Archive for October, 2007


Joe Carter and I don’t agree on very much in this world. But we do agree that Jack Chick is a psycho nutjob.

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The Press and Rudy and Bill

Ezra has a question:

But it gets at an important truth: That the media does, indeed, come together to repel perceived threats. In Clinton’s case, it was a gauche striver. He was a threat to DC’s prestige, or vision of itself. Not the greatest danger in the world, but the media was quite effective in kneecapping him.

So what of Rudy? Rudy, after all, is a danger to the world. Every reporter in this town knows that he’s become a pandering lunatic. Why doesn’t Time have cover stories asking “Is hGiulianie out of his #($*^ mind!?” Why aren’t the Sunday shows filled with horrified reporters agreeing to disagree about much of the race, but uniting against the apocalyptic stupidity on evidence in the GIuliani campaign? Why aren’t the various horserace reporters fitting every successive foreign policy pronouncement into an overarching narrative of Giuliani’s crazed belligerence, “which is causing serious doubts about his campaign among some in the GOP?” There is precedent for all this. And in Giuliani’s case, the threat has the added benefit of being true. You don’t need to make anything up, invent any scandals, concoct any problems. You just have to honestly evaluate the words coming out of Giuliani’s mouth, the rhetoric coming out of his campaign, and the advisers circling the candidate. It’s all there. There’s no blowjob, I know, but there’s a real threat, and the media should, in its role as guardian of some minimal level of competency within the political process, be pointing out that this man is dangerous, his statements scary, his campaign unsettling and his advisers insane.

The majority of the answer is that our beltway press does not consider Rudy to be nuts. There are other reasons, of course: the press has many more conservatives in national commentary positions than liberals, it has been attacked so often formthe right that much of it flinches at the mere thought of criticizing a right-winger, and the “he-said-she-said” ethics of modern journalism all conspire to prevent a full on Clinton-like media feeding frenzy. But the core of the issue is that the press and the foreign policy establishment just don;t think Rudy is all that out there.

It is an article of faith among the beltway political press that the anti-Vietnam protests killed the Democrats on national security until the end of time. As a corollary to that belief, it is “understood” that the best political play is to always go as pro-war as possible. There is literally no position a hawk can take that, with the possible exception of a nuclear first strike or an invasion of England, that our press will deem insane. After all, we all know that the dirty hippies destroyed the Democrats on national security, so the more hawkish the better! And since our national press has an almost allergic reaction to actually covering anything other than the horse race, it simply doesn’t occur to most of them that there is anything wrong with what Rudy is doing and saying.

Our foreign policy establishment might be able to push a “Rudy is crazy” meme, but policy doesn’t play a large role in our press coverage and, frankly, our foreign policy establishment would not necessarily think Rudy is insane. Our foreign policy establishment that generally considers serious foreign policy thought to start with the “right” of the United states to intervene military anywhere it chooses. Diplomacy, while not altogether discounted, is not seen as the mark of a serious person and avoiding a war altogether or the outright rejection of this neo-imperialistic mindset means banishment from the foreign policy establishment. In a very real sense, there just aren’t enough people who think Rudy is nuts in the press or the people to whom the press listens to make enough noise to overcome the conservative bend to the media nor the “he said she said” nonsense that passes for journalistic ethics in this day and age.

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Has any candidate seen their stock fall so far so fast in recent times? I don’t mean their ability to win a contest, I mean their entire image. Obama promised a new beginning, a politics of hope and reconciliation. But in the last week, he has thrown all of that away with two really bone-headed decisions, the first of which was the deliberate choice to involve a horrible bigot in his gospel tour.

McClurkin is a hateful person, a man who is convinced that gays are trying to “kill our children”, and that homosexuality is a “curse” brought about by abuse and molestation. Those are not the words of a man genuinely concerned with the lives or souls of homosexuals; those are the words of a man who is so filled with loathing for something he dislikes that he is willing to to tell any lie or indulge in any smear to hurt those he hates. And this was the man the campaign chose to headline the event. And, of course, he took the opportunity to attack homosexuals on Obama’s time:

The whole controversy might have been forgotten in the swell of gospel sound except Mr. McClurkin turned the final half hour of the three-hour concert into a revival meeting about the lightning rod he has become for the Obama campaign.

He approached the subject gingerly at first. Then, just when the concert had seemed to reach its pitch and about to end, Mr. McClurkin returned to it with a full-blown plea: “Don’t call me a bigot or anti-gay when I have suffered the same feelings,” he cried.

“God delivered me from homosexuality,” he added. He then told the audience to believe the Bible over the blogs: “God is the only way.” The crowd sang and clapped along in full support….

Mr. McClurkin’s support for Mr. Obama could signal to some black evangelical voters that race and religion are more important than Mr. Obama’s support for gay rights.

This decision was bad enough, but then came the response:

Part of the reason that we have had a faith outreach in our campaigns is precisely because I don’t think the LGBT community or the Democratic Party is served by being hermetically sealed from the faith community and not in dialogue with a substantial portion of the electorate, even though we may disagree with them.

So progressives are “hermetically sealed” from the religious in this country? Really? Tell that, Mr. Senator, to these people, or these people, or, heck, even to me and the millions and millions like me:

For far too long, the right wing has gulled the media and the country into thinking that its religion was the only acceptable face of Christianity. It has used the respect for all religions on the left as evidence of the left’s irreligiosity. That has never been the case. The teachings of Jesus Christ are at the core of how millions define their support for liberal causes, myself included. John Kerry, with one small statement, has reminded the nation of that fact. Millions of us are liberal because of our religion. Millions of us are not represented by Opus Dei, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, or any of the other right wing talking heads the media turns to when it wants to “discuss” religion in this country. Antonin Scalia does not speak for all Catholics.

… The language of religion has always been spoken comfortably on the left, even if the principle of tolerance has caused it to occasionally be spoken too quietly. John Kerry is not speaking quietly now. Whatever George W. Bush may desire, whatever the editors of the Washington Post and New York Times may decree, Christianity and faith are not the property of the right wing. I have a faith, too, as does John Kerry and millions of others. It is strong, and sincere, and, as Kerry has reminded us, powerful. And in the face of provocation and distortion, it has no reason to be silent.

It is bad enough that you stupidly try to pander to a sense of bigotry among some segment of the South Carolina voting population. But to use the same, tired right wing smears against progressives as a justification for your pandering? Disgusting is perhaps the nicest thing that I can say about that decision. This is the worst kind of pandering. It has nothing to do with trying to tread the distance between where many of his supporters are on this issue and where Obama would like to lead them. Obama took one of the most hateful anti-gay bigots, a man who thinks gays are trying to “kill our children” and making him the face of the Obama campaign for the duration of this Gospel event. It is the explicit and deliberate decision to appeal to the basest nature of South Carolina voters in the desperate hope that those voters can deliver him an essential win. It is the worst kind of politics as usual.

And then Obama compounded this with another stupid mistake: an attack on Social Security:

A new Obama ad in Iowa shows the candidate talking to a small group of people are Social Security, and calling for an honest discussion about the problems that the program face

There is no Social Security crisis. Even with the GOP spending money as it grows on trees, the program is set through 2047. And the events of 2005 showed, people like the program just fine the way it is. Having spent all that time and effort beating back the privatization monster, it is incredibly depressing to hear a Democrat open the door for its return. But Obama needs an issue to attack Clinton on, and attacking Social Security is an issue that the media Village just adores and so is sure to pick up and treat favorably, especially since it fits into their notion of what a “serious” Democrat should be. A “serious” Democrat, of course, is one who is more than willing to attack the underpinnings of the New Deal and any other Democratic program that is popular with the general public but not with the Villagers.

There are plenty of other issues out there Obama could have chosen to differentiate himself from Clinton: the coming war with Iran, universal health care, fair trade, the war on drugs, the GOP’s war on the Constitution, etc, etc,etc. The problem, though, is that the Village disapproves of the progressive side on all of those matters, so taking on Clinton over any of them would have been meant with Village scorn. And that would have meant that it would have been harder to generate positive press and to force Clinton onto the defensive. That would have taken courage, something Obama does not seem to poses in any noticeable measure these days.

I had hopes for Obama. He came out of Chicago’s politics, so I knew that he knew how to brawl, but his rhetoric had given me hope that he would use those skills to advance a genuinely inclusive, progressive vision. Apparently, that is not to be. Twice in less than a week, Obama has chosen to take the low road, the easy way through the political landscape. Twice in a week, Obama has chosen to pander to the basest of motives of voters and the self-important nitwits that run our national press. Instead of actually being bold, instead of actually trying to build a new politics built on the Audacity of Hope, Obama and his campaign chose to take the basest route to the White House. They have embraced politics as usual — and as dirty as can be — with the speed of a drunk embracing a free case of beer. In the process, they have shown Obama to be a hollow candidate, a smiling face for the same old politics of division and sycophancy.

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The right-wing hyena mob is working itself up again, this time over some long-overdue common sense that, predictably, offends their smug, religious sense of entitlement.

Apparently the National Cemetery Administration – the group that administers all the national public cemeteries – has a group of volunteer vets, affiliated with the VA, who attend funerals for military veterans and do some sort of flag-folding ceremony. At some point somebody wrote some kind of treacly religious pap about the “significance of the folds in the flag” (there isn’t any – they’re just folds), and the group has been reciting it at the funerals while they fold the flag. It’s filled with pseudo-symbolism (“the sixth fold is for where our hearts lie” – WTF?) and repeated religious references, explicitly Christian or Judeo-Christian. Nobody asked them to do this, and it isn’t a part of the planned services at people’s funerals – they just start doing it during the service without warning, and apparently most people let them get on with it because they’re, you know, sincere and all.

Finally, and obviously, someone complained that they didn’t want someone else’s religious maunderings injected into their family member’s funeral, and the NCA made the obvious decision that their staff – being government workers (volunteer or otherwise) – should not be in the business of doing so. So they issued the long-overdue directive that the flag folders should just fold the flag and keep their Vogon poetry to themselves. They made it explicitly clear that anyone who actually wanted to hear this thing at their family member’s funeral could have it, by requesting it ahead of time – the government is just not in the business of making unilateral religious declarations to a captive audience.

Naturally the wingers are beside themselves, blaming the person who complained (“one person prevents everyone in the country from hearing this heartwarming recitation”), complaining about “kicking God out of the public square”, and whatnot. Not one of the articles I’ve seen notes that the directive does not prevent a family from hearing anything they want at any point in the funeral. Naturally, not one even raises the question whether people acting on behalf of the government should unilaterally preach explicitly partisan religious credos without invitation at other families’ funeral. They’re just certain that some sort of high moral principle has been violated because a bunch of (literally) preachy vets don’t get to give their own religious speeches at other people’s memorial ceremonies without regard to the deceased’s actual wishes or beliefs. A California American Legion officer has apparently ordered that any AL members who volunteer for these funerals are to ignore the regulations and read the thing anyway, without asking permission. Because it’s their feelings that count . . .


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I’m thinking about ditching my Gmail account. It’s gotten to be too big brother for me. What bugs me is the “sponsored link” line at the top, where it targets ads and news links based on the contents of my e-mail messages. My sister sent me an e-mail with pictures of Jack-O-Lanterns she carved, and Gmail happily put up a link for Halloween decorations. A Saab dealer sent me an e-mail follow-up to a test drive my wife did some months ago, and a SAAB link shows up there. But the last straw was today, when I got an e-mail from Say Uncle, and Gmail conveniently gave me a link to a news story about a shooting somewhere. That’s just too damn wiggy for me.

Has anyone else had this experience?

The more time passes, the more I miss the good old days of POP3.

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Hear, Hear!


I’m not sure I entirely understand Brian Beutler’s argument here. The point — familiar enough — is that Congressional Democrats suck. But to support this conclusion, he offers up the failure to override the SCHIP veto. I’m not attacking Beutler (he’s one of the good ones), but I’m frankly tired of this line of argument. Democrats can’t alter the laws of mathematics. If they lack numbers, I don’t understand what exactly they’re supposed to do.

Democrats can’t transform Republicans into non-Republicans. Yes, Democrats control Congress, but not by much. For practical purposes, the parties basically have 50/50 support. The Senate, however, requires 60/40 support, while overriding a veto requires 2/3 support. So again — what exactly are Democrats supposed to do differently?


We’re seeing the exact same dynamic with the war and the Webb bill. The Democrats are being blamed by Democrats for Republican votes. But if Republicans continue voting this way, there are going to be fewer and fewer Republicans in the next session. It’s not ideal — the ideal would be to end the war, to pass the Webb bill, to enact SCHIP. But the Democrats lost the 2004 election. If you want to blame someone, blame the American people. Blame Republicans. But I don’t understand why the Democrats keep getting so much blame. At the very least, they are catching a disproportionate amount of crap. I mean, good God, just look at what they’re at least trying to do — through bills and hearings — as compared to the last Congress.

Granted, FISA is a different story. I strongly disagree with the leadership, but I also recognize it’s a much thornier political issue in the swing districts and swing states that determine political power.

But blaming Dems for lacking numbers just isn’t fair. And, frankly, it will ultimately lead them to embrace Broderism in the hopes of “doing something.” Sometimes, though, it’s better to do nothing if it ultimately leads to better and more progressive policies down the road.

Think chess, not horse races.

I’m with Publius on that one. I’m sick and tired of people complaining about the Democrats‘ inability to get anything done when it’s Republican obstructionism that’s mostly responsible.

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Torture is Wrong

Contra Rudy, it is always wrong. It is wrong when you have the best intentions, it is wrong when it is done by “good” people, it is wrong. It is wrong becasue it gives you what you want to hear instead of the truth. It is wrong to abuse people, even bad people, because you cannot know who the bad guys are and who are the innocents for certain. It is wrong because once you cross the line, each subsequent crossing becomes so much easier. It is wrong because you don’t fight monsters by becoming monsters; that just gets you more monsters. It is wrong because human life and human dignity is precious and should be assured. And we should all know that, even if the bastards we are fighting do not.

Dear God, how did we get to a place where I have to explain something so obvious to the GOP front-runner as if he was five years old?

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Roger Cohen thinks that Europe is too pacifist, too unwilling to fight and die in Afghanistan:

The former group, battling the Taliban in Helmand Province and elsewhere, includes the United States, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands. The latter is dominated by Germany, Spain and Italy. The split gives a rough guide to parts of the world that still see military force as inextricable from international security and others that are now functionally pacifist.

“In Afghanistan, NATO solidarity collapses at the point of danger,” said Julian Lindley-French, a military expert at the Netherlands Defense Academy. “There’s no point planning robust operations worldwide if the burden is not shared. A lot of the German troops are little more than heavily armed traffic cops.”

Canada, with about 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, has seen 71 killed. That is about three times the German losses and seven times the Italian. Britain has more than 80 dead, and the United States almost 450. These are eloquent numbers.

There are several problems here, only one of which he addresses at all: Pakistan

One German retort I’ve heard is that it’s no good having the United States demand that its allies fight and die in southern Afghanistan when Washington refuses debate over the role of its pampered friend, Pakistan, in the violence.

That’s a fair point. Still, it’s time to bring on the Bundesmacht and past time for continental Europe to overcome its pacifist mirage and accept that these are dangerous times demanding serious defense budgets and sacrifice.

Cohen says its a fair point, but then, without even attempting to address it, says that Europe should just do as he wants anyway. But why should the EU send more troops to fight and die in a war that the actions of its primary ally make un-winnable? If southern Afghanistan cannot be pacified without dealing with the border region of Pakistan — not an unreasonable conclusion – -and the United States refuses to take any steps to force Pakistan to allow that region to be pacified – -which is a fair description of US policy at this point — then why should EU soldiers die in a fight they cannot win? How is it pacifisim to avoid wasting the lives of your soldiers?

But Cohen’s biggest oversight is the failure to address the affect that Bush Iraq disaster has had on the international playing field. Cohen writes that the mission in Iraq has changed and that the Taliban is resurgent. He ails to mention that those sad events have come about because the United States went off on a hair-brained scheme in Iraq instead of finishing the job in Afghanistan. What purpose does it serve for the Eu to become even more tightly ensnared in Afghanistan not knowing whether or not the US is serious about its commitment in Afghanistan. The EU already knows that Bush has no intention of ever leaving Iraq, much less shifting the focus of American military to Afghanistan.

More importantly, Bush’s Iraq war has been a monumental disaster. It has destabilized the region, lent credence to the propaganda of the terrorist, provided them with a marvelous recruiting tool, and made it easier for them to learn how to attack Western forces. Perhpas the Eu is worried about following the US lead, even in Afghanistan, becasue it is convinced that the US doesn;t have the first clue as to how to fight an insurgency or deal with the Muslim world. We have already seen reports of British commanders begging their US counterparts to not use so many air-strikes, as they kill indiscriminately and drive people into the arms of the Taliban as a result. Perhaps the EU is making the rational decision that they need to try tactics other than that of the US but that effort would be torpedoed by closer military co-operation with bumbling US commanders in the south of Afghanistan.

Perhaps I am wrong; perhaps the concerns I lay out here are overblown or of such little cost compared ot the potential gain that they should be put aside. But Cohen doesn’t even consider those issues. No, to him, Germans are pacifists and weak because they refuse to rush headlong into supporting, without question or control, what the Bush Administration does in the south of Afghanistan. IN Cohen’s world, there could never be a rational, well though out, compelling reason not to blow sh*t up. No, refusal to fall in line is the result of a moral failing or the result of wishful thinking, of believing in a “mirage”.

Cohen, a columnist for the New York Times, has just written an opinion piece whose “argument” is little more than name calling and chest thumping, barely fir for the playground much less a serious columnist. And yet he is a serious columnist, writing from one of the loftiest perches in the free world. That he and his editors thinks this an op-ed suitable for publication is both stunning and terrifying. Welcome to the our nation’s very serious foreign policy discussion; fell free to check your brain at the door. It appears that most of our commentariat has.

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Ooooh, Crazy Spam

Got this in my inbox this morning:

The Clintons and the “Mainstream Media” have been hiding their involvement in the creation of the man-made pandemic called AIDS and that this dread disease serves Jewish interests. And they have hidden the truth that they exported poison blood from an Arkansas prison for injection into the arms of black school children in Africa , to fulfill China’s Africa Policy: exterminate the indigineous population to make room for wave upon wave of Chinese immigrants yet to come.

Once China occupies Africa, they will seize control of the Mediterranean Sea and choke off America ‘s primary source of energy. This is the reason the Jews (disguised as environmentalists) have not allowed America to drill domestically for oil or build nuclear power plants for decades. And once China controls the Mediterranean Sea, they can turn the continent of Europe red with communism and the blood of Christians, and finally fulfill the Jew’s eternal goal: to plant the head of the Pope on a pole in Vatican City in sight of the Holy See.

This is so close to the perfect right wing conspiracy theory, except that the UN and Muslims aren’t involved.This is so close to the lean book from Regnery Press: I am sorry, Mr. Crazy-Chinese-Jewish-Clinton-Environmentalist-Conspiracy-Guy, I am afraid that you haven’t fully met the high standards here at Regnery Press. How could there be such a complex conspiracy that involved neither UN or Islamofascists? However, we do feel that the work shows promise and with a little more research could be turned into a publishable manuscript. We look forward to hearing from you in the future, but I am afraid we will have to reluctantly pass for now.

As a side note, should it worry me that this obviously insane diatribe has fewer typos and malapropisms than my average post?

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Bad Times Make Fools of Us All

Via Roy, I see that Megan McArdle has said something, well, silly.

First of all, the notion that this is some sort of uniquely horrible moment in world history is absurd. I grew up with the very real fear that one day, without much warning, I would simply vanish in a radioactive cloud. The fear of nuclear annihilation was the ever-present undercurrent to the lives of children living in major urban areas, or near military installations, in a way that you simply cannot comprehend unless you’ve lived it. Compared to the threat of global thermonuclear war, any of the world’s current problems, including climate change, are trivial.

The notion that “today”, whenever today happens to be, is not a uniquely horrible time is a banal observation. With very, very few exceptions, “today” has almost never been uniquely bad. But the notion that today is not worse than the eighties is, well, again, silly. I assume that McArdle is talking about the 80s because, based on her bio, she appears to be one year younger than I am. Unless she was an almost rainman-like political prodigy, I doubt that McArdle’s political memories stretch much past Reagan. And, yes, I remember the fear of nuclear holocaust. I remember being afraid because my parents were afraid after the Korean airliner had been shot down. I remember being terrified of the Day After. I remember thinking Reagan’s desire to put weapons in space was nuts. I even remember the day our air raid siren went off in town.

But I also remember that no one in town had any idea what the heck the air raid siren was. I remember that we did not have fallout drills. I also remember being completely surprised to find that my church had a fallout shelter. I remember, as I got older, of learning about the concept of MAD. I remember the anti-proliferation and weapons control treaties. I remember Gorbachev and the thawing of relations while I was still in high school. I remember, in my junior year, the Berlin Wall coming down. I remember how deliriously happy my Polish family was then. I remember, in other words, people working very hard to prevent a nuclear holocaust and I remember that no one in any position of respect or authority thought that a nuclear war would not be a catastrophe.

I cannot say the same about global warming, to use her example. It effects will be just as widespread and while not ending life on Earth, they will still have enormous detrimental impact on human beings. And yet, even today, there are people who deny that it is happening, who deny that its caused by humans, or who deny that we can or should try to do anything about it. And there is nothing like the serious anti-proliferation and arms control treaties of the seventies and eighties in the fight against global warming. Unlike the scourge of our childhood, there is hardly anything being done to combat global warming and there are still far, far too many people with power who are determined to see that sorry state of affairs continue. It is much scary to see a disaster unfolding and realize almost nothing is being done to stop it than to live with a potential disaster that everyone in the world is trying to prevent.

It’s not just global warming. I remember that the Reagan Administration never tried to argue that it should have the power to indefinitely detain American citizens without trial or access to the outside world. I remember that the Reagan Administration never tried to publicly defend the practice of torture, to make it an official part of our national security apparatus. I remember that the Reagan Administration never came close to failing in a natural disaster like the Bush Administration did during Katrina. I remember that Reagan Administration only started wars with countries they knew they could beat in a day. I remember that the Reagan Administration was not filled with foreign policy lunatics who thought the solution to every problem was to invade and occupy as many countries as possible.

And those were the bad times. I also remember the Clinton boom and the decrease in poverty and homelessness and economic inequality and the expansion of gay rights and the end to South African Apartheid and the explosion of the Internet and the crushing of the hard-line coup in Russia.

I remember the past, the same past I shared with McArdle, and it was better than today. Pretending that it isn’t, especially when you want to pretend that the eighties and nineties were much worse, is, well, silly.

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