April 13, 2009

Monday and a remodel week

And it looks like a busy week. The contractor is coming by this morning to take the garage side door out. I removed the stairs in the garage on Saturday. We are actually starting to tear shit up. :) Concrete guy comes on Wednesday and the safe room install is a week later. This isn't really week 1 as we have been working on this for sometime, but this is the first week in which we have removed something.

I think I am going to need a lot more coffee.

But before I do that, and before I prep for my week lectures, and before I plan how to pick up the new windows... a few news items that caught my eye.

We just finished Easter, but the news for some American Christians is not good. As Newsweek's Jon Meacham reported, "the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 points in the past two decades." One can't help but wonder if conservative Christianity's love affair with Republican politics, and even the torture regime of George W. Bush aided that. Of course, it goes well beyond Bush, and from my perspective, it has been a complete upside down approach to traditional Christianity. How else to explain how the rich, powerful, and gated communities became hotbeds of Christians following an itinerant populist preacher who cautioned against accumulated wealth and challenged the, well, rich and powerful?

Or perhaps it is as simple as the tone taken by so many on the far right. As many of you probably heard, James Dobson is retiring from Focus on the Family (damn shame, mind you) and he recently gave a speech where he said that religious conservatives had lost the culture war. Look at how he describes the battle:
Dr. Mohler mentioned the pornography struggle; we made a lot of progress through the Eighties but then we turned into the Nineties and the internet came along and a new president came along and all of that went away and now we are absolutely awash in evil.
The Internets and Bill Clinton are the cause of decline? Seriously? We can torture and bomb, evidently, and be consistent with right wing theology.


Some of this has to do with the paranoid style in American history. As the late-great Richard Hofstadter noted, this theme is not unique to either side of the political spectrum. And one can argue that it played part of the angry left during Bush and Reagan. (Though, we have to note, how paranoid were we about W when everything we thought about his legal staff and his approach to torture is being born out?)

There is no doubt that leftists can be paranoid, but it seems also patently clear that those on the right are paranoid, at least right now. The tone from the right reminds me very much of the Clinton years where grown men took to the woods to play dress up army against Janet Reno's "jack booted thugs." In just three short months, the right has discovered its fear of deficits, but then leaped all the way back to 1953 to try and stoke up the newest version of the Red Scare. And one of the best bogie-men for the right, evidently, is ACORN. Kos diarist, Hunter, has a very cogent take on all of this:
ACORN fills a vital role in this conservative sphere of constant, imminent destruction -- but not as real danger. Instead it is a catch-all bogeyman, an avatar representing an unseen and generic enemy. The reason it is "ACORN" that is going to surreptitiously disrupt conservative Tea Bag festivities is because "ACORN" is the only nefarious bogeyman most conservatives know.
It could be any name, because the name is unimportant, only the narrative of all-powerful, omnipresent enemy. Before ACORN, it was the ACLU. Before the ACLU, it was McCarthy's invisible Communists.

As we have noted in the wake of the recent shooting, it is a dangerous game. Preying on fears as prime political philosophy runs the obvious risk of convincing your audience that those fears indeed exist. --snip--

In the end, it is enforced, carefully stoked paranoia, and it is made powerful precisely by months of repetition. It is the Big Lie, the easy lie. At some point conservatives decided, based on demographics and perhaps the existing general bigotries of their most hardcore supporters, that their ideas could no longer stand even minor scrutiny unless they were couched in terms of urgent disaster.
The entire essay is worth reading. As Fox News becomes a sponsor for the ironically named "tea bag" parties, and Glenn Beck expresses sympathy for mass murderers, you start to see how this "big lie" can be so easily spread and consumed.

Unfortunately, the right has lost its intellectual and skeptical moorings. Conservatives who used to have their policy grounded in principle and morality have endorsed and defended torture and the undermining of our constitution. The thinkers have been replaced with the shouters. We have those on the left too, I am quite aware. But the right seems to have only those. And meanwhile the surge of gun ownership continues....

I feel safer already.


steves said...

The tone from the right reminds me very much of the Clinton years where grown men took to the woods to play dress up army against Janet Reno's "jack booted thugs."

The key difference being that employees of the Justice Dept acted like jack booted thugs when they shot an unarmed woman holding her baby at Ruby Ridge and burned dozens of men, women and children at Waco. Thankfully, there was enough public pressure that these practices were discontinued in subsequent standoffs.

That being said, most of the militia kooks were nuts long before these events and they continue to be the butt of many jokes.

Streak said...

Steve, I am in a pissy mood this afternoon, so forgive me in advance. I understand that the government overstepped and erred in many areas in the 80s and 90s, and some tragic things happened. Calling them actually "jack booted thugs" doesn't convince me, however, that the government was all to blame at Waco or even Ruby Ridge. There was a lot of blame to go around with both situations, and laying all of the blame at the government's feet is not terribly convincing.

Second, I know you agree with this, but where are those same anti-government people when their government was torturing detainees? Or listening to their cell phone calls.

From my perspective it is like a bizarre vaudeville show. The same characters are either "jack-booted thugs" or American heros. The only difference is the partisan label of the administration in charge.

steves said...

Good points. I am not all that sympathetic towards Koresh and Weaver. I have met Weaver and he is kind of an ass. That being said, the BATFE and the FBI behaved in those situations in a manner that I wouldn't have expected in this country. They acted like the police in the USSR or the Eastern Bloc.

I think the same can be said for the people that engaged in torture or approved policies that led to torture. I don't know why some would approve one act and condemn the other. Both are offensive to anyone that has any respect for human life and civil liberties.

Unfortunately, I have met many people that are inconsistent when it comes to fundamental rights. I know die-hard gun rights people that are perfectly comfortable with wiretapping and censorship. I know people that are supporters of prisoner rights and habeas corpus for detainees, but don't think people deserve an effective means to defend themselves.

As we have noted in the wake of the recent shooting, it is a dangerous game. Preying on fears as prime political philosophy runs the obvious risk of convincing your audience that those fears indeed exist.What shooting are we talking about? How is it connected to fear mongering?

But the right seems to have only those.Only if you confine yourself to populist windbags like Limbaugh and Beck. There are plnety of other well reasoned conservative commentary out there.

ubub said...

Where was Liddy and his howls about jack-booted thugs when the APCs rolled into Wounded Knee? Oh yeah, he was working for the White House that sent in those jack-booted thugs. Go figure.

Streak, what was that about labels again?

LB said...

Second, I know you agree with this, but where are those same anti-government people when their government was torturing detainees? Or listening to their cell phone calls.I know how you feel about libertarians, but they are pretty much the anti-government people you are talking about in this case and the most respected think thanks of theirs like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation have strongly opposed the expansion of exective powers under Bush.

Regarding torture specifically, I don't know how they fall, but as far as wire-tapping etc. they have opposed that.

LB said...

This was interesting reading in light the comment I just made:

Streak said...

I have to agree with my good friend Ubub on Liddy and his people.

LB, I am not sure I have one feeling about libertarians. On one hand, I respect some and think there is an argument to be made. But the people I am criticizing most often are not really libertarians, but some kind of authoritarian conservative. Most of the "tea baggers" in this current issue are exactly those, and not principled small government types. The ones I am talking about defended Bush on just about every turn (except when they feared he might be weak on gays) and especially on issues like torture and wiretapping.

And yes, I am well aware of the left's concern about Obama on this issue. People like Glenn Greenwald and even Keith Olbermann (oft-criticized by conservatives) have been quite consistent on this issue. As they have on torture.

leighton said...

I'm not sure what to think of the warrantless wiretapping issue, particularly since I don't have enough of a sense of the internal politics at DOJ and ODNI to figure out what's actually going on. I would imagine that one concern is that in the time it takes you to get a warrant to surveil one prepaid cell phone, it's already been discarded in favor of the next. There could also be technical issues that make it difficult to consistently track one target without accidentally tracking adjacent communications that are irrelevant to the investigation. Communication networks are a lot more fluid than they were when NSA could spy on US citizens just by sending its intel on British communications to GCHQ in exchange for their intel on people within US borders.

Probably my biggest active disappointment with Obama at the moment is his flippant dismissal of marijuana legalization. I didn't really notice how big a clusterfuck the War on (some classes of people who use) Drugs is until I realized how much of our federal law enforcement efforts are wasted on busting pot users, to the point where they're outsourcing pursuit of interstate organized crime rings to local authorities who don't have jurisdiction enough to handle them. The government's stance on marijuana is something I'd expect to see from Iran's Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice*, but not from the United States.

* And strangely enough, even though pot is technically illegal in Iran, you can get cannabis ridiculously easily in downtown Tehran. In practice, the Committee seems more interested in cracking down on opium, heroin and various Western pharmaceuticals.

Streak said...

Leighton, I agree with you on marijuana prohibition, but also understand the political realities. The right wing nutjobs are already calling him a socialist. Can you imagine their outrage if he started talking seriously about legalizing weed?

My issue with the wiretapping has always been the one of oversight. FISA allows already for some 72 hours to pass after tapping a source to get a warrant, and the record (as far as we know from a semi-secret court) is to have upheld almost all requests for warrants. But under Bush's wiretapping, we now know that phone companies were helping them listen in on service men and women calling home (and the phone company dweebs saving recordings of the steamier ones). We also have suggestions from a whistleblower that Bush used the program to target journalists and other American critics.

steves said...

I am not aware of Liddy's position on the Wounded Knee raid.

I think it is hard to lump all libertarians together, but most have taken a position against torture and illegal wiretapping.

Leighton, what is the administration's position on marijuana? I know they aren't going to support legalization, but I thought Obama was going to seriously scale back going after small time growers and the like. If he isn't, that is too bad. I had high (pardon the pun) hopes on this issue, but I have also read that he wants to put some 400 million into fighting the drug war in Mexico.

Obama has taken essentially the same position as Bush on wiretapping. I also thought Obama would be good for civil rights, but I have not been too impressed. The closing of Guantanamo was a good step, but mostly seems to be a PR thing as the Administration is planning on shipping detainees to Bagram Air base in Afghanistan. It is also unfortunate that he is takeing the exact same position as the Bush amdinistration in that detainees are being denied habeas corpus. This is bad enough, but is made worse when you consider that the Supreme Court has already said you can't do this. This is change we can believe in? Sounds like much of the same.