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saturday, january 3, 2004

Words Fail
 
I don't usually read David Brooks's columns, but I got suckered into it today because of the teaser line on the New York Times web site -- "The Republican Party has a problem this election year. It's the governing party, but it lacks a governing philosophy."
 
Of course, it's not true that the Republicans don't have a governing philosophy. It's just that they don't have a governing philosophy they will admit to publicly. Still, the teaser promised unusual candor on Brooks's part. So I read the column.
 
Reading a David Brooks column is a bit like falling down Alice's rabbit hole. You reach a place where the rules of logic no longer apply, and objective reality melts into dream. It's a place where the croquet-mallet flamingos of cognitive dissonance meet the Cheshire cat of political spin. Today's column is no different.
 
Brooks starts out by admitting that Republicans have lost credibility on the issue of reducing the size of government. But this is not the GOP's fault; those soft-hearted Republicans are just giving the people what they want -- "Republicans have learned through hard experiences that most Americans do not actually want their government sharply cut."
 
OK, so much for downsizing government. But without this issue, Brooks says, the Republican Party is adrift philosophically. One wants to raise one's hand and ask about all those tax cuts. But then Brooks rounds a corner and bumps smack into a smoking caterpillar.

Fortunately, there is one Republican leader who, at least at one point, recognized that the 21st-century G.O.P. could no longer be the party of Barry Goldwater. That's George W. Bush. When he ran for president in 2000, he made it quite clear that trimming government was not his main goal. "The American government is not the enemy of the people," he declared. "At times it is wasteful and grasping. But we must correct it, not disdain it. Government must be carefully limited — but strong and active and respected within those bounds. It must act for the common good."

What "common good" can we afford after the tax cuts? According to another article in today's Times, Bush's budget for 2005 would reduce spending on biomedical research and housing vouchers for the poor, require veterans to pay more for health care, and eliminate some job training and employment programs. The budget is designed to "rein in the growth of domestic spending without alienating politically influential constituencies."
 
In other words, the only "good" Bush recognizes is whatever will help him get "re"-elected.
 
This next paragraph is classic Brooks:

Bush promoted a new domestic governing philosophy: compassionate conservatism. To be honest, that hasn't panned out. So the task this year, starting with the State of the Union speech, is to come up with a new governing philosophy that will give domestic policy a sense of idealism, ambition and shape.

Translation: Compassionate conservatism was an empty phrase that never stood for anything, and now that everyone's caught on we are challenged to craft a new, improved empty phrase to fool the public into thinking we, the Republicans, give a shit.

In December various conservative "pundits," including Brooks, ran the phrase "ownership society" up the flagpole and counted salutes. Perhaps there weren't enough; Brooks has a new idea:

For my money, the best organizing principle for Republicans centers on the word "reform." Republicans can modernize the (mostly Democratic) accomplishments of the 20th century. That would mean entitlement reform, tax reform, more welfare reform, education reform, immigration reform, tort reform and on and on. In all these areas, Republicans can progressively promote change, while Democrats remain the churlish defenders of the status quo.

One gags. Bush's record of "reform" runs one of two ways --policies with a catchy name but flawed and shortchanged (i.e., No Child Left Behind) or policies meant to rip off the taxpayer to line the pockets of Bush corporate cronies (i.e., the energy bill; the Medicare "reform"). But at least there may be some "Reformer With Results" banners left over from the 2000 campaign.
 
And here's the clincher:

It's looking increasingly as if Democrats will be the party of anger in 2004. Republicans may as well be the party of reform and hope.  

Empty reform and false hope, but never mind. All the Republicans need is the right empty phrase, and with some banners and good photo ops, they're in business. Now, if they would just pass out more of whatever they are smokin'...
 
3:32 pm | link

Don't Miss
 
Be sure to read "The Things They Carry" by James Traub in this weekend's New York Times magazine. Traub makes a persuasive argument that the Democrats, along with the few remaining moderate Republicans, really do have better ideas about national security than the Bush Administration does. The Bushies, for all their bluster, have been largely ineffective on foreign policy because they have no clue what they are doing.
 
Here are just a few provcative quotes:
The underlying critique offered by Democratic policy experts is that the Bush administration, for all its bluster about how 9/11 ''changed everything,'' has in fact not adapted to the transformed world into which it has been catapulted and is still chasing after the bad guys of an earlier era. The administration understands war, but not the new kind of multifaceted, globalized war that must be fought against a stateless entity. As Ashton B. Carter, a Defense Department official in the Clinton administration, puts it, ''We've done one thing in one place'' -- or two, counting Afghanistan. What about the other things in the other places?" ...
 
Dean had happened upon a very large gulf between the Democrats in Washington and many of the party's most passionately engaged members. He was already becoming the tribune of the virulently anti-Bush wing of the party on domestic policy, and now he plumbed equal depths on the question of the use of force. ''Dean made Iraq a political manhood test,'' laments Will Marshall, a well-known Democratic centrist and head of the Progressive Policy Institute. ''His conflation of anti-Bush sentiment and antiwar sentiment ratcheted the debate toward what has at least echoes of the old antiwar stance.'' ...

The opening speaker at the Center for American Progress's foreign-policy symposium was Gen. Wesley Clark, who had been invited long before he declared himself a candidate for president. Clark was speaking from New Hampshire, and he appeared on two giant screens. His hollow cheeks, his banked intensity, his palpable sense of solemnity and the sheer immensity of his image gave an air of almost desperate urgency to his words. He spoke angrily of the way Bush had destroyed the international relationships and undermined the institutions that previous presidents nurtured and that he himself, as NATO commander during the war in Kosovo, used as instruments to forge a sense of common purpose. The war in Iraq, he said, was a mistake of historic proportions -- ''a disastrous turn of events in our history.'' And then, his mien grave and gaunt, Clark said something that produced an audible murmur in the room: ''There is no way this administration can walk away from its responsibility for 9/11. You can't blame something like this on lower-level intelligence officers.'' ...

Conservative intellectuals have taken to arguing that Democrats, far from being lost in a funk of pacifism, have in fact signed on to President Bush's national security strategy, albeit with some important quibbles over Iraq. Robert Kagan recently observed that the 2004 election is unlikely to offer ''a national referendum on the fundamental principles of American foreign policy in the post-cold-war, post-Sept. 11, 2001, world'' so long as the leading Democratic candidates, including the supposedly dovish Howard Dean, fully embrace the war on terror that President Bush has declared -- unlike the McGovernites, who believed that ''America was on the wrong side of history.'' ...

But Kagan is wrong to think that only ends, not means, amount to fundamental, or at least essential, principles. The difference between the idea that international law, multilateral institutions and formal alliances enhance our power -- the Wilson-F.D.R.-Truman-Kennedy idea -- and the view that they needlessly constrain our power, is a very important difference indeed.  ...

Iraq has, in fact, become the Democratic manhood test. One of Howard Dean's 30-second ads in Iowa showed Gephardt standing next to President Bush in the Rose Garden while an announcer said, ''October 2002: Dick Gephardt agrees to co-author the Iraq war resolution, giving George Bush the authority to go to war.'' Dean is running as the candidate who stood up to the president and his own party on Iraq, just as Wesley Clark is running as the candidate whose whole experience demonstrates the madness of Iraq. Dean may well be a nationalist liberal, but his audience members -- the activists, the students -- often are not; he is exploiting that deep discomfort with the exercise of power, the skepticism about American legitimacy that Condoleezza Rice was writing about. (A candidate who says, as Dean does, ''We're all just cogs in a big machine someplace,'' is not catering to the middle.) This is the cliff that Democratic thinkers fear the party is heading over. As one Senate aide tells me, ''I don't see how a Democrat who is easy to stereotype as soft, even if it's unfair, is going to win.''

This is a very provocative article. I'm still absorbing it, but I'm sure I will have something to say about it either today or tomorrow. Please leave comments if you've read the article (don't go by just the quotes above).

 

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Hot Links 8:06 am | link

friday, january 2, 2004

L'Affaire Plame Developments
 
Read Josh Marshall's latest blog for clear-headed analysis. Also, according to Time magazine, "FBI investigators looking into the criminal leak of a CIA agent’s identity have asked Bush Administration officials including senior political adviser Karl Rove to release reporters from any confidentiality agreements regarding conversations about the agent."
 
Wouldn't it be fun if Rove refused to sign?
 

8:59 pm | link

The Collapse of Conservatism
 
Proving once again they have no sense of irony, the editors of the Wall Street Journal today reprinted an editorial from October 1968 called "The Collapse of Liberalism." The author, the late Robert L. Bartley, was looking forward to victory for the Nixon-Agnew ticket and the end of New Deal liberalism.

What have been the features of this creed that has dominated political life? In our time liberalism has come to mean dependence on the powers of central government to solve nearly all problems. This has stemmed from a view of man holding that any evil he displays is merely the rest of his environment, and that his innate good will be released by the simple step of giving him ample money, housing and other worldly goods. Thus, the liberal creed has come to demand an almost religious "commitment" to using the government to uplift the poor; not so much as a way to help the unfortunate, but as the answer to all the problems of mankind.

The reputation of this creed, of course, is presently burdened with the unpopularity of Lyndon Johnson and his Administration. Since one of the great fonts of that unpopularity is the war in Vietnam, some will argue that the burden is an unfair one. They will argue that Mr. Johnson's war policy is either irrelevant to liberalism or a corruption of the tradition he inherited.

And, of course, as I see it the War in Vietnam was irrelevant to liberalism and a corruption of the New Deal tradition Johnson inherited. Ironically, Johnson got himself mired in Vietnam because he fear that if South Vietnam fell to Ho Chi Minh he'd be vulnerable to charges from Republicans that he was "soft on communism."

Backpedaling another decade -- in the 1950s, "The Soviet takeovers in Eastern Europe, the fall of China to Communism, the news that Russia had tested an atomic bomb — all sent shock waves through the nation, " wrote historian David Oshinsky recently in the New York Times.  "For two decades, Republicans had been in the minority, unable to shake the perception that their party was responsible for the misery of the Great Depression. But the cold war gave them a powerful new issue to exploit. They charged that their Democratic opponents were 'soft on Communism.'" *

In his editorial, Bartley was saying that the anticipated victory of Nixon-Agnew would be the end of the hated New Deal. But now Bartley had to make an argument that the fall of Lyndon Johnson was a repudiation of the New Deal and not his policies in Vietnam. To do this, Bartley argues that the War in Vietnam was the natural result of the "liberalism" of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

In particular, it is difficult to imagine a conservative Administration giving, as the Kennedy one did, a go-ahead for the coup against South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.

This was written just before the ascendancy of Henry Kissinger and realpolitik, notice.

This is an important key to succeeding events. It would have been one thing to walk out on Diem for his offenses against liberalism. But after America had implicated itself in his overthrow and murder, considerations of both morality and international credibility made it quite clearly another thing to walk away without an effort to salvage the resulting situation.

We Now Know that Kennedy and Johnson should have walked away from "the resulting situation" as fast as their legs could carry them, but they didn't. Nixon was elected in 1968 after he had assured the nation  he had a "secret plan" to get America out of Vietnam. But the final retreat from Saigon, in which "the resulting situation" was a complete communist takeover, didn't occur until 1975.

It was nonsense to pin the Vietnam War on "liberal" policies. Although Lyndon Johnson's domestic policies were progressive, his decision to go to war in Vietnam was a deliberate move to the Right. Johnson  knew that if South Vietnam fell to communism, the Right Wing would skewer him. And in the years following the publication of this editorial, liberals would join in solidarity against the war in Vietnam, while conservatives would embrace it as a just cause.

Many of the mistakes in Vietnam have been precisely the mistakes to be expected of men embodying the traits and habits of contemporary liberalism. We do not find it surprising that men who think the Federal Government can solve all of the nation's problems should also think the United States can solve all the world's problems.

In light of Bush Junior's Middle East policy, is this not deliciously ironic?

Nor that men who seek short-cut solutions on the domestic front should seek to solve a war by such a trick as overthrowing an allied government.

And, as he wrote, Henry Kissinger was lurking around history's corner ...

Nor, to move into the Johnson Administration, is it surprising that men of liberal bent would compound the errors by too long trying to have both guns and butter, or would leave their war aims hazy by invoking not national interest so much as a crusade to bring liberalism to the poor people of South Vietnam.

And today, we have a Republican Administration whose motto is "Guns and butter now, pay later." And they use national security issues as an excuse for a crusade to bring American-style democracy to the poor people of the Middle East. Oh, too, too ironic ...

Without belaboring the point that liberal Administrations have led us into all of this century's wars, it seems quite possible to discern the effects of liberalism in the mismanagement of this one.

Is he saying that if a Republican had been in the White House in December 1941, there would have been no retaliation of Pearl Harbor? Dear Mr. Bartley, wherever you are, I hope you've recanted this.

People are not rejecting liberalism, though, merely for the peripheral part of its tradition bearing on foreign affairs. It is also being rejected at its core. Very few citizens any longer believe the current batch of national problems can be solved by domestic policies emphasizing big spending, Federal bureaucracy and liberal emotions.

Today we have a "conservative" administration emphasizing big spending and Federal bureaucracy. (Or, as noted in the comments to the article, "It seems 'liberalism' is here to stay with President Bush's Leave No Child Behind Act, Medicare reform, farm bill and energy bill.")

But I liked the part about "liberal emotions." One of the long-time conceits of conservatives is that conservative policies are tough-minded and logical, whereas liberal policies are soft-headed and emotional. This leads us to the meme that conservatism is masculine and liberalism is feminine, as Ann Coulter frequently gurgles.

I say that ideologues of any persuasion are, by definition, people who can't see big pictures. Those who insist on viewing the world through an ideological prism will be doomed to rationalize endlessly about why their side is in the right and the other side is in the wrong, never seeing the situation as-it-is.

But more than anything else, this article demonstrates that "conservatism" isn't what it used to be. Bartley's conservatism valued limited government and avoided unnecessary foreign entanglements. Today people calling themselves "conservatives" are recklessly running up debts that won't be paid off for a century while exporting what they call "democracy" to people who may or may not want it.

Where did they go, those conservatives of old? Replaced by alien replicants in pods? Today the GOP has swung so far to the Right that Democrats are arguing for reduced federal spending, balanced budgets, and the avoidance of foreign military adventures.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Republicans were able to so discredit the word liberal that Democrats were afraid to speak it; it became the "L word."  Sooner or later, the pack of so-called conservatives in the White House will overreach enough that even most white men will see what frauds they are. After that, will Republicans run away from the "C" word?

__________
 
*David Oshinsky, "McCarthy Era: History Adjusts, but Does It Repeat?" The New York Times, December 29, 2003. Professor Oshinsky is the author of A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy, an excellent history of McCarthyism.
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Hot Links 7:58 am | link

thursday, january 1, 2004

Hot Links for the New Year 6:53 am | link

wednesday, december 31, 2003

Fortunes Told
 
I'm better at long-term predictions than short-term ones. For example, someday the Sun will go nova and Earth will burn to a crisp. You heard it here.
 
I'm not going to predict who the Dem nominee will be. I will predict that the contest will be settled by March 2004. If Howard Dean sweeps the February primaries, he'll most likely be unstoppable. However, if he loses any of them, money and all the weight of the Democratic Party establishment will flow to the strongest challenger to Dean, who will most likely be Wesley Clark.
 
If a candidate other than Dean or Clark ends up with the nomination I will be very surprised. That was not a prediction, though.
 
I'm not going to predict who will win the 2004 election. I will predict that if the polls in October show Bush behind, or if the race is close, Ronald Reagan will die. Karl Rove will want to hold the funeral no more than a week before election day.
 
Right-wing dreams to the contrary, I predict the Democratic Party will not split into pieces if Dean is not nominated. Many of his followers will be bitterly disappointed, but they'll get over it by summer if the not-Dean candidate puts up a good, scrappy fight against Bush.
 
On the other hand, by March Dennis Kucinich will accept the nomination of one or two minor parties, and he and his culties will renounce the Democratic Party.
 
I also predict that Hillary Clinton will never head a presidential ticket. Not in 2004, not in 2008, never. If she does try for the nomination in 2008, she will fail. The Party is moving to the left of the Clintons. The Clintons represent a long-ago time before George W. Bush when the political landscape was different.
 
I predict the Bushie efforts at quick-and-dirty nation building in Iraq, meant to get most of the military out of Iraq before the elections, will fail. A premature skedaddle would leave a power vaccuum that could be filled by worse than Saddam. More likely, the U.S. occupation will still be in force, but the Bushies will plant many news stories to make the public think the occupation is just about to end. (Old-timers will remember Richard Nixon's 1968 secret plan to get out of Vietnam.)
 
I predict that Afghanistan will continue to destabilize, and more and more territory will fall into back the hands of the Taliban.
 
I predict that the news pundits will continue to chirp happily about the growing economy, and that most working people will feel no better off for it.
 
This spring the 9/11 commission will make public a report that shows George W. Bush was negligent of taking national security precautions that might have prevented the terrorist attack of September 11. Further, the commission will publish copious evidence that the White House had plenty of warning about a terrorist attack involving hijacked airplanes. However, the news pundits will misrepresent this report to the public and go into overtime discrediting it, and the political impact will be small.
 
The stock market will remain reasonably strong in 2004, and Republicans will run their social security privatization scheme up the flagpole one more time. I predict they will not call it a "privitazation scheme," however, but will have a new and catchy phrase using the word "ownership."
 
Paul Wolfowitz will not be canned. The Bushies will keep him on the payroll but out of public view.
 
I am making no predictions about the Valerie Plame investigation. I do predict that Saddam Hussein's trial will be conducted in secret for "national security" reasons.
 
The Return of the King will win a lot of Oscars, including Best Picture. Late next year we'll be able to buy the super-duper 20-CD Lord of the Rings directors' cut set that will include a picture book and collector cards and which will be priced at around $100, give or take. I predict I will buy it as soon as it comes out.
 
You heard it here.
 

 
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8:14 pm | link

Self-Delusion and Right Wingers
 
I don't normally read right-wing web sites, but I've been crusing a few lately looking for commentary on the Plame investigation. Here are some choice items, in no particular order.
 
Peter Schramm at No Left Turn provides a short history of the Democratic Party since FDR:
Clinton moves the party back towards the center, becoming the first Demo president to be re-elected since FDR. Quite an accomplishment, albeit marred by scandal (but that’s another story). His VP, also instrumental in moving the party back toward the center, loses the election in a close one; no one has been elected president while losing his home state. The Demos come to especially hate Bush, and unnaturally stay focused on the close outcome in Florida.
Oh, yes, we're just supposed to get over the theft of a presidential election. But let's continue ...
September 11 happens, everything is affected. But the Demos don’t see this as a monumental event.
Is it me, or are the Right Wingers living in an alternate universe? Where in the world do they get this crap?
 
The claim that Democrats didn't see September 11 as a "monumental event" is not only a lie, but as an eyewitness to the collapse of the World Trade Center towers it's one I find especially offensive.
 
If anything, the Dems have taken September 11 far more seriously than the GOP. The Bushies did nothing but shamelessly exploit September 11 and use it as an excuse for all manner of policies that had nothing to do with September 11, like the invasion of Iraq.
They lose ground in 2002.
Not because they didn't take September 11 seriously, however. They lost ground because Daschle et al. were a pack of damn appeasers who weren't providing the voters with a clear alternative to Bush and Co. The Dems were nothing but the "Me, Too" party.
Gore shifts left, and others do the same (not yet Lieberman and Gephardt) especially after the Iraq war.
I'd love to know what this fool thinks "left" stands for. Is a leftist anyone who is opposed to military adventurism, I wonder?
The economy is made into an issue, and then dropped over time because it proved ineffective.
Alternate universe. Dems and anyone paying attention to objective reality are deeply concerned about what Bush is doing to our economy, especially long term. 
The emphasis on the Iraq gambit forces them into harping criticisms from WMD issues to multilateralism, all the while trying to de-authorize Bush who is now turned into a knave and a liar.
He IS a knave and a liar, and has been his entire life. It runs in the family.
Howard Dean is like a lazer-beam on these matters, and no one else gets traction. Wesley Clark becomes the great hope, surrounded by Clintonistas, but he quickly stumbles many times. All the while Hillary dominates the polls, but will not run and everyone knows that she is setting up for 2008. What energy remains in the party goes toward Dean. He prospers--despite his misstatements and and missteps--and all the others stumble. It is now said that no one can stop this angry man. And he now says that if the nomination is taken from him, he will make the Democratic Party pay. What this means is that there is no Democratic Party. Dean is right, he is in the process of creating a new one, and, should he fail, then Hillary will create one in her own image: moderate, thoughtful, and, shimmering with a celebrity-like quality. And, it so happens, she is married to a rock star who, at every appearance, can raise ten times the amount of money that Howard Dean can. So, as a Republican, I don’t worry about 2004, but I am concerned with 2008.
For an analysis of Dean and the Democratic nominating process written by someone with a brain, read "How This Plays Out" by Stirling Newberry at BOPNews.
 
It's true that Dean has a popular following, but what is the basis of that popularity? He's the one who first came out swinging against Bush, that's what. The Deaniacs WILL vote for the Democratic nominee if it isn't Dean, because the One True Objective in 2004 is to beat Bush.
 
And then notice who shows up in the narrative -- Hillary, Queen of Evil. I never read a word about Hillary on Democratic web sites, except to complain that she's too far to the right. Hillary will never be the Dem nominee, because by 2008 the rank and file will consider her to be too conservative to be trustworthy. She'll do well to stay in the Senate.
In the meantime, I observe the crippling of the oldest political party in the U.S. If Dean becomes the nomineee he will lose by fifteen points and the Demos will lose at least five seats in the Senate and somewhere between five and ten seats in the House.
This may be true. I have serious reservations about Dean's chances in the general election, as you may have noticed.
Even Hillary will have a tough time rebuilding that shell that used to be called a great political party.
The Republican Party that was the Party of Lincoln and of Theordore Roosevelt died some time back. It was replaced by space alien replicants in pods.
 
Seriously, if America is to be saved from becoming a one-party totalitarian state the current leadership of the GOP is going to have to go down, and go down hard. Would there be enough moderates left in the GOP to pick up the pieces?   
 
More nonsense. This is a recent article from a flaming idiot who writes for the Orlando Sentinel:  "Today, a U.S.-led intervention force has neutralized Iraq and has a free hand to locate and secure any remnants of Baghdad's weapons of mass."
 
Neutralized? As I keyboard, a fellow on television is describing a number of bombs that detonated in Baghdad today.
 
From a comment left on PoliPundit:
Howard Dean is going to need to spend millions convincing independents and Democrats that he is not as clueless on national security as his comments on Osama (not guilty) and Saddam (his capture was meaningless) indicate.
Did Howard Dean say that Osama bin Laden was not guilty? Of course not. He said he would not recommend executing bin Laden until after he'd been found guilty by a court.
 
The Right Wingers are still not acknowledging that Saddam Hussein was a paper tiger. Dean "failed to recognize the importance of removing a murderous dictator who threatened American lives and killed over 1M of his own people."
 
In what way was Saddam Hussein a threat to American lives? None, unless the Americans in question wandered into Iraq, which would have been ill-advised.
 
And, by the way, Kim Jung Il is responsible for the deaths of at least a million of his own people, and more recently than Saddam's mass murders. So when do we "regime change" him? Oh, excuse me, we can't -- he could fight back. Him we appease.
 

4:58 pm | link

Possum -- the Other, Other White Meat
 
The place to be tonight is the Brasstown, North Carolina Possum Drop. Sorry I can't make it this year. 
 
I understand everyone in Times Square will be searched tonight. There will be helicopters in the air and police snipers on the rooftops. Happy New Year. (Just imagine how much worse it would be if they hadn't caught Saddam, she said, sarcastically.)
 
For a glimpse into history, check out the First Cav Medic Photo Album. These are the guys who patched up the wounded of Vietnam. Col. (Lt.) Robert Thomas is my older brother, now retired from the military and causing trouble elsewhere.
 

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Hot Links 6:02 am | link

tuesday, december 30, 2003

Blogs Rule
 
If you are looking into in-depth coverage of the Ashcroft recusal and the Plame investigation, don't look for it in major news media. Look in blogs.
 
There are two entries about the recusal on Daily Kos. The first quotes a news source as saying "The White House has ruled out any role by three top administration officials in the leak: political adviser Karl Rove; Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby; and National Security Council official Elliott Abrams."
 
Kos comments,
Libby is still public suspect number one. The White House can say what it wants, but all public evidence points to him. He may not have been the actual source of the leak, but it's hard to see how it could've been made without the knowledge of Libby or even Rove. It'll be hard to prove any such role, but if the investigators can gather the evidence, we will have fireworks.
And in the next entry, Kos says,

But this gets to the heart of the matter, and the reason why the story has gotten serious legs in the few hours since it broke:

An official told Fox News that Ashcroft's decision suggests that some sensitive information has been learned in the investigation. The official added that while the recusal does not mean Ashcroft has a conflict of interest, the attorney general "felt he should recuse himself."

The investigators are on the trail of someone high up in the food chain. And given Ashcroft's strong relationship with Karl Rove, could Turdblossom be in the crosshairs? Ahh, to dream... But at the very least, I can't imagine Liddy Libby not going down.

There really is blood in the water.

Billmon at Whiskey Bar has a nice long commentary here.
 
Josh Marshall on Talking Points Memo provides background information on U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who will be taking over the Plame investigation.
 
William Rivers Pitt on Truthout publishes a December 22 letter from Senators Daschle and Levin to John Ashcroft asking for a special counsel.
 
I had to do a bit of surfing to find a conservative commentary on the recusal, but at last I bumped into one. This is from Polipundit.
Stupid, Stupid, Stupid!

The decision by John Ashcroft to recuse himself and turn over the Wilson/Plame investigation to a special counsel is stupid, stupid, stupid! I'd always thought the whole Wilson/Plame thing would amount to a big ball of nothing; but Washington Republicans seem determined to prove me wrong by giving Democrats everything they want.

This is just another illustration that Republicans are hopeless at using the wheels of power in Washington to perpetuate their grip. When you control the executive and legislative branches, what possible reason do you have for ceding control of politically sensitive investigations to "neutral" investigators?

The president made the same mistake in appointing RINO former-Governor Tom Kean to head the 9-11 commission. Democrats, meanwhile, appointed former-Senator Max Cleland - a
bitter Bush hater - to run their side of things.

It's time the administration stopped caving into Democrats on these issues and started appointing hardcore Republican partisans to every conceivable office.
See, it's not about whether laws were actually broken, or whether undercover operatives were put at risk, or whether national security was compromised. These are matters of no importance. All that matters is power, and how to keep it.
 

8:01 pm | link

More on the Plame Affair
 
William Rivers Pitt of Truthout posted this on the Democratic Underground forum:
I just spoke to Joseph Wilson about the special prosecutor
 
About the US attorney who got named: "These guys are professionals. One former prosecutor told me last week that these guys are less interested in the politics and more interested in having that scalp on the wall. Beyond that, I don’t have anything to add. This was not a crime committed against me or my wife. It was a crime committed against the country."

As for Fitzgerald, understand: He came from the Southern District of New York office. That is like playing for the New York Yankees. The fact that Fitzgerald worked there makes him, in all liklihood, an insanely excellent professional. That is the best office in the country, period, and is not political. The U.S. Attorneys in that office are usually kept on a year or two after a Presidential administration changeover, whereas the other offices get turned over almost immediately as part of the spoils system. That office has a lot of power, and is above politics, and is the best one in the system. This was in all liklihood a very solid pick.

Stay tuned.

3:27 pm | link

The Plame Affair Lives
 
Ashcroft has recused himself and is appointing a special counsel. Details to follow.
 
Unrelated item:
 
Twilight of the Neocons by Billmon at Whiskey Bar is a must-read.
 

12:32 pm | link

Remember September 11
 
According today's New York Times, "controllers at La Guardia Airport, apparently unaware of the hijackings, continued to send out flights until the second plane had struck the World Trade Center. That was nearly an hour after the first plane had been hijacked."
 
Apparently there was no communication whatsoever between the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the La Guardia control tower. Even as flights continued to leave La Guardia, two fighter jets were racing toward New York City from Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts.
 
The controllers at La Guardia could see that smoke was billowing from the World Trade Center. Just after 9 a.m. a controller called Port Authority to find out what was going on, and only then was told a plane had crashed into one of the towers. About the same time a supervisor, watching through binoculars, saw the second plane approach. The second plane struck at 9:02:54 a.m. Air traffic at La Guardia was grounded at 9:06.
 
(And President Bush, visiting an elementary school in Florida, was informed of the first plane crash at 8:55 a.m. He was informed of the second plane crash at 9:05 a.m. The President says nothing and continues to listen to a story about a pet goat for another ten minutes or so.)
 
Here's something I didn't know until just now:
The momentous decision to call an unplanned national ground stop - the first in American history - is made by FAA national operations manager Ben Sliney, who also makes the decision to shut down all air traffic at 0945.  September 11 is Sliney’s first day on the job. [Link]
Somebody had to be in charge, as the President of the United States sure as hell wasn't.
 
People speculate that Bush's weird non-response to the news of the plane crashes is indication that he was expecting them. Possible, but I think it's more likely he was just stunned. A person accustomed to taking charge in times of crisis would have, well, taken charge. But consider the Shrub's bio; when in his life has he ever had to take charge of a critical situation?
 
So nobody was in charge. The chief executive and commander in chief was focused on a public relations gig, which is the only kind of "leadership" he knows about.
 

9:57 am | link

Hot Links 6:10 am | link

monday, december 29, 2003

Open Invitation
 
If you're in the mood to join me in a flame, hop on over to The Blogging of the President and an article written by my Web buddy Stirling Newberry, "Nothing But Net."
 
See also PressThink, which I (finally) discovered over the weekend. I was particularly taken with an article called "Private Lives, Public Happiness and the Howard Dean Connection."
 

10:08 pm | link

Repeats

What follows is something I wrote yesterday for Open Source Politics, and it is partly new but partly picked up from recent blogs. I wasn't going to post it here, but someone seems to be asleep at the switch at OSP and I don't know when or if it will be public. So here it is -- everything's gotta be someplace.

~~~~~~~~~~

Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, writes in the Sunday New York Times that America should put God back into politics.

"President Bush and the Republicans clearly have an advantage with people of faith as an election year approaches," Wallis says, because Bush and Republicans in general talk openly about religion.

The Democratic candidates, in contrast, seem uncomfortable with the subject of religion. (The exception is Joseph Lieberman, though even he seems less comfortable now than he was in 2000.) They stumble over themselves to assure voters that while they may be people of faith, they won't allow their religious beliefs to affect their political views. [Jim Wallis, "Putting God Back in Politics," The New York Times, November 28, 2003]

Recently Democratic front-runner Howard Dean was flogged in The New Republic for his "religion problem" -- a lack of public passion about God. Franklin Foer writes in "Beyond Belief" (December 29 issue) that Dean's "ambivalent spiritual narrative" will play right into Karl Rove's hands.

The "real reason Dean will not be able to escape a liberal caricature has little to do with policy," writes Foer, "and everything to do with a warning flag that will mark him as culturally alien to much of the country." And what is that? "Howard Dean is one of the most secular candidates to run for president in modern history." Mention of the Archdemon Rove apparently caused Howard Dean to get religion.

Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean peppered an attack on Republican leaders yesterday with religious references, the first showing of what he promised last week would be a broader introduction of religion into his talk on the stump. "Let's get into a little religion here," Dean said at a morning meeting with voters in response to a question about his beliefs. "Don't you think Jerry Falwell reminds you a lot more of the Pharisees than he does of the teachings of Jesus? And don't you think this campaign ought to be about evicting the money changers from the temple?" [Sarah Schweitzer, "Dean Starts to Talk Religion," The Boston Globe, December 28, 2003]

Measuring the Unmeasurable. Foer calls President Bush's religion "heartfelt." That's a subjective judgment. Bush talks a lot about religion, but we don't know if what's in his heart is Jesus or acid reflux. Journalists and pollsters and most of the electorate assume that if a person talks a lot about religion, he must be religious; and if he doesn't, he must be not-religious. (This goes along with the character myth -- an assumption that if someone talks a lot about morality, he must be moral.)

But what makes a person "religious"? Last month the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reported that "religious" people tend to vote Republican and "non-religious" people tend to vote Democratic. Pew's criteria for determining who is religious were (1) belief in the power of prayer, (2) belief in a final Day of Judgment, and (3) belief beyond doubt in the existence of God.

In fact, all that the Pew Research Center discovered is that people with conservative religious views tend to have conservative political views. On their scale, devout but progressive Christians who don't believe in a literal Judgment Day are less religious than conservative Christians who do. According to Pew, a Mafia Don who is a nominal Catholic is more "religious" than His Holiness the Dalai Lama, since Buddhism does not teach about Judgment Day and doesn't recognize monotheism's Person-God. And Zen Buddhists don't pray, which means a Zen monk who dedicates every moment of his life to his religious practice is not religious at all. (And I know for a fact that there are American Zen monks who vote.)

Another factor that Wallis, Foer, and others are not considering is a cultural one, which varies from region to region. To illustrate: I grew up in the Bible Belt. Back home, Jesus' name is more common than Starbucks in Midtown Manhattan. Even roadside billboards and yard signs scream JESUS. (on a recent trip home, one of my children speculated that Christ was campaigning for office).

In a region where people are unfailingly polite, the one form of public belligerance comes from evangelists. They plant themselves in public places, challenging passers by; they come to your door with Bibles and pamphlets (and predictions of hellfire if you send them away). "Do you know JEE-zus?" they demand. "Have you been BORN AGAIN?" The only way to appease the God Goons is to smile and agree with them. Thus folks are conditioned to declare their love for JEE-zus quickly and easily and without thinking about it real hard.

In the Northeast, by contrast, public declarations of religious devotion are considered a bit gauche, like bragging about sex. Religion is too intimate and personal to be discussed publicly.

During the 2000 Iowa Republican debates, George W. Bush declared Jesus was in his heart. The next day, I observed New Yorkers wrinkling their noses in disapproval. Yet I knew for a fact that many of these nose-wrinklers were devout believers even by Pew's standards.

As Howard Dean also said recently, "I am pretty religious. I pray every day but I'm from New England, so I just keep it to myself."

A New Inquisition? The United States Constitution (Article VI, Clause 3) says, "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." We've blown that one out of the water, haven't we? No atheists or agnostics need apply. By today's standards, the deist Thomas Jefferson couldn't get elected. For that matter, neither could Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln never joined a church nor ever made a clear profession of standard Christian beliefs. While he read the Bible in the White House, he was not in the habit of saying grace before meals. Lincoln's friend Jesse Fell noted that the president "seldom communicated to anyone his views" on religion, and he went on to suggest that those views were not orthodox: "on the innate depravity of man, the character and office of the great head of the Church, the Atonement, the infallibility of the written revelation, the performance of miracles, the nature and design of . . . future rewards and punishments . . . and many other subjects, he held opinions utterly at variance with what are usually taught in the church." [Mark A. Noll, "The Ambiguous Religion of President Abraham Lincoln," A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992)]

Further, one person's expression of faith can sound like the heavy tread of jackboots to another. The Religious Right never tires of imposing its values on the rest of us through law. But for a much-maligned secular resistance not only would birth control, all abortion, homsexuality, and the teaching of evolution be against the law in America, but fundie preachers would be using public school classrooms to indoctrinate all our children in their particular views of JEE-zus.

Naming Names. Finally, I argue that people who can speak glibly about their own religion in public usually have only a surface aquaintance with religion and wouldn't know genuine spirituality if it bit their butts. The great sages tell us that what can be explained in words is just a cheap representation of the divine, not the divine itself. For example, the Tao Teh Ching opens with the disclaimer that the Tao is unexplainable.

Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao.
Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.

Imagine for a moment that the great Christian mystic Meister Eckhart is running for political office in America. Then imagine someone from the Pew Research Center asking him about his religious beliefs. How could Eckhart be contained by answering a poll or filling out a form? "No idea represents or signifies itself," Eckhart might say. "It always points to something else, of which it is a symbol. And since man has no ideas, except those abstracted from external things through the sense, he cannot be blessed by an idea."

The Pew pollster presses on: Why can't you tell us what you believe? And Eckhart answers,

Where the soul is informed with the primal purity, stamped with the seal of pure being, where it tastes God himself as he was before he ever took upon himself the forms of truth and knowledge, where everything that can be named is sloughed off--there the soul knows with its purest knowledge and takes on Being in its most perfect similitude.

Where would Pew Research Center place Meister Eckhart on their religion scale? "Where everything that can be named is sloughed off" -- compare/contrast to America's religious conservatives, who thump their Bibles and proclaim that God is on America's side. Fools and madmen think they can speak for God; the truly religious know that the Absolute is beyond words. Walt Whitman in "Song of the Rolling Earth" describes the frustration of countless generations of mystics who encounter the Divine --

When I undertake to tell the best I find I cannot,
My tongue is ineffectual on its pivots,
My breath will not be obedient to its organs,
I become a dumb man.
How long will we be browbeaten and intimidated by the purveyors of a shallow, cheap, and cultish religiosity that threatens to shred the Constitution and stamp out true religion?
 
I don't think Howard Dean has a problem with religion. I think America has a problem with religion.
 

7:44 pm | link

sunday, december 28, 2003

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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

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The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

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It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

[Mark Twain, 1905]

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