Sunday, May 31, 2009

Speaking Truth to Power

Richard Clarke was the national coordinator for security and counter-terrorism under Clinton and GW Bush. He writes today in the Washington Post. Money quote:
When Bush's inner circle first really came to grips with the threat of terrorism, they did so in a state of shock -- a bad state in which to develop a coherent response. Fearful of new attacks, they authorized the most extreme measures available, without assessing whether they were really a good idea.

I believe this zeal stemmed in part from concerns about the 2004 presidential election. Many in the White House feared that their inaction prior to the attacks would be publicly detailed before the next vote -- which is why they resisted the 9/11 commission -- and that a second attack would eliminate any chance of a second Bush term. So they decided to leave no doubt that they had done everything imaginable.

No surprises here. Richard Clarke has been a voice of sanity and reason since 9/12.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Courtesy of Andrew Sullivan, a look inside a possible justification for why Israel is so fixated on preventing Iran from going nuclear. Money quote:
The invocation of scripture to justify war has infected the US military and is obviously the main force behind global Jihad. But it is also a dangerous element in Israeli politics and culture. After all, the West Bank settlements are often a function of religious zeal, and often defended for religious reasons, and Netanyahu is far more indebted to his religious nut-jobs than even Bush was to his. You cannot avoid a religious war by invoking a religious genocide to explain your intentions.
This explains a lot for me. I can't imagine that Israel is not infected with religious fundamentalism, as the Orthodoxy rules over births, marriages, Aliyah, and all things religious. I wonder what my rabbi would say about this?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

How Young, Southern Christians Think

Excerpted from an interview between American Idol host Ryan Seacrest and the two finalists, Kris Allen and Adam Lambert, from CNN's Larry King Live:
SEACREST: It's no secret that you're a man of faith, that you referred to the "Christian thing," as it were. You didn't rely on the Christian vote. Do you think that played a part in your win, though?

ALLEN: I hope it didn't. Because I guess me and Adam were doing an interview before the show: "Kris, do you think you're going to get the Christian vote now that Danny's gone?" And that was rough, that was kind of upsetting, because the show's not about religion. We're not running for president. We are there to do music and there to sing, and hopefully people vote on that.
One cannot separate politics and religion, whether it be Kennedy's Catholicism, Reagan's or Carter's born-again Christianity, GWB's Christianism, Romney's Mormonism, or Palin's scary-ass, trailer-park thing.

And to respond to Kris's comment about the show: yes, Kris, in the end, it certainly is about religion. It's why no one from California or New York has ever won on the show. Those types don't play in the Bible Belt.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Elbow Room

As I climb each day into my sleek Infiniti sedan for my five-mile trek to work, it never really occurs to me how much actual space I'm taking up relative to other modes of transport. Oh, I complain about the traffic and "TMC" (Too Many Cars), but the actual intellectual recognition of the road's incapacity to handle that many cars never enters my mind.

Until now.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sinking Ship, cont.

An interesting side note:

The Republican Party clearly has lost a lot of support since 2001, the first year of George W. Bush's administration. Most of the loss in support actually occurred beginning in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina and Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court -- both of which created major public relations problems for the administration -- and amid declining support for the Iraq war. By the end of 2008, the party had its worst positioning against the Democrats in nearly two decades.

The GOP may have stemmed those losses for now, as it does not appear to have lost any more support since Obama took office. But as the analysis presented here shows, the losses the GOP has suffered have come among nearly all demographic groups apart from some of the most ardent Republican subgroups.

So the Party has grown more intransigent since Obama took office. They are truly the last and most committed. Doesn't bode well for their future.

The Sinking Ship

A new Gallup poll finds that the Republican Party is losing membership from nearly every major demographic group. No surprise that the declines among the young, educated, middle class, and non-religious groups are 9-10% down from 2001. But even among seniors, whites, southerners, and those with conservative ideologies, the membership is down. The only group that stayed the same were those who described themselves as attending church weekly. Not one major demographic group showed an increase.

More and more, the Republican Party is looking like the Christian Conservative Party. The True Believer Party. They are the last remnants of those who did not accept Lord Obama (wink) as the country's savior, eschewing the liberal political Rapture in favor of eternity in the political minority.

(hat tip: Sullivan)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Military Commissions

From Greenwald to Sullivan to ABC's Jake Tapper, Obama is taking some real heat about his decision to preserve, "with modifications," Bush's secret military commissions, rather than abide by his own campaign statement to try suspected terrorists in American courts according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

I haven't read up on this enough to comment (I know, shocker). I will, however, say that while I am disappointed in some of the recent decisions Obama has made regarding the torture photos, I am not afraid of some opacity in the workings of national security. Not everything can be done out in the open with full transparency to the public. Obama has already publicly stated that torture is over with, that Gitmo is going to close, that black sites are shut down, and I think that's a good start.

Head-Spinning Logic

Bob Cesca links to a commentator who cleverly points out contradictions in right-wing thinking (yeah, my 4-year-old could do that!) around torture.

We love torture, unless we get caught doing it, then we hate it. We still want to keep on torturing, though, even though our enemies will do it our guys, so now our soldiers will be in more jeopardy. Yet anyone who puts our soldiers in jeopardy -- like, us? -- hates America!

Yeah, like that.

More Christianism Watch

In today's The New Republic, Jonathan Chait explores the recent comment made by Kim Hendren, an Arkansas GOP Senate candidate, about Senator Chuck Schumer, in which Mr. Hendren referred to Schumer as "that Jew." I guess Schumer is a Jew of "that" kind, while Mr. Hendren feels Jews like Joe Lieberman are more like Jesus.

Fascinating, considering Joe's statements on torture.

Christianism Watch, cont.

Regarding my previous post about the sign on the church marquee, a reader writes:

I imagine what they are trying to say is that they consider rejection of Jesus to be a hate crime. But let me see if I can redeem their actual statement. What if we were to understand it to mean that... To engage in a hate crime is to reject the teachings of Christ. I would affirm that statement! I know, it probably isn't what they meant, but man, they left the door wide open to interpretation.
I would posit that engaging in hate crime is a rejection of any religious teaching, not just those of Jesus. And I do appreciate the reader's attempt to redeem the statement, especially since neither of us came up with it and I would not wish to be branded as closed-minded as this statement appears to be.

Accordingly, I'll grant some level of latitude as to interpretation, but I don't see it as "wide open," however. My experience with the evangelical community has not been one of anything interpretive. When a religious sect is formed on the basis of a "literal" reading of the text, interpretation actually gets in the way of teaching.

No, I believe that this type of statement is trying to be provocative to anyone who might potentially be interested in coming inside to worship. Also, it would only appeal to those people who possess the belief that the only way to God is through Jesus. It sets those people apart from the rest of us, creates exclusivity and actually equates other-ness with a vile crime. I believe that in the eyes of the person(s) who decided to post that statement, the Jew who rejects Jesus is the same as the skinhead who spray paints a swastika on his synagogue.

In trying to preach the teachings of Jesus, they actually violate them. Funny how that works.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Christianism Watch

I saw today, posted on the marquee sign of a small evangelical church in Culver City:

Poor, victimized, persecuted Christians. Now they equate criticism of evangelical Christianity as a hate crime.

A Different Perspective on Obama's Torture Stance

Courtesy of a Daily Dish reader. Money quote:

The prosecutions you are asking for would simply swallow the Obama presidency whole. It is the kind of energy draining, oxygen consuming drama that is the nightmare of every president. It would come to define his presidency in the same way the Hostage Crisis defined Carter’s and there is zero chance he will opt for this. President Obama is making a realistic, cold, clear-eyed cost-benefit analysis.

This is the choice: Does he fix the economy, fix healthcare, get a handle on the two wars he’s dealing with, or does he prosecute Bush era war crimes? He has chosen his agenda and is asking us to choose that to.

Come to think of it, back during the campaign last July, I criticized Obama's defense of the warrantless wiretapping scandal. He has political obligations to those who helped him get elected. Certainly, as this reader wrote:
Imagine what such prosecutions would entail: years of courtroom drama, depositions, lawsuits and counter-suits; the long parade of powerful and high ranking ex- and current members of government, including a goodly number of Democrats, being called on the carpet and having to testify against one another; the enormous rancor and bitterness. This would be Watergate on steroids.

If he were to push for a purge of the government's involvement in creating a torture regime under Bush/Cheney, he would do serious damage to his own party, and perhaps to his reelection prospects. I think this reader is onto something.

Go Away, Dick

Talking Points Memo has a great piece by Lawrence Wilkerson -- a Republican -- about how Dick Cheney has created a significant and multi-faceted deception to keep the cause of torture alive and to make it a political issue in 2010.

In this piece, Wilkerson describes Cheney's lies in three ways:
  1. Cheney is lying that no Americans were killed by terrorists in the seven plus years since 9/11. In fact, more Americans have been killed by terrorists since Cheney became de-facto president than on any other leader's watch in US history.
  2. Cheney is lying when he says that his "harsh interrogation methods" have been responsible for the fact that there have been no other terrorist attacks on US soil since 9/11. In fact, the reason why this is so is because we dropped our troops into al Qaeda's backyard, and in doing so have certainly also presented far more attractive targets than civilians on the US homeland. Now, 5,000 of our troops are dead, more than the entire victim list of 9/11.
  3. Cheney is lying when he says that Obama has made the country less safe by banning the use of torture. In fact, torture was discontinued after the Abu Ghraib photos were released because the agencies involved in the torture didn't want to be prosecuted for continuing anything that had been revealed by the Abu Ghraib scandal. In fact, if anyone is responsible for making the country less safe because of a cessation of torture, it's Bush and Cheney. In fact, the Bush administration authorized the use of torture in Spring 2002, long before getting any of their so-called legal opinions from attorneys at the Office of Legal Counsel (Yoo, Bradbury, Bybee). The main reason for this was not to prevent further attack, but to establish a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein -- the main justification for going to war. We already know that going to war in Iraq was predetermined from the start of the first Bush/Cheney term, as Richard Clarke, the nation's counterterrorism czar, has written that al Qaeda was put on the back burner in the months leading up to 9/11 because the focus was put on Iraq (as well as walking away from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty).

Wilkerson expresses what I would express were I part of what is left of the Republican Party. With only 21% of Americans actually self-identifying as Republicans, they are about as marginalized a population as one can get. He wants Cheney to go away and let the Party create an identity that is separate from one of torture, lies, and secrecy.

Fat chance of that happening, Larry. I say grab a few of your intellectual equals and start a new party.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Afternoon Torture Round-up

So it looks like President Obama has effectively put the torture issue on "simmer." Today, he announced that he would not release the hundreds of pictures detailing prisoner abuse that were requested by the ACLU under a Freedom of Information Act filing. Obama defends his decision thusly:

"I want to emphasize that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the images we remember from Abu Ghraib," the president said on the South Lawn of the White House. "But they do represent conduct that didn't conform with the Army manual."

Obama said the publication of the photos would not add any additional benefit to investigations being carried out into detainee abuse -- and could put future inquires at risk.

"In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would further flame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger. ... I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse."

Sullivan tries to make sense of this sudden reversal.

Greenwald is his usual verbose self, but is a very compelling read. Money quote:
Apparently, the proper reaction to heinous acts by our political leaders is not to hold them accountable but, instead, to hide evidence of what they did. That's the warped mentality Obama is endorsing today, and has been endorsing since January 20.
Greenwald also argues that those who supported the release of the OLC memos two weeks ago cannot now, with any credibility, support the president's decision today. Otherwise they would be nothing more than Obama cheerleaders/yes men.

I'm baffled, honestly. From my post yesterday you know how dismayed I was by Obama's threat to the UK to withhold key intelligence if the UK High Court released details of the US's torture of Binyam Mohammed, a British citizen who was imprisoned and tortured by the CIA. In making these decisions, Obama cannot say that he is protecting national security. It's like he is mouthing the words that people in the CIA and the Pentagon have fed him, or he is complicit in the cover-up nearly to the same extent as Bush and Cheney.

Or... since we know that the Justice Department is conducting its investigation into these matters anyway, Obama is waiting for those results so that later he can say that his decision to open up the floodgates of disclosure is a non-partisan act. In all outward appearances anyway, he is keeping his hands out of the DOJ investigation and not commenting or aiding the congressional investigations. As we have seen repeatedly, Obama is masterful at laying back and letting everyone think the worst of him, only to emerge later to disarm his opponents with a dose of integrity. In reading his comments, he's not wrong that the release of the photos could increase anti-American sentiments and put our troops in further danger. Sullivan makes the point that concealment could send the message to everyone that we're more interested in the cover-up than honesty, which would undercut our attempts at re-building our international credibility. And that's not a bad point.

But, let's be somewhat realistic here and suppose that our strongest allies -- Western Europe, Australia, Israel -- all have some strategic stake in the "dark side" tactics of Bush/Cheney. Perhaps releasing these photographs, and further release of documents, could implicate our allies in the operation, especially as it pertains to rendition, etc. If that's the case, then some measure of concealment could go a long way in showing them that the US isn't on some simplistic honesty crusade and is still aware of sensitive alliances on the national security level.

Many have argued for a truth commission rather than prosecutions. Such an enterprise, if handled properly, would take years to unravel all that has happened, not months or weeks. Obama's been in office for just over 100 days. As anyone who's been involved in a legal case will tell you, the wheels of justice move very slowly. There are many interests out there crying for Bush's and Cheney's heads. I am definitely of that mind, but I'm willing to wait, and willing to watch the screws tighten slowly, but surely.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"Conservative" Self-Delusion

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat is one of the young conservative writers out there who could emerge someday as the voice of a more reasonable, less absolutist, Republican Party. But not yet, not yet. First he has some learning to do.

Today he writes of how President Obama has been working to remove the cultural arrows of abortion and gay rights from the Republican issue quiver. He correctly identifies Obama's move to let the states tackle the issue of gay marriage (an issue that is slowly moving away from outright bans as state after state legalizes it). On abortion, he is correct that Obama is working the middle to find common ground with anti-abortion crusaders to reduce abortions in the US without having to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

Where he's wrong, however, is in his labelling the pro-choice movement as Constitutionally inferior to the other side:

The pro-life movement is arguably more comfortable with the language of rights and liberties than its opponents. Abortion foes are defending a right to life grounded in the Declaration of Independence, after all, whereas pro-choicers are defending more nebulous rights (privacy, autonomy, etc.) supposedly grounded in “penumbras” and “emanations” from the Constitution.
Of course, this is all about when "life" begins, which is at the heart of the right-wing's opposition to any abortion. Pro-choice advocates are no less interested in the rights of people to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." It's just that they don't want any legislation to infringe upon the rights of people who choose not to become parents, inadvertently, unwittingly or unwillingly. The Fourth Amendment is not a "penumbra" from the Constitution. It guarantees that people have the right to their own persons. An embryo or fetus is not a person, as far as I'm concerned, but merely a potential person.

Still Obama will, as Douthat surmises, win by ultimately ending the culture wars. He has attracted the support of young Evangelicals who are now more concerned about the environment than the contemplated rights of an embryo or fetus. Reality, it seems, interjects when one's personal survival is at stake.

An Epic Tragedy

Please don't accuse me of being sympathetic to terrorists. A terrorist is a criminal. But a torturer is a criminal too. And perpetrating a crime against a criminal doesn't justify the crime.

I remember being driven to tears during my morning commute when I heard NPR's Bob Edwards say on 9/11 that the first World Trade Center tower had collapsed. I remember the further feelings of anger and despair that bubbled up in the days to follow when I'd heard that my good friend from high school, Chris Newton, was among the passengers killed on the flight that crashed into the Pentagon. I remember listening closely to President Bush when he addressed the rescue workers at Ground Zero. I was proud at the time of what he said; that we should go on with our lives and not give into our fear, which was clearly so present in all our lives in those weeks following that tragic day.

I was ready for America to fight back against this terrorist network, and I cheered when we went into Afghanistan and joined with the local warlords to take down the Taliban.

But when the case for going to war in Iraq was announced, I got a sinking feeling that it was a bullshit set up. That Iraq was being set up to take the fall for 9/11 even though there was no evidence of a relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda. I remember that Saddam had gassed the Kurds, and I was concerned about his still having chemical weapons, but I wasn't convinced that he definitely had them. When the IAEA and weapons inspectors (led by an American) were saying that Iraq likely had no WMDs, I was feeling a lot more assured.

When Powell did his dog and pony show at the UN, however, that convinced me that it was all an elaborate deception. It was then that I discovered how wrong Bush and Cheney were, but that we were all but helpless to do anything about it. When the first airstrikes began and "journalists" in Baghdad provided the play by play, I felt disgusted. The "shock and awe" worked for me: I was shocked at how, despite Bush's entreaties to us to not give into fear, our government's deep fear of Arab terrorists had paralyzed it and caused the US to start a pre-emptive war, and I was awed at how complacent we Americans had become, at the mercy of a well-oiled machine of government spoon-feeding the media with only that information it wanted to disseminate to the public.

Now, as the truth has slowly come out regarding the culture of torture, abuse, and sadism that was authorized by the President and Vice President shortly after 9/11, as stories like this one come out about how Bush "disappeared" people who became inconvenient to the lying liars and their lies, and this one about how President Obama is threatening the UK with withholding of intelligence if the British High Court discloses certain facts about how the US tortured a British citizen, Binyam Mohammed, I am struck with just how epic the scope of this whole eight year tragedy has been.

I am so dismayed that Bush created this disgusting war and torture machine, and I am very concerned that Obama has made a decision to keep part of it from seeing the light of day. I truly see little meaning in just going about our daily lives when all that is in place to ensure that we can do so is built on deception and the abandonment of freedom. We have become a nation of cowards, believing we are simply entitled to the mantle of the greatest nation on earth, but too afraid to defend what we earned in our first 225 years with our commitment to freedom intact.

I hold onto hope that this will get better for everyone, but it's getting more and more difficult.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Comedy Stylings of Dick Cheney

On CBS's Face the Nation today, Cheney let loose with a huge side-splitter:
I don't think the party ought to move dramatically to the left, for example, in order to try to redefine its base. We are what we are. We're Republicans. We have certain things we believe in. And maintaining our loyalty and commitment to those principles is vital to our success.

Hooh, boy... I nearly wet myself. Republican "success"?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Israel's Nukes, cont.

An update to my earlier post regarding whether or not Israel should go public with their nuclear arsenal.

A Sullivan reader points out that the reason why the US doesn't want this to happen is because the US is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and Israel is not. That means Israel is prohibited from receiving any US (or any foreign) military aid. This reader claims that Israel receives 25% of the US's foreign aid budget and half of our military aid budget.

So the US is, I guess, willingly violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in giving aid to Israel. Betcha that doesn't stop (not that I would want it to).

And we've all seen how many other treaties and US laws were violated since 2001 in the name of national security.

All the law-breaking here leaves me feeling a little nauseous.

Should Israel Go Public With Its Nuke Arsenal?

I'm not an expert on this issue, but it's always been known to me that Israel does not publicly declare that it possesses nuclear weapons, and the United States pretends it does not. Sullivan does not understand why Israel just doesn't come clean about it. He suggests that perhaps Israel and Iran could benefit from a stand-off on these weapons, but I'm not convinced.

My belief -- as a believer in many things dark and sinister -- is that the United States, which has proven time and again to be the world's puppet-master and man behind the curtain, probably worked with Israel long ago to develop their nukes while holding them to utmost secrecy. After all, if the United States were to acknowledge publicly that Israel is a nuclear power, the truth of how it happened would be revealed as well. Imagine then, that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other oil producing Arab countries would have to now fully admit (in public) that the United States' support for Israel has brought nuclear weapons to their region (indeed, to their borders in some cases). The already fragile business alliances that keep the US swimming in crude oil and the Arabs swimming in dollars and Euros would be seriously undermined. The Saudi royal family, the keepers of the Wahhabist flame, would be revealed as cynical profiteers instead of Islam's faithful servants. And way up there? That's the price of a gallon of gas.

I think the United States also pretends not to know for the same reasons it pretends not to recognize Taiwan as an independent country. It's the price we have to pay to keep sleeping dogs lying.

Christian Mantra, cont.

To my earlier post, a reader writes:
We Christians like to say that our faith is about a "personal relationship" with God, but in practice make it about generalizations and judgements for everyone else.

The reader is an old high school friend and a minister. He was always one of the more level-headed in our circle of friends. One night during my senior year, he defused a very tense situation revolving around the racy behavior of a couple of our friends. Opinions were flying on both sides of the issue, some supportive of the friends, some flat out condemning them. My friend pulled out a bible and turned it to: Judge not lest ye be judged. Well, I never told him, but that one event got me interested in religion in a way that my Bar Mitzvah and further studies never did.

Christian Mantra

Once again, Andrew Sullivan voices what I would love to hear every born-again, evangelical Christian say when discussing religion with a non-Christian:
I am Christocentric in the sense that I believe that Jesus was the son of God, but not in the sense that I believe that other faiths have not intuited the divine or grasped the truth beyond us in ways that Christians too can appreciate and learn from.
Now, once again, with feeling...

More on Truman

I wanted to post these two responses to Andrew Sullivan's original post about the context of war crimes between now and at the end of WWII. They add a lot of background.

First an argument supporting Truman's actions:
The Japanese government and high command categorically refused to discuss realistic surrender terms (i.e., something akin to the unconditional surrender position that had been made public years earlier by the Allies and which was thought absolutely necessary to avoid revisiting the “stab in the back” myth that arose after WWI) until after both bombs were dropped.
And now another:
When torture advocates appeal to our fear of the "ticking time bomb scenario" they are apealing to the same fear that we beleive justifies our taking of life in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, that the very existence of the United States was at risk. The taking of life on this massive scale was a lesser of two evils.
These are good arguments. I think the "appealing to the same fear" as exercised after 9/11 was tainted with political opportunism as much as it was patriotism. How can one even think of that event as purely love of America when Karl Rove was involved?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Two Sets of Rules?

Daniel Larison, another conservative with whom I sometimes agree, writes a brilliant take on the war crimes issue with some historical context. Comparing the Bush admin's use of torture to gather "intelligence" that could be used to fight terrorism and prevent further attacks on the United States to the use of weapons of mass destruction by Harry Truman in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he writes:

Because the prevailing view of Harry Truman and his decisions at the present time happens to be favorable, we are all supposed to believe that the “judgment of history” has “vindicated” Truman. This is a nice way of saying that propaganda and hero worship have overcome moral reasoning, and time has caused the moral horror of even a significant part of the American right in the 1940s to fade from memory.
His italics. This passage scares me a little, as I shudder to think that historians 50 years hence, who are more or less inclined to agree with the use of torture as a justifiable means to an end, would "vindicate" Bush and Cheney in the same way American historians who would never dare to state or imply that somehow mass incineration of innocent human beings was a heroic gesture. We sort of all know now that Japan was already pretty much defeated by the time the bomb was dropped, but that there was significant pressure to use the bombs because of all the work that had gone into testing etc. Plus the US really wanted to send a message of "Don't fuck with America."

Larison concludes:
Many of the same people who preach such insipidly simplistic and irrational messages about fighting and even “ending” evil will be the first to find refuge behind the “complicated” nature of wartime decisions. At least they will do so if it means that they can ignore the real moral complexity of these situations, in which all belligerents are capable of committing war crimes and ought to be held to the same standard. It is this latter point that is really quite simple: if the torture practices authorized by the last administration had been carried out against Americans, we would not hesitate to call them crimes and demand punishment for the guilty, and if the same kinds of bombings were done to our cities by foreign military forces we would not think twice about calling them war crimes. Acknowledging this should not be an occsasion for excessive self-flagellation, but it does have to be acknowledged. Perhaps even more corrupting and dangerous than the abuses of power and wartime excesses themselves is the willingness to minimize or approve of wrongful acts carried out by the government.

It is this point that really gets me worked up and has me shaking my fist at the computer: what fucking hypocrisy. More than 160 years after Manifest Destiny, we still think that our shit don't stink. I'm not anti-American by any stretch, but we cannot hold the rest of the world accountable to laws that we wouldn't ourselves follow.

Exile in Republicania

Back in May 1992, right after the L.A. riots, a black community activist named Sister Souljah became infamous for the following remark:
If Black people kill Black people every day, why not have a week and kill white

Bill Clinton, who was running for the Democratic presidential nomination against Jesse Jackson, publicly criticized that statement -- and Jackson himself for having Souljah in his Rainbow Coalition. It became a defining moment for the Democratic party, as the extremists on the left found themselves on the outs as Clinton cleverly held his ground in the middle. The far left element of the Democratic Party has never recovered.

In an ironic twist, a black man followed in Clinton large footsteps and now occupies the White House and leads this country. Now, it's the Republican party that has a major identity crisis. A heavyweight Republican senator just switched parties, leaving a gaping hole in the GOP fabric that starkly reveals the great divide that dooms the party to at least a generation of oblivion.

The problems for the party, or the membership, make for a long list:
They abandoned government as a rudder in a swirling sea of deregulated commerce
They spent like decadent Romans under Bush
They proudly express contempt for civil liberties
They show rigidity and hostility to others
They worship the idea of the "unitary executive" and "near dictatorial power"
They dismiss of judicial checks as "legislating from the bench"
They are absolute cluelessness about minorities and immigrants
They have embraced torture as an American value
They are (largely) disgustingly homophobic
They are (largely) Christianist simpletons
They used an all-too-willing media as their propaganda-delivery system.

On top of this, their current leaders are an extremely vile bunch of people. Led by Michael Steele, the modern-day Steppin Fetchit, and voiced by such caustic voices as Coulter, Hannity, O'Reilly, and Limbaugh, they claim to be proud Americans but walk a thin line between radical populism and neo-fascism. These voices, small in number but powerfully connected, drown out the large number of conservatives who actually find the Republican party's extremism as alien to them as the progressive policies of the Democratic party.

It's a shame, too. As Reihan Salam, a great conservative blogger whose voice is becoming more and more prominent among young Republicans, put it:
Conservatives don't need higher volume. Conservatism at its best is a tough and demanding creed. To sell it, you can't call people who've lost their jobs and their homes "losers." You need to sell the virtues of a growing and flourishing economy and the free-market policies that will make it happen. Because conservatives aren't a majority, hard-edged accusations of socialism wind up alienating millions of potential allies -- voters who are a little uncomfortable with Obama's spending, particularly if it threatens to saddle their children with debt, but who recognize that the government needs to act to stave off an economic collapse.

In all honesty, I would probably be a Republican today had it not been for Ronald Reagan. I voted for moderate Republican John Anderson in my first presidential election in 1980 because Carter was an ineffectual leader and Reagan's borderline Goldwater conservatism was suspicious to me. I am so glad I went lefty after all; otherwise I'd be as hostile and negative and brainwashed as, well, I'm not going there...

There is much to like about a conservative political philosophy that believes in a smaller government which eschews wasteful spending, which believes in the Constitution as a living document that can be interpreted according to the mores of the age, and which promotes real freedom as the defining characteristic of being an American. I see these values embodied today in Barack Obama, although he has swallowed a bitter pill during this economic crisis by expanding government to clean up Bush's mess. As the administration begins to hit its stride, I am slowly finding comfort in the actions of my government for the first time in eight years.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Future Journalist in Action

Fourth Grader Misha Lerner, a student from Bethesda, MD, asked Condi Rice a question about Bush's methods for getting information from detainees.

You know you're going to get roasted on Leno, Letterman and Maher when your role in goverment is being held up for scrutiny by a 10-year old.

At some point real journalists are going to have to start asking questions. But for now, I'll take my hat off to young Misha.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Limits to Presidential Power

Once again, Sullivan hits the nail on the head. Money quote:
Permanent, universal and secret powers to detain and torture people using the full force of state power strike me as inimical to the Western experiment in human history, or indeed to any society that prizes freedom. The fact that arguably the leading conservative intellectual in Washington, Charles Krauthammer, has openly supported the power of the president to torture solely on his own discretion and minimally if it could save one single life reveals how much contempt the current right has for individual liberty. This argument, mind you, is not even made retroactively; it is being made proactively - and the Bradbury memo outlines an ongoing permanent torture apparatus at a president's disposal.
Read the 46-page Bradbury memo here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Quotes for the Day

On the use of violence in interrogations by the Israeli Secret Service.

This is the destiny of democracy, as not all means are acceptable to it and not all practices employed by its enemies are open before it.


Although a democracy must often fight with one hand tied behind its back, it nonetheless has the upper hand.

Aharon Barak, president of the Israeli Supreme Court, 1999

Source, When Israel Confronted and Rejected Torture, by Serge Schmemann, NY Times 4/30/2009
Even the government of a country that has at times been bombarded by daily attacks of terrorism has enough courage not to go down that dark path. The naked malevolence of Dick Cheney and the moral cowardice of George W. Bush cannot be more apparent than when compared to the position of the Israeli government.