Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Just Kidding, But Not Really

Showing his true colors, Pat Robertson called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. In the video message, Robertson said, "We have the ability to take him out and I think it's time we exercise that ability."

Today Robertson apologized for the remark, first denying that he had called for the assassination and later coming to a full blown recant, but in characteristically backwards fashion. In a statement on his website, Robertson said, "Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him."

For your convenience here is a breakdown of the leaps in logic of this statement:

1. "Is it right to call for assassination?"
Robertson posses the ethical question.

2. "No, and I apologize for that statement."
Robertson answers the ethical question, and concludes that calling for an assassination was ethically wrong.

3. "I spoke in frustration . . ."
Robertson begins an explanation of why he made the statement he admitted was ethically wrong . . .

4. ". . . that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him."
. . . and concludes that we should kill the man, in contradiction to the ethical principle he enunciated in the first statement, and effectively restates the position he claimed to recant and apologize for.

This remark by Robertson is the latest in a string of controversial comments. Ron Hutchinson of Knight-Ridder newspapers noted:
  • He suggested that the September 11th terrorist attacks occurred because "we have insulted God at the highest level of our government."
  • He once warned Orlando, Florida that God might send hurricanes its way if Disney World continued to recognize gay-pride events.
  • He has said feminism encourages women to kill their children and become lesbians.
  • He once called for blowing up the State Department with a nuclear device.
  • He said he considered liberal judges a more serious threat to America than "a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings."
More recently Robertson joined conservatives in spreading misinformation in the Terri Schiavo case and encouraged his followers to pray that Supreme Court justices retire so that they can be replaced by conservatives.

What does all of this mean? It seems rather anticlimactic to say that Robertson is an idiot or an extremist. That's fairly obvious. What needs to be taken into account is the mass audience that Robertson has. Thet 700 Club reaches 1 million viewers with each episode. Robertson is still a powerful political figure in America.

Now consider this excerpt:

"Praise be to God, who revealed the Book, controls the clouds, defeats factionalism, and says in His Book 'But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)' . . . The Arabian Peninsula has never--since God made it flat, created its desert, and encircled it with seas--been stormed by any forces like the crusader armies now spreading in it like locusts, consuming its riches and destroying its plantations. All this is happening at a time when nations are attacking Muslims like people fighting over a plate of food. In the light of the grave situation and the lack of support, we and you are obliged to discuss current events, and we should all agree on how to settle the matter . . .The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies--civilians and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim."

This is taken from Osama bin Laden's fatwa on America. Read closely and find the ideas behind the quote. According to this excerpt, God's chosen people have the obligation to kill those in other countries who threaten their homeland.

This is the same argument that Robertson used in his video statement on President Chavez. Religious zealots are cut from the same cloth.

As final note, Robertson's remarks elicited interesting reaction from the White House. Donald Rumsfeld commented that "Our department doesn't do that kind of thing. It's against the law," and State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the comments "inappropriate" and incompatible with U.S. policy. You know you've gone too far to the right when even the Bush administration does not want to invade.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Nothing More Suspicious Than a Clean Record

Slate has two articles on the nomination of John Roberts for Supreme Court Justice. Dahlia Lithwick's article explores Roberts' mild personal history, painting him as a man who "didn't want the White House to do anything reckless and stupid that would look bad in the history books" and who has lived a life so void of controversy that it would appear hard to pin him down. Emily Bazelon's article finds some suspicion in Roberts' squeaky clean record. According to her, "Leftish advocates . . . wrinkle their noses at justices who overtly seek to impose a rightward agenda (Antonin Scalia) and are willing to jettison past decisions to do it (Clarence Thomas). Roberts has never declared himself one of the bad guys . . . Instead he has styled himself as deliberate, lawyerly, process-oriented." This style is supported by most of his political actions.

While it may sound good, Roberts is also an unlikely choice. The Bush administration has largely been characterized by politicians on the far right (John Bolton, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft) with extreme positions. For them to suddenly pick an apparent moderate could be a sign that they are opening up, or it could be that the administration was not prepared to engage in a huge fight over the nomination. Or perhaps it is a distraction, like an act of misdirection during a magic trick, that allows the administration to do one thing while saying another.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

This is Why We Broke Away

Lately the UK has been having some troubles with civil liberties. I know they do not have all of the same protections granted to us by our own Constitution, but the latest political moves by our ally seem like they have more in common with those we are fighting.

In the continuing assault on free speech under the guise of public decency, an opera about Jerry Springer is now the subject of controversy in Britain. The musical is unlikely to reach the States. Richard Thomas, composer of the opera, astutely observed, "When the Right in America protest, it ends in a global conflict with thousands of civilian deaths."

This isn't Britain's only problem with civil liberties. Their legislature is attempting to pass a bill that would make incitement of religious hatred punishable by seven years in prison. While they insist that it is not aimed at criticism or commentary on religions, the potential chilling effect on speech is enormous.

And lest we forget last month's shooting of a Brazilian in the British subway, which Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair called "directly linked to the ongoing and expanding anti-terrorist operation."

Now we can see why Bush and Tony Blair get along so well. They both hate liberals for their freedom.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The War Against Rhetoric

The White House has recently decided that the term "War on Terror"has outlived its usefulness and so they are changing the slogan to the "Struggle Against Extremism." This seems reminiscent of the differences between Catholicism's and Episcopalian Christianity; it is the same product but in a new package with half the guilt. War has violent connotations and with the popularity of the Iraq War falling, a change in rhetoric is needed. Struggle is not much better but it can imply a moral imperative and the word does have that element of martyrdom to it that the Christians find so appealing.

The administration will need to watch that they don't start urinating on their own leg. After all, Americans love their wars and the fight against extremism starts at home.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Next Time You Go Over My Head, Use a Ladder

Today John Bolton was appointed as the US ambassador to the United Nations. For months, Democrats and moderate Republicans had objected to Bolton's nomination for this post and had filibustered the vote. Bush waited until the Congress was in recess and then used an executive power that grants him the ability to fill the positions without approval.

Here are some of the objections to Bolton's nomination:
When Bill Clinton was in office, he was beleaguered by accusations that he abused the powers of his office. This action by President Bush surpasses any audaciousness of Clinton's. Some will call it brave and decisive. I call backhanded, cowardly, and insulting. But this behavior is par for the course for an administration that has continuously evaded accountability. And Bolton's track record of fixing the facts to fit ideology makes him a poster boy for the entire executive branch.

The good news is that appointments without congressional approval are limited and Bolton's appointment will be revisited at the end of 2006.