Politics


Junior President Bush, who a month ago said that he was kinda envious of the lucky-duck troops havin’ all sortsa fun and romantic adventures in Afghanistan, has now declared that he’s sharing the sacrifices of the troops in Iraq… by giving up golf.

For the first time, Bush revealed a personal way in which he has tried to acknowledge the sacrifice of soldiers and their families.

“I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf,” he said. “I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.”

Aren’t you glad to have such a man as President of the Free World?

Via Reddit.

To read conservative pundits is to enter a topsey-turvey world where black is white, war is peace, a Bizarro World of perverse incentives and moral panics and exaggerated scares. It isn’t so much that progressives and liberals don’t indulge in such stupidities themselves, but conservatives seem to do so far more often. Conservatives tend to look backwards to some ideal imaginary Golden Age, while progressives tend to look forward to a hypothetical Golden Future. Conservatives therefore tend to see change in terms of threat, while progressives see change in terms of improvement. Naturally all this is a fairly broad brush, and both conservatives and progressives are equally capable of seeing any specific change as a threat or a benefit. But when you start from a base-line of “Everything is just fine the way it is now”, it’s natural to see every change as dangerous and harmful.

What’s especially fascinating is that two hundred years ago, all the standards of conservative wingnuts were already in place. John Holbo of Crooked Timber has been reading 18th century German jurist and counter-Enlightenment intellectual Justus Möser and has found some doozies:

On reforms by the Hapsburg emperor to abolish requirements that guild members be “conceived by honorable parents in a pure bed”:

A law which makes illegitimate children equal to legitimate ones is a policy error so momentous that I don’t see how the humanitarianism of our age can forgive it.

Yes, that’s right. Allowing children of unmarried parents to become clock-makers or tailors would be Worst. Mistake. Evar!, a calamity second to nothing short of the time Adam said “It’s just a piece of fruit, what harm is there?”. Möser, it seems, as a “compassionate conservative” two centuries before George the Lesser, was worried about the number of poor drowned babies of unmarried mothers, and fears that reducing the disgrace of being born out of wedlock will lead to more and not fewer drowned illegitimate babies. The compassionate thing to do is to increase the shame and punishment of illegitimate children and their mothers. As Holbo dryly adds: “no mere drowning in a sack for you, doxy!”.

On the suggestion that promotions should be made on merit:

I, for one, should – paid or not – never remain within a State in which it is a rule to award all honors solely on the basis of merit. […]

Therefore, dear friend, give up your romantic thoughts of the happiness of a State where everything goes according to merit. When men rule and where men serve, birth and age, or seniority of service, are still the safest and least offensive rules for promotion.

There is a serious argument against making promotion solely on merit, but in my opinion it’s a fairly weak one: the less merit-worthy will feel bad, and everyone will know just how little merit you have by your lack of promotion. Kind of harsh, really, but surely preferable to a society where idiot sons of the powerful gain power and respect merely for the accident of their birth, and incompetents are rewarded for being incompetent for a long time.

Holbo comments:

The thing that’s fascinating about it is that, a decade before Burke inaugurated modern conservatism as a political philosophy, all the stock rhetorical moves of the wingnut op-ed are already up and running. The anti-PC grumbling plus moral panic wires crossed with perverse incentive structures wires. There’s liberal-bashing, minus any hint of liberalism.

It’s taken a long time, maybe even too long, but the people and media of the UK are starting to wonder when their formerly Great Britain became the sort of total surveillance society that the East German Stasi dreamt of building: a society where children are routinely fingerprinted and DNA samples taken for the flimsiest reason; where police can look at your phone records without judicial oversight; where the authorities set up road blocks not to look for dangerous criminals but on fishing expeditions; where there are cameras on every corner, and some of them can even count the number of people in your car by scanning for human blood.

And people are starting to wonder how it happened:

We looked with a mixture of condescension and concern at those continental countries where, despite being democratic, the State still kept a wary and distrustful eye on its citizens.

As for the Eastern bloc, thank God we did not live there!

What has happened today would have seemed unimaginable 30 years ago.

Britain has become one of the most bugged, surveyed countries on Earth.

Privacy International says we have the worst record in Europe for intrusion, and ranks us on a par with Russia.

The writer Timothy Garton Ash, who lived in Communist East Germany and later wrote a book about its Stasi secret police, said yesterday that Britain is an even more developed “surveillance state”.

We have more CCTV cameras than any other country in the world – an estimated 4.2 million of them.

We have the biggest national DNA database in the world. We probably also have one of the highest rates of monitoring.

Believe it or not, the authorities, including councils, launch bugging operations against 1,000 people a day. That could include you.

How did this happen? How did a country that was proud of its liberties, and knew the proper place of the State, allow itself to be turned into an eavesdroppers’ paradise?

It seems that there’s no sin too petty for the Little Hitlers in the UK to spy on you, and very little in the way of oversight:

Should the police wish to see your telephone records today, they no longer need to show ‘probable cause’ to a judge. They just need to turn on their computers (or phone a friend). In 2005/6, this power was used a staggering 439,000 times over 12 months – a figure certain to rise with mandatory data retention and its extension to internet usage by 2009. The lack of independent scrutiny means we can only guess what the police were up to, but in accessing records more than 1,200 times a day, we can be certain that their activities went far beyond the scope of organised crime and terrorism.

Often without their parents’ knowledge, children are fingerprinted by their schools for such trivia as identifying their lunch orders and what books they borrow from the library. These school records are a boon to a government which considers everybody a criminal, would-be criminal or soon-to-be-criminal:

Jim Knight, the minister for schools and learning, also said this summer that the police could help themselves to the children’s fingerprints if they are trying to solve a crime – regardless of whether they have ever previously been in trouble with the law. Dowty says it is turning us from a nation of free citizens into a nation of suspects: ‘Why should we have our fingerprints or DNA stored if we have done nothing wrong?’

Why indeed?

(Updated on 18 April: some minor spelling and grammar corrections.)

The Scottish government is proposing changes to the law which will, if enacted, rule that adult women have reduced legal capacity compared to men. Scottish law normally does not allow intoxication as a defence:

The law takes the view we are all responsible for our actions. And, if our actions include getting completely pissed, then we are still responsible. Being drunk is no excuse.

But the Scottish Parliament wants to give women reduced legal capacity: while men are deemed capable to consent to actions they agree to while drunk, women will be deemed unable to consent to having sex if they have been drinking.

There is something deeply suspect in the notion that if a woman and a man meet in a club and both get drunk and end up having sex with each other then the woman will be deemed not to be responsible in any way if she regrets it later but the man will continue to be held completely responsible. It does not seem fair for two equal participants to have entirely different legal liability.

I cannot imagine many other areas of Scottish life where it would be accepted that women should be defined as having a reduced legal capacity. This proposal seems to be a muddle of a long-obsolete view that women are frailer creatures than men with an overtly ideological view women are never wrong. It is a pernicious combination few in political life are brave enough to challenge.

There is of course long-standing tradition behind this. For most of history, women have been treated as children at best, or property at worse. Diminished legal capacity goes hand-in-hand with being treated as having reduced mental capacity to make decisions, control your own finances and, ultimately, control over your own body.

It’s quite sobering — pun not intended — to see how the Suffragettes allowed the women’s movement to be hijacked by the worst excesses of Victorian faux-morality, treating women as too incompetent to be permitted to make choices about birth control and sex. It took half a century and the social disruption of two world wars for feminism to recover from that mistake, and then a decade or two later, they’re doing it again.

I recently stumbled across a quiz that offered to pick which candidate’s policies best suited you. I don’t often take Internet quizzes, but for a lark I did this one. I was curious as to whether it would rate Obama or Edwards more strongly. To my surprise, I was matched with a total unknown, to me at least: Dennis Kucinich. Reading the Wikipedia page on him, all I can say is, damn, an Establishment American politician with sensible policies. How did that happen? Did he miss the memo or something?

Hardly surprising, the Republicans all rated poorly, but the Democrats were totally not what I expected. I didn’t recognise most of the names, and I would have expected John Edwards to rate much higher rather than neck-and-neck with Hillary. Go figure.

92% Dennis Kucinich
91% Mike Gravel
83% Chris Dodd
81% Barack Obama
79% Bill Richardson
78% Hillary Clinton
78% John Edwards
76% Joe Biden
39% Rudy Giuliani
33% Ron Paul
30% John McCain
22% Mike Huckabee
20% Mitt Romney
13% Tom Tancredo
11% Fred Thompson

This is a good time to mention just how many of the Republican candidates resemble villains from Buffy The Vampire Slayer — in the case of some of them, physically as well as politically.

Here are a couple of links to short but interesting blog posts:

Mudge from Balderdash writes about bogeymen:

The early fears of the cold war, right after the Soviets acquired atomic weapons, and in the era of the “hordes” of Chinese crossing the border in Korea, were hysterical.  The hysterics led to McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee.  It led to personal bomb shelters in the early sixties.  […]  Gradually, although the Soviets remained rather belligerent, the hysteria subsided.

The post-9/11 era is similar.  The hysteria is, as largely in the 50s, Republican generated and it is greedily ingested by those unfamiliar with cognitive procedures.  The enemy is now the great undifferentiated bulk that is Islam.  And how inconvenient it is that the bogeyman is not a singular horror, but a mixture of Arab, Pakistani, Irani, Turkish (who, of course, get a pass) and (let’s not forget the largest Islamic nation) Indonesian nationalities that practice two, historically incompatible forms of Islam.  As a result, rather than focusing on the small, radical Wahabi sect exemplified by Osama bin Laden, which is too small to generate an appropriate hysterical response, the Bushies have expanded it to all of Islam, most of which is not radicalized against Western civilization. 

And he also talks about the concept of “The Great Wall Of Intellect“, that people — well, okay, he names George W. Bush, but it applies equally to many others — can put their ideas and thoughts behind a wall, proof against any external influences.

I’m not sure that actually applies to Dubyah. He seems to be awfully incurious about, well, everything, but as President he has to have opinions on many things. Unfortunately, he’s ended up surrounded by neo-cons, despite not being one himself. (Or at least, he didn’t start off as one.) Dick Cheney in particular has been known as “the Co-President” for the extraordinary level of influence he’s had in getting Dubyah to swallow Dick’s opinions whole.

Regardless of where the Junior President is getting his ideas from, he’s certainly open to external influence: anybody who flipflops as often as he does can’t be entirely closed-minded.

Just think, if not for Karl Rove and the neo-cons, Dubyah could have been known for nothing more than being the Party President, spending most of his time on holiday at his ranch or entertaining friends in the Whitehouse. Somehow I doubt that the country would be worse off after eight years of inattention.

Let’s suppose you are Democrat Senator Jay Rockefeller, and you’ve been appointed head of a senate committee charged with investigating the widespread and illegal wiretapping of American citizens. You’ve previously written a personal, hand-written letter to Vice-President Dick Chaney expressing your concern about the spying on people without judicial oversight.

Let’s further suppose that, out of the blue, Verizon and AT&T executives start sending you cheques as donations for your re-election campaign. As this graph shows, not a lot of cheques: less than $50,000 in total. Neither company had given you more than petty cash in the past.

Donations

Naturally, you do the dishonorable thing and immediately begin campaigning for retroactive immunity for Verizon and AT&T. Surprised?

No, I don’t suppose you are.

More here, here and here.

[Correction: in the first post of this, I mistakenly called the Senator John instead of Jay.]