Thursday, March 31, 2005

(AP)ril Fools?

I don't know if it's editorial laziness or a lame attempt at a joke, but this AP wire story actually describes the recently departed Terri Schaivo as a "shy woman who avoided the spotlight." Shy is a bit of an understatement for a woman who spent the final 15 years of her life incapable of communication or cognizance, don't you think? Sadly, the choice to avoid the spotlight wasn't up to her.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Starved for Logic

Highlighting the method of Terri Schiavo's impending doom is a favorite rhetorical flourish for those lining up on the side of "life" in this fractious medical and moral drama that's saturating the 24-hour news cycle (a recent Google search on Schiavo and "starve to death" yielded almost 27,000 results).

Here's a comment from the inimitable Dr. Laura Schlessinger illustrating this tendency:
Now, I have a living will. My living will says no extraordinary techniques should be used to maintain me. Y'know, it doesn't say to torture me and starve me to death. This is grotesque, this is barbaric, this is mean, this is cruel.
While Dr. Laura compares Schiavo's treatment to "torture," there are some bloggers out there making an even more obvious play for the emotions by comparing her treatment unfavorably with the final exit of prisoners on death row. Here are a few samples:

  • From the Catholic Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam blog—"Terri Schindler-Schiavo has won a temporary stay from [sic] execution by a method too cruel to be used for convicted criminals."

  • From the anti-liberal weblog moxie—"Scott Peterson will face (eventually) a sterile, painless death after brutally murdering his wife and son Connor. On the other hand, Terri Schiavo — who is guilty of nothing other than having poor health [understatement of the year!-ed.] — will have to starve to death so her cheating husband can collect her insurance payout and get remarried."

  • From The Powers That Blog, quoting a nurse named Cheryl Ford who worked for Schiavo's parents in 2003—"This is not a painless or dignified way to die," Ford said. "It's against the law to dehydrate and starve to death a prisoner on death row. Why should we allow it to be done to a disabled woman — or anybody?"
Beyond their obvious flair for the maudlin, these commentators all share one thing in common: they're totally disingenuous.

Because these writers oppose euthanasia, the method of Schiavo's death is immaterial. They would be against it no matter how brutal or humane it might be. Pointing out that she is being "starved to death" is the height of hypocrisy because it is the very lobbying efforts of such people that have ensured this outcome. Because euthanasia is illegal, to answer Cheryl Ford's question, Schiavo's doctors have no recourse other than to withhold treatment. Murderers on death row die a more humane death than this poor woman because this is what the anti-euthanasia pro-lifers, in their wisdom, have demanded. Seen in this light, Terri Schiavo's slow starvation is more of an argument for euthanasia than against it.

Some commentators are so eager to scoff at the idea of Schiavo's "death with dignity" that they fail to recognize that the dignity is not in the method of death but in the freedom from a non-existent life.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

DeLay Off the Deep End

Time Magazine has obtained a transcript of a rant Tom DeLay delivered to the right-wing Family Research Council on Friday in which he links the Terri Schiavo case to the anti-abortion movement, decries the vast left-wing conspiracy to destroy conservatism and (pathos detectors: on) compares his own situation as the target of an ethics investigation to Schiavo's plight.

It is more than just Terri Schiavo. This is a critical issue for people in this position, and it is also a critical issue to fight that fight for life, whether it be euthanasia or abortion.


And so it's bigger than any one of us, and we have to do everything that is in our power to save Terri Schiavo and anybody else that may be in this kind of position, and let me just finish with this: This is exactly the kind of issue that's going on in America, that attacks against the conservative moment, against me and against many others. The point is, the other side has figured out how to win and to defeat the conservative movement, and that is to go after people personally, charge them with frivolous charges, link up with all these do-gooder organizations funded by George Soros, and then get the national media on their side. That whole syndicate that they have going on right now is for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to destroy the conservative movement.

This speech does provide compelling evidence that DeLay is suffering from a brain stem injury of his own—one he may have suffered trying to hoist himself up onto that cross.

Andrew Sullivan has been blogging very persuasively about the right-wing conspiracy that's destroying conservatism.

Hat tip: George.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Boy-King Crowned at FCC

Well, the PTC got their wish. On Friday, Harry Potter doppelganger Kevin Martin was appointed as Chairman of the FCC by President Bush.

It will come as no surprise to learn that Martin is a loyal Bush crony (apparently the one and only requirement for a plum government appointment these days).

Before Bush appointed him as an FCC Commissioner in 2001, Martin served his master in several capacities. He previously worked in the White House as Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy (nice work, Kevin). Prior to that he held a technology and telecommunications post on the Bush-Cheney transition team and served as Deputy General Counsel to the 2000 Bush campaign. As if these conservative bona fides weren't enough, Martin worked with Kenneth Starr in the Office of the Independent Counsel during the Whitewater investigation.

His tenure at the FCC was marked by frequent disagreements with former Chairman Michael Powell over issues of broadcast standards. It would be safe to say that Martin never saw an indecency claim he didn't like, regularly issuing dissents when claims were denied.

He has long advocated strengthening the FCC's punitive power by raising the maximum fines for indecency. In a 2003 speech, Martin hinted at his vision for the FCC: "At a minimum, we need to use the bully pulpit to persuade broadcasters, cable operators, and satellite providers to re-think their approach to family-friendly programming."

Unfortunately, his idea of "family-friendly" closely matches the narrow standards of the right-wing PTC: both hold PAX-TV in alarmingly high regard.

Martin's coziness to Brent Bozell's group is certainly cause for suspicion, since the PTC is not merely in favor of family-friendly programming (not a bad goal in and of itself), they are actively pro-censorship. They don't want to broaden programming choices; they want to eliminate those they find distasteful.

Citing a huge increase in the volume of complaints, Martin advocates changing the rules of the FCC to take into account the number of complaints any given broadcast receives and treating those complaints individually rather than as a single complaint. This seems benign, but it is really intended to aggrandize the PTC, which was found to be responsible for over 99% of all complaints filed in 2003.

Martin outlines his support for the agenda of the PTC in this 2003 letter addressed to Brent Bozell and sent to other interested parties. It is instructive to take note of the groups the PTC allies itself with. These groups—all of them right-wing, moralistic outfits—include the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council.

With Martin at the helm of the FCC, we can reasonably expect more indecency claims to be upheld, which would translate into a huge spike in fines levied against broadcasters. It is the avowed goal of the PTC to use these tactics to cleanse the airwaves of programs that don't fit their right-wing, Christian point of view. Don't be surprised if Martin plays along.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Deep Throat Death Watch

Ever since I heard the news in February that Watergate tattletale Deep Throat is ailing and will be identified soon, I've felt a little rush of anticipation upon learning of a celebrity death.

I've also learned to live with disappointment. My Hunter S. Thompson theory didn't pan out, and I was way off base with Sandra Dee.

I fear that the latest spate of passings won't bring us any closer. John DeLorean is definitely out. You would think that Bobby Short could be similarly dismissed, but he did perform at the White House for every president since Nixon. That's right: Nixon. Makes you think, doesn't it? OK, not really.

At least George F. Kennan, whom the New York Times rightly notes was "the nearest thing to a legend that this country's diplomatic service has ever produced" (OK, they're quoting historian Ronald Steel, so the Times noted that it was noted, but anyway...), worked in government. Vitiating against him is the fact that he was already 69 in 1973 and that the tips to Woodward and Bernstein were not sent by telegram. I think Kennan can be ruled out.

So, the guessing game continues. I have half my money on the Pope, who could have orchestrated Nixon's downfall in order to practice for the liberation of Poland (hey, it's possible). The other half is on Dick Clark who, if Star can be trusted, is on the verge of spinning his last Tommy and the Shondells 45. The Nixon White House was, through its ties to Drug Czar progenitor Elvis Presley, deeply indebted to early Rock & Roll—a fact that Clark would have been all too happy to exploit.

Think you know better than me? Add a comment with your guess and join the Deep Throat Death Pool. Those who answer correctly win a photo of my dog and a dollar. (In the event of multiple winners, the prize money will be split up just like in the lottery. Unlike the lottery, however, your chances of winning are probably better than 1 in 10,000,000.) Include your email address if you want to win schwag.

P.S. No guesses for Mark Felt!

The Personal is Political

Perhaps the Republican mantra of "smaller, less-invasive government" has been repeated so often that this fiction has taken on the sheen of fact. Even the most cursory examination will show the opposite is true.

The way the government has been run during the Bush years, the only thing likely to get any smaller is your paycheck. At some point, taxes will need to be raised to pay for the Bush tax cuts, runaway federal spending and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and related bureaucracies.

Ever since the PATRIOT Act, Bush's commitment to less-invasive government has been laughable. The GOP has also lined up behind a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which should clue you in to how seriously they take your right to personal freedom.

The Federal government's intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo marks a new low for the right to privacy—and a new high in the current administration's attack on traditional conservatism.

The evangelicals in Congress, never ones to keep the Sabbath when there's publicity afoot, held an emergency session on Sunday to prolong the life of a marketing tool—excuse me, of a Florida woman—being kept alive with a feeding tube.

In doing so, Congress and the President have usurped not only the jurisdiction of the state courts; they have undermined our ability to live and die with dignity, in the company of those who love us.

It has occurred to me that I may not be giving the theocons enough credit here. Stripping away the rights of Schiavo's husband and setting the precedent of Federal interference in personal affairs effectively weakens the ability of spouses to exercise control over the lives of their incapacitated partners: just the kind of rights currently denied to homosexuals.

Ha! Now those pesky gays won't be so keen on getting married, will they? Maybe sometimes you have to destroy marriage just to save it.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Poison Politics: Using the 'N-Word'

No, not that n-word. I'm talking about "Nazi," the epithet-turned-buzzword that's polluting political discourse in this country.

The most egregious recent example of this comes from Colorado University professor Ward Churchill, who has encountered a firestorm of criticism for referring to those who died in the World Trade Center as "little Eichmanns." (An excellent, thoughtful piece on the incident and Churchill's supposed Indian identity can be found here.)

Hackles were raised again just last week when Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia compared Republican efforts to ban the filibuster in the Senate with Nazi Germany (one presumes that Byrd, a former KKK member, speaks from experience).

Long the preserve of the left, words like "Nazi" and "fascist" have been lazily employed to describe anything we disapprove of. Here are a few other notable Nazi comparisons from the left:
  • In Dude, Where's My Country, Michael Moore clamis that the "Patriot Act is as un-American as Mein Kampf." When challenged about this analogy by Robert Novak on CNN's Crossfire, Moore responded, "The Patriot Act is the first step. Mein Kampf was written long before Hitler came to power. And if the people of Germany had done something early on to stop these early signs...if people don’t speak up against this, you end up with something like they had in Germany."
  • Smarmy, arrogant cartoonist Ted Rall (yes, the one who made fun of "Terror Widows" not long after 9/11) posted the following under the heading "Is Bush A Nazi?":
    Lately we're being told that it's either (a)
    inappropriate or (b) untrue to refer to Bush's illegitimate junta as Nazi, neo-Nazi or neofascist. Because, you know, you're not necessarily a Nazi just because you seize power like one, take advantage of a national Reichstag Fire-like tragedy like one, build concentration and death camps like one, start unprovoked wars like one, Red-bait your liberal opponents like one or create a national security apparatus that behaves like something a Nazi would create and even has a Nazi-sounding name. All of those people who see a little Adolf in the not-so-bright eyes of America's homeland-grown despot are just imagining things.
  • Renowned linguist and political "theorist" Noam Chomsky, writing on his blog (for a more thorough examination of his blog, click here) compared those who "lament piously" over the terrorist activities of Iraqi insurgents to "Nazi and Stalinist apologists wringing their hands over the terror of the Partisans and the Hungarian resistance."
In today's political landscape, this kind of rhetoric is by no means confined to the left. Increasingly those on the right have been getting in on the act.

Here are some of their greatest hits:
  • Bill O'Reilly, hosting The O'Reilly Factor on FOX News:
    Joseph Goebbels was the Minister of Propaganda for the Nazi regime and whose very famous quote was, "If you tell a lie long enough, it becomes the truth." All right? "If you tell a lie long enough, it becomes the truth." And that's what [Al Franken] and Michael Moore and all of these guys do.
    On celebrities who went to a Fahrenheit 9/11 screening: "Here are the people who would turn out to see Josef Goebbels convince you that Poland invaded the Third Reich. It's the same thing, by the way."
  • Ralph Peters, writing in a vitriolic New York Post article called "Howard the Coward," comments upon the Howard Dean campaign and Dean's boisterous supporters:
    These are the techniques employed by Hitler's Brownshirts. Had Goebbels enjoyed access to the internet, he would have used the same swarm tactics as Dean's Flannelshirts....Dean was already practicing the Big Lie. Montreal was just a stop on his journey from Munich to Berlin. He was already looking around for his Leni Riefenstahl.
    Strangely enough, this article is no longer available in the Post's archives (a fact that FAIR does not miss in their criticism of the Post and FOX News), but the text of the article can be found here.
  • Dr. Ted Baehr of the Christian Film and Television Commission comparing Million Dollar Baby to Nazi film I Accuse:
    After (that film) was released, a majority of German people said they had changed their minds and now supported mercy killings. After a few more of Goebbels' films about invalids and handicapped people, the German people became strong believers in the efficacy of mass mercy killings. Similarities between the National Socialist use of film and Million Dollar Baby are frightening.
  • Right-Wing blog Power Line on pro-Democrat vandals in Wisconsin:
    Democrats attacked a Republican campaign office in a manner reminiscent of the Brownshirts of seventy years ago....In this campaign season, there is seemingly no length to which the Democratic Party, like the National Socialist Party of seventy years ago, will not go.
    This post is nicely disputed by Jason Steed on PoliticalJuice, but he manages to stick in a Nazi comparison of his own.
Perhaps this is just symptomatic of the great race to the bottom that our political culture has become. As the marketplace of ideas devolves into a bargain basement, pundits and hotheads everywhere are willing to slander history in order to take a cheap shot.

Whether the attack comes from the left or from the right, it is my position that lazy comparisons to Nazis are never appropriate.

Plenty of governments do unpleasant things and curtail certain freedoms (yes, ours included). This tendency is not limited to the Nazis. While the term "Nazi" is synonymous with propaganda and strong-arm politics, it is inextricably tied to ethnic scapegoating and mass murder—with arguably the most extreme example of man's inhumanity toward man in modern history. No comparison to the Nazis can possibly avoid this association.

Sadly, propagandists and tyrants (large and small) are a dime-a-dozen in the modern world, so there's plenty of fertile ground for analogy. Reflexively associating unpleasant tactics with Nazism serves only to chip away at the memory of how horrible—how truly exceptional—that regime was.

The frequency and fervency of these kinds of attacks are testament not only to the mean-spiritedness of today's punditocracy, but also to a profound failure of the imagination. There's no excuse for substituting actual arguments with rhetorical shorthand—particularly not this most vile variety.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Death to the 'Arab Street'!

The concept, that is.

Christopher Hitchens eulogizes the passing of this insulting locution here.

The "Arab Street" has long been shorthand for lazy journalists and armchair pundits who would like to sum up the hopes and dreams of over one billion people with as little thought as is possible. It has the effect, as Hitchens notes, of "ventriloquizing the Arab or Muslim populace or of conferring axiomatic authenticity on the loudest or hoarsest voice."

That Muslim populations do not all think alike can be proven by recent multi-party elections in Iraq and Palestine. That they will not be ventriloquized is being shown right now in the streets of Beirut. (Bush would love to claim credit for this, but it likely has as much to do with what happened in Kiev as what's happening next door in Iraq. That said, no man can take credit for the stirrings of human nature.)

The term "Arab Street" has always seemed a degrading one. It implies that there is one Arab (or Muslim) culture where all people have the same education (or lack thereof), the same history and the same desires. As a point of comparison, try talking to someone about the "European Street" or the "American Street" and see how far you get. It's an obvious non-sequitur. The term can only have meaning so long as the people being lumped into it are seen not as individuals but as an amorphous mass—in this case, a screaming mob. (Even the term "street" carries an assumption of unruliness that is not implied when the softer "public opinion" is used, as it generally is when talking about the West.)

The degree to which we in the West choose to see the Muslim world as just that—a single world with a single identity—is the degree to which we are doomed to fail in our attempts to develop relationships with Muslim societies that are not based on power and domination alone, but on the mutual respect between free people.
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