Saturday, June 10, 2006
Watchdogs of Democracy? is Helen Thomas's new book. The subtitle, a long one as is common these days for political books, runs like this:
The waning Washington press corps and how it has failed the public.
This is not well written, you know.
So I was a little bit worried when I started reading the book. I feared that it was thrown together too quickly, because most political books coming out these days strike me as having been thrown together too quickly. That's the dilemma for those who want to get something into print post-haste.
Well, there is some of that about this book, too. The language could have been less choppy and some transitions look like the stuff on my blog: skipping and jumping to something totally different.
Those are the bad news about the book for me. The good news are that it's quite interesting. Helen Thomas is a veteran Washington reporter and she has actually lived through a lot of the history that we only read about in textbooks. By reading the book we can tap the memory and expertise of someone who Was There. Now that is quite rare.
And what does Helen's memory and expertise offer us? In short, a walk through the history of the Washington press corps and an explanation which allowed me at least to put the current administration's battles with the press into a timeframe and a perspective. The perspective is not one which would make excuses for either the Bush administration or the journalists who are not supposed to be its sycophants, quite the reverse. But Thomas shows us how the tools for managing news and the media were created over time and were there for the wingnuts to grab.
She points out that presidents have tried to "manage" news for a long time, at least since John F. Kennedy's era, and that journalists are fully aware of this "managing". What is different in our current era is the journalists' reaction to the administration news management. Instead of combatting it, instead of nosing out the real news and instead of adopting an adversial position in all this, the journalists recording the deeds of the Bush administration have mostly just gone along with the news management, writing down the government's propaganda messages and then forwarding them to us, with perhaps a meek paragraph or two about alternative interpretations tacked to the very end of the article.
It's a game gone out of balance, and the real losers in such a game are all of us. So what pushed it off balance? Thomas gives us most of the usually mentioned reasons: the concentration of the media into few hands and the consequent reduction in the number of good jobs available for journalists who are now much more dependent on their employers and the opinions of these employers, the loss of the Fairness Doctrine in media during the Reagan administration and the imperative of the profit motive over any secondary goals about truthful and full reporting, which has lead to reduced resources for news production, fewer foreign offices and reporters and increased emphasis on stories which sell (those about disappearing white brides eaten by sharks), the feverishly fast news cycle which makes it hard for reporters to be both first and right. (What a horrible sentence that is.)
But the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back was the public patriotic sentiment after 911 massacres and what this did to news reporting. It gave the administration news managers a great weapon to use: journalists criticizing the U.S. government were labeled as "unpatriotic traitors", journalists criticizing the Iraq war were labeled as "not supporting the troops" and anyone who dared criticize George W. Bush was guilty of attacking "a war president".
And as anyone who lived through the events of 2001 can remember, "we, the people" didn't really want critical reporting then; we wanted to grieve and to heal. Neither did we want politicians who deviated from the "unity against our enemies" sentiment of that time. Hence all those Democrats who voted for the Iraq war. We may find their acts contemptible but it's good to remember what was in the air that year. In short, "we, the people" are in many ways as guilty as the press. We let the administration manage the news.
Now, Helen Thomas doesn't blame the public in her book. But she does blame the current batch of journalists in Washington. Here she talks about the way the reasons for the Iraq invasion were covered:
No weapons. No ties to terrorists. No threats. No apologies. No explanation. No remorse. Under those circumstances, Americans were told they were fighting a war in Baghdad for liberty and democracy throughout the Middle East. Bush could shift the rationale in the blink of an eye with no apparent qualms.
And, of course, it was important to support the troops in Iraq. Reporters were left to follow the administration's lead. Anything less would have been seen as "unpatriotic". The nation paid a heavy price for the media's blind trust. The administration which never lacked for chutzpah, rode out the storm with its credibility in the tank and few reporters daring to push President Bush on his flimsy reasons for invading Iraq.
My concern is why the nation's media were so gullible. Did they really think it was all going to be so easy, a cakewalk, a superpower invading a third world country? Why did the Washington press corps forgo its traditional skepticism? Why did reporters become cheerleaders for a deceptive administration?
Could it be that no one wanted to stand alone outside Washington's pack journalism?
Probably. The watchdogs of democracy have been defanged by commercial interests, a government too powerful to resist and the desire to be in the top layers of the watchdog hierarchy, closest to the hand that doles out treats. Who wouldn't sit and stay on command in this pack configuration?
And we, the public, are also to blame for this malaise. There aren't enough of us who want real news, real facts, real reporting. Rather the opposite; many Americans want a press corps that fawns on the administration because that is seen as patriotic and something that makes us feel good in a weird patriotic sence. Is the American patriotism so fragile that only good news can be allowed? It's beginning to look like that.
Thomas's book urges journalists to fulfill the watchdog role better, to be more idealistic and stronger in their determination to get at the truth. I'd like to see the rest of us work to change the system so as to make this easier. We could begin by not supporting those media which offer shallow and warped coverage of important news and by lobbying for the return of the Fairness Doctrine in Media.
He could have been killed several times before, but for some reason the White House would have none of it. This article from 2004 discusses the history of Bush's nonaction:
But NBC News has learned that long before the war the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out his terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi himself — but never pulled the trigger.
In June 2002, U.S. officials say intelligence had revealed that Zarqawi and members of al-Qaida had set up a weapons lab at Kirma, in northern Iraq, producing deadly ricin and cyanide.
The Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp with cruise missiles and airstrikes and sent it to the White House, where, according to U.S. government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council.
"Here we had targets, we had opportunities, we had a country willing to support casualties, or risk casualties after 9/11 and we still didn't do it," said Michael O'Hanlon, military analyst with the Brookings Institution.
Four months later, intelligence showed Zarqawi was planning to use ricin in terrorist attacks in Europe.
The Pentagon drew up a second strike plan, and the White House again killed it. By then the administration had set its course for war with Iraq.
"People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president's policy of preemption against terrorists," according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey.
In January 2003, the threat turned real. Police in London arrested six terror suspects and discovered a ricin lab connected to the camp in Iraq.
The Pentagon drew up still another attack plan, and for the third time, the National Security Council killed it.
Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi's operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.
If this is true the murders Zarqawi committed since 2004 could have been prevented.
Another source discussing the same nonkillings is Dan Froomkin in his blog for the Washington Post:
In a case of interesting timing, Mary Anne Weaver , writing in the latest issue of Atlantic (subscription required), debunks the mythology of Zarqawi, who she insists "is not the terrorist mastermind that he is often claimed to be."
She also writes: "During my time in Jordan, I asked a number of officials what they considered to be the most curious aspect of the relationship between the U.S. and al-Zarqawi, other than the fact that the Bush administration had inflated him.
"One of them said, 'The six times you could have killed Zarqawi, and you didn't.'
Helen Thomas talks about news management in her new book (which I will try to review today or tomorrow), and the history of news management by various U.S. administrations makes me wonder what Zarqawi really was and why he wasn't squashed earlier. Think of all the people that would be alive today if that had been done. So why was it not done? It could be that the stories I linked to here are not true, but then there is no telling these days, is there?
Also, I've read so much about the symbolic meaning of Zarqawi's death that I'm beginning to see everything in my private life as symbolic: I found an extra chocolate bar I had forgotten about. This must mean that my future is full of hidden chocolate bars, peace and joy. No, it doesn't, and neither does Zarqawi's death mean that the troubles in Iraq are over or that the war can be now viewed as successful because the U.S. killed one guy. A guy who appears to have been killable several times before.
Added later: I stumbled across an article by Media Matters for America which tells us that the Fox News is one step ahead of me:
From the June 8 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:
GIBSON: You know, we talked about it a minute ago before we went on the air. Out in Las Vegas, the far-left-wing Daily Kos is having its big convention. Every major democratic leader -- Howard Dean, Harry Reid, John Kerry -- is coming out to speak, and they have been defeated in Southern California, [Brian] Bilbray won.
GIBSON: Zarqawi was caught the day their convention opens. This is -- the left is demoralized by this.
ROLLINS: Well, they'll claim it's a conspiracy theory. That we knew their meeting was going on and that's why we did it.
GIBSON: Well, they are claiming that. They are claiming at this moment that they were saving Zarqawi to kill at an important moment.
Eeek! I've been found out! Not.
First, the Kos folk are not "far-left". In Europe some of them would be regarded as fairly right wing, for example, and almost all would be viewed as moderates. It's just that this country has decided to rearrange political definitions so that Attila the Hun is a moderate conservative and everything else follows from that. Second, I see no signs of the "demoralized" left, none whatsoever, though quite a few wingnuts have been demoralized these last few months, what with the dropping approval ratings of the administration. Third, it's a lot easier to just say that the people participating in Yearly Kos are nutter conspiracy theorists than to dig out information that would disprove it. Notice how my post actually has links? Heh.
Friday, June 09, 2006
The big party of the Kos website, held in Las Vegas right now. A New York Times article describes it like this:
Hundreds of liberal (they'd say progressive) Internet bloggers crawled out of their cybertunnels for face-time and political networking here at the first-ever YearlyKos convention.
Named after DailyKos.com, the widely read political Web log by Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, the three-day convention that opened on Thursday is something of a milestone — an event that unites the irreverent and ever-morphing liberal blogophere with mainstream political figures who have begun to recognize the bloggers' potential clout.
Billed as "Uniting the Netroots," the convention at the Riviera Hotel promises top Democratic politicians as its headliners, like poli-Web pioneer Howard Dean, the head of the Democratic Party who was one of the first presidential candidates to mobilize supporters and fundraise online, Senator Harry Reid, minority leader in the Senate who not only reads and guest-blogs but has his own Web site (giveemhellharry.com), Nancy Pelosi, minority leader in the House, Gen. Wesley Clark, and so on.
The gathering resembles a mini-political convention, with seminars instructing participants on the potential power of the blogosphere as well as talks on the Supreme Court, on religion, on the environment, immigration and other issues of the day. No hidden agenda here; the speakers and panelists mocked their own screen-worn politics as those of Bush-bashing, rebel-rousing, noodgy operatives, some already well-known for trying to breathe a new political life online to what the blogocracy views as tired old Democratic ways. Most of the panels, too, emphasize activism, online and offline.
Nice writing. Kate Phillips, the author, got in all the MSM talking points: about bloggers being sorta like maggots, crawling out of the only existence they really have, an electronic one, about the irreverence of bloggers, about the left blogosphere as Bush-bashers. But that's ok. She's setting up the stage to demolish some of those myths, and even ends up telling us that she's the only one writing in pajamas. But that's inaccurate because I bet she never checked what went on in all the other hotel rooms. Bad fact checking...
I feel a tiny bit envious for not being at the party, but if I were there I'd be hiding behind doors and wanting to be at home with the snakes who don't want to talk to me. I'm shy.
It's an odd coincidence that this appeared at the same time as the Kos party:
First-term incumbent Michael G. Fitzpatrick is touting himself as "an independent voice for Pennsylvania,"...
Fitzpatrick recently introduced legislation to protect children from child predators on social networking sites such as Dailykos, Blogger and MySpace.
I've never spotted child predators working Blogger or The Daily Kos. Kos is a political website and politics is not of interest for children, on the whole. Do you think this is just ignorance on the part of Mr. Fitzpatrick or is this a heinous plot to make the blogs look like a paradise for pederasts?
The Fitzpatrick link is from Nim on Eschaton threads. For ten bucks you can watch the Yearly Kos panels via Air America.
I forgot to do a follow-up post on our intervention to resuscitate Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, us being me, Ares, Aphrodite and a bunch of monsters and demi-gods. We goddessnapped Nemesis, who has gotten as thin as Ann Coulter though a lot more transparent, put her in a suitcase and brought her over to my place, the Snakepit Inc., to feed her mice and prayers. That's the way us divinities grow plump and powerful.
Anyhooow, the intervention was hard work. Hard. Work. What with keeping 'Dite from attacking the mailman all naked ('Dite, not the mailman, poor thing), and me trying to not end up in sack with Ares (too often). You know the drill by now. But Nemesis is truly doing better, trying on some goddess gear in front of my mirror, and I might even see faint outlines of her in it! Or at least I sense a puff of cold air moving when she runs by.
She runs by a lot, bursting into tears, because it's hard to wake up from a somnolent state to not being a really hawt and powerful goddess anymore. She'll get there, I tell her, being all kind and loving and nurturing as everyone knows us female godfolk are. Then she tries to throttle me and to rain locusts on me and to scorch her N letter (she got that from old Zorro movies) on my supposedly dead body. Sigh. The work is not yet finished.
We gave her political wingnut books to read to bring back that healthy glow of anger and taught her how to cruise the internet (except for this blog, for obvious reasons). My loveliest snake, the Artful Asp, serves as her fingers in these endeavors though Artful is pretty pissed off at the whole thing by now, especially at the number of "her" mice that Nemesis has been gobbling up and because (Artful says) the keyboard static is bad for snake scales.
But Artul must understand the need for sacrifice! The nation is at war, and she can't go shopping, given the lack of legs. So she might as well serve the country by helping us to get some revenge. Which requires Nemesis back on her feet, all informed and eloquent and with a booming and frightening voice, suitable for paralyzing the wingnuts in power. Or at least some kind of a voice louder than the current squeak. I keep confusing it with the air conditioner, and air conditioners are insufficiently scary. Not to mention hard to understand.
If this intervention doesn't work in a timely manner we'll have to use Nemesis as a sock puppet. One of the monsters could be her voice and I could be her brain and she could be dressed in a long blood-stained gown with all of us under it and the snakes could move her hair in a frightening manner. I bet it would work and look quite lifelike. Or deathlike, but you get the point. Sort of like the division of the labor in our current administration.
This is the name of the new vaccine which is expected to prevent cervical cancer by blocking:
infection from human papillomavirus, which is spread through sexual contact. The Food and Drug Administration today permitted Gardasil for females ages 9 through 26, with the goal of inoculating girls before they may become sexually active.
About half a million women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. The approval raises the possibility that a cancer may be eliminated within a generation, specialists said. It is also a victory for Merck, the fourth-biggest U.S. drugmaker, which has focused increasingly on vaccines and may generate $3 billion in annual sales from Gardasil alone.
Gardasil shots will be given in three doses over six months, with each dose costing $120, Merck said. Affordability may help determine whether [sic] how effective the drug in quelling cervical cancer, since 80 percent of the cases are in poorer countries.
So far so good. But the road from the approval of the vaccine to it reaching the girls and women that need it still has roadblocks. In poorer countries a major one will be lack of money. Three hundred and sixty dollars is more than the annual income of many of this world's poor people. Unless some form of financial subsidy is provided, most women will not have access to the vaccine.
Then there is the sex roadblock. A virus that is transmitted by sex! What will people say if we vaccinate our unmarried daughters? This is going to be a problem in many of the poorer countries:
"We found that some Asian women in Britain are afraid even to get tested for HPV infection, because they say if it is positive they will be killed, never mind that their husbands probably gave it to them," says Szarewski. She feels that such attitudes may mean that HPV vaccination may be a non-starter in such communities.
Greg Zimet of Indiana University in Indianapolis is more optimistic. His surveys in the US show parents overwhelmingly favour getting their daughters vaccinated. "Doctors tend to fear the worst," he says.
But some problems have already surfaced. India is planning to do its own clinical trials, but will not test the vaccine in young girls. "This is not possible until around the age of marriage in India," Ganguly says.
Once licensed, the vaccine should be given to younger girls, he says. "But people will say 'My girl is very virtuous, why vaccinate?' It will be a real challenge, not like other vaccines."
And not only in poorer countries. In the same April article, an American wingnut made her objections known:
In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. "Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.
"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus.
You might think that this attitude is only going to be a problem for the daughters and wives of wingnuts. But you might be wrong, for reasons explained here:
The real battle over the vaccine will be in the coming weeks as the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) issues their recommendations for how the vaccine should be administered. While the ACIP decisions are non-binding, its recommendations set the standard by which states decide if they will mandate vaccination, insurance companies choose to cover the cost, and doctors decide how to advise their patients. Their decision on June 29 will determine whether or not we will be on our way to eradicating an STI that affects 80% of women by age 50 and is at the root of almost all cases of cervical cancer.
The only member of the 15-member panel to publicly state his opinion about making the vaccine routinely available is Reginald Finger. Dr. Finger nominated himself to the ACIP after the ultra-conservative Focus on the Family was asked to provide a list of scientists to nominate for various federal boards. Dr. Finger (sorry, I can't get over that name) describes himself as a liaison between the CDC and Focus on the Family. He says, "Focus on the Family wants to have good relationships at CDC - and I can help make those happen."
He has also said that if "people begin to market the [HPV] vaccine or tout the vaccine that this makes adolescent sex safer, then that would undermine the abstinence-only message." For the record, Finger would also be wary of approving an HIV vaccine, should one become available.
I'm not sure about the eighty percent infection rate cited, but it is certainly correct that the wingnuts have avenues to affect the availability of Gardasil in general. As they appear to prefer death to sexual non-abstinence (though only for women) I'd keep an eagle's eye on ACIP. To find out how you can give your opinions to ACIP, go to feministing.com.
Make this little thought experiment: Suppose that there was a similar cancer, with similar death rates, also sexually transmitted, but affecting only men. Do you think that the same arguments would have been brought forward by our wingnuts and many of the traditionalists in other countries? Would we be sitting here reading arguments against making a vaccine against such a cancer available?
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Now I understand why Chris ("Tweety") Matthew's political show is called Hardball. It's all about Tweety's testicles, or perhaps one of them. Yesterday's show gave us some truly revealing comments about Matthew's troubles with women in politics. Here he is talking about the San Diego race with Ken Mehlman:
MATTHEWS: How did you manage to get Francine Busby the Democratic nomination in that seat?
MEHLMAN: We didn't have anything to do with that, but look...
MATTHEWS: ... What did you make—we just showed the tape, David Shuster just showed that tape of a woman candidate in the United States openly advising people in this country illegally to vote illegally.
All bolding in this post is by me. But the revealing comments are all by Tweety. Note how Francine Busby is not just a candidate; she's a womancandidate!
And here is Matthews yesterday on the same topic with Charlie Cook:
The biggest news of the day was how Republicans held onto that seat we talked about last night of convicted former Congressman Duke Cunningham.
How did they do it? Here to make sense of that and more is Charlie Cook, NBC political analyst and publisher of the "Cook Political Report."
You're the best guy at numbers. That race turned out to be about a four-point margin, much narrower than the time before. The challenger Busby, the woman, went from 38 last time to 45 this time. Is that enough of a signal of the Democrats' pre-eminence this time?
COOK: Exactly. But on the other hand, this Democrat was a very weak candidate. To be honest, she would have come a lot closer or won this thing had she not opened her mouth and made a huge faux pas last week.
MATTHEWS: My point, I believe illegal immigration is a huge issue in this country. It's not just a Republican issue, it's a national issue. Protecting our identity as citizens is serious business. It is in every country.
This woman, this candidate of the Democratic Party came out and told Hispanic voters go ahead and vote, you don't need papers. She was encouraging illegal voting right on - we heard it on the mike.
Is that enough repetion, you think? Do you think that the viewers got the point?
Is just beginning. Yes, Zarqawi may have been killed and it's good news, assuming that they don't have others ready to take up the lead. But there is another war brewing, one which affects women and which will go on for a long time. The same war is beginning in Somalia and we see a kinder and gentler version of it here in the good old U.S. of A.. It's the war against modern roles for women, and in Iraq it is winning:
The women of Basra have disappeared. Three years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, women's secular freedoms - once the envy of women across the Middle East - have been snatched away because militant Islam is rising across the country.
Across Iraq, a bloody and relentless oppression of women has taken hold. Many women had their heads shaved for refusing to wear a scarf or have been stoned in the street for wearing make-up. Others have been kidnapped and murdered for crimes that are being labelled simply as "inappropriate behaviour". The insurrection against the fragile and barely functioning state has left the country prey to extremists whose notion of freedom does not extend to women.
In the British-occupied south, where Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army retains a stranglehold, women insist the situation is at its worst. Here they are forced to live behind closed doors only to emerge, concealed behind scarves, hidden behind husbands and fathers. Even wearing a pair of trousers is considered an act of defiance, punishable by death.
May I say again that this was one of my main reasons for opposing the war, superceded only by the desire to save people from needless death? Whenever something called "democracy" is born the first thing that happens is that powerful groups, those who feel very strongly, decide that democracy means their values should rule the country and not the values of whoever the silverback chimpanzees were in the previous power structure. We may hear beautiful thoughts about the wonders of democracy, but the truth is that democracy is hard work and every additional person's rights to belong to it are won only with a lot of work and in many cases of blood.
And it is almost the norm that whenever a government somewhere falls the first thing to do (after thanking the female revolutionaries for their contribution to the fall) is to lock women up in one way or another. In Iraq the groups rising in power are the fundamentalists and their idea of women's proper place is a very dismal one. For women, at least. They are not supposed to exist in the public sphere. You can get the other details by looking up the definition of the term "Taliban". Or you could scan the following quotes from the Independent article I link to:
One Basra woman, known only as Dr Kefaya, was working in the women and children's hospital unit at the city university when she started receiving threats from extremists. She defied them. Then, one day a man walked into the building and murdered her.
Eman Aziz, one of the first women to speak publicly about the dangers, said:"There were five people on the death list with Dr Kefaya. They were threatened 'If you continue working, you will be killed'."
A television producer Arij Al-Soltan, 27, now exiled, said: "It is much worse for women in the south. I blame the British for not taking a strong stand."
Sajeda Hanoon Alebadi, 37, who - like Mrs Aziz - has now taken to wearing a headscarf, said: "Women are being assassinated. We know the people behind it are saying we have a fatwa, these are not good women, they should be killed."
Behind the wave of insurgent attacks, the violence against women who dare to challenge the Islamic orthodoxy is growing. Fatwas banning women from driving or being seen out alone are regularly issued.
Infiltrated by militia, the police are unwilling or unable to crack down on the fundamentalists.
Ms Alebadi said: "After the fall of the regime, the religious extremist parties came out on to the streets and threatened women. Although the extremists are in the minority, they control powerful positions, so they control Basra."
To venture on the streets today without a male relative is to risk attack, humiliation or kidnap.
A journalist, Shatta Kareem, said: "I was driving my car one day when someone just crashed into me and drove me off the road. If a woman is seen driving these days it is considered a violation of men's rights."
There is a fear that Islamic law will become enshrined in the new legislation. Ms Aziz said: "In the Muslim religion, if a man dies his money goes to a male member of the family. After the Iran-Iraq war, there were so many widows that Saddam changed the law so it would go to the women and children. Now it has been changed back."
Optimists say the very fact that 25 per cent of Iraq's Provincial Council is composed of women proves women have been empowered since the invasion. But the people of Basra say it is a smokescreen. Any woman who becomes a part of the system, they say, is incapable of engineering any change for the better. Posters around the city promoting the constitution graphically illustrate that view. The faces of the women candidates have been blacked out, the accompanying slogan, "No women in politics," a stark reminder of the opposition they face.
So. The new democracy is not going to help women to have more rights. Most likely it will help to take away the rights that used to exist in the last twenty years or so. It is true that these rights only helped the minority of educated women with jobs and the desire for some autonomy, and I've heard that we shouldn't really worry about the women in Iraq as they are used to their traditions and their culture and most are not going to be affected by this return to "traditional family values".
I disagree. Aren't we supposed to be in Iraq now for the creation of a modern democracy? A modern democracy which refuses to let the majority of its citizens to hold jobs, go out alone, to participate in politics, to wear trousers? That would be some victory for the Western civilization. Should the Western civilization care about Iraqi women, of course.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Ann Coulter is in the news again, spreading love and enlightenment. Even Hillary Clinton, that horrible, horrible feminazi, reacted:
New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton lashed out at Ann Coulter for a "vicious, mean-spirited attack" on a group of outspoken 9/11 widows, whom the right-wing television pundit described as "self-obsessed" and enjoying their husbands' deaths.
Coulter writes in a new book, "Godless: The Church of Liberalism," that a group of New Jersey widows whose husbands perished in the World Trade Center act "as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them."
She also wrote, "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."
Clinton, who has felt Coulter's wrath over the years, responded angrily on Wednesday.
"Perhaps her book should have been called 'Heartless,"' the senator said.
"I know a lot of the widows and family members who lost loved ones on 9/11. They never wanted to be a member of a group that is defined by the tragedy of what happened."
The New York Democrat and former first lady said she found it "unimaginable that anyone in the public eye could launch a vicious, mean-spirited attack on people whom I've known over the last four and a half years to be concerned deeply about the safety and security of our country."
The senator spoke after delivering a speech on protecting children from exposure to sex- and violence-saturated media.
Coulter appeared Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show, and reiterated her stance, saying the women used their grief "to make a political point."
Her criticism was aimed at four New Jersey women whom she dubbed "The Witches of East Brunswick," after the town where two of them live.
So sweet of Ann. As an aside, someone on the many and varied internets called this "a cat fight". I'm beginning to think that it's not only the poor that will always be with us but also the woman-haters. If that sounds like religious language, it is. Ann Coulter has shown me the way one gets to be revered as a religious sage: You just say that you are of some particular religion and then everything you do is AOK.
Here is her justification for her brilliant career of expelling deep truths and spitballs: She is A Girl Warrior For Christ!
COLMES: You know, [President] George [H.W.] Bush 41 pardoned drug dealers and drug traders, all presidents have pardoned. So, you know what? We can play a game of who is worse on criminals. You say your Christianity fuels everything you do --
COULTER: Oh, yes. That's my Human Events interview.
COLMES: -- everything you write, and that you're called upon to battle cruelty. You said that to Human Events. Would Jesus sanction a book that belittles and ridicules a large segment of the American population?
COLMES: Jesus would? Where would Jesus -- can you point to the passage where Jesus would approve of that?
COULTER: Well, there's the famed money changers' passage, which is my favorite, probably a favorite of Sean's, as well. I mean, liberals always think of Christ as, you know, some pantywaist. No. We are called upon to do battle.
This is absolutely priceless. I haven't laughed so hard all day, though it's been a horrible day with continual rain and all my gadgets went on strike. So maybe it isn't quite as funny. No, it IS funny. It's totally and deliciously hilarious. She is such a money-grabbing nutter, our Ann is, and she justifies this with the story about Jesus throwing the money-lenders out of the temple. What religion should I take over and corrupt to earn a few bucks? It would be interesting to try to destroy the world while doing that, too.
If you want to see how Coulter debates, the link to Media Matters for America gives a really good example of it. She doesn't debate at all. She just moves to some other outrageous assertion when she can't answer an argument. It's easy to see on paper.
Some of my commenters get angry when I write about these nutters, and I see their point. We shouldn't talk about trivialities; we should pick our own topics for debate. I'm all ready to do that, and even to write a book about it, the minute someone promises to do the bulk purchases necessary to get me on the Best Seller list, so that I can go nose to nose with our sweet Ann.
Or put another way: beggars can't be choosers, and we are beggars, us godless fanatics of the left, because all we have is the truth on our sides and all sorts of inconveniences such as conscience and compassion. I wish I could have a consciencectomy. I'd be rich the minute the stitches came off. - Wow! The biggest spider I've ever seen just crawled out from behind the computer. I shall name her Anncoulter. - Without a conscience I could write so much funnier diatribes and doing research would be a lot easier, too: no long hours spent trying to verify sources. I could just make up stuff, buy a black miniskirt and go on television saying that all Republicans are members of Hitler youth and went to bed with Stalin and plan to drop nuclear penises on the rest of us.
The sad thing is not the existence of ann coulters. The sad thing is the media treating them as if they really were serious political commentators and authors.
On the Southern front those who want to socialize the womb are doing well:
La. Governor Kathleen Blanco is expected to sign a strict abortion ban into law now that the Senate has given the measure final legislative approval.
Blanco said last week that she planned to sign the bill, which would ban nearly all abortions in Louisiana if the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 abortion rights ruling is ever overturned.
Under the measure, doctors found guilty of performing abortions would face up to ten years in prison and fines of one hundred thousand dollars.
Hurricanes kill people in Louisiana, and some of the surviving victims still live in tents. But it's more urgent to make a bill criminalizing abortions even in the case of rape, and even though this law will have no impact unless and until Roe vs. Wade is overturned. But better be prepared, Louisiana? Just not in the case of hurricanes.
The state famous for its ethical politicians, Ohio, is also joining in the excitement of banning almost all abortions. They plan not to make the women seeking abortions into criminals; it's the physicians who provide abortions who will be criminals under the proposed Ohio law. Neat. The women who decide to have abortions will have to perform them on themselves. With coathangers and such.
I love the care with which this law proposal has been written. It plugs every loophole that a pregnant woman might use. Except for the coathanger loophole. But then Ohio politicians seem fairly comfortable with illegal activities. It's only the appearance of things which matters.
Some of the consequences of socializing the womb in this way are not what the anti-abortion wingnuts wish, assuming that it's fewer abortions. This Washington Post article tells one sad story of the unintended effects of all the anti-abortion activity in this country. But who knows what is unintended in these effects? I suspect that quite a few of the womb-socializers really just want to reign in all the uppity women who have stolen fertility control away from the fundamentalist radical clerics. Kirche, Küche und Kinder, you know.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
In 1986 Newsweek published a story about "older" women's chances of finding a man, which among other weird things stated that a forty-year-old woman was more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to ever don a wedding dress. The article was based on incorrect and unpublished data, but it took a long time before any corrections appeared, and then mostly in places hidden from the mainstream. That mainstream bubbled merrily on about the horrors facing educated women who postpone marriage. What they could expect was loneliness and lots of cats, pretty much. Susan Faludi's Backlash summarizes the messages in the original Newsweek article and the ensuing "man shortage" journalism:
Newsweek's preachers found single women guilty of at least three deadly sins: Greed - they put their high-paying careers before the quest for a husband. Pride - they acted "as though it were not worth giving up space in their closets for anything less than Mr. Perfect." And sloth - they weren't really out there beating the bushes; "even though they say they want to marry, they may not want it enough."
Now came the judgment day. "For many economically independent women, the consequences of their actions have begun to set in," Newsweek intoned. "For years bright young women singlemindedly pursued their careers, assuming that when it was time for a husband they could pencil one in. They were wrong."
Well, it was Newsweek that was wrong, very wrong. It's so sweet of them to offer a retraction to the story, though next time, perhaps, they could do it in a little less than twenty years, please, and it could be a little stronger than this:
Rarely does a magazine story create the sort of firestorm sparked 20 years ago next week when NEWSWEEK reported on new demographic projections suggesting a rising number of women would never find a husband. Across the country, women reacted with anger, anxiety—and skepticism. The story reported that "white, college-educated women born in the mid-1950s who are still single at 30 have only a 20 percent chance of marrying. By the age of 35 the odds drop to 5 percent." Much of the ire focused on a single, now infamous line: that a single 40-year-old woman is "more likely to be killed by a terrorist" than to ever marry, the odds of which the researchers put at 2.6 percent. The terrorist comparison wasn't in the study, and it wasn't actually true (though it apparently didn't sound as inappropriate then as it does today, post 9/11). Months later, other demographers came out with new estimates suggesting a 40-year-old woman really had a 23 percent chance of marrying. Today, some researchers put the odds at more than 40 percent. Nevertheless, it quickly became entrenched in pop culture.
I bolded the only apology or retraction that I really spotted in the supposed retraction, though of course it was funny that they found most of the originally interviewed desperate single women all married and stuff.
"The story became quickly entrenched in pop culture"? Notice the passive voice in the sentence, as if journalists didn't milk it for every single drop afterwards. Read Backlash to find all the follow-up stories of the initial one, and then notice how these stories are still being written. If you doubt me, read this old post of mine which discusses how "the man shortage" is eternally with us but somehow never affects any other women except those who have education and good jobs.
There is much that I could say about this whole myth-making enterprise: How it's ok to do damage to women and not to apologize for twenty years for the fact that the damage was based on terrible research and no checking. How the next story with the same message is already in the works somewhere. How these stories never mention any possibility of a woman shortage or the fact that it is men who really get psychological and physical health benefits from marriage and should therefore be the ones eager to marry. How, were I a really sneaky goddess, I might even suspect that it's some guys who order these stories to be put out there so that they have better luck hunting for a wife.
So much juicy stuff! But I will be frugal and abstemious and discuss only one aspect of the Terrible Testosterone Drought in our maidenly bedrooms: The idea that it didn't really matter how wrong the original article was because it "felt" right. Amanda at Pandagon has a good take on that and so does Jessica Yellin in the New York Times, where she writes:
SO Newsweek has retracted its 1986 cover article that said a 40-year-old, single, white, college-educated woman was more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to marry.
For a lot of women, the retraction doesn't matter. The article seems to have lodged itself permanently in the national psyche.
"That Newsweek cover struck terror in the hearts of single women everywhere," said Candace Bushnell, whose New York Observer column, Sex and the City, famously chronicled the angst of single women in Manhattan.
In its cover story last week, Newsweek acknowledged that its original article was a reaction to — or a misreading of — the large-scale social changes at the time: women were staying single longer, rising further in their careers and having children later or even not at all.
"The women's movement wrought enormous change in intimate life," said Suzanna Danuta Walters, who is chairwoman of the gender studies department at Indiana University. "We shouldn't have been surprised women were chastised for creating this situation. The panic was a socially and culturally constructed panic."
I bolded the important bit. Why were many women panicking over their apparently dwindling chances of wedlock? Why do these articles about "man shortages" seem right to so many? The answer, quite astonishingly, is that they feel true because the media is in the business of trend-making and myth-building and one of the false myths the society has decided to give us is the eternally lonely educated spinster myth. In short, we have been reading and hearing and seeing the same myth many, many times before. Of course it feels "right".
We have been played, ladies, played like so many pianos, and the panicky reactions are an intended part of the music, which always plays on the triple sins of pride, greed and sloth. In women only, note. Men are not greedy or proud or lazy if they don't marry young.
Not even all older women seem to suffer from man shortage. Working class women are never interviewed in articles worrying about the sadness of female singlehood. It's as if there are no older single women who are not professionals, and such an omission should cause some discords in the music we hear, because it hints on the real message of these songs: That it is women who are educated and who have careers who are greedy, proud and lazy.
Will you marry me now? I have some vacancies among my trophy husbands on the mantelpiece. But I'd be as happy a goddess all single. It's the society that is not really happy with single women. Or independent women in general.
It's supposed to be the Devil's Own Number (though some say that one is 616), but as the Devil is a Christian creation non-Christians don't have to worry about it. What a relief. Even Christians can relax because there is a lot of doubt about whether the translations of the Bible got the number correctly. Which, then, might mean that any other number might be the Devil's own, of course. Makes you shudder, huh?
Not really. Superstitions are interesting mostly for what they tell us about our attempts to have some control over the noncontrollable parts of our lives. If my lucky number is, say, seven, then I can affect the odds of winning a lottery by playing it, and if capricorns are unlucky in your bedchamber - well, you know what not to pick as a boyfriend. Go for lepricorns instead. And don't walk under ladders, avoid black cats and chimney sweeps. Somehow this will put you in control.
Other people's religions are often called superstition, in the same way as other people's children are called brats. This is wrong. I bet you expect me now to say that we should have more respect for the religions of others, but I won't. Instead, I recommend more careful scrutiny of our own religions. This is hard to do. I can't think of anything in echidneism that I'd like to change. In particular, it is absolutely true that anyone eating frozen tofu while pretending that it is ice-cream is guilty of heresy, will grow large green pimples on their noses and will not share in the Great Chocolate Mountain that is the lot of all good echidneites.
Well, maybe such a horrible person could do penance putting their big toes into their eye sockets at the time of the full moon.
Monday, June 05, 2006
The Yearly Kos convention starts June 8. You can still make it, and then you won't feel so alone should you happen to live among wingnuts. Plenty of interesting speakers, too. If you can't go in person, Air America offers screening of the convention for ten dollars (via Atrios).
Jessica from feministing.com e-mailed me about Misfortune 500. It's a website dedicated to analyzing corporate malfeasance against women. A good source.
Several delicious books also arrived today, and I will review at least some of them this weekend (instead of going to the Yearly Kos). Helen Thomas's new book is among them.
Could I ask those of you who e-mail me to make sure that the title of the post is clear? I've started getting a lot of spam that smells like legitimate communications, so titles such as "orgasm" go directly into the trash. At least say "orgasms for Echidne", please.
I have long suspected that something like this is going on: the breeding of miniature camels, so small that they can squeak through the eye of a needle. Then rich men can squeak through the door of heavens. Without dropping their moneybags en route.
And while we are in the business of banning some types of marriages, could we please ban the unholy marriage of fundamentalism and secular money? It makes for a dysfunctional country, and we are all suffering from its effects. The fundamentalists let the corporations get away with anything and the corporations respond with the same laxity. Hence the wars for oil and the increasing income inequality in this country and the internal wars: against gays, immigrants, women, liberals. And all this makes a mockery of the actual messages of Jesus.
Jeez but I'm angry today.
This is such bullshit. The whole marriage amendment crap is bullshit, and all the participating politicians know it. There is no gay or lesbian danger to marriage. Some gays and lesbians want to get married, for Chrissake! They want in on the good stuff. Like fidelity and caring and nurturing children in a relationship protected by contracts and laws and societal support. How is this destroying marriage, especially when roughly one half of all heterosexual marriages end up all broken up and destroyed, without any help from the gay menace?
Then there is the bullshit about how bad it is for children to grow up with two parents of the same sex. Tell that to my gay neighbors who adopt reject children and who turn them into happy little rugrats, with a lot of work and a lot of love. Not to mention that these guys throw the best parties I've ever been to. Perhaps that's the problem for the wingnuts: that the gays and lesbians would actually enjoy their marriages?
It's all bullshit and it's cruel stuff. It's cruel to exploit a wedge issue which isn't really a wedge until the wingnuts have been scared and frightened into a red-eyed stampede down the cliff. It's cruel to try to create scapegoat groups who are supposed to silently suffer the fears and sins of the majority, and it's cruel to deprive people of their rights to a full and meaningful life when it doesn't hurt anybody else's chances of a full and meaningful life.
I'm not the polite political blogger today, though I'm nowhere near as nasty as I can be. I'm the viper tongue, remember. But I'm fed up with all this bullshit. It's vapid bullshit, not even interesting to attack, and it's all a pretense game. Like the immigrant bashing going on at the same time. These are not the concerns Americans struggle with every night while staring helplessly into the darkness. Or at least not the concerns of most Americans. I can't speak for the wingnuts.
But I'd love to know how these "mass concerns" are manufactured in the little elfshops of the wingnuts. Who decides what we will worry over next year? Could that person give me a hint so that I can ride the wave and make millions being the expert blogger on the newest moral concern of the Murkan People? Perhaps we will have a liberal war on crosses worn as jewelry next year. There might be an amendment to make cross-wearing totally and fully legal, even in the pagan areas of New York City. The place that has been made into a computer game where little wingnuts can kill those who won't convert to Christianity. Praise the Lord!
It's all total bullshit.
Looks like Afghanistan: lawlessness, warlords, then a Taliban-type society:
Islamic militias declared victory today over Somalia's traditional warlords in the battle for control of Mogadishu, quelling months of fierce fighting in the lawless capital but raising new questions about whether this regime, which American officials have accused of sheltering terrorists, will steer the country down an extremist path.
"We want to restore peace and stability to Mogadishu," Sheik Sharif Ahmed, chairman of the Islamic Courts Union, said in a radio broadcast, according to The Associated Press. "We are ready to meet and talk to anybody and any group for the interest of the people."
Some of the warlords who have ruled over Mogadishu for the last 15 years were on the run today. One was holed up in a hospital north of the city. Others were on the outskirts of the capital, their forces having been pushed from the strategic center.
They had been defeated by militia fighters allied with the Islamic courts that have grown in influence throughout Somalia in recent years, filling a void left by the lack of a central government. The Islamists are a loose coalition of leaders who have put forward Islam, the universal religion in Somalia, as the way out of anarchy.
Somalia has been lawless for a long time. Whether a Taliban-type society is an improvement on that (or the warlords the Americans are said to have supported) is hard to judge. The people of the capital, Mogadishu, just want peace, mostly, and the interviews I read sounded a lot like the interviews I read with Kabul residents when the Taliban took power: Let's wait and see. Peace is what we want. It won't be that bad. And then there were the ones who believed that the Islamic shariah law would solve all their problems for ever.
But the long run tidings are not good for the Somali women. There is something about fundamentalism that doesn't like a woman. To paraphraze Frost.
My brethren and sistren in God, did you know that God is the Chairman of the Texas Republican Party? Yep:
Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell offered a greeting to delegates to the Republican convention. "It's great to be back in the holy land," the Fort Worth native said to the cheers of the party faithful.For the 4,500 delegates at last week's biennial gathering, it was both an expression of conservative philosophy and religious faith, a melding of church and state.
At Saturday morning's prayer meeting, party leader Tina Benkiser assured them that God was watching over the two-day confab.
"He is the chairman of this party," she said against a backdrop of flags and a GOP seal with its red, white and blue logo.
The party platform, adopted Saturday, declares "America is a Christian nation" and affirms that "God is undeniable in our history and is vital to our freedom."
"We pledge to exert our influence toward a return to the original intent of the First Amendment and dispel the myth of the separation of church and state," it says.
Theocracy. But the Texas Republican Party has long been known for this kind of talk, I've been told. I've also been told to ignore all this godly weirdness, because it's so extreme that nobody could take it seriously. Then the Texas Republican Party gave us George Bush and the war in Iraq and all the rest of our locusts and boils. Is it now time to take the godly nutters seriously? Before they take away my driver's licence and my bank account, because the women in the Bible didn't have such things.
Funny how I used to have a lot of respect for fervent Christians*. This had something to do with the way I was taught Christianity, with a focus on the teachings of Christ, which are mostly about caring for the poor and the least important among us. But the new breeds of Christians don't care for the wimpy kind of Christ. Their Christ is a warrior, perhaps a marine going to fight us, and their Christ hates illegal immigrants to the United States:
At Saturday morning's prayer meeting, ministers delivered prayers, gospel singers sang, and the Rev. Dale Young, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Laredo, picked up the convention's dominant theme of immigration.
"Lord, your words tell us there's a sign that this nation is under a curse, when the alien who lives among us grows higher and higher and we grow lower and lower," he preached.
No mention of the Samaritan who was the alien deemed more godly than the natives? Nothing from the Sermon on the Mount, not even the bit about turning the other cheek?
And man created God in his image. In the Texas Republican Party, this is how a god looks.
*I still respect true Christians but no longer confuse fervency with faith.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
Stephen J. Ducat's The Wimp Factor. Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity. A book with an indigestible name as is common these days, but also a book with a name which pretty much tells us the contents of the book.
Anxious masculinity refers to Ducat's main thesis: That some American men feel masculinity is under attack, that masculinity is not something men just have from birth onwards but something that needs to be fought for and regained and protected. That without masculinity men are no better than...women. And that hypermasculinity as played by George Bush is what got him elected in 2000 over Al Gore's more subdued political performances.
Ducat points out the similarity between the Islamic fundamentalists who are always focused on the redomestication of women and our home-baked radical clerics, and he suggests the same reason for the success of these movements among men: anxious masculinity, the feeling that if women gain more powers it must mean that men lose powers and this, in turn, must make men something like women are. Something not desirable.
That George Bush is a born-again Christian is not unimportant from this angle. Fundamentalist religions always tell men that women were created for their pleasure and use, that men are the bosses of women, and that all these goodies are not a sign of the oppression of women but the holy will of a divine creature. That fits very nicely with a psychologically safe way of propping up anxious masculinity, though Ducat the psychologist doesn't really take his book very far in that direction. Neither does he pay a lot of attention on one of the reasons for the anxiety among the working-class men in the U.S.: the disappearance of well-paying blue-collar jobs through outsourcing and the competition from low-wage developing countries. This disappearance has made "man the provider" a difficult myth for these men to live up to.
The Republican party has been able to use all this anxiety and religiosity in a masterful manner. It probably didn't need very much prodding to redirect the blame for the economic losses of many men from their actual causes to a nearby irritant: women who were going to college in greater numbers than ever, women who were suddenly becoming more visible in the public sector, women who were getting the jobs that somehow should have belonged to the men. Hence the bashing of the feminists, the so-called "war against the boys" that the right-wing gals give us and the renewed effort to keep working mothers feeling guilty.
Ducat could have done more on the education debates and the loss of good family-supporting jobs in this country. But what he did analyze is interesting in itself: The way anxious masculinity entered the political debates of the last few years in all sorts of interesting, often hidden, ways and the way it affected both the voting behavior of many American men and the behavior of the politicians. The chapters on vagina dentata and the almost inexplicable deep hatred of Hillary (and Bill) Clinton among the wingnuts are alone worth the price of the book.
The meat of the book for me is in Ducat's attempt to understand why masculinity is anxious and frail. He draws on several psychological theories about childhood development which center on the identification between mother and child and on the often emotionally or physically absent fathers. The idea is that the mother is the goddess in a child's world and that her powers to nurture and love are almost infinite. She is the one who can create life and who can feed the life she has created. She is wonderful, and children want to grow up just like her. But boys can't do that, they realize one horrible morning, and from that day onwards they must cope with what might as well be called womb envy (and Ducat does call it that). He writes (page 34):
There are five common defensive strategies men unconsciously employ to cope with their envy of women's capacities to generate and nurture life: idealization, appropriation, provoking envy in others, devaluation of the object, and transforming love and longing into hate and fear. These defenses are not mutually exclusive, and often operate in concert.
I could write a book on each of those defensive strategies. Ducat doesn't mean, by the way, that all men employ them. He's talking here about those men who suffer from womb envy, who suffer from femiphobia and who might vote for hypermasculine candidates for such reasons. Interestingly, Ducat's solution to femiphobia is to have fathers play a much bigger role in their children's lives, especially in the hands-on caring. That way the child would have both a god and a goddess to look up to, and boys wouldn't have to break the loving ties to their main parent in such painful ways.
Wouldn't it be nice if Ducat's ideas were correct ones? The solution would be such a simple one. Not that I'm arguing against his theories, just wondering how they could ever be tested and how they relate to the generally accepted inferiority that most societies have historically assigned women. If the ability to give birth is such a powerful and enviable gift why is it that we mostly read about penis envy and not womb envy? Mutter, mutter.
But I do agree with Ducat that what makes masculinity "anxious" is in the way masculinity is defined: as the absence of anything even remotely smacking of feminine. This makes the whole definition a zero-sum game, might make some men hate and fear those parts of themselves that are labeled feminine, and also tends to cause a shrinking of the female sphere in patriarchal societies: if masculinity is the superior characteristic, then all sorts of desirable things (courage, honesty, intelligence) must be brought under the masculine label. And any attempt women make to redefine femininity immediately harms the definition of masculinity, which makes feminism really hard on some days.
The Wimp Factor is an interesting read. It would have been even more interesting if Ducat had taken into account all my comments in this post but I guess he is not one of us divines, and I forgive him, mostly. Except for the part where he tries to explain why there is such a thing as the Wingnut Gal, a woman willing to die for her right to be oppressed. Ducat spends about two paragraphs on this question, explaining it away in fairly fuzzy terms of individual rewards being different from group rewards and such. But this is really not enough, given that most married women voted for Bush in 2000.
In a weird way that glancing over the role of wingnut women or Republican women in general is not that different from the way the political right treats women's issues: by ignoring them.