Archives for: June 2009
The single shot traveling at twice the speed of sound hit Aleesha, drove through her chest and exited, then nicked the ear of her half sister, 4-year-old Jailene Jones. The bullet then struck and killed Ashley.
- - St. Petersburg Times account of the killing of a six year old girl.
The shooter was outraged at Ashley's interracial family.
40 years ago, Laurence J. Peter published a seminal book that was originally intended as humor. It became a part of our language, a sort of linguistic precursor to an eye-rolling Dilbert culture. The Peter Principle. Peter's thesis was that competent people tend to be promoted. They then master new duties, perform competently, and are promoted again. "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence," he wrote. The subtitle of the book was "why things always go wrong."
When George W. Bush was elected, he was clearly not up to the job. That was okay. Conventional wisdom held that the success of a Presidency was dictated by astute advisers, not by a capable chief executive. The notion had been reinforced by a cadre of wise old men going back to Roosevelt. Richard Nixon seemed eclipsed by his Secretary of State. "What if something happened to Kissinger and Nixon became President?"
By the time President Bush left office, conventional wisdom had changed its collective mind. Competence did matter. The administration had been overrun by those ruled less by an intelligent measure of reality than by unexamined extremist passions. The ignored warning before 9/11, the cynical manipulation of the tragedy for political purposes, the ineptitude of federal response to national emergencies, the strangling of civil rights in the name of security, all bore witness to conservatism as a governing philosophy.
Laurence J. Peter was a master of pithy sayings, a few even original. I thought of a few of them as I reviewed public statements by, and investigative revelations about, former Vice President Dick Cheney.
It is now apparent that the Vice President did not follow the evidence concerning Iraq. He ordered it to be created. He badgered the CIA to come up with the conclusions he wanted concerning everything from an Iraq-al Qaeda connection to Weapons of Mass Destruction. He dictated that the interrogation of even those terrorist captives who were cooperating must be interrupted in order to torture the right evidence out of them.
He insists that the administration was following the best legal advice available to keep "enhanced interrogation" within the limits of the law. But it is now apparent that the administration ordered the Department of Justice to come up with the desired conclusions.
"When I want your opinion I’ll give it to you," Peters said to laughing audiences 40 years ago, in mimicry of the approach of some executives. Decades later, that was the precise approach of the Bush administration.
Peters had another famous saying that seems to me applicable to the former Vice President's more recent pronouncements.
"If at first you don’t succeed, lie, lie again."
You can read more about "why things always go wrong" and how to plan accordingly, maybe, right here by buying "The Peter Principle" (your purchase also helps support this site!).
A little over thirty years ago, the leaders of Egypt began to get fed up with the continuous war against Israel. They had fought enthusiastically enough, with a resolve to drive the Jewish nation into the sea. And they had borne the brunt of each defeat. They began to view with cynicism the holy resolve of their allies. Other countries only on the periphery of actual combat were, in the words of one official in Egypt, "willing to fight to the last Egyptian."
It occurred to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat that killing every Jew in the region might be an unworthy national cause, and he initiated contact that began peace negotiations with US President Jimmy Carter and Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Begin was an unlikely negotiating partner, elected as more conservative than any Prime Minister ever before. He once instigated a riot in an attempt to violently overthrow the elected government.
The treaty was essentially a land for peace deal. Israel turned over land won in the six day war back over to Egypt. Egypt stopped military moves against Israel. Peace was opposed by some on both sides, who said that God was against it. Sadat was eventually assassinated by fundamentalist fanatics.
Seven years ago, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma laid out seven reasons that Israel should reject all peace efforts. The reasons have become a mainstay of conservative thought. Some of the reasons were indistinct from each other. For example, one was that history showed Israelis had been on the land 3000 years ago, while another reason was that archaeology showed that Israelis had been on the land 3000 years ago. Some reasoning was stereotypical. Israel was owed the land because "the Jewish people, the bankers," had financed allied war efforts in 1914.
Besides, the Senator said, God opposed land for peace treaties. He quoted Genesis to back his claim that any attempt by Israel to replicate with other countries the success of the peace treaty with Egypt would go against God.
Inhofe suggested that Jewish people needed an historic homeland, having experienced efforts to wipe them out. He failed to show how peace would violate that. President Obama, before an Arab audience, more eloquently pointed to the holocaust as a reason for respecting Israel's right to exist.
Inhofe also proposed a novel reason for Israel to reject peace. Israelis, he said, had earned the additional land by maintaining their racial purity, something occupants of Egypt had failed to do. Racial purity. "Even the Egyptians of today are not racial Egyptians of 2,000, 3,000 years ago. They are primarily an Arab people. The land is called Egypt, but they are not the same racial and ethnic stock as the old Egyptians of the ancient world."
Last week, Senator Inhofe again made news. He declared President Obama's speech in Saudi Arabia to be unAmerican.
Race and Gender Being a Special Concern in Confirming a Latina Woman:
In the months ahead, it will be important for those of us in the U.S. Senate to weigh her qualifications and character as well as her ability to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences.
- - Senator James M. Inhofe in a statement about Judge Sonia Sotomayor
The national debate at the time was about healthcare. The State Children's Health Insurance Program provided matching funds to states for health insurance to families with children. Medicaid already covers kids in poverty, but SCHIP fills in some important gaps. It covers kids from families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid, but too low for insurance to be a practical expense. But in most states, a lot of kids were still uncovered.
Democrats favored expanding coverage, and brought out a couple of kids from Maryland as living examples. The brother and sister had been in a car accident. The little girl was permanently brain-damaged. The boy nearly died, finally coming out of a coma. Fortunately, Maryland extends SCHIP to families that would go without in other states. The kids had been saved.
So as part of what passes for rational debate in contemporary conservative thought, Michelle Malkin published the address of the little kids, along with driving directions to their home. Any right wing lunatic with murder on his mind would have found the directions especially convenient.
Michelle Malkin is not easily impressed by physical danger to those with whom she disagrees. So it was of no small significance that she reacted as she did to the murder of Dr. George Tiller, a Wichita physician who provided late term abortions to those with dead fetuses, or those so seriously deformed as to make survival nasty, brutish, and short. Dr. Tiller was assassinated while worshiping one Sunday. Michelle Malkin called it a thoroughly evil, cold-blooded act of domestic terrorism. Yes, terrorism. Not 'extremism.'
In separate conversation, she remarked on television, "I’m skeptical of anything that has 'Bill of Rights'---tacked on to it." She wrote approvingly the other day about "aggressive, proactive measures the last administration took to keep us safe." Those measures included arrest and indefinite detention of those suspected of assisting terrorism financially, physically, or through advocacy. The Bush administration argued that they had the legal right to arrest anyone the administration felt could be cooperating with terrorists, declare them to be enemy combatants, and hold them with no time limit, without trial, without outside contact, without even notifying family or friends that they had been taken.
I am persuaded that Malkin is correct that the Wichita murder was terrorism. However, I do not share her skepticism about basic American rights. In some alternate world in which the Obama administration agrees with Malkin positions, pro-Life activists would be arrested, held, perhaps tortured, all without trial, in order to get any information about potential future attacks.
She and others on the right, if they possess any intellectual integrity, must support such action against pro-Life activists. Unless, of course, they now recognize how such a government would threaten the liberties of us all.
The Department of Justice will work tirelessly to determine the full involvement of any and all actors in this horrible crime, and to ensure that anyone who played a role in the offense is prosecuted to the fullest extent of federal law.
- - Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division
Nuggets of internet gold:
- Bryan Lee Peterson at Johnny No One: I Hope You’re Happy presents a most amazing accidental photograph.
Have a more secure weekend.
It is time we stopped pandering to terrorists just because they claim to be speaking in the name of Jesus.
- - Doorman-Priest, blogger,
Teacher of Religious Studies,
Candidate-Pastor within the Lutheran Church
Leeds, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom
I read in silent wonder former Vice President Dick Cheney's latest conclusion about Saddam Hussein. “On the question of whether or not Iraq was involved in 9/11, there was never any evidence to prove that.” The Vice President came close, but didn't quite cross the finish line, in admitting the mushroom cloud rationale was also bogus. And so he clings to the myths of the past. "I think it was a sound decision to make. I think it was an important part of our overall strategy in the Global War on Terror. I think it saved lives."
I supported my President in his invasion of Iraq. I was unconvinced about a connection with attacks in the US. I remember watching with interest the speculation of the Vice President about how Saddam Hussein had backed the 9/11 attacks, insisting ""that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s, that it involved training, for example." He is lying, I thought to myself.
The possibility of biological weapons did not faze me. Any country with an air force would be able to deal with that threat. If he developed a missile delivery system, any organisms would burn up on impact. No danger there. I wondered at the argument. If all of America's enemies would devote their resources to such exotic weapons, rather than bombs, the world would be a much safer place.
It was the nukes that brought me around. We could not let Saddam have nuclear weapons. The Vice President did his part in falsifying the case:
Vice President Dick Cheney today presented the administration's most forceful and comprehensive rationale yet for attacking Iraq, warning that Saddam Hussein would ''fairly soon'' have nuclear weapons.
Mr. Cheney said a nuclear-armed Mr. Hussein would "seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies, directly threaten America's friends throughout the region and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail."
The evidence now is that the administration, and specifically the Vice President knew this to be false. We went to war, and hundreds of thousands of lives were lost, several thousand of them American lives.
A few days ago, a former Republican spokesperson, Nancy Pfotenhauer, gave her evaluation of Dick Cheney's recent presentation on torture:
"I don't believe, however, that the former Vice President would be making statements that he knew to be inaccurate."
When former Vice President Cheney said last week that what happened at Abu Ghraib was the work of “a few sadistic prison guards” acting on their own, he bore false witness.
- - Senator Carl Levin, D-Michigan
Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee
Speaking to the Foreign Policy Association on May 27, 2009
I wonder about the dichotomy between the America I read about in overseas press, and the country I know, the country of ideals, fairness, and a history of flaws. The history I have lived through has been a continuation of what I learned as a schoolboy: a nation that moves asymptotically in overcoming its flaws, a people of prejudice whose first instinct, none-the-less, is to greet others with an open hand. And yet, and yet:
For some reason, the people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They're loud and ostentatious.
The words are fiction, and yet they ring true. They come from a 50 year old novel, The Ugly American. The authors, Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, tried to show how Americans, with their hidden assumptions of innate superiority, their condescension, might experience the foreign policy failures that became so common in the fullness of time.
The hero of the book, the ugly American, was not the boisterous know-it-all, shouting at his hosts who were too ignorant to know English. That is the stereotype the name of which came from the book. Rather, he was the one who had taken the time to learn local culture and language, who worked closely with new friends for common goals, and who treated others with unfailing respect. The ugly American watched with resignation the repellent antics of his countrymen.
I thought of the unfair typecast of the loud American, with derisive attitude about foreigners: those who can't even speak good American, as I read of Pat Buchanan's latest embodiment of the stereotype. It seems that Sonia Sotomayor, as a student at Princeton raised in a Spanish speaking home, continually read children's books to reinforce her own "proper English."
Buchanan thought this was a pretty funny story. "I think that, I mean if you're, frankly, if you're in college and you're working on Pinocchio or on the troll under the bridge, I don't think that's college work." That Sotomayor graduated first in her class is easily dismissed.
The late William F. Buckley examined a litany of Buchanan comments and, reluctantly but firmly, concluded that his friend was undeniably anti-semitic.
Years ago, I watched in amazement as Buchanan was gently quizzed about equality in America. Black people are equal in the eyes of God, he allowed. "How about in your eyes?" Buchanan refused to answer. I think Buckley was excessive in his generosity.
We're going to have 135 million Hispanics living in the United States by 2050, heavily concentrated in the Southwest. The question is whether we're going to survive as a country.
- - Pat Buchanan on MSNBC, March 24, 2009
Kevin Drum and Steve Benen, two of the most thoughtful occupants of the blogging universe, speak in unison on many issues. The downward spiral of today's Republican Party is no exception. Both quote a new Gallup poll showing the GOP as increasing White and Conservative. Benen quotes Drum approvingly:
They're almost exclusively a party of white men and women, which explains why their base has convinced them to haul out racial fears as their main line of attack against Sonia Sotomayor. I just hope they aren't surprised when their meager 11% non-white base declines even further after this is all over.
Drum's implication, of course, is that this is a strategic error on the part of the party. Benen is more explicit:
The country is growing more diverse, and the Republican Party has positioned itself to be left behind. One assumes GOP leaders will figure this out one of these days, but as of now, that day is nowhere in sight.
In fact, party leaders are helpless in the face of a new sort of sociology. If every Republican officeholder became completely rational, independently concluded that the GOP could survive only by becoming more centrist, and bravely spoke up about it, the result would be totally predictable. By tomorrow we would have an entirely new Republican vanguard.
Republican leaders are very much captives of a shrinking, and increasingly extremist, base. To the extent that they are extreme themselves shows only that they are creatures of that base. They were nurtured in the same environs and have the same predispositions of those who, only a while back, would have been on the fringes of conservatism.
Drum and Benen provide a plausible message: Just as Democrats took to heart the electoral messages of 1972 and all of the 1980's, so Republicans can bounce back. I am skeptical. The base has discovered a new and addictive comfort never available to earlier generations. News outlets on cable television and the internet join the traditional radio outlets to carry the message the base craves: nothing needs to be re-examined. The party needs more purging, not more converts. The base careens to the right while the country drifts gently toward the left.
The Gallup poll also reveals that the GOP is growing more religious. The illusion is that they have a prayer.
There are any number of reasons for the Republican Party’s defeat on November 4th. But high on the list is the fact that the party lost the battle for brains.
- - The Economist, print Edition
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There is no completely reasonable position on abortion. Reductio ad absurdum, the disproving of an argument by showing that its logical extreme is unacceptable, is itself absurdly easy with pretty much any position. Slippery slopes are in abundant supply in the geography of abortion debate.
Ask a pro-life advocate a few questions, and you usually find an abrupt end to the conversation: "Oh now you're being silly." When questions actually are answered, you find a strange universe of bizarre judgments. A fertilized egg is to be legally identical to a fully developed baby. Must not the state require an investigation of any unexplained termination of any pregnancy? Must not the risk of accusation of negligent homicide accompany any miscarriage? What of fertilized eggs that do not attach themselves to a uterine wall? Is there a legal responsibility of rescue before the body discards them?
The pro-life movement benefits from its lack of success. The infringement on women is borne by a relative few. Absolute success, seizing the persons of women for the purpose of preserving whatever potential for life may exist in a blastocyst, would make routine pregnancy impractical.
I am pretty much pro-choice. Subject me to the same sort of questions, and I will be mumbling incoherently in under a minute. At what point does abortion become infanticide? Is there any moral argument against murdering a baby that would not apply a few moments before some line is crossed?
Polling yields few firm answers. For most Americans, the chosen line is the one that is least unacceptable. Phrasing dictates the result.
Common ground is sometimes discovered in making alternatives to abortion more realistic. Adoption, free or low cost natal care, financial help, can be expanded. Such common ground is rejected by purists, of course. For some there is no ambiguity. There are no priorities to be weighed. There is only a binary world. Debate is debilitating, leading to compromise. Making the unacceptable acceptable to potential converts is harmful to the cause.
By all accounts, Dr. George Tiller was a brave and compassionate man. He dealt with heartbroken women who very much wanted children. He aborted dead fetuses, and those for whom life would have been a brief but unimaginable torment: to be born without faces or the ability to breathe. After being shot twice and bombed once, he became inaccessible to his attackers, guarded day and night. His employees became frequent targets.
The difficulty in dealing with more extreme activists often lies in their idealism. As with many movements, the harm comes when the ideal becomes more important than mere individuals. The menace flows not from any hypocrisy. It leaps from a purity of spirit. Dr. Tiller served as an usher in the worship of God. Just outside the sanctuary, he encountered the most dangerous creature on earth: the man who knows that God is on his side.
My wife and I spent a week in Dr. Tiller's care after we learned our 21 week fetus had a severe defect incompatible with life . . .
. . . I remember my wife, foggy with sedation after the final procedure, being helped from the exam table. He had her sit up and put her arms around his neck, and then he lifted her into a wheelchair. "You give good hugs" she whispered. He paused just for a moment. "You're just fine," he told her.
The birthday card to my friend was light hearted. The front urged the recipient to do something different, "Do something you would never do on other days!" Open it, and the card urged her to "Run With Scissors!" At the bottom, a cartoon character precariously scampers with the sharp blades pointing from her hands. "I'm running with scissors! I'm running with scissors!"
President Bush went to southwestern Michigan to make his first major domestic policy speech since leaving office. He defended his policy of torturing terrorism suspects. "I vowed to take whatever steps that were necessary to protect you."
I made the decision, within the law, to get information so I can say to myself, "I've done what it takes to do my duty to protect the American people.
Condoleezza Rice paints an enhanced picture, one of a White House struggling with stress approaching panic. "Unless you were there, in a position of responsibility after September 11th, you cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas that you faced in trying to protect Americans."
The trauma defense is disputed by an eye witness. Richard Clarke is the only Bush administration official to apologize to the families of 9/11 victims for not preventing the attacks. "The Bush administration's response actually undermined the principles and values America has always stood for in the world," says Clarke, "values that should have survived this traumatic event."
Both President Bush and Secretary Rice present as an unarguable premise the idea that torture made us safe, both deny that it was torture, both insist that it was legal. President Bush says it was legal because his lawyers said it was. Former Secretary Rice maintained it was legal because anything the President does is legal.
Both are accompanied by a backup chorus of former associates who sing in unison that, say what you will, President Bush kept us safe after 9/11.
This last has intrigued me. Nothing is said by these folks about the failure to protect us before 9/11, except to blame it on President Clinton. Little is said about the administration's decision to allow the remaining 9/11 murderers to escape at the battle of Tora Bora. Nothing is mentioned about torture that produced a mountain of false leads that tied up investigators running down dead ends. The invasion of Iraq that swelled the ranks of the followers of the escaped bin Laden is dismissed with bumper sticker reasoning: We fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here.
And I imagine the little cartoon character at the end of the birthday card insisting that running with scissors kept her safe.
On the murder of Dr. George Tiller, killed while attending
the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas
George Tiller was a mass murderer and we cannot stop saying that. He was an evil man — his hands were covered with blood.
- - Randall Terry, anti-abortion activist
More generally, anti-abortion groups denounced the shooting and stressed that they support only nonviolent protest.