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Bill O'Reilly had one of his classic hissy fits last night (September 29th) over Judge Alvin Hellerstein's order that the government release pictures of what went on at Abu Ghraib. O'Reilly screamed that this is going to cause the deaths of American soldiers, at the same time asserting that the pictures will show nothing new. Coherence is not one of O'Reilly's strong points. There are already a lot of photos from Abu Ghraib circulating in the Middle East. So, if the releases ordered by Hellerstein show nothing new, there's no reason they should add to the effect of the pictures already making the rounds. This is not the kind of thought, though, that O'Reilly can allow to come close to his brain. He represents a goodly segment of the American public who believe loyalty to the nation lies always in increasing military power and never in abiding by the Constitution, which is clearly what Judge Hellerstein was doing. The concept of a militaristic America which doesn't have to bother either with critics or constitutional restraints appeals to juvenile minds, who find their glory in having more guns than anybody else. It's an emotion-driven, melodramatic view of the world and if it takes over a majority of the citizens, we are in for disasters we haven't yet imagined. A nation of O'Reillys will be a nation constantly courting death and destruction.  (Posted, 9/30/05)

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Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland  has two interesting paragraphs in his piece today (September 29, 2005) that don't fit together very well. In one, he cites Mr. Bush's recurrent inattention to the duties of government, his misplaced loyalty to incompetent subordinates and his crippling refusal to look back and learn from mistakes. Then, in the next paragraph, he says he doesn't share the opinion of Bush critics that the president is illegitimate or moronic. Maybe he's not moronic in a strict definition of the term. But if he has, indeed, exhibited the characteristics Mr. Hoagland charges him with, then he is clearly an inept and inadequate president. Mr. Hoagland wants the president to pick a new advisor who will tell him the truth. But what's the likelihood of Mr. Bush's being able to hear the truth? It has been in front of his face for the past five years and he has shown no inclination to engage it. Hoagland's advice has the sound of sober policy. But, actually, it's just pie in the sky.  (Posted, 9/29/05)

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ABC's The Note says that Republicans aren't worried about the 2006 Congressional elections because, despite widely acknowledged Republican foul-ups, the Democrats are pathetic and have offered nothing to set things right. The people, evidently, would rather vote for screw-ups than for weaklings. We're still more than a year away from the elections and maybe over the coming months things will change. But, at the moment, I'd say the Republicans are right not to be concerned. Nothing coming from the Democratic Party has the force to rouse national sentiment. Despite overwhelming evidence that the adventure in Iraq has been disastrous for American foreign policy and prestige, the leading Democrats are still so afraid of being called weak they won't say the war is a national disgrace. And, then, despite even more overwhelming evidence that, as Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi says, the "Bush administration operates the federal government as a wholly owned subsidiary of America's capitalist class," Democrats won't take on government corruption as a giveaway to plutocrats. They, evidently, are afraid of being charged with class warfare. The theme here is being afraid. That's evidently what the Democratic Party exists for.  (Posted, 9/28/05)

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Today's Washington Post (September 27, 2005) has two interesting columns about John Roberts's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, one by George Will and the other by Richard Cohen. Both make valid points, yet they are completely opposed in intent. Will excoriates Senator Diane Feinstein for trying to elicit syrupy language from Judge Roberts. And I agree that syrupy language is not what's needed from a Supreme Court nominee -- we get more than an adequate supply from politicians. Cohen, on the other hand, says Roberts was dishonest in saying he couldn't answer questions about his beliefs because they might influence a case sometime. And Cohen is right. It's a disgustingly coy stance to argue that expressing opinions cripples one in judging cases. Will obviously would vote to confirm Roberts and Cohen says frankly that he wouldn't. In that, I'm with Cohen. Roberts's coolness doesn't bother me in the least. What does bother me is the pleasure he takes in being cutely coy. It's one thing to be smart and knowledgeable, and I guess Roberts is both. But what I want in a judge is an understanding of what's important, and John Roberts gives me the impression that he doesn't think anything is as important as himself.   (Posted, 9/27/05)

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We have a problem looming with respect to the remaining three years of the Bush administration. The president has revealed himself so thoroughly as an immature simpleminded man that there is little else to be said about him. He will continue to do foolish things because he's incapable of doing anything else. And, yet, it gets to be repetitive to point out his childishness over and over again. We can find a bit of amusement in his locutions, but even they, after a while, grow tiresome. I suspect it's going to be a dreary time and it will be redeemed only if an intelligent opposition to current policies can be brought into being. Democratic leaders are said to lack the backbone for anything intelligent, especially with respect to murderous foreign policies. They seem to be terrified of being called weak, which is, of course, the essence of weakness. I don't like to give up on the Democratic Party and, yet, I do feel a sense of hopelessness. For whatever reason, it doesn't appear have within it either the intelligence or the courage to reconstruct itself.  (Posted, 9/26/05)

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I'm periodically given to the sophomoric habit of wishing that everybody would read an article that most people won't -- and perhaps can't -- read. My latest candidate is Garry Wills's piece in the October 6th New York Review  titled "Fringe Government." In it he argues, fairly convincingly, that both the American presidency and the Vatican are relying on extremist groups to govern in ways that don't represent the views of American citizens or members of the Catholic Church. The most disconcerting feature of our current political doldrums is the practice of ordinary people in supporting leaders with whom they aren't in agreement and who have agendas that aren't much concerned with the well-being of the general population. Why people do this is hard to say. The most likely explanations are intellectual sloth and manipulative propaganda. The effect is to give immense influence to irrational people, and particularly to people who care nothing for the truths of science or history. Someday an important account will be written about the ubiquity of freakish minds within the Bush administration. But, by then, they will have visited their looniness on us and our institutions. And we will be left with  burdens we were too lazy to see coming. Digging out from the fanaticism of the current political establishment is going to take a very long time. We could begin by paying attention to writers like Garry Wills. But, as I say, for most people, that's not likely.  (Posted, 9/25/05)

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George Stepanopoulos interviewed Franklin Graham on ABC's This Week and asked him what George said was the obvious question: why does God let hurricanes smash up people's lives? And Franklin said he didn't know. Imagine that! I thought he knew everything. Still, he did allow that though Bourbon Street is in New Orleans and Bourbon Street is bad there were Christians who lived there also. This I guess was big news -- Franklin Graham's theories about God, about hurricanes, about Bourbon Street, and about the Christians of New Orleans. The patronizing tone of the Sunday morning talk shows gets ever worse. The assumption, I assume, is that most viewers have pre-adolescent minds and are bored by anything other than sentimental pap. But, I wonder if they're not getting bored by the syrup also. There must be a limit to what even the most fervid member of the American Legion can swallow. But if there is, ABC hasn't decided where it lies.  (Posted, 9/25/05)

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Katha Pollitt has an interesting essay in the October 3rd Nation in which she speculates that many of the developments of the past five years, which on the surface seem inexplicably foolish, may be part of an intelligible design advanced to prepare us for a degraded national future. The movement for academic excellence, for example, which pushes schools towards rote learning and multiple choice testing, may simply be a precursor to most people's occupying jobs like supermarket checker, in which case rote response will be all the excellence one needs. It's an intriguing idea but not one I can fully digest. George Bush and his cronies aren't promoting automaton education out of a devilish plan to suppress the masses. It would be satisfying to think they are but I see little evidence that they're that calculating. They want assembly line education because that's the only kind they comprehend. I don't know whether it would be worse to have truly malevolent leaders than the kind we have now. The outcome probably wouldn't be much different. But it is important for the American people to grasp that political evil of the melodramatic variety is not the problem we're facing. We have inept and disgusting political leaders because we lack intelligent political imagination. We haven't conceived a government that would work for the well-being of all the people, and since we haven't, we've given up trying. Instead, most of us settle for the rhetoric of purple patriotism served up by politicians who can't think of anything else. If we keep on doing it, we will have a degraded national future, but not because it emerged from any intelligible design, manipulative or otherwise.  (Posted, 9/24/05)

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Being away from detailed news coverage for a week decreased my sense that every item matters significantly. But it didn't decrease my intimation that we are now at a national low spot. Though it's true that Republican policies in Washington are stupid, as E.J. Dionne, Jr., declared in the Washington Post today (September 23, 2005), it's also true that our stupidity is manifest not only in Washington but throughout the nation. The notion that there's wisdom in the so-called heartland is as foolish as anything one can find in Washington. Last week in Dolores, Colorado, for example, I came out of my motel room to find my rental car, a Chrysler no less, so dwarfed by the pickup trucks on either side of it that it looked like a toy. These behemoths projected so far into the driving lane it was difficult for me to maneuver my car past them to get to the road. God only knows how much fuel they consume. There was nothing in the bed of either of them, and the shiny finish gleaming in the mountain sun left me with the suspicion that there never has been anything there. These machines aren't for hauling cargo. Rather, they exist for transporting the sort of ego that finds pleasure in looming over others. Throughout the Southwest, the grandeur of nature is befouled by urban developments that mimicked the trucks squeezing me in Dolores. These sprawls aren't charming, they aren't efficient, they aren't comfortable. But they are grandiose and that seems to be their only reason for being, aside from the profits derived from spreading them across the landscape. Travel tends to confirm that we have no national aesthetic other than conspicuous consumption, and it's proceeding at a pace which can't be maintained.  (Posted, 9/23/05)

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John Roberts took a dip in my estimation with his facile analogy between judges and umpires during opening testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. There is little similarity between what judges do and what umpires do, and Roberts knows that as well as anybody. But the comparison has journalistic appeal, and Roberts, despite his professed distance from politics, is playing to the galleries. The Constitution of the United States, with all the rulings that have been attached to it over the past two centuries, is nothing like the baseball rule book. A judge must base his decisions on the meanings of words, meanings which are shifting every hour. So judicial rulings are not like saying that a ball went outside the foul pole. If I were a senator with the right to put questions to Roberts, I would stay away from what he thinks about social issues, and ask him questions about the Constitution. For example, when the Fifth Amendment says that no person can be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, does it really mean that, or can some other meaning be put upon it so as to enable officials seize people and hold them in jail with no due process whatsoever. And if Judge Roberts were not willing to answer, clearly, direct questions about the meaning of the Constitution, I would not give him my vote. What do you want to bet that nobody will ask him about the Fifth Amendment during the entire process of the hearings?  (Posted, 9/13/05)

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Cronyism is in the news. Paul Krugman in his New York Times column (September 12, 2005) says it has undermined the effectiveness of numerous government agencies, not just FEMA. President Bush is widely charged with putting his friends into positions for which they aren't qualified. I suppose everybody understands this, but perhaps it's worth noting all the same that these people are not the president's friends, at least in ordinary meaning of the word. It's questionable whether a president can have friends but certainly the legions he sticks into position of authority don't qualify. They are flacks, sycophants, toadies, people so lacking in self-respect they will parrot the administration's line no matter how absurd or disgusting it is. What the public needs better to recognize is that most high-ranking people in government fall into that category. They wouldn't have got their positions if they didn't. There's a great myth that people flock to Washington to serve the government because they believe in the ideals put forward by candidates during campaigns. And, there may be a few like that. But most of them don't last very long. The classical stance that we should always be suspicious of government officials is well-founded. It comes from an understanding of how government actually works. And the only time it works well is when it is in an intense debate with an aggressive press and a knowledgeable public. The latter two we have seen little of over the past five years, but lately there seems to be a little stirring.  (Posted, 9/12/05)

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The fiscal recklessness of the Bush administration is widely known and widely reported. In the Sunday Washington Post (September 11, 2005), David Broder reports that the federal deficit will probably be $500 billion this year, and he advises that "the warning signs of impending economic calamity are every bit as evident as the forecasts of ruin for New Orleans when a major hurricane hit." Yet despite the increased intensity of warnings of this sort, the American public continues not to care. I suppose most of them don't pay enough attention to national affairs to know about the public debt. Or, if they do, perhaps they think a miracle will come along to take care of it. Non-dramatic events, like the swelling of the deficit, pose a democracy's most acute challenge. It's not the kind of issue the cable news channels will ever take up, that is not until major financial institutions begin to crumble. And then Matthews, O'Reilly, Hannity, Scarborough, et al, will scream, "Why didn't somebody tell us this was coming!" And a good portion of the public will believe it was all a big secret. This is a time when there is a tremendous opportunity for a major political figure to step forward and say that the nation's fiscal policy is not only unwise but insane. There are probably no more than six or seven people in the country with the power to be heard. But it would take courage and that's not a quality our big half-dozen is known to possess.  (Posted, 9/11/05)

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I continue to be surprised by the way the major media have covered the ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Jose Padilla. All the journalistic accounts I've read say the panel of judges affirmed the governments right to hold someone, without filing charges, if that person fought against the United States. Now, that might not be alarming if, indeed, the truth of the charges had been ascertained in court, But they have not. It's one of the parties to the case -- the government -- who says that Mr. Padilla aided enemies of the country. Nobody has determined the truth of the accusation. That's supposed to be what the courts do. With respect to events connected to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the government has repeatedly issued false information. So what assurance does anyone have that it is telling the truth about Padilla? It may seem a stretch to fear that if the government's case against someone like Padilla is affirmed without investigation the administration would be emboldened to take the same action against other citizens, including political opponents of the president. And, probably, at the moment, the government wouldn't find that a prudent thing to do. Nonetheless, if the government establishes the legal right to have its accusations accepted by the courts, with no independent or adversarial investigation of them, then a step in the direction of political tyranny has been taken. Why is the press not reporting on this?  (Posted, 9/10/05)

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I don't understand the thinking of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. They have just ruled that the president can take anyone into custody and hold him forever without bringing any charges against him. If that's not the definition of a tyrant, I don't know what it is. Admittedly, the case that brought forth this ruling involved a seemingly dimwitted, somewhat thuggish young man. But the president is not limited to throwing dimwitted thugs into jail. He can do it to anybody, according to this so-called bulwark of our liberties. Admittedly, if the president decided to lock up a Democratic opponent, he presumably would be limited by political pressure, but not by law. So far as the legal system is involved, he can do it  if he wants to.  This seems to be a barefaced annulment of the 5th and 6th Amendments to the Constitution. And if it's not, I would like for someone to explain to me why it's not. I suppose the Supreme Court will review this ruling within a reasonable time. If it supports the 4th Circuit Court, I guess we can say that American liberty is no more.   (Posted, 9/9/05)

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Bruce Reed of Slate says that the Bush doctrine of compassionate conservatism, never much alive, is now totally dead. There seems little doubt about that. The thing to me that's interesting, as we consider its epitaph, is not the adjective in the term, which tended to get the greater attention, but the noun itself. Without the false designation of "conservative," George Bush could never have achieved his electoral successes. "Compassionate" would have been nothing had it not been linked to the long-standing and, generally, respectable term.  And who allowed Bush to usurp it? His opponents. They took his supposed conservatism for granted, and then set themselves up as conservatism's enemy, surely the most inept political strategy in the history of the nation. It's hard to imagine any other tactic that would have made a man like Bush president. He had nothing on his own to recommend him. And, yet, he was acknowledged as conservative by all, both friend and foe. In the face of such testimony, what else would the average voter do but go along with the characterization? Anyone who has paid the slightest attention to Mr. Bush's political record must see that calling him compassionate is a farce. But calling him conservative is no less silly, that is unless we're willing to strip the word of its substantive meaning and make it a synonym of heartlessness and greed.  (Posted, 9/8/05)

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After watching several news programs last night (September 6, 2005), I came away having learned only one thing: President Bush doesn't want to play the blame game. I'm not sure what game he does want to play, though. As the history of federal legislation pertaining to flood control along the lower Mississippi begins to filter into the public mind, it becomes clear that the Bush administration alone is not responsible for the disaster in New Orleans. But it also becomes clear that the administration and the Republican Congress were energetic in ignoring the need to strengthen the protective dikes and levees needed to keep water from inundating the city. I expect the game will become a mantra from the president and his buddies to the effect that they didn't have time enough to prevent this particular disaster. They probably think that if they can make that point incessantly they can draw attention away from the truth that they did nothing. It's a game plan, of sorts.  (Posted, 9/7/05)

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The number of poor people in America has increased by 17% during the Bush presidency, after falling during the time of Bill Clinton. In a way, it's a startling statistic but I don't suppose we should be surprised. From the time he took office, Mr. Bush has made clear which group of Americans he wishes to serve and which can go to the devil as far as he's concerned. Nothing could be more obvious than that, despite a few rhetorical counter flourishes. The real question is not where Bush stands but where we stand -- and by "we" I mean the majority of Americans who are not rich but who have enough to live decently. Do we care that the number of poor is increasing? The answer to that question will determine the future of the nation. Either we're going to continue on the current path of giving ever-greater power to the super rich and using the national government to help them engorge themselves, in which case, the poor don't count, or we're going to turn our energies to the well-being of all the nation's people and work towards cooperative arrangements with the rest of the world. Do we wish to be partners with humankind, or do we wish to rule over humanity? I don't know the answer to that question because, as I've said here, repeatedly, I can't figure out the mind of America. It seems obvious to me that an attempt to rule the world will lead to disaster for most of us -- in addition to being astoundingly crass. But I may be in the minority. It may be that most Americans are so enthralled by the prospect of joining the super-rich, they're more than willing to let the losers in the economic race founder. Probably, the next decade will tell us who we really are.  (Posted, 9/6/05)

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From its beginning, the staged event has been the Bush administration's junkie-fix. But like all addictions, it will eventually turn on its user. And that may be happening now to the president. Senator Mary Landrieu's demand on ABC's This Week that Mr. Bush forget about photo opportunities could be the beginning of widespread attention to the way the president tries to set up everything to make himself look popular and heroic. But I doubt that either he, or his confederates, know how to give up a device that has been their bread and butter. Mr. Bush is so used to appearing before carefully screened crowds who scream at him in adulation, as though he were a rock star, that it may well have addled his brain. Could he actually believe that's how the whole country feels about him.? Still, what else can he do? He certainly can't stand up before the general public.  Every one of his advisors has to know that. So, they find themselves in a pickle. Their entire plan of life is to control public opinion. But the ability may be slipping away from them. We can, therefore, expect to see myriad twists and turns from the White House in the coming weeks.  (Posted, 9/4/05)

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The news reports and pictures from New Orleans fill me with the thought that nature decided to show a reality of America to the world that the American political establishment has done everything it could to cover up. We are not the country our political notables have said we are. The hordes of people thronging the highways of Louisiana, without even the basics of life to support them, show what it is to live always on the edge of destitution, and not to have even enough money to buy a bus ticket to get out of town. And they show also where the American political structure has decided to put its money: in foolish wars and foreign adventures, when a major city has been living for years under the threat of disaster because we would not use our resources to protect it. This is some homeland security! After the attacks of four years a ago, there was lots of silly talk about how they changed everything. Nothing changes everything. But if the destruction of New Orleans doesn't change the kinds of politicians we elect to carry out our affairs, then we will have become a pitiful nation.  (Posted, 9/2/05)

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Solon, the great Athenian lawmaker, had this to say in the Athenian Constitution: "For excess breeds insolence, when great prosperity comes to those who are of unsound mind." Considering the president, vice-president, and secretary of defense, we might conclude that nothing has changed in human affairs since Solon died 2,563 years ago. The New York Times  has a scathing editorial about Mr. Bush's speech following his tour of the devastated areas along the Gulf coast (September 1, 2005). Not only was his tone juvenile. He fails to understand the nation's need to use its resources prudently. Surely, it is becoming clear that the men to whom we have turned over our national affairs are incapable of thinking sensibly about the lives of the American people. I'm not sure if that constitutes unsound mind, or not. But if Solon were still with us, I suspect he would say it does.  (Posted, 9/1/05)

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