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saturday, december 18, 2004

Bless the Beasts
A couple of items found today --
mustang.jpgFirst, 20,000 wild mustangs are to be slaughtered at the request of cattle growers, couresy of our federal government. "The Bush plan, spearheaded by Montana Senator Conrad Burns -- longtime bagman for Big Cattle interests -- sets a production goal of up to 20,000 wild horse corpses in the coming year, The Associated Press reports," writes Chris Floyd.

Here's how it works. The 50,000 remaining wild horses roam on federal land -- land held in common by the American people. Big-time ranchers also use this land to graze millions of their privately owned cattle. Able to buy and sell politicians like so much prime stock, the wealthy ranchers have rigged a long-running sweetheart deal that gives them access to this common pasturage at bargain prices: less than one-tenth of the going market rate for private grazing land. The result is an effective annual subsidy of more than $500 million to some of the richest men in America, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. As always, your rootin', tootin' cowboy capitalists must be protected from the risks of the "free market" at every turn -- even as they impose it, at gunpoint, on others. ...

So the ranchers want the horses off public land so they can cram more cows in there and make more money through their sweetheart deals. The resource at issue here is grass, not oil, but the principle is the same as in Bush's witless, pig-layer adventure in Iraq: Me want, they got; kill them, give me.

dachshund.jpgAs disturbing  as that is, the second item in its way is even sicker. Digby reports that James Dobson, "self-appointed moral leader of America" and child rearing expert of the right, proudly writes that he beat a dachshund with a belt.

Standard dachshunds usually weigh about 20 pounds and are prone to spinal injuries. I'm assuming the beaten dog, Siggie, is a miniature dachshund, because he weighs 12 pounds. This is according to the 200-lb. Dobson, who proudly explains that he beat the dog because he wouldn't go to his bed when ordered.

I don't know if the dog was injured, but in some places Dobson's act could have gotten him jail time.

If Dobson is moral, then give me immorality.

(Speaking of immorality, those values-free hedonists known as New Yorkers have been on the warpath lately over a destroyed hawks' nest. Latest word is that beloved Manhattanites Pale Male and Lola, both red-tailed hawks, will be permitted to rebuild their nest on a pricey Fifth Avenue apartment house.)   

Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals,
especially for animals who are suffering;
for animals that are overworked, underfed and cruelly treated;
for all wistful creatures in captivity that beat their wings against bars;
for any that are hunted or lost or deserted or frightened or hungry;
for all that must be put death.
We entreat for them all Thy mercy and pity,
and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion
and gentle hands and kindly words.
Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals,
and so to share the blessings of the merciful.

-- attributed to Albert Schweitzer

8:54 pm | link

The CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department have warned President Bush that the United States and its Iraqi allies aren't winning the battle against Iraqi insurgents who are trying to derail the country's Jan. 30 elections, according to administration officials.

The officials, who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity because intelligence estimates are classified, said the battle in Iraq wasn't lost and that successful elections might yet be held next month.

But they said the warnings -including one delivered this week to Bush by CIA Director Porter Goss - indicated that U.S. forces hadn't been able to stop the insurgents' intimidation of Iraqi voters, candidates and others who want to participate in the elections.

"We don't have an answer to the intimidation," one senior official said.

The article goes on to explain that the scheduled elections in Iraq are key to any claims of success the Bush Administration might ever have, and also critical to being able to pull troops out of Iraq.
In other words, Bush really needs those elections, and there will be hell to pay if they're called off.
Not that the elections have anything to do with democracy, mind you. Juan Cole says that "Opinion polling consistently shows that 70% of Iraqis support a religious state." The way candidates are being placed on ballots, which the professor explains, is confusing and seems to be designed to thwart religious parties. Even so, he says it's likely religious candidates, including "pro-Sistanti notables," will prevail in the election, and Iraq will head in the direction of a Muslim theocracy, like Iran. (This in spite of Dubya's historically dubious claim that "Free people never choose their own enslavement.")
If you still think Bush means well by Iraq, the December 17 post at Liberal Oasis should relieve you of that delusion. (The permalink doesn't seem to be working, but if it did, it would be this.)
Also at Knight Ridder, Drew Brown says that Rummy's career is unraveling because of the famous exchange over armor with Spc. Thomas Wilson.

It remains to be seen whether President Bush will continue to stand by Rumsfeld or decide that he's become too much of a political liability. Rumsfeld and his backers are hoping that the storm will blow over during the holidays, two senior U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"What made Rumsfeld's response to the soldier's question a turning point was that it crystallized concern about his attitude and performance that has been growing for years," said Loren Thompson, the head of the Lexington Institute, a defense policy group that has long supported Rumsfeld but has become increasingly critical.

Maybe. But I postulate that, somewhere in the President's reptilian brain, there might be an inkling that his beloved Iraq War is turning sour, and he might have to bail out. I think he'll keep Rummy around so that he can be tossed to the wolves when the rout occurs. Bush's favorite Senate shill, Bill Frist, has dutifully trotted forth with Mitch McConnell to defend the secretary. Surely they are acting on orders from the White House, which means Bush doesn't want Rummy to go down ... yet. 
10:09 am | link

friday, december 17, 2004

The Left Blogosphere hath spoke. Matthew Yglesias:

I said liberals need to drive home the message that "There Is No Social Security Crisis." Chris Bowers, aiming for a more positive approach, thinks "Social Security Is Healthy And Successful," which has some merit too. I think the crisis mentality sort of needs to be addressed head on, but I like the positive approach and the reminder that Social Security is a good thing (successful!) and not just some program we happen to have. Fortunately, people do get to speak in multiple sentences, even on talking head television segments (I know, I've been there, you don't get to say much, but you do get more than one sentence).

Social Security is healthy and successful. There is no crisis. The president and the Republicans in congress are trying to scare the American people to destroy the most successful program in American history -- a program presidents from Roosevelt to Truman to Nixon to Reagan to Clinton have been committed to preserving. President Bush wants to break Social Security's bipartisan promise to the American people and he's making up stories to try and convince the voters to go along with it. Even if we make no changes and the president's pessimistic assumptions come true, future benefits will be even higher than benefits are today. We need to focus on the real crisis in the rest of the budget created by the president's tax cuts for people making over $100,000 a year.

And elsewhere:

I'm not sure the older liberals who run the show quite understand how overwhelmingly important it is to keep the "there is no crisis" message front and center in the Social Security debate. Most of the young people I know -- including myself until very recently -- have been taken in by a decades-long effort on behalf of privatizers into believing that Social Security is in "crisis," and that if we do nothing the system will "go bankrupt" before we retire, meaning that the system will somehow collapse and we won't get any benefits.

If you approach the issue from inside that frame, then no amount of cavailing about benefit cuts or "risky" stock market transactions is going to get you anywhere. A smaller benefits package and a stock portfolio that may or may not pay off looks like a really good deal compared to a bankrupt pension plan that gives you nothing. Once you understand that even if we do nothing whatsoever to fix Social Security and the Trustees' overly pessimistic predictions come true, the system will still have enough money to pay my generation more in real terms then current retirees get, everything looks different. Bush is offering us a guarantee of lower benefits and $2 trillion in debt to forestall the possibility that benefits will need to be lowered sometime in the 2040s. That's a terrible deal in a straightforward way. But only if you try and see the truth: There is no crisis. If you can't make people see that, everything else becomes pretty irrelevant.

This has been seconded by many others, such as Kevin Drum and Brad DeLong. Me, too.
Update: And Digby, too.  
9:29 pm | link


Republican senators John McCain of Arizona, Trent Lott of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska have joined a chorus saying Rummy must go. Uber-neocon William Kristol and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf are singing along.

Even Democrats are finding their voices. For example, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana:

Bayh, who returned Tuesday from a congressional trip to Iraq and Kuwait, said Rumsfeld hasn't shown any ability to learn from his mistakes.

"If you're going to go to war, plan for the worst. In this case they planned for the best and some of the worst has happened. They just don't seem to be capable of learning from that," he told the [Indianapolis] Star.

Us leftie bloggers have been shrill about Rummy's pathological obliviousness for at least the past couple of years. Some clips from the Maha Archives:

WASHINGTON, July 18 -- Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said today that sharp disagreements remained among some in the armed services over how large the American military must be to carry out new strategic guidelines he recently negotiated with the nation's most senior officers. ...

"The secretary said up front that he is trying to free up money to modernize," said one senior officer. "Missile defense is their No. 1 priority. He has said to us, `We've got to find a way to de-emphasize conventional programs to pay for strategic defense.' "

More than a dozen Pentagon officials and military officers described the classified guidelines, saying that under the terms of reference, the United States was abandoning requirements that its military be prepared to win two major wars almost simultaneously.

Instead, the new guidelines order the armed forces to prepare for four core missions: to "win decisively" in a single major conflict; defend American territory against new threats; maintain global deployments to deter aggression; and, at the same time, conduct a number of holding actions, peacekeeping missions and support operations around the globe.

The broad directives are contained in a classified 29-page document, "Guidance and Terms of Reference for the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review." The document is the manual for the Pentagon's top-to-bottom analysis of strategy and budgets required by Congress every four years.

"When you give us those missions, and say we have to be prepared to do them `concurrently,' I don't know how you get to less people or less stuff," one official said today.

Another official said: "The working group sized the force as close as it could to what they all thought the terms of reference called for. They came back with such a large figure that Rumsfeld fell off his chair." ...

Civilian Pentagon officials and military officers agreed that a central friction in the review was over how much risk the armed forces could accept, if the nation had to go to war today, to pay for the future transformation as envisioned by Mr. Rumsfeld and President Bush. [Thom Shanker, "Rumsfeld Sees Discord on Size of Military," The New York Times, July 19, 2002]

We Now Know that in July 2002 -- nay, much earlier -- the Bushies were already determined to invade Iraq. Yet the Oblivious One was busily "downsizing" the military -- the "army that you have" to invade with. Another one:

Numerous officers complain bitterly that their best advice is being disregarded by someone who has spent most of the last 25 years away from the military. Rumsfeld first served as secretary of defense from 1975 to 1977, in the Ford administration.
Indeed, nearly two dozen current and former top officers and civilian officials said in interviews that there is a huge discrepancy between the outside perception of Rumsfeld the crisp, no-nonsense defense secretary who became a media star through his briefings on the Afghan war and the way he is seen inside the Pentagon. Many senior officers on the Joint Staff and in all branches of the military describe Rumsfeld as frequently abusive and indecisive, trusting only a tiny circle of close advisers, seemingly eager to slap down officers with decades of distinguished service. The unhappiness is so pervasive that all three service secretaries are said to be deeply frustrated by a lack of autonomy and contemplating leaving by the end of the year. [Vernon Loeb and Thomas C. Hicks, The Washington Post, October 16, 2002]

The neocons at The Weekly Standard clearly blame Rummy for fouling up their imperial plans for Iraq. Tom Donnelly wrote yesterday:

... we have a Defense secretary more concerned about the Army and the force he'd like to have--the high-speed-low-drag transformed force of the future--than the force with which he actually has to fight today's wars. And, in fact, Rumsfeld and his lieutenants would also simply like to fight the wars they'd like to have rather than the war as it is. How else to explain the Pentagon's conduct of operations in Iraq (news - web sites)? The administration is still patting itself on the back for the initial invasion; this week's ceremony honoring retired General Tommy Franks, President Bush (news - web sites) acted as though the problems of the post-invasion period didn't exist: the invasion was "the fastest, longest armored advance in the history of American warfare" with "a force half the size of the force that won the Gulf War (news - web sites)" and "defeated Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s regime and reached Baghdad in less than a month."

But the reality in Iraq today is Tommy Wilson's war, not Tommy Franks's war.

Nor is it Donald Rumsfeld's war, or at least not the war he wants. Even longtime supporters and transformation advocates have begun to recognize that Rumsfeld is now a large part of the problem. Loren Thompson, head of the Lexington Institute, a defense think-tank long supportive of the secretary, told the Washington Post on Monday that Rumsfeld won't face reality: "He knows what the situation is, but he has been unready to change his plans."

As much as we enjoy raking Rummy over the coals, the real cognitive black hole in the center of all national policy is, of course, the President.  The unholy symbiosis Bush and Rummy have formed remains mysterious. Is Bush keeping Rummy around because dismissing him is tantamount to admitting failure in Iraq? Is Bush keeping Rummy around to take the heat for the failure in Iraq? Or is it possible that Rummy sees the screwups but can't change his plans because Bush won't let him? 

White House spokespersons (Have  you seen the extended "Return of the King" yet? I'm thinking Mouth of Sauron.) still say that Rummy has the President's confidence. Although it may be significant that Rummy didn't get a Medal of Freedom. Surely Rummy met the same qualifications that "Slam Dunk" Tenet, Tommy Franks, and Paul Bremer met. Either Bush was signaling some displeasure, or else he figured Rummy didn't need to be bought. 

Today in Salon, Joe Conason writes that "A recently disclosed FBI memo indicates that 'marching orders' to abandon traditional interrogation methods came from the defense secretary himself." All paper trails from the prison abuse scandal may lead to Rummy. But if the orders for abuse, torture, and even murder originated with Bush (and why not?), then the symbiosis makes more sense.

Rummy is Bush's man. But don't hold your breath waiting for the chorus to sing that verse. 

8:18 am | link

thursday, december 16, 2004

Digby Calls It
Says Digby (please read the whole post):
All we need do is look to the Kerik debacle to see that Bush himself is now making decisions and he is doing it against the will of his advisors. It is obvious that Kerik appealed to Bush as a man's man. It was a sympatico relationship --- a pair of testosterone cowboys, one blue, one red, in love with their images as tough guys who take no shit. Bush saw in Kerik the man he now believes he is --- self-made, salt of the earth, leader of men, killer of bad guys. The empty frat boy and the crooked bureaucrat teamed up as adventure heroes.

The minute I read about this I knew that this had been a case of Bush saying "I take the man at his word, Alberto, now make it happen." This wasn't sloppy vetting. It was Junior issuing an edict based upon his vaunted "gut" with the predictable result. And I have no doubt that rather than blame himself for this mess, the Preznit blames Kerik for not being the man that Bush wanted him to be and blames the others for being right. (And I imagine that Bush will stick with Rumsfeld no matter what for the simple reason that so many want him out. That's the way dumb megalomaniacs think.)
He's right. It's the only reasonable explanation for the Kerik debacle.
10:54 pm | link

Another Worm from the Can
Here's the news story I mentioned last post.
The big question: Did Bernard Kerik fill out the proper paperwork to become police commissioner? If he did, would he have passed the test? If he did not, then why not?

When a mayor selects someone for a high-level post in city government, that nominee is required to go through an extensive background check even if they've already gone through that process for a previous city job.

In 2000, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani promoted Kerik from correction commissioner to be his top cop.

Sources say Kerik would have been required to fill out an extensive background questionnaire like the 44-page form currently used by the city.

It's an extensive form requiring clear answers to many questions, including sources of income from transfers of property or gifts. The form also asks about tax filings and any potential conflicts of interest.

Since Kerik withdrew his nomination for Homeland Security secretary, many issues have surfaced about everything from questionable gifts he allegedly accepted to ties to people convicted of crimes to his personal finances, all of which he would have been required to disclose in that questionnaire. But NewsChannel 4 is told there is no record of Kerik having filed such paperwork.

The New York Times reported recently that Kerik also did not file the proper background paperwork when he obtained FBI security clearance after 9/11 and when he accepted a job overhauling the police force in Iraq.
6:50 pm | link

The Further Adventures of Bernie Kerik
I really wasn't going to write any more about Bernie Kerik, but this is too good.
Via Josh Marshall, a New York Times article on Veterans for Peace tells us about patterns of corruption -- kickbacks, sweetheart deals, mismanagement, waste, etc. --  that festered during the official American occupation of Iraq. (We aren't occupying Iraq any more since we transferred sovereignty; we're just kind of hanging out there.) Now the sovereign Iraqis are asking questions about some of the stinkier transactions. And guess who was behind some of those transactions?

The purchase of about 20,000 Kalashnikov automatic weapons, 50,000 revolvers and 10 million rounds of ammunition from Jordan has also been widely criticized by Iraqi Governing Council members.

The contract was issued by the Interior Ministry during the summer when it was being supervised by the former New York City police commissioner, Bernard B. Kerik. Mr. Kerik did not respond to requests for an interview.

"It is totally unnecessary to buy them from outside the country," said Mr. Chadirji, who noted that he had purchased a number of Kalashnikovs to arm his personal bodyguards and that the price in the local market was as low as $50 for each weapon.

I keep hearing that Kerik wasn't properly "vetted" and that the Bushies hadn't known about Kerik's sordid past. I'm beginning to wonder if that's true. Clearly, the Bushies were utterly unconcerned about what might be lurking in Kerik's background. I wonder if the Bushies just didn't care -- they were so full of themselves and their "mandate" they figured they were untouchable.
Update: Even as I published this post, a news story broke on the local New York NBC affiliate. It seems Kerik doesn't get vetted. He wasn't properly vetted when he took the job of New York City police commissioner.  People close to the process have come forward saying that he didn't file the proper background paperwork and skipped other parts of the legally required process. He also didn't fire proper paperwork required to accept federal positions, such as his gig in Iraq.
Bernie Kerik -- the gift that keeps on giving. 
3:53 pm | link

The wise and kind Jubai has nominated THE MAHABLOG for a Koufax Award -- Most Deserving of Wider Recognition. Well, yes, and that's the least of it.
They're still in the nomination phase and aren't taking votes yet. Still, more nominations wouldn't hurt. (Wink, nudge)
Also, please support The American Street for Best Group Blog.
11:51 am | link

The Tribal Drums of Christmas
More about the Christmas flap in today's Guardian. It's more and more apparent that the wingnuts are not upset that the Solemn Observance of the Birth of Their Lord is treated disrespectfully and exploited for commercial purposes. That's Ok. What upsets them is (shudder) political correctness.

"Christmas is becoming taboo," said John Whitehead, the founder of an ultra-conservative Virginia organisation known as the Rutherford Institute.

"There is a pervasive political correctness movement in this country, and it is probably strongest in the public schools and in the major corporations," he said.

But the Christian brigades are fighting back. In California, the Committee to Save Merry Christmas has launched a boycott of Macy's department store, and its parent company, for wishing shoppers Season's Greetings or Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.

Organisers cited "the recent presidential election showing political correctness is offending millions of Americans".

I wasn't aware that Bush ran on an anti-political correctness platform, but let's go on.
In Maine, two mothers launched a website called which argues that Americans have become overly sensitive about not offending minorities.

"We don't like to be melodramatic, but we are facing a world in which there are a couple million people in the Middle East whose avowed purpose is the destruction of America. By whitewashing ourselves, hiding and hushing our beliefs, and bowing to the pressure to silence who we really are, we are handing those people their victory," the website says.

Therefore, Christmas is not a religious observance; it's a tribal ritual. And if we don't do our rituals properly, the terrorists will get us. (And let's not talk about sensitivity to minorities in the name of Jesus. Clearly, Jesus was an American who came to earth to glorify White People Who Speak English.)
I poked about on the Maine mothers' web site and came away confused about exactly what it is they want the school system to do about Christmas. They link to their Board of Ed's official policy on the celebration of holidays, which says stuff about treating diverse traditions with respect and neither promoting or hindering religious observance -- basically, what the First Amendment allows. 
The mothers don't say what, specifically, upsets them about this policy, or what they want the schools to do to observe Christmas. But they're plenty pissed off nonetheless.
David Ronfeldt, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation, wrote an article on "21st Century Tribes" for the December 12 Los Angeles Times:
All religious hatred — whether Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu or other — speaks the language of tribe and clan. And in true tribal fashion, that language is loaded with sensitivities about respect, honor and dignity. An insult or injury to any of these is sensed by all tribal members, and the only honorable recourse is full compensation or total revenge. This is an essential ethic of tribes and clans, no matter their religion.

These behaviors may worsen when tribal or clan elements are led by a sectarian chieftain who sees himself as a ruthless warlord or revolutionary. Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar of the Taliban, Muqtada Sadr, Abu Musab Zarqawi or Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev are examples of such leaders. If the people they target react in tribal ways — extreme nationalism is an example — fights over whose religion should win become inseparable from whose tribe should win. [Emphasis added]
The Maine mothers and Jerry Falwell and others complaining that Macy's isn't exploiting Christmas like it used to see Christmas not as a religious holiday but as an American tribal ritual. And all of us, regardless of our beliefs, must be compelled to respect and observe that ritual, because to do otherwise weakens the tribe and makes us susceptible to takeover by other tribes. 
That's what the Christmas flap is really all about, isn't it?
Update: If you aren't already anticipating a knock on the door from the Christianity Police, this should do it for you:
Republican Missouri state Rep. Cynthia Davis, also a Christian radio fan who owns the Back to Basics Christian Bookstore in St. Charles County, is working on two new bills for the next session of the Missouri Legislature. One would remove the state's requirement that all forms of contraception and their potential health effects be taught in schools, leaving the focus on abstinence, reports the New York Times. Another would require publishers that sell biology textbooks to Missouri to include at least one chapter on alternative theories to evolution.

"These are common-sense, grass-roots ideas from the people I represent," Davis told the Times, "and I'd be very surprised if a majority of legislators didn't feel they were the right solutions to these problems."

Davis also elaborated on the connection she sees between supporters of birth control and mainstream science, and the foreign terrorists who used airplanes to murder thousands of Americans on 9/11.

"It's like when the hijackers took over those four planes on Sept. 11 and took people to a place where they didn't want to go," she added. "I think a lot of people feel that liberals have taken our country somewhere we don't want to go. I think a lot more people realize this is our country and we're going to take it back."

They're going to take it back, all right -- to the 19th century.

Also: How Bill O'Reilly is making America safe for Christmas.

7:59 am | link

wednesday, december 15, 2004

Amy Sullivan writes that Dems should welcome "pro-life" candidates into the party, although she does not use quotation marks around "pro-life." "Rhetoric that verges on being pro-abortion rankles even pro-choice Democrats like me," she says.
I'm not sure which rhetoric she's talking about, and I am rather pissed that she's ceded the "pro-life" title to the Dark Side. But let's skip that for a minute.
Sullivan sited this article by Sarah Blustain in TAP. She says it summerizes her thoughts. Blustain says she is "turned off" by the phrase "woman's right to choose."

As long as I can remember, the tone of the liberal message on abortion has been defiant, sometimes even celebratory. It’s an attitude that reflects the victory of legal abortion over back-alley dangers three decades ago -- a success that many who remember it still experience with deep emotion. It also reflects a certain well-deserved panic: Due to the rising tide of anti-abortion sentiment, abortions are available in only 13 percent of counties in this country, according to Medical Students for Choice; in his first term, Bush appointed more than 200 new anti-abortion federal judges.

Still, for those of us who came after Roe v. Wade, there is a significantly different reality. The context has changed. Back alleys and coat hangers are not part of our visceral memory. To this generation, the “choice” of a legal abortion is no longer something to celebrate. It is a decision made in crisis, and it is never one made happily. Have you ever talked to a woman who has had an abortion? Even a married, intentionally pregnant woman who has had a “D and C” for a dying or dead embryo? A college student whose birth control failed? I promise you, such a woman does not talk about exercising the “right to choose.” You may accuse her -- and me -- of taking such rights for granted, and maybe you’d be right. But mainly she will tell you how sad she is, how she wished she hadn’t had to make that “choice,” how unpleasant the procedure was. She is more likely depressed than defiant.

Yeah, I'm sure if she'd had to mutilate herself with a coat hanger she'd have been much more cheerful about it.
I've never had an abortion, but I've talked to women who have who had no regrets. I understand that most of the time women who give birth and put their babies up for adoption grieve much longer, and deeper, than women who have first trimenster abortions. For that matter, women who have babies by choice sometimes suffer massive depression after.
Pregnancy is a profound experience that has deep emotional repurcussions, no matter what the outcome. Deal with it.
Blustain goes on, "That’s why liberalism’s vocabulary of 'rights' when it comes to abortion rings a little hollow. It’s constitutional, intellectual -- and not nuanced enough to absorb the emotional or even legal complexity."
Poor baby. But the plain fact is that there are places language cannot go. Pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood, are all words. They are not reality. The experience of pregnancy and childbirth can't be contained in words. You can read a whole shelf full of books about childbirth, yet no words in them are nuanced enough to absorb the emotional and even legal complexity of the experience.
Years ago, reproduction rights advocates realized they should not call themselves "pro-abortion." Nobody is pro-abortion; this has been said over and over, by many people, for many years. I haven't heard any rhetoric suggesting that abortions are fun or should be taken lightly for lo these many decades. If this were not so I'd agree that Blustain and Sullivan had something to bitch about. But it is true, and I say they don't.
Blustain and Sullivan don't want to talk about a right to abortion.  So what else do we call it? In American political tradition a right is a power or privilege reserved to citizens that the government is prohibited from taking away. 
Women either have reproductive rights, or we're brood animals. Take your pick. 
You have a right to speak your mind, but it's not the government's fault if you say something stupid. You have a right to practice religion, but no legal guarantee you'll get to  heaven. Generations of struggle have obtained a tenuous claim to reproductive rights for Ms. Blustain and Ms. Sullivan, but nobody can ensure their choices will make them happy.
Instead of stripping the word "rights" from our rhetoric, I'd say we should be challenging the rhetoric the other side uses. I went on about this a few months ago.
This is not to say the reproductive rights movement hasn't made many tactical mistakes, or that pro-choice individuals haven't said insensitive and stupid things. And I agree with Blustain that some audiences respond better to arguments framed by words like health and phrases like opportunity to make personal decisions based on personal values. But Blustain says these are words used by NARAL to those audiences.
So what exactly is she complaining about? If she's so wearied and upset by talk about rights, let's take them away for awhile and see how she feels.
Update: Atrios comments on the same Sullivan post.
I'm not pro-abortion. I'm not anti-abortion. I'm anti-unwanted pregnancy. Frankly, I'm not particularly concerned about abortion rates as any sort of morality issue. Nor am I interested in any political campaign which implicitly shames women who have them.
Abortion rates may not be a morality issue, but I suspect they are an indicator of a society's attitudes toward sexuality and the status of women. Secular/atheist/socialist/liberal western Europe has the lowest abortion rates in the world, according to Alan Guttmacher Institute.
Approximately 26 million legal and 20 million illegal abortions were performed worldwide in 1995, resulting in a worldwide abortion rate of 35 per 1,000 women aged 15–44. Among the subregions of the world, Eastern Europe had the highest abortion rate (90 per 1,000) and Western Europe the lowest rate (11 per 1,000). Among countries where abortion is legal without restriction as to reason, the highest abortion rate, 83 per 1,000, was reported for Vietnam and the lowest, seven per 1,000, for Belgium and the Netherlands. Abortion rates are no lower overall in areas where abortion is generally restricted by law (and where many abortions are performed under unsafe conditions) than in areas where abortion is legally permitted.
I postulate that the more a society represses and stigmatizes sexuality, and the lower the status of women, the higher the abortion rate. If I'm correct, the "religious right" is working to create the very conditions that drive abortion rates up.
9:43 pm | link

tuesday, december 14, 2004

Ain't No Miracles on 34th Street
Believe It, Or Not:

In California, a group called the Committee to Save Merry Christmas is boycotting Macy's and its corporate parent, Federated Department Stores, accusing them of replacing ``Merry Christmas'' signs with ones wishing shoppers ``Seasons Greetings'' or ``Happy Holidays.'' The organization cites ``the recent presidential election showing political correctness is offending millions of Americans.'' [Link]

The venerable spiritual leader Bill O'Reilly has gotten in on this act. John Doyle writes for the Globe and Mail:

According to the barking-mad Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, there is a conspiracy to squish Christmas.

It's hard to believe, I know, with Christmas advertising on TV in the United States starting before Thanksgiving. O'Reilly's theory has something to with that terrible thing, "diversity," and the Macy's retail store. (By the way, we'll get Fox News in Canada in January, but for now we can read Bill O'Reilly's wacky columns on the Internet. They're very entertaining.) Of course, Canada comes into the conspiracy. Apparently, if the U.S. doesn't look out, the place will end up like Canada and, further, 14-year-olds will be going around having sex. Like I said, it's really wacky.

To me, this episode is more proof that the "religious right" is not about religion, but tribalism.  Last I looked, Macy's was a retail department store, not a church. It is in business to sell stuff, not to advance anyone's spiritual practice.

I have kinfolk who are Seventh-Day Adventists. They don't do Christmas trees or Santa Claus, because those things aren't in the Bible. I can respect that. They see that most of the hoopla that has built up around Christmas has nothing to do with religion, and sticking "Merry Christmas" on a temple of materialism doesn't make it holy.

My understanding is that much of the trappings of Christmas -- Christmas trees and wreaths, mistletoe, yule logs -- are leftovers from pagan winter solstice festivals. Even the date of December 25, which apparently was pulled out of somebody's butt in the fourth century, may be related to a Roman sun god festival if not the winter solstice. I took a course in "Life and Teachings of Jesus" in college, and I remember the professor said that if shepherds were watching flocks by night, it was probably spring lambing season, not winter.  

In other words, Christmas has never been 100 percent pure. If you eliminated everything about it that isn't completely Christian, you'd have to do away with it entirely.

Christmas has evolved into a gawdawful, obese sloppy mess of a holiday that causes more stress than joy. If the "religious right" wants it to be more religious, step one would be to tone it down. No glitter, no tinsel, no spray-on snow, no neon reindeer on the roof. 

On the other hand, churches should be encouraged to have pretty manger scenes out front so people don't have to fight over displaying manger scenes on public property with taxpayer money.

I'd also be in favor of doing away with cheesy Christmas music -- "Frosty the Snowman," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," that kind of thing. Really annoying unless sung by very pretty little children, and even then I'm annoyed after about five minutes.

There are some beautiful old carols that are almost forgotten, like "Lo How a Rose" and "Shepherds Awake," that people ought to sing more because they are pretty. But give the "Drummer Boy" and "Do You Hear What I Hear" a rest. Please.

I'm not sure why the religious wingnuts are picking on Macy's, since Macy's doesn't seem to be enforcing a no-Merry-Christmas policy. But then I stay out of department stores in December, because they're too chaotic, and I understand the NYPD has cracked down on miracles on 34th Street.

Jerry Falwell believes Macy's is helping to bring about the death of Christmas beause of the alleged "Merry Christmas" ban. He's also annoyed because New York Mayor Michael BLOOMBERG (hint, nudge) wants the Rockefeller Center tree to be called a holiday tree, not a Christmas tree. Now, why would somebody named BLOOMBERG be down on Christmas, eh? (Think about it for awhile, Jerry. And it's MICHAEL Bloomberg, not David.)

Seems to me that if Christians want to re-sanctify Christmas, they'd insist that no commercial enterprise, including Macy's, use the name "Christmas" for commercial purposes.

Jesus threw money changers out of temples. Jerry Falwell confuses department stores with temples. Christmas is screwed, all right, but I don't think Macy's is to blame. 

8:45 pm | link

Ol' Rummy
In today's Salon Joe Conason writes that a soldier in Iraq complained to Rummy about lack of armor last May.

"I have force protection questions, sir," said a soldier whose name was not identified in a Pentagon transcript of the May 13 town hall meeting.

"You have what?" asked Rumsfeld.

"Force protection," the unknown soldier repeated.

Rumsfeld turned to Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his companion on the Baghdad trip. "General Myers," he said, amid laughter, leaving the general to deal with whatever touchy topics the soldier might raise.

The soldier stumbled and mumbled in his question but the meaning was plain enough: "Sir, my unit, the 2nd Brigade -- (inaudible) -- Cav[alry], we have five out of the six red zones in this country. And with the up-armored Humvees, the new -- (off mike) -- Humvees they're bringing over with the -- (inaudible) -- those doors are not as good as the ones on the up-armored Humvees (inaudible). We even lost quite -- we lost some soldiers due to them, and we're trying to make a change -- (inaudible). The question is, are we going to get more up-armored Humvees?"

In other words, his cavalry unit was going into dangerous places, he had seen his comrades die when their unarmored vehicles were blasted, and he was hoping that more of the better-protected Humvees would be arriving soon. He also asked about vests with protective ceramic plates, which were in similar short supply.

Rummy didn't answer the question himself (although he seems to have found it amusing) but instead had General Myers bullshit his way through it. Seven months later, it appears nothing had been done.
For that matter, the armor issue has been brought up many other times. For example, in the second presidential debate:

KERRY: That's why Senator Lugar says: incompetent in the delivery of services. That's why Senator Hagel, Republican, says, you know: beyond pitiful, beyond embarrassing, in the zone of dangerous.

We didn't guard 850,000 tons of ammo. That ammo is now being used against our kids. Ten thousand out of 12,000 Humvees aren't armored. I visited some of those kids with no limbs today, because they didn't have the armor on those vehicles. They didn't have the right body armor.

I've met parents who've on the Internet gotten the armor to send their kids.

There is no bigger judgment for a president of the United states than how you take a nation to war. And you can't say, because Saddam might have done it 10 years from now, that's a reason; that's an excuse.

GIBSON: Mr. President?

BUSH: He complains about the fact our troops don't have adequate equipment, yet he voted against the $87 billion supplemental I sent to the Congress and then issued one of the most amazing quotes in political history: "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

Kerry stumbled in explaining his vote for the 2003 funding bill. (This is an issue I won't revisit now, but you can read the background here.) Kerry was bashed repeatedly about the quote, but nobody held Bush's feet to the fire to find out why, given that the appropriation was approved, a year and more later troops still weren't getting equipment they needed.
Two months ago, members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company refused to obey an order to deliver fuel. But the fuel was contaminated, and the platoon's vehicles were unsafe. In short, they were ordered on a suicide mission for no good reason. 

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said he plans to submit a congressional inquiry today on behalf of the Mississippi soldiers to launch an investigation into whether they are being treated improperly.

"I would not want any member of the military to be put in a dangerous situation ill-equipped,” said Thompson, who was contacted by families. “I have had similar complaints from military families about vehicles that weren’t armor-plated, or bullet-proof vests that are outdated. It concerns me because we made over $150 billion in funds available to equip our forces in Iraq.

President Bush takes the position that the troops are well-armed, but if this situation is true, it calls into question how honest he has been with the country,” Thompson said.

This week, six members of the 656th Transportation Company were court martialed for taking Army vehicles abandoned in Kuwait by other units so they could carry out their own unit's work in Iraq.
As reported in Newsweek,  last week President Bush dutifully trotted out (wearing another military costume, perhaps?) and declared "we're doing everything we possibly can to protect your loved ones in a mission which is vital and important."   

But as the death toll climbs to nearly 1,300, some soldiers and defense-industry officials insist that much more could be done. Eighteen months after Bush declared that "major combat operations" in Iraq were over—and another war began—the most powerful military machine on the planet, replenished by America's unmatched industrial power, is still sending its soldiers, reservists and National Guardsmen down dangerous roads in soft-skinned trucks and Humvees.

Humvee factories, meanwhile, have not been operating at full capacity. And U.S. commercial steel-plate companies have been largely ignored by the Pentagon, which remains intent on supplying itself from a select number of Army depots. Perhaps inadvertently, the Pentagon late last week provided proof that it had not been doing its utmost. Two days after Rumsfeld's embarrassing exchange with Wilson, the Defense Department announced it was ordering 100 more up-armored Humvees a month from their main supplier, O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt in West Chester, Ohio. The Humvee armoring company had told reporters only a few days before that it was operating at 22 percent under capacity, but that there were no more orders from the Pentagon.

What this says, of course, is that Dubya and Rummy and the rest of these meatheads don't care about the soldiers. Soldiers are nothing but props in the Bush grand drama, and they're supposed to provide good press releases and backgrounds for photo ops and not complain. Complaints from the troops are just annoyances, like buzzing flies, to be brushed away.
When it was revealed that some of the "town hall" questions from a week ago were composed by a reporter, righties reacted quickly to dismiss the complaints as so much liberal media bias noise.  But the reaction of the other soldiers to the question was spontaneous, and real. And Rummy's lame answers (you go to war with what you have; even armored vehicles get blown up) were real, too. And the answers revealed that Rummy isn't worthy to clean those soldiers' boots.  
The other problem Rummy has with troops is that he's trying to wring too much productivity out of too few soldiers. Since before the war the Bushies have brushed away criticism that there aren't enough troops in Iraq to do their jobs properly. Yesterday, Senator John McCain told the Associated Press he had "no confidence" in Rumsfeld and the way he's handled the war.  
If you aren't a Civil War history buff, you can skip this section and go to the end. 
The Union war effort was crippled at the start by the "leadership" of generals who were good at making speeches and wearing medals and looking grand in parades, but not so good at running a war.
But then there was Ulysses S. Grant. From the General's Personal Memoirs (Chapter 40):
All supplies for [Union General] Rosecrans had to be brought from Nashville. The railroad between this base and the army was in possession of the government up to Bridgeport, the point at which the road crosses to the south side of the Tennessee River; but [Confederate Geenral] Bragg, holding Lookout and Raccoon mountains west of Chattanooga, commanded the railroad, the river and the shortest and best wagon-roads, both south and north of the Tennessee, between Chattanooga and Bridgeport. The distance between these two places is but twenty-six miles by rail; but owing to the position of Bragg, all supplies for Rosecrans had to be hauled by a circuitous route north of the river and over a mountainous country, increasing the distance to over sixty miles.
This country afforded but little food for his animals, nearly ten thousand of which had already starved, and not enough were left to draw a single piece of artillery or even the ambulances to convey the sick. The men had been on half rations of hard bread for a considerable time, with but few other supplies except beef driven from Nashville across the country. The region along the road became so exhausted of food for the cattle that by the time they reached Chattanooga they were much in the condition of the few animals left alive there--"on the lift." Indeed, the beef was so poor that the soldiers were in the habit of saying, with a faint facetiousness, that they were living on "half rations of hard bread and beef dried on the hoof."
Nothing could be transported but food, and the troops were without sufficient shoes or other clothing suitable for the advancing season. What they had was well worn. The fuel within the Federal lines was exhausted, even to the stumps of trees. There were no teams to draw it from the opposite bank, where it was abundant. The only way of supplying fuel for some time before my arrival, had been to cut trees on the north bank of the river at. a considerable distance up the stream, form rafts of it and float it down with the current effecting a landing on the south side within our lines by the use of paddles or poles. It would then be carried on the shoulders of the men to their camps.
If a retreat had occurred at this time it is not probable that any of the army would have reached the railroad as an organized body, if followed by the enemy.
Within a week of taking command at Chattanooga, Grant had opened supply lines and the men were getting full rations. He didn't do anything that someone else could not have done earlier. But the point is that he got it done. Grant was not much for making speeches, he rarely wore dress uniforms, and showed little interest in military ceremony. But if you needed someone to manage a war, he was your guy. Or Lincoln's guy, as it turned out.
Also: I'll let Steve at No More Mr. Nice Blog have the last word on Bernie Kerik.
8:28 am | link

monday, december 13, 2004

What a Guy
Today Scott Peterson got a death sentence. Today investigators say they found pornographic magazines with the fingerprints of Michael Jackson and his 12-year-old accuser. 
Even so, more details of Bernie Kerik's life were lurid enough to get media attention, too. 
For example, at one point Big Bernie was enjoying two extramarital affairs at the same time. One of these relationships was ongoing at the time he met and married his wife. He maintained a Battery Park apartment as a love nest. Kerik's actual residence, where the wife and kids lived, was on East 79th Street.
The two mistresses found out about each other when one found a note written by the other one. 
Kerik's long-time affair with a career correction officer is the subject of two lawsuits against the city of New York right now. Two correction employees claim that Kerik retaliated when they crossed her.
In other words, at least one affair was a matter of public record.
Other news stories today hinted at major financial shenanigans with possible mob connections. Talk about Trouble with a capital T.
Josh Marshall wonders if there even is a nanny. He also reveals that the other mistress, publisher Judith Regen, has to hire a bodyguard when the affair ended.
We could go on and on. This guy is very, shall we say, compromised. And the Bushies nominated him to be in charge of homeland security?
Well, of course they did. It's all about quid pro quo, y'know. Whether somebody is an appropriate choice for a job is not a consideration.  It's about who's next in line to get paid. This little plum seems to have been a payback to St. Rudy. Now poor Rudy's got to go to the end of the line and wait for another turn.
7:57 pm | link

Happy Anniversary
It's been a year since the Capture of Saddam. (Whoop-di-doo.) I posted about it at American Street.
10:42 am | link

sunday, december 12, 2004

No Bloggers Allowed
Yesterday state directors of the Democratic National Committee met in Florida to look at candidates for DNC chair. The eight guys trying to get the job gave speeches to those attending. One of the delegates was Jenny Greenleaf, who gives a synopsis at The American Street.
Those attending did not include bloggers, who were evicted. Says Jerome at MyDD:
There's something wrong when the chairs and executive directors go on and on with their praise toward the internet that's brought millions into the coffers of the DNC, and then turns around and kicks Joe Trippi and his band of bloggers out of the meeting room when the "closed" Q & A with the DNC Chair candidates occurs. You could have walked right in off the street and into the candidate Hall unencumbered, but if you happened to be a blogger, or the guy who brought the strategy of embracing the small donor activist on the net for the Democratic Party, and he's got a blog, out you go.

There's something wrong when DNC Chair candidate Donnie Fowler, during his 5-minute presentation on his candidacy, singles out Matt Stoller as an example of embracing the technological ideas that are going to bring this party forward, and then some DNC staffer walks up to Stoller and tells him he's got to leave the room, because he's a blogger.

There's something wrong when the DNC members are holding a vital meeting on the "Fowler Amendments" which are the most reform-minded amendments to the DNC Charter in the last 30 years (a radical takeaway from DC-based members by the states), and the DNC closes the meeting to bloggers; not realizing that we are the vehicle to crusade for this reform (Stoller and I went inside anyway, even though we suffered getting kicked out halfway through the meeting).

The DNC praised the internet, small donors, "netroots," and even the blogosphere, says Jerome, but bloggers were not welcome. Bloggers were escorted out of meetings that were open to the public.
And leaders of the Democratic Party wonder why nobody likes them any more.
Matt Stoller at BOP News posted several reports on the event, even though he was kicked out of meetings. See especially "DC Gets Killed," "," and "Bow to Terry."
Clearly, the Dems have to break out of the DLC-Joe Lieberman-Hillary Clinton-Republican Lite dead end, or those of us who supported Dem candidates in 2004 are going to be forced to take our support elsewhere.
This brings me back to the idea of a Third Continental Congress. The idea is shaping up to be a progressive conference that would both frame the progressive agenda (supporters of King George not welcome) and take back the symbols of patriotism.
In particular, if anyone reading this has experience putting together a Big Event, let Susie at Suburban Guerrilla know.
11:12 am | link

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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."

·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

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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