Tuesday, February 28, 2006

My Commitment To Democracy

This morning on Wisconsin Public Radio they were hosting an informal straw poll on how their listeners planned to vote on the proposed "Gay Marriage Amendment" that is likely to be on the November ballot and why they would vote that way. The Amendment needs only to pass the Republican-controlled Assembly today, a likely event, in order to be on the ballot. As I drove, I prepared, in my head, my answer to the straw poll but, since my thrice-damned cell phone died on me, I was unable to get through and vote. So I will cast my vote here:

I will vote emphatically "No" on the Gay Marriage Amendment. I feel that this legislation is an embarrassment to the progressive history of Wisconsin. All the defenses I've heard from those in favor of this bill distill down to two reasons: the Bible says homosexuality is wrong and gay marriage will ruin straight marriage. Either one is a load of garbage. First, only a very non-contextual and likely mistranslated reading of the Bible begins to forbid homosexuality. Even if it did, the last time I checked this was the United States of America, not the United States of Ancient Israel. Furthermore, there are many, many cultural restrictions in the Bible that Americans ignore everyday. Claiming to be morally absolute and then engaging in blatant cultural and moral relativism is at least a little hypocritical.

Second, anyone who believes their marriage is threatened by the gay guys down the street getting married needs to seriously reflect on the strength of their union. Perhaps if such people spent more time focusing on their own marriage, rather than playing busybody in everybody else's, then they wouldn't have need to worry about what goes on in the household across town or next door.

I fully believe that one day my young children will learn about these gay marriage bans the same way I learned about the Jim Crow laws in high school. They will be an embarrassing black eye on our culture that we'll reflect back upon with regret. Contrary to certain people's beliefs, human civilization was not built upon the family structure, nor was marriage created to provide two parents to kids. Marriage was created for the sole purposes of allowing men to own women like chattel and pass on property rights to their sons. That's all. The romantic notion of the nuclear family is a purely American invention and has no historical reference beyond 1950's television.

Wisconsin is best served by not becoming the 20th state to enshrine this assault on civil rights into its Constitution. I will be voting emphatically "No!" in November.

Perhaps I Spoke Too Soon...

I should know by now that even a little benefit of the doubt for the Bush administration is too much. Yesterday I wrote that the Dubai Ports World deal may not be quite the danger to the United States that many are saying it is. Well, now it appears that the probability of my being dead wrong is rapidly approaching 1.

From Markos:

You see, while we're supposed to invade countries without cause, torture prisoners, surrender civil liberties, get spied on by our government -- all in the name of "national security", pesky things such as "national security" shouldn't get in the way of commerce. Especially with some of Bush's best Middle Eastern pals who are also big Osama Bin Laden pals. (Is that one or two degrees of separation?)

Yet a real counter-terrorism expert under this administration gives reasons why the deal is a bad, bad thing [via the Washington Post]:

"Joseph King, who headed the customs agency's anti-terrorism efforts under the Treasury Department and the new Department of Homeland Security, said national security fears are well grounded.

He said a company the size of Dubai Ports World would be able to get hundreds of visas to relocate managers and other employees to the United States. Using appeals to Muslim solidarity or threats of violence, al-Qaeda operatives could force low-level managers to provide some of those visas to al-Qaeda sympathizers, said King, who for years tracked similar efforts by organized crime to infiltrate ports in New York and New Jersey. Those sympathizers could obtain legitimate driver's licenses, work permits and mortgages that could then be used by terrorist operatives.

Dubai Ports World could also offer a simple conduit for wire transfers to terrorist operatives in the Middle East. Large wire transfers from individuals would quickly attract federal scrutiny, but such transfers, buried in the dozens of wire transfers a day from Dubai Ports World's operations in the United States to the Middle East would go undetected, King said."

This actually speaks to something that has been tickling at the back of my mind about this deal, even as I was writing what I did yesterday. Even if, as I suggested, the overarching concerns of international commerce tend to ameliorate the danger from the UAE's government policies, the problem remains of mid-level functionaries. In spite of what scandals such as WorldCom and Enron have shown in recent years, most types of corporate fraud and fiscal mismanagement occur at the middle levels. I think this is where the true danger may lie in this deal.

Bill Maher hinted at this on Real Time Friday night and I echo his concern: it only takes one middle manager or corporate functionary getting "flipped" by Al-Qaida to seriously open a hole in our already very limited port security. It only takes one bomb or one chemical scare to tremendously raise the level of terrorism fear in the United States; a fear that the Bush administration has exploited with brutal effectiveness to further its agenda. All the gentlemens' agreements in the world between wealthy government leaders don't do much to protect us from the one (or more) dissatisfied DP World employee, sympathetic to Al-Qaida's message, who can be persuaded or bribed to just look the other way. To paraphrase the President, which is a must in order to understand him: they only have to beat our security once.

The question remains, then, of what to do next? Assuming the White House would even consider blocking this sale (which it won't) or assuming Congress moves to block it legislatively (unlikely as well; Republicans don't step out of rank often or for long), then what happens? Do we shut down the port operations that DP World would have overseen? The U.S. has no port operations companies any longer. Even if we did, there is nothing to prevent the same type of buy-out deal from occurring to a U.S. company either. We don't do state owned businesses (usually). So, do we void the contract and seek a different bidder, perhaps China again? Is that even a better option? Closing down the port operations will have very expensive and wide-ranging repercussions to our economy, as the U.S. is the world's biggest importer of just about everything under the sun. Perhaps a Congressionally-mandated ports management company, similar to the old National Housing Partnership for residential housing management? In practical terms, that amounts to creating a new, entirely socialized national industry, something I doubt any Republican would ever support.

I honestly don't know what the answer is on this problem, though it's probably moot. The 45-day review period seems to be a sham designed to cool the political uproar around this deal, which, for the record, I don't think will work. Bush has sunk the hook of irrational fear too deeply into his supporters to not reel them in again and Bush's opponents smell blood in the water on this issue. What a mess...

Show Some Love

Just a quick request to you wonderful folks who drop by here on a regular basis:

Frequent commentor DAS at DAS Blog, who adds immeasurably to the discussions we have here in the comments, is defending his doctoral dissertation today. If you have a second, why not stop by and drop him some encouragement? I'm sure he'd appreciate the support. Thanks all!

Love and Peace,

Samurai Sam

Monday, February 27, 2006

Any Port In A Storm

(Photo is the port of Baltimore, one of six that Dubai Ports World will oversee. - S. Sam)

It's been about a week and a half now since the Dubai Ports World story broke, and I think I've finally been able to marshal my thoughts on this issue. For those of you unfamiliar, essentially what is going to happen is that Dubai Ports World, a port management firm owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, is purchasing a British company called PO, PLC, which operates docks at six of our major ports. They own and operate the equipment which loads and unloads freight containers and, in several ports, could be indirectly involved with port security, though the Coast Guard is actually the main handler U.S. port security.

There are several big concerns about this deal, some of which are more serious than others. First, Dubai Ports World is owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, one of the few governments that actually recognized the Taliban as legitimate and the nation from which 2 of the Al-Qaida 9/11 hijackers came. It's a hereditary oligarchy not a liberal democracy and one with past ties to both the Taliban and Al-Qaida. Photos and articles have been widely circulated on the internets of UAE royal family members spending time with Osama bin Ladin. On it's face, both of these would seem to present some interesting conflicts of interest with Bush's "War on Terror".

Molly Ivins makes the point very well:

We have already been warned that, should we back out of the DP deal, the United Arab Emirates may well take offense and not be so nice about helping us in the War on Terra -- maybe even cut back its money, as well as its cooperation. This is a problem specific to the fact that we are dealing with a corporation owned by a country: A corporation only wants to make money, a corporation owned by a country has lots of motives.

Second, this is a corporation, consequently its only interest is in making money. A corporation is like a shark, designed to do two things: kill and eat. Thousands of years of evolution lie behind the shark, where as the corporation has only a few hundred. But it is still perfectly evolved for its purpose. That means a corporation that makes money running port facilities does not have a stake in national security.

Normally, state-owned businesses are anathema to the holy faith of the Free Market practiced by most Republicans. While the interests of corporations tend to stay fairly constant, the interests of the state can change dramatically. On its face, having a UAE owned company running certain ports does not necessarily indicate a security risk, or at least no greater risk than our ports already are. Dubai seeks to become the new New York, a leader in international commerce, and nothing ruins that reputation faster than corporate instability and ties to terrorism. It seems unlikely that DP World would allow any activity that might damage its reputation in the business world, which is really the only world that Bush and his cronies actually care about. Ideology is for the little people. The big money Republicans want access to global markets, especially very wealthy ones like Dubai.

The political aspect of this is actually even more fascinating. It's become the first issue of Bush's reign that has really split the White House from its Republican sycophants in Congress. It has also spawned one of the most Orwellian quotes yet from Fearless Leader:

"I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company. I'm trying to conduct foreign policy now by saying to the people of the world, we'll treat you fairly."

This is just breathtaking in its hypocrisy! The same George W. Bush that has sought to demonize Arab nations and people of all stripes since 9/11 now has the gall to sound petulant when Congress actually does the same? Bush accusing others of racism is rich. Just ask the folks at the NAACP or those failed by FEMA about how compassionate George W. Bush is about their race. For that matter, why not ask the people of Iraq (or the Palestinian Territories) if Bush's overflowing compassion for Arabs keeps them warm at night. Oh, wait, they're not rich Arabs like the Emirates and the Saudis...

Of course, I don't believe the outrage in Congress for one minute. The Republicans are sensing an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and an unpopular President, while playing to the racist rubes that make up some of the Republican base. The Democrats are taking advantage of an easy opportunity to do political damage to the President in an election year by hoisting him on his own petard. Personally, I see this as more evidence of what constituency Bush really represents: Free Market capitalists. It's always fun for election purposes to fire up the religious fundamentalists with God, gays and abortion. But it's the moneyed interests on Wall Street that fund the Republican political machine.

I foresee this deal going through and really not being an issue by next year. Port security in the United States is largely a myth and while it's yet another serious national security issue where Bush has dropped the ball, the involvement of DP World is not likely to up the threat ante much. The lingering issue will be the political reaction and the reality of a United States where commerce trumps all other concerns. Bush implying that those opposed to this deal are closet racists may be true on his side of the aisle, but many of the concerns by security experts about Dubai's ties to Al-Qaida and the Taliban are legitimate. I suspect, however, that the biggest concern for the ruler of Dubai, similar to the ruler of Washington, is the almighty dollar. Neither seems likely to jeopardize the security of that.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Cecelia tries Cereal!

Cecelia is 5 1/2 months old and tried cereal for the first time tonight!

In the last week, she has started attempting to attack people, while they are eating. Then today... she decided to scream every time she saw someone take a bite. Time to try cereal!

I'm ready...

Hey! Gimme that!


Friday, February 24, 2006

A Different Vision For America

Frequent contrarian commentor and fellow blogger Daniel Levesque at The Raving Conservative has posted up an essay this week called "My Vision for America" in which he lays out what I would call a textbook example of an authoritarian political platform. It's quite lengthy and did encourage a vigorous discussion on his site, and I thought that rather than leave him a dozen comments explaining why I think he's nuts I would endeavor to post my own platform. Unlike Daniel, I have no Presidential aspirations so this is more of a "wish list" of the kind of United States in which I'd like to raise my kids. For my own ease, I am using many of the same issues Daniel addresses. And away we go...

1. Energy Policy - I support an energy policy that moves our society away from excessive energy consumption as the number one priority. The United States is a gluttonous consumer of energy resources, and the relative affordability and availability of energy resources over the past 100 years has led to an America that is grossly inefficient in its consumption. There is no long-term supply-sider solution to energy; the fix must come with a decrease in demand. I also believe the United States should wean itself completely from fossil fuels and commit ourselves to 100% renewable energy. I oppose any further exploratory drilling or mining for new fossil fuel resources in the United States or off of its coasts. That only exacerbates the problem by boosting short term supplies. Such cheap and easy energy resources are why certain areas of our technology, such as the internal combustion engine, have been allowed to flourish decades after they could and should have been relics in a museum.

2. Environmental Policy - I support a strict protectionist environmental policy, one that protects both plant and animal (including humans) habitats with unbending enforcement. Short-term economic gain shall no longer be any excuse for environmental depredations. This means strict regulations for corporations and the military to make environmental protection key to their activity and growth strategies. The reality is that we only have one Earth and while we can't destroy it, we can certainly destroy everything that enables us to live upon it. Short-sited commercial or political gain will no longer excuse needlessly endangering future generations.

3. Health Care - The United States has good, quality health care that costs an average of 43% more than the same care in Europe and Canada. One of the reasons for this price gouging is the problem of many small, separate units of demand seeking products and services from some very large conglomerates of supply. This allows for a mismatch of power in the marketplace, resulting in inflated prices for the same services. I support a single-payer, socialized health program, administered by the federal government that centralizes demand into a more powerful bloc. This will help correct the imbalance of power in the marketplace, which will drive down the market advantage of large corporate players. Mandatory health care for all Americans insures that, as often as possible, preventive care is administered, which will further drive down costs as well as increase the overall healthiness of American citizens.
I believe that the operations of such a health administration must be audited annually, with its books and activities open to public scrutiny at all times. Inefficiencies abound in government institutions, but are endemic of poor management, not government structure. I also support an independent review board and administration, appointed by the President and the Senate, that mediates all disputes between insurers and insured. Insurance companies and HMO's will never again be able to deny healthcare coverage without the prior consent of the review board. Pre-existing conditions will be eliminated and pre-approved claims will be honored without fail. Yes, the cost in taxes will be higher but I believe the competitive advantage in the marketplace, coupled with a higher health standard for the entire country, will help mitigate this cost.

4. Litigation Reform - It's an oft-quoted belief of American conservatives that somehow healthcare costs are being negatively impacted by tort liability. This is demonstrably false, as I've written about here. The right to a redress of grievances is a fundamental right under the Constitution and no litigation reform can infringe that right. The frivolousness of a lawsuit is based upon the opinion and perception of those examining the case and is not always an objective measure. Nonetheless, I propose that any case dismissed due to lack of merit carry with it the stipulation that the party bringing the suit and the attorney representing that party share equally in the maligned party's legal expenses. Also, I propose a "Three Strikes and You're Out" rule concerning the law licenses of attorney's who frequently present frivolous cases. Any law firm or attorney engaging in litigation for the purpose of extracting an unwarranted settlement should face criminal prosecution.

5. Agriculture - Corporate farming practices are unsustainable, environmentally unsound and have the potential to foment a real public health disaster at some point. I support strong government protections for small farming operations and agricultural co-ops. This dovetails with my policy on strict environmental enforcement. I support government subsidies for environmentally sound and healthy growing practices, as well as financial protections against market fluctuations. I also support a strict ban on any and all lobbying efforts towards the Department of Agriculture and its scientists. Nutritional standards should no longer be determined by industry lobbying efforts.

6. Law Enforcement - First, I support a federal ban on the death penalty in any and all cases. Public execution (and corporal punishment) is an anachronism and has no place in a liberal democracy. Further, I support de-criminalizing most controlled substances. Recreational drug use, where it does not significantly negatively impact society, is not the government's business. If Joe Citizen wants to smoke a joint after a hard day at work, that's Joe's perogative. More serious drug addictions should be treated as medical problems, not crimes. Community service should be the preferred punishment in all non-violent crimes.
Our prison system desperately needs to be reformed. I believe that most convicts can be rehabilitated, but such rehabilitation does little good if they leave prison and still face a life of no opportunity. I support reinstituting certain New Deal-style programs to employ ex-cons for public works. That way, they are able to make a decent living in the probable event that they are unable to find work in the private sector. A certain amount of crime will always be with us; that's part of human society. But a criminal justice system that focuses on rehabilitation and correcting the social injustices that lead to crime can boost prevention and reduce recidivism.

7. A Free Press - For the most part, I feel that the press largely fails in its role as the guardian of our democracy. I don't find a liberal or conservative bias in the press as a whole; I find a bias towards power and sensationalism. Certainly, some media outlets, such as Fox News, Air America or the Washington Times have a definite ideological bias, which I think is fine as long as it is honestly disclosed. I am a big believer in public media and I think it should remain forever outside of political interference. I think all of the media in our country needs to stop the "Shape of the Earth? Opinions differ..." method of reporting stories. The facts aren't biased and when two sides disagree, such as over the validity of Intelligent Design versus the theory of evolution, the side with the facts is objectively right and should not have to share legitimacy with anti-intellectual garbage. As a matter of political policy, I think all media outlets should be required to carry political speech as part of their licensing costs. The "airwaves" are supposed to be in the public domain and the public needs good, substantive policy information to perform its constitutional duty. As a corollary, I believe political ads should be subjected to the same Truth in Advertising standards to which commercial ads are subjected, regardless of the source for the ads.

8. Campaign Finance Reform - The saturation of our political system with money has essentially led to a form of government that sort of looks like a representative democracy but doesn't really function like one. It functions like a hereditary oligarchy and that must be stopped immediately. First, I support the public financing of political campaigns, with some limited exceptions. This, coupled with media outlets being required to allocate time for political speech, should help return our political discourse to substantive issues. I support banning any and all business contributions of any kind at any time. No cash, no gifts, no transportation, nothing. I support individuals being able to contribute cash (no gifts) to political campaigns at a maximum level of $100 per person, per candidate, per race. Being wealthy should not grant anyone the right to lavish money on their pet political candidates. The Republicans have amply demonstrated the corrupting power of money and the entire system is better off without it. I also support tearing down the barriers to third party entry. If a third party or independent candidate can raise the necessary support, then they must be allowed to compete and be given the same access as the two major parties. Free speech is about the free exchange of ideas, not just the free exchange of Republican and Democratic party platforms.

9. Education - I fully support both public and private education, believing both to be the key to American success in the future. I think No Child Left Behind should be repealed immediately. Teaching kids to pass exams just makes them good at passing exams. I think two years of college or vocational schooling should be mandatory as part of the public school system. I believe personal finance should be mandatory for a high school diploma. No one should be graduating without understanding how to balance a checkbook, open a 401(k) or apply for a competitive loan. Further, I support fully funding our public schools and paying our teachers a salary commensurate with the incredibly valuable service they provide. Any nation that spends $700 billion annually making war but then underfunds education has its priorities completely misaligned.

10. Taxation - It is long past time to correct the misguided perception that somehow taxes are an onerous burden on Americans that must be corrected immediately, which dovetails nicely with making education a priority. Thanks to 30 years of bogus Republican rhetoric, Americans have lost all sense of civic responsibility where taxation is concerned. Taxes help pay for things that are not commercially viable, such as infrastructure and scientific research. They help re-distribute wealth and spur economic activity, both of which are essential to a healthy democracy. Every single time in the history of the world that a nation allowed wealth to accumulate among a small minority, that nation failed. Every single time. And yet the Republicans would have America believe that redistributing all the wealth in the country to the top 1% will help spur economic growth and better our society, in spite of 6,000 years of evidence to the contrary. No more! Further, I think our tax system needs to be simplified, but certainly not with a regressive flat tax or sales tax. There is nothing fair about taxing $10,000 of income and $10,000,000 of income at the same rate, unless all prices for all goods and services in the country are prorated the same way (which of course, they're not). We need a progressive tax system like we have today, only with all the special loopholes, exceptions and "welfare without calling it welfare" provisions stripped out. Taxation should be simple and transparent.
I support repealing any Bush tax cuts that affect the top income bracket. There is some merit in not taxing capital investments from an economic standpoint. However, the social cost is unbearably high and while economic growth is important, it is not the be all and end all of human existence. Those who are able to become wealthy via business success are able to do so because of the economic infrastructure of the United States. That infrastructure is the responsibility of all citizens, and wealthy business enterprises make the most use of that infrastructure. Thus, they should have to pay a higher share of the cost. Plus, redistributing wealth away from the top of the economic ladder boosts the entire country. There is nothing meritorious about a nation where people in the 9th Ward of New Orleans can barely afford the basic necessities of life while many professional athletes and business executives have incomes rivaling the GDP of some small nations. That is fundamentally unjust and taxation helps correct that injustice.

11. The Courts - I support consigning the term "strict constructionist" to the trashbin of history as yet another conservative idea, like "trickle down economics" that makes no rational sense. The role of the Courts is to interpret laws and act as a check on the other two branches of government. The Constitution enumerates many of the rights of Americans but it does not limit those rights. Nor should it. The very notion that our Constitution has one correct interpretation for all cases is ludicrous, not supported by any historical facts and patently un-American. Furthermore, there is no simplistic "majority rules" ideology enshrined anywhere in our nation's history, except in the historically challenged mind of modern conservatives. Madison spoke fervently against the "tyranny of the majority" in public life. In fact, the entire concept of a Bill of Rights only makes sense in the context of protecting minority rights. Majorities don't need to have their rights protected in a democracy. The Founding Fathers, while not perfect, were wise enough to realize that societies always evolve and thus they wrote a Constitution that can evolve with our society. The desire by today's conservatives (or authoritarians rather) to limit the civil rights of Americans as some sort of Christian fundamentalist social engineering project is profoundly un-American. If they wish to live in the past, that's their right. But they don't have the right to drag the rest of us back there with them.

12. Religious Freedom - As an atheist and secular humanist, this issue is extremely important to me. I realize that I will always be in a small minority in a very theistic country, so I take the separation of church and state very seriously. There is no good to be had from co-mingling religion and government. They need to remain apart in all respects. Theocracy, in any form, is an irrational form of government that has failed in every historical example. For many years, Christianity enjoyed an Unconstitutional exception in this area, mainly because it's such a dominant faith. That Unconstitutional privilege was rightly stripped away during the 20th century, though some bits of it still remain today. Attempts by conservatives to reinstate that privilege have no basis in any understanding of American government and are merely the acts of a misguided minority attempting to legitimize their faith by forcing others to follow it with them. Liberal Christians understand that the symbols of faith are made weak by the institutions of man, and vice versa. I realize that conservative Christians believe their's is the "One True Faith". I respect that. But they must respect that I don't agree with them and they do not have the right to make that decision for me or for anyone else. In fact, the harder they try, the more their faith turns away from God and towards human pride, arrogance and intolerance.

13. National Security - Unlike the ridiculous Straw Man conservatives would like to build of us, we liberals do believe in a vigilant defense against terrorism. However, I do not subscribe to the notion that this latter day threat from Islamic fundamentalists is any sort of global existential threat to the existence of life as we know it. The fear-mongers on the Right always needs some sort of Galactic Empire-style super-enemy to keep them properly terrified and to give their love of war and violence a socially acceptable outlet. We've defeated religious fundamentalists before in this country and we will do so again. I believe that the democratization of the Middle East is a laudable goal, but it's not one that the United States can accomplish unilaterally. Invading Iraq has created a festering civil war, not a peaceful democracy. U.S. policy towards the Middle East has been condescending, exploitative and violent for many years, and we are reaping the costs of past mistakes today. I propose an immediate pull-out of Iraq. It was a war we should never have started and the civil war that has likely begun there this week is not something we can stop any longer. Iraq is a tragic example of ideology blinding all rationality, and history will long remember the architects of this debacle.
I fully support the use of humanitarian aid, shared expertise and cultural co-mingling as the most effective methods for spreading American values and defusing religious fundamentalism. Understanding the geopolitics of the world, as well as its religions, should be important to every American. It's the only hope we really have of building a secure future. No amount of war-making expertise can do that.

14. The Right To Privacy - I fully support an individual's right to privacy and I believe it covers more than just probable cause in police searches. I believe issues like marriage and abortion are personal issues in which the state has no place. Every religion has its moral views of these personal issues. That's why it's so important to our country that we not legislate one given religion's views just because that religion happens to be in the majority. That's not democracy, that's theocracy.
I believe that marriage as a civic institution should either be extended to any and all adults without qualification or be abolished completely. Gifted-1 was adamant, and I agreed with her, that we would never abort a pregnancy for any reason. But I would never, ever support our decision being thrust upon every woman in the country. It's a matter of personal choice and is not the government's business. I also support "Right to Die" laws in any form. Again, neither the government nor any religious majority should ever have the right to dictate the meaning of life and death to any other person. These kinds of personal issues must remain personal, or our democracy becomes a populist authoritarian theocracy and the nation that was founded here disappears.

Finally, a word on tradition, since Daniel brings it up in his post. Tradition for its own sake is nothing I care to support. Many traditions have passed away in this country, and rightly so. Slavery was once a tradition, as was child labor. Our society is better off without those traditions. Just because something was done in the past, doesn't mean it should be continued. I would go so far as to say that tradition in and of itself is reason for change. Our society has many flaws, many injustices and is a far cry from what it could be. To my thinking, embracing tradition is to embrace a status quo that has already shown itself to be inadequate. Change is inevitable so I say: embrace that change. Clinging to the past just makes one hostile to the future. Change happens regardless.

The Illusion Of Race

I caught wind of this on the radio this morning. Apparently this picture aired on Good Morning America as part of some puff piece "Photo of the Week" sort of feature (as you can see, I never watch the show). The two girls are Kayeen and Roomay and they are fraternal twins. Both of their parents are "mixed race"; partially white and partially black. According to the ABC affiliate in Philadelphia, from whose website I snagged this picture, the odds of twins being born of mixed parents with the appearance of separate races is one in a million. As an editorial note, I choose not to link to the news site, as they have this listed under "Bizarre" on their website and I don't care for the negative connotation that implies. Cute girls, though, don't you think?

The fascinating part of this story is what it reveals about race in the biological sense. Mainly, that it's largely an illusion born of human perception. These two little girls are twin sisters, but the reality of the differences in their appearance are startling, at least at first. As I noted above, ABC had this listed as a "bizarre" picture and story. The idea that race is some kind of dividing line in the biological sense is so ingrained in our culture that a photo like this, which puts the lie to that perception, stands out so remarkably.

Now, certainly, I'm not saying there is no difference between white and black people. Obviously there is much more to our understanding of race than just biology. There is a whole host of cultural differences and traditions, all of which are very important. They help define America as multi-cultural. This is why I believe attempts by the Right to solidify American culture into one standard, as is indicated in the wingnut email I lampooned below, is an inherently racist and un-American ideal. Pockets of cultural diversity in the United States have always been one of our greatest strengths; a strength our nation has been sadly inept at embracing, in my opinion.

I look at these two girls and I see every conventional misconception we hold about race fading away. Who can legitimately argue that some inborn difference exists between us while looking at Kayeen and Roomay? There's just nothing to it. We are all the same humans, separated biologically by only a few surface differences. Unfortunately, we've spent the better part of our recorded history defining ourselves by these superficial differences in ways that make no logical sense. What differences should there really be between black or white or Hispanic, when we could all be born of the same mom and dad?

None that I can name...

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Well, This Didn't Take Long...

By far the most publicized issue concerning the appointments of Roberts and Alito to the Supreme Court has been their potential impact on a woman's right to reproductive choice, protected by Roe vs. Wade. The possibility that abortion rights could be curtailed or eliminated entirely under a Republican-controlled court is a very real possibility, but one that hinges upon a case being brought that challenges the constitutionality of the Roe vs. Wade decision.

Leave it to the State Senate of South Dakota to get that ball rolling (via lapin at Dkos):

The South Dakota State Senate just passed a bill banning all forms of abortion except when the life of the mother is endangered.

The Senate's version is slightly different the House's version, so it must be approved by the House before going to Governor Mike Rounds for signature. He has indicated he would sign the bill.

The passage of this bill was undoubtedly aided by the ascendancy of Sam Alito to the SCOTUS.

It's clear, at least to me, exactly what is intended by this bill: to force a showdown in the Supreme Court. This law is clearly unconstitutional as written and no doubt the lawmakers and governor of South Dakota realize this. The Anti-choice Right needs a test case to get Roe vs. Wade into judicial review by the new "conservative" court (I use scare quotes because the government infringing upon an American's personal sex life is NOT a conservative position by any stretch) and I'm actually a little surprised at how quickly they moved on this. This bill is so broad that it really challenges any basic notion of the legality of abortion, and it should be very instructive watching it work its way through the courts. Of course, the saddest part is that some poor woman seeking an abortion in South Dakota will forever have to sacrifice her right to privacy and spend the rest of her life being vilified by some of the vilest idealogues in the country because she'll be the first South Dakota woman denied an abortion who challenged having her rights stripped away by the tyranny of the majority. It's a sacrifice she should never have to be make, but one that will likely need to be made all the same.

As for the law itself, I find it actually more ideologically defensible from the Anti-choice Right's perspective than most abortion-restricting bills (such as the boneheaded "Partial Birth Abortion" ban). One of the most oft repeated justifications for outlawing abortion by the Right has been the claim that they are protecting "innocent children". Thus, it has always seemed hypocritical to me that these same folks support the right of abortion in the cases of rape and incest. The child is no less innocent for the sins of its conception. So at least the South Dakota bill shows some ideological consistency, a precious commodity in the "Party of Moral Values".

Of course, abortion bans have never been about the children. If that were the case, then the anti-abortion crowd would support contraception and sexual education, which they almost unanimously don't. It's about the sex. They see pregnancy and parenthood as the proper punishment for women who engage in sexual relations for reasons other than child-bearing. It's a strange snake of an argument, one that eats its own tail. Pregnancy is either a gift or a punishment but, most importantly to the "family values" folks, the woman must never be allowed to determine which it is after it occurs. If the woman wanted a baby, then the pregnancy is a blessing. If she didn't, then it's her rightful punishment for engaging in sexual congress.

At it's most basic, of course, abortion always comes down to one thing: who has the power? Either women have power over their own bodies or the state, selected by the will of the majority, has that power. The state can't govern morality. Women wishing to end a pregnancy will end it, regardless of the law. Anyone alive prior to Roe vs. Wade knows that to be true. In countries where abortion is illegal today, such as the Philippines, abortions happen every day. But the rates of complications are astronomically higher, because women seeking abortions either do it themselves or get unsafe "back alley" abortions. The fetus still gets aborted, but maybe so does the life of the mother who, even if she survives, faces a lifetime of social stigma for her actions. But then, perhaps many on the Right here in America think that's a just punishment for abortion. It is, after all, a profoundly sexist political position, the anti-choice movement, and is anything but "pro-life".

At the end of the day, banning abortion does nothing but make abortions more dangerous and more difficult. No law will ever truly make a woman give up the rights to her own body, not in South Dakota nor anywhere else. Only preventing unwanted pregnancies can prevent abortions, and until the Right embraces the only methods that actually prevent unwanted pregnancies, sex education and contraception, then they really have nothing substantial to bring to the table. Just a medieval belief in the subservient role of women which is completely out of step with the modern world.

Update: ReddHedd adds a degree of depth to this issue that I couldn't even hope to:

And now, some young girl in South Dakota who is raped and finds herself pregnant will be forced to carry the child of her rapist, feeling it grow and move, a daily reminder of the rape -- with the flashbacks, the terror, the nightmares, the gut-wrenching fear -- everything that you have to overcome after being raped, along with handling the emotions and the responsibilities that come along with a pregnancy.

Wealthy women will be able to travel to other states and obtain an abortion. But, as with so many other things, the poor will be disproportionately affected because they will not be able to pay to travel, stay overnight somewhere, have an abortion and then get the necessary adequate follow-up medical care, let alone the necessary counseling.

Poor women will face the unenviable choice of carrying the child of a rapist or a child conceived of incest (imagine the hell of being impregnated by your own father for a moment)...or perhaps the choice of a back-alley, unsafe abortion and then the resulting sterility or worse, an infection that leads to death, that caused abortion laws to be fought so hard for in the 1970s.

Being pro-life does not mean that you can only value the life of the fetus while it is in the womb. If you are pro-life, you have to value all life. You have to work to make life better for all living people. Not just the ones that live in your sterile, gated community or who attend your Laura Ashley-dressed church ladies society or who volunteer at the PTA.

Life is ugly, messy and unfair. Last time I read my Bible, Christ asked his followers to do for the least of his bretheren as they would do for the highest of them.

Last I checked, rape and incest victims didn't ask for the violent, terrifying, horrible action taken against them. But clearly someone in South Dakota disagrees.

I highly suggest you read the rest of her post at firedoglake. It's too personal to her for me to re-print here but it really puts this issue into perspective.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Multiple Personality Presidency

President Bush is out on the road currently, attempting to drum up support for his new energy/environmental policy called the Advanced Energy Initiative. The interesting thing about this current round of public relations via stump speeches is that it shows a marked departure from Bush's previous policies. In fact, when Bush puts on his new "Texas oilman against oil" persona, he begins to sound remarkably like certain other politicians.

First, Bush, on automobile fuel standards, via The Ministry of Truth:

The first objective is to change the way we power our cars and trucks. Today's cars and trucks are fueled almost exclusively by gasoline and diesel fuel, which, of course, comes from oil. To transform the way we power the vehicles, we have got to diversify away from oil. I just gave you a reason from a national security perspective, as well as economic security perspective why reliance upon oil is not good for the United States.

And so here are three ways that we can do that, change our reliance from oil. First, invest in new kinds of vehicles that require much less gasoline. It's a practical thing to do. Secondly, find new fuels that will replace gasoline and, therefore, dependence on oil. And, finally, develop new ways to run a car without gasoline at all.

As an aside, when Bush refers to his national security reason for weaning us off of oil, his rationale is that oil providing nations are too unstable to trust with our energy security. I agree with that, to a point. I suspect, however, that Bush is largely referring to nations such as Venezuela and Niger; large crude suppliers that are not particularly friendly to U.S. interests. However, I also think that this particular justification for moving away from oil is a little weak. Crude oil is traded in a national marketplace, not regional. While India and China continue to demand more oil for industrialization, the U.S. still remains the largest source of demand for oil. That mitigates a great deal of the instability, even while the perception of instability remains. The U.S.'s voracious appetite for oil gives it some heavy market leverage on the demand side. The perceived instability of overseas oil suppliers serves more as a political tool and profiteering justification than a real threat to our national security, in my opinion. But, I digress...

The above paragraph from Bush's speech in Milwaukee yesterday actually makes good environmental and economic sense. It should, since it's not his.

From Earth in the Balance by Al Gore:

"We now know that their [automobiles'] cumulative impact on the global environment is posing a mortal threat to the security of every nation that is more deadly than that of any military enemy we are ever again likely to confront. ... I support new laws to mandate improvement in automobile fleet mileage, but much more is needed. ... [I]t ought to be possible to establish a coordinated global program to accomplish the strategic goal of completely eliminating the internal combustion engine over, say, a twenty-five-year period.... (page 325-326)

It makes me wonder: If this is the sort of energy policy conservatives wanted, then why vote for George W. Bush and not Al Gore? Gore wrote Earth in the Balance over 15 years ago. None of Bush's ideas are new; they're recycled from Gore's 2000 Presidential campaign!

So, now that Bush has co-opted Gore's environmental and energy policy on automobiles, all should be well, right? Or perhaps not. Policy talk of this sort is cheap from the President when he doesn't control the purse strings:

"The President's call for reduced oil dependence and new energy technologies is laudable, but to be credible, the Administration must reverse its record of cutting overall funding for energy efficiency and other clean energy technologies," said ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel.


Two of the leading examples of the administration's shrinking commitment to energy efficiency are:

A 14% inflation-adjusted decline in energy efficiency RD&D funding since FY 2002. This funding decline includes the president's Freedom Car hydrogen vehicle program. What this means is that the Freedom Car and other administration priorities are being funded at the expense of other clean energy programs. So while the administration talks glowingly about these priority initiatives, the overall funding picture for equally important technologies has remained negative.

A $3 billion, 60% drop in clean energy tax incentives in the final Energy Policy Act of 2005. While the Senate bill would have spent $5.5 billion on efficiency and other clean energy technology incentives, the White House insisted during conference that these tax incentives be cut. The final bill spends $2.1 billion, largely due to administration pressure. This loss of funding will require the building of the equivalent of 27 additional 300-Megawatt power plants by 2020.

As usual, Bush talks a big game, but fails to deliver when it counts. Maybe it's an unfair assumption to make, but I find it very hard to believe that a former Texas oilman like Bush, who has been so committed to advancing the interests of corporate energy companies at the expense of the taxpayer, has suddenly seen the green light of sensible energy policy.

Further along in Bush's speech comes talk of expanding energy resources. Some old favorites get dusted off again. First coal:

I told folks when I was running for President the first time around that we would invest $2 billion over 10 years to promote clean coal technology. In other words, I believed, as did many others, that technology will help us deal with this dilemma. And we're on our way, by the way, to complete the promise several years ahead of schedule. In other words, we are committing research dollars to see if we can't use this abundant resource and, at the same time, protect our environment.

Then nuclear:

The administration has also launched what's called Nuclear Power 2010 Initiative. It's a $1.1 billion partnership between the government and industry to facilitate new plant orders. Chairman Niles Diaz of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is taking steps to streamline the licensing process for new plant construction. In other words, we're analyzing barriers and hurdles and trying to eliminate them so we can start this process.

In a time of huge deficits and federal debt, it seems suspicious that an allegedly conservative president would authorize some big tax give-aways to the electric utility industry. Wonder what he's thinking (from Public Citizen, via whitehouseforsale.org):

In late May 1999, Thomas Kuhn, president of the electric utility industry's main trade association, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), sent a memo to energy industry officials soliciting money for Bush’s nascent presidential campaign. The memo was extraordinary for two reasons: It was written on stationary labeled "George W. Bush Presidential Exploratory Inc.,"105 and it baldly declared that the Bush campaign would be keeping tabs on which industries helped
his cause.


In the 2000 presidential campaign, executives, employees and PACs of the electric utility industry - virtually all of which is affected by NSR – gave $4.8 million to the Bush campaign, the Republican National Committee (which was the GOP’s arm of the Bush campaign) and the inaugural committee. That total included $1.85 million from the four biggest givers among those facing NSR enforcement actions and the leading industry trade association. Another eight utilities also facing NSR lawsuits gave an additional $424,700. [See Figure 3] Employees and PACs of the four companies – Southern, Cinergy, FirstEnergy and Dominion – gave Bush $128,860 in "hard money" contributions in 2000.

They also gave $1.1 million in unregulated "soft money" to the RNC. Moreover, the RNC collaborated with the Bush campaign to raise $100 million for his election. 109 These four companies also gave $400,000 to Bush's inaugural fund and furnished Bush with another Pioneer – Anthony Alexander, president of FirstEnergy. 110 EEI, the trade group of electric utilities headed by Kuhn, gave $194,490 in soft money to the RNC and $13,500 to the Bush campaign.

Business as usual, it appears, from the Bush White House.

As a matter of policy Republicans always put short-term corporate gain ahead of all other considerations, and Bush is no exception. While he may talk about our energy future and building a more sustainable energy infrastructure, the reality is that he's merely laying the groundwork for billions more in taxpayer-funded giveaways to various corporate interests. It's the two personalities of Bush: the radical rightwing government reformer that he presents to the public contrasted with the staunch advocate of corporate welfare that his policies reveal. It's nothing more than a fiscal policy based around looting the Treasury. Cut taxes repeatedly for wealthy business interests, push legislation that gives huge government subsidies to the corporations owned by those same wealthy business interests and then explode federal indebtedness to cover the shortfall. Bush's wealthy supporters get the trifecta: low taxes, free government largesse and, via the low taxes, only a fraction of the future responsibility for the federal debt.

Bush's dedication to short-term economic gain puts the lie to any pro-environment rhetoric he espouses. The simple fact is that a nationwide change in energy policy is going to be expensive for businesses and a drag on the economy, in the short term. Prominent politicians with a realistic environmental policy, such as Al Gore, have long recognized this. Unfortunately, the Republicans are so beholden to corporate interests and their myopic love of short term share price bounces that no meaningful reform is ever likely to come while they are the party in power. Voters, liberal or conservative, for whom the environment is a key issue, should remember in 2006 and 2008 which party actually has the fortitude to lead in the area of energy reform and environmental protection. It's certainly not the one with "Pioneer" donors from the heaviest polluting energy industries.

Monday, February 20, 2006

"Propaganda Masquerading As Science"

The use of purported "scientific evidence" to support some of the more onerous conservative positions makes for some interesting analysis. It's a bold attempt at playing both sides of the ideological fence at the same time. On one hand, Christian fundamentalists decry the very existence of homosexuality as evil on a scriptural basis; excerpts from the books of Genesis, Leviticus, Romans and Corinthians are commonly used to invoke God's prohibition against such. Unfortunately for anti-gay religious groups, their hardline moralism leaves a bad taste in many people's mouths. Hence the rise of pseudo-scientific analysis that attempts to provide real-world evidence to support conservative religious beliefs.

Many issues have become targets for this sort of propagandist false science. The theory of evolution is a favorite target, as is the right to a legal abortion. But perhaps no cause in the Christian fundamentalist platform has received as much help from phony science as has the anti-gay agenda. And no one has been more at the forefront of this dubious cause than Dr. Paul Cameron.

From The Southern Poverty Law Center:

Under the guise of chairman of the Family Research Institute, his statistical chop shop in Colorado Springs, Colo., Cameron has published dozens upon dozens of research studies that offer homophobes a supposedly scientific justification for their prejudices by invariably concluding that gays and lesbians are dangerous and diseased perverts.


While he makes no attempt to disguise his personal bias, Cameron dresses up his studies with footnotes, bibliographies and charts, and then publishes them in bogus "academic" journals. His work is propaganda masquerading as science and has been repeatedly unmasked as such by many legitimate scientists. Cameron himself has been cast out of both the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association. The ASA declared that, "Dr. Cameron has consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented sociological research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism."

But no matter how low his professional reputation sinks or how patently ludicrous his findings become (one recent Cameron study concluded that lesbians are 300 times more likely to die in car accidents than heterosexual women), the social impact of Cameron's so-called research far exceeds that of all but a few genuine research psychologists. Cameron's findings are repeated ad nauseum by lawmakers, radio talk show hosts, preachers and anti-gay activists across the country.

I should add to that litany "right-wing bloggers" as I've seen those same statistics used on other blogs (and here, in fact). Cameron's "work" essentially proves the lie of the theological argument: that it is so evident in the Bible that homosexuality is a grave sin that U.S. statutory law and even the Constitution itself ought to be changed in opposition to it. Cameron's bogus studies are a tacit admission that the underlying theology is weak and does not, by itself, make a convincing argument. In a country that self-identifies as 80% Christian, there should be no need for fabricated studies to bolster the theological argument. Unless, of course, the conservative religious prohibition against homosexuality has its roots in something deeper than religious scripture.

I, for one, believe it does. The term "homophobia" gets bandied about quite a bit, but I really believe it applies in this instance. Those who support political and social movements that attempt to eliminate or at least discourage homosexuality from having free expression in our society generally lay claim to the issue as a moral one. But I see a deeper seated uneasiness; a visceral disdain for the notion that sexuality has more facets than certain ancient texts were willing to elaborate upon. The use of Cameron's work seems to be an attempt to grab further moral traction for anti-gay beliefs; a tacit admission that the scriptural prohibition simply is not compelling enough and, thus, the appearance of science is needed to add legitimacy. This, in fact, undermines the entire argument for a faith-based belief when science is seen as a legitimizing agent needed to properly ground spiritualism in reality.

The visceral nature of the unease that many conservatives feel with homosexuality is what leads to garbage like Cameron's research getting mainstream attention. Acceptance of homosexuality in society requires a closer look at sexuality in general, which, given the sexually repressed culture of the United States, tends to feed the level of discomfort that causes many to turn to scriptural explanations. This is, in effect, the nature of "homophobia": an irrational fear of mainstream homosexuality because of an emotional discomfort with sexual issues and societal change in general. This is what leads many otherwise rational, compassionate people to support gay marriage bans that shatter all hope of a normal family life for many of their fellow Americans. This is also why a greater awareness of the real impact of these laws tend to erode their support. Individual life stories elevate the issues of homosexuality out of the murkiness of misunderstood theology and fabricated science and into the everyday realm of human-to-human interaction. It's the same way all civil rights actions truly succeed; not by laws, though those are important, but by understanding bred from empathy and understanding.

Paul Cameron is, in my opinion, a deeply disturbed individual. I encourage everyone to read the full article from SPLC to get an idea of the lengths to which this man has gone to demonize homosexuality. His is a sociopathic and ultimately self-destructive obsession, which would be pitiable if not for its horrid impact on our culture. The phony statistics and studies that Cameron is responsible for creating have been used far and wide across the conservative Christian spectrum and are still recycled today. They are the very opposite of science; ignorance, vile bigotry and religious literalism mixed to form a toxic sludge of self-righteous hatred not unlike the witch-burning fervor of days past.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Email From Outer Wingnuttia: Immigration Edition

Buenas dias! It's time again to delve into the reactionary nuttiness of wingnut sub-culture, propagated in inboxes throughout the world. Today's heartfelt screed bemoans America's dreadful habit of occasionally treating Mexican immigrants like human beings and implies that those evil hombres south of the border would never return the favor. The grinding injustice of an American culture under siege by impoverished migrant workers makes even the most compassionate wingnut reach for their white hood and burning cross.

So grab your canteen and your "I Heart The Minutemen" shotgun (not you, Mr. Cheney!) and prepare for a caliente dose of "Email from Outer Wingnuttia"!


If you are ready for the adventure of a lifetime, TRY THIS:

Uh oh. Watching Iraq leaves me a little skeptical about wingnut "adventures".

Enter Mexico illegally. Never mind immigration quotas, visas, international law, or any of that nonsense.

Actually, it's pretty much impossible for an American citizen to enter Mexico illegally. All that's required, according to the U.S. State Department, is that one be an American citizen. You don't need a visa and it violates no international law. They like Americans in Mexico. We have lots of money to spend (or, we did, prior to the "Bush Boom").

Once there, demand that the local government provide free medical care for you and your entire family.

Oh, I get it. It's time to play "Hate the Poor", a favorite among wingnuts. Heaven forbid that Mexicans come to the United States seeking a better life. The United States doesn't go for that "bring us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to be free" liberal humanitarian crap anymore. It's bad enough we allowed all those Irish and Italians in, but we must draw the line at Mexicans. I mean, they're brown, for Christ's sake!

Demand bilingual nurses and doctors.

Amen! I can't tell you how tired I get of seeing Mexican immigrants picketing American hospitals with this very demand. Being able to understand what doctors say will only encourage these Mexicans to get even more medical help for themselves and their sick families. Besides, we know all those Mexicans are refusing to learn English just to spite us.

Demand free bilingual local government forms, bulletins, etc.

Wingnuts harbor this phobia that anyone speaking another language is saying something bad about them. Which is true, actually. Hard as it may be to believe, Mexican immigrants actually get offended when other Americans (descended from immigrants) treat them like vermin. Mexicans are kinda funny about demanding that whole "basic human dignity" that wingnuts really think should be contingent on a high net worth and pale complexion.

Procreate abundantly.

Isn't that precious. Well, all the wingnuts know that those dirty brown people tend to fuck like minks. It's bad enough they have to come here, but now they have to breed, too? If only we had some camps or something; some place where they can't overrurn good white communities. We really need some kind of "final solution" for this "brown people breeding" problem.

Deflect any criticism of this allegedly irresponsible reproductive behavior with, "It is a cultural USA thing. You would not understand,pal."

I guess when they get bored of trying to run women's sex lives, the wingnuts turn to the nearest impoverished minority. I would say raising ignorant rednecks that write racist emails is probably "irresponsible reproductive behavior" as well.

Keep your American identity strong.

I'm trying, but it's hard when there are so many wingnut morons dragging it through the mud.
Fly Old Glory from your rooftop,or proudly display it in your front window or on your car bumper.

Yes! Nothing says "I'm proud to be an American" like invoking the flag after a racist diatribe. I guess some Americans are just more equal than others, particularly if those "others" are brown and speak a different language. Those who have no understanding of what America stands for have no business waving its symbols about.

Speak only English at home and in public and insist that your children do likewise.

Raise strong German English-speaking youths for the Fatherland Homeland!

Demand classes on American culture in the Mexican school system.

We can't have our children learning about immigrant cultures!! My God, our children might actually learn to like other cultures and treat foreigners with dignity and respect. The wingnut way of life would surely perish then!

Demand a local Mexican driver license. This will afford other legal rights and will go far to legitimize your unauthorized, illegal presence in Mexico.

You know, in the entire Declaration of Independence, it never once qualifies that "certain inalienable rights" belong only to those born in the United States. It says "All men are created equal". Even brown people that don't speak English.

Drive around with no liability insurance and ignore local traffic laws.

Perhaps the author of this email was in a car accident with an uninsured Mexican driver? Else this is obscure even for a race-baiting moron.

Insist that local Mexican law enforcement teach English to all its officers.

Seems like being able to communicate with the folks of the community would be a useful skill in law enforcement. But then, again, learning their brown language just makes you more like the brown people. Must protect that proud wingnut culture.

Good luck! You'll be demanding for the rest of time or soon dead.

Probably. But at least it'll be another day here in paradise for some illegal brown person picking fruit for less than minimum wage, right?

Because it will never happen. It will not happen in Mexico or any other country in the world except right here in the United States, land of the naive and politically correct politicians.

If only that were true. If only Mexicans could come here and be treated with the dignity that all human beings deserve. But I guess if we did that then ignorant white trash would have no group to blame their shortcomings upon.

If you agree, pass it on. If you don't, go ahead and try the above in Mexico.

And I'm spent...

The Republican Crusade Against Teenage Naughtiness

It's getting pretty tough to be a teenaged girl here in Wisconsin, given that you have an entire political party and the Christian fundamentalist organizations that underwrite it insatiably curious about your sex life. Their latest effort to pry into the secret lives of our daughters is being spearheaded by Senator Glen Grothman, who seems to have made control of women's sex lives the mission statement of his public life. He is currently shopping around for co-sponsors on his re-tread of a bill designed to end family planning support for girls between the ages of 15-17.

From Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin:

Under the Waiver program, low-income women have access to preventive family planning health care like cervical cancer screenings, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment and contraceptive counseling. It is important to note that currently no state or federal funds may be used for the promotion or performance of abortion. Wis. Stat. § 253.07(1)(b).

Sen. Grothman's back-door attack on women's access to birth control and other health care services is couched in terms of removing 15-17 year olds from the program. It is imperative to understand that any changes in the eligibility for the program will nullify the entire program. Removing 15-17 year-olds will make the state noncompliant with its agreement to reduce teen pregnancy rates as promised in the Waiver agreement with the federal government.

Given that Grothman's chance to defend his bill on WPR yesterday centered around the issues of teen sexual habits, that's the issue I choose to address. Planned Parenthood has rightly identified that the passage of Grothman's bill will actually invalidate the entire program, something I'm sure the Senator from West Bend is aware of and supports. Grothman has a very consistent track record of sponsoring and/or supporting any bill which limits women's reproductive rights or access to birth control.

This type of bill is a direct corollary of the "abstinence only" garbage that has infected the minds of the Right, both in Wisconsin and elsewhere. It's predicated on a ridiculous set of baseless assumptions and outright lies, all of which keep getting recycled every time another of these bills moves into the media spotlight.

The main assumption is that teenage girls are so empty-headed that even teaching them about sex will make them promiscuous. I wonder if this applies to other areas of education. For example, does Grothman think that we should stop teaching gun safety to teenage hunters because it will make them go shoot somebody? Of course not. The problem isn't education, it's the baseless value judgments people like Grothman make about girls who have sex. Somehow they're immoral or unclean. It's funny also that this sort of mentality doesn't seem to extend to boys. In the grossly sexist moral view of conservatives like Senator Grossman, sexual activity somehow "belongs" to boys. I mean, how can Adam possibly resist the wicked charms of sinful Eve?

Teenagers have been having sex since teenagers were invented. It's not a moral issue, it's a biological issue. Humans are programmed to have sex. That's what puberty does. Pretending that by forcefully trying to keep teenage girls ignorant about sex will somehow turn them off to it is just plain stupid. Some teenage kids are going to have sex regardless of their education level about venereal diseases and the burdens of pregnancy. That's the reality that people like Grothman refuse to acknowledge. In their magical conservative world, no one has sex unless they're married, except for women of loose morals and the poor, hapless men they evilly seduce.

Get a clue, Senator! Your view of human sexuality seems informed more by "Leave It To Beaver" than actual human experience. Teenage girls are going to have sex no matter what you say about it. No study ever done has ever concluded that sex education prevents teenagers from having sex. But what studies have shown is that sex education and access to birth control reduce unwanted pregnancies, venereal diseases and abortions; something that "abstinence-only" wishful thinking simply cannot do. Besides, I find it very hard to believe that many teenage girls are basing their personal sex decisions on which current government programs are in effect.

Finally, it is far past time for the Republicans to stop prying their way into the personal lives of individuals. Leave us alone, already! Our sex lives and the sex lives of our daughters are none of your damn business. If you believe that women having sex is the great evil of our time, then feel free not to engage in any with them. Furthermore, stop trying to tell me what I "deserve" to know about my children. While I certainly would like my daughters (and my son, for that matter) to make good, healthy choices about sex in their teenage years, I also respect that they have a right to their own privacy as well. You don't get to decide, Senator Grothman, what my children ought to be informing of concerning their personal lives. That's between myself, my wife and my children, not the Republican party and the various busybody groups that fund your campaigns.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Lunch Chat

As anyone can tell from my "authoritarian" post below, I tend to take a somewhat tongue-in-cheek approach to the beliefs on the other side of the political fence. That's not to say that I don't think the Bush cultists ought to be drummed out of political power. I certainly do believe that. But I also realize that the average rank-and-file conservative is not a rabid Bush worshipper like many rightwing bloggers, pundits and elected officials. I think most conservatives are just average folks like myself; folks who want good government, effective leadership, safe schools and towns, a decent job and so on.

In that sense, it was interesting for me today to listen in on an informal lunch chat that really helped flesh out a little bit of the conservative Midwestern mind. To set the stage: the company I work for recently divested itself of a plant in Brazil and has moved the head beancounter there and his family to Mississippi. Said Brazilian beancounter has been here in Wisconsin at our corporate office this week getting up to speed on how American accounting is done (lucky man was only subjected to about 20 minutes of Samurai Sam pedantry). As a welcome today, he and all of us various financial eggheads enjoyed a catered lunch, where we chatted up about the differences between Brazil and the United States. That was interesting in and of itself, but what really made me take notice in the conversation was when it turned to certain social issues. The talk around the room was a fascinating insight into how the small-town, Christian conservative view really plays out in every day life and I think it's something that is worth understanding.

First, a little background information is in order. For one, I am one of the few openly liberal folks working here, at least in my area. Second, a few of my co-workers know about this blog, but I don't believe any of them have ever read it. Also, none of my co-workers know that I am an atheist, secular humanist and Naturalist by way of moral philosophy. It's not something I've ever talked about, nor would I feel terribly comfortable talking about it at work. Finally, it's worth noting that this is a very, very conservative part of Wisconsin; a heady mix of NRA members and religious social conservatives. Which is what made the conversation so interesting.

The first topic that I really took interest in was when the Brazilian fellow began talking about the culture of Brazil. The other folks in the room repeatedly asked him about how safe and secure it was in Brazil. One even mentioned that they had heard that kidnappings and theft were fairly common. It really painted a picture of Brazil as a lawless place, which, of course, the Brazilian accountant was able to easily debunk. I thought it said a lot about what really concerns the conservative mind, especially in regard to other nations.

For whatever the fear rhetoric by the Bush administration may be worth, it's hard to argue that it hasn't been effective in seeding itself into the conservative mind. Many conservatives are largely convinced that the U.S. is the last safe place on Earth, and even that safety is tenuous at best. Listening to the breathless questions about the dangers of life abroad during the lunch chat made me realize why these conservatives support Bush's illegal wiretapping and greater "War on Terror": they crave the promise of safety and security. And they're willing to sacrifice much to get it. It's easy for me, as a liberal, to talk about violations of civil rights and the law until I'm blue in the face, but I suspect that would have little impact on these folks. Reasoned arguments about Constitutional law and civil rights just don't ameliorate the irrational fear of foreigners cultivated by Bush and the Republicans, which has taken root in the conservative mind.

Along those same lines, questions about the rural life versus urban life also surfaced, to much the same reception. The Brazilian guy explained how cities in Brazil are massively populated in small areas, and rural homes are fairly uncommon. I couldn't help but get an impression of how strange and foreign this seemed to many of the conservatives in the room, all of whom are rural citizens. In fact, several of them are from Milwaukee originally and moved this way for the very purpose of getting away from anything resembling urban life. There is a prevailing belief among rural Midwesterners in the purity of rural life; that there is something corrupt and undesirable about city life that doesn't exist "out in the country". I think this is a very important sentiment, especially in light of the fact that major cities tend to be strongholds of liberalism (except Indianapolis, for some weird reason). I believe this tends to make conservatives blame any ill they see as a problem of urban corruption on liberalism and Democratic party ideals. It's a mismatched causal relationship; that "big city values" corrupt and since most liberals congregate in cities, liberal beliefs must be corrupt as well. I think that causes many rural conservatives to wall themselves off from liberal ideas that might gain traction if only they were considered on their merits.

Along those same lines, the discussion turned inevitably to the drug trade, drug use and how to protect children from such. It comes as no surprise that, to a person from Brazil, drug trafficking and the problems it causes are an important concern. That concern extends especially into the schools, much the same as it does here. The talk turned to drug searches in schools and that's where I felt the conversation really go off the rails of what I would consider acceptable public policy. The conservatives at the table were all in agreement that school drug searches were a good thing and, in fact, were not done nearly enough. They were in agreement that it was good policy to search student lockers, student cars and administer drug tests, all with no probable cause other than the generally expected presence of some drugs in schools. Such an idea seems so alien to my liberal sensibilities.

I believe that civil rights don't begin when someone turns 18, though I agree that some rights must be curtailed for minors. However, I think high school students should have the same 4th Amendment rights that adults enjoy (as well as the same protections from assault and sexual harassment, though that's a different post). The notion from the conservative folks at the table that the rights of individual students could be completely ignored in the interest of keeping them safe rang eerily familiar. Again, it's easy to see why they support Bush's national security policies: they wish for safety above all other concerns.

Further along the drug line, it's interesting how, in these small rural communities, smoking and drinking, while discouraged, are at least socially acceptable under the "kids will be kids" cliche. But once the talk turned to pot and crystal meth, both common in rural Wisconsin, the conservative hardline was drawn. No measure was too intrusive or draconian to keep such substances out of schools and away from the kids. While I think keeping drugs away from kids is a good idea, I also can't help but wonder what kind of democratic citizens we're creating when we teach high school kids that their rights can be revoked at any time for any reason. It's small wonder that so few have a good understanding of the Bill of Rights; in many facets of their lives, it simply doesn't apply. And the conservatives seem to be perfectly comfortable with that.

The final turn of the conversation was to religion, which is not really that uncommon at this office or others at which I've worked. However, here, in the part of Wisconsin affectionately called "God's Country" by the locals, the idea that someone is not a Christian never even enters the conversation, which is awkward for an atheist like myself. Normally I keep my religious beliefs very close, both because mine are such a rarity around here and because I get bored of defending my beliefs against phony comparisons to Hitler and Stalin. However, this time I joined in and actually admitted that I probably hadn't attended church since I was in high school. This led to all kinds of suggestions at how to work myself back into the congregation, as well as jokes about the dangers of standing near me in a thunderstorm. I don't take offense to this as some atheists might; Christianity is so pervasive here that a non-Christian is a rarity (though there are Wiccans and Pagans about, if you look carefully). When the subject of faith comes up in political debate, I think the fact of Christianity's saturation level in the rural Midwest is often under-stated. It's so much a part of everyday life that it rarely becomes newsworthy, until issues like abortion and gay marriage stir the pot.

Anyway, no huge profound point in this post. Just a quick look at the conservative mindset as an attempt to understand why certain social policies that seem so egregious on their face may actually appeal to conservative voters. The desire for safety trumps so many other concerns in conservative Wisconsin that it's not hard to understand why Bush is able to rally what little support for them he can. That makes it all that much more important for local Democrats and Greens to better tailor their platform to the needs of a conservative Christian constituency. It's the key to victory in the conservative Midwest.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dead Eye Dick

A Question Of Competency

One of the myths about conservative political ideology and the Republican party is that they are good at "getting things done". Apparently the corporate structure of the Republican party is somehow supposed to translate into a business-like efficiency while in public office. Thus, the thinking goes, a Washington in the hands of the Republican party, as it is now, should run like a more well-oiled machine than when Democrats are in charge. Not surprisingly, that really hasn't been the case.

On NPR's On Point last night, this was the very topic of discussion: the competency (or lack thereof) of the Bush administration. A great topic for discussion except, unfortunately, the choice of guests made pretty certain that little discussion actually took place. A pair of guests, one from the American Enterprise Institute and the other from the Heritage Foundation, both staunchly conservative think tanks, steadfastly refused to lay any blame at the feet of President Bush for his lack of effectiveness in office. The other side of the argument, a member of the Brookings Institution and Atlantic Monthly Senior Editor Jack Beatty, did a remarkable job of citing particular examples of Bush's incompetence without really addressing some of the larger issues at play. (Note: Jack's explanation of how Bush's economic policy can be best described as "looting for special interests" was particularly chilling in its accuracy.) Host Tom Ashbrook seemed to be practically begging the participants to look at the larger systemic failures of Bush's policies, which I think is where the real meat of this discussion lies.

The issue of competency is particularly relevant in light of the release of a Republican Congressional committee report excoriating the Bush administration's failures after Hurricane Katrina (from Darksyde at Dkos):

A House Investigative Committee composed entirely of Republicans will officially issue their findings as early as today on the Federal preparedness and response during Hurricane Katrina. The stinging five-hundred plus page document characterizes the poorly planned and badly coordinated Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, and White House response to the disaster as "dismal".


"Katrina was a national failure, an abdication of the most solemn obligation to provide for the common welfare," the report states. [...] The federal government's response was marked "fecklessness, flailing and organisational paralysis". [...] "Our investigation revealed that Katrina was a national failure, an abdication of the most solemn obligation to provide for the common welfare," said a summary of the scathing report.

The response to Hurricane Katrina is not the only example of Bush administration incompetence, but it may be the greatest given that, unlike Iraq, there has been no enemy working against the Bush administration in the Katrina fiasco. So what has caused such an egregious lack of effective government by Bush, where Katrina, Iraq and other policies are concerned? I can think of a few likely causes.

The first that comes to mind, especially when looking at Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, is the staunch dedication to political cronyism by the current White House. Now, all elected officials, Presidents especially, use political appointments to reward their donors and supporters. While I don't agree with that practice, it and of itself it's not necessarily a problem in all instances. However, George W. Bush takes such practice to the extreme. It's been quipped more than once (I recall by Bill Maher, for example) that Bush's circle of friends must be very small, given the faces that keep popping up for political appointments around him. Further, former FEMA director Michael Brown will go down in history as arguably the most incompetent political payback nomination in history, even though some of the blame for his appointment should rightly go to the Senate that confirmed him.

The same holds true for the appointees sent to Iraq as part of the reconstruction efforts. Notables such as L. Paul Bremer, who, while undoubtedly well-educated and well-intentioned, oversaw such a mismanagement of funds and resources as to result in some of the worst fiscal management ever seen. Even today, some $10 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds remain missing and unaccounted for and the infrastructure of Iraq remains below the levels experienced under the Hussein regime. Tales abound of young political operatives sent to Iraq, in lieu of trained Middle Eastern experts, in order to spread the propaganda of Bush's "shock and awe them into freedom" foreign policy.

The second cause for such poor performance under the Bush administration has been an utter lack of accountability from anyone involved in Bush's policies. Former CIA director George Tenet, who oversaw the worst intelligence failure in U.S. history, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts. Donald Rumsfeld, the architect of the disastrous post-war non-plan in Iraq, remains Secretary of Defense, in spite of calls from both sides of the aisle for his resignation. Even Michael Brown was not dismissed by the Bush administration until after serious pushing by both parties and the American public. As any manager knows, those who do sloppy work and are not held accountable simply go on to do more sloppy work. It's clear that Bush values loyalty over competence, and shows no signs of heeding the warnings from Congress and the voters that federal mismanagement is not a trivial issue to them. In light of that, it will be interesting to see the results of the Katrina hearings, in which Michael Chertoff, director of Homeland Security, is testifying today. Chertoff has apparently mastered the Bush technique of explaining that, as head of DHS or as President they are accountable for the actions of the departments and personnel under them, while not actually taking any personal responsibility whatsoever. Taking responsibility means more than just saying "I'm responsible", especially when the same incompetent mistakes keep occurring.

The last major cause of ineffectual public administration by Bush is really a criticism of the entire Republican establishment and it's conservative roots. At the most basic level, a political party and philosophy that believes federal government programs are inherently ineffectual cannot honestly be expected to manage such programs properly. This was demonstrated exquisitely by the gentleman on On Point last night from the AEI as he claimed that Bush's policies have run aground because the federal government itself is too flawed to operate effectively. The other gentleman, from the Heritage Foundation, concurred and even added that Bush is a man of "big plans" and, as such, will undoubtedly run into certain roadblocks in his mission to remake the federal government in the conservative image. I found this as yet another great example also of the "Bushism" that Glenn Greenwald notes has evolved from old-school conservatism. Bush is just so obviously a man of such legendary leadership and vision that any failures during his administration simply cannot be laid at his feet. Such rugged individualists, these faux-conservatives.

I find the last reason the most compelling because it sets up a great campaign theme for an aspiring Democrat. The Bush administration isn't just incompetent because of its cronyism and lack of accountability, but also because of a governing philosophy incompatible with a strong federal system. Any party that sees government as a problem and not a problem-solver is not going to do an effective job of overseeing the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society. And that lack of competency has grave consequences. Just ask the families of GI's in Iraq or the former residents of New Orleans.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Authoritarian Right

This is a topic that I've been meaning to write about for some time, but have been unable to completely marshal my thoughts in a constructive manner. Glenn Greenwald has an expert post that touches on some of what I've been pondering, but doesn't get into the nuances I see. The issue I'm talking about is the defining philosophy of the Republican party and the political Right.

I've written before about how the term "liberal" has lost most of its meaning in our modern discourse. While it actually means nothing more than a willingness to be open-minded and consider new ideas, what it generally gets defined as in our political discourse is "anything with which conservatives disagree". However, that definition actually mistakes the meaning of "conservative" in almost exactly the same way. There is nothing inherent in political conservatism that makes it a natural enemy for political liberalism in regard to most issues.

I am confident in my definition of liberalism, so it must be that either my definition of conservatism is wrong or the political ideals that I oppose are not really political conservatism as it's been commonly understood. To explore that question, lets look at a few of my policy positions here, and see how they fall in light of traditional conservative values:

I believe the Federal Government should help make people's lives easier, safer and more enjoyable, when reasonably possible.

That's a pretty classical liberal view of the role of the federal government. A traditional conservative would hold that a weak federal government, that stays out of the affairs of the people and, more importantly, the affairs of business, is better.

Any marriage between two consenting adults should be legal. In fact, government should not be involved in marriage at all, except in its judicial capacity to settle property or custody disputes. The government's involvement in marriage probably harkens back to several violations of the Establishment Clause.

According to traditional conservative values, in which government should not be involved in the personal lives of individual Americans whenever possible, I could actually be considered a conservative, or even a libertarian, for this view.

All government agencies should operate with balanced budgets and only incur debt for national emergencies. All taxation should be progressive in nature, but the government should not collect in surplus of its needs. Any non-performing government program or agency should be eliminated.

These are some of the bedrock ideals of fiscal conservatism, and are the kinds of things both average Americans and wealthy corporations practice on a regular basis in their private affairs.

No American, regardless of birth, circumstances, wealth, public office or political party affiliation is above the law.

An strict belief in the "Rule of Law" and in the U.S. as a nation "of laws and not men" is a cornerstone of traditional conservative philosophy. This was, at least on its public face, the justification behind the Clinton impeachment.

And, one more:

Unilateral military action is not appropriate U.S. foreign policy in cases where a direct attack has not occurred and/or no threat is imminent. "Nation building" for the purposes of re-aligning geo-political regions, is not an appropriate use of the U.S. military either. A strong, capable military is important, but must be used with great deliberation and caution. Humanitarian intervention is an appropriate use of military force, particularly in cases of genocide or "ethnic cleansing" though, again, it is very important to build international support for such activities.

The conservative belief in these ideals concerning military force and foreign policy was the basis for much criticism of Clinton's use of force in Yugoslavia, even though that intervention was backed by NATO and, later, assisted by the United Nations. While traditional conservatives have been much more skeptical of the U.N. than I, they have been clear in their belief in a coalition-building methodology for military intervention.

These are just a few of the views I hold on a certain policy issues and, as you can see, they tend to trend pretty closely with the ideals of traditional conservatism. Now, that's not to say that I have conservative tendencies in the political sense; there are many positions I hold that no conservatives would come anywhere near. My belief in single-payer health care for one. Or my belief in a maximum wage indexed to our minimum wage for another.

The issue that arises, then, is whether or not today's Republican party and its supporters really are as conservative as they claim. My belief is that they are not, in fact, conservative, especially when looking at the Bush administration. In his post, Greenwald used the term "authoritarian cultists" to describe the new right wing; a personality cult dedicated to the veneration of George W. Bush regardless of public policy stance. I agree but I don't think Glenn actually goes far enough. Bush is just the figurehead of the moment. Their loyalty is to the party and whomever is representing it at any given time.

Thus, I don't see that "conservative" is an apt label to use for the Republicans in power today and their supporters. Now, certainly there are still genuine conservatives and libertarians lurking about. I would argue that those members of Congress referred to frequently as "moderates" are actually conservatives in the original sense of the term. Traditional conservatism has actually become the political center in the United States, and pols like Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, John McCain, Joementum and Lincoln Chafee actually represent the traditional conservative ideology, with occasional exceptions.

The Republicans who actually control Washington and whom Bush woos as his base really have very little in common with traditional conservative values on most issues. I drop Glenn's use of the term "cultist", though it certainly applies, and name what I see as the prevailing philosophy on the political right as "authoritarianism". It's the political representation, essentially, of "might makes right", with some religious social ideology tossed in to make things more interesting.

The key tenets of authoritarian social policy seem to be the following:

  • A deference to power as authority. There can actually be multiple authority figures, some quite intertwined, all of which are to be obeyed with little or no questioning. Currently, the authority figures are Bush, the gatekeeper of the GOP agenda, and, by extension, all those pols and pundits who support that agenda. Of course, the more generally defined wills of "God and country" are to be obeyed as well. The corollary to this is that those with power, either political or economic, are accorded high respect and privilege, regardless of the source or truth of that power. It's also worth noting that the fears and ambitions of those in power are required to be the fears and ambitions of the rank-and-file.
  • A rigid ideology. Perhaps no political movement at any other time in U.S. history has been as skilled at uniformity as the authoritarian Republican party. The platform is very clearly defined and deviation from it is barely tolerated, if at all. Any idea that does not conform to the tenets of the authoritarian ideology are generally labeled "liberal" and are discarded without delay. The key, however, is that the ideology can be changed by those in authority at any time without notice. Adherence to established ideology is essential for gaining authority, but once authority is established any heterodoxy by the authority figure is merely assimilated into the authoritarian platform.
  • The stifling of dissent. Any notion of criticism towards the authoritarian ideology or its proponents is considered bad manners at best. Accusations of disloyalty are swift for any questioning of President Bush or the GOP agenda. Further, any criticism of the United States itself as a symbolic entity or God as the supreme authority, is met with swift and unwavering condemnation.
  • The limitation of individual rights. These limitations are born from the belief that certain behaviors are either immoral or uncouth, and that the individual really can't be trusted to govern his or her own behavior. The authoritarian looks to institutions such as the government, the church and the family structure to limit behaviors considered undesirable. And finally...
  • The power of belief. Authoritarian moralism has its foundations in literalist religious dogma. The ideology of the authoritarian has little concern for factual arguments or scientific debate; belief trumps all other factors.

In a nutshell, the authoritarian believes those in authority should be obeyed, so long they remain true to the authoritarian ideology (which they are allowed to change at will). This is the cultist aspect that Glenn talks about, I think. The federal government, while in the hands of an authoritarian president like George W. Bush, has no need of critical oversight or limitation. Bush's policies are the authoritarian ideology because he's the one in authority and, thus, is beyond question. Further, Bush, as Commander in Chief of the United States, represents the aims of the state completely. Thus, any policy undertaken by Bush is undertaken by the United States as a whole and is, then, unquestionably good. The role of the people is not to question the government, but to obey, because to do otherwise would show disloyalty and offer comfort to our enemies. Finally, authoritarians believe that religious literalism (primarily Christianity) must be the bedrock of American society and needs no separation from the state.

Now, lest anyone think I've gone completely around the bend on this, let me give some examples of what I mean, so as to flesh out the reality of the authoritarian policy under which we're currently living.

First, the war in Iraq, and the general "War on Terror" established the basis for a shift to authoritarian beliefs in the country. Bush and his supporters claim to derive authority from an electoral mandate, which is a specious claim given the last two very close and heavily contested presidential elections. In reality, Bush derives his authority from the fear of terrorism and calls to national identity. I could name other leaders who've done the same, and I would invoke Godwin's Law to do so. Suffice to say, using fear and nationalism to stir public support is nothing new.

The Iraq war, in particular, shows a stark departure from traditional conservative ideals and straight into authoritarianism. All of the testable causes for war have been proven false, either errors or outright fabrications. Hussein was not a threat, he had no significant weaponry, no power outside his own borders and no connection to Al-Qaida. The only remaining reason for the Iraqi occupation given by Bush, that we are "building a democratic Iraq" runs completely contrary to his condemnation of nation building during the 2000 election. However, since Bush is "the authority", he is free to change the ideological stance of his supporters without reason or question. Thus, Bush supporters are now in favor of nation building, because Bush says they should be. Bush's supporters also continue to believe that Saddam Hussein was a grave and immediate threat to the United States, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, because, as stated above, authoritarian belief cannot be assailed by facts.

In the context of the "War on Terror", the authoritarian view is very clear as well. Bush's role as Commander in Chief in a time of war, as defined by the Constitution, means, to the authoritarian believer, that Bush has essentially unchecked power to prosecute the war. Of course, Bush's supporters also grant him the authority to determine the scope and duration of the war as well, which means that the "War on Terror" involves whatever Bush says it involves, will last as long as Bush decides it will last and will be fought in whatever way Bush feels is appropriate. Further, any attempts at oversight by either the Congress or the people is actually considered insulting by authoritarians, for they see no need to question Bush. Authoritarians see an existential threat to the United States and have granted Bush unlimited authority to meet that threat. Since they don't believe authority should be questioned, as authority is essentially "good" on its face, then they see no need for oversight. Bush is the authority and thus, for his authoritarian supporters, his word is always enough.

On the economic front, the authoritarian philosophy is very simple: whatever Bush says is good for the economy is good for the economy. If Bush says deficits don't matter, then they don't. If Bush says tax cuts for corporations and wealthy investors will spur economic growth, then they will, regardless of the reality. If Bush says the estate tax is unfair, then authoritarians believe it's unfair and will fight to have it repealed. This largely has the effect of wealthy business interests de facto rulership of the United States, given that Bush's particular policies are heavily slanted in favor of such interests. Since Bush and the GOP believe business and economic growth are the most important aspects of public policy, their authoritarian followers agree and support any pro-business initiative regardless of its effects on the country or its citizens.

Finally, on the social front, the authoritarian belief coalesces around conservative religious social ideals. According to authoritarians, the United States is a Christian country by design, and religious freedom is constrained within that boundary. Authoritarians believe that their religious beliefs are natural laws and, thus, should only naturally be statutory laws as well. The criminalizing or marginalizing of any practice or group deemed "sinful" or socially undesirable, such as abortion, homosexuality or sexual freedom, is encouraged. Forcing certain Christian beliefs and symbols into public life, such as school-led prayer and scriptural monuments in public buildings, is also considered important. The Christianity of authoritarians is authoritarian as well; the passive, socially-conscious Jesus of the New Testament is given a backseat to the authoritarian God of the Old. Such beliefs are also beyond question, as they originate from the ultimate authority, vested in various writings and institutions. Pluralism and secularism are considered socially irresponsible and are generally blamed for every social ill that has ever befallen society.

The point of all this is that the term "conservative" really no longer describes the Right side of the political spectrum in the United States and the failure to recognize that is one of the weaknesses of our current political establishment. The Republican party was once the realm of political conservatism; a belief that centralized government was a bad idea and that personal liberty was the most important aspect of American life. In some ways, the two ideologies, conservatism and liberalism, clashed as much for their similarities as for their differences.

Times have changed, however. Today's Republicans party is the party of authoritarian power. It's an ideology of unchecked government power, cults of personality and unquestioning loyalty to party, God and country. It's an ideology completely incompatible with a democratic society for long. It wants a society where the powerful are comfortable in their power, while the powerless are ignored for being inconsequential. It wants a society where religious ideology always trumps personal morality, because God is the authority and the authority is not to be questioned or disagreed with. It wants a society that sees other nations either as a resource or a threat, and sees military intervention as the preferred way of dealing with said threats. It wants a society where religious beliefs trump science, not because science isn't valuable, but because science often disagrees with the established authority and that is not to be tolerated. This is authoritarian society and it may be closer today than it's ever been.