Sunday, August 31, 2003

History lesson
A while back, someone taught Bush a new phrase and something about the concept that goes with it: “historical revisionism.” Like many people with a new cool concept he couldn’t wait to find opportunities to work it into conversations. The leader of the free world may or may not have been briefed that “historical revisionism” is a term embraced by Holocaust deniers and that in using it to describe his critics, he got to slip in an oblique accusation that they are in some way anti-Semitic. And although an accusation that critics of the war in Iraq must be anti-Semitic by itself makes no sense, he could rest snug in the knowledge that it nevertheless pissed off liberal intellectuals to hear it.

Now the administration, in the persons of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Rummy, has decided to practice historical revisionism.

On Monday, Dr. Rice told the San Antonio VFW that:
There is an understandable tendency to look back on America's experience in postwar Germany and see only the successes. But as some of you here today surely remember, the road we traveled was very difficult. 1945 through 1947 was an especially challenging period. Germany was not immediately stable or prosperous. SS officers—called “werewolves”—engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces and those locals cooperating with them—much like today's Baathist and Fedayeen remnants.


Before looking at the substance of her statement notice how she frames her parallel by anachronistically transferring modern terminology into the past. The Allies have become “coalition forces.” By this rule I suppose we should start referring to John Wilkes Booth as a member of the Fedayeen Jefferson Davis.

On the same day before the same audience, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld referred to, “dead-enders … known as ‘werewolves’ …[who along with] other Nazi regime remnants targeted Allied soldiers, and they targeted Germans who cooperated with the Allied forces.”

Meanwhile, Australian blogger John Quiggin, has tracked the source of this story to an article in National Review Online by Mackubin Owens. There can be no doubt that this is the source because Rumsfeld uses as examples in his version of the Werewolf story only those examples that appear in one block quote in the Mackubin article. The source of that quote, and indeed apparently the only source for Mackubin is a one-thousand-word book review in the British magazine History Today.



Daniel Benjamin in Slate demolishes their story. There was some resistance by German soldiers behind the lines while the fighting was still going on at the end of WWII. Among these were the famous efforts by Otto Skorzeny in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, the assassination of the collaborationist mayor of Aachen after the Americans occupied that town, and the less known efforts by Volkdeutsch leader Andreas Schmidt in Rumania against the Red Army. However, none of these were Werewolf activities in the sense that Rice and Rumsfeld mean. These were commando activities directed by Reich authorities in Berlin.

The real Operation Werewolf had a little reality and a lot of myth. The reality was a plan to train troops in guerilla tactics and sabotage, to create hidden supply depots in the Bavarian and Austrian Alps, and to make Germany ungovernable for the Allied occupiers. The reality was more like an unfunded Bush social program; the supply depots never materialized and the troops were mostly Hitler Youth boys who, as soon as the command structure vanished, ditched their guns and cyanide capsules and went home. In an ugly sequel, the Soviets, who had some understanding of partisan warfare, used the Werewolf rumors as an excuse to execute German POWs while the restored national governments of continental Europe used those same rumors to justify their expulsion of 14 million ethnic Germans from Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Werewolf has lived on as a great plot device for a hundred Ludlum wannabes and not much more.

This is not a matter of interpretation where one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. There was no one there to call a terrorist, freedom fighter, or ice-cream vendor for that matter. No one.

Not long ago, on a drive down to Mom’s, my wife and I engaged in a variation of the perennial “stupid or evil” debate. You know the one, does the administration act the way they do because they are stupid or because they are evil? The usual answer is that it’s a trick question and the correct answer is “all of the above” (on our trip we were dividing the administration into plain old corrupt and ideological fanatics). This time the division appears easy. Dr. Rice is co-author of a book on recent German history and should know better. Her willingness to sacrifice truth for her career has been well established through revelations concerning the run up to the war. It’s clear, to me at least, that she’s a willing liar. Rumsfeld is only a little harder. He has already demonstrated by his version of the early epilogue to the American Revolution that History is not his best subject. On the other hand, he too has shown that he doesn’t really care about truth; he’ll say whatever is necessary to get his way.

I’m only going on like this because history is my field. After all, they are not abusing history any worse than they already have science, economics, or ethics.
Just good reporting
While buying some seed for our bird feeder at the neighborhood Fred Meyer I found myself with some extra time while the cashier tried to find a manager to void out a mistaken ring in the previous sale (the cashiers aren’t trusted to make changes). I used this time to check out the headlines on the current issue of the always fair and balanced World Weekly News. It seems Hillary’s space alien lover has landed in jail after getting into a fistfight with Bill Clinton.

I honestly don’t see how the Right can continue to say the Clintons just have a marriage of political convenience. How could he be willing to go mano a tentacle-o with some thing possessed of god only knows what superpowers unless he really loves her?

I had to put the paper back before I could find out if the batboy was in any way involved in the fight. Though in my experience, flight-endowed mutants usually manage to rise above such behavior.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

I wasn't always this shrill
Sigh.
Speaking of lists
Is any one keeping track of all the things we're not allowed to say about a "popular wartime president" or during a "national emergency"? After all, we've been assured that this is a decades long war we've been signed up for. If some form of modified democracy (you know, with out all those pesky civil liberties and rights) continues to be practiced in this country, it's inevitable that someday a non-Republican will sit in the White House. It's not that we'll want to throw those words back in the faces of their speakers, but we might want to offer them a reminder of what the rules are from time to time. You know, in a friendly, collegial way.
Hire a special prosecutor
If the Justice Department and leadership of both houses of Congress weren't receiving their talking points and marching orders from the west wing, we would have a number of special investigations going on by now. Using the "if Clinton had tried this" test, I can count at least the following:
  • Conflicts of interest in the energy taskforce
  • Intelligence failures before 9/11
  • Lies the EPA told about air quality near Ground Zero
  • Conflicts of interest in everything having to do with Enron
  • Civil liberties violations
  • Lies the administration told to get their invasion of Iraq
  • Cover up of Saudi terrorist ties by the Bush family and their operatives
  • Conflicts of interest in granting Iraq reconstruction contracts

This is just the list of misdeeds that rise to the level of special investigations. A list of mere broken campaign promises would have to be broken into sub categories (environment, ethics, education, entitlement funding; those are just the E’s).

Did I miss any?

Friday, August 29, 2003

Well, I can certainly breathe easier knowing this
EPA: Vehicle emissions don't qualify as pollutants That's the headline of an article on the front page of today's Seattle Times (picked up from the LA Times). It seems that since greenhouse gasses aren't directly corrosive when sucked into the lungs, they don't count as pollution and don't need to be regulated. This is a formal reversal of policy by the EPA. How can these people go to work every day? Their job is protecting the environment, not lobbying for auto industry stockholders.

I'm not really breathing easier. In fact, my chest is feeling tight and I'm having trouble getting a full breath. It's either hay fever or hysteria. If it's hay fever, I'll be able to brathe easier in about two weeks. I'm not counting on that.

Fortunately, real environmental groups are lining up to join the state of California in suing the EPA. Melissa Carey of Environmental Defense has the best take: "There are things we have to come to terms with: The Earth is round, Elvis is dead, and climate change is really happening."

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

A few words from Socrates
Socrates (yes, that Socrates) dropped in over at Shadow of the Hegemon to clarify a few things about power, global responsibility, why we should and should not declare immediate war on China, and comes to the conclusion that lunch is good.
September surprise
What's Karl Rove up to these days? His boss' numbers are slipping and too many issues are spinning out of control. The administration can expect a number of unpleasant bits of business to force their way on to the calendar unless the do something. It's not Karl's way to deal with problems by hunkering down and hoping no one notices. It's not Karl's way to council hard work, compromise, and humility to actually deal with the problems. Karl's way is stage some high-profile extravaganza that will keep the opposition off balance, distract the public, and make the boss look leaderly. As any stage magician would tell us, it's all about misdirection.

Last year when the Congressional Democrats returned from vacation all fresh-scrubbed and carrying their shiny new back to school supplies, ready and eager for an election season debate on the state of the economy, the Executive branch met them with war drums and hysterical warnings that we had to stop Saddam--right now before the mushroom clouds bloom over our cities!!! Serious debate about the economy went out the window, the Democrats were stampeded into giving Bush a blank check for war, and the Republicans gained seats in both houses. This summer the economy is weaker than ever, we are losing 1.7 soldiers a day in a ugly overseas quagmire, the post-9/11 international goodwill has all been pissed away, and the Democrats are showing backbone and spunk in pointing out the emperor's bare behind. Rove must have something big in mind to re-seize the initiative and distract us all.

I'm sure we'll have some kind of "proof" that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, or a program for weapons of mass destruction, or plans to someday start a program for weapons of mass destruction, or a vague yearning to begin plans to someday start a program for weapons of mass destruction. This proof will be in the form of a mind-numbing paper trail. But, I doubt as if that will be enough to even eclipse the EPA confirmation hearings, let alone their other problems. No, Karl has something flashier than that on the planning board.

So, just what does the Republican Rasputin have in mind?

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Power and authority
Martha Bridegam's Demisemiblog is a site I wasn’t familiar with till Atrios linked to it today. She is trying to track down the provenance of a quote credited to Arnold Schwarzenegger by a number of sources, including U S News and World Report.
My relationship to power and authority is that I'm all for it. People need somebody to watch over them and tell them what to do. Ninety-five percent of the people in the world need to be told what to do and how to behave.

It’s a pretty shocking quote—almost too much so, fulfilling so perfectly so many of our worst expectations. The large man with the Austrian accent must be a closet Nazi. All Republicans are secret totalitarianists. If the quote is authentic, it should be plastered across the front page of every newspaper in the big sock-shaped state on the left coast.

I’ve noticed that people who are enthusiastic about authority and order are similar to people who want sacrifices for security. They’re better at volunteering it for other people than for themselves. This is a pet peeve of mine and I’ve mentioned it before. Brendan Steinhauser, the Executive Director of the Young Conservatives of Texas, thinks Muslim-Americans should gladly undertake as their patriotic duty additional scrutiny and harassment by law enforcement. People who believe that “[n]inety-five percent of the people in the world need to be told … how to behave” invariably number themselves in the other five percent.

Of course, not everyone who talks about sacrifice or order is a hypocrite. In times of crisis, people often pull together and volunteer to make truly inspiring sacrifices for the good of others. We call them heroes. In everyday life, family members make tiny daily sacrifices for each other. We call that love.

It is in public discourse, that the word “sacrifice” sets off my bullshit alarms. But those alarms are mere wind-chimes compared to the claxons that sound when I hear someone say, “people need somebody to watch over them and tell them what to do.” This isn’t just self-serving hypocrisy; this is an assault on democracy. It’s dangerous when someone brings this up because they expect to be part of the ruling elite, but it is survivable. Democracy has always had its discontents. It’s healthy for the rest of society to periodically make a show of slapping down our would-be f├╝hrers and duces. When we are in trouble is when those who know they are in other ninety-five percent start agreeing.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Playing catch up again
I just spent another weekend with Mom. Sister number one brought her home from the hospital and is staying with her. Mom’s doing well and looking better (though smaller), but the cancer is still there. This fight is going to be with the family for a while. I’ve said before, I don’t intend to have this blog become an excuse for me to bore strangers with my life crises. On the other hand, I feel like I should explain why I dropped off the face of the earth just as my favorite story (Judge Moore’s Commandment Monument Follies) reached a climax. With Mom’s treatment underway, I can adjust my routines around them and become a more regular correspondent.
What would Bill Mauldin have said about this?
Some US troops in Iraq are using captured AK-47s for patrol because we didn’t send enough guns for all of our soldiers to have their own.
"We just do not have enough rifles to equip all of our soldiers. So in certain circumstances we allow soldiers to have an AK-47. They have to demonstrate some proficiency with the weapon ... demonstrate an ability to use it," said Lt. Col. Mark Young, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.

Could this be more embarrassing for the Pentagon? Yes, some of them like the AKs better than their old M-16s.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Desperation
Matt Yglesias reports on a new meme running through certain parts of Right Blogistan that runs like this: the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad is a sign of the success of our policies in Iraq. The Ba'athists have been so weakened that they are no longer attacking our troops and must go after "softer" targets like the UN and aid workers. This their desperate last gasp. We have them on the ropes. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Josh Marshall and Matt's commenters do a fine job of destroying the meme, so I don't need to do so here. My question is this: can the use of such an agreement be viewed as a success for the rhetorical arguments of the left/anti-war crowd? The right/pro-war crowd is showing their desperation by trotting out progressively stupider apologies for the administration's foreign "policy."

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Moore’s last stand
The US Supreme Court has refused to block enforcement of US District Judge Myron Thompson’s order that Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s illegal Ten Commandments monument be removed from the lobby of the Alabama Supreme Court by today (August 20). Thompson’s order is aimed at the State of Alabama. If they do not take the monument out of public space in the court building he will find the court in contempt and begin fining them, presumably tomorrow. Moore has lost every court battle and appeal on this issue and is now out of options. For five years, Moore has built his career on this issue and become a darling of the religious right while doing so.

Last weekend, thousands of supporters came to a pro-Moore rally. Most described themselves as common people rallying to the defense of religion. Many of them recited the usual misconceptions (or propaganda talking points) about separation of church and state. The most common of these is that the courts are somehow outlawing the Ten Commandments in the United States. If these protestors are sincere in that belief and in their representations of whom they are, then they have been horribly misused by their leaders. Imagine some mom in Arizona, struggling to make ends meet, who has been tricked into taking on the expenses of a trip across the continent to stop some sinister plot to abolish God (as if that would be possible).

At least 20 of those protestors were still there this afternoon and were arrested. Others are promising to stay all night. I assume there will be quite a media circus with lots of civil disobedience when the Alabama authorities finally do remove the monument—and they will; even Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor knows his higher court ambitions will not be helped by a contempt fine or jail stay. I hope those going to jail really do understand the issues and are not just dupes of unscrupulous leaders.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Great days to miss
So what did I miss during the last five days?

Fair and balanced Friday Well I like to think I’m a fair and balanced kind of guy. I think that that should be self-evident to anyone who isn’t a completely blind right-wing poop head with bad taste in women, whiskey, and cigars (I exempt all blind right-wing poop head women from that comment; they have bad taste in men).

The great blackout of ‘03 Cue theme music and special graphics. My favorite part was where the commander in chief of the free world was able to instantly announce that even though we don’t know what caused the outage, it wasn’t terra’ists and it was the infrastructure. So how long before he manages to give lots of our money to Cheney’s friends in the power industry.

Earlier last week—before the great blackout of ’03—a question occurred to me: has there been a single deregulation in the last twenty years that has worked out to the advantage of consumers and people employed in that industry? Banking? Airlines? Power utilities? Broadcast news?

Judge “Ten Commandments” Moore Roy Moore has sworn to defy the Appeals court order to remove his illegal monument from the lobby of the Alabama Supreme Court. Moore continues to use segregation era states’ rights arguments to make his case. Over the weekend, Rev. Jerry Falwell and failed presidential candidates Alan Keyes and Howard Phillips joined about 4,000 Moore supporters protesting in Montgomery. Moore punished them by reading his poetry. Meanwhile, it is the taxpayers of Alabama who will have to pay the contempt fines and legal fees for Moore’s defiance, not Falwell, Keyes, and Phillips.

Clark insults DeLay’s hair And about time, too. I really hope Clark runs; I think he could add a lot to the discourse. His criticism of the administration’s security and military policies will carry a lot of weight. And, of course, I approve of anybody who’ll take a slap at DeLay.

The passing of VD Amin I was taught you should only speak good of the dead. Idi Amin is dead. Good!

California recall circus Everybody who seriously follows politics feels that their state government makes an unprofessional spectacle of itself and that the rest of the country is laughing at them. The truth usually is that state governments are almost by definition unprofessional spectacles and no one pays attention to local politics in other states. There are two exceptions to this rule: California and Texas. We really are all laughing at you.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

I'm back
Mom had her operation. My number one sister came down from Alaska and she, my wife, and I were there for the operation and after. Things went as well as can be expected for an almost eighty-year-old woman with a lot of cancer. There is something just wrong about seeing a parent made small, scared, and vulnerable. I've said it before and I stand by it now: growing up sucks.

Tomorrow, I'll get back to bashing the administration, its friends, and the horses they rode in on.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Time off
I'm going to be spending a lot of time with my mother during the next week as she has her cancer operation. Blogging will be light to nonexistant. Wish her luck.
This could be big
The attorneys general of Maine and Connecticut are requesting a Justice Department investigation into collusion between the White House and a business group over a lawsuit attempting to reverse a report on global warming.
AUGUST 11, 2003
CHARLES DOW, SPECIAL ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, 207-626-8577

In a letter sent today, Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal called on United States Attorney General John Ashcroft to investigate whether officials at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) solicited a conservative Washington think tank to sue the federal government in order to invalidate a government document warning of the impacts of global warming.

The two state attorneys general obtained an email document through a Freedom of Information Act request that revealed a great intimacy between CEQ and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) on strategizing about ways to undermine the United States’ official reports and the authority of its officials.

Rowe and Blumenthal called for the investigation after discovering an email sent in June 2002 by an executive at CEI, Myron Ebell, to Phil Cooney, the Chief of Staff at CEQ, thanking Cooney for “calling and asking for our help.” The email goes on to suggest strategies for minimizing the problem of global warming, including finding a “fall guy (or gal)…as high up as possible” in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to blame for the report, and indicating that CEI might call for then-EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman to be fired.

According to the official White House website, the White House CEQ “coordinates federal efforts and works closely with agencies and other White House offices in the development of environmental policies and initiatives.” According to the CEI’s website, the organization is “a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.”

The lawsuit was filed by CEI against the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science and Technology Council. In the suit, CEI argues that the National Assessment of Climate Variability and Change (National Assessment) and EPA’s Climate Action Report 2002 should be invalidated. The National Assessment is a peer-reviewed study documenting global warming and identifying its dangers. Its findings were relied upon in the EPA’s Climate Action Report 2002, which was produced by the United States pursuant to its obligations under the 1992 Rio Treaty on climate change. CEI alleges that the federal report failed to meet scientific standards for objectivity and utility.

Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe stated, “It appears that certain White House officials conspired with an anti-environmental special interest group to cause the lawsuit to be filed against the federal government.”

“The idea that the Bush Administration may have invited a lawsuit from a special interest group in order to undermine the federal government’s own work under an international treaty is very troubling.”

“We believe an investigation is necessary to determine whether the idea of this lawsuit came from the White House itself, and if so, whether it represents improper conduct by public officials.”

Maine, Connecticut and Massachusetts filed a lawsuit in June, 2003 against the EPA alleging that the federal agency is required under the federal Clean Air Act to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide.

Here is the press release form the Connecticut AG’s office. Here are the letter to Ashcroft and the Ebell/Cooney letter.

CEI’s website describes them as “a non-profit public policy organization dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.” Their lawsuit, filed August 5, claims The National Assessment on Climate Change (2000) and EPA's Climate Action Report 2002 are based on junk science. Ironically, they base their lawsuit on a Clinton era law, the Data Quality Act, that requires all data used to create public policy pass basic scientific muster.

This comes at an interesting time. Sandwiched in between the release of the Waxman report on the misuse of science by the Bush Administration and the confirmation hearings for the EPA administrator, which could prove to be the occasion for a public examination of Bush’s environmental policies, this could prove to be a major embarrassment for the administration. Ashcroft should not be allowed to let this go.
More on Van Impe
An intrepid reader of Atrios’ checked with Jack Van Impe’s Ministries International to get the poop on Van Impe’s claim that his is briefing Bush on his role in the end times. This is their response:
On July 7th or 8th we received a call from Justin Bush of the Office of Public Liaison for the White House asking Dr. Van Impe to attend a meeting with Dr. Condoleezza Rice and a few other faith-based leaders to discuss President Bush's "Roadmap to Peace in the Middle East.

Due to a busy taping schedule for his weekly TV program, Dr. Van Impe was not able to go to Washington for this meeting, but we told Justin Bush that he would be taping a video the following Saturday that will be sent to Dr. Rice as soon as it is finished. That tape, "The Roadmap to Peace: Potholes & Road Rage" is currently in post-production and will be sent to Dr. Rice and President Bush upon completion.

Apparently Van Impe’s claims are a bit exaggerated.
The Onion: Fair and Balanced
Why I love these guys.
Republicans Introduce Economic Equality Bill For Fun Of Shooting It Down
WASHINGTON, DC—Republicans in the House of Representatives proposed H.R. 2093: the Economic Equality Initiative, with the express purpose of shooting it down "just for kicks" Tuesday. "H.R. 2093 will level the economic playing field, spreading the wealth among the rich and poor," said Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), visibly fighting back snickers. "We must pass this bill to stop the fat cats from getting fatter while the average Joe struggles to make ends meet. Also, I'm the Queen of Bavaria." Following 10 minutes of uproarious laughter, the congressmen stepped out of the chamber to smoke cigars lit with a bill that would allocate $115 million to clean up hazardous waste sites.

More of the same
This kind of stuff is not good for my blood pressure.
When weighing the benefits and the drawbacks of the PATRIOT Act, it is clear to most Americans that preventing future acts of terrorism is much more important than trying not to offend Muslims in this country. American Muslims should see it as their patriotic duty to undergo more intense scrutiny than the average American. It only makes sense to do so if we are serious about combating terrorism.

[...blah, blah, blah...]

Brendan Steinhauser

Executive director of The Young Conservatives of Texas

I have bitched about this before and will do so again. One of the ugliest hypocrisies in public life is the ease with which some people will announce "we must all make sacrifices for the common good" when they mean "you must make sacrifices so I'll feel more comfortable”. Powerful people, whose kin are never at risk, demand troops be put in harm’s way. Too many of those who demand tough penalties for crime change their tune when "kids from good families” are involved. And someone with the obviously Middle Eastern name of Brendan Steinhauser knows what Muslims in America should be glad to accept as their patriotic duty.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Apocalypse now. No, really. Now!
As if we didn't already have enough to worry about with this administration, this is the current question of the week and answer on the website of Jack Van Impe's Ministries International (Thanks To Atrios for pointing this out).
Do you think that President Bush, apparently a Christian man, believes and knows he is involved in prophetic events concerning the Middle East and final battle between good and evil?
--James Beaubien

I believe he is a wonderful man. They say he is a prayer warrior. He was born again through Billy Graham's visit a few years ago when he was having problems with alcohol, and today he's proud to claim these verses in John 3, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God," verse 3. Verse 7, "You must be born again." He said I have been born again. My life has been changed.
I am not sure whether he knows all of the prophecies and how deep of a student he has been in God's Word, but I was contacted a few weeks ago by the Office of Public Liaison for the White House and by the National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to make an outline. And I’ve spent hours preparing it. I will release this information to the public in September, but it’s in his hands.
He will know exactly what is going to happen in the Middle East and what part he will have under the leading of the Holy Spirit of God. So, it's a tremendous time to be alive.
It is great to have a President who believes in God — a President who's living a godly life and not playing with sin, for the Bible says in Proverbs 14:34, "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people."

In every generation, some people look around, notice that there are wars and rumors of wars, that the weather is bad, that young people don't respect their elders as much as the elders think they deserve, and they know that this has never, ever happened before in the entire history of the world!! Ergo, these must be the end times. Normally this isn't a dangerous belief. Many people file it away under "nothing I can do anything about" and go on with their lives. Some watch the news alternating between anxiety and disappointment. Occasionally, such people present a danger to themselves and to their families if their belief leads them to give away their belongings, dress the family in sackcloth and ashes, and go sit a hilltop waiting for God. Most never do that and most never become violent.

Occasionally a charismatic personality can convince large crowds of people that not only is the millennium at hand, but that they can help it along by destroying the old order. The Reformation featured a few of these characters and some of them managed to lay waste to entire provinces before they were stopped (and usually executed in the most horrible manner imaginable by people with pretty horrible imaginations). There is a whole library of literature on millennial movements and millennial disappointment (if you’re interested, the classic work and usual starting point is Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium).

Millennial movements are usually opposed to the existing order of things. Millennialists in power are rare and those that survive to write interesting memoirs, even rarer. While some millennialists may function no worse in a position of authority than any other person with sincere religious or spiritual beliefs, it is possible that a belief in the imminent end of the world can create some dangerous conflicts of interest. James Watt, Secretary of the Interior under Reagan, is said to have believed that there was no need for conservation or environmental protection because we only needed to use this world for a few more years. God would literally create a fresh, well-stocked world for us after the second coming. I have no idea if he really believed such a thing, but at the time I believed he believed it.

Suppose Bush actually believes in the literal truth of Van Impe’s narrative of the future? He knows what the president must do at each step to fulfill God’s plan. If Van Impe’s narrative says the Israeli’s must expel the Palestinians, destroy the al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques to make way for the third temple, and trigger a global holocaust, then he must use his power to carry out this plan. This is called Christian Zionism. It is the heartfelt belief of a large portion Fundamentalist Protestantism that this narrative must be carried out. The Jews must all be gathered into Israel to trigger the final battle (in which most of the Jews die) so that the second coming will occur. This is the reason so many Fundamentalists are so fervent in their support of Israel.

I hope to write more about this in the future, but for now let me refer you to the excellent material at Political Research Associates.

So, is Bush sitting, with his finger on the button, waiting for Van Impe to tell him the magic day when God wants him to push it? Or is Van Impe exaggerating his own importance in front of his flock? Much has been written about Bush’s religiosity over the last four years. He speaks the language of Fundamentalist Protestantism fluently, but what does that mean? There are lots of varieties of Fundamentalism. Loving the Bible and believing he has a special mission is not the same as champing at the bit to hurry the millennium, and in some varieties of Fundamentalism, believing you can know God’s plan and affect it is itself a sin. What is in his mind and heart?

As we radical agnostics say: I don’t know, and neither do you.
Another blow for freedom
The small town of Tonasket in Okanogan County, north-central Washington, has become the latest jurisdiction to just say No to the Partriot Act. Okanogan County is deeply conservative in the western libertarian mold. That makes their defiance all the more significant. It is also practically within spitting distance of my cat-filled hideaway in the senic northwest. Now I know where to go hide when the crackdown comes.
The resolution is very well written, I especially like the final section:
Section 5. The Tonasket City Council believes it is the duty of every citizen to protect and defend the State and Federal Constitutions from all enemies — foreign and domestic — and to demonstrate outspoken respect for the Rights that have been paid for with the blood and sweat of the American People throughout our history.

Take that, John Ashcroft.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

The evil genius of Karl Rove
Buzzflash and Horse both have pieces up that explain how Rove is behind the California recall and Arnold’s candidacy. They offer some interesting circumstantial evidence, but nothing really iron clad.

I don’t doubt that Rove was involved on some level. California is a big important state and he wouldn’t be doing his job if he ignored something like this. The recall also fits nicely with the pattern of Republican behavior over the last decade. As the party has moved right, they have shown more and more contempt for the norms of electoral democracy. The search for something—anything to impeach Clinton on was first, then the judicial coup to get the electoral count they wanted in 2000, the various out of season redistrictings this spring, and now this. None of these are technically illegal, but they all stink of bad-sportsmanship. However, I have two problems with the idea that Rove planned this business in all its particulars sometime last fall.

My first problem is why Arnold? Last year Rove and the rest of the Bush crowd might have had an attraction toward Arnold as a Republican who could beat Davis. But Arnold certainly isn’t their kind of Republican. Many movement Republicans consider Arnold a Democrat in Republican’s clothing, suspiciously close to the Kennedys, Hollywood, and all that is wrong with the world. So now, with the bar to getting a Republican elected significantly lowered, why wouldn’t Rove want someone who is going to be a stronger supporter of the Bush revolution? I can’t see that Arnold will be that much of an asset to their side.

My second problem is that I don’t think Rove is as clever as we are being sold. I’m frankly pretty tired of hearing Democrats sing Rove’s praises. He’s good at his job, but he isn’t infallible. This constant chorus from our side about what a formidable strategist Rove is, is starting to sound like we are getting our excuses in line to lose next year (yeah, we lost, but we were running against The Rove). If we expect to lose, we will lose. Rove is human; he has flaws (hubris leaps to mind along with short sightedness). He does make mistakes. If we look for them and pounce on every one; if we hound his every move and show no mercy, he can be beat.

Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing him have his ass handed to him.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Pryor’s toes get scorched
I have been hoping that Judge Roy Moore’s illegal Ten Commandments monument in Alabama might start to cause some discomfort for Republicans higher up the food chain and draw attention from outside he usual church/state crowd. As the story moves towards its climax it might do just that.

Moore, you will recall, first came the public eye as a local judge defying orders to remove a Ten Commandments display from his courtroom. He used his notoriety to get elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court on a platform that was little more than promising to continue annoying liberals. True to his word, soon after moving to the big courthouse in Montgomery, he had a 5,280-pound Ten Commandments monument plopped in the lobby in the middle of the night. televangelist D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries in Fort Lauderdale, FL filmed the stealthy event and used the videos as a fund raising tool (God’s will defended for $19.95). The dark forces of liberalism (that’s us), of course, sued and the State of Alabama has been defending Judge Moore through various losing appeals ever since.

Having lost his last appeal, US District Court Judge Myron Thompson has lifted a stay that allowed Moore’s monument to stay where it is pending appeals, and given the State of Alabama till August 20 to remove it. After that hefty contempt fines will kick in and escalate.

So far, this might be just another story of some reactionary making a local embarrassment of himself by shaking his fist at the modern world. The usual liberals and the usual fundamentalists have rushed to the aid of their respective sides and that should be that. However, stories like this have a way of attaching themselves to national politics.

Moore’s defenders have managed to make this a much bigger issue. Rep. John Hostettler (R-Indiana) attached an amendment to a Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary spending that prevents the use of federal funds to carry out the removal (Me, August 1, my links are Bloggered. Damn!). Hostettler’s amendment was passed by nearly all of the House Republicans and a disturbingly number of Democrats who are either unclear on the concept of balance of the branches of government, or, more likely, eager to pander to the reactionary vote in their home districts.

One of Moore’s most fervent defenders back home has been William H. Pryor, Jr., the Attorney General of Alabama and Bush's nominee to fill an 11th Circuit vacancy. Pryor has a long history of denying the existence of a separation of Church and State (among other alarming beliefs). His nomination is currently being filibustered by Senate Democrats. His nomination has taken an especially ugly turn since Sen. Orin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced the Republican talking point of accusing anyone who opposes Pryor of being biased against Catholics (Pryor being a conservative Catholic).

Three things keep the Moore case from being just another local idiocy. First, Rep. Hostettler made it a national issue by tying enforcement of the court’s will to a federal spending bill. Second, Judge Thompson aimed his enforcement at the State of Alabama, not Roy Moore; any fines will come out of the already strained state’s coffers. Third, and biggest, Bill Pryor can’t escape his part in this. Just at a time when it would be in the best interests of his Senate confirmation to look like a mainstream judge, his opposition to most recent (by which I mean, the last half century or so) constitutional interpretation will be pushed into the headlines by this case.

The attorneys Pryor named to defend Moore, D. Stephen Melchior and Herbert W. Titus, chose to base their arguments on long-discredited theories of states’ rights. The federal government, they argued, has no authority over state constitutional issues. Their arguments are essentially the same arguments used by George Wallace to resist integration flour decades ago. Americans United for Separation of Church and State has called on Pryor to fire Melchior and Titus for incompetence. Americans United, one of the plaintiffs in the suit to remove the monument, appears to be determined to keep the pressure firmly applied on Pryor.

Pryor’s outdated defense of Moore shows how reactionary the Bush administration is. I’m not the first observer to point out that while Reagan and Gingrich only wanted to reverse Johnson’s Great Society, Bush wants to reverse FDR’s New Deal and possibly also Teddy Roosevelt’s Square Deal. Pryor’s states’ rights position would turn the clock on constitutional law back a half-century or more. Moore and Pryor show that this administration wants to be our bridge to the nineteenth century, and despite the cowboy nostalgia that seems to fill the head of the leader of the free world, I don’t think the reality of that century is a place most of us would like. Even the white males.
Kitchen theology
I’m feeling fairly moral at the moment having just completed the most dreaded task in all of housekeeping. I cleaned out the refrigerator and emptied and washed the Tupperware!! Grown manly-men are known to tremble in fear before this task. The literature of Tupperware cleaning is filled with frequent references to projectile vomiting without the expected prior references to consuming vast quantities of alcohol. Tupperware cleaning is one of those things so unambiguously good, like making an old cat happy, that, if it does not actually assure one a place in heaven, it at least shaves decades off ones time in purgatory.

I have had friends so desperate to avoid this task that they have dated their Tupperware and—No. Not that kind of dating. This is not the kind of thing that leads to man on Tupperware sex. I mean they put a label on the Tupperware with the calendar date that they filled the Tupperware. This way they could go through the fridge once a month, season, or year and throw out all of the old stuff without opening it and looking inside. I’m sure Tupperware appreciates the return business, but my Protestant background makes me unable to do anything so wasteful. If I even looked like I was contemplating such a thing, I’m sure my dour Scots-Methodist ancestors would return from their graves and hound me into mine.

What led me to this task was the presence of an odd smell. In the end it turned out to have nothing to do with Tupperware; it was a bit of old broccoli in the back of the crisper. Now, although Old Broccoli sounds like a fine old sour mash or single malt whiskey (as in "what would you say to a wee nip of the Old Broccoli?" "Why, I'd say 'hello, wee nip.'"), it's not.

Now that the fridge smells nice, I think I’ll go kill some weeds.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Best cast ever
...or at least a good contestant. The two pack from DVDplanet with both versions of The Italian Job lists this as the cast: Benny Hill, Charlize Theron, Donald Sutherland, Edward Norton, Jason Statham, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Caine, Mos Def, Noel Coward, Seth Green.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Bookmark this
Just over a week ago, Steve Perry over at Bush Wars published part one an excellent two-parter called All the President's Lies about—surprise !—Bush’s problems with the truth.

Part one, Better Late Than Never, was an extended essay on why he has gotten away with it for so long. Most of this is common wisdom on our side of the spectrum; Perry concentrates on the lack of enthusiasm shown by the press in informing the electorate and by the Democrats in functioning as an opposition party. Although not new, his discussion is thoughtful, detailed, and show a nice historical perspective. I don’t agree with everything he has to say—in particular, I think he’s unfairly hash on George Soros—but in general I think he provides a nice introduction to this line of criticism.

The really valuable section is part two, The Bush Administration's Top 40 Lies About War and Terrorism. This is more than just a list of outrageous quotes (though I do love such lists). Perry gives a short summary and critique of the problems with each claim and follows it with a series of links to the important sources for debunking Bush. This is the sort of bibliography that should be invaluable to bloggers and debaters of the ABB party (Anybody But Bush). I hope other energetic writers will do this sort of legwork on the economy and other topics where Bush, his administration, and the Republican party are vulnerable.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

(Un)intelligent design
Last month two bills (here and here) were introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives and referred to the Education Committee that pave the way for requiring the teaching of intelligent design in the public schools. Intelligent design is simply creationism in new clothes. It is a tactical effort by creationists to undermine the teaching of evolution and bring their narrow sectarian form of religion back into the public schools.

When the creationists finally exhausted all arguments for teaching overtly religious creationism in schools—the type familiar from the play and movie “Inherit the Wind”—they tried a strategy of repackaging their product. For their first attempt in the seventies, they gave creationism a scientific veneer and called it “creation science”. After failing for twenty years to insert creation science into the schools, they changed the packaging to a philosophical veneer and called it “intelligent design theory”.

Intelligent design theory is a “god in the gaps” philosophy. Anything we can’t explain must be left to God. As this affects evolution, the intelligent design philosophers concede all observational data—yes the universe is old, yes species change over time—and stake their claims on two areas: origins and causes. They introduce a designer to start things and they use the designer to keep things going. They are fond of pointing out how unlikely it is for complex organisms (almost always the eye) to have happened by pure random chance. The designer must intervene to tell things how to change.

The emergence of intelligent design theory shows a growing sophistication on the part of creationists and their political allies. It avoids any hint of religious language or any other terms that might warn students that they are being taught something nonscientific. Creation science and intelligent design both depend on co-opting the American sense of fair play to their cause. Their proponents come forward and say in the most reasonable of tones, “evolution is a theory; intelligent design is a theory. Isn’t it only fair to teach both and let the students choose?”

Intelligent design is not a theory in the same way evolution is. It lacks a key component of the scientific method. It is unfalsifiable, that is you cannot design a test for which the failure to pass would disprove the theory. The requirement of falsifiability is what most people have in mind when they think experiments are necessary for science. Experiments are the best way to test a theory because they allow you to control most variables, but a predicted pattern of observation is also an acceptable test.

I think it’s amusing that the intelligent design theory doesn’t say who the designer is. It’s proponents all know they mean the God of the Old Testament that learned about in Sunday school, but the careful language of most intelligent design statutes allows ancient astronauts to fill the role of designer. So far I haven’t heard of any Raelians demanding equal time. I also find it interesting that the fair play argument is the preferred strategy of Holocaust deniers on college campuses. I’m not suggesting that all creationists are closet Nazis (though I suppose some are; there is quite a bit of overlapping at that end of the spectrum). I have the beginnings of a larger theory of rhetorical dishonesty on the right that I should attempt to codify someday.

Intelligent design theory has implications for science education beyond what students believe about human origins and evolution. Intelligent design is based on a strategy of undermining the whole idea of the nature of science. Intelligent design, like creation science before it, plays fast and loose with the definitions of such key scientific ideas as “theory,” “evidence,” and “proof.” They encourage common misunderstandings about probability and chance (which leads to depending on the gambler’s fallacy. Eh, Mr. Bennett?).

A student taught intelligent design comes out of the school system with a confused and inaccurate idea of what science is and how it is done. Their chances of succeeding in higher education are greatly reduced. Ultimately, industries that depend on a scientific and technically savvy workforce have trouble finding qualified candidates. But none of this matters to the proponents of intelligent design. They have planted the thin end of the religion wedge back in the school system and are shoving it as hard as they can.

Friday, August 01, 2003

More Moore
Last week Alabama’s own Chief Justice Roy Moore got some unexpected encouragement in his battle to keep a 2.5-ton Ten Commandments monument on state property without permission.

In early July, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Moore’s monument was a unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state and had to go. Moore vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court. While a couple conservative ministers tried to recruit protesters to block the removal, the US House of Representatives unexpectedly entered the fray. In a 260-161 vote, the House approved an amendment to a Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary spending bill. The amendment by Rep. John Hostettler (R-Indiana) prevents the use of federal funds to carry out the removal. His intent was to prevent federal marshals from enforcing the court’s order. Six of the seven members of the Alabama house delegation supported the measure. Artur Davis of Birmingham was the lone dissenter.
"I felt, frankly, that it was outrageous, in that it would prevent the U.S. Marshals Office from carrying out a court order," Davis said Thursday. "In Alabama, unfortunately, we have a history of a governor 40 years ago who stood in the schoolhouse door in defiance of the federal courts. The last thing we should do is sanction not following a court order. It would set us back 40 years."
[…]
Ayesha Khan of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, one of three organizations that sued Moore over the monument, said the amendment "shows profound disrespect for the Constitution.
"You'd think the House would have more pressing matters than subverting the Constitution," Khan said.
[…]
Rhonda Brownstein, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, another plaintiff in the case, said Hostettler's action was little more than a ploy to win applause from religious conservatives.
"If this legislation passes, I doubt it would stand up in court," Brownstein said. "It sounds to me like nothing more than political grandstanding by a right-wing politician."

Though the amendment is clearly political grandstanding, it represents a dangerous challenge to the principal of the separation of powers. Any attempt by the congress to override court decisions with which it does not agree brings forth echoes of some of the most divisive battles of American history, from nullification in the early nineteenth century to civil rights in the late twentieth. Hostettler and those who voted for his amendment show their ignorance of American history and their dangerous willingness to cast aside constitutional principles for the sake of a few votes.
Mom update
My number two sister came down from Alaska. Yesterday she, my wife, and I took Mom to meet the oncologist and find out about her cancer. It’s bad. But we were expecting catastrophic, so we’re relieved. After the doctor told us that it was bad and we needed to get Mom into surgery as soon as possible, we were high-fiving, “all ri-ight! Major surgery.” The doctor made sure he had a clear path to the door

This is the power of low expectations. If you expect the really horrible, the merely bad is cause for celebration. When the going gets tough, the real pessimists party down. We didn’t think there’d be any going at all.