I am offended when I see the flag burned or treated disrespectfully. As offensive and painful as this is, I still believe that those dissenting voices need to be heard. This country is unique and special because the minority, the unpopular, the dissenters and the downtrodden, also have a voice and are allowed to be heard in whatever way they choose to express themselves that does not harm others. The freedom of expression, even when it hurts, is the truest test of our dedication to the belief that we have that right.
Free expression, especially the right to dissent with the policies of the government, is one important element, if not the cornerstone of our form of government that has greatly enhanced its stability, prosperity, and strength of our country.
Freedom is what makes the United States of America strong and great, and freedom, including the right to dissent, is what has kept our democracy going for more than 200 years. And it is freedom that will continue to keep it strong for my children and the children of all the people like my father, late father in law, grandfather, brother, me, and others like us who served honorably and proudly for freedom.
The pride and honor we feel is not in the flag per se. It's in the principles that it stands for and the people who have defended them. My pride and admiration is in our country, its people and its fundamental principles. I am grateful for the many heroes of our country-and especially those in my family. All the sacrifices of those who went before me would be for naught, if an amendment were added to the Constitution that cut back on our First Amendment rights for the first time in the history of our great nation.
I love this country, its people and what it stands for. The last thing I want to give the future generations are fewer rights than I was privileged to have. My family and I served and fought for others to have such freedoms and I am opposed to any actions which would restrict my children and their children from having the same freedoms I enjoy.
It occurs to me that Coulter's primary screech on the Today Show was that she "wasn't allowed to respond" to the 9/11 widows because of their status as widows, and that this was unfair, and that it was typical of liberals to send such "untouchables" to do their dirty work. The latter we simply ignore as indicative of her extremely warped worldview*, but the former actually has some truth to it when you see it from Coulter's point of view.
That the husbands of the 9/11 widows were killed in the 9/11 attack did, of course, give them a great deal of moral authority in pushing for the investigation and reforms they believed (and believe) are warranted and necessitated by the attacks, but that status, while it gave them a seat at the table which they otherwise wouldn't have had, and a "bully pulpit" to expound from, never protected them from reasonable and rational argumentation in opposition to their views. (Not that we saw anything approaching that kind of counter-argument from their opponents.) What it did shield them from was any kind of scurrilous personal attack hurled against them and their character rather than against their ideas -- and this is precisely the stock in trade of people like Coulter, especially Coulter herself, who revels in the ad hominem insult and never lets an opportunity pass by to vehemently attack the person instead of the argument.
So, from Coulter's point of view, the protected status of the 9/11 widows does indeed prevent her from responding in the only way she knows how to, by attacking them personally and irrelevantly -- except, of course, that it didn't prevent her from doing so, which has gotten her into the pickle she's in now.
* I really wish that professional ethics didn't prevent mental health professionals from commenting on the possible mental illnesses of public figures, because I'd really like to know if Coulter's professed worldview is indicative of some perhaps quite serious problem.
Addenda: I see some validity to the argument that this post itself is an ad hominem attack on Coulter, and doesn't engage her ideas, but several problems arise: (1) Coulter really doesn't present rational ideas, per se, just hatred and venom; and (2) To the extent that hatred and venom constitute "ideas", they've been rationally and intelligently countered many, many times before -- there's literally nothing new about what she says, except in the outrageousness of how she says it and who she addresses it to.
Put it another way -- my response to a clown is not generally an elaborate exegesis on the art of clowning; I either laugh or I don't laugh. Coulter is a clown who's not funny, and who has placed herself beyond any empathy for her sad state of being.
Christopher Durang thinks that Coulter may have hit a tipping point with her latest attacks, but I wouldn'tcount on the current fracas being too debilitating for her -- at most, it might be a temporary setback, but a "setback" which will nonetheless move lots of books, make her lots of money, and keep her firmly on the list of bookable wingnut "pundits". As Neiwert wrote in an earlier piece about Coulter:
Coulter could sing the Horst Wessel Song in English and call for a Final Solution to liberalsim, and her friends on the right would smirk and assure us that she's just joking. Oh, and get a sense of humor too, you unhinged, violent moonbats, wouldja?
Then they'd book her for another round of cable talk shows.
Coulter does not stand sui generis, she is, in fact, merely a prominent exemplar of right-wing "thinking."
There's lots of speculation on the Internets about whether the death of al-Zarqawi will be a "turning point" in the Iraq war -- and it's interesting to note that the question assumes that the war is going badly and requires something to turn it in the right direction. I think that's exactly the case, that the war is indeed going very badly, but I'm not sure all of the people championing Zarqawi's death an a "turning point" would agree with that.
I'm obviously not an expert, but it seems to me that Zarqawi's death can be a turning point only if the insurgency is largely an al-Qaeda/terrorist operation and not a broadly-supported quasi-civil war, which I don't believe is the case - which means that the insurgency will probably continue unabated.
(An, by the way, isn't this almost precisely the same mistake we made in Vietnam, thinking that the Viet Cong did not have broad popular support?)
Time will tell what will happen, I guess, and the deaths of more American and British soldiers and more Iraqi civilians and insurgents, as we wait out the Bush presidency.
Statement of September 11th Advocates Response to "Godless"
We did not choose to become widowed on September 11, 2001. The attack, which tore our families apart and destroyed our former lives, caused us to ask some serious questions regarding the systems that our country has in place to protect its citizens.
Through our constant research, we came to learn how the protocols were supposed to have worked. Thus, we asked for an independent commission to investigate the loopholes which obviously existed and allowed us to be so utterly vulnerable to terrorists. Our only motivation ever was to make our Nation safer. Could we learn from this tragedy so that it would not be repeated?
We are forced to respond to Ms. Coulter’s accusations to set the record straight because we have been slandered.
Contrary to Ms. Coulter’s statements, there was no joy in watching men that we loved burn alive. There was no happiness in telling our children that their fathers were never coming home again. We adored these men and miss them every day.
It is in their honor and memory, that we will once again refocus the Nation’s attention to the real issues at hand: our lack of security, leadership and progress in the five years since 9/11.
We are continuously reminded that we are still a nation at risk. Therefore, the following is a partial list of areas still desperately in need of attention and public outcry. We should continuously be holding the feet of our elected officials to the fire to fix these shortcomings.
1. Homeland Security Funding based on risk. Inattention to this area causes police officers, firefighters and other emergency/first responder personnel to be ill equipped in emergencies. Fixing this will save lives on the day of the next attack.
2. Intelligence Community Oversight. Without proper oversight, there exists no one joint, bicameral intelligence panel with power to both authorize and appropriate funding for intelligence activities. Without such funding we are unable to capitalize on all intelligence community resources and abilities to thwart potential terrorist attacks. Fixing this will save lives on the day of the next attack.
3. Transportation Security. There has been no concerted effort to harden mass transportation security. Our planes, buses, subways, and railways remain under-protected and highly vulnerable. These are all identifiable soft targets of potential terrorist attack. The terror attacks in Spain and London attest to this fact. Fixing our transportation systems may save lives on the day of the next attack.
4. Information Sharing among Intelligence Agencies. Information sharing among intelligence agencies has not improved since 9/11. The attacks on 9/11 could have been prevented had information been shared among intelligence agencies. On the day of the next attack, more lives may be saved if our intelligence agencies work together.
5. Loose Nukes. A concerted effort has not been made to secure the thousands of loose nukes scattered around the world – particularly in the former Soviet Union. Securing these loose nukes could make it less likely for a terrorist group to use this method in an attack, thereby saving lives.
6. Security at Chemical Plants, Nuclear Plants, Ports. We must, as a nation, secure these known and identifiable soft targets of Terrorism. Doing so will save many lives.
7. Border Security. We continue to have porous borders and INS and Customs systems in shambles. We need a concerted effort to integrate our border security into the larger national security apparatus.
8. Civil Liberties Oversight Board. Given the President’s NSA Surveillance Program and the re-instatement of the Patriot Act, this Nation is in dire need of a Civil Liberties Oversight Board to insure that a proper balance is found between national security versus the protection of our constitutional rights.
-- September 11th Advocates
Kristen Breitweiser Patty Casazza Monica Gabrielle Mindy Kleinberg Lorie Van Auken
There’s an interesting point in the last section of the document, though, which goes to the definition of the phrase "American Exceptionalism" that we’ve been hearing a lot recently. A couple weeks ago, I attended a forum at the Hudson Institute with a star-studded panel of conservatives arguing, basically, that conservatives had deep philosophical ideas ("foundations") whereas liberals had none. But the panel was hardly about conservatism at all; with some exceptions, it was devoted to a lengthy exegesis of how liberals or "the left" don’t believe this or that. We don’t believe in the Declaration of Independence, one speaker (a signatory to the Princeton Principles) declared, and above all, over and over, I heard that we don’t believe in "American Exceptionalism."
Now I happen to think I believe in American Exceptionalism. I believe that it matters that this is the first and only country founded on an idea and an ideal, of equality and justice. As an American, I believe we have a distinctive role in the world, a distinctive obligation, some of which is inherent and some of which is derived from our postwar and post-Cold War status. I think this country’s great -- though not that whatever it does is automatically great just because it’s America. So I listened to all this and thought, "I don’t know what these people are talking about."
Now the last section of the Princeton Principles is entitled, "American Exceptionalism and the Way Forward." What does that have to do with gay marriage? Evidently, it goes something like this: While the rest of the Western world is loosening the bonds of marriage, we Americans "are the only country with a "Marriage Movement." "The great task for American exceptionalism in our generation," they write, "is to sustain and energize this movement for the renewal of marriage." If the rest of the world zigs, exceptionalism means we zag.
And of course, you can see where one would go with this, segregation in the past and the death penalty today are also examples of American exceptionalism, if it is defined simply as things that make us different from the rest of the developed world. Is that in itself justification for them?
One of the responses to Schmitt's post was by my friend Roger Keeling, and I think he made some very good points:
The rightwing, as we should all know by now, has a well-oiled system for finding and devloping new ways to "frame" issues to their liking. They know how to create "memes" that can take root throughout the rightwing world. They constantly experiment with new arguments, running ideas up the flag pole endlessly, constantly searching for something -- anything -- that will gain a little traction and be useful in advancing their agenda of gaining and holding power, and winning elections.
More often than not, those ideas are laughable, and doomed almost out of the gate. We always laugh about their latest idiotic language or framing, and sometimes predict that it's a sign they're sliding downhill. But then the idiotic wanna-be-meme vanishes, to be remembered only if you care to wade through yellowing newspaper clippings. (Seems like an examination of George H. W. Bush's two presidential campaigns would give you lots of examples like that).
But ... these guys are thinking like nature does when it comes to, say, seed production. An insect lays a gazillion eggs, yet only one if 10,000 survives. But that's enough. So the same for them: they EXPECT a high failure rate. But when one sticks, the benefits are huge. Think for a second, and you'll remember the earliest (and arguably most successful) example: the conscious development in the mid-1960s of the "Eastern liberal media establishment" meme, later shortened to just "liberal media." That it NEVER had any meaningful basis in fact meant nothing; it proved an incredibly powerful vehicle for undermining opposition, holding their own troops in tight order, and as a means of "playing the refs" when it came to news coverage.
Many other examples both big and small abound: "Compassionate conservativism," "litigation CRISIS," "the war on Christmas," "tax-and-spend liberalism," "political correctness," and a thousand more over the years.
And now the term "American exceptionalism" is perhaps joining the list. Doesn't it seem like a variation of the Atwater / Rovian concept of taking your enemy's best trait and using it as a weapon? In this case, taking a liberal (and mostly academic) concept and turning it into a badge of honor?
And of course you didn't know what they were talking about! That's the genius of it: you hear the term, and immediately try to fit their usage with what you already know of the term (and the historic understanding we liberals have of it). But they don't care about that at all! The term's very ambiguity -- its lack of specific meaning to non-academics -- and its intrinsic nationalistic tone are almost perfect for their purposes. Its actual meaning counts for nothing.
I don't know that it can be proved or ever will be, but I'd bet dollars for doughnuts that one of the rightwing's many thinktanks (perhaps the Hudson Institute itself) popped up with this at some recent point -- probably just weeks or months ago -- and you are now seeing its implementation. They are co-opting the term, and will use it to bash us with. "Liberals don't believe in American exceptionalism!" The average person on the street hears that, and it doesn't matter WHAT the actual meaning of it ought to be, their minds will fill in the blanks ... and never to our advantage.
If this was the first place the term "American exceptionalism" was bandied about in the rightwing -- and it very well may be -- then, Mark, you were Present for the Creation. Congratulations! (And, yeah, it COULD have been the very first place it was ever used. You say that it was being used right and left. Don't assume that it is just an idea that worked its way into the rightwing universe; it's entirely possible that nearly every single person who used it that day was prepped to do so).
How to defend ourselves ... and, perhaps, turn the table and put them on the defensive? Well, we could start -- I think -- just the way you've done. Without giving the rightwingers any credit at all for anything, we could just try to convince a ton of prominent liberal writers and figures to start using the term "American exceptionalism" in a POSITIVE way (that is, talking about our history as the world's first true democracy, or our invention of the concept of the National Park, or our willingness to endure a trial of blood in order to end slavery, or anything else we have to be proud of and that is not common in other nations). Co-opt the word right back from them.
As it happens, Digby has a post today which touches on a related subject:
The Republicans have figured out something that the Democrats refuse to understand. All political messages can be useful, no matter which side has created it. You use them all situationally. The Republicans have been adopting our slogans and memes for years. They get that the way people hear this stuff often is not in a particularly partisan sense. They just hear it, in a sort of disembodied way. Over time thye become comfortable with it and it can be exploited for all sorts of different reasons.
In this instance, there has been a steady underground rumbling about stolen elections since 2000. Now we know that it's the Republicans who have been doing the stealing ---- and the complaining has been coming from our side. But all most people hear is "stolen election" and they are just as likely to paste that charge onto us as they are onto them. It's like an ear worm. You don't know the song its from, necessarily, but you can't get it out of your head.
We have created an ear worm that the Republicans are going to appropriate --- and they will use it much more aggressively and effectively than our side did. They are already gearing up for it. As I mentioned a month or so ago, Karl Rove was at the Republican Lawyers Association talking about how the Democrats are stealing elections.
The Democrats could have innoculated against this when the Republicans stole the 2000 election, but they didn't. Had they been screaming bloody murder for six solid years about Republican vote fraud, it would be much more difficult for the GOP to suddenly glom onto this issue. Instead, it was a mere underground drumbeat that was heard, but only in the vaguest way. Now the CW about stolen elections is going to be turned on us --- and we will be on the defensive fighting both the charge of electoral fraud and being soft on criminal Mexicans because we need illegal aliens to stuff the ballot boxes for us.
If we allow the Republicans to define this next election as they usually do, it will be about immigration and voter fraud. [...] They will attempt to create a national story, which will be exploited in the last days of the campaign in various individual ways through their media infrastructure. If they lose it will be blamed on dishonest vote stealing Democrats and illegal aliens. If they win it will be be because they fought back against the dishonest vote stealing Democrats and illegal aliens. Unless the Democratic party wakes up and figures out a way to both define the election to our advantage and counter this move, it's going to be much harder to dislodge those GOP incumbents than we think.
I don't particularly recommend it as a Democratic framing device, but the fact is that we need government to provide services that can't be provided in any other way (or that we cannot trust anyone but government to provide), and if we need government, we need taxes to pay for government. Taxation should never be more than is necessary, they should always be progressive, and folks in government should always be aware that the money they're working with came out of the pockets of the people, but within those boundaries, taxes are necessary and, more than that taxes are good.
This short 1997 piece by Lynn Jondahl, What I Can't Buy With My Tax Cut does a nice job at explaining why taxes are good. That people believe otherwise is a triumph for the Right-wing.
Kos has an interesting post in which he describes himself as a "libertarian Democrat":
Traditional "libertarianism" holds that government is evil and thus must be minimized. Any and all government intrusion is bad. While practical libertarians (as opposed to those who waste their votes on the Libertarian Party) have traditionally aligned themselves with the Republicans, it's clear that the modern GOP has no qualms about trampling on personal liberties. Heck, it's become their raison d' etre.
The problem with this form of libertarianism is that it assumes that only two forces can infringe on liberty -- the government and other individuals.
The Libertarian Democrat understands that there is a third danger to personal liberty -- the corporation. The Libertarian Dem understands that corporations, left unchecked, can be huge dangers to our personal liberties.
This is great, and echoes things I've written here a number of times in the past: the overlap between liberals and libertarians is considerable, but the inability of classic libertarians to see the problem with corporate power undermines the value of their philosophy. However, it's unclear why Kos would call himself a "libertarian" as opposed to simply a "liberal", since most of the attributes of his description of a libertarian Democrat seems like it would apply to most liberals:
In other words, government can protect our liberties from those who would infringe upon them -- corporations and other individuals.
So in practical terms, what does a Libertarian Dem look like? A Libertarian Dem rejects government efforts to intrude in our bedrooms and churches. A Libertarian Dem rejects government "Big Brother" efforts, such as the NSA spying of tens of millions of Americans. A Libertarian Dem rejects efforts to strip away rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights -- from the First Amendment to the 10th. And yes, that includes the 2nd Amendment and the right to bear arms.
So far, this isn't much different than what a traditional libertarian believes. Here is where it begins to differ (and it shouldn't).
A Libertarian Dem believes that true liberty requires freedom of movement -- we need roads and public transportation to give people freedom to travel wherever they might want. A Libertarian Dem believes that we should have the freedom to enjoy the outdoor without getting poisoned; that corporate polluters infringe on our rights and should be checked. A Libertarian Dem believes that people should have the freedom to make a living without being unduly exploited by employers. A Libertarian Dem understands that no one enjoys true liberty if they constantly fear for their lives, so strong crime and poverty prevention programs can create a safe environment for the pursuit of happiness. A Libertarian Dem gets that no one is truly free if they fear for their health, so social net programs are important to allow individuals to continue to live happily into their old age. Same with health care. And so on.
The core Democratic values of fairness, opportunity, and investing in our nation and people very much speak to the concept of personal liberties -- an open society where success is predicated on the merit of our ideas and efforts, unduly burdened by the government, corporate America, or other individuals. And rather than always get in the way, government can facilitate this.
Of course, this also means that government isn't always the solution to the nation's problems. There are times when business-government partnerships can be extremely effective (such as job retraining efforts for displaced workers). There are times when government really should butt out (like a great deal of small-business regulation). Our first proposed solution to a problem facing our nation shouldn't be more regulation, more government programs, more bureaucracy.
The key here isn't universal liberty from government intrusion, but policies that maximize individual freedom, and who can protect those individual freedoms best from those who would infringe.
However, passing lightly over his quite incorrect interpretation of the Second Amendment (which addresses itself to the regulation of militias and not to private gun ownership for its own sake) the clue to why Kos believes that "libertarian Democrat" is a more apt description than "liberal" comes in a paragraph I skipped over:
Libertarian Dems are not hostile to government like traditional libertarians. But unlike the liberal Democrats of old times (now all but extinct), the Libertarian Dem doesn't believe government is the solution for everything. But it sure as heck is effective in checking the power of corporations.
There's the nub of it: amazingly, Kos, whose weblog has, perhaps more than any other, brought to our attention the need for Democrats to frame issues in ways that helps them rather than accepting the narratives promulgated and propagandized by the opposition, has swallowed one of those right-wing frames hook, line and sinker. He apparently accepts as gospel that a "liberal" means someone who is in favor of government intervention in all things at all times, someone who never saw a government program he didn't like, and whose basic philosophy is "tax and spend." This seems to be the reason he sees himself as a "libertarian Democrat" and not a liberal, and why the new political philosophy engendered by netroots activism is more properly labelled as "progressive" rather than "liberal."
In point of fact, the tax-and-spend big government liberal never really existed, it was, and is, a grossly exaggerated stereotype created by the Right and propagated by them to stand in as the best possible straw man for their arguments supposedly in favor of "small government" (which turn out in practice to be actually in favor of big, authoritarian, corporatist government). That Kos has internalized this enough to cause him to reject the classic and honorable label of "liberal" is perhaps understandable, given the era in which he came to political maturity, but very regrettable in a person of his influence.
Kos, those things you wrote about are what liberals believe in, real liberals, not the libellous Republican/right-wing caricature.
Jason Kottke looks at the size of Manhattan and compares it to the size of other places.
Depending on your vantage point, Manhattan seems either very big or very small. On complete map of the New York City area, Manhattan is dwarfed in size by the other four boroughs and surrounding megopolis. But for someone on the ground in Manhattan, the population density, the height of the buildings, the endless number of things to do, and the fact that many people don't often leave their neighborhoods, much less the island, for weeks/months on end makes it seem a very large place indeed. This divergence sense of scales can cause quite a bit of cognitive dissonance for residents and visitors alike.
Hey, this is exciting news: Ann Coulter's new book reportedly ends with an 80-page diatribe against... (wait for it)... evolution!!
Liberals subscribe to Darwinism not because it's science, which they hate, but out of some wishful thinking. Darwinism lets them off the hook morally.
(I love how wingnuts like Coulter think that Darwinian evolutionary theory is a religion they call "Darwinism," and then criticize it because it doesn't provide the moral strictures that other religions do.)
Like PZ Myers, I am gleeful with anticipation for the blogging gold to be found in the absurdities she'll present to us. What a gift!
Update: The Daily News latches onto Coulter's insulting remarks about 9/11 widows:
When their husbands were killed on 9/11, four New Jersey widows tried to find out why - and now no-holds-barred conservative pundit Ann Coulter is mercilessly denouncing them as "witches."
"I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much," Coulter writes in her new book.
Her brutal words were challenged yesterday on national television by "Today" host Matt Lauer - and she was slammed by the widows she derided as self-absorbed, limelight-seeking "harpies."
"I'd like her to meet my daughter and tell her how anyone could enjoy their father's death," said Kristen Breitweiser, one of four widows known as the "Jersey Girls."
"She sounds like a very disturbed, unraveled person," added Breitweiser.
In "Godless: The Church of Liberalism," the uncompromisingly right-wing Coulter writes the Jersey Girls have no right to criticize President Bush or any of the failures that led to the terror attacks.
"These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzis," Coulter writes.
"And by the way, how do we know their husbands weren't planning to divorce these harpies? Now that their shelf life is dwindling, they'd better hurry up and appear in Playboy. . .
"These self-obsessed women seemed genuinely unaware that 9/11 was an attack on our nation and acted as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them."
Breitweiser, Lorie Van Auken, Mindy Kleinberg and Patty Casazza bonded after their husbands died on 9/11, leaving them with seven children and a desire for answers.
They pushed to create the 9/11 commission, which put out a scathing report criticizing the Clinton and Bush administrations for not taking the terrorist threat more seriously - and found New York's emergency response system wasn't prepared for a serious attack.
"Our ports have not been secured. Our borders have not been secured. We still haven't caught [Osama] Bin Laden," Van Auken said yesterday. "She's not even talking about what we were talking about. She's just attacking."
The Jersey Girls - or, as Coulter calls them, "the Witches of East Brunswick" - have been criticized before, but never like this. Van Auken told the Daily News she was stunned by the vitriol.
"Having my husband burn alive in a building brought me no joy," she said. "Watching it unfold on national TV and .seeing it repeated endlessly was beyond what I could describe. Telling my children they would never see their father again was not fun. And we had no plans to divorce."
Last night, Coulter didn't back down from bashing the 9/11 widows. "These women got paid. They ought to take their money and shut up about it," Coulter said on MSNBC's "The Situation with Tucker Carlson."
Once again, in Coulter calling the 9/11 widows "witches" [sic] and "harpies", we see a classic example of right-wing projection of one's own attributes to others.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, who presided over the Kitzmiller v. Dover creationism trial, gave a speech to the Anti-Defamation League in February in which he talked about the case and about judicial independence. [Emphasis added -- Ed]:
I can never see what is taking place in my courtroom before I emerge from chambers and take the bench, so I wondered what I would find. Well, when I emerged and as I walked up to take my seat on the first day of the Dover trial, I saw something that I had never seen before in my judicial career. I saw a courtroom packed wall-to-wall with high-tech gear, lawyers, parties, spectators, United States marshals, and a number of sketch artists. The sight of all this almost took my breath away. In fact, it took me a few moments to compose myself as the trial started. I had never seen anything like it.
When the plaintiff's counsel, Eric Rothchild, began his opening remarks, he used visual aids and he placed exhibits on a large screen that was set to the one side of the courtroom, and we had smaller computer screens set up at each of our stations. As Eric was talking, he put up a shot toward the beginning of his speech, his opening remarks, of some primates. And as I looked at the monkeys projected on the wall in the courtroom, I was gripped for the very first time with the thought that I might be presiding over something that, at least in its time, was viewed as not only historic, but was perhaps a newer version of the Scopes Monkey Trial. And I had a very palpable sense, a very curious sense, that I could be living history.
The controversy which attended the release of my decision in December brings me, I think, to the primary point that I want to address during my remarks this morning, and this is the topic of judicial independence, and in particular how that relates to issues like the separation of church and state. Most, but not decidedly all, of the reviews of my opinion following release were good. Now, to be sure, we as judges do not rule based on a fear of bad press or public opinion. Notwithstanding that, I'd like to tell you that we neither read nor do we listen to what people write or say about us in the press; to state categorically that we don't do that would be wrong. We do. We're human and we're curious and so we do notice those things, as I did after the trial.
Accordingly, and in that vein, I found it notable that among those who disagreed with my decision was one Phyllis Schlafly. I'm sure that you know who Ms. Schlafly is and I’ll not try to characterize her beyond saying she is a conservative columnist and pundit. I don't know Ms. Schlafly and I assume based on her résumé that she's a fine person. However, under the banner "Judge's unintelligent rant against design," Ms. Schlafly authored a January 2006 column and within her column she noted that, and I'm quoting here, that I "owed my position as a Federal Judge entirely to the evangelical Christians who pulled the lever for George W. Bush in 2002" and that I, I'm still quoting here, "stuck the knife in those who brought me to the dance in Kitzmiller versus Dover Area School District." Other than that, she really liked my decision. (Not really.)
Kidding aside, Ms. Schlafly obviously enjoys the same First Amendment right of free speech that we all do as citizens of the United States, and she's entirely free to disagree, as she most pointedly did, in my conclusions. Hers is a point of view as it involves the establishment clause and establishment clause cases that many people share.
But the way that she conducted her analysis is instructive, and points out a problem which is pervasive and therefore threatens to, I think, tear at the fabric of our system of justice in the United States. Ms. Schlafly's column makes it clear that she views me as an activist judge of the very worst kind. Yet in her column and within other criticisms directed at my opinion, time and again writers would omit to note the role legal precedents play as they relates how judges decide cases that come before them. That is, as a trial judge, I must follow the law as previously established by the higher courts and in particular by the Supreme Court of the United States.
The premise of Ms. Schlafly and some others seems to be that judges can and should act in a partisan matter rather than strictly adhering to the rule of law. Now, to those who believe that judges must cast aside precedents and rule as according to an agenda, let me say that I believe that the public's dependence upon the impartiality and the integrity of judges is absolutely essential to its confidence in our system of justice. It is especially important for our citizens to understand that judges must be impartial and that the independence of the judiciary is premised on a judge's pledge of freedom from partisan influences.
In the context of the Dover case, there exists over a half century of strong legal precedents which have emanated from the Supreme Court and the intermediate appellate courts. Among other things, this history verifies and validates not only the separation of church and state, but also guides us as judges with respect to the test that we must apply to the factual circumstances as we find them.
Applied correctly, these tests direct us in our determination of whether an act by a governmental entity, in this case the School Board, is violative of the establishment clause. Now, I won't bore you with the case names or details, but suffice it to say that judges are constrained by their responsibility to interpret precedents that constitute the settled law of the United States.
That is precisely the task that I undertook in deciding the Dover case. Reasonable people may disagree whether I correctly applied those cases and precedents. However, I did not have the power – and Ms. Schlafly and others fail to mention this – I did not have the power to omit utilizing those tests, nor did I have the ability to invent tests other than those recognized by existing jurisprudence against which to measure the facts of the case.
Manifestly, I did what I believe all good judges must do, which is to approach the case without a political agenda or a bias or a predisposition or a thought that if a case is decided in a certain way, it will offend a political benefactor.
It's always risky business to divine what the founding fathers might think about current developments, but I'm certain, I'm entirely certain, that by deciding the Dover case the way that I did, I performed my duties as a district judge in exactly the way that the founding fathers had in mind when they created the Federal Judiciary in Article III of the Constitution.
In fact, I will submit to you that had I decided the Dover matter in a different way, I would have then engaged in just the kind of judicial activism which critics decry. That is, to have ruled in favor of the School Board in this case based on the facts that I had before me at the conclusion of the trial, I would have had to have overlooked precedents entirely and thus impressed upon the facts of the case my sense or the sense of the public concerning what the law should be, and not what it is.
This is ad hoc justice based upon either my preferences or biases or the perceived will of the majority. Taken to its extreme, it is anarchy at any level that to rule in such a fashion represents the true work of an activist judge. And so the real criticism of my decision, and this is one which I will readily accept, is that I did not render an activist decision.
Polls show that many Americans believe that it is acceptable to teach creationism in public schools. And early last year polls found that a great many Americans thought that Terri Schiavo should be kept alive. But I submit to you that as citizens, we do not want and in fact we cannot possibly have a judiciary which operates according to the polls, or one which rules based on who appointed us or according to the popular will of the country at any given moment in time. And this is no small matter as it relates to how our fellow citizens view the judiciary.
Back in Pennsylvania, I'm a member of a Commission on Judicial Independence as appointed by the Chief Justice of our state's Supreme Court. Our Commission defines judicial independence in this way: A fundamental cornerstone of our justice system, and in fact of our federal and state government, is an independent judiciary. The concept requires judges to decide cases in front of them in a manner faithful to the law without fear or favor and free from political and external pressures. It is vital, in my opinion, that we promote judicial independence at every level of the judiciary. Do not misunderstand what I mean by that. Many people, when they hear the term "judicial independence," think of an unfettered judiciary which is responsible to no person or entity – one which features judges deciding cases by doing what they please, free of any accountability. This is not what we, as judges, seek. This is not what we should seek. We are accountable. We should be criticized. Our decisions should be scrutinized and where inappropriate or wrong, they must be appealed and reversed.
However, we must not, I believe, "dumb down" the public by implying that judges should decide cases based on an agenda, or that they have a responsibility to act in concert with prevailing public opinion or the will of the majority. Worse than that, the press and the public have a responsibility, in my view, that is being shirked. That is to really foster a better understanding of the role of precedent in what judges do.
To be blunt, I think that many people need a civics lesson about the judicial system, because we are beginning to cross the line between fair comment and criticism of judges' work into something which is much darker and debilitating. At its worst, the failure by some segments of the media and the public to understand the proper function of an independent judiciary leads to results which are not only frightening, but are at times tragic.
Now, as I conclude, let me return to the role of the Rule of Law, which is I think so fundamental and so embedded in our system of justice. We must never forget that the Rule of Law is not a conservative or a liberal value. It is assuredly not a Republican or Democratic value. Rather, it is an American value. Confidence in the Rule of Law rests entirely at any given point in time on the character and the integrity of the individual American judge and on that judge's absolute commitment to fairness and impartiality.
Judges are very mortal and to be sure, we are deeply imperfect. However, it is no favor to the administration of justice when we either impose or imply public or political agendas on judges.
The sad truth of the matter is that American politics is, on some level, a bit dull. If you strongly object to the current direction of the country, you have to support giving the other party a chance to run things. There’s no other way around it, and anyone who says otherwise is part of the problem.
It's a very simple equation, given the structure of our government -- there are only two parties that matter, one two that can broadly get people elected to office at all levels across the country. You can field a third party, but it can't win, all it can do it draw votes away from one of the other borad-coalition parties. If your timing is right, you might be able to weaken one party enough that, in time, you can replace it, but when you do you'll have to then occupy the negative space created by the existence of the remaining party. That's annoying, that's unfortunate, but that's the bare-bones fact of the matter in American politics, and anyone who thinks otherwise hasn't thought things through enough or is unaware of the realities or is being carried away by their emotions.
And you tell me: the Republicans control all three branches of the Federal government, things aren't going well, the public is extremely dissatisfied, so it's a prime point in time for a Democratic resurgence. Given that who would you suspect a "unity" third party is going to hurt?
I hope that Kurt Anderson and Hamilton Jordan and Gerald Rashoon and Angus King are aware of the role they're potentially playing as the Ralph Naders of 2006-2008.
[T]he Cold War was a “battle” between state actors. At its essence, it was the United States and its allies fighting the Soviet Union and its allies (and sort of China). Yes, there were guerillas and roving paramilitaries, but all funding led back to powerful state actors.
The war on terrorism is not a battle between states, but a battle between states and non-state actors. Yes, al Qaeda benefited from the Taliban’s sanctuary, but it was still – at its essence – a stateless international group. What we’re fighting today is even less centralized than what we were fighting in 2001. We are at “war” with nodes of decentralized pissed-off radicals scattered across national boundaries.
The reason this distinction matters is that fighting states requires an entirely different strategy than fighting non-state actors. In a battle of states, a willingness to use traditional military force is far more important (even if only as a deterrent). Yes, the Cold War was about winning the hearts and minds of the “Third World,” but there was a far greater traditional military aspect to it. Without a containment strategy based on military force or the threat of force, communist forces would have seized far more land than they did (e.g., western Germany, South Korea).
The big point here is that, except for the novel nuclear dimension, the Cold War involved big, traditional state armies seizing and vying for territory.
The war on terrorism (i.e., on Islamic fundamentalism) is nothing like that. Winning it depends entirely on winning Muslim hearts and minds – that is, on removing the conditions that give rise to Islamic terrorism and persuading people that your alternative is better. It’s not about seizing and occupying land, or destroying a hostile state’s military. You could kill every terrorist in the world and not win the war on terror. That’s because there aren’t a finite number of terrorists – they’re not like state-centric militaries that can be beaten down. So long as young angry Muslims hate America, terrorism will be a continuing problem.
That’s why invading Iraq was such a horrible idea. It was a Cold War solution to a post-Cold War problem. What I mean is that it was a traditional military action of invading and occupying territory to fight a foe that has no territory. That’s why Bush’s incompetence didn’t really matter – the idea was inherently flawed because it was a state-centric solution to a non-state-centric problem. Yes, there is some Rube Goldberg-esque abstract logic by which setting up a democracy through military force ultimately leads to democracy flowering throughout the Middle East that leads to no more terrorism. But against that abstract and unlikely dream, you have the concrete reality of bombs and guns and Abu Ghraib and Haditha and all the other inevitable consequences of colonial-style warfare in faraway, hostile places.
That’s what annoys me about Beinart’s “Remember the Willard” schtick. He – and everyone else who invokes Truman’s containment strategy – confuses disagreement about the means with disagreement about the end. Look, I think everyone takes terrorism seriously after 9/11. I certainly do. But I don’t think military force is a very good way to fight it. In fact, it’s a counterproductive way to fight it because it’s based on outdated Cold War assumptions. The terrorists aren’t seeking to seize our land or conquer Western Europe. They're seeking to win over the Muslim world for fundamentalism. Traditional military solutions (bombing and occupying countries) will usually help them either by alienating the population or by creating failed states.
My disagreement with using military force to fight terrorism doesn’t mean I lack “fighting faith” or am a wussy or that I’m failing to appreciate the lessons of Truman. I oppose it because it doesn’t work – not against this enemy. In fact, military force helps this enemy. This is a global insurgency and Rule #1 in the insurgent playbook is to inspire a disproportionate response.
And even if the terrorists/fundamentalists aspire to be state actors, they're not going to seize power the same way that the Communists did. In other words, they're not going to win the Middle East with overpowering armies. To win, they must persuade the street to go their way (in part, by having a credible "Other" to rally against).
"A rule-based international society" may seem a lackluster phrase, but it describes, for those who wish organized life on this planet to survive in a decent form, the most important of all the long-term international objectives mankind can have. That international law has already been formulated to deal with a wide range of human activities is one of the great, if often unappreciated, achievements of the years since World War II. Yet the obstacles to its being effective are enormous. We all know that international law is often challenged by the caprices and diverging interests of national politics and that it still lacks the authority of national law. With a few important exceptions, international law remains unenforceable; when it collides with the sovereign interests or the ambitions of states, it is often ignored or rejected. It is still far from being the respected foundation of a reliable international system.
In the first years of the new millennium, and especially after the terrorist attacks of September 11, the development of international law has encountered an unexpected and formidable obstacle—the ideological opposition of the Bush administration, both to vital treaties and to international institutions. This attitude culminated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq without the specific authorization of the UN Security Council, and without allowing UN inspectors to complete their work. Prisoners captured by the US were denied the protection of the Geneva Conventions and were often treated brutally. It is therefore no surprise that the three very different books under review all end by deploring the United States' war for regime change in Iraq and the illegal abuses that have accompanied it.
It is ironic that such widespread criticism should be incurred by the US. From the Permanent Court of International Justice in The Hague, the Covenant of the League of Nations, and the Charter of the United Nations to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many UN conventions, the US has done more than any other country to develop and strengthen both the concept and the substance of international law. It is nothing less than disastrous that a United States administration should have chosen to show disrespect for the international legal system and weaken it at a time when the challenges facing the planet demand more urgently than ever the discipline of a strong and respected worldwide system of law. Those challenges include globalization at almost every level of human society, the deeply troubling evidence of climate change, and the linked threats of international terrorism and proliferating weapons of mass destruction.
The Colorado Rockies National League baseball team has come clean:
No copies of Playboy or Penthouse are in the clubhouse of baseball's Colorado Rockies. There's not even a Maxim. The only reading materials are daily newspapers, sports and car magazines and the Bible.
Music filled with obscenities, wildly popular with youth today and in many other clubhouses, is not played. A player will curse occasionally but usually in hushed tones. Quotes from Scripture are posted in the weight room. Chapel service is packed on Sundays. Prayer and fellowship groups each Tuesday are well-attended. It's not unusual for the front office executives to pray together.
On the field, the Rockies are trying to make the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons and only the second time in their 14-year history. Behind the scenes, they quietly have become an organization guided by Christianity — open to other religious beliefs but embracing a Christian-based code of conduct they believe will bring them focus and success.
From ownership on down, it's an approach the Rockies are proud of — and something they are wary about publicizing. "We're nervous, to be honest with you," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd says. "It's the first time we ever talked about these issues publicly. The last thing we want to do is offend anyone because of our beliefs."
Rockies pitcher Jason Jennings says: "They do preach character and good living here. It's a must for them, and that starts from the very top. But we're not a military group. ... Nobody is going to push their beliefs on each other or make judgments. We do believe that if you do things right and live your life right, good things are going to happen."
"We had to go to hell and back to know where the Holy Grail is. We went through a tough time and took a lot of arrows," says Rockies chairman and CEO Charlie Monfort, one of the original owners.
Monfort did, too. He says that after years of partying, including 18 months' probation for driving while impaired, he became a Christian three years ago. It influenced how he wanted to run the club, he says.
"We started to go after character six or seven years ago, but we didn't follow that like we should have," he says. "I don't want to offend anyone, but I think character-wise we're stronger than anyone in baseball. Christians, and what they've endured, are some of the strongest people in baseball. I believe God sends signs, and we're seeing those."
The Rockies' approach is unusual in that religious doctrine is a guide for running a franchise. The club's executives emphasize they are not intolerant of other views.
"We try to do the best job we can to get people with the right sense of moral values, but we certainly don't poll our players or our organization to find out who is Christian and who isn't," says O'Dowd, who says he has had prayer sessions on the telephone with club President Keli McGregor and manager Clint Hurdle. "I know some of the guys who are Christians, but I can't tell you who is and who isn't."
Is it possible that some Rockies are playing the role of good Christians just to stay in the team's good graces? Yes, former Rockies say.
"They have a great group of guys over there, but I've never been in a clubhouse where Christianity is the main purpose," says San Francisco Giants first baseman-outfielder Mark Sweeney, a veteran of seven organizations who spent 2003 and 2004 with the Rockies. "You wonder if some people are going along with it just to keep their jobs.
"Look, I pray every day," Sweeney says. "I have faith. It's always been part of my life. But I don't want something forced on me. Do they really have to check to see whether I have a Playboy in my locker?"
While praising their players, Rockies executives make clear they believe God has had a hand in the team's improvement.
"You look at things that have happened to us this year," O'Dowd says. "You look at some of the moves we made and didn't make. You look at some of the games we're winning. Those aren't just a coincidence. God has definitely had a hand in this."
The Rockies say they welcome anyone regardless of religious beliefs. "We don't just go after Christian players," O'Dowd says. "That would be unfair to others. We go after players of character."
"Look, we don't want to come across as holier than thou. None of us are perfect," O'Dowd says. "But I just feel like if you have people with the right heart and their desires are with the right intent, what bad can come out of that?" [USA Today]
In The Nation, Dave Zirin was rightfully astounded:
In Colorado, there stands a holy shrine called Coors Field. On this site, named for the holiest of beers, a team plays that has been chosen by Jesus Christ himself to play .500 baseball in the National League West. And if you don't believe me, just ask the manager, the general manager and the team's owner.
In a remarkable article from Wednesday's USA Today, the Colorado Rockies went public with the news that the organization has been explicitly looking for players with "character." And according to the Tribe of Coors, "character" means accepting Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior. "We're nervous, to be honest with you," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "It's the first time we ever talked about these issues publicly. The last thing we want to do is offend anyone because of our beliefs." When people are nervous that they will offend you with their beliefs, it's usually because their beliefs are offensive.
O'Dowd and company bend over backward in the article to say they are "tolerant" of other views on the club, but that's contradicted by statements like this from CEO Monfort: "I don't want to offend anyone, but I think character-wise we're stronger than anyone in baseball. Christians, and what they've endured, are some of the strongest people in baseball. I believe God sends signs, and we're seeing those." Assumedly, Shawn Green (Jew), Ichiro Suzuki (Shinto) or any of the godless players from Cuba don't have the "character" Monfort is looking for.
Also, there are only two African-American players on the Rockies active roster. Is this because Monfort doesn't think black players have character? Does the organization endorse the statement of its stadium's namesake, William Coors, who told a group of black businessmen in 1984 that Africans "lack the intellectual capacity to succeed, and it's taking them down the tubes"? These are admittedly difficult questions. But these are the questions that need to be posed when the wafting odor of discrimination clouds the air.
Then there are the fans. I spoke with journalist Tom Krattenmaker, who has studied the connection between religion and sports. Krattenmaker said, "I have concerns about what this Christianization of the Rockies means for the community that supports the team in and around Denver--a community in which evangelical Christians are probably a minority, albeit a large and influential one. Taxpayers and ticket-buyers in a religiously diverse community have a right not to see their team--a quasi-public resource--used for the purpose of advancing a specific form of religion. Have the Colorado Rockies become a faith-based organization? This can be particularly problematic when the religion in question is one that makes exclusive claims and sometimes denigrates the validity of other belief systems."
As usual, the proof of the pudding is in the eating -- let's take a look at how the Rockies are doing at this moment in time with their brand of Jesus Ball. Not all that well, it turns out.
To begin with, we're one-third of the way through the season and the Rockies are in the cellar, the fifth team in a five team division, seven games behind the leading Diamondbacks, with a won-lost record of 27-29. That's not an insurmountable deficit, but their record so far doesn't show any great sign that these Christian Warriors have what it takes to make the grade and go all the way. They're two games under .500, and 16 of the 29 other MLB teams have better records than they do. They have losing records against the East, West and Central divisions of the National League, and lately they've lost 5 games in a row, only winning 2 of their last 13 games. They've never won more than 4 in a row all season.
They play in a hitter's ballpark where they should be favored (as all home teams are), but the best they've been able to do is play .500 ball at home. It's a truism of baseball that you can't win if you don't win at home. The Rockies have managed to get as high as 7 games above .500 (see chart above), but they're losing now, and, if their baseball decisions aren't being made on the basis of the things that baseball teams need to win, they're likely to keep losing.
In short, far from being poised for victory, as the comments in the USA Today article seemed to imply, they're actually resoundingly mediocre at best -- not the worst team in baseball, by a long shot, but far from the best. Right smack dab in the middle of the pack.
Guess they'll have to pray harder.
Baseball teams have one and only one reason for existence, to win. A baseball team that wins will be a financially successful team, one that doesn't, won't be. Fans came to see teams that win, not teams of nice people who pray well together. When a team gets a new player, or releases one, the fans have a right to know that it happened because the old player wasn't the best available for the team, and the new player is. They shouldn't have to second-guess whether it was the religious beliefs of the players that determined the moves.
(For instance, a recent press release from the Rockies says that infielder Jason Smith and Korean pitcher Sun-Woo Kim have been "set free" (interesting choice of words) -- was that because they weren't doing well, or because they weren't sufficiently devout Christians, or even Christian at all? I don't know the religious beliefs of Kim and Smith and I don't want to know, it's just not relevant to anything at all. I've been a Yankees fan for years, but I only found out that their ace reliever Mariano Riviera was a devout Christian recently. I didn't need to know that before, and I don't need to know that now, all I need to know is that Mo can shut down the opposition and help the team win games. Period.)
If the Rockies were a publicly traded company, a stockholders' suit on the basis of breach of fiduciary responsibility would seem warranted. That won't happen, and baseball's history of indulging the whims and fancies (and abuses and illegalities) of its team owners means that no one is going to take the Rockies to task for running a Prayer Club instead of a proper baseball team, but at least we can look forward to enjoying ourselves watching these foolishly stupid people lose.
But what about that "character" that the team is looking for? Well, although sports writers and announcers love to talk about which players have "character" and which don't, they're actually talking about something quite different from belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and the ability to pray convincingly: the ability to play baseball well under pressure. That's what defines baseball "character" more than anything else, so the Rockies' god-fearing All-Christian All-The-Time brand of "character" doesn't mean diddley-squat if they don't have the bats and the arms and the legs and the baseball character to win games, which is exactly the way it should be.
Thank the heavens we'll have these paragons of virtue to point out to our children when they go looking for role-models to emulate, it's just sad that if the Colorado Saints... er, Rockies... don't actually play good ball and win their games, most kids interested in baseball aren't even going to give them a second look. And that's the way it should be.
[Thanks to Peggy]
Update (6/28): I'm continuing to follow the progress of Christian Baseball in Denver, and it's not too good. The Rockies have barely managed to stay above .500 - right now they're one game above it at 39-38, after having dropped as low as 3 games under just after I originally posted this piece. I'll post again on their progress at the All-Star break (July 10-13), which is just after the half-way point in the season.
Update (7/9): I take a look at the Rockies at the All-Star break here.
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
i've got a little list...
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Bruce Chapman (DI)
The Coors Family
William A. Dembski
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
John Gibson (FNC)
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
James F. Inhofe
Philip E. Johnson
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Sun Myung Moon
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Mellon Scaife
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
John Solomon (WaPo)
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
All the fine sites I've
Be sure to visit them all!!
Arthur C. Clarke
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Harder They Come"
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
Michael C. Penta
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Red Shoes"
"Singin' in the Rain"
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Hunter S. Thompson
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.
If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.
(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)
Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.