Politics: February 2004 Archives

So, would the NYTimes fire a reporter they discovered had once demonstrated on behalf of a cure for breast cancer? Would they fire a John Kerry when they found out he had once worked to end a disastrous and outrageously immoral war? Would they fire a former member of ACT UP?

We only know the answer to the last question. Perhaps it was too easy, but it still surprises us - we now know it's yes, certainly. In fact, after almost a quarter century, is AIDS still a shameful diagnosis and are an individual's efforts to end the plague of dubious merit, and even unethical? [If the answers were to be yes, neither I nor the overwhelming majority of my friends have merit or ethics, and we would never be able to get jobs honestly.]

"My motivation is expediency as well as ethics" the Times represenative told our friend Jay Blotcher when he asked why he had been fired from his position as a "stringer" reporting from his current home in upstate New York. The paper had recently discovered he had once been an important part of ACT UP, so they maintained he would necessarily be biased reporting any story.

This outrageous story has legs. Even though they've already kicked him out, it's almost certain to be the most important story Jay will ever give to the paper which once valued his contributions, but it's not one his editors will like. For more, see Bloggy ["What a crappy paper"] and Atrios["This is just fucking unbelievable"].


See yesterday's post, "he just can't stop", for more religion.

[image thanks to Wiley Miller and ucomics]

"Credulity, Superstition and Fanaticism"

Remember the three other nutty proposals?

In the White House our First Constitutional Scholar and Pontifex Maximus is reported today to be proposing an alteration to our fundamental law, but only oh, so reluctantly.

The NYTimes today reports, without comment, "In his remarks on Tuesday, [Bush] emphasized that 'an amendment to the Constitution is never to be undertaken lightly. . . .'"

It doesn't take much of a memory to recall the three other pressing purposes for which this preacher has already proposed dividing the nation and rewriting a Constitution which he would be unable to actually read himself: sanctifying the flag, declaring every fetus sacred and keeping god in our national oath.

The latest purpose, embodied in the proposed "marriage amendment" is described by its sponsors as necessary for essentially the same reason, to keep [one particular interpretation of*] religion a part of what is in this case fundamentally just a legal contract.

Bush is talking about his god, or at least the god of his constituency. There's always been an obvious pattern here, and it's one not generally described by the media, even this morning.

A secular state must not define sacred flags, oaths, wombs or marriages, but instead it should be very concerned when its head insists on doing so - whether he does so out of superstition or for political advantage.

Atrios recently reminded us just how much the Judeo/Christian idea of marriage has itself evolved - quite a bit, it turns out:

1. Marriage should consist of a union between one man and one or more women.
Gen 29:17-28. II Samuel 3:2-5

2. Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to
his wife or wives.
II Samuel 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chronicles 11:21

3. Marriage will be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If she is
not a virgin, she shall be executed.
Deut. 22:13-21

4. Marriage to a non believer shall be strictly forbidden
Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9, Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30

5. Marriage is for life and no law shall permit any form of divorce.
Deut 22:19; Mark 10-9-12.

6. If a married man dies without children. His brother must marry the widow.
If the brother refuses to marry the widow or deliberately does not give her
children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a
manner to be determined by law.
Gen 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10

7. In lieu of marriage (if there is no acceptable man to be found) a woman
shall get her father drunk and have sex with him in order to have children.
Gen 19:31-36

But then, today thoughtful people know that scriptures have always been social and political tools, designed to get other people to do what you want them to do

[image, a 1762 William Hogarth engraving belonging to Oxford's Ashmoleon Museum, from The Victorian Web]

he still has to figure his taxes, but now the real threat is to his social security

Stop taxing the wealthy; it'll be good for everyone, they said.

Now it's, omigod, we're out of money - we can't fulfill the promise of social security! [supposedly not funded by income taxes anyway, since that would be "socialism"]

Wealthy 78-year-old, not-yet-or-ever-to-be-retired Alan Greenspan's response to the crisis? Cut social security benefits and raise the retirement age. Just tell the masses they can keep working, even if the jobs are disappearing and nobody wants to employ older people anyway.

Not to depend too much on an ad hominum argument, but the Greenspan himself, like everyone else in this government of ours, will never need social security benefits to pay the bills. Besides, he obviously doesn't expect to retire anyway. He's far too useful to his bosses: He virtually excludes the possibility of reintroducing taxes to relieve the massive revenue shortfall.

"Tax rate increases of sufficient dimension to deal with our looming fiscal problems arguably pose significant risks to economic growth and the revenue base," Greenspan said. "The exact magnitude of such risks is very difficult to estimate, but they are of enough concern, in my judgment, to warrant aiming to close the fiscal gap primarily, if not wholly, from the outlay side."
Note to file: The U.S. now has just five tax brackets, and you reach the very top rate of 35% only on income over $319,000. That percentage remains the same regardless of whether you make $320,000. or billions more. Of course no one pays these percentages in the end, but even the base figures are so modest they would be unimaginable in the rest of the modern world, which actually gets something back for its tax outlays, including real social security.

[image is Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post cover from March, 1945, "Income Taxes", from Curtis Publishing; notice interesting content titles listed on the top right]

Billionaires for Bush at the 2000 Republican Convention

Count me in!

It's going to be a very interesting summer in New York.

We couldn't make it to last night's fundraiser, but we certainly want to catch up with this fabulous group. Politics, maybe it's not just for those other guys any more!

Karl Rove attended a moneyed Bush election event at a nightclub on 24th Street last night, and it wasn't always easy telling the hellfunders from the hellraisers. The NYTimes reports that even some of the demonstrators were confused for a while.

"Fabulous, fabulous," Mr. Rove said as he left after giving a 20-minute talk to several hundred people gathered inside [and collecting about $400,000 for the Bush-Cheney campaign].

But while Mr. Rove was inside, more than 100 protesters were outside, standing behind blue police barricades chanting slogans, waving placards and offering a bit of street theater that confused the police.

At one point, as hundreds of guests with invitations waited to pass through velvet barriers to enter the club, a small group of men in bowler hats and women in gowns marched up, chanting, "Four more wars" and "Re-elect Rove."

As the group approached, a man who appeared to be a security agent of some type, was overheard whispering into a microphone: "We've got two groups. One for and one against."

Actually, it was two against. The person was confused by a group that calls itself Billionaires for Bush, a collection of activists who use satire to make a political point. Indeed, members of the Sierra Club, who were protesting on the other side of the street were also confused and began shouting at what they thought was a pro-Bush contingent.

" We want the truth and we want it now!" the Sierra protesters shouted.

The billionaires shouted back, "Buy your own president!"

It took a few minutes, but the police finally realized what was going on when they escorted the group behind the blue barricades as well. Still, the show was not over. A black town car pulled up and out stepped a man whom who the crowd assumed to be Mr. Rove. "There is Karl Rove," people shouted.

Reporters, photographers and television cameramen swarmed the man, but the police pushed them back. Another man lifted the velvet rope to let him enter. But the would-be Mr. Rove walked over to the crowd of protesters and began shaking hands, when finally, again, this was seen to be a joke. It was not Mr. Rove, but an actor playing the part.

Each of the groups has said it planned to stage similar events when the Republican National Convention comes to New York City from Aug. 30 through Sept. 2.

By the way, what's this thing with Bush, and now Rove, regularly waving the adjective "fabulous" around like only the good fairies have been doing for years. It's raising some fabulous eyebrows.

[image from Dru Jay at Monkeyfist]

I don't even want to talk here about the relative merits of the various candidates for the club's nominee for the presidency, but I am pretty amazed that such a sense of inevitability became attached to John Kerry's name so early in the Democrats' process.

I know, some will say it's the invisible hand, the miracle of the democratic system, even the will of god, but I have another theory. I think it's the poverty of our minds and our imaginations. Early on Kerry had somehow been perceived as the The One, and everybody wants to be with the winner. It's the same phenomenon which creates blockbuster films, as Barry volunteered, or our mad obsession with SUV's, this year's Britney and the coolest camera cellphone of the month.

This time I'm not even sure that we've bought a bill of goods advanced by the market or the commercial media. It seems that we just don't want to be different. Americans are both too ignorant and too insecure to think for themselves. Kerry doesn't stand out much, but we understand that for some reason he just seems to be the one.

Who are we to argue with such evidence of virtue?

Drake University law professor Sally Frank

"a culture distracted into obedience by fear"
[from a press release for a show, Halliburton", of paintings by Adam Simon opening Friday at art Moving, 166 North 12th St. in Williamsburg]

Oh, I've neglected this followup until now.

The immediate crisis is over for this particular group.

Federal authorities retreated Tuesday in their investigation of an Iowa anti-war demonstration, withdrawing grand jury subpoenas delivered last week to four peace activists and Drake University.

The shift came as the investigation drew nationwide condemnation from civil liberties advocates, politicians and peace activists.

Also Tuesday, a federal judge lifted a gag order on Drake, where employees had been ordered not to discuss an inquiry into a meeting the anti-war activists held there Nov. 15. Federal authorities had asked for records of the campus chapter of the National Lawyers Guild - which hosted the anti-war conference - and for the impressions campus police had of the gathering.

Ah shucks, Barry.

But, seriously, it was the memory of the various surveillance authorities at all those old ACT UP meetings and demonstrations, including our own civil disobedience training sessions, that made this particular outrage so disturbing for me.

And we know the obscurants are even now regrouping for another opportunity to spread the fear with which they hope to preserve their power.

One reaction, picked almost randomly, appears in an editorial of The Examiner, where the outrage is much more restrained than that which can be found elsewhere, even among very reasonable people.

While it was good to learn the subpoenas had been withdrawn, the fact that they were ever issued raises some disturbing questions about why. An explanation put forward by many civil-liberties groups and peace activists is that it was a maneuver by the federal government to suppress antiwar activities by making potential participants afraid they could be arrested or prosecuted. Indeed, word the subpoenas had been withdrawn came as lawyers for Drake were preparing to fight the demands. They had intended to argue that the subpoenas would have put a damper on students' constitutional rights to free speech and free association.

We'd like to think that's not true. We'd like to think that partisan politics would not lead to abuse of the federal law-enforcement system. We'd like to think that public servants would not capriciously abandon their oaths to uphold the Constitution. But over the past few years, when the ability of the government to reach into the details of our private lives has been exponentially expanded without even the most basic oversight of a judge brought into play, it's become difficult to think that way. It doesn't help that everywhere the president goes, people who want to express opinions opposed to his are sequestered in distant pens insultingly labeled "free-speech zones."

No, it unfortunately appears that the Drake subpoenas were inappropriate and unnecessary at best, and quite possibly nothing less than callous political thuggery.

[image from Common Dreams]

DANGEROUS [Brian Terrell, executive director of the Catholic Peace Ministry in Des Moines, had helped conduct nonviolence training at a November 15 forum on the Drake University campus. He received a federal grand jury subpoena last week]

I don't know why they're bothering with the small stuff, since we're not going to have a free election this November in any event, but the Administration's Department of Justice is trying to shut down ordinary protest, and in a very heavy-handed way.

In Des Moines, Iowa, that hotbed of revolution, the U.S. District Attorney's office has subpoenaed individuals and records related to the activities of antiwar protestors. The group had assembled in a forum on the campus of Drake University, a small private institution in the capitol, on the day prior to a pretty routine antiwar demonstration outside a National Guard base last November. The event was sponsored by the University's chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

Officials at the University are unable to comment, since they are subject to an extraordinary "gag order" under a separate very broad federal grand jury subpoena directed at its relationship to the November 15 gathering.

The very public forum, atended by 21 people, was filmed by local television and the Des Moines police were invited. The program included the offering of personal safety advice for people who might decide to carry out non-violent civil disobedience the next day.

The school's subpoena called for detailed information on the lawyers guild and its members, including the names of those who are officers, and guild meeting agendas and annual reports since 2002.

The subpoena also focused on the Nov. 15 antiwar forum, asking for "all requests for use of a room, all documents indicating the purpose and intended participants in the meeting, and all documents or recordings which would identify persons that actually attended the meeting."

There can be only one explanation for this scrutiny from the Justice Department, a totally disproportionate response to the mildest of provocations: Silence all protest.
Some said it could send a chilling message far beyond Iowa, leaving those who consider voicing disapproval of the administration's policy in Iraq, or anywhere else, wondering whether they too might receive added scrutiny.

"I've heard of such a thing, but not since the 1950's, the McCarthy era," said David D. Cole, a Georgetown law professor. "It sends a very troubling message about government officials' attitudes toward basic liberties."

Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he feared news of the subpoenas — which was spreading rapidly via e-mail on Monday among activist organizations — might discourage people from showing up to protests, attending meetings at universities or even checking out library books.

"People will have to be asking themselves: will this be subject to government scrutiny?" Mr. Romero said.

Yes, but we're already there.

[image by Mark Kegans for the NYTimes]

This page is an archive of entries in the Politics category from February 2004.

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