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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Calling In The Leadership

Oh, this is rich. DC MediaGirl (via the Daoureport) says that Michele Malkin is having a fit because Hollywood and LiveAid hasn't stepped into the breach in New Orleans. Apparently, Hollywood should hold fundraisers while disasters are still unfolding. They shouldn't even have a day or two to plan them --- entertainers should immediately rush to the closest TV studio and just start singing and dancing as fast as they can. I presume that Malkin feels this should be done in lieu of actual disaster relief by Big Govmint, which is the root of all evil after all.

DC media Girl also points out Dear Leader was attending birthday parties and strumming the guitar while untold numbers were dying along the gulf coast. But then, it isn't actually his job to deal with disasters. He was waiting for Tom Hanks and Goldie Hawn to take the lead on that.

This is a really unfair rap on the entertainment community. They are a lot of things, but ungenerous in disasters, they aren't. They always step up in times like this and I have absolutely no doubt they are planning to do it right now.

When's the last time the wealthy media punditocrisy held a fundraiser for victims of anything, by the way?

Game Cancelled

BagNews Notes has the most interesting take on the compelling images of New Orleans: he looks at pictures of the refugees at the Superdome and observes:

Beginning with the weekend evacuation, one unstated subtext running through much of the reporting involved the disparate prospects between rich and poor. In many accounts, for example, the more well-to-do were securing refuge by way of upper-floor hotel rooms, or escape via rental cars and long-haul taxi rides.

On the other hand, those of modest mean mostly headed for the football stadium.

In looking through the painful photos coming out of this ravaged city, I was particularly struck by the scenes shot at the New Orleans Superdome -- which seemed to have transformed, almost overnight, into the world's largest disaster shelter.

Besides people trying to adapt to the building as living quarters, what I found ironic was the fact that this was the only way the lower income evacuees -- not to mention the needy or indigent -- would ever get close to these field level seats.

The pictures coming out of New Orleans are all horrible. But the income disparities among the citizens are brought into stark relief by this tragedy. Everyone is affected of course, but those who had little to begin with are truly left with less than nothing now. A whole lot of people who were hanging by a thread already just dropped into total despair. That dimension of the tragedy really makes my heart ache.

Reason #673

Bush gives new reason for Iraq war
Says US must prevent oil fields from falling into hands of terrorists

By Jennifer Loven, Associated Press | August 31, 2005

CORONADO, Calif. -- President Bush answered growing antiwar protests yesterday with a fresh reason for US troops to continue fighting in Iraq: protection of the country's vast oil fields, which he said would otherwise fall under the control of terrorist extremists.

The president, standing against a backdrop of the USS Ronald Reagan, the newest aircraft carrier in the Navy's fleet, said terrorists would be denied their goal of making Iraq a base from which to recruit followers, train them, and finance attacks.

''We will defeat the terrorists," Bush said. ''We will build a free Iraq that will fight terrorists instead of giving them aid and sanctuary."


At the naval base, Bush declared, ''We will not rest until victory is America's and our freedom is secure" from Al Qaeda and its forces in Iraq led by Abu Musab alZarqawi.

''If Zarqawi and [Osama] bin Laden gain control of Iraq, they would create a new training ground for future terrorist attacks," Bush said. ''They'd seize oil fields to fund their ambitions. They could recruit more terrorists by claiming a historic victory over the United States and our coalition."

That's a pretty good spin on the "no blood for oil" theme, you have to admit. It brings together the boogeyman and high gas prices in one neat package.

I guess we are now fighting Osama bin Laden for control of Iraq. Considering how badly we are doing there, I don't think this is the best way to frame it. They seem to be winning.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Big Easy's Got The Blues

Commenter antifa wrote in another thread on Sunday night:

I called Mama Marisol, got her on her cell phone. She had her crystal ball in the front seat, and she was 'leavin-leavin, cher.'

Heading up Basin Street past St. Louis 1, she saw all the skeletons sitting on top of their tombs, rolling their bones and readin' em, shakin' their heads at her.

This won't end well.

Mama marisol was right, cher. This is terrible.

If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break
And the water gonna come in, have no place to stay

Well all last night I sat on the levee and moan
Thinkin' 'bout my baby and my happy home

If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break
And all these people have no place to stay

Now look here mama what am I to do
I ain't got nobody to tell my troubles to

I works on the levee mama both night and day
I ain't got nobody, keep the water away

Oh cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do no good
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to lose

I works on the levee, mama both night and day
I works so hard, to keep the water away

I had a woman, she wouldn't do for me
I'm goin' back to my used to be

I's a mean old levee, cause me to weep and moan
Gonna leave my baby, and my happy home

*by Kansas Joe McCoy and famously covered by Led Zeppelin.

Comic Designer

I haven't weighed in on the recent Bell Curve wars (although Atrios reprised some of my former comments this week-end) because it just gets so tiring. But as I read some of the recent discussion of Intelligent Design, it struck me that we are seeing a clash of the psuedo-sciences coming on the right that could be very fun to watch.

You see, the racist Bell Curve people are ardent adherants of evolution; one of their primary wingnut funded institutions is called The Charles Darwin Research Institute. When you go to the site, you will see that it opens with a stirring defense of the theory of evolution and natural selection. As you read down you see its true agenda:

Based on his readings and his personal experiences of exploring Southwest Africa, Galton concluded that the average mental ability of Africans was low, whether they were observed in Africa or in the Americas. In Descent, Darwin acknowledged Galton's work and also accepted the importance of the brain-size differences reported between Africans and Europeans by Paul Broca and other nineteenth- century scientists.

Modern studies confirm Darwin and Galton. The races do differ in average brain size and intelligence. The racial gradient in average intelligence and brain size increases from Africans to Europeans to East Asians.

This institute is run by J. Philippe Rushton, who is best known for his hypothesis that men with bigger penises and women with big breasts and buttocks have smaller brains and are therefore biologically inferior. He is famous for saying in an interview: "It's a trade-off: More brain or more penis. You can't have everything."

In 2003, he became head of the nazi-founded Pioneer Fund which also supports such racist and sexist luminaries as Richard Lynn of the recent "women are dumber than men" study. Both of these alleged scientists' work are positively referenced in The Bell Curve.

Unsurprisingly, Bell Curve authors Murray and Hernstein (and contributor Lynn) all pretty much agree with Rushton that large black dicks are a very serious threat to western civilization. Because of their large dicks and big tits, you see, blacks are more promiscuous and therefore have a different "reproductive strategy" that undermines our culture by overpopulating it with more big dicks and more big tits rather than the small dicks of white men like Murray, Hernstein, Rushton and Lynn.

They fail to explain why such a reproductive strategy would actually be inferior in their Disney version of Darwin's big adventure, but they do set forth a very novel explanation as to why having a very small dick is a good thing. (I wonder if any woman (or man) has ever bought that line.)

Anyway, none of these dummies for Darwin, many of whom have followers in the white supremecist creationist crowd (as well as the long standing approbation of such cultural icons of dick as Andrew Sullivan) can sign on to the new fundamentalist chic of the moment --- ID. Without evolution, a tiny tiparillo is just a tiny tiparillo.

So what happens when the Bell Curve meets up with the Discovery Institute? Will the racist Darwinians have the nerve to ask why the "Intelligent Designer" came up with the really, really fucked up idea that the big brained white guys like them got the tiny penises and the small brained, big dicked blacks got all the big-titted, hot assed women? Will the Discovery Institute fellows feel compelled to drop their pants to prove that the IDer in chief knew what he was doing?

I sense a monumental crack-up among the racist wingnuts. It's either god or monkeys --- with their inferior manhoods hanging (ever so slightly) in the balance.


Monday, August 29, 2005

Awesome Chutzpah

It looks as though the Republicans are trying out a new play. If it works in this out of town try-out, will it be long until we see it on the national stage? From Josh Marshall:

Gov. Ernie Fletcher(R) of Kentucky and a slew of people from his adminsitration have been embroiled for some time now in a big government personnel scandal. And he just called a press conference and basically pardoned everybody.

I think this is what Republicans call decisive leadership.

Angry Mad Props

Everybody's talking about the Iraqi woman, Safia Taleb al-Suhail (who Bush used as a prop last year at the SOTU) saying that the new constitution is a setback for women's rights:

"When we came back from exile, we thought we were going to improve rights and the position of women," she said. "But look what has happened -- we have lost all the gains we made over the last 30 years. It's a big disappointment."

But she's not the only one. Kevin at Catch spotted another prominent Iraqi woman who has been used as a convenient prop by the Bush adminsitration. She is now disillusioned with what the US as well. Here's Bush on March 3rd, 2004:

PRESIDENT BUSH: I want to thank my friend, Dr. Raja Khuzai, who's with us today. This is the third time we have met. The first time we met, she walked into the Oval Office -- let's see, was it the first time? It was the first time. The door opened up. She said, "My liberator," and burst out in tears -- (laughter) -- and so did I. (Applause.)

Dr. Khuzai also was there to have Thanksgiving dinner with our troops. And it turned out to be me, as well. Of course, I didn't tell her I was coming. (Laughter.) But I appreciate that, and now she's here again. I want to thank you, Doctor, for your hard work on the writing of the basic law for your people. You have stood fast, you have stood strong. Like me, you've got liberty etched in your heart, and you're not going to yield. And you are doing a great job and we're proud to have you back. Thanks for coming. (Applause.)

Here's what Dr. Kuzai told the NY Times on August 24:

"This is the future of the new Iraqi government - it will be in the hands of the clerics," said Dr. Raja Kuzai, a secular Shiite member of the Assembly. "I wanted Iraqi women to be free, to be able to talk freely and to able to move around."

"I am not going to stay here," said Dr. Kuzai, an obstetrician and women's leader who met President Bush in the White House in November 2003.

We are so very noble.

Judy In Da Skies

Arianna has a great pithy take on the NY Times ever more pathetic editorial attempts to persuade their readers that something terrible has happened to Judith Miller who is now in her 55th *gasp* day of confinement. (Even as her husband is telling all their friends that Judy is having the time of her life in jail.)

The crux of the editorial is a ludicrous attempt to show that a worldwide outpouring of support for Miller has created a veritable Judy Tsunami heading toward Pat Fitzgerald and the Alexandria Detention Center, ready to sweep her to freedom.

The proof? Well, according to the Times “a Paris-based journalists’ organization” sent around “an impressive petition” last week in support of Miller that was signed by “prominent European writers, journalists and thinkers including Gunter Grass, Barnard-Henri Levy, the French philosopher, and Pedro Almodóvar, the Spanish filmmaker”.

Forgive me if I have my doubts about how well-versed in the intricacies of the Plame case -- and Judy Miller’s role in it -- Messrs. Grass, Levy, and Almodóvar are. Which do you think is more likely, that someone put a petition in front them and said “The Bush administration is throwing reporters in jail, please sign!” or that, after contemplating the latest revelations about Scooter Libby’s early-July breakfast schedule, John Bolton’s Plamegate memory lapses, and the eight pages of redacted material in Judge Tatel's ruling, the trio was convinced that Miller doing time for refusing to come clean and move the investigation forward is, in the words of the petition, “a miscarriage of justice”?

But the John Hancocks of Grass, Levy, and Almodovar are not the only evidence of the Judy Tsunami cited... oh, no -- far from it! To buttress its argument, the Times once again drags out the backing of Bob Dole (gee, Bob Dole, maybe I should rethink this!) and the “poignant case” of “reporters in Pakistan -- Pakistan, mind you” who “took time out from their own battles to send messages of support”. That really is poignant. And utterly pointless. It sheds absolutely no light on the key issue here: whether Judy Miller acted as a professional journalist or as an advocate who perverted the nature of journalism.

It’s interesting to chart the shift in the Times’ rhetoric from its first “defending Judy” editorial to this latest, clammy iteration. At least that maiden voyage, back on July 7th, included the “frank” admission that “this is far from an ideal case” -- indeed, that its details are “complicated” and “muddy”. But even as those details -- and Miller’s role in Plamegate -- have grown more complicated and more muddy in the ensuing weeks, the Times’ position has become more simplistic: Judy is a martyr. Bob Dole and Gunter Grass and some guys in Pakistan (mind you) agree. Case closed.

The fact that they have to bring up Bob Dole again at all is just embarrassing. You could still see the words " first amendment yadda, yadda, yadda" erasures on the thing. His op-ed was a babrely disguised hit piece on Pat Fitzgerald, based on nothing.

But Arianna leaves out my favorite part of the editorial today:

As Jack Nelson, a veteran journalist for The Los Angeles Times, wrote recently: "Without leaks, without anonymity for some sources, a free press loses its ability to act as a check and a balance against the power of government." He cited Watergate, Iran-contra and President Bill Clinton's lies about Monica Lewinsky. If Judith Miller loses this fight, we all lose. This is not about Judith Miller or The Times or the outing of one C.I.A. agent. The jailing of this reporter is about the ability of a free press in America to do its job.

Can anyone tell me what is wrong with that paragraph and why it is self-refuting?

Got Morals?

Peter Daou has written a very interesting piece today about how the left and right philosophically differ on Iraq. He points out the overlooked fact that the left views the war from a moral standpoint --- indeed, the left views our relationship with the world from a moral standpoint --- while the right sees both those things from a material standpoint. It seems obvious now that he's brought it up, but I've never actually thought about it quite that way before:

The right (broadly speaking) can’t fathom why the left is driven into fits of rage over every Abu Ghraib, every Gitmo, every secret rendition, every breach of civil liberties, every shifting rationale for war, every soldier and civilian killed in that war, every Bush platitude in support of it, every attempt to squelch dissent. They see the left's protestations as appeasement of a ruthless enemy. For the left (broadly speaking), America’s moral strength is of paramount importance; without it, all the brute force in the world won’t keep us safe, defeat our enemies, and preserve our role as the world’s moral leader.....

War hawks squeal about America-haters and traitors, heaping scorn on the so-called “blame America first" crowd, but they fail to comprehend that the left reserves the deepest disdain for those who squander our moral authority. The scars of a terrorist attack heal and we are sadder but stronger for having lived through it. When our moral leadership is compromised by people draped in the American flag, America is weakened. The loss of our moral compass leaves us rudderless, open to attacks on our character and our basic decency. And nothing makes our enemies prouder. They can't kill us all, but if they permanently stain our dignity, they've done irreparable harm to America.

I think this is an good way for liberals to think about our government and how the world works. And it can even be done in simple, common sense terms that may just resonate with those who wonder what it is we stand for. And aside from the fact that an amoral superpower is a country not worth living in and one that shames all of us who live within it, moral authority leads to material good as well. A great country behaving in an immoral way makes that country weaker, not stronger. Allies mistrust it and are reluctant to join forces. Enemies are emboldened, not cowed, because they see the country behaving in an almost desperate fashion and perceive that it is much weaker than it is. And when leaders of the most powerful country in the world leave the impression that they care nothing for the world's opinion, the world begins to see that country as a potential enemy instead of a friend.

People are naturally suspicious of power and because of that it behooves us to ensure that others can trust us and rely upon us behave morally and ethically. Breaking treaties, throwing off old friends and partners, ignoring our own constitution and the rule of of law creates an impression that the United States is unreliable, immoral and aggressive. It makes us less safe. Only shallow people think that our country can fight off the whole world. Only delusional people would want us to try. Our moral authority is not an impediment that we can or should toss off when it is inconvenient. It is an absolutely nevessary component of our national security.

We are in the middle of a great culture war in this country in which liberals are continually accused of being immoral and indecent by people who profess to hold strong religious beliefs. These morals, however, are almost exclusively confined to personal sexual matters and seem only to apply to the conduct of individuals in their private lives. They seem to have nothing to say about our government conducting itself without regard to morality whenever it is convenient. (Indeed, we have just witnessed one of the most prominent religious moralists in the country calling for our government to assassinate the leader of an oil rich country because it would save money.)

After the last election I read many pieces in which religious people advised that Democrats had to begin speaking in religious terms and appeal to voters on a moral basis. It was immediately assumed that this should be done in exactly the same way that the Republicans do, using their definition of morality. But I would suggest that we should make our own case for moral values --- as a government and a nation. It is there that we will find common ground among truly religious people and non-religious people of all stripes. And it is there that politics and morality are appropriately and necessarily linked in a free and democratic society.

If I had been polled after the last election I might very well have said that moral values were a primary reason for my vote. I found the conduct of this war deeply immoral. And I also believe that this immorality makes us less safe. If Democratic politicians want to run on restoring moral values in government they can count me in. I'm a proud member of that moral values crowd and I'll happily hold hands with any religious person who wants to join me.

Tim Russert For Best Actor

Following up on Michael Wolff's Vanity Fair piece, Media Matters points out that Time magazine withheld information from the public and wrote articles that can only be described as cover ups in the Plame affair.

After speaking to Rove, Cooper sent an email to Michael Duffy, Time's Washington bureau chief, relating what Rove had told him about Wilson's wife and saying that Rove had spoken on "double super secret background." The next day, Cooper spoke to Libby, who confirmed Plame's identity. Two days later, Robert D. Novak's infamous column revealing Plame's identity appeared.


Duffy, Cooper, and Time not only failed to inform their readers in July 2003 that they were part of the story, but they continued to report on the leak without offering that information for more than a year. In addition to two stories in October 2003, Time wrote about the leak again on January 12, 2004.

I've been shocked by this since the beginning. But it's not just Time that's done this. An equally egregious example is none other than the Monsignor --- Tim Russert. He too was subpoenaed and has since acknowledged that he spoke with Lewis Libby during the period in question. NBC released this very lawyerlike statement after he spoke with the special prosecutor that raises as many questions as it answers:

Mr. Russert told the Special Prosecutor that, at the time of that conversation, he did not know Ms. Plame's name or that she was a CIA operative and that he did not provide that information to Mr. Libby. Mr. Russert said that he first learned Ms. Plame's name and her role at the CIA when he read a column written by Robert Novak later that month.

If Bill Clinton had issued that statement, Father Tim would have been all over it for weeks. When parsed it can only lead to one conclusion. NBC's lawyers carefully left the door open for it to be revealed that Russert knew that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and that he told Libby that. All this statement says is that he didn't know her name or that she was undercover.

But strangely Tim Russert has never been asked by anyone to explain that statement even as he discussed this case many times on Meet The Press. During the same period that Duffy was writing articles in which he failed to reveal Time's role in the story or the fact that he knew that the white house was lying outright, Russert was hosting hour long shows on the topic and never revealing that he was one of the journalists called --- even as he grilled Novak and leaned on other reporters to reveal their sources!

These are some of Russert's questions to Wilson, Novak and "the roundtable" from the October 5th, 2003 transcript of Meet The Press right after it was revealed that the Justice department was going to investigate the leak:

Russert: Was there a suggestion that this was cronyism, that it was your wife who had arranged the mission?

Gosh, I don't know Tim. You talked to Lewis Libby. Was there? Or were you the one who told Scooter that Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA?

Russert: What did journalists tell you that the White House officials were saying to them?

Wilson: Four days after Bob Novak’s article came out, which outed my wife, I was—I started receiving calls from journalists and news agencies saying, first, that “The White House is saying things about you and your wife that are so off the wall we can’t even put them up,” followed by, over the weekend—so that would have been five or six days after the Novak article —a respected journalist called me up and said, “White House sources are telling us that this story is not about the 16 words”—even though the administration had acknowledged they should not have been in the State of the Union address—”this story is about Wilson and his wife.” And finally, on Monday, a week after the Novak article, I received a call from a journalist who told me, “I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He says that your wife is fair game.”

Russert: This was all after the Novak column appeared?

You tell us Tim. We know you spoke to Scooter before the Novak column came out, but did anybody call you afterwards? Do you know of any other reporters who were called?

Russert: Why would this official happen to have known that Ambassador Wilson’s wife was a CIA agent?

Novak: Well, I think senior officials know everything, don’t they?

Russert: Do you find that curious?

Novak: No. I don’t think so.

One of Novak's sources was Lewis Libby whom you also spoke with in the same period. Did you tell Libby that Wilson's wife was an employee but not that she was an agent? Your carefully worded statement certainly raises suspicions that you did. Is it possible that you told Libby that Wilson's wife was CIA and he pretended that he didn't know? Or are you saying that he really didn't know she was an agent?

Russert: When you say that it was not a partisan gunslinger, does that rule out Karl Rove?

Did it rule out Libby, the official you spoke with at the same time as Novak?

Russert: Let me turn to The Washington Post. And, well, one last thing before I—do you regret printing her name... Did you have any sense when you were being told this and you were typing it in your computer, “My God, the person that told me this may be committing a crime”?

Did you have any sense when you grilled Novak that you were leaving out a whole bunch of information about your own role in this story? Did you think "my God, I and everyone else in this room are play-acting and in doing so are betraying our profession and holding the public in total contempt?"

Russert: Let me turn to The Washington Post. Dana Priest, last Sunday you wrote a story on the front page which said this: “A senior administration official said that before Novak’s column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson’s wife. ...‘Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge,’ the senior official said of the alleged leak.” What do you make of that? What was going on?

Tim, you are a Washington journalist who we know spoke with Scooter Libby before Novak's column ran. What did you think was going on?

Russert: In your story, you say a senior administration official said that two White House officials which sent off an awful lot of people in this town scurrying, saying, a senior administration official, as opposed to White House official, this must be the CIA at war with the White House.

You are one of the scurriers. How many other reporters know a lot more than they are telling? Can you give us names? Are they protected under the reporter's privilege too?

Russert: Bob Novak, many people have come up to me on the street and said, “Why doesn’t Bob Novak simply identify who his sources are? He knows who told him. Just say—pick up the phone, call the Justice Department, go on television and say, ‘This is who committed this crime’?”

Why don't you just come clean and tell your audience that you and the people sitting around your roundtable are all putting on performances worthy of Meryl Streep and calling it news?

Russert: David Broder, explain to our viewers what you have observed, and why journalists have this code where they simply will not divulge their sources.

Broder: The principle is pretty simple. It is the government’s responsibility to keep the government’s secrets secret. It is not the press’ responsibility. Our inclination, once we have information, is to try to verify it, to amplify as much as we can, the background and the context. But our basic obligation, then, is to share information with the public.

Except, of course, in situations like this where the story involves the press corps itself --- two of the principle players are right here! --- and where its access to important Republican officials is at stake. Then you feel free to stage a revival of Waiting For Godot on the set of Meet the Press and pretend that you are asking questions that others pretend to answer.

Russert: Bill Kristol, who used to work for Vice President Quayle, now runs The Weekly Standard magazine, has written a long essay where he said the president has taken too passive a stance in this situation, that he should call in his top senior aides and demand to know exactly what happened, and then take action, fire them...David, observing the administration, what should the president be doing now, and how much disarray are we watching?

Broder: Well, I was at the Democratic National Committee meeting yesterday where Al Sharpton said the president is moonwalking this question, and I think he’s got it about right. It is hard to believe that if the president, when he was dealing with a finite universe of possible leakers, did not really put the heat on, that he couldn’t get an answer to his question...

Russert: What do you think, Bob Novak?

Novak: I don’t know. I’m in an impossible position on this and I...

Russert: That’s why you’re here.

What do you think Tim? You're in the same impossible position Novak is. You know who the leakers are --- one of them, at least, spoke to you around the same time he spoke to Novak? Why are you so cocky? Don't you find it the least bit uncomfortable suggesting that the president should fire the people who you are protecting --- while failing to inform your audience of what you know?

Give yourself a treat and read the whole transcript to get the full flavor of the utter phoniness of that show. And I think you'll particularly enjoy the end when Bob Novak get's all self-righteous about Democrats smearing Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

That show was in October of 2003. By that time everyone knew the score. Russert pretended to put on his inquisitor's robes and pretended to interview Novak. Novak pretended that he didn't know that Russert knew much more than he was saying and played the role of the injured journalist throwing himself on the first amendment pyre. Priest knew the real story of the internecine war between the CIA and the administration over the WMD and Broder knew that the president wasn't going to try to "find out" who the leakers were because he knew that the leakers were close associates of the president --- who very likely already knew.

We, the idiot Americans, watched their little pageant having no idea that the whole thing was a farce put on purely for the benefit of the poor deluded public.

Tim Russert still has never said what he knows although there is no obvious reason why he shouldn't. If reporters' highest principle is to protect their sources rather than aid a grand jury investigating a crime, then they must also agree that they cannot then use the excuse that their lawyers or the prosecutor has requested they not speak of what they know. You can't have it both ways.

At the very least reporters should not be allowed to go on television or write stories in which they are participants and not reveal that. Nor should they be allowed to stage little pageants in which everyone involved is pretending that they don't know what they know. That's not journalism. (Or is it?)

Russert recently came back to this story on Meet the Press and in a most bizarre fashion "admitted" that he was involved in the story. Here's how he did it:

Let me turn to the CIA leaked case investigation. There have been numerous newspaper reports that the investigation is now focusing on perhaps perjury as opposed to the leak because the leak is difficult to prove under the law. What we know so far is that in terms of journalists, Walter Pincus and Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, Russert of NBC, Matt Cooper of Time magazine have all testified, either in deposition or before the grand jury. We assume Robert Novak has testified because Judy Miller of The Times who didn't testify is in jail. And there's been numerous newspaper reports that there's a difference between the testimony of some of the reporters and Scooter Libby of Vice President Cheney's office and Karl Rove of President Bush's office. Bill Safire, what do we make of all this?

Can you believe it? "There have been numerous newspaper reports that there's a difference in the testimony of some of the reporters and Scooter Libby." And who do you suppose is one of those reporters? Tim Russert!

None of the crack reporters on the roundtable even come close to asking about it or commenting on it. They just pretended that it was perfectly normal for Russert to talk about himself in the third person and reference stories in which he's the primary player and pretend otherwise.

But here is the real kicker:

MR. RUSSERT: There has to be an original source, somebody.



MR. RUSSERT: Even if it came from a reporter...


MR. RUSSERT: ...the reporter got it from someplace.

MS. TOTENBERG: Right. And...

MR. RUSSERT: But I was asked what I said. I did not know

Russert seems to have forgotten himself for a minute there. Once he realized what he'd gotten himself into, he quickly answered with a nonsensical "I was asked what I said. I did not know."

The question of the "who was the original source for the reporter" is a question that someobody should have asked him a long time ago. (It doesn't just apply to Judith Miller.) NBC's heavily lawyered press release is very suspicious and leads one to conclude that Russert may have told Libby that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. He should have been pinned down on that. And if it's true, the natural follow-up is "who told Russert?"

The rest of the panel knew better than to pursue that line of questioning with the King of the Kewl Kids. They just adjusted their Kabuki masks and went back to the dance.


Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Battle Of New Orleans

This hurricane looks to be a living nightmare. I went through a bad one in the same area in 1965 --- Hurricane Betsy --- and these things are scary. My father was working on a NASA test site in Mississippi and had word that the storm was going to be bad so he moved us up north before it hit --- ahead of everyone else. We were lucky. The town we lived in was pretty devastated.

I was just a kid, and the creepiest thing I remember about it was that when we returned to our house there were snakes all over the place. And we had a rather large boat in our front yard --- that had been in the bay several blocks away.

Man, I hate to see New Orleans get hit. It's one of the greatest cities in the world with some of the greatest people in the world. Let's hope this thing isn't as bad as they say it's going to be.

In The Trenches

This is the funniest thing I've seen in eons. Apparently, the testosterone is flowing so strongly down there in Crawford that the Move America Forward "Cindy Doesn't Speak For Us" team got all excited and kicked the Pro-Bush Protest Warriors' asses by mistake.

TBOGG has the whole story, along with the appropriate Monty Python reference.

And I dunno whether "Cindy-Hanoi Jane" is going to catch on. But I can see they have a bit of a problem. They can't really call her Bagdad Cindy, can they? "Insurgent Cindy?" Nah, just doens't have a ring to it. I guess Cindy-Hanoi Jane is the best they can do. Tells you something.

Update: Kevin at Catch has some pictures. Apparently the Protest Warriors' signs were just a little bit too subtle for the folks. They said "except for ending slavery, fascism, naszism and communism war has never solved anything" which is hilarious in its own right. (Fascism and Nazism both! And communism too. Well sort of. I guess.)

Kevin has a link to the freeper thread that tries to explain all of this. It's very confusing for them.


Friday, August 26, 2005

Expecting Different Results

I'm sure I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but as Dear Leader says "you gotta catapault the propaganda." Therefore, I hope you'll bear with me reiterating an earlier point as I discuss Wes Clark's WaPo op-ed.

I am, as many of you know, a fan of Clark's. I thought he would have made a good president, although I can see now that he isn't a real member of the club and would have had a terrible time navigating Washington as a politician at this point in history. (It's not that he doesn't know Washington, it's that he wasn't properly anointed. The Clinton's may have backed him, but let's not forget that the Clintons are considered tres nouveau establishment and are hardly to be trusted in such matters.) In any case, I'm always interested in what he has to say on Iraq because from the early days of the debacle, he was pounding on the fact that the military's mission was to secure the country for political ends --- which were never entirely clear.

Today he writes a very intriguing critique of Bush's mistakes and offers some solutions. Both Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias have some interesting criticisms of his plan, saying it is not all that realistic and he doesn't adequately explain how he would accomplish certain things.

To that I say, "right on Wes." This op-ed is not actually a policy document --- it is a political document. As I've been pointing out for a while, all Democratic navel gazing on this political. Wes Clark cannot actually implement any policy and neither could any elected Democrats. So, unless you believe that George W. Bush read Wes's column this morning over his bowl of Cap'n Crunch and thought "great ideas! get me Condi and Rummy on the horn!" this whole thing is an academic exercise.

I believe that there is a less than zero possibility that George W. Bush is going to implement any sane plan to withdraw from Iraq, much less one set forth by a Democratic presidential aspirant. And I say this with the greatest assurance that I'm right for the simple reason that George W. Bush has failed on every level, at every moment, from the very beginning to do anything right on Iraq. Why in God's name would we think that he will suddenly become sane and do something different today?

And even if they change course, there is no evidence that the Bush administration could then implement a plan with any more competence than they have anything else. The heartbreaking truth of the matter is that as long as Iraq is in the hands of the Bush administration and the Republicans, it is fucked. Period. That means that all Democratic policy prescriptions are essentially political positioning for the elections. I wish it weren't so, but it is.

Therefore, Clark's piece should be seen for what it is --- laying a benchmark for Bush's failure. By the time any Democrats have a chance to implement any real plans for Iraq, Wes's plan will be moot. The doors that he sees as still being slightly open are closing very rapidly. The state of play in 2006 and 2008 is going to be very different. But it's useful for Wes Clark, retired General, to be on the record with an alternative in 2005 that clearly lays blame on the Bush administration and sets forth in exactly what ways they've failed -- militarily, politically and diplomatically. He ends his op-ed with this:

If the administration won't adopt a winning strategy, then the American people will be justified in demanding that it bring our troops home.

He knows very well that the admnistration can't adopt a winning strategy. They have burned their bridges with the international community, they don't believe in diplomacy, they are willing to shitcan the fundamental democratic principles of an Iraqi constitution to get a temporary bump in the public opinion polls. If they truly wanted to change course they would not have installed a madman at the UN whose first order of business is to start tearing up international treaties. They are continuing to fight their war for US hegemony on the world stage, Republican hegemony in American politics and Executive hegemony within the government. The "war on terrorism" and Iraq are merely staging areas.

I happen to think that Bush has already "lost" the war in Iraq and that we should stage a tactical retreat fairly quickly. But Clark will likely be running for office and he wants to stake out a position that the Republicans are incompetent to wage war and I understand that. Democrats have to persuade the public that they are better at protecting the country than the Republicans and it's a daunting task. Clark's voice is essential to that task.

If we had the ability to get Bush to pull out tomorrow, I'd say Clark was wrong to agitate for a "winning strategy." Since we don't, I think he's making a smart political move. When the next election comes around, the Democrats can say "If Bush had done what Wes Clark said we should do back in '05, maybe he could have salvaged the huge mistake we made by going into Iraq. But he lost the war instead and now we have no choice but to pull the troops out. We are a strong country and we will do fine. But we desperately need new leadership. The Republicans have failed."

The fact that people continue to think that Bush might do the right thing leads me to this article in The Observer (via Rick Perlstein) that analyzes the angst of the liberal hawks as they watch Iraq spiral quickly into a quagmire:

“Someone wrote that you knew who the surgeon would be, so you knew what the operation would look like. And there’s some truth to that. I was not as aware as I should have been of just how mendacious and incompetent the surgeon was going to be,” said Mr. Packer by telephone from his office at The New Yorker on a recent afternoon. “At the time, in March 2003, you had to make a choice: Are you going to say yes or no to this thing? Of course, it didn’t matter—it was going to happen no matter what you said—but in an existential sense, you wanted to be counted."


“The people on the right cannot possibly be feeling the kind of dissonance that liberal supporters are feeling. It’s not a simple matter to live with, I have to tell you,” said Mr. Wieseltier, whose name appeared on a letter to Mr. Bush urging the removal of Saddam Hussein in late 2001, and who said that the U.S. shouldn’t cut and run. “I think that it is impossible, even for someone who supported the war, or especially for someone who did, not to feel very bitter about the way it has been conducted and the way it has been explained.”

This is where I am continually left speechless. In March 2003 we already knew that the Republicans were mendacious enough to stage a phony impeachment and steal an election. And we also knew that the brand name in an empty suit they call a president was a fool and that the people who were backing the war had been wrong about every single big ticket foreign policy issue since the mid 70's. We knew that the Democratic Senators who voted for the war resolution were re-fighting Gulf War I where many Democrats were ignominiously shown to be losers when they voted against a war that we went on to gloriously win. They were scared of being on the wrong side again. (And they blew it --- again.)

Long before March 2003, I knew this. I'm nobody. And here you have these people who call themselves liberal intellectuals who were evidently taken in by a man who spoke in comic book dialog, a Laurie Mylroie friendly foreign policy team that was nuttier than fruitcakes and a mission being sold as a cakewalk that was to any lowly layman's eye the most daunting nation building task since WWII. Their delusional, unilateral preventive war doctrine alone should have been enough to jolt any self-respecting liberal into keeping his distance.

For some writers who were accustomed to speaking only to tiny audiences clustered on the coasts, the invasion of Iraq and its implications presented an opportunity to actually influence something. It was a career-making moment for theorists who had cut their teeth in Bosnia and who were ready to test out their newly formed vision of American force as a tool to promote democracy and human rights and prevent genocide. It made media stars of academics like Mr. Feldman, who prior to the war was merely an “assistant professor who had been teaching for one year,” according to him, and the human-rights expert Michael Ignatieff of Harvard, who wrote various Iraq analyses for The New York Times Magazine. Writers such as Mr. Wieseltier, Mr. Berman and Mr. Hitchens were profiled admiringly in the months before the war, held up as avant-garde prophets.

The reality was something else altogether. The Iraq invasion has proven to be a true reporters’ war—far too dangerous for anyone not embedded with the Marines or carefully tucked away inside The New York Times’ Baghdad bunker to navigate. And not only has the Bush administration carried out the war and the occupation based on reasons which turned out to be greatly misrepresented, prompting a flurry of “I told you so’s” in certain circles, but it has flouted many of the key recommendations put forth by the liberal hawks, which had made their war support possible in the first place.

On what planet did liberals think that the modern Republican party gave a flying fuck about what they thought about anything? It certainly wasn't planet earth circa 2003. Bush had just recaptured the Senate and was striding around the country, codpiece bursting, proclaiming to the entire world that he didn't care what they thought. Did liberal intellectuals actually believe some fantasy that Bush could blow off Europe and ultimately the entire security council but listen to them? My God.

Why are people so unwilling to admit what they are seeing before their eyes, even today? The Republican party is corrupt, incompetent and drunk with power. And no matter what their intentions, they are incapable of setting things right. We have seen this over and over again.

Yet still I see a flurry of earnest discussion about how we should deal with Iraq and what plans should be implemented --- as if they have real world implications. They do not. As I wrote earlier, I think there is political value in doing this as it pertains to positioning for the next election. But I have no illusions, and never have, that anyone in the Bush administration gives a damn what we think or will follow any policy advice from liberals, hawks or otherwise. They do not operate that way.

I don't believe in purges or demands for disavowels; they have a faint whiff of Stalinism that rubs me the wrong way. Nobody has to apologise to me for what they believed about the war. But, considering that their credibility is more than a little bit tattered, it would probably be a good idea if the liberal intellectuals who backed the war finally recognized that everything they say and do is being used for political fodder and adjust their thinking and writing accordingly. They are not going to affect Bush administration policy. There is still a chance they could affect politics, however, if they will just stop pretending that the Republicans are operating on a logical basis in which they can find some common ground.

I think this is where we separate the men from the boys and the women from the girls. If, after all you've seen these last five years you still believe that the Bush administration can be given the benefit of the doubt, that they will do the right thing, change course, follow sage advice, reevaluate their strategy, bow to the facts on the ground --- then you have the same disease the Bush administration has. As Ben Franklin said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Right Makes Might

Gary Farber recommended this great article in TNR on Guantanamo by Spencer Ackerman and I'm passing on the recommendation.

Ackerman breaks down all the reasons why Guantanamo is counterproductive to our national security as well as why it is an immoral, legal and strategic mistake of epic proportions. He very clearly shows how the administration's stubborn "my way or the highway" philosophy has put it at odds with virtually every other country and actually impeded the detention of dangerous people. It seems that the rest of the world isn't willing to throw its constitutions out the window to accomodate us just because we've thrown out ours. And the administration refuses to change anything, including our ineffectual torture techniques and endless detention policies.

Ackerman believes that this is because the entire scheme is in service of one overriding concern:

The Bush administration has adopted this radical approach because it is defending the idea that the Constitution empowers the president to conduct war exclusively on his terms. A series of memos written by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 effectively maintained that any law restricting the president's commander-in-chief authority is presumptively unconstitutional. (When GOP Senator Lindsey Graham recently quoted to Pentagon lawyer Daniel Dell'Orto the inconvenient section of Article I, Section 8, granting Congress the authority to "make rules concerning captures on land and water," he farcically replied, "I'd have to take a look at that particular constitutional provision.") Last month, when some GOP senators tried to bar "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" of detainees in an amendment to the 2006 defense bill, the White House sent them a letter threatening to veto any attempt to "restrict the President's authority to protect Americans effectively from terrorist attack and bring terrorists to justice," and Vice President Dick Cheney warned senators against usurping executive power. For good measure, the White House instructed the Senate leadership to pull the entire half-trillion-dollar bill from the floor, lest the offending language within it pass.

It would not be difficult to solve the indefinite-detention problem: Pass a law allowing for a circumscribed period in which officials interrogate the detainee and accumulate evidence before bringing charges against him. This is how it works in countries like Great Britain and Israel, both mature democracies that have fought terrorist threats militarily and legally for decades. But the administration has strongly resisted any move to introduce legal protections to Guantánamo Bay. When the Supreme Court ruled last year that Guantánamo inmates could bring habeas corpus challenges to their detentions in federal court--settling the question of whether detainees had recourse to the U.S. legal system--the Justice Department adopted the bewildering position that, once detainees file their claims, they possess no further procedural or substantive legal rights at all, an absurdity to which the administration is sticking.

That's not all. Before a Senate panel last month, Dell'Orto argued that Congress shouldn't create a statutory definition of the term "enemy combatant," since the administration needs "flexibility in the terminology in order to ... address the changing circumstances of the type of conflicts in which we are engaged and will be engaged." The very next week, before an appellate court panel, Solicitor General Paul Clement, arguing for the continued detention without charge of American citizen and suspected Al Qaeda terrorist José Padilla, explained what the administration has in mind for its "flexible" definition. Federal appellate Judge J. Michael Luttig, a Bush appointee, noted that, since Padilla was arrested not on an Afghan battlefield but at a Chicago airport, the administration's discretion to detain an American citizen ought to be fettered, "unless you're prepared to boldly say the United States is a battlefield in the war on terror." Clement immediately replied, "I can say that, and I can say it boldly." In essence, the administration is claiming authority to detain anyone, captured anywhere, based not on any criteria enacted by law but rather at the discretion of policy, and to hold that individual indefinitely.

That position--that the war on terrorism requires executive latitude at odds with hundreds of years of law--has animated every single step of the administration's approach to the war. It's why Bush has kept nato allies at arm's length while simultaneously trumpeting their absolute necessity to the defeat of Al Qaeda. It's why he didn't just oppose the creation of an independent 9/11 Commission to investigate the history of counterterrorism policy, he also argued it would be an unacceptable burden on his prosecution of the war. And it's why he's blasted any move by the courts to exercise oversight of the war as a dangerous judicial overreach: When a district court judge last year challenged the constitutionality of the administration's military commissions for the trial of enemy combatants, the Justice Department "vigorously disagree[d]," as a spokesman put it, and contested the ruling until the commissions were reinstated on appeal last month. For the administration, its expansion of executive power is synonymous with victory in the war--regardless of the real-world costs to the war effort.

This pretty much says it all. President Bush having unchecked power is synomymous with victory. (There can be no doubt that this executive power would not apply to a Democratic president in similar circumstances.)

Once again, every loss becomes a win. Every mistake means that they must dig in all the more deeply, because to not do so would be to admit they were wrong. And if they were wrong, the terrorists will have won.

Rotten Elites

I was reading Gary Hart's op-ed yesterday morning, when I was reminded of this post on A Tiny Revolution to which I've been meaning to link.

Hart's article is a well written, straighforward call for Democrats to step up on the Iraq issue. He is convinced, as I and others are as well, that the crucible of the McGovern campaign (which he chaired) scarred the current leadership class of the Democratic party. He says:

Like the cat that jumped on a hot stove and thereafter wouldn't jump on any stove, hot or cold, today's Democratic leaders didn't want to make that mistake again. Many supported the Iraq war resolution and -- as the Big Muddy is rising yet again -- now find themselves tongue-tied or trying to trump a war president by calling for deployment of more troops. Thus does good money follow bad and bad politics get even worse.

I think it scarred them to such an extent that they avoid feeling political passion about anything. The Democratic leadership is desperately afraid of making the mistake of 1972 ever again --- which they see as wild, peacenik utopianism. As a result are determined to be as colorless and lackluster as possible. They never want to be in the position again of being called "unserious."

Considering our current political situation, I can't help but be reminded of the old joke:

"Howard and Joe are facing the firing squad. The executioner comes forward to place the blindfold on them. Howard disdainfully and proudly refuses, tearing the thing from his face. Joe turns to him and pleads: "Please Howard, don't make trouble!"

So Hart says what we are all thinking and yet it sounds odd and discordant coming from the pages of the Washington Post. And I think the reason is that he isn't speaking in beltway parlance. And apparently, he never has.

According to the post I linked at A Tiny Revolution, the beltway crowd has always thought of him a a flake and a weirdo --- just as they think of people like me and probably most of you who are reading this as weirdos. Jon says:

I grew up in the Washington area and went to school with lots of children of government and media types. Then I went to Yale, which is also full of such offspring. What I saw was that the corporate media—places like the New York Times, Washington Post, the networks, etc.—and government figures are blatantly, brazenly in bed with each other. And not just metaphorically; it's often literally true. There's Andrea Mitchell & Alan Greenspan; James Rubin & Christiane Amanpour; Judith Miller & a cast of thousands; and so on.

In any case, whoever they're shtupping, they share a mindset: they self-consciously see themselves as a governing elite that runs things hand in hand. That's why Nicholas Kristof is anxious that calling George Bush a liar may make America "increasingly difficult to govern."

He shares an anecdote of his years at Yale when Richard Cohen came to speak:

Cohen told all us fresh-faced, ambitious, grotty youths this:

The Washington press corps had specifically tried to push Hart out of the race. It wasn't that he'd had extramarital affairs—everyone knew this was the norm rather than the exception among politicians. Hart wasn't at all unusual in this respect. Instead, Cohen said, it was because the press corps felt that Hart was "weird" and "flaky" and shouldn't be president. And when the Donna Rice stuff happened, they saw their opening and went after him.

(I wish I remembered more about what Cohen said about the specific gripe of the press corps with Hart, but I don't think he revealed many details.)

At the time, I remember thinking this:

1. How interesting that the DC press corps knows grimy details about lots of politicians but only chooses to tell the great unwashed when they decide it's appropriate.

2. How interesting that the DC press corps feels it's their place to make decisions for the rest of America; ie, rather than laying out the evidence that Hart was weird, flaky, etc., and letting Americans decide whether they cared, they decided run-of-the-mill citizens couldn't be trusted to make the correct evaluation.

I'm not a naive person and I know that centers of power always feature this sort of thing to one extent or another. Elites tend to gather. But the thing about democracy is that it's supposed to keep a lid on the worst impulses of the ruling class by allowing the hoi polloi to be involved in the process. I think that things have gotten seriously out of balance in recent years.

It was clear that Bill Clinton was offensive to the Washington establishment from the beginning, mainly because although he had all the proper elite credentials, he clearly wasn't a real member of the club. I remember at the time that this surpised me. Georgetown, Yale, Oxford, DLC, Governors association --- I thought that made up for the fact that he was a bit of an earthy, good old boy. But it seemed to inflame them even more.

Bob Somerby discusses the WaPo writer John Harris' book on this very subject:

... finally we get to the real explanation—to some sort of “cultural clash” between Clinton and the press corps. Why did the press corps have such disdain? Why was Clinton covered in the way that he was? Readers, prepare to be grossly underwhelmed. Clinton wasn’t cool, the way JFK was, Harris finally tells us:

HARRIS (continuing directly): There is a certain kind of politician for whom journalists tend to fall. John F. Kennedy, with his cool detachment, humor and irony, was the supreme example. Journalists of that era recall that JFK was breathlessly candid about his political strategies, and even the contradictions between his public statements and private views. Clinton was not a man of detachment. He was immersed in his performance, utterly earnest, offended by suggestions that his private motives were any different from his public pronouncements. At times the antagonism between president and press corps had a high school dimension. Clinton, working hard on his grades, saw the reporters as slackers and bullies—more interested in gossip and carping than anything constructive. The reporters, shooting spitballs from the back of the class, regarded Clinton as a preening apple-polisher.

Clinton wasn’t cool, Harris says. He wasn’t cool, like JFK was! Indeed, Harris has already explored this notion at an earlier point in his book. “Clinton by no means lacked humor,” he writes on page 35, “but his natural bent was toward cheerful patter and oft-told yarns. Washington humor is different—ironic and knowing, the sort of detached wit that John F. Kennedy used to beguile a generation of journalists.”

That's why the late, great Mediawhores Online dubbed them the Kewl Kidz. And for all their alleged ironic detachment and urbane wit, they never got the joke.

I spent the 90's in LA, working closely with people who know a thing or two about cool and Clinton was considered the coolest president ever. He was obviously incredibly smart, good humored, catnip to women and had the common touch. It was clear to me from the earliest days of his presidency that his problem with the Washington press corps most assuredly was not that he wasn't cool enough --- it was that he was too cool.I suspect that Clinton always had this problem when dealing with the elites whom he was more than smart enough to hob-nob with --- he was too earthy, too sexual, too down and dirty. Like the timorous Dems of the class of '72, the establishment (of which they are now a part) thinks being overtly human is to be a little bit too close to the beast.

They hated Al Gore for the opposite reason. He reminded them of their own geeky selves. They hated Hart because he emits a whiff of McGovernite hippie -- a fate worse than death. In other words, the elite "liberal" media --- and the Democatic establishment --- all seem to be battling personal demons that they are taking out on Democratic politicans. And they live in this little DC bubble that resembles nothing so much as a royal court where palace intrigue is beamed out into the rest of the world and called "politics." It's infected how we all interpret political matters --- I have only recently realized just how much it infected me.

I have never been much of a revolutionary. Even when I was young I tended to cringe at any kind of earnest, "to the barricades" kind of thinking. I tend to think in smaller strategic and tactical terms rather than large sweeping movements. However, I have come to realize that this is one of those times when something has to happen from the ground up. Washington has become a kind of aristocrisy, with all the attendant inbred, insular, corruption that eventually befalls a ruling elite.

The biggest sickness in our politics is this top down, elitist mentality in which people are fed a diet of information, entertainment, products and ideas that are focus grouped, soulless and commercial --- and which are then filtered through a ruling media class that is so psychologically cramped, so emotionally sterile, so stuck in their own feedback loop that they are presenting a totally distorted version of reality. It's important that we look elsewhere for wisdom and leadership.

Winning and Losing

Ezra weighs in on the politics of withdrawal and apologizes for being craven for even discussing it. I can understand why he felt he had to say that because a lot of people object to viewing this serious issue from a political standpoint. But I feel that politics are the only issue as far as Democrats are concerned. We haven't even the smallest bit of institutional power to affect any change in the president's Iraq policy.

This confusion continues to be a central problem for Democrats. We need to accept that we are not the governing party. If we think we are going to affect policy from our position as the irrelevant "other" party, we are sorely mistaken. Our elected officials aren't even invited to routine meetings on legislative issues; we will not be consulted on Iraq. This is an internal Republican party policy debate that they would love to cast as a partisan fight. I can see no reason why we should accomodate them by assuming responsibility for something over which we have absolutely no say and no control.

It's clear that Democrats are much, much better at actual governance than Republicans who seem stymied, confused and in over their heads. Their political agenda is good for getting (barely) elected but it has proven to be completely inadequate to actually run the country. So I'm not criticising the Democratic love of wonkish planning and analysis. It's exactly what the country will need when we again become the governing party and have to clean up this gargantuan mess the Republicans have made of things. But people don't vote for plans even though they insist to pollsters and focus groups that they do. They vote for (or against) leaders and visions.

In order to change the direction of this country we have to prioritize and our first priority and only responsibility is to get more Democrats elected to office so that we can change the balance of power. That's it. Everything we do must be in service of that goal.

So, let's not be afraid to talk about Iraq in political terms. Yes,there is a debate within the party about whether or how to withdraw from Iraq. But I don't believe it will be a very difficult one to resolve when all is said and done. Events and available troop strengths are pushing that issue far more than any Democrats can anticipate or plan for. If we capture a majority in 2006, I would hope that we immediately begin hearings and take an entirely fresh look at the situation as we go into the 2008 campaign. When we have the power to actually do something then we have the responsibility to dig out of this quagmire. Until then, this is Bush's war and Bush's war alone.

Ezra brought up 1972, but I think the more pertinent electoral analogy (although it is very imperfect) is 68. Nixon won because of the realignment of the south in response to the civil rights act. And because he was smart enough not to get in the way of the Democrats eating their own on Vietnam. He implied that he had a secret plan to end the war and used his "law and order" image to cement the idea that he wouldn't cut 'n run, while never saying anything specific. During the campaign it was Johnson's war, all the way.

Matt Yglesias says today:

I think David Brooks' column today makes it clear that conservatives are about done with this venture, too, though they'd like to label it a success and I'd prefer to label it a failure. But that's half semantics and half politics. I'd rather see the war end than see it drag on for years and years purely in order to make sure George W. Bush gets stuck with the blame for it.

Would that that were the choice. Unfortunately, the war is likely to go on for a good long time whether David Brooks thinks they can declare victory and go home or not. Sure, Bush is going to stage a draw-down before the '06 elections simply because he has to. The military can't keep up. But contrary to what others think, I think it's obvious that Bush plans to have troops in Iraq for a very long time. Just yesterday he said unequivocally "We will stay, we will fight, we will win." His hope is that Iraq can put together some vague semblance of a working government so that he can declare victory --- and stay.

Take, for example, Camp Victory North, a sprawling base near Baghdad International Airport, which the U.S. military seized just before the ouster of Saddam Hussein in April 2003. Over the past year, KBR contractors have built a small American city where about 14,000 troops are living, many hunkered down inside sturdy, wooden, air-conditioned bungalows called SEA (for Southeast Asia) huts, replicas of those used by troops in Vietnam. There's a Burger King, a gym, the country's biggest PX—and, of course, a separate compound for KBR workers, who handle both construction and logistical support. Although Camp Victory North remains a work in progress today, when complete, the complex will be twice the size of Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo—currently one of the largest overseas posts built since the Vietnam War.

Such a heavy footprint seems counterproductive, given the growing antipathy felt by most Iraqis toward the U.S. military occupation. Yet Camp Victory North appears to be a harbinger of America's future in Iraq. Over the past year, the Pentagon has reportedly been building up to 14 "enduring" bases across the country—long-term encampments that could house as many as 100,000 troops indefinitely. John Pike, a military analyst who runs the research group GlobalSecurity.org, has identified a dozen of these bases, including three large facilities in and around Baghdad: the Green Zone, Camp Victory North, and Camp al-Rasheed, the site of Iraq’s former military airport. Also listed are Camp Cook, just north of Baghdad, a former Republican Guard "military city" that has been converted into a giant U.S. camp; Balad Airbase, north of Baghdad; Camp Anaconda, a 15-square-mile facility near Balad that housed 17,000 soldiers as of May 2004 and was being expanded for an additional 3,000; and Camp Marez, next to Mosul Airport, where, in December, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the base's dining tent, killing 13 U.S. troops and four KBR contractors eating lunch alongside the soldiers.


Suspicions also run deep both inside Pentagon circles and among analysts that the Department of Defense is pouring billions of dollars into the facilities in pursuit of a different agenda entirely: to turn Iraq into a permanent base of operations in the Middle East.


One indication of an open-ended U.S. occupation is the amount of money that has already been spent on bases in Iraq. KBR’s first big building contract there, in June 2003, was a $200 million project to build and maintain "temporary housing units" for U.S. troops. Since then, according to military documents, it has received another $8.5 billion for work associated with Operation Iraqi Freedom. By far the largest sum—at least $4.5 billion—has gone to construction and maintenance of U.S. bases. By comparison, from 1999 to this spring, the U.S. government paid $1.9 billion to KBR for similar work in the Balkans.

I do not believe there is anything the national Democrats can do to change this policy. We have to change the government. Therefore, I think it's in their best interests to begin to define what winning and losing means before the Republicans do. In an e-mail exchange on this subject, reader Charles Saeger suggested:


"We cannot win the war in Iraq and staying could rouse terrorist sentiment against us"


"The Republicans lost the war in Iraq and our continued presence is rousing terrorist sentiment against us."

I happen to think this has the benefit of being true. The Bush administration lost the war before it began because it was unwinnable as a purely American/British venture. He didn't mishandle it. He didn't misjudge. He lost it.

I know it's unpalatable to use their frame, but I think it's pretty ingrained in the American psyche. We are the ultimate "win-lose" culture. Because of that I believe it is in our political interest and the country's security interests to frame this as a Republican loss. Terrorism is still a threat. Nukes in the hands of bad actors are a very, very serious threat. We are economically and militarily weakened by Bush's response to 9/11.

The Republicans lost Iraq. Like Lincoln when he replaced McClellan, the voters of the United States need to replace the Republicans if we want to "win" the war on Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

If we can convince the country of that then we are in a good position to get them to listen to our alternative plans for withdrawal as a tactical retreat in the bigger war on terrorism. Framing it as an American loss, ("our" loss) however, will set the stage for another 30 years of "liberals wouldn't let us win it" bullshit. It's time to put that nonsense to bed. The GOP has proven in real time, right before our eyes, that they want to start wars but they don't have a fucking clue how to win them. That needs to be reiterated over and over again to the American public. If it sinks in we might just be able to find our way out of this ridiculous national security paradigm we've been in ever since the wingnuts asked "who lost China" back in 48. It created Vietnam and it created Iraq. Enough.

Who lost Iraq? George W. Bush and the Republican party.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Christian Assassination Doctrine

I don't know if I heard this right, but I think that one of the CNN anchorettes just asked a first amendment expert if Pat Robertson's statement should fall under freedom of religion since he was advocating "the idea of taking out one very bad individual to save thousands of others."

I don't even know where to start laying out everything that is wrong with that premise. I'm no biblical scholar but I don't think there is any religious precept that backs up this notion, certainly no Christian precept. But even if there were --- when did Hugo Chavez morph into a genocidal monster? I certainly understand that free market capitalists have serious beefs with his economic vision and he's not exactly a beacon of transparent governance and political freedom, but he's no Stalin. He's not even Fidel. Robertson himself said that oil was the main concern. (She would have made sense if she said "saving thousands of others ... a few bucks at the gas pumps.")

I haven't heard this formulation anywhere else, but I haven't been keeping up on all the nuances. Is the religious right now characterizing criticism of Robertson as an attack on his religion or was this just a case of a very dumb TV actress coming up with this weird premise all by herself?

We will stay, We will fight, We will win!

Is Bush on drugs? He is more "animated" than I think I've ever seen him. He's all hunched over, swinging his arms wildly, screaming into the microphone. It's quite a performance.

My favorite line so far is the patented "they can run but they can't hide." C'mon. You just have to sit back and admire the sheer audacity of continuing to say that after four long years.

He must be thrilled to be back in the saddle, running for president, which is the only thing he knows how to do. And he must be happy to be back lying his ass off in front of his hand-picked enthusiastic crowds. I'm especially enjoying his little historical analogy comparing the Iraqi constitutional drafting process to our own, neglecting the relevantlittle fact that our constitution left a tiny little problem hanging out that resulted in the bloodiest war in American history --- or the other niggling little fact that the Iraqis are blowing each other up over similar disagreements already. But hey, what's a little civil war now and then?

And to think they gave Howard Dean days of shit for his scream. This guy is doing a bad imitation of a certain gentleman who also used to work himself into a frenzy before his adoring crowds. Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer!


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Christian Soldiers

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

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

January 2005:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Every Loss Is A Win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bush invokes Sept 11 to defend Iraq war link:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Efficient Pain

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

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

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

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

Tid Bits

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, August 22, 2005

Politics vs Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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