Friday, January 2, 2004

From the Austin American Stateman newspaper, Willie Nelson's new song "Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth

Willie Nelson, who has endorsed Dennis Kucinich for President, and who will lead a fundraising concert for Kucinich's campaign in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 3, 2004, wrote a new song on Christmas that he will perform in public for the first time at the Austin concert.

There's so many things going on in the world

Babies dying

Mothers crying

How much oil is one human life worth

And what ever happened to peace on earth

We believe everything that they tell us

They're gonna' kill us

So we gotta' kill them first

But I remember a commandment

Thou shall not kill

How much is that soldier's life worth

And whatever happened to peace on earth


And the bewildered herd is still believing

Everything we've been told from our birth

Hell they won't lie to me

Not on my own damn TV

But how much is a liar's word worth

And whatever happened to peace on earth

So I guess it's just

Do unto others before they do it to you

Let's just kill em' all and let God sort em' out

Is this what God wants us to do

(Repeat Bridge)

And the bewildered herd is still believing

Everything we've been told from our birth

Hell they won't lie to me

Not on my own damn TV

But how much is a liar's word worth

And whatever happened to peace on earth

Now you probably won't hear this on your radio

Probably not on your local TV

But if there's a time, and if you're ever so inclined

You can always hear it from me

How much is one picker's word worth

And whatever happened to peace on earth

But don't confuse caring for weakness

You can't put that label on me

The truth is my weapon of mass protection

And I believe truth sets you free


And the bewildered herd is still believing

Everything we've been told from our birth

Hell they won't lie to me

Not on my own damn TV

But how much is a liar's word worth

And whatever happened to peace on earth

I may not be much of a country fan, but I've always appreciated Willie Nelson's work.

AT THE PRECIPICE: A Year’s End Message from TvNewsLies

Worth a read from something of a kindred spirit.

New Mexico apparently has registered more new Democrats

The Biggest Number Ever

That's one of the states next door, and one in which the voter demographics are more favorable to Democrat candidates. At least a portion of these new Democrats are individuals who used to vote Republican but are unhappy with Dubya.

They who protest overmuch

A theme I've touched on about right-wing authoritarians that is touched on in this editorial by Dan Carpenter: there may be a certain amount of projection betrayed by the wingnuts' belligerent bellowings about "evil." Chances are they're seeing their own "evil" behaviors as done by others, when in reality they should look in their own mirrors.

Our so-called boom

Paul Krugman explains that things aren't as rosy as the White House would have us believe.

The bottom line, then, is that for most Americans, current economic growth is a form of reality TV, something interesting that is, however, happening to other people. This may change if serious job creation ever kicks in, but it hasn't so far.

The big question is whether a recovery that does so little for most Americans can really be sustained. Can an economy thrive on sales of luxury goods alone? We may soon find out.

Ten Good Things About A Bad Year

By Medea Benjamin (no, we're not related). A good list, and good reason to rember that 2003 didn't completely suck.

FBI Issues Alert Against Almanac Carriers

I wonder if my purchasing a copy of The Guinness Book of World Records makes me a "terrorist." Who'd have thought that having a copy of The Farmer's Almanac or the World Almanac would become a political statement.

The sheer stupidity of our current administration is, if nothing else, awe-inspiring.

A few words about Peter Fitzgerald

Good post by Steve Gilliard.

Goes into the reasons why Ashcroft chose Fitzgerald as special prosecutor in the Plame case. Makes for an interesting read, and one does indeed wonder if Ashcroft sees that some of his cronies in the White House are about to go down, and he doesn't want to be taken down with them. Things that may you go hmmm.

The Loonies in the White House Asylum

Richard Perle has gone stark raving mad. Check the link for more. These cats have no business influencing policy.

From Richard Kirk's liner notes

in the 3-cd box set by Cabaret Voltaire, Methodology: 74/78 Attic Tapes:

I remember the 70s as a time of austerity, a crackdown after the so-called liberal times of the 60s. Racism, repressive policing, hijackings, Baader Meinhof, The Angry Brigade, Operation Julie, cheap sulphate, boredom, industrial unrest, but a feeling that something was on the boil within an alienated and disaffected "youth culture."

Sound familiar?

I suppose we took our cue (and also our name) from the Dada movement and maybe in retrospect from the situationist movement. The bottom line is, it was never just about music, but about confrontation, challenging peoples coneceptions on everything from sound and image to reality itself. Trying to be a thorn in the side of authority. From run of the mill war obsessed jobsworths, constables, in fact anybody who wore a badge, to politicians. All considered fair game for baiting and satirization. In some ways though it was just an innocent reflection of the times, not different from the Beach Boys singing about surfing and the good times in California. But there was no surf to ride in Sheffield, just postwar desolation, unemployment and ugly urban landscapes.

Cabaret Voltaire was a great early industrial band, and rather adept at juxtaposing libertarian and totalitarian tendencies in English and American societies, and at creating oppressive, paranoid, dark soundscapes with tapes, electronic treatments of various sorts, and some standard rock instrumentation. By the way, the box is an interesting look at the Cabs' early development, and worth getting for fans. If you don't know anything about these cats, this is not the place to start. Get Red Mecca or 2x45 first.

When God goes to war

The concluding passage in particular bears repeating:

Today, we need religious people to be proactive in reforming their own traditions away from extremism. It is not enough simply to condemn other people's violence. We need bishops, rabbis and imams to search for the seeds of aggression in their own scriptures, admit that their own faith has a history of hatred, and revise bigoted, self-serving textbooks. We should also question the efficacy of the current war against religious terror. By increasing violence in troubled regions, we contribute to the conditions that have always mobilised the faithful in their pernicious holy wars.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the US and UK are ideal dance partners for Islamist extremists who themselves are bent on fighting a holy war. And Karen Armstrong suggests above, the thing to do on our part is to cease dancing. Fighting a war against religious terror in religious terms (as the White House has chosen) only continues the dance. We can do better.

The Character Myth

Some excerpts that caught my eye:

The character myth relies on the psychological phenomenon that a person who speaks frequently and passionately about morals is generally regarded as a moral person. According to the character myth, a person who demonstrates that he has "character" need not present any evidence in support of his policies or decisions. They are simply assumed to be correct, since they come from a person with the ineffable quality known as "character."

In social psychology, this is an example of the "correspondence bias" or "fundamental attribution error". Perceivers latch on to some salient feature of the actor's behavior (such as speaking frequently and passionately about morals), and then infer that the behavior is due to their own internal dispositions (trait, attitude, etc.) rather than to consider the situational factors that may influence the behavior (such as an upcoming election cycle). Once this inference is made it is very difficult for the perceiver to adjust that inference when presented with new and contradictory evidence. Typically such information is discounted (as the author notes, Reagan's own shortcomings were pretty much ignored once the myth of his "character" was accepted).

Psychologists have long understood that people who hold views that are mutually inconsistent, or who perform actions that depart from their values or that threaten their positive self-image, will experience discomfort. This is known as cognitive dissonance. People naturally choose to remove the discomfort through rationalization, thus repairing their self-image as people who are reasonable and moral and act in ways consistent with their values. Bush's leadership style and use of language essentially have created cognitive dissonance in the electorate. The more that Americans observe the Bush presidency pushing policies they do not support, and would normally question, the more they confront the choice of whether to oppose him actively or rationalize away their discomfort. Many Americans have chosen the latter because the President has convinced them that the situation is desperate and that only he can handle the continuing crisis. The more they depend upon Bush, the more they rationalize away any objections they may have to his specific ideas and policies. In this manner, Bush has forged an emotional, visceral relationship with the nation, successfully bypassing conscious resistance and stripping away any sense that he needs to answer to a higher legal or constitutional authority beyond his personal moral force.

The image many of us in the US hold of ourselves as decent, moral people is very much a part of the American character. We like to believe we are the "good guys." Hence the dissonance that emerges when our leaders' actions suggest that we in reality are the "bad guys." To the extent that we Americans have a need to see ourselves as just and moral, unjust and immoral actions by our elected officials will make us feel uncomfortable. Two options are available to alleviate the discomfort: either re-evaluate our attitudes toward the elected leaders and their actions or ignore the dissonant-inducing evidence. A fair subset of Americans have chosen the latter approach.

President Bush wields the power of a stern, authoritarian parent over the national psyche. Just as such a parent may justify a command with the words "because I said so," Bush has often reverted to explanations in the style of "it's the right thing to do" in order to justify the war on Iraq or his tax cuts. By changing frames in this manner, a political leader can erode resistance to his actions. His shifting, ultimately arbitrary reasoning deters any listener from challenging his ideas and even leads the listener to believe herself or himself incapable of understanding the reasons given for policies or actions.

This ties in pretty well with some of my posts on right-wing authoritarianism, in which high RWAs are likely to resort to rather arbitrary justifications for their actions rather than providing evidence or some other rational basis for their actions. The motivation of high RWAs is precisely to avoid challenges to their own perceived authority.

When people feel overwhelmed, as I believe Americans have been over the past few years, they tend not to think rationally about complex details.

Pretty self-explanatory. Too much stress tends to reduce cognitive functioning, hence a decrease in the ability to rationally synthesize complex information.

Further, many psychologists, sociologists and historians argue that Americans are prone to believe in the Great Person theory--the idea that if a person has the correct personality traits, his instincts will lead to the correct actions regardless of the details of a given situation. However, research shows that no character trait--not courage, charisma or self-confidence--correlates well with effective leadership as defined by historians. For example, Dean Simonton studied 100 personal attributes of all US Presidents, including their personality traits, and found that only one variable--intelligence--correlated with presidential effectiveness as measured by historians.

This needs to be repeated often. Being charismatic or confident, or coming across as courageous (in Dubya's case it's pretty apparent that courage was never his strength) simply has no bearing on effectiveness in managing a complex entity as a national government. Intelligence, on the other hand, may be the one important trait for effective leadership.

But Bush's team knows how to exploit the Great Person myth. Bush's deliberately constructed image as a moral leader who knows what is right for America takes the place of rational analysis, and his insistence that we are in an ongoing state of crisis in our war against terror helps to perpetuate this dynamic. Bush and his supporters often silence opposition and dissent by encoding in their arguments a worldview that implies that even to challenge Bush's ideas is immoral and damaging to the social order, and even to the survival of the nation and of Western civilization. Linguists call this device the lost performative. The speaker purposely leaves out the authority behind far-reaching statements in order to pass off controversial viewpoints as the absolute truth. When Bush says "Our cause is just," he purposely leaves out the "according to whom?" Saying "I think the war is just" or "Donald Rumsfeld thinks the war is just" is much different from asserting "Our cause is just." The underlying message from the authoritarian leader is, Do exactly as I say, or catastrophe follows. Overgeneralization and false generalization are powerful vehicles for such a leader.

Another passage that deserves emphasis.


The Democratic presidential hopefuls have begun to attack the character myth with repeated statements that Bush has lied to the American people. But the character myth is more pernicious than just lying. Often being bold, cocky and sure of yourself, and inflexibly and rigidly adhering to your principles because you are convinced you are right, can lead to catastrophic consequences. In Iraq, for example, it led to an absence of planning for any failure of our military to win a complete victory with the acceptance of a grateful Iraq. The Army consequently was unprepared for any nation-building, so that the country is now plunged into chaos and disorder, and in real danger, like Afghanistan, of becoming a permanent home for terrorists.

So part of the character myth has been exposed, but the rest of the myth needs to be considered as well.

To be truly effective to the broader public, the Democratic candidates must present their own vivid, descriptive depiction of how they can make America safe, not merely dominant. Just as George H.W. Bush called for a New World Order and Truman had the Marshall Plan, the Democratic candidate should enunciate a new vision of a safe and secure world. He or she should show how a collaborative world is really safer than a dominating one. This is the prescription for success in 2004.

It boils down to the vision thing. Have a vision that can be communicated clearly and simply. Works for me. Just one thing though to whoever becomes the Democratic nominee: please just be straight with the voters. I hope that's not too much to ask for.

Thursday, January 1, 2004

Now that it is 2004

A friendly reminder:

Evicting Bush from the White House is the top priority.

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

. . . Or a Rational Response?

A good title to a good column. What we've been bombarded with for much of the past sad excuse of a year is the right-wingnut "hate Bush" meme in response to opposition to and criticism of Bush's handling of anything from international affairs (remember back in the day when that was supposed to be his strong point?) to domestic policy issues.

What E. J. Dionne Jr. does is lay out a much more accurate description of what's going on with the recent willingness of Democrats to go on the attack against the GOP and its standard bearer in the White House. How did Bush portray himself back in 2000? He contended that he was "a uniter" rather than a divider. In the aftermath of 9-11, many on the Democrat side of the aisle were willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt and took him for his word. The attacks on Democrats portraying them as "leftists", "unpatriotic", and "traitors" and the blatant misrepresentation of the proceedings of the late Sen. Wellstone's memorial service were essentially outright attacks -- provocations as we might call them in social psychology. Add to that the increased frustration that Democrats encountered in having any meaningful input in the legislative process (pretty absurd when one considers the slim GOP majorities in both houses), and we have seen the following:

1. Anger. There is a ton of research available showing that under conditions of frustration and/or provocation, humans are prone to react with anger. That anger may be unconscious (though measurable through various physiological tests) or conscious (the individual recognizes and can describe being angry).

2. Coercive action. Often times when one has been provoked one retaliates with a goal in mind. Retaliation can very easily be viewed as instrumental (at least partially so) with such motives as face saving (think about GOP and wingnut attacks on dissent in this light: the war on Iraq has been an expensive quagmire in the making that failed to produce WMDs or capture Al-Qaida members supposedly linked to Hussein) and avenging real or perceived injustices (think of Democrat attacks on Bush and the GOP in this light: much of what happened in 2002 was just plain unfair. Those injustices were bound to produce a response).

Note: for more of a complete summary of the above two points, see: Geen, R. G., & Donnerstein, E. I. (Eds.). (1998), Human aggression: Theories, research, and implications for policy. New York: Academic Press.

What Dean, and to a lesser degree Kucinich, have done is to successfully tap into the anger of rank-and-file Democrats. They've also managed to focus that anger into action: their candidacies have been aggressively focused on the heart of the Bush White House and the GOP that has enabled that administration's excesses. Dean and Kucinich deserve credit for having well-thought-out responses to the Iraq invasion and occupation (something that very few people wanted outside the White House and 10 Downing St.). The people who write Dean off as a hot-headed blowhard truly underestimate the man. If he gets the nomination this coming year, he is going to be an articulate, angry, and formidable opponent. He knows what he's doing. His campaign has been one with so-far well-reasoned positions. If his campaigning amounted to little more than a "liberal" equivalent to the sort of mindless diatribes befitting our wingnut talkshow blowhards, I doubt he would have taken off. He's quite clearly proven himself capable of doing much more than name-calling -- from what I've read he appears to have the vision thing and he strikes me as very pragmatic in his approach to governing. His political record is in keeping with the center-right tradition of the Democrat Party (fiscally moderate/conservative, perhaps more so than the other Democrat contenders this year; somewhat socially & culturally authoritarian, but much less so than Bush, and considerably less so than Lieberman & Edwards). While I'm ideologically much closer to Kucinich and Sharpton, I'd be quite happy with Dr. Dean. If nothing else, I now have some hope that the Democrat party can produce candidates with actual spines, which is something I'd begun to seriously question during the last few years. The party has won this voter back, for now. I'm probably not the only one.

Twilight of the Neocons?

Noticed a link to this over at Talking Points Memo. Gave it a perusal. Worth a look-see.