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March 30, 2005

Bait and switch

In this week's New York Observer, Joe Conason puts in context the contradictory obsessions of the Republican Party.

They say that the Schiavo dispute represents a struggle between the "culture of life" and the "culture of death." [...] Peggy Noonan denounces the "pull-the-plug people...half in love with death, red-fanged and ravenous," whom she identifies as Democrats. [...] On the righteous side of life, according to Ms. Noonan, is anyone who believes in God and who therefore realizes that "each human life is precious, of infinite value, worthy of great respect."

That is a lovely sentiment, of course. But how do conservatives in power express their respect for the infinite value of each human life? They wage unnecessary war with "shock and awe." They cut Medicaid benefits for the poorest of the poor, including children. They cut food stamps for the hungry. They oppose every effort to ensure universal health care, which would seem to be the best means to protect every precious life.


They constantly claim that the most important cost in medicine today is the prevalence of tort lawsuits against doctors and hospitals. The costs of Ms. Schiavo's hospitalization and care have been subsidized for well over a decade by the proceeds of her husband's successful suit against the doctors who failed to diagnose her bulimia (which stopped her heart and destroyed most of her brain).


In this demagogic moment, conservatism pretends to moral seriousness without confronting the real problems of life, death and financial constraint raised by the Schiavo case. The President and the Congress passed the decision back to the courts so that they could blame the judiciary. The right-wing ideologues tell us that we must protect every life, while demanding that we lower taxes, cut medical programs and deny care to the poor.

I have to say, though, that these conservative imperatives are not so much contradictory as complementary. Republicans offer moral pieties and crocodile tears in order to win elections and bend the nation to their avarice. It may be false advertising, but it has, up to now, been working for them. It's therefore encouraging that polls indicate a strong majority didn't buy and didn't like the posturing and Constitution-rigging that went on last week.

Regarding the Schiavo case, because I've been angry about Peggy Noonan's craven accusation since I read it last week, I want to say again that I think Michael Schiavo should have left his wife's fate to her parents. His determination to see it through appears to be motivated solely by his commitment to what he believes were his wife's wishes, but his "victory" (and I certainly don't believe he would call it that) will be a pyrrhic one. However, I believe in the medical appropriateness of his decision and in his legal right to make it, and I believe the judges supporting his decision are right and the politicians seeking to seize control of Terri Schiavo, even in her parents' name, are wrong. My opinion isn't black or white, let alone "red-fanged and ravenous," nor am I "half in love with death," Peggy Noonan, you twisted harpy.

None of us, of course--from me to Peggy Noonan to President Bush--has a right to have our opinion considered in the matter between the Schiavo and Schindler families. Ironies, not to say hypocrisies, abound on all sides of this perfect storm, but two things have struck me since it was upgraded to a hurricane.

First, where was President Bush's willingness to sleep in his boots and leap to the firepole of executive responsibility in December, when it took him three days to even speak into a microphone about the tsunami, let alone return to the White House?

Second, how do these personally unrelated yet tirelessly obsessed citizens and spokespersons, whose passionate concern for any and all life requires that they actively demonstrate to preserve even a woman whose brain is physically gone, maintain any shred of their sanity when they consider the tens of thousands of Americans and Iraqis who were fully aware and functioning when their lives were ended under circumstances far more questionable and painful than Terri Schiavo's?

The contrast between their agony over an irrecoverably unconscious woman's peaceful demise and what I assume is their disinterest in those thousands of violent deaths--since I am unaware of any "culture of life" adherents using this opportunity to also demonstrate against the war or the administration--is as inexplicable to me as my position apparently is to Peggy Noonan and the rest of the hysterical right.

Which is fine, as long as they don't suspend the Constitution to force the triumph of their madness over mine. Justice is supposed to be blind, but the party in power would prefer to lower her blindfold to cover her shameful breasts, so self-righteously certain are they that her vision would favor them.

Posted by pk at 10:09 AM

March 24, 2005

Moving out

News and photos of mph's recent move set some recollections in motion. I always remember the nights I spent moving out of my apartment in April 1997, when I moved to Cindy's house, because the Hale-Bopp comet was visible in the western sky that week. Every time I'd go down my porch steps I'd see it. Later that spring those kooks in the track shoes offed themselves to hitch a ride on it.

Moving out of Cindy's house to move to New York the next spring was mostly just exciting. I felt a shadowy sense of Cindy's regret, but I'd only lived there a year. I'd done things to invest myself in it, and Tim Lengel and I (mostly he) rehabbed the bathroom, but six months after I moved in, the week we got married, we got the New York chance, so the rest of my time there was spent preparing to leave it. We got a dog, Chet, then lost him. (I have always suspected black marketeers--basement dog-fighters, or the scum who sell pets to test labs, NQA.) Cleveland kept the Yankees out of the World Series, then lost it to the fxckin' Marlins. We had a good New Year's party. At the end of March (seven years ago this week, I guess) I flew to New York and found an apartment, and in April we drove out.

Moving out of Brooklyn in October 2001 was a whole other deal. The apartment had been typically small and filled with our stuff--there's nothing as lived-in as an urban apartment. To see it bare to the walls again was so surreal it seemed impossible. I loved that apartment. There was a funeral for a 9/11 fireman at the church on our block that morning, our whole block had been blocked off and cleared and became a parking lot (buses, limos, dignitaries). Bagpipers were tuning up directly below our windows, driving the already-batshit cat completely around the bend.

Although we'd known we couldn't park on the block (there were signs), we had no idea why, or how crazed and disrupted the whole neighborhood was going to be. At 5 a.m., police cars began a sweep with loudspeakers. You can imagine the effect, 3-4 weeks after 9/11 in New York. I hadn't parked my car far enough away and had to roust in the cold and dark to move it again. A woman with an accent was watching with her child by an open window and asked if I knew what was happening, so I walked over to a police car and then we both knew. When we were ready to load several hours later, I had to drive blocks away and circuitously back to where I could get within a block of our building, then we had to walk our last carload of stuff down. If the van hadn't come the day before, GOD ONLY KNOWS....

New York felt damaged and vulnerable, and the feeling that we were deserting it was compounded by the feeling that we couldn't desert it fast enough. I envisioned a bridge-and-tunnel attack--or, possibly worse and certainly more likely, some moronic security clampdown--that would trap us and our unborn baby there. I hated leaving New York, and I had to get out. I don't admit to much sentimentality, but I choked up driving across the Verrazano Bridge. I hadn't seen that view of the skyline since it happened.

Ninety minutes later, we were in rural Pennsylvania. It was autumn.

Two days later, we were in Indianapolis. Indiana seemed more hysterical than I'd felt in New York. The marquee on the Vogue said "LADIES NIGHT GOD BLESS AMERICA." Our realtor left a 12-inch souvenir Lady Liberty on our new mantle with a red-white-and-blue ribbon. Our moving van didn't come for six days or something. We didn't end up getting cable or anything until spring, so I followed the rest of the baseball playoffs on the radio, at my parents', and at an upscale neighborhood biker bar called the Stone Mug. I had been out on my "last Saturday night in Brooklyn" and watching on a bar TV when Jeter made his amazing shovel play to Posada to tag Jeremy Giambi at the plate and save the game and the series against Oakland, and after that it seemed like destiny that New York would win it all. The Yankees won the pennant, and the World Series against Arizona was one of the greatest ever, with two glorious late-inning comebacks in back-to-back games at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees got routed in Game 6 but looked like they had Game 7 in the bag; then in the bottom of the 9th Rivera tried to throw out the lead runner and got an error instead of the out at first, then he gave up a broken-bat single just over Jeter's head and the Yankees lost. After that, Paul O'Neill retired and they let Tino Martinez go. The team that won the championship every year I lived in New York was gone, and the Yankees haven't won one since.

A relative few in Indiana give a shit about baseball, and for a couple games I had a big-screen TV all to myself in the Stone Mug's dining room, which only added to a weird sense of dislocation and isolation. I hadn't given much thought to my return to Indianapolis being any kind of homecoming, but it was strange to have it so completely not feel like one. My parents were glad to see us, and my co-workers were familiar, but I didn't seem to have friends here anymore. I don't pretend to have been particularly traumatized by September 11, but I was there and I saw things; it was odd, deliberating on who, when, and how much to tell about my experience of it.

And there was this baby on the way. Everything was too hectic to do much about Thanksgiving or Christmas. I got my drums back and had them in the basement for awhile. We had good company for New Year's. A couple weeks later we went to see The Fellowship of the Ring, but we were late (as usual) and saw The Royal Tennenbaums instead. The next day Cindy thought her water might have broken, and around 8 or 9 o'clock that night they told us to go to the hospital, and the next night she delivered Max. Over the past three years we've slipped from one groove to the next according to the rhythms of his development. In 2003 we had a miscarriage. We got pregnant again in 2004, and this January we had Tommy, who's as big and healthy and mellow as they come.

We're done having babies, and the way it looks now, as definite as one can be about "indefinitely," we're done moving. It's up to them to move out on us, unless it comes down to us leaving the whole country. Can't rule that out.

Posted by pk at 6:35 PM

March 22, 2005

Whose life?

When I heard some "right to life" hysteric this morning on NPR, responding to the federal judge's decision not to take up the Schiavo case, the rhetorical--rather than emotional--heat in her comments couldn't have made it clearer that at least the political wing of the religious right considers this a win-win cause celebre. (The passionate spokesperson was, after all, careful to note that Judge Whittemore was a Clinton appointee.)

It doesn't matter to them what happens to Terri Schiavo, her family, or the Constitution, and if she dies, so much the better. Her supposed martyrdom and their ability to paint judges and liberals as heartless murderers will serve them well for election cycles to come.

Sometime last week, before Friday afternoon when the intensity on this went white-hot, I was a bit surprised to overhear Tom DeLay bring up the matter at a damage-control press conference about his reprehensible political and ethical conduct--you know, just because it was appropos of nothing, and seemed like a really shameless attempt to misdirect attention away from the investigations currently highlighting what his actual priorities have always been.

Which was exactly what it was, of course, and it turns out he and his cohort were just getting started, and I'm embarrassed to have paid him even the fleeting compliment of thinking he might have any shame when there was ass-saving grandstanding to be done:

On Friday, as the leaders of both chambers scrambled to try to stop the removal of Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube, Mr. DeLay, a Texas Republican, turned his attention to social conservatives gathered at a Washington hotel and described what he viewed as the intertwined struggle to save Ms. Schiavo, expand the conservative movement and defend himself against accusations of ethical lapses.

"One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America," Mr. DeLay told a conference organized by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group.

"This is exactly the issue that is going on in America, of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others," Mr. DeLay said.

Mr. DeLay complained that "the other side" had figured out how "to defeat the conservative movement," by waging personal attacks, linking with liberal organizations and persuading the national news media to report the story. He charged that "the whole syndicate" was "a huge nationwide concerted effort to destroy everything we believe in."

-- The New York Times, 3/22/05

If only we had "figured out how to defeat the conservative movement." And isn't that in the Bible? "They shall accuse you of that which they are guilty of"? Maybe I got it in a fortune cookie. Anyway, if this, or the ethical allegations--or the war, or the deficit, or the economy, or the steroid crisis in Major League Baseball, or the failed attempt to privatize Social Security--from which it is meant to distract us should turn out to be the Republicans' Waterloo, it won't be because Judge Whittemore or any of the other 18 or 19 Florida judges ever had a meeting, in 15 years of deliberation, with the Manhattan Gay Atheist Baby-Murdering Dope-Fiend Consortium (or the Hollywood one). It'll be because the Republicans' unique cancer of sanctimony, arrogance, and corruption has finally eaten out the heart of their party. I certainly hope so, because it's either their party or our democracy.

I, like many of our representatives in Washington, lack a lot of information on the case--specifically any details about Michael Schiavo's legal ability to dissolve their spousal relationship, settle her estate, and move on. But for what it's worth, with admiration for his convictions and for the compassion and dedication he has shown in directing his wife's care over the years, my own feeling is that Schiavo, especially in the absence of children, probably should have left Terri's fate to her parents many, many years ago. But Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, and the Republican Religious Right must be very glad he didn't. Whenever it comes, hers will be the death that keeps on giving.

Posted by pk at 12:38 PM

March 11, 2005

Which war are we in?

From a long post well worth your while on TomDispatch:

It's worth recalling that another post-9/11 path was suggested in the wake of the suicide attacks on America. When you read the World War IV literature what you quickly notice is that these men, their eyes focused on the crumbling towers (and on a prior policy wish-list), claimed the moment to be transformative and undoubtedly believed themselves (like our initially panicked President) in a World-War-IV-type situation. There was, however, another group which looked at the same situation, considered the horror, but focused, both more modestly and, as it turns out, more realistically, not so much on the crumbling towers as on the small set of men and the obviously audacious yet circumscribed operation that made those towers crumble. What they saw, reasonably enough, was a massive act of terror and murder, both an international crime and an armed act of propaganda, but not an act of war a-la, say, Pearl Harbor.

It's too late to turn back the clock in Iraq, and triumphalists who trumpeted last week's "Arab Spring" (apparently just an Indian Summer in Lebanon) would damn anyone who suggested a less apocalyptic and more modest approach to the relatively modest threat posed by the relatively modest number of angry fanatics.

Attention to events elsewhere may leave Iraq behind, though it will certainly remain a festering sore--and a source of terrorism anew--for some time to come. But it's worth reconsidering the past three and a half years, as Tom Engelhardt does here, and how we intend to confront the real, but not indefinable or infinite, threat of terror--specifically the possibility of terrorists acquiring WMDs, especially nuclear weapons.

Worth reconsidering, because the Iraq War and the War on Terror are as separate from each other as they have ever and always been, and while we may be sunk in a quagmire in Iraq (oh my! did I just use a word loaded with post-Vietnam emotional baggage?), the sources and threats of terrorism still await a constructive, separate response.

Not that it wasn't fun last week watching Bush and his appointees and pundits fist-pump, chicken-strut, and moonwalk in the declared, imaginary End Zone of their War on Whatever They Said It Was. We take our shadenfreude when we can, because World War IV offers more shame than joy.

Posted by pk at 1:37 PM

To Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN)

Dear Mr. Bayh,

I am dismayed by your decision to vote for passage of the punitive "bankruptcy reform" bill sought by the credit card industry. How many letters did you receive from private citizens begging you to support this bill? Any? If you do not stand with middle-class workers in opposing such a bill, can you tell me exactly when you would?

Indiana is among the 10 states leading the list in declared bankruptcies. Is it your honest belief that the majority of these instances are not working individuals and families seeking relief from debts due to job-loss or medical calamity, but are instead freeloaders fraudulently gaming the system? If so, you clearly take a jaundiced view of your constituents, and do so in the face of statistics that show otherwise.

You will forgive me if I do not share your sympathy with the banking and credit industries. They know that many people can ill-afford their false generosity, but have still spent years filling our mailboxes with offers of "free money": pre-approved lines of credit to slake their unquenchable thirst for high interest payments.

The credit card industry should be reaping what they have sown: the loss of loans they were foolish to make due to the insolvency of those they preyed upon. I consider them guilty of usury. Instead, despite the supposedly impoverishing losses their good faith and generosity have brought them, they somehow have millions in lobbying resources to buy the support of even Democrats like you.

I am angered that you did not choose to represent the interests of your true constituents by voting with the principled minority against this bill. Perhaps you cast your vote in the hopes that the bill's inevitable passage would give you cover. It does not.

To be sure, Republicans as a party are more culpable for the pain this bill's passage will cause for citizens already suffering the effects of financial catastrophe. But you and the other Democrats who voted with them have given them the political cover of "bipartisan support," ensuring that they will pay no price as a party for their continued policy of favoring wealth and power over individuals and democracy.

You have also demonstrated again the lack of Democratic solidarity and discipline that will keep our party out of power. Perhaps that doesn't matter, since episodes like this make me wonder what Democrats like you stand for, and why you deserve my support.


I'd be a little more proud if I'd managed to send that before the vote--you know, because I might've changed his mind.

But, parallel use of words like "punitive" and "catastrophe" notwithstanding, I did write it before I read Joe Conason's latest Salon column. (I think you have to watch an ad or something if you don't subscribe.)

Posted by pk at 9:13 AM

March 4, 2005

Liberal karaoke

Sometimes it's just nice to hear an old favorite; this time from Digby. (Tiny edits for clarity.)

The difference between Republicans and Democrats isn't about who cares more for the people. All politicians say they care about the people, and the people are always justifiably skeptical. The difference between us is how we believe the good of the people is best achieved, and liberals have a fundamentally different philosophy than the Republicans. Government is our preferred method to advance progressive ideals. Capitalism cannot substitute for a democratic government that answers to all the people. The invisible hand doesn't give a shit if children starve or old people have to work until they are eighty or if half the country has to work at slave wages to support the other half. Only government can guarantee its citizens the equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We believe that progress toward that end requires that the government be active and engaged in delivering those things.

We are at parity, politically speaking, but liberalism is clinging by its fingernails to a vague definition of itself as a collection of policies favoring light regulation, balanced budgets, the last vestiges of the New Deal, and certain individual rights. [An] American conservative consensus is not far away if we continue to abdicate our responsibility to forcefully articulate the role of government in a meaningful, understandable way, and convey in no uncertain terms the danger to average Americans when they put their faith in free market evangelism and phony appeals to patriotism and religion.

Truly, this is the core issue. Republicans have spent 40 years smearing the government as a blundering, wasteful oppressor whose only useful functions are the defense of capital and property and the shifting of revenue to military contractors. (See here for how seriously they take their vaunted "moral values.")

In fact, the American government is the only institution we have that is of, by, and for us. Ask anyone whose job or air or water or housing or healthcare has been sacrificed to the bottom line if markets and corporations are "for" us. Markets and corporations are, at best, absolutely and necessarily indifferent.

There's going to have to be some pain, I think, before people remember the simple American premise--and promise--that government can be good for something. That pain will be--it is always--felt more severely, traumatically, and, in the case of the environment, perhaps irreversibly by those to whose interests the corporate politicians are indifferent.

I'm no revolutionary, myself. Hell, I'd settle for another Eisenhower. But the center cannot hold. The only question is which way the mass will tilt when it goes. Here we get back into the spooky stuff (see previous entry).

Posted by pk at 10:00 AM

March 3, 2005

The flu

I just wanted to highlight the conclusion of the Orcinus post I linked to earlier (in the LinkLog, over there to your right).

I happen to have fallen, for the past year and a half, into an informal study of various aspects of the Holocaust, which has joined hands with my concerns about current American politics, stuff I see on cable news, stuff I read on blogs, and stuff I'm surprised to hear old friends say. All of which gives me stuff to worry and talk about with friends and family who are also inclined to worry and talk about such things, and sometimes gives me spooky thoughts as I try to go to sleep after the night's reading from my self-imposed syllabus, or whatever East Coast Liberal Magazine came in the mail that day--the contents of which are also surprisingly in tune with this theme.

Alarmism is extremely uncool, and middle-class liberals must want to be cool or else they'd just become Republicans and enjoy the tax cuts and the heady thrill of raw power, so I try to avoid leaping to hysterical conclusions. After all, my pro-Bush neighbors are generally friendly folks for whom reality's rays simply refract differently, and liberals' constant dissembling about historical context and complexities just sounds like...constant dissembling. Don't we know there's a war on?

"Yes, there was this war here, which we liked, and which was part of the broader war, which we agree must be fought; but now this war here, we didn't like--or don't like, because it's not over--and you shouldn't either, because the administration took certain procedural liberties that might look inconsequential but in principle are terribly, terribly disconcerting in a democracy--and even though, no, we don't want to sound defeatist, much less fail to support the troops; and, yes, on the face of it, there have been some developments lately that might seem to validate the whole enterprise in spite of its terrible, terrible cost, assuming that nation's warring factions arrive at a peaceful, long-term power-sharing arrangement; and, indeed, there have even been some seemingly unrelated events elsewhere in the region and the world at large that might--and I stress might--actually be resulting, however indirectly and tangentially, from this rather reckless odyssey of history-making upon which your inexplicably popular president has embarked--that still doesn't excuse the fact that he has done it all under a cloak of lies, secrecy, and media manipulation that, ironically, threaten to undermine the very liberty and democracy of America even as he declares it his mission to spread them across the whole of the oppressed world!"

See? People who don't want to hear that kind of talk aren't necessarily fascists. (That's what this post is about: Fascism.) They just kinda like the fella with the big stick who doesn't take any shit. That's what I tell myself, anyway, when I hear Kurt Cobain's voice eerily, amusedly crooning, "Just because you're paranoid, don't mean they're not after you...."

But I think there are rogue waves of this tendency loose in the land--the victimization myths; the cross-pollenating between religion and national identity; the casual, blanket accusations of treason; the calls for repression of dissent and dissenters--and I think it's getting encouragement from very powerful people in the very powerful party that rules our very powerful country.

It's certainly not comforting to find that people who I assume are smarter than me think so, too, but it at least assures me that I'm not just a nut on a Holocaust kick. To wit:

What all of them miss, importantly, is the role of movement leaders--particularly Bush, Cheney, Karl Rove, and the neocons--in encouraging these proto-fascist traits. There is no evidence that they're doing so because they themselves are actually proto-fascists; rather, I think it remains clear that these people are pro-corporate crony capitalists, and the evidence strongly suggests that they're indulging this style of politics for the sake of shoring up their numbers and securing their political base. [...]

In other words, "movement conservatives" [i.e., the rank and file--pk] are being molded into a mindset that increasingly resembles classic fascism, but it's being done by leaders who mostly find this mindset convenient and readily manipulable. Unfortunately, the history of fascism is such that the arrogant corporatist belief that they contain these forces is not well grounded.

What's important to understand is the real dynamic: A growing populist "movement" is being encouraged increasingly to adopt attitudes that, taken together, become increasingly fascist. Greater numbers of individuals are being conditioned to think alike, and more importantly, to accept an increasingly vicious response to dissent. This does not mean that genuine fascism has arrived as a real political force in America; but it does mean the groundwork is being created for just such a nightmare, by irresponsible politicians tapping into terrible forces beyond their ability to control.

If even "paleo-conservatives" can see this, there's hope of stopping it. But I think we need to begin with a clear understanding of who, what, and why the fascists are.

The latent fascists who are the biggest problem right now are not Republican leaders. It is their oxyconned, Foxcized, Freeped-out, fanatic army of followers, comprising ordinary people, who pose the long-term problem. Drawing them back from the abyss is the real challenge that confronts us.

Which is to say, the chickens have it. A few humans have contracted it. So far the virus isn't spreading from human to human, but it could happen. It's happened before, and millions have died. Concerned experts advise that it be taken seriously.

Posted by pk at 9:28 AM