Saturday, January 31, 2004

Passion for The Passion

Mel Gibson, evidently, is dreading the worst when his film about Christ's crucifixion, The Passion of the Christ, is released later next month. He probably should -- and for good reason.

According to Charisma News [registration required], Gibson thinks the early dustup raised by Jewish leaders (as well as religious scholars) over the film's allegedly anti-Semitic content was just a harbinger of the criticism that awaits him when the movie goes national, on Feb. 25:
"I anticipate the worst is yet to come," Gibson told more than 5,000 pastors and Christian leaders representing more than 80 denominations and 43 countries last Wednesday during the Global Pastors Network conference. "I hope I'm wrong; I hope I'm wrong," added Gibson, a conservative Catholic, Agence France-Presse reported.

Using "stealth tactics" to view the invitation-only screening of the film at the conference held in the Orlando, Fla., area, national Jewish leaders blasted the movie as anti-Semitic, The Orlando Sentinel reported.

Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, the group's interfaith consultant, bought tickets to the conference in their own names, but both men registered for the conference as representatives of "The Church of Truth," in Brooklyn, N.Y. "I am sorry we had to engage in stealth tactics, but only because he [Gibson] forced us to," Foxman said.

Oh, those sneaky Jews.

Of course, this version elides the content of Foxman's criticism as reported by The Sentinel, to wit:
"At every single opportunity, Gibson's film reinforces the notion that the Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob are the ones ultimately responsible for the Crucifixion."

Indeed, another rabbi who attended a showing under somewhat more straightforward circumstances had this to say:
Rabbi Aaron Rubinger of Congregation Ohev Shalom said The Passion of The Christ was "cinematically very powerful," but it had the potential to become an "ecumenical suicide bomb."

The rabbi, who accurately identified his affiliation and rewrote his confidentiality agreement to permit him to comment on the film, doesn't advocate a boycott or campaign against the film by Jews, he said. Nor does he think Gibson meant to inflame anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, he said, "some people will come away from this film with very powerfully negative feelings about Jews."

Gibson started out by previewing the film to a bevy of conservative pundits who all testified afterward that it was powerful, and hey, they didn't see anything anti-Semitic about it. These included Peggy Noonan, Cal Thomas and Kate O'Beirne, who are now, predictably, taking to the airwaves to defend the film.

His next step was to recruit a broad array of conservative evangelical Christians from around the country. As Laura Sheehan reported at BeliefNet:
In spite of, or perhaps because of, the controversy, Gibson's savvy outreach to Christian groups has borne fruit. His production company, Icon, has selectively pre-screened the movie to sympathetic audiences and is providing Christian ministries with promotional material to fuel a grassroots movement in support of "The Passion." Through websites, e-mail, tracts, and even lapel pins, Protestant and Catholic outlets are galvanizing church leaders, youth groups, and individuals to promote the film.

"Are you looking for materials your church can use to publicize showings of The Passion?" asks the website, billed as a "database offering multi-lingual, multi-format Christian resources to share your faith in Christ as it relates to the Mel Gibson movie." A site sponsored by Teen Mania calls the movie a "one-of-a-kind opportunity" and offers multimedia products for church youth groups; their DVD set helps youth workers lead "a four-week curriculum leading up to the movie, a guide to the outreach itself, and a two-week post-outreach curriculum."

But the dubious nature of Gibson's enterprise became apparent in these very showings. Attendees were required to sign a confidentiality agreement that forbids those who attended from criticizing the film -- though if you wanted to praise it, you were free to do so.

Noted theologian John Dominic Crossan attended, and was appalled by the nature of the agreement itself:
In any case, it was not the fact but the content of the confidentiality agreement that surprised me. On one hand, it enjoined me "to hold confidential my exposure, knowledge and opinions of the film." On the other hand it affirmed that, "pastors and church leaders are free to speak out in support of the movie and your opinions resulting from today's experience and exposure to this project and its producer."

I understand that legalese to mean that negative opinions are forbidden but positive ones are solicited. It is one thing to say that nobody can give any information about the movie or even express any opinion about it; but to allow support while denying criticism is something between cover-up and censorship. And its power is that of fear -- the fear of ordinary and unprotected persons like myself that they might be sued for giving their opinion, even insofar as that could be done without discussing the movie itself.

Sure enough, the advance notices from fans of the film have been effusive, to put it kindly. Typical was the review from The Elijah Net, a significant defender of Gibson, headlined "I Was Simply Transfixed." Another Elijah Net correspondent, Holly McClure, interviewed Gibson and reported back:
"I spent the day with Mel last Thursday -- Steve, I told him about the Elijah list and how you've been praying for him. . . He smiled and said, "wow" and we talked about it some more. He shared how he has been battling spiritual realms -- dark and light -- good and evil -- he said it's been very apparent in editing this movie... lots of stuff happening.

"I reminded him how many of your readers pray for him -- he said, 'Well, it's working.'"

Indeed, defenders of the film are carrying the "dark and light" theme of the debate -- Jewish and scholarly critics, evidently, being "the dark" -- as the major component of their argument. William Donohue, president of the ultra-conservative Catholic League, released a statement accusing the film's critics of "playing dirty":
Then there are the smear merchants who attack Mel?s father. In an interview that appeared last March in the New York Times Magazine, Hutton Gibson questioned the figure of 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, something many Jewish scholars have done. He did not deny the Holocaust, though it has often been reported that way.

Oh, really? Well, here's what Hutton Gibson said in that interview:
He moved on to the Holocaust, dismissing historical accounts that six million Jews were exterminated. ''Go and ask an undertaker or the guy who operates the crematorium what it takes to get rid of a dead body,'' he said. ''It takes one liter of petrol and 20 minutes. Now, six million?''

Across the table, Joye suddenly looked up from her plate. She was dressed in a stylish outfit for church, wearing a leather patchwork blazer and a felt beret in place of the traditional headdress. She had kept quiet most of the day, so it was a surprise when she cheerfully piped in. ''There weren't even that many Jews in all of Europe,'' she said.

''Anyway, there were more after the war than before,'' Hutton added.

The entire catastrophe was manufactured, said Hutton, as part of an arrangement between Hitler and ''financiers'' to move Jews out of Germany. Hitler ''had this deal where he was supposed to make it rough on them so they would all get out and migrate to Israel because they needed people there to fight the Arabs,'' he said.

It's also worth observing, of course, that Hutton Gibson speaks at Holocaust denial conferences and has continuing significant associations with such anti-Semites as Frederick Toben of the Adelaide Institute.

Donohue continues:
But why do the comments of a man who is in his mid-80s, and who has nothing to do with the film, matter so much? Unless, of course, the name of the game is to brand both Mel and his father as bigots. Even as recently as January 23, we were questioned by a producer at CBS about Mel?s father. We were asked whether he is a Holocaust denier; what his reaction to the film is; and whether he is a member of the Catholic League.

Hutton Gibson, clearly, is in fact an avid Holocaust denier and, indeed, an extremist Catholic as well. It's difficult to say, of course, to what extent Mel shares his father's views. But it's worth noting that Mel has specifically cited his father's beliefs in the past (see the excerpts from the Playboy interview here).

And it seems apparent that Hutton Gibson's views of the Holocaust have indeed been picked up by his son. Tbogg observes that Mel Gibson essentially reiterated this position in an interview with Peggy Noonan, evasively answering the questions about Holocaust denial:
"I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century, 20 million people died in the Soviet Union."

It's important, of course, to understand that this is exactly the storyline pushed by Holocaust deniers, namely, that yes, there were many Jews killed in Europe during World War II, but they were only a small part of the total who died in the war, and the "6 million" number is grossly exaggerated. Not only is this exactly what Hutton Gibson told the New York Times, you can find the exact same views at such Holocaust-denial organs as the Barnes Review, the Institute for Historical Review, and the Adelaide Institute.

Moreover, in the same interview, Gibson makes clear that his beliefs accord fully with his father's:
"My dad taught me my faith, and I believe what he taught me. The man never lied to me in his life."

So it should be clear that not only does Mel Gibson hold troubling views about Jews and the Holocaust, he also is the kind of Catholic extremist who continues to believe (as does his father) that the Jews, in killing Jesus, were guilty of deicide. This was, after all, the pre-Vatican II Catholic position -- and Gibson has made abundantly clear that, like his father, he not only rejects "revisionist" scholars, he rejects the Vatican II reforms.

Gibson has claimed he is not anti-Semitic by arguing thus:
"Neither I nor my film are anti-Semitic. Nor do I hate anyone, certainly not the Jews. They are my friends and associates, both in my work and my social life. Anti-semitism is not only contrary to my personal beliefs, it is also contrary to the core message of my movie."

But anti-Semitism comprises not merely hatred of Jews -- it is also constituted of a willingness to believe the ancient "blood libel" and deicide charges. Holocaust denial is also a significant component.

And, as word emerges from people who actually have seen The Passion, it is abundantly clear that these elements not only remain in the film, they are a significant aspect of its core themes.

James Shapiro recently put this in perspective in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times titled "There's Never Been a 'Passion' for the Truth: Depictions of the Crucifixion always have taken liberties."

Shapiro describes the history of Passion plays and their emphasis on Jewish deicide:
The script now had to follow Mark and Matthew, in which the chief Jewish priests mock Jesus, rather than Luke and John, in which they don't. But then it had to veer back to Luke and John for Pilate to insist that Jesus had committed no crime, something Mark and Matthew never claim. A line that only appears in Matthew -- the famous blood curse, where the Jews, in accepting responsibility for the death of Jesus, cry out, "His blood upon us and upon our children" -- became the centerpiece of 19th century interpretations.

But even when edited selectively, the Gospels didn't go quite far enough in providing a relentless and incriminating story of Jewish perfidy. So 19th century directors turned to ideas offered by the likes of Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), whose ecstatic visions offered damning and dramatically satisfying details nowhere mentioned in Scripture, such as the notion that the Jewish high priests passed out bribes and that the cross was built in the Temple. (Emmerich's influence on Gibson was at first acknowledged, then hastily denied.)

The new story line dominated stage and screen Passions (one of the earliest films ever made was of this Passion) right up to, and even after, the Holocaust. It was an interpretation that Adolf Hitler singled out for praise when he attended a performance in Oberammergau, Germany, where Passion plays have been performed continuously since the 1600s. He applauded the way the Oberammergau Pilate stood out "like a firm, clean rock in the middle of the whole muck and mire of Jewry."

Then, in 1965, came Vatican II, which rewrote the Catholic Church's position on how the Passion narrative could be told. No longer could the Jews be considered Christ killers, collectively and in perpetuity. Still, change was slow. It was only in 2000, for example, that Oberammergau eliminated the blood curse from its script and showed some Jews defending Jesus. Even so, its 19th century-inflected story line remains disturbing for Jewish spectators.

In interviews, Gibson has said that he wanted the blood curse in his film, that "it happened, it was said." The scene was shot and then cut, perhaps less because of how Jews would respond than because it so flagrantly defied Church doctrine. After the papal viewing, however, in a screening this week in Florida, the words from Matthew were back in place.

Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" is set to open in more than 2000 theaters nationwide Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday. Whatever version makes the final cut, one thing is sure: It won't be the gospel truth.

This view is corroborated by Cintra Wilson's Salon interview with the Rev. Mark Stanger, an Episcopalian pastor who attended one of the early screenings. As Stanger puts it:
Mel Gibson in his remarks after the film took a potshot at contemporary biblical scholarship -- he called scholars "revisionists" who think the gospel writers had agendas. They absolutely did have agendas. It's hard to know if [the film is] historically accurate, because Gospel writers were not trying to do an eyewitness report -- they were producing theological, practical documents of faith to answer questions that were appearing in their communities a half-generation and a generation after the death of Jesus. So it was as if the gospel writers themselves were movie makers. They were trying to interpret things in a way that their people could understand it. They're works of art, theological works, not eyewitness reports. But even a CNN eyewitness report has an agenda.

Stanger confirms that the film contains not only anti-Semitic but anti-Muslim elements. But most significant is what Stanger reports about the overall content of the film, which is that it focuses almost exclusively on the crucifixion as the central event, and most significant aspect of, the mission of Christ. It is nearly devoid of any sense of his teachings, and particularly of the love that was the central feature of those teachings. As Stanger puts it:
? Jesus' crucifixion was made too singular. This was an ordinary event. Jesus was one of dozens of insurrectionists that the local Roman occupiers would have crucified, but [Gibson] tried to make his suffering especially agonizing and horrible. That was the other subtext -- I thought there was an unspoken assumption that somehow, for Jesus' death to have meaning to believers, it had to be more horrible than any other kind of suffering and death. The film doesn't really say that, but that's the idea, and that's why it has an "R" rating -- for the violence. The protracted scourging.

? There was no reason for this [violence], spiritually or theologically. Do you remember in the movie "Gladiator" that short shot where he comes home to find his wife and family crucified, and there was also a report that she had been sexually assaulted beforehand? It was brutal and ugly and horrible, and you didn't need 20 minutes of blood flow to get the message across. I thought "The Passion" was really perverse and really depraved. There's a lot of criticism against the film that it gives a bad picture of Jews -- I think it gives a worse picture of Christians. Holding this up as somehow emblematic of something central to our belief -- this preoccupation with both sin and blood sacrifice -- is just absolutely primitive.

Mel Gibson should be concerned about the reaction to his film, because it is clear that it is not simply a piece of art -- it is, like The Birth of the Nation, a piece of hateful propaganda posing as art. It is a piece of poison that very well could contaminate the social well of interfaith relations for generations to come, particularly if mainstream Christians decide to pick it up, defend it and actively promote it, as it is clear they are doing so far.

Its awfulness, then, may not be merely cinematic, but of downright biblical proportions.

[Note: I will review The Passion of the Christ after it is released Feb. 25.]

UPDATE: The Catholic League's William Donohue has issued a fresh press release noting that demand for advance tickets for the film is "overwhelming", and concludes with an almost threatening jibe at the film's "ignoble" critics: "We won't forget them."

UPDATE II: This, for those interested, is the latest on Gibson's attempt to get the Pope to endorse his film, or, as Frank Rich put it, "roping him (the pope) into a publicity campaign to sell a movie." I wonder what Mel will try to do to Rich's nonexistent dog now. Draw and quarter him, no doubt.

Howling about AWOL

Bob Somerby continues to do a bang-up job of deconstructing the press corps' malfeasance in its handling of the George W. Bush AWOL matter.

On Wednesday, Somerby's Daily Howler ripped into the New York Times' handling of the story, observing that its semi-exculpatory 2000 piece on the case by Jo Thomas constituted an illogical and thoughtless whitewash -- which was recently contradicted by the paper's own Katherine Seelye:
The scribe was discussing Michael Moore?s reference to Bush as a "deserter." Her account of the facts stopped us short:

SEELYE: General Clark has spent much of his time here explaining controversial statements. Perhaps most damaging has been his failure to repudiate comments by Mr. Moore, who called Mr. Bush a deserter for his unexplained absence from the Air National Guard between April 1972 and September 1973.

In her own voice, Seelye refers to Bush's "unexplained absence from the Air National Guard between April 1972 and September 1973."

Why were we struck by Seelye's construction? Because on November 3, 2000, Seelye's own New York Times insisted that Bush had not been absent. Four days earlier, the Boston Globe's Walter Robinson had again written that "as the Globe reported in May, two documents and the recollections of officers ? raise questions about whether Bush performed any duty between April 1972 and September 1973, the month Bush entered Harvard Business School." But the Globe was all wet, the Times quickly retorted. "Documents reviewed by The Times showed that Mr. Bush served in at least 9 of the 17 months in question," Jo Thomas said in the November 3 piece. "A review by The Times showed that after a seven-month gap, he appeared for duty in late November 1972 at least through July 1973." According to the credulous Thomas, here's what the documents said:

THOMAS (11/3/00): [Bush aide Dan] Bartlett pointed to a document in Mr. Bush?s military records that showed credit for four days of duty ending Nov. 29[, 1972] and for eight days ending Dec. 14, 1972, and, after he moved back to Houston, on dates in January, April and May...

Another document showed that Mr. Bush served at various times from May 29, 1973, through July 30, 1973, a period of time questioned by The Globe.

Significantly, Somerby explores the nature of this document showing Bush put in duty in late November 1972 in Alabama even further:
What "documents" was Thomas most likely describing? In his October 31 Boston Globe story, Robinson described one shaky doc which the Bush camp was peddling around:

ROBINSON (10/31/00): Dan Bartlett, a Bush campaign spokesman, pointed to incomplete records -- one a torn page without Bush's name or any discernible dates -- as evidence that he did enough drills in Houston in the closing months of his service to satisfy military obligations.

Ah yes, the mysterious "torn document." On November 2, George Lardner described this strange document in the Washington Post:

LARDNER (11/2/00): The Bush campaign points to a torn piece of paper in his Guard records, a statement of points Bush apparently earned in 1972-73, although most of the dates and Bush's name except for the "W" have been torn off.

According to the torn Air Reserve Forces sheet, Bush continued to compile service credits after returning to Houston, winding up his fifth year with 56 points, six above the minimum needed for retention. However, Bush's annual effectiveness report, signed by two superiors, says "Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of the report," May 1, 1972, to April 30, 1973.

How weird! Bush's superiors had said that he didn't appear! And yes, they said this in real time! But how convenient! The Bush camp had (belatedly) found a torn document, on which only his middle initial appeared! Apparently, Thomas accepted this absurdly strange document, and -- without telling her readers how strange the doc was -- she said it proved that the Globe was all wet.

You can see copies of this document here, via

On Friday, Somerby also lashed into Slate's Brendan Koerner for his muddled analysis of the controversy:
What an astonishing account of the facts! According to Koerner, "the sticking point is whether Bush ever reported for duty" in Alabama. Indeed: "There are conflicting accounts as to whether Bush ever really served in Alabama," Koerner writes. But Alabama is only part of the problem, as anyone who has done the basic reading would know. Like Broder and the AP before him, Koerner has scrubbed the facts of this case -- and he's made a rank joke of your discourse.

In the meantime, Jo at Democratic Veteran continues to give us helpful insights, thanks to a deep military background. Jo also attracts a healthy readership of veterans who are also weighing in on the matter, notably a former flier named Jim Fisher, who piloted jets on aircraft carriers for years. In Jo's comments, Fisher says this:
It seems to me that the point being over looked in the Bush AWOL debate is not whether he was absent for either seven or seveteen months of his obligated service. The fact is he simply didn't do what he took an oath to do and that is serve as an interceptor pilot with the Air National Guard. As a Naval Aviator who served from 1965 to 1971 on active duty incuding over a year in Viet Nam and on the carrier off the coast I view those who went into the National Guard during that period with some skepticism. Never the less service in the National Guard did play a valid place in the National Defense Policy. The unit in which Bush served was part of the Air Defense Command (ADC) whose duty was then as now to patrol the borders and intercept any hostile aircraft. The National Guard made up a significant portion of the ADC. Pilots in ADC stood alert duty and prowled the air as a barrier against airborne intrusion. That is what Bush promised to do. What he did after being admitted on the basis of political favors was to fly the T-33 a korean war vintage trainer for several months and the F-102 for about a year before he went to Alabama to campaign for Blount. Whether or not he skipped drill is to me secondary to the issue of failing to serve as the interceptor pilot the government spent so much money training him to do. When he went to Alabama it would have been no problem to return on weekends for his drill. For 3 years after leaving active duty I served as a pilot in a reserve A-4 squadron traveling over 200 miles for drill to our station in Memphis TN. Many of our pilots traveled from as far away as Boston, Minneapolis,Atlanta, Kansas City and St. Louis. It would been no problem for Bush the son of a milionaire to hop a plane for the quick trip back to Houston for his drill weekend. He chose not to do so. And when he did return whether or not he showed up for drill he clearly did not do what he promised to do and what got him out of Viet Nam service. I suppose he sat a round the airport and drank coffee while picking up a drill check but he chose not to perform the service for which he trained. And by the way, take this from one who's entitled to wear them, riding as a passenger aboard an air craft carrier dressed up like a pilot doesn't win you the right to wear the wings of gold.

That really does sum it up, doesn't it?

Armchair psychology

Another right-winger who is due to pony up regarding their predictions that we would certainly find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is Charles "Calvinball" Krauthammer, who back in April said this:
Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We've had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven't found any, we will have a credibility problem. I don't have any doubt that we will locate them. I think it takes time. They've obviously been deeply hidden, and it will require that we get the information from people who know where they are.

Well, it's been five months, and then some. And Charles? You have a credibility problem.

In his most recent Washington Post column, Krauthammer trots out the "we didn't invade Iraq just because of WMDs" excuse that's proven popular with other Bush apologists like Jeff Jacoby and Jonah Goldberg:
Scientists were bluffing Hussein. Hussein was bluffing the world. The Iraqis were all bluffing each other. Special Republican Guard commanders had no WMDs, but they told investigators that they were sure other guard units did. It was this internal disinformation that the whole outside world missed.

Actually, it was disinformation that was fed by the Chalabi-led Iraqi National Congress faction which the Bush administration blindly seized upon, and whose work was specifically repudiated by the CIA -- but the Bushites rejected that assessment.
Congress needs to find out why, with all our resources, we had not a clue that this was going on. But Kay makes clear that President Bush was relying on what the intelligence agencies were telling him. Kay contradicts the reckless Democratic charges that Bush cooked the books. "All the analysts I have talked to said they never felt pressured on WMD," says Kay. "Everyone believed that [Iraq] had WMD."

Actually, not everyone was so sure. Remember all those "America hating" skeptics who were dubious about their existence, after Blix was unable to find them? Of course, they had no credibility in the eyes of people like Dick Cheney, who went on national TV and told us he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Iraq had WMDs.

Of course, to guys like Krauthammer and Jacoby, it just doesn't matter anyway, because with or without WMDs, we were justified in going to war with Iraq. Nevermind, of course, that without the WMD "imminent threat" justification, such an invasion is a clear violation of international law. Nevermind that those "humanitarian" reasons, and the "need to bring peace to the Middle East," were not the reasons given to the American public justifying the invasion. Americans instead were told, again and again, that Iraq was a serious threat to us all.

Jesse at Pandagon puts it succinctly:
Is it just me, or does this completely fucking ignore the point that Bush pushed forth intelligence that said Iraq was currently developing a nuclear program based on dubious and debunked information? Everyone believed that Iraq had some WMD - but Bush was the only person saying that he had concrete evidence they were producing more, and that it would be used either directly by Hussein, or indirectly through the terrorist ties Hussein didn't have?

Anyone this stupid needs to go in for some clinical evaluation.

Actually, given Krauthammer's predilection for debasing his profession with bogus psychoanalysis, it might be easiest to forgo the armchair psychology and cut to the point:

Krauthammer is not merely incapable of admitting when he is wrong, he is a hypocritical liar and a disgrace to journalism.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Hero worship

World O'Crap brings us this amazing tale of someone's deep deep deep and abiding love of Mr. Oxycontin himself, Rush Limbaugh.

Unsurprisingly, the worshiper's post appeared at the well-noted far-right transmitter site, Free Republic. My favorite passage:
Liberalism was planted deep within me, as if it were a parasite feeding on me. Rush cut it out like a surgeon excising a cancerous tumor, giving me the opportunity to experience life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He gave me the chance of a lifetime. The "lone beacon of opposition" handed me a certainty, a guarantee no person had ever given me before. No, he didn't come to Texas and brainwash me. He presented his case like he does every single day-clearly, concisely and effectively, planting the seed of common sense in my brain. By sowing that seed, he also gave me hope, happiness, and "The Passion."

"The Passion" to live life, to succeed again and again, and to not feel guilty about creating wealth. [snip]

With Rush on the radio, I continue to conquer day after day, living in conservative principles, consumed with the fiery notion of my new life. I rebuke liberalism with special thanks to my educator. I love the life I have earned, as I pursue success after success, and eagerly wait another broadcast day of "The Passion."

You know, I couldn't have presented a better example of the way Limbaugh is the real nexus for the rise of proto-fascism in America. Recall, if you will, the following passage, drawn from Erik Erikson, of the totalist mindset:
Social movements with distinctly dualistic worldviews provide psycho-ideological contexts which facilitate attempts to heal the split self by projecting negativity and devalued self-elements onto ideologically devalued contrast symbols. But there is another possible linkage between these kinds of movements and individuals with split selves in the throes of identity confusion. People with the whole range of personality disorders, which utilize splitting and projective identification, tend to have difficulties in establishing stable, intimate relationships. Splitting tends to produce volatile and unstable relationships as candidates for intimacy are alternately idealized and degraded. Thus, narcissists tend to have vocational, and more particularly, interpersonal difficulties as they obsessively focus upon status-reinforcing rewards in interpersonal relations. They have difficulty developing social bonds grounded in empathy and mutuality, and their structure of interpersonal relations tends to be unstable. Thus, individuals may be tempted to enter communal and quasi-communal social movements which combine a more structured setting for interpersonal relations with a dualistic interpersonal theme of 'triangulation' which embodies the motif of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend.' Such movements create a sense of mutuality by focusing attention on specific contrast groups and their values, goals and lifestyles so that this shared repudiation seems to unite the participants and provide a meaningful 'boundary' to operationalize the identity of the group. Solidarity within the group and the convert's sense of dedication and sacrifice on behalf of group goals may enable him or her to repudiate the dissociated negative (bad, weak or failed) self and the related selfish and exploitative self which they may be aware that others might have perceived. These devalued selves can then be projected on to either scapegoats designated by the group or, more generally, non-believers whose values and behavior allegedly do not attain the exemplary purity and authenticity of that of devotees.

Unsurprisingly, Limbaugh was more than happy to return the love.

What was especially interesting about this episode, incidentally, was the way it tailed into a discussion of Mel Gibson's new film. More about that later today.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Pony up, boys

OK, it's time for all those warhawks who were busy breathing the neocons' exhaust back when were invading Iraq to come through on their promises, now that it's clear that those of us who questioned the existence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction were right and they were wrong.

Especially Bill O'Reilly.

As has observed, that straight-shootin', no-spin tabloid journalist had this to say back in March on Good Morning America:
"And I said on my program, if -- if -- the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and it's clean, he has nothing, I will apologize to the nation, and I will not trust the Bush administration again."

On April 22, on his Fox News program, he said this:
"If weapons of mass destruction aren't found,... I will have to apologize because I bought into it... All right, a month from today, we'll do this story again."

They didn't do the story again. Neither, for that matter, has an apology or denunciation of the Bush administration been forthcoming.

You can go here for the appropriate petition.

Meanwhile, via Atrios, and Soundbitten, we see that Jonah Goldberg went even further:
So here's the deal: George Bush -- who has rightly been much more reluctant than Tony Blair to toss the U.N. a bone when it comes to the potentially lucrative prospect of rebuilding Iraq -- should make it known that if Coalition forces find no Iraqi WMD while we're in there, we will defer to the U.N. on how to run postwar Iraq...I am still confident we will find plenty of such weapons -- Saddam didn't buy those chemical suits and atropine injectors because Glamour magazine says they're all the rage...

Funny thing about that. Now Goldberg has changed his tune. It's all the State Department's fault, you see. Sure. Though at least he seems willing to acknowledge that Bush was dishonest about how he sold the war:
If George Bush had talked before the war about bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq as eloquently as he did afterwards, he would be in a lot better shape politically and in the history books. Moreover, I bet he would have been a lot more honest.

Oh, wait:
I don't think the administration lied or deliberately exaggerated the WMD intelligence. I do think it deliberately exaggerated the WMD issue at the behest of the cookie pushers at State.

Just can't make up his mind, can he? But then, honesty has never been the strong suit of the Goldberg clan.

But excuses -- hey, they have those by the bushel.


Verities looks even further into the work by examining George W. Bush's military record, and discovers that it's even shoddier than appears at first review.

Seems they not only misrepresented the quotes from witnesses who say Bush put in Guard time in Alabama, they gave the wrong name for one of the witnesses:
Again, this is a small detail, but it speaks to Annenberg's shoddy research. The fact that missed this correction is astonishing. There simply aren't that many published articles that reference Bush's ex-girlfriend talking about his guard duty. In addition, the New York Times and Newsweek got her name right in 2000 articles about this matter; it's almost unimaginable that Annenberg didn't see either of those articles.

Of course, we know by now that they weren't trying very hard.

In the meantime, James Ridgeway at the Village Voice chimes in with this assessment:
Fortunately for us, Michael Moore is crazy like a fox. By calling Bush a "deserter," (video) he got the big-time journalists—horrified David Broder, incredulous Peter Jennings, outraged Robert Novak, nonplussed Tim Russert—to openly raise the deserter issue before millions. It is now a political topic once again. As the journalists damn Moore, the populace is once again wondering, well, maybe Bush is a deserter after all. And the idea of a deserter running this war makes it even more sick than it already is. Consider that this weekend warrior is already responsible for the following toll in Iraq: 513 GIs sent to their death; 8,000 medevacked out of Iraq; 2,919 wounded (missing arms or legs, or blinded, or psycho); and at least 22 GI suicides. God only knows how many Iraqi men, women, and children. And when it was his turn to fight for his country, Bush booked.

Ridgeway also echoes George McGovern:
If the president wasn't a deserter, what was he?

Even ABC's The Note gets into the action:
The president's National Guard service in Alabama as a 2004 campaign issue if Kerry is the nominee? Mr. President, we have three words for you about that, and they aren't "not a problem."

It's also worth noting that Marty Heldt, who deserves full credit for doggedly chasing down all the core information on this story through FOIA requests and detailed research, has some more FOIA work in the chute that may uncover whether or not Bush's files were the subject of tampering in the relatively recent past.

Finally, I have to note that I've been remiss in not directing readers to on this issue. It's highly partisan and rather colorful, but it also has the virtue of being, well, right. They do their homework and provide the documentation.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Corrupted by the Ring

You could just imagine the aging hippies with their dogeared copies of Lord of the Rings and "Frodo Lives!" bumper stickers wigging out. Which was maybe the point.

In a Seattle Times column yesterday, Bruce Ramsey (while simultaneously plumping the Howard Ahmanson-funded Discovery Institute) lays claim to LOTR as the property of conservatives.

Ramsey argues, essentially, that J.R.R. Tolkien's worldview embodied a rejection of modernism and political power for its own sake, positions that he sees as quintessentially conservative.

He has a point, actually; as he writes, "Lord of the Rings is an implicitly conservative book." Unfortunately for Ramsey, his thesis unwittingly illustrates the utter corruption of modern conservatism -- which, in the thrall of the movement that now claims that name, has long since ceased to represent anything genuinely conservative, and instead now simply embodies power-mad corporatist reactionarism.

There's little doubt that LOTR, as Ramsey writes, is infused "with themes of perseverance, loyalty, sacrifice, redemption, mercy and hope." Those are not, however, exclusively conservative values in the modern political context; certainly, one can find them throughout modern liberalism as well. Moreover, Ramsey even notes "Tolkien's obvious distaste for mechanized industry" -- which is a revealing point indeed.

One of the central turning points in the War of the Rings, in fact, comes when the Ents -- the long-living shepherds of the trees that constitute the forests of Middle Earth -- rise from their slumber and bring an end to the evil depradations of the wizard Saruman. The latter, it must be recalled, has incurred their wrath by destroying the forest, the natural world that for Tolkien was the chief symbol of the conservative values he extolled.

That same ethos has remained alive in this century. Indeed, that is the core meaning of the word "conservationism" -- and if anyone today represents this old-fashioned conservatism, it is the people who are trying to keep intact the remnants of that natural world -- our old-growth forests, our endangered species, our alpine lakes and streams, our canyons and mountains and oceans, and most notably, our historic global climate.

And those people all are acutely aware who they are up against. Namely, modern "conservatives."

These "conservatives" are the people who would loose the modern-day Sarumans on our natural resources, ripping up our forests and burning them in great fires. They are the people who would transform the family farms that closest resemble the humble hovels of Hobbiton into sprawling corporate tracts, replete with monstrous holding pens for tens of thousands of pigs, cattle and fowl whose offal flows into our streams and watersheds. They are the people who simply shrug and assure us that we just have to "adjust" to the realities of global warming.

Today's "conservatives" in fact are moral relativists of the worst sort -- because materialism, the power of money and possessions and property, is their ruling ethos, and all genuine morality is crushed under its heel. Preserve old-growth forests? Keep salmon from running extinct? Heavens, no! Not if it costs jobs!

They are the same people, it must be noted, for whom political power has become an end in itself. In recent years this has been reflected in the strikingly anti-democratic intitiatives undertaken by conservatives -- the Clinton impeachment debacle, the 2000 election outcome, the Texas redistricting process and the California gubernatorial recall, as well as the ongoing demonization of liberals, all with the ultimate goal of turning America into a one-party state.

And as Ramsey observes:
... "Rings" does reflect its author's politics in a general way. The Ring offers power over people. That is political power. The bearers of the Ring do not wield this power for some social good, or even their own defense. They decide to destroy it.

The Lord of the Rings gives us a perspective on a genuine, old-fashioned kind of conservatism that is fundamentally humanist and simultaneously traditional, one that reveres the old world and rejects modernism for its own sake. Modern "conservatives," by contrast, are the minions of a dogmatic movement that worships at the altar of "progress" and "free enterprise" -- corrupted by the never-ending ring of power and money.

And, like Isildur or Gollum, they are incapable, clearly, of even perceiving their own abasement.

Who profits from productivity?

Speaking of "the jobless recovery," the Washington Post weighed in yesterday with this astonishing editorial that marks a new low point in the s descent into genuine hackery of the paper's editorial page:
Moreover, a jobless recovery means, by definition, that each worker is producing more. Higher productivity, in turn, is the best promise possible of higher wages and employment in the future. ...

... But the winners will outnumber the losers, because the adjustment creates new efficiencies. Each worker can produce more, meaning that he or she can be paid more. Do the Democrats really mean to oppose that?

Of course, workers typically are not paid more as productivity rises. Most often the increased margins go toward paying for ever-escalating executive compensation.

In other words, the bosses pocket the profits, while the workers work harder and produce more for the same pay. Everyone who has ever been a regular employee knows this is how it works.

Brad DeLong deconstructs this nonsense limb from limb.

[Link via Atrios.]

Drip drip drop

From yesterday's coverage of the New Hampshire primary on CNBC, with John Siegenthaler interviewing George McGovern, himself a decorated veteran:
Siegenthaler: I just want to talk about Wesley Clark for a second . . . because he had a tough time in some cases in New Hampshire. Some people said his endorsement from Michael Moore where he called President Bush a deserter --- and then Wesley Clark refused to distance himself from Michael Moore was really a difficult time for him. And that he stumbled a couple of times up there in New Hampshire. How do you react to that?

McGovern: Well look, I know he was severely criticized for not rebuking the contention that George W. Bush was a deserter.

But what would you call him?

He avoided the war in Viet Nam by signing up for the Texas National Guard -- and then didn't show up.

He missed half of his time by not showing up for the National Guard training.

Maybe there's some kinder word than deserter. But in my book that's not too far from the truth.

And I think General Clark is a man who never backed away from battle -- who volunteered to be a part of the armed forces of this country -- as I did.

People like that are not going to defend George W. Bush on his military record.

Siegenthaler: (Stunned) Issues of war and peace continue to be a controversy -- and a part of this campaign as we head through 2004.

[Kudos to R. Prichard at Table Talk.]

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Taking us over the cliff

Kash has a great post up at The American Street about the underlying causes of the soaring federal deficit. The bottom line:
The conclusion is straightforward. Our current budget problems can largely be blamed on the tax cuts, not the state of the economy or spending increases. Reverse the tax cuts, and keep everything else the same, and our budget problems would be gone.

Unfortunately, you may recall, Geroge Bush actually called upon Congress to make his tax cuts permanent in the most recent State of the Union Address:
Unless you act, Americans face a tax increase. What Congress has given, the Congress should not take away. For the sake of job growth, the tax cuts you passed should be permanent.

Bush, of course, was promoting the GOP's Bizarro World logic on this matter, calling a repeal of the future cuts "a tax increase." This is up-is-downism: A tax cut rolls back something already in place. Repealing such a cut merely means maintaining that which is already in place. It is NOT an "increase."

While all this may seem simply the purview of economists and wonks arguing over facts and figures, it has egregious long-term consequences. One of these, of course, is that whatever "recovery" we may be seeing now will not last beyond a quarter or two. The clue should be that this is what we are calling the "jobless recovery," which now joins the Lexicon of Oxymorons alongside "compassionate conservatism" and "honest Republican."

We may indeed, as Paul Krugman has consistently warned, be heading off a cliff to an economic disaster of historic proportions. Recall, if you will, that only a few weeks ago the IMF warned that America's mounting trade deficit "threatens the financial stability of the global economy," and noted that in tandem with the out-of-control budget deficit, the day may be coming when the United States is declared a bad debt risk.

Bush's response? "White House officials dismissed the report as alarmist, saying that President Bush has already vowed to reduce the budget deficit by half over the next five years."

How do they intend to achieve this? By cutting taxes (with an emphasis on the wealthiest 1 percent) and slashing spending -- which means gutting the social infrastructure.

This is simply a reiteration of the "trickle-down" economics of the Reagan administration, which created (until Bush) the largest deficits in history and one of the worst economies since the Depression (prior to this one, of course). The logic on which they are predicated is simple: Give a lot of money to people at the top, and they will make it flow downward to the middle and lower classes by creating jobs and spending. The problem with that logic was reality; as we saw in the 1980s, the upper classes did not invest in jobs; they simply hoarded more of the wealth for themselves.

Ultimately, the problem is a simple one: As long as George W. Bush is president, there is simply no prospect in sight of getting the deficits under control.

And that makes the solution, really, a very simple one as well.

Popcorn, please

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm happily astonished that Keisha Castle-Hughes of Whale Rider was nominated for Best Actress in the Oscars. I'm sure Charlize Theron will be heavily favored, but anyone who watched this 13-year-old's stunning and heartbreaking performance will likely be rooting for her.

Oh, and be sure to compare the actual list with William Safire's.

All AWOL all the time

[From Reuters]

Jimmy Walker has been showing up at Wesley Clark rallies in New Hampshire, wearing the above uniform. (The back view is here.) The patches read "1st Chicken Hawk Wing" and "Chicken Hawk in Chief." The helmet and back of the jacket read "AWOL."

Anyone get the feeling this issue isn't going away soon?

Mind you, there are far more important issues that need to be raised regarding George W. Bush (more on that soon). But this particular point has some potency, if for no other reason than that Republicans are intent on depicting Democrats as weak on defense and national security, while wrapping themselves in the flag and impugning the patriotism of liberals questioning the conduct of the "war on terror." Moreover, for anyone who remembers the viciousness of the attacks on Bill Clinton for his relation to the military, it really exposes Republicans' gross hypocrisy.

In the meantime, Verities has similarly examined the matter and has concluded (as did I, for many of the same reasons) that the "debunking" was wholly inadequate, and that Peter Jennings' behavior at last week's debate was simply a journalistic travesty.

Verities also points out that the main reason to keep addressing the issue is that the GOP has made it clear it intends to attack Clark on the point.

Meanwhile, J. Bradford Delong has also weighed in, concluding that while "deserter" probably doesn't apply, AWOL certainly does. (For reasons outlined previously -- specifically, the definition of desertion in the UCMJ and its description of "the intent to avoid a certain service or shirk a certain duty" -- I'm not so certain of the former, but wholly agree with the latter.)

Indeed, the corollary to the current defense of Bush, it's worth noting, seems to concede that "AWOL" is the preferred description of the current White House occupant. For that matter, the point seems largely irrefutable. Not that any of the defenders seem willing to say so.

In any event, I'm hoping that all the fact-deprived conservatives out there up in arms about Michael Moore's use of the term "deserter" to describe Bush will henceforth abjure the use of the terms "draft dodger" and "perjurer" -- both legal terms referring to specific crimes, though they too enjoy more generic use -- to describe Bill Clinton, and denounce anyone who does so.

But I won't hold my breath.

Monday, January 26, 2004

A quick question

Apropos of the dustup over George W. Bush's record of going AWOL while serving in the National Guard, a related question arises:

Can anyone name any veteran who has been a major candidate for the presidency in the past half-century who has not released his military records?

This list, it must be remembered, includes John McCain, Robert Dole, George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Barry Goldwater, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Not to mention John Kerry, Wesley Clark, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, Lyndon Baines Johnson, John F. Kennedy, and Harry Truman.

The answer, as near as I can determine: One. George W. Bush.

Incidentally, TBogg has a nice summary of Kevin Phillips' account of Bush's military service that provides even more detail about how Bush landed the fighter-pilot slot in the first place.

AWOL Bush: Debunked? Hardly!

Rapidly following Peter Jennings' lead, right-wing and ostensibly "nonpartisan" pundits in both the mainstream media and the blogosphere are busily claiming that Michael Moore's contention that George W. Bush was a "deserter" has been "debunked," and that Wesley Clark's failure to repudiate him on this point demonstrates his unfitness for the presidency.

They wish.

Fairly typical was Instapundit's characterization that "Clark has been swept into the conspiracy swamp." The post cites work by Bill Hobbs and, while at least giving a nod to Mark Kleiman's worthy counter. Donald Sensing also claims that the charge is bogus. In the meantime, unsurprisingly, Blogs for Bush touts the same work without acknowledging any responses from the other side.

Meanwhile, Clark was on Meet the Press on Sunday and Tim Russert raised the question in the same fashion as Jennings -- though, unlike Jennings, he did not claim that the charge was false, though he clearly intimated that was the case -- without offering any evidence that he himself had examined the facts of the matter. Clark's response was very similar to that of Thursday night to Jennings:
MR. RUSSERT: Is it appropriate to call the president of the United States a deserter?

GEN. CLARK: Well, you know, Tim, I wouldn't have used that term and I don't see the issues that way. This is an election about the future, and what's at stake in this election is the future of how we're going to move ahead with the economy, how we're going to keep the United States safe and what kind of democracy we want to have, whether we want an open, transparent government or whether we want a very closed and secretive government. To me, those are the issues. ...

MR. RUSSERT: But words are important, and as you well know under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, if you're a deserter, the punishment is death during war. Do you disassociate yourself from Michael Moore's comments about the president?

GEN. CLARK: Well, I can't use those words and I don't see the issues in that way. But I will tell you this: that Michael Moore has the right to speak freely. I don't screen what people say when they're going to come up and say something like that. That's his form of dissent, and I support freedom of speech in this country, and I would not have characterized the issues in that way. I think this is an election where we have to look at the future, not at the past. And so what we're doing is we're taking the campaign to the American people on the issues of jobs, education and health care. We can do so much more for people in this country if we just have a government that cares about ordinary people. And that's the way I grew up. ...

MR. RUSSERT: The right of dissent is one thing, but is there any evidence that you know of that President Bush is a deserter from the United States armed forces?

GEN. CLARK: Well, I've never looked into those, Tim. I've heard those allegations. But I think this election has to turn on holding the president accountable for what he's done in office and comparing who has the better vision to take the country forward.

MR. RUSSERT: One of your major supporters uses words like that. Isn't that a distraction?

GEN. CLARK: Well, it's not distracting me, and I don't see any voters out there who are distracted by it. I've talked to people all across this state, and not one single person has mentioned that. I will tell you this about Michael Moore, though. I think he's a man of conscience. I think he's done a lot of great things for ordinary people, working people, across America. And I'm very happy to have his support. He's free to say things, whatever he wants. I'm focused on the issues in this campaign and how to take America forward.

Later, the show's talking heads came on and tut-tutted Clark's response, though none of them -- journalists all -- indicated that they had bothered to examine the facts either. These included David Broder, Gloria Borger, Tom Brokaw and Ron Brownstein, all supposed journalistic heavyweights:
MR. BRODER: Tim, I was at the event where Michael Moore did that introduction and asked General Clark about it immediately after the event. I couldn't believe that he didn't kill that snake immediately. And here it is eight days later...

MR. BROKAW: Right.

MR. BRODER: ...and he's still trying to answer that question.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, Michael Moore is now saying it was a joke.

[Editor's note: BZZZZT! Sorry, Tim. Wrong again!]
MR. BRODER: It was not a joke.

MS. BORGER: Well, it wasn't.

MR. BROKAW: But, also, Clark just a few moments ago, "I haven't checked out those allegations. I had been aware of them."

MS. BORGER: Why not?

MR. BROKAW: That's the phrase that he used. It was. And we do know that he had a big absentee record as a National Guard member in Alabama. That's fixed. But desertion...

MR. BROWNSTEIN: a big--it's definitely...

MR. BROKAW: a very serious, felonious rap.

MR. RUSSERT: Punishable by death.

MR. BROKAW: Right.

On Sunday's CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, the host reiterated his know-nothing performance of the day before -- with, unsurprisingly, Joe Lieberman happily denouncing both Moore and Clark -- leaving it to Terry McAuliffe, chair of the Democratic National Committee to set the record straight:
MCAULIFFE: Well, Wolf, in order to to be a deserter, you have to actually show up.

Let's just deal with the facts. As you know, when President Bush got out of college in 1968, it was at the height of the draft. It's well known that the president, former president, used some of his influence to get George Bush into the Texas National Guard.

He then wanted to go to Alabama and work on a Senate campaign. So he went to Alabama for a year while he was in the National Guard, and he never showed up.

I mean, I would call it AWOL. You call it whatever you want. But the issue is the president did not show up for the year he was in Alabama, when he was supposed to show up for the National Guard.

BLITZER: All right.

MCAULIFFE: And I think that's what Mr. Moore was trying to say. GILLESPIE: Wolf...

BLITZER: Hold on one second. I'm going to let you respond.

But I want to make sure I heard you right. Are you saying you don't dispute what Michael Moore was saying, branding the president of the United States as having been a deserter?

MCAULIFFE: He never should have called him a deserter. There are other issues that you can say -- AWOL, just didn't show up for duty. But he shouldn't have called him a deserter. Let's get out of this discourse in American politics. Let's just deal with the facts.

BLITZER: All right.

MCAULIFFE: The facts are that George Bush didn't show up when he was supposed to in the National Guard, and that's just the fact.

Just as Bob Somerby observed regarding Jennings' performance (and skippy observed about Wolf Blitzer), all of these pundits are glad to attack Clark for failing to adequately investigate the matter -- but show no signs that they have done so either!

Well, the core of the matter is fairly simple, and boils down to two facts that are simply not in dispute:
Bush blew off his physical in the spring of 1972, thereby ignoring a direct order from his superiors.

Bush then definitely performed no drills at all for any unit of the National Guard between early May 1972 and late November 1972 at the earliest. This is a period of nearly seven months.

As Jo Fish at Democratic Veteran has pointed out, the first fact alone is egregious enough:
As an ex-military pilot (and CO of a reserve unit) I can assure you that the powers-that-be do not take disobedience of direct order with too much good grace, nor are they too happy about "rated aviators" who not only let their flight status lapse, but refuse to obey an order to become current again. Fact. No wiggle room. None. You obey or you don't, if you don't you pay. If one of my enlisted troops had been so flagrant about violating a direct order, I would have at least had him/her at an Article 15 hearing (Captains Mast), if it had been an officer, I would have had their nuts. Period.

Then there is the issue of the length of his absence. According to National Guard regulations, missed duty must be made up within the quarter in which the absence occurs. Anyone AWOL for longer than three months, according to other officers, was generally considered a deserter and prosecuted.

Bob Rogers at Progressive Trail -- himself a former military officer -- explains further:
According to the Boston Globe -- the only major publication that has examined the last two years of Bush's military service in depth -- Bush simply "gave up flying" to spend six months on a Republican Senate campaign in Alabama.

But this explanation is highly suspect, because fully trained and currently qualified pilots with two remaining years of flying obligation are rarely permitted to simply "give up" without some form of disciplinary action beyond just suspension.

A pilot's completion of his six-year obligation is especially important because of the heavy investment the Government makes to provide jet fighter pilots with two full years of active duty training. In today's money, the US Government paid close to a million dollars to train 1st Lt. Bush in a highly complex supersonic aircraft.

If you go through the posts defending Bush, including those at, you'll quickly discover that only one of them -- Donald Sensing's -- even addresses these two core points. Sensing claims that one would have to prove that Bush had no intent of returning to active duty.

This is technically true, if one is talking about desertion -- as Moore did. It is not true, however, if one is talking about Bush being Absent Without Leave. (See UCMJ Article 86, which quite clearly states that "Specific intent is not an element of unauthorized absence.") Saying Bush was AWOL is perfectly, wholly, and completely factual.

As Jonathan Chait has observed:
Is it fair to call Bush a "deserter"? Not precisely. Even if he went AWOL during his service for the National Guard, which seems highly likely, most people understand the term "deserter" to mean someone who flees his post during combat. Bush did serve during the Vietnam War, but he was safely ensconced in Texas. (If you reject the charge that Bush was a deserter, then you must also reject the spin that he was valiantly protecting the country during wartime.) Calling Bush a deserter, in other words, is hyperbolic. But it's not the outright fiction Jennings made it out to be.

Incidentally, it is worth noting that Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, on Blitzer's Sunday show, said this:
But Terry's wrong that the president was AWOL in the National Guard. That is not accurate.

Of course, it is Gillespie who in fact is not accurate on this count.

And the desertion charge may not even be wholly without merit, notwithstanding Sensing's argument. In reality, the question of intent isn't merely one of returning to duty, but of returning to the duty for which he had been trained.

Read, for example, the specifics of intent under UCMJ Article 85, the code referring to desertion:
2) Desertion with intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service.

(a) That the accused quit his or her unit, organization, or other place of duty;

(b) That the accused did so with the intent to avoid a certain duty or shirk a certain service;

(c) That the duty to be performed was hazardous or the service important;

(d) That the accused knew that he or she would be required for such duty or service; and

(e) That the accused remained absent until the date alleged.

It is quite clear, in fact, that there was an intent to "shirk a certain service" -- namely, flying F-102s. Bush did not intend to fly again. This is a matter of his own words, as they appeared in this Dallas Morning News story from the 2000 campaign:
"I can't remember what I did, but I wasn't flying because they didn't have the same airplanes. I fulfilled my obligations."

Indeed, it isn't even clear that Bush in fact was in Alabama. As the Morning News story observes, his superior says Bush never showed up. Moreover, a group of veterans offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who could step forward to prove that Bush acutally served in the Alabama Guard. No one ever did.

Finally, it's important to put this in a larger context. As Bob Rogers explains:
In the Air National Guard, expensively trained pilots are not casually suspended. There is normally a Flight Inquiry Board, which exercises the military chain of command's obligation to insure due process. If one had been convened, its three senior officer members would have documented why such a severe action was justified in relation to the country's military objectives at the time, as opposed to the simple desire of a trained pilot to just "give up flying".

In the event of serious misconduct, such as substance abuse, a Flight Inquiry Board would have determined the appropriate punishment. The punishments could have included temporary or permanent 'grounding,' a career-damaging letter of reprimand, forced reenlistment in the US Army with active duty in Vietnam, or a less-than honorable discharge.

In fact, there is no evidence now in the public domain that a Flight Inquiry Board was convened to deal with Bush's official reclassification to a non-flying, grounded status. However, the records of such a Board would not be subject to an ordinary FOIA request because of privacy protections under FOIA.

This absence of a Flight Inquiry Board is of particular interest to veteran pilots who are intimately familiar with normal disciplinary procedures. In the absence of Bush's releasing his complete service record, the implication is that Bush's misconduct in regards to "his failure to accomplish annual medical examination" was handled like everything else in his military service: aided and abetted by powerful family connections with total disregard for the needs of the military as well as Bush's solemn oath.

There are many questions that remain unanswered indeed, and most of the bloggers who defend Bush focus on these questions. It remains open to dispute whether Bush's short-circuited service was actually complete. It is also an open question about the relevance of the honorable discharge, since that is the default discharge, and as some have pointed out, any prosecution of Bush on AWOL or desertion charges would have meant. The absence of portions of his military records -- and the failure of Bush to release those records -- has variously been defended, but not convincingly. Others, including Rogers and Marty Heldt, have argued that Bush's AWOL period was for as long as two years, and that the evidence provided by the Bush people to demonstrate his November 1972 service -- comprised, as it was, of a torn sheet of paper -- was bogus; certainly it was questionable at best, but the matter remains open to dispute. Likewise, there is a good deal of speculation (such as Rogers') that Bush's evasions were based on his purported drug use, but there is simply no evidence of that other than circumstantial.

A few of those on the right have tried to compare Bush's behavior here to Bill Clinton's well-chronicled avoidance of the draft. The difference, of course, is not merely one of degree but substantively of kind: Clinton neither broke the law in his behavior, nor flouted or undermined basic rules of military conduct, nor wasted taxpayer dollars in the process.

Though of course, we all remember how many critics of the mainstream right have referred to Clinton as a "draft dodger" -- which, like "deserter," is a term that refers specifically to acts of law-breaking. But then, I can't recall anyone demanding that George H.W. Bush or Bob Dole renounce the people who uttered those characterizations, either.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall reaches largely the same conclusions, though he says that "it seems pretty clear that a charge of desertion doesn’t apply." As I say, I don't think that point is necessarily clear at all.