Sine Qua Non Pundit

And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good -- Need we ask anyone to tell us these things? ------ ------ ------ ------ E-mail: charlesaustin@earthlink.net

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Thursday, July 03, 2003
 
The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. XC

(Ed. -- The following is a bit of mean spiritedness that will be an on-going feature of this blog. Normally the author will endeavor to be reasonably fair, but this is an exception.)

Note, I am leaving Blogspot, but I had to get this in first. Despite all the things I want to write about, I am stepping away to enjoy our Independence Day and it will be a few days before I return. But this is my penultimate post on Blogspot.

Looks like I jumped the gun by a couple of days with my danse macabre reference in the last Scourge. But then again, Richard Cohen usually gives us more than a couple weeks between his death penalty screeds, and I couldn’t just let a obscure reference lapse into obscurity through my forgetfullness. But the music has started, so put on your dancin’ shoes and let’s join Dick in the Death Penalty Tap Dance:

By now you have probably heard of Howard Dean's recent appearance on "Meet the Press," in which he may have set a record for saying, "I can't answer that question."

Why, it rivals, “I don’t remember,” and "I can't recall," in the annals of Democratic responses to straightforward questions.

The question that got the most attention involved the number of troops on active duty.

Did we mention that John Kerry served in Vietnam?

But there was a question that Dean did answer -- and answered extensively -- that deserved as much attention.

Boxers or briefs?

It involved why he switched his position on capital punishment. He said he changed his mind.

As John Maynard Keynes once said, “When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?”

A review of his remarks, however, suggests he actually lost it.

First Ann Coulter, now Howard Dean. Apparently disagreeing with Richard Cohen is a one-way ticket to the looney bin. Let’s see, who else can I remember that classified dissidents as insane? Hmm, talk about crushing dissent!

The issue is important because Dean is the self-proclaimed truth-teller on the campaign trail. "I'm going to say what I think," he told Tim Russert.

But, maybe, just maybe, Howard was telling the truth. If so, then the only reason this is important is because it deviates for the received wisdom of Richard Cohen!

This splendid candor has vaulted Dean into the top tier of Democratic candidates; he raised $7.5 million in the most recent reporting period.

Correlation equals causation in Richard’s dystopia.

Suddenly…

He’s not half the man he used to be.

… the once-obscure former governor of Vermont is a contender.

As long is the race is for second place.

So let us contend with capital punishment.

Do we have to? Again?

I am not going to argue its pros or cons, because you probably believe what you believe -- and that's all there is to it.

Oh? Can’t we just stop here then? Or perhaps cut the number of anti-death penalty rants by Richard Cohen down to say, six more for the rest of the year?

But as a political issue, it's a salient one, because opposition to the death penalty brings a presidential candidate nothing but trouble.

That must be why only those not running for office stand up on their soap boxes to denounce it so voluminously.

The American people overwhelmingly support executions…

Stupid proles!

… and that is especially true in the South, the so-called Death Belt, where most executions -- as well as the early South Carolina primary -- take place.

The so-called “Death Belt”? Yes, I can see why Richard has abandoned trying to convince anyone, since that’s all there is to it.

Dean once opposed the death penalty, citing "two reasons. One you might have the wrong guy, and, two, the state is like a parent" -- it ought to set an example.

One, this isn’t utopia. We do our best and live (or die) with the consequences. Two, the state as parent is much more troubling to me than any concern Richard Cohen has about the viability of capital punishment. Take your village and shove it, Dick.

He also said, "I truly don't believe it's a deterrent."

Next, he’ll have Cardinal Biggles bring out the comfy chair.

That's three reasons, but never mind.

And don’t worry Mr. Cohen, I haven’t minded for a long, long time.

Then, on account of two horrific crimes, Dean's thinking underwent an evolution. "I came to realize because of the Polly Klaas case and because of similar other cases that sometimes the state inadvertently has a hand in killing innocent people because they let people out [of prison] who ought never to have been let out."

Well, duh.

Granted, that was the case with Klaas, the 12-year-old California girl who was abducted, sexually attacked and murdered back in 1993. Her killer, Richard Allen Davis, had a long criminal record and was out on parole when he committed the crime. But none of his previous crimes were for death penalty offenses.

And therefore, applying the law of induction, Richard apparently feels none of his subsequent crimes should involve the death penalty. Or did I miss something?

Dean could argue that Davis should never have been free and deserved to die because of what he did to Klaas, but not for anything he did before. Davis didn't slip the noose. There was no noose for what he had done.

Until he killed Polly Klaas. But, of course, Richard doesn’t believe that merits the noose either.

The second case Dean cited apparently took place in Vermont. "We had a case where a guy who was a rapist, a serial sex offender, was convicted, then was let out on . . . a technicality, a new trial was ordered and the victim wouldn't . . . go through the second trial. And so the guy basically got time served, and he was the man who murdered a 15-year-old girl and raped her and then left her for dead. . . . So life without parole doesn't work, either."

He murdered her, raped her, and then left her for dead?

Neither does Dean's logic.

Criticism from the master.

According to Dean's own account, the sex offender had never been convicted of a previous capital crime. And, in the eyes of the law, he wasn't even convicted of one of them -- one man's "technicality" being another's constitutional abuse.

Ah yes, those fighting the death penalty never engage in constitutional abuse. Only the evil advocates of the death penalty do that. Well, evil advocates of the death penalty and O.J. Simpson’s attorneys.

Whatever the case, the death penalty played no role.

Until he murdered a girl, raped her and then left her for dead.

It's not that Russert wasn't persistent. He went after Dean time and time again, finding only a bowl of fudge sitting opposite him -- a man so desperately in search of a rationale that ultimately he stood American jurisprudence on its head.

And yet, somehow, he’ll do a better job of picking Supreme Court nominees than President George W. Bush, right Dick?

Going on about felons getting out of jail and then killing, say, "15- and 12-year-old girls," he added, "That is every bit as heinous as putting to death someone who didn't commit the crime."

Perhaps Howard has a point.

In all my years writing about the death penalty, I have never heard any politician admit that he would countenance the death of an innocent person in order to ensure that the guilty die.

Now I’m having to defend Howard Dean! Oh what a tangled blogging urge, when first we practice Cohen Scourge. Really now Dick, that’s not what Howard Dean said. But it is a recognition that even though we don’t live in a utopia that we must still make crucial judgments regarding right and wrong, and that those decisions have consequences.

Dean is maybe the first to acknowledge the unacknowledgeable.

Iraq’s liberation was a good thing?

But by equating the murder of one individual by another with the murder of an innocent person by the government -- the unpreventable with the preventable -- he has casually trashed several hundred years of legal safeguards.

Oh bloody hell, I’m fed up with this nonsense. I could write another thousand words explaining the casual leaps of faith required to get from point A to point Z in Richard argument, but who would read it? But I wonder what Richard Cohen thought of the several hundred years of legal safeguards tossed aside by the recent Supreme Court rulings?

I know that nothing a politician can say in favor of capital punishment can possibly hurt him.

Death to jaywalkers is ok now?

But Dean is supposed to be different.

But we know better, don’t we. Just between you and me...

His supporters say so and so, repeatedly, does he.

Keep telling that lie, and drinking that Kool-Aid.

When it comes to the death penalty, however, he's as craven as they come. The straight-shooter aimed at South Carolina -- but shot himself in the foot.

And so the first shot in our current uncivil war is also fired in South Carolina. I suppose I could mention the cravenness of some Democratic presidential aspirants concerning what some call the “death penalty of the unborn”, but those are tactics I’ll leave to Richard Cohen.



Wednesday, July 02, 2003
 
That's It!

I tried to fix a typo in the last Scourge and the new, improved BloggerPro has of it's own volition made wholesale substituions to the whole post that I don't have time to fix right now. Yea, I can cut and paste in and out of MS Word, but I shouldn't have to.

Buh bye.



Tuesday, July 01, 2003
 
Damn Straight

This is a good thing:

The United States has cut military aid to 35 countries over their refusal to exempt US troops from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court (ICC).

The US, which is not a signatory to the ICC, has asked nations that recognise the court to exempt Americans from its provisions over fears they could be subject to politically-motivated prosecution by the court.

US officials says the suspension affects US allies like Brazil, Colombia and South Africa, the Baltic states as well as NATO hopefuls such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says the US government will never accept the court.


And now for some spin:

Our Washington correspondent John Shovelan says the decision to punish countries that have refused to exempt US troops from prosecution is the latest in a series of attacks on the court by the Bush administration.

Aw, the poor defenseless ICC. But maybe it would be a good thing is the good folks at the Australia Broadcasting Corporation learned something about how the US works:

The US initially signed on to the court but later rescinded the agreement.

No. Bill Clinton signed it, but international treaties have to be approved by the US Senate, and that ain't ever going to happen for the ICC. Bill Clinton knew this when he signed the Treaty of Rome, but he signed it anyway. Eh, whatayagonnado?



 
Maybe Ann Is Right After All

I just heard the BBC repeat the lie that President George W. Bush declared the war over two months ago.



 
The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. LXXXIX

(Ed. -- The following is a bit of mean spiritedness that will be an on-going feature of this blog. Normally the author will endeavor to be reasonably fair, but this is an exception.)

I don’t read columns by Ann Coulter. I’ve certainly never read a book written by Ann Coulter. It’s not that Ann Coulter is reliably wrong, like, oh, I don’t know, Richard Cohen? -- or that she’s a bad writer or that she doesn’t have any good ideas. It’s just that I’ve grown weary of the type of over-the-top partisanship that she displays. There’s no question it’s red meat for the choir, but there’s nothing there that is going to convince since anyone not already agreeing with her isn’t going to make past the first few sentences. I don't read Ann Coulter for the same reason I don't read Molly Ivins. It's all a little too simplisme for my tastes. The few times I remember seeing Ann Coulter on talk shows, she was generally too focused on scoring debating points rather than engaging in the type of conversation that is going to draw me in. But I will admit to enjoying watching her spar with perky Katie, in what may be the only time I have ever watched Ms. Couric on television. Now there has to be some irony in that it was Ann Coulter that got me to watch Katie Couric. I don’t begrudge Ms. Coulter any success she may have, but her work just doesn’t appeal to me. Maybe I’m just too familiar with the arguments. Who knows?

But if, as Francois de La Rochefoucald once wrote, hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue, then what, I wonder, are the excesses of Ann Coulter when compared to those of Sidney Blumenthal? I suppose I could write a better Scourge if I could find the motivation to read some of Sid’s works, but that ain’t gonna happen. Life is far, far too short, and so, alas, this will not be a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done before. Strangely enough, imdb.com doesn’t have a single reference to Ronald Coleman, but I digress.

As you read the following, keep in mind that one week ago today, Richard Cohen was singing the praises of that paragon of partisan propriety, Sid Blumenthal. But now, instead of lavish lauding of liberal looniness we have a cacophony of caustic commentary about Crackpot Conservatism:

I am happy to report that Ann Coulter has lost her mind.

Happy! How the wine must have flowed in the Cohen household when Charlton Heston announced he had Alzheimer’s. Why there probably hadn’t been that much joy in Dick’s abode since the press release announcing that Ronald Reagan has Alzheimer’s. Such a nice man, rejoicing in the misfortune of others. Not that Ann has lost her mind of course. But should Richard Cohen ever be in charge, I could see Ann being second in line for compulsory re-education at the mental health center – after me of course.

The evidence for this is her most recent book, "Treason," a nearly unreadable slog through every silly thing anyone on the left has ever said.

As if every silly thing anyone on the left has ever said would fit into one tome.

Coulter conflates dissent with treason, opposition with treason, being wrong with treason, being right with treason and just about anything she doesn't like with treason.

Treason? Nah. But neither does she conflate dissent or opposition with patriotism. But being right with treason? Come on. If I've told you once, I've told you a million times, do not exaggerate! I just hope Ann Coulter likes chocolate ice cream. I'd hate to think that eating it makes me a traitor.

If the book were a Rorschach test, she would be institutionalized.

The authors of Rorshach tests are institutionalized?

My glee in reporting that Coulter is daft is predicated on the prediction that her book, like her previous one, will be a bestseller.

And speaking of unreadable slogs, this would mean what exactly for Living History? Which, incidentally, can be had for a sizeable discount already at Amazon.com.

This is invariably the case with rants from the right.

Perhaps there’s just a great demand for documentation of the left’s looniness. Something to counteract the "official" version of events with, as Paul Harvey might say, the rest of the story.

They tell the majority (non-liberals) that they are being controlled by the minority (liberals) -- and that most of the country's important institutions, particularly the press, are in the hands of leftists.

And now Eric Alterman’s contentious thesis is dragged into the paranoid delusion. Of course, to deny that most of the country’s important institutions, not just the press, but the courts, colleges and universities, and even that most supposedly Republican of institutions – big business – are not under the control of a left-wing ideology is to be exceptionally blind to reality. The left-wing bias of all those institutions is demonstrable in the reporting, advocacy, and results of GRUTTER v. BOLLINGER et al. Just imagine the horror of being a captain of industry accustomed to being pilloried by Richard Cohen and his pinko wisp of a grandfather for being rich and successful and suddenly finding yourself in bed with Dick, filing amicus briefs and making common cause with all those who wish to institutionalize and codify racism into the national fabric, all in the name of the goals of the politically correct left.

Coulter has now taken this argument one step further. This wee minority is not merely wrong. It is traitorous.

Traitors? Nah. But I will grant that the loons are in a minority, but they are an important minority, comprising an elite that controls a slice of public life for exceeding their actual numbers.

She says the New York Times "issues traitorous editorials." She says, "Liberals relentlessly attack their own country, but we can't call them traitors, which they manifestly are."

Traitors? Nah. But there’s certainly something of a Vast Left Wing Conspiracy that puts the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy to shame.

"Free speech," which those canny liberals often cite to justify their wacko ideas, "is a one-way ratchet for traitors," and "liberals have a preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason."

Treason? Nah. But I can see why someone whose knee-jerk response is always that America is wrong might be seen as an enemy of America. It can be confusing for us "simple people" when the positions taken by the leading lights of the left are virtually indistinguishable from those of America's avowed enemies.

The book is a hoot.

With all these hot and bothered wings about, I was starting to think we were at Hooters.

It is also good news for liberals. It suggests that the right, at least the hard right, has finally dumbed out.

Illiberals, Dick, illiberals. I am a proud liberal in the sense of that word throughout most of recorded history since the Renaissance. Perhaps the greatest sin of the left has been the abuse and misuse of our common language, helping to further the postmodern deconstruction of everything we hold dear to apocalyptic struggles over power and meaninglessness.

This is the predictable cycle for all movements.

And when, pray tell, did the left dumb out?

They start with a genuine grievance and proceed from there to the totally ridiculous -- or, in some cases, to the downright macabre.

A danse macabre. How Gaul-ling.

In some ways, the nutso American brand of archconservatism mirrors traditional anti-Semitism.

Now there’s a sentence that is meant to draw the reader into intelligent discourse and thoughtful contemplation. Or not. If you can’t beat ‘em, Slander ‘em, eh Dick?

Jew-haters proclaim that Jews control the media, international finance and almost everything else of importance -- but, somehow, Jews have accumulated a 2,000-year history of expulsions, pogroms and, finally, the mass murder of the Holocaust. It is the same with American liberals.

2000 years of American liberals?

They control everything, and yet, somehow, the White House, both houses of Congress and, with the exception of several delis in New York, the entire business community are in the hands of conservatives.

The entire business community is in the hands of conservatives? Ha! If only it were true!

It's hard to figure.

Hence the general paucity of reasoned argument in Richard Cohen’s columns.

Now Coulter has gone from the mythical to the absurd.

Which myth would that be? High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton?

Nonconservatives are traitors.

Nah. But we aren’t going to get into some boring argument about nonconservatives, neoconservatives, paleoconservatives, crunchy conservatives, and neocrunchypaleoconservatives are we?

In another country and in another age …

We’d be in another country and in another age.

… the remedy would be apparent: expulsion or something like it.

Tarring and feathering, being ridden out of town on a rail, etc.

As this is America, the best she can muster is scorn, ad hominem arguments (Bill Clinton's face is a "fat, oleaginous mug"; Jimmy Carter is "often maligned for his stupidity," etc.) and the shrapnel of quotes she accumulates after she has exploded their context.

Let he who is without absence of context cast the first stone. I’m sure that Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Antonin Scalia, Vice president Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush can appreciate quotes being mangled or taken out of context. And that’s just in the last week! But is Richard suggesting that we haven't often suffered from Jimmy Carter’s painful imbecility? On the other hand, maybe Jimmy’s being dumb as a bag of hammers helped inspire him to start Habitat for Humanity.

Sometimes she's oblivious to her own contradictions.

As are we all, especially when it is convenient.

The trouble with liberals, she says, is that they "believe they're God." This would come as news to the pious -- but stupid -- Jimmy Carter.

That’s prima facie evidence of Jimmy’s stupidity. Modern illiberals have set themselves up as little Jacobite Gods on Earth, imagining that they can through their all-encompassing wisdom and the piety of their goodwill alone establish a utopia here on earth through the power of the state.

But in a book that rehashes the McCarthy years, the Alger Hiss case, the House Un-American Activities Committee imbroglio, the Hollywood blacklist and everything but "I Love Lucy," Coulter finally heaves herself into the present and the war with Iraq.

A pox on all your houses. The fact that there were communists throughout the government doesn’t excuse the tactics Senator Joseph McCarthy used. I cannot condone Ann Coulter’s defense of Senator McCarthy, though I must admit that since I haven’t read the book, I must rely on Richard Cohen’s representation of whatever it is she wrote about him. On the other hand, since when has the left acknowledged that Alger Hiss was in fact guilty?

Mockingly, she excoriates the traitorous New York Times, which she cleverly calls "the Baghdad Times," for having said that there was "no reliable evidence" that "Saddam Hussein is connected to the Sept. 11 attack or to al Qaeda."

Traitorous? Nah. Duplicitous and partisan? Yep.

She goes on and on in this vein -- actually, she goes on and on in every vein -- dumbly confident as she typed that such a link would be proved.

Nice to see Richard staying above the fray, avoiding the ad hominem attacks he so deplores.

It has not -- and Coulter, as she herself must now recognize, is nothing more than the Bush administration's useful idiot.

No, I think the left has a monopoly as the subject of the term “useful idiots.” Or perhaps Richard Cohen has forgotten from whence that term came. Perhaps Mona Charen can help remind him.

Fairness compels me to say that Coulter scores some points. Parts of the left -- not all of it, dearie -- were unaccountably naive about communism, and as recently as the run-up to the Iraq war some of these same people again manifested an almost compulsive need to blame America for everything wrong in the world.

Well, duh. That’s quite an admission for someone who has lost her mind, is dumb, dumber, dumberer, and a useful idiot – according to Dickie-dearest.

Coulter's book contains the usual name-calling, the usual spinning of the facts, the occasional racial insult -- McCarthy, for instance, "took enemy fire from savage Oriental beasts" in World War II -- and it revives the charge from the 1950s that the Democratic Party is the party of traitors.

Traitors? Nah. But woefully ignorant of history and lacking a respect for the constitutional nature of our Republic? Well, maybe.

"The inevitable logic of the liberal position is to be for treason," Coulter says in the last sentence of her book.

Like I wrote earlier, this kind of hyperbole plays well to the crowd, but I don’t buy it. As it happens, I also don’t buy Sid Blumenthal either, so I got that one going for me.

When it reaches the bestseller list, as it almost surely will, we will know that the conservative movement has finally cracked up.

So, while earlier it was the nutso brand of American Conservatism, now it’s just plain conservatism that is crazy.

Happy days are here again.

Richard’s self delusion is complete. Why, the more books conservatives sell, the greater their defeat will be in the next election. The logic remains, well, by his own admission, figuring is hard for Richard Cohen.



 
The Perfect Storm

Our office building has limited parking, so we all park in the Busch Stadium West parking lot, which is about two blocks from our office. When I left this evening, I was rather surprised when I was hit by a couple of raindrops and then a couple more. I lifted my head slightly and saw nothing but blue skies. I turned my head left, then right and still saw nothing but blue skies. I strained my neck and looked straight up and I saw it. A small, dark gray cloud that appeared to be only four or five square blocks in size. And it was directly over my head raining on me. I don't think I could come up with a better metaphor for how I feel right now.

I tried to be clever and include an HTML tag indicating a closure for self pity, but I couldn't make that work right either.

Sigh.




 
Mean What You Say, Say What You Mean

Somebody better get ahold of North Korea by the shoulders and let them know what's going to happen as soon as we start taking them at their word:

North Korea threatened today to abandon the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War, and warned that it will take ``merciless retaliatory measures'' in response to any economic blockade.

U.S. efforts to pressure the communist state to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program have pushed Korea to ``the crossroads of war or peace,'' said the North Korean military's representative at Panmunjom, a truce village where the U.N. Command and the North's military meet to oversee the armistice.


Apparently North Korea hasn't quite caught on to the simplisme approach to diplomacy and international affairs that the US , the UK, and Australia have taken to heart.



Monday, June 30, 2003
 
Bill Clinton Is An Illiberal Utopian Statist

But you already knew that. The latest example provided comes from an Op-Ed he wrote for the Daily News. Yea, I know how "smart" he's supposed to be, but how do you explain this?

"It's your money," says President Bush when he promotes tax cuts. I disagree with his tax policy but admire his spin. The same argument applies with greater force to whether big media conglomerates should be allowed to control more television and radio stations: "It's your airwaves."

This is wrong on so many levels. Well Billy boy, let me help you out here. The airwaves are the spectrum of radio frequencies that are, in fact, limited by nature (or the laws of physics, if you prefer). The government allocates the frequencies based upon any number of criteria, but the key points are that the frequencies are quite limited and that the government decides on the basis of utility and some measure of value who gets the rights to what frequencies where and for how long. The allocation of frequencies is a political decision made about scarce resources.

The money in my pocket is not limited by nature (or the laws of physics) but by my own wits and effort. Nominally, I agree that some portion of the money in my pocket will be taken by our representative government to fund its activities, but how much money and for what purposes is quite subjective and amongst the most fundamental of political questions. To think that the money in my pocket is of the same nature as the spectrum of radio frequencies and hence completely subject to the control of an appointed bureaucracy like the FCC is more than a little scary. But apparently, Bill Clinton really does believe that the money in my pocket somehow belongs to the government, and to think otherwise is just "spin." While it may be true that the money in my pocket may be scarce to some degree, that does not mean that it is now up to the government to allocate it all based upon some subjective measure of utility for "us."

The fact that crucial misunderstandings (or are they intentional misrepresentations?) like this aren't picked up by the "serious" people is profoundly depressing for me. The illiberal utopian statists continue to put forth arguments about how intelligent and wonderful their ideas for a planned society are, when it is clear to me that they haven't the slightest clue what they are talking about most of the time.

Given the fundamental errors in Bill Clinton's logic in his opening paragraph, I didn't even bother to read the rest of his opinion piece. What's the point, really?



 
Was Howard Dean a Nucular Engineer?

The reason I'm asking is that the similarities to Jimmy Carter circa 1975 are getting eerier by the day.





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