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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Limited Nativism

by digby

Tristero has already linked to this great interview with Mark Danner and I too recommend that you read it if you haven't already. It's interesting in dozens of different ways, but I wanted to highlight something specific:

TD: They're really extreme American nationalists, though you can't use that word in this country.

Danner: That's true, and they combine with this belief in great-power America an almost nativist distrust of international institutions. That's the difference between Truman America and this regime in its approach to foreign policy. They put international institutions in a similar class with terrorism –- that is, weapons of the weak.

Ah. Yes, they have very skillfully stoked this nativism with distrust of international institutions. This has long been an effective tool on the right from the Panama Canal to the UN black helicopter crowd. Recently, they have stoked this nativism with distrust of our allies too. I have been quite amused to see all of the rightwingers clutching their pearls about "alienating our friends" after their performance in 2003 in which some of them were actually agitating to attack France and Germany. Watching them stutter and dissemble about our great and valued ally the United Arab Emirates is just funny. Freedom falafels anyone?

But then this port deal doesn't really fit the storyline, does it? It's not about an international institution or a real ally. From what we've seen these last few years, they would never have gone to such lengths to defend it if it were. It's about an international corporation and that goes beyond borders, beyond alliances and beyond institutions. That's sacred ground to the big money boys of the Republican establishment.

I don't know if people are consciously aware of this distinction, but if they were I don't think they would be impressed by it. Basically, the Republicans are saying that we cannot trust long standing internatinal institutions, long standing international law or even long standing close allies --- but we should take it on faith that international corporations, even those owned by dodgy middle eastern monarchies, can be trusted not to harm our national security. Their all encompassing belief in the market has extended to national security.

This nativist impulse that has been so skillfully exploited by the Republican party is not allowed beyond the boardroom door. Is this ok with the white working class Republican base? I wonder.

Programmed Cynicism

by digby

I had noticed the propensity of the gasbags to characterize Democratic criticism of the Dubai ports deal as a craven political move to Bush's right. Media Matters has gathered together quite a comepndium of quotes, many of them not coming from the openly right wing media. My favorite is this one, from Evan Thomas of Newsweak:

THOMAS: One thing that strikes me is -- it is hilarious to watch the Democrats, who are all against racial profiling except in this case, where they're racially profiling an entire country, and the Hillary Clintons -- there's a lot about Hillary Clinton in the other subtext here. Hillary and the Democrats need to get somehow to the right of President Reagan on something.

Nice of him to confuse Bush with St. Reagan. Those Republican talking points are potent, aren't they?

But let's examine the entire statement for perfectly layered GOP spin, shall we? First of all, the Democrats' response is "hilarious." It's absurd to think that they could be serious about national security. They are, as always, ridiculous. Especially compared to the suave, smoothtalking insiders like Thomas.

Second, the idea that this is racial profiling is right out of the wingnut playbook. It's called the "I know you are but what am I" strategy. They accuse Democrats of being racists/sexist/ageist, whatever, to put them on the defensive. Democrats still care about hypocrisy and second guess what they are doing when this happens. The GOP, on the other hand, has no problem apeing liberal talking points on their own behalf (often with a snide smirk on their face) and pretending to be offended by things they are not offended by. Picture Orrin Hatch going on and on about Democrats being racist for opposing Janice Rogers Brown, the sharecropper's daughter.

Dems could turn the tables if they would get all red in the face and start railing about political correctness and the right's being in the pocket of arab terrorists and racial minorities, but they don't play that game very well. It is, after all, fucked-up race baiting no matter how you slice it. I suspect that we are going to have to find a way to live with this nonsense and have faith that a majority of the American public can see through their little performance. Liberals have built up many, many years of credibility on this issue. We know who we are and so does everyone else. (And the idea of the Republicans defending Arabs from left wing prejudice is guffaw-inducing to anyone who isn't drunk on 151 --- or a member of the DC press corps. This alone clinches the argument.)

The most serious part of Thomas' smug criticism is the part about the Democrats, particularly Hillary, desperate to "get to the right of Bush" on national security. It is evidently incomprehensible to Thomas and the rest of the beltway courtiers that the Democrats might be legitimately concerned about the topic. They persist in this ridiculous assumption even though we are dependent on what even they must finally be realizing is the most incompetent administration in history. Doesn't that make these people, who live in New York and Washington, just a little bit nervous?

As the media themselves have told us ad nauseum, everything is narrative. If that's so then this port deal is emblematic of the larger story of Bush's incompetence in waging the war on terrorism --- the lack of awareness, the wasted money, the wrong strategy, the failed execution --- all of it. iraq showed the world that our intelligence is terrible and that our military is stretched by a simple war and occupation. Katrina showed the world that our response to an emergency is worse than it was before 9/11. For all the talk about loose lips sinking ships, I can't think of anything any whistleblower has done that gives al Qaeda more information about our vulnerabilities than the terrible performance of this administration.

The Democrats have long been complaining about Bush's laissez faire attitude toward homeland security, Hillary being at the forefront. That isn't running to Bush's "right" which makes very little sense when it comes to the war on terrorism. (To really run to his right a Democrat would have to endorse a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Finland.) It's criticizing a very real flaw in Bush's national security strategy. In Hillary's case, if it's politics, it the old adage "all politics is local." She represents New York and there are ample pragmatic reasons for her to take on Bush's lackadaisical approach to homeland security. In fact, I suspect that her constituents demand it, and for good reason. It already happened to them once. She has been talking quite sepcifically about port security for some time --- as was John Kerry, who the media also ridiculed as being a hilarious, flip-flopping opportunist.

Perhaps if they would take their eyes off their mirrors for a minute or two, the elite media could entertain the thought that these Democrats are not talking out of their asses. This is a legitimate issue. The worst terrorist attack in American history took place on the Republicans' watch and they've fucked up everything they've touched since then. Perhaps codpieces and trash talk aren't adequate to the task at hand.

Thomas is one of the biggest purveyors of the smug, cynical conventional wisdom that permeates the political media. Long after it was rasonable to defend this unpopular president's alleged prowess on national security they did it. And they refuse to let go of the notion that no matter how fucked up the Republicans are, the Democrats are worse. Winning elections may not even change this. I'm beginning to suspect that this is a generational identification with GOP political values, where good government or nuanced policy is always pooh-poohed by the these kewl kids who see governance through the lens of the puerile college Republican style of political combat. It may take a new generation of people who haven't mistaken dorky DC hipster cynicism for insight.

Like this guy, for instance.

Mark Danner

by tristero

I'm gonna take about a week off for personal stuff and to collect my thoughts on a topic I've been meaning to post about. But I did want to share this truly superb interview with reporter Mark Danner, whose work is some of the best being done by an American. Read it all. Here are some excerpts:
It underlines [the Bush administration's] policies in all kinds of areas, their belief that the overwhelming or preponderant power of the United States can simply change fact, can change truth. It is quite indicative of their policy of public information inside the United States. They don't care about people who read the New York Times, for instance. I use that as a shorthand. They don't care about people concerned with facts. They care about the broader arc of the story. We sit here constantly citing facts -- that they've broken this or that law, that what they originally said turns out not to be true. None of this particularly interests them.

What interests them is the larger reality believed by the 50.1 percent that they need to govern. Kenneth Duberstein said this recently -- he was chief of staff to Ronald Reagan -- that this administration is unique in that they govern with 50.1 percent. He was referring not to elections but to popularity while governing. His notion was that Reagan would want to get 60 to 65 percent backing him, while the Bush people want a bare majority, which means they have a much more extremist policy because they're appealing to the base. It makes them very hard-knuckle when approaching politics, simply wanting the base plus one.


The icebergs are floating by. I've used the phrase to indicate that a process of scandal we've come to know, with an expected series of steps, has come to an end. Before, you had, as Step 1, revelation of wrongdoing by the press, usually with the help of leaks from within an administration. Step 2 would be an investigation which the courts, often allied with Congress, would conduct, usually in public, that would give you an official version of events. We saw this with Watergate, Iran-Contra and others. And finally, Step 3 would be expiation -- the courts, Congress, impose punishment which allows society to return to some kind of state of grace in which the notion is, Look, we've corrected the wrongdoing, we can now go on. With this administration, we've got revelation of torture, of illegal eavesdropping, of domestic spying, of all kinds of abuses when it comes to arrest of domestic aliens, of inflated and false weapons of mass destruction claims before the war; of cronyism and corruption in Iraq on a vast scale. You could go on. But no official investigation follows


[During the Reagan administration] At a time of real dominance by the Times and Post, and the administration came forward, denied the [El Mozote massacres in El Salvador] took place, and was able to make its views stick. And remember we knew [the Reagan administration was covering up about their knowledge of the death squads]...

That leads me to a conclusion I came to then: that in many stories it's not the information, it's the politics. It's not that we were lacking information. It's that, when that information came out, it was denied and those in power were able to impose their view of reality. Political power decided what reality was, despite clear information to the contrary. When I look at our time I see that phenomenon writ large.

I think it's widely known at the top of the administration that Iraq is a failure. It's also been recognized by many that, in strategic terms, the Iraq war could turn out to be a catastrophe because it's essentially created a Shia Islamist government sympathetic to Iran and, among other things, made it impossible for the U.S. to adequately pressure Iran on the nuclear issue.


[O]ne is perilously close to arriving at the conclusion that reality doesn't matter. When I look at the pieces on the inside pages of the papers about the stealing of funds in Iraq by American officials, when I realize that no one is likely to be punished for this, I think of the novels of [Milan] Kundera, of his vivid descriptions of what it was like to live in Eastern Europe in the 1950s and '60s -- in the Soviet system where everyone realized the corruption, the abuse of power, the mediocrity of the government, the yawning gap between what was said and what was really going on, but no one could do anything about it


Actually, to reach the point of being a TFN [a Totally Fucked-up Nation], I think we have a long way to go. We're at a very low point in the political evolution of this country. I've certainly not lived under an administration as radical in its techniques, its methods, and its beliefs as this one. I've seen nothing like it in my lifetime.

It's a difficult time for those of us who care about the truth and who don't believe, as I think this administration does, that the truth is actually determined by what those in power think. I take comfort from the fact that a lot of people don't believe that.
Like Mark Danner, I'm glad that the US is not yet Sierra Leone. The problem is that Bush just takes that as a challenge, rolls up his sleeves, smirks a few times, and then proceeds blithely about his God-given mission to wreck the United States in every way he can think of.

Monday, February 27, 2006


by digby

Arthur Silber has written a very compelling series of posts featuring Barbara Tuchman's "The March of Folly" in several different contexts and it led me to go back and read it. It's an amazing analysis of a certain kind of willful governmental stupidity borne of hubris, mental laziness and bad judgment, and it's quite clear that we are seeing it being carried out right before our eyes. She defined "folly" this way:

To qualify as folly for this inquiry, the policy adopted must meet three criteria: it must have been perceived as counter-productive in its own time, not merely by hindsight. This is important, because all policy is determined by the mores of its age. "Nothing is more unfair," as an English historian has well said, "than to judge men of the past by the ideas of the present. Whatever may be said of morality, political wisdom is certainly ambulatory." To avoid judging by present-day values, we must take the opinion of the time and investigate only those episodes whose injury to self-interest was recognized even by contemporaries.

Secondly a feasible alternative course of action must have been available. To remove the problem from personality, a third criterion must be that the policy in question should be that of a group, not an individual ruler, and should persist beyond any one political lifetime. Misgovernment by a single sovereign or tyrant is too frequent and too individual to be worth a generalized inquiry. Collective government or a succession of rulers in the same office, as in the case of the Renaissance popes, raises a more significant problem.

Certainly, the first two criteria apply in spades. It's that last, that got my attention. In order for the current quagmire to be truly considered folly it must persist beyond any one political lifetime. In my view it already has.

Via Arthur again, here's Tuchman describing the thought processes of Lyndon Johnson during Vietnam:

Like Kennedy, Johnson believed that to lose South Vietnam would be to lose the White House. It would mean a destructive debate, he was later to say, that would "shatter my Presidency, kill my Administration, and damage our democracy." The loss of China, he said, which had led to the rise of Joe McCarthy, was "chickenshit compared with what might happen if we lost Vietnam." Robert Kennedy would be out in front telling everyone that "I was a coward, an unmanly man, a man without a spine." Worse, as soon as United States weakness was perceived by Moscow and Peking, they would move to "expand their control over the vacuum of power we would leave behind us ... and so would begin World War III." He was as sure of this "as nearly as anyone can be certain of anything." No one is so sure of his premises as the man who knows too little.

The purpose of the war was not gain or national defense. It would have been a simpler matter had it been either, for it is easier to finish a war by conquest of territory or by destruction of the enemy's forces and resources than it is to establish a principle by superior force and call it victory. America's purpose was to demonstrate her intent and her capacity to stop Communism in a framework of preserving an artificially created, inadequately motivated and not very viable state. The nature of the society we were upholding was an inherent flaw in the case, and despite all efforts at "nation-building," it did not essentially change.

In the illusion of omnipotence, American policy-makers took it for granted that on a given aim, especially in Asia, American will could be made to prevail. This assumption came from the can-do character of a self-created nation and from the sense of competence and superpower derived from World War II. If this was "arrogance of power," in Senator Fulbright's phrase, it was not so much the fatal hubris and over-extension that defeated Athens and Napoleon, and in the 20th century Germany and Japan, as it was failure to understand that problems and conflicts exist among other peoples that are not soluble by the application of American force or American techniques of even American goodwill. "Nation-building" was the most presumptuous of the illusions. Settlers of the North American continent had built a nation from Plymouth Rock to Valley Forge to the fulfilled frontier, yet failed to learn from their success that elsewhere, too, only the inhabitants can make the process work.

Wooden-headedness, the "Don't-confuse-me-with-the-facts" habit, is a universal folly never more conspicuous than at upper levels of Washington with respect to Vietnam. Its grossest fault was underestimation of North Vietnam's commitment to its goal. Enemy motivation was a missing element in American calculations, and Washington could therefore ignore all the evidence of nationalist fervor and of the passion for independence which as early as 1945 Hanoi had declared "no human force can any longer restrain." Washington could ignore General Leclerc's prediction that conquest would take half a million men and "Even then it could not be done." It could ignore the demonstration of elan and capacity that won victory over a French army with modern weapons at Dien Bien Phu, and all the continuing evidence thereafter.

American refusal to take the enemy's grim will and capacity into account has been explained by those responsible on the ground of ignorance of Vietnam's history, traditions and national character: there were "no experts available," in the words of one high-ranking official. But the longevity of Vietnamese resistance to foreign rule could have been learned from any history book on Indochina. Attentive consultation with French administrators whose official lives had been spent in Vietnam would have made up for the lack of American expertise. Even superficial American acquaintance with the area, when it began to supply reports, provided creditable information. Not ignorance, but refusal to credit the evidence and, more fundamentally, refusal to grant stature and fixed purpose to a "fourth-rate" Asiatic country were the determining factors, much as in the case of the British attitude toward the American colonies. The irony of history is inexorable.

Deja-vu-vu. I think it's pretty clear that history will judge Vietnam and Iraq as related wars, much as WWI and II were related, one growing out of the other. (The last election more or less dramatized it like a movie of the week.) The Republicans clung to their delusions for more than a quarter of a century believing that the Vietnam war was lost because it was sabotaged by the civilian leadership and the fecklessness of the American public. They nurtured their resentment through almost three decades, unappeased even by the fall of the Soviet Union. They, and many Democrats as well, never questioned their assumptions about the "illusion of American omnipotence" and they never understood that "problems and conflicts exist among other peoples that are not soluble by the application of American force or American techniques of even American goodwill." In fact, they carefully nurtured all those fancies and when they finally gained the power and opportunity, they immediately set about trying to prove their point --- again. The results are as predictable and as bad they were the first time.

I think that many of us over these last few years have felt as if we were living under water. Everything has seemed vaguely distorted. Communication and movement had an odd quality of density and resistance. We spoke out. We marched. We called our representatives. But it seemed as if our words sounded garbled and muffled in some way.

And there has also been a strong sense of inevitability. Certainly, since the impeachment the country has been steamrollered into a bizarre and aberrant political reality, never more than after 9/11 when the administration began agitating for this absurd, incomprehensible war. Despite its utter madness, I think most of us knew it was unstoppable. And it wasn't just us moonbats who knew it; it was the CIA and the state department. It was all of Europe and even Saddam himself. I suspect this is yet another feature of folly --- the sense among those who know better that there is no way to change the course of the event, that you are speaking a language nobody can understand.

Now, after we are dug in deeply with so much blood and money wasted, salvation requires repudiation of the Iraq war, the Bush doctrine and the cruel, undemocratic policies of the "war" on terrorism. I don't know if anyone has the strength to do that. It must be said that Lyndon Johnson was correct in that he would be mercilessly attacked for being weak if he withdrew from Vietnam. That's a political fact and it is what will happen if a Democratic administration tries to draw down the GWOT. (Not that we shouldn't do it, I'm just saying that the price will be high.) It's one of the main reasons why we should never start these things unless absolutely forced to. They are very difficult to end.

What or who will successfully put a coda to this ongoing folly? I don't see it in either party, to tell you the truth. But it's what I'm going to be looking for. This is the central challenge of millenial America: how can the most powerful nation on earth survive such monumental folly?

If you are interested in this topic, I urge you to read Arthur's long entire series on Iran and Tuchman's "March of Folly." Oh my.


by digby

Kos highlights an interesting story today about the fears among the political establishment of the of grassroots extremists:

While some view the evangelical church as above all a force for promoting conservative values, others see it as polarizing as well, fueling candidates who tap into the passions of activists and values voters but not the broader electorate.

"It's great, because it creates a lot of energy and helps broaden a movement, but the downside is you can also get pulled in a more extreme direction," said Erik Smith, who worked in the 2004 race for both Tom Coburn and a multimillion-dollar independent Republican ad campaign.

"There is real power there . . . but there are some real limits to it, and those limits have to be heeded," said Jonah Seiger, an evangelical strategist.

The Republicans are very concerned about how they appear to the mainstream and worry incessantly about how these activists will pull the party too far to the right.


That paragraph actually reads like this:

While some view the Internet as above all a democratizing force, others see it as polarizing as well, fueling candidates who tap into the passions of activists and ideological voters but not the broader electorate.

"It's great, because it creates a lot of energy and helps broaden a movement, but the downside is you can also get pulled in a more extreme direction," said Erik Smith, who worked in the 2004 race for both Dick Gephardt and a multimillion-dollar independent Democratic ad campaign.

"There is real power there . . . but there are some real limits to it, and those limits have to be heeded," said Jonah Seiger, an Internet strategist who also heads the board of advisers for the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University.

Unlike Democrats, Republicans do not question whether it is a good thing to have hard working, committed activists. They just say thank you.

Rather than worry about being "pulled in a more extreme direction" they confidently accept support wherever they can get it and openly court their base. They proudly run on the label "conservative" and would not dream of marginalizing their most energetic partisans. Democrats, not so much.

Note to the clueless DC insiders: the blogosphere is only "extreme" to the extent it is extremely impatient with people like you. We believe that your strategy of caution has failed and we are agitating for a more aggressive Democratic politics. After a partisan impeachment, a stolen election in 2000, an illegal war and an unprecedented executive power play we think this is a pretty serious situation. In fact, we see this as political civil war. You apparently think that is "extreme." We think it is common sense.

Perhaps it would be easier for these people to understand if we speak like Republicans and use stupid Civil War analogies to make a point, so here goes:

We believe that the DC establishment is running the war like George McClellan and we think his cautious strategy is losing us the war. It's not because we aren't all on the same side or don't have the same goals. It's that the McClellans of the establishment are temperamentally inhibited at a time when aggression is called for. We believe the party needs to fight like Grant.

If that civil war analogy is too complicated I'm sure I can find a cartoon or children's book to illustrate it. We are not ideologues. We are simply demanding that elected Democrats stand firm on our convictions and be willing to go toe to toe with Republicans. It isn't complicated. When Lincoln was asked to relieve Grant after Shiloh, he said, "I can't spare this man -- he fights." That's what we're talking about.

No Retreat, No Surrender

by tristero

In comments to a previous post about South Dakota's imminent approval of coathangers for abortion, reader goodasgold wrote
I couldn't live in South Dakota. It would hurt too much. I wonder where all this will lead. I live in California. I feel safe.
The sentiment is understandable. Why live someplace that seems hellbent on trumpeting its ignorance of reality? Why go somewhere that all but brags of its cruelty to the poor?

Indeed, that's what pro-coathanger legislation is all about. The rich and the middle class will always have access to safe abortion. Making abortion illegal is quite simply class warfare, aimed at the poorest women and families.

That is all it is. It is one thing if your religious beliefs require you to bring a pregnancy to term. No one in the United States will, or should, stop you, It's a very, very different situation to use your religion as a shield to deflect sharp criticism of your political activism and demand that abortion be made dangerous and illegal. That is not religious belief. That is simply heartless, cruel, and immoral politcking. The cynical operatives who demand that the state approve coathanger abortions by banning legal ones in no way can claim the moral high ground, America's laws are very clear: no group has the right to inflict their religious proclivities on the rest of us.*

However, I think goodasgold is wrong, as the troll Par R, inadvertently, reminds us. Par R apparently lives in South Dakota and writes:
God bless and keep you safe in California, since we sure as Hell don't want your type living among us up here! Thanks.
To translate out of Troll-ish, Par R is saying, "Ignorance and tyranny will flourish wherever liberalism is absent." For that reason, it is vital that more liberals move to South Dakota, not less.

Liberals should move to South Dakota not to "impose" their values, of course. For as we all know, coercion is what religious nuts do, not liberals. Liberals have a long, consistent history of strong opposition to laws that force people to conform to a specific "politically correct" or "religiously correct" moral code. Nope, more liberals should move to South Dakota for one reason only: To become proud, loyal, and productive South Dakotans. The state simply needs more liberals if it is to become a better South Dakota and it needs less unprincipled politicians advancing an anti-American theocratic agenda.

Contrary to christianism, with its unhealthy obsession on deadly punishment and diseased sex, liberalism is a world view that is life affirming. It posits that human beings have the ability and the will to construct a moral life, and a happy, prosperous one in a civil community regardless of our differences. That is what is meant, in a political context, by "all men are created equal." And liberalism has succeeded. It is in states where liberalism is in short supply that poverty reigns, and ignorance, and a great deal of crime.

The answer to South Dakota's real problems is not tyranny, either religious or secular (and make no mistake: oppressing the poor, by denying them access to a safe medical procedure, certainly is tyrannical). Both are the desperate solutions of the ignorant and the fearful. No, the answer begins with informed, careful, and reasoned thought. In a word, the answer begins with liberalism. By contrast, nothing could be further removed from reality, nothing could be more irrelevant to the problems South Dakota faces than the thoughtless and clueless theocracy the pro-coathanger crowd desire. And that is why more liberals are needed in South Dakota.

Liberal South Dakotans surely hold different values than California liberals. Speaking for the moment as a New York liberal, I certainly hope so! (grin)

Therefore, more liberals in South Dakota will bring to the state a personal and civil philosophy that will make South Dakotans of all political stripes even prouder of their state than they already are. They will give all South Dakotans more genuine reasons to sneer at how awful and foolish life is in California (and New York), not less. More liberals in South Dakota will focus the state's resources on genuine issues, not well-marketed faith-based cure-alls that cure nothing. Issues, like passing laws to ban abortion, are not only immoral because of their viciousness to the poor. They are immoral because they waste valuable time and resources better spent addressing real problems.

Liberalism - a philosophy of reason, compassion, tolerance, and hard-headed realism unemcumbered by utopianism - is the only civic philosophy that is flexible enough to encompass the wildly different needs of a wildly disparate America. The notion of a "godless" liberal is one more rightwing myth. The vast majority of American liberals agree that, on a personal level, the "good life" is lived with God's help. They are also aware that what is meant by God or God's will is no business of the state to define; one group's position on God's will can in no way be privileged in the business of an American polis. The sooner South Dakota's legislature stops trying to to do so and gets down to the real business of running the state, the better. And that requires more liberals in South Dakota, not more theocrats thumping Bibles and obsessing about other people's sex lives.

And so, goodasgold, start packing.

An apology: I haven't addressed the right to safe and legal medical care very much in the past. The reason is that it is self-evident that all citizens have a right to such care, even if they are poor. Therefore, what's there to argue over? The fury over the use of coat hangers has always puzzled me. Yes, honest people can come to radically different conclusions as to whether their pregnancy should or should not be terminated. But an American government clearly has no right to impose a conclusion. Therefore the politicization of the abortion issue has always struck me as a thinly disguised war against providing safe health care to the poor, especially women, rather than anything that engages a genuine moral issue which, in abortion's case, is a private one.

I still think this is true. But it is becoming clear to me that, not only because the issue of safe medical care for all Americans is an important issue in itself but because the right to such care impacts many other important issues, all of us must once again speak out, loud, clear, and often in favor of Roe v. Wade.

True, I've done so several times before, and just as unequivocally as I've done so here. But I feel a need to speak out even more. I recognize that others have sensed this need long before I have. They were right, I was wrong and I apologize. To say that there were (and are) issues that were just as serious is no excuse, of course. But that was, and is, the case for me.

As I've said before, it has become very hard to be an American. The assault from the extreme right on American values has been relentless and highly organized since (at least) the second Clinton term. Nearly as bad, the Democrats have, as a party, failed miserably to stand behind its finest members - people like Kerry, Murtha, and Dean - or its modern principles, which are based in liberalism. The fact that being an American is very hard work these days also is no excuse. Please accept the apology and I'll try to make up for it with more posts on the right of all Americans to safe, legal medical care. That care is dangerously undermined whenever the access to abortion on demand is challenged. The dangers of illegal abortion primarily fall on poor women (and honest, competent doctors who provide abortions despite the potential for imprisonment), but the dangers of making access to medical procedures contingent on religious correctness are dangers for everyone, including those who, for personal/religious reasons, will carry all viable pregnancies to term.

*Note to rightwing religious nuts: Disagree with me all you want, but don't try to claim I am "prejudiced against religion," yadda yadda because I would truly hate to embarass you. There is abundant public proof of my longstanding admiration and deep respect for religious observance and devout practice.

My contempt and disgust is focused entirely on political activists like bin Laden, Antonin Scalia, Randall Terry, or the late Meir Kahane, who hide behind the skirts of priests to advocate theocracy. (And yes, that is precisely Scalia's agenda which is why he's mentioned here in the company of his peers: his remarks here fall barely one or two commas short of advocating a full overhaul of American jurisprudence and the establishment of a christianist theocracy)

Now if you're an extra crunchy and sleazy rightwing nut you might sneer, "What about Martin Luther King? You object to him speaking out when he saw injustice?" To which there is only one response:

Your comparison is deeply insulting. King's peers are Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, so if you want to discuss him by comparing him to those other great human beings, I am only too happy to join you. But I will not demean KIng's achievements by dignifying, with a response, any mention of him in the rhetorical company of cheap slimeballs like Pat Robertson or Rick Santorum. What next, shall we "discuss" whether FDR is the moral equivalent of Hitler? Or whether the Bible authorizes slavery? It's still a free blogosphere so go somewhere else and spew.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Creating A Better Circumstance

by digby

This William Kristol quote from this morning is another step in the eventual disavowal of Bushism. You see, just as it was in Vietnam, the know-nothings in Washington won't let the military leaders take the gloves off which is why we are having so many problems.

This will, of course, be folded into the standard one size fits all conservative whine that alleges conservatism cannot fail on its own terms. Not even neo-conservatism, which isn't conservatism at all except to the extent it prefers war over other means of change.

Indeed, the neos have the civil war in Iraq already built into their utopian vision. Much as David Ignatius said that if in 30 years Iraq is doing as well as Lebanon is today then the invasion can be seen as a success, for years some neocons have held that in order to make a nice US dominated Iraq, the massive death and destruction of a war and then civil war might be just what the doctor ordered. From a very depressing article by Robert Dreyfuss:

In a paper for an Israeli think tank, the same think tank for which Wurmser, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith prepared the famous "Clean Break" paper in 1996, Wurmser wrote in 1997 : "The residual unity of the nation is an illusion projected by the extreme repression of the state." After Saddam, Iraq would "be ripped apart by the politics of warlords, tribes, clans, sects, and key families," he wrote. "Underneath facades of unity enforced by state repression, [Iraq’s] politics is defined primarily by tribalism, sectarianism, and gang/clan-like competition." Yet Wurmser explicitly urged the United States and Israel to "expedite" such a collapse. "The issue here is whether the West and Israel can construct a strategy for limiting and expediting the chaotic collapse that will ensue in order to move on to the task of creating a better circumstance."

Such black neoconservative fantasies—which view the Middle East as a chessboard on which they can move the pieces at will—have now come home to roost. For the many hundreds of thousands who might die in an Iraqi civil war, the consequences are all too real.

This is where the Straussian beast of neoconservatism rears its ugly head.[and says hello its mate, perverted trotskyism. ed] Their vaunted starry-eyed idealism about spreading democracy is a pile of crap. They, like all imperialists, seek domination. They went along with the cockamamie idea to give the Iraqi people the opportunity to surrender peacefully and do it our way. Those purple fingers should have made them feel really good about themselves. But they aren't cooperating. Which means, sadly, that it's time to accept reality. We tore the country apart, now we'll let the crazy wogs have it out.

The big challenge now is to "limit and expedite the chaotic collapse in order to move on to the task of creating a better circumstance." When you look at it that way, everything's going according to plan. Too bad about all the dead people.

Meanwhile neocon shills like Kristol will soothe the rubes with tales of how the Bush administration tied the military's hands. If they'd have let them go they could have gotten the job done in a couple of weeks. We could have bombed em back into the stone age if necessary. After all, everything turned out just great with Japan and Germany. But, no. They wouldn't let our brave men and women get the job done. (Of course you can't blame them too much. It was the dominant Democrat hippies who made them do it.)

It gives the Republicans a good excuse to run on "restoring honor" to the country. The rubes eat it up and get all excited about proving ourselves in the next war. A war we must fight for freedom and democracy, of course. Because we're so good.


by digby

Kevin at Catch is calling it a day and now I have one less funny blogger from whom to steal great material. Damn. I hate when that happens. He is one of those guys who likes to go into the belly of the rightwing blogospheric beast and examine the entrails with insight and humor. It is a valuable service and I will miss him.

We met (virtually, of course) during the Wes Clark campaign when both of us were asked to do an online interview with the general. Back in those golden, olden days, that was quite an unusual thing. We were asked to submit five questions. Kevin and I both asked four probing, deeply complicated queries about long term foreign policy strategy and one fun "personal" question. They picked the personal questions, of course. Kevin's was "what's your favorite salad dressing" and mine was "of all your postings overseas, what country did you enjoy the most?" (answers: vinaigrette and Panama.) I was lucky enough to get one "real" question in the mix as well so I didn't suffer the overwhelming disapprobation of the Clarkies who accused Kevin of wasting the general's and the community's time with this silliness. (Clarkies are a serious bunch.) We bonded.

Kevin may be leaving the blogosphere but he will be long remembered around these parts. His memorial is the term "bedwetters." That's what I call a contribution.

I assume that Kevin knows his great eye and superior snark are always welcome on this blog should he feel the overhwelming urge to post. And you know he will feel the urge eventually. It's hard to go cold turkey. Yelling at the TV just doesn't have the same kick. Plus it annoys people. Your loved ones quickly realize they didn't miss you that much after all and are relieved to hear the sounds of your angry typing. I'm guessing. Not that I would know, of course. I'm very even keeled.

In case you missed it, here's Kevin's interview with TBOGG. A classic.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

They Are NOT Eliminating Abortions In South Dakota

by tristero

They are approving coathangers for use as medical instruments.

Who Says Dems Don't Ask The Tough Questions?

by tristero

Now, I'm not saying that I completely agree with this, but I do think it is worthy of a full, thoughtful discussion.

Note to wingnuts: In case it is lost on you, the sentence above is one I have found on right wing discussion boards regarding whether gays are moral lepers, abortion doctors deserve the death penalty, or whether torture may be a good thing on occasion. In other words, this is satire.

Civil War

by tristero

Ever optimistic, the Times surveys opinions on what Civil War would be like in Iraq if civil war comes. While there is much that is interesting here, I am also struck by the amount of naivete on display* and the poor organization of the article. For example, this would appear to be perhaps the most striking and important "news" to impart to Americans:
[Kenneth] Pollack cautions that a civil war could prove especially painful for the Shiites. There is no reason, he says, to assume that they won't fight among themselves. The three major Shiite movements each have militias. Sometimes they have clashed... "There are a thousand Shiite militias that could do battle against each other, splintering even the southern part of Iraq."
The way the story's usually been played in the US press is that it's Shia vs. Sunni. Not so. The situation is far more complex. So where does the Times put this important information? Near the end of the article.

While Pollack is right to point out the dangers of infra-Shia strife, he is wrong elsewhere in the piece to claim that such strife is the first thing one would see in an Iraqi civil war - Sunnis may be a minority, but they were, and still are, a powerful minority. The first thing you'd see, obviously would be something close to what we are, indeed, seeing: increasingly violent actions between Shia and Sunnis. Nor is Pollack accurate in opining that "a civil war could prove especially painful for the Shiites." If nearly any Shia faction wins a violent civil war, Sunnis will experience major league political repression. As in state sponsored torture and murder. If anything, it's the Sunnis who will find a civil war "especially painful," assuming they lose. And, among many other factors, it is their desperation - rightly, they don't trust a "legit" Shia government to treat them well - that is behind their present attacks.

Pollack's emphasis on Shia-Shia conflict seems an academic distortion, going for the unusual angle. But that's nothing compared to this unattributed whopper:
Some experts, however, say Iran may understand the dangers of a war. Even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's denunciation of the bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra last week, in which he blamed Zionists rather than Sunnis, could be seen as an act of restraint, these experts say — an effort to play to Shiite anger without fanning flames between Iraq's Islamic communities.
Now this is such an unspeakably stupid analysis of what Iran is up to that it could only come from a high Bush administration official. I'm quite serious. Another clue it's from a Bushite is its sense of loony "accentuate the positive" thinking. And indeed, the context gives a pretty clear clue where this idiocy probably came from. Backing up one paragraph we read:
While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has proclaimed that the world has isolated Iran more than ever because of its nuclear ambitions, Iran has in fact tightened relationships with it local allies as events in Iraq have played out. In recent months, Iran has been deepening its alliance with Syria and the Shiite movement Hezbollah in Lebanon, and now it appears ready to strike up a friendship, backed by financing, with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

Some experts, however, say Iran may understand the dangers of a war. Even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's denunciation ...
Am I saying Condoleeza Rice is the moron who sees hope in Iran's anti-Zionism/semitism? No, not exactly. But anyone who is making the fundamental error Rice is making - focusing on Iran's "world" isolation while downplaying its strengthening of regional ties, including to Hamas - is quite capable of misconstruing Ahmadinejad's remarks to mean Iran is not doing whatever it can to grasp as much purchase within Iraq as possible. And if it came to a war that led to Iraq's total disintegration, it is unclear what Iran stands to lose.

The article also floats the idea of a negotiated breakup of Iraq into three states. Good luck. Who gets the oil regions, boys and girls? Who gets the desert? And who moves? And who sez Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are just gonna twiddle their fingers and not interfere?

There is much more interesting speculation and detail about how truly incredibly complex the mess in Iraq is, and how few alternatives exist that won't quickly lead to disaster for the people of the region, and the people of the United States. Will Turkey invade to defend the Turkomen against oppression if Iraq's Kurds officially set up on their own? Will the Arab League step in to intervene? And looming above it all are nukes. Iranian nukes coming soon. Potential Sunni Arab nukes depending on how the situation worsens (calling Dr. A. Q. Khan!).

So, Mr. Tom Friedman, are you enjoying the real live political experiment now? So, Mr. George Packer, still think that those of us who absolutely knew Bush/Iraq would open the gates of hell have "second-rate minds?"

Hey, y'never know! Maybe Ahmadinejad really was sending a signal that Iran wasn't interested in an Iraq civil war when he blamed Zionists - Israel -for the attack. True, that could be because he wants to attack Israel first, but at least it's not supporting civil war in Iraq!

Yes, it's possible. And maybe there really is a Bigfoot. And maybe tomorrow, cold fusion will work and, as Woody Allen predicted in Sleeper, cigarette smoking will turn out to improve your health and longevity. You never know...

*I am no expert on the Middle East. Why am I so confident many of the "expert opinions" in this article are naive? Here goes:

To be deemed an expert on the Middle East, one would assume that the prerequisite would be fluency in several dialects of Arabic, fluency in Persian, fluency in Hebrew, and considerable time spent living and working in the Middle East. But one would be wrong. Most American "experts" in the public domain -there are real experts in universities, I assume - know one of those languages. At best, two. Many can't read or speak any of them, and rely on assistants and clipping services for information on Middle Eastern press and mass media. Incredibly, language fluency is still considered not a requirement for marketing yourself as a pundit whose specialty is the Middle East. And many people defend this.

In my book, there's a word to describe anyone who claims expertise in Middle Eastern affairs who can't read Iranian or Iraqi newspapers, or needs a translator to understand al Jazeera, or whose experience of the region is limited to a guided tour of the pyramids or an overnight stay at the King David Hotel: phony.

Simple commonsense tells me that Iran stands to gain quite a bit from Iraq's disintegration and stands to lose little even if there is furious intra-Shia civil war in Iraq. Simple commonsense tells me that when Iran sends a message to the world that Zionists destroyed the Shiite shrine, they are clearly trying to unify Muslims against a common enemy - Israel - and they are not saying anything, one way or the other, about the desirability of Iraqi civil war. Commonsense also tells me that when Iran's president sends a message to the world, that message is intended primarily for Muslims and that US analysts make a fundamental error when it assumes "the world" means us.

I'll gladly defer to genuine expert opinion on any of this, but I doubt that any seriously real scholar would make assertions like the silly ones cited above. Pollack's sense that Shias would endure "special pain" in a civil war is vacuous and dishonest, used only to hype his superior knowledge of the complexities, but shows not a trace of any superior understanding. For one thing, "speical pain" is empirically unverifiable. Furthermore, his argument is naive in its assumption that a Shia/Sunni strife can never get bloody enough to meet most standards for what is meant by the term "civil war."I'm afraid we are seeing Pollack proved wrong on a daily basis right now.

As for the anonymous misconstrual of Iran's remarks, that is less naive than it is delusional.


Friday, February 24, 2006

Update: Pardon our dust. Yes, I know it's a bit of a mess. Please bear with me. People much smarter than I are working on bringing this site in to the second half of the ot years. Thanks you for your patience.

And, no. The new design will look nothing like the one some of you saw earlier. That was merely a placeholder.

Never mind

This is not a permanent template. Please don't waste your time commenting on its terrible/wonderful look.

I'll tell you when the real transition happens. And then you can complain all you want. Comments will return I promise.

Nothing to see here folks. Move along.

The Ship That Sailed

by digby

If you haven't had any fun today, click on Lou Dobbs arguing with Joe Klein about port security. Klein, the pretend liberal in a balanced group consisting of Republican David Gergen, Republican Ed Rollins and Republican Dobbs, insists that if we don't let this Dubai deal go forward, we will be causing ourselves some real trouble in the arab world. They are very sensitive to this kind of disrespect, you see. Changing the rules midstream is going to cause more terrorists.

He's so right. America should do everything it can not to foment terrorism.

Meanwhile, violence and fear sweep through Iraq:

The waves of vengeance have left the majority Shiite and the minority Sunni communities feeling victimized and deeply angry with each other. Both are also resentful of the United States, which has been working to ease the animosity and coax Iraq's various ethnic and religious groups into a cooperative government.

"The Americans also abandoned us extremely. They could have put some of their vehicles to protect the mosques — they have the forces to do that," Khalaf Ulayyan, general secretary of the Sunni Iraqi National Dialogue Council, said at a news conference. "How does a civil war start? It starts like this."

What a shame.

But let's keep our priorities straight here. What we need to do is make sure that Dubai's feelings aren't hurt or things might just hurtle out of control in the mideast. We wouldn't want that.

Braindead Hotshot

by digby

Rita Cosby said that it's wrong that the Republicans in South Carolina are asking for church rolls to target the evangelical vote but it's just as wrong that Democrats are targeting the "hoodlum vote."

Yes, the hoodlum vote. When a plainly confused Chris Matthews asked what she meant, she explained that Democrats were going through voter rolls to find felons to vote for them.

Rude Lefty Bloggers

by digby

A mainstream Republican gives a speech:

Coulter even made comments about the physical appearances of those who were removed.

"Another attractive Democrat," she said as junior Sean Hall, a man wearing a blonde wig, white sheet and a sign that said "Coultergeist" was removed.

"I think we should have saved the ushers some time and just removed all the ugly people," she said.

During her question-and-answer session, Coulter responded to both fans and protesters. One comment that drew strong audience reactions came from a young man who asked her if she didn't like Democrats, wouldn't it just be better to have a dictatorship? Coulter responded with a jab at the way the student talked.

"You don't want the Republicans in power, does that mean you want a dictatorship, gay boy?" she said.

The well trained young Republican borg had a ready defense:

IU College Republicans President Shane Kennedy defended Coulter's comments by stressing that the speech was for entertainment and attendees should have expected Coulter to say controversial comments.

"I think the guy could have been more respectful to her," he said. "I mean, we already know that she was going to be controversial and she was just saying what people were thinking. If you are going to talk like you are gay, then Ann Coulter is going to call you gay. Of course, she said it in a spiteful tone, but it was expected."

On the other hand, she was quite upset that she had to deal with dissent:

"You are paying me to give a speech," she said. "I mean, if you don't want me to keep talking, that's fine, but I think I'll just do the speech. Hopefully, the idiot liberals will be out of here by the second half of the speech.

"You guys are doing a great job." she said sarcastically later to auditorium ushers. "I guess they did hire Democrats as ushers."

In other news, the mainstream media continues to wring their lace handkerchiefs about rude liberal readers.

Jingo Blowback

the digby

Last night Kevin approvingly linked to the same William Greider piece that I did and said:

On a related note, it makes me feel almost nostalgic to watch the toxic stew of cherry picking, half truths, and outright misrepresentations currently being used to demonize the UAE as a virtual arm of al-Qaeda. You know what it reminds me of? The way Bush & Co. tried to sell Saddam Hussein as Osama's best buddy in the Middle East. It's poetic watching the Bushies squirm when they're on the receiving end of this stuff.

I think this comparison is off base. To the extent it is demagogic, this UAE outcry falls into the category of political ox-goring, the likes of which are seen every day in our system. Comparing it to the lies, distortion and institutional manipulation that led the nation into a war is vastly overstating it.

This would be better compared to the white house having a fake case of the vapors over Newsweak reporting that Korans had been defaced at Guantanamo and "causing" the riots in the mid-east. The head of the joint chiefs of staff said the whole thing was used as an excuse by the heavies in Afghan politics, but that didn't stop the administration from lecturing the press about revealing these accusations. Many people accepted the idea that Newsweak erred, particularly when it was shown that the report was unreliable. Bush and his boys had been saying that revealing information about torture and abuse was playing into the enemies' hands for months, so this fit perfectly with their "loose lips sink ship" rhetoric. In this case, Bush has been saying "we're fighting 'them' over there so we don't have to fight 'them' over here" for years. Saying now that it's ok to bring "them" into our ports creates cognitive dissonence. They have only themselves to blame for the outcry.

In both the UAE port outcry or the Newsweak outcry, the demagogic argument coming from the administration is that these things will harm our image in the middle east and make it more difficult for us to prosecute the war on terror. It works fine as long as it doesn't conflict with one of their other demagogic arguments. But neither of these flaps come close to the invasion of Iraq for sheer bad faith and demagogic overkill.

Besides, there is a legitimate reason to be wary of the UAE being involved with US port management and calling it racism, in particular, is puerile nonsense. Like Pakistan, another close ally in the war on terror, the UAE have been playing both ends against the middle for a long time. We all understand that and accept it. They have to deal with the vicissitudes of their own political situation which doesn't always accrue to our benefit. Welcome to the real world where the black and white formulation of "you're either with us or you're with the terrorists" is shown as the bullshit it always was. As Yglesias says here:

... the UAE isn't a strategic partner of the United States in the way that the UK is. The number of countries who have British-style security relationships with the United States can be counted on one hand, if not one finger. We share intelligence with the British that we wouldn't share with Portugal, much less Dubai. An ally as close as Israel has been known to screw us over in defense and intelligence matters because, hey, countries have different interests. A private British firm operates in the context of the rule of law; a state-owned enterprise in Dubai . . . not so much. These are different countries in a thousand ways that have nothing to do with skin color. Pretending not to see the difference is childish and absurd. That a country hosts American military bases proves almost nothing -- we have bases in all kinds of places.

I would suggest that if the UAE is holding access to their ports over our heads as a way to ensure this deal goes through, then we may have to evaluate whether they are even the nominal ally in the war on terror we think they are. That's called blackmail. They can't interfere with our domestic policies any more thaan we can interfere with theirs.

Back To Normal

by digby

Ok, you are not going crazy. You did see a different template on this site earlier today. This blog's oging to be changing a bit over the next little while. There may be some glitches for a while. That was a glitch.

Remedial Journalism

by digby

Gosh, the Republicans must be so pleased with CNN's new reporter Brian Todd. Discussing Libby's motion that contends Fitzgerald lacks authority to bring charges because proper procedure were not followed, Todd asserted:

"Here's the procedure: He or she has to be appointed by the president. He or she has to be confirmed by the senate. He or she has to answer to top justice officials whenever they want to bring and indictment of grant immunity. None of these things have occurred in the case of Mr Fitzgerald. He was appointed by an acting Attorney general. He was never confirmed by the Senate. He has had sweeping power in this case to do as he chooses."

I guess he didn't have time to check the Department of Justice Web site:

Patrick J. Fitzgerald began serving as the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois on September 1, 2001. The United States Senate confirmed his nomination by unanimous consent and President Bush signed his commission on October 29, 2001.

He was named special counsel by an acting attorney general because the attorney general recused himself from the case.

Here's what the GAO had to say about Fitzgerald's mandate:

"The parameters of his authority and independence are defined in the appointment letters which delegate to Special Counsel Fitzgerald all (plenary) the authority of the Attorney General with respect to the Department's investigation into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee's identity with the direction that he exercise such authority independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the Department. [13]. In addition, Department officials informed us that the express exclusion of Special Counsel Fitzgerald from the application of 28 C.F.R. Part 600, which contains provisions that might conflict with the notion that the Special Counsel in this investigation possesses all the power of the Attorney General, contributes to the Special Counsel's independence. [14] Thus, Special Counsel Fitzgerald need not follow the Department's practices and procedures if they would subject him to the approval of an officer or employee of the Department. For example, 28 C.F.R. 600.7 requires that a Special Counsel consult with the Attorney General before taking particular actions."

That took me five minutes with Google. I would imagine that Brian Todd could have had some flunky do the same thing before he proclaimed that Fitzgerald's appointment hadn't followed this procedure. It doesn't prove anything, of course, but it does show that there might just be some legitimate differences of opinion as to whether or not their claim has merit. You don't have to be a lawyer to know that the law requiring that the special counsel be appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate meant that he or she must be a US Attorney, not that he or she must be a special appointment by the president to investigate his own administration. That wouldn't exactly make sense, now would it?

It's theoretically possible that a judge will rule in Libby's favor on this, but it is highly unlikely. You'd think that Todd would have at least picked up a phone this morning and called a legal analyst who might clue him in on the other side's arguments. When he said/she said makes sense --- as in a legal case --- they don't do it. When it comes to global warming or intelligent design they fall all overthemselves giving equal time to hucksters and fools.

Why do journalists have such a hard time understanding these distinctions?

Civil War

Khalizad is worried
"What we've seen in the past two days, the attack has had a major impact here, getting everyone's attention that Iraq is in danger," Mr. Khalilzad said in a conference call with reporters.

The country's leaders, he added, "must come together, they must compromise with each other to bring the people of Iraq together and save this country."

Mr. Khalilzad's comments are the most explicit acknowledgment so far by an American official of the instability of the situation, and the fragility of the entire American enterprise here. The killings and assaults across Iraq that began Wednesday have amounted to the worst sectarian violence since the American invasion.

...In the deadliest assault, 47 people returning from a protest were pulled off buses south of Baghdad on Wednesday and shot in the head, an Interior Ministry official said Thursday. Three journalists from Al Arabiya, the Arab satellite network, were abducted and killed Wednesday in Samarra, near the ruined shrine. Seven American soldiers were also killed Wednesday in unrelated attacks involving roadside bombs.

Political and religious leaders, including President Jalal Talabani and Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric whose followers are believed to be involved in much of the anti-Sunni violence, called for restraint.
Bring it on, indeed. A terrible situation, and a confused one, in which al-Sadr, of all people, feels compelled to urge restraint.

For the purpose of discussion, if Khalizad is this blunt, we should probably assume that reality is far, far worse. Iraq is gone, or at the very least, rapidly moving that way.

Now what? Three states, Shia, Sunni, and Kurd? A violent, anarchic "state of nature"? How will humanitarian aid reach the sufferers if there is no Iraq left? What are the short term/long term implications for terrorism both within the Middle East and against the US and US citizens? What can be done, in any event, to counter the development of a disintegrated Iraq becoming a breeding ground for terrorism. Are efforts to "save" Iraq a priori doomed to failure?

And aside from the questions of humanitarian aid, the most crucial question: in a post-Bush world, what is the United States' - our - moral obligation to the people of the former Iraq?

Thomas Friedman once said that it's not every day you get to see a political experiment in action. Well Tom, here it is. Happy?

Extra! Extra! Neoconservatism Discovered To Be Screaming Yellow Bonkers!

by tristero

Why are the so-called "conservative intellectuals" in the United States so hellbent on reinventing a square wheel? Anyone with half a brain and half an education knows better than to bother. But there they are, with their T-squares marking off 89 degree angles - can't even get that straight - and sawing away for years on one patently idiotic idea or another before finally announcing what liberals have known all along: It was a patently idiotic idea.

For the latest, here's Francis Fukuyama's epiphany. Turns out neoconservatism is... a really bad idea. Who knew? Well I knew, and I didn't need tens of thousands of deaths in Iraq to know it. And so I think a prayer is called for:

Dear God,

Please deliver us from the hideous locust plague of conservative pseudo-intellectuals. Sinners we may be in Thine eyes, and unworthy of thy Divine Love, but Jesus Kee-rist! Cut us some friggin' slack, already! Fire and brimstone, eternal damnation, I ain't gonna argue with you. But, seriously, God, we really don't deserve any more Fukuyamas, y'know? So ease up.




Thursday, February 23, 2006


by digby

I'm quite impressed by the Washington Post editorial board's intellectual consistency

Friday, February 24, 2006; Page A14

If members of Congress really want to burnish their "tough on terrorism" credentials, they should start by focusing on real presidential lapses, which are sufficient, and forget about the phony ones. As Mr. England said yesterday, the war on terrorism demands that the United States "strengthen the bonds of friendship and security . . . especially with our friends and allies in the Arab world." That means allies should be treated "equally and fairly around the world and without discrimination," he said. And he suggested that it is the terrorists who want the United States to "become distrustful, they want us to become paranoid and isolationist."

If so, they must be feeling pretty content right now.

Yes, that's right. If we become distrustful of our allies, the terrorists will have won:

Wednesday, January 25, 2006; Page A18

SHORTLY AFTER Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush famously declared that other countries must choose between supporting the United States and supporting terrorism, and that those that harbored al Qaeda would be treated as the enemy. In the years since, he has refrained from applying that tough principle in practice -- which is lucky for Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Ever since the war on terrorism began, this meretricious military ruler has tried to be counted as a U.S. ally while avoiding an all-out campaign against the Islamic extremists in his country, who almost surely include Osama bin Laden and his top deputies. Despite mounting costs in American lives and resources, he has gotten away with it.

Rockefeller Sticks In The Shiv

by digby

Glenn has been writing a lot about the administration pursuing journalists in the NSA illegal spying scandal and he sounds a very important alarm. But I think they should think long and hard about how far to take that considering their history. It's a can of worms they will regret opening. Here's a good example of what kind of ugly little fish-bait might come slithering out.

From Murray Waas:

The vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) made exactly that charge tonight in a letter to John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence. What prompted Rockefeller to write Negroponte was a recent op-ed in the New York Times by CIA director Porter Goss complaining that leaks of classified information were the fault of “misguided whistleblowers.”

Rockefeller charged in his letter that the most “damaging revelations of intelligence sources and methods are generated primarily by Executive Branch officials pushing a particular policy, and not by the rank-and-file employees of intelligence agencies.”

Later in the same letter, Rockefeller said: “Given the Administration’s continuing abuse of intelligence information for political purposes, its criticism of leaks is extraordinarily hypocritical. Preventing damage to intelligence sources and methods from media leaks will not be possible until the highest level of the Administration cease to disclose classified information on a selective basis for political purposes.”

Exhibit A for Rockefeller: Woodward’s book “Bush at War”.

Read the whole thing. I was unaware that the CIA had been instructed to cooperate with Woodward. I thought he was simply allowed to listen in on classified White House meetings:

One former senior administration official explained to me: “This was something that the White House wanted done because they considered it good public relations. If there was real damage to national security—if there were leaks that possibly exposed sources and methods, it was not done in this instance for the public good or to expose Watergate type wrongdoing. This was done for presidential image-making and a commercial enterprise—Woodward’s book.”

The Bush adminstration suffers from terminal hubris, so I am not sure they completely understand the implications of this. They seem to think they can get away with "leaking" classified information for political purposes with impunity while screaming to high heaven about real whistelblowers leaking classified information to expose wrongdoing by them. There was a time they could do that sort of thing and get away with it. I suspect that time is past. There is too much blood in the water.

This does explain why Woodward was so nervous about the Plame matter, though. He was leaked a ton of selective classified information by powerful people to help make a bogus case for war. He makes Novak look like an amateur.

The Gay Governor

by digby

This guy is so uncool Republicans will assume he's one of them and vote for him by mistake. Blagojevich for president!

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich wasn't in on the joke.

Blagojevich says he didn't realize "The Daily Show" was a comedy spoof of the news when he sat down for an interview that ended up poking fun at the sometimes-puzzled governor.

"It was going to be an interview on contraceptives ... that's all I knew about it," Blagojevich laughingly told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in a story for Thursday's editions. "I had no idea I was going to be asked if I was 'the gay governor.' "

The interview focused on his executive order requiring pharmacies to fill prescriptions for emergency birth control.

Interviewer Jason Jones pretended to stumble over Blagojevich's name before calling him "Governor Smith." He urged Blagojevich to explain the contraception issue by playing the role of "a hot 17-year-old" and later asked if he was "the gay governor."

At one point in the interview, a startled Blagojevich looked to someone off camera and said, "Is he teasing me or is that legit?"

Live By Demagoguery, Die By Demagoguery

William Greider is right on the money.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf:

David Brooks, the high-minded conservative pundit, dismissed the Dubai Ports controversy as an instance of political hysteria that will soon pass. He was commenting on PBS, and I thought I heard a little quaver in his voice when he said this was no big deal. Brooks consulted "the experts," and they assured him there's no national security risk in a foreign company owned by Middle East Muslims--actually, by an Arab government--managing six major American ports. Cool down, people. This is how the world works in the age of globalization.

Of course, he is correct. But what a killjoy. This is a fun flap, the kind that brings us together. Republicans and Democrats are frothing in unison, instead of polarizing incivilities. Together, they are all thumping righteously on the poor President. I expect he will fold or at least retreat tactically by ordering further investigation. The issue is indeed trivial. But Bush cannot escape the basic contradiction, because this dilemma is fundamental to his presidency.

A conservative blaming hysteria is hysterical, when you think about it, and a bit late. Hysteria launched Bush's invasion of Iraq. It created that monstrosity called Homeland Security and pumped up defense spending by more than 40 percent. Hysteria has been used to realign US foreign policy for permanent imperial war-making, whenever and wherever we find something frightening afoot in the world. Hysteria will justify the "long war" now fondly embraced by Field Marshal Rumsfeld. It has also slaughtered a number of Democrats who were not sufficiently hysterical. It saved George Bush's butt in 2004.

Bush was the principal author, along with his straight-shooting Vice President, and now he is hoisted by his own fear-mongering propaganda. The basic hysteria was invented from risks of terrorism, enlarged ridiculously by the President's open-ended claim that we are endangered everywhere and anywhere (he decides where). Anyone who resists that proposition is a coward or, worse, a subversive. We are enticed to believe we are fighting a new cold war. But are we? People are entitled to ask. Bush picked at their emotional wounds after 9/11 and encouraged them to imagine endless versions of even-larger danger. What if someone shipped a nuke into New York Harbor? Or poured anthrax in the drinking water? OK, a lot of Americans got scared, even people who ought to know better.

So why is the fearmonger-in-chief being so casual about this Dubai business?

Because at some level of consciousness even George Bush knows the inflated fears are bogus. So do a lot of the politicians merrily throwing spears at him. He taught them how to play this game, invented the tactics and reorganized political competition as a demagogic dance of hysterical absurdities, endless opportunities to waste public money. Very few dare to challenge the mindset. Thousands have died for it.

Bush's terrorism war has from the start been in collision with the precepts of corporate-led globalization. One practices hyper-nationalism--Washington gets to decide where it goes to war, never mind the Geneva Convention and other "obsolete" international restraints. Yet Bush's diplomats travel the world banging on governments for trade rules that defenestrate a nation's sovereign power to run its own affairs. The US government regards itself as comfortable with this arrangement since it assumes the superpower can always get its way. Most citizens are never consulted. They are perhaps unaware that their rights have been given away, too.

It would be nice to imagine this ridiculous episode will prompt reconsideration, cool down exploitative jingoism and provoke a more rational discussion of the multiplying absurdities. I doubt it. At least it will be satisfying to see Bush toasted irrationally, since he lit the match.


A commentator on CNN just said that if the US becomes isolationist and refuses to engage our neighbors the terrorists will have won. (I'm looking forward to hearing John Bolton sing "Blowing in The Wind" at the next meeting of the UN security council.)

The New York Times reports:

"If the furor over the port deal should go on, Mr. England said, it would give enemies of the United States aid and comfort: 'They want us to become distrustful, they want us to become paranoid and isolationist.'"

Republican voters, if you question the port deal, the administration
thinks you're a traitor.

Update: John Aravosis doesn't think much of Gordon England.

Update II: For unknown reasons the NY Times has scrubbed the England quote from its story. It's still in this story in the SF Chronicle.
Castrati Chat

by digby

Rush has been on a strange tangent the last couple of days. Aside from his strange sensitivity to the feelings of terrorist supporting middle eastern potentates (which actually makes sense when you stop and think about it) he also appears to be somewhat obsessive on other subjects:

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm tempted to say that we are on "Summers's eve." We are at Summers's eve. I know Summer's Eve is also -- I think; I used to be an expert in these things -- a feminine deodorant spray, but it's also -- it also designates, ladies and gentlemen, that we are in the last days of the administration of Larry Summers as president of Harvard. And, by the way, this happened -- I think we need to change the name from Harvard to Hervard, because a bunch of angry feminazis took him out simply because he spoke the truth about diversity on campus and the differences in men and women.

The feminist movement is still alive and well, and it contains the central belief there's really no difference between men and women, we're all the same, we're all just conditioned differently, but we can all do what everybody else does, we're all equal, there is no inherent difference. Now, you think I'm laughing when I -- joking when I suggest they change the name from Harvard to Hervard; they changed the word "history" to "herstory" at one point, remember, in the militant feminist movement. In fact, maybe we can have two schools, Hisvard and Hervard, and just sequester the students. Hervard: Übersexuals need not apply, metrosexuals would be welcome, but the few slots are very competitive. Transsexuals, your scholarship's in the mail before you even apply.

And this, from the same day, is just strange:

OK, so there's that. Lemme put that aside. Next little story, and this -- this actually is from Sunday. It's an Associated Press story: "Ginsburg bears burden without O'Connor. It'll be a one-woman show in the Supreme Court starting Tuesday. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the only female among the nine justices, and she's not so happy about it." So, resign. If you don't like it, resign. If you don't like being the only woman on the court, then go somewhere else. Besides, David Souter's a girl. Everybody knows that. What's the big deal? I'm talking about attitudinally, here, folks. You gotta -- you just -- Dawn [studio transcriber] agrees. She's nodding her head in agreement.

The day before that:

Speaking of Jimmy Carter, did you see what his son, Jack, said? ..."I am pro-choice as far as a woman choosing. But I am against abortion." Well, there is a totally worthless view. This is just his version of, "I support the troops, but I don't support the war." Or "I'm against slavery, but I oppose freeing the slaves. I'm for jobs, but I'm not for Wal-Mart. I'm for open government, except when a Democrat's in office, and I want to have the power to do what I want to do without anybody seeing me."

I mean these people are just -- they are so -- just total wimps. Come on, Jack, tell us what you really believe, and stand for something, and come out and lead on that basis, Jack. This is -- "No, I wanna make sure I don't offend the women." This -- this is -- here you go. Classic example of the castrati, the new castrati. Jack Carter is -- has been castrated by the feminization of this culture since he grew up. He's -- he's three years older than I am. He was subject to the same pressures I was, plus probably even more, what with his dad being in there in the White House and so forth.

You heard, of course, that he and Daryn Kagan broke up recently. (I know, I know)

It sounds like Rush has even more issues with women than he did before. It also sounds like he's heavily trolling his favorite porn sites. He's got transexuals and castrati on the brain again.

Shipping News

by digby

CNN just reported that Condoleeza Rice called for Syria to cooperate in the investigation of the assassination of the Lebanese prime minister. She really ought to keep that issue quiet for the moment.

Check out this report from Robert Parry:

The Bush administration is letting the United Arab Emirates take control of six key U.S. ports despite its own port’s reputation as a smuggling center used by arms traffickers, drug dealers and terrorists, apparently including the assassins of Lebanon’s ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Press accounts have noted that the UAE’s port of Dubai served as the main transshipment point for Pakistani nuclear engineer Abdul Q. Khan’s illicit transfers of materiel for building atomic bombs as well as the location of the money-laundering operations used by the Sept. 11 hijackers, two of whom came from the UAE.

But the year-old mystery of the truck-bomb assassination of Hariri also has wound its way through the UAE’s port facilities. United Nations investigators tracked the assassins’ white Mitsubishi Canter Van from Japan, where it had been stolen, to the UAE, according to a Dec. 10, 2005, U.N. report.

At that time, UAE officials had been unable to track what happened to the van after its arrival in Dubai. Presumably the van was loaded onto another freighter and shipped by sea through the Suez Canal to Lebanon, but the trail had gone cold in the UAE.

While not spelling out the precise status of the investigation in the UAE, the Dec. 10 report said U.N. investigators had sought help from “UAE authorities to trace the movements of this vehicle, including reviewing shipping documents from the UAE and, with the assistance of the UAE authorities, attempting to locate and interview the consignees of the container in which the vehicle or its parts is believed to have been shipped.”

The UAE’s competence – or lack of it – in identifying the “consignees” or the freighter used to transport the van to Lebanon could be the key to solving the Hariri murder. This tracking ability also might demonstrate whether UAE port supervisors have the requisite skills for protecting U.S. ports from terrorist penetration.

The Bush administration anticipated this and made sure this was addressed in the secret agreement:

Under the deal, the government asked Dubai Ports to operate American seaports with existing U.S. managers "to the extent possible." It promised to take "all reasonable steps" to assist the Homeland Security Department, and it pledged to continue participating in security programs to stop smuggling and detect illegal shipments of nuclear materials.

That "reviewing shipping documents" thing might be a little problem though. There is this:

The administration did not require Dubai Ports to keep copies of business records on U.S. soil, where they would be subject to court orders. It also did not require the company to designate an American citizen to accommodate U.S. government requests. Outside legal experts said such obligations are routinely attached to U.S. approvals of foreign sales in other industries.

Let's just hope that DHS doesn't need to look at any "business records" in order to trace terrorist activity in the US. I'm sure it's nothing to worry about.

Civil War

by tristero

Is there now a civil war in Iraq, as the lunatic right is so eager to have its opponents claim? And would calling the horrors going on now within Iraq a "civil war" help or even further obscure any understanding of what's going on?

Depends on the meaning of civil war which, I gather, is not at all a set definition among legitimate scholars. This, of course, lets the wingnuts play their grotestque sophistical games - Who sez it's civil war? Only by liberals' definition! - games made more perverse as the blood flows ever more freely. But there's something more important at stake than arguing over when a civil war is "officially" a civil war or just "significant civic untidiness." And that is trying to get some sort of conceptual handle with which to comprehend what is indisputably a violent, chaotic catastrophe.

How do I see the events of the last few days, the mosque bombing and the subsequent violence? I see them as making the issue of a disintegrative civil war in Iraq - and the scope of its tragic potential - an issue that is long overdue for serious focus. And make no mistake: The United States will be blamed for it. Not only Bush, but you and me. Although many of us fought as hard as we could to prevent Bush from doing anything as stupid as invading and conquering Iraq, we - and our kids- will be blamed; we will have to endure the consequences of the incompetence and stupidity of the Bush administration.

As a preliminary to a serious discussion, here are some remarks from September 16, 2005 from the Council on Foreign Relations. There is much more to be said, of course. And there are things I disagree with here. But they are interesting and thougthful comments:
Lionel Beehner,staff writer for cfr.org, asked several experts their opinions of what constitutes a civil war, and whether the situation in Iraq qualifies or not.

[Michael O'Hanlon] "The kind of civil war I’m worried about is of the ethnic-cleansing kind, where people form militias and clear out neighborhoods...If you saw the militia-style combats—clearing out neighborhoods, people fighting each other and getting killed in pitched gun battles versus car bombs, or leaders calling for more organized conflict—then that would constitute a civil war."

[Kenneth Katzman] "Civil war is organized violence designed to change the political structure or governance within a country, or internal conflict within a state...

This week [September 16, 2005] it’s definitely become clearer that we’ve entered civil war, but whether it’s a sustained or permanent feature, we don’t know. Also, I wouldn’t say it’s full-blown, that is, where it’s neighborhood against neighborhood...just because you don’t have one side fighting back doesn’t mean you’re not in a civil war. "


[Marina Ottaway] "To go from acts of terrorism to civil war you need two population groups deliberately targeting each other. As long as it is insurgents trying to kill people to dissemminate terror, and the population is angry at the terrorists, that does not constitute civil war. In the case of Iraq, we would talk of civil war if the insurgents, who are overwhelmingly Sunni, started to deliberately target Shiites (or Kurds) and the targeted group reacted by holding every Sunni responsible, and thus would seek revenge against all Sunnis. I’m very hesitant to say you have a civil war in Iraq now. [Again, as of September 16, 2005].

I think Iraq is sliding very closely in that direction. It’s not quite there yet, but there is no longer a viable political process underway to halt the slide into civil war."

[David Phillips] "It’s already civil war. Civil war is sectarian-based conflict that’s systematic and coordinated. This has been going on for some time [in Iraq]...Next, what happens is the political process breaks down and sectarian strife worsens, Iraqi Kurds withdraw their cooperation from the government, ethnic conflict ensues, and Iraq starts to fragment. This will force the United States to manage the deconstruction of Iraq, meaning the country is not viable, and the United States can’t have 140,000 troops in the middle of a civil war. We’ll have to withdraw troops to the north, draw a line in the thirty-sixth parallel [which formerly demarcated the largely Kurdish no-fly zone from the rest of Iraq], and secure U.S. national interests, in the form of Kirkuk’s oil fields and protecting democracy in northern Iraq."

[Thomas X. Hammes]: "I think you know it when you see it, but we’re not there yet. In a true civil war, the mass of society on both sides is involved. Civil war would require family-on-family violence. That’s not the case yet...Obviously, all sides are preparing for the possibility [of civil war], but I think as long as [Shiites and Sunnis] are talking and trying to work through the constitution, we’re OK. "


[Steven Metz] "It’s really a whole spectrum because when we hear the phrase “civil war,” we think of the equivilance of total war. But I think there are lots of things at lower levels that constitute civil war. In terms of its definition, it’s obviously just war primarily internal to a country, even though it could have some external involvement. I’ve said all along the chances are perhaps fifty-fifty that the ultimate outcome [in Iraq] will be some sort of major civil war. I haven’t seen anything politically or militarily that would lead me to change that position.

The bottom line is Iraqis don’t have a strong sense of national identity but rather a sense of tribal and local identities. Countries like that are only able to avoid internal conflict if they have a powerful, central government, like Iraq had under Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, a democracy is not the type of government equipped to hold together such a fractured society."