Saturday, May 19, 2007

Turning Dreams Into Productivity

My nine-year old daughter is still nine but she's celebrating her tenth birthday a day early with a sleepover for five of her closest friends. And they're watching the 1995 movie "A Little Princess."

This line spoken by the evil Mrs. Minchen to the heroine Sarah is particularly compelling:

"It's a cruel, nasty world out there, and it's our duty to make the best of it. Not to indulge in ridiculous dreams, but to be productive and useful. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Mean-spirited people like the Mrs. Minchen character used to get special joy out of crushing the spirits of little children like Sarah because their dreams did not correlate with the harshness of the real world.

Unfortunately, those were the good old days. The "productive apparatus" of American society can no longer afford to leave dreams alone. The idle dreams of children have to become productive if Americans are to have either the new computer programs, new medicines, new movies, and new novels or the profits that derive from American creativity.

In many ways, that's what American education is about--turning innocent dreaming into productive creativity.

It really is a cruel world.

Conservatives Sick over "Sicko"

Both the Fox and the CNN websites are reporting positive reviews of Michael Moore's new film Sicko. That will make Michael Medved, Ann Coulter, and other right-wing commentators very sick. Perhaps they'll all be traveling to Havana for treatment.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Toward a Second Veto

TODAY, the Bush administration rejected attempts by the Democratic leadership to cut a deal on war funding. They didn't accept proposals for withdrawal deadlines the president could waive, benchmarks with consequences, and or the removal of domestic pork for that matter. The Bush administration said they weren't going to compromise and they didn't compromise.


GREG SARGENT of TPM suggests that the Iraq funding battle has boiled down to either Bush caving and accepting Democratic mandates or the Democratic leadership caving and giving Bush what he wants.

I don't think that's quite the case, at least not yet.

THE CURRENT SITUATION: BUSH VERSION. For the Bush administration, the main point is to show how tough they are. They're eager to play chicken with funding for the military mission in Iraq and don't care about consequences for American troops. Thus, they view the funding battle is a win-win situation. If the Democrats cave, Bush can gloat about how much tougher than hs is than the Democrats. If the Democrats go to the mat and cut off funding, then Bush can blame them for any negative consequences for American forces in Iraq.

But, Bush's position weakens daily because the surge is such a loser. More American troops are dying, Baghdad isn't any more secure, and the military situation is actually deteriorating in provinces outside Baghdad.

The military failure in Iraq tars everything Bush has done. The overseas kidnappings, torture policy, and warrantless wiretapping all look like exercises in criminal behavior rather than national security strategy.

Likewise, Bush's refusal to negotiate with Congress looks more like petulance than principle.

THE CURRENT SITUATION: DEMOCRATIC VERSION. The situation is more complex for the Democrats. Their ultimate policy objective has been to seize control of the war and force the withdrawal of American combat troops. But there's only two ways that can happen and both now appear impossible. First, Congress would have to pass legislation to cut off funding for the war with a veto-proof majority. That was always impossible. Second, Congress could just not pass war funding at all and just let the money for the occupation run out. But it doesn't appear that the Democratic leadership wants that kind of confrontation.

However, the Democrats have succeeded politically. Pelosi and Reid have shown that they're determined and tenacious and that they can get legislation passed. These were things that were seriously in doubt in January when Democratic majorities took control of the House and Senate.

At the same time, Pelosi and Reid have shown that they're willing to negotiate with the Bush administration in good faith. Unlike the Bush administration, the Democrat have demonstrated that they're more committed to American interests than their partisan agenda. The Democrats have swung public opinion in their direction. Almost 2/3rds of the American public wants either the immediate withdrawal of American combat forces or a mandatory timetable for withdrawal. Although Bush controls the "bully pulpit," the Democratic leadership has rallied public opinion around withdrawal from Iraq.

All in all, the Democratic leadership has done better than people expected, including people on the left. As Greg Sergent observes, the Dems have "consistently hung much tougher than anyone expected and [have] steadily defied expectations in the process." And they've probably done a great deal better than Bush himself expected.

PUSHING TOWARD A SECOND VETO. In this context, the Democrats have accumulated some political capital and I believe they should invest it in the conflict over Iraq war funding. The best thing the Democrats can do is send up another bill that Bush will most likely veto. Pelosi could send up another bill with a withdrawal timeline, a bill with enforcable benchmarks for the Iraqi government, or a short-term bill like the House has passed that forces the Bush administration to come back for more money in August. I've come to favor benchmarks. The Bush administration has announced that it believes in benchmarks, the public supports benchmarks, and benchmarks are targeted to the Iraqi government rather than American troops. All of these things make benchmarks more appealing to the American public and more painful for the Bush administration to veto.

If the Democrats send up a bill with enforcable benchmarks, there is the possibility that Bush would sign the legislation just to throw the Democrats off balance. But the chances of that are slim. The 30% of the public that still supports Bush is insisting that he only sign a "clean bill" with no restrictions on Bush's freedom of action. If Bush caves in to the Democrats, his support base would most likely collapse and he might as well resign.

But a second veto also entails risks for Bush. If the public perceives the Democrats as having negotiated in good faith, the Bush administration will seem even more arbitrary, rigid, and peevish than it seems already and public opposition to Bush might harden to the point that there will be a consensus for a quick withdrawal as soon as Bush leaves office. Dick Cheney has announced that he doesn't particularly care about the future of the Republican Party, but Republicans in the House and Senate do care and they might finally start acting to undercut the war themselves and help prepare the way for a post-Bush withdrawal.

Perhaps the Democrats won't be able to seize control of the war from Bush before he leaves office. However, by continuing to push on the issue of war funding, they can create the conditions for a national consensus on withdrawing from Iraq as soon Hillary or Obama is sworn in as president. The Democrats may not be able to force withdrawal now, but they are creating conditions that will make withdrawing from Iraq easier in the future.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Great President!

It appears that Paul Wolfowitz's resignation today as president of the World Bank was contingent on the Bank's board publicly accepting Wolfowitz' "contention that he acted "ethically and in good faith.'"

Maybe that will work for George Bush as well.

Perhaps President Bush and Dick Cheney would resign if Congress, the media, left-wing bloggers, and the nation at large just accept Bush's contention that he's a great president.

Hey, I never said I would never compromise my ethics for a good enough cause and this is a good enough cause.

So here goes!

"George Bush is a great president, one of the greatest presidents in American history."

More Muttering About Dictatorship From the Right

Conservatives might think of democracy as a noble goal for Iraq, but they're not sure it's such a good idea for the United States. As RSI has noted here and here, right-wing intellectuals like Thomas Sowell and Harvey Mansflield have recently begun expressing a yearning for one-man rule, military coups, and the abrogation of First Amendment rights. The underlying problem, it appears, is that the right expects the Republicans to lose in 2008 and conservative op-ed writers are already passing around the sour grapes.

Yesterday, however, Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute published what looks like a bolder and more systematic claim for dictatorship as the best political system for business. Hassett focuses on data that "dictatorships with free enterprise systems" have been growing faster than "democracies with free enterprise systems." But the fast growth of China and Singapore is not Hassett's point. Actually, the data itself is specious because the dictatorships are developing countries starting from a very poor economic base while democracies like the U. S. and France are mature and prosperous economies. Hassett acknowledges this:

"[N]early all of the unfree nations are developing countries. History shows they grow faster, at least for a while, than mature nations."

What Hassett wants to emphasize instead is the general point that dictatorships might be better for economic growth in general because "dictatorships are not hamstrung by the preferences of voters for, say, a pervasive welfare state." "Burdened" by public opinion, political parties, an independent media, and relatively free political speech, democracies inevitably develop welfare states of one kind of another. As a result, the only way that a "free market" paradise can be either brought into being or sustained is through dictatorship. Interestingly enough, Hassett seems to believe that a one-party Communist state like China is more friendly to business than a free country like the U. S.

In my opinion, Hassett's argument for dictatorship is a more serious threat to American democracy than those of other conservatives. Hassett seems to be saying to the corporate interests that finance the American Enterprise Institute that dictatorship in the U. S., France, and Germany might be just as favorable to their interests as dictatorship in China. It turns out that the "communist threat" to the U. S. is that American business might adapt Chinese communism as its preferred model for American society.

It will be interesting to see if more of this kind of literature emerges.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Why was Ashcroft Fired?

THE JAMES COMEY DRAMA. Today, liberal bloggers (here and here) and journalists are focused on former Deputy Attorney General James Comey's testimony about the hospital drama in 2004 where a very sick John Ashcroft refused to override Department of Justice lawyers and give approval to President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program.

Not that Bush cared about Ashcroft's opinion. He was going to adapt the program over Ashcroft's nearly dead body. However, Bush did eventually back off when Comey and other DOJ lawyers drew up letters of recommendation in protest.

THE REPUBLICAN RESISTANCE. One of the great, relatively untold, stories of the last five years has been the resistance of Republican bureaucrats to the reckless and lawless policies of the Bush administration. For the last five years, federal prosecutors, State Department officials, national security apparatchiks like Richard Clarke, intelligence analysts at the CIA, General Shalikashvili, mid-level bureaucrats, and retired generals have all provided an important first line of defense against Bush administration abuses. Despite long-standing partisan loyalties to the Republican Party, these men and women testified truthfully to Congress when they knew the truth could cost them their careers, pursued corruption investigations, leaked out important information that the Bush administration was either ignoring or covering up, spoke to the media, and wrote important books. They put their country over their self-interest, their loyalty to the Republican Party, and their loyalty to conservativism and provided important service to the country at a crucial time.

James Comey was as loyal a Republican as you can get. According to Sidney Blumenthal, Comey's

adherence to the principles of the Federalist Society lent him an imprimatur as a reliable conservative. He served as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of President Clinton. His partisanship was considered so solid that he was named head of the Bush transition team for the Justice Department.

Yet, Comey did not seem to hesitate when he threatened to resign over Bush administration's initial warrantless wiretapping proposals. That took a lot of guts and a lot of character. Comey did another service by testifying about the whole episode.

Like other bureaucrats involved in the Republican resistance to the Bush administration, however, Comey probably won't get the credit he deserves.

ASHCROFT'S FIRING. John Ashcroft deserves praise as well. In fact, one has to wonder if Ashcroft wasn't fired after the 2004 election because of his refusal to sign off on the illegal wiretapping program. One of the worst things that can be said about the Bush administration is that it seems like willingness, indeed eagerness, to break the law gradually became one of the more important qualifications for employment. Though far from a liberal, Ashcroft deserves credit for refusing to authorize the law breaking involved in the first version of the Bush warrantless wiretapping program.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell: The Old Bull's Gone (Revised, Updated)

THE ERA HAD ALREADY ENDED. After Jerry Falwell died today in Lynchburg, Howard Fineman wrote that his death was "The End of an Era." But Falwell's era had been over for years. After Falwell broke up the Moral Majority in 1989, the initiative, money, and day to day influence on the right shifted toward figures like James Dobson. Falwell became an old-bull senior statesman without a lot of real clout--sort of like the Teddy Kennedy of the right.

MORE FUNDAMENTALLY, Jerry Falwell's goal of creating a majority political coalition around "the defense of traditional values" was not realized. Christian conservativism grew dramatically, but maxed out at 20% of the population and has peaked as a political force. Seeking to seal their political control without majority support, conservative Christians ranging from Karl Rove to Tom DeLay and Monica Goodling have engaged in a wide range of unethical and criminal manuevers. As a result, Christian conservatism has become a watchword for preening arrogance, systematic deceit, and monumental incompetence more than anything else. If Falwell and Pat Robertson opened up a new era of Christian involvement in politics, the younger men and women of the Bush administration and Republican have ensured that the Christian right would be ensnared in their own failures. If Jerry Falwell ushered Christian conservativism into the political arena, he lived to see both the ascendancy of Christian conservatives in the Bush administration and their downfall before he finally died.

Once again, the era of Jerry Falwell ended well before he died.

Yet, I've always viewed Jerry Falwell as also being a progressive force in American society in some ways. Having lived in Chapel Hill, NC during the height of Falwell's Moral Majority, Jim Bakker's PTL, and Jimmy Swaggert's ministry, and watched them regularly on television, I don't have the personal animus against the Christian right that characterizes many people on the left. That was especially the case after I visited my first wife's grandmother in Hamlet, NC in 1982 and found that she was making monthly donations out of her social security to Jimmy Swaggert. Of course, I didn't like the fact that Swaggert was hoodwinking an 83 year-old widow out of her retirement but I was also impressed by the vitality of the conservatism that led her to donate. Falwell and the other personalities of the right may have been repulsive but they were also interesting.

SO THEN, what gave Falwell a progressive dimension? Having gotten his start in the politics of white racism, Falwell began to articulate a post-segregation language of conservative politics in the South and thus helped the white South make the transition out of the era of lynching, Bull Connor, George Wallace, and mass resistance to desegregation. Falwell had been part of the Southern resistance to desegregation at least through the mid-sixties when he was criticizing Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement. However, the defense of segregation was no longer part of Jerry Falwell's agenda in 1979 when he started the Moral Majority and some years later he was renouncing his past racism. Falwell was still a bigot launching vicious attacks on gays and defending apartheid, but the Moral Majority and other organizations in the new right were no longer defending lynching, denying blacks the right to vote, or excluding blacks from educational institutions and basic services. Falwell's transition out of segregation may have been reluctant, halting, incomplete, and dishonest, and it may have involved an enormous amount of nostalgia for the segregationist past. However, if American progress toward integration was going to be sustained, American conservatism had to move away from the defense of segregation and the advocacy of white supremacy. For better or worse, Jerry Falwell was one of the main figures in conservatism who made this happen.

Jerry Falwell and the early religious right also brought millions of people into politics who had not previously been connected to public life. This is what I've seen living in North Carolina and Kentucky over most of my adult life. I've seen the Moral Majority bumper stickers, the big-time televangelism, the burgeoning of the right to life movement, and the mass mobilization of the religious right around various political campaigns culminating in the Bush re-election campaign of 2004. Of course, the people Falwell brought into politics were highly conservative and bigoted toward African-Americans, feminists, gay people, the North, the West coast, and cities everywhere. However, the effect of bringing so many people into politics has been profoundly democratizing and profoundly liberalizing to the extent that rural areas in places like Kentucky are now exposed to the whole range of social and political debate. That's a progressive thing even if there is a constant risk of right-wing authoritarianism becoming dominant.

All's Well

It turned out that the little boy was at his aunt's all along. All's Well That End's Well.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Scary Moment

There's a lot of police cars at the foot of our street. A little boy is missing and the police are looking for the boy and (I assume) talking with his parents. He's a great kid. I hope they find him quickly.

A Coaching Conundrum?

Todd McCorkle, the women's golf coach at Georgia, resigned recently following allegations of inappropriate sexual remarks and behavior to the female golfers on his team.

McCorkle, who had coached women's golf teams to two national championships, engaged in a wide range of offensive behavior. Among other things, he showed the Paris Hilton sex video to the team, shared "offensive jokes and comments, including remarks about bras and underwear color," and referred to team members as "sexy" as they were going to team functions. Some of McCorkle's remarks also referred to "male anatomy."

One player wrote that "he is randomly rubbing your back or flipping hair, or pat on butt - and otherwise not think anything about it - but with all the other stuff feels wrong."

In reading the article (which I reprint in full below), I got the impression that McCorkle was engaged in "male bonding" with his female golfers rather than explicitly heterosexual behavior. Like other forms of pornography, the Paris Hilton sex video would be something that guys would share with each other. Because the primary object of guys watching the video would be to "share" the fetish of watching Paris Hilton have sex, the primary sexuality would be the homoerotic bonding with the other guys rather than attraction for Ms. Hilton.

The same is the case with the comments about bras, panties, and "male anatomy." From John Amaechi's book on life as a gay man in the NBA, it turns out that heterosexual basketball players often talk about "male anatomy" in homoerotic ways. Likewise, what's more homoerotic than patting someone on the butt all the time?

McCorkle's problem seemed to be this. He wanted to treat his female golfers like "the guys" in the sense that he wanted to share his homoerotic fetishizing about women with them. As a women's golf coach, McCorkle was in a homoerotic paradise of female objects that he could fetishize over with "the guys" and he seemed to be extremely eager to do so. But the downside was that McCorkle was sharing his fetishes with the women he was fetishizing. He was demeaning women and effectively bragging about it to the women he was demeaning. It was sexually inappropriate and unprofessional.

Interestingly enough, the University of Georgia viewed McCorkle as salvageable. Besides suspending him and putting him under a "no tolerance" mandate, George also ordered him to undergo a lot of sexual harassment training. McCorkle ultimately decided to resign on his own. From the perspective I outlined in the previous paragraph, however, Georgia's approach was a good idea. I'm not sure that McCorkle understood the harmful character of much homoerotic male fetishizing in general or why female athletes would not be willing to share those fetishes with him. Sexual harassment training might have done McCorkle some good.

The conundrum here is whether McCorkle's behavior would have been appropriate if he had been coaching a men's golf team. If male homoeroticism was inappropriate in the context of a female sports team, would it be any more appropriate for a male team.

Some of McCorkle behavior was unprofessional whatever the context. Showing the Paris Hilton would be inappropriate for a coach to show players in any circumstances. But I'm wondering if a male coach would be viewed as inappropriate if he shared the whole range of standard homoerotic behaviors with the male members of his team. These would include the comments on "male anatomy" and talk about female underwear as well as the whole range of butt-patting, towel-snapping, chest-bumping, high fiving, and other kinds of homoerotic bonding associated with sports.

My sense is that some male homoeroticism would be seen as inappropriate from a coach (talk about male anatomy and female underwear) but that the butt-patting, etc. would be seen as just being "enthusiastic."

But I still wonder what would happen if someone complained. Maybe it's all inappropriate.

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Todd McCorkle's sudden decision to resign as the women's golf coach at Georgia last week followed complaints from players about his inappropriate sexual comments and jokes, according to documents obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

McCorkle's resignation was announced May 7 and came three days after a memo in which he was told he would have to go through extensive anti-harassment training and would be suspended without pay for July. McCorkle instead quit, but athletic director Damon Evans said he would remain employed in another undisclosed job.

In the memo, University of Georgia executive director for legal affairs Steve Shewmaker told McCorkle several players had complained about the coach's behavior.

"We also recommend a close supervision of your interactions with your team, as any further conduct on your part that is a violation of this policy should result in immediate additional disciplinary action, up to and including termination of your employment with the university," the memo reads.

McCorkle said Monday he was not asked to resign, but acknowledged the "situation has placed a cloud over the program and I felt like it was in everyone's best interest for me to step down."
"In my tenure at Georgia I have unintentionally made comments that have made some of my players uncomfortable," McCorkle said in a statement. "I want to be clear in saying that this was not my intention or desire.

"I have learned through this experience that I must be 100 percent professional at all times. I would like to thank the University of Georgia for all the opportunities they have afforded me. Life is full of learning experiences and unfortunately this experience has cost me something that is dear to both me and my family."

The memo was one of several documents obtained in response to an open records request by the AP. Other documents included handwritten statements from several players, whose names were blacked out.

They reported that McCorkle shared a sexually explicit Paris Hilton video from the Internet with the team. There were a number of reports of McCorkle's sexual comments to players and a brief mention by one player of inappropriate physical contact.

"He is randomly rubbing your back or flipping hair, or pat on butt - and otherwise not think anything about it - but with all the other stuff feels wrong," the unidentified player wrote.

Players reported McCorkle shared offensive jokes and comments, including remarks about bras and underwear color. Some remarks were more explicit, referring to male anatomy.

The university's investigation began in April. Art Leon, the father of Georgia's No. 1 player, Taylor Leon, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution his complaints to Evans led to the investigation.

"I'm the person that initiated it," Leon told the paper. "He doesn't need to be a coach of women's golf anywhere. He got what he deserved."

The memo from Shewmaker informed McCorkle he violated the university's Non-Discrimination Anti-Harrassment Policy.

"This finding is based, in part, on your statements made during our investigation," Shewmaker wrote. "For example, you admitted you told one of the team members she looked 'sexy' on the way to the SEC tournament banquet."

Added Shewmaker: "Your comments had the effect of creating a hostile or offensive environment which interfered with the team members' ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or activity."

McCorkle, who coached the Lady Bulldogs to the 2001 NCAA championship, said last week he was leaving the team to assist his wife, LPGA golfer Jenna Daniels, with her career. McCorkle also coached Arizona to the 2000 NCAA championship before becoming Georgia's coach in June of 2000.

"Big B" Makes His Move

Today's my 53rd birthday. So I thought I'd write a domestic post. The RSI family includes a mom, dad, two girls ages 12 and 9, and four pets. Since this post is about one of the pets, I'll go into more detail about them. We have a dog, Missy, who is an Australian blue heeler mix. Actually, she's about as blue as Kentucky blue grass which means not blue at all. Now, Missie weighs about 50 pounds, and has the herding instincts you'd expect from a blue heeler. She likes chasing the deer as well. The three cats include two indoor cats and an outdoor cat--"Big B" who came to live with us as a stray kitten.

At a trim 8 pounds and black with some white markings, "Big B" is all business. As the biggest of our admittedly runty group of cats, "Big B" is the boss cat and lets the other cats know it as soon as they venture outside. But "Big B" has ambitions. For the last year, "Big B's" also taken the initiative with the dog as well, often swatting her with a paw as the dog is coming out the door. Missy will chase "Bib B" and often catch him if she can get behind him. She refers to this as her "catch and release" program for chasing cats. However, "Big B's" swatting is extremely annoying to our canine, annoying enough that Missy sometimes backs up from going outside if she sees her nemesis on the porch.

Over the last week, "Big B" has started to go after even bigger game. Now, our courageous cat is swatting our 12 year old daughter when he wants to be fed. Even though she weigh at least 10 times as much as the cat, our daughter doesn't seem to intimidate "Big B" at all. It's like he's working his way up what he sees as the family hierarchy, targeting first the dog then taking on one of the girls.

Unfortunately for our no 1 daughter, we parental units have decided at least temporarily to back the cat. It's just too funny not to. When our daughter complains about being swatted, we just tell her to feed the cat before we fall all over ourselves laughing.

But maybe we shouldn't feel so smug. We could be giving "Big B" even bigger ideas.