Friday, March 31, 2006

It's like that warm feeling you get just before dying from hypothermia

The vast wingnut conspiracy.


It's amazing. The wingnuts have put up with so much from the Republicans they voted for. Failure to provide checks on the Executive. Massive budget deficits only a few years from "surplusses as far as the eye can see." A steady dismantling of all but one Bill of Rights amendment.

But the last straw is apparently the horrific sight of peaceful protests.

The debate on immigration certainly is shining a light on these unreconstructed racists' true, er, colors.


Sign o the cross
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Thanks, Antonin, for giving us a reason to think about the appropriateness of Sicilian hand gestures in a Roman Catholic Church. As a lapsed Catholic myself, I am filled with Gibletsian ooouuuutraaaage!

Dahlia Lithwick tries to determine if Scalia is looking to international courts for help in interpreting hand gestures these days. Which would be wrong. Very wrong.

The attitude of Bush's favorite justice towards the press is strangely similar to the Cheney administration's attitude towards the judiciary.

Thanks to Duncan for the photo. He has, by the way, been doing some innarestin' stuff with photos, lately.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The convergence of baseball and politics

Bud Selig ate the first draft of this post...or Blogger...or the damned Wintel machine I was writing it on at the time...

When I foolishly decided to "start a blog" a few years ago, and was performing the set-up, Blogger asked how the blog should be described. I was stumped for about a week and a half, then smiled, and typed, "Musings on the convergence of baseball and politics." I thought to myself, "That sounds mildly amusing and unique." After all, no one seemed to be writing on such an association. Why would they? Yeah, sure, every now and then there's a congressional hearing regarding MLB's anti-trust exemption, and yeah, lots of baseball bloggers were making mentions now and then of the zany antics of a certain former Texas Rangers owner/executive. But a convergence? C'mon.

Little did I know just such a thing -- a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup moment -- was just over the horizon...

"Nothing is more important to me than the integrity of the game of baseball," Commissioner Bud Selig said at a news conference in New York, in which he announced that George Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader from Maine, would lead the investigation.

Selig, sitting next to Mitchell in baseball's headquarters in Manhattan, said that he had asked Mitchell to conduct the investigation assisted by members of his firm and that the conclusions would be made public.

Mitchell said that the allegations of steroid use "have caused fans and observers to question the integrity of play at the highest level of our national game" and that "those allegations require close scrutiny."

Oh, really. Those questions apparently caused "fans and observers (and who are these observers who aren't fans? Baseball anthropologists?)" to go through the turnstiles in record numbers last year. Those questions will no doubt cause fans to sell out virtually every "businessman's special" at PacBell -- or whatever corporation owns the naming rights to the Giants' home field this year -- Park. And those questions are surely the reason the NY Mets, with variable ticket pricing, rate the games with only two teams worthy of the highest regular season prices: their crosstown rivals and the Giants. And in the latter's case, I don't think that's because that team used to play in The Polo Grounds and the orange in the Metropolitans' unis come from that heritage. Nor do I think the Mets' faithful are coming out for the pleasure of seeing an old favorite, Armando Benitez, who, shall we say, lit up many a late night in Queens a few years back while "closing" for the Mets.

No, chicks dig the long ball, and fans will flock all year to see Bonds, unless the baseball faeries grant Bud his wish and turn Barry's knees to sawdust or his elbow to an animal-shaped balloon.

If Selig had chosen a John Dowd to investigate the allegations, the Vega might look at this with a somewhat less jaundiced eye. But Mitchell? Loved his role in bringing a fragile peace to Ireland as Clinton's envoy to the negotiations. Loved even more his role in exasperating the 41st president of the U.S. at every turn when he was Senate majority leader.

But in this role he's not there to investigate Bonds. What, really is there to investigate? Bonds used steroids. Baseball had no policy on steroids. There was no sign hanging in every locker room. He's there for two reasons. To serve as a bridge between baseball and those cranky, crazy ol' bastards on Capitol Hill. And to deliver the report Selig's looking for that will give the commiss some fig leaf to hide behind to publicly "impose sanctions" on Bonds.

Sanctions that will be roundly rejected by the Players' Union.

Though probably not before Congress asserts itself once again. Convergence.

Man, I soooo cannot wait for Opening Day.

Lefty bloggers can be so...picky

So, Howard Kaloogian, who posted a photo of Istanbul on his campaign website that he said was taken in Iraq to show that reports of violence in Iraq are proof that the press is a bunch of terrorism supporters, now says that Josh Marshall is just being "picky."

"It's not that big a deal."

Isn't that what Joe McCarthy said?

Snow plow

For all the mismanagement the Cheney administration has become synonymous with, Bolten wants to shake things up by getting rid...of Snow? Fascinating.

A prominent Republican in Washington who consults often with the White House said Mr. Bolten, who is to assume his duties next month, wants Mr. Bush to replace the Treasury secretary, John W. Snow, with someone who can more forcefully communicate the administration's message that the economy is strong. This Republican was granted anonymity to discuss private deliberations within the administration.

Speculation about Mr. Snow's departure has flared and receded periodically for more than a year, and it returned after Mr. Bush's announcement on Tuesday that Mr. Bolten, the White House budget director, would succeed Andrew H. Card Jr. as chief of staff.

So, the former budget director, Bolten, who has overseen the ballooning of the largest deficit in the history of the world, thinks that what the administration needs now is someone more practiced in the gentle art of persuasion. I say "the administration," because "the economy" or "the nation" or "America's workers" don't really factor in now, do they?

And who might they be looking for? A Robert Rubin type? Well, sort of...

Names circulating in Republican circles as possible candidates for the Treasury post included Henry M. Paulson Jr., the chief executive of Goldman Sachs; John J. Mack, the chief executive of Morgan Stanley; and Richard D. Parsons, the chairman of Time Warner.

It was unclear if any of the three would consider taking the job. Their names surfaced immediately after Mr. Bolten's appointment because Mr. Bolten, who once worked for Goldman Sachs, is friendly with Mr. Paulson and Mr. Mack. Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, is said to think highly of Mr. Parsons, who has worked with the White House on several issues, including its efforts to overhaul Social Security.

Republicans said that if Mr. Bush turned to Wall Street for a new Treasury secretary, it could help reassure financial markets, which are increasingly worried about record-high budget and trade deficits.

...except that Robert Rubin was prepared to, ya know, actually do something about the "record-high budget and trade deficits."

The play's the thing, don't you know. Actually governing? That's so 90s, I guess.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Michelle Wie fanclub

I'm now officially a member and I don't even like golf.

RUSH LIMBAUGH REPORTEDLY SAID SOMETHING ABOUT YOU RECENTLY [calling her a "triumph of marketing"] --Huh? Who's that?


HE'S ON THE RADIO. I don't listen to the radio much.

And I guess she isn't homeschooled.


The Abramoff defense.

For many of the children, this experience has shaken their confidence and even their faith. On a recent Sabbath dinner, when the Abramoff family was dining alone (which is unusual), the Abramoff children became visibly saddened when Mr. Abramoff expressed thanks to the Almighty for all they have received. As they tell the story, they wanted to know what they have to be thankful for. They explained that their life had been made a living hell, recounted what people were saying to them at school and what they had seen in the press. They reminded their father that he was going to jail. Seeing their parents devote every waking hour to charity and providing for so many; knowing that they themselves always shared their rooms, and often gave up their very beds for strangers in need; that their family was financially broken, that funds to allow them to attend college and start a life of their own were now gone; that one of their grandmothers had recently died and the others death may be quickly approaching; that their father was a crushed, broken man and no longer the dignified and elegant leader of his community -- they asked how could they possibly continue to praise G[o]d and thank Him for their bounty? What bounty?....

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.

UPDATE: The bounty of a minimum sentence of five years 10 months.

Love, American style


Spring is here, and love is in the air on "24." Or the action series's version of love, anyway. In Monday's episode, Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) had to interrogate his beloved ex-girlfriend, Audrey (Kim Raver), to find out if she had sold secrets to terrorists. An audience of 14.53 million watched Jack throw Audrey against a wall before determining that she was innocent. (She later forgave him.) Monday's "24" drew its best ratings since its time slot premiere in January.

Post 9-11 romance.


This is just weird.

Is Kaloogian really running on a platform that everything's just peachy in Iraq?


Last night, on "All Things Considered," Charles Krauthammer candidly stated that any "shakeups" in the Bush administration had little to do with appeasing critics and everything to do with distracting the press from paying attention to events in Iraq, Republican splits on immigration, etc.

Sure enough, Jim VandeHei took the bait.

A few weeks ago, President Bush's spokesman dismissed talk of an impending staff change as "inside Washington babble."

White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.'s resignation yesterday suggests that Bush was listening.

Please. That isn't listening. That's throwing gravel in the eyes of your opponents.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The document dump

The good news is that this should keep the Righty bloggers in their respective mother's basement for years to come, emerging only for a fresh supply of cheezpuffs. All I can say is, check the kerning, boys, check the kerning.

It's amusing really. There are no more fanatically bureaucratic record keepers than totalitarian governments. If there was a paper trail linking Iraq with al Qaeda, the Pentagon would have found it by now.

Shake it, shake it, Sugaree, Just don't tell them that you know me.

I loooove this headline:

In 1st Major Shift of 2nd Term, Bush Looks to Inner Circle

Eyeing his shakey poll numbers, preznit shakes up his cabinet by replacing a long-time advisor with a...long-time advisor.

Everything about his administration is right there, in the proverbial nut shell: Intransigence in the face of growing restlessness, even among supporters; a refusal to admit fault or level blame; a sudden change of heart; a sudden change that is entirely theatrical and without meaningful substance; a big announcement's all business as usual.

The Great Man's supporters must be so relieved. I'm sure that this new member of the "inner circle" will be just as effective as Andy Card at making sure that no one outside the "inner circle" ever gets in to the Oval Office.

Another victory for us shrill, crazy-eyed Bush-haters.

The Confidence Man, or, Get me outa here, my dear man!

But throughout every story told in "Lo and Behold!," in and out of every verse, there is really only one voice, and that voice is the mask itself: "a portable heirloom," Constance Rourke wrote in 1931 in American Humor: A Study of the National Character, "handed down by the pioneer." A hundred years after Tocqueville's arrival in the new United States, Rourke was looking into the face of the Yankee pedlar, the original traveling salesman, the confidence man, though the words that replaced this appellation, "con man," also took away its meaning: what the confidence man sells, proffering his calico and patent medicine, his aluminum siding and asbestos insulation, his Amway dealerships and breast implants, is confidence. He looks you right in the face; his betrays no doubt, no greed, no fear, shame least of all.

I was reading that passage the other day, from Greil Marcus' astounding riff on The Basement Tapes, and it seemed so apt these days, with so many trying -- too often successfully -- to put the con back in conservative. Via the Poor Man, Oliver Willis writes,

Look. While Domenech’s violations were blatant, it is status quo for the conservative movement. Quite frankly, intellectual dishonesty is what these people do for a living (there are entire organizations dedicated to documenting and rebutting their ooze). Whether it’s cooking the books on environmental data, changing their stories to suit a new set of facts, or just straight up and up lying, cheating, and stealing, the conservative cause is simply a fraud.

They’ve put a lot of money into dressing up their fraud, from a bunch of well-staffed think tanks outputting shoddy research under the guise of science, to media outlets presenting propaganda as news, to activists who don’t think twice of appealing to the worst sort of bigotry in exchange for an electoral percentage or two, the conservative cause is composed of thousands of Ben Domenechs.

His only crime to them was that he got caught. Don’t believe them for a moment that they see a downside to what he did. Their only misgiving is that he didn’t do a good enough job covering his ass. Had Domenech’s work not been so simple to uncover (someone please give the Washington Post staff Google for Dummies), they would be expressing the same sentiment they had when his blog was launched. Their RedState blogger had landed at the Washington Post, and he would be able to inject even more of the fraudulent thinking that makes up conservatism into the mainstream.

But what Domenech, and many others like him, gave the Right through his phony statistics and plagiarized passages was a level of confidence that their "ideas" were backed up by "intellectual rigor."

Funny thing is, as the gentle tug of this thread unravels yet another invisible garment, even conservatives understand that young Ben's flaws were anything but -- they're part of the program. And some even resent it, even as they're a part of this shadow play.

And it goes well beyond a hack like Domenech, Crowley, and hackiest of all hacks, Corsi; it's the spirit of our times. When, as noted before, people who know less than spit are making policy in the Republican think tank now known as the Government of the United States it becomes readily apparent they've got quite a con in play.

And looking mighty confident in pulling it off.

The memo indicates the two leaders envisioned a quick victory and a transition to a new Iraqi government that would be complicated, but manageable. Mr. Bush predicted that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups." Mr. Blair agreed with that assessment.

The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Mr. Hussein.


I pulled out for San Anton',
I never felt so good.
My woman said she'd meet me there
And of course, I knew she would.
The coachman, he hit me for my hook
And he asked me my name.
I give it to him right away,
Then I hung my head in shame.
Lo and behold! Lo and behold!
Lookin' for my lo and behold,
Get me outa here, my dear man!

Ben Domenech boarded his train to fame when he was, I dunno know, 15, and had his ticket punched at each new stop. Last week he got asked his name and the confidence was swept away when he had no good answer ("Nobody," Marcus might have answered for him).

If you look around, he's not alone on the Right in appearing to lose some of that confident swagger these days. After five-plus years of calling "bullshit" on these people, it's starting to stick. Maybe even at the washingtonpost dot con.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Sox fans learn to go with the flow

No more angah. What will define them now that they've tasted victahry?

The circus is in town?

Ah, Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal, always ready to malign U.S. courts.

Moussaoui's Mess
A terrorist's joy ride through the U.S. legal system.

Friday, March 17, 2006 12:01 a.m.

The Zacarias Moussaoui legal circus may finally soon leave town, though not without teaching everyone a few lessons about terrorists and civilian courts. In the more than four years since he was charged with six counts of conspiracy related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the "20th hijacker" has mocked the U.S. criminal justice system.

He finally pleaded guilty last year, and this week at his sentencing trial the al Qaeda operative got some help from an unexpected quarter--the U.S. government. A lawyer working for the prosecution was found to have improperly coached several key government witnesses, leading Judge Leonie Brinkema to bar their testimony. As a result, Moussaoui may be spared the death penalty and instead spend the rest of his life in prison.

The witness coaching was a prosecutorial blunder, which is a shame, but that is not the main issue here. A bigger mistake was President Bush's decision nearly four and a half years ago to assign Moussaoui to trial in a civilian criminal court. As we know from captured al Qaeda training manuals, recruits are instructed in how to exploit the West's legal system if they are caught. The lesson of the Moussaoui trial is that the regular criminal justice system isn't up to the job of trying most terrorists.

Moussaoui would have been the ideal defendant to inaugurate the President's then newly announced--and subsequently much maligned--military commissions. Much of the evidence against him was unclassified and could have been produced in open court. If he had demanded access to classified information--as he did during his criminal trial--it would have been an easy matter to seal the courtroom and show it to his lawyers, all of whom would have had security clearances. The criminal prosecution was a missed opportunity to show the world how trial by military tribunal would work.

Which brings us to Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which the U.S. Supreme Court will hear later this month. The case challenges the constitutionality of the military commissions announced by Mr. Bush on November 13, 2001, to try suspected terrorists. It further argues that the tribunals are unlawful under the Geneva Convention. A lower court ruled in 2004 that military commissions violated international law, a decision overturned last year by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was brought by Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who was Osama bin Laden's driver and is being held at Guantanamo.

We've heard that throughout the trial -- that U.S. criminal courts are simply not the place to try suspected al Qaeda terrorists. Most baffling has been that the criticism did not end with the start of the sentencing phase of the trial. After all, a U.S. criminal court found Moussaui guilty, and now the court is considering imposing the death penalty. Seems to have worked according to Hoyle.

So let's consider what would have happened had Moussaui been sent to Gitmo and tried in a military court. Well, let's just say he'd probably be saying, as he did today, that "you're not dead until you're dead" for a long time to come.

The administration dramatically announced after Sept. 11 that it planned to revive a form of military trial not used since the World War II era. The idea was to achieve swift justice unencumbered by the niceties of trial in American federal courts. After all, as the case of Zacarias Moussaoui has since vividly illustrated, trials of al-Qaeda figures can test the capacity of the American civilian justice system. The administration was right that some alternative form of military trial for accused terrorists captured abroad was essential.

The military could have turned to a proven method by which it conducts trials every day: the general court-martial. Had the administration gone to Congress and adjusted the court-martial for the task at hand, it would have benefited from a system in which military lawyers are already adept. It also would have received the blessing of the legislature for whatever deviations from the usual rules might have been necessary.

Instead, the military sought to design a new system from scratch. In doing so, it has bungled. The commission rules have shifted constantly. A legal cloud has hung over its entire process. It has risked genuine unfairness. It has undermined the prestige of American justice. And, ironically, it has moved at a glacier's pace, having successfully tried not a single person to date -- thereby defeating its entire purpose. Even if the administration prevails at the high court this time, the problems will not go away. The system is a disaster, and it needs revamping.

I disagree with the Posts' contention that, should we capture bin Laden tomorrow, we have no means to try him. The Moussaui case puts the lie to that. Yes, it could be maddening. Yes, we had to put up with his grandstanding. But he's on trial for his life. And given his day on the stand, I'm guessing the jury may well want to help pull the switch.

Truth is, the Cheney administration would prefer putting no one on trial for the murders of Sept. 11, 2001 if a trial -- or military commission -- means gathering evidence that won't get thrown out of court, or if it means exposing the use of torture and extraordinary rendition to gather that evidence.

Send in the clowns

Posts calling for "rationale debate," notwithstanding, I applaud Congressman Senselessbrenner's push for legislation making all current illegals felons and making it a felony to assist an illegal alien in any way, like, um, giving him or her (or their children, I assume) a glass of water. Oh, and the big ol' iron fence running the length of our border with Mexico...well, it will give both countries so much more wall space.

Most importantly, his bill, matched by Bill Frist's grandstanding push to get similar legislation in the Senate (with Frist knowing it won't pass), should be driving Karl Rove absolutely to distraction. Rove has long seen Hispanics -- Catholic, old-fashioned values, the fastest growing population in the Sun Belt and elsewhere -- as the future of the Republican Party.

Instead, the national Republican party is about to learn a very hard truth the California Republican party learned a decade or so ago.

And do you think that maybe this is the point where Republican demagography finally forces corporate interests to align itself with something other than a party that thinks that shrinking the pool of available labor would be good for business?

Meanwhile, at the Corner of Stupid Street and Fascist Avenue, Michael Ledeen has found something for us to do with Gitmo once all the current denizens are dead or found to be harmless "terrorists." Re-education camps.

"Who says things aren't falling apart?"

Crooks & Liars have a remarkable exchange between Howard Kurtz and Lara Logan, NBC's Iraqi correspondent. Ms. Logan finds the charges that the media is at fault in declining U.S. support for the Mess-o'-Potamia outrageous. Go watch.

The look she gives at the end, after the Putz has defended Laura Ingraham for attacking the media in Iraq for "reporting from their hotel balconies," is precious. Kurtz responds to Logan's response that Ingraham should come to Iraq and see the security situation for herself, saying that, actually, the conservative talk show host just spent "eight days" in Iraq. Logan -- who's spent three years there, reporting on a situation that began with reporters being able to move freely around the country to today, when everything depends on a military escort -- gives a wry, bitter smile, and says, "Eight days."

"We wanted a labor force, but human beings came."

If it were possible to have a rationale debate over immigration reform this might be a start. Times$elect, 'fraid...but what the hell.

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," wrote Emma Lazarus, in a poem that still puts a lump in my throat. I'm proud of America's immigrant history, and grateful that the door was open when my grandparents fled Russia.

In other words, I'm instinctively, emotionally pro-immigration. But a review of serious, nonpartisan research reveals some uncomfortable facts about the economics of modern immigration, and immigration from Mexico in particular. If people like me are going to respond effectively to anti-immigrant demagogues, we have to acknowledge those facts.

First, the net benefits to the U.S. economy from immigration, aside from the large gains to the immigrants themselves, are small. Realistic estimates suggest that immigration since 1980 has raised the total income of native-born Americans by no more than a fraction of 1 percent.

Second, while immigration may have raised overall income slightly, many of the worst-off native-born Americans are hurt by immigration — especially immigration from Mexico. Because Mexican immigrants have much less education than the average U.S. worker, they increase the supply of less-skilled labor, driving down the wages of the worst-paid Americans. The most authoritative recent study of this effect, by George Borjas and Lawrence Katz of Harvard, estimates that U.S. high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren't for Mexican immigration.

That's why it's intellectually dishonest to say, as President Bush does, that immigrants do "jobs that Americans will not do." The willingness of Americans to do a job depends on how much that job pays — and the reason some jobs pay too little to attract native-born Americans is competition from poorly paid immigrants.

Finally, modern America is a welfare state, even if our social safety net has more holes in it than it should — and low-skill immigrants threaten to unravel that safety net.

Basic decency requires that we provide immigrants, once they're here, with essential health care, education for their children, and more. As the Swiss writer Max Frisch wrote about his own country's experience with immigration, "We wanted a labor force, but human beings came." Unfortunately, low-skill immigrants don't pay enough taxes to cover the cost of the benefits they receive.

Worse yet, immigration penalizes governments that act humanely. Immigrants are a much more serious fiscal problem in California than in Texas, which treats the poor and unlucky harshly, regardless of where they were born.

We shouldn't exaggerate these problems. Mexican immigration, says the Borjas-Katz study, has played only a "modest role" in growing U.S. inequality. And the political threat that low-skill immigration poses to the welfare state is more serious than the fiscal threat: the disastrous Medicare drug bill alone does far more to undermine the finances of our social insurance system than the whole burden of dealing with illegal immigrants.

But modest problems are still real problems, and immigration is becoming a major political issue. What are we going to do about it?

Realistically, we'll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants. Mainly that means better controls on illegal immigration. But the harsh anti-immigration legislation passed by the House, which has led to huge protests — legislation that would, among other things, make it a criminal act to provide an illegal immigrant with medical care — is simply immoral.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush's plan for a "guest worker" program is clearly designed by and for corporate interests, who'd love to have a low-wage work force that couldn't vote. Not only is it deeply un-American; it does nothing to reduce the adverse effect of immigration on wages. And because guest workers would face the prospect of deportation after a few years, they would have no incentive to become integrated into our society.

What about a guest-worker program that includes a clearer route to citizenship? I'd still be careful. Whatever the bill's intentions, it could all too easily end up having the same effect as the Bush plan in practice — that is, it could create a permanent underclass of disenfranchised workers.

We need to do something about immigration, and soon. But I'd rather see Congress fail to agree on anything this year than have it rush into ill-considered legislation that betrays our moral and democratic principles.

© 2006 New York Times Co.

But, of course, when it comes to immigration reform, the border between the rationale and the irrationale is a thin one, indeed.

For the time being, I am with Atrios and worry anytime the wingnuts in Congress start tinkering with (and by "tinkering," I mean "sledgehammering") anything other than establishing a "California Avacado Day" and the like.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Take the money and run

The latest trend in Republican politics:

1. Bush or Cheney makes a fund raising appearance for an incumbent running a tough race for reelection.

2. Said incumbent, conveniently, has pressing business back in Washington or the State House and is unable to attend the fund raiser himself.

It's like some kind of black bag job. The incumbent takes the money generated by a presidential or VP appearance, but there are no pictures of the incumbent with them, so his Democratic challenger can't use those photos as ammunition come the Fall.

Sad, really.

The new face of Iraq: Liberia

Mission accomplished.

I GOT back to Iraq two weeks ago, having been away more than a year. The first story I covered began with a tip that vigilantes had hanged four suspected terrorists from lamp posts in Sadr City, a Shiite slum. The minute I got to the scene, I realized I was stepping into a new Iraq. Another new Iraq, really; maybe even the third Iraq I have seen since I began reporting here in 2003.

Gone were the American tanks that used to guard the intersections. Instead, aggressive teenagers with machine guns and shiny soccer jerseys ruled the streets. They poked their heads into cars and detained whomever they wanted. There were even 8-year-olds running checkpoints, some toting toy pistols, others toting real ones. Whatever they carried, 4-foot-tall militias made me nervous. The streets now had a truly Liberian feel.

The episode was oddly symmetrical with a moment in 2004 when mobs in Falluja swarmed four American contractors and hung the bodies from a bridge. But there were a few big differences. For one, this wasn't Falluja, angry heart of the insurgency. This was Baghdad. And these weren't Americans dangling from rope. They were Sunni Arab Iraqis.

I had thought Iraq might be getting quieter. Fewer mortars were sailing into the Green Zone, where the Americans are based, and fewer suicide bombings were disrupting the morning rush. Even the airport road, the most dreaded strip of asphalt in the world, was doing better. It had been repaved and was flowing with traffic.

But soon I caught on. The violence had not declined. It had just turned inward. No longer was most of it pointed at the Americans, either directly or indirectly, as it had been during the invasion and when the insurgency exploded in 2004. Back then, if G.I.'s were not the targets, their helpers were — the Iraqi police, regional governors, Kurdish leaders, foreign civilians, anyone remotely connected to the "occupiers."

It's true that American soldiers are still dying, but the focus of the bloodshed has changed.

I guess that's why the commentariat on Fox News have been encouraged by the prospect of civil war.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Thank you, Ben

Josh Marshall was starting to feel sort of bad for young Ben Domenech, the blogger added to "balance" the "liberal bias" of Dan Froomkin, but whose tenure lasted nary a week. That is, until Ben gave his lofty farewell.

To my friends: thank you for your support. To my enemies: I take enormous solace in the fact that you spent this week bashing me, instead of America.

Writes Josh,

Ben, thank you. Thank you for taking all these blows on America's behalf. Thank you lifting passages out of other people's prose so America could take a breather. Thank you for slandering cherished American heroes for America's sake.

And thank you, James Brady, for proving you can, as was once said of their intellectual forebear, you can wade through our leading young Republican lights' deepest thoughts and not get your ankles wet.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Happy birthday, Fafblog

We're "still doin it all the kids?"

Good thing the Medium Lobster has his head on straight.

Elections and terrorist warnings, Italian style


ROME, March 23 — An American travel advisory on possible dangers in Italy ballooned on Thursday into an issue in the close national election campaign here, with opposition politicians suggesting that the advisory could be used as ammunition against them.

Silvio Berlusconi, the center-right prime minister who is battling to remain in office, immediately seized on the advisory, saying that the "security concerns" addressed in it were caused by demonstrators aligned with the center-left opposition.

"I have the right and the duty to underline the danger of the political left that wishes to bring party leaders to Parliament who want to snuff out our opinions by using violence," Mr. Berlusconi said in Rome.

The travel advisory, issued by the State Department on its Web site this week, warned Americans to avoid large crowds, mentioning specifically a violent demonstration on March 11 in Milan carried out by anti-globalization activists.

The advisory, not as serious as a more formal travel warning, also spoke of "the continuing threat of terrorist attacks" in Italy, and mentioned Al Qaeda specifically.

Romano Prodi, Mr. Berlusconi's main opponent, who is supported by several leftist parties, was concerned enough by the implication that leftist demonstrators constituted a threat that he called the American ambassador, Ronald Spogli, for an explanation on Thursday.

"He explained to me that it is standard practice, but I remain very surprised," Mr. Prodi said on Italian radio on Thursday, referring to Mr. Spogli. "Because a move like this, with the elections so close, can bring with it a sense of anguish and fear, and there is no need for that."

Ben Duffy, a spokesman for the American Embassy, said that while such advisories were not common in Western Europe, Washington had issued 70 such advisories in the past year. A similar one was issued earlier this year as a result of widespread rioting on the outskirts of Paris.

Mr. Duffy said there was no intention for the embassy to become involved in Italian politics. The election is next month.

"We anticipated this as an issue," he said. "In Italy everything is about the campaign, and in fact this is done by the consular affairs bureau, an independent channel without regard to the political impact."

The Bush administration would never use a ratcheting up of the threat level to influence an election, would it?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

O'Reilly's adolescent revenge fantasies

Nicholas Lemann's "Fact" piece on O'Lielly in the New Yorker this week is great for rounding up all of the disparate weird and/or obnoxious elements of his personality and his show, but it is particularly good for giving us a taste of the Great Man's literary style.

In 1998, after the launch of “The O’Reilly Factor,” but before superstardom, he published a thriller called “Those Who Trespass,” which is his most ambitious and deeply felt piece of writing. “Those Who Trespass” is a revenge fantasy, and it displays extraordinarily violent impulses. A tall, b.s.-intolerant television journalist named Shannon Michaels, the “product of two Celtic parents,” is pushed out by Global News Network after an incident during the Falkland Islands War, and then by a local station, and he systematically murders the people who ruined his career. He starts with Ron Costello, the veteran correspondent who stole his Falkland story:

The assailant’s right hand, now holding the oval base of the spoon, rocketed upward, jamming the stainless stem through the roof of Ron Costello’s mouth. The soft tissue gave way quickly and the steel penetrated the correspondent’s brain stem. Ron Costello was clinically dead in four seconds.

Michaels stalks the woman who forced his resignation from the network and throws her off a balcony. He next murders a television research consultant who had advised the local station to dismiss him: he buries the guy in beach sand up to his neck and lets him slowly drown. Finally, during a break in the Radio and Television News Directors Association convention, he slits the throat of the station manager. O’Reilly describes each of these killings—the careful planning, the suffering of the victim, the act itself—in loving detail.

In the novel, O’Reilly splits his alter ego in two, by creating a second tall, b.s.-intolerant Irish-American, a New York City homicide detective named Tommy O’Malley. O’Malley is charged with solving the murders that Michaels has committed, while competing with Michaels for the heart of Ashley Van Buren, a blond, busty aristocrat turned b.s.-intolerant crime columnist. Michaels, a possibly once good man driven mad by broadcast journalism, tells Ashley, “Journalism, as you know, is a profession that requires its participants to be aggressive, skeptical, and persistent in pursuit of the truth. Yet, the moment you enter your own newsroom, you’ve got to drop all that. The managers want total conformity. They want you to play the game, to do what you’re told to do.” And, later, “It’s a self-obsessed business. ‘How are things going to impact on me? Is this person my friend or my enemy? I’ll get him before he gets me.’ That kind of thing. It’s a brutal way to live.” Again and again, O’Reilly’s characters remind us that on-air broadcasters are among the most powerful and glamorous people in America, and so the stakes in television newsroom politics could not be higher.

Tommy O’Malley, too, has a lot of ambition and rage, but he channels it into bringing bad guys (not just Michaels but a collection of urban ethnic street punks out of the old “Dirty Harry” or “Death Wish” movies) to justice. Michaels, though rejected by the suits, the swells, and the phonies, is not entirely immune to their values. He lives in a mansion, eats filet mignon, dresses stylishly, and can’t dismiss the A-listers from his consciousness. He is drawn to places like Malibu, Martha’s Vineyard, and the Upper West Side, partly to carry out his murders and partly because a kind of psychological undertow pulls him there. O’Malley seems not to know that they exist; he is broke and not stylish. He is morally redeemed by the police mission, just as Michaels is morally damned by television.

To most of us, Bob Schieffer is the avuncular, grey haired replacement for Dan Rather. To O'Rielly, he's the bastard who stole his Falklands footage and deserves to be "clinically dead in four seconds" via stainless steel spoon handle.

Straight talk

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

More on the Post dot com's decision to hire a paid GOP activist and creationist liar who takes Genesis literally to prove they're not liboruls

This time from The (incomparable) Poor Man, who may well have penned the greatest blog post title evah.

Flesh-eating Joe McCarthy

In which the Vega feels a field trip to NYC coming on.

All hail the silliest cast of the year! Tony Todd stars as Shadow, a resurrected serial killer with a half-baked back-story, a posse full of zombies and a neat metal spigot he uses to drink people like juice boxes. Carla Greene plays Solitaire, a taciturn soul sister with hidden reserves of superhuman skill beneath her form-fitting pastel tracksuit. Co-starring (and relentlessly scene-stealing) as the alpha inmate Mondo, Tatianna Butler is all bleached-blond sass and bodacious bodybuilding — a cross between Lil' Kim and the rocky orange Thing.

And the plot? Women. Prison. Zombies. The end.

"Shadow" comes on like the low-budget love child of "Evil Dead" and "Reform School Girls," a crazy camp blitzkrieg of lockdown melodrama, kung fu catfights, black-magic corniness, exploding torsos, perverted doctors, impromptu zombie childbirth and bountiful lesbian shower scenes. It's a (cell) block party as funky as Dave Chappelle's, and the best reason you'll ever have to visit the ImaginAsian, the specialty cinema at 239 East 59th Street, where the movie lurches, splats and jiggles to life today.

On a more serious note, finally saw "Good Night, and Good Luck." Extremely well done, though it compresses history quite a bit to make Murrow the solitary hero in bringing McCarthy down, when in fact McCarthy was getting gored from a number of angles by the time Murrow and Friendly joined the bullfight. Nevertheless it was a pleasure to watch a cast of inspired actors (Straithorn's ability to get Murrow's cadence is uncanny, though Madame Cura had trouble differentiating his Murrow from his Mr. Wegler). And intense, beautiful cinematography -- you could almost smell the Chesterfields. The movie is almost hushed, conspiriatorial; the parallel conspiracy going on within the newsroom between the Wershbas is a nice touch.

Anyway, having now seen it, I do think Steve Goldman, stretching his legs outside the usual confines of the ballpark, probably has written the most interesting review of the film that I've yet read. He doesn't have permalinks until they're archived, so here it is, mostly in full.

First, the movie is spectacularly well acted. The four leads — Strathairn, Clooney, Frank Langella, and Joe McCarthy — are all terrific, especially McCarthy, who required little coaching to convey his full, alcoholic, ranting glory. I appreciate Clooney's reminding the corporate press that it used to make an effort to think for itself, despite being a creature of big business.

The film conveyed with subtlety one of the underappreciated aspects of the McCarthy era: its persistence. Discussing this is going to require bringing up some history, which is not the same as being partisan, though it involves the political parties. After the mid-term elections of 1934, the Republican Party was nearly dead. They held only 25 of 96 Senate seats, their lowest number ever. They had only 103 seats in the House of 435. Roughly a half-dozen state governors were not Democrats.

All of these losses were the result of domestic policy in the Great Depression. It would be decades before anyone really bought the Republican line on domestic policy (polls supported the political divide of domestic and foreign affairs between the two parties into the 1980s) and until the end of World War II, no one really cared about foreign policy. All politics was local, to paraphrase Tip O'Neill. The Cold War and the A-bomb changed that. Suddenly the world was local, and that gave the Republicans a wedge. McCarthy, Richard Nixon, and others found the way — impugn your opponent on security and you'll win. The sour outcome of the Yalta negotiations, the "loss" of China, the bungled Korean War, and the Alger Hiss case meant that it the security issue wasn't just demagoguery-there were indeed things that could have been handled better (though all of these would have been tough nuts to crack regardless of who was in power).

Security issues brought the Republican party back from the edge of extinction. That and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but that's another story. As a rhetorical device, it seems to work brilliantly, blowing away everyone from Helen Gahagan to John Kerry, from the Cold War to the Iraq War. This is a point that also comes across in Haynes Johnson's recent "The Age of Anxiety," which more explicitly compares the McCarthy period to the present one. The difference between Nixon and McCarthy is that McCarthy heated his anti-Communism to the boiling point of hysteria.

The film doesn't get into much of this, but it's there if you're hip to the context. The film (or Clooney as co-writer and director) does not establish these things for the masses of people who might not be familiar with the stories or the parallels to the present day. Indeed, on the DVD commentary, Clooney says that test audiences commented that the guy playing McCarthy was over the top. All the footage of McCarthy in the film was authentic, so that would suggest that some scene-setting was required. The movie doesn't do that, so I would imagine that many coming to it without a strong sense of what was at stake in the Ed Murrow — McCarthy confrontation might not ever grasp what was really happening in the country at the time, or how the attack on, say, the first amendment then might relate to the evisceration of the fourth amendment now.

In fact, even the way in which McCarthy fell is fudged, both by the dramatic necessity of compressing time and the need to give Murrow disproportionate credit for his bravery, which was important, but not key. In the end, the government tolerated McCarthy for a long time, but when he attacked the Army he went too far, and the government responded by using the bizarre antics of his counsel Roy Cohn as a way to bring him down. Murrow was a contributor to that story, but McCarthy himself was the author.

Still, the film is worth seeing for the portrayals of real people caught in a real crisis, for its portrait of an underappreciated era that is still with us, one we don't hear too much about in school. Strathairn's Murrow is inspirational. When he and his staff waver about confronting the junior Senator from Wisconsin because he will inevitably tar them as "Red," Strathairn says something that the real Murrow said at that moment: "If none of us had ever read a dangerous book, or had a friend who was different, or never joined an organization that advocated change we'd all be just the kind of people that Joe McCarthy wants. We're gonna go with the story, because the terror is right here in this room."

That's a real American line, one that should be right up there with "Damn the torpedoes," "I have not yet begun to fight," and "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."

I find it curious that most baseball writers, at least those found on the internets, are (IMHO) politically and historically well-informed...and intensely liberal. Wonder what that means.

Gore '08

Via The Plank, Ezra Klein brings us up to speed on what Al Gore has been doing since he lost the '00 election by that 5-4 vote. What seemed like disparate activities -- giving fiery orations, creating a TV channel, associating with, all have a unity of purpose -- disintermediation.

"I know the word fell out of favor after the dot-com collapse," mused Wes Boyd, founder of, " but he's doing disintermediation. He contacted us in the summer of 2003, said he wanted to give a speech, and was wondering if we'd like to sponsor it. What we lend to it is some of that disintermediation."

Disintermediation is a big word for a type of subtraction, the sort that excludes the middleman (the "mediator"). As a dot-com term, it described producers selling directly to customers rather than working through established retail channels. In Gore's case, it describes a public figure distributing his words directly to the public rather than working through established media outlets.

The reason Gore sought this out, as former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, Gore's friend since 1961, told me, is that "Gore wants to make change, not be part of the distortive, stifling process of the mainstream media." Speaking into the cameras, the former VP had learned, was like talking into one of those gag gift bullhorns -- what came out had little relation to what went in. "Gore's own view," says Hundt, " is that he sighed noisily in the debate and used the wrong telephone line to ask for money and the media said these are momentous events. Meanwhile, they ignore global warming and the failure to catch Osama and the destruction of the safety net"

So far, Gore shows no sign of interest in another bruising campaign, but he sure adds, believe it or not, a frisson of excitement in the otherwise dreary inevitability of the Hillary!® campaign.

UPDATE: Bob Somerby nods approvingly over Klein's piece and reminds us of those heady days, before the Mighty Wurlitzer had even found the electric outlet, when it was the leading lights of our Em Ess Em who perpetrated the flaying character assassination.

"Collateral damage"

In this week's Time, the magazine asks "a wide array of experts and thinkers," was the war in Iraq worth it three years into it?*

Later in the magazine, Time answers its own question: Emphatically, no.

The available evidence does not provide conclusive proof that the Marines deliberately killed innocents in Haditha. But the accounts of human-rights groups that investigated the incident and survivors and local officials who spoke to TIME do raise questions about whether the extent of force used by the Marines was justified--and whether the Marines were initially candid about what took place. Dr. Wahid, director of the local hospital in Haditha, who asked that his family name be withheld because, he says, he fears reprisals by U.S. troops, says the Marines brought 24 bodies to his hospital around midnight on Nov. 19. Wahid says the Marines claimed the victims had been killed by shrapnel from the roadside bomb. "But it was obvious to us that there were no organs slashed by shrapnel," Wahid says. "The bullet wounds were very apparent. Most of the victims were shot in the chest and the head--from close range."

A day after the incident, a Haditha journalism student videotaped the scene at the local morgue and at the homes where the killings had occurred. The video was obtained by the Hammurabi Human Rights Group, which cooperates with the internationally respected Human Rights Watch, and has been shared with TIME. The tape makes for grisly viewing. It shows that many of the victims, especially the women and children, were still in their nightclothes when they died. The scenes from inside the houses show that the walls and ceilings are pockmarked with shrapnel and bullet holes as well as the telltale spray of blood. But the video does not reveal the presence of any bullet holes on the outside of the houses, which may cast doubt on the Marines' contention that after the IED exploded, the Marines and the insurgents engaged in a fierce gunfight.

There are also questions about why the military took so long to investigate the details of the Haditha incident. Soon after the killings, the mayor of Haditha, Emad Jawad Hamza, led an angry delegation of elders up to the Marine camp beside a dam on the Euphrates River. Hamza says, "The captain admitted that his men had made a mistake. He said that his men thought there were terrorists near the houses, and he didn't give any other reason."

But the military stood by its initial contention —that the Iraqis had been killed by an insurgent bomb— until January when TIME gave a copy of the video and witnesses' testimony to Colonel Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. After reviewing the evidence, Johnson passed it on to the military command, suggesting that the events of Haditha be given "a full and formal investigation." In February an infantry colonel went to Haditha for a weeklong probe in which he interviewed Marines, survivors and doctors at the morgue, according to military officials close to the investigation. The probe concluded that the civilians were in fact killed by Marines and not by an insurgent's bomb and that no insurgents appeared to be in the first two houses raided by the Marines. The probe found, however, that the deaths were the result of "collateral damage" rather than malicious intent by the Marines, investigators say.

What in God's name have we done?

* Readers who click on the first link will find some interesting points of view, and it is striking that to the writers from Lebanon and Egypt, the invasion was, indeed, worth it. They feel, unlike the American scholars and policy writers, that it will transform the Middle East and pressure the monarchies and dictatorships to give way before the mighty movement of Democracy. Maybe.

But in the meantime, what have we done to the Iraqi people? Our soldiers? Our prestige? No, sorry, Hisham Kassem. While I admire your courage and respect your perspective, it wasn't worth the price paid so that the Egyptian Brotherhood can gain seats in your parliament.

Vast left wing conspiracy

Is the Post, by giving a platform to someone who says he's not a creationist, but takes Genesis literally, simply trying to discredit the wacko Right? Inquiring minds want to know!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The base in Balad, the pool in Baghdad

Dear Leader tells us that, despite his best intentions, leaving Iraq is not an option for the foreseeable future.

And they think thats newz?

Time capsule

Time Capsule
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
I wonder what those who think that we have "never faced so grave an existential threat" as we do today from the Islamofascists, think when they read this.

City workers were conducting a regular structural inspection of the [Brooklyn [B]ridge last Wednesday when they came across the cold-war-era hoard of water drums, medical supplies, paper blankets, drugs and calorie-packed crackers — an estimated 352,000 of them, sealed in dozens of watertight metal canisters and, it seems, still edible.

To step inside the vault — a dank and lightless room where the walls are lined with dusty boxes — is to be vividly reminded of the anxieties that dominated American life during the military rivalry with the Soviet Union, an era when air-raid sirens and fallout shelters were standard elements of the grade-school curriculum.

Several historians said yesterday that the find was exceptional, in part because many of the cardboard boxes of supplies were ink-stamped with two especially significant years in cold-war history: 1957, when the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite, and 1962, when the Cuban missile crisis seemed to bring the world to the precipice of nuclear destruction.


For the officials who gave the tour, the discovery set off some strong memories. Judith E. Bergtraum, the department's first deputy commissioner, recalled air-raid drills — "first it was under the desk and then it was in the hall" — at Public School 165 in Queens. Russell Holcomb, a deputy chief bridge engineer, remembered watching Nikita Khrushchev pounding his shoe at the United Nations in 1960 on television.

Several of the boxes in the room have labels from the Office of Civil Defense, a unit of the Pentagon that coordinated domestic preparedness in the early 1960's. State and local governments often appointed their own civil-defense coordinators, said Graham T. Allison, a former assistant secretary of defense who teaches at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Dr. Allison acknowledged that fallout shelters would probably have been ineffective in the event of nuclear war but that the precautions were comforting.

"At least people would think they were doing something, even if it didn't have any effect," he said.

In 1950, the city's Office of Civil Defense, the predecessor to today's Office of Emergency Management, was formed to prepare for a possible atomic attack. In 1951, during the Korean War, floodlights and barbed-wire barriers were set up on and around the city's bridges, and bridge operators were organized into defense batteries, as part of an overall civil-defense strategy aimed at deterring sabotage.

Mayor Robert F. Wagner, who served from 1954 to 1965, appointed several civil-defense advisers. In 1959, a federal report concluded that two hydrogen bombs dropped near the Brooklyn Bridge would kill at least 6.1 million people.

Oh yeah, that's right, they're probably howling that we'd better start setting up those "defense bateries" again, in case the Islamofascists start launching ICBMs full of suicide bombers at us.

But what goes unanswered in the story, if the workers who found the room were conducting a "regular structural inspection," how come they're just coming across this now, fifty years later?

He took the scenic route

New Jersey State Senator Thomas Kean Jr. to Richard Cheney: "If I'm not there, start without me, Dick!"

NEWARK, March 20 — In the biggest campaign fund-raiser yet on behalf of State Senator Thomas H. Kean Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney traveled to New Jersey on Monday and praised Mr. Kean as someone with "the experience, the values and the vision to be a superb United States senator."

But there was one problem: Mr. Kean was a no-show.

Actually, Mr. Kean did show up at the event, which was held at the offices of the IDT Corporation in downtown Newark. But he did not make it until 6:15, roughly 15 minutes after Mr. Cheney's motorcade had left.

So what should have been a routine political story about a successful fund-raiser, netting close to $400,000, became one in which Mr. Kean was asked repeatedly whether he had deliberately avoided being photographed with the vice president, who is deeply unpopular in New Jersey.

Mr. Kean's spokeswoman, Jill Hazelbaker, said: "There was no concerted effort. It was two ships passing in the night."

For his part, Mr. Kean said he had been in Trenton all day, voting on important bills, because "I would not miss votes in order to make a political event." As soon as the Senate wrapped up, around 4 p.m., he traveled north "as quickly as I could." But instead of taking the New Jersey Turnpike, like any regular commuter between Trenton and Newark, he and his driver chose Route 1, which is usually crawling with bumper-to-bumper traffic at that hour.

Mr. Kean said he did so because there were delays on the Turnpike in the morning. But at 6 p.m., there were no reported delays between Exit 7A, not far from Trenton, and the George Washington Bridge, according to the Turnpike's Web site.

Apocalypse now

Kevin Phillips is the cheerful fellow who helped devise Nixon's "southern strategy" and wrote "The Emerging Republican Majority" nearly 30 years ago. These days he looks on in horror and resignation at what that 30 years of Republican majority hath wrought.

I heard him in a wide-ranging interview with Leonard Lopate on this afternoon. It's worth a listen if they archive the show. Among the many interesting (and depressing) things he had to say was that he believes 50 to 60% of Bush's "base" did not support our invasion of Iraq because of a fervent wish for democracy in the middle east, nor were they disappointed or surprised that no weapons of mass destruction were found there. No, these readers of the 50 or 60 million copies of the Tim LeHaye "Left Behind" books believed that invading Iraq -- the site of so many of the earliest events of the Old Testament -- was the realization of prophecy; that this was the beginning of the long awaited Battle Between Good and Evil (and, despite Bush's fumbling response yesterday* to a question about this very idea, he's no stranger to that notion, either). I question that estimate, seems a bit high. I think that includes a lot of people who reacted to Sept. 11, 2001 with a vague sense that we have to go get evil terrorists, but not that these are the End Times. Nevertheless, it is interesting and scary to consider.

Now, Phillips wondered how evangelicals would react to learning that Bush has bungled this war that they -- and Bush himself -- believed was proclaimed by God. I've also heard analysts wonder if evangelicals would stay home in the next election because "their man" turned out to be such a disappointment. I don't think either really applies. Have you heard a single one of our radical clerics on the right criticize Bush or his administration's handling of the war? No. They take a long view on this.

To them, Bush hasn't bungled anything. Unlike non-religious "pragmatists," like Cheney and Rumsfeld, the hard core prophecists, by their very nature, could not have expected the Battle Between Good and Evil would be a "cakewalk." In the Battle of Armageddon there's going to be, if you will, your good days and your bad, although ultimately God and his evangelical followers will win out, if only by begging out and leaving us poor, pathetic secularists...behind.

You see, John McCain and the former Bush advisors now working for him understand this. That's why McCain has become George W. Bush's new best friend in the past few months, and his even bigger war cheerleader, even as other Republicans have been inching away from Dear Leader and running away from the war. McCain knows he needs that hard core megachurch vote to win the Republican nomination as the successor to George W. Bush. By keeping the fundies close, he can probably win enough of the slightly less wacko wing of the party to win. By embracing their hero and the war they welcome rather than want to end, he may just be able to do that. No other candidate is making such a pitch to the Armageddonists, and if he wasn't, maybe they would stay home, after all.

Now, when he starts expressing the same kind of resentment towards science and preference for dogma over policy, he'll have them wrapped around his little finger.

* Q Thank you for coming to Cleveland, Mr. President, and to the City Club. My question is that author and former Nixon administration official Kevin Phillips, in his latest book, American Theocracy, discusses what has been called radical Christianity and its growing involvement into government and politics. He makes the point that members of your administration have reached out to prophetic Christians who see the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism as signs of the apocalypse. Do you believe this, that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of the apocalypse? And if not, why not?

THE PRESIDENT: The answer is -- I haven't really thought of it that way. (Laughter.) Here's how I think of it. The first I've heard of that, by the way. I guess I'm more of a practical fellow. I vowed after September the 11th, that I would do everything I could to protect the American people. And my attitude, of course, was affected by the attacks. I knew we were at war. I knew that the enemy, obviously, had to be sophisticated and lethal to fly hijacked airplanes into facilities that would be killing thousands of people, innocent people, doing nothing, just sitting there going to work.

Afghanistan: Freedom and democracy is on the march!

Another victory on the Global War on Terror.

AFGHANISTAN: CHRISTIAN CONVERT ON TRIAL Abdul Rahman, who converted to Christianity 16 years ago, is being prosecuted in a Kabul court for rejecting Islam and could be sentenced to death under Shariah law, on which the Constitution is based. The judge said he would rule within two months. The conversion came to the attention of the authorities after Mr. Rahman tried to gain custody of two daughters. (AP)

I wonder if Pat Tillman's parents find any irony in this.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A job has opened up for Condi Rice

And it's a whole lot better than being the VeePee of a lame duck administration ...and with Cheney still running the show, no less (via Dr. Atrios). Good grief. Anyway, that's the job she's been hankering for since leaving Stamford.

That about sums it up

Via Ana Marie Cox, a man even stupider that Brit Hume.

Chris Wallace, SUPER GENIUS: “It seems to me that the Senators who are most critical of [the NSA wiretapping] program are the ones who know the least about it.”

Some count, others don't

I was flipping channels last night and caught a short report on CNN on something that I had never heard of before -- the military does not count as Iraq War casualties seriously injured American soldiers who die en route to Germany or at Walter Reed Hospital.

I can't find verfication of this, however. But if it's true...Christ.

Make sure Barney doesn't fall into their hands

Last throes, indeed.

It's the policies, stupid

Last week, I received a testy comment from a reader frustrated that I basically wrote, "Look over there," and linked to a Friedman column behind the Times' firewall. In hindsight, I realize the errors of my ways.

So, today, the Krugmaniad for Monday, March 20, 2006.

"The single word most frequently associated with George W. Bush today is 'incompetent,' and close behind are two other increasingly mentioned descriptors: 'idiot' and 'liar.' " So says the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, whose most recent poll found that only 33 percent of the public approves of the job President Bush is doing.

Mr. Bush, of course, bears primary responsibility for the state of his presidency. But there's more going on here than his personal inadequacy; we're looking at the failure of a movement as well as a man. As evidence, consider the fact that most of the conservatives now rushing to distance themselves from Mr. Bush still can't bring themselves to criticize his actual policies. Instead, they accuse him of policy sins — in particular, of being a big spender on domestic programs — that he has not, in fact, committed.

Before I get to the bogus issue of domestic spending, let's look at the policies the new wave of conservative Bush bashers refuses to criticize.

Mr. Bush's new conservative critics don't say much about the issue that most disturbs the public, the quagmire in Iraq. That's not surprising. Commentators who acted as cheerleaders in the run-up to war, and in many cases questioned the patriotism of those of us who were skeptical, can't criticize the decision to start this war without facing up to their own complicity in that decision.

Nor, after years of insisting that things were going well in Iraq and denouncing anyone who said otherwise, is it easy for them to criticize Mr. Bush's almost surreal bungling of the war. (William Kristol of The Weekly Standard is the exception; he says that we never made a "serious effort" in Iraq, which will come as news to the soldiers.)

Meanwhile, the continuing allegiance of conservatives to tax cuts as the universal policy elixir prevents them from saying anything about the real sources of the federal budget deficit, in particular Mr. Bush's unprecedented decision to cut taxes in the middle of a war. (My colleague Bob Herbert points out that the Iraq hawks chose to fight a war with other people's children. They chose to fight it with other people's money, too.)

They can't even criticize Mr. Bush for the systematic dishonesty of his budgets. For one thing, that dishonesty has been apparent for five years. More than that, some prominent conservative commentators actually celebrated the administration's dishonesty. In 2001 blogger Andrew Sullivan, writing in The New Republic, conceded that Mr. Bush wasn't truthful about his economic policies. But Mr. Sullivan approved of the deception: "Bush has to obfuscate his real goals of reducing spending with the smokescreen of 'compassionate conservatism.' " As Berkeley's Brad DeLong puts it on his blog, conservatives knew that Mr. Bush was lying about the budget, but they thought they were in on the con.

So what's left? Well, it's safe for conservatives to criticize Mr. Bush for presiding over runaway growth in domestic spending, because that implies that he betrayed his conservative supporters. There's only one problem with this criticism: it's not true.

It's true that federal spending as a percentage of G.D.P. rose between 2001 and 2005. But the great bulk of this increase was accounted for by increased spending on defense and homeland security, including the costs of the Iraq war, and by rising health care costs.

Conservatives aren't criticizing Mr. Bush for his defense spending. Since the Medicare drug program didn't start until 2006, the Bush administration can't be blamed for the rise in health care costs before then. Whatever other fiscal excesses took place weren't large enough to play more than a marginal role in spending growth.

So where does the notion of Bush the big spender come from? In a direct sense it comes largely from Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation, who issued a report last fall alleging that government spending was out of control. Mr. Riedl is very good at his job; his report shifts artfully back and forth among various measures of spending (nominal, real, total, domestic, discretionary, domestic discretionary), managing to convey the false impression that soaring spending on domestic social programs is a major cause of the federal budget deficit without literally lying.

But the reason conservatives fall for the Heritage spin is that it suits their purposes. They need to repudiate George W. Bush, but they can't admit that when Mr. Bush made his key mistakes — starting an unnecessary war, and using dishonest numbers to justify tax cuts — they were cheering him on.

© 2006 New York Times Co.

"Mr. Riedl is very good at his job." That's as skillful a way to call someone a liar as I've ever read.

But, to Professor Krugman's larger point, I had been thinking along similar lines when I came across a full page ad for Cobra II earlier in the paper. The book is written by Michael Gordon and Gen. Bernard Trainor and tells the story (at least from the excerpts I've read) of how the race to Baghdad in 2003 left in its wake the beginnings of the insurgency that's been the defining aspect of our disaster in Mesopotamia. In the ad, there's a couple of blurbs from two of our favorites:

"Suberb, must-read." -- Thomas L. Friedman
"Definitive." -- David Brooks

The book is a god-send for people like Friedman and Brooks. The two cheerleaders for the invasion can point to it and say, "See. It wasn't that the idea of invading Iraq was a bad one, it was the 'civilians at the Pentagon' who screwed up what should have been a flower and candies-strewn march of freedom!" Another example of Bush being "ill-served" by his cabinet advisors.

Give me a break, already.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

"Somos los campeones"

I love the Cuban team. They're fun to watch, playing with all of their emotions worn proudly on their red, Commie sleeves. They are a natural convergence of baseball and politics...what could be better for the Vega?

And they strut as if saying, "We may be oppressed, and our livelihood depends on keeping Fidel well-pleased, but we still play with fierce pride."

"Baseball is not judged by the price of the athletes but by the heart of the people," Cuban left fielder Frederich Cepeda said.

The print edition of the Times has a great photo essay on the folks back home, piling in front of old TVs watching the games played in the States. It's a rebuke to the lack of interest in this country. Sad. Used to be our national pastime. I guess Cuba can claim that now. And, for that matter, the Dominican, Venezualia, South Korea (whose players were rewarded for making the semi-finals with a pass on their mandatory national service), etc.

Japan versus Cuba should be innarestin' (and low scoring, if the pitchers' performances thus far are any guide).

I believe Ichiro is now the only MLB player still in the series.

UPDATE: Oops, forgot about Akinori Otsuka (and by "forgot," I mean, "never heard of").

UPDATE II: Low scoring, eh?

Sports franchise welfare

I have never seen why cities pay to build stadiums for sports teams. Or, rather, I've long been dubious that a new stadium -- particularly if it's for a team already playing in the city -- brings any additional income to a city. Bronx residents can certainly tell you that having the wealthiest professional sports franchise in the world in their midst has done absolutely nada for them except for making it the safest neighborhood in New York on game nights. Baseball teams play only 81 games a year on their home turf; football teams just eight I think. And after construction ends the only jobs are low wage stadium jobs. The teams make money, as does the companies with the vending and parking contracts, but not the city.

Turns out my suspicion is right.

ACCORDING TO Siegfried, there's a remarkable agreement on these points. In economics, he says, ''with most empirical issues there's lots of debate. Does the minimum wage cause unemployment? There's lots of debate about that issue. Here there's no debate." Even the consulting firm ERA put out an issue paper, back in 1995, cautioning against ''overblown claims of the economic value of major league sports teams" and concluding that, ''Compared with more traditional public investments of scarce economic development dollars. . .sports facilities are a rather poor investment." [sic]

But if public subsidies for sports teams are such an incontrovertibly bad idea, why is a city like Washington, D.C., still willing to pay $611 million for a sports stadium? Sports economists point, with varying degrees of frustration, to a combination of politics and unfortunate economic realities.

Major league sports, they argue, are essentially monopolies: They can ensure that the number of teams always stays below the number of cities that can support one. In economic terms, this creates a scarcity of supply and thereby drives up the ''price"-in subsidies, favorable land terms, or stadium lease deals-that a team can demand. Chicago built the White Sox a new stadium to keep them from moving to St. Petersburg, Fla., in the late '80s, for example. More recently, Nashville had to agree to build a new stadium to lure the former Houston Oilers to town.

Politicians, who like the publicity that comes from being associated with a major league sports team, see sports subsidies as a particularly glamorous use of public money-and are particularly vulnerable to the allure of gaining a team or the pain of losing one. As a business sector, major league sports is fairly small, and yet, points out Clemson economics professor Raymond Sauer, ''It's the only sector with its own section in every major newspaper in the country. It's an attention getter, so it's very natural for political people to align themselves with sports projects."

Washington DC, with all of its problems, got well snookered when it agreed to pay $611 million. And they should sue Major League Baseball for having failed to find a buyer for the team, one, you know, that has an incentive for the team to be a winner. An incentive that the current owners -- the owners of the other teams -- certainly do not have.

Furthermore, it looks like Nationals' games may not be the place to be seen these days.

No pattern of misconduct there. No, none at all.

On this, the third anniversary of our invasion of Iraq, we find yet more bad apples.

By May 2004, just as the scandal at Abu Ghraib was breaking, tensions increased at Camp Nama between the Special Operations troops and civilian interrogators and case officers from the D.I.A.'s Defense Human Intelligence Service, who were there to support the unit in its fight against the Zarqawi network. The discord, according to documents, centered on the harsh treatment of detainees as well as restrictions the Special Operations troops placed on their civilian colleagues, like monitoring their e-mail messages and phone calls.

Maj. Gen. George E. Ennis, who until recently commanded the D.I.A.'s human intelligence division, declined to be interviewed for this article. But in written responses to questions, General Ennis said he never heard about the numerous complaints made by D.I.A. personnel until he and his boss, Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, then the agency's director, were briefed on June 24, 2004.

The next day, Admiral Jacoby wrote a two-page memo to Mr. Cambone, under secretary of defense for intelligence. In it, he described a series of complaints, including a May 2004 incident in which a D.I.A. interrogator said he witnessed task force soldiers punch a detainee hard enough to require medical help. The D.I.A. officer took photos of the injuries, but a supervisor confiscated them, the memo said.

The tensions laid bare a clash of military cultures. Combat-hardened commandos seeking a steady flow of intelligence to pinpoint insurgents grew exasperated with civilian interrogators sent from Washington, many of whom were novices at interrogating hostile prisoners fresh off the battlefield.

"These guys wanted results, and our debriefers were used to a civil environment," said one Defense Department official who was briefed on the task force operations.

Within days after Admiral Jacoby sent his memo, the D.I.A. took the extraordinary step of temporarily withdrawing its personnel from Camp Nama.

Admiral Jacoby's memo also provoked an angry reaction from Mr. Cambone. "Get to the bottom of this immediately. This is not acceptable," Mr. Cambone said in a handwritten note on June 26, 2004, to his top deputy, Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin. "In particular, I want to know if this is part of a pattern of behavior by TF 6-26."

General Boykin said through a spokesman on March 17 that at the time he told Mr. Cambone he had found no pattern of misconduct with the task force.

Yes, I'm sure Cambone really wanted to "get to the bottom of this immediately." That explains why there didn't seem to be any follow up when General Boykin found nothing to find fault with. Of course not.

Investigative reporters from the Los Angeles Times and NBC television have dug up two years' worth of seemingly incendiary comments from Lt Gen William "Jerry" Boykin, the newly promoted deputy undersecretary of state of defense for intelligence.

Gen Boykin has repeatedly told Christian groups and prayer meetings that President George W Bush was chosen by God to lead the global fight against Satan.

He told one gathering: "Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. He's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this."

In January, he told Baptists in Florida about a victory over a Muslim warlord in Somalia, who had boasted that Allah would protect him from American capture. "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real god and his was an idol," Gen Boykin said.

He also emerged from the conflict with a photograph of the Somalian capital Mogadishu bearing a strange dark mark. He has said this showed "the principalities of darkness. . . a demonic presence in that city that God revealed to me as the enemy".

On the Middle East, Gen Boykin told an Oregon church in June that America could not ignore its Judaeo-Christian roots. "Our religion came from Judaism and therefore [Islamic] radicals will hate us forever."

In the same month, Gen Boykin told an Oklahoma congregation that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were not the enemy.

"Our enemy is a spiritual enemy because we are a nation of believers. . . His name is Satan."

That this guy is in charge of intelligence for the Pentagon is insane enough. That Cambone would choose him -- someone for whom Muslims are essentially Satan worshippers -- to investigate prisoner abuse, then take him at his word when told there's nothing there to worry about, says just about all you need to know about the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld axis of unaccountable incompetence.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The secret sharer

Originally uploaded by vegacura.
When you operate as secretively as has the Cheney Administration, when the lid blows open you never know what you'll find.

WASHINGTON - Lawyers for Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide are suggesting they may delve deeply at his criminal trial into infighting among the White House, the CIA and the State Department over pre- Iraq war intelligence failures.

New legal documents raise the potential that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's trial could turn into a political embarrassment for the Bush administration by focusing on whether the White House manipulated intelligence to justify the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

In a court filing late Friday night, Libby's legal team said that in June and July 2003, the status of covert CIA officer
Valerie Plame was at most a peripheral issue to "the finger-pointing that went on within the executive branch about who was to blame" for the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.

"If the jury learns this background information" about finger-pointing, "and also understands Mr. Libby's additional focus on urgent national security matters, the jury will more easily appreciate how Mr. Libby may have forgotten or misremembered ... snippets of conversation" about Plame's status, the defense lawyers said.

Cheney's former chief of staff was indicted Oct. 28 on five counts of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI about how he learned of Plame's CIA employment and what he told reporters about her.

I don't really care if Libby is ultimately found to have committed a crime if it can open up a window on the liars and fools who are allegedly the leaders of the free world. That would be close enough to a real pony for me!

Friday, March 17, 2006

We may be rubes, but we ain't that stupid

Poll numbers indicate what preznit hisself might say, "fool me once, shame on ... shame on you. It fool me. We can't get fooled again." Here's some soft music for you, from today's Wall Street Journal.

BUSH CONFRONTS persistent skepticism about his leadership.

The president's job approval, now 37% in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, has held below 40% since October 2005. That is the longest sustained period below 40% of any president since Carter in WSJ/NBC and Gallup data.

Just 11% of independents and 29% of Republicans call the Bush administration "very competent," encouraging Democrats to press that argument. "The public is wondering, 'Is this person going to be able to govern?'" says Democratic pollster Peter Hart who conducts the survey with Republican Bill McInturff [yes, that's his name].

Americans can be obtuse, but when a president stands idly by as a major American city is destroyed and the Armed Forces stretched beyond the breaking point due to a war of his choice, and whose stewardship of the economy leads to the debt level raised to the point where we are paying $200 billion a year on interest payments, they're bound to catch on eventually.

Church and state at the nation's founding

Steve Waldman, writing in The Washington Monthly, looks at the history of views on the separation of church and state. He notes that although both sides of Our Great Times' cultural divide can find evidence affirming each's position in the writings of the Constitution's Framers, evangelicals of the time were consistent: Church and State should be like oil and water.

It is ironic, then, that evangelicals—so focused on the “true” history—have neglected their own. Indeed, the one group that would almost certainly oppose the views of 21st-century evangelicals are the 18th-century evangelicals. John Leland was no anomaly. In state after state, when colonists and Americans met to debate the relationship between God and government, it was the proto-evangelicals who pushed the more radical view that church and state should be kept far apart. Both secular liberals who sneer at the idea that evangelicals could ever be a positive influence in politics and Christian conservatives who want to knock down the “wall” should take note: It was the 18th-century evangelicals who provided the political shock troops for Jefferson and Madison in their efforts to keep government from strong involvement with religion. Modern evangelicals are certainly free to take a different course, but they should realize that in doing so they have dramatically departed from the tradition of their spiritual forefathers.

It's easy to see why. Congregationalists in the north and Anglicans in the south were the "established" religions of the Colonies. Baptists, upstarts and revolutionaries to the establishment, were shunned by religious leaders and in some cases beaten by law enforcement at the behest of the establishment. These proto-evangelicals knew that only by "rendering unto Ceasar what is Ceasars" could they expect to thrive in the new nation.

But their alignment with Jefferson and Madison was not just about survival, they shared similar views of the individual.

On one level, this little-known alliance between Jefferson, Madison, and the evangelicals was pragmatic; for different reasons, they shared similar goals. But the connection went far deeper. When evangelicals smashed ecclesiastical authority—by, say, meeting in the fields without the permission of the local clergy—they were undermining authority in general. They were saying that on a deep spiritual level, salvation came through a direct relationship with God and that the clerical middleman was relatively unimportant. Jefferson and other enlightenment thinkers were glorifying the power of the individual mind to determine the truth—through evidence rather than merely tradition. As the historian Rhys Isaac put it, “Jefferson's system proclaimed individual judgment as sacred, sacred against the pressure of collective coercions; the evangelicals did the same for private conscience.”

Today's Christian conservatives often note that Jefferson's famous line declaring that the first amendment had created “a wall separating church and state” was not in the Constitution but in a private letter. But in that letter, Jefferson was responding to one sent to him by a group of Baptists in Danbury, Conn. We usually read Jefferson's side of that exchange. It's worth re-reading what the Danbury Baptists had to say because it reminds us that for the 18th-century evangelicals, the separation of church and state was not only required by the practicalities of their minority status, but was also demanded by God. “Religions is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals,” the Baptists wrote, warning that government “dare not assume the prerogatives of Jehova and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.” Government had no business meddling in the affairs of the soul, where there is only one Ruler.

Now that their descendants have a seat at the table of power, they've conveniently forgotten that history, and now welcome the mixing of religion and government. They are certainly all for making "Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ." There are some exceptions to that lust for power among evangelicals, though.

The popular commentator Cal Thomas and the author Ed Dobson, both former officials of the Moral Majority, wrote a courageous book in 1999 called Blinded by the Might, arguing that proximity to power had prompted religious conservatives to abandon their principles and distracted them from their religious mission: “We have confused political power with God's power.” And the Baptist legacy reappeared after George Bush's election when a number of religious conservatives surprised pundits by suggesting that churches should not accept money from the faith-based initiative. Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said that while he hoped Bush's faith-based plan passed, he personally “would not touch the money with the proverbial 10-foot pole.” The fears expressed by Thomas, Dobson, and Land were the very same ones that Leland or Bachus would have had: that with government involvement will come government interference. Modern religious conservatives have mostly decided to go along anyway because they felt a greater good—the promotion of President Bush and the general encouragement of religion—outweighed the risks.

That moment of nervousness by some religious conservatives about the faith-based initiatives was largely ignored by the mainstream media because it was a minority opinion among contemporary evangelicals and didn't fit the agreed-upon playbook—the Christian right got Bush elected so surely it must like religious aid—but it indicated that this spirit of John Leland and Isaac Bachus is not entirely dead in the evangelical movement.

It will be interesting to see if religious conservatives grow weary of their dance with politics. The movement that helped changed the balance of power in Congress and installed "one of them" in the White House has perhaps gotten a bad taste in its collective mouth watching their leadership's embrace of K Street, "faith-based initiatives" languish, and all in all feeling pretty used by the politicians they supported.

But I digress. It's a fascinating article, depicting a history of the nation's founding that is often easily distorted because it's no longer taught much in school.
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