Saturday, March 24, 2007

"In the name of God, go."

Before I did the whole bit on Bush as Stanley Baldwin, I had been thinking of another moment in British Parliamentary history, the debate in May, 1940, that ended Neville Chamberlain's premiership and elevated Winston Churchill to No. 10 Downing Street. The best account I have read, full of drama and Sturm und Drang is in William Manchester's Alone: Winston Spencer Churchill, 1932-1940, although Roy Jeynkins' telling in his bio of Churchill is also quite well done.

It was another, and perhaps the last, great set piece of the House of Commons. An innocuous debate on the surface, on the question of adjourning the House, it turned, due to circumstances beyond almost anyone's control - the Germans had just shattered the British-French lines, and the French were running screaming about betrayal, while the Brits were running for the Channel port of Dunquerque - into a question of Parliamentary confidence in the government. All the key players were lining up - would the king ask Churchill or, his own choice, Lord Halifax (who ended up being fobbed off as Ambassador to the United States)? Would Chamberlain even accept the rebuke of the House and step aside?

Churchill's role in the situation was difficult, as he was a member of the Chamberlain government, First Lord of the Admiralty, and he had to defend a government that had lost the confidence of Parliament and the people in the wake of the unmitigated disaster in France. The real hero, rhetorically speaking, was a mutual friend of Chamberlain and Churchill, Leo Amery, MP from Birmingham. During the course of the debate, amery said the following (all quotes are from pp. 654-655 of Alone: Winston Spencer Churchill, 1932-1940 by William Manchester; the entire debate is covered on pp. 652 ff.):
Somehow or other we must get into the Government men who can match our enemies in fighting spirit, in daring, in resolution and in thirst for victory. . . .We are fighting today for our life, for our liberty, for our all. We cannot go one being led as we are. . . I have quoted certain words of Oliver Cromwell. I will quote certain other words. . . . that are applicable to the present situation. This is what Cromwell said to the Long Parliament when he thought it was no longer fit to conduct the affairs of the nation:"You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go."

I offer this as my sentiment to the Bush Administration.

Surreal Teseract

With a hat tip to, we have this little gem courtesy of the Huffington Post. It seems Tom DeLay is accusing the Democrats of engaging in Nazi-style "Big Lie" tactics when they accuse him of ethical lapses and violations of the law.

I titled this post "Surreal Teseract", because DeLay is, to put it bluntly, an amoral scumbag. For him to whine and play the victim to the big mean Democratic Party for not only accusing him of breaking the law, but of insisting he be punished for doing so is a bit like looking at an early painting by Salvador Dali, all those limp clocks and trains steaming out of nothing. There are quite literally no words to describe the master of the Big Lie down on his knees in the "Amen" corner praying for protection from the Democratic "Big Lie". It's also like a teseract, the three-dimensional representation of a four-spatial-dimension cube - it hurts the eyes to try and figure out exactly what it's supposed to really be.

Maybe Jonah Goldberg can quote him for his new book that he doesn't seem able to finish.

Have I Been Testy This Week To My Right-Wing Readers? Here's Why

Re-reading posts and comments from this past week, I realized I have been unaccountably short with those whose political persuasion is different from mine. To be blunt, I have casually dismissed those who might want to argue one point or another - often quite rudely. This is antithetical to pretty much everything I believe, and the whole reason for this blog - for crying out loud, I link to right-wingers for a reason! Yet, I think there is an explanation for this that goes beyond being tired and preoccupied this week, having less time than usual both just in terms of time but also mental energy, to do serious, considered writing. Part of my shortness has been a result of these reasons, reasons that should be irrelevant; should I not have anything substantive to say, I should refrain from saying anything, rather than just attacking willy-nilly, or dismissing willy-nilly, those who come here in good faith and beg to differ with me. For my tone, for my shortness, and for my rudeness I apologize.

There is another reason, however, directly related to the issues in question - the war in Iraq, the USA firings, the credibility of the right wing in our national discourse - that has more substance to it. There are serious, hard-working, thoughtful people on the internet - Talking Points Memo and Fire Dog Lake to name two - who have done so much heavy lifting on the attorney firings and Scooter Libby trial respectively, with Josh Marshall and the gang at TPM offering themselves as a research clearing house for citizens to read the DoJ document dumps that one tires after a while of nonsensical "talking points", "phrases of the day", "memes", "tropes", and all the other nonsense one gets in our political discourse, from the idiotic "Stay the Course" this summer to the clearly irrelevant "serves at the pleasure of the President" today. We are in the midst of more than a vague Constitutional crisis right now, driven by the reckless pursuit of a fantasy called the Unitary Executive, fed by lies, the shredding of the Constitution, and the political manipulation of just about everything, from the law to the lives of our soldiers, sailors, marines, and air personnel.

Many on the right continue to support the President (although, with Nixonian poll numbers, this is more heat than light), and that is certainly their right. For me, it is important to separate out political support based upon - what? ideological fervor? abstract commitment to certain political principles? - factors that are deeply held, in fact part of one's make-up as a person, and the simple facts as they come to light. It would be nice if our world always conformed to the way we wish it was, or believed it to be, or hoped it could be, or whatever. Sadly for too many on the right, they continue to defend what is, even from the scant evidence handed over by this most secretive of administrations, indefensible. From the war to Walter Reed to tax cuts to the firing of United States Attorneys for political reasons, the Bush Administration has exhausted its reserve of good faith and credibility with much of the public, myself included. It is one thing to pretend to be cynical and say, "Well, all politicians lie, what's the big deal." Except, all politicians don't lie, most are honest, hard-working, thoughtful people, sometimes sacrificing families and health for the sake of the public welfare. With the current administration, however, all we have are men and women too small for the offices they hold lying almost constantly about pretty much everything. Our democratic republic can only work if there is mutual trust between the governed and the government. The Bush Administration has exhausted that trust - and the endless, monotonous repetition of their favorite talking points by everyone from Brit Hume on FOXNews to conservative bloggers is not just tiresome, it is irritating. We need to have serious, thoughtful commentary and discussions. Instead, days after it is thoroughly debunked, I read both from nationally respected journalist Michael Kinsley and local blogger Neon Prime Time that what Bush did was OK, because Clinton did it, too. One gets tired of repeatedly saying, "No" to those who wish to dump mud in waters that are clear. It is hard enough to stay on topic, with our media simply stupid, without people willing to toe a party line to be the voice of this corrupt bunch in the Executive Branch.

Quite simply, I have neither the time nor the desire to go back and argue about things that are simply factually inaccurate - whether it concerns USA firings or who sponsored what peace march and what happened there. Our nation is in trouble, and I for one can no longer tolerate having to accommodate the sensibilities of those who either won't see it or can't see it for whatever reason, or who wish to deflect responsibility for our current situation away from the culprit sitting pretty in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC. I mean no disrespect to those who hold views different from mine, but the simple truth is that, for me, because of the utter failure in every way this Administration has been and continues to be, I do not believe that conservative views as they are currently constituted in the United States have any credibility or should be accommodated as having any credibility. If this offends, I offer no apologies, because the track record is too long, and that record includes thousands of dead bodies, broken bodies, broken lives, broken careers, broken reputations, broken fiscal and monetary policy and outlook, and our utterly tattered Constitution.

In the future, I shall try to be a bit less, um, snarky to those who come and comment, although snark will be given in return for snark (Goat!). I just wanted to make my position clear because I felt it only fair to understand the change in tone. I will try harder in the future to be true to my own views, including offering serious weight to views that differ from mine.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bush Comparisons - Churchill, Chamberlain, Stanley Baldwin

Back in the halcyon days when there was little folks could do to silence the nonsense, Charles Krauthammer was fond of comparing the speeches of George W. Bush with those of Winston Churchill. He did this over and over, but dropped it when enough people started calling him out as woefully stupid for doing so. I am sure in his heart of hearts, Krauthammer still believes that Bush will one day be vindicated, just as Churchill and Truman were.

As someone who knows just a bit about British politics and politicians in the era before World War II, I would like to offer a different comparison. I think that, rather than Churchill (who served in the cavalry, in three different conflicts, two imperial wars, the third the Boer War; Churchill also wrote numerous books and quite literally thousands of magazine articles, and won the Noble Prize for literature), Bush shares certain qualities with two other British Prime Ministers, the egregious Stanley Baldwin, and that personification of the Peter Principle, Neville Chamberlain.

By 1936, Churchill was at the end of his tether with Baldwin government. He had created a network of career bureaucrats who gave him information, quite a bit of it secret, on the British government's refusal to deal adequately with the growing German threat. Emerging slowly from the shadow of his resistance to Indian Commonwealth status (the issue which drove him into the political wilderness, leaving office because of his resistance to independence for India), his continual badgering on the issue was starting to take hold, and he forced an open debate on British defenses. The debate is what Churchill biographer Roy Jeynkins called a "set-piece" - one of those events that become memorable precisely because it seems innocuous, but gains a momentum and provides political theater and has serious implications for national governance.

After dealing a blow to the prevarications of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill turned his substantial gifts upon the Prime Minister himself. Eighteen months before, Baldwin had pledged not to allow British rearmament to fall behind the pace of German rearmament; in Britain at the time, such a public pledge was a sacred vow. Now, Churchill was showing that, in fact, British rearmament was not only behind Germany, but lagging further and further behind. His charge was a serious one - he was accusing the PM not only of lying, but of deceiving the public over the entire issue for the whole course of the eighteen months since his initial pledge.

Baldwin's response to Churchill was the wrap-up to the debate, and, combined with the pressure he was getting from King Edward VIII to marry Wallis Warfield Simpson (Baldwin's health was broken by his struggle with the king, which led to the abdication crisis and the rise of George VI), was one of the great career- and legacy-destroying moments of any politician's career. He admitted, in essence, that he had not pursued a policy of rearmament in the face of continued Nazi war preparation not out of any ideological avoidance of war, but rather to hold onto office.
Supposing I had gone to the country and said that Germany was rearming and that we must rearm, does anybody think that this pacific democracy would have rallied to that cry at that moment? I cannot think of anything that would have made the loss of the election from my point of view more certain.(Stanley Baldwin, quoted on pp. 217-218 of Alone: Winston Spencer Churchill, 1932-1940 by William Manchester

Even more than Chamberlain's school-boy approach to the brutality of Mussolini and Hitler, Baldwin's crass cowardice for party political profit did more to destroy British defenses in the face of the oncoming threat of fascism than any single factor. More important, he did so not out of any serious attachment to pacifism (admittedly, a popular position in the period between the two World Wars), but out of fear of the British public reaction to a serious consideration of the realities they faced, and how that reaction would create electoral results that were antithetical to the continuation of his National Government. Baldwin's admission was shocking to the entire country (Britain at the time had an engaged public, and the press, while subservient to power, still quoted whole speeches on its interior pages) and, combined with the deterioration of his health from the coming abdication crisis, led to his leaving office and the retirement hom of the House of Lords as Earl Baldwin of Bewsley.

Chamberlain, of course, was not so much a coward, as simply one unfit by temperament, intellect, and personality to face the challenges of the horrors coming. A man too small for the office he occupied, and comforted in power by sycophants who played upon his insecurities to ingratiate themselves as "yes-men", he was undone by events, even as he continued to believe events would vindicate him. Indeed, he left office in 1940 still convinced that a deal could be struck with Hitler, wondering why Churchill wanted to fight a war he, Chamberlain, was convinced Britain would lose (that he played no small part in creating the situation where Britain could lose was simply not a part of his thinking).

Lying, cowardly, almost amorally concerned with clinging to office and power at the expense even of national survival, convinced by turns of their own cleverness and intelligence and the soundness of their judgment, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, neglecting the military even as they pledged to support it - these are all familiar qualities and issues for contemporary Americans, and they resonate not with Churchill, but with Baldwin and Chamberlain. History can be a good guide for understanding the present, but only when it is considered properly.

Is Help On the Way?

Remember Campaign 2000, when George W. Bush, speaking before a military audience said, "Help in on the way," the subtext being that Clinton had stretched the military thin in the Balkans, and that the military was woefully underserved by that draft-dodging, military-hating ultra-liberal Bill Clinton?

Today, Think Progress has a report on Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' report that the US military is woefully unprepared for any contingent emergency, primarily because of the stress of the over-commitment of the Iraq occupation. Unprepared to face down North Korea (the only substantive military threat on any horizon); unprepared to face down the Russians who are beginning to stir from their post-Soviet torpor; unprepared to face the Chinese, who continue to make noises about Taiwan; unprepared to face any new conflict that may arise.

They send too few troops into battle, ill-equipped. They refuse to equip them properly even after it is public knowledge they are not equipped properly. When they are wounded, they get sent to hell-holes like Walter Reed, privatized to a Halliburton subsidiary. They are unceremoniously dumped on the street to fend for themselves. Serving military are called cowards for opposing the war by cowards who refuse to wear the uniform. Now the Secretary of Defense admits publicly what the military chiefs have been insisting for months - the military is a broken shell.

I am so tired of Republicans and conservatives talking about "supporting the troops". Honest to God, I am tired of every single person who boosts this war, but refuses to hold accountable those who have run our military into the ground in pursuit of wrong-headed, misbegotten mission like the one we are currently stuck in. I am tired of having my love of my country questioned by people who refuse to do their real patriotic duty and demand that we run this country intelligently and openly, not like some tin-pot Third World dictatorship overseen by a junta of ignorant colonels. This isn't Myanmar or Equatorial Guinea, but the United States of America - and the criminals who run this country need to be hauled off stage before the damage they do is irreversible.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

It's the Liberal media! It's Chuck Schumer! It's . . . It's . . . a Manufactured Scandal! (UPDATED)

I had a hard time tracking down the New Yorker profile of Tom Delay I read back in the late 1990's, although I remember some of it quite vividly; how this exemplar of suburban Texas Republicanism went from killing bugs to destroying reputations in the House of Representatives; how he had a veritable army of lawyers vetting everything he did to ensure it was always just inside the technical boundary of the law; and how he had a religious conversion - or multiple ones, depending upon the time he tells the story - and became a devoted family man and Christian. Indeed, in 2002, something called The D. James Kennedy Center for Christian Statesmanship awarded Delay the Christian Statesman of the Year award, as you can see here.

How fitting, then, that this Christian Statesman, appearing on Hardball last night, sputtered out lie after talking point after lie when questioned about it by Chris Matthews (Crooks & Liars has the video). While the evidence chain of the total corruption of the Christian Right is long indeed, the fact that an amoral thug like Delay was awarded anything with the word "Christian" shows the utter vacuousness of the right's claims that it is the defender of Christian values. Any morally upright Christian would call Delay to account - as the Rev. Phil Wogaman did for his parishioner, Bill Clinton - for his multiple failings. Instead, this Kennedy joker has a group that gives him an award.

What utter and complete buffoons.

UPDATE: Over at, there is a link to to this story, from the same Matthews interview, in which, confronted with words from a book published under his own name, Delay denies writing anything of the sort (in this case calling Dick Armey "drunk with ambition"; a bit like the sizzling cast iron skillet calling the unplugged but just used waffle-iron hot). How does this man think he has any credibility?

"Nothing. Nothing. Nothing."

The past two days have presented the spectacle of former Republican chairs of Senate committees acting as if they still owned the place. Yesterday it was James Inhofe of Oklahoma having to be reminded who holds the gavel and who makes the rules. Barbara Boxer was very direct, very pointed, and very accurate - he might have gotten away with such bully-boy tactics before, but the grown-ups were put in charge by the voters, so start acting like an adult, or just leave.

Today it was that egregiously awful Arlen Specter - remember Anita Hill, anyone? - wondering why the Senate Judiciary Committee couldn't just go along with the White House rules; after all, Specter seems to suggest, something seems to be better than nothing. Leahy's response, quoted above, sums up the past six years - nothing, zip, zilch, nada. The United States Senate does not go begging, hat in hand, for favors. It invites testimony, and if those invitations are declined, it demands it under penalty of law. Period. This White House has no more chances left - not with this Congress, not with the American people, not with the world at large. The entire Department of Justice is under a cloud; its integrity, its independence, even the reputations of those USAs still in office are all questionable now because one wonders, exactly what they did to remain in office, what kind of compromises they accepted, what kind of interference they countenanced. Of course, this cloud hovers over not just Justice, but every executive branch office, because the Third World junta running this country thinks it is entitled to do whatever it wants, regardless of law, custom, or the Constitution.

I am glad that Specter made a spectacle of himself, because it is quite clear now, if ever doubt rested in any heads, where he stands. His institutional cowardice, his party pandering - last fall he spoke against the bill that, among other things, gave the AG the power to do what has led to this entire mess - and then, after giving a roaring speech about the destruction of our civil liberties, he voted for the damn thing. Back in the early 1990's, he was in full prosecutor mode, attacking Anita Hill's integrity and veracity, when even a cursory glance at the mountain of evidence would have made it quite clear that her allegations - Clarence Thomas is crude, porn-loving, and sex-obsessed - could be corroborated by any number of people (as was done by the authors of Strange Justice). Specter's spectacle back then was harassing a witness who was reluctant enough to testify about matters no person should have to air in public. Now, he pleads for another freebie for the White House.

No, Arlen. No, James. It is time to recognize and admit that the Republicans lost, and the rules are set by people who are doing things the right way - listening to witnesses, not badgering them; and demanding answers under oath rather than having off-the-record chats, with an agenda set by those being interviewed. We are tired of nothing, and it seems we might get something after all.

Here's hoping.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gathering of Pathetic Pseudo-Patriots

I am going to do something I once said I would never do - I am going to belittle a group with whom I disagree. My initial intention was simply to ignore them all, for the quite sane reasons that (a) it is an area outside the purview of this blog; and (b) to do so would bring me down to their level. They have gone after Sadly! No, a site I frequent because of its quite hilarious demeaning of right-wing bloggers; specifically, after posting this piece, they DDOS'd them, and have continued to try to shut them down. What was the crime for which the boys from Arkansas were to be silenced? They questioned the veracity of the Gathering of Eagles.

When I first heard about it, I honestly had no idea what it was about, nor did I care all that much. After reading a bit about it here, I realized it was the pathetic attempt by war-supporters to look tough, to associate themselves with something they know nothing about (the military), and to take upon themselves the mantle of downtrodden victim and martyr to true American freedom. That it has all worked out that way, in spades, only shows that these folks are as predictable as sunrise and sunset - you just know it's going to happen every day.

One of Gavin, HTML Mencken, et al.'s little quibbles is an important point - the whole issue of numbers. When Michelle Malkin insists that she has official numbers from the National Park Service, my ears perk up, because I seem to remember, back in the mid-1990's, Congress passing a law keeping the National Park Service from any longer doing counts of protests on the Mall. Was I wrong about that? Had the law changed? If you go back and peruse Sadly!No, you will find that, indeed, the Park Service is prohibited from doing counts of protests. So those "official numbers" are officially a crock of moose shit. Malkin was wise enough to keep changing her story, but the mistake had been made.

I have several question for this gaggle of couch-potato warriors, not the least of which is what, exactly, were they protecting and why? Apparently GoE insisted there was a plot to deface or otherwise attack the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. I honestly cannot imagine a scenario less likely to happen, unless it is the Bush twins joining the military. There are few memorials that are more dearly loved by all Americans who have been there and seen it than that lovely, silent wall. All it takes is one visit, watching as grown men weep uncontrollably as they find the name of a comrade or comrades they left behind; all it takes is to go to the American History Museum and see the small display collection of items that are left each day to remind us that this national memorial is, in essence, a national Gravemarker, a headstone marking our national sorrow at the 54,000 American lives lost to no good end or purpose. Why would anyone attack it?

More pointedly (and, for me, more controversially), is there anything more pathetic, really, than a bunch of out-of-shape, military-wannabes pretending to be a part of something that would destroy them if they actually were there? What I mean, for example, is this, by way of example. Seriously, one wonders what in the world this person is compensating for - his entire page design is like something out of the fantasies of a sophomore in high school, not least including the supposed quotes endorsing said blog that appear at the very top. I hate armchair psychoanalyzing, but something as blatant as this cries out for someone to say, "Why don't you tell me more about your feelings about your father."

While the numbers issue will never be settled, the chest-bearing, pseudo-macho, pseudo-patriotic nonsense spewers have had their fun and gone back to whatever homes and lives they had, I would ask you to click on the link to Sadly!No and view the post that contains screen caps from various GoE sites in which active-duty or former military personnel are photographed and labeled "cowards" - because they were participants in the much larger, much more successful, much more representative anti-war march. It must be so nice to be so unsure of oneself that one can castigate those whom one supposedly is rallying to support.

These people are the very embodiment of pathetic.

"Me me llamo dogface in the banana patch?"*

Linked rightie Goat, he of the Barnyard in rural north-central California (he does have an eye for the beauty of his home) posted this piece that is a rambling endorsement of Mitt Romney for President, and a comment from someone named Honus R., whom Goat refers to as the sheepdog (why the animal epithets?). While Goat's post does cohere, after a fashion (although his opening has no relation to the point of his post), and despite at least one glaring spelling error (it is stalwart, not "stalwert"), he does seem to make a point.

Honus, however, in the comment on said post, rambles over much territory, without ever actually moving from the spot from which he started. He invokes 9/11 (of course), abortion, lumps libertines and socialists in with Democrats (of course) and Republicans (surprise, surprise; apparently the serial divorces amongst the Republican candidates is starting to seep through the thickness), and generally announces his abandonment of politics in favor of missionary work (at least we don't need to worry about one right-wing vote next November) - because the Republicans abandoned conservatism. The post ends with the query, "Know what I mean?"

Actually, Honus, no, I don't. If I did, I would seek treatment.

I must remind people on occasion that stringing words together does not make a sentence; nor does stringing sentences together make a paragraph.

*The title is a reference to one of my favorite bits from Steve Martin's classic album Wild and Crazy Guy when he says, "Whenever you're around a small child, talk wrong. By kindergarten he will say . . . offering the above sentence as the result of the strange result of such adverse conditioning. I have always wanted to use it because it reflects, for me, what is wrong with the Right, to whit, they think that if they put enough words together they have constructed an argument, when all they have done is spouted nonsense, causing the adults to say, with Steve Martin, "What?!? What's that you're saying? Give that kid a special test, get him out of here."

Is The End Nigh?

You know, if you are going to pick a fight, the first thing you should do is have a pretty good idea, beyond mere hope and assertion, that you might actually win. I think it more than ironic, if indeed irony is something that applies in this case, that it may well be the very same Supreme Court that ensconced Boy Wonder in the White House in the first place that could very well be instrumental in his removal from office. Perhaps, were Bush the type to be reflective, he might find some kind of sour humor in it; I doubt whether he shall ever rise above petulant self-pity.

By vowing yesterday to "go to the mat" (does he mean he wants to wrestle Patrick Leahy and John Conyers?; or did he mean "go to the mattresses", a term made famous by Mario Puzo in The Godfather?) to fight subpoenas of White House aides Harriet Miers and Karl Rove, Bush has to know that the invocation of executive privilege in a case such as this is a loser. Even if he doesn't know it, his lawyers should know it, because the Supreme Court, in US v. Nixon was as clear as a September morning that executive privilege was a pretty narrow privilege - limited to issues of national security or great matters of state - and as Nixon's evocation of the privilege was blanket (his attorneys never even thought of making the argument, because they most assuredly would have been laughed out of court), as is Bush's, it seems pretty clear that, should he or Congress (it would seem Bush will go to court first, but accuse the Democrats in Congress of doing so, just like in Florida in 2000) take this to court, he will lose. Should he ignore such an order, impeachment will follow. Should he follow through, and Miers and Rove appear, attorneys in tow, claiming their Fifth Amendment right to protection from self-incrimination, impeachment will follow. Should they testify under oath, perhaps after negotiating a limited immunity deal similar to the one granted Oliver North by the Iran-Contra committee in 1987, their testimony will no doubt lead to . . . you guessed it.

There seem to be few options left, except perhaps a palace coup, a terrorist attack on Congress (would anyone believe it was really a bunch of terrorists?), or acquiescence in the face of mounting disgust among the American people for the entire criminal enterprise formerly known as the Bush Administration. They could go quietly - as Nixon decided after years of stone-walling; or they can fight it out, lose, and go in a very ugly fashion, but in the end, I do believe we are watching the beginning of the end, not just of Alberto Gonzalez (although good riddance to bad rubbish can never come too soon), but of the entire thing - Bush, Cheney, Rove, the whole lot of them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Clinton versus Bush

I was waiting for the press conference to end, and felt like an invisible police officer was standing there waving a night-stick, saying, "Nothing to see here, move along." Except for his little non-sequitur about "partisan fishing expeditions" (unlike all the investigations led by Dan Burton, right?), the entire episode was a reminder of how out of touch Bush really is.

I've been thinking, though, about the press reaction. Chris Matthews and Wolf Blitzer were in full man-crush mode over Bush's combative attitude, as if belligerence for its own sake were a virtue, absent any substance. More to the point, I was thinking about a question begged by the past fourteen or so years of our political history: Why the disparate responses to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, especially among our flapping-lip class? I want to set aside strictly partisan considerations for the moment, at least as much as is humanly possible, as well as my own biases (while not a fan of Clinton's by any means, I did vote for him twice, and on balance he was a good, not to say great, President) and look at the two men's histories, both personal and professional, with a question or two to follow.

On the one hand, Bill Clinton was and is an extremely bright (you don't get to be a Rhodes Scholar by reading Cliff's Notes), ambitious, driven man, who is intimately informed on a plethora of issues down to various minutiae of policy-making; he is married to a bright, attractive, successful woman in her own right, holding together a marriage in the most trying of circumstances, raising a daughter through the most difficult period of any child's life while their marriage is under multiple assaults, and said child becomes an accomplished, attractive adult; he manages, as President, to overcome enormous obstacles and force a peace agreement on the Balkans, fight an air war without a single loss of life, and presides over the longest peace-time economic expansion in American history. This President is held in almost universal contempt by the chattering classes.

On the other hand is George W. Bush, a latecomer to politics, a failure at multiple businesses, at which he was placed through his father's connections; a moderate student, albeit at difficult schools, to which he went most likely through legacy acceptance. While never giving details, it is reasonably clear the, perhaps not an alcoholic, Bush certainly ahd an alcohol problem, and perhaps one with nose-candy as well. Placed in office through the intercession of five partisan Supreme Court Justices, he manages to alienate most Americans until the horrific acts of September 11, 2001 galvanize public opinion in his favor. Blessed with one of the canniest and most ruthless political operatives to come down the pike since Erlichman and Haldeman in the person of Karl Rove, Bush manages to retain the Presidency despite a deepening public hostility to a failing occupation of Iraq, and overseeing the most sluggish economy since the days of his father's tenure in the White House. As the Democratic Party regains control of Congress through the abysmal performance of the Republican majority, it is revealed that Bush and Company have operated as if he were the President for Life of a failing or failed African state, and today displays typically indignant posing in the face of more and more evidence that his Administration was, to put it mildly, out of control. What, exactly, is there to like or admire here?

Baptist Non-Ethics (UPDATE with new link)

Courtesy of Right Wing Watch, I found this fun little read at Baptist Press on-line (the sub head reads, "News with a Christian Perspective"). The article summarizes a criticism of the recent NAE statement regarding torture. The criticism? I'll let the critic speak for himself:
An anti-torture statement endorsed by the National Association of Evangelicals “is a moral travesty managing not only to confuse but to harm genuine evangelical witness in the culture,” a Southern Baptist ethics professor said March 15.

“The main problem I have with the NAE declaration is not moral but rational,” Daniel R. Heimbach, professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a statement to Baptist Press. “While it loudly renounces ‘torture,’ it nowhere -- in 18 pages of posturing -- defines what signers of the document claim so vehemently to reject.”

The NAE, which claims to represent 45,000 evangelical churches but does not include the Southern Baptist Convention, said in the statement approved March 11 that the United States has crossed the “boundaries of what is legally and morally permissible” in the war on terror.

“Our military and intelligence forces have worked diligently to prevent further attacks. But such efforts must not include measures that violate our own core values,” the document, called “An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture: Protecting Human Rights in an Age of Terror,” says.

“The danger of the NAE’s diatribe,” Heimbach noted, “is that it threatens to undermine Christian moral witness in contemporary culture by dividing evangelicals into renouncers and justifiers of nebulous torture -- when no one disagrees with rejecting immorality or defends mistreating fellow human beings made in the image of God.”

Substituting passion for reason, the document causes readers to be either morally confused or moved to join a crusade unrelated to facts, Heimbach said. Instead of pontificating against torture, he said, the drafters would have served the public well to define at what point coercion crosses from moral to immoral.

Evangelicals should rely on long-accepted principles of the just war tradition when attempting to draw a moral line regarding torture, Heimbach said. Those principles include: using no more force than is morally warranted, only using force for proper reasons and no more, only using force when other means are ineffective, only using force when properly authorized, never relying on inherently evil methods, only using force on those involved in violence against us, only using force in ways likely to obtain justified results, only using force with regret, never using force in ways that break promises, and never using force in ways that go beyond the value of the wrong being corrected, Heimbach said.

David Gushee, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., was the principal drafter of the statement, which was produced by the NAE-affiliated Evangelicals for Human Rights. The group of 17 drafters also included Rich Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the NAE; Brian McLaren, founder of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Maryland; and David Neff, editor of Christianity Today.

Cizik told the Associated Press the statement was not a critique of the Bush administration but was meant to let the world know that evangelicals do not support torture.

“There is a perception out there in the Middle East that we’re willing to accept any action in order to fight this war against terrorism,” Cizik told AP. “We are the conservatives -- let there be no mistake on that -- who wholeheartedly support the war against terror, but that does not mean by any means necessary.”

The federal government has a moral obligation to follow international human rights treaties that the United States has endorsed, the statement says.

“As American Christians, we are above all motivated by a desire that our nation’s actions would be consistent with foundational Christian moral norms,” the document says. “We believe that a scrupulous commitment to human rights, among which is the right not to be tortured, is one of these Christian moral convictions.”

Meanwhile, a dialogue on torture is ongoing among leading theologians at The website features responses from Heimbach and R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Mohler, on the website, calls torture “a vital issue of great moral consequence” and says “all citizens bear responsibility to be informed and engaged” concerning the debate.

“I would argue that we cannot condone torture by codifying a list of exceptional situations in which techniques of torture might be legitimately used,” Mohler wrote. “At the same time, I would also argue that we cannot deny that there could exist circumstances in which such uses of torture might be made necessary.”

Heimbach told Baptist Press that evangelicals should support government application of coercive force to non-cooperating prisoners as long as those methods are limited to just war boundaries.

“Evangelicals should also firmly oppose, criticize and renounce the coercive treatment of prisoners in ways that transgress just war boundaries,” Heimbach said. “The NAE declaration on torture is confused and dangerous for failing to identify and apply relevant moral principles, and evangelicals should not support any position that fails to balance rejecting immorality with defining boundaries revealing exactly where right turns to wrong.”

I was going to just excerpt it, but the whole article is such a ridiculously offensive piece od sophistry, I thought it better to just present the whole thing.

I think, waterboarding, threatening with dogs, sexual and religious degradation, stress positions, forced wakefulness for days on end, and "rendition" (sending prisoners to third countries who have no compunction about torturing) all qualify as torture in my book. Again, however, I am a crazy left-wing Christian, so what in the world do I know?

I do hope Roger Williams is spinning in his grave.

UPDATE: The good folks at Faith in Public have provided a link to this article from Ethics Daily, which does me one better by actually wrestling with this whole piece of nonsense. Of course, one might argue that in so doing they grant it a legitimacy it might not otherwise have, yet the piece is so cutting and dismissive - I have already admitted my patience with this kind of thing is waning quickly - that any thought along those lines disappears quickly. Treat yourself and read a much better refutation than my own rather curt, smart-ass dismissal.

Can't Even Do Scandal Well

Thanks to the monumental efforts of Josh Marshall and the folks at Talking Points Memo all the world now has a link to the House Judiciary Committee Website and all 3000 pages of documents the Department of Justice dumped there last night around 9:00 pm eastern (my assumption is they did so to avoid the morning news cycle; sadly for them, Marshall et al. asked readers to read and highlight those parts they found interesting; Fire Dog Lake has already found some doozies).

I have scanned about 300 pages or so, and the one striking conclusion I have is that the Bush Administration is so inept, they can't even do scandal and cover-up well. It would be one thing if all these e-mails, memoranda, and other documents had been shredded or deleted, as would have been done by any other group of unconscionable persons. Apparently they figured, however, that none of this would come out, and they kept to the letter of the law by preserving these documents which pretty clearly outline how they were planning to sack a bunch of US Attorneys for no reason whatsoever, some of whom continued to express loyalty even after it was clear they were being "pushed out" (in the words of one memo) for no reasons other than crass political ones.

You know, if you are going to act in an ethically and perhaps legally questionable manner, one would expect consistency. Don't hang onto 3000 pages of email that, among other things, detail how a talking-points narrative of the firings is to be created and held to by all involved personnel. For just one instance, the whole "serves at the pleasure of the President" business was first mentioned in a memo dated November 15, 2006, before the final list of canned attorneys was approved, before a single phone call notifying any of the attorneys of their impending unemployment had been made.

These people are so dumb they manage to hang themselves with a rope strung from the printouts of their own emails. It's one thing to screw up a war, an economy, and the Constitution of the United States; it's takes a special kind of stupid to mess up a good conspiracy like this, but leave it to BushCO. to find a way.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Michael Kinsley Can Shut Up Now

For years he posed as one "from the Left" on CNN's Crossfire, even though he admitted he really wasn't much of a lefty (unlike original Left-host Tom Braden). Now we have evidence that he buys White House spin - indeed propagates it - as he guest blogs on Swampland, here and here. To sum up, Kinsley wonders what all th fuss is about. First, I would direct him to Talking Points Memo, which has done much of the heavy lifting on this story since they first brought it up a couple months ago. They have kept on it, highlighting details, connecting the dots as it were, to show how the Bush Administration sought to politicize the Justice Department in the most crass manner imaginable. That, in the process, they may have interfered with on-going federal corruption investigations is slowly coming to light, especially in re the Carol Lam firing in San Diego. Memo to Michael Kinsley: that's called "obstruction of justice" and happens to be a serious crime.

More specifically, Glenn Greenwald has a piece today that brings up exactly these points, and at the same time shows the utter mendacity of Republicans who keep blaming Clinton for their own corruption, when Clinton did nothing wrong and they continually do everything wrong. The point of this scandal is not the cover-up; it is the act itself that is so heinous. The cover-up just makes things worse; in trying to cover up, they managed to lie to a Congressional committee, so that just adds to the possible crimes.

Kinsley needs to know there are grown-ups who are concerned about this because it is about keeping justice non-partisan; ensuring the integrity of the Department of Justice and its federal prosecutors; specifically ensuring that Karl Rove's dirty little fingers are kept out of this particular piece of pie; and finally, making sure it never happens again. Kinsley's utter lack of seriousness, his almost total cluelessness as to why this story not only won't go away but exactly why it is a big deal should relieve any of us from having to listen to him again.

Memo to Dennis Prager: You Are No Scripture Scholar

First of all, I have to admit, I have no idea who Dennis Prager is, nor do I care all that much. I was led to this little exercise in Biblical exegesis at Front Page Mag via Right Wing Watch (h/t/) and found, in part, the following:
In the view of John Edwards and other Christians on the Left, Jesus would raise taxes, promote single-payer, i.e., socialized, medicine, be pro-choice and advocate same-sex marriage. But most of all, Jesus would be anti-war, opposed to the military and essentially be a pacifist.

This is based largely on one of His most famous statements: "Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

The flaw in interpreting such statements as policy statements on how a nation should behave is that Jesus was speaking about the life of the individual -- the micro -- not about nations and the macro.

This confusion of micro and macro morality not only afflicts the Left, it also afflicts the Right. One example is when religious conservatives equate public and private cursing. While ideally one should refrain from using expletives in private as well as in public, there is no moral comparison between using such words in private conversations and using them in public. One trusts that if a religious conservative overheard a teacher using an expletive in a quiet conversation with one other person, he would not compare such speech to the teacher's using that expletive while teaching a class. The first may be a personal sin, but the second is destructive of society.

Nevertheless it is the Left that is most oblivious to the distinction between the micro and the macro. Its understanding of Jesus is a good example. The Left would have us as a nation put this admonition of Jesus into practice: "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

This is a blog, not a monograph, so I just don't have all the time and space I might want to discuss the utter stupidity and lack of understanding in this piece. So, just a few thoughts. First, simply from the point of view of presenting an argument, Prager offers the straw-man fallacy - he puts words in Edwards' mouth, then tells Edwards' how wrong those words are. Anyone can do it, it can even be fun, and occasionally funny; one doesn't do it if one is attempting to construct an allegedly serious argument.

Second, it would seem from what Prager is arguing here that, rather than Jesus, Prager would take as his guide Otto von Bismarck, who famously stated that no nation could be governed by the Beatitudes. At least we now know who Prager's favorite political philosopher is - the great architect of German reunification through war, one man rule, "blood and iron", and all that.

Third, on the specifics of Prager's attempted exegesis, the distinction he makes up here - what does he mean by "micro" and "macro" anyway? - has no meaning whatsoever. Jesus was speaking of our corporate responsibility and the possibilities inherent in the Christian life for us together. His was a communal ethic, first and foremost - an ethic for those living together. It may or may not be true that those sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels are poor guides for nation-states (as none have ever applied them, one wonders how one can argue the case), but to create a phony distinction that would have been meaningless to the original hearers (or readers) and is meaningless today does nothing to enlighten the text, the supposed reason we do Biblical interpretation in the first place. This is rhetoric - and really awful, poorly reasoned rhetoric at that - and has little relationship to how one reads the Bible.

Finally, at the end of the piece, Prager writes
Jesus was talking about interpersonal relations and noted that in our relations with people in our lives, it is not generally a good idea to hit back.

Now imagine applying this to nations: Should we have said to the Japanese after they attacked Pearl Harbor, "Now that you have attacked us in the West, please also bomb our cities in the East"?

The idea that a country should offer its other cheek to an aggressor is simply immoral, not to mention suicidal. Such thinking renders Jesus and the Christian Bible foolish.

It also shows how hypocritical are the Left's attacks on religious conservatives for taking the Bible literally. It is the Left that engages in a far more dangerous literalism when it applies Jesus' words to national policy. Those on the religious Right who believe that God created the world in six 24-hour days are engaged in, I believe, a completely unnecessary literalism. But it is hardly dangerous. The Left's biblical literalism, however, applying "turn the other cheek" to millions of its own citizens, is fatally dangerous.

Besides literalism, another point of hypocrisy: The Left attacks the religious Right for threatening to replace our democracy with a theocracy that will impose fundamentalist Christianity on the nation. Yet the people who loathe conservatives for using Scripture have no difficulty with those who cite Jesus' words when arguing their positions -- even when citing them incorrectly.

Jesus was no leftist. He was, among other things, a religious Jew who knew and believed his Hebrew Bible, which contains verses such as this one from Psalms: "Those of you who love God must hate evil." That, not offering another city for terrorists to bomb, is likely what Jesus believed.

So . . . Jesus is OK with wanton death and destruction? I suppose I should refrain from citing a thinker with whom I (largely) disagree, but perhaps Prager should read Stanley Hauerwas, whose absolutist position on pacifism relies quite heavily on a rigorous reading of both the Old and New Testaments, and whose credentials as both a Biblical scholar and public ethicist I would put up against a no-name like Prager any day of the week.

Just a hint, Dennis. Don't try to interpret the Bible when you are both ignorant and stupid. It just doesn't work.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Stupid

You know, I was wondering if it would be difficult to find something at Christian News Wire, the on-line news service of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, to make fun of. I went there, and found this in reference to an anti-war rally sponsored by, among others, various groups affiliated with mainline churches. What follows is Mark Tooley's response:
"It is important to note that the march's organizers are not merely opposing U.S. involvement in Iraq. In their promotional literature they advocate 'the principles of pacifism upon which Jesus based his life and ministry.' Quite simply, these groups oppose U.S. military action of any kind, no matter what the circumstances. This is a pacifist rally and an anti-U.S. rally, not an anti-Iraq War rally."

"These 'Christian Peace Witness' organizers employ language about 'reconciliation' and 'understanding,' but they do not explain what to do about genocidal and autocratic regimes that care little for negotiation, save as a ploy to deflect international pressure. Amazingly, some of the march organizers recently returned from a visit with the Iranian president, and quickly accepted his assurances that Iran's radical Islamist regime does not seek nuclear weapons."

"The organizers of 'Christian Peace Witness for Iraq' see the U.S. as the exclusive culprit in all international crises. Their political and spiritual myopia offers nothing constructive to Christians and other people of faith who genuinely seek a peaceful and just world."

"At best, Iran and the United States are seen as equally belligerent in the eyes of the organizers, and America's involvement in Iraq is considered the main source of Iraq's problems. This is a radical over-simplification of the situation that lays all problems at the U.S. doorstep."

I won't bother with this, because, like all the best comedy, it writes itself.

Boy but these people are dumb.

David Broder's Exercise in Typing

David Broder's column in today's Washington Post (free registration needed to read) is a strange exercise in how not to create an argument. On the one hand Broder acknowledges that the Republican Congress's in recent years have been somnolent in their approach to oversight of the Executive Branch; on the other hand he cautions the Democrats to be wary of too much oversight. On the one hand, he says that low-level staffers have run roughshod over the bureaucracy, forcing decisions based on base, crass politics; on the other hand, he calls these "bad decisions" rather than "illegal acts", which they in fact are. Most odd, he argues that the Democratic majority, thin as it is, is finding legislating difficult because of stonewalling Republicans, yet argues that the Democrats must legislate.

Then, to close it all out he notes the following:
Fulfilling that promise, later in the week the House passed a series of bills that stripped some of the secrecy from executive branch documents and decisions.

The most important measure strengthened the Freedom of Information Act, reasserting the principle that the public should have access to official documents, provided national security is protected. Bush's first attorney general, John Ashcroft, had issued a ruling that allowed agencies and departments to sequester information unless they were compelled to make it public -- placing the burden on the inquirer, not the bureaucracy.

Other bills passed by the House last week expand access to papers in presidential libraries and provide additional protection for "whistle-blowers," including government scientists and contractors who report improper activities.

The Democratic sponsors said that this accountability offensive is exactly what people voted for in November, meeting what Waxman termed "the public's call for fundamental reform."

Accountability is certainly important, but Democrats must know that people were really voting for action on Iraq, health care, immigration, energy and a few other problems. Investigations are useful, but only legislation on big issues changes lives.

So the Democrats should legislate, which he sites them as having done. Yet, they are not legislating enough . . . They should pass laws that effect people's lives, which they are trying to do (making the government transparent to all Americans would seem to effect the way people relate to their elected officials; then again, I'm a crazy left-wing Christian, so what do I know), but are stymied by obstructionist Republicans, which is also noted by Broder.

After a bit of thought, I just wonder - what, exactly was the point of this column by the alleged Dean of Political Reporters?

Virtual Tin Cup

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