Word and Image of Vermont
Melanie Morgan, talk show host, said recently that if New York Times editor Bill Keller were convicted of treason -- as she wants him to be -- for running a story about the government's financial tracking, she would not be bothered by his being sent to the gas chamber. This strengthens a conviction I've mentioned before, that in choosing between the left and the right wing on the political spectrum we should keep in mind that the former is often silly but that the latter is murderous. There seems to be a goodly percentage of the American people who are more offended by foolish sensitivities than they are by an eagerness to kill people. That's a moral choice those in this segment of the population need to explain to the rest of us.  (Posted, 6/30/06)

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In American political culture we have had always bizarre and unbalanced characters. But there is reason to suspect now that we have more than the past has ever offered. There are numerous voices calling on the attorney general of the United States to seek indictments for treason against the managers and journalists of the New York Times. Is this merely overheated  rhetoric or do men like Jim Bunning and Peter King actual mean what they say? Do they understand that treason is an offense that can be committed only in time of war and that though there is much loose talk about the nation being at war, no war has been declared through a constitutional process? Do they imagine what would happen if the editors of the New York Times were brought into court and charged with treason?  Can they believe that national security would be enhanced by the fervid protests that would break out over acts that would have to be perceived as rank tyranny? We can hope they are merely grumpy guys making silly talk. But sometimes talk this silly can lead to actions even more ridiculous, and to projection into a descending spiral even steeper than the one the nation has already entered.  (Posted, 6/29/06)

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In Slate, Russell Cobb says there no reason, at the moment, to fear a theocratic ascendancy because the right-wing usurpers of Christianity have taken to fighting among themselves. For example, James Dobson of Focus on the Family said recently that the campaign by the National Association of Evangelicals to reduce greenhouse gases  reflects "an underlying hatred for America." It's always good to see loony people oppose one another but I don't think we have to rely on the internal fusses of fundamentalists to escape being panicked by them. The religious stance of these groups is not what threatens democratic health. Rather, it's the educational condition of their members, an orientation that makes them highly manipulable by smarmy politicians. If they were better-read and more thoughtful, they would see that the doctrines preached by their leaders are generally anti-Christian and are driven by little more than a small-minded tribal nationalism. Liberals need to learn there's nothing to fear from Christians who are actually Christian and, therefore, to engage them respectfully about Christian morality. The more that's done, the less the influence of puffed up public relations men who go on TV and spout off about their own goodness and the need for Americans to kill all the bad people in the world.  (Posted, 6/28/06)

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Now, at least, there's no more doubt about it. We know beyond question what percentage of U.S. senators are opportunistic idiots who will besmear the Constitution of the United States with nonsensical irrelevancy in order to gain cheap and temporary political advantage. Sixty-six percent is the number. Somebody should put the names of those sixty-six on a plaque and erect it on an Avenue of Shame in the nation's capital. When you come to think about it,  you suspect that the percentage of senators who voted for the flag desecration amendment is probably the same as the percentage of self-seeking charlatans throughout the federal government, whatever branch they inhabit. A turn-around of seventeen percent, so that intelligence and decency could gain a small majority among our officials, is big, but maybe it's not an impossible goal for the next-quarter century. We could call it "the seventeen percent solution."  (Posted, 6/28/06)

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Back when I was in graduate school, Willis Robertson, Pat's daddy, was widely spoken of as the dumbest man in the Senate. Remembering that got me to wondering who deserves the accolade today. I can't be perfectly sure, of course, but if I were forced to put forward a candidate, I think I would name Mel Martinez, Republican of Florida. With respect to the upcoming vote in the Senate over whether to push a constitutional amendment making it a crime to burn a flag, here's what Martinez said: "People place great importance in symbols of national unity." I don't know what national unity is, or why we should be making laws about it. But, surely, if there's widespread burning of flags, then there is no national unity, however it's defined. Does Mr. Martinez think that if we throw people in jail who are so fed up with the government's policies they will burn flags to show their disgust, that, somehow, national unity will emerge? Logic would suggest just the opposite. But I guess we have to be sympathetic to people like Martinez. There is no conceivable moral argument for justifying legal punishment for burning a piece of cloth. So if a person wants such a law, he's pretty well limited to making nonsensical statements.We can be pretty sure, by the way, that if the Senators put the amendment forward there will be lots more flag-burning than if they, atypically, turned their attention to the nation's problems. Could that be their secret goal? Might Mel Martinez be a closeted flag pyromaniac?  (Posted, 6/27/06)

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In the lead article for this week's New Republic, Rick Perlstein has a very good sentence: "Rove knows that the pleasure of watching liberals' heads explode is the best way to keep his team rowing together." It reminds me that I've never been able to figure out completely the breakdown of responsibility between those who commit evil and those who elicit it. I'm clear that the former have a heavier responsibility. But, how much heavier? The overweening vice of those who see themselves as liberals is indignation. They love to be indignant. It's the reason that, though I sometimes take positions that are seen as liberal, I've never been able to think of myself as being a liberal. I don't have the requisite indignation. It's a bad trade-off to indulge one's indignation to the point that it gives right-wingers an advantage with the general public. But that's what liberals have been doing for the past thirty years. One thing people ought to get straight in their heads is that just because they support sensible political positions, it doesn't, necessarily, make them good people. There are lots of faults in this world other than political faults. Helping Karl Rove and other right-wing manipulators win elections by responding indignantly to their taunting is not virtue. It would be more fun to cause right-wing heads to explode, and more virtuous too.  (Posted, 6/26/06)

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We can now all breathe a sigh of relief. The FBI has arrested a gang of clowns who got together in a Miami warehouse and talked about blowing up buildings, led on by an FBI agent who posed as an al Qaeda agent. It's wonderful that such stupendous police work is made known to us by seizing the lead spot on all the evening network news shows. Bob Schieffer, to give him the slight credit he deserves, did show by his facial expressions that he was a bit incredulous. But otherwise, CBS went along with the journalistic mania. Jon Stewart has been saying for years that openly fake news, like the fare of his comedy show, is less fake than the so-called real news is. Polls show that more and more people are believing him, and last night's performance shows us why.  (Posted, 6/24/06)

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In the New Republic Online, Michelle Cottle says that Ann Coulter has become a success by helping people channel prejudices that aren't any longer socially acceptable into "political partyism," the last correct form of unbridled bigotry. As a consequence, Ms. Coulter, in addition to being successful, is the most hated woman in America. She consoles right-wingers by telling them it's all right to detest somebody for what he believes, if not for what he is. It's an intriguing argument but I don't think it's quite right. I'm not sure that genuine bigots need to channel their bigotry. When they're hanging out among themselves, which is mostly what they do, their expression can be just as raw and nasty as it has ever been. They like Ann Counter not because she gives them a way to escape a reputation for bigotry but rather because the success of her raw nastiness supports their own. Furthermore, it's hard to believe that Ann Coulter is widely hated. Her speech is so ridiculous it has long since stepped outside seriousness. For those not of her camp she has become merely looney, so far as political analysis is concerned. And looniness, though it can be annoying, is scarcely a quality to evoke hatred.  (Posted, 6/24/06)

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So now the current Republican argument is that even though it may have been wrong to send an army to invade Iraq, and even though the army seems unable to quell the violence and misery in the country, we have to keep it there because to remove it would be to "cut and run." This is to say that no matter how foolish a past action may have been, the United States has to persist in it, spending lives and billions of dollars in the process, because not to persist would be to .... what? If the American people swallow this argument it's hard to imagine what they they won't swallow. The issue before the nation is whether the good that the occupation is doing is worth vast treasure and many lives. We hear no convincing argument that it's doing any good at all. Every day it continues it increases the contempt felt for our country all around the world. The American people need to ask themselves this question: why would the forces that are trying to eject the American military from Iraq ever stop fighting? As long as the occupiers are there, they remind young men every day of their own humiliation. The invaders go into any house they want, knock down any door they want, at any hour of the day or night. There is no place the people can bring their grievances and have a chance of being heard fairly. Why would the so-called insurgents ever give up the resistance? I suppose one could argue that if peace came the Americans would leave. But who in Iraq believes that?  (Posted, 6/22/06)

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How do we know it's true that if the United States withdrew its military forces from Iraq the country would descend into bloody chaos? That's the hypothesis which in Washington has become so unchallengeable no one can inquire seriously what might actually happen. No one can ask whether the bloody chaos is being caused by the American presence rather than being damped down by it. At the very least, we ought to be ready to admit that the future is not perfectly predictable. So when a costly policy is based on the perfection of prediction, as the continuing American occupation now is, it's worthwhile to entertain some doubt about it. We know what continues to happen with the occupation. And it's not pretty. So why is it not acceptable to discuss other options? But, then, I suppose we all have the answer to that.  (Posted, 6/21/06)

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Writing in the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus bewails the difficulty of keeping indecent material out of the sight and hearing of children. It's amusing that critics of popular culture continue to assume that vulgarity and raw sexuality are somehow divorced from the rest of modern culture and can  be addressed on their own without relating them to politics, education, or intellectual health. It seems beyond the critics' grasp that cheapness  in one aspect of public life begets cheapness in all others. If Ms. Marcus really wants to know why children are besieged with so much nasty stuff, all she has to do is turn on C-Span and listen to the speeches in the U.S. House of Representatives. She'll discover more obscenity there in a week than she can find on Jerry Springer in a year. There's a unity of mind and taste which runs through all areas of life. When it's low, it's low everywhere. If someone wants to know why entertainment is mired in a swamp, he or she should ask why we have political leaders so ill-read they couldn't carry on a conversation even if they could grasp what a conversation is. Ms. Marcus should set George Bush beside Thomas Jefferson in her own mind if she actually wants to think through how we might begin to protect the minds of the nation's youth.  (Posted, 6/21/06)

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Books about the government's actions from 2001 till 2004 are now pouring from the presses and most of them appear to carry the message that it was worse than we thought. They might help us recall a bedrock principle of history: It's always worse than we think at the time. One of the latest in this series is Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine, the title referring to Dick Cheney's notion that we should take aggressive action against any unfriendly group or nation if there's a one percent chance that it possesses those famous weapons of mass destruction. The relation between Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush is one of the more fascinating subjects of these recent accounts. Suskind says, for example, that in the CIA, Mr. Cheney's nickname was "Edgar," a reference to Edgar Bergen. Those of you who are more than thirty years old can figure out the full implication. How bad it was is one thing. How bad the American people understand it to be is another. At the moment, we don't have an information system that can convey the message widely enough to give it the political force it deserves. The internet is moving in that direction, but the internet has the disadvantage of spreading nonsense just as efficiently as it spreads substantive commentary. Whether the people of the United States can be brought to understand what their government is doing remains the most vital question in the world today.  (Posted, 6/20/06)

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Discussion of media sycophancy has been given a boost by the publication of Eric Boehlert's book, Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush. One web site which hosted a discussion of the book led off with this epigraph from Lord Byron: "It is singular how soon we lose the impression of what ceases to be constantly before us." Byron is right. It's not only singular, it's astounding. It's as though the press has lost all memory of the tone and propaganda of the period from November 2002 until the summer of 2003. The rhetoric of those days so burned itself into my brain I can never forget it. So I'm grateful we have a book that brings it back to our attention -- that is, as much as any book can. Americans, though, are not mostly book-reading people, or even review-reading people. So we probably shouldn't be too hopeful about Boehlert's influence.  (Posted, 6/19/06)

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Paul Krugman bases his column today on a new book which argues that the more we have unequal distribution of wealth in America, the nastier our political divisions become. By contrast, publications like The Economist hold that it doesn't matter how much money the super rich accumulate so long as people of lower income continue to make gains. The latter argument, it seems to me, ignores the truth of power. Money is power and when it is concentrated in a few hands then it can be, and is, wielded in ways that have nothing to do with the public welfare. That's a formula for a society in which a few rich people live in gated, armed communities and the rest are packed into neighborhoods with decaying public services. The rich don't need to keep the roads paved if they can fly everywhere in helicopters. We aren't close to that condition yet in America but we have clearly moved towards it during the recent Republican ascendancy. And that move has generated anger which approaches the boiling point. As more people come to understand what kind of society the Republicans are promoting, there is a chance the rage will boil over.  (Posted, 6/19/06)

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The Bush administration is coming close to arguing that any lawsuit which raises questions about the legality of government acts is likely to reveal state secrets and, therefore, has to be dismissed for that reason alone. In other words, the courts are closed to citizens who seek redress from the government, regardless of what the government has done to them. The most recent instance of this argument occurs in a case where the attorney general of New Jersey asked several telephone companies to explain whether they had released information about the calls of New Jersey citizens to the government. And almost immediately, the U.S. Justice Department went into court and tried to squash the state effort to protect its citizens. This may be one of those developments in which when the public finally wakes up to what's going on, it will be too late to do anything about it. The government will have moved beyond the ability of a citizen to question it in a legal way. That used to be described by words I guess we dare not use any longer.  (Posted, 6/16/06)

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David Brooks in the New York Times says that if we understood our political differences rightly we would see that the struggle is between populist nationalism and progressive globalism. "Conservatism" and "liberalism" would be dismissed as labels with no coherent philosophies behind them. He's certainly right about the latter. There is no conservative/liberal split in America. He may not be perfectly correct about where the division lies nowadays, but if we accepted his definitions our debates would become more intelligible than they have been over the past decade.And they might preclude the evolution of a party like the Republicans who have nothing to offer the American people. I am not usually one of Brooks's fans. But when he makes a suggestion that could advance the intelligence of our public conversation, I have to give him credit.  (Posted, 6/15/06)

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Last night on the CBS Evening News Bob Schieffer said I wasn't going to believe what had happened to a billion dollars of the relief money for the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Then, he went on to report that it had gone to thieves and con artists. What's wrong with Bob? Why would I have trouble believing that? In fact, I would be amazed if that were all that was stolen.Vast fortunes are being compiled from the money thrown around in Iraq, Afghanistan, Louisiana, Mississippi and goodness knows where else. Long after all of us are dead, people will be checking into luxury hotels and feeling smugly superior because of money scraped up by their forebears from government folly. That's the way the world works now. It's not that people are any more larcenous than they ever were. It's just that we are working hard to set up systems that reward larceny gigantically. It's conceivable that in the future larceny will provide the principal path of ambition, dwarfing all other means for getting to the top and being able thereby to scoff at the underlings.When that happens freedom, of the George Bush variety, will have perfected itself.  (Posted, 6/15/06)

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We can all be outraged, of course, by "an act of asymmetric warfare committed against us." That's what happened when some guys at Guantanamo killed themselves, according to Harry Harris, the commander there. My own indignation was waxing to heights heretofore unimagined when suddenly the thought came to me that I don't know what asymmetric warfare is. I thought about getting on the phone and calling up Harry to ask him but, then, I figured he would be too busy to talk to me, no doubt putting most of his efforts into guarding against future acts of warfare asymmetrical. One thing I guess we can take comfort in -- that we have such towers of intellect conducting our military business all round the world.  (Posted, 6/14/06)

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The current situation has caused even the New York Times to descend to a comedy sheet. Here's a sentence from a report filed by John F. Burns and Dexter Filkins from Iraq about the presidential visit: "'My message to the Iraqi people is this: Seize the moment,' Bush said in a speech to American troops and embassy employees who gave him a rapturous reception...." One might wonder whether the Iraqis were as enraptured by the statement as the soldiers were, and, if he got to wondering seriously, whether the Iraqis even heard it.  (Posted, 6/14/06)

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In Detroit yesterday a government lawyer told a judge that the telephone snooping by the NSA is legal but that he can't prove it's legal because that would require the release of secrets. Therefore, the charges against the NSA should be dismissed. This is perfectly symbolic of the Bush administration's relation to the American people. They're for us, so the argument goes, but they can't tell us how they're for us, except in the most abstract and sentimental terms, because if they did, the enemy -- who ever he is -- would learn about it. This, presumably, is why they had to send an army to attack Iraq without letting us know, really, why they did it. It's hard to imagine a judge accepting this argument. It undermines the purpose of the judiciary. For a judge to go along with it would be to commit professional suicide -- assuming, of course, that his profession involves something other than a bunch of people looking out for themselves.  (Posted, 6/13/06)

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From the tone of reports about Patrick Fitzgerald's decision not to seek an indictment against Karl Rove, I get the sense that journalists think Americans were waiting for Fitzgerald to tell them whether Rove is a positive or negative force in politics. If anybody was looking to Fitzgerald for that judgment he's a complete political idiot. The acts by Rove that were being looked at by the prosecutor were insignificant compared to the things he has openly done. He's the dishonest point man for an astoundingly dishonest administration and that's about ten thousand times as important as anything he did with respect to Valery Plame. I don't want the Karl Roves of the world driven out of politics by prosecutors. Then they can claim they were set up by unfair accusations. Instead, I want them to be identified in the mind of the public as what they are. Only then will real political education take place.  (Posted, 6/13/06)

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I'm continually bemused by the naivete of journalism and its fatuous language. When the supposedly educated men and women who pump out this drivel speak to one another in private do they not acknowledge the corrupted phrases which are their stock in trade? How can they not? But if they do, how can they continue? My thoughts were driven once again to this topic by noting on the cover of a leading political journal a lead about innocent people killed in war. Is that supposed to suggest that there are also non-innocent , and therefore guilty, people killed by warfare? Is the young American marine, his head packed with propaganda and his body eviscerated by a roadside bomb, a non-innocent victim of war? Why is he any less innocent than an Iraqi woman who happened to live in a house next door to a suspected insurgent hangout and was therefore dismembered by a five hundred pound American bomb? In war, it's hard to say that anybody who gets killed is guilty. It's the people who don't get killed that may deserve the charge. Why don't our journalists tell us that?  (Posted, 6/12/06)

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Last night, ABC News asked whether Ann Coulter is being uncivil to say that some of the wives of men killed on September 11, 2001 are enjoying their husbands' deaths. This was in a segment asking whether there are lines that ought not to be crossed in political debate. But ABC didn't bother to ask who is to be restrained by these mythical lines. Ann Coulter, after all, is a person who has made a career out of being outrageously crazy. Virtually everything she says is nuts. There are some people who like to hear that sort of thing, and they are providing Ms. Coulter with a good living. This is just an aspect of capitalism and is not amenable to standards of civility. You would think that ABC News would have bothered to make that point. But, instead, they dealt with Ms. Coulter as a political commentator rather than as a comedian and in doing so they crossed more important lines than Ms. Coulter ever has.  (Posted, 6/8/06)

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Michael Hagee, the commandant of the Marine Corps, says that he takes seriously the charges that marines murdered people at Haditha. He also says that he is responsible. But responsible for what we're not quite sure. Certainly, he's not going to take personal responsibility for murder. I guess what he means is that he'll preside over a process that will probably throw some people in jail. That seems to be what we mean by responsibility now: a willingness to throw other people in jail. The responsibility for putting young men into situations where they are tempted to murder people is not going to come to rest anywhere. That's what the higher-ups do and they are not responsible when things don't turn out as they blithely predicted and the result is carnage. After all, they can't be expected to predict the future, can they? I feel a certain sympathy for General Hagee. What can he say that won't sound idiotic? Probably the best tactic for him at the moment is to say nothing.  (Posted, 6/8/06)

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Language about the president appears to be growing ever more blunt. The first sentence of the editorial in my local paper this morning read, "George Bush is a bully and a coward." After taking that in with my first cup of coffee I came to my computer and found a report that John Kerry said the president is a criminal who is looting the country. Gosh! A bully, a coward, and a criminal looter. That could give some people the impression that he ought not to be the chief executive of the nation. It seems to be the case that not only is dissatisfaction with the president more widespread than it used to be but deeper also. The depth is doubtless extended by people beginning to say in public what has been said in private for quite a while. Strong statements reinforce one another. For some time now I've wondered about the possibility of a swelling tide of disgust that might burst the boundaries of ordinary opposition. We can't be sure it's upon us but there are signs. It will be interesting to see what effects the tide will produce if it really does come sloshing across the country, sweeping away journalistic timidity before it. If in the next month or so we find David Broder declaring Bush to be a criminal, we'll know something really is afoot. Truth is, there's no predicting the forms this kind of unleashed passion might take. I'm not sure we've ever had anything like this before in our history. It could be quite spectacular.  (Posted, 6/7/06)

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President Bush doesn't seem to be getting very good press from his anti-gay marriage proposal. If there aren't any media supporters for it, you have ask, who is he trying to impress? Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post says that Mr. Bush has gone from being the Decider to the Distracter and it does seem to be the case that the president's concern about issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples has been worked up for the purpose of turning the public's attention away from other things. There may be no limit to how absurd or desperate this administration will get as the president's approval rating shrinks. Will he launch a war to try to turn the polls around? Mr. Robinson says we may be heading into new depths of shamelessness, and I have no confidence that he's wrong.  (Posted, 6/6/06)

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I waked up this morning thinking, "This is the day of the Devil." So I hopped up and came down to read in the New York Times an article telling me that the prescription of antipsychotic drugs to children has increased five hundred percent since 1993. "Aha," I thought, "the religious prognosticators are right again." Now that we know kids are being fed a lot of drugs to modify how they think and feel we have to ask ourselves what it means. And when we ask, we discover we don't know (which, by the way, was one of the themes of the article). Can it be that we're crazier than we used to be? Are we just now discovering medicines that stop us from being crazy? Is drugging kids just a way to make up for ineffective parents? Or is it merely the traditional business of drug companies enriching themselves by convincing us we need stuff we don't need? We don't know the answers to any of these questions either. Perhaps this is the age of We Don't Know? Could the Devil be  behind it? The thought leads us to the biggest We Don't Know (or WDK) of all.  (Posted, 6/6/06)

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I notice that tomorrow is Devil's Day  -- because the date is written, numerically, 6/06/06. I can't decide if enough attention is being given to it or not. Something really bad is supposed to happen, but since something really bad happens every day I don't know how we're going to distinguish tomorrow's evil from all the rest. How can we decide if an instance of badness is really worthy of the Devil? I've begun to wonder if the Devil's PR operation is in good shape. He doesn't seem to be getting as much credit as he deserves for all the misery going on around the world. Presumably, he causes it all. But if that's the case, then one more example scarcely seems worth much newsprint. I'm not sure how I would advise the Devil to proceed (that is, if I were on his staff and being adequately paid). It might be a good idea to lay off the little stuff and concentrate on a really superior demonstration, and who knows? Maybe that's what he's going to do. We'll just have to wait for tomorrow.  (Posted, 6/5/06)

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The recent vigorous remarks from Nuri Kamal al-Maliki about the way U.S. troops treat Iraqi civilians are interesting. Whether they mean anything remains to be seen. Obviously, if he's going to be able to govern, Maliki, has to convince his fellow citizens that he's an independent official and not a puppet of the United States. And, it's hard to see how he can do that. It's even harder to believe the United States would let him be independent. Events on the ground show us pretty clearly that the U.S. government intends to have a controlling presence in Iraq indefinitely. If an Iraqi prime minister began to question the U.S. occupation in a serious way he might well be putting his life in danger.And he probably doesn't have the force to protect himself if the United States decided to be indifferent -- or worse -- to his safety. He's not in an enviable position and it would be fascinating to find out exactly what's in his mind. That's a revelation unlikely to come anytime soon. The U.S. will doubtless throw him some bones. Whether they will provide him with sufficient sustenance only time will tell.  (Posted, 6/3/06)

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So now all the U.S. military forces in Iraq are going to be "trained" not to murder people. Is this supposed to make us more confident about our efforts there? The military's tin ear for the effects of its ghastly language continually surpasses itself, indicating not just ignorance but some sort of dead spot in the brain. It's one thing to be proud of jargon; it seems to be one of the pathologies of professionalism. But to carry it to the lengths the U.S. military does goes beyond stupid pride to a divorce from humanity. And might this very divorce play a part in causing all Iraqis, in the words of Waleed Mohammed, an Iraqi lawyer, to "become like dogs in the eyes of the Americans." There's a metaphorical reach beyond the grasp of any general I've heard lately. That these talking sticks are going to try to teach ethics to their soldiers is one of the saddest projects of this miserable war and an insult to the English language besides.  (Posted, 6/2/06)

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Here's how it works in Bush economics: if a guy who made a million dollars last year makes a million and a half this year and if four hundred people who made less than fifty thousand all see their buying power decline by a thousand dollars then the economy is doing well and all Americans ought to rejoice, including the four hundred. In fact, the president seems irritated that the average American can't understand that. According to Paul Krugman in today's New York Times, the main job of the new secretary of the Treasury will be to explain it to them. If he fails, he'll be tossed aside as former economic advisors have been. The notion that the economic well-being of the nation resides in the most wealthy five percent is so firmly fixed in the minds of Bush and his advisors they lack the ability to imagine a different perspective. What's good for them and their friends is good for the nation because in their own minds they are the nation . Our political problem is not their thinking but the acceptance of their thinking by about half the electorate under the delusion that they too will shortly join the five percent. As long as the people go along with the idea that the most wealthy five percent do in fact define the nation the goal of a decent economic life for everyone will continue to wither.  (Posted, 6/2/06)

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I have been strongly critical of David Broder for being so enmeshed in the Washington power structure he can't see what it really is. So when he writes an intelligent column, it's only fair that I give him credit for it. And that's what he has done with his piece in the Washington Post today. His open and generous acknowledgement of Kevin Drum of The Washington Monthly for seeing where the Bush administration was headed when most commentators couldn't should turn on some lights in the journalistic establishment. Drum understood in 2004, that the Bush administration was caught up in so much falsehood and corruption that much of it was bound to come to public notice in the second term, which is exactly what has happened. Mr. Broder can win even more credit for himself if he will push ahead in the coming weeks with a quest to understand why the media was so wrong about the Bush administration when its motives and methods were obvious. Mr. Drum is a bright commentator but it takes no genius to see what he has seen. Not to see it is the thing that requires extraordinary intellectual behavior. What motivated that non-seeing behavior? If the country can be brought to answer that question it will be good for journalism and for the rest of us as well.  (Posted, 6/1/06)

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I very much support the English poet and essayist John Dryden in his judgment that "obsolete words may be laudably revived when either they are more sounding, or more significant than those in practice." At the moment, we have not a word in practice that adequately describes people who draw attention to themselves for their supposed Christian devotion but who support few Christian values. I don't know how many of them there are in the country now but certainly they make much noise and they have been, recently, a malodorous canker on our political life. With slight modifications one of the first entries in Johnson's dictionary might be applied to them -- an "abbey-lubber," which Johnson defined as "a slothful loiterer in a religious house, under pretense of retirement and austerity." Though our modern-day abbey-lubbers don't usually live in monasteries, they are commonly intellectual loiterers in religious institutions. They contribute nothing to religious understanding because they consistently claim there is no advancement in that respect to be made. According to them, we already know everything we need to know, and as a consequence we can retire from the religious quest and dwell austerely in our assurance. There is scarcely any teaching more at odds with a genuinely devout life. Journalists have noted the political thrust of these people -- towards militarism, vicious penal laws, warfare and killing -- but little has been said about their religious influence which is surely to narcotize the religious sensibility . They need to be called what they are and abbey-lubber isn't a bad word for them  (Posted, 6/1/06)

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