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Friday, June 30, 2006

American Hero

by digby

Every once in a while you read about or get to meet someone who displays by his or her actions one of those wonderful fundamental lessons in personal integrity, intellectual consistency and common decency that makes you think this species might not be doomed after all. Here's one:

The U.S. Navy lawyer who challenged the Bush administration's efforts to try terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, walked a professional tightrope between fellow officers trying to gain speedy convictions and what he considered a moral imperative to buck the chain of command and vigorously defend his client.

Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift could have taken the easy route of arranging a plea bargain for Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the Yemeni alleged to have worked as a driver and bodyguard for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

But fearful of the dangerous precedent that could be set by denying international standards of justice to those swept up in the war on terrorism, Swift battled to get the rights and protections of the Geneva Convention for his client.

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that President Bush had overstepped his war powers in sending Hamdan and nine others to face military tribunals, America's first since World War II.

"I feel like we all won, that the rule of law won, and that is essentially what we are all about," Swift said of the high court's validation of his three-year campaign on behalf of his 36-year-old client.

Swift was assigned to defend Hamdan by the Pentagon in November 2003 and initially was ordered by a superior officer to secure a plea bargain so there would be a timely conviction.

"I had the unenviable task of going down to this guy from Yemen in the uniform of people who had been treating him badly and saying, 'If you don't make a deal you may never see me again,' " Swift recalled of his first meeting at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo with Hamdan and his decision to fight a process stacked against the defendant.

Swift was allowed a rare phone call to the Guantanamo prison Thursday to give Hamdan the news of their legal victory. He described the prisoner as "humble, not jubilant, and very, very thankful."

"It was gratifying to hear the belief in his voice, the recognition that mighty people don't always get to do what they want," Swift said of Hamdan, who, he added, understands that his case is far from over.

After more than 100 meetings at the remote U.S. naval base in southeastern Cuba, Swift said, he and Hamdan have developed a trusting relationship, and he would gladly represent the Yemeni in any future trial, military or civilian.

Colleagues attributed the high court ruling to what they considered to be Swift's determination to protect the integrity of U.S. jurisprudence against a Pentagon bent on retribution for terrorism attacks on U.S. forces.

"It took exceptional courage. He had to risk himself being alienated from the larger military establishment," said David Scheffer, law professor and director of the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University. "He must have known when he took this on that he was risking his career, and sadly he may have done that within the U.S. Navy."

Though Swift's successful challenge of the tribunal's legitimacy will probably open doors in the private sector and academia for the Navy lawyer, Scheffer said, Swift has reportedly been passed over for promotion.

"It was a gutsy move, and he did it with complete dedication and devotion to the cause," Benjamin Sharp of the Washington office of Perkins Coie said of Swift, with whom the Seattle-based law firm collaborated in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld.

Sharp speculated that Swift's military career was probably damaged by his defense of Hamdan, a possibility the naval lawyer also alluded to.

"I love the military. I love my career and I'm proud of it," Swift said, noting he would be eligible for early retirement in nine months and would leave the Navy unless he was promoted. "One thing that has been a great revelation for me is that you may love the military, but it doesn't necessarily love you."

The military has many men and women of great physical courage. That's the point, after all. But it takes a person of exceptional character to be willing to take on the military hierarchy from within in order to preserve our fundamental principles. I'm skeptical that the threat of Islamic terrorism can be properly categorized as a war but if it is, one of the big battles being fought is for the integrity of the American system, and the battle is internal, not external. In that battle, this guy is a hero.

Swift appeared briefly on Hardball yesterday and had to endure an unbearably puerile interview from Chris Matthews, but he said a couple of things that I think are so simple and yet so important that it always boggles my mind that they get lost in the argument:

MATTHEWS: What about the charge made recently, just a couple minutes ago by Kate O‘Beirne of the “National Review,” that people who fight us who are not in uniform, who do not represent countries who are party to the Geneva Convention shouldn‘t be free riders? They shouldn‘t get Geneva Convention treatment. They should be treated like thugs.

SWIFT: Well, you know, if you‘re looking at it from that way, we have a lot of criminals here in this country. And to prejudge anyone that we capture outside the country as a thug, why are we having a trial in the first place? We‘ve already decided they were guilty.

What the Supreme Court said is you have the trial first, you use the procedures that are set up under international law, and then you decide whether they‘re a thug. You don‘t make the thug determination going in.

Why is this so hard to understand? We already know they picked up a whole lot of innocent and low level nobodies in Afghanistan and shipped them off to Gitmo. In the early days, the US was paying the Northern Alliance $5,000 per head and the NA was handing over their tribal rivals and anybody else they wanted to get rid of. I'm sure Kato and her barely repressed racist allies on the right don't think it matters if some poor innocent wog gets tortured and locked up forever, but civilized people have come to recognise that show trials, kangaroo courts and lynching are immoral --- and counterproductive. If you want to stress liberal values, the rule of law and democracy as the way forward in these fundamentalist religious cultures, you can't behave this way. It doesn't make you look tough or strong; it makes you look like you don't believe in your own system --- and that makes you weak.

Bin Laden and his ilk are much more sophisticated than are Cheney and Rummy and the starry eyed neocons. He gets that our soft underbelly is our leadership's cowardly willingness to use him for political purposes. It's lucky for this country that we have people like Lt Commander Swift and many others who didn't buy into the argument that this country was so threatened by this loose band of religious psychopaths that it had to discard everything it believed in. That's the real strength of America and the slim reed we all hang onto: individual citizens who are willing to stand up for principle (and a system that's strong enough (so far) to support them) even as they suffer personally for it.

I thank Lt Commander Swift and all the others in the military justice system who managed to fight off the temptation to give in to the ridiculous GWOT juggernaut to take this all the way to the Supreme Court. It won't solve the numerous problems of this ridiculous "war" or this dangerous administration, but it goes some way in beginning to restore my faith in the institutions of the courts and the military. (Our democratic political institutions, on the other hand, seem on the verge of self-destruction.)


Thursday, June 29, 2006


Death Of A Martian

by poputonian

With all this talk about the cosmos, it raises the inevitable question, what would a flea name its dog? The answer, obviously, is Martian. (More on this in a few minutes.)

But first there is a need to address more earthly concerns -- mainstream kind of concerns -- and once again, Susan Jacoby is doing the heavy lifting. Here she leads into a quotation made by Robert Green Ingersoll on July 4, 1876, the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence:

Those who cherish secular values have too often allowed conservatives to frame public policy debates as conflicts between "value-free" secularists and religious representatives of supposedly unchanging moral principles. But secularists are not value-free; their values are simply grounded in earthly concerns rather than in anticipation of heavenly rewards or fear of infernal punishments. No one in public life today upholds secularism and humanism in the uncompromising terms used by Ingersoll more than 125 years ago.

"Secularism teaches us to be good here and now. I know nothing better than goodness. Secularism teaches us to be just here and now. It is impossible to be juster than just. Secularism has no 'castles in Spain.' It has no glorified fog. It depends upon realities, upon demonstrations; and its end is to make this world better every day -- to do away with poverty and crime, and to cover the world with happy and contented homes."

These values belong at the center, not in the margins, of the public square. It is past time to restore secularism, and its noble and essential contributions at every stage of the American experiment, to its proper place in our nation's historical memory and vision of the future.

Yesterday, Pach caught Barack Obama marginalizing the left for not courting evangelicals with enough fervor, but a greater concern to me was BOs outright acquiescence on matters of religious indoctrination via government sponsored rituals:

"It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase `under God,'" [Obama] said.

One hundred eighty days of school ... twelve years. Sure. They won't feel a thing.

The flea who named its dog Martian was this Flea, the bass guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It seems that Martian passed away during the recording of their latest album, Stadium Arcadium. Martian was a fixture and a source of companionship for the band during the recording of their two prior hit albums, Californication (1999) and By The Way (2002). The latest work is comprised of two CDs, one called Jupiter and the other Mars, which suggests the album has something to do with the Universe. But front man Anthony Kiedis tells Rolling Stone magazine that "love and women, pregnancies and marriages, relationship struggles -- those are real and profound influences on this record." If that's the case, why did they close out with a beautiful song called Death of a Martian?

By the way, have you ever noticed that cats are like conservatives -- narcissistic, self-serving, aloof, and pissy -- while dogs are like liberals -- loyal, engaging, altruistic, and eager to please? Just askin'.


by digby

Glenn Greenwald has a nice primer posted about the Supreme Court decision on Gitmo and executive power. He optimistically concludes:

...opponents of monarchical power should celebrate this decision. It has been some time since real limits were placed on the Bush administration in the area of national security. The rejection of the President's claims to unlimited authority with regard to how Al Qaeda prisoners are treated is extraordinary and encouraging by any measure. The decision is an important step towards re-establishing the principle that there are three co-equal branches of government and that the threat of terrorism does not justify radical departures from the principles of government on which our country was founded

Isn't it pretty to think so? Certainly some of the legal questions about presidential wartime powers seem to have been answered. But from a political standpoint, I'm with Atrios about the practical effect of this ruling:

My quick take is that it's certainly an important symbolic victory, but this administration's contempt for the law, the constitution, and the balance/separation of powers that our system rests on isn't going to be very affected by what 5 people in black robes say. They've ignored Congress and they'll ignore the Court too, leaving our mainstream media with more time to deal with the impending threat of blogofascism.

This decision will ultimately feed into conservative boogeyman number 438: judicial activism. Look for Justice Sunday IV: Vengeance is Mine Sayeth Delay. And expect many more calls to spike John Paul Stevens' pudding with arsenic. This is the beauty of the conservo-machine. When your primary political tools are both intimidation and victimization, you can spin anything to your advantage.

Here's Trent Lott doing a triple axel:

LOTT: I think some people are probably laughing at us. This is ridiculous and outrageous. Now in legal speak, let me say, I have not read the entire opinion, nor the dissents. But preliminarily my opinion is they probably didn’t even have jurisdiction. They shouldn’t have ruled the way they did. This is not a bunch of pussycats we’re talking about here. These are people that have made it clear in many instances that they would kill Americans if they got out. This is Osama bin Laden’s driver. And this is one other example of why the American people have lost faith in so much of our federal judiciary. This is a very bad decision in my opinion.

Tonya Harding never sounded this nuts.

I think this could be used to the Democrats' advantage if they were willing to risk changing the terms of the debate for this midterm election and aggressively confront Karl Rove's "you talkin' to me?" trash talk campaign. The Supremes have provided a basis from which to assert congressional perogatives and a hook on which to hang the discussion. Perhaps they will. I hope so, because I am getting a terrible feeling that a lot of rank and file Democrats are going to take a pass on voting this time; no matter how much they dislike Bush and disapprove of his policies, it's very hard to see at this point what difference it will make if the congress changes hands.

Unless the Dems start making the case that Democrats will confront the president if they take power, it's hard to see why turnout will be high enough to offset the Karl Rove red-meat-travelling-salvation-show. He has made a fetish out of exciting his base for the past two elections and at this point it's all he's got. Unfortunately, the Democratic response, just as it has been since the early 90's, is to run from its base and play to swing voters. This hasn't been working out very well for them and it seems remarkably counterintuitive this time out.

I watched the last big change midterm in 1994 with keen interest and I don't recall the Republicans pulling their punches out of fear of upsetting the swing voters in potential pick-up districts. At least they didn't do it on a national level --- they spent months utterly destroying Bill Clinton and tying every Democrat to his "failures." (I recall being completely exhausted defending the president to a brainwashed wingnut boss who demanded that I "explain" my position to him over and over again.) They made the calculation that they could create a strong enough appetite for blood that their base would turn out in large numbers and the Democrats would be disillusioned and stay home.

In much the same way, I think Democrats desperately need to see their leaders take it to this president. He's dramatically unpopular, his war is considered an abject failure by a large majority and he's obsessed with secrecy and power. I think the concept of presidential overreach, with its echoes of Nixon, are issues that speak to the rank and file and would give the base the assurance that if the Democrats take control of the congress, the congress will take back it's constitutional perogatives and provide oversight.

I doubt this will happen. Apparently a president mired in the mid-30's with a GOP Eunuch Caucus that has enthusiastically signed off on every crackpot policy he's put forth can still say boo! and the Dems will still believe it's in their best interest to be measured and moderate. What a shame.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Conservative Manifestos For Idiots

by digby

Kevin Drum linked to an article by Michelle Cottle in an obscure, subscription-only, outmoded journal in which she discusses the latest rightwing punlishing phenom, the child brainwashing author named Katharine DeBrecht who wrote the alleged runaway best-seller called "Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed!"

I hadn't heard of this children's book, but apparently Limbaugh is rivaling Oprah these days and managed to get 30,000 of them sold after mentioning it on his show. Debrecht now has a contract for several more books, the announced titles of which include:

"Help! Mom! Hollywood's in My Hamper!"
"Help! Mom! The Ninth Circuit Nabbed the Nativity!"
"Help! Mom! There Are Lawyers in My Lunchbox!"

I'm not kidding.

But, let's be honest about this. These children's books aren't actually aimed at children. They can't be. Kids won't read books about the Ninth Circuit. These books are cheap propaganda items aimed at the neanderthal base of the Republican Party, for whom Ann Coulter's screeds are over their heads. There are millions of them. They'll buyt them "for the children" but they'll read them outloud to the poor tykes over and over again for their own education.

It reminds me of the theory we've all seen circulated about why Bush always sounds like he's lecturing to five year olds when he has one of these town meetings. ("See, social security should make you feel secure. That's why the word security is in the name, see...") The only reasonable explanation for this infantile rhetoric is that he's regurgitating these explanations as they were explained to him.

These "Help Mom!" books will come in very handy as debate prep for George Allen, Junior's intellectual heir. And they will undoubtedly become the "Conscience of a Conservative" of this new Pantload era of the conservative movement. That's how low conservative philosophy has sunk.

Update: I greatly enjoyed Kevin's commenters' suggestions for further books. Here are just a few of the gems:

Help! Mom! There's a Homosexual in My Closet!(...hmmm, not quite right. Too many hidden meanings.)

Help! Mom! There's a Catholic Priest in the Rectory!(...again, no. People could read something into that.)

Help Mom! There are DEA Agents in my Viagra stash!

Help! Mom! A village in Texas lost its idiot!

Help! Mom! There's a Doughnut Hole in Grandpa's Prescription Drug Coverage!

Help Mom! I can't remember the Ten Commandments!

Help! Mom! The Religious Right Won't Stop Sniffing My Panties!

Help! Mom! I've got two moms!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Mainstream Beliefs

by digby

Atrios mentions this kerfluffle about Jerome Armstrong being a believer in astrology and how it's scandalized certain elements of the wingnutosphere (and the left blogosphere, too.) His point is that a belief in astrology is no less mainstream than many of the religious beliefs people hold --- beliefs which we secular liberals must be very, very careful not to disparage or be accused of ruining everything for the Democrats.

Let me tell you, it is as big a faux pas to disparage astrology or any of the new age or non-traditional spiritual belief system as it is to put down mainstream religion. I found this out the hard way when I wrote a very snarky and admittedly insulting post one day and got more angry feedback than any post I've ever done. These beliefs in the aggregate may be as widely held as a belief in God and it cuts across all political and cultural lines. Call it kooky if you will, but those who think secular liberals should STFU about traditional religion would be well advised to STFU about this too.

Rush's Law

by digby

I know that a good establishment liberal would refrain from even discussing the fact that Rush Limbaugh likes to go to one of the underage sex capitals of the world with a bottle of Viagra in one hand and God knows what in the other. Lee Siegel would find it wholly imappropriate of me to even bring it up. After all, Rush and his allies may have spent years harrassing Democrats for sexual indiscretions, but it's beneath the blogs to sink to his level and make a big deal out of this.

But I just can't help myself.

Nonetheless, one thing I have learned is that it is useless to call Republicans hypocrites. The word has no meaning anymore and we should just retire the concept. Instead, I would propose that we use these many occasions in which wingnuts are revealed for the degenerate phonies they are as "Oprah moments."

Rush should be the poster boy for a new movement. It isn't right that he is the only man in America who can get his Daddy's Little Helpers prescribed in his doctor's name instead of his own. Many men, I'm sure, would be grateful not to have to deal with the embarrassment of a pharmacist knowing about his need for Viagra and now that he's known as a user, the least Rush can do is promote the right for all Americans to carry them without a prescription in their names, as he does.

Rush should be urged to share his story with America. Here's he is, an impotent, thrice divorced, ex-drug addict, conservative, parolee who went on a sex tour in the Caribbean and found himself rudely embarrassed for carrying recreational prescription drugs in his doctor's name. Who can't relate to that? This is a man who has been run through the mud and I think we would benefit from a thorough national conversation to try to understand Rush's urgent need for sex in one of the most poverty stricken countries in the world. Wouldn't he feel unburdened if he could share his thoughts with some of his staunch allies like James Dobson or Pat Robertson? Surely they'd be willing to hear his testimony.

And from the conservo-libertarian standpoint, I frankly think anonymous Viagra for every American male should be a right, not a privilege. The jack-booted customs agents should not be able to roust good taxpaying citizens who just need a little discrete help when they go on vacation and want to score a couple of underage sex slaves. It's unamerican. Perhaps some legislation is in order. We could call it Rush's Law.

The main thing is that we shouldn't condemn Rush for his hypocrisy. We should extend an understanding hand and help him come to terms with his problems. He's just another flawed, dysfunctional, rich, celebrity Republican drug addict with a taste for kinky sex. Doesn't he deserve our compassion? I think perhaps we need to ask our Republican representatives to step up and show their support for this flawed, but human, leader of their movement. After all, forgiveness is the Christian thing to do.


Monday, June 26, 2006

Bob Herbert's Question

by tristero

Bob Herbert poses a question which deserves some thought, because although the immediate answer is obvious, it leads to one of the great question marks of the 21st century:
I wonder whether Americans will ever become fed up with the loathsome politicking, the fear-mongering, the dissembling and the gruesome incompetence of this crowd.
Well, in fact, polls say that some two-thirds of Americans *are* fed up. So maybe Herbert means something about the public expression of outrage, something like, "Where are the legions of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, lovers, and friends of the soldiers dying for Bush's stupidity? Why haven't we heard from them? Where, after Katrina, are the Kings, the Malcolms, the Stokelys? Where are the Berrigans? The Dillingers? Where are the Edward R. Murrows, the Oppenheimers, the Ellsbergs, the McGoverns, the McCarthys?"

The thing is. there are many of these, too. Including, off the top of my head, Cindy Sheehan, Brady Kiesling, Colleen Rowley, Richard Clarke, Bob Herbert himself, Amy Goodman, James Hansen, Al Gore, Howard Dean, John Murtha, Paul Krugman, Barbara Ehrenreich. All very different people with very different concerns and, to be sure, very different politics. But all share a deep level of competence, intelligence, and public commitment to the notion of a small "d" democratic America.

So in thinking about it, Herbert's question surely isn't about the dearth of protest and dissent. As for positive alternatives to Bushism, Herbert knows as well as the rest of us that plenty of those exist. What Herbert is getting at is that all that protest, all those proposals are happening in an organizational void. His question really is,

"When will America again have two national political parties?"

I honestly wish I could say 2006. There are some positive signs that a second party could emerge, in the face of major attempts to suppress it, from what's left of the Democratic Party. It certainly would save a lot of time. Building a second party from scratch will be no picnic.

But let's not kid outselves. A political party that announces "A New Direction" which scrupulously avoids Iraq, Katrina, and the fundamental issue of competence in government... That's not a political party with national influence as a goal.

That's the bad news. The good news is that the time is ripe - overripe - for a new generation of intelligent, hard-nosed, passionate, and responsible political organizers to create a truly mainstream political party that could easily route the Bushists. 'Cause what's goin' on is just plain ridiculous and everyone knows it.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Premature Anti-Blogofascism

by digby

It is with great regret that I must resign from the vast left wing blogospheric conspiracy today. The time has come to choose one's allegiances, and mine must lie with my liege lords, the journalistic and political leadership who have brought us where we are today. I can no longer be associated with the barbaric, illiterate jacknapes who presume to call their betters' judgment into question.

You see, I've come to realize that this business of "punditry" and "politics" is not something anyone can just "do." It is what one is born to, what one is meant to do, what one is. Some people are simply designed to have superior opinions. And those people are well known by others who have superior opinions. It is outside the natural order of things for unwashed, unknown rabble like me to set forth my ideas in the same public arena as someone like The New Republic's Lee Siegel --- and certainly not an intellectual adventurer such as David Brooks, who wrote the most important sociological work of our time, "On Paradise Drive." (Only a man of great courage could have forced himself to enter a Red Lobster and mingle with the lower ranks and we must all be grateful for those dispatches from the wild. It is from first rate observers such as he that we rustics out in Real America can better understand our own shortcomings --- as well as our delightful simple charm, of course.)

You see, the skills required to opine on political, cultural and current events are very, very special. They cannot be acquired by simply observing or reading or thinking. And writing about such topics cannot be considered useful merely because hundreds of thousands of people read your words. If anything, the opposite is true. Any circulation over 70,000 --- or outside the elite capitals --- must, by definition, be low-brow, cultural detritus and simply not worth our time. (I won't even mention the horror of the rampant solecisms and bad grammar. My God, the grammar!) One must consider this burgeoning "medium," if that is what it is, as just another vehicle for the lowest common denominator (as is that similarly destructive invention, television.) One is best served by simply not participating in it and shunning those who do. Only the wrong people are involved and I'm afraid that tears it for me, gentlemen.

I now regret very much having participated in this ignoble discourse over the past four years. When I read Mr Siegel's claim that I was a "blogofascist" I nearly fainted dead away, the pain to my conscience was so sharp. What could be worse, I asked myself, than having the "culture blogger" of The New Republic disdain my work? What could be worse? He might as well have taken a knife and chopped off my middle finger.

Here is a man of high distinction who is clearly a knight among knaves and whose only mission in life is to educate and elucidate for the plebeian masses what they should enjoy. (His review of the Tom Cruise masterpiece "Eyes Wide Shut" alone is a education in superior taste and insight.) Yet from this lofty cliff he boldly stepped off and entered the battle with a couple of blog posts (ah, irony!) so profound and so cutting that he may well have changed the course of history:

It's a bizarre phenomenon, the blogosphere. It radiates democracy's dream of full participation but practices democracy's nightmare of populist crudity, character-assassination, and emotional stupefaction. It's hard fascism with a Microsoft face. It puts some people, like me, in the equally bizarre position of wanting desperately for Joe Lieberman to lose the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont so that true liberal values might, maybe, possibly prevail, yet at the same time wanting Lamont, the hero of the blogosphere, to lose so that the fascistic forces ranged against Lieberman might be defeated. (Every critical event in democracy is symbolic of the problem with democracy.)

Yes. One does wonder about its utility at times like these, doesn't one?

The next day he further expounded on his important new thesis:

I am overwhelmed by the intolerance and rage in the blogosphere. Conscientiously criticize, in the form of a real argument, blogospheric favorites like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and the response isn't similar criticism, done conscientiously and in the form of an argument, but insults, personal attacks, and even threats. This truly is the stuff of thuggery and fascism.

Dear me!

Mr Siegel knew that the blogofascists would mercilessly attack him with shocking epithets like "asshole" and "wanker" and even threats yet he forged on, unconcerned with his own safety, fearlessly determined to change hearts and minds with his unique professional gifts of subtle argumentation and gentle persuasion. The time had come to draw a line in the sand. My god, what an inspiration this man is.

I shall not let him down. That column changed my life. Even as I knew it had the ring of truth, I tried to resist, telling myself that he couldn't be talking about me --- not me. How can I be a flip-flopping cowardly America-hater while at the same time a fascist? A bleeding heart, terrorist coddler while also a brownshit? How does this work? I was finally persuaded by his preturnaturally sagacious observation that the man I looked up to as a father figure (indeed, a demi-God of sorts) Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, is actually a rootless former soldier looking for meaning in a stark post-modern landscape of internet cafes and shiny espresso carts. This is the man who is leading his listserve army of angry, middle aged, liberal professionals into blind blogofascism. The writing is on the wall, my friends:

Two other traits of fascism are its hatred of the processes of politics, and the knockabout origins of its adherents. Communism was hatched by elites. Fascism was born along the drifting paths of rootless men, often ex-soldiers who had fought in the First World War and been demobilized. They turned European politics into a madhouse of deracinated ambition.

In a 2004 article in The San Francisco Chronicle, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga told a reporter that he moved to El Salvador in the late 1970s with his family--one of his parents is Salvadoran--who apparently had financial interests there. The article relates:

"I believe in government. I was in El Salvador in the late '70s during the civil war and I saw government as a life-and-death situation," he said. "There was no one to root for. The government was a corrupt plutocracy and the rebels were Maoists. The concept of government is important."

He remembers bullets flying in the marketplace and watching on television as government soldiers executed guerrillas. He also remembers watching footage of the Solidarity movement in Poland.

He was 9, and he asked his father what that was all about. His father, a furniture salesman, said, "It's just politics."

The future blogger said, "Tell me all about it."

So he loves government, but hates politics. There's something chilling about that.

It makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck doesn't it? Is Siegel the only man in America who can see the threat? Can he be the only man in America who is willing to stand up and speak the words "Never Again?"

No he is not. Today, I have joined the resistance and say goodbye to all that. I've been called up by my new leader, Lee Siegel, defender of intellectual rigor in our national discourse. The Great Lee Siegel who wrote this:

You'd think that staring into the mirror and repeating your name over and over would have the opposite effect of helping you get out of yourself, but that's not the case. The idea is to find a place so deep inside yourself that, with intense concentration, you look to yourself like a stranger. Your very name becomes an alien phrase. Physically, you start to seem imaginary. Spiritually, you start to seem more real. Hoffenshtoffen suggests keeping a packed suitcase standing in the middle of your apartment as a symbolic reminder of that magical fulfillmentÂ?self-surrenderÂ?when you leave yourself utterly and travel in a trancelike state to pure objective reception of the outer world.

Sounds silly and pretentiously spirituel, I know. But extricating oneself from oneself is the great problem of human life. Buddha's name for the smothering, clamoring self was "desire"; Plato's was "appetite"; Rousseau's was "reason." (The translations are Sylvester Cointreau's.) William James, my favorite American writer, wearily wrote to a friend toward the end of his life that the human ego had begun to repel him. I sort of feel like that sometimes. That's why, more and more, I love the sound of laughter. Not withering, or cruel, or exclusive, knowing laughter. I mean ego-bursting laughter that is like wisdom speaking in slang.

So who is this person staring back at me from the mirror in my bathroom? My lips are small and thin; Maya likes the way the upper lip protrudes slightly over the lower one. Carmencita likes the lower lipÂ?but she also wants me to wear cologne. A certain roundness and softness to my face always bothered me. I wanted to look hard and lean and chiseled, just as I wanted to have that invincible steel will of Central European intellectuals like Arthur Koestler, and not all that moist, tremulous high (and low) feeling I've inherited from my Russian-Jewish forebears. Everyone in my family is vibrato; there is not a note blanche to be found in our entire genetic pool. Weeping was a form of communication. One sob meant hello, two sobs meant good-bye, three sobs meant "There's a call for you," and so forth. Hoffenshtoffen, who gets bored by lachrymosity, says that I was born with a silver violin in my mouth.

That's what the smart people call "insight," my friends, something the narcissistic blogofascists like Markos Moulitsas Zuniga with his puerile nickname "DailyKos" know nothing of. This is how Lee Siegel and his sinecured cadre of noble elite scribblers will lead us simple progressive peasants from the wilderness.

Before you make a decision about whether to join our small resistance movement, I would ask you to think about something --- something important. Have the liberal establishment elites of the past quarter century let us down yet?

Update: I see that "Neville" Wolcott is trying to appease the blogofascists.

Reminder Notice

by poputonian

A funny thing happened on the way to Church today. Well actually it was at the bookstore last night. This article, "Heaven Can Wait," by Susan Jacoby, which appears in the Spring issue of Dissent magazine, leapt off the shelf, right into my hands (honest to god):

There is no such thing as generic religion or, for that matter, generic evangelical Protestantism, and most ecclesiastical leaders, whether evangelical or not, are interested in the welfare of all only insofar as welfare is defined in accordance with their particular faith. That is the fatal flaw in all proposals, whether from the left or the right, for a stronger religious voice in the public square. No one would deny that some religious spokesmen are capable of framing moral issues in transcendent fashion; the civil rights leadership provided by black churches is the prime twentieth-century example. But the voices of African American preachers spoke to a broader public morality precisely because they emanated from outside the government and the political establishment. Most southern white Protestant churches, by contrast—churches that helped spawn the present generation of Dixiecans who invoke the name of Martin Luther King in order to push the Republican faith-based political agenda—were closely allied with segregationist politics-as-usual and had no interest whatever in the welfare of blacks.

The absence of any common religious definition of welfare becomes evident in every political battle over “values issues.” Both supporters and opponents of ham-handed, faith-based attempts by the U.S. Congress to intervene in the case involving removal of the comatose Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube, for example, would have said (and did say) that they were concerned about the welfare of Schiavo and those similarly situated. But the two groups defined welfare in irreconcilable ways, largely attributable to religious convictions about whether human beings have the right to “play God” with their own lives.

The limited, and often conflicting, definitions of welfare promulgated by various religions were very much on the minds of the framers of the Constitution when they deliberately omitted any mention of God from the document and instead ceded supreme authority to “We the People.”

The framers did not write, as they might have, “we the people under God”—a phrase that would have prevented angry debates in state ratifying conventions over the Constitution’s unprecedented failure to acknowledge a divinity as the source of governmental power. They did not, as a group of ministers would unsuccessfully propose to Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, write a preamble that declared, “Recognizing Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, and acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ as the Governor among nations, His revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government....”

Americans have always been a predominantly Christian people (overwhelmingly so at the time the Constitution was written), but the founders established a secular central government. Today, religious conservatives are wreaking havoc with that glorious paradox, and they are aided by liberals intimidated by the vilification of secularists over the past twenty-five years. Still worse, many liberals have thrown in the towel and accepted the right-wing premise that there can be no morality, and no exposition of moral issues in the public square, without reference to religion.

I could not agree more ... that the left needs to present its case in unapologetically moral terms. But those moral terms should be grounded in reason, not in pandering to the supernatural beliefs of Americans. Indeed, American presidents in the past—and not only the distant past—have had great success in combining reason with moral passion. Perhaps the most outstanding example is John F. Kennedy’s June 1963 American University commencement speech, now regarded as the beginning of détente with the Soviet Union. Kennedy spoke of peace as “the necessary rational end of rational men” and declared, “Our problems are manmade—therefore they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit often solved the seemingly unsolvable—and we believe they can do it again.” Then Kennedy memorably observed that “our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

Could there be a more reasoned yet passionate statement of secular morality than the assertion that we owe our children a peaceful world not because we are immortal but because we are mortal?

Call me crazy, but I have a feeling that a great many Americans, including religious Americans, are sick of hypocritical politicians who pretend that their policies deserve support because they are the work of a Higher Being. The question is whether there are any political leaders left with the courage to appeal to voters as reasoning adults, with arguments based not on the promise of heaven but on the moral obligation of human beings to treat one another decently here on earth.

Digging though my own archives, I found this reference to Richard Bushman’s 1967 masterpiece From Puritan To Yankee in which the author describes how New England society threw off the shackles of Puritan influence. Remarkably, this transition away from Puritanism, and toward individual freedom, was largely accomplished by the 1760s, just in time (not coincidentally) for the American Revolution. Oscar Handlin, the Pulitzer Prize winning author and renowned former Harvard professor, writes in the forward to the book:

No attempt to trace the history of liberty can deal with the detached individual in isolation. Freedom is a condition not of the single man alone but of man in relationship to a community. The group protects him against the misuse of the power of others and provides the setting within which he can advantageously exercise his own powers. Therefore, changes in the nature of the community, which necessarily either increase or restrain the capacity of the individual to act, affect his liberty.
Particularly significant in the analysis of the process by which the Puritans became Yankees is the light it throws on the relationship between society and individual personality. The description of the forces in the community that gave birth to the wish to be free, among men brought up in a closed order, illuminates an important, and neglected, facet of the history of liberty in the United States.

It is ironic that the demise of Puritan religious influence coincides with the emergence of the type of personal and secular liberty that was to become the foundation of America. Richard Bushman, the book's author, describes the process of elections in Puritan days, and how a government meshed with religion was opposed to the concept of Democracy.

Election of these officials, even the highest, did not diminish their authority or make them responsible to the people. Democracy, in the Puritan view, was non-government, or anarchy, and rulers had to constrain [themselves] not to obey a corrupt popular will. Election was a device for implementing divine intentions rather than for transmitting power from the people to their rulers.

Bushman provides a contemporaneous quote from John Bulkley's work The Necessity of Religion, published in Boston 1713, to illustrate the religion-based political thinking of the day:

In elective states, where persons are advanced by the suffrage of others to places of rule, and vested with Civil Power, the persons choosing give not the power, but GOD. They are but the instruments of conveyance.

So, as Bushman concludes, “rulers were obligated to God, not to the people.” I can think of two modern-day despots who follow this doctrine: George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden, each of whom believes himself to be a divine instrument of good, and the other of evil.

A final passage from the book is both compelling and frightening. It speaks to the oppressive and coercive power that results when you mix religion with government, and mix both with other means of authority, such as the institution of family:

The combined force of so many institutions invested law and authority with immense power. In nearly every dimension of life – family, church, the social hierarchy, and religion – a [citizen] encountered unanimous reinforcement of governing authority. The total impact was immense, because each institution was an integral part of a monolithic whole. In each community the agencies of law and authority merged so that the individual felt himself confined within a unified governing structure. The preacher’s exhortation to submit to domestic government reinforced the father’s dominion in his family. Church discipline carried added terrors because censures were delivered before the neighbors and the town’s most prominent families, and the assignment of pews in the meetinghouse according to social rank reminded everyone of the distinctions among individuals and of the deference due superiors. The total environment enjoined obedience: the stately figure of minister or commissioner as he rode through town, the leading inhabitants’ imposing two-storied houses standing near the meetinghouse at its center, the austere graves of the dead in its shadow. As interpreted by the minister’s sermon, even the natural world – the storms, the wolves in the wilderness, and the catastrophes at sea – spoke of the war of good and evil and of God’s mighty government. Social institutions, conscience, and the forces of nature meshed in the communal experience to restrain rebellious dispositions.

After reading this, the parallels are clear that the current movement afoot in our society -- the movement to infuse religion into government -- is working against, and not for, the very same liberty upon which America was founded.

Remarkably, Bushman's book is still in print, more than forty years after it was written. You can find it in almost every library, or here from the original publisher, Harvard University Press. I found it for $3 at one of my favorite haunts, Half Price Books.

Susan Jacoby's book Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism can be found in bookstores everywhere, or at your favorite on-line book dealer.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Global Warming

by tristero

Terrific article by James Hansen on global warming.. You remember Dr. Hansen, yes? He's the fellow who George Deutsch tried to silence. And you remember George Deutsch, right? He's the presidential appointee who worked at NASA and was trying to force the agency to label the Big Bang as "just a theory". Deutsch was then forced to resign for lying about graduating from Texas A & M.

I guess Hansen won.

by tristero

Who says the right is humorless?
The number of prominent Democrats urging pre-emptive action against North Korea's ICBM grows as Walter Mondale chimes in. These are the Democrats who can win elections because they are serious.
Courtesy Daou Report.

It's The Abuse Of Power, Stupid.

by tristero

As expected, the Bush administration tried to shoot the messenger. The purest expression of the administration's position comes from Terri Wagner, a regular New York Times reader from Elberta, Alabama* who writes:
Your decision to print this article is disturbing to me. Timing is the issue with me.

We have troops in the field fighting every day. We have just recently seen the brutality of the enemy.

The time to consider which programs are successful or not is after the troops come home, which in this case means a free Afghanistan and Iraq.

Please consider the timing of your articles in matters of national security when troops are still on the ground. [Emphasis in original.]
As long as troops are abroad, Bush should not be criticized. Ever. And you wonder why Bush has said troops will be in Iraq during the rest of his term in office.

No one's criticizing the effort to track terrorist finances, duh.** The real issue is simple:

The Times (and others) would never have decided to break the story were it not the fact that the Bush administration is once again abusing its power and refusing to recognize any rules or limits on that power.

*Of course, Terri's a regular reader of the Times, even if she lives in Elberta, Alabama which is, I admit, pretty far from New York City. How else could she have learned about the article? She may even have a subscription. You're not suggesting her letter was part of an organized rightwing campaign against the Times, are you? Honestly, the cynicism of some people.

** From the first time I heard the term a few days after 9/11, I've repeatedly said (and of course, this is far from an original thought) the US should infiltrate and thoroughly corrupt the hawwalas, making them unreliable. That, of course, is rather difficult to do when you don't have more than five fluent Arabic speakers tops working in the FBI (which is true, by the way, at least until very recently). Far easier - and far less effective, if your real goal is to catch terrorists and not hoover up as much info as you possibly can - is to once again operate with no serious oversight and troll through " 'at least tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of searches' of people and institutions suspected of having ties to terrorists."

The Times Book Review Index

by tristero

[NOTE: Please see update at end of post.]

For several years now, when Saturday rolls around and we receive the New York Times Book Review in our paper, I have been in the habit of totting up the number of left-leaning and right-leaning books on the hardcover non-fiction besteller list. It's probably a worthless exercise, so far I haven't perceived a trend I can correlate to anything, except maybe to election cycles where more rightwing books make the list. But I thought it might amuse you as well so here is this week's tally based on the online bestseller list which seems one week ahead, strangely enough, of the printed one (dated July 2 instead of July 25). In any event, I only look at the official (to be printed) list of top 15.

Now caveat lector, boys and girls. Of course, to anyone with even a smattering of statistics, the whole enterprise is a hopelessly crude metric (and of absolutely nothing to boot). At the very least, the index should also weight length of time on the list and relative placement, if not also take into account actual sales. As for determination of political leanings, sometimes they are open to serious question as they are this week with all three "left" bestsellers (and perhaps two of the authors on the "right" might object to my forcing them to share the red bed, ideologically speaking of course, with Coulter). You wanna make a better NYT Bestseller Index, be my guest.


It's a tie this week, 3 to 3.




Coulter: GODLESS

[UPDATE: Some folks in comments have objected that at best the so-called "left" books are centrist or centrist-right. DukeJ astutely observes: "[A]re we so conditioned that we see centrists or even 'objective' journalists as representing the left?"

Good point. He's exactly right. If the index has any utility at all, it is as a stark demonstration of precisely how constipated our public discourse on politics has become. With this in mind, perhaps it is worthwhile (but only a little) to track the index as the election season progresses.]

Friday, June 23, 2006

Tired Of Jimmy Swaggert Tears

by digby

Here's another reason for Democrats to stop running scared and start running on privacy:

Latest Gallup Poll:

"The public is divided ... on whether the federal government should be involved in promoting moral values, with 48% saying it should and 48% saying it should not. In 1996, Americans took a very different view on this matter, with 60% saying the government should be involved and 38% saying it should not... That change appears to be a fairly recent phenomenon." From 1993 until recently, majorities of at least 10 percentage points chose "Government should promote traditional values" over "should not favor any values."

People are getting sick of these phony busybodies blathering on about moral values when everybody knows they are anything but moral. There's always been a strain of moral sanctimony in America. And there's always been an equally strong strain that wants to shove a grapefruit in their faces. It looks like we might be coming back into balance.

(Speaking of which, is everyone excited about this week's Deadwood? I know I am...)

More Of The Same

by digby

I initially had some second thoughts about this post from yesterday. I thought perhaps I was being to harsh in criticizing the Democrats for their response to this Republican trash talk on the war. But I posted it anyway because I honestly believed that they were in danger of screwing this up at a time when there is no reason for it and I feel almost apoplectic at the prospect.

I'm not the only one. From Josh Marshall:

Consider this post an open letter to Senate Democrats.

You're really doing a poor job in the public debate over Iraq.

Luckily, unlike what's imagined by the imbeciles who write The Note and others in Washington, reality is not simply a DC media and politics confection. The Dems can muff this several times before coming back and getting it right. And they'd still be more or less fine. Because the Iraq War is still really unpopular. And the great majority of the country has lost faith in President Bush's conduct of the war.

But that's still no excuse for handling this so poorly.

The Democrats have to be much more aggressive. But 'more aggressive' doesn't mean a quicker withdrawal. It means making your point forcefully, on your own terms, repeatedly.

But they're not doing that.

What I see is Republicans on TV repeating their 'cut and run' charges. And to the extent I see Democrats, it's Democrats denying the charge. No, we're not for cutting and running.

The president wants to stay in Iraq for at least three more years. It's not that he won't set a date to withdraw. He doesn't even have a plan that gets to the point where the US could end the occupation. In practice he wants to stay in Iraq forever. What Repubicans are voting for is More of the Same, More of the Same failed policy.

More here.

The war is unpopular. It's a quagmire. Yet, they change nothing. The only proposal they can come up with is to grant amnesty to the insurgents in the hopes they will be so grateful they will just give up. That's it. This war just grinds on, nothing improves, they make no progress.

And they refuse to change course because the president sees everything in terms of losing face and covering ass. From what we've been reading this week, it's his prime motivation for everything. He believes that if he loses face, the country loses face --- l'etat c'est moi.

In the face of that, it doesn't matter whther or not the Democrats all agree to the last comma on a plan for withdrawal. What matters, as Marshall says, is that we are against the status quo:

The thing is that the status quo is morally indefensible because it just means continue to burn through men and money for a failed policy because President Bush isn't capable of admitting his policies have failed.

He's like an owner of a business that's slowly going under. He doesn't know how to save the situation. So he won't get more money or resources to fix the business. That's throwing good money after bad. And he won't just liquidate and save what he can, because then he'd have to come to grips with the fact that he's failed. So his policy is denial and slow failure. Here of course the analogy to President Bush is rather precise since he only has to hold out until 2009 when he can give the problem to someone else, just as he did in his past life with other businesses he drove into the ground.

But for the country that's not acceptable. We don't have a policy except for slow burn and denial. And the president's ego isn't enough to ask men and women to die for. We need an actual plan. And the president doesn't have one.

Democrats need to hammer this point again and again and not get tripped up in the president's bully-boy rhetoric. The president has no plan. He wants to stay in Iraq forever. He says for at least three more years. All the Republicans agree they want more of the same.

The Republicans are like mortally wounded dogs who are barely standing but who bare their teeth and growl dangerously when you get too close. When that happens, if you are a responsible person, you don't get afraid and run away. You get some help and you put the dog down.

They can hammer us with "cut 'n run" all they want, but they can't "cut n' run" from the fact that they are telling the American people there is no end in sight and there is nothing they can do about it. That's the reason why Dems must step up now and aggressively pound this message home that the president has no plan. In order to win, the people must believe that by electing Democrats they are taking action to change the status quo. Democrats need to hammer the fact that for all the president's bluster --- he's paralyzed by his inability to admit that he's made a mistake.

Democrats may not have all the answers. The administration has got us in a hell of a mess and it's not easy to get us out of it. But the Republicans have made it quite clear that their intention is to keep doing exactly what they are doing until somebody stops them. Democrats need to stop them --- and they need the American people to understand that they are the only ones who can stop them. The Republicans can't stop themselves.

Privacy For The Common Good

by digby

Kos wrote an interesting post yesterday that deserves some further discussion. He offered his thoughts on Hillary Clinton (which were right on the money in my opinion) and in the midst of it mentions something that Hillary did last week that has not gotten nearly enough attention. (I would suggest that it would have gotten a lot of blogospheric attention if she wanted to use this medium to promote her ideas. This speaks to us directly.)

Last week Hillary introduced what I think should be a primary plank of the the Democratic Party:A Privacy Bill Of Rights. Indeed, I think this is the most fertile territory out there to gain some disaffected Republican voters and put some of the mountain west in our electoral quiver. It's smart politics.

I happen to be a believer in the Democratic strategy that includes pulling on the civil libertarian threads in our coalition to weave a bigger tent. I'm personally horrified by the excesses of this administration and terribly worried that the huge bureaucratic domestic surveillance apparatus they are building is going to be impossible to control. I hear tales from all over the country of wads of DHS pork going to local and state police departments to use to spy on their own citizens and we know that at the national level they've pretty much discarded the fourth amendment and have enabled both the foreign and military spy agencies to work within our borders. There's a lot of money and power involved, it's secret and it's fundamentally anti-democratic. We are building a police state and I firmly believe that, politics aside, if you build it they will use it.

That all this has been done by the alleged libertarian small government Republicans is no surprise to me. They have always been about big bucks and authoritarianism over all else. But it seems to me that it may come as a surprise to people with a certain "don't tread on me" kind of ethos, particularly in the west which has a long tradition of such sentiment. If these tribal divides about which I often write exist, then there is a big one here. And if politics need to play to the gut as much as the head and the heart, this issue is powerful. Democrats have an opportunity to craft a real message of American independence if they choose to take it --- and it might just be the way to beat back the fear factor a little bit, which I think people are getting tired of.

But there is another aspect of this which is important, as well. Clinton's privacy Bill of Rights includes a lot of consumer protections, which is something that I think is a truly sellable, populist idea. The intrusion into our private lives by government is a threat to our individual liberty. The intrusion (and collusion) by its ally, corporate America, is truly a threat to the fundamental definition of what it means to be an American. The ability to amass all this data and create profiles of us and put us into categories and label us as being one thing or another according to complex formulas, means that the great innovation of America --- the ability to reinvent ourselves and take risks --- will no longer be optional. The great nation of immigrants and hucksters and innovators will become a stratified society based on criteria that has nothing to do with our potential and everything to do with our past.

Hillary said in her speech the other day: "privacy is synonymous with liberty." This is correct. We give it up far too thoughtlessly in our culture and its going to come back to bite us if we don't wake to the fact that big powerful forces are poking into our lives in unprecedented ways and will use the information they get to force us into little boxes they design.

Democrats need to make some new arguments. They need to talk in terms that are relevant to today's world. Progressives are about progress; we cannot only be concerned about maintaining what we've got. We must forge on. If we believe in the common good, which I do, it must be tempered with a healthy respect for individual privacy. Without that we will not have the freedom or the ability to come together to create a better world. We'll all be too busy furtively looking over our shoulders to pay attention to the road ahead.


x-posted for Jane on FDL


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hoovering, In More Ways Than One.

by tristero

When I first saw the headline in the Times, "Bank Data Sifted in Secret by U.S. to Block Terror" I naturally assumed that Bush was sniffing through my bank account. After all, he's listening to my phone calls. Why should my finances be any different? But then I read the article:
The program is limited, government officials say, to tracing transactions of people suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda by reviewing records from the nerve center of the global banking industry, a Belgian cooperative that routes about $6 trillion daily between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges and other institutions. The records mostly involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas and into and out of the United States. Most routine financial transactions confined to this country are not in the database...

The program is grounded in part on the president's emergency economic powers, [Treasury Undersecretary] Levey said, and multiple safeguards have been imposed to protect against any unwarranted searches of Americans' records.
Whew. Well, that's reassuring. There's really no potential for abuse. None. Just read the article.

I'm sure they have to obtain the proper warrants. And the outside firm that verifies there really is a good reason to examine the data has zero ties to the Republican party.

Look, it's not as if there's a systematic attempt on the part of the Bush administration to break down longstanding legal or institutional barriers to the government's access to private information about Americans and others inside the United States. It's only a temporary thing anyway, a response to a national emergency.

They're not just turning on a vacuum cleaner and sucking in all the information that they can.

"Personal Psychodrama Seems To be Involved"

by digby

Gene Lyons has a great column up this week about Murtha and Karl Rove. You'll enjoy it. I particularly liked this line:

Murtha didn’t say so, but there’s no chance of an Iraqi democracy friendly to the U. S. That’s a delusion. Bush’s photo-op visit merely underscored the point. Three years after “Mission accomplished,” and the mighty conqueror flies into the fortified “Green Zone” unannounced and can’t trust Iraq’s prime minister enough to give him, oh, an hour’s notice ? That’s not how Alexander the Great did it.

No it's not. One of the most infuriating things about the triumphal coverage of the Baghdad trip is the fact that the media didn't seem to think it was noteworthy that after all this time the president (or anybody else) still can't make a planned visit because he can't trust anyone and the situation on the ground is so dangerous. Why that's considered "good news" for him is anyone's guess. Rational people are right to conclude that there has pretty much been no progress since Bush dropped in exactly the same way for that stupid Turkey stunt. By this time we should have been able to have a state visit and a parade.

Gene brings up something else that I've been meaning to write about and keep forgetting:

For the record, Rove’s military experience, like Vice President Dick Cheney’s and that of virtually all the neo-conservative architects of this ill-conceived utopian fantasy, is absolutely zero.

Rove has an interesting story to go along with this, which I've not heard discussed and which I'm sure a lot of patriotic Republicans would be interested in rationalizing for us:

While Rove was in high school in Utah, a future president Bill Clinton, was finishing Georgetown University and then moving to England to attend Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. He escaped the draft and, in the famous ROTC letter, outlines his reservations: "The draft system itself is illegitimate. No government really rooted in limited, parliamentary democracy should have the power to make its citizens fight and kill and die in a war they may oppose, a war which even possible may be wrong, a war which in any case does not involve immediately the peace and fredom of the nation."

Curiously, Rove's view at the time was not so different, according to classmates. Rove had doubts about the war --- which after all was being prosecuted by a Democrat, Lyndon Johnson. In any case he felt government had no right to require citizens to serve in the military.

He and classmate Mark Gustavson sat by the huge windows in the cafeteria discussing the issue. "He was opposed to compulsory service. He felt we don't need the damn government telling us what to do. We can do it on our own."

According to Gustavson, Rove had reached his conclusion not from the left, but the right --- as an expression of libertarianism. Supporting the war was equivalent to supporting big government and the intrusion of big government, especially the bloated, post-New Deal government of LBJ and Hubert Humphrey and the rest of the liberal washington establishmnent. Whether guided more by the apprehension of being drafter or a commitment to individual liberty, Karl Rove was no fan of the war, or at least the draft.

He brought this passion to the topic of compulsory military service, winning debate after debate in classrooms of receptive draft-age young high school students. He used what he called the "mom, apple pie and flag," defense meaning the position of the true American patriot. It was a fine piece of rhetorical jujiotsu, friends remembered, which allowed Rove to reconcile opposition to the draft with conservative principle. (Bush's Brain p. 124)

Jujiotsu indeed. If my draft age brother had tried that argument on my Dad, he would have found himself face down in the dirt. Conservatives of that day didn't buy it one bit. My father hated Frank Sinatra his whole life because he didn't go overseas during the war and all the girls were drooling over him back home. (He wasn't too thrilled with Reagan either, although he voted for them.) This was a big thing to the WWII generation wingnuts who were in charge of Rove's GOP at the time. No excuses.

I think it's just awfully interesting that he and Bill Clinton had he same rationale for being against the draft, don't you? Yet I've never hear Karl speak out defending old Bill on this. And when the swiftboat liars were making John Kerry out to be an opportunistic coward in Vietnam, we now know that phony chickenhawk #2982 was a guy who contructed elaborate libertarian arguments to justify being against the draft and that same war. Oh my, he's always been a slick one.

Lyons writes:

As history, this cut-and-run business is nonsense. It wasn’t Democrats who made peace in Korea. It was President Dwight Eisenhower. Democrats didn’t dispatch Henry Kissinger to whisper to China in 1972 that the U. S. could live with a communist Vietnam. President Richard Nixon did. He began the long, bloody retreat that ended with the North Vietnamese taking Saigon under President Gerald Ford.

Maybe the oddest thing about the legacy of Vietnam is that the worst thing that could happen, from a rightwing perspective, did happen. The U. S. lost the war. Communists conquered much of Southeast Asia. And the effect on national security ? Well, we got lots of good Vietnamese restaurants out of it. Otherwise, none.

The communists soon fell to fighting among themselves, with Vietnam invading Cambodia, China attacking Vietnam, and the Chinese and Soviet Russians entangled in a blood feud. Next, Russia invaded Afghanistan. Domestic fallout from that bloody fiasco helped cause the collapse of the U. S. S. R. and the demise of communism almost everywhere—also because nobody but a few crackpot professors in the West believed in it anymore.

Exactly why so many like Rove, Bush and Cheney, who avoided Vietnam, subsequently metamorphosed into countryclub Napoleons is mysterious. Personal psychodrama appears to be involved.

I don't think there's any doubt.

More Brokeback Kossack

by digby

Until reminded by a Dave Weigel just now, I'd forgotten that the gay Kos bashing thing was actually used in a campaign mailer earlier this year down south. It's actually quite hilarious.

Here's a nice way to deal with it. Send a couple of bucks to Brad Miller, the jackass's opponent. Let's put our outrage and revulsion to work in a positive way shall we? Be sure to tell him Kos sent you...

Downsizing The Punditocrisy

by digby

I'm much too disgusted to write about this stuff in any depth right now, but luckily Peter Daou has done it for me. He comments on the latest scribblings by Dame David Broder (thanks CP) and reminds us of a comment from a rightwing blogger acquaintance of his:

I got a call from a conservative blogger with whom I'm appearing at a blog workshop. He'd just read the Cohen piece and much as he said he enjoyed watching liberal bloggers get criticized, he articulated a response to Cohen that was far less polite (and shorter) than the one I intended to post: "Tough sh*t! So after thirty years of writing this stuff in a bubble, you're finally getting feedback from people who are pissed off. Deal with it."

Yes indeed. Change is painful. You can either fight it or you can find a way to adjust. But it's happening. I'm sorry these people are upset about all the "vituperation." But what the hell did they expect? They've been lounging around the beltway court of Versailles eating tarte tatin out of Grover Norquists' chubby little hands for years now while the country is going to hell. And now the services of the punditocrisy are no longer necessary.

You've been outsourced fellas.

We're Not That Innocent

by digby

... at least I hope not.

This is a psych-out, Democrats. You know that don't you?

... people who attended a series of high-level meetings this month between White House and Congressional officials say President Bush's aides argued that it could be a politically fatal mistake for Republicans to walk away from the war in an election year.

White House officials including the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, outlined ways in which Republican lawmakers could speak more forcefully about the war. Participants also included Mr. Bush's top political and communications advisers: his deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove; his political director, Sara Taylor; and the White House counselor, Dan Bartlett. Mr. Rove is newly freed from the threat of indictment in the C.I.A. leak case, and leaders of both parties see his reinvigorated hand in the strategy.

The meetings were followed by the distribution of a 74-page briefing book to Congressional offices from the Pentagon to provide ammunition for what White House officials say will be a central line of attack against Democrats from now through the midterm elections: that the withdrawal being advocated by Democrats would mean thousands of troops would have died for nothing, would give extremists a launching pad from which to build an Islamo-fascist empire and would hand the United States its must humiliating defeat since Vietnam.

It's ballsy and it's "bold," but what would you expect from a party that is looking at losing its majority in the fall? Of course they are going to try to run on some faux, patriotic, don't "cut n run" crapola. What else have they got? It's their tried and true playbook and the best they can hope for is to trash talk the Democrats into cowering into the corner.

But just because they are running their game again that doesn't mean that Democrats need to run theirs and get all flustered trying to find a way to appear to support whatever the Republicans say without actually supporting them so they don'tlook soft --- and end up looking soft. That is losing politics and never more than now when we have these bastards on the run for the first time in decades.

As U.S. Grant famously said "it's time to stop worrying about what Bobby Lee is going to do to us and start thinking about what we are going to do to him."

Go on the offensive on the war, Democrats. Hard. Do not fall for this nonsense again. This is Karl Rove at his most obtuse and obvious. He is not magic (although his latest escape certainly adds to his mystique on that count) and he is not a genius. He's a cheap thug who is going to try to squeeze one more narrow win out before he retires to teach and lecture younger cheap thugs in how to win by cheating and character assassination.

The best approval rating Bush gets on Iraq is below 40%. Independents are breaking heavily against his policies. There is nothing to be afraid of. The country's desperate for some leadership. Give it to them. I'm begging you.

Update: I see that Greg Sargent at the Horse's Mouth discussed this earlier from a different angle, by noting that the elite media always seem to categorize the Republicans as being on offense and the Dems as being on defense, when in fact the parties are attacking each other furiously.

This is an important observation. The problem has been that the Democrats have too often in the past reacted to the elite media and began to see themselves as being on the defensive. It's a Dem disease. They seem to pay too much attention to the political press and don't keep their ear to the ground very effectively out in the country.

They must resist this impulse. It is bullshit, particularly in this situation. This is Bush's war, it's dramatically unpopular, it's a horrible meatgrinder and the country has grown tired of the lies. If anyone is on the defensive it's Bush and his Eunuch Caucus who have made this war their pet cause. The press doesn't want to report it that way because it feels uncomfortable for them to pile on Republicans. They get a lot of shit for it and are never happier than when they can align themselves with the establishment.

But no matter. The people were able to see through the gauzy, Woodward-created hagiography of Dear Leader after a while and they still do. The fall election is a turnout election. Rank and file Dems will support the party if the party supports them.

Let's not lose our nerve here.

Get It Out There

by digby

I've told this story before, but those of you who've heard it will just have to bear up. In the 1992 election when I was making volunteer calls for Clinton, Mary Matalin made a major gaffe she had to apologize for quite publicly. (Doesn't matter what it was.) I was riding down in the elevator with a high level political consultant (who didn't know me from Adam, of course) and I smugly mentioned that Matalin had really stepped in it. He looked at me like I was a moron and said, "she got it out there, didn't she?"

Here's another little pointer on wingnut gossip mongering and dirty politics. As you sling the shit with the biggest megaphone you can find, be sure to primly assert that you don't believe a word of it and chastize those who are doing it on the victim's behalf. It makes you look like a good guy even though your purpose is to spread the gossip far and wide.

In this case it doesn't matter much because the "gossip" is irrelevant to normal people and would make no difference if it were true. This gossip is aimed solely at the wingnut doughboy losers who couldn't manage to get laid at the Bunny Ranch with 5k in their pockets. Still, it's nice of one of the leading voices in the blogosphere to spread it around, (while being above it all, of course.) It's good practice for serious swift-boating.

Thank to Tristram Shandy

Update: Well that didn't take long. From the comments I find that Little Green Footballs has taken the next step (no linky to exterminationist sites):

I can’t help noticing how much Moulitsas’ conspiracy-oriented mindset echoes the anti-rational paranoia of radical Islam.

Now that's how a real smear is done folks!

Good Argument For Gun Control

by digby

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Americans mistakenly worried the
United Nations is plotting to take away their guns on July 4 -- U.S. Independence Day -- are flooding the world body with angry letters and postcards, the chairman of a U.N. conference on the illegal small arms trade said on Wednesday.

"I myself have received over 100,000 letters from the U.S. public, criticizing me personally, saying, 'You are having this conference on the 4th of July, you are not going to get our guns on that day,"' said Prasad Kariyawasam, Sri Lanka's U.N. ambassador.

"That is a total misconception as far as we are concerned," Kariyawasam told reporters ahead of the two-week meeting opening on Monday.

For one, July 4 is a holiday at U.N. headquarters and the world body's staff will be watching a fireworks display from the U.N. lawn rather than attending any meetings, he said.

For another, the U.N. conference will look only at illegal arms and "does not in any way address legal possession," a matter left to national governments to regulate rather than the United Nations, he added.

The campaign is largely the work of the U.S. National Rifle Association, whose executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, warns on an NRA Web site (http://www.stopungunban.org/) of a July 4 plot "to finalize a U.N. treaty that would strip all citizens of all nations of their right to self-protection."

Sweet Jesus this country has a lot of stupid people in it.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

I Beg Your Pardon

by digby

I think it's fairly obvious that this trial balloon over the week-end to pardon Scooter Libby is for real and we should all take it quite seriously. It wasn't just Mr Joe DiToensing who said it, it was none other than William Kristol on Fox news:

[Fitzgerald] indicted one person, not for any underlying crime, but for allegedly mis-remembering a couple of conversations with reporters when talking about them to the grand jury — these were conversations that went nowhere. No one thinks Scooter Libby actually leaked Valerie Plame’s name, even if that were a crime, which is isn’t.

Bush should pardon Scooter Libby and get the whole thing over with…I am blaming Ashcroft for recusing himself. And the CIA was out to get people in the White House at that point. And Bush should pardon Scooter Libby.

Here's a little reminder of our friend Kristol from a few years back:

What Republicans now need is the nerve to fight. They must stand for, to quote Helprin again, "the rejection of intimidation, the rejection of lies, the rejection of manipulation, the rejection of disingenuous pretense, and a revulsion for the sordid crimes and infractions the president has brought to his office." (Weekly Standard, May 25, 1998, page 18.)

I guess it all depends on the gravity of the crime. Clinton as we know, was accused of lying in a civil case and covering up an extra-marital affair --- by a flamboyantly partisan prosecutor who selectively leaked like a sieve. Libby, on the other hand, is accused of lying about whether he leaked the name of a CIA officer to the press --- by a non-partisan, tight-lipped prosecutor who has been very conservative in developing this case (something for which Karl Rove should thank his lucky stars.) I'm not even going to make the argument as to why one is more deserving of approbation and legal consequence. It's obvious.

As for a pardon, I realize that the administration believes in pre-emption, but this is ridiculous. As Elizabeth Edwards, writing today on her blog over at One America Committee pointed out:

Is there some greater benefit here to a pardon or some mitigating circumstances that make a pardon acceptable? The prosecution was not political; the defendant was knowledgeable about the law and the offense; the prosecution itself will not be disruptive to our national interest and in fact might give other potential leakers some pause before they use damaging information for political purposes. I think the only rationale for a pardon is that the inner political chicanery of the administration could be revealed during the trial of Libby.

Well, here's a message: the country already knows. All a pardon does is confirm the perception that in addition to being a White House where the powerful think they can do what they want regardless of what is right or lawful, it is also a White House where responsibility and accountability (remember, those things they wanted from fourth grade public school teachers?) are nowhere to be found.

Thank you.

I wouldn't put it past them to pardon Libby. After all, they've gotten away with pardoning themselves for their crimes for the past 30 years. Indeed, the precedent for this was set when Poppy pardoned Cap Weinberger et al on Christmas eve as he was leaving office. And nobody said a peep.

As Robert Parry wrote in this prescient piece:

In marked contrast to the continuing Republican investigations of President Clinton, the Democrats eight years ago cooperated with Republicans in shutting down substantive inquiries that implicated President George H.W. Bush in a variety of geopolitical scandals.

At that time, the Democrats apparently felt that pursuing those inquiries into Bush’s role in secret contacts with Iran – both in 1980 and during the Iran-contra affair – and getting to the bottom of alleged CIA military support for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the mid-1980s would distract from the domestic policy goals at the start of the Clinton presidency.

That judgment, however, has come back to haunt the Democrats. Clearing George H.W. Bush in 1993 ironically set the stage both for the Republican scandal-mongering against Clinton and for the restoration of the Bush family dynasty in 2000.

Certainly, the Democratic gestures of bipartisanship were not reciprocated by the Republicans. They opted for a pattern of aggressive politics that challenged the Clinton administration from its first days and has continued through the 2000 Election and into the new round of investigations of ex-President Clinton.

The Democrats have found themselves constantly on the defensive, sputtering about the unfairness of it all.


Beyond obscuring these important chapters of recent history and thus adding to the confusion of the American people, the Democrats discovered that their deferential strategy gained them nothing from the Republicans. If anything, the Democratic behavior was taken as a sign of weakness.

After the Democrats folded the Reagan-Bush investigations, the Republicans simply swept their easy winnings off the table and raised the stakes.

No kidding. These zombie Republicans just keep coming back, more crooked and more blatant about it every time. They just sweep their winnings off the table and raise the stakes.

When The Troops Come Home And Not before

by digby

There has been quite a debate in blogging circles about the "amnesty for insurgents" bill that was defeated in the Senate yesterday and I'm a little surprised that there is even a discussion about it. As you probably know, the administration has been supportive of an idea by the fragile Iraqi government to give amnesty to killers of American troops in exchange for their laying down their weapons. A lot of people think this is a good idea.

I don't. I really, really don't. Amnesty is something you grant when hostilities are over as part of a settlement. Until troops are off the ground, or a very serious cease fire has been called at the least, the mere idea of this is just nuts in my book.

Our troops are sitting ducks over there as it is. Many are slowly losing their minds, as this stunning post by Arthur Silber illustrates. The war is ill-defined and unwinnable. And yet they remain in grave danger with many, many thousands of them maimed or killed for reasons that we all know are spurious. It's cruel to do this to them on top of all that.

Alternet printed a letter today from a soldier serving in Iraq who makes a very eloquent argument, from his perspective, as to why this is wrong:

I am one of the soldiers that these proposals are dishonoring.

Did any of these men ever serve??? Have to go through memorial service after memorial service day after day for comrades they knew and loved???

Have they had to live in fear every moment of every unchanging, horrible day, waiting for a never-seen rocket or a mortar to kill them--or worse, kill those to whom they are close???

Have they bore body armor in 120 degree heat in the face of an unrecognizable enemy, one who uses terrified civilians as shields?

Have they seen the remains of tanks, HMMWVs, BODIES!!! that were rent asunder by invisible bombs, planted by fanatical zealots???

Have they truly seen the shatter[ed] lives of Iraqis, these lives broken by the very people they propose to grant amnesty?

Have they had to pull the trigger with the aim of killing another human being, someone you have never met or seen before, never knowing if the target was truly an enemy?

Do these gentlemen wrestle at night with the nightmares of guilt and second-guessing?

Every IED that injures or kills an American soldier exacerbates the normal soldiers' attitude toward those who he is sent to help and protect. Every sniper shot hardens our hearts.

Propose accolades for those who have lived through this hell, not for those who have opposed them in the shadows, in the dark.

When an insurgent--a terrorist--an enemy combatant--call them what you will--strikes at an American, he attacks Iraq.

When these "right, honorable" gentlemen realize that we are in a war we should have never entered--one where our very presence provokes and increases the enemy's resolve and recruitment--perhaps then I will consider their words.

But until then, tell these paper warriors to go to Walter Reed, to Landstuhl, to Sam Houston and face the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen whose lives have been drastically altered or ended.

Tell them to face the families of the fallen and propose their accolades to our foes.

Instead of resolutions that honor those who are trying to kill us, these senators, these congressmen should devote their efforts, their words, their very lives to try and figure out how we can extricate ourselves from this war.

Perhaps then they can look themselves in the eye and admit Iraq was a mistake and commit all our energies to saving American lives, instead of worrying about mollifying our enemies' rage.

Sean Frerking, a soldier serving in Iraq

There's a lot there that I might not feel comfortable with as a civilian living in a nice safe environment in california. But I get where this guy must be coming from. And I appreciate his ability to see the bigger picture.

19 Senators voted for this amnesty yesterday. All Republicans. No Democrats. Those are the "right and honorable" men to whom this soldier is referring. And they aren't just any Republicans. They are the leading national figures of the party, including John McCain.

The fact is that we are not leaving Iraq until 2009, at the earliest. Bush has said it, he means it, he will not be the man who "lost Iraq." Until American troops are off the ground --- or at least a cease fire is in effect --- amnesty makes little sense. It rewards killings of the past and prevents none in the future. Amnesty is a valuable card you play as part of a comprehensive settlement. Bush is simply trying to prop up the rickity Iraqi government and like all the rest of his ploys to save face and assert his authority, it comes at the expense of the military.

We should take that soldier's argument and ram it down the Republican party's throats. Here we had a day when two poor American schmucks were just found tortured and killed. We have no moral authority left with which to even condemn the torture --- after all, we've made torture cool again. And yet 19 Republican senators voted for amnesty for their killers. I ask you to contemplate what the Republicans would do to us if the shoe were reversed --- regardless of the merits. You don't have to think very long do you?

Politically, this should have been Dubai all over again, a media firestorm, forcing the Republican rank and file to see what was being done in their name. Rove is going to run on the patriot card again, calling us cowards for wantin' to cun 'n run, and here they are proposing to forgive the killers of 2500 Americans while we still have 140,000 more of them sitting over there like sitting ducks for no good reason. We should hang this around the Republican Party's neck and light it afire.

Here's the list of the Amnesty 19.

Wayne Allard of Colorado Kit Bond of Missouri Jim Bunning of Kentucky Conrad Burns of Montana Tom Coburn of Oklahoma Thad Cochran of Mississippi John Cornyn of Texas Jim DeMint of South Carolina Mike Enzi of Wyoming Lindsey Graham of South Carolina Chuck Hagel of Nebraska Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma Jon Kyl (R-AZ) Trent Lott of Mississippi John McCain of Arizona Jeff Sessions of Alabama Ted Stevens of Alaska Craig Thomas of Wyoming John Warner of Virginia