Traditional Conservative Values vs. Bush

I’m writing this because I know so many traditional conservatives who are in shock over what the Bush administration has been doing. I think these conservatives, because our government has moved so far to the right that basic conservative values now seem progressive, are our natural allies and not the enemies of progressives. We need to stop using the term “conservative” to describe the activities of this administration and find some new term for them. Fascist doesn’t quite describe it — just yet, Neoconservative implies some kind of relationship to genuine American style conservatism, and there is none. Real conservatives try to conserve the best aspects of public institutions and customs — and the environment, and prefer a limited amount of government interference. This surely does not describe the current gang in office.
I think, rather than concentrate on all the problems the Bush administration has raised for the conservative members of his party, I’ll use just one as an example; setting up the idea of the free market system as the new sacred ideal and allowing it to run rampant, as though everything can be turned over to it, including most government functions, and nothing should touch it or interfere with what any greedy psycho in power wants to do. I’ve worked for corporations, and my experience has been that on the whole they care terribly about what both their employees and their customers want, and their safety and welfare. For one thing, nothing hurts the bottom line faster than a public disaster like, say, poisoning people with contaminated food or killing one’s workers. It’s this concept of a sacred free market system that’s sabotaging any sense of public, shared values.

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Karl Rove’s Speech

I’m not going to write a rant about this because that’s exactly the response the neocons want. The point of vulgar remarks like his is to be deliberately provocative, and as divisive as possible. So far this has worked very well for them. The result is that all dignity has been stripped from American discourse in favor of juvinile tricks like what’s being done to the Fire Rove petition. What fun they’re all having! This country has been reduced to an emotional level below that of the average three year old, turned loose and unsupervised.
The proper response is to uncover the agenda inspiring Rove’s behavior and speak the truth about it. Coming to New York City and saying what he said is incredibly harmful. The aftermath of 9/11, the heroic response to it, thousands of Americans rushing to New York to help, without thought for danger or inconvenience, was one of the most noble moments in American history. To denigrate that and turn it into a cheap joke is obscene. This was, in the most profound sense, a sacred moment during which the country was utterly united.
Can’t have that, can we? There’s no political power to be gained from a united America, is there?

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Respect for the Flag

For some unknown reason, no matter how I tried to post this as a comment to Dave’s blog, it wouldn’t post. So I’m posting it separately because I think this is important:
When I was growing up I was taught in civics class that the flag should not be flown at night or in the rain. EVERY flag was taken down at sunset and put up again in the morning. The military, police, etc. did this with great ceremony. This was really very nice, but I guess everyone just got too busy to keep it up. I still consider it complete disrespect when I see the flag flying at night, or bedraggled from always being left out in storms and winter weather — and still not taken down, of course. I still think that if you’re going to display the flag you should do it right and show it some respect, not just use it as an ostentatious display of political viewpoints.
During the 60s and early 70s kids were hauled off to jail, or at least to the police station, with charges of disorderly conduct if they dared wear the flag as part of their clothing. There was an attempt then to pass an amendment about burning the flag, so this is nothing new.
Now I notice that it’s the Republicans who proudly drape themselves in flag clothing, as though to display what good, patriotic God fearing neocons they are. I think it’s even more disrespectful of the flag to use it for this purpose than it is to use it to protest the way the administration is debasing it and us through its un-American policies. The Republicans did not own the flag then, and they don’t own it now.

Read This Book!

Regardless of one’s political or religious beliefs, before we all take off for La La Land never to return, we need to become aware of what’s going on with conspiracy theory thinking and learn to spot and avoid it. Conspiracy theories always seem to be hyper-logical and are always heavily documented. There’s always a grain of truth in them. That’s why this is so dangerous.
Every adult should read “A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America,” by Michael Barkun, U. of California Press, 2003. He’s a professor of political science at Syracuse University and this is essentially a text book. Even so, it’s a good read. I got it from Barnes and Noble.

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Leo Strauss

I posted the following as a comment to the Opium For You post and Dave asked me to repost it as a blog.
I’ve been researching the devotion of the neocons to the philosophy of Leo Strauss for a long time. If I haven’t posted anything about this here, I should have. He was a professor at the U. of Chicago, taken very seriously at the time by any number of bright young things who considered themselves intellectually elite. A lot of my friends considered themselves intellectually elite and went to the University of Chicago, which considered itself the most intellectually elite university, so this was the right place for Strauss. I wasn’t considered intellectually elite because I couldn’t afford to go there. It was a private school and very expensive. To be intellectually elite you had to be rich. Of course you also had to be a man, so I could only have become a second-class Straussian at best anyway.

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Watch for Republican Sleeze

Just a quick note to point out something important I noticed on the news. The Repugs are starting a campaign to link Bush’s plan to give “visitor” status to immigrants as a way to solve the illegal immigrant problem and allow them to work legally with what they are trying to sell as the Social Security “crisis”. Yesterday they were arguing that since the “visitors” would pay taxes and the illegal immigrants don’t, this would help pay for social security.

Don’t let them get away with this. The “visiting” immigrants will have to go back where they came from. They would not be able to become citizens, live here, and eventually collect social security. If they won’t be able to collect social security, they should not have to pay into the social security retirement system.

I fought this same battle in Iowa and then in Michigan years ago. My husband was a graduate student. In both states I worked for the state university and was required to pay into the state retirement fund. At the same time I was not allowed to register to vote because, since my husband was an out-of-state graduate student, I couldn’t be considered a citizen of the state. I argued that they couldn’t have it both ways. Either I was not a citizen of the state and shouldn’t pay into the state retirement system because I’d never be able to collect, or I was a citizen and should be allowed to vote. In Iowa I didn’t have to pay because I wasn’t a citizen of the state, and I couldn’t register to vote. In Michigan I did have to pay and could register to vote. The Repugs are setting up exactly the same problem if they pass their “visiting” immigrants bill. Don’t let them have it both ways.

This morning I watched Greenspan being questioned by Congress. One of the topics brought up was the question of whether reforming the immigration laws to allow more immigrants to enter and hold low-paying jobs wouldn’t “help save Social Security.” It was not made clear whether the question was about immigration in general or Bush’s special visitor’s plan, but by the way it was presented I’m assuming it was the Bush plan. Sure, if immigrants are working, paying taxes, and will be able to become citizens who will eventually be able to receive Social Security benefits, they should make payments into Social Security. If not, that’s another matter entirely. You really have to pin these guys against the wall to be sure you know what they’re talking about.

New Repug Trick

Just a quick note to point out something I noticed on the news this morning. The Repugs are starting a campaign to link Bush’s plan to give “visitor” status to immigrants as a way to solve the illegal immigrant problem and allow them to work legally with what they are trying to sell as the Social Security “crisis”. This morning they were arguing that since the “visitors” would pay taxes and the illegal immigrants don’t, this would help pay for social security.

Don’t let them get away with this. The “visiting” immigrants will have to go back where they came from. They would not be able to become citizens, live here, and eventually collect social security. If they won’t be able to collect social security, they should not have to pay into the social security retirement system.

I fought this same battle in Iowa and then in Michigan years ago. My husband was a graduate student. In both states I worked for the state university and was required to pay into the state retirement fund. At the same time I was not allowed to register to vote because, since my husband was an out-of-state graduate student, I couldn’t be considered a citizen of the state. I argued that they couldn’t have it both ways. Either I was not a citizen of the state and shouldn’t pay into the state retirement system because I’d never be able to collect, or I was a citizen and should be allowed to vote. In Iowa I didn’t have to pay because I wasn’t a citizen of the state, and I couldn’t register to vote. In Michigan I did have to pay and could register to vote. The Repugs are setting up exactly the same problem if they pass their “visiting” immigrants bill. Don’t let them have it both ways.

Stolen Honor

MaxNews.com will be running Stolen Honor, the notorious movie about John Kerry, almost constantly from now until the election on various stations as a paid program. I haven’t gotten this morning’s paper yet, so I don’t know if it’s listed by name. Last night’s showing, on PAX, was listed only as “Paid Program.” I stumbled across it by accident.

If Kerry wins, I’m sure we’ll be seeing variations of this theme constantly over the next four years. The bitterness still with us because of the Vietnam war is not going to go away. Old ghosts never die. There’s a lot of painful truth, but even more half-truths, in the message being brought to us, and we would do well to try to understand it. The most immediate lesson we can learn is that we must not treat the veterans of the Iraq war the way the Vietnam veterans were treated. The soldiers who fought in that war were not to blame for the war and the country turned against them and dishonored them as though they were. The Iraq war is every bit as misguided as the Vietnam war. In both wars, not only the public but even the highest levels of government were tricked and deceived.

There are wars which cannot be won except by killing everybody. If the population of a country is determined not to be defeated, it is impossible to defeat them, even by bombing them back into the Stone Age. Shock and Awe just can’t cut it. Military might and power have their limits, hard as this is to believe. There are other examples that this is true, one of the best being that feeble, rag-tag army that defeated the British and founded the United States. There was Ghandi’s brilliant passive resistance, which defeated the British in India. Russia pulled out of Afghanistan once it was clear that even bombing them into the Stone Age wasn’t enough. The Nazis made it clear that they would, in fact, be perfectly happy to kill everybody, and they scored a brutal but temporary victory in Europe. During the Vietnam war, we could see for ourselves what was going on. It was served to us every evening as we ate dinner watching the news on TV. My most vivid memories are of the napalmed children; hardly enemies of anybody. There were indeed savage atrocities, our soldiers were not a bunch of blessed saints, and much of what is now being dumped on Kerry is denial of their own guilt.

There was no way for them to be certain who was an enemy, who harbored enemies, they were trapped in a war for which there was no obvious justification they could not win without killing everybody. This was not the fault of the soldiers, but of those who lied and deceived the country, including most of the government, into continuing the war. Blaming Kerry for having the courage to speak out against this is a fine example of attempting to Kill the Messenger. Somebody had to finally speak out, make it clear that the citizens of this country would no longer tolerate and support the war. Kerry did what he does best, have the courage to tell the truth to the country.

Thank God he had the guts to do this. There are those who will never forgive him, but lets put the blame where it belongs.

Flu Vaccine Shortage

There will be around 36,000 deaths caused by the flu this year. More, many thousands more, if the flu hits especially hard. The terrorist attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon killed around 3,000 people. That doesn’t begin to compare to the deaths expected from the flu, which can be prevented by one safe flu shot. So why are we facing a second year of extreme shortages of the flu vaccine? Because the government doesn’t give a damn, that’s why. The pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want to bother with making an inexpensive vaccine when it can rip us off by selling overpriced drugs. This news about the flu shot shortage comes right after the news about Vioxx, prescribed for millions even though it has caused at least 26,000 deaths from strokes or heart attacks. And it was Merck, the manufacturer, that pulled it off the market, not the FDA, the agency supposed to protect us. I was prescribed Vioxx not long ago, but it was so expensive I decided not to buy it and took Advil instead, thank God. Advil worked just fine. Plus we then heard the news about Remicaid, which seems to cause lymphomas. Very expensive, dubious and dangerous drugs = Good for Business. Cheap, effective vaccines = bad for business. Gotta have that free, unregulated market! Ideology triumphs again; the ideology of greed.

The federal government has stockpiled enough smallpox vaccine to vaccinate the entire country, and there isn’t the slightest chance of an outbreak of smallpox. Remember that fiasco intended to convince us that we were being “protected” against the chance of a bioterrorism attack? The anthrax vaccine is forced on American military, in spite of the fact that the vaccine is known to be especially dangerous, although most are in regions where they don’t have the slightest chance of being exposed to anthrax. I have a friend who suffered permanent neurological damage from the anthrax vaccine. Anthrax can be cured using a couple of doses of antibiotics. We get vaccines when there’s a political statement to be made. Otherwise, we’re told to wash our hands a lot.

Cracking the Code

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Figuring out what the Republicans are up to is only partly a matter of understanding frames and framing. Sometimes those frames are also codes, a secret, insider language, to which those of us who are not evangelical Christians or otherwise up-to-date on neocon lingo haven’t even got a clue. I’ll give just one example, but it’s a good one. It was recently reported that the RNC had sent out mailings to two states, Arkansas and West Virginia, on September 24 stating that liberals are going to take away their Bibles. I think that neither the press nor the Democratic party had the slightest idea what was really going on or what this means. It was understood as just another dastardly Republican scare tactic. Edwards responded by saying that this was outrageous and Bush should insist that they never do anything like that again.

Ha! Rove must have been laughing up his sleeve, it was so obvious that only the insiders, those with secret knowledge, understood what was being said. The public response, in fact, helped to reinforce and spread the desired message. To most of us it would mean that the RNC is saying that secular liberalism will ban reading the Bible. I don’t think that’s how they meant their audience to understand it. A Google search on “liberals Bibles” brought up 59,100 hits. The battle about “liberals” and “Bibles” has been going on for many years. This battle is terribly important to those involved with it, and the rest of us not only know nothing about it but could care less. Looking into this immediately takes one into an arcane never-never land where only the initiated dare to go.

I haven’t been to West Virginia for years, but I’ve recently been to Arkansas. I dearly love Arkansas, so what I’m about to say is an explanation, not a criticism. In Arkansas towns, there seems to be a little church on almost every corner. Vastly more churches than, for example, grocery stores. The mainstream churches are represented, often have large impressive buildings just like everywhere else, but what’s happened is that the denominations have split and split again into countless little, separate denominations, each accusing all the others of heresy. Heresy is a very important concept, and accusing each other of heresy is pretty much the local game, like bridge or baseball in other parts of the country. Arkansas is a poor state, and people have to have something to do on those long summer evenings.

So what’s a heresy? Mostly anything “liberal.” “Liberal” does not mean what we think it means. Ultimately, “liberal” means anything that in any way could be traced to the Enlightenment. in other words, although this is never spoken, all the principles on which the Constitution is based, the ideal of society as a contract between reasonable people, everything we think of as the basis for modern civilization. The mainstream churches are understood as having been corrupted by the Enlightenment and to have fallen into “liberalism.” The Episcopalians, of course, since they now have a gay Bishop, are the Devil’s spawn. But so are the Unitarians, the Presbyterians, and even most of the Baptists. And they mean that literally.

The word Bible is also a coded word. Their Bible, as they interpret it, in no way resembles the Bible most of us recognize. Each word has its own secret, arcane meaning and one has to find out what that meaning really is — while, at the same time, taking the Bible absolutely literally. No allegorical or literary interpretations allowed. The Biblical controversies have also been raging on for years. How literally should one take it? Which version should one take literally? There are those who equate the King James version with the Antichrist, and those who would kill to preserve every sacred word of it. However, it doesn’t really matter what the Bible literally SAYS. What matters is what the Bible is interpreted to MEAN. And each little denomination, each little congregation, has its own interpretation, with everyone else’s version considered to be heresy. But the really BIG, dangerous, awful heresies are the interpretations of the Bible one learns in those literally damned, take that seriously because they mean it, mainstream churches like the Presbyterians and the Baptists (but not all of the Baptists.) That’s the point on which all these little denominations can unite — against the really BIG “liberal” Enlightenment inspired heresy.

So — one would have to somehow know that what the RNC mailing is really saying is something like if the Democrats win those heretics in the mainstream churches and their Biblical interpretations will be more important for setting public policy than yours. It will no longer matter how you interpret the Bible. They’re not really saying that anyone is going to ban the Bible, but that they’re going to ban their interpretations of it, and maybe the particular translation they’ve accepted as the Word of God. This could be why the moderate Republicans have become so unwelcome in the party. So many of them tend to be Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, the Devil’s spawn (they’re actually occasionally called that) liberals corrupted by the Enlightenment, for God’s sake! Well, I said this was arcane.

Somebody in the Democratic party should be paying attention to identifying these insider coded words and what they mean. There are millions of people who know all too well what they mean, relish the fact that the rest of us don’t know, since we’re going to Hell because we don’t know, and they will vote for Bush on that basis. Because Bush knows.

Election Reform

I’m suddenly absolutely, completely burned out on politics. Just as we get close to the finish line I need a break! I have the awful feeling that I’m not the only person suffering from this, either. By the time we finally vote, who gives a damn?

Enough money’s being spent on this election to feed and house all the homeless in this country for life. Or to provide a free college education for every child. Or health care for everyone. This is no longer a Democratic process. Nobody who isn’t independently rich and/or backed by powerful interests can possibly run for a national office. This is now true even on a local level, at least in states like New York and New Jersey and cities like New York. People spending this kind of money expect it to be a good investment. There’s no better basis for corruption. Worse, no matter how much money is spent, the candidates for the party not in office are essentially invisible. Equal time on radio and TV for each party’s candidates used to be required by law. We’ve got to restore the fairness doctrine.

Because running for office is now so expensive, and because of the electoral college, only the “swing states” count. The rest of us are not exactly being told that our vote doesn’t count, but it couldn’t be more clear that we’re written off as unimportant, so why should we bother to vote? There’s got to be a better way to do this.

We could analyze how we got ourselves into this mess from now until doomsday. Gigantic plot or unexpected results of previous honest attempts at reform? Undoubtedly some of each, and so what? We have to deal with the mess we have now. Reform has to begin on the local level and especially the party level. Congress isn’t going to do anything that cuts its own throat.

Once the election is over, regardless, we’ve got to start thinking about reforming the process. What we’ve been doing is crazy! No campaign should go on this long, and the sad truth is that the next campaign starts the minute the last one ends. Which means that nobody is taking care of business and the country just drifts.

Just Like on TV

Bush got a double push in the polls because of intelligent timing. The Republican Convention was soon followed by the hysteria over the anniversary of 9/11, and Bush took complete advantage of this. Naturally, experiencing both the Convention and 9/11 has set me brooding about the conjunction of the two events.

First, 9/11. I stood outside with a neighbor and watched the two towers fall. Meanwhile, inside, my TV was on, featuring, of course, images of the two towers falling. I’d even watched some of this inside, before it occurred to me to go outside and see “the real thing.” Real reality outside, virtual reality inside. It’s all too easy to forget that there’s a difference between the two. It’s not that the TV image is fiction, but it’s confined to a small screen, however vivid the image you’re safe from its physical effects, and, most important, what’s happening is being interpreted for you while it happens. Good, bad, dangerous, evil, fun, it’s all presented to you, along with what you should think about it, what you should be feeling. Outside, no such luck. Your emotions are your emotions, no matter what you’re feeling. You get the impact not only of sight but of grit and smell, and the real expressions on the faces around you, not some edited image. and, most vividly of all, how you’re going to react to what you’re seeing, what you’re going to do about it. That good old fight or flight instinct.

Those images of the planes hitting the towers immediately became iconic and even before the day was over, mythological. The images of people jumping from the towers was edited out. Too hard to deal with. Most of the sound of the towers falling was lowered to an acceptable level. You can’t smell it, or feel it in your nose. You are not breathing vaporized people. Properly sanitized and interpreted, the entire country was treated to this, day after day, and now, for a week or so once a year, without even realizing what’s happening to us, we are shown exactly what we’re supposed to remember and how we are supposed to feel about it. Subjective reactions and personal feelings don’t count.

Staying with 9/11 for a minute, what was Bush doing that day? We’re supposed to vote for him because he’s Big Daddy and will protect us. So where was Big Daddy during that crucial period? Giuliani got to the WTC site so fast he almost got killed there. Rumsfeld helped rescue the wounded at the Pentagon. Whatever we may think of these two men, they at least showed up. Bush was in Florida reading to school children to push the importance of his education bill. Politics, not love of children. Once told about the attack, he kept on reading for several minutes. We hear about that now, but not about the rest of his day. Back in Washington, Cheney was physically carried down to the White House war-room bunker. He was joined by Rice and various others, all safe in a nice attack-proof bunker. Giuliani didn’t retreat to a bunker. New York has ancient underground air raid shelters, plus the entire subway system, but nobody seems to have even thought about hiding underground. Natural selection at work. New York thrived during the cold war. You don’t live in New York if you have a bunker mentality.

Bush didn’t return to Washington, not even to his nice, safe bunker. He made an announcement on TV and then — he fled. By 9:57 AM Air Force One was in the air accompanied by fighter planes. At first they flew in large circles with no plan to go anywhere. What could be safe enough for Bush? At 11:45 they landed at Barksdale AF Base in Louisiana, so he could make another announcement. By 1:15 he was back on the plane, heading for Offutt, Nebraska, and its underground bunker. He got back to Washington around 6:30 PM — because his absence was becoming “hard to explain.” He spent the night with Cheney and the rest of the crowd. Now he explains he refused to sleep down there — how brave of him — but in fact he did.

Now to the Convention. New York became a Police State, no getting out of admitting that. Armed with attack weapons, probably the largest army of police ever gathered in one place guarded the Garden against no particular danger; the streets anywhere near the Garden were lined with every imaginable kind of barrier. Watching the convention was like entering a time warp. The 50s have long passed into oblivion — except inside that convention hall. That was a terrible time, everyone rigidly glued to their jobs, wives in lock-step with their husbands, every hair groomed, every word said censored, parents hit their children. This was the era of back yard air raid shelters, for all the good that would have done, of nightmares about nuclear threat, of “preparedness” for things nobody could prepare for. A country in unadmitted terror, no matter that World War II was over, real terror back then. Do you see where I’m going with this? An awful lot of people, maybe half the country, never really got over this. We yearn for the security of what we know. What we knew was hideous insecurity against which there seemed to be no protection, fear for our jobs, fear for our lives. Like Pavlov’s dog, we salivate when the bell rings.

I remember that period very well. I remember deciding that I’d rather die than live that way, prepared to hide in a sealed-off bunker against nuclear attack, and then have to live through the aftermath. Life at any price. Life is worth living — only if one can live it. Life is for living with courage, not for dragging it out as long as possible whatever the cost. That’s the difference between living a free and happy life, or ruining one’s life worrying about what may or may not happen. We live dangerous lives on a dangerous planet, and life has always been like that. No matter how careful you are, you could be hit by a truck tomorrow. That’s just the way life is. You can have a bunker mentality and go hide, or you can be out in the open and take your chances. Republican politics is the politics of the bunker mentality. That’s why it’s so hard to get through — there’s nothing rational going on to appeal to. It’s the old fight or flight instinct being manipulated by a bunch of masterful crooks.