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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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Wednesday, 27 April 2005


Media Notes: Spin versus the Crap Detector

“In order to be a great writer a person must have a built-in, shockproof crap detector.” – Ernest Hemingway

Last weekend’s Just above Sunset item The Grownups Will Tell You What You Need to Know generated some comment generated some reader comment. The item was about what Eric Alterman called the Republicans’ clear, agreed-upon plan to diminish the mainstream press. The discussion was about just what we are allowed to know – actually about how spinning the news has been taken to new heights, or lows, depending on your point of view, and on your party affiliation.

And it included a quote from the president’s advisor Karen Hughes - "We don't see there being any penalty from the voters for ignoring the mainstream press."

Of course, Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, who was in at the start of CNN, had a reaction -
Wouldn't it be neat if whoever she said that to didn't have a professional responsibility to keep his outrage to himself, or herself? Yeah, but that's only a fantasy, since if the questioner had that power, they wouldn't be let inside the door to ask those questions.

You hear a lot of people these days -- Mostly liberals? No, maybe all of them liberals -- bemoan the fact that we don't have "Question Time" like they do in the British Parliament once a week. I myself don't find that all that useful, all those pols jeering and cheering on cue as if they're at a football match, but I sometimes think we should have something like it written into the Constitution where the president and his top leadership have to sit for an hour or two and face nothing but hostile questions. Maybe they could do a reverse of the Bush campaign trick by only allowing entrance if you sign a pledge saying you don't support these people. Now THAT would make compelling television!

But I'm not saying this is all the fault of Bush et al, including Karen Hughes. Somewhere this past week, I heard what was said to be an old African saying, that "the ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people."

At some point, we have to lay much, if not most, of the blame upon ourselves, the voters, for not paying enough attention to the health of our democracy. Let all the ridiculous wonks and pundits talk each other to death, we seem to say. Paying attention to politics is like eating broccoli, it's something you know you should do, but it's much more work than fun, and I'm old enough now that no grownup can make me do something I just don't feel like doing.

So while we obsess about who's next to be voted off some imaginary island on TV, we have a Republican dictatorship in Washington engineering what may be (for all I know) the first-ever-in-American-history clean sweep of any party's Appeals Court nominations, a huge tragedy that gets lost in all the recent discussion of what to do about the filibuster.

Somehow we need to find a way to impress on our fellow countrymen and women that they need to find out -- and to understand in the context of what historically this country is all about -- what's going on in their country and in their world, and then take that knowledge to their local polling place on election day. Somehow we need to make it easier for people to figure out what's at stake in every election, both national and local.

How to do this? I just don't know. Something between browbeating and encouragement, I reckon. Appeal to that little adult hiding down deep inside every American? Naw, forget I said that. What was I thinking, that 2004 never happened?

Anyway, any suggestions?
No, no suggestions.

Bob Patterson, added this ?
Ron Suskind quotes these guys saying ?we create our own reality.?

And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too.

The Democrats seem (mark that word) to be operating as if they accept the statements that Jeb will not run as chiseled in stone. If in late 2007, Jeb hears that the public is "demanding" that he run for president, the Democrats will have a whole new reality to accommodate. The fact that they did not go into a "prevent defense" during 2005, 2006, and 2007 may seem like they frittered away the chance to use all that time to link Jeb negatively with some nasty stuff. They will, in effect, give him a clean bill of health (and a free ride) for all that time.

Then in early 2008, the Democrats can try to stop a run-a-way "bandwagon" effect and sound like a BB rattling around in a boxcar while the press obligingly meets the "reluctant" candidate with the 1812 overture featuring the loudest accompanying canons ever. (Didn't one performance actually use 105 mm howitzers provided by the US Army?)

What if Dubya's fanatical religious base quietly begins to "demand" that he run for a third term? Couldn't the ever-Bush-obliging Supreme Court hand him that opportunity on a technicality?

The Suskind quote seems to confirm the Democrats? assessment that the Republicans act (sometimes by telling a "fib") and that, while the Democrats scramble to react (let's sing "Liar, liar, pants on fire!"), the Republicans are busy planning their next "rock 'em sock 'em" move to maintain the momentum. (Old boxing strategy: jab, jab, jab, jab, jab?.)

I think assuming that Jeb won't run is what Karl Rove would call a "fake out" maneuver.

In 2001, I wrote (not in Just Above Sunset) that the Democrats were crazy if they honestly thought that Bush stole the 2000 election - but would be a nice guy and while holding the office of president would suddenly relent and hold an honest (with no paper trail) election in 2004.

What was the story about the grasshoppers who didn't prepare for winter?
And Vince in Rochester picks up on Rick?s question about how to get people more involved.
How to do this? I just don't know. Something between browbeating and encouragement, I reckon. Anyway, any suggestions?

Rick, it would seem upon reviewing -

1) Bob's succinct re-recounting of the Democrat Movement's standard "response model" to anything dangerous out there in the dark deep woods ?

2) along with the outrageousness of the accumulating evidence that the Karl Rove inspired "red herring" movement rolls on day after day after day... as we preen in the glow of our TV's

it might be concluded that Middle America will only get excited enough to pay attention if there is SOMETHING TO PAY ATTENTION TO!

I'm guessing we have to find ourselves a new movement.

Arlo's old line: Two is a conspiracy, why ? three is a whole movement! People need something to rally around. And the current controllers won't be let anything emerge if they can help it.

So what can we invent that's got new gathering power? Good question? New messiah out there to rally around? It WILL take something POSITIVE and new. NO ONE WILL RALLY AROUND A REBUTTAL! Kerry reminded us of that truth. So who or what can we all get excited about? Therein lies the future.

No real answers here, but insight's not a bad place to start.
Well Rick also said this ? "We need to find a way to impress on our fellow countrymen and women that they need to find out - and to understand in the context of what historically this country is all about - what's going on in their country and in their world, and then take that knowledge to their local polling place on election day. Somehow we need to make it easier for people to figure out what's at stake in every election, both national and local."

I don't see that happening. My weekly site and daily blog are read, if read at all, by people who are already interested in such stuff and are, so to speak, on my side. It's that echo-chamber thing. The policy wonk, history buff, theory-of-government echo-chamber. Oh, the sites might pull in a few regular Fred and Ethyl types - with snazzy pictures and Ric's columns from Paris, and Bob's book column - but that's unlikely. You can just skip the text - and I know many readers who do.

Example? I know a woman out here whose only news sources are Fox national, the local weather, and CBS Sunday Morning - who hasn't stepped into a voting booth in thirty-five years - who subscribes to no newspaper and no magazines (never has) ? who does her CEO job seventy hours a week, worries about her grandkids, and worries about her son in the Army in Mosul. She loves the pictures - and she's a big fan of Phillip Raines? pieces. She thinks he's terrific. She doesn't read the rest.

And worrying about her son is Mosul has absolutely no political content. She doesn't know why he's there, and she doesn't think about it. That's for other folks. She just wants him to come back alive, and whole - completely assembled, to put it politely. Of course. This other stuff is not her business - and she doesn't see why I care. Her mantra? No one can do anything about that stuff. Other folks decide that stuff. You deal with the cards you're dealt.

To her credit, she doesn't watch the eat-another-worm reality shows, or American Idol with its ninth-rate singers, or follow celebrity news - at all. She reads mystery novels, those gushy ones written by women, and now and then watches old movies, or when she can, watches fey men figure skating. On the weekends she often has golf on the television - using it as a soporific (it does help you doze off quickly when you stretch out on the sofa). But that means there is no medium, or media, by which to reach her. Oh yeah - she doesn't listen to talk radio at all. She prefers the oldies station out of Los Angeles - KRTH.

She's pretty typical. I don't see her changing. Should her son not make it back, she won't turn political, one way or the other. She'll deal with it. A private matter.

But her son - the West Point man - can sit with me for hours and we talk policy and history and theory. His mother walks out of the room. His older brother - avidly conservative and far to the right of anyone else I know - will talk economics and taxes and social policy with me. We have a fine time. And his mother walks out of the room.

Almost everyone walks out of the room. Her two sons are unusual. Folks like this woman are the target audience you seem to think should be reached. I don't see how.

Bob and Vince talk about what the Democrats have done, and should do. Does it matter?

I posted this on 28 May 2003 - - and stand by it:
Do you remember the clear-headed, no-bullshit, let's-be-fair liberals of yesterday? Bobby Kennedy in that last run just laying it all out - hey, some stuff is wrong here and why don't we think it through, fix it and make things better? Well, Bobby got shot. Martin Luther King doing the same thing. Well, he got shot a few months earlier than Bobby. Of course, to be fair, George Wallace got shot too. Lots of people got shot.

But the point is that those optimistic "why don't we fix it and make things better" kinds of guys are nowhere to be found these days. What you'll see on Bush campaign stickers in the 2004 election? You know - variations on "Just Do It" or "Money Talks, Bullshit Walks" or "Get In, Sit Down, Shut Up, And Hold On" - and of course that quote from Marge Simpson - "We can stand here like the French, or we can do something about it." The other side, the Democrats, will have bumper stickers asking if we all can't just get along.

No Democrat will win anything by whining about the smirking frat boy or by fretting about some British essayist hating cheeseburgers and everything American. To win the Democrats would have to field an opponent with a sense of humor, some brains, and a lot of optimism, someone who listens to what is being said, and is willing to say - "Hey, some stuff is wrong here and why don't we think it through, fix it and make things better?"

It does not seem like that is going to happen. And if it did, he or she would get shot.
How are things different now?

Vince says this in reply -
Those of us who read and think are in position to dream something up and do something about it.

Karl Rove reads and thinks. His victims are just that.

We (collectively - someone in our midst) must do the same as Rove ? only different.
Sure. But what? Publish a web log and weekly commentary magazine? Ric Erickson in Paris says that might be just the thing ? one shouldn?t walk out of the room.
JustAboveSunset is one grain of sand. The blog adds a grain per day and the web version adds grains per week. These types... 'policy wonk, history buff, theory-of-government...' come to JAS to see the message, add to their message, massage the message, producing yet more grains of sand messages. Like building pyramids, one grain of sand at a time, the grains pile up becoming blocks of stone. There isn't an architect; just leaderless ants each carrying a grain of sand. How long will it be before a shape emerges? It depends on atmospherics, accumulation. It may be foggy but it's happening.
Really? Any part of the mainstream press, with a gazillion more readers that these two sites, follows the party line, lest they offend the corporate owners, or be ridiculed as part of the vast, left-wing conspiracy, or lest they lose the inside sources the now have who may be offended.

The news is shaped by those in power. Small pyramids don?t matter much.

Ah, but then there is something I missed ? the argument that there IS change in the air. Pleasant moderates are manning the barricades in a sort of agreeable revolution? Consider the evidence that follows.

Revolt of the Middle
E. J. Dionne Jr. ? The Washington Post - Tuesday, April 26, 2005; Page A15

The opening is cool -
If you were to prepare a list of the top 10 stories you will never, ever read in a newspaper, one of them would surely include a sentence beginning: "Thousands of angry, screaming moderates took to the streets yesterday demanding..."

You can finish that sentence however you would like. The accepted view in politics is that moderates don't get angry, don't scream and don't demonstrate. Politics these days is said to be dominated by ideological enthusiasts. Moderates are thought of as people who sit on the sidelines and decide which batch of true believers they can most easily live with.

But something important has happened since President Bush's inauguration. America's moderates may not be screaming, but they're in revolt. ?
Really? Dionne is contending that many Americans who reluctantly supported the president and the Republicans in 2004 are turning away. Why? He suggests the Social Security agenda ? who needs it when you can invest your own money in the stock market? - has put people off, and that this business with getting rid of the filibuster so we can get judges who follow the Bible first and the constitution second has also put people off. And there is that Terri Schiavo mess ? with most of those polled saying the federal government had no business getting involved and wasting all that time and money. Dionne is saying most moderates, as he formulates it, have a practical, problem-solving view of government and think these issues are far less important than shoring up a shaky economy and improving living standards.

It is hard to see that from watching the news. That?s not the spin one sees on television.

So, what is the evidence?
The latest poll to bring home this message was released late last week by the Democracy Corps, a Democratic consortium led by pollster Stan Greenberg and consultant James Carville. Greenberg and Carville are not triumphalist. They are careful to note that "Democrats are not yet integral to the narrative" of American politics and that the decline in the Republicans' public image "is not accompanied by image gains for the Democrats."

Democrats still have a lot of work to do.

But one finding deserves more attention than it has received: The "biggest drops" in the Republicans' standing, the pollsters noted, "have come from people who do not identify with a party," with "those who describe themselves as ideologically moderate" and with "mainline Protestants," that is, Protestants outside the ranks of the evangelical and fundamentalist churches. These are classic middle-of-the-road groups.

When they were asked how they would vote if a congressional election were held now, Democrats led by 43 percent to 25 percent among independents, and by 57 percent to 31 percent among moderates. In 2004, according to the network exit polls, Kerry beat Bush by only one point among independents and by nine points among moderates.

And in an amusing but revealing question, the pollsters asked how Americans would vote in a contest between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush if the Constitution were changed to allow them to run in 2008. Clinton beat Bush, 53 percent to 43 percent -- a rather decisive judgment on our two most recent political legacies. While Carville, the Clinton loyalist, no doubt liked this result, there's no evidence that the question or the poll itself was skewed.
But such information doesn?t fit the conflict-narrative that makes the news so interesting, does it? The revolt of the nice, middle-of-the-road folks? Where?s the hook?

But something is up. Dionne says that smart Republicans are very worried.

Yes, charges that Democrats are "obstructionist" have not worked ? ending Social Security, appointing theocrats to the bench, telling the Florida court that had it wrong for fifteen years and that woman?s body should be kept functioning because we are a ?culture of life? and all that ? and people are a bit perplexed at why we cannot have the government we elected do something useful for a change.

Well, the Czechs had that Velvet Revolution and few decades ago. This might be the start of something a bit more pragmatic ? manning the barricades and demanding attention be paid to something useful in the everyday world.

But this may be a misreading of the tenor of the times. I do not see a return to a practical, problem-solving view of government. That?s so last century. This is the age of the attack dog and bully (Bolton comes to mind) and that?s a Bubba thing.

A minor aside on John Bolton. See this -
WHITHER BOLTON?

An ambivalent sadness settled over me today when it appeared that Bolton might lose his bid to represent my country at the UN. Whatever else you might say about him, he represents the attitude and manner of many Americans and our relationship with other countries. He is arrogant, abusive, jingoistic, a schoolyard bully and mean. In other words he is our foreign policy unvarnished. Bolton would have represented the true face of the Bush administration without the fake boyish smile. That would have been helpful to other countries who might otherwise have been induced to trust us to be decent, humane, or truthful.
Ah, another voice suggesting we return to something normal.

Can the Democrats make anything of this? Probably not.

Over at The Daily Kos we get this challenge
Ask any person on the street what a Republican stands for, and you'll get a single answer -- smaller government and lower taxes, family values, and a strong national defense. We can quibble about the GOP's real commitment to those values, but at the end of the day, they form a strong brand around which the GOP's entire agenda can be framed.

Ask 10 people what the Democrats stand for, and you'll get 10 different answers. Ask me what the Democrats stand for, and I'll stare back speechless.

The GOP has been brilliant in distilling their brand into three points, and I have been arguing that Democrats need to follow. Except that in a stroke of inspiration, I was able to distill the Democratic brand into a single short sentence:

Democrats are the party for people who work for a living

This includes our core labor constituency, obviously, but also small businessmen and women who have been shamefully ignored by our party. It includes our men and women in uniform. It includes anyone who depends on their paycheck to make ends meet.

Tell me why I'm wrong.
Because this is just a slogan? No one will buy into this ? as a branding thing ? if the mainstream media won?t pick up on the concept. You not only have to have a brand ? you have to spin it, and too there is product placement and all the rest.

A friend who actually teaches marketing to would-be MBA?s at a big business school, and a bit of a cynic, adds this ?
You know, these days Republicans might claim that Democrats are all those who SUPPORT people who DON'T work for a living!

Have Republicans also been clever enough not ONLY to brand themselves but also to anti-brand the opposition?
Yes. And the press has cooperated with them.

But then Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, has a final word ?
The answer for you Democrats, in fact, is not to define yourselves by what the other guys don't believe about themselves, but by what this country really needs.

When you think of it, the Republicans are pretty cynical, negative people, ready to jettison any segment of the citizenry in a heartbeat, whether they be folks who don't share their religious biases, sexual preferences, or bean-dip-brained approach to foreign policy. The Democrats should have the guts to be the party that doesn't really exclude anybody! (Unless, of course, somebody doesn't agree with us -- in which case, those folks will be on their own.)

The Republicans inside the Beltway, who recently seemed so pleased to discover that nobody was noticing what they were doing (see "Karen Hughes"), are now starting to wake up to the fact that maybe they can't get away with rewriting all the rules without being punished for it (see today's story of the House GOP doing an about-face in their attempted Ethics Committee coup.) Even folks in Tom Delay's home district now have questions about him, and the "nuclear option" now seems to be developing naysayers on even the majority side in the Senate.

The moral for the Democrats? Maybe it's "Keep the faith! Do the right thing, even in the darkness where nobody but God can see, and just possibly, someday soon, the light will return!"

What I like most about the Democrats is they, more than any other party, seem to share the founders' attitudes about who this country is meant for -- everybody! We're all in this together! Not just rich people, not just Christians, (eventually) not just white people or males, and not just Republicans. This country is owned by all of us, and we all should be running it. And the Democrats can make this happen.

Let the Republicans define themselves however they want, the Democrats should just be the party that stands for "doing what's right!"

(PS: By the way, can I call 'em or what? Today I heard Jerry Springer on Air America Radio arguing the point that "Jesus was a liberal!" I'm telling you, this idea is starting to build!)
I like that!

So maybe there is some hope.

And that?s the end of this little grain of sand. I don?t see the pyramid growing, do you?

Well, one never knows.

Posted by Alan at 14:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 28 April 2005 20:11 PDT home

Tuesday, 26 April 2005

Topic: God and US

Nuclear Fallout: The Oppressed Minority ? Christians in America and Conservative Republicans ? That Powerless Group of Outsiders

Over the weekend the weekly Just Above Sunset was posted, or went to press as it were, with some comments on James Dobson?s Family Research Council?s ?Justice Sunday? - where Senate leader Bill Frist spoke on aligning all ?people of faith? against Democrats and liberals. The immediate issue was judges who care more about the constitution than they care about God. We just have to make sure we have none of those. That was briefly covered in The Christians are going after the Christians as to who are the real Christians....

The event took place some hours after Just Above Sunset was put to bed, as the newspapermen say, so there was no report on what happened. But as anticipated Frist insisted the rules of the senate just had to be changed to eliminate the filibuster, which was, it seems, going to be used to oppress true Christians and these people of faith by keeping overtly religious judges from deciding questions of law ? you know, those judges who, when faced a difference between what is in the constitution and what is in the Bible, rule from what they think is in the latter. That?s what the Republicans want now.

One of these judges whose confirmation was recently up in the air is California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown. Is she an oppressed minority ? a Christian in America and a conservative Republican ? that powerless group of outsiders?

You bet. And she whines about it in Tuesday?s Los Angeles Times -

Faith 'War' Rages in U.S., Judge Says
A Bush nominee central to the Senate's judicial controversy criticizes secular humanists.
Peter Wallsten - Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Just days after a bitterly divided Senate committee voted along party lines to approve her nomination as a federal appellate court judge, California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown told an audience Sunday that people of faith were embroiled in a "war" against secular humanists who threatened to divorce America from its religious roots, according to a newspaper account of the speech.

? Her comments to a gathering of Roman Catholic legal professionals in Darien, Conn., came on the same day as "Justice Sunday: Stop the Filibuster Against People of Faith," a program produced by evangelical leaders and simulcast on the Internet and in homes and churches around the country. It was designed to paint opponents of Bush's judicial nominees as intolerant of believers.

? "There seems to have been no time since the Civil War that this country was so bitterly divided. It's not a shooting war, but it is a war," she said, according to a report published Monday in the Stamford Advocate.

"These are perilous times for people of faith," she said, "not in the sense that we are going to lose our lives, but in the sense that it will cost you something if you are a person of faith who stands up for what you believe in and say those things out loud."
Poor baby! (Those are my emphases.) And we are told a spokeswoman for the California Supreme Court, Lynn Holton, said no text was available because "it was a talk, not a speech." But Brown's office did not dispute the newspaper's account. She?s serious.

What else the judge said?
"When we move away from that [our religious traditions], we change our whole conception of the most significant idea that America has to offer, which is this idea of human freedom and this notion of liberty," she said.

She added that atheism "handed human destiny over to the great god, autonomy, and this is quite a different idea of freedom?. Freedom then becomes willfulness."
Say what? Freedom is NOT autonomy?

You can puzzle that out, but know that Gary Bauer, president of advocacy group American Values, sent out an email that, according to the Times said this - "No wonder the radical left opposes her. Janice Rogers Brown understands the great culture war raging in America. That is why the abortion crowd, the homosexual rights movement and the radical secularists are all demanding that Senate liberals block her confirmation."

Yes, that is exactly why, one supposes.
Democrats blocked Brown's confirmation by the full Senate, charging that she held extremist views that interfere with her ability to render objective judgments. She has a history of delivering provocative speeches.

Democrats have questioned speeches in which she called the New Deal the "triumph of our socialist revolution." She has described herself as a "true conservative" who believes that "where the government moves in, community retreats, civil society disintegrates?. The result is a debased, debauched culture which finds moral depravity entertaining and virtue contemptible."
Government? Bad. It destroys community and civility.

Or government is supposed to establish that ? as the other side believes.

There is no way to deal with the gap here ? and, by the way, the speech we learn was delivered at a breakfast following the Red Mass, an annual spring gathering of lawyers, judges and other legal professionals sponsored by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut. She was invited to speak by Bishop William E. Lori, the head of the Bridgeport diocese.

A Red Mass? Sounds communist to me.

Here at The Carpetbagger we get this comment: ?Part of being a qualified judicial nominee is an ability to show some judicial temperament and restraint. Janice Rogers Brown, clearly one of Bush's worst would-be judges, obviously doesn't understand that.?

Judicial temperament and restraint are overrated? One thinks back to the words of Barry Goldwater ? something about extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, moderation is. Or something like that.

The Carpetbagger adds that the Brown nomination sounds more like some kind of bizarre joke than a serious move to fill an appellate court vacancy. And adds that if the Republican Party still had any sense of decency left, Democrats wouldn't have to filibuster Brown's nomination - GOP senators would have the sense to vote against her.

Yeah, dream on.

Frist and his side, including Scalia over the weekend, say they have never seen such obstructionist stuff going on ? it?s ?unprecedented? of course ? except for the times the Republicans have done it, as with their four-day successful filibuster against Abe Fortas back in 1968 when Johnson was president. (Actually, that was probably good for the country.)

How obstructionist is this band of Democratic God-haters? Of the 214 judges nominated by Bush so far, 205 were approved. Ten were blocked. Bush just reappointed seven ? the other three decided they?d rather not be nominated again. One of these remaining seven has said "Slavery was a blessing to white people." (Scorecard here).

So the Democrats just offered a compromise ? and said the would accept five of the seven if two could be dumped. No go.
Reacting to a Democratic offer in the fight over filibusters, Republican leader Bill Frist said Tuesday he isn't interested in any deal that fails to ensure Senate confirmation for all of President Bush's judicial nominees.
Oh well, all or nothing.

And that?s probably good according to Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, who points out this about minority leader Henry Reid?s gambit -
Reid just engaged Frist in a game of chicken, and Frist blinked first.

? in order to avoid looking like obstructionists, Democrats had to make efforts to "find a compromise", lest the chattering class get the vapors from such Democratic intransigence.

Had Frist accepted the offers for compromise, Bush would've gotten the majority of his judges through, and Democrats would've gotten -- who knows what. All published compromise offers didn't seem to give our side anything.

? It was one heck of a gamble, but the Senator from Nevada played his cards right.

Frist painted himself into a corner, having whipped up the forces of wingnuttery into a froth, he could not back down without damaging his White House aspirations for 2008. He's banking on the crazies to get him the nomination.

So Reid got the Democrats to look conciliatory, forcing Frist and his Republicans to look even more inflexible than before.
Yeah, except that just how they want to look.

So, returning to James Dobson?s Family Research Council?s ?Justice Sunday? ? just what DID happen there?

Vince in Rochester on Monday morning ?
Today I wake up to learn that Frist used his weekend to proselytize hate campaigns in churches throughout America.

You know I spent a spiritual moment this weekend communing with a naturally metaphysical force... I think!

Evidently others attended neocon hate rallies. Who says this doesn't mimic the late 30's in Europe?

Every day I wake to this Republican leadership slipping into sleazier and even sleazier behavior.
Oh, it wasn?t THAT sleazy.

What Vince missed because he went to the wrong church?

Words like these - "We are not calling for people to be moral, we want them to be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ."

Okay. Fine.

Michelle Goldberg in SALON.COM on Monday reported on the event -
One of the most telling moments of Sunday night's Justice Sunday rally and telecast came right after Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, bellowed, "We will be disobedient altar boys! We won't be told to shut up and give it over to the secular left! Who are they to say that I don't have a right to freedom of speech?"

At the rally, held at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., the crowd jumped to its feet, whistling and clapping. In the small Long Island, N.Y., Christian youth center where I watched Justice Sunday with a dozen or so believers, people murmured their assent, as if Donohue had bravely spoken truth to power. Apparently, many ordinary Christians believe that some nefarious "they" is saying that believers don't have a right to freedom of speech.

Almost everything uttered at the rally stoked this deeply held feeling of persecution, giving a righteous cast to some of the speakers' vows of vengeance. "Those people on the secular left, they say, 'We think you're a threat,'" said Donohue. "You know what? They're right." This brought laughter, and more cheers.
You get the idea.

Other detail?
For an hour and a half, these right-wing eminences spun a political line that was blithely untethered from reality. Priscilla Owen, for example, one of Bush's blocked judges, was held out by Frist as a jurist admired across the partisan spectrum. No mention, of course, was made of the words of one of her colleagues on the Texas Supreme Court, who accused her of an "unconscionable act of judicial activism" in a case dealing with a minor seeking an abortion. The godless leftist who hurled this charge was none other than Alberto Gonzales, now the attorney general.

In one case in which Owen dissented from the majority of the court in an abortion case, her colleagues, Republicans all, wrote that opposition to abortion "does not excuse judges who impose their own personal convictions into what must be a strictly legal enquiry."

What's fascinating, then, is that Owen, a judge known to put her politics before the law, is being held up as the cure for a supposedly ideological judiciary. For the orators at Justice Sunday, judicial activism in defense of biblical literalism is no vice.

Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, angrily recalled something that Judge Charles Pickering, one of the appellate court nominees that Democrats blocked, was asked during his hearings. "He was asked about something he said as president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention. He said, of all things, that Christians ought to base their decision making on the Bible ... that is normative Christianity! There's what it means to be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and to be a Christian incorporated into the body of Christ!"

Of course, the concern about Pickering's comment at the hearings had to do with the implication that when the law contradicts his reading of the Bible, he sets the law aside. In the rhetoric surrounding Justice Sunday, though, expecting judges to put the law before their personal theology constitutes discrimination that threatens all Christians. "If it's Judge Pickering now, it can be you tomorrow," Mohler warned.
Well, logical consistency and facts were not the order of the day. And it was Mohler who uttered the words - "We are not calling for people to be moral, we want them to be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ."

What to make of all this?

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta -
And on behalf of many on the so-called "secular left" -- and possibly even some on the "secular right," assuming that doesn't describe, in reality, what some logicians would nowadays call a "null set" -- I'd just like to say that it doesn't much matter one way or the other if you pretend to be a "believer in the Lord Jesus Christ," just as long as you try your best to be moral.

I know, I know, you guys think that if one places one's faith in our Lord Jesus, everything else will fall into place, am I right?

But historically, it hasn't really worked out that way, has it -- what with those on the so-called "religious right" once arguing that God favors enslaving "inferior" races, and later working overtime and weekends to keep all them niggers away from us "God-fearing" white folks, now and then even lynching them -- and for some inexplicable reason, in the proximity of a burning cross which somehow was supposed to cast the whole evil act as being "in the name of Christ" -- and more recently, with you so-called "people of faith" carrying signs that say "God Hates Fags"? I mean, I know you may "hate fags," but are you really so freaking cocksure of yourselves that you want to be telling God who He should be hating?

Because if you really believe in a real God, you have to believe He wants His flock to behave themselves; otherwise, once they get into heaven, they might, like a bunch of rowdy redneck frat boys, think they can get away with trashing the joint and leaving it strewn with empties and used condoms and even -- with ears and noses missing, having been taken as souvenirs -- the carcasses of people who crossed them, imagining you're somehow protected by "powerful friends" of your father's. Say what you will about them, but liberals, God knows, don't carry that kind of baggage.

So while I may be some secular zero, I'm enough of a believer to think that on the unlikely chance that your true-believer-wannabe asses get up there at all, you will learn to your horror and consternation that not only does God NOT "hate fags" one goddamn bit, but neither will there be a herd of virgins awaiting your arrival, to do with whatever it is you might have wished you could have gotten away with doing down here on earth, had you the nerve to try. (No, no, I'm not confusing you with someone else. To me, you're all part of the same great big group of worldwide killer clowns.)

So please, put down your Bibles for a minute and look inside your souls and ask yourselves this simple question: Why is it that you on the "right," with all your claims to a special connection to the one and only God in heaven, always seem to be siding with the bad guys down here on planet Earth?
Don?t know. Because it?s more fun?

But yes, people do make a BIG mistake here, thinking the evangelicals have any concern with morality, doing the right thing, comforting the poor, feeding the hungry and all that crap. Like the current Pope and his fury at "Liberation Theology" (the Church doing things for the oppressed and all that) you find things like this on the evangelical side:
Most people are under the assumption that in order to get to heaven, all they have to do is live as good a life as they can and hope for the best. They believe that if they sin too many times, they'll be sent to hell and be separated from God. They don't realize that when Christ came to earth and died for our sins, He paid the price for our forgiveness and opened the door for us to enter into God's "family". No "works" could ever get us to heaven - the only way is to trust Christ as our Savior. Works are done after salvation - like icing on the cake - not to get saved, but because we are saved! For us to keep trying to "earn" our salvation is the same as someone who buys something, pays for it in full, and yet keeps going back to the store to try to pay for it over and over again!

Also, once we are saved, we become an adopted member of God's family. There is nothing we can do that will cause Him to turn His back on us or expel us from His family. ...
So lynch a nigger or molest little boys? If you believe in and trust God - hey, no problem!

Whatever made you think doing good and being kind and all that stuff was on the table here? God don't care. That's been taken care of. Jesus fixed it all.

And Rick replies ?
Every few years, dating back to when Jesus was executed, some new group of lazy bastards comes up with a new version of Christ's death giving them a get-out-of-hell-free card, usually with the added bonus belief that the statute of limitations has long ago expired on Jesus' comment about the camel fitting through the eye of the needle.

It doesn't take a pointy-headed intellectual, does it, to understand that the son of God would not have come down to Earth, spent most his life running around urging people to behave themselves, only to get himself killed as some sort of cockeyed bargain with God that allows mankind to commit all the sins it feels like committing? I mean, what the heck would be the point of that?

They can believe that if they want, but whether they listen to reason or not, somebody's got to clue these blockheads that they're juggling brimstone if they do. And that somebody might just as well be me.
Amen, I guess.

And the Christians really are going after the Christians as to who are the real Christians ? and I?m glad to be on the sidelines.

On the other hand, when these people do get on the bench, no one will be on the sidelines. Should you find yourself in court, and feel you have the facts on your side, and the law on your side, the judge may very well rule from a ?higher law? as it has been revealed to that judge when he or she was saved and reborn. And facts? Faith matters more.

Well, that is one way to run the country. That is where we are heading.

Posted by Alan at 20:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 26 April 2005 20:43 PDT home


Topic: For policy wonks...

Delusions: Realism and Idealism are the Same Thing

Yesterday in Hard Times in the Reality-Based Community, but Not Elsewhere there was a discussion of the Saudi guy - Crown Prince Abdullah ? dropping by to chat with Bush at the ranch down in Texas. Can we get more oil, cheaper? And actually, is the world just running out of oil? And what does it all mean?

Tuesday ? the best thing on the web is this ?

The Idealist in the Bluebonnets
What Bush's meeting with the Saudi ruler really means.
Fred Kaplan - Posted Tuesday, April 26, 2005, at 3:10 PM PT ? SLATE .COM

I believe the bluebonnet is the state flower of Texas ? and Kaplan says this meeting, should, as he puts it - splash some cold water on the dreamy gaze that has transfixed too many faces this season. Why?
It's a natural temptation to exaggerate the impact of tumultuous events?to see a hopeful advance as a cosmic leap, an unexpected twist as the harbinger of a new direction in the course of human events. The armistice of 1918 moved Woodrow Wilson to declare "an end to all wars." The West's triumph over communism excited Francis Fukuyama into believing we'd reached "the end of history." And this winter's drama in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Ukraine inspired George W. Bush to proclaim that American interests and American ideals are no longer at odds and, in fact, are identical?that, in other words, the dilemmas which have racked statesmen across the span of American history are now resolved.

But then Crown Prince Abdullah came to visit.

Bush invited the Crown Prince to Crawford?the highest token of honor and friendship that this president bestows on foreign leaders?for one basic reason: to see if the royal family can do something to lower oil prices. It is doubtful, under the circumstances, that the president made a fuss over Saudi Arabia's execrable human-rights record or its snail's-pace crawl (if that) toward democracy.
Well, yes, the Kingdom is not a nice place by our standards. But these guys are friends of the family, even if most of the 9/11 highjackers were Saudis. Oh well. One has to be pragmatic. And not look too closely at things.

(And as for Francis Fukuyama, note here - October 31, 2004: The Week of Quite Odd Events in Review - that Fukuyama decided not to vote for Bush last December.)

Well, we do proclaim we are committed to freedom ? and Kaplan points to Condoleezza Rice saying this, whenever she can ? that this is ?the organizing principle of the 21st century" - and that the United States' relations with a country will be shaped above all by that other country's commitment to freedom.

But then there is the matter of oil.

And there is the matter of the whole concept being a bit silly.
Bush's proclamation, recited in his Inaugural Address last January, took the form of a syllogism: Violence and terrorism are the product of tyranny and resentment; spreading freedom will reduce tyranny and resentment, and will thus also reduce violence and terrorism; therefore, advancing our ideals of freedom will also advance our interests of security?or, as the president put it: "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one."

Even at the time, this logic seemed riddled with holes. History, after all, is rife with movements of violence and terror taking hold in free societies (the Red Brigades in Italy, the IRA in Ireland, and the Nazis in Weimar Germany). And the spread of freedom isn't necessarily a benign force from America's viewpoint. If the masses suddenly gained freedom in Pakistan, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia (or even, perhaps, in Lebanon, Iran, or Iraq), their new democratically elected regimes might be hostile toward U.S. interests and security.
Yeah, well the logic is questionable ? but the hard sell has worked. Just don?t think about the IRA or Red Brigades.

As always, it does not pay to look too closely at things.

And we need to get realistic ?
? a president might like China's rulers to treat dissidents more humanely, but he really wants China to keep buying dollars and floating the U.S. deficit. (Bush's commitment to freedom might be taken more seriously if he took action to promote oil conservation, and cut the deficit, in order to make us less beholden to the Saudis and Chinese.) These conflicting desires are nothing new. During the Cold War, presidents tried to undercut communism and to pressure the Kremlin to ease emigration; but they tried even harder to avoid World War III.

The point is not that realpolitik always trumps values. ?
Of course.

Buy what Kaplan is getting at is that there is always a tension between realistic pragmatism and idealist values. And his idea is that these folks ? Bush and Rice and the rest ? are suffering from a delusion. What delusion? That now these two things are the same.

They aren?t. So go read it.

Then check out this - Abdullah at the Ranch: A Handy Checklist.

Posted by Alan at 16:32 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 26 April 2005 16:42 PDT home

Monday, 25 April 2005

Topic: For policy wonks...

Hard Times in the Reality-Based Community, but Not Elsewhere

So this is the 115th day of 2005. There are 250 days left in the year. And we are reminded that on this day in history, in 1792, highwayman Nicolas Jacques Pelletier became the first person under French law to be executed by the guillotine. Ah ha! And on this day in 1898, the United States formally declared war on Spain. We won. And we ended up in the Philippines and that led to Imelda Marcos and her shoes. So remember the Maine and William Randolph Hearst, the Rupert Murdoch of his day. And on this day 1915 Allied soldiers invaded the Gallipoli Peninsula in an unsuccessful attempt to take the Ottoman Turkish Empire out of the war. Good movie, bad move, and now the Turks want to join the European Union, and probably will. And in 1945 up in San Francisco on this day in 1945 they had that first meeting to organize the United Nations. Oh, those were the days.

Now? Don?t ask. Michael Jackson is still on trial, Britney Spears is still pregnant, John Paul is still dead and Bernie the German is still the new Pope, and the only news seems to be that the Saudi guy - Crown Prince Abdullah ? dropped by to chat with Bush at the ranch down in Texas. Ho hum.

A summary of that Associated Press story?
?in the story there is much gnashing and moaning about increasing Saudi Arabia's production of oil. The Saudis' carefully worded reply was that they were "producing all the oil that our customers are requesting" and that they would increase their capacity by 1.5 million barrels per day by 2009 ? without mentioning that by that time world demand will have increased by about 8 million barrels per day. They also claimed to have 1.5 million barrels per day of spare pumping capacity right now, an assertion I'd take with a shaker of salt.

In other words: nice talking with you, but there's no more oil to be had. Now please excuse me, I have a flight to Beijing to catch.
But does it matter? There seems to be a general consensus that there is a problem with demand ? from the exploding economies of China and India ? and that over here we don?t have a whole lot of refining capacity - and there are reports that many industry experts believe the peak in oil production, when oil extraction reaches its highest point and then starts to decline, will happen in 2030 - but some analysts have stated publicly that it could happen by 2008 or even sooner. Then no more oil. The world's oil reserves are running out much faster than industry and governments are admitting? A curious idea.

Well, there are those who think not. There been a lot of discussion of a new book by Peter W. Huber and Mark P. Mills The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy. Cool. One can see discussions of it on the cable talk shows, and last Sunday's Los Angeles Times printed an email exchange between Peter Huber and Paul Roberts, the fellow who wrote The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World. And they didn?t exactly agree.

So we have the two Panglossian optimists suggesting things are just fine, that we live in is the best of all possible worlds, pitted again the Chicken Little alarmist.

Who are we to believe? (And the brother-in-law of our high-powered Wall Street attorney told me a few weekends ago that this increased demand for oil from India and China was a lie ? it wasn?t there and just something made up by the left-wing press to make people be afraid and dislike Bush.)

So, turn to our leader - George Bush, ou l'Optimisme, so to speak. He says things are fine.

Now, of course, one of his roles is to be optimistic ? to make sure the nation does not devolve into a quivering mass of fear of the future. That is, he is, in a sense, supposed to be a cheerleader. But let?s get serious.

The talk of the policy wonk, history buff, theory-of-government echo-chamber circles Monday was what Paul Krugman had to say in the New York Times. He called his opinion piece The Oblivious Right - and opened with this -
According to John Snow, the Treasury secretary, the global economy is in a "sweet spot." Conservative pundits close to the administration talk, without irony, about a "Bush boom."

Yet two-thirds of Americans polled by Gallup say that the economy is "only fair" or "poor." And only 33 percent of those polled believe the economy is improving, while 59 percent think it's getting worse.

Is the administration's obliviousness to the public's economic anxiety just partisanship? I don't think so: President Bush and other Republican leaders honestly think that we're living in the best of times. After all, everyone they talk to says so.
You see where he?s heading. And he runs down how folks just are not pleased with the economy, Social Security privatization, Terri Schiavo, Tom DeLay. And it seems that large margins, Americans say that the country is headed in the wrong direction. The polls show Bush is the least popular second-term president on record.

So what? Things are fine. It all depends on your perspective.
The administration's upbeat view of the economy is a case in point. Corporate interests are doing very well. As a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, over the last three years profits grew at an annual rate of 14.5 percent after inflation, the fastest growth since World War II.

The story is very different for the great majority of Americans, who live off their wages, not dividends or capital gains, and aren't doing well at all. Over the past three years, wage and salary income grew less than in any other postwar recovery - less than a tenth as fast as profits. But wage-earning Americans aren't part of the base.
Ah, why listen to them? Just make Social Security privatization your main policy priority. Why wouldn?t folks like that?

Because they?re hurting ? but that is hard to see from the other perspective. Krugman suggests that people sense, correctly, that Bush doesn't understand their concerns ?
? that he was sold on privatization by people who have made their careers in the self-referential, corporate-sponsored world of conservative think tanks. And he himself has no personal experience with the risks that working families face. He's probably never imagined what it would be like to be destitute in his old age, with no guaranteed income.
Why would he imagine that?

And then Krugman adds this -
It all makes you wonder how these people ever ended up running the country in the first place. But remember that in 2000, Mr. Bush pretended to be a moderate, and that in the next two elections he used the Iraq war as a wedge to divide and perplex the Democrats.

In that context, it's worth noting two more poll results: in one taken before the recent resurgence of violence in Iraq, and the administration's announcement that it needs yet another $80 billion, 53 percent of Americans said that the Iraq war wasn't worth it. And 50 percent say that "the administration deliberately misled the public about whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction."

Democracy Corps, the Democratic pollsters, say that there is a "crisis of confidence in the Republican direction for the country." As they're careful to point out, this won't necessarily translate into a surge of support for Democrats.

But Americans are feeling a sense of dread: they're worried about a weak job market, soaring health care costs, rising oil prices and a war that seems to have no end. And they're starting to notice that nobody in power is even trying to deal with these problems, because the people in charge are too busy catering to a base that has other priorities.
Well, you take care of your own. The man values loyalty.

But the polls are interesting, like this one today ?
Do you approve or disapprove of the way Bush is handling:

A. Social Security - Approve 31 Disapprove 64
B. Iraq - Approve 42 Disapprove 56
C. Economy - Approve 40 Disapprove 57
D. Terrorism - Approve 56 Disapprove 41
E. Energy Policy - Approve 35 Disapprove 54
And this -

Would you support or oppose changing the Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush's judicial nominees? Support - 26% Oppose - 66%

Something is amiss here. Everyone says Bush is wildly popular, in spite of the facts, and getting what he wants done, in spite of the evidence.

And then there?s that business with the nomination of John Bolton to be our new ambassador to the United Nations. The stories and emails just keep getting stranger ? see this and this - but what of it? Bush stands by him. So does McCain. So does Cheney. Loyalty.

But now even some Republicans say this is too close to call.

Again, so what?

As I said to a friend, Bush may just withdraw his name and nominate Bernard Kerik, as Kerik is not busy at the moment, and Bush does want someone who will kick ass. Now THAT would be in-your-face. And the judges he's now recommending have been blocked before.

Plow forward.

The man has brass balls, or a think head, or a tin ear, or whatever. That's why he's standing by Tom DeLay. It's a macho thing. Policy fueled by excessive testosterone.

So are we living in hard times? Is the president popular and effective?

Something is amiss.

It?s the reality problem. From last October 17 in these pages see the Item of Note - and from the 24th see Say what? Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes? and Here in the reality-based community.... You get the idea.

One is reminded of something from Ron Suskind in the New York Times Sunday magazine from October 17, 2004 - Without A Doubt
? In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend - but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
It all makes you wonder how these people ever ended up running the country in the first place?

No, folks prefer this to the reality of hard times.

Posted by Alan at 17:20 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 25 April 2005 21:21 PDT home

Sunday, 24 April 2005

Topic: World View

Georges Feydeau

The new issue of the parent to this web log - Just Above Sunset - is now on line. Check it out – particularly the fancy photography.

And see Our Man in Paris: Hands Off My Holiday! for Paris news and five photographs from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. Cool.

This afternoon he sent this along.
Late for this issue of JAS, but Paris has been treated to an unusual film poster this week. The problem is that it was only shown placed high on poles; usually too high to avoid worse reflections that usual. Film is 'Un fil a la patte,' based on a play by Georges Feydeau. Directed by Michel Deville, it starts Wednesday, 27 April. Previewed on France-2 TV news Sunday, 24 April.
Ah…

Avoir un fil a la patte - To be tied down (literally: "to have a thread at the leg").

Feydeau is always fun. Somehow this will get into JAS. Amusing!

There are always productions of La puce a l'oreille – but never Occupe-toi d'Amelie for some reason. Oh well.

Hortense dit: “J'm'en fous” - rendered in English as Hortense says, “I Don't Give a Damn.”

But I do. He’s good.

The website for the film.

The poster from Ric -



Posted by Alan at 15:22 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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