Friday, March 21, 2003


President Bush has pledged $1.2 billion to develop what he calls "freedom cars" by the year 2020.

But according to this site and this one, the Freedom Car is already here.

Seriously though, how bad is it when you start using "freedom" as an epithet?

posted by Fred Clark 3:10 PM


Turned off WarTV and went for a walk, discovering an eruption of crocuses on Jefferson Street. Rumors of spring have been confirmed. The great cosmic hint is back again, 30 teams are tied for first place and the world will soon be mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful. Mourning will turn to dancing, Easter will interrupt Lent and the bastards won't win forever.

Or, as Margaret Edson quotes John Donne -- "And death shall be no more -- comma ..."

On the other hand, the first day of winter is only nine months away.

posted by Fred Clark 3:05 PM


Will "Shock and Awe" live up to it's hype as an epic war crime?

Donald Rumsfeld says:

What will follow will not be a repeat of any other conflict. It will be of a force and scope and scale that has been beyond what has been seen before.

Beyond what has been seen before.

Please God let that be just another hollow piece of Bush administration hyperbole.

= = = = = = = = = = = =

Meanwhile, CNN is appalling. Wolf Blitzer is making his "O face." He's covering this war like it's Bobby Thompson's home run. He's wound up like a little kid on Christmas morning.

Read the latest "Get Your War On."

posted by Fred Clark 1:45 PM


For President Bush, all you really need is heart.

Much has been made of President George W. Bush's evangelical piety. The president's faith is difficult to discern from the substance of his ethical decisions, but it is crystal clear when one considers the approach he takes to such decisions.

The evangelical strain in American Christianity is suspicious of intellectual systems and tends to be primitivistic, ahistoric and, above all, visceral. This intuitive, sentimental approach to ethics is seen in populist evangelical slogans such as "What Would Jesus Do?" (a formula first proposed in the novel "In His Steps," by Charles Sheldon -- whose Social Gospel agenda remains largely ignored by those wearing "WWJD?" bracelets).

Bush's near-constant talk about "hearts" (his own and others) is a classic example of sentimental, intuitive evangelical ethics. For the president, as for many evangelicals, feeling trumps thinking when it comes to deciding the right thing to do. Bush's gut-level decisions can be jarring to those unfamiliar with this sentimental ethical approach. He seemed utterly disinterested, for example, in Vladimir Putin's position and actions toward Chechnya -- all that mattered was for him to meet the man personally, and look into his eyes/soul to judge that "Pooty Poot" had a "Good Heart."

The dangers of such an approach are obvious. All considerations of consequence and outcome (including respect for the potential of unforeseen consequences) become secondary to the matter of intent. For Mr. Bush, if someone has a "Good Heart," his intentions are pure and he can do no wrong

This sentimental approach is also aggressively individualistic, producing idiosyncratic and novel ethical positions that may, in fact, contradict longstanding, catholic (small "c") Christian tradition. These positions are not held in deliberate opposition as a challenge to the tradition, but rather in blissful ignorance of that tradition. After all, if you've got a Good Heart, all that tradition is just an unnecessary distraction.

This evangelical sentimentalism also explains Bush's impatience with the cautious, disciplined ethics of the Christian just war tradition. It did not matter to the president that the papal emissaries pleading against a "pre-ventive/emptive" war of aggression could cite 2,000 years of Christian thought. For evangelicals like Bush, all that Christian teaching just showed that these people were spending a lot of time reading and writing books other than the Bible -- the meaning of which, he believes, is self-evident and unambiguous to anyone with a Good Heart. Apostolic traditions, systematic theologies and the like are seen as barriers between individual Christians and the Jesus who lives in your heart.

This approach also explains why evangelicals -- including George W. Bush -- can get so angry and aggressively personal in any political or ethical dispute. If you believe that the only (or at least the primary) reason you hold political opinion X is because you love Jesus, then you will also come to believe that anyone holding opinion Not-X must therefore not love Jesus. Thus evangelicals who disagree will quickly move to accusing one another of not loving Jesus, which -- for an evangelical -- is about the worst thing anybody can accuse you of (except, of course, for homosexuality or voting for Clinton).

This is what prompts President Bush's angry indignation when any initiative or position of his administration is questioned. He interprets all such questions as challenges to the Goodness of his Heart. Thus his response is usually to angrily reassert that he has a Good Heart, without ever responding to -- or hearing and considering -- the substance of the critique.

Think back to the president's March 6 press event (where his performance led Maureen Dowd to describe him as "The Xanax Cowboy"). Aside from his mantra-like repetition of the dubious "message points," the president's main objective for the event seemed to be to persuade Americans that he really, truly, sincerely thinks that this war is Good, and that he really, truly, sincerely has a Good Heart.

For this president, as for many evangelicals, the Heart overrules the Head. Feeling is trusted, thinking is not. Intent is sufficient, substance is irrelevant.

And so our Good Hearted president leads us down the road he paves with his Good Intentions.

(For one of the best critiques of this evangelical mode of thinking, see Mark Noll's essential book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, reviewed here. For a nice discussion of evangelical efforts to overcome this "scandal," see Alan Wolfe's insightful essay from The Atlantic Monthly.)

posted by Fred Clark 6:29 AM


400 members of Congress commit blasphemy.

This is just ridiculous:

The House voted Thursday to condemn a federal appeals court's rulings that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional because of its reference to God. The nonbinding resolution, passed 400-7 with 15 members voting present, states that the phrase "one nation under God" in the pledge reflects the religious faith central to the founding of the nation and that its recitation is a patriotic act, not a statement of religious faith.

I'm sure the House didn't intend for H. Res. 132 (read it here) to be anything more than another cheesy piece of posturing and pandering -- I'm sure they didn't intend to suggest that God is subordinate to America. But they did. Here it is, directly from the resolution:

(2) the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, including the phrase, 'one Nation,[sic] under God,' is a patriotic act, not an act or statement of religious faith or belief;

In other words, the phrase "one nation under God" an affirmation of America's goodness and piety, not -- as it would seem -- a statement of humility before a sovereign God. The House resolution elevates patriotism above religious faith, and thus elevates America above God. This is more frighteningly imperial than anything even Richard Perle or John Bolton has said.

Belief in a sovereign God places rather severe limits on the kind of patriotism the House seems to favor. If religious faith -- freedom of conscience -- is made subordinate to a loyalty oath of patriotism, then the First Amendment is meaningless.

The Ninth Circuit Court is correct. The phrase "under God" has no place in an affirmation of patriotism.

posted by Fred Clark 6:27 AM


Well, this here verse is for the people in Baghdad
Though it is a long long ways away
They couldn't hear this song in Baghdad
Probably couldn't understand the words anyway

-- from "Good Guys and Bad Guys" by Camper Van Beethoven

The front page of today's The News Journal says "U.S. HITS KEY TARGETS, PUSHES FOR SURRENDER" (story here).

This is encouraging. The war thus far has been conducted with commendable discipline and what seems a careful discrimination between Iraq's military leadership and Iraqi noncombatants and conscripts.

This is also encouraging:

Rumsfeld hinted that talks with Iraqi military elements, including some in the elite Republican Guard, may have been behind a delayed start to a planned massive aerial assault. "We still hope" the Iraqi leadership can be replaced "without the full force and fury of a war," Rumsfeld said after meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

So far, little sign of the indiscriminate "Shock and Awe" assault on population centers that has been hinted at for months. The question now is this: Is this patient, measured approach genuine? Or is this just a time-buying ploy to enable land-based forces to move north, positioning themselves for a role in the threatened indiscriminate onslaught on the city of 5 million?

CNN has seemed appallingly, perversely disappointed that we haven't yet seen the lethal destruction of Shock and Awe. No appeal to "double effect" or "collateral damage" can justify the direct targetting of civilians that has been threatened. While the threat of such an atrocity is itself troubling, it is encouraging that, so far at least, the atrocity of Shock and Awe remains only a threat.

posted by Fred Clark 6:05 AM

Wednesday, March 19, 2003


Shifting to consider jus in bello.

The Bush administration has shown disdain for the just war tradition throughout it's long, single-minded march to war on Iraq. (The phrase "pre-ventive/-emptive war" is a Wolfowitzian euphemism for "F--- you, St. Augustine.")

But whether the powerful choose to ignore or abide by the rules, those rules stand -- and they will outlast this war, this administration, and this empire, if that is what we are becoming. The rules of the just war tradition consist of two basic categories.

First, the jus ad bellem criteria, used to determine whether or not going to war would be just. These include: proper authority, right intention, reasonable chance of success (i.e., the result is likely to be better than if the war is not engaged -- not necessarily victory) and proportionality (i.e., you aren't allowed to bring a gun to a fistfight). Implicit in these criteria is a pillar of the just war tradition -- that war is only justified as a last resort. "Last resort" is meant here as more than a pro forma attempt at half-hearted/-assed diplomacy and certainly more than months of arrogance followed by a week of phone calls.

The jus ad bellem criteria have to do with the justness of the cause of war. The phrase "just cause" leads to some confusion. Opposing any Bad Guy, such as Saddam Hussein, is a just cause, but this is not the cause in question. The "cause" in question is warfare and its attendant killing, suffering and destruction. The burden of proof for those claiming such a cause is necessarily very high. The Bush administration has scarcely attempted to meet this burden of proof, and it's vague attempts have not been convincing.

The second category of rules in the just war tradition is that of jus in bello -- meaning the rules for just conduct during warfare. The criteria for just conduct during warfare all flow from the central jus in bello principle: discrimination.

In waging war it is considered unfair and unjust to attack indiscriminately, since non-combatants or innocents are deemed to stand outside the field of war proper.

Keith Pavlischek points out that this principle in turn flows from the first set of criteria and the justness of the cause at hand:

The jus ad bellum provides guidance on the resort to force. The jus in bello places restraints on fighting a justified war. It is important to understand that the prohibition of attacks on noncombatants is part of the jus in bello, or the right conduct of war. The very distinction between guilt of the combatants and innocence of noncombatants is a legal one, which only applies in a state of war between recognized combatants.

On the one hand, I have been encouraged by much of what the Bush administration has had to say to the citizens and civilians of Iraq. Even the coerced-combatants, the thousands of unwilling conscripts in Saddam's army, have been offered relative security if they keep their guns pointed down and do not engage American-led forces.

On the other hand, the dominant American strategy in this and all recent wars has been to conduct low-risk, high-altitude bombing campaigns. Much is made of the technological prowess and mythic precision of American weaponry. Such claims are exaggerated, but even if they were true, they neglect the fact that even the most accurate weapon's precision is based on fallible maps, intelligence and human operators (remember the Chinese embassy in the former Yugoslavia?).

No high-tech arsenal can erase the morally suspect nature of the high-altitude bombing strategy or its basis on the calculus that a massive increase in risk to "their" non-combatants is an acceptable trade-off for a slight reduction in risk to combatants on our side. Jingoists will counter that this seems to be an argument for putting "our troops" at greater risk. It is not. It is an argument for reducing the grave and devastating risk currently facing our troops -- the risk that they will find themselves responsible for the unnecessary and strategically useless slaughter of scores of innocents.

I am hopeful that all the bluster we have heard about "Shock and Awe" is only that -- bluster. As a deterrent bluff, "Shock and Awe" could produce earlier surrender and save lives on all sides. As an actual strategy, however, it is an abomination. It is an aggressive, gleeful assault on the principle on discrimination. It is not possible to launch a massive, lethal and indiscriminate assault on a population center of more than 5 million souls and still keep any claim to being the "Good Guys."

Are we Americans still the "Good Guys"? We'll find out in a few short hours.

posted by Fred Clark 4:07 PM


If a president lies in the forest, and no one complains, is he still dishonorable?

Just because these things have to be recorded and remembered, here's an exchange from President Bush's "scripted" press conference on March 6.

BUSH: Let's see here. Elizabeth.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. As you said, the Security Council faces a vote next week on a resolution implicitly authorizing an attack on Iraq. Will you call for a vote on that resolution, even if you aren't sure you have the vote?

BUSH: Well, first, I don't think -- it basically says that he's in defiance of 1441. That's what the resolution says. And it's hard to believe anybody is saying he isn't in defiance of 1441, because 1441 said he must disarm. And, yes, we'll call for a vote.

Q: No matter what?

BUSH: No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote. We want to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council. And so, you bet. It's time for people to show their cards, to let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam.

"Yes," the president said, "we'll call for a vote. ... No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for a vote."

He then spent the next 11 days obsessively fretting over the whip count and, realizing he didn't have the votes, did not call for a vote.

The president cannot plead that new circumstances arose -- that was the original question, that's what the "no matter what?" bit was all about.

George W. Bush either lacks honesty and does not intend to do what he says he will, or else he lacks courage and cannot do what he says he will. His behavior in this instance -- like in many, many instances before -- does not allow for a third interpretation. Either he lied or he wimped out.

In either possible case -- whether the president is a liar or a coward -- he is not a man who inspires confidence as commander in chief during war. God help us all.

UPDATE: Zogby, yet another prolific Philly blogger, offers a different take on the president's comment, seeing it as evidence of the:

... fundamentally flawed strategy of going to the U.N. for another vote in the wake of 1441's passage. There is no doubt in my mind that the pledge to seek a vote, "no matter what the whip count is," was based on State's assessment that the required majojority vote could be garnered. That assessment was naive and mistaken, as were Powell's repeated and ignored attempts to convince members of the U.N.S.C. that Iraq was, in fact, in "material breach" of 1441. Still, I don't believe Bush had malevolent intentions in insisting that a vote would take place, I think he was ill advised but, being the President, he'll have to take responsibility for the mistake.

People often make statements of bravado intending to boost confidence -- athletes and coaches will "guarantee" a victory, political campaigns speak of their candidates as "the next Congressman from this great city." If the team or the candidate does not bring about the promised result, no one accuses the coach or the politician of having "lied." It is understood that they tried their best to bring about the promised result but, due to circumstances beyond their control, were unable to do so.

But Bush's vow to bring the second (and necessary) U.N. resolution to a vote "no matter what" was a different matter. He forfeited the game without even trying to bring about the promised result. Mr. Bush's pledge and subsequent reversal had nothing to do with anything beyond his control. He explicitly promised to bring the matter to a vote -- even if he didn't have the votes to win. His failure to do so can only be interpreted as a failure of resolve or a failure of integrity. Coward or liar? No other choice is available.

posted by Fred Clark 11:10 AM

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

All apologies.

Since when did American citizens have to apologize for criticizing public officials?

This ongoing Dixie Chicks brouhaha is infuriating. We have apparently reached the point where any public criticism of the president demands an apology.

Ms. Maines' apology was uncalled for -- Bush is the freaking president. Making fun of the president is the fundamental right of every American. It is one of our finest traditions and rivals baseball and television as a national pasttime.

And if the president turns out to be a thin-skinned, vindictive hothead, then it is the patriotic duty of every red-blooded American to ratchet it up a notch and make fun of the president even more.

Kings are immune from public mockery. So are tyrants and dictators. Presidents are not. Making fun of the president is not only a celebration of our democratic freedoms, but also a means of insuring that we do not lose these freedoms. Like the poetry and the doggerel of that rascal Philip Freneau it keeps America from galloping into monarchy.

In the spirit of Freneau, here is another apology -- this one from Colin Mochrie posing as "Reporter Anthony St. George" via the CBC's This Hour Has 22 Minutes. (Dr. Alterman offered an abbreviated version of this earlier.)

"On behalf of Canadians everywhere I'd like to offer an apology to the United States of America. We haven't been getting along very well recently and for that, I am truly sorry.

"I'm sorry we called George Bush a moron. He is a moron but, it wasn't nice of us to point it out. If it's any consolation, the fact that he's a moron shouldn't reflect poorly on the people of America. After all it's not like you actually elected him.

"I'm sorry about our softwood lumber. Just because we have more trees than you doesn't give us the right to sell you lumber that's cheaper and better than your own. It would be like if ... well, say you had ten times the television audience we do. And you flood our market with great shows cheaper than we can produce. I know you'd never do that.

"I'm sorry we beat you in Olympic hockey. In our defense I guess our excuse would be that our team was much, much, much, much better than yours. As way of apology, please accept all of our Canadian NHL teams -- which, one by one, are going out of business and moving to your fine country.

"I'm sorry about our waffling on Iraq. I mean, when you're going up against a crazed dictator, you wanna have your friends by your side. I realize it took more than two years before you guys pitched in against Hitler, but that was different. Everyone knew he had weapons.

"I'm sorry we burnt down your White House during the war of 1812. I see you've rebuilt it! It's Very Nice.

"I'm sorry for Alan Thicke, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Loverboy, that song from Sheriff that ends with the really long high-pitched note, your beer. I know we had nothing to do with your beer but, we Feel Your Pain.

"And finally on behalf of all Canadians, I'm sorry that we're constantly apologizing for things in a passive-aggressive way which is really a thinly veiled criticism.

"I sincerely hope that you're not upset over this. because we've seen what you do to countries you get upset with.

"For 22 Minutes I'm Anthony St. George. And I'm sorry."

(If you've got Real Player, check out the clip on the 22 Minutes site. It's a lot funnier when you can hear the Canadian "sawr-ree.")

Mochrie is best known to American audiences as a part of Drew Carey's U.S. version of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" That's broadcast on ABC, which is owned by Disney. The fascist morons in Bossier City, La., may want to start bulldozing Disney paraphernalia next.

posted by Fred Clark 7:32 PM

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?