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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Christian Soldiers

Maybe I've missed it, but with all the hoohah on TV about Robertson putting out a hit on Hugo Chavez today, I haven't heard much in the coverage about him putting out hits on the supreme court and the State Department ("Maybe we need a very small nuke thrown off on Foggy Bottom to shake things up”) earlier this year.

I don't know that any of Robertson's followers literally believe they are the instruments of God, but let's just say you don't have to have a crazed imagination to think that one or two just might. And as much as the media seems to be trying to portray old Pat as some sort of a has-been, he still has a very large following.

January 2005:

The 700 Club's average daily audience, according to AC Nielsen's November sweeps, is up 26% over last year. At a time when most daily shows are struggling The 700 Club is experiencing tremendous increases. November's average daily audience of 922,000 households is the highest in ten years and we experienced the same success in October and November.

The Barna Group, which does in depth polling on Christian issues, says:

( Mar 14, 2005) The reshaping of Americans’ lives is evident in various facets of their life, including the spiritual dimension. A new nationwide survey conducted by The Barna Group indicates that while 56% of adults attend church services in a typical month, a much larger percentage is exposed to religious information and experiences through various forms of media. Radio and television are the most popular Christian media, but faith-related Internet sites as well as religious magazines, newspapers and books also enjoy significant exposure.


The percentage of adults who watch Christian television programming has remained unchanged since 1992, with an estimated 45% tuning in to a Christian program during a typical month. Relatively few adults (7%) watch Christian television on a daily basis. About four out of ten adults (41%) never watch such programming.

Christian television draws its strength from people in their 60s and older, females, residents of the South, African-Americans, people with limited education and income, and born again Christians. Two-thirds of the born again population views Christian programming each month, which is more than double the proportion of non-born again adults (30%) who follow that pattern. The segments of the public least likely to watch Christian TV include mainline Protestants, Catholics, unchurched people, Asian-Americans and college graduates.

A rather large number of Americans watch Christian TV. An increasing number of them get their news from this media. Pat Robertson, whose 700 Club appears more than once a day on Disney owned Family Channel, is the most popular of all...and he's a lunatic spreading hate and violence to people who are very susceptible to his message. It's only a matter of time.

This media is an unofficial adjunct of the GOP and an extremely important cog in their evangelical political machine. I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying watching Republicans squirm as they try to distance themselves from this ass today. Has anyone seen or heard any response from the other big names on the Christian Right?

Every Loss Is A Win

(Or, a dead soldier is like a dollar in the bank ... the Bank of Political Capital.)

Poputonian from Kidding on the Square wrote me this e-mail which I found quite insightful. With his permission, I'm posting it here:

On February 20, 2003, exactly one month before the United States invaded Iraq, Norman Mailer spoke these words before the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco:

Terrorism and instability are the reverse face of Empire. If the Saudi rulers have been afraid of their mullahs for fear of their power to incite terrorists, what will the Muslim world be like once we, the Great Satan, are there to dominate the Middle East in person?

Since the administration can hardly be unaware of the dangers, the answer comes down to the unhappy likelihood that Bush and Company are ready to be hit by a major terrorist attack, as well as any number of smaller ones. Either way, it will strengthen his hand. America will gather about him again. We can hear his words in advance: "Good Americans died today. Innocent victims of evil had to shed their blood. But we will prevail. We are one with God." Given such language, every loss is a win.

Every loss is a win. So that’s how they do it.

More than two years later, Junior is still drilling down that hole. Reuters made this report on Saturday, August 20, 2005:

Bush invokes Sept 11 to defend Iraq war link:

In a few weeks, our country will mark the four-year anniversary of the attacks of September the 11th, 2001. On that day, we learned that vast oceans and friendly neighbors no longer protect us from those who wish to harm our people.
Our troops know that they're fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to protect their fellow Americans from a savage enemy.
They know that if we do not confront these evil men abroad, we will have to face them one day in our own cities and streets, and they know that the safety and security of every American is at stake in this war.

But sometimes when political capital is low, really, really low, when your own worshipers begin thinking disloyal thoughts, you have to pull out all the stops. This is when you start trading in dead soldiers. Even National Public Radio noted how unusual it was that in his speech today in Salt Lake City, Bush invoked the dead. Here is what a desperate president said to his throng of future detractors:

We have lost 1,864 members of our Armed Forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and 223 in Operation Enduring Freedom. Each of these men and women left grieving families and loved ones back home. Each of these heroes left a legacy that will allow generations of their fellow Americans to enjoy the blessings of liberty. And each of these Americans have brought the hope of freedom to millions who have not known it. We owe them something. We will finish the task that they gave their lives for. We will honor their sacrifice by staying on the offensive against the terrorists, and building strong allies in Afghanistan and Iraq that will help us win and fight -- fight and win the war on terror.

Given such language, every dead soldier is a win.
The Politics Business

Writing about this morning's very creepy article about the new evangelical Christian training for conservative aides on capitol hill (which he points out should hardly be necessary since there already exist a ton of institutions for that purpose called ... "church") Jesse notices something that I think is quite important:

There are times where I really wonder if there's any such thing as grassroots conservatism anymore. Conservatives seem to be intent on making any expression of conservative belief little more than the assembly of an out-of-the-box movement. You want to start a petition for intelligent design in your school district? Here's the talking points, magazines, a list of local experts and the e-mail for your very own Discovery Institute scientist.

The modern Republican Party isn't just antipathetic to democracy - it seems to be doing everything within its power to convert it into a sham of itself, all the benefits of democracy without any of the actual practice or participation. You can be a principled Christian conservative for $345, with free lunch! For an extra $50, learn how to dress your spouse to communicate that they're not Hillary!

For all the talk of the conservative philosophical backbone, modern conservatism is little more than a paint-by-numbers affair, with doting teachers standing over you making sure that #3 is red and not green, because that might otherwise send the wrong message. It appropriates the rhetoric of soul-saving while remaining entirely soulless itself.

I think that its soullessness may be due to the fact that movement conservatism is now a business. So is the Christian Right. The "Republican industry" has become a livlihood for a whole lot of people who are not directly involved in the political process or the typical televangelist ministries. Somebody has to provide all those "paint-by-numbers" petition kits and out of the box local candidate blow-up dolls. We need to start seeing them through this prism.

The question is what kind of a business model are they using? (It may or may not be relevant that one of the biggest funders of conservative causes in the nation is the DeVos family --- of Amway fame.)

Efficient Pain

OneGoodMove has video of a protestor being tasered over the week-end. As with all these taser vids, I got a queasy feeling in my stomach when I saw it. I don't know how many of you have been shot with electricity, but I have had it happen by accident and it's really awful. Worse than being hit hard. Way worse.

This video shows an unarmed, restrained, female protestor on the ground being tasered. It looks very efficient, very easy, very simple. I'm very suspicious of police having simple, easy, efficient and unaccountable ways of subduing unarmed citizens.

I understand why cops like tasers. It's a non-lethal way of making citizens immediately compliant. Who wouldn't like that? But I am viscerally uncomfortable with the fact that police have the unrestrained discretion to inflict serious pain on citizens simply because it does not leave a mark. Just as they should not be allowed to punch a restrained protestor in the face, which would also subdue her, they should not be able to taser a restrained protestor. The law should not allow authorities to inflict pain unnecessarily even if the pain does not result in serious damage. And evidence is mounting that it does.

Talk Left (which has a very handy compendium of information on the taser, here) wrote yesterday about the police who are suing because of injuries sustained when they were tasered in training. And quite a few lawsuits are coming down the pike from others who have been permanently damaged by tasers. The company that manufactures them has been extremely uncooperative and unforthcoming with information. It's most telling that cops who volunteer to take tasering in training rarely offer to take another one.

Tid Bits

I don't want to get into the Able Danger mess because, as I wrote earlier, my gut tells me it's nonsense. However, I can't resist sharing two new pieces of information:

From Steve Soto I learned that the whole "roll-out" of the story was pre-approved by Dennis Hastert, Pete Hoekstra and most amazingly, Steven Cambone at the Pentagon. I'm sure they were all just showing their deep respect for whistleblowers. (Too bad Bunatine Greenhouse didn't get pre-approved.)

The other tid-bit, via Laura Rozen, is that another member of the team came forward to say that Atta had been named in 2000. Unfortunately, he couldn't produce any evidence because:

The former contractor, James D. Smith, said that Mr. Atta's name and photograph were obtained through a private researcher in California who was paid to gather the information from contacts in the Middle East. Mr. Smith said that he had retained a copy of the chart for some time and that it had been posted on his office wall at Andrews Air Force Base. He said it had become stuck to the wall and was impossible to remove when he switched jobs.

It would be interesting to know if he switched jobs before or after 9/11.


Monday, August 22, 2005

Politics vs Policy

Matt thinks that the base is all about shrill rhetoric over substance, and I think there's some truth to that.

My main critique of the netroots would be that I sense a large degree of willingness to elevate shrill rhetoric over actual policy. Dick Gephardt, having done more than any other member of the Democratic Party to land the country in Iraq, was able to recapture the hearts of many bloggers by calling Bush a "miserable failure."

It warmed my heart to hear that line, too, just as I thrilled to Hackett's Bush-bashing. But I'd much rather live with a moderate tone and an an anti-war policy than live with the reverse. Liberals need to be clear about what our priorities are.

I think most liberals' first priority at this point is to remove the Republicans from sole power and many in the Democratic netroots have come to the political conclusion that we will only do that if we speak truth to power. The immoderate tone that thrills the netroots is not just for emotional satisfaction; it is a political strategy for beating the opposition.

I think that many in the netroots are no different than the vast majority of Americans everywhere. Policy is seen through a heuristic prism of impressions, image and preconceptions. Very few people are engaged in politics as a purely intellectual debate about the actual efficacy of one policy over another. Most people, even most smart people, make their political decisions based on a whole range of perceptions, only a few of which are based on strict reason.

I think the base of the Democratic party has come to the conclusion that one of the reasons Democrats have been successfully tagged as being soft on terrorism, crime, national security what have you, is because of the way we appear to the American people when we allow the other side to bash, swift-boat and deride with impugnity. And they have concluded that one way to show that we are not in fact a party of wimps and sissies is to call out the Republicans.

It is conventional wisdom that one of the reasons Hackett did as well as he did was because of his sincere righteous indignation about the leadership of this country and I think it's at least partially true. That translates to strength and authenticity to people who hear long-winded multi-year withdrawal scenarios and immediately switch the channel --- which are a majority of voters. I think the guy is tremendously charismatic whose status as an Iraq war veteran made him somewhat unique, but there is little doubt in my mind that he was able to win over some people, probably the Ross Perot type independents, who respect candor and authenticity. In this day of over-handled candidates it is a very heady breath of fresh air to see a Democrat appear unafraid and unintimidated.

I think it's terrific that people want to have a dignified wonk-fest about how to deal with the situation in Iraq. But I will guarantee you that the best "plan" isn't going to win any elections. They never do. Elections will be won because the country is sufficiently disillusioned with the GOP and the Democrats prove to them that they are a better alternative. And that proof will not come from the details but from the big picture.

I'm not even sure I think that Democratic politicians should be on the record with any detailed withdrawal plans at all at this point. The focus, to my way of thinking should remain on the president as the country (finally) internalizes the fact that this war was a mistake. There is plenty of time for our patented 10-point-plan yawner of a stump speech as we move into the next election cycle.

Right now I think the right political move is to keep the pressure on the Republicans. Make them take ownership of this war, gas prices all the simmering discontent that you can see lurking in all the polls on every issue. Separate ourselves, not with our intellectual superiority (which is a given in any case) but by our energy and our disgust with the status quo.

The think tanks and pundits can debate the various strong points of withdrawing on a six month vs a two years modified pull back or an urban withdrawal backed by air support or whatever. I think that's great. But since we have no chance of implementing any plan ourselves and since it is, in my view, almost impossible that any action the Bush administration undertakes will be successfull no matter how perfectly we design a plan for him to implement --- from a political standpoint all this wonkery beside the point.

What we should be debating is how we win elections. The base of the party is ready to support anyone who is willing to speak in clear, straighforward terms about the contrast between the Republicans and the Democrats and they believe that it could be a winning electoral strategy to do that. Certainly, they are extremely impatient with the split the difference, triangulation strategies that have failed to win majorities for the last several election cycles.

That, I think, is the real question here. Will our "shrillness" help or hurt the party? I think the netroots believes it's time to try a message that has a little more heat than lukewarm water. The establishment, still smarting from their seminal loss in 1972, is scared to death of anything that resembles real passion. Far more than a serious division in the party over specific policy, that, I think is the real fault line. What kind of politics --- not policies --- do the Democrats think will win?

Not Ready For Prime Time

I just saw that bozo Gary Qualls on Olbermann talking a bunch of outrageous gibberish about Cindy Sheehan misusing his son's name and how she isn't taking care of her family etc. He is pathetic.

But he really shouldn't be allowed to go on television and say that Cindy Sheehan treated him disrespectfully when there is so much documentary evidence to the contrary.

Hesiod has been on the Qualls story for a while now and he featured an account from last week when Qualls met with Cindy and they hugged and he told her he loved her.

Cindy Sheehan, right, hugs President Bush supporter Gary Qualls of Temple, Texas after the two met at her camp near Crawford, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2005. Qualls' son Marine LCPL. Louis W. Qualls was killed in the battle of Fallujah Nov. 14, 2004. Qualls answered an invitation from Sheehan to meet with pro-Bush parents that lost children in Iraq. Qualls was the only parent that came.

Credibility Gap

Kenneth Baer says that the Democrats should have a robust, public debate about foreign policy and then people should pick a side and fight it out in the primaries in 2008 --- as opposed to what is happening now which he characterizes as this:

The argument within the party has been played out through blog posts and random quotes in newspapers across the country. But while there is contentiousness, there is hardly a debate. There is a vocal group on the left who is angry -- at the Democratic establishment and the foreign-policy establishment. Yet, the establishment is relatively quiet in its response. In many ways, this silence only magnifies the perceived influence and power of the Democratic left (which, while possessing its own unique power, has yet to prove the hold it purports to have on the zeitgeist of the Democratic rank-and-file: beat a more hawkish Democrat in a primary or win a general election, and then you'll have some weight behind your claims.)

Well, he has a point. Although it would be much more powerful if the Democratic establishment could boast of winning any elections lately either.

And I would have to say that he would have an even better point if the Democratic foreign policy establishment hadn't enthusiastically signed on to the greatest strategic cock-up in American history. If it's credibility we're talking about, I think the establishment needs to walk a little bit softly right now. It isn't the left who fucked up this time.

It's not that there is no desire or ability to compromise, strategize or agree on tactics among the various factions. But, for those of us who have been bellowing until we are hoarse for the last four years about the magical thinking about Iraq, it is ineffably galling to still be treated as if we are the starry eyed hippies when in it's the allegedly sophisticated savants of the foreign policy establishment who have behaved as if this war could be won by clicking the heels of Laurie Myleroie's ruby slippers.

We are the ones who pointed out the fact that Bush's delusional PNAC/TeamB/CPD braintrust had been wrong about everything since the dawn of time and were the last people who should be trusted with a pre-emptive war doctrine. We're the ones who noticed that you didn't have to be a nuclear scientist to see that the "evidence" of Saddam's arsenal had a bit of a comic book flair to it. (The drone planes should have been a tip-off.) We're the ones who understood that people tend to not like being invaded by foreign troops even when they despise their own leaders.

It was the sophisticates of the establishment who bought every bit of snake oil the administration was selling, not us. And yet we still have to be condescended to from the people who were flat out, 100% wrong?

I am not a pacifist. And I never said that we should not respond to the threat of global terrorism. But I disagreeed with the way this administration and the Democratic hawks went about doing it --- especially this enormous mistake of invading a middle eastern country for inscrutable reasons, at this time, in this way. And I was right. I don't know if I represent the zeitgeist of the rank and file, but I do know that I and others of "the left" who saw this debacle for what it was have earned a little fucking respect.

Winning Dumb

I keep hearing that the beltway insiders have their money on George Allen to be the Republican nominee in 2008. I assume it is because he is just as stupid as George W. Bush.

From Michael Crowley subbing at TPM:

When Republican senator/presidential hopeful George Allen was on ABC's This Week today praising the Bush administration for its training of Iraqi security forces, George Stephanopoulos suggested that the Post's story has some pretty troubling implications for that utterly essential element of our success there. Not to worry, Allen said -- factional divisions are nothing new:

[Y]ou have that even in our United States. We have local police, we have state police, and you have the FBI.

Got that? Bloodthirsty Shiite militiamen really aren't so different from, say, Virginia state troopers. To which a startled-looking Stephanopoulos objected: "They're not militias going out and killing people outside the law!"

The Republicans have determined that they do better with nominees who make their constituents believe they are smart enough to be president. It's the right's version of the self-esteem movement.

George Allen is an extremely dumb guy. Really dumb. Awesomely dumb.

Who do we have that's dumb enough to beat him?


Sunday, August 21, 2005

Novak: Black Kettle Edition

War protesters sleeping with the enemy


Here's an interesting article in Salon making a case that George Bush's history as a political operative makes it likely that he knew about the operation to discredit Wilson:

As one might expect, much of Bush's work for his father's presidential campaigns was done behind the scenes. Yet it's clear he was steeped in political minutiae and imposed few limits on what he was willing to do to get the job done. In 1986, veteran reporter Al Hunt predicted that Jack Kemp would receive the 1988 Republican presidential nomination instead of George H.W. Bush. When George W. saw Hunt dining with his wife and 4-year-old son at a Mexican restaurant in Dallas, he went up to their table and said, "You fucking son of bitch. I won't forget what you said and you're going to pay a fucking price for it." Bush didn't apologize until 13 years later, when the incident resurfaced in the context of his own presidential campaign.

In 1987, the George H.W. Bush campaign gave unusually close access to Newsweek reporter Margaret Warner. That resulted in a cover story titled "Fighting the Wimp Factor," in which Warner discussed "the potentially crippling handicap" that the senior Bush wasn't tough enough for the job. George W. was incensed. He called the magazine and "told reporters that his father's campaign would no longer talk to Newsweek." According to White House reporter Thomas DeFrank, George W. told him that Newsweek was "out of business." In his anger, however, Bush "went somewhat beyond the authorized message." The following day, a Bush campaign spokesman announced, "We're not cutting them [Newsweek] or anybody else off from their efforts to cover the campaign." George W., apparently, has never gotten over the incident. In his memoir, "A Charge to Keep," published more than a decade later, he wrote, "My blood pressure still goes up when I remember the cover."

The article doesn't provide anything but speculation based on past behavior but the authors do suggest that the press should ask the President about it directly:

... the media refuses to ask two questions that President Bush could not delay answering until he "finds out the facts": Mr. President, prior to July 14, 2003 (the day Robert Novak's column appeared), were you aware that Valerie Wilson was a CIA agent? And did you discuss her role with any other member of your administration?

I can see Bush saying anyway that he's not going to answer any questions because there's an ongoing investigation, but if he can't even answer that much for himself, on the record, it's pretty damned weak. He is the president of the United States. How could it possibly taint the investigation for him to say what he knew?

Getting Off The Bus

It is a rare day indeed when I am in agreement with anyone over at The Corner, but this is one of those days:

Andrew McCarthy:

For what it’s worth, this is where I get off the bus. The principal mission of the so-called “war on terror” – which is actually a war on militant Islam – is to destroy the capacity of the international network of jihadists to project power in a way that threatens American national security. That is the mission that the American people continue to support.


Now, if several reports this weekend are accurate, we see the shocking ultimate destination of the democracy diversion. In the desperation to complete an Iraqi constitution – which can be spun as a major step of progress on the march toward democratic nirvana – the United States of America is pressuring competing factions to accept the supremacy of Islam and the fundamental principle no law may contradict Islamic principles.


But even if I suspended disbelief for a moment and agreed that the democracy project is a worthy casus belli, I am as certain as I am that I am breathing that the American people would not put their brave young men and women in harm’s way for the purpose of establishing an Islamic government. Anyplace.

I guess it all depends on what the definition of "freedom" is.

His argument is that establishing an Islamic theocracy in Iraq furthers the goals of the violent Islamic fundamentalists, which is a big "no shit." But, of course, the war itself, from the very beginning, has furthered the goals of violent islamic fundamentalists. This is just frosting on the whole fetid cakewalk.

What this really does is put the coda to the last phony cassus belli --- that by bringing freedom and democracy to a country in the heart of the middle east we would plant the seeds for a thousand flowers to grow. Now, along with the other rationales, we can throw this one on the "no longer operative" pile.

I got an e-mail from someone I respect asking me why I made such a big deal out of women's rights being denied when there are so many other freedoms at stake. It's a legitimate question I suppose, but I think the question answers itself. The fact is that under Saddam, in their everyday lives, one half of the population had more real, tangible freedom than they have now and that they will have under some form of Shar'ia. The sheer numbers of people whose freedom are affected make it the most glaring and tragic symbol of our failed "noble cause."

Iraqi women have enjoyed secular, western-style equality for more than 40 years. Most females have no memory of living any other way. In order to meet an arbitrary deadline for domestic political reasons, we have capitulated to theocrats on the single most important constitutional issue facing the average Iraqi woman --- which means that we have now officially failed more than half of the Iraqis we supposedly came to help. We have "liberated" millions of people from rights they have had all their lives.

This is not to say that an Islamic theocracy is fine in every other way. It will, of course, curb religious freedom entirely. Too bad for the local Jews and Christians --- or secularists, of which there were many in Iraq. It will restrict personal freedom in an infinite number of ways. Theocracies require conformity in thought, word and deed.

And all of this must be viewed within the conditions that exist in this poor misbegotten place as we speak. The country is on the verge of civil war. Chaos reigns. Daily life is dangerous and uncomfortable.

It simply cannot be heroic for the richest, most powerful democratic country on earth to claim the mantle of liberator only to create a government that makes more than half the population second class citizens and forces the entire country live in conditions that are less free and more dangerous than before.

It is certainly not acceptable for that country to take any credit for spreading freedom. Creating an Islamic theocracy is anything but noble. It is a moral failure of epic proportions.

Update: James Wolcott notes one of the leading neocon architects of mid-east democracy on Press the Meat this morning explaining all this:

[AEI and PNAC fellow] Reuel Marc Gerecht, discussing the forthcoming Iraqi constitution on Meet the Press, August 21: "Women's social rights are not critical to the evolution of democracy. We hope they're there, I think they will be there, but I think we need to keep this perspective."


His exact words to MTP guest host David Gregory were, "Actually, I'm not terribly worried about this."

UpdateII: Here's the video from our friends at Crooks and Liars

Good Bloggin'

DC Media Girl has a whole passle of interesting posts up with information I haven't seen anywhere else. First, she found out that Michelle Malkin is nothing but a big ole flip-floppin' flip-flopper. Here's Michelle from the year 2000:

The government has apologized and provided cash compensation to victims who were forced into camps. There is no denying that what happened to Japanese-American internees was abhorrent and wrong.

Oh! My Goodness. And she has some bonus Malkin racist blogging here.

Then we find out from Women's Wear Daily that Judith Miller's husband has been telling people that she's having "the time of her life" in prison:

That Miller might be having a good time comes as no surprise to many among the rank and file at the Times, who don't see her as quite the martyr that Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. does. And friends of the couple said earlier reports of Miller's suffering in jail are dated now that she's settled in at the Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia. The hip-hop and bad food, coupled with a parade of important visitors have, they said, made the experience a novel and interesting one for her. Too, Miller is evidently enjoying all the attention she's getting in the press and is likely to have her pick of book deals if she emerges from the ordeal with her reputation intact. In the same way Martha Stewart's time at Alderson initiated her comeback, Miller's internment has burnished an image tarnished by months of controversial reporting leading up to the war in Iraq. (Indeed, one Times source said recently, "She thinks she's Martha Stewart.")

Finally, the DC Mediafirl highlights this delighful letter to Cindy Sheehan from my favorite rightwing Christian icon, Fred Phelps:

Why did your son die in Iraq? Because you raised him for the devil and Hell. You hated him. You taught him "It’s OK to be gay," and other God-rejecting lies, that brought the wrath of God Down upon this evil nation.

Why did your son die in Iraq? Because God hates America and has purposed to destroy her. They turned America over to fags; they’re coming home in body bags.

That's nice, isn't it? And poetic too: "They turned America over to fags; they're coming home in body bags." Somebody ought to call nashville. I hear a song coming on.

That's just three items. Check out DC media Girl regularly. You'll learn things.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Whose Freedom Is It Anyway?

Islam will be "the main source" of Iraq's law and parliament will observe religious principles, negotiators said on Saturday after what some called a major turn in talks on the constitution and a shift in the U.S. position.

If agreed by Monday's parliamentary deadline, it would appear to be a major concession to Islamist leaders from the Shi'ite Muslim majority and sit uneasily with U.S. insistence on the primacy of democracy and human rights in the new Iraq.

Well, we're not really talking about human rights now are we? We're talking about women's rights, which are always negotiable.

And what say you Hitchens, you useful fucking idiot? Americans just "freed" the Iraqis so they could live under Islamic law. That's quite a goddamned achievement. You must be so proud.

How about you Condi? Are you proud of what you've done? You just "freed" 13 million women into second class citizenship -- probably into hell. Tough luck ladies. Don't worry, though, your granddaughters might get their rights back in their lifetimes. You can't stop progress, you know.

And what about you, George you misbegotten cretin. Is this what you were talking about in all these windy speeches about freedom being the gift of the almighty and all that other flatulent twaddle you peddle to the silly rubes who confuse leadership with frat boy swagger? Did you free the Iraqis so they could live under Ayatollahs?

Iraqi women's lives have already become demonstrably less free. This will codify it. And tough shit if you're gay or secular or different in any way. Some fucking freedom.

I hope that everyone makes it their business to remind every Republican asshole they know that it wasn't the liberals who turned Iraq into a theocracy. This is happening on their watch, under their auspices. We don't believe in theocracy. They do. They do not believe in freedom. We do.

I am now officially an isolationsist. Not because I don't think that Americans should spend its blood and treasure on foreigners. It's because I don't think the world can take much more of our "freedom and democracy."

These are extraordinary times, historic times. We've seen the fall of brutal tyrants. We're seeing the rise of democracy in the Middle East. We're seeing women take their rightful place in societies that were once incredibly oppressive and closed. We're seeing the power and appeal of liberty in every single culture. And we're proud once again -- this nation is proud -- to advance the cause of human rights and human freedom. Junior, March 12, 2004

What a steaming pile of horseshit.

The Way Life Should Be

Dear Abby:

Q: I live in a family-oriented neighborhood. My next-door neighbor flies his gay pride flag in his front yard. Because we have a lot of families with young children who do not need to be subjected to that kind of thing, I have asked him numerous times to remove it.

His response is, it's a free country and he does not subject anybody to his lifestyle.

I strongly feel that in a neighborhood devoted to children's morals and the way life should be, he should not be allowed to have that flag in his front yard. I threatened to call the police.What should I do?

RIGHTEOUS in New Castle, Pa.

Dear Righteous:

A: First of all, calm down. Your neighbor is hurting no one, and "young children" will not understand the flag. Unless there are restrictions in your neighborhood governing the display of flags, your neighbor has a right to hoist his banner.

Good for Abby, the voice of common sense. I bet that mom is just fit to be tied. She's probably going to immediately start coaching her kids to claim they were molested. That's the only recourse the liberals have left her.

One thing I'd like to know is why so many of these people sound like they have only heard half of every argument? They write things like "a neighborhood devoted to children's morals and the way life should be" as if it makes sense. Do they zone out in church and only catch half the sermon or what?

Our president does the same thing so it's not surprising. But dear gawd, I cannot imagine what it's going to be like once all these home schooled kids take charge of the wingnut infrastructure. I can barely understand what they are talking about now. I can't imagine what gibberish they are going to be spewing in a few years.

Beat Him To The Punchline

Considering his record and sophomoric tone well into his thirties, I have no doubt that John Roberts' hilarious little quip, "Some might question whether encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good, but I suppose that is for the judges to decide" is a jab at women. When he is asked about it at the hearing he will say it is a standard lawyer joke --- and much laughter among the senators will ensue and the media will all remark about what a fun-loving and modest fellow he is.

I would hope that a Democratic member of the judiciary committee, preferably Diane Feinstein, is smart enough to bring this up immediately and rob him of that punchline with a clever question.

"Judge Roberts, when I was in law school I remember hearing a lot of lawyer jokes. One of my classmates used to tell one about the man who goes to the doctor and finds out he has only six months to live. He says to the doctor, "that's such a short amount of time, doc. Is there anything I can do?" The doctor replied, "marry a lawyer, it'll be the longest six months of your life." ...

Yes, my husband thinks that one is funny too...

Now the white house says that when you wrote "some might question whether encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good, but I suppose that is for the judges to decide" that you were just making one of those lawyer jokes. If so, it was pretty funny. But it does raise the question of how you feel in general about women's role in society. You are nominated to replace the first female Supreme Court justice ...

We can see this one coming a mile away folks. They've probably got Dennis Miller on the horn coming up with a zinger. We should beat them to it.

Respectfully Decline

Why is it that sports guys are the only journalists with any guts? Keith Olbermann quit MSNBC when he just couldn't take doing the Monica story night after night. Bob Costas refused to host Larry King last night when he was told he's have to do another ridiculous navel gazer about Natalee Holloway:

Veteran sports broadcaster Bob Costas declined to fill in as host on CNN's "Larry King Live" Thursday night because of the program's focus that night on the missing Alabama teenager and on Dennis Rader, the BTK serial killer.

Costas — who has been serving as an occasional substitute for King since June — bowed out of the Thursday show after he could not persuade producers to change the program's lineup, which included an interview with Beth Holloway Twitty, the mother of the high school senior who disappeared in Aruba in late May.

"I didn't think the subject matter of Thursday's show was the kind of broadcast that I should be doing," Costas said in a statement, adding that he "respectfully declined to participate."

I've noted before that the sports writers are often the ones who call bullshit. I don't know why this is so. Perhaps it's because they aren't dependent on the political media establishment for their daily bread. Or maybe it's just a different occupational culture. Whatever it is, it's clear to me that the political reporting fraternity would do well to take a lesson from their sports bretheren. Just say no.


Max Blumenthal has written an interesting article about Just-Us Sunday II in which he observes that the Christian right was not at all happy with the fact that John Roberts helped out the wrong side of the Romer gay rights case.

With the revelation of Roberts's involvement in the Romer case, right-wing activists began jumping ship. The leader of a Virginia antigay group, Public Advocate, yanked support with the declaration, "'Freedom' is not embracing perversion." Joseph Farah, editor of the heavily trafficked far-right webzine WorldNetDaily, attacked Justice Sunday's planners in thinly veiled language in an August 12 column: "We now have 'conservative' organizations leading the fight for confirmation of a man [Roberts] who is certain to be a grave disappointment to them." Perhaps most important, Gary Bauer, the former Family Research Council president who built the organization into one of Washington's largest conservative operations during the 1990s, denounced the Bush White House in his daily newsletter for picking a "stealth nominee" and questioned their refusal to release 50,000 pages of Reagan-era Roberts documents.

The position of Justice Sunday II's organizers consisted of halfhearted apologia through gritted teeth. "The Romer case was perhaps one of the most egregious decisions ever handed down by the Supreme Court...and to have Roberts be part of that in any way was troubling," Dobson said during an August 8 appearance on Fox News's Hannity & Colmes. But, Dobson assured the audience, "he had a very minor role." When host Sean Hannity peppered him with questions about Roberts's role on Romer, Dobson was forced to concede that "the Republican senators need to vet him [Roberts] also." It was a stunning role reversal, considering that Dobson and his allies had spent the past month attacking Democratic senators who vowed to question Roberts's views on social issues.

What do you suppose these people would do if they found out that the Chairman of the Republican National Committee is gay? Or that one of the most successful Republican strategists of all time took his lover and two children and got married in Boston as soon as they made gay marriage legal?

Tom DeLay is feted as a Christian hero when he's the crookedest politician since Boss Tweed. Laura and Barbara Bush are both on the record as being pro-choice. Do these Christians know this?

I can guarantee that if the shoe were on the other foot, the Republicans would find a way to make these things known. They understand the concept of divide and conquer.

Mary and Wayne

Last night before I signed off, I posted an interview by Rose Aguillar with Mary Fowler, an Oklahoma Republican. At the end of the interview, I posted a comment from a disabled Oklahoman named Wayne Yeazel who depends on the government but who says he doesn't vote.

Mary Fowler is an evangelical Christian who believes that Republicans pick their candidates based upon their devotion to Jesus. In fact, she sees republicanism as part of her church. For her, religion and politics are the same thing.

Wayne Yeazel and his family have terrible money problems. If you read the whole interview you can see they are all living on social security disability. Wayne Yeazel feels no connection to the party that has spent the last year fighting to save their only source of livlihood. His wife says she doesn't like the government in general, which is quite astute considering that they are trying to destroy her family at the moment --- but she doesn't vote either. Clearly, they have no idea how directly politics affects their lives.

Mary Fowler can be dealt with only one way --- we must separate Republicanism from her church. It won't be possible to out church them but it can be done by exposing them. Republicans are not godly. When she finds out that they aren't godly she will stop voting for them --- most likely stop voting at all. (And unless she learns to separate religion from politics it is probably the best thing.) It won't be easy to convince her, but she is much more attached to her vision of the Bible than the Republican party. She chose Republicanism after she was saved, not before. She will choose Jesus over Tom Delay if push comes to shove.

I urge you to read all the interviews. I picked Mary Fowler because she is probably fairly representative of the hard core evangelical Republican who is unreachable for Democrats because of our fundamental philosophy of pluralism and tolerance (and reason.) I harbor no illusions that she will ever vote for us. But she is fundamentally not a political person; she sees the world entirely through the prism of her church. The concept of democracy is meaningless to her. Until the Republicans realized that they had an highly organized consituency out there waiting to be plucked, people like her didn't involve themselves in politics because they simply didn't believe the secular institutions of government were relevant or important. They operated in the spiritual, personal, private sphere which is really where religion belongs and where it thrives.

I think Mary Fowler can be shown that Republicanism is not what she thinks it is and separate it from her belief system. It will take a lot of work because people like her place their trust in authority figures and believe what they are told. But over time these things can penetrate if the message is consistent and clear. We don't have to convert them. We just have to sow doubts.

If we are to destroy the exploitative evangelical political machine the Republicans have built, the Mary Fowlers out there must open their eyes to the fact that the Republicans are tainting their church with their sin and hypocricy. Mary Fowler is a sincere fundamentalist Christian, not a political hack. Has anyone read "Elmer Gantry" lately? Mary Fowler is being sold a bill of goods.

Wayne Yeazel and his family don't vote. Mary Fowler does. We need to switch that around.


Friday, August 19, 2005

Stories In America

Rose Aguillar is interviewing people in states that overwhelmingly voted for George W. Bush. It's a fascinating insight in to Real Murika. Here's one from Oklahoma:

Mary Fowler, 54, Housekeeper

Why do you think gas prices are so high?

From what I've read, they say it's because of the Iraq war. I've also read about alternatives to gas and even automobiles that use alternatives, but for some reason, the big oil companies bought up the patents for that, so it's not just the Iraq war and it's not President Bush's fault. He gets blamed for everything, but it's not his fault. It's just greed from other people. I feel like the president is doing everything he can to help.

Like what?

For one thing, he is protecting our country by being in Iraq. We can't pull out too soon because they'll think we're chicken and they'll try to attack us again. We can't pull out until they're able to fend for themselves. Those who are strong are supposed to help those who are weak. We are strong and we're that way for a reason. We've always been peacemakers. As long as we keep the peace, we'll be blessed.

So you believe we're acting as peacemakers in Iraq?

Yes and we're protecting the innocent. Muslims want to rule the world. They want to take over the whole world. That's their evil purpose.

Do you know any Muslims?

I've ministered to them. A few lived in my apartment building and they invited us over for dinner. I went with a Christian guy. They were nice. The food was nice. At the end, we said, 'Can we pray for you?' And they said yes, if we can pray for you. We prayed for the peace of god. Most of them are very harsh. There's no tenderness or love.

Do a lot of Muslims live in this area? Have you met any others besides the ones who invited you over for dinner?

Most of them live in Tulsa.

Why do you think we're in Iraq? People say we're freeing the Iraqis one minute and then change their opinion and say they're horrible people.

Soldiers over there say we don't get half the news. There's so much good going on. The majority of the people appreciate the help. The majority, not the weirdos who are deceived.

Where do you get your information about the war?

The Bible and the 700 Club. I also listen to preachers who know what's going on. Pat Robertson.

What do you like about Bush?

He's a praying man of god. He's a family man and he does care. He gets blamed for everything. If this country would turn back to god, things would get better. You can't go on killing babies and allowing homosexual stuff to stay. We do love the people, but we don't love their actions.

Do you think talking about homosexuality does anything to improve healthcare or poverty?

I guess for me I've always had to trust the lord for the next job, which is usually housecleaning. If you have your eyes on him, he'll take care of you. The government can't help us.

Do you always vote?

Yes, I volunteered for the Republican Party and I enjoyed it very much.

Have you always been Republican?

When I first registered, I was a Democrat. Just from studying in school, I thought that's what I wanted to be because I believed in government for the people, by the people and of the people. But after I was saved, I realized the Republican beliefs are me so I switched and I'm glad I did.

What does it mean to be a Republican?

Republicans pick the people who believe like we do.

You mean believe in the Bible?

Yes and godly principles. If we kick god out, we'll be like other countries that have AIDS, sickness and poverty. God created the earth, he created the rules and he knows what's best for everybody.

Unfortunately, we have AIDS, sickness and poverty in this country.

Yes, because we allow homosexuality.

You blame homosexuality for AIDS, sickness and poverty?

Well, sometimes people are innocent. This nation is in trouble. The ACLU are run by communists and funded by communists. What does that tell you? They want to take god away from us.

The ACLU once helped Pat Robertson's son set up churches. They also helped Jerry Falwell fight church restrictions three years ago. If they wanted to take god way from you, why would they help Pat Robertson's son and Jerry Falwell?

I haven't heard about that. I'm sure there are a few good people in the ACLU.

I've interviewed a lot of people on this trip and while they want freedom of religion, none have said they want to take god away.

When they first started the country, those that didn't believe in Jesus were put in jail. Once a country is dedicated to god and founded on its principles, it has to stay that way.

What issues are most important to you?

Getting the right Supreme Court Justice in you. I want god back in the schools. They kick god out of schools and they wonder why we have drugs and sex in the schools.

And then there's this:

Wayne Yeazal: I was a truck driver until I got hurt. I had a bunch of surgeries and had a $300,000 bill. There's no way I can pay for that. I'm on Medicaid and only make $400 a month from social security.

Do you vote?

Twila Yeazal: No. I don't like the government.

Wayne Yeazal: I don't vote. I don't pay attention.

Mexican Terrorists

I'm hearing Rep. John Culberson (R-Nutcase) on MSNBC saying that we know that terrorists are coming over the Mexican border, hiding among friendly illegal immigrants, and that we should trust American volunteers (with no history of mental illness --- which leaves out his constituents) to patrol the border. Just the other day I heard Governor Bill Richardson on Fox going on and on about how illegal immigrants are mutilating animals but we should beef up the border patrol to deal with it.

This kind of talk, in my experience, always means that the economy is in deep shit. I don't care what the numbers say and I don't care how happy everyone is supposed to be in this wonderful growing economy --- it obviously sucks. Illegal immigrant bashing never happens when the party's in full swing.

I can see that we are going to spend a lot of time on this convenient scapegoating the next few years and judging from Richardson's approach, the populist Democratic position is going to be that we need to bash Mexicans with professional border patrol agents as opposed to picking them off with vigilante posses. I guess we are taking the kinder gentler approach?

Economic populism does have an unfortunate history of teaming up with nativism and it looks like the Republicans and the Democrats are going to be racing to see who can get there first. Business always willingly puts up with a short term phony interruption in their cheap labor supply in order to feed the rubes, so no worries of a GOP crack-up on this one. The bigger question is whether the hispanic population is going to put up with the inevitable race baiting that underlies these periodic bash-fests. Whoever threads that needle the best is probably going to be the winner in the western swing states.

One problem with getting older is that you begin to see these pernicious patterns play out repeatedly within your own lifetime and it is profoundly depressing.

Being Burketted

I try not to make sweeping claims about things for which I cannot possibly know the answer, but like most people I often have some sort of feeling about what the answer will be nonetheless. This is because when you examine certain odd claims your intuition and deductive powers kick in even when you don't have all the evidence. I have that feeling about the Able Danger story, which is why I haven't written about it.

First of all, anything that Curt Weldon is involved with is automatically suspect. It just is. He's a nutball who shouldn't be let anywhere near a position of real authority. That doesn't mean he's automatically wrong, of course, but when you combine it with the fact that his evidence is based upon memory, documents have disappeared and the guy backing up the claim has subtly changed his story --- let's just say my skeptical antenna are way, way up. Something is wrong with this picture. Particularly this part:

As to the timing of why this is all coming out only now, Shaffer revealed in his appearance on NPR's Talk of the Nation Wednesday that it was Weldon's idea to make a fuss over Able Danger being shut down, only after Shaffer and Phillpott recently approached him to get support for funding their new data mining proposal.


And if JPod and his ilk get covered in ignominy over it, so much the better. They want so much for it to be true, particularly the part about the 9/11 commission blowing these allegations off. They also want to blame it on Jamie Gorelick, which makes no sense whatsoever but it will mean they can exonerate the poor little Pentagon which just didn't know what to do. (And did you know that Jamie Gorelick once worked at the Pentagon too, a long time ago? Coincidence? I think not...)

The whole thing sounds incredibly dicey to me. I'm not saying it's impossible. I'm open to seeing some real evidence --- I'd be happy to see Rummy's Pentagon nailed for a cover-up. But I have a feeling that this is a Burkett special.

Warm Feelings

A former top aide to Colin Powell says his involvement in the former secretary of state's presentation to the United Nations on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was "the lowest point" in his life.

"I wish I had not been involved in it," says Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a longtime Powell adviser who served as his chief of staff from 2002 through 2005. "I look back on it, and I still say it was the lowest point in my life."


Powell's speech, delivered on February 14, 2003, made the case for the war by presenting U.S. intelligence that purported to prove that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Wilkerson says the information in Powell's presentation initially came from a document he described as "sort of a Chinese menu" that was provided by the White House.

"(Powell) came through the door ... and he had in his hands a sheaf of papers, and he said, 'This is what I've got to present at the United Nations according to the White House, and you need to look at it,'" Wilkerson says in the program. "It was anything but an intelligence document. It was, as some people characterized it later, sort of a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose."

Wilkerson and Powell spent four days and nights in a CIA conference room with then-Director George Tenet and other top officials trying to ensure the accuracy of the presentation, Wilkerson says.

"There was no way the Secretary of State was going to read off a script about serious matters of intelligence that could lead to war when the script was basically un-sourced," Wilkerson says.

In one dramatic accusation in his speech, Powell showed slides alleging that Saddam had bioweapons labs mounted on trucks that would be almost impossible to find.

"In fact, Secretary Powell was not told that one of the sources he was given as a source of this information had indeed been flagged by the Defense Intelligence Agency as a liar, a fabricator," says David Kay, who served as the CIA's chief weapons inspector in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. That source, an Iraqi defector had never been debriefed by the CIA, was known within the intelligence community as "Curveball."

After searching Iraq for several months across the summer of 2003, Kay began e-mailing Tenet to tell him the WMD evidence was falling apart. At one point, Wilkerson says, Tenet called Powell to tell him the claims about mobile bioweapons labs were apparently not true.

"George actually did call the Secretary, and said, 'I'm really sorry to have to tell you. We don't believe there were any mobile labs for making biological weapons,'" Wilkerson says in the documentary. "This was the third or fourth telephone call. And I think it's fair to say the Secretary and Mr. Tenet, at that point, ceased being close. I mean, you can be sincere and you can be honest and you can believe what you're telling the Secretary. But three or four times on substantive issues like that? It's difficult to maintain any warm feelings."

The president had no problems in that regard, did he? He still has warm feelings galore.

I'm glad to see that some members of the administration are coming forward to say they have regrets. It's important for the historical record. But don't expect the mainstream press to care about it. This is all old news, you know.

I do think it's an important insight into the psychology of people who are involved with these things. There were a few who spoke out and a few who resigned in protest but not many. It's important that we examine that phenomenon and try to figure out how this happens. It's not unprecedented, of course. There have been many examples and some amazing analysis done on the subject. But here we have it in real time, someone who knew the government was taking the country to war for inscrutable reasons and yet he went along. He is not without a conscience. And conditions were such that he would have lost his career, but he wouldn't have lost his freedom or his life if he had quit. But he didn't. Neither did Powell, who could have changed the course of history had he resigned. Why didn't they?

Your elitist slip is showing

In an otherwise quite reasonable defense of Cindy Sheehan, Garance Franke-Ruta makes this statement:

Sheehan hails from a part of the country where, when she went looking for answers, the easiest ones to find are the ones that she found. There is no grassroots, accessible organizing by Democratic foreign policy centrists, for example, so when people outside D.C. start looking for answers, all they find is one part of the left spectrum of opinion.

I find it very unusual that someone who blogs would say such a thing. I very much doubt that Sheehan drove to a Berkeley Code Pink potluck for answers to her questions about Iraq. I know she lives in a regional backwater where the folks are all unsophisticated rubes who don't know nothin' bout foreign policy like all the smart people in Washington DC do, but I suspect they do have the internet and television. She may have even read a blog called TAPPED.

It's patronizing to assume that her views are the result of being unable to access the sophisticated thinking in washington DC. I suspect she chose the people who are supporting her today as much as they chose her. After all, two years ago when her son was killed it was pretty hard to find any "sophisticated" liberals in Washington DC who gave a flying fuck. They were still waving flags and talking about kicking ass. It was only the "default leftist" hayseeds out in nowheresville who would give this woman the time of day.

I agree with Franke-Ruta that her power derives from her moral authority as a mother whose child was killed. What else would it be? She's not a professional politician, analyst or activist. Her political views are secondary. But she isn't a child, either. Her political views are no more spurious than any other American's and I would give her more credit than to assume that they stem from an inability to obtain other opinions. If she wanted to read transcripts of Brookings symposiums about Iraq, she certainly could. And she may have for all we know.

Furthermore, as eRobin pointed out on the American Street yesterday, her peacenik beliefs probably stem more from her committed catholicism than anything else. There is a strain of serious lefty catholic politics in this country from long before the Berrigan brothers. Out here in the California boondocks, catholics tend to be very leftwing indeed.

The Pincer

Kevin Drum challenges "failure is not an option" Democrats to put up or shut up:

...if you do believe we can win in Iraq, let's hear what you mean by "win" and how you think we can do it, and let's hear it in clear and compelling declarative sentences. "Stay the course" isn't enough. What Bush is doing now obviously isn't working, so what would you do that's significantly different?

Conversely, if you don't believe we can win in Iraq, and you're only suggesting we stay there because you can't stand the thought of "looking weak," then your moral compass needs some serious adjustment."

I can't imagine any realistic "winning" scenario at this point in which Americans are involved. Indeed, it was lost from the the minute we defied the world and decided to go it alone. It's the "american-ness" of the occupation that is its most immediate problem. So we should go, if only to relieve that pressure.

There is a very slight chance that if we leave the Iraqis themselves will create a stable, democratic system but I'm extremely pessimistic. The country was an artificial construct to be begin with and the fact that the majority were repressed by the minority for decades, and that vast amounts of money is at stake in certain areas and there is a rise of extreme religious fundamentalism in the region means that this is almost certainly destined for disaster. It was foreseen by many that we could actually make things worse for the Iraqi people and we have.

The next question is whether it will ignite the rest of the region in some way or whether it will be confined to Iraq only. It is becoming a training ground for terrorist tactics already and we seem unable to do anything about it. As Kevin points out, this too was inevitable:

The insurgency is not going to give up, the Army doesn't seem to have any kind of consistent commitment to using counterinsurgency techniques against it, we don't know for sure that they'd work anyway, and let's face it: the track record of major powers beating large-scale overseas insurgencies is close to zero in the past half century.

But Kevin's question about "looking weak" is more than an academic one to both the neocons and Osama bin Laden. The neocons are convinced that everything from the rise of terrorism to male pattern baldness is the result of looking weak. They have been very explicit in their view that American presidents Reagan and Clinton both made terrible mistakes by withdrawing from Lebanon and Somalia. It is a fundamental part of their threat analysis.

Likewise, Bin Laden credits the mujahadeen running the Russians out of Afghanistan as precipitating the destruction of the Soviet super power. There are undoubtedly many of his followers who think that the insurgency running the US out of Iraq would accomplish the same thing, which is, of course, ridiculous. But providing bin Laden with the opportunity to declare "victory" is enough to give the neocons apoplexy.

I don't happen to think we should make decisions based upon what bin Laden thinks about anything. We have provided him with plenty of recruiting material by invading Iraq --- there is little margin in worrying about whether withdrawal will result in bin Laden taking a victory lap.(How ironic it would be, too, considering that it was Bush who created a fictitious connection between al Qaeda and Iraq in the first place.) The neocons worry incessantly about this. It's almost as if they share the Japanese obsession with "face" and they will do almost anything to save it. They will fight withdrawal with every breath in their bodies.

And that brings me back to Kevin's post. He says:

Either you believe that there's a way we can win in Iraq — a real way that involves the leadership of George Bush and his staff, not some fantasy scenario in which he suddenly turns into the reincarnation of FDR — or you don't. And the only reason to stay in Iraq is if you think we can win.

There is no real way to win in Iraq with or without George Bush and his staff. But there are different ways of losing. He is not going to stand for a complete withdrawal, timed or otherwise. They aren't leaving. The military is forcing them to draw down, and they probably will for practical and domestic political reasons. But they will not just pick up and leave which means that the perception of American occupation --- and certainly the perception of American involvement in the government --- will continue. And, of course, the civil war that is developing will also continue. I cannot realistically see another scenario developing.

That's the real world we are living in until 2008. The Bush administration will watch Iraq turn into the ninth circle of hell before they will completely withdraw. So, Kevin's challenge to Democrats to come up with a better plan is actually a political challenge. They can try to put pressure on the government, but they will not make any headway on policy. Not with this group.

Everything is about positioning for the next two elections. And that I see in two phases. Now is the time to lay blame where blame should be laid and ensure that Bush's splendid little war is seen as his debacle and no one elses. Calls for withdrawal by the dove camp are perfectly appropriate. It's vastly important that Republicans be held responsible for this failure. That is not an emotional response --- it is, I believe, an essential process before we can change the foreign policy dynamic that has plagued us ever since the 50's. The wimp-baiting from the right has gotten us into the two worst foreign policy debacles of the last half century and we have to put a stop to it.

Remember, unless something catastrophic happens, the US will not leave Iraq until 2008. But we will have to leave as soon as he is out of office. Right now, the Democratic foreign policy hawks are calling for more troops --- an impossibility. But that demand, made in 2005, may allow them to argue that when the going got tough they were calling for more troops and Bush wouldn't listen. By 2007 this will be a moot point, but it may be smart to articulate it now. Under tremendous pressure at that point from the doves in the party, the candidates will all sorrowfully conclude that despite their best efforts in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 to get Bush to win the this war decisively, he failed, and now we have no choice but to withdraw completely and actively court international involvement --- which they, unlike Bush, might actually be able to accomplish.

I think that we are seeing a Democratic pincer movement that is going to fatally squeeze the Republican policy. On the one side we have the growing Cindy Sheehan withdrawal movement, very emotional very compelling. It's the right argument, but its main purpose is to weaken Bush --- there is no chance in hell that it will force a complete troop withdrawal. On the other side he has the Democratic establishment calling for more troops and a greater effort to gain international support. Bush cannot do that either. He is trapped. All he can say is "stay the course" which is not adequate to win and ensures that we lose slowly and painfully.

I'm sorry to have to reduce this to politics. It is an absolutely horrible situation that should have been prevented and wasn't. That was our failure. But it has happened and it is what it is. The only thing we can do is ensure that Republicans are held accountable for this failure and prepare the ground for the future. If I thought we could convince the GOP to do anything different, I would put politics aside and say that we should all work together. But that is clearly impossible. They will not listen. They will not admit that they've made any mistakes. And worst of all, they will not do the one thing that might make a difference --- take the US off the playing field in Iraq. They believe that doing that in past situations from Vietnam to Somalia is the reason terrorism is a threat today. More importantly, they would lose face and that they will not do.

All we are left with is politics. And we should not be afraid to be strategic. I'm not sure it's a bad idea for the '08 presidential hopeful club to be hawkish right now, for the reason I outlined above. And I also think it's a good time for the dove faction to exert itself. Pressure coming from both the left and right on Bush is a good idea. I think it stands us in good stead for when we actually have the power to do the thing that needs to be done --- withdraw.

And we simply have to change this right-left foreign policy dynamic that is really a vestige of the old cold war mentality and has no place in this new century. This is a complicated world and we cannot continue to allow hawks to wage non-essential wars they cannot win in order to define liberals as wimps and show the world how omnipotent we are. Especially since each time they do it we end up in an unwinnable quagmire with horrible loss of blood and treasure. It's got to stop here.


Thursday, August 18, 2005

It's Over

George W. Bush's streak of good luck continues --- at the expense of others as usual.

Cindy Sheehan had to leave Crawford to take care of her ailing mother. Without her, the protest becomes something different, less compelling and less meaningful. What a shame.

But it was very worthwhile. The questions about Iraq have crystalized for a lot of people who up until now just felt vaguely uncomfortable. The press have been forced to see the anti-war sentiment that has clearly been showing up in the polls in human terms. And Democrats and others have been able to connect with one another in a personal and meaningful way for the first time in a long time. That is not something that we should ever underrate. People need to feel part of things; they need to be allowed to be human. Cindy Sheehan and her protest gave a vast, frustrated and near hopeless number of Americans something to believe in. Let's hope it changed the zeitgeist for good.

Bloodthirsty Wench

The prosecutor in the BTK case just said that the prisoner should be put into the general prison population to "hack it out with the other guys."

She is undoubtedly a law and order Republican.

This is not to say that I don't understand the feelings of the families of the victims. This guy is a psychopathic monster. If one of them said something like that I think it would be understandable. It's human. But, there was once a time when the representatives of the justice system were expected to hold to higher standards of reason and reverence for the law in these situations --- which doesn't include publicly hoping that a prisoner be killed by other prisoners in jail.

Of course this prosecutor made an utter fool of herself for more than five minutes with her bizarre giggly affect so maybe she's on drugs or something. Even Blitzer and Greenfield were appalled by her antics.

Update: I stand corrected. Apparently she is a law 'n order Democrat.

Political Enthusiasm

Sam Rosenfeld asks a very good question. Why aren't the elected Dems using the Roberts nomination to make our case for the future? There is no margin anymore in giving the Red State Dems "free" votes on anything because the Republicans have shown time and again that there is no reward for "good" Democratic behavior. I would hope that Reid is whipping the caucus to give Roberts as small a margin as possible. But, there's more to it than that. There is opportunity in losing by making a well defined case against the politics, philosophy and policy that Roberts so clearly represents. I've seen no signs as yet that the Senate Democrats are going to exert even the smallest amount of political intensity to that job.

Acknowledging that Roberts nomination is almost sure to be confirmed, Rosenfeld says:

What remains continuously puzzling is the binary logic Democrats insist on applying to situations like this, wherein either a full substantive victory or the complete evaporation of political energy seem to count as the only possible alternatives. On this issue as with many others, there remains a weird disinclination to focus party efforts on using substantive defeats over actual policy outcomes (which are largely foreordained anyway for the minority party) to highlight contrasts with the GOP and forge a message for future electoral battles.

On the one hand, Roberts’ confirmation is essentially a lock, barring unforeseen developments during the hearings. Outside advocacy groups have their own interests to attend to and their own reasons for demanding opposition to the nominee, but for Senate Democrats, an active push to block Roberts doesn’t really make sense. On the other hand, there truly is little substantive justification for Democrats to actually endorse this nomination. So why do it?

As Matt wrote last month, “being in the minority comes with a few advantages -- first and foremost among them a release from the obligation to think realistically.” It shouldn’t be impossible, with creativity and coordination, to make the principled argument against Roberts part of the case for sending more Democrats to Washington. And it’s a bit distressing that throughout the coverage of base-party tensions over strategy on Roberts, this never seems to come up as an option worth considering.

This seems to me to be a Dem weakness across the board. If we can't win, why bother? (A corollary to this is, "if it's risky we shouldn't do it.") I suspect this is a matter of psychology --- some of it a holdover from the 60's, as we've discussed before --- and some of it an unwillingness to admit that the political minority and we are playing a different game. Yglesias' point is important. When you don't have the responsibility of governance (and particularly when the majority goes out of its way to govern in a purely partisan way) you are much freer to operate from a totally political standpoint.

It seems that many Democrats find that cheap or disreputable. But what it is, is opposition politics. Because you have no real power to enact your agenda, the strategy should be to frame the opponents agenda in the most offensive way possible and present an alternative that could not be passed today in either governing coalition but for which you would like to build a consensus over time.

I think that the Roberts nomination should be opposed on the basis of his active hostility to a right to privacy. Others may differ --- he's absurdly business friendly and anti-environmental, so a case can be made against him on that. In fact, he's pretty much everything loathesome I can imagine in a judge, (except that he is not anti-intellectual and he's obviously well qualified for the job.) But we should find a philosophical issue or two that we believe really define the difference between the two parties and begin to inculcate that difference in the minds of the electorate.

It's risky because we have no assurance that people will always agree with us. But that risk aversion is our biggest problem. We seem to think that we can be all things to all people and we just can't. So, we need to stake out a claim and work to bring some people over to our side. That takes time and effort and a willigness to use every opportunity we have in front of the cameras or on the op-ed pages to make our argument to the American people.

PM Carpenter recently discussed Newt Gingrich's recent call to arms in just these terms and clearly illustrates why the other side wins (barely) even though they are not really supported by the people on the issues themselves:

[Newt says] “Our core pattern should be ‘there is a BIG difference [between left and right] and it is a fact….’ We must then take such key facts to immediately illustrate a large vision; we cannot remain in arguments at the detail level.”

If you’re a conservative, odds are you won’t admit what Newt just admitted. If you’re a liberal, you’ll smile at what Newt just admitted, which is that conservatives cannot successfully debate liberals because the details that underlie most debates tend to support the liberal position, not the conservative. If the details supported Newt’s side, rest assured he would be touting the marvels of the fine point.

His outline of political action was also a resoundingly open call to demagogic arms. The “core pattern” he mentioned means, in translation, to repeat, repeat, repeat the “BIG” differences without ever substantiating the conservative arguments behind them. In fact, there should be no conservative arguments - just catchy slogans that appeal to those uninterested in inconvenient details. It’s not the “Big Difference” that Mr. Gingrich stresses as the advisable course of action. It’s the “Big Lie.”

That is the game they have been playing for 25 years and they are winning with it. And it's more than just the fact that they can't win the substantive argument. It's also because they've learned how to define themselves in big, philosophical terms and they successfully used their public platforms throughout their years, in and out of power, to project that definition. They never miss an opportunity.

I don't suggest that we adopt their dishonest demagoguery, but we do have to learn how to counter this effectively. Having wonky analytical arguments may be good for policy (and I hope we will always do this) but politically it's disasterous. Clearly, the public doesn't want to hear the details. If they did, they'd study the issues and vote for the party that most closely aligns with their interestsd --- and the Democrats would have a majority. They want a vision.

We will probably not win on Roberts. The nuclear option is very unlikely to be triggered unless Bush nominates a total nutcase --- and since the bar for that has been set lower than Janice Brown, I don't think it's possible. That's the sad consequence of not winning the presidency or the Senate in the last election. But it doesn't mean that we can't use these occasions to build for the future and make our case. Just because we can't win it today doesn't mean that we don't have a responsibility to lay the groundwork for winning tomorrow. Are these politicians so spoiled that they simply refuse to stage a tactical defeat, even for a higher purpose?

Acting The Role of Reporters

Washington Post reporter Jim VandeHei says Bush spokesman Scott McClellan "is seen as someone who might not tell you a lot, but is not going to tell you a lie. More broadly, we go to the [White House press] briefings if for no other reason to hear the White House spin on world events. They rarely figure into our daily reports because we will talk to Scott and others one on one and not in front of a crowd."

Setting aside the ridiculous assumption that McClellan tells the truth, which is completely unbelievable unless he's a braindead robot, can someone tell me why reporters should get their questions answered in private? The press briefings are purely PR exercises and the reporters should refuse to go instead of giving the white house a platform to spin bullshit as news. If the real news is gathered privately, then the press is simply playing a role in a public relations event.

The reader who pointed this out to me said something to the effect of, "it's easy to see why JD Guckert felt so at home in those briefings." No kidding.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Feckless, Photo-op

Kos has posted a handy list of the fine support the Republicans gave their commander in chief when he took action to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. I urge you all to read it and maybe even print it out to hand to your Republican friends when they get in your face about it being unamerican to not support the president in a time of war.

There is one quote missing from Kos' list, however, and it's one I must have heard a hundred times, from none other than our favorite maverick JJ McCain:

We didn’t have to get into Kosovo. Once we stumbled into it, we had to win it. This administration has conducted a feckless photo-op foreign policy for which we will pay a very heavy price in American blood and treasure.

Iraq, on the other hand, was necessary.

Rationale #459

In case anyone is wondering what is the latest rationale for the war in Iraq, Nicole Devenish, whitehouse spokesperson just said that we are "laying the foundation for peace."

Isn't that great? Why didn't we think of it before? That could serve as a catch-all rationale for any war in history --- and it can be used by either side. "The Emperor of Japan may have been a little bit ambitious when he had his navy bomb Pearl Harbor, but he should be given credit for laying the foundations for peace."

I finding it hard to believe, but this ridiculous notion of David Ignatius'--- that we will be successful if things turn out ok in 30 years seems to be catching on. On Hardball they were busily comparing George Bush to Harry Truman --- because Truman was unpopular while he was re-building Europe and Japan and we all know that Truman was considered to be a great president decades later. Of course he hadn't unilaterally started WWII with a bogus rationale, but that's just a niggling detail.

So we can assume that Junior will be seen as a great president someday just like old Give "Em Hell Harry. He was plainspoken too, don't you know. (Nobody seems to notice the eery resemblance between Bush and his fellow Texan, Lyndon Johnson, however.)

It would seem that in this one unique instance the government is taking the long view. We don't know when there will be peace --- why, it could take years and years. But we know that when Iraq does achieve it, they will have George W. Bush to thank for it. Praise be.

Telling The Story

Michael at Reading A1 wonders why some Democrats seem skittish about Cindy Sheehan. I have wondered this too. It seems as if our side has a knee jerk fear of controversy. I think he correctly diagnoses the problem:

Every so often I'm brought up short by the "discomfort" within the operative class, current or wannabe, toward political demonstration—as if it would be slumming to stand on a hot tarmac with a bunch of sweaty people holding a sign; as if it showed a lack of that so-prized seriousness to speak in and with symbols, rather than engaging in policy debate. Cindy Sheehan is reminding us, we don't especially need policy debate right now. What we need, very badly need, are stories: and story is just what the theater of Camp Casey is giving us. The right-wing talking point—that Cindy Sheehan doesn't really want to engage in dialogue with George Bush, that her demand for the dialogue he won't give her (and wouldn't, even if he were improbably to meet with her) is a sort of playacting—is accurate, but beside the point. The relations of power are difficult to conceptualize, and can be even for people trained to do that sort of thing. There is nothing difficult, on the other hand, about the mother of a dead soldier standing ignored at the end of the man's driveway who sent her son to be killed, waiting stoically in the Texas sun for an answer she knows will never come. Nor is there anything about it that doesn't speak volumes of truth to the ugly situation in which we find our country, five years on in the Rove/Cheney regime.

I'm flabbergasted that anybody on the left has even a moment's hesitation about this, has the least qualm about making use of the gift of symbol Cindy Sheehan is presenting us.

Politically, nothing could be more important for Democrats than to tell the story of Iraq in human terms.

The president got himself re-elected with this image:

As music blared from stadium loudspeakers, Marine One, the presidential helicopter, carrying Bush, his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, and first lady Laura Bush, landed in left field, dusting some of the 10,000 cheering supporters with dirt from the warning track. Bush emerged to the theme of the movie Top Gun.

"The choice in this election could not be clearer," Bush said from a podium set up on second base. "You cannot lead our nation to the decisive victory on which the security of every American family depends if you do not see the true dangers of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Political theatre works. If people could be politically persuaded by civilized debate, the Lehrer News Hour would be the highest rated news show on television. Most people need drama, excitement, pathos, catharsis --- on some level their emotions have to connect with their minds in order to understand.

Up to now, the story of Iraq has been told through the prism of American might and glory. It was a stirring tale. Unfortunately, the story of Iraq isn't really a story of might and glory; it's a story of arrogance, incompetence and human suffering. That's the story that Cindy embodies as she stands out there in the hot sun, surrounded by supporters, asking the president to answer the question for which he has no answer.

The spectacles of 9/11 and Iraq are over. Even the war supporters are singing a different tune now ---- the swashbuckling "I-raq 'n Roll" has given way to the mournful "Arlington." Cindy Sheehan's story is the story of that shift in the zeitgeist. We do not need to be afraid of this; it's good for the country.

They're Killing Us

John Aravosis, linking to Steve Soto's wonderful post about liberal pundit Richard Cohen, says in his headline "good guy, but dead wrong about Karl Rove and the war in Iraq." He may be a good guy, I don't know him, but the problem is that he's dead wrong about a lot of very important things at exactly the wrong moment.

I've written a lot about Richard Cohen over the years because I think he is a large part of what ails our side in this political/civil war. The liberal elite pundits, whom everyone assumes speak for "reasonable Democrats" are the first link in a chain that defines Democrats as being without conviction or belief. Democratic politicians, the media and the strategists take cues from their positions as to what constitues the "correct" liberal position. And it's killing us.

Richard Cohen is the poster boy for this destructive effete punditry. His claim yesterday that the Plame investigation was "not a major story. It's a crappy little crime and it may not be a crime at all," is just the latest in a long line of cocktail party bon mots that seem almost designed to ruin any chances the Democrats have of making headway in the media. Perhaps there is no better example, however, than this one from November 2000:

Given the present bitterness, given the angry irresponsible charges being hurled by both camps, the nation will be in dire need of a conciliator, a likable guy who will make things better and not worse. That man is not Al Gore. That man is George W. Bush."

At precisely the wrong moment, Cohen made precisely the wrong argument. It is his very special gift. The Republicans can always count on Cohen to give the respectable liberal view that Republicans are really the good guys and prove to everyone else that Democrats are a bunch of wimps.

Yesterday, he claimed that he doesn't blame reporters for getting the Iraq war wrong because they have to rely on their sources, (which we now know is solely comprised of the Bush administration and each other.) John Aravosis politely replies:

I'm a reporter, a writer, an activist, and many other things. And I didn't "get it wrong" like Richard Cohen apparently did. I totally got that something didn't add up BEFORE the war in Iraq started. I remember telling many people that the fact that the rationale for going to war in Iraq had changed, oh, 27 times (literally) had me a bit concerned. I remember telling them that I supported going into Afghanistan but Iraq smelled fishy - Bush didn't have a clear reason for going in and something didn't smell quite right.

Oddly enough, Cohen was an early skeptic of the war. Back in July of 2002 he was questioning the necessity for war:

The reason I started this column with LBJ's letter to Marshall Surratt of Dallas, Texas (a copy of which Surratt recently sent on to me), is that the lack of candour and the willingness to exaggerate the stakes in Vietnam cost both Johnson and the United States dearly. Not only was the triggering event for that war, the Tonkin Gulf incident, either wholly or partly concocted, it was used to justify a policy that had already been decided.

Is the same thing happening with Iraq? Are the events of September 11 being used to justify a goal that was already something of a fixation for some Bush administration figures?

I don't know. But I do know that certain hard questions have not yet been answered.


The US can take casualties, but only if it understands why. War plans are being drawn up in the Pentagon. But explanations are lacking at the White House.

All it took to turn him into an enthusiastic supporter was Colin Powell, every reasonable liberal pundit's favorite Republican Daddy. He could hardly contain his breathless relief that he could now join in the excitement:

"...the case Powell laid out regarding chemical and biological weapons was so strong -- so convincing -- it hardly mattered that nukes may be years away, and thank God for that. In effect, he was telling the French and the Russians what could happen -- what would happen -- if the United Nations did not do what it said it would and hold Saddam Hussein accountable for, in effect, being Saddam Hussein.

The French, though, are so far deaf to such logic. Their foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, said that the consequences of war are dire and unpredictable. He is right about that. But the consequences of doing nothing -- and mere containment of Iraq amounts to nothing -- are also dire and somewhat predictable. The United Nations will be revealed as a toothless debating society -- a duty-free store on the East River -- and every rogue will have learned a lesson from Saddam Hussein: Stall until everyone loses interest.

By this point a very large minority in the US and majorities of everyone in the rest of the world were convinced otherwise. There were massive protests that were disregarded as old hippy relics by the beltway media elite. It was clear that they were not being skeptical of any of the many rationales the Bush administration presented --- all they knew was that Bush had decided to go to war come hell or high water and once they knew that they became supporters of the war. Their intoxication was palpable.

And while the Republicans were being extolled for their resolute courage, the Democrats were being portrayed as bedwetting panic artists. This image was used to great effect during the presidential campaign. It was at this point that liberal Richard Cohen, with his usual impeccable timing, chose to admit that he had gotten all askeered about anthrax:

I'm not sure if panic is quite the right word, but it is close enough. Anthrax played a role in my decision to support the Bush administration's desire to take out Saddam Hussein. I linked him to anthrax, which I linked to Sept. 11. I was not going to stand by and simply wait for another attack -- more attacks. I was going to go to the source, Hussein, and get him before he could get us. As time went on, I became more and more questioning, but I had a hard time backing down from my initial whoop and holler for war.


The terrorist attacks coupled with the anthrax scare unhinged us a bit -- or maybe more than a bit. We eventually went into a war that now makes little sense and that, without a doubt, was waged for reasons that simply did not exist. We did so, I think, because we were scared. You could say we lacked judgment. Maybe. I would say we lacked leadership.

Very inspiring, no? A leading liberal admitting that he supported the Bush administration because he was afraid. Does it get any worse than that?

The Democrats have an image problem. And that image problem is constantly reinforced by the liberal pundits who helped create it in the first place. We are saddled with this milquetoast reputation in large part because the "reasonable" liberal pundits have political tin ears and yet are catered to and listened to by Democratic politicians and their handlers.

Like I said, I'm sure Richard Cohen is a good guy. But no politician anywhere should care what he thinks or listen to him or anyone like him, and there should be a concerted effort to persuade the media that these guys do not speak for us. Richard Cohen is what's killing us.