30 June 2003
Mortui non mordent
The old Roman adage holds that dead men no longer bite. Were that it were true.
Many a politician has noted the passing of centenarian Strom Thurmond, longtime senatior and sometime presidential candidate. Typical were President Bush, who recalled his "extraordinary life" and Tom Daschle, who termed him "a legend." Obituaries in the media have been far less circumspect and have actually tried to show the political evolution of a man from a troglodytic racist to the crazy uncle of the Senate.
I like to think that Thurmond did indeed discard the repellent views of his 1948 presidential campaign. What was truly dangerous about Thurmond was the influence that his ideas had on his party. In 1968, Richard Nixon sought out Thurmond's endorsement because he knew that it would steer segregationist votes away from George Wallace and to the Republican party.
More famously, in 1980 and 2002, Trent Lott mused publicly about how much better the country would have been had Strom won the 1948 election. Lott did not do so idly: Thurmond's switch in 1964 from Democrat to Republican was a watershed for his new party. Until then, a Democratic vote in much of the country was hardly a vote for democracy: it was a vote for the poll tax, for lynch mobs, for repression, for bigotry. The Republican party could have shunned Thurmond and his ilk, much as Democrats ignore the quadrennial spectacle of Lyndon LaRouche running for president under their banner. No, instead, it welcomed Thurmond and his ideological soulmates.
Thurmond's rhetoric surely became more moderate during eight terms in the Senate, but he never repudiated even his most egregious stances, not his run for president, not his twenty-four hour filibuster of a civil rights bill. Most Republicans find little to nothing to endorse in Thurmond's policies from his heyday. But the sad truth is that Republicans still need the votes of troglodyte-Americans, and having politicians like Thurmond on board guarantees them those votes. Thurmond may be dead, but his legacy still has a lot of bite left.
Let Scalia Be Clear
Reading news reports of Justice Antonio Scalia's dissent to the Supreme Court's majority opinion in JOHN GEDDES LAWRENCE and TYRON GARNER, PETITIONERS v. TEXAS left me shaking my head over his use of a tired, old cliché to soft-pedal his support of discrimination. "Let me be clear that I have nothing against homosexuals [emphasis added], or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means," Scalia stated parenthetically before justifying the denial of individual civil liberties to the petitioners and charging that the Court is so "impatient of democratic change" that it creates in this decision "a brand-new constitutional right." Where I see individuals fighting for equal rights, Scalia sees a group promoting an agenda. What's not clear?
From Wise-Ass to Kiss-Ass
The transformation is complete. Dennis Miller has gone from wise-ass to kiss-ass. Miller flew on Air Force One from San Francisco to Los Angeles with President Bush last Friday, and later gave a stand-up routine at a Bush fund-raiser in Los Angeles. A wise guy can be a left-winger or a right-winger but he can't be a kiss-ass. Miller is now an obedient servant, albeit a well-known and well-paid court jester.
29 June 2003
Our man in Islamabad
A while back, Ted Rall published a cartoon in which Generalissimo Bush calls Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan on the phone to thank him for his inspirational coup d'etat. The cartoon was certainly hyperbolic, but I did not think about how quickly life could imitate art.
Last Tuesday saw President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan spend some quality time with George W. Bush at Camp David. Bush was eager to lavish praise on his friend.
President Musharraf is a courageous leader and a friend of the United States. America has a strong relationship with Pakistan...Today, our two nations are working together closely on common challenges....Today, both our countries are working with the Afghan government to build a stable democratic Afghanistan with secure border regions that are free from terror and free from extremism. Pakistan and the United States also share a determination to bring the security—the benefits of security and freedom to the people of Iraq.
Ah, but there's just the slightest of problems!
President Musharraf has set out on an important mission. He's working to build a modern Pakistan that is tolerant and prosperous. Achieving this vision of moderation and progress will require movement toward democracy in Pakistan (emphasis added).
Now that's praising with faint damns. We don't need actual democracy in our closest allies, just a movement that way. Musharraf is a dicatator who overthrew a democratc government. We've cancelled $1 billion in debt for this despot, and Bush is planning another $3 billion in aid. Pakistan has actual weapons of mass destruction, its nuclear weapons that it developed in spite of widespread opprobrium. Actually, Pakistan had the support of the Carter, Reagan, and Bush administrations, who funnelled billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan so that it could help those noted democrats, the Afghani mujahideen. Some enlightened leaders became the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan with the overt help of the Pakistani military. Under Musharraf's leadership, Pakistans traded nuclear weapons technology with North Korea in exchange for better missiles. And Pakistan and India have the nasty habit of threatening each other with nuclear annihilation at the slightest insult. What a brave new world order that has such people in it!
Bush had previously hosted a number of democratic leaders from South Asia to Camp David—as long as you count zero as a valid number.
Bush mocked anything good about democratic governance by touting Musharraf as a great friend of the United States, but he had a head start on insulting the public. On Monday evening, the day before his Camp David meeting, he arranged for the Secret Service to royally screw up traffic on one of metropolitan Boston's busiest highways during rush hour so a motorcade could take Musharraf to visit relatives in Canton.
24 June 2003
Eleven U.S. Jobs Cut Every Minute
The Financial Times is reporting that the U.S. job market is a nightmare for workers. "Job searches are taking twice as long and severance packages are half as much as they were at their peak." Corporate profitability and state and local government budget balancing has been sustained, where possible, by firing workers. "Since the beginning of the year, an average of 5,385 jobs have been cut every day... That works out to a loss during every eight-hour work day since January 1 of 11 jobs per minute."
22 June 2003
God Bless My Foreclosed Home
The wire services are now reporting what many of us already knew, the U.S. housing market is running out of gas. U.S. mortgages in foreclosure climbed to a record high in the first three months of 2003 as job losses and personal bankruptcies forced more people out of their homes. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, home loans in the process of foreclosure climbed to 1.2 percent of all mortgages in the first quarter, beating the previous high of 1.18 percent set in the fourth quarter of 2002. Approximately 5% of mortgage loans are over 30 days past due.
The numbers may seem small but this trend is an ominous sign for the U.S. economy, which has been sustained on the strength of the housing market. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has continually pointed to home sales and the mortgage-refinancing boom that has freed up billions of dollars in cash for consumers as being the key driver of the U.S. economy. Despite the lowest borrowing costs in more than four decades, Americans have been straining to meet their mortgage payments and credit card bills.
21 June 2003
The Vast Rightwing Conspiracy Reacts to Hillary Clinton's Memoir
Have you noticed how incensed the Clinton-haters are at the success of Hillary's book? Matt Drudge attacked the book before it was published; floating out the lie that Clinton took an advance on a book that she would not deliver. Once the book was completed and sent to print the anti-Clinton spin was that the book was written by hired hands, not Hillary. Next, we were told that Hillary's recounting of private conversations with her husband were fabrications. Finally, when the book's publication met with unprecedented success, Drudge and others charged that the publisher was lying about number of copies printed and sold.
Why are these nuts so incensed? How can Drudge and his ilk promote Ann Coulter, a woman filled with hate and venom, and her book, Treason, as being more popular than Clinton and her memoir? I believe it is because Hillary has proved to be the antithesis of the right's caricature of her and because she has exhibited more than a little of her husband's resiliency. Hillary is guilty of being an ambitious woman but the right is finally discovering that many Americans admire her ambition. Most of all Clinton is a success, having risen from the personal attacks of her detractors and from her husband's hurtful and public infidelities. One need not admire Clinton's politics to admire her success as a mom who raised a wonderful daughter, a career woman who was elected Senator of one of America's most influential and diverse states, and a wife who preserved the union of her marriage. It takes an ugly heart to wish Hillary Clinton more personal pain.
18 June 2003
Sleeping With the Bishops
What brave soul will cast Al Pacino in a film about the unsavory activities of the U.S. Catholic bishops? The parallels to the Godfather are uncanny. Last week the bishops whacked (forced the resignation of) the chairman of a church-appointed panel seeking to resolve the sexual-abuse scandal after he criticized the bishops. It seems that former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating hit too close to home when he compared some American church leaders to organized crime, for allegedly continuing to cover up sexual molestation of minors by clergy. The hits ordered by the bishops may not be as bloody as the ones ordered by the Corleones but they certainly are as effective.
Over the last year the bishops have graced the pages of our country's tabloids more than John Gotti in his heyday. The bishops are on center stage again today after the Pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Thomas O'Brien of Phoenix, Arizona. Bishop O'Brien is charged with leaving the scene of a fatal hit and run accident on Saturday that killed a father of four. Eyewitness led police to inspect the bishop's car. They found half of his windshield smashed in. It has been widely reported that Bishop O'Brien told police he thought he had hit an animal and drove off. The accident involving Bishop O'Brien occurred just two weeks after he signed an agreement with prosecutors admitting that he had allowed priests under his supervision to work with young people even though he was aware of sexual misconduct allegations against them.
I Guess We Can't Handle the Truth
Do Americans deserve the pundits that they get?
Take William Safire, the anchor of the New York Times op-ed page. Every so often, he shows a real libertarian streak, when the issue is media consolidation or personal privacy. But all too often, he works so hard to defend the Bush administration that he comes up with logic that defies credulity. In his 2 June column, for instance, he tried to justify the mendacious claims that Iraq possessed and would use weapons of mass destruction. The whopper wasn't his claim that two trucks, now determined by British inspectors to have manufactured hydrogen gas, were "mobile laboratories designed to produce biological and chemical agents capable of causing mass hysteria and death in any city in the world." That was just wishful, cynical, thinking. The whopper comes later, when he dismissed critics of the Bush administration: "a strong majority of Americans believe he did have a dangerous program running, as he did before."
Majority rule is generally a good thing, but it does not determine truth! A majority of Americans may believe in astrology, in the constant intercession of angels intercede in human affairs, or the existence of alien flying saucers. The federal government somehow manages, most of the time, not to use astrology in the legislative process. There is no federal department of angelic affairs. And the United States has done quite well without a single plenipotentiary to other solar systems. If Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, then George Bush misinformed the American people, eithe willingly—in which case he is a liar—or unwillingly—in which case Americans should demand that their government get better information before it acts.
If only Bill Safire were the only fool to think that truth is entirely socially constructed. In New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, one of the spurs off of Route 66 used to be Route 666. As of 1 June 2003, it is now Route 491. The New York Times reports:
[T]his spring, politicians in those three states, led by Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, petitioned the federal agency that handles such things to change the highway's number, arguing that the New Testament's association of 666 with Satan was impairing the economic vitality of the towns along its route.
It's hard to decide who is more insane—Richardson and his colleagues, or those who shun a highway because of its number. I'm betting on the former. Elaine Quackenbush, hardly an agnostic (she works for the Free Trinity Navajo Mission), told the Times reporter that the number was hardly an issue: the Bible mentions 666 on the arm or forehead and "nothing about a road."
Good Schools for Me, Not for Thee
Becky Farber writes an opinion column on education, called "Report Card" for the Miami Herald. Recently, she managed to wrangle an interview with Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida and brother of George W. Bush, on issues affecting public schools in Florida. Her report is quite illuminating, and worth reading in total. Grant me leave to focus on just one part of the interview, where I can provide some actual first-hand insight. Bush tries to defend his attempt to quash Amendment 9, which mandated smaller class sizes in Florida's schools.
The governor told me that when he was my age, he grew up with class sizes that were similar to what exists today.
The governor lied. Becky Farber just finished her freshman year at Palmetto High School. At that age, Jeb Bush had just finished his ninth grade year at Phillips Academy, an elite prep school in Andover, Massachusetts. The Phillips Academy web site boasts that its average class has 13 students. In my four years at Phillips Academy, none of my classes had as many as 22 students. Becky Farber would be lucky to have that few in any of her classes.
Phillips Academy makes sure that it hires very qualified teachers; a large majority have doctorate or master's degrees. But the core of its pedagogy is the small classroom, something that holds invariant among its departments. It was good enough for Jeb and George W. Bush. But not good enough, even in the most diluted form, for the citizens of the state that Jeb is supposed to lead.
13 June 2003
Bush Family Irony
George W. Bush is driven, in part, by a desire to protect his father's legacy. Despite his failed one-term presidency, George Herbert Walker Bush remains popular. However, his legacy has been stained by the popular opinion that the first President Bush blundered when he decided against moving to overthrow Saddam at the end of the first Gulf War. At the time, the Bush administration believed that Iraq was ungovernable. George W. Bush, a man who sees himself as a modern-day Winston Churchill, clearly wanted to remove this Neville Chamberlain-like stain from the Bush family name. Is it not ironic that in his attempt to clear the family name the younger Bush is proving the wisdom of his father?
05 June 2003
Newsweek, For Good and Ill
Anyone familiar with the likes of The New Republic knows that its radicalism is a thing of decades well past, but its politics range from the safely liberal to the stupefyingly conservative. For me, the former is Good, although often punchless, and the latter is Evil, and has been so ever since its editors decided that mass murder in Central America was somehow a good thing.
Anyone who reads the New York Times or just checks in with Atrios now and again knows that Maureen Dowd comes in two flavors: Good and Evil.
Newsweek shows this week that it, too, has a Good and a Bad, if not Evil, side. On the Good side is a fairly detailed report on where, if anywhere, Iraq's weapons of mass destruction now reside. This sort of attention to what the Bush cadre claimed was the root cause of the war in Iraq means that mainstream journalists are starting to realize that the White House sometimes lies.
A recently retired State Department intelligence analyst directly involved in assessing the Iraqi threat, Greg Thielmann, flatly told Newsweek that inside the government, "there is a lot of sorrow and anger at the way intelligence was misused. You get a strong impression that the administration didn't think the public would be enthusiastic about the idea of war if you attached all those qualifiers."
The proconsuls manqué in Washington and Baghdad fervently hope that this sort of critical examination of administration deeds and claims stays out of mainstream publications and stays on leftist weblogs.
The Bad side of Newsweek came in a sidebar of its "Periscope" section. Bill Clinton made a speech recently in which he mused that he might run again for president, if only the 22nd Amendment, which limits presidents to two terms in office, were not in effect. Howard Fineman offers the febrile musing of a stealth Clinton presidency:
Clinton becomes the vice presidential running mate in 2004 for a Democrat who agrees to resign after being sworn in so that Clinton can ascend to the top job. Why would it work? Because the 22nd Amendment only bars someone who has been "elected" to serve two terms. Comedian Al Franken, a Democrat and Clinton friend, floated the notion last week.... Scholars such as Allan J. Lichtman and Darrell West agree that Franken has a point, though the strategy would prompt an instant Supreme Court reviewScholars such as Allan J. Lichtman and Darrell West agree that Franken has a point, though the strategy would prompt an instant Supreme Court review.
Al Franken may be many things, most of them good, but he's a lousy constitutionalist. His plan is doomed. The 12th Amendment speaks to this issue, and rather clearly. Its last sentence explains that "no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States."
This clause is yet another reason, I suppose, why John Nance Garner's infamous opinion of the Vice Presidency rings so true.