Thursday, April 30, 2009


I find it amusing that so much right-wing mockery is being directed at Joe Biden for his recommendation -- yes, ill-advised -- that everyone stay off trains and planes to avoid swine flu. Er, what about the right's #1 recommendation -- closing the border with Mexico? The experts have thoroughly rejected that, too:

Health officials argue that because the H1N1 swine flu virus is already present in so many countries, and readily capable of spreading from person to person, it's far too late to try to isolate one or two countries. Although uninfected countries may be able to delay the introduction of swine flu by imposing draconian limits on international travel, they would not likely be able to stave off the virus for good -- and the economic losses resulting from the travel ban may far outweigh any benefits....

"Once the virus has spread beyond its initial focus, travel restrictions just aren't effective," says Ira Longini, a biostatistician at the University of Washington.

... As far as the U.S.-Mexico border is concerned, attempting to actually close it would be futile, since countless illegal migrants cross over to the U.S. daily. Trying to stop movement may just push travelers, and the spread of the swine flu, underground....

I love this from Hot Air's Ed Morrissey:

Moe Lane at Redstate sent this [Biden video] to me, asking to count the flubs Joe Biden makes in this interview, but it's difficult to keep up. Biden starts off by saying that closing the border is somehow much more difficult than closing schools all over the country.

Guess what, Ed? It is easier. It's a hell of a lot easier. Any idiot could explain why. You want to close a school, you just use preexisting means of communication -- the same ones that are used, say, when there's a blizzard -- and tell everyone to stay home. You lock the doors and let in only cleaning crews to disinfect the joint. What -- are the kids and teachers going to break in?

By contrast, we have a 2,000-mile border that would require a multi-billion-dollar wall and militarization to seal off completely. No child or teacher would be motivated to break into a presumably disease-riddled school building, but a lot of people would be very, very motivated to cross the Mexican border into this country even in the midst of a flu outbreak. It's only in the rich fantasy life of the right that the border can be sealed easily.

Um, guys? If you're going to accuse Arlen Spector of selfish political opportunism, isn't it a tad hypocritical to do this?

Sen. Arlen Specter's switch to the Democratic Party is prompting his campaign donors large and small to demand their money back, including several Republican senators whose political action committees gave tens of thousands of dollars to the Pennsylvania lawmaker.

Sen. Johnny Isakson didn't waste any time putting himself at the front of the refund line. The Georgia Republican asked Mr. Specter for a return of his leadership political action committee's $5,000 contribution Tuesday on the Senate floor - just hours after Mr. Specter announced he was changing his political stripes....

Other Republicans who are clawing back contributions include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who gave $10,000 through his Bluegrass Committee; Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), who gave $5,000 through his Alamo PAC; and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who gave $5,000 through his Rock City PAC.

"They gave that money to elect a Republican. They did not give that money to strengthen [Democratic Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid's majority," NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said....

Right -- you guys didn't give him money out of a deep admiration for his political principles, which, prtesumably, haven't changed all that much. The one reason you gave him money was the "R" after his name. I notice you didn't ask for your money back when he voted for the hated stimulus. Of course not -- his name was still followed by that "R." His presence in your caucus was useful to you. That's all you cared about.

So I think you've lost the right to non-hypocritically criticize him for excessive self-interest.

I'm sure you already know about this:

Coming soon to a battleground state near you: a new effort to revive the image of the Republican Party and to counter President Obama's characterization of Republicans as "the party of 'no.'"

CNN has learned that the new initiative, called the National Council for a New America, will be announced Thursday....

Much of the chuckling in the left blogosphere has been about the mustiness of the marquee names (John McCain, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour) -- but I think the comedy gold in this could derive from the group's central plan, which is to have a series of town-hall forums, starting with one in Virginia on Saturday:

"This forum will include a wide open policy debate that every American can feel free to participate in," the announcement letter reads. "We do this not just to offer an alternative point of view or to be disagreeable. Instead, we want to ask the American people what their hopes and dreams are...."

Um, are these guys sure they want to have "wide open" forums right now, in which "hopes and dreams" are discussed?

See, their likely attendees are not really going to be a Norman Rockwell cross-section of the public. Their likely attendees are probably going to be full-fledged citizens of GlennBeckistan and AlexJonestown: Obama birthers, Soros conspiracy theorists, FEMA labor camp conspiracy theorists, people who lie awake nights worrying that Obama is sending ACORN volunteers to record the GPS coordinates of every house in America, etc., etc. Those folks plus the usual collection of seal-the-borders types (because the border is so sealable), as well as people who can't decide whether Obama is a socialist or a fascist because the commies and Nazis in old movies always had more or less the same accent.

Um, and these guys aren't planning to have the forums broadcast, are they? You know -- a C-SPAN camera in the corner sending out a live feed as they find themselves calling on some guy who, for instance, thinks Canadian troops will soon have to quell food riots in the U.S. caused by actions of the Federal Reserve?

That's who owns the GOP now. That's the crowd they're going to attract.


UPDATE: Chris Cillizza thinks Palin's in, too:

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is expected to play a role in the National Council for a New America, a new effort led by House and Senate Republican leaders designed to find ways to make the party more appealing to independent voters....

Oh, that ought to keep the discussion high-minded, right?


Could there be chaos? Well, maybe. Start with this:

NRSC Vice-Chairman Orrin Hatch said today that he doesn't believe former Congressman Pat Toomey has a chance to beat newly turned Democrat Arlen Specter in next year's Senate race in Pennsylvania. Hatch even suggested that the NRSC may seek to recruit a candidate to run against Toomey....

In fact, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham suggested a name today that has been thrown around in political circles since Specter's defection -- Tom Ridge....

From a purely political standpoint, that would seem like a shrewd move -- Ridge is nationally known and has apparently been well-liked in Pennsylvania.

But in the Limbaughized, tea-partied, death-before-incorrectness modern GOP, can the pro-choice, middle-of-the-road Ridge even win a primary against Toomey? And is there really any chance that Toomey would step aside if asked by the national party bosses? Wouldn't he just dig in his heels and become a nationwide GOP folk hero, a symbol of pitchfork-wielding defiance?

Meanwhile, even as we're being told by the GOP hard core that Arlen Specter was never really a Republican, the party is putting out robocalls that try to disillusion Democratic voters by saying that he was so a Republican:

ANNOUNCER: (Disclaimer) Hello, this is Jack. I've recorded this message on behalf of the National Republican Senatorial Committee located at 425 2nd St, Washington, DC or 202-675-4260 to help you welcome your newest Democrat Senator, Arlen Specter.

We wanted to make sure that we properly introduced him to you. Former President George W. Bush said this about Arlen Specter.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I'm here to say it as plainly as I can, Arlen Specter is the right man for the United States Senate. I can count on this man - see that's important. He's a firm ally when it matters most. I'm proud to tell you I think he's earned another term as the United States Senator....

If this is the beginning of a campaign to weaken Specter as a Democratic primary candidate, I'm not sure it's going to work -- as I've said, I think Specter is far too popular among Democrats (71%-16% favorable-unfavorable, according to Quinnipiac) to lose the Democratic nomination. And if the Republicans use pro-Specter soundbites from Bush, Specter can always counter with anti-Specter soundbites from Limbaugh.

But what if Specter does lose a primary? It'd be an ugly, bruising, expensive primary -- but isn't Pennsylvania blue enough that a genuine Democrat could win? Especially against Pat Toomey, who, as I've said, is probably too pure to be defeated in a primary even by Tom Ridge?

Stay tuned....

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Olympia Snowe in The New York Times today:

Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of governing majorities -- indeed, it was when we [Republicans] began to emphasize social issues to the detriment of some of our basic tenets as a party that we encountered an electoral backlash.

Uh, really? It kills me to say this, but Ole Perfesser Instapundit's recollection matches mine:

But back during the Reagan era, I remember hearing that the Republicans were ... a bunch of social conservatives. And back then they were pushing the abortion-banning Human Life Amendment -- hard -- along with a statutory end-run (the Human Life Bill) that simply declared life began at conception. Also school prayer and all sorts of stuff. I'm not actually hearing much along these lines from today's Republicans....

Why was the GOP hit with an electoral backlash? It wasn't social issues per se. It was the ratcheting up of the entire GOP culture of demonization. Or actually it wasn't even that -- it was the ratcheting up of that demonization even as the broad public became increasingly skeptical about whether the GOP's top demons were really so scary.

The GOP failed the demonization smell test over and over again. Straight people on Main Street U.S.A. began to meet more and more out gay people and started wondering what the hell harm could come to them if gay people were allowed to marry. Barack Obama turned out to be not a scary Mau-Mauing monster, but the most reasonable-seeming guy on earth. Saddam Hussein turned out not to have WMDs. Protesters against the Iraq War didn't burn flags or spit on troops or engage in '60s-style terrorism (and turned out to be right). Rosie O'Donnell and Barbra Streisand and the Dixie Chicks never seized control of the country.

And the demonizers themselves, handed power, actually turned out to be the menace they said all kinds of other people were. They screwed up the economy and foreign policy and Katrina and everything else they touched.

So, no, it wasn't a fixation on social issues, in and of itself, that brought the GOP to ruin. It was the general public's sense that the GOP had a lot of the wrong enemies -- and not nearly enough of the right ones. Republicans toppled Dan Rather, but they let Osama bin Laden and the bandits at AIG get away scot-free.

Is there another way to interpret this passage from an examination of recent poll results by Byron York of The Examiner?

On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama enjoys high job approval ratings, no matter what poll you consult. But if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, the president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.

(Emphasis added.)

That's right -- if very high popularity among blacks makes Obama's positions seem popular "overall," they aren't really popular "overall," because blacks don't really count as part of the populace "overall." They're not people, you see. They're just, y'know, blacks. So they don't count -- "overall."

Fox Nation, responding to the Snowe op-ed:

Republicans? Don't ever stop trying to thin your ranks by making non-Correct Thinkers feel unwelcome in your party -- please don't stop.

Kathleen Parler's latest Washington Post column begins this way:

Here on planet "What About Me," principled people are so rare as to be oddities. Thus, it was a head-swiveling moment Monday when Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, quietly declined Notre Dame's Laetare Medal.

Glendon -- a Harvard University law professor and a respected author on bioethics and human rights -- rejected the honor in part because Barack Obama was invited to be commencement speaker and to receive an honorary degree.

And ends this way:

...[Obama's] abortion stance is in direct conflict with Catholic teaching. And no place symbolizes Catholics in America quite the way Notre Dame does.

Offering this backdrop and extending the school's imprimatur to Obama constitutes a wink and a nod to abortion. Why not throw a pig roast in Mecca? That was Glendon's point. By her symbolic gesture of self-denial, she demonstrates that faith is an act, not a motto.

Obama might consider following Glendon's lead. Although he supports choice, the president also recognizes the moral complexity of those decisions. Out of respect for pro-life Catholics and their beloved institution, he should politely bow out.

I'm puzzled about what Parker means when she talks about Obama "following Glendon's lead." Is he supposed to protest his own invitation by, in effect, boycotting his own speech? Is he supposed to stand up for "principle" by repudiating his own beliefs? Is it even possible, in Parker's view, to be "principled" if your "principles" aren't right-wing? And is Obama supposed to be, if not more Catholic than the pope, then more Catholic than the Catholics who invited him, and who haven't rescinded their invitation?

In Parker's view, Obama's stance on abortion is so intrinsically evil that even Obama should be repulsed by it. It's so intrinsically anti-Catholic that he needs to intercede to spare the Catholics who invited him to insult them. It's a bit like the subtext of a lot of Bush-era talk about jihadists -- namely that they're so evil that even they know it.


And meanwhile, as John Perr points out, this is far from the first time Notre Dame has picked a pro-choice commencement speaker:

...Go Forth and Do Good: Memorable Notre Dame Commencement Addresses ... features 24 notable graduation speeches from presidents of both parties as well as a litany of figures who no doubt found themselves on opposite sides of the abortion issue:

Among other featured Commencement speakers are: Joseph Kennedy, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Andrew Young, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Condoleezza Rice, Kofi Annan, and Presidents Eisenhower, Carter and Reagan.

Moynihan was pro-choice. Young is pro-choice. Carter accepts Roe v. Wade and is not opposed to first-trimester abortions or abortion in cases of rape and incest. Rice describes herself as "mildly pro-choice."

But -- in Pope Benedict's Catholic Church as well as in the post-November GOP -- it's seen as a good time to ratchet up the demands for absolute purism.

(Perr link via The Garlic.)

Philip Klein at The American Spectator:

The problem is that policies that the party may adopt to win over one group of these voters will hurt their chances with another group. For instance, if Republicans gave up their opposition to gay marriage, it may help their chances among younger voters, while hurting their chances among blacks and Hispanics, who remain more opposed to gay marriage than the population at large.

Oh yes -- because opposition to gay marriage has won so many Hispanic and (especially) black votes for the GOP, right? Republicans can't possibly risk squandering the huge advantage the anti-gay stance gives the party among non-whites, now, can they? After all, a lot of Democrats are pro-gay rights, and hardly any non-whites will vote for them, right?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


According to the religious right, that's what America will be -- heaven forfend! -- if the evil Satanic liberals in Congress have their way. Here's an "action alert" from the American Family Association:

Congress is set to give legally protected status to 30 sexual orientations, including incest. Because of pressure from homosexual groups, Congress has refused to define what is meant by "sexual orientation" in H.R. 1913, the "Hate Crimes" bill. This means that the 30 different sexual orientations will be federally protected classes.

(If you're not sure how the second sentence above follows from the first, well, join the club. But read on.)

To see the orientations that will be protected by the Hate Crimes bill (H.R. 1913), click here.

Which leads us to a list of sexual inclinations, kinks, and quirks that will allegedly receive government protection from the hate crimes bill:

Apotemnophilia - sexual arousal associated with the stump(s) of an Amputee
Asphyxophilia - sexual gratification derived from activities that involve oxygen deprivation through hanging, strangulation, or other means
Autogynephilia - the sexual arousal of a man by his own perception of himself as a woman or dressed as a woman
Bisexual - the capacity to feel erotic attraction toward, or to engage in sexual interaction with, both males and females
Coprophilia - sexual arousal associated with feces....

I'll stop there. Go to the link to read the rest. It's a mixed list that includes utterly harmless stuff (transvestism, transsexualism), a few fetishes, and, um, a few crimes (incest, pedophilia, voyeurism). I can't tell whether the folks at the AFA thinks we godless liberals all think these things are equally OK, but I kinda think they do. (By the way, if you're erotically into stumps, and you find a willing amputee who accepts your inclination, I don't see how this harms me.)

This is actually a repurposing of a 2007 attack by the Traditional Values Coalition on a proposed Clarification Of Federal Employment Protections Act, which never got out of committee. The 2007 TVC attack has itself been repurposed as an attack on the hate crimes bill, spelling errors and all. (It's "frotteurism," not "fronteurism." And, given that it's non-consensual, any decent liberal is going to be very much against it and fully in favor of maintaining its status as a crime.)

You know, if we supported half the stuff right-wingers think we support, we'd deserve to be opposed, if not shunned. I wonder if I'll live long enough to see a day when ourpolitical opponents oppose actual policies, not phantoms that exist only in their own brains.


UPDATE: Via Deeky at Shakesville, I see that the Liberty Counsel (in a press release entitled "Hate Crimes Bill Protects Cross-Dressers and Pedophiles but Not Veterans or Grandmas") has picked up on this "30 'sexual orientations'" meme, I confess to admiring your message discipline, guys.

The religious rightists cite the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) to support their claim. But Deeky says:

... pedophilia is not listed as a sexual orientation or a gender identity in the DSM IV. In fact, the DSM IV doesn't include a list of sexual orientations at all.

The closest this comes to truth is that the DSM IV contains a section titled Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders. This is broken down into two smaller groups, the paraphilias (wherein pedophilia resides) and the separate gender identity disorders (which would, presumably, be covered under the proposed statute) and are really only still considered mental health disorders so that trans people with insurance can get their treatment covered. It's only by applying a judicious dollop of mendacity that one can contend that the new Hate Crimes Prevention Act is a way for the government to protect "pedophilia and every imaginable deviant fetish" and promote "coercive pro-homosexual propaganda". (For those who don't keep their own copy, you can peek at relevant section of the DSM IV here.)

But when has the right let a little thing like the truth stand in its way?

Sorry, I can't resist this: the fact their party is shrinking to near-nonexistence is making the folks in Limbaughland a bit giddy:

CALLER: Thanks, Rush. It's good to talk to you.

RUSH: Yes.

CALLER: It's a great day in America and there's party at the big house tonight. I've got six bottles of old port downstairs and one of those cocks -- whoops, sorry -- corks is going to be popping tonight. We have been waiting for Arlen Specter --

RUSH: Did she say she's going to pop some cocks?

CALLER: No, I didn't say -- (laughing)

RUSH: You going to pop some cocks of port?

CALLER: You're a very bad guy. No, I did not say that. We're popping the cork on that bottle, and we are absolutely thrilled. I've been waiting for him to either succumb to his Alzheimer's or just plain get defeated in the polls, or switch parties and join the party he really belongs to.

... RUSH: Are you going to be doing this alone? You said we are going to pop the cocks on the --

CALLER: I did not say that. (laughing)

RUSH: Pop the corks, I'm sorry.

CALLER: Thank you.

RUSH: You said we're going to pop the corks on the port.

CALLER: Well, unfortunately my husband's on travel out in the West Coast, but I'll be doing it, we'll be talking on the phone, we'll be having a big party. Whoo-hoo, it's a good day in America!

RUSH: This is I think going to be a common reaction, many Republicans. This is why I say it's ultimately good. We're weaning out, I won't say deadwood, but weaning out people that are not really Republicans here and haven't been for a long time. Let's see. Not enough time to be fair with another caller. Yes, a lot of popping cocks -- corks, all over Republicanville tonight....

Oh, and that Alzheimer's reference was awfully classy, too, don't you think?

At, Arlen Specter, who's been treated for brain tumors and Hodgkin's disease, is described by Kevin McCullough as a "cancerous tumor":

I really hate it when "parties" do really stupid things....

I'm talking about two of my heroes George W. Bush and Rick Santorum taking some really bad advice and snuggling up to the snake-oil Senator when he last ran for re-election....

Court appointments, Taxes, corrupt pay-for-play, term-limits, permanent dictator status... it's all up for review now.

And why?

Because George W. Bush and Rick Santorum DID NOT remove the cancerous tumor when they had the chance....

(McCullough, by the way, titles this post -- about the man who was until now the GOP's only Jewish senator -- "'Hi I'm a Pig and My Name Is Arlen Specter!'")

An outraged denunciation of McCullough by civility cop and fellow Townhaller Michelle Malkin is expected ... um, never.

That's the first thing I thought when I was gobsmacked by this:

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.

June? Forget June. Absent a full-court press by the Democratic Party -- and I mean one that includes the president -- Al Franken will not be seated (as the 60th Democratic senator) before the 2010 elections. The GOP hasn't begun to get lawyered up on this -- I don't know how they're going to do it, but they'll find a way. Oh, and expect a full-court press in the court of public opinion on a national basis -- by which I mean, expect to suddenly start hearing from every blowhard on Fox News that every brown-skinned Franken voter is an illegal alien Somali terrorist registered by ACORN as Donald Duck.

I don't care if all the GOP arguments are specious -- they'll be relentless, and the intimations of sinister doings will increase. And it doesn't really matter if they work on the general public, because there are a hell of a lot of judges on the federal bench appointed by Republican presidents.

And yes, all this is despite the fact that, as Specter says (and we know he means it):

I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture.


UPDATE: I see that Atrios is speculating about the possibility of a Democratic primary challenger for Specter. Um, good luck with that. Quinnipiac poll, March 25, 2009 (emphasis mine):

Voters approve 52 - 33 percent of the job Specter is doing, with a 71 - 16 percent positive score from Democrats and a 41 - 37 percent boost from independent voters, off-setting a 52 - 36 percent disapproval from Republicans.

Gee, I can't imagine why a guy would switch parties under those conditions, can you?


UPDATE: Oh, and just in case Specter doesn't have the Democratic nomination in the bag already, do you think possibly having two primary challengers will seal the deal for him? I'm not saying this with any joy; I'm just saying, um, game over.

That's what Ross Douthat says in his first New York Times op-ed column, in which he argues that it would have been a good thing if Dick Cheney had been the Republican nominee in 2008:

...Imagine that he'd damned the poll numbers, broken his oft-repeated pledge that he had no presidential ambitions of his own, and shouldered his way into the race. Imagine that Republican primary voters, more favorably disposed than most Americans to Cheney and the administration he served, had rewarded him with the nomination.

At the very least, a Cheney-Obama contest would have clarified conservatism's present political predicament. In the wake of two straight drubbings at the polls, much of the American right has comforted itself with the idea that conservatives lost the country primarily because the Bush-era Republican Party spent too much money on social programs. And John McCain's defeat has been taken as the vindication of this premise.

We tried running the maverick reformer, the argument goes, and look what it got us. What Americans want is real conservatism, not some crypto-liberal imitation.

"Real conservatism," in this narrative, means a particular strain of right-wingery: a conservatism of supply-side economics and stress positions, uninterested in social policy and dismissive of libertarian qualms about the national-security state. And Dick Cheney happens to be its diamond-hard distillation....

Don't misunderstand -- Douthat does think Cheney would have lost, and lost badly. As a not-truly-crazy conservative, he's saying this would have taught the crazies a lesson.

Well, that's part of what he's saying. He clearly enjoys the fantasy that the "diamond-hard" Cheney would have strapped on the jackboots, grabbed the riding crop, and marched into battle:

As a candidate, Cheney would have doubtless been as disciplined and ideologically consistent as McCain was feckless. In debates with Barack Obama, he would have been as cuttingly effective as he was in his encounters with Joe Lieberman and John Edwards in 2000 and 2004 respectively.

Douthat says he would have suffered a "landslide loss" -- but a pure conservative landslide loss. Not like the one we actually saw.

Um, was Douthat out of reach of newsprint, TV, radio, and the Internet throughout the fall of 2008? John McCain may have vacillated, and he didn't fully parrot the Bush/Cheney line on torture (which didn't matter because the issue barely came up), but the message most Americans got from the McCain/Palin/Wurzelbacher/Lieberman/Graham ticket was that Barack Obama was a scary socialist America-hating pawn of ACORN who was from either Jihadistan or Hollyweird, or possibly both. Would crowds at Cheney rallies have been less feral? And Palin's foreign policy pronouncements, in particular, were Cheney's, except two octaves higher and with 90% fewer grammatically correct sentences.

On the other hand, if GOP crazies think "conservatives lost the country primarily because the Bush-era Republican Party spent too much money on social programs," how would running Bush's vice president have changed their minds? You know -- Dick "Deficits Don't Matter" Cheney? Dick Cheney the guy whose administration approved the initial TARP program (which, even now, he doesn't apologize for)? Running him and losing was going to persuade wingnuts that their ideas had been rejected at the polls?

Wingnuts will never believe their ideas have been rejected at the polls. If a Palin/Sanford ticket loses 49 states in 2012, or even Limbaugh/Beck, they'll find some deviation from Correct Thinking on the part of their candidates and insist that, well, we still haven't had a true test.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Michael Gerson, a former Bush speechwriter and Evangelical Christian, wrote this in The Washington Post today, as part of his defense of Bush interrogation policies:

Few Americans would object to the slapping of a terrorist during questioning, for example, if this yielded important intelligence. The coercion would be minimal; the goal of saving lives, overriding. Few Americans, on the other hand, would support pressuring a terrorist by torturing his child. Such a heinous act could not be justified in pursuit of an inherently uncertain outcome -- securing information that may or may not prevent greater loss of life.

What Gerson is trying to tell us is that -- unlike those silly, zealous anti-torture absolutists -- most normal people make careful, thoughtful distinctions between the rough stuff and, y'know, the really rough stuff. And, guided by fine moral compasses, they know what lines to draw.

I'm not sure I believe that. At the very least, I'd like to see some proof.

I want to see a poll question on torturing the child of a terrorism suspect. I'm sure the approval numbers would be lower than for torture of the suspect himself, but there's some considerable distance for that number to fall -- in the most recent Washington Post/ABC poll, when asked whether "there are cases in which the United States should consider torture against terrorism suspects," 69% of Republicans said yes (as did 48% of respondents overall). Note that the question didn't ask about, say, waterboarding, which many people (Republicans especially) would say isn't torture -- the question asked about torture. Nearly seven out of ten Republicans think torture could be just the ticket sometimes.

Why is Gerson so certain that a significant percentage of Americans wouldn't say any technique used on anyone in the name of anti-terrorism is OK?

Americans voted for George W. Bush less than a year after learning about Abu Ghraib. Americans were told a number of times that American forces were imprisoning the relatives of suspected insurgents in order to put pressure on those insurgents. None of this seemed to bother a certain segment of the American population very much (and it certainly didn't seem to offend the moral sensibilities of Michael Gerson). Why should we be so sure that, if asked, they wouldn't put the two together and say "Go for it"? Why should we be so sure that they (especially the Bush/Limbaugh/Murdoch propaganda swallowers) wouldn't give the green light to any tactic?

I'm sure if the Bush White House had issued orders that the children of suspected terrorists were to be tortured, the Gersons of the world would see a fine moral line, and would declare that the Bushies were on the Godly side of the line. The pro-torture members of the public would just say, "Screw 'em. They're terrorist scum. Do whatever you have to do."

Gerson and I disagree on this. That's why I'd like to see the question polled.

Unless "guts" has changed meaning without my knowing it...

Story here:

...It now turns out that Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, will NOT speak at the Notre dame Graduation.... The pro-life, Harvard professor was set to receive the Laetare Medal which is the annual award given in recognition of outstanding service to the Roman Catholic church and society. She was to speak to the students on the same day as President Obama. But President Obama’s appearance was just too much....


Glendon is staunchly anti-abortion, and she expressed disappointment that Notre Dame was awarding someone -- in this case the president of the United States -- whose position on abortion is so starkly different from Catholic Church's and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops'.

That takes guts? It takes guts to turn yourself from a relatively obscure academic into the latest A-list wingnut victim/folk hero? It takes guts to put yourself in a position to be lavished with praise by Michael Gerson and William Bennett and Sean Hannity and William Donohue, and (in all likelihood) to experience a significant boost in your future speaking fees and book advances? (I'm sure she could crank out a "my years in the belly of the beast" memoir about being an abortion and gay marriage opponent at Harvard, even though she seems to be whiling away her time there undisturbed by liberal fascists.) Damn, if I were right-leaning, I'd be brainstorming day and night trying to figure out how I could become the next wingnut celebrity victim, the next Miss California. In this tough job market, people are going to be lining up to declare themselves aggrieved in this way. Fox could do an elimination miniseries to find the most tearjerking victim of liberalism, with Glenn Beck shedding tears every time a winner is announced.

Let me note for the record that this great woman of principle, this fine Catholic who won't even appear at a commencement if it's defiled by Beelzebub Hussein Obama, delightedly accepted a medal and a couple of jobs from that great torturer and death penalty fan George W. Bush.

I'd love to make the wingnuts happy by saying that this traumatized me and made me wonder what on earth the fascist/socialist/egoist Obama administration was thinking, but, um, I'm in Midtown rather than Downtown, so I completely missed it. Sounds poorly thought out, admittedly...

An Air Force One lookalike, the backup plane for the one regularly used by the president, flew low over parts of New York and New Jersey on Monday morning, accompanied by two F-16 fighters, so Air Force photographers could take pictures high above the New York harbor.

But the exercise -- conducted without any notification to the public -- caused momentary panic in some quarters and led to the evacuation of several buildings in Lower Manhattan and Jersey City....

Will New York ever recover? Um, yes, I believe even people who were shaken up by it will recover:

Carlina Rivera, 25, who works at an educational services company on the 22nd floor of 1 Liberty Plaza, said her co-workers were spooked in part because their offices are so close to the site of the 9/11 attack....

Ms. Rivera, who was a high school student in the East Village when the 9/11 attack occurred, added, "I did feel a little bit foolish for staying in the office while everyone left."

... Ms. Rivera continued: "Of course, everyone had to take out their cellphones and say, 'You can come back, it’s O.K.' Eventually they returned with some sort of comfort food....”

They're New Yorkers. They'll bounce back -- they'll gain weight, but they'll bounce back.

From Chuck Todd and his colleagues at MSNBC's First Read:

If you hadn't realized it, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano might have the toughest public relations job in Washington these days. Already, she has found herself on the frontlines of some very tricky issues. First, it was border security and the Mexican drug war; then it was the infamous memo about the rise of right-wing hate groups that her department wrote; and now it's swine flu....

You'll probably say it doesn't matter, but I wonder if Todd et al. realize just how hated Napolitano is among the GOP base right now. It's not just the hate-group report (anger over this on the right is virtually impossible to overstate) and the lack of seal-the-borders absolutism -- it's also the use of the term "man-caused disaster" as a synonym for "terrorist act," as well as her erroneous statement that 9/11 terrorists crossed into the U.S. from Canada (she was apparently confusing the 9/11 perpetrators with Ahmed Ressam, the would-be "millennium bomber"), which was part of her attempt to clarify an earlier statement that, with regard to security, the U.S. should treat the Mexican and Canadian borders equally

Somehow she's managing to hit the hottest of wingnut hot buttons repeatedly. You can imagine how the statement about equal treatment of the borders would infuriate Mexican-phobic right-wingers. "Man-caused disasters" offended wingers because of their primitive belief in the magic power of booga-booga words such as "terrorist" and "Islamofascist," repeated as often as humanly possible. And the hate-group memo, of course, fed wingers' bottomless sense of victimization.

I wonder if Team Obama understands this. Somebody had to be in charge of the administration's response to swine flu, and there weren't a lot of choices besides Napolitano. On the other hand, I can't help thinking that the Obamaites hope she'll handle this well, after which there'll be an impression of her among the public at large that utterly contradicts (and thus renders politically useless) the idea of her in the right's fever swamps.

I'm rooting for her. But meanwhile, she may actually top Obama himself (and the Clintons, and Ted Kennedy, and Pelosi and Reid and Barney Frank, and Jane Fonda) on the current hit parade right-wing Antichrists.

I don't know what the thinking was when Fox Nation posted a scare headline about Janet Napolitano juxtaposed with a picture of a pig ...

... but the rabble in the thread are inspired (if that's the word for it):

...By the way great photo of Napolitano at the head of this column


I can hear Janet squealing in fear, snorting through Washington, Wallowing in front of the Head Piggy. Blaming the pandemic on those pigs,"The Conservative Right".
Squealing, Oinking, Grubbing....


That is a good post for Napolitano... She is a communist swine to begin with...


I agree. I also find it appropriate that they put this pig in charge of the swine flu problem....


It's probably due to the resemblance in character....although I like pigs!!! theys good to eat!!!


And Fox put her picture at the top of the blog.

Maybe this line of attack won't cross over to any of the pros -- but I'm expecting it from somewhere in the talk radio/Murdoch axis in the next couple of days. And if I'm right, I expect to hear nothing from PUMA-land except silence.


UPDATE: I guess the Fox people thought the image above was too subtle, so it's been replaced by this:

Which inspires, among other comments:

Someone check that pig, i think it's wearing Birckenstocks.


which one would look better with lipstick.

As I'm sure it was meant to.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Yup -- the right-wingers known as the Founding Bloggers already know who's to blame:

If You Were Outraged By The Government's Response To Katrina...

...then your outrage, if genuine, should be approaching a steady simmer on the way to a full boil for the government’s slow response to the Swine Flu.

U.S. public health officials did not know about a growing outbreak of swine flu in Mexico until nearly a week after that country started invoking protective measures...

It gets worse than that. Read the rest of the quote here.

That link goes to Instapundit. Here's the quote:

"U.S. public health officials did not know about a growing outbreak of swine flu in Mexico until nearly a week after that country started invoking protective measures, and didn't learn that the deaths were caused by a rare strain of the influenza until after Canadian officials did.... U.S. public health officials are still largely in the dark about what's happening in Mexico two weeks after the outbreak was recognized."

Of course, you should note that the Founding Bloggers want you to read "the rest of the quote," not the rest of the article it's quoted from. That article is from The Washington Post; it contains this explanation for why Canada's response was faster than that of the United States:

In recent years, Mexico has done extensive pandemic planning with Canada and developed a close relationship with the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. Tests on virus samples from the Mexican patients suggested the strain was different from this year's flu. So on Monday, Mexican officials sent lung and throat swabs to Canada to be characterized.

Gee, who was president of the United States "in recent years"? On whose watch did Mexico establish a faster information pipeline with Canada than with the U.S.?

Opening sentence of John Harwood's article on Dick Cheney in the New York Times Week in Review section:

Dick Cheney became a one-of-a-kind vice president for two reasons: he cared deeply about governance, and not a bit about his future political standing.

Wow. Don't you just love that? Cheney "cared deeply about governance." Yup -- kinda the way Timothy McVeigh "cared deeply" about the power balance between ordinary citizens and the federal government, or Eric Rudolph "cared deeply" about the decline of traditional morality, or Bull Connor "cared deeply" about law and order.

Harwood's subject is Cheney's series of attacks on the Obama administration. Surely, to Harwood, there must be some unusual circumstance that's making Cheney attack a sitting president within weeks of his inauguration. We must be in quite unprecendented circumstances:

In the first months of the Reagan Revolution, Mr. Carter and his vice president, Walter Mondale, "never attacked us," Martin Anderson, the White House domestic policy chief under Mr. Reagan, recalled. Such etiquette flowed in no small measure from political realities. Mr. Reagan's decisive victory in 1980 made it clear that American voters wanted to turn the page.

As opposed to now, I guess, when the results of the last election (and public opinion polls) make clear that Americans want more of the same! Right?

Um, no -- here's what's unusual now:

Former vice presidents often have other reasons for keeping quiet. Mr. Mondale was contemplating his own run for the White House and was intent on presenting himself as a viable candidate, rather than on defending the president he had served. The same held for other former vice presidents eying the presidency: Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, George H. W. Bush, Al Gore.

But Mr. Cheney is an altogether different case. No one expects another campaign from him, freeing him to speak his mind. "If he were running for office he'd be tempered more by how it would appear," the presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said. "His main constituency right now is history."

Oh, right -- because actual presidential aspirants such as Mark Sanford, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Bobby Jindal are being so cautious in what they say about the Obama administration, aren't they? Why, we barely hear a peep from any of them! (Smacks forehead.) Of course! That must be it!

Oh, and there's one other possible explanation -- Cheney can't not attack Obama! Obama's forcing him to attack!

Some veterans of the Bush White House say Mr. Cheney had little choice but to speak out given the barbs directed his way by Mr. Obama, who -- in a pointed rejoinder to the Bush administration's interrogation policies -- said, "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."

Hey, what do you expect? If Obama wears that dress, of course guys are going to pounce! That's their nature! It's Obama's fault!

Yes, yes, somehow Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Condoleezza Rice, and even W himself are managing to avoid responsing to this provocation. But I guess Cheney's animal spirits are so vigorous that he can't help himself. Blame Obama!

We love our fat-cat captors. That's why we'll have "tea parties" out of anger at(rumored, nonexistent) increased taxation on ourselves, but we wouldn't dream of having "tea parties" in response to, say, this:

After an Off Year, Wall Street Pay Is Bouncing Back

... Workers at the largest financial institutions are on track to earn as much money this year as they did before the financial crisis began, because of the strong start of the year for bank profits.

... six of the biggest banks set aside over $36 billion in the first quarter to pay their employees, according to a review of financial statements.

If that pace continues all year, the money set aside for compensation suggests that workers at many banks will see their pay -- much of it in bonuses -- recover from the lows of last year.

... every dollar paid to workers is a dollar that cannot be used to expand the business or increase lending. Some of that revenue, too, could be used by bailed-out banks to pay back taxpayers....

Well, of course. As Gallup recently noted, when asked about "big business," "big government," and "big labor," 55% of Americans right now pick "big government" as "the biggest threat to the country in the future," while only 32% pick "big business."

"Big government" has topped "big business" consistently since Gallup first started asking that question during LBJ's administration -- but the gap increased to at least 20% starting in the Reagan years and, except for one brief Enron moment, has never narrowed since he was president, even now.

(I'd love to punctuate this with the Gallup chart, but Blogger isn't letting me upload it. Scroll down at the link above to see it.)

America favored big business before Reagan, but the three-decade Reagan/Limbaugh/Gingrich/Bush/Murdoch era has made America safe for whatever big business wants to do ... even now. The fat cats have nothing to fear. Our docility is their assurance that they can do what they want.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Oh, you're missing some amazing stories. Like this one:

California Man Symbolically 'Adopts' Wife's Two Aborted Fetuses

A California man has signed papers to symbolically "adopt" and give his last name to his wife's two aborted fetuses.

Stan Musil said he filed the posthumous "adoption" on Monday as a way to support his wife, Lisa, and help her heal from the pain of having those abortions, Lisa Musil told

I should point out that "file" doesn't mean "file" exactly.

Read on:

... Musil, now 45, had her first abortion at 19 because she was too frightened to admit her pregnancy to anyone -- including her then live-in boyfriend, the Assist News Service reported.

But terminating the pregnancy caused her so much pain that she tried to cover it with "drugs, alcohol, partying and a promiscuous lifestyle," she told radio host Rich Buhler in an interview with KBRT AM-740.

That lifestyle led to her second pregnancy -- and subsequent abortion -- just before she was due to serve a jail sentence for a drunken driving conviction, ANS reported.

... To try to cope with [the] pain, Lisa Musil turned her efforts to honoring those who have gone through abortions.

"It’s been a desire of mine to establish a memorial where post-abortive women can go to have the names of their aborted children engraved to honor their remembrance," she said. "As this is coming to fruition, I was wondering what last name I would put on this memorial, and my sweet husband asked if we could find some way he could legally adopt my babies and then they could take his name."

Upon hearing about Stan's idea, Buhler put the Musil's in contact with adoption law expert and NightLite Christian Adoptions Executive Director Rod Stoddart.

... Stoddart drafted paperwork that reflected the Musils' desire for the adoption before each other, God and witnesses, which the couple signed on Buhler's radio show....

Does the notion of "filing" and "paperwork" that these people have remind you of something? This, perhaps?

Shopkeeper: All right, all right, all right. A licence.
Customer: Yes.
Shopkeeper: For a fish.
Customer: Yes.
Shopkeeper: You are a looney.
Customer: Look, it's a bleeding pet, innit? I've got a licence for me pet dog Eric, and I've got a licence for me pet cat Eric...
Shopkeeper: You don't need a licence for your cat!
Customer: I bleeding well do, and I got one. He can't be called 'Eric' without it...
Shopkeeper: There's no such thing as a bloody cat licence.
Customer: Yes, there is!
Shopkeeper: Isn't!
Customer: Is!
Shopkeeper: Isn't!
Customer: I bleeding got one...look! What's that, then?
Shopkeeper: This is a dog licence with the word 'dog' crossed out, and 'cat' written in, in crayon.

But back to the Musils. That "memorial where post-abortive women can go to have the names of their aborted children engraved to honor their remembrance"? It's apparently really being built:

When the intended memorial is erected at Pierce Brothers Crestlawn Memorial Park in Riverside, Calif., it will include the names the Musils gave the aborted fetuses -- Alicia Anne Musil and Vincent Matthew Musil.

I wonder if this is going to go Mormon eventually -- you know, anti-choicers deciding that memorializing and "adopting" and naming their own fetuses isn't enough, and eventually they're going to start doing all this to other people's.

Oh, did I mention the name of the group Lisa Musil is involved in?

Lisa is a part of a ministry in Riverside called White As Snow that helps women in crisis pregnancies as well as women and men who are dealing with the pain of abortion.

White As Snow. Yikes.

Ron Stoddart, by the way, was a guest at the Bush White House in 2005 for a discussion of stem-cell research and the adoption of frozen fertility-clinic embryos as "snowflake babies." The Bushies remained in touch with Stoddardt, and referred him to ABC's Jake Tapper in 2006 for a discussion of the snowflake issue. It does not appear that Stoddardt ever discussed adoptions of aborted fetuses with either Bush or Tapper, though that's impossible to determine.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Fox News has a new poll out -- and, as usual, the early questions are standard-issue (and the results are quite good for Barack Obama and the Democrats, and quite bad for the Republicans) ... while the end of the poll is more or less undiluted propaganda.

First, some of the good news:

Obama's job approval rating comes in at 62 percent....

In addition, most people say Obama is doing a better job than they expected (26 percent) or meeting expectations (56 percent). Few say he is doing worse than expected (16 percent)....

Most Americans have a favorable opinion of Obama as a person: 68 percent favorable and 27 percent unfavorable.....

First lady Michelle Obama is even more popular than her husband, as 73 percent of Americans have a positive view of her....

The poll also finds that 73 percent think Obama is honest and trustworthy, up from 60 percent in October 2008. Furthermore, more people today see Obama as a "doer" (43 percent) than a "talker" (30 percent), a reversal from pre-election polling when more people saw him as a talker (49 percent) rather than a doer (34 percent)....

Most Americans -- 69 percent -- say they are satisfied with what Obama has accomplished in his first 100 days, and 57 percent think he is keeping the promises he made during the campaign....

And now some push-poll questions (PDF):

41a. Do you believe Barack Obama's three point six trillion dollar budget plan will help stabilize the nation's economy, or not?

41b. Do you believe the recently passed three point six trillion dollar federal budget plan will help stabilize the nation's economy, or not?

42. Does the recently passed three point six trillion dollar federal budget plan make you feel more or less secure about the nation's financial future?

(Hmmm ... I've poked around in Fox's poll archive for 2008 and I haven't found any polls in which multiple questions were asked about George W. Bush's "three point one trillion dollar federal budget plan." But maybe I just didn't look hard enough.)

52. Do you think Barack Obama believes the United States is in a global war on terrorism?

(Disappointingly for Fox, "yes" wins.)

53. The Secretary of Homeland Security has stopped using the word terrorism and instead uses the phrase "man-caused disasters." Do you think President Obama should use the word terrorism when referring to threats from terrorists or should he say man-caused disasters?

(More politically correct language police work from the right! By the way, here's a speech Napolitano gave Wednesday in which she used some form of the word "terrorism" ten times.)

55. In talking about what might happen to detainees when the Guantanamo Bay prison is closed, recently National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair said some of the prisoners may be released in the United States and suggested it may be necessary to give them assistance for them to start a new life. Do you favor or oppose using taxpayer dollars to help prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay?

(This is really sleazy because the prisoners he's talking about are Chinese Uighurs, most of whom were determined not to be threats in 2003, yet they've been in legal limbo ever since, and the Obama administration, quite rightly, doesn't want to return them to China, where they'd be persecuted. None of this, you'll note, is mentioned in the question.)

56. As you may have heard, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano recently suggested that U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars might be susceptible for recruitment into rightwing extremists groups -- do you think she is right and it is a possibility, or do you think such a suggestion is an insult to veterans?

(Of course, Napolitano didn't say this -- this was part of a DHS report done under the aegis of a holdover Bush appointee, and a comparable report on left-wing extremists was released by DHS in late January, and a DHS report from late in Bush's term that also warned about possible white-supremacist recruitment of veterans was issued without inspiring an angry response from the right, or, as far as I know, a question in a Fox News poll.)

There's a question about Chavez and Castro, of course, and there are several questions about waterboarding (including one, naturally, positing the ticking-bomb scenario).

All in all, a fairly typical Fox poll.

I'm struck by the fact that a certain argument is not considered outrageous. David Frum:

Now Obama is musing about extending the political reach of the criminal law. If he does so, he will find he has opened a new front of political warfare that will not soon end.

After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush drew a curtain of oblivion against all the errors and mistakes that had led up to the attacks. There was accusation and counter-accusation in the media, but at the official level there was no recrimination against President Clinton's decision not to kill bin Laden when he had the chance, no action against those who had failed to stop the 9/11 hijackers from entering the country.

If Obama proceeds to take legal action against those who did what they thought was right to defend the country, all that will change. Prosecutions launched by Obama will not stop when Obama declares "game over." If overzealousness under Bush becomes a crime under Obama, underzealousness under Obama will become a crime under the next Republican president.

James Taranto on The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, after quoting Frum (in a piece titled "Ve Haf Vays of Making You Consent" -- keep it classy, Rupert):

If those now in power yield to the temptation to use authoritarian means--however well-intentioned their ends may be--they will set a precedent that their opponents, perhaps equally well-intentioned, may one day use against them.

Maybe I'm reading something into this that's not there, but what Frum and Taranto seem to be saying is that legal pursuit of the Obama administration could very well follow any legal pursuit of Bushies who enabled torture for whatever reason the post-Obama Republicans might concoct. And if they do this -- if they simply make up charges against the Obamaites -- that will be Obama's fault.

If there's any legal action taken right now against Bushies, it will be in the belief that crimes -- actual affirmative illegal acts -- took place. Frum, by contrast, implies that Republicans could have prosecuted Bill Clinton for not killing bin Laden, but out of the goodness of their hearts chose not to, for which they deserve a gold star on the forehead and a round of applause.

Yes, obviously the death of bin Laden in the Clinton years would have spared America great suffering, but in the failure to kill him, where's the crime?

(And for that matter, if failing to kill bin Laden is a crime, isn't President Obama showing great restraint by failing to indict members of the Bush administration for it?)

I should add, however, that Frum and Taranto are probably right -- Republicans probably will exact their revenge if charges are pursued against Bushies. But that's not because it's appropriate, or because it's simple human nature. It's because they're Republicans, and scorched earth is now the party's all-but-official policy, never mind the consequences to the country.

Noonan today, writing about campaign arguments in 2008 in favor of an Obama presidency (emphasis added):

A ... foreign-affairs argument for Obama is that we had entered the age of weapons of mass destruction (we'd entered it before 9/11, but only after that date did everyone know) under solely Republican rule. Which allowed anyone who wanted to, to perceive it, or play it, as a Republican war, a Republican drama. There were potential benefits in a change in leadership, one being that the Democrats would now share authority and responsibility for the age and its difficulties. They'd get the daily raw threat file, they'd apply their view of the world and do their best. A primary virtue of that: On the day something bad happened -- and that day will come, and no one in the entire U.S. intelligence community will tell you otherwise -- we would as a nation be spared, as we got through it, the added burden of the terrible, cleaving, partisan divisiveness of 2000-08. This would help hold us together in a hard time.

That's right: "everyone kn[e]w" after 9/11 that "we had entered the age of weapons of mass destruction," according to Noonan.

Um, Peg -- what "weapons of mass destruction"? Box cutters? Utility knives? Did Noonan absorb so much smoking-gun/mushroom-cloud Bush propaganda starting in 2002 that she now actually thinks WMDs were used on 9/11? Or that Iraq had WMDs when we invaded?

As for the rest of this paragraph's argument: I love the demarcation of America's "terrible, cleaving, partisan divisiveness." Did you know it started in 2000? Impeachment and Whitewater and the Clinton death lists? Ha! Never happened! Figments of your imagination!

And Peggy, there was no "terrible, cleaving, partisan divisiveness" in foreign policy between 9/11 and the onset of the campaign to sell the notion of an Iraq war. You're saying we needed both parties to own foreign policy for at least some time so partisanship would end? No -- we needed one party not to pursue a deadly, nation-dividing lunatic crusade based on disprovable conspiracy theories. And, in the process, throwing out legal principles about prisoner treatment that had served us against well against far more dangerous enemies than al-Qaeda.

And, of course, prior to your column today, no one ever argued that a sharing of the foreign-policy burden would, in and of itself, end partisanship. Anyone naive enough to believe that only had to watch the McCarthyite McCain/Palin/Wurzelbacher campaign to know what was coming if Obama won, regardless of what he did.


I also don't understand one of Noonan's specific concerns about possible congressional hearings on torture:

... hearings would not take place only in America. They would take place in the world, in this world, the one with extremists and terrible weapons. It is hard to believe hearings, with grandstanding senators playing to the crowd, would not descend into an auto-da-fe, a public burning of sinners, with charges, countercharges, leaks and graphic testimony. This would be a self-immolating exercise that would both excite and inform America's foes. And possibly inspire them.

Inspire them how? They already know we've done these things -- they've known for a long time, while many of us have been in denial. We're going to grill (and maybe eventually indict and convict), say, John Yoo for enabling torture -- and that's going to upset them?

I have to confess that I take seriously the argument, advanced by Noonan and others, that torture might now consume Washington, at a time when we have a lot of other problems to focus on. But my fear in this specific case is of Republicans, not jihadists. Jihadists won't hate us any more after congressional hearings, or even trials and convictions, than they already do. It's Republicans who are going go even further around the bend.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Before standing up and braying that waterboarding is just dokey, would Republicans please learn what the hell it actually is?

Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.):

"If we have another 2,000 people killed, I want Nancy Pelosi and [liberal philanthropist] George Soros, John Conyers and Pat Leahy to go to the funeral and say, 'Your son was vaporized because we didn’t want to dump some guy's head under water for 30 seconds.'"

Bill O'Reilly to Ellis Henican of Newsday:

O'Reilly: To save your life, I woulda dunked the guy in the water!

Former McCain campaign blogger Michael Goldfarb at The Weekly Standard:

As to the morality of the methods used, I don't see anything immoral about smacking around a terrorist or making him sit in the cold or dunking him in the water....

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

IT'S NOT STICKING SOMEONE'S HEAD IN WATER. It's placing an airway-constricting hood over the head of an immobilized person, then placing a towel over the hood, then pouring water on the face until it's utterly impossible for the waterboarded person to breathe.

Let's me go back to the very disturbing video I linked earlier today of Christopher Hitchens being waterboarded (and acknowledging that, hell yes, it's torture):

As Hitchens says in the video:

It's annoying to me now to read every time it's discussed in the press, or in Congress, that it simulates the feeling of drowning. It doesn't simulate the feeling of drowning. You are being drowned, slowly....

If you hold your breath, it has the effect of tightening the grip of the suff over your face and mouth and nostrils, so it's a smothering feeling as well as a drowning feeling.

You're being drowned while you're being smothered while you're being immobilized by the people your brain thinks are killing you. You can't flail. You can't struggle. And you'll agree to say whatever the hell anyone wants you to say to try to make it stop, whether or not it's the freaking truth.

Or at least on one Republican:

Republican state party leaders are rebelling against new Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele for failing to dub President Obama and the Democrats as "socialists." And the rebels insist that the label matters.

Even though Mr. Steele has called his Democratic adversaries "collectivists," at least 16 state leaders say the term lacks the pejorative punch needed to sway public opinion and want all 168 members of the Republican National Committee to debate and vote on it....

Publicly, Mr. Steele has shied away from using the socialist line....

I'm so old I remember when it was liberals who were supposedly obsessed with enforcing the use of "politically correct" language. But in recent years GOP language cops have tried to impose speech codes on Democrats -- remember Rudy Giuliani's exasperation at the fact that Democrats in one presidential debate "never mentioned the word Islamic terrorist, Islamic extremist, Islamic fascist, terrorist, whatever combination of those words you want to use, (the) words never came up"? Unfortunately for Giuliani and his fellow Republicans, nobody cared. But Republicans apparently can't stop themselves now. So they're imposing speech codes on one another.

I should point out that the resolution actually makes the demand that the RNC make the demand that the Democratic Party conform to a speech code:

RESOLVED, that we the members of the Republican National Committee call on the Democratic Party to be truthful and honest with the American people by acknowledging that they have evolved from a party of tax and spend to a party of tax and nationalize and, therefore, should agree to rename themselves the Democrat Socialist Party.

So it's actually kind of a language-police daisy chain.

I'm not saying this in a gleeful way: It'll never happen, but it would be good for America if Sean Hannity felt he couldn't back down from the offer he made on his show last night to his guest Charles Grodin:

GRODIN: ... Have you ever been waterboarded?

HANNITY: No, but Ollie North has.

GRODIN: Would you consent to be waterboarded? We can waterboard you?


GRODIN: Are you busy on Sunday?

HANNITY: I'll do it for charity. I'll let you do it. I'll do it for the troops' families.

Hannity can joke about it because no right-winger is going to hold him to it, and anyone who tries to pressure him to make good on this offer can easily be portrayed as a gleefully sadistic ideological enemy.

Well, I'll run that risk. I want Hannity to do this not because I'd enjoy watching him suffer but because I think he thinks he can shrug waterboarding off as the fraternity prank he and his ideological soul mates think it is -- and I don't think he can. I think a lot of people would learn a lot if he actually went through this.

You may know that one of Hannity's fellow Bush cheerleaders, Christopher Hitchens, had himself waterboarded in the SERE school manner, just to learn what it was like. But have you seen the video? Here it is:

In the video and in his article, Hitchens doesn't equivocate -- the article is titled "Believe Me, It's Torture." Watch the actual process in the video, starting shortly after the three-minute mark: Hitchens is strapped down, his head an airway-constricting hood, then a towel is placed over his face to constrict his airways further. Starting at about 3:16, water is poured on his face, by my count, six discrete times. By 3:33, he's had enough. He drops the metal object that's been placed in his hand, a signal that he can't endure this anymore.

He lasts a total of 17 seconds.

Let me remind you about the U.S. torture regime:

Steven G Bradbury, May 10 2005, p.42:

In SERE training, the technique is confined to at most two applications (and usually only one) of no more than 40 seconds each. Here, there may be two sessions, of up to two hours each, during a 24-hour period, and each session may include multiple applications, of which six may last 10 seconds or longer (but none more than 40 seconds), for a total time of application of as much as 12 minutes in a 24-hour period. Furthermore, the waterboard may be used up to five days during the 30-day period for which it is approved

Steven G Bradbury, May 10 2005 p.41:

51. The IG Report noted that in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated.... (”The waterboard technique was different from the technique described in the DOJ opinion and used in the SERE training. The difference was in the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the Interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency interrogator… applies large volumes of water to a cloththat covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the Agency’s use of the technique is different than that used by in SERE training because it is ‘for real’ and is ‘more poignant and convincing’.”) ...

At 3:38, once his hood has been removed, you see Hitchens desperately gasping for air. He writes that he did undergo a second session -- but it didn't leave him feeling any more able to withstand the procedure:

And so then I said, with slightly more bravado than was justified, that I’d like to try it one more time. There was a paramedic present who checked my racing pulse and warned me about adrenaline rush. An interval was ordered, and then I felt the mask come down again. Steeling myself to remember what it had been like last time, and to learn from the previous panic attack, I fought down the first, and some of the second, wave of nausea and terror but soon found that I was an abject prisoner of my gag reflex. The interrogators would hardly have had time to ask me any questions, and I knew that I would quite readily have agreed to supply any answer. I still feel ashamed when I think about it.

This much waterboarding -- done under controlled conditions and at Hitchens's own request -- had aftereffects:

Also, in case it's of interest, I have since woken up trying to push the bedcovers off my face, and if I do anything that makes me short of breath I find myself clawing at the air with a horrible sensation of smothering and claustrophobia.

Hitchens adds:

I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong." Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.

Sean Hannity is a smirky, dismissive overgrown frat boy -- or at least he is now. After a bit of this? I don't think even he could maintain his sneering, dismissive persona. I think this would teach him humility. I think it would be a moral lesson. And I'm sorry, therefore, that he'll never actually learn that lesson.

In The Washington Post's On Faith section, Sally Quinn says that she and Ben Bradlee cried when they watched Susan Boyle on TV -- and Quinn literally saw God:

...Of course like most people, I cried when I watched the video, as did my son, as did my husband, tears pouring down his cheeks. But we knew before we watched it that Susan Boyle was learning disabled. She had suffered oxygen deprivation at birth. We knew that she lived alone with her cat, had never held a job and had never been kissed. The reaction to the tape has been universal. Applauding the underdog, confounding the cynics, and validating ordinary, not particularly attractive women who had never been celebrated or even affirmed in their lives....

When she began to sing I not only heard but saw the divine, the sacred, the holy. There it was in the most unlikely figure, radiating out of her as if she were being transported to another realm.... It made me realize that we are all born with that same quality of the divine whether we are beautiful, ugly, brilliant, learning disabled, outgoing, introverted, talented or just average. It is there and we have an obligation to look for it in ourselves and most importantly look for it in others....

What rankles me about this is that it clearly never occurred to Quinn that the non-fabulous and non-sleek had any value until a non-fabulous, non-sleek person succeeded at her game, which is grabbing TV ratings and online page views and print column inches. The Susan Boyles of the world who lack the capacity to compete for eyeballs have, until now, been essentially invisible to Quinn, by her own admission -- she's never seen "the divine, the sacred, the holy" in them. I'm certain they still are.

I should acknowledge that there's a personal issue for Quinn (and her husband) in this -- as she writes, she tells us that

In the next room my son, Quinn Bradlee, 26, is also pondering what to say for his Web site,, a site for young adults with learning disabilities. I never thought it would come to this -- competing with my son.

But note that even the reference to her son gets framed in terms of the competition for eyeballs. He's in the game, too (she name-checks his Web site; he also has a newly published book, which has garnered a lot of media attention, I'm surely solely on its merits).

That's Sally Quinn's God -- the God of Media Fabulousness. That's the God who speaks to Quinn in Susan Boyle's voice.


UPDATE: There's a fine "Shorter Sally Quinn" here, plus some not-quite-fresh but still bizarre gossip.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Perfect Storm of Ignorance and Enthusiasm would be an ideal title for Bush's memoir, don't you think?

In response to news that the acting chief financial officer of Freddie Mac was found dead early this morning after apparently taking his own life, Fox Nation, Rupert Murdoch's new Free-Republic-on-crack site, goes trolling for conspiracy theorists...

... and, unsurprisingly, finds some.

Click to enlarge the screen shots below:

That's not a completely representative sample. A number of posters think Barney Frank is the culprit -- "Barney has so many slimey and felonious connections, he makes Don Corleone look like a choir boy" -- while a lot of others nostalgically blame the Clintons, or blame Harry Reid or Chris Dodd or Nancy Pelosi. (A couple of posters, it should be noted, blame Bush and Cheney.)

Way to enliven the debate, Rupert.

Remember this the next time some sanctimonious Fox blowhard gets all high and mighty about a quickly deleted Kos diary or Huffington Post comment. I'll keep checking back to see if anyone at Fox Nation is policing this thread -- but given the fact that the thread subject was clearly framed specifically to elicit comments like this, I'm not holding my breath.

(And yes, if you're wondering, Wingnuttia has had an "Obama Death List" since sometime last year.)

Washington Post:

The [Senate Armed Services Committee torture] report shows Pentagon officials reaching out to the military agency for advice on interrogations as early as December 2001...


The report details how abusive interrogations began. "In December 2001," the report says, "the DOD General Counsel's office contacted the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, for information about detainee 'exploitation.'"

December 2001?

Oh well, I guess it's not as if the Defense Department had anything more important to focus on that month....