Archive for October 6th, 2006|Daily archive page

Quicky: Nun Brokered Electro-Shock Batons

No I haven’t been watching really strange Internet pornos, just reading the New Statesman.

A few months ago I watched a 16-year-old schoolgirl, Ellie, from Oxford, phone a tank manufacturer in Romania. Ellie was part of a group of British students who formed their own arms company and ran it once a week at lunchtime. 

“I want to chat to someone about a tank,” she said. “What kind of tank?” asked an uncertain eastern European voice.

“A TR-85 M1.”

“You want a price?”

“Yes, that would be great.”

A month later and Ellie’s arms company was quoted a guide price of 2.5m for the tank (CD players and cup holders are extra).

I would have expected the CD players to be included but that’s probably just me. Thanks to NoahShachtman/ DefenseTech you too can enjoy the humorous side of arms dealing.

On the one hand, teenage arms dealing is probably better then a career in porn (or as a Congressional page). But on the other hand, while reading the article, I couldn’t help thinking that arms dealing seems to be a really easy way to make money…

Hmm… Do I know any nuns? 

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Quicky: What exactly is responsibility? (Updated)

The Chicago Tribune headlines with Hastert’s mea culpa

House Speaker Dennis Hastert offered a public apology Thursday for his handling of a complaint about a congressman’s suggestive electronic messages to an underage page as the House ethics committee opened an investigation into former Rep. Mark Foley’s contacts with pages.

“I’m deeply sorry this has happened and the bottom line is we’re taking responsibility,” Hastert told a news conference outside his district office in Batavia, Ill. “The buck stops here.”

The political damage from the cyber-sex scandal that Republican candidates already had sensed began to show up in polling data, indicating a sharp drop in supI feel soport for the GOP and public distrust of congressional leaders’ explanations for their handling of a complaint about Foley. However, it is not yet clear how lasting the falloff in support will be as lawmakers and the FBI pursue separate investigations of the six-term Florida Republican. Foley abruptly resigned his seat last week.

Hastert won’t resign yet. The pressure will have to build even more. Indeed Bush, the poster child for the politically deaf, is siding with him. I have yet to hear the two really important voices on this issue, Rove and Cheney. They will probably shape this issue on the Sunday morning talkshows and leading into next week.

If you read the article closely, Hastert’s actions this year might even hinder and not help any clarification and justice in this case. His rabid defense of congressional property (you remember the Jefferson case from this summer) now has the Justice Department walking as if on eggshells, unsure how to move forward. Nice job Mr. Hastert!

Further, Hastert keeps claiming he doesn’t know who knew what, when. Well Mr. Hastert, if you were doing your job, if you were a responsible House Speaker, after a week – you should know. What would you say about a Democratic Speaker in the same position? Would you leave the gloves on Mr. Hastert?

I wonder, what – exactly – does Dennis Hastert understand under responsibility in a case like this. An ‘Oops – my bad!’ comment? That just isn’t enough.

Update: The Big Dick Cheney has made some  comments.

I’m a huge Denny Hastert fan — I think he’s a great speaker,” Cheney said in his private cabin aboard Air Force Two. “And it makes no sense at all for him to think about stepping down.”
[Snip]

“I think we’ve got good stuff to work with,” he said during a flight from Houston to Washington. “The Foley thing, again, as to how that cuts, I can’t tell.”

Cheney flatly rejected predictions by pundits that Democrats will take control of the House and Senate in November.

“We will retain control of both houses,” he said.

Oh. Both houses. Gee Mr Cheney, is this like the predictions about WMD? Or Sadaam sleeping with Usama?

Evangelical Loss, Teenage Gain

The New York Times has an article headlined “Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers”

Despite their packed megachurches, their political clout and their increasing visibility on the national stage, evangelical Christian leaders are warning one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves.

At an unusual series of leadership meetings in 44 cities this fall, more than 6,000 pastors are hearing dire forecasts from some of the biggest names in the conservative evangelical movement.

Their alarm has been stoked by a highly suspect claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation.

While some critics say the statistics are greatly exaggerated (one evangelical magazine for youth ministers dubbed it “the 4 percent panic attack”), there is widespread consensus among evangelical leaders that they risk losing their teenagers.

I’ll leave the snarky comment that perhaps they never had the hearts and minds of even four percent of the teenagers stand and look at the article slightly differently.

First, I can’t remember a time when evangelical Christians didn’t feel that they were under attack. It is part of their us-against-them culture. This is mixed with an unhealthy portion of pity for the unsaved. But it is this kind of language that is also used to keep people in the fanatical churches. Using the last-bastion-of-goodness-and-morality argument allows evangelical preachers to install a feeling of fear into the congregation, especially in the hearts and minds of the teenage youth. Creating a feeling of separation is a standard technique for brainwashing, even if effects aren’t as dramatic and the comment not politically correct.

On the other hand, the increasing political clout of the religious viewpoint, both in America and abroad,  makes the position that the churches are losing fairly unsupportable. Perhaps at issue isn’t the number of  ‘God-fearing’ teens, but that the evangelical movement has gone even farther down a fanatical path than most people, adult or teen, can follow. By denying everything modern, they deny themselves even those mores accepted forty years ago.

It is this extremism that worries me. I wonder if the liberal, democratic idea of always trying to find common ground, a compromise even with the most extreme positions, isn’t inexorably pulling the modern world more in the direction of the religious right, Christian or Islamic. Slowly but surely changing not only the views but the very language. The idea of government pushing ‘Faith Based’ charities is an example. When did the term arise? Why is it even excepted as an alternative. Would an agnostic or an atheist charity be any less moral? The Christian apologists would have you believe that. Indeed according to Christian apologists, without religion, the world would be full of rapists and criminals – death and mayhem.

One of the worse episodes in German history was the Thirty Years War fought between the Protestant north and the Catholic south. No war caused more destruction and misery until the technological advances of the Twentieth Century allowed mass destruction at the pull of a trigger. The religious fanatics, convinced that only true believers are human, raped, pillaged and destroyed most of central Germany. It was only after both parties were spent and only after the real fanatics had died in combat, that the war finally came to an end.

It might be true that the evangelical claim that less and less teenagers are willing to accept their brand of religion. It might even be true that this is truly an end-of-days scenario. I however choose to believe that more and more teenagers are trying to find a moral midpoint and despite apologist worries are moving towards religion. And of course, I believe that the each teenager’s soul lost to an evangelical church, is a teenager saved from an evangelical church. A loss for a gain if you will.

Focused

Keith Olbermann has yet another very strong special comment; this time about presidential lying. Even during this week of sick IM jokes, Olbermann manages to keep his eye on the political ball.

While the leadership in Congress has self-destructed over the revelations of an unmatched, and unrelieved, march through a cesspool …

While the leadership inside the White House has self-destructed over the revelations of a book with a glowing red cover …

The president of the United States — unbowed, undeterred and unconnected to reality — has continued his extraordinary trek through our country rooting out the enemies of freedom: the Democrats.

Yesterday at a fundraiser for an Arizona congressman, Mr. Bush claimed, quote, “177 of the opposition party said, ‘You know, we don’t think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists.’”

The hell they did.

Please, go read it in full, or watch the video.

Olbermann again manages to watch not the theater but remains interested in the political realities. George Bush is still telling his supporters that he is trying to keep the country together, he is a uniter not a divider. I’m sure he has decided this because there certainly isn’t any evidence to this effect. Bush still pushes the lie that Democrats are, if not in league with terrorists, at least tacitly allowing them to threaten America.

I wish I could determine whether Bush really believes what he’s saying or whether it is just Rovian spin. I keep going from one position to another.

There is the new book by Bob Woodward, well summarized by John Dickerson in Slate, showing Bush simply in denial. Woodward paints a picture of Bush listening to people who don’t listen. Rumsfeld is an excellent example. Rumsfeld always thinks he’s right and, even though this is his second stint as Defense Secretary, doesn’t seem think people in uniform are intelligent. Real people do politics not reality – especially not in uniform. Bush only accepts information about the DoD from Rumsfeld, Chaney and co. This filter separates Bush from any possible realistic understanding of what is actually happening.

I wonder if he is in denial or specifically chooses whom to listen to. I think this is Olbermann’s take. Bush has repeatedly had the opportunity to listen to more centrist and realistic opinions. Tommy Franks, Colin Powell even his father seem more based in the world than in the fantasies pushed by the hawks and religious right. Bush simply refuses to listen. It gets worse. Bush is pushing America farther from it’s origins. Attempting to create a theocratic, autocratic government far from the democratic principles he so claims to protect. Is this his agenda or is he merely a puppet? I don’t know.

The only time Bush attempted to find a realistic solution to a problem he truly understands, immigration, he failed. Miserably. The ‘solution’ passed by a do-nothing Congress won’t be successful and is worse than doing nothing. It will cost  money and will likely cost lives – even if not American.

Woodward quotes Bush as saying that he will stay the course in Iraq even if the only people supporting him are Laura and Barney – Barney being his dog. If you listen closely to the interview Woodward gave on 60 Minutes, Bush even seems to have lost Laura’s support. Soon the only American in favour of George Bush’s course in Iraq is a dog. This is telling.

The American public needs to keep presidential actions under a microscope. Even now while other issues are being pushed to the forefront. At least Keith Olbermann has remained focused.

Spinout

I was really going to try to avoid the Foley-age today but the Washington Post has a very good article about the meta-issues involved in this scandal.

Rove said he has used the new-media echo chamber to his advantage. When he gave a speech last year saying that liberals want to give terrorists understanding and therapy, he delighted when Democrats howled in protest. This then guaranteed that the story would stay alive for days. “I was sort of amused by it because it struck me, well, they’re just simply repeating my argument, which was good,” he said.

[Former President Bill*] Clinton — who regards Rove with a mixture of admiration and disdain as the most effective modern practitioner of polarizing politics — said in an interview that he has become fixated on the problem of how Democrats can learn to fight more effectively against the kind of attack President Bush’s top political aide leveled. Associates of the former president said he thinks that Democrats Al Gore in 2000 and Sen. John F. Kerry in 2004 lost the presidency because they could not effectively respond to a modern media culture that places new emphasis on politicians’ personalities and provides new incentives for personal attack.

While the Foley and Allen episodes burned Republicans, Clinton said in an interview earlier this year that he thinks the proliferation of media outlets, as well as the breakdown of old restraint in both media and politics on balance, has strongly favored Republicans. Without mentioning Gore or Kerry by name, he complained that many Democrats have allowed themselves to become unnerved and even paralyzed in response.

It seems to me, even though this is a personal scandal perpetrated by a Republican in a Republican controlled House and Senate during an election year, the conservatives are still winning the media wars.

Look at the various websites and political pundits.

I blogged (memed if you will) the snark about Fox showing Foley to be a Democrat. At the same time, the image (D-FL) in connection with a sex scandal gets implanted in peoples brains. It then goes from the websites to the late night comedians (Craig Ferguson, Jon Steward). But the ‘scandal’ of coming out as a Democrat could and will be misunderstood by the people only marginally interested in politics. Those who would always vote Republican but might be induced to ‘just stay home’ in November. The Fox texters know exactly which chain to pull to get the liberal bloggers and media to bark. Right on queue – Woof! Me included.

I find it amazing that the conservative talk masters and pundits might successfully spin this into a Democratic misstep. How? Even while pushing the story just as hard [sorry] as the more liberal or centrist outlets, they can continually claim that the Democrats have leaked this in order to win the election. Further, if they can ‘report’ this as a liberal trick while spinning stories of gap dresses and scandals older than the mishandled pages, they can still manage to squeak this out.

There are two prongs that need to be approached. First, the Democrats must not allow the Republicans to use the press to show this as a Democratic failing. And the Republicans will; Drudge, Limbaugh, Coulter and the Foxes – Hannity, O’Reilly and herd, are and will continually try to show this as something only Democrats would have done. The rabid conservatives will want Americans to feel that only Democrats would have sex scandals or perhaps even more perverse, only Democrats would use sex scandals to effect electoral outcomes.

Second, the Democrats need to develop a longer strategy, framing new issue after new issue and pushing them into the media, new then old. Just as Rove has managed to keep the liberal and central thinkers off balance by continually shoving one issue after another into the limelight, the Democrats need to use this chance to push back. To add issue after issue after issue until the conservative media is overloaded.

I hope the Democratic strategists have 4 more bullets in the political revolver, one for each of the next weeks leading up to the elections. If not, liberal spin on this scandal might not be enough. As a matter of fact, the whole thing might just be a Democratic spinout.

*I get great satisfaction in specifying that it’s Bill and not Hillary being quoted here, even if it becomes clear later. While I can write Chaney and everyone knows I mean Dick not Lynn and when I say Bush I’m obviously referring to George (either Dubya or HW) but not Laura or Barbara, Hillary Clinton has managed to show enough talent and political skill to become a voice in her own right. Whether I want her as president or not is a different issue. I still find it good to see that since the early 1970’s, great women aren’t necessary behind great men, but next to them.