It's a point of honor, I suppose. With Republicans making a great deal of headway on health care obstruction and public impatience with economy recovery, they continue to attack on the one front where they are losing. Handling terrorism used to be their political strong point. You want to get tough with bad guys? The Republican candidate was your choice.
Torturing captives, shouting down allies, suspending civil liberties, and invading dictatorships quite extraneous to any attacks on the United States were all tactics more satisfying to those insecure about national manhood than to those actually concerned with terrorist threats. They pleased an apprehensive political base who wanted tough action more than effective action. Rage against those responsible for mass murder on American soil demanded furious retaliation, and the previous administration, in the opinion of many of us, flailed to the immense satisfaction of conservatives. If tactics did not work, try harder, double down.
The mentality that pushes for the tough move over the smart move, that favors muscle at the expense of brains has been frustrated by a new President who uses both muscle and brains. The Christmas underwear incident has been a powerful catalyst for blind Republican rage. The accusations have taken on a curious relationship to actual events.
Republicans accused the administration of losing the opportunity to gain valuable information from the would-be bomber. Authorities had failed to subject him to what is euphemistically called "harsh interrogation." They had gone so far as to tell him of his rights within an hour (9 hours, actually). The accusations were followed by accounts of valuable information the young self immolator had given up both before and after being advised of his rights.
Senator Kit Bond was furious at the accounts. Facts may have disproven the accusations, but terrorists had been warned. Intelligence gained was now useless. This Senatorial anger was followed by urgent requests by the US for action against terrorists in Yemen and Pakistan soon after information was gotten from the mirandized bomber. Then came confirmation that multiple high level al Qaeda leaders had been killed.
Conservatives attacked on another front. They explained that killing more 9/11 murderers than ever before is actually a disaster for the United States. Those dead terrorist organizers could no longer be captured and waterboarded. You see, killing terrorists was actually soft on terrorism. So what happened? This week brings news of the most important capture of a Taliban leader ever. The number two man in the entire enemy force in Afghanistan has been apprehended in Pakistan.
Those of us who want to see al Qaeda crushed have a new way of divining the future. If we want to know in advance what success will next come to Obama, it seems we have only to listen to Republican political attacks.
I'm just very concerned, on behalf of counterterrorism professionals throughout our government, that politicians continue to make this a political football, and are using it for whatever political or partisan purposes. ... I think those counterterrorism professionals deserve the support of our Congress. And rather than second-guessing what they're doing on the ground, with a 500-mile screwdriver from Washington to Detroit, I think they have to have confidence in the knowledge and the experience of these counterterrorism professionals.
- - John Brennan, February 7, 2010
Current Assistant to the President,
President Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser for
Homeland Security and Counterterrorism,
Director of the National Counterterrorism Center under President Bush
"Is God for socialized medicine?" a talented writer, blogger Ned Williams, asked me a few weeks ago. It was a loaded question, perhaps not intentionally. Some conservatives really do see the most moderate of proposals to be socialism in action.
I don't know what the Lord wants, not being as privileged as conservative televangelists, who are graced with intimate knowledge of the divine mind. I am okay with the compromise-of-compromise-with-compromise plan being compromised down by Democrats. It is a significant improvement over the pay-a-lot-more-for-a-lot-less system we have now. Costs have grown to over 16% of the economy, with increases on the way. I'm okay with it but it isn't what I consider ideal.
I am for socialized medicine, just as I am for socialized sidewalks, or socialized fire protection, or socialized police. I like the idea of a socialized Department of Defense. I don't particularly want to privatize Social Security or the FBI or the Department of Justice.
I definitely don't want to privatize public high schools, which brings us to Utah. Republicans there are considering how to cut back education. They are not thinking about anything incremental. Cutting back on books is for wimps. Increasing summer vacation is namby pamby. Cutting back on teachers and increasing class size is tough but not tough enough.
The proposal under active debate is eliminating the entire senior year. The twelfth grade may be a thing of the past in the state of Utah. The argument is that the last year of school is pretty much a year of frivolity, so we can easily eliminate it and save several million. Even if that is true in Utah, there being no competition for college, the possibility that the 11th grade will then become the new frivolous year seems to escape that state's GOP.
Some families seem to believe education has value, so some Republicans are looking at alternatives, like making the Senior year voluntary, with incentives for leaving early. "The bottom line is saving taxpayer dollars while improving options for students," the Los Angeles Times quotes state Senator Howard A. Stephenson, a Republican and co-chairman of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee. "The more options we give to students to accelerate, the more beneficial it is to students and taxpayers."
Education is the silver bullet for so many social ills. If Republicans have exhausted their search for other areas to slash; medicaid for the elderly having been sacrificed, along with State Police, the National Guard, and consumer safety; if they must now turn their gaze upon education, perhaps they should at last rethink the value of the last decade's tax cuts for the extremely wealthy.
Yeah, fat chance.
If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!
- - attributed to Derek Curtis Bok, President Harvard University, 1971–1991
"Hey, Johnny. What are you rebelling against?" the pretty young thing asked the motorcycle hoodlum played by Marlon Brando. It was part of what became classic dialogue in a film called The Wild One. It may have startled the parents of the parents of your parents. The film was about an aimless, menacing rejection of pretty much any standard of conduct. It was a caricature of bearded youth before the beards, it being 1953.
The question may well be asked of modern tea party participants, the know-nothings of contemporary politics. Conservative Jonathan Kay attended one gathering in Nashville, TN. "I consider myself a conservative," he later wrote, "and arrived at this conference as a paid-up, rank-and-file attendee, not one of the bemused New York Times types with a media pass." He was there to celebrate but before long he found an alarming pattern: "the movement is dominated by people whose vision of the government is conspiratorial and dangerously detached from reality. It's more John Birch than John Adams."
He discovered people deeply enraged that President Obama wants to determine "the colors of their cars, the kind of toilet paper they use, how much time they spend in the shower, the temperature of their homes," and convinced that "the financial meltdown was the handiwork of superannuated flower children seeking to destroy capitalism." Folks, in other words with no real focus for their rage, aside from seizing on any bizarre justification for a fury at anyone or anything touched by the current administration.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is meeting with tea party leaders today. The Republican party, losing active participants like crazy, lusts after the conspiracy believers because the GOP ... well ... has nowhere else to go. The death spiral is well documented. Conservatives have driven out moderates. Now extreme conservatives are going after traditional conservatives. The process took firm hold in the late 1980s and has been accelerating ever since. Electoral success comes and goes in waves according to economic, social, and terrorist events. But each wave toward the GOP favors the party a little less than the last. The percentage of Americans considering themselves Republicans is at a new low at exactly the moment it should be at a zenith. Party reputation is slow to develop and hard to shake. The arc is long, but it bends against the GOP.
History tells us that a desperate embrace by the Republican Party of an extremist movement is a danger to the Republic in times of economic hardship. But after the dust settles, the GOP is likely to be victim in future decades. If the Republican Party succeeds in attracting tea party activists, the party will race at warp speed to the right, with no end in sight.
"Hey, Johnny. What are you rebelling against?" she asked.
The menacing Brando looked her over and answered, "Whaddya got?"
I think some very good questions have been raised in that regard. There are some very good arguments, and I think the American people have not seen all of the evidence there, so I have not taken a position on that.
- - Debra Medina, GOP candidate for Texas Governor, February 11, 2010
On whether the United States government helped sponsor the 9/11
attacks in 2001. Medina is considered the tea party candidate.
Conservatives have been pushing hard to reclaim an issue they have long regarded as their very own. But Obama appears to be scoring well with the public on dealing with terrorism.
We are not safe from terrorists, but we are safer than we were. Life expectancy for top leaders of al Qaeda is now measured in months rather than years. Military measures in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia are achieving a level of success unapproached in the past. The public has confidence in the President. Republicans are viewed as political.
Why do Republicans keep going back to the brick wall of terrorism as an issue. They are viewed as cynical, hoping that the tide will turn the next time America is attacked, hoping against hope such an attack happens soon. They are seen as self-justifying, trying to re-write history in time for the first set of history books. All unfair.
In fact, their approach is atavistic. They attack the President from an inward conviction that the real world cannot possibly be working as it does. Bluster has to work because it's tough. Torture has to work because it's tougher. Snarling at allies, going it alone, boasting about it, has to work because it is toughness defined in the conservative mind.
Primitive measures work because that's how our ancestors did it. Variations on conservative logic persist in variations on news programs and interviews. Rudy Giuliani says there were no domestic attacks during the Bush administration (later correcting himself to exclude anything happening on 9/11/2001), because Obama does not use the word "war" in responding to terrorism (except for those times Obama uses the word "war"). Dick Cheney adds that Obama is weak on terrorism because he does not use torture. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) insists that torture works because it did during the inquisition. The flaw is obvious unless you think that anyone aside from Ann Coulter is actually a witch.
The conservative attack comes from conviction, not evidence. That stopping torture produces more and better intelligence has been demonstrated. That engaging people from Islamic nations like Indonesia and Pakistan produces cooperation is a fact. Military operations become easier when the enemy cannot rely on support from local populations.
Agree or not with operations in Afghanistan, the latest move has gone well against enemy strongholds: areas in which popular support for the Taliban has been greatest. One phrase, variations of which are buried in the middle of several accounts, explains one reason American losses have been low. It is in the 16th paragraph of a CNN report: ". . . a number of improvised explosive devices have been identified by the population."
Conservatives cannot believe their lying eyes.
The Administration says then, there are no downsides or upsides to treating terrorists like civilian criminal defendants. But a lot of us would beg to differ.
- - Sarah Palin, February 6, 2010
The House of Worship I attend puts on a few Cantatas each year. We alternate music and words to present a coherent message. I often am allowed to compose the speaking parts. One Christmas, I asked a young woman, a school teacher, to perform some of the roles. She was wonderful.
She portrayed a sad elderly caregiver telling of a young boy in gravely ill health assigned to her. "He was so sweet and helpless" she began in a trembling voice, and there was a hush throughout the sanctuary. Her every word was spoken with a tearful weariness. The point of the vignette was that he grew to be the adult Walter Scott, writing stories of faith.
A few songs later, she was a small child who had written to a newspaper asking whether there was really a Santa Claus. Her light sing-song presentation delighted the congregation. She WAS that child. And when she said "Santa Claus is what Christmas is all about," she made everyone laugh.
I thought of my talented friend as I began reading "My Jesus Year" by Benyamin Cohen. Cohen writes of what religion meant to him growing up in an orthodox home. He recounts some of that in a recent interview:
Odd items, too, like not being able use an umbrella on the Sabbath, or being told to put my right shoe on before my left one. This was how Judaism was taught to me as a kid-as one long legal theories class.
The value of ritual to spirituality is the reminder that we belong to one God and are a beloved part of his creation. Defining a religious tradition as a set of rules severely restricts spiritual experience.
The costly mistake Cohen perceived applies across the board. I have angered literalist Christian friends about the meaning of ancient scripture. One nearly screamed at me as I asked why slavery would be wrong today but right in the time of Exodus. The obvious answer is that those who wrote scripture, in applying God's inspiration to their understanding of the world, got a lot of it wrong. We can learn from the inspiration while rejecting obvious error. Instead, he yelled about the nature of the moral universe changing because earthquakes tore the Holy Curtain in the temple at the crucifixion. It seems God loved slavery right up to then.
Jesus was hated by the literalists of ancient times, who valued ritual above spirit. We share with other faiths a common temptation, defining God as one tradition, or one book, or one translation, or one set of hymns. At the core, this worship of God-in-a-box is idolatry, the source of much earthly torment.
Christianity is about more than rules. It is about love: for God, for our neighbors, for ourselves. And Christmas is about more than toys.
My understanding -- I'm not a theologian -- but there's a prophecy in the Bible that says you'll have to receive a mark, or you can neither buy nor sell things in end times. Some people think these computer chips might be that mark.
- - Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg), Virginia House of Delegates, Feb. 9, 2010
On a new Virginia law barring implantation of microchips into human
beings without their knowledge and consent. Presumably, Satan rigidly
obeys the laws of the Commonwealth.
Nuggets of internet gold:
Conservative James Wigderson advocates regional cooperation for the sake of water supply in Southeastern Wisconsin. Next thing, we'll find a conservative or two thinking government can offer a benefit or two.
Conservative Chuck Thinks Right slams Joe Biden for saying that pulling troops out of Iraq in a way that leaves Iraq stable would be a great achievement. Point being, it seems, that Democrats should want Iraq to fall.
- Slant Right's John Houk is not alarmed by China's economic resurgence. I feel better already.
Driving on ice. Let's be REAL careful out there.
For all the barbarism of the ancient world, with unapologetic slavery, warriors forced to fight to the death for the sake of entertainment, the casual brutality of crucifixion, there exists surprisingly little evidence of racism.
Romans conquered much of the known world, and expressed superiority over pretty much everyone. There was extreme national chauvinism, to be sure.
There was plenty of hatred. The Old Testament is characterized by a degree of ethnic enmity that is striking. The 137th Psalm is a song of captivity that ends with a wish about smashing infants against rocks. We do find occasional acknowledgment of race. Jeremiah mentions the skin color of Ethiopians as an example of the unchangeable. But such references were rare and, when made, were usually without assertions of superiority.
Racism became the primary belief system in western culture in the 1600s. It corresponded with a new notion that there was something innately wrong with slavery. The idea that ownership of human beings was an evil practice collided with the economic benefits many rich folks enjoyed as a result of owning African captives. Injustice was not tolerable, but riches were not to be given up easily. So slavery was justified with a new idea: slaves were not really human, at least not to the extent of their owners.
Attitudes die hard. The end of slavery did not end the justification. Racism survives. But in the 1960s segregation became intellectually disreputable. President Kennedy had a lot to do with that. Over time, racism became much more covert. There has been undeniable progress.
People are no longer comfortable with racial prejudice. This has resulted in treatment of others that is generally much more fair. Overt discrimination is not simply illegal, in most instances, it is frowned upon.
The lack of respect folks feel toward racists has also resulted in a culture of denial, even when racism is obvious. We have a long way to go.
A few black folks have prospered by assisting in that denial. Jimmy Carter made an easily verifiable observation that much antagonism toward President Obama is racially based. Michael Steele's response was to attack, not racism, but "Blind charges of racism, where none exists..."
What many of us have seen as continuous buffoonery has resulted in criticism of Steele himself. His reaction has been this: "I don't see stories about the internal operations of the DNC that I see about this operation. Why? Is it because Michael Steele is the chairman, or is it because a black man is the chairman?"
Steele is not convincing. He would be well advised to continue practicing in front of the mirror, attacking blind charges of racism.
When a radical fringe element of demonstrators and others begin to attack the president of the United States as an animal or as a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler or when they wave signs in the air that said we should have buried Obama with Kennedy, those kinds of things are beyond the bounds.
- - President Jimmy Carter, September 16, 2009
"No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."
The speaker was Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was joined by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said the question was not whether the policy would change but how the armed forces would prepare.
It was largely the same issue that tripped up the last new Democratic President, Bill Clinton. The public simply could not understand why the new President was investing his efforts to expanding the rights of an unpopular minority of sexual deviants when he had promised to "focus like a laser beam" on economic problems. The military, led by then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell, were against the move.
Republicans were gleeful in 1993, and gay bashing was the order of the day. Republicans still play to their base. A few years ago, Senator John McCain told a group of students, "The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, 'Senator, we ought to change the policy,' then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it." But now, he is against moves even to study the issue, no matter what military leaders say.
The turnaround in less than a generation has been remarkable. Today, 57 percent of American voters say gays should serve openly. Only 36 percent oppose it. All income groups, all age groups, all ethnic groups, both men and women, support changing the policy. Republicans oppose it, although by a much narrower margin than in years past. Literalist Christians, misguided souls that they are, oppose it as well.
Senator McCain, in backing away from his earlier commitment to follow the advice of military leaders, invoked a popular former leader. The "reason why I supported the policy to start with is because General Colin Powell, who was then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the one that strongly recommended we adopt this policy in the Clinton administration. I have not heard General Powell or any of the other military leaders reverse their position." The very next day, Colin Powell publicly disagreed with Senator McCain, explaining "attitudes and circumstances have changed." McCain now opposes change because of ... well ... nothing at all.
Change comes at a cost. In this case the primary cost is to gays, who still have only partial rights. Partial rights are, to be sure, better than no rights. Marriage equality will eventually be accepted by the public as well. More important, full acceptance of people as they are is gaining ground. While rejoicing is not justified, quiet encouragement is. The road is long, but America is on the road.