Saturday, September 30, 2006

Just saw a great movie--The Queen, directed by Stephen Frears from ascreenplay by Peter Morgan, and starring Helen Mirren as HM Elizabeth II and Michael Sheen as Tony Blair. (Sheen's had some practice in the role, having already played Blair in The Deal, a British TV film, also directed by Frears and written by Morgan, about the schism between Blair and his rival and designated successor Gordon Brown.) The movie opens with Blair's election as Prime Minister and deals with the events following the death of Diana, when the grief-stricken British public seemed poised to turn on the royals over what was seen as their display of unfeeling coldness. It fell to Blair, with his grasp of the common touch and his political sureness, to "save these people from themselves" and salvage the image of the Queen and her family, described in the movie by Cherie Blair (Helen McCrory) as "a bunch of freeloading, emotionally retarded nutters." It's not a definition that the movie actually contradicts, but Mirren's wonderful performance gets you to feel for the human being trapped beneath the repressed, frozen-faced surface--the rather sweet, surprisingly common-sensical woman who was raised to be a freak, and who doesn't understand that the world has changed in a way that makes her display of what she thinks of as the proper standards makes her seem like an ogre. And besides that, whatever you think of the monarchy or Diana, the movie itself is, despite its subject matter, ,just funny as hell.

As a political movie, The Queen also has a special poignance right this minute, because of the political implosion of the actual Tony Blair. In the concluding scenes, the Queen tells Blair, who's surprised himself as much as anyone by emerging as her champion and defender, that she knows why it pained him so to see the public viciously turn on her; it's because, she says, as a fellow leader, he was afraid that it might someday happen to him--"And it will." The moviemakers couldn't have known when they were filming that their picture would open in America just days after Blair delivered his farewell address, but they did know that the prophecy they'd given the Queen to speak had already come true. Listening to Blair's last address to the Labour party's annual conference as party leader, it was hard not to remember those half-enthralling, half-embarrassing joint news conferences on Iraq where Bush would grumble and mumble and do his man-of-no-words act, and then Blair would take over, as if he were translating for Koko the Talking Gorilla, and spin Bush's monosyllabic nonsense into verbal gold. You didn't have to find his arguments for the war convincing to feel a tinge of jealousy towards the people who had a leader who could at least make an argument, and was willing to act as if he wanted to try to convince you, not just declare himself the Decider and call you a traitor if you didn't like it. Iraq wasn't Blair's mess, yet he worked harder at actually justifying it than all the people who were really responsible for it put together.

In The Queen, Cherie Blair, the ardent anti-royalist, looks at her husband mooning after Her Majesty and laments that all Labour PMs "go gaga" over the royals eventually. Maybe, but Blair also has a pattern of enhancing his own power by attaching himself to the biggest dog in the yard and making himself seem indispensible. Early in his time as Prime Minister he was able to do it with Elizabeth, he quickly did it at the international level with Bill Clinton, and after Clinton was gone, he surprised everyone with a capacity for being surprised by doing it with Bush. I don't know if it was inevitable that this habit would ultimately bring him to grief, but it did, and it happened when he chose to buddy up to someone with whom he could scarcely have had less in common as a person or as a leader--someone who practically makes Elizabeth look like his long-lost twin by comparison. The events depicted in The Queen were the making of Blair, but watching the movie, you may feel that you're watching the man rehearse the moves that would ultimately lead to his downfall.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has really been doing a terrific job of scoping out the dimensions of the Mark Foley story, which, it's now clear, really stinks from the head down. Foley, described as a "Lawmaker and Champion of Children" in a headline in this morning's New York Times that might have been written by W. C. Fields, made his name attacking sexually predatory behavior on-line and, as Marshall notes, may now have the honor of being charged under laws that he himself wrote. Even for a Republican--even for a Florida Republican--that's serious hypocrisy. But what makes the story really disgusting is that the Republican leadership apparently knew all about his little problem and tried to deal with it by keeping it a secret and telling pages to just stay the hell away from him, making them the political equivalent of those Catholic leaders who responded to news that they had a pedophile priest on their hands by transferring him to a new diocese, where he was invariably put in charge of the basketball team. When Louisiana Representative Rodney Alexander learned from a sixteen-year-old page he was sponsoring that Foley had been spamming him with electronic mash notes, Alexander reported the situation, not to the cops, but to the National Republican Congressional Committee, a demonstration of cynical, screwed-up priorities that seems to have set the tone for the party's decision that this was not a moral or legal issue but a potential public relations problem that just had to be finessed. Then, when Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi demanded that the matter be turned over the the ethics committee for investigation, Dennis Hastert and his army of the undead actually had the gall to make the usual noises about political bias and the injustice of it all, even though the story broke just as Congress was getting the hell out of Dodge and they did have the option of returning to their families while still clinging to a hangnail's worth of dignity by skulking out the servant's exit amid a clamor of "No comment"s. And not to bang away too hard at the bleedin' obvious, but these are after all the exact same people who not only though that it was a legal matter that Bill Clinton had fibbed about getting his knob polished, but who did their best to heighten the outrage factor over that affair by trying to sell the idea that consensual sex with a twenty-two-year-old woman was practically a form of child molestation. Whatever should or shouldn't happen to Foley, it just keeps getting clearer every day that Dennis Hastert needs to be sealed in a drum labeled "TOXIC WASTE" and buried somewhere along the Jersey shoreline.

We desperately need some escapist entertainment right now...and what could be more entertaining than a pissing match among the wingnuts? Dean Esmay, in a bizarrely inarticulate and melodramatic post, has called Michelle Malkin and the Late German Fascists Little Green Football crowd on their anti-Muslim racism. Malkin responded dismissively, making Esmay's point for him by calling him 'Dhimmi Esmay'. Esmay replied, citing examples; alas, Malkin appears to be too busy freaking out about her photoshopped bikini pic to keep up the fight. Fortunately, the LGF crowd is also on the attack...and you can imagine the tone of that comment thread. Hilarity ensues.

It's like junk food: it may not be good for you, but sometimes it just feels so good...

Friday, September 29, 2006

Congress's caving in to the President on the rules about torture and "detainees" probably isn't the gravest cause for despair about the state of our nation that anyone could point to in the last couple hundred years. We did used to have slavery, after all. And we used to deny the right to vote to women. Heck, there was even a time when gay people couldn't get married. (Okay, scratch that last one for now.) But most of the worst things you could point to, from working conditions at the time of the Triangle Shirt Company Fire to the Tuskegee experiments, are now seen to represent ideas that we now reject as primitive in their cruelty and stupidity. We grew out of that, the collective narrative tells us. What we're seeing now is a willed leap backwards into barbarism, which is embraced because our leaders don't care, not just about "civil liberties", but about basic humanity, and because they think that a show of not caring about it will impress an electorate that they believe is so frightened that they don't think we can any longer afford it.

In school, you're taught--or you used to be taught, even at the sorry backwards-ass hillbilly reform school I attended--that things like "freedom of speech" matter the most when it seems hardest to feel any sympathy for the speech or the speaker, because it's easy to support the rights to express views you don't agree with. This is a fine sentiment that, I suspect, most people know deep down is often mouthed by people who don't actually believe it; if most people believed it, reactionary politicians wouldn't be able to speak the words "American Civil Liberities Union" in a tone usually reserved for such phrases as "child-molesting Manson family supporter", secure in the knowledge that the crowd they're addressing will cheer them and hoot at some imaginary liberal burning a flag somewhere on the podium. Not that this isn't bad enough. It's a little more discouraging to know that there aren't enough people in the country who don't think that other human beings should be treated worse than most civilized people would treat a dog that their existence puts the fear of God into their elected leaders. Even if they think that every Muslim in the world ought to be waterboarded this minute just to be on the safe side, to make sure they aren't planning something, you'd think there would still be a majority who would bridle at the thought that the Geneva Conventions are "quaint"and outdated, just because they don't want an opening left for someone overseas to play tit for tat with their own sons. But of course, most Americans don't have any personal stake in this war of wars, aside from their concern that if we let one stray Muslim get off too easy, he might be the one who blows them up. That's the advantage of creating a state of terror around a potentially apocalyptic threat without asking most of the public to sacrifice anything. And when I say anything, I mean anything. People applaud Bush for his toughness and tell us that we have to be tough enough to be embrace inhumanity--we have to be prepared to be that strong, because of the terrible danger we're in. The these same people whine like stuck pigs when gas prices start rising.

For half a dozen years now, I've been having people of every political persuasion insist to me that you can't just call George Bush stupid, he may look stupid and talk stupid and act stupid but that's the way his base likes it, and the thing you have to remember is that even though he might not be "smart" in any traditional sense of the term, you don't get to be where he is without being--well, something better than stupid. I've almost never had any idea of what the hell they were talking about. George Bush's resume is well enough known that there's no business repeating it here, but suffice to say that if he hadn't been born both rich and named "George Bush", not only would he certainly not be President, but he would probably be in prison on some drug charge. I ought to be able to make that assertion without scandalizing anybody, since it's been reported by more than one concerned onlooker that George Bush claims to believe the same thing. (The only difference is that, between George and myself, only one of us jumped to the conclusion that the fact that he isn't rotting in a cell proves that God must have been watching over him because He always had important plans for him.) Still, I'll cut the dude this much credit: in his handling of this matter, he has comported himself with the kind of true political cunning that one only sees when someone who is both heartless and has a diseased mind has had a lot of practice at playing rubes for cheers and decides to go for broke. By emphasizing his tender concern for the prospective torturers--those poor, "young intelligence officers", imaginary nice clean-cut family men so different from the white trash scum one saw in those photos taken at Abu Ghraid that looked like outtakes from an X-rated Reno 911!--and urging Congress to make it "clear" what they were able to do and not to do, in an area where common shared standards of human decency used to provide all the clarity anyone should need, he gave Mr. and Mrs. America visions of Opie joining the special services and finding himself threatened with dishonorable discharge and jail time because he stepped on Darth Vader's toe. Or at least he gave people the option of pretending that's what they were imagining, which is probably good enough. Mr and Mrs. America may not want to come right out and admit to what they're perfectly willing to have done in the name of their security so long as it doesn't cost them anything they'll ever know about, but in truth, they switched over from Opie to Jack Bauer a long time ago.

There are two basic kinds of people who love America. One kind, a group that probably includes a disproportionate number of those immigrants who so many of the President's supporters wish we could keep the hell out of their country, know something about the principles enshrined in the Constitution and what we've even sometimes been known to fight for, and they agree with Winston Churchill's dictum that elective democracy is the worst kind of government, except for all the other ones; many of them know it from bitter experience. They think America is the greatest country in the world because it's supposed to mean something, something that they value. The other kind, which is in ascendency, thinks that America is the greatest country in the world because it's the one they were born in and the one where they live; if that had been different, they'd feel the exact same way about Tasmania. And because this is the greatest country in the world, since it's the one where they are and so, by default, the one they least want blown up, all they ask of their leaders is that they can fuel up the SUV and sleep easy at night, and if that means a bunch of people they don't know have to be treated like excrement, what's the cost to them? The Constitution is an old piece of paper, the Geneva Conventions are yesterday's news, the rights of the accused are something that gets mass murderers freed on NYPD Blue. If George Bush declared himself dictator for life, the next morning they'd chuckle along with the morning radio deejays making "jokes" about how the great thing about this new dictatorship system is that now we won't have to watch those darn political commercials on TV every four years. President Bush says that our enemies hate freedom and are out to destroy what's most important about America. This is what psychiatrists call "projection."

[cross-posted at The Phil Nugent Experience]

Shorter Robert Kaplan:

Yeah, I know we got it all wrong in Iraq, but Iran-Iran-Hitler-Israel-Iran-nuclear- military-Israel-Hitler-wipe-off-map-appeasement-Hitler-Iran-military-force-Israel-Iran- Hitler-appeasement-Iran, etc.


If I didn't keep reading this stuff with my own eyes, I'd swear it was a figment of someone's imagination. Then again, anyone thinking the U.S. is going to wage war on Iran while America's troops, not to mention it's reputation and legitimacy, is biting the dust in Iraq, probably is suffering from a fevered imagination.

Of course, it would be foolish not to take White House leaks and threats against Iran seriously. Although U.S. troops are in Iraq, we still have planes that can probably drop a bomb or two. But that's about it.

But what really dumbfounds me is the continued hankering for war by those apparently not satisfied or dissuaded by our Iraq misadventure. What sort of war do these writers think the U.S. can initiate, much less succeed at, in Iran or anywhere else now?

At the same time, it must be recognized that the Iraq war is a failure for the administration's partisans and other neo-con converts not because lives are being lost, IED's are still going off, or that Iraq is in chaos. The Iraq war is a failure because after the first three weeks of shock and awe, combined with the statute toppling in Baghdad square, this war has been remarkably devoid of mass destruction and glorious heroics, which the writers and think-tank hangers on need to experience, albeit vicariously, the rush of militarism.

We are governed and reported to by fools.

(thanks to Kevin Drum for the link).

(Click the picture to order your very own magnet.)

we just picked up a House seat because the incumbent, the chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, got caught sniffing after a sixteen year old.
You Go to Elections With the Party You Have, Not the Party You Wish You Had

Yes, I'm disappointed. Yes, I'm angry. We're all disappointed, and we're all angry.

But for those who are ready to ditch the Democrats altogether because they failed to defeat the detainee bill--because twelve of them voted with the Republicans--I think Maha and Glenn Greenwald have wise counsel.

Here's Maha:
I see a Dem takeover of Congress this November as a stopgap measure. Even if Dems take both houses of Congress we face enormous challenges to pull the nation back from the brink and restore our pathological political culture to something approaching health. But if the Republicans keep control of both houses of Congress, the task of saving our nation may become impossible.

Time is short. We cannot afford to sit on our hands and wait for the Messiah Candidate to come and save us. We’ve got to work with the tools we have. Once we’ve pulled back from the brink of disaster we can take steps to get better tools.
And Greenwald:
But a desire to see the Democrats take over Congress -- even a strong desire for that outcome and willingness to work for it -- does not have to be, and at least for me is not, driven by a belief that Washington Democrats are commendable or praiseworthy and deserve to be put into power. Instead, a Democratic victory is an instrument -- an indispensable weapon -- in battling the growing excesses and profound abuses and indescribably destructive behavior of the Bush administration and their increasingly authoritarian followers....

For all their imperfections, cowardly acts, strategically stupid decisions, and inexcusable acquiescence -- and that list is depressingly long -- it is still the case that Democrats voted overwhelmingly against this torture and detention atrocity....

Continued unchallenged Republican control of our government for two more years will wreak untold damage on our country, perhaps debilitating it past the point of no return. There is only one viable, realistic alternative to that scenario: a Democratic takeover in six weeks of one or both houses of Congress. Even that would be far from a magic bullet; the limits imposed by Democrats even when they are in the majority would be incremental and painfully modest. But the reality is that this is the only way available for there to be any limits and checks at all.
This vote makes a Democratic victory in November more, not less, important. Go ahead and vent your anger at the people who have earned it--but when it matters, hold your nose (if you need to) and vote for the party that voted against torture.

[Cross-posted at If I Ran the Zoo]
You know Joe Sixpack? The guy we chase around politically because the Republicans own his heart?

You've probably already heard that Rep. Mark Foley (one of whose political specialties appears to be issues related to sex offenders) has been sending not-terribly-appropriate e-mails to a 16-year-old page who didn't actually work for him from his private e-mail address.

ABC has the story on their website, and it's gotten a great deal of rapid-fire concern trolling fervent commentary by casual heartland passersby indignant about the clear anti-Republican bias of ABC in general and the story in particular since it was posted.

I was particularly interested in this salt-of-the-earth fellow's inarticulate yet powerful indignation
First of all Mr. Lee, Clinton wasn't impeached because of an affair, he was impeached because he lied to a grand jury and cohersed others to lie.. but keep living in your little parallel world.. all the better for the Right when the left doesn't even understand the simplist issues.

This campaign season really shows 1. how desparate the democrats are & 2. how little of substance they actually have to run on.

I haven't heard yet a new idea from a democrat on what they would do, it is either these bogus accusations or what they wouldn't do..

Posted by: Matthew | Sep 28, 2006 6:29:19 PM

Um, I thought. He uses the word coerced, doesn't know how to spell it and took a guess that it was spelled completely differently than it's pronounced? Doesn't know how many of the little dot things go in an ellipse? Can't spell simplest but uses the phrase "how little of substance"? Talks about campaign season?

Well, Matthew, unlike his fellow concerned citizens, linked to a working e-mail address.

The e-mail address of this rootsy fellow over at the Free Republic
Matthew N., holding an MBA and a Bachelors degree in Economics from Trinity University, finds passion in his career in the development of instructional programs for a Fortune 500 company.

In addition to Instructional Design, Mr. Nehrling specializes in web technology design and development, marketing, and graphic design. Mr. Nehrling is on the board of directors of the MBA Association and is politically active as member of the Republican National Committee.

A freelance writer and avid gourmet cook and wine aficionado, Mr. Nehrling finds balance outside of work exploring various cultural activities.

Mr. Nehrling lives in Longview, TX with his wife, Christina who is a professional classical singer and music teacher.

desparate indeed.

A few days ago we looked at the wit and wisdom of Ken Mehlman, RNC Chairman, who said, in direct opposition to the empirical evidence of his boss's admisnitration, "Hope is not a strategy."

Today we learn what his idea of a strategy is. Favors, really big $16 million favors:
"One exchange of e-mails cited in the report suggests that former Abramoff lobbying team member Tony C. Rudy succeeded in getting Mehlman to press reluctant Justice Department appointees to release millions of dollars in congressionally earmarked funds for a new jail for the Mississippi Choctaw tribe, an Abramoff client. Rudy wrote Abramoff in November 2001 e-mails that Mehlman said he would 'take care of' the funding holdup at Justice after learning from Rudy that the tribe made large donations to the GOP."

So in exchange for political contributions, Mehlman made sure the Choctaw got their $16 million contract. I believe that's called a quid pro quo.
At least that makes more sense as a motive than anything else coming out of the administration.
From Hero to Zero

Bob Woodward has apparently gotten over his man-crush on President Bush.

The book is the third that Woodward, an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, has written on the Bush administration since the terrorist attacks of September, 11, 2001. The first two were attacked by critics of the Bush administration as depicting the president in a heroic light. But the new book's title, "State of Denial," conveys the different picture that Woodward paints of the Bush administration since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

And according to the NYT:

Mr. Woodward’s first two books about the Bush administration, “Bush at War” and “Plan of Attack,” portrayed a president firmly in command and a loyal, well-run team responding to a surprise attack and the retaliation that followed. As its title indicates, “State of Denial” follows a very different storyline, of an administration that seemed to have only a foggy notion that early military success in Iraq had given way to resentment of the occupiers.

When you've lost Bob Woodward, there's no where else to go but down.

The only question is, how long will it be before Imus breaks up with Bush, too.
There has been copious, noisy, and confused debate over what we're fighting against: 'terror', 'violent extremism', 'Islamic fascism', 'jihadism', 'wahhabism', 'militant Islam', or just al Qaeda. It's all been hashed out at great length and to little productive end.

Meanwhile, there has been far too little discussion of what we're fighting for.

The wingnuts try to sidestep the question by pretending (or convincing themselves) that terrorism is an existential threat to the United States--that what we're fighting for is our survival. This is how they justify doing violence to the most fundamental principles of American government: if losing means we as a nation will cease to exist, then nearly anything is justified in the name of winning. All of which is complete nonsense; anyone who's paying even a little bit of attention can tell that there is no threat to our existence.

This is not to minimize the importance of keeping Americans safe from further terrorist attacks...but while we are talking about a non-trivial number of potential casualties, we're not talking about the End of Everything. At that point we're in the realm of tradeoffs: there are less expensive ways to save more lives than what we've been doing.

But I do believe in the fight against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups (including homegrown terrorists), and I believe there is something worth fighting for.

Given the nature of the enemy, it's clear what that is: we have to fight for an open, tolerant society, rather than a dictatorship of religious bigotry; for the rule of law, rather than the arbitrary rule of an all-powerful executive; for due process, rather than brute violence and kangaroo courts; for international norms of civilized behavior, rather than the barbaric cruelty of torture and beheadings.

And if we as a nation are to fight for these values, we have to live them. The 'war' isn't just a military matter; it's a struggle for the goodwill of the world. If we lose that, we lose the fight. Any merely military victory over some terrorist organization that does not also demonstrate the superiority of our values is ultimately meaningless.

Which means in this war, refraining from torture (or illegal detention or illegal wiretapping or any other tactic inconsistent with our values) isn't tying our hands; it's an affirmative tactic, one that advances our cause.

Conversely, every time Bush and company torture a suspect, or illegally detain random people without trial, or usurp the authority of Congress and the courts, it actively undermines our ability to fight the war. For five years, they have been making America weaker.

I think the Democrats have a tremendous opportunity (an opportunity that may be slipping away) to regain the initiative on national security by making the point that any 'war on terror' has to be fought as a war for American values. If the Democrats can articulate a vision of American superiority based not on mindless tribalism ('America! Fuck yeah!') but on our principles--as Roosevelt did when fascist aggression was the threat--if they can make the argument that these principles are integral to whatever power and influence we have in the world, then they can turn the debate over torture (and illegal detention and illegal wiretapping and executive supremacy) into one in which Republicans are on the defensive.

All it takes is courage and conviction. We have seen glimpses of them in the debate over the habeas corpus amendment. What we need now, and need desperately, is a whole lot more of both.

[Cross-posted at If I Ran the Zoo]
Jesus Camp: Not "Utilizing Democracy to Its Fullest Potential"

Today's Wash Post has a review of "Jesus Camp", along with some commentary by the film's directors, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing. The documentary, if you haven't heard of it by now, follows the indoctrinization (well, what would you call it?) of evangelical children at a summer camp in the ironically named Devil's Lake, North Dakota.

While I can sort of understand the desire of Grady and Ewing to relate to their subjects, if only for the purposes of winning their confidence, the directors seemed to have partaken of the spiked cool-aid.

Although the film documents scenes in which children, many below the age of 10, with war paint and wearing camouflage, smash ceramic cups portraying their wishes if not their aims for secular government and chant "this means war", the directors breezily say:

The evangelicals are "not doing anything illegal," Grady explained recently in a phone interview. "In fact, they're embracing and utilizing democracy to its fullest potential.

No, this is not "utilizing democracy to its fullest potential". Democracy involves, among other things, the art and practice of compromise and the securing of individual liberties, neither of which are represented by the Jesus Camp administrators or the children's families.

It's particularly astounding that in this day and age, when the beliefs and practices of militant Islam have come in for severe criticism, for the implications those beliefs have on modern civilization, that the similarly war-like, anti-democratic antics of American Christians would somehow be celebrated.

Militant Christianity and militant Islam are manifestations of the same neurosis--a willingness to adopt a worldview that is, as the author Sam Harris has noted, mind-numbingly impervious to evidence and murderously intolerant of criticism.
Dionne Gets It:

Why Bill Clinton Pushed Back

Bill Clinton's eruption on "Fox News Sunday" last weekend over questions about his administration's handling of terrorism was a long time coming and has political implications that go beyond this fall's elections.

By choosing to intervene in the terror debate in a way that no one could miss, Clinton forced an argument about the past that had up to now been largely a one-sided propaganda war waged by the right. The conservative movement understands the political value of controlling the interpretation of history. Now its control is finally being contested.

How long have Clinton's resentments been simmering? We remember the period immediately after Sept. 11 as a time when partisanship melted away. That is largely true, especially because Democrats rallied behind President Bush. For months after the attacks, Democrats did not raise questions about why they had happened on Bush's watch.

But not everyone was nonpartisan. On Oct. 4, 2001, a mere three weeks and a couple of days after the twin towers fell and the Pentagon was hit, there was Rush Limbaugh arguing on the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page: "If we're serious about avoiding past mistakes and improving national security, we can't duck some serious questions about Mr. Clinton's presidency."

To this day I remain astonished at Limbaugh's gall -- and at his shrewdness. Republicans were arguing simultaneously that it was treasonous finger-pointing to question what Bush did or failed to do to prevent the attacks, but patriotic to go after Clinton. Thus did they build up a mythology that cast Bush as the tough hero in confronting the terrorist threat and Clinton as the shirker. Bad history. Smart politics.

Moreover, when Democrats, notably former House minority leader Richard Gephardt, finally put their heads up in the late spring of 2002 to ask questions about that Aug. 6, 2001, memo warning of the possibility of terrorist attacks, the Republican pushback was furious.

Vice President Cheney, addressing his Democratic "friends" in Congress, said on May 16, 2002, that "they need to be very cautious not to seek political advantage by making incendiary suggestions, as were made by some today, that the White House had advance information that would have prevented the tragic attacks of 9/11. Such commentary is thoroughly irresponsible and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war."

Boy, that was defensive, wasn't it? Funny that Cheney didn't respond that way when Limbaugh made his incendiary attack on Clinton. Opportunistic and inconsistent? Sure, but again, smart politics.

This is just a fragment of a long history of evasion and blame-shifting by the administration and its supporters. And the polemical distortions of history came roaring back earlier this month in ABC's fictionalized account of the Sept. 11 events that butchered the Clinton record.

This history-as-attack-ad approach won praise from none other than Limbaugh, who described the film's screenwriter as a friend. Limbaugh was pleased that the film was "just devastating to the Clinton administration" and attacked its critics as "just a bunch of thin-skinned bullies." Pot-and-kettle metaphors don't begin to do justice to the hilarity of Limbaugh's saying such a thing.

And so Clinton exploded. My canvassing of Clinton insiders suggests two things about his outburst on "Fox News Sunday." First, he did not go into the studio knowing he would do it. There was, they say, a spontaneity to his anger. But, second, he had thought long and hard about comparisons between his record on terrorism and Bush's. He had his lines down pat from private musing about how he had been turned into a punching bag by the right. Something like this, one adviser said, was bound to happen eventually.

Sober, moderate opinion will say what sober, moderate opinion always says about an episode of this sort: Tut tut, Clinton looked unpresidential, we should worry about the future, not the past, blah, blah, blah.

But sober, moderate opinion was largely silent as the right wing slashed and distorted Clinton's record on terrorism. It largely stood by as the Bush administration tried to intimidate its own critics into silence. As a result, the day-to-day political conversation was tilted toward a distorted view of the past. All the sins of omission and commission were piled onto Clinton while Bush was cast as the nation's angelic avenger. And as conservatives understand, our view of the past greatly influences what we do in the present.

A genuinely sober and moderate view would recognize that it's time the scales of history were righted. Propagandistic accounts need to be challenged, systematically and consistently. The debate needed a very hard shove. Clinton delivered it.

Yeah, funny thing how the press, particularly it's cable TeeVee arm, reveled in all the one-sided "bi-partisanship" after 9/11, where Democrats, understandably, gave the administration a pass as the nation recovered from the shock and loss of life stemming from the terrorist attacks. But all the while the new Republican administration, which had been caught napping by the attacks, in some cases subtly, in other cases not so subtly, began passing the blame to Clinton. And then when Clinton, again understandably refused to swallow the right-wing bait on Fox, the media's "sensible center" tut-tutted. Dionne's right. Clinton wasn't going to take Fox's, and the right-wing's shit anymore. And we shouldn't either.

But I say this in the wake of yesterday's elimination of habeas corpus vote, in which 12 Democratic Senators, 12, voted with the Republicans, giving Bush's abuse of power a "bipartisan" figleaf (and a potential veto-proof majority should the legislation have to be reconciled to a House version in a future vote).

Much as Bush pushed for the Iraq war vote leading up to the 2002 elections, Rove has four years later arranged for another pseudo-anti-terrorism vote to try to force Democrats to vote their consciences or sell themselves out to the nation's fear (also choreographed by the administration and its partisans). As Dionne says: bad history but smart politics. I'd also add that the maneuver is shitty policy, particularly to the degree Democrats are cowed into caving in.

And much like the "bankruptcy reform" bill last year, most Democrats sided with an amendment meant to mitigate the bill's worst effects, in this case an amendment to keep habeas corpus, but when the amendment was defeated, they went and voted for the measure anyway. Cowards.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Congress rolls over for Bush (again)

Human rights? What human rights? If W says you're an enemy combatant, your ass is off to Gitmo. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200, and do not expect to see the light of day again. No appeals, no recourse. And the definition of "enemy combatant" has been expanded to mean pretty much anything Bush wants it to mean. So far, this doesn't apply to US citizens, although it does apply to non-citizens living here legally.

For all the religious right's screaming about women's rights and gay rights bringing about the end of American civilization, it's one of their own who is dismantling democracy right in front of our eyes. I hope they're proud of him. I'm not.

Andrew Sullivan is Shrill

Last Throes Watch

The violence in Iraq continues to surpass even its own previous psychopathic levels. Key fact of the day:

[T]he past week saw the highest number of suicide bomb attacks of any week since the American-led invasion in 2003, according to the chief United States military spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV. "This has been a tough week," General Caldwell said. "This week’s suicide attacks were at their highest level in any given week." But such attacks, he said, are still not the No. 1 killer of Baghdad civilians. "Murders and executions are," he said.

I'm waiting for Michelle Malkin and Glenn Reynolds to dismiss this as media bias. But this is a U.S. general telling the truth. And this is where we are: the signature act of the Jihadists, suicide bombing, is at an all-time high. But this isn't the biggest problem. Iraq is now a failed state. It failed because we decided to let it fail - because the pride and arrogance of Cheney and Rumsfeld was more important than the most vital mission of our time. Their incompetence has made us all much, much less safe. And their authoritarianism has made us much, much less free. We have sacrificed our liberty for insecurity. It is a fool's bargain and a victory for al Qaeda.

And he hates America.
On an almost completely party-line vote, the majority in Congress has used their position as the majority in Congress to kill an amendment which would have removed from the torture enablement bill Our Fearless Leader's ability to round up and torture - well, pretty much anyone they want to, including United States citizens on United States soil, without judicial review or the need to show any evidence that the disappeared citizens are, in fact, anything more dangerous than political opponents of the party currently in power.

That a government of free men may not have this power, as Susie points out, is specifically one of the liberties our founding fathers were willing to die for.

As Susie also points out, all you have to do to fight for it is pick up a phone.

Please do.

And maybe ask yourself if the party which is rushing to enshrine torture and the end of legal protections which go as far back as the Magna Carta in our laws really ought to control any of the branches of the federal government.

That's a question you get to vote on directly.
Bush wants his "disappear and torture" bill, and he wants it now!

W headed over to Capitol Hill today (presumably before flying in and screwing up traffic in Birmingham) to urge Congress to pass his reinterpretation of the Geneva Conventions. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA ) introduced an amendment that would restore detainees' right to challenge their detention, but it was defeated. And that's a good thing for W -- not, as he says, because there are so many bad people out there who want to hurt us, but because it seems almost every time a detention is challenged, it turns out the detainee is either completely innocent or only tangentially connected to terrorism.

Specter said the right to challenge one's detention was fundamental in American law, and that the Supreme Court would reject the plan if the right were stripped.

"This is wrong. It is unconstitutional. It is un-American," said Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee's top Democrat. "It is designed to ensure that the Bush-Cheney administration will never again be embarrassed by a United States Supreme Court decision reviewing its unlawful abuses of power."

Our very own Jeff Sessions (R-idiot) had to chime in and show his complete disregard for those who are a bit too brown or too not-American:

Republicans said lawsuit[s] from Guantanamo inmates were clogging the courts and detracted from the war on terrorism.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said the bill should not "create a long-term battle with the courts over everybody that's being detained. It is a function of the military and the executive branch to conduct a war."

So instead of carefully investigating these prisoners, many of whom were handed over for a bounty with no proof they had done anything wrong, and quickly releasing those who can't be linked to terrorism, we'll just throw them in Guantanamo or some other prison and let them rot there forever. If they can't challenge their detention, then they'll just have to shut up and deal with it.

That's a great way to spread American values around the world.

The Army has decided to prosecute Suzanne Swift, an Army specialist who went AWOL after suffering repeated and humiliating sexual harassment (from at least three of her superior officers). Charges are being AWOL and missing a troop movement.

And I'm sure this has nothing to do with her embracing groups critical of the Iraq war. No sir, nothing at all...

[Cross-posted at If I Ran the Zoo]

I don't want to bore you good folks outside New York with a bunch of local news, but this Jeanine Pirro business is some funny shit. Homegirl's had a rough year. Last year she did not seek relection to her post as District Attorney of Westchester County because she was going to run against Hillary Rodham Clinton for the U. S. Senate. Unfortunately, even after she gained the endorsement of Governor Pataki, polls consistently showed Clinton murderizing her, so at the urging of Republican party leaders, Pirro dropped out of the race and is now running for the position of State Attorney General, against Andrew Cuomo, whose last name cuts a lot of ice in this burg. (Her gauntlet in the Senate race was picked up by a lucky fellow named John Spencer. Clinton's going to murderize him.)

At her website, Pirro says that "for the past thirty years, I have devoted my life to law enforcement as a prosecutor, a judge, and the three-term District Attorney of Westchester County." She has also devoted herself, if that's not too strong a word, to marriage to Albert Pirro, a man affectionately known to his friends as "bone anchor." A former real estate attorney--that's "former" as in "disbarred"--Albert has never been the kind of ideal model politician's spouse that you order out of the catalog. Although People magazine once included Jeanine on its list of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the late '90s, it's Albert who's had the embarrassingly public extramarital affairs, including one with a woman who sued him for support of the child he'd fathered, a claim that Albert fought in court for years until a judge finally ordered that it was time to get the DNA swabs into it. For his next trick, Albert managed to get himself convicted on sixty-six counts of tax fraud; the case included the joint tax returns that he and his wife had filed together. (Jeanine managed to stay out of it by sticking to her mantra that she loves her husband but what he does is his own business.) Albert ultimately spent a year and a half in the jug, which must have been restful for his wife's public relations team. He is also widely rumored to be, as the tabloids delicately put it, "mobbed up."

So far, so sordid. But now comes the news that Pirro tried to arrange for the illegal wiretapping of her husband, the better to keep tabs on him in case she had to ask him for home decorating advice or something while he was holed up with one of his girlfriends. As a perfect collision of the personal and the political, this is a doozy, placed right at the intersection of "Watergate!" and "Luuuuuucy!!" Given what's in the papers, it definitely raises issues about how cavalier Pirro's attitude towards privacy may be. But what the talbloids really love about it is that the man to whom Pirro turned to arrange the bugging of her husband was Bernard Kerik, onetime Giuliani sidekick, onetime Interim Minister of Interior of Iraq, briefly nominated as Secretary of Homeland Security, and a man who would be called "the Albatross" by his friends, if he still had any. (The news about the Pirro-Kerik connection came out as part of one of the current federal investigations of Kerik. The man does stay on the radar.) Besieged with calls for her withdrawal from the race, Pirro told reporters about the worst thing she could have told them under the circumstances, basically that she hadn't done anything wrong because Kerik never got around to doing what she'd hired him to do but that if he had it would still be okay because it wouldn't really have been illegal anyway. Not the least enjoyable thing about her big press conference was the sight of a law-and-order Republian candidate for Attorney General attacking the federal law enforcement agents working under a law-and-order Republican administration for waging a "partisan political" campaign to "affect the outcome" of the election.

As of this writing, Pirro is still campaigning, and she might as well keep at it; I don't know who the Republicans could ask to step in for her who'd be able to make the last month of the race count for much. The thing is, before the taping story broke, Pirro had no worse than absolutely no chance whatsoever of beating Cuomo. It's clear from the public reaction that now she's going to do even worse, but how? Maybe the sun will come up the morning after Election Day to find a big crater where her campaign office used to be.

Mel Gibson turns out that the master of the Thunderdome's humiliations have scarcely begun. It's been reported that on November 3, Law & Order will air a torn-from-the-headlines episode about a foul-mouthed, abusive movie star with a nasty religious prejudice who's pulled over for drunk driving, an arrest that unravels into a darker scandal. Playing the star will be...Chevy Chase, arguably the most hated man in Hollywood since Louis B. Mayer's funeral delighted thousands. Personally, I'd have held out for Woody Allen or maybe Jackie Mason, just to rub Gibson's nose in it, but there's no way I'm missing this.

In other entertainment news, The New York Times reports that "soon after Fidel Castro announced his mysterious illness in July, the Bush administration stepped up its anti-Castro television broadcasts to Cuba with a new $10 million system." There is some question as to whether this is a shining use of your tax dollars. TV Marti, as the American propaganda broadcast is called, is apparently not very popular with audiences on the island, and despite our government's best efforts, the programming--four hours a day, six days a week, much of it the work of Cuban exiles in Florida--is often buried in snowy reception. For those who do manage to tune in, they get to sample such unknown pleasures as "Office to the Chief", a sitcom "with Cuban exile actors playing dim-witted versions of Mr.Castro and his brother Raul...On a recent actor playing Raul Castro said he would mummify Fidel Castro when he died by wrapping him in the pages of a book by Karl Marx, then display him on Havana's seaside boulevard. The laugh track went wild." I find it disheartening that the Cubans are getting this stuff while those of us stranded here on the mainland who feel like watching something really, really goofy have to make do with the production numbers on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and a post-apocalyptic Skeet Ulrich. Is there no place in the land of its birth for "Office to the Chief"? You Tube, I'm looking at you.

In an excellent piece on Dick Cheney in the current New York Review of Books, Joan Didion wriites of the great stone face that "His every instinct is to withhold information, hide, let surrogates speak for him... His own official spoken remarks so defy syntactical analysis as to suggest that his only intention in speaking is to further obscure what he thinks." It's east to fall into the trap of thinking that that kind of smokescreen has been thrown up to conceal something mysterious and complex and multilayered. The truth is, if your next door neighbor was in the habit of repeating an obvious lie (such as, "I poisoned your dog because I had evidence that he had broken into my house and shredded my sofa cushions, and he was planning to do it again") and also in the habit of periodically denying that he'd ever told that lie ("I never attempted to force a connection between the death of your dog and the sofa-cushion shredding incident"), after which he'd tell the lie again, you'd just think he was an asshole. If some people want to think that Cheney is something more, even if they just mean a more interesting species of evil, than a world class lout remarkable chiefly for his lack of shame, it may be because it doesn't seem right that we should wake up every day for the better part of a decade in a world where a world-class lout is in charge of our shared desires. Whoever fed Ron Suskind that quote about the Bushies' superiority to "the reality-based community" was trying to base a life philosophy on the simple fact that assholes would rather stonewall and bluff than admit they were wrong, even when they've obviously screwed the pooch.

At least Cheney would never put you in the embarrassing position of seeing him as human enough to maybe feel sorry for him. A hardened, veteran Bush-hater of my acquaintance admitted to me today that she saw Pres on the TV the other day and caught herself feeling a twinge of pity for the clueless devil, and though it's tempting to wonder if she'd have felt the same way if she had a son in Iraq or owned property in New Orleans, I can kind of imagine how she feels. Bush's handling of the news about that pessimistic intelligence report seems to me to underline the fact that the man himself is in deep denial, unable to admit to himself just what he's done, assuming that he has the mental equipment to even grasp the scale of the debacle. When Richard Nixon set up a commission to investigate pornography, and then that commission came out with a report that came to a conclusion--that there was no serious correlation between porn and violent crime--that was the exact opposite of the one that Nixon had wanted them to reach, he simply broke up the party and publically disowned his own commissioned study. By contrast, Bush doesn't disown the intelligence report, as he would if he were merely cynical and hoping to change the subject; he actually points to the sections that serve as the sternest rebuke to his policies, and then insists, pathetically, that they actually support him, if you'll just take into the larger context. Apparently, that still-unclassified part of the report is the sentence that must follow every conclusion in it, the one that goes, "Despite this, we're sure that everything will somehow turn out just great in the end."

The New York Times points out that the "most remarkable [thing] about the intelligence estimate...was the unremarkable nature of its conclusions." Well, yeah. The report doesn't say anything that knowledgeable people haven't been saying for...God, years now. (Fun rainy day project: think back to when the bombs were falling on Iraq in spring of 2003 and a triumphant mood was prevelent in the country, and try to imagine the reaction you'd have gotten from people if you'd confidentally predicted that this would not be over, not nearly, years further on down the road. Of course, the people who'd have reacted the worst to this idea are the same ones who today will tell you that nobody ever thought that winning the War on Terra was going to be some quick in-and-out operation.) The thing is, the people who've been saying it have tended to be retired military men or worried congressmen singing the blues while "off the record." Because everyone understands that it's still too early to call the failed war a failure, let alone one that's strengthened the hand of al-Qaeda and made us less safe. Thirty years ago, Russell Baker wrote that the congressmen who had lost their seats in the mid-sixties because they had been right about Vietnam would never, in the eyes of their former colleagues, be proven right; they would always be wrong, not because they weren't prescient, but because of a fluke of timing. They'd been right about Vietnam before it was acceptable to be right, so they were wrong. I don't know when it will be "the right time" to be right about Iraq; you can't guess at something like that, you can only make your stand and pay the price if it turns out that you're right prematurely, as Howard Dean found out. When will people, the mass of average, everyday people and the people whose opinions fill the editorial pages, be ready to talk about the failure of America's policy in Iraq? When they're good and ready, and not a minute before.Until then, we can only continue to speak in code while hoping for the best.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Iraq: Worse Than You Think

I've read Cobra II, The Assassin's Gate, One Percent Doctrine, State of War and Fiasco, These books have documented in one form or another the political and military misdecisions of the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq. Some of the mistakes that have led to the carnage in Iraq bear the marks of simple incompetence. Others bear the marks of purposeful dis-strategery.

A new book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Washington Post staff writer, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, adds further fuel to the fire just when you thought it couldn't get any worse.

Excerpts of the book in the Washington Post have highlighted the Bush Administration's staffing of Iraq with political flunkies and other Republican hangers-on, rather than the foreign policy specialists one would assume might be up to the job of rebuilding Iraq.

But the most disturbing revelation of the book so far (I'm about one-third of the way through) concerns the subject that I think has gotten relatively little attention during our country's three-year occupation: Iraq's economy.

According to the Brookings Institution, which has been tracking various economic, military and political barometers in Iraq since the invasion, unemployment ranges from between 25% and 40%. Some of this is due, no doubt, to the fact that Paul Bremer's Coalitional Provisional Authority dismissed both the Iraqi military as well as any Baath Party members of the government, a not insignificant number of people given Iraq's mostly socialist, government-job-for-life style economic structure. Unfortunately, Iraq's government didn't just consist of teachers and program analysts. Iraq's Ministry of Industry owned 48 companies and ran 148 factories. These state-owned and operated companies were heavily subsidized by the central government, and its oil revenues (and generated largely shoddy products to boot). Naturally, the free marketers among the Bush Administration's ambassadors to Baghdad wanted to uproot all of this and put Iraq on the track to modernization and capitalism. But even here, where the administration's personnel probably had their heads, if not their hearts, in the right place in the long run, in the short run, radically altering Iraq's economy in the midst of de-Baathification measures that have left almost half the country unemployed is a recipe for further insurrection and violence. And businesses weren't the only beneficiaries of the Iraqi government's largesse. Gas sold for less than a nickel a gallon before the war and most consumer good were drastically marked down. Severe import duties--soon removed by the CPA--spared Iraq's inefficient state-run company's competition and helped protect jobs (while of course denying Iraqi cheaper, better made goods and more modern amenities). A significant debacle, according to Chandrasekaran, was the CPA's decision to terminate all debt obligations between state-run companies. This sounds sensible enough given the absence of the regular and transparent accounting prevalent in Iraq's industries and government offices. Unfortunately, the policy has the negative effect of eliminating assets for the country's few well-run companies while letting its most lagard ones off the hook for any prior debts.

How does all this sound? Factor in the religious conflicts and the general security dangers, the economic turmoil occuring in Iraq makes it all the more difficult to put the country back together before it self-destructs. While a peaceful transition of free market democracy was probably always a long shot in Iraq under the best of circumstances, it's likelihood of success now seems caught between slim and none. And slim just left town.
Bulworth's post about Michael Medved condemning Mel Gibson's anti-war comments (but not his anti-Semitic comments) made me just curious enough to see what else Medved has to say about anti-Semitism. Here's what I found:

  • Munich Distorts History: "Spielberg and his screenwriter (Marxist playwright Tony "Angels in America" Kushner)...traffic in the hoariest anti-Semitic stereotypes, showing the coldly calculating Jews computing the cost of their operation in dollars ($352,000 for an assassination in Rome) as they demand their eye-for-an-eye, their pound of flesh, to balance the crimes of Munich."

  • A Movie With Legs: "Of course, the more hysterical critics of "The Passion" might argue that its allegedly anti-Semitic elements irrevocably identified the project with an archconservative outlook, but this argument ignores the fact that Jew-hatred appears today far more frequently among the America-hating left than on the flag-waving right."

  • Why the World Hates the Jews: "Contrary to anti-Semitic presumptions, Israel has never demanded special privileges of any kind, but yearns (and bleeds) only for the same rights other nations enjoy: to live undisturbed beside its neighbors without unceasing attack by terrorists, militias and, occasionally, major armies."

  • The Passion and Prejudice: "Denunciations of Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ by some influential organizations in the Jewish community reached their crescendo long before the movie's release, and began even before he had finished filming it. This proves that the charges of anti-Semitism surrounding this project for more than a year arose not from an honest assessment of the film, but from political prejudice and organizational imperatives."

  • Critics in the 'Passion' Pit: "In every corner of the globe, the militantly secular, America-hating left makes incongruous common cause with Islamic fundamentalism in circulating poisonous anti-Semitic canards, including ludicrous charges of Jewish conspiracies behind banking, media, "neo-conservative" foreign policy, and even the devastating attacks of 9/11."

Uh-huh. Right. Spielberg, Kushner, critics of Israel, secularists, and the Left: anti-Semitic. The Passion: really, really not anti-Semitic.

I think we're beginning to see a pattern here...

Need a gallon of milk? Pack of cigarettes? How about some propaganda with your gasoline purchase?
DALLAS — Convenience store operator 7-Eleven Inc., is dropping Venezuela-backed Citgo as its gasoline supplier at more than 2,100 locations and switching to its own brand of fuel. [...]

7-Eleven spokesman Margaret Chabris said that, "Regardless of politics, we sympathize with many Americans' concern over derogatory comments about our country and its leadership recently made by Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez."
And this little fact explains their advanced thinking: "7-Eleven registered the term 'brainfreeze' in 1994 to communicate the painful joy of drinking a frozen Slurpee beverage."

Frozen brains — not just a metaphor!
What the Generals Said

Since the Republican Congress isn't interested in holding oversight hearings, much less providing oversight of the administration, Democrats, meeting officially-unofficially did conduct an extra-legislative hearing on Defense Sec Rumsfeld and the war in Iraq on Monday. Several former or retired military officers and generals were invited to testify. And the brass gave Rumsfeld the business for the lack of planning and insufficient support towards the war effort.

Ezra and Matt first responded by noting the apparent lack of media attention to the Democrats' hearing. Matt later noted there was more media attention than he had at first detected. In any event, Ezra pointed out that the claim that Democrats are fearful of stepping out on national security issues and want to confine the elecion debate to domestic and economic issues is belied by these Democratic efforts, however poorly reported or ineffective legislatively. The slang that Democrats are weak or aren't focused on national security issues ends up becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy when the actions it does take on national security are under-reported, or not reported at all.

Good point.

But the retired and former officers had more to say about Iraq then Rumsfeld screwed it up.

But Democrats, while celebrating Batiste's criticism of the administration, exercised some selective listening at the hearing when Batiste and his colleagues offered their solution: more troops, more money and more time in Iraq.

"We must mobilize our country for a protracted challenge," Batiste warned.
"We better be planning for at least a minimum of a decade or longer," contributed retired Marine Col. Thomas Hammes.

"We are, conservatively, 60,000 soldiers short," added retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who was in charge of building the Iraqi Security Forces.

That last remark caused Schumer to shake his head, indicating he was not so sure. And, indeed, the retired officers' recommendations were off-message for the Democrats. Six of the seven Democrats at the hearing supported legislation calling for the start of a troop withdrawal from Iraq this year. One, Richard Durbin (Ill.), voted for the pullout to be mostly complete by next summer.


The questioners skillfully directed the witnesses toward past failures rather than their expansive prescriptions for the future. A notable exception was the relatively hawkish Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), who, as the last questioner, invited the officers to comment on the effect of a specific withdrawal date.

"The result will be a civil war of some magnitude that will turn into a regional mess," Batiste said without hesitation.

As he stood to leave, Batiste worried that this last point -- the need to stay in Iraq -- might be overlooked. "The hard part," he told reporters, "is moving forward."

Did he detect any enthusiasm for making a bigger effort in Iraq?

"God help us if there's not," the general said.

Democrats might not have much say on Iraq for another two years, although control over at least one branch of Congress after this fall might enable some oversight hearings and some honesty about how we proceed.

From a rhetorical viewpoint, Democrats can probably help the country and improve things towards Iraq by beginning to scale down the talk about bombing or invading Iran, and helping to tamp down on the fear surrounding terrorism and antagonism towards international institutions and other countries the administration and its allies have been stoking for six years. It doesn't make sense, and isn't practical, to make threats against countries while your military is bogged down in another one.

From a policy-standpoint, Democrats may eventually need to consider some of the recommendations our military personnel would make. We know the administration has ignored them. Democrats should perhaps make it clear to the public that unlike the current regime, they would cast a wide-net in seeking political and military solutions in Iraq, including, and in particular, those of the military, an institution generally respected by the American public.
Compromise Compromised

When is Sen. John McCain going to figure out that George W. Bush can't be trusted? The compromises in the detainee bill worked out last week have already been sabotaged by "re-working" over the weekend.

From the New York Times:

In one change, the original language said that a suspect had the right to “examine and respond to” all evidence used against him. Mr. Graham and his colleagues in resisting the White House, Senators John W. Warner of Virginia and John McCain of Arizona, had insisted that the provision was necessary to prevent so-called secret trials. The bill submitted late Monday dropped the word “examine” and left only “respond to,” reviving complaints about secret trials, this time from Democrats.

In another, the original compromise said that evidence seized “outside the United States” could be admitted in court even if it had been obtained without a search warrant, a provision Republicans and Democrats agreed was necessary to deal with the unusual circumstances of seizing evidence on the battlefield.

The bill introduced Monday dropped the words “outside the United States,” which Democrats said meant that prosecutors could ignore American legal standards on search warrants within the country. The bill also broadened the definition of an unlawful enemy combatant, from anyone “engaged in hostilities against the United States” to include anyone who “has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.”

“These are significant changes, not technical changes,” said Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, where the original bill backed by Senators Warner, McCain and Graham was approved. “It’s hard to know how to vote on a bill that’s this much in motion.”

Now the plan is to push the bill through before the election year recess so Bush can parade a "victory" before the voters. Here's the problem: we have a president who cannot tolerate dissent and lackeys who do everything possible to shield him from the real world. I don't think we should be handing him any more power to declare US citizens to be enemy combatants or to try them using secret evidence (although House Republicans say they will restore the word "examine", I'll believe it when I see it). Of course, it doesn't really matter how the bill reads; W will just include a signing statement that says whatever he wants it to say.

The same Republicans who are supporting the President now would be screaming in horror if a Democratic President asked for such power -- and so should all of us. I have no desire to live in a dictatorship, whether it comes through military coup or blind loyalty to a power-hungry bully.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Irony Is Dead, Its Corpse Mutilated, Its Severed Head Stuck on a Pike as a Warning to Others

Confederate Yankee says Matt Yglesias is "not proud to be American".

Confederate Yankee.

Question: if you're a wannabe un-American, how can you also be proud to be an American? I'm just asking.

Update: Irony is like Francisco Franco: still dead. Confederate Yankee has banned me for a comment I made about General Sherman and thermonuclear weapons. Here is the comment he made:
Consider yourself banned for the genocidal hopes, BTW.
Yes, that's right: Confederate Yankee doesn't permit any joking around about genocide.

[Cross-posted at If I Ran the Zoo]
Tom Schaller highlights the most lurid detail in that Salon article on George Allen:
Shelton said he also remembers a disturbing deer hunting trip with Allen on land that was owned by the family of Billy Lanahan, a wide receiver on the team. After they had killed a deer, Shelton said he remembers Allen asking Lanahan where the local black residents lived. Shelton said Allen then drove the three of them to that neighborhood with the severed head of the deer. "He proceeded to take the doe's head and stuff it into a mailbox," Shelton said.
And I think Schaller is absolutely right about this:
This may be the episode on which Allen’s Senate career (I think his presidential career has gone the way of the deer’s head) may turn, for two reasons. First, because an incident like this, if true, is not only grotesque and craven, but reveals a general hatred rather than an anger directed at a specific individual....If Shelton’s account is true, for Allen any black suffices for intimidation and ridicule.

The second toxic element here is the verifiability of the event....If Scherer or Lizza are able to document this incident, or if a credible source comes forward to confirm, get your butter and jam out, folks, because Allen is toast.
I'll go further: if this is verified, then Allen is not only toast--he becomes a major liability for the Republicans as a whole. At that point, every Democratic candidate in every state or district should be asking his or her Republican opponent if they think someone like George Allen should be in the Senate. Get them on the record. If they toss him overboard, that's a scalp for the Democrats. If they don't--if they try to weasel out of answering, or are supportive of Allen--it becomes a club to beat them with. Implicit racism is (sadly) often a political positive, but explicit racism is taboo; forcing the GOP to deal explicitly with issues of racism can only hurt them.
Mel Gibson's at it again.

Another Jesus movie? No. Building another conservative Catholic church? No.
Anti-semitism? No.

The filmmaker and actor, fiercely criticized for his anti-Semitic outburst when he was arrested for drunk driving last July, showed the as-yet unfinished movie [Apocalypto] on Friday, first at a casino and at Cameron University in Oklahoma, where he arrived in wig and disguise, according to The Associated Press. Then he moved on to the Fantastic Fest film festival in Austin, Tex., where he compared the American troop deployment in Iraq to the kind of human sacrifice depicted in his film, about ancient Mayans, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Mr. Gibson’s antiwar remarks immediately raised a red flag for conservative fans of his “The Passion of the Christ.”

In a phone interview today, the conservative radio talk show host and columnist Michael Medved said: “If these antiwar comments are the beginning of an ill-considered, organized campaign to get back into the good graces of the Hollywood establishment that gave him the Oscar for ‘Braveheart,’ so he can show he’s not different from them and march arm-in-arm with Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, there will be a great deal of disgust from the people who have enjoyed Mel’s movies in the past.”

Anti-semitism is OK. But you can't question the Dear Leader's War of Civilizations in Iraq, because Iraq, as the President has abundantly made clear, is The Central Front on The War On Terror.

Problem for conservatives is, if they knew anything about the Internets and Google, they'd know Gibson's lack of enthusiasm for the war in Iraq goes back at least two years. So his remarks are neither new nor apparently designed to pacify his liberal Hollywood friends.

Speaking of Iraq, and World War VII or whatever conservatives are calling it these days, have you noticed that NOW that the war is proving to be an unmitigated disaster both militarily as well as politically, the war and the administration's most fevered apologists are suddenly claiming that well, maybe Iraq isn't all that important anyway, despite the President's earlier claims that the war in Iraq is the central front of the war on terrorism:

He has described Iraq as the "central front" in the war against terrorists, noting frequently how Osama bin Laden has urged his followers to go to Iraq to fight the Americans.

Here's Intellegence Chief John Negroponte yesterday:

The conclusion of U.S. intelligence analysts that the Iraq war has increased the threat from terrorism is only "a fraction of judgments" in a newly disclosed National Intelligence Estimate, Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte said yesterday.

And here's Pat Roberts, the administration's lapdog chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee:

Sen Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, joined in the call to declassify the new NIE. He said the administration should do so, so "the American people can see the material for themselves and come to their own conclusions," adding: "There is a false impression that the NIE focuses solely on Iraq and terrorism. That is not true. This NIE examines global terrorism in its totality."

So, even though Iraq is the "central front" in the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq is really just a small piece of the NIE.

Meanwhile, another neo-con, Robert Kagan has a different spin:

For instance, what specifically does it mean to say that the Iraq war has worsened the "terrorism threat"? Presumably, the NIE's authors would admit that this is speculation rather than a statement of fact, since the facts suggest otherwise. Before the Iraq war, the United States suffered a series of terrorist attacks: the bombing and destruction of two American embassies in East Africa in 1998, the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Since the Iraq war started, there have not been any successful terrorist attacks against the United States [emphasis mine, although there have been successful attacks against other war participants like Spain and Great Britain, so maybe that's what the report's authors are alluding to, Bob. And there was that much balleyhood incident, again in Great Britain, involving the alleged plot to detonate a bomb or bombs on airliners bound for the U.S. by bringing bomb ingredients on to the planes separately, in liquid containers, a threat which has resulted in a very well publicized series of measures--now modified--designed to eliminate the potential for liquids to be brought onto planes, Bob.]. That doesn't mean the threat has diminished because of the Iraq war, but it does place the burden of proof on those who argue that it has increased.

So, war apologists like Kagan are NOW saying, well, you can't really say Iraq has made things worse because you can't quantify "worseness".

Well, Bob, the problem of terrorism, as the President and his allies unceasingly reminded us before the Iraqi invasion, was not just the terrorists themselves, but the states that either directly sponsored terrorist attacks, or were so weak or negligent that the states provided a defacto "safe haven" for terrorist organizations, i.e. "failed states". What we have in the case of Iraq, Bob, is the second of these. Iraq is a failed state. The only safe part of it, relatively speaking, is the Green Zone, a tiny, concrete-enclosed island in Baghdad inhabited by U.S. Personnel and what exists of Iraq's elected government.

The parts of the country that are somewhat functioning, like the Kurdish section in the north, are indicative of the country's other problem: the likelihood Iraq will ultimately desolve into three or more independent regions. This wouldn't be a problem in many areas of the world provided the autonomous entities were not organized along ethnic or religious lines, or in regions of the world where vital natural resources were not at stake. As you can probably surmise, Bob, neither of these conditions exists in Iraq. Its ethnic and religious divisions, not to mention its large reserves of oil, sort of guarantee that none of these groups are prepared to live in peaceful cohabitation, all the while allowing the U.S. and the west unfettered access to its oil.

So, Bob, these are the conditions the liberal, know-nothing, intelligence authors of the report are probably alluding to when they suggest Iraq has worsened the terrorism threat.

As Peter Bergen--someone who actually knows something about the region and about Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in particular--has said:

What we have done in Iraq is what bin Laden could not have hoped for in his wildest dreams: We invaded an oil-rich Muslim nation in the heart of the Middle East, the very type of imperial adventure that bin Laden has long predicted was the United States' long-term goal in the region. We deposed the secular socialist Saddam, whom bin Laden has long despised, ignited Sunni and Shia fundamentalist fervor in Iraq, and have now provoked a "defensive" jihad that has galvanized jihad-minded Muslims around the world. It's hard to imagine a set of policies better designed to sabotage the war on terrorism.


Apparently torture and wiretapping aren't enough to quench Republican thirst: recent days the Bush administration and its House allies successfully pressed for a less restrictive description of how the government could designate civilians as "unlawful enemy combatants," the sources said yesterday. [...]

The government has maintained since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that, based on its reading of the laws of war, anyone it labels an unlawful enemy combatant can be held indefinitely at military or CIA prisons. But Congress has not yet expressed its view on who is an unlawful combatant, and the Supreme Court has not ruled directly on the matter.

As a result, human rights experts expressed concern yesterday that the language in the new provision would be a precedent-setting congressional endorsement for the indefinite detention of anyone who, as the bill states, "has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States" or its military allies.

The definition applies to foreigners living inside or outside the United States and does not rule out the possibility of designating a U.S. citizen as an unlawful combatant.
"Supported hostilities" cuts a wide and extraordinarily vague swath. So, basically, any kid wearing a "BUSH TERRORIST" t-shirt will be entitled to a taxpayer-funded one-way ticket to Gitmo.

My God, do these idiots have thin skin. Even if they had any real credibility or success in capturing and trying terrorists such proposals would ordinarily receive thorough debate and certain defeat.

Even Daddy's lawyer doesn't like it: "Kenneth W. Starr, a solicitor general under President George H.W. Bush, said in a letter to Specter that he concerned the legislation 'may go too far in limiting habeas corpus relief.'" Yes, that Kenneth Starr.

It's not as if national security or existing laws were remotely relevant. It's CYA time at the White House and there's work to be done.

The real threats they ignore, the fake threats they embroider, and nonexistent threats get full funding. And dissent — embodied in the Cindy Sheehans and Hugo Chavezes who are the real target of the new language in this bill — is the one thing they cannot tolerate because it exposes them as the frauds they are.

From Michael Scherer's Salon article about the alleged youthful racial indiscretions of Senator George Allen, a man who is threatening to go from up-and-coming star item to whatever-happened-to in less time than any public figure since Yahoo Serious, comes this tender anecdote from Allen's college football teammate, Dr. Ken Shelton:

Shelton said he also remembers a disturbing deer hunting trip with Allen on land that was owned by the family of Billy Lanahan, a wide receiver on the team. After they had killed a deer, Shelton said he remembers Allen asking Lanahan where the local black residents lived. Shelton said Allen then drove the three of them to that neighborhood with the severed head of the deer. "He proceeded to take the doe's head and stuff it into a mailbox," Shelton said.

It's become clear these last few years that one thing that makes so many members of the press corps susceptible to the golden glow associated with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al., is that the soft-bottomed leading men of the cable news lineup think these guys represent a tough, manly ideal that they themselves can only hope to someday live up to by talking like Dirty Harry and not asking a lot of embarrassing questions. The depth of the TV anchors' collective penis envy, and just how insecure they feel about trying to measure up to President Tarzan and company, came through loud and clear in the coverage of that fateful weekend when Vice-President Cheney went out hunting canned birds and bagged himself a man. His friends in the media were soon all over the airwaves explaining that, though they themselves were too wussified to have ever obliterated a quail herded into their line of fire for their pleasure, they'd been speaking to some experts the Vice-President's office had provided, and apparently it's standard, manly practice to reel around the countryside blasting your shotgun while four sheets to the wind, and it's understood by all that it's the responsibility of any people in the vicinity to dive for cover, rather than it being thought the shooter's job to be careful not to shoot at close range any living creature with a driver's license and the ability to hire a lawyer.

I don't want to go through that again. So just let me say, before things get out of hand, that I grew up in the country; that, before I knelt at the feet of the Dahli Lama and learned enlightenment, I was known to tag along on the occasional hunt; and that, contrary to what you may soon hear from Chris Matthews or Tim Russert, stuffing a deer's head in a stranger's mailbox is not a common custom by which Southern boys show their respect and affection for black folks by saying, in effect, "Y'all sure do got a big roomy mailbox." I believe that, whatever their color or creed, most people in Virginia, or maybe even elsewhere, would be quite put out to discover a dead animal's head in their mailbox, especially if there was blood all over their Victoria's Secret catalogs. The only hope for Allen on this one is if he can prove that he was spending the summer interning as the Corleone family's regional representative, and the business with the deer head was part of his negotiating strategy after the black family in question refused to give Johnny Fontane the part he wanted in that new war picture they were about to start shooting.

Incidentally, Dr. Shelton also claims that he had to go through his college career being addressed as "Wizard", because, he says, Allen stuck him with that nickname after noting that he shared a last name with Robert Shelton, then Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. This is the kind of thing that you either dismiss out of hand because it seems strange to you that an average college football player would actually know the name of the Grand Wizard of the KKK, let alone have it on the tip of his tongue, or else you instantly decide that the story is credible because, given how unlikely it is, who would make it up? I myself fall into the latter camp, partly because it rings a bell after the whole "macaca" incident. I know, Allen claims that he had no idea that "macaca" was an obscure racial slur when he used it, but he's failed to give a halfway plausible explanation for what the hell else he could have been thinking when he said it, despite having managed to think up a half a dozen wildly implausible explanations. It just seems to compute that the kind of guy who'd know who Robert Shelton was at that tender age would dream of someday impressing the great man himself with the exotic freshness of his racial epithets. I don't know what's to be done with George, but he does have a way with words. Maybe the Washington Times editorial page is hiring.