Friday, April 30, 2004

Political polls

Ruy Teixeira is almost making me interested in reading political polls again: Yes, Bad News Does Hurt Bush 04/29/04.  And not just because of this particular characterization of Bush's curent polling numbers:

Those are some mighty bad numbers.

"Mighty bad": I believe that's a technical term statistical analysts use.

I think of Teixeira as being sort of the Daily Howler of opinion polls, although without the attitude.  (Don't get me wrong.  I like the Howler's attitude!)

Iraq War: Mercenaries and thinking about soldier misconduct

The blogger Kos took considerable flak a few weeks ago for questioning the role of soldiers-for-hire in the Iraq War.  He uses the common designation "mercenary" for them.  I prefer the term semi-mercenarary or soldier-for-hire, because under international law American hired guns fighting in Iraq are not mercenaries in the definition of the law, because they are nationals of one of the belligerent parties.  If they violate the laws of the country in which they operate, they are not entitled to combatant status under the Geneva Convention, but rather can be treated as ordinary criminals.

Today Kos is commenting on the reports of soldiers engaging in torture and/or humiliation of Iraqi prisoners, for which several American soldiers are being prosecuted.  One of the things that has emerged from the reporting on these incidents is that hired guns ("security consultants") have been involved, even directing US soldiers in conducting interrogations.

Kos has been a persistent critic of the Iraq War.  So I want to call attention to how he treats the issue of misconduct by American soldiers:

This is upsetting on so many levels. One, it smears every American in Iraq, where the vast majority of our men and women in uniform are noble, brave, kind-hearted people. They are not there because they choose to be there, they are there because Bush ordered them there. Yet their reputation is being besmirched by these lunatic [word not allowed by AOL Terms of Service] at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Two, it fuels Iraqi and worldwide perception that the US is no better than Saddam. That is NOT true. In theory. In practice, the Iraqi people have seen none of the "freedoms" promised by Bush's rhetoric. There is no Democracy. Their press gets shut down for criticizing the CPA. Their electricity is even less reliable now than under Saddam. Crime is up. Safety is down. The US is killing thousands of Shiites and Sunnis.

Antiwar writers and activists are not having any trouble distinguishing between soldiers doing their duty and soldiers violating their duty and violating American law by this kind of conduct.  Nor are they having any trouble distinguishing between the policies that are causing the results and the soldiers that are required to carry them out.

No one should be Pollyannish about this.  (Okay, Pollyanna herself should get a pass.)  Because a long occupation in what is essentially a colonial situation often leads to more and more abuses as the organization of the occupying army starts to break down.  In fact, the incidents at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison should be an alarm bell for a possible breakdown in military discipline in that chain of command.

But when Republican blowhards try to claim that criticizing the war is not "supporting the troops", those not stoned on Oxycontin may want to remember that in the real world, critics can and do make these distinctions.  Also, Republicans who call for more killing and less restraint in civilian areas somehow don't include that kind of criticism as being unsupportive of the troops.

And Kos justifiably takes the occasion to respond to those who blasted him for his earlier criticisms of soldiers-for-hire (as I said, he uses the common term "mercenaries"):

And finally, it's just yet another example that merceneraries are the scum of the planet. Indications are that mercs ran the prison and had a role in the abuses at the prison. Yet they cannot be punished under military law. Again, lawless mercenaries are complicating our occupation and attempts to rebuild Iraq.

Anyone who defends mercenaries hates our troops. Plain and simple. The actions of those mercenaries have been getting our soldiers killed. And now, they have guaranteed the loss of our battle for the hearts and minds of Iraq's people.

It's past time for Congress to get a handle on this soldiers-for-hire business in Iraq.  This is the Iran-Contra mentality on a much larger and even more consequential scale.  Running soldiers-for-hire as a major part of our war effort - there may be more of them in Iraq fighting for the "coalition" than there are British troops - looks very much like it is allowing Executive Branch officials the ability to have hired guns commit acts in violation of American and international law without the proper chain of accountability.  And doing so in a way that could seriously endanger American lives in Iraq and American policy there.

The news that American soldiers were acting as interrogators under the direction of hired guns is very significant.  Congress needs to be investigating and finding out what's really going on with these "security consultants."  Why are American soldiers taking orders from mercenaries/soldiers-for-hire?

Iraq War: More on McCain letter

Sen. John McCain's letter to Sinclair Broadcasting (see previous post) on their refusal to allow their affiliates to carry the Nightline which is devoted to honoring American war dead gives his Republican opinion on the subject.

To summarize, McCains says Sinclair Broadcasting's action is deeply offensive, irresponsible, insensitive to veterans and their families, without valid reason, misguided, a gross disservice to the public and to our soldiers, deserving of the public's criticism and flat-out unpatriotic.

How many other Republican officials will step up to the plate on this one?  How many of those who were denouncing John Kerry on the House floor as "Hanoi John" and the like will do so?

Being an effective war party and being the party that comforts the comfortable aren't always compatable.  Will McCain be a "maverick" Republican on this issue as well?  The Republicans stomp and cheer when Bush prances around on an aircraft carrier in his flight suit.  But how many of them will speak up on behalf of honoring America's war dead and against Sinclair Broadcasting's refusal to do so?

Iraq War: John McCain on Sinclair Broadcasting's Boycott of *Nightline*

Republican Senator John McCain's Web site has posted this press release, which I'm reproducing here in full.  I normally don't reprint full texts here of articles I cite.  But, hey, it's a press release.  What politician is going to object if you use their press releases verbatim?

Since I'm using the full text, I'll omit the italics I normally use for quotations.  The remainder of this post is the McCain press release:

MCCAIN LETTER TO SINCLAIR BROADCAST ON PREEMPTION OF NIGHTLINE For Immediate Release Friday, Apr 30, 2004   U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) issued the following letter today to Mr. David Smith, President and CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group, in response to the preemption of this evening's Nightline program:

I write to strongly protest your decision to instruct Sinclair's ABC affiliates to preempt this evening's Nightline program. I find deeply offensive Sinclair's objection to Nightline's intention to broadcast the names and photographs of Americans who gave their lives in service to our country in Iraq.

I supported the President's decision to go to war in Iraq, and remain a strong supporter of that decision. But every American has a responsibility to understand fully the terrible costs of war and the extraordinary sacrifices it requires of those brave men and women who volunteer to defend the rest of us; lest we ever forget or grow insensitive to how grave a decision it is for our government to order Americans into combat. It is a solemn responsibility of elected officials to accept responsibility for our decision and its consequences, and, with those who disseminate the news, to ensure that Americans are fully informed of those consequences.

There is no valid reason for Sinclair to shirk its responsibility in what I assume is a very misguided attempt to prevent your viewers from completely appreciating the extraordinary sacrifices made on their behalf by Americans serving in Iraq. War is an awful, but sometimes necessary business. Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war's terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Iraq War: Republican media company opposes honoring American dead

Daily Kos among others has some good information on the Sinclair Broadcasting Group's refusal to broadcast Friday's edition of ABC's Nightline that is devoted to honoring the American soldiers killed in Iraq.

Not surprisingly, Sinclair has good Republican connections.  Kos also links to this article at the rightwing NewsMax about how Sinclair's management has ambitions to make their company the "next Fox."  How many ways are there to recycle the daily Republican Party line?

This is one to remember.  A Republican-Party-oriented company is opposed to honoring American servicepeople who have died serving their country in Iraq.

Somebody a few years from now, after we've made our exit from Iraq and the blowhard Republican Rambos are blathering about how it was the sissy liberals who made us lose in Iraq, where if we'd just been manly enough to torture and humiliate a few more prisoners, we would have "won" - this is one one to remember.

Because when the blowhards start telling their phony shories about how the peaceniks dishonored Iraq War veterans and spit on them and called them babykillers, etc., some people will respond with, "Oh, yeah, I remember one time a network wanted to do a show honoring soldiers killed and they didn't even want them to show that."

After another couple of spins through the Republican echo chamber, it will become, "The antiwar types didn't even want the names of soldiers killed in the war mentioned on TV shows because they said it was honoring baby-killers and murderers."

So before the new myth gets rolling, let's remember that when it was actually happening, the real headline for the story should have been:

Prowar Republicans oppose honoring American war dead
President even refuses to attend funerals of soldiers killed in battle

Young Kerry and Young Dubya and Undead Dick

There has been lots of good stuff out lately about the Republicans' campaign against Kerry's wartime service because to today's fanatical Reps, patriotism=supporting the Republican Party.  In their increasingly FoxNewsified world, where Rush Limbaugh's Oxycontin fantasies pass for sane commentary, reality is what the Republican National Committee says it is.

The Democrats are far more in hock to corporate conservatism and big money than it's healthy for any party in a democracy to be.  But they haven't totally surrendered to crony capitalism and a totalitarian-minded partisanship, where anything goes as long as the Party wants it: wars based on lies, exposing undercover CIA agents, setting up rogue intelligence operations, whatever.

This whole business of trying to compare Lt. AWOL Bush's inability to even fulfill his duty to the country-club unit of the Texas Air Guard Old Man Bush got him into as being so much superior to John Kerry's wartime service and documented heroism must be some kind of Republican Baby Boomer brain spasm.  Harold Meyerson has a good analysis of it (Prince Hal vs. King Henry American Prospect 04/29/04):

It was precisely because Kerry's impulses were so mainstream that the Nixon White House feared him. Nixon didn't sit around with his goon squad of Bob Haldeman and Chuck Colson plotting against Kerry because they thought Kerry was Hanoi John. On the contrary, Kerry had to be taken down because his patriotism was so glaringly obvious.

[Kerry] had, after all, joined the service despite the grave doubts -- to which he gave voice in his Yale class oration in the spring of 1966 -- he harbored about the war. He had thrown himself in harm's way repeatedly while skippering "swift boats" in the Mekong Delta. He had worked to build an effective, law-abiding antiwar movement. Such men were dangerous [in the eyes of Nixon and his inner circle].

There are days in this campaign when Kerry must think he's still up against Nixon and his thugs. The same slanders that Dick [Nixon] and his boys cooked up then -- Kerry as dangerous radical, Kerry as inauthentic liberal -- are being served up now by Nixon's ethical heirs.

Tom Oliphant is yet another example of a Big Pundit who normally manages to stay safely entrenched in the conventional wisdom of the moment.  But he did have a first-person account of Kerry throwing his ribbons onto the White House lawn in the now-legendary 1971 protest that doesn't square with the Reps latest trivia version, reminding us once again how silly our lazy press corps is in eating up Republican spin points and processing them out the other end: I Watched Kerry Throw His War Decorations Boston Globe 04/27/04.

Washington Post Big Pundit E.J. Dionne, Jr., did a column called GOP attack dogs smear Kerry's war record (also here) 04/27/04 that so far departed from the current press corps trivia obsession that it earned lavish praise from the Daily Howler's Bob Somerby - who does not praise Big Pundits lightly!

At long last, Dionne uses the accurate language which “good guy” pundits have long eschewed—White House attacks on Kerry are described as a “smear,” while House Republicans are called “demagogic.” Readers, this is the column that wasn’t written during the mayhem of Campaign 2000, when good-guy pundits slept at their desks, permitting the two-year smear against Gore which so plainly put Bush in the White House.

We have long admired Dionne’s intelligence and decency—and we’ve long despaired about his lack of fight. Today, he uses accurate language. It’s too bad that one of his colleagues still sleeps, expressing those Millionaire Pundit Values which are making a joke of your lives (keep reading).

Actually the rest of that column, as well as the rest of the Howler's material this week is well worth reading.

Meyerson in the quote above wasn't just being literary about the Nixon connection to today's Republican demagoguery.  In Jerry Lembcke's The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam (1998) from which I've previously quoted, he devotes quite a bit of analysis to the Nixon Administration's attempt todiscredit the antiwar movement in general and antiwar veterans like John Kerry in particular.  They wanted to set up an opposition between "good veterans" (those who supported Nixon's war policies) and "bad veterans" like John Kerry (who didn't support those policies).  In late 1969, confronted with the prospect of a series of antiwar demonstrations known as the "moratorium":

What the administration needed was an embraceable Vietnam veteran, a "good" veteran, a veteran faithful to the ideals of American foreign policy and the image of male military prowess.  But very few Vietnam veterans fit the bill.  Research done by the Veterans' World Project at Southern Illinois University found it "difficult if not impossible to find a 'hawk' among Vietnam veterans."  "Very few," the researchers reported, "finish their service in Vietnam believing that what the United States has done there has served to forward our nation's purposes" ([Peter N.] Gillingham 1972, II-10 ["Wasted Men: The Reality of the Vietnam Veteran: The Report of the Veterans World Project."]). The administration's approach to this dilemma began with its countermobilization of veterans from previous wars for pro-war activities in connection with the Veterans Day observances on November 11.

In an earlier post, I quoted a Joe Conason column about a direct connection between Bush's anti-Kerry smears and those promoted by Nixon and his unsavory crew.  (Don't get me wrong; the Bush crowd is Worse Than Watergate.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Iraq War: Groupthink or Warmongering?

In management theory, the psychology taught tends to be pretty limited.  Not surprising, given that the main psychological question that management theory asks is, "How do we get employees to produce more without paying them more money?"

But one of the more useful concepts that did somehow make its way into the management textbooks is that of "groupthink."  In this article, David Levine of the UC-Berkeley business school talks about how that concept can help us understand the nature of the decision-making in the Bush Administration that led to the Iraq War. 

The Wheels of Washington: Groupthink and Iraq San Francisco Chronicle 02/05/04

One force that can fight against groupthink is independent analysis. For example, the CIA's core competence is finding the well-supported arguments within vast amounts of noise and rumor. Before the decision to invade Iraq, however, these safeguards were short-circuited. The Pentagon established its own intelligence agency largely to bypass the more independent CIA. Under pressure from the White House, the CIA then abandoned some of its independence and delivered a partial view of the information it held. The resulting reports gave credence to sources the CIA had historically (and apparently correctly) discounted, and downplayed cautions the CIA had (correctly) emphasized in the past.

As Levine points out in this piece, the concept of groupthink came from studies of the Kennedy Administration and how the decision-makers became self-deluded in the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, a foreign-policy disaster very early in Kennedy's term.  Levine mentions, "Groupthink can often be combated by including a devil's advocate in the group -- someone who points out the weaknesses in the group's accepted wisdom."

What he doesn't mention is that the decision-making process the Kennedy Administration used during the Cuban Missile Crisis is also a classic example of applying exactly that insight.  In the crisis management team Kennedy established, Bobby Kennedy deliberately and consciously played the role of devil's advocate, challenging the various proposals that came up to make sure that relevant questions, doubts and consequences were thoroughly taken into account.  They had learned from the Bay of Pigs the cost of shutting out dissenting opinions.

While I'm glad to see this groupthink concept being used, I'm not convinced that it was really the problem here.  Because we already have substantial and convincing evidence that many of the decision-makers in the Bush Administration were looking for an excuse to go to war with Iraq practically from the day they took office.

In his instantly-famous book Against All Enemies (2004), Richard Clarke presents a gripping narrative of the crisis management in the White House on 9/11/01.  Clarke realized immediately after the second plane hit the World Trade Center that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks, because they had already established a pattern of going for multiple attacks to achieve spectacular destruction.  And on that very first day, Dale Watson of the FBI told Clarke that they had confirmed that the passenger manifests of the hijacked flights included names known to the CIA as those of al-Qaeda members.

After going home briefly that night for a shower and change of clothes, Clarke was surprised at what he heard when he got back to the White House on September 12:

I expected to go back to a round of meetings examining what the next attacks could be, what our vulnerabilities were, what we could do about them in the short run.  Instead, I walked into a series of discussions about Iraq.  At first I was incredulous that we were talking about something other than getting al Qaeda.  Then I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that [Defense Secretary Don] Rumsfeld and [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda on Iraq.  Since the beginning of the administration, indeed well before, they had been pressing for a war with Iraq.  My friends in the Pentagon had been telling me the word was we would be invading Iraq sometime in 2002.

In other words, if so many of the principal decision-makers were looking for ways to invade Iraq, was all the hype about "weapons of mass destruction" and ties between Saddam and al-Qaeda really the kind of self-deception that goes on in groupthink?  Or was it just plain deception?  Or cynical war propaganda, in somewhat more blunt terms?

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Blogs now doubling as cops/PIs/finks?

This article leads one to think it could be.

Blog-Tracking May Gain Ground Among U.S. Intelligence Officials Investor's Business Daily  04/27/04

[Some blogs] are cutting edge in delivering information and opinion.

As a result, some analysts say U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials might be starting to track blogs for important bits of information. This interest is a sign of how far Web media such as blogs have come in reshaping the data-collection habits of intelligence professionals and others, even with the knowledge that the accuracy of what's reported in some blogs is questionable.

Still, a panel of folks who work in the U.S. intelligence field - some of them spies or former spies - discussed this month at a conference in Washington the idea of tracking blogs.

"News and intelligence is about listening with a critical ear, and blogs are just another conversation to listen to and evaluate. They also are closer to (some situations) and may serve as early alerts," said Jock Gill, a former adviser on Internet media to President Clinton (news - web sites), in a later phone interview, after he spoke on the panel.

And, hey, I'm cool with that.  I'm glad to help any time.  Because I love John Ashcroft. I support everything in the PATRIOT Act except I think it should be stronger.  I support the war in Iraq and I'm for invading Iran, Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, France - anywhere that Bush the Magnificent say we should invade.

Psst... Hey, guys, check it out!  I hear on good authority that Rush Limbaught has a ... a drug problem... Follow  up on that quick!  The ads on the TV says dope users are supporting terrorism!

Did I mention that I think that Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld are great patriots and brilliant foreign policy visionaries?  And that Antonin Scalia is the finest legal mind of our generation?

The further sad saga of David Brooks

Did I ever say nice things about Big Pundit David Brooks?  I'm afraid I did.  I don't know what came over me.

Really, occasionally, I really did think he had some worthwhile observations.  I've even heard him say a couple of things the last few months that I at least imagined were kind of insightful.

But it just gets sadder all the time with the conservative Mr. Brooks.  Can anyone explain to me what this means from his Looking Through Keyholes New York Times 04/27/04?

Some people in other places may like to look through keyholes to see women in their underwear. We here in the political class like to look through keyholes to see what happens when a bunch of alpha males (and females) with the jobs we wish we held sit around a table and curse about people not in the room. After two years of Iraq obsession, many of us couldn't tell you what the Dawa Islamic Party stood for if our kids' Sidwell admissions depended upon it, but the frisson we feel hearing the nasty words Colin Powell said behind the back of Douglas Feith! C'est délicieux!

Don't get me wrong. I love living in Washington. I still think it is the least superficial of the interesting American cities, owing to our inability to experience sensual pleasure. But over the past few months it has come to resemble one of those decadent triviality pits, like Paris in the 19th-century French novels.

Washington is "the least superficial of the interesting American cities, owing to our inability to experience sensual pleasure"?  Am I totally clueless?  Or is he alluding to some side effect of Oxycontin?  Some of his columns are weirder than other.  But the "secular trend," as the economists would say, is defintely toward the stranger and stranger.

The column was trying to defend the Bush Administration's Iraq policy.  I think.

Maybe that's the problem.  Defending the increasingly indefensible requires a rapidly increasing amount of fantasy.  Weird fantasy.  Maybe Brooks should chat with Chuckie about his fantasies of soldiers, preachers with rabies and nekkid virgins.

Chuckie Watch 49: Chuckie gits more mail from Iraq

Yep, Chuckie likes to share his mail from folks on the scene in Iraq:  War.

Chuckie says he want "to share a letter written by a chaplain serving in Iraq explaining what is really going on in Fallujah," this chaplain being an "individual who is on the scene and has a better vantage point than most of the people reporting the news."

Chuckie's "chaplain" says things like this:

Okay, what do we do? Stay the course. The Marines will get into a battle rhythm and along with other forces and government agencies here, they will knock out the crack houses, drive the thugs across the border and set the conditions for the Fallujans to join the freedom parade or rot in their lack of initiative ...

Git the idea?  Crack houses, undesirable aliens, gittin' tuff and gittin' rid of 'em?  Kinda like Chuckie's favorite sayings about American politics.

So, how comes it that Chuckie's gittin' letters with the Real Story from a chaplain, you may ask.  And how does Chuckie know it's legitimate?  Maybe he trusts journalist and prowar blogger Andrew Sullivan, who also got a letter from "a military chaplain in Fallujah."  Andy says, "I can't verify this first-hand but it comes from a source I know and trust."  In other words, someone forwarded it to him and he can't verify it the way he would if he were publishing it in a newspaper that maintained normal standards of accuracy.  Andy's chaplain says things like:

Okay, what do we do? Stay the course. The Marines will get into a battle rhythm and, along with other forces and government agencies here, they will knock out the crack houses, drive the thugs across the border and set the conditions for the Falujans to join the freedom parade or rot in their lack of initiative.

Gosh, what a coincidence.  Now, Chuckie's version has ... after "initiative" instead of just a period.  So we can't say it's the same thing.  Maybe there are two anonymous and unverifiable chaplains in Fallujah who are providing the Real Story to people with inside contacts like Chuckie and Andy.

By the way, Chuckie seems to have better contacts than Andy, because he didn't feel the need to note that he couldn't verify the authenticity of the letter.  Not that it matters much, since nothing in the letter speaks of specific incidents not otherwise reported in the press that could be verified later.  Or anything that couldn't have been written by a reasonably literate Republicans hack who follows the Iraq news.

But in the rightwing echo chamber, what more do you need?  Apart from a little recreational Oxycontin maybe to help you process the latest repetition of the same old stuff.

I guess I should qualify my comment about specifics.  This is the first time I've heard about the crack house problem in Fallujah.

Iraq War: Cultic studies, terrorism and guerrilla warfare

David Neiwert has an very thought-provoking piece at his Orcinus blog on Waco in Iraq, the Waco reference being to the ultimately tragic standoff with David Koresh's Branch Davidian cult in Waco TX in 1993.  It's cross-posted at the American Streeet blog, the one featuring the cool Faulkner picture.

Neiwert applies some of the lessons from his own studies of violent far-right groups with insights from those who have expertise in apocalyptic cults to speculate on what approach to defusing the current situation in the Iraqi city of Najaf might be most effective.  It's part of a larger series of posts looking at the lessons that we've learned from domestic terrorist acts and how those might be useful in the so-called "war on terrorism."

His long post contains an interesting analysis of Waco and of the "Waco" image in the public mind.  Part of his conclusion:

The al-Najaf problem is a microcosm of the larger problem of the Bush administration's misbegotten approach to dealing with terrorism. Rather than recognize the assymetrical, often corpuscular nature of terrorism and come to terms with its origins in unaddressed grievances with an intelligent strategy that undermines those sources and does not inflame and worsen them, Bush has taken a course precisely 180 degrees removed: Use the brute force and bludgeoning power of the military, largely in the vain hope of asserting American dominance as a way of discouraging anyone from challenging it.

In that sense, the entire misadventure in Iraq resembles the fiasco at Waco: Too impatient to let inspections and diplomacy work their course, Bush ordered a military invasion of another nation without reckoning all of the consequences of doing so. Most significant among those consequences is the high likelihood of actually undermining any serious effort at actually attacking terrorism at the source.

It's an excellent post.  I should mention, though, that towards the end, he buys into the conventional wisdom promoted this week by the Washington Post that Bush's wonderful "oratory" is bolstering support for the Iraq War. 

Hello!  Did any of the people writing this stuff watch Commander-in-Chief Bush in his bumbling press conference a couple of weeks ago?  Ruy Texeira has pointed out a another defect in this analysis:

There's only one slight problem with this: the American public, by any reasonable standard is turning against the war. Now you could reasonably say that support for the war effort has not completely collapsed, despite the recent string of bad news. Or that Bush's rhetoric is helping slow the rate of decline. Or that his "oratory" helped contribute to the recent rally effect that may have elevated Bush in the polls by a few points. But you can't say the public isn't turning against the war, because they are.

And, no, "cultic studies" is not a term I made up.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Bush's Service Record is on the case.  Bush's that is.

Mystery Man by James Unger, author of House of Bush, House of Saud (2004), looks at someone else who also was in Bush's unit and who missed his medical exam at the same time Bush did.  The man's name, James Bath, was redacted on some of the Bush Air Guard documents released but not on others.  Unger notes:

As it happens, when I interviewed Bath for my recently published book, "House of Bush, House of Saud," I discovered that the White House may not want to reveal his name because Bath, a Houston businessman who became friends with George W. Bush in the '70s, is the middleman in a story Bush doesn't particularly want told -- the saga of how the richest family in the world, the House of Saud, and its surrogates courted the Bush family. Bath was present at the birth of a relationship that would bring more than $1.4 billion in investments and contracts from the House of Saud to the House of Bush over more than 20 years. The blotting out of Bath's name indicates President Bush's extreme sensitivity about his family's extensive connections with the Saudis.

James Moore, author of Bush's War for Reelection (2004), writes on Bush's flight from the Guard (I'm not sure why the book title uses reelection, though; don't you have to get elected first to be reelected?).  Moore has this to say about Bush's missing the medical exam in 1972 and losing his flight status:

Taking away a pilot's wings was not a minor decision. During the course of investigating this matter over the past decade, I was told by numerous Guard sources that pilots simply did not skip their physicals for any reason. Bush may have thought this was a good strategy for getting out of his obligation to the Guard. However, there had to be an investigation into his grounding. Normally, a formal board of inquiry would have been convened to examine the pilot's failure to keep his physical status current. At a minimum, a commanding officer would have been expected to write a narrative report on why one of his pilots had been taken off the flight duty roster. Either that report, or the findings of the board of inquiry, would then be sent to the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver and to the Texas Guard headquarters in Austin. A pilot simply did not walk away from all of that training with two years remaining on his tour of duty without a formal explanation as to what happened and why. This narrative report is the document the public has never seen and the Bush White House is unlikely to ever release. Disciplinary action taken against Bush ought to be a part of his personnel record. No such files have ever been disclosed.

On the Bush Guard story, David Neiwert of the Orcinus and American Street blogs has convinced me that the story about missing the doctor's exam and losing his flight authorization is the key part of the Bush Guard mystery to watch.  The rest - Old Man Bush getting him jumped to the top of the list to get in, the AWOL months, the early release - are all interesting but secondary elements.

Moore's account of tracking the documents makes a good little historian/journalist/detective story, too.  Notice that the story of the revocation of the flight authorization is the focus of Moore's article, as well.

And completing the trio of book author's is Joe Conason, author of Big Lies (2003), who writes about Bush confidant Karen Huges high-octane gall.  Hughes flogged the riculous Kerry-and-medals-and-ribbons story this past weekend on TV:

For George W. Bush's surrogates to question John Kerry's war record, as they have continued to do in recent days, requires a special Republican brand of super-high-octane gall. Why would the president want to draw additional attention to the most unflattering contrast between him and the Democratic challenger? Why would his flacks reopen the painful issues of that era by questioning Kerry's undoubted heroism? If anyone ever earned the right to talk about what he had seen in Vietnam and why nomore Americans should kill or die there, it was the young, highly decorated Navy lieutenant who had volunteered for duty.

Pointing out that Hughes ghost-wrote Bush's 1999 autobiography A Charge to Keep, Conason notes how she herself helped Bush phony up his Guard history in that book. Conason ends his article with this observation:

On that chapter's concluding page, Bush proclaims: "I am proud of my service. Yet I know it was nothing comparable to what our soldiers and pilots were doing in battle in Vietnam." Having written those words, Hughes should remember them whenever she feels the urge to demean Kerry, who still carries a piece of shrapnel in his left buttock. And should she open her mouth about this subject again, someone should ask her what the president did with his medals.

Joe Conason has particular scorn for Republicans whose own military records are less than impressive who trash the patriotism or try to ridicule the military service of Democrats who did serve.  One of the chapters in Big Lies is called Male Cheerleaders and Chicken Hawks (excerpted last year on  He says there, "Of all the pernicious claptrap emitted by right-wing propagandists, none is more offensive than smearing liberals and Democrats as unpatriotic."  He gives an example of a leading Democrat who responded appropriately to sleazy Republican attacks in 2001-2 on the patriotism of Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, a veteran of the Strategic Air Command:

It was Sen. John Kerry, not Daschle, who addressed the Republican leaders in the manner they deserved. At a Democratic dinner in New Hampshire, the senator from Massachusetts stood up and said, "Let me be clear tonight to Senator Lott and to Tom DeLay. One of the lessons that I learned in Vietnam -- a war they did not have to endure -- and one of the basic vows of commitment that I made to myself, was that if I ever reached a position of responsibility, I would never stop asking questions that make a democracy strong ... Those who try to stifle the vibrancy of our democracy and shield policies from scrutiny behind a false cloak of patriotism miss the real value of what our troops defend and how we best defend our troops." ...

As a Vietnam combat veteran who earned three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a Silver Star in two Navy tours -- and who later founded Vietnam Veterans Against the War -- Kerry had ample stature to challenge the character assassins.

And he still does now that the attacks are aimed at him.  Conason regards the Daschle incident as an example of "how routinely Republicans and conservatives resort to the kind of hyperbole that was once heard only from extrmists and bigots."

If the Bush campaign keeps bringing up Kerry's Vietnam-era record, they may shame even the lazy national press into going back into the Bush Air Guard story, which they have largely dropped after a week or two of feeding frenzy earlier in this campaign.  They pretty much rolled over and played dead on this story in the 2000 campaign.

Kerry to Bush on Vietnam: Brang it on!

Even the AP's ridiculous Nedra Pickler managed to do a half-decent job of reporting this one.

Kerry demands Bush Prove Guard Service AP 04/26/04

"If George Bush wants to ask me questions about that through his surrogates, he owes America an explanation about whether or not he showed up for duty in the National Guard. Prove it. That's what we ought to have," Kerry told NBC News in an interview. "I'm not going to stand around and let them play games."

And on the phony medals-and-ribbons story that an eager political press lapped up from the Republican Party talking points:

Kerry has never said he pretended to throw away his medals. For years, he has said that he threw his ribbons over a fence at the Capitol, not his three Purple Hearts, Bronze Star and Silver Star. He also has said that after the protest he threw the medals of two other veterans.

Nearly 800 veterans "gave back" their medals, ribbons, dog tags and other military items during a protest in April 1971. ...

The U.S. Navy (news - web sites) pamphlet calls them medals," he said. "We referred to them as the symbols, they were representing medals, ribbons. Countless veterans threw the ribbons back."

Josh Marshall points out that Bush, in using surrogates like Karen Hughes to make these kinds of attacks on Kerry's service record, he is practicing familiar habits:

When he faces a challenge or a tough scrape, he lets his family and friends bail him out, do his fighting for him. You see it again and again through failed businesses, legal scrapes, the whole matter of ducking service in Vietnam and then getting help cleaning up subsequent unfortunateness while he was serving in the Texas Air National Guard.

It's even come up again and again on the campaign trail. George W. Bush has faced three opponents (McCain, Gore and Kerry) since he came onto the national political stage -- each served in Vietnam, though each under very different circumstances. He's had his lieutenants attack the service of each one.

Steve Gilliard taunts him for the same things, using terms that even ole Chuckie could understand:

Bush has been a coward his entire life. John Kerry clearly was not. If they want to compare the two records, let's do so. Too bad he can't get daddy to buy him a few medals now. Bush's entire career is the result of a father's errant love for his son. He never asked of his son what he asked of himself. Which is a tragedy. Maybe if he had, maybe his son wouldn't be the cowardly failure that he is today. He even has to hide behind a woman to attack Kerry. If he thinks Kerry didn't deserve his awards, why not say so himself? No, like a coward, he sends a woman to do his dirty work. If he were a man, he'd say it himself or drop the issue.

Kerry didn't use quite the macho rhetoric.  But he's called Sheriff Top Gun out on the issue.  It's put up or shut up time for Lt. AWOL on this one.

The Howler weighs in on the new Kerry scandal

Bob Somerby already has a couple of paragraphs up on the Kerry-medals-vs.-ribbons shocker.  Here's what he has to say in today's Daily Howler (at this writing, the date has a typo that says Thursday, but it's the April 26 entry):

Jim Rutenberg is also concerned about Kerry’s decades-old statements.  In this morning's Times, the deeply worried Times reporter travels back some 33 years to puzzle and parse an old statement. By contrast, Rutenberg gives minor space to things said yesterday, on the stump. In fairness, we really should give the scribe credit where due; this time, he stopped his outright lying (see THE DAILY HOWLER 4/15/04).  He didn’t say that “Democrats and Republicans alike” are disturbed by the things Kerry said.

Last Friday, a college student asked us what they should watch for in the press. If there’s one thing to watch for, we replied, you have to look out for the focus on trivia. Scribes will misdirect you to ancient trivia, we said. This morning, a deeply worried Times reporter shows that bright kid what we meant.

But Somerby's entry today deals at much more length with "clowning" by David Broder, the universally acknowledged "dean" of the Big Pundits.

He also starts a multi-part look at Bob Woodward's latest book, Plan of Attack.  The first entry is called "See Bob Fake (Pt. 1)".

New Kerry Scandal!!!

The New York Times, taking its cues like good reporters should from the Republican National Committee, in an article by Jim Rutenberg and James Dao has come up with shocking, shocking new evidence that, a mere 33 years ago, John Kerry may have used the words "ribbons" and "medals" interchangeably!!!

My God, is there no limit to that man's depravity?!?

And, lest we miss the RNC's point, Rutenberg and Dao helpfully explain:

Republicans, nervous about questions regarding President Bush's Air National Guard service, have raised the issue to revive accusations by some veterans that the discarding of medals dishonored those who served and died in the war. At the same time, the Republicans have said that Mr. Kerry's explanation of what happened at the [1971] ceremony is an example of his proclivity to fall on both sides of every issue.

Since the Times is exploring the candidates' records of three decades ago so carefully, maybe they'll take a closer work at Lt. Dubya's use of words in those days.  (ROTFLOL, as they say on the Internet.)

Did Lt. Bush "miss" that 1972 medical exam that got him suspended from flying after the Guard spent $1 million or so training him?  Or did he merely "fail to attend" it?

Was it a "corrupt deal" by which Old Man Bush got Dubya jumped to the head of a list of hundreds trying to get into the Air Guard?  Or "family connections"?

Was Dubya trying to "duck out" of service in Vietnam or only "seeking to avoid" it?  Was in he "in favor of" the Vietnam War when he was ducking out/seeking to avoid, or was he "not opposed" to it?

Was Bush "AWOL [absent without leave]" when he failed to show up for Guard duty all those months?  Or had he "deserted"?

Did he get out of the Guard months early in an "unusual arrangement," or was it "special circumstances"?

Yes, yes, it's deeply troubling that Kerry may have blurred the distinction between "ribbons" and "medals" 33 years ago.

It is surely of equal urgency to the voters  to know whether Lt. AWOL was guilty of any such shocking lapses of rhetorical judgments in describing his singular career in the Air Guard. 

I can't wait to see what Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler has to say about this one!

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Chuckie Watch 48: Chuckie don't believe it

That's the name of Chuckie's latest and greatest:  I Just Don't Believe It.  What don't Chuckie believe?  Why there here conspiracy theory about Bush the Magnficent:

In my opinion, the most spurious and insulting piece of disinformation being bounced around the internet now is the one which accuses President George Bush of having prior knowledge of the 9-11 incidents. To accuse any American President of knowing such a thing is an awesome indictment and as yet there is nothing more than supposition, invention and blind hatred to underpin such a horrible accusation.

Well, you know, Chuckie, it really might help if you cited sources.  One crackpot Congresswoman suggested that, but she was defeated for re-election in Georgia.  Of all the criticisms of Bush the Mighty, Scourge of the Heathen and Defender of the Homeland, that have been made the last few weeks in connectio with pre-9/11 preparedness, I can't think of one single time I've come across that one.

Maybe Chuckie's getting some kind of audio contact-high from listening to too much Oxycontin talk radio.  That could explain it.

Or maybe Chuckie's just clueless when he starts off on some of these rants.

Chuckie Watch 47: Chuckie don't like John Kerry

Wow, big surprise there!  Ole Chuckie thinks it's a joke: The Kerry Comedy.  But Ole Chuckie seems to be a bit confused.  Not for the first time.

So far all I’ve heard out of him is, “I’d go to the United Nations.” Wake up, John! When is it going to dawn on you that most of the United  Nations don’t give a damn about America? They wouldn’t loan us a  bucket of swamp water if the entire state of Massachusetts was on fire.

You could talk until your considerable face turned blue and all you would get is platitudes and diplomatic double talk and even if the UN  did get around to doing something it would probably be sometime late in  the next century. And then it would probably be in the form of a resolution.

Uh, Chuckie.  I guess they aren't talking about this when you tune into Oxycontin radio.  But Bush the Magnificent is also counting on the United Nations to bail him out on the June 30 deadline for the new government.

And John, I think you owe an apology to the Vietnam vets. You said some pretty hard things about them after you joined the Fonda brigades. Why don’t you acknowledge them for being the honorable soldiers that they are?

Which veterans would that be, Chuckie?  Those with whom he fought?  Those who he tried to keep from being killed unnecessarily by opposing the war?  Of course, in Chuckie's Regnery Publishing book Ain't No Rag (2003), Chuckie says he also opposed the Vietnam War.  Cause them there politicians were bein' tuff enough in killing Vietnamese for Chuckie's taste.  Well, Chuckie, maybe you've got some apologizin' to do, too.

For more on this topic, see my earlier:  Trashing Kerry on Vietnam: what are they thinking?

Alexander Hamilton Hagiography

It's still history-geek day here at Old Hickory's Weblog.  After wading through all those Jefferson Davis speech and that godawful segregationist Confederate "heritage" [accurate description falls outside of AOL's Terms of Service], I'm almost ready for another edition of the Chuckie Watch.  I feel like I'm in tune with Chuckie's wave length after all that.

But first, I just want to remark on another piece of reactionary history that's out there undercutting a proper appreciation of democractic history at the moment.  I'm referring to the excerpts from Ron Chernow's new biography of Alexander Hamilton (2004) that is excerpted in the current Business Week (05/03/04 issue).

Now, Chernow's House of Morgan was a capable and readable history of one of America's most important banking empires.  And don't get me wrong about Hamilton.  He was one of the prime architects of the Constitution and, as one of the Federalist Papers authors, was one of its most effective advocates in the debates over ratification.  But this is just silly:

As author of 51 of the 85 essays in The Federalist Papers, the classic gloss on the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton made many distinguished contributions in the political realm -- but so did Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. In contrast, when it came to the parallel economic upheavals of the period -- the industrial revolution, the expansion of global trade, the growth of banks and stock exchanges -- Hamilton was an American prophet without peer. No other founding father straddled both of these revolutions, and therein lay Hamilton's novelty and greatness. He was the messenger of America's economic future, setting forth a vision of an urban manufacturing society that some found enthralling, others unsettling, but that ultimately prevailed. He stood squarely on the modern side of a historical divide that separates him from the other founders, making him uniquely our spiritual kin.

"Uniquely our spiritual kin"?  Good Lord, the man was a monarchist.  He didn't believe that democratic government could funtion at all with a more-or-less authoritarian central government, which he hoped to achieve under the Constitutional system by using the Bank of the United States to corrupt Congress and make it do the Executive's bidding.

It's really superficial to see the Bank of the United States that Hamilton promoted, Thomas Jefferson opposed and Andrew Jackson eventually abolished as being analogous to today's central bank (the Federal Reserve), whose necessity no one but the loony far-right seriously disputes.  But it wasn't.  It was an instrument of the rich to preserve and extend their concentration of wealth, and it was used to pay off a substantial portio of Congress.  It was a menance to democracy and honest government and a major barrier to economic progress and opportunity.

Chernow praises one of Hamilton's actions during his tenure as the Washington Administration's Secretary of the Treasury as showing his good business sense.  But even Chernow's description shows that Hamilton was helping monied speculators rip off individual investors that had bought Revolutionary bonds:

How exactly the debt should be handled was an inflammatory issue. During the Revolution, many affluent citizens had invested in government paper, and many veterans had been paid with IOUs that plummeted in price after they were demobilized. In many cases, these upright patriots, either needing cash or convinced they would never be repaid, had sold their certificates to speculators for a pittance. Under the stimulus of his funding scheme, with government repayment guaranteed (albeit at lower interest rates), Hamilton expected these bonds to soar from depressed levels and regain their full face value.

This pleasing prospect, however, presented a political quandary. If the bonds appreciated, should speculators pocket the windfall? Or should the money go to the original holders -- many of them brave soldiers -- who had sold their depreciated government paper years earlier? Hamilton knew the answer to this riddle would define the future character of American capital markets. Doubtless taking a deep breath, he wrote that "after the most mature reflection" about whether to reward original holders, he had decided against this approach as "ruinous to public credit." Among other things, such "discrimination" in favor of former debt holders was simply unworkable. The government would have to track them down, ascertain their sale prices, and trace all intermediate investors who had held the debt before it was bought by current owners -- an administrative nightmare, only made worse by missing paperwork.

Adn Chernow promotes the image of Thomas Jefferson, who opposed Hamilton's schemes to use the federal government to further enrich the wealthy at the expense of less prosperous Americans, as being a foolish idealist, who was apparently influenced by his stay as American minister to ... France!  Chernow writes:

In contrast to this patrician style, Jefferson cherished a vision of America as a rural retreat of Arcadian innocence. Once in New York, the courtly but suspicious Jefferson decided that the country had been corrupted in his absence and that "a preference of kingly over republican government was evidently the favorite sentiment" among well-heeled New Yorkers. The town struck him as infested with Tories and avaricious speculators in government securities -- all of them looking worshipfully toward Hamilton as their favorite.

Twelve years Jefferson's junior, Hamilton had never met him before; he had been a minor artillery captain when Jefferson composed the Declaration of Independence. By the time Jefferson arrived in New York, Hamilton had already trounced Madison in the "discrimination" debate and was hurtling ahead with the rest of his funding scheme. Jefferson feared that this program would create a fiercely loyal following for Hamilton among speculators enriched by it. He was convinced that congressmen were also dabbling in government securities and that "even in this, the birth of our government, some members were found sordid enough to bend their duty to their interests and to look after personal rather than public good." Jefferson derided the idea that Hamilton intended to pay off the government debt. "I would wish the debt paid tomorrow," Jefferson told Washington. "He wishes it never to be paid, but always to be a thing wherewith to corrupt and manage the legislature." ...

This kind of Federalist history just never seems to go away.  Jefferson believed during the Washington Administration that the US should concentrate on what we today would call its "comparative advantage" in international trade, agricultural exports, and rely on readily available manufactured goods that could be obtained from Europe.

By the time of his own Presidency, though, the turmoil in Europe over the French Revolution and the Napoleanic wars led Jefferson to the conviction, which he further with his controversial embargo, that the US had to develop its own manufacturing capability in its own national interest.  And his Administration did more to further that goal than any of Hamilton's schemes.  Jefferson's Administration also paid of the US debt, which was a critical goal for the small, new country in order to participate in international trade uninhibited by the debt constraints that the Hamiltonians would have let remain indefinitely.

It seems that old reactionary interpretations of American history never die.  They just keeping popping up over and over.

Confederate "Heritage" Month: April 25

Finally, I'm catching up on the dates.  Edward Sebesta's April 25 entry quotes from another United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine (March 1959) called "Why the South Honors Lee and Jackson."

Let's be clear: the Confederate idolators "honored" Stonewall Jackson, not Andrew Jackson

And why?  The article explains:

Robert E. Lee was a man who rejected personal opportunity to accept the difficult task of serving his state. He did so because of deep conviction. He believed in the Constitution and the reservation of powers to the states and the people. General Lee was a man who strongly opposed secession and was eager for the end of slavery. He was a gentle man who fought for his homeland because he believed in the principles of fundamental constitutional government.

Robert E. Lee was also a man who rejected his oath to the United States and its Army to join the armed revolt to destroy the United States of America.  If he believed in the Constitution, leading an army to destroy it was quite a peculiar way to show it.  If Lee opposed secession, he shouldn't have joined it.  And this idea that Lee was "eager for the end of slavery" is not only false, it shows how little the Confederate idolator who penned the article cared for the real history of the South.  He may have been a gentle man in his personal relationships.  But the "homeland" for which he fought in the Civil War was not the America that he pledged to support in his oath to the Army; Lee's conception of Southern honor did not include honoring that pledge to his country.

The writer is undoubtedly correct, however, in speculating on what the roles of Lee and Stonewall Jackson would have been on segregation in the 1950s:

Who can deny that Lee and Jackson in this modern day would be  standing with their, feet firmly planted on conviction, with Christian morality and dedication to the established Constitution, determined to use every  legal means possible to thwart usurpation that threatens to tear our nation asunder and destroy freedom by destroying the Constitution?

In that, at least, they were "honoring" the real Lee and Stonewall Jackson.  What follows is more obtuse segregationist prose about states rights.  It was some measure of good fortune for the supporters of democracy in the 1950s that the segregationists so often defended their cause with such turgid writing.

Confederate "Heritage" Month: April 26

Edward Sebesta's April 26 entry quotes an article glorifying Jefferson Davis, from the United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine (July 1958).  This article is quite clear in its focus on segregation in 1958, not some antiquarian interest in the holy Confederacy.  It begins:

All true and loyal Americans should be proud of Jefferson Davis, for he was one of our most famous statesmen, a bold and fearless military leader, and a peerless upholder of the thing that America needs most today, Constitutional Government, and States rights!

Well, sure.  You know, except when he was trying to destroy the US Constitution by leading a huge armed revolt against it.  And except in the Senate in the 1950s, when he fought on belalf of the Slave Power to enforce federal power to override states' rights on every issue that found federal power siding with the slave system against free states, like the Fugtive Slave Act.

What follows is a litany of praise for the perfect character of the noble Davis, who nobly struggled against the sinister Lincoln and "his evil advisers," who forced the poor slaveowners into revolt against their will.  Here's a good taste of Confederate "heritage" ideology:

So was The War forced upon the Southern States; I refer to it as "The War," because so did my grandparents , but noted historians call it the "War Between the States!" while still others say it was the "Civil War!" ["War Between the States" was the favorite term of Lost Cause advocates.] Term this horrible death struggle what you may, The Confederates fought to defend their freedom and independence, and for Constitutional and State Rights! Could there have been a more noble cause for fighting a war that was forced upon them? Jefferson Davis was the great American Statesman and Patriot who willingly sacrificed himself in this noble cause, which like the song of the Old Soldiers, will "Never Die!" for as long as there are true Americans, they will never cease their struggle for freedom and independence, that exists only under Constitutional and States Rights.  (my emphasis)

Could there be a more noble cause?  Defending America and its Constitution against the slaveowners trying to destroy comes immediately to mind.  This is a good one to recall when you hear about how multicultural the neo-Confederates are (emphasis in red is Sebesta's):

The Supreme Court of our land, has willfully usurped the power of Congress, and also without authority of our Constitution, Americans today, are being forced by an invisible government, a supreme alien authority that exercises control over the sovereign States and private citizens of the American Republic, to support ‑not only their own American Government, but also are forced to support foreign people of practically every other country of the entire world.

Millions upon millions of Americans' hard earned tax dollars are annually squandered in foreign lands in far too many foolish ways to list here. This constant waste of America's wealth, together with forced shameful race-mixing, that causes lowered educational standards, immorality, and finally a mongrelized people, will bring about the down fall of America, as integration of races doomed the once cultured, and prosperous cities and nations of Carthage, Athens, Rome, and Sparta; and made of Egypt the weak world power that she is today.

A "supreme alien authority."  That would be the elected Constitutional government of the United States.  And I'm sure the readers of this magazine spent a lot of time carefully considering the "heritage" of Carthage and Egypt and the others mentioned.  We're dealing with deep historical thinkers here!

May it please Him to preserve America, and to give to us a Christian fearless leader, like Jefferson Davis ...

If this writer is still around, he must be pleased with George W. Bush.  (See the last two paragraphs of The Most Dangerous President Ever by Harold Meyerson American Prospect 05/01/03 issue.)

I'll close with a final quote from this Confederate-idolator tribute to Jefferson Davis:

Then shall all the godless and non-Christian enemies of America be defeated, and all their evil plans brought to naught.

Especially, do we ask the help of God, that we may preserve the in­tegrity of our Anglo‑Saxon race, so we may pass on to our posterity the great blessing of being well born: and may He infuse in the hearts, and minds, of each of us, the undying patriotic spirit of our beloved Jef­ferson Davis, when he said, near the end of his days ". . . tell the world that I only loved America!"

Heritage not hate?

Confederate "Heritage" Month: April 24

Edward Sebesta's April 24 entry for Confederate Heritage Month is from the United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine over three months in 1958.  It's yet another illustration of how much the celebration of Confederate "heritage" was about celebrating the present reality of segregation during those decades.

The article declares:

The effort to confer immediate and full citizenship upon one million men just out of slavery was a political and social blunder, working grievous wrongs to whites and blacks alike, and the more so that the federal government had no plan or power at the time to provide for the education of the freed men in the meaning and responsibilities of that citizenship. ...

The validity of the Fourteenth Amendment upon which the Supreme Court based its decision has been questioned time and time again. Before concluding whether or not the amendment in question is valid, it is necessary to go into the history of its dubious ratification.

Questioning whether the 14th Amendment, which clearly extended the protection of the Bill of Rights to states, was properly ratified was one of many spurious historical arguments favored by the segregationists.  It's such a frivolous argument that it's doubtful even so thoroughly political a jurist as Dick Cheney's huntin' buddy Antonin Scalia could take it seriously.

What follows is a rant against the Supreme Court and its authority and a defense of the phony "free choice" option on school desegregation, in which parallel school systems for blacks and whites would be maintain, but anyone who chose to go to the other race's schools could do so.

Such is the way Confederate "heritage" was celebrated in 1958 during the long resistance of the South to the Supreme Court's school desegregation order.

Heritage not hate?

Confederate "Heritage" Month: April 23

Edward Sebesta's April 23 selection again focuses on the political and racial sentiments that have long been an integral part of the Confederate "heritage" scam.

It's worth restating that there are groups, like the reenactor groups so far as I'm familiar with them, who keep their distance from this kind of nonsense.  It's certainly possible to be a collector of memorabilia or an historian (professional or amateur) with a special interest in the Confederacy without endorsing the present-day goals of the so-called "heritage" movement.

I would go further and say that to really understand the Confederacy requires some real effort to see things from the Confederate point of view.  But understanding is not defending, and explanation doesn't have to be apologetics.  I once saw a reviewer criticizing Robert Caro's second volume of his Lyndon Johnson biographer, saying that a biographer treating an unsympathetic subject has "to learn to love his monster."

The same thing is true in trying to understand a Jefferson Davis or a Robert E. Lee or a simple private in the Confederate army.  But that becomes impossible if we try to erase what they really thought and said and replace it with some pretty story at odds with reality.  For instance, in a previous post I linked to the site of some group called the Southern Independence Party, which included this bonehead assertion:

When Abraham Lincoln was elected president, he and the U.S Congress immediately passed the Morrill Tariff (the highest import tax in U,S history), more than doubling the import tax rate from 20% to 47%. This tax served to bankrupt many southerners. This oppressive tax is what pushed Southern states legally withdrew [sic] from the union.

This is a typical tactic of crackpot extremists to bring up some hopelessly obscure issue that even someone very familiar with the actual history of the period would have difficulty addressing without a little research.  I've seen it done in online discussion groups, as well, to try to sidetrack a discussion by insisting that people research some dead-end issue like this.  If anyone is tempted to do that with the Morrill Tariff, I can tell you that you will search long and hard to find anyone resembling a legitimate historian that will argue that this was the cause of the Civil War.  Or any secession convention where the Morrill Tariff was the main topic of discussion.  Before you start, though, it might be helpful to know that the Morrill Tarriff was passed after seven Southern states had already seceeded, and signed into law by the proslavery President James Buchanan as one of his last official acts as President.

So much for reverencing "heritage."  What kind of honoring one's ancestors is it when you have to make up explanations for their actions that don't even past the snicker test?  For a more middle-brown version of the same idiotic argument, see Lincoln's Tariff War by neo-Confederate Thomas DiLorenzo.

Sebesta's April 23 selection, also from the United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine (Feb 1959) which reproduces the text of a 1958 speech at a luncheon sponsored by the organization in Tampa, FL, shows that this kind of crackpot scamming is by no means new for Confederate idolators.  The emphases in red are Sebesta's:

The driving force and the master plan in this [desegregation] crisis stems from the Communist International conspiracy to capture and destroy the United States of America-that organization well knows that if they can deprive the people of their constitutional rights by deceitful propaganda and divide them over internal issues, we will be an easy prey, and our country will fall. ...

The Communist conspirators who are behind this integration movement are past masters in the use of propaganda to win their battles. ...

 Yet, some ministers with their great prestige and influence are using "the brotherhood of man" as a lever to force integration in their own churches. This action will lead only to disunity in their congregation, to heartbreak and disappointment for the negro, to intermarriage, a mongrel race and to the destruction of the United States of America. ...

I want you fine ladies here this morning to alwaysremember that the issue at stake right now is the same issue your southern forebears fought and died for.

During the war our southern men gave their lives and our southern women made every sacrifice to fight for a cause in which they believed-their battle cry was "honor" and "courage" - not "compromise" and "surrender"-and now the torch held so high by these men and women is passed on to you to carry forward-- must not fail them!

The time is here for the people of this State to rise up and say to the nation-"we DO NOT believe in the integration of the races-" ...

May the spirit of Lee and Jackson and the long line of departed southern heroes be with you, guide and strengthen you at this time so that this great organization of patriotic southern women can use its power to save our people and preserve our nation.

Heritage not hate?  Or just white folks whining?

Confederate "Heritage" Month: April 22

Hey, I said it was going to be history-geek day!

Edward Sebesta's April 22 entry is from the October 1957 issue of the United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine.  That particular group is kind of the ultimate stereotype of old Southern ladies reminiscing about the good ole days of mansions and mint juleps before the Yankees messed everything up.

Sebesta explains why he uses this article in the context of shedding light on the neo-Confederate hokum, which is the focus of his Confederate Heritage Month page:

The Confederate organizations are fond of claiming that the KKK somehow hijacked the meaning of the Confederate flag and gave it a popular impression of it being racist.  However, you can see here that the Confederate organizations themselves made it quite clear ... that the meaning of the Confederacy was racism.

The article quoted is by Judge William Beard, a former head of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV).  Beard writes:

Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jonathan Stonewall Jackson, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Raphael Semmes and the 600,000 soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy did not fight for a "Lost Cause." They fought to repel invasion, and in defense of their Constitutional liberties bequeathed them by their forefathers. Their second war for Independence has inspired heroic people everywhere in their struggle against the invader and for the right of local self government.

The valorous deeds of the Soldiers and Sailors of the Confederacy will stand forever as beacon lights of human courage and endurance for the integrity of principle.

One imagines that Judge Beard never troubled his head much about incidents like the Fort Pillow massacre carried out by the holy Confederates, "one of the most brutal massacres of the Civil War," or other similar incidents.

Beard proceeds to link the Confederate cause with resistance to the Supreme Court's school desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education:

Since the Supreme Court decision of May 17, 1954, reversed what had been the Supreme Law of the land for 75 years and declared unconstitutional the laws of 17 states under which segregated school systems were established, the thinking people have been aroused from their lethargy in respect to State's Rights. While the decisions of the Supreme Court must be accepted by the Courts of the United States and by the States, they need not necessarily be accepted by the Court of public opinion. ...

There are ways of appreciating the history of the Civil War and even of honoring the Confederate dead without pandering to the slavery and white supremacy for which is stood, and without trying to justify of prettify the reality of segregation in the past or racial discrimination and prejudice today.

I added a comment to a thoughtful and interesting post on this topic at AOL Journal Patrick's Place. Check out his post.  Feel free to ignore my comment, but do check out his post.

But that is not how the Confederate "heritage" groups have approached it.  Even before the latest trendof hardcore rightwing ideologues adopting Confederate imagery and trying to take over the "heritage" scam.  It would be an interesting exercise to see if there is any evidence at all of Confederate "heritage" groups criticizing segregation or Jim Crow laws, much less actively opposing them.

Heritage not hate?

Confederate "Heritage" Month: April 21

Edward Sebesta's April 21 entry sheds more light on the racial attitudes of those who reverence the sacred Confederacy.  It cites a 1925 article from the Confederate Veteran saying what a mistake it was to give African-Americans the vote.  Without, of course, noting that they were being systematically denied that vote in most of the South in 1925.  And he declares, "The true solution of the negro problem lies in rectifying the original mistake by returning the negroes to their homeland of Africa." Aka, ethnic cleansing in today's terms.

Heritage not hate?

In a continued attempt to add a little value of my own, I'm looking at another Jefferson Davis speech, this one in the Senate on February 29, 1860, the year before secession.  The speech gives a good look at the constant sense of threat under which slaveowners functioned (Davis was himself a slaveowner) at that time.  Although the opposition to slavery in the North was real and growing, the Slave Power's perception of the threat was exaggerated far beyond the immediate reality.

There's a lot of blather in this speech about constitutional rights; but one doesn't have to look very hard to see that the only constitutional right being defended that that of holding property in other human beings:

Negro slavery exists in the South, and by the existence of negro slavery, the white man is raised to the dignity of a freeman and an equal. Nowhere else will you find every white man superior to menial service. Nowhere else will you find every white man recognized so far as an equal as never to be excluded from any man's haouse [sic] or any man's table. Your own menial who blacks your boots, drives your carriage, who wears your livery, and is your own in every sense of the word, is not your equal; and such is society wherever negro slavery is not the substratum on which the white race is elevated to its true dignity.

It's worth noting that Davis, as did most slaveowners at this time, defends slavery as a positive good, not as a tragic necessity to civilize the poor Africans or some other such sentimental hogwash.

Not to imply that this statement wasn't itself hogwash.  Slavery did not make "every white man" equal.  In fact, the extremes of wealth were huge between the small planter class and the vast majority of the white population.  But this was the ideology of the Slave Power at the time, and it certainly had some persuasive power, especially since Abolitionist sentiments had long been brutally and actively suppressed even among whites in the South.  You may not be a planter, the Jefferson Davises could say to white farmers and workers.  But look, you're at least better off than the slaves!

Davis proceeds in the speech to make the claim, which everyone knew was a bad joke, that laws in the slave states protected slaves against abuse by their masters.  He offers this description of why slavery is a permanently required institution:

The condition of slavery with us is, in a word, Mr. President, nothing but the form of civil government instituted for a class of people not fit to govern themselves. It is exactly what in every State exists in some form or other. It is just that kind of control which is extended in every northern State over its convicts, its lunatics, its minors, its apprentices. It is but a form of civil government for those who by their nature are not fit to govern themselves. We recognize the fact of the inferiority stamped upon that race of men by the Creator, and from the cradle to the grave, our Government, as a civil institution, marks that inferiority.

This dogma, among other things, allows little room for free blacks of any kind.    Because every person of African descent working and prospering to any degree as a free human being was a living witness that this doctrine was false.After all, says the soon-to-be-President of the Confederacy, God himself has put a stamp of inferiority on that entire "race of men" - and there's no reason to think he meant to exclude the women of the same race from that comment.

And, proving once again that pointing to the mote in the other person's eye (to use a King James Bible phrase) is the easiest kind of political polemics, Davis expresses his deep concern for the poor and oppressed of the North (whose sincerity was about thatof Dick Cheney's as he agonized over the human rights of Iraqi under Saddam):

I seek not, sir, to inquire into the policy and propriety of the institutions of other States; I assume not to judge of their fitness; it belongs to the community to judge, and I know not under what difficulties they mayhave been driven to what I cannot approve; but never, sir, in all my life, have I seen anything that so appealed to every feeling of humanity and manliness, as the suffering of the poor children imprisoned in your juvenile penitentiaries--imprisoned before they were old enough to know the nature of crime--there held to such punishment as we never inflict save upon those of mature years. I arraign you not for this: I know not what your crowded population and increasing wants may demand; I know not how far it may be the necessary result of crime which follows in the footsteps of misery; I know not how far the parents have become degraded, and how far the children have become outcast, and how far it may have devolved on the State to take charge of them; but, I thank my God, that in the state of society where I reside, we have no scenes so revolting as these.

Davis cited the Scripture to which I just referred as well, referring to Northern critics of slavery: "Very intent in looking into the distance for the mote in your brother's eye, is it to be wondered that we turn back and point to the beam in your own?" Pointing to "beams" in the eye of the North would be a popular sport among Southern defenders of segregation and Jim Crow laws for decades after the Civil War.

Cynical though it was, this is one of the more intriguing aspects of the North-South controversies before the war, the way each side made a point of detailing the social failings of the other.  One main reason that Richard Hofstadter labelled John Calhoun "the Karl Marx of the master class" is that Calhoun at one point tried to build a coalition that would unite Northern urban workers (Jacksonian Democrats) with the Southern planters against the Northern representatives of capital.  In John C. Calhoun (1963), Richard Current called attention to some similarities between Calhoun and Davis.  Calling Calhoun the grandfather of the Confederacy, he described his influence on one of its direct parents:

The next in the line was to be Jefferson Davis [i.e., the line  of"ancestry" of the Confederacy].  He was one of a group of senators who accompanied Calhoun's body from Washington to its burial place in Charleston.  "Then he [Davis] had been the most adored Southerner among the living," one of Davis' biographers has written, "and South Carolina had helped to drape the mantle of her illustrious son [Calhoun] around his shoulders."  But Davis did not keep the mantle on, or at least he did not, for the time being, display its secessionist lining.  During the 1850s he reenacted a phase of Calhoun's earlier career.  Like Calhoun, he was a great Secretary of War (1853-57) and used the office to promote transportation improvements.  Like Calhoun, he hoped to become President of the United States, and he devoted himself not to secession but to sectional unity within the national union.  He was later to emerge as a leader of the movement for the secession and confederation of the South.

Confederate "Heritage" Month: April 20 [Jefferson Davis eulogizing Andrew Jackson]

For his April 20 selection, Edward Sebesta provides a quotation from a 1913 issue of the Confederate Veteran praising the Ku Klux Klan as having played a key role in "preserving civilization in the South, which ... came near being engulfed in the unfathomable abyss of negro rule..."

Heritage not hate?

But for my entry today, I'm going to another Jefferson Davis speech, this one eulogizing Andrew Jackson, who died June 8, 1845.  Davis' speech was on June 28, 1845, in Vicksburg MS.

As I mentioned in the Introduction to this Weblog, Jackson was an heroic figure, a champion of the common people and of American patriotism.  But he was also a deeply flawed hero, a slaveowner who - unlike Thomas Jefferson - defended the institution of slavery and displaced the Indian tribes of the Southeast in a way that any American today would find it difficult to defend.

Davis as one of the leading proslavery Democratic Senators had to deal also with that contradictory nature of the General's political heritage.  The Democratic Party was the Jacksonian Party.  But the Jacksonian legacy was primarily one of expanding democracy, increasing economic opportunity and defending the Union.  At the same time, Jackson continued a tradition of entrenched Southern power in the Presidency, which was used to defend slavery.

Jackson was a popular figure in the rural South, including Jefferson's Mississippi.  So he had to find some way to praise Old Hickory's political legacy, which he would betray and attempt to destroy in the most serious way when he chose to become head of the Confederate rebellion.

Here is how Davis presents Jackson's struggle against the Calhounites of South Carolina in the nullification controversy, which had been nominally about a tariff:

Early in his administration the country was convulsed by deep dissatisfaction against an impost law, (the tariff of 1828) placed on the statute book before he came into office. President Jackson viewed that law with no favor, his friends generally desired its repeal, but his was not the department of government which could repeal a law or judge of its constitutionality, however unjust, impolitic, and unequally oppressive it might be, his duty was, whilst it remained a law to see it faithfully executed. His whole power over the subject of modification or repeal, was exhausted in his messages to congress. Resistance to the laws it was his duty to suppress by all the means at his command, and when loud and deep were heard threats of disunion, the destruction of that confederacy, the establishment of which had cost him all except his honor and his life, he resolved, cost what it might, to save it.

The agony with which he viewed the prospect of fraternal strife, and on the land where lay the bones of all his kindred, speaks forth in these few word[s], "The Union, it must be preserved." Long live that maxim, and may our Union ever be preserved by justice conciliation and brotherhood, without a spot, without a stain of blood that flowed in civil war.

It obviously wasn't the twentieth century that politicians' weasel-words came on the scene!  While it's true that the General compromised on the tariff, the key issue and the one of enduring importance in that controversy was whether Southern slaveowners would be able to defy legitimate national authority in defense of their "peculiar istitution."  Davis creates a pitifully phony image of Jackson tragically obligated to enforce the laws and doing so only with extreme relectance.  Ole Hickory was never reluctant to fight Calhoun and the South Carolina "fire-eaters" over the issue.  He fought and he won.  (I posted on this controversy last October, with particular reference to how it's treated in Lost Cause dogma.)

Davis' description of Jackson's battle with the national bank - at least the portions of the speech presented at the link above - do not describe that struggle as what it was, a contest between a democratic government and centralized economic power that was corrupting and blocking the operations of democratic government.  Instead, Davis presents it as an instance of Jackson exercising his duties under the code ofSouthern honor.

This speech was designed to make a nod to the ordinary voters who still reverenced Jackson's memory, while not saying anything to upset the slaveowners in the least.