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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Coolest Robots In The World

I just saw Kraftwerk, the Beatles of electronica, outdoors at the Greek Theatre on a beautiful summer night in LA.

Sometimes life is really sweet.


Monday, June 06, 2005

A Land Called Honalee

Those liberal activist judges are at it again. They really are. A majority, which includes the moderates on the court, just ruled that the federal laws against medical marijuana are constitutional (as opposed to federal laws against guns near schools or violence against women.) If this were a case about, say, a federal law that overrode state laws against gay marriage, I suspect you'd be seeing a slightly different reaction from the wingnuts and probably on the court. The moderates (there are no liberals) upheld federal power over states' rights which is consistent with their position.

Rehnquist, Thomas and O'Connor dissented on the basis of states' rights, which is also consistent with their position. Kennedy swung with the majority --- he has no discernible position. The "surprise" is that Little Nino, who is proving himself to be more and more of a straight-up whore every day, voted with Ginsberg and Stevens and the rest. Not because he agrees with the legal doctrine involved --- nothing in his judicial history would suggest that --- but because he just doesn't want people smoking pot. Or perhaps he just thinks that federal power is ducky when it's in the hands of his friends. Either way, he's intellectually bankrupt.

The court is operating on the same basis that the political system operates. The liberals and moderates in the minority play by the rules thinking that consistency and intellectual integrity are important and that people will hold it against them if they deviate from their stated position.( And, of course, they are right. Even when they haven't actually deviated from their position they are accused of it and called "flip-floppers.") The shrinking number of real conservatives pay lip service to their belief system as long as it won't affect the outcome: they are subject to the same intimidation as the moderates and liberals if they don't. The right wing radicals just power their way through using any means necessary, willingly taking the help of liberals and moderates who perform the function of useful idiots with their fealty to process and institutional integrity in a time of pure power politics. I'm sure they are greatly soothed by the fact that all good children go to heaven.

The good news is that, as Stevens says in the opinion, it preserves the right of federal legislators to change the laws, so that's nice. When we finally get over our reefer madness in this country, which I expect to be in a couple of hundred years or so, maybe the Armageddon Party can join with the Theocrats and make it legal. But of course, it won't be necessary because Pfizer will have found a way to perfectly re-create the effect of marijuana in a pill form and will have made millions selling it by prescription to those who can afford it --- which is, after all, the whole point.


Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Drinking Debate

I hope that everyone is making a habit of checking out Harry Shearer's column over on the Huffington Post because he's got access to some of the most amazing footage you are ever going to see.

Check this out. George and Laura on Larry King talking about "the drinking debate" in South Carolina in 2000. As Shearer points out, the strange, mummified puppet who calls himself Larry King didn't have the wherewithall to follow up. He was too busy pimping himself, as it seems he does constantly, to his guests.

Has anyone heard anything to the effect that everyone was drunk during the famous South Carolina debate between Mccain, Bush and Keyes? Oddly, Karen Hughes didn't mention it in her memoir.

Whose Party Is It Anyway?

Atrios is on fire today. This explication of the Democrats' position and challenges on Iraq is spot on.

He mentions Matt Yglesias' observation that the liberal hawks are unwilling to admit they were wrong because to do so would create a hit to their credibility. This is very interesting. We know that Bush and his cronies believe they will lose credibility if they admit they are wrong about anything and they are probably right. Without their claim to God-like infallibility, I suspect they know that their whole delicate house of cards might collapse. They do not want their base to ever get it in their heads that the emperor has no clothes and they will fight like hell to see that they don't.

However, there are plenty of liberal hawks like Joe Biden, for instance, who also seem to be backed into a corner because they think that they will lose credibility with...who, exactly? Fred Hiatt? Tim Russert? Because they sure as hell won't lose credibility with the base of the Democratic party --- they'd be heroes. See, to us, admitting you were wrong about Iraq means that you gain credibility, not lose it. Indeed, the reality based community tends to believe that it's important to admit when you were wrong. It's all part of that whole godless scientific method, empirical data, age of reason, enlightenment lah-de-dah we hold so dear.

But then it's obvious they have no respect for the base of the Democratic party. Just this morning, both Biden and Edwards dissed Howard Dean big time. While Bill Frist bumps and grinds the pole to James Dobsons' every command three years before the presidential election, our presidential hopeful club is already running to the middle as fast as their chubby little legs will carry them. Or perhaps they are just running toward their nannies, the liberal punditocrisy who get ever so upset at the harsh rhetoric being flung by that rabble rouser, Dean:

Dean ''doesn't speak for me with that kind of rhetoric and I don't think he speaks for the majority of Democrats,'' Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday on ABC's ''This Week.''

While discussing the hardship of working Americans standing in long lines to vote, Dean said Thursday, ''Republicans, I guess, can do that because a lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives.''

Oh mercy me, pass me ovah the smellin' salts, daddy! I'm like to be bowled ovah with a feathah!

Dean's words are actually quite powerful to anyone who isn't a hypocrite, a member of the Sally Quinn circle jerk society or a paid spokesman of the RNC. It's the kind of thing that real people say in real life. It's authentic, Real Murica speak, not Washington pearl clutching bullshit. The presidential race is three long years away and Joe and John both should have laughed and said, "Howard was talking about the Republican leadership and their lobbyist buddies who can't seem to get anything done for the American people --- but they sure do take care of themselves. I think a lot of people probably agree with him on that." Instead they twisted their little lace hankies like a couple of rich old biddies and sniffed and whimpered about how they don't agree with such tawdry sentiment. It's really a wonder we get any votes at all.

Which brings me to Rick Perlstein's guest post on Political Animal the other night. I still haven't received my copy of his new book, and I'll discuss it in much greater depth when I have, but I think that Perlstein's quite correct when he asks:

Here's a riddle: what is a swing voter? More and more, it is an American who thinks like a Democrat but refuses to identify as one.

...If it is true that party identification — which, as Stan Greenberg argues, is a form of social identity that endures over the long term — is the best predictor of voter behavior, isn't getting this selfsame public to identify with the Democratic Party much, much more than half the solution?

There is much more to his prescription, of course, than merely respecting the base. But if party ID is a form of social behavior that endures over the long term, it is a necessary first step. The grassroots of the Democratic Party were the ones who pushed for Howard Dean to become the chairman of the DNC. When you treat him like an unruly child or a slightly crazed relative, you are saying to the voters who have already committed to the party and strongly identify as Democrats that they are a bunch of losers. Why on earth would anyone join a party that does that?

You Gotta Ask Me Nicely, Danny

This pretty much ruined my day. (Goes directly to taser video --- not for the faint hearted.)

This woman was tasered with 50,000 volts by the police for not getting out of her car fast enough at a traffic stop. The officer waited less than 40 seconds before tasing her. Then she is tasered again for not responding properly after she fell out of the car and was writhing on the ground in pain.

I realize that police officers face a lot of danger. And this woman was driving with a suspended license. (They didn't know this when they jolted her, however.) All they knew was that she was talking to someone on the phone and narrating what was happening to her and did not respond immediately to the officer's demand that she get out of the car. She did not appear to pose any physical danger to them, only to their authority.

Evidently, because the officers had been tased in their training they believe that it isn't "that bad." (Someone needs to instuct them about pain threshholds and adrenaline and how it feels to fall from the open door of an SUV onto ashphalt with 50,000 volts coursing through your system and two angry cops pointing loaded guns at you.) Apparently, police credit the taser with preventing shootings, and perhaps they are right. But then so would simply bashing suspects over the head with a baton if they don't cooperate within 30 seconds. Or shooting them. It certainly does make the job easier if you don't have to evaluate the situation or try to talk sense into a young woman who is incooperative but instead can simply stun her into compliance like something out of a science fiction movie.

According to this series of reports by the Palm Beach Post, tasering is commonly used to shut up loudmouths. It's "safe" you see. Doesn't leave any marks and is considered perfectly legal.

The company that makes this convenient, lawful device is under intense scrutiny by authorities for securities violations as well as serious safety concerns:

Since the summer, reports in The Republic and the New York Times have brought to light contradictions about Taser's claims of safety.

For years, Taser maintained that its stun guns never caused a death or serious injury. As proof, Taser officials said no medical examiner had ever cited the weapon in an autopsy report.

But Taser did not have those autopsy reports and didn't start collecting them until April. Using computer searches, autopsy reports, police reports, media reports and Taser's own records, The Republic has identified 88 deaths after police Taser strikes in the United States and Canada since 1999.

Of those, 11 autopsy reports have linked deaths to the stun gun. Medical examiners cited Taser as a cause or contributing factor in eight deaths and could not rule it out as a cause in three others.

The Republic has also reported that several police officers have sustained career-ending injuries that they attribute to being shocked with Taser.

In reports to bolster safety claims, Taser officials have said more than 100,000 police officers have been shocked during training exercises without suffering a serious injury.

In October, Taser issued a press release saying a Department of Defense study, whose full results have not yet been released, found that its guns were safe. But The Times reported that the Air Force researchers who conducted the study actually found that the guns could be dangerous and that more data was needed to evaluate their risks.

Of course, whether or not tasers inflict permanent damage or death is beside the point. They clearly administer terrible pain to people who are officially only suspects or witnesses and it's clear that they are being used to simply make people behave in a docile manner when in the presence of police. It makes the policeman's job easier. But again, so would hitting them over the head.

From yesterday's Palm Beach Post editorial:

The review of three years' use by police from Boca Raton to Fort Pierce, starting in 2001 when the weapon arrived in South Florida, revealed that one of every four suspects zapped was not armed, violent or posing any immediate potential threat to anyone, including themselves. In at least 237 incidents, the stun gun was used to achieve compliance from passively resisting or fleeing suspects — who often were not even arrested.

Police agencies recognize that they have a problem in their widely varying policies for recording and tracking Taser use, which often require no explanation for why officers fired the weapon. The manufacturers' marketing also skates past questions about respiratory, cardiac, neurological, psychological and other effects, including the effect of being zapped multiple times.

There are reasons why it is a bad idea for police to be allowed to inflict pain on people who are uncooperative or disagreeable --- the most important being that this means police are sanctioned to commit violence on the public under color of law in instances where their safety is not at issue. That's one of the hallmarks of a police state not a free society. (And yes, I realize that Saddam pulled the legs off of puppies on Christmas morning and I'm damned lucky not to be living under that kind of hellish nightmare. But every lil' totalitarian has to start somewhere.)

It's not just Gitmo. Sophisticated torture techniques are becoming common policing and interrogation methods in America. I remember watching the excrutiating video of police meticulously applying q-tips dipped in pepper spray to the inside of logging protesters' eyelids when they refused to unchain themselves from one another. It was explained that because they weren't actually blinded or permanently harmed, this was really the humane way to get them to cooperate. The most chilling thing about this was the dry, benign way the police calmly went about methodically pulling the immobile protesters' heads back and then their eyelids, to carefully daub the painful chemicals directly into the eye as they screamed in agony. Don't ever think that the systematic "banality of evil" regime couldn't happen here. The police didn't seem to be enjoying themselves, nor were they bothered. It was just all in day's work.

(It should be noted that police had dealt with this form of protest -- in this case blocking a congressman's office -- many times before and had always simply cut the steel armbands with no ill effect. This was a method to force the protesters to willingly bend to the authorities' will.)

They sued and had two hung juries, the first of which had the judge stepping in after the mistrial with a verdict for the defendants ("no reasonable person could conclude that this was excessive force.") Many appeals followed, including the one that overturned that first judge's unbelievable ruling and removed him from the case for bias. Just last April, they finally won on the third try. (I wonder if Abu Ghraib may have had an influence?)

The common rationale for the torture regime is that policemen must have the right to inflict great pain (if not permanent damage) on the spot, at their discretion, to gain the cooperation of suspects or witnesses because they have a dangerous job. Tasers have made that call a little bit easier because they allegedly cause no lasting damage. I would imagine that many people instinctively think that is not such a big deal. Until they get pulled over by a cop in bad mood who goes from 0 to 60 in 30 seconds and determines for whatever reason that you must be physically subdued. Or maybe he just doesn't like your looks. After all it's "not that bad." No harm no foul. Why if it weren't for the Bill of Rights we wouldn't have to think about it at all.

Expanding the Cult

Kevin at Catch catches Ben Stein deep throating Richard Nixon's corpse again. Aside from peddling the latest Peggy Nooner dolphin fantasy --- that Mark Felt is responsible for genocide because the Mahatma Nixon died for our sins, or something --- he comes up with some especially colorful rhetoric to describe him:

Have you noticed how Mark Felt looks like one of those old Nazi war criminals they find in Bolivia or Paraguay? That same, haunted, hunted look combined with a glee at what he has managed to get away with so far?

He goes on to say how odd it is that Felt would betray the savior of the his people.

If he even knows what shame is, I wonder if he felt a moment's shame as he tortured the man who brought security and salvation to the land of so many of his and my fellow Jews. Somehow, as I look at his demented face, I doubt it.

Click the link at Catch to read some of Isaac Bashevis Nixon's inspiring words about the Jews.

I have once again misunderestimated Republicans. I had thought they had cast all their considerable historical revisionist desires totally into Saint Ronald. As the obsessive object of their fear and love had done with Lenin, I had assumed the Reagan cult would serve as the Republican historical example of perfect leadership and humanity. I was wrong. Being the great winners of ideological struggle apparently entitles them to raise all Republican leaders to the status of gods. In fact, there is no Republican leader on earth, from Joe McCarthy to Richard Nixon, who has not been entirely misunderstood until now. They have all not only been great warriors and leaders of men, they are also, each in their way, Jesus-like in their transcendent love for their fellow man and devotion to peace. All of them. Even the paranoid drunks and crooks.

Perhaps this is something necessarily present in the totalitarian mindset. The movement is infallible and all leaders of the cause must, therefore, be perfect. We've seen this before, of course. Caligula made his horse into a senator (and you know, Bill Frist does have a rather equine visage...) Still, it never fails to amaze me that somewhere along the line the right wing in America came to identify so closely with their left wing nemeses. Perhaps obsessing about communism all those years created a kind of mass Stockholm Syndrome. Whatever the explanation, they become more and more like them every day.


Saturday, June 04, 2005

Shoes Tumbling To The Ground

If any Democratic Senators are looking for a way to shine light on the Downing St Memo(and I'm not holding my breath) this may be the way to do it. And the beauty of it is that they can use that loudmouthed cretin John Bolton to do it:

John R. Bolton flew to Europe in 2002 to confront the head of a global arms-control agency and demand he resign, then orchestrated the firing of the unwilling diplomat in a move a U.N. tribunal has since judged unlawful, according to officials involved.

A former Bolton deputy says the U.S. undersecretary of state felt Jose Bustani "had to go," particularly because the Brazilian was trying to send chemical weapons inspectors to Baghdad. That might have helped defuse the crisis over alleged Iraqi weapons and undermined a U.S. rationale for war.


The Iraq connection to the OPCW affair comes as fresh evidence surfaces that the Bush administration was intent from early on to pursue military and not diplomatic action against Saddam Hussein's regime.

An official British document, disclosed last month, said Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed in April 2002 to join in an eventual U.S. attack on Iraq. Two weeks later, Bustani was ousted, with British help.


After U.N. arms inspectors had withdrawn from Iraq in 1998 in a dispute with the Baghdad government, Bustani stepped up his initiative, seeking to bring Iraq - and other Arab states - into the chemical weapons treaty.

Bustani's inspectors would have found nothing, because Iraq's chemical weapons were destroyed in the early 1990s. That would have undercut the U.S. rationale for war because the Bush administration by early 2002 was claiming, without hard evidence, that Baghdad still had such an arms program.

In a March 2002 "white paper," Bolton's office said Bustani was seeking an "inappropriate role" in Iraq, and the matter should be left to the U.N. Security Council - where Washington has a veto.

Bolton said in a 2003 AP interview that Iraq was "completely irrelevant" to Bustani's responsibilities. Earle and Bohlen disagree. Enlisting new treaty members was part of the OPCW chief's job, they said, although they thought he should have consulted with Washington.

Former Bustani aide Bob Rigg, a New Zealander, sees a clear U.S. motivation: "Why did they not want OPCW involved in Iraq? They felt they couldn't rely on OPCW to come up with the findings the U.S. wanted."

Bustani and his aides believe friction with Washington over OPCW inspections of U.S. chemical-industry sites also contributed to the showdown, which went on for months.

The article discusses at some length what an asshole Bolton was, menacing and inapprorpiate, but then what else is new. What is interesting is that the article connects the dots between Downing St and this explicitly.

This is an AP article. Unfortunately, it is also on the wires on Saturday where it is most likely to be overlooked. Unless we refuse to let it.

The media needs a hook to start talking about Downing St. I think Bolton's toast, but if the nomination goes forward I would certainly hope that the Democrats would use this as an opening to start talking about it. If Bolton ends up withdrawing because of this (and he might) then the media also has an excuse to talk about it.

I wonder if Monsignor Russert will see fit to discuss this between Hail Mary's on Press the Meat tomorrow morning?

Hat tip to samela


Friday, June 03, 2005

What's Good For The Goose Is Only Good For The Goose

It is interesting that the ACLU got a ruling requiring that all the Abu Ghraib pictures be released to the public. What is really interesting is that the government argued that releasing them would be contrary to the Geneva Conventions. (Via Talk Left)

"It is indeed ironic that the government invoked the Geneva Conventions as a basis for withholding these photographs," said Amrit Singh, a staff attorney at the ACLU. "Had the government genuinely adhered to its obligations under these Conventions, it could have prevented the widespread abuse of detainees held in its custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay."

It's nearly impossible to be as obtuse as is the Bush administration without having either some sort of cognitive problem or psychological impairment. I suspect it's the latter.

This recent phony outrage about Amnesty International is another example of this pathology. They had no problem using Amnesty to buttress their case against Saddam, but balk at being called to task for our own very obvious and well known human rights abuses in Guantanamo. Of course, there is little mention of this (except by Jon Stewart) so it doesn't matter. Patriotic correctness requires that any criticism of the United States be immediately struck down as treasonous, if not blasphemous.

If anybody still wants to know why they hate us, this would be a good place to start.

Who Cares What We Think?

Matt Yglesias, blogging from his fancy new digs at the TPM Cafe, says today:

At today's Take Back America conference I saw some interesting polling data from Diane Feldman on a subject I'd pondered now and again. Unfortunately, the written summary of the presentation doesn't contain the exact numbers and I didn't write them down because I assumed this question would be included in the summary. The point, however, was that when you ask if America is "the greatest country in the world" most voters say that it is. When you ask if Democrats believe that America is the greatest country, most voters say that they do not.

I think it's clear that this perception creates some electoral problems. Indeed, it's a particularly serious kind of electoral problem because my guess is that the perception is probably correct.

It seems to me that if you are a member of the "reality based" community, as so many of us liberals claim to be, that you can't answer such a question without qualifiers. This means that we are unable to respond in appropriate knee jerk fashion and are therefore assumed to be unpatriotic. The question is simple minded and it demands a simple minded answer and that's a problem for us. Perhaps we should just lie, like everyone already does about going to church or whether they are faithful or all the other things Americans are forced to lie about in our right wing PC times.

Patriotism is defined in the dictionary quite simply as "love of one's country and a willingness to sacrifice for it." That is not the same thing as believing that your country is the greatest country in the world. I love many things in life that aren't "the greatest" and I don't see the conflict. One doesn't have to abandon all intellectual integrity to love something, imperfect and not-so-great as it may be. America is certainly the most powerful country in the world. One would think that people could be satisfied enough with that, but apparently not.

What does it mean to be the "greatest country in the world, or as I've heard it put, "the greatest country the world has ever known" anyway? Is it measured by how fair and just our system of government is or standard of living or military prowess, or what? Is it, as George W. Bush pushes incessantly, because its people are "good?" Or is it that by all measures of all things it is simply the best?

I raise this because I suspect that what people really want from liberals is not patriotism, but chauvinism, one important facet of which is characterized in this context by the belief that your national culture and interests are superior to any other. (Our vaunted "exceptionalism" is not made up of a whole lot more than that simple definition.) And, yes, some liberals do not sign on to that, for good reason. Because it's bullshit. And America, the home of mutts from all over the world, the give-me-your-tired-your-poor immigrant nation, should be more aware of the shallowness and idiocy of this than any other country in the world. It's not as if we are Germans trying to preserve the fairy tale of a thousand year Reich. It's one of the good things about not being European, with all that baggage --- or would be if we thought about it for half a minute.

Simple observation of the world shows that all nations are made up of human beings, which automatically taints the project. America and Iraq and China and everywhere else are comprised of this very flawed species. If you live long enough you see that, as much as our fearless leader likes to claim otherwise, Americans are not "better" and therefore our country is not "better." Only individual people can be judged better or worse and it is without regard to nationality, culture or religious belief.

Our democratic experiment has been a worldwide inspiration and our Bill of Rights is one of the most important contributions any nation has made to mankind. This country has welcomed immigrants (in fits and starts) from all over the world and created a wealthy, successful nation because of it. I would easily sacrifice for the country, it's my home. I love it the way anyone loves their home, with a deep and emotional connection that transcends intellectual thought. But I don't need to suspend my judgement or my faculties and further say that this country is the greatest country on earth. There is no such thing as the greatest country on earth.

Matt feels that this presents an electoral problem. I would agree if people like me were expressing these views in a political campaign. (Just call me Ward Churchill, I guess.) However, the perception that Matt talks about isn't fueled by some quasi intellectual argument about chauvinism. It's fueled by Rush Limbaugh and his band of flaming gasbags who have spent the last fifteen years saying that liberals hate America day after day.

John Kerry volunteered for Vietnam, fought bravely, and came home and devoted himself to ending what he saw as an unjust war. Meanwhile his rival George Bush spent the war drinking beer and fucking off. Yet Kerry was made out to be a coward and Bush a hero. I suspect that my candidate, Wes Clark, would have been similarly reduced to sissy status despite the fact he was a four star general. Proof of love and devotion to country is not particularly relevant --- just as what liberals really think about America is not particularly relevant.

Our political problems stem from some very deep and ongoing cultural anxieties that we need to think about and confront. What we can't do anything about is the idea that liberals tend to be more --- dare I say it --- nuanced than conservatives. It is a characteristic not a policy. We're stuck with that and we're just going to have to find a way to make it work for us.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

Common Sense

Dear FEC,

I write to you today to request your kind advisory as to whether this pamphlet defines me as an ACTIVIST or a JOURNALIST. Whilst I am loathe to corrupt our pristine electoral system with my calls to political action, neither would I wish to cause our sanctioned press any undue hardship due to its perceived affiliation with rabble like myself. I do understand that "citizen journalists" not being PROPERLY CREDENTIALED creates terrible confusion amongst the leaders of government and society. I humbly request, therefore, that you peruse my pamphlet with an eye toward giving me the designation I shall need going forward if I wish to publish and disseminate my words without government interference. I anxiously await your verdict.


Thomas Paine

For The Record

Yesterday I mentioned the fact that that FoxNews had the incredible chutzpah to discuss openly why nobody is reporting the Downing Street Memo --- without actually reporting on the Downing St memo. It turns out that there is a movement afoot to gain some attention for this thing and I think it's worth doing, if only for history's sake if nothing else. There should be a record of some Americans' interest in such a damning document that proves the president of the United States knowingly took the country to war on false pretenses. It may come in handy someday.

Shakespeare's Sister informs me that theBig Brass Alliance is a collection of bloggers who are supporting a group called After Downing Street that is dedicated to gaining exposure for this issue. One positive thing that anyone can do is sign (along with 88 members of congress) this letter that John Conyers has written to the president requesting some answers to the obvious questions this document raises.

This isn't some pie-in-the-sky lefty kumbaya petition (not that there's anything wrong with that.) This memo is smoking gun proof that Bush lied us into war. Many of us knew this from the get. But, I think it's probably true that most others already know this on some level as well --- a fair number are glad he did, a few more don't care, and the rest just don't want to confront their own bloodlust or willfull blindness. It's hard to admit you were wrong about something so deadly.

The rest of us need to keep a clear head and insist that this not be swept under the rug to the extent that we can. We have to keep the idea that there will be some sort of rational accountability for such acts alive in this culture or we are goners.

Losing Their Religion

Regarding right wing Christians putting their embryos up for adoption and insisting they not be adopted by gays or non-Christians (preferably not a working woman either) AMERICAblog wonders how this Bush promoted religious discrimination can get past the editors of the NY Times unaddressed.

I'll tell you how:

Though we have our lapses, (pdf) individual news stories on emotional topics like abortion, gun control, the death penalty and gay marriage are reported and edited with great care, to avoid any impression of bias. Nonetheless, when numerous articles use the same assumption as a point of departure, that monotone can leave the false impression that the paper has chosen sides. This is especially so when we add in our feature sections, whose mission it is to write about novelty in life. As a result, despite the strict divide between editorial pages and news pages, The Times can come across as an advocate.

The public editor found that the overall tone of our coverage of gay marriage, as one example, “approaches cheerleading.” By consistently framing the issue as a civil rights matter -- gays fighting for the right to be treated like everyone else -- we failed to convey how disturbing the issue is in many corners of American social, cultural and religious life.


Too often we label whole groups from a perspective that uncritically accepts a stereotype or unfairly marginalizes them. As one reporter put it, words like moderate or centrist “inevitably incorporate a judgment about which views are sensible and which are extreme.” We often apply “religious fundamentalists,” another loaded term, to political activists who would describe themselves as Christian conservatives. ...

The editors didn't fail. They succeeded. They "re-framed" the issue of religious discrimination and gay rights. They are simply being "sensitive" and "conveying how disturbing the issue us in many corners of American social, cultural and religious life" when they uncritically report on a White House endorsed publicly funded group that enables Christian bigots to discriminate even though it's clearly against the law.

I think it's time we called out the PC police on the wingnuts. Nobody likes political correctness, not even liberals, really. And our day is long past. This is the new province of the right and they have finally hammered the press into thinking that discrimination and bigotry are really just normal expressions of religious belief and must be treated with kid gloves. I call bullshit every time one of these timorous cowards clutch their tiny lace hankies and blubber something about how they are being sensitive to the beliefs of bigoted assholes.

Just in case James Dobson and his new friends, the intellectuals at the NY Times, have forgotten their eighth grade American history class, Confederates used the Bible to justify slavery, too. Bin Laden uses the Koran to justify terrorism. Just because they wrap themselves in the Holy Books doesn't mean these theo-fascists they aren't breaking the laws of both God and Man.

For a more in depth analysis of the NY Times "credibility" report, see Reading A1

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Buy This Book

The Stock Ticker and the Superjumbo : How the Democrats Can Once Again Become America's Dominant Political Party

I have ordered it and await it eagerly. Rick Perlstein is one of the clearest observers of American politics around and one of the very few historians who really understands how the right wing works.

It's only 8 bucks and I guarantee that it will be worth reading even if you don't agree with his conclusions:

A majority of Americans tell pollsters they want more government intervention to reduce the gap between high- and lower-income citizens, and less than one-third consider high taxes to be a problem. Yet conservative Republicanism currently controls the political discourse. Why?

Rick Perlstein probes this central paradox of today's political scene in his penetrating pamphlet. Perlstein explains how the Democrats' obsessive short-term focus on winning "swing voters," instead of cultivating loyal party-liners, has relegated Democrats to political stagnation. Perlstein offers a vigorous critique and far-reaching vision that is a thirty-year plan for Democratic victory.

If you are very good, I may even be able to persuade the author to do a little blogospheric interview if he's so inclined. It's long past time that liberals supported their writers and thinkers the way the wingnuts support theirs.


Speaking of books, are any of you libertarians out there a little bit discomfited by the fact that "On Liberty" by JS Mill got an honorable mention in the 10 worst books list by HumanEvents magazine? I mean, "Mein Kampf" and "Das Kapital" aren't big surprises. I'm not shocked by "The Feminine Mystique" or even the inclusion of John Maynard Keynes (although you have to love this commentary: "FDR adopted the idea as U.S. policy, and the U.S. government now has a $2.6-trillion annual budget and an $8-trillion dollar debt." Haha.)

But "On Liberty"? What, he wasn't sufficiently agitated about stem cell research? The capital gains tax?

Jesus, I now have not one single intellectual connection to the right. Not one. They are aliens from another planet.

The Party Of Krugman

Somebody asked me what my favorite columnist was the other day and I said that I thought most liberal bloggers like Krugman because he writes the way we write --- he doesn't suffer fools and he writes with all the righteous indignation he feels at what he sees. And, I suspect that this is why establishment journos like Daniel Okrent don't like him. He just refuses to play the game by establishment rules.

This post by Brad DeLong exposes the entire silly social aspect of this and gives us a window into why liberals are being marginalized in the mainstream media. We are supposed to be nice. The other side is expected to be tough and uncompromising. Krugman is a fighter and he never gives ground when he thinks he's right. That's unbecoming in a liberal because it means that you have to engage in the facts and have a real argument instead of just hurling insults or bumper stickers as you can when dealing with right wing critics.

Daniel Okrent finds his behavior unseemly and annoying:

For a man who makes his living offering strong opinions, Paul Krugman seems peculiarly reluctant to grant the same privilege to others. And for a man who leads with his chin twice a week, he acts awfully surprised when someone takes a pop at it


On Prof. Krugman's defense of his unfamiliarity with it, he's effectively saying, "If I didn't know about it, it must not be important." This is a polemicist's dodge; no self-respecting journalist would ever make such an argument.


Believe me -- I could go on, as could a number of readers more sophisticated about economic matters than I am. (Among these are several who, like me, generally align themselves politically with Prof. Krugman, but feel he does himself and his cause no good when he heeds the roaring approval of his acolytes and dismisses his critics as ideologically motivated.) But I don't want to engage in an extended debate any more than Prof. Krugman says he does. If he replies to this statement, as I imagine he will, I'll let him have what he always insists on keeping for himself: the last word.

I hate to do this to a decent man like my successor, Barney Calame, but I'm hereby turning the Krugman beat over to him.

Oh Boo hoo hoo. God forbid a liberal should accuse one's critics of being ideologically motivated. You would think that the ombudsman of the NY Times would have a slightly bigger bone to pick with the right wing which has been calling them ideologically motivated for 40 fucking years. But then, that would require they acknowledge reality and that is what cannot happen.

Paul Krugman is an in-your-face, unapologetic member of the reality based community. He calls it as he sees it and he doesn't mince words in doing so. As he amply demonstrated in his response to Okrent's shallow criticisms (which, even if true, would hardly back-up his calumnous accusations in his last piece) Krugman does not particularly enjoy being told he is wrong on the facts when he isn't. World class economists may be used to being called to task for their conclusions or their predictions, but saying that he is cooking the numbers for partisan reasons are fighting words. His reputation rests on his intellectual integrity. Of course he is going to fight when challenged by lame conventional wisdom and spoonfed propaganda. If only more liberal pundits had his guts we might not be where we are today.

Paul Krugman is tough and fearless and we need more like him -- people who are not part of the cliquish Sally Quinn social scene (it about made me puke to read that unctuous little screed again) and who do not depend upon the approbation of aging social mavens for their self esteem.

Tell me that the party of Krugman is a bunch of soft cowards who can't fight terrorism or run a disciplined economic agenda. Tell me the party of Krugman doesn't know what it believes in. The party of Krugman believes in reality, that the emperor has no clothes, that up is up and down is down. And it isn't afraid to tell snivelling little babies like Daniel Okrent to stick it where the sun don't shine. The party of Krugman doesn't lay down and take it. It fights.

Update! Somerby takes Okrent, skewers him quickly and then slowly roasts him over a very high flame. It is awesome. Okrent, the Manhattan fop.
No Mirrors Available

This is too much. Shakespeare's Sister spots a FoxNews headline that says: Downing Street Memo Mostly Ignored in US.

Can you believe it? And then Fox goes on to wonder why that might be. They simply can't figure it out. They interview people and ponder the question and go to great lengths to explain why it isn't being reported. I don't see that they interview Roger Ailes or John Moody, however. Perhaps they were too busy.

They even point out that the left has been trying in vain to get attention for the issue:

Several popular left-leaning blogs have taken up the cause to keep the story alive, encouraging readers to contact media outlets. A Web site, DowningStreetMemo.com, tells readers to contact the White House directly with complaints.

"This is a test of the left-wing blogosphere," said Jim Pinkerton, syndicated columnist and regular contributor to FOX News Watch, who pointed out that The Sunday Times article came out just before the British election and apparently had little effect on voters' decisions.

"In many ways that memo might prove all of the arguments the critics of the war have made," he added. "But the bulk of Americans don't agree, or don't seem that alarmed, so it is a power test to see if they can drive it back on the agenda."

I guess the fact that most people don't know is irelevant. Certainly, it can't be because FoxNews itself isn't reporting it. Except, of course, to report that nobody cares.

Even though Pinkerton is trying to turn this into a test of the liberal blogosphere for gawd knows what reason, it is an important story that we should continue to press. Sometimes these things take time.

Check out DowningStreetMemo.com. They'll tell you where to send your angry lefty e-mail.

Your Lovin' Don't Pay My Bills

John Aravosis wonders if liberals have "issues" with money --- he sees a hostility toward money on the left and wonders where it comes from. His readers offer some very interesting opinions on the matter, so be sure to read the comment thread if you find this topic intriguing.

I have a slightly different perception on the matter than most, it seems. I admit to having issues with it, probably because I always valued time over money. (Of course, as you get older you begin to realize that you run out of that too.) However, I don't harbor resentment toward others. I made my choices and I don't live a life full of regret about much of anything. I have no moral qualms about making money (in a decent way) and I don't think that it's my business to judge others on what they choose to spend it on. I appreciate what it can do to make life comfortable for the individual and how it motivates people to work. I certainly accept that there is something intrinsic to human nature in the acquisition of wealth and the desire to succeed. But I do have issues, nonetheless.

John's readers more than adequately explain what I think is the common liberal argument against money and it's the general belief in egalitarianism --- that it is not really moral to have too much when others have so little. These are ideas that, ironically enough, stem from Christian teaching. So much for the godless heathens of the left.

I don't approach this from a moral standpoint, although I'm sympathetic to the notion just from a human empathetic standpoint. If you've ever spent much time in the third world, you realize right quick that human life is valued very differently on our planet and it won't make you feel particularly terrific about your own (except, of course, for the South Park Republicans who apparently can't think beyond their good luck --- what they would call their natural superiority --- at being American.)

It has been my experience that money confers power over others and that is where I personally get uncomfortable. This is not directly related to marxist theory, although I would suspect that there isn't a lefty (or a righty for that matter) who hasn't been influenced to some degree by it, so it's certainly relevant to my thinking on the issue. (He diagnosed the illness, it was his prescription that wasn't so hot.) Mostly,though, I think it's a matter of human psychology. People who work for wages, particularly those lower on the scale, are simply not in control of their lives in the same way as are those who work for themselves or those who are independently wealthy. From being treated like a lackey by the boss to having to answer to your mother-in-law because she loaned you money for the down payment, there is a slight, and sometimes not so slight, corruption of your freedom every time you are dependent upon another individual's goodwill. And it is a rare person who will not immediately exercise this power over others if they feel threatened or angry and a rare person who will not feel the metaphorical lash at having to answer for it.

As much as I am concerned as they are with individual freedom, this is why I find it so hard to relate to libertarians; I think that the common experience of working for wages and being beholden to another individual is more of a tangible infringement upon personal liberty than the extraction of taxes for the greater good. The infringement on personal freedom that is most immediate and constant in most people's lives is having to brownnose another human being or play fast and loose with the rules because their financial survival depends upon it. It's why I support unions and workplace rules and consumer rights. In the everyday lives of most people, the biggest limits on their freedom and challenges to their integrity come not from government regulators but greedy and powerful employers.

And yet, it is the way of the world and we each have to find a way to live with a modicum of decency and integrity within it. And I think it is a much more complicated and difficult row to hoe than we Americans think it is. It is not as easy to obtain financial freedom as some would have it nor is financial success a perfect illustration of an individual's merit. That's why I don't much like money, in a general conceptual way. It has corrupted friendships, family, jobs and relationships in ways that nothing else in my life ever has. It can and is used as a weapon as often as a tool. In a hyper capitalist society such as ours, it's perhaps the single most powerful method the individual has (or doesn't have) to create his or her own destiny. It's both a blessing and a curse.

It's a good thing to think about how you really feel about it --- most Americans never question their assumptions. In many ways, it's probably easier that way. Bravo to John for bringing it up.

And by the way, I hope this makes it clear that I do not hold with the idea that because a blogger accepted donations that he or she is required to answer to the donors. Indeed, I think the opposite. People give money because they appreciate the work. When they don't appreciate the work they don't give money. It's one of the cleanest exchanges of goods and services around, fully voluntary and without further obligation on either part.

This reminds me of a relative who wanted to help out her grandfather in his later years. He was living with an aunt who also had little money. This relative agreed to send a hundred dollars a month. When she went to visit she found out that granddad was drinking a couple of beers every night and the aunt played bingo on Saturdays. The relative considered these expenses to be a waste. She figured her hundred a month entitled her to straighten up these people's bad habits and she insisted that because she had sent them, by this time, more than a couple thousand dollars that they already owed her quite a lot, even if she withdrew her monthly stipend. They gave up the beer and the bingo but the relative continued to find their spending habits objectionable and made sure that they knew it and did as they were told. Granddad was reduced to sneaking around and the aunt was isolated from all the friends she used to see at weekly bingo. They felt like children. Luckily they both died before long and ended the ritual humiliation the whole thing had evolved into. The money was not worth it.

If Aravosis wanted to blow all his donations on lottery tickets they'd be his to blow. If that bothers you, don't donate again. But making a donation doesn't entitle anyone to think they own John or his blog. He owns himself, always.

Maybe He Won't Be Back

Check out this fascinating pictorial deconstruction of Schwarzeneger's ad on BagNewsNotes today. (Or just click the ad at left.) For those of you who don't live in California, this ad is just pathetic, and it's chock full of product placement. I don't think I've ever seen this many brand names in a political commercial before.

But, as BNN points out, it's also aesthetically just a terrible ad --- even by political ad standards which aren't very high. It's not that it has some sort of cinema verite authenticity in its badness. It's just ugly and ineffectual.

This is the mega star of the 1980's we're talking about here. The man whose entire claim to fame is his celebrity. Yet his people produce an ad that could have been done by someone(with lots of high placed friends in the food and beverage business) running for the San Bernardino school board. And it comes on the heels of months of very effective ads done by the public employees unions featuring the the sunny smiles of elementary schoolteachers and nurses and the rugged all American features of heroic firefighters. (Jon Stewart said "those are some MILFS.")

I think that people expect Schwarzenneger's ads to be professional show business quality. That is, after all, the only thing he's got going for him. Nobody voted for Arnold because of his great ideas or policy prescriptions. He didn't have any then and he doesn't have any now. They did expect him to at least play the part of the Governor well on TV. But then again, he never was the actor Ronald Reagan was in the movies, either. And that's saying something.

The Incredible Shrinking President

Funny how we haven't seen any of the weekly news magazines do a cover story on the fact that Bush is the earliest lame duck in history. Considering that they were writing Bill Clinton's epitaph within three months of his first term, one might conclude that they are using a different standard. How unusual.

But then again, it isn't his fault and it isn't his job. Unlike Clinton he doesn't have a congressional majority of his own party to lead. Oh wait...

Bush Rejects Talk of Waning Influence:

President Bush dismissed yesterday suggestions that his influence is waning less than six months into his second term, blaming partisanship and timidity in Congress for the lack of action on his plans to bring change to the United Nations, restructure Social Security and enact a new energy policy this year.

"I don't worry about anything here in Washington, D.C.," Bush said during a news conference in the White House's Rose Garden. "I feel comfortable in my role as the president, and my role . . . is to push for reform." With Democrats and Republicans alike questioning the clout of a president whose approval ratings have sunk to new lows, Bush said it is Congress that must prove it is "capable of getting anything done."

His job is to "push for reform?" I thought he was keeping the babies safe and fending off drone planes with his bare hands. What's going on here? The man with the codpiece can't get a Republican congress to enact his agenda? Man, those panting security moms must be disappointed. The difference between the 85% Collossus of 2002 and the petulant powerlessness of today is stark.

And he clearly didn't like the way people were talking about his soul brother Vladimir:

Speaking a few hours after former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sentenced to nine years in prison after a trial that many democratic activists called politically motivated, Bush said he has expressed concerns about the legal proceedings to President Vladimir Putin and will watch the appeals process closely. "Here, you are innocent until proven guilty, and it appeared to us, at least people in my administration, that it looked like he had been judged guilty prior to having a fair trial," Bush said.

I guess he wanted to preserve his personal deniability for when he and Vlady next meet over beers and pork rinds at the ranch set. Or he just didn't see the problem. After all, this is the man who said several thousand times that Saddam had to be disarmed and then pulled out the weapons inspectors when they didn't find the proof. Seems to me that he has an affinity for the concept of judging guilty before having a fair trial.

And, of course he and everyone in the press corpse are too thick to see the utter vacuity of his statement in light of what he said just a few minutes before about alleged human rights abuses Guantanamo:

"It seemed to me they based some of their decisions on the word of -- and the allegations -- by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble -- that means not tell the truth,' Bush said."

Yes, he actually said "disassemble" --- and then had the nerve to be snotty about it and define it. There is no end to the man's arrogance and ignorance.

Bush apparently has no idea that when he starts lecturing Moscow or Beijing about "fair trials" everyone now collapses in convulsive laughter. Guantanamo has changed forever the idea that Americans have a fair and impartial judicial system based upon the rule of law and the constitution. Bush and his cronies have shown that we are more than capable of suspending those things at will. If we ever had any moral authority, it has been officially flushed down the toilet.

Not that it really matters to these people. They don't believe that it's important to have moral authority. They only believe that it's important to have big guns and a willingness to use them. Unfortunately, we don't seem to be all that good at the Empire building thing. Maybe keeping our moral authority backed by the threat of force rather than a clumsy and useless demonstration of our ineptitude might have been a better way to go.

This is going to be a long 3 and a half years. But I'm beginning to think I may enjoy them more than Junior will.


Tuesday, May 31, 2005

New Ideas

This is good.
Some in the administration are apparently questioning whether waging a "Global War on Terror" is an effective way to deal with the threat of islamic fundamentalism. Wow. Next thing you know they'll be wondering whether taxes and expenditures ought to be in balance or something. Weird.

The review marks the first ambitious effort since the immediate aftermath of the 2001 attacks to take stock of what the administration has called the "global war on terrorism" -- or GWOT -- but is now considering changing to recognize the evolution of its fight. "What we really want now is a strategic approach to defeat violent extremism," said a senior administration official who described the review on the condition of anonymity because it is not finished. "GWOT is catchy, but there may be a better way to describe it, and those are things that ought to be incumbent on us to look at."

Yeah. "GWOT" is a catchy phrase that's been sweeping the nation like wildfire.

So they've decided that what we really need is a strategic approach to defeat violent extremism. Hmmm. I have an idea. How about we invade and occupy a non terrorist country in the middle of the region, create political chaos and foment a civil war? Surely that can only be seen as a gesture of goodwill on our part. But just in case we should probably say that the country has nukes strapped to drone planes that are ready to attack the eastern seaboard at any moment. (Nobody will remember any of that in a year anyway.)

Well, maybe that's not such a hot idea after all.

Much of the discussion has focused on how to deal with the rise of a new generation of terrorists, schooled in Iraq over the past couple years. Top government officials are increasingly turning their attention to anticipate what one called "the bleed out" of hundreds or thousands of Iraq-trained jihadists back to their home countries throughout the Middle East and Western Europe. "It's a new piece of a new equation," a former senior Bush administration official said. "If you don't know who they are in Iraq, how are you going to locate them in Istanbul or London?"

Interesting. Who would have ever dreamed this could happen? Oh, that's right. Those of us who were against the invasion. In fact, it was the central practical argument that I and most others I know set forth at the time. It was always obvious that invading Iraq was going to foment terrorism, not quell it. Anybody with a sixth grade education could see that. Well, except for some Republicans who went to Andover, Yale and Harvard, that is.

I really can't believe it. After they just ran a ruthless, mendacious, presidential campaign of character assasination against anyone who diverted even a half step from their party line, here they are, basically admitting that their entire GWOT is a fucking goddamned mistake.

The good news though is that just as they were before 9/11, the administration is focused like a laser beam on combatting terrorism:

The review may have been slowed somewhat by the fact that many of the key counterterrorism jobs in the administration have been empty for months, including the top post at the State Department for combating terrorism, vacant since November, and the directorship of the new National Counterterrorism Center. "We're five months into the next term, and still a number of spots have yet to be filled," Cressey said. "You end up losing valuable time."

The counterterrorism center was created nearly a year ago by Bush to serve as the main clearinghouse for terrorism-related intelligence but is not yet fully operational, and has been run by an acting director and caught up in the broader wave of bureaucratic reorganization that resulted in the creation of the new directorate of national intelligence, whose fiefdom the center will join.

As part of the reorganization, a new office of strategic and operational planning is slated to become the focal point for operations aimed at terrorists, but that, too, has yet to start working fully, the senior counterterrorism official said.

Townsend just hired a deputy last week, Treasury official Juan Carlos Zarate, to take on the terrorism portfolio at the NSC; Townsend had been doing that as well as serving as the president's top homeland security aide for the past year. Several counterterrorism sources said the State job will soon be filled by CIA veteran Hank Crumpton and the counterterrorism center post is slated to go to Air Force Gen. Charles F. Wald, current deputy commander of U.S. forces in Europe.

"They recognize there's been a vacuum of leadership," said a former top counterterrorism official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "There has been a dearth of senior leadership directing this day to day. No one knows who's running this on a day-to-day basis."

Well, that's good. We're creating terrorists by the thousands day after day but the administration can't get it together enough to hire the people it needs to fill the anti-terrorist positions. The president himself is awfully busy, as we know, tilting at his private windmill accounts and riding his trike in the woods. Cheney is undoubtedly putting all his efforts into figuring out how to justify the use of tactical nuclear weapons on California. Who has time to deal with this terrorism thing? It's so 2002.

Ooops, I forgot one very important member of the administration who is working night and day on this problem. Karen Hughes has the vital responsibility of changing the negative perception of Americans in the middle east, which is key to their new strategy of combatting violent extremism. I hear her latest campaign is about to be revealed: she's going to tell those terrorists and jihadists that the US is a compassionate crusader --- an occupier with optimism --- an inspirational imperialist with integrity! Once those terrorists hear the mellifluous melody of her awesome alliteration, just like the Red States they will all fall in love.

Update: James Wolcott tells us that Michael Ledeen is just hopping mad about all this "re-evaluation" business. You can certainly understand why. He's the guy who seriously made the case to invade France and Germany just two years ago. This has to be a blow.

Twice in the past, the president slid into a similar funk, first permitting himself to be gulled by the Saudis into believing he had to make a deal with Arafat before he was entitled to liberate Iraq, then permitting the British to drag out the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom with endless votes in the Security Council. Each time he realized his error, and pressed on with greater vigor. It’s time for him to do that again."

The 101st Keyboarders need to saddle up their Aaron chairs and cock their control buttons. This is bigger even than the GWOT. It's a fight for the Codpiece and that's a battle only they know how to fight with the relish and expertise that's called for. They may have lost their beloved leader General Sullivan, but they will valiantly carry on without him. These brave souls will never give in, never give in, never give in.

Spent Capital

I'm Baaaack. Sorry for the interruption in service folks. I've been indisposed, but now I'm right as rain and ready to rumble. Or thunder. Or something...

And what do I see first thing? Bush's Political Capital Spent, Voices in Both Parties Suggest. Sweet.

Two days after winning reelection last fall, President Bush declared that he had earned plenty of "political capital, and now I intend to spend it." Six months later, according to Republicans and Democrats alike, his bank account has been significantly drained.

In the past week alone, the Republican-led House defied his veto threat and passed legislation promoting stem cell research; Senate Democrats blocked confirmation, at least temporarily, of his choice for U.N. ambassador; and a rump group of GOP senators abandoned the president in his battle to win floor votes for all of his judicial nominees.

With his approval ratings in public opinion polls at the lowest level of his presidency, Bush has been stymied so far in his campaign to restructure Social Security. On the international front, violence has surged again in Iraq in recent weeks, dispelling much of the optimism generated by the purple-stained-finger elections back in January, while allies such as Egypt and Uzbekistan have complicated his campaign to spread democracy.

The series of setbacks on the domestic front could signal that the president has weakened leverage over his party, a situation that could embolden the opposition, according to analysts and politicians from both sides. Bush faces the potential of a summer of discontent when his capacity to muscle political Washington into following his lead seems to have diminished and few easy victories appear on the horizon.

Well, yes. But it's because he never had any political capital to begin with. This was a big lie, just like the alleged mandate. He had neither. There was just enough of a fading vestige of 9/11 around (and enough of the media's unctuous sycophancy) to keep a little of that hi-pro glow on the Prez. But he never had a mandate for any of his policies. These guys rode a wave, they didn't win a landslide.

At some point hype, like helium, dissipates and you are left with nothing but the flaccid balloon. Junior and Rove are not geniuses or political wizards who have reshaped politics in their image. They are the guys who got in on a hummer in 2000 and were in office on 9/11. Period. The only truly impressive legislative victory has been passing massive tax cuts for rich people, which is hardly a difficult thing to ask politicians to do when you also break open the pork barrel and let them gorge on all the pig they can possibly stomach. That's quite an achievement.

The fact is that Junior has been a lame duck since January 21, 2005. And I believe he's happy with that. All he ever cared about was getting legitimately elected and doing what his father did not --- win a second term. He doesn't give a damn about legacy. As he famously said, "History, we don’t know. We’ll all be dead."

He's just going through the motions, like a high school senior who's already been accepted to college. The Republican caucus is under new leadership --- the GOP PepBoys Dobson, Frist and DeLay. I'm beginning to look forward to 2006.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Give 'Em An Inch

TBOGG points to this statement by Dr. "Whip It Good" himself:

The rules that blocked conservative nominees remain in effect, and nothing of significance has changed. Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Antonin Scalia, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist would never have served on the U. S. Supreme Court if this agreement had been in place during their confirmations. The unconstitutional filibuster survives in the arsenal of Senate liberals.

I assume he isn't a complete idiot and is just playing to guys like the one who wrote that mess below. Surely he can't be this stupid. Does he not know that Rehnquist and Thomas were confirmed under Democratic majorities and Scalia with a 98-0 vote?

Democrats confirmed his three ultra-conservative heroes and these are all the thanks we get. Clearly it's time we stopped doing that. This thing doesn't exactly go both ways.

The last ultra-liberal on the court was confirmed in 19-fucking-39, for crying out loud --- William O. Douglas. The only liberals of the last fifty years have been Brennan, Warren, Blackmun, Marshall, Fortas, and Goldberg. The last of them, Blackmun, retired in 1994.

There are no actual liberals on the court today, ultra or otherwise. Stevens, Ginsberg, Souter and Breyer are moderate place holders under a conservative majority. They are only liberals by comparison to the ultra-conservative triumverate and the conservative twins.

Dobson seems to think that we tried to filibuster his three fave justices, when in fact, we made the terrible mistake of trusting Republicans to be fair, tell the truth and keep their word. A mistake we have, sadly, probably just made again. Not that any of our choices are very good. We really needed to win that last election.

You're Going To Love This One

From my right wing e-mailer:


Firstly, we might thank the South Koreans for stem cells since they seem to be leading the way. If a loved one is saved from a slow horrible death by stem cells you might also thank conservatives since they saw fit to invade South Korea and save it from the Liberal Communists. Instead of starving to death under big government, the freedom loving South Koreans are now inventing stem cells to save your life. Oh how it must kill the cowardly liberals to see it.

As for the slippery slope objections raised regarding stem cells, one has to wonder, since every slope is slippery and everything is on a slippery slope. We have a well respected Constitution that has kept everything nicely balanced on the slippery slope for 200 years. We have a huge military, 1000's of local police forces as well as about 22 Federal police forces, The Social Security Administration, an ever growing Federal Budget, the Supreme Court, labor unions, Congress, a one man Executive Branch who can take us to war with the phony Gulf of Tonkin Resolution or a phony search for weapons of mass destruction, but through it all our remarkable Constitution has kept power sufficiently divided so that our country has not fallen prey to many of the evils that had afflicted every society before it, throughout all of human history. And, as if that has not been enough, we have even created and preserved the freedom that much of the rest of the world enjoys.

In comparison to all the evil that might have afflicted us, stem cells seem like a trivial threat, but an incredibly huge potential benefit. The threat is that one day we'll take stem stem cells from older and older embryos or even full grown human beings who are raised for spare parts or even as alter egos. The benefit is that stem cells might cure every sickness on earth. It might save billions of lives from death and excruciatingly painful illness! That this is a good thing ought to be the most painfully obvious thing in the world. If it isn't obvious, it will be when they or a loved one is dying, at least to about 99% of us in that position.

Perhaps it feels like a threat to many because it is too good to be true; it is a threat to normalcy because eternal life removes too much of the normal burden of everyday life? Indeed, life would be totally redefined. Everything could be put off till tomorrow, but every goal could eventually be reached too. It scares the religious right to death given that their religion was conceived of at a time when science was not. Or, could it be that science, with its nuclear bombs, global warming, genetic technology, and abortions is merely the weapon with which we will finally manage to destroy ourselves as per biblical prophecy?

In any case we face an inevitable brave new world. The immediate problem in which is that you have to kill the embryo to get the stem cells. Never mind that the embryo was scheduled to be killed anyway, or that nature aborts most pregnancies spontaneously, or that we kill 40 million dogs from neglect every year or kill 100 million cows each year all of whom seem far more human than a few embryonic cells too small to even see. Yet to abortion opponents harvesting these stem cells is close to an abortion since there is an embryo or embryo like thing dying in each case.

In reality it is not an embryo since it has been especially prepared by removing genetic material from the mother (egg donor) to be replaced by genetic material exclusively from the patient who wishes to be cloned, or to merely harvest stem cells that eventually can replace damaged cells in his or her own body. The embryo is not put in a human womb or incubator where it might develop into a human being, although one assumes that it will be possible to do so in the very near future.

Personally, seeing an embryo meet its end this way, not even considering the incredible possible benefits, is less troubling than seeing a live lobster being dropped into a pot of boiling water, or a puppy dog being tossed into an incinerator, which we do and ignore millions of times each year.

But, in 100 years when each of us can whip up a nuclear device, weaponized anthrax, and a clone of ourselves that will live forever, sophisticated liberals might well wish quaint religious little old Bush had been taken more seriously. This seems especially true given that today's liberals don't have the brains or the guts to go to the Axis of Evil to take away the very deadly, but still very rudimentary, technology that they are manifestly far too immature to handle. Today's liberals are failing brave new world kindergarten badly.

My own view is that the brave new technological world is inevitable, possibly very beneficial, but catastrophically dangerous as long as cowardly and dumb liberals are involved in the management of it.

This is the problem we face, ladies and gentlemen. Better learn to put on better show because reason is clearly inoperative.

Changing Their Tune

It appears that the word has gone forth. The GOP voices of God have said "ye shall spin it as a win."

Sam Rosenfeld at TAPPED quotes Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council:

"... Majority Leader Bill Frist has displayed extraordinary patience and determination in the face of liberal obstinacy. We commend him and stand with him in his effort to end the obstruction and move forward with the task of restoring a judiciary that will interpret the Constitution, not legislate a liberal agenda for the nation."

Rosenfeld comments:

That's a lot of backpedalling for one day. Not only did the agreement go from "ignoble" to "long-overdue," but the Frist commendation went from muted to slavish. These religious-right powerbrokers are some real tough guys. We'll wait to see how the base they speak for reacts in the coming weeks and months. Far be it from me to call them easily led...

I'm surprised it took them so long to get with the program.

Has anyone heard Rush today? Is he still pissed or has he been "persuaded" that the Republicans are the winners in this deal?


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Talking Our Game

Oh how I wish I weren't so busy right now so that I could spend all of my time parsing the filibuster deal and thrilling my readers with my insights. Luckily, everybody else is doing it so I don't have to.

There are a couple of points that I'd like to highlight, however. I think Dwight Meredith has the right of it in how low or high the bar has been set with Janice Rogers Brown. It's actually a little bit more complicated than it seems at first glance.

On another point, I recognise that the right being upset and screaming about this is nothing unusual --- they love to be victimized --- and it doesn't indicate that we actually won anything. In the post below, I was referring to the optics of the deal; as long as the right is screeching about this as a sell out and a Democratic victory there is good reason to think that many average folks will come to believe that it is so. The right wing noise machine bleeds into the discourse whether we want it to or not. This is one instance where we want it to.

According to Dobson and Weyrich, the Dems thrust their big swinging man(and woman)hoods at John McCain and they won. This is something we want the American people to think we are capable of. Remember, we are the party that is losing white males by the bucket load. It's this kind of thing that may release them from their adolescent "manly" impulse to side with the alleged tough guys on the right against their own best interests.

The fact is that on the substance, this deal is a compromise that cuts both ways. That's what compromises usually do. But for Democrats, who have virtually no power anyway, it is as important to be seen as strong and resolute as it is to actually win. The game we are really playing is for 2006. Because let's face it, this is a Republican majority government and they can, if they really want to, do any damned thing they please whether we like it or not.

The far right and religious fanatic base is not going to convert to the Democratic party. We need to prove to the moderates, independents and western libertarians that we are tough enough. If James Dobson and Rush Limbaugh want to portray us as dragon slayers, more power to them. They have a big microphone. Let them use it to shout to the world about the big meanie Dems and the sniveling cowardly Republicans who buckled under to them. Works for me.

Live To Fight Another Day

My first reaction to the nuclear fizzle was disappointment, partially I admit, because I thought this was a very clever opportunity for Democrats to do the single most important thing they have to do improve their image with the public --- stand up for themselves and show some guts. The "optics" of this were sufficiently murky to make that a risky play, but I felt that we had nothing much to lose. As the Milquetoast Party, anything that shows our willingness to stick together, act on principle and face down the Republicans is indisputably a good thing. This deal doesn't exactly get that done, I'm afraid.

On the other hand, the way the wingnuts are whining and blubbering, it did, so maybe that's all that matters. I'll be very interested in hearing what Rush has to say today. If he's gotten the word to spin this their way, that dynamic will change forthwith. The right prefers the fight so their first instinct when denied one is petulance. But they'll fall into line if their voices from God tell them to.

My only question going forward is this: if Janice Brown is not considered to be an "extraordinary circumstance" then who in the world could Bush possibly nominate who would be worse? Ann Coulter? (She does, after all, call herself a constitutional scholar.) I'm not sure that there are any judges who are to the right of Brown or who express more hostility not only to the constitution but to the enlightenment thought that guides it. The only thing absolutely worse would be to put an Islamic fundamentalist on the supreme court.

I suppose that they may have made some sort of informal agreement as to what constitutes a circumstance more "extraordinary" than this, but I don't know how much trust I would put in such a thing. If Brown, Owen and Pryor are confirmed, the bar has been set very, very low. It's hard to imagine how Bush could come up with anyone even less qualified or philosophically unacceptable than that, but they seem to be able to find the worst judicial freaks in the country so maybe they've been holding out on us. It also pays to remember that Earl Warren wasn't even a judge before he became Chief Justice. Bush could name James Dobson if he wanted to.

In the end, politically, I think the filibuster showdown is a wash. The Republicans didn't get to turn the Senate into the House of Representatives but they will get three unabashed idiots, racists and pre-modern troglodytes on the federal bench. It could have been worse.

More importantly, the fascist element, led by Dick Cheney, was denied the opportunity to flush another little piece of of our system of government down the toilet as a fun exercise of pure power. Each time these bastards rip out another bit our of the constitution or "change the rules" to favor one party government or "reinterpret" the law to favor Republicans, we move one step closer to a country that we will soon not be able to recognise as the one in which we grew up.

This action put that day off --- in the case of the nuclear option, maybe forever. That's a good thing.


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...