an oddity. A city boy, a sax player, a leftist - a lot of things they aren't - but with a fundamental basis of behavior that I'm there to get along and have a good sense of humor as long as right wing politics aren't brought up. Then I'll fight, won't take it, and will definitely call a spade a spade (it's a shovel reference, not cards or color, though it's a metaphor morphed into that).

Knowing that as a city boy I didn't hunt I couldn't share in the happiness of bagging a deer in the first few hours of hunting season, there was a still desire from him for an inclusiveness. He shifted the conversation to the general inferiority and faults of blacks - the laziness, the stink, the inferiority, and most threatening, the dangerous potential of violence to take from those that have - to take the white women, take the money through armed theft, take the TV right out of the living room if you don't lock up. The thematic subtext of his chatter was "now that it's just us I will show you my unspoken hatred like a secret, bare myself in intimacy, and you can admit the same to me."

He was disappointed that I didn't take my cue and admit that I hated them too, collectively though I might, as a musician, mention there are some good ones. I've seen this scenario again and again my whole life in the South. I changed the subject to different knives for different tasks of dressing out the deer. He offered a thin slice of leg muscle for me to taste raw, but I declined, saying I was a hippie vegetarian for too long and raw meat didn't settle with me, hurt my teeth somehow. But a point that's important was this guy was educated, had summoned up enough concentration to pass the bar and would most likely run for judge one day (he was just the type), but at his core and despite his path to wealth, success and power, he would always be a white supremacist, even if he became adept at hiding it. A hundred years ago he might have sent his mother a postcard of a lynching and written on the back, "Ma, there is one less of these here to hurt you," as was on the majority of post cards in the lynching exhibit I saw at Emory.

It is a fact that all southern born men struggle with racism. Most dismiss the struggle and only a few pursue racial enlightenment and sort out the incidents that reinforce racism for a higher path. Like blowing up frogs with firecrackers (like our sitting president did as a kid), it is an outlet for meanness - and that somehow feels good and empowering. And trust me, again as a native-born southerner, that even as southern men are taking over the highest offices in the land, repeatedly, deep inside, there is a voice that is claiming a small victory in the ongoing civil war between the north and the south, and its conservatism. It offers one more opportunity to have a dose of that meanness - like it's a satisfying drug whose effects last for days. Kindness is a weakness, unless it's towards your momma.
And that is what we're dealing with.



__

Minor Footnote:

To understand where this is coming from you have to understand that Bill Montgomery - who blogs as "Bilmon" - is a journalist who specializes in finance - economics and corporations and interest rates and trade and all that sort of thing. He goes on assignment to all the international economic forums and all, and clearly explains the implications of what's happing, which is no small feat. He knows his stuff, and he knows all sorts of things about statistics. He thinks this business with what George Allen said is an example of reversion to the mean -
As a 16th generation Virginian, I'm proud that the Old Dominion has blessed the nation with such political and intellectual giants as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. It doesn't mean I'd ever actually want to live in that reactionary armpit of a state again, but still, I'm proud.

It almost - almost - makes up for George Allen…

… Macaca? What the fuck kind of kindergarten insult is that? Is that the best the idiot could come up with? What's next? Boogerbrain? Doodoohead? Harry Flood Byrd could think up better racial slurs in his sleep.

I think this is a political example of the statistical phenomenon known as mean revision - in which a string of unusually high data points is often followed by a string of low ones, bringing the trend back towards the long-term average.

If you look at it that way, it's no surprise Virginia politics has been churning out dimwitted racist assclowns for the the better part of the past 200 years. It takes a heap of mean reversion to compensate for Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Mason and Monroe.

But now that the state has given us Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and George Allen in such quick succession, it's pretty clear the pendulum has swung too far. Virginia is almost down to the Texas level now, which is about six standard deviations below the mean. It's time for something better - or at least a little better, like Jim Webb.

Of course, Allen's latest crack makes it clear that even a Macaca (whatever the hell it is) would be a big improvement.
That's the most idiosyncratic explanation of this incident out there.

Posted by Alan at 22:09 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 16 August 2006 18:38 PDT home

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