Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bad Apples

Part 2: "No American Left Behind"

Part 3: Bad Apples

The title of Ron Suskind's riveting new book, ''The One Percent Doctrine,'' refers to an operating principle that he says Vice President Dick Cheney articulated shortly after 9/11: in Mr. Suskind's words, ''if there was even a 1 percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction -- and there has been a small probability of such an occurrence for some time -- the United States must now act as if it were a certainty.''
The New York Times, June 20, 2006
Star Parker’s cost-benefit analysis concluded that HPV vaccination was too expensive since “fewer than one-hundredth of 1 percent of the 108 million U.S. women older than 18 (0.009 percent) get cervical cancer and even fewer die from it.”

But a one percent risk of terrorist attack is enough for government to act, no matter what the cost (now approaching half a trillion dollars). That’s about $1500 per American so far, and far more per Iraqi.

One-hundredth of one percent is too little when it comes to HPV vaccine. About $400 per teenage female under eighteen.

And programs that spread the risk among us, that meet Americans’ basic needs like health care?

They’re non-starters because they might benefit the Irresponsibles. What would become of individual responsibility? It might breed more deadbeats and weaken America’s moral fiber. Might it pollute our purity of essence too?

Lazy, undeserving people, somewhere out there in unknown numbers might benefit more than me and mine. Like children splitting a can of Coke, conservatives obsess that someone else might get a hair’s breadth greater share in their glass. Or someone unworthy might get any.

They wouldn’t mind paying their taxes if the government spent them as responsibly as they would. (I have heard this in person.) After all, it’s not as though conservatives refuse to pay their share. It’s that someone somewhere in America of lower status might pay less — and they don’t mean corporate persons. Remember, Irresponsibles are of a lower moral caste, not necessarily of lower income.

Democrats should challenge conservatives to put numbers to what qualify as "failed programs" of the past or present. How many bad apples spoil an otherwise useful social program like Social Security or Medicare? How many Irresponsibles does it take to justify dismantling a program beneficial to the other 300 million Americans?

Ballpark. What percent?

For perspective, keep in mind that over $10 billion in Iraq reconstruction cash delivered to Baghdad shrink-wrapped on pallets simply vanished. Until Democrats took over this January, congressional Republicans showed little interest in the Irresponsibles behind that waste and inefficiency.

Outside the magic portal recently, a colleague opined that universal health care was coming whether people like him wanted it or not.

“Now why should I pay more taxes to provide health care for somebody who doesn’t even pay taxes?” (Meaning income taxes only, having conveniently forgotten about payroll, property and other taxes low-income workers still pay to support American government.)

Why indeed? Why should we put out fires in their houses? Protect them against invading armies? Investigate crimes when they’re victims? Educate their children? Or allow them to vote?

In conservative America, freedom and a helping hand belong to the deserving — to real Americans — and not to the nameless, faceless, numberless Irresponsibles.

Next: Code Talkers

Saturday, April 28, 2007

American rhetoric: Not dead yet

To be sure, American rhetoric is in a decrepit state. But as Monty Python once observed, it's not dead yet.

The letters section is the most interesting reading in the local morning paper. You may not read the mind of average Joe there, but it gives you a glimpse at what and how the activists in the area think. For conservatives, their rhetorical influences are clear.

There was a classic this morning. Spurred, no doubt, by Rush Limbaugh's April 19 accusation that the Virginia Tech massacre was perpetrated by a liberal, the letter writer says liberals ...
should ask themselves how many times they have trashed America to promote their agendas.

How many times have certain politicians cheered on teachers and professors who spew venom and rabid hatred of everything American? How many judges have they appointed who support any ruling that undermines America?
Fine, I'll bite. How many?

Slayer of straw men since the 1980s, Limbaugh has been one of the most corrosive influences on American rhetoric, as displayed by this letter writer who sees the "subversive bilge" of liberal "'hate America' hate speech" behind the shooting rampage.

Straw men, innuendo, fear mongering, character assassination and talking points have replaced reason and facts in American rhetoric. The Bush administration and its war in Iraq are the results.

In an interview with Sen. John McCain this week, the Daily Show's Jon Stewart had had enough and fought back. While saying he respected McCain's service, he challenged the "support the troops" talking point, asking why questioning the president's strategy or asking for a timetable was less supportive than "extending their tours of duty from 12 months to 15 months, putting them at stop-loss, and not having Walter Reed be up to snuff." McCain dodged the question, replying that troops feel they're fighting for freedom and proud of their service — a variant of "support the troops."

But Stewart would not be cowed (it's his show) and repeated his challenge. He left McCain looking at the floor after he shot right back with:
JON STEWART: All I'm saying is you cannot look a soldier in the eye and say "Questioning the president is less supportive to you than extending your tour three months." You should be coming home to your family.
In his Jon Stewart interview last night, Bill Moyers used that exchange to observe how conservative operatives are lost when stripped of talking points and forced to resort to reason.
BILL MOYERS: Your persistence and his inability to answer without the talking points did get to the truth ... that there's a contradiction to what's going on in that war, that they can't talk about.
Why? Maybe because they've been consistently dishonest, logically inconsistent, immoral in their methods, and they don't care what the American people think anyway. But Stewart explained his thoughts further (emphasis mine):
JON STEWART: I don't think politics is any longer about a conversation with the country. It's about figuring out how to get to do what you want ...

You know, one of the things that I do think government counts on is that people are busy. And it's very difficult to mobilize a busy and relatively affluent country, unless it's over really crucial — you know, foundational issues ...

So, there's a disconnect there between — you're telling me this is the fight of our generation, and you're going to increase troops by 10 percent. And that's gonna do it. I'm sure what he would like to do is send 400,000 more troops there, but he can't, because he doesn't have them. And the way to get that would be to institute a draft. And the minute you do that, suddenly the country's not so damn busy anymore. And then they really fight back, and then the whole thing falls apart. So, they have a really delicate balance to walk between keeping us relatively fearful, but not so fearful that we stop what we're doing and really examine how it is that they've been waging this.
That sad story will come out whatever they do. It stretches from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to Abu Ghraib to Baghdad to Guantanamo. They’re as busy trying to keep us from thinking critically about it as they are avoiding doing that themselves.

Still there's hope, as Stewart's encounter with McCain shows. The real trick will come when confronting politicians who, unlike McCain, have no need of a conscience.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Will someone please introduce these guys?

If there's any hope for American democracy, it will be because diehards like Bill Moyers and Greg Palast continue doing what they do in spite of being shunned by the mainstream press. Maybe they'd have a better chance of survival if they formed a tag team?

In a way, they did this week. With the Beltway newsies still reeling from Moyers' "Selling the War" broadcast on Wednesday, in today's Los Angeles Times Palast tags in with how decrepit investigative journalism has become in an era of bottom lines and television-shortened attention spans.

As Palast explains, his expose on Tim Griffin and Karl Rove's vote suppression (caging) efforts during the 2004 general election ran in Great Britain, but was all but ignored here.
To the extent that it was ignored in the United States, it wasn't because the report was false. It was because it was complicated and murky and because it required a lot of time and reporting to get to the bottom of it.

[. . .]

The truth is, I knew that a story like this one would never be reported in my own country. Because investigative reporting — the kind Jack Anderson used to do regularly and which was carried in hundreds of papers across the country, the kind of muckraking, data-intensive work that takes time and money and ruffles feathers — is dying.
Seymour Hersh and Robert Parry are among the few investigative reporters left, Palast laments. The rest are too busy covering their access, while newspapers and TV news divisions replace reporting with infotainment and opinion. (And you know what they say about opinions.)

The winners in this process are media investors. The losers are the owners of the public airwaves: you and me.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Alien & Sedition unpacks compassionate conservatism today.

Glenn Greenwald unloads on the Beltway media in the wake of Bill Moyers Journal's, "Buying the War."

The heroes in Moyers' story are non-Beltway reporters John Walcott, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel from Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy). They got their pre-war reporting right, by "digging where no one was looking," as Boston Globe editor Michael Baron said last week of his new Pulitzer winner, Charlie Savage.

"He won this richly deserved Pulitzer because he has been covering what the White House does, not just what it says," Baron said.

Those among the Beltway stenography pool - those who weren't actively cheerleading for and celebrating the Iraq blitzkrieg - spent most of the Bush II years getting played for fools, or else sucking up to the people responsible for things like this, who took America From Norman Rockwell to Abu Ghraib.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Chicken Schwarma and three survivors

Ate lunch yesterday at my favorite little Middle Eastern restaurant/grocery. It’s run by some Palestinian Israelis and is packed at lunch. I don't work nearby (or even in that town) much anymore, so it was a treat. Before the layoff I used to be a regular.

But the restaurant is located at a tee intersection, one of the busiest and most dangerous in town, so it’s tricky to get into and out of.

While sitting behind another vehicle at the top of the tee waiting to pull back out into traffic, a nasty accident happened yards away. I heard a loud WHUMP and watched an SUV roll over onto its roof just beyond the car in front of mine. Bystanders on all sides jumped out of their cars to help, cell phones to their ears.

The guy in the SUV had already crawled out of his vehicle and was retrieving stuff from inside and dialing his cell. He put his hand to his head periodically – maybe a minor concussion.

The woman driving the small car was getting out from behind the air bag. The left front of her car was crushed, but she appeared unhurt physically. But she stumbled over to the grass at the corner and rolled into a fetal position on the ground, sobbing and shaking uncontrollably, otherwise unresponsive. A moment later a man came over – also unhurt. He’d been her passenger.

Both vehicles were totaled. All passengers were alive and without even visible cuts or bruises. The SUV had rolled over.

Take what lessons you will.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Tax hackery

From Ari Fleischer, via Paul at alien & sedition.

They just can't help themselves

Rumor has it that should Alberto Gonzales resign as AG, the White House is considering replacements.

Via CNN:
Several other officials said Republicans have begun discussing a possible replacement.

One name that consistently comes up is Ted Olson, former solicitor general.
I kid you not.

This is how they propose to wring the political influence out of the DOJ - with one of the architects of the "vast right wing conspiracy"?

From the Pensito Review:
During the 1990s, the GOP ran a stealth disinformation campaign against the Clintons, the prototype for Swiftboating, out of the offices of the American Spectator, a rightwing magazine. Internally, the operation was called the Arkansas Project. Hillary famously referred to it as a “vast rightwing conspiracy.” It was funded by Richard Mellon Scaife and its CEO was Ted Olson.

At the same time, Olson’s wife, Barbara, was one of a cadre of wingnut blondes — the others were Ann Coulter, Kellyann Fitzpatrick and Laura Ingraham — who were given untold hours of face time on cable news to bash the Clintons with rumors and innuendos, much of which was processed through the Arkansas Project. Barbara, the author of a bizarrely nasty screed titled “Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton,” died on the plane that hit the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
Salon built its reputation reporting on the Arkansas Project. The whole sordid story is archived on their website. Eye-opening reading on what and who took America down the road that led to the Bush administration.

And the sordid story continues.

[h/t Digby, Pensito Review]

Sunday, April 22, 2007

“No American Left Behind”

Part 1: The Irresponsibles

Part 2: “No American Left Behind”

I’ve written this before, but couldn’t help responding to a local conservative columnist, an army vet whose column one weekend praised those in the military for serving the greater good. Yet with all the danger, he asked, why do they stay in?

I replied, in part:
In large part to serve, and in part for the comaraderie. And in part to be a part of "something greater than themselves."

Believing in something greater than ourselves is something we should promote in the civilian world where often we promote just the opposite. I'm reminded of the old line from "First Blood": "In the field we had a code of honor, you watch my back, I watch yours. Back here there's nothing!"

Never leave a team member behind is something we teach our military. For Marines too it is a code of honor: never leave a Marine behind.

Until you're discharged, then it's every man for himself. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Don't expect any help from me.

No wonder they stay in.

We promote No Child Left Behind as a goal both conservatives and liberals should eagerly embrace. So why not No Worker Left Behind? No Family Left Behind? No American Left Behind?

Why is the Army's esprit de corps not a model for public policy? Why is No American Left Behind a noble goal for our military - our largest single federal program - but socialism in civilian policy? (Certainly not because the military fosters personal weakness?) Why is it good enough for the Marines, but not good enough for the rest of us?

A former Fort Sill artillaryman I met said he found the military to be a kind of ideal society: everyone had a place, everyone had a purpose and a job, their basic needs were met, and everyone (or nearly everyone) pulled together.
That artillaryman was Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos.

My local columnist replied politely:
I guess there is a certain socialistic aspect to the military, "three hots and a cot", medical care, etc. There is one critical difference that causes it to diverge from socialism: the military requires and expects individual responsibility and risk taking to complete it's mission. I believe that's what builds that sense of selflessness and esprit you mentioned. Socialism has proven to be a system where people are dependent on government for everything to include decision making … That is a system where people are taken care of by the government and there is no sense or requirement for personal responsibility or individual decision making. Now that is socialism. If we can build a "No American Left Behind" program based on personal responsibility, I'm all for it!
The Irresponsibles are always the deal-breaker.

Even if he fails at it, a soldier serving the greater good gets help to be all that he can be – or to escape the battlefield alive – even though he’s “dependent on government for everything to include decision making.” For conservatives that’s the kind of heart-swellingly patriotic stuff they make movies about. America vows not to leave him behind and will spend blood and treasure to save him even if he’s only “one-hundredth of 1 percent” of the troops in the AO.

But fellow citizens who need help succeeding in the private sector deserve only pity, if that. It's the law of the meritocratic jungle. Social Darwinism. If they aren’t smart enough, talented enough, disciplined enough, educated enough or well-born enough it’s because they are Irresponsibles. Helping them enables their dependency and unjustly burdens the more virtuous and successful.

Worse, a society that taxes the able to help the less able disincentivizes success by responsible conservatives, deprives them of their freedom, tilts the nation towards socialism, and fosters personal weakness.

If there’s one thing conservatives cannot abide, it’s personal weakness. Ask Bill Bennett or Rush Limbaugh.

In The Great Risk Shift Jacob Hacker explores what he dubs the "Personal Responsibility Crusade," finding its roots in the insurance industry. Pooling risk among policyholders was once the point of insurance, like spreading the costs of national defense so that no citizen had to bear the burden of buying his own tank or fighter-bomber. One downside was an obscure insurance concept called moral hazard: "Protecting people against risks reduces the care people exercise in avoiding those risks." It's a potential risk the insurance industry deals with through properly designed programs.

But by the 1980s, Hacker contends, moral hazard became the conservative justification for dismantling New Deal-era programs that pool risk in the private sector.
"Insurance had been justified as a way of aiding the unfortunate - now it was criticized as a way of coddling the irresponsible. Insurance had been understood as a partial solution to social problems like unemployment and poverty in old age - now it was condemned as worsening the very problems it was meant to solve."
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Insure him against famine, and he'll have no incentive to fish. Insure him against illness and he'll overconsume health care, driving up health care costs and inefficiency, dragging down the economy.

And all it takes are a few bad apples.

Next: Bad Apples

Friday, April 20, 2007

Act now and get this heart-shaped watch

Rick Perlstein received some spam today from the conservative Human Events. For a mere $595 you can be one of the few, the proud, an insider with access to Bob Novak and unnamed "decision makers." ("Remember, only 70 people are allowed to attend.")
But as one of the 70 insiders permitted to enter, you'll know everything--in time to align your business decisions, investments, and political alliances.
"Now that's what I call a movement of principle," Perlstein observes.

Mat 6:19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Act now. The first twenty insiders can ask the wizard for hearts too.

Are you now or have you ever been...

a supporter of the Democratic Party?

From The Gavel on Wednesday:
Today the House and Senate Judiciary Committees received a letter from anonymous Justice Department employees concerning widespread politicization at the Justice Department.
Student applicants for the Attorney General’s Honors Program and Summer Law Intern Program (SLIP) are now being struck from lists of potential interviews, Justice employees allege, for having "liberal" leanings.

When a group of concerned DOJ employees complained about how many qualified candidates had been rejected, Michael Ellston, Chief of Staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty dressed them down for not having "done their jobs." He “was offensive to the point of insulting” and told them he had forwarded the list to a "screening panel" whose members he refused to name. The DOJ employees continue,
When division personnel staff later compared the remaining interviewees with the candidates struck from the list, one common denominator appeared repeatedly: most of those struck from the list had interned for a Hill Democrat, clerked for a Democratic judge, worked for a “liberal” cause, or otherwise appeared to have “liberal” leanings. Summa cum laude graduates of both Yale and Harvard were rejected for interviews.
[h/t Crooks and Liars, TPM Muckraker]

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Perlstein speaks

You listen: E coli conservatives
First, they came for the spinach.

[. . .]

Next they came for the peanut butter...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Irresponsibles

Introduction: Past is Prologue

Part 1: The Irresponsibles

I ran across another article from Town Hall – as I often do – left in the last stall in the men’s room at work. As in Being John Malkovich, it’s like a magic portal into the brain of conservative America.

Ms. Star Parker inveighs against America’s ailing health care system, citing proposals by several states to mandate “vaccination of preteen girls with the human papillomavirus (HPV).” Sexually transmitted HPV infection can lead to cervical cancer. Predictably, her first complaint is not so much medical as economic.

Milton Friedman observed that health care keeps getting more expensive because the federal government, not patients, subsidizes so much of the cost with tax dollars, she explains. Real costs being invisible, patients have no incentive for curbing their consumption of health services.
“If you don't know the price tag of what you are buying, how can you know how much to buy? And, if someone else is picking up the tab, how do you know when to stop?”
Her thumbnail cost-benefit analysis concludes that at $400 a shot, the cost of vaccination is too expensive since (via the Washington Times) “fewer than one-hundredth of 1 percent of the 108 million U.S. women older than 18 (0.009 percent) get cervical cancer and even fewer die from it,” after a twenty-year incubation period.

So just cross your legs, little dears, and avoid getting stuck.

Like the government requiring us all to drive bigger cars because they’re safer, Parker suggests, this is another case where
“… a politician decides that we can't leave these decisions to individual consumers, but, in the name of public safety, government will mandate that everyone must buy a bigger, heavier car. And if you can't afford it, the government (i.e., taxpayers) will pay for it.”
Knowing how much car you can afford is nothing like deciding how much hospitalization you should buy for your infant with RSV-induced pneumonia.

But bad economic analogies aside, being conservative is largely about promoting efficiency, personal responsibility and personal freedom. It's a well-crafted pitch that justifies opting out of shared responsibility for society. Or as John Kenneth Galbraith observed,
"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."
Their pitch is not exactly class-based, but based upon perceived virtue. It's just that wealth is a principle measure of virtue. Less wealth, less virtue. Conservatives object to sharing responsibility for society's upkeep with the nameless, faceless, numberless (more on that later), cheats and slackers they perceive as being – morally, not necessarily economically – of a lower, less virtuous caste: the unwashed Irresponsibles.

Next: "No American Left Behind"

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Pimping books with Imus

Slate's Timothy Noah slaps down the media for having anything to do with Don Imus or his ilk:
Don Imus' long-standing acceptance by the political establishment is a contemporary illustration of 1940s socialite Perle Mesta's famous advice about how to draw Washington's power set to a soiree: "Hang a lamb chop in the window." Politicians like John McCain and Barack Obama, and famous TV journalists like Tim Russert and Cokie Roberts, are no more standoffish than their predecessors; the only difference is that the lamb chop has been replaced by a microphone.
Digby observes that evn the microphone isn't the attraction. It's the book sales. Quoting a Vanity Fair piece on Imus,
He likes that power, enjoys going on Amazon to see just how much he can boost a book. During the week I'm there, he has Larry the Cable Guy on as a guest-Larry has just written a book called Git-r-Done. Before the show, according to Imus, the book was about 1,800 on the Amazon list. But when he checks on the Internet just after the show, it's No. 122.
The only upside to the flap over Imus' spew on the Rutgers women's basketball team is that it may spark a national debate on the sorry state of discourse in this country. Noah provides a short list of Imus gems, lest any of his guests plead ignorance, which they do and will.

Noah nails it with, "If there's an outer boundary to what a famous journalist or politician will put up with, science has yet to find it."

Monday, April 09, 2007

That explains a lot

Michael Fullilove at the Financial Times explains U.S. policy

In recent times US grand strategy has been guided by a new kind of doctrine, named after not its author but its exemplar: the Costanza doctrine.

This doctrine, which had its heyday in 2002-2004 but remains influential, recalls the classic episode of the TV comedy Seinfeld, "The Opposite", in which George Costanza temporarily improves his fortunes by rejecting all the principles according to which he has lived his life and doing the opposite of what his training indicates he should do. As Jerry tells him: "If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right."


The Iraq policy pursued by the Bush administration satisfies the Costanza criterion: it is the opposite of every foreign policy the world has ever met.
Not much new beyond that, but worth a glance.

George? Are you master of your domain?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Past is Prologue

American political factionalism that brewed for decades became worse – much worse – after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. And in the flood of articles and analyses that asked why do they hate us, how could this have happened, what do we do now, and so forth, there was one question with serious implications that had no immediate answer, and about which few even bothered to speculate: would America keep its head?

The years since have shown it did not.

In the wake of 9/11, but beginning long before, the American conservative movement and its leaders in Washington sacrificed the world’s post-9/11 goodwill and America’s moral authority in conducting a “war on terror” that has seen prisoner abuse and murder, torture, kidnapping (euphemistically, “extraordinary rendition”), domestic surveillance and indefinite detentions of those declared “enemy combatants” by government fiat. They have sought to squelch critics and tighten their grip on executive power. Many had observed, as Salon’s Joe Conason did, that this has been a period reminiscent of the rise of authoritarianism Sinclair Lewis depicted in his dark, 1935 satire, “It Can’t Happen Here.”

Glenn Greenwald cites criticisms by prominent conservatives of the radicalism at the heart of the neoconservatism that predates the current administration:
"a spectacularly misnamed radicalism" -- George Will

"Unfortunately, far from defending the Constitution, President Bush has repeatedly sought to strip out the limits the document places on federal power. . . . President Bush's constitutional vision is, in short, sharply at odds with the text, history, and structure of our Constitution, which authorizes a government of limited powers."
-- Cato Institute

"The "liberty vs. power" paradigm ... [has] been replaced in the public consciousness with a "security leads to freedom" paradigm..." -- David Brooks
Greenwald distills Brooks' central point:
"... the dominant right-wing political movement in this country that has spawned and driven the Bush presidency has nothing to do with -- it is in fact overtly hostile to -- the ostensible principles of Goldwater/Reagan small-government conservatism. Though today's so-called "conservatives" exploit the Goldwater/Reagan mythology as a political prop, they don't believe in those principles in any way. That movement is the very antithesis of those principles."
Contemporary conservatism has become confounding, frustrating, and at times frightening, following a logic almost impenetrable to non-believers.

In her book “You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation,” Deborah Tannen explained that when men and women talk they regularly misunderstand one another, because although speaking the same language, it is cross-cultural communication. It is the same with liberals and conservatives.

George Lakoff attributes the differences to “strict father” (conservative) and “nurturant parent” (liberal) models of parenting. His “Moral Politics” outlines the parameters of those models and how they influence views toward domestic politics on the left and the right.

Into the domestic clash of cultures and permanent fear-mongering throw a pastiche of get-rich-with-God, free-market capitalism and a post-9/11 patriotism defined as preemptively attacking America’s enemies, foreign and domestic, in a millennialist war of civilizations. The Bush years have been a mind-bending introduction to the twenty-first century.

I hope to record a few new insights into the thinking that led us here. An ongoing series of observations, perhaps.


In an effort to elicit a more concrete definition of the faith, from the horse's mouth as it were, I once tried to flush out a conservative crusader with this letter to the editor of the local paper:
The commentary, "Bush's public displays of 'godliness' can't mask actions that Jesus wouldn't stomach," questioned whether America is living by the principles Christians hold dear. In truth, many of us simply find the principles of the marketplace more seductive.

Why did Jesus feed the multitude at the Sermon on the Mount? Why did he cure the sick, heal the lame, restore sight to the blind and make lepers whole?

Shouldn't those people have had to develop some self-discipline, take responsibility for their circumstances and pull themselves up by their own sandal straps?

Wasn't what Jesus did in trying to "help" those people just another wrongheaded, destructive, failed social policy? He simply reinforced their dependency on a higher power to solve their problems for them. Shouldn't he instead have preached on the virtues of independence, hard work and entrepreneurship?

We can debate endlessly whether or not our Founders intended the United States to be a Christian country. But if one argues that they did, and that its policies therefore ought to reflect Christian morality, shouldn't that morality seek inspiration first in the gospel of Jesus Christ before the economics of Adam Smith or Friedrich Hayek?
A reader rising to the challenge responded by setting out some basic outlines of the contemporary conservative worldview:
The author of the letter asserts Christian morality is incompatible with free-market economics, and that the state should seek guidance from Jesus Christ instead of "Adam Smith or Friedrich Hayek." I must disagree. Jesus did everything he did as an individual, not as an agent of some earthly government. He didn't steal from some people to give others loaves and fishes. He didn't form his apostles into some bureaucracy in order to cure the sick. Jesus set a great example for us, because he did his works on his own, without the government.

His actions, his charity, his compassion, were the results of no legislation or regulation. Unlike Jesus, when the government tries charity, it first needs to steal money from its citizens. I assert that the state cannot emulate Christian principles, because the modern "welfare" state is antithetical to those principles. Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's." Everything the state has, it got through theft and extortion, not through honest trade. Free marketeers have no problem with the charity of individuals, whether mortal of divine. We just have a problem when the government gets into the act.
Okay, an admirer of Jesus, but not exactly a spokesperson for "Focus on the Family."

I had not said Christian morality is incompatible with free-market economics. Just that those who promote Jesus as the inspiration for American democracy and its laws, past, present and future have an obligation to demand that America's "Christian" government attend to "the least of these my brethren." Promoting laissez-faire capitalism instead is a pathetic substitute for practicing the gospel.

Separate church and state and their obligation goes away. But that is not American conservatism today. When pushed to defend themselves, many grassroots conservatives exhibit a tortured mix of “strict father” authoritarianism, righteous patriotism, and Ayn Rand’s morality of selfishness while brandishing a cross in defense of America's right to shop.

Writing in Harper’s in 2005, Bill McKibben noted,
“How nice it would be if Jesus had declared that our income was ours to keep, instead of insisting that we had to share. How satisfying it would be if we were supposed to hate our enemies. Religious conservatives will always have a comparatively easy sell … It's hard to imagine a con much more audacious than making Christ the front man for a program of tax cuts for the rich or war in Iraq.”
What seems incompatible is Christian America rhetoric and conservative attitudes and policies based less on Jesus’ actions than on Cain’s, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Well, at least it’s biblical.

Next: "The Irresponsibles"

Saturday, April 07, 2007

"Explosively formed penetrators" redux

Those pesky Iranian-made EFPs are back again. The ones that prove Iranian weapons are killing U.S. troops. The ones that are supposed to provide ammunition for starting the neocon's hoped-for spring nuking of Iran.

One problem. In spite of their "stone-age tribalism," the Iraqis are making the EFPs themselves. As Atrios notes:
Front page NYT story, 2/20/07:

The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran.

Except, you know, not.

Bleichwehl said troops, facing scattered resistance, discovered a factory that produced "explosively formed penetrators" (EFPs), a particularly deadly type of explosive that can destroy a main battle tank and several weapons caches.

Monday, April 02, 2007


Borrowed from myself and the Asheville Citizen-Times:

Take the full-page developer’s ad opposite the Saturday, March 24 editorial page and the letter, “Asheville not really as progressive as it seems.” Add rolling development and Asheville becomes Greenville, S.C. without the economy. Even Republicans there complain about the proliferation of traffic, subdivisions and strip malls. Development may be free enterprise but, like consumption, it’s also an addiction.

And they keep coming, smugly self-confident couples with all the most heavily-marketed accessories, and you ask them where they live and they tell you “Peckerwood,” and you ask where that is and they’re mildly indignant you fail to recognize they live in one of the most exclusive new subdivisions in town, another of those Disneyesque “communities,” the next one farther out from last year’s hot new development, on what was until recently old man what’s-his-name’s apple orchard now awash in cheaply-built million-dollar homes with matching mailboxes and an architectural theme carried throughout the bacterium-like maze of cul-de-sacs, with a sculpted greenway beside the channelized stream that wends along past the stone foundation of the old grist mill fondly remembered in the name of the gated community adjoining Peckerwood on the other side of the 10-foot high perimeter fence.