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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Stop Making Sense

by digby

That dessicated waste of space Kate O'Beirne is on Hardball right now screeching for the laudenenum because "liberals don't know how to act at funerals!" Oh lawdy, lawdy, lawdy Miss Mellie, I do decleah these Democrats are so ungenteel! Why, they were talkin' politics and singin' and dancin' and actin' all Negro and everything!

I personally find it absolutely outrageous, OUTRAGEOUS! that Republicans are attacking Coretta Scott King and her family this way. Why, she is an American icon! How dare they! Do they really think that African Americans don't know how to behave at a funeral for one of their own? How very white of them.

Kate O'Beirne isn't fit to wipe Coretta Scott King's shoes and criticizing her on the day of her memorial service is disgusting. What kind of unfeeling ghouls have Republicans become??

Update: Oh and I think they need to apologize to the Reverend Lowry. He is a man of the cloth and a friend of the deceased. Are they saying that leaders of the African American church are less worthy of respect than the white churches they are so proud of representing? It sure sounds like it. Republicans, it seems, only respect the church when its leaders "behave" the way they deem appropriate.

Update II: Matt Singer writes:

If you haven't read about it elsewhere, President Bush apparently looked a bit sheepish at Coretta Scott King's funeral service today. Why? Because two speakers had the gall to talk about the values the Kings stood for: fighting poverty, fighting racial division, standing up for working Americans.

Yes, it had to be unpleasant for poor little President Bubble Boy having to deal with something other than his hand-picked sycophants. He's probably never even heard this stuff before.

Typically, his supporters' knee jerk response is to rhetorically lynch African Americans.

Update III: Check out Americablog if you would like to know a little bit about the man who Kate O'Beirne and her fellow funeral etiquette harpies are taking to task for being inappropriate at King's funeral.

For shame.


by digby

ReddHedd has the full deconstrution of John Dickerson's juicy new memoir of his role in the Plame case today, so I will just give you the link to follow if you haven't already been there. I just want to make a couple of observations.

Dickerson says that this push-back by administration officials was highly unusual:

What struck me was how hard both officials were working to knock down Wilson. Discrediting your opposition is a standard tactic in Washington, but the Bush team usually played the game differently. At that stage in the first term, Bush aides usually blew off their critics. Or, they continued to assert their set of facts in the hope of overcoming criticism by force of repetition.


At this point the information about Valerie Plame was not the radioactive material it is today. No one knew she might have been a protected agent—and for whatever reason, the possibility didn't occur to us or anyone else at the time. But it was still newsworthy that the White House was using her to make its case. That Scooter Libby and Karl Rove mentioned Plame to Matt was an example of how they were attempting to undermine Wilson. They were trying to make his trip look like a special family side deal not officially sanctioned by the agency. No one at a high level in the government was worried enough about the veracity of the uranium claim to send a "real" special envoy. And no one at a high level ever saw Wilson's report when he returned. Later we would learn that Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley had been warned by the CIA that the uranium claims were shaky and that Wilson's wife was one of many people involved in the decision to send her husband.

I've always thought there was something quite unusual about the fact that they copped to the 16 words. This is a group that never admits to doing anything wrong ever. yet, they did it this time in an apparent effort to contain this story. According to Dickerson's recital, they were close to panic.

What was it about Wilson that had them so spooked that they would break with their highly successful methods? It's true that it was an escalating battle between the CIA and the White House over who was oging to get blamed for the WMD failure. Why didn't they just blow off their critics, get Tenent to take the fall, repeat their mantra like robots and move on?

I suspect that it has to do with Niger forgeries, but that's a guess. The IAEA had long before debunked them, but considering the infighting, Wilson's connection to the CIA may have made them very nervous. (Still no word on that, hmmmm?)

And maybe it's just the fact that there were no WMD. If I had hyped the danger as much as they did, I might have been spooked too. But they got over it. They quickly pulled themselves together and developed a better strategy. Just before the Special Prosecutor was appointed, the Financial Times reported:

"We let the earthmovers roll in over this one."

Or so they thought.

Trust Them

by digby

Or else:

The White House has been twisting arms to ensure that no Republican member votes against President Bush in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation of the administration's unauthorized wiretapping.

Congressional sources said Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove has threatened to blacklist any Republican who votes against the president. The sources said the blacklist would mean a halt in any White House political or financial support of senators running for re-election in November.

"It's hardball all the way," a senior GOP congressional aide said.

The sources said the administration has been alarmed over the damage that could result from the Senate hearings, which began on Monday, Feb. 6. They said the defection of even a handful of Republican committee members could result in a determination that the president violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Such a determination could lead to impeachment proceedings.

Over the last few weeks, Mr. Rove has been calling in virtually every Republican on the Senate committee as well as the leadership in Congress. The sources said Mr. Rove's message has been that a vote against Mr. Bush would destroy GOP prospects in congressional elections.

"He's [Rove] lining them up one by one," another congressional source said.

Mr. Rove is leading the White House campaign to help the GOP in November’s congressional elections. The sources said the White House has offered to help loyalists with money and free publicity, such as appearances and photo-ops with the president.

Those deemed disloyal to Mr. Rove would appear on his blacklist. The sources said dozens of GOP members in the House and Senate are on that list.

I guess we are supposed to believe that an administration that will strong-arm its own caucus on a fundamental constitutional question of the separation of powers would never spy on its political rivals.

Cartoon Violence Bake Two

by tristero

A very interesting discussion about the previous post on the cartoon riots. Just a few quickies and then I hope the cartoon riots quickly become history for all of us.

Today, the Wall Street Journal has a very interesting article on the history of the protests. As one would expect, the story is far more complicated than the Wag the Camel scenario. In fact, the protests were encouraged first of all not by Saudis, but by secularists in Egypt who wished to shore up their pro-Islam cred as secularists have come under pressure from radical Islamists. These protests then got out of hand. One more example of how impossible it is to tame a maelstrom. And of not recognizing that you're dealing with a maelstrom.

In comments, Michael said that I have no idea what art is for. That is absolutely true, and I've been thinking passionately about art, and studying it, for as long as I can remember. More to the point, however, is whether that is a question worth answering, except perhaps provisionally, through specific examples. I don't think so.

Mona, and some others, were unequivocal in defense of the paper, in advocating that the West teach the Muslims a lesson about free speech, and in rejecting of any argument that rioters have a claim to the moral high ground. To say the least, I strongly disagree with most of this, I'm sure I'm not alone in my disagreement, and I see no reason to repeat the arguments I've already made. That said, Mona's argument, combined with those who considered the cartoons "satire," spurred an interesting angle I hadn't considered before.

If I think of nasty satire, I think of Voltaire flaying Spinoza's Leibniz's optimism or of Philip Roth's Tricky Dixon in "Our Gang." But it's striking: The objects of satire are often - always? - respected authority figures or ideas within the culture of the satirist. WITHIN the culture, not OUTSIDE the culture. Even in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, the object of satire is not really the third world country to which Bill Boot has been booted by an editor who confused two Boots. It's the British press's hopeless, corrupt reporting from such countries. The satire was directed directly at institutions that were part and parcel of Waugh's upper class British Twitworld.

In contrast, as I see it, Islam is not part of mainstream Danish culture. Mohammed has no genuine cultural authority the way, say, the royal family might. To call the cartoons satire, therefore, seems to me inaccurate. It's simply ridicule, and ridicule of a figure from a culture that, from within Denmark - the satirizing culture - is Other. Danes are heeping scorn and humiliation on someone's religion, someone who is not Us. Someone who doesn't look like us, doesn't act like us, doesn't think like us, isn't as rich as us. And just can't be us.

Mona and those who believe the cartoons really are satirical probably don't see it this way, I suspect. To them, it's pretty simple: Muslims should act like everyone else and take their knocks like everyone else. If anyone's excluding them, making them peculiar and Other, it is Muslims themselves, by acting like jerks and failing to understand the importance of free speech. No excuses: Muslims are just like everyone else and if they don't behave decently, we need to be teach them some lessons.

My objection to this argument starts with the firm belief that there is a utopian, mistakenly optimistic premise behind this kind of argument of equality. The playing field for Muslims is not equal in Denmark. Even if they behaved exactly the same way as their non-Muslim neighbors, they'd still be judged non-Danish. Right now, Denmark, like other Scandinavian countries, is grappling with the rapidly changing nature of Danish identity. The children of Muslim immigrants are far from being thought equally "Danish" as the children of those who can trace their ancestry back to some 12th century ancestor. Muslims in Denmark, and in the Western world in general, are not often in positions of authority, the religion is not dominant in the West, nor are Muslim citizens in many positions of power. So, if satire is an assault on authority within the satirist's culture, as I think it traditionally has been, there's nothing [or little] for the Danish cartoonists to satirize in Islam and Muslims. But there are some - many - who will find much to scorn and ridicule in those who they think can never be part of Danish culture. And those folks will find much to hate in the Other. (You might object: What about Satanic Verses? What about it? Yes, it satirized Muslims and the Qu'ran, but Rushdie was raised Indian and Muslim. The satire was within his own cultural milieu.)

So let me revise an earlier sentence. As I see it, Islam is not part of mainstream Danish culture yet. It will be some day. given current trends. And when it is, the ethnocentrism, the racism, that is so egregious is these cartoons (and, yes, I've seen them) will be muted. That's because Danish cartoons that will actually satirize Islam will be different in kind than these cartoons. They will make less use of ethnic stereotyping, for one thing. But right now, the paper that published the cartoons was up to a lot more than simply dispensing the indisputed (to the West) moral lesson that free speech is good. The paper was also teaching a lesson - "We" know better than the Muslims. AND the paper was holding up to ridicule not authority figures within its culture, but the beliefs and authorities of the most abject members of its culture.

It's may be laudable to imagine a time when Islam can be treated satirically and with the full viciousness Tim Robbins lavished on the rightwing in "Bob Roberts". But it's a serious mistake to think now is the time.

Let me add some boilerplate caveats, which should be obvious, but apparently aren't to some folks. I do not advocate banning any kind of speech and nothing above can be construed as doing so without twisting the obvious meaning of what I wrote. I deplore what the paper did, not the publishing per se, but the whole shebang. But they had the right to do it and I wouldn't restrict them from doing so. Being friends with the editor, now that's a different story.

Simply because the cartoons are blatantly offensive, and intended to be, in no way excuses the utterly insane reaction in which people have senselessly died. Those deaths lie at the feet of the cynical bastards within the Muslim communities that incited people to riot (and with some, not all, of the rioters), not the paper or the cartoonists.

While many details can and should change - yeah, the art argument was off topic in post 1 - I still think my first post on this crazy mess got it right. What's behind the cartoon riots are very deep, very troubling notions that cause perfectly sensible people to think it is the West's job to teach the non-West lessons in how to behave, or to think that when the West behaves like a first year medical intern with no social skills, the appropriate response is a bullet or a bomb. To get out of this insane murderous dance, the first tiny step must be to put away all those gut reactions and do some serious thinking about what is going on and why.

That is why we need a far freer press than we have, or Denmark has. We simply have to know what is going on. All of it, even the ugly bits. That is why before we can even begin to understand how sensibly to deal with the any of the disparate Muslim communities in the world, we sure as hell need to find out a lot more about them and stop pretending they are an equal part of the Western world or so repellent or backwards they need us to teach them how to behave.

That's it. No more posts on these damn cartoons, I swear!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Process Talk

by digby

Via Armando over at Kos I see this statement from Tom Vilsack today:

Gov. Tom Vilsack said Monday that Democrats risk political backlash if they object to the Bush administration's wiretapping but cannot show that Americans' civil liberties are at risk.

The Democratic governor, who is weighing a 2008 presidential bid, said the party will suffer if it continues to be perceived as weaker than Republicans on national security.

. . . "If the president broke the law, that's unacceptable. But I think it's debateable whether he did," Vilsack told Des Moines Register editors and reporters. "And I think Democrats are falling into a very, very large political trap," he said. "Democrats are not going to win elections until they can reassure people they are going to keep them safe."

There are many things about this statement that are bullshit. I don't have to lay them all out for you. But I would like to expound on one aspect of this statement that drives me crazy: it's a process answer.

A process answer is saying what "we should say" instead of just saying it. Nothing drives me more nuts than a politician who talks process instead of engaging voters directly. In this instance it's a backstab equal to anything one of those run-at-the-mouth strategists says to the NY Times to boost his cool factor among the mediatarts. He's positioning hemself as a "reasonable" centrist on national security, but he clearly has nothing to offer on the subject at hand so he just talks about what "we should be doing."

A lot of politicians do this, in different ways. Even Howard Dean used to do it when he said "we should be appealing to those guys with the confederate flags on their pick ups --- they don't have health care either." I wanted to shout "Great! Do it. What's the pitch?" The pitch never came. That's the rub with these process discussions. Just saying that we should do something or we need to do something is not the same as doing it. And it's a big reason why people are confused about what we stand for.

If they think that we should be tougher on national security, they shouldn't say "we can't win elections until we reassure people that we can keep them safe." They should say, "here's how we'll keep you safe..." If Vilsack really thinks that Democrats will lose if we don't support unconstitutional domestic spying programs then he should just say, "I think the program is probably legal and I support it." A winning message is a winning messsage, right? Why all the navel gazing?

I suspect that he knows most Democrats don't support his stance. But then perhaps he ought to think about how to convince us that we are wrong on the substance of this argument instead of appealing to us on this issue of "winning." Maybe we can be convinced. Or if he doesn't actually believe that the program should be supported but thinks he has to go along with it or Democrats will lose, then he could try persuading Republicans that the program is wrong. Either way, he will have given a clear message instead of trying to signal some sort of defeatist "this is the only way we can win" argument to the base while sounding like a half baked philosopher to the opposition. It's this meaningless "we must convince people" process mush that will ensure that nobody knows what in the hell he actually believes. And that's the biggest problem most Democratic politicians face.

It Could Be Anyone

by digby

Crooks and Liars has a clip from Glenn Greenwald's appearance this morning on Washington Journal in which he mentions that many conservatives are concerned about this. He brought up super conservative Bruce Fein's opinion that this could be an impeachable offense.

But he didn't have time to mention a couple of things that I think are worth looking at in this vein. The first is this group that calls itself Patriots To Restore Checks and Balances who have formed an alliance with the following groups to protest the government's increasing encroachment on Americans' civil liberties:

Brad Jansen
Adjunct Scholar, Competitive Enterprise Institute
Association of American Physicians and Surgeons
American Civil Liberties Union
American Conservative Union
Americans for Tax Reform
American Policy Center
Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms
Free Congress Foundation
Libertarian Party
Gun Owners of America
Second Amendment Foundation

The press release I linked above says this:

"When the Patriot Act was passed shortly after 9-11, the federal government was granted expanded access to Americans' private information," said Barr. "However, federal law still clearly states that intelligence agents must have a court order to conduct electronic surveillance of Americans on these shores. Yet the federal government overstepped the protections of the Constitution and the plain language of FISA to eavesdrop on Americans' private communication without any judicial checks and without proof that they are involved in terrorism."

Where are these guys today? Shouldn't they be called to testify before this committee and give their views? Are these "hard-core, doctrinaire" conservatives (as Greenwald elegantly calls them) just another branch of the Karl Rove Eunuch Society? I thought they always considered themselves to be something more than party hacks and second rate cronies but perhaps I was wrong.

Grover Norquist, as I have pointed out before, should be concerned about this for more than theoretical reasons. Perhaps he thinks he's safe because he is the ultimate insider. But he should ask himself whether the fact that other insiders consider him a security threat might just put him in the crosshairs.

Grover Norquist has for some years now been promoting Islamist organizations, including even the Council on American-Islamic Relations; for example, he spoke at CAIR's conference, "A Better America in a Better World" on October 5, 2004. Frank Gaffney has researched Norquist's ties to Islamists in his exhaustive, careful, and convincing study, "Agent of Influence" and concludes that he is enabling "a political influence operation to advance the causes of radical Islamists, and targeted most particularly at the Bush Administration."

But if Grover Norquist is indeed a convert to Islam, it could be that he is not just enabling the Islamist causes but is himself an Islamist. (April 14, 2005)

Grover looks like just the sort of guy they'd be likely to tap, don't you think?

This really isn't a partisan issue. Any American could fall under this illegal spying scheme and there is no oversight by anyone to determine whether it's legal, necessary or useful to national security. It could be political enemies... and it could be political friends who some believe have suspicious ties to "the enemy." You just don't know. That's the problem.

And knowing how these people operate --- as Grover surely does, having been a part of the dirty tricks apparatus for more than 20 years --- you can bet they are doing whatever they think is advantageous to their cause. I would think that keeping an eye on "unreliables" like Grover with his Muslim wife and libertarian leanings could be seen by the administration as important.

And as I noted in this earlier post, they don't just spy on their enemies; they spy on their friends too. To make sure they don't stray ... if you know what I mean.

Shorter Wiretaps

by tristero

It's Watergate "done right:"
I believe that the Judiciary Committee will find, if it is willing to persist, that within the large pointless program there exists a small, sharply focused program that delivers something the White House really wants.

How We Will Win The War On Terror

by digby

The oceans no longer protect us. The terrorists are coming over any minute to kill us all in our beds. They are a ruthless enemy who hide in caves until they suddenly decide to strike without mercy. But they have an achilles heel. They are all suffering from serious memory problems. Unless they see it in the paper they forget that we are tapping telephones. Then they slap themselves in the forehead and say "Oh no! I've been calling my friend Mohammed in LA planning that awesome terrorist attack and like, totally fergot that the infidels are listening in. Fuck. Man, Zawahiri is gonna to be so pissed."

This is why it was so horrible that that the NY Times revealed the program. It jogged the terrorists' memories and now they won't use their phone and e-mail accounts anymore. Until they forget again, that is. So, shhhh. Loose lips sink ships.

So says Alberto Gonzales.

Cartoon Violence

by tristero

Note: I'm not sure the following is entirely cooked. Consider this three quarters baked. Or less.

Mahablog has a bunch of links to opinions about the cartoon riots. And links to some opinions about the opinions.

In a different post, Barbara links to Juan Cole's comments on the matter and as always they are interesting. Juan believes, among other things, that there something akin to an economic thing at work here. That's 'cause Muslims, many if not most, live in Third World countries and communities. In short, in part it's the rich and well off ridiculing the poor.


But as I recall, during the Satanic Verses flap (which in many important ways, I think, the cartoon riots do NOT resemble), Khomeini was in the midst of some serious domestic problems - bad economy in Iran, enormous number of deaths in a futile war with Iraq. Rushdie's book was the perfect deflection. Similarly, Saudi Arabia had some very good reasons to stoke the controversy. During the recent haj, some 350 Muslims died. Now if the cartoons were published in September, why in late Jan/early Feb is there suddenly such shock, shock? In short, the cartoon riots are part of a Wag The Camel strategy.


And maybe Atrios is ultimately right, that the right to ridicule Muhammed must be defended, but the decision to do so is open to serious question. Especially given how tense things are presumed to be between the West and Islam.

But while Atrios' take is as close to mine as I've read, what seems behind all the craziness is pretty deep stuff, deeper than a first glance might seem. I'm gonna go through my steps in coming to my own somewhat different conclusion, complementary to Duncan's.

I must confess my Inner Contrarian was the first to react. No, not less but even more offensive cartoons! The world needs more mockery of Muhammed and Islam, I thought. The more they're mocked, the less power the mockery has and that's good for everyone. The more it's mocked, the less sensitive Muslims will become to every slight. The worst thing to do in this situation is to declare ridicule off limits. It makes Islam above human reach, like the acts of Zgriertwrw (the substitute word for the name of the US president, whose name has become too holy to be uttered by non-Republicans).

But then I thought more about Art and Morality. Soundbite version: It simply isn't art's job to teach anyone a lesson.

True, it's not art's job to be polite. If it was, there wouldn't be Michelangelo's David, let alone the poems of Baudelaire, or the late recordings and performances of John Coltrane. And it is certainly not art's job to make a culture less sensitive and passionate.

But then I flipped that all around and a glimpse of a personal opinion on this mess started to occur to me. If it is not art's job deliberately to console, it also is not art's job intentionally to piss anyone off. The dissonances in Monteverdi's madrigals were not deliberate provocations, as many thought. It's simply what he heard. Stravinksy wasn't trying to cause a riot with Le Sacre. He was furious, not happy for the publicity. An artist, if s/he's really an accomplished artist, doesn't seek to anger. What a monumentally trivial objective!

In the case of the cartoons, it seems as if they were commissioned for moral reasons, to illustrate a point of view, propagate an ideology - freedom of speech impinged upon by Muslim objections. Their existence was not drawn from some internal kind of inner aesthetic impulse (people have argued for hundreds of years what's meant by that kind of a drive and I'm not gonna go any further now to define what I mean) but from without.

In short, the cartoons are art to teach a lesson. But while the artist can control his/her brushstrokes, the reaction to art cannot be controlled. In moral art, the reactions are often far from ones the artists desire. Put another way most of us who've read the Inferno stop right there. I'm sure the good parts are wonderful, but I think I've already read the really good - ie, lurid- parts.

And that's sort of like the problem with my initial impulse. I, too, wanted to teach those sumbitches a lesson - who, exactly? I dunno, those sumbitches. And that's just like the newspaper that originally published the toons. But, as I thought through what I was saying, I realized it's not my business to teach anyone a lesson and that thinking it was is nuts. Gut feelings are very often not good.

Now, perhaps a bit of a digression but it really isn't. A bit of detail on the use of moral themes in art.

Some great artists have conciously worked with moral themes in art today, to try to come to terms with it. One of the greatest masters of the trend is - irony of ironies - the Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier. His masterpiece, "Breaking the Waves," (don't rent it, see it in a theater where you can't escape) is both a deeply moving affirmation of Catholic faith and a harrowing, pornographic rant against the superhuman sacrifices required to live a life truly in imitation of Christ. You can easily conclude that art as the mediator of morality has not been deconstructed but eviscerated in von Trier's work. But you can just as easily see in the fate of Emily Watson's character the redemptive, sacrificing love of Christ and the good that can flow from it. And that's just for starters in trying to approach this amazing, impossibly aggravating film.

Von Trier's film is shattering, insane, magnificent, fiercely ambiguous, sublime. By intent, Lars makes you seek your own sense of morality within the structure and actions of the film. And just as intentionally, you are doomed to fail. This isn't a paen to relativism or amorality. Rather, for von Trier, it's something like the point of the Book of Job: the moral compass of humans is too puny to grasp God's greatness and thoughts. But while you're on this doomed journey of moral discovery, you just might think to wonder how your sense of good and evil gets shifted and twisted and turned inside itself. And if there is a "good" in the film, it's that sense of wonder. An aesthetic sense. The sense of art. It's an exhausting experience to watch Breaking the Waves. And unforgettable.

By contrast, the Muhammed cartoons are, morally dull, even by their own admittedly less high-falutin' standards. And the reason is obvious after a bit of thought. The intention behind them is not to work out some kinky artistic/personal problems. No, the intentions behind the cartoons were those of the self-righteous Western mediocrity and they couldn't be clearer - let's show Them free speech is a good thing.

Wow, that's taking a controversial position! But much to the amazement of the Danes, they found that it actually was. And this is what makes the cartoons indefensibly awful, even stupid. Unlike Stravinsky, for whom teaching moral lessons was the last thing on his mind; unlike von Trier, whose control is simply awesome over fiendishly complicated moral themes; the cartoonists and their editors set out, like the naive, idealistic Kevin Costner in the Untouchables, to do good. They got their asses handed to them.

So here's the point of this long digression into von Trier, aesthetics, et al.

Why do the cartoon riots remind me of Paul Wolfowitz and George Packer, who seemed to have nothing to do with it? For a very simple reason. The same perverse sense of entitlement and exceptionalism underlies the anti-aesthetic impulse of the editors: Let's do some good! This is not to argue for a crude Scowcroftian realism, but rather to protest, strongly, against the insanity of making simplistic moral/political statements either in art or in foreign policy. A lot of the time, they just make things worse. A lot worse.

So to sum up. Yes, on the level that most often should be addressed - the practical level - Atrios is right and that's as far as anyone needs to go. Of course, the rioters are, at best, grossly overreacting and at worst, have been driven insane by those that provoked them to overreact. Of course, free speech needs defense, and of course commonsense propriety was in short supply in the newspaper's newsroom. But underneath these self-evident truisms lies a sad truth that bears some thinking about. The events of the cartoon riots, in all their mad senselessness and fatal tragedy, reflect - epitomize - some of the worst but most virulently widespread presumptions of our time: the arrogance and shallowness of white boy moralizing; the maniacal self-destructive sense of sheer helplessness that descends into pointless murder, destruction, and horror.

As I see it, both the decision to commission and publish the cartoons and the riots that followed simply defy comprehension not because one couldn't predict the consequences but because one could, with depressing ease. Unless they come to their senses, the white do-gooders are gonna get us all killed in their crusades. And the recipients of all this do-gooding are gonna do the exact same thing when their fury at the do-gooders is cynically stoked and channelled into senseless destructiveness and murder.

In short, no more cartoon riots. No more cartoon editors. No more cartoon evil cavemen. And no more cartoon American administrations. It's time not to listen to what our gut says, it's time to give it some alka-seltzer and get it to shut up so we can think.
First Rate Burglary

by digby

I'm beginning to wonder if the Democrats might not have some information that the administration has done domestic surveillance without a warrant. They keep asking. Pointedly. And Gonzales keeps saying that he isn't "comfortable" acknowledging the question.

It is indisputable that the admnistration has engaged in surveillance of political groups. We know this. It has been verified. We also know that they believe that political dissent gives aid and comfort to the enemy. The president says so himself.

Therefore, it is entirely reasonable to suspect that this administration would use this illegal surveillance program for purposes other than that to which they have admitted, particularly since they consider political dissent to be bordering on treason. This is, remember, an administration that has made a fetish of the politics of personal destruction. The gathering of "oppo research" is the life's blood of their political strategy and it goes all the way back to the Big Kahuna.

From Bush's Brain:

At a seminar in Lexington, Kentucky, in August 1972, Rove and Robinson recounted the Dixon episode with considerable delight. They talked about campaign espionage, about digging through an opponent's garbage for intelligence --- then using it against them. Robinson recounted how the technique had worked well for him in the 1968 governor's race in Illinois when he "struck gold" in a search of an opponent's garbage. He found evidence that a supporter had given checks to both sides in the race, but more to the Democrat, Sam Shapiro.

"So one of our finance guys calls the guy up the next day and told him there was a vicious rumor going around," Robinson said, according to a tape recording of a seminar. "The guy got all embarrassed and flew to Chicago that day with a check for $2,000 to make up the difference," he said.

This was the summer of the Watergate break-in, with the first revelations of a scandal that unraveled the Nixon presidency.The Watergate burglars broke in to the Democratic National Committee offices on June 17 and the whole business of political dirty tricks was rapidly becoming a very sensitive subject. Both Rove and Robinson recognized that. They even specifically mentioned the Watergate break-in at the seminars, not as a reason to avoid campaign espionage, but as a reason to keep it secret.

"While this is all well and good as fun and games, you've really got to use your head about who knows about this kind of thing." Robinson warned.

"Again in those things, if it's used sureptitiously in a campaign, it's better off if you don't get caught. You know, those people who were caught by Larry O'Brien's troops in Washinngton are a serious verification of the fact that you don't get caught."

Remember: Watergate was about bugging the Democratic National Committee. The "3rd rate burglary" was to replace an illegal bug that had been planted on the telephones of prominent Democrats.

The lesson of Watergate for the chagrined Republicans was that they needed to be more forceful in assuming executive power and they needed to be more sophisticated about their campaign espionage. This is what they've done.

Anybody who even dreams that these guys are not using all their government power to spy on political enemies is being willfully naive. It is what they do. It is the essence of their political style. This is Nixon's Republican party and they have finally achieved a perfect ability to carry out his vision of political governance: L'etat C'est Moi. If the president does it that means it's not illegal.

The Eunuch Caucus

by digby

I've been digesting this morning's hearings and I am dumbstruck by the totality of the Republicans' abdication of their duty. These men who spent years running on Madisonian principles ("The essence of government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse") now argue without any sense of irony or embarrassment that Republican Senators are nothing more than eunuchs in President Bush's political harem. They have voluntarily rendered the congress of the United States impotent to his power.

I've watched this invertebrate GOP caucus since 2000 as they submitted themselves to this lawless administration again and again, shredding every bit of self respect, every figment of institutional pride, every duty to the constitution. The look in their eyes, which is somehow interpreted as strong and defiant by the equally servile media, is actually a window to empty little men who have given up their manhood to oblige their master. The only reward they seek is unfettered access to the taxpayers money for their own use.

We are looking at fifty-five of the most powerful people in the country. Collectively the Republican Senators represent almost a hundred and fifty million citizens. And they have allowed a callow little boy like George W. Bush along with his grey eminineces Karl Rove and Dick Cheney to strip them of their consciences, their principles and their constitutional obligations. What sad little creatures, cowardly and subservient, unctuously bowing and scraping before Karl Rove the man who holds their (purse) strings and dances them around the halls of congress singing tributes to their own irrelevance at the top of their lungs. How pathetic they are.

Barry Goldwater is rolling over in his grave.

Update: Oh, and don't get excited about Huckleberry Graham's "tough" questions. This is his schtick. Going all the way back to the impeachment hearings, he has done this. He hems and haws in his cornpone way how he's "troubled" by one thing or another until he finally "decides" after much "deliberation" that the Republican line is correct after all and he has no choice but to endorse it.

Update II: Matt Yglesias notices the same thing and wonders why the senators don't have a hunger for pwoer. I say it's because they are craven, bedwetting cowards who are afraid of Karl Rove and addicted to stealing from the American people.

Declaring War

by digby

I'm watching the NSA hearings and it occurred to me: did the UK and Spain "declare war" on terrorism or al Qaeda? After all, they have been attacked as well and I wonder if they are operating under wartime conditions or wartime laws. Dores anyone know whether we are the only country in the world that considers itself "at war" with terrorism in the literal sense of the word?


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Question Of The Day

by digby

From today's New York Times:

One who attended was George Terwilliger, a deputy attorney general in Mr. Bush's father's administration, who said that questions over the spy program were "not so much a debate about the law as about the tactics that are necessary to combat the type of violent enemy we've never confronted before."

He added, "I hope the A.G. will make that point very strongly, that there is no precedent for what we're dealing with here."

I'm hearing everywhere that the Democrats are skittish about pursuing the NSA scandal due to the GOP's aggressive framing of the program as necessary to protect the American people. It is indisputable that Republicans have been very successful at portraying themselves as strong and Democrats as weak on national security for more than 40 years and have used this issue aggressively in the last two elections. Indeed, the only time we won the presidency since 1964 was during times when national security was not on the agenda (or their president was forced to resign in disgrace.) They have appropriated certain master narratives about heroism and courage to define Republican leadership which they sell as necessary when the country is under threat --- a threat which they also insist upon defining as existential (communism and terrorism) and which always requires brute force rather than strategic cunning or intelligent maneuvering. (Remember that at the country's most dangerous moment in the last 50 years -- the Cuban Missile crisis --- the hawks insisted that the only answer was to launch a pre-emptive strike while cooler heads insisted on trying to figure out a way to step back from the brink.)

So, knowing this and knowing the Rove has been telegraphing that they plan to pull out their wellworn playbook once again, I'm throwing this out to you readers today to mull over and discuss. Since the Republicans have been successful in winning elections on national security, how should Democrats deal with it?

This Is More Like It, Mr. Keller

by tristero

Normally, in articles like this one, another dispatch from the front lines of the extreme right's War On Brains. a quote packed with the usual lies of the extreme right is reproduced without context or fact checking. This gives the reader the impression that the facts are basically right and therefore what the fanatic is saying may be a reasonable, even if unusual, opinion to hold:
"I got tired of people calling me and saying, 'Why is my kid coming home from high school and saying his biology teacher told him he evolved from a chimpanzee?' " Mr. Buttars said.
This time around, however, the reporter, Kirk Johnson, was permitted to be a genuine reporter and report the whole truth, not just be a quote puppet. The very next paragraph reads:
Evolutionary theory does not say that humans evolved from chimpanzees or from any existing species, but rather that common ancestors gave rise to multiple species and that natural selection — in which the creatures best adapted to an environment pass their genes to the next generation — was the means by which divergence occurred over time. All modern biology is based on the theory, and within the scientific community, at least, there is no controversy about it.
Yes, exactly. The only thing that's remarkable about this is that this kind of apropriately critical attitude is rare. The lies that the extreme right and radical christianists spew out as a matter of course can only be stopped from polluting the discourse if they are met immediately and head on.

This article has the right idea. Someone might wanna inform their colleagues at the Book Review that reviewers and essayists, too, are obligated to know enough about their subjects to separate fact from fiction and not be seduced into a bogus equivalence of value by rightwing lies no matter how confidently asserted.

by tristero

Daniel Mendelsohn is right.

An while you're at the NY Review of Books (NOT the Times Book Review), check out, among other great pieces, Thomas Powers' review of James Risen's book, "State of War."

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Why The Fight Against IDiocy Matters

by tristero

It always amazes me when a practicing scientist and nobody's fool thinks "intelligent design" creationism is not his or her problem:
Our energy is misdirected if we fight harmless beliefs in angels or intelligent design. There are antiscientific illusions with far more serious repercussions for society. Among these are the continuing belief in ballistic missile defense; or an irrational fear of terrorism when alcohol, automobiles or suicide pose much greater risks. On these fronts, you will find practicing scientists engaged.

The front against creationism is fought mostly by science philosophers, because intelligent design is fodder for their discipline, and by science educators, because creationism infringes on their professional activity.
He makes some good points, but he is utterly wrong.

The reason is this: although I can see how someone might develop an argument that, say, fear of terrorism is irrational, I disagree. At the very least, it's quite arguable whether a substantial level of fear of terrorism once your town has lost some 3000 citizens in a single day is rational or not. The comparison of terrorism stats with alcohol deaths, et al is specious - for many reasons, this seems apples to oranges to me.

Reasonable people cannot disagree about "intelligent design" creationism. It's garbage, the same way Star Wars is garbage. But it is not a harmless folk belief. Far from it.

ID is a carefully crafted strategy, extravagantly funded by the most extreme elements of the religious far right, to undermine science. Destroying science is but one front in an openly declared struggle to replace the American republic with a theocracy.*

And indeed, to drive the point home as to how important it is for scientists to combat fake science of the IDiotic variety Atrios points to an article with excerpts from a memo that actually circulated within NASA. There is much that is distressing in this article, but it is this part I want to focus on here:
The Big Bang memo came from Mr. Deutsch, a 24-year-old presidential appointee in the press office at NASA headquarters whose résumé says he was an intern in the "war room" of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. A 2003 journalism graduate of Texas A&M, he was also the public-affairs officer who sought more control over Dr. Hansen's public statements.

In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word "theory" needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA.
Get it? This fight is not about what kids learn in high school. This is a knockdown drag out fight - no, this is a culture war - in which the extreme right is trying to re-define science as just one more set of religious doctrines. This crap about the Big Bang, discussed in all seriousness in a government document!, comes from the the wackiest fringes of religious fundamentalism, people who think all of particle physics is a lie and what constitutes the universe are not quarks, electrons, protons, neutrons, and so on, but Jesus. I kid you not. This bizarre comic strip is not a parody.

Ominously, the notion that somehow science is just one more set of equally believable opinions about the world, no different than say, astrology, has just been made legitimate in the Times Book Review:
neo-Darwinists [sic] emphasize natural selection, a god-like mechanism
This is so utterly wrong I'm at a loss for words. The reviewer not only doesn't know a damn thing about modern evolutionary science. He doesn't even know basic theology.
Thomas Aquinas hedged his bets, saying that astrology might have a deterministic interpretation when applied to people in large populations, but that individuals, in communion with God, are freed from the bondage of the group. This aptly parallels the relationship between Newtonian mechanics
It does not.
quantum physics, in which individual particles are allowed the luxury of free will.
This is bullshit, even in an informal sense, even in an attempt at wit.
Popular astrology, with its simplistic emphasis on sun signs and their psychological traits (e.g., Geminis are fickle; Virgos are meticulous), is a wan replica of traditional astrology.
Bullshit. "Traditional astrology" in terms of accuracy and validity is just as bogus and arbitrary as "popular astrology." There are just more levels of bogosity.
But astrology can also be seen as early science, an attempt to understand nature.
Bullshit. That would mean that any and all creation myths or crystal ball gazing are just crude, early forms of science. This entirely misrepresents what science actually is, and how it differs from creation myths and crystal ball gazing.
Modern man can choose from a veritable smorgasbord of Type 1 errors: string theory, neo-Darwinism, cosmology, economics, God. Astrology is as good as any...
Bullshit. This reviewer doesn't know the first thing about any of the topics in his list.

There has been a great deal written about the faked memoirs of James Frey. The Times itself has printed editorials deploring the author. But somehow, a genuine peabrain who hasn't met a fact or an idea that he can't scramble beyond any recognition - is he, perhaps, this guy using a pseudonym? - was permitted to review in the Book Review, and the paper published it without bothering to run it past a single scientifically literate person who would immediately spot the omnipresent fraudulence.

*I have documented every single assertion, and every single adjective within these assertions far too often to repeat them. Anyone seriously interested in the details is welcome to pick up Forrest and Cross's "Creationism's Trojan Horse" which goes into enough detail for most laypeople. Any comments attempting to excuse or advocate for the "worth" of "intelligent design" creationism will be ignored by me in the comments. Even before Dover, that was not an argument intellectually honest people could make with a straight face. After Dover, there are no excuses to give it the time of day.

[UPDATE: Mark in SanFran over at Kos] fills in some details of the science, and some background information on the reviewer of the astrology book.]
Michael Berube Is Professor Keef

by tristero

It's now official. There's no point in denying the rumors any longer; we knew they were true long ago. Our very own Michael Berube is none other than the Keith Richards of Academe. Congratulations, Michael! No false modesty now, you've earned it. You deserve the title. I hold my lighter to the sky in your praise.

Who sez Berube's Herr Professor Keith, the inimitable virtuoso of chalk in Open G? No greater an authority than David Horowitz does. Yes, THAT David Horowitz (and I'll be fried in Crisco before I'll give him a link). David says so in his new book called The Professors, listing the 101 most dangerous college profs in America.

Close that slack jaw, buster. It's real, I saw it with my own eyes last night in a store (didn't buy it, natch). Think I could make something like that up? No one in their right mind could begin to imagine a book about academics that endanger America with their ideas. (Um...Better move right along before anyone notices...)

And in said tome, betwixt pages 71 and 73, we can learn all about the evil Berube, his darkest, his grooviest, his most Keith-iest transgressions:

1. How he supported the invasion of Afghanistan and the toppling of the Taliban but then relapsed into standard leftist opposition to war when it came to Iraq.

2. How he teaches a class in creepy postmodernistical deconstructionalistical what-have-you, during which Berube makes the case that sane laws and ethics devolve from people and not from attempts to discern the commands of a divine, supra-human will. Never you mind that sounds a lot like the argumentation in the Declaration of Independence. David Horowitz says this is evil. And David knows a lot about evil. (eh... well, as I was sayin')

3. Michael Berube dilates in class. That's right, it's there in black and white in David's book, look it up. Michael Berube dilates in class.

Who knew? In fact, I've met Prof. Berube twice for dinner and concerts and I never guessed. Again and again, I stared straight into the eyes of one of the most dangerous professors in America. He stared back. I stared. He stared. We both stared. I could swear he never dilated. Not once.

Now, you might ask, "Did he ever get up, excuse himself, and say, 'I'll be right back, gotta dilate' " ? He did not.

The closest I came to seeing anything remotely like dilating occurred just after dinner. Professor Evil, with a sideways glance worthy of Cary Grant in Notorious, reached into his sports jacket and pulled out a dangerous looking metallic device, flicked it open with a wrist motion that bespoke hundreds of hours of intensive practice, mashed a few buttons and then muttered some cryptic words into it that sounded suspiciously like, "Hey, howru? Jamie ok?"

But everyone knows that's "dialating" and Horowitz was quite specific. Berube dilates. Daily. And in class, no less.

So it's official, Michael Berube is fookin' dangerous. And, just as Keith is proud of his reputation as the Bad Boy of Rock, Michael, too, should take this as a badge of honor. I'm thrilled to know one of the most dangerous men in the country. Let me say it ever so loud and proud. I want the world to know:

I stand completely behind Michael Berube.

(Obviously. Because if I stood anywhere else, who knows what I might get hit with when he dilates?)

Will there be an award? Will Michael unite with his old band at the ceremony, will the songs sound as fresh as the day they prematurely split, and will they reunite for one last tour of triumph, selling out Albert Hall and the Garden? Stay tuned.

PS As mentioned, I didn't buy the book and I didn't have much time. So, perhaps there are more of my buddies listed, both in the blogosphere and in MeatLand. To all of you, my heartfelt congratulations.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Ripping Them Off Again

by digby

Just in case you missed this Diary over at Kos earlier this week, I urge you to read it. Mary Beth Williams of Wampum has put together a series of posts outlining a whole other dimension of the Abramoff scandal, namely his involvement in running a slush fund to obstruct an accounting of the Bureau of Indian Affairs --- an accounting ordered by the federal court in the biggest class action suit in American history.

The story is complicated and amazingly disgusting. Apparently, there is just no limit to how often and how thoroughly this country can fuck over the Indians.

Here is a post at Wampum with links to all the posts Marybeth has done on this subject. This is fascinating, amazing work. If the fine folks at Wampum didn't take themselves out of the running for the Koufaxes, this would be a major contender for best series.

Stickin' It To DeLay

by digby

I'm sure all of you already know about the Ciro Rodriguez race down in Texas that the luminaries of the blogosphere are backing. He sounds like a perfect netroots candidate and there could be nothing more thrilling than ousting a preznit Bush kissing Democratic shill.

I think that one of the underdiscussed reasons for supporting this, however, is to stick it to Tom Delay and his scumbag lackeys in the Texas legislature who resdistricted in 2002, (something with which Kos reports today the quisling Cuellar was personally involved.) Delay himself, in what may well be remembered as one of the greatest acts of hubris in American political history, redistricted himself out of a very safe majority and may just go down because of it.

I had great admiration for the Texas Dems' true grit when they left the state to avoid a quorum. (I wrote about it here, in one of my early tributes to Lord Saletan's sniffing condescension about partisanship)Those guys and gals had some guts to do what they did and I salute them for it. It would be beautiful poetic justice if we were able to take back a couple of those seats --- especially the seat of a "Democrat" whose sole function in life is to give Junior bipartisan cover.

Update: From Crooks and Liars

Delay: This effort is being driven by the left wing groups like Common Cause, Democracy 21, the ACLU and others...their ultimate goal is public financing of campaigns and total isolation of elected officials."

And don't forget the ultra-left wing center of the vast Left Wing Conspiracy: the Bush Justice department.

Lovely Rita

by digby

Dear Gawd. I didn't think it was possible to drag down the quality of Hardball any further, but the addition of Rita Cosby is a new low. I'm sure she's a very good tabloid crime reporter. People seem to like her. But her take on politics is so shallow she is making Tweety and Tucker look like intellectual heavyweights. She clearly spent too much time at FOXNews not entirely paying attention. The result is a lethal combination of knee-jerk wingnutism and tabloid silliness. I guess this is an MSNBC attempt to boost her profile, but it's cringe worthy even by "making a drunken fool of yourself at a dinner party" standards.

Update: I take it all back. Matthews is just as silly and stupid as she is. (Why did Americans like Hugh Grant playing the prime minister in "Love Actually" rather than Billy Bob Thornton's creepy American president? Because we all love Tony Blair, that's why! Jayzuz....)

Pundit Putz

by digby

Atrios linked today to a very insightful post by the man who wrote "What Liberal Media?" I urge you to read the whole thing if you are interested in the cozy, insider nature of political reporting you see coming out of Washington. Nobody gets it better than Alterman.

Alterman wrote a similarly insightful column last week in which he took mushy triangulator Joe Klein to task for his insulting mischaracterization of liberals and the facts, even as he plays a "liberal" columnist on TV and in the pages of TIME:

Among the most egregious offenders against journalistic standards and simple honesty for the purpose of abusing liberals is Time's Joe Klein, who is, amazingly, the most liberal commentator currently employed by America's highest-circulation newsweekly. (Klein's animus toward liberals coupled with his cavalier treatment of inconvenient facts could hardly be in greater contrast to that of Newsweek's high-profile liberal columnist Jonathan Alter, whose solid reporting and tempered idealism serves as a kind of remnant and reminder of the long-defunct liberal Establishment.)

To take just one recent example, a Klein column posted January 8 accused Democrats of "playing too fast and too loose with issues of war and peace." Now look who's talking:

Klein writes, "The latest version of the absolutely necessary Patriot Act, which updates the laws regulating the war on terrorism and contains civil-liberties improvements over the first edition, was nearly killed by a stampede of Senate Democrats." In fact, this "stampede" was led by four Republicans.

Klein writes, "A strong majority would favor the NSA program...if its details were declassified and made known." In fact, when an Associated Press poll asked Americans if the Bush Administration should be required to get a warrant before wiretapping, 56 percent answered affirmatively.

Klein writes, "Until the Democrats make clear that they will err on the side of aggressiveness in the war against al-Qaeda, they will probably not regain the majority in Congress or the country." This statement ignores that the Bush Administration diverted resources from capturing bin Laden and destroying Al Qaeda to send them to Iraq, where no such threat existed but where one has since been created. It also ignores the fact that Republicans received a minority of the Congressional vote in 2004, as well as in the presidential votes of 2000, 1996 and 1992.

Joe Klein is everything that is wrong with the allegedly liberal punditocrisy. His anachronistic establishment politics are wrongly seen by many, including many elected Democrats, as the "reasonable" middle ground for which we must strive in order to attract some ephemeral centrist voter who exists only in their imaginations. He is the embodiment of the now wholly irrelevant DLC experiment. With none of the down home common touch of Clinton or the earnest idealism of Gore, he is nothing but a big bowl of warmed over 90's centrist hype in a time where battles lines are by necessity, sharply drawn. He's the political equivalent of reruns of "Mad About You."

Every time he is seen as representing any form of winning liberalism, we lose. He obviously hates real Democrats, the vast majority of whom do not agree with anything he has to say, and his hostility to what we believe contributes mightily to the disdain and fear that the Democratic establishment feels toward the grassroots. He represents nothing but the clubby little world of highly paid poltical pundits who have as much in common with average Americans as Madonna does.

And he is a thin-skinned prick. Here's is his response to Altermann's criticisms, via Alternet:

"Eric Alterman is simply not a serious person --- and I'm writing about a very serious issue," says Time columnist Joe Klein, in response to Eric Alterman's recent ad hominem attack in The Nation, wherein he dubs Klein one of the mainstream media's "most egregious offenders against journalistic standards and simple honesty."

"I don't want to address Eric's remarks because they're not worth addressing," Klein says. "This guy just spews opinions without having any information or doing any reporting. You just did something Alterman has never done, for example, actually calling me to do some reporting!"

In the course of generally noting, "The punditocracy's ignore-except-to-attack attitude toward liberals," Alterman dissected a recent Klein column that Alterman claimed "accused Democrats" of playing too fast and too loose with issues of war and peace. He then criticized Klein for his perceived "animus toward liberals coupled with his cavalier treatment of inconvenient facts."

"That's typical of his essential narcissistic laziness," Klein responds. "Alterman has been personally attacking me for years. It's what he does instead of working … He's so peripheral, I forget he's in the business until someone calls or emails me his latest attack!"


"I'm not nearly as smart as Eric, to have opinions without bothering to report first," Klein counters. "Instead let me react by speaking to the facts. After all, I've lived my life by seeking out facts and then reporting them. One advantage I think I have over other columnists is that I do reporting."

Klein says he will "have a lot more to say on this (NSA) issue next week -- but first I have to learn more about it."

Asked for an example, Klein says, "The notion of calling it wiretapping is questionable, I think, although I'm still not entirely sure.

"People like me who favor this program don't yet know enough about it yet," he says, "Those opposed to it know even less -- and certainly less than I do."

According to Klein, the NSA employs a "powerful front-end computer program that can scan computers and cell phones and access all previous communications." Then, he says, analysts look for patterns in the calls and emails.

"Once they've gone through that process," he explains, "Then they go to the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) special court."

In Klein's analysis, "the liberals are reacting to this issue in their usual reflexive way. Meanwhile, George Bush and others in his administration are being very cynical."

The political flap over the NSA actions, Klein says, could be easily resolved. "All that's needed is an updating of the FISA Act or the Patriot Act." But this is unlikely to happen, Klein believes, "because George Bush is spoiling for and creating a fight on this issue, since he thinks it's a fight he will win in the court of public opinion."

As for his fight with Eric Alterman, Klein's willing to forfeit. "Who cares, really?" he concluded. "He's written lots of inaccurate, foolish stuff about me before. It's just silly. If it were someone who actually KNOWS stuff or caught me in an inaccuracy, then I'd be concerned. But Eric? He can say what he wants."

Yes, well, there is no need for Klein to be concerned because he holds a very important perch as a faux liberal in the punditocrisy, a highly paid profession that specializes in pushing the "liberals are icky" meme that serves the Republicans so well. He's a good lapdog "liberal" and he and all his lickspittle cohorts are killing us.

It Would Be A Cakewalk. After All, More Soldiers Speak Spanish Than Persian, Right?

by tristero

To hell with Tehran. Real men covet Caracas. Doesn't it seem like the Bush administration is deliberately being as obnoxious as possible so they can start a war somewhere, anywhere, it doesn't matter, just as long as there's some bang bang? Where do you find people like Donald Rumsfeld?
"I mean, we've got Chavez in Venezuela with a lot of oil money," Rumsfeld added. "He's a person who was elected legally _ just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally _ and then consolidated power and now is, of course, working closely with Fidel Castro and Mr. Morales and others."

There have been increasing signs of hostility between Washington and Caracas, and on Monday Chavez said Venezuela's intelligence agencies have "infiltrated" a group of military officials from the U.S. Embassy who were allegedly involved in espionage.

Venezuelan authorities, including the vice president, have accused officials at the U.S. Embassy of involvement in a spying case in which Venezuelan naval officers allegedly passed sensitive information to the Pentagon.

It was not the first such charge by Chavez.
I have a favor to ask. Occasionally, I've tried to understand Chavez but can't. The mainstream press in the US has been worthless (worse than usual and that is not a good sign, frankly). There were a few interesting articles in the New York Review of Books - no fans of the Bush administration - from which I took away the impression that Chavez must have been born in Macondo. It sounded like he was completely nuts but that somehow, through a thicket of immense corruption, life for some poor people in Venezuela were marginally improved under Chavez for the first time.

If anyone has any suggestions about a knowledgeable article or book to read on Chavez, please drop the reference in comments.

In any event, when I start to agree with commentators about how vicious and uncivilized it is to use rhetoric that reminds people that Nazi admirers have no business in the US government and that anything in their past is fair game to humiliate them and get them out of it, i just have to read something like these remarks from a high Bush official to recall precisely the nature of the fight we're in. Bush's vicious discourse cannot be ignored, minimized, deflected or muted. It must be met head on. Always.

As Zappa sez, The meek inherit nothing.

(By the way, I'm gonna predict 10 comments or less.)
America's Nominee For The International Monty Python "Walking Up And Down The Square" Competition

by tristero

Who else?
With the United States beginning its February presidency of the Security Council, John R. Bolton, the American ambassador, reported the failure of his first effort from the chair, to get the 15 Council members to begin meetings promptly at 10 a.m. "Starting on time is a form of discipline," he said. "I brought the gavel down at 10. I was the only one in the room, though."

A Belated Open Letter To George W. Bush

by tristero

Dear George,

In your recent TV show, you read
[E]ven tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone, and our differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger. To confront the great issues before us, we must act in a spirit of good will...
Given that you only listen to what fellow Republicans have to say, I can only quote the immortal words of your Vice-President, Richard Cheney:
Go fuck yourself.

Tom v. Tom

by tristero

My friend Peter Swales is one of the most important historians of psychoanalysis in the world (I must return his calls). Among his greatest recent achievements is research into the real Sybil, the publication of whose case (but NOT her real problems) eventually spawned an epidemic of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) diagnoses about 10 or 12 years ago, a travesty that seriously wronged a lot of emotionally vulnerable people.

Well, Peter, I love you dearly, but Tom Friedman just proved that MPD is real and it's not pretty:
Oh, come on, Friedman, get real! The president throws a few paragraphs your way and you go all weak in the knees. Show some spine, man! You need to trash this thing. You know these guys are not serious. This is a president who once called for putting a man on Mars and then just dropped it. You assumed they were going to do the Iraq war right — remember? Look where that got you, you moron. You should have listened to your wife!

Yeah, I know all that. But here's what else I know: Mr. Bush is going to be president for the next three years. We do not have three years to lose — not on climate change, energy efficiency or improving math/science education. I am not going to sit around for the next three years just trashing these guys and praying that some Democrat gets elected and does all the right things. We don't have time, you moron!


There's no pain-free solution. Remember how President Kennedy ended his May 25, 1961, State of the Union speech calling for a moon shot? He said: "I have not asked for a single program which did not cause one or all Americans some inconvenience, or some hardship, or some sacrifice."

Pigs will fly before Bush says that.

You may be right. And if he fails to carry through with this energy initiative, I'll be the first to rip him for it. In the meantime, I prefer to give him a new reputation to live up to. You never know. ... And by the way, pal, you got a better horse to ride right now? [Emphasis added.]
If you think I'm gonna enter an argument between two Tom Friedmans, you must think Mama Tristero raised a fool. But I do want to point out that little phrase I boldified:
You never know. ...
Hmm...Didn't I hear that like a few years ago? Didn't a guy named Packer or something just say exactly that to excuse his inexcusable naivete?

Dear Tom,

I do know.



Thursday, February 02, 2006

Karl The Whistleblower

by digby

So it turns out that the CIA told Cheney and Libby back in June of 2003 that the Niger claims were bogus. (Via Crooks and Liars)

Vice President Cheney and his then-Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were personally informed in June 2003 that the CIA no longer considered credible the allegations that Saddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger, according to government records and interviews with current and former officials. The new CIA assessment came just as Libby and other senior administration officials were embarking on an effort to discredit an administration critic who had also been saying that the allegations were untrue.

CIA analysts wrote then-CIA Director George Tenet in a highly classified memo on June 17, 2003, "We no longer believe there is sufficient" credible information to "conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad." The memo was titled: "In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq's Alleged Pursuits of Uranium From Abroad."

Despite the CIA's findings, Libby attempted to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had been sent on a CIA-sponsored mission to Niger the previous year to investigate the claims, which he concluded were baseless.

I guess that blows ole patriotic whistleblower Karl Rove's excuse out of the water, too. Remember how all the wingnuts said he was just warning the press off a bad story when he spoke to Matt Cooper?

For Mr. Rove is turning out to be the real "whistleblower" in this whole sorry pseudo-scandal. He's the one who warned Time's Matthew Cooper and other reporters to be wary of Mr. Wilson's credibility.

Here's what Karl said in case you forgot:

"not only the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. he [Rove] implied strongly there's still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger ... "

I'm shocked, I tell you, shocked. Karl Rove lied. But that is no reason for reporters not to believe him now, of course. It was just the one time.

Reflexive Cheating

by digby

So the House Republicans tried to rig their own election. It just doesn't get any better than that, does it?

But, after all, it's what they are trained to do from the time they join the Party:

Everyone who watched this summer's race for College Republican National Committee (crnc) chair with any detachment has a favorite moment of chutzpah they admire in spite of themselves. Leading the count are the following: speaking sotto voce of your opponent's "homosexuality"; rigging the delegate count so that states that support your candidate have twice as many votes as those that don't; and using a sitting congressman to threaten the careers of undecided voters. I can understand the perverse appeal of each of these incidents. But I cast my vote for the forged letter.

It's so much a part of their make-up that it's hardly even remarked upon. Their friends in the media don't seem to find it worthy of mention either. Republicans believe that stealing elections is perfectly moral and right. They do not believe in democracy. That's why they talk about it all the time.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Bring On The Screeching Harpies

by digby

These missing Cheney e-mails are very intriguing. This is particularly so because we went though a similar event during the Clinton administration and the Republicans went completely apeshit over it. In 2000, it was revealed (through the machinations of Judicial Watch) that some emails had not been properly archived and it was suspected that some of Monica Lewinsky's had not been turned over as a result. Dan Burton held hearings and the Independent Counsel, Robert Ray, was assigned to look into it.

Judicial Watch ended up filing an ethics complaint against Ray for declining to follow it up but it was clear from the get that it was another bogus witch hunt, as all the Clinton scandals were. But in the course of it we all found out what kind of an archiving system the White House has for maintaining emails:

... whenever a White House staffer clicks "send," a message reminds them that a copy of their missive is being sent to records management.

When it comes to saving e-mails, the White House is held to a higher standard than the private sector, and even Congress.

Companies that have a policy of saving e-mails usually do so only for three to six months, according to records-management consultants. Many companies consider them the same as phone calls, and don't archive them unless they are equal in weight to a written communication.

But the White House is different. It saves its records for posterity. After President Clinton vacates his office next January, at least 30 million stored e-mails will be deposited with the National Archives, an unfathomable mountain of data ranging from "how about lunch?" to speech drafts, to perhaps more juicy communications.

Now Fitzgerald says:

We have learned that not all email of the Office of Vice President and the Executive Office of President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system.

And here I thought the grown-ups from the private sector with their fancy pants ways were going to fix all those technical problems.

Whatever the case, there is ample precedent for a full-on congressional hissy fit and a thorough special counsel investigation. The Republicans held fiery hearings on this matter just months before Clinton left office, so great was the urgency, and there was absolutely no evidence that any emails of the president were involved. But because there might have been an email from Monica to the president that said "I wuv you" that hadn't turned up yet, they grilled the entire White House counsel's office for days.

There can be no complaints from the Republicans about Fitzgerald investigating this. None. The precedent was set just five and half years ago --- by them.

Schwarzenegger's Got Cash Troubles. It's Time To Hit Him Hard.

by tristero

The lying piece of Nazi-admiring trash California has the misfortune of having as a Governor doesn't have any money in his re-election fund. That's good news.

Democrats should drive him into personal bankruptcy and revisit in lurid detail all those nasty personal issues Schwarzenegger deflected when he was campaigning the first time. They should start right now and not stop, even after he's been driven from office and he's sold his last Hummer.

I know. I'm letting him off easy.

by digby

Sometime back I was in the minority here in the blogosphere when I argued that I understood why NARAL was staying with its backing of Chafee:

I understand that we all need to stick together, but if I were NARAL I'd be getting very, very concerned about some Democrats' willingness to "soften" their stance on the issue of choice because it's allegedly hurting the party --- you know, moral values and all that. I might just think it's smart to show some muscle. There is no way I'd blindly trust anyone in this environment to fight this battle for me.

There is a great example of how this works over the long haul and it comes from the grandaddy of all single issue groups --- the NRA. They are certainly an indispensible and active part of the GOP coalition as they've always been, but they have plenty of Democrats on their side now too. And they did not get to where they are by being good little GOP soldiers. They fought every single battle on the gun issue alone and they insisted on every candidate they backed being on board. When they started their campaign it was not the default mainstream position in either party.

And they backed plenty of Democrats over Republicans if they had to. Sometimes they backed the losing candidates because they were in urban elections where the Republican couldn't win without endorsing gun control. And if there ever existed a red state Republican who was for gun control you can bet that the NRA would back a Democrat who was against it --- even if control of the Senate depends on one seat (which is not the case for Chafee.) In Illinois, for instance, Governor George Ryan was elected to office in 1998 over an NRA-backed Democrat. In the last election they didn't endorse either senate candidate in Oklahoma because both had a 100% rating with the NRA. The issue was off the table and so were they. More often they support NRA Republicans over NRA Democrats, but that's just smart politics considering who presently owns the government. They keep focused like a laser on what matters to them and they have done this during good times and bad for the GOP.

But does anyone believe that even though they are a single issue "special interest" that the NRA doesn't help the Republican party in the most substantial way possible? They've pretty much killed us in the rural areas and turned the red states blood red. They've won. Except in big cities, this issue is dead. Republicans have nothing but respect for them --- even if they backed a Democrat or two along the way. They know what they brought to the party.

If the NRA had been in NARAL's position this past week, they would have ripped their support from Lincoln Chafee so fast it would make Trent Lott's hair crack. They know when to pull the strings. Chafee chose his gang of 14 cred over his pro-choice cred. That's all you need to know about him. He has shown himself useless to the cause and should be dropped immediately. This is a seat that can be picked up by a real pro-choice Democrat who isn't running as a bowl of lukewarm water.

I honestly can't understand what in the hell they were thinking. It's one thing to back Chafee to make the Democrats not take you for granted. It's quite another to continue to back him after he failed a monumental test. Now Chafee knows they won't press him when the shit comes down and Democrats see them as a spent and useless force. What a spectacular strategy. When forced childbirth becomes the law of the land, I'm sure they'll be able to sleep nights knowing they cleverly backed a man who played them for fools.

Jane is all over this one (as I'm sure most of you know.) I'm very disappointed in NARAL --- as well as all the other groups to whom I've long been giving money in anticipation of these Supreme Court battles. I don't know if this was winnable, but goddamit, I expected them to pull out all the stops --- and that means, at the very least, pulling support from pro-choice Republicans whose only purpose was to step across the aisle in battles like this, trading a vote for a red state Democrat who would lose his seat if he did it and making the vote bipartisan (and, therefore, "winnable" in the eyes of the media.) That's it. They are now officially not worth the coathanger flyers their names are printed on. And unless NARAL gets a clue, fast, neither are they.

Dear Me

by digby

I'm sure most of you have noticed that the Republicans, the media and now even the military have been spending a lot of time on the fainting couch lately and I have to admit that I'm getting concerned for this nation's security because of it. This isn't happening just because their whalebone corsets are laced too tight. It's because the angry left has been saying some very ... how can I put this ... inelegant things and that makes it nearly impossible for our manly leaders to guard democracy and protect us properly. Think about it.

The Republicans have rightly been in a tizzy about our oafish ways, notably heaving their matronly breasts in indignation at the shocking behavior of the Democrats on the judiciary committee who churlishly badgered Samuel Alito about his perfectly innocent association with a lovely alumni group that consisted of all the best people. Why, they molested that nice Mrs Alito until she broke down and wept at the unfairness of it all. (Little Lord Lindsay nearly mussed his Beaver) Just how are Republicans supposed to defend this country from evil killers if Democrats behave so boorishly in a political debate?

And that's not all! Why, just the other day a group of hooligans invaded a meeting of the Washington Post Temperence Society and engaged in hate speech! Right out in the open with no regard for anyone's feelings or anything. The vicious ringleader of the ill-mannered brutes, Jane at firedoglake, has written in one of their grubby little "alternative" newspapers that calling for the firing of an ombudsman for refusing to do her job is just part of the give and take in a freewheeling democracy. Hah! It's nothing but anarchy! (Somebody should have given the dowager Brady some laudenum in the first few minutes to dull the pain of hearing all that foul language. I understand he burst into tears and had to be led away when he saw some of those crude four letter words. As an ex-sportwriter, he's never heard such vulgarities. )

And now today, I hear that the Pentagon Ladies Embroidery League has called for the removal of a horrible "tasteless" cartoon featuring a wounded soldier in the Washington Post that they find much too dreadful to bear. Why, seeing such a thing is almost as bad as being wounded themselves --- worse! It's just so, well... insensitive. It's hard enough trying to eradicate evil and tyranny in our time. But this! Is there no humanity left?

These brave and tough defenders of freedom in the Republican party, the media and the military don't deserve this kind of treatment. It hurts their feelings and shocks their delicate sensibilities. Again, I ask you, how are these people supposed to defend us from the evil islamofascists who are trying to kill us in our beds if they are swooning with shock at our ill-bred criticisms? Free speech isn't a suicide pact, you know.

Second Thoughts

by digby

When I saw that Cindy Sheehan had been arrested I was sort of disappointed that she'd decided to do any kind of stunt. My feeling was that she didn't need to because she is a living symbol of anti-war sentiment all by herself and would have made a statement just by being there. This government is always so protective of their King and his pageants that I didn't find it all that surprising that she would be removed for wearing a t-shirt.

This morning, while listening to president Bush spit the words freedom and democracy as applause lines, I read Glenn Greenwald's latest piece, which reminded me that I'm beginning to lose my awareness of being a frog slowly being brought to a boil. Sheehan did not break the law, she has a perfect right to wear a t-shirt in the capital and her arrest was an outrage. These things matter beyond politics or strategy.

Sheehan was wearing a shirt that had the number of American deaths written on it. It was not vulgar or disrespectful in any way. It is as much an expression of support for the troops as the one for which Mrs Young was ejected (and for which she was not arrested, despite the fact that unlike Sheehan she resisted and called the police "idiots.") And all this concern "for the troops" plays out as this failed president used them as both a prop for his unpopular policies and a cudgel to silence his critics:

Yet there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy.

With so much in the balance, those of us in public office have a duty to speak with candor. A sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq would abandon our Iraqi allies to death and prison . put men like bin Laden and Zarqawi in charge of a strategic country . and show that a pledge from America means little. Members of Congress: however we feel about the decisions and debates of the past, our Nation has only one option: We must keep our word, defeat our enemies, and stand behind the American
military in its vital mission.

Nice trick. Speak with candor as long as you support me. It's the same trick that rhetorically conflates dissent with treason, using the phrase "aid and comfort." In this case, his speechwriters very deftly forced the entire congress to leap to its feet to applaud their own irrelevance --- they ended up cheering the assertion that "second-guessing" in "hindsight" is unpatriotic and that their only option is to do as he orders. Nice democracy we've got here.

Rick Perlstein reminded me that it was Coretta Scott King who raised Martin's consciousness about the war in Vietnam. She was speaking out about it for two years before he was, marching in her first peace march in 1965. Perhaps it was because she, like Cindy Sheehan, was a mother. Or maybe she was just more willing to expend moral capital on a cause that can be marginalized as unpatriotic.

From Perlstein:

In Taylor Branch's new At Canaan's Edge about that 1965 march: "Martin Luther King commended the draft of Coretta's address, but canceled plans to speak himself. (She exhorted the crowd never to forget that democratic commitment made America a historic great nation: 'This is as true in spite of the bombings in Alabama as well as in Vietnam.')."

It is a sad irony that on the very day she died, the president cheaply invoked her great contribution at virtually the same moment his government was silencing the woman who carries her message today. Arresting Cindy Sheehan for asking how many more American troops must die on the same day that Coretta Scott King passsed away is perfectly emblematic of the bankruptcy of every soaring tribute George W. Bush makes to freedom and democracy.