Welcome to the Greenbelt's Liberal Trails

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Only when a republic's life is in danger should a man uphold his government when it is in the wrong. There is no other time. —Mark Twain

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else." —Theodore Roosevelt
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This is the Liberal Greenbelt, a place where I can just let loose on what's bugging me about politics today. If you don't agree with me, you can certainly email me about it; but don't expect a debate. I might answer you, but I rarely get involved in political arguments with people I don't know, and especially not with those who write to say nothing more than some variation on the theme 'I hate you Democrats...' But don't feel hurt: after all, if you don't like what I have to say, then you don't have to listen!

That's the beauty of the 'Net, yes? You can just move on and I'll never even know. Feel free to thumb your nose.

This page has newer stuff on it... But here's a nostalgic look at Secondhand Smoke and Rearview Mirrors, the words of Bob Dole. Because the flavor is still true. And 'cause I actually kinda sorta miss Bob. Yes, he was mean. But he was smart, and he could be funny, and he never, ever made my skin crawl. Unlike our current Resident... [sigh]

You know, you think to yourself, "It could be worse." And then, damn, if it isn't. Just look at Ashcroft and his all-out assault on the American way of life... (not that Gonzales promises to be much better ... I'll rename it the DoJ(sic) page...)

But be warned: reading that page might be a criminal act someday soon.

Back over a hundred years ago (1901, to be precise) Mark Twain had a few things to say about this nation and the wars it was getting itself into. It's downright eerie to see how applicable it all is today...

Check it out:

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John McCain says "they're all part of the Republican Party and I respect them" - meaning Jerry Falwell & co. Anyone who respects Falwell - I can no longer respect him. Period.

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I believe a president should confront problems and not pass them on to other presidents and generations. --GW Bush, 9 Mar

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Maureen Dowd puts her finger on it:

And since the imperial presidency is run by the vice president, W. has a lot of free time to do the things he likes to do. Confined with his wife and mother-in-law at the Crawford ranch, he spent his Christmas vacation mountain-biking and clearing brush.

He left the ranch for a brief visit at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where he kidded in a way that again showed his jarring lack of empathy with the amputees from Iraq and Afghanistan: "As you can possibly see, I have an injury myself - not here at the hospital, but in combat with a cedar. I eventually won. The cedar gave me a little scratch. As a matter of fact, the colonel asked if I needed first aid when she first saw me. I was able to avoid any major surgical operations here, but thanks for your compassion, colonel."

W. also used the occasion to defend the Nixonian eavesdropping program that even made John Ashcroft and his deputy, James Comey, skittish. As The Times reported, Andy Card and Alberto Gonzales had to make an emergency trip to see the reluctant Mr. Ashcroft in the hospital in March 2004 to get the program recertified because Mr. Comey had balked.

You know you're in trouble when John Ashcroft is worried about overreaching.

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Dover's over! And we won! The judge - quite rightly - took a great deal of time and trouble to decide that ID isn't science as anyone but Kansas defines the word; it's probably too much to hope that we've heard the last of this retreat from knowledge into darkness and fear (camouflaged as awe) and willful ignorance, but perhaps this decision will make it easier on other places.

Of course, Pat Robertson's tirade, and others loudly declaiming that "God has been banished" from Dover only make it clear that ID isn't any kind of science, but is instead religion - one specific, narrow, fearful religion at that.

Not to duplicate myself, here's the full text of the Dover decision - long but readable, and so important (PDF - Acrobat Reader required, get free Acrobat here; and here's Why is it Unconstitutional to Teach Intelligent Design?, Jason Rosenhouse's "condensed version of all the major points and arguments" of the Dover decision, and here's Mike Argento's final (maybe) column about the Dover Trial - no, here's Mike's last word (and it's "lies!") - and here's The Forward's Dover, Darwin and The Assault on Science

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You know, I didn't think that Miers was qualified, but Alito? Everything we hear about him indicates that he's another one of W's loyal fellow-thinkers, albeit a smart one. We don't need someone on the bench of the Supreme Court who argued for torture, or other violations of our dwindling civil liberties.

President Nixon himself summarized the stakes, when he announced Justice Rehnquist's nomination on television on the night of Oct. 21, 1971. "Presidents come and go, but the Supreme Court, through its decisions, goes on forever," he said, adding: "They will make decisions which will affect your lives and the lives of your children for generations to come."

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This is of course no time to be partisan - but it's not partisan to point out that this Administration doesn't live in the same universe as the rest of us. Among other points, I'll only mention that the claim that "no one ever imagined" that the levees would break is, to be blunt, not true. Here's an article from Scientific American, October 2001 issue, which refutes that claim utterly -- Drowning New Orleans
And here's Sidney Blumenthal's take - Katrina Comes Home to Roost, on how much of this is the Bush administration's fault - not the aftermath only, but the prequel.

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At some point we have got to come to grips with the fact that Sunnis and Shia get along worse than Protestants and Catholics and Orthodox ... they don't represent some giant bloc of Muslims who all get along. And the secular Sunni Arabs and Kurds don't want Shia running the country. Protesting that the Sunnis just "have to choose freedom" is ... well, it's dumb.

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In today's Sunday Times (the British one), Matthew Parris addresses the point, saying

IN PASSING you may have noticed that a cartload of Shia bully-boy militiamen removed the Mayor of Baghdad from office this week and installed their own man, who now says he is too scared for his own life to hold on to the job. It has not been suggested that America and Britain, the guarantors of the security of the free Iraq that we went to war to create, were in any position to stop this. It came days after a great many more American soldiers were killed in Iraq: 45 already this month, as I write.

You may also have noticed that, according to The New York Times: “If the political process in Iraq remains on track and security improves, perhaps up to 30,000 troops could pull out by next spring.”

You may have asked what was meant in that sentence by the words “remains on track”. The “track” looks a curious railway with some unconventional destinations. But where it leads is ever-clearer: to a resolve by politicians to stand everyday observation on its head, and conclude that we have “won” in Iraq — and sprint back home during the incredulous pause before everyone begins to laugh.

You may have noticed, too, that our own Government is talking about massive British troop reductions in southern Iraq, possibly for “redeployment” to Afghanistan (“or tsunami relief, or Oxfam, or anywhere”, gulps Tony Blair into his shaving mirror).

The game is nearly up: not the military game, the psychological one. We can no longer take the strain in Iraq. We are going to make a bolt for it. You know that, don’t you? I suspect most British people do. It’s bearing down on us with a terrible inevitability.

Well? I am waiting. A number of us are waiting. We were expecting an angry chorus from a particular quarter. So why the silence? You could hear a pin drop. Why don’t they sing out, the armchair warriors of Fleet Street? George W. Bush and his friends are preparing to scuttle Iraq, and nobody’s complaining.

He goes on for a while, naming those who should be howling with righteous indignation, and then poses a truly central and important question:
When an argument has been as bitter as has the argument about the invasion of Iraq, it is tempting, I know, to get personal. The hawks have done so about us opponents and doubters of the war, and they should expect no quarter from us now that their case is falling apart. But beyond the polemic I do have a serious question for media supporters of the war. Despite all you said about being ready for a long and costly struggle, and all you said about the great price we should be ready to pay for the spreading of freedom, did you — secretly — think it was going to be easy? And did you support the invasion because of that?

If so, will you now admit that the rhetoric about an elemental war between good and evil was overblown, that to win this battle you were not, in fact, prepared to pay any price, and that all you really meant was that here was a mess that could be cleaned up relatively easily, cheaply and fast if we were prepared to crack the whip and cut a corner or two in the presentation of evidence and in international law?

And then in conclusion, and almost in passing, he acknowledges that it's all up - not to us now - to Iran.
When we begin to quit Iraq, a process that should be under way by this time next year, we shall leave one big question: a question which will be (as it has all along been) for the Iranians to decide. Would Tehran prefer a stable, Shia-dominated state, under Iranian influence and in control in at least southern Iraq? Or shall Tehran continue to encourage the devil it knows — total mayhem — among its old enemies?
And don't think he isn't right. Blair may be talking about cutting back troops, but he's not alone. The White House today (see the White House sheds unreality over at the News Stand) admitted, cautiously, to having had 'unreal' expectations...

It is a fair question. I've long believed that most of this administration was living in another world, one where they really did think that we'd be greeted with flowers and rosewater, welcomed as liberators, and already be back home with a perfect little mini-us in Baghdad. It didn't happen - it was never going to happen - and it's still not happening.

They lied to get us into this, and now they're starting up the campaign to get us out... but I'm not expecting any truth this time around, either.

Read the whole column, So we're going to bolt from Iraq. Where are the cries of complaint? here.]
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I offered a light 'thought' on Judge Roberts below. Here's a much more substantial look at the man's record, courtesy of

Call as witness Ansche Hedgepeth, a 12-year-old girl who in 2000 made the mistake of eating a french fry on the Washington Metro while police were in the midst of a quality-of-life crackdown. Officers arrested Ansche, handcuffed her, threw her in the back of a squad car and kept her in lockup for three hours. This big-government approach to childrearing offended Ansche's mother as well as the conservative Rutherford Institute of Virginia, which sued on her behalf. The case ended up before Judge Roberts, who refused to expunge her record. Why? Arresting Ansche, he wrote, advanced "the legitimate goal of promoting parental awareness and involvement with children who commit delinquent acts."

How will this judge, who endorses the manacling of a youngster over a snack, rule when confronted with the profound civil liberties challenges of the "war on terror"? We don't need to speculate. The day after his interview with Bush, Roberts and two other Reagan/Bush appointees on the DC Circuit reinstated military tribunals at Guantánamo--ruling that courts have no authority to review the White House's determination to deny those prisoners Geneva Convention protections.

Together these two very different cases give the lie to any suggestion that Judge Roberts lacks a track rec­ord. Enthusiastic expansion of the power of the executive branch, whether in the guise of policing or the presidency, is the most consistent thread of Roberts's career. In this sense he's no conservative; he's an apostle of big and often unreviewable government--the perfect nominee for a White House that excluded military lawyers, the State Department and even John Ashcroft's top aides from the inner circles of post-9/11 justice policy. The Guantánamo ruling was a stunning embrace of the Administration's expansive view of presidential power, placing the Guantánamo tribunals beyond reach of Congress or courts. It is a refutation, as well, of international law, stripping courts of the ability to enforce a treaty, with backwash over other key cases destined for the Supreme Court. Detainees in Guantánamo held without charge have cases coming before the DC circuit in a few weeks, and José Padilla, the American held in the brig as an "enemy combatant," is not far behind. No wonder Roberts--wired for life into the GOP patronage network--became the Administration's top choice.

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Roberts's professional biography suggests that every political choice he has made has been partisan and often rigidly ideological, from his clerkship with William Rehnquist through his role as a Republican adviser in Bush v. Gore. (Memo to Judiciary Committee: There's nothing out of bounds in asking Roberts's view of that case and whether he thinks the Supreme Court majority's ruling amounted to judicial activism.) Vigorous opposition to Roberts offers a powerful lesson on the intersection of politics and law in Bush's Washington. Bush may not have had a "litmus test" on Roe v. Wade, but he was precise about the political chemistry of his nominees. It's revealing that virtually all those floated as Supreme Court finalists were members of the Federalist Society. Roberts may not--or may--have been a member (at this writing the White House uses the deniable "no recollection" to explain why his name shows up in the group's confidential leadership directory for 1997-98), but between 1999 and 2003 his main professional association was with the fiercely antiregulatory National Legal Center for the Public Interest. As a judge he's written that the Endangered Species Act should not apply to a California toad because it doesn't cross state lines--a view of federal authority so extreme it would prohibit the EPA from getting involved in purely local landfills or chemical dumps.

(Read the whole article at The Nation online here)

Shapiro concludes that "Roberts, in that case as in others, embraces a quietly authoritarian vision of social control that should raise alarm bells on both the right and the left. Managing to wring out of the law any vestige of sensible, pragmatic humanity, Roberts saw instead only the imperative to maintain ideological consistency. This is not "compassionate conservatism." If "advise and consent" means anything, it is that senators and the constituencies that agitate behind them have every reason to oppose a lifetime Supreme Court appointment for that kind of chill heart."

I think he's right.

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As should be perfectly obvious, I hold no brief for Bush and his gang. But I used to think they understood PR.

Why won't the man amble down the driveway and talk to Cindy Sheehan?

Are they that afraid of someone who disagrees with him actually getting within earshot?

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So, you want the church in charge? You want a good moral government? Here's how Italy's new law on assisted fertility works:

The present law, passed last year, restricts the provision of fertility treatment to stable heterosexual couples and excludes single women or same-sex couples. It also restricts surrogacy and research using human embryos, forbids sperm and egg donation, and limits the number of embryos created with in-vitro techniques to three.
All you people enslaved to your Darwinian urges, insisting on only a child with your genes - and a lot of you refusing to understand or even believe the urges driving you, an enormous irony - think about that for a minute, and then ask your clinic if they're creating more than three embryos to get you pregnant...

The rest of you, the ones who get sperm or egg donors, read the writing on the wall.

"Addressing the bishops, the Pope said that easing restrictions on assisted fertility treatments would pose a threat to life and the family."

That poor fragile thing - life and the family.

Look - if you don't want to raise other people's children, fine. If you want to remain childless and bitter about it, fine. If you want feel superior, fine.

But keep your religion out of other people's lives.

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Some words from John McCain, presented without comment (because they need none):

We are Americans, and we hold ourselves to humane standards of treatment of people no matter how evil or terrible they may be. To do otherwise, as I have noted, undermines our security, but it also undermines our greatness as a nation. We are not simply any other country. We stand for something more in the world – a moral mission, one of freedom and democracy and human rights at home and abroad. We are better than these terrorists, and we will we win. The enemy we fight has no respect for human life or human rights. They don’t deserve our sympathy. But this isn’t about who they are. This is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies.
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Just a thought on Judge Roberts - yes, his work was for others, but he chose to work for Reagan and Starr - but that's not the thought. Here's the thought:

Catholic bishops threatened to excommunicate Kerry and other Catholics who didn't toe the line. Their right. But do we want a Supreme Court Justice whose rulings on the law of the land are hostage to any religion's views?

PS: About that caveat, 'his work was to represent the views of others' ... Bruce Shapiro points out in The Nation:

Another lie about Roberts's nomination is the notion that his most contentious statements should be written off as a lawyer's responsibility to his clients, not reflections of personal conviction. Exhibit A in this argument is Roberts's now-famous footnote in Rust v. Sullivan, the 1991 health clinic "gag rule" case in which he argued as deputy solicitor general that Roe v. Wade was "wrongly decided and should be overruled." Just doing my job, just reflecting Administration policy, Roberts said in his 2003 confirmation hearing as an appellate judge--a line repeated by Republicans and Democrats alike in recent days. In fact, the Rust v. Sullivan footnote went so far and so enthusiastically outside any argument relevant to the case that Roberts might fairly be accused of politicizing his briefs. But leave that aside. The real issue is that Roberts was hardly a passive receptacle, a mouthpiece without conviction. At the time of Rust v. Sullivan Roberts had been designated by Ken Starr as his "political" deputy--running interference on sensitive policy issues that otherwise would have been left to career officials. It was a job that didn't exist in either the Carter or Clinton administrations. The White House and Starr trusted Roberts not just to reflect legal policy but to make it.
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I just saw "Shake Hands With the Devil" (I have a new hero) - a movie I whole-heartedly recommend, though it's not much fun and is incredibly intense.

At one point, General Dallaire says that he failed Rwanda because he failed to shame the world into action.

I have to say: you can't shame the world, Roméo - the world is shameless. Just look around.

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I forgot to mention - the most incredible part (no, I lie, it's not incredible at all. Just sickening) of the Paul Harvey pro-nukes/bio-warfare/slavery speech (see below) is that he gave it for his regular employer - Disney.

Remember when Disney decided not to distribute "Farenheit 9/11" because it might "alienate" people?

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Astoundingly, last week (June 23, to be precise) Paul Harvey said the following:

We didn't come this far because we're made of sugar candy. Once upon a time, we elbowed our way onto and across this continent by giving smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans. That was biological warfare. And we used every other weapon we could get our hands on to grab this land from whomever. And we grew prosperous. And yes, we greased the skids with the sweat of slaves.
Paul misses those good old days, just like he misses our having the guts to drop nuclear weapons on our enemies. He said, "...we sent men with rifles into Afghanistan and Iraq and kept our best weapons in their silos."

Yes, indeed, Paul - we should have dropped nukes on the Middle East and Afghanistan. That would have done a lot of good. Made us very popular around the world. How to win friends and influence nations, Paul Harvey style.

We're standing there dying, daring to do nothing decisive because we've declared ourselves to be better than our terrorist enemies -- more moral, more civilized.
Yes. Yes, we have, Paul. That's the whole point.

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I keep waiting for DeLay & Co to introduce legislation to make fertility clinics illegal. After all, if you can't use stem cells from embryos destined for destruction - can't "destroy life to save life" - how can you possibly justify creating life just because some selfish people, driven by the Darwinian imperative (not the most of W's crowd accepts that notion) to replicate their very own genes instead of adopting someone else's, choose to create dozens of fertilized eggs and then destroy them? If you really believe the line they preach, how can you?

But then, that's the whole point, isn't it? Genuine belief... as opposed to political pandering.

Sure - why not? The ambassador to the United Nations is on record as hating the organization. That makes a lot a sense ... 'cause after all, he's another one of Bush's buddies. Loyalty trumps competence all the time in this administration, so why shouldn't it trump qualifications of all kinds? hr

I'm not really sure where this should go, so it's going here (and maybe someplace else, too, if I think of it.) I thought of it - it gets its own page! Look here: NPS Mistranslates Welsh on Washington Monument - and doesn't seem to care!

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So... I'm listening to NPR the other morning (Thursday March the 10th to be precise) and I hear a sound bite from W, and I quote: "I believe presidents should confront problems, not pass them on to future presidents and future generations."

Yeah?

Then I guess the deficit isn't a problem after all...

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The BBC was just today wondering about the US continuing to provide military aid to the king of Nepal after he seized power and dissolved the democratic government. I don't know what their puzzlement is about: years ago now Bush said "the most important thing" about Pakistan was not that their democratic government had been overthrown, but that their new dictator was "stable"...

We like that. And in all fairness to W, we pretty much always have.

As long as the dictator likes us, of course.

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Rehnquist is right: Congress needs to keep its hands off the Supreme Court. (At least it would take a Constitutional amendment, and those aren't easy, thank the Founders.)

I mean, I'd absolutely love to see Scalia and his Mini-Me off the Court. You know I would. And if W gets to appoint a Justice, I'm sure I'd love seeing him have a term limit.

But the Founders knew what they were doing. Justices of the Supreme Court need to be independent. They need to be able to follow their consciences in their intrepretation of the law. These days aren't the first days in our country's history when the Justices haven't been in step with the vocal segment of the country. We've always survived it. We always will.

But the Supreme Court doesn't need to have politicians breathing over their shoulders, threatening their tenure, demanding loyalty to a party.

That's just such a bad idea I can't imagine even Red Staters liking it - I mean, would you have wanted Clinton to be able to replace your boy Scalia? The GOP won't be in power for ever...

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It's my experience that when one person says something fairly general, and one of the people who the statement refers to decides to take it very personally and specifically, that second person usually has a guilty conscience.

So, this Norwegian (that's important) who's the UN chief of humanitarian aid says that industrialized countries tend to give less than 1% of the GNP in aid to less developed countries, and adds, mostly in puzzled sadness, "We were more generous when we were less rich, many of the rich countries. And it is beyond me, why we are so stingy, really. ... Every Christmas time should remind many Western countries at least how rich we have become." (Note that "we" - he's including Norway in there.)

And immediately, Bush comes out of the underbrush in Crawford (considering how much of his time he spends down there cutting the brush, you'd think he'd be easier to find) to protest that the US is "not stingy".

(We are, of course, which only adds to the guilty conscience, I imagine. $15 million - Pfizer's giving more than that. $35 million is better, but it's still chump change for a country like ours (in fact, it's just under four hours of the Iraq adventure). And we're stingy in general, as Mr Egeland says of the whole developed world, stingier than most. In non-military foreign aid we give less than a quarter of one percent of our budget. We may, as Powell said, "have given more in the last four years than any other nation or combination of nations in the world" when it comes to disaster aid, but in regular aid, Europe gives more than twice as much: $29.9 billion to our $13.2 billion in 2002, and $37.1 billion to our $16.2 billion in 2003. Worse, as the NY Times points out, we promise and don't deliver: of the $5 billion pledged by Bush in 2002 to assist African countries, not one dollar has yet been spent.)

And of course, it's not just us. The Brits offered £15 million ($28.9 million) at first - better than our first offer - and then upped it to £50 million ($96.32 million). But then again, we're supposed to be the "world's sole superpower", aren't we? The Brits are just our junior partner (not our poodle, of course not (apologies to the British people; Blair isn't you any more than W is us... actually, I think he's you a lot less, unfortunately)), not our equal.

[Flash: Late 31 Dec: We've upped our pledge to $350 million. That's just under two days cost for the war in Iraq... And it's less than Japan is giving - they're the big donor so far, at $500 million. Oh, well; maybe W will feel the need to get competitive.]

But that's not the only point, is it?

We, along with the rest of the developed world, are stingy - we don't give much, and we never have. The problem is that we aren't comfortable with admitting that. And especially Bush isn't - it's a fact that (like many facts) counters his notion of who we are. It's more of Bush's insistence that if he says a thing loudly enough, it'll become true.

As a people, we are generous - individuals donate an extraordinary amount of money and other help when something like this happens. Like the Brits - who have actually (as of almost midnight EST this New Year's Eve) donated more than their government has pledged - we give generously. We gave more than $35 million in the first two days after the disaster and we're still giving..

But as a country - I'm sorry. We're stingy.


And while I'm on the topic - what is it with the Republicans and Bill Clinton? He did what their man didn't - wouldn't - couldn't, and expressed his sympathy for the disaster and the losses, and all the White House personnel can do is bitch that he rushed in too fast where he didn't belong... As they say, oh fer cryin' out loud, guys. Get over it.

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And now the Dutch are in trouble. I'm not sure what's going on there, in a country thought of as a bastion of liberalism and tolerance. A Dutch politician (I didn't catch her name, sorry) was on the BBC World Update yesterday (10 Nov). She said she thought that the Dutch weren't really all that liberal. "Just because we allow gays to marry, and have legalized drugs in our constitution, and permit people to choose when to die," she said (though I'm paraphrasing), "that doesn't mean we are all that tolerant of people who are different."

Maybe that's so. Maybe the Dutch aren't so much tolerant and liberal as they are in lockstep in a mindset that doesn't accept dissension, and just happens to include so-called 'liberal' values. I don't know. I'm not Dutch (I don't even play one on TV), and the closest I've been to the Netherlands is Brussels.

But what I think is happening at least includes the essential liberal paradox:

How do you tolerate those who want to destroy you?
We try to accept everyone, say everyone's right, let everyone think and feel and believe as they wish. But some people - and not just radical Islamicists, either; fundamentalist Christians are damned good at it, too - what they want is for everyone to be like them. So the problem we have, which they will never have, is: how do we accept them and let them be what they want to be, when what that is, is to hate and destroy us?

I'll tell you the truth: I don't know the answer. I suspect (with dread) that the only way to even half-way succeed is to stop trying and be more like them. I suspect that's one reason we don't win the arguments with them, the classic joke of the liberal always saying (as Roy Blount, Jr, says) "you know, you have a point...".

And I'll tell you something else. I'm going to stop saying that. I'm going to stop enabling them to destroy us. I've always said the difference between us is that while we want everyone to do as they please (exagerration, but you follow), they want everyone to do as they please. The mindsets aren't compatible. And frankly, if it comes down to it, I'd rather be a little bit intolerant than not, when what I'm being intolerant of is so repellent.

It's like that thing about the stickers in the Georgia schoolbooks - if the truth "may hurt some people's feelings" then some people just have to have their feelings hurt. Telling them lies to keep their fragile little psyches undamaged is wrong.

And dangerous.

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Paul Friedman has a few (six, in fact) good questions about the War in Iraq, part 2. He leads with this caustic but alas all too accurate observation:

I got a brief glimpse of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's news conference on Monday, as the battle for Falluja began. I couldn't help but rub my eyes for a moment and wonder aloud whether I had been transported back in time to some 20 months ago, when the war for Iraq had just started. Watching CNN, I saw the same Rummy joking with the Pentagon press corps, the same scratchy reports from the front by "embedded reporters,'' the same footage of U.S. generals who briefed the soldiers preparing for battle about how they were liberating Iraq.

There was only one difference that no one seemed to want to mention. It wasn't 20 months ago. It was now. And Iraq has still not been fully liberated. In fact, as the fight for Falluja shows, it hasn't even been fully occupied.

And you know what? He's right. Things are worse there now than a year ago. Eleven hundred America soldiers dead, and counting. Thirteen, fourteen, seventeen (it depends on who you ask, but thirteen's the low ... if you don't count the Pentagon, where Rummy justs sniffs and says "we don't do body counts" on Iraqi civilians) thousand Iraqi civilians dead, and counting. And apropos that last number: we've killed more Iraqi citizens in the past year than Hussein did annually. Ain't it great?

Anyway, Friedman goes on to muse

Taking in this scene I had very mixed feelings: a fervent hope that victory in Falluja will start to tip Iraq in the right direction, and utter scorn at the fact that we are now, once again, fighting a full-scale war in central Iraq, without an ounce of self-reflection by an administration that long ago declared "mission accomplished.'' But don't worry. Rummy has it all under control. He hasn't made any mistakes. Everything is going as planned. The plan was always to fight running street battles in Falluja 20 months after Saddam's fall.

So lay off. Shut up. Watch Fox. Wave a flag. Visit a red state. Don't ask how we got into this fix. Shut up. Lay off. Watch Fox. ...

So, you say, what are his questions? (One of them - damn good one, too - includes the provocative followup "Is Iraq the way Iraq is because Saddam was the way Saddam was, or was Saddam the way Saddam was because Iraqis are the way they are - congenitally divided?") In brief, here they are (I've edited his elaborations, but see link below):
  1. Have we really finished the war in Iraq? (And by that I mean, is it safe for Iraqis and reconstruction workers to drive even from the Baghdad airport into town, and for Iraqi politicians to hold campaign rallies and have a national dialogue about their country's future?)
  2. Do we have enough soldiers in Iraq to really provide a minimum level of security? (I know chaos when I see it, and my guess is that we are still at least two divisions short in Iraq.)
  3. Can Iraqis agree on constitutional power-sharing?
  4. If Iraqis are able to make the leap from the despotism of Saddam Hussein to free elections and representative government, can we live with whomever they elect - which will be mostly politicians from Islamist parties?
  5. Can we make a serious effort to achieve a psychological breakthrough with Iraqis and the wider Arab world?
  6. Can the Bush team mend fences with Iran, and forge an understanding with Saudi Arabia and Syria to control the flow of Sunni militants into Iraq, so the situation there can be stabilized and the jihadists killed in Falluja are not replaced by a new bunch?
Good questions, all.

The problem with Iraq II is that we still don't have any answers. And we still don't hear the administration even addressing these issues. We still hear the same old long disproven rhetoric.

Look - I'm a veteran. I support the troops. I just happen to think that one real good way to do that is think long and hard about starting a war.

Read the whole editorial here.

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June 1, 1798 - Thos Jefferson to John Taylor:

Be this as it may, in every free and deliberating society, there must, from the nature of man, be opposite parties, and violent dissensions and discords; and one of these, for the most part, must prevail over the other for a longer or shorter time. Perhaps this party division is necessary to induce each to watch and relate to the people the proceedings of the other. But if on a temporary superiority of the one party, the other is to resort to a scission of the Union, no federal government can ever exist. ... A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolved, and the people recovering their true sight, restoring their government to its true principles. It is true, that in the meantime, we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war, and long oppressions of enormous public debt. .... If the game runs sometimes against us at home, we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost. For this is a game where principles are the stake. Better luck, therefore, to us all, and health, happiness and friendly salutations to yourself. Adieu. hr

So now we have the candidates. And the Republicans are offering us a man who's stubborn, insensitive, crazily aggressive, and incapable of nuance or admitting that he's human and can err. Of course, they're presenting it like these are virtues.
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Oh, for.... Here we go again. First catfish, now shrimp. I don't have much new to say, so look here for what I said on Free Trade.
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Okay, why is everybody so down on Jon Stewart for telling the truth the other day? Oh, wait. Did I just answer my own question?

The fact is, the man was right. He was right that it's ridiculous on the face of it to ask a comedian, a man who is "a fake newsman reporting fake news", to be rigorous in his interview with a politician. That segment of The Daily Show is a talk-show, for crying out loud, with movie stars and television actors, and writers. It's not Face the Nation. It's not the NEWS. It's a comedy show.

And he was right that the news media have abdicated, big time, their responsibility to the public. If, as Ted Koppel fears, "too many people" are getting their news from TDS (you know, they used to advertise with that: more Americans get their news from TDS than probably should), it might just be because the major networks, and the cable "news" networks, are falling down on the job. It might just be because they won't call a lie a lie. Because their standards are so low, they're amazed if a certain politician can frame a coherent sentence, never mind examining that sentence for truth. Because they actually act as if "balance" is all - you don't "balance" a lie with the truth and come up with some average value that's "fair": you call a lie a lie.

This is true in everything. The Earth is flat - the Earth is round: this doesn't equal the earth being football-shaped, you know. The president said X - the president didn't say X: there is no "balance". Either he did or he didn't.

Jon told the truth. He wasn't funny. Too bad for him he was on a real news show when he did it.
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Okay... I've taken a deep breath. But [insert name of whatever Deity or Virtue you choose] - how can anyone be surprised that Abu Ghraib happened? The Resident and his cronies have been fostering a "we're above the law of nations" mindset for a long time now. And maybe we can see why W & Co are so dead set against the International Court, maybe they've always had war crimes on their minds.

Look. Americans are not angels. We're "a little lower than angels" to quote W's favorite book. Maybe a lot lower. We've a long and inglorious history of turning our enemies into something not quite human, something we can kill and maim and rape and torture ... look at how many patriots treated Tories during the Revolutionary War, to start with, and move on up through My Lai. "Constitutions are chains with which men bind themselves in their sane moments that they may not die by a suicidal hand in the day of their frenzy," says Robert Stockton, and he's right. And so are treaties and conventions.

We know how badly we can behave. Usually, we try to behave better. This administration encourages us to behave as badly as we wish, because we're afraid. Or because our enemies are bad.

Well, that doesn't cut it. We're meant to be better than that. Than them.

Than this.
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My country is better than this.

Don't you dare hold my country to the standards of barbarians.

We are better than they are.

We are better than this.
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I have this suggestion to end all the rancor about gay marriage vs the sanctity of marriage. It's simple, and I think it'll work.

We start off by acknowledging that there's some confusion arising from our using the same word for (a) a civil contract with legal ramifications and (b) a religious rite.

After all, you have to get a civil marriage license and be married by someone with "authority vested in [him] by the state" before it's legal. And all those people back in the Sixties who kept saying they didn't need "a piece of paper" weren't complaining about the church. Any church. And lots of religions allow kinds of marriages the state doesn't. And lots and lots of people get married without bringing any church into it at all. Not to mention all those who get married to people churches don't want them to marry.

To say nothing of those who can't have children (which keeps on being mentioned as the real reason, if not the only reason).

So - let's just say that marriage is this sacred, sanctified, religious institution. And let's call the civil, legally binding one... oh, say, a "civil union".

There. You can have your "sacred, sanctified" institution. Just don't expect the state to give you any tax breaks or inheritance breaks or community property on it. It's religion, after all. And we'll have our civil contract with power of attorney and so on, and we won't ask anybody to call it sacred.

And if someone wants both ... hey, no problem.

Just like now.
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The Pledge of Allegiance. I haven't changed my mind any since last year. Read my take on the pledge here.
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Okay. Let me say right off: I do not think that Antonin Scalia can be bought off with a duck hunting trip.

I think he's getting the duck hunting trip 'cause he's already deep in Cheney's (and not just Cheney's) pocket.
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I'm starting to think my favorite of the White House Bunch's reactions to Clarke's apparently undeniable accusations (let's face it: this administration is better at attacking and smearing its enemies than any we've seen in a long time, of either political persuasion. They don't even care who else gets hurt, like, say, anybody who ever worked with Valerie Plamme. But I digress...) My favorite has to be Rumsfeld's sniffing "He was out of the loop."

Uh. Hel-loo? He was the Counterterrorist Czar. What the hell loop was there if he wasn't in it?
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Okay ... I guess my first reaction has to be: What's up with the Israeli army? Don't they have snipers anymore?

I mean, really. Even leaving aside the whole vexing question of whether or not Israel is actually justified in assassinating the founder of Hamas, a question which I freely admit to not being able to answer -- in what alternate reality would sending gunships to kill an old man in a wheelchair by firing air-to-ground missiles into a crowd of people leaving a church not be a bad idea?

You have just got to wonder.

(And that's not even taking into consideration the entirely logical and predictable (in this reality) response of Hamas: to immediately find a new leader, and to be very, very pissed off. Abdel Aziz Rantisi, addressing a Hamas rally at Gaza City's Islamic University, said: "We knew that Bush is the enemy of God, the enemy of Islam and Muslims. America declared war against God. Sharon declared war against God and God declared war against America, Bush and Sharon. The war of God continues against them and I can see the victory coming up from the land of Palestine by the hand of Hamas.")

Interesting times.......
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Ah, well. Again, it's old news. Gov Arnold's first budget contains no new taxes, not even any restored ones, has a lot of hope built in (we'll get $500 million when we convince the Indian casinos to give it to us), and cuts education (the status quo for some schools, which is a cut in itself from the previous budget) and services for the poor at both state and local levels.

Now, I knew he couldn't do what he'd promised to do: solve California's fiscal problems by neither raising taxes nor cutting education and health care, but I had hoped he'd use the "natural disaster" outs he'd been handed to do the right thing. But I was wrong. He did the Right thing, instead.

Poor children will not have health care. Poor working people will not have services. The rich will coast on their lowered taxes. And businesses (who are more important than workers or children) will get tax incentives.

Business as usual...
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Ah, me. We begin 2004 on a familiar note: The United States wants other nations to treat us differently than we treat them. Again.

This time, it's mad cow. Not a half a month after we find it here, we want the world to start buying our beef again, an uncommonly quick resumption of trade — and far quicker than we've been willing to resume things. In the past, nations could expect lengthy cut-offs in trade once mad cow disease was discovered. When Canada, for whom the U.S. is the largest beef export market (a million head a year), announced its first case in a decade last May, the United States blocked all trade in Canadian beef for four months, and then opened up to boneless beef from cattle under the age of 30 months.

But we want the rest of the world (especially our biggest export markets, Japan and Mexico) to buy our beef now, not months later after we've showed we're clean, or to restrict their imports by age or anything. As Reuters says, "U.S. officials acknowledge they are asking for more flexibility from trading partners than the United States showed in the past."

But then — that's us all over, isn't it?


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Halliburton, having grossly overcharged the government for oil in Iraq, is losing the contract. Cheney's company is in serious trouble on a number of fronts ... just gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling, doesn't it?
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At last, the courts are beginning to rein this headstrong duo in. Jose Padilla may be a criminal, but in this country we believe that criminals deserve lawyers. Because we believe that you have to prove someone's a criminal. You can't just toss someone in jail for years without ever charging them. That's the way things are done in tyrannies, not democracies.
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"What's the difference?" !! What's the difference?

Does he honestly not understand what the difference is? Or is he just cynical enough to think that we'll all nod and agree with him, since, after all, only he can save us now?

Sure, Saddam Hussein was a Bad Man. And probably the Iraqis are better off without him running their country, in the long run at least. But ridding the world of a Bad Man was not why we went to war. For crying out loud, we just gave half a billion dollars to Uzbekistan, whose Karimov is at least as bad as Hussein ever was. And we're quite cozy with Pakistan, whose behaviour over Kashmir is, well, questionable as far as the exporting of terrorism is concerned. And let's not forget that we (jeepers, Rumsfeld himself was part of the deal making) actually put the WMD into Hussein's hands back when he was using them on people we wanted him to use them on.

We went to war because Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction and was ready to use them against us at a moment's notice. Remember? That's what we were told to make us go.* And now it's so obvious that was just Not True that even the Resident has to admit it. But now he's pretending he never said it, or if he did say it he didn't mean it, and it didn't matter anyway...

What's the difference, indeed.

*Plus the 9/11 connection which, frankly, was also Not True. Ever. And W now says no one in his administration ever said it, "technically". Hoo boy. Who among us doesn't know that when we have to fall back on saying something is "technically true", it's a big fat lie in intent and effect?
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Well ... I see where the Resident's handlers basically want to shut down about three square miles of London so he won't be bothered by protesters ... Frankly, I think it might be salutary for the man to look out and see thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people in the one country in the world who actually supported* his little incursion who don't like him or his policies.

I mean, we know he revels in ignorance, bragging about how he never reads the papers or watches or listens to news, letting his loyal staff filter everything before it gets to him. It's no wonder he was surprised to see protesters in Asia, or to find out that <gasp!> some Muslims think he's got a vendetta going. And just maybe seeing how many Brits are anti-US-throwing-our-weight-around might give him pause.

Or not, of course. But... it would be sorta fun, wouldn't it?

* Okay, I know ... "Coalition of the Willing" and all that. But, honestly now: how many of them actually sent troops? While the war was on? You know Italy's sorry now... After all, those Italians were policemen, and the country was told that it was an "humanitarian" mission, with "little risk". Benvenuto a mondo della Bush!
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Re: my remarks on the "Afghan model" below, I have to admit that although the US has been grossly remiss in nation-building there (I'm reminded of Jon Stewart showing us a clip of Candidate Bush saying "I don't believe that American troops should be used in what's called 'nation building'," and then remarking, "Well, you have to admit he's kept his word."), the new constitution up for approval there is better than one might have expected. Islamic, yet democratic. If that can work, there is a light ahead...
Look here for Noah Feldman's assessment of the Afghan constitution -- and what we need to do to ensure that we don't send the same message as al Quaida.
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I see where flag burning is once again one of the most important problems this nation faces. I just have to weigh in here with a Mark Twain quote that seems to sum it up nicely:

[I] had the illusion that a flag was a thing which must be sacredly guarded against shameful uses and unclean contacts, lest it suffer pollution; and so when it was sent out ... to float over a wanton war ... I supposed it was polluted, and in an ignorant moment I said so. But I stand corrected. I conceded and acknowledge that it was only the government that sent it on such an errand that was polluted. Let us compromise on that. I am glad to have it that way. For our flag could not well stand pollution, never having been used to it, but it is different with the administration.

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