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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

New Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spent Capital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Give 'Em An Inch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You're Going To Love This One

From my right wing e-mailer:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing Their Tune

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

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

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

Rosenfeld comments:

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

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

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


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Talking Our Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live To Fight Another Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, May 21, 2005

Stem Sell

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

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

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

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

Via Suburban Guerrilla

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

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


Friday, May 20, 2005


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eventually, the man was sent home.

There's some South Park Republicans for you.

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

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

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

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


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Ricky In Paris

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

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

Santorum said today:

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings us to Byrd:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downing St Revelations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Try Again

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

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

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

Update: Yglesias has more.


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Who Shot Sam

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

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

(Via Altercation)

Washington Times cartoon sets Pakistan on fire

[ MONDAY, MAY 09, 2005]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Blindness

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

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

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

The right wing responded with their usual alacrity:

Update: Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

Extreme Moral Clarity

Attaturk says Andrew Sullivan is taking criticism for saying:

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Lovely DiRita

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

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

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

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

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

The New Christocracy

Kevin Catches this little gem

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

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

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


Monday, May 16, 2005

From The Beginning

Talking about inequality and social mobility, Ezra says:

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

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

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

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

Old News

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

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

Hindquarter, Powerline

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

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

No kidding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, May 15, 2005

A Guy's Gotta Make A Living

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

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

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

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

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

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

Via The Left Coaster

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Populist Tango

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, May 13, 2005

Prescient Heckler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Loves Ya baby?

Roy Edroso says:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Roy says and I concur:

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

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

Doomsday Machine

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

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

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

Revival Hype

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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