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Saturday, May 21, 2005

Stem Sell

"I made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money to promote science which destroys life in order to save life is - I'm against that. And therefore, if the bill does that, I will veto it.''

Just in case you are confused, using taxpayers money to destroy this life in order to save lives is evil:

But using taxpayers money to destroy this life in order to save lives is good:

It looks to me as if the best way to convince Bush and his followers to support stem cell research is to propose that we only use arab embryos.

Via Suburban Guerrilla

Update: Apropos of this subject, Kevin at Catch points to this article By Sidney Schanberg from last week.

Warning: more sad (or in the words on one commenter, "tasteless") pictures. Violent death, I agree, is quite tasteless. The death of a bundle of human cells, not so much. It's unfortunate that one has to illustrate the difference so starkly but in America today it's clearly necessary.


Friday, May 20, 2005


If you are having trouble staying awake this morning, read this account in the New York Times about how the US forces beat prisoners to death in Afghanistan; you will possibly never sleep again. Apparently, they commonly used what is known as a "common peroneal strike" - a potentially disabling blow to the side of the leg, just above the knee. They did this so often to certain prisoners within a short period of time (mostly just to hear them scream --- it was funny) that they developed blood clots from the injuries and died. The tissue on their legs, as the coroner described it, "had basically been pulpified."

As we already know from the stories in Guantanamo, many of the prisoners were sold or turned over to the Americans by Afghan warlords with an agenda. They were not guilty of anything:

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

Read the whole article. This man's story is relayed in full detail as well as others who were kicked in the genitals, arms chained to the roofs of their cells for days on end, threatened with rape and other "interrogation techniques."

The main unit consisted of body builders who were called "the testosterone gang." They decorated their tents with the confederate flags. There seems to have been almost no supervision of the 21 year olds who were "leading" interrogations. These guys were not a bunch of scared kids on the front lines fighting for their lives. They were a bunch of guys just "blowing off steam." I'm sure Rush would just love to have been there. They were having quite the party.

Some of the same M.P.'s took a particular interest in an emotionally disturbed Afghan detainee who was known to eat his feces and mutilate himself with concertina wire. The soldiers kneed the man repeatedly in the legs and, at one point, chained him with his arms straight up in the air, Specialist Callaway told investigators. They also nicknamed him "Timmy," after a disabled child in the animated television series "South Park." One of the guards who beat the prisoner also taught him to screech like the cartoon character, Specialist Callaway said.

Eventually, the man was sent home.

There's some South Park Republicans for you.

Perhaps most tellingly, the soldiers felt they were justified in beating and torturing prisoners because the secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, had declared that the detainees, as "terrorists," were not covered under the Geneva Conventions. They took the gloves off. Just as their superiors told them to.

Perhaps when Newsweak "takes action" to remedy the damage they caused to US credibility, they can explain this:

With most of the legal action pending, the story of abuses at Bagram remains incomplete. But documents and interviews reveal a striking disparity between the findings of Army investigators and what military officials said in the aftermath of the deaths.

Military spokesmen maintained that both men had died of natural causes, even after military coroners had ruled the deaths homicides. Two months after those autopsies, the American commander in Afghanistan, then-Lt. Gen. Daniel K. McNeill, said he had no indication that abuse by soldiers had contributed to the two deaths. The methods used at Bagram, he said, were "in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques."


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Ricky In Paris

I think it's fairly predictable that we are going to see the 101st keyboarders go into high gear tomorrow in response to the blogstorm developing over Little Ricky Santorum's Hitler remarks. They are going to bring up Robert Byrd's previous statements and say that it's even steven. And the press will probably see it that way as well. Overheated rhetoric, he-said-she-said and all that.

While I agree that it's probably not a good idea to evoke Hitler on the floor of the senate, I do think it's fair to take a look at the substance of the two statements by Byrd and Santorum and see if there is any actual merit in either of them.

Santorum said today:

The audacity of some members to stand up and say, "how dare you break this rule." It's the equivalent of Adolph Hitler in 1942 "I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me. How dare you bomb my city? It's mine." This is no more the rule of the senate that it was the rule of the senate not to filibuster. It was an understanding and agreement. And it has been abused.

So, Santorum is clumsily blabbering that the Democrats are trying to stop the change of a rule that they're abusing. Or something. His point is that there was no rule to begin with --- it's an agreement, an understanding --- and even if there had been, the Democrats violated it by abusing it.

Santorum, of course, is speaking out of his ass. Norm Ornstein has definitively written about this. The Republicans are breaking the rules.

To make this happen, the Senate will have to get around the clear rules and precedents, set and regularly reaffirmed over 200 years, that allow debate on questions of constitutional interpretation–debate which itself can be filibustered. It will have to do this in a peremptory fashion, ignoring or overruling the Parliamentarian. And it will establish, beyond question, a new precedent. Namely, that whatever the Senate rules say–regardless of the view held since the Senate’s beginnings that it is a continuing body with continuing rules and precedents–they can be ignored or reversed at any given moment on the whim of the current majority.

Santorum is full of shit and everybody but the theocrats and the press knows it. Even Ricky. His analogy is wrong. The correct analogy to this situation would be if the French said to Hitler, "We have a treaty, you can't bomb our cities. You can't invade Paris!" Which they did. And he invaded anyway. I think you can figure out who represents the French and who represents Hitler in our little senate passion play.

Which brings us to Byrd:

But witness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends. Historian Alan Bullock writes that Hitler’s dictatorship rested on the constitutional foundation of a single law, the Enabling Law. Hitler needed a two-thirds vote to pass that law, and he cajoled his opposition in the Reichstag to support it. Bullock writes that “Hitler was prepared to promise anything to get his bill through, with the appearances of legality preserved intact.” And he succeeded.

"Hitler’s originality lay in his realization that effective revolutions, in modern conditions, are carried out with, and not against, the power of the State: the correct order of events was first to secure access to that power and then begin his revolution. Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side. Instead, he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal."

And that is what the nuclear option seeks to do to Rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate.

That is correct. Hitler didn't defy the rules or the law. That's one of the hallmarks of the totalitarian state. They always operate within the law. They just make sure the law confers upon them absolute power, that's all.

So, we have both Byrd and Santorum making references to Hitler as regards this rules change. One is barely comprehensible and posits an absurd analogy to Democrats being Hitler in Paris. The other quite astutely points out that these arbitrary rules changes to advance the power of one party are not without precedent. Indeed, Hitler was a master at it.

I suppose that Hitler references are always going to cause a stir. But, aside from the sheer glory of Byrd's rhetoric compared to Santorum's incomprehensible blubbering, there is a serious point to be made. When one party is acting in ways that seriously draw the comparison, maybe it's fair to look at the substance of the charge. The fact is that while this rule change may not be the end of the world, it is another in a long line of pure power plays on the part of the Republicans who show no signs of having any limits. I know it's not nice to bring up the H-word, but if the shoe fits...

Downing St Revelations

I suppose that I understand to a certain extent why the press is so disinterested in the Downing Street memo. It's because they think that the memo merely says the US was inevitably going to war as early as 2002 --- and everybody already knows that. In fact, we knew it at the time. As Juan Cole documents in detail in this Salon article, Bush and his national security team made it quite clear that they wanted to invade Iraq long before 9/11 and launched into high gear to make it happen immediately after. This memo is an official rendering of something that I think the press believes people have absorbed --- and assume that the election settled. They're wrong, but then what else is new?

There are a number of other important revelations in the memo, the most startling being the rather casual acceptance of the need to create the illusion of legality. We knew that going to the UN and dealing with the inspectors were a form of Kabuki on the part of the Bushies, but it's never been clear before now that they planned it that way. Some of us actually believed that there may have existed a genuine desire on Blair and Powell's parts to slow down the process and try to persuade the Bush administration to back off under international pressure. Apparently not. Everybody signed on to this egregious scam from the very beginning ---- it was always a matter of finding the proper cover. I wonder if the Scowcroft (and Poppy) messages were part of it too?

The Downing St. Memo contains another smoking gun that I haven't heard anyone mention. It says:

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss [the timing of the war] with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.

I must say that this answers definitively one of the biggest questions I had in the run-up to the war. I had always wondered how, if anyone believed even for a second that Saddam had serious biological or chemical weapons, that we would ever have placed 100,000 American soldiers like sitting ducks in Kuwait over the course of several months before the war. It was an incomprehensible risk, I thought, considering that everyone knew that the war was unnecessary in terms of the terrorist threat. Even Bush couldn't be that craven and stupid. And he wasn't. He expected a razzle dazzle military "cakewalk," not a catastrophic loss of life, and that's what he got. It seemed clear to me then that we knew with certainty from the start that there wasn't a serious WMD threat in Iraq.

Most of us have known for some time that the administration cooked the intelligence, although no commission or congressional investigation has been undertaken to determine if that's the case. (The Silbermann-Robb commission goes to great lengths to explain that this conveniently wasn't their mandate.) All this nonsense about how the intelligence services "misled" the president is rightly seen a crapola. I do think people assumed, however, that the Bush administration felt they needed to cook the intelligence because they actually believed that Saddam probably had WMD even though they didn't have the intelligence to support that claim. People thought they had overlearned the lessons of the first Gulf War when the CIA had underestimated Saddam's capability and they just weren't taking any chances.

And from a public relations standpoint, I'm sure most people felt it was nonsensical that they would have taken the risk of being shown as complete assholes in front of the entire world with all of their absolute pronouncements of Saddam's arsenal if they hadn't legitimately believed that he had one. More importantly, it would have been shockingly irresponsible after 9/11 to expose our intelligence services to the whole world as being completely unreliable if they knew for a fact that there was no real threat. But that's what they did.

This memo shows that they knew he didn't have that threatening arsenal and it appears they just didn't care about the fallout. Clearly they believed they could say anything and get away with it. And they are right. Both Bush and Blair were re-elected despite the fact that they invaded a country to "disarm" it and found out that the country didn't have any arms in the first place. That should have been a firing offense, but it wasn't. Now we know they knew it all along.

Who knows if people would have voted differently if they knew that their leaders knew ahead of time that there was no serious threat of WMD? My suspicion has long been that a fair number of voters believed that in spite of all the hoopla about not finding WMD that their leaders must have known something for sure that they couldn't tell us about. This memo proves that they were right. What they knew for sure was that the country they wanted to attack presented no threat.

One interesting thing in the Cole article that I hadn't heard before was a reason why Tony Blair went along with all this. It's just unbelievable:

When British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in Washington on Sept. 20, 2001, he was alarmed. If Blair had consulted MI6 about the relative merits of the Afghanistan and Iraq options, we can only imagine what well-informed British intelligence officers in Pakistan were cabling London about the dangers of leaving bin Laden and al-Qaida in place while plunging into a potential quagmire in Iraq. Fears that London was a major al-Qaida target would have underlined the risks to the United Kingdom of an "Iraq first" policy in Washington.

Meyer told Vanity Fair, "Blair came with a very strong message -- don't get distracted; the priorities were al-Qaida, Afghanistan, the Taliban." He must have been terrified that the Bush administration would abandon London to al-Qaida while pursuing the great white whale of Iraq. But he managed to help persuade Bush. Meyer reports, "Bush said, 'I agree with you, Tony. We must deal with this first. But when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq.'" Meyer also said, in spring 2004, that it was clear "that when we did come back to Iraq it wouldn't be to discuss smarter sanctions." In short, Meyer strongly implies that Blair persuaded Bush to make war on al-Qaida in Afghanistan first by promising him British support for a later Iraq campaign.

Tony Blair had to make a deal with Bush that he'd support him on Iraq to get him to go after Al-Qaeda. Is there anything more pathetic --- and frightening --- than that?

Try Again

I appreciate George Will's ongoing attempt to distance himself from the Theocratic freak show, I really do. But using postmodern theory to advance rightwing epistomology (while attacking postmodernism), may be a truthful description of right wing propaganda techniques; however it is hardly noble or meritorious. (Not that Will has any conception of what he's actually saying, because he he clearly doesn't.)

This argument is particularly galling coming from someone who supports a president who recently made a speech in Eastern Eurpose essentially accusing Roosevelt and Churchill of being equivalent to Stalin.

Nice history you've got there boys. It'd be a shame if anything happened to it.

Update: Yglesias has more.


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Who Shot Sam

“You must be careful what you say, as well as what you do”
Don Rumsfeld

I've been a little bit busy this week so I guess I missed the outcry of the warbloggers and white house against the Washington Times for this:

(Via Altercation)

Washington Times cartoon sets Pakistan on fire

[ MONDAY, MAY 09, 2005]

ISLAMABAD: A cartoon in The Washington Times lampooning Pakistan's role in the US war on terror has turned into a rallying point for nationalist passions and hidden anti-American sentiments here.

The "offensive" cartoon (published May 6) shows a US soldier patting a dog (Pakistan) that holds Abu Faraj Al Libbi (a terrorist linked with Al Qaeda) and saying, "Good boy ... now let's go find bin Laden."

President George W Bush had described the arrest of Al Libbi - the third-ranking leader in Al Qaeda who was arrested in Pakistan this month - as "a critical victory in the war on terror".

A survey carried out by Online news agency revealed hurt national pride, with people cutting across the class divide vocally demanding that the government quit supporting the US in its war against terrorism.

"I think the Pakistan-US relations on the war against terrorism would not continue any more. The US is wary of admitting that Pakistan helped the US to find out its enemies," said Nazeer Ahmed, a lawyer.

For Muhammad Ali, a student of Quaid-e-Azam University, the cartoon belittles Pakistan' anti-terror efforts and exposes how much the US values Pakistan's role in the war in terror.

Many students of this university are so sore with the US "assault on national pride" that they will settle for nothing less than an apology from US President George Bush.

It's not just the capital's chattering classes that are affronted; ordinary shopkeepers too have not shied away from registering their outrage against what they see the US duplicity in its relations with Pakistan.

On the diplomatic front, the Pakistan Embassy in Washington wasted no time in registering its protest against this insensitive cartoon.

"We are disgusted with the insensitivity of the editors of the Washington Times. They have insulted the 150 million people of Pakistan," said Mohammed Sadiq, Pakistan's charge d'affaires in Washington.

In another instance, the government expressed its dismay over a news report carried by Newsweek magazine in its latest edition about the reported desecration of the holy Quran and inhuman treatment meted out to the detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.

Here's an earlier report from DAWN on May 7.

It appears that there is quote a bit more to this Newsweak story than meets the eye, doesn't it? It doesn't take a genius, or an expert in the history of the Taliban to know that they claim quite a bit of support in Pakistan.

This article indicates that the original protests in Pakistan were as much concerned about the cartoon as about the Koran story (which, by the way, every Muslim in the world undoubtedly already knew about.) Does the American press -- Newsweak itself! --- not realize that this was a huge deal over there? I know why the Bush administration and the 101st keyboarders would want to keep this quiet --- they will never speak ill of one of their own compadres like the reverend Moon --- but, what in the fuck is wrong with the rest of the media? Are they enjoying watching the US media being discredited by propaganda and dirty tricks one by one? Do they think they are immune or are they just looking forward to the big bucks that Rupert pays (which won't last long once he owns the media outright. Think WalMart, kidz.)

I can't say that I've heard anything about this, although the Washington Times apparently quietly apologized last Saturday for any offense they'd caused.

Cartoonist Bill Garner told Pakistan's Dawn newspaper that he never intended to offend the Pakistani nation.

"It is a cultural gap, a cultural misunderstanding that caused the uproar.

"The symbol to me was that of friendship," he was reported as saying. "There is a saying in English that a dog is a man's best friend."

"There has always been a great friendship with animals, especially dogs, in America".

Mr Garner said that the cartoon was meant to depict "the spirit of goodwill and friendship that exists between the two countries".

Sure Bill. The Washington Times, btw, has apparently removed the cartoon from their web-site. But thanks to the Washington Socialite the cartoon has been preserved.

It would be nice if the so-called liberal media would dig just a tiny bit further than Scott McClellan and Powerline for their analysis of world events. But then, why should they? According to the dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, the White House is just having a bit of fun. (And apparently covering Tony Blankley's ample hindquarters.)

Historical Blindness

Stuart Rothenberg, usually a fairly dry and non-partisan observer, just said on CNN that one could rightly blame "the court" for the impending nuclear showdown in the senate. He claimed that until the late 60's the court never involved itself in the kind of controversial issues that upsets people. Even William Schneider looked surprised.

I guess Stu had a wild 60's because he apparently doesn't realize that there was a little kerfluffle about the actions of the supreme court quite awhile before the late 60's --- long before the rightwing adopted a "culture of life," they were screaming about this:

Thurgood Marshall, center, chief legal counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is surrounded by students and their escort from Little Rock, Arkansas, as he sits on the steps of the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., Aug. 22, 1958.

The right wing responded with their usual alacrity:

Update: Transcript

ROTHENBERG: I simply wanted to add, Wolf, that if you want to know who to blame ultimately for this confrontation that we have now, I think you can almost make the argument that can you blame court, because the court got us into these kinds of issues in the late '60s and early '70s. Before that, when you and I didn't have so much gray hair, we didn't talk about these issues. But the court decide these issues were relevant and individual rights needed to be protected. And so now they've gotten into the whole other area.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Bill, and I'll add one point. But, go ahead, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: That's exactly what's got conservatives upset, because they say the court has overreached. It's overextended. It's become a judicial activist, the court. And they say we want to curb the court they have broken the separation of power by legislating in too many areas. But Democrats say, no, we want to protect the separation, that the Congress is reaching too far. They used the Terri Schiavo case as an instance where Congress, in their view and the view of many Americans, try to cross over the lines and direct the courts to do a certain thing. And the courts refuse to go along.

BLITZER: Hasn't the Supreme Court, Stuart, always, though, been involved in shaping actual policy? Brown v. Board of Education 1954, ending segregated schools. Did the court go too far in that particular decision?

ROTHENBERG: Well, I don't know about a particular decision, Wolf. Everybody has their own opinions about the decisions. But I think you're generally right, that the court has sought to expand its role in interpreting law and interpreting the Constitution. And Americans have conceded the right to the court do that. So I don't -- the American public is, too, somewhat at fault. They looked to the court to do these kinds of things. And we're in the situation now where Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, agree that the court has such an important role in deciding what our rights are that now everything's a political fight.

Extreme Moral Clarity

Attaturk says Andrew Sullivan is taking criticism for saying:

Instapundit's coverage suggests that he believes that the erroneously-sourced Newsweek story is actually more offensive and important than what happened at Abu Ghraib.

I don't know about Instapundit; I've been awfully busy watching dust motes above my monitor and haven't had a minute to spare reading his world renowned blog. However,as I note below, The Blog Of The Year has expressed this exact view quite explicitly:

I really think that calling Newsweek's blunder "the press's Abu Ghraib" is unfair to the low-lifes who carried out the Abu Ghraib abuses. After all, they didn't even hurt anyone, let alone kill them. And the people they abused were almost certainly terrorists. One can't say the same for the people who were murdered in the riots that foreseeably followed Newsweek's story.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Lovely DiRita

So everybody is rightly quoting the liar Myers (he must be since his version of events is completely at odds with the new "Newsweak Lied" meme), based upon Kit Seelye's article in the NY Times. And there is some discussion of Lawrence DiRita's intemperate remark as quoted in Evan Thomas' article:

Told of what the NEWSWEEK source said, DiRita exploded, "People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said. How could he be credible now?"

But, what I haven't seen (and, granted, I may have missed it) is the acknowledgement of what DiRita himself was quoted as saying in this AP report on Saturday:

"The nature of where these things occurred, how quickly they occurred, the nature of individuals who were involved in it, suggest that they may be organized events that are using this alleged allegation as a pretext for activity that was already planned," said DiRita.

It wasn't only Myers who gave this explanation, it was the now conveniently irate Pentagon spokesman as well. Maybe a reporter needs to ask him about this.

The New Christocracy

Kevin Catches this little gem

In Ohio, the Rev. Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church said at a gathering of 1,000 Patriot Pastors last week that the issues underscoring the filibuster fight transcend partisan politics.

"We're not Democrats. We're not Republicans. We're Christocrats," he declared.

Christocrats tend to vote exclusively Republican, however, because Jesus was very much against the capital gains tax.


Monday, May 16, 2005

From The Beginning

Talking about inequality and social mobility, Ezra says:

I've little hope that we'll address this, though. The overarching evils of vast inequality and the transcendent good of do-it-yourself mobility are such foundational philosophical tenets of America's two parties that I can't see either coming to recognize that the fix, such as one exists, might be the same for both. Indeed, while the Democratic party may be convincible simply because the solutions line up with our proposed programs, Republicans will, for good reason, never relinquish the strict dichotomy they've created between individual mobility and general equality. The belief that large social programs must be avoided because they tamp down on individual virtues stretches back to Hoover and Associationalism, it's not going to be given up now.

As I have argued before,at some tedious length, it goes back further than that. It goes all the way back to the beginning of the Republic and relates very closely to our little "problem" with slavery. It might even be said that the whole concept of American individualism rests on the back of racism.

It was long held that government guarantees of equality meant that the wrong people would get things they did not deserve or could not handle. There have been many of "those people" over the years, but the concept originated with slaves and free African Americans. And the reason is that they, unlike virtually every other poor sub-group, had no economic support systems like churches and ethnic organizations and instead had to depend upon government programs. The face of government largesse was, for many people, black. The "welfare queen" was only the most modern description of a phenomenon that riled up certain citizens for a long, long time.

Individualism became part of the American ethos as much as an expression of racial superiority as personal virtue.

Old News

Asinine, uninformed comment of the day (and there are so many):

I really think that calling Newsweek's blunder "the press's Abu Ghraib" is unfair to the low-lifes who carried out the Abu Ghraib abuses. After all, they didn't even hurt anyone, let alone kill them. And the people they abused were almost certainly terrorists. One can't say the same for the people who were murdered in the riots that foreseeably followed Newsweek's story.

Hindquarter, Powerline

Except, except.... Highpockets, here's what your pal Lawrence DeRita had to say:

"The nature of where these things occurred, how quickly they occurred, the nature of individuals who were involved in it, suggest that they may be organized events that are using this alleged allegation as a pretext for activity that was already planned," said DiRita.

No kidding.

(I'm not even going to address the ridiculous assertion that the Abu Ghraib prisoners were terrorists. He needs to do some homework on that subject. Suffice to say that repeating anything that the addlepated James Inhofe says is always a mistake.)

To any of us who were closely following the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo story last summer, this Koran in the toilet thing is old news. Really old news. I wrote a lot about General Geoffrey Ripper and the interrogation techniques down there, and in the course of reading all the informatin that was coming out about Gitmo at the time, it was glaringly obvious that religious desecration was on the menu. (Juan Cole points out in his post this morning that this may actually be a standard US military training technique.)

When the first four British detainees were released, they made some claims that sounded ridiculous. The stuff about desecration of the Koran hardly raised an eyebrow by comparison to the wildly improbable assertion that American women were rubbing menstrual blood all over detainees to get them to talk. How could you believe anything they said when they made up crazy shit like that, right? Right.

What's so phony about the right wing explosion on this issue is that as Arthur Silber points out in this indispensible post, is that it's not as if the Muslim world wasn't already well aware of this practice. Detainees have been released and they have talked. As far back as December 2003, when Vanity Fair published David Rose's expose of Guantanamo (sorry, not online), it was known that throughout the Muslim world, Gitmo was seen as an abomination. And it was known that practices in Guanmtanamo were creating more terrorism and more violence than they stopped:

One senior defense intelligence source gives a grim assessment of the camp's backlash potential: "It's an international public-relations disaster. Maybe the guy who goes into Gitmo does so as a farmer who got swept along and did very little. He's going to come out a full-fledged jihadist. And for every detainee, I'd guess you create another 10 terrorists or supporters of terrorism."

The miracle is that the riots didn't come much sooner. Guantanamo is the greatest recruiting tool in the jihadist arsenal and our absurd insistence on keeping it going (even though it has long since been shown to be nothing more than a puerile expression of national rage) turns us from simple over-reactors into stubborn fascists and self-defeating idiots.

David Rose, in his recent book based upon the Vanity Fair reporting, called "Guantanamo: The War On Human Rights" says:

Across the middle east, those pictures of the newly-arrived detainees kneeling in the dirt in their shackles have become a trope for cartoonists and pamphleteers, a graphic rendition of oppression which speaks to millions of Muslims. The unjust suffering of families and individuals engendered by this aspect of "Operation Enduring Freedom" is sowing dragons’ teeth, turning moderates into fanatics determined to smite the west.

On Islamist websites and in the Arab press, Guantánamo is cited time and again as a rallying point for jihad, as a justification for creating more suicide "martyrs".

This little item in Newsweak is a pretext for action against interrogation techniques that are already well known. Which is why the quasi retraction over the week-end is such a chickenshit display of cowardice on the part of Newsweak. This is old news to anybody who's been paying attention. The jihadists know it, those of us following the story know it and the government certainly knows it. The riots last week in Afghanistan and now around the world are orchestrated to gin up support and their followers are already pissed off enough about this stuff to get with the program quite easily.

Of course, as Silber says, this is probably going to end up being just another scalping party. And until the mainstream media cares about being played and used, the shrill shrieking harpies of the right wing noise machine will continue to treat them like the lackeys they are ... and make examples of some of them every once in a while to keep everybody in line.

This will teach the media to report any more stories about fun loving hijinks and calling them torture. The Blog of the Year is on to you, MSM killers.


Sunday, May 15, 2005

A Guy's Gotta Make A Living

This is the only source I find with this information, so maybe it's not true; if it is, it's amazing:

The Syrian government signed an agreement with New Bridge Strategies to improve its image in the American society, convince President Bush that it seeks good relations with his administration and is willing to be extremely flexible in its cooperation with the White House.

The company was selected specifically because its CEO (Joe Allbaugh) had close ties with Bush. Allbaugh was Bush's Chief of Staff and Campaign Manager when Bush was the Governor of Texas. He managed his 2000 campaign and later became Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in charge of coordinating the public services and provide assistance to the victims of natural disasters.

I'm sure the fighting 101st keyboarders will will ensure that Allbaugh keeps his eyes open for all the WMD's Saddam spirited into Syria before the war.

Allbaugh is extremely close to Junior. He was the third in the "Iron Triangle" with Rove and Hughes. Josh Marshall has reported how unseemly it is that he's out there raking in huge bucks so soon after being in the administration anyway, particularly from the Iraq debacle which was never part of his portfolio. (He's never been anything but a political hack.) But for him to be making big money lobbying for one of the officially proclaimed terrorist states while his good buddy is the president goes beyond the appearance of impropriety. For all the shrill caterwauling about liberals committing treason every other minute, this little deal really looks like it could be.

But IOKIYAR. It's not like the guy went to a buddhist temple or had a haircut or anything.

Via The Left Coaster

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Populist Tango

Via Daniel Munz, who's pinch hitting over at Ezra's place, I see that my old pal "Mudcat" Saunders is offering some more good advice to Democrats:

"Bubba doesn’t call them illegal immigrants. He calls them illegal aliens. If the Democrats put illegal aliens in their bait can, we’re going to come home with a bunch of white males in the boat."

The thing is, he's absolutely right. To put together this great new populist revival everybody's talking about, where we get the boys in the pick-up trucks to start voting their "self-interest," we're probably going to need to get up a new nativist movement to go along with it. That's pretty much how populism has always been played in the past, particularly in the south. Certainly, you can rail against the moneyed elites, but there is little evidence that it will work unless you provide somebody on the bottom that the good ole boys can really stomp. As Jack Balkin wrote in this fascinating piece on populism and progressivism:

History teaches us that populism has recurring pathologies; it is especially important to recognize and counteract them. These dangers are particularly obvious to academics and other intellectual elites: They include fascism, nativism, anti-intellectualism, persecution of unpopular minorities, exaltation of the mediocre, and romantic exaggeration of the wisdom and virtue of the masses.

Is it any wonder that the right has been more successful in recently in inflaming the populist impulse in America? They are not squeamish about using just those pathologies --- and only those pathologies -- to gain populist credibility in spite of a blatant lack of populist policy.

Populism can have a very close relationship to fascism and totalitarianism. Indeed, it may be essential. Despite Dennis Prager's confused blather, it wasn't the intellectual elites who fueled the Nazi movement; the intellectuals were purged, just as they were purged by Stalin, by Pol Pot and by Mao during the "cultural revolution" in China. These are the extreme results of a certain populist strain --- or at least the misuse of populist thinking among the people. That Mao and Stalin were commies has nothing to do with it. Populism, in its extreme form, is inherently hostile to intellectualism.

That is not to say that populism is evil. It is just another political philosophy that has its bad side, as every philosophy does. Balkin describes it in great depth, but here's a capsulized version:

The dual nature of populism means that political participation is not something to be forced on the citizenry, nor are popular attitudes some sort of impure ore that must be carefully filtered, purified, and managed by a wise and knowing state. From a populist standpoint, such attempts at managerial purification are paternalistic. They typify elite disparagement and disrespect for popular attitudes and popular culture. Government should provide opportunities for popular participation when people seek it, and when they seek it, government should not attempt to divert or debilitate popular will. An energized populace, aroused by injustice and pressing for change, is not something to be feared and constrained; it is the very lifeblood of democracy. Without avenues for popular participation and without means for popular control, governments become the enemy of the people; public and private power become entrenched, self-satisfied, and smug.

Progressivism, or modern liberalism, takes a distinctly different view:

Central to progressivism is a faith that educated and civilized individuals can, through the use of reason, determine what is best for society as a whole. Persuasion, discussion, and rational dialogue can lead individuals of different views to see what is in the public interest. Government and public participation must therefore be structured so as to produce rational deliberation and consensus about important public policy issues. Popular culture and popular will have a role to play in this process, but only after sufficient education and only after their more passionate elements have been diverted and diffused. Popular anger and uneducated public sentiments are more likely to lead to hasty and irrational judgments.

Like populists, progressives believe that governments must be freed of corrupting influences. But these corrupting influences are described quite differently: They include narrowness of vision, ignorance, and parochial self-interest. Government must be freed of corruption so that it can wisely debate what is truly in the public interest. Progressivism is less concerned than populism about centralization and concentration of power. It recognizes that some problems require centralized authority and that some enterprises benefit from economies of scale. Progressivism also has a significantly different attitude towards expertise: Far from being something to be distrusted, it is something to be particularly prized.

That sounds right to me. What a fine tribe it is, too. Balkin goes on, however:

What is more difficult for many academics to recognize is that progressivism has its own distinctive dangers and defects. Unfortunately, these tend to be less visible from within a progressivist sensibility. They include elitism, paternalism, authoritarianism, naivete, excessive and misplaced respect for the "best and brightest," isolation from the concerns of ordinary people, an inflated sense of superiority over ordinary people, disdain for popular values, fear of popular rule, confusion of factual and moral expertise, and meritocratic hubris.

And there you see the basis for right wing populist hatred of liberals. And it's not altogether untrue, is it? Certainly, those of us who argue from that perspective should be able to recognise and deal with the fact that this is how we are perceived by many people and try to find ways to allay those concerns. The problem is that it's quite difficult to do.

In the past, the way that's been dealt with has been very simple. Get on the bigotry bandwagon. In some ways, everybody wants to be an elitist, I suppose, so all you have to do is join with your brothers in a little "wrong" religion, immigrant or negro bashing. Everybody gets to feel superior that way.

There was a time when the Democratic party was populist/progressive --- William Jennings Bryan was our guy. (He was also, if you recall, the one who argued against evolution in the Scopes trial.) He ran his campaigns against the "money changers" in New York City; the conventional wisdom remains that his Cross of Gold speech with it's economic populist message was the key to his enormous popularity in the rural areas of the west, midwest and south. I would argue that it had as much to do with cultural populism and Lost Cause mythology.

Richard Hofstadter famously wrote that both populism and early progressivism were heavily fueled by nativism and there is a lot of merit in what he says. Take, for instance, prohibition (one of Bryan's major campaign issues.)Most people assume that when it was enacted in 1920, it was the result of do-gooderism, stemming from the tireless work by progressives who saw drink as a scourge for the family, and women in particular. But the truth is that Prohibition was mostly supported by rural southerners and midwesterners who were persuaded that alcohol was the province of immigrants in the big cities who were polluting the culture with their foreign ways. And progressives did nothing to dispell that myth --- indeed they perpetuated it. (The only people left to fight it were the "liberal elites," civil libertarians and the poor urban dwellers who were medicating themselves the only way they knew how.) This was an issue, in its day, that was as important as gay marriage is today. The country divided itself into "wets" and "drys" and many a political alliance was made or broken by taking one side of the issue or another. Bryan, the populist Democrat, deftly exploited this issue to gain his rural coalition --- and later became the poster boy for creationism, as well. (Not that he wasn't a true believer, he was; but his views on evolution were influenced by his horror at the eugenics movement. He was a complicated guy.) And prohibition turned out to be one of the most costly and silly diversions in American history.

It is not a surprise that prohibition was finally enacted in 1920, which is also the time that the Ku Klux Klan reasserted itself and became more than just a southern phenomenon. The Klan's reemergence was the result of the post war clamor against commies and immigrants. The rural areas, feeling beseiged by economic pressure (which manifested themselves much earlier there than the rest of the country)and rapid social change could not blame their own beloved America for its problems so they blamed the usual suspects, including their favorite whipping boy, uppity African Americans.

They weren't only nativist, though. In the southwest, and Texas in particular, they were upset by non-Protestant immorality. According to historian Charles C. Alexander:

"There was also in the Klan a definite strain of moral bigotry. Especially in the Southwest this zeal found expression in direct, often violent, attempts to force conformity. Hence the southwestern Klansman's conception of reform encompassed efforts to preserve premarital chastity, marital fidelity, and respect for parental authority; to compel obedience to state and national prohibition laws; to fight the postwar crime wave; and to rid state and local governments of dishonest politicians." Individuals in Texas thus were threatened, beaten, or tarred-and-feathered for practicing the "new morality," cheating on their spouses, beating their spouses or children, looking at women in a lewd manner, imbibing alcohol, etc.

Yeah, I know. The more things change, yadda, yadda, yadda. The interesting thing about all this is that throughout the 20's the south was Democratic as it had always been --- and populist, as it had long been. But when the Dems nominated Al Smith in 1928, many Democrats deserted the party and voted for Hoover. Why? Because Smith was an urban machine politican, a catholic and anti-prohibition. Texas went for Hoover --- he was from rural Iowa, favored prohibition and was a Protestant. Preachers combed the south decrying the catholic nominee --- saying the Pope would be running the country. Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia went Republican, too. Now, one can't deny that the boom of the 20's was instrumental in Hoover's victory, but rural America had been undergoing an economic crisis for some time. However, then, like now, rural American populists preferred to blame their problems on racial and ethnic influences than the moneyed elites who actually cause them. It's a psychological thing, I think.

(By 1932, of course, all hell had broken loose. Nobody cared anymore about booze or catholics or rich New Yorkers in the White House. They were desperate for somebody to do something. And Roosevelt promised to do something. Extreme crisis has a way of clarifying what's important.)

So, getting back to Mudcat, what he is suggesting is a tried and true method to get rural white males to sign on to a political party. Bashing immigrants and elites at the same time has a long pedigree and it is the most efficient way to bag some of those pick-up truck guys who are voting against their economic self-interest. There seems to be little evidence that bashing elites alone actually works. And that's because what you are really doing is playing to their prejudices and validating their tribal instinct that the reason for their economic problems is really the same reason for the cultural problems they already believe they have --- Aliens taking over Real America --- whether liberals, immigrants, blacks, commies, whoever. And it seems that rural folk have been feeling this way forever.

It's a surefire way to attract those guys with the confederate flags that Mudcat is advising us is required if we are ever to win again. On the other hand, short of another Great Depression, how we keep together a coalition of urbanites, liberals, ethnic minoritites and nativist rural white men, I don't quite get. Nobody's done it yet.

*I should be clear here and note that Jack Balkin does not necessarily endorse my views on nativism and populism in his paper. He notes that there has been some revision of Hofstadter's analysis and that some scholars have found substantial regional differences among rural populists. I agree to the extent that I think this is a much more salient aspect of populism in the south. But history leads me to agree with Hofstadter that nativism and racism are powerful populist impulses pretty much everywhere. It may change colors and creeds, but it's always there.

Balkin does point out some of the difficulties in creating a coalition of progressives and populists and suggests that academics in particular have a hard time because they really are, well, intellectual elites. It's interesting. One of the more intriguing things his thesis alludes to is that the crusade against popular culture may be the least populist thing we could undertake. The rural populists really don't like the liberal elites telling them what's good for them.


Friday, May 13, 2005

Prescient Heckler

Back in the day, before talk radio became a stroke inducing wingnut nightmare (and before Air America) I used to listen to KABC in Los Angeles, which has always been an all talk station. In the mornings it had Michael Jackson (not that one) a very erudite, well informed personality who had the world's most impressive rolodex. He could get Nelson Mandela or Margaret Thatcher on the phone and callers, before everybody became a right wing asshole, were invariably polite and well informed. It was the kind of talk radio that people like me -- the snoozers who watch the History Channel and Lehrer --- love. No yelling, no controversy, just a bunch of smart people palavering endlessly. Needless to say, this is so far out of fashion it might as well be a Nehru jacket.

Jackson was on from 9 to 1 and then that sanctimonious prick, Dennis Prager, would come on and blow the whole mood. Guys like him are a dime a dozen today, but he was my first modern wingnut gasbag, so he holds a special place in my ... digestive system.

Today, on the Huffington Post, he says that the guy who heckled Ann Coulter is a Hitler youth. But the universities are also like Weimar Germany and Phd's led the way to the death camps and the gulags.

None of that is factual or makes any sense. Weimar "decadence" was the target of Nazism, not the cause --- unless you want to adopt the abuser excuse "she made me do it because she was bad." And Nazism may have ostensibly been "secular, but it sure as hell used Christian nationalism when it suited them:

In his first radio address to the German people, twenty-four hours after coming to power, Hitler declared, “The National Government will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built up. They regard Christianity as the foundation of our national morality and the family as the basis of national life.”

But whatever. That's just typical Dennis Prager dribbling confusedly about barbarians and brown shirts because somebody was rude to Ann Coulter. Rude to Ann Coulter --- something one would think he'd be embarrassed to bring up considering what a nasty piece of work she is.

Does everyone remember what the student's outrageous question in that Q&A was?

"You say that you believe in the sanctity of marriage," said Ajai Raj, an English sophomore. "How do you feel about marriages where the man does nothing but fuck his wife up the ass?"

Think about that for a minute. When I first heard about it I thought he was saying something for the pure purpose of being (as he admits) a jackass and trying to put Coulter off balance. But considering the revelations of this week, in which it was revealed that a prominent religious leader enjoyed forcing sodomy on his wife against her will, it's actually a serious question.

I agree with Prager that there are barbarians in our midst, but I think he needs to look a little bit closer to his own social circle.

Who Loves Ya baby?

Roy Edroso says:

Sometimes I wonder if I'm not being too harsh, and sometimes maybe I am, but I can safely say that I will never regret saying that Michelle Malkin is utterly delusional


Although I agree that these are fine words to live by, and I do, in this case he is specifically referring to her latest illustration of right wing paranoid victimology:

When was the last time you thanked a cop? And wouldn't it be nice if, for just a brief moment, the mainstream media would hold a ceasefire in its incessant cop-bashing crusades?

There are good cops, and there are bad cops. But national press outlets, predisposed to harp on law enforcement as an inherently racist and reckless institution, hype the hellions at the expense of the heroes.

Yes, and the MSM hates puppies and kitties and baby rhesus monkeys too. Goddamn evil bastards.

Roy swats down her absurdities like the pesky little nits they are and goes on to discuss the veritable deification of cops in our popular culture noting the somewhat disturbing CSI trend in which:

...cops are not only immaculate honest and zealous in pursuit of the truth, they are also scientifically predestined to find it. (Someday Minority Report will be done as a cop series, and young people will be shocked to learn that it was originally a dystopian vision.)

This may be working against the police, actually, since now prosecutors such as those in the Robert Blake case find their TV addled juries unimpressed with any evidence that isn't scientifically incontrovertible. They even call it the CSI effect. (I would imagine that the new series CSI:Wichita will solve that little problem by having the crime scene investigators simply pray for the suspects to confess. Looking very hot, of course.)

Meanwhile, here in California, cops and firefighters are on TV every five minutes taking issue with the powdered and pampered Republican Governor saying of them, “These are the special interests. Special interests don’t like me in Sacramento because I kick their butt." Seems these unionized public employees didn't care too much for that. Go figure.

As Roy says and I concur:

I don't begrudge the police this heroic treatment -- though I would prefer, as I suspect they would, that they got the love in their pay-envelopes rather than from mass media. But to say that the MSM is out to make cops look bad is just nuts.

And that is why I join Roy in saying I will never regret saying that Michelle Malkin is delusional. And nuts.

Doomsday Machine

Everybody go sign up for PFAW's "Nuclear Option" Mass Immediate Response:

By giving us your cell phone number, we will text message you as soon as Senate Republicans trigger the "nuclear option." Embedded in that text message will be a link to the Senate switchboard. With the push of a couple buttons, your call – along with thousands of others – goes right through to the corridors of power demanding preservation of the filibuster.

This the first time flash mob technology's been used for political purposes. Which means it's just cute enough to get some press.

Revival Hype

Both Matt Yglesias and Kevin Drum believe, based upon findings in the recent Pew poll, that we would be better off if we liberals lightened up and accepted the 10 Commandments on public buildings and certain other somewhat trivial religious issues. I'm not sure how we do this, considering that this has been the interpretation of the courts rather than a legislative battle, but I'm sure that if we just give in on Pricilla Owen et al, we'll see some change on this and other issues of importance to the Religious Right. I'm also sure we can then cherry pick those issues that are really important to us, but I'm not certain at all if the principle on which we make our argument will still be operative once we've tossed it aside for these trivial reasons.

As it happens, I couldn't care less whether the 10 Commandments are displayed on public buildings as long as all religions are treated equally. I certainly hope that when a Hindu requests that his religion be equally represented that we liberals will also uphold his rights. Otherwise, we will have established a state religion, which I think is a really bad idea considering the millenium's worth of blood that was spilled by our forebears in Europe over these issues.

Unfortunately, it seems we are on course to do just that. Or at least establish a "Judeo-Christian umbrella" state religion.

A federal appeals court has ruled that a Virginia county can exclude a member of a minority religion from offering prayers at county board meetings -- even though adherents of "Judeo-Christian" religions are allowed to lead invocations.

In a unanimous ruling April 14, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against county resident Cynthia Simpson, whom officials denied the opportunity to offer prayers at meetings of the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors.

Simpson is a practitioner of Wicca, a neo-pagan religion that she has described as interchangeable with witchcraft. She is a leader in a Wiccan congregation in the suburban county near Richmond. When she asked to be put on a list of those who could lead invocations at board meetings, the county attorney told her she would not be allowed, claiming that "Chesterfield's non-sectarian invocations are traditionally made to a divinity that is consistent with the Judeo-Christian tradition."

Simpson, working with attorneys from a pair of civil-liberties groups, sued the county. A federal district judge in Richmond sided with her, ruling in 2003 that the practice unconstitutionally discriminated against religions that do not stem from the dominant Western monotheistic traditions.

But the latest ruling reverses that decision, citing the Supreme Court's 1985 Marsh vs. Chambers decision allowing "non-sectarian" legislative prayers before the Nebraska legislature. Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, authoring the 4th Circuit's opinion, said the content of the prayers Chesterfield County officials allowed was broad enough, and the fact that Simpson was barred from offering one was immaterial to the case.

"The Judeo-Christian tradition is, after all, not a single faith but an umbrella covering many faiths," Wilkinson wrote. "We need not resolve the parties' dispute as to its precise extent, as Chesterfield County has spread it wide enough in this case to include Islam. For these efforts, the County should not be made the object of constitutional condemnation."

Wilkinson has been widely rumored to be among the candidates for a Supreme Court appointment, should any slots on that body come open before the end of President Bush's term.

Apparently, all religions that fall under the Judeo-Christian "umbrella" are non-sectarian, which I suppose is a form of progress. But you can't just let any old religion be officially recognized in public functions. Ones that aren't drawn from the old testament, anyway.

Clearly, just like guns and the death penalty and dozens of other things, the Democrats are going to cave on this issue. And in and of itself, it will not make much difference. Ever since the entire congress stood on the steps of the congress and sang "God Bless America" I knew that any pretense toward religious neutrality was over.

But, what makes anyone think that this will be enough to sway any votes or stop the rest of the theocratic agenda? Are people voting on the single issue of the 10 Commandments and if we give in on that we can start talking about the minimum wage? Just as people like Kevin and Matt and I don't care deeply about whether the 10 commandments are displayed or a creche is put in front of city hall at Christmas, I doubt whether the full 70%+ of Americans who thinks the 10 Commandments should be allowed on public buyildings actually vote on the issue. Most people agree, just like us, that it isn't a big deal --- all except those who are fighting for the principle of it. Those people aren't changing sides politically --- and the rest just don't give enough of a damn to change their voting behavior over it.

The danger is that the ones who are fighting on the principle that Christianity should be part of civic life are also the ones who are not giving any ground. And they won't. They are thinking long term -- patiently chipping away at the principle of separation of church and state, while the rest of us say "lighten up" to the ACLU, who is taking a principled stance on trivial issues so that we can make a consistent argument when it comes to fighting for the important ones. Like teaching creationism in the public schools.

As Matt points out, the other interesting finding in the PEW poll is that a majority believe that creationism should be taught along side evolution in the schools. (I suspect that most people do not realize that the goal of the Christian Right is to replace the teaching of evolution, and think instead that creationism is a worthy subject for a class on comparative religions, not science. But that's just a hunch.) Kevin says we shouldn't give in on that, but really, what's to stop it?

I realize that we liberals believe that this is a matter of teaching fact based science as opposed to faith based religious belief, but the truth is that schools that aren't funded by public money can teach creationism till the cows come home already. The state cannot compel anyone not to teach religion in place of science in the public schools unless we believe there is a constitutional prohibition against the schools promoting one religion over another.

So, on what will we hang our hat on once we've decided that religion --- or more specifically the "judeo-christian umbrella" --- is sanctioned by the state in regards to prayer in schools, the 10 commandments on public buildings and public displays of religion on community ground. These things are all trivial in themselves (although for some people, putting little kids in the position of having to pray or abstain is unconcionable.) But regardless of whether each little instance of religious tradition in the public square is in itself pernicious, taken together, if sanctified by the courts, it erodes one of the basic tenets of our system, which is the prohibition against the establishment of state religion. And that adds up to a greenlight to teach creationism or promote any other Christian dogma --- with my tax dollars.

On a pracical political level, I might point out that electorally, getting religion may not be the bonanza everyone thinks it will be long term. The largest growing religious cohort in the United States is "non-religious", doubling in the past decade and growing stronger. And it's particularly true in the western states where there is a growing preference for "spirituality" over formal religion.

Contrast this with the studies that show Protestants losing ground for decades, perhaps stabilizing now, but certainly not growing, while Catholics remain fairly stable, but divided politically. The Barna group, which does the most in-depth polling on religion in America recently wrote:

"There does not seem to be revival taking place in America. Whether that is measured by church attendance, born again status, or theological purity, the statistics simply do not reflect a surge of any noticeable proportions.

If we are to look at the electoral landscape, we will see that the hard core religious cohort is most influential in the south, which is no surprise. But if you take a look at this interesting map, created by USA today, you' will see that "non-religious" is a rather large minority in the west and midwest swing states; when you combine it with liberal mainline protestant churches and liberal catholics you will see that the Christian Right is not the electoral powerhouse it's cracked up to be. We should not fear them like this.

And needless to say, as our ethnic make-up continues to change, in which Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians and others continue to immigrate and pass their belief systems to their children, we are going to see a continuance of the explosive growth in those religions and philosophies as we've seen in the last thirty years. There is a huge potential for strife in our future if we continue down this road of establishing the "Judeo-Christian" umbrella as a quasi official religion.

There is good evidence that we are the victims of Republican hype on this religious issue, which perpetuates itself in the servile media, creating a faddish obsession with religiousity at a time when more people are actually leaving religion than coming into it. Like the phony campaign against Christmas, they are tying us up in knots with this theocratic correctness. For both practical and principled reasons, we shouldn't let them do it.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

Gandhi And His Rabble

And the "revisionist historians" proceed apace. Via Ted at Crooked Timber I see that the Highpockets and the boys at Powerline have endorsed the idea that the British should have held out against "Ghandi and his rabble" --- to prevent violence, of course, which is why all good white men have to keep the wogs in line, don't you know. Didn't the Raj have any purple ink to pacify the little bastards? Dear me.

"It's great to see someone standing up for colonialism, especially British colonialism. I agree wholeheartedly with this observation, for example:

Had Britain had the courage to face down Gandhi and his rabble a few years longer, the tragedy that was the partititon of India might have been avoided." (quoting Roger Kimball.)

But really dear boy, while we're praising British colonialism, let's not stop there. One can't help but observe that if they had just held out against Washington and his rabble a few years longer the tragedy of the civil war might have been prevented. Failure of nerve, I'm afraid. Yes, yes, it would have been bloody, but what isn't, I say? Best to keep the swinish multitudes under one's thumbs. (Of course, except for the slaves, the Americans were white, weren't they? Makes a difference; indeed it does.)

Hilzoy at Obsidion Wings offers the substantive response for trolls who require one.

Oil For Fools

I think the thing I love most about the right wingers is their commitment to principle and intellectual consistency. For instance, on the Un Foundation's blog UN Dispatch, Peter Daou took issue with Roger Simon's obsessing over the Oil For Food program, while never having a kind word to say about the good things the United Nations does around the world. The right blogosphere is incensed that he would dare to tell a blogger what he should blog about, and besides the oil for food scandal is, like, really really bad.

Now call me crazy, but I seem to remember some wingnuts bleating every five minutes or so about how the news media is obsessing about all the "bad news" in Iraq to exclusion of the "good." It's been their mantra for the last two years as a matter of fact. John Tierney of the NY Times even said just the other day that we shouldn't talk about the suicide bombers because it gives the wrong impression --- that suicide bombers are everywhere and people's lives are threatened. Even though the Iraqi people's lives actually are threatened and there actually are suicide bombers everywhere. Best not to harp on the bad news.

Here we have an institution, the UN, that is enmeshed in a corruption scandal --- and not one that appears to be unprecedented or shocking by corruption scandal standards. Certainly, it cannot be compared to the serious everyday violence that is taking place in Iraq. And yet we have right wingers obsessing about it to the exclusion of all its substantial and important good works around the world --- while they constantly complain that the news media focuses too much on wanton violence and social chaos in a country we occupy, to the exclusion of insubstantial and meaningless happy talk about schools being painted (for 2 million dollars a piece.)

The sad fact is that the UN Oil for Food scandal is becoming another one of these right wing masturbatory obsessions --- like Christmas in Cambodia and Vince Foster. There are always a few of these hobby horses out there, nobody knows why.

Meanwhile the UN actually does a lot of really important work, unlike the Pottery Barn debacle in Iraq, where we are supposed to get credit for fixing what we broke. Here are just a handful of the issues the UN has been working on while the wingnuts blather on:

Tackling the threat of transnational organized crime

Shipping supplies to millions of Iraqi schoolchildren

Controlling the Marburg virus

Building thousands of homes for tsunami victims

Partnering with the private sector to meet humanitarian needs

Reducing child mortality rates

Rehabilitating Iraq's marshlands

Eradicating polio

Rebuilding lives in Afghanistan

Fighting the global malaria epidemic

Curbing the world's most hazardous pollutants

Improving global disaster and emergency response

Building a sustainable future

This right wing UN fixation is another one of those issues that goes all the way back to the Truman era. I'll say it again; anybody who thinks the Republicans are the party of new ideas are sadly mistaken. They haven't even joined the last half of the 20th century yet.

Blasphemous Perverts

Everybody's talking
about the article in The Nation about Dr. David Hager, the Bush appointee to the Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs in the Food and Drug Administration. His wife Linda says he forcibly sodomized her. Often while she was unconcious due to her narcolepsy.

Now, this would noramlly be just a run of the mill GOP hypocrite story that doesn't deserve any more than a little laugh over beers. But it should be emphasized that many of of us knew Dr Hager was a scumbag when he was appointed back in 2002. And he has subsequently proven to be the extremist we knew he was by personally blocking, in unprecedented fashion, the FDA's decision to make Plan B, the morning after pill, a quasi OTC drug.

But, he was a very religious man so everyone had to shut up and let him have a job he was abjectly unqualified for because to do otherwise would be theocratically incorrect.

Dr Hager was primarily known at the time as the writer of scriptural cures for women's reproductive problems. But his cure for infidelity was just plain creepy:

Picture Jesus coming into the room. He walks over to you and folds you gently into his arms. He tousles your hair and kisses you gently on the cheek. . . . Let this love begin to heal you from the inside out."

I'm no Christian, but that sounds damned close to blasphemy to me.

Between the mule fucking, the narcophelia and the sexual fantasies about Jesus, I'm beginning to feel like a provincial schoolkid. To think that we impeached a president over a couple of half baked blowjobs in a hallway --- and listened to years and years of non-stop moralizing from these Republican perverts. I'm a pretty sophisticated person and I don't usually pass judgements on people's fantasy lives or their sexuality. But the Christian Right with their wild shedding of the most shocking of sexual taboos are starting to freak me out. And I'm from California.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

It's Still On?

I knew it was over when Bush's fawning sycophant, Dennis Miller, tried to pass himself off as a libertarian on Jon Stewart's show a couple of weeks ago. In fact, I found that little moment quite uplifting. There is nobody more trendy, more "finger in the wind," more faddish than the Rant man himself. If he's climbing off the conservative bun-boy train, then the zeitgeist has definitely shifted.

And his show's finally been put out of its misery, too.

Glory, Glory, Jalapeno

In honor of this great post by James Wolcott called "Godless Heathens Get No Respect", I am hereby no longer going to be polite or even mildly respectful to the morons of the Christian Right.

As Christian fundamentalism becomes more intrusive and oppressive, Pat Robertson's odious discharge being just the latest example, it is up to us adherents to reason, law, and unchained thought to revive and sustain the reputations of America's great individualists and nonconformists. It's understandable that Democratic candidates, sincere and insincere, feel they have no choice but to drag faith around with them like a little red wagon, but the we non-office-seeking nonbelievers are under no such obligation, and have been accomodating for too long.

He is right. There is a long tradition of religious irreverance in this country and I'm tired of holding back out of some misplaced sense that I'll offend some religious person somewhere. I'll cast my lot with this guy:

There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing and predatory as it is - in our country particularly, and in all other Christian countries in a somewhat modified degree - it is still a hundred times better than the Christianity of the Bible, with its prodigious crime- the invention of Hell. Measured by our Christianity of to-day, bad as it is, hypocritical as it is, empty and hollow as it is, neither the Deity nor His Son is a Christian, nor qualified for that moderately high place. Ours is a terrible religion. The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent blood it has spilt."

Mark Twain

Back in the late 70's the fundamentalist bozos were wandering around church parking lots like a bunch of blind salmon, sending money to perverts like Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert and handling snakes around children. Paul Weyrich and Morton Blackwell knew just what to do. Make them into Republicans. And now they are the very backbone of the Party.


Getting Antsy

Kevin Drum wonders what Bush's bizarre Yalta blathering was code for. We all know that when Junior dredges up some obscure historical reference (like his strange interjection of "Dred Scott" into the debates) you can be sure he's speaking in tongues to somebody. The question is who and why.

I think it's just possible that the neos are getting ready to turn up the heat on their old nemesis, Russia. They will not rest until some commie blood is spilled by the forces of good. And terrorism just isn't a grand enough enemy for these guys. It's messy, it's hard to define, we can't defeat it with bombs and military invasion. I think it's been much too hard for these guys to get their nut with this sneaky, asymetrical 21st century enemy, and the Iraqis just aren't cooperating enough with their "liberation" to be truly satisfying. Time to get back to basics.

If we're lucky, maybe before he checked in at his new job, Wolfowitz dusted off his 1992 plan to invade Russia. (Oh, excuse me, "defend our vital interests in Lithuania.") Now that was a war plan, goddamit.



Barton Gellman Washington Post Staff Writer
February 20, 1992; Page a1

A classified study prepared as the basis for the Pentagon's budgetary planning through the end of the century casts Russia as the gravest potential threat to U.S. vital interests and presumes the United States would spearhead a NATO counterattack if Russia launched an invasion of Lithuania U.S. intervention in Lithuania, which would reverse decades of American restraint in the former Soviet Union's Baltic sphere of influence, is one of seven hypothetical roads to war that the Pentagon studied to help the military services size and justify their forces through 1999. In the study, the Pentagon neither advocates nor predicts any specific conflict.

The Lithuanian scenario contemplates a major war by land, sea and air in which 24 NATO divisions, 70 fighter squadrons and six aircraft carrier battle groups would keep the Russian navy "bottled up in the eastern Baltic," bomb supply lines in Russia and use armored formations to expel Russian forces from Lithuania. The authors state that Russia is unlikely to respond with nuclear weapons, but they provide no basis for that assessment.


National security officials outside the Pentagon sharply disputed the scenario's premise, noting that the United States never recognized the Soviet Union's World War II conquest of the Baltic states but steered clear of interference there for fear of nuclear war. One State Department official said the Pentagon scenario "strikes me like being more of a Tom Clancy novel." Another official with responsibility for European security policy said flatly, "We have no vital interest in Lithuania."


Wolfowitz, who requested the scenarios in an Aug. 10 memorandum, wrote that they would "guide program formulation and evaluation." Wolfowitz asked for two scenarios centering on Russia: a smaller, more rapidly developing threat based on the consolidation of existing Russian forces, and a much larger, more slowly developing threat premised on "reconstitution" of a Russian-based hostile superpower.

The reconstitution scenario names no adversary, citing only a "resurgent/emergent global threat," or REGT. It describes a five-year U.S. buildup that would come in response to a Russian buildup, could exceed peak Cold War levels and could lead to a major global war.

The Lithuania Scenario

The Lithuania scenario is a potential diplomatic embarrassment, emerging as it has in the aftermath of a joint declaration Feb. 1 by President Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin that "Russia and the United States do not regard each other as potential adversaries."

It is also the only European contingency in the Pentagon document. Congressional advocates of drawing U.S. forces in Europe below the 150,000 troop level set by the Pentagon for the mid-1990s can be expected to challenge the realism of the scenario and assert that no plausible mission remains for large-scale NATO forces.

Finally, the Lithuania scenario is the most demanding single military contingency in the Pentagon document and, therefore, a potentially controversial yardstick for the military force required in the late 1990s. A working group from the Joint Staff's planning directorate, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the office of program analysis and evaluation estimated it would take 7 1/3 divisions, 45 fighter squadrons and six aircraft carriers to fight the Russians.


REGT Scenario

A "resurgent/emergent global threat," or REGT, becomes capable of threatening U.S. interests worldwide. According to national security sources, the scenario refers to Russia, with or without other former Soviet republics.

The REGT develops into an "authoritarian and strongly anti-democratic" government over about three years, beginning in 1994. After four or five years of military expansion, the REGT is ready to begin "a second Cold War" by the year 2001, or launch a major global war that could last for years. Pentagon planners assume that the United States would spend years of political debate before beginning a buildup in response to the REGT. "Reconstitution" of U.S. forces, as the Pentagon calls the buildup, would include expanded recruitment, weapons modernization and greatly increased production, and, if necessary, the draft.

No outcome is projected for a global war.

As you may have begun to notice, the right wing doesn't adapt well to change. They are still talking about McCarthyism and hippies and any number of other anachronistic topics. They are obsessed with being right, not only today, but fifty years ago. They still call liberals commies. It would not surprise me in the least if they are going to turn their attention back to their mortal enemy. Once a commie, always a commie. Hasn't that always been their motto?

And if Bush's pal Vladimir doesn't co-operate, we can always start asking "who lost China?" That one never gets old.

Kangaroo Justice

The Talking Dog has posted another one of his interesting interviews with attorneys for alleged unlawful combatants, this one with Joshua Dratel, the lawyer for the Australian David Hicks, who is being held at Guantanamo. Read the whole thing, but this passage is particularly stunning:

Talking Dog: Can you briefly summarize what you in particular find unfair about the military commission process at Guantanimo?

Joshua Dratel: Basically, there are no rules. The Uniform Code of Military Justice, which governs court-martials -- that's been thrown out. No standards at all. Total arbitrariness. No efforts at anything resembling fairness. Let's start with evidence and proof. People don't know this, of course.The government's "proof" consists entirely of interrogators reading from reports of their interrogations-- without any basis to challenge the underlying accounts of witnesses, such as the witnesses themselves (who have frequently been shipped out of Guantanamo) or their interpreters, or the conditions under which the statements were taken, which were frequently, to put it politely, "coercive." Just statements from the detainees themselves-- regardless of whether obtained from abuse, or coercion, even rising to torture. In the commissions, you simply can't challenge them-- you don't have access to the witnesses.

Talking Dog: I understand you spent a fair amount of time challenging the panels and their members themselves.

Joshua Dratel: I'm glad you brought that up. That's another area of unfairness. In a military felony case-- that's any case where the penalty might be more than one year in prison-- and remember that these detainees might get life in prison or even death sentences-- you need at least 5 panel members under the UCMJ. Under the commissions arbitrary set-ups, they envisioned between 3 and 7 panel members. In David's case, they planned 5 panelists and one alternate. But we challenged the panelists, for a variety of reasons, and 3 challenges were granted. We thought they would appoint 2 more officers to bring the panel back to 5, but they didn't. Now this makes a huge difference. And that's because under military rules, you need a 2/3 vote for conviction. On a 5 member panel, that means you need only coNvince 2 out of 5 for an acquittal; on a 3 member panel, of course, its 2 out of 3... a much higher burden, and not one required by the UCMJ. Conversely, the government's burden is halved: while it needs four of five votes to convict in a five-member commission, it needs only two in a three-member commission.

And then we get into the issue of the fact that in a court-martial,there is one judge, and the panel acts as kind of a jury. Under this set-up, the whole commission was supposed to make rulings. Of course, they had no legal training (except for one officer, Colonel Brownback). But the panelists couldn't absorb certain basic legal concepts-- such as 'ex post facto" and "jurisdiction". For example, if a citizien of Country A (we'll call it "Australia") is fighting in Company B (we'll call it Taliban Afghanistan) against Country C (we'll call it the Northern Alliance of Afghanistan), in Hicks' case, supposedly he was in a fox-hole guarding a Taliban tank position or something, before he was picked up by the Northern Alliance, then how does Country D, the United States, get jurisdiction over him? I mean, the United States has no jurisdiction over Hicks and his alleged actions-- completely lost on this panel. Of course, the panelists' response was "you mean he just gets away with it?" But the crimes he is accused of were not war crimes-- he was not even accused of shooting at soldiers-- as if that were a war crime, which it is not. At worst, it was either a domestic offense (like treason) in Afghanistan, or acting as a soldier of a military, in which case, he wouldn't be guilty of a crime at all, but a combatant subject to the Geneva Conventions. Also, of course, the evidence also is illegitimate because of the manner in which it was obtained-- all consisting of statements of detainees made under coercive interrogation or even torture. At the motions argument, we wanted to call witnesses who were experts on international and military law. But the panel didn't want to hear any of them.

Finally, of course, Rumsfeld has controlled the appeals process by stacking it with his own hand-picked cronies. The objections to the process are not just procedural. The government's entire case against everyone is based on interrogations of other detainees. Nothing else.

Even the Star Chamber was mostly made up of actual lawyers and judges. As we get farther and farther away from 9/11 doesn't this stuff seem crazier and crazier? I always thought that we behaved like a dumb wounded giant lashing out indiscriminately, but as time went on I assumed that we would pull ourselves together and begin to behave rationally. But we are not. Guantanamo is a gulag.

One other little bit of the interview I'd like to highlight is this:

Talking Dog:
Do you think that by and large the American people
really care about this issue at all, and why do you think that is?

Joshua Dratel:
They care about some of these issues in the
abstract, but they have no idea how things are being done at Guanatanamo. These are not proven terrorists. There has been no determination of any value at all. You would hope that Americans would care about torturing the innocent. Certainly, there would be concern for OUR personnel in the hands of another nation. I'll tell you that the military people are very concerned. They are concerned about the reciprocal effects of our runnning a process that isn't fair, or capable of making objective determinations, even if no Americans are subject to them. But think about when it's our personnel-- such as when Private Lynch was captured-- how we demanded that she and others be treated per the Geneva Conventions. In the future, how can we make demands like that with a straight face-- or will others pay any heed when we ignore the conventions and flout the rules ourselves?

I don't think people give a damn, or at least most people. The Pew Poll released this week found:

Republicans have succeeded in attracting two types of swing voters who could not be more different," the study reports. "The common threads are a highly favorable opinion of President Bush personally and support for an aggressive military stance against potential enemies of the U.S."

Bush voters are just fine with torture, probably even of other Americans, but particularly of "the enemy." And I doubt that they have any problem with the double standard of saying that you may not torture ours, but we can torture yours. God is on our side, after all, not theirs.

As you know, I'm gifted with from time to time by e-mails from a right winger. Here's what he had to say about torture recently:

On Sunday night "60 Minutes" did its 10th liberal anti-American segment in a row about the war in Iraq. This time it was about how we torture people at Guantanimo (GITMO.) The explosive incident in question, to which there was a direct and credible witness, involved using an American woman to sexually humiliate, in theory, sexually repressed Muslim prisoner.

The fist logical response to this has to be: if it were me or my son I'd thank God loudly and eternally to have such complete wimps as torturers. Second, the American version of torture might even be fun. Indeed, American torture is often, although I'm sure not always, a joke. We saw it in Abu Ghraib. In the same prison where Saddam Hussein would make movies (now for sale world wide) of his guards slowly cutting off the tongues and limbs of fully conscious human beings, or breaking as many bones as possible with a club, again on a fully conscious human being, the Americans would make their prisoners get into a gym class style human pyramid (no mat to cushion their tender knees), and, they would be naked too, as if to really insure that the torture was really really severe. Again, all a rational person can say is: if it were me or my son I'd pray to God to be imprisoned by the very gentle and civilized Americans.

The above, of course seems obvious to a monkey, although it is apparently not so obvious to a liberal. But it does give rise to another important question: why do the liberals devote more time to their delirious idea that is worse to torture someone, American style, than to kill him on the battlefield? After all, we are killing a lot more people in this war than were ever made to wear female underwear at Abu Ghraib? On the battlefield you die, and often very slowly and painfully. If the bullet hits you in the heart you are very lucky. More likely an Iraqi insurgent will be severely wounded by a bullet or explosion that leaves a significant part of his body on the battlefield, and only then will he slowly bleed to death or slowly be infected to death. This is far worse than a gymnastics class, in women's underwear no less, at Abu Ghraib, and yet it gets less attention from the liberal press?

I suppose the liberals prefer to focus on torture because it plays upon a universal subconscious fear of genuine torture that we all share. It is highly manipulative, and fraudulent though, to influence foreign policy in this emotionally deceptive way. Real thinking should prevail, not liberal blather. What remains inexplicable is that liberals largely ignore our real torture. When we pick up a high level al-Qaida official such as al-Libby who almost certainly has information on upcoming attacks on Americans, we obviously torture him, for real, to save lives, but this remains mostly off the liberal radar screen; perhaps because it is obviously necessary and obviously too nasty to talk about? Liberal outrage at the sex play at Abu Ghraib makes the point almost as well while being far more palatable to a broad audience.

He goes on to say that torture becomes problematic because the interrogators can't keep their mouths shut so it lets the enemy know what they will need to withstand (and gives liberal traitors ammunition) thus ruining the whole torture scheme. I don't know how many people there are like this in the country, but you can be pretty sure that all of them who voted, voted for George W. Bush. One expects this kind of talk from wingnuts.

But I also have to suspect that some version of this "tortured" logic was used by those swing voters who were so impressed by Commander Codpiece and his "aggressive military stance." And he knows it:

Q Mr. President, under the law, how would you justify the practice of renditioning, where U.S. agents who brought terror suspects abroad, taking them to a third country for interrogation? And would you stand for it if foreign agents did that to an American here?

THE PRESIDENT: That's a hypothetical, Mark. We operate within the law and we send people to countries where they say they're not going to torture the people.

But let me say something: the United States government has an obligation to protect the American people. It's in our country's interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm's way. And we will do so within the law, and we will do so in honoring our commitment not to torture people. And we expect the countries where we send somebody to, not to torture, as well. But you bet, when we find somebody who might do harm to the American people, we will detain them and ask others from their country of origin to detain them. It makes sense. The American people expect us to do that. We -- we still at war.

One of my -- I've said this before to you, I'm going to say it again, one of my concerns after September the 11th is the farther away we got from September the 11th, the more relaxed we would all become and assume that there wasn't an enemy out there ready to hit us. And I just can't let the American people -- I'm not going to let them down by assuming that the enemy is not going to hit us again. We're going to do everything we can to protect us. And we've got guidelines. We've got law. But you bet, Mark, we're going to find people before they harm us.

In other words, "don't worry your pretty little heads about torture; we do what we need to do." And the security moms swoon.

I'm hoping that when we begin our great Democratic moral crusade against dirty talk on TV (to show empathy to all these parents who vote Republican because we haven't done enough about Britney and Janet's nipples) that we can find a few minutes to also talk about why torture is wrong. I know it isn't as appealing to the religious among us who are so worried about their children being exposed to sex, but it might just save this country's soul, nonetheless.