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"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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Monday, 2 May 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Things fall apart, the center will not hold… and people are buying gay cars!

Over the weekend in Just Above Sunset you could find an item discussing last week’s primetime presidential news conference. That was under the heading Worms Turning and suggested George Bush’s relatively free ride with the media seemed to be coming to an end – the days of softball questions, and suggesting he was extremely popular and politically devastating, and charming in a cute boyish way, were giving way to something else. Something else? That would be calling him on what he actually says.

And now that the press conference is a few days in the past there is even more of this “calling him out” than noted in the first few days.

The only thing that was fresh in the press conference (most of it was the usual platitudes about this and that) was the new Bush ideas on Social Security – a proposal for "progressive price indexing" that would lock-in and assure the current level of benefits for those who earn no more than twenty grand a year, and dramatically reduce benefits for those who were in the comfortable middle class – those who earn twenty-one to ninety grand. And of course those who earn above that, who don’t have to pay any payroll tax once they reach that level, don’t matter.

This is the "Pozen Plan" – see Robert C. Pozen, "A Social Security Plan for All," paper prepared for "Saving Social Security", The Brookings Institution, 4 Jan 2005. (Summary and analysis here.)

The reaction to all this? The White House was reported to be very angry that the new “plan” was reported as cutting benefits. No, they said, it was just a way to carefully manage benefits due to those better off, and to help the really needy.

Buy that? No?

Don’t worry. No one does.

The week opened with an assault Monday by Paul Krugman in the New York Times - A Gut Punch to the Middle. Catchy title, isn?t it?

A little of that?
Sure enough, a close look at President Bush's proposal for "progressive price indexing" of Social Security puts the lie to claims that it's a plan to increase benefits for the poor and cut them for the wealthy. In fact, it's a plan to slash middle-class benefits; the wealthy would barely feel a thing.

... The average worker - average pay now is $37,000 - retiring in 2075 would face a cut equal to 10 percent of pre-retirement income. Workers earning 60 percent more than average, the equivalent of $58,000 today, would see benefit cuts equal to almost 13 percent of their income before retirement.

But above that level, the cuts would become less and less significant. Workers earning three times the average wage would face cuts equal to only 9 percent of their income before retirement. Someone earning the equivalent of $1 million today would see benefit cuts equal to only 1 percent of pre-retirement income.

In short, this would be a gut punch to the middle class, but a fleabite for the truly wealthy.

Beyond that, it's a good bet that benefits for the poor would eventually be cut, too.

It's an adage that programs for the poor always turn into poor programs. That is, once a program is defined as welfare, it becomes a target for budget cuts.
And driving around Los Angeles Monday afternoon that last idea, or the new meme ? this is no more than turning Social Security into a welfare program so it can wither away and we?ll have it no more ? is what I heard on the radio. And not just on NPR and CBS.

On the web? Dave from New York says this on the lefty Daily Kos -
This so-called "Pozen plan" is a real Bush two-fer: Sock it to the middle classes now, while setting up a long-range plan to truly hose the poor later. Given how badly Bushco stumbled in trying to destroy Social Security with private accounts, I wouldn't be surprised if means-testing has become the new avenue of attack because it polled better.

And oh, it's a wily plan, alright - if Democrats oppose it, we can rely on our whore media to paint us as benefactors of the wealthiest. (The GOP will get a good chortle out of that.) Not means-testing Social Security has been one of the main reasons it's endured so popularly for 70 years. Private accounts would eviscerate Social Security quickly; means-testing is a slower death, but I am sure a patient GOP would be content with that.

If we're lucky, Bush's extremely low credibility on Social Security in general will keep this latest plan from ever getting out of the starting gates. But if not, we better have some clever jiu jitsu of our own to deflect this latest scam.
Did he say scam? Yes he did.

Over at Obsidian Wings someone named Edward thinks of his father and gets a little exited ? as we see here:
The men in my family of my father's generation returned home after serving their country and got jobs in the local steel mills, as had their fathers and their grandfathers. In exchange for their brawn, sweat, and expertise, the steel mills promised these men certain benefits. In exchange for Social Security taxes withheld from their already modest paychecks, the government promised these men certain benefits as well.

... These were church-attending, flag-waving, football-loving, honest family men. They are rightfully proud of providing homes and educations for their children and instilling the sorts of values and manners that serve them well as adults. And if I have to move heaven and earth, now that they've retired, the Republican Party is NOT going to redefine them as welfare recipients.
So there!

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly carries the historical thing forward reminding us of Roosevelt?s concepts -
? when his aides presented him with their initial Social Security proposals 70 years ago, FDR balked: "No dole," he said, "mustn't have a dole" ? because he knew instinctively that welfare programs are both fundamentally unpopular as well as corrosive to the human spirit. Conservatives understand this better than liberals, and know perfectly well that the best way to kill something is to convince the public that it's actually a welfare program.

But that's not what Social Security is. It's a modestly progressive social insurance program that's paid for by everyone and that benefits everyone. If it ever stops being that, if it ever stops being universal, it will eventually cease to exist. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise.
Okay. We are all on guard.

And Mark Kleiman, the UCLA social policy professor, adds a comment with a great title I knew Robin Hood. Robin Hood was a friend of mine. And you, Mr. Bush, are no Robin Hood. (Well, it worked on Dan Quayle.)
In fact, Social Insecurity version 2.0, as announced by the President at his press conference, would reduce retirement incomes much more for the middle class than for the rich, simply because the rich don't rely much on Social Security in the first place. Middle-class retirees in 2075 (people earning the equivalent of $35,000-$100,000) would have their retirement income cut by 10-13%. For the people who got the most out of the tax cuts which blew the Social Security surplus, the hit would be much smaller, down to 1% at the million-dollar-a-year level.

Yes, it's true that the bottom of the income distribution (among those with enough time in the labor force to qualify for Social Security) would fare better than the middle class. But since when is hammering the middle class while doing nothing for the poor in order to pay for tax cuts for the rich "Robin Hood" behavior?
Yeah, one senses Bush?s folks wanted to position him as a sort of Robin Hood. But it is obvious, and to thoroughly mix metaphors, that dog won?t hunt.

The jig is up? The game is over? Les Jeux Son Fait?

The man cannot catch a break? Seems so.

As widely reported, over the weekend at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner, his own wife delivered a monolog that was intended to lighten things up, but perhaps only made things worse ?
"I am married to the President of the United States and here is our typical evening. Nine o'clock, Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep, and I am watching Desperate Housewives. With Lynne Cheney. Ladies and gentleman, I am a desperate housewife. I mean if those women on that show think they're desperate, they ought to be with George. One night after George went to bed, Lynne Cheney, Condi Rice, Karen Hughes and I went to Chippendales....I won't tell you what happened, but Lynne's Secret Service code name is now Dollar Bill."

"George always says that he's delighted to come to these press dinners. Baloney. He's usually in bed by now. I'm not kidding. I said to him the other day, George, if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you're going to have to stay up later."

"The amazing thing is that George and I were just meant to be. I was a librarian who spent 12 hours a day in the library, yet somehow I met George."

"People often wonder what my mother-in-law is really like. People think she's a sweet, grandmotherly Aunt Bee type. She's actually more like Don Corleone."

"I'm proud of George. He's learned a lot about ranching since that first year when he tried to milk the horse. What's worse, it was a male horse."

"George's answer to any problem at the ranch is to cut it down with a chainsaw. Which I think is why he and Cheney and Rumsfeld get along so well."
That last one is a tad troubling. (Transcript here.)

So he?s no Robin Hood. Try Rodney Dangerfield.

But it gets worse. See Conservative Christians Not Laughing at First Lady's Comedy Act - where it seems these folks are NOT pleased. [See the FOOTNOTE below on the authenticity of what follows... ]

According to one Russell D'Arby (with my emphases) -
The First Lady may have stolen the show with her surprise comedy routine at the 91st White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, but not everyone appreciated her jokes and one-liners poking fun at President Bush. At least one organization of conservative Christians quickly lashed out at Mrs. Bush's performance, warning that her remarks at the President's expense were a public refutation of the Biblical command that wives should respect their husbands.

According to an official statement released over the weekend by the Coalition for Traditional Values, an organization that seeks a more flexible relationship between church and state, Mrs. Bush's jokes at her husband's expense amounted to a public emasculation of the President.

Pastor Roy DeLong, the statement's author and chair of the group, warns that the First Lady's performance comes at a time when the Mr. Bush's "manliness is already under attack."
Oh drat! Sometime you can?t win for losing, particularly when you forget your Ephesians, as some of us do from time to time.
"As a believer, President Bush is no doubt familiar with the passage from Ephesians that says 'Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands, as unto the Lord,'" says Mr. DeLong. "That means that just as Christ is the head of the church, the husband is the head of the wife. ?"
Right. Forgot that. No wonder I?ve been divorced twice.

And then there is Proverbs -
"One of the Proverbs says that 'a virtuous woman is a crown to her husband, but she that maketh him ashamed is as rottenness in his bones," notes Mr. DeLong. "I bet President Bush is feeling pretty rotten today."
Perhaps he is feeling rotten. Laura rags on him, in public, and the evangelical right get all hissy about her and calls HER out ? after one really bad week?
The rebuke to the First Lady's stand-up act comes on the heels of mounting concern about the President's image. Last week, Mr. Bush was seen holding hands with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Then the President raised eyebrows anew when he asked a crowd of supporters in Galveston, TX if they celebrated Splash Day, an annual gay pride event in that state, best known for attracting tens of thousands of buff men, wearing little more than suntan oil.

Even some members of Mr. Bush's famously loyal party looked askance at his recommendation during a speech on the nation's energy needs last week, when he encouraged Americans to consider driving hybrid vehicles, widely believed to be 'gay' cars.
What? GAY cars? (Actually, you could look that up. The Prius was recently identified by listeners to the National Public Radio show "Car Talk" as ?the ultimate gay and lesbian car.? And asked to choose between a Prius and a 2006 military-style, Duramax turbo-diesel V-8 Hummer H1, members of the far right site Free Republic dismissed those hybrid things as ?vegan-weenie cars.?)

And too, Laura Bush compared herself to a desperate housewife, a reference to the wildly popular and rather risque ABC show. (It is risque within the bounds of broadcast standards, of course.) And of course this "Desperate Housewives" show has been a big target of the pro-family groups. The American Decency Association has called for a boycott of ABC for airing this "degraded" show. And the vice president?s wife, Lynn Cheney, six months ago, called for the federal government itself to intervene and protect all of America?s children from this very show.

How odd.

So, do we have a free-fall here? Nothing seems to be working.

Consider this in the Washington Post as the week started ? an item on Bush?s ?madate? -
The day after he won a second term in November, President Bush offered his view of the new political landscape.

"When you win there is a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view," he said, "and that's what I intend to tell the Congress, that I made it clear what I intend to do as president . . . and the people made it clear what they wanted, now let's work together."

Six months ago, this comment was widely viewed as more than just a postgame boast. Among campaign strategists and academics, there was ample speculation that Bush's victory, combined with incremental gains in the Republican congressional majority, signaled something fundamental: a partisan and ideological "realignment" that would reshape politics over the long haul.

As the president passed the 100-day mark of his second term over the weekend, the main question facing Bush and his party is whether they misread the November elections. With the president's poll numbers down, and the Republican majority ensnared in ethical controversy, things look much less like a once-a-generation realignment.
No kidding.

Digby over at Hullabaloo says this -
Where do they come up with this stuff? Of course he has a mandate. Of course it's been a sweeping realignment. He won 51-49, a completely unambiguous indication of huge popular support, particularly for the centerpiece of his campaign, his social security plan. Why would anyone think otherwise? I thought we all understood that the vast majority of the country are social conservatives who support overturning Roe vs Wade, a constitutional amendment against gay marriage and remaking the courts in the image of Tom DeLay. Nothing could be clearer.
Ah, sarcasm. But it works here.

But Digby actually is worked up about the press that was previously reporting ?
? that Bush could claim support for anything he chose to do, given his "impressive" victory in November (which was impressive only in comparison to his previous "impressive" showing.) And the Democrats, properly chastened by their embarrassing defeat would support it also, because they are losers and wouldn't have the nerve to stand up to the codpiece collosus.
Well, that was the conventional wisdom, and the word in the corporate-owned press is follow-the-meme, report what is the conventional and preserve those rating or that circulation. Understandable.

But it hasn?t happened.
? it hasn't worked out that way. And the press is scratching their little noggins and wondering if maybe Karl Rove's talking points didn't quite capture the limits of Bush's victory. Certainly, one could have interpreted a 2% win in the presidential race as something less than a validation of the president's most extreme positions, but why dwell on the negative?

Nobody in the mainstream press bothered to consider for even one moment that Bush might not be able to get support for the destruction of what was up to now known as the third rail in politics or that the public did not support the notion of fundamentalist preachers involved in the government. They just assumed it would be so.

Among the press it has been as if Bush has magical powers. He and Uncle Karl are thought to be so spectacularly gifted, in ways that they can't even comprehend, that they can accomplish the impossible.
Well, the magic is gone, it seems. So it is time to report that.

Previous reporting?
After 9/11 (or maybe even before, when they anointed him in 2000 and told the rest of us to "get over it") they never once gave up the idea that Bush was a popular, extraordinary leader who only a few hippies in Hollywood and a couple of stiffs in New York didn't like because he talked funny. We had to fight that every step of the way in 2004 and still we came extremely close to winning.
And the probable truth?
There is no realignment. We are in a period of pure political combat in which the power could change dramatically in each election. There is no real middle, there are only two opposing forces. Nothing is predictable and anything could happen. The Republicans hold institutional power by only the most tenuous means, despite all their bluster about political dominance. And their biggest Achilles heel - as it has been forever - is hubris. Clearly, that is the story that one would have thought the press would see from the beginning; an administration that overreached its non-existent mandate in an intensely polarized political climate.

... For reasons I will never understand, the Washington press corpse invested itself in Junior's success early on. It's past time they woke up and realizes that the Republicans aren't political wizards.

Without 9/11 Bush wouldn't be president today. It's all he has, and all he ever had. No mandate, no realignment. No nothing. Karl Rove is not a genius.
And that is coming out. As Digby says, well, better late than never.

So, do we have a new meme?



From TraditionalValues.Org ?

TVC Victimized By Phony Press Release Criticizing First Lady Laura Bush
May 5, 2005 ? Last weekend, an anonymous individual created a phony letter with an altered TVC logo on it, to criticize First Lady Laura Bush at the White House Correspondents? Association Dinner on April 30th.

The bogus group called the Coalition for Traditional Values, issued its letter supposedly written by a Rev. Roy DeLong. The phony letter was picked up by the Drudge Report and reported it as fact instead of satire.

TVC?s phone has been ringing off the hook from reporters asking for more information. MSNBC was conned into thinking this was a real group. They called TVC to book a spokesman as a guest based on this satirical letter.

In her satirical statements at the correspondents? dinner, the First Lady surprised the audience with her hilarious comments and many press reports indicate that she stole the show.

The Washington Times covered her comments and headlined the article: ?Laura leaves ?em laughing, gasping.? According to the Times, ?she worked the ballroom like a seasoned stand-up comic.?

In her humorous remarks, she said: ?George always says he?s delighted to come to these press dinners. Baloney. He?s usually in bed by now. I?m not kidding. I said to him the other day, ?George, if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you?re going to have to stay up later.??

Rev. DeLong said in his satirical letter: ??we saw our President undermined, mocked and emasculated by his own wife on the most public of stages, and at a time when his manliness is already under attack. We saw the leader of the free world seemingly unable to lead his own family.?
Ah, too bad.

Posted by Alan at 20:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 5 May 2005 09:12 PDT home

Topic: Photos

A Good Day

Yesterday was May Day – and not spent at the computer, but down in Carlsbad, California being lazy. But one should take the camera along. Below is something in the yard there. (For a dozen other shots – botanical studies – check out the newest photo album May Day 2005 – Botanicals and Oddities.)

While there I did use the computer upstairs and check my email. It seems Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, sent along an item on May Day in Paris, with photos – so I formatted that as a new page in Just Above Sunset and posted it. Your will find that here. Fascinating.

But this was in the yard – so I was not concerned about the International Workers of the World.

And after a two-hour drive home I had some brandy?

A good day...

Posted by Alan at 09:33 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 2 May 2005 09:36 PDT home

Sunday, 1 May 2005

Topic: Photos

Off-Line Today

The latest issue of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log, is now on line. Much of what appears there appeared here first, but has been extended. What did not appear here are four pages of photography – Modern Architecture: Spatial Ambiguity and Whimsical Architecture: Where are the Hobbits? and Old Birds: Back to the Start and Botanicals: It’s Jacaranda Time Again.

And do check out Our Man in Paris: Another Phony War (Google versus the Bibliotheque Nationale) from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. That’s new.

From Bob Patterson there are three columns this week – On The Scene: The Bloggerteers Motto: “One for all, all for one!” (as long as you’re a conservative), WLJ Weekly: Kiss her, you fool! and Book Wrangler: Deja vu and existentialism in Westwood. Good stuff – and actual journalism.

And you might want to glance at the quotes page – all regarding May Day - the day set aside by the Second Socialist International in 1889 to commemorate Labor and still celebrated around the world.

But there will be no entries here for the rest of the day – off to Carlsbad, just north of San Diego, for family things. Entries here will resume tomorrow.

From the new issue of Just Above Sunset, meditate on this:

Posted by Alan at 09:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 1 May 2005 09:10 PDT home

Saturday, 30 April 2005

Topic: God and US

Intelligent Design: "Fossil Rabbits in the Precambrian"

As noted in these pages - November 28, 2004: The Triumph of Idealism - and around the November 24 anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's 'Origin of the Species' (1859) -
In an October 29 New York Times article on George Bush, Nicholas Kristof reports: "Characteristically, he does not believe in evolution - he says the jury is still out - but he does not actively disbelieve in it either; as a friend puts it, 'he doesn't really care about that kind of thing.'" (Also see in these pages May 9, 2004: On your knees, America!.)
Well, some do care about that kind of thing, and are puzzled by moves in various states to, if not forbid reaching about evolution, at least force schools to give equal time to a theory called Intelligent Design.

Intelligent Design is the theory – if you want to call it that – that life and all we see in the world are too complex to have been created by nature alone. So there must be a god – or something. This is not proof God exists, as the is no direct evidence, just an appeal to logic. So it is hardly scientific theory – just an idea. Evolutionary theory is big on digging us evidence to support what is contended. Intelligent Design doesn’t seem to need such baggage. But if Intelligent Design shows a creator, what about what was created? Cancer. Milwaukee. One wonders about the intelligence.

For those of us who wonder, it seems in late March we all seemed to have missed the Atheist Alliance International annual conference out here in Los Angeles, where evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins presented the alliance's top honor, the Richard Dawkins Prize, to those odd magicians Penn and Teller. This was, no doubt, for their HBO series “Bullshit” - which debunks what needs to be debunked. It’s not that great a show – slender and sarcastic – but they pick some good targets.

Better to go to someone of substance – like Richard Dawkins himself – who was interviewed by Gordy Slack in SALON in an item that was posted on April 28, 2005: The Atheist: Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explains why God is a delusion, religion is a virus, and America has slipped back into the Dark Ages.

Slack tells us that at the moment Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, a position created for him in 1995 by Charles Simonyi, a Microsoft millionaire. And that earlier this year Dawkins signed an agreement with British television to make a documentary about the destructive role of religion in modern history, tentatively titled "The Root of All Evil." And he’s working on a new book called “The God Delusion.” This not Penn and Teller.

Some of what he says?

Well, with the theory of evolution under attack ? ?Hey, it just a THEORY after all!? ? what about its validity?
It's often said that because evolution happened in the past, and we didn't see it happen, there is no direct evidence for it. That, of course, is nonsense. It's rather like a detective coming on the scene of a crime, obviously after the crime has been committed, and working out what must have happened by looking at the clues that remain. In the story of evolution, the clues are a billionfold.

There are clues from the distribution of DNA codes throughout the animal and plant kingdoms, of protein sequences, of morphological characters that have been analyzed in great detail. Everything fits with the idea that we have here a simple branching tree. The distribution of species on islands and continents throughout the world is exactly what you'd expect if evolution was a fact. The distribution of fossils in space and in time are exactly what you would expect if evolution were a fact. There are millions of facts all pointing in the same direction and no facts pointing in the wrong direction.

British scientist J.B.S. Haldane, when asked what would constitute evidence against evolution, famously said, "Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian." They've never been found. Nothing like that has ever been found. Evolution could be disproved by such facts. But all the fossils that have been found are in the right place. Of course there are plenty of gaps in the fossil record. There's nothing wrong with that. Why shouldn't there be? We're lucky to have fossils at all. But no fossils have been found in the wrong place, such as to disprove the fact of evolution. Evolution is a fact.
Well, the most powerful man in the world says the jury is still out. Who are you going to believe?

Why the resistance to Darwin? The answer is obvious?
It comes, I'm sorry to say, from religion. And from bad religion. You won't find any opposition to the idea of evolution among sophisticated, educated theologians. It comes from an exceedingly retarded, primitive version of religion, which unfortunately is at present undergoing an epidemic in the United States. Not in Europe, not in Britain, but in the United States.

My American friends tell me that you are slipping towards a theocratic Dark Age. Which is very disagreeable for the very large number of educated, intelligent and right-thinking people in America. Unfortunately, at present, it's slightly outnumbered by the ignorant, uneducated people who voted Bush in.

But the broad direction of history is toward enlightenment, and so I think that what America is going through at the moment will prove to be a temporary reverse. I think there is great hope for the future. My advice would be, Don't despair, these things pass.
Well, perhaps. But it may be a long wait.

Oh, and this on the difference between atheism and agnosticism, and on the Intelligent Design business -
It's said that the only rational stance is agnosticism because you can neither prove nor disprove the existence of the supernatural creator. I find that a weak position. It is true that you can't disprove anything but you can put a probability value on it. There are an infinite number of things that you can't disprove: unicorns, werewolves, and teapots in orbit around Mars. But we don't pay any heed to them unless there is some positive reason to think that they do exist.

? For a long time it seemed clear to just about everybody that the beauty and elegance of the world seemed to be prima facie evidence for a divine creator. But the philosopher David Hume already realized three centuries ago that this was a bad argument. It leads to an infinite regression. You can't statistically explain improbable things like living creatures by saying that they must have been designed because you're still left to explain the designer, who must be, if anything, an even more statistically improbable and elegant thing. Design can never be an ultimate explanation for anything. It can only be a proximate explanation. A plane or a car is explained by a designer but that's because the designer himself, the engineer, is explained by natural selection.
Well, the most powerful man in the world says the jury is still out. Who are you going to believe, him or David Hume?

And what about this new book, ?The God Delusion? that he?s writing? Delusion?
A delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence. Religion is scarcely distinguishable from childhood delusions like the "imaginary friend" and the bogeyman under the bed. Unfortunately, the God delusion possesses adults, and not just a minority of unfortunates in an asylum. The word "delusion" also carries negative connotations, and religion has plenty of those.

? A delusion that encourages belief where there is no evidence is asking for trouble. Disagreements between incompatible beliefs cannot be settled by reasoned argument because reasoned argument is drummed out of those trained in religion from the cradle. Instead, disagreements are settled by other means which, in extreme cases, inevitably become violent. Scientists disagree among themselves but they never fight over their disagreements. They argue about evidence or go out and seek new evidence. Much the same is true of philosophers, historians and literary critics.

But you don't do that if you just know your holy book is the God-written truth and the other guy knows that his incompatible scripture is too. People brought up to believe in faith and private revelation cannot be persuaded by evidence to change their minds. No wonder religious zealots throughout history have resorted to torture and execution, to crusades and jihads, to holy wars and purges and pogroms, to the Inquisition and the burning of witches.
He?s saying religion is dangerous? Of course he is.

And Slack asks him this ? ?Fifty years ago, philosophers like Bertrand Russell felt that the religious worldview would fade as science and reason emerged. Why hasn't it??

The answer is not surprising.
That trend toward enlightenment has indeed continued in Europe and Britain. It just has not continued in the U.S., and not in the Islamic world. We're seeing a rather unholy alliance between the burgeoning theocracy in the U.S. and its allies, the theocrats in the Islamic world. They are fighting the same battle: Christian on one side, Muslim on the other. The very large numbers of people in the United States and in Europe who don't subscribe to that worldview are caught in the middle.

Actually, holy alliance would be a better phrase. Bush and bin Laden are really on the same side: the side of faith and violence against the side of reason and discussion. Both have implacable faith that they are right and the other is evil. Each believes that when he dies he is going to heaven. Each believes that if he could kill the other, his path to paradise in the next world would be even swifter. The delusional "next world" is welcome to both of them. This world would be a much better place without either of them.
Well, some of us are working on that. As old-fashioned as it is, some of us thought the Enlightenment was a good idea.

But we have, it seems, returned to an age of faith ? except for Richard Dawkins, and those of us cheering him on.


By the way, this is a Darwin Fish ? as seen on the back of the car of a friend, a doctor in New England ?

?Imagine the people who believe such things and who are not ashamed to ignore, totally, all the patient findings of thinking minds through all the centures since the Bible was written. And it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes. I personally resent it bitterly.? - Isaac Asimov, Canadian Atheists Newsletter, 1994

Posted by Alan at 13:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 30 April 2005 13:33 PDT home

Friday, 29 April 2005

Topic: The Media

Media Notes: Worms Turning? Notes on This Week?s Press Conference

"It's in our country's interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm's way."
? George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., April 28, 2005

Okay, he has a problem with clarity. We know that. But there are bigger problems.

Extending previous comments here whether or not there is change in the air – see Media Notes: Spin versus the Crap Detector (quoting E. J. Dionne in the Washington Post and many reader comments) - a day or two before the press conference James Wolcott is here suggesting the press is no longer playing along with Bush and the Bug Man and the Tennessee Doctor for a Vengeful Christ. And yes, before entering politics house majority leader Tom DeLay was an exterminator (Orkin) and senate majority leader Frist was a heart surgeon (HCA – his family owns it). Oh, and Wolcott comments on something not previously noted in these pages - Elisabeth Bumiller’s New York Times piece week or more ago on what was on Bush’s iPod – oldies and country and western. You expected Schoenberg and Sibelius?

Wolcott has this to say -
? Whether the tide has finally turned against Bush, there's no question the tone of the reporting on him has. Elisabeth Bumiller can get all American Idolly about Bush's iPod playlist, but reporters less kitten-smitten are starting to zing his majesty. I was quite struck this morning by the opening sentence of Kenneth Bazinet's article in the NY Daily News on the Dylanesque neverending Bamboozlepalooza Tour (tm Josh Marshall): "President Bush tried to revive his comatose campaign to privatize Social Security yesterday...."

Comatose! A few months ago, that opening sentence would have been carefully phrased, "President Bush, in an uphill battle to..." or "President Bush, facing a challenge over his Social Security..." But now the campaign is recognized as political road kill and the reporter even dares use the word "privatize" instead of the recent Rovian formulation "modernize."

Bush's privatization scheme is dead and too dumb to fall over, to borrow a line from Rita Mae Brown. Today in the NY Times, Congressman Charlie Rangel recounts a conversation with Bush over private accounts. Listen closely and you can hear the steel in Bush's spine stiffening as he postures for posterity. Rangel urges Bush to take private accounts off the table, and Bush replies:

"Congressman, I am the president. [As if Rangel needed reminding which office Bush held.] And private accounts are not coming off the table even if it's the last day I spend in the presidency."

Oooh, so last man at the Alamo. You know that sort of no-retreat, no-capitulation might play well with Americans when Bush is pretending to stand up to terrorists, but most voters recognize that horse-trading and compromise are part of the game in passing legislation, and taking a defiant stand on something most of them oppose (Soc Sec privatization) isn't going to win the gallery applause Bush always expects. He's losing his political touch to his strutting pride--a pride that increasingly takes on the shape of a pathological growth.

Tom DeLay joined Bush on his recent Soc Sec swing, which Bullmoose cites as proof the Bugman Thugman has outplayed Karl Rove:

"Tom DeLay has out-maneuvered the Boy Genius, Karl Rove. DeLay, perhaps more than Rove, comprehends the adage, "Live by the base, die by the base." By attaching himself to the right wing true believers, the Bug Man has made himself bullet-proof to establishment attempts to undermine his rule.

"While observers may deem DeLay's attacks on the judiciary over the top, there is a method to this madness. Delay has successfully tied the right's fate to his.

"So much so that the most powerful man in the world is forced to succumb to DeLay's plan. With his popularity faltering, W cannot antagonize his most faithful believers - even if it may come at a political cost."

I'm not fluent enough in Machiavelli to know who's hoodwinking whom here, but I do think it's a mistake for Rove to be as front and present as he's been recently, giving interviews and laying out the official Bush line. The power of Rove's mystique derived from being in the wings, invisibly manipulating and cooking up mischief. To have him out there doing an Andy Card deprives Bush of sinister backup reserve, which he sorely needs these days as his facade crumbles and he becomes a handholding joke.
Wow ? that?s a lot of political inside stuff to unpack! But the general idea is Bush is in trouble, and the press is now turning on him. Maybe.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, says no -
I do think Wolcott is probably reading too much into this. The difference is that, a few months ago, his Social Security plan may have been in a sickbed, but did not yet have the benefit of enough passing time to cast grave doubts on its recovery. (I do think Bush uses this Social Security hobbyhorse as a tactic to divert attention away from all those things that really DO need to get done, but that he, as a conservative, doesn't want to do anyway. I'm surprised to not see more commentary on that theory.)

But no, personally, I see no trend that mainstream reportage is turning from pro-Bush to anti-Bush. In fact, I saw no signs of it being very much pro-Bush to begin with.

Wolcott does make a good point about Rove coming out of the wings, though. I wonder if it has anything to do with watching his job of getting Bush reelected seeming to waddle away like a lame duck.
Well, we usually defer to Rick ? as he spent his career in the news business and may be one of the few people who has worked closely with both Ted Turner and Roger Ailes ? but something is up.

And Bush held this news conference in network prime time this week, on the first night of network sweeps week, and that?s only the fourth time THAT has happened. War? Big doings?

No, just a pitch for his programs. Nothing extraordinary ? except for the whiff in the air, the faint smell of everything unraveling. It seemed to be time to turn things around ? to charm and astound the American public a get them to buy into the big concepts he has been advocating, with little success, for many months.

But it didn?t really work out so well, and he may have lost the press. Tim Grieve in SALON.COM thinks so, and asks the question, Has the tipping point come?

Note this:
There comes a moment -- it happened to George H.W.Bush, it happened to Bill Clinton -- when reporters in the mainstream media make the pivot against a president. All actions become desperate. All pronouncements become suspect.

One hundreds days into his second term, it's a little early to stick a fork in George W. Bush. But boy, has the tide turned on a president who was so recently the swaggering darling of the national news. The White House had to beg some of the networks to air last night's prime-time news conference; it was the first night of sweeps week, and NBC and Fox couldn't bear the thought that Donald Trump or "The O.C." might be bumped by a not particularly popular commander in chief with little new to say. Bush's media handlers, who value nothing more than the president's reputation for resoluteness, caved in at the last minute and moved up the presser by half an hour so that most of the prime-time entertainment could appear on schedule. Bush made a joke about it all toward the end of the press conference, but, as the New York Times notes, a lot of viewers didn't see it: NBC and CBS had already cut away.

If he reads the papers today, Bush might find himself wishing that the print reporters had left early, too. Forget the analysis pieces, almost all of which focus on the sorry shape of the president's second-term agenda; notice the hostile tone in the straight news stories today.

Under a front-page headline that reads, "Bush Cites Plan That Would Cut Social Security Benefits," the Times says Bush's press conference "represented an effort to regain control of the national dialogue at a time when Mr. Bush is struggling to push his Social Security plan ahead on Capitol Hill, his approval ratings are falling, the economy is showing signs of slowing and Democrats have become more combative."

The Washington Post leads with the headline, "Bush Social Security Plan Would Cut Future Benefits," and its main news story describes a president clamoring for relevance. The press conference "came at a time of uncertainty for a president facing sagging poll numbers, a slowing economy and general unease about his domestic agenda," the Post says, citing White House aides who say Bush is "concerned his agenda is being eclipsed by congressional bickering."

The Boston Globe says Bush met the press "amid an array of problems, including the stalled nomination of some of his judicial nominees, and of John Bolton to become US ambassador to the United Nations, ethics questions surrounding a key ally, House majority leader Tom DeLay, a sliding stock market, continuing violence in Iraq, and record energy prices."

And the Los Angeles Times headlines its coverage, "Bush Recasts Message on Social Security," then ticks off a litany of problems for which the president apparently has no plan: "The nation's economic growth has slowed. . . . The price of gasoline has soared. . . . Bush's overall popularity has sagged in public opinion polls. . . . The president acknowledged no anxiety over those trends, beyond his concern over gas prices and the economy. 'I'm an optimistic fellow,' he said."

If Bush continues to get coverage like this, he'd better be.
Wolcott may have been onto something.

And the hammering on the web logs has been brutal. Since the main issue was Social Security, that does get some attention. The White House is reported to be very angry that the new ?plan? was reported as cutting benefits. No, they say, it was just a way to cut benefits to those better off, and to help the really needy.

Yeah, right. See this -
As Think Progress points out, Bush is now defining people who are "better off" as anyone earning over $20,000 per year. When selling his tax cuts, he defined people who were the "lowest income taxpayers" as anyone earning under $100,000.

Look, this is important. Our media is running around talking about how "rich people" are going to have their benefits cut, as if Bush's cunning plan to save Social Security is to take away Bill Gates's check. Social Security benefits currently max out at $90,000 salary. People who earn $90,000 a year are generally not portrayed by the kool kids in the media as "rich" or "wealthy" or even "upper income." Obviously people who earn that much are at the higher end of the income distribution, but especially for such people who live in high cost metro areas, they don't have lives which are noticeably distinguishable from what we think of as "middle class.'
Yeah, it seems to be a matter of definition ? or a shell game with words.

So what is the media up to? Well, maybe they do play along with Bush still.

Over at Media Matters you will find this (and if you click up the piece you will be able to click through to all the supporting documentation) -
One day after President Bush's April 28 press conference, the 10 largest U.S. newspapers obscured the full impact of Bush's proposed cuts in Social Security benefits. While some articles failed to note that the proposal would drastically cut benefits for lower-middle-income workers and not just for the wealthy, others neglected to describe the changes as cuts at all, instead repeating the Republican talking point that they would merely slow the rate of growth in benefits. The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press even falsely reported that low-income workers would receive greater benefits under the Bush plan than under current law.

Bush's proposal, which the White House acknowledged is based upon a plan developed by Robert C. Pozen, would provide a tiered system of benefits based on income. This proposal would likely cut the level of benefits promised under the current Social Security system for all workers making more than $20,000 a year -- or just above the poverty threshold of $19,157 for a family of four, with two children -- while leaving benefit levels for those making under $20,000 unchanged.

? Several major newspapers adopted Bush's characterization of his proposal as a slowdown in the rate at which benefits increase for higher income workers, rather than stating what it would be - a cut in promised benefits.
And this is followed by the words (with links) in many of the newspapers. Media Matters thinks the mainstream media still carries the water for Bush.

Well, it is hard to tell. You report what he says. And if what he says is spin, and not exactly true? Then what do you do?

Maybe you just use logic.

Kevin Drum uses logic here -

Here's your new Republican budget: The House and Senate broke a lengthy impasse over federal spending Thursday night, narrowly adopting a $2.56 trillion federal budget for 2006 that aims to trim the growth of Medicaid by $10 billion over five years, add $106 billion in tax cuts and clear the way for oil drilling in an Alaskan wildlife refuge.

Attaboy! Reduce the deficit $10 billion by cutting back on healthcare for the poor, and then turn around and increase the deficit $106 billion by approving additional tax cuts for the rich. Moral values, baby, moral values.
Yeah, watch what they do, not what they say.

And little by little, the mainstream press is starting to do that. And one supposes they are starting to do that because the war is effectively over ? at least as a hot story ? and no one will call them traitors for raising questions about domestic issues.

That may be cowardly, but it is a start.

Posted by Alan at 20:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 30 April 2005 13:41 PDT home

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