Thursday, September 30, 2004

The debate: First reactions

Before I listen to the Big Pundits tell us what we should be thinking about this first debate between Kerry and Bush, I thought I would put down my early reactions.

On the ever-important style issues, as I predicted, Bush smirked like a frat boy through the whole thing, and Kerry sounded consdierably more wonkish than your average Oakland Raiders fan.  Man, what a prognosticator I've become!

(Okay, so I was a little off on the outcome of the California's governor's referendum last year, but let's just let that one drop, okay?)

The biggest surprise to me was when Jim Lehrer asked the candidates what they saw as the most urgent foreign policy threat to America, that Kerry said straightforwardly and without mincing words, "nuclear proliferation."  I agree with him 100%.  But it's not the common way the Big Pundits frame the national priorities.  How many times do the Big Pundits ask each other, "Well, Howie, how do we stand on nuclear proliferation this week?"  "I'll tell you, David, I think we've made some real progress, though the last couple of days may have been a bit of a set-back."

And Bush even agreed with him, though he insisted on putting it in terms of "weapons of mass destruction."  That "WMD" term has always been a weasel-word to try to blur the distinction between nukes on the one hand and chemical/biological weapons on the other.

I'm sure that, now that the political leadership of both parties have put this issue front-and-center, that the press corps will be examining the issue thoroughly for the remainder of the campaign. (Oh, come on, even a serious post needs some comic relief every now and then!  Or, as they say on the Internet, BWAA-HAHAHAHAHHAAA!)

Hey, if I can imagine a world in which that would happen, I could probably start writing science-fiction like AOL blogmeister John Scalzi.

Kerry did the basics of what he needed to do:  he kept returning to the deceptions, bad judgments, lack of planning, and apalling mismanagement of the Iraq War.  He expressly declined to use so indelicate a word as "lying" (though I'm not sure why).  And he stressed again and again that Bush should have concentrated the military effort against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, not against Saddam Hussein.  He also managed to get a clear focus on the priority choices that Bush made in giving Iraq priority over the more dangerous nations of Iran and especially North Korea.

One of Kerry's most effective moments was when Bush did one of his none-too-subtle Iraq=terror=9/11 routines and said "the enemy attacked us" in justifying the invasion of Iraq.  Kerry made the point calmly, firmly and clearly that Iraq did not attack us on 9/11.  Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda did.  If Bush had an embarassing moment from my viewpoint, it was when he was forced to insist in response that he knows that Osama bin Laden attacked the US on 9/11.

It's probably also in the realm of pure fantasy, but maybe, just maybe this debate will get at least part of our lazy press corps focused on the outrageous and continuing claims, sometimes directly but more often in the way Bush did it in this exchange, that the Iraq War was a response to the 9/11 attacks.

Speaking of fantasy, Kerry also made the point that Bush seemed unwilling to face the realities of the world, especially in Iraq.  He passed up some opportunities to challenge Bush on some blatant misstatements of fact, like his claims on the number of Iraqi police and security personnel trained.  But you can't have everything.

We can take comfort in the fact that the press corps will be thoroughly dissecting and fact-checking and corrrecting those claims of Bush's.  [snort] {snicker}[struggling to suppress hysterical laughter]

Bush did have his strong points in the debate.  Seriously.  His business-school style of getting a set of talking points and repeating them over and over is an advantage for him, especially given the increasingly authoritarian nature of the Republican Party and the willingness of the Fox News-Drudge-Oxycontin-Freeper echo chamber to let those talking point resound endlessly.  Kerry sends "mixed messages," he said, a leader can't do that, a leader needs to show "certainty," Kerry sends "mixed messages" on the Iraq War, he keeps changing positions on the war,a leader has to be consistent in being committed to his principles.

That fantasy press corps I've mentioned a couple of times could come up with a number of examples where Bush has sent "mixed messages" and taken contradictory actions on important policies.  Our real existing press corps won't do that. But Kerry did drive home the point about the contradictory policies on proliferation among Iraq, Iran and North Korea. 

(For the hardcore Europhile nerds, "real existing" is a sarcastic reference to the old Communist regime in East Germany.)

Also, if that fantasy press corps I've been imagining actually did follow up on Bush's claims in the debate, the whopper about how his administration had uncovered the AQ Khan nuclear proliferation network in Pakistan would be a fruitful source of enlightenment and even amusement.

Finally, was it just me, or did Bush seem particularly emphatic about his position that America should never join the International Criminal Court?  He seemed quite concerned that the ICC might find occasion to seek indictments against high American officials for violations of international law.

Gosh, do you think the Secretary General of the United Nations calling Bush's war in Iraq "illegal" might have actually registered on the brains of the president and some of his senior advisers?  Miracles are always possible.  I would guess a more likely explanation is that he's got senior officials already lobbying for presidential pardons during the transition period if he loses the elections.  The Valerie Plame affair, leaking of signals-related intelligence to Iraq through Ahmed Chalabi, torture in the gulag, Halliburton sweetheart deals, there's a lot to be concerned about.  Heck, somebody might have even started taking a hard look at American laws affecting preventive war!

Iraq War: The politics of war

George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic candidate for president and long-time Senator from South Dakota, has some definite thoughts about the Iraq War.  (McGovern backed Wesley Clark in the primaries.) McGovern to Nader: Drop Out! by David Talbot 09/27/04.

What's McGovern's advice for Kerry as he prepares for his first debate with Bush? "I want to see him continue to directly and forcefully attack Bush on the war. In 1972, during the Vietnam War, we couldn't tip the public against Nixon. Every time I denounced his administration as corrupt, I think I lost 100,000 votes. The public -- and the press -- just wasn't ready to hear what we were saying until the Watergate hearings. But I think it's different this time.

"I'd like to see Kerry contrast the performance of Bush Junior with Bush Senior. The first Bush knew how to fight a war against Saddam. He made sure the whole world was on our side when we finally went to war, and as a result it was over in 100 hours. This Bush doesn't have a clue, which is why we've ended up in this morass.

"I'm sure that deep in his soul, John Kerry believes we should never have gone into Iraq and he will get us out of there at the earliest opportunity. I think he was genuinely startled, after he voted to give Bush authorization to use force as an option, that Bush gave up so quickly on the UN and just went in."

And the ever-observant Juan Cole has come up with a very appropriate metaphor for Bush in the Iraq War: On the Virtues of Changing the Mind 09/29/04.

When you are deep in a hole, the first rule is to stop digging. Whatever Bush has been doing in Iraq for the past 18 months demonstrably has not worked. He desperately needs a change of mind on these policies. He needs to try something else.

The image of him giggling about Kerry changing his mind on Iraq takes on a chilling aspect when you think of him as Captain Joseph Hazelwood of the Exxon Valdez. Hazelwood told the helsman to steer right and then went to bed. The helsman didn't steer far enough right, and plowed into the Bligh Reef and disaster. Part of the reason was that corporate cost cutting had left the ship without radar. If you think about it, in fact, a wrecked oil tanker is a good image of Bush administration Iraq policy.

Bush should stop slapping his thigh and guffawing about that flipflopper Kerry and being to think seriously about changing his mind on some key policies himself. Otherwise, an Iraq as failed state could pose a supreme danger to the United States, the kind of danger that the Bligh Reef posed to the Exxon Valdez.

This is an interesting endorsement of John Kerry by John Eisenhower, son of the former Republican President, based in no small part on foreign policy considerations, from the ultraconservative Manchester (NH) Union Leader, Why I will vote for John Kerry for President by John Eisenhower 09/28/04, via Hesiod (my emphasis):

As son of a Republican President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, it is automatically expected by many that I am a Republican. For 50 years, through the election of 2000, I was. With the current administration’s decision to invade Iraq unilaterally, however, I changed my voter registration to independent, and barring some utterly unforeseen development, I intend to vote for the Democratic Presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry.

The fact is that today’s “Republican” Party is one with which I am totally unfamiliar. To me, the word “Republican” has always been synonymous with the word “responsibility,” which has meant limiting our governmental obligations to those we can afford in human and financial terms. Today’s whopping budget deficit of some $440 billion does not meet that criterion.

Responsibility used to be observed in foreign affairs. That has meant respect for others. America, though recognized as the leader of the community of nations, has always acted as a part of it, not as a maverick separate from that community and at times insulting towards it. Leadership involves setting a direction and building consensus, not viewing other countries as practically devoid of significance. Recent developments indicate that the current Republican Party leadership has confused confident leadership with hubris and arrogance.

Iraq War: The economics of war

Yes, Virginia, there is a military-industrial complex.

Boom times for War Inc. by James Galbraith, 09/30/04.  If you're shopping for good stock plays, defense-related industries are doing very well, as the helpful chart accompanying Galbraith's article illustrates.

In fact, the American Stock Exchange didn't waste much time after the 9/11 attacks adjusting to a, shall we say, dynamic new environment as relates to that sector:

On Sept. 21, 2001, the American Stock Exchange created the Amex Defense Index, a measure of the stock prices of 15 corporations that together account for about 80 percent of procurement and research contracting by the Department of Defense. The index, of course, includes the five largest military contractors: Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

The chart above, presented at a conference in Paris by economists Luc Mampaey and Claude Serfati, shows what has happened since then. With the Afghan war the arms index surged, gaining over 25 percent by April 2002. Then it slumped, along with the rest of the market. If you had invested $1,000 in a defense portfolio at the peak of the Taliban boomlet, by March 2003 you would have lost a third of your stake.

But then came Iraq. And it's been clover for contractors ever since. Total gains since March 2003 are above 80 percent. Even if you'd put your money in at the beginning, in September 2001, you'd be up over 50 percent. That isn't bad, considering.

The Carlyle Group, the merchant bank that is one of the key economic institutions supporting the Bush dynasty, has done very well in this sector, Galbraith observes.

But it's important to remember that, despite the claims and even pristine faith of those who believe in the virtues of war for the United States, war tends to be good for only parts of the economy:

Back in 1919, in the wake of the Great War, John Maynard Keynes wrote of the effects of war on business: "The war has disclosed the possibility of consumption to all and the vanity of abstinence to many." Something like this happened after September 2001. Households borrowed and kept up their spending evenas incomes shrank. But businesses, forward-looking and unsettled by the prospects ahead, curtailed investment. As Keynes also wrote, "no longer confident of the future, [capitalists] seek to enjoy more fully their liberties of consumption so long as they last." But they don't invest, and they don't create jobs.

The big scandal isn't who made money. It's who didn't. It isn't the handful who got good jobs working for defense firms. (It isn't the brave truck drivers risking their lives on the roads of Iraq.) It's the millions who got nothing at all. It's the fact that Bush did nothing about that. The message, once again: Bush doesn't care.

This makes, he says, a direct connection between Iraq and the poor jobs performance of this economy.  One that Kerry will hopefully be able to hammer home in these last crucial weeks of the campaign.

Galbraith is not alone in recognizing the dynamism of this sector of the economy.  The Sept. 2004 Harvard Business Review features an article by Mahlon Apgar !V and John Keane, "New Business with the New Military" that looks at this expanding era of profit opportunities:

The "military-industrial complex" that President Eisenhower first recognized [sic] is taking new form.  Then, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the four military services (the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force) were closely tied to a few major weapons contractors that managed large programs within a labyrinth of detailed regulations and specifications.  Now, the military is turning to nontraditional business partners to meet a wide range of needs, from health care to housing to information technology.  In essence, the long-standing government monopoly on every aspect of national security is being replaced by a more businesslike model in which DoD's warfighting capabilities are supported through outsourcing and business alliances for numerous noncombat functions.

They estimate that the "nonwarfighting business opportunities exceed $200 billion per year."  And they observe a very important feature of doing business with DoD, especially with a Republican administration and Republican Congress who wouldn't dream of restraining war profiteering, or even recognizing such a thing as a legitimate concern:

Once companies have become military suppliers, that business is relatively secure.  Firms that take the time and effort to acquire a military contract are rewarded by continuing relationships and stable, predictable revenues.  Through large, long-term DoD programs, military partnerships can dampen volatility and cyclicality in service businesses whose economic are whipsawed by the industries they serve - even if margins are lower.  DoD's cost-reimbursable contracts (the customer [DoD] reimburses the supplier for all costs incurred) and profit model (percentage of costs incurred, prenegotiated fee, or - increasingly - fee plus incentives based on outcome) complement the fixed-price and guaranteed maximum price contracts in industry.

When you filter out the jargon, that translates into: nice work if you can get it.  And an especially sweet deal if your former CEO is now Vice President and is still getting paid by your company.  Sweet deal.

Killing in war is not a sentimental matter

While the "keyboard commandos" look for new ways to romanticize other people killing and dying in a war to eliminate non-existent "weapons of mass destruction," it's not a bad idea for the rest of us to keep in mind the very real difficulties for the soldiers we send to fight the wars of liberation that the Bush strategists dream up.

This article is a good example: Is anyone ever truly prepared to kill? Christian Science Monitor 09/29/04. 

Much is rightly made of the dedication and sacrifice of those willing to lay down their lives for their country. But what is rarely spoken of, within the military or American society at large, is what it means to kill - to overcome the ingrained resistance most human beings feel to slaying one of their own kind, and the haunting sense of guilt that may accompany such an action. There is a terrible price to be paid by those who go to war, their families, and their communities, say some experts, by ignoring such realities. ...

It may seem strange that a central fact of war for millenniums should become an urgent concern now. But some close to the scene say modified warfare training that makes it easier to kill - and a US cultural response that tends to ignore how killing affects soldiers - have taken an unprecedented emotional and psychological toll. A lengthy conflict in Iraq, they worry, could increase that toll dramatically. [my emphasis]

Society has a moral obligation, some argue, to better prepare those sent to war, to provide assistance in combat, and to help in the transition home.

The rightwing jabber about "taking off the gloves," being merciless, shooting first and asking questions later, is obviously one major factor that lets people at home cheering for Our Side - as they watch the sanitized version of the war presented on Fox News and listen to it on Oxycontin radio - ignore the ugly realities of what they're cheering for.

This is one of the ugly sides of the sentimentalization of soldiers that Wesley Clark talks about.  As he puts it:

The irony, as [Clark] sees it, is that while the relationship between the military and the general public has improved since [the] Vietnam [War], the experience of actually serving in the military has become less common.  The result is a perception of soldiers as the embodiments of ideals - duty, honor, country - reinforced by a sentimentality unsullied by first-hand knowledge of soldiering. 

The Monitor article also makes a critically important point, that the soldier's individual ability to deal with what he or she has had to do depends importantly on whether they feel that what they have done is over the line in terms of what is permissable in war.  And, yes, there are standards of conduct in war.  That's one more of the devastating effects of something like the torture that went on in Abu Ghuraib and is presumably still occurring in other portion of the Bush-and-Rummy gulag.

In "The Code of the Warrior," his course at the Naval Academy, Dr. [Shannon] French focuses on moral distinctions - the historical legacy of the warrior and rules of war, and how to be alert to crossing the boundaries, as occurred at Abu Ghraib prison.

"It has been very well documented that there is a close connection between severe combat stress and the sense of having crossed moral lines," she says. [Yes, the original mixes the gender of Dr. French.]

Telford Taylor, who served as the chief US counsel in the Nuremberg war crimes trial after the Second World War, emphasized this point in his Nuremberg and Vietnam (1970).  He considers the positive effects that the laws of war had during the Second World War in restraining abuse of prisoners-of-war on the Western front in Europe.  (The Eastern front was a different story.)  Then he says:

Another and, to my mind, even more important basis of the laws of war is that they are necessary to diminish the corrosive effect of mortal combat on the participants.  War does not confer a license to kill for personal reasons - to gratify perverse impulses [as in Abu Ghuraib!], or to put out of the way anyone who appears obnoxious, or to whose welfare the soldier is indifferent.  War is not a license at all, but an obligation to kill for reasons of state; it does not countenance the infliction of suffering for its own sake or for revenge.

Unless troops are trained and required to draw the distinction between military and nonmilitary killings, and to retain such respect for the value of life that unnecessary death and destruction will continue to repel them, they may lose the sense for that distinction for the rest of their lives. The consequence would be that many returning soldiers would be potential murderers. [my emphasis]

This is well worth remembering whenever some blowhard fool is sounding off with things like:  "Well I say it’s time we took the gloves off in Iraq and Afghanistan. ... Shoot first and ask questions later."

Also following on the theme of the Monitor article, this is an important passage by Joseph McNamara, who served as a police officer in New York City and as police chief in Kansas City and San Jose, from his book Safe and Sane (1984). The context of which he was speaking was of domestic crime rather than combat, but its relevant:

Few people realize just how difficult it is to shoot a gun.  Having the power to kill someone is not something to take lightly.  When they're put in such a situation, many gun owner hesitate or freeze.  Some pay for such common reactions with their own lives.  I know many cops surely have.

For the most part, gun owners don't think about shooting someone.  They just assume that when they point a gun at someone, the person will do whatever they say. Did you ever notice how many Hollywood crooks look down the barrel of a gun? And whenever Kojak [a fictional TV cop played by Telly Sevalis] orders them to freeze, they immediately put their hands in the air.  Nothing could be further from the real world. When I gave such commands to people on the street, the response often was "[Cheney] you, pig!" Then what do you do? Shoot someone for swearing at you?

In my twenty-seven years in police work, I have never shot at anyone.  That is not to say I didn't have the opportunity.  Once, in New York, I couldn't force myself to shoot a man who came at me with a knife. ...

[He describes the incident, in which a furious assailant was threatening him with a knife and was close enough to stab him.] I would have been completely justified in killing the man, but I couldn't force myself to pull the trigger.  I'm not quite sure why.  Perhaps I never felt I was in real danger, though I was. And I was lucky to escape.

At best, the Iraq War won't be over soon.  It would be better for us all if we don't sentimentalize what war means to the point that we lose sight of the real consequences.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Spin and the spinning spinners who spin it

The debate about the Thursday debate is already in force.  And we're hearing about spin all over the place.  Like Debate spin in full force as candidates rehearse San Francisco Chronicle 09/29/04.

The usually lucid Hesiod even has a post about spinning the spin and the spin on the spinners: Can't Anybody Here Play This Game? 09/29/04.

All this reminds me of an episode of Star Trek: Voyager where the Voyager crew get catapulted through a spacetime warp into 1990s Earth.  At one point, Captain Janeway gets thoroughly exasperated and says something like, "This is why I've always hated the idea of time travel.  The past is the future, the future is the past, the whole thing just makes my head hurt!"

So, here's my strategies for minimizing headaches during Thursday's debate and the debate over Thursday's debate in the days afterward.

First, it's worthwhile remembering that the debate really is something more than a 90-minute event.  The days following the debate will be full of partisan comment, and the real impact of the debate will be heavily influenced by the subsequent press coverage and commentary.

The Daily Howler (aka Bob Somerby) is running posts this week recalling the first Bush/Gore debate in 2000.  The series is well worth following, beginning with the 09/27/04 installment and continuing in subsequent days' entries.

Next, as a Kerry partisan, I want to see Kerry go after Bush hard over the Iraq War on Thursday.  Joe Conason has some ideas on how he can do that effectively: Here's what Kerry needs to tell us 09/29/04.

This would be a good thing because the Iraq War is one of the worst disasters, maybe the worst, in the history of American foreign policy.  The war was a rotten idea to begin with, and Bush's management of it has been abysmal.

It also has the advantage as an issue that it fires up Kerry's base, andit has strong appeal to swing voters. See James Galbraith, The voters Democrats can't reach 09/13/04. And not only is it a vitally important, substantive issue in itself.  Bush's management of the war, from the buildup beforehand to his false claims about progress up to the present moment, challenge is credibility and punctures his image as a steadfast leader.  It will, if Kerry can hammer the points home effectively.

Finally, on Friday morning everyone will go from talking about their preferences by pretending to be a political strategist ("Kerry risks alienating swing voters by criticizing Bush") to pretending to be drama critics.

However our sad excuse for a political press and the Big Pundits play it, the drama aspects are really not that important for voters seriously trying to deal with the issues of the election. Unless one of the candidates has something like a nervous breakdown on camera, it's not that important in the fabled Grand Scheme of Things.

Will Kerry come across as being as much a regular guy as the legendary "Joe Sixpack"?  Of course not.  Will Bush smirk his preppy smirk?  Of course he will.

And it won't surprise me if that's what the Big Pundits obsess about over the next few days.  Another wild prediction: Fox News commentators will not think Kerry did a good job! ( See what bold forecasts I'm willing to make?)

But what happens in Iraq over the next year will affect our lives a lot more.

Other worthwhile pre-debate pieces I've encountered: Swagger vs. Substance by Paul Krugman New York Times 09/28/04; and, Josh Marshall comment 09/28/04.  The Howler alos discusses both pieces this week.

The world is coming to an end!

Bill Moyers recently gave a very good, brief description of the apocalyptic religious views of the Christian Right.  Journalism Under Fire by Bill Moyers, Address to the Society of Professional Journalists 09/11/04, (my emphasis):

One of the biggest changes in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. How do we fathom and explain the mindset of violent exhibitionists and extremists who blow to smithereens hundreds of children and teachers of Middle School Number One in Beslan, Russia? Or the radical utopianism of martyrs who crash hijacked planes into the World Trade Center? How do we explain the possibility that a close election in November could turn on several million good and decent citizens who believe in the Rapture Index? That’s what I said – the Rapture Index; google it and you will understand why the best-selling books in America today are the twelve volumes of the left-behind series which have earned multi-millions of dollars for their co-authors who earlier this year completed a triumphant tour of the Bible Belt whose buckle holds in place George W. Bush’s armor of the Lord. These true believers subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in the l9th century by a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative millions of people believe to be literally true.

According to this narrative, Jesus will return to earth only when certain conditions are met: when Israel has been established as a state; when Israel then occupies the rest of its “biblical lands;” when the third temple has been rebuilt on the site now occupied by the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques; and, then, when legions of the Antichrist attack Israel. This will trigger a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon during which all the Jews who have not converted will be burned. Then the Messiah returns to earth. The Rapture occurs once the big battle begins. True believers” will be lifted out of their clothes and transported to heaven where, seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts and frogs during the several years of tribulation which follow.

I’m not making this up. We’re reported on these people for our weekly broadcast on PBS, following some of them from Texas to the West Bank. They are sincere, serious, and polite as they tell you that they feel called to help bring the Rapture on as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. That’s why they have declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish settlements and backed up their support with money and volunteers. It’s why they have staged confrontations at the old temple site in Jerusalem. It’s why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the 9th chapter of the Book of Revelations where four angels “which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released “to slay the third part of men.’ As the British writer George Monbiot has pointed out, for these people the Middle East is not a foreign policy issue, it’s a biblical scenario, a matter of personal belief. A war with Islam in the Middle East is not something to be feared but welcomed; if there’s a conflagration there, they come out winners on the far side of tribulation, inside the pearly gates, in celestial splendor, supping on ambrosia to the accompaniment of harps plucked by angels.

One estimate puts these people at about 15% of the electorate. Most are likely to vote Republican; they are part of the core of George W. Bush’s base support. He knows who they are and what they want. When the President asked Ariel Sharon to pull his tanks out of Jenin in 2002, over one hundred thousand angry Christian fundamentalists barraged the White House with emails and Mr. Bush never mentioned the matter again. Not coincidentally, the administration recently put itself solidly behind Ariel Sharon’s expansions of settlements on the West Banks. In George Monbiot’s analysis, the President stands to lose fewer votes by encouraging Israeli expansion into the West Bank than he stands to lose by restraining it. “He would be mad to listen to these people, but he would also be mad not to.” No wonder Karl Rove walks around the West Wing whistling “Onward Christian Soldiers.” He knows how many votes he is likely to get from these pious folk who believe that the Rapture Index now stands at 144 --- just one point below the critical threshold at which point the prophecy is fulfilled, the whole thing blows, the sky is filled with floating naked bodies, and the true believers wind up at the right hand of God. With no regret for those left behind. (See George Monbiot. The Guardian, April 20th, 2004.)

I know, I know: You think I am bonkers. You think Ann Coulter is right to aim her bony knee at my groin and that O’Reilly should get a Peabody for barfing all over me for saying there’s more to American politics than meets the Foxy eye. But this is just the point: Journalists who try to tell these stories, connect these dots, and examine these links are demeaned, disparaged, and dismissed. This is the very kind of story that illustrates the challenge journalists face in a world driven by ideologies that are stoutly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. Ideologues – religious, political, or editorial ideologues – embrace a world view that cannot be changed because they admit no evidence to the contrary. And Don Quixote on Rocinante tilting at windmills had an easier time of it than a journalist on a laptop tilting with facts at the world’s fundamentalist belief systems.

It's hard for many people to believe that this particular view is so influential in American politics.  But, within the Republican Party, it's extremely influential.  I don't know if George W. Bush or any of his senior administration officials subscribe personally to this particular type of belief.  I would be surprised to learn that John Ashcroft does not, but I don't know either way.

But the Christian Right is a very strong political force within the Republican Party.  And this viewpoint is one of the most powerful ideological influences driving American foreign policy in the Middle East.  One need not take it seriously in a religious sense - most Christian certainly do not understand our religion in this way - to take seriously the fact that it is a powerful influence on the current administration in Washington.

Update on Foster Barton case

I posted on 09/24/04 and 09/28/04 about Foster Barton, the young Ohio soldier and Purple Heart recipient on leave from the Iraq War.

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, the Freeper network, and, last but not least, the Drudge Report, Barton became an instant hero/martyr for the rightwing war fans.  Not for his Purple Heart.  Republicans are pretty dubious of those these days, since John Kerry won three of them.  But because he was attcked from behind after a Toby Keith concert by someone shouting about soldiers.

In those two previous posts, I quoted a sample of some of the frenzied Freeper prose about what this meant for the decadence of the antiwar movement and the Kerry campaign, although the news about the attack on Barton gave no indication that the assailant was actually associated with either.

So I've been checking every day with Web searches to see if there was more news on the case.  All the searches turn up are multiple versions of the Freeper version of the story, and endless reprints of the frivolous Jan Ireland article I quoted in one of those earlier posts.

So I went back to the Web site of the local NBC affiliate, which provided the news report that most people have used, and did a search there.

Holy justice system, Batman!  The police have made an arrest in the case.

Now, maybe this is all over FreeperWorld (the story first appeared last night).  But I was shocked, shocked to see no mention of it in the Web searches, at RepublicanJen's blog or on Drudge.  I would have thought that "Marine veteran JKARLUSMC" would have posted another comment on it by now.

Here's the story: Barton Allegedly Attacked at Concert 09/28/04 (updated 09/29/04).  Nothing in the story contradicts what the Freepers so eagerly assumed.  But it also doesn't fit neatly into their version either:

Brent Cornwell, 28, of Blacklick, was arrested Tuesday night by Columbus police. He was charged with felonious assault Wednesday morning at a Delaware County Municipal Court video arraignment.

A judge set bond at $15,000. Cornwell was ordered to be on house arrest. ...

Barton said his attacker beat him up because he was wearing an Operation Iraqi Freedom T-shirt. Barton was beaten so badly that he was knocked unconscious.

Police said witnesses at the scene and the suspect's own family helped police make an arrest, Laven reported. Police said Cornwell, who spent four years in the Army, called a morning radio show last week and said he wanted to give his side of the story, Laven reported. [emphasis added]

Now, having followed this and having taken the occasion to use the Freepers' processing of this story as an example of a larger trend, I'm curious to see how this comes out.  It's entirely possible that Cornwell, if he committed the assault, was part of some radical antiwar group.  But so far, there's not the slightest suggestion of that.

But the Freepers wanted this to be a story about cowardly antiwar wimps hating our brave men and women in uniform.  So it's hard to guess which the Freepers would consider worse at this point:  having Cornwell turn out to be a violent nut or a personal enemy of Barton with no political motives in the attack; or, having four year Army veteran Cornwell turn out to be an antiwar militant.

"Developing ...", as they say on the Drudge Report.

Chuckie Watch 68: Chuckie wants to escalate

The war in Iraq, that is.  Ole Chuckie, bravely typing away (or hunt-and-pecking away, as the case may be), says them Iraqi guerillas are nothin' but Animals 09/27/04.

Chuckie declares that the following as the Patriotically Correct line of the day:

I have said it before and I will emphatically say it again, the war in Iraq is the war on terrorism. Just who are we fighting over there?

The answer is that we’re fighting a bunch of depraved animals who have not the least conscience attack when hacking off the head of an innocent man in front of his family and anybody else in the world who has a computer.

Chuckie says the insurgents in Iraq are baby rapers.  Or the ones in Russia, what's the difference?  Iraqis, A-rabs, Russians, Chechnyans, there all a bunch of foreign animals and perverts and liberals, as seen from ChuckieWorld.  (We probably shouldn't tell Chuckie about the American torturers at Abu Ghuraib prison who were doing the Big Nasty with young Arab boys; he probably couldn't process that one too well.)

You don’t believe that? Then why is it that the one who controls the guns in all the Middle East controls the population? We know about Saddam Hussein and the Mullahs in Iran but what about the feudal system, which still operates in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. It’s all about power to these people and power is all they respect.

Well I say it’s time we took the gloves off in Iraq and Afghanistan. No more amnesties, no more stopping the battle under false pretenses, which only gives the enemy time to regroup and start shooting at our troops again.

I’m for doing whatever we have to do to protect our troops and put an end to the war in Iraq.

Shoot first and ask questions later.

Yay-uuh, Chuckie!!  We need to kill, kill, KILL them A-rabs, don't we?

Steve Gilliard, by coincidence, is also writing today about some online zealot who's eager to have someone else escalate the killing, dying and torturing: Chickenhawk Squawks 09/29/04.  What Gilliard says about the particular superpatriotic lover of war (for someone else) applies also to Chuckie's latest rant.  Even without the expletivesdeleted:

Only cowards talk about killing so easily. If real, hard core Iraqi guerillas came to his house to kill him, he'd have their [expletive deleted] in his mouth so fast it would put a [promiscuous person] to shame. He would do anything to live. Because his words are cheap. In Iraq, people shoot back and they kill Americans. This PS2 fantasy of his doesn't bear any resemblence to reality. Real soldiers are growing sick of the war because the Iraqis are not video game sprites, but real people who can shoot. And the "good guys" do not always win. In at least 1,050 families, they did not get the better of the enemy or Iraq.

I just hope this man has the common sense not to say this [expletive deleted] to some kid back from Iraq, who watched his friends die in combat, because he may just beat him silly.

Telling this pathetic keyboard commando that his words are the kinds of thing the Iraqi guerillas use to psyche up their troops would be beyond him. Any time you can tell someone that the enemy wants to wipe them from the face of the earth, they have a weapon. So while he plans for his version of the fourth reich, some Iraqi surfing the internet will see this, translate it, print it out and say that's how most Americans think.

Actually, Gilliard gets a bit carried away in the last sentence.  If you're making war propaganda, you can always find something from the Other Side to make your point about how depraved they are.  And if you can't find it, you just make it up.

But his basic point is dead on.  Promoting mindless jingoism, even in an unquestionably good cause, is always an irresponsible thing to do.  Chuckie likes to posture as the tough, down-to-earth, good ole boy Southern redneck.  Even if he goes out every week and has a fist fight with Billy Bob - it's a very safe bet that he doesn't - sitting around and spewing rhetoric about killin' and torturin' the bad guys is just blowhard nonsense.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

California politics: Jerry Brown opposing the "3 strikes" law revision

This is a good story highlighting the problems of California's initiative system.  Kevin Drum has a good post on the general issue:  Why I Hate Ballot Initiatives 09/28/04.  He summarizes the problems well.  And I'm with him in almost always voting against them, even when I agree with the general thrust of one, because I think it's a really bad way to make law.  They're superficially democratic, but in practice they do more to hamper democracy than to promote it.

Kevin does make one mistake in that post: not all initiatives are constitutional amendments in California.

One of the worst ones we've ever passed was a badly written "3 strikes" measure mandating long sentences for a third felony.  The law made no distinction between violent and non-violent crimes.  It's led to some absurd results, with people being sentenced to longer terms for crimes that involved no violence to persons than some murderers get.  The general concept behind "3 strikes" is sensible: previous crimes should be heavily taken into account in sentencing.

But this law was badly written.  This November, Proposition 66 on the California ballot would modify that law.  Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, former state governor and current candidate for state attorney general in 2006, testified against the proposal to the state legislature this week: Don't change '3-strikes' law, Brown warns 09/28/04.

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown told a legislative committee Monday that passage of a ballot measure to modify the state's "threestrikes" law would "wreak havoc" in his city and in communities all over the state.

"Under this law, you're going to cut loose thousands of people who the prosecutors of this state - all 58 of them - think should be locked up for the rest of their lives," Brown told the hearing on the upcoming Proposition 66 measure. ...

As governor, it was Brown who signed the 1977 determinate sentencing law that sought to impose uniform guidelines on prison terms. OnMonday, Brown said the law he signed resulted in major "unintended consequences," the single most important of which was the creation of automatic release dates for most offenders, which severely restricted the state's parole system from exerting control over convicts once they leave prison.

Brown said Proposition 66 will compound the problems created by the 1977 law.

"It will be cutting loose people who don't have a skill set, don't have a game plan and will be wreaking havoc on the community," Brown said.

Brown's reference to "unintended consequences," which is a favorite concept (superficially at least) for conservatives, actually reflects his Illichian view of looking critically at developing processes.

One of the main issues on which Brown is focusing in his campaign for attorney general is a meaningful reform of the prison training and parole systems, to ensure that people released from prison will have the personal and educational skills to be able to make a living when they get out without going back to crime.

What he's arguing on this issue is it doesn't make sense to remove the bad consequences of the current law without providing meaningful reform of the training and parole components of the criminal-justice system.

Deb Thorton's essay

Many thanks to Deb Thornton for allowing me to use her essay "Blood" in the previous post.

I like it for several reasons.  Especially in the way she switches smoothly and swiftly from the concrete and the immediate to the abstract and the eternal - smoothly, but with jarring effect.  The essay is beautifully written, and it's also troubling in the best sense.  It makes the reader look anew at the connections of things.

A couple of other aspects of it I can only envy.  One is her usage of nature as images for human and spiritual considerations.  I can't pull that off without it sounding forced or pretentious.

The other is her ability to cover a lot of ideas and images in a few words - with with her sentences of semi-Faulknerian length!  Brevity has never been one of my gifts.


The text below is a post made by Deb Thornton to a Yahoogroup discussion group in which I participate.  She gave me her permission to post it here at Old Hickory's Weblog. Don't miss her mention of William Faulkner.  (Also, don't blame her for the content of the other posts on this page!)


Since I am no longer distracted from distraction by distraction, maybe it's a sole nagging thought that breathes words from my hand of an Indian summer afternoon.  Or maybe it's having reached a political saturation point, a weather disaster saturation point, a soul shock wave shaking from the blood-soaked earth, newly freshened by the red tide of children going to school a world away.  Maybe it's teaching the writings of Martin Luther King and Flannery O'Connor with their calls for nonviolence and justice and maps of grace and mystery.  Maybe it's cooler temperatures, a mountain on fire early, reddened and fallen leaves.  Maybe it's years of insane lies, persuasions, mushroom clouds, being here downwind and facing more wind, post-moratorium.  Maybe it's the dancing child's blue innocent eyes, the colleagues conversation tenderness, the mother's appeal the father's nurturing, the heart's deepening.  Perhaps it's walking near-dawn in a broad mountain valley and the moon's crescent dipping an arcful of bluewhite halflight, Venus a spotlight close by, Orion and his dog standing guard among diminishing stars: a still photo interrupted by the sudden brief silhouette of a pelican flying across the moon's horns, calm and movement.  Maybe it's slitting the belly of a rainbow, ripping its gills from their point of attachment, tearing down its guts, then running my thumb up her spine to release the last of her pooled blood from her body, this fish I killed.  The blood on my hands.

For three years, since the buildings fell, I've sought, online and in print, answers to unprovoked questions.  Instead, I've learned that the checks and balances neither check nor balance; the boundaries are eroded by legislation and inattention.  Reality tv cloaks the demise of totalitarianism unbalanced the nuclear holocaust, unchecked the cold warriors who saw a clear path to world dominance and may have forged in their mind's manacles the great governmental paradox: the origin oftotalitarian democracy or democratic totalitarianism, if you prefer.  I don't think the architects of war mean well.  Now or ever.  On the world stage, much has been destroyed in a few years' time, and the echoes of echoes of a war declared on a sovereign nation create a new holocaust, the spawn of two words: pre-emptive defense.  Otherwise known as offense.  One grows nostalgic for détente.  The political agenda that assumes world dominance (with what restraint) through a marriage of military might and commercial colonialism may be a rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem, and its blood-dimmed tide may engulf us all.  Armageddon?  They may have recipe, blueprint, will, command.

And they can have it, my brothers and sisters in arms.  I'm not okay.  I'm tired.  We are all human beings.  Blood prefers to slip through veins, saltily performing the cellular chemistry of life.  I can wash the fish blood off my hands, but it's still spilt, dislodged from arteries, iron oxidizing on my cracked skin.  I can join the dying and rip my gills out, drown in air and human voices.  But in the shadows, the fallen leaves glimmer in the halflight, returning to earth from a season of green breathing.  The equinox approaches, an eyeblink of balance as the planet tilts.  The rain of grace moistens the parched earth.  The still-south wind whispers, "This is the Body of Christ in the earth? Not as the world giveth ..."

What will I give? And to whom? I still have those choices.  God help me, I still have those choices.  I can still choose not to fear, can turn to Faulkner's list: love and honor and pity and pride and sacrifice and honor and courage and hope and endurance.

Momentarily I will begin another afternoon of helping people discover and articulate their thoughts in their own voices; the writers in classes will read aloud to one another, pooling their strengths.  Tonight I'll walk the receding lake shore, binoculars in hand. I'll see white pelicans with black wingtips skimming the surface, killdeer panicking, a tall discalced child with new teeth and a sidekick of Welsh corgi barreling full tilt in the water, the proud quiet mother-ship keeping close watch, black-necked stilts, avocets with fading red heads, rafts of ibis, an egret or two, maybe a heron, billions of gnats, swallows not keeping up.  By chance, some ducks, a watersnake; surely a beach littered with shells and feathers.  A sunset.  The red end of another day.  Fatigue in mind and knees, I'll bow and thank a loving God for this day, for the soul in it.  I'll pray for the rain of grace to continue to fall on the sinless earth and its denizens, for the rain to wash the blood from my hands.  I will marvel: "This is the world You died for."

And tomorrow, one cherished and transitory moment after another, I'll take another look, peering into time and space for a glimpse of the so-loved world.

Deb Thornton

Monday, September 27, 2004

AOL-J jerks: A case study

John Scalzi has a long post up on strategies for dealing with jerks in the AOL Journal environment.

As it turns out, I happened to come across a "case study" of this.  But first I should say that I've been posting on online discussion groups for ten years.  And during the 1990s, I spent quite a bit of time posting on the AOL Germany and Austria message boards, where neo-Nazi types like to drop by and slime the cyberturf with their nonsense.  Given some of the whack jobs I've encountered online, run-of-the-mill obnoxiousness doesn't upset me very much.

No, trolls, this is not license to start spamming me with a lot of drivel.  I'm accustomed to using the delete key, and I actively manage my comments section.  I'm also used to navigating the constraints of AOL's Terms of Service (TOS).

The particular comment I had in mind came up in connection with comments I posted on an item from RepublicanJen, on which I also made a post of my own.  Because it touched on subjects that interest me and on which I've been posting (the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War, the Republican meme that criticism of Bush is "hate speech"), it reminded me that I had some related items on which I had been intending to post.  So I did some catch-up on those this past weekend.

No, RepublicanJen is not the person I'm referring to as being a jerk.  It won't surprise people who have read my previous few posts that I think her approach to this particular issue is superficial at best.  But that's something different.

The example I have in mind, which also reflects the Bircher-minded element of the Republican Party, a big factor adding to the hysterical tone of political comment in FoxWorld, was a comment just added to RepublicanJen's post of 09/24/04.  Since I was the only one who expressed any lack of enthusiasm about that post in the comments, presumably the, uh, gentleman's comment is directed only at me:

The reaction to this article by the "Hate America First" crowd makes it abundantly clear that the moron vote is alive and well in the lunatic fringe of the Democrat Party.  To those misguided individuals who who maintain that Vietnam Veterans were not spat upon, subjected to incredible insults and worse......I suppose you believe the Holocaust was a Rightwing Hoax authored by Karl Rove.

    As a veteran of two tours of duty in Vietnam, I can assure those doubting readers that these despicable actions did in fact occur with unfortunate regularity at airterminals and particularly on college campuses which were populated and the time by "the best and the brightest?"  The cream of the antiwar vermin also distinguished themselves by phonecalls to and demonstrations in front of the residences of the parents and/or families of those killed in action with taunts ranging from "we are glad your baby-killing son is dead" to  "your stupid son was sacrificed to an unjust war."  These incidents and others similar tasteless acts were witnessed personally by the undersigned....with appropriate disgust toward the idiots perpetrating the acts.

    I respect your right to express opinions opposing war....... I and many others have shed our blood that you may exercise your God-given right to make fools of yourselves.  However, thhose soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who answer the nation's call have nothing to do with the decision to engage in war......their  courage and dedication to duty is cause for respect rather than scorn.

    To those who have threatened and otherwise excoriated RepublicanJen for expressing an appear to have one thing in IQ which matches your shoe size.

Comment from
jkarlusmc - 9/27/04 9:16 AM

It takes considerably longer to write down how I process a comment like this than it does to actually think through it.  But in the spirit of a case study, here goes:

First, the commenter claims to be a veteran of the Marine Corps and to have shed his blood as part of his military service.  Is he a veteran?  Was he wounded in combat?  I don't have the slightest idea, and there's no way based on the information he provided for anyone to verify it.

Second, his claim to be a veteran is pretty much irrelevant to his comment.  Here is my comment to which he is responding:

As far as the historical issue of the "spitting on soldiers" folklore from the Vietnam War era, you may want to check out the work of Jerry Lembcke (a Vietnam veteran himself) who did extensive research on this particular tale for his book, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam.

An article by him on the subject is available online at:

If you have to believe that antiwar protesters hate soldiers, you can just dismiss work like Lembcke's, of course.

The Freepers have been using this Foster Barton incident as an example of this kind of thing.  As you noted, it didn't involve spitting, although most people would take breaking his nose as a more serious type of assault.

And it may well be that this was some aberrant antiwar zealot who decided he was going to attack Barton because he was a soldier.  Since there were six witnesses, I would think there's a good chance the guy will be charged.  So it would be interesting to see if the guy's history actually justifies this interpretation.  Is the attacker an antiwar activist?  Did he have some personal grudge against the Barton? Was he a violent nut who hadn't been taking his meds?

It's also eye-catching that the incident occurred after a Toby Keith concert.  If you don't know, Keith has made a point of striking a jingoistic pose ever since 9/11.  It seems odd on the face of it that someone would be inspired by a Toby Keith concert to whack an off-duty soldier on the head.  But stranger things have happened. - Bruce
Comment from
bmiller224 - 9/24/04 6:11 PM

So, let's look at his response.  Hating America? Frivolous invective.

"Marine veteran JKARLUSMC" dismisses my reference to Jerry Lembcke's work out of hand by changing the subject to ... Holocaust denial?  "Marine veteran JKARLUSMC" , I think you may have mistaken this for the AOL Germany message board.

"Marine veteran JKARLUSMC" claims that he personally witnessed families of dead soldiers being taunted by protesters with things like "we are glad your baby-killing son is dead" and "your stupid son was sacrificed to an unjust war."  Now, for the Freepers, it may have a lot of credibility that some guy on AOL who identifies himself only as "Marine veteran JKARLUSMC" claims to have personally witnessed such things.  A reference to a contemporary report might have more credibility for those not living in FoxWorld.  But, hey, I guess this is at least as credible as the claims of the Swift Boat Liars for Bush.

"Marine veteran JKARLUSMC's" claim that someone (apparently more than one person) has "threatened and otherwise excoriated RepublicanJen for expressing an opinion" is more immediately checkable.  My comment to which he responded is about the factual issue of whether Vietnam veterans were specifically spat upon, as claimed in the folklore, and about the particular facts of the Foster Barton case as reported.  "Marine veteran JKARLUSMC" had to use a considerable amount of imagination to get threats or "excoriation" out of any of that.

Finally, "Marine veteran JKARLUSMC" manages to associate me in his comments, none too subtlely, with the "Hate America First" crowd (whoever they are), the moron vote, the lunatic fringe of the "Democrat Party" (this is one of the stranger habits of the Freepers, who never seem to use the parallel bad-grammar construction "Republic Party"), misguided individuals, Holocaust deniers, antiwar vermin, tasteless actors, idiots, fools, scorners of soldiers, and those of low IQ.  "Marine veteran JKARLUSMC" would relate to Chuckie.

Scalzi's final piece of advice on the AOL-J jerks:  "The thing to remember about jerks is that attention is their oxygen. Give it to them, and they thrive. Deprive them of it, and they suffocate. It's your hand on the air valve.You make the call."

I guess in this case I may have made the call to feed the fire with additional oxygen.  The other side is that this kind of Bircher raving can burn itself out pretty quickly, too.  But if "Marine veteran JKARLUSMC" can explain to me the grammatical theory behind the construction "Democrat Party" and "Republic Party", as opposed to the use of the normal English adjectives "Democratic" and "Republican", it would be worth hearing from him.

Somehow I think we're less likely to hear of any contemporary documentation of the ghoulish protests he described outside the houses of grieving parents of soldiers killed in action - a claim that I've never come across before, by the way.  But I don't hang out a lot in Freeperville.

A final note to RepublicanJen:  ideology aside, if a comment like that appeared on one of my blog posts, I would either remove it or add a comment of my own clarifying the bit about alleged threats.  That part of "Marine veteran JKARLUSMC's" entry is genuinely sleazy as it appears there.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Chuckie Watch 67: Chuckie vs. immigrants (and Latino citizens)

Gov. Schwarzenegger isn't the only one who's suspicious of immigrants.  The "wrong" kind, of course.  Chuckie is also on the case: A Problem No One Wants To Face 09/24/04.

Ole Chuckie's ready to face it fearlessly, of course.  Cause Chuckie's been hearin' about all these here Mexicans coming across the border.  And Chuckie don't like it.

Now, Chuckie says he ain't bein' racist or nothin' about all this.  It's just that "the problem is that most of our politicians, and I’m speaking about both sides of the aisle, are too afraid of the Hispanic voting block to do anything about it."  If it weren't for all these American citizens with them funny surnames - you know, Gonzales and Montera and Gutierrez and things like that - we could just seal up that Mexican border right quick.

And because of all these Gonzaleses and stuff, "the problem will just become worse and worse, a self-proliferating conundrum with no end in sight."

Gosh, I guess Chuckie must have missed Chuckie Watch #2, where I tried to explain it to him:

What Chuckie doesn't say is what everyone in California has known for so long we hardly think about it.  California agribusiness is dependent on illegal immigrant labor.  Specifically illegal immigrant labor.  So are significant parts of the textile, construction, canning and personal services businesses. 

Most of those big growers who create the massive market for illegal immigration and the scandalous smuggling business that is an inevitable part of it are good Republicans, mostly Christian (although one may wonder about the depth of their religious convictions). And their faithful Republican politicians will go to the wall to block any actions that threaten to interfere with their market for illegal and underpaid labor.

Sure, some of them will back an immigrant-bashing measure like the notorious Proposition 187 several years ago. As long as, like that measure, it imposes hardships on individual immigrants and doesn't threaten their labor pool.

So if Chuckie wants to stop all this here illegal immigration, he needs to talk to his Christian Republican brothers and sisters among the big growers of California.

It looks like Chuckie's still stuck on this one.  But he must be proud of Gov. Schwarzenegger for being tougher on illegals than even Jeb Bush!

California Politics: Schwarzenegger and immigrants

I've added English translations of the Spanish quotations in my earlier post on Schwarzenegger and the issue of drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants.

This issue is a key one in understanding Schwarzenegger's politics.  And in understanding what the Republican version of the "good immigrant" comes to in practice.

Stigmatizing critics of the Iraq War

The rightwing Freeper crowd seems determined to make an ideological martyr out of Foster Barton, the young soldier on leave who was attacked after a Toby Keith concert by what the Freepers are pleased to described as a hate-filled antiwar assailant.

The Foster Barton case

As of this writing, I haven't come across any news articles that add additional information to what was in the story I previously discussed.  The report there said that Barton's assailant "was screaming profanities and making crude remarks about U.S. soldiers."  It's a measure of how eager the Freepers are to stigmatize criticism of Bush's war in Iraq that they have seized on this incident as evidence of the violent nature of critics of the Iraq War, and of their hostility toward individual soldiers.

The notion was ridiculous when Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew began hyping it during the Vietnam War in 1969.  But at least events of those days gave it a more superficial credibility.  Some antiwar demonstrations involved clashes between police and demonstrators.  And some campus demonstrations targeted military recruiting and ROTC facilities for vandalism to property.

But with today's antiwar dissent largely mostly channelled into more sedate political efforts like registering voters and donating money to candidates and organizations that fund political advertisements like, the rightwing's inflation of the Barton incident has an almost manic quality to it.

At the risk of giving a tiny amount of unnecessary further publicity to frivolous accusations, I'll quote a couple of these polemics as examples of how desperate the Iraq War fans are to brand the war's critics as unpatriotic and anti-soldier.

Thomas Segel at the Web site asks Does This Hate Honor America? 09/24/04.

Vietnam veterans commenting on the attack of this wounded soldier recalled the assaults, the spitting and the hate filled language they encountered upon their return from combat. Those attacks occurred at the same time John Kerry was diminishing their service before the United States Congress. ...

The hate language of the left has translated into violence against a young soldier who wears the same Purple Heart medal so loudly heralded by Kerry supporters. It is the anti-war supporters that are John Kerry's core campaigners who breed such violent outbursts.

As I've discussed in a number of posts this year, the rightwing's preferred image of antiwar protesters attacking soldiers and spitting on them is an ideological fantasy that reflects the Oxycontin haze of FoxWorld, but not reality.  Likewise the fantasy that John Kerry or his campaign has in any way encouraged or condoned assaults on soldiers.  And, again, the idea that this particular assault was politically motivated is mostly conjecture, so far as any news reporting on it I've seen.

This piece by Jan Barton at the rightwing blog site, John Kerry, Peace Protesters, and Young Foster Barton 09/23/04, tries to put it all into a neat Republican package:

He must have thought he was safe, on U.S. soil, at a patriotic Toby Keith concert, walking back to the car with his 21-year-old sister.  But he was sucker-punched from behind, knocked unconscious, and viciously kicked and punched--by a ''peace'' protestor.

Once again, shouting something about soldiers does not make the assailant an antiwar protester. 

What a legacy for John Kerry.  Kerry's ''peace'' protests engendered unreasoning hate for the military that lingers to this day.

That hate is fueled by Kerry's months of flip flopping on his position about the war, depending on his audience or perhaps the wind he is surfing.  It is exacerbated by his constant refrain of ''failure'' connected to the war, and the ''lies'' he tries to pin on George Bush about the war.

Barton is apparently under the impression that no Americans committed atrocities in Vietnam.  We could be "open-minded" and grant that it's possible she's right.  We could also, with a similar level of plausibility, assert that the earth is flat, that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery (a position the Republican Party increasingly embraces, by the way) and that George Washington never existed.

Not surprisingly, she credits the tales of the Swift Boat Liars for Bush group, and actually claims that Fox News is "fair and balanced."

The Jason Gilson case

An earlier incident this year was blown up by an even greater exercise of imagination into evidence that Iraq War critics are anti-soldier. It involved an Iraq War veteran named Jason Gilson, who marched in a Fourth of July parade in a relatively liberal community in Washington state carrying a sign that said "Veterans for Bush."

Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Robert Jamieson gave an account of the incident that the Freepers found congenial: Veteran gets rude welcome on Bainbridge Seattle Post-Intelligencer 07/09/04.

The bucolic [Bainbridge Island's] deep reputation for civility got a gut check this week during the annual Grand Old Fourth of July celebration.

That's when Jason Gilson, a 23-year-old military veteran who served in Iraq, marched in the local event. He wore his medals with pride and carried a sign that said "Veterans for Bush."

Walking the parade route with his mom, younger siblings and politically conservative friends, Jason heard words from the crowd that felt like a thousand daggers to the heart.

"Baby killer!"



Jamieson gives the following account of another comment that Gilson and his momma took as an insult to him as a veteran.  Jamieson's column neglects to mention that Gilson was carrying a "Veterans for Bush" sign:

Jason's mother, Tamar, says a female parade announcer locked eyes on her son who was walking behind a pro-Republican group called Women in Red, White and Blue. The group supports President Bush and the troops in the fight against terrorism.

According to Tamar, the female announcer sarcastically asked Jason: "And what exactly are you a veteran of?"

The perceived mocking, the mother adds, set off some people in the crowd, loosing a flood of negative comments, "like a wave... a mob-style degrading."

At the very end, Jamieson does relate that the announcer he quoted had lost her father in a previous war.  Which perhaps adds a measure of credibility to her comment that she was asking Gilson about his service out of genuine curiosity rather than any sarcasm.

In a follow-up column of 07/16/04, Jamieson writes that the mayor of the town called Gilson and apologized to him.  This time he manages to mention the sign:

The mayor of the community, six miles west of Seattle, has apologized for the way a U.S. veteran of the Iraq war was treated during a holiday parade there.

"I called him Monday night," Mayor Darlene Kordonowy told me yesterday. "I felt badly about his experience. He was distressed and distraught about what happened when I talked to him."

Jason Gilson, 23, was booed and called names such as "murderer" during the island's recent Fourth of July celebration. Ignoramuses in the crowd took umbrage with Gilson, who was disabled in battle near Nasiriyah. During the parade, Gilson wore his medals and carried a sign: "Veterans for Bush."

Steve Gardner wrote about the incident in "'Murderer' comments spark national outrage," The Sun (Bremerton WA) 07/10/04 (this is a link to a version copied, apparently accurately, to a discussion group. I was able to find a cached version of the Sun article earlier this weekend, but the link doesn't seem to be working). Gardiner's account is notably different:

Jason Gilson of East Bremerton, who as a Marine corporal was wounded in Nasiriyah early in the Iraq conflict and is now in the inactive Ready Reserve, marched in Bainbridge's July 4th parade holding a sign that said "Veterans for Bush." [my emphasis]

He was toward the rear of a group of Bush supporters in the parade, which featured several political groups.  Along the route, he heard booing aimed at the Bush supporters, he said.

On Winslow Way, however, he said a man and a woman approached him and called him a "murderer," a charge reminiscent of events that occurred to Vietnam War veterans when they returned home.

Once again, Gardner's matter-of-fact reference to what supposedly happened to Vietnam War vets reflects how widely the folklore version of "the spitting image" has penetrated.  But Gardner apparently paid a little more attention to verify the facts of the current story than Jamieson did:

"You don't need to be attacking individuals for their partisanship," [Gilson] said. "I was very unimpressed with the way the people of Bainbridge Island were."  [my emphasis]

Kevin Dwyer, executive director of the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce, the event's sponsor, said the booing is widely acknowledged, and he's not certain he can deny the "murderer" comments happened. But he hasn't found anyone else who witnessed them.

Bill Knobloch. a Bainbridge city councilman and former Navy commander, said he was in the area and heard the booing, but didn't hear anyone insulting veterans specifically.

He also said that earlier in the parade American Legion veterans acting as the parade's color guard were saluted and applauded. [my emphasis]

Given what the Freepers made of it, it's particularly noticeable that Gilson himself said he was booed for his partisanship, not his veteran status. And, in contrast to Jamieson's description, apparently the shouts of "murderer," etc., were not heard by everyone present. And veterans who were appearing in the parade as veterans and not as Bush partisans were evidently regarded politely and who no insults shouted at them.  ( carried an Associated Press story of 07/15/04 that contains similar reporting to Gardner's article.)

Of such raw materials are urban legends made.

Thinking about folklore in the making

In the Foster Barton case, the one news account of the incident I've seen, from the local NBC affiliate's Web site, indicates that the guy was attacked by someone who knocked him unconscious and broke his nose.  There were multiple witnesses to the event.  The reported facts are at least not inconsistent with the possibility that Barton was attacked because the assailant was antiwar and singled him out as a soldier because of his t-shirt.  It certainly sounds like a cowardly and unjustifiable assault, whatever the attacker's motivation.

But it would be gross understatment to say that the Freepers, in using this as an illustration of supposedly pervasive anti-soldier hatred among Iraq War critics, are asking the skimpy facts of this news report to bear a burden it can't begin to carry.  Can't these folks at least pin down whether the attacker actually was antiwar or whether he supports John Kerry before they start blaming the Kerry campaign for it?

As for the Jason Gilson incident, I find it hard to take the Freepers' outrage about that one seriously at all.  It's not clear to me from the reported facts that the guy was insulted for being a veteran at all. In fact, it sounds pretty unlikely, since he himself told Gardner that he was being heckled for his "partisanship."

By the time I was Gilson's 23 years of age, I had taken place in a number of protests large and small, and organized some of the smaller ones myself.  I would routinely advise people not to engage with hecklers or let them create an escalating argument by insults.  But any time you take a political stand in public, especially in an event like a holiday parade where people of different political persuasions are going to be present, you're going to get some opposing comments or heckling, some of it possibly not very polite. If you're too thin-skinned for that, you shouldn't be carrying political signs in public.

Now, I don't recommend that hecklers call people they don't even know "murderers" (although it's by no means clear that this really occurred in this instance).  But let's get real.  Gilson was carrying a pro-Bush sign in an election year in a public parade.  Did he really imagine that no one would have a negative comment?  That everyone would say, oh, his sign says "veteran" so we have to cheer for his pro-Bush sign?  From Gardner's report, it sounds very likely that if he had marched in the American Legion contingent without any current partisan signs, he wouldn't have encountered anything but polite applause and affirmation of his service.

"You don't need to be attacking individuals for their partisanship," Gilson told the Sun reporter.

All I can really say to that is, "Grow up, dude."

As I said in my earlier post, I don't expect this to convince any Freepers that it's pretty pathetic, not to mention dishonest, to be scrambling for incidents like these to prove a nonsense ideological point.  But there will likely come a time, years after we've found a way to declare "peace with honor" in Iraq and leave, that people will claim to be outraged at the "shameful treatment" returning soldiers allegedly received from antiwar critics.  The fact that it mostly occurred in their Oxycontin dreams will get lost down the memory hole.

I'll make a very safe prediction: if Kerry wins the election, most of these same foaming-at-the-mouth war fans will begin on or about November 3 to blast Kerry unmercifully for anything he does to resolve the Iraq War.  And most of them will not even pretend to worry that attacking the incumbent administration's foreign policy might in any way give "aid and comfort to the enemy" or might be perceived as somehow dishonoring American soldiers.  No, this is fevered political polemicizing, not patriotic fervor.

Billmon checks back in - from the "old media"

One of my favorite political bloggers, and one of the pioneers of political blogging, Billmon, has been on a blogging hiatus since August 15.  Now he checks back with us, this time in the pages (and on the Web site) of the Los Angeles Times: Blogging Sells, and Sells Out Los Angeles Times 09/26/04.

Billmon offers a downright Marcusean analysis of the way in which the market system - only the old-fashioned call it "capitalism" any more - can assimilate cultural phenomena that appear to have oppositional potential.  That's the implication of "selling out," as used in the title.

I don't know where the American figure of speech "selling out" to mean some sort of betrayal of conscience came from.  It was a popular saying in the so-called "counterculture" of the 1960s, which implied some sort of compromise with evil features of the what was often called the Establishment (a useful phrase which has also fallen into disuse).  It may have reference to something as simple as bribery, or it may have been adapted from ordinary business practices, in which a company changes hands through sale and purchase.

My guess is that it may have come from agriculture, when "selling out" the farm implied the end of a family tradition, maybe often one extending over generations.  Kate Campbell's song "Bury Me In Bluegrass" (co-written with Ira Campbell and Johnny Pierce) captures the emotional, sentimental sense of this experience:

Huey was a captain with Andy Jackson
He wettled in Kentucky on a soldier's pay
It was two hundred acres and for almost as many years
The land has borne my family name ...

The buyers signed the note today
They're gonna build a mall ...

They nailed the sign up yesterday
And I don't understand
To me it's more than just a piece of land

Billmon is experiencing something of the same at the prospect of the transformation of an important corner of cyberspace:

Even as it collectively achieves celebrity status for its anti-establishment views, blogging is already being domesticated by its success. What began as a spontaneous eruption of populist creativity is on the verge of being absorbed by the media-industrial complex it claims to despise.

In the process, a charmed circle of bloggers — those glib enough and ideologically safe enough to fit within the conventional media punditocracy — is gaining larger audiences and greater influence. But the passion and energy that made blogging such a potent alternative to the corporate-owned media are in danger of being lost, or driven back to the outer fringes of the Internet.

Here's the Marcusean point:

There's ample precedent for this. America has always had a knack for absorbing, and taming, its cultural revolutionaries. The rise and long, sad fall of rock 'n' roll is probably the most egregious example, while the music industry's colonization of rap is a more recent one. ...

Bloggers aren't the first, and won't be the last, rebellious critics to try to storm the castle, only to be invited to come inside and make themselves at home.

Billmon is focusing on a trend that undeniably is occurring.  More and more blogs are sponsored by advertisements, which inevitably subject blogs to some of the same commercial pressures that newspapers have always felt.  In some ways, blogs may be more susceptable, because newspapers operate in a tradition with rules, expectations and (rapidly deteriorating) ethical standards.  Bloggers have operating, as we often see observed, in a more "Wild West" atmosphere.  Though in the blogosphere, the gunslinging is necessarily restricted to the rhetorical.

One point he makes is especially important:

As blogs commercialize, they are tied ever closer to the mainstream media and its increasingly frivolous news agenda. The political blogosphere already has a bad habit of chasing the scandal du jour. This election season, that's meant a laser-like focus on such profound matters as the mysteries of Bush's National Guard service or whether John Kerry deserved his Vietnam War medals. [my emphasis]

Now, having focused quite a bit of attention myself on the Bush AWOL issue and the Swift Boat Liars, I'm not ready to agree with his particular illustrations.  Because of the "low barriers to entry" (as they say in marketing) bloggers range from leading scholars in a particular field (like Juan Cole) to the completely frivolous partisans who only want to spread the latest talking points from Rush Limbaugh, Drudge and Fox News.  The hacks tend to act as an echo-chamber for their side.  And, yes, it certainly happens on the Democratic side, though the Dems' echo-chamber barely makes a rattle in comparison to that of the Republicans.

And I think Billmon's economic analysis is on the money. (Bad pun, I know.)

This is not inherently sinister.  The development of online technology that allowed people to make regular updates to a Web site without having to write code to move things around on the page layout made it possibly for lots more people to have an online diary or Weblog/blog.  It's a useful technology, and one that companies could make good use of, if they can overcome their chronic corporate timidities about such things.

Companies like Microsoft and Sun use blogs to facilitate customer service and sound out ideas with customers and co-workers.  See Blogging for Business Business Week 08/09/04 and Blogging With The Boss's Blessing Business Week 06/28/04.

When I hear someone talking about the concept of "selling out" in this sense, I always remember an interview with Emmylou Harris, my favorite singer, on television several years ago.  The interviewer asked her if she ever felt like she was "selling out."  Her response (quoting from memory here) ran something like this:  Well, no, I don't think so.  If you mean have I had to compromise my artistic integrity, no.  I've never had someone come along and say like the Devil, if you sell me your soul, I'll give you such and such.  Now, I'm not saying that I might not want to sell out someday.  But nobody has made me an offer yet.

So if anybody out there is reading this who cares to pay good cash money (preferably euros)for this stuff I'm writing here, my e-mail address is in the sidebar on the left side of the page.  Write early, write often!

I'd even be willing to entertain offers from Republican propaganda operations - although a gig like that would probably be as short-lived as Ann Coulter's stint with USA Today covering the Democratic convention.  But come to think of it, given the degree of extremism in today's Republican Party, it might take them a few days to realize that I was writing stuff designed to sound totally outrageous and obnoxious.

Opposing the war

That would be the Mexican War of 1846-48, in this case.  Southern slaveowners wanted a war against Mexico to secure the Republic of Texas as a slave state in the United States.  When General Zachary Taylor claimed that his troops had been attacked by Mexican troops on American soil, that became the pretext for war.

The war also aroused intense opposition among Northerners who were becoming increasingly alarmed at the increasing strength of what they called the Slave Power (the pro-slavery Southern bloc in Congress). 

Whig Congressman Abraham Lincoln (the Republican Party didn't exist yet) was an opponent of that war.  In one of his most famous pre-Civil War speeches, Lincoln argued in a speech to Congress of 01/12/1848 that President James Polk had begun the war under false pretences and that the war itself was wrong.  In this particular part of the speech, Lincoln addresses the alleged initial Mexican aggression, the meaning of which depended on whether Mexico legitimately claimed jurisdiction over the territory between the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers.  He challenged the president's honesty on the reason for beginning the war:

I am now through the whole of the President's evidence; and it is a singular fact, that if any one should declare the president sent the army into the midst of a settlement of Mexican people, who had never submitted, by consent or by force, to the authority of Texas or of the United States, and that there, and thereby, the first blood of the war was shed, there is not one world in all the president has said, which would either admit or deny the declaration.  This strange omission, it does seem to me, could not have occurred but by design.  My way of living leads me to be about the courts of justice; and there, I have sometimes seen a good lawyer, sturggling for his client's neck, in a desperate case, employing every artifice to work round, befog, and cover up , with many words, some point arising in the case, which he dared not admit, and yet could not deny.  Party bias may help to make it appear so; but with all the allowance I can make for such bias, it still does appear, to me, that just such, and from just such necessity, is the President's struggle in this case. ...

... I more than suspect ... that he is deeply conscious of being in the wrong - that he feels the blood of this war, like the blood of Abel, is crying to Heaven against him.  That originally having some strong motive - what, I will not stop now to give my opinion concerning - to involve the two countries in a war, and trusting to escape scrutiny, by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory - that attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood - that serpent's eye, that charms to destroy - he plunged into it, and has swept, on and on, till, disappointed in his calculation of the ease with which Mexico might be subdued, he now finds himself, he knows not where.

Lincoln was also concerned to defend himself against suggestions from the Slave Power that his opposition to the war was unpatriotic:

When the war began, it was my opinion that all those who, because of knowing too little, or because of knowing too much, could not conscientiously approve the conduct of the President, in the beginning of it, should, nevertheless, as good citizens and patriots, remain silent on that point, at least till the war should be ended.  Some leading democrats, including Ex President Van Buren, have taken this same view, as I understand them; and I adhered to it, and acted upon it,until since I took my seat here; and I think I should still adhere to it, were it not that the President and his friends will not allow it to be so.  Besides the contunal effor tof the Presient to argue every silent vote given for supplies, into an endorsement of the justice and wisdom of his conduct ...

Part of why this speech is so famous is a part that came back to embarass Lincoln in a few years, the part in which he expounded on the right of revolution.  He, of course, took a dim view of Jefferson Davis' particular application of that theory.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., in his new book War and the American Presidency (2004) describes the opposition to the Mexican War in this way:

The Mexican War was almost as unpopular [as the War of 1812].  There was fierce opposition to the declaration of war. "People of the United States!" creid the famous editor of the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley, "Your rulers are precipitating you into a fathomless abyss of crime and calamity! ... Awake and arrest the work of butchery ere it shall be too late to preserve your soulds from the guilt of wholesale slaughter!"

The Massachusetts legislature passed a resolution declaring that the war, "so hateful in its objects, so wanton, unjust and unconstitutional in its origin and character, must be regarded as a war against freedom, against justice, against the Union."  Thoreau wrote his plea for "The Duty of Civil Disobedience," and James Russel Lowell condemned the war in his long satiric poem Biglow Papers.  "The United Staes will conquer Mexico," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, "But it will be as the man swallows the arsenic, which brings him down in turn.  Mexico will poison us."  (Karl Marx, on the other hand, defended the war, asking sarcastically whether "it was such a misfortune that glorious California has been wrenched from the laxy Mexicans.")

In the midterm elections of 1846, the administration of James K. Polk lost thiry-five seats and control of the House of Representatives.  The new House passed a resolution [on 01/03/1848] declaring that the Mexican War had been "unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States."  Talk about giving aid and comfort to the enemy!

Henry David Thoreau, the New England Transcendalist philosopher, went to jail for his refusal to pay taxes in protest of the Mexican War.  It was that experience which inspired him to write his famous essay (as Schlesinger mentioned) "Civil Disobedience," originally published in 1849 as "Resistance to Civil Government."  Thoreau was not generous in that essay toward those who merely politely declared their opposition to the war:

Practically speaking, the opponents to a reform in Massachusetts are not a hundred thousand politicians at the South, but a hundred thousand merchants and farmers here, who are more interested in commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico, cost what it may.  I quarrel not with far-off foes, but with those who, near at home, cooperate with, and do the bidding of those far away, andwithout whom the latter would be harmless.  We are accusomed to say, that the mass of men are unprepared; but improvement is slow, because the few are not materailly wiser or better than the many.  It is not so important that many should be as good as you, as that there be some absolute goodness somewhere; for that will leave the whole lump.  There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who, esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit down with their hand in their poickets, and say that they know not what to do, and do nothing; who even postpone the question of freedom to the question of free-trade, and quietly read the prices-current along witht the latest advices from Mexico, after dinner, and, it may be, fall asleep over them both.  What is the price-current of an honest man and patriot today?  They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect.  They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no logner have it to regret.  At most, they give only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and Godspeed, to the right, as it goes by them.  There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man; but it is easier to deal with threal possessor of a thing than with the temporary guardian of it.

Lincoln's dim opinion of President Polk was well-founded.  In The Year of Decision: 1846, (1943) historian Bernard DeVoto described him as follows:

The conquest of a foreign nation was the biggest enterprise on which, up to then, the American people had ever embarked.  ...

Polk thought with admirable realism about tariffs, the treasury, and the routine of domestic policy.  He thought with astonising shrewdness about the necessary political maneuvers of government.  But he thought badly about war.  He was willing to make war on either England or Mexico, if he should have to in order to accomplish his purpose.  But he believed that if there should be a war it could be won easily, probably without fighting, and certainly without great effort or expense.  Deliberately carrying twin torches through a powder magazine from Marc 4, 1845, to May 13, 1846, he made no preparation for either war [with England, which didn't happen, or with Mexico, which did].  He had no underatnding of war, its needs, its patterns, or its results.  The truth is that he did not understand any results except immediately ones.  He did not know how to make war or how to lead a people who were making a war.

Andrew Jackson wasn't particularly a fan of Polk's presidential policies.  In Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy 1833-1845 (1984), Old Hickory's biographer Robert Remini writes, "About the only action by Polk to win Jackson's complete approval was the Presient' inaugural address, particularly the statement that the American claim to Oregon [against Britain] was 'clear and unquestionable.'"

But on the Mexican War?  Jackson agreed with Karl Marx on that one.  He supported the war.