Friday, November 30, 2007
Guest: I'd like to know what the future holds for my 22 year old son who is in law school.
SB: He's going to be a lawyer.
Amazing! How can anyone doubt her powers of prognostication?
When I get a chance I plan on writing a longer post about this despicable charlatan.
Hundreds of Sudanese Muslims, waving green Islamic flags, took to the streets of Khartoum on Friday demanding death for the British teacher convicted of insulting Islam after her class named a teddy bear Mohammad.
"No one lives who insults the Prophet," the protesters chanted, a day after school teacher Gillian Gibbons, 54, was sentenced to 15 days in jail and deportation from Sudan.
Damn those secular values of not killing someone for "insulting" a religious figure. Obviously, the next time there is a terrorist attack in the UK, it will be the fault of the "leftists" there who have pressured the Khartoum government to overturn the conviction of Gillian Gibbons, who is at fault for undermining the traditional patriarchal values of Sudan.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Beck was saying that scientists blame him for destroying the planet for driving an SUV but they're destroying the universe and other such nonsense. Then he shifted into feeble mockery, rambling about scientists thinking the universe is expanding, now shrinking; too big, now too small, which is obviously based on the global warming denialist myth of a global cooling scare. Maybe they can call it dark matter change (climate change ... hah ha ... get it?) etc.
I did a google search on the subject and Rush Limbaugh - the Idiot-in-Chief of the conservative movement - turned up. As you can see from the link, Beck is echoing Limbaugh's moronity. What is common to both is that they admit that they don't understand quantum physics, yet then go on to talk about it anyway - using it as a jumping off point to bash climate science. And, as usual, they are once again wrong: "Krauss, in the interviews, took care to abjure the headline's notion that humankind was somehow responsible for shortening the universe's life. But Drudge picked up the Telegraph headline, and then it was off to the races."
So to recap: Beck and Limbaugh took a paper by two scientists about cosmology that was completely unrelated to global warming, read a news item that got the conclusion of the paper wrong, and then used that wrong conclusion to say that "scientists" are wrong about global warming because they have an ideological desire to bash humanity.**
This is not atypical. It is what Limbaugh and Beck and other such figures do an a daily basis. They are paid to talk about issues that they know nothing about, to offer their ignorant opinions as authoritative rebuttal to "liberal" misinformation/bias (read: reality). Their salaries are not dependent on being right or having any professional integrity ... they can lie or mislead as much as they like without ever having to give it a second thought.
It is fairly disturbing that not only can someone get rich by working within the noise machine spreading stupidity, but that a figure like Beck can also do so working for in the mainstream media. Of course, Beck works for CNN Headline Prime, which is an abomination: a network which pretends at being a news channel but is in reality is an effort of CNN to capitalize on the worst elements of both Fox and MSNBC. Which is why Glenn Beck and the reprehensible Nancy Grace* are the flagship programs of the network.
It does not bode well for the future of democracy that CNN feels the need to trade its credibility for the ratings that someone like Beck can draw in. Nevermind the ideological affirmative action.
*I mentioned before that I would not spend much time responding to specific arguments of consevative movement figures and instead offered a reference book to demonstrate the intellectual bankruptcy of the movement. I don't know that Grace is a movement conservative, but she is a hack, and I offer this book as a reference of that. And, no, I don't approve of the book's title.
**Sentence edited 11/29/07
Update: I just noticed that Wired also responded to Limbaugh's nonsense. Yeah, sure ... scientists have demonstrated that elevated levels of CO2 from human sources are the primary cause of the Earth's current warming, but that's the truth ... it's not truthiness. Truth comes from the head, but truthiness comes from the gut. And Limbaugh's gut tells him that mankind can't affect the Earth's environment.
It's like Stephen Colbert explained:
We go straight from the gut, right sir? That's where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. I know some of you are going to say "I did look it up, and that's not true." That's 'cause you looked it up in a book.So does Limbaugh (and Beck to a lesser extent, which isn't saying much.)
Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that's how our nervous system works. Every night on my show, the Colbert Report, I speak straight from the gut, OK? I give people the truth, unfiltered by rational argument.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
For more on the nature of the debate, see this editorial from the New York Times. And to see the vital importance of this issue, see this post by Glenn Greenwald.
The cooperation between the various military/intelligence branches of the Federal Government -- particularly the Pentagon and the NSA -- and the private telecommunications corporations is extraordinary and endless. They really are, in every respect, virtually indistinguishable. The Federal Government has its hands dug deeply into the entire ostensibly "private" telecommunications infrastructure and, in return, the nation's telecoms are recipients of enormous amounts of revenues by virtue of turning themselves into branches of the Federal Government.Amnesty would mean the sanction of this undemocratic activity in which not even Congress has any kind of idea of the extent to which illegal activity is taking place behind closed doors. And the fact that the government is using tax payer money to enrich the lawbreakers should push your moral outrage buttons, in and of itself.
There simply is no separation between these corporations and the military and intelligence agencies of the Federal Government. They meet and plan and agree so frequently, and at such high levels, that they practically form a consortium. Just in Nacchio's limited and redacted disclosures, there are descriptions of numerous pre-9/11 meetings between the largest telecoms and multiple Bush national security officials, including Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, NSA Director Gen. Michael Hayden and counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke.
The top telecom officials are devoting substantial amounts of their energy to working on highly classified telecom projects with the Bush administration, including projects to develop whole new joint networks and ensure unfettered governmental access to those networks. Before joining the administration as its Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell spearheaded the efforts on behalf of telecoms to massively increase the cooperation between the Federal Government and the telecom industry.
The private/public distinction here has eroded almost completely. There is no governmental oversight or regulation of these companies. Quite the contrary, they work in secret and in tandem -- as one consortium -- with no oversight at all.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Yep, on Earth-2, George W. Bush is an enemy of corporations.
*Here on Earth-1, the Bush administration vets all such legislation with big business before signing off on it.
Update: Even though I consider Boortz's assertion to be so outrageously ridiculous on its face that it should not require any serious discussion, here's an interview by Bill Moyers with Kevin Phillips - someone who actually understands something about business and its relationship with both the Democratic and Republican party.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Churchgoing achieved an all-time low of 17% in 1776 and did not begin to increase until after the disestablishment of religion, doubling to 34% by 1850.
The wall of separation that so many members of the religious right today hold in contempt is what has allowed religion in America to thrive and flourish, probably saving (if you want to call it that) America from the secular fate that our European counterparts have suffered.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
The world vowed "never again" after the genocide in Rwanda and the atrocities in Srebrenica, Bosnia. Then came Darfur. Over the past four years, at least 200,000 people have been killed, 2.5 million driven from their homes, and mass rapes have been used as a weapon in a brutal campaign - supported by the Sudanese government - against civilians in Darfur. In On Our Watch, FRONTLINE asks why the United Nations and its members once again failed to stop the slaughter.The entire documentary can be watched on-line at the link and the website itself is a valuable resource for understanding why the world has failed to put an end to the conflict in Darfur.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Via Ed Brayton, we see that Folger has written a column from the perspective of a year into the totalitarian rule of Hillary Clinton, who has began placing Christians like Folger in a forced labor prison camp for thought crimes.
It's difficult to articulate how frankly insane this worldview is. At the end of the column she laments how Clinton has appointed Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein to the Supreme Court, who are apprently in Folger's mind some kind of left-wing anti-Christian zealots, but given Schumer's moderacy and Feinstein's work for the military-industrial complex rather than her constituents I'm guessing that Folger picked them as examples of nightmare totalitarians simply because they have (D) following their names.
There is a proto-fascist aesthetic in the column in the belief that one is being persecuted by militant radicals. It is out of this fear that one feels justified in starting up one's own campaign of persecution. If Hilliary Clinton becomes president the right-wing of the country is going to go off the deep end. And although we can expect the vast majority of the conservative movement to continue on its increasingly authoritarian yet still pseudo-fascist path (which is bad enough in itself), there will be an element that is closer to the real deal.
Monday, November 19, 2007
The basis for Barton's claim is an inscription to the JB that dedicates the edited text to Indians. In the comments of Brayton's thread, I guessed that Jefferson was being satirical
Considering Jefferson's view on organized religion and his written comments that his edited edition extracted the pure Christian doctrine from silly superstitions, that inscription comes across as possible satire.Fast foward to a few days ago when I checked out a copy of Head and Heart: American Christianities by Gary Wills. As it turns out, my guess was pretty close, although not quite accurate. Wills explains the text as such:
"Indians unembarrassed with matters of fact or faith beyond the level of their comprehensions" can be taken as a jab at the clergy who believes in the portions that Jefferson excised. Otherwise this doesn't really make sense, considering Jefferson himself thought the portions he cut out were ridiculous.
Kind of like an inside joke, the "savages" get it but the clergy doesn't.
But this is just speculation without knowing why and how that inscription got there.
The result was a collection of "forty-six pages of pure and unsophisticated doctrines, such as were professed and acted on the unlettered apostles, the Apostolic fathers, and the Christians of the first century" [emphasis in the original]. The emphasized "unlettered," like the title page saying that there was nothing beyond the comprehension of "Indians," is an attack on the supposedly learned Federalists who accepted all the Platonisms of a corrupt Christianity.
Since Jefferson kept this, like all of his religious statements guardedly private, one may ask how he could envisage its being used by Indians. how would they learn of it? Michael Novak, in his attempt to baptize the Founders into a devotion of his own dye, says that this proves the Evangelical religiosity of Jefferson. "He did not plan to send [the Indians] a volume of Locke; he planned to send the moral teachings of the New Testament." Actually, it has been well known to scholars from the time of Henry Adams that, as Adams wrote in 1890, Jefferson's friends understood how he would "use the mask of Indian philanthropy to disguise an attack on conservatism." That is one of the ways he kept his religious views private. "Indian" was a code word for "Federalist."
I've only just begun reading it, but the book is a rich source of fascinating information about the history of Christianity and church/state separation in America. I'm sure I'll be blogging more stuff from it as I go along.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
When I wrote that I was not aware that Union Carbide is already responsible for one of the worst industrial disasters in U.S. history, which not incidentally also doubles as one of the most evil acts in 20th century American history.
In the 1930's, Union Carbide was drilling a three mile tunnel to divert water for a hydroelectric plant near Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. The laborers for this task were mostly poor blacks who were considered expendable by the company. About 5,000 people were working in the tunnels. As many as half of them may have died as a result of working in the tunnel (conservative estimates of confirmed deaths runs from 400 to 700.)
The mountain they were digging through was almost purely silica. Silica had been identified 15 years earlier as the cause of an often fatal disease that slowly suffocated victims by destroying the ability of their lungs to absorb oxygen. The doctors working for Union Carbide had replaced their Hippocratic Oath with a promise to promote the bottom line interests of their employers.
Recounting this incident in Trust Us We're Experts, Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber note
At Hawk's Nest, Union Carbide's management and engineers were mindful of the dangers associated with silica dust, and they wore face masks or respirators for self-protection when they entered the tunnel for periodic inspections. The workers themselves, who spent 8 to 10 hours a day breathing the dust, were not told about the hazard, nor were they given face masks. Wetting the job site would have reduced the amount of dust in the air, but this was not done either. "The company doctors were not allowed to tell the men what their trouble was," one of the doctors would testify later. If a worker complained of difficulty breathing, he would be told that his condition was pneumonia or "tunnelitus." For treatment, the doctors prescribed what came to be called "little black devils" - worthless pills made from sugar and baking soda.The authors continue
In moderately dusty conditions, workers would expect to contract silicosis after 20 or 30 years. For jobs such as sandblasting, accelerated silicosis might strike in 10 years. At Hawk's Nest, conditions were so bad that workers were dying from acute silicosis within a single year.The men were forced to live in a company house until they were to sick to work anymore and then were evicted. An undertaker working for Union Carbide ending up burying 169 men in a mass grave, say Rampton and Stauber.
During a 1935 Congressional investigation into the scandal, a Union Carbide contractor testified that, "I knew I was going to kill those niggers, but I didn't know it was going to be this soon."
A week after the hearings, industry gathered at the Mellon Institute and formed the Air Hygiene Foundation to wage a p.r. campaign for industry. Here's a quote from AHF rep Alfred Hirth to give you an idea of the level of moral integrity these miserable souless cretins had: "Silicotics are rare compared with men driven from their jobs by shyster lawyers." And AHF lawyer:
Theodore C. Waters, accused doctors of fabricating claims of silicosis. "In many instances," he stated, "employees have been advised by physicians, untrained and inexperienced in the diagnosis and effect of silicosis, that they have the disease and thereby have sustained liability. Acting on this advice, the employee, now concerned about his condition, leaves his employment, even though that trade may be the only one in which he is able to earn a living."Hundreds, if not a few thousand, men who worked at Hawk's Nest beg to differ. It's hard to earn a living when you're dead.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Through 17 debates this year, roughly 1,500 questions have been asked of the two parties' presidential candidates. But only a small handful of questions have touched on the candidates' views on executive power, the Constitution, torture, wiretapping, or other civil liberties concerns. (A description of those questions appears at the end of this column.)
Only one question about wiretapping. Not a single question about FISA.
There has, however, been a question about whether the Constitution should be changed to allow Arnold Schwarzenegger to be president.
Not one question about renditions. The words "habeas corpus" have not once been spoken by a debate moderator. Candidates have not been asked about telecom liability.
But there was this illuminating question, asked of a group of Republicans running for president: "Seriously, would it be good for America to have Bill Clinton back living in the White House?"Though Republicans often claim that the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping of Americans is necessary to prevent "another 9-11," debate moderators have not once asked candidates about recent revelations that suggest the administration began its surveillance efforts long before the September 11, 2001, attacks, not in response to them.
But NBC's Brian Williams did ask the Democratic candidates what they would "go as" for Halloween.
No moderator has asked a single question of a single candidate about whether the president should be able to order the indefinite detention of an American citizen, without charging the prisoner with any crime.
But Tim Russert did ask Congressman Dennis Kucinich -- in what he felt compelled to insist was "a serious question" -- whether he has seen a UFO.
No moderator has asked a single question about whether the candidates agree with the Bush administration's rather skeptical view of congressional oversight.
But Hillary Clinton was asked, "Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?"
That last question came from an audience member at the end of the November 15 Democratic debate. It turns out, as first reported by Marc Ambinder, that the questioner would have preferred to ask a substantive question, but CNN only offered her the opportunity to ask about jewelry.
As Ezra Klein has noted, this is particularly shocking in light of the fact that the cable channel has made a big deal about the Clinton campaign planting a question about global warming in an audience recently. Planting questions about the future of the earth? Bad. Prompting someone to ask the first woman to have a legitimate chance of being elected president about jewelry preferences? That's just good television.
It's difficult to find an area of governance in which President Bush has not been attempting to dismantle democracy, but one of the clearest examples of him doing so is his use of recess appointments to bypass Senate confirmation for his nominations.
The installation of “loyalist” Rood is only the latest chapter in the Bush administration’s efforts to avoid Senate confirmation for positions that require it. In June, the Washington Post reported that Bush used recess appointments to place 105 people in full-time positions and 66 in part-time slots, which is more than Bill Clinton installed in his entire presidency.This is what the President does at every step. He looks for some way to get around democratic procedure to find someway to execute, not this nation's laws as he swore to do, but his personal fiat. President Bush expects the Senate to rubber stamp his nominations, and if they won't then he will just appoint them anyway by finding a loophole where democracy can be subverted.
What this reveals is that President Bush intends for the role of the Senate to be largely ceremonial. He wants them to provide the pretense of confirmation and oversight to disguise his authoritarian rule. It is truly sickening.
What President Bush has done is demonstrate a crack in the confirmation process which allows persons without integrity and civic virtue (such as George W. Bush) to act as a King rather than a president. Congress must write legislation to stop this from happening again in the future.
But that's not enough. This president holds our country and its principles in contempt. He has violated his oath of office. In Thursday night's Democratic debate, Dennis Kucinich provided an answer:
"It's called impeachment, and you don't wait. You do it now."
Friday, November 16, 2007
Yes, the phrase church/state separation isn't in the Constitution but the principle is.
Really, I'm at the point where I feel that either you can read the 1st amendment and see how it entails the separation of church from state and vice versa or you need to enter into a remedial reading course.
The guest host was saying that all it says is that you can't establish a national church. Really? Under the first amendment Congress could pass a law saying that you have to be a Southern Baptist to get a driver's license? I mean, the amendment doesn't read "Congress shall make no law stating that only Southern Baptists may obtain a driver's license" so obviously the Constitution doesn't prohibit it.
Bipartisan: Agreeing to do what conservatives want done; not to be confused with two sides of a political dispute compromising to come to a mutually beneficial position
h/t The Vanity Press
Thursday, November 15, 2007
A 19 year old woman in Saudi Arabia is gang-raped 14 times. Her attackers get ten years in prison; she gets sentenced 200 lashes and 6 months in prison for being in a car with a man who was not family.
Dinesh D'Souza thinks that human rights advocates who denounce, protest, and seek to end such practices are the "enemy at home" who are responsible for Islamic terrorism (because Muslims have a right to be upset that "the cultural left" is trying to intefere with their traditional patriarchal society.)
What else needs be said about D'Souza?
What heaven is for Christians, virture was for those educated in the values of the Enlightenment. With its origin in vir, the latin word for man, and considered the ultimate goal of every meritocrat, virtu` was originally translated as "public spirit," for, as described by a line of philosophers from Aristotle to Montesquieu, it referred to someone so devoted to civic service that he became famous in his lifetime, and after death was remembered by history for his great and generous work. Machiavelli had warned that democratic states depended on the virtue of their citizens, for if a love of power inspired "factions" to pursue private interests in lieu of the greater good, or if fortuna (an epicene lust for riches and luxury) defeated virtu`, corruption and tyranny would be the inevitable result.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has killed more than twenty-five million people and remains a major threat to humankind (UNAIDS 2006). The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS by undermining the immune system, eventually resulting in death (Simon et al. 2006). Although no cure has been discovered, scientific advances have resulted in the development of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV (Brocklehurst 2006) and to extend the lives of AIDS patients (Smit et al. 2006). HIV has been isolated and photographed, and its genome has been fully described. Yet a group of AIDS denialists in Australia (the so-called Perth Group) insists that HIV does not exist—recently testifying to this effect in an Australian court in defense of Andre Parenzee, an HIV-positive man charged with having unprotected sex with several women and infecting one of them with HIV. Other AIDS denialists accept the existence of HIV but, following Peter Duesberg (a molecular biologist at the University of California), believe it to be harmless. What unites them all is the unshakable belief that the existing canon of AIDS science is wrong and that AIDS deaths are caused by malnutrition, narcotics, and ARV drugs themselves.Read the rest to see how pseudoscience puts lives in danger.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
"You're either with us or you're against us." - George W. Bush
The central premise of Glenn Greenwald's A Tragic Legacy is fairly simple to describe seeing as it's summed neatly in the book's subtitle: How a Good Versus Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency.
But to expand a bit, I'll quote a key section of the preface
[W]hat lies at the heart of the Bush presidency is an absolutist worldview capable of understanding all issues and challenges only in the moralistic, overly simplistic, and often inapplicable terms of "Good vs. Evil." The president is driven by his core conviction that he has found the good, that he is a crusader for it, that anything is justified in pursuit of it, and that anything which impedes his decision-making is, by definition, a deliberate or unwitting ally of Evil. This mentality has single handedly prevented him from governing, changing course, and even engaging realities that deviate from those convictions. The president's description of himself as "the Decider" is accurate. His mind-set has dominated the American political landscape throughout his presidency, and virtually all significant events of the Bush Era are a by-product of his core Manichean mentality.Before we go on, I'd just like to take a moment to note that in The Assault on Reason Al Gore also noted that although President Bush is an evangelical Christian his political worldview is actually animated by the dualistic 3rd century BCE Persion religion of Manicheaism - a form of Christian heresy.
And while we're at it, I should point out that Peter Singer in The President of Good and Evil which explores the incoherent nature of the president's ethics (and is a book I recommend reading in conjunction with A Tragic Legacy) identified the Manichean streak of President Bush, writing
Don Evans, who is not only Bush's commerce secretary but also his very close friend, says that Bush's religious faith gives him a "very clear sense of what is good and evil." Seeing the world as a conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil is not, however, the orthodox Christian view, but one associated with the heresy of Manicheaeanism. The Manichaeans were ferociously attacked by Augustine, who thought that seeing some kind of evil force as the source of all that is bad is a way of masking one's own failings. Centuries of suppression and frequent persecution, however, did not eradicate the Manichaean way of looking at the world. After the Reformation, the Manichaean view appeared in some Protestant sects and was brought by them to America, where it flourished. Writing at a time when America entered World War I, the commentator and critic Walter Lippman called the idea of a war between good and evil forces "one of the great American traditions." Bush's readiness to see America as pure and good and its enemies as wholly evil, has its roots in the American-Manichaean tradition.Holding a Manichean worldview has come to mean seeing the world in black and white terms of an ultimate struggle between the forces of Good with the forces of Evil, and that is how Greenwald employs the term (and its how I use it, too) although it might be worth pointing out that describing the politics of President Bush as Manichean might actually be unfair to the Manicheans. And according to the author in the preceeding link, Bush's tendency to define the "war on terror" in terms of Good America fighting its Evil Enemies have some disturbing implications
In drawing upon a dualistic political framework (“Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists”), Bush has positioned himself as the arbiter of good versus evil, a struggle which has come to define the public face of his foreign policy.Greenwald begins the book by tracking the arc of President Bush's popularity, noting that his approval ratings have plummeted and even members of the conservative movement who have supported him for most of his presidency have begun to distance themselves, with some like Michael Ledeen going to absurd lengths of historical revisionism to do so.
The major problem with this mode of thinking is that, aside from Bush’s role as ontological authority, his rigid dualistic politics forces yet another logical distinction: friends and enemies. In Bush’s Zoroastrian world, life is defined not by positive categories that envision a better world, but by a preoccupation with destruction of the Other. Who we are as Americans—at least in W’s America—is determined by who we are not. Once we determine who we are not, then the task at hand becomes to destroy who we are not. The paradox inherent in this formulation is even scarier than it might first appear, for this ontological system is incapable of envisioning a world without enemies and is dangerously close to the ideas suggested by the title of Chris Hedges’s recent book: War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. In military parlance, an “exit strategy” from this battle would result in a loss of our own identity. Therefore, there can be no such exit strategy.
The student of politics will also recognize the more stark historical manifestation of Bush’s ontology. It was the patron philosopher of the Nazi party, Carl Schmitt, who suggested that the state has one essential function: distinguishing friends from enemies. This friend-enemy distinction has two classifying functions: friends make up the members of the national body (based on a number of possible criteria for inclusion and exclusion—race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious and political beliefs) while enemies are targeted for destruction in an effort to rid the state of the inconvenient schisms caused by a pluralistic society. It was this pluralism that Schmitt blamed for the weakening of the German state in the 1930s.
The collapse of the Bush presidency brings to mind the plights of the Greek tragic figure Icarus, whose father built wings made of feathers and wax to enable them to escape their exile on Crete. Intoxicated by hubris and uncontrollable sensations of his own potency, Icarus exceeded his limits and flew too close to the sun, which melted his wings and caused him to plunge helplessly into the sea.The problem, Greenwald points out, is that someone who holds a Good vs. Evil mentality will not even let the reality of a failed presidency stand in his way. If you begin with a "gut instinct" that your actions are in the service of an absolute Good, then it is easy to rationalize any unwelcome reality as an attempt of Evil to push one off the chosen path. Like the believers in Antony Flew's "Theology and Falsification," there is nothing that can disconfirm the President's assumptions. President Bush is as resolute as ever, and is determined to continue forward on his ideological quest. Bush will not be deterred by reality (aka "Evil").
A consequence of the premise that the world can be divided into absolute categories of Good and Evil is that an Evil must be defined. And it follows that those waging the battle for Good against this Evil can not be restrained as any of their actions are by definition good and necessary.
[F]or the Manichean believer, the battle between Good and Evil is paramount. It subordinates all other considerations and never gives way to any conflicting or inconsistent goals. Measures intended to promote Good or undermine Evil are, by definition, necessary and just. They cannot be abandoned for pragmatic or prudential reasons, or because of growing opposition, or in response to evidence of failure. Insufficient progress when attacking Evil never justifies re-examination of the wisdom of the action, but instead compels a redoubling of one's determination to succeed. In sum, complexities, pragmatic considerations, the restraints of reality are trumped by the imperative of the moral crusade.This might help to explain why the "conservative" Bush has sought to expand the power of the president beyond the limits of the Constitution. It is this ideological bent of the presidency that properly categorizes the President as a pseudo-conservative, rather than a conservative.
Greenwald believes that Bush's Manichean worldview may or may not be sincere but what is indisputable is the framing of his policies in terms of Good and Evil. Whatever the truth or his degree of sincerity is, it remains important to examine Manichean premises on their face as they have come to shape much of our politics and look to shape the policy of future presidential candidates. He also notes that there are political factions that are willing to use black/white moralism to manipulate public opinion (and perhaps even the President), which further makes the Manichean style of President Bush worth examining.
Manichean warriors are reactionary in the sense that they define themselves in terms of an Other to be battled. When the world has been divided into Good and Evil there is no space for anything but war - be it real or ideological.
At its core, the Bush administration has defined itself by that which it is not rather than by identifiable, affirmative ideas. Its foreign policy objectives are identifiable by one overriding goal - destroy and/or kill the enemy, potential or suspected, often including everyone nearby. And it has come to view its domestic objectives through the same lens. It is a movement in a permanent state of war. All matters, foreign and domestic, are framed in terms of that war and ritualistic attacks on the enemy du jour - the terrorist, the Communist, the illegal immigrant, the secularist, and most of all, the "Liberal."The conservative movement is really a group of factions with differing agendas that are held together by their common goal of battling Evil (i.e. "Liberals" or communism or terrorism.) It is an ecumenicism of hatred that gives the movement its sense of unity.
[John] Dean's answer [in Conservatives Without Conscience to the question of what holds the conservative movement together] is that [the] disparate enclaves hold in common the need to wage war against perceived Evil, and the shared (related) hatred of common enemies. Their collective attacks on those enemies have become the Bush movement's defining attribute. That commonality is sufficient to mainstain allegiance because, argues Dean, it provides a tonic to a morally ambiguous, uncertain, and complex world - a world they perceive to be filled with dangers in every facet of life. All of these factions, like the devotees of Manicheanism, are in thrall to promises of a comforting and liberating moral simplicity, a framework that provides refuge from a complex, confusing, and frightening world. A unified crusade against Evil enemies bestows purpose, excuses failure, alleviates confusion, and enables sensations of power.In other words, Hate is a force which gives the conservative movement meaning.
Greenwald points out that the tactic of framing policies in black and white is decades old, but that the genuine evil of 9/11 made it more effective than ever. A narrative was developed to account for the attacks which provided a simplistic explanation for the nation to rally around: They attacked Us because we are Good and they are Evil. The dualistic worldview marketed by the White House and echoed by the noise machine subsumed rational debate and realistic considerations of how best to confront terrorism. To oppose or question the President was to join forces -willingly or unwittingly - with Evil.
Bush's Manicheasm is coupled with his evangelical belief that he's doing the Lord's work, leaving little room for doubt and, subsequently, the possibility of re-evaluating and changing course.
The principle attribute of those who are true believers is that, by definition, they will not re-examine their core premises. Any evidence that cannot be interpreted in accordance with those premises will simply be steadfastly ignored or, when it cannot be ignored, discredited. New events that undermine such convictions must be the product of bias or intentional deceit. A failed course chosen on the basis of evangelical truths cannot fail. Failure simply means that there is insufficient resolve, or that the forces of Evil are impeding success and more efforts must be devoted to defeating them.The last sentence sounds familiar and it warrants a digression. In "The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt," Richard Hofstadter wrote that
[The pseudo-conservative] sees his own country as being so weak that it is constantly about to fall victim to subversion; and yet he feels that it is so all-powerful that any failure it may experience in getting its way in the world ... cannot possibly be due to its limitations but must be attributed to its having been betrayed.Hofstadter's observations are as relevant now as they were then (witness the cartoonish vision of the modern conservative movement that women will soon be wearing burquas after we're conquered by "Islamofascists" Red Dawn style if Democrats are elected.) It is not difficult to see how the Manichean outlook of pseudo-conservatism so easily adopts and adapts the "stabbed in the back" myth.
Every state must have its enemies. Great powers must have especially monstrous foes. Above all, these foes must arise from within, for national pride does not admit that a great nation can be defeated by any outside force. That is why, though its origins are elsewhere, the stab in the back has become the sustaining myth of modern American nationalism. Since the end of World War II it has been the device by which the American right wing has both revitalized itself and repeatedly avoided responsibility for its own worst blunders. Indeed, the right has distilled its tale of betrayal into a formula: Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal enemies.Returning to Greenwald, we see the standard m.o. of pseudo-conservatism dileneated. Evidence that supports the President's "gut instincts" is Good and evidence that does not is "liberally" biased and/or the product of Evil. Reality confirms the Manichean's views no matter what it turns out to be. See here to witness this process of reality revision.
Another by-product of an Us vs. Them mentality is conformism.
Among the most striking aspects of the Bush administration has been the extent to which loyalty has been demanded of, and recieved from, those who work near the president.This is striking, but not surprising if we recall that Hofstadter had noticed conformism as being a defining characteristic of the pseudo-conservative revolt. He observed, "unlike most of the liberal dissent of the past, the new dissent not only has no respect for non-conformism, but is based upon a relentless demand for conformity."
This conformism is necessary to hold together a belief system that is founded on dogmatism rather than empiricism. Recall what Robert Altemeyer wrote in The Authoritarians
They are highly submissive to established authority, aggressive in the name of that authority, and conventional to the point of insisting everyone should behave as their authorities decide. They are fearful and self-righteous and have a lot of hostility in them that they readily direct toward various out-groups. They are easily incited, easily led, rather un-inclined to think for themselves, largely impervious to facts and reason, and rely instead on social support to maintain their beliefs. They bring strong loyalty to their in-groups, have thick-walled, highly compartmentalized minds, use a lot of double standards in their judgments, are surprisingly unprincipled at times, and are often hypocrites.Although Altemeyer was characterizing religous fundamentalists, it might also be said to apply to the conservative movement in general. Take, for instance, this bit from The Terror Presidency by Jack Goldsmith.
"The President has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections, "[David Addington] barked. "You cannot question his decision."That bullying from Vice President Cheney's legal counsel Addington is quike remarkable considering that it was the job of OLC director Goldsmith to determine whether or not the 4th Geneva Convention applied to terrorists who are Iraqi citizens and then forward his decision to the White House. In Addington's mind, however, it was the job of Goldsmith to provide legal cover for what his Leader had already decided inspite of any laws that may say otherwise. The Leader cannot be questioned.
What this all sounds like is the fusion of fundamentalism and authoritarianism that Jimmy Carter argued in Our Endangered Values has merged to produce a kind of secular fundamentalism that is overtaking the Republican party and has become a significant force in American politics. It is worth noting that Hofstadter recognized this development over 40 years ago in his Pulitzer winning Anti-Intellectualism in American Life:
There seems to be such a thing as the generically prejudiced mind. Studies of political intolerance and ethnic prejudice have shown that zealous church-going and rigid religious faith are among the important correlates of political and ethnic animosity. It is the existence of this type of mind that sets the stage for the emergence of the one-hundred percenter and determines the similarity of style between the modern right wing and the fundamentalist. In fact, the conditions of the cold war and the militant spirit bred by the constant struggle against world Communism have given the fundamentalist mind a new lease on life. Like almost everything else in our world, fundamentalism itself has been considerably secularized, and this process of secularization has yielded a type of pseudo-political mentality whose way of thought is best understood against the historical background of the revivalist preacher and the camp meeting. The fundamentalist mind has had the bitter experience of being routed in the field of morals and censorship, on evolution and Prohibition, and it finds itself increasingly submerged in a world in which the great and respectable media of mass communication violate its sensibilities and otherwise ignore it. In a modern experimental, and “sophisticated” society, it has been elbowed aside and made a figure of fun, and even much of the religious “revival” of our time is genteel and soft-spoken in a way that could never have satisfied the old-fashioned fundamentalist zeal. But in politics, the secularized fundamentalism of our time has found a new kind of force and a new punitive capacity. The political climate of the post-war era has given the fundamentalist type powerful new allies among other one-hundred percenters: rich men, some of them still militant against the social reforms of the New Deal; isolationist groups and militant nationalists; Catholic fundamentalists, ready for the first time to unite with their former persecutors on the issue of “Godless Communism”; and Southern reactionaries newly animated by the fight over desegregation.Substitute in Islamic terrorism for communism, issues like abortion for desegregation, neoconservative for isolationist and we can see how 9/11 has yielded a political climate that has allowed secular fundamentalism to thrive.
Bush used the politics of vicarious traumatization by linking the tragedy of 9/11 burned in America's mind to Iraq in order to bypass reasoned debate by eliciting a fear response from the populace. Iraq and 9/11 were conflated over and over again, with the end result that 6 months after the invasion 70 percent of the country thought Saddam was personally involved with 9/11. The White House used the emotionally charged frame of Saddam as Hilter, with anything less that war as appeasment and anyone who questioned war as Neville Chamberlain. This is a tactic to preclude debate (who compromises with Hitler?). The implicit message of the White House's fear campaign was to get Americans to believe that either we went to war with the new Hitler in Iraq or die in a mushroom cloud while simultaneously linking this image to the emotionally charged memory of the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda operatives. Mix in an Evangelical belief that we're fighting war for God and the likelihood of any other course of action virtually dissappears. As Andrew Bacevitch observed in The New American Militarism, Christian Just War theory seems to have been replaced with a Crusade theory of war.
In a nation on a Manichean crusade, there's little room for dissent. The press did not want to appear to be on side of terrorists and it thus reported the propaganda of White House "anonymous officals" uncritically. Democrats feared being labeled unpatriotic so they gave Bush whatever he wanted so long as he said it necessary to fight terror.
The term propaganda rings melodramatic and exaggerated, but a press that - whether from fear, careerism, or conviction - uncritically recites false government claims and reports them as fact, or treats elected officials with a reverence reserved for royalty, cannot be accurately described as engaged in any other function. The nation suffered from a profound failure of its journalistic institutions throughout the Bush presidency; a principle cause of that failure has been the intimidating Manchean framework, in which there exists no middle ground between fighting the terrorists on George Bush's terms or being one of them.After it became clear that the case for war was bunk, the press adopted the tactic of saying that it was an honest mistake - everyone was duped. Yet, as Greenwald reminds, there were anti-invasion voices before the war who turned out to be remarkably prescient, but during the pre-war "debate" they were only talked about to the extent that they could be used as foils to be depicted as unserious "useful idiots." Individuals who gave reasons for not invading:
were scorned and demonized by the all-knowing pundit class, by our nation's media stars, and by the president's core supporters. Because they opposed the president and his crusade against Evil, individuals urging caution and deliberation were week an unserious; they were pacifistic, borderline subversive losers who, like the hippies in the gernation before them, were not even worth listening to. Saddam was Evil and had to be stopped; and, by defition, no serious person could deny that. Those who did immediately stood as fringe, radical figures whow ere at least indifferent to threats posed by the terrorists, if not actually on the terrorists' side.Case in point: Scott Ritter.
And there was also the demonization of Howard Dean as some sort of far left ideologue for daring to question the White House's case for war with Iraq.
Dean is a medical doctor and was the governor of Vermont, having been elected five consecutive times by the citizens of that state. During his ten years governing Vermont, Dean was best known for his extreme frugality with taxpayers' money and his unyielding refusal to present anytihg other than a perfectly balanced budget, which is what Vermont enjoyed for his entire governorship. He battled endlessly with the progressives of his state over his relentless budget cutting.As soon as Dean started questiong the march to war with Iraq and voicing concerns he was almost instantly transformed into an unhinged far leftist. That Dean was right and the Manichean warriors were wrong doesn't seem to matter.
Dean was also one of the most favored plitical officials of the National Rifle Association due to his steadfast opposition to gun control laws - a veiw that was grounded in his unusually firm commitment to states' rights, i.e, if hunters in Vermont want to live without gun control but residents of a state with high urban crime rates (such as New York or California) want such restrictions, the autonomy of both states should be respected. Prior to becoming governor, Dean had a smal-town medical practice, and he and his wife rasied their two children in the Green Mountain State. Until he exploded onto the national political scene in 2002, Howard Dean had lived as a typical American, and there had been nothing remotely radical about him, his life, or anything he had said or done.
But though the war advocates have proved disastrously wrong they still manage to portray themselves as serious and correct, and those who were right (e.g. Jim Webb, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Howard Dean, Scott Ritter, etc.) are still the unserious marginal unhinged far leftists who are alligned (deliberately or not) with the Terrorists and/or the Islamofascists.
But even after it became abundantly clear that Iraq had no link to al Qaeda and did not have "weapons of mass destruction", the White House continued to define our mission in Iraq as fighting terrorists, unable and unwilling to abandon its Manichean frame.
Throughout the 2004 presidential election, the Bush campaign endlessly, wielded this rhetorical tactic by defining the Iraqi insurgents not as Iraqis resisting foreign occupation but as "terrorists." With that premise in place, those who favored the war in Iraq by definition favored fighting the terrorists, while those who opposed the war by defintion wanted to "surrender" to the terrorists - and as a result, real debate over the war, as intended, became impossible. After all, terrorists are the people who flew those planed into our buildings. Who could oppose waging war against them - the terrorists?The war in Iraq has been an unmitigated disaster, yet President Bush is impervious to reality, still believing that things are steadily progressing. ("[W]e have not succeeded as fast as we wanted to succeed"). Greenwald recaps
There were never any WMDs, the proliferation of government death squads and militias in Iraq means that even compared to the Saddam era, human rights violations and torture have increased to record levels. Iranian influence has risen massively, as a result of a Shiite fundamentalist government loyal to Tehran replacing the former anti-Iranian regime. Iraq was a country in which Al Qaeda could never operate, but now it holds virtually free rein over large swaths of that country. We have squandered hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives. At least tends of thousands, and more likely hundreds of thousands, of innocent Iraqis have died as a result of our invasion. And we have - according to the consensus of our own intelligence community - directly worsened the terrorist problem, and continue to exacerbate it with our ongoing occupation. But those who objected to the war plans on the ground that it would result in precisely these outcomes were demonized as weak-willed allies of Evil and thus ignored.
The most important chapter in the book is on Iran (see here for an extensive excerpt from it), and how we are poised to see a repeat of the lead up to the war with Iraq. All of the unpopularity and failed policies and low public opinion instead of giving Bush the motive to re-examine his premises have only reinforced his conviction that he is right (as evidenced by his deciding to escalate the conflict in Iraq after his party was turned out in the 2006 election and his rejection of the reccomendations of the bipartisan Iraq Survey Group - renamed the Iraq Surrender Group by the President's Manichean warriors)
Iran gives fuel to the Manichean and paranoid world view: if the mighty United States is losing in Iraq it must be because we haven't gone to war with the meddling Iranians who can be blamed for our failures in Iraq. Since we are fighting in Iraq against the Evil of "Islamofascist" terrorists ("they attacked us" on 9/11, says White House front group Freedom's Watch) then we must go to war with Iran as a necessary part of the War on Terror and anyone who says otherwise has forgotten 9/11 or doesn't want the United States to win the "war on terror." Manichean warriors cannot or do not distinguish between al Qaeda, Iraqi insurgents, Baathists, Shia, Sunni, Iranian mullahs, etc. - they are all the Terrorists. They are all "Islamofascists" and we are in a world war against Them because "they" attacked us on 9/11.
The administration's approach to Iran can be seen as thus:
Iran is governed by Evil leaders. They are the moral and practical equivalent of Hitler's Nazis. They are intent on regional, perhaps even world, domination. They are so insane and so Evil that they will attack other countries with nuclear weapons even if it means that they would then be annihilated. Particularly if they acquire nuclear weapons, they would pose a grave, imminent, and undeterrable threat to the United States. Their leaders do not fear death, and in fact crave it as a result of their religious extremism. They cannot be negotiated with because they are both Evil and deranged. The only feasible course of action with Iran is to treat it as a Nazi-like enemy, refuse to negotiate, and stop it by any means necessary, which -- due to its leaders' inability to be reasoned with -- inevitably requires "regime change," by military confrontation if necessary.From this any potential diplomacy has devolved into two options for Iran: 1. Do as we say or 2. Face some sort of inevitable military retaliation.
In this Manichean framework, it is 1938 again and we are facing Nazi Germany. Anyone who doesn't see the need to stop Iran (Nazi Germany) is Neville Chamberlain. Reality (such as Iran's efforts to normalize relations with the U.S. after 9/11, its cooperation in the battle against al Qaeda, the fact that allies of the US such as the United Arab Emirates also refuse to recognize Israel's legitimacy, our military being bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc.) shrinks away from this debate ending demagogery, and war looms as the only option for the Manichean warrior.
This apocalyptic mind-set is best summarized by the following passage from Richard Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics"
The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms—he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date fort the apocalypse. (“Time is running out,” said Welch in 1951. “Evidence is piling up on many sides and from many sources that October 1952 is the fatal month when Stalin will attack.”)And once one becomes convinced that he/she is figting absolute Evil for the sake of absolute Good, moral constraints dissappear. As Greenwald puts it (see here for another extended excerpt)
As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated—if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention.
One of the principal dangers of vesting power in a leader who is convinced of his own righteousness -- who believes that, by virtue of his ascension to political power, he has been called to a crusade against Evil -- is that the moral imperative driving the mission will justify any and all means used to achieve it. Those who have become convinced that they are waging an epic and all-consuming existential war against Evil cannot, by the very premises of their belief system, accept any limitations -- moral, pragmatic, or otherwise -- on the methods adopted to triumph in this battle.As I have written previously, this logic is totalitarian. It is this mentality which has led to the torture, rendition, unprovoked war, secret prisons, domestic spying, arbitrary detentions (including that of U.S. citizens) and un-Constitutional lawlessness that is now what comes to mind for much of the world when it thinks of America.
Speaking of the administration's roll-back of habeus corpus, Greenwald writes
There are only two choices recognized by advocates of these radical policies: (1) suport the War on Terrorism by endorsing the administration's lawless imprisonment and treatment of detainees, or (2) side with the terrorists. To them, there is no third option (such as charge detainees with terrorism and then determine in a hearing, with due process, if the Bush administration's accusation is true) because, to those inhabiting Bush's Manichean world, the president's accusation of terrorism is tantamount to proof. Anyone who objects to the Bush administration's detention of any detainees is, by definition, objecting to the "detention of a terrorist." Why wait to figure out if the detainee really is a terrorist? The Leader, who is Good and seeks to protect us, has said it is so. Thus it is so.America's shift towards authoritarianism since 9/11 (authoritarianism tends to increase in times of violent crisis; "Most people seem spring-loaded to become more right-wing authoritarian during crises," writes Altemeyer in Chapter 2) has contributed to the facility of the Manichean framework. It is interesting (and at the same time depressing) to watch the Manichean mind dissipate the cognitive dissonance that should arise between a patriotic belief in an America that is a moral beacon to the world and one that simultaneously embraces a "might makes right" mentality in which laws become a burden that can not be allowed to deter the nation from is ultimate confrontation with the forces of Evil. Altemeyer covered in detail the profound sense of ethnocentrism and self-blindness that characterize an authoritarian mindset, but George Orwell expressed the danger of authoritarian nationalism many years before him and most succinctly in "Notes on Nationalism"
This mindless belief in presidential infallibity repeats itself in almost every debate we have had over the Bush administration's expansion of presidential power. The American founders viewed checks and limits on government power as vital for avoiding tyranny. The Bush movement sees such limits as "terrorist rights," unnecessary interference with the Good Leaders' efforts to protect us.
All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side ... The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.That is to say, a nation on a Manichean crusade can engage in activity that were another country to do the same that nation would would be appalled.
As the 2008 election approaches, the most important issue facing the nation is whether or not America decides to repudiate the Manichean style of the Bush administration in order to recapture our lost democratic values.Will we return to the world of the real or will we continue to inhabit the fantasy world of Good and Evil while democracy continues to crumble into dust?
Will we learn, at least, the lesson that this president has taught us?
The president's inability to view the world as anything other than a paramount battle between the forces of Good and Evil - along with an unshakable conviction that not only he, but every decision he makes, is in service of that Manichean crusade - has kept him wedded to a war and to a method of governance long past the time when both have been revealed to be utter failures. And his core belief in both his own righteousness and the moral imperative of his mission have led him to engage in behavior that has all but destroyed America's credibility and moral standing in the world.Will we continue to stare into the monstrous abyss of a Manichean crusade in which we abandon our basic democratic values and principles in pursuit of the impossible goal of eliminating Evil from the planet?
The president who insisted that the key to American security was our moral credibility in the world single-handedly destroyed that credibiliy. The president who vowed to defend Good from the forces of Evil relied in that battle upon the very practices the United States has long insisted were the hallmarks of Evil - from an unprovoked, offensive invasion of a sovereign country that was not threatening us; to the creation of a secret and lawless worldwide prison network stocked with detainees who, in many cases, were abducted, tortured, and given no process of any kind to demonstrate their innocence; to the assertion of a limitless entitlement to act outside of any international conventions of law and ethics; to bellicose threats toward still other sovereign countries of more invasions, bombing campaigns, regime changes, and wars. The very values that the president insisted demonstrated America's moral righteousness and political exceptionalism have been precisely those he has most vigorously repudiated and, indeed, betrayed.It is now up to us to to restore reason to its proper place by rejecting the President's Good Versus Evil worldview before his tragic legacy becomes ours.
As I wrote this post, I was hoping to work the passage I quote below in somewhere. I couldn't quite figure out where to put it, so I include it here as supplementary material. It is from Richard Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American Life and is a terribly acute description of the Manichean mind. Although it's dated, I expect the reader can easily see how it would apply today.
One reason why the political intelligence of our time is so incredulous and uncomprehending in the presence of the right-wing mind is that it does not reckon fully with the essentially theological concern that underlies right-wing views of the world. Characteristically, the political intelligence, if it is to operate at all as a kind of civic force rather than as a mere set of maneuvers to advance this or that special interest, must have its own way of handling the facts of life and of forming strategies. It accepts conflict as a central and enduring reality and understands human society as a form of equipoise based upon the continuing process of compromise. It shuns ultimate showdowns and looks upon the ideal of total partisan victory as unattainable, as merely another variety of threat to the kind of balance with which it is familiar. It is sensitive to nuances and sees things in degrees. It is essentially relativist and skeptical, but at the same time circumspect and humane.
The fundamentalist mind will have nothing to do with all this: it is essentially Manichean; it looks upon the world as an arena for conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, and accordingly it scorns compromises (who would compromise with Satan?) and can tolerate no ambiguities. It cannot find serious importance in what it believes to be trifling degrees of difference: liberals support measures that are for all practical purposes socialistic, and socialism is nothing more than a variant of Communism, which, as everyone knows, is atheism. Whereas the distinctively political intelligence begins with the political world, and attempts to make an assessment of how far a given set of goals can in fact be realized in the face of a certain balance of opposing forces, the secularized fundamentalist mind begins with a definition of that which is absolutely right, and looks upon politics as an arena in which that right must be realized. It cannot think, for example, of the cold war as a question of mundane politics – that is to say, as a conflict between two systems of power that are compelled in some degree to accommodate each other in order to survive – but only as a clash of faiths. It is not concerned with the realities of power – with the fact, say, that the Soviets have the bomb – but with the spiritual battle with the Communist, preferably the domestic Communist, whose reality does not consist in what he does, or even in the fact that he exists, but who represents, rather, an archetypal opponent in a spiritual wrestling match. He has not one whit less reality because the fundamentalists have never met him in the flesh.
The issues of the actual world are hence transformed into a spiritual Armageddon, an ultimate reality, in which any reference to day-by-day actualities has the character of an allegorical illustration, and not of the empirical evidence that ordinary men offer for ordinary conclusions. Thus, when a right-wing leader accuses Dwight D. Eisenhower of being a conscious, dedicated agent of the international Communist conspiracy, he may seem demented, by the usual criteria of the political intelligence; but more accurately, I believe, he is quite literally out of this world. What he is trying to account for is not Eisenhower’s actual political behavior, as men commonly understand it, but Eisenhower’s place, as a kind of fallen angel, in the realm of ultimate moral and spiritual values, which to him has infinitely greater reality than mundane politics. Seen in this light, the accusation is no longer quite so willfully perverse, but appears in its proper character as a kind of sublime nonsense. Credo quia absurdum est.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Lyndon Hermyle LaRouche was born in 1922 and raised in rural New Hampshire and in Massachusetts. Bullied at school, but forbidden by his Quaker parents to fight back, he turned to philosophy as his weapon, dismissing his schoolyard persecutors as the "unwitting followers of David Hume."The rest of the article is an interesting examination of LaRouche's strange brand of political extremism (a mix of both far left and far right ideas.)
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Friday, November 09, 2007
Glenn Greenwald has a post up today examining how Senate Democrats manage to speak as if they actually care that the United States has made torture part of its interrogation routine and then manage to allow it to continue.
What integrity can a man who says that Mukasey is "wrong on torture -- dead wrong" and then votes to confirm him Attorney General of the United States of America have? None, Senator Schumer. You have none, sir.
Schumer previously explained that he is voting for Mukasey because he's afraid that President Bush will use a recess appointment to pick someone worse if he doesn't. How can any democrat (please make note of the distinction between democrat and Democrat) with any sense of dignity or democracy say such a thing?
We have a lawless administration that just had the previous A.G. resign because of scandal surrounding revelations that he had used the Justice Dept. not to execute the laws of the U.S. but to advance the partisan political agenda of the White House and the Republican party. The President, with his 30% approval ratings and worst presidency in American history in tow, threatens Congress that if they don't rubber stamp his nomination for a replacement he'll appoint someone worse and that works on them? How about keeping Congress in session so that there is no opportunity for a recess appointment. Isn't torture worth it?
But the real problem is that Congress has to worry about the president picking another rotten Attorney General in the first place. In a sane world, this president would be impeached for his trangressions. Yet, Congressional Democrats act like the knights in Monty Python's The Holy Grail - "run away!"
You have not the fortitude of character necessary to defend democracy. Fine. But just be up front about it. Don't give us the song and dance about how you're troubled by this appointment (a la Arlen Specter) while in reality not being willing to do anything about it. Don't give us this nonsense about how Mukasey has made you a promise in private that he'll enforce your laws and what not ... seven years into this administration it is impossible that anyone can remain that naive.
A Congress that can not find the strength to stand up to a lawless president on the issue of torture has once again failed this nation.
It is going to take a democratic revolution to put a stop to this madness. Simply voting for Democrats is not the answer. We need some sort of reform movement that can cut across the political spectrum. We need candidates running from the bottom up in both parties with the basic goal of breaking the two-party duopoly. And that's going to require campaign finance reform and undoing the media deregulations which have led to the refeudalization of the public sphere.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
With a pound of creativity and an ounce of nerve, Democrats could readily reframe the Republican billionaire bonus, the Iraq adventure that was supposed to pay for itself, and the spending spree for special interests that turned the first budget surplus in thirty years into the largest deficit in American history, into a feeling: moral outrage. The reality is that by racking up such massive deficits, President Bush and his party have instituted the largest new tax ever levied in American history: a tax on the unborn. They eliminated the tax on death and replaced it with a tax on birth. Who do they think is paying for that $70-plus billion a year going to the super rich at a time of massive deficits? Who is “sacrificing” for the Iraq War when its costs aren’t even built into the budget?Westen also points out that instead of buying into the Republicans frame of a "death" tax Democrats might have mentioned:
The people who have just been hit with an unprecedented birth tax are our children, grandchildren, and their unborn children, who’ll be paying for the sins of their parents and grandparents for decades – with interest. As the father of two young children, it makes my blood boil that my young daughters are being saddled with debt so that George Walker Bush’s friends in Kennebunkport can cheer about their untaxed capital gains and inherit the large fortunes neither they nor most of their parents sweat a drop for, while my children pay off the debt for their newly refurbished yachts. And I’ll bet a lot of middle-class parents would feel just like I do if someone told them what was being done to their children so that 2 percent of the country could clink their glasses of Grand Marnier with a toast to their good fortune.
- 98% of Americans were already below the existing exemption on inheritance taxes
- An estate tax was established by the first Republican American president Abe Lincoln (to help pay for the Civil War)
- Another iconic Republican - Teddy Roosevelt - favored an estate tax because he considered it is fairer to tax inherited wealth than earned income from labor.
Prompted by an e-mail exchange, I went ahead and checked out a copy of the The Political Brain by Drew Westen and spent last evening skimming it.
One of the things that I noticed was that Westen is one of the researchers who conducted the study last year about the way in which political partisans think with the emotional centers of their brain when processing (and rationalizing away) contradictory statements from their candidates.
I'm not sure how I managed to miss that before, given that the Rationally Speaking post that I linked to explicitly says that Drew Western (sic) was the lead researcher of the study.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Unfortunately, I already have a gazillion books I want to read, so I did not check it out. But I did do a search for some reviews of the book. The first two that came up were this one from David Brooks and this one at Daily Kos from Susan G (who also previously reviewed Greenwald's A Tragic Legacy.)*
Even though I haven't read the book, it was fairly easy to see that there was something wrong with the review from Brooks (asides from the ad hominem and his lack of expertise in the field of neuroscience.) That being that he pretty obviously used it as a partisan opportunity to attack Democrats/liberals rather than to actually review the book. I had read the book jacket, and from that I was able to pick up the gist of the book - and what Brooks wrote did not seem to match.
But to see most clearly the head I win, tails you lose logic that Brooks employs to wave off criticism of the conservative movement that he has helped bring into power with op-eds and reviews like these, take a look at what Brooks had to say about Al Gore's The Assault on Reason.
Gore says that demagoguery is being used to shortcut rational debate which is a danger to democracy and Brooks writes a snide column accusing Gore of imagining a Vulcan utopia devoid of emotion. Westen argues that rational appeals that do not produce an emotional response are unlikely to motivate voters and Brooks writes a snide review saying that Westen holds reason and rationality in contempt.
That folks, is sophistry. And I see that I'm not alone in recognizing this.
The New York Times has itself published a couple of Letters to the Editor that concisely point out the problems with the review from Brooks.
In his negative review of Drew Westen's ''Political Brain'' (Aug. 26), David Brooks concludes, as an unsupported refutation of the book's thesis: ''The best way to win votes -- and this will be a shocker -- is to offer people an accurate view of the world and a set of policies that seem likely to produce good results.'' If Brooks actually believes that George W. Bush won his 2004 presidential campaign because he offered an accurate view of the world (through fear-mongering, inaccurately tying Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and condoning fabrications about his opponent's war record) and a set of policies that seemed likely to produce good results (the invasion of Iraq?), he should examine the emotions that overwhelm his own rationality.and
Brooks discounts the power of deep-seated emotions: ''Emotions are produced by learning,'' he baldly asserts, citing the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio. In fact, Damasio and many other neuroscientists have shown that basic emotions like fear and joy, hard-wired through brain systems like the amygdala, are innately set up by stimuli of evolutionary significance. Brooks accuses Westen of failing to understand that human emotions ''partner with rationality.'' To the contrary, the book's central psychological message is that human thought, rational and otherwise, is always anchored to emotion.But I think Westen himself has written the best rebuttal.
In drawing accurately on a wide-ranging scientific literature to buttress his claims, the author of ''The Political Brain'' never pretends to be nonpartisan. In this regard, Westen's impassioned book is much more honest than Brooks's sardonic review. Positioning himself disingenuously above the fray, Brooks paints Westen as a naïve academic. But the most naïve statement in the review comes from Brooks himself, when he writes that the best way to win votes ''is to offer people an accurate view of the world and a set of policies that seem likely to produce good results.'' Two decades after Willie Horton and just a few years post-Swift Boat, the only shocking thing here is that Brooks expects readers to take him seriously.
That's actually a shorter and to the point version of the response that Westen wrote at the HuffingtonPost.com. I don't know about you, but when I read the Brooks review and got to the part where he says that Westen wrote that Gore should have attacked Bush as an alcoholic during a 2000 debate I thought to have done so would have been wrong. But at the same time I found it very difficult to believe that Westen would recommend such a thing. It turns out that he didn't.
My first response to David Brooks’s review of my book, “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation” (Aug. 26), was mild amusement. The review was playfully sarcastic, and I must admit my own appreciation for that genre. And how else could you respond to a review that argues for objectivity in politics after beginning with the words: “Between 2000 and 2006, a specter haunted the community of fundamentalist Democrats. Members of this community looked around and observed their moral and intellectual superiority.”
Then once the e-mail started pouring in, asking how I could possibly have made the arguments attributed to me, it became clear that Brooks had succeeded in inoculating thousands of potential readers against a book that some effective political communicators (e.g., President Clinton) had enthusiastically endorsed because of the ways it suggests Democrats talk about abortion, gays, guns, terrorism, taxes, race and a host of other issues that have cost them at the polls.
As summarized by Brooks, my central thesis is that Democrats should campaign using “crude emotional outbursts” and guttural noises, preferably interrupting debates by “barking” and “exploding” about their opponent’s history of drinking if he has one (or, better yet, if he doesn’t). He then wonders how I might explain Howard Dean’s failure to win the 2004 Democratic primaries against the more emotionally subdued John Kerry. (Of course, he wouldn’t have had to wonder if he’d simply gone to the index and looked under the entry “Dean, Howard.”)
Brooks never mentions that the book is a 400-page scientific and historical argument against precisely what he offers as a counterthesis, expressed in this rhetorical question: “Is it possible that substance has something to do with the political fortunes of parties? Could it be that Democrats won in the middle part of the 20th century because they were right about the big issues — the New Deal and the civil rights movement? Is it possible Republicans won in the latter part of the century because they were right about economic growth and the cold war? Is it possible Democrats are winning now because they were right about whether to go to war in Iraq?” This all sounds so, well, “fair and balanced” — until you think about it.
Democrats’ stand on civil rights has cost them dearly since Richard Nixon discovered the race card in 1968. Al Gore lost despite an unrivaled period of prosperity and growth. And Democrats actually voted for the Iraq war resolution in 2002 (perhaps convinced by the objective arguments of none other than Mr. Brooks) and won in 2006 only when they started to talk passionately about Iraq.
But for Brooks, the “core problem with Westen’s book is that he doesn’t really make use of what we know about emotion.” As a professor of psychology and psychiatry who has been contributing to the scientific literature on emotion for over 20 years, I don’t know who exactly “we” is, but I have to hand it to him: he put that knowledge to pretty good use in leaving readers with a bad taste in their mouths about a book they hadn’t read. Which illustrates the central thesis of the book: that a little knowledge about emotion can go a long way in politics.
What Brooks knows as a writer is that the way you contextualize a passage has everything to do with the impression readers take away from it. Reading these quotes -- as woven together with colorful phrases such as "He wishes Gore had interrupted a presidential debate and barked at Bush [emphasis added], "he imagines Gore exploding [emphasis added], and later, "the sort of crude emotional outbursts Westen recommends" [emphasis added] -- the reader would have the distinct impression that I thought Gore should have repeatedly and viciously attacked Bush for his history of alcoholism. I happen to know that he was successful in leaving this impression in readers who hadn't read the book, because several of them emailed me to tell me why they thought attacking a recovered alcoholic would have been a terrible idea -- something no one who has read what I wrote in context -- including Bill Clinton, who found the same passages Brooks uses as negative examples particularly compelling -- came away thinking I was advocating.If you read the rest of Westen's post, you'll notice that he also responds to the ad hominem and uses snide to describe the tone of Brooks. I thought that was kind of neat that we were on the same page in that regard (and for the record, I had written those things before actually reading what Westen had to say.)
So let's take a look at what I actually said. Here is the first passage, where I would, according to Brooks, have had Gore "interrupt a presidential debate" to "bark," seemingly unprovoked, about Bush's alcoholism:In 2000, Gore faced what he and his advisors perceived to be a dilemma. The country had just gone through a year of scandals leading up to the impeachment trial of an otherwise very popular president...The question Gore and his advisors asked and answered to their own satisfaction reflected the kind of one-dimensional thinking we have seen repeatedly in Democratic campaigns. Is Clinton an asset or a liability to the Gore campaign? Is he a positive or a negative?Unless Brooks is reading subliminal messages in my words that I can't see, I don't hear anything about interrupting a debate or barking. Nor do I hear anything about carping repeatedly on Bush's drinking. The comment about Bush's drinking is contextualized in a much broader story that has very little to do with his history of alcoholism.
...The problem, though, was not the answer at which Gore and his advisors arrived but the question itself. Had they understood emotional associations, they would have asked a very different question: given that Clinton and Gore are inextricably linked in people's minds, how do we activate the positive associations people have formed to Bill Clinton over eight years and reinforce those links to Gore, and how do we inhibit the associations between Clinton's personal scandals and Gore's personal attributes?
Had they asked this question, they wouldn't have conceded all claims to the accomplishments of the Clinton-Gore years (and thus enjoyed none of the positive associations) while simultaneously tying their hands against all attacks for fear of invoking Clinton's name (accruing every negative association George W. Bush and Karl Rove threw at them).
Asked this way -- as a question about how to manage voters' ambivalence toward Bill Clinton the president and Bill Clinton the womanizer -- the answer is obvious. And the answer would have set Gore free at the start of the election or the first time Bush telegraphed that he intended to make the election a referendum on "character." The character charge made heavy use of guilt by association, essentially saying, "We need to restore integrity to the Oval Office" -- the room associated in people's minds with the Lewinsky scandal. Although Bush mentioned fund-raising "scandals" (such as the use of White House phone lines for campaign phone calls), those were just the conscious overlay, which had little emotional power on their own. The real message was that Clinton's sexual escapades had tarnished the dignity of the presidency, and what Bush-Rove hoped to do was to cast a wide associative net with "character" and "integrity" that would blur the lines between Clinton's personal indiscretion and Gore's integrity.
Unfortunately, blinded by his anger and feelings of betrayal, and surrounded by advisers either deaf to the rising character crescendo or unable to imagine a way to bring the concerto to a close, Gore let the charge fester. To answer it, he would have had to utter Clinton's name. He and his advisers seemed to think that if they just didn't talk about Clinton, the association would go away.
But as has been the case every time Democrats have turned to avoidance as a campaign strategy, the strategy backfired, for two very important reasons. First, whether Gore liked it or not, he was inextricably linked associatively to Clinton. He was Clinton's vice president for eight years, and their names appeared in two election cycles on bumper stickers as "Clinton-Gore." You can't get much more associated than that. Second, the other side was talking about Clinton, referring constantly to Clinton-Gore, and doing everything they could to create a network around "character" and "integrity" that made Clinton and Gore partners in crime.
Gore simply ceded the networks, allowing Bush to tell whatever stories he wanted about Clinton-Gore's integrity because Gore didn't want to mention that he had been Clinton's vice president. The irony is that although Clinton's poll numbers were low for personal integrity, his numbers were high for overall job performance -- remarkably high for a president who had spent eight years dealing with well-financed right-wing efforts to destroy him, supplemented by the Starr inquisition, financed handsomely by fifty million in American tax dollars.
So imagine if Gore had responded the first time Bush first uttered any words vaguely insinuating character issues with something like this:
George Bush wants to make character an issue in this election. Governor, I wouldn't go there if I were you because it's not exactly your strong suit.
But let me say something about Bill Clinton, so the American people know exactly where I stand.
No one in America, not you, not me, not Bill Clinton, is proud of what happened between him and Monica Lewinsky. A day doesn't go by that he doesn't think about the pain he caused his family, knowing that every time Chelsea turned on the television set for a year all she heard about was her father's affair. We are all well aware of the pain he and an out-of-control Republican Congress, determined to destroy the president no matter who they had to take down with him or how much filth they had to expose our children tfo on the evening news, caused this nation.
Am I proud of what Bill Clinton did with his personal life? Of course not. But I'll tell you what I am proud of.
I'm proud of what Bill Clinton and I have accomplished together over the last eight years. We began with an economy in disarray, left that way by Mr. Bush's father. We were deep into a recession that was costing Americans their jobs, with a federal government out of control, spending your grandchildren's money by the bushel, running up enormous deficits.
Now look where we are today. We've created millions of jobs, we've cut unemployment to historic lows, we've put a hundred thousand new police on our streets protecting our children, we've cut the number of people on welfare by more than half, and on top of that, we balanced the budget for the first time in thirty years. We've cut the numbers of abortions for the first time in twenty-five years, and we've given every woman in the United States the right to stay home for three months with her new baby without fear of losing her job. We've taken guns out of the hands of criminals while protecting the rights of hunters, and we've dramatically cut the crime rate.
If that isn't a record to be proud of, I don't know what is.
So Mr. Bush, let me give you a little word of advice. If I were you, I don't think I'd make integrity and values your campaign theme. If someone is going to restore dignity to the Oval Office, it isn't a man who drank his way through three decades of his life and got investigated by his father's own Securities and Exchange Commission for swindling people out of their retirement savings. If you want to be president, you're going to need to convince the American people that they should abandon everything Bill Clinton and I did that has made Americans safe, secure, and prosperous again, and instead vote for a man whose biggest concern seems to be that the yacht tax is too high.
Had Gore begun his campaign that way, he would have made clear that what united him and Clinton was not Clinton's handling of Monica Lewinsky but their administration's handling of the country. As importantly, he would have warned Bush and Rove that if they took off the gloves about character, so would Gore. The way you respond to your opponent's first attacks sends a crucial signal not just to the public but to the other campaign. A weak response does nothing but embolden the opposition. And a swift response to the character issue that included a brief reference to Bush's own moral failings would have prevented Bush, and ultimately the media, from framing the campaign as a contest between a man with questionable integrity and a man with questionable experience and intellect. Americans don't care much about experience and intellect, but they do care about integrity.
It is difficult to see in Brooks' depiction of what I wrote anything other than the kind of deliberate deception we have seen repeatedly from the current administration, and precisely the kind of emotionally charged use of language (e.g., "interrupt," "bark") that, Brooks argues, has no sway on people's minds. If such language has no utility, it's odd that he chose to use it -- and to use it in precisely the deceptive ways I describe in the book as having no place in American political discourse.
*If you've been waiting for my review of the same, then you should check out Susan G's. Her review is more traditional and will give you a good summary of the book's thesis without having to wade through a long, convoluted post (which is what my review is.)