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

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Tide is Turning?

This is kind of an interesting development. I just got a fundraising letter from Francine Busby, who is set for a rematch of her narrow June loss to Congressman Brian Bilbray.

It starts off as your basic fundraising letter, highlighting some of Bilbray's more egregious votes and making the pitch for a contribution. Then it veers off into some uncharted territory:

My pledge to you is that you will be astounded at the campaign we run.

The Washington, DC consultants are gone, and with them, the negative attack ads. (that's interesting, since the first half of the letter is a negative attack ad -ed.) This is a local campaign, and it WILL be run the way I want it to be run - by giving voters a practical, common-sense alternative.

She continues:

Our passionate, local staff is in place, and we are more inspired than anyone can imagine. We know that the voters were turned off by the June election and the relentless negativity associated with the Washington, DC money. That will change.

She then ads some bullet points about what she would do in office (ending the "madness" of the Iraq War, implementing a national energy policy based on innovation and conservation, addressing affordable healthcare), explains that Bilbray received under 50% and really is vulnerable, and closes the letter. Then, as if to cement the point, she adds a postscript:

P.S. I know you were disappointed that DC consultants had too much control in the June election. I pledge to you, it will never happen again. Watch me. You will be astounded.

Now, I donated to Busby in April, and I did it online, through ActBlue, and I think I added the extra $.01 to let the campaign know it was a netroots contribution. So this could be a targeted, tailored letter designed to make me say "Hell yeah, time to stop listening to the perennial losers and be your own candidate" and send me running to my checkbook. And no candidate's ever gone wrong projecting an outside-the-Beltway image.

But that attack is usually against the elected officials in Washington. Since when does a candidate in a campaign pitch attack "the consultants," not once but three times?

Since Crashing the Gate, that's when.

I believe in the power of media narratives, which are typically used to push along some BS about weak and bickering Democrats or strong tough guy Republicans. But here's a narrative that seems to be slowly taking root: the consultants are part of the problem. And it has the added benefit of being borne out through years of electoral losses and reams of evidence, as Kos and Jerome deftly pointed out in the best section of their book.

Two years ago a prospective candidate wouldn't know that "the consultants" would be a bugaboo that they could use in fundraising letters. They wouldn't even know there was another way to campaign to win without DC consultants at their side. They would have welcomed DC money. They would have welcomed the visibility. Because a couple years ago, the time-honored notion that "all politics is local" would have been met with blank stares.

All the blogosphere has ever asked for in campaigns is that the candidate be true to themselves, rather than boxed into a strategy of "don't make waves, don't get disagreeable, hope the Republican implodes and play to the middle." That's a relic of the political past. It takes a LONG time before major organizations like the Democratic Party figures this out and implements the necessary steps to changing the culture. It's like changing a corporate culture in a huge multinational, or more to the point, like changing the conventional wisdom that rules modern-day sports franchises. Everyone's afraid to innovate because their job's on the line, and they end up copying whatever other team is successful and hope that works. This move by the Busby campaign shows that maybe the conventional wisdom is changing. And the results, I believe, will be positive for my party and my country.

And even if this is a cynical attempt to get this blogger's attention, I'd say that's a victory. It means, of course, that we're being taken seriously.


Wherein I Prove I've Been Reading a Damn Lot About WW3 (or 4) (or how about NOT WW3?)

Anyone that doesn't think the Israeli-Lebanese conflict is a proxy war, listen up:

The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, U.S. officials said Friday.

The decision to quickly ship the weapons to Israel was made with relatively little debate within the administration, the officials said. Its disclosure threatens to anger Arab governments and others because of the appearance that the United States is actively aiding the Israeli bombing campaign.

Maybe the word "reality" should be substituted for appearance.

There's no question that the outbreak of hostilities, followed by the usual "honest broker" in the region, the US, playing Willy Wonka by halfheartedly whispering "No, please, stop" while simultaneously egging Israel on (and, we now learn, arming them), are seen by many as a great opportunity. Like ">this guy:

And indeed, this is a great opportunity.

Kind of sums it up, doesn't it?

The story goes that the only reason Iraq hasn't turned into Flowers-and-Sweets-Land is because we didn't nuke the whole country when we had the chance, basically. Insufficient force is always blamed. The pacifists on the left and in the media, those all-powerful pacifists with the ear of this President on virtually all matters of state, have stabbed us in the back again. (By the way, go and read the "Stabbed in the Back" Harper's article I just linked to. Go. Do it.)



Now this conflict, sparked by Hezbollah, whose younger firebrands are no longer constrained by Syrian influence (this is an excellent backgrounder), is seen as a pretext to make things right, to get rid of Syria and Iran once and for all, and to make the Middle East safe for democracy. And empty of people, one would suspect, making it even more safe. Now this would be "drunken lout at the end of the bar" stuff if it weren't for the fact that the most powerful man in the world believes it too:

The U.S. position also reflects Bush's deepening belief that Israel is central to the broader campaign against terrorists and represents a shift away from a more traditional view that the United States plays an "honest broker's" role in the Middle East.

In the administration's view, the new conflict is not just a crisis to be managed. It is also an opportunity to seriously degrade a big threat in the region, just as Bush believes he is doing in Iraq. Israel's crippling of Hezbollah, officials also hope, would complete the work of building a functioning democracy in Lebanon and send a strong message to the Syrian and Iranian backers of Hezbollah.

"The president believes that unless you address the root causes of the violence that has afflicted the Middle East, you cannot forge a lasting peace," said White House counselor Dan Bartlett. "He mourns the loss of every life. Yet out of this tragic development, he believes a moment of clarity has arrived."

One former senior administration official said Bush is only emboldened by the pressure from U.N. officials and European leaders to lead a call for a cease-fire. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan demanded yesterday that the fighting in Lebanon stop.

"He thinks he is playing in a longer-term game than the tacticians," said the former official, who spoke anonymously so he could discuss his views candidly. "The tacticians would say: 'Get an immediate cease-fire. Deal first with the humanitarian factors.' The president would say: 'You have an opportunity to really grind down Hezbollah. Let's take it, even if there are other serious consequences that will have to be managed.' "

This is the entire doctrine of preventive war. It basically says, "We're going to have to kill them in a couple years, let's just kill them now and get it over with." And it's been proven completely bereft of logic in Iraq, where even some of its most ardent supporters won't don the rose-colored glasses anymore. Iraq did not only blow up in our faces and bring bloody chaos to that country, it degraded our ability to manage crises in the region, and to respond with force. We can sic our Israeli attack dogs on everyone, but that's about it. And in the meantime, Iran has become an emboldened regional power, the Saudis and the Egyptians are nervous as hell, Israel is demonstrably less safe, the rest of the world's crises are neglected as we dig our heels in deeper, and so on and so forth.

The neocon answer to that is "Just wait." This is nothing more than a filibuster tactic, one that says "I'm playing a longer game than you, so shut up with your bickering and watch this payload drop on that hospital." It's an attempt to bully and confuse and distract while they rev up for World War III. And it's very clear that the Republicans will be campaigning on the issue of al-out war in November, a kind of "keep us in power so we can keep you safe by making sure nobody is safe." I mean, giving bombs to Israel at this juncture and for this purpose does nothing but make everyone in this country a legitimate military target.

(I'm butting in again. Great short op-ed on the lunacy of "just wait" is here.)

(Thanks, back to your blog.)

Preventive war, actually, has a long history. The outbreak of WWI with a small assassination of an archduke in Serbia had immediate resonance for me when I heard the news in Lebanon. Turns out it was closer than I thought:

The current dynamic, in essence, is that various elements -- mostly in the United States and in Israel, but also elsewhere throughout the West -- see Hezbollah's cross-border raid as providing a useful pretext for launching a preventative war against what's seen as rising Iranian and Hezbollah power [...]

In 1914, Germany viewed war with Russia as inevitable and thought it was better to fight sooner rather than later and therefore sought opportunities to get into war. Similarly, when it took office, the Bush administration was convinced that war with Iraq was inevitable and began casting about for opportunities to fight one. As of a month ago, Bush and Israeli leaders were convinced that despite the Cedar Revolution and six years of waning Israel-Hezbollah tensions that war was inevitable, and now they’ve found an opportunity to fight it. Significant elements of American opinion likewise see a clash with Iran as inevitable and have been persistently trying for the past several years to find a saleable pretext for starting one, and many see the current crisis as promising in that regard. As Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman point out in their new book Ethical Realism, this embrace of preventative war has a long legacy on the American right dating back at least to James Burnham and it's invariably been disastrous -- just as it was for Wilhelmine Germany.

Disastrous? Nah, it just resulted in Germany losing two world wars and their national pride. Small price to pay in the CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS(tm)!

In fact, the neocons will deny the very existence OF a Cedar Revolution, saying it failed, and bombing Lebanon is no different than bombing Syria and that's that, conveniently forgetting how they used the Lebanese situation last year to push forward the idea of an "Arab Spring" that justified all the concerns about Iraq. See, it really did flower freedom and democracy in the region. Except when it didn't. But that's only because WE HAVEN'T BOMBED THEM HARD ENOUGH!

I don't really think this is now fixable in my lifetime. This Administration, with its bullyboy ways and ignorance of regional realities, has so damaged our standing in the world that we'll never find peace. And of course, that's probably the point. With chaos comes a power vaccuum, in which they can very skillfully place themselves. 500,000 people left Beirut in the last two weeks, and more than that have left Iraq. If they didn't curse the US and Israel before, they certainly would be open to it now. Terrorism is not a finite resource, it comes from anger and frustration and a lack of opportunity and a perceived helplessness. Fundamentalists who have perverted the Koran jump on these populations and show them an enemy. It's a maneuver as old as time itself. It's happening right here in this country (haven't you read Stabbed in the Back yet? Go get that done!).

There are some conservatives with consciences who understand the monster they've created and nurtured, and are desperately looking for a way out. For example, Gregory Djerejian hands Hugh Hewitt his ass on a platter:

We're bogged down in Iraq, where a low-grade civil war could get much worse in a hurry, and where we've lost almost 3,000 men, and, more generally, Bush's ill-fated messianic, neo-Wilsonian naiveties (presto, elections!) have not worked in Palestine, have not worked in Iraq--nor are moderating impulses afoot in Egypt, or Lebanon, or Iran, or Syria. All Hugh is offering, really, is faith-based adventurism, really just a bogus, non-strategy. But it's all charming, to a fashion. Over a beer or two with David Rieff yesterday, we mentioned Hugh, and David in reference to him quoted one of Sigmund Freud's teachers Charcot, who once quipped about: "the beautiful calm of the hysteric". Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Hugh Hewitt, so evocative of "the beautiful calm of the hysteric". Must be fun, this blissful reverie, eh Hugh?

And to the extent that more people peek behind the Neocon Curtain and see the wizened, feckless old men hiding inside, it's a good thing (although perhaps one that's tragically too late). But I can't help but agree with Billmon, who writes that the enablers of these madmen offer the world nothing with their "come to Jesus" moments:

It speaks volumes about what a clueless, naive chump you were. And because neither you nor your then-beloved Administration actually had the slightest clue just how "fraught with peril" the road ahead was, we now have to listen to your panic-striken pleas for somebody to do something about the chaos enveloping Democracy Boy's pet project:

"This is where America must make its strongest stand in the neighborhood: namely to turn around the increasingly abysmal disaster that has become the US intervention in Iraq."

Well, it's a little late for that, Greg my boy. Failure isn't just an option, it's now the only option. Of course, if you and your fellow war hawks had listened to anyone who knew anything about the tortured history of Iraq, the Shi'a, the Middle East -- or the human species -- maybe you would have understood the risks from the beginning. But I doubt it.

I suppose I should welcome these refugees to reality, and let them be useful idiots for the Left Opposition for a change. But they don't actually bring much to the table -- just lots of wishful thinking and a water-down Wilsonian idealism that bears absolutely no relationship to the modern Middle East -- or the old one, for that matter. And so far that kind of misplaced idealism has only helped the neocons (who generally know better) get a lot of people killed.

What we are dealing with here, in other words, are some truly useless idiots. And this country -- and this world -- have far too many of those already.

And I fear that the idiots, both useless and useful, will continue this downward spiral that offers no hope for success but a virtual certainty of anguish, suffering, and mass death.

"1, 2, 3, 4, we don't want your stinking war." -anonymous, 1967


Shorter Alan Dershowitz

"Anyone who runs is VC. Anyone who stays... is well-disciplined VC! Ha-ha! War's hell, ain't it? Ha!"

(from Full Metal Jacket)

Honestly, this is appalling:

The Israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave those areas of southern Lebanon that have been turned into war zones. Those who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit. Some — those who cannot leave on their own — should be counted among the innocent victims.

It's like drowning the suspected witch, and having her death prove her witchery.

I'm disgusted that I once read Chutzpah and considered this guy a serious person. He thinks up little semantic schemes to justify madness.


Friday, July 21, 2006

Can We Get Some Real News, Please?

I get the LA Times on the weekends. It's kind of a leftover legacy of old media for me, and every time I think about cancelling it, I remember some attack by the wingnutosphere on the dreaded MSM, and I reconsider.

I just looked at today's front page, and I might not reconsider anymore.

Below is a list of the six stories on the front page of today's paper. Now, mind you this is summer, but it's one of the busier summer news weeks that I can remember, at least over the last decade. You know, with the wars and the vetos and it being 4 months from midterm elections and such. Look at these six stories:

At the top of the page is team coverage of the crisis in Lebanon and the personal stories of those who've had to flee. Very nice. We're off to a good start.

Then there's an article about the uproar in the New Orleans medical community over the arrest of a doctor and two nurses in the deaths of many hospital patients during Katrina. It's an interesting story. Fine.

Here's the rest of the FRONT PAGE in one of the more respected papers in this country.

Criminals are robbing LA restaurants. Um, OK. Maybe that leads off the local news, I don't get why that's on the front page of my paper.

There's a crazy party in San Diego every year, and people might be naked. NAKED!

Hollywood executives get fired in nutty ways. And this article is clearly a PR piece for a book on the same subject by Annabelle Gurwitch, who's quoted therein.

Christian retail stores. Yeah, get this, Christians buy stuff.

Ok, soooo.... what the fuck?

I expect the local news to revel in trash. I expect the cable nets to give me the juiciest and most pointless stories of the day. When the LA FREAKIN' TIMES devotes 60% of their front-page real estate to speculative "if it bleeds it leads" stories and total fluff, we need to be worried about the state of the media in this country.

A lot of the talk about the media on this and other sites is how they are biased, how they buy into standard narratives that they simply can't shake, how they strive for balance even if there is none. And I agree with pretty much all of that. But the tragedy is not what's covered, it's what's NOT covered. An independent press is so vital to keep a citizenry well-informed, and this sorry excuse for a front page is a perfect example of why so many of are fellow citizens couldn't name their Senators or pick out Iraq on a map. I respect ignorance more than stupidity: ignorance can be changed through learning and inquiry. But we're not getting that from the nation's predominant media.

Journalism is a for-profit enterprise, and one of the most persistent narratives in the newsrooms with which I'm familiar is that "we're just giving the people what they want." Sex sells, fluff is ratings gold, and the free market drives the content. This is complete nonsense. And the rise of blogs, is a testament to that.

If the media isn't shoveling fear down our throats it's doing its darndest to distract with the meaningless. I know newspapers are getting worried because they're losing market share, and particularly in the case of the LA Times, their parent company is talking about job cuts again. So they're desperate to increase readership, and they think that somehow becoming some bizarre hybrid of Maxim and US Weekly will bring them back to prominence. It's a push for the youth audience or something.

What this discounts is that anyone who wants to read a newspaper doesn't give a rat's ass about any of this stuff. Or at least, it's not the kind of material they turn to a newspaper to provide. Certainly not on the front page. The amount of news junkies in this country has not dwindled, they just migrated when their primary news sources weren't delivering, and technology showed them another way.

If the LA Times wants to be a tabloid, if they think that's a good business plan, then go ahead and be a tabloid. But don't expect me to renew.


The Random Ten

Let's take a spin of the iPod Click Wheel of Fortune:

Sunday Part II - Cibo Matto
The End of the Tour - They Might Be Giants
Lisa Ling & Lucy Liu - Mike Doughty (live)
Earthquake Weather - Beck
The Mess We're In - PJ Harvey (feat. Thom Yorke)
Emerge (Junkie XL remix) - Fischerspooner
Kentucky Woman - Neil Diamond
Van Lear Rose - Loretta Lynn
Manic Depression - Jimi Hendrix
Cheating on You - Franz Ferdinand

I love how Kentucky Woman gets followed by a Kentucky woman, Loretta Lynn, singing a song about another Kentucky woman, her mother.

The iPod holds wisdom beyond that of mortal men.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

9/11, eh? Could you pretty it up for me?

So Mike DeWine is the junior Senator from Ohio, and he's locked in what should be a fairly tight battle with Sherrod Brown, longtime Congressman and true-blue progressive populist. The Ohio Republican Party, rocked with scandal after scandal, in particular the one involving GOP fundraiser Tom Noe swiping cash from the state worker's compensation fund to buy rare coins, two of which he promptly lost.

It'll be a long, tough campaign. So to a Republican, I guess that means it's time to bring out the 9/11 imagery. Which DeWine promptly did, in his first ad of the season, which featured a shot of the Twin Towers burning.

Which honestly is bad enough. I didn't know 3,000 people died so that the Republican Party could have a good backdrop. And they're the ones screaming about Democrats showing flag-draped coffins in ads, which is the result of a particular policy, but they have no problem showing innocent Americans dying in Manhattan, which was not based on any policy, certainly none taken by their political opponents.

But here's where the story gets insane.

DeWine didn't use footage from 9/11. He doctored a shot of the Twin Towers:

"This particular image is impossible," says W. Gene Corley, a stuctural engineer who led the Federal Emergency Management Agency's building performance study of the World Trade Center after the attacks. Corley reviewed the ad at for U.S. News. "The north tower was hit first, [so] the south tower could not be burning without the north tower burning." Corley says. "The smoke is all wrong." The day of the attacks, the plumes of ash were drifting to the southeast. "The smoke on 9/11 was never in a halo like that," he added.

DeWine's office acknowledged the error. "The senator was unaware that the image of the towers was a graphic representation and has instructed the campaign to replace the footage with a picture of the twin towers," his office said in a statement on Wednesday evening.

DeWine spokesman Brian Seitchik says the image of the burning towers in the ad was a still photo with computer-generated smoke added.

Now, there are only a couple reasons for this. One is that they couldn't locate a shot of the WTC before the ad had to air. Which means DeWine has the most pathetic creative team on Earth. Who can't find a 9/11 shot?

The other option is that someone is sick enough to look at burning buildings after planes have flown into them and think, "Boy, that needs to be art directed."

I'm going to go with incompetent. Because the other choice just makes me shudder.

Support Sherrod Brown in Ohio.

UPDATE: TPM Muckraker notes that the group who made the ad also did the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ones. Maybe I should rethink my choice that they were incomptent and go right to sick bastards...


The Missing Middle

After seeing the grope delivered to the Chancellor of Germany, I gotta say that watching Bush these days is like watching Flowers for Algernon, only with the part in the middle cut out, where he becomes a genius. I mean it's clear he's slipping, but he doesn't really have that far to slip. It's like slipping from the curb to the street.

To recap, Charly:



Let Me Backtrack Just In Case Anybody Was Wondering

This is a completely bizarre editorial coming at a completely bizarre time. George Voinovich strongly opposed the John Bolton nomination to the UN, leading the fight that led to the President having to give Sir Moustache a recess appointment. That appointment doesn't expire for another six months. But to set the record straight, Voinovich is going to totally backtrack NOW, for good measure. First he explains how horrendous the Bush foreign policy has been:

Since Sept. 11, 2001, and our nation's initial response in Afghanistan, the global war on terrorism has taken many twists and turns.

First, Iraq became the primary focus of our troops and our public attention. Then, the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea reached critical mass, followed by the quickly changing and deteriorating situation with Israel, Hezbollah and Hamas.

THEN, he decides that the people most repsonsible for this mess are sufficiently reining in Bolton.

My observations are that while Bolton is not perfect, he has demonstrated his ability, especially in recent months, to work with others and follow the president's lead by working multilaterally. In recent weeks I have watched him react to the challenges involving North Korea, Iran and now the Middle East, speaking on behalf of the United States.

I believe Bolton has been tempered and focused on speaking for the administration. He has referred regularly to "my instructions" from Washington, while also displaying his own clear and strong grasp of the issues and the way forward within the Security Council.

Finally, he throws in a "support our President or you hate America" for good measure:

Ambassador Bolton's appointment expires this fall when the Senate officially recesses. Should the president choose to renominate him, I cannot imagine a worse message to send to the terrorists -- and to other nations deciding whether to engage in this effort -- than to drag out a possible renomination process or even replace the person our president has entrusted to lead our nation at the United Nations at a time when we are working on these historic objectives.

For me or my colleagues in the Senate to now question a possible renomination would jeopardize our influence in the United Nations and encourage those who oppose the United States to make Bolton the issue, thereby undermining our policies and agenda.

What a worm. But why even write this now? Like I said, the nomination doesn't come up for six months. And with the world in utter chaos, why push a point that in any way approves of this Administration's foreign policy, which has become increasingly incoherent?

However, the President could re-nominate Bolton at any time, and if they wait until after November, they might not have the majority in the Senate they'd need to pass him. Could it be that Voinovich was sending a very public signal to the White House that they should put up Bolton now before it's too late?


People Power, Laughing Edition

I really want to urge you, my online friends who happen to be in the Southern California area, to come see Cut And Run Comedy. We are really having some great shows with some of the best political comics in LA. It's become a kind of jam session, a nontraditional show in which comics riff on each other's work during the routines. It's incredibly fun. Now all we need is an audience. :)

And check out our cool new flyer:

Everyone in this progressive movement is doing their part: campaigning, organizing, blogging, researching, volunteering. I'm telling jokes in a coffee shop every Wednesday night. Join me, won't you?


People Power

I talk a lot about the need to reform Washington. We need at least one party that has the interests of its constituents at heart rather than rich donors, think tank specialists, and corporate lobbyists. Democrats are the party most likely to support those interests. In the 90s the DLC pro-business mentality ignored the middle class and became infautated with itself and its ideas of triangulation, straying too far from the core Democratic message. The result was all too often Republican vs. Republican lite, and voters opted for the genuine article.

Over the last few years Democrats have been gathering both online and offline through progressive organizations like DFA and the Center for American Progress, slowly coming to the realization that a politics of contrast, one that offers conviction and substantive difference, is the only politics that will win. To do this, those Democrats were willing to have a big tent (the Minority Leader in the Senate, arguably the most powerful federal elected official in the Democratic Party, is pro-life). But those who upset the brand, who used Republican talking points, who would bash Democrats on Fox News, who claimed in Wall Street Journal editorials that "we undermine the President's credibility at our peril," were simply not going to be allowed to continue such damage unchallenged.

I say that to say that a new Quinnipiac poll shows Ned Lamont leading Joe Lieberman in the August 8 Democratic primary. Honestly I don't think Joementum has a chance now. The primary has no consequences for him, since he's announced that he'll run as a "petitioning Democrat" if he loses. But it's important for the progressive movement, not just the blogs but progressive organizations in Connecticut and nationwide, to assert that they want Democrats to be Democrats again. Joe Lieberman is a relic of the past, who delights his supporters in Washington and acts with their interests in mind. The future is one in which Democrats are accountable, one in which Democrats use the grassroots and people power to further the progressive message.

And there's no turning back.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Good for LaHood

It's amazing what a little personal experience and perspective can do for your outlook. Like Nancy Reagan with stem cell research. Like Chuck Hagel and other veterans with Iraq. And here's another example.

Ray LaHood is a Lebanese-American, a Republican, whose district (the Peoria, Illinois area) is also home to a share of Lebanese-Americans. And he's committed the heresy of calling for restraint and questioning the efficacy of attacking civilians.

LaHood, whose Peoria constituency includes a significant Lebanese-American community, expressed "grave concern" over the number of civilian casualties in Lebanon in a meeting with a senior State Department official Tuesday, he said.

The congressman said he recognized some parts of Beirut that Israeli warplanes have bombed in the past few days.

"I've been in a lot of these neighborhoods. And these are just common, ordinary, decent people who have [no part] in this fight at all. And I think it's wrong of them to do that," LaHood said. "Fair-minded Americans, when they think about what's going on there, I can't believe they agree with that."

LaHood was even stronger on NPR's Morning Edition, providing something we rarely see in American politics: some balanced opinion which doesn't take sides. There's no transcript, but I wrote one out. The first line is interesting:

I think that our government needs to use some restraint. (what does he know that we don't? -ed.) I'm very concerned about the innocent people that have been killed in Lebanon. I'm concerned about the fact that all roads leading out of Lebanon except to Syria have been closed up, and the airport has been closed. You know, I don't fault Israel for going into the southern part of the country and trying to find the soldiers and really trying to bring down Hezbollah. I don't see what good it does, though, to completely shut down the economy and shut down the country by closing the airport and closing all passage out. I don't know what value there is in that. I don't know what value there is in bombing innocent Lebanese people in areas where Hezbollah does not exist.

LaHood also criticized Lebanon for allowing President Lahoud to serve an additional term, in violation of the Constitution. Lahoud is a weak President, he said, and under his stewardship, Hezbollah has been allowed to take root in the southern part of the country.

Now, mind you, this is a Republican talking, someone who supports the war in Iraq, and generally supports the Bush foreign policy. But when you have visited your ancestral homeland multiple times, and your constituents traditionally visit over the summer, and you see them getting blasted and potentially maimed over something in which they have no part, it changes your mind. You tend to see the world in ways that aren't so black and white.

And I fully support this. Yes, it's kind of blind to see the bombing of innocents as wrong in one sphere and not wrong in another. But the personal touch can be the crowbar that progressives can use to force their way into the minds of ideological conservatives.

It's also good that Nancy Pelosi shamed the White House into waiving the fee requirement for civilians to get evacuated from Lebanon. But with attacks escalating and Israeli ground troops entering the country, the Democrats cannot sit by idly as chaos reigns. All Democrats in Congress have is their ability to speak up, the way Ray LaHood did. With the neocons hungry for widening the war, with some calling it a gift to the world, Democrats have a responsibility to push back. Let's help them by doing it ourselves and encouraging them to get in the arena.



So the veto virigin broke his cherry on a bill that would seek to save human lives. And he wasn't very proud about doing it:

SNOW: The president will, however, before he delivers remarks this afternoon, veto the Castle bill.

Here’s how it works, because I know a lot of you have had questions. There will be no photographers, no ceremony. What the president will do is, in his office, he will sign a veto message, he will hand it to a clerk, who will convey it to a clerk of the House, and then you go through the formalities of announcing a message from the president, and at some point the House will vote on the veto.

QUESTION: Is there a reason why he’s not having photographers in, at least?

SNOW: Because he doesn’t feel it’s appropriate. He’s signing a veto.

This is the worst crisis manager to put in a situation which in large part involves managing crisis. He froze on 9/11 and kept on reading "My Pet Goat." He couldn't get off his ass, off vacation, and into action during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He can't even get American citizens evacuated from a dangerous war zone in Lebanon in a timely manner. And now, when he defies the will of at least 2/3 of the population, he can't even do it in public. He has to hide and accomplish it in secret.

For all the talk of "cut-n-run" from conservatives, their standard bearer seems pretty cowardly to me.


King Ralph... or not

Yesterday Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition, failed in his bid to become the Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. He lost the primary to a State Senator named Casey Cagle.

Reed is a political operative who has wrapped himself in a metaphorical Shroud of Turin, using the Bible as a cover for some of the most sickening misdeeds ever to come on the political scene. This is a guy who promoted an attempt to keep an Indian tribe in Louisiana from opening a casino on their reservation, presumably out of "respect for morality", when in fact he was BEING PAID by a RIVAL Indian tribe to keep the competition at bay.

This is a guy, in the tradition of Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls, who actually talked about cashing in on elederly black churchgoers:

In advance of its August publication date, GQ has released a big piece on Ralph Reed today, with one gem in particular: a plan hatched by Reed and Jack Abramoff which sounds suspiciously like "mortgaging old black people," as a former Reed associate told the magazine.

In July of 2003, Abramoff and Reed considered launching something called the Black Churches Insurance Program.

We know how this scheme would have gone, because Abramoff pitched something similar to a cash-strapped Texas tribe, the Tigua. Basically, since the tribe couldn't pay Abramoff, he offered to arrange "a life-insurance policy for every Tigua 75 or older." When those elders died, the death benefits would have gone to Abramoff through one of his non-profits. The Tigua didn't take Abramoff up on the offer, but it was too good of an idea to let go.

So Abramoff apparently thought black churches were a good target. This would have been the same thing, according to GQ's Sean Flynn, except that it was African-Americans. Or as "a former associate of Reed's" told GQ, "Yeah... it sounds like Jack approached Reed about mortgaging old black people.”

And Reed was into it. After all, he and Abramoff have been friends since their days at the College Republicans in the 80s.

It's extremely hard to shock me at this point. But taking people's life insurance policies from them as payment? Profiting from their deaths? Even I'm bowled over by the evil of that scheme.

I suppose it's cheering that Reed couldn't get elected by his own party in Georgia. He's a flim-flam artist who deserves the jail term that it increasingly looks like he may get, given his ties to Abramoff and the violations of the law which that entailed.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Quick Hits, non-Israel/Lebanon/Palestine Edition

Let's go around the horn:

• Gregory Djerejian just destroys Hugh Hewitt. Not that it's a feat, but it's fun to watch. It leads me to a larger point about the New Apocalyptics, screaming for world war, but I'll save it for a larger post.

• These Bush Administration-era offices called "pregnancy resource centers" are flat-out lying to teenagers, "telling investigators who posed as pregnant 17-year-olds that abortion leads to breast cancer, infertility, and mental illness." You can relate opposition to abortion without just lying about it. By the way these resource centers get $30 million in taxpayer money per year.

• Bush is going to address the NAACP convention for the first time in his Presidency. That could be very interesting. A TiVo alert.

• Business boards of directors used the September 11 tragedy to hand out stock options to rich executives so they could cash in when stocks fell on their return (buy low, sell high principle). If that doesn't make you want to throw up, nothing will.

• Also using September 11: Mike DeWine, in his campaign ads. Someone tell me why showing the cost of war reflected in flag-draped coffins is beyond the pale, but showing scenes of horror that resulted in dead citizens is not. You can't politicize Iraq, which was a political decision, but you can politicize 9/11, which was not.

Got it.

• The conservative Young America Foundation bans progressive Campus Progress reporters from their National Conservative Student Conference. The media spokesman has twice covered the Campus Progress Student Conference.

It's OK if you're a Republican.

• Guantanamo: the gift that keeps on giving. Solitary confinement and torture hasn't stopped Al Qaeda elements from organizing at Gitmo and recrutiting fellow inmates. Like everyone's said, if they weren't terrorists going in, they certainly will be coming out.

• Yes, they should absolutely get rid of the penny. There used to be a half-penny and we no longer miss it. The euro only has denominations of 5 cents and it gets along just fine. And pennies now cost 1.4 cents to make, thanks to the price of zinc.

Mind you this is a Republican bill I'm advocating. I'm all bipartisan and shit!


Science as Murder

So the Senate approved funding for stem cell research, the House already passed it, and now it'll go to the President.

Where he'll veto it.

I wrote about this last year, and I might as well excerpt the choicer parts, because it still rings true to me:

The ethical dilemma surrounding stem cell research is a ridiculous doomsday scenario stoked by our science-fiction-addled culture. We're talking about creating treatments at the cellular level. This is named human embryo cloning but it's not "Multiplicity." It's a technique whereby healthy cells could replace defective ones in the human body and ensure longer life. It could dramatically reduce diseases like Hodgkin's and Parkinson's and leukemia and a host of others. But look what our President says about it:

"I'm very concerned about cloning,'' Bush told reporters in the Oval Office. "I worry about a world in which cloning becomes acceptable.''

As if the fucking Brundle-fly is around the corner. Not only is nobody suggesting human cloning, most responsible scientists doubt that it's even biologically possible. The anti-intellectualism that presumes "mad scientists" won't be able to help themselves from making armies of genetically perfect mercenaries is straight out of comic books. It simply bears no resemblance to reality. But it strikes a chord with the millions who watched "X Files" with interest and make the ignorant logical leap that those power-driven meanies with the white lab coats are going to unleash their undead minions upon us. That's how this kind of irrational fear breeds.

And you end up with statements like this:

(Bush said) "I made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money to promote science which destroys life in order to save life is - I'm against that. And therefore, if the bill does that, I will veto it.''

And with that, especially if he actually does use the first veto of his Presidency to stop funding medical research, we can dispense with all pretense and tell it like it is: George W. Bush is avowedly pro-death.

The White House today was asked for comment on Bush's reasoning for considering the veto, and we got this choice quote from Tony Snow:

What the President has said is that he doesn't want human life destroyed... The President believes strongly that for the purpose of research it's inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder; he's one of them.

These are cells that will be thrown out in the back of an IVF clinic.

So let me get this straight.

This is murder:

This is not:

What a world.

UPDATE: Harry Reid would like you to sign this.


Business As Usual In DC

You'll recall that the winner of the House Majority Leadership post was the one who WASN'T as tied to lobbyists as Roy Blunt. He ran on and won the position on a pledge of reform. But John Boehner is making a mockery of it.

Far from trying to put the brakes on lobbyists and the money they channel into Republican coffers, Mr. Boehner, who has portrayed his ties to Washington lobbyists as something to be proud of, has stepped on the gas.

He has been holding fund-raisers at lobbyists’ offices, flying to political events on corporate planes and staying at a golf resort with a business group that has a direct stake in issues before Congress.

Tapping a rich vein of longstanding relationships with lobbyists and their corporate clients, Mr. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has raised campaign contributions at a rate of about $10,000 a day since February, surpassing the pace set by former Representative Tom DeLay after he became majority leader in 2002, a review of federal filings shows.

It's still pay to play Republican government, still business as usual. Of course, the whole thing was a smokescreen from the beginning. The only reason Boehner got away with the reform pose in the first place is because he was relatively unknown and not tied in with the current leadership.

“The Republican Party needed somebody to say they were a reform candidate, so he said it,” said L. Sandy Maisel, a professor of government and director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Colby College. “But in reality, he’s carrying on in the tradition not just of DeLay, but past Democratic and Republican leaders alike.”

I think Maisel is being charitable by playing the "everybody does it" line at the end of his statement. I don't know how many connections and investigations have to come out before people realize that this particular kind of corruption is systemic and indeed built into the workings of today's broken House of Representatives. 90% of Rep. Jerry Lewis' campaign spending in the last quarter has been for his legal defense team. He knows what's coming down the pike. So does Bob Ney, who has so many legal bills he's six months behind on the payments. The Feds are questioning Katherine Harris' advisers over her involvement with Mitchell Wade, a defense contractor who was at the center of the Duke Cunningham scandal.

The buzzards are circling and they're all over the place. And though there is systemic corruption at the top designed and implemented by Republicans, there's a softer kind of ethical free-fire zone that affects both parties. There are apparently special off-the-books Congressional caucuses that use trips and perks to schmooze representatives without public scrutiny. Like 500 of them. Reform Democrats outside of Washington need to not only run on cleaning up the system, highlighting these abuses of power, but they need to be mindful of how they conduct themselves once they get to Congress. I do believe in personal responsibility when it comes to our lawmakers. They have a sworn duty not to let lobbyist largesse get in between their role as a representative for their constituents.

The whole system must change, most importantly through public financing of elections, which would remove a major lever for big lobbying money to get what they want. Making elections less dependent on money would leave only personal aggrandizement as a reason for getting in bed with lobbyists. That's a big temptation, but it's also something we can root out.


King George Strikes Again

The President, the ultimate delegator, the guy who hires good people and lets them do good work, personally stepped in to shut down a Justice Department investigation of the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program:

SPECTER: Now when you had the first line of review, Mr. Attorney General, by OPR, why wasn’t OPR given clearance as so many other lawyers in the Department of Justice were given clearance?

GONZALES: Mr. Chairman, you and I had lunch several weeks ago, and we had a discussion about this. And during this lunch, I did inform you that the terrorist surveillance program is a highly-classified program. It’s a very important program for the national security of this country –

SPECTER: Highly-classified, very important, many other lawyers in the Justice Department had clearance. Why not OPR?

GONZALES: And the President of the United States ultimately makes decisions about who ultimately is given access –

SPECTER: Did the President make the decision not to clear OPR?

GONZALES: As with all decisions that are non-operational in terms of who has access to the program, the President of the United States makes the decision because this is such an important program –

SPECTER: I want to move on to another subject. The President makes the decision and that’s that.

Step back for a minute and understand this. The President of the United States stepped into an investigation that was going through established channels in the Department of Justice, and interfered with it, forcing it to shut down. This is Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre all over again. This is obstruction of justice, very specifically so.

In the theory of the unitary executive, the President runs the Justice Department and therefore has the power to manage that agency. Of course Nixon's impeachment included one count of "Interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States." This is an extreme example of a President acting above the law.

I am anxiously awaiting Arlen Specter's next strongly worded letter on the subject. I'll bet it'll include the strongest wording yet.

UPDATE: Atrios relates this to the calls from the right for an independent Justice Department in the 90s under Janet Reno (which were usually granted, as they should be, since the investigative arm of the government needs the power to investigate itself, under legal statutes, of course). Now we have a Justice Department completely under the thumb of the President.


Video of the Day

I've noticed a bit of a music video war between some of the bigger bloggers out there (Atrios, Sadly No, The Poor Man). Whoever locates the most steaming pile of crap is victorious.

Bet they can't beat the new Hasslehoff.


Monday, July 17, 2006

The Era of Low Expectations

Remember when the Space Shuttle would go up and come down - and it WASN'T news? Twenty years ago, you could go up to someone on the street and ask them if the Space Shuttle was in orbit, and the answer would be, "Um, I don't know, probably?" Now, every time we launch it's another Apollo 13, a major event complete with a few days of tension and the potential for emergency. I half-expect to flip on CNN while they langour over the successes of other 80s-era technologies... "OK, here in the break room, Anderson Cooper is going to microwave a burrito... we hope to God this works."

The point is that, not just with the Space Shuttle but in all respects, America has become the 5 year-old perpetually showing their crayon drawing to their teacher.

"I made a doggie!"

We demand praise and credit for that which should be human nature. We turn the averting of catastrophe into great victory. We cannot bother to ask anything more out of our citizens than the bare minimum in taxes and maybe a "support the troops" ribbon.

This is the decade of low expectations. And we're taking our cues from the head of state.


In a way, George Bush wrote the book on low expectations. In a classic case of projection, he decried this practice throughout the 2000 election as a call to reform our education system:

Some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards. I say it is discrimination to require anything less – the soft bigotry of low expectations. Some say that schools can’t be expected to teach, because there are too many broken families, too many immigrants, too much diversity. I say that pigment and poverty need not determine performance. That myth is disproved by good schools every day. Excuse-making must end before learning can begin.

This is the familiar strawman argument we've seen out of Bush for 6 years ("Some people say puppies are coming to Earth to kill us and steal our children. To them I say, the TAX CUTS ARE WORKING"). But with the benefit of hindsight, we know that he was also talking about the standards to which he would hold himself, his Administration, and the citizens he serves.

We knew it after 9/11, when the response to a terrorist act, when the nation and the world were literally ready to do anything to help out, was to resume shopping. How dare you not expect more out of this great wellspring of talent and determination we have in America.

We knew it when the Vice President announced that energy conservation was "a personal virtue," essentially waving a white flag of surrender to the current cycle of funding both sides of the war on terror, one with taxes and the other with gasoline. We can't expect innovation from America, the ability to become energy independent or even to make a couple less trips to the Kwik-E-Mart every day.

We knew it when we were asked to cheer that the budget deficit was down to an infinitesimal $300 billion dollars, because it wasn't $450 billion. Never mind the fact that it was a surplus before this crew got into power, or that we've raised the national debt ceiling to nine trillion, a $30,000 birth tax on every man, woman and child in the country.

We knew it when we were told to turn in all our civil liberties, but be happy and secure in the knowledge that we were still alive, and that there are no civil liberties when you're dead. We must be satisfied with either liberty or security, not both.

We knew it when we see the actions of the White House, who consider it a boost when nobody in their office gets indicted.

We knew it when we turned on the news and we saw all-out civil war in Iraq described as "potentially a good thing."

We knew it when we were told the good news that the country is committed to not torturing prisoners anymore, as if that should make up for the humiliations and predations suffered daily at Guantanamo and in prisons we don't even know about worldwide. That a President has to get on television and say "we do not torture," that pundits have to justify it by saying "at least we're better than Saddam," makes plain that these people have nothing but low expectations for us and our country.

We know it in a thousand tiny things that we see every day. We don't assume that we have a monopoly on scientific advancement and technological achievement. We don't believe that we can pull off the big idea anymore. We don't demand anything of our citizenry except that some of them vote and the rest of them hit the mall to serve as engines propping up the global economy. We don't expect any domestic problem to be solved at the hands of government. And we don't expect any world problem to be solved without the use of bunker buster bombs and heavy artillery.

We have the lowest expectations from government, for civic duty, for our national character, than at any time in the history of the Republic.

At least some of us do.

The liberal blogosphere is a perfect example of the untapped potential of the American spirit. The settling for low expectations out of our population is nothing but a deliberate failure of imagination. When we despair, when we give up, when we start to believe the learned helplessness that the more nefarious elements in society try to ingraine into us, that is when Republicans win. As practiced today Republicanism makes a mockery of self-reliance. They want you to believe that nothing is possible. They want you to believe that war is the only answer to foreign policy, that private enterprise is the only answer to health care and education and Social Security, that tax cuts are the only answer to fiscal policy.

They want you to know that you can't change the world.

But you can.

We not only should want to act, but we ought to be obligated to act in defense of our cherished values and principles. Democracy is as fragile as it is glorious. Whenever we take our eyes off of democracy, it can metastasize, dissolve, vanish. We cannot be silent in such times. The country DEMANDS that we set a higher bar for ourselves, that we do whatever it takes to make sure our national character remains sacrosanct.

We cannot live with these low expectations. Not one day longer. We cannot live in a country where it's OK that 43 million of our citizens are without health insurance, where it's OK that 18% of all children under the age of 18 live in poverty, where a man making the minimum wage couldn't afford to rent a studio apartment in most major cities. That can't be OK with us.

We cannot live in a country where we continue to burn more and more fossil fuels every year, with CAFE standards below that of China. We cannot stand idly by as our leaders bicker about accepted science, especially when application of that science could save milions of lives. We cannot allow there to be a choice between environmental health and economic growth. They don't have to be mutually exclusive.

We cannot live in a country which believes diplomacy is empty and meaningless.

We cannot live in a country, to take this full circle, that sets expectations for students and doesn't live up to funding them.

And on and on and on.

We must demand more of ourselves if we want to live up to our ideals. We cannot be content with "you can't help everyone" and "my only worry is me." And it starts with each and every one of us. Get out there and do more than you think you're able to accomplish. Democracy requires participation. Without it we become too soft and too unable to respond to democracy's threats.

If you're reading this, you are likely to already know most of what I'm saying. But complacency is a hard habit to break. Let's not buy into these low expectations that those who want nothing but power have for us. We're stronger than them. We're smarter than them. And we shouldn't wait for those we consider our allies to do it for us, either. After all, it's OUR democracy.



What's going on directly to our south deserves some attention:

Backed by hundreds of thousands of followers, the leftist who lost Mexico's presidential vote vowed on Sunday to launch a civil resistance campaign to protest at fraud and force a recount.

Huge crowds chanting "You are not alone," cheered Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, runner-up in the July 2 election by a fraction, on a march through the capital to the Zocalo square.

The size of the protest, bigger than a similar demonstration last week, gave Lopez Obrador a lift in his attempt to persuade an election court to declare him winner.

"We are going to start peaceful civil resistance to defend democracy," Lopez Obrador told supporters, some of whom walked, travelled on battered old buses or even rode on horseback to the capital from around the country [...]

Lopez Obrador did not say what kind of civil resistance he envisaged. But as a local politician in the state of Tabasco in the 1990s he blocked oil wells and encouraged tens of thousands of people not to pay energy bills to protest at alleged vote fraud and environmental damage by the Pemex oil company.

Despite Lopez Obrador's ability to put supporters on the streets, an opinion poll on Saturday showed most Mexicans do not agree with his call for a vote-for-vote recount. A recount of tally sheets has already confirmed Calderon as the winner.

This is a fairly partisan article, and it gets some facts wrong. There was not a recount of tally sheets, but a count. Everything so far has been standard electoral procedure in Mexico. Nobody has authorized a recount.

Mexico's electoral tribunal is so far very well respected, so perhaps their decision will be honored by the losing party. But AMLO is ratcheting up the rhetoric (and perhaps with good reason, if you think about Mexico's recent electoral past, and if you read Greg Palast's dispatch about the present). His civil resistance campaigns have met with success before, and certainly he's building this up as the type of revolution we've seen in Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

The consequences of this affect every American, so it'd be good to hear a little more about this in the media. There are plenty of reports from Mexican bloggers (if you speak Spanish). I'll continue to keep a close eye on this.


2 Leaders

Wish it were three:

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called today for an international “stabilization force’’ to quell the fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah militia, while President Bush pungently suggested that Mr. Annan should pay more attention to reining in Hezbollah.

Mr. Blair and Mr. Annan called for a deployment that would be far larger than the 2,000-member United Nations observer force currently stationed in southern Lebanon. Without such a force, “then I think it’s very difficult to see how we restore calm,’’ Mr. Blair said, according to Agence-France Presse.

American and Israeli officials gave a tepid response to the idea, with Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, telling the Knesset that a ceasefire could only come after Hezbollah returns two captured soldiers and that Lebanese, not international soldiers should be deployed along the border, The Associated Press reported.

Here's the deal. The Israelis are playing a very dangerous game, and it'll take a coordinated international effort to talk them off the ledge. Apparently Egypt had to step in and convince Israel to stop a planned ground attack of Beirut.

Lebanon has needed help in ridding themselves of foreign involvement for decades. Last year, under international pressure, Syria withdrew. Hezbollah is a proxy force for those foreign entities, and Lebanon still needs that help. They don't need to be shelled. And world leaders understand that if they don't act to stop the violence, it's not going to end at the Syrian border. These are the type of things that start world wars. Far from celebrating that, and using it as a campaign platform, it behooves the world, in a nuclear age, to do whatever they can to halt that progress.

The Arab-Israeli conflict also doesn't happen in a vaccuum. If you care at all about the 135,000 American troops in Iraq, you know that you'll need to get very involved in this mess, lest al-Sadr's militia be unleashed on those forces. The groups we support in Iraq have natural ties to Hezbollah. Of course, up is becoming down so much in Iraq that now the SUNNIS want us to stay:

As sectarian violence soars, many Sunni Arab political and religious leaders once staunchly opposed to the American presence here are now saying they need American troops to protect them from the rampages of Shiite militias and Shiite-run government forces.

The pleas from the Sunni Arab leaders have been growing in intensity since an eruption of sectarian bloodletting in February, but they have reached a new pitch in recent days as Shiite militiamen have brazenly shot dead groups of Sunni civilians in broad daylight in Baghdad and other mixed areas of central Iraq.

The Sunnis also view the Americans as a “bulwark against Iranian actions here,” a senior American diplomat said. Sunni politicians have made their viewpoints known to the Americans through informal discussions in recent weeks.

The Sunni Arab leaders say they have no newfound love for the Americans. Many say they still sympathize with the insurgency and despise the Bush administration and the fact that the invasion has helped strengthen the power of neighboring Iran, which backs the ruling Shiite parties.

We're now being directly asked to step in the middle of a civil war. That's suicide, and it'll make for some really chaotic times when we have to confront the monster we've created in the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

This neocon fantasy of peace through strength is really crumbling before our eyes, and this absolute disengagement on the part of the American President - save for some cowboy pontificating from his armchair - is unconscionable. As this incoherent foreign policy stumbles along, steering a rudderless ship, the world continues to plunge into chaos. Blair and Annan can only go so far, and the US can protect their interests by engaging and helping Lebanon and Israel expel or at least disarm Hezbollah. But this of course will be tricky, as they're part of the Lebanese government, and the country has a history of civil strife.

Nothing is easy. But doing nothing is worse.

Meanwhile there are reports that we're charging US citizens AN EVACUATION FEE to get out of Lebanon.

Thought I'd cheer you up with that.

P.S. Hilzoy's post is still the best backgrounder I've read about the current situation in Lebanon.


The President Owes Me $325,000

I could give a fuck about cursing. The previous sentence is proof. But the President obviously thinks it's such a threat to the nation and our children that he signed punitive new laws that increased fines for obscenities by tenfold, and put the burden of payment on the individual broadcaster. He's even got the FCC checking old tapes from live programs to scour for curse words.

So I'm sure he'll have no problem coughing up six figures' worth of cash the same way he coughed up the word "shit" to describe the Middle East:

It wasn't meant to be overheard. Private luncheon conversations among world leaders, picked up by a microphone, provided a rare window into both banter and substance — including President Bush cursing Hezbollah's attacks against Israel.

Bush expressed his frustration with the United Nations and his disgust with the militant Islamic group and its backers in Syria as he talked to British Prime Minister Tony Blair during the closing lunch at the Group of Eight summit.

"See the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s--- and it's over," Bush told Blair as he chewed on a buttered roll.

He told Blair he felt like telling U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who visited the gathered leaders, to get on the phone with Syrian President Bashar Assad to "make something happen." He suggested Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might visit the region soon.

The unscripted comments came during a photo opportunity at the lunch. The leaders clearly did not realize that a live microphone was picking up their discussion.

But that doesn't matter. According to new FCC rules, signed by the President into law, anyone caught uttering an expressly banned word is responsible for paying $325,000 to the government for every broadcast station on which that obscenity aired. They even DIRECTLY addressed accidental uses of expletives, and ruled that fuck and shit are indecent whenever they go out over the airwaves, no matter what. Even if it was an accident.

I'm calling the FCC today. We cannot have this kind of obscenity infecting the ears of our nation's youth. You make the rules, you play by them.

Here's the FCC web form. Do it for the kids.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Dear Mr. President,

I hope you had a good time at the G-8 Summit. You were clearly in your element: sitting with a bunch of other powerful rich people who were slightly intimidated by you. I hear you even had an excellent pig roast. Good on you.

Here's the thing: kids are dying. Hezbollah crossed the border in a warlike act of provocation. I've heard you say something about that. But now Israel is hauling off without strategic significance, hitting civilian targets in a sovereign nation. They're building a storyline about Syrian and Iranian involvement, one which your surrogates have sustained.

They've also said that you're "deeply engaged" in the crisis. But then I heard that
you haven't even spoken with the Israeli Prime Minister. Not to offer support, not to preach restraint, not to counsel, not to protect American interests.

I have one little question.

Where in the fuck are you?

For decades American involvement has been crucial in relieving tensions in the Middle East and moving towards peace. When we engage, things are diffuse. When we disengage it's a tinderbox. Such is the magnitude of our power, and you may not like it, but that's the world in which we live.

We have a strategic reason to get very involved in this crisis. 135,000 American troops aren't that far away, and this conflict absolutely makes then less safe. There are 25,000 Americans in Lebanon that we're just now starting to mobilize for evacuation, five days into the fighting.

That we need to evacuate Americans at all proves that civilians are in danger. Yet we haven't sent an envoy to the region. The Secretary of State is busy attending a production of "Spamalot" in St. Petersburg, I guess, instead of getting her ass into the area and practicing some diplomacy. You know, her job.

I've heard the Secretary of State call for restraint in the same kind of way Willy Wonka would say "No, please, stop" before the kids at his factory met their fate. I don't know if you get that reference. They remade the movie last year. There isn't any talk about climate change in it, so you're free to go.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the world is desperate for leadership. You're obviously hoping that Israel might take care of the Middle East's problems for you, but that's extremely unlikely. The Arab-Israeli conflict, now and forever, creates more tension, recruits more terrorists, and represents the greatest threat to global peace the world over. You've talked about this "road map" to peace as if it's still an option; it's been dead for years. By hoping and wishing that Israel and Palestine will sort out their differences on their own while you clear brush, you've let the rejectionists in the region control the process. Whenever a flicker of peace is raised, they attack, like this past week in Gaza and northern Israel. These elements don't want peace and you're doing nothing to put pressure on those that would stop them.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is difficult, rooted in religious ideologies that range back thousands of years. You see the world in black and white. You maybe don't welcome things that are difficult. But to disengage because the situation refuses to wrap itself up in a pretty little package is criminally negligent.

Your actions thus far in the Middle East have been crippling. Attacking Iraq did not make Israel safer. There was no Arab Spring. Democracy hasn't flourished. Maybe you don't have a chance to redeem yourself by stepping into this conflict and working to stop the violence. Maybe you don't want that at all. Maybe you want Israel to act as a proxy against bigger foes like Syria and Iran so you don't have to worry about them either. But we all know that's not likely to turn out well. You can't just deny reality, stick your head in the sand and stumble along without concern for the dangerous outcomes likely to burgeon.

Or maybe you can. It's worked for you thus far.

I'm not asking, I'm telling with this. GET YOUR ASS TO ISRAEL. Get involved. Make something happen. As a citizen of the world, I demand you to do so. The world is looking for leaders. Their absence these last few years have led us where we are today. Will you lead?

Or will you have some more pig?

[UPDATE] I notice Josh Marshall has pretty much said the same thing as I, without using the word "fuck," no mean feat.


Neocons PUMMELED on Sun. morning shows

I should wait for the transcripts, but in instance after instance, the neocons were outed as morally bankrupt and criminally incompentent on today's Sunday morning jabber shows. I laughed out loud three or four times.

Meet the Press featured Joe Biden and Newt Gingrich. Biden's mouth can get ahead of his brain, and domestically he's in thrall to corporate masters. But he's been very smart and very direct on foreign policy, at least for the last few months. He's finally gotten it into his head that these clowns in the White House have no idea what they're doing. He was on point today, while Gingrich was his warmongering self.

He criticized US neglect of the Arab-Israeli conflict, he condemned how we've emboldened Iran (actually using the term Shiite Crescent!), he didn't wait ten seconds like General Schoomaker to answer the question "Are we winning in Iraq," plainly saying "No." He quoted Jack Kennedy by saying "You never negotiate out of fear, but you never fear to negotiate." And the coup de grace was this line, which I'll have to paraphrase. Biden was talking about how to deal with North Korea, where he called for bilateral talks rather than the six-party nonsense that hasn't worked.

I would sit down with them and say "Here's the deal, Jack." And I think we could get them to get verified inspections, a halt to nuclear activity, all for a promise that we would not take them down militarily. Now, of course, to a neocon (pointing to Gingrich), that would be like me as a Catholic denying the Holy Trinity.

Howls of derisive laughter. Howls.

It is important to cement in the minds of the populace that the neocons ALWAYS want war as a means to solve problems. There is no negotiation through anything but the barrel of a gun. This tradition has been with us for centuries. We now know that in the nuclear age this is a prescription for mass death. We also know through history that this neocon fantasy that projecting power in a vaccuum without any understanding of culture, sociology or the interconnectedness of foreign policy is disaster, pure and simple.

Newt, for his part, acknowledged that this government has no operation competence. It aligned with Eleanor Clift's statement on The McLaughlin Group that the difference between Vladimir Putin and George Bush is that "Putin is a competent dictator, Bush is an incompetent one."

Satisfied by this takedown, I strolled over to This Week, where apparently Madeleine Albright had taken Condi Rice to task, basically for not doing her job. I don't know whether or not there was a production of "Spamalot" going on in St. Petersburg that she had to attend, but the fact that there is a shooting war in an area of incredible strategic significance to our country, and the Secretary of State has not made a diplomatic visit to the region, and the President hasn't even called the Prime Minister of his chief ally, shows the wayward drift into irrelevance we've encountered as a consequence of this vomitous foreign policy. The lack of leadership is appalling.

In the roundtable segment, George Will called "neoconservatives... the most astoundingly misnamed group in history." Now, Will has a long history of combating with the neocons. He obviously thinks they've damaged his wondrous conservative brand. I will update with the exact quote when I find a transcript, but it was a really strident attack.

What we have here is neocon fantasy colliding with reality. The world is less safe, tensions are escalated, enemies are emboldened, and the policies of the last five years have failed. They must be changed.