Word and Image of Vermont
There's important truth in Michael Kinsley's piece in the Washington Post titled, "The Twilight of Objectivity." He says everyone agrees the internet is going to alter journalism. But how? The internet is filled with howling voices which make no pretense of objectivity and seem to be driving newspaper readership ever downward. Perhaps it would be a good thing if so-called "objective" newspapers were laid to rest, but only, Kinsley says, if, in giving up objectivity, they adopted intellectual honesty. It's hard to understand how the notion ever got abroad that honesty and objectivity are the same thing. I recall that when I was in graduate school, I used to ask my professors what objectivity was, and never did I get a sensible answer. Even though they talked up objectivity in the strongest way, they didn't know. Kinsley does a good job of summarizing the principal elements of intellectual honesty. His column is worth reading for that alone. But it's main value lies in pointing out that in striving for objectivity reporters often arrive at the very opposite of honesty.  (Posted, 3/31/06)

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Newt Gingrich and David Merritt have posted an article in the Boston Globe which argues that, in the main, the new Medicare drug program is working well. But if you read the article carefully you'll notice that not a word is said about who gets the money that's being borrowed to support the system. An essential feature of the industry-driven government we've had over the past five years is the perfect faith that a few crumbs thrown to the public will divert their attention away from who the major beneficiaries are. In the case of this bill, anyone who looks at it knows the big rewards go to insurance companies and the drug industry. Drug consumers come in a distant third. Both Gingrich and Merritt are officials of the Center for Health Transformation. And guess who is one of the Center's largest institutional members -- the America's Health Insurance Plans. If that doesn't tell you something then you haven't taken any interest in how our economic system works.  (Posted, 3/30/06)

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Brian Forst is a professor of government at American University. He specializes in the U.S. criminal justice system. He estimates that there are ten thousand wrongful convictions in this country every year. In a Washington Post op/ed piece he says these come about mostly through a combination of  witness mistakes and bad luck. The main cost of what he calls (oxymoronically)  "errant justice" is that people lose faith in the legitimacy of the legal system. And so, he calls for better management of the system to weed out errors. Better management would be a good thing, but unless the system is refashioned to reward accuracy rather than conviction, changes in style of management are unlikely to make much of a difference. The main problem with our criminal justice system is that the people who work in it and try to scramble up its various career ladders are bent on throwing people in jail. Most of them probably would rather incarcerate a guilty person over an innocent one. But if it came down to jailing an innocent person versus no jailing at all, we can't be sure. These people want to close cases and when somebody is put in jail the case is closed. There's a reason why we in America have more people in jail than does any other comparable country. It's because we have built into our system an inherent conflict of interest. The ideal says to punish only the guilty. But the reward system says to punish somebody, regardless of what he did.  (Posted, 3/30/06)

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The mayor of London says the U.S. Ambassador is acting like a chiseling little crook because he won't pay the congestion fee charged to cars that operate in central London. I know nothing about the legality of all this, but considering what the government of the United States spends money on, this seems a strange place to save a few dollars -- or, in this case, pounds. Our country is already losing favor among the people of the single European country that doesn't consider us clods, and our ambassador decides to try to lord it over the local authorities in one of the great cities of the world. Is this actually in our interest?  (Posted, 3/28/06)

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Zacarias Moussaoui wants to be a big deal in al Qaeda's war against America. He was not a big deal, but that doesn't seem to matter any more. The United States government wants to kill him and he is happy to help by getting up on the stand and bragging about how he wanted to kill Americans. Now, the only drama left in his sad case is whether a jury of U.S. citizens will help him achieve his goal. If the U.S. government gets its way and kills him, then he will become a symbol all around the world. He will help violent haters of America  recruit more converts to their ranks. And he will make stronger, among people who ought to be our friends, the belief -- already far too strong -- that America is a brutal, vicious country that shouldn't be helped by anyone. This is so obvious it's hard to see how anyone can doubt it. And, yet, the odds, at least as reported by the media, are that the jury will line up behind Moussaoui. We can only hope they are strong enough, and wise enough, not to give in to him  (Posted, 3/28/06)

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In American parlance, the source of the killing in Iraq gets more and more mysterious. Ambassador Khalizad says more Iraqis are being killed by militia violence than by the terrorists. The Washington Post adds to its report, "He did not say which militias he meant nor did he define who the terrorists were." When the U. S. military is asked about these things, they profess to know nothing, although they're always investigating everything. What the outcome of these investigations are never quite comes to light. No one seems willing to say publicly that the U.S. invasion has sparked such widespread violence the country is moving deeper into murderous chaos every day. American forces are now accused of shooting up a mosque in northern Baghdad and killing sixteen people. The U. S. military says that no mosques were entered or damaged during the operation, which raises the question of whether the Americans know what a mosque is. If they don't, that would fit with their not knowing anything else about the country. General George W. Casey has promised to investigate this also. One might be forgiven for suspecting that the American forces have no time to do anything other than investigate themselves. The gap between what's happening in Iraq and what American officials say about it has become so wide no one can peer across it. Is this not obvious to everyone who pays the slightest attention?  (Posted, 3/27/06)

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Do we in the United States have a "media of appeasement?" We do according to georgia 10, a writer for Daily Kos. Bush in his attempt to raise his ratings and to defend his policies in Iraq has launched "a merciless, orchestrated assault on truth." Language of this sort tends to be dismissed because of its intensity. It's too direct and forceful to be taken seriously, at least in the view of the major press outlets. But does its tone necessarily make it false? Are there actions that deserve language of this sort? If the media are appeasers it's because they are unable to address the question of whether the president and his administration are justifiably seen as unprincipled liars. If, in truth, we did have ruthless, manipulative liars directing our governmental affairs, the press would be undone because it has built into its own makeup a helplessness in the face of dastardly government action. It can't examine the possibility because of who, or what, it has decided to be. Whether this is full-scale appeasement, everyone will have to decide for himself or herself.  (Posted, 3/25/06)

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Ben Domenech, the controversial right-winger blogger for the Washington Post, says the American people should be irritated (actually he used another word) because President Bush attended the funeral of a Communist. He was referring to the ceremonies for Mrs. King. A curious thing has happened in our political discourse. Right-wing spokesmen are granted the privilege of making far more outrageous statements than liberals are. Sure, there is negative response to outbursts in the vein of Domenech's but nonetheless wild arguments like his are seen as being merely part of his trade, more-or-less legitimate political polemic. On the other hand, Michael Moore's far milder critique of the right has been consistently demonized. What, exactly, is it that gives right-wingers the perquisite to speak as though they're demented? Does it suggest that most people recognize that's actually their condition?  (Posted, 3/24/06)

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Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly has an interesting item about the Republicans' obnoxious habit of referring to their opponents as the "Democrat Party." Evidently, this usage goes back as far as the 1920s, and was instituted to imply that the party so designated was not democratic. That clearly remains the motive for using it today. It's not a tactic available to the Democrats because to refer to Republicans as the "Republic Party" would be not only untrue but an undeserved compliment. Republicans lately have been trying to undermine the republic and replace it with an empire. I suspect the best tactic to use against "Democrat Party" would be simply to emit a mild and humorous hiss every time anyone emits the neologism.  (Posted, 3/24/06)

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Here in Vermont we remain mystified about the firing of Christopher Graff by the Associated Press. He is a highly-liked and respected reporter who was considered a solid component of the Vermont press corps. The New York Times ran a story suggesting that Graff was dropped because he put something Senator Leahy had written on the AP wire. This was viewed as partisan. Why is it not news to report the statements of a United States senator? What could be seen as journalistically unethical about that? Of course, that may not have been the AP's reason. But the press agency's stance that it doesn't reveal reasons for personnel actions is nonsensical in this case. If a firing really is a personal matter, then it should be kept confidential. But if it's done because something is thought to be too partisan when many would disagree it needs to be aired. Anyone who cares about this matter should start to put pressure on the AP to explain itself.  (Posted, 3/23/06)

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I'm forever saying that it would be good if all citizens would read such and such article. And, then, invariably, I cite a piece that most people can't and won't read. I'm not sure if that's naiveté on my part or a comment on the American public. But since I've done it before, I see no reason to stop now. So here goes. The article is Louis Menand's review of Francis Fukuyama's America at the Crossroads which appears in the March 27th edition of the New Yorker. The main reason I would like a wide readership for this piece is that it explains clearly and concisely what the neo-conservatives were and what they have become. Here's the key sentence in the explanation: "The present condition of the neo-conservative movement is the outcome of a classic case of the gradual sclerosis of political attitudes." In other words, the neo-conservatives are brain-dead. That's what Fukuyama attempts to tell us, ever so gently, in his new book. A set of ideas which is regularly discussed by the mainstream media as the most powerful intellectual force in America has hardened into a rigid ideology which cannot take reality into account. It has become no more than classic right-wing militaristic jingoism which holds that America not only can, but is obligated to, rule the world through military power. It's an insane notion, but there it is, right at the core of our government. The more people read about it, the more, perhaps, something approaching sense will worm its way into our political discourse.  (Posted, 3/23/06)

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Anyone who has paid attention to Iraq knows that the amount of money stolen or thrown away during Paul Bremer's reign over the Coalition Provisional Authority is staggering. Billions simply disappeared, and nobody can, or will, say where they went. Now the barrier of silence that has dominated this scandal may be beginning to crack. Andrew Natsios, who was the foreign aid director in Iraq until recently gave an interview to Newsweek in which he says Bremer allowed ill-qualified or corrupt contractors to dominate the reconstruction process. Nearly $12 billion in actual currency was shipped to Iraq from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and much of it was never accounted for at all. In other words, gobs of cash just went somewhere. It doesn't take much imagination to figure what happened to a lot of it. Fifty years from now there will be a host of Iraq millionaire families, probably leaders of society, who got their start from money that vanished from the federal books in Iraq. One might argue that a little corruption doesn't matter so long as it helps get things done. But the horror of this Iraq money is that the reconstruction effort in Iraq is a mess. The country now, after three years of American occupation and vast amounts of money spent, still does not have an infrastructure as effective as the one Saddam had in place. This story is likely to grow as more and more of the facts come to light -- that is, if the American media can carry out their responsibilities.  (Posted, 3/23/06)

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Harry Reid says that President Bush is making an "open-ended commitment" to Iraq. This is the sort of naivete Democratic leaders have persistently displayed. The issue is not a commitment to Iraq. Rather it's a permanent American base in Iraq, which has been the Bush administration's goal since before the invasion was launched. How can there be doubt that one of the strongest motives for occupying Iraq was to establish an ongoing U.S. military presence which could dominate any Iraqi government that ever came into being, and could ply Iraqi officials with enough American money to cause them to do our will? The notion that the Bush administration has been inept because it has not accomplished what it said it wanted to accomplish is silly. The question is not what they say but what they actually want. And, in the latter respect, they're been fairly effective. All one has to do to see the real motives of the Bush administration with respect to Iraq is to look at the military bases being built there. They are not fly-by-night installations. They are outfitted with every comfort a military man could want during a half-century occupation. That's what the Bush people are pushing towards. And Americans who do not want their country to occupy and dominate Iraq for the next fifty years had best face up to what the real issue is.  (Posted, 3/22/06)

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The United States seems about ready to begin talks with Iran instead of relying on the standard Bush tactic of scaring the country to death. The person behind this move is Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Iraq and, seemingly, one of the few voices of sanity within the administration. The two countries will start talking first about stability in Iraq and then, if things go well, move on to other topics. The talks, of course, will have to overcome the deep suspicion each nation feels for the other and the resentment in Iran for having been deemed a component of the axis of evil by the president of the United States.  So, they begin with a heavy burden. In this country we would do well not to forget the face our government presented to the world durig the first term of the Bush administration. We're going to have to live with that image for a very long time. It's a good thing our goverment is no longer as bullying as it once was, but the effect is far from having disappeared.  (Posted, 3/22/06)

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Why the press continues to treat Dick Cheney as a voice worthy of serious consideration is a mystery. He has been so steadily and spectacularly wrong about everything he has said, he has long since become little more than a joke among the general public. Yet the press keeps on reporting his maunderings as though they were important analysis and he continues to be invited to pop off on network news programs. The only explanation that comes to mind is the obsequious awe the media seems to have for power. Cheney is thought to have major influence in the inner ranks of government, so what he says has to be promoted as a message of importance, no matter how irrational it is.  (Posted, 3/21/06)

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If I were a reasonable, modern guy I'd give up my campaign to have the word "conservative" used responsibly. But, I'm not. So, I'll keep after people who mangle it, even if I respect them otherwise. E. J. Dionne, Jr falls into that category. In his most recent column he laments the departure from Congress of Sherwood Boehlert, a New York representative, who is described by Dionne as being one of a shrinking breed -- a liberal Republican. The Republican Party needs a liberal wing, says Dionne, to avoid descending into irresponsibility. I don't suppose there would be harm in a liberal segment of the Republican Party, although in this era, I'm not sure what that would mean. But the Republican party's genuine need now is for a conservative component. There are few Republican conservatives left and they have little influence with the party leadership. Have we completely forgotten that conservatives are people who favor slow and limited change, who respect the usages of the past, and who like government to be modest and mostly unseen? None of those qualities characterize prominent Republicans now. The Bush administration has been one of the most radical governments that the nation has ever experienced. Yet, people like Dionne continue to call it conservative. Why? Why? Why?  (Posted, 3/21/06)

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I suppose there has always been a lot of silly talk flying around Washington. But it seems now to be more out of control than ever. First Harvey C. Mansfield, a professor of government at Harvard, writes a book called Manliness, a characteristic which he defines as "confidence in the face of risk." It's an underappreciated quality, he says, especially among educated women. Then Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post writes a column in which she she swallows Mansfield's definition whole hog, but argues that our problem with manliness is not that it's undervalued but rather that we have too much of it in government and particularly at the White House. She also says that the manliness of the White House is undisputed. She couldn't be more wrong there. The problem at the White House is certainly not an excess of courage but a severe deficiency of it. The White House is enveloped in a haze of group-think and there seems to be no one there with the fortitude to stand on his own feet and say that certain policies have been stupid and need to be abandoned. It would be risky to say that and few in the Bush administration have the guts to do it. In fact, you might say that people are chosen for the upper ranks of the administration precisely because they lack the courage of an individual voice. If manliness is simply a process of clustering in a nest and chirping in unison then maybe we can credit some of Mansfield's and Marcus's analysis. But it seems a strange definition.  (Posted, 3/21/06)

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Greg Sargent of The American Prospect says President Bush is despicable for blasting a major American newspaper because it published an article about a device for countering roadside explosives, which a terrorist group picked up and published on the internet. Truth is, the terrorists, at the moment, don't have to worry about the device because the Bush administration hasn't seen fit to ship any of them to Iraq, despite tests which show that they are effective. And that's what the supposedly disloyal article was about, not about the technical aspects of the machine. So, was Bush's attack despicable? Readers can make up their own minds. But one thing we can say, for sure, it was typical. It's the stock in trade of the White House to twist beyond recognition the actions and words of anyone who criticizes it. This is one more example of the Bush administration's perfect faith -- they really are people of faith -- in the inattention of the American people. It doesn't matter to them how distorted a Bush comment is. They have a perfect belief that most people will never examine it critically.  (Posted, 3/14/06)

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President Bush continues to go around attacking isolationism, a sentiment that most people don't think exists in the United States now. But it's non-existence doesn't bother Mr. Bush. His principal political tactic is to take a name with negative connotations and try to paste it onto anyone who doesn't agree with his policies. If you listen to him carefully you'll find that the president believes an isolationist is somebody who doesn't think the United States should invade countries that haven't done anything to us. If we follow his logic to its conclusion we have to assume the only way to be involved in matters outside our borders is through military assault. The president's reliance on military force to solve problems emerges from his general philosophy of life. He's a man who thinks you get what you want by forcing other people to give it to you. He seems incapable of imagining that discussion can lead to an outcome that's favorable for America.  We have not had another president who was as dismissive of diplomacy as this president was during his first term. Every now and then he seems to be trying to turn away from that dismissal. But it's probably too late for him.  (Posted 3/13/06)

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The breakdown of the Dubai Ports deal shows it's hard to manage hysteria, even if you've created it yourself. For four years the Bush administration has sought to garner political advantage by ramping up irrational fears about the rest of the world and, in particular, fears about the Islamic world. Now, their success is biting back. The nation's reputation will be hurt by  the cancellation of the contract. But the good that comes from revealing the nature of the Bush administration to greater numbers may outweigh the damage. From the beginning of this story its ironic nature was evident. Bush was going to be slammed by the force he had ruthlessly  exploited. It's too bad that our international standing will be lowered by the recent mania. But its effect in reducing Bush's influence has to be welcomed. David Broder in his Washington Post column says Charles Schumer and other Democratic critics of the deal are playing with fire. He's right. But maybe fire is necessary to get rid of -- or at least negate -- the people who have been conducting our international affairs. Only when their power is gone can we begin to repair our relationship with the world. (Posted, 3/10/06)

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It's not only oil, the military-industrial complex, or the lust for empire that fuels militarism says Cynthia Enloe, writing in the online edition of The Nation. Deeper down, she claims, it's the politics of masculinity. And the answer is to listen to feminist voices that are always seeking to defeat masculine impulses. There are two difficulties with this argument. The first is whether Ms. Enloe has defined "masculinity" accurately. The second is -- even if she's right in her definition -- whether masculinity can be squashed like a bug. "Masculinity" is yet one more term that's badly defined in current debate. There are people who like to use it as a synonym for stupid brutality and since there is much stupid brutality in the world, and since a lot of men are involved in it, the charge sticks in many minds. That men are involved in a vast number of other things besides stupid brutality, and that some of these might deserve to cluster under the term "masculinity" as well doesn't appear ever to register with thinkers in Ms. Enloe's vein. Furthermore, if masculinity is actually as deep-seated as Ms. Enloe seems to think, don't we need to ask the question whether it can be wiped out? Might it be better -- and more practical -- to divert it rather than destroy it. I agree with Enloe that it's dumb to fly warplanes over football stadia before the beginning of games. But couldn't we just call it dumb and then move on to examine all the social forces that produce such dumbness rather than simply attribute it to a single cause?  (Posted, 3/9/06)

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"The Bush administration is intellectually corrupt." So says Richard Cohen in his column in today's Washington Post. He says further that intellectual corruption is harming the nation more deeply than the financial corruption that's getting so much press nowadays. He gives as examples the Bush policies on stem cell research, sexual abstinence programs, and global warming. It's easy to agree with Cohen  -- too easy perhaps. The danger is to attribute silly actions to intellectual corruption without stopping to ask what the latter is. Is it just simple, old-fashioned stupidity? Is it greed-driven self delusion? Is it bigotry masquerading as faith or religion? Is it mean spiritedness? Or is it some toxic combination of all these? An intellectually corrupt man is not a simple phenomenon. And it is probably not wise to assume that his character comes from a single force or motive. Cohen is undoubtedly right that something we can describe abstractly as intellectual corruption is befouling our national life. But just saying so, without digging into it and finding out what its parts are, will probably not do much to reduce its power. We need an analysis of the current American version of intellectual corruption and we are seriously tardy in getting to work on it.  (Posted, 3/9/06)

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As Mr. Bush's problems pile up, it's likely he and his advisors will soften their rhetoric and attempt to appear less arrogant than they were during his first term. They won't openly back off on anything, but they will change their tone. It's important that this change not cause critics to be less vocal. What will be established during the final years of the Bush administration is not only policy for the moment but a historical reputation. Scholars in the future will shape that reputation. Yet, exactly how they shape it will be strongly influenced by what happens to the Bushites in the next couple years. The nation needs to ensure that the Bush administration, in its entirety, comes to be seen as a pathological aberration. Politicians in the coming years need to have planted in their brains a fear of being perceived as comparable to Bush and his cronies. In the rush of current events, it's easy to forget that long-term forces determine much of what happens. And historical reputation is the most lasting of long term forces. The nation would do well to get something positive from the election of Bush in 2000 and 2004. And the best thing it could get is the lesson: never again!  (Posted, 3/8/06)

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The new report from Amnesty International about prisoners in Iraq makes one thing very clear. The supposedly sovereign government of Iraq is treating the people it holds very badly. Torture is common and false charges are rife. There is no resort to legal protection. Is this our fault? Well, we have to face the truth that this government is our baby. We created it. We set the conditions under which it exercises power. To say that it is a democratic expression of the Iraqi people is nonsense. The U.S. military in Iraq can't, of course, regulate and inspect everything the Iraqi authorities do. Even if we had the will to do it, we don't have the means. But that's the very point the American people ought to be taking into account. When you conquer and occupy a country, you set loose forces you can't control. That's why conquest and occupation ought to be done under only the most dire circumstances , only when you have no other options. In 2003, there were many options available to us and we allowed our government to pick the worst one possible. Is this all ancient history? Maybe. But it ought to teach us that ancient history is important.  (Posted, 3/7/06)

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Commenting in the online edition of The American Prospect, Michael Tomasky makes an extremely important point:

"One of the big problems with most politicians at Edwards' level is that they don't read seriously
anymore. This means they don't develop serious ideas of their own, and it makes them more
susceptible to any shallow thing their pollsters and handlers tell them. It's surely true of both parties,
but it seems worse among Democrats for some reason. Maybe it's that they almost never, ever,
ever refer to anything historical (I'm sure their pollsters tell them that history is a loser). Maybe it's
just that I know the Democrats and don't really know the Repubs, so I see it up close with them."

Tomasky is referring to George Will's slam of John Edwards for not having heard of James Q. Wilson. But the general issue is what counts. America is now governed by ignorant politicians because knowledge has been dismissed as unimportant in the political arena. One might call it the George Bush effect. The president has shown consistently that he knows very little and it doesn't seem to have hurt him. Rather, it is thought to make the average voter warm to him as an ordinary guy with mainstream values. Yet, it's questionable how far ignorance can be ridden. Knowledge of history does matter in making political decisions and even the average guy tends to know that.  (Posted, 3/6/06)

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Anybody who knows the slightest thing about Christianity knows the Republican Party does not support Christian morality. Never has. Never will. So why do Evangelical Christians vote for Republicans in such overwhelming numbers? Up till recently they have thought they had no choice because for them Democrats were arrogant people who sneered at them. And there certainly has been a vocal element of the Democratic Party who played that role. But, gradually, significant numbers of evangelicals are coming to see they have more in common with Democratic values than they do with Republicans. Any time issues arise which put corporate profits into conflict with helping the unfortunate or protecting the environment, Republicans side with the interests of big business. And some Christian spokesmen are beginning to wake up to that truth. One of them is Randy Brinson, an evangelical leader in Alabama, who recently saw Republicans torpedo a bill that would have allowed an elective course on the Bible to be taught in state high schools. And why were the Republicans against it? Because it had been introduced by Democrats. And Republicans don't want the Democrats to gain any credit that might allow them to begin to have an effect on financial legislation. Brinson is featured in an article by Amy Sullivan, editor of The Washington Monthly,  which explores in detail the ways in which growing numbers of evangelicals see their fundamental moral positions being thwarted by the Republican Party. Ms. Sullivan doesn't expect this movement to bring a majority of evangelicals to the Democratic Party any time soon. But, the Democrats don't need a majority. They just need to reduce the gigantic advantage the Republicans have enjoyed in the evangelical community. Sullivan thinks that's happening. And we can all pray she's right.  (Posted, 3/6/06)

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Every now and then you have to ask, how dumb can people get? The people currently raising that question are the federal prosecutors in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui. They want to kill him. Here's a clearly unbalanced man who has consistently exaggerated his own role in the September 11th attacks. He has sought throughout his trial to inflame public sentiment against him by proclaiming his loyalty to Osama bin Laden. But the simple truth is, he was in jail when the attacks occurred and he had virtually nothing to do with them. To kill him now will not only be legally dubious. It will throw red meat to America haters all around the world and strengthen the argument that the United States has become a nation to be feared and hated by everyone. That's what Moussaoui wants and our happy little prosecutors are working away zealously to help him promote his goal.  (Posted, 3/4/06)

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"Self-flagellation and self-loathing pass for complexity and moral seriousness in Hollywood," says Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post. What's his evidence? The film Syriana, which he lambastes in every way possible except for one. He doesn't bother to comment on whether the portrayal of big oil dealing in the Middle East may have aspects of accuracy. If we are to accept the implication of Krauthammer's argument, then we must believe the desires of large oil companies have no influence on government policy and no political position has been taken with profits in mind. And just think: he's charging other people with being unrealistic. Furthermore, he says they're engaged in self-loathing. Commentators of Krauthammer's stripe appear incapable of perceiving that there can be any other self-identity outside nationalism. By their thinking, if someone is an American government or corporate official and you criticize him then you must hate yourself. What about the thought that nothing could be more American than Hollywood and the depiction of things it projects? Does Krauthammer's dislike of them make him a self-hater too? What Krauthammer really wants is to be able to define America by leaving out many features that have traditionally been associated with this country, and then say that if you don't accept his definition you hate yourself. Does that strike you as fair?  (Posted, 3/3/06)

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Howard Fineman has an interesting column on today's MSNBC web site about the contrasting styles of our two most recent presidents. It's titled "The explainer and the un-explainer-in-chief." You can imagine who goes with which designation. Fineman professes to be not quite sure which style works best, but actually gives himself away pretty clearly about which he prefers. But he's doubtless right to suggest it's hard to know which the people prefer. The American psyche is powerfully drawn to childhood -- the appeal is a kind of Peter Panism. So maybe growing up and expecting the president to explain his policies would be too disorienting. There was a popular hymn we sang when I was a boy, whose lyrics ran, "Trust and obey, cause there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey." The question is, can we be happy in Bush with that directive?  (Posted, 3/2/06)

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ABC's The Note commented this morning that "the American people, the Gang of 500, and the House Republicans all want straight talk on Iraq and on the federal budget."

But, then, it added "(Pause two beats for optional eye rolling and/or laughter.)"

One is constantly being reminded of Jack Nicholson's now legendary remark in  A Few Good Men (It's hard to believe, isn't it, that the quip is fourteen years old?).

One wonders what would happen if the American people actually did develop a taste for straight talk. Would it enhance the Republic or destroy it? No one knows for sure. There is one thing we can be sure of though: the Republicans in the House of Representatives are not going to launch out on that experiment.  (Posted, 3/2/06)

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John Derbyshire, writing for the National Review's online commentary page, says this: "I do my best to outrage the sensibilities of liberals. Outraging the sensibilities of fellow conservatives is a thing I do not want to do. When I do it, it's through carelessness. I shall try to be more careful. Honest, but polite. And not too brusque." I guess it would be comfortable to consider oneself so immersed in an ideological movement as to be able to make a statement of that sort and mean it. And I have little doubt that Mr. Derbyshire does mean it. I'm not as sure, though, what he means by it. Does he actually find either "liberalism" or "conservatism" so intellectually coherent that one deserves perpetual courtesy and the other perpetual insult? How can that be? Over the past several months I have seen so many sentiments labeled "conservative" that if I take them as a whole I have no idea what they mean or intend to mean. Mr. Derbyshire's promise seems to speak to no more than an emotional affinity for one word and an emotional aversion towards another, no matter what they mean or how they may shift their meaning over time. But in making it, he may well give us a key to the mystery of political debate in our era. Is it carried on simply for the joys of emotionalism, and for nothing else?  (Posted, 3/1/06)

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David Ignatius of the Washington Post is speaking up for "enlightened hypocrisy." That's what he calls approving of India's having nuclear weapons while denouncing and thwarting Iran's attempt to have them. India, he says, has earned the right to them by showing that it is a stabilizing government. Iran has not shown that, so Iran shouldn't be permitted to do what nations like India insist on doing. It's a somewhat persuasive argument provided one accepts his assessment of both governments. But it is incomplete. And his refusal to complete it demonstrates a hypocrisy that can scarcely be called enlightened. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was based on two premises. The nations that did not have nuclear weapons would stop trying to acquire them. The nations that did have them would move towards getting rid of them as quickly as possible. It was understood that these two promises went together and complemented one another. Each was necessary for the other to work. Now, in the United States, at least, we seem to have forgotten completely about the second promise. Nuclear non-proliferation means simply stopping anybody else from joining the nuclear club. Obviously, that's not going to be successful. If the whole world is not moving together towards a future condition in which there will be no nuclear weapons, in effect, towards a condition in which the use of nuclear weapons is unthinkable, then every sizable nation will attempt to acquire them. And those that do, won't care, in the least, whether David Ignatius thinks they're stable , or worthy, or deserving, or any of the other adjectives he uses to bolster the biggest hypocrisy of all.  (Posted, 3/1/06)

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What is "the value of uninhibited, unrestrained and deeply offensive free speech?" That's the question Ann Applebaum asks in her Washington Post column today, commenting on the cases of Ken Livingstone in London and David Irving in Austria. It's a question that's badly in need of an answer. Not too long ago one would have thought the answer was obvious, but clearly today it is not. Livingstone was suspended from his job as mayor of London for saying a reporter reminded him of a Nazi concentration camp guard. And Irving was thrown in jail for saying that the Nazis didn't do exactly what responsible scholarship and the truth say they did. Is morality somehow supposed to be protected by these official acts? When government agencies begin to warn that you had better watch what you say or else, then the freedom to say  what someone in power doesn't like is undermined. The notion that government can prevent bad speech while leaving good speech free to roam is so foolish one wonders how anybody could have thought it up. And yet it is now becoming a strong tendency throughout what used to be called the free world. We need, at least, to call it what it is -- a failure of nerve. People who think that some speech is too offensive to be heard are, in effect, admitting they don't have what it takes to refute it. They have no faith in either their own power of expression or in the ability of people generally to listen to reason. And people that fainthearted are not going to protect freedom of any kind.  (Posted, 3/1/06)

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