Thursday, November 30, 2006

Zen

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was a path-changing book for me, but I am pretty sure I haven't looked at it again since college, and I haven't thought much about Robert Pirsig either.

Last week The Guardian ran an interview with him, on the occasion of the publication of his second book. I did not realize how real Zen was, and how difficult his life has been.

Worth a read.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Christian leader eats treesshoots, leaves

Christian Coalition pres.-elect leaves

The president-elect of the Christian Coalition of America has declined the job, saying the organization wouldn't let him expand its agenda beyond opposing abortion and gay marriage.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, who was scheduled to take over the socially conservative group in January from Roberta Combs, said he had hoped to focus on issues such as poverty and the environment.

"These are issues that Jesus would want us to care about," said Hunter, a senior pastor at Northland Church in Longwood, Fla.

Hunter announced his decision not to take the job during an organization board meeting Nov. 21. A statement issued by the group said Hunter left because of "differences in philosophy and vision." Hunter said he was not asked to leave.

"They pretty much said, 'These issues are fine, but they're not our issues, that's not our base,'" Hunter said.

This is funny and sad all at once. It exposes the Christianists (Sully is right on this one) for the "anti-Christs" they are -- focusing entirely on things Jesus never talked about, and ignoring the things he did (according to the New Testament, which they seem to think is, well, gospel).

I'd like to think it also presents an opportunity. The hard-core fundies are unreachable. But there must be some believers out there willing to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. And there are religious leaders, like this one, who want to do good, and who have had enough of the Falwell/Dobson/Haggard nonsense. That change would be an unambiguous good, and would have the side benefit of further splintering the ugly, cynical, selfish coalition that has cloaked itself in religiosity for two decades.

(Update: Oops -- I remembered the name of the book wrong. The original heading of this post made no sense at all.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Another Inconvenient Truth

Heroes like Digby and Bilmon and Greenwald take it deep on a daily basis. But there are so many other strong voices who can play long ball. Plaid Adder @ DU makes an important point about Iraq with powerful rhetoric. Please read The Last Thing They Will Ever Admit About Iraq.

Press (off) regardless

A few weeks ago, Olbermann did a piece in which he took a Sharpie to the Bill of Rights, showing how the Bush Administration has eviscerated so many of our freedoms.



Under the impression that there is something left to take from us, Newt Gingrich, who gives every indication that he is running for President, thinks the husk of the First Amendment has to go.


Union Leader - Gingrich raises alarm at event honoring those who stand up for freedom of speech - Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2006
MANCHESTER – Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich yesterday said the country will be forced to reexamine freedom of speech to meet the threat of terrorism.

Gingrich, speaking at a Manchester awards banquet, said a "different set of rules" may be needed to reduce terrorists' ability to use the Internet and free speech to recruit and get out their message.

"We need to get ahead of the curve before we actually lose a city, which I think could happen in the next decade," said Gingrich, a Republican who helped engineer the GOP's takeover of Congress in 1994.

Gingrich spoke to about 400 state and local power brokers last night at the annual Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment award dinner, which fetes people and organizations that stand up for freedom of speech.

Gingrich sharply criticized campaign finance laws he charged were reducing free speech and doing little to fight attack advertising. He also said court rulings over separation of church and state have hurt citizens' ability to express themselves and their faith.

It is saying nothing new to point out that the guy who served divorce papers on his hospitalized wife has some serious stones. But arguing that the First Amendment is as quaint as laws against torture at an event supporting the First Amendment -- just wow.

And to say that campaign finance laws are bad because they fail to stop attack ads is like criticizing drunk driving laws because they fail to stop speeding.

And the claim that the separation of church and state hurts religious expression -- well, that one is so breathtakingly stupid I'm not going to bother taking it on -- you know the drill.

Manchester, in case you were unaware, is in New Hampshire -- the place hopefuls go to sell themselves at retail this far out from an election. 2008 is going to be an interesting year.


(If the headline is obscure to you, look at this. Yet another useless bit of trivia cluttering the attic.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Hollywood High School

We've all heard the saying that D.C. is Hollywood for ugly people. But what is going on now seems to me like what you would expect to see at Hollywood High. Greenwald again nails it:
(Jane) Harman supported the most disastrous strategic decision in our nation's history and repeatedly defended the administration's worst excesses. That ought to be disqualifying on its face. But the Beltway media are guilty of the same crimes, so they want to pretend that Harman -- just like Steny Hoyer -- did nothing wrong and the only reason not to anoint her to her Rightful Place is because of petty, womanly personality disputes that have no place in the public arena.

For the same reason, they decree that Pelosi must prove that she's a "responsible" and serious leader. How does she do that? By embracing the Beltway establishment types, including those -- especially those -- who have been so wrong about so many things.

That's why the media has taken such an intense interest in the otherwise mundane matter of who will be House Majority Leader and House Intelligence Chair. Jane Harman, like Steny Hoyer, is the symbol of official Washington, the broken, rotted, corrupt Washington that propped up this war and enabled this administration in so many ways. Pelosi has to prove that she's one of them, or else suffer the consequences of being mauled and scorned.

Now that we have helped the Democrats take Congress, I am beginning to think the next critical battle is the overthrow of the mainstream press.

Update: Frequent commenter/gadfly TA wonders where the hell I've been on this issue. The poorly chosen language above, taken alone, certainly suggests that I am late to the party. But I've been spitting nails about the press for a long time now. From my 2005 column Miasma of Putrefaction: don't you dare call me a journalist:

The Platonic form of journalism – Edward R. Murrow taking on Joseph McCarthy, Walter Cronkite taking on Lyndon Johnson after the Tet Offensive, Woodward and Bernstein taking on Nixon – is today a fantasy unrecognizable in the flickering phosphors on the walls of our contemporary caves. Perhaps journalists once took risks in order to share dangerous truths with readers and viewers, but that time seems to have passed into history. What passes for journalism in Washington and New York today is in large measure as corrupt and despicable as the subjects it glosses.
...
If what Judith Miller and the New York Times and CBS and Time and NBC did is journalism, if what Tim Russert and Chris Matthews and Andrea Mitchell and Robert Novak continue to do is journalism, then I want no part of it. I find far more honor in the term “blogger” than in the charred, empty husk of the word “journalist.”

So call me a blogger, please. Journalists turn my stomach.

What I meant to say today is that, now that we have finally got a team suited up that has at least expressed interest in preserving the Constitution, our political triage should move from tearing down Republicans to tearing down the press. They were bad before, too, but the damage they do has now risen to the top of the list of remaining threats.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The company we keep


Garry Trudeau, shown in his Manhattan, N.Y., studio with a collection of Beatles figures, says he’s been unfairly accused of having courage.

I'm not quite ready to re-dye Mr. Meme blue again--lessee what Harry, Nancy and the gang can accomplish come January--but this goes a long way toward getting my vote.

If you want more than pictures, the whole profile of Mr. Trudeau is here, and is well worth your while.

The President who lost a country

The horrific escalation of violence in Iraq strongly suggests that the end game is upon us, and that the denoument will be unambiguous: Iraq the country is no more.

There is an excellent long piece by Mark Danner in The New York Review of Books on the James Risen, Ron Suskind and Bob Woodward books laying out the stunning hubris and incompetence that brought us here. Money quote:

"It is unlikely that the Pentagon's vision of a rapid departure ever could have worked, Bremer or no Bremer. What is striking, however, is the way that the most momentous of decisions were taken in the most shockingly haphazard ways, with the power in the hands of a few Pentagon civilians who knew little of Iraq or the region, the expertise of the rest of the government almost wholly excluded, and the President and his highest officials looking on.

In the event, the Bush administration seems to have worked hard to turn Kennan's problem of knowing the facts on its head: the systemic failures in Iraq resulted in large part from an almost willful determination to cut off those in the government who knew anything from those who made the decisions."


Those of us who were against this tragic folly from the beginning will be sorely tempted by triumphalist I-told-you-so postures. We were indeed right, and they were indeed wrong. But the suffering and destruction unleashed will long outlast the peace-with-honor fiction that must be close at hand.

There is, I think, a sense in which Saddam was like Tito, ruthlessly holding together an artificial country. When Tito died, the Balkans erupted, and Yugoslavia ceased to exist. But that loss was (literally) organic, and our involvement was largely defensible and even perhaps laudable. It was also, by any measure, far more successful.

But George Bush has lost a country. I can think of no precedent. Vietnam was never really two countries, so Johnson/Nixon cannot be seen as having lost South Vietnam. Iraq was artificial, to be sure, but it functioned as a nation.

Saddam Hussein and the autocracy he ruled were the product of a dysfunctional politics, not the cause of it. Reform of such a politics was always going to be a task of incalculable complexity. Faced with such complexity, and determined to have their war and their democratic revolution, the President and his counselors looked away. Confronted with great difficulties, their answer was to blind themselves to them and put their faith in ideology and hope—in the dream of a welcoming landscape, magically transformed. The evangelical vision may have made the sense of threat after September 11 easier to bear but it did not change the risks and the reality on the ground. The result is that the wave of change the President and his officials were so determined to set in course by unleashing American military power may well turn out to be precisely the wave of Islamic radicalism that they had hoped to prevent.

Whether Bush is impeached tomorrow or serves out his term, we -- meaning not just all Americans, but all the world -- will suffer the consequences for decades.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Burning Man

(As in Atrios' "Ow, the stupid .... it burns!")

Reader TA thinks I waste my time pointing out the mind-boggling stupidity of the punditocracy. But their nonsense occupies the main stage in our national thought festival, and as I've said before, ignoring them here in this tiny backwater blog is a rather empty gesture.

Anyway, Victor Davis Hanson avoids giving Richard Cohen a run for Dumbest Man in D.C. only because, well, he isn't in D.C. Yesterday my local paper ran his latest attempt to cast his steadfast support for Dick and Don's Excellent Adventure in a positive light, a bent nail he has been hammering for years now.

As I pointed out before, Davis has obviously noticed that his neocon bedfellows have been abandoning ship for months, and he ain't happy about it. With his latest delusion, he seems to have finally stopped trying to pretend that Iraq is a success. I guess we should be thankful for this favor. But Vic's fallback is one I have ridiculed when offered by his intellectual stablemate, Richard Cohen: that we invaded Iraq in a "surfeit of altrusim."

George W. Bush resolved to democratize Iraq also as a way to confront three grim facts of our recent past.

(1) The United States had been far too friendly with atrocious regimes in the Middle East. ...

(2) At key moments in the 1980s and '90s, the United States signaled it would appease its terrorist enemies rather than engage in the difficult work of uprooting them. ...

(3) The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, changed how the U.S. looked at the Middle East status quo. That attack was the work of terrorists enabled by our autocratic clients in the Middle East and emboldened by our previous inaction. In response, Iraq was an effort to end both the cynical realism and the convenient appeasement of the past -- and so to address the much larger problems of the Middle East that, if left alone, could lead to another large-scale terrorist attack in the United States.

As usual, Vic's writing is a dense fudge of lies and silliness, and I've already wasted too many hours of my life on the specifics. (I've noticed wingnut sites skip the fact-and-logic part of their arguments and skip to the blithe dismissal all the time. In their cases, it is usually because there is no fact-and-logic behind the dismissal. That ain't me babe, as the links above show.) But the breathtaking logical triple axel is what caught my attention. In essence, Vic argues thusly: what we did in Iraq must be good, or at least honorable, because it was done to correct past mistakes. "Don't blame me for steering the car into oncoming traffic on my left -- yesterday I sideswiped three parked cars on the right!" It would never occur to Vic that the right answer might be to let someone else drive.

Thus this pilgrim's sad progress:

1. We were right.
2. We were right.
.
.
.
N. We were right.
N+1. OK- maybe we weren't right, but two wrongs make a right, right?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Apostasy

Via Digby, this essay in The American Conservative, from a former muckety-muck at the National Review, is a dead-on indictment of what intellectually and morally hollow fools the conservatives have really become.

In one sense I am vaguely disturbed by the way in which everybody, including us Libruls, tends to give greater credence to criticism of the Right from the Right than to our own. We, after all, were right all along; they are the ones who have been deluded (or even delusional) and are only now recognizing what we saw from the outset. Our views should be accorded more weight, not less.

But I have to admit that it is significant when powerful figures from within the movement publicly declare their apostasy. And this essay in particular is a damning indictment of much more than the tragic folly in Iraq: it exposes the bankruptcy of the entire infrastructure behind that crumbling facade. And The American Conservative deserves praise for printing it.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Giving thanks

I have many things to be thankful for today. One of them is that you are reading this. And I am extra-double thankful to those of you who take the time to comment and email and participate here.



Best wishes to you and yours.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bottom looks like up

How bad is the situation in Iraq? Bad enough that Bush no longer fears comparisons to Vietnam.

What Bush said about the lesson of Vietnam is of course gobsmackingly stupid. Olbermann smacked it down in spectacular fashion. But the way in which the Administration seems to be welcoming Vietnam comparisons merits discussion.

At HuffPo, Lawrence O'Donnell gets close to an interesting point. (He also makes what is probably a much more important one about the chickenhawks in the media and pundit classes, and did the same on both Olbermann yesterday and on Scarborough a couple of days ago.) In Rangel Is Right, he supports Charlie Rangel's military draft proposal. O'Donnell points out that
Kissinger says that if we leave now, all hell will break loose and Iraq will never achieve stability. Never mind that all hell has already broken loose. Never mind that Kissinger said the same thing would happen if we left Vietnam--all hell would break loose and Vietnam would never achieve stability. Vietnam has become so stable that Presidents Clinton and Bush, both combat cowards during the Vietnam war, have made well publicized, utterly safe visits to the country Kissinger used to think didn't have a chance without us.

Which brings up an important point: Bush is planning to meet with the Prime Minister of Iraq next week, meeting him ... in Amman, Jordan.

So, to recap: Vietnam, from whence we quit -- stable enough for two U.S. presidents to visit. Iraq, whence Dubya and Henry the K would like us to keep us firmly attached to the flypaper -- so unstable that, despite the presence of 140,000 American troops, such a visit is impossible. So perhaps that fact betrays the reason the Administration is no longer afraid of the Vietnam comparison -- Vietnam looks good by comparison.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Richard Cohen - The Lingo Of Vietnam New Dumbest Man in Washington

It is admittedly difficult to get one's arms around the idea that there is someone in D.C. who is dumber than George Bush. But Richard Cohen today edges him out for the top honors. (A close third has to be awarded to the folks at the Washington Post who continue to publish this nonsense.

Gregg Mitchell at E&P lets loose with both barrels. So does Digby. The Technorati list is consistent in its condemnation. I'm late to the party, so I'll forgo getting in my licks as well. But the shallow, vacuous piffle that Cohen now periodically excretes is beyond embarrassing, and the WaPo should stop propping up this drooling fossil upon its stage.

I can point to twenty bloggers who could do a better job. Hell,
the (apparently offline) Postmodernism Generator could do a better job. But I am beyond anger. I am starting to pity the guy, and the WaPo, which seems hellbent on self-destruction.

Update: This is odd. As soon as my post shows up on Technorati, the Technorati box disappears from the page with Cohen's column.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Me & Sy

From Sy Hersch's latest on the prospects of a U.S. attack on Iran in The New Yorker:
The Democratic victories this month led to a surge of calls for the Administration to begin direct talks with Iran, in part to get its help in settling the conflict in Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair broke ranks with President Bush after the election and declared that Iran should be offered “a clear strategic choice” that could include a “new partnership” with the West. But many in the White House and the Pentagon insist that getting tough with Iran is the only way to salvage Iraq. “It’s a classic case of ‘failure forward,’” a Pentagon consultant said. “They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq—like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state.”

Me, The Martingale School of Foreign Policy, 8/06:

The small bet made in invading Afghanistan, though it originally appeared to be a winner, is rapidly turning into a dramatic loss. That bet was doubled in Iraq; even senior Administration officials are so certain that the news is from Iraq is unambiguously awful that they have resorted to refusing to prepare a National Intelligence Estimate for Iraq because they know they won’t like what it says. And like the perfect fools the Martingale System requires, the Neocons are demanding that their losing bet be raised again.
I want to make it clear that I am not now and never have been a Pentagon consultant.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Kerry: Botched joke won't affect 2008

Yes, it will.

Chances of Kerry winning nomination, pre-botch: 2%

Chances of Kerry winning nomination, post botch: 0.00001%

Friday, November 17, 2006

Bowers nails it

MyDD :: Direct Democracy for People-Powered Politics
When Carville criticizes Howard Dean, keep in mind that he is using Howard Dean as a placeholder to attack the entire progressive netroots and the entire progressive movement on behalf of big donors and consultants who once again want to rule the party with an iron fist. But we were the ones fighting for these seats, tooth and nail, along with local Democrats on the ground. National Democrats from the corporate wing of the party were nowhere to be found in these races.

Carville gets press because he is of the pundit class. He is angry because we threaten said class, and make him look bad. They are nothing if not heard animals. He has no constituency but those whose job it is not to be a constituency (and of course, as Bowers points out, the big-money Republican lites). And so the talking head shows continue to be open mike night for his sour-grapes nonsense.

Carville is in a sense the anti-matter Bush: Dubya sticks with a losing strategy that forces all of us in a limited sense (and thousands of American troops and millions of Iraqis in a far greater sense) to suffer. Carville parties like it's 1992, and tries to punish us for using a winning strategy that has as an effect the marginalization of one James Carville.

If the media played fair, Carville's carping would have as much resonance as Pat Buchanan's sniping at Karl Rove. But that is a fantasy.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Hitchens really is a damned fool

I don't think I was really aware of Christopher Hitchens before his spectacular feats of assclownery after 9/11. So I am now aware of reputation as a brilliant man of letters, but I have to admit having seen no evidence of it beyond his undeniable ability to cower with erudition and panache. But there remained the possibility that he was a generally insightful thinker with a blind spot.

I am now ready to retire that possibility. Behold this discussion of Borat in the ever-sillier Slate Magazine:

I knew this would happen. I pick up my copy of the New Statesman, London's leftist weekly, to find a review of Borat, bannered on the table of contents as "Sacha Baron Cohen's exposure of crass Americana" and on the review page itself with, "The Kazakh ace reporter uncovers uncomfortable truths about the US." The author, Ryan Gilbey, proceeds to say the following:

A redneck rodeo crowd shows no compunction about cheering Borat's gung-ho speech about Iraq, clearly not realizing that what he actually said was: "We support your war of terror!" And it's shocking to witness the tacit acceptance with which Borat's ghoulish requests are greeted. Trying to find the ideal car for mowing down gypsies, or seeking the best gun for killing Jews, he encounters only compliance among America's salespeople.


Oh, come on. Among the "cultural learnings of America for make benefit glorious nation of Kazakhstan" is the discovery that Americans are almost pedantic in their hospitality and politesse. At a formal dinner in Birmingham, Ala., the guests discuss Borat while he's out of the room—filling a bag with ordure in order to bring it back to the table, as it happens—and agree what a nice young American he might make. And this is after he has called one guest a retard and grossly insulted the wife of another (and remember, it's "Americana" that is "crass"). The tony hostess even takes him and his bag of shit upstairs and demonstrates the uses not just of the water closet but also of the toilet paper. The arrival of a mountainous black hooker does admittedly put an end to the evening, but if a swarthy stranger had pulled any of the foregoing at a liberal dinner party in England, I wouldn't give much for his chances. "The violence that Borat encounters on the New York subway after trying to greet male strangers with kisses is frighteningly real," writes Gilbey, who either doesn't use the London Underground very much or else has a very low standard for mayhem.

Hitch's myopia reminds me of the reaction of the punditocracy to Stephen Colbert's epic smackdown at the White House Correspondent's dinner. Hitch reveals uncomfortable things about himself in his inability to grok the mirroring aspect of Borat's schtick.

Newsflash: the people in Borat (the movie) aren't polite in front of the furriner, Hitch. They are polite in front of the camera that is filming the way they react to the furriner. (Please see Exhibit A to see what happens when the camera is not doing its Heisenberg thing.) The real joke with all of Cohen's characters is the way in which people reveal themselves as enthusiastic camera whores. Borat and Bruno tend to expose amateur prostitution, whereas Ali G's targets were celebrities. Hitch, being a member of the permanent talking head class, and thus a seasoned professional camera whore himself, is oblivious to effect of the camera in the room. (The phrase "water to a fish" keeps asserting itself, though I may have one or another element of that comparison wrong.) The fact that people will humiliate themselves for a taste of video crack is so unremarkable to Hitchens that he misses the whole point of Cohen's act.

Par for the course, I now see.

Free To Oversimplify

Economist Milton Friedman dead at 94

Interesting timing -- Atrios has been talking about the mischief done by the pat answers gleaned by many policy makers and pundits in their Econ 101 classes. Uncle Milton was thrilled by the effects of that superficiality, and his TV series functioned as Cliff Notes for those unwilling to invest a even a semester.

When I was in college, "Free to Choose" was on the telly. For about a year, I was convinced the the free market was a hammer, and the whole world was a nail. I went on to major in Economics, and (just as Duncan described) with more study, realized what a crock most of it is, at least as it is taught in the intro class. (Someday perhaps I will explain in a longer piece my Unified Field Theory of Externalities.)

Anyway, Friedman's complete faith in unfettered markets made him the economic standard bearer of a flavor of selfishness that continues to do great harm. His voice will be missed, but not by those who really understood his subject.

Then & Now

The recently mostly sane Sully (quoting one of his readers):
There exists in every organization, whether it be a football team, a business, a political party, or a military, a point at which it is to the individuals folly to continue to subordinate their will in favor of the directives of their individuals. A quarterback shouldn't follow his coaches plan to run into the wrong end zone, an administrative assistant should not follow his bosses directions to engage in illegal business practices that will ultimately bankrupt the company, soldiers should not follow orders to round up Jews and send them to the gas chamber, and even generals committed to the idea of civilian control of the military must still at some point do what they can to dissuade their civilian superiors from a disastrous course.

It is so tempting to praise the famous discipline of the Republican coalition of the past few years, from Bush to Delay to Rush, as a critical component of what felt like great strength and success. But the failure to recognize that line where individuals needed to press back against the direction of their leaders was also an essential component of why so many of their actions resulted in catastrophe.

There is no easy guideline for when you need to stop being a team player who just tows the line and become a conscientious dissenter. But individuals who follow orders well past that point should definitely be considered lackeys, hypocrites, complicit accomplices, or worse.


Your humble scribe, July, 2005:
The strength, and the weakness, of such a closed, tautological system is that it is entirely immune to refutation by fact or logic. It is a strength, at least in the short term, because a black and white world view is seductive, and when packaged with blanket statements that also obviate the need for accepting responsibility, they are virtual opiates. Hoi polloi are comforted when medicated by pseudo-intellectuals with such circular, hand-washing nonsense as “The terrorists hate us for who we are, not what we do” and “The killers are killers because they want to kill, not because the coalition invaded Iraq, or Afghanistan, or because there are bases in Saudi Arabia, or because Israel will not retreat to the 1967 borders.” But with time, such insularity becomes weakness. As time and events inevitably increase the distance between rigid belief and reality, the necessary suspension of disbelief becomes ever more difficult. Galileo’s work outlived the Inquisition; Reagan traded arms for hostages although “in his heart” he thought otherwise; Iraq spirals further into Hell despite the spin of a hundred Panglosses. History unfolds heedless of the illusions of its spectators and even, to a large extent, of its participants.

So our President knows Karl Rove is innocent of any wrongdoing, no matter what facts may bubble up from the tar pit he nurtured but cannot acknowledge. Because Bush cannot recognize the incompatibility between his knowledge and the facts that refute it, he cannot resolve that contradiction. Thus it falls to Patrick Fitzgerald to resolve it for him.

As the Plamegate case goes forward, and the evidence against Rove in the real world mounts, it is likely that Bush will, to his ruin, continue to cling to his belief even as the tsunami of contrary facts engulfs him. If we are lucky, those who are so blind that shall not see will decide that following Bush lemming-like into that abyss might not be such a good idea after all. And maybe, just maybe, after the deluge we will finally have a meaningful confrontation between the "reality-based community" in which facts matter and actions have consequences, and the fairy-tale world where Neocons and fundamentalists know things because, well, just because.

Events are making it easy for me to be a good little Internet environmentalist:

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Constituents?...."

"....I don't need no steenking constituents."

Sen. Joe Lieberman, may have agreed to caucus with the Democrats in the next congressional term, but the Connecticut independent made it clear Wednesday he would not hold the party line on a call for phased troop withdrawals.

"Both general Abizaid and Ambassador Satterfield were quite clear and to me convincing, that for congress to order the beginning of a phased redeployment, a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq within the next 4 to 6 months would be a very serious mistake and would endanger ultimate the United States," Lieberman told reporters after the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Iraq.

Well now, that didn't take long. Nice of him not to smear Chris Dodd yet again in today's statement, though.

Is recalling a senator a state or federal matter?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Put down the scalpel, son, and nobody gets hurt

One of the few rewards that comes from the work required to pen the longer pieces I write for Raw Story is seeing my memes spread. (Money would be another welcome reward. Hypothetically.) My last piece about the parallels between the Military Commissions Act and the Enabling Act of 1933 generated relatively few comments at Raw, but but has been linked to and "reprinted" quite a bit.

Another reward that I have not really had the pleasure of receiving is real and thoughtful engagement from those who disagree. Sure, there are trolls throwing potshots, but when I took on dangerous nonsense from Victor Davis Hanson or Richard Cohen, or argued against the excesses of the Bush cabal, I cannot recall any real attempts to dispute my logic, or seriously dispute my facts. As noted in a previous post, the Enabling Act piece was the backdrop for a few rounds of The Dozens on a conservative site, but the level of discourse never climbed above "so's your mother."

Anyway, while wandering through Technorati a few days ago, I stumbled upon what appears to be an attempt to debate on the merits. (It is a month old, but my vanity is also amateur -- I don't search for myself that often, but having found it, I want to respond.) Behold:

Kannard's Random Stuff: An Answer to John Steinberg

I am flattered -- or would be, if I could find some meat on these bones. So please bear with me while I dispose of Kannard's canards. (Don't worry; it won't take long.)

Among other things, Kannard accuses me of using a "poor form of argument," so I will be correcting his paper on that score as well.

First, Mr. Kannard devotes roughly two-thirds of his riposte to an explanation of why the Geneva Conventions do not apply to "insurgent forces." So here is the only sentence of my piece that so much as mentions them:

Forget, for the moment, that the proposed “compromise” torture legislation effectively abrogates the Geneva Conventions.

That's it. So Kannard is not exactly meeting me on the playing field here. (The logical fallacy is the straw man. Or red herring. Up to you.)

But Kannard does eventually make an attempt to come within hailing distance of the issue.

In regards to the Bush Administration’s “Enabling Act”, as Mr. Steinberg calls it, pay particular attention to the use of the word “alien”. No one is suggesting that this power be used to detain or imprison American citizens. If it were, I would be the first to lead the charge against the Capitol Building. Mr. Steinberg’s logic here is that foreign nationals are afforded the rights and privileges of a United States citizen; namely our Constitutional right of due process. I once again fail to see how a foreign national that presents a clear and present danger to our national interest operating outside our borders can be mystically granted the privilege of our Constitutional protection. The extension of Mr. Steinberg’s argument is that all foreign nationals are protected under all of our laws, at any time and any place. I will leave you to ascertain the dynamics this implies.
The first highlighted statement is false. The exact reach of the MCA is not clear, but many people in positions of authority have indeed suggested that it applies to citizens. (Appeal to anonymous authority, perhaps. Or error of fact. Take your pick.)

As for the second highlighted statement, I need only point out that Kannard seems to divide the world into U.S. citizens and "insurgents." So I assume that in that bleak world, Kannard is okey-dokey with this:

In 2001, al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar, was in the United States legally, on a student visa. He was a computer science graduate student at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, where he had earned an undergraduate degree a decade earlier. In Peoria, he lived with his wife and five children.

In December, 2001 he was detained as a "material witness" to suspected acts of terrorism and ultimately charged with various terrorism-related offenses, mostly relating to false statements the FBI claimed he made as part of its 9/11 investigation. Al-Marri vehemently denied the charges, and after lengthy pre-trial proceedings, his trial on those charges was scheduled to begin on July 21, 2003.

But his trial never took place, because in June, 2003 -- one month before the scheduled trial -- President Bush declared him to be an "enemy combatant." As a result, the Justice Department told the court it wanted to turn him over to the U.S. military, and thus asked the court to dismiss the criminal charges against him, and the court did so (the dismissal was "with prejudice," meaning he can't be tried ever again on those charges). Thus, right before his trial, the Bush administration simply removed Al-Marri from the jurisdiction of the judicial system -- based solely on the unilateral order of the President -- and thus prevented him from contesting the charges against him.

Instead, the administration immediately transferred al-Marri to a miltiary prison in South Carolina (where the administration brings its "enemy combatants" in order to ensure that the executive-power-friendly 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over all such cases). Al-Marri was given the "Padilla Treatment" -- kept in solitary confinement, denied all contact with the outside world, including even his own attorneys, not charged with any crimes, and given no opportunity to prove his innocence. Instead, the Bush administration simply asserted the right to detain him indefinitely without so much as charging him with anything.
The ability to "disappear" legal U.S. residents without charges, without process and without recourse is the exact danger I warned against. It is a danger Kannard is either unconcerned with, or refuses to recognize.

It does not necessarily follow, as Kannard believes, that I want to extend the Constitution to all people everywhere. (False dichotomy.) I am primarily concerned with what happens right here, though our behavior on foreign soil far from the battlefield complicates the analysis quite a bit. Where does al Mari fit into your dichotomy? Not a citizen, therefore an enemy combatant? Are you sure?

Finally, Kannard levels his conclusory charge:

Finally, Mr. Steinberg uses a poor form of argument by bringing up the German Enabling Acts. The Enabling Act has nothing to do with the topic at hand and is called a non sequitur argument. If Mr. Steinberg wishes to present his views on a piece of legislation the Bush Administration is presenting, then stick to that.

A serious flaw if true. But is it? I did not say Bush is Hitler. I did not say Republicans are Nazis. I merely cited the text of two laws, and argued that each allows the executive unchecked power. Most constitutional scholars agree. The argument is only a non sequitur in the sense that Kannard can neither dispute the premise nor accept the conclusion, so he must deny the logic without ever explaining why it is inappropriate. (Further deduction for finding a flaw where none exists, K.)

Is there an emotional aspect to my argument? Hell, yes. But that is only a fallacy if the logic is suspect. And Kannard has failed to make a case for that argument.

The question Kannard refuses to confront is this: do you want to give the President of the United States the unchecked power to declare legal residents (and perhaps citizens) beyond the reach of any legal process, forever and ever amen? Will your answer be the same for President Hillary? If the answer is still yes, I congratulate you on your consistency, but you are arguing for a system Madison, Hamilton and Jefferson would not recognize.

I read once that J.S. Bach's kids messed with him by playing the keyboard in the house and stopping with an unresolved chord, forcing him to drop whatever he was doing and play a final resolving chord in order to put his mind at rest.

I'm going back to work now.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Going... going .... gone!

Billmon parks another one.


What part of no....

Speaking of John Bolton....

Bush Stands By Keeping Bolton as U.N. Ambassador Despite Opposition
President Bush will not relent in his defense of John R. Bolton, his nominee for U.N. ambassador, despite unwavering opposition from Democrats who view Bolton as too combative for international diplomacy, aides said yesterday.

Other than literally breaking his kneecaps, I'm not sure what the White House can threaten that hasn't already happened to Linc Chafee, which means Bolton never even gets out of committee. So his nomination is stone cold dead. Seems to me that the WH strategy is taking shape: just as the 2000 and 2004 elections were taken as mandates for stuff they had nothing to do with, the 2006 election will mean precisely what Karl Roves choses it to mean, and their tactics will change not one iota. Reality remains unwelcome -- the enemy, as I wrote a while back, rather than the playing field.

I suspect a surefire indicator of creeping old age is that everything reminds you of a story. When I read this story I remembered an exchange with a friend in law school. He was a Dartmouth grad. I told him I had heard a story that Dartmouth frat boys would get drunk, put on football helmets, and run headfirst into the wall... repeatedly. He told me those rumors were false--they did NOT, he insisted, wear helmets.

Bolton and Bush are both Yalies, but you get the idea.

Help me out here

Don't know how TBogg and the folks at S/N missed it, if they did, but I stumbled on this Kodak moment for Bibi Netanyahu and Pam while wandering through Pammy's manic screeds at Atlas Shrugs (no link; friends don't let friends..., and all that):



This one completely crossed my caption wires. References to the apparent absence of buttons on Pam's blouse will be graded down for obviousness, but double points will be awarded for working in references to John Bolton.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Applied psychoanalysis

It warms my heart beyond words knowing that no censure from Congress, no multimillion member worldwide protest march focus group, or no condemnation from the leaders of the rest of the civilized world will ever chap Commander Cokehead's ass as much as this:



Heh.

Social Justice in the Bush Era

What could possibly compel me to start posting again? How about this:

For $5, residents of one of the city's hardest hit neighborhoods received three tennis balls Saturday - and a chance to vent 15 months of frustration at the slow pace of rebuilding since Hurricane Katrina.

The object of their annoyance sat perched atop a dunk tank - Bob Josephson, director of intergovernmental affairs in Louisiana for the reviled and much-lampooned Federal Emergency Management Agency.
***

Politicians invited to be dunked who politely declined included Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco. No shows included City Council President Oliver Thomas and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in charge of fixing the city's levees.
*****

After spending nearly 45 minutes in the dunking booth, FEMA's Josephson took off his sopping shirt and tried to warm himself with a towel.

He explained that FEMA is a part of the community and allowing himself to be dunked was an attempt to show that he and his much-criticized colleagues are not so different from their neighbors.

"It's all in good fun," he added, as residents thanked him and offered dry clothes and a place to change.


Of course, real justice would have been served had the vat contained carbolic acid, or had the FEMA officials been held under water so long after being dunked that they turned into one of the bloated corpses that floated through the ninth ward in the days following Katrina. But I guess we should be happy to pony up our five bucks and take whatever His Highness gives us.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Off-season trades I'd like to see

James Carville for Linc Chafee.

No?

James Carville for Karl Rove's belly button lint.

No?

James Carville and the DLC and Joe Klein for an autographed picture of Karl Rove's belly button lint.

What? Oh, yeah, I guess it ain't really a trade if all of the chattel is owned by the same team.

Nevermind.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Graf of the day

From Roll Call, via Shakespeare's Sis: Out-of-Work GOP Aides Face Tough Road Ahead
The hundreds of Republican staffers — not to mention more than a few Members — who will lose their jobs in the next few weeks are going to face a hostile marketplace on K Street as unemployed Republicans flood the market.
In which alleged small-government advocates learn, up close and personal, about being downsized.

Operation Yellow Elephant knows where they could find meaningful work....

Green Day

One of the more noxious bits of post election spin has been that it was a conservative event.

Bah.

The League of Conservation Voters had a "Dirty Dozen" list of the most noxious anti-environment trolls in Congress. (There are actually 15 on the list, but Bob Ney and Tom DeLay resigned, and one targeted race was a primary, so the there were indeed twelve races for Nov. 7.) Those twelve ranged from the odious Rick Santorum to the laughable Katherine Harris to the vile Richard Pombo.

Of the twelve targeted, nine lost, two are still undecided, and only one (so far) will be returning to Washington. Only Stephen Colbert had a better batting average. So unless "conservative" has suddenly reverted to a meaning that again reflects its etymological relationship to "conservation," it is tough to call this turn conservative.

On the other hand, as SusanG @ dKos argues, this spin is likely to make it easier down the road for folks who think of themselves as conservative to vote blue. So have at it, folks.

(h/t Conscious Earth)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

What hasn't changed

The set-your-watch stupidity of David Brooks.

The bleeding-edge NYT Online now features Bobo as blogger. Bobo unfiltered, if you like.

Here is his "there's a pony in here somewhere" take on Tuesday's meltdown, Midterm Madness - A Tide, Not a Tsunami:
Shallow people look at election returns to see who won. Profound people look for world historical trends.
Ah, yes Bobo, that's the word I associate with your work -- profound.

I’ve got my shallow side, and what I see so far is a Democratic tide but not a tsunami.... Republicans are losing, but only by a little. Defeat with honor.
Yes, David, you have a shallow side. You know how many sides a Möbius strip has? That's how I visualize your shallow side. And the utterly un-ironic allusion to Nixon's "peace with honor"... priceless.

Anyway, Bobo moves on quickly to his profound insights, most of which shockingly echo the prevailing pundit-class talking point about how this was really a conservative victory.

See David profound. Profound, David, profound!

And the deepest insight of all?
This is Joe Lieberman’s country. No the country is not with him on the war, but he’s being re-elected and he will find plenty of company in the moderate Democratic camp when the new Congress convenes.

I can't come down too hard here, because I said the same thing last Friday, and others I respect were saying it before that. The essential differences are (i) that I am not so clueless as to think that my insight was even slightly profound, and (ii) that Brooks thinks that outcome is a good thing.

And you thought his columns were pathetic.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

My kind of Texas BBQ

President Bush at his press conference a few minutes ago:

"I thought we were going to do fine yesterday. Shows you what I know."


Yes, Mr. President. It does, at least to the stubbornly, willfully ignorant who had not already come to the same conclusion.

Election Q&A

Does it matter?

Hell yes.

Does it mean what Rahm Emanuel says it means?

No.

Does it mean the Republcians didn't cheat, and that the electronic voting machines worked as they should?

Yeah, sure. And Tweety was thrilled to share his anchor chair with Olbermann last night.

Is Dubya still the decider?

Yes.*

*As Tristero and (I assume) many others are now pointing out, Bush's decider status never rested on law. He has been ignoring restrictions on his power for years -- perhaps since the day he took office. Cheney has already announced that he intends to ignore future Congressional subpoenas. If you think this election, in and of itself, is going to change the behavior of our de facto monarchy, you are smoking crack. What this election means is that the Constitution will finally have defenders suited up and on the field. (The Supreme Court has done a lot more than I would have expected, but at best they are just the refs.) This election means that our ongoing Constitutional crisis will finally also be a power struggle, and that the battle is finally joined.

About damned time.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Happy birthday to us!

I don't see how the Dems can take the Senate at this point. But the House will be solidly Democratic. It will indeed be Chairman Conyers, and Chairman Waxman, and Chairman Dingell.

And yes, today is the second anniversary of this wee little blog. Exactly two years ago today, my first post, written in the agonizing aftermath of the 2004 disaster, was titled "angry" and consisted only of this:
pissed. frustrated. perplexed. but mostly pissed.
Tonight was inconceivable two years ago. The takedowns of Abramoff and Ney and Delay, the neocon circular firing squad, the near-mutiny in the military -- all beyond imagination.

Tomorrow, we can battle over Lieberman and what we do next. Tonight, I savor a glimmer of hope.

Update: I concede the Senate, and then Missouri shifts blue. The Senate is still in play.

Wow.

Divertimento

Today is and should be 99% election. But Jon Swift's take on Ted Haggard and the mind-boggling fallback defense voiced by David Frum is a dazzling piece of satire: I suspect Frum and his ilk would have great difficulty finding a single line they would not wholeheartedly embrace.

Enjoy. Then get out there and vote. And help others do the same.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Do something

I just made a few calls for the MoveOn GOTV effort. It is very easy. And it will give you something to say when your children or grandchildren ask, "What did you do to stop the madness?"

Just click here.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

On Borat

Saw it yesterday. And yes, it is very funny.

Cohen's schtick is to take it -- and by "it," I mean every preconceived notion of decency -- further than you have ever seen it taken, and to do so with absolute conviction. There are times when it is hysterical, times when it makes me a bit uncomfortable, and times when it is hysterical because it makes me uncomfortable.

I am not usually a big fan of practical joke humor. I think what Cohen does works for me (when it works) because it is of the "can't cheat an honest man" school: the people he skewers are being tricked only into letting their guard down and revealing the racism, homophobia or other ugliness that they usually hide from polite company. (This bit, from Da Ali G. show, is still my favorite, and one of the all-time great moments in television.)

There is a scene filmed in a Pentacostal church that is perhaps the most disturbing in the movie. But it is not Borat who brings out the bizarre -- he and his crew are merely spectators most of the time.

The scene is disturbing on many levels. First, the whole white Pentacostal thing reminds me of Vanilla Ice, or Pat Boone singing "Tutti Frutti" (no, I am not making it up). But these folks looked so bizarre that I wondered if it was a bona fide Borat invasion, or if it was staged, so I did a bit of Googling. I found nothing indicating that the church scene was staged or that the folks in it were actors, but I did find this amazing review of the movie on a Catholic-affiliated website called LIFETEEN.com - "Leading Teens Closer to Christ":
Sacha Baron Cohen is Jewish, and uses his heritage as a defense for Borat’s anti-Semitism. I’m not Jewish, so I don’t know what is particularly offensive to their community, but the jokes against Jews were way over the top. Just because you’re part of a group doesn’t mean you can make fun of them as much as you want. At the end of the film, Borat proudly proclaims that Kazakhstan is now Christian, and they no longer stone Jews. The film then cuts to several “Kazakh” people poking a Jewish man with a pitchfork as he is tied to a cross. That is just flat out offensive and unacceptable, whether Baron Cohen is Jewish or not.

Ummm, Dude? He isn't making "jokes against Jews." He's flushing out the anti-Semitics, which turns out to be remarkably easy. This movie is so powerful, it doesn't just expose the fools in the movie, it "Borats" fools who merely see the movie.

But here is the thing that really struck me about that scene in the church, which at this point I must assume is real and not a Hollywood fantasy of Evangelical churchery. As I watched the pastor and his hyperkinetic flock (love that word) -- shouting, shaking, speaking in tongues, etc. -- I thought, "These folks also evaluate the statements of George Bush. These folks also vote on science curriculum in schools. These folks vote."

And then I realized who the people still voting for Republicans and approving of George Bush really are. (I have written about it before in the abstract, but this was very concrete.) I realized who millions of my fellow Americans really are. I think Cohen included the scene because they, like Cohen himself, take it further than I had ever seen it taken. Which made "Borat" one of the creepiest movies I have ever seen.

Friday, November 03, 2006

This year's Florida

In the epic disaster that was the 2000 election, FLorida voters who gave their votes to Ralph Nader may have had noble motives, but the result was that they put the Bush machine within thieving distance.

I don't know the motives of the damned fools in Connecticut who seem to be supporting Joe Lieberman. But they are setting themselves up for a case of buyer's remorse that will be of a piece with the too-late national yen for a Bush do-over.

As Digby points out, this vain, vindictive and pitifully small man is likely to be the subject of a bidding war between the two parties if the Senate ends up 50-50. Joe sees the Lamont primary victory as treason, and he will feel it is his divine right to deliver retribution.

Win or lose, I suspect that Joe's DINO status ends before the next Congress begins. And if Joe wins, Connecticut voters will be asking themselves how they came to this sad place.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Oopsie

via Aravosis:
A gay man and admitted male escort claims he has had an ongoing sexual relationship with a well-known Evangelical pastor from Colorado Springs.

Mike Jones told '9 Wants to Know' Investigative Reporter Paula Woodward he has had a "sexual business" relationship with Pastor Ted Haggard for the past three years.

Haggard is the founder and senior leader of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. The church has 14,000 members.

He is also president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an organization that represents millions of people.

Haggard is married with five children and an outspoken critic of gay marriage....

Jones started talking to 9 Wants to Know two months ago. He claims Haggard has been paying him for sex over the past three years, even though Haggard preaches that homosexuality is a sin.

Jones also claims Haggard used methamphetamine in his presence on several occasions....

Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw profiled Haggard in 2005 in a series on mega-churches. Haggard was also listed by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential Evangelicals in America last year.


We now return you to our regularly scheduled John Kerry Stand-Up Comedy Marathon.

Update: Haggard (whose name now seems rather appropriate) has resigned. Expect him to announce that he was abused by Mark Foley's priest, too.

Updater: Oh, and Haggard appears in the documentary "Jesus Camp."

Updaterer: A commenter points to an interesting piece in Harpers here. The whole thing is worth a read, but check out this excerpt:
At the time, Colorado Springs was a small city split between the Air Force and the New Age, and the latter, Pastor Ted believed, worked for the devil. Pastor Ted soon began upsetting the devil's plans. He staked out gay bars, inviting men to come to his church; his whole congregation pitched itself into invisible battles with demonic forces, sometimes in front of public buildings.
Oh my.

Updatest: James Dobson doubles down. We may be well on the way to full-on fundie fission here.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Looks a lot like standing up

On al-Maliki's orders, GIs stand down
BAGHDAD - Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki flexed his political muscle yesterday and won U.S. agreement to lift military blockades on Sadr City and another Shiite enclave where an American soldier was abducted.

U.S. forces, who had set up the checkpoints in Baghdad last week as part of an unsuccessful search for the soldier, drove away in Humvees and armored personnel carriers at the 5 p.m. deadline set by al-Maliki.

Their departure set off celebrations among civilians and armed men in Sadr City, the sprawling Shiite district controlled by the Mahdi Army militia loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Men and children danced in circles chanting slogans praising and declaring victory for al-Sadr, whose political support is crucial to the Shiite prime minister.

The prime minister's challenge to U.S. conduct of the war was the latest in a series of acts designed to force the American hand and test Washington's readiness to give him a greater say in securing the world's most violent capital.


Remember the rare and beautiful sight of newscasts running the string of Bush's "stay the course" quotes in response to his laughable "we were never stay the course" claim?

This story isn't quite as self-executing as that one, but if Al-Maliki is now taking control, and prohibiting American troops from engaging in operations he doesn't like -- even if said operations are essentially search and rescue (from the American perspective) -- well, if that ain't the textbook definition of the Iraqis standing up, I don't know what is.



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