Friday, May 20, 2005

Senator Bulworth writes to the national right to life committee

Dear Mr. Johnson,

Thank you for your recent press release in which you called on Senate Democrats to cease blocking a bill you favor. In the press release your organization, the national right to life committee said:

In the Senate, a parental notification bill (S. 8/S. 403), sponsored by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nv.), has 38 sponsors (37 of them Republicans). This bill has been listed among the "top ten" priorities by the Senate Republican leadership, but the Senate Democratic Leadership has erected procedural obstacles that have prevented its early consideration.

"It is outrageous that the Senate Democratic caucus has thrown up procedural obstacles to block parental notification legislation, despite numerous polls showing 75 percent or more of the public supports requiring parental notification,” commented NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson.

Doug, allow me to introduce you to the workings of the American political system. Although several authors have written on this subject, I especially liked the summary composed by the family research council's senior writer seven years ago when his organization, and I assume yours, were opposing President Clinton's nominees and initiatives. The Family Research Council's senior writer, Steven Schwalm, appeared on National Public Radio at the time and explained the value, even the necessity, of the filibuster.

"The Senate," he said, "is not a majoritarian institution, like the House of Representatives is. It is a deliberative body, and it's got a number of checks and balances built into our government. The filibuster is one of those checks in which a majority cannot just sheerly force its will, even if they have a majority of votes in some cases. That's why there are things like filibusters, and other things that give minorities in the Senate some power to slow things up, to hold things up, and let things be aired properly."

So, there you have it.

Thank you for playing.


Jay B. Bulworth
U.S. Senator

Bobo's World

Maybe all that right wing talk about moral relativism has some basis after all.

With apologies to the great Atrios, who usually tracks these events for us, allow me to do the honors with this gem from, where else, Texas:

LINDEN, Texas (AP) -- After a mentally disabled black man was found beaten, unconscious, and shivering on a fire ant mound in 2003, four white men charged in the crime could have faced 10 years in prison.

But folks in this poor, pine-locked Texas hamlet of 2,300 say they knew better.
On Friday, the four young men accused of severely injuring 44-year-old Billy Ray Johnson during a late-night pasture party are expected to be sentenced to probation or brief jail time after juries rejected more serious charges and recommended suspended sentences for two of them.

The victim survived the attack but can't walk without help or speak clearly.

Some white residents believe it is a fair outcome for a few "good boys" from prominent families with no previous legal trouble. But other residents, blacks and whites, say the sentences are far from fair and just another example of justice being tainted by small-town politics, racism and a court system that favors whites.

"They devalued his life. A lot of people might not of thought it was worth much, but it was his. And they got nothing," said black resident Alma Linwood, a lab technician who lives on the country road where Johnson was found. "It's actually not a surprise. It's pretty much what I figured would happen. That's just the way it is."

A judge is scheduled Friday to sentence defendants John Wesley "Wes" Owens, 22, Dallas Stone, 19, James Cory Hicks, 26, and Christopher Colt Amox, 20.

Authorities have said that Johnson, well-known around town as a friendly but "slow" character who loved dancing, was lured to an all-white pasture party where underage drinkers fed him alcohol and picked on him.

"I feel like he was invited to be taunted because of his limited mental capacity, not so much his race," said District Attorney Randal Lee, who is white. "He was the entertainment for the night."
Owens and Stone, who pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony charge of injury to a disabled person by omission, testified that Amox and Johnson were arguing about country versus rap music when Amox told Johnson to leave.

Then Amox swung at Johnson, who fell and began vomiting and gagging, according to testimony. The men loaded Johnson into a truck and drove to an old tire dump, where they left him on an ant hill.

Doctors soon determined he had suffered a concussion that, without medical attention, could have killed him, Lee said. Johnson was hospitalized for weeks. He now resides in a nursing home, undergoes rehabilitation and is unable to walk without help or speak clearly.

Amox, facing the same felony charge as Owens and Stone, was convicted of misdemeanor assault in March. The jury recommended a suspended one-year jail sentence, meaning no time behind bars.

This month, a different jury found Hicks guilty of the felony charge, which carries a penalty of two to 10 years in prison. That jury recommended that Hicks' three-year prison sentence also be suspended.

Owens and Stone agreed in their plea deals to 30 days in the county jail and a $2,000 fine.
I feel like he (Johnson) was invited to be taunted because of his limited mental capacity, not so much his race. He was the entertainment for the night.-- Randal Lee, district attorney

Lee, the district attorney, said the juries' decisions were in line with other juries who sympathize with first-time offenders. And he pointed out that the so-called beating involved one punch.
"This is not that horrible of an outcome. They were all convicted, they'll all be on probation, they'll all have a criminal record, they'll all be watched," he said. "They didn't get off scot-free."

Dennis Spears, 59, a white man whose owns a countertop business in town, said he was struck by the verdicts but empathized with the plight of young boys making bad choices under peer pressure.

"Only thing I saw about it, they oughtn't to have dumped him. They could have taken him to the hospital just as easy," Spears said as he drank coffee at a country store with friends. "Things just got out of hand."

But R.C. Taylor, a white retired heavy equipment operator and barber, said the boys didn't deserve harsh punishment.

"It's been handled good as far as I'm concerned. They ought not to have been tried at all," Taylor said. "I think they should be turned loose, set free, with a slap on the wrist. It was just one of those things."

Others say that's the kind of attitude that led to the assault of Johnson.

"Whites stay with whites, blacks stay with blacks and the American flag still flies like a rebel flag," said Donovan Epps, a black 22-year-old hanging out with friends at Dairy Queen. "Getting probation is just like not getting tried at all. You leave a person for dead, that's like murder."

Just blowing off steam. Well, it was 2003 after all. Things have certainly changed by now.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe

Just when you thought it was safe to turn the tv on again, to give the cable news stations a glance, to see what new made for tv movie would show up on one of the networks, just when you thought it was safe to assume that, investigation, indictment, trial, and conviction completed, no more Scott-Lacey-Peterson stories would threaten your couch potato ways, it comes crawling back and pulls you back in.

Janel Moloney ("The West Wing") stars as Amber Frey in this drama based on Frey's life story and book Witness: For the Prosecution of Scott Peterson.

When Amber Frey (Moloney) meets Scott Peterson (Nathan Anderson), she thinks that she has finally met the man of her dreams. He's handsome and smart, kind and considerate, and claims to be single and ready to settle down. But when Amber begins to suspect that something is amiss with Scott's story, she accepts an investigator friend's offer to check him out.

Scott is supposedly taking a trip to Europe on the night the investigator calls Amber and tells her to turn on the news. She's stunned to see Scott talking about the fact that his wife, Laci, eight months pregnant with their son, Connor, is missing. Realizing that everything Scott has told her is a lie, Amber calls the Modesto Police Department, tells them she is dating Scott Peterson, and offers to do whatever she can to help.

The Modesto Police ask Amber to tape her conversations with Scott and encourage her to try and get information that could be used in their investigation. Amber also decides to go public with her own story, apologizes to Laci's family and offers to help find her.

In the process, Amber's own life is forever changed as the most intimate personal details of the single mother's life are reported daily in the media.

The pressure builds as she continues to take risks for justice and realizes her testimony and taped telephone calls with Scott Peterson will be key to the prosecution's case against him.

Unlike the other movie about this case, this time the producers got actors that actually look like the real life drama's participants.

Where will it end? Who can stop it? Please, make it stop.

Flip Flopping

It's for reasons like this, that Andrew Sullivan has earned his way back into my good graces and gotten himself a spot on my blog roll:

THE SPIN ON TORTURE: It has gone chronologically something like this: "Its not true. Its not true. It may be true but its not torture. Okay, its torture, but isnt official policy. It may be true and official policy, but we changed the policy and we uncovered the abuses ourselves. It may be true, it may have been widespread, but weve punished the culprits. It may be true, it may have been widespread, it may still be happening, but all these reports are old news." Well, give these guys points for effort. How about: it is true; it should never have happened; the people responsible for the policy as well as the criminals should be punished. Ah, but that would mean taking responsibility, wouldnt it? And we dont do that in this administration, do we? Even at the expense of hurting the war effort and staining the reputation of countless great soldiers in a noble cause.

Bulworth Country

The Senator caught this exchange Monday night on Scarborough Country:

DR. BOB JENSEN, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: Well, actually, the U.S. news media is not cynical enough. If we think of the way the U.S. corporate news media rolled over in, lets say, the runup to the war in Iraq, when the lies and the distortions of the Bush administration were never challenged, what we see is that, in these hyperpatriotic times, the news media isnt aggressive enough. The problem isnt not enough isnt too much coverage. Its not enough coverage.


SCARBOROUGH: Bob, what about Abu Ghraib? Did you not think The New York Times doing 43 pieces on it was not aggressive enough?

JENSEN: I think that when the United States is guilty of torture, murder and the sexual humiliation of prisoners, we should remember, by the way, that the story about the Koran has not been disproved. Its a question about sources. There are detainees who come out of these prisons who talk about this kind of treatment.


SCARBOROUGH: Professor, how do you prove a negative, though? How can you say it hasnt been disproved?

JENSEN: It hasnt been disproved because there are people who...


SCARBOROUGH: How do you disprove a negative?

JENSEN: People who testify to this, that the United States government then denies it.
But in the context of the proved abuses by U.S. officials in these prisons, not just in Guantanamo, but in others, Abu Ghraib and, of course, in Bagram, we have a repeated record of up to and including homicide in these prisons. So is it so hard to believe...

Brent BOZELL (Media Research Center--ed): Oh, come on. Just stop that. Just stop that.


JENSEN: No, the record is clear.

BOZELL: Just stop that.

JENSEN: So, if you want to talk about what the United States news media had and has not done, my argument is, would be, it has not been aggressive enough. Now, did Newsweek perhaps represent a sources words improperly? Yes. Should it be corrected? Yes. But it doesnt go to the question of this pattern of abuse in U.S. facilities, both in Guantanamo and in the Middle East and Central Asia.

SCARBOROUGH: Brent Bozell, respond.


BOZELL: Let me put you on the record right now. You cite me the evidence of American soldiers murdering people in prisons.

JENSEN: Well, these are in reports that...


BOZELL: No, dont give me reports. You give me the evidence.

JENSEN: No, the evidence is from the Armys own reports. There have been homicides in these prisons. We have photographic evidence of the routine sexual humiliation of prisoners.

BOZELL: I didnt say about routine sexual humiliation. I talked about murders. Youre accusing the American military of murder. If you dont back it up, back off.


JENSEN: Well, Im not at my computer. Ill send you the sites tomorrow, Brent. You might want to put them up on your Web site.

BOZELL: In other words, you cant do it?

JENSEN: No, I can. If you want to talk about the, if you dont believe the governments own reports about homicides in these prisons...


BOZELL: Im saying, dont make allegations you cant back up on national television.

JENSEN: Ill back them up to you tomorrow, Brent. Give me a call.

BOZELL: Send it tomorrow.

JENSEN: The point is that theres a pattern of this kind of abuse. And to pretend that this story about the Koran is sort of fanciful I think is to ignore reality. I also think that youre willfully distorting the reality of these protests in places like Afghanistan. These are not simply a reaction to this. These are not simply spontaneous protests. Theres a political process going forward in Afghanistan. And many people, not just ex-Taliban or al Qaeda, but many people, disagree with the U.S. occupation. They disagree with long-term presence of U.S. military troops. And this event is being used, yes, its being used to whip up peoples opposition, but that opposition is real.

SCARBOROUGH: All right. Ill tell you what, Professor. I invite you back tomorrow night. If you could get us those names.

JENSEN: I would love to.


Taking time out from his busy schedule, Senator Bulworth addresses a letter to Brent Bozell of the conservative Media Research Center. A copy of the letter is sent to University of Texas professor of Journalism, Robert Jensen, who appeared on the segment with Bozell.


Dear Mr. Bozell,

First, thank you for the excellent work you continue to do to ensure conservative interests are represented by the conservative media.

On Monday's Scarborough Country, you expressed an interest in any evidence documenting the murder of detainees by U.S. prison officials or staff members.

I was surprised you hadn't already read the Taguba report, which documented just such a case, but in any event, the New York Times this morning provides evidence of two more death cases, based on a new military report.

For your convenience, I have provided a link to a summary of the Taguba Report authorized by the U.S. military: It's a bit cumbersome to read, there's lots of numbers and stuff, but I trust you can give it the sufficient time it warrants.

You can read the NYT story here:

Now, unfortunately I've been unable to provide you with any direct evidence of the murder, such as blood, DNA, fingerprints, fingernail clippings, or video or audio tape, but I hope you will consider the military documentation sufficient evidence, since I know how fond you are of that institution.

Once again, thank you, Brent, for your tireless efforts on behalf of this country's conservative elite. They need all the help they can get. Be assured you have our complete confidence and gratitude. If I or my staff can be of any further assistance, please let us know.


Jay B. Bulworth
U.S. Senator

cc: Robert Jensen, Associate Professor of Journalism, University of Texas at Austin.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Filibuster or Bust

All seven get filibustered. That's our deal. No deals. Just bring it.

If the Repubs want to scuttle the filibuster, obstensibly just for judicial nominees who are presumed to have majority support, but in principle for any old reason 't all, then, please go ahead.

These seven, feudalists all, won't significantly kick back further the cause of civil rights than what you guys have already succeeded in doing. And if you want to bring more feudalist, religious dominionists up for nomination, we'll filibuster them too. And then you can scuttle the filibuster again. And on and on. And we'll remember.

Meanwhile, dear Democrats, hear this. And hear it well. Those "centrist" Republicans you think are gonna defy the WH and their Party on this, for the sake of Senate tradition and friendly bipartisanship, well, they aren't. Nope. McCain maybe. One of the Maine Senators, could be. But these teases you're getting from Sununu, Hagel, Pat Roberts, Voinovich, Chaffey, nah. They'll lead you on, making you think you're going to succeed with the filibuster, and then before you can say, William Henry Harrison, they're gonna vote with their Party. Here's a prediction: They won't even need Cheney's tie-breaking vote.

Some Democrats and press reports gossiping about the supposed reluctance of some "centrist" Repubs to smacking down the filibuster remind me of that night you were thinking your great looking date, who you never thought would give you the time of day but who actually agreed to go out with you, was going to agree to go a little further. But at the last moment, she didn't. Did she? You were in the car getting all steamed up, and then, outta nowhere, she put up the stop sign.* You went home proud of how far you actually did get, and maybe you even had thoughts you could call her later and try again. But you went as far as you would. After a time, you settled in and realized you needed to try somewhere else. That's these "centrist" Repubs. You ain't gettin Sununu's vote, or Roberts' or Voinovich's.

They'll get their nominees through, and then we'll move on. There's more work to do.

*The author denies any and all reports that any such examples from his past conform to even the slightest degree with the illustration discussed here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Things I think I think

I'm resigned to the idea that the Repubs will pull the nuclear option and will get their feudalist nominees through. But I'm not terribly distressed by this. I think the Repubs are opening a can of worms they may regret later. Not next year, or the year after, but maybe sooner than they think.

Like John McCowan, guest blogging at Michael Berube's perch, I think Jeb! will be the GOP '08 nominee. He's a governor of a state both parties need to win, and he's conservative enough for Repub primary voters. I think the Dem nominee will come down to Biden or Hilary. I would prefer the former. He's not the candidate I'd favor on economic issues, but I think he brings credibility to the party in the area of foreign policy and I think he gets the seriousness presented by the christian dominionists. He doesn't help with the electoral college, but of the other contenders, I think they either come from states that are unwinnable anyway, or would come from states that Dems have locked up either way.

Why are we having still more congressional hearings on steroids and professional sports?

The military base closing commission has announced a new round of whackings. The list has, predictably, come under fire from the states and regions affected. I realize I'd be more concerned if I was in one of the places dependent on the military for jobs. But I'm not. And as much as I am totally in love with Stephanie Hersheth, I'm not weeping for the proposed closure to the military base in S.D. South Dakotans are supposedly rugged individualists that hate government and love W and as a result, a reaping what they've sown. I regret any fallout for Steph, but as for the state's newest U.S. Senator, John Thune, gee, it couldn't happen to a more swell fella. And the downscaling of the military industrial complex is long overdue. The military is, among other things, a boondogle for weapons production, an excuse for poorly apportioned and mostly inefficient employment, and its oversized standing army represents a threat to liberties abroad and at home. Yeah I said it.

It Takes a Village (and other lessons children teach us)

Conservatives went all foamy at the mouth when Hilary Clinton penned her book with this title. Of course conservatives went foamy at the mouth just about any time the Mr. or Mrs. Clinton opened their mouths, but in any case...

A central tenet of conservative mythology is that the success and progress of a country hinges on the strength of the family. When the family disintegrates, society goes kaput. Hence, the primary goal of public policy is to "strengthen families", a mantra that is used to buttress policies ranging from bankruptcy "reform", welfare "reform", tax "relief", the infamous "gay marriage amendment" to the Constitution, "parental notification" abortion restrictions, and an assortment of other twisted and misnomered, anti-individual initiatives cloaked in sheeps clothing to appear "family friendly".

Now, the Bulworth thesis is that, first, this conservative myth is basically bupkes, and that, second, the failure of American liberalism and the Democratic Party is that it, or they, basically accept(s) the conservative diagnosis while lamely trying to refute its policy prescriptions. Consequently we are faced with a continuing series of inane calls for Democrats to embrace the language of "values", to move to the "center" or whatever flavor of sell-out that's currently fashionable so the mechanisms and designs of the political and religious elite remain unrecognized and unchallenged.

But you're thinking, why on earth, Senator Bulworth, are you trying to peddle such heresies as this? How can you say that the need to "strengthen families" is wrong?

First, I come to politics with the assumption that societies are comprised of three classes: the high, the middle and the low.* Now, among the first items of business for the elite is to either sell the notion that this distinction doesn't exist, or that if it does, it's justified because the low are lazy and immoral. And by becoming hard working, morally upright, yada yada yada, the low can become part and parcel members of the great American class of patriots. And everyone will live happily ever after if the low and dissenting members of the middle would just shut up and sing along to God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch.

But let's return to the three classes of people and what it means for the politics of family values. First, let's get this straight. The high (whether they be Hollywood actors or the heads of family research organizations) has no interest in being told how to run their families, or in being challenged on the basis of their morality or work ethic. And in the unlikely event that policies were crafted to regulate the family functioning of the high, we can be assured that the high won't be restricted or enlightened by them, primarily because they would be designed and implemented by the high itself. So to the extent that families need to be "strengthened", those families are not to be found among the higher classes.

Which leaves us with the middle and the low. First the middle. Now, by virture of the relative economic stability and modest educational attributes of this class, and because of the fact that despite what some conservatives and even some liberals might imagine, most families of the middle are not well depicted by scandalous TV shows such as "Desperate Housewives", the more juvenile (and Fox Entertainment sponsored) "O.C.", the family structures of the middle are pretty sound, or otherwise inpervious to any of the instruments that public policy might be brought to bear on them. Are there divorces and broken families among the middle classes? Well, yes, of course. Do they essentially affect the work and behavior of their family members? Essentially, no. Eric Harris and Dylan Klybold, the protagonists of the Columbine shootings were from typical, nuclear families. Most of the children from both solid and interrupted families adapt to their circumstances, and because whatever the degree of disruption that occurs, are more than likely to end up in a household that falls within the same middle class lifestyle, and hence, their lives don't change a lot. But the important point is that even if this was not so, there are no valid instruments of public policy "for the family" that would have much effect on them anyway. Increase in the child tax credit, more restrictive abortion laws, the outlawing of gay tolerance literature in public schools, and on and on, won't do much to affect the shape or behavior of the middle classes, other than to foment conflict and fear between families and locales and focus attention away from the ruling classes and the nature of the regime it commands.

So what is, or what are, the purpose(s) of all this ranting about the need for stronger family policies by groups like Focus on the Family, The Family Research Council, etc? And what about the low classes?

First, the behaviors and habits of the low, as with Oceania's proles, are irrelevant to the needs of the superstructure. The members of the low only need be kept ignorant, imprisoned (think, War on Drugs), formally or informally segregated, or just kept convinced of their inefficacy and that their actions are unlikely to alter their conditions.

So, the morality police, like James Dobson and Bill Frist, emphasize "family values" to pit middle against middle, and middle against low. Daydreamers on the left who have fantasies about populist campaigns and the ultimate arising of the low, forget the need for a lower class upon which to pit their frustrations that has also been inherent during middle class oriented populist crusades.

So, Hilary, Evan Bayh, Mark Warner, John Edwards, and the rest of you with ambitions for 2008: stop trying to imitate conservative philosophies and placate their imagined grievances. You're hurting America.

The primary task of government, besides the need to defend itself from enemies from abroad, is to ensure that the rights of individuals are protected, and that the coercive powers of the state, hierarchical religions, and the more subtle exertions of the economic elite to pit families and regions against one another through devisive and misleading rhetoric.

Tell this to the country.

*from George Orwell's 1984.

A Way with Words

At today's press briefing, White House spokesman, Scotty McClellan criticized reporters whose newspapers and magazines continued to refer to the president's Social Security reform proposals as constituting "personal property accounts", "personal accounts", "individual accounts" or "individual personal property savings accounts".

"We've been clear since day one about this", the president's spokesman said. "The president is not 'personalizing' Social Security, or 'individualizing' Social Security. We've said all along that the appropriate description of the president's initiative is 'privatization'."

"I would hope the press will finally start to report the president's proposals plainly and accurately," said McClellan.

On a related note, in a hastily arranged interview with the Fox News program, Fox and Friends, Republican U.S. Senators, Orrin Hatch (Utah), Mitch "Wild Thing" McConnell (Kentucky), and Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn) lambasted Democratic Senators' and press usage of the terms 'constitutional option' and 'majority option', in describing Republican efforts to end the filibustering of certain judicial nominees.

"What we are doing is invoking the 'nuclear option'," said the Senate trio. "The use of any other term to describe what we're doing is inaccurate and intended to be derogatory. We would hope the other side would refrain from continuing to try to mislead and manipulate the press and the American people."

According the producers of Fox and Friends, no Democratic response could be provided for in the time span allowed for the segment. The producers at Fox News don't regret the inconvenience.

"We know there are a lot of people who are trying to criticize the way we do news, to be like them", said Fox News Washington Bureau Chief, Brit Hume. "But we aren't going to listen to them or change who we interview. The Democrats are demons, and that's just that," said the fair and balanced anchor.

Still more criticism was levied at the editors and staff of Newsweek magazine by Fox News and Administration spokesman because of the journal's covering of the continuing wars and unrest in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"There's no reason for Newsweek or anybody else for that matter, to continue to report on car bombings, prison interrogations, or military recruitment levels," said Fox News John Gibson, host of the show "The Big Story", who was joined by Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita. "That Koran story would have never even gotten out there if the press would just mind its own business and report only what the White House and the Republican Party provide it through its daily press releases."

"Some people should watch what they say", chimed in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who appeared briefly at the podium to sign autographs for the Fox News anchors and staff in attendance.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Milgram and Zimbardo

All the "war on terrorism, axis of evil, values voters, and spongebobsquarepants is gay" talk over the last several years has finally gotten me around to thinking about the Milgram and Zimbardo experiments.

The Milgram experiment was the one where participants were told to apply electric "shocks" to other study participants who failed to provide correct answers to certain questions. The shocks weren't real, but the participants told to apply them did not know that. And a considerable majority of those told to go on "hurting" the other people went ahead with it. The gist of the experiment was it showed the extreme degree to which basically normally people would obey authority, even when it resulted in injury to others.

The Zimbardo experiment was an attempt to study prison behavior through the use of a simulated prison setting. Some of the participants were chosen to be "prisoners" while others were chosen to be "guards". Again, a random selection of seemingly normal people. The experiment was intended to last several days, but the "guards" became so abusive to the "prisoners" that the experiment was called off early.

I mention these experiments because I think they provide a fair and balanced alternative view of evil relative to the all too common perception that comes from the media and religious dominionists that evil derives from the individual alone, and that context, conditions or environment play little to no role in human behavior.

Obviously, the religious and economic elite have a strong interest, prurient and otherwise, in making people think that evil stems from individuals, is a matter primarily of sexual standards, that you shouldn't blame your environment or corporations for your economic status, and that the purpose of government is to make individuals docile, blindly patriotic and ignorantly paranoid of other people. The result is calls for "personal responsibility", "family values", pastoral exhortations that "if you vote for Kerry you should repent or leave the church", and policies like bankruptcy "reform", welfare "reform", Social Security "reform", anti-abortion and anti-gay legislation and amendments, and "academic bills of rights" to punish individuals and discourage or penalize dissent.

Now, I think this view is deeply troubling for those of us who value personal freedom, civil liberties, and the right to privacy.

But I also think this view as an indictment of society is objectively wrong as well. The primary threat to individuals and society is not other individuals or their sexual appetites. The primary threat to individuals and the challenge for society and government is power, concentrated, coercive power, whether public or private.

Which disturbs you more? The response of experiment participants to authority and conditions, or your neighbor's consensual sexual activities?

Very well. But what about religion and Christianity? Aren't sexual and other individual behaviors terribly vital in these belief systems? Weren't Sodom and Gomorrah distroyed by fire because of the homosexuality openly practiced in their midst? How do those of us who admit to being "people of faith" reconcile our spiritual beliefs to the realities of political life? Is religion still relevant? I'll attempt to address these issues in my next post.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Slackers and Geezers

Although my psychiatrist--for purposes related to my sanity and usefullness to mankind--has advised me not to read any transcripts, or watch any shows, radio or otherwise, in which media critic and conservative scold Michael Medved makes an appearance, I continue to be perplexed by this most recent rant of his where prior to interviewing Hans Riemer from Rock the Vote on the subject of Social Security "reform", had this to say:

MEDVED: Fourty-four minutes past the hour on The Michael Medved Show. My question for our guest Hans Riemer. He is with the "I Heart Social Security" campaign of Rock the Vote. It's sort of an alliance of slackers and geezers to try to make sure that we continue bankrupting the country to pay very high and continually rising Social Security benefits. Given the fact that in really a couple years -- we're talking about seven years, it could be that soon -- we will be paying out more in benefits than we are taking in in payroll taxes, where is -- how are you going to continue paying people these promised benefits without either raising the payroll tax or taking more money out of general revenues?

Now, I realize I'm treading on dangerous ground in trying to decipher anything Michael Medved--reportedly an entertainment/movie critic by training and profession--might have to say about the structure and finances of the Social Security program.

But in just one paragraph he manages to let fly several whoppers. Let's parse this sentence from the wise one: "...make sure we continue bankrupting the country to pay very high and continually rising Social Security benefits". Social Security benefits are bankrupting the country? Well, I admit I hadn't heard any allegations that the country was currently being bankrupted at the present moment, not to mention that Social Security was the guilty party. Maybe he means the country is being bankrupted by the President's tax cuts for the rich and the continuing war in Iraq.

And then "....very high and continually rising Social Security benefits"? Very high? All the other conservatives I've heard mention the level of Social Security benefits claim its a bad deal, the rate of return stinks, etc. Maybe Medved didn't get the memo.

And then there's his claim that (gosh this is getting painful) " really a couple of years--we're talking about seven years--it could be that soon, we will be paying out more in benefits than we are taking in in payroll taxes..." Seven years? I'm surprised Hans Riemer didn't eat Medved there on the spot. Seven years? Um, no. 2017 is the projected date that incoming payroll taxes will start to fall below projected benefit payouts. Seven years? Twelve is more like it. And what will happen then? Well, because Social Security pays benefits as long as the Trust Funds show positive assets, the benefit checks will keep going out, till at least 2050 according to the Congressional Budget Office.

But he's not done demonstrating his thorough lack of knowledge in the field of public policy. " are you going to keep paying...benefits...without...taking money out of general revenues". Another memo Medved hasn't gotten. All the Social Security "reform" bills favored by his pals raid the general fund to the tune of $3 to 7 trillion--more, I might add, than the indefinite Social Security deficit.

Not content do botch the dollar and sense part of the argument, however, Medved gets snippy about those who disagree with them and his president. "...sort of an alliance of slackers and geezers..."

Slackers and geezers. That's what Medved and his conservative friends think of you and me. And your mother who relies on Social Security benefits all the while Medved has to make due on his book royalties and radio host salary (paid, it seems to me, by someone with a most gracious spot in their heart for someone lacking even the most rudimentary knowledge about anything).

Slackers and geezers. Medved should take time off from watching the Passion to get a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Credibility Gap

I must admit I'm baffled by the flurry of remarks flowing from the Pentagon and the White House in response to the Newsweek article on the Koran and the toilet.

This AP article seems to suggest both that the Pentagon is continuing to investigate the allegation of Gitmo interrogators flushing a copy or copies of the Koran down the jon and that the allegations are false, unfounded, and damaging to the U.S. "image".

Which is it? Is the investigation continuing or has it been thoroughly investigated and found to be false?

The Newsweek "apology" is strange, too. Sounds a lot like, "we're sorry we printed the truth and that violence erupted as a result." Sounds a lot like the type of nonapology apology one utters after discovering a horse's head under your bedcovers.

But I especially liked this gem:

Lawrence Di Rita, the top spokesman for the Pentagon, called the editor's note "very tepid and qualified." He added later, "They owe us all a lot more accountability than they took."

Accountability. Yeah, the Pentagon is well positioned to talk about the need for accountability. Nigerian yellowcake? Weapons of Mass Destruction, anyone?

Jerry (to George at the coffeeshop): Artistic integrity? You're not artistic, and you have no integrity!

Dear Pentagon: this is what happens when you have no credibility or integrity. When you flush your credibility down the proverbial toilet by saying you aren't abusing detainees and than pictures surface that demonstrate you are, outsiders are more likely to believe reports that your interrogators flushed the Koran down an actual toilet, too.