Friday, June 29, 2007


In January, 2006, I wrote a strident, desperate column, urging the rejection of the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. I titled it "No Tomorrow."
As Benjamin Franklin left the final day of deliberation by the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a citizen supposedly asked him, "Well, Doctor, what have we got--a Republic or a Monarchy?" Franklin replied, "A Republic, if you can keep it."

If all goes as planned, in a week or so that Republic will finally escape our grip. When the Senate votes to affirm Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, the central tenet of our government - the separation of powers - will take a blow from which it will likely never recover. In its place a de facto monarchy will solidify and expand, and our Constitution will join the Geneva Convention as a quaint anachronism. And the Republic we have kept for two hundred years will join its Athenian and Roman predecessors as good ideas whose time has passed.

I rest my case.

The specific danger I pointed to (the imperial executive) is simmering along without assistance from the Supremes. (Their turn will come, and soon.) What happened yesterday is shocking even to many cynics.

If you had asked me a decade ago to name the achievement of the Warren Court that I thought was most impregnable, I would have named Brown v. Board of Ed.

As with so much else that the right wing has done in the last decade, they deny what they are doing even as they do it. But the reality is that Brown has now been overturned.

The late Chief Justice Rehnquist was a clerk to Justice Jackson during the pendency of Brown. He wrote an infamous memo to his boss in which he said (via Wikipedia):

"I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by 'liberal' colleagues but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed." Rehnquist continued, "To the argument...that a majority may not deprive a minority of its constitutional right, the answer must be made that while this is sound in theory, in the long run it is the majority who will determine what the constitutional rights of the minorities are."[16] Rehnquist also argued for Plessy with other law clerks.[17] However, during his 1971 confirmation hearings, Rehnquist said, "I believe that the memorandum was prepared by me as a statement of Justice Jackson's tentative views for his own use." Justice Jackson had initially planned to join a dissent in Brown.[18] Later, at his 1986 hearings for the slot of Chief Justice, Rehnquist put further distance between himself and the 1952 memo: "The bald statement that Plessy was right and should be reaffirmed, was not an accurate reflection of my own views at the time."[19] In any event, while serving on the Supreme Court, Rehnquist made no effort to reverse or undermine the Brown decision, and frequently relied upon it as precedent.[20]
Twenty years ago, Brown was untouchable. Even Rehnquist refused to (publicly) embrace his own opposition. Now we are back to the oxymoronic separate but equal.

1953 -- the year before Brown -- really does seem to be the touchstone for these folks. It was the height of McCarthyism -- the time when commies under the bed justified all of the excesses revived today. It was a time before hippies, before Rosa Parks, and before the Warren Court put the now-extracted teeth into the Bill of Rights. It was the fin de siècle for the exclusive male WASP power structure. And they are doing everything they can to get back to it.

Update: To help contextualize the time, here is another bit from the 1953 time capsule:

As I have pointed out before, what we see as warning, they see as how-to guide.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

No longer operative

Today Greenwald dismantles a Times OpEd whitewashing Gitmo.

The OpEd is of a piece with every other Orwellian absurdity we are fed on a daily basis. What the Bush team says is again contradicted by what it does, and by what it said yesterday. But they have been getting away with this crap for years.

Last night Jon Stewart pointed out yet another core contradiction, juxtaposing Cheney's current "I don't have to comply with an executive order b/c I'm not part of the executive branch" with his previous "I don't have to comply with GAO/Congressional will re: the Energy Policy Task Force b/c of executive privilege."

It no longer matters. Logic is no longer operative, at least where it counts. The basis for a functional feedback loop -- a belief in logic and an abhorrence of hypocrisy -- has gone Elvis on us, and left the building.

When the press acquiesces in (and even aids and abets) the "all men are Socrates" nonsense about how everyone we kill in Iraq is al Qaeda, they are dancing on the grave of reason. Every time one Friedman Unit flows into another without objection or acknowledgment, reason is denied. Every Greenwald post is really an exhibit in an overwhelming case for the proposition that IOKIYAR has replaced all other measures of argumentation. But how do you apply reason against those who no longer adhere to it? What do we gain by pointing out the hypocrisy of those who are utterly untroubled by inconsistency?

I may be taking too short a view, and may be too pessimistic in my outlook. But I am appalled at how little has changed. I am gobsmacked at how unaffected the Administration has been by the 2006 election, and how pliant the press remains. Congress may be slowly, slowly, rising, but the courts now seem to be taking up the slack - witness yesterday's Supreme Court decisions.

We fight on, but it is hard to escape the feeling that the outcome is no longer in doubt. The water in the pot keeps getting warmer, and the frog has no interest in getting out.

Have a nice day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Theater of the Absurd

When I was a kid, liberals were tarred as the wild-eyed, unrealistic types, and conservatives were held up as the grown-ups. There was even a time when I postulated that liberals react with their hearts, while conservatives do so with their heads.

If you had a sliver of doubt that that is no longer the case (if ever it was), this should sway you.

You have probably seen how the exemplar of proper post-9/11 action held up for adulation at the Republican debates was Agent Jack Bauer of Fox's TV show 24. Well, kids, it ain't just the approval-sucking politicians. May I present Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia:

"Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. ... He saved hundreds of thousands of lives," Judge Scalia said. Then, recalling Season 2, where the agent's rough interrogation tactics saved California from a terrorist nuke, the Supreme Court judge etched a line in the sand.
"Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?" Judge Scalia challenged his fellow judges. "Say that criminal law is against him? 'You have the right to a jury trial?' Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don't think so.

"So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And ought we believe in these absolutes."
"I don't care about holding people. I really don't," Judge Scalia said.

Even if a real terrorist who suffered mistreatment is released because of complaints of abuse, Judge Scalia said, the interruption to the terrorist's plot would have ensured "in Los Angeles everyone is safe." During a break from the panel, Judge Scalia specifically mentioned the segment in Season 2 when Jack Bauer finally figures out how to break the die-hard terrorist intent on nuking L.A. The real genius, the judge said, is that this is primarily done with mental leverage. "There's a great scene where he told a guy that he was going to have his family killed," Judge Scalia said. "They had it on closed circuit television - and it was all staged. ... They really didn't kill the family."

Got that? A United States Supreme Court Justice -- and not just any Justice, but the one so often held out as their intellectual leader and principled upholder of a strict construction of a sacred Constitution -- saying "I don't care about holding people. I really don't." A man with life tenure who (unlike George Bush) is officially tasked with telling us what the law of our nation is, is telling us that the precedent he relies upon is a fictional character in a wildly unrealistic television show. A man whose job is to uphold the Bill of Rights happily tells us that "I don't care about holding people. I really don't."

I love absurdist humor. But there is nothing funny here. These conservatives are happily revealing that the evils and errors they inflict upon us are the product of a shockingly pre-juvenile mindset. A judge who favors TV scripts over the Constitution is no different from a child who believes in the tooth fairy.

Put this outrage together with the ridiculous Richard Cohen column Greenwald eviscerated yesterday, and you have perhaps the archetypes of our time.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The government we deserve

I caught a few minutes of NPR this morning. They had a piece about the presidential campaign of Mike Huckabee. What struck me was the brief interview with some woman Huckabee met on the campaign trail, who waxed rhapsodic about the man on the basis of ... his handshake. She could tell all she needed to know about a Presidential candidate from his handshake.

Where to begin?

The reporter didn't ask her, but I'll bet she voted at least once for Dubya. I'll lay odds that even now he gives better handshakes than John Kerry or Al Gore ever did.

We here in the lefty blogosphere are comfortable in the world of ideas, facts and substance. We parse and analyze what our candidates say and do; we compare policy positions and voting records.

I am sure the woman I heard on NPR does none of these things. She chooses her leader the same way dogs do; she looks at body language and posture, sniffs for fear, and seeks safety by submitting to dominance. The Republicans have understood this approach for decades, and have played that game while seemingly ignoring ours. We win the chess game, and wonder why the loser keeps knocking over the pieces and stealing our lunch money.

The answer is depressing but obvious: we who blog are winning a game most voters cannot comprehend and have no interest in. When we go on about hypocrisy and lies and incoherence, we are trying to explain Schrödinger's cat -- to the cat.

A couple of nights ago I watched the chilling film "Jesus Camp." It brought home yet again that we speak a language that is essentially incomprehensible to Bush's supporters. And that is an enduring tragedy, and ongoing danger to our society. A large and growing segment of our population is deaf to what we take for granted about modernity -- the language of logic. They believe and do what God tells them to believe and do, and they are putty in the hands of whoever best convinces them of their communion with God -- an inherently evidence-free, unprovable assertion. Protecting the simplicity of that belief system requires ever-greater vigilance against the corrosive influence of logic in all its manifestations. The Inquisition was one such backlash (one "Jesus Camp" subject mentions the recanting of Galileo as a good and noble thing). The forces seeking its reprise are growing in numbers and strength. The inconsistency between their ironclad faith in their rectitude and their fear of contamination by the demon reason is a meaningless contradiction – if contradictions do not trouble you.

And so all the hand-wringing (of which I, too am often guilty) about how the media narrative is fundamentally flawed is somewhat beside the point, because they aren't listening to the words anyway. They are judging all the non-verbal stuff -- handshakes and manly shoulders and steely gazes -- that we know leads to totalitarian disaster, but that they see as more reliable than our impenetrable gobbledygook about policies and such. When the John Kerrys of the world acknowledge complexity, hoi polloi hear an elitist snob saying that their world view is simplistic -- and who wants to hoist a brew with that guy? The Beckett-esque absurdity of Joe Sixpack hanging with Dubya, and of deciding who gets to put our armed forces in harm's way on that basis, are just so many wrinkles willed away in their permanent-press world views.

I am not sure what the answer is here. It is entirely possible that our nation will not recover from this nasty strain of entropy. But if there is an answer, I think it begins with the fact (there I go again) that these refugees from thought are not yet willing to admit in polite company that they are the Amish of reason. And so the last ditch play may be to call them out directly -- to point out that what they say and do is, well, crazy.

If they want to be honest about their rejection of cause and effect, reason and scientific method, fine. But few will want to walk the walk sans iPod, big screen and SUV. When they get sick, they still take evolution-enabled antibiotics. Their logic-free belief system allows them to embrace all of the benefits of science while denying the irreducible incompatibility of the two. They believe in what they wish were true, and in the name of tolerance we let them destroy our common ground with these fundamental contradictions.

Thus we are led to, and led by, the likes of Bush and Giuliani and Fred Thompson – the ideologues and authoritarians who don’t do nuance, but also don’t smell of fear. The sheep who gladly and without irony call themselves members of a flock seek just that. And until we can persuade them to really join the world of the rational, or abandon it completely, we will get the government they deserve.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Senator Lieberman advocates military strike on Iran

What he said, in the course of stepping up his efforts on behalf of the body bag industry:

"Iraq is now the main front in the long war we are fighting against the Islamist terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. In fact 90% of the suicide bombers in Iraq today killing Iraqis and American soldiers are foreign Al Qaeda fighters. Iran is training and equipping soldiers, Iraqis, to come in and kill American soldiers and Iraqis," said Lieberman.

With just a little bit of contextual elucidation, the incoherence of this logorrhea is evident:

" (Shia-majority)Iraq is now the main front in the long war we are fighting against the (Sunni) Islamist terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. In fact 90% of the suicide bombers in Iraq today killing Iraqis and American soldiers are foreign (Sunni) Al Qaeda fighters. (Shia) Iran is training and equipping soldiers, Iraqis, to come in and kill American soldiers and Iraqis," said Lieberman.

If you can tease a logically meaningful conclusion out of Lieberman's terminal case of the stupids, please share it with the rest of the class.

Where do the majority of suicide bombers actually come from? According to one prominent source, 70% come from .... U.S. ally and Sunni fundamentalist-dominated Saudi Arabia.

Noted intellectual Ronald Reagan once said that "facts are stubborn things." Alas, he seems to have been wrong. Stupid seems to be far more tenacious.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

I have seen the Apocalypse

I saw it yesterday on CNN.

Actually, the Apocalypse is CNN.

I had the TeeVee on mute, but the non-stop coverage of the police car ferrying Paris Hilton from home to courthouse is not reporting on an outrage. It is the outrage.

There are important, interesting issues six inches to either side of Ms. Hilton's pampered, overexposed, overindulged, undernourished ass. Prison overcrowding. The mental health care system in America. And, of course, this country's mentally unhealthy obsession with people like Paris Hilton.

Not to mention all the important assaults on the Constitution and other social bulwarks that CNN and its cohorts effectively endorse through neglect while they are rubbernecking at ... what, exactly? Can someone actually explain (as CNN would justify it) why Paris Hilton warrants (pardon the pun) wall-to-wall coverage?

When Angelyne became (slightly) famous for being famous almost twenty years ago, I found it amusing. Not any more. The masses are settling for some sorry-ass excuses for opiates now.

I used to be amused. Now I'm just disgusted.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


Self-styled "crunchy con" Rod Dreher sups on crow:
...I think as the last wheel comes off this presidency, and the GOP comes to grips with what this presidency has meant for the Republican Party and the conservative movement, there will be a strong temptation to resist owning up to our own complicity. Success has a thousand fathers, after all, and failure is an orphan. This failure is not President Bush's alone. The Republican Party owns it. The conservative movement, with some exceptions, owns it.

Few of us stood up to Bush when he took us to this disastrous war in Iraq. Few, if any, stood up to him over his foolish support for Rumsfeld, long after it became obvious what a disaster Rumsfeld was. Few, if any, stood up to him over his amassing of power in the executive branch. Few, if any, stood up to him on the spending. Few, if any, stood up to him over the massive prescription drug benefit. Few stood up to him over the political hackery pervading his administration, which became distressingly obvious during Katrina (indeed, there are still Republicans now who insist that the corrupt politicization of the Department of Justice is a non-issue, because these people "serve at the president's pleasure"). Correct me if I'm wrong, but the first time any of us stood up in significant numbers, and with full-throated voice, against the president was over the Harriet Miers debacle. And then we fell silent again, for the most part.

So yes, by all means let's turn our backs on this failed presidency, and save what we can, while we can. But let's not kid ourselves: Bush has failed conservatives, yes, but we have also failed ourselves. It doesn't take much courage to stand up for conservative principle to a president as weak as this one has become. It would have taken real courage to stand up for conservative principle in 2002, 2003, 2004, even early 2005. How many did? I know I didn't -- not until Katrina and Miers, which came late in 2005. If we're looking to blame someone for the failure of Republican government and the conservative crack-up, look to the White House, yes, and look to the late, unlamented Republican Congress. But also look to the conservative talk show hosts, the conservative columnists, and finally, in the mirror. The only way we're going to rebuild after the present and coming political shattering is through honest reckoning, and taking responsibility for what we've done. It is tempting to blame Bush for everything. But it's not fair, and it's not honest. Bush is today who he always was. The difference is we conservatives pretty much loved the guy -- when he was a winner.

The list of Bush horrors is incomplete, of course, but this one of the most self-aware and reality-based acknowledgments I have seen from right of center.

Amid the horror any sentient being must feel on a daily basis at the terrible toll taken by this Administration and its enablers, there are few causes for smiles. And we have to applaud when conservatives wave up and smell the java, even if they have overslept by a few years. But I will not apologize for a little schadenfreude once in a while.

I think using the oft-cited Pottery Barn rule as an excuse to stay in Iraq ad infinitum is stupid and perverse. But the Republicans broke much about America, and it is about time they started accepting the tab.

Update: Yglesias on Dreher: "It just turns out that if your conception of the president's job doesn't involve running the country well, then your team's president is probably going to wind up doing a shitty job of running the country."

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