Archive for March, 2008

Pitiful in Pennsylvania: Democrats who make love to Fox News

Monday, March 31st, 2008

We liberal blogger types often profess amazement at the cluelessness of the “inside the Beltway” Democratic political class when it comes to understanding — or more to the point, not understanding – what most Democrats want from their leadership. But maybe we’ve been unfair to the nation’s capital. A good case can be made that this cluelessness extends to political insiders all across the country.

Take the strange case of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Fox News. It seems that Gov. Rendell, a leading supporter of Hillary Clinton, has become a big Fox fan. Here’s what he had to say on the subject recently:

“I think during this entire primary coverage, starting in Iowa and up to the present — FOX has done the fairest job, and remained the most objective of all the cable networks. You hate both of our candidates. No, I’m only kidding. But you actually have done a very balanced job of reporting the news, and some of the other stations are just caught up with Senator Obama, who is a great guy, but Senator Obama can do no wrong, and Senator Clinton can do no right.”

Wow. Big wow.

I mean, it was one thing for Clinton’s campaign to argue that they get better treatment from Fox than from MSNBC. That, after all, was a slam on MSNBC, not an endorsement of Fox. But for a leader of the Clinton campaign to actually go onto Fox News and congratulate it for doing “a very balanced job . . . ?” Jesus Governor: Why not just nominate Rush Limbaugh for broadcaster of the year?

The real problem, of course, is that comments like these give Fox News credibility it doesn’t deserve — credibility it will use later to attack the Democratic nominee (whoever wins the nomination). But even when viewed in strictly political terms, what was Rendell thinking? Does he really think Hillary is going to score Democratic primary votes by buttering up Fox News? In case he hasn’t heard, rank and file Democrats hate Fox with a passion, and for good reason.

But I guess that must be the master plan: Hillary is going to climb to the top of the Democratic Party by appealing to the Ann Coulter set.

Killer strategy, Governor Rendell — really, just brilliant.   

Has Hillary lost her soft touch?

Monday, March 31st, 2008

One thing no one ever accuses Hillary Clinton of lacking is toughness. And after having being hounded by the right wing smear machine for most of the last two decades, one can hardly blame her. Actually, for many Democrats, this is Clinton’s biggest selling point: she has the toughness, as we’re repeatedly told, to fight back against the coming GOP slime tsunami. Obama’s toughness, on the other hand, is less well tested.

Even as an Obama supporter, I’ll admit that a “toughness gap,” if one actually existed (which I don’t think one does) would be no small point: toughness in our politicians is something rank and file Democrats have been craving for a long, long time. Watching our representatives in Congress repeatedly wilt in the face of attacks and threats from an unpopular president has been infuriating.  

But in our mania to have our leaders develop a little more spine, Democrats need to remember that tough talk, like Tabasco sauce, is usually best used in moderation. To be effective politically (at least when it’s coming from the candidate’s own mouth), tough talk is almost always best delivered with a soft touch.

This is a lesson Hillary Clinton seems to be forgetting, as she fights on against the odds. A good case in point is her latest, oh so “tough,” declaration of her intent to stay in the race until the convention, come what may.

(Washington Post) Clinton Vows To Stay in Race To Convention 

NEW ALBANY, Ind., March 29 — In her most definitive comments to date on the subject, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton sought Saturday to put to rest any notion that she will drop out of the presidential race, pledging in an interview to not only compete in all the remaining primaries but also continue until there is a resolution of the disqualified results in Florida and Michigan.
A day after Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean urged the candidates to end the race by July 1, Clinton defied that call by declaring that she will take her campaign all the way to the Aug. 25-28 convention if necessary, potentially setting up the prolonged and divisive contest that party leaders are increasingly anxious to avoid.
“I know there are some people who want to shut this down and I think they are wrong,” Clinton said in an interview during a campaign stop here Saturday. “I have no intention of stopping until we finish what we started and until we see what happens in the next 10 contests and until we resolve Florida and Michigan. And if we don’t resolve it, we’ll resolve it at the convention — that’s what credentials committees are for.

This expression of Clinton’s unbending determination to continue campaigning until hell freezes over, if necessary, represents anything but a soft touch. And for that reason, it probably won’t be effective. Her goal in making the statement, of course, was to try to end the slow bleeding of superdelegates to Obama. And in fairness, given the increasing number of prominent Democrats calling for her to withdraw, if she intends to stay in the race, a strong denial was needed.

She didn’t need to imply, however, that absolutely nothing — up to and including the danger of destroying the party — will ever get her to change her mind.


Great Tom Tomorrow cartoon

Monday, March 31st, 2008

In particular, check out the last panel. Priceless.

A “defining moment” or a dependent moment in Iraq?

Friday, March 28th, 2008

According to George W. Bush, the current bloodshed in Iraq is a harbinger of good things.

(AP) Bush sees Iraq violence as defining

President Bush said Friday that the flare-up in violence in oil-rich southern Iraq and parts of Baghdad presents “a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq” as the government there seeks to root out Shiite militias.

Bush made clear that the United States stands firmly behind Iraqi security forces and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. “He made the decision to move and we’ll help him,” the president said.

The good news, you see, is that the Iraqi security forces have now progressed to the point that they’re ready – not just to stand on their own – but to actually take on “rogue militias” in battle. Now, admittedly, this whole rogue militia thing has a certain eye of the beholder (“our” thugs against “their” thugs) quality to it. Still, if the Iraqi military really has reached the point where it can hold its own in a major battle that has to count as some sort of progress.

So, let’s hear it! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip Hooray!

Except . . .

(Washington Post) U.S. Appears to Take Lead in Fighting in Baghdad

BAGHDAD, March 28 — U.S. forces in armored vehicles battled Mahdi Army fighters Thursday in the vast Shiite stronghold of Sadr City, and military officials said Friday that U.S. aircraft bombed militant positions in the southern city of Basra, as the American role in a campaign against party-backed militias appeared to expand. Iraqi army and police units appeared to be largely holding to the outskirts of the Sadr City fighting, as U.S. troops took the lead.

Four U.S. Stryker armored vehicles were seen in Sadr City by a Washington Post correspondent, one of them engaging Mahdi Army militiamen with heavy fire. The din of U.S. weapons, along with the Mahdi Army’s AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, was heard through much of the day. U.S. helicopters and drones buzzed overhead.

The clashes suggested that American forces were being drawn more deeply into a broad offensive that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, launched in the southern city of Basra on Tuesday, saying death squads, criminal gangs and rogue militias were the targets. The Mahdi Army of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite rival of Maliki, appeared to have taken the brunt of the attacks; fighting spread to many southern cities and parts of Baghdad.

So, it turns out that it’s American, not Iraqi, troops who are actually taking the lead in the fighting. In other words, Bush & Co. allowed al-Maliki to start a shooting war against his political opponents, committed US forces to save his bacon when the fighting proved difficult and then declared the whole process a giant leap forward toward Iraqi independence.

If Bush hadn’t been so meticulously honest with us about Iraq up until now, I’d almost wonder if he wasn’t lying.

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Anybody (who’s a Democrat) but Hillary

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Honestly, I can hardly believe I’m saying these words — anybody but Hillary. It’s just so Richard Mellon Scaife, so “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

You might not have guessed it based upon what I’ve had to say lately, but once upon a time I was a hardcore Bill Clinton supporter. I also always held Hillary in very high regard. I can remember nodding my head enthusiastically when, during the 1996 Democratic Convention, Rev. Jesse Jackson said of Hillary Clinton, we must “protect the First Lady, too, from their mean-spirited attacks.”

I was thrilled when she was elected to the senate.

As recently as a few months ago, I was legitimately undecided as to who to support for the nomination.

For those of us who hung with the Clintons through all of the malicious attacks of the 90s, it’s hard to let go. I can remember my growing anger as the media breathlessly covered one right wing smear against Bill and Hillary after another. In fact, one of the first things I ever posted on the web was a rant against the media’s coverage of Clinton’s controversial pardon of Marc Rich. A brief quote shows just how much of a clintonista I once was:

No matter. As has always seemed to happen with Bill Clinton, what started as nothing more than rank speculation that wrong doing had occurred quickly grew into a presumption of wrong doing — based not on evidence, but on the intensity of the speculation itself. Many ultimately discredited allegations against Clinton worked their way up the journalistic food chain in just this way — Drudge in the morning, talk radio at lunch, Fox in the afternoon, then NBC, ABC and CBS later that night.

It was the same sad song, played again and again. Let’s all sing it together:

The rumor bone’s connected to the Drudge bone,
the Drudge bone’s connected to the Rush bone,
the Rush bone’s connected to the Fox bone,
the Fox bone’s connected to the MSNBC bone,
the MSNBC bone’s connected to the CNN bone,
the CNN bone’s connected to the pundit bone.
Now hear the word of the Lord.

But if it’s been hard to let go of the Clintons, it’s been getting steadily easier as the campaign’s worn on. The 3:00 A.M. ad was bad; the “Commander-in-Chief test” semi-endorsement of McCain was worse; and the seemingly endless “right on the edge” appeals to racial resentments were worse still.

None of this, however, was even in the same league as Hillary’s latest maneuvers in trying to reignite the Rev. Wright controversy in order to draw attention away from her own lies, while, at the same time, her campaign’s been busily distributing right wing propaganda suggesting that Barack Obama may be an anti-Semite.


The daily doom: Antarctic ice shelf collapsing edition

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

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Fundamentalists and atheists: Birds of a feather?

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

As much as they claim to hate each other, right wing fundamentalist Christians and militant atheists actually have a lot in common. Bottom line: both groups lack all sense of nuance in their respective views of religion. And both generally view fundamentalist Christianity as the only true Christian faith.
Fundamentalism, according to a dictionary definition, is “characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.” Suffice it to say that extreme fundamentalists can be one tight-assed bunch.
Since fundamentalists reject as complete heresy any version of religious faith other than their own, they tend be intellectually incurious about other denominations.

(Not all fundamentalists meet this description, but the leaders of right wing fundamentalist churches generally do.)
Militant atheists can be equally dogmatic, wearing their disbelief as a badge of honor. Outspoken atheists often know very little about religion. As part of this general pattern of ignorance, they tend to assume that all religion follows the example of extreme fundamentalism.

Atheism is a perfectly honorable and appropriate life view. And most atheists don’t fall under my definition of militant atheism, which refers to those who becomes aggressively antireligious.
BartCop (whose website I still like in many other ways), for example, is an atheist who often ridicules religion. Here is something he said on the subject in a recent post attacking me (the comments I had made he was responding to, curiously enough, had little to do with religion as such):

First, all religions are money-grubbing crutches that are used by the weak and the stupid 
to feel safe from the Devil that doesn’t even exist.  The purpose of church is to steal money from the sick, the old, the dying and mostly, the stupid. 
Give me your money or the invisible, non-existent Devil will get you.”
Holy Mother of Koresh, who could fall for that horseshit con game except the extremely stupid?
There is no Devil so he’s not coming to get you.

To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what Bart was going for here: What he ended up accomplishing, however, was to make himself look like an ignoramus. It is, of course, possible to make an intelligent argument in favor of atheism, as recent bestselling books prove. But angry, militant atheists, like Bart, generally fall far short of that standard.
Many Christian denominations don’t come close to fitting Bart’s description. You can attend church every Sunday for a year in many liberal churches without once hearing a reference to the devil. Fire and brimstone is available, certainly. You can find it in fundamentalist churches stretching from coast-to-coast, but that no more represents the whole of Christianity than the movie Plan 9 from Outer Space represents the universe of science fiction. 
And as for money-grubbing, all I can say is that as the son of a former United Church of Christ minister, I grew up under very modest circumstances economically. Whatever you think of organized religion, for every Jimmy Baker there are at least 20 members of the clergy who are living modest lifestyles. And it’s an indisputable fact that churches provide desperately needed charitable support to millions of people in need.
I’m not particularly religious myself: but I try to be respectful towards those who are. I think that’s the way of democracy.
The great glue that joins so many right wing fundamentalists together with so many militant atheists is the refusal to see things that way: although the two groups have dramatically different views on religion, they share a fundamental lack of respect for those who see a light different from the ones they see.
That isn’t liberal and it isn’t conservative: it’s just ugly and counterproductive.

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We need to outlaw the “perjury trap”

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Is it just me, or are other people getting tired of seeing the “perjury trap” used to bring prominent people down? With politicians the issue has on occasion been about sex. Here’s how it works: you start out with a politician, who, like many politicians (and butchers and bakers and candlestick makers), has at one time or another had a wandering eye. Next, you take this non-criminal behavior and you criminalize it by forcing that politician, under one pretext or another, to admit or deny the affair under oath.

Facing a potential media circus (and related family and political injury) the politician denies the affair. Then, using all of law enforcement’s potent resources (apparently unneeded for comparatively unimportant work such as solving murders and the like), you prove that the affair did, in fact, take place.

Having taken entirely non-criminal conduct and successfully turned it into a crime, the prosecution then declares to the world that the issue is not sex, but perjury, and the integrity of the judicial process.

This, of course, is how Ken Starr came close to bringing Bill Clinton down.

(Although we’ll have to see how the facts develop, the new charges against Detroit’s mayor may not entirely fit this pattern, given that the underlying suit that led to the testimony in question did involve claims related to the alleged affair. Still, as a general principle I hate seeing alleged perjury used as a basis for bringing a prosecution that is really about sex.)

As I’ve discussed before, use of the perjury trap is becoming far too common in relation to the issue of steroid use by former athletes. Directly charging the athlete in question for the conduct itself is generally not feasible for a number of reasons. So, instead, prosecutors and politicians have been springing the perjury trap. Force the suspected “dirty” athlete to answer questions under oath about alleged steroid use before a grand jury or a congressional committee. Facing the likelihood of having their images destroyed, the athletes have a strong motivation to fib.

Then, using law enforcement resources of a magnitude that wouldn’t be expended in the average triple murder investigation, the government is able to prove the testimony false.

“Gotcha!” And now, it’s off to jail with you . . . you steroider you.

Score one for the “good guys,” right?

This is a crock. It’s one of the fundamental precepts of ethical law enforcement that criminal investigations are supposed to be directed against crimes, not people. Here this principle is turned on end. The purpose of a perjury trap is not to uncover criminality, but to generate it. It demeans the system and opens the door wide to political abuse.

Let’s be clear: what’s objectionable here isn’t forcing people to give testimony they don’t want to give. The Bush Administration’s claim that congressional efforts to obtain testimony regarding the firing of US Attorneys amounted to a “perjury trap,” for example, was absurd.  All administration representatives had to do to stay out of trouble was to tell the truth.

 What is objectionable, however, is where testimony is sought, not primarily to obtain needed information, but, instead, in the hope of trapping the witness in a perjured statement.

And that is happening too often. 

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Americans are still dying in Iraq

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

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Oh yeah, now I remember why we need a Democratic president

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

As Democrats continue to spend our energy (or is it our life force) fighting with each other, this may be good time to remind ourselves just why it’s so important that a Democrat be elected president.  And as it happens, this morning’s headlines obliged quite nicely.

1. The war in Iraq, contrary to claims by Bush and McCain, remains a bloody mess with no end in sight.

(AP) On violent Iraq Easter, 57 killed  

Rockets and mortars pounded Baghdad’s U.S.-protected Green Zone Sunday and a suicide car bomber struck an Iraqi army post in the northern city of Mosul in a surge of attacks that killed at least 57 people nationwide.

The latest violence underscored the fragile security situation and the resilience of both Sunni and Shiite extremist groups as the war enters its sixth year and the U.S. death toll in the conflict approaches 4,000.

2. Economic inequality is not only growing in the country, its leading to an increasing disparity in life expectancy.

(NY Times) Gap in Life Expectancy Widens for the Nation

WASHINGTON — New government research has found “large and growing” disparities in life expectancy for richer and poorer Americans, paralleling the growth of income inequality in the last two decades.

Life expectancy for the nation as a whole has increased, the researchers said, but affluent people have experienced greater gains, and this, in turn, has caused a widening gap.

One of the researchers, Gopal K. Singh, a demographer at the Department of Health and Human Services, said “the growing inequalities in life expectancy” mirrored trends in infant mortality and in death from heart disease and certain cancers.

3. The Bush Administration has been quietly undermining the laws that protect endangered species.

(Washington Post) Since ‘01, Guarding Species Is Harder

With little-noticed procedural and policy moves over several years, Bush administration officials have made it substantially more difficult to designate domestic animals and plants for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Controversies have occasionally flared over Interior Department officials who regularly overruled rank-and-file agency scientists’ recommendations to list new species, but internal documents also suggest that pervasive bureaucratic obstacles were erected to limit the number of species protected under one of the nation’s best-known environmental laws.

Another day in George W. Bush’s America, another series of outrages.

If Democrats can’t find a way to come together to beat McCain in November, our party won’t be the biggest loser. That particular booby prize will belong to our country.