Sunday, July 22, 2007

Confronting a Super Macho Man

From Al Franken's book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right:

I Challenge Rich Lowry to a Fight

Rich Lowry is an editor at National Review. If you watch cable news, you've probably seen his head talking here or there, arguing the conservative position on some issue of the day. He's pretty young, I'd say about forty now. He's not bad, as these guys go. Fairly articulate. He even enjoyed a run as a semi-regular on The NewsHour.

One area where Lowry seems paleo-conservative, though, is in the realm of gender politics. When Massachusetts governor Jane Swift had twins, he called for her to step down. I agreed, but that was because she was a Republican.

As you may have figured out by now, I'm a bit of a C-SPAN junkie, and a couple of years ago, late at night, I caught Rich talking, I think, to some College Republicans. He was saying that Democrats had "feminized" politics. In fact, by making it okay for politicians to cry, Lowry said that we Democrats had "sissified" politics.

There seemed to be only one thing to do. The next day, I called the National Review and got Rich's direct line. I remember the conversation very clearly.

RICH: Hello

ME: Rich, Al Franken. How do you do?

RICH: Fine. To what do I owe the honor of your call?

ME: Well, I saw you on C-SPAN last night talking about how we Democrats had sisified politics. So, I thought I'd challenge you to a fight.

RICH:...A fight?

ME: Yeah. I figure the loser gives a thousand dollars to the winner's charity.

RICH: Where...where would we fight?

ME: In my parking garage.

RICH: Parking garage?

ME: Yeah.

RICH: What would the rules be?

ME: No rules. It's like Fight Club.

RICH: Fight Club?

ME: Yeah. No weapons or anything. The first to say "uncle" loses.

RICH: You want to fight me in a garage? With no rules?

ME: Yeah. If you win, I have to give to some nutty right-wing cause. If I win, you have to give to...I don't know, NARAL or Emily's List.

RICH: Can I ask you something?

ME: Sure.

RICH: Do you fight a lot?

ME: No, I have actually never been in a fight. But I wrestled in high school and I'm pretty confident I could beat you. Then again, I'm fifty and have a bad back. But I think I could take you. At any rate, I just don't want this "Democrats have sissified politics" to stand. So, I want to fight you.

RICH: Can I take a day or so to decide?

ME: Sure. Take your time. I just figured that anyone who said that Democrats had sissified politics would kind of have to fight.

RICH: I understand. How about if I sleep on it?

ME: Absolutely. I'll call you tomorrow.

RICH: Okay, sure.

It was an extremely satisfying phone call. Sizing Lowry up on TV, he seemed just a tad on the wimpy side, which had only been confirmed by his reaction: terrified. I was just a decent high school wrestler, but I was convinced I could take him down, then basically punch his ears till he called "uncle."

Later that day, I happened to tell my son, Joe, about the call. He thought it was a bad idea. "Dad, if he turns you down, he's going to feel like a total wimp."

"That's a good point, son. I couldn't allow him to challenge the manhood of we Democrats."

"Yeah, but it's not nice. If he says he won't do it, promise me you'll tell him you were kidding."


"It might make him feel like he's a little more off the hook."

"Okay, but if he backs out, I'll tell him I was kidding."

"But if he accepts?"

"I'll kick his ass," I said. Frankly, I think Joe was kind of impressed.

I called Lowry the next day. As I expected, he said, "I've decided this is something I don't want to do." Then he said something about crying himself to sleep the night before, which was a joke, but, of course, he was kidding on the square. So, I did what I promised Joe, and told Lowry that I had been kidding, and then suggested that we have lunch. We did and had a perfectly lovely time.

A few weeks later, Lowry was on The NewsHour. "Joe!" I shouted, "This is the guy!" Joe ran in from his room, and saw Jim Lehrer.

"Dad, he's like seventy."

"Not him. The guy he's talking to."

The shot cut to Lowry, and the moment my son saw him, Joe scoffed, "Aw, this guy? He's a wuss."

"Yeah, he is," I shrugged.

Joe just shook his head and went back to his room with, if possible, even less respect for his father.

But I'll tell you this. I've seen Rich Lowry on television plenty of times since then, and I think he's dropped the whole "Democrats have feminized politics" thing. But, if he hasn't, I'll be glad to meet him any time in my parking garage.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Howie The Putz

From Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media?, pg 67 (hdbk version):

The most popular guests on Kurtz's program are conservatives. His favorite of all, judged by the number of appearances as well as the sheer number of valentines sent in his column, would have to be Rich Lowry, editor of William F. Buckley, Jr.'s National Review. According to Kurtz, Rich Lowry "oozes niceness." He boasts an "aw-shucks charm and boyish grin" with a "sting [that] is usually softened by a soothing wit" and "enjoy(s) going against the grain." He has, moreover, "given the magazine something of a hipness injection" by writing "such in-your-face cover headlines about Al Gore and Bill Clinton as 'Thou Shalt Not Steal' and 'Farewell to the Big Creep.'" (Kurtz means this to be a compliment.) When Lowry is otherwise indisposed, Kurtz is eager to book virtually anyone else on the National Review's editorial staff onto the program, including online editor Jonah Goldberg, managing editor Jay Nordlinger, senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru, or White House correspondent Byron York to offer up the hard-right perspectives on the news, with only the most tepid response from the center-left.

Media Matters, 80s Style

From The Clothes Have No Emperor, pg 84:

Defending himself against charges of callousness on Good Morning America, President Reagan argues that you can't help those who will simply not be helped. "One problem that we've had, even in the best of times," says the President, "is the people who are sleeping on the grates, the homeless who are homeless, you might say, by choice." Does David Hartman ask him to explain the idea of someone choosing homelessness? Of course not.

Friday, July 20, 2007

For All Your Composting Needs...

From Take Them At Their Words: Shocking, Amusing and Baffling Quotations from the G.O.P. and Their Friends, 1994-2004 (pg 151, pbk edition):

*Clinton didn't grow the economy: his own economic record depends on lies.

*Clinton sold out U.S. national security to campaign contributors.

*Clinton stood in the way of real welfare reform before being forced by the Republicans to sign a reform bill.

*Attorney General Janet Reno was AWOL on domestic security.

*Clinton's scandals were very real and he deserved impeachment.

*Clinton made sexual liberation the only cause for which he took career-endangering risks.

*Clinton's unwillingness to use force emboldened America's enemies.

*Clinton left the country vulnerable to the September 11th terrorist attacks.

-Jacket copy, Rich Lowry, Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years, Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2003.

Sounds like a real piece of shit.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Sloop John B(irch)

I've already blogged on Johann Hari's inside scoop on the latest NRO cruise. TNR has since and unsurprisingly (it makes neocons look as awful as they actually are) buried Hari's story behind their subscription wall, but The Liberal Avenger saves it for the record. But apparently TNR's version was not as complete as Hari intended. A longer version appears in The Independent. So for posterity's sake:

Ship of fools: Johann Hari sets sail with America's swashbuckling neocons
The Iraq war has been an amazing success, global warming is just a myth – and as for Guantanamo Bay, it's practically a holiday camp... The annual cruise organised by the 'National Review', mouthpiece of right-wing America, is a parallel universe populated by straight-talking, gun-toting, God-fearing Republicans.
By Johann Hari
Published: 13 July 2007

I am standing waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean, both chilling and burning, indulging in the polite chit-chat beloved by vacationing Americans. A sweet elderly lady from Los Angeles is sitting on the rocks nearby, telling me dreamily about her son. "Is he your only child?" I ask. "Yes," she says. "Do you have a child back in England?" she asks. No, I say. Her face darkens. "You'd better start," she says. "The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they'll have the whole of Europe."

I am getting used to these moments – when gentle holiday geniality bleeds into... what? I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a chatty, scatty 35-year-old Californian designer. As she explains the perils of Republican dating, my mind drifts, watching the gentle tide. When I hear her say, " Of course, we need to execute some of these people," I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. "A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country," she says. "Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get." She squints at the sun and smiles. " Then things'll change."

I am travelling on a bright white cruise ship with two restaurants, five bars, a casino – and 500 readers of the National Review. Here, the Iraq war has been "an amazing success". Global warming is not happening. The solitary black person claims, "If the Ku Klux Klan supports equal rights, then God bless them." And I have nowhere to run.

From time to time, National Review – the bible of American conservatism – organises a cruise for its readers. I paid $1,200 to join them. The rules I imposed on myself were simple: If any of the conservative cruisers asked who I was, I answered honestly, telling them I was a journalist. Mostly, I just tried to blend in – and find out what American conservatives say when they think the rest of us aren't listening.

I. From sweet to suicide bomber

I arrive at the dockside in San Diego on Saturday afternoon and stare up at the Oosterdam, our home for the next seven days. Filipino boat hands are loading trunks into the hull and wealthy white folk are gliding onto its polished boards with pale sun parasols dangling off their arms.

The Reviewers have been told to gather for a cocktail reception on the Lido, near the very top of the ship. I arrive to find a tableau from Gone With the Wind, washed in a thousand shades of grey. Southern belles – aged and pinched – are flirting with old conservative warriors. The etiquette here is different from anything I have ever seen. It takes me 15 minutes to realise what is wrong with this scene. There are no big hugs, no warm kisses. This is a place of starchy handshakes. Men approach each other with stiffened spines, puffed-out chests and crunching handshakes. Women are greeted with a single kiss on the cheek. Anything more would be French.

I adjust and stiffly greet the first man I see. He is a judge, with the craggy self-important charm that slowly consumes any judge. He is from Canada, he declares (a little more apologetically), and is the founding president of "Canadians Against Suicide Bombing". Would there be many members of "Canadians for Suicide Bombing?" I ask. Dismayed, he suggests that yes, there would.

A bell rings somewhere, and we are all beckoned to dinner. We have been assigned random seats, which will change each night. We will, the publicity pack promises, each dine with at least one National Review speaker during our trip.

To my left, I find a middle-aged Floridian with a neat beard. To my right are two elderly New Yorkers who look and sound like late-era Dorothy Parkers, minus the alcohol poisoning. They live on Park Avenue, they explain in precise Northern tones. "You must live near the UN building," the Floridian says to one of the New York ladies after the entree is served. Yes, she responds, shaking her head wearily. "They should suicide-bomb that place," he says. They all chuckle gently. How did that happen? How do you go from sweet to suicide-bomb in six seconds?

The conversation ebbs back to friendly chit-chat. So, you're a European, one of the Park Avenue ladies says, before offering witty commentaries on the cities she's visited. Her companion adds, "I went to Paris, and it was so lovely." Her face darkens: "But then you think – it's surrounded by Muslims." The first lady nods: "They're out there, and they're coming." Emboldened, the bearded Floridian wags a finger and says, "Down the line, we're not going to bail out the French again." He mimes picking up a phone and shouts into it, "I can't hear you, Jacques! What's that? The Muslims are doing what to you? I can't hear you!"

Now that this barrier has been broken – everyone agrees the Muslims are devouring the French, and everyone agrees it's funny – the usual suspects are quickly rounded up. Jimmy Carter is "almost a traitor". John McCain is "crazy" because of "all that torture". One of the Park Avenue ladies declares that she gets on her knees every day to " thank God for Fox News". As the wine reaches the Floridian, he announces, "This cruise is the best money I ever spent."

They rush through the Rush-list of liberals who hate America, who want her to fail, and I ask them – why are liberals like this? What's their motivation? They stutter to a halt and there is a long, puzzled silence. " It's a good question," one of them, Martha, says finally. I have asked them to peer into the minds of cartoons and they are suddenly, reluctantly confronted with the hollowness of their creation. "There have always been intellectuals who want to tell people how to live," Martha adds, to an almost visible sense of relief. That's it – the intellectuals! They are not like us. Dave changes the subject, to wash away this moment of cognitive dissonance. "The liberals don't believe in the constitution. They don't believe in what the founders wanted – a strong executive," he announces, to nods. A Filipino waiter offers him a top-up of his wine, and he mock-whispers to me, "They all look the same! Can you tell them apart?" I stare out to sea. How long would it take me to drown?

II. "We're doing an excellent job killing them."

The Vista Lounge is a Vegas-style showroom, with glistening gold edges and the desperate optimism of an ageing Cha-Cha girl. Today, the scenery has been cleared away – "I always sit at the front in these shows to see if the girls are really pretty and on this ship they are ug-lee," I hear a Reviewer mutter – and our performers are the assorted purveyors of conservative show tunes, from Podhoretz to Steyn. The first of the trip's seminars is a discussion intended to exhume the conservative corpse and discover its cause of death on the black, black night of 7 November, 2006, when the treacherous Democrats took control of the US Congress.

There is something strange about this discussion, and it takes me a few moments to realise exactly what it is. All the tropes that conservatives usually deny in public – that Iraq is another Vietnam, that Bush is fighting a class war on behalf of the rich – are embraced on this shining ship in the middle of the ocean. Yes, they concede, we are fighting another Vietnam; and this time we won't let the weak-kneed liberals lose it. "It's customary to say we lost the Vietnam war, but who's 'we'?" the writer Dinesh D'Souza asks angrily. "The left won by demanding America's humiliation." On this ship, there are no Viet Cong, no three million dead. There is only liberal treachery. Yes, D'Souza says, in a swift shift to domestic politics, "of course" Republican politics is "about class. Republicans are the party of winners, Democrats are the party of losers."

The panel nods, but it doesn't want to stray from Iraq. Robert Bork, Ronald Reagan's one-time nominee to the Supreme Court, mumbles from beneath low-hanging jowls: "The coverage of this war is unbelievable. Even Fox News is unbelievable. You'd think we're the only ones dying. Enemy casualties aren't covered. We're doing an excellent job killing them."

Then, with a judder, the panel runs momentarily aground. Rich Lowry, the preppy, handsome 38-year-old editor of National Review, says, "The American public isn't concluding we're losing in Iraq for any irrational reason. They're looking at the cold, hard facts." The Vista Lounge is, as one, perplexed. Lowry continues, "I wish it was true that, because we're a superpower, we can't lose. But it's not."

No one argues with him. They just look away, in the same manner that people avoid glancing at a crazy person yelling at a bus stop. Then they return to hyperbole and accusations of treachery against people like their editor. The ageing historian Bernard Lewis – who was deputed to stiffen Dick Cheney's spine in the run-up to the war – declares, "The election in the US is being seen by [the bin Ladenists] as a victory on a par with the collapse of the Soviet Union. We should be prepared for whatever comes next." This is why the guests paid up to $6,000. This is what they came for. They give him a wheezing, stooping ovation and break for coffee.

A fracture-line in the lumbering certainty of American conservatism is opening right before my eyes. Following the break, Norman Podhoretz and William Buckley – two of the grand old men of the Grand Old Party – begin to feud. Podhoretz will not stop speaking – "I have lots of ex-friends on the left; it looks like I'm going to have some ex-friends on the right, too," he rants –and Buckley says to the chair, " Just take the mike, there's no other way." He says it with a smile, but with heavy eyes.

Podhoretz and Buckley now inhabit opposite poles of post-September 11 American conservatism, and they stare at wholly different Iraqs. Podhoretz is the Brooklyn-born, street-fighting kid who travelled through a long phase of left-liberalism to a pugilistic belief in America's power to redeem the world, one bomb at a time. Today, he is a bristling grey ball of aggression, here to declare that the Iraq war has been "an amazing success." He waves his fist and declaims: "There were WMD, and they were shipped to Syria ... This picture of a country in total chaos with no security is false. It has been a triumph. It couldn't have gone better." He wants more wars, and fast. He is "certain" Bush will bomb Iran, and " thank God" for that.

Buckley is an urbane old reactionary, drunk on doubts. He founded the National Review in 1955 – when conservatism was viewed in polite society as a mental affliction – and he has always been sceptical of appeals to " the people," preferring the eternal top-down certainties of Catholicism. He united with Podhoretz in mutual hatred of Godless Communism, but, slouching into his eighties, he possesses a world view that is ill-suited for the fight to bring democracy to the Muslim world. He was a ghostly presence on the cruise at first, appearing only briefly to shake a few hands. But now he has emerged, and he is fighting.

"Aren't you embarrassed by the absence of these weapons?" Buckley snaps at Podhoretz. He has just explained that he supported the war reluctantly, because Dick Cheney convinced him Saddam Hussein had WMD primed to be fired. "No," Podhoretz replies. "As I say, they were shipped to Syria. During Gulf War I, the entire Iraqi air force was hidden in the deserts in Iran." He says he is "heartbroken" by this " rise of defeatism on the right." He adds, apropos of nothing, "There was nobody better than Don Rumsfeld. This defeatist talk only contributes to the impression we are losing, when I think we're winning." The audience cheers Podhoretz. The nuanced doubts of Bill Buckley leave them confused. Doesn't he sound like the liberal media? Later, over dinner, a tablemate from Denver calls Buckley "a coward". His wife nods and says, " Buckley's an old man," tapping her head with her finger to suggest dementia.

I decide to track down Buckley and Podhoretz separately and ask them for interviews. Buckley is sitting forlornly in his cabin, scribbling in a notebook. In 2005, at an event celebrating National Review's 50th birthday, President Bush described today's American conservatives as "Bill's children". I ask him if he feels like a parent whose kids grew up to be serial killers. He smiles slightly, and his blue eyes appear to twinkle. Then he sighs, "The answer is no. Because what animated the conservative core for 40 years was the Soviet menace, plus the rise of dogmatic socialism. That's pretty well gone."

This does not feel like an optimistic defence of his brood, but it's a theme he returns to repeatedly: the great battles of his life are already won. Still, he ruminates over what his old friend Ronald Reagan would have made of Iraq. "I think the prudent Reagan would have figured here, and the prudent Reagan would have shunned a commitment of the kind that we are now engaged in... I think he would have attempted to find some sort of assurance that any exposure by the United States would be exposure to a challenge the dimensions of which we could predict." Lest liberals be too eager to adopt the Gipper as one of their own, Buckley agrees approvingly that Reagan's approach would have been to "find a local strongman" to rule Iraq.

A few floors away, Podhoretz tells me he is losing his voice, "which will make some people very happy". Then he croaks out the standard-issue Wolfowitz line about how, after September 11, the United States had to introduce democracy to the Middle East in order to change the political culture that produced the mass murderers. For somebody who declares democracy to be his goal, he is remarkably blasé about the fact that 80 per cent of Iraqis want US troops to leave their country, according to the latest polls. "I don't much care," he says, batting the question away. He goes on to insist that "nobody was tortured in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo" and that Bush is "a hero". He is, like most people on this cruise, certain the administration will attack Iran.

Podhoretz excitedly talks himself into a beautiful web of words, vindicating his every position. He fumes at Buckley, George Will and the other apostate conservatives who refuse to see sense. He announces victory. And for a moment, here in the Mexican breeze, it is as though a thousand miles away Baghdad is not bleeding. He starts hacking and coughing painfully. I offer to go to the ship infirmary and get him some throat sweets, and – locked in eternal fighter-mode – he looks thrown, as though this is an especially cunning punch. Is this random act of kindness designed to imbalance him? " I'm fine," he says, glancing contemptuously at the Bill Buckley book I am carrying. "I'll keep on shouting through the soreness."

III. The Ghosts of Conservatism Past

The ghosts of Conservatism past are wandering this ship. From the pool, I see John O'Sullivan, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher. And one morning on the deck I discover Kenneth Starr, looking like he has stepped out of a long-forgotten 1990s news bulletin waving Monica's stained blue dress. His face is round and unlined, like an immense, contented baby. As I stare at him, all my repressed bewilderment rises, and I ask – Mr Starr, do you feel ashamed that, as Osama bin Laden plotted to murder American citizens, you brought the American government to a stand-still over a few consensual blow jobs? Do you ever lie awake at night wondering if a few more memos on national security would have reached the President's desk if he wasn't spending half his time dealing with your sexual McCarthyism?

He smiles through his teeth and – in his soft somnambulant voice – says in perfect legalese, "I am entirely at rest with the process. The House of Representatives worked its will, the Senate worked its will, the Chief Justice of the United States presided. The constitutional process worked admirably."

It's an oddly meek defence, and the more I challenge him, the more legalistic he becomes. Every answer is a variant on "it's not my fault" . First, he says Clinton should have settled early on in Jones vs Clinton. Then he blames Jimmy Carter. "This critique really should be addressed to the now-departed, moribund independent counsel provisions. The Ethics and Government [provisions] ushered in during President Carter's administration has an extraordinarily low threshold for launching a special prosecutor..."

Enough – I see another, more intriguing ghost. Ward Connerly is the only black person in the National Review posse, a 67-year-old Louisiana-born businessman, best known for leading conservative campaigns against affirmative action for black people. Earlier, I heard him saying the Republican Party has been "too preoccupied with... not ticking off the blacks", and a cooing white couple wandered away smiling, "If he can say it, we can say it." What must it be like to be a black man shilling for a magazine that declared at the height of the civil rights movement that black people "tend to revert to savagery", and should be given the vote only "when they stop eating each other"?

I drag him into the bar, where he declines alcohol. He tells me plainly about his childhood – his mother died when he was four, and he was raised by his grandparents – but he never really becomes animated until I ask him if it is true he once said, "If the KKK supports equal rights, then God bless them." He leans forward, his palms open. There are, he says, " those who condemn the Klan based on their past without seeing the human side of it, because they don't want to be in the wrong, politically correct camp, you know... Members of the Ku Klux Klan are human beings, American citizens – they go to a place to eat, nobody asks them 'Are you a Klansmember?', before we serve you here. They go to buy groceries, nobody asks, 'Are you a Klansmember?' They go to vote for Governor, nobody asks 'Do you know that that person is a Klansmember?' Only in the context of race do they ask that. And I'm supposed to instantly say, 'Oh my God, they are Klansmen? Geez, I don't want their support.'"

This empathy for Klansmen first bubbled into the public domain this year when Connerly was leading an anti-affirmative action campaign in Michigan. The KKK came out in support of him – and he didn't decline it. I ask if he really thinks it is possible the KKK made this move because they have become converted to the cause of racial equality. "I think that the reasoning that a Klan member goes through is – blacks are getting benefits that I'm not getting. It's reverse discrimination. To me it's all discrimination. But the Klansmen is going through the reasoning that this is benefiting blacks, they are getting things that I don't get... A white man doesn't have a chance in this country."

He becomes incredibly impassioned imagining how they feel, ventriloquising them with a shaking fist – "The Mexicans are getting these benefits, the coloureds or niggers, whatever they are saying, are getting these benefits, and I as a white man am losing my country."

But when I ask him to empathise with the black victims of Hurricane Katrina, he offers none of this vim. No, all Katrina showed was "the dysfunctionality that is evident in many black neighbourhoods," he says flatly, and that has to be "tackled by black people, not the government. " Ward, do you ever worry you are siding with people who would have denied you a vote – or would hang you by a rope from a tree?

"I don't gather strength from what others think – no at all," he says. "Whether they are in favour or opposed. I can walk down these halls and, say, a hundred people say, 'Oh we just adore you', and I'll be polite and I'll say 'thank you', but it doesn't register or have any effect on me." There is a gaggle of Reviewers waiting to tell him how refreshing it is to "finally" hear a black person "speaking like this". I leave him to their white, white garlands.

IV. "You're going to get fascists rising up, aren't you? Why hasn't that happened already?"

The nautical counter-revolution has docked in the perfectly-yellow sands of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, and the Reviewers are clambering overboard into the Latino world they want to wall off behind a thousand-mile fence. They carry notebooks from the scribblings they made during the seminar teaching them "How To Shop in Mexico". Over breakfast, I forgot myself and said I was considering setting out to find a local street kid who would show me round the barrios – the real Mexico. They gaped. "Do you want to die?" one asked.

The Reviewers confine their Mexican jaunt to covered markets and walled-off private fortresses like the private Nikki Beach. Here, as ever, they want Mexico to be a dispenser of cheap consumer goods and lush sands – not a place populated by (uck) Mexicans. Dinesh D'Souza announced as we entered Mexican seas what he calls "D'Souza's law of immigration": " The quality of an immigrant is inversely proportional to the distance travelled to get to the United States."

In other words: Latinos suck.

I return for dinner with my special National Review guest: Kate O'Beirne. She's an impossibly tall blonde with the voice of a 1930s screwball star and the arguments of a 1890s Victorian patriarch. She inveighs against feminism and "women who make the world worse" in quick quips.

As I enter the onboard restaurant she is sitting among adoring Reviewers with her husband Jim, who announces that he is Donald Rumsfeld's personnel director. "People keep asking what I'm doing here, with him being fired and all," he says. "But the cruise has been arranged for a long time."

The familiar routine of the dinners – first the getting-to-know-you chit-chat, then some light conversational fascism – is accelerating. Tonight there is explicit praise for a fascist dictator before the entree has arrived. I drop into the conversation the news that there are moves in Germany to have Donald Rumsfeld extradited to face torture charges.

A red-faced man who looks like an egg with a moustache glued on grumbles, " If the Germans think they can take responsibility for the world, I don't care about German courts. Bomb them." I begin to witter on about the Pinochet precedent, and Kate snaps, "Treating Don Rumsfeld like Pinochet is disgusting." Egg Man pounds his fist on the table: " Treating Pinochet like that is disgusting. Pinochet is a hero. He saved Chile."

"Exactly," adds Jim. "And he privatised social security."

The table nods solemnly and then they march into the conversation – the billion-strong swarm of swarthy Muslims who are poised to take over the world. Jim leans forward and says, "When I see these football supporters from England, I think – these guys aren't going to be told by PC elites to be nice to Muslims. You're going to get fascists rising up, aren't you? Why isn't that happening already?" Before I can answer, he is conquering the Middle East from his table, from behind a crème brûlée.

"The civilised countries should invade all the oil-owning places in the Middle East and run them properly. We won't take the money ourselves, but we'll manage it so the money isn't going to terrorists."

The idea that Europe is being "taken over" by Muslims is the unifying theme of this cruise. Some people go on singles cruises. Some go on ballroom dancing cruises. This is the "The Muslims Are Coming" cruise – drinks included. Because everyone thinks it. Everyone knows it. Everyone dreams it. And the man responsible is sitting only a few tables down: Mark Steyn.

He is wearing sunglasses on top of his head and a bright, bright shirt that fits the image of the disk jockey he once was. Sitting in this sea of grey, it has an odd effect – he looks like a pimp inexplicably hanging out with the apostles of colostomy conservatism.

Steyn's thesis in his new book, America Alone, is simple: The "European races" i.e., white people – "are too self-absorbed to breed," but the Muslims are multiplying quickly. The inevitable result will be " large-scale evacuation operations circa 2015" as Europe is ceded to al Qaeda and "Greater France remorselessly evolve[s] into Greater Bosnia."

He offers a light smearing of dubious demographic figures – he needs to turn 20 million European Muslims into more than 150 million in nine years, which is a lot of humping.

But facts, figures, and doubt are not on the itinerary of this cruise. With one or two exceptions, the passengers discuss "the Muslims" as a homogenous, sharia-seeking block – already with near-total control of Europe. Over the week, I am asked nine times – I counted – when I am fleeing Europe's encroaching Muslim population for the safety of the United States of America.

At one of the seminars, a panelist says anti-Americanism comes from both directions in a grasping pincer movement – "The Muslims condemn us for being decadent; the Europeans condemn us for not being decadent enough." Midge Decter, Norman Podhoretz's wife, yells, "The Muslims are right, the Europeans are wrong!" And, instantly, Jay Nordlinger, National Review's managing editor and the panel's chair, says, " I'm afraid a lot of the Europeans are Muslim, Midge."

The audience cheers. Somebody shouts, "You tell 'em, Jay!" He tells 'em. Decter tells 'em. Steyn tells 'em.

On this cruise, everyone tells 'em – and, thanks to my European passport, tells me.

V. From cruise to cruise missiles?

I am back in the docks of San Diego watching these tireless champions of the overdog filter past and say their starchy, formal goodbyes. As Bernard Lewis disappears onto the horizon, I wonder about the connections between this cruise and the cruise missiles fired half a world away.

I spot the old lady from the sea looking for her suitcase, and stop to tell her I may have found a solution to her political worries about both Muslims and stem-cells.

"Couldn't they just do experiments on Muslim stem-cells?" I ask. " Hey – that's a great idea!" she laughs, and vanishes. Hillary-Ann stops to say she is definitely going on the next National Review cruise, to Alaska. "Perfect!" I yell, finally losing my mind.

"You can drill it as you go!" She puts her arms around me and says very sweetly, "We need you on every cruise."

As I turn my back on the ship for the last time, the Judge I met on my first night places his arm affectionately on my shoulder. "We have written off Britain to the Muslims," he says. "Come to America."


Cheney -- the magnet you can't see.

As the Post reports, Cheney has been the driving force behind some of the most controversial decisions -- and some of the most legally suspect -- in the Bush White House.

Even while Americans awaited the legal outcome of the 2000 election and word of who our next president would be, Cheney got busy laying the groundwork for a Bush administration featuring Cheney allies in key positions. With these people, his deep knowledge of government's inner workings and his attachment to a naive and manipulable president, Cheney established his own shadowy reign over the land of the free.

While the attacks of Sept. 11 were under way -- the World Trade Center towers were still smoking -- Cheney began assembling lawyers to secretly stake out legal justification for expanded executive powers. We didn't even know who we would be fighting, but somehow our vice president knew that two centuries of precedent wouldn't be enough. The wartime powers historically wielded by presidents -- willingly given by a Congress that understood the gravity of war -- paled in comparison to the leeway Cheney staked out.

Now, six years later, the blowback from these clandestine power grabs that led us into war, torture and the abrogation of civil rights may have weakened the White House as an institution.

"The irony with the Cheney crowd pushing the envelope on presidential power is that the president has now ended up with lesser powers than he would have had if they had made less extravagant, monarchical claims," Bruce Fein, an associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, told the Post.

Cheney's furtive legal manipulations laid the groundwork for Americans to perpetrate torture abroad and warrantless eavesdropping at home. He was a lead architect of the war in Iraq. We deposed a ruthless dictator but, lacking any post-war plan, also sparked a civil war that claims American lives every day.

Cheney's accomplishments don't stop there. Environment, tax and energy policy all feel the hand of Cheney, in overt and covert ways.

"You know that experiment where you pass a magnet under the table and you see the iron filings on the top of the table move?" former Bush speech writer David Frum told the Post. "You know there's a magnet there because of what you see happening, but you never see the magnet."

That's Cheney.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Scarcity, Poverty, Decline

From an excellent post at Needlenose on the depletion of natural resources is this semi-aside:

I imagine that, like most of my fellow beneficiaries of our tech-intensive lifestyle, you're inclined to just dismiss this as more 'eco-alarmism,' or at best some rather abstract scientific thing with little relevance to your everyday life. Think again.

As prices for copper have begun to soar, entreprenuers among the 'barely have' communities of the third-world have started to steal copper wire from power and telephone lines for export to the 'haves.' And just Google 'copper theft' and you'll find dozens of examples of similar entrepreneurship here in the U.S. I imagine that will heat up in step with the increasing price of copper.

No kidding. Several people have been killed around here attempting to steal wire and getting electrocuted for their efforts. Tons of wire has been successfully stolen, however. Abandoned houses stripped not only of their wire but of their aluminum siding, too. People stealing aluminum irrigation pipe from fields in the dead of night. Scarcity! And why? Because of people like Brad DeLong, who think that exporting the American model of wasteful consumption to societies numbering in the billions is a)doing those societies a favor and b)not an environmental Holocaust waiting to happen. Also, these people doing the stealing? Yes, from depressed, de-industrialized parts of America, downsized and outsourced. Neo-liberal economists, after all, don't have to steal scrap metal to put food in their bellies.

The Ongoing Rollback of Vatican II

Roman Catholicism is only true church, pope says

By Nicole Winfield

LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy — Pope Benedict XVI approved a document released Tuesday that says other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches and that only Roman Catholicism provides the true path to salvation.

The statement brought swift criticism from Protestant leaders. "It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity," said the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a fellowship of 75 million Protestants in more than 100 countries.

"It makes us question the seriousness with which the Roman Catholic Church takes its dialogues with the reformed family and other families of the church," the group said in a letter. It charged that the document took ecumenical dialogue back to the era before the Second Vatican Council.

The action was the second time in a week that Benedict has corrected what he says are erroneous interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that modernized the church. On Saturday, Benedict revived the old Latin Mass — a move cheered by Catholic traditionalists but criticized by more liberal ones as a step backward from Vatican II.

Among the council's key developments were its ecumenical outreach and the development of the New Mass in the vernacular. Benedict, who attended Vatican II, has said that the council's decisions were not a break from the past but rather a renewal of church tradition.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Benedict headed before becoming pope, said it was issuing the new document because some interpretations of Vatican II's ecumenical intent had been "erroneous or ambiguous" and had prompted confusion and doubt.

The new document restates key sections of a 2000 text the pope wrote when he was prefect of the congregation, "Dominus Iesus." That statement riled Protestant and other Christian denominations because it said they were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the "means of salvation."

The commentary repeated church teaching that says the Catholic Church "has the fullness of the means of salvation." "Christ 'established here on earth' only one church," said the document.

The other communities "cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense" because they do not have apostolic succession — the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles — and therefore their priestly ordinations are not valid, it said.

Despite the harsh tone, the document stressed that Benedict remains committed to ecumenical dialogue.

The top Protestant cleric in Benedict's homeland, Germany, complained that the Vatican apparently did not consider that "mutual respect for the church status" was required for any ecumenical progress.

In a statement, Lutheran Bishop Wolfgang Huber argued that "it would also be completely sufficient if it were to be said that the reforming churches are 'not churches in the sense required here' or that they are 'churches of another type' — but none of these bridges is used" in the Vatican document.

This 'fuck ecumenicalism' thing is just the latest atrocity. The counter-revolution continues.

Choke, You Cheating Bastard

Bonds Rips Bonds
By Steve Henson, Yahoo! Sports
July 15, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO – Remember the joyful, playful Barry Bonds who welcomed one and all at the All-Star Game only five days ago?

He's buried under an 0 for 20 slump, including a humiliating series against the Los Angeles Dodgers that included three losses and a flurry of strikeouts, double-play ground balls and pop-ups by the player Giants manager Bruce Bochy calls, "our go-to guy."

So Bonds ripped Bonds.

"It's an embarrassment for me to be wearing this (bleeping) uniform, the way I'm performing," he said after angrily telling television crews to turn off their cameras.

"Now, get away."

Reporters standing at his locker lingered for one more question.

So Bonds cursed Bonds.

"I said it's an embarrassment for me to wear this (bleeping uniform), the way I'm playing," he repeated.

He waved his arm at the throng.

"Now, get out of here."

The reporters dispersed, and good thing. Anybody in Bonds way might have suffered the same fate as the laundry cart that blocked his way to the trainer's room. He knocked it over, its wheels spinning in the musty air.

The Giants spun their wheels for three days against their rivals to the south, and Bonds spun his heels, swinging and missing, swinging and nicking only the top or bottom of the ball. He remains at 751 home runs, four from catching leader Hank Aaron on the all-time list, and the way he's going it might take a while. His last homer came July 3.

Bochy opined that his slugger might have been "a little pull conscious," but Bonds dismissed the suggestion to reporters, saying, "That's not it."

Bonds had a flight to Chicago to contemplate what the problem might be. As for the Giants, nothing is expected to help their plight. Two series on the road against the resurgent Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers aren't likely to serve as a balm.

"Getting swept at home shouldn't happen," Bochy said. "I don't know. Maybe (a road trip) will help us. We certainly aren't playing the type of baseball we need to play here at home."

The Giants couldn’t muster much offense against Dodgers fill-in starter Brett Tomko, and they were held scoreless by four relievers over the last four innings in the 5-3 loss.

Bonds popped up against closer Takashi Saito to end the game. He struck out with two runners on base to end the seventh. He popped up with a runner on third to end the fifth. He stranded runners in the first and third as well.

His most solid contact was with a laundry cart. His most pointed criticism was directed at himself.

The All-Star Game was a distant memory.

If it were up to me, for the good of the game Bonds would receive a HBP for every plate appearance he made.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Wingnut Tradition

From Hitchens's For The Sake of Argument, pgs 98-100 (reprinted from The Nation, December 1989):

Hating Sweden

The Cold War may wax and wane, China may move from being official enemy to official chum, the armaments industry may succeed in defining the strangest regimes as certified 'moderates', but through it all the American right maintains a permanent, visceral hostility to one small, durable country: Sweden. Ever since President Dwight Eisenhower made a demagogic, philistine attack on Swedish social democracy, contrasting its road to serfdom with the American way and saying that its citizens had an addiction to suicide and despair, Sweden has been the target of ignorant abuse from conservatives. A good recent example was offered by The New Republic, which seems more and more to aim at annexing the heavy sarcasm and witless sneering that were once the special signifiers of the Commentary style. Furious at Sweden's role in sponsoring talks bewteen American Jews and the Palestine Liberation Organization, the magazine advised its readers that Sweden had been 'neutral' in World War II. So it counts as a minor but instructive irony of history that two recent foreign policy 'breakthroughs' -- both claimed as successes by the Reaganites -- were made possible partly by consistent, active Swedish diplomacy. Both the 'mutual recognition' strategy for the Palestine conflict and the 'mutual disengagement' solution for the Angola-Namibia one, imperfect as both are, owe a great deal to Swedish efforts and Swedish internationalism.

Sweden's role in the Middle East conflict goes back to 1948 and before, with the appointment of Count Folke Bernadotte as the United Nations' mediator in the partition argument. Bernadotte had been Raoul Wallenberg's deputy during the tense and bitter struggle to save the Jews of Hungary from the Final Solution, and he was personally responsible for securing the release of thousands of Jews from Bergen-Belsen in the closing months of the war. The use of Swedish passports and Swedish neutrality for this purpose would, I imagine, not be thought contemptible by The New Republic. I suspect that Bernadotte's exemplary role in the Wallenberg mission would be better known if he had not been murdered on the orders of Yitzhak Shamir in 1948. (Nobody could accuse Shamir of being neutral in World War II. His Stern Gang offered a military alliance to Hitler against the British.) After the 1956 invasion of Egypt, it was a Swede, UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, who brokered the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, thereby saving the stupid Eisenhower's bacon. After the 1967 war the UN mediator was Gunnar Jarring. Sweden's involvement in the question is thus a rather more mature and patient one than most countries could claim. When Sweden's Foreign Minister, Sten Andersson, sponsored the December meeting in Stockholm between Yassir Arafat and some American Jewish activists, he was building on a considerable tradition. One of those present at the occasion told me that the whole atmosphere changed when Menachem Rosensaft, founder and chair of the International Network of Children of Holocaust Survivors, introduced himself and said, "I was born in a concentration camp. My life was saved by Count Folke Bernadotte."

In the case of Namibia and Angola, pundits are already queuing up to award the palm to 'constructive engagement' and to the fearlessly soft attitude displayed by Chester Crocker towards apartheid. This is all nonsense. Credit for the agreement belongs to the South-West Africa People's Organization (Swapo), which has refused to buckle despite decades of foreign occupation and has created a movement that does not consider race or tribe when defining Namibian citizenship. Independence on these terms could have been won years ago if it were not for Crocker's procrastination and Reagan's attempt to change the subject to the presence of Cuban forces in Angola. Here again, the United States dogmatically extended diplomatic recognition to one side only -- South Africa's. Here again, without 'neutral' mediators American policy would have deservedly become the victim of its own flagrant bias. An important participant was Bernt Carlsson, UN Commissioner for Namibia, who worked tirelessly for free elections in the colony and tried to isolate the racists diplomatically. Carlsson had been Secretary-General of the Socialist International, and International Secretary of the Swedish Social Democratic Party. He performed innumerable services for movements and individuals from Eastern Europe to Latin America. His death in the mass murder of the passengers on Pan American Flight 103 just before Christmas 1988, and just before the signing of the Namibia accords in New York, is appalling beyond words.

In Sweden a few years ago, it was claimed by social scientists and physicians that for the first time in history you could not tell the social class of a child by examining its health record and rate of growth. Ought this not to be considered a modest, even boring, achievement? It is common sense, after all, that a child should not suffer for its parents' disabilities or misfortunes. (We have preachers and savants who dilate endlessly on the sanctity of family and childhood but who tolerate a system in which a casual observer can correlate a child's social origin with its physical well-being.) I must say that I doubt whether Sweden would be so trusted on the international scene if it did not have a citizenry which turns out to vote at a 90 per cent rate, and has abolished at least the major injuries of a class system. Yet the conservative intellectuals of a country poisoned by empire and riven by class have no shame in denouncing the Swedes. After Eisenhower's sneer came the hate campaign against Prime Minister Olaf Palme for his temerity in opposing the Vietnam War and sheltering draft resisters. (These were the years when Sweden was thought not to deserve an American ambassador.) Further insults were directed at Stockholm because of tis opinion about a nuclear-free Europe, and because of its scepticism about the great American anti-'terrorist' crusade. You might think a country that had lost Bernadotte, Hammarskjold, Palme and now Carlsson to violent death would require no lectures on how the world is a dangerous place, least of all from the forces who have done so much to make it so.

All the wingnut bile of the last few years directed at France in particular and the EU in general is just an extension and enlargement of the anti-Swedish tradition.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Frum & Perle: Twenty-Nine

Are these liberals talking about, let us say, Texans, or are these neoconservatives talking about Arab nations?

Enrich them enough that they can afford satellite television and Internet connections, so that they can see what life is like [...]across the Atlantic. Then sentence them to live in choking, miserable, polluted cities ruled by corrupt, incompetent officials. [...] Subordinate them to elites who have suddenly become incalculably wealthy from shady dealings involving petroleum resources that supposedly belong to all. Tax them for the benefit of governments that provide nothing in return except military establishments that lose every war they fight[.] Reduce their living standards year after year for two decades. Deny theme [sic] any forum or institution [...] where they may freely discuss their grievances. Kill, jail, corrupt, or drive into exile every political figure, artist, or intellectual who could articulate a modern alternative[.] Neglect, close, or simply fail to create an effective school system -- so that the minds of the next generation are formed entirely by clerics whose own minds contain nothing but medieval theology and a smattering of [...]nationalist self-pity. Combine all this, and what else would one expect to create but an enraged populace ready to transmute every frustration in its frustrating daily life into a fanatical hatred of everything "un-Islamic" [American]?

Brackets are mine, italics theirs. From AETE, pgs 160-161.

How sympathetic they are to the Arabs! Almost liberal! But, seriously, the horrors they describe in Arab nations are something they fail to recognize as very similar to what wingnuts hope to create -- and have indeed to a large degree created -- in America.


Posted without comment:

Found: $80 million in stolen Vicodin
By Denise Hollinshed

A tip from an observant citizen paid off for the Drug Enforcement Administration Tuesday when they were directed to an abandoned gas station parking lot in Troy, Ill.

What they found was a stolen trailer filled with Vicodin tablets with a street value of about $80 million.

The tractor trailer was stolen on June 17th from the Pilot truck stop in Troy, according to Scott Collier, diversion program manager at the DEA. The narcotic pain killer was being hauled from the Watson Laboratories in Corona California when the driver stopped in Troy and went inside the truck stop. Two white males were seen getting into the rig with the 16.6 million tablets of the narcotic inside.

Before the heist, the load was headed to a Watson distributor in Gurnee, Ill.

On the street, the tablets are valued at between $2 to $5 a pill, according to Collier, who said there was a huge market for abusing the drug. He said Vicodin is the number one most diverted drug from a legitimate market place to an illegitimate market.

"This sort of thing is not normal," Collier said of the drug theft. "The size is incredibly extraordinary."

The cab of the truck was found on June 20 in Hamel, Ill. by local authorities. The truck's trailer, with the Vicodin in it, was recovered Tuesday on a parking lot of an abandoned gas station on Interstate 70 and Route 4 in Troy -- not far from where it was stolen..

"We believe we have gotten the load," Collier said. "We haven't completed our inventory yet. We are still processing the truck."

Collier said the truck appeared to be fully loaded. He said it appeared that just one box had been opened and only a few bottles inside had been taken.

The case was handled by the DEA, FBI, Illinois State Police and Troy Police Department.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Meese the Randroid

I've seen exactly the same argument on libertarian and Randroid sites. From The Clothes Have No Emperor, pg 79:

12/15[/1983] Ed Meese tells the National Press Club that literature's classic miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, to whom he has recently been compared, suffered from "bad press in his time. If you really look at the facts, he didn't exploit Bob Cratchit." Explains Meese, "Bob Cratchit was paid 10 shillings a week, which was a very good wage at the time...Bob, in fact, had good cause to be happy with his situation. He lived in a house, not a tenement. His wife didn't have to work....He was able to afford the traditional Christmas dinner of roast goose and plum pudding....So let's be fair to Scrooge. He had his faults, but he wasn't unfair to anyone."

12/16[/1983] "Did he really say that? I can't believe he said that....Dickens is saying that the poor deserve to not live on the margins, but with comfort and love and with freedom and medical attention. I mean, isn't that the very point about Tiny Tim? ...He desperately needs a doctor and can't get to one because his family is so poor....He's dying because he can't get medical care....Boy, I'm really getting angry now. I can't believe these people."
--University of Pennsylvania Victorian literature scholar Nina Auerbach on the Meese interpretation of A Christmas Carol.

Meese's Pieces

The Clothes Have No Emperor, pg 78:

12/8[/1983] Continuing his tradition of holiday season insensitivity, a well-fed Ed Meese scoffs at the notion that the administration's policies are unnecessarily cruel to the poor. "I don't know of any authoritative figures that there are hungry children," he declares. "I've heard a lot of anecdotal stuff, but I haven't heard any authoritative figures....I think some people are going to soup kitchens voluntarily. I know we've had considerable information that people go to soup kitchens because the food is free and that that's easier than paying for it....I think that they have money."

The 12th Imam -- No, Wait!

The Clothes Have No Emperor, pg 78:

12/6[/1983] "[Not] until now has there ever been a time in which so many of the prophecies are coming together. There have been times in the past when people thought the end of the world was coming, and so forth, but never anything like this."

--President Reagan revealing a disturbing view about the "coming of Armageddon"

You Did Not

The Clothes Have No Emperor, pg 77:

12/6[/1983] The Israeli newspaper Maariv reports that during a meeting with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, President Reagan -- who spent World War II making training films in Hollywood -- claimed to have served as a photographer in an army unit filming the horrors of Nazi death camps. Shamir says Reagan also claimed to have saved a copy in case there was ever any question as to whether things had really been so bad. When asked just that question by a family member, Shamir quotes him as saying, "This is the time for which I saved the film, and I showed it to a group of people who couldn't believe their eyes."

Reagan told a similar tall tale to an incredulous Simon Weisenthal, which I'm sure I'll get to somewhere in the book.

An Earth-Shattering 'Ka-boom'

The Clothes Have No Emperor, pg 76:

11/20[/1983] One hundred million people see the town of Lawrence, Kansas, destroyed in The Day After, an ABC movie about the aftermath of a nuclear attack. The administration -- terrified that the film might remind people how scared they are of President Reagan's hostility to arms control -- trots out George Schultz afterward to assure viewers that there isn't going to be a war.


The Clothes Have No Emperor, pg 76:

11/10[/1983] President Reagan phones George Bush's mother, Dorothy, to assure her that her boy did the right thing by voting in favor of chemical weapons. "He didn't talk about nerve gas," says Ma Bush, "but I knew what the idea was."


The Clothes Have No Emperor, pg 75:

"The first President I shook hands with was Calvin Coolidge. In those days the President would shake hands with any high school class that arrived in Washington. There was so little for him to do. Reagan is very similar to Coolidge."
-- I. F. Stone


From The Clothes Have No Emperor, pg 69:

7/4[/1983] Rev. Jerry Falwell says that AIDS -- which he calls a "gay plague" -- is God's way of "spanking" us.

This Is Stupid

The degree of wingnuttiness in a historian is directly proportional to the degree by which they kiss Alexander Hamilton's ass.

See this crap, which Dr. Alterman inexplicably approvingly links to.

Anyway, Richard Cheney is far and away worse than Aaron Burr. And Alexander Hamilton was demonic. Sorry, peddlers of conventional wisdom.