Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The War That Reached Our Shores

Pres. Bush won't allow public opinion to inform, influence, or change his Iraq policy. So what else is new? The real point is that Congress won't make him (which they could easily do by cutting off funding for the war or starting impeachment proceedings).

Also, this statement has to be challenged:

"I have no doubt -- the war came to our shores. Remember that," he said, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes on New York and Washington. "We had a foreign policy that basically said, 'Let's hope calm works.' And we were attacked."

Actually, no. We (meaning nine successive U.S. administrations from 1953 to the present day) had a policy of overthrowing democratically elected governments and supporting totalitarian, repressive ones. We installed, and supported for 25 years, one of the most brutal regimes in the history of the 20th century (Iran from 1953 to 1979). (And then Americans wondered at the anti-American rage we saw on our television screens as Iranians sacked the U.S. embassy when the Shah was overthrown.) We followed that by providing money and arms, as well as strategic targeting assistance, to Iran's neighbor, Iraq, in its 8-year war with Iran (at the same time that Iraq was attacking both Iranians and Iraq's Kurdish population with nerve and mustard gas, and knowing that Iraqi pinpoint targeting obtained via U.S. overflight surveillance was being used to kill tens of thousands of Iranian soldiers with that poison gas). Simultaneously with these events, the U.S. government (via that model of patriotism, Oliver North) was selling arms to the Iranians to use on Iraq, and using the proceeds from the arms sales to fund the Contras in Nicaragua who were trying to overthrow that country's democratically elected government. After supporting Saddam Hussein's savagely brutal regime for more than a decade, the United States invaded Iraq when Saddam Hussein threatened our oil supply by invading Kuwait.

But we were not finished playing poker with the lives of the tens of millions of people who had to live with the consequences of our power games: After crushing Iraq in what we call the first Persian Gulf War (for Iraq and Iran, their 8-year war with each other was the first), the U.S. administration then in power (Bush 41) slapped punitive economic sanctions on Iraq, which continued under Clinton and Bush 43 for the next decade and more. Meant to keep Saddam from re-arming, the sanctions had a devastating effect on Iraq's civilian population; between 1991 and 2003, when the sanctions were lifted, between 1.5 and 2 million Iraqis perished; half a million of those were children. The sanctions were lifted, of course, after the current administration invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein, on the pretext that Saddam Hussein had a current, operational WMD program, and that he had ties to Al Qaeda. Both claims were false. The U.S. invaded Iraq for (our) second time in March, 2003. In April, 2003, Hussein was overthrown. In May, 2003, Pres. Bush dressed up in a naval uniform and, standing on top of a naval carrier in the Persian Gulf, announced that "major combat operations" were over. Since Bush's announced "end" of the war, over 2,600 American soldiers have been killed, somewhere around 14,000 have been maimed, and -- at a very conservative minimum -- between 41,000 and 45,600 Iraqis have been killed. As horrifying as those numbers are, they cannot be taken in isolation. They must be seen in the context of all the Iraqis who were killed, wounded, and dispossessed in the previous wars -- including, most terribly, the Iran-Iraq war, in which possibly a million Iranians and Iraqis (combined) died, and millions more became refugees.

The truth is that the United States has never tried calm in its approach to the rest of the world. It may have been calm here -- but that was at the expense of the carnage and chaos and violence the United States was helping to facilitate elsewhere. And when Pres. Bush says that "the war came to our shores," he is right in a way he did not intend: The war already existed beyond our shores, in large part because of the policies the U.S. government fomented. So, yes, the war did come to our shores. It's been raging for the last 60 years, and it's finally reached our shores.


So You Were Terrified You'd Be Decapitated. You're Free Now. Get Over It!

It must be an especially hellish form of hell to be kidnapped by Islamic terrorists if you also happen to be a journalist working for FOX News. First your right-wing "friends" back home will blanket the Internet with outraged calls for your release -- something they do for you and no one else because you work for the television network that reports the news the right way (pun fully intentional) -- and then, after you are released, they will write scalding posts about what a low-life traitor you are for converting to Islam and for hugging the man who had total control over whether you lived or died, and decided that you would be allowed to live. If it had been them, they would have chosen to be beheaded, or executed by a bullet to the head, rather than "deny their faith." If they suffered any emotional or psychological effects from being abducted at gunpoint and kept in constant fear for their life for days or weeks or months, those ill effects would fall away from them like autumn leaves the wind blows off a speeding car, the moment they stepped out of their prison cell.

How terrible it must feel to be a FOX journalist and know that you are causing so much pain and disappointment to the home-team partisans who have been counting on you to sing hymns of praise to George W. Bush and pour scorn and contempt on your captors as you and they stand in front of the cameras. It seems like the least you can do if you're going to deprive the partisans of the chance to howl at the savagery of the barbaric monsters who beheaded you, is to spit in your captors' face the moment they let you go.


Donald Rumsfeld Shows Americans How to Unify by Dividing

In a speech at the American Legion's 88th annual convention, Donald Rumsfeld called for unity in the "war on terror" today -- by lauding the Iraq war, which more and more Americans view as a diversion from the war on terror; by urging Americans not to "take advantage" of their freedom to dissent by dissenting against the Iraq war; by accusing the media of allowing terrorists to "manipulate" them; and by telling opponents of the Bush administration's policies that they are "appeasers" who are "ignoring the lessons of history."

In other words: I am right, you are wrong; if you disagree, you are a terrorist sympathizer.

Matthew Yglesias, guest-posting at Talking Points Memo, is getting a lot of attention for pointing out, quite aptly in my view, that Rumsfeld's speech is the opening volley in the fall campaign:

For his latest trick, in a speech to the American Legion, Don Rumsfeld gives the full wingnut monte. America faces an undifferentiated fascist menace. Bush's critics are appeasers who don't understand the lessons of history who blame America first and hate freedom. The media is treasonous and a free press is a luxury we can ill-afford in this time of crisis. Etc.

This, I think we can assume, is the fall campaign. The idea is to psyche the Democrats out. To make them think they can't win an argument about foreign policy. To make them act like they can't win an argument about foreign policy. And to thereby demonstrate to the American people that even the Democrats themselves lack confidence in their own ability to handle these issues.

"Quite right," says Steve Benen, and it shows how weak the Republicans actually are:

Rumsfeld's almost-ugly tirade today wasn't delivered from a position of strength; it was offered in fear. With neither facts nor narratives on his side, Rumsfeld was left to simply pound the table, and hope that no one snickered at the sad rants of the poor man who doesn't know what he's talking about.

John in D.C. thinks Rumsfeld is lost in the land of the lawn weenies:

Donald Rumsfeld, our Secretary of Defense who oversaw the worst US military defeat in 100 years, and personally sentenced nearly 3,000 US soldiers to death in a war based on a lie, is now just making stuff up rather than addressing the real problem America faces in Iraq.

According to Rumsfeld, the problem in Iraq isn't that we're losing. It's that "some" unnamed Americans (who don't exist) want our country to "appease" the terrorist in an effort to make them like us, so they'll bring us lemonade, or something.

Of course, Rumsfeld has entered crazy land here, just like Dick Cheney did yesterday. No one I can think of has ever talked about the need to appease the terrorists. But in George Bush's America, when you kill 3,000 US troops for a big mistake and then aren't man enough to admit it, you have to come up with something to sleep at night - or to win re-election. So the Republicans are now trying to create an enemy within our own ranks that is to blame for their own loss in Iraq.

Even James Joyner, not exactly an out-there left-winger, thinks Rumsfeld is not making a whole lot of sense:

... Take, for example, this passage from the DefenseLink transcription:

We need to face the following questions:

* With the growing lethality and availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow vicious extremists can be appeased?
* Can we really continue to think that free countries can negotiate a separate peace with terrorists?
* Can we truly afford the luxury of pretending that the threats today are simply "law enforcement" problems, rather than fundamentally different threats, requiring fundamentally different approaches?
* And can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that America -- not the enemy -- is the real source of the world's trouble?

These are central questions of our time. And we must face them.

Are these really the central questions of our time? Is there really serious debate about these points?

When you are a "doddering, senile old fool," and you're responsible for the greatest foreign policy catastrophe since the Vietnam war, the answer has to be "yes."


Monday, August 28, 2006

New Orleans One Year Later

Former FEMA chief Michael Brown told George Stephanopoulos yesterday that Pres. Bush wanted him to lie about the administration's preparedness to handle Katrina, and when the lie fell apart, Bush made it clear that Brown should take the blame. Brown first made these comments in an interview published in the September issue of Playboy.

Former Director Michael Brown told ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" Sunday he stood by comments in a Playboy interview, and President Bush wanted him to take the heat for the bungling.

"The lie was that we were ready and that everything was working as a team. Behind the scenes, it wasn't working at all," Brown said. "There were political considerations going into all the discussions. There was the fact that New Orleans did not evacuate and the mayor (Ray Nagin) had no plan."

Brown said it was natural to "want to put the spin on that things are working the way they're supposed to do. And behind the scenes, they're not. Again, my biggest mistake was just not leveling with the American public and saying, 'Folks, this isn`t working.' "

The former FEMA chief cited what he called an e-mail "from a very high source in the White House that says the president at a Cabinet meeting said, 'Thank goodness Brown's taking all the heat because it's better that he takes the heat than I do.' "

The posturing, buck-passing, and p.r. photo ops continue to this day. A full year after the worst hurricane, and one of the worst natural disasters, in U.S. history devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, Pres. Bush has learned exactly nothing about how to be compassionate and effective in the midst of horrendous human suffering, as opposed to trying to look as though he is. Can you say, Rocky Vaccarella?

Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Tulane University, says the inaction is actually part of the plan:

... "I don't think anybody's getting the Bush strategy. ... The crucial point is that the inaction is deliberate -- the inaction is the action." As he sees it, the administration, tacitly abetted by New Orleans's opportunistic mayor, Ray Nagin, is encouraging selective inertia, whether in the rebuilding of the levees ("Only Band-Aids have been put on them"), the rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward or the restoration of the wetlands. The destination: a smaller city, with a large portion of its former black population permanently dispersed. "Out of the Katrina debacle, Bush is making political gains," Mr. Brinkley says incredulously. "The last blue state in the Old South is turning into a red state."

An excerpt from Brinkley's book about Katrina, The Great Deluge, is here. The combination of incompetence, lack of preparedness, and failure to comprehend the gravity of the crisis is breathtaking:

MONDAY. The eye of Katrina, a strong Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 125 m.p.h., struck the shore at 6:10 a.m. It hit just to the south of the hamlet of Buras, about 63 miles southeast of New Orleans. Virtually all of the fishing village's 1,146 households were flattened. Livestock and wildlife drowned en masse; the residents, fortunately, had fled.

Robinette took listeners' phone calls. Desperate pleas were coming in from Treme and Chalmette, Slidell and Metairie. A woman screamed, "We have a two-year-old -- I think we're going to drown." All the while, the radio station's high-rise building shook like a struck tuning fork. Then the studio's plate-glass window blew outward. An airstream, like that of a jet engine, almost sucked Robinette through the opening. Everything around him -- papers, books, furniture, tapes -- went flying into the morning sky. Even so, Robinette kept on broadcasting, shifting his operations to the closet. He told his listeners that, while wind damage would be extensive, Katrina seemed to be sidestepping the city, aiming its fury farther east.

Holed up in N.O.P.D. headquarters on nearby South Broad Street was Warren Riley, then the deputy chief of police. His dispatchers were overwhelmed. In the first 23 minutes after the hurricane swept through town, they received more than 600 desperate calls. The levees were being breached, storm surges were topping floodwalls, roofs were peeling off, and people were dying. Homes were being destroyed by the second.
Mayor Nagin decided to cloister himself in the Hyatt hotel, which loomed over the Superdome, a locale the mayor chose not to speak at, presumably fearing reprisals from evacuees enraged at what many perceived as his lax response to the hurricane -- charges Nagin would vigorously refute, saying, "There was no way to pull [a speech] off. There was no megaphone system. There was no microphone." Many of the Hyatt's windows had blown out. The building swayed in the winds, a jagged, gaping monstrosity. He decided to make the hotel his Emergency Operations Center, virtually abandoning City Hall because his bodyguards had told him the Hyatt "was safer."

In the coming days, Nagin often divided his time between an office lair on the 27th floor, the 17th floor (where he had sleeping quarters), and the 4th floor (which had electrical power). While certain mayors in the storm's path were out and about, putting their lives at risk on Monday afternoon, raising morale and checking up on everything after Katrina's onslaught, Nagin was comparatively sedentary, getting the latest news courtesy of a hand-cranked radio straight out of The Waltons. To many, he appeared to be a commander stuck in his bunker.

Nothing in Michael Brown's resume seemed to recommend him to lead America's disaster-relief efforts. Self-centered and blandly suave, traits amplified by a regal demeanor, Brown was a cuff-link-shooting Republican dandy. As he shuttled between TV interviews on Monday, he received an e-mail from a female colleague at FEMA saying, "You look fabulous -- and I'm not talking the makeup." Flattered, Brown fired back, "I got it at Nordsstroms [sic]. E-mail [FEMA spokeswoman LeaAnne] McBride and make sure she knows! Are you proud of me? Can I quit now? Can I go home?"

Brown's job came courtesy of cronyism. As the governor of Texas, George Bush had learned to rely on his chief of staff, Joseph Allbaugh, who would go on to be his campaign manager during the 2000 presidential election. Allbaugh knew how to raise funds, manage personalities, and navigate the rough-and-tumble of power politics, but he had little experience in disaster preparedness. For his efforts, however, he was rewarded with a job as FEMA's director. When Allbaugh stepped aside in 2003 -- once FEMA had been absorbed into the newly created Department of Homeland Security -- his position went to Brown, one of his college friends. To give Brown credit, he performed ably during the rash of Florida hurricanes in 2004. And he was very much on the job in August of 2005, advising the administration early and often on the approaching storm. But he would become, unwittingly, one of the most visible and all-purpose federal scapegoats in recent memory.

At noon on Monday, Brown, adopting caution as his leitmotif, made an incredible announcement, actually directing emergency responders outside the region to stay home until specifically summoned by local authorities. "The response to Hurricane Katrina must be well coordinated between federal, state and local officials to most effectively protect life and property," he said in the statement. "It is critical that fire and emergency departments across the country remain in their jurisdictions until such time as the affected states request assistance."

At six p.m., President Bush telephoned Governor Blanco. Shell-shocked, disconcerted, and running on no sleep, she told the president that Katrina had decimated much of Louisiana. She was near tears. Though the hurricane's wrath had been more muted than expected, the city's fragile levee system had not held. Soon, it would become clear: the 17th Street Canal had been the first of three serious breaches, flooding neighborhoods below sea level. The long-anticipated worst-case scenario -- New Orleans as Venice -- was occurring.

"We need your help," Blanco pleaded. "We need everything you've got." The utter open-endedness of Blanco's request told the president that there was a leadership problem at the governor's mansion. (Behind her back, according to Brown, Bush regarded her as "totally incompetent," while his senior adviser Karl Rove, in Brown's view, saw an "opportunity to denigrate her for political advantage." The White House denies Brown's characterization of the administration's attitude toward Blanco.)

The governor intuited the situation. "You know, I asked for help, whatever help you can give me," she later snapped, discussing her lack of specificity that day. "If somebody asks me for help ... I'll say, 'O.K., well, I can do this, this, this, and this. What do you need?' But nobody ever told me the kinds of things that they could give me." With no detailed request from either Blanco or Brown, Bush didn't pursue the matter actively enough.

As for Brown, Bush seemed to trust him wholeheartedly. While Brown's hesitation may have been understandable from a bottom-line, C.E.O. perspective, Bush's failure to take immediate action was a grave mistake, even if doing so would have meant letting Blanco take credit for positive results. Great presidents in a time of crisis rule by instinct, bypassing the limitations of novice governors. But given Blanco's vagueness, Bush, understandably, demanded specifics. What he failed to comprehend, however, was that federal troops should have been filling the vacuum and weren't.

At seven p.m., Brown received an urgent call from Marty Bahamonde, his FEMA representative on the scene, who had just toured New Orleans by helicopter. His main concerns: with 80 percent of the city underwater, there was virtually no ground transportation into the metro area; shelter was scarce for thousands who had lost their homes; search-and-rescue missions were critical as citizens stood on roofs and balconies; throngs were headed to the Superdome, where food, water, and equipment for medical teams were dwindling. Bahamonde's laundry list had a sobering effect on Brown. He understood that the future of New Orleans was at stake. "I was beginning to realize," Brown recounted, "things were going to hell in a handbasket." Under the circumstances, Brown did exactly the right thing. At eight p.m., he called his boss, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, upon whose shoulders lay the federal government's ultimate responsibility. Overwhelmed by his department's lack of preparation and convinced that the governor's and mayor's operations were, in his words, "dysfunctional," Brown sought guidance from a superior. Tragically, it was the first time the men had spoken all day.

Chertoff, for his part, would later claim that he was unable to reach an elusive Michael Brown all the next day, even though he tried repeatedly. Chertoff, a principal engineer of the Patriot Act, is a Harvard-trained prosecutor and jurist whose sunken cheeks and closely cropped beard give the impression of a haggard academic denied tenure. According to The Washington Post, Chertoff seemed to downplay the early, bleak reports as rumored or exaggerated. He also insisted that FEMA was doing an "excellent" job. On top of it, he kept to his Tuesday plans to attend a medical conference in Atlanta.

It's disgraceful enough that the people of New Orleans have been betrayed and abandoned by their own leaders. What's arguably even worse is that the larger lessons of Hurricane Katrina have been all but ignored. The levees -- which government officials had known for years were in grave danger of breaching -- have still not been addressed adequately, as Douglas Brinkley noted in the quote farther up in this post. But it's much worse even than that. It's not just New Orleans' infrastructure that is compromised: the entire infrastructure system in the United States is on the verge of collapse. If there is another natural disaster on the order of Hurricane Katrina; or if terrorists attack on U.S. soil again, the results could be devastating:

A pipeline shuts down in Alaska. Equipment failures disrupt air travel in Los Angeles. Electricity runs short at a spy agency in Maryland.

None of these recent events resulted from a natural disaster or terrorist attack, but they may as well have, some homeland security experts say. They worry that too little attention is paid to how fast the country's basic operating systems are deteriorating.

"When I see events like these, I become concerned that we've lost focus on the core operational functionality of the nation's infrastructure and are becoming a fragile nation, which is just as bad -- if not worse -- as being an insecure nation," said Christian Beckner, a Washington analyst who runs the respected Web site Homeland Security Watch (

The American Society of Civil Engineers last year graded the nation "D" for its overall infrastructure conditions, estimating that it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to fix the problem.

"I thought [Hurricane] Katrina was a hell of a wake-up call, but people are missing the alarm," said Casey Dinges, the society's managing director of external affairs.

British oil company BP announced this month that severe corrosion would close its Alaska pipelines for extensive repairs. Analysts say this may sideline some 200,000 barrels a day of production for several months.

Then an instrument landing system that guides arriving planes onto a runway at Los Angeles International Airport failed for the second time in a week, delaying flights.

Those incidents followed reports that the National Security Agency (NSA), the intelligence world's electronic eavesdropping arm, is consuming so much electricity at its headquarters outside Washington that it is in danger of exceeding its power supply.

"If a terrorist group were able to knock the NSA offline, or disrupt one of the nation's busiest airports, or shut down the most important oil pipeline in the nation, the impact would be perceived as devastating," Beckner said. "And yet we've essentially let these things happen -- or almost happen -- to ourselves."

The Commission on Public Infrastructure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said in a recent report that facilities are deteriorating "at an alarming rate."

As a result, we have the NSA headquarters near Washington, D.C., experiencing equipment failure at an alarming rate because their 'supercomputers' scarf up enormous amounts of electricity, while at the same time George W. Bush and Dick Cheney argue ferociously that the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program is an 'essential tool' the government needs to have in order to keep Americans safe. This country's security is being endangered by men who are so blindly committed to an ideology of militarism and secret surveillance that they ignore, trivialize, and outright miss any other threat to national security.


There Are No Civilians in Lebanon

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah, said today in a television interview that he would not have ordered the capture of two Israeli soldiers if he had known Israel's response would be the war that killed over 1,000 Lebanese civilians:

Had we known that the kidnapping of the soldiers would have led to this, we would definitely not have done it," he said in an interview on Lebanese TV.

He added that neither side was "heading towards a second round" of fighting.

More than 1,000 Lebanese died in the 34-day conflict which left much of southern Lebanon in ruins.
"We did not think that there was a 1% chance that the kidnapping would lead to a war of this scale and magnitude," Sheikh Nasrallah said.

"Now you ask me if this was 11 July and there was a 1% chance that the kidnapping would lead to a war like the one that has taken place, would you go ahead with the kidnapping?

"I would say no, definitely not, for humanitarian, moral, social, security, military and political reasons.

"Neither I, Hezbollah, prisoners in Israeli jails and nor the families of the prisoners would accept it."

I don't find that difficult to believe, given how wholly out of proportion Israel's response to the kidnapping was. Who could have predicted that Israel would indiscriminately bombard residential neighborhoods and turn Lebanon's infrastructure into rubble over the kidnapping of two soldiers, when such kidnappings had been taking place, on both sides, for years, and had always been settled with prisoner exchanges?

After reading this news, I started browsing blogger reaction; and in doing so, I found this comment at Captain's Quarters:

Nasrallah's admission proves the point that deterrence depends on there being a credible expection of a forceful response to aggression.

And a very "disproportionate" response at that.

The only "innocent" Lebanese civilians are children and the infirm. All other civilians either actively support Hezbollah because of shared ideology and anti-Semitism, or they tacitly support Hezbollah through their fear and unwillingness to confront the terrorists among them.

In order to discourage the Lebanese people from tolerating Hezbollah in their midsts, they need to understand that their enabling and support of terrorists inside their own communities will cost them dearly -- more than they can gain from Hezbollah.

Whenever I read something like this -- and Victor Davis Hansen expressed the same sentiments, at greater length, just recently in National Review Online -- I thank God for not making me a neoconservative. It's amazing the way the Victor Davis Hansens in this country expect people in the countries we or our proxies are attacking to behave and respond in ways that they -- the Victor Davis Hansens of this country -- would never dream of expecting from themselves. Would Victor Davis Hansen tell Americans in urban centers that they "tacitly support" drug dealers, rapists, or other violent criminals "through their fear" or "unwillingness to confront them"? Would he hold entire cities and neighborhoods responsible for the dangerous and illegal actions of others, simply because they were in the same city or neighborhood?

It really boggles my mind. I consider myself a perceptive and intelligent person, but I am at a complete and total loss to understand how Lebanese civilians are expected to know who is a potential terrorist and who is not; and why it is somehow the Lebanese people's fault that other people are doing bad things.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Armitage Was Novak's Original Source for Plame Story

Michael Isikoff and David Corn have caused quite a stir in the blogosphere with an article in Newsweek revealing that Richard Armitage was Robert Novak's primary source for his column identifying Valerie Plame as a CIA officer. The Isikoff/Corn piece is based on a soon-to-be-published book called Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War. Apparently, Armitage enjoys dishing, and in a loose moment passed on a juicy tidbit of gossip to Novak, with no intention to harm anyone. He did not tell Novak that Plame was an undercover agent -- only that she was a CIA analyst working on issues around weapons of mass destruction.

Which, of course, still leaves us with the question: Who disclosed Plame's covert status? David Corn suggests that Armitage's motives might have been a bit more complicated than a love for on-dit [emphasis mine].

The Plame leak in Novak's column has long been cited by Bush administration critics as a deliberate act of payback, orchestrated to punish and/or discredit Joe Wilson after he charged that the Bush administration had misled the American public about the prewar intelligence. The Armitage news does not fit neatly into that framework. He and Powell were not the leading advocates of war in the administration (even though Powell became the chief pitchman for the case for war when he delivered a high-profile speech at the UN). They were not the political hitmen of the Bush gang. Armitage might have mentioned Wilson's wife merely as gossip. But--as Hubris notes--he also had a bureaucratic interest in passing this information to Novak.

On July 6--two days before Armitage's meeting with Novak--Wilson published an op-ed in The New York Times on July 6, 2003, that revealed that he had been sent by the CIA to Niger to investigate the charge that Iraq had been trying to buy uranium in that impoverished African nation. Wilson wrote that his mission had been triggered by an inquiry to the CIA from Vice President Dick Cheney, who had read an intelligence report about the Niger allegation, and that he (Wilson) had reported back to the CIA that the charge was highly unlikely. Noting that President George W. Bush had referred to this allegation in his 2003 State of the Union speech, Wilson maintained that the administration had used a phoney claim to lead the country to war. His article ignited a firestorm. That meant that the State Department had good reason (political reason, that is) to distance itself from Wilson, a former State Department official. Armitage may well have referred to Wilson's wife and her CIA connection to make the point that State officials--already suspected by the White House of not being team players--had nothing to do with Wilson and his trip.

Whether he had purposefully mentioned this information to Novak or had slipped up, Armitage got the ball rolling--and abetted a White House campaign under way to undermine Wilson. At the time, top White House aides--including Karl Rove and Scooter Libby--were trying to do in Wilson. And they saw his wife's position at the CIA as a piece of ammunition. As John Dickerson wrote in Slate, senior White House aides that week were encouraging him to investigate who had sent Joe Wilson on his trip. They did not tell him they believed Wilson's wife had been involved. But they clearly were trying to push him toward that information.

Shortly after Novak spoke with Armitage, he told Rove that he had heard that Valerie Wilson had been behind her husband's trip to Niger, and Rove said that he knew that, too. So a leak from Armitage (a war skeptic not bent on revenge against Wilson) was confirmed by Rove (a Bush defender trying to take down Wilson). And days later--before the Novak column came out--Rove told Time magazine's Matt Cooper that Wilson's wife was a CIA employee and involved in his trip.

Needlenose asks the same question I did after reading the Newsweek piece: Did Armitage forget he had talked to Novak in July and only remember that he had on October 1, when he read Novak's second column?

So what possible wrinkles are there? I'd start with the odd claim that Armitage didn't realize his apparently crucial role until reading Novak's October 1, 2003 column.

If it's true that Armitage wanted to distance the State Department from Joseph Wilson after Wilson enraged the White House by publicly discrediting Dick Cheney's claim that Iraq had bought yellowcake from Niger, then maybe Armitage did tell Novak about Plame's CIA job as a way to imply that she -- and not the State Department -- had recommended Wilson for the Niger trip. And if, as Christy Hardin Smith suggests, Armitage did not know at that point that Plame's CIA job was more than just analyzing data, then that would explain why Armitage panicked when he read Novak's October column: he was finding out for the first time about Plame's covert status; that Novak's July column had blown her cover; and that he -- Armitage -- might have had something to do with the chain of events that led to her outing.

Emptywheel has more on this:

... ]H]ere are the most important passages in Isikoff's new article:

Armitage acknowledged that he had passed along to Novak information contained in a classified State Department memo: that Wilson's wife worked on weapons-of-mass-destruction issues at the CIA. (The memo made no reference to her undercover status.)


Fitzgerald found no evidence that Armitage knew of Plame's covert CIA status when he talked to Novak and Woodward.

I'll come back and examine whether this means Armitage's source his leak to Woodward was the first version of the INR memo or not. But this very strong suggests that Armitage only had the information included in the INR memo. That, in turn, strongly suggests he didn't leak Plame's cover identity (remember, he told Woodward Plame was an analyst).

Therefore, whoever else leaked to Novak told him that Plame was an operative.

Naturally, the honest, truthful, and oh-so-filled-with-integrity right-wingers blogging on this story are not mentioning any of these unanswered questions, nuances, or complexities. To them, the story is: Armitage was Novak's source. Period.
No one else was involved. Rove, Libby, Cheney, and Bush played no part in Plame's outing at all. Patrick Fitzgerald is a present-day Cotton Mather; his entire investigation and trial was a political witchhunt.

Here's a sampling:

Captain Ed:

This means that the Department of Justice knew the source of the Plame leak within four months of its occurrence. It also knew that the leak had no malicious intent. Patrick Fitzgerald, who almost certainly knew of it within the first days of his investigation, never attempted to indict the man whom he knew leaked the information. Why, then, has Fitzgerald's mandate continued after the first week of October?

Fitzgerald took the case on September 26. If this book is accurate about its dates, the DoJ and Fitzgerald would have known about Armitage's role as the source of the leak five days later. Instead of either charging Armitage or closing down the investigation, Fitzgerald went on a witch hunt. He didn't even talk to Scooter Libby until two weeks after Armitage's confession. A year later, Fitzgerald had reporters Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper imprisoned for contempt of court for refusing to divulge a source about a leaker from whom Fitzgerald had already received a confession.

Say WHAT? I kinda like Ed; he is one of the more decent bloggers on the right -- but I have to ask: Did he read the Newsweek article past the first paragraph? Here is the second paragraph:

Armitage's admission led to a flurry of anxious phone calls and meetings that day at the State Department. (Days earlier, the Justice Department had launched a criminal investigation into the Plame leak after the CIA informed officials there that she was an undercover officer.) Within hours, William Howard Taft IV, the State Department's legal adviser, notified a senior Justice official that Armitage had information relevant to the case. The next day, a team of FBI agents and Justice prosecutors investigating the leak questioned the deputy secretary. Armitage acknowledged that he had passed along to Novak information contained in a classified State Department memo: that Wilson's wife worked on weapons-of-mass-destruction issues at the CIA. (The memo made no reference to her undercover status.) Armitage had met with Novak in his State Department office on July 8, 2003 -- just days before Novak published his first piece identifying Plame. Powell, Armitage and Taft, the only three officials at the State Department who knew the story, never breathed a word of it publicly and Armitage's role remained secret.

This one paragraph invalidates two of Ed's points: that Armitage leaked Plame's covert status (he only told Novak that she was a CIA analyst working on WMD issues; clearly, somebody else had to have told Novak that Plame was undercover); and that Fitzgerald "had to" have known about Armitage's involvement. Nobody other than Powell, Taft, and Armitage himself knew about it; the text clearly states that!

Sister Toldjah:

I should also point out that Isikoff, and especially Corn, are not known to be 'admin friendly' writers, so it should be mildly amusing to see how all the Bush-haters on the left spin this news into "it was still Rove's fault that Plame's cover was blown!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!", ...

Again, an enormous oversimplification, and a very revealing example of the right's black and white view of the world. Somehow, because Richard Armitage was not a big fan of invading Iraq and is contemptuous of people like Dick "five deferments; I had other priorities" Cheney for thinking they know something about war, that means that Michael Isikoff and David Corn are doing the Bush administration a huge service by reporting that Armitage was the "primary leaker" who told Robert Novak that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA (not that she had covert status). No, it only means that Isikoff and Corn are journalists whose job is to tell the truth. Not to mention that Corn, in his blog post about the Newsweek article and the book he and Isikoff co-authored, makes it clear that Armitage's disclosure (whether Armitage intended that or not) helped the White House in its campaign to discredit Joseph Wilson as revenge for exposing the Niger intelligence as worthless. Corn also writes this:

The Armitage leak was not directly a part of the White House's fierce anti-Wilson crusade. But as Hubris notes, it was, in a way, linked to the White House effort, for Amitage had been sent a key memo about Wilson's trip that referred to his wife and her CIA connection, and this memo had been written, according to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, at the request of I. Lewis Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. Libby had asked for the memo because he was looking to protect his boss from the mounting criticism that Bush and Cheney had misrepresented the WMD intelligence to garner public support for the invasion of Iraq.

The memo included information on Valerie Wilson's role in a meeting at the CIA that led to her husband's trip. This critical memo was--as Hubris discloses--based on notes that were not accurate. (You're going to have to read the book for more on this.) But because of Libby's request, a memo did circulate among State Department officials, including Armitage, that briefly mentioned Wilson's wife.

Armitage's role aside, the public record is without question: senior White House aides wanted to use Valerie Wilson's CIA employment against her husband. Rove leaked the information to Cooper, and Libby confirmed Rove's leak to Cooper. Libby also disclosed information on Wilson's wife to New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

And further on in the same post, Corn has a paragraph about his and Isikoff's upcoming book:

Hubris covers much more than the leak case. It reveals behind-the-scene battles at the White House, the CIA, the State Department, and Capitol Hill that occurred in the year before the invasion of Iraq. It discloses secrets about the CIA's prewar plans for Iraq. It chronicles how Bush and Cheney reacted to the failure to find WMDs in Iraq. It details how Bush and other aides neglected serious planning for the post-invasion period. It recounts how the unproven theories of a little-known academic who was convinced Saddam Hussein was behind all acts of terrorism throughout the world influenced Bush administration officials. It reports what went wrong inside The New York Times regarding its prewar coverage of Iraq's WMDs. It shows precisely how the intelligence agencies screwed up and how the Bush administration misused the faulty and flimsy (and fraudulent) intelligence. The book, a narrative of insider intrigue, also relates episodes in which intelligence analysts and experts made the right calls about Iraq's WMDs but lost the turf battles.

I know that it's very difficult for people on the far right end of the political spectrum to understand the concept of writing honestly and fairly about political and social issues. They are too used to the "Fox News" concept of journalism, in which being "admin friendly" means being a cheerleader for admin policies and doing everything you can to discredit and demonize whatever makes the administration look bad. But in truth, real journalism means writing honestly and fairly about an issue or a person or a policy or an administration or whatever, even when (at first glance) it may seem as though you are contradicting your "admin un-friendly" point of view in doing so.

The irony is, that is the only kind of journalism that can be trusted or believed or taken seriously.


The Farting Voltaire

Steve Benen follows up on his August 14 post about Pres. Bush's supposed sudden passion for Albert Camus and French existentialist philosophy. You probably will not be shocked to learn that there is more to Bush's hidden intellectual side than meets the eye:

Maybe it was the influence of his wife, Laura, a former librarian, or his mother, Barbara, a longtime promoter of literacy. Or perhaps he was just eager to dispel his image as an intellectual lightweight. But President Bush now wants it known that he is a man of letters. In fact, Bush has entered a book-reading competition with Karl Rove, his political adviser. White House aides say the president has read 60 books so far this year (while the brainy Rove, to Bush's competitive delight, has racked up only 50). The commander in chief delved into three volumes in August alone -- two on Abraham Lincoln and, more surprising for a man of unambiguous convictions, The Stranger, Albert Camus's existential tale of murder and alienation.

Steve links to two White House-provided versions of Bush's summer reading list.

Yeah. Riiigghht.

I try to avoid categorical statements about people I've never met and don't know personally, but I feel comfortable saying there is absolutely no way on earth the president read all of these books. None.

First, while the reading list has its share of baseball titles, there are some fairly serious books here, including John Barry's "The Great Influenza," Geraldine Brooks' "Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women," Gordon Wood's "Revolutionary Characters," and (I kid you not) "Macbeth" and "Hamlet" by Shakespeare. I don't want to say these books are above the president's reading level, but for a guy who doesn't read newspapers and has never shown a hint of intellectual curiosity, it's a bit of a stretch.

Second, there's the time element. Some of Dan Froomkin's readers started crunching the numbers.

Of the twelve books listed, I come up with a total page count of 5,356 pages, including 1,585 pages not available until at least 4/2006 of this year. That is an average page count of 450 pages per book. Multiply by his 60 books so far this year for a total page count of 27,000. 27,000 pages means the President would have to average a little over 115 pages per day. Reading a quick pace of a little over a minute per page, that is two hours a day of reading, and let's be honest, longer if you want to retain information in these types of books. And this from a man who prides himself in not reading the paper. I don't buy it.

And those are just the 12 books Walsh listed. The White House press office gave C-SPAN a list of 25 books -- which were just part of the president's summer reading list. For a guy who likes to get to bed early, who devotes a couple of hours a day to exercise, and who ostensibly oversees the executive branch of government during a war, let's just say this is more than a little "ambitious."

Even if we assume that this is all transparent White House spin, and that the president didn't read "The Stranger" or much else from his reading list, the question then becomes, why bother with this narrative anyway?

USNWR's Walsh wrote that "portraying Bush as a voracious reader is part of an ongoing White House campaign to restore what a senior adviser calls 'gravitas' to the Bush persona. He certainly needs something."

I agree he needs "something," but does anyone seriously believe that producing bogus reading lists will suddenly give people the impression that Bush is "a man of letters"? A voracious reader? An intellectual heavyweight?

C'mon. We're talking about a guy who's supposed to be folksy and simple. It's an image the White House has worked hard to cultivate over the years. The president seems to enjoy it -- otherwise he wouldn't openly mock people with PhDs.

Plus, there's that habit Bush has of openly farting, especially when greeting brand-new, young aides; and of regaling his staffers with flatulence jokes:

Adding fuel to that last point -- and further indication of a nation run by a man who is suffering from arrested development -- was an item in U.S. News and World Report, largely ignored by the mainstream press, that Bush loves to amuse himself by openly passing gas in front of White House aides. Apparently, his biggest thrill is -- and we are quoting from U.S. News and World Report -- "He's also known to cut a few for laughs, especially when greeting new young aides."

We guess this is what Republicans mean when they claim Bush brought back "honor and dignity" to the White House.

"Farting" for fun to humiliate new young White House staffers isn't just passing gas, it's a downright disgrace to the American people and to the White House.

We apologize for bringing it up, but Bush is the guy who is playing whoopee cushion jokes while our kids are dying in Iraq -- and no one in the mainstream press thinks that this is some underlying indication that he is unfit for office?

Is this the way a man who needs to have gravitas restored to his persona would behave?

Well, actually-- yeah. But that doesn't make him Voltaire.


Saturday, August 26, 2006

I Don't Agree With What You Say,
and I'll Tell You To Go Fuck Yourself If You Say It

Christopher Hitchens reinvents Voltaire:

Christopher Hitchens: "Who wants a Third Word War? The Iranian President says that one member state of the United Nations should be wiped physically from the map with all its people. He says the United States is a Satanic power. Members of his government, named members of his government have been caught sponsoring death squads. He's lied, he's lied to the European Union about his nuclear program --"

Bill Maher: "But you know that a lot--"

Hitchens: "He says the Messiah is about to come back. Who's looking for a war here?"

Maher: "So does George Bush, by the way [audience applause]. That's not facetious [audience applause continues]."

Hitchens: "That's not facetious. Your audience, which will clap at apparently anything, is frivolous. [oohs and groans from audience, Hitchens gives them the finger] Fuck you, fuck you. [groans continue]"

Maher: "I was just saying what the President of Iran and the President of America have in common is that they both are a little too comfortable with the idea of the world coming to an end."

Hitchens: "Cheer yourself up like that. The President has said, quite a great contrast before the podium of the Senate, I think applauded by most present, in his State of the Union address, that we support the democratic movement of the Iranian people to be free of theocracy -- not that we will impose ourselves on them, but that if they fight for it we're on their side. That seems to be the right position to take, jeer all you like."

The transcript snip is from Newsbusters, because I couldn't find it anywhere else; but I will not give them a link.

[I just found the transcript at Outside the Beltway; here's the link.]


Slogans, Strategy, and Moral Relativity

Preemptive Karma:

Last night Nancy Pelosi told David Letterman that "(s)tay the course is not a strategy -- it's a slogan..." And she's absolutely right. Likewise, the oft repeated Bushite explanation that "they hate our freedom" is about as reality based as the whole "stay the course" psychobabble meme. Only it's more of an Orwellian meme because the exact opposite has been true too often.

Lebanese recover from Kafkaesque trip to Israel
is a piece about five alleged Hezbollah members taken into custody by Israeli troops three and a half weeks ago, which was reported by media outlets worldwide. Only it turns out that not a single one of them were Hezbollah members.

The Israelis dumped all five on the Lebanese border this past Monday after twenty days of imprisonment, interrogation and minus a few teeth (but don't call it torture...). No apology. No explanation. Nothing.

Tortured And Innocent is a piece about an innocent Turkish man imprisoned and tortured by American forces in Gitmo for four years before being released.

Since none of these individuals had any demonstrable connection to any terrorist organization a reasonable person could argue that they at least did not "hate our freedom" so much that they were willing to associate with or join a terrorist organization. But how many reasonable people could survive false imprisonment and torture and then be released with zero apology from their torturers and not come away from the whole experience with some pretty darn good new reasons to hate the perpetrators of such a travesty of justice?

Rightwing freaks like Neal Boortz insisted that Rep. Cynthia McKinney should apologize to the Capital Hill police officer she'd had an altercation with earlier this year. And why? Because she'd slapped him.

Apparently in the twisted world of rightwing freaks slapping someone requires an apology but busting out the teeth of a perfectly innocent Lebanese or torturing an innocent Turk, not to mention their imprisonment, is something that those particular victims ought to just suck it up over, be glad that they eventually regained their freedom and to hell with apologizing to them.

But hey... ignore the man behind the curtain. Just forget that the king is stark naked. Accept the proffered trite pacifiers and go on about your business believing that staying the course and that terrorist hate us because of our freedoms actually mean something and were spoken by honest men. Send your sons and daughters off to die in strange lands while Dick Cheney's continued severence installments are guaranteed by the massive profits Halliburton has made scamming both American taxpayors and Iraqi civilians.

If our government can imprison and torture an innocent man for four years and not offer explanation nor apology, what makes you think you'll get anything more out of this government?


Counter Bush's Katrina Spin With the Facts

Think Progress has put together a Katrina timeline with every major event that occurred over the past year, from August 26, three days before the hurricane made landfall, to now. It's exhaustive, and devastating.


This Gives American Exceptionalism a Whole New Meaning

September 11, 2001, has led to a major scientific discovery (although for some of us, it's just confirmation of what we already knew): Americans are the planet's only humans:

Just in time for the 5th anniversary of the World Trade Center disaster, scientists have discovered that United States citizens -- alone out of every other people on planet Earth -- possess qualities identifying them as homo sapiens.

The finding was announced today at the Center for Global Disaster, a Washington-based conservative think tank. Dr. Richard Shrapnel, Head of the Center, termed the finding a paradigm shift. "I'd bet my opposable thumbs on it," he stated.

Called a "real morale booster," this discovery is seen as one of the few victories to be snatched from the jaws of massive foreign policy defeat. "Our research funding was cut, due to mounting military expenditures," Dr. Shrapnel explained, "so we at the CGD were reduced to watching hours of TV war news and reading the tabloids. Again and again, we saw Americans embodying nobility, reason, self-actualization -- traits that we think of as human. Conversely, non-Americans -- Iraqis, Lebanese, Palestinians, for example -- appeared not to have these qualities. We were stumped. Then, one day, we looked at each other and realized we held the key to Western Civilization: United States citizens are human beings! All the other nationalities are just people wannabe's!"

Researchers immediately set out to test their hypothesis by interviewing typical Americans on the street.

"For cryin' out loud," exclaimed Marine Sy Plunderton, on leave and visiting Ground Zero. "I spent two years in Iraq -- any moron knows people there aren't human. You can tell because when they die, we don't care. What more proof you want? Hey, you think I should get this framed wiggle-picture of the Statue of Liberty? Look, she's crying."

Christina Detritus, retired grammar school teacher, held a similar position. "What with the anniversary of the World Trade catastrophe coming up, it's been very hard for me to watch the news about those selfish Middle Easterners. I know we're all equal in the sight of God, but I don't think God wants to include foreigners. I mean, what do all those Lebanese, Afghanis, Israelis, Palestinians, and Iraqis who can't stop dying have to do with 3,000 actual human Americans who tragically passed away five years ago? Please, please -- won't somebody think of the Americans?"

Scholars predict this breakthrough, besides inspiring T-shirts for the 9/11 Commemoration, will transform major academic disciplines, particularly the field of anthropology. "It could reconfigure the concept of evolution, itself," surmises Dr. Joan Bloodloss, Senior Fellow at The American Homunculus Foundation. "Although we still believe our species began in Africa, we are now beginning to see that those individuals who migrated north and westward -- particularly across the Atlantic Ocean -- developed more advanced traits as they went, until they reached the North American continent, just below Canada and above Mexico, where, around the year 1776, they became fully human.

"Those who migrated in other directions," continued Dr. Bloodloss, "have remained essentially bipedal primates. You'll see this pattern all across Europe -- except for the French who are, of course, rapidly devolving. Arabs? I'm not even sure if they're primates. We won't really know until we can bomb more of them."

Psychiatry is also expected to undergo major changes in the wake of this study. Although psychotherapists continue to view their chief goal as encouraging healthy self-concepts in their patients, most now conclude that a healthy self-concept for an American patient appears to be an advanced state of megalomania.

Dr. Siegfried Schadenfreude, author of I'm OK, You're in a Detention Camp, observes, "The balanced, functional American sincerely believes that he or she alone matters, and is imbued with godlike powers over life on this planet. If you're merely self-centered or narcissistic, you're not going to make it in this world."

President George W. Bush, in celebration of his godlike powers over life on this planet, is scheduled to speak on September 11 at the World Trade Center Commemoration. There, to a battle-fatigued and shell-shocked world, Mr. Bush intends to proclaim his humanity.

Via Cursor.


God Chooses Our Elected Officials, and By the Way, They Are Our Rulers

Katherine Harris told the Florida Baptist Witness that "God chooses our rulers."

In a lengthy interview with Florida Baptist Witness, struggling U.S. Senate candidate Katherine Harris asserts, among other things, that the separation of church and state is a fallacy.

"We have to have the faithful in government and over time," the Witness quotes Harris as saying, "that lie we have been told, the separation of church and state, people have internalized, thinking that they needed to avoid politics and that is so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers."

I don't know what is more disturbing about that quote -- the part about God choosing our rulers, or that she thinks of them as "rulers."


A Call for Common Sense

So the administration has launched its fall campaign to sell war with Iran to Americans -- using the same disinformation and lies that worked their magic so well with Iraq.

Needlenose tells Democrats that his advice is the same as it was in January:

The first words out of any Democrat's mouth when talking about Iran is that we shouldn't do what we did four years ago, which was to talk tough and then dive into a war without thinking through what would happen next. If Democrats have anything to say about it, we're going to use common sense, getting a grasp on the real scope of the problem and the realistic options for solving it, then telling the truth to the American people about both.

That moves the debate to the values that separate Democrats from Republicans, instead of our trying to beat them on their home turf. And when they complain that this isn't being manly or decisive enough, hit them again with the opening theme: Four years ago, the Republicans scared people with talk of mushroom clouds just before a congressional election, and as a result we've lost more than 2,200 2,600 Americans in a country that didn't have a single weapon of mass destruction. How has that made us safer?

In fact, our options regarding Iran are already limited because of Dubya's dangerously bad judgment. Remember when Bush famously talked about an "axis of evil" that mustn't be allowed to develop unconventional weapons? Two of those nations have kept rolling right along with their nuclear programs, while the Republicans talked tough and did nothing -- in part because our army is tied down in the one country that didn't have a nuclear program. Was that the best way to protect America?

It comes down to this: Tough talk without hard thinking cost American lives. Common sense says that we shouldn't trust our lives to that poor judgment ever again.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Hugo Chavez Says Israel "Worse Than Hitler"

This is outrageous.

Visiting Venezuela President Hugo Chavez has denounced Israel's recent attacks on Lebanon as "genocide," likening its action to war crimes committed by Germany's Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

"Israel often criticizes Hitler ... but they have done the same thing, perhaps even worse," Chavez told reporters Friday in a briefing during his six-day visit to China.

Denouncing the "fascist attitudes" of Israel, he said: "What has happened was a genocide. They must be brought in front of an international tribunal."

"Nobody should stay muted," he said.

The 34-day conflict in the Middle East came to an end on August 14 after a UN-brokered agreement for a cessation of hostilities in line with Security Council Resolution 1701.

Israel killed huge numbers of innocent civilians in Lebanon, quite possibly deliberately, and unquestionably violated international law in doing so. The ferocity of Israel's attack on Lebanon was wholly out of proportion to what triggered it (the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers), and I have no problem with saying that Israel committed war crimes in Lebanon.

However, it was not genocide. Genocide has a meaning, and indiscriminate, reckless bombing of residential neighborhoods, although utterly inexcusable and unjustifiable, is not genocide.

To say that Hitler committed "war crimes" is to totally obscure what the Holocaust was. "War crimes" are individual actions committed in the context of a larger armed conflict, which violate the laws of war. The armed conflict itself is not necessarily illegal or illegitimate. But Hitler's entire regime was illegitimate. From the moment he invaded Poland, the aggression he started was a crime. His entire raison d'etre was one vast war crime.

I admire and respect what Chavez has accomplished for Venezuela, but clearly, the man has no clue what he's saying when he tells the world that Israel committed genocide in Lebanon, or that Israel's actions are the same as Hitler's, or worse.


Reading the Signs

From Tennessee Guerrilla Women.


Nobody Likes Nuclear War, But Sometimes It's Necessary

Glenn Greenwald on the normalization of nuclear war by the right. Glenn quotes from a Townhall column by Walter Williams who, after spending the major part of his essay making the case for nuking the entire Middle East, tells us that he is "... not suggesting that we rush to use our nuclear capacity to crush states that support terrorism."

It's the far right's version of incrementalism -- getting people comfortable with the most unimaginable horrors by suggesting, backing off, suggesting again, and so on, until the concept becomes -- well, normal:

Many Bush supporters routinely play this game of leapfrog where they inch closer and closer to being explicit (rather than coy) about what they really want -- the use of unrestrained force, meaning nuclear force, in Iran, Syria, against Hezbollah and even in Iraq. Williams advances that ball rather substantially. He goes so far as to mock as "handwringing" concerns over the (hundreds of millions or so) innocent lives that would be eradicated if we dropped nuclear weapons and eliminated whole countries. Those who think we ought not to vaporize Syria and Iran off the face of the earth are, to Williams, weak, appeasing losers who can't stop their annoying "handwringing" over all this "innocent life" garbage. What is there to say about that? It would be funny if it weren't quite so sick. Maybe it's time to hear some more life-affirming sermons from Ramesh Ponnuru about how amoral Democrats are the Party of Death.

It is tempting to dismiss insanity like that spewing forth from Williams because, well, because it's so insane, patently so. Some ideas are so self-evidently outrageous that even analyzing them rationally is impossible. ...

Yet, if the right is going to start treating nuclear war as reasonable and thinkable, then sane people have to call the idea of using such weapons outrageous lunacy and make it clear that those who even suggest such a course are dangerous lunatics.


I Get So Weary...

...of ignorant lies and misinformation promulgated by people who are informed about matters of public health and biology only by Christian far-right religious fundamentalist twaddle. These folks want to live in a theocracy, not a democracy; but instead of moving to one of the already-existing theocracies -- like Iran or Saudi Arabia, for example -- they want to turn the United States into one.

It's so easy to rant when it comes to fundamentalist totalitarians like Sister Toldjah, who never, ever, let a fact get in the way of religious prescription (pun fully intended). Luckily for me (not to mention my readers), Scott Lemieux has written about Sister Toldjah's post on the FDA's decision to make Plan B available without a prescription (to adult women) so I don't have to:

Because the blogosphere tends to skew toward the opinions of educated elites, it's relatively hard--even among conservative blogs--to find nice, chewy wingnuttery on the subject of the decision to make Plan B available over the counter. Even Josh Trevino doesn't seem to have written anything, although admittedly I may have missed a number of the blogs he's undoubtedly joined and left in the past week.

But, fortunately, there are exceptions that can provide some amusement. Sister Toldjah gives the standard reactionary boilerplate, claiming that if Planned Parenthood were serious about stopping teenage pregnancies, it would be trying to promote abstinence programs that are demonstrably useless [also see BlondeSense for a school system that started including information on how to prevent pregnancy and STDs after their "abstinence-only" program resulted in an explosion of pregnancies -- Kathy] rather than prov[id]ing teens with tools that can actually stop pregnancies: "Imagine if PP were to change its tune and devote as much time now to promoting abstinence as it has in the past promoting 'safe sex' and 'alternative ways to engage in sexual activity that doesn't involve the actual act.' We wouldn't have to worry about that high teen pregnancy rate that Richards mentioned." You read that right--she seriously seems to believe that teens would stop having sex if Cecile Richards were more vocal on the subject. Because if there's anything besides moral instruction from teachers that teens are thinking about when they're about to get it on, it's the words if the head of prominent interest groups. The logic is airtight!

After reading that MSNBC article linked from Scott's blog, check out the related Reuters piece about a Harvard study that found teenagers who take abstinence pledges are more likely to lie about prior sexual activity; and also more likely to deny they ever took an abstinence pledge if they break it. These findings imply more than teenage dishonesty; they have serious public health implications:

These findings imply that virginity pledgers often provide unreliable data, making assessment of abstinence-based sex education programs unreliable. In addition, these teens may also underestimate their risk of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases.

"Teenagers do not report their past sexual activity accurately, with virginity pledgers giving more inaccurate reports of their past sexual activity," study author Janet Rosenbaum, of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, told Reuters Health.

Consequently, rather than rely on self-reports, "studies of virginity pledges must focus on outcomes where we know we can get good information, such as medical STD tests," she added.

Previous research shows that survey respondents tend to answer questions about sexual activity according to their current beliefs, particularly if their current attitudes conflict with their past behaviors. Survey respondents may also underreport or overreport their health risk behavior.

Religious fundamentalists in the U.S. are against teenage sexual activity, not teenage pregnancy. Of course: no sane and rational person wants teenagers under the age of 18 to have sex, because in most cases teenagers are emotionally unready for such a profound and consequential adult activity. But the actual fact of the matter is that pledges of abstinence, abstinence-only "sex-education" programs, and laws that prevent teenagers from obtaining contraceptives do nothing to reduce teen pregnancy. Rates of teenage sexual activity are similar in all industrialized countries -- but pregnancy and birth rates in the U.S. are much higher. And even though teenage birth rates in the U.S. have decreased significantly in recent years, they are still far higher than those in other industrialized countries.

"A League Table of Teenage Births in Rich Nations," published by the United Nations Children's Fund, lists among its key findings:
  • The United States has the highest birth rate in the developed world.
  • Korea, Japan, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden have the lowest teenage birth rates in the developed world.
  • Adolescents are sexually active at comparable rates in most developed nations.
  • The factors associated with delayed childbirth are increased levels of education and career choice for women and access to contraception.

More: Figure 4 in the League Table publication shows that when countries are compared on the basis of how aggressively or actively their governments intervene to control teenagers' fertility, the countries in which intervention is a matter of minor or no concern are the countries with the lower teenage birth rates. There is also a strong trend of abortion rates going down in countries that stress the use of contraceptives and that make contraceptives easily available.

Bottom line: The countries that have low teen pregnancy and childbirth rates relative to their rates of sexual activity are the countries that have an open, accepting attitude toward sexuality in general; that view sex as something that has to do with being human, not something that's tied to religious notions of morality. These are the countries that make comprehensive, science-based sex education an intrinsic part of education from the earliest age; that discuss sex, pregnancy, and childbirth openly and realistically and without moral judgments; that see the use of birth control and contraception as a public health issue, and make contraception widely and easily available, regardless of age or marital status.

Here is a passage toward the end of the League report (this was copied and pasted from a pdf file, so some of the line breaks are weird. I tried to fix it, but couldn't):

Overall, any examination of different levels of teenage births in the industrialized nations must conclude by re-emphasizing the central role played by contraception. Contraceptive behaviour may be strongly influenced by motivation; but it is through the ability to manage contraception successfully, often over an extended period of time, that motives, attitudes, and decisions find practical expression.

In particular, those countries that have been in the forefront of the socio-sexual
revolution are today reliant on some combination of contraception and abortion to bridge an unprecedented gap between average age at first sex and average age at first birth. And what determines the position of such countries in the league table of teenage birth rates is not any significant difference in the number or age of teenagers involved in sexual activity but the level of effective contraception and the degree of recourse to abortion.

In France, for example, the proportion of under-eighteens who give birth has been more than halved in the last 20 years while the average age at first sex has
remained stable for many years, as has the number of abortions.This has only been made possible by an increase in contraceptive use and effectiveness. In 1970, for example, about 50 per cent of French women used no form of contraception at first sex. By 1993 that figure had declined to 16 per cent. Similarly, it is not the difference in the average age at first sex or fewer abortions that gives the United Kingdom a higher rate of teenage births than other European nations but lower rates of contraceptive use (only about 50 per cent of under-sixteens and two thirds of 16 to 19 year-olds in the United Kingdom use contraception at first sex).

The point may be made more graphically by imagining the effect of removing modern contraceptives from the scene altogether. In the United States alone, it has been estimated that this would result in a trebling in the annual number of teenage births from today's 494,000 to approximately 1,650,000. Even if teenagers responded to this unlikely scenario by having less frequent sex, or using rhythm or withdrawal
methods, the decline in contraceptive use and effectiveness would result in an extra
1 million pregnancies, 400,000 abortions, and 120,000 miscarriages every year. Arguments in favour of abstinence education must therefore take into account that the prevalence of sexual activity among US teenagers would have to decline by more than 80 per cent to prevent the same number of pregnancies as are today prevented by modern contraceptive methods.

Finally, it should be noted that contraception is essentially in contention with abortion and that, all other things being equal, abortion tends to recede as
contraception advances. In South Korea over the last 30 years, for example, total
fertility has been reduced from 4.5 to 1.5 births per woman -- largely by a
combination of contraception and abortion. But while the percentage of Korean women aged 15 to 44 using contraception has risen from 25 per cent to almost 80 per cent over the period, the abortion rate has been more than halved.

The facts are incontrovertible. Abstinence education does not stop sexual activity or teenage pregnancy; if the Christian Taliban were indeed interested in advancing young women's sexual, emotional, and reproductive health, they would be taking positions based on the reality and truth of human sexual behavior, not on their narrow religious ideas of what human sexual behavior should be.


As of Now, Women 18 and Older Can Get Plan B Without a Prescription

Great news: the FDA has finally approved Plan B contraception (the morning-after pill) as an over-the-counter medication for women 18 years of age and older. Young women under the age of 18 still need a prescription to get Plan B.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

No Contradiction Between Strict Constructionism and Living Constitution

Jack Balkin has written an article on his evolving belief that constitutional originalists and advocates of a living Constitution are actually saying the same thing. He then applies this thesis to the issue of abortion, arguing that there are two separate rights to abortion that can be inferred from an originalist reading of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The draft article can be downloaded (no charge) here. I have not read it yet, but the abstract is on the article download page, and Jack has also included it within his blog post here.


New Stem Cell Extraction Technique Is Embryo-Safe; Bush STILL Objects

Last month, Pres. Bush vetoed H.R. 810, the "Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005," because, he said, removing stem cells from embryos to use in research for cures to various disease, like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, is unethical because the embryo is destroyed in the process of stem cell removal.

H.R. 810 would overturn my Administration's balanced policy on embryonic stem cell research. If this bill were to become law, American taxpayers for the first time in our history would be compelled to fund the deliberate destruction of human embryos. Crossing this line would be a grave mistake and would needlessly encourage a conflict between science and ethics that can only do damage to both and harm our Nation as a whole.

Advances in research show that stem cell science can progress in an ethical way. Since I announced my policy in 2001, my Administration has expanded funding of research into stem cells that can be drawn from children, adults, and the blood in umbilical cords with no harm to the donor, and these stem cells are currently being used in medical treatments. Science also offers the hope that we may one day enjoy the potential benefits of embryonic stem cells without destroying human life. Researchers are investigating new techniques that might allow doctors and scientists to produce stem cells just as versatile as those derived from human embryos without harming life. We must continue to explore these hopeful alternatives, so we can advance the cause of scientific research while staying true to the ideals of a decent and humane society.

Today, Nicholas Wade of the New York Times reports that scientists have developed a way of extracting embryonic stem cells without destroying the embryo. Basically, they take one cell from the embryo at an earlier stage of development and use that single cell to culture an entire line of stem cells. This method has been used for years with in vitro fertilization to test for genetic conditions before implanting an embryo in a woman's uterus. The embryo can survive the loss of a single cell at this earlier stage; when done at the later stage, the embryo is destroyed.

The new technique would be performed on a two-day-old embryo, after the fertilized egg has divided into eight cells, known as blastomeres. In fertility clinics, where the embryo is available outside the woman in the normal course of in vitro fertilization, one of these blastomeres can be removed for diagnostic tests, like for Down syndrome.

The embryo, now with seven cells, can be implanted in the woman if no defect is found. Many such embryos have grown into apparently healthy babies over the 10 years or so the diagnostic tests have been used.

Up to now, human embryonic stem cells have been derived at a later stage of development, when the embryo consists of about 150 cells. Both this stage, called the blastocyst, and the earlier eight-cell stage, occur before the embryo implants in the wall of the womb. Harvesting the blastocyst-stage cells kills the embryo, a principal objection of those who oppose the research.

"There is no rational reason left to oppose this research," Dr. Robert Lanza, vice president of Advanced Cell Technology and leader of the research team, said in an interview.

The key word there is "rational." Christian fundamentalists and their appeasers in the White House still object. Why? Because, according to White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore, "Any use of human embryos for research purposes raises serious ethical questions."

Apparently, one such "serious ethical question" is informed consent:

Father Dan Fitzpatrick of the Catholic Church's joint bioethics committee said: "One of the main principles of research is normally consent of the individual.

"Embryos cannot give consent and the people they could become will obviously have had no say on whether cells should have been removed. Even if they are not destroying the embryo they are still putting it at some risk. ..."

Embryos cannot consent to chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis, either, although both are invasive genetic testing techniques that carry some risk of miscarriage. Should these procedures be outlawed?

Bottom line: This has nothing to do with legitimate ethical objections, or respect for human life. It's about one thing and one thing only: White House pandering to right-wing religious fundamentalists, whose dearest ambition is to make everything related to women's reproductive lives conform with a very narrow, particular, biblical literalist Christian theology. The Christian Taliban, in other words.

John Cole says it's time to stop appeasing these folks:

Embryonic stem cell research is not murder. Embryonic stem cell research is not on the same moral plane as abortion. Embryonic stem cells are not people. And pretending they are, and working to find a 'compromise' will, in my opinion, simply validate the complaints lodged by the loudest and shrillest of the morality police.

Remember who we are dealing with -- these are the same folks who think that gays are the root of all evil, and that a couple sessions in church can make you 'ungay.' These are the same folks who really do think or pretend to think that Terri Schiavo was just a few prayers away from playing volleyball before she was 'murdered by the courts.' These are the same people who think that the world was created in six days a few thousand years ago. These are the same people who think that NASA should be run by teenage religionists or that decisions about the morning-after pill are little more than political decisions to appease a segment of the base.

Do we really want to concede one inch to these folks, to give their fantasies and fears one shred of legitimacy? I sure don't. I understand why the researchers may be doing this -- so they can get the loudmouths to shut up, and then let the scientists get back to doing what they do best. But this isn't about actual science to the critics -- it is about political manipulation and the application of brute political force. And I doubt it will even appease the hardliners -- witness Mona Charen:

Cautiously optimistic on this stem cell news. If news reports turn out to be correct, the procedure they're describing takes one cell from an embryo (a biopsy if you will) and then coaxes that cell into making stem cells. The embryo from which the cell was extracted continues to develop normally.

Fertility clinics already do this to test for inherited disorders.

Again, if this procedure is really what it seems to be, then it passes a key moral test -- it does not destroy life.

We'll have to wait and see whether it actually does no harm to the developing embryo.

We -- you, me, science, and the rest of the world, have to wait until Mona Charen, from her seat at the National Review, decides if this 'destroys life.' You can't make this shit up.

And even if they decide this doesn't destroy life, they will come up with something else, probably with scary words delivered with furrowed brows and all sorts of shows of concerns -- "This may be close to cloning, which creates a whole new ethical dilemma." I can already hear it.

I used to think the appropriate course of action was to listen to their concerns. No longer. This is not about science, ethics, or concerns for human life for these people. It is about their political relevance. And if you ask me, they should have none. As far as I am concerned, they should be ignored, and if we can't find a way to do that, we can point at them and laugh at them if they still find it necessary to demand our attention and waste our time.

Cole and Steve Benen are on the same wavelength:

As far as I'm concerned, there's absolutely nothing morally or ethically dubious about conducting research on excess embryos that are going to be discarded anyway, but this technique nevertheless appears to address the "problem" for conservative critics. As Mark Kleiman explained, "It's possible to extract a single cell from a zygote without killing the zygote; IVF clinics already do that to test for genetic abnormalities, and the resulting children don't seem to be any worse off than those who develop from untouched zygotes. Now it turns out that a stem cell line can be developed from such an extracted cell."

Great news, right? All of the benefits of the medical research without the "homicidal" concerns. "There is no rational reason left to oppose this research," Dr. Robert Lanza, vice president of Advanced Cell Technology and leader of the research team, told the NYT.

Unfortunately, as we've seen before in this policy debate, conservatives aren't terribly concerned about "rational reasons."

... Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman, suggested that the new procedure would not satisfy the objections of Mr. Bush, who vetoed legislation in July that would have expanded federally financed embryonic stem cell research. Though Ms. Lawrimore called it encouraging that scientists were moving away from destroying embryos, she said: "Any use of human embryos for research purposes raises serious ethical questions. This technique does not resolve those concerns."

Look, this isn't going to work as a policy argument. I remember during the frequently-surreal Senate debate over the president's policy, the principal argument offered by opponents of the research is that the embryos would be "killed." They didn't mind if the embryos were thrown away in fertility clinics, but funding research on the embryos is morally untenable, they said.

Now the administration believes any use of embryos in medical research is wrong — even research that doesn't "kill" anything.

This argument seems to take the notion of embryos-as-people to the logical limit. Practically speaking, the Bush administration seems to believe the research could move forward if embryos consented directly. Maybe scientists should start working on little, itty-bitty consent forms.

Or maybe not. Trying to appease unreasonable, irrational concerns that stand in the way of life-saving medical techniques is a waste of time. As the LA Times noted today, scientists should probably stop trying.

Laboratory advances that make stem cell research politically popular are welcome. But as Advanced Cell Technology has demonstrated, scientists have already gone to great lengths to answer political objections to their work. It's more important to focus stem cell research on saving lives, not on appeasing a minority of religious conservatives.

Some people just can't take "yes" for an answer.

Right. So it's our job to say "NO" to them.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Democracy Means Rule by the People, Not Appointment by God

I cannot think of anything more alien to the Enlightenment principles at the core of Jeffersonian American democracy than the belief that the president of the United States is divinely inspired and appointed to his office. That, however, is the kind of attitude Steve Benen finds among some on the right:

This post doesn't really have a specific point in mind, but I can't help but marvel at the jaw-dropping hero worship some on the right fall into when it comes to Bush. John Hinderaker, for example, was able to have a small, private audience with the president yesterday, and said Bush's performance "may have been the best I've ever seen any politician."

The conventional wisdom is that Bush is not a very good speaker. But up close, he is a great communicator, in a way that, in my opinion, Ronald Reagan was not. He was by turns instructive, persuasive, and funny. His persona is very much that of the big brother. Above all, he was impassioned. I have never seen a politician speak so evidently from the heart, about big issues -- freedom, most of all.

I've sometimes worried about how President Bush can withstand the Washington snake pit and deal with a daily barrage of hate from the ignorant left that, in my opinion, dwarfs in both volume and injustice the abuse directed against any prior President. (No one accused Lincoln of planning the attack on Fort Sumter.) Not to worry. He is, of course, miles above his mean-spirited liberal critics. More than that, he clearly derives real joy from the opportunity to serve as President and to participate in the great pageant of American history.

My friend A.L. pointed to a similar perspective a couple of days ago from the National Review's Mario Loyola. Under a headline that read, "Remembering why we prayed for a Bush victory," Loyola wrote:

Bush has virtually never in his political career made a decision that he didn't think was the right thing to do and the right way to do it. ... [I]t was not so long ago that Americans could only wish for a president who was obviously trustworthy, upstanding, and principled. And the day is not far off when we will think ourselves lucky to have seen this President defend the honor and integrity of his office -- and the American people -- for eight years. The times are difficult, and nobody could have gotten through the last five years without making mistakes. But in that station to which God called him, George W. Bush has been himself honestly, and thank God for that.


The only other president I can think of offhand who was idolized to anywhere like this degree was Ronald Reagan -- but he was not regarded even by his most unhinged fans as being appointed to the presidency by God.

You know, there may be some younger members of the blogosphere who don't know the origin of the popular idiomatic expression, "drinking the Kool-Aid." It might be instructive for such people to learn, and for the rest of us to be reminded.