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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dreaming of Drones and Iwo Jima

by digby

Kevin Drum directs me today to this post from 2005 from Kung Fu Monkey that I missed the first time out. Aside from the fact that it's hilarious, it also contains at least one insight that I think remains important: that Bush (Cheney actually) based US strategy on the trash talk and recruiting fatwas of fundamentalist freaks rather than a real assessment of their capabilities and goals.

Either Bush is making strategy based on a delusional goal of his opponent, which is idiotic; or he's saying he believes his opponent has the capability of achieving this delusional goal, which is idiotic. Neither bodes well for the republic.

Well, Bush and Cheney are delusional themselves, in different ways, so we have been dealing with a triple whammy. And to make matters even worse, their strategy is based on a delusional goal of their opponents (which isn't even as delusional as they say it is) and they believe they are capable of it. Mushroom Clouds! Drone Planes! No wonder the whole world has a headache.

But it's more than that.I've written a lot about why these Greatest Generation wannabes are so anxious for an existential struggle they can pretend to be fighting, and it's a fascinating topic to explore. But at some point, this country is going to have to look at Islamic fundamentalism and try to actually figure out how to deal with it. The wingnuts' puerile desire to live out "Saving Private Ryan" on a video game just isn't going to cut it.(For a primer on where this crazy mode of thinking comes from, look no further than the Godfather of the Neocon family himself, Norman Podhoretz.)

A lot of the young smarties in the wonkopshere are beginning to talk about the sad state of foreign policy discussions in the campaign so far and they are right. But it's because we're stuck in this delusional "War on Terror" framework that makes it very difficult to talk about the state of the world with any precision. Hence we get silly spats between the candidates about who they would meet with that aren't very illuminating. That is not to say they don't have advisors who are addressing the problem, but more that the candidates have not yet come up with a rational way of discussing it with the public. Edwards' dismissal of "the war on terror" slogan was met with a thud and I'm afraid nobody else is going to tackle it.

It's important that they find a way, or we're going to be stuck with this ridiculous nonsense about the arab hordes coming over in drone planes to kill us all in our beds because the oceans can't protect us. That's the only thing people have really heard and while they don't necessarily buy it 100%, it's the kind of thing that has the ability to penetrate the national consciousness and cramp the decisionmaking for years to come. (And that means that the terrorists will have won!)

I'm not really joking: like the "Commie Menace" it replaces, the threat of Islamic fundamentalism is more than just a foreign policy challenge. It's a domestic cultural and political challenge as well and not because we are being infiltrated by sleeper cells. It's a challenge because it tends to empower the authoritarian right which is more than happy to do the fundamentalists dirty work for them. Which is, of course, why they are so desperately flogging the GWOT. It's the thing that will keep them going during their time in the wilderness --- especially if they get lucky and the terrorists stage another splashy attack.

(I hate to ascribe base motives to people and posit that they might dream of such a thing, but when they constantly say we are rooting for "failure" in Iraq for political reasons, it's perfectly fair to point out they are obviously rooting for another terrorist attack for political reasons. It may just be their only hope at this point.)

We need to set the nation straight on what the fundamentalist terrorists' goals really are, what we can do to meet the threat and inspire confidence that no matter what happens, we are not going to be forced to wear burkas and pray to mecca five times a day any time soon. This seems to me to be an ignored area in the campaign rhetoric --- the antidote to fear. I think it might ring some bells with people.

Update: And who else but Joe "Scoop" Lieberman could put it in words so perfectly:

“I think either [Democrats] are, in my opinion, respectfully, naïve in thinking we can somehow defeat this enemy with talk, or they’re simply hesitant to use American power, including military power,” Lieberman said in a wide-ranging interview with The Hill.

“There is a very strong group within the party that I think doesn’t take the threat of Islamist terrorism seriously enough.”

Extraordinarily Good

by digby

Following up DB's post below, I have to note that my 13th post ever on this blog was about Laura Ingraham whining on Reliable Sources about liberal media bias.

From January 4th 2003,

KURTZ: Let's turn now to media bias.

E.J. Dionne, you wrote a column recently saying there is no longer any such thing as the big, liberal media. Is this a fantasy we've been talking about for some years now?

DIONNE: No, I mean, if you want to go back to the Goldwater campaign, I think that the press was biased against Barry Goldwater in 1964. Yes, you can make a case for that.

A lot has changed. I think, number one, the definition of the media has changed. You have three broad parts of the media that in turn affect the burgeoning network of online sources. You got talk radio, you got cable television, and then you've got the traditional press and networks news magazines and newspapers.

The first two are undoubtedly conservative leaning. And I think FOX has had an effect of pushing the other cable networks, including this one, to look over their right shoulder. I think talk radio is very clearly a conservative medium, and Laura is a representative of that.

And then the press, in the meantime, the so-called old mainstream media has been so affected by this constant barrage that you are biased -- you know, that the media is biased liberal, that they've been intimidated. I think two plus zero equals two, and that's a tilt to the right.

KURTZ: You're saying that the "New York Times" and the "L.A. Times" and "The Washington Post" and the networks and magazines have been intimidated and they're cowering and they can't do their jobs anymore?

INGRAHAM: I must have missed that.

DIONNE: That's not what I said.


INGRAHAM: I mean, I think in the cable news business it's a little bit different. And I think E.J. raises a good point, that when one network starts up with the objective of catering to a more conservative audience, which no doubt Fox does, the other networks are going to, sort of, reassess, especially when the ratings might not be as good as they want them to be.

However, conservatives, let's not forget, were very, very disgruntled and frustrated for so many years, decades, after seeing an elitist liberal tilt to the media. So what did they do? Well, conservatives decided, "Well,we're going to go to nontraditional avenues; we're going to go to talk radio;we're going to go to the Internet; we're going to, maybe, see if we can start around cable network." All that happened.

And now liberals are saying, "Wait a second. Wait a second. What about us? What about us?"

Well, maybe it's time to reexamine liberal principles that have been on the run for the last 25 years, not the fact that they only have the "New York Times," CBS, NBC, ABC, "Washington Post" and every other newspaper in the country.

DIONNE: I'm sorry to say this, but that's a big lie of the right, that these other media are biased liberal.

I mean, NBC, as you pointed out on one of your shows, had Rush Limbaugh on as an election night analyst. This is not biased liberal media.

INGRAHAM: That's different from regular coverage, E.J.

DIONNE: No, but the difference...

INGRAHAM: When they cover a Bush press conference, how is it covered? Is it covered in a fair and balanced way...

DIONNE: Bush has gotten an extraordinarily good press. I challenge you to compare...

INGRAHAM: He's been an extraordinarily good president, much to the media's chagrin.


KURTZ: ... in their work because they are become a part of this upper-middle class.

We just have about a minute left. You made a note of the fact that I had interviewed Rush Limbaugh on this program and then Tim Russert had interviewed Rush Limbaugh on his CNBC show as if that was some evidence of a conservativedom. Why shouldn't a guy with a huge radio audience get interviewed, just like Frank Rich (ph) and James Carville and all the people on the left?

DIONNE: I specifically mentioned that you guys had also had me on your show...

KURTZ: Right.

DIONNE: ... so that I wasn't criticizing you for having him on.

The point I was making is that when Tom Daschle went out and criticized Rush Limbaugh, if there were this big establishment liberal media, you would have expected them to go out after Rush Limbaugh. Instead the criticism, including a very strong column you wrote, went after Tom Daschle for criticizing Rush Limbaugh.

The point I was making is that Rush Limbaugh has now been mainstreamed. And that is -- there's nothing wrong with Rush Limbaugh trying to make himself a big deal. He's succeeded. It is evidence that this conservative network that Laura is talking about is now penetrating into the mainstream media. And that is why it is increasingly conservative.

INGRAHAM: It's called being resourceful in dealing with the cards you have in front of you. And that is what conservatives have done.

I'll say.

I don't get why they haven't just gone for the gusto and hired Rushbo himself and paired him with Coulter for the ditto-head psycho hour. If the angry old white man and sociopath Fox audience is what they want, that's the way to get it. Pay them both a million dollars a week, whatever it takes.

If they want to be Fox they are going to have to ante up some big bucks instead of flirting around the edges with no-name losers like Glenn Beck and second rate harpies like Ingraham. Go for the Talents On Loan From God himself, CNN. Let's see what your made of.

Update: Eric Boehlert wonders how low Glenn Beck's ratings have to go.

The Most Trusted Name in Propaganda
by Dover Bitch

Via Atrios, I see that CNN has given Laura Ingraham a week to get America clapping louder.

I guess we can expect the kind of hard-hitting war coverage we've already heard from Ingraham on her radio show:

INGRAHAM: Secretary Rumsfeld, I've got to tell you, when I read some of the very small stories about the Afghan elections I thought to myself, here we have about a 50 percent turnout rate in a country where we were promised unending violence, unending chaos, and yet women and young people brave the threats and they made it to the polls and you don't get any coverage of it.


INGRAHAM: One of the things that I think of course is responsible for this, the reason for this refusal to pay attention to the story, is because they'd rather focus on whatever they think is perceived problems in Katrina response, or they'll focus on the difficulty we're facing in Iraq, and on that note, I have to ask you, given everything that you know about the region, what's happening in Iraq, what do you do at the Pentagon to affect public opinion? Because these polls, one after the other, are showing ebbing support for the war. I support the war, I'm think it's worth it, and I'm frustrated that more Americans don't think it's worth it at this juncture.


INGRAHAM: Do we think, Mr. Secretary, that having a military spokesperson on the ground day in and day out, ticking off three positive pieces of news out of Iraq every day, someone that every American knows, comes to know whether it's General Casey or someone else, do you think that's something that would affect the public opinion at this point? Because I'm concerned if these numbers keep going the way they are, it's going to do damage to the President's war on terror overall and obviously his standing on other issues at home.


SECRETARY RUMSFELD: ... Obviously you're quite right, all of that effort has not overcome the negative press that is --

INGRAHAM: Something's got to change.


INGRAHAM: North Korea, I've got to say everyone thinking it was such a positive development, North Korea's commitment in the six-party talks to refrain from further pursuit of nuclear materials and nuclear processing and now they say well, we want a white water reactor, otherwise we're not going to move forward on our commitment.

What are the American people supposed to think about this?


INGRAHAM: The mistake made in 1994 not to look back, but to use it as a way of learning, a mistake of hoping for the best from North Korea just ended up kicking the can down the road, to use the line from one of your former colleagues.


INGRAHAM: Back on Iraq for a second, Mr. Secretary, the major problem outside of Iraq that would affect the future, our future success in Iraq, would it be Iran for you? I know that you talk about the people streaming across the border still, and the foreign fighters we found in Telafar a few weeks ago. But would it be Iran, and what Iran's role in all this is and would be?

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: In what sense? Would it be what?

INGRAHAM: A further danger to the situation in Iraq as it is today. What outside forces other than what we're seeing developing on the ground inside of Iraq would you point to as a problem?


INGRAHAM: And your commanders in the field now in Iraq, there are reports back to you about the progress being made. Of course Americans are greeted by headlines every day, 1900 dead, thousands more wounded, roadside bombs. But the commanders were working with the security forces. I've had a chance to talk to some of them. I hear a very different account of what is happening, very positive stories, again, and yet I don't see the stuff reported. It's frustrating to me. I can't imagine how frustrating to you it must be.


INGRAHAM: Two more questions, Mr. Secretary, I know you're on a tight schedule. Are you confident that a year from now or six months from now public opinion will move toward embracing progress in Iraq and the fact that Iraq was worth it?


INGRAHAM: You've got a press corps against you and you've got an international media who's oftentimes against you so it's very difficult.

Before I let you go, the AmericaSupportsYou.Mil charity. We continue to link it and promote it on our web site, Mr. Secretary, at a time when everyone's opening their wallets to Katrina I need to remember and remind everyone to support that web site which helps our troops, their families, and continues to just be a huge outpouring to the benefit of our men and women in uniform.

That's the entirety of her exclusive interview with the Secretary of Defense in the middle of two wars. Other than a dig at Clinton's North Korea policy, the only question was essentially "How bad is Iran?"

Everything else out of her mouth was an attack on the media for ignoring how fantastic the war is. CNN has reacted to her by giving her a prime slot... A woman who asked Rumsfeld "What are the American people supposed to think about this?"

Well done, CNN. In case her willingness to catapult the propaganda isn't obvious enough, here's how the interview ended:

INGRAHAM: Fantastic. If you need someone to be that military spokesperson over in Iraq, I'm happy to give up my microphone any time, Mr. Secretary. Any time you call I'll be happy to jump over there.

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: You're terrific, Laura. Thanks so much.

Yes, terrific is the word I'd choose, too:

Main Entry: ter·rif·ic
Pronunciation: t&-'ri-fik
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin terrificus, from terrEre to frighten
1 a : very bad : FRIGHTFUL

You're terrific, too, CNN.

Common Knowledge

by digby

Josh Marshall noted this rather direct assertion in the NY Times editorial yesterday and wondered if it was one of those things that editorial writers can put into print that aren't provable enough to put into the news pages. (I didn't know there were such things, but there you go.)

Unwilling to accept [DOJ's refusal to reauthorize the program], Vice President Dick Cheney sent Mr. Gonzales and another official to Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital room to get him to approve the wiretapping

Josh wrote:

The folks at TPMmuckraker are the ones really following this story closely. So perhaps this is a detail that has eluded me. But I was not aware that it had ever been established that Vice President Cheney ordered the visit. Speculated, rumored, sure. But I wasn't aware this had been established at all.

And yet the Times states it rather offhandedly as a fact. So what do they know?

I just happened to catch an excerpt of Larry King's interview with Big Time tonight, and Larry asked him right out. He said he "couldn't recall." Not exactly a resounding denial.

If there are a bunch of DC insiders who know this story and are keeping it to themselves for unknown reasons --- kind of like Libby lying his ass off to the Grand Jury --- they really need to come forward this time. If Cheney personally sent Gonzales and card to Ashcroft's bedside, the public has a right to know.

Poll Testing

by digby

The doughy pantload has an excellent idea:

So, maybe, just maybe, we have our priorities wrong. Perhaps cheapening the vote by requiring little more than an active pulse (Chicago famously waives this rule) has turned it into something many people don't value. Maybe the emphasis on getting more people to vote has dumbed-down our democracy by pushing participation onto people uninterested in such things. Maybe our society would be healthier if politicians aimed higher than the lowest common denominator. Maybe the opinions of people who don't know the first thing about how our system works aren't the folks who should be driving our politics, just as people who don't know how to drive shouldn't have a driver's license.

Instead of making it easier to vote, maybe we should be making it harder. Why not test people about the basic functions of government? Immigrants have to pass a test to vote; why not all citizens?

Despite Pantload's tepid protestations to the contrary, it's obvious that he believes that instituting poll tests would result in fewer Democrats being allowed to vote. (This is Lucianne's little boy we're talking about.) And that just isn't true:

The Center for Policy Attitudes, along with Knowledge Networks Poll, recently completed a study that illustrates that the more Americans watch FOX “News” channel, the more tenuous their relationship is to the truth. In fact, the results show FOX “News” channel is in a virtual free fall away from facts.

“Standing out in the analysis are Fox and NPR/PBS—but for opposite reasons. Fox was the news source whose viewers had the most misperceptions. NPR/PBS are notable because their viewers and listeners consistently held fewer misperceptions than respondents who obtained their information from other news sources.”

But you already knew that didn't you? And unsurprisingly, Goldberg didn't.

He also seems to think that those who are interested in politics are better informed.

Again, that depends ...


Monday, July 30, 2007

Eight Is Enough

by digby

God forbid anything permanent should happen to the Chief Justice, but keep in mind that there is absolutely nothing written anywhere that says the Supreme Court has to have nine justices. There is ample precedent for the court only having eight and there are many cases that are heard by eight because one of the justices is recused. So there is no way in hell that George W. Bush should ever, EVER get another bite at that apple with Democrats in charge of the congress. Just saying --- no more Bush Supreme Court appointees for any reason. None.

* May I also humbly request that people not be cruel in the comments. Take the high road on this, please? I don't like deleting comments, but I will.

All Hail Falafel Day

by digby

Seeing as today is Falafel Day, in honor of Billo's threat to "destroy Kos" it seems like a good time to reprise one of my favorite Billo posts:

Semper Falafel

O'Reilly understands that war is hell:

Having survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands War, I know that life-and-death decisions are made in a flash. If that wounded insurgent had a grenade or other explosive device, the entire marine squad and the photographer could be dead right now. In a killing zone, one cannot afford the luxury of knowing what is certain.

As with all literary greats like Mailer, Jones and Heller, O'Reilly has memorialized his scorching experiences in his novel, "Those Who Trespass" a murder mystery set in Argentina during the hell on earth that was the Falklands war:

The policemen were clearly frightened. Their fascist powers were being brazenly challenged. Standing directly in front of the police were nearly ten thousand very angry Argentine citizens screaming curses and revolutionary slogans:

ALa gente unida venceramos!

AMuera la Junta!

AMuera Galtieri!

GNN News Correspondent Shannon Michaels translated the chant and wrote it into his notebook: "The people, united, will never be defeated! Death to the Junta! Death to the dictator Galtieri!" Shannon and his video crew stood behind the police, five hundred strong crowded together in a massive show of force. Their assignment was to guard the presidential palace, called the Casa Rosada--the Pink House--and to protect President General Leopoldo Galtieri. But the crowd was getting more and more aggressive, pushing toward the large metal gate that provided access to the palatial grounds. Shannon saw that The Plaza de Mayo, the huge square in front of the Casa Rosada, was now filled to capacity. Something very ugly was going to happen, Shannon thought, and happen soon.

The sky was clear, but clouds were assembling in the west. Shannon ran his fingers through his thick mane of wavy brown hair. His teal blue eyes were locked on the agitated crowd. It was his eyes that most people noticed first--a very unusual color that some thought materialized from a contact lens case. But Shannon, the product of two Celtic parents, didn't go in for cosmetic enhancements. His 6' 4 frame was well toned by constant athletics, and his pale white skin was flawless--another genetic gift. Shannon's looks, which he thoroughly capitalized on, made him a natural for television.

As the mob continued its boisterous serenade, Shannon slowly shook his head. Most wars were foolish, he thought, but this one was unusually idiotic. The Argentine Junta, a group of military thugs led by General Galtieri, had ordered an invasion of the British-administered Falkland Islands on April Fool's Day, 1982. The government claim was that the islands, which the Argentines called the Malvinas, became a part of Argentina through a Papal declaration in 1493. The British disagreed. So, nearly five hundred years after the grant of land, the Argentine Army swarmed ashore, startling eighteen hundred British subjects and tens of thousands of bewildered sheep.


During his seven-year career as a TV news correspondent, Michaels had seen rank stupidity, but this moronic government strategy boggled the mind. Anyone who read a newspaper knew that the British Parliament, and especially Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, would never allow British honor to be besmirched. It took the Brits just three months to thoroughly humiliate the Junta, further angering the Argentine citizenry. No wonder they were now filling the streets in passionate demonstration against the Galtieri government.

Sends chills down your spine, doesn't it? Has anyone matched this kind of searing prose in the Falklands chronicles? I don't want to ruin the story by revealing the fiery hell that our blue eyed Celtic hero had to endure. Let's just say that that marine in Falluja won't know what hell is until he's had to film a news story with his flawless white skin covered in dust and dirt. It just makes you sick to even think about it.

The horror...

The Falafel Factor

by digby

Just in case you've worn out your original Falafel Factor T-Shirts and thongs (lord knows, I have) they appear to still be available at cafePress.

These are good too.

For more awesome downloadable O'Reilly fun, Oh Sweet Jesus I Hate Bill O'Reilly is sex scandal central. Be sure to scroll down to The O'SeXXXy Factor. It's a keeper.


by digby

Greg Sargent recalls that there was a time when Mitt Romney thought refusing to show for debates was wimpy and cowardly. Now that CNN has offered to move the GOP YouTube debate to a more amenable time for all those Republican candidates who suddenly had scheduling conflicts, Mitt's taking his time responding.

Apparently these Republicans are scared to death of having to face questions from the public. Their defenders claim the "agenda driven" CNN will sandbag the candidates, but you have to wonder if that's the case, why the entire field did a debate on CNN just a few weeks ago? Is this some new agenda?

But that is not to say the Republicans are without creative ideas about how to resolve the situation. Blah3 reports that Captains Quarters is floating the idea that would make the whole thing much more fair. Cap'n Ed says:

So what's the solution? How can we engage voters in a national forum through the New Media, while keeping the debate substantive and serious? I have a simple solution: have CNN cede the editorial/selection process to the New Media, in the form of the blogosphere.

CNN would ask bloggers to form a committee to review the YouTube entries. Since this debate is a Republican primary event, the bloggers should probably represent that segment of the electorate -- primarily Republicans, but perhaps with independent/centrist representation as well. The committee would review all of the YouTube entries and narrow them down to around 20, through whatever process and criteria to which these bloggers agree. They would also agree to the order in which the questions would be asked.

How does this solve the argument? It removes CNN from any responsibility for the question selection, shielding them from bias allegations. It puts the onus on the New Media to act responsibly in its question selection. This mechanism truly would make the candidates accountable directly to the people who will vote for them in the primary races. The candidates would have no excuses to avoid this debate, either.

Because, you know, conservative bloggers aren't "agenda driven" like CNN.

John Cole has a list of sample questions. Here's one:

Red State- Mr. Giuliani, if Obama is elected, will he declare defeat in Iraq and withdraw our troops before surrendering to Iran, or will he surrender to Iran first?

That sounds about right, but I think we could expect them to say "if Barack Hussein Obama is elected," don't you?


Sunday, July 29, 2007

John Harwood Gets Hardwood

by digby

Oh my God, just shoot me now:

HARWOOD: I'm going to defend that [cleavage] column too. When you look at the calculation that goes into everything that Hillary Clinton does, for her to argue that she was not aware of what she was communicating by her dress is like Barry Bonds saying he thought he was rubbing down with flaxseed oil, OK?

Huh???? What was this 60 year old female candidate for president communicating --- "look at my tits?" What the hell is he talking about?

Does he seriously think that Hillary Clinton dressed herself that morning and looked in the mirror and said, "I'm gonna show off my fabulous ta-tas today?" Did Ann Lewis and Mandy Grunwald suggest she wear that little black number so some desperate-for-material fashion writer in the Washington Post will write about her cleavage? Or maybe he thinks she held a focus group on how much boobage she should show or had a secret poll done on the effect of cleavage on braindead members of the political press corps.

John Harwood evidently got a little stirring down there that reminded him of his long lost virility so he assumed Hillary must have been wantin' him bad. Get thee to a hooker, Harwood and leave the presidential candidates alone. They don't want you. Really. (Well, maybe Tancredo.)

Update: If this was the plan she's been laying the groundwork for some time. Kathryn jean Lopez was having an hissy fit about Hillary's bodacious cleavage a year ago:

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Cleavage in the Senate [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

Zarqawi might have knocked Ann Coulter out of the headlines and off our TV screens for the moment, but Hillary Clinton this morning seems to be dressing to full-out take on Ann....Senator Clinton's blazer is a bit lowcut today (I have C-SPAN 2 on).

UPDATE: Here's a screenshot. Prediction: Washington Post Style section piece by a Pulitzer Prize winner about Hillary's sex-appeal advantage.

She was half right.

H/T to BE

The 34 Senator Gambit

by digby

The question of "how to extricate ourselves in a way that minimizes the damage to the United States, its allies and Iraq" rages on in the village. And naturally, the horrible partisans of both sides are equally to blame. David Ignatius sagely advises:

A good start would be for Washington partisans to take deep breaths and lower the volume, so that the process of talking and fighting that must accompany a gradual U.S. withdrawal can work."

What a good idea. Perhaps this is one of those things the president could take the lead on, seeing as he's the only person who ostensibly leads the entire nation and all. But has anyone seen even the slightest sign that he is willing to talk about any kind of withdrawal from Iraq, gradual or otherwise? The last I heard he'd decided to double down and escalate the war. Call me crazy but I just get the feeling that the Republicans might not be operating in good faith. But then that's because they never are.

The Republicans have been scorched earth, take-no-prisoners radicals for the last two decades and under Bush they took it to unheard of levels. Even today, they are sticking with their leader come hell or high water, the only exception being his half hearted effort to legalize some low wage immigrant labor for his corporate masters, and even that was a suicidal political rush over a cliff, alienating voters who they are desperately going to need in the coming years.

When it comes to "partisanship" the Republicans have turned it into a fetish --- a risky, self destructive form of political autoerotic asphyxiation in which they are willing to risk killing themselves for the sake of the ultimate thrill. It's one of the reasons we are having such a hard time wrapping our minds around how to deal with these people. They are not behaving like decent national leaders, we know that; but they are also not behaving like normal craven politicians.

As Matt Yglesias wrote here:

Much of the crisis in Washington today boils down precisely to the congressional GOP's unwillingness not so much to "do the right thing" but unwillingness to even be petty and power-hungry; their decision to see their job as backstopping the president come what may rather than to jealously horde[sic] the powers of their own offices.

This is why our institutions are failing. The founders never counted on politicians "doing the right thing." Profiles in courage are always in short supply and no government can depend upon good intentions. But they did assume that they would, at least, want to preserve their own careers and constitutional prerogatives. The modern Republicans are so committed to their party that they will follow their 28% president over the cliff, and that is a mindset we haven't seen since the civil war.

GOP power politics have exposed some weaknesses in our constitutional framework: as long as there are 34 Senators willing to back the president no matter what, short of a coup, he can pretty much do anything he wants until the next election. That's always been true, but nobody ever wanted to push it before. Cooler heads have generally known that balance of powers issues should be left somewhat vague and subject to political compromise so you don't get a permanent imbalance you later regret. (The independent counsel law was arguably one of those unanticipated consequences.)

The founders didn't anticipate permanent parties and they were shortsighted not to. This president has never for a moment represented the entire country. He is president of the Republican party and from the beginning his mandate has been to serve those who brought him into office not the nation as a whole. (They call it "their due.") The vast majority of elected Republicans who follow him are right wing radicals who are so homogeneous and so authoritarian that they are completely unresponsive to the normal constitutional inducements to share power.

People wonder why they would give so much power to the president since a Democrat could hold the office someday. I think they know the Democratic party is just not as temperamentally amenable to authoritarianism. They know that Democrats will, in the end, act out of their own self interest rather than out of partisanship since they don't have the kind of discipline or homogeneous constituency the Republicans have. (Bill Clinton was saved by the people, not the Democratic congress who were prepared to jump ship at the first sign of a decay in public support. Luckily for him, the more the Republicans pushed the more the public stood behind him.) These Republicans are completely unresponsive to anything but party loyalty and their hardcore base.

Finally, ongoing GOP influence in the media and the elite establishment means they can manipulate the narratives, which after this reign of terror, if the Dems win, will undoubtedly be a passionate reverence for absolute government transparency and accountability, federalism, strict division of power and the letter of the constitution. And they count on the public forgetting all about their crimes by the time they run on the "honor and integrity" ticket a couple of years from now.

So, regardless of whether we initiate impeachment proceedings against all or some of these criminals we really do have to keep in mind that it is also extremely important that we win elections. These modern radical Republicans have discovered the key to a temporary monarchy and they have broken down all the walls of tradition and practice that used to prevent presidents from using it. Until we discredit their movement to such a degree that these Mao-style revolutionaries are voted out of office and replaced by regular Americans we are going to be dealing with this phenomenon.

This argument has no bearing, by the way, on the reservations I previously aired regarding impeachment. Many people jumped to the conclusion that I was a cowardly partisan hack who was only worried about my spineless leaders keeping power, but I was actually considering whether a "not guilty" verdict in the Senate might embed the president's unitary executive theory into our system rather than outlaw it. I still have concerns about that, but it is separate from the need to win elections. (I frankly don't think impeachment would necessarily hurt the Democrats' chances in 2008, so it isn't relevant to my point anyway.)

My point is that in a democracy these issues are ultimately and always questions for the people. If we don't want an imperial president, we are going to have to make sure that when they do this stuff they lose their power, not at the hands of politicians of the opposing party but at our hands, the citizens of this country.

We can impeach and maybe we will. And maybe we'll remove Bush and Cheney and Gonzales and send a powerful message about the usurpation of the constitution. But no matter what, this is ultimately something the people have to rectify at the ballot box. All constitutional power derives from us. We are the ones who have to make a stand, not just 67 men and women in the Senate. We must vote them out. And we must keep them out until this radical conservative movement is so discredited that they can never again take the radical step of ruling this nation with one president and 34 obedient senators as if they were ordained by God instead of the people of this nation.

I would hope that everyone can see that presidential impeachment isn't an end in itself. It's a very serious intervention by the congress into the heart of our democratic system --- it seeks to remove a duly elected president and it simply must be ratified by the people or we will have weakened the constitution even more by doing it. It is elections that are the foundation of democracy and what gives real legitimacy to the government. Surely if we believe it is the Democratic congress' duty to impeach, we must also believe it is our duty to ensure that these people are repudiated by the citizens in no uncertain terms.

No matter what happens in the congress over the next year, I hope that everyone recognizes that the single most important thing that has to happen is that we kick the Republican party so far out of power they have to have a passport to get back in.

Strike Up The Band

by digby

On the Stephanopoulos bobble head roundtable this morning, Cokie Roberts raised the baton and started the drumbeat: the Democrats risk moving waaaaay too far to the left and that is going to be a biiiiig problem for them "just like it was in Vietnam." Yes, she said it out loud. And David Gergen agreed whole heartedly.

Does anyone recall these gasbags saying that Bush was moving so far to the right with his monarchic, fundamentalist, shock and awe presidency that it was going to be a biiiig problem for them? I must have missed all those warnings. Now that he's at 28% and the conservatives are on the run after having proven that there really is a limit to how far the crazed radical wingnuts can go, they are still warning about the Democrats moving too far to the left. These people have not had an original thought in 40 years.

Gergen, meanwhile said that the people yearn for a strong sensible president that isn't reckless like this president is. Again, I don't remember a lot of bloviators warning the American people about how "reckless" Bush was being. In fact, they were cheering him on for being "bold" and "resolute". So, now we want a "sensible" "serious" president, who will, presumably, be just as "sensible" and "serious" as they told us Bush and the grown-ups were until the moment he finally hit a threshold of unpopularity that even they couldn't ignore. Indeed, whomever they approve is always appropriately "sensible" as compared to the dirty hippie he's running against.

Roberts and Gergen are exalted Village elders. Roberts is supposedly a representative of "Democratic centrists" and Gergen a representative of "Republican centrists" but they are both really representatives of the establishment that represents the interests and prejudices of The Village. "The people" are abstract concepts they use in various ways to bolster their central argument that power is best left in the hands of "sensible" elders like themselves. When the people "speak" they are either "Real Americans" asserting their desire that sensible elders lead us out of the wilderness or dirty hippies who want to take the country into perdition.

If we do nothing else, we should ensure that the Democratic candidates pay no attention to these gasbags. That's not to say they shouldn't pay attention to the actual press narratives and the stereotypes that will inevitably emerge. But the punditocrisy should be shunned and ignored. They are promoting their own interests and those interests are always hostile to Democrats, who by dint of their more diverse coalition of Americans, are simply not as willing to bow down to the establishment. They are effectively agents of the Republican party simply because that is the party of authoritarian followers who will put their trust in the elite village elders. Democrats will never win by catering to them. Indeed, it is in our best interest to treat them as the hostile force they are --- it certainly didn't help to try to appease them with "centrism" as the last 20 years have proven in spades. Look at what they and the Republicans have done.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Saturday Night At The Movies

The Scouring of the Shire

By Dennis Hartley

After viewing Canadian documentary filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal’s “Manufactured Landscapes”, you may not be able to ever look at a “Made in China” product label again without flashing on the film’s unforgettable opening scene.

In a tracking shot that would make Orson Welles proud, Baichwal’s camera dollies along the factory floor of a surrealistically huge Chinese manufacturing plant, passing endless rows of work benches, manned by thousands of employees. The shot dissolves into a striking, beautifully composed photograph of the entire milieu. The spectacle of this myriad of factory drones in their bright yellow uniforms, as captured in the photo, resembles a “human beehive” in every sense of the word. This is how we are introduced to the photography of Edward Burtynsky, who is the subject of this documentary.

Baichwal follows Burtynsky as he travels through China photographing the devastating impact of that country’s industrial revolution upon its environment. Under Mao, China was transformed into a nation 90% agrarian and 10% urban; in a relatively short period of time, the current regime has facilitated a near flip-flop of that ratio. Through Burtynsky’s lens, it quickly becomes apparent that there is a substantial price to pay for such frenetically paced “progress” (especially after a visit to the Three Gorges Dam project, which has required the dismantlement and obliteration of 13 cities, brick by brick).

Burtynsky’s eye discerns a sort of terrible beauty in the wake of the profound and irreversible human imprint incurred by accelerated “modernization”. As captured by Burtynsky’s camera, strip-mined vistas recall the stark desolation of NASA photos sent from the Martian surface; mountains of “e-waste” dumped in a vast Chinese landfill take on a kind of almost gothic, cyber-punk dreamscape. The photographs begin to play like a scroll through Google Earth images as reinterpreted by Jackson Pollock or M.C. Escher.

Burtynsky states in the film that his work is “apolitical”. Despite her subject’s disclaimer, director Baichwal does sneak in a point of view here and there. In one scene, Burtynsky comes up against some reticent company officials, who attempt to convince him that the “light is bad” for photos. When that fails to sway, they ask the filmmakers to turn their equipment off. They pretend to comply, surreptitiously keeping the camera going anyway as the officials candidly admit that they are afraid that any photos depicting an environmental impact might give anyone who would view them the “wrong impression”.

This is a worthwhile film, with a unique, slightly more artistic bent than the most of the recent spate of environmentally-themed, “sky is falling” docs (I am quite cognizant that the sky, indeed, IS falling, but enough with the lecturing already.)

Here’s a new one from your humble movie reviewer (got some smelling salts handy?), some actual book recommendations! Burtynsky - China and Manufactured Landscapes: The Photographs of Edward Burtynsky.

GWOT Dogwhistle

by digby

Steve Benen at TPM discusses the disturbing fact that the Republicans candidates seem to conflate all players in the middle east into a common enemy when the reality is much more complex.

I agree that it's very bad policy to think in those terms, but if you were a northeastern Morman or a New York City Italian-American with a socially liberal past you'd have to find some kind of dog whistle to signal to the southern conservative base of the GOP that you are one of them. If you have to take religion, choice and gay rights off the table, that only leaves you with one thing: r...a...c...e.

What appears to be a terrible confusion about foreign policy is actually a crude appeal to racism. And in that, I think Rudy could be formidable because he really and truly is a racist pig and he's got the toilet plunger credentials to prove it. Right now, he's running on national security in the primary and I can't for the life of me figure out why. He just isn't very convincing. He talks as if he were Napoleon or something when he was just a guy walking around in a mask giving press conferences on the rubble.

I can't figure out why he's leaving the "law and order" theme to that phony DA Frederick of Hollywood when he's the real deal. As a prosecutor and a mayor he proved his racist bonafides in ways that most southern Republicans can only dream of. He just needs to run on his real record:

Giuliani came to power in the context of a racially divided city. During his election campaign, he spoke at a police "protest" --in reality, a drunken brawl of white cops--held on the steps of City Hall against the establishment of a civilian complaint review board. Complete and unapologetic support for the NYPD became a hallmark of his tenure.

As soon as he took office, Giuliani announced a "quality of life" campaign, claiming that by going after small-time offenses, the city would be able to root out more violent crimes.

The symbol of this campaign was Giuliani's plan to drive "squeegee men"--homeless people who wiped windshields at traffic stops for money--from NYC streets. Giuliani's cops went after them with a ruthlessness that foreshadowed much greater brutality to come. As the campaign got underway, an off-duty cop shot and killed an unarmed "squeegee man"--and defended his actions on the basis that the man was a "criminal."

Treating misdemeanors as equal to more serious crimes meant ratcheting up the level of violence and repression in poor, minority communities. The underlying assumption of the new "stop and frisk" policy was that all Blacks and Latinos were potential criminals. A report by then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer found that Latinos were stopped 39 percent more often than whites under the policy, and Blacks were stopped 23 percent more often.

The year before Giuliani took office, 720 people were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana-related offenses; by 2000, the number had jumped to 59,495--an increase of 4,549 percent. During a 10-month period in 1996, 50,000 people detained on misdemeanors were strip-searched by the Department of Corrections.

These kinds of aggressive policies gave a green light to the NYPD to terrorize Black and Latino communities.

When unarmed cousins Anthony Rosario and Hilton Vega were shot in the back and killed while they lay face down on the floor in 1995, Giuliani called the officers and congratulated them on their performance. When Anthony's mother, Margarita Rosario, began organizing in protest, Giuliani told her that her son died because she was a bad mother.

This attitude was exemplified most starkly when cops tortured and sodomized Abner Louima in a Brooklyn police station in 1997. Even after the killing of Amadou Diallo--shot 41 times in the hallway of his building in 1999--Giuliani maintained his defense of the police and his opposition to any kind of reform of the NYPD.

Giuliani and his supporters defended these actions by claiming that "tough on crime" policies were crucial to a decline in crime statistics. But a look at the statistics shows that the drop in crime began 36 months before Giuliani took office--while Dinkins was still mayor. In fact, the 1990s saw a national reduction in crime, due largely to demographic and economic changes.

In Rudy's defense, it certainly did seem that the allegedly liberal New York loved what he was doing up until close to the end, so you can't just blame it on the bubbas. But then big city racism isn't exactly unheard of, now is it? (In fact, that's exactly the argument for Rudy's alleged cross-over appeal --- he's a big city racist --- the best of all possible worlds!)

But he's not running on that, he's running on his phony national security cred so the only thing he has to signal his sympathies with the neanderthal base is a full on racist attack against the entire Arab world. (That's always been what fueled a lot of the patriotic fever among the true believers anyway, so maybe he's on to something.) But he really is one of them, in the most essential way. It will be interesting to see if he finds a way to make that more explicit. He's certainly hiring the right people.

Romney, without any cop riots or toilet plunger scandals to fall back on, has a longer road to travel, but he's getting there. This headline, from Ed Sebesta's Anti-neoconfederate blog says it all:

'Yankee governor with Southern values' backs military and attacks 'HillaryCare'

I don't know what they mean by "Southern Values" exactly, and the article doesn't explain, but it's safe to say that it doesn't have anything to do with evangelical religion, consistency on social conservatism, confederate "heritage" or any of the other signals these wingnuts use as a stand in for their racism. His call to "double Gitmo" was met with raucous applause in that crowd.

Romney and Giuliani are essentially promising to kill all the dark skinned Arabs and let God sort it out. That's a dogwhistle that comes through loud and clear to the racist base of the GOP. You've got to figure that if they're willing to do that, they'd be more than ready to properly discriminate against our local dark ones. It's all good.

Update: For a taste of some of those real patriotic values check this out.

The Village Bipartisan Block Party

by digby

Atrios and Jim Henley both handily dispatch this mewling piece about bipartisanship from Anne Marie Slaughter in today's Washington Post, but I was struck by this question from John Emerson in Henley's comment section:

Someone has to trace this bipartisan meme to its source. It’s everywhere these days. Broder himself is too senile to be the prime mover, though I’m sure that whoever started promoting the meme penciled Broder’s name in at the top of his list of prospective vectors.

Somewhere a new well of stupidity has been opened to compete with the heretofore dominant neocon / winger stupidity stream. It would seem that some big player has abandoned the wingers and is moving toward a fall-back position. The memo is obviously out there. But who sent it?

This has actually been going on since the election and I'm a little bit surprised that it's taken so long to reach critical mass. It's coming from the Republicans, of course, aided and abetted by their beltway courtiers.
Here's something I wrote
on January 8th:

As regular readers know, I've been pondering this infuriating fixation on bipartisanship and moderation for the last couple of weeks and watching aghast as the press does the wingnuts' bidding, setting up the Dems as failing to fulfill their promise to the American people that they would be moderate and bipartisan if they won the election. This was simply not on the agenda during the election, other than that the House Democrats would restore some sort of fairness to the rules and pass anti-corruption legislation. In fact, the entire election was about the Democrats taking power to provide some needed checks and balance on the Republicans.

Oddly, however, in the last couple of weeks, the media has been obsessing that the election reflected a desire among the American people for the congress to stop fighting and work together, which makes no sense. The Republican congress didn't fight --- the Democrats just caterwauled ineffectually from the sidelines, while the Republicans did what they wanted. There was no gridlock, they passed virtually every piece of legislation they wanted and the congress was perfectly in sync with the president. If comity was what people were concerned about they obviously would have kept undivided government.

The American people voted for the Democrats because they wanted them to stop the Republican juggernaut. Look at the poll numbers. Look at the election results.

So, where is this coming from? First, it's obviously coming from the Republicans who have much to gain by whining incessantly about being trod upon by the horrible Democrats who are betraying the citizens who voted for them by being big old meanies. No surprise there. They make their money and derive their power among their mouthbreathing base by portraying themselves as being victimized --- whether in power or out, the liberals are always keeping them down.

It's also long been obvious that the political and media establishment are perfectly comfortable with noxious rightwing nutballs like Tom Delay running things, but panic at the idea of a Democrat with a pulse. Their worship of "moderation and bipartisanship" a la Jerry Ford is largely based on their irrational fear of hippies.

"Bipartisanship" is only operative when the Democrats are in power. I don't recall hearing the commentariat scolding the Republicans for not being more accommodating to Democrats during their 12 year reign of terror, do you? I certainly don't recall a lot of garment rending over how the Republicans were isolating their moderates. My recollection was that everyone was cheering the GOP's responsiveness to its "traditional values, low tax, patriotic" base. You remember --- the Real Americans? Karl Rove was widely considered to be a genius.

A couple of months later I wrote this:

We hear a lot these days about politicians who polarize the electorate or how the people in the country just want everyone to get along. The conventional wisdom is the the nation is desperate for a leader who can reach across party lines and rule in a bipartisan fashion. Like Joe Lieberman. Or John McCain. I wrote about this ad nauseum after the election as this CW was taking hold, in the hope that the Democrats were not taking it seriously.

It just ain't true. The country is polarized because it's polarized. We actually believe different things depending on how we identify ourselves politically. I know this comes as a shock to those who think that the entire country is a nation of swing voters waiting to be drawn in by our fabulous arguments, ads or beer drinking companions, but this study says differently:

The story of 2006 was that regular Americans were sick of partisan divisions in Washington. The vast and consensus-hungry middle asserted itself in November, the narrative went, finally ordering the parties and their childish politicians to stop fighting and to work together.

After the vote, bipartisanship was all the buzz, and moderation the wave of the future. But something happened on the way to the evening campfire and s'mores. House Republicans started complaining about Democrats riding roughshod into the majority, refusing to consider their amendments to legislation. President Bush announced that he wasn't going to let the opposition of congressional Democrats stop him from sending 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders trashed most of Bush's domestic policy proposals as soon as they were announced in his State of the Union address.

One explanation for all this is that politicians are acting against the will of their compromise-loving constituents. Another is that Republicans and Democrats are simply being good representatives. We think the evidence supports the second interpretation.

The Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) surveyed more than 24,000 Americans who voted in 2006. The Internet-based survey compiled by researchers at 30 universities produced a sample that almost perfectly matched the national House election results: 54 percent of the respondents reported voting for a Democrat, while 46 percent said they voted for a Republican. The demographic characteristics of the voters surveyed also closely matched those in the 2006 national exit poll. If anything, the CCES respondents claimed they were more "independent" than those in the exit poll.


When we combined voters' answers to the 14 issue questions to form a liberal-conservative scale (answers were divided into five equivalent categories based on overall liberalism vs. conservatism), 86 percent of Democratic voters were on the liberal side of the scale while 80 percent of Republican voters were on the conservative side. Only 10 percent of all voters were in the center. The visual representation of the nation's voters isn't a nicely shaped bell, with most voters in the moderate middle. It's a sharp V.

The evidence from this survey isn't surprising; nor are the findings new. For the past three decades, the major parties and the electorate have grown more divided -- in what they think, where they live and how they vote. It may be comforting to believe our problems could be solved if only those vile politicians in Washington would learn to get along. The source of the country's division, however, is nestled much closer to home.

This would have been a widely celebrated validation of Rove's scorched earth base strategy if the Republicans had prevailed in November. He was just being responsive to those that brung him, and that's the way democracy works, by Jove --- messy and loud, and God bless America! But sadly for the Village, the dirty hippies won the election and the only possible way the elders can keep them from enacting their crazy schemes like ending the Iraq war and providing health care for kids, is to insist that they share power with the Republicans. They still, even after all this time, believe that the Republicans are the grown-ups. I'll quote myself again:

... we are basically the janitors, winning the contract to clean up after the conservative frat boys who trashed the place for the last few years. And Daddy Broder believes his boys when they tell him it was the cleaning people who caused all the damage because he just can't bring himself to admit that they are out-of-control misfits. After all, they come from such good families and dress so nicely when they come to the club.

And as for how this meme gets spread, I will simply direct you to a piece in the NY Times book review written by Peter Beinert back in 2003:

In ''The Great Unraveling,'' Krugman tries to harness his columns into one overarching argument about the Bush presidency. In the introduction, he calls the administration a ''revolutionary power'' -- a term he takes from Henry Kissinger's analysis of France under Robespierre and Napoleon -- that wants to replace the post-New Deal order with an undiluted plutocracy. But to make his case, Krugman has to do more than merely dissect the administration's policies; he has to explain its motives and culture. And here Krugman's unconventional background becomes a liability. He criticizes Washington reporters for being prisoners of their sources, and the dinner-party-going "commentariat" for succumbing to groupthink. But guest lists that cross ideological lines can help liberals understand the conservatives they write about. And many Washington conservatives genuinely don't see the Bush administration as radical: they see it as having ratified a big-spending, culturally liberal status quo. Krugman assumes a revolutionary consciousness that may not actually exist on the ground.

There you go.

H/T Brad DeLong

Friday, July 27, 2007

Frederick of Hollywood and the Tiny Silicone Penis

by digby

I have been reading a fascinating book called "The Wimp Factor" by Stephen J Doucat that thoroughly examines the strange phenomenon of anxious Republican masculinity and the way it's informing our politics. (As most of you know this is one of my obsessions, so I was thrilled when VernonLee kindly mailed it to me after a conversation about it at Drinking Liberally.)

I will be writing more about it over time, but I just wanted to make note of one little thing that I didn't know and I doubt that you all knew either:

By far the most compelling confirmation of the phallic meaning of the president's aircraft-carrier cakewalk was found on the hot-selling "George W. Bush Top Gun action figure" manufactured by Talking Presidents. I originally ordered one to use as part of the cover design for this book. The studly twelve-inch flyboy not only comes with a helmet and visor, goggles and oxygen mask, but underneath his flight suit is a full "basket" --- a genuine fake penis, apparently constructed with lifelike silicone.

I'll just let that percolate in your mind for a bit.

As it happens, today The New Republic also published a big cover story called "The Masculine Mystique of Fred Thompson". The Republicans have apparently moved on from their excessive adolescent concern with what's inside the presidential codpiece all the back to their early childhood. They just want to crawl up on Daddy's lap, stick their thumbs in their mouths and have him tell them he'll take care of his lil' citizens.

Reductively speaking, Thompson stands as the Daddy Party's dream Daddy--although a Daddy of a very particular type. Forget the nurturing, "compassionate conservative" model of Bush's 2000 candidacy, which has been roundly discredited on the right. Forget, too, the blustery, "Bring it on!" swagger that W. adopted after September 11, a little-guy machismo one also sees in Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. Thompson's manliness is laconic rather than feisty, a style more John Wayne than Jimmy Cagney. "He's a big man," says Duncan. "He has a way of filling or dominating a room." And, as all of us recall from our schoolyard days, big guys like Thompson don't need to run around picking fights, talking smack, and constantly reminding us of how tough they are because, well, look at them.

Certainly, the Thompson talk in both cyberspace and the traditional media is a study in hero worship, with grown conservatives swooning like cheerleaders smitten over the manliness of the varsity quarterback. There is much rejoicing about the senator's growling voice, his studly cigar habit, and his physical size. My favorite bit of macho Fred-worship making its way around the Internet is a widely circulated joke about the title of the recent film 300, in which a small troop of Spartans holds the line against the massive Persian army: "If Fred Thompson had been at Thermopylae, the movie would have been called 1." (Reading posts like this, it's unsurprising that, according to USA Today, 64 percent of Thompson's supporters are male, the highest percentage for any presidential hopeful.)

Among more serious journalists, The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes has developed a particularly intense man-crush on Thompson, penning a series of breathless valentines about the fledgling campaign, starting with a 6,000-word profile in April that gushed: "As we spoke, I was struck by the fact that Thompson didn't seem to be calibrating his answers for a presidential run. On issue after contentious issue, I got the sense from both his manner and the answer he gave me that he was just speaking extemporaneously." Nor is it only the conservative media getting high on the smell of testosterone. The creepiest musings about Thompson's "sex appeal" thus far have come from NBC's Chris Matthews, the machismo-obsessed id of the Washington media, who recently cooed: "Can you smell the English leather on this guy, the Aqua Velva, the sort of mature man's shaving cream, or whatever, you know, after he shaved? Do you smell that sort of--a little bit of cigar smoke?"

More adolescent members of the chattering class, meanwhile, have taken to drooling over Mrs. Thompson, whose penchant for low-cut, form-fitting ensembles already has buttoned-down political types buzzing. Msnbc's Joe Scarborough recently created a stir when he and guest analyst Craig Crawford of Congressional Quarterly indulged in some lascivious speculation about whether the curvaceous Jeri's fitness regime makes use of a stripper's pole. Tacky as the comments were, they were essentially envious. "That's what a Hollywood career will do for you!" enthused Crawford.

Inevitably, with his official entry into the race, Thompson will lose a little luster as he morphs from above-the-fray candidate-in-waiting to flesh-and-blood (not to mention bloodied) combatant. Still, the lure of his manly charms should not be underestimated. As Bob Davis, a former Thompson staffer now chairing the Tennessee Republican Party, puts it, "When you put your children to bed at night, and you're laying your head down on your pillow, this is a guy people would trust to protect their backside no matter what happened."

This is an especially potent lure with the Republican Party feeling so lost and fragile. Just last month, former Thompson sweetie Lorrie Morgan predicted to the Sunday Times of London that Thompson will prove irresistible to women voters: "He's majestic. He's a soft, safe place to be, and that could be Fred's ticket. Women love a soft place to lay and a strong pair of hands to hold us." Team Thompson is betting that, these days, the same may be said of the entire GOP.

I've been calling them The Baby Party for a long time. They are now literally reverting to infancy.

These Republicans need to see some professionals about this problem. Tiny silicone penises on action dolls and fantasies of a big gruff manly man with a "strong pair of hands to hold us" are cries for help and this country needs to hold a massive intervention. November 2008 sound good to you?


by tristero

There's an interesting new movie that opened today called No End in Sight. I have no doubt it is worth seeing. But what caught my attention was this passage in the review, as it is all part and parcel of the received wisdom about the Bush/Iraq war:
Who lost Iraq?
Let's get this straight. Again.

The Bush/Iraq war wasn't merely a bad idea. It was screaming yellow bonkers. It had no chance - none - of creating a positive situation. Ever. It is complete nonsense to claim "the invasion could have succeeded" if only competents had been in charge. Why? Competent people would never have invaded Iraq in the first place.

The tragedy we see today was a foregone conclusion. It was predicted again and again, by genuinely sober, reasonable people. The war supporters - all of them - were the hysterics. They wern't "idealists." They were naive, pie-in-the-sky types. After all, it was Richard Perle and David Frum who penned a book called "An End to Evil" - an utterly insane notion, as Anatol Lieven noted.

It is ominous to note the congealing of conventional wisdom around the "great idea, incompetent execution" meme (this review is hardly the only place it has appeared recently). It means that the public discourse remains monopolized by genuine clowns. Until more serious people are permitted to address the American public on a regular basis, the US will continue to blunder into future Bush/Iraqs, with catastrophic consequences.

I also can't let this go by, either, from the same review:
It is important to note that Mr. Ferguson’s principal interlocutors were not, at the time, critics of the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq but rather people who had, often at considerable professional cost and personal risk, committed themselves to fulfilling those policies. They include Barbara Bodine, a diplomat with long experience in the Middle East...

The people at most risk were the innocent Iraqis that were bombed and the soldiers who were gulled into fighting this awful war.And they have all endured terrible things. By comparison, it seems callously crazy even to mention that those of us who early and loudly protested the war found our careers damaged and our opinions marginalized.

But Bodine? Jay Garner? Wha??? Remember when Michael Moore was booed at the Oscars? To state that those who enabled Bush/Iraq took risks with their reputation and careers is ludicrous. They're all doing fine. Hell, even Judith Miller still gets on television, according to her website. But the last I checked, not even Jessica Tuchman Mathews has a regular tv gig.

The Birchers

by tristero

The blogosphere seems astounded that Glenn Beck fluffed a John Bircher. In fact, it really should surpise no one. There is no ideological difference of any importance between modern conservatives and the John Birch Society, something I noted in my very first post, dated February 14, 2003:
In October of '02, I made a speech to a parent's gathering at my daughter's school about the Cuban Missile Crisis. In that speech I asserted that the Bush administration had been mistakenly classified by the press as "conservative." Instead, they are right-wing extremists with "intellectual" ties to the nuts of the Kennedy era, like Curtis Lemay or the John Birch Society members.
What follows is adopted from a post I wrote in September of '04.

The John Birch Society arose in the late 50's and rapidly grew to considerable prominence. It is worth noting that the Birchers were thought to be so extreme that William F. Buckley himself denounced them in the pages of National Review. Among their goals were:

1. The abolition of the graduated income tax.

2. The repeal of social security legislation.

3. The impeachment of various high government officials,

4..The end to busing for the purpose of school integration.

5. The end to U.S. membership in the United Nations.

As you can see, these goals, which were, 40 years ago, the platform of an extremist group on the fringes of American politics, are the all but spoken platform of the Bush administration and the modern Republican party. We have seen numerous attempts to eliminate the income tax; Bush has proposed changes to Social Security that will send it down the road to extinction; Bill Clinton was impeached and Governor Gray Davis of California removed from office; the busing issue has morphed into an intense focus of the easier-to-frame affirmative action; and the Bush administration, on the issue of Iraq and in many other ways, great and small, has worked assiduously to bypass the United Nations and make the actions of the UN worthless (see this notorious article by Perle for a neo-Bircher perspective.).

It is useful to read Bircher literature because, if for no other reason, it will give you insight into what underlies some -perhaps a lot - of the secular components of Bush's worldview.

Birch Society Founder Robert Welch believed that "an elite international cabal...is seeking to establish a world tyranny." In the U.S., that cabal was centered in the Council on Foreign Relations. Of course, Welch and his followers were convinced that Franklin Roosevelt was a communist and that the New Deal was pure socialism. But the Birchers went further. Some of the abettors of the vast communist conspiracy Welch saw as an imminent danger to freedom were President Dwight D. Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles.

But there is more, much more, to the Birchers than just this. At one point, the Birchers had "a minimum of 6,600 corporate-financed anticommunist broadcasts, carried by more than 1,300 radio and television stations at a total annual budget of about $20 million," which was an enormous sum in the early 60's.

Important Birch Society members were close to the Bush family and the close relationship between the families has continued to the present. The Birchers had major sponsors among Texas oilmen, of course, men like H.L.Hunt and J. Howard Pew. President George H. W. Bush was close enough to the Hunt family to say that H.L. Hunt's wife was "one of the loveliest human beings I have ever encountered." In the fall of 2004, the ambassador to Saudi Arabia is James C. Oberwetter; he was appointed by Bush II, and he was a high ranking member of the oil company founded by H.L. Hunt.

In short, the intellectual tradition, if you can call it that, that underlies Bushism is a branch of the conservative movement that's grown directly from the trunk of a crackpot tree. Since the 60's, the heirs to the Birchers dropped the more bizarre claims (no one's talking too much anymore about Eisenhower being a communist), and learned ways to disguise what they say (Dave Neiwert has written brilliantly on this; for a start, download his "Rush, Newspeak, and Fascism"). But they haven't lost sight of their end goal: to create an America fully in sync with Robert Welch's core vision.

Take, for example, the UN. Naturally, the role that an international organization might have in world affairs is a complex and subtle topic. However, the criticism and contempt Bush heaps on the UN does not address any of the real issues involved, nor can it, because it descends not from a serious intellectual engagement with the concepts, but from paranoid rumination.

The Bush administration's view of the UN and and the views of their apologists are directly analogous to the creationist assault on evolution. In both cases, there are serious issues and differences to be hashed out (how to respond to genocide/whether the punctuated equilibrium model fits the evidence for evolution). And in both cases, the people who are heaping the most scorn and garnering the most attention are completely unqualified for a serious, useful discussion.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Private Peter Pan

by digby

The other day I posted about a pseudonymously written story published in the New Republic by a soldier in the field describing some rather despicable behavior by himself and some of his buddies. It seemed to me that it was plausible, although of course, I have no way of really knowing. But I have observed some fairly similar behaviors in people in normal life, and even drew some comparisons to some documented behavior by our president. It made me worry once again about whether the troops' inevitable PTSD and other mental health problems are going to be adequately cared for back in the states.

That was where I left it. But the story has become something of an obsession in the rightwing blogosphere evidently. (Sadly No has a nice run-down of how it developed.) After a tremendous amount of wingnut pressure on TNR to prove they hadn't been duped by an imposter, now that they know he does in fact exist, they are working their way into a complete frenzy going after this soldier as if he were al Qaeda and acting as though the hawkish New Republic has just endorsed Cindy Sheehan for president. It's like watching a bunch of piranhas attack some kids who accidentally fell into the water.

This soldier certainly had no idea what he was dealing with, and I suspect TNR didn't either. (Up until now, the right has been sympathetic with their editorial line on the war, after all. For all the disdain for the blogofascists of the left, this is undoubtedly the first time TNR's felt the full force of the wingnutosphere, which makes our little ideological disagreements look like kisses on the cheek. )

But this is bigger than blogospherics. There has been precious little good writing about the actual gritty experiences of average soldiers in these wars. Everything has been so packaged and marketed from the top that it's very difficult to get a sense of what it's like over there. I have no idea if this piece is accurate, but regardless it didn't seem to me to be an indictment of the military in general, merely a description of the kind of gallows humor and garden variety cruelty that would be likely to escalate in violent circumstances. And so far, there has been nothing substantial brought forward to doubt his story -- the shrieking nitpicking of the 101st keyboarders notwithstanding.

It certainly should not have have garnered this vicious right wing attack from everyone from Bill Kristol to the lowliest denizens of the right blogosphere. They want to destroy this soldier for describing things that have been described in war reporting since Homer so they can worship "the troops" without having to admit that the whole endeavor is a bloody, horrible mess that only briefly, and rarely, offers opportunity for heroic battlefield courage (which, of course, it sometimes does as well.)

Why are so many of these people such children in these matters? Rod Dreyer read "All Quiet On The Western Front" a couple of weeks ago and was so moved that he actually felt compelled to write a column about it. (I did too. In the eight grade --- only I called it a book report.) I guess I thought everyone knew that war was a crazy, fucked up enterprise filled with great drama and boredom and courage and loss of humanity and that most of the simplistic mythic clap trap that society uses to compel young men into doing it was pretty much propaganda. Sure, it still has to be done sometimes and it takes great physical courage and commitment to throw yourself into the meat grinder, but that doesn't change the fact that it is, on many levels, a total debasement of your humanity. Like most things in life, it's complicated.

I have never been to war. But that doesn't mean that I have no knowledge of it. Human beings have been at it for some time now and they've left quite a record. Nothing that Private Beauchamp wrote in that piece had not been written before by some other soldier in some other war. (That doesn't excuse the behavior, of course, which hasn't been acceptable behavior for soldiers for centuries, if only because of the lack of discipline.) But if you have the habit of reading books you will have come across descriptions of war that make your hair stand on end and you will know that nobility and honor sometimes seem like quaint concepts from another life in such circumstances. It isn't shocking in the least that otherwise decent people could lose that decency during wartime and it certainly doesn't surprise you that those who already have a light grip on conscience (or sanity) would behave in ways that would make us recoil in horror in our everyday lives. That is not a judgment about soldiers in general. Each one is his own agent and is responsible for his own actions. War doesn't render morality inoperative. But it does challenge it and in the case of wars that are themselves immoral it challenges it severely.

I hear so much from the right about how they love the troops. But they don't seem to love the actual human beings who wear the uniform, they love those little GI Joe dolls they played with as children which they could dress up in little costumes and contort into pretzels for their fun and amusement. If they loved the actual troops they wouldn't require them to be like two dimensional John Waynes, withholding their real experiences and feelings for fear that a virtual armchair lynch mob would come after them.

Thank God Joseph Heller and James Jones and Erich Maria Remarque and countless others aren't trying to write their books today. They'd be burned as heretics by a bunch of nasty boys and girls who have fetishized "the troops" into a strange form of Boy Band eroticism --- that empty, nonthreatening form of masculinity the tweens use to bridge the scary gap between puberty and adolescence. Private Peter Pan reporting for duty.

The real men for them are the civilians on 24 torturing suspected terrorists for an hour each week, keeping the lil'est tough guys safe from harm with hard sadism and easy answers. That's where this wingnut war is really being fought. With popcorn.

The dead-on military man
by Dover Bitch

Newsweek's Michael Hirsh warns us all that the demise of John McCain's dream of leading our troops into another glorious war as Commander in Chief is a grave sign that America is not listening to experienced "military men."

In early November 2003, at a time when Fred Dalton Thompson was playing a tough D.A. on "Law and Order," John McCain was cross-examining Donald Rumsfeld for real on Capitol Hill. It was still very early into the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but the as-yet-unacknowledged (by Rummy, that is) insurgency was already out of control. Alone among his fellow GOP senators, McCain blasted Rumsfeld for not putting enough U.S. troops on the ground, and for resorting too soon to "Iraqification"—that is, transferring security to ill-prepared Iraqi forces. In an extraordinarily blunt speech at the Council on Foreign Relations that grim autumn, McCain warned that ultimately Iraq could become another Vietnam "if we lose popular support in the United States."

The next day, the secretary of Defense asked McCain to breakfast. "I read your speech," harrumphed Rumsfeld (that "must have been an enjoyable experience for him," McCain later joked to me). Then Rummy patiently explained to his fellow Republican why he and his top civilian brass (Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith and the usual crowd of incompetents) would continue to do things the same way. They "believed there was no need for additional troops," McCain later related. McCain had already realized that Rumsfeld was a lost cause. The real question, the senator suggested to me back then, was whether George W. Bush himself would push Rummy to make changes. "I’d like to see the president fully engaged,” McCain said. Bush needed to be on top of “more details of what’s going on."

As we now know nearly four years later, McCain was dead on in his analysis of what went wrong in Iraq. Right down to the need for Bush to get engaged and fire Rumsfeld. McCain was so right that, among military experts today, the emerging conventional wisdom about Bush’s current "surge" is that if it had occurred back then—when McCain wanted it and the political will existed in this country to support it for the necessary number of years—it might well have succeeded. Now even McCain’s fellow Republicans, frightened of the polls and Bush’s Nixonian level of unpopularity, are insisting on success in an impossible nine months (by September, that is). That’s a benchmark Gen. David Petraeus and others in the Iraq command realize is simply untenable. The disparity between the timelines in Washington and Baghdad is now so huge that failure is all but foreordained.

Oh yeah, and Fred Dalton Thompson is still acting on TV, having abandoned Washington for Hollywood five years ago, in the middle of the biggest national crisis since Vietnam. Presumably Thompson will keep acting until he announces for president, which some politicos think will instantly make him the front runner in a field that apparently no longer has room for John McCain. Thompson is, after all, a very good actor—an even better one, many say, than Ronald Reagan was.

And that points up a sad fact of political life in Washington. Americans can’t get enough of praising our military men and women in public—the people who actually know something about war. But we no longer want to elect them president. In a national culture besotted with TV "reality" shows, no one seems able to tell what reality is any more. We saw that in 2004 when two draft dodgers—Bush and Dick Cheney—brazenly painted a Silver Star winner, John Kerry, as fatally soft on war. We’re seeing the same dynamic play out again now.

I'll give Hirsh points for pointing out what a sham of a candidate Fred Thompson is. He also gets another point for calling out Bush and Cheney for the draft-dodging chickenhawks they are.

But the premise of this article is absurd. We are not "seeing the same dynamic play out again now." Not even close. Nobody is fabricating anything about McCain's war record to smear him. If anything, the fabrication is coming from Hirsh in defense of McCain, whom he credits for being "dead on in his analysis."

Hirsh is conveniently forgetting that McCain was the surge's biggest proponent in October 2006:

Republican Sen. John McCain, a possible 2008 presidential candidate, said Friday the United States should send another 20,000 troops to Iraq.

A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain said increasing U.S. forces would require expanding the standing Army and Marine Corps - a step the Bush administration has resisted. He also reiterated his opposition to a hasty U.S. withdrawal.

Reporters asked him to elaborate on his statement last week in Iowa that more combat troops are needed in Iraq to quell a "classic insurgency."

"Another 20,000 troops in Iraq, but that means expanding the Army and the Marine Corps," he said.

"It's not just a set number."

Bush announced his "surge" about two months later, just what McCain said he wanted. Digby picks it up from there:

Bush called his bluff and John Edwards very astutely immediately began calling it The McCain Escalation Doctrine.

He's since tried to distance himself from Bush by saying that he really meant 30,000 or that Bush wasn't honest about the situation on the ground or that we need benchmarks.

But Bush got this plan from him, not the other way around. It's his baby.

I hope that we can keep the press focused on this. They love them some St. John and are always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Looks like they still are. In fact, one really has to wonder where the love affair comes from. It's not simply that McCain is a "military man" with gravitas. Consider Hirsh's appearance on CNN in November 2005:

ANDERSON COOPER: Mike Hirsh, did the Republicans make a mistake -- mistake tactically in doing this tonight?

MICHAEL HIRSH, "NEWSWEEK": Probably they did.

But, I mean, this is an exercise in irrelevance in my view for other reasons, mainly because the plans are going forward by the Pentagon and the White House for a mid-2006 drawdown, dramatic drawdown. The political military strategy's going forward.

I mean, I think what most of the country is missing here, as they watch Congress, you know, take each other on is that, in fact, there's a strategy for getting out of Iraq. I think this added political pressure will probably make a little bit of difference, perhaps in, you know, telling the White House that it has to go ahead with the strategy.

But there's no question that 2006 is going to be the key year for drawing down troops.

COOPER: Well, just today, Mike, we learned that a top U.S. general has submitted a troop withdrawal plan. It basically calls for U.S. troops -- it's been submitted to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He has not signed it at this point, but this is a plan by a U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, basically calls for brigade-sized withdrawals in 2006, depending on a number of considerations being met inside Iraq, in terms of Iraqi troops level.

Is that a significant document, do you think?


I mean, this is one of a series of plans we have been hearing about since before the summer. There was a little back-and-forth between the Defense Department and the White House over this. Casey had alluded to a dramatic drawdown last spring. He was slapped down by President Bush, who didn't want to give out any kind of a timetable.

But, nonetheless, these plans are there. Those of us who cover the Pentagon have heard about them. And, you know, I think that, no matter what, if things -- if conditions remain just as they are now, they will go forward. You will have a trained-up Iraqi force holding some of these areas that they're clearing, clearing out of insurgents, and you will have a current force of, you know, 140,000 or so nearly halved perhaps by mid-2006.

If you can, for a moment, forget about how painfully wrong Hirsh was about everything there, notice that he pointed out the military was calling for troop reductions in Iraq with a "series of plans." You would think that a "military man" who has been "dead on in his analysis" with regards to Iraq would also be on board with the drawdown scripted by top generals in the Pentagon.

Unless of course that man is John McCain. Here's McCain the following day, Nov. 12, 2005, on Meet Tim Russert [UPDATE: I pulled the wrong quote. Please see my correction for the proper example of McCain's pro-surge sentiments in November 2005]:

I believe that there are a lot of things that we can do to salvage this, but they all require the presence of additional troops.


We're either going to lose this thing or win this thing within the next several months.

Hirsh says McCain's floundering campaign shows that America can't tell what reality is anymore. If they could figure out how to take the Washington beltway perspective and put it in a pill, it would be the most potent hallucinogen every created.