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Sunday, May 31, 2009

They Cannot Know

by digby

I just want to give a rousing "shove it" to all the right wing jackasses who have absolutely no sympathy for women and their loved ones who are faced with the horrible prospect of a life threatening delivery of a fetus that is destined for an extremely short, brutal, painful life. These strangers have decided that they have a right to dictate what people must do in the most gut wrenching, complicated situations with which any human being can be confronted. Who do these people think they are?

I've heard a lot of people saying recently that the abortion debate has changed because now that people can see the cute little baby inside the woman's body with the ultrasound we feel the humanity of it. Perhaps that's true. But that same technology also allows us to see the heartbreaking, doomed baby in the third trimester and we know that it will put the mother's life and health at risk to carry that pregnancy to term. For all the joy that the ultrasound brings to the happily expectant parent, nothing could be worse that the horrifying news that a late term ultrasound shows a fatal birth defect. This technology goes both ways.

From Talk Left, we have a testimonial from someone who went through this:

In 1994 my wife and I found out that she was pregnant. The pregnancy was difficult and unusually uncomfortable but her doctor repeatedly told her things were fine. Sometime early in the 8th month my wife, an RN who at the time was working in an infertility clinic asked the Dr. she was working for what he thought of her discomfort. He examined her and said that he couldn’t be certain but thought that she might be having twins. We were thrilled and couldn’t wait to get a new sonogram that hopefully would confirm his thoughts. Two days later our joy was turned to unspeakable sadness when the new sonogram showed conjoined twins. Conjoined twins alone is not what was so difficult but the way they were joined meant that at best only one child would survive the surgery to separate them and the survivor would more than likely live a brief and painful life filled with surgery and organ transplants. We were advised that our options were to deliver into the world a child who’s life would be filled with horrible pain and suffering or fly out to Wichita Kansas and to terminate the pregnancy under the direction of Dr. George Tiller.

We made an informed decision to go to Kansas. One can only imagine the pain borne by a woman who happily carries a child for 8 months only to find out near the end of term that the children were not to be and that she had to make the decision to terminate the pregnancy and go against everything she had been taught to believe was right. This was what my wife had to do. Dr. Tiller is a true American hero. The nightmare of our decision and the aftermath was only made bearable by the warmth and compassion of Dr. Tiller and his remarkable staff. Dr. Tiller understood that this decision was the most difficult thing that a woman could ever decide and he took the time to educate us and guide us along with the other two couples who at the time were being forced to make the same decision after discovering that they too were carrying children impacted by horrible fetal anomalies. I could describe in great detail the procedures and the pain and suffering that everyone is subjected to in these situations. However, that is not the point of the post. We can all imagine that this is not something that we would wish on anyone. The point is that the pain and suffering were only mitigated by the compassion and competence of Dr. George Tiller and his staff. We are all diminished today for a host of reasons but most of all because a man of great compassion and courage has been lost to the world.

People always act like this issue is simple. But pregnancy is one situation in life that falls across all kinds of moral, emotional and rational lines, calling into question the autonomy of the very body in which we live and lifelong commitments made in the heat of the moment --- painful choices and primitive imperatives in the most basic human drive we have. Whether it's the idea that women should be "punished" with pregnancy for failing to use birth control, to the idea that adoption is a simple and painless alternative, to the insistence that women who carry a child for seven or eight months must be forced to give birth when the child has no chance at life to the spectacle of the Octamom, the fact is that there is no broad brush answer that can be applied to all these different circumstances. Certainly, the crude instrument of the law isn't the answer as even the anti-choicers tacitly admit when they refuse to consider the women who have abortions murderers and instead focus on the doctors.

Indeed, the murder of Dr Tiller in a demented defense of a "culture of life" should be all it takes for everyone to see that this is not the simple, straightforward issue they'd like to believe it is. And once you recognize that it's a unique circumstance in which the moral boundaries are blurry and indistinct, the only possible course is to trust the person with the most knowledge of the circumstances, the symbiotic relationship to the fetus and greatest stake in the outcome --- the woman.

Denial River

by digby

I would love to know why Atrios is almost the only person who ever talks about this. When I bring it up even with people who are very well informed about the housing crisis, they have not even considered it.

This wave of Alt-A foreclosures is probably going to hit at the same time that unemployment starts to affect people with good credit and regular mortgages. ( At some point, those people run through their savings and can't pay either.) It's hard to see how the housing market improves with these land mines all over the place.

King Edward

by digby

Dday had an astonishing post over at his place the other day featuring Ed Rendell which you should read in its entirety:

I just came across an astonishing interview on The Ed Show with Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell about the potential Specter-Sestak primary. It's a combination of a threat, Newspeak, muddled and often contradictory logic, and a depiction of how the spoils system works in government, particularly a machine state like Pennsylvania. It's really something, and it looks almost staged, like an infomercial designed to bash Sestak's chances in public.

read on for the whole terrible trainwreck ...|

I have never been a Rendell fan, particularly after he behaved like as ass during the 2000 Florida recount, rushing out to "inform" the country that Gore would have to concede. But after reading that post I now have an active dislike for him. And I'm more determined than ever to support Sestak's run. This guy really doesn't like democracy.

We The People

by digby

Former Bush OLC lawyer and legal scholar Jack Goldsmith tells us matter of factly that if people insist that the government follow specific laws and the constitution that it will just find other ways to do exactly what it wants to do. Evidently, when it comes to national security there literally is no stopping them. It's just a given that in order to "keep us safe" they simply must torture and imprison people without due process and that's just the way it is. They'll just employ other countries to do the dirty work and they'll imprison whomever they choose inside the war zone in Afghanistan so as to circumvent the laws that have been put in place for Gitmo.

But he's against it:

It is tempting to say that we should end this pattern and raise standards everywhere. Perhaps we should extend habeas corpus globally, eliminate targeted killing and cease cooperating with intelligence services from countries that have poor human rights records. This sentiment, however, is unrealistic. The imperative to stop the terrorists is not going away. The government will find and exploit legal loopholes to ensure it can keep up our defenses.

This approach to detention policy reflects a sharp disjunction between the public's view of the terrorist threat and the government's. After nearly eight years without a follow-up attack, the public (or at least an influential sliver) is growing doubtful about the threat of terrorism and skeptical about using the lower-than-normal standards of wartime justice.

The government, however, sees the terrorist threat every day and is under enormous pressure to keep the country safe. When one of its approaches to terrorist incapacitation becomes too costly legally or politically, it shifts to others that raise fewer legal and political problems. This doesn't increase our safety or help the terrorists. But it does make us feel better about ourselves.

Silly citizens, thinking you have some say in these things. Don't worry your pretty little heads about any of this because even if you do, it won't make a difference. "The government" does what it needs to do no matter how many laws you pass or how many court decisions are made. They know everything and they know what's best.

By the way, when do you suppose those WMD are going to turn up?

Sacramento Syndrome

by dday

If shuttering state parks was the only thing we in California had to worry about, it would be bad enough. But that really only scratches the surface. Among the measures Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed, with little resistance from Democrats, include:

• Eliminating the entire welfare-to-work program, CalWorks
• Eliminating the entire Healthy Families program, which is California's version of SCHIP. So the whole program that the Congress expanded early this year would be dismantled. California would be the only state in the nation without an SCHIP program.
• Eliminating the entire higher education aid grants program, Cal Grants.
• A 5% reduction in salary on top of previous 10% reductions for every single state employee.
• Eliminating funding for prescription drug help for AIDS patients.
• Education cuts that will lead to canceling all summer school programs in Los Angeles County, for example.

And that's just a portion. As the California Budget Project explains, 1.9 million Californians could lose their health care coverage as a result of these cuts. Kudos to the LA Times, by the way, for allowing the great unmentionable to get printed on their pages - the decisions made in Sacramento will truly be the difference between life and death.

Schwarzenegger argues that the state's declining economy and plummeting tax revenues have boxed California into a corner, forcing deep and historic cuts in the health and welfare programs that form the state's social safety net. Without those tough measures, he says, California will cartwheel toward insolvency.

But a 10-person legislative budget panel, which is reviewing the governor's proposals, listened during a long day in a crowded hearing room to scores of people who said their survival depends on programs set to be hit by the budget ax.

They heard from mothers of children with autism, representatives of people on dialysis, poor parents whose children see dentists on the government's dime, former drug abusers set straight by a state rehab program.

And they heard from a woman named Lynnea Garbutt who has lived with AIDS all of her 24 years.

She has survived with the help of a state program that provides the expensive antiviral drugs she takes. Now, with that program facing elimination, she pleaded with lawmakers to save it -- and her life.

"If these cuts take place, you're not just cutting money from the program -- you're cutting my life," she told the panel, her voice shaking and tears falling. "I choose to live. Please don't make me die. My choice is life."

It goes without saying that the weakest, most vulnerable, most voiceless members of society will bear the brunt of the pain from a problem created over thirty years by everyone but them. We have come to expect statements like this from Republicans:

Nearly all of the billions of dollars in cuts the administration has proposed would affect programs for poor Californians, although prisons and schools would take hits, as well.

“Government doesn’t provide services to rich people,” Mike Genest, the state’s finance director, said on a conference call with reporters on Friday. “It doesn’t even really provide services to the middle class.” He added: “You have to cut where the money is.”

In a technical sense, this is of course true. Government doesn't provide services to the rich, only handouts. In the February budget deal in California, at a time when the deficit was increasing on a daily basis, the only permanent tax solution included was a massive, $1.5 billion/year tax cut to the largest corporations in America, who now get to CHOOSE how they are taxed in California, unlike in any other state in the nation.

At issue is the new "elective sales factor," a system for determining how much tax a company should pay in the state. Up to now, California's tax system taxed corporations using a formula based on employment, property and sales in the state, sometimes know as a "triple factor" system.

Many companies have long argued that this traditional way of calculating taxes punishes companies that invest in the state and create jobs, but critics disagree. Under the new elective system, set to go into place for the 2011 tax year, companies can choose to pay under either the triple factor formula or via the "single sales factor" system, based entirely on their sales in California [...]

The most vocal critic of these changes is Lenny Goldberg, executive director of the California Tax Reform Association. He said he is opposed to single sales in the first place-but that allowing companies to choose which system they use is even worse. He said companies will now be able to report more revenue to the state in good years and move losses into the state in bad ones.

"Tax policy should be consistently applied," Goldberg said. "But we've given this elective that provides for infinite manipulation."

By the way, such a tax evasion was pushed as much as anyone by Democrats in areas with high-tech sectors. They have been clamoring for this shift in corporate tax policy for a generation, and they slid this into the budget at the last minute. And... wait for it... reversing it will require a 2/3 vote.

In the same way, Democrats who are supposedly the only hope for the voiceless, the infirm, the sick, the elderly, the poor, and the downtrodden, have been either entirely silent or entirely unhelpful in the face of these cuts. Susan Kennedy, the Democratic Chief of Staff to both Schwarzenegger and former Governor Gray Davis, has decided that "our revenue stream is way too progressive." (Incidentally, lower-income Californians pay a far higher percentage of their income in taxes than those with a higher income, so when Kennedy claims the revenue stream is too progressive, she must mean not regressive enough.) That would be expected of someone in the executive branch, but enablers like Dianne Feinstein make assumptions that the results of the special election, when voters rejected a series of program cuts, borrowing and spending caps, with only one regressive revenue-raising proposal among the lot, prove that voters wanted these kinds of cuts. This has been echoed by the legislative leadership directly after the election. As I said then:

Where is the argument for DEMOCRACY in these statements? Since 1978 that democracy has crumbled and needs to be completely rebuilt. Everyone knows this but refuses to say it out loud. This is why the legislature and the Governor have historically low approval ratings. People are starved for actual leadership and see none. Only democracy will save us. This failed experiment with conservative Two Santa Claus Theories has now become deeply destructive. Because the democrats have provided no leadership and ceded the rhetorical ground, California public opinion holds the contradictory beliefs that the state should not raise taxes and also not cut spending. And if it persists without leadership and advocacy to the contrary, nothing will change.

Here's the problem, in a nutshell. In 1978 California passed Prop. 13, and Democrats have run for cover ever since. They should have put up a fight immediately. They should have outlined the consequences of mandating a 2/3 majority for tax increases but not for program cuts, the consequences of aligning commercial property tax caps along with residential, the consequences of the supermajorities making the state ungovernable and the Constitutional mandates pushed by special interests and written in by the voters making the state unfixable. But instead, Democrats cowered in fear of losing power, despite the demographic shifts in the state since the mid-1990s, so they lay low and never advocate for the necessary reforms, and buy completely into the myth that the 70's-era tax revolt remains alive and well, and they take public opinion polls on this as static and unchangeable through anything resembling leadership. Obviously Republicans are insane in this state, but they can barely manage 1/3 of the legislature (and if we had a half-decent campaign apparatus among California Democrats they'd lose that too) and shouldn't be feared in any respect. Yet our Democratic leadership exists in a post-1978 fog, a kind of "Sacramento Syndrome," where they've come to love their captors on the right, and have bought into their claims.

These severe program cuts are nothing more than a shock doctrine being placed on the citizens of California, with the burden anything but equally shared. Sadly, there is absolutely no one with any authority willing to stand up and say no. There are organizations outside the Capitol trying to lead and engage in systemic reform. But the Democrats in Sacramento are scared to death of it - that unknowable circumstance they cannot control. So the short term will deliver nothing but pain.


by digby

It appears that President Obama's call for a more respectful dialog on abortion has fallen on deaf ears:

George Tiller, the Wichita doctor who became a national lightning rod in the debate over abortion, was shot to death this morning as he walked into church services.

Tiller, 67, was shot just after 10 a.m. at Reformation Lutheran Church at 7601 E. 13th, where he was a member of the congregation. Witnesses and a police source confirmed Tiller was the victim.

No information has been released about whether a suspect is in custody. Police said they are looking for white male who was driving a 1990s powder blue Ford Taurus with Kansas license plate 225 BAB.


Tiller has long been a focal point of protest by abortion opponents because his clinic, Women's Health Care Services at 5701 E. Kellogg, is one of the few in the country where late-term abortions are performed.

"We are shocked at this morning's disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down," anti-abortion group Operation Rescue said in a statement on its Web site. "Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning. We pray for Mr. Tiller's family that they will find comfort and healing that can only be found in Jesus Christ."

Protesters blockaded Tiller's clinic during Operation Rescue's "Summer of Mercy" protests during the summer of 1991, and Tiller was shot by Rachelle Shannon at his clinic in 1993.

Tiller was wounded in both arms, and Shannon remains in prison for the shooting.

Tiller's clinic was severely vandalized earlier this month. According to the Associated Press, his lawyer said wires to security cameras and outdoor lights were cut and that the vandals also cut through the roof and plugged the buildings' downspouts. Rain poured through the roof and caused thousands of dollars of damage in the clinic. Tiller reportedly asked the FBI to investigate the incident.

It seems as if there's somebody shooting up churches and killing cops on the basis of some wingnut obsession every few months now. I wonder why?

How many years has it been since there was a left wing terrorist killing in the US?

Update: While I know that most of my readers (with a couple of exceptions) are not cretinous enough to say that this doctor deserved to die because he performed therapeutic late term abortions, it must be noted that he was one of only a handful of doctors who will perform this vital service for women under the new law. If you think that women should have to endanger their lives in order to give birth to a fetus with no brain, then you probably think this man was a murderer. For the women who went to him, and for whom he put up with a horrifying amount of harrassment and violence before they finally managed to kill him, he was a Godsend.

More here from Carla at feministe

Update II: The right weighs in, via Instaputz.

And more here:

Many anti-abortion groups condemned the killing of Tiller, a prominent abortion provider in Kansas. But they expressed concern that abortion-rights activists would use the occasion to brand the entire anti-abortion movement as extremist.

They also worried that there would be an effort to stifle anti-abortion viewpoints during questioning of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Her exact views on abortion aren't known, but conservatives fear she supports abortion rights.

Said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, an anti-abortion activist: "No one should use this tragedy for political gain."

Perhaps we could just sweep it under the rug and carry on with the slut shaming, bloody pictures and calling doctors murderers. No need to bring up this little bump in the road. It would be rude.

h/t to bb
Hoping For A Scandal

by digby

These Republicans really are something:

Just hours after President Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, conservative talker Rush Limbaugh declared that Obama had nominated a “racist.” In the following days, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) followed suit, while Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) appeared to come to the same conclusion.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) denounced such attacks as “terrible” late last week. This morning on Meet the Press, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) — who will help lead Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings — said that “he would prefer his colleagues refrain from calling Sonia Sotomayor a racist.” Similarly, on Fox News Sunday Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said the accusations of racism were wrong, remarking that Limbaugh was simply attempting to “entertain” his audience.

On CNN’s State of the Union, however, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that he has “better things to do” than to ask members of his party to refrain from accusing Sotomayor of being a racist. Host John King noted that McConnell is the “highest elected Republican in the United State of America” and asked, “would it be best that language like racist not be used?” McConnell demurred:

KING: Are Rush and Newt making it a lot harder by using language like that? [...]

MCCONNELL: They’re certainly entitled to their opinions. … Look, I’ve got a big job to dealing with 40 senate Republicans and trying to advance a nation’s agenda. I’ve got better things to do than to be the speech police over people who are going to have their views about a very important appointment.

Update: Asked if Sotomayor is a "racist," Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) ducked the issue on CBS this morning. "I'm not going to get involved in characterizations before I've even met her," Kyl said.

They know they can't stop her. But they are going to rough her up and keep the door open for a "public hair on the coke can" moment.

You have to love the fact that Lindsey Graham says that conservatives find calling people racist "entertaining." It's true, of course, but you'd think they'd be at least a little bit embarrassed by it.

Defending Abusive Priests

by tristero

Halfway through the extraordinary interview with Bill Donohue posted below, I reacted with nausea and disgust.

Donohue is someone who, in the face of overwhelming evidence of rampant, chronic sexual and physical abuse of children by Catholic priests, can actually accuse one of the victims of hysteria. But that is not why I started to feel sick.

Incredibly, this repulsive creep is accorded the status of a reputable voice in the American media, regularly seen and heard on talk shows watched and listened to by millions. (Based on the reactions in this interview, it is unlikely he will be accorded anything near such status anywhere in Ireland.) But even the fact that this slime has routine access to a mic and a camera in the US didn't set me off, or even the fact that so many drooling lunatics actually agree with him.

What got to me, what appalled me beyond measure, was the horrible realization that millions of Americans who would never agree with Donohue's filth nevertheless find him entertaining. They listen to this trash, as they listen to G. Gordon Liddy, for fun. Instead of simply relaxing with some good music or an interesting story, a huge swath of the American public actually enjoys, even seeks out, this violently pornographic excuse for public discourse. And, through advertising, is willing to pay for it.

That is nauseating.

h/t Pharyngula.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saturday Night At The Movies

SIFFting through cinema, Pt. 1

By Dennis Hartley

The 2009 Seattle International Film Festival is in full swing, so for the next several weeks I wanted to take you along (especially since you helped make it possible for me, ahem).

Navigating a film festival is no easy task, even for a dedicated buff. This year’s SIFF is screening 392 features over 25 days. It must be great for independently wealthy slackers, but for those of us who work for a living (*cough*), it’s a bit tough finding the time and energy it would take to catch 15.68 films a day (yes, I did the math). I do take consolation from my observation that the ratio of less-than-stellar (too many) to quality films (too few) at a film festival differs little from any Friday night crapshoot at the multiplex. The trick lies in developing a sixth sense for which titles feel like they would be up your alley (in my case, embracing my OCD and channeling it like a cinematic divining rod.)

Some of the films I will be spotlighting will hopefully be “coming to a theatre near you” soon; there may be a few that will only be accessible via DVD. So let’s go SIFFting!

Live bait: The Yes Men chum for corporate sharks

What do you get when you throw Roger & Meand The Sting into a blender? Probably something along the lines of The Yes Men Fix the World. An alternately harrowing and hilarious documentary featuring anti-corporate activist/pranksters Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, this is a more focused follow up to their ballsy but uneven debut, The Yes Men. In that 2003 film, they established a simple yet amazingly effective Trojan Horse formula that garnered the duo invitations to key business conferences and TV appearances as “WTO spokesmen”. Once lulling their marks into a comfort zone, they would then proceed to cause well-deserved public embarrassment for some evil corporate bastards, whilst exposing the dark side of global free trade. (Most amazingly, they have managed not to suffer “brake failure” on a mountain road, if you know what I’m saying).

In this outing, Bichlbaum, Bonanno and co-director Kurt Engfehr come out swinging, vowing to do a takedown of a very powerful nemesis…an Idea. If money makes the world go ‘round, then this particular Idea is the one that oils the crank on the money-go-round, regardless of the human cost. It is the free market cosmology of economist Milton Friedman, which the Yes Men posit as the root of much evil in the world. Of course, there is not much our dynamic duo can do at this point to take the man himself down (as the forlorn expressions on their faces during a visit to his gravesite would indicate); but the Idea survives, as do those who would “drink the Kool-Aid”. And thus, the fun begins.

Perhaps “fun” isn’t quite the appropriate term, but there are definitely hijinx afoot, and you’ll find yourself chuckling through most of the film (when you’re not crying). However, the filmmakers have a loftier goal than mining laughs: they want to smoke out some corporate accountability; and ideally, atonement. I know that “corporate accountability” is an oxymoron, but one still has to admire the dogged determination (and boundless creativity) of the Yes Men and their co-conspirators, despite the odds.

Case in point: the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, when a Union Carbide pesticide plant mishap exposed 500,000 people (200,000 of them children) to a toxic gas. Between 8,000 and 10,000 deaths occurred within 3 days. Since then, an estimated additional 25,000 Bhopal residents have since died from complications due to exposure. Union Carbide eventually paid an insurance settlement to the Indian government of 470 million dollars in 1989 (it sounds like a lot of loot…until you split it 500,000 ways). To add insult to injury, Union Carbide pulled up stakes (read: fled the scene of the crime) without ever cleaning up the site; to this day residents are drinking groundwater leached by toxins.

In 2004, BBC News did a special report on the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, which included an appearance by a spokesman for Dow Chemical (the corporation that had just recently acquired Union Carbide at the time of the broadcast). The spokesman, a Mr. “Jude Finisterra” made an astounding, headline-grabbing announcement: In an effort to truly atone for the Bhopal incident, Dow Chemical was going to invest a tidy sum of 12 billion dollars to clean up the area and compensate the victims. For several hours, all hell broke loose; Dow stockholders panicked and dumped over 2 billion dollars worth of stock in record time. To anyone with a soul, it was too good to be true-corporate criminals coming clean on live TV, in front of 300 million viewers? There’s hope for humanity! Well, not exactly. “Jude Finisterra” was really a member of our intrepid duo.

But the point was made; in fact, the real beauty of the ruse didn’t come into full flower until the Yes Men were “exposed”. When the “real” Dow Chemical spokespeople jumped into the fray to denounce the prank, they only made themselves look more ridiculous (and culpable) by essentially saying “Obviously, we would not commit such a large amount of money in this manner (i.e. of course we would never publicly take responsibility for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people).” The most distressing thing on display is how quickly the MSM jumps in to toe the corporate line; in the case of the Dow sting (and later in the film, when they pose as HUD spokesmen, announcing that the government agency will provide housing for all the Katrina victims it had originally displaced in order to clear the way for redevelopment by private sector contractors) the newspapers and TV news anchors condemn the “cruel hoax” that gave “false hopes” to the victims of Bhopal and Katrina, respectively. When the concerned Yes Men travel to Bhopal to personally apologize to the residents for their “cruelty”, they are greeted with open arms; one Bhopal victim tells them that even though he was admittedly disappointed, he was, for an hour or so, “in Heaven”. By the end of the film, the Yes Men may not actually “fix the world”, but they certainly succeed in giving it hope with their sense of compassion and infectious optimism. And for an hour or so, I was in Heaven.

Previous posts with related themes:


Michael Clayton

There Will Be Blood

We Live in Public: Marshall McLuhan is spinning.

So, how many “internet pioneers” were there, anyway? All jokes about Al Gore “inventing” the web aside, it seems like every time you turn around, yet someone else (usually someone you’ve never heard of) gets credited for being “the” visionary who put “us” where “we” are today (wherever the hell that is, in a virtual sense). Take the naked guy in the photo above, for instance. His name is Josh Harris. He’s an internet pioneer. Ever hear of him? God knows, I hadn’t, until I screened a fascinating new documentary called We Live in Public. The film represents a 10-year labor of love for director Ondi Timoner (DiG!!). Depending on who you ask, her subject is either an unheralded genius, or he’s a complete loon who got lucky during the dot com boom (he’s a bit of both). By 1999, Harris had built a personal fortune of 80 million dollars by cannily presaging the explosion of online social networking. In less than ten years, he was completely broke and had expatriated himself to Ethiopia (um, yes, there is most definitely a story in between, and the resulting profile plays like a cross between Weird Science and 54).

What separates Harris from the rest of the typically nerdy, pocket-protected web entrepreneurs is his self-styled persona as an “artist” (he apparently was referred to by some as the “Warhol of the Web”). He considered his “art” to be his life (and the lives of others), as filtered, documented and shared through the matrix of digital technology.

In December of 1999, Harris bankrolled a “social experiment” that could have been cooked up by Hunter S. Thompson and Jim Jones on an ether binge. Harris narrowed down scores of applicants to 100 “subjects” who would cohabitate in a bunker-like underground environment for 30 days. Each person had to consent to having a CCTV camera exclusively trained on them 24/7. Everybody also had their own monitor, and access to “flipping channels” to watch what any of the other 99 people were doing at any given time (showers and toilets were communal, and there were no bedroom doors, to answer the most obvious question). The complex was generously stockpiled with all manner of food, beverages…and guns (to be used in a firing range, so people could “blow off steam”). Each person was housed in a “sleeping pod”. Harris hired psychologists, who would methodically grill residents in stark interrogation rooms. It was fun and games for the first couple weeks, but things quickly went downhill when people started losing their sense of reality. When New York City law enforcement caught wind of these (literally) underground shenanigans, they pictured a possible Heaven’s Gate-type cult scenario, and Harris’ “experiment” was abruptly shut down on January 1, 2000. Orwellian implications aside, the idea itself was prescient; especially when you consider the current popularity of personal webcam internet sites and the glut of TV reality shows.

Harris soon took the concept to the next level when he wired up every room in his home with cameras and launched the “We Live in Public” website with his girlfriend, enabling any one with an internet connection to peek in on their daily life (with absolutely no holes barred). By the time Harris pulled the plug six months later, his girlfriend had left him, daily hits were down to a handful, and he appeared to be in the middle of a mental meltdown (watching the footage of Harris moping about, I was reminded of Charles Foster Kane’s waning days, listlessly pacing the sad empty halls of his Xanadu mansion).

From a purely cinematic standpoint, Timoner has assembled an absorbing and stylishly kinetic portrait; but curiously, her subject remains somewhat of an enigma by the film’s end. Is he truly a “pioneer”, or is he just a glorified exhibitionist? What did he “pave the way” for, ultimately-Katie Couric’s televised colonoscopy? Is there such a thing as “too much information” in the Information Age? Does EVERYBODY necessarily need their “15 minutes”? If so,why? IS the medium the message? And while I’ve got your attention, have you seen this video of my kitty with a bag stuck on his head? Oh, kitty!

Somebody’s watching me: The Truman Show, EdTV , Guy, Pleasantville, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Being There, Network , Real Life, Sherman's March, Time Indefinite , Six o’clock News, sex, lies, and videotape, Following, Manhunter, Henry - Portrait of a Serial Killer, Man Bites Dog, Peeping Tom, Rear Window, Blow Up, Auto Focus, The Anderson Tapes, The Conversation, Monsieur Hire, The Lives of Others, 1984, Brazil, Enemy of the State, THX 1138, The End of Violence, Until the End of the World .

Panic Artists

by digby

I have been desperate for someone other than bloggers to say this for years. Here's Richard Clark:

[L]istening to Cheney and Rice, it seems that they want to be excused for the measures they authorized after the attacks on the grounds that 9/11 was traumatic. "If you were there in a position of authority and watched Americans drop out of eighty-story buildings because these murderous tyrants went after innocent people," Rice said in her recent comments, "then you were determined to do anything that you could that was legal to prevent that from happening again."

I have little sympathy for this argument. Yes, we went for days with little sleep, and we all assumed that more attacks were coming. But the decisions that Bush officials made in the following months and years -- on Iraq, on detentions, on interrogations, on wiretapping -- were not appropriate. Careful analysis could have replaced the impulse to break all the rules, even more so because the Sept. 11 attacks, though horrifying, should not have surprised senior officials. Cheney's admission that 9/11 caused him to reassess the threats to the nation only underscores how, for months, top officials had ignored warnings from the CIA and the NSC staff that urgent action was needed to preempt a major al-Qaeda attack.

Thus, when Bush's inner circle first really came to grips with the threat of terrorism, they did so in a state of shock -- a bad state in which to develop a coherent response. Fearful of new attacks, they authorized the most extreme measures available, without assessing whether they were really a good idea.

I believe this zeal stemmed in part from concerns about the 2004 presidential election. Many in the White House feared that their inaction prior to the attacks would be publicly detailed before the next vote -- which is why they resisted the 9/11 commission -- and that a second attack would eliminate any chance of a second Bush term. So they decided to leave no doubt that they had done everything imaginable.

The first response they discussed was invading Iraq. While the Pentagon was still burning, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld was in the White House suggesting an attack against Baghdad. Somehow the administration's leaders could not believe that al-Qaeda could have mounted such a devastating operation, so Iraqi involvement became the convenient explanation. Despite being told repeatedly that Iraq was not involved in 9/11, some, like Cheney, could not abandon the idea. Charles Duelfer of the CIA's Iraq Survey Group recently revealed in his book, "Hide and Seek: The Search for Truth in Iraq," that high-level U.S. officials urged him to consider waterboarding specific Iraqi prisoners of war so that they could provide evidence of an Iraqi role in the terrorist attacks -- a request Duelfer refused. (A recent report indicates that the suggestion came from the vice president's office.) Nevertheless, the lack of evidence did not deter the administration from eventually invading Iraq -- a move many senior Bush officials had wanted to make before 9/11.

On detention, the Bush team leaped to the assumption that U.S. courts and prisons would not work. Before the terrorist attacks, the U.S. counterterrorism program of the 1990s had arrested al-Qaeda terrorists and others around the world and had a 100 percent conviction rate in the U.S. justice system. Yet the American system was abandoned, again as part of a pattern of immediately adopting the most extreme response available. Camps were established around the world, notably in Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners were held without being charged or tried. They became symbols of American overreach, held up as proof that al-Qaeda's anti-American propaganda was right.

Similarly, with regard to interrogation, administration officials conducted no meaningful professional analysis of which techniques worked and which did not. The FBI, which had successfully questioned al-Qaeda terrorists, was effectively excluded from interrogations. Instead, there was the immediate and unwarranted assumption that extreme measures -- such as waterboarding one detainee 183 times -- would be the most effective.

Finally, on wiretapping, rather than beef up the procedures available under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the administration again moved to the extreme, listening in on communications here at home without legal process. FISA did need some modification, but it also allowed for the quick issuance of court orders, as when President Clinton took stepped-up defensive measures in late 1999 under the heightened threat of the new millennium.

Yes, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice may have been surprised by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- but it was because they had not listened. And their surprise led them to adopt extreme counterterrorism techniques -- but it was because they rejected, without analysis, the tactics the Clinton administration had used. The measures they uncritically adopted, which they simply assumed were the best available, were in fact unnecessary and counterproductive.

I was talking to someone the other day about this and we mused about what would have happened if these guys had been in charge during the Cuban Missile Crisis. As it happens, there were many of the same knee-jerk pants wetters among Kennedy's advisors, but his instincts were to find a way to avoid a terrible confrontation rather than seek one. If Cheney had been in charge, there is no doubt in my mind that we would have had nuclear war. Indeed, you'll recall that conservatives were out there proclaiming WW III (and WW IV!) with more glee and excitement than sugar addled six year olds at the circus.

They were partisan hacks who panicked and now they are desperately trying to justify themselves after the fact. Even the best case scenario shows a bunch of people who wanted to "get it right this time" rather than evaluating the threat on its own merits. Thoughtful leadership was MIA in the executive branch (not that it was anywhere obvious for a long, long time anywhere else in the government either.) This behavior from the people who routinely deride liberals for ostensibly operating out of emotion rather than reason, is just funny. They lost it to such an extent that Cheney seized dictatorial powers and basically took over the US military in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, even ordering planes shot out of the air on his own authority.

We didn't know what happened on the inside at the time, but it was clear they were losing it from the very first moments. Having Bush race all over the country on the first day, the bellicose stupidity of their rhetoric and the absurd reaction to the anthrax attacks showed that our leadership was anything but calm, cool and collected. The media jumped in immediately with breathless, uncritical hero worship of Rumsfeld's lunacy and Bush's cowboy rhetoric, turning the instantaneous, opportunistic pivot to Iraq into an inevitability.

Despite all of Cheney's attempts at redemption and the ongoing conservative insistence that their policies "kept the country safe" the truth is that they behaved hysterically and irrationally after the attacks and reinforced every bad American stereotype in existence. Because of their blindered conservative worldview, they simply assumed that anything that had been done by someone other than the airbrushed version of Ronald Reagan had to be wrong and that anything other than schoolyard bully tactics were a form of weakness.

It's true that 9/11 did present an opportunity. America could have shown mature and intelligent global leadership. But it didn't. It behaved like a wounded adolescent giant, its leadership carrying on with "bullhorn moments" and talk of wanted posters and playing cards while an irresponsible media entertained the masses with war porn.

It was an embarrassing --- and dangerous --- display. If there was ever a time for the leadership of this country to play it cool it was then. And they failed the test in almost every way. Good for Richard Clark for calling them out on this.

As California Goes ...

by digby

The good news is that there will never be any new taxes for wealthy people because they create jobs, so that's good:

Nearly every state park in the Bay Area — from the towering redwoods at Big Basin to Angel Island, Mount Tamalpais to Mount Diablo and every state beach from Año Nuevo in San Mateo County to Big Sur — would close as part of budget cuts proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In all, 220 of California's 279 state parks, about 80 percent, would be padlocked starting as soon as Labor Day, under details of a historic closing plan released Thursday night by the state parks department.

"We've never been in as serious a predicament as we are facing right now. It is potentially devastating," said state parks spokesman Roy Stearns.


But Friday, Democratic leaders said the budget hole is so great they expect some parks will close. The main reason: Sales tax, income tax and other revenues flowing into Sacramento have collapsed during the economic downturn and Republican leaders have said they will not support any increase in taxes or fees.

And this will lead to an ever more downward spiral:

Goldstein noted that a study by the University of California-Berkeley found that for every $1 in public money spent on state parks, $2.35 is returned to the state in taxes from tourism and other revenue they generate.

It will be the environment and the animals that will suffer, which is just the first step.

When his park's famous elephant seals began arriving in the 1970s, Strachan said, there were no regular rangers. After a story about the seals ran in Sunset magazine, visitors began descending on the area without supervision.

"It was a nightmare. People were getting bitten and chased. Pups were getting harassed," Strachan said.

If the parks close, a small crew of rangers would patrol wide areas, checking in on closed parks. People still would park on highways and walk to beaches. But rangers, park managers and legislators are worried that with almost no supervision across 1.5 million acres of parklands, it is almost certain there will be vandalism, animals poached and a high risk of wildfires from trespassers.

Old people and children are next on the chopping block.

Good Cop Bad Cop

by digby

Don't be fooled. This is a tag team effort:

Newt Gingrich does not seem to be deterred by the new message of the Republican leadership, such as Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), that he and Rush Limbaugh should stop calling Sonia Sotomayor a racist.

Gingrich has now sent out a fundraising e-mail, asking for help to send blast faxes to every member of the Senate demanding that the Sotomayor nomination be defeated. He even says that she shouldn't even get a vote in the Senate, but should just have to withdraw.

Gingrich warns that all of American civilization is at stake here. "If Civil War, suffrage, and Civil Rights are to mean anything, we cannot accept that conclusion," he writes. "It is simply un-American. There is no room on the bench of the United States Supreme Court for this worldview."

He is throwing red meat to the base and the pompous Senatorial windbags will, meanwhile, play the role of statesmen and "lower the temperature," trying to keep the Latino vote from abandoning the party completely. But they are each playing a role --- they aren't really in contention.

Nobody expects that she will not be confirmed. At the end of the day, most of the Republican Senators will probably "reluctantly" vote against her for a variety of bogus reasons, but with the filibuster off the table, it doesn't matter. They hope to preserve some semblance of credibility with Latinos while giving the base what it craves.(And I would assume they want to leave the door open for something juicy to come along that would shake the whole thing up --- an Anita Hill for wingnuts.)It's all kabuki.

But Newt cut his teeth as a bomb throwing back bencher and understands better than anyone how you build power in the GOP from the outside in. (In fact, it's really his only gift.) And every GOP Senator, most of whom came out of the same school, understands how this works as well. They are following their own playbook. Whether it will work again or not is anyone's guess, but there's nothing unusual about it.

*This is not to say that the GOP isn't in disarray and fighting among themselves. But this little pageant is familiar and I think it indicates that they are starting to get themselves together and organize around being a minority party. And they are pretty good at that.

The Jackass Effect

by digby

Here's a little tid-bit worth musing about:

In the days leading up to Obama's announcement of his Supreme Court nominee, polling suggested voters were not very focused on the potential candidate's gender or race. According to a CNN poll released over a week ago, very few said it was important to have a Hispanic or black nominee. And almost as many women (58%) as men (65%) said it was not important for Obama to pick a woman. A Gallup poll from around the same time showed similar results.

But, now that Sonia Sotomayor has been named, a new Gallup poll shows a gender gap has emerged. Of the last four nominees, she has the largest gender gap in support. There isn't male animosity toward Sotomayor, as they are evenly divided on her nomination. However, women are overwhelmingly supportive (54% excellent/good idea, 25% only fair/poor), with three times as many finding her an "excellent" pick as a "poor" one.

Gallup suggests this gap could stem from gender differences in party identification. But the gender gap in party identification has been consistent for some time, yet only Alito also evoked a gender gap (a smaller one, in the opposite direction). And it is not simply the nomination of any woman that spurs a gap, as Harriet Miers was not any more popular with women. It is likely the combination of both the nomination of a woman, and women's Democratic proclivities that produce the gap.

I wouldn't discount The Tweety Effect. All the rancid talk about her alleged racism has been accompanied by a strong dose of sexism, particularly the whisper campaign about her "unseemly" temperament. As Greenwald says, federal judges are often anything but shrinking violets. They tend toward the imperious, as authority figures with lifetime tenure tend to do. When Scalia treats lawyers to a thorough grilling, he's just putting them through their paces and demonstrating his own strongly held convictions. When a woman does it, she's just a domineering bitch on wheels. This is a familiar double standard for working women everywhere.

A lot of the criticism toward this highly accomplished, qualified woman has run along those familiar lines. There's been no dearth of those who say she isn't all that bright starting with the Jeffrey Rosen blind gossip piece. Pat Buchanan put it most pithily: "the lady is a lightweight."

He also called her a racist so the soup of derision and contempt from the right gets all mixed up with their various hatreds and insecurities. But it's also quite telling that the thing that has everyone of all political stripes up in arms is that she once mused that she thought an Hispanic female would make better decisions than a white male because of her life experience. That comment is considered so outrageous that she's being compared to David Duke. In my mind, the fact that all these elites are so upset over something that is impossible to quantify since there are almost no Hispanic females in a position to prove whether or not it's true is far more interesting than the fact that she said it.

Obviously, there is also no way to know if any of this discussion is affecting the gender gap in the polls. It probably stems mostly from a feeling of pride in her achievements and gratitude that she's willing to fight the good fight. But I would guess that a lot of women also instinctively feel that the mere fact that there is only one woman on the Supreme Court and zero Hispanics demonstrates that this victimization fantasy among a group of over-privileged jackasses is a bit much.

When I see these conservative men on television bleating plaintively that the president shouldn't have chosen a Latina federal judge but rather chosen "the best person for the job," I can't help but burst out laughing at the total lack of self-awareness such comments illustrate. It's clear they believe that 96% of all Supreme Court judges having been white males simply shows that white males are more qualified than anyone else. It's hilarious.

Bad Company

by digby

Oh my goodness, looks like the Republicans were in bed with the Latino KKK:

Wednesday, March 9, 2005; Page A03

The National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights organization, embraced Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales at an awards ceremony last night, breaking with other civil rights organizations that have denounced Gonzales for his role in producing the administration memo that allowed harsh treatment of detainees overseas.

Although La Raza supported Gonzales's appointment as attorney general, last night's ceremony marked a first, highly public step in the group's effort to alter its image as a left-leaning organization, said Janet Murguia, its president and chief executive.

Gonzales's appearance at the ceremony was his first before a large Hispanic civil rights group since he was confirmed last month by the Senate. La Raza hopes the warm reception will show the Bush administration that it seeks to move to the center politically and gain more access to the White House. President Bush declined to attend all of La Raza's annual conferences during his first term, citing the group's criticism of his policies.

"We want to make sure that people understand that we are reaching out to this administration," Murguia said. "We think it is a unique opportunity when a president is in his second term . . . to get things done.

"I know there are some folks who've said maybe NCLR is leaning left in the past or choosing sides," said Murguia, who served as deputy director for legislative affairs for the Clinton White House and as a liaison between the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign and constituent groups in 2000. "I want to make a clear point: We are reaching out to all sides, we're going to build coalitions, build bridges and put our people first."


Cecilia Muñoz, vice president for policy at La Raza, said that Gonzales's body of work with Latino organizations, rather than his contribution to the memo, motivates her organization's position.

"Many people were not aware of Judge Gonzales's long history with our affiliates in Texas, and moving then-Governor Bush to the right posture, from our perspective on key civil rights issues, like anti-English only requirements, like anti-immigrant ballot initiatives, bilingual education and affirmative action," Muñoz said. "There's a list of issues where Judge Gonzales and Governor Bush did the right thing."

How's that bipartisan outreach going these days?

h/t to Julia

Friday, May 29, 2009

Clear Picture

by digby

Alex Koppelman at Salon has General Taguba on the record saying that the pictures that are being withheld by the government are not those to which he was referring. Koppleman also clarifies some of the confusion by showing that some of the pictures under discussion are among those that have already been released. So, that seems to clear up the question of whether or not the pictures are worse than what we've seen before --- and whether or not the administration is covering up some crimes which have gone uninvestigated. The pictures are not the lurid images the Telegraph said they were.

Of course, this raises the most important question again (for me at least) which is why anyone thinks the withheld pictures will cause some sort of firestorm if they are actually less incendiary than what we've seen before. The logic of that just escapes me. If the new pictures showed people being raped with objects, then I can see why the military wouldn't want them out there. If they are just pictures of something similar to what Graner and the crew did, or something more mundane, then it's ludicrous that they will cause any trouble overseas at this point. I'm not sure anyone would even know the difference between these new ones and the ones already there if that's the case.

Whatever. The whole thing has always stunk to high heaven because the only people who are doing time for any of this are some lowly grunts when it's obvious to anyone with eyes and ears that much of this stuff was a result of Cheney ordering the gloves to be taken off and General Geoffrey Miller being called in to "Gitmoize" Abu Ghraib. Not that any of them will ever pay the price for that.

1989, Another Summer, Sound Of The Funky Drummer

by dday

Aside from asking why anyone would do a rap parody 30 years after Grandmaster Flash hit the turntables, I'm actually going to have to give mad credit to the Young Conservative Rappers in this bit for managing to wedge in every talking point from the past 30 years into a 4-minute song.

I don't speak lies, I just spit out da facts
28% the new capital gains tax

Actually, considering that white male conservatives are the real oppressed, persecuted minority these days, it makes perfect sense to hit the streets (of a university library), put on their representin' clothes (suits without ties) and get in the struggle. Fight the power, my brothers.

Give 'Em An Inch

by digby

One of the things that used to drive me nuts about Bill Clinton was his propensity to concede points he didn't need to concede, thus moving the ball down the field for the other side. Over and over again, his White House succumbed to overwrought harassment by the worst elements of the Right Wing Noise machine by making incremental "admissions" out of a misplaced belief that doing so would cool the shrill shrieking craziness. (I'm pretty sure they figured they would gain allies among the allegedly saner establishment Republicans, which was also foolish because they play their own role in the loony pageant.)

It never works very well. The political press inevitably begins to look differently at the debate once the president validates the complaint in any way and it takes on a salience it would never have had if the White House simply held and let the other side fulminate and froth like the kooks they are. Unfortunately, Obama made a move in that direction today, and the press is featuring it in a way that should make everyone a little bit queasy:

The White House says Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor acknowledges she made a poor word choice in a 2001 speech in which she said that a Latina judge would often reach a better conclusion than a white male judge who hasn't lived the same life.

That's according to presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs. He says he has not talked directly to Sotomayor about it but has spoken to people who have.

Shuster led off Hardball with this:

Shuster: President Obama addressed a controversial choice of words by his nominee for the Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor. In a 2001 speech, Sotomayor said a wise latina woman with her experiences would often reach a better conclusion than a white male. The president spoke about that remark a short time ago with NBC's Brian Williams:

Obama: I'm sure she would have restated it, but if you look in the entire sweep of the essay that she wrote, what' clear is that she was simply saying that her life experiences will give her information about the struggles and hardships that people are going throughthbat will make her a good judge.

Shuster: Still, this is a concession by the white house. We will talk about with MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman and MSNBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd.


Shuster: We begin with a dramatic White House concession on the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor confirmation battles, lets go to political analyst Howard Fineman and NBC news correspondent Chuck Todd. Chuck, let's start with youi. It may too much to say it's a dramatic concession, but the fact that they are walking this back even slightly that is fairly dramatic news. Explain what's going on at the White House.

Todd: It is because the last two days, you had supporters of Sotomayor and the White House themselves, today Robert Gibbs quoting Samual Alito during his confirmation hearing talking about how his own life experiences can serve to influence his decisions in some of the cases that come before him. So there were a lot of attempts of Sotomayor's supporters to do that, and I've even seen some quotes of Clarence Thomas trying to use the empathy thing.

But I think the White House realized that what she said, that a Latina woman would be better than a white male, that by itself, no matter how you slice it, it just came across poorly, so clearly there was a decision made to do some damage control. We saw it a little bit today with Robert Gibbs at the press briefing and then the president just now with Brian Williams.

Look, my guess is the next thing you'll see is Sotomayor herself telling this privately to Senators and this probably means at the confirmation hearing itself, she'll say the same thing, "that isn't what I meant" and she'll put it back to having her own life experiences and this and that. But they realize it was taking on a life of its own no matter how poorly it was being attacked by some on the right. I think the choice of words, obviously, created a toxic situation for the Republican Party, it still, they realized was something that wasn't playing very well.

It was toxic for the Republican Party to have wingnuts call her a racist all day long but the White House thought it wasn't playing very well so they had to do damage control. For the Republicans? Huh?

Here's Fineman telling us all what's really going on:

Shuster: Howard, this is a cave of some sorts to the Republicans, even if you hate the language they're using, the Obama White House is now caving the point to a certain extent.

Fineman: Yeah and it's for the reason that Chuck said. It's because she wasn't just saying in that quote, "I can add something to the court. I can add something to justice because of my background." She was saying, "I am better than. Because I am a Latina with my experiences, I am better than a white man. I will make better judgments and decisions." That became indefensible.

And it's true that a lot of the Republican attacks were crude. But the conventional wisdom around here and including right here with me too,until last night, was that these attacks were having no effect, the administration was doing a pretty good job defending them. Well, they realized that they weren't and they were going to have to walk back this quote. And it is a victory for the conservatives.

Fineman says that the question going forward will be "is this somehow a window into her judicial soul?" Oh God...

Look, this is a very typical Noise Machine tactic. The bad boys talk trash and the "statesmen" reject the "tone" while "raising questions." But ultimately, more in sorrow than in anger, they simply have to conclude that the president made a mistake in nominating this controversial person with this record of racism. After all, even he admitted that the appointee (or statment/policy) was wrong.

Clinton made a habit of this sort of thing when he had a Democratic majority too, so the fact that he also did it because there was a Republican congress never held water as far as I was concerned. This reflexive desire to quiet one of these trumped up controversies was actually an attempt to control the Villagers, which never worked, but they never stopped doing it. I don't get why this White House would follow that lesson, but it's a bad sign. If you give any ground with these people on things like this, it only emboldens them.

As Shuster said:

The one thing about it is, there's blood in the water whether the Democrats want to acknowledge that or not.

That's mainly because they threw themselves into the shark's maw for no good reason. They had the better of the argument -- Republicans were acting like crazed, freaks, alienating Hispanics by the thousands and making women hate them even more, and the whole country was aghast. Why they gave them validation on this, I don't really understand.

I wouldn't expect this to affect her nomination --- all they were ever going to get was a handful of Republican votes at the most anyway. But this controversy will make it necessary for Sotomayor to bow and scrape before Jeff Sessions and Orrin Hatch. The wingnuts have been hoping for a chance for some payback for Thomas and maybe they'll get a pound of female flesh this time.

Update: Scarecrow shows more Democrats fanning out to apologize for Sotomayor's comments. That'll work out just great.

*transcripts by me ---- d

Bush's Turn

by dday

I guess Cheney and Bush switched undisclosed locations for a week, and now the former pResident delivered the talking points about the torture regime.

In his largest domestic speech since leaving the White House in January, Bush told an audience in southwestern Michigan that after the September 11 attacks, "I vowed to take whatever steps that were necessary to protect you."

Although he did not specifically allude to the high-profile debate over President Obama's decision to halt the use harsh interrogation techniques, and without referencing Cheney by name, Bush spoke in broad strokes about how he proceeded after the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in March 2003.

"The first thing you do is ask, what's legal?" he said. "What do the lawyers say is possible? I made the decision, within the law, to get information so I can say to myself, 'I've done what it takes to do my duty to protect the American people.' I can tell you that the information we got saved lives."

Well, those are two different things, aren't they? "What's legal" does not necessarily equal "What do the lawyers say is possible." Especially depending on the sequencing of those events. If "what do the lawyers say is possible" comes first, and it's more "what can we get the lawyers to say is possible," then "what's legal" becomes fairly irrelevant, right? Especially when combined with "I vowed to take whatever steps that were necessary to protect you." That sounds like a vow irrespective of the law.

Then there's this unprovable "the information we got saved lives" statement, and considering that George Bush himself signed the executive order barring public disclosure of specific information gained through torture, and furthermore, he could have released them himself at the time if he wanted to be vindicated. For his part, Carl Levin has called B.S.

Regarding Cheney's claim that classified documents will prove his case -- documents that Levin himself is also privy to -- Levin said: "But those classified documents say nothing about the numbers of lives saved, nor do the documents connect acquisition of valuable intelligence to the use of abusive techniques. I hope that the documents are declassified, so that people can judge for themselves what is fact, and what is fiction."

Pretty unequivocal. But the last thing that Bush and Cheney want would be declassification. Because their tough-guy stance that torture saves lives works out better for them than chalking intelligence up to sugar free cookies.

This got to me:

The former president earned a noisy standing ovation when asked what he wants his legacy to be.

"Well, I hope it is this: The man showed up with a set of principles, and he was unwilling to compromise his soul for the sake of popularity," he said.

By the way, I'm willing to believe that Bush didn't compromise his soul. He probably didn't know about the worst stuff, and anyway I don't think there's much compromise available for a soul that would say this:

In the week before [Karla Faye Tucker's] execution, Bush says, Bianca Jagger and a number of other protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Tucker. "Did you meet with any of them?" I ask.

Bush whips around and stares at me. "No, I didn't meet with any of them," he snaps, as though I've just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. "I didn't meet with Larry King either when he came down for it. I watched his interview with [Tucker], though. He asked her real difficult questions, like 'What would you say to Governor Bush?' "

"What was her answer?" I wonder.

"Please," Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, "don't kill me."

Come Together

by digby

Here's some excellent progressive synergy in action. The SEIU has pledged to donate one thousand dollars to Open Left and contribute another dollar for every person who signs up with them to join in the fight to pass health care for all Americans --- including a public plan.

This one is win, win. Go sign up with SEIU and help Open Left in the process.

Huzzah to SEIU for stepping up to help an excellent blog.

Good God

by digby

Think Progress listened to the radio and heard this:

LIDDY: I understand that they found out today that Miss Sotomayor is a member of La Raza, which means in illegal alien, “the race.” And that should not surprise anyone because she’s already on record with a number of racist comments.

Finished with the race-based attack, Liddy moved on to denigrate Sotomayor’s gender:

LIDDY: Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something, or just before she’s going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then.

Finally, Liddy disputed the entire idea that there’s anything wrong with the paucity of women and total lack of Hispanics on the Court:

LIDDY: And everybody is cheering because Hispanics and females have been, quote, underrepresented, unquote. And as you pointed out, which I thought was quite insightful, the Supreme Court is not designed to be and should not be a representative body.

As Jonathan at ATR reminded me a while back when I was musing on these undemocratic attitudes among the wingnuts, founder John Jay famously said, "those who own the country ought to govern it." So Liddy is just being an "originalist" like Antonin Scalia. Of course, his originalism when it comes to women and minorities actually goes back to original cave paintings rather than the constitution, but it's still fairly consistent.

Rave on wingnuts, it only helps our ball team at this point .

Update: Limbaugh is working himself up into an aneurysm:

A Phony Soldier Speaks Out

by digby

The Man Called Petraus isn't towing the GOP party line. Will they say he betrayed them?

Amato has a rush transcript:

MacCallum: Where do you think those people should go?

Gen. Petraeus: Well, it's not for a soldier to say. What I do support is what has been termed the responsible closure of Gitmo. Gitmo has caused us problems, there's no question about it. I oversee a region in which the existence of Gitmo has been used by the enemy against us. We have not been without missteps or mistakes in our activity since 9/11 and again Gitmo is a lingering reminder for the use of some in that regard.

MacCallum: What about the concern that a Khalid Sheikh Muhammad or anybody of that ilk might be tried here in a US court and the possibility that some of the treatments that were used on them that they could go free.

Gen. Petraeus: Well, first of all, I don't think we should be afraid of our values we're fighting for, what we stand for. And so indeed we need to embrace them and we need to operationalize them in how we carry out what it is we're doing on the battlefield and everywhere else. So one has to have some faith, I think, in the legal system. One has to have a degree of confidence that individuals that have conducted such extremist activity would indeed be found guilty in our courts of law.

MacCallum: So you're confident that they will never go free.

Gen. Petraeus: I hope that's the case.

MacCallum: (Ticking time bomb scenario)

Gen. Petraeus: ....T here might be an exception and that would require extraordinary but very rapid approval to deal with, but for the vast majority of the cases, our experience downrange if you will, is that the techniques that are in the Army Field Manual that lays out how we treat detainees, how we interrogate them -- those techniques work, that's our experience in this business.

MacCallum: So is sending this signal that we're not going to use these kind of techniques anymore, what kind of impact does this have on people who do us harm in the field that you operate in?

Gen. Petraeus: Well, actually what I would ask is, does that not take away from our enemies a tool which again have beaten us around the head and shoulders in the court of public opinion? When we have taken steps that have violated the Geneva Conventions, we rightly have been criticized, so as we move forward I think it's important to again live our values, to live the agreements that we have made in the international justice arena and to practice those.

Update On Cover Up?

by digby

Updating my post of yesterday about the Abu Ghraib pics, Scott Horton is reporting that the pictures are the awful pics described in the Telegraph and which General Taguba confirmed were those which he'd described in his report.

The Daily Beast has confirmed that the photographs of abuses at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, which President Obama, in a reversal, decided not to release, depict sexually explicit acts, including a uniformed soldier receiving oral sex from a female prisoner, a government contractor engaged in an act of sodomy with a male prisoner and scenes of forced masturbation, forced exhibition, and penetration involving phosphorous sticks and brooms.

These descriptions come on the heels of a British report yesterday about the photographs that contained some of these revelations—and whose credibility was questioned by the Pentagon.

The Daily Beast has obtained specific corroboration of the British account, which appeared in the London Daily Telegraph, from several reliable sources, including a highly credible senior military officer with firsthand knowledge, who provided even more detail about the graphic photographs that have been withheld from the public by the Obama administration.

A senior military officer familiar with the photos told me that they would likely provoke a storm of outrage if released...

Still other withheld photographs have been circulating among U.S. soldiers who served in Iraq. One soldier showed them to me, including a photograph in which a male in a U.S. military uniform receives oral sex from a female prisoner.

The photographs differ from those already officially released. Some show U.S. personnel engaged in sexual acts with prisoners and each other. In one, a female prisoner appears to have been forced to expose her breasts to be photographed.

Here's Obama's statement at the time he decided to withhold the pictures:

Now, let me also say a few words about an issue that I know you asked Robert Gibbs about quite a bit today, and that's my decision to argue against the release of additional detainee photos. Understand, these photos are associated with closed investigations of the alleged abuse of detainees in our ongoing war effort.

And I want to emphasize that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib, but they do represent conduct that did not conform with the Army Manual.

That's precisely why they were investigated -- and, I might add, investigated long before I took office -- and, where appropriate, sanctions have been applied.

In other words, this is not a situation in which the Pentagon has concealed or sought to justify inappropriate action. Rather, it has gone through the appropriate and regular processes. And the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken.

It's therefore my belief that the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.

Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse. And obviously the thing that is most important in my mind is making sure that we are abiding by the Army Manual and that we are swiftly investigating any instances in which individuals have not acted appropriately, and that they are appropriately sanctioned. That's my aim and I do not believe that the release of these photos at this time would further that goal.

I wrote before that his last point implying that the Army won't investigate if pictures are released, is an abdication of presidential leadership. The military is not allowed to decide whether or not they will investigate abuses based upon their anger or fear that they might become public. Just as the previous administration and members of congress should not be validating the threat that the CIA will refuse to keep the country safe if they're not given immunity for their crimes, neither should the president in any way sanction the idea that the military has the power not to investigate crimes if they might become public.

Be that as it may, the pertinent part of his comments are those before that, in which he says that there is nothing new in the photos and that they've all been investigated and properly dealt with. If these pictures are those which Horton describes --- and which the military seems to be most anxious to withhold from the public --- then he was either duped by the Pentagon or he was not being truthful with the public. Nobody can find a record of prosecutions for those crimes.

The Pentagon and the White House have been very, very clumsily denying this story, lashing out at the British Press and denying the pictures even exist. They have also explicitly said that the pictures do not depict anything other than what was already seen in the earlier pictures and then used that as an excuse for not releasing them. This does not add up.

I'm sympathetic to the idea that these particular pictures will inflame anti-American hatred. If they are what Horton says they are, they are of a magnitude worse than what we've seen already. But that also raises the question of cover-up of the crimes they depict. Either there's nothing new, in which case the pictures should be released because the excuse that they would inflame the middle east is nonsense --- or the pictures are far worse than what we've seen before in which case the administration has to come clean about what's in them and what specific actions have been taken by the Pentagon. They can't have it both ways.

Update: just to be clear --- I am aware that there is a dispute about which photos are being discussed, which I indicated in my earlier post. My post said that confusion about that was part of the problem.

Horton is saying they ARE the same pictures. I do not have independent knowledge that they are.

This is the problem with lack of transparency. The withholding of the pictures naturally led to this speculation because of the administration's idiotic excuse: that they were not as bad as the earlier photos, but nonetheless would cause an uproar in the middle east. That excuse did not make sense. If they were no worse then there's no reason to believe that they would cause an uproar. It's only if they depict these other far worse (and unprosecuted) crimes that you can justify holding them back for that reason.

They created this problem themselves.

Update II: And yes, I realize that many of these incidents have been described in the past. The problem, again, is that Obama said these pictures are actually not as bad as earlier ones and that the incidents had been legally dealt with, which certainly indicates they are not the same pictures that are being discussed here.

I don't know the facts about that, but there are many questions that aren't answered by merely asserting that this is old news. Ignoring the logical contradiction between what's described and what the administration says is in the photos is failing to be properly skeptical.

There's one way to straighten this out. They need to come clean about what photos exist and the disposition of the investigations into them. They don't even have to release them to do that. But this dancing around only raises suspicions.