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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Political Constraints

by digby

Josh Marshall is chronicling the rapidly emerging rightwing "stab in the back" meme in which George W. Churchill was betrayed by both the American and Iraqi people. Big surprise. It's an interesting series of posts and I urge you to read them all. Here's an excerpt from one:

Stanley Kurtz's excuse: "The underlying problem with this war is that, from the outset, it has been waged under severe domestic political constraints. From the start, the administration has made an assessment of how large a military the public would support, and how much time the public would allow us to build democracy and then get out of Iraq. We then shaped our military and "nation building" plans around those political constraints, crafting a "light footprint" military strategy linked to rapid elections and a quick handover of power. Unfortunately, the constraints of domestic American public opinion do not match up to what is actually needed to bring stability and democracy to a country like Iraq."

It may be a form of literary grade or concept inflation to call it irony. But the irony of this ludicrous statement is that from the outset it has been the American political opposition (the Democrats) and the internal bureaucratic opposition (sane people in the US government and military, not appointed by George W. Bush) who've pushed for a much larger military footprint in Iraq and much more real nation-building. These weren't 'domesic political constraints'. These were ideological constraints the adminstration placed on itself.

That's true enough for those who thought the war was even feasible from the get --- and there were plenty of us who didn't think so, which Josh acknowledges. But to the extent Democrats supported the war they certainly believed that Bush should have gotten UN backing, created a large coalition, put more boots on the ground and hired smart people who knew something about nation building, none of which he did.

I had actually assumed during the run-up that Bush thought he could get a large international coalition to join him simply because he was the president of the United States and when he told countries to join us, he meant it --- and they would be so impressed with his mighty codpiece and magnificent "gut" they would do as they were told. I had long believed that it was when that failed that the large scale occupation force was no longer possible. That turned out to be wrong. Bush never gave a damn about a coalition, he wanted to use Rummy's light force and he thought that democracy would magically happen because people everywhere just wanna be free. He has been revealed to be even more of an idiot than we previously thought.

But if the current stab-in-the-back argument is that the American people should have supported the war more, perhaps the people who are making that argument should go back and look at what the American people actually thought at the time we went in. It's not something that couldn't have been anticipated. A majority backed the war if the US could get an international coalition together. Throughout the run-up polls said over and over again that Americans expected Bush to get UN backing. He did not feel he needed to do that, he lied repeatedly, invaded anyway and once the invasion began most Americans rallied because they felt they had no choice. They hung in longer than they had any reason to.

So Kurtz is essentially right. The public had never fully approved of the war in the first place. But I don't know why this translates to some sort of failure on the part of the public. It's Bush's fault for going ahead anyway and then making the whole mid-east FUBAR. His job --- and the job of his followers -- was to get the public on-board. They didn't make an honest case and now they have to deal with the consequences.

I'm sorry that these starry-eyed neocons who looked at George Bush and saw a genius are disappointed that the rest of the country didn't support their vision. They were given more of a chance to prove themselves than dreamers and fools usually are --- and they failed on a grand scale. This is what the Bushites deserve and what they should expect for ram-rodding through a war without real public support and then screwing it up royally. The families of all these dead and wounded soldiers, unfortunately, didn't deserve this and neither did the poor Iraqis who didn't know they were going to be guinea pigs in a 7th grade neocon thought experiment based on cartoons and psycho-babble.

Blaming the American people is an excellent political strategy, however, and I hope these conservatives keep it up. There's nothing that betrayed voters like more than to be called stupid, cowardly and traitorous. (I know I've been enjoying it for the last couple of decades.) I'm sure all those independents and moderates who now see through Bush and the Republicans are going to love it too. It really clarifies your thinking.

This isn't the 1970's. They aren't going to get away with blaming the cowardly public this time. There are no hippies to hate ---- just millions of average, taxpaying, middle class Americans who know damned well when they've been lied to. And if they don't, there are many of us out here who will remind them.

Gooble Gobble, Gooble Gobble, We Accept Him, We Accept Him, One Of Us, One Of Us!

by tristero

Recent photo of Joshua M. Marshall courtesy T. Browning.

The scales have fallen yet farther from Josh Marshall's eyes:
It really does seem as though the cardinals of DC punditry are constitutionally incapable of believing that George W. Bush has ever -- in the real sense -- gotten anything wrong or that they, the Washington establishment, has gotten anything wrong over the last six years.

I don't like to use such words but I can only think to call the denial and buck-passing sickening. I can't think of another word that captures the gut reaction...

...Let's first take note that the 'blame the American people for Bush's screw-ups' meme has definitely hit the big time. It's not Bush who bit off more than he could chew or did something incredibly stupid or screwed things up in a way that defies all imagining [assert the DC punditocracy]. Bush's 'error' here is not realizing in advance that the American people would betray him as he was marching into history. The 'tragedy' is that Bush "bit off more than the American people were willing to chew." That just takes my breath away...

...This is noxious, risible, fetid thinking. But there it is. That's the story they want to tell. The whole place is rotten down to the very core.
Indeed it is. And many us found DC conventional wisdom sickeningly corrupt long before nearly 3,000 American troops died and countless tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. Had Josh truly comprehended, say, what Somerby's been writing for years and years and years, it wouldn't have taken Josh 1/10th so long to join us reality-based freaks. Still, welcome to the club.

The Taming Of The Upstart

by digby

Jesus H Christ. I'm watching some "Democratic strategist" named Rich Masters agree with Joe Scarborough that Jim Webb had made a rookie mistake by failing to kiss George W. Bush's ass when the jerk got snippy with him. Scarborough and whichever GOPbot they have on there agrees that it really reflects badly on the democratic party as a whole and Webb should apologise.

When these Democrats go on TV and fail to correct the record they turn these ridiculous manufactured flaps into news stories for the benefit of of the kewl kidz and the Republicans alike. I don't know what it will take to get them to stop doing it. They are making Jim Webb into one of the "crazy" guys like they made Gore and they made Dean. Don't they get that whenever a Democrats stands up to a republicans the establishment turns around and says they are nuts. Why are they helping them?

But there is more to this story than meets the eye. George Will got the vapors and called for the smelling salts this morning over Webb's allegedly boorish behavior, which is what's fueling the story today. But Will completely misrepresented what was said. George W. Bush acted like a prick, not Webb.

Here's Greg Sargent:

Will writes:

Wednesday's Post reported that at a White House reception for newly elected members of Congress, Webb "tried to avoid President Bush," refusing to pass through the reception line or have his picture taken with the president. When Bush asked Webb, whose son is a Marine in Iraq, "How's your boy?" Webb replied, "I'd like to get them [sic] out of Iraq." When the president again asked "How's your boy?" Webb replied, "That's between me and my boy."

Will says the episode demonstrates Webb's "calculated rudeness toward another human being" -- i.e., the President -- who "asked a civil and caring question, as one parent to another."

But do you notice something missing from Will's recounting of the episode?

Here's how the Washingon Post actually reported on the episode the day before Will's column:

At a recent White House reception for freshman members of Congress, Virginia's newest senator tried to avoid President Bush. Democrat James Webb declined to stand in a presidential receiving line or to have his picture taken with the man he had often criticized on the stump this fall. But it wasn't long before Bush found him.

"How's your boy?" Bush asked, referring to Webb's son, a Marine serving in Iraq.

"I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.

"That's not what I asked you," Bush said. "How's your boy?"

"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb said coldly, ending the conversation on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House.

See what happened? Will omitted the pissy retort from the President that provoked Webb. Will cut out the line from the President where he said: "That's not what I asked you." In Will's recounting, that instead became a sign of Bush's parental solicitiousness: "The president again asked `How's your boy?'"

Will's change completely alters the tenor of the conversation from one in which Bush was rude first to Webb, which is what the Post's original account suggested, to one in which Webb was inexplicably rude to the President, which is how Will wanted to represent what happened.

It's virtually impossible to see how that could have been the result of mere incompetence on Will's part. Rather, it's very clear that Will cut the line because it was an inconvenient impediment to his journalistic goal, which was to portray Webb as a "boor" who was rude to the Commander in Chief, and to show that this new upstart is a threat to Washington's alleged code of "civility and clear speaking" (his words). On that score, also note that in the original version, Webb said "Mr. President" twice -- and neither appeared in Will's version.

George Will is a liar, pure and simple. But, for some reason (I have my suspicions) certain Democrats are also blaming Webb. The flap really got started with some unnamed Democratic staffer idiot who said yesterday "I think Webb is going to be a total pain. He's going to do things his own way." (I wonder if his initials are Marshall Wittman?) That was what got the storyline rolling.

But it wasn't seen as a Webb gaffe originally. Yesterday, CNN had characterized the exchange entirely differently:

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Jim Webb became a Democrat and ran for the Senate for one big reason, Iraq.

JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA SENATOR-ELECT: I was an early voice warning against the implications of invading and occupying Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: Webb has special credibility on Iraq. He was a military officer who served in Vietnam, a former secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, and he has a son serving in Iraq.


SCHNEIDER: He wore his son's old combat boots during the campaign.

WEBB: I have tremendous admiration for my son and for everyone else who is serving there that they need to be led properly.

SCHNEIDER: Webb took on President Bush directly.

WEBB: But the keyword is leadership, which has been a scarce commodity among this administration and its followers.

SCHNEIDER: President Bush saw Webb at a White House reception for new members of Congress this month. Webb had this exchange with the president which he confirmed to "The Washington Post."

How's your boy, Bush asked? I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President, Webb replied. That's not what I asked you, Bush said. How's your boy? That's between me and my boy, Mr. President, Webb said.

The White House incident is costing a lot of tut-tutting in Washington. A Democratic Senate staffer told "The Post", I think Webb is going to be a total pain. He's going to do things his own way -- shock, horror. Webb reassures his colleagues...

WEBB: I've spent four years as a committee counsel in the Congress. I know how the process works.

SCHNEIDER: Webb's confrontation is a striking contrast to the pictures of Democrats meeting with President Bush and pledging cooperation and bipartisanship. It's also not the way things usually get done in Washington, but it is what a lot of people voted for.


SCHNEIDER: Webb did not run as a typical politician. And it doesn't look like he's about to change now that he's gotten elected -- Wolf.

I can't help but wonder why Democratic spokespeople are out there today portraying this as a "mistake" when Schneider had seen it as a sign of Democratic spine just yesterday afternoon. Unless they are literally taking their marching orders from the lying George Will, this seems to me to be a public spanking from the establishment of both parties.

The fact is that George W. Bush acted like an ass when a US marine, war hero, father and US Senator said that he'd like to see his son brought home from Iraq. We've all seen how he acts when he gets snippy. In fact, it's legendary. Here's one of my favorites:

The American people must understand when I said that we need to be patient, that I meant it. And we're going to be there for a while. I don't know the exact moment when we leave, David, but it's not until the mission is complete. The world must know that this administration will not blink in the face of danger and will not tire when it comes to completing the missions that we said we would do. The world will learn that when the United States is harmed, we will follow through. The world will see that when we put a coalition together that says "Join us," I mean it. And when I ask others to participate, I mean it.

Here's another one:

A lesson for correspondents covering Mr. Bush: When abroad, stick to English in the president's presence.

Offenders might otherwise find themselves in the situation David Gregory, an NBC News White House correspondent, who appeared to raise Mr. Bush's ire Sunday afternoon at Élysée Palace when he asked a rather in-your-face question to a tired president, then broke into French to seek Mr. Chirac's opinion.

Perhaps Mr. Bush thought the French question was directed at him, or perhaps he thought Mr. Gregory was showing off. Whatever the case, Mr. Bush, his voice dripping with sarcasm, said "Very good, the guy memorizes four words, and he plays like he's intercontinental." (Mr. Gregory offered to go on in French, but that only made things worse.)

"I'm impressed ?que bueno," said Mr. Bush, using the Spanish phrase for "how wonderful." He added: "Now I'm literate in two languages."

Or this:

It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States.

Webb replied to him in a serious fashion and Bush snapped at him. It's what he does. He doesn't like being challenged and he rarely is. Look what he said about Karl Rove on the day after the election: "I obviously was working harder in the campaign than he was." Sure it was a joke, but it was a nasty thing to say --- especially to his longtime political partner --- whom he calls "turdblossom."

The man is a rude prick. Webb doesn't seem inclined to put up with rude pricks, even when they are president of the United States. And somebody in the Democratic party apparently doesn't like that. Now why is that?

Update: One of the Webb-sites writes that he has heard the exchange was even worse than reported. Webb's kid came under heavy fire a couple of weeks ago and three of his comrades died. Bush is said to have approached him with a snotty tone, like "nice boy you have there --- be a shame if anything happened to him" sort of thing. I have no way of knowing if this is true. But it is, at least, believable. Bush has a very nasty sense of humor and there's no doubt he could say something in that tone with crude intent. This is the guy who mocked Karla Faye Tucker begging for her life. He doesn't have a lot of limits.

Update II: This is Rich Masters. Now I get it.

The Forgotten War

by tristero

[UPDATE: The tall man in comments wrote, in response to this post: "Please provide one instance of contemporary American Christians being this bloody, you delusional moron." He would be, of course, entitled to his opinion of my mental state, had he only read what I wrote. But he didn't.

I wrote that christianists, NOT Christians, CAN get this bloody. Some recent examples, mentioned in comments are, of course, Eric Rudolph and Timothy McVeigh. David Neiwert also has an example of some christianist terrorists caught a few years ago with an enormous arsenal, apparently within weeks of deployment. This is not to mention those christianists, eg the Phelps family and Christian Reconstruction followers of Rushdoony who are perfectly prepared to execute men who have consensual sex relations with other men (ditto women), and others.

And that's for starters.

These people are an insult to genuine Christians. That is why I insist upon distinguishing between political activists and extremists who exploit the symbols of Christianity and Christianity itself.]

To those who thought the Taliban was gone, driven out by the "successful" US invasion of Afghanistan, think again. This is also an object lesson in what happens when political extremists use religious texts to drive their will to power. This is why America's christianists who, Rushdoony teaches us, can get just as bloody, must be fought:
The gunmen came at night to drag Mohammed Halim away from his home, in front of his crying children and his wife begging for mercy.

The 46-year-old schoolteacher tried to reassure his family that he would return safely. But his life was over, he was part-disembowelled and then torn apart with his arms and legs tied to motorbikes, the remains put on display as a warning to others against defying Taliban orders to stop educating girls.

Mr Halim was one of four teachers killed in rapid succession by the Islamists at Ghazni, a strategic point on the routes from Kabul to the south and east which has become the scene of fierce clashes between the Taliban and US and Afghan forces.
h/t Daou Report

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

President Unbound

by digby

Last week tristero approvingly linked to this exceptional essay in the NY Review of Books by Mark Danner in which he synthesizes certain aspects of recent books on the Bush administration and tells a very straighforward tale of what went wrong with the Iraq war.

Now, I have long agreed with the thesis that the chances of success were nil no matter how well the "plan" (whatever it was) was carried out. And I am fully prepared to wade through the many comments that will inevitably come stating that this is all part of a grand plan for oil or permanent bases or world domination or whatever, which will all be true to some extent or another. But as word finally begins to trickle out from this previously leak-proof administration, it's becoming clear that John DiUlio's early observations of the Mayberry Machiavellis was spot on. There was no "plan." There was just wishin' and hopin' and competing visions and magical thinking. It was as bad as any of us imagined in our craziest blog posts.

This was an unusually incompetent group at everything but domestic electoral politics (and it turns out that they weren't even all that good at that.) They may have had big plans and big ambitions, but they never had even the first clue about how to implement them. And they were led by a man of such shallow character and dim intellect that they could not learn.

This all proves that it really matters who the president is. It matters a lot. We will be electing a new administration in less than two years and it's important to try to learn from this, beyond ideology, beyond partisanship. The Bush administration debacle is not, after all, confined to Iraq. There was Katrina as well, along with untold numbers of domestic, economic and foreign policy crises that have been put into motion and haven't yet come to fruition. The malfeasance wasn't confined to Don Rumsfeld or Doug Feith.

Here's a rather long excerpt from Danner's piece that I think begins to explain just how important the choice of president is, no matter how many "grown-ups" you surround him with. (I urge you to read the wholething however for the full flavor of the dysfunction and ineptitude of the Bush White House) :

Rumsfeld's war envisioned rapid victory and rapid departure. Wolfowitz and the other Pentagon neoconservatives, on the other hand, imagined a "democratic transformation," a thoroughgoing social revolution that would take a Baathist Party–run autocracy, complete with a Baathist-led army and vast domestic spying and security services, and transform it into a functioning democratic polity—without the participation of former Baathist officials.

How to resolve this contradiction? The answer, for the Pentagon, seems to have amounted to one word: Chalabi. "When it came to Iraq," James Risen writes in State of War,

the Pentagon believed it had the silver bullet it needed to avoid messy nation building—a provisional government in exile, built around Chalabi, could be established and then brought in to Baghdad after the invasion.

This so-called "turnkey operation" seems to have appeared to be the perfect compromise plan: Chalabi was Shiite, as were most Iraqis, but he was also a secularist who had lived in the West for nearly fifty years and was close to many of the Pentagon civilians. Alas, there was one problem: the confirmed idealist in the White House "was adamant that the United States not be seen as putting its thumb on the scales" of the nascent Iraqi democracy. Chalabi, for all his immense popularity in the Pentagon and in the Vice President's office, would not be installed as president of Iraq.

Though "Bush's commitment to democracy was laudable," as Risen observes, his awkward intervention "was not really the answer to the question of postwar planning." He goes on:

Once Bush quashed the Pentagon's plans, the administration failed to develop any acceptable alternative.... Instead, once the Pentagon realized the president wasn't going to let them install Chalabi, the Pentagon leadership did virtually nothing. After Chalabi, there was no Plan B.

An unnamed White House official describes to Risen the Laurel-and-Hardy consequences within the government of the President's attachment to the idea of democratic elections in Iraq:

Part of the reason the planning for post-Saddam Iraq was so nonexistent was that the State Department had been saying if you invade, you have to plan for the postwar. And DOD said, no you don't. You can set up a provisional government in exile around Chalabi. DOD had a stupid plan, but they had a plan. But if you don't do that plan, and you don't make the Pentagon work with State to develop something else, then you go to war with no plan.

Woodward tends to blame "the broken policy process" on the relative strength of personalities gathered around the cabinet table: the power and ruthlessness of Rumsfeld, the legendary "bureaucratic infighter"; the weakness of Rice, the very function and purpose of whose job, to let the President both benefit from and control the bureaucracy, was in effect eviscerated. Suskind, more convincingly, argues that Bush and Cheney constructed precisely the government they wanted: centralized, highly secretive, its clean, direct lines of decision unencumbered by information or consultation. "There was never any policy process to break, by Condi or anyone else," Richard Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state, remarks to Suskind. "There was never one from the start. Bush didn't want one, for whatever reason." Suskind suggests why in an acute analysis of personality and leadership:

Of the many reasons the President moved in this direction, the most telling may stem from George Bush's belief in his own certainty and, especially after 9/11, his need to protect the capacity to will such certainty in the face of daunting complexity. His view of right and wrong, and of righteous actions— such as attacking evil or spreading "God's gift" of democracy—were undercut by the kind of traditional, shades-of-gray analysis that has been a staple of most presidents' diets. This President's traditional day began with Bible reading at dawn, a workout, breakfast, and the briefings of foreign and domestic threats.... The hard, complex analysis, in this model, would often be a thin offering, passed through the filters of Cheney or Rice, or not presented at all.

...This granted certain unique advantages to Bush. With fewer people privy to actual decisions, tighter confidentiality could be preserved, reducing leaks. Swift decisions—either preempting detailed deliberation or ignoring it—could move immediately to implementation, speeding the pace of execution and emphasizing the hows rather than the more complex whys.

What Bush knew before, or during, a key decision remained largely a mystery. Only a tiny group—Cheney, Rice, Card, Rove, Tenet, Rumsfeld—could break this seal.

This says it all. Bush had been this way when he was governor of Texas. We knew, for instance, that he'd had his aides read him short abstracts of death penalty reports rather than reading them himself --- and he never questioned their assumptions. The man had not ever been truly interested in the job of governance, nor did he take it particularly seriously.

Still, one would have thought that when it came to running the most powerful nation in the world he would have grown in the job. He didn't. He and Cheney created a small,insular circle of incompetent advisors that fed his ego and his tiny mind. What wasn't clear until now is how well they controlled him. It turns out --- not so much.An amazing amount of power resides in the person of the president, regardless of how dim or ill informed he is, and as that anecdote shows, when the president speaks, even if he has no idea of the consequences of his decision, people obey.

His romantic and childlike belief in the magical "democracy" that was created for public consumption by the greeting card poets on the rightwing welfare rolls led him to make a fateful decision that was both right and wrong at the same time. But he made it and there was no other plan and neither he nor anyone else seemed to think that was a problem. The tinker bell strategy in full effect.

Danner continues:

Suskind describes how many of those in the "foreign policy establishment" found themselves "befuddled" by the way the traditional policy process was viewed not only as unproductive but "perilous." Information, that is, could slow decision-making; indeed, when it had to do with a bold and risky venture like the Iraq war, information and discussion—an airing, say, of the precise obstacles facing a "democratic transition" conducted with a handful of troops—could paralyze it. If the sober consideration of history and facts stood in the way of bold action then it would be the history and the facts that would be discarded. The risk of doing nothing, the risk, that is, of the status quo, justified acting. Given the grim facts on the ground—the likelihood of a future terrorist attack from the "malignant" Middle East, the impossibility of entirely protecting the country from it—better to embrace the unknown. Better, that is, to act in the cause of "constructive instability"—a wonderfully evocative phrase, which, as Suskind writes, was

the term used by various senior officials in regard to Iraq—a term with roots in pre-9/11 ideas among neoconservatives about the need for a new, muscular, unbounded American posture; and outgrowths that swiftly took shape after the attacks made everything prior to 9/11 easily relegated to dusty history.

The past—along with old-style deliberations based on cause and effect or on agreed-upon precedents—didn't much matter; nor did those with knowledge and prevailing policy studies, of agreements between nations, or of long-standing arrangements defining the global landscape.

What mattered, by default, was the President's "instinct" to guide America across the fresh, post-9/11 terrain—a style of leadership that could be rendered within tiny, confidential circles.

America, unbound, was duly led by a President, unbound.

I blame the media for this. After 9/11 they lost their minds and became unthinking hagiographers and adminstration cheerleaders to an absurd extent. The man's halting, incoherent first press conference after 9/11 scared me more than the attacks and yet the press corps behaved as if they were in the presence of a God whose stuttering, meandering gibberish were words uttered from on high. He was called a genius and compared to Winston Churchill. Paeans to his greatness were turned into best sellers. His "gut" was infallible. It was patently obvious that he was in over his head and yet this bizarre, almost hallucinogenic image of the man emerged in the media that actually made me question my sanity at times. It took years for this trance to wear off with a majority of the public and even longer in the media. It was one of the strangest phenomenons I've ever observed.

Until recently, however, I was never quite sure if Bush himself believed it. It appears that he did. Big time. And that belief in his own hype created a completely dysfunctional organization. I suspect that what started out as a shield by Cheney and Rove to narrow the influences upon him may have morphed into a bubble designed to keep him from completely spinning out of control. But it couldn't keep him from making decisions, and make them he did, without thought or analysis or knowledge. His belief in his "gut" and God's anointment has been leading this nation since 9/11. Combined with Cheney's megalomaniacal belief in untrammelled executive power it has been a disaster.(In fact, Cheney could not have chosen a better subject to more thoroughly discredit his theory than Junior.)

I understand that it is difficult to know in advance what constitutes a real leader. A resume isn't enough to make one (although it's certainly better than not having one at all) and depending on personality or symbols isn't enough either. I don't know what the magic formula is. I do know that when someone speaks like a fool and acts like a spoiled child and appears to be "intellectually uncurious" and has never done anything in life that would give you a clue that he knows how to govern or lead -- well, it's not a good idea to make that person the most powerful person on the planet. If we've learned nothing else, I hope we have learned that.

The president matters. But whether or not we want to have a beer with him or whether or not we approve of his private life is not what matters about him or her. These are false hueristics and they don't add up to leadership any more than years of political experience translates into great political skills. Citizens need to think a little bit harder about this choice, look a little deeper, ask some serious questions. Part of the job is certainly PR and a president does have to be the star of the national TV show for four years. But it's a lot more than that and Americans need to rediscover a healthy sense of the requirements of this particular job.

Most importantly, the people who work in politics and the media need to take this more seriously. Presidential politics isn't American Idol, it's a contest for the leadership of the United States of America and putting together an "electable" package cannot be the only focus. And it goes without saying that this kewl kidz and mean girls nonsense from the press has to stop. The past six years have been a tragedy and we desperately need some thoughtful, intelligent, competent leadership to set this right.

Bloggy Fun

by tristero

I agreed to participate in an academic survey of political blogs. The people doing it are interested also in hearing from blog readers so if you are interested in participating, you can go to this link and take the survey. If they ask, choose tristero, as Hullabaloo is not listed.
Bush's Compassion

by tristero

Talk about stunted social skills:
At a private reception held at the White House with newly elected lawmakers shortly after the election, Bush asked Webb how his son, a Marine lance corporal serving in Iraq, was doing.

Webb responded that he really wanted to see his son brought back home, said a person who heard about the exchange from Webb.

"I didn't ask you that, I asked how he's doing," Bush retorted, according to the source.
I've omitted Webb's response, which you are more than welcome to read about at the link, because I want to focus entirely on the unspeakable callousness Bush displayed here.

Folks, political enemy or friend, that is no way - ever- for anyone to talk to the father of a kid who's in a combat zone.

This is the same man who reminisced about his hell-raisin' during a speech at the worst natural disaster in American history. This is the same man who, when, asked to name his greatest achievement while president, "joked" that it was when he caught a large fish in his fake pond on his Crawford estate - sorry, ranch. This is the same man who, when informed that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center in less than 10 minutes, sat reading "My Pet Goat" in a children's classroom. This is the same man who, in front of a supporter who he assumed wouldn't report it, mockingly imitated a woman about to be executed in his state.


h/t, Josh Marshall

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Talking To The Hand

by digby

NEWSWEEK: Your grandfather was Muslim, but you are a Christian. What did you think of the pope’s original comments about Islam and how the reaction played out?

Barack Obama: Well, I think that we live in a time where there are enormous religious sensitivities, and I have no doubt that the pope did not intend to offend the Muslim faith any more than many of us sometimes say things in a different context that aren’t intended to cause offense. But I think all of us, particularly religious leaders, have to be mindful that there are a lot of sensitivities out there. Now, the flip side is that there are those in the Muslim community who are looking to take offense and are constantly on the lookout for anything that would indicate that the West is somehow antagonistic toward Islam.

Did he say anything that he needed to apologize for?

You know, I leave it up to the pope. He made an apology and I wouldn’t challenge his judgment on it.

Did you read what he said?

I read what he said. And, as I said, I think he is mindful that he did not want to cause offense or pain, and to the extent that he did, I think he felt it necessary to apologize. My point, I guess is that all sides in the current environment have to be very careful how we talk about faith. I gave a speech recently in which I said that Democrats, for example, should not be afraid to talk about faith. But I think we’ve got to do so in a way that admits the possibility that we are not always right, that our particular faith may not have all the monopoly on truth, and we’ve got to be able to listen to other people. You know I think one of the trends we are seeing right now, and which I think is causing so much political grief both domestically and internationally, is that absolutism has become sort of the flavor of the day.

And lukewarm water will dilute it, I guess. He's completely right that Democrats need to get with the program and recognise that we don't have a monopoly on truth. All this absolutism has got to stop. It's a big problem for us:

Barack Obama's efforts to reach out to evanglical Christians in preparation for his possible Presidential campaign is running into very stiff resistance from the Christian right. As the Chicago Tribune reported recently, Obama is set to attend a huge evangelical gathering in California on Dec. 1, at the invitation of megachurch Pastor Rick Warren, the evangelical superstar who wrote The Purpose-Driven Life. Analysts have interpreted Obama's scheduled appearance as a sign he's working much harder than Dems ordinarily do to win over Evangelicals.

But the appearance is now provoking an intense backlash from leaders of the Christian right. They are calling on Warren to disinvite Obama from the event because of his liberal positions, especially abortion rights — or as one of those leaders put it, Obama's support of "the murder of babies in the womb."

Obama's efforts are running into fierce resistance. For instance, an open letter from a group of Christian-Right figures — including Phylis Schlafly, Tim Wildmon and others — criticizes the invitiation by citing Obama's pro-choice stance and his support for condom distribution in answer to the AIDS epidemic, "not chaste behavior as directed by the Bible."

Then there's this press release from the National Clergy Council, an umbrella group representing various conservative denominations. In the release, Rob Schenck, president of the group, did not mince words: "Senator Obama's policies represent the antithesis of biblical ethics and morality, not to mention supreme American values."

Obama's attempted inroads with evangelical voters may end up being successful, but not without a significant struggle from leading figures in that movement.

Not a problem. Democrats just need to stop being so absolutist about abortion, birth control, free speech, civil rights and religious freedom and then everyone will be Democrats. (Except liberals, but who wants to be in the same party with those losers anyway?)

Let me be clear about this. I do not dislike Obama nor do I think his conciliatory tone is necessarily incorrect. There is utility in showing the religious right's fundamental intolerance if nothing else. I do find his split-the-difference, triangulation tiresome, however, in the same way I find the news media's he said/she said analysis lazy. It does not clarify anything, it obscures reality and it makes it difficult for Democrats to take a stand on the social justice issues that might just inspire some people of faith. You will notice that in his statement above about absolutism he only calls out two groups by name --- Democrats and Muslims. Yet, there is no more intolerant group of people in this entire country than the religious right. By failing to "include" them by name in his call for conciliation he validates their phony argument that they are the victims of intolerance.

I don't have any sense that he really understand what he's up against with the right, but it looks as though he's going to find out. I will be very impressed if he goes into the belly of the beast at Warren's church and resists the temptation to trash secular liberals to make cheap points before a hostile crowd. I'll be even more impressed if he takes it as an opportunity to challenge their assumptions about themselves.

Show us the money, Obama. Psycho-babble platitudes about "listening" are not going to carry you to the White House. Start talking.

Profiles In Cowardice

by tristero

After reading all about Arlen Specter and the Military Commisions Act, which revokes habeas corpus and permits evidence obtained by torture to be admissible if the military, without oversight, says it doesn't violate Geneva, I was truly hoping the article would end with an exciting statement from the Dems that they would make reversing this montrosity a major priority. Hah!
Leahy, the incoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, voted against the Military Commissions Act and denounced its habeas provisions in especially harsh terms. But there are no signs that the new Democratic majority will take on habeas corpus anytime soon. Few Democratic politicians seem enthusiastic about proposing legislation that will principally benefit accused Al Qaeda terrorists, and, in the unlikely event that Democrats passed such a bill, it would face a certain veto from President Bush. The Supreme Court - not Congress - is likely to be the only hope for a change in the law."This is definitely not going to be the first thing out of the box for us," one Democratic Senate staffer said. "We make fun of Specter, but we're basically leaving it up to the Courts, too."
"Principally benefit accused Al Qaeda terrorists?" Exactly what are they accused of doing? Oh, sorry, that's right, I have no business asking that question, do I? And by the way, why do I want to know? Better turn myself in now...

This is a time bomb, ladies, gentlemen, and Republicans.

Just How Sick Is The Discourse In This Country?

by tristero

This sick. The influential right sez, "Fine, just blow the place up." A leading liberal hawk sez, "Bring back Saddam Hussein!"

And there you have it, specific proposals from the right and the left about what to do in the Middle East. Blow it up? Or put it back the way it was? Let's put on our most somber mien and discuss it!

And they call those of us who knew this thing was crazy from the start "third-rate minds."

No wonder "sober centrists" congeal around adding 20,000 troops and waiting one more Friedman Unit to see what happens. If these are the only alternatives on the table - because the people who were right all along are all but entirely excluded from the mass media and the government - is it any wonder that the middle position between two stupid ideas is an equally stupid idea?

Special note to the cognitively impaired who read the above and concluded I think Chait somehow represents the left or liberals. I am well aware that while Limbaugh accurately represents the right in all its Cro-Magnon stupidity, Chait is speaking only for himself. However, in the msm, Chait is the prototypical liberal hawk. So his semi-serious - according to him - proposal to return Saddam to power will be considered as a liberal idea, and denounced as, you've got it, a perfect example of how unserious and dictatorial liberals are. Kee-rist, what a fucking moron.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Gut Bomb

by digby

Following up on my post below, I just noticed that Kevin Drum has cautioned the liberal blogosphere not to rely too heavily on populist gut instinct just because the tiresome punditocrisy has lifted "centrism" to some position of worship. He's right, of course.

But as I write below, I would actually posit that the real problem is the liberal punditocrisy which reflexively rejects anything that is tainted by its association with grassroots populist sentiment. Particularly now, when many experts were marginalized because they failed to support the war and many liberals of both the netroots and grassroots were proven right, it behooves the establishment to open its minds to thinking from outside the usual suspects in the beltway. That doesn't mean they should trust us liberal bloggers' "guts." We would not ask them to. It means they should stop trusting their own. Their guts, like Bush's, are defective.

Straw Strongmen

by digby

When I read Jonathan Chait's piece in the LA Times from yesterday, I assumed he was making a Swiftian modest proposal. I read his piece to be a satirical left hook to the notion that the Baker Commission was going to find some magical solution to the Iraq quagmire and conclude that the only formula that would work would be to put Saddam back in charge.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I just saw him on Matthews explaining that he was engaging in "a little bit of hyperbole but I think there's something to it" and "maybe we should put it back where we found it."

Chait said "almost everyone with a brain says we shouldn't have gone in the first place" but later admits that he was for the war but on different grounds than the neocons who were delusional about spreading democracy. He was for the war because he thought "weapons of mass destruction were the rationale" and said "I didn't pay attention to, I confess, I didn't pay much attention to the possibility of a completely failed state. When the Bush administration talked about democracy I thought they were lying they way they lie about everything else that they do."

Matthews reminded him that in 1991 Baker and Powell had warned about the break up of Iraq if the US invaded and admitted that he got tired of hearing about that and now knows they were right. Chait, however, disagrees. He says that the post war was "bungled as badly as you could have, they had no plan, Rumsfeld threatened to fire the next general who said, 'what do we do about Iraq' in the post war. They didn't have enough troops, they broke up the Baathist bureaucracy, they broke up the army, they did it as badly as you couldn't have, so you know, I think what they could have had was a stable, you know ... last vicious dictatorship.

Matthews asked if he would have gone with the INC and Chait responds, "No, no, I thought what they would do all along was keep the Baath Party in place, get rid of Saddam, get rid of his sons..."

Matthews interrupted as he always does and moved on to another point, so perhaps Chait had something else to say, but I have to admit I was astonished by his point of view throughout the exchange. I had thought his op-ed a rather unsubtle piece of satire and it turns out that it was only barely exaggerated version of what he thought should have happened to begin with and what he still thinks should happen now. He's making a real argument.

Jonathan Chait, you'll remember, wrote the seminal essay on why liberals should support the war in October of 2002 in TNR. Apparently he forgot to mention what he "really" thought the Bush administration was going to do. (That's probably because it was as illiberal as it's possible to be and even Henry Kissinger would have found it to be beyond our ken.)

Here's what Chait had to say back then:

When asked about war, they [liberals] typically offer the following propositions: President Bush has cynically timed the debate to bolster Republican chances in the November elections, he has pursued his Iraq policy with an arrogant disregard for the views of Congress and the public, and his rationales for military action have been contradictory and in some cases false. I happen to believe all these criticisms are true (although the first is hard to prove) and that they add more evidence to what is already a damning indictment of the Bush presidency. But these are objections to the way Bush has carried out his Iraq policy rather than to the policy itself. (If Bush were to employ such dishonest tactics on behalf of, say, universal health care, that wouldn't make the policy a bad idea.) Ultimately the central question is: Does war with Iraq promote liberal foreign policy principles? The answer is yes, it does.

Liberals and conservatives share many foreign policy values in common: encouraging democracy and capitalism, responding to direct aggression, and so on. That is why, for instance, both overwhelmingly supported overthrowing the Taliban and hunting down Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In the post-cold-war era, though, liberals have centered their thinking around certain ideals with which conservatives do not agree. Writing in these pages in 1999, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer identified three distinctly liberal principles: advancing humanitarian (rather than merely national) interests; observing international law; and acting in concert with international institutions, such as the United Nations. Krauthammer cited these three principles in order to dismiss them. I disagree. Underlying all three is an understanding that American global dominance cannot last unless it is accepted by the rest of the world, and that cannot happen unless it operates on behalf of the broader good and on the basis of principles more elevated than "might makes right."

This article was widely discussed at the time and many of us chewed it over in some detail. I remember his argument quite well. (The bit about international law was particularly incoherent.)So you can imagine how startling it was to hear Chait say today that he always thought the Bush administration was lying about what it planned to do in Iraq --- and that he backed an invasion that would result in the installation of a friendly dictator. All in the name of liberal values.

Wolfowitz said long ago that WMD was the argument they could all agree upon, but the "liberal" argument was not completely ignored. We certainly got it from TNR and in the pages of the major newspapers. Indeed, it was the official liberal argument in favor of the war. Only realist misanthropes and dirty hippie throwbacks argued that the democratic domino theory was a crock. We were borderline racist and hated America for even suggesting that it might be just a tad unrealistic.

To be sure, Chait based his argument most fully on the WMD threat, but for all his skepticism about Bush's honesty in other areas, it apparently didn't cross his mind that they might lie about that. Neither did it occur to him and all the other liberal hawks that Saddam might have had good reason to exaggerate his arsenal for regional or domestic purposes, something that the thin gruel Powell presented to the UN and the continuous debunking of "proof" (as with the aluminum tubes and the drone planes) should have made thinking people at least consider.

But now we find out that certain liberal hawks (or Chait at least) always had their own "cakewalk" fantasy. The US was going to invade, get rid of the WMD, install our own friendly dictator and then get out. Who knew?

Matthews rather acidly asked him if we shouldn't just pick sides now that the whole mess had devolved into civil war -- or maybe just back Moqtada al Sadr for president of Iraq and let it go at that --- and Chait looked flummoxed. (Of course, it was Matthews incoherently shouting, so you can't really judge from that alone.)

But it does raise the question: do liberal hawks think that this is still a solution to the problem? Chait indicated that he was exaggerating to get people "thinking." But perhaps his "bring Saddam back" was as serious a piece of advice as his earlier exhortations that liberals should support the war. I would suggest that it has just as much merit.

Update: Chait just appeared on Tucker and expanded on his thesis:

We've learned that there are worse things than totalitarianism and one of them is unending chaos...My argument is not an entirely cynical argument... One of the things that foments chaos is the expectation of chaos, when people's behavior changes, when they don't see any established order, and one of the few things we'll be able to do, I was sort of supposing, would be the return of Saddam Hussein --- he has high name recognition, people know who he is, they know what he's capable of doing and you have, it's still a recent enough that he was in charge of the state, that you still have the Baath army units and the infrastructure to put in place. So I was hypothesizing that this may be the only force capable of actually ruling the country, not that we want that by any means, it was horrendous, but simply that you have order, I mean it might be the best of some very, very, bad alternatives.

TC: Best for us. It seems to me the one thing about Saddam, as deranged as he may have been, he did have something to lose, he didn't want to die, and he wasn't a religious nut, he was incredibly brutal. Does that tell us something about what we would need to do in order to secure Iraq. I mean, he killed people with poison gas, Was that something he had to do? Was that required?

Chait: No I don't think so. But look, he's psychotic so you can't assume that anything a psychotic man does is something he rationally had to do. And he would still be psychotic if he was in power. There would be no doubt about it. I mean, it certainly would be better for us,

We wouldn't have the Iranian influence and you wouldn't have Iraq becoming a potential terrorist haven, both things that threaten us a great deal, if we had Saddam in power. You would have someone who would brutalize his own population but again you're getting that right now anyway and you might be getting less of it if he returned.

TC: Obviously we're not... because there is a civil war, and according to NBC it officially begins today, that kind of implies we ought to pick a side. And in fact pick a strongman to preside over the country in a less brutal way than Saddam did, but in a brutal way nonetheless and keep that place under control? Should we pick a side?

Chait: I don't know. I think I'm probably like you. You read all these proposals about what to do with Iraq and there all people who specializing in the topic and know more about it than I do and probably more than you do and it just doesn't sound that convincing and when they pick apart the other guy's proposal, when they say "here's why we need a strongman and here's why partition won't work" and you say "that makes a lot of sense" and the other person says "here's why we need partition and why the strongman won't work" and that seems right also, so that sort of the mode I'm in. I just don't know what to do. The only time anyone seems convincing is when they say why everything else won't work.

I hate to be a profane blogofascist, but that is just chickenshit nonsense. This guy makes a living as a pundit. He wrote an extremely provocative article saying that we should re-install Saddam (or some other strongman.) And then he cops out by saying he's confused because the "experts" don't have any easy answers.

This kind of thinking has permeated the establishment from day one. Plenty of people said in advance that the war was a mistake for exactly the reasons that Chait is now so surprised by. Nobody listened to them then and nobody is listening to them now. In fact, they were and are derided and marginalized. Today allegedly liberal pundits are rather seriously discussing the merits of installing friendly dictators now that their fantasies failed to become reality. How ridiculous.

Update II: One thing that should be noted is that Chait, like many of his DC brethren, has what seems to be temperamental aversion to the dirty hippies of the left. During the Bush years he has gone slightly cuckoo over Deaniacs, anti-war protesters, Lieberman ousters and grassroots troublemakers in general. I don't know the guy, but from reading his stuff it appears to be the result of a reflexive emotional reaction.

This is one of the fault lines that exists in liberalism today --- the knee jerk assumptions by the elites about the grassroots populists and vice versa. The problem for the party, however, is that opinion makers like Chait are taken seriously by policymakers while the grassroots troublemakers are not and the result is that their visceral dislike of our ilk comes into play in important ways. I happen to think that Chait's disgust with the activist left leads him to make incorrect decisions. He's not in the same league as someone like Richard Cohen, but then Richard Cohen has become something of a joke, whose inexplicable sinecure on the op-ed pages of the Washington Post mostly serves as fishwrap. TNR, on the other hand, is listened to by Democratic policymakers and Chait's overheated reactions to the grassroots should be addressed.

He and others -- he's far from alone --- should try to see things with clearer eyes. This is not the early 70's and grassroots progressivism in 2006 isn't a youth or a social movement. It is passionate and it is populist, at least in a stylistic sense but it is not radical or anti-intellectual. The liberal pundit class is making a number of errors in judgments at least in part because they are emotionally recoiling from being associated with what they see as dirty hippies. This is a problem.

At the end of his interview with Chait, Matthews said something like "what's going on with you guys at "The New Republic?" You're going liberal." Chait responded, "we've always been liberal."

Mark my words, soon it will be said that when the going got tough the liberals said we should bring back Saddam Hussein. Everybody knows that the left are totalitarians from way back.

Chait sticks in the shiv coming and going.


by tristero

Recently, the term "christianism" seems finally to have caught on to describe the political movement that exploits Christian symbols for secular gain. And with its acceptance has come the usual denials and attacks from the right.

Glenn Greenwald, for example, takes on Ann Althouse who claims to find the term offensive as well as Glenn Reynolds who calls it "a variety of bigotry." In an update, Glenn notes that Hugh Hewitt characterizes "christianism" as "hate speech."

I can't improve on Glenn's summary of the issue and his rebuttals but I would like to add this:

Now you know why I wrote "Voices of Light."

My respect, even admiration, for many religious traditions is deep and genuine. I find much that is beautiful and even true in these traditions. "Voices of Light" is, among many other things, an expression of that admiration. And it's not limited merely to Catholicism, the specific religion within which the events of "Voices of Light" take place. I've used texts from many different traditions in other works.

Naturally, when you take the time and effort to write a large piece of music, you have many reasons to do so. One reason that was very important to me was that I felt that I had something to contribute to the American discussion of religion and spirituality, namely that there is a huge difference between the desire to understand what is meant by God and political acts undertaken in the name of God. Failure to discern the two can be, and events have shown, is, very dangerous for American democracy.

However, I well knew that the public discourse on religion was overrun with hateful ideologues who would rather beat you to death with a Bible (metaphorically speaking) than practice the mercy of Christ (literally speaking). I wanted to make sure that before anyone presumed to speak up for what I stood for, I had made it crystal clear that my respect for religious tradition is deep and sincere. I think that even if you don't like "Voices of Light," it is hard to argue that the person who wrote it didn't take Joan seriously and with great respect, as well as respect the religious traditions she practiced.

Regarding my possible personal beliefs, or possible lack of same, I felt then, and still feel, they are irrelevant to a serious discussion of religion in a public space. What is important, the only thing that is important as far as I'm concerned, is that it is clear that I have no interest in undermining religious beliefs (or unbelief) but totally respect them and try to learn what I can of many different traditions. By the same token, I have zero interest in promoting any religious system (or lack of same).

I have a very different attitude towards the political exploitation of religious symbolism and belief. To be blunt, I find it immoral that anyone would dare to corrupt the religious impulse - which, for so many, is crucial to their understanding of their lives - for cheap, secular, partisan gain. I'm talking Pat Robertson here, Jerry Falwell,followers of Rousas Rushdoony, Joseph Morehead, Randall Terry and the whole sick crew of sleazy political operatives eagerly working to wreck the American system of government and establish a theocracy.

They deserve no respect, no quarter, whatsoever. It is very important to understand that whatever their personal beliefs - which are all but unknowable - they have made it clear through their public statements that they are dangerous political extremists who have celebrated the virtue of their intolerance on numerous occasions. Some have gone out of their way to excuse, advocate or even perpetrate murderous violence in the name of their utterly sick beliefs. They have generously funded elaborate efforts to undermine science with sophisticated marketing campaigns to teach cruddy lies to science students.

And they have blasphemously used the cross and other religious symbols as if they were trying to ward off vampires in a cheesy horror film. They degrade the cross, a symbol beloved and honored by millions who have nothing in common with these people. And they do so not to affirm their religious beliefs, whatever they may be, but in the most cynical fashion, merely to counter legitimate expressions of outrage at their hateful behavior or ideas.

For all these reasons, I think it is crucial that a distinction be made between the expression of religion and its political exploitation. Therefore, a few years ago, I proposed the term "christianism" to distinguish the political movement from Christianity. I urged others to adopt it. Other terms have been proposed such as Michelle Goldberg's "Christian Nationalism" but I like the parallels between "christianism" and "islamism."*

One word about the provenance of the term, which I would like to be clear about. I'll post the links tonight, when I have more time. When I wrote the 2003 post, I was completely unaware, because I have, with rare exceptions, never read him, that Andrew Sullivan had used the exact same term with a similar definition a few days before I did. The first I learned about the Sullivan post was when William Safire discussed the term "christianism" about a year or so ago in the New York Times Magazine. Actually, the word has been used for centuries, I believe.

While it is more than possible that I used the term in comments on other blogs long before I wrote that June, '03 post, I'll cheerfully concede precedent to Sullivan (and when Dave Neiwert credited me at one point, I wrote to tell him that Sullivan preceded me). What is far more important is that finally, finally, American public discourse on religion has begun to acknowledge the important difference between genuine religious expression and the dangerous political operatives that are operating with impunity behind the robes of priests. If I have had even a small role in helping people make that distinction, then I'll feel that all the dozens of blog posts I've written on the subject was well worth the effort.

*As my original post made clear, there are differences not only between Christianity and christianism but also christianism and radical christianism. And, of course, there are many kinds of christianisms, those that emphasize Catholic symbolism as well as those that focus on Protestant evangelical traditions.

PS Those of you familiar with Joan of Arc's story surely realize that religious faith and its relationship to politics are central to that story. I am quite aware that Joan's story poses very disturbing questions that often seem at odds with my personal values. It was partly because the story was so deep and ambiguous that I found it so irresistible a subject. Art, as I see it, is not supposed to tell you how to feel, but should provide an opportunity for you to examine and contemplate your feelings and those of others, including the artist. Art does much more, of course, but that is another subject for another time (grin).

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cheney Agrees To Cooperate Fully With Democratic Congress And Abide By All US Laws

by tristero

I know, I know. That headline was a really bad joke:
A close look at key moments in Cheney's career -- from his political apprenticeship in the Nixon and Ford administrations to his decade in Congress and his tenure as secretary of defense under the first President Bush -- suggests that the newly empowered Democrats in Congress should not expect the White House to cooperate when they demand classified information or attempt to exert oversight in areas such as domestic surveillance or the treatment of terrorism suspects.

Peter Shane, an Ohio State University law professor, predicted that Cheney's long career of consistently pushing against restrictions on presidential power is likely to culminate in a series of uncompromising battles with Congress.
The real issue is not going to be serving subpoenas. Oh, they'll serve them all right. Nor will the issue be whether or not the White House will obey them. They won't.

No, the real issue is what will happen when the White House refuses to respond to nearly any subpoenas. One thing is for sure: Bush and Cheney are prepared to bring down the the US government rather than comply. What will Congress do then? And how far will Congress be willing to push?

[UPDATE: A question for all of you: Does anyone remember any article like this in the mainstream press or media back in 2000, that Dick Cheney has a long history of advocating replacing the president with an emperor and breaking the law? I don't. Would've been nice for the American people to know that back then....]

Questions For The Iraq Study Group

by tristero

Dear Iraq Study Group,

How many of you folks speak Arabic? I count three, maybe four based on your names. Let's be generous and say ten members are fluent in Arabic.

As for the rest of you, easily the majority, that don't speak Arabic, how the fuck do you think you can contribute any truly substantive expertise about the situation in Iraq to the study group? Sure, some people need to be expert on things that don't necessarily require Arabic language skills. But most of you? What kinda sense is that? Y'think you have expertise 'cause you recently skimmed a summary of al Jazeera broadcasts? That's like thinking you can advise on heart surgery 'cause you watched Marcus Welby a lot when you were a kid.

Just asking.



h/t Glenn Greenwald who, in a typically brilliant post writes:
Back in 2002, when the U.S. was debating whether to invade Iraq, those who opposed the invasion were, for that reason alone, dismissed as unserious morons and demonized as anti-American subversive hippies. Despite the fact that subsequent events have largely proven them to have been right, and that those who did the demonizing were the frivolous, unserious, know-nothing extremists, this narrative persists, so that -- even now, when most Americans have turned against this war -- the only way to avoid being an "extremist," and to be rewarded with the "centrist" mantle, is to support the continuation of this war in one form or another.

A desire to keep troops in Iraq even in the face of what is going on there may be many things, but "centrist" is not really one of them. Any Commission which commits itself in advance to keeping American troops fighting in Iraq for the foreseeable, indefinite future is itself "extremist" -- whether that term is seen as a function of public opinion or assessed on its own merits.


The Root Of All Selfishness

by poputonian

Perhaps Antifa was right:

Psychologists: Money is the root of anti-social behavior

A team of psychologists has discovered why money can't buy happiness.

Pictures of dollar bills, fantasies of wealth and even wads of Monopoly money arouse feelings of self-sufficiency that result in selfish and often anti-social behavior, according to a study published in the journal Science.
Money makes it possible for people to achieve their goals without asking for help. Therefore, Vohs and her colleagues theorized, even subtle reminders of money would inspire people to be self-reliant -- and to expect such behavior from others.

A series of nine experiments confirmed their hypothesis. For example, students who played Monopoly and then were asked to envision a future with great wealth picked up fewer dropped pencils for a fellow student than those asked to contemplate a hand-to-mouth existence.

Money also influenced how people said they preferred to spend their leisure time. A poster of bills and coins prompted students to favor a solitary social activity, such as private cooking lessons, while students sitting across from posters of seascapes and gardens were more likely to opt for a group dinner.

The expected behavior of others comment reminds me of Ronald Reagan, who used himself as a model of how to rise from nowhere. If he could become president, anyone could achieve whatever they wanted. In a system that rewards self-interest, you just have to constantly act in your own self-interest, society be damned.

Chickenhawks Part Deux

by tristero

A lot of fascinating discussion in comments to this post on chickenhawks, a subject that has more odd angles than one might originally suppose. One of the most intriguing response to my post is that two regular commenters, Jose Chung and DavidByron, who I always assumed would never agree about a thing, both strenuously objected to the notion that willingness to serve in the military confers some sort of special status in opining about Bush/Iraq. Another was DavidByron and Jill Bains' insistence that my opposition to both the Bush/Iraq war and the Afghanistan catastrophes is diluted by a barely disguised willingness to accept the premises of America's manifest destiny trope. A lot of other folks also made interesting, thought-provoking observations as well, and they all made me refine, perhaps even revise, some of my opinions on the subject. Thank you, one and all, for your contributions.

1. Jose Chung and DavidByron both seem to believe (and I'm sure they'll correct me if I'm wrong!) that the chickenhawk issue really is about whether only those with military service are qualified to opine on the subject of war. But that's not quite right. Of course, military service, or the lack of, has no genuine importance to the worth of an argument pro or con the Bush/Iraq war.* The real issue is the total cluelessness of a particular group of war advocates whose drooling enthusiasm for war isn't grounded in reality.

I tried to make it clear in my post - but it wasn't clear enough, apparently - that the hostile question, "well, if you support the war so much, why doncha serve?" is no query at all, but an angry, exasperated, assertion amounting to saying, "You don't know a damn thing about what you're talking about, or you wouldn't talk about Bush/Iraq in such a foolish, callous way." So yes, as DavidByron says, the question is a nasty, sarcastic, ad hominem attack. What makes it appropriate is that the reasoning of the chickenhawks was beyond serious discussion. Thomas Friedman's insistence that even if Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 or had WMD's, "we" still oughta whack him because "we" can. George Packer's utterly naive kumbaya-save-the-world attitude. John Podhoretz' floating the suggestion that maybe US forces should have killed more young Iraqi males at the beginning of the invasion. And, of course, the 101st Keyboarders who talk as if Mr. Kurtz's "Exterminate all of the brutes" doesn't go far enough by half.

There are various ways to respond to such garbage. Given an unlimited lifespan, I completely agree that we should examine each of the chickenhawks' assertions in detail and respond in a logical, reasoned, way. But the truth is that life is short and Friedman, Packer, Podhoretz, and many others aren't making arguments or assertions that are intended to be seriously discussed. These are crude, impulsive, thoughtless reasons to go to war - uttered from a virtual barstool - and they are usually accompanied with equally crude and thoughtless personal attacks on those who disagree: "you're not with us, you're against us!"

Since that is the level of the chickenhawks' reasoning, it makes more than enough sense - to me, but maybe not to everyone - to respond, "okay tough guy, put up or shut up." It's another way of making the point that the chickenhawks - not necessarlily ALL advocates of Bush/Iraq who didn't serve - aren't serious people. It is mocking them, not asserting in any serious way qualifications for ALL discussions. And it is a terrible tragedy that those of us opposed to the war didn't find ways to mock them earlier and in even nastier ways. Why? Because one of these profoundly unserious people is the president of the United States who was in a position to, and did, order US troops to invade, conquer, and occupy Iraq.

Is sneering mockery the ONLY weapon against idiots like Bush, or the single BEST weapon? No, and no. But it is one tactic, nevertheless, and it has its place, and its uses. It may not discredit the chickenhawks in your view, dear reader, as you are knowledgeable enough to ask deeper questions, but it has the potential to do so with others.

2. Regarding the manifest destiny business, I am, unlike DavidByron, an American. It is possible that somewhere, somehow, I buying into that ugly, dangerous, myth of exceptionalism. But I truly doubt that some unacknowledged sympathy for manifest destiny influences my attitude towards Bush/Iraq or Bush/Afghanistan. I have been consistently and publicly opposed to both long before it was fashionable and have often framed the argument by saying America has no business spreading its cooties hither and yon. We are one great country among many great countries. But America has many serious flaws and has no reason to assume that its institutions are uniquely good for everyone, or that America has the right to do as it pleases in the world.

I fail to see how anyone can be serious in asserting that these are the views of someone who advocates manifest destiny, even without realizing it.

Jill Bains, however, tries to. She wrote, "If you fail to support the Taliban and whomever else is trying to physically expel the United States from Afghanistan, then, despite all your protestations to the contrary, you become a de facto supporter of the American occupation." This is exactly the kind of false reasoning that leads others to conclude that if you're opposed to Bush/Iraq, you're "objectively pro-Saddam." I reject it because it sets up an unnecessary and false dichotomy; it requires me to align myself with moral monsters in order to "prove" the seriousness with which I oppose Bush, an alignment I utterly refuse; and because it is needlessly tendentious.

Perhaps the best response to Jill Bains' assertion is something close to what Arundhati Roy said, and I'm paraphrasing here, that a reasonable alternative to Osama bin Laden is not George W. Bush. Likewise, a reasonable alternative to Bush is not the Taliban. This, of course, goes without saying for most of us, but it bears repeating.

It is vitally important, in trying to articulate a 21st century liberalism, that liberals continue to insist upon finding and creating alternatives to this kind of false polarity. That is no easy job, but we've seen the kind of horror that quickly results when those alternatives are cavalierly swept off the table.

*Except, to a greater or lesser extent, in regards to technical issues. For instance, I am certain that General Shinseki's considerable military expertise gave him a far better sense of what a reasonable level of troop deployment might be if Iraq was invaded and occupied by a US coalition than Paul Wolfowitz. That said, I maintain that no level of troop strength could possibly have led to a result much different than the one we see today. Bush/Iraq was a stupid idea that had no chance of an acceptable outcome.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Saturday Night At The Movies

A Long Goodbye

By Dennis Hartley

I was going to write a movie review (after all, this post is billed as “Saturday Night At The Movies”) but as a dedicated film buff I feel compelled to pay my respects to Robert Altman, who we lost on November 20. OK, he was 81 years old, so on one level I can’t say I was completely blindsided-but this was a “senior citizen” who was not planning his next golf outing, but in the midst of wrapping pre-production on his next film, for Christ’s sake. We lose great actors and directors all the time, but there are some whose loss precipitates something much deeper than just a momentary “Wow…bummer” reflection. Robert Altman wasn’t just a “maverick” or an “iconoclastic Hollywood outsider”-he was his own genre (“Altmanesque” has become part of the cinematic lexicon for good reason). Contemporary directors like John Sayles and PT Anderson owe their entire filmmaking approach to Altman’s pioneering groundwork. No American filmmaker before or since could Question Authority (on and off-screen) whilst flaunting cinematic conventions so….cinematically. Rather than boring you with more superlatives, I’ll let the Man’s work speak for itself. Here are some of my recommendations:

M*A*S*H The obvious place to start. Groundbreaking, ballsy (for its time) anti-Vietnam meditation cloaked in bawdy anti-authoritarian hijinx. Launched the careers of Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, Tom Skerritt and more.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller -Brilliant, gritty, resonant “Northwestern” with Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. The creators of HBO’s “Deadwood” need to own up.

The Long Goodbye -Altman stands film noir on its head and coaxes a career best performance from Elliot Gould as he reinvents Phillip Marlowe for the Me Decade.

California Split Elliot Gould and George Segal are priceless in Altman’s existential Vegas pastiche. A close cousin to “The King Of Marvin Gardens” in its bittersweet examination of beautiful losers and the elusive American Dream.

Nashville Considered by many to be Altman’s masterwork; it certainly qualifies as “Altmanesque” -dozens of disparate vignettes eventually intersect at the scene of a (fictional) political assassination. (Emilio Estevez’s “Bobby” sounds suspiciously derivative- which I will be able to either confirm or retract once I screen it-stay tuned!)

Secret Honor In just under 90 minutes, Altman cinematically sums up the Shakespearean train wreck that was the Nixon administration. Unique in the Altman canon in that it features a cast of just one. Phillip Baker Hall’s fearless and profane invocation of the madness of King Richard has to be seen to be believed.

All of the above films are currently in print on DVD and easy to track down for purchase or rental. These are only a handful of the 40-odd films in the Altman canon; see ‘em all!

Digby adds these two:

The Player

Short Cuts


Leftovers: Plymouth Rocked

by poputonian

Here is a link to an excellent essay about Mayflower historians, including the original one, Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford, the man who also discovered capitalism. New Yorker writer Jill Lepore begins with a sketch of Samuel Eliot Morison, who entered Harvard and never left, and then does a smooth takedown on Bradford, followed by one of journalist neo-historian Nathaniel Philbrick, author of the current best-seller Mayflower - A Story of Courage, Community, and War. Philbrick's book takes you from Bradford's voyage across the "vast and furious" ocean to that seminal event, King Phillip's War. The essay should be read in its entirety by those with an interest, but nonetheless, here is an excerpt:

Critic at Large

Of Pilgrims, Puritans, and professors.
Issue of 2006-04-24

Philbrick, a former all-American sailor and Sunfish-racing champion who lives on Nantucket, seems, at first glance, to be following in Morison’s wake. Waves slosh through all of his books, whose titles sound like the names of sea chanties: “Sea of Glory,” “Away Off Shore,” “Second Wind,” and “In the Heart of the Sea,” the winner of the 2000 National Book Award for nonfiction. Like Morison, he finds most history books written by professors a chore to read. Trained as a journalist, Philbrick once explained his decision to include a bibliographic essay instead of footnotes or references to works of scholarship in his text: “I wanted to remove the scholarly apparatus that so often gets in the way of the plot in academic history.”

Sam Morison never met a footnote he didn’t like, but his relationship to academic history was a complicated one. At Harvard, he was neither a natural teacher nor a beloved one. He never held office hours, he made his students come to class in coat and tie, and he refused to teach Radcliffe girls (he considered them frivolous). He liked to lecture in riding breeches and, in later years, in his Navy uniform. “Even before he became an admiral, you felt as though he were one and you were a midshipman,” a former student, the eminent Yale historian Edmund Morgan, recalled.

But Morison believed, ardently, that there was something about university life that mattered, that made people more honest, more accountable, and less likely to get things wrong. In a 1948 review in the Atlantic Monthly of a book by the historian Charles Beard, who had left Columbia thirty years earlier to live on a dairy farm, Morison suggested (pretty cruelly, since Beard was on his deathbed at the time) that Beard’s work had suffered from his isolation: “You get more back talk even from freshmen than from milch cows.”

Maybe if Nathaniel Philbrick had had to answer to freshmen he might have learned to be a bit more skeptical of his sources. The first half of his book stars William Bradford, and relies, appropriately, on Bradford’s history, or, rather, on Samuel Eliot Morison’s invaluable edition of Bradford’s history. So much did Morison admire Bradford, so much did he despise the myth of the Puritans, so much did he want Americans to read better history, that he spent five years meticulously preparing an edition of Bradford’s history “that the ordinary reader might peruse with pleasure as well as profit.” Working closely with his faithful secretary, Antha Card, to whom he read Bradford’s every word aloud, Morison altered the original’s antiquated spelling and cleared the text of notes and scribbles made by everyone from Bradford’s biographers to his descendants, material that had been injudiciously included, and mistakenly attributed to Bradford himself, in earlier printed editions. Morison applied his magnifying glass to every trace of ink on the manuscript’s pages. Where earlier copyists had Bradford concluding that “the light here kindled hath shone to many,” Morison pointed out that the light actually shone “unto” many; a splotch that looked as though Bradford had crossed out the “un” turned out, on closer inspection, to be “merely an inadvertent blot from the Governor’s quill pen.” Published in 1952 as “Of Plymouth Plantation,” Morison’s definitive edition of Bradford is now in its twenty-third printing.

I very much related this next part to current times:

In proportion to population, King Philip’s War was one of the deadliest wars in American history. More than half of all English settlements in New England were either destroyed or abandoned. Hundreds of colonists were killed. Thousands of Indians died; those who survived, including Philip’s nine-year-old son, Massasoit’s grandson, were loaded on ships and sold into slavery. Because the conflict was, for both sides, a holy war, it was waged with staggering brutality. New England’s Indians fought to take their land back from the Christians, mocking their praying victims: “Where is Your O God?” One, having killed a colonist, stuffed a Bible into his victim’s gutted belly. Puritans interpreted such acts as a sign of God’s wrath, as punishment for their descent into sinfulness. Not only had they become, over the years, less pious than the first generation of settlers; they had also failed to convert the Indians to Christianity. The Boston minister Increase Mather asked, “Why should we suppose that God is not offended with us, when his displeasure is written, in such visible and bloody Characters?”

Reading those scarlet letters, Puritans concluded that God was commanding them to defeat their “heathen” enemies by any means necessary. For the English, all restraint in war, all notions of “just conduct,” applied only to secular warfare; in a holy war, anything goes. Ministers urged their congregations to “take, kill, burn, sink, destroy all sin and Corruption, &C which are professed enemies to Christ Jesus, and not to pity or spare any of them.” Such a policy, then as now, breeds nothing if not merciless retaliation. As a Boston merchant reported to London, the Indians, in town after town, tortured and mutilated their victims, “either cutting off the Head, ripping open the Belly, or skulping the Head of Skin and Hair, and hanging them up as Trophies; wearing Men’s Fingers as Bracelets about their Necks, and Stripes of their Skins which they dresse for Belts."



Leftover Retch Phlegmball

by poputonian


Several people commented that they wanted Digby to make a stronger point-by-point refutation of Retch's The Real Story of Thanksgiving. But really, folks, is that the way radio guys work, by discussing details? C'mon. They paint pictures with words.

So, I had heard that one of R's ancestors, someone called T'mush Graungerball, an ol' bugger, had actually been executed in Plymouth Colony. But I never expected to actually find it documented in the original records.

From Plymouth Colony, Its History & People, 1620-1691 (Stratton, 1986), p199 (original quotations from Bradford's History and Plymouth Colony records):

Though fair-minded in determining guilt, the Plymouth leaders themselves acknowledged that their punishments were severe. Bradford wrote concerning the year 1642 that it was surprising to see how wickedness was growing in the colony, "wher the same was so much witnesed against, and so narrowly looked unto, and severly punished." He admitted that they had been censured even by moderate and good men "for their severities in punishments." And he noted, "Yet all this could not suppress the breaking out of sundrie notorious sins…espetially drunkennes and unclainnes; not only incontinencie betweene persons unmaried, for which many both men and women have been punished sharply enough, but some maried persons allso. But that which is worse, even sodomie and bugerie, (things fearfull to name,) have broak forth in this land, oftener then once."

The event which apparently provoked these observations from the governor was mentioned very briefly in court records of 7 September 1642: "Thomas Graunger, late servant to Love Brewster of Duxborrow, was this Court indicted for buggery wth a mare, a cowe, two goats, divers sheepe, two calves, and a turkey, and was found guilty, and received sentence of death by hanging untill he was dead." The executioner was Mr. John Holmes, the Messenger of the court, and in his account he claimed as due him £1 for ten weeks boarding of Granger, and £2/10 for executing Granger and eight beasts. Bradford described Granger as about sixteen or seventeen years of age. Someone saw him in the act with the mare, and he was examined and confessed. The animals were individually killed before his face, according to Leviticus 20:15, and were buried in a pit, no use being made of them. Bradford relates that on examination of both Granger and someone else who had made a sodomitical attempt on another, they were asked where they learned such practices, and one confessed he "had long used it in England," while Granger said he had been taught it by another, and had heard of such things when he was in England.

Wow. Retch's ancestor screwed a turkey.

I'm not too sure of the source of this next one, but it sounds about right:

"Wretch Flemball was deetayned for sundrie notorious sins upon returning from Quisqueya in Hispanolia wher hee had erectile-dysfunction with sum little boys, who hee disapointed very much."

This is the real story of Thanksgiving, people. Sexual perversion set loose by Retch's ancestors for its trek though American history. Read other entries on Sex and Morality in Plymouth Colony.

(I swear I have not been drinking.)