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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

"Cultural Discomfort"

by digby

The New Republic
and The LA Times this week both feature articles about the Minutemen of Herndon, Virginia. The TNR piece is framed as a cautionary tale for liberals who think that the Minutemen are out of the mainstream:

Bill explains that he "slid into the Minutemen" because he was disturbed by the way his neighborhood was changing, and the other Minutemen standing with him nod in agreement. "Dormitory-style homes" have popped up on their streets, Bill says, and the residents come and go at strange hours. Their neighbors' children are intimidated and no longer like to play outside, in part because "we've got about 17 cars coming and going from our neighbors' houses." Matt, another Minuteman who lives in nearby Manassas, claims that the police have busted prostitution rings operating out of nearby properties. Bill doesn't want his name printed, he tells me, because he worries about retaliation from the local Hispanic gang, MS-13. Pointing to the cluster of day-laborers across the street, he explains to me that the Herndon 7-11 is "a social gathering place, too." Taplin has publicly objected to a regulated day-laborer site set to open in Herndon on December 19--proposed in order to combat the trespassing, litter, and nuisance complaints that have arisen in conjunction with the informal 7-11 site--because he worries that even a regulated locale wouldn't change "their behaviors." Even on the coldest mornings, more than 50 workers often convene at the 7-11, and Bill judges that sometimes only 10 or 20 get hired. "When," he asks me, "is it ever a good thing for 40 men to hang out together?"

These anxieties may be overblown, in some cases borderline racist; but they are not, unfortunately, outside the mainstream. In Mount Pleasant, the predominantly Hispanic, rapidly gentrifying Washington neighborhood where I live, complaints have begun to surface about the groups of men that congregate on stoops or outside of convenience stores at night. Those who have complained call it loitering, but one Hispanic resident told the Post that when the men gather outdoors, "[t]hey're having coffee; they talk about issues. ... It's part of our community." For the neighborhood's Hispanic population, this practice is a cultural tradition; for its newer batch of hip, ostensibly liberal urbanites, it is disturbing, and too closely resembles something American law designates a crime.

These are people who would never admit they share anything in common with the Herndon Minutemen. But like it or not, the Minutemen are acting on anxieties many Americans share--anxieties about the challenge of enforcing the law in towns that are swelling in size due to immigration; anxieties about the challenge of integrating and accommodating an immigrant culture. Border states like California have been grappling with these issues for years, in court battles about day-laborer sites and debates over concepts like bilingual education. Often in these conflicts those who have presented cultural, as opposed to legal, objections to uncontrolled immigration are condemned as xenophobic or racist. But as my Mount Pleasant neighbors have shown, it can be tricky to disentangle legal from cultural discomfort.

Not really. People legally assembling in public is not criminal and this "cultural discomfort" is simple xenophobia. And just as xenophobes (and their close cousins, racists) did in the past, they couch their "cultural discomfort" in narrow interpretations of the law and property rights.

Notice that the neighborhood in question is a Hispanic neighborhood being gentrified. These complaints are coming from yuppies moving into neighborhoods where their "culture" isn't dominant. Who's the immigrant, anyway?

Rick Perlstein reminded me of this passage from Thomas Geoghegan's wonderful book "The Secret Lives of Citizens:"

It was Massey, again, who pointed it out to me. "Why in Chicago," he asked, "is there no anti-immigrant movement as there is in California?"

Because the white ethnics here have their own, uh, "mexicans," to protect. White European immigrants. The Romanians, Russians ... but above all, Poles. From Poland. Many Poles. Tens of thousands. So how can the whites here complain about the latinos? We've got our own illegals to hide.

That kind of clarifies things a little, doesn't it? The eastern Europeans are often highly skilled tradesmen, not day laborers like the Mexicans, who really do take high paying jobs away from citizens. It's a major issue in Europe and would be here too except for the fact that in the cities where large numbers of Poles and Russians overstay their visas and live here illegally, they are in the bosom of their well assimilated ethnic group. "Illegal immigration" is a much more complicated issue than it seems in our multi-ethnic culture.

The LA Times tells a similar story of Herndon and the Minutemen but had the added feature of the residents complaining about their property values being lowered while George Bush and the Republicans are catering to the Hispanic vote at their expense.

The retired social studies teacher said she got involved because houses in her neighborhood had become packed immigrant dormitories. She suspects that most tenants in the rooming houses, including the one next door, are illegal. She deals with roosters crowing and men urinating in the yard, loud parties and empty beer cans dumped outside. She fears it's driving down the value of her house.

"I'm angry," said the 60-year-old widow. She said the fight against illegal immigration was deeply personal and broadly political.

"George Bush is in it for the Hispanic vote, and we're on the receiving end," she said. "That's not fair. Before, everybody looked out for everybody else; no one locked doors," she said of her neighborhood. "Now we all have security systems."

Jeff Talley, 45, an airplane maintenance worker who lives across the street from Bonieskie, also joined the Minuteman chapter. "When you start messing with the value of people's houses, people get really upset," he said.

As Talley sees it, illegal immigrants take jobs from Americans  whom it would cost companies more to employ and that will have long-term effects on American society.

"There's a disappearing middle class," said Talley, a Republican. "George Bush is a huge disappointment to this country. The Republican Party used to be for ordinary people, but no more."

This is an old, old populist rant. The Republican moneyed elites are against the little guy --- and it's because of the immigrants.

The TNR article goes on to explain:

Our national debate on immigration tends to focus on economic issues, namely job loss, and scrupulously to avoid the kind of cultural anxieties that the Herndon Minutemen, the residents of Mount Pleasant, and Bill O'Reilly are bringing to the fore. After all, anxieties about how immigration will affect national culture seem like more of a European thing, springing from a deep-seated and distinctly un-American nativism and yielding byproducts like the headscarf dispute and Jean-Marie Le Pen. But on this side of the Atlantic, little Le Pens are beginning to flourish.


Only a few years ago, the European political establishment largely ignored concerns about an immigration wave overwhelmingly originating from one region--only to be stunned as fanatics rose to prominence by championing an issue that mainstream politicians had refused to touch. To prevent the same thing from happening here, liberals will have to recognize that immigration, often considered a "conservative" topic, is now a potent political issue. Concern is no longer confined to California, Arizona, and Texas; nor is it confined to Republicans. Liberals will need to make an affirmative case for immigration as a concept--but also concede that our current system is deeply flawed. They will have to acknowledge that many Americans have legitimate worries about immigration--but that there are better ways to approach the issue than skulking around day laborer sites with a camera. Wherever they come down on the issue, and whatever they propose, liberals will have to acknowledge that immigration is not a fringe concern. And telling the Minutemen to "go home" isn't going to make it go away.

Ok. But let's not bullshit ourselves while we are making our political argument about how to deal with this issue. This is not a uniquely European problem, for crying out loud. It's as American as McDonald's apple pie. We've been doing this shit for centuries --- and we do it to Mexicans pretty regularly because we share a border and there are always handy illegals to kick around when necessary. This is not new. It's a symptom of economic insecurity.

And the problem for these Minutemen and those liberal hipsters is not "cultural discomfort." There's are other, older, better words. Xenophobia. Nativism. Racism. The dark underbelly of populism.

I agree that this is a potent issue right now for reasons I set forth earlier. But please, no soft-peddling the reasons, at least in our own minds. No creating nice little code words for confused working class whites who are looking for easy scapegoats or narrow-minded urbanites to excuse their "discomfort" with law abiding people who are doing nothing more than legally assembling in public. Let's call a Mexican a Mexican and go from there.

I wrote a post some time back called Populism Tango, wherein I discussed the dangers in jumping into populism. It's a perfectly good, and often correct, political philosophy. But it does have this ugly tendency to scapegoat immigrants, blacks and ethnic minorities. In that post I quoted Democratic strategist Mudcat Saunders who has a lot of advice about how to attract those elusive white males:

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

Why would that work?

[W]hat he is suggesting is a tried and true method to get rural white males to sign on to a political party. Bashing immigrants and elites at the same time has a long pedigree and it is the most efficient way to bag some of those pick-up truck guys who are voting against their economic self-interest....And that's because what you are really doing is playing to their prejudices and validating their tribal instinct that the reason for their economic problems is really the same reason for the cultural problems they already believe they have --- Aliens taking over Real America --- whether liberals, immigrants, blacks, commies, whoever.

That's a problem for us because no matter how tempting it might be to go and grab those Virginians who are so disenchanted with George Bush and promise to close the borders and solve their problems: nobody has yet figured out how (short of an economic catastrophe so huge that people will disregard everything else) we can keep a coalition of liberals, workers, urbanites, racial minorities and nativist immigrant bashers in the same tent.

Blaming the "culturally discomfitting" Mexicans during one of these periods of economic insecurity is a temptation for political strategists, I have no doubt. But today, it's playing with fire. There is a reason why Karl Rove has been handling this issue with kid gloves. It's not just the agriculture lobby, which could be persuaded to keep its powder dry for a period of time until the frenzy dies down (as it always does.) No, this time, there is a huge voter block at stake. They saw what happened in California when Pete Wilson let his id run free in an earlier period of economic insecurity and he ran ads saying "they just keep coming." He destroyed the Republican party in this state.

Demographics show that the Hispanic vote is essential for future majorities. Ruy Teixiera reported last August:

As two recent reports document, the Hispanic population of the United States continues to increase rapidly, especially in areas that we now think of as "solid red." The Pew Hispanic Center report describes and analyzes the extraordinary growth of the Hispanic population in six southern states, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, down to the county level. The Census report shows that Texas has now become a majority-minority state (joining New Mexico, California and Hawaii), primarily due to its burgeoning Hispanic population.


In this survey just completed, Hispanics had swung back to the Democrats with a vengeance, giving them a 32-point margin in a generic race for Congress (61 to 29 percent). The Republican vote today is 10 points below what Bush achieved just six months earlier. These voters are deeply dissatisfied with the Bush economy and Iraq war; they are socially tolerant and internationalist; they align with a Democratic Party that respects Hispanics and diversity, that uses government to help families, reduce poverty and create opportunity, and that will bring major change in education and health care. This is even truer for the growing younger population under 30, including Gen Y voters, who support the Democrats by a remarkable 46 points (70 to 24 percent).

The country is experiencing economic and social insecurity and as has always happened in the past at such times, the focus turns to immigration (illegal and legal) as a cause. But this time that same immigrant group (that has always been here, by the way) is a huge, growing voting block and a big prize for the political party that recognizes and respects it. People like Mudcat Saunders think that you can scapegoat the "illegal aliens" without any spillover into the large legal Hispanic community. But as we saw in that gentrifying neighborhood in Virginia, it isn't really about illegals per se. And California proved that if you go too far with the "illegal alien" business you lose the Hispanic population altogether.

Democrats can look to the future and find a populist message that doesn't cater to white fear and tendencies to scapegoat minorities. And we can add the Hispanic community permanently into our coalition, denying Karl Rove his most coveted goal. Or we can take the easy way out and catch a few Bubbas until the economy turns around, at which point they'll go right back home to the party that really knows how to feed their worst instincts on regular basis --- the Republicans.

And then of course, there's this: if we succumb to the temptation to re-marry the twin pillars of populism for the umpteenth time, economic resentment and nativism, we will not only continue to lose elections we will lose our souls as well.

Update: Alice in the comments points out that Herndon, the home of the militiamen in the two articles quoted above, voted decisively for Tim Kaine in the last election. It's not a mainstream as the authors would have people believe.

Update II: Greg at The Talent Show offers up some thoughtful advice on how to handle this.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Nice Tries

by digby

Josh Marshall is collecting "nice tries,"
which are the brownnosing, he said/she said statements by the media implying that all this nasty corruption business is a bi-partisan matter.

It's obvious that the "culture of corruption" charge is scaring the GOP because they've clearly put the hammer down on the media to portray the looming scandal tsunami as something "everybody does." This, of course, is utter bullshit. As Marshall says, it comes from the proximity to power and the Democrats are way out of that game.

All DC reporters know about the K Street Project:

[B]eginning with the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, and accelerating in 2001, when George W. Bush became president, the GOP has made a determined effort to undermine the bipartisan complexion of K Street. And Santorum's Tuesday meetings are a crucial part of that effort. Every week, the lobbyists present pass around a list of the jobs available and discuss whom to support. Santorum's responsibility is to make sure each one is filled by a loyal Republican--a senator's chief of staff, for instance, or a top White House aide, or another lobbyist whose reliability has been demonstrated. After Santorum settles on a candidate, the lobbyists present make sure it is known whom the Republican leadership favors. "The underlying theme was [to] place Republicans in key positions on K Street. Everybody taking part was a Republican and understood that was the purpose of what we were doing," says Rod Chandler, a retired congressman and lobbyist who has participated in the Santorum meetings. "It's been a very successful effort."

If today's GOP leaders put as much energy into shaping K Street as their predecessors did into selecting judges and executive-branch nominees, it's because lobbying jobs have become the foundation of a powerful new force in Washington politics: a Republican political machine. Like the urban Democratic machines of yore, this one is built upon patronage, contracts, and one-party rule. But unlike legendary Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, who rewarded party functionaries with jobs in the municipal bureaucracy, the GOP is building its machine outside government, among Washington's thousands of trade associations and corporate offices, their tens of thousands of employees, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in political money at their disposal.

Political machines are not unprecedented. Patrick Fitzgerald is dismantling both a Republican and Democratic one in Chicago as we speak. We've seen "heckuva-job-Brownies" before. We've seen politicians and business work together to rip off the taxpayers and cheat the little guy many times. We've seen greedy politicians before. But this current national GOP machine is unique in its blatant, in-your-face arrogance and the swiftness with which it descended into utter, all-out corruption such that even a Republican run Justice department cannnot ignore it.

As the Abramoff scandal unfolds, it's important to remember that Jack Abramoff is not just another lobbyist or even just another Republican. He and Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed all ran the college Republicans during the Reagan years. He is a "movement conservative" of the innermost circle of movement conservatives. This is not a fluke. It's endemic to the modern Republican party.

As for Marshall's collection, I would suggest that he check out the first 15 minutes of Hardball today. Tweety could hardly stop talking about how corruption is totally non-partisan in any way. Tony Blankley at least had the good graces to say that if he were a Democratic operative he'd be wearing a bib --- to catch the drool.

However, my winner of the day is from Wolf Blitzer's 'The Situation Room" today in which Bruce Morton went all the way back to the 70's Wilbur Wayne Hays and his mistress-on -the-payroll-who-couldn't-take-dictation, Elizabeth Ray, to demonstrate how corrupt the Democrats were. (The only corrupt Republicans mentioned in the piece were Cunningham and ... Gingrich, who it was claimed had to leave office in part because of his crooked book deal, which isn't actually true.)

The kicker was a poll showing that 63 percent of the public consider most Democratic representatives are honest compared to 57 percent who think that most Republican representatives are honest. Morton said that means it's a tie.

Dancing With The Mediawhores

by digby

In case anyone missed this funny, revealing piece on Mike Isikoff by John Amato of Crooks and Liars, check it out.

Woodward called Isikoff a Junkyard Dog reporter. But I don't think that's right. He's more of an Upskirt Dog. You know the kind.

Victory Strategy

by digby

Here's Bush today

I'm giving a speech tomorrow that outlines the progress we're making in training Iraqis to provide security for their country. And we will make decisions about troop levels based upon the capacity of the Iraqis to take the fight to the enemy.

And I will make decisions on the level of troops, based upon the recommendations by the commanders on the ground. If they tell me we need more troops, we'll provide more troops. If they tell me we've got a sufficient level of troop, that'll be the level of troops. If they tell me that the Iraqis are ready to take more and more responsibility and that we'll be able to bring some Americans home, I will do that. It's their recommendation.

Secondly, we want to win. The whole objective is to achieve a victory against the terrorists. The terrorists have made it very clear that Iraq is the central front on the war on terror. See, they want us to leave before we've achieved our mission. You know why? Because they want a safe haven. They want to be able to plot and plan attacks.

This country must never forget the lessons of September the 11th, 2001. And a victory in Iraq will deny the terrorists their stated goal.

Finally, a democracy in Iraq, which is now emerging, will serve as a fantastic example for reformers and others. And as democracy takes hold in the broader Middle East, we can say we have done our duty and laid the foundation of peace for generations to come.

We should listen to what Bush is actually saying here because he lays it all out. Notice that he has to predicate everything on the idea that we are winning. (In the press conference he said it very emphatically: "secondly .... we wanna WIN) He deeply believes, for both political and ideological reasons, that winning is the only thing that matters.

Last night I heard Newt Gingrich throwing around the phrase "surrender to the terrorists" on O'Reilly. His successor as Speaker of the house, Dennis Hastert wrote earlier:

Murtha and the Democrats ''want us to retreat. They want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world." And he said, ''We must not cower like European nations who are now fighting terrorists on their soil."

This is significant because Rove long ago convinced Bush that he can continue in Iraq as long as the American people think we are "winning." It tracks with his own belief in the bandwagon effect and it's backed up by some academics who have advised the White House that "staying the course" is possible as long as they handle the PR effectively.

In shaping their message, White House officials have drawn on the work of Duke University political scientists Peter D. Feaver and Christopher F. Gelpi, who have examined public opinion on Iraq and previous conflicts. Feaver, who served on the staff of the National Security Council in the early years of the Clinton administration, joined the Bush NSC staff about a month ago as special adviser for strategic planning and institutional reform.

Feaver and Gelpi categorized people on the basis of two questions: "Was the decision to go to war in Iraq right or wrong?" and "Can the United States ultimately win?" In their analysis, the key issue now is how people feel about the prospect of winning. They concluded that many of the questions asked in public opinion polls -- such as whether going to war was worth it and whether casualties are at an unacceptable level -- are far less relevant now in gauging public tolerance or patience for the road ahead than the question of whether people believe the war is winnable.

"The most important single factor in determining public support for a war is the perception that the mission will succeed," Gelpi said in an interview yesterday.

I suspect that Gingrich and Hastert's "surrender" talk is aimed at Bush as much as the Democrats, to keep him from going soft, but it's also setting the stage for the inevitable "who lost Iraq" argument down the line. Guys like Gingrich want to clearly be on the "never give up, never give in" team after the smoke has cleared so they can pretend they are brave warriors worthy of leadership. I think Bush actually believes this crapola, however. It fits his schoolboy vision of the way the world works.

Here's Bush in 2003:

The terrorists have a strategic goal. They want us to leave Iraq before our work is done. They want to shake the will of the civilized world. In the past, the terrorists have cited the examples of Beirut and Somalia, claiming that if you inflict harm on Americans, we will run from a challenge. In this, they are mistaken.

It's one of their more ridiculous beliefs and yet it is the foundation of neocon thinking about how to deal with terrorism. They honestly think that if we stay in Iraq that we will prove to the terrorists that we are tough ... and then they will not be able to attack us anymore. As unbelievable as it is, this simple-minded psychological diagnosis of the problem is one of the main reasons why we are stuck in this quagmire.

But Bush doesn't stop with that simple delusion. He also believes that he has been called to this battle by something much more important than the mere will of the American people. As Seymour Hersh writes in this week's New Yorker:

Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding.

Bush’s closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush’s first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President’s religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that “God put me here” to deal with the war on terror. The President’s belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that “he’s the man,” the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reëlection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.

The former senior official said that after the election he made a lengthy inspection visit to Iraq and reported his findings to Bush in the White House: “I said to the President, ‘We’re not winning the war.’ And he asked, ‘Are we losing?’ I said, ‘Not yet.’ ” The President, he said, “appeared displeased” with that answer.

“I tried to tell him,” the former senior official said. “And he couldn’t hear it.”

According to this report in the NY Daily News, Bush doesn't trust his advisors anymore. (Not even his wife, after all she failed him on the Miers debacle.) He's going to stick with the simple script that has him being chosen by God to lead this battle against evil. Hardliners are going to manipulate him with that by doing what Gingrich did last night --- characterizing a withdrawal as "surrendering to the terrorists."

What he is going to do is what many in the military have long wanted to do, which is revert to a greater reliance on air power. If anyone is succumbing to political pressure it's the wild-eyed Rummy whose management of the war has turned out to be a cock-up of epic proportions. We're going back to our tried and true: Bombing the shit out of anything that moves. From Hersh:

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

Now that's the nice, clean, surgical kind of war the American people like. No American casualties and fun pictures of buildings going "kaboom!" And it takes the pressure off of our near-broken Army. The Air Force may have problems with Iraqis using their air power to play out old grudges against non-combatants, but the American people can be successfully snowed on that one. The Iraqis will be standing up and we'll just be enforcing the conditions of our glorious victory.

“We’re not planning to diminish the war,” Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me. Clawson’s views often mirror the thinking of the men and women around Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “We just want to change the mix of the forces doing the fighting—Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of airpower. The rule now is to commit Iraqi forces into combat only in places where they are sure to win. The pace of commitment, and withdrawal, depends on their success in the battlefield.”

That is what we call "winning." And we will keep plenty of troops on the ground and planes in the air for years to come to ensure that the war stays "won."

Call 911

by digby

PACE: It is absolutely responsibility of every U.S. service member if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene, to stop it. As an example of how to do it if you don't see it happening, but you're told about it, is exactly what happened a couple of weeks ago. There was a report from an Iraqi to a U.S. commander that there was a possibility of inhumane treatment in a particular facility. That U.S. commander got together with his Iraqi counterparts. They went together to the facility, found what they found, reported it to the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government has taken ownership of that problem and is investigating it.

So they did exactly what they should have done.

RUMSFELD: I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it, it's to report it.

PACE: If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it.

Does anyone have any further doubts about how out torture regime happened?

Luskin's Friendly Chat

by digby

Since Luskin supposedly unveiled some sort of exciting eleventh hour evidence that gave Fitzgerald so much pause I wondered if maybe Viveca Novak had been called to provide exculpatory evidence for Rove. (I would have thought that Fitzgerald would have moved a little quicker with that thrilling new angle, however, if it could have closed this investigation.)

The Washington Post article today says Novak and Luskin are personal friends and:

Unlike Cooper, Viveca Novak is not seeking to protect a confidential source and was not subpoenaed to testify.

Jane thinks that this is total crap and that Viveca Novak is being called for reasons other than Luskin's 11th hour pause giving "evidence":

If Luskin is dragging in Viveca Novak to substantiate something he said, then it seems likely Fitzgerald has some piece of evidence her testimony is intended to counter. Something within the timeframe must indicate that Rover wasn't being completely honest with either the FBI or the grand jury, and they hope to prove that if Luskin was out there selling his own client's special brand of bs then Fitzgerald should buy it, too.

Luskin has a history of playing reporters.
He may very well be playing VandeHei here too (although VandeHei does report that another source says this Novak testimony has nothing to do with all this Luskin fluffing.)

The article says Novak will write a piece about her deposition, so we will soon find out what this is all about.

But this brings up a question I've long wondered about. Why in the hell did Rove hire Luskin in the first place? The article Jane references in the link above (from The New Republic) describes Luskin this way:

[S]coring Rove was a coup. Luskin is an unlikely choice for a Republican, let alone Rove. In fact, during the 1990s, a wide swath of the conservative movement spent a good chunk of its time trying to destroy his reputation. For the last ten years, Luskin has served as the in-house prosecutor for the Laborers' International Union, where he has been charged with fighting corruption. The right was miffed that the Clinton administration let the Laborers clean house on their own rather than under the tutelage of the Justice Department, as was done with the Teamsters. One gadfly conservative organization, the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), turned discrediting Luskin into its own personal crusade. They produced a highly unflattering 13-page report that set off a cascade of critical stories and editorials in the conservative press. Under the headline "Luskin's Ties to the New England/Patriarca Crime Family," the report documented a fishy episode wherein Luskin was forced to return $245,000 in legal fees that he received from a client named Stephen A. Saccoccia, who was sentenced to 660 years in prison for laundering South American drug-cartel and mob money. A U.S. attorney, accusing Luskin of "willful blindness," reasoned that, when Luskin started getting paid with solid gold bars (he ultimately received 45 of them, worth $505,125) and wire transfers from Swiss bank accounts, he should have known the payments were from illicit sources, especially since his client's crimes involved gold bars and wire transfers from Swiss bank accounts.

Many of the other anti-Luskin criticisms concerned alleged conflicts of interest stemming from his defense of several clients wrapped up in Clinton-related scandals. Luskin soon became a target of The Washington Times, Investor's Business Daily, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and The American Spectator, each arguing a version of the NLPC line that he was ethically unsuited for his job at the Laborers' Union.

But, by the end of the '90s, Luskin had established himself as a top-tier defense attorney. He abandoned his boutique law firm for the gilded hallways of Patton Boggs. Still, big-name Washington lawyers say he's not really part of the small clique of attorneys that seem to pop up during every investigation--people like Jacob Stein, Abbe Lowell, Plato Cacheris, Robert Bennett, and Reid Weingarten. "Let's just say that I haven't been in a case where he represented anyone," sniffs a member of Washington's legal royalty.

These political cases require very specialized legal experience. That's why clients usually hire from the small pool of attoprneys who know how to feed the beast, protect their client's reputation to the degree possible) and deal with special prosecutors who operate under different rules and restraints than the usual US Attorney. I've never understood why Rove, the man who said he wanted to "get" Wilson purely because he was a Democrat, hired this guy.

Any thoughts?

Better Stop Sobbin' Now

by digby

The Duke-stir has been a prick for years. He said that the liberal leaders of congress should be lined up and shot. He calls for the death penalty for drug dealers and then cries at his son's sentencing hearing for possession of 400 lbs of marijuana and asks for mercy because his son has a good heart. Here's how the conservative San Diego Tribune editorial board described him back in 1998:

Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Escondido, responded to a heckler at a San Diego forum on prostate cancer by gesturing toward him with his finger and declaring, “(expletive) you.” During his remarks at the weekend event, the congressman also described a rectal procedure he had received as “just not natural, unless maybe you’re Barney Frank,” a reference to the openly gay lawmaker from Massachusetts.

Cunningham later apologized, saying his actions were inappropriate for a member of Congress. He certainly got that right.

But this was not the first time Cunningham let his temper get the better of him.

In 1995, Capitol Hill police had to break up a scuffle between the San Diego County lawmaker and Rep. James Moran, D-Va. A year earlier, Cunningham challenged Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., to a physical confrontation on the House floor. On another occasion, he used the degrading term “homos” to describe gays in the armed forces.

As a four-term veteran of the House, Cunningham has exerted constructive leadership on important military and education issues. But his reputation for vulgar conduct — a reputation he seems intent on reinforcing at regular intervals, despite his own repeated apologies — is an embarrassment to San Diego.

And it turns out he was a thief, too. What a big surprise, what with him being such a great guy and all.

Cunningham is a typical loud mouthed bully who fairly represents the (large) angry white male faction of the Republican party. Like Limbaugh the criminal drug addict and DeLay the thieving crook, they think they are immune from laws they seek to inflict on the rest of the American people.

Good riddance.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Clean Break

by digby

Mickey Kaus has been flogging his "scoop" about Libby calling up Russert to complain about Chris Matthews using the allegedly anti-semitic term "neocon." We would only know this for sure if Russert would reveal his conversation with Libby and he won't because he isn't a journalist, he's a talk show host. Just as Jay Leno wouldn't want to upset Jessica Simpson, Russert doesn't want to upset the White House.

Kaus brings up something interesting, however, to explain Libby's bone deep hatred for Wilson. (We know what Rove's reason was --- "he's a Democrat.") He writes:

What Wilson quote is most likely to have angered Libby? I'd nominate the following excerpt (again, via Maguire) from a discussion by Wilson at the Education for Peace in Iraq Center on June 14, 2003, about a month before Libby's call to Russert:

I think there are a number of issues at play; there's a number of competing agendas. One is the remaking of the map of the Middle East for Israeli security, and my fear is that when it becomes increasingly apparent that this was all done to make Sharon's life easier and that American soldiers are dying in order to make Sharon's life--enable Sharon to impose his terms upon the Palestinians that people will wonder why it is American boys and girls are dying for Israel and that will undercut a strategic relationship and a moral obligation that we've had towards Israel for 55 years. I think it's a terribly flawed strategy. [Emphasis added. Audio here at 13:33]

Kaus notes that there is no way of knowing if Libby had heard about this talk when he went over the edge on Wilson, but it's possible.

It reminds me that Wilson has long held that the administration's Iraq policy could most simply be explained by the "Clean Break" document which was written for the Netanyahu government in 1997. It's interesting to note how many of the current players were involved in that document:

Following is a report prepared by The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies’ "Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000." The main substantive ideas in this paper emerge from a discussion in which prominent opinion makers, including Richard Perle, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Douglas Feith, Robert Loewenberg, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser participated. The report, entitled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," is the framework for a series of follow-up reports on strategy.

If you haven't read that document, you should. It's amazing.


It's clear that Bush is going to try to change the subject with a big push on the immigration issue. This article in TIME discusses the various pressures on both parties.

Having spent a good part of my almost 50 years in California, I have observed that the immigration issue is usually a sign of a weak economy or some other form of discontent. It's been around forever and rears its head every once in a while as people perceive a "crisis" and then it goes underground again.

It is not a partisan issue; many Democrats are very exercised about Mexican immigrants overrunning the borders and allegedly taking away jobs from Americans or at least holding wages below what they would otherwise be. On the other side are liberals who see a subtle and no so subtle racism in the border debate and feel that all this talk of cultural dissonence is a false construct. There are conflicting values of economics and human rights involved and it's confusing.

The Republican have a different set of divisive issues. TIME characterizes Bush's dilemma this way:

So far, he has not been able to bridge his party's business leaders, who need a steady supply of workers willing to do hard labor, and its cultural conservatives, who fear that something essential about the American character is vanishing under the crosscurrents of multilingualism and demographic change and ethnic pluralism.

This is clearly going to be an issue. Even up in Ohio, which I didn't know until recently has been a mexican migrant crop picking destination forever, is having a fit about illegal immigration and all the alleged problems associated with it.

My feeling is that this time we are dealing with displaced fear and frustrating impotence. The terrorist boogeyman has been fully internalized and people are afraid. But it is an ephemeral and distant enemy. Another brown hoarde is conveniently available. I think my theory is borne out by the right's increasing emphasis on the Mexican border being a national security threat and the sudden seriousness of Pat Buchanan's "fence" concept:

This latest fence proposal comes from an organization called Let Freedom Ring, and its WeNeedaFence.com project. It's funded by Dr. John Templeton, a generous supporter of a range of conservative causes.

Colin Hanna, the group's president, says we shouldn't be messing around with the flimsy and partial fences we've built so far. What's needed is a serious border fence, one modeled after what the Israelis are building on the West Bank.

What Hanna has in mind is a barrier consisting of a "pyramid" of rolls of barbed wire piled 6 to 8 feet high. Alongside it would run a deep ditch, followed by a fence, a security road, another fence, another ditch, and then another wire pyramid. Cameras and motion detectors would monitor the fence to create a formidable barrier 40 to 50 yards wide. The cost: $2 million to $4 million a mile, or $4 billion to $8 billion in total.

Hanna says his proposal is entirely consistent with President Bush's emerging proposal to legalize some illegal immigrants through a temporary guest-worker program. In fact, he says, it will complement it. Unless more illegal migrants can be kept out after Bush's guest-worker program is established, more will keep coming in. ''The fence is the sine qua non of immigration reform," Hanna argues. "If you don't have a secure border, all the rest is whistling in the wind.''

To promote his ideas, his group has lobbied on Capitol Hill and aired two television spots in the Washington area. One cites statistics of North Koreans and Iraqis crossing the Mexican border, and includes a clip of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.

I'm also hearing a lot about rapes, animal mutilation and kidnapping along the border.

I understand the strong negative feelings that many Democratic populists have about illegal immigration. Disdaining the cheap immigrant labor the wealthy thrive on is an understandable populist impulse. I do hope, however, that Democrats give some long and serious thought to the underlying racist implications of some of this on the right ---- and understand the dangers of getting into bed with people whose real agenda has nothing to do with economics:

...the great migration north continues. Some 1.5 million are apprehended every year on our southern border breaking into the United States. Of the perhaps 500,000 who make it, one-third head for Mexifornia, where their claims on Medicaid, schools, courts, prisons, and welfare have tipped the Golden State toward bankruptcy and induced millions of native-born Americans to flee in the great exodus to Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, and Colorado. Ten years after NAFTA, Mexico's leading export to America is still--Mexicans. America is becoming Mexamerica.

Source: Where The Right Went Wrong, by Pat Buchanan, p.166 Sep 1, 2004

Mexifornia? How silly. The word "California" is spanish. So are "Los Angeles" and "San Francisco" and "Las Vegas" and "Santa Fe" and "San Antonio." This country has always been Mexamerica. Perhaps Pat doesn't know this being from Washington DC, but those of us from the border states don't find this "alien culture" alien at all. It's always been here. And, yes, there are plenty of people who have always hated it --- the same way that some white southerners are intimately familiar with black culture and hate it at the same time. But contrary to what Pat and some of the other "American culture" hysterics are trying to promote, this isn't new. It's been literally going on for centuries. And we've been having these panics about it every so often for centuries too.

We can argue about the degree of the immigration problem and about solutions. But we should remember that populism isn't only a leftwing ideology. It swings both ways as Pat Buchanan's racist right wing populism shows. Sadly, it's been most successful when it combined both elements. I hope that liberals don't find it "useful" to subtly play to some of these sentiments no matter how tempting it might be. We should be very thoughtful about this.

Update: Kevin Drum discusses the policy implications of the immigration debate. Sadly, I don't think this debate is really about policy. It's about the boogeyman.

It Ain't Over Rover

by digby

How odd. A new reporter is being subpoenaed in the Fitzgerald investigation and the press is actually reporting details about it. Shocking breach of DC etiquette, what what?

A second Time magazine reporter has been asked to testify in the
CIA leak case, this time about her discussions with Karl Rove's attorney, a sign that prosecutors are still exploring charges against the White House aide.

Viveca Novak, a reporter in Time's Washington bureau, is cooperating with Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who is investigating the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity in 2003, the magazine reported in its Dec. 5 issue.

Novak specifically has been asked to testify under oath about conversations she had with Rove attorney Robert Luskin starting in May 2004, the magazine reported.

Novak, part of a team tracking the CIA case for Time, has written or contributed to articles quoting Luskin that characterized the nature of what was said between Rove and Matthew Cooper, the first Time reporter who testified in the case in July.

Luskin has talked a lot of trash from the get. It will be very interesting if his big mouth gets his client in trouble.

There is nothing about this on the TIME web-site but if the AP got it, I expect there will be. And I expect that Viveca Novak will write a story after her testimony. They seem to be catching on to the fact that while they may be inhibited from divulging the names of their anonymous sources, they have an obligation to find a way to report the substance of what they tell them. TIME's Matt Cooper set the standard for how a responsible journalist deals with this sticky wicket (even if his publisher was very mealy mouthed.) It can be done.

Clean Up The Mess

by digby

I've always thought that in order to really put a monkeywrench into the modern GOP's political machine it was important to take out prime movers Rove, Delay, Reed and Norquist. The CIA leak scandal has wounded (perhaps mortally) Karl Rove. Ronnie Earle has weakened Delay in preparation for the coup de grace Abramoff scandal that may just take down him, Reed, Norquist and a bunch of others in short shrift.

It doesn't mean that the machine will be irreparably broken, but it won't work as smoothly as it did with the original parts. Those men have unique gifts that they honed over a long period of time to create a very efficient political mechanism. It may not be that any one of them going down would make the difference, but all of them going down at virtually the same time certainly does.

They do not look good. Here's the latest on Grover:

The knives are falling all around him, but Grover Norquist -- antitax crusader, Republican lobbyist, and Weston native -- insists they won't fall on him.

A Norquist friend and former colleague, Jack Abramoff, is under criminal investigation for his lobbying activities, some of which involved the same Native American tribe on Norquist's client roster. The noose on Abramoff appeared to have tightened Monday when his former business partner, Michael Scanlon, agreed to cooperate with prosecutors after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to bribe public officials and to defraud Indian tribes.

At a breakfast meeting with reporters the next morning, Norquist behaved as if this was all nuisance background noise, as he mostly held forth on the state of the ongoing war between the political left and right.

Finally, when pressed on the investigations, he was curt and unapologetic. ''We worked with the Choctaw Indians. We did a book, and I was hoping to do more outreach with Native Americans," said Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform. ''Jack, I'm sure he advised the Choctaws. But the Choctaws worked with ATR and they're happy with ATR."

Last year, a Senate committee investigating allegations that Abramoff defrauded Indian tribes obtained e-mail traffic from ATR, but Norquist says he had not been contacted by government prosecutors in the Abramoff case. Now the conservative activist is on the warpath against Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who is leading the Senate investigation.

After ATR turned over its e-mails, Norquist charged, McCain tried to ''steal our donor list."

''He subpoenaed our donor records and we said no," Norquist said. ''He took a shot at me and it didn't work and it embarrassed him."

Norquist then accused McCain and Senator Byron L. Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, of discrimination by targeting lobbyists who worked for Native American tribes. Abramoff and his partners collected $82 million in fees from Indian tribes and their casinos over four years.

''The implication is that it's money laundering to raise money from Native Americans, and spend it," Norquist said.

. . . And senator's camp fires back

An early favorite in the 2008 presidential race, McCain is in a delicate position with political conservatives, who have held a grudge against him since he ran in 2000 against George W. Bush.

While McCain has been trying to smooth ruffled feathers on the right, his investigation into the Abramoff scandal, which he has called ''a complex and tangled web . . . a story alarming in its depth and breadth of potential wrongdoing," reinforces the bad blood with Norquist and his political allies. Apparently, McCain could not care less.

When we asked the senator's staff for a comment on Norquist's fusillade against McCain, his chief of staff, Mark Salter, had a lot to say. ''In Norquist's world, the truth is for suckers. And it's as pointless to respond to him as it would be to respond to some street-corner schizophrenic," Salter responded.

''There is nothing remotely accurate about his recollection of the committee's dealings with him," he added. ''Nor, obviously, is his charge of discrimination credible, considering that it is made against someone who has a long and well-known record of respect for the tribes by someone who excuses ripping them off."

Grover's natural instinct is to viciously counter-attack. It's what he does. McCain is having none of it and with a weakened political machine, McCain has much less to fear by ignoring them.

I do not want John McCain to be the next president. But I think that he might be if he keeps this up. His greatest appeal to crossover Dems and independents is that he isn't afraid of these assholes like Grover Norquist and Tom DeLay. When you hear George Will sniffing about the "criminalization of politics" over bribery scandals and leaking of classified information, when you see a guy like John Warner embarrasingly attempt to dance on the head of a pin as he did this morning on Press The Meat, defending the indefensible, McCain looks damned good. Even to regular Democrats whose fondest wish is to see these arrogant scumbags have to eat their words.

These scandals are dealing a major blow to the corrupt GOP political machine, which is an unalloyed good thing. But it would be a shame if John McCain were the one who benefitted from it. He's long cast himself as a crusading reformer and the time is ripe for one of those. The Dems ought not let themselves be left in the lurch on that message. Instead of the smarmy "together, we can do better," we ought to be shouting "once again, the Democratic party is called on to do the patriotic thing and clean up the mess the corrupt Republican party has made with its free lunch policies and taxpayer rip-offs."

If we don't say it, McCain will win on personality alone.

Update: I do agree that McCain will have a hard time getting past the Christian Right in the primaries, but I fear that a whole lot of independents (and some Democrats) will make up for it. If the machine is weakened, it will be more difficult for it to shut him down in states with open primaries and even those that aren't. I personally know Democrats who will register as Republicans to vote for him in the primary. Hardcore Dems like me will never vote for such a conservative politician, but to many people in this country, he is a very attractive candidate. I think he is, by far, our biggest political threat.

Update II: Laura Rozen discusses this NY Times article taking the temperature of the country on the Bush administration (decidely cold, frigid even) and the malaise among her Republican relatives. So far they can't think of a single soul to vote for, McCain being seen a disloyal to the party.

My relatives, on the other hand, are warming to the flyboy. It's a military thing. He served. He understands. He will beat the terrorists. Suddenly, Junior and Unka Dick's lack of military service is meaningful.

Oh, and John Kerry is still a lying, lily livered coward, just like all the Democrats who want to offer therapy to the French terrorists.

VI Day!!!!

by digby

Yea! President Bush has finally achieved consensus for his Iraq pull-out plan. It wasn't easy. Joseph Biden has tacitly admitted that the Bush administration has been right all along in its insistence that we pull out large numbers of troops in 2006.

As you know, Democrats have long been insisting that the US stay in Iraq indefinitely. It was only through the wise counsel and patient persuasion of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush that they were convinced that a timed withdrawal was the best way to go.

While it's great news that the Iraq war is over and done with (and the liberals can finally stop obsessing over it) it's going to take some work to get them to stop lobbying for more tax cuts and destroying social security. When are they going to get some responsibility and recognize that there is no free lunch?

At least the Bush administration finally got the liberals to let the poor Katrina victims keep a roof over their heads until after Christmas. Jeez, what Scrooges.

Update: The really neat thing about this is that Rove has decided that Joe Biden should be the 2008 Democratic nominee. Feel the magic.


Saturday, November 26, 2005

Taking On Woodward

by digby

I have taken a rather strong stand in this Plame case that the elite beltway reporters involved lost sight of their primary mission, which is to inform the public. I've even (unpopularly) criticised Tim Russert for not adequately explaining his involvement, even if Patrick Fitzgerald asked him not to. I don't think that reporters should not report things just because authorities ask them not to unless there is an immediate danger involved --- even if our friend the straight-shootin', Rove-killin' prosecutor requests it.

I'm glad to read a real, live credible investigative journalist make these points clearly and unambiguously. Sydney Schanberg writes:

He openly says that protecting his sources is his highest priority. Here's a response he gave to Howard Kurtz, media reporter for The Washington Post: "I apologized [to the executive editor, Leonard Downie] because I should have told him about this much sooner. I explained in detail that I was trying to protect my sources. That's Job No. 1 in a case like this. . . . I hunkered down. I'm in the habit of keeping secrets. I didn't want anything out there that was going to get me subpoenaed."

Again, something is missing. Reporters have lots of different thoughts and emotions when they come across an important story. In my life, and the lives of most reporters, "Job No. 1" is getting the story confirmed and into the paper quickly. Get it to the readers now, not two years from now, so they can assess it and act on it, if they choose. A second emotion: Get it to them before the competition gets wind of it.

I believe it's fair for a reasonable person, without being inside Woodward's head, to listen to his explanations and arrive at the notion that his main priorities are protecting his sources and protecting the exclusivity (and therefore marketability) of his next book. That wasn't true when he and Bernstein were prying open the Watergate story. He didn't have any book contracts then to muddle and infect the issue. In this instance, his explanations include no thoughts about writing an early story for his paper, no reservations about holding back information from the public.

No one is questioning Woodward's reporting skills or his intelligence. And I don't want to know the names of his sources. I believe in granting confidentiality when it's the only way to get a story out—and in going to jail if that's the consequence of refusing to identify a source or turn over notes. But when your modus operandi is to hold on to information instead of publishing it right away, then, in my opinion, you are not serving the public.

Yep. it wasn't just Woodward, it was all these guys, except for Cooper and Royce and Phelps who wrote in real time what they knew. Pincus and Kessler wrote some of what they knew, but at least they wrote something. Woodward, Miller, Russert, Mitchell and who knows how many others offered opinions, grilled others or sat on relevant information for years. I just don't see how that can be journalism.

Schanberg says something that I think is relevant to the Plame case, for you plamaniacs who are jonesing:

And also, in my experience, important conversations about important stories do not fade quite the way Woodward intimates they do when he says he doesn't recall whether Libby or Card brought up Wilson's wife. Reporters almost always remember such things.

This has bugged me from the first. Woodward doesn't remember if Libby or Card brought up Wilson's wife or if he brought it up with them. But that's not the problem. He does remember having "Joe Wilson's wife" written on a series of questions when he spoke to them. This is a huge gift to Libby's defense.

The indictment shows that Libby learned of and discussed Plame's identity from a bunch of people other than Woodward, so it doesn't change the fundamentals of the case. But they can put Woodward on the stand and grill him about whether he might have told Libby about Plame's wife and muddy the waters. If it can be believed that Woodward ever brought up Plame to Libby, it bolsters his "dazed and confused" defense.

I continue to wonder if Woodward didn't bring up his involvement just for that purpose.

An Observation From Highpockets

by digby

For reasons I don't fully understand, there is something about "leaders," especially self-appointed leaders, and most especially those who are drawn to intensive participation in organizations, that tends toward liberalism. We see this in politics all the time, of course: it is one thing to vote for conservatism, something else entirely to get it from our elected leaders.

All of which makes me especially thankful, this year, for democracy, limited government and free enterprise: the best measures yet devised to protect us from our leaders.

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

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

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

Burning Witches

by digby

As regular readers know, I have been exercised about the fact that some people believe that torture is no longer taboo --- that we are normalizing the concept in our minds in anticipation of the government legalizing it. Some have called me shockingly naive for not knowing that we have always tortured and abused and that this is nothing new, but I think this misses my point. It is true that our nation has always engaged in bad acts, I am well aware of that. But this is something new. We have high level people in our government attempting to create a legal torture regime on the basis of a new constitutional finding that the executive branch is unfettered by the rule of law in a time of war --- our current "war" conveniently having no obvious end. For a long, long time now, if our government tortured and abused, it at least had the decency to hide it.

If you want proof that torture is still not publicly acceptable in our culture, you need look no farther than the 90-7 vote in the senate. A whole lot of big shots, including tough guy red-state Republicans, don't want to be associated with supporting torture. They know damned well that it is beyond the pale. (For now.)

If we allow this to become normalized, I don't think it will stop at suspected terrorists --- eventually people will ask why we should have all these laws and prohibitions in the case of non-terrorist, but equally heinous, crimes. How do you tell the family of a victim of a suspected gang killing that the suspected perpetrators have a right to lawyers and a right not to incriminate themselves? Is their pain less than the pain of terrorism victims? Why shouldn't these "worst of the worst" be tortured by the police or the FBI to find out what they know? After all, more people could die if they aren't forced to give up their home boys.

The reason that people do not demand this now is because we have long required a public adherence to the rule of law --- and we have instinctively understood that authorities sometimes make mistakes, are corrupt or inept. Due process is required to mitigate those human failings. Yet, innocent people are still caught up in the system even with all these processes. Imagine what would happen if we didn't have them?

Once you introduce torture into the equation, justified by the fact that these are people alleged to be "the worst of the worst" you are letting go of the idea that innocent people are sometimes incarcerated, and that it matters that we don't treat innocent people barbarously, even if we are inclined by primitive notions of revenge to treat guilty people that way. We know that non-terrorists have been caught up in the net and have been tortured and abused. Even more horrifyingly, we know that even innocent, mentally ill people have been tortured and abused. (I don't think you can go any lower than that --- maybe children, but they did that too.)

There are important moral and human rights arguments to be made against torture of anyone, guilty or innocent. I believe that it makes an entire society, an entire culture, immoral. But the most immoral act of all immoral acts is to torture an innocent person. And since nobody is omniscient, to torture a person with no due process, no right to confront accusers, no way of proving their innocence, it is guaranteed that we are doing this under our torture regime. As I said, we know that we are.

One might assume that there is no one on the planet who thinks that torturing innocent people is right. Certainly, it's going to be hard to find intelligent educated people who believe that it is a moral good to do so. But not impossible. As it turns out there is a moral argument for torturing innocent people:

From Orrin Judd:

You might want to go back and brush up on your history, witchcraft was quite popular, even within the Church, for an awfully long time. In fact, it's back today in the form of Wicca. In its denial of the basis of Western Civilization it is so transgressive that it deserved to be and was persecuted. People who deny there were witches because they don't like how the religious treated them are akin to the Left denying there were Communists because they don't like that Americans reviled them. Jews too were justifiably, though unnecessarily, persecuted for their beliefs and inability to conform to social norms. The great injustice was the persecution of the conversos in Spain, who were sincere converts to Christianity.

Of course, anti-Semitism only became exterminationist once you mixed in Darwinism and racial theory, by which it is necessary to kill any group outside your own discrete gene pool.

There are of course variations within any group, but folks conform to type more than less.

Posted by: oj at November 25, 2005 01:49 PM

I think he understands something I failed to understand about this argument. This isn't about terrorism. It isn't about national security. It isn't about the rule of law or enlightenment values. It's about conforming to social norms. That puts the whole thing in perspective, doesn't it? What I call "innocent" isn't innocent at all. Just being a practicing Muslim makes one guilty.

It's nice to know that we shouldn't be persecuting those who have converted to Christianity (or properly protestantised Islam, which translates into an embrace of Western Civilization.) The good news is that "protestantising" (forcing Western conformity on) the billion Muslims out there will be a cakewalk:

You can have a number of voices so long as everyone has just one hymnal. That's the essence of the protestantism that the End of History requires. It'll be easy enough to Reform Islam, just as we did Catholicism, Judaism, and the rest.

Posted by: oj at November 25, 2005 10:56 AM

And here I thought the whole "End of History" thing had been laughed out of town by the events of 9/11. Apparently History has only been postponed. Protestantism is still on the march, "reforming" witches and Muslims alike. And if it takes a little waterboarding or burning at the stake to get the job done, so be it. These people have to understand that we're going to end History one bloody non-conformist bastard at a time if we have to.

I have to hand it to Orin Judd. Like Ann Coulter, who's rhetoric is not nearly as elegant, he is at least willing to put his beliefs on the table and take responsibility for them. So was Ann, when she wrote:

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

Like the Spanish inquisitors and Salem witch burners before us, we owe it to the world to continue to End History by torturing and persecuting those trangressive non-conformists who deny "the basis of Western Civilization" as necessary. Indeed, we can't help ourselves. It's our destiny.

But I have to say that Orrin is very mistaken to think that exterminationism only came into existence once Darwinism and racial theory emerged. As good Protestants, 'reformed" and unreformed Catholics and Jews know, that is something that has been going on for a very, very long time. Dig it:

1 Samuel 15

15:1 Samuel also said unto Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD.

15:2 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt.

15:3 Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

15:4 And Saul gathered the people together, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah.

15:5 And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and laid wait in the valley.

15:6 And Saul said unto the Kenites, Go, depart, get you down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them: for ye shewed kindness to all the children of Israel, when they came up out of Egypt. So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.

15:7 And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur, that is over against Egypt.

There's more. Saul spared the Amakalite king and some good sheep and oxen, sorely disappointing God. Samuel promptly kills them himself, on God's orders. Ain't nothin' new 'bout genocide. Sometimes it's God's work.


Friday, November 25, 2005

Priming The Pump For The Masters

by digby

Can we please put a merciful end to he "black friday" kabuki, in which retailers put out rediculous promotions to entice customers to stand in line for hours to "buy" things at below profit so they can report that sales are very brisk this year (only to find out that sales and profits were flat or down some time later?) All day long the news stations were interviewing shoppers in the malls and Wal-Marts as if they had made a trek to Lourdes for the cure and all the anchors dutifully reported that everyone was reporting huge crowds. They were even shilling for specific items, trying to "find" the next Tickle Me Elmo. It is mildly entertaining to watch idiots trample each other for a piece of useless junk, but I only need to see it once. 22 times was overkill.

Reporting that people are shopping is a blatant attempt to prime the pump for retailers. It's not a news story, it's advertising. The story is whether the sales were any greater than last year, or greater than expected or whatever. And they can't know that for at least a little while. This is a made up news story with even less substance than the Runaway Bride, who did, after all actually run away.

Mr Silver Lining

by digby

Hey everybody, welcome David Ignatius to planet earth:

The United States must begin to replenish this stock of support for America in the world. I would love to see the Bush administration take the lead, but its officials seem not to understand the problem. Even if they turned course, much of the world wouldn't believe them. Sadly, when President Bush eloquently evokes our values, the world seems to tune out.

No kidding. But that because the Cheney administration "understands" the problem to be that we aren't feared and loathed enough, not that we are feared and loathed too much. This is fundamental to understanding what they are doing. Bush is trotted out to spread Messianic platitudes about freedom to the red state rubes to make them feel all warm and toasty about our splendid little GWOT. But Cheney and Rummy and the rest of the cold war time warpers have no illusions or interest in being "understood" by anyone. They believe in the Friedman Doctrine:

No, the axis-of-evil idea isn't thought through - but that's what I like about it. It says to these countries and their terrorist pals: "We know what you're cooking in your bathtubs. We don't know exactly what we're going to do about it, but if you think we are going to just sit back and take another dose from you, you're wrong. Meet Don Rumsfeld - he's even crazier than you are."

There is a lot about the Bush team's foreign policy I don't like, but their willingness to restore our deterrence, and to be as crazy as some of our enemies, is one thing they have right. It is the only way we're going to get our turkey back.

It's awfully nice that the elite liberal pundits in this country are finally regaining their equilibrium after basking in the glow of that mighty bullhorn for the last four years but it's pretty useless now, as even Ignatius seems to realize when he prescribes this:

So this task falls instead to the American public. It's a job that involves traveling, sharing, living our values, encouraging our children to learn foreign languages and work and study abroad. In short, it means giving something back to the world.

Have you ever read a more irrelevant, starry-eyed piece of gooey treacle in your life? Oh yes you have, here:

Pessimists increasingly argue that Iraq may be going the way of Lebanon in the 1970s. I hope that isn't so, and that Iraq avoids civil war. But people should realize that even Lebanonization wouldn't be the end of the story. The Lebanese turned to sectarian militias when their army and police couldn't provide security. But through more than 15 years of civil war, Lebanon continued to have a president, a prime minister, a parliament and an army. The country was on ice, in effect, while the sectarian battles raged. The national identity survived, and it came roaring back this spring in the Cedar Revolution that drove out Syrian troops.

Turn that frown upside down, sunshine. Civil war is a drag and all, but it isn't all bad! If Iraq can just learn to have patience over the next generation or two and Americans can learn a foreign language and give something back to the world, we can all come together and love one another ---- eventually. Probably. Oh sure, there will be a great deal of death and destruction in the meantime because our president "doesn't understand" the problem and turns everything he touches into chaos. But there's no need to be pessimistic. Go on a trip and buy some souvenirs.(Snowglobes really send a strong message of cultural understanding. Collectible spoons scream of shared sacrifice.) Oh yeah, and be sure to love yer neighbor like you'd like to be loved yerself. It's the key to persuading the world that we really aren't the loathesome, cruel, imperialistic freakshow they now think we are. Eventually.

Too Much W-ne

by digby

From Atlas Shrugs, centerfold of the Bathrobe Media Empire

G-d bless President Bush, holding himself out there for ridicule and vile hate so that we might be stay free. History will be kind to President Bush and hold him in the highest regard. He sees the future, he sees the realites, he sees the truth s we take so for granted.


Getting The M.R.S.

by digby

What Kevin says. I don't know what to say about the LA Times op-ed page nowdays except, don't bother. Yesterday, we had Jonah's typically puerile blog post he calls it a column. (Some pouty mess about Dinos and Rinos running to the center. Maureen Dowd he ain't.)

Today, David Gelertner reveals that the reason why kids today are so career obsessed instead of learning for learning's sake is because rich, highly educated women used to get married and stay home with thier kids instead of working outside the home. (It's true. They did. They also drank. A lot. Usually because thier only choices in life were to marry some thick-headed moron like Gelertner or work for him as his low paid "office wife." )

There is one sense in which society has suffered by women having more opportunities, however. In the past, many of the smartest women in the country became teachers because they were not afforded opportunities to use their minds and skills in other fields. (Some very smart women also became nuns and ran big hospitals and schools, as well.) The public school system was probably the lucky recipient of some extraordinarily good teachers in greater numbers than we have today. After all, the schools could get some of the best minds in the country to work for low pay and no respect or chance of advancement. It was quite a good deal.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

In Our Dreams

Yesterday on Matthews there was this little exchange between Tweety, Chuck Todd and Deborah Orrin:

ORIN: ... I think we are close to starting to pull troops out. Talk to people at the White House and the Pentagon, they feel the Iraqis really are stepping up. And some of them, if you want to be conspiracy theorists, think this was all a Democratic game so that when we announce after the elections in December, that they are a success and when we start pulling troops out, Democrats can say see, we are responsible. We did it.

MATTHEWS: You think they are that smart?

TODD: You're giving them a lot of credit.

In our dreams.

I think this withdrawal plan is the same phony drawdown that they've been talking about for the last year. They will do it to show "progress" before the 2006 election. but I'm with Atrios on this --- I don't think there's a chance in hell that George W. Cheney is going to allow himself to be portrayed "cutting and running" by anyone, and if bombs are still going off in Iraq that's exactly how it will look. The military is hurting and so it must lessen its presence and regroup. But we are not leaving there before 2008. From what I'm hearing today, they think the magic number is 100,000. troops. That means that we will have 99,999 troops there indefinitely. And they are going to keep getting blown up indefinitely.

I've written before about historian Bernard Lewis and his outsized influence on the thinking inside the Bush administration. He's the guy who persuaded the erstwhile hardliners that they were correct to be tough, macho and manly --- but they also needed to "democratize" the middle east. The arabs, you see, need our guidance, just as they've always needed somebody's guidance:

Bernard Lewis often tells audiences about an encounter he once had in Jordan. The Princeton University historian, author of more than 20 books on Islam and the Middle East, says he was chatting with Arab friends in Amman when one of them trotted out an argument familiar in that part of the world.

"We have time, we can wait," he quotes the Jordanian as saying. "We got rid of the Crusaders. We got rid of the Turks. We'll get rid of the Jews."

Hearing this claim "one too many times," Mr. Lewis says, he politely shot back, "Excuse me, but you've got your history wrong. The Turks got rid of the Crusaders. The British got rid of the Turks. The Jews got rid of the British. I wonder who is coming here next."

The vignette, recounted in the 87-year-old scholar's native British accent, always garners laughs. Yet he tells it to underscore a serious point. Most Islamic countries have failed miserably at modernizing their societies, he contends, beckoning outsiders -- this time, Americans -- to intervene.

Call it the Lewis Doctrine. Though never debated in Congress or sanctified by presidential decree, Mr. Lewis's diagnosis of the Muslim world's malaise, and his call for a U.S. military invasion to seed democracy in the Mideast, have helped define the boldest shift in U.S. foreign policy in 50 years. The occupation of Iraq is putting the doctrine to the test.

For much of the second half of the last century, America viewed the Mideast and the rest of the world through a prism shaped by George Kennan, author of the doctrine of "containment." In a celebrated 1947 article in Foreign Affairs focused on the Soviet Union, Mr. Kennan gave structure to U.S. policy in the Cold War. It placed the need to contain Soviet ambitions above all else.

Terrorism has replaced Moscow as the global foe. And now America, having outlasted the Soviets to become the sole superpower, no longer seeks to contain but to confront, defeat and transform. How successful it is at remolding Iraq and the rest of the Mideast could have a huge impact on what sort of superpower America will be for decades to come: bold and assertive -- or inward, defensive and cut off.

As mentor and informal adviser to some top U.S. officials, Mr. Lewis has helped coax the White House to shed decades of thinking about Arab regimes and the use of military power. Gone is the notion that U.S. policy in the oil-rich region should promote stability above all, even if it means taking tyrants as friends. Also gone is the corollary notion that fostering democratic values in these lands risks destabilizing them. Instead, the Lewis Doctrine says fostering Mideast democracy is not only wise but imperative.

After Sept. 11, 2001, as policy makers fretted urgently about how to understand and deal with the new enemy, Mr. Lewis helped provide an answer. If his prescription is right, the U.S. may be able to blunt terrorism and stabilize a region that, as the chief exporter of oil, powers the industrial world and underpins the U.S.-led economic order. If it's wrong, as his critics contend, America risks provoking sharper conflicts that spark more terrorism and undermine energy security.

After the terror attacks, White House staffers disagreed about how to frame the enemy, says David Frum, who was a speechwriter for President Bush. One group believed Muslim anger was all a misunderstanding -- that Muslims misperceived America as decadent and godless. Their solution: Launch a vast campaign to educate Muslims about America's true virtue. Much of that effort, widely belittled in the press and overseas, was quietly abandoned.

A faction led by political strategist Karl Rove believed soul-searching over "why Muslims hate us" was misplaced, Mr. Frum says. Mr. Rove summoned Mr. Lewis to address some White House staffers, military aides and staff members of the National Security Council. The historian recited the modern failures of Arab and Muslim societies and argued that anti-Americanism stemmed from their own inadequacies, not America's. Mr. Lewis also met privately with Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Mr. Frum says he soon noticed Mr. Bush carrying a marked-up article by Mr. Lewis among his briefing papers. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Says Mr. Frum: "Bernard comes with a very powerful explanation for why 9/11 happened. Once you understand it, the policy presents itself afterward."


"The question people are asking is why they hate us. That's the wrong question," said Mr. Lewis on C-SPAN shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. "In a sense, they've been hating us for centuries, and it's very natural that they should. You have this millennial rivalry between two world religions, and now, from their point of view, the wrong one seems to be winning."

He continued: "More generally ... you can't be rich, strong, successful and loved, particularly by those who are not rich, not strong and not successful. So the hatred is something almost axiomatic. The question which we should be asking is why do they neither fear nor respect us?"

For Mr. Lewis and officials influenced by his thinking, instilling respect or at least fear through force is essential for America's security. In this formulation, the current era of American dominance, sometimes called "Pax Americana," echoes elements of Pax Britannica, imposed by the British Empire Mr. Lewis served as a young intelligence officer after graduate school.


Eight days after the Sept. 11 attacks, with the Pentagon still smoldering, Mr. Lewis addressed the U.S. Defense Policy Board. Mr. Lewis and a friend, Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi -- now a member of the interim Iraqi Governing Council -- argued for a military takeover of Iraq to avert still-worse terrorism in the future, says Mr. Perle, who then headed the policy board.

A few months later, in a private dinner with Dick Cheney at the vice president's residence, Mr. Lewis explained why he was cautiously optimistic the U.S. could gradually build democracy in Iraq, say others who attended. Mr. Lewis also held forth on the dangers of appearing weak in the Muslim world, a lesson Mr. Cheney apparently took to heart. Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" just before the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Cheney said: "I firmly believe, along with men like Bernard Lewis, who is one of the great students of that part of the world, that strong, firm U.S. response to terror and to threats to the United States would go a long way, frankly, toward calming things in that part of the world."

The Lewis Doctrine, in effect, had become U.S. policy.

Do we have any reason on earth to believe that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsefeld and George W. Bush are prepared to abandon this thinking?

Let's give them at least some credit for sincerity on one thing. They honestly believe that we have been perceived as weak by the rest of the world. They've always thought this. This isn't a political calculation, they really believe it. They went into iraq with the idea that they had to show those hinky arabs that we are not going to be pushed around. When they say that everyone from Nixon on down behaved like cowards, they really mean it. This is their world view.

Norman Podhoretz even characterizes their god Reagan this way:

Having cut and run in Lebanon in October, Reagan again remained passive in December, when the American embassy in Kuwait was bombed. Nor did he hit back when, hard upon the withdrawal of the American Marines from Beirut, the CIA station chief there, William Buckley, was kidnapped by Hizbullah and then murdered. Buckley was the fourth American to be kidnapped in Beirut, and many more suffered the same fate between 1982 and 1992 (though not all died or were killed in captivity.

It is a deep article of faith that the reason we were hit on 9/11 is because we failed to respond to the terrorists and others . Therefore, we must make them respect and fear us by being violent and dominating.

I am of the opinion that alienating our allies, exposing ourselves as having an intelligence community that can't find water if they fall out of a boat and then screwing up Iraq in spectacular fashion, we have destroyed our mystique and have made this country less safe. We were much better off speaking softly and carrying the big stick than flailing around like a wounded, impotent Giant.

I see no reason to believe that these people see that. They believe that to "cut and run" is the equivalent of emasculating this country and that is what puts us at risk. George W. Bush is not bugging out.

Up on the podium, Mr. Lewis lambasted the belief of some Mideast experts at the State Department and elsewhere that Arabs weren't ready for democracy -- that a "friendly tyrant" was the best the U.S. could hope for in Iraq. "That policy," he quipped, "is called 'pro-Arab.' "

Others, like himself, believe Iraqis are heirs to a great civilization, one fully capable, "with some guidance," of democratic rule, he said. "That policy," he added with a rueful smile, "is called 'imperialism.' "

I See Marty's Underpants

by digby

I get these neat little e-mails from Marty Peretz at the New Republic telling me that I should read this or that article in the magazine (and subscribe, of course.) It's always amusing how "he" chooses to frame certain arguments. Here's one that cracks me up:

The first of these is a long piece (with a dejected Napoleon on the cover) by Paul Berman, the author of Terror and Liberalism, the prize-winning book of two years ago, relating France's xenophobia towards America to its historic arrogance about France as the perfect model for everyone, including its Arab and African immigrants.

And here I thought all this talk about Freedom Fries and "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" showed America's xenophobia toward France. And then there is our vaunted "exceptionalism" in which we are forcibly exporting our perfect model for everyone as if we are high priests anointed by the God of Democracy. (And also, of course, because we are so good and they're so evil.) And call me crazy, but it seems to me that I've heard an awful lot, my whole life, about the damn immigrants (legal and illegal) who refuse to learn English. Damn that liberal multiculturalism all to hell.

I guess I just have never understood why conservatives hate France so much. It's the most American country in Europe. Only with really good food, good wine and liberal attitudes toward sex. It's a lot like San Francisco.


Of Course It's True

by digby

I was busy yesterday so I didn't get to comment on the amazing story that Bush wanted to bomb Al Jazeera headquarters. I think what surprised me the most is that anyone thinks that it might not true. Of course, it's true.

Juan Cole leads us through the evidence, the most compelling being that he blew the shit out of two other Al Jazeera offices!:

The US military bombed the Kabul offices of Aljazeera in mid-November, 2001.

The US military hit the Aljazeerah offices in Baghdad on the 9th of April, 2004, not so long before Bush's conversation with Blair. That attack killed journalist Tarek Ayoub, who had a 3 year old daughter. He had said earlier, "We've told the Pentagon where all our offices are in Iraq and hung giant banners outside them saying `TV.''' Given what we now know about Bush's intentions, that may have been a mistake.

When the US and the UN shoe-horned old-time CIA asset Iyad Allawi into power as transitional prime minister, he promptly banned Aljazeera in Iraq. The channel still did fair reporting on Iraq, finding ways of buying video film and doing enlightening telephone interviews.

Having blown up two Al Jazeera offices and having his puppet shutting down remaining operations in Iraq, I have to say that I think the onus is on Bush to prove that he didn't want to blow up the Al Jazeera headquarters in Qater. Fool me once, won't get fooled again and all that.

One of these days, journalists are going to have to face the fact that they are considered by the Cheney admnistration to be "fair game" in the GWOT. And it isn't just the hostile Arab press. The Republicans have made it quite clear that anyone who implies that the Americans are on the wrong track or are behaving in less than gallant ways, are traitors.

This little t-shirt pitch encapsulates the beliefs of many on the right, I'm afraid:

The Marine who killed the wounded insurgent in Fallujah deserves our praise and admiration. In a split second decision, he acted valiantly.

On the otherhand, Kevin Sites of NBC is a traitor. Beheading civilians, booby-trapped bodies, suicide bombers?? Sorry hippie, American lives come first. Terrorists don't deserve the benefit of the doubt. This Marine deserves a medal and Kevin Sites, you deserve a punch in the mouth.

Via Atrios and Steve Clemons, I see that Frank Cakewalk actually uses the phrase "fair game" in reference to al Jazeera:

Gaffney: We're talking about a news organization, so called, that is promoting bin Laden, that is promoting Zawahiri, that is promoting Zarqawi, that is promoting beheadings, that is promoting suicide bombers, that is other ways enabling the propaganda aspects of this war to be fought by our enemies, and I think that puts it squarely in the target category.

Whether the best way to do it is with bombs or through other means is something we could discuss, but I think it's fair game, under these circumstances, given the way it conducts itself.

These "moral clarity" guys really take my breath away.