Sunday, February 29, 2004

California Politics: Partisan polarization increasing

The non-partisan Public Policy Insitute of California (PPIC) recently published a report on its findings in a state public opinion survey: PPIC Statewide Survey - February 2004 (02/20/04) by Mark Baldassare, research and survey director.

Among other things, this survey casts doubt on the degree to which Schwarzenegger's personal appeal as such is driving support for Proposition 57 ($15 billion bond issue). For instance, at the time of the survey, "Of the 65 percent of voter who know that he supports the bond, 44 percent support it, while 41 percent are opposed."

Perhaps the most significant finding is that partisan polarization in California has notably increased in the last four years:

In the past two-to-four years, the gap has widened between Republicans and Democrats on issues of abortion, the environment, immigrants, gay and lesbian rights, poverty, and homeland security and civil liberties. "Many people have pointed to the redrawing of electoral districts as the reason partisanship has increased in the legislature, but we're finding that California's voters are themselves further apart on many issues than they were just a few years ago, says Baldassare. "If this trend continues, it could make California even more difficult to govern - through representative government or direct democracy [intiatives and referenda]."

This poll's findings don't offer much comfort to Schwarzenegger if he's hoping to build support for a successful run for re-election in a normal primary and election in 2006. With increasing partisan polarization, he will be forced to pander more and more to his Republican base, like he did with his "riots" comment on gay marriages on Meet the Press last weekend.  And this increasing partisan polarization will make it more difficult for Schwarzenegger to increase his own and his party's support among the critical Latino voter segment.

Schwarzenegger short-circuited the normal partisan nomination process through the recall process. But in 2006, he'll have to run in the Republican primary. And work with a highly partisan state Republican party between now and then.

California Politics: Schwarzenegger's Propositions

The conventional wisdom of California's star-struck political press is that if Propositions 57 ($15 billion bond) and 58 (borrowing restrictions and reserve requirements) pass on March 2, it will be a sign of Schwarzenegger's brilliant "populist" appeal.  Here are some samples, where you can see various people who should know better gushing along those lines:

Governor grabs for political prize San Jose Mercury News 02/29/04
Tour de force for Schwarzenegger Contra Costa Times 02/29/04 (this uses a lot of material from the Mercury News piece)
Primary election is mostly about what's not happening by Dan Walters Sacramento Bee 02/29/04 (Walters buys the idea about Schwarzenegger and the campaigns for 57 and 58, but his brief comments on the measures themselves are good.)
Election a test of governor's clout Los Angeles Times 02/29/04

This mainly illustrates Bob Somerby's (The Daily Howler) point about today's pundits. They're as committed to comforting the comfortable as are the two parties (especially the Republicans). Schwarzenegger the star governor is a more pleasing story than Schwarzenegger the budget savior who couldn't even propose a balanced budget, or a Schwarzenegger who goes on national TV and lies recklessly about "riots" around gay marriage in San Francisco.

Both these propositions have broad bipartisan support. They have virtually no active opposition. If Schwarzenegger isn't successful in getting them passed with a high-profile and well-financed media blitz, it would be a major sign of his appeal failing already. A more serious test of his abilities, and a much more meaningful reform, would have been for him to actively back Prop 56, which gives more reasonable flexibility to the legislature to pass balance budgets. He didn't do that.

California Politics: Proposition 57

Kevin Drum has been doing some sensible and accessible analysis of Proposition 57, Schwarzengger's $15 billion bond proposal. In this post, he gives a good summary of what happens if the bond doesn't pass:

But if the bond measure doesn't pass (and if the legislature's bonds get overturned in court), what can we do? Answer: we can issue more short term debt.

Now, there are indeed problems with this. The short term debt would be issued at a higher interest rate, it would put a pretty tight straitjacket on state spending, and it would have to be paid back fairly quickly.

However, it wouldn't be fiscal Armageddon. What it would be is a firm order to the legislature to raise taxes and cut spending in order to pay off the short term debt. This is what should have happened years ago, and painful as it may be, it's now obvious to me that this is still an option.

Arnold wants to have it both ways: he wants to have a tax cut and he wants a bond measure to help finance it. This is almost Kafka-esque irresponsibility and I think it's time to cut the crap. The only way to get ourselves out of the mess we're in is via both spending cuts and tax increases.

Another of his comments is also on point. Referring to a Los Angeles Times editorial that mentions as part of its argument for Prop 57 that the budget problem it addresses was obvious a year ago, he says:

But what makes them think this is going to change? Prop 57 simply provides ex post facto approval — funded by bonds! — of Arnold's tax decrease immediately upon taking office; it provides enough cushion that Democrats can once again put off thinking seriously about budget cuts for another year; and it allows Republicans to continue their insane opposition to even moderate and temporary tax increases.

California Politics: The Propositions

There are four state propositions on the ballot for March 2 in California.

Prop 55: School Bonds. This one makes sense to me. It's for school facilities from kindergarten to the university level. It seems to be on the borderline in support.

Prop 56: Reforming legislative processes. This is a much-needed reform, though it's likely to lose in this election. As William Parent explains:

What would truly make the Legislature more efficient and less prone to gridlock is Proposition 56. If approved, it would repeal a 1933 law requiring a two-thirds vote to pass the state budget, as well as working around one strand of the Gordian knot of Proposition 13, the one requiring a two-thirds vote to pass new tax increases. Instead, a 55% vote of the Legislature would suffice in both instances, except on property taxes. It would take us closer to the democratic principle of majority rule. The governor would still have the power to veto the budget, by line item or as a whole.

Prop 57: Schwarzenegger's $15 billion bond proposal. This one enjoys wide bipartisan support and virtually no active opposition. It's likely to pass. It refinances some short-term debt as long-term debt. And it borrows money to finance part of the deficit in Schwarzenegger's proposed 2004-5 budget. While I understand why so many officials of both parties support it as an immediate fix, I think it's basically a bad idea. It's credit-card financing of things that should be financed from current revenues.

Prop 58: Schwarzenegger's "Balanced Budget Act".  In theory, it prevents the legislature from financing operating budget deficits by borrowing money - like Schwarzenegger proposes to do with Prop 57. I think it's just kind of goofy that Schwarzenegger can't balance an annual budget even with his unusual electoral mandate from the 2003 recall vote, but he's proposing this measure that would supposedly do it by auto-pilot from now on. It also requires a "rainy day reserve" to be established in prosperous years. That's a good idea. But locking it into law in this way just doesn't make sense to me, either.

The Terrorism Problem

A couple of recent articles provide a good reminder that terrorism can't be considered as just a threat from Evil Muslim Heathen America-Haters, as the Bush Administration seems to prefer. Domestic terrorism is a real problem, and not only in the United States. Remember the ricin attacks of recent months? The anthrax attacks of 2001 which our crack Attorney General has been unable to solve? Those were very likely domestic terrorism incidents.

Spain's Civil Guard (national police) just arrested two suspects with 536 kilos of explosives: La detención de dos etarras impide una masacre en Madrid en plena campaña electoral El Mundo 02/29/04. They are believed to be members of the Basque separatist group ETA, a group that mainly operates within Spain itself. The Civil Guard believes they were on there was to carry out a deadly bombing in Madrid, the specific target possibly being an industrial park area that includes two large hotels. One of the captured ETA members reportedly said the main target was the newspaper La Razón, whose main office is in the area.

ETA has made such attacks before, as the article notes, such as one in Zaragosa in 1987 (11 dead) and another in Barcelona in 1991 (9 dead). ETA is trying to make its presence known during the current national election campaign (parliamentary elections are in March), although it's not clear to me exactly what effect they expect.

The other article is this AP item about a new FBI review of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. They are going to further pursue leads suggesting that a far-right group known as the Aryan Republian Army was involved in Timothy McVeigh's bomb plot.

While our professional warmongers like Richard Perle promote the "war on terrorism" as a justification for making conventional war on country after country, people who actually care about dealing with the terrorism problem - which hopefully includes law enforcement at all levels - need to take a different view.

Chuckie Watch 35: Chuckie the Scholar

Ole Chuckie's been on a mood upswing lately, so he's been pretty dull. He did talk about his own research into political attitudes in the 2000 Presidential race, which - at least so far as he reports it - apparently consisted of talking to some kid backstage who supported Al Gore but didn't sound to Chuckie like he had convincing reasons. "I was asking strictly for academic reasons," Chuckie says. And, as we know, Chuckie's a pretty scholarly kind of guy.

Chuckie goes on in that one to warn people that if they don't read it on his site, it's not his. He's apparently worried about the Liberal Anti-Christian Conspiracy doing black-ops on him. Don't worry about me, though, Chuckie. I always encourage people to read your scholarly articles.

Chuckie gits philosophical in Where Is The Truth? It's not as cosmic as the title sounds though. It's Chuckie giving one of his fine academic arguments about how he really don't like this here John Kerry feller very much, and he's sure there must be some good dirt out there on him somewhere.

And then he offers a description of his own experience to explain why he don't like to do them Benefit Concerts. Yeah, who wouldn't want a prince of a guy like Chuckie doing a benefit concert for their cause? Why, I bet that during Confederate Heritage Month in April, ole Chuckie could be doing a benefit concert a day!

California Politics: California's dysfunctional version of direct democracy

This article makes reference to the current election season. But it's also one of the best brief descriptions of the problems the voters of California have created for ourselves by the use of the bludgeon of initiatives to make laws piecemeal. We the People Have Made a Mess by William Parent Los Angeles Times 02/29/04.

Since then [1978, when Proposition 13 created drastic restrictions on taxation], there also has been the implementation of electoral term limits, which has resulted in inexperienced legislators in leadership posts. We've had expensive referendums on three strikes, prisons, schools and roads. The state has also been bound by "no new taxes" promises and allowed legislators to draw their own districts along unyielding, partisan lines. In this atmosphere, California public policy has been defined largely by what people are against, like waste, the dominance of special interests and crime — politics driven by anger and resentment. In the process, we the people have made something of a mess.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's dazzling success in mobilizing political and public support for the bond and cap measures should not blind the state to the size of our mess or the size of the task that remains. California is still divided, broke, vulnerable to annual fiscal gridlocks, unable to adequately fund schools or provide for indigent children and the elderly and paying for a half-baked energy deregulation scheme. All the while, air quality is getting worse. … And the water? No one is even talking about the water.

The one thing he doesn't mention is that laws passed by statewide initiative or referendum cannot be amended by the legislature. They have to be changed by another statewide vote. Or by the courts, as many of them are, which is also a bad way to make law.

California Politics: March 2 Presidential primary

The front-loaded Democratic primary process is one more making the primary in California, the state with the most electoral votes, more-or-less and non-event. John Kerry is expected to best John Edwards by a substantial margin. But the only story expected is the margin of Kerry's win. Ohio will likely be more interesting to see how Edwards' emphasis on industrial job losses plays in competition with Kerry.

But, as Marc Sandalow points out in the San Francisco Chronicle, "a strong showing by Kerry [in California] would provide the Massachusetts senator a nearly insurmountable delegate lead." In other words, Kerry is within shouting distance of clinching the nomination.

California moved its primary forward to enhance the state's clout in both parties' nominating process. But other states had the same idea already. And one effect of the "front-loading" (early scheduling) of some many primaries has been to increase the need for massive fund-raising in the Presidential races. Thirty years ago, when the primaries were more spread out in time, insurgent candidates had more of a chance to establish themselves in the early primaries and then have more time to raise money for the later primaries.

Jim Costa, the former state senator who led the drive for an earlier California primary, is still not satisfied with the result. He says, "We have the potential to be the 800-pound gorilla, but we have never flexed our muscle to the extent we could. We have to look at making further changes to create greater opportunities for California voters to exercise their choice."

In the same article, Los Angeles City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa suggests that moving the California primary back to May might actually increase the state's clout in the process. And state Democratic party chairman Art Torres complains that some issues of particular concern to California are getting short shrift in the Democratic primaries: "There's been no debate on illegal immigration, water, environmental safeguards, coastal protection or air quality. They haven't discussed these issues because it's been a national campaign, and that is a tragedy."

Saturday, February 28, 2004

More on Nader's cult allies

Also via the Orcinus link mentioned in the last post, I read this excellent description by a therapist who described the Newman cult's efforts to recruit her.

It's unusually good in a number of ways. It gives an excellent description of a particularly sophisticated cult recruiting technique. It's a good reminder that cults today recruit not only spaced-out college students. It shows the cult's "niche marketing" technique, that succeeds in recruiting even people well-trained in psychological techniques. It's a reminder that cults are not necessarily religious at all; this particular cult is a political cult that also uses psychology and theater to recruit members. And it shows how cults have a particular focus on recruiting - and they're good at it.

The whole piece is well worth reading. This paragraph is a good sample (my emphasis):

Anyone who is seriously working with these people or doing therapy with them should read the materials available on the web, read about other similar groups on various cult web sites, and get a second opinion.  If something happening with your therapist doesn't feel right, then it probably isn't.  What I learned from this, as a smart, critical adult woman, however, is that anyone can be duped.  If you find an instant community, with wonderful new friends who care about you, and "speak the same language," take a second look at who you are dealing with.  Friends and community take time to build, and anyone who thinks they have the "right way" may not be quite so pleasing once they have your heart and soul.

She uses the psychological theories of Robert Jay Lifton in her explanation, and she mentions him by name.

Yo! Ralph! What are you doing, dude?

LA Weekly has a sad, disturbing and a little bit alarming article on Ralph Nader. Mostly sad, because this is a terrible way for him to flame out in his career, which has contributed far more to the public good than most politicians ever came close to achieving: Ralph's Dark Side by Doug Ireland (02/27-03/04/04 edition):

Ireland, previously an admirer of Nader, is concerned about his pulling votes from John Kerry in the Presidential election. But there's also this:

Worse, Nader has now jumped into bed with the ultrasectarian cult-racket formerly known as the New Alliance Party and its guru, Fred Newman: Ralph was the star attraction at a January conference of “independents” that was just a front for the Newmanite crazies. By rejecting the Greens’ ballot line, Nader will have huge difficulties getting his name on the ballot. So he went shopping for help in ballot access from the Newmanites. The New York Times reported Nader says he’ll “link up” with existing “independent” parties in New York and elsewhere — which can only mean the Newmanites (who control New York’s Independence Party and similar remnants of the Reform Party in many states).

This cult is the antithesis of every value Nader holds dear. A Maoist grouplet in the ’70s, the Newmanites morphed into supporters of Pat Buchanan in the Hitler-coddling commentator’s 2000 takeover of the Reform Party. Newman recruits and controls his followers through a brainwashing scheme baptized “social therapy,” designed to create blind allegiance to Newman. He has frequently dipped his rhetoric in the poisonous blood-libel of anti-Semitism, denouncing Jews as “storm troopers of decadent capitalism.” By French-kissing the cultists to get on the ballot, Nader has allowed himself to be used as bait to lure the unsuspecting into the Newmanite orbit, where they risk being sucked into the cult. That’s a betrayal of the many young people to whom Nader is still a hero. And an acid commentary on Nader’s judgment.

Link via David Neiwert at Orcinus, who says that with this alliance, Nader has become "a right-wing tool and a wacko in his own right." Very sad.

Friday, February 27, 2004

A Must-Read Blog Entry on Gay Marriage

Ron Nantz of the AOL Journal Think It Over has a moving and thought-provoking three-part post about his thoughts on the gay marriage issue which begins at this link.

I won't even try to summarize it. Just go read it.

George H.W. Bush's 1993 trip to Kuwait

Molly Ivins also discusses Old Man Bush's trip to Kuwait in 1993 (see previous post), but from a different perspective. In Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America (2003), she describes the trip as part of the Bush dynasty's service to Enron:

After Poppy bush left the White House, he could no longer use the diplomatic corps as Enron capos, so he resorted to a more direct approach. In April 1993 the emire of Kuwait sent a Kuwait Airlines plane to pick up Bush and his entourage. The elder Bush wasn't quite three months into retirement. He was traveling to Kuwait to accept that nation's higest award for his role in liberating the Kuwaitis from Saddam Hussein. James Baker III [the Bush family fixer and former Secretary of State] and retired lieutenant general Thomas Kelly tagged along on an Enron sales junket that could earn them hundreds of thousands of dollars - and hundreds of millions for Enron.

The disgraceful account of Baker and Kelly turning a quick buck on the blood of American soldiers who died in the Gulf War was laid out by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker. Baker III was cavalier in his reponse to Hersh's questions. His spokesperson said her boss was doing business on behalf of America. Kelly was more blunt. "This is a full-time job. I've worked my ass off learning all I could about it. ... The fact that I was in the [Gulf] War doesn't cut any slack at all." He added that he and Baker were "meticulous in not meeting with anybody until Bush left." ...

[Dubya's brothers] Neil and Marvin Bush also made the Kuwaiti trip with Poppy. Marvin was selling electric security fences. Neil came home with his parents but returned a few weeks later, hoping to persuade Kuwait's Ministry of Electricity to cut him in on any management fees Enron would earn running Kuwait's reconstructed power plants.

Crony capitalism, Bush Dynasty style. War and the oil bitness. Who cares if there were any "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq in 2003? The family bitness must go on, just like Daddy did it. Baker, at last report, was trying to renegotiate Iraq's foreign debt.

Iraq War: An historical footnote

Those who followed the buildup to the Iraq War may remember an incident from 1993 that was often mentioned as the last known terrorist incident sponsored by Iraq and directed specifically at Americans. Gerald Posner in Why America Slept (2003) describes it this way:

On April 10, 1993, agents of the Iraqi Intelligence Service handed the keys of a Toyota Land Cruiser that was packed with plastic explosives to a specially recruited team. On April 13, under cover of darkness, these operatives began a secret trek across the southern Iraqi desert toward the Kuwaiti frontier. Their target was the just retired ex-president, George Bush, who was arriving with his family in Kuwait for a triumphant tour of the liberated land. On the day Bush was due to arrive, the Kuwaitis intercepted the explosive-laden Land Cruiser and rounded up the conspirators.

After the FBI and the CIA investigated the evidence, they convinced President Clinton that the plot was indeed aimed at Bush. As retaliation, Clinton ordered 23 cruise missiles fired at an Iraqi intelligence complex in Baghdad.

I was reminded of that incident when I read the following sentence in Israeli historian Benny Morris' Righteous Victims (1999): "In 1992 the IDF [Israeli Defense Force] reportedly began planning a commando raid aiming to assassinate Saddam, but it was aborted when, during a dress rehersal, a missile accidentally killed six men."

It would be interesting to know if Iraq got wind of that Israeli plan, and if that played a role in the planned attempt on George H.W. Bush's life.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

New Movies for Mel (2 of 2)

His audiences might get tired of sadomasochistic blood feasts that only had men torturing and murdering other men, though. So he could do the rape of Dinah, followed by Simeon and Levi bringing their men to kill all the men of the city of Shechem. (Genesis 34) Graphic sex and copious gore, with a Biblical theme to make it okay for fundamentalist churches to promote it.

Then to work the hetero S&M religious market, he could do the story of the crime of Gibeah (Judges 19), where the sex and the violence are all men against a concubine. If that's not enough for two hours of a film, he could do the subsequent war between the tribe of Benjamin and the other tribes of Israel, with lots of killing of men and women and kidnapping of beautiful virgins and such.

And if he exhausts the Bible in his hunt for religious-themed porno flicks, he could start on the ancient Egyptian myths. I mean, Set dismembered Osiris every year. Think of what Mel could do with that one!

The big problem for Mel in milking those Old Testament stories, though, is that, gosh, they're all so pro-Jewish! What fun would that be for him? And how would he market the things?

New Movies for Mel (1 of 2)

Mel's thinking about future Biblical film projects, it appears:

As for what he'll do after resting a while in his hammock, Gibson hinted there were myriad other stories in the Bible that deserve celluloid treatment.

"There are good stories in that book --- it's worth looking into them."

Oh, the possibilities. What could he do for his next story? Keeping with the blood-and-gore spattering, he could go for the story of Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem, in the days of King Hezekiah around the end of the 8th century BCE. The Assyrian army is turned back from the walls of Jerusalem when "the angel of the Lord went forth" and killed 185,000 Assyrians in one night (2 Kings 19:35)

Now, some scholars think it may have been a plague that hit the Assyrian army. (There was an Egyptian source that supports the story of the Assyrians having a diasaster.) But the Biblical text doesn't exactly say that, so Gibson could claim that he was being "accurate" to the Biblical account if he had the angel hack up all 185,000 Assyrians with a sword. He could make it especially authentic by showing the angel slicing and dicing each one individually. And, of course, he would have to dress up the killer angel with Star of David armor or something to make sure everyone knew it was a Jewish angel.

Mel's into those graphic death scenes. Remember Braveheart? Actually, he could do a whole series of movies on the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests in Canaan, with graphic battle scenes, leveling of villages, ethnic cleansing, and so on. But that would be a problem for Mel. Those movies would have "the Jews" as victims.

Richard Perle gone from Defense Policy Board

Richard Perle has resigned his position on the Defense Policy Board that he once headed, which ends his formal role as an official adviser to the Pentagon.

There were a number of reasons why the hawkish neoconservative whose admirers nicknamed him "the Prince of Darkness" might have felt pressured to resign. Nick Confessore at the American Prospect's Weblog TAPPED, which has been on Perle's case for a long time, lists a number of them: You Won't Have Richard Perle To Kick Around Any More 02/26/04.

A couple of my favorites (Confessore ironically frames them as questions):

Your paid speaking gig at a fundraiser linked to Mujahedin-e Khalq, an Iranian rebel group officially listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization? ...

Your decision to invite Laurent Murawiec, a former disciple of Lyndon LaRouche who favors seizing Saudi Arabia's oil fields, to address the Defense Policy Board?

And he links to this earlier TAPPED post from 2002: There He Goes Again 11/21/02.

Last month, Richard Perle, chairman of a Pentagon civilian advisory board, told Gerhard Schroeder, chancellor of Germany, that Schroeder should resign his position for opposing war in Iraq. Now, according to the London Mirror, Perle is telling the British parliament that the U.S. will invade Iraq even if weapons inspectors give Saddam Hussein a "clean bill of health." What's funny is that this is what liberals who oppose the war -- and who have read Jay Bookman's excellent article on Perle & Co.'s vision for American hegemony -- have suspected all along. What is this man doing talking to British MPs?

More Articles on *The Passion*

The Passion is at least producing an interesting set of articles on the broad issues it raises.  Like the following:

The Real Problem with "Passion" by Amy-Jill Levine, on On the scholarly discussion over the film. She points to some troubling aspects of Gibson's behavior prior to the movie's release.

Gibson's Gospel by James Shapiro, on  The author of a book on the famous passion play at Oberammergau, Germany, discusses Gibson's movie in the context of the controversies over passion plays.

The Passion of Christ in the World Religions (02/26/04) by Juan Cole discusses some eceumenical issues surrounding the film:

Interestingly, the Koran, the holy book of Islam, denies that the Jews were responsible for Jesus's death (4:154-159). It appears that some Jews of the ancient Arabian city of Medinah were disappointed when they learned that the Prophet Muhammad had accepted Jesus as a prophet of God, and had put this decision down by observing that he wasn't much of a prophet if the Jews had managed to kill him. The Koran replies to this boast (surely by some jerk in the Medinan Jewish quarter) by saying, "They did not kill him, and they did not crucify him, it only appeared to them so." What exactly the Koran meant by this phrase has been debated ever since. A lot of Muslims have adopted the rather absurd belief that Jesus was not crucified, but rather a body double took his place. (This is like something out of the fiction of Argentinean fabulist Jorge Luis Borges). Those Muslims who accepted Jesus' death on the cross (and nothing else in the Koran denies it) interpret the verse as saying it was God's will that Jesus be sacrificed, and so it was not the Jews' doing. Any way you look at it, though, the Koran explicitly relieves Jews of any responsibility for Jesus' crucifixion and death. In this it displays a more admirable sentiment than some passages of the Gospels, and certainly than the bizarre far-rightwing Catholic cult in which Mel Gibson was raised, which appears to involve Holocaust denial, and which deeply influenced his sanguinary film.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

California Politics: Schwarzenegger and Gay Marriage (7 of 7)

What are the Dems thinking? The Republican Party just pulled a political coup, people! They ousted a Democratic governor that had been elected less than a year earlier without even the pretense of claiming official misconduct. They need to snap out of this kiss-up-to-Schwarzenegger nonsense, and soon.

He's raising money hand-over-fist. Pay to play, already even more blatantly so that Gray Davis ever did. But in the first civil-rights issue in which he's called on to provide leadership, what does he do? He lies about riots and uses reckless and panicky language to describe the situation.

Here are a few other good links on Schwarzenegger's demogoguery on gay marriage:

Tom Meyer cartoon San Francisco Chronicle 02/25/04
David Neiwert, White Riot? 02/23/04
Billmon, Authority Figures 02/25/04

California Politics: Schwarzenegger and Gay Marriage (6 of 7)

The only strong talent he's shown so far is record fundraising: Governor gets big bucks for key bond drive: $800,000 raised in New York and Viriginia San Francisco Chronicle 02/25/04. Why is California's governor raising $800 thousand in New York and Virginia to spend on a California state ballot proposition? It's questions like that the press should be pursuing rather than fretting about whether his style with tame "bulldog" Timmy Russert was too narcissistic.

But the large campaign contributions fueled charges by critics that Schwarzenegger is reneging on his promise to reduce the influence of special interest money in Sacramento. The East Coast fund-raising tour came just days after the governor proposed to bar contributions to state officials while lawmakers craft the budget.

Donors to a Manhattan fund-raising dinner Tuesday night were initially asked to give as much $500,000 for a 10-seat table. The price tag drew criticism from campaign finance groups, but a campaign spokesman said most donors gave $10,000 to $25,000 to attend.

The Greenlining Institute, a San Francisco-based public interest group, issued an open letter to Schwarzenegger on Tuesday criticizing him for raising $6.4 million from special interests over four months, saying it was 50 percent more than former Gov. Gray Davis had raised during his first four months in office.

Just how is Schwarzenegger's approach different from the Halliburton crony capitalism that dominates the national Republican Party? Hey, look, over there!!! - Arnie used another cute movie metaphor in his speech!

And it's not just the press that is being feckless about this new, inexperienced governor with what looks suspiciously like an authoritarian streak. The Democrats, as this article points out, have been cheerfully willing to accomodate Schwarzenegger on a number of things. I'm actually surprised at this - unpleasantly so.

California Politics: Schwarzenegger and Gay Marriage (5 of 7)

The "bulldog" Russert did question Schwarzenegger about his trying to order the Attorney General - who is elected separately and does not report to the governor - to take action. But that old bulldog is mighty tame when he's interviewing Republicans, just as Bob Somerby says. Russert did not question him about whether his meaningless order to the AG represented one more basic misunderstanding about how California state government works.

And the bulldog didn't challenge Schwarzenegger's blatant factual misstatement about "riots."

Schwarznegger's case of the big-head also concerned the editors at the Sacramento Bee - but apparently not his ridiculous "riot" claim.

His real topic [on "Meet the Press"] was one he seems to find endlessly fascinating: himself.

It's too soon to say whether the subject will wear well with Californians, much less with the rest of the nation. But look on the bright side. When Schwarzenegger is talking about himself, at least he's expounding on a topic he knows something about.

But we shouldn't lose sight of what Schwarzenegger did here by lying about riots and speaking in a way that could well be misconstrued by the unstable and fanatical to actually be encouraging violence. This was not Schwarzenegger being a cute Hollywood star. It was not the governor displaying excessive self-absorption, which seemed to be all that worried the Sacramento Bee.

This was Schwarzenegger showing an ugly, mean, demagogical and dishonest side of himself. The political press is not doing the public any favors by continuing to cover him as though they were doing puff pieces for People magazine. The man knows very little about state government. He's arrogant and makes reckless and irresponsible promises.

California Politics: Schwarzenegger and Gay Marriage (4 of 7)

The San Francisco Chronicle (02/24/04) in an editorial also criticized Schwarzenegger for using inflammatory rhetoric which cold incite some of the more unstable anti-gay militants to reckless action:

GOV. ARNOLD Schwarzenegger needs to calm his rhetoric about same-sex marriage. To suggest there will be riots in the streets if same-sex wedding ceremonies continue at San Francisco City Hall is not only reckless and out of touch with reality -- it can even be dangerous. ...

But his overheated comments on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday were simply out of line for a governor of the nation's largest state. ...

Schwarzenegger should recognize a leader's role in setting the tone for public reaction to events with the potential to elicit strong emotions by tapping into deeply held convictions on both sides. To promote calm and reason, a governor should exude calm and reason.

The criticism is appropriate. It was in the same City Hall where the weddings are taking place that the anti-gay fanatic Dan White in 1978  gunned down gay supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Schwarzenegger isn't just a movie star promoting himself any longer. The Governor of California - and the top Republican Party official in the state - needs to think before he ad-libs about violence.

The Chronicle editorial also pointed up Schwarzenegger's arraogance - and authoritiarian streak? - which was also on display on Meet the Press:

On Friday, Schwarzenegger fired off a letter to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, ordering the state's top lawyer "to take immediate steps" to halt San Francisco's sanctioning of same-sex marriage. The governor's move was not only absurd from a constitutional standpoint -- as an elected statewide officer, Lockyer does not work at the whim of a governor -- it had an unnecessary air of panic. Schwarzenegger warned Lockyer of an "imminent risk to civil order."

California Politics: Schwarzenegger and Gay Marriage (3 of 7)

More seriously, Schwarzenegger lied about seeing riots. There haven't been any riots. Here's where Democratic politicians are being too timid. Not wanting to "get ahead of the voters" (in this case, that means not wanting to do what they know is right because they might have to actually lead a bit), Democratic poiticians seem to be hesitant about calling Schwarzenegger a liar on something like this.

But Mayor Newsom, to his credit, called him on it:

"There have been no riots to my knowledge, and I've been here firsthand to witness the civility of this process,'' Newsom said, responding to remarks by Schwarzenegger a day earlier that San Francisco's same-sex weddings, if not halted, could spark possibly deadly violence.

"The process has gone extraordinarily well when you consider that literally thousands and thousands of people are coming to City Hall from around the world,'' Newsom said. "We have had no significant incidents whatsoever.''

Newsom invited Schwarzenegger to come to San Francisco to see the process for himself. But instead, so far all he's done is send out a spokesperson to defend his false claim:

The governor, who was in Washington, D.C., Monday, was not available for comment. But a spokeswoman, Terri Carbaugh, said she knows of no plans by Schwarzenegger to take Newsom up on his offer -- an offer they had heard of only through a reporter.

The governor's fear of violence and civil unrest, Carbaugh said, emanated from press accounts Friday of police removing a handful of protesters opposed to same-sex marriage from San Francisco City Hall. The demonstration, though temporarily disruptive, was peaceful.

Carbaugh said the governor doesn't want the emotionally charged issue now playing out in San Francisco to put public safety at risk.

California Politics: Schwarzenegger and Gay Marriage (2 of 7)

Continuing with Schwarzenegger and Russert on Meet the Press:

But you know, I felt very strongly that it has to be done now, because it started out as a little thing, so I didn't say anything at the beginning.  Then it got to be a bigger issue and a bigger issue, and then yesterday, when I was in San Francisco for the Republican convention, all of a sudden we see riots and we see protests and we see people clashing.  The next thing we know is there are injured or there are dead people, and we don't want to have that.  We don't want to get to that extent, so we want to resolve it, and that's what leadership is all about is let's solve the problems, and then let's go to court and the court can make this decisions.

MR. RUSSERT:  If need be, would you call out the California State Police to arrest city officials in order to stop them from doing this?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  I don't think there will be a need for that, Tim.  I think that it will be resolved.  I think we have a great attorney general, Bill Lockyer, and I think that he will take care of it.  I think that we have a good system here, a good communication also between the mayor's office and my office.  I've talked to the mayor.  He's a reasonable guy.  He's a terrific mayor, but we just disagree on that particular thing.

This is worth breaking down a bit. The gay marriages themselves are a form of civil disobedience, in this case condoned by Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, who is consciously setting up a court challenge based on what he calls the contradiction between the state constitution's guarantee of equal rights and the law prohibiting gay marriage.

Gov. Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, not only criticizes him for doing it. He goes on national television and compares this to issuing licenses for assault weapons or for selling drugs. Look at the wedding photos from San Francisco. Do any of those people look like victims of an Uzi attack?

California Politics: Schwarzenegger and Gay Marriage (1 of 7)

The California media seem mostly content for now to carry on their star treatment of Gov. Schwarzenegger. To the detriment of the voters and the quality of government.

One very disturbing event this week should not go unnoticed. Schwarzenegger was last Sunday's (02/22/04) guest on NBC News' Meet the Press, interviewed by Tim Russert. Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler calls Russert "the bulldog who died," because his alleged bulldog style of aggressive interviewing seems to be reserved only for Democrats these days.

I'm going to quote at some length what Schwarzenegger had to say about the gay marriages taking place in San Francisco (my emphasis):

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you what is happening in the second-largest city in California.  These are thousands of Californians lined up in San Francisco being married against the law... by city officials.  How can you as governor tolerate the breaking of the law?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Well, I don't.  As you know, I'm very much against that. I believe very strongly in domestic partnership rights.  I was all for-all throughout my campaign, I spoke out for it, but at the same time, we have also a law that says that we do not accept, you know, same-sex marriages which was passed by the people, Proposition 22, and so that is the law.  So we cannot have, all of a sudden now, mayors go and hand out licenses for various different things.  If it is--you know, in San Francisco, it's the license for marriage of same sex.  Maybe the next thing is another city that hands out licenses for assault weapons.  And someone else hands out licenses for selling drugs.  I mean, we can't do that.  We have to stay within the law.  There's a state law that says specific things, and if you want to challenge those laws, then you can go to the court and you can either challenge it there and let this neutral party, someone that can interpret the law, if there's a dispute of it, make the decision.  And I think this is all a legal matter now, and I directed Attorney General Bill Lockyer and said, you know, that he should now take care of this problem.

Pepsi has Britney, Quiznos has the spongmonkeys

Justcherie at Who cares what I think? was ahead of the curve on the Quiznos spongmonkeys: Strangest Thing I've Ever Seen.

Quiznos has two commercials featuring the spongmonkeys, who look like experiments in genetically modifying hamsters that went terribly wrong:

Coupon spot

We love the subs spot

Now Seth Stevenson at Slate explains The Creatures from the Sandwich Shop. He's even found them in an earlier, pre-commerical incarnation! (We Like the Moon)

But careful readers of the comments on Justcherie's post already knew about the earlier version.

And, remember: They got a pepper bar!

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Afghan War: Nation-Building, Bush and Rummy Style

Well, the Afghan government is trying to extend its reach beyond Kabul:

[Afghan President] Karzai's calls for a law-abiding, multiethnic government appear to enjoy wide popular support across Afghanistan, but he has no national army to enforce his orders. Early opposition in Washington stymied his repeated requests that an international peacekeeping force be expanded beyond Kabul.

Militia leaders still rule large swaths of the country as their personal fiefs, using customs duties, local taxes and in some cases opium trafficking to raise their own armies.

Aid groups have complained that the sway of those leaders has been bolstered by a Pentagon policy of hiring warlord's soldiers to aid U.S. forces in the hunt for the remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Oh, wait, that was in November of 2002. How are things going now? Well, warlords still control most of the country and the Taliban has been having a violent resurgence in the Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan. The Pashtun are the largest of Afghanistan's ethnic/tribal groups:

Two facts seem incontrovertible. One is that the violence has increased in almost direct proportion to the efforts of the 11,000 American troops who are in southern and eastern Afghanistan, trying to "eliminate al-Qaida". Careless bombing and heavy-handed US tactics by ground troops when they search villages are making more enemies than friends.

The other is that, fairly or not, a large number of Pashtun still feel they lost out when the Taliban regime collapsed.

Oh, and we've haven't gotten Bin Laden "dead-or-alive" yet, as the President promised. But the 11,000 US soldiers publicly acknowledged to be in Afghanistan (more than during the war we "won") are trying to prevent al-Qaeda from making profits from Afghanistan's thriving opium traffic.

Afghan War: Didn't We Win This One Already?

We're hearing about a new push in the spring to find Osama bin Laden, presumably hiding somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan.  Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the "national" government barely controls the capital city of Kabul, and that''s only with the muscle of a NATO force to help them. Now, the pretence that they can have meaningful national elections this year is falling apart. Insecurity threatens Afghan vote Christian Science Monitor 12/31/03:

Mandated by the UN-sponsored peace talks in Bonn to take place by June 2004, Afghan national elections now may be postponed until September at the earliest. And a growing number of diplomats, academics, and aid groups say that democracy may be coming too fast.

The problem, these critics say, is that two years after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan remains volatile. Across the country, progovernment militia commanders retain the ability to intimidate or influence voters in their regions. In the south, Taliban remnants make it unsafe to send registrars into a vast area dominated by the nation's largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns. No election is perfect, these critics say, but if a large number of Afghans see the upcoming vote as illegitimate, the country could fall back into violent instability, even civil war.

And prospects haven't improved in the two months since that article: Democratic Deficit Guardian (UK) 02/24/04.

As in Iraq, hopes of timely democratic elections are fading in Afghanistan. ...

Afghanistan has been experiencing the worst upsurge in violence since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001; over 550 people have died since August. Recent suicide bombings, a phenomenon previously unknown in Afghanistan, have underscored the threat. British and Canadian peacekeepers were among the victims last month.

The problems in "nation-building" in Afghanistan have unfortunately been a foreshadowing of the problems of the US occupation in Iraq.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Just In Time for Her Concert Tour

Now here's some interesting news! Britney is going celibate for a while. Little Boo is feeling bad after she slipped up and slept with Justin Timberlake that time. And the frivolous Yankee press has of course been saying all sorts of mean things about her as usual. But she just keeps on doing what she has to:

A friend of Britney's says, "The last month has brought on this huge realization for Britney. She's in a mess, but she's trying as hard as she can to sort it all out.

"She has now decided to stay celibate for a while and to start going to church regularly. She is also seeing two counselors. She knows she had to do this to get her life back in order.

"That wedding was not what a good Christian would have done and Britney knew it. Straight after the incident her mother Lynne bought her the book "Conversations With God," which made her realize just how inappropriate her behavior was."

Well, the Yankee press always gets it wrong. Boo was reading Conversations With God years ago. But she's has been rededicating her life to the Lord, which is what Baptists do when they "backslide." But between her Baptist church visits, her devotion to Hasidic spirituality and her intense interest in semiconductor physics, I'm sure she'll be able to keep her karmic balance.

(No, those rumors about me being the secret identity of Fred Durst are not true! And, of course, neither were all those nasty things he said about poor Britney.)

California Politics: March 2 Elections (2)

In other words, if it fails it would be a real embarassment for Schwarzenegger and a major setback for his intention to pressure the legislature by constantly campaigning for initiatives to get his programs passed. But getting these two propositions passed aren't much of a test of his ability to repeat it in the future.

It's telling that Schwarzenegger did not support Prop 56, which the Times poll shows losing 46%-39%. It would reduce the current two-thirds vote requirement in the legislature that gives the Republican minority the ability to block passage of the budget. That would have been a meaningful reform to strat cleaning up California state government's disastrous structural problems. It would have also been a serious test of his leadership.

But Schwarzenegger is showing leadership in one area. Or at least setting a new record (my emphasis):

Schwarzenegger has taken fire for his budget cuts to health and human services programs and his handling of the state's prisons. Others are digging into Schwarzenegger for his fund raising. The governor has raised $10.9 million since taking office, a record amount.

"It certainly conflicts with the impression he gave the electorate as a candidate that he would end politics as usual," said Jim Knox, president of California Common Cause.

Schwarzenegger's idea of constantly campaigning for new initiatives means that his fund-raising needs will be unprecedented. This is one of the main ways in which California's nominally very democratic initiative system, a legacy of the Progressive Era of a century ago, can actually undermine democracy in important ways. Schwarzenegger's initiative strategy will make him more intensely dependent on special-interest money than Gray Davis ever was.

California Politics: March 2 Elections (1)

I agree with Kevin Drum's observation from southern California that the statewide election next week has been a remarkably low-key event. I've experienced the same thing in northern California. Although the level of political commercials seem to have picked up considerably this past weekend.

Tuesday's Los Angeles Times has the results of a poll sponsored by the paper. John Kerry is leading John Edwards in the Democratic primary 56% to 28%.

In a good sign for Gov. Schwarzenegger, the two main initiatives he's sponsoring are showing strong support. The most critical one for him is Proposition 57, his $15 billion bond issue. It refinances some current debt, but it also helps cover operating deficits for the 2003-4 fiscal year and for 2004-5, as well. It's leading 51% to 34%, with a hefty 15% still undecided.

I'm a little puzzled by that, though. Kevin Drum's post linked above cites two polls from a few days ago showing it with less than 40% support.

Schwarzenegger's other initiative is Prop 58, which requires the legislature to balance the annual operating budget without the kind of borrowing Schwarzenegger's own budget proposals use, in effect eliminating the need for future Prop 57's. It also puts requirements in place for a "rainy day reserve" during good years.

It's no great sign of Schwarzenegger's leadership if these two pass. Most leading Democrats rather timidly endorsed Prop 57. The LA Times poll does indicate that Schwarzenegger's commercial the last few days were influential, especially with Republicans. But the practical alternative if Prop 57 fails would be even sharper immediate cuts in services and some kind of tax/fee increases. Schwarzenegger the great budget savior couldn't even propose a balanced budget for 2004-5 that didn't rely on billions of borrowed money in Prop 57.

10 Random Songs

John Scalzi suggested a pointless but fun exercise, which is to run your computer music jukebox - in my case Windows Media Player - on random and write down the first 10 songs that play. Since I'd never really tried to do that, I figured it was worth a try.  Here are the first 10 that came up:

Juanes, "Es Por Ti"
Lucinda Williams, "Goin' Back Home"
Linda Ronstadt, "Gritenme Piedras del Campo"
Maná, "Nada Que Perder"
Lucinda Williams, "Little Angel, Little Brother"
Townes Van Zandt, "To Live Is To Fly"
Townes Van Zandt, "Cocaine Blues"
Juanes, "Un Día Normal"
Las Ketchup, "The Ketchup Song (Hey Hah) [Spanglish Version]"
Emmylou Harris, "You're Learning"

So what does this tell me?

That I need to record more Merle Haggard and Jimmie Rodgers onto my computer.

Bruce Miller Interview?

Yeah, but it's not me.

It's worth checking out, though: BuzzFlash interview: Bruce Miller
Editor of Take Them At Their Words: Shocking, Amusing and Baffling Quotations from the G.O.P. and Their Friends, 1994-2004

Tax Talk on AOL Journals

There's a multi-blog dialogue on taxes going on among several of the AOL Journals. Progressive Musings has a 10-post series on the topic starting here: Taxes (Part 1). I'm glad to see I'm not the only one impatient for the expanded character limit to take effect!

He refers us to entries at Think It Over (How Much Is Enough?) and Tank Gurl (I want My Money Back part One [of 3]). Tank Gurl is one of the blog currently featured at the AOL Election Sideshow Page.

This discussion reminded me of a comment I saw from the economist John Kenneth Galbraith years ago. He noted that every few years, reporters go out to find out what people are thinking about taxes. They then make the surprising discovery that people of means would prefer not to pay taxes! Then we get reports about a new "tax revolt" brewing out there in the hinterlands.

During Clinton's Presidency, he held back from major new initiatives in social spending (at least after his major overhaul of health-care financing was rejected) in favor of bringing the budget into balance and pay down the debt.

But after putting the federal government on a very sound fiscal basis, the Bush II Administration came in with a Republican Congress, blew out the projected surpluses and ran up huge deficits, mainly through huge taxes subsidies to the wealthiest but also by runaway pork-barrel spending.

A Kerry Administration couldn't afford (literally) to continue the Bush mega-deficits. But would Kerry want to repeat the Clinton experience of making years of difficult choices to bring the budget into balance only to have a later Republican administration come in and fritter it away on tax cuts for those who least need them?

I'm tempted to think the deficit goal for a Democratic Administration should be to hand the next Republican administration exactly the same level of deficits Bush leaves in January of 2005.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Christianity and *The Passion* (5)

Hans Kueng, who is probably the leading living Christian theolgian today, emphasizes that the crucifixion of Jesus should not be seen as the death of a suffering God. As he explains in Credo (1992) [I'm translating here from the German original]:

A paradox, but not a contradiction, and one which is important for the Jewish-Christian dialogue: On the cross of Jesus Christ - as the New Testament hold along the lines of the Old against all Gnostic-Kabbalistic speculations - is not simply God as such crucified: the God, ho theόs, Deus pater omnipotens (and obviously certainly not God's Holy Spirit). How otherwise could the crucified one have cried out to God in his abandonment by God: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mk 15:34)

Kueng stresses that the crucified Jesus is a "symbol of the mortal anguish of suffering human beings." And that suffering can be understood in the light of traditions preserved in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament): a prophet commissioned by God but persecuted by humanity; a servant of God who suffers for the sins of others; and, the lamb sacrificed for the sins of humanity.

He says that Jewish theologians are right to protest against a "cruel, sadistic image of God, according to which a God greedy for blood demanded the sacrifice of His own Son." He summarizes the message of the Christian Scriptures on the Resurrection by quoting St. Paul: "For [Christ] was crucified in his weakness, but he lives by the power of God." (2 Cor 13:4)

He understands this as showing God's presence and solidarity for men and women who suffer. But for Kueng as for the great Protestant theologian Karl Barth, this understanding is also a challenge for faith in God, which Küng frames as the question: Was God also present in the hell of Auschwitz?

Christianity and *The Passion* (4)

Another liberation theologian, Leonardo Boff of Brazil, in his 1972 Jesus Christ, Liberator also emphasized that the Christian theological understanding of Jesus' death is inseperable from the Resurrection:

The universal meaning of the life and death of Christ, therefore, is that he sustained the fundamental conflict of human existence to the end: He wanted to realize the absolute meaning of this world before God, in spite of hate, incomprehension, betrayal, and condemnation to death. For Jesus, evil does not exist in order to comprehended, but to be taken over and conquered by love. This comportment of Jesus opened up a new possibility for human existence, i.e., an existence of faith with absolute meaning, even when confronted with the absurd, as was his own death - caused by hate for one who only loved and only sought to do good among people. Hence, [Dietrich] Bonhoeffer can say that a Christian today is called to live this weakness of God in the world. "Jesus does not call us to a new religion. Jesus calls us to life. What sort of life? To participate in the weakness of God in the world." This kind of life is a new life and triumphs where all ideologies and human speculations fail, i.e., in despair, in unmerited suffering, in injustice, in violent death.

Is there meaning in all this? Yes. But only when taken on before God, in love and hope that goes beyond eath. To believe in this manner is to believe with Jesus who believed. To follow him is to realize the same comportment within our own conditions of life that are no longer his. The resurrection reveals in all its profundity that to believe and persevere in the absurd and meaningless is not without meaning.

Christianity and *The Passion* (3)

But the Christian theological meaning of Jesus' crucifixion cannot be understood solely as a statement of solidarity with suffering humanity. It receives it's theological meaning only in connection with the Resurrection. Again from Jon Sobrino:

We must not foreget that that before being the cross - the language to which we are accustomed - Jesus' cross is a cross, one among so many carried before and after Jesus. We must not forget that there are millions of persons in the world who do not simply die, but, in various ways, die as Jesus died, at the hands of "pagans," at the hands of the modern idolaters of national security or of wealth. Many men and women really die, crucified, murdered, tortured to death, or "disappeared," for justice's sake. Many other millions die a slow crucifixion caused by structural injustice. Entire peoples today are transformed into trash and offal by the appetites of other men and women, peoples without face or comeliness, like the crucified one. Unforunately this is not metaphor, but daily reality. From a quantitative viewpoint, what lends credibility to Jesus' resurrection today is that it can be the hope of the immense masses of humanity.

Christianity and *The Passion* (2)

Within the varieties of the Christian religion, there are a vast range of interpretations and emphases among the various elements of the faith. But it's worth remembering in the discussion over The Passion that the central event for Chrisitian theology is the Resurrection, just as the Exodus is the central event for Jewish theology.

The Resurrection is a statement that the love of God survives even death, that God is a God of renewal and new beginnings, who affirms life and hope in the face of despair.

In the early centuries of Christian theology, the crucifixion as such was not emphasized as it came to be later. The earliest known depiction of Jesus on the cross is a hostile caricature in the Imperial residence in Rome from the 3rd century. It shows a man bowing before a crucified man with the head of an ass. The caption affixed to it says, "Alexamenos prays to his god."

After Constantine adopted Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire, the cross began to be used more commonly as a symbol for Christianity. But, according to the Christian theologian Hans Küng, it was the influence of mystical visionaries like Bernhard of Clairveaux (1090-1153) and Francis of Assisi (1181/2-1226) that first made the images of the suffering Jesus in the passion widely popular.

The idea that Jesus identified with the suffering and the persecuted has proved to be a powerful inspiration for change in Christianity. The Jesuit "liberation theologian" Jon Sobrino of El Salvador wrote in 1982 (from Jon Sobrino, Jesus in Latin America):

In the human race today - and certainly where I am writing - many women and men, indeed entire peoples, are crucified. This situation of so much of humanity makes the recollection of the one who was crucified something connatural and demands this recollection in order for Jesus' resurrection to be concrete, Christian good news and not abstract and idealistic good news. These crucified of history furnish the special lens through which we can grasp Jesus' resurrection "Christianly" and make a Chrisitian presentation of it.

Christianity and *The Passion* (1)

James Shapiro talked about Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece in January, that unfortunately is no longer available at the Times' site. But David Neiwert quoted the article at some length including the passage that most stuck in my mind. He addressed the question of the claimed "accuracy" of the film as an historical depiction in the context of the evolution of the passion play narratives in Europe.

The script now had to follow Mark and Matthew, in which the chief Jewish priests mock Jesus, rather than Luke and John, in which they don't. But then it had to veer back to Luke and John for Pilate to insist that Jesus had committed no crime, something Mark and Matthew never claim. A line that only appears in Matthew -- the famous blood curse, where the Jews, in accepting responsibility for the death of Jesus, cry out, "His blood upon us and upon our children" -- became the centerpiece of 19th century interpretations.

But even when edited selectively, the Gospels didn't go quite far enough in providing a relentless and incriminating story of Jewish perfidy. So 19th century directors turned to ideas offered by the likes of Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), whose ecstatic visions offered damning and dramatically satisfying details nowhere mentioned in Scripture, such as the notion that the Jewish high priests passed out bribes and that the cross was built in the Temple. (Emmerich's influence on Gibson was at first acknowledged, then hastily denied.)

The new story line dominated stage and screen Passions (one of the earliest films ever made was of this Passion) right up to, and even after, the Holocaust. It was an interpretation that Adolf Hitler singled out for praise when he attended a performance in Oberammergau, Germany, where Passion plays have been performed continuously since the 1600s. He applauded the way the Oberammergau Pilate stood out "like a firm, clean rock in the middle of the whole muck and mire of Jewry."

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Mel Gibson and Anti-Semitism (2)

This kind of fake-coy manner of expression is typical of far-right types. It may partially relate to conventions of expressing ideas that are outside the mainstream. But I suspect it can reflect a certain kind of narcissistic arrogance, a way of baiting people into criticizing the speaker and then playing the victim, all the while feeling superior.

But I don't know whether that applies to the Gibsons or not. But this observation from David Neiwert is a good one, again reacting to Hutton Gibson's Holocaust-denial propagandizing:

There's one thing to keep in mind when talking about racists, anti-Semites and white supremacists: They nearly all deny those characterizations of themselves. The denials typically run like this:

-- "I'm not a racist. I don't hate other races. I just don't like to be around them."

-- "I'm not an anti-Semite. I don't hate Jews. I have many Jewish friends. I just think there are some rich Jews who secretly conspire to rule all of society."

-- "I'm not a white supremacist. I think other races are fine. I just think they should be separate."

For those interested in this weird and ugly phenomenon of Holocaust denial, one of the best analyses of the whole thing came in a British court's 2000 judgment in the case of David Irving v. Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt. Irving, a talented researcher who wandered into the swamp of far-right extremism, sued Penguin and Lipstadt over a book in which he was described as a Holocaust denier.

In deciding against Irving, the court laid out a detailed description of his arguments. Since Irving is as highbrow as it gets on the Radical Right - I don't say that sarcastically, the guy really is talented - the decision is a great analysis of this brand of pseudohistory. It's available online.

Mel Gibson and Anti-Semitism (1)

A couple of David Neiwert's items that I cited in my previous post add some helpful analysis about some of the statements that Mel Gibson and his father have been making publicly, particularly when it comes to the steamy swamp of Holocaust denial. Hutton Gibson is not just a casual anti-Semite. As Neiwert reports, he is something of a Holocaust-denier activist.

Mel's rollout of The Passion of the Christ have introduced elements of this Holocaust-denial discussion into the mass media. And crackpot extremists like the Holocaust deniers use arguments of a type that are unfamiliar to those who haven't made an effort to look into their particular sewers of the mind. Neiwert quotes Mel from an interview with Peggy Noonan:

I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century, 20 million people died in the Soviet Union.

And Neiwert observes:

It's important, of course, to understand that this is exactly the storyline pushed by Holocaust deniers, namely, that yes, there were many Jews killed in Europe during World War II, but they were only a small part of the total who died in the war, and the "6 million" number is grossly exaggerated. Not only is this exactly what Hutton Gibson told the New York Times, you can find the exact same views at such Holocaust-denial organs as the Barnes Review, the Institute for Historical Review, and the Adelaide Institute.

I can't claim any professional credentials for this stuff. But when I read that quote from Mel, it immediately struck me that this is the way German rightwingers who admire Hitler but who want to keep their quotes on the legal side of Germany's anti-Nazi laws would express themselves. If I heard someone expressing themselves this way, I would assume until shown otherwise that they were some kind of anti-Semitic rightwing extremist.

David Neiwert on *The Passion*

David Neiwert, who is a journalist specializing in the American Radical Right and does an excellent job of analyzing far-right groups from a democratic perspective (and, yes, I do mean small-d democratic), has posted several times on the issues surrounding Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and the highly dubious publicity campaign around it.

Sins of the father 08/05/03
Passion for The Passion 01/31/04
Push-Polling The Passion 02/02/04
Mel Gibson: Targeting Catholics 02/09/04
Mad Max's Dad: Beyond the facade 02/21/04
Gibson Outtakes 02/21/04

Two things are worth keeping in mind about discussions of this movie. One is that Gibson has deliberately rolled out a marketing/publicity campaign that encourages political rightwingers and fundamentalist Protestant church groups to defend the film, the latter emphasizing its alleged "accuracy." For a low-brow version of that see here. I discussed earlier the article by Biblical scholar John Dominic Crosson that gave me evidence for what I had earlier suspected, that there was something dishonest about the public face Mel Gibson was presented on this.

The other is that there is a movie which can be judged according to the criteria of any movie, but there is also a theological discussion which surrounds it. The film won't send mobs into the street looking for Jews to attack. But the discussion around it has been less than 100% wholesome.

Billmon on James Webb

Billmon has an informative post up about former Navy Secretary James Webb.

I quoted from a 2002 article by James Webb the other day. I thought about doing a post on the Webb article that Billmon discusses at some length. I didn't, because I thought Webb's post dishonestly characterized John Kerry's role in the "Winter Soldier investigation" decades ago. And I figured getting into that would be too much of a distraction from the topic on which I was focusing.

Billmon, after sketching what a hardline conservative prick Webb has been over the years, comments:

[J]ust the fact that Webb is so ambivalent [about the Presidential election] represents a minor political earthquake -- and a sign of just how volcanic the repressed rage within the military has become. I would never in a million years have expected a Reagan stormtrooper like Webb to even hint that an incumbent GOP president was not God's vicegerent on earth.

Billmon also comments with blunt sarcasm on the irony of Webb now criticizing the Iraq War when he is even now unfairly, even dishonestly, critical of anti-Vietnam War protesters:

But of course, according to Webb and his ideological cohorts, people who said such things about Vietnam -- people like John Kerry -- were little more than traitors. Doesn't Webb worry that his anti-war views, published in the nation's most widely read daily newspaper, might demoralize our troops in the field by making them doubt their mission and their commander? How can he stab them in the back this way? Doesn't he love his country?

Unfortunately, today's GOP flaks would be willing to raise those kinds of questions against him without a hint of irony. If they're not already doing so.

James Webb maintains a Web page (no, he doesn't call it "the Webb page") with links to a number of his articles.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Chris Hedges on the Psychology of War

One of the most challenging and disturbing books I've read in a long time is Chris Hedges' War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002). Hedges is an experienced war correspondent. Here's an example of what I mean about his book:

War makes the world understandable, a black and white tableau of them and us. It suspends thought, especially self-critical thought. All bow before the supreme effort. We are one. Most of us willingly accept war as long as we can fold it into a belief system that paints the ensuing suffering as necessary for a higher good, for human beings seek not only happpiness but also meaning. And tragically war is sometimes the most powerful way in human society to achieve meaning.

But war is a god, as the ancient Greeks and Romans knew, and its worship demands human sacrifice. We urge young men to war, making the slaughter they are asked to carry out a rite of passage. And this rite has changed little over the centuries, centuries in which there has almost continuously been a war raging somewhere on the planet. The historian Will Durant calculated that there have only been twenty-nine years in all of human history during which a war was not underway somewhere. We call on the warrior to exemplify the qualities necessary to prosecute war - courage, loyalty, and self-sacrifice. The soldier, neglected and even shunned during peacetime, is suddenly held up as the exemplar of our highest ideals, the savior of the state. The soldier is often whom we want to become, although secretly many of us, including most soldiers, know that we can never match the ideal held out before us. And we all become like Nestor in The Iliad, reciting the litany of fallen heroes that went before to spur on a new generation. That the myths are lies, that those who went before us were no more able to match the ideal than we are, is carefully hidden from public view. The tension between those who know combat, and thus know the public lie, and those who propagate the myth, usually ends with the mythmakers working to silence the witnesses of war.

Reflections from a Conscientious Objector

Juan Cole, the expert on Shi'a Islam who I often quote here, made a long and thoughful post on his blog about his reflections on Bush's AWOL issue. Cole speaks from his perspective of having been a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.

What I can criticize Bush for is that he doesn't seem to have cared about the war one way or another. That is what bothers me. An eminent diplomatic historian, once told me the story of being at Harvard when Pearl Harbor hit. Those young men were from privileged families. He maintained that the vast majority of them immediately joined the military to fight for their country. They had, he maintained, a sense of honor about it. Note that Kerry enlisted in 1966. He went on to be wounded three times, getting 3 purple heart medals. He also won a silver star for a daring raid, and a bronze star for pulling a crew member back on the boat (he had fallen overboard) during a firefight. ...

So, W. either believed in the war effort or he did not. If he believed in it, he should have gone to fight. If he didn't believe in it, he should have joined those of us protesting against the goddamned thing. He did not do either one. He doesn't seem to have been interested. From all accounts he was partying pretty heavily, and then he wanted to get Winton Blount elected, so it wasn't conveeeenient [sic] to be stuck in the Air National Guard in Texas. Almost 60,000 young men were killed in that slithering python of a war, their bones ground to dust. They were my contemporaries. And it is alleged that 2 million Vietnamese died. ...

And that is why I don't think Bush is wise to try to slander Kerry as a fellow traveler of Jane Fonda. Because John Kerry was the sort of man who cared about principle. When he was in the Navy, he fought bravely for his country. When he got out, he exercised his right as a civilian to campaign against the continuation of a rotten war. He cared. He cared deeply, to the core of his soul, and he risked everything in both cases. In both cases he stood up for what he thought was right and best for America.

The entire post is worth reading.

A Mawkish "Tribute" (3)

Maybe I over-reacted a bit to something that's just a mawkishly sentimental slideshow. But as far as the "no matter if you're liberal or conservative": unfortunately for us all, it does matter in the world Bush and Rummy have created. As Joe Conason puts it in the first of his articles to which I linked earlier in this post:

There was a time when Republicans were the first to defend veterans and the last to attack anyone who had served, regardless of partisan affiliation. That tradition is dead, however, in part because so many of the party’s extremist leaders, who talk loudly about war, managed to avoid military service when their time came.

But beyond the personal psychology of that odd position  in which so many Republican leaders find themselves - Conason has a whole chapter in his book Big Lies (2003) on that topic, called "Male Cheerleaders and Chicken Hawks" - there is the increasingly authoritarian bent of the Republican Party. That mindset tends to obliterate any distinction between the Party and the country. The idea of "patriotism" as being something other than party loyalty begins to disappear.

A Mawkish "Tribute" (2)

If you come home missing a few limbs - like Max Cleland did from Vietnam - don't expect any Republicans to "honor your service" if you run for office as a Democrat, like Cleland did. Instead, expect to have a draft-dodger Republican opponent trash your patriotism and run ads displaying your face alongside Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

And expect psychofool Mad Annie Coulter, the Freeper fantasy girl, to trash you as a phony in her column. (Joe Conason has given her some well-deserved atttention for that here and here.)

And if you're in the National Guard and serving in Iraq, you can thank your President for extending your duty and giving you the chance to come home without some limbs or in one of those unphotographed coffin arrivals. The same President who got his daddy's connections to jump him to the head of the list to get into the Guard when it meant he wouldn't have to go to one of those wars, who just decided to skip a year or more of his Guard duty, who up and missed his flight physical and lost his pilot's lcense after the Guard spent $1 million training him, and "worked it out" with the brass to leave eight months early.

Some of today's Guard who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan to lost jobs, failed businesses and broken marriages would have liked to have been able to "work something out" to get out early like Sheriff Bush did.

A Mawkish "Tribute" (1)

On a Yahoo! Group in which I participate, one of the members posted this link today to a slideshow that he called "a tribute to our armed forces." His note was entitled "No matter if you're a liberal or a conservative..."

Maybe it just hit me at the wrong moment. My more considered reaction was that it isn't so much a tribute to soldiers as a glorification of war. And a ham-handed propaganda attempt to equate Bush's Folly in Iraq to the United Nations cause in the Second World War. (Yes, the Allied side was officially called "the United Nations.") I also think it's more maudlin than a funeral-home fan.

My immediate reaction was longer and went pretty much like this: Gosh, isn't war romantic? You can go off to foreign lands and cuddle cute little foreign babies.

And if you die - occasionally it happens - everyone will remember you as a hero.

But you won't see any current photos of the heroic dead arriving home. Because the President - who enjoyed pranching before the cameras last year in his flight suit - has barred any press coverage of those arrivals home.

He's also managed so far to avoid attending any funerals of those heroes he sent off to their deaths based on lies about non-existent "weapons of mass destruction."

If you're serving in the Iraqi hell-hole, you can be glad that Congress blocked Bush's proposal to cut your combat pay.

If you manage to come back alive, you can also be glad that Congress has so far blocked the cuts in veterans benefits that Bush wanted.

Sideshow Looking Up a Bit

As Marigolds2 points out in the comments below, AOL Election Sideshow has put up some new blogs.

One is Tank Gurl's Two Cents by Ghollahan. She seems to be, gasp! choke! some kind of liberal!! She talks about elections and issues. And she has more than one post! That alone is a good sign compared to the selection earlier in the week.

The other is Christine's Journal by Lvegasdolphin dedicated to "scriptures, politics, news." Cool. I like blogs that stick to safe and tame subjects. :)  She also has more than one post! And she talks about ... elections!  Amazing! She even has a first hand report of a John Kerry speech. And, unlike the famous one-post blog, Democrats apparently don't make her want to retch.

Neither of these two are ranting about traitors. From a quick first look their posts seem comprehensible. I'm not sure if either of them thinks John Edwards is a Communist. But I'm guessing not. I haven't come across any foaming at the mouth about Jane Fonda yet, or conspiracy theories about the sinister UN.

Wow! It may be a bit too early to conclude that Sideshow is finally getting a clue about how this blog thing functions. But this may be a sign of hope.

And both of these blogs are new to me, which probably says more about my own laziness than anything else. That's a good use for the blog section on Sideshow to promote some dialogue and cross-fertilization among the AOL political blogs. And, by the way, it looks to me like some minor page redesign would give room for listing more than two blogs there at once.

(Psst! Don't tell anybody. But I think they may have put two liberal-leaning blogs up at once. Don't spread it around, though. Somebody at AOL News might get fired!)

Thursday, February 19, 2004

The "Passion" of Mel Gibson's Father

This stuff is starting to make me sick:

Days before the release of Mel Gibson's film about the death of Jesus, which some critics say could fuel anti-Semitism, his father has told an interviewer that the Holocaust was mostly "fiction.'' ...

Steve Feuerstein -- host of "Speak Your Piece!'' -- said he interviewed Hutton Gibson for a segment of his show to be broadcast Monday by the small Talkline Communications Network.

According to a transcript released by the network, Hutton Gibson said, "It's all -- maybe not all fiction -- but most of it is,'' when asked about his views on the Holocaust.

He added: "They claimed that there were 6.2 million (Jews) in Poland before the war and after the war there were 200,000, therefore he (Hitler) must have killed 6 million of them. They simply got up and left. They were all over the Bronx and Brooklyn and Sydney and Los Angeles.''

Unfortunately, some evangelical Christian churches have been conned into promoting the film. Churches 'Teachable Moment' San Jose Mercury News 02/19/04.

Some churches managed to arrange advance screenings for their congregations: San Jose's Cathedral of Faith has sold 2,000 tickets to showings in San Jose and Campbell theaters. Family Community Church, also in San Jose, tried to book several theaters recently but was told it were too late, said Pastor Bill Buchholz. ...

The debate has prompted scrutiny of Gibson's conservative branch of Catholicism, which doesn't recognize reforms adopted by the Vatican II ecumenical council in 1965. Among those reforms is an admonition against blaming Jews for Jesus' death.

Mel Gibson's father is part of the same sect and Gibson has said that he shares his father's view of the Christian faith.

Iraq War: Illusions Defined

This commentary by Andrew Bacevich includes some worthwhile thoughts on practical lessons the US can learn from the Iraq War: Mr. Bush's Grand Illusions Los Angeles Times 02/19/04.

First, the illusion that the "end of history" is at hand, needing only a gentle nudge from the United States to bring humankind to its prescribed destination, to wit, a world that adheres to the norms of American-style democratic capitalism. Events in Iraq provide daily reminders that history still has mysteries and surprises to spare. The expectations of our own ideologues notwithstanding, the world is not eager to remake itself in America's own image. Nor should it be.

Second, the illusion that wherever the U.S. leads, others will be quick to follow. The Iraq misadventure demolished that notion and left the U.S. not only isolated but viewed in some quarters as a bigger problem than Saddam Hussein's Iraq ever was. No doubt, in some sense, the world needs the U.S. to exercise global leadership, but in an equally real sense, to lead effectively the U.S. needs the active support of allies.

Third, the illusion that in an information age, military power, at least as employed by Washington, has become something of an all-purpose problem solver. Iraq has amply demonstrated the limits of "shock and awe."

Fourth, the illusion that the world's sole superpower has reserves of power to spare. It doesn't, not militarily, not financially and not morally. Iraq has shown how narrow the margin is between global hegemony and imperial overstretch. Notably, the cause of Iraqi liberation has not evoked any discernible American enthusiasm for coughing up more tax dollars or more recruits. We want to win. But don't expect us to sacrifice.

That latter point reflects one of the worst failures of Bush's leadership. After 9/11, the "sacrifices" he asked the general public to make for their country were shop 'til you drop, travel all you want, and most of all, pay less taxes!