October 19, 2011

Preppies at the gate

ALTHOUGH DANA MILBANK has done some good reporting from the White House he continues to display a curious anti-Nader fetish, most recently making fun of Nader selling books on his website. Given that Nader, David Cobb of the Greens, and Michael Badnarik of the Libertarians were clearly the three most decent human beings in the race who got any notice, the question arises: why does Milbank so dislike honesty and decency in a politician?

Ironically it may lie deep in the same preppy arrogance that Milbank's other target, George Bush, displays so regularly. It is the assumption that only people who act like them and belong with them matter. The rest are fools.

You don't even have to have gone to a prep school to pick up this nasty trait. Four years at Harvard or Yale are plenty to develop what songwriter Alex Jay Lerner described to as an "indubitable, irrefutable, inimitable, indomitable, incalculable superiority."

And since such people often go far in public life, it becomes a curse that affects us all. It was the arrogance of the Harvard faculty that helped mire us in Vietnam. It was the arrogance of George Bush that has us mired in Iraq. And no small part of the origins of such arrogance can be found in the training of such schools as Yale and Harvard especially if - as in the case of Bush, Kerry and Milbank - you add in the perverted and power lusting curriculum of Skull & Bones.

One can identify this way of thinking easily. Just ask a hard question and see how dismissive the answer is. Take Milbank being asked whether it wasn't strange for the Washington Post to have assigned a Bonesman to cover the election in which two Bonesmen were running. His response:

"I have been assigned to monitor all secret hand signals during the debates. . . I have it on good information that if this one gets tied up in a recount, [late Supreme Court Justice and Bonesman] Potter Stewart will return from the grave to write the majority opinion."

The odd thing about people like Milbank is that they expend so much effort trying to prove how sophisticated and grownup they are, yet in the end basically display a remarkable childishness. They are culturally imprisoned in a narrow set of values and perceptions and even in conversation repeatedly use the techniques of power - such as putdowns and dismissiveness - in place of intelligent argument.

Thus, they become little more than members of a club, rather than grownup members of the society they purport to serve or run. It is the irony of institutions like Yale and Harvard that they produce so many childlike products. And it is the thing that in the end make Dana Milbank and George Bush have far more in common than either would wish to admit.

On the west side of the Capitol

 2005 - YOUR editor enjoyed lunch today with his wife at Jimmy T's five blocks down East Capitol Street from where George Bush and his capos were being given four more years to do damage to their country, its constitution, its culture, and its environment -- not to mention further mischief to the rest of the world. The inauguration was taking place on the opposite side of the Capitol and there were hardly any cars or people and no signs of security.

The counter at Jimmy T's was full so we sat in a booth. The TV was on but no one looked at the inauguration and the sound was turned to WASH-FM - loud enough so you couldn't hear the helicopters overhead. For as long as it takes to eat a short stack with bacon and drink a cup of coffee we could pretend everything was okay.

The other day I walked by the Capitol and found myself wondering why we weren't more paranoiac during the Cold War. When Johnson and Kennedy and Nixon were president you could still wander about the Capitol's halls and through the associated office buildings as though you were actually a part owner. Yet if Tom Ridge had been in charge of setting the alerts for that era, he would have run out of colors. We were in far more danger than we are now.
Even if one wants to argue that a dirty bomb in a backpack is more dangerous than a clean bomb sent by a rocket or that a few suicidal young Arab guys are more dangerous than divisions of well dressed Soviet troops, you still do have to argue the point and that in itself suggests that the response should be somewhat similar.

But there's little similar about it and as I walked down the hill by the Capitol it suddenly struck me that this isn't about me and you; it's about them. We are being governed by some intensely frightened people. From George Bush on down. Much of the homeland security business, in Washington at least, is to provide personal protection to important people from the consequence of the extremely bad things they are doing. We are the victims of both Al Qaeda and Il Dubya, told to give up our rights and freedoms so that the worst leaders of our entire history can go about their business without having to suffer for it. The whole city of Washington has become the armored vest of the Bush administration and Congress.

October 03, 2011

What the Christian right forgets about the Bible

Sam Smith

[This appeared in the Progressive Review during the Reagan administration. Not much has changed.]

Our text for today is found in the eighth chapter of 1 Samuel. When Samuel got old he appointed his sons as judges over Israel. As so often occurs with nepotism this didn't work out: the offspring taking dishonest gain and bribes and perverting justice. So the elders of Israel paid a call on old man Samuel and suggested that he appoint a real king like other nations had. This didn't sit too well with Samuel so he took the matter to the Lord and the latter said in effect, "If you feel bad, think how I feel. Look, I brought these bums out of Egypt and what do I get for thanks? They go and serve other gods. Now they want to ditch you too.

"So Sam, here's what's going to come down. We're going to give them a real king and see how they like it." Continuing in the more literal translation, the Lord said: "However^ you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them."

Here were the ground rules the Lord laid down through Samuel: "This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.

"He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves, and give them to his servants.

"And he will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and our donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants.

"Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer your in that day."

I submit this as further evidence that the Lord is not a conservative but probably a libertarian - if not an anarchist. It is one of the tragedies of modern political debate that the Bible has been surrendered to the right, even when it is clear, as in this case, that the Almighty approves of neither authoritarian regimes, military build-ups nor the concentration of land-holdings. Consider as well the little noted fact that the Bible is far clearer on the evils of usury than of abortion and that it not only is far less prudish about human sexuality than some in office, it even suggests an alternative approach to pornography, urging that if one's eye offends thee, one eye and not the vision should be removed. Further, as some deep ecologists have noted, the Bible suggests that the earth is the Lord's and not the property of multinational corporations.

The ultimate irony of the conservatives it that they pretend to be a bastion of Christian politics when, in fact, they are comprised in no small part of despoilers, usurers, war-mongers, hypocrites, idolaters and groupies of false prophets - all of whom are frowned upon by the book it pretends to follow. And its opponents, who are more faithful to the words the conservatives only quote, are often such good Christians that they never say a mumblin' word about it all.