Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bush: A modern-day fascist?

Via Andrew Sullivan, this column from Marshall Auerback is just too juicy to ignore:
The reconstruction of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama provides a fascinating picture of how the Bush administration actually works. His government represents an odd melding of corporatism and cronyism, more in tune with the workings of 1930s Italy or Spain. In fact, if one looks at fascist regimes of the 20th century, it is appears that the Bush administration draws more from these sources than traditional conservatism. Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:
  1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

  2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of 'need.' The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

  3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

  4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

  5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

  6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

  7. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

  8. Religion and Government are intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

  9. Corporate Power is protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

  10. Labor Power is suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

  11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

  12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

  13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

  14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

(Source: The Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism, Dr. Lawrence Britt, Spring 2003, Free Inquiry)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Katrina and Iran

Andrew Sullivan points out that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have noticed Katrina:
"If the U.S. attacks Iran, each of America’s states will face a crisis the size of Katrina", he said, referring to the massive hurricane which hit the southern coast of the United States. "The smallest mistake by America in this regard will result in every single state in that country turning into a disaster zone".

Bush and Responsibility

Here are some excellent thoughts from a couple of Kevin Drum's commenters. First "cowalker" answering Kevin's question about the extent to which Presidents take responsibility:
I can't cite quotes, but I always got the feeling that Abraham Lincoln felt deeply responsible for his decision to fight a war to prevent the South's secession. I felt as though he actually engaged in soul-searching.

The thing is, I don't really care much about public breast-beating. It's more important to me that a leader recognize his/her mistakes in the privacy of his/her own mind, and correct them in the future! I don't think Bush is capable of this.

In my opinion, Bush is just reciting what Rove told him to say. Bush has no idea what he did that led to the tragic failure of FEMA to deal with the Katrina emergency. He does not understand that the "good people" he relies on to inform him of critical problems are partisan ideologues with poor qualifications. They have their own agenda. They just want to keep him pacified while they use him as a guy-you'd-like-to-have-a-beer-with figurehead while they plunder our nation like pirates and try to exploit America's position (dwindling as we blog) as the only remaining superpower.

Is he going to replace John Bolton? Gonzales? Rumsfeld? The myriad other appointments based on cronyism rather than competence? I'll believe he understands his responsibility when I see action other than awarding huge, no-bid contracts to his cronies' companies.

Otherwise it's just more hot air.
Then "Scotian" reminding us of something that is easy to forget even though it was painfully obvious to those of us who watched 9/11 from abroad:
Something I think everyone needs to stop and remember is that Bush has gotten the free ride he has from so many that might otherwise think differently is because of that time. Americans were deeply emotionally wounded, and he became a necessary rallying point for all Americans (well, likely 90+ percent anyway). This also did create a powerful emotional bond for many Americans that otherwise would not give him any benefit of the doubt. His initial responses publicly to the attacks was measured, sensible and started off reasonably well executed. It was when the internal focus started shifting to Iraq and that resonated through the international community in terms of reduction of aid to Afghanistan where things started going off the rails, but by then the emotional bonding had really set in. This is why he was given so much benefit of the doubt for Iraq, despite the fact that the actual hard details, such as were able to be discovered that is, were more than a little shaky, especially on the key emotional turner nuclear weapons development.

I think though Katrina may have been sufficient to break that bonding, which will make the tactics Rove has used to such great success only further create more trouble for Bush and the GOP. Eventually the Dems will see the momentum and jump all over it, and then the bloodbath will begin I suspect. People have remarked that they feel like abused spouses with this President, they are unhappy with his choices and feel very taken advantage of for little to no feelable positive results/benefits yet continue to reluctantly support him and put on the brave face so as to not show weakness to the terrorists out there. I have always thought that he got truly special treatment and then exploited that for all it was politically worth over the next three years.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Andrew Sullivan on Bush and Katrina

Andrew Sullivan puts it all together like only he can:
The president’s approval ratings were already in the very low 40s. The tracking poll of his response to the crisis showed discontent rising fast. By Friday, 70% were saying the government had not done enough; and a majority disapproved of the president’s handling of the crisis. At times like this, people normally rally round their president. This time, many are turning on him. And my sense is that this is just the beginning. On Friday the Republican Senator Susan Collins announced her intent to launch an investigation into what went wrong. Members of the Black Congressional Caucus said they were “ashamed of America”.
Read the whole thing.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Katrina Viewed From Abroad

Time and time again, America has been forced to wake up to the racial injustice which has been its historic curse. It was the source of a civil war in the 19th century and of repeated battles through the 20th. From the desegregation and civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s to the Los Angeles riots and even the OJ Simpson trial of the 1990s, America has undergone periodic reminders that it is in the relationship between black and white that it has failed to honour its own, animating ideals.
Crookedtimber (post by an Irishman):
And then you see what’s happening in New Orleans. Where a natural disaster has shone the light on what’s ugly and usually hidden in American life; the inherent and unconsidered racism, the casual brutality, the values that prize property above people. You see people being blamed for being poor. You see black people penned in like animals and made to live in their own filth. You see in America people dying of thirst. Of thirst. You see people pushed beyond civility, beyond reason, beyond any imaginable breaking point, to be met with gun fire and the self-serving response ‘there, do you see how these people really are? It’s the war of all against all down there.’ You wonder what the Christian right might have to say, and fear it’s not ‘whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me’, but rather; ‘devil take the hindmost’. Which he clearly did.
But in another way, as a non-American I feel more shocked, disappointed and let down than maybe even some Americans do. We, too, can barely believe this is really happening in America. We can hardly believe that we are (gladly) opening our wallets to the poorest people of the richest country in the world. For so many people who live outside the US, America truly is a beacon of hope, a real if flawed exemplar of how new ideas can set people free. We’ve had our own myths too.
That last paragraph makes me think of all those people I've met (many of them Asian) who have come to America with nothing but hope and determination and built wonderful futures for themselves and their families. America can inspire people and bring out the best in them in ways that no other country can. But does it have to come at the cost of the normally hidden 'dark side' of poverty and selfishness?


Guess who evacuated 1.5 million people without a single life lost when hurricane Ivan struck last September? Cuba. (Via one of Kevin's commenters.)

Shephard Smith and Geraldo Rivera Unleashed

I want to save this post and related video for future reference. The Fox Katrina coverage was the most conflicted TV programming I've ever seen. Sean Hannity was practically fighting with his reporters, trying to make them stick to the pro-Bush playbook. It didn't work. Digby's comments are great:
Sean's up now and he's equally uncomfortable with Shep's story about the thousands still stuck on freeways and bridges with no food and water --- who have been ignored for days now. He's been covering one single bridge for days and nobody knows why they haven't been helped yet. He's almost shrill.

Now Geraldo comes on and he freaks out, begging the authorities to let people still stuck at the convention center walk out of town. Shep comes back and he says they have checkpoints set up turning people back to the city if they try. (wtf?) They are both on the verge of tears.

Sean says they need to get some perspective and Shep screams at him "this is the perspective!"

This was some amazing TV. Kudos to Shep Smith and Geraldo for not letting O'Reilly and Hannity spin their GOP "resolve" apologia bullshit. I'm fairly shocked.
Wonder when Fox will fire Geraldo and Shephard. And if they don't, having displayed some human decency and integrity, how can these guys keep working there? Oh well they'll probably find some way to rationalize it and return to their usual Bush praising. Geraldo was well on his way the following morning when the military had started evacuating people from the convention center (think he said something like "God bless the military" - maybe that will be enough to save his job).

David Brooks on Katrina

I always suspected David Brooks had a bit more intelligence and integrity than most conservative pundits. Now I know:
Over the past few years, we have seen intelligence failures in the inability to prevent Sept. 11 and find W.M.D.'s in Iraq. We have seen incompetent postwar planning. We have seen the collapse of Enron and corruption scandals on Wall Street. We have seen scandals at our leading magazines and newspapers, steroids in baseball, the horror of Abu Ghraib.
The scrapbook of history accords but a few pages to each decade, and it is already clear that the pages devoted to this one will be grisly. There will be pictures of bodies falling from the twin towers, beheaded kidnapping victims in Iraq and corpses still floating in the waterways of New Orleans five days after the disaster that caused them.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

More on The Bell Curve

Commenters Leta and Dan provided some food for thought regarding my previous post on Intelligent Design and The Bell Curve. Dan thinks Bell Curve supporters are "mild" or "closet" racists:
..the vast majority of its supporters are those who have difficulty recognizing their own, more subtle racism before it allows them to accept the junk science.
I said "supporters of The Bell Curve probably fall into two categories: Racists and those who seek to understand the world better" but upon second thought I think he is right. The "open" racists are probably a relatively small group, while most supporters fit in his "have difficulty recognizing their own, more subtle racism" category. But I still maintain that some people (like me) want to recognize The Bell Curve as an important work in order to better understand the world.

There are, of course, many ways of recognizing somebody's work, and in my previous posts I didn't elaborate on why I "like" The Bell Curve. To be honest I never even read the whole book, I only read several excerpts back when it first came out. (I remember it well; I lived in New York City at the time and some newspaper ran several of the "juiciest" chapters.) Since then there has been extensive debate, Leta summarized it this way:
.. very few reputable scientists believe that the genetic component of our intelligence can be described by one single defined and measurable factor, as purported by the bell curve. There are also serious scientific flaws in the research used to develop the bell curve.
She then goes on to quote the late Stephen Jay Gould as saying:
The Bell Curve is scarcely an academic treatise in social theory and population genetics. It is a manifesto of conservative ideology; the book's inadequate and biased treatment of data display its primary purposeƂ—advocacy. The text evokes the dreary and scary drumbeat of claims associated with conservative think tanks: reduction or elimination of welfare, ending or sharply curtailing affirmative action in schools and workplaces, cutting back Head Start and other forms of preschool education, trimming programs for the slowest learners and applying those funds to the gifted. (I would love to see more attention paid to talented students, but not at this cruel price.)
I highly respect the work of Stephen Jay Gould, as a firm believer in Evolutionary Psychology I have come across several of his articles in the past. I was a bit surprised by his strong association of conservative propaganda and The Bell Curve, as the excerpts I read way back when did not evoke feelings of revolt in the same way that most of the stuff coming out of the Heritage Foundation does. But then again Murray hangs his hat at the American Enterprise Institute, so I'll gladly accept that Herrnstein and Murray had strong conservative leanings. So even if I didn't remember the book that way it seems clear that they wrote it partly in order to promote a conservative agenda.

But what I won't accept is that they wrote the book solely to advocate a conservative agenda, and this is why I stand by my previous posts and my recognition of The Bell Curve as an important contribution. The book is full of original scientific research (even if doubts have been raised about its quality), and I strongly get a sense that they want to make genuine (although perhaps biased) contributions to a scientific debate. Conservative hacks like Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity just don't in a style that has citations and intelligent prose like this, and neither do fundamentalist Christians pushing Intelligent Design. There were real insights in the book, or at least real arguments worth debating. As such it is not at all comparable with the ID debate. I have not seen a single argument for ID that has any scientific value whatsoever. Seasoned social scientists might say the same about The Bell Curve, although I doubt that, but even if they do there is one crucial difference: The Bell Curve raises one of modern America's taboo subjects.

This taboo is exactly why I think "real" (read "enlightenment" or "classical") liberals should resist the temptation to be Politically Correct and dismiss The Bell Curve as racist propaganda. If you truly believe that reason reigns supreme then you should strive to make your case in a way that emphasizes logical argument over name-calling. 11 years ago I watched a storm of reactions to The Bell Curve and most of them had no basis in reality. They were all motivated by sheer indignation over the fact that the subject matter was even being addressed.

Now, over the years I have learned that timing matters sometimes. My timing was definitely a bit off when a few days after 9/11 I told my NYC-resident wife-to-be (over the phone from Norway) that the attacks were "to be expected" given the history of US foreign policy in the Middle East. But we've since talked about it and reached a consensus. Sooner or later one needs to talk about things. Given the painful history of the civil rights movement in America I can understand why race and IQ is such a sensitive subject. But in the long run it needs to be discussed.

I don't pretend to have an answer to why jews do better in IQ tests and make more money than whites while blacks do worse and have less money. I don't know if all the causes are environmental or if some are genetic (such as the theory that jews in Europe were forced into professions that required higher intelligence). But I don't think there is hard evidence out there that completely refutes the possibility that circumstances which influence breeding decisions or child survival rates may have an impact. Although just as the distribution of other human qualities such as height may change in a given population over time I don't see any reason why a quality like average intelligence (or ability to take IQ exams, or both) couldn't change over time either.

In conclusion I guess my previous post wasn't so much about the actual scientific merits of The Bell Curve per se. Rather, I wanted to repeat an assertion that I've made several times before; that Political Correctness and liberalism should not go together.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Republicans and Disaster Response

Clearly the government's emergency response has been very poor. There's a logical explanation for this: Republicans/conservatives don't do emergency humanitarian assistance to poor people in need. Just like Democrats/liberals don't do swift military responses and dogged, patriotic determination.

Republicans are small business owners, corporate bigwigs, white rural farmers. They're not peace corps workers, idealistic Red Cross workers, state government coordinators or federal relief experts. That is not to say they don't have care for the needy, they support local churches and private community organizations. But this disaster can't be handled by a bunch of church communities, it requires federal coordination and FEMA has been castrated under Bush.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum is apparently thinking the same thing.

UPDATE II: Bruce Reed of Slate has a fascinating story about FEMA. Apparently it started out the same way it is now - as a dumping ground for political hacks and loyal campaign workers. It only worked well under Clinton and his fellow Arkansan James Lee Witt.

UPDATE III: Here's Krugman.

UPDATE IV: Brad DeLong sums it up thusly:
if we elect people who don't think a functioning government is very important, we shouldn't be surprised when it turns out we don't have a functioning government.
UPDATE V: I have a feeling this will be (or at least should be) a very important topic, so I'll keep updating this post as long as I find stuff I like. Here's a good post by Greg Anrig with an important conclusion:
The failures of the Bush administration are the failures not just of one president, but of a conservative ideology that remains more popular in the abstract than liberalism. That disparity has a lot to do with relentless, well-organized attacks against liberalism over the course of many years. A comparable assault on conservatism, which the facts now will support quite effectively, is long overdue.
And Kevin adds an important list of things that Bush should not be blamed for (important because pointed critisism = effective critisism):
I don't blame him for being on vacation when Katrina hit. I don't blame him for a certain amount of chaos in the initial response — that's inevitable no matter how good your plan is. I don't blame him for rolling FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security. I don't blame him for focusing more on terrorism than on natural disasters. That was a natural reaction to 9/11.
UPDATE VI: Via Andrew Sullivan, a list of FEMA blunders.

Digby on Lefty Morals, Bell Curve

Here are two posts from Digby, first one paraphrasing Peter Daou of Salon making an obvious yet very insightful observation:
.. the left views the war from a moral standpoint --- indeed, the left views our relationship with the world from a moral standpoint --- while the right sees both those things from a material standpoint.

The right (broadly speaking) can’t fathom why the left is driven into fits of rage over every Abu Ghraib, every Gitmo, every secret rendition, every breach of civil liberties, every shifting rationale for war, every soldier and civilian killed in that war, every Bush platitude in support of it, every attempt to squelch dissent.
He then weighs in on the whole Charles Murray / Bell Curve discussion with a prediction of looming clashes on the right:
But as I read some of the recent discussion of Intelligent Design, it struck me that we are seeing a clash of the psuedo-sciences coming on the right that could be very fun to watch.

You see, the racist Bell Curve people are ardent adherants of evolution; one of their primary wingnut funded institutions is called The Charles Darwin Research Institute.
I don't think there's going to be much of a clash on the right. Darwinist conservatives are in the minority and they keep very quiet. Besides, supporters of The Bell Curve probably fall into two categories: Racists and those who seek to understand the world better (count me in the second one). Many of the right-wing bloggers who defend The Bell Curve would also defend ID. The inherent contradictions are not important to them, they just want to fire up "liberals" like Digby and Atrios.

And by the way, calling all "Bell Curve people" racist is not a very (enlightenment) liberal thing to do. Even if the majority were racist such blanket statements does not serve the advancement of reason and truth. I understand that Digby and other "liberals" probably have some vivid memories of having to defend minorities against racist attacks but that is no excuse for argumentation-by-name-calling.