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Saturday, March 18, 2006

X-treme Politics

by digby

I'm not trying to get back into the religion debate tonight, but I do think that while we are talking about the Democratic wackos who the pundits believe are wildly out of the mainstream with their calls for censure, we shouldtake a little peek at some of the things that are happening on the other side. Right there in Washington.

How about this group, called the Justice House of Prayer in Washington SC:

The Justice House of Prayer (JHOP) exists to raise up a house of prayer to contend with every other house that challenges the Lordship and supremacy of Christ over all affairs.

Birthed out of theCall prayer assemblies and theCause prayer initiative, the Justice House of Prayer is a community of young and old who seek to lift a continuous (24/7) cry of worship and intercession for and out of our nation’s capitol.

The primary motivation of all that is done at JHOP is to pour out our extravagant love and devotion to Jesus Christ who is worthy of all praise and adoration.

At the same time, a unique and defining characteristic of JHOP is governmental intercession as delineated by the 1 Timothy 2 mandate. True reformation, revival, and revolution in our nation will only be born out of a spiritual shift and this can only occur when we have altered the spiritual atmosphere and power structure through sustained prayer and fasting. And to that end, JHOP was established.

Months before the recent shifts in the Supreme Court, the Lord made it clear through numerous prophetic voices that the composition of the Court was about to change and that if the Church would seize the window of opportunity that had been blown open, we could see "judges restored as at the first."

Ok fine. If people want to do this, it's their right. But check out this video from the ABC's 20/20 showing the kids who come to Washington to pray 24/7. I realize that these kids are just doing the common behaviors of the charismatic churches, with the rocking, the speaking in tongues and the rest. But, no matter how much people want to pretend that this is mainstream, it ain't. Particularly since these kids come from all over the country to do this praying in Washington with the express purpose of outlawing abortion.

These are the same kids who came up with this, during the Schiavo mess:

Again, they have a perfect right to do this. But all these pundits who insist that Democrats who want the president censured for abusing his office are "extremists," need to take a closer look at the state of the nation and recognize that when it comes to extremism, the right is where the action is.

Don't Make Trouble

by digby

Eleanor Clift has penned a column that she clearly wrote while half in the bag after playing spin the Jameson's with Chris Matthews and John McLaughlin at Bob Shrum's St Paddy's Day bash. A bigger puddle of misguided conventional wisdom I have not seen in quite some time.

Democrats must have a death wish. Just when the momentum was going against the president, Feingold pops up to toss the GOP a life raft.

*sigh* How many more years are we going to hear this tired nonsense from establishment pundits before people wake up and realize that ever since the Democrats took on this appeasment strategy they have been losing. I have written before that I was an enthusiastic New Democrat at one time --- embracing all the stuff about modernizing politics and marginalizing the "crazies" and creating a new, technocratic party where our "competence" would so dazzle the population that we could set aside all that unpleasant passion and ideology and just simply run the government "the smart way." Man, did I like the sound of that.

There was only one little problem, after we were done patting ourselves on the back for being more brilliant than everyone else in the room, the Republicans beat the crap out of us over and over again. And over time that vision has been whittled down to a belief that if we just wait them out, the country will wake up and realize that we aren't really worse than the other guys so don't make waves.

The conventional wisdom in DC has now ossified into a reflexive notion that Democrats must do nothing. Ever. They must hold back and say nothing when the Republicans are on top and they must hold back and say nothing when they are on the ropes.

Naturally, Clift turns to ex-Republican and current DLCer, Marshall Wittman:

To win in '06, he says, "Democrats need to take the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm."

To the Republicans.

But the scruffy, louts out in the country disagree that taking on the Republicans while they are down is bad politics. With a president at 33%, they wonder why in the hell they can't do any harm? What kind of margin for error do we need, a president in the low 20's? A negative 10? How low does a Republican have to sink before we aren't afraid to take him on?

Clift assumes, without any kind of proof, that Feingold's motion is going to help Republicans in the polls. Why? The polling suggests that there is a very sizeable minority, in one poll a plurality of people who favor censuring the president.

But nobody in DC even entertained the possibility before dismissing it out of hand. Jim Lehrer was gobsmacked last night when Tom Olipghant suggested that this wasn't such a left field move after all:

JIM LEHRER: Before we go -- quickly -- what do you think of the Feingold -- speaking -- you mentioned Feingold -- what do you think of the Feingold resolution to censure President Bush on the NSA surveillance thing?

DAVID BROOKS: I think the conventional thing, that Republicans -- any time Democrats are in the news, Republicans feel good about it. When Republicans are in the news, they feel bad about it.

DAVID BROOKS: So, it was -- it was good for the Republicans. And I think most Democrats acknowledge that.

TOM OLIPHANT: Yes, but a little polling data to end.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, my goodness.

TOM OLIPHANT: For censure or against it, American Research Group last week: for, 48, against, 43 -- impeachment: against, 50, for, 43. There is...

JIM LEHRER: You mean this is a national poll?

TOM OLIPHANT: That's right, 1,100 cases last week.


TOM OLIPHANT: This -- there are emotions out there in the country. Feingold did not make this up.

Brooks is right that most Washington Democrats "acknowledge" that this will hurt Democrats, but it is based on the fact that they have internalized GOP cant that says Democratic voters are extremists and the president is popular.

Just a couple of months ago Matthews was saying this:

"Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs, maybe on the left."

Even now, with the numbers so clear, he can't process it:

"I always thought Bush was more popular than his policies. I keep saying it, and I keep being wrong on this. Bush is not popular. I'm amazed when 50 percent of the people don't like him -- just don't like this guy. Thirty-nine percent like him. Are you surprised? Does that fit with the world you walk in?"

Clearly it doesn't fit in in the world Chris Matthews and Eleanor Clift walk in, which is the Republican establishment.

Clift writes:

The Democrats' dilemma is how to satisfy a restive and angry base without losing the rest of the country. "If someone proposed stringing up Bush like they did Mussolini, that would have a lot of support in the base of the party, too," says a Democratic strategist. "But it's not smart." Democrats want the November election to be a plebiscite on Bush's job performance, not a personal vendetta. "Republicans will rally round him if they think it's a personal attack just like we did with Clinton," warns the strategist.

Clinton had an approval rating in the 50's. The country was in the midst of the greatest expansion in history. The entire world looked to us to lead them through the post cold war world. Yet Republicans insisted on impeaching him for lying about a sexual indiscretion That's a personal vendetta.

This president is in the low 30's. Most Americans hardly feel the good news in the economy because the benefits have been rigged to go to those who make more than $250,0000 a year. He's made a fetish out of abusing his power with a non-stop assault on the contitution, international law and civilized norms. He has asserted a principle of executive authority that says he does not have to abide by the law. And it's extreme to think this deserves a mild rebuke from the body that writes those laws in the first place?

And I shouldn't have to point out that since the Republicans impeached president Clinton, among other things, they have increased their majority in the congress, won two presidential elections, enacted every wet dream tax cut they ever had, rolled back every regulation they ever hated and installed two right wing ideologues on the court. And that doesn't even begin to cover it.

Yes, the Republicans have certainly paid a steep price for impeachment, haven't they?

Grover Norquist really understands Washington. When asked what he thought would create more social comity between the parties he wasn't just being cute:

Rock-ribbed Republican Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, proffered a solution, tell[s] us that Democrats must accept the finality of their powerlessness. "Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problem socializing with the Republicans. Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they've been fixed, then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful. They don't go around peeing on the furniture and such."

He was showing a deep understanding of how today's political establishment works. The DC pundit-strategist class have "accepted the finality of Democratic powerlessness." People like Marshall Wittman and Eleanor Clift are telling the rest of us to do it too. Remember the GOP is the "daddy party" and you all know what he's like when he get's mad. Don't make trouble.

Clift wrote:

"there is a vacuum in the heart of the party's base that Feingold fills, but at what cost?"


If the Democrats lose in November, I'm sure she'll find plenty of reasons to blame Democrats, but it won't occur to her that the reason people didn't vote for the D's was because the party listened to people like her and campaigned like a herd of neutered animals instead of listening to their hearts, their minds, their constituents and their leaders who were prepared to take a stand for what we believe in. No, they'll blame the "extremists" who want a safety net and a sane terrorism policy --- and leaders who defend the constitution. It couldn't possibly be that their tired, stale reflexive passivity is to blame when half the base fails to turn out because they just. have. no. hope.

Is Your Blood Pressure Too Low?

by tristero

I can't go. I'd probably have a thrombo, as Austin Powers sez. But if you live in New York, and you're starting to feel much too calm and relaxed, you can get your blood racing on Monday night by going to a yak-fest at Miller Theater, Columbia U entitled Iraq: Three Years Later. The participants are Noah Feldman, Victor Davis Hanson, Joe Klein, Kenneth M. Pollack, and Andrew Sullivan.

It is bound to be a thoughtful, serious discussion. There will be no third-rate minds on hand - you know, the kind of childish, unimaginative mentalities that thought in 2002 that Bush's invasion of Iraq was the stupidest fucking idea they'd heard in their lifetimes.
Less Is More

by tristero

In Bushland, the more inept you are, the more you can be trusted. For example, those crack Iraqi security forces:
[Condoleeza Rice] said she ``would call attention to the role that Iraqi Security Forces have played in this offensive,'' which ``demonstrates that Iraqi forces are indeed taking on more of the security side.''


The U.S. military last month said there were no Iraqi battalions capable of operating without support, a reduction from one battalion in September and three in June that were in the Pentagon's top category of readiness, Level 1.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Iraqi Army Captures JFK's Killers

by tristero

Not really. And this probably ain't true, either:
An Iraqi-U.S. operation targeting insurgents in the vast hardpan desert northeast of Samarra has led to the capture of a possible ringleader of the bombing of the Gold Mosque, Iraqi officials said today.
Of course, I could just be getting cynical in old age. I mean, what's not to believe, right?
PoMo Conservatism

by digby

Josh Marshall has written a nice riposte to Peggy Noonan's whiny lament about George W. Bush's liberal betrayal. He writes:

I'm not sure what to say to erstwhile Bush supporters other than, 'Nice try.'

In yesterday's online WSJ Peggy Noonan asks readers whether they understood George W. Bush "to be a liberal in terms of spending" when he first came on the political scene in 2000.

I've been mulling over the last few days just how to characterize this: but it is certainly a muddled and bad-faith form of ideological projection mixed with evasion.

There really isn't much point in trying to characterize it at all. As I've written before, it's a common pathology among conservatives when their policies fail. When Bruce Bartlett's book came out I wrote a post called Institutional Apostasy:

It's not the lack of conservatism that makes a guy like Bartlett jump ship. It's the failure. As long as Bush was riding high you heard almost nothing from these people. Oh sure there was a column or two from iconoclasts like Paul Craig Roberts or the occasional jab from Pat Buchanan. But there was no real outcry over the prescription drug benefit or the steel tariffs or the deficit during the entire time Bush has been in office. Certainly the anti-conservative notion of nation building, which Bush ran on, was totally jettisoned from conservative discussion. (We are all Wilsonians now.) Conservatives supported him so enthusiastically that they frequently compared his oratory(!) to Winston Churchill's:

To a greater extent than any politician since Churchill, President Bush has set forth and defended his policies in a series of speeches that combine intellectual brilliance and philosophical gravity. Today's speech in Latvia was the latest in this series, and, like the others, it will be studied by historians for centuries to come.

This was the cult of Bush. But, as with all modern Republican presidents who become unpopular, he will be ignominiously removed from the pantheon. They did it to Nixon, they did it to Bush Sr and they are now doing it to Churchill the second. It's always the same complaint. They failed not because of their conservatism, but because they were not conservative enough.

Last fall as the rats were beginning to lurk around the deck of the sinking ship, I wrote:

Movement conservatives are getting ready to write the history of this era as liberalism once again failing the people. Typically, the conservatives were screwed, as they always are. They must regroup and fight for conservatism, real conservatism, once again. Viva la revolucion!

There is no such thing as a bad conservative. "Conservative" is a magic word that applies to those who are in other conservatives' good graces. Until they aren't. At which point they are liberals.

Get used to the hearing about how the Republicans failed because they weren't true conservatives. Conservatism can never fail. It can only be failed by weak-minded souls who refuse to properly follow its tenets. It's a lot like communism that way.

Appropriately, modern conservatism turns out to be the first post-modern political movement.

Republican Self-Love

by digby

I just had the misfortune to see two swaggering, self-satisfied windbags named Rick and Bubba being interviewed by Neil Cavuto. For those of you who aren't familiar with them, which I wasn't, they are radio talk show hosts who have written a book called "Rick and Bubba's Expert Guide To God, Country and Family." Talk about arrogant know-it-alls. Rarely have I seen people more in love with themselves than these two.

They believe that they delivered the election to bush in 2000 by denying Gore his home state of Tennessee. One of them (Rick or Bubba I'm not sure which) looked into the camera, nodded his head and said,

"You're welcome America."

Oh no, thank you.

Operation Overblown

by digby

Time magazine reports

On Scene: How Operation Swarmer Fizzled

Not a shot was fired, or a leader nabbed, in a major offensive that failed to live up to its advance billing


The press, flown in from Baghdad to this agricultural gridiron northeast of Samarra, huddled around the Iraqi officials and U.S. Army commanders who explained that the "largest air assault since 2003" in Iraq using over 50 helicopters to put 1500 Iraqi and U.S. troops on the ground had netted 48 suspected insurgents, 17 of which had already been cleared and released. The area, explained the officials, has long been suspected of being used as a base for insurgents operating in and around Samarra, the city north of Baghdad where the bombing of a sacred shrine recently sparked a wave of sectarian violence.

But contrary to what many many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war. ("Air Assault" is a military term that refers specifically to transporting troops into an area.) In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What's more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

But contrary to what many many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war. ("Air Assault" is a military term that refers specifically to transporting troops into an area.) In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What's more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

The only thing missing was the president parachuting in to the strains of "Danger Zone" from Top Gun, wearing a tight jumpsuit and carrying a plastic turkey

Chris Allbritton, reporting on the same story notes:

"Operation Swarmer" is really a media show. It was designed to show off the new Iraqi Army - although there was no enemy for them to fight. Every American official I've heard has emphasized the role of the Iraqi forces just days before the third anniversary of the start of the war. That said, one Iraqi role the military will start highlighting in the next few days, I imagine, is that of Iraqi intelligence. It was intel from the Iraqi military intelligence and interior ministry that the U.S. says prompted this Potemkin operation. And it will be the Iraqi intel that provides the cover for American military commanders to throw up their hands and say, "well, we thought bad guys were there."

It's hard to blame the military, however. Stations like Fox and CNN have really taken this and ran with it, with fancy graphics and theme music, thanks to a relatively slow news day. The generals here also are under tremendous pressure to show off some functioning Iraqi troops before the third anniversary, and I won't fault them for going into a region loaded for bear. After all, the Iraqi intelligence might have been right.

But Operation Overblown should raise serious questions about how good Iraqi intelligence is. I can't tell you how many times I've been told by earnest lieutenants that the Iraqis are valiant and necessary partners, "because they know the area, the people and the customs." But when I spoke to grunts and NCOs, however, they usually gave me blunter - and more colorful - reasons why the Iraqi intelligence was often, shall we say, useless. Tribal rivalries and personal feuds are still a major why Iraqis drop a dime on their neighbors.

I'm beginning to wonder if we haven't officially moved from tragedy to farce. And I'm not talking about the military. I'm talking about the pathological need on the part of the cable networks to go back to the glory days when Bush was commonly compared to Alexander the Great every chance they get. I think they see themselves as handsome windswept heroes, telling their epic stories under fire. But, those acts of shallow egotism are a big reason we got into this mess in the first place. It's time for the producers and news anchors to put away their designer safari vests and move on.

Jaws Of Victory

by digby

Following up on my post below about Lemming Bayh's revolutionary strategy to stick as closely to the president on national security as he can so that people will trust him with their lives, here's some interesting news from a new NPR poll today:

A new poll of likely voters finds that President Bush and his party no longer have the advantage on issues of foreign policy and national security, which they used to dominate.

The poll, conducted for NPR by a Republican and a Democratic pollster, suggests that the ongoing instability in Iraq, the Dubai ports deal, job outsourcing and other global issues in the news lately appear to be weighing heavily on voters' minds in this midterm election year.

Republican pollster Glen Bolger says that, from his perspective, the results are a "bunch of ugly numbers."


It's not uncommon to see polls where Democrats beat Republicans on domestic issues, such as the economy and jobs, health care and Social Security. But in this poll, when asked which party they trust more on issues such as the Iraq war, foreign ownership of U.S. ports and attention to homeland security, majorities chose the Democrats. Only on the question of Iranian nuclear weapons do the president and his party come out ahead.

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg says the numbers present Democrats with a real opportunity for electoral gains. "All of these issues are related to different kinds of foreign threats to the country," he notes. "On every single issue, voters favor the Democrats. This is a different landscape -- we were looking for 20-point advantages for Republicans on anything related to security. This ought to be the center of where you would trust the Republicans, and that's not happening here. There's clearly a new opening, new doubts about the Republicans and new openings for the Democrats."


... Glenn Bolger says the poll shows that Republicans in Congress helped themselves politically by abandoning the president.

"One clear piece of evidence in the data is that Republicans benefited by showing some independence from the president on the ports deal," Bolger says. "Democrats have a 16-point advantage over the president in terms of who [voters] trust, and only an 8-point advantage over the Republicans on the ports deal. So the Republican Congress' stand of independence cut the Democratic advantage on this issue in half."

Feingold seems to feel this zeitgeist and so do some others (like the Iraq veteran band of brothers who are running as Democrats.) The rest of the caucus is lagging behind, mired in 2002 thinking.

Separating themselves from the president --- and forcing the Republicans to rally around him --- is good politics. The NSA wiretapping issue in and of itself is not going to rally the greater public to Bush. It's the optics of Democrats issuing a rebuke that counts. The base, on the other hand, is hungering for leadership on these specific issues and wants desperately to rally around the party. Yet they are treated with terrible disrespect even though the polls show that two thirds of the country are unhappy and a majority is ready to throw the bums out.

Democrats do themselves no favors by following a cautious strategy in this climate. They are driving their voters crazy and convincing everyone else that they don't have the will to win. The Republicans have a very slick machine, based in churches and fueled by talk radio, that will work overtime to get their base out. Their survival depends on it. Democrats cannot depend on low GOP turnout to get them over the line.

What Matters Most

by digby

Hughes For America makes an interesting observation about Republican priorities:

We learned Wednesday that the Federal Communications Commission has proposed a $3.6 million fine against numerous CBS stations and affiliates concerning a 2004 episode of "Without a Trace" that included "teenage boys and girls participating in a sexual orgy." The FCC also upheld its historic $550,000 fine against CBS for the Janet Jackson incident during the Super Bowl two years ago.

Meanwhile, the Sago mine - where 12 people died in January - was cited 208 times in 2005. The largest single fine, by comparison, was a mere $440. Not only that, but it was also reported that federal inspectors had repeatedly determined that the violations at Sago affected only one person, doing so to avoid the larger fines that come when more miners are involved.

Well, we know that they don't want to regulate business, even if lives are at stake. That would be wrong and bad for the economy. But regulating 10 PM cop shows (with no nudity) like "Without A Trace" or PBS documentaries about The Blues that use the word "shit" is much too important for such considerations. Little pitchers have ears and all. Too bad those little pitchers down in West Virginia no longer have fathers.

I find it quite interesting that they keep fining CBS so heavily when Fox has some of the most subversive, deviant (and creative) programming out there. In cartoon form. Perhaps the thought police are too busy obsessing over the F word to understand what their kids are watching. Or maybe it's something more sinister. It's important to remember that the vast majority of complaints are the result of organized wingnut campaigns. And organized wingnuts know the score.

Hughes for America is holding a fund raising drive. His stuff is better than Riverdance, I guarantee it.

Words Speak Louder Than Actions?

by digby

So Firedoglake tells me that Lemming Bayh is in favor of the new rage in Washington --- if a Republican breaks the law, then just change the law! As the NY Times editorial board wrote earlier this week about president Bush's domestic advisor Claude Allen: "If the current Congress had been called on to intervene in the case of Mr. Allen, it would probably have tried to legalize shoplifting."

Bayh, in a torrent of process talk, explained that he doesn't support Feingold's measure because:

... the first thing Democrats need to do, Bayh said, is take Republicans on in an area they've dominated: national security.

"It's a threshold issue for us, and it's a threshold issue for America," Bayh said. "People aren't going to trust us with anything else if we first can't convince them to trust us with their lives."

All the great Democratic strategists know that the best way to do that is to blather incessantly about "what Democrats need to do," while simultaneously rubber stamping every crackpot GOP security program no matter how lawless or unnecessary. Yielding submissively to the Republican dominance you profess to be "taking on" is an excellent way to convince people that you can protect them. Great plan. Awesome.

Attention Deficit

by digby

Matt Yglesias says deficits don't matter after all, at least not to the public:

Back in 1993, 17 percent of poll respondents said the deficit was the biggest problem facing the country, today that's way down to two percent.

Oh Ross Perot, where art thou now? We haven't heard a peep out of the crazy old coot since Bush took office ran through the surplus and then ran up the debt to unprecedented levels, have we? There was a time, when the deficit was much, much lower than it is now, that he felt the problem was so dire that he was compelled to start a third party to make sure that it was dealt with.

I had always thought he was the Bush's arch enemy and yet he has been strangely silenced throughout Junior's reign. You don't suppose that stuff about Republican operatives disrupting his dauighters wedding was true do you? ... nah. Karl Rove wouldn't do something like that.

Girl Just Wants To Have Fun

by digby

John over at Crooks and Liars has Katherine Harris' brave interview with Sean Hannity in which she declares. "as God is mah witness I will nevah be hungry again ... oh sorry... "as God is mah witness I will spend every last million I have on mah Senate race."

"Let me tell you what the truth is. I'm staying... I'm going to put EVERYTHING on the line...I'm going to commit my legacy from my father, $10 million. This is everything that I have"

Not exactly everything. Her husband is reportedly worth somewhere around 20 million.

She says that he backs her decision one hundred percent. I wonder if he's seen this video of his wife canoodling with another man during the debate on WMD intelligence legislation.

Watch out Lindsey. This woman's a wildcat in the chamber.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

From The This-Is-Way-Too-Weird-To-Be-A-Joke Department

by tristero

Looks like DARPA has a monopoly on all the good dope. And they've been having a high old time. They're seeking proposals for work on creating cyborg cockroaches, beetles, and moths:
DARPA seeks innovative proposals to develop technology to create insect-cyborgs, possibly enabled by intimately integrating microsystems within insects, during their early stages of metamorphoses. The healing processes from one metamorphic stage to the next stage are expected to yield more reliable bio-electromechanical interface to insects, as compared to adhesively bonded systems to adult insects. Once these platforms are integrated, various microsystem payloads can be mounted on the platforms with the goal of controlling insect locomotion, sense local environment, and scavenge power. Multidisciplinary teams of engineers, physicists, and biologists are expected to work together to develop new technologies utilizing insect biology, while developing foundations for the new field
of insect cyborg engineering.
via PZ Meyers, who explains in some detail why this is, shall we say, a bit unlikely to work. PZ writes, "This is like sending some guy who knows next to nothing about avionics into a 747 with a pickaxe, a voltmeter, and a 9V battery, and telling him to hack into the wiring and take control of the plane. It may not be impossible, but it is the next best thing."

Or like putting some guy who knows next to nothing about anything in charge of the world's most powerful country and giving him the opportunity to send troops to invade the Middle East without provocation. And expecting good to come out of it.

[UPDATE: Via comments comes this link to the world's smallest flying robot. Be sure to check out the groovy video of the gadget hovering and maneuvering with eerie precision in the air.]

by digby

Why do you suppose that in the Pew poll, the second most popular word (after incompetent) to describe the president is "idiot?" Hmmmm.

Good thing he isn't one 'o them brie 'n cheese eatin' liberals or somebody might look at all that fancy expensive gear and call him an elitist rich guy. Can't he just shoot his friends in the face like real men do?

Via Pearlswine, who says this may be the most unpresidential picture ever taken, and that was before he noticed the little pink socks.

They are cute.

Dear Amy Sullivan

by tristero

I see you've apologized for the knee-jerk left comment. I'm glad you have the guts to know when you're wrong and admit it.

But then you persist in getting it all wrong:
I do think there is a tendency on the part of some on the left to criticize conservative politicians on the basis of their religious views.
Jeebus, Amy, of course there is! That is a GOOD THING! They SHOULD be criticized! They HAVE to be criticized! And YOU should be among the first to let them have it! Why?

First of all, they're the ones that bring the subject of religion up in a political context, over and over and over, and - as with the fight over science in the classrooms - when it is wildly inappropriate. They're the ones making a political issue out of religion. Therefore, it can, and must be forcefully addressed.

Secondly, they're certifiably crazy. Case in point: This fanatical, bigoted bastard is a close friend of Bush. THAT is why sensible people like Moyers and Phillips are alarmed about an imminent theocracy. And Graham is only one of dozens, many of whom make this guy look as liberal as Jesse Jackson. Amy, do you know how close this country came recently to approving a Christian Reconstructionist agenda as science in public schools? These people are serious about a theocracy. And seriously insane.

Thirdly, they are trying to disguise their purely secular lust for power by hiding behind the skirts of priests. I'd think a religious person like yourself would be the first to be horrified and disgusted at their corruption of Christian belief for political gain. They are cowards and they are liars. They cannot be permitted to advance a secular agenda under the guise of faith.

And fourth, do you have any idea of the filth that spews from these pigs' mouth on a regular basis about the religious beliefs of liberals? Of Democrats? Of well-known public figures? Against Muslims? Against Jews? Against members of Christian denominations they disagree with? What makes their beliefs immune to criticism? Because they talk the Good Talk, and profess they are people of faith in the traditional cadences of evangelical American Christianity ? Anyone can do that, and has done that. But people of faith aren't cowards and sneaks who pretend that a religious agenda is a scientific theory that deserves equal time. But that's what these people do.

Bottom line, Amy: You want people to stop criticizing your religious beliefs, you don't deliberately make them a political issue. You don't make them the focus of serious discussions of government policy. Otherwise, your personal religious beliefs are fair game.

And this is said by someone who has demonstrated the utmost respect, tolerance, and interest in the beliefs of all faiths. It is because of their persistent intolerance of other people's religion and politics that conservative political operatives get no free pass from me. They blaspheme Christ by bringing the Gospels into a partisan political struggle. I am amazed that you, of all bloggers, think that's not proper to criticize. It most certainly is. The Republican exploitation and hijacking of religious belief is a dangerous travesty of public piety. And it's at these people - the Dobsons, the Falwells, the Grahams, the Frists, and yeah, the Brownbacks - your anger should be directed. Not at pious, intelligent patriots like Bill Moyers, for heavens sakes!


Depraved Government

by digby

Every once in a while I'm struck anew by the utter lawlessnes and barbarity of the United States government under Republican rule. I follow this stuff so closely that it all blurs for long periods of time until something, out of the blue, shocks me almost physically. Today, I have been catching up on some things and started reading in depth about the decision of Federal District Judge Trager's heinous decision to dismiss Maher Arar's case against the US for kidnapping him at Kennedy Airport and rendering him to Syria to be tortured for almost a year.

This is a Kafkaesque tale that makes shivers go down my spine when I read about it. I simply can't wrap my arms around the idea that the American government is openly and proudly doing these things --- or that those who dissent are veritably dared to speak out against it lest they be branded terrorist sympathizers.

We have normalized torture, which I find akin to normalizing pedophilia for all its deviant --- if not uncommon --- malignity. To be clear: what shocks me is not that torture happens or that our government tortures. We have ample evidence that it has historically done so. What is unprecedented is this banal, rather dull acceptance that torture is perfectly natural and necessary.

Nat Hentoff has an article in this Week's Village Voice about this Arar case in which he cites a previous Apellate Court decision about torture from 1980:

In this landmark decision, Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, David Cole points out, the appeals court decided that "the prohibition on torture was so universally accepted that a U.S. Court could hold responsible a Paraguayan official charged with torturing a dissident in Paraguay . . . The [U.S.] court declared that when officials violate such a fundamental norm as torture, they can be held accountable anywhere they are found."

Notice the language in that decision, "enemy of all mankind." Here's the final paragraph in the opinion in its entirety:

In the twentieth century the international community has come to recognize the common danger posed by the flagrant disregard of basic human rights and particularly the right to be free of torture. Spurred first by the Great War, and then the Second, civilized nations have banded together to prescribe acceptable norms of international behavior. From the ashes of the Second World War arose the United Nations Organization, amid hopes that an era of peace and cooperation had at last begun. Though many of these aspirations have remained elusive goals, that circumstance cannot diminish the true progress that has been made. In the modern age, humanitarian and practical considerations have combined to lead the nations of the world to recognize that respect for fundamental human rights is in their individual and collective interest. Among the rights universally proclaimed by all nations, as we have noted, is the right to be free of physical torture. Indeed, for purposes of civil liability, the torturer has become like the pirate and slave trader before him hostis humani generis, an enemy of all mankind. Our holding today, giving effect to a jurisdictional provision enacted by our First Congress, is a small but important step in the fulfillment of the ageless dream to free all people from brutal violence.

So much for that. In our quest to deliver the almighty God's gift of freedom to each man and women in this world, we seem to have decided that the fundamental human right to be free of torture is no longer operative.

This was 1980. In 2006, just 26 years later we see this (from Hentoff again):

Now let us hear how Judge Trager justifies his dismissal of Maher Arar's suit for the atrocities he endured in Syria because of the CIA. In his decision, Trager said that if a judge decided, on his or her own, that the CIA's "extraordinary renditions" were always unconstitutional, "such a ruling can have the most serious consequences to our foreign relations or national security or both."

A judge must be silent, even if our own statutes and treaties are violated! What about the separation of powers? Ah, said Trager, "the coordinate branches of our government [executive and legislative] are those in whom the Constitution imposes responsibility for our foreign affairs and national security. Those branches have the responsibility to determine whether judicial oversight is appropriate."

Gee, I thought that the checks and balances of our constitutional system depend on the independence of the federal judiciary, which itself decides to exercise judicial review.

Judge Trager went further to protect the Bush administration's juggernaut conduct of foreign policy: "One need not have much imagination to contemplate the negative effect on our relations with Canada if discovery were to proceed in this case, and were it to turn out that certain high Canadian officials had, despite public denials, acquiesced in Arar's removal to Syria."

"More generally," Trager went on, "governments that do not wish to acknowledge publicly that they are assisting us would certainly hesitate to do so if our judicial discovery process could compromise them."

Right. He didn't even use a legal reason, just bought into the bedwetting cowardice that seems to have overtaken most of the government after 9/11 and hid under the covers. He left all the scary stuff to the preznit and his big strong armymen, rather than do his duty and follow the constitution or supreme court precedent. Nothing to see here.

When in American history have so many government officials in the other branches submitted themselves so willingly to executive authority? We are now three five years away from 9/11. The smoke has cleared and the rubble has been cleaned up. The "War on Terror" has been going on longer than WWII. If anyone thought that people would gather their wits about them and come to their senses about these things, the rubber stamp congress and deferential judiciary have shown that they have no intention of stopping the Bush administration's attack on the constitution or it's normalization of the depraved.

Democrats have got to win this next election. They are, for all their flaws, all we have standing between us a this continued abasement of American values. Taking the Republicans out of the majority is essential to the survival of what few ideals we have left.

If you find yourself wondering why you bother with politics, go read Arthur Silber's masterful series on torture. You'll be reminded why it's important.

Constitutional Infirmity

by digby

I'm beginning to think they are actively trying to destroy the constitution just for the hell of it.

President May Have Known of Constitutional Defect Before Bill Signing

Wednesday, March 15, 2006 -- Rep. Waxman asks the White House to respond to information that the Speaker of the House called President Bush to alert him that the version of the Reconciliation Act he was about to sign differed from the version that passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Waxman writes: "If the President signed the Reconciliation Act knowing its constitutional infirmity, he would in effect be placing himself above the Constitution."

The nutshell version of this story is that the Senate passed the Omnibus Budget bill with a two billion dollar error regarding certain medicare payments in it. The vote was as close as possible -- Cheney had to break the tie. The clerk found the error, which happens from time to time apparently and requires a re-vote on the correct version of the bill. But the Republican leadership didn't fix it because they were afraid that when they brought it back up for the required re-vote in the Senate, it wouldn't pass. They kept it to themselves and the House passed the incorrect version of the bill on another close vote --- 216-214 and they sent it to the president who signed it --- error and all.

Waxman now has reason to believe that the president was informed by Hastert that he was signing an incorrect version of the bill and Bush unconstitutionally signed it anyway.

This is the kind of corrupt, partisan, iniquitous leadership these assholes have perpetrated since they took power. They commonly hold votes open for as long as it takes to bribe a member to vote for it. Democratic members are locked out of meetings and not allowed to see bills before they are required to vote on them. They design the votes to be as close as possible so they don't get any Democratic support -- the more they can take the Democrats out of the process, make them look impotent to their constituents, the more likely they are to demoralize Democratic voters and make them feel helpless to change things.

But, it's unconstitutional to do what they did. Just because you have to do a tough vote over again to make it legal, you don't get to just ignore the constitution to avoid having to do it. Or at least that's the way it used to be.

This is the kind of thing that would be ripe for hearings if the Democrats were to win the elections in the fall. It needs to be exposed, so that people can see the Republicans held accountable for their reign of political terror in the congress. The public does not understand, nor should they need to understand, the arcane rules governing the Senate. But anyone can understand that the Republican congress passed, and the president signed, a budget knowing that it was unconstitutional. And they did it because if they fixed it, as required by law, they knew it wouldn't pass.

Waxman will be the Chairman of the committee that will investigate these atrocities --- and he's been making a list and checking it twice since 2001. If the country would like to see some accountability, he's a guy who will do it. After all, he's the one who got the tobacco chiefs to say they didn't believe smoking was addictive --- under oath, I might add, something that's gone out of fashion since the Republican vassals were put in charge of overseeing their liege lord, the prince of the Codpiece.

Bomb Iraq!

by digby

Gosh, I get a kind of warm feeling remembering those good old days back in 2002, when we were all hunkered down around Atrios' place, watching the metaphorical skies fill with fireworks. We even had our own campfire song:

If you've got no other reason, bomb Iraq (clap, clap)
If you've got no other reason, bomb Iraq (clap, clap)
If you've got no other reason, other than election season
If you've got no other reason, bomb Iraq (clap, clap)

Ah yes. Chalabi, we hardly knew ye.

Air War

We got ourselves an air war.

Hersh told us why a few months ago:
In recent weeks, there has been widespread speculation that President George W. Bush, confronted by diminishing approval ratings and dissent within his own party, will begin pulling American troops out of Iraq next year. The Administration's best-case scenario is that the parliamentary election scheduled for December 15th will produce a coalition government that will join the Administration in calling for a withdrawal to begin in the spring. By then, the White House hopes, the new government will be capable of handling the insurgency...

A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what...

Within the military, the prospect of using airpower as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused great unease. For one thing, Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis eventually will be responsible for target selection. "Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of your own sect and blame someone else?" another senior military planner now on assignment in the Pentagon asked. "Will some Iraqis be targeting on behalf of Al Qaeda, or the insurgency, or the Iranians?"


This military planner added that even today, with Americans doing the targeting, "there is no sense of an air campaign, or a strategic vision. We are just whacking targets - it's a reversion to the Stone Age. There's no operational art. That's what happens when you give targeting to the Army - they hit what the local commander wants to hit."
One senior Pentagon consultant I spoke to said he was optimistic that "American air will immediately make the Iraqi Army that much better." But he acknowledged that he, too, had concerns about Iraqi targeting. "We have the most expensive eyes in the sky right now," the consultant said. "But a lot of Iraqis want to settle old scores. Who is going to have authority to call in air strikes? There's got to be a behavior-based rule."


Robert Pape, a political-science professor at the University of Chicago, who has written widely on American airpower, and who taught for three years at the Air Force's School of Advanced Airpower Studies, in Alabama, predicted that the air war "will get very ugly" if targeting is turned over to the Iraqis. This would be especially true, he said, if the Iraqis continued to operate as the U.S. Army and Marines have done - plowing through Sunni strongholds on search - and - destroy missions. "If we encourage the Iraqis to clear and hold their own areas, and use airpower to stop the insurgents from penetrating the cleared areas, it could be useful," Pape said. "The risk is that we will encourage the Iraqis to do search-and-destroy, and they would be less judicious about using airpower - and the violence would go up. More civilians will be killed, which means more insurgents will be created."

Even American bombing on behalf of an improved, well-trained Iraqi Army would not necessarily be any more successful against the insurgency. "It's not going to work," said Andrew Brookes, the former director of airpower studies at the Royal Air Force’s advanced staff college, who is now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in London. "Can you put a lid on the insurgency with bombing?" Brookes said. "No. You can concentrate in one area, but the guys will spring up in another town." The inevitable reliance on Iraqi ground troops' targeting would also create conflicts. "I don’t see your guys dancing to the tune of someone else," Brookes said. He added that he and many other experts "don't believe that airpower is a solution to the problems inside Iraq at all. Replacing boots on the ground with airpower didn't work in Vietnam, did it?"
Nope, it didn't.

I've said over and over again that stay or withdraw is not the issue. Bush will screw it up either way. U.S. military airstrikes have significantly increased in Iraq. And it all makes poltical sense. What better way to boost poll approval ratings hovering at 33% (way, way, too high imo) than to bring the troops home? Airstrikes'll do that. Nevermind it will make the situation far worse than it already is (hard to believe, but true). It will be an Iraqi problem; a large American presence will be history. And Bush's poll numbers will rise.

Tragically, the beginning of a plan to find a real-world solution to the dangerous mess Bush created in Iraq will have to wait until January, 2009 when a hopefully sane president will take over. In the meantime, thousands will die for no reason at all except that an incompetent, bumbling, and frightened fool is president of the United States.

Makes you kind of angry, doesn't it?
It's So Easy. Replace The "Q" With "N" And...

by tristero

Hooyah! Iran is now the new Iraq. Read all about it here. From the article:
The strategy document declares that American-led diplomacy to halt Iran's program to enrich nuclear fuel "must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided," a near final draft of the document says.
Fortunately, we've got the combined diplomatic genius of Condoleeza Rice and John Bolton spearheading the effort to avoid "confrontation."
China's leaders, it says, are "expanding trade, but acting as if they can somehow 'lock up' energy supplies around the world or seek to direct markets rather than opening them up — as if they can follow a mercantilism borrowed from a discredited era.
That sounds about right. Only America has the right to 'lock up' engergy supplies and follow a mercantilism from a discredited era. Where does China get off, anyhow?

Interestingly, the document includes the United States itself in its assessments:
"Recent trends regrettably point toward a diminishing commitment to democratic freedoms and institutions," the document reads.
Oops. They were talking about Russia. An understandable mistake on my part.

Moving right along, it's still the case that the worst ideas remain official American policy.
But chief among the sections that remain unchanged is the most controversial section of the 2002 strategy: the elevation of pre-emptive strikes to a central part of United States strategy.

"The world is better off if tyrants know that they pursue W.M.D. at their own peril," the strategy says.
Um, er...I think the lessons the world learned from Iraq is the critical importance of nuclear defense against the US - it's worked for NoKo, after all - and that the US is too overcommitted and unpopular to stop anyone else from acquiring them.

And the final sentence of the article notes a curious oversight in the National Security Strategy 2006:
It stays away from the subject of global warming.
But this is not the final draft. I'm sure the complete text will have a lot to say about global warming and what the Bush administration is doing to ameliorate its effects.
Early Spring Reading List

by tristero

(Note: Links are to Powells Books, a fine independent bookseller.)

Mark Danner on the Downing Street Memos and then some. Danner is one of the greats of the American press. Not to be missed.

The Enemy of My Enemy: The Alarming Convergence of Militant Islam and the Extreme Right. And now you know why Horowitz has been so swift to insist that it's liberals who are in bed with Osama. But seriously, this could be a terrific book. The thing is that the author, George Michael, is going to have to define the "extreme right", because obviously many rightwing conservatives - eg Flemming Rose, Franklin Graham, the Dobson scum, etc. - clearly loathe islamism, if not Islam itself. But it sure is mighty curious how close islamist values mirror christianist ones.

Since both these books won't be out until April, that gives me plenty of time to finish off Jonathan Israel's masterpiece, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750, all 834 pages of it. And it's wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. In related reading, I'll also have time to complete my first serious pass through Spinoza's writings since college. Folks, you ain't read nuttin' 'til you've read his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. The word on the street (grin) is that Spinoza is dry, cold, and difficult. Not true. I find him deeply moving and, well, not exactly easy on occasion, but clear as a bell most of the time and worth every second. I've been gobbling up excerpts from this set of selections from Spinoza's work. It includes the complete Ethics, which I've just started and don't expect to grok for many, many years. There are the usual disputes in academe about translations, but the ones here, by Curley, seem more than adequate.

If you need some hand-holding getting into Spinoza - as I did - Israel's book has some superb, concise chapters on Spinoza's works that can help as a guide. I would skip The Courtier and the Heretic by Matthew Stewart, about Spinoza and Leibniz, which got some good reviews recently. I read it, and yes, it's a very fast read, but that's because most of the book is taken up with biographical stuff and very little detail of their philosophies. But I suppose if all of this is brand new to you, Stewart's book is a good way to get a toe wet. But definitely go on over to Spinoza himself. Beautiful. And if you already know him, you might want to read him again, just to remind yourself that there once was a time when people thought a reality-based government was a pretty good idea.
Planning Ahead

by tristero

To add one more observation to Digby's post about how Republicans are using the censure effort to rally the Republican base:

The GOP has been anticipating a serious effort to hold Bush accountable for his incompetence for years. For example, here is Jed Babbin from National Review Online in 2003. He's worrying what might happen to poor George Bush if there's another serious terrorist attack in the US:
If such an attack succeeds, the Democrats have been positioning themselves to benefit from it. All the talk of inadequate funding for homeland security — as if pouring money on Rainbow Tom Ridge will solve anything — is a predicate to their strategy. Bush will be blamed for protecting us inadequately. If the damage is sufficiently severe, and the economy tanks, they may even try to impeach him. If you think they can't do that, think again.
But even 2003 seems a little late to start planning the pushback strategy we're seeing against Feingold. My rough guess is that they started to develop it within days of the Supreme Court decision in 2000 that put Bush in the White House. That's why this effort to "rally the base" is so organized and the message is so meticulously tailored: this isn't an attack on Bush, but on the Republican Party which, as we all know, is the true party of America. It's also why it's an easy sell to a compliant, lazy press; they've been told to anticipate it for years, and "what it really means" when it finally happens.

Dig: Republicans started planning Clinton's impeachment in November, 1992. Y'wanna bet when they'll start working to impeach the next we-should-be-so-lucky Democratic president? Y'think they haven't started? Wanna bet?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Our Best Interests

by digby

What an interesting article. Apparently, David Kirkpatrick is on the "conservative beat" this week for the NY Times and has the big scoop that the Republicans are all atwitter with scary tales of Democrats impeaching the president if they take the House and Senate. "Conservative beat" sources like Limbaugh and Weyrich and the Wall Street Journal editorial page are quoted saying that they are gleeful and excited that the Democrats have handed them this present and it's onward to victory!

How generous of them to give this warning so that Dems have a chance to dodge that bullet. That's why the "conservative beat" of the New York Times is such a godsend for liberals. When concerned Republicans need a platform from which to warn the Democrats about where they are going wrong they know they can go there and get their message out. In this case they feel it is only fair to give Democratic politicians a heads up that if they pursue things like Feingold's motion the Republican base will go wild.

They humbly remind them that the Republicans paid big time for impeaching president Clinton. (Why, if they hadn't done that they might have an even bigger majority in the House, Senate and Supreme Court than they have today!) I'm sure that the Democrats will take heed and not make the mistake of giving the Republicans any issue with which to motivate their base.

The question is, what are Democrats going to do to motivate theirs?

Bad Instincts

by digby

There is still a lot of angst, it appears, both in Washington and the blogosphere over Feingold's censure motion. It seems that substantively, the party agrees that Bush broke the law and deserves to be censured, but there is a division among most of the blogosphere and virtually the entire establishment about whether this is a canny move politically. (See these two post by Kevin Drum and Glenn Greenwald respectively for the essence of the argument within the blogosphere.)

Steve Benen contacted some insiders who told him this:

First, a lot of Dems were bothered by the fact that Feingold took the party off-message. The DP World controversy was still reverberating, and congressional Dems had hoped to keep the momentum going this week with a vote on the "Sail Only if Scanned (S.O.S.) Act," which requires more effective scanning techniques be implemented at our ports, and a bill that would expanding government scrutiny of foreign investments. Instead, both of these are getting less attention because of interest in Feingold's resolution.

Second, there's a sense that Feingold helped bring Republicans together. As of last week, the GOP's fissures were showing and all the talk was about Republicans on the Hill exerting independence from the White House. Now, Feingold's resolution has pushed the GOP back together again and Republicans are back on the offensive. Some Dems think the censure resolution basically helped the GOP get off the ropes.

Third, there was not even a hint of party strategy on this. The past couple of years, there's been an effort to try and have Dems coordinate more on major political and policy initiatives. Coordinating Dems is like herding cats, but there's been some progress of late. Feingold, however, decided to go his own way; he announced his resolution without even letting his colleagues know it was coming and with no real regard for what it would do for the party's short-term agenda. Some see this as a slap in the face — if Feingold wanted party support, they said, he should have worked within the party. Instead, Feingold took the lead, and no one followed.

Fourth, Dems saw that Bush was starting another series of Iraq speeches, and the party was ready to pivot from ports to the war. Roll Call noted today that Dems want to "play offense on Iraq." Yesterday, however, whenever a Dem senator tried to talk about the war, reporters just asked about Feingold.

And fifth, one Senate staffer in particular said if Feingold wanted to push warrantless searches again, there were (and are) effective alternatives to a censure resolution. The staffer told me:

"Rather than just rush to a vote, which would be stupid, we want to get Specter to hold a hearing on it in Judiciary where it has been referred. Imagine a hearing with a panel of experts discussing whether Bush's behavior deserves censure. Wouldn't that be much better as a first step then a rushed vote in which we lose and R's declare victory and say we were silly?"

None of these reasons hold up for me. They do not denote timidity, so much as a kind of political blindness. Let's take them one by one:

One: The port legislation is being reported right now on CNN. And it is being reported with as much fanfare as it ever would have been. But it is as dry as tinder. The mojo of the port deal is past. It did its job. It helped to further drive the president's approval ratings into the dirt and split the Republicans. Any thought that the controversy could be effectively extended by legislation announced in a press conference by Nancy Pelosi is wishful thinking. There's no reason not to do it, of course. But it isn't an excuse to be angry at Feingold.

Two: Please tell me that the Democrats are not going to withhold criticim of Bush because it might make Republicans rally around him. Karl Rove and Tom DeLay have run the GOP with an iron fist for almost eight years. The Republicans have lost the ability to function without them. They are confused and rudderless and they will run back and forth toward Bush and against him dozens of times over the next few months. They literally don't know where to turn.

Yes, Feingold probably did bring Republicans together. For five full minutes until the latest polls came in which have George W. Bush at 33% today. Do Democrats really think that Republicans can turn that around if they vote for this censure motion? (If they do then Rove and Delay have already done their jobs well. They have convinced the Democrats that the GOP is omnipotent.)

Three: It's apparently true that Feingold didn't consult with the party. But considering the response I can sort of see his point. They are so unimaginative and so sluggish that he didn't see the use in playing the party game. If party coodination means being forced to wait for them to hold plodding press conferences about x-raying cargo boxes, then it's hard to see why anyone who wants to take the fight to the Republicans would bother.

I can see why they are angry about it. They were caught short. But they need to move more quickly on this stuff. Planning is great, but you can't always control events. How you deal with things coming from left field is important --- they failed on this one, making it worse for themselves by ducking the press and dithering about their response. I think Democrats have lost touch with their political instincts. This is one of those things that a smart old fashioned pol would have been able to either finesse or respond to properly off the cuff. (They should have called Bill Clinton --- he was good at that sort of thing.)

Four: Iraq is what's killing the Republicans in the polls. Democrats will be talking about Iraq every day in one way or another far into the future. And other things are going to come up to interrupt their plans to "pivot" on the war at any particular time. They need to learn to deal with this.

Five: Well yes, by all means a strategy whereby we count on Specter to hold "real" hearings is spot on. What could possibly go wrong? Why, if we wait until after the 2008 election, he might even do it.

I said this yesterday and I'll repeat it. This image of "powerlessness" at a time when the Republicans are on the ropes is the biggest problem we face for the fall elections. If Democratic pols don't understand that they are flirting with terrible grassroots defeatism, then they are going to lose. They must take action (and I don't mean boring press conferences and 10 point plans) or it won't matter a damn if the Republicans are on the ropes --- demoralized Democrats are not going to bother with them. Come on. Speak for us. If not now, when?

Defeatism: acceptance and content with defeat without struggle. The term is commonly used in the context of war: a soldier can be a defeatist if he or she refuses to fight because he or she thinks that the fight will be lost for sure or that it is not worth fighting for some other reason.

I might just point out that in the few primaries so far, the Democrats have not had an exceptional turn-out. Maybe it means nothing. But it might also be a canary in the coal mine.

Jane and ReddHedd have all the numbers for your Senators. Make a call. These people need to hear from us.

Establishment Claws

by digby

Here's a new group that it seems to me is worth supporting. Contrary to popular myth, Democrats have always supported the military and are very religious. But we do believe that everyone, especially those in the military, have a right to be free of religious or political coercion. Here's yet another former Republican and Reagan official who has come over to our way of thinking:

Former Reagan White House counsel, Air Force veteran, U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and activist, Mikey Weinstein, today announced the launch of a new nonprofit organization, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which is dedicated to ensuring that all members of the United States Armed Forces fully receive the Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. Weinstein, who filed a federal lawsuit last October to halt illegal proselytizing and evangelizing throughout the Air Force, will serve as president of the charitable organization.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation will serve as a watchdog organization - educating the public and the media on issues related to the separation of church and state within the Armed Forces, and litigating when necessary. Weinstein is joined by some of the nation’s leading military and civic leaders who have united together as founding members of the board. The MRFF will also work with local leaders throughout the country to coordinate grassroots efforts.

"I created the Military Religious Freedom Foundation so that others could join in the fight to assure that our Armed Forces preserve the Constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state and ensure that junior officers and enlisted personnel are protected from coercive proselytizing and evangelizing by their superiors," said Weinstein.


Weinstein began his efforts to combat the disregard of the Constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state within the Armed Forces when he learned that his sons, cadets at the Air Force Academy, were subjected to taunts and derision because of their Jewish faith and that each had faced proselytizing both from their peers and superiors. He led a nearly two-year struggle to end evangelical religious bias at the United States Air Force Academy, reaching out to government officials and Air Force academy leadership. When these efforts failed, Weinstein, a practicing attorney, took the next step and filed a lawsuit against the Air Force.

A founding tenet of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is that it adheres "strongly to the principle that religious faith is a deeply personal matter, and that no American has the right to question another American's beliefs as long as these beliefs do not unwontedly intrude on the public space or the privacy or safety of another individual," according to the foundation's mission statement.

Heaven Or Hell, It Don't Matter To Me...

by tristero

...as long as I end up where Jerry Falwell ain't.
Abu Ghraib: More Details

by tristero

Go read it. Look and watch. And remember:
Although the photos are a disturbing visual account of particular incidents inside Abu Ghraib prison, they should not be viewed as representing the sum total of what occurred.
Your tax dollars at work, boys and girls. Truly an education in how Bush is bringing democracy to Iraq.

(BTW, I would imagine that at least a few folks will download all this stuff before the Feds try to get Salon to pull it, so it will be available somewhere. Nevertheless, you should get over there soon.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


by digby

John at Crooks and Liars has the video of Bush congratulating Jason McElwaine the basketball player who has autism. I know that it was a cheap stunt on many levels, but I'm with John --- it was a nice thing for Bush to do on its own merits. And I have to say that Bush actually seemed like a real human when he was talking about it. For the first time in, well ... ever.

If you haven't seen Jason's amazing feat, go over to C&L and check it out.


by digby

From Wednesday's NY Times Editorial:

If the current Congress had been called on to intervene in the case of Mr. Allen, it would probably have tried to legalize shoplifting.

Law and order is for the little people.

Rank and File Partisanship

by digby

So the Republicans are finally coming right out and saying that Russ Feingold is helping the terrorists by calling for censure. I'm just surprised it didn't happen sooner. Bill Frist pretty much said it himself on Sunday:

George, what was interesting in listening to my good friend, Russ, is that he mentioned protecting the American people only one time, and although you went to politics a little bit later, I think it's a crazy political move and I think it in part is a political move because here we are, the Republican Party, the leadership in the Congress, supporting the President of the United States as Commander in Chief, who is out there fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and the people who have sworn, have sworn to destroy Western civilization and all the families listening to us. And they're out now attacking, at least today, through this proposed censure vote, out attacking our Commander in Chief. Doesn't make sense.

(Don't you just love the idea that "our" Commander in Chief is "out there" fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban and Osama bin Laden?" Maybe the Delta Force has rendered them to Crawford where Rambo Bush and Dirty Cheney hunt them like plucked turkeys.)

This stuff is actually a veiled threat. As Robert Parry pointed out the other day:

Bush's latest success came as part of a supposed "concession" to Congress that would grant two new Republican-controlled seven-member subcommittees narrow oversight of Bush's warrantless wiretapping of Americans.

While "moderate" Republican senators -- Mike DeWine of Ohio, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska -- hailed the plan as a retreat by the White House, the deal actually blesses Bush's authority to bypass the courts in spying on Americans and imposes on him only a toothless congressional review process.

Indeed, the congressional plan may make matters worse, broadening the permissible scope of Bush's wiretaps to include Americans deemed to be "working in support of a terrorist group or organization."

Given Bush's record of stretching words to his advantage -- and his claim that anyone who isn’t "with us" is with the terrorists -- the vague concept of "working in support" could open almost any political critic of the Bush administration to surveillance.

Now we have Republican senators saying explicitly that Russ Feingold is helping the terrorists. You do the math. Everyone is supposed to simply "trust" a president and his rubber stamp bedwetters to not use such sweeping laws against political opponents.

Very recent history shows that we are very wise to be suspicious of such things. It is not only not unimaginable, it was definitely done, within my adult lifetime, by a former GOP president and many of that president's staff and acolytes who are now in the Bush administration. Congressional oversight was what nailed them before and they are determined not to be tripped up by that pesky constitutional requirement again.

For a full primer on this issue, read this fascinating article about conservative southern Democrat, Senator Sam Ervin, whose devotion to civil liberties led him to pursue inquiries that led all the way to the White House:

"For the past four years, the U.S. Army has been closely watching civilian political activity within the United States." So charged Christopher H. Pyle, a former intelligence officer, in the January 1970 edition of Washington Monthly. Pyle's account of military spies snooping on law-abiding citizens and recording their actions in secret government computers sent a shudder through the nation's press. Images from George Orwell's novel 1984 of Big Brother and the thought police filled the newspapers. Public alarm prompted the Senate Subcommittee on Consti­tutional Rights, chaired by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina, to investigate. For more than a year, Ervin struggled against a cover-up to get to the bottom of the surveillance system. Frustrated by the Nixon Administration's misleading statements, claims of inherent executive powers, and refusals to disclose information on the basis of national security, the Senator called for public hearings in 1971 to examine "the dangers the Army's program presents to the principles of the Constitution."


Although he did not know it at the time, Senator Ervin had started down the road to Watergate. It was during the subcommittee's investigation of Army surveillance in 1970 and 1971 that Ervin stumbled onto the secretive programs and questions of executive power that would lead him to chair the famous Watergate Hearings in 1973. Ironically, it was at the same time that Ervin began his investigation into military spying that Richard Nixon and his men began their own political espionage that put them, too, on the road to Watergate.


Attorney General John N. Mitchell provided the legal basis for the increased domestic surveillance soon afterward. According to the Attorney General's spokesman, the Administration had the right to collect and store information on civilian political activity because of "the inherent powers of the federal government to protect the internal security of the nation. We feel that's our job." Thus, the Administration claimed a virtually unchecked power -- not subject to Congressional oversight -- to carry out unlimited domestic surveillance on anyone it wished.

The Church Commission, formed after the Nixon administration, recommended the creation of the FISA court as a direct result of the abuses of the previous few decades on the part of both Democratic and Republican administrations. Republicans were upset by this:

An intense debate erupted during former U.S. president Gerald Ford's administration over the president's powers to eavesdrop without warrants to gather foreign intelligence, newly disclosed government documents revealed.

Former president George Bush, current Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice-President Dick Cheney are cited in the documents. The roughly 200 pages of historic records reflect a remarkably similar dispute between the White House and Congress fully three decades before President George W. Bush's acknowledgment he authorized wiretaps without warrants of some Americans in terrorism investigations.

"Yogi Berra was right: it's deja vu all over again," said Tom Blanton, executive director for the U.S. National Security Archives, a private research group that compiles collections of sensitive government documents.

"It's the same debate."

You have to give these guys credit for having patience. They lost a debate 30 years ago but the minute they were able to get an airheaded puppet in the white house and a bunch of blind eunuchs in the congress it was as if it never happened. They never liked the law so they just didn't follow it.

Donna Brazile broke from the establishment today and wrote this in Roll Call:

Don't Ignore the Feingold Resolution. Embrace It

The progressive blogosphere is on fire right now. Web loggers are pumped up about the effort by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) to censure President Bush for breaking the law on domestic surveillance and taking matters into his own hands. Feingold, a potential 2008 presidential contender, announced the controversial resolution Sunday on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." (Full disclosure: I was a participant in the show's roundtable conversation.) Since then, this topic has activated the party's base online and generated an onslaught of babble on talk radio stations across America. Feingold hadn't even left the studio when Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) condemned the proposal as "a crazy political move." I disagree. It's a desperate political move to save our democracy.


Many bloggers say they want Democrats to be bold and decisive when it comes to protecting the Constitution of the United States and the rule of law. For those who worry that this issue will create more tension between the progressive "net-roots" types and the party's base, I say fear not. Let's use this resolution to talk about what's really troubling so many Democrats and other astute Americans: the lack of Congressional oversight and accountability. No sooner had Feingold made his announcement than Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) was on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" urging caution. In other words, hold your powder -- wait until the investigation, if any occurs, is completed before urging action.

As a Beltway insider, I am convinced that we cannot continue to tell those who have loyally supported our Democratic leaders to wait. Wait for what? Wait until our pollsters give us the green light to speak up? Should we continue to wait, hoping that the Republicans will finally invite Democrats into the room when important decisions affecting our national security are made? All I know is that people outside the Beltway have grown deeply impatient with our focus-group style of politics. They want to see some bold changes and some new leadership.

It's time to break with the same-old, same-old and use the Feingold resolution to force the Republican-controlled Congress to commit to serious oversight of the controversial, but increasingly popular, surveillance program. The message from the left-leaning blogosphere is clear: Democrats should understand the real issue. The point is not censure or impeachment; it is Congress' lack of oversight and its failure to hold anyone accountable for major mistakes or missteps. And especially, it's about clearly misleading the American public...While the Feingold resolution is not going anywhere given the full Republican control of Washington, D.C., a change in leadership in the fall would make this a ripe item for conversation and action in 2007 and beyond.

Yes, it looks as though we have to clean up the same messes we cleaned up the first time these miscreants were in power and we'd better start preparing the public for it. Saying "trust us" isn't going to cut it:

Civil liberties watchdogs worry that, in the reaction to 9/11, security agencies are going overboard, much as they did during the 1960s and early '70s, when huge programs of illegal spying and dirty tricks led to reforms (box)."These agencies haven't remembered what happened to them in the '70s," says University of Georgia scholar Loch Johnson, who as a staff member on the House and Senate intelligence committees helped draft those reforms. "You heard the same arguments back in the Johnson and Nixon administrations: 'Why do you want to shackle our hands?'"

Why indeed. Given their history, we'd be fools to accept their assurances that they are not using their extraordinary police, military and intelligence power to spy on their political opponents. That's what they always do. There are many, many examples of this administration's "grown-ups" lying in wait for a quarter century to roll the clock back to a time of Richard Nixon and the Imperial presidency.

Call your Senators. Get Feingold's back. Brazile is right on this. The establishment Dems and the weak-kneed courtiers in the pundit and strategist class who whisper in their ears are on the wrong side of history and they'd better get right with it. Here's an email I got today from a reader:

At times like this I feel that the U.S.A. has been lost and will never again be found. Here we have a president who failed to protect us from foreseeable threats, lied us into an imprudent and unnecessary war (with tremendous loss of national treasure), presided over the destruction of one of the great American cities, spies on the American people and lies about it, and is currently seen as unfavorable by 2/3 of the American people. Yet our Democratic leaders are too timid to even criticize him for fear of being considered against the war on terrorism or being partisan.

With all due respect, Democrats should be kicking Bush in the teeth every chance they get. Every word from their mouths should remind people of what Bush has brought to this country.

I am embarrassed to be a Democrat after seeing the reaction to Feingold censure resolution. I am mortified for our country. I don't think there is any hope. Our party is the party of Neville Chamberlain. The way we are acting as a party we don't even deserve to be compared to Americans.

These are your people, Democrats. You'd better listen to this or they are going to be hard pressed to leave the house this November and vote for you. As Rove says, "politics is TV with the sound turned off" to millions of people in this country. All they see is another Democratic retreat. They may not like the Republicans but they also don't see how a party like ours can beat them.

Democrats' biggest enemy right now is rank and file Democratic defeatism. They ignore it at their peril. The Republicans aren't and they will spend every minute of every day working to make Democratic voters feel powerless and weak, no matter how low the GOP falls in the polls. This kind of thing helps them make their case.

Update: Brazile was on Blitzer this afternoon and said this:

BLITZER: Because you know a lot of Democrats are nervous about this resolution.

BRAZILE: Well, they're nervous -- when Jack Murtha spoke out about a timetable, they were nervous. Now the president is almost embracing it.

So just hold your horses, get behind Russ Feingold. Things will be OK in the morning.

Torie Clarke went on to say "bring it on" to try to intimidate the Dems into continuing to believe that they cannot criticize the president on national security. They really need to stop saying that. It hasn't been working out for them.

Update II: Here's an interesting analysis of the polling on the issue by Mystery Pollster.

I would suggest that the more Democrats say they approve of the program, the more people will believe there isn't anything wrong with it. Funny how that happens.

Praying For Understanding

by digby

I got an e-mail from the writer of this post called "I'm Not Sick of Atrios or Digby: Building a Team Means Religious and Secular Liberals Hearing Each Other Out" in which Atrios and I are taken to task for our hostility to religion.

I love Atrios, but he's not exactly politically savvy when it comes to the concerns of religious moderates and liberals--the fastest growing part of the Democratic Party base. One would think that just as a matter of real politic that the fastest growing part of your coalition would be entitled to some basic respect if not props. But, alas, not from Atrios.


Digby also weighs in: Perhaps some of these religious politicans (sic)could speak to the flock about giving some respect to the non-faithful. It's the Christian thing to do.

We're not politicians here, but that's exactly what groups largely led by the religious community do: the Interfaith Alliance, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, etc etc Come on, guys. No one is trying to convert you--we're just asking for the most basic respect.

Unfortunately, he excerpted the only paragraph in my piece in which I say that secular Dems should be treated with more respect, which was actually sort of a wry joke. The rest of my long post was spent pointing out that the vast majority of Democrats are religious and that those of us who aren't, contribute to, work and vote enthusiatically for those who are. My main beef with Amy Sullivan and others like her was that she seems to have internalized facile GOP talking points and unthinkingly uses them against Democrats. (That is also, I believe, what Atrios was claiming he was "sick of.") To portray the left as being "knee jerk" anti-faith is unfair and plays into the negative image that Republicans have spent years cultivating. Let he who casts the first GOP meme be chastized.

I take the point about building coalitions. But, those moderates whom Sullivan claims would vote for Democrats if only they didn't believe the Republican campaign to protray us as hostile to faith, will undoubtedly be moved to do so if religious Democrats make clear that the vast majority of our policies and our politics stem from faith as well, which everyone acknowledges. Many of our values about equality and community and fairness and tending to those less fortunate come from the religious tradition. The civil rights movement grew directly out of the church and there are no liberals who repudiate or belittle it. When Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson or Jimmy Carter or John Kerry or any number of the Democratic politicians I mentioned in my post speak in the language of faith we non-believers vote for them without a second thought.

All of us Democrats share a common set of political values and principles, regardless of religion. As a member of the small minority of non-believers in the party I have no problem with our leaders using religious language and emphasising the religious nature of those commonly held principles and values.

But unsurprisingly, I'm not crazy about being the scapegoat for Democratic losses, particularly since the data does not bear that out. Nor do I think most Democrats agree with the proposition that the party needs to adopt conservative social positions in order to win. If there is hostility to religion, it's hostility to conservative religion --- and not because it's religion but because its conservative. We are liberals after all. If Sullivan and others want to move the party to the right on social issues let's put religion aside and talk about that. Using religion to bludgeon Democrats into believing that they are offending the faithful unless they change their attitudes about personal liberty is cheap.

It's also important to point out, in the interest of keeping the facts squarely on the table, that numbers of religious liberals and Democratic moderates may be growing, but they are not the fastest growing part of the Democratic base. Indeed, they are not the fastest growing part of the nation:

The most comprehensive recent survey of religous affiliation found:

-- Catholic adults increased from 46.0 million to nearly 50.8 million, but their proportion in the population fell by nearly two percentage points.

-- Although Protestant and other non-Catholic denominations remain the majority, with more than 105.4 million adult adherents, their proportion slid sharply from 60% to 52%.

-- 2.8 million adults give their religion as Jewish, down from about 3.1 million in 1990. Another 2.5 million, who say they have no religion or identify with another religion, are of Jewish parentage, were raised Jewish or consider themselves Jewish.

-- The number of adults who identify with a non-Christian religion rose sharply, from about 5.8 million to 7.7 million. However, their proportion remains small, 3.7% up from 3.3% in 1990.

-- Muslim/Islamic adults total 1.1 million -- nearly double the number in 1990. Those identifying their race as black are 23% of the group; the others overwhelmingly identify as white or Asian.

One of the most striking 1990-2001 comparisons is the more than doubling of the adult population identifying with no religion, from 14.3 million (8%) in 1990 to the current 29.4 million (14.1%). The 1990 figure may be downwardly biased due to a slight change in the wording of the key survey question in 2001. In seeking a more accurate measure of identification, the clause "if any" was added this year to the question, "What religion do you identify with?" The prior wording may have subtly prompted respondents to name some religion.

ARIS 2001 goes further than its predecessor in investigating such new territory as membership in a place of worship, change of religious identification over one's lifetime, and religion of the spouse or partner of respondents. Findings reveal, among other things, a huge gap between religious identification and affiliation with a place of worship. Although 81% of America's adults identify with a religion, only 54% reside in a household where anyone belongs to a church, temple, synagogue, mosque or other place of worship. About 20% of those who say they have no religion (including many atheists and agnostics) nevertheless report that they or someone else in their household is a member of a religious congregation. About 40% of adults who describe themselves as "religious" report no membership in any religious congregation.

The religious pollster The Barna Group writes:

Since 1991, the adult population in the United States has grown by 15%. During that same period the number of adults who do not attend church has nearly doubled, rising from 39 million to 75 million – a 92% increase.

I'm not suggesting that because you don't go to church, you aren't religious. But it does suggest that the coveted evangelical vote, which is very church based, may not be where the religious action is.

And I don't point any of this out to say that the party should cater to non-believers. The total number of admitted non-believers may be growing, but they are just 14 pecent of the country --- a small minority. The Democrats know this very well. No politican in the country can win if he is not sufficently religious and they wouldn't dare to even try.

But these numbers do back up the fact that this isn't about religion. It's about social conservatism. That's a different argument.

When you dig into American religiosity you find some very interesting data and many contradictions. It is not a monolith by any means, not even within the various factions of the "born-again." What people say and what they do and what they really believe are often different. As opposed to the 7% of people who believe in Evangelical Christianity, which has a very cohesive set of beliefs, faith in America in general is incredibly complicated.

Here's what religion pollster Barna says:

The outcomes suggest that faith does have an impact on how people live, according to George Barna, who directed the research. "It seems that areas of life most clearly related to religious beliefs, such as moral behavior and serving the needs of disadvantaged people, are somewhat affected by involvement in church or through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The data also show, however, that areas of life that are less overtly associated with people's religious beliefs - dimensions such as economics, political influence or entertainment choices - may not be impacted by their faith. People need more help in determining how their faith speaks to life issues beyond the obvious connections.

If the religious left would like to engage their fellow religionists on these issues, I'd be very happy. Build that coalition. But trying to slice off the one small faction of organized religous conservatives who currently vote for Republicans based on their (allegedly) shared beliefs on sexual morality is a stupid strategy. There appear to be many millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims, New Agers, and unchurched who could be persuaded by faith based liberal appeals. Democrats do not need to change their values of tolerance and equality and liberty to accomodate them. We already share them.

For those of you who are interested in the breakdown of believers to non-believers and how it impacts politics, check out this fascinating state by state breakdown of religious belief.

Update: I see that Atrios responded as well. I agree.

Update: Gilliard weighs in with a very provocative post tying the GOP's religious outreach to racism.