As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, December 16, 2005

Playing to the Back of the Room

Bill Scher is a very smart guy, and I wholeheartedly agree with his take on the suddenly more accessible, more grounded, more aware of reality President Bush:

With public opinion on the verge of falling off the cliff, Bush needed to find a way to shore up some support for the war, without actually changing course and giving up the goal of exerting unilateral influence over Iraq and its neighbors.

(As Bush said yesterday: “Our tactics continue to change, but our goal in Iraq has not changed.” Take him at his word.)

By talking in more detail about the nature of the insurgency, by acknowledging tactical errors, by taking a whopping five questions from the audience after one speech, Bush gives the impression of candor and lowered, more realistic expectations.

And that impresses the foreign policy establishment poo-bahs that can help shape media coverage.

As the W. Post reported: “The less rosy language has won plaudits from skeptical analysts and politicians.”

But of course, Bush said nothing to indicate the goals of the occupation have changed. If you were skeptical of the policy before, you should still be skeptical today.

What are those goals in the near-term? Manipulating the choice for president and prime minister after the parliamentary elections are over.

Read the whole thing. In comedy, we call this "playing to the back of the room." The idea is that if you make the comics in the back of the room laugh, the rest of the crowd will be won over as well. By impressing the Beltway media elite with fake shows of candor, and more importantly access (Bush has given long interviews to Brit Hume and Jim Lehrer in the space of a week; Lehrer's airs tonight), The Administration is relying on the media to help them raise public opinion. In a way, this is an acknowledgement that their credibility on Iraq is shot. But they've always wanted to use their useful idiots in the media as an arm of their propaganda war. The fact that today's bombshell story on domestic spying was held for over a year by the New York Times shows that the White House respects the value of the Fourth Estate, and they'll work the refs at every opportunity. They're so adept at spinning the press that frequently, the press doesn't even know they're spun.

We've seen a media pushback over the last five years like none that's ever been conducted before. It really is unprecedented. Some of it is blatant, like paying journalists to write favorable stories and the like. But more than that, they've figured out how to get the "liberal media" to feel at once under siege by the watchdogs on the right, AND flattered that they're allowed to so much as sniff the aftershave of the President and his top aides. Obviously I'm more tuned in now than before, but this thirst for access seems insatiable today. It's like Rove and his boys have whacked the media on the mose so many times to train them, that when they give the whimpering puppies a treat, they're out of their minds with glee. It's really ingenious in a perverse way.

What's notable is that the President is not even trying to change people's opinions anymore. He's trying to change PUBLIC opinion, yes, but by proxy. That's the mark of a leader who doesn't have any clue there are consequences to his actions.



I've literally spent 17 years of my life listening to Howard Stern on my crappy clock radio (which may in fact also be 17 years old; it's at least 15, because I think it's the same one I took to college) morning after morning after morning. When tuning in to his last terrestrial radio broadcast this morning, I actually began to feel a little wistful, until I looked at myself in the mirror and thought "What the hell are you doing?"

Eventually I'll probably break down and get satellite radio, and I do believe that Sirius is the way to go. Several years ago, when I worked for a music show, I went to XM and Sirius, before either of them launched, to do a "compare and contrast" story. XM talked all about their corporate partnerships, Sirius talked all about their talent, and right then and there I knew which one I preferred. Plus, I made a little money on Sirius stock last year.

It is in a way discouraging that someone as harmless as Stern, juvenile but hardly a corrupting influence on youth, had to be chased off into a different medium. But he feels he's starting over, and I don't think it'll be long before he has the same audience numbers on satellite. Radio is decent here in Los Angeles thanks to a few independent stations, but the satellite product is unquestionably superior, just judging by the snippets I've heard at friend's houses. Cable was met with skepticism too back in the day ("who would want to pay for TV?").

But I will miss Howard, at least in the interim. Really for the honesty and the way everyone at the station became part of the show.


Walk Out

I guess since the first phony resolution about withdrawing from Iraq didn't work, the Republican leadership has decided to toss out another.

You know what, every Democrat should simply walk out of the chamber the moment this resolution opens for debate. They should decide not to play these silly games. Pelosi should hold a press conference with the full Dem caucus on the Capitol Steps and say "We'd like to work to pass legislation for the American people, and as soon as the Republicans are done with their sham vote, we'll get back to doing so." I'm sure the Republicans would say "Look at the Democrats, running away again," but in my mind it's worth it. These ridiculous and meaningless votes about the war on Christmas, politically motivated Iraq resolutions, college football's bowl system, and the like eat up valuable time when there are dozens of important issues on the table at the end of the year. And don't forget that the GOP leadership wants to blow off next January in a stall tactic in the hopes that Tom DeLay's money laundering trial will wrap up quickly with a positive result.

Not only do Republicans not know how to govern, increasingly it appears that they don't WANT to.


Domestic Spying

Today's Senate obliteration of provisions of the Patriot Act is only the beginning of this struggle. Today the New York Times dropped a bombshell of a report, saying that the President (not functionaries, not rogue White House aides, but the President himself) authorized the National Security Agency to begin domestic spying without warrants, without judicial oversight, on literally thousands of calls and email messages over the past three years. The article claims this was done only on communications which originated outside the United States, but says the agency "still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications."

And if you add that to this week's NBC News report that the Defense Department has been spying on peace groups who gather at Quaker meeting houses, you begin to see the full picture here. The current government has no intention of working within constitutional limits. In his usual dismissive way (since he wants to come across as a libertarian, but has to continue to toe the line when it comes to the GOP agenda), Instapundit says:

I can't see any very compelling reason to bypass the courts here, especially given that warrants in these cases are almost always granted. Which makes me wonder what's up.

Well, let's let you in on something. The government thinks they're above the law. It's happened before and it'll happen again. Actually going to the courts to obtain a warrant is something they'd consider demeaning and unecessarily slow. So the President just orders the NSA to do it, breaking established laws. Yes, laws, punishable by fines and imprisonment:

The law governing clandestine surveillance in the United States, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, prohibits conducting electronic surveillance not authorized by statute. A government agent can try to avoid prosecution if he can show he was "engaged in the course of his official duties and the electronic surveillance was authorized by and conducted pursuant to a search warrant or court order of a court of competent jurisdiction," according to the law.

"This is as shocking a revelation as we have ever seen from the Bush administration," said Martin, who has been sharply critical of the administration's surveillance and detention policies. "It is, I believe, the first time a president has authorized government agencies to violate a specific criminal prohibition and eavesdrop on Americans."

We have in this country a group of people who have been so cauterized by fear that they are all too willing to turn the United States into a place that resembles a police state on far too many counts. In the process they have trashed civil liberties and re-interpreted the constitution so that it places untold secret power in the hands of the executive (I mean, do the words "improper search and seizure" mean anything to these people?). Stopping the Patroit Act's attacks on civil liberties are a high-profile start, and actually the culmination of a return to our collective senses on this kind of stuff that have forced rollbacks in other areas. But based on the past few days it's clear that the Bush Administration doesn't care whether or not it's a law: they're going to do what they want anyway.

The answer to 9/11's intelligence failure is not to violate citizen's rights, sorry. You're basically saying that the solution to bad, ill-gotten intelligence is more bad, ill-gotten intelligence. Balancing law enforcement and civil liberties is a bedrock of this country. Sorry, WAS a bedrock.


The Congress had the same intelligence...

...except when they didn't.

By virtue of his constitutional role as commander-and-in-chief and head of the executive branch, the President has access to all national intelligence collected, analyzed and produced by the Intelligence Community. The President's position also affords him the authority - which, at certain times, has been aggressively asserted - to restrict the flow of intelligence information to Congress and its two intelligence committees, which are charged with providing legislative oversight of the Intelligence Community. As a result, the President, and a small number of presidentially-designated Cabinet-level officials, including the Vice President - in contrast to Members of Congress - have access to a far greater overall volume of intelligence and to more sensitive intelligence information, including information regarding intelligence sources and methods. They, unlike Members of Congress, also have the authority to more extensively task the Intelligence Community, and its extensive cadre of analysts, for follow-up information. As a result, the President and his most senior advisors arguably are better positioned to assess the quality of the Community's intelligence more accurately than is Congress.

Good for Sen. Feinstein (with whom I don't always agree) for simply going to a third party, taking it outside the he said/she said partisan debate, and asking the question.

This won't change a thing, as the truth doesn't often seem to be a barrier to political rhetoric. It's up to the Dems to publicize this and call the President out on his... wait for it... lies. Because that's what this is.


Thursday, December 15, 2005


When the PATRIOT ACt first had a vote in 2001, exactly 1 Senator voted against it. Now that Senator has the votes to scuttle the legislation and force changes on his terms:

The new Senate arithmetic that emerged this week is enough to place the renewal of major portions of the law in doubt. It was enough to inspire Senate Republican leaders to consider a backup plan in case Feingold's filibuster threat succeeded. Enough to prompt President Bush to dispatch Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to Capitol Hill twice in two days to lobby on the accord's behalf.

No luck so far, said the chief Senate sponsor.

"We've got a battle on our hands," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., told reporters after Gonzales had departed Wednesday [...]

Moments later, the senior Democrat on the issue, Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record), D-Vt., told reporters that more than 40 votes exist to sustain a filibuster in a test vote Friday. White House allies said they would rather see the law's 16 temporary provisions expire entirely than give opponents another three months or more to keep whittling away at them.

The enormity of this turnaround hasn't really sunk in with the public. This is a bipartisan coalition concerned with protecting civil liberties that is going up against a President, a Senate and House majority, and literally dozens of interest groups who want passage. What that takes is leadership, and Sen. Feingold has it to spare.

UPDATE: What an incredible victory. Russ Feingold is the man.


Depends on What Your Meaning of "Ongoing Investigation" Is

Via this diary at Kos, here's a great exchange where Smilin' Scotty gets nailed to the wall:

Q Scott, the President told Brit Hume that he thought that Tom DeLay is not guilty, even though the prosecution is obviously ongoing. What does the President feel about Scooter Libby? Does he feel that Mr. Libby --

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. First of all, the President was asked a question and he responded to that question in the interview yesterday, and made very clear what his views were. We don't typically tend to get into discussing legal matters of that nature, but in this instance, the President chose to respond to it. Our policy regarding the Fitzgerald investigation and ongoing legal proceeding is well-known and it remains unchanged. And so I'm just not going to have anything further to say. But we've had a policy in place for a long time regarding the Fitzgerald investigation.

Q Why would that not apply to the same type of prosecution involving Congressman DeLay?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just told you we had a policy in place regarding this investigation, and you've heard me say before that we're not going to talk about it further while it's ongoing.

Q Well, if it's prejudging the Fitzgerald investigation, isn't it prejudging the Texas investigation with regard to Congressman DeLay?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think I've answered your question.

Q Are you saying the policy doesn't apply?

Q Can I follow up on that? Is the President at all concerned that his opinion on this being expressed publicly could influence a potential jury pool, could influence public opinion on this in an improper way?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that in this instance he was just responding to a question that was asked about Congressman DeLay, about Leader DeLay, and in terms of the issue that Peter brings up, I think that we've had a policy in place, going back to 2003, and that's a White House policy.

Q But that policy has been based in part, in the leak investigation and other things, on the idea that it is simply wrong for a President to prejudge a criminal matter, particularly when it's under indictment or trial stage. Why would he --

Can I step in? I think what Mr. McClellan's trying to say is that it's OK for the President to prejudge and influence a criminal matter when the defendant in question is really really helpful in getting his legislation passed (i.e. Leader DeLay), but when the defendant is a member of the White House staff and anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law, you have to shut up about it.

Got it?

Q How can you not -- how can you say there's differences between the two, and we're supposed to buy that? There's no differences. The President decided to weigh in on one, and not the other.

MR. McCLELLAN: There are differences.

Q And the public is supposed to accept the fact that he's got no comment on the conduct of senior officials of the White House, but when it's a political ally over on the Hill who's got to help him get work done, then he's happy to try to influence that legal process.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, not at all. Not at all. You can get all dramatic about it, but you know what our policy is.

Go ahead, Paula.

Q I do have a question about White House ethics guidelines --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the American people understand.

Q No, they don't. And the only thing that's dramatic is the inconsistency of the policy and you trying to defend it.

Sheesh, since when did these reporters start acting all uppity like they can distunguish consistency and all that? I'll bet Scotty is clicking his heels and saying "take me back to 2002!"


The Capitol in Wartime

Finally, Congress is getting down to the business of fighting the war.

Not the War in Iraq, mind you. On the War on Terror. No, the War on Christmas is the one that concerns them.

This afternoon, 26 House Republicans -- together with the GOP leadership -- will be forcing the full House to vote on whether House members support the "symbols and traditions" of Christmas, and whether they disapprove of the utterly mythical "attempts to ban references to Christmas." Today's roll call vote comes on the heels of a House floor debate held last night regarding H. Res. 579, a resolution "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected." During the debate, Democratic members asked the Republican author of the resolution, Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-VA), if she would permit the symbols of Chanukah and other holidays to be included in the protection of the resolution -- and she refused.

This is a "sense of the House" resolution, which means it is nonbinding and devoid of any legislative meeting. But it's certainly taking up time on one of the last Congressional days of the year. That seems aprropriate, doesn't it? Wow, what a complete sellout to the radical fundamentalist wing, to push the made-up, unimportant War on Christmas into the halls of Congress. Crazy.

By the way, let's thank our lucky stars for 50-year Democratic stalwart John Dingell, who read this poem on the House floor today:

'Twas the week before Christmas and all through the House,
    no bills were passed `bout which Fox News could grouse.
    Tax cuts for the wealthy were passed with great cheer,
    so vacations in St. Barts soon should be near.

    Katrina kids were all nestled snug in motel beds,
    while visions of school and home danced in their heads.
    In Iraq, our soldiers need supplies and a plan,
    and nuclear weapons are being built in Iran.

    Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell.
    Americans feared we were in a fast track to ..... well.
    Wait, we need a distraction, something divisive and wily,
    a fabrication straight from the mouth of O'Reilly.

    We will pretend Christmas is under attack,
    hold a vote to save it, then pat ourselves on the back.
    Silent Night, First Noel, Away in the Manger,
    Wake up Congress, they're in no danger.

    This time of year, we see Christmas everywhere we go,
    From churches to homes to schools and, yes, even Costco.
    What we have is an attempt to divide and destroy
    when this is the season to unite us with joy.

    At Christmastime, we're taught to unite.
    We don't need a made-up reason to fight.
    So on O'Reilly, on Hannity, on Coulter and those right-wing blogs.
    You should sit back and relax, have a few egg nogs.

    'Tis the holiday season; enjoy it a pinch.
    With all our real problems, do we really need another Grinch?
    So to my friends and my colleagues, I say with delight,
    a Merry Christmas to all, and to Bill O'Reilly, happy holidays.
    Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas."



And the Nominees Aren't...

Sometimes I get around to reading the entertainment sections of my Sunday LA Times a little late. Last night I finally read this story about Rep. Dana Rohrabacher's pretensions of being the next Aaron Sorkin. As many of you know, Rohrabacher has been caught up in the Joseph Medawar scandal, in which Medawar optioned a 30 year-old Rohrabacher screenplay in return for access and introductions to high-level members of Congress who might be able to help with Medawar's proposed reality series about the Department of Homeland Security. Medawar used the access to convince investors that he could get the project going. Turned out it was all bogus, there was no DHS reality project, and Medawar was defrauding everybody for about $5.5 million dollars.

Well, until now, the actual optioned screenplay has never made print. But now the Times puts the script into the light of day. And big surprise, it's a huge steaming pile of crap. It's a buddy flick called "Baja," about - how's this for originality - two mismatched guys forced to partner together to rescue a treasure! The movie has been in mothballs for so long that he had to change its references:

The two heroes come from different worlds: Bernie Shulman, who calls himself "Paz," is a bearded grad student in his mid-20s, a liberal who opposes war, questions the existence of God and isn't above having a good time getting drunk on tequila and chasing women. Roger Wallace is a twentysomething Marine Corps veteran and staunch conservative who believes the U.S. war in Iraq is a just war, but is haunted by frequent flashbacks about his time in combat there. (The original screenplay portrayed Roger as a Vietnam War vet, but had since been updated to be an Iraq veteran.)

He did change the Vietnam Vet to a Gulf War vet, but unfortunately he never got around to changing the plot, characters and dialogue. Look at these abominable snippets:

Biker to Roger: "One smash with this chain, and your brains are gonna be all over the ground."

Paz to Roger: "Roger, there are four of them!"

Roger to Paz: "Listen, kid, you just take care of one of 'em. If you can just grab hold of one, I can take care of the rest."

One read of these lines, and my brains shot out of the back of my head trying to escape.

"Paz, what kind of name is that?"

"It means something. It means 'peace' in Spanish. What's your name?"

"Roger. Roger Wallace. It means, 'I am Roger Wallace.' "

Hah! People whose names have meanings other than English are stupid! And Roger Wallace (who might as well be called "Whitey Whitestein") being the hero over "Paz," that should tell you exactly the kind of xenophobia at play in this guy's fertile mind.

And what would an action movie be without a little romance? It won't rival Rick and Ilsa in "Casablanca," but one knows sparks are going to fly eventually between Roger and Rosa, the daughter of a Mexican rancher the buddies meet along the way.

"You are a bit more distant than your amigo," she tells him.

"He's looking for something," he replies.

"What about you? What are you looking for? Or are you just trying to get away?" she asks.

"You get up-close personal real quick don't you?"

"Do you have a sweetheart?" she continues.

"I have no one. That's the way I want it."

Don't quit (or lose an election from) your day job, dude.

Rohrabacher clearly sees himself as this Roger Wallace character, the tough-talking conservative outlaw who kicks ass and beds the ladies but walks away without any strings. It's such a parody; a therapist would have a field day. He even kind of admits to it:

"I said [to my friend], 'What do I write about?' " Rohrabacher recalled. "He said, 'Dana, write about what you like to do. What do you like to do?' I said, 'Well, I like to go down to Mexico, drink tequila and chase women.' So he goes, 'Well, write a story that includes going down to Mexico, drinking tequila and chasing women.' And I said, 'Why don't we make it a treasure story?' "

Somewhere in the country they elected this guy.

Another proposed script of his raises some really interesting questions:

He penned several shorter treatments, including "Tranquilidad," about a mercenary hired by an oil company to go to a South Pacific island that, unbeknownst to its native inhabitants, is sitting on one of the world's largest oil reserves. His job: to make sure the island stays safely in pro-American hands.

"I actually was down in the South Pacific [after Reagan lost the 1976 race for the Republican presidential nomination] and was hired to do a job down there," Rohrabacher said. "I was involved in helping a native insurrection movement down there to prevent some leftist group from winning…. I was riding a motorcycle around the jungle and living in a jungle village. I felt like I was Steve McQueen." He declined to give further details, except to say he wasn't sent there by the CIA and he wasn't working for an oil company.

Well then who the hell WAS he working for? Why was he, as an American citizen, involved in the governmental affairs of a sovereign nation? Who stood to benefit from his efforts? What the fuck is going on with this?

It's clear that Joseph Medawar was buying access (and on the cheap; $23,000?) to help along his scheme to bilk investors. Dana Rohrabacher was probably just so flattered that anyone in Hollywood would READ his trash that he made himself believe this was legitimate. Now we know why it sat on a shelf so long.


Bait and Switch? Or Not?

After months of fighting John McCain's anti-torture amendment, the White House appears to have fallen in line:

After months of resistance, the White House has agreed to accept Sen. John McCain's call for a law specifically banning cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of foreign suspects in the war on terror, several congressional officials said Thursday.

The congressional officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they did not want to pre-empt an expected announcement later in the day at the White House, possibly by President Bush and McCain.

I say "appears" because just a couple days ago it seemed like the White House was rewriting the rules:

The Army has approved a new, classified set of interrogation methods that may complicate negotiations over legislation proposed by Senator John McCain to bar cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees in American custody, military officials said Tuesday.

The techniques are included in a 10-page classified addendum to a new Army field manual that was forwarded this week to Stephen A. Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence policy, for final approval, they said.

The addendum provides dozens of examples and goes into exacting detail on what procedures may or may not be used, and in what circumstances. Army interrogators have never had a set of such specific guidelines that would help teach them how to walk right up to the line between legal and illegal interrogations.

Some military officials said the new guidelines could give the impression that the Army was pushing the limits on legal interrogation at the very moment when Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, is involved in intense three-way negotiations with the House and the Bush administration to prohibit the cruel treatment of prisoners.

In a high-level meeting at the Pentagon on Tuesday, some Army and other Pentagon officials raised concerns that Mr. McCain would be furious at what could appear to be a back-door effort to circumvent his intentions.

"This is a stick in McCain's eye," one official said. "It goes right up to the edge. He's not going to be comfortable with this."

But this last paragraph in the AP article confuses the issue again:

McCain's original amendment would have prohibited "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone in U.S. government custody, regardless of where they are held. It also would have required that service members follow procedures in the Army Field Manual during interrogations of prisoners in Defense Department facilities.

In discussions with the White House, that was altered to bring it into conformity with the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That says that anyone accused of violating interrogation rules can defend themselves if a "reasonable" person could have concluded they were following a lawful order.

So did McCain pre-empt the talks and circumvent the Field Manual changes? Or did the White House try to move the matter into the UCMJ? It's unclear. What I do know is that, with overwhelming majorities in the Senate and House (which passed a nonbinding resolution of support for McCain's amendment yesterday by an almost 3-1 margin), the Bush Administration's hands were tied, and I think their underhanded attempt to wriggle out of the situation failed. Of course, I wouldn't put it past McCain to declare a political victory despite having the teeth taken out of the provision.

Either way, the increased attention on this issue has codified public support against torture (which is amazing that needed to be debated), and put those who support it out on a lonely island. The DCCC should have a lot of fun next year making ads out of yesterday's House vote, isolating the 120 or so legislators that voted for torture.

This isn't the end of the line on this, as Congressional oversight must be maintained so we don't have another Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo ever again. But it's a step.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Another Corner Turned; Iraq Must Have a Lot of Angles

I am relieved that there was a relative lack of violence in today's parliamentary elections in Iraq. It's encouraging that there appears to have been a large Sunni turnout. There have been scattered reports from Sunnis about deliberate attempts to tamp down their vote; that in itself is somewhat encouaging in that they actually want to be a part of the government, although it's important to look and see if these reports have any validity.

Of course, this is not an ending but a beginning. We've turned so many supposed corners in Iraq, only to see a return of violence, no improvement in security or reconstruction, and flaring of sectarian tensions. Apparently it was too dangerous for many candidates to campaign in person; several candidates were assassinated, and most of the politicking was done on television, where Iyad Allawi had an unusually professional output:

The recent spike in U.S. and British media coverage of the campaign of Allawi may reflect a deeper U.S. effort to insure, by whatever means, his electoral victory. The western media blitz is highlighting the ostensible secularism and "professionalism" of Allawi's own campaign, featuring U.S.-style political ads, television spots, etc., and noting the current popularity in Iraqi polls of calls for a "strong leader." That may reflect an effort to recast some of Allawi's potential campaign weaknesses, including accusations that he shot six bound prisoners in the courtyard of a U.S.-run prison during the first months of the occupation as well as his support for reconstituting the Ba'athist leadership of the Iraqi military, as political strengths. In the days before the election Allawi was polling at about 20% -- meaning he could be the kingmaker negotiating between Shia'a and Kurdish-dominated parties which may not reach the needed 2/3 majority.

Wonder where Allawi's money is coming from... hmm... how curious...

The point is that today's vote signifies that all sides are now, at least temporarily, pushing for a political solution in Iraq. And they agree on one major point: that should happen without the continued presence of the US military, evidenced by the recent agreements at the Iraqi summit in Cairo (that Iraqi summits need to be held in Cairo instead of Iraq is something that needs to be, um, worked on). When Howard Dean famously uttered "The idea that we’re gonna win this war is an idea that unfortunately is just plain wrong," I think the word choice was off, but my interpretation was that the US cannot win this war militarily. Incidentally, that's an idea shared by pretty much everyone in the country, from Nancy Pelosi to Jack Murtha to John Warner to George Bush. The political system must be foregrounded in this effort.

Of course, the last time the Iraqis voted it took months to actually form the government, which dispirited the public and led to the increased violence we see in the country today. If anything, it's going to be even more difficult to work it out this time, given the fact that it'll be a longer term of office, the Sunnis participated in greater numbers, and the first order of business will be the rewriting of the constitution (which will bring back all the issues of federalism and oil revenue and Shiite-Sunni-Kurd cooperation that are, to put it mildly, intractable). This is where the United States could be helpful in helping a smooth transition. After that, it's really time to get out. Either Iraq is going to agree to compromise or they're not; I don't think the US military can affect that either way. Security and training can be done on the periphery and out of the line of fire. Our soldiers have worked very hard in really awful conditions, undermanned and under-equipped. They need to come home.


Moral Values

There's a telling article in the Washington Post today discussing Jim Wallis and Sojourners stunt to protest budget cuts for the poor. The writer does something so common sense that it's shocking how much it sticks out: he simply asks the major religious conservative organizations about their priorities:

Why in recent years have conservative Christians asserted their influence on efforts to relieve Third World debt, AIDS in Africa, strife in Sudan and international sex trafficking -- but remained on the sidelines while liberal Christians protest domestic spending cuts?

Conservative Christian groups such as Focus on the Family say it is a matter of priorities, and their priorities are abortion, same-sex marriage and seating judges who will back their position against those practices.

"It's not a question of the poor not being important or that meeting their needs is not important," said Paul Hetrick, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, Dobson's influential, Colorado-based Christian organization. "But whether or not a baby is killed in the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy, that is less important than help for the poor? We would respectfully disagree with that."

Jim Wallis, editor of the liberal Christian journal Sojourners and an organizer of today's protest, was not buying it. Such conservative religious leaders "have agreed to support cutting food stamps for poor people if Republicans support them on judicial nominees," he said. "They are trading the lives of poor people for their agenda. They're being, and this is the worst insult, unbiblical."

This is a very good debate to have and I hope that the rest of the media will pick up on this and take notice. I would argue that taking care of the sick, the poor, and the unfortunate is a bedrock moral value, and in the richest country on earth with the means to clothe, feed and shelter all our people, it's the moral choice to do so. People come first. Meanwhile, we're deep in the trenches of the "War on Christmas." Anybody else see how warped these priorities are?

I wish we could get through the politics of it and actually figure out what it means to be moral. A budget document is a moral document in that it can provide safeguards to life's unexpected hardships. Ask the people living in tents along the Gulf Coast whether or not domestic spending is a moral issue. Ask the millions of people who work every day and still cannot make ends meet because we haven't raised the minimum wage in this country in years. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer gave a press conference yesterday about how it's long past time we raise the minimum wage in this country. I'll bet you didn't hear about it. As Ezra Klein notes, these issues are important ones to mainline into the media megaphone, but a tough thing for progressives to actually accomplish:

The minimum wage can act as a powerful wedge issue -- a resonant policy argument that conservatives find themselves on the unpopular end of. But unless Democrats create a larger institutional apparatus for popularizing such issues, it's a bit useless. Wedge issues, after all, need to become issues before they become effective. Tomorrow's press event is nice, but it will, at best, lead to a couple of short AP articles buried in regional newspapers.

Meanwhile, the War on Christmas garnered a book, which got picked up by a popular talk-show demagogue, who's turned it into a cause celebre for powerful elements of the conservative coalition. That's how you create a wedge issue -- gather so many independent actors who can pump up so much artificial volume that the rest of the media has to at least pretend there's some sort of genuine outcry, and now your opponents have to participate in a debate they've already lost. It's first got to appear a popular issue to become a political one; you can't go the other way.

Progressives, sadly, have no structure capable of gathering, focusing, and sustaining attention on a particular topic. Hoyer may hold a press conference, but the nightly news will barely notice, and there'll be no one crying out for a minimum wage increase during interminable, nationally-aired daily monologues. That's not to say there aren't plenty of people routinely begging for wage increases; they're just not the sort of folks with television shows.

The Washington Post article at least shows that an independent media COULD raise the debate on issues like these were they willing to carry out their jobs. Nontraditional media like blogs can also have a lot to say about these kinds of things to raise awareness. This quote should be passed around the blogosphere with light speed:

Dobson also has praised what he calls "pro-family tax cuts." And Janice Crouse, a senior fellow at the Christian group Concerned Women for America, said religious conservatives "know that the government is not really capable of love."

"You look to the government for justice, and you look to the church and individuals for mercy. I think Hurricane Katrina is a good example of that. FEMA just failed, and the church and the Salvation Army and corporations stepped in and met the need," she said.

Basically the religious right is saying that governments are hopelessly cruel and there's nothing you can do about it, so toughen up. That's the Christian message this holiday season. It's a self-defeating message, since the current group of people in power have no interest in governing, no respect for governing, and when they fail, they can fall back on the message that "government is inherently bad." This is of course absurd, and the massive deficits we've managed to rack up are a testament to the fact that nobody currently in power wants anything to do with small government.

So let's get this moral values debate going, for real this time. Offer Americans the choice between (a) feeding and clothing and lifting up their neighbors, or (b) getting involved in their neighbor's personal and private decisions. And majority rules, 'kay? For too long conservatives have made a virtue of selfishness without being called on it. I'm glad that there are rumblings in the other direction.


Preserving Liberty

Looks like Fristy and the Senate thinks they don't have the votes:

As the USA Patriot Act headed toward passage in the House, its prospects in the Senate grew so uncertain Wednesday that Republican leaders considered an alternative to extend the current law a year rather than let parts of it expire Dec. 31 for lack of consensus, a senior Republican aide said.

Senate vote-counters trying to tally support and opposition for an agreement that would revise the 2001 anti-terror law were unable to precisely gauge it's prospects Wednesday.

If the agreement to renew the act fails a crucial test of support, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., was preparing to bring up his own legislation to extend the current Patriot Act for a year, according to a senior Frist aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not yet been made.

The House-Senate conferees dishonestly used the process to craft a bill that made room for none of the concerns about civil liberties and constitutional rights. Russ Feingold and others have therefore led the fight to preserve those basic protections while still effectively enforcing the law and stopping terrorism. And it looks like Feingold's got a major convert:

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will vote against the updated Patriot Act and will join with senators who are seeking to block the bill from coming up for a vote, RAW STORY has learned.

Reid has told aides he will vote against cloture -- a Senate procedure which requires that 60 senators support a bill being brought before the Senate before it is brought to a final vote. In essence, voting against cloture means supporting a filibuster.

"Senator Reid has several concerns including the National Security letters, the library provision, and some of the habeas corpus aspects which have nothing to do with terrorism," an aide told RAW STORY.

These concerns were shoved aside in conference, expecting that Republican majorities would simply ram this through. But it hasn't only been Feingold in this fight. He's led a bipartisan group of civil libertarians, including Republicans Larry Craig, John Sununu and Lisa Murkowski. All of them agree that, as Ben Franklin said, "When you give up liberty for security, you end up with neither."

UPDATE: Sen. Feingold has been blogging at TPM Cafe all week leading up to the Senate fight. He confirms Reid's (and Leahy's) opposition, and gives some new info in today's post:

This morning, the SAFE Act cosponsors released a "Dear Colleague" letter, laying out our objections to the conference report and pledging to vote against cloture.  You'll see some new names on this letter - including Republican Senator Chuck Hagel.

So that's at LEAST 4 Republicans on his side.


Ask the Answer Man

Novakula, who oughta know, says don't bug him about Plamegate:

Newspaper columnist Robert Novak is still not naming his source in the Valerie Plame affair, but he says he is pretty sure the name is no mystery to President Bush.

"I'm confident the president knows who the source is," Novak told a luncheon audience at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh on Tuesday. "I'd be amazed if he doesn't."

"So I say, 'Don't bug me. Don't bug Bob Woodward. Bug the president as to whether he should reveal who the source is.' "

This is kind of a fascinating dodge, with Novak believing the President should answer for his crime. Wouldn't the best source of knowledge on who leaked the info be the guy he/she actually leaked the info TO?

But this is a good point to be made. The President has tried to play this game that he wants to "get to the bottom" of the Plame controversy as much as anyone else, when clearly he has all the information at his disposal. He could have defused this controversy two years ago by simply forcing his staff to come clean. Then it wouldn't be the big deal it is today.


Newsflash - Bolton's a dick

Steve Clemons points us to a major story by Mark Leon Goldberg soon to be available at The American Prospect which shows how stealth appointee to the UN John Bolton is doing exactly what George Voinovich and others feared: undermining American credibility abroad. The headline:

In his first six months at the UN, John Bolton has offended allies, blocked crucial negotiations, undermined the Secretary of State -- and harmed U.S. interests.

We expected bad; we didn't expect this bad.

We know that Bolton asked for several hundred line-item changes to the Millennium Summit document, inflaming tensions and downing hopes that any meaningful reform would come out of that meeting. But there's a lot of stuff that we didn't know in the article, particularly about the strained relationship between Bolton and Condi Rice:

...the tension between Rice and Bolton has grown dramatically in several areas, most notably with regard to Syria: The Prospect has learned that Bolton was the source of an October leak to the British press that submarined sensitive negotiations Rice was overseeing with that country.

Indeed, it was Rice, not Bolton, who achieved the one significant success of Bolton's first 100 days at the United Nations: a unanimous October 30 Security Council vote requiring Syria to fully cooperate with a UN investigation into the suspected Syria-sponsored assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The Prospect has learned that in the days and weeks leading up to the late October UN report on Hariri's assassination, Rice sought to sideline Bolton from the negotiations over the Security Council resolution that the report inspired. She also made the State Department, not the U.S. Mission to the UN, the central address for discussions on the resolution.

Many have speculated that Bolton's appointment to the UN was a ploy to get him out of the hair of the State Department. But this next bit suggests that the State Department has had to do his job at the UN as well:

One of the first signs that a bureaucratic battle was brewing between Bolton and Rice over Syria came on October 18, when the State Department press corps was shocked to find that Rice had unexpectedly flown to New York to meet Annan. A State Department spokesman explained that the two met to "compare notes" in advance of a widely anticipated report by Detlev Mehlis, the secretary-general's special investigator for the Hariri assassination.

Yet Bolton, the man in charge of the United States' day-to-day operations at the UN, was conspicuously absent from that meeting. In what appears to have been less of an accident than a matter of intentional timing, Rice made her trip to New York on the very morning that Bolton had to be in Washington, testifying before the Senate on the progress (or lack thereof) of UN reforms.

They're actually sending Bolton out to diplomatic meetings with fucking CHAPERONES, they're so wary of his ability to enrage.

On October 22, a French delegation from the UN traveled to Washington for initial discussions on the Syria resolution (later called Security Council Resolution 1636), of which the French were the original authors.

According to a diplomatic source, Bolton was not initially invited to that meeting. The French, however, insisted on his presence. So Bolton attended, but not without three chaperones: Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch, Welch's deputy (and vice-presidential daughter) Elizabeth Cheney, and National Security Council Middle East chief Michael Doran.

"It's like they stuck a strong team from the [State Department and National Security Council] to watch him," said the diplomat.

Why do we have a non-functioning UN Ambassador? Why is the State Department so concerned with oversight? Because Bolton stabbed them in the back just when they were making headway with Syria, according to the article:

Bolton and Rice's bureaucratic tiffs over Syria had actually boiled over two weeks prior to the Security Council vote. Journalist Ibrahim Hamidi, writing in the Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat, reported -- and the Prospect has independently confirmed -- that Bolton had leaked to British newspapers that the Bush administration had signaled its willingness to offer Syria a "Libya-style deal" -- a reference to Libyan President Muammar Quaddafi's decision last year to give up pursuing weapons of mass destruction and renounce terrorism in return for a restoration of relations with the United States and the United Kingdom.

According to The Times of London, Syria responded positively to the secret U.S. offer, which was made through a third party. But after Bolton publicly aired the details of the potential deal -- which would require Syria to cooperate with the Mehlis investigation, end interference in Lebanese affairs and alleged interference in Iraqi affairs, and cease supporting militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah -- Damascus quickly denied that such a deal was in the offing.

I question the wisdom of getting Syria to comply with such a Libya-like deal, although I understand you'd rather want them inside the tent than outside. But the fact that the UN Ambassador would sabotage that effort, become a one-man wrecking crew to global diplomacy, is abolutely beyond the pale. It really reinforces the notion that Bolton is likely at the UN to be Dick Cheney's eyes and ears, and to upend anything untoward to the Veep.

There's some other stuff in the story, including Bolton's famously abrasive demeanor to subordinates, and his bullying tactics which have done more harm than good. This article will apparently be available tomorrow. The excerpts are from Steve Clemons' site.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

1,000th Post, 1,000 Days

It's a little amazing that I've reached 1,000 posts on this site, but I found a fitting subject for this one: we just crossed the numerically similar threshold of 1,000 days at war in Iraq.

The Independent, in Britain, has done the math on this war:

$204.4 billion: The cost to the U.S of the war so far.

2,339: Allied troops killed

15,955: US troops wounded in action

98: U.K troops killed

30,000 : Estimated Iraqi civilian deaths

0: Number of WMDs found

66: Journalists killed in Iraq.

63: Journalists killed during Vietnam war

8: per cent of Iraqi children suffering acute malnutrition

53,470: Iraqi insurgents killed

67: per cent Iraqis who feel less secure because of occupation

$343: Average monthly salary for an Iraqi soldier. Average monthly salary for an American soldier in Iraq: $4,160.75

5: foreign civilians kidnapped per month

47: per cent Iraqis who never have enough electricity

20: casualties per month from unexploded mines

25-40: per cent Estimated unemployment rate, Nov 2005

251: Foreigners kidnapped

70: per cent of Iraqi's whose sewage system rarely works

183,000: British and American troops are still in action in Iraq.

13,000: from other nations

90: Daily attacks by insurgents in Nov '05. In Jun '03: 8

60-80: per cent Iraqis who are "strongly opposed" to presence of coalition troops

I wouldn't say Iraq was the only reason I started blogging; certainly the 2004 election was a factor, and the freedom of expression available online. But I've probably spilled more ink (metaphorically speaking, of course; no ink was spilled in the production of this blog) on Iraq than any other topic, because I consider it a great catastrophe that has set back America in so many ways. The fact that homeless Americans in New Orleans have to take out a full-page ad just to get Congress' attention while we squander lives and money 10,000 miles from our shores is just one testament to that.

I could talk about all of the various reasons why this war was wrong-headed, incompetently planned, and deeply flawed to this day, but one story I read recently sums it all up, albeit tangentially.

We're sending dead soldiers, war heroes, home as freight in the baggage compartment of commercial airliners.

That's so emblematic, in my view. Incompetence, thoughtlessness, indifference to history and tradition, how this government truly values the troops that do the fighting, using the military as political props only when expedient, hiding the evidence (literally, in the cargo hold) of the true cost of war. Everything, encapsulated in this craven act.

By the way, not for nothing, but it took a Democrat to rectify this situation:

John and Stacey Holley, who were both in the Army, made some calls, and with the help of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, Matthew was greeted with honor and respect.

"Our familiarity with military protocol and things of that sort allowed us to kind of put our foot down -- we're not sure other parents have that same knowledge," said Stacey Holley.

Meanwhile, the State Department spokesman "did not know why this is happening." Like everything else this Administration does. It's the "we don't know why" Administration.

As I pause after my historic (only to me) 1,000th post, we should all take a moment after reading this story and wonder why the hell we're sending kids off to die, and stuffing them into the cargo hold on the way back? For what noble cause? Where is the honor? Where are the leaders who take war seriously? It makes me want to punch a wall. I'm sorry, but nobody in the military today deserves a commander that would stab them in the back like this.



"Pick-and-Choose" Conservatives

Michael Kinsley, who I thought was fairly defensive and petulant during his brief stay the the LA Times, has a very sharp article up on Slate which really should put to rest this nonsense about the "ticking bomb" scenario a lot of people on the right have been using to justify torture:

What if you knew for sure that the cute little baby burbling and smiling at you from his stroller in the park was going to grow up to be another Hitler, responsible for a global cataclysm and millions of deaths? Would you be justified in picking up a rock and bashing his adorable head in? Wouldn't you be morally depraved if you didn't?

Or what if a mad scientist developed a poison so strong that two drops in the water supply would kill everyone in Chicago? And you could destroy the poison, but only by killing the scientist and 10 innocent family members? Should you do it?

Or what if an international terrorist planted a nuclear bomb somewhere in Manhattan, set to go off in an hour and kill a million people. You've got him in custody, but he won't say where the bomb is. Is it moral to torture him until he gives up the information?

Questions like these have been pondered and disputed since the invention of the college dorm, but rarely, until the past couple of weeks, unstoned. Now the last of these golden oldies—about the terrorist who knows where the bomb is set to go off—is in the news. Not because it has happened, but because of Sen. John McCain's proposed legislation forbidding the use of torture by the United States government.

These are stupid questions without any basis in reality, which is why they make for such excellent dorm room fodder. The idea of basing international policy around them is completely absurd. The argument is basically "what if something, that never could happen, happened? Then you'd agree with me, right?" Well, maybe, but that doesn't prove anything. It's like saying "You wouldn't tax travel through wormholes, so why tax airline travel?"

Kinsley defines the moral hazard at work with what he calls "salami-slicing," or trying to figure out exactly how many avoided deaths would make torture the responsible choice:

In law school, they call this... point, "salami-slicing." You start with a seemingly solid principle, then start slicing: If you would torture to save a million lives, would you do it for half a million? A thousand? Two dozen? What if there's only a two-out-of-three chance that person you're torturing has the crucial information? A 50-50 chance? One chance in 10? At what point does your moral calculus change, and why? Slice the salami too far, and the formerly solid principle disappears.

The trouble with salami-slicing is that it doesn't stop just because you do. A judicious trade-off of competing considerations is vulnerable to salami-slicing from both directions. You can calibrate the viciousness of the torture as finely as you like to make sure that it matches the urgency of the situation. But you can't calibrate the torture candidate strapped down before you. Once you're in the torture business, what justification is there for banning (as Krauthammer would) the torture of official prisoners of war, no matter how many innocent lives this might cost? If you are willing to torture a "high level" terrorist in order to save innocent lives, why should you spare a low-level terrorist at the same awful cost? What about a minor accomplice?

And then he works himself around to this point, which pro-torture conservatives never seem to understand:

College dorm what-ifs like this one share a flaw: They posit certainty (about what you know and what will happen if you do this or that). And uncertainty is not only much more common in real life: It is the generally unspoken assumption behind civil liberties, rules of criminal procedure, and much else that conservatives find sentimental and irritating.

Sure, if we could know the present and predict the future with certainty, we could torture only people who deserve it. Not just that: We could go door-to-door killing people before they kill others. We could lock up innocent people who would otherwise be involved in fatal traffic accidents. Civil libertarians like to believe that criminals get their Miranda warnings and dissidents enjoy freedom of speech because human rights are universal. But if we knew for sure that a newspaper column by Charles Krauthammer would lead—even by a chain of events he never intended and bore no responsibility for—to World War II, wouldn't we be nuts not to censor it? Universal human rights would make no sense in a world where everything was known and certain.

In addition, I don't remember where I read it first, but it does seem that the genesis for this "ticking bomb" scenario was the Fox show "24," in which a similar moral dilemma was hashed out last season. Which means that conservatives like Charles Krauthammer, the pro-family, anti-Hollywood elite crowd, are now using a TV SHOW as proof for their ideas. Because, you know, it was so unpredictable that whatever Jack Bauer decided to do would work.

I don't remember the school voucher program emanating from "Welcome Back Kotter." I don't remember policies about border control for illegal aliens coming from an episode of "ALF." But because "24" set up a ridiculous, would-never-happen-in-history-with-any-certainty scenario, conservatives inclined to torture swallowed it whole. I call this crew "pick-and-choose" conservatives, who have no real principles or beliefs. You don't just see this with Hollywood, but a thousand other hypocrisies. It's what's behind conservatives demanding that all judicial nominees get an up-or-down vote in the Senate, except of course for Harriet Miers or anyone else that disagrees with us. It's what's behind conservatives saying that you cannot criticize a commander-in-chief in a time of war, except when that commander-in-chief is named Clinton and the war is in Kosovo.

You really can't even argue with such "pick-and-choose" conservatives, because there's no base of beliefs to assail. They constantly shift the debate whenever it's expedient for them to do so. They always look forward to the issue du jour; they never look backward to see if that issue completely negates what they've said over the years.

The only thing to do, actually, is to laugh. Laugh at the hypocrisy, the insanity, the complete lack of coherence.


Sizzle... Turn Rove Over, He's Done On This Side

The Raw Story is reporting that Rove is the white whale Ahab Fitzgerald has been hunting down virtually since the beginning, and it looks like Fitz' harpoon (if I can continue this tortured metaphor) will indeed bag him:

Short of a last minute intervention by Rove’s attorney, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is expected to ask a grand jury investigating the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson to indict Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove for making false statements to the FBI and Justice Department investigators in October 2003, lawyers close to the case say.

Rove failed to tell investigators at the time that he had spoken about Plame to Time Magazine reporter Matthew Cooper and conservative columnist Robert Novak, both of whom later cooperated in the case. Novak outed Plame in a July 14, 2003 column.

The Chicago prosecutor briefed the second grand jury investigating the outing last week for more than three hours. During that time, he brought them up to speed on the latest developments involving Rove and at least one other White House official, the sources said. The attorneys refused to identify the second person.

As of Monday, neither Rove nor his attorney Robert Luskin has explained Rove’s misstatements to Fitzgerald’s satisfaction, those familiar with the case said. Eleventh-hour testimony from Time Magazine reporter Viveca Novak—who Rove’s attorney Robert Luskin fingered as a crucial witness in keeping his client out of court—does not appear to have been helpful in dodging an indictment, they added.

Rove is also under scrutiny for allegedly telling his assistant not to log a phone call from Cooper, the sources said. Rove’s assistant, Susan Ralston, provided Fitzgerald with information last month in which she alleged that Rove told her not to log a call from Cooper that was transferred to Rove’s office from the White House switchboard, sources close to the case said. The lawyers added that Luskin and Rove have an explanation for that as well, but declined to elaborate.

I haven't been blogging on the Viveca Novak revelation, which really wasn't a revelation, except that a Washington reporter apparently can be easily sweet-talked into giving a lawyer crucial information about his client. Also, that said Washington reporter apparently has no problem continuing to report on the story while hiding this crucial information from her editors, even after getting a lawyer and talking to the grand jury herself.

So the Viv story is more about the crippled nature of ethics in the Beltway press corps. Her slip of the tongue definitely helped Rove in his attempt to correct his testimony to the grand jury. But the question is whether or not it was too late by that time. I guess Fitz thinks it was. Especially given the evidence that Rove purposefully told his assistant not to log the phone call. That's a cover-up if I've ever heard one.


Soft Bigotry

For some reason, people in the media simply expected riots in Los Angeles in the wake of the execution of Tookie Williams. As if violence can be the only possible release for black people. I mean, the last 20 years of Williams' life was dedicated to the idea of nonviolent resistance and the futility of armed struggle. And you expected burning cars?

I think a lot of people, particularly in Los Angeles, are saddened by the fact that a Nobel Peace Prize nominee was silenced by a state-sponsored act. I personally don't understand how a man who spent 20 years trying to get kids out of gangs needed to be killed for the safety of the state. All that was deterred here is the idea that you can go to jail and redeem yourself; prison rehabilitation must seem pretty futile by now. I understand the deep feelings on both sides of this debate, but explain to me why wouldn't life in prison without the possibility of parole been a sufficient punishment?

But that doesn't mean the only answer is to break store windows. Maybe the media expected riots in LA today because they have low expectations of certain groups of people in general; or maybe it's because they refuse to give context to the death penalty debate, and so everything must be seen on the black-and-white scale of "if people are mad, of course they'll destroy their own neighborhood." They could actually do a great service here by contextualizing the debate, allowing for personal expression from all points of view, and letting the entire country weigh in on this issue. But that's asking a little much.

In the meantime, Crooked Timber links to another death-row story that is absolutely chilling, and yet another reason why we have to seriously rethink this policy of state-sponsored executions.

The guts of it is that Cory Maye is a black man on death row for shooting a white police officer dead. The officer was part of a paramilitary no-knock drug raid which broke down the door of Maye’s apartment in the middle of the night, when he and his young daughter were sleeping. Apparently the officers thought they were entering the house of a suspected drug dealer, when in fact the building was a duplex and the individual named in the warrant lived on the other side. Maye woke up, took his gun and shot Jones, who later died. Mayes was tried, apparently was not well-represented, and was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.

Let's talk about this instead of perpetuating the myth of "black people will riot if there's an injustice."

UPDATE: Neal Boortz is batting 1000%:

... I believe that the main reason the execution of Tookie Williams won't be executed (wrong- ed.) is because Schwarzenegger knows full well that as soon as Tookie's death is announced there will be riots in South Central Los Angeles and elsewhere. (wrong- ed.)  The huge media exploitation of this story has made drop-dead sure of that.  There are thugs just waiting for an excuse ... not a reason, an excuse. (wrong- ed.) The rioting, of course, will lead to wide scale looting. (wrong- ed.) There are a lot of aspiring rappers and NBA superstars who could really use a nice flat-screen television right now.

How do you pack that much racism and bad predictions into just one paragraph? What a talent.


War on Christmas: In the Foxhole

This is pretty funny. There are 11 references to "holidays" on this Fox page, and 0 references to Christmas. (By the way, that page is screen grabbed, as once this stuff gets out, Fox News has a habit of trying to cover their tracks.)

Good thing O'Reilly is a fifth columnist over there or this thing would be much much worse. Help us, Falafel Bill! Save Christmas!


Monday, December 12, 2005

Notes from the War on Christmas

Think Progress has the video of Sam Seder's appearance today on CNN, where he obliterated the right-winger peddling his stage-managed about "the war on Christmas." Seder gave this argument exactly the level of intellectual respect it deserved; he made fun of it, relentlessly, with several grains of truth in the ribbing. When faced with such fake outrage, such fabricated victimhood, such making up of issues out of whole cloth, I'd say a healthy dose of ridicule is the best defense. Here's an excerpt from the transcript:

SEDER: Listen, as far as the war on Christmas goes, I feel like we should be waging a war on Christmas. I mean, I believe that Christmas, it's almost proven that Christmas has nuclear weapons, can be an imminent threat to this country, that they have operative ties with terrorists and I believe that we should sacrifice thousands of American lives in pursuit of this war on Christmas. And hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.

PHILLIPS: Is it a war on Christmas, a war Christians, a war on over-political correctness or just a lot of people with way too much time on their hands?

SEDER: I would say probably, if I was to be serious about it, too much time on their hands, but I'd like to get back to the operational ties between Santa Claus and al Qaeda.

PHILLIPS: I don't think that exists. Bob? Help me out here.

SEDER: We have intelligence, we have intelligence.

PHILLIPS: You have intel. Where exactly does your intel come from?

SEDER: Well, we have tortured an elf and it's actually how we got the same information from Al Libbi. It's exactly the same way the Bush administration got this info about the operational ties between al Qaeda and Saddam [...]

SEDER: I do agree with Bob. I think what should happen is companies should calculate how much money they're getting from people who are celebrating Christmas and provide exactly that much amount of Merry Christmas, because that is exactly how I would want any type of religious holiday to be celebrated [...]

SEDER: Hannukah is not a high holiday. Our high holidays are Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur, which I'm sure Bob has been protesting why there are not more Yom Kippur sales or Rosh Hashanah sales during those holidays. Why shouldn't there be, right Bob?

KNIGHT: If that was associated with that holiday, then maybe I would join you. But it never has been.

SEDER: Bob, have you ever protested Martin Luther King Day not being celebrated. Do you resent when people don't say "Happy Martin Luther King Day" a month out in advance?

And so on. Actually, the parts where Seder confronts this Bob Knight guy (not the basketball coach) are even better, because it's so easy to make a mockery of what he's saying. Go watch the video.

A million years ago (OK, 11 years ago), I worked on a student film with Sam Seder. He was the lead, brought in from Boston, and I was a bit player who was friends with the director and basically doing her a favor.

He was consistently hilarious then, and also a great guy to talk to. He came back to campus a couple times, but eventually I totally lost touch with him, which I put up there in my overflowing "Chronicle of Stupid Moments."

The great thing about this is that Air America hosts are starting to penetrate television as talking heads. Humor is a great way to blunt the self-righteous indignation and victimhood the talking heads on the right consistently provide. We need more of Seder, Rhodes, Franken, Big Ed (I know he's not technically part of the AAR family, but he's on my progressive talk station) on these cable news spots. It proves that "liberal radio," which was smugly deemed a failure years before it actually hit the air, has arrived and has currency.

I also think that the winger was genuinely surprised to find a smart, well-informed liberal as his opponent who prepared for the topic and had rebuttal arguments. I know, it's shocking to find a Democratic talking head that actually DOES this. Seder's experience on Air America has made him a lot better on shows like this, and the Democrats could learn from his appearance that you can actually strategize about what you're going to say BEFORE you get to the studio.


This Must Be Hillary's Idea

In this otherwise nondescript article about the upcoming Iraqi vote, this caught me eye:

In the first day of early voting, about 250,000 Iraqis - soldiers, police, hospital patients and prisoners in jail - cast ballots, according to election official Abdul-Hussein Hendawi. Iraqi television aired footage showing inmates in orange jumpsuits depositing their ballots in jailhouse boxes.

Those must be the prisoners who HAVEN'T been tortured.

Now, isn't it an established right wing talking point that Hillary and the Dems want to subvert the electoral process by letting felons vote?

Here's what the Right blogosphere had to say about the exact same process in Iraq:

(crickets chirping)



Stanley Tookie Williams is going to die in about 10 hours, after the governor of California denied him clemency. People around the country and across the globe have been following this case pretty closely, and there are a lot of passionate feelings on both sides of this debate. But I don't think the two sides are listening to one another.

To me, the Williams case was about the concepts of redemption and mercy. If you look at Governor Schwarzenegger's statement, he talks about studying the evidence and overturning the verdict of the jury. There is no discussion of the value Tookie Williams has provided to the community since he has been incarcerated, the series of children's books, the fight to keep young people out of gangs, the Nobel Peace Prize nomination. Nobody was arguing for him to be set free; it just seemed that life without the possibility of parole would have been an acknowledgement that the criminal justice system can work to change behavior and reform lost souls. By killing Tookie Williams we are basically saying that there is no such thing as prison reform.

Similarly, those who advocated for clemency did seem to forget that there were four lives lost, and, according to a jury, at the hands of this man. Now, why one murderer is singled out for the death penalty while another gets life in prison is a different discussion. Additionally, the fact that the death penalty disproportionately affects minorities needs to be discussed. But the fact remains that Stanley Williams is in jail for a reason.

I didn't understand why it would have been easier for Williams to get clemency if he admitted to the killings. He believes himself innocent of those charges, though he has admitted the wrongness of separate, concomittal actions. I think redemption means more than saying "I'm sorry." He's shown his with his life. I believe life without the possibility of parole is enough of a deterrent to crime, I don't think killing a murderer will bring a victim back or any of the other arguments about retributive justice. Furthermore, without execution, governments have a chance to right their wrongs when they mistakenly send someone to prison, which we know happens over and over again. There is no remedy when the law executes an innocent man.

If nothing else, the end of the Tookie Williams story has at least shined a light on the death penalty debate in this country. Slimmer majorities support the practice than did 20 years ago. We need to think about the role of redemption and mercy in these cases, and acknowledge that giving life without the possibility of parole to someone on Death Row does not mean they are exonerated. It's important to have a civil discussion around this and recognize both sides.


Tales from the Liberal Media

John from Crooks and Liars was interviewed in the LA Times magazine section yesterday.

Great question at the end:

If Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich types make it to the White House and Congress, will you keep a lookout for liberal crooks and liars?

Finally, somebody with the balls to call Dean and Kucinich the crooks and liars they unquestionably ARE. Also, I'm glad the LAT didn't fall for the fact that the voters of Cleveland (on the Seine) have already voted Kucinich into Congress; just because Cleveland thinks so, doesn't mean he's IN.

It's just another example of the "liberal media" making unsubstantiated claims for the sake of "balance."


This Whole Administration in a Nutshell

Asked if the threat of terrorism on U.S. soil has been reduced significantly since invading Iraq, Bush said: "I think it's been reduced. I don't think we're safe."

Yes, we're doing a good job. And yes, you should still be scared to death. Vote for us because we'll protect you, but we won't protect you enough so that you'd feel safe enough to vote for someone else.

That's been the entire message, with all its inherent contradictions, for the last 4 years.


Seems like a good reason for a government shutdown

The Austin American Statesman is reporting that getting Tom DeLay his job back is more important than serving the American people:

Although there has been some rumbling among Republicans about permanently filling the majority leader post Tom DeLay vacated, House leaders are moving to give the embattled lawmaker from Sugar Land more time to clear away his legal problems and reclaim the post.

The Republican leadership is planning to keep the House in recess almost the entire month of January, while the full Senate plans to return on Jan. 18, almost two weeks after the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings on the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

DeLay's lawyers hope to use that time to get the campaign money laundering charges against the lawmaker dismissed or prevail at trial, clearing the way for him to reclaim his leadership post. Meanwhile, DeLay is maneuvering to try to get a more powerful interim position.

Heading into an election year, with a cloud of corruption already swirling over their heads, the House Republicans are going to SHUT DOWN THE FUCKING HOUSE for a month so their big boss man can beat his money laundering rap. If the Democrats can't make some noise out of this then I give up. Culture of corruption, anyone?

Meanwhile, it's funny to me that DeLay is trying to slide right into disgraced Congressman Duke Cunningham's old spot:

But even as he seeks to reclaim his No. 2 spot in the House political hierarchy, DeLay is also trying to claim a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, his one-time power base, as a short-term remedy to his loss of power on Capitol Hill, according to The Hill newspaper.

A vacancy on the panel occurred earlier this week when Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif., resigned from Congress after pleading guilty to charges that he accepted bribes from a defense contractor.

I guess the Bugman heard that he could get some good bribes in that position. Maybe he needs an 18th century commode.


More Iraqi Torture Chambers

Somehow I'm sure Saddam's to blame for this:

An Iraqi government search of a detention center in Baghdad operated by Interior Ministry special commandos found 13 prisoners who had suffered abuse serious enough to require medical treatment, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Sunday night.

An Iraqi official with firsthand knowledge of the search said that at least 12 of the 13 prisoners had been subjected to "severe torture," including sessions of electric shock and episodes that left them with broken bones.

"Two of them showed me their nails, and they were gone," the official said on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

At least there are signs of improvement: in the last torture chamber there were 169 badly injured people, and in this one, though they found 600 prisoners, only 13 had to go directly to the hospital. Freedom is indeed on the march.

By the end of this week, Iraqis will be voting, and things like this will conveniently be forgotten amid stories of brave Iraqi citizens going to the polls, etc. But before the Myth of the Purple Finger (the notion that electing candidates along sectarian lines is the KEY to stopping sectarian violence) pushes all of these stories off the front page, it's important to note that the only reason Iraqi Shiites feel like they can get away with these kinds of abuses within the Interior Ministry is because they've seen their American minders do it, and get away with it. It's yet another reason why Abu Ghraib was such a crushing blow to our efforts to win this battle against terror and radical Islam around the globe. We've now sanctioned torture, put it into play. The Iraqi Interior Ministry, filled with Badr Brigade militia members who specialize in the extra-judicial killing of Sunnis, operate no differently than contracted US security personnel, who dig picking off innocent Iraqis as sport.

The alleged failings have emerged as another "trophy video", showing security contractors apparently opening fire on civilians, appeared on the web site, which has been unofficially linked to Aegis Defence Services.

The new, 27-second video, which is accompanied by the Elvis Presley song That's All Right (Mama), shows a civilian car being attacked by security contractors, who open fire with a machine gun.

Coming to DVD soon.

Here's the point: we opened up a Pandora's Box at Abu Ghraib, and it's going to be very difficult to stuff that genie back in the bottle. All the while, sectarian tensions are fomented, and the civil war brewing underneath the surface can explode to the forefront that much easier. And we can't even figure out if we're supposed to stop this shit:

Last week, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered military commanders to come up with clear rules for how U.S. forces should respond if they witness detainee abuse. The order followed an exchange between Rumsfeld and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, at a news conference Nov. 29.

Pace said then that it was "absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member if they see inhumane treatment being conducted to intervene to stop it."

Rumsfeld said, "I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it's to report it."

Pace responded, "If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it."

While we dither and look for legal technicalities, fingernails are being pulled from Sunnis with our implicit consent. Welcome to the New Freedom in Iraq.


Supremes to rule on TX redistricting

I've noticed that officials in Wshington, particularly those involved in enforcing the law, are finally starting to notice that activities at the very core of the Republican rise to power may actually be illegal. First it was revealed last week that, as part of the Jack Abramoff investigation, the Justice Department was bringing the K Street Project under some scrutiny. Now we learn that the Supreme Court is going to take up the Texas redistricting case.

The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday that it would decide a challenge by Democrats and minority groups to the controversial 2003 Republican-supported congressional redistricting plan in Texas.

The justices agreed to review a ruling by a federal three-judge panel that upheld the bitterly contested map, which had been strongly supported by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas.

Those challenging the redistricting plan argued it amounted to an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander by manipulating voting districts to give one party an unfair advantage and that it diluted the voting strength of minorities.

They said the plan shifted more than 8 million Texans into new districts and that it was designed in 2003 to protect all 15 Republican members of Congress and to defeat at least seven of the 17 Democratic members.

Remember, a key part of Tom DeLay's defense in his money laundering trial is that he was trying to re-establish a strong Republican majority in his home state. In other words, his alibi for wrongdoing was an act that may be unconstitutional in and of itself. I don't know if anyone holds out hope that the Supreme Court will decide this one without injecting a measure of partisanship along the lines of the Bush v. Gore decision (like that one, they'll probably issue a verdict that only covers this specific case and can never be used as a precedent again). However, it should be fun to see committed ideologues have to compromise their principles once again in arguing against equal protection, and against the Voting Rights Act.

Still, arguments won't be heard in this case until April, at which time it's likely Sandra Day O'Connor will no longer be around. How do you think ScAlito will see this case? the way, career Justice Department officials saw major constitutional flaws in Texas' redistricting plan, only to be overruled by the higher-ups. Once that scandalous bit of news got out, the Bush Administration sought to eliminate such embarrassing incidents in the future. Not by listening to career Justice Department officials, mind you, but by banning staff opinions and recommendations in such cases.

Now THAT'S efficiency in government! Instead of allowing for time-consuming research, you know, actually looking up the laws and seeing if they are being violated, we'll just move on and decide these things by executive fiat! In fact, seeing as those Justice Department officials in the Voting Rights division won't be asked their opinions anymore, perhaps they could be persuaded to just go. Smaller government! See, the solution to a difference in opinion, rather than compromise, is not allowing a difference in opinion. That's the Bush way!