Saturday, October 01, 2005

How to make Republicans: The extremism of the anti-war movement

Last week, I wrote two posts on last weekend's anti-war rally in Washington. In the first one, I withheld commentary but declared that "it's good to see such political passion every now and then". In the second one, I noted, via Christopher Hitchens, that the rally was organized by two extremist groups, one of which, International ANSWER, has expressed support for some of the most awful regimes on the planet (including those of Kim Jong-il, Fidel Castro, and Slobodan Milosevic): "It's truly shameful," I concluded, "that what was a vocal (and perhaps justifiable) protest against a war that was more or less botched from the get-go was in fact organized by such loathsome groups."

Those of you who read The Reaction regularly (or irregularly), or those of you who are familiar with my work at The Moderate Voice, know my views on the Iraq War: Like many other liberal hawks, I was for it at the outset, given what I knew at the time, but I have since been a vocal critic of the occupation and of President Bush's leadership (or lack thereof). However, I think that the job needs to be finished -- that is, Iraq needs to be stabilized -- before any significant withdrawal of U.S. forces occurs, lest Iraq descend into chaos.

I sympathize with the concerns of many of the protesters who showed up in Washington and elsewhere last weekend. My view is that the job needs to be done better, not halted immediately, but there is indeed something to be said for the expression of such political passion -- sometimes I worry that there isn't nearly enough of it now that political activism has been largely co-opted by inside-the-beltway lobbyists and money-driven groups operating on the internet. But the problem isn't just that the demonstration in Washington was organized by sympathizers of totalitarianism, it's that the anti-war movement, such as there even is one to speak of, has been polluted by extremists far outside the mainstream of American society, many of whom seem to be using the anti-war movement as a platform for the expression of unrelated concerns.

Thus, as Lawrence Kaplan notes in The New Republic, writing about the event in Washington, "[f]ringe issues... dominate[d] the day. Where the Vietnam antiwar movement focused directly on the war, with parts of it evolving over time into a broader indictment of 'the system,' [Saturday's] march walk[ed] backward, addressing a litany of pet causes before it even [got] to Iraq." And it didn't help that those fringe issues typically anti-Israeli (and, one suspects, anti-Semitic) sentiments. To be fair, Kaplan mentions that some of the protesters found this fringe element quite disturbing... and meddlesome. How do you focus on the Iraq War when there are loud voices protesting everything America is doing around the world and right at home, indeed, when there are such voices proclaiming every left-wing cause imaginable? I can sympathize with the concerns of the genuine anti-war protesters, but not with the rabid anti-Americanism that showed up last weekend and threatened to drown out the real issue -- which, in case you've forgotten, is Iraq.

Kaplan again: "Part thirty-fifth college reunion and part flea market for the disaffected, where the sheer number of grievances on offer overwhelmed the only one that counted, what Washington endured this weekend wasn't exactly an antiwar march. It was anti-everything: Israel, the U.S. military, capitalism, colonialism, Wal-Mart. If anything, the march created the impression of a country so far removed from the war in Iraq that even the antiwar movement can't be bothered to demonstrate against it."

Which is a shame. There is something to be said against this war, and there may even be something to be said for bringing the troops home sooner rather than later, even if I myself don't agree with that. But the anti-war movement, hollow or not, doesn't do itself any favours by allowing itself to be taken over by such extremism -- one big reason why many prominent Democrats, most of whom have no love for the war or for the White House that started it, avoided the event entirely. As long as it seems to be little more than a ragtag expression of bitter anti-Americanism, it will alienate many (like me) who sympathize with it and who might actually support it. Pro-war conservatives and Republicans will always be against it, but many of the rest of us will simply be turned against it. Some of us may even be pushed into the hardened pro-war camp (or at least further away from the anti-war one) either out of spite or out of a reluctance to be associated in any way with such extremism. After all, patriotism matters to most Americans.

If you want more evidence of the extremism of last week's demonstrations, here are some photos from San Francisco. As you'll see, President Bush is characterized as Satan, a psychotic murderer, a wanker, a mad cowboy, a dictator (Hitler), a fascist, a war criminal, and a Nazi.

No, such idiocy won't turn me into a Republican, nor into a thoughtless supporter of Bush's conduct of the war/occupation, but I find myself quite repelled by such sentiments, and it wouldn't surprise me if they repelled others right into the arms of the anti-war movement's opponents. For which the anti-war movement would have nothing to blame but itself.

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Terrorism in Bali

Terrorist bombs have killed at least 36 today in Bali -- and the death toll keeps rising. Here's the latest from CNN:

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned Saturday's bombings as an act of terrorism. There were no immediate claims of responsibility.

In addition to the 36 fatalities, hospital officials said 103 people were wounded...

The attack came almost exactly three years to the day after terrorists bombed Kuta nightclubs -- on October 12, 2002 -- killing 202 people.

I've got more on this developing story over at The Moderate Voice.

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"The Promised Land for Pigs"

(Or, why I don't eat pork.)

I came across this interesting piece the other day at Radio Netherlands. Apparently, massaging pigs (and, I presume, other such animals) may actually relieve stress:

Dafne Westerhof is a very glamorous Dutch woman who for years ran a communications company at one Amsterdam's swankiest addresses. But nowadays, Dafne's high heels have been pushed to the back of the wardrobe in favour of her rubber boots because ten years ago, Dafne set up a farm-cum-refuge which is now home to one goose, one sheep, two cows, ten cats, twelve pigs and 150 roosters...

Ten years later Dafne Westerhof has become very well-known within the Netherlands, and not just because of her opposition to mass-production of livestock for agriculture or her willingness to rush out and rescue abandoned pot-bellied pigs found wandering around the Dutch countryside. Over the last few years, Dafne has discovered something rather wonderful. People like to be with pigs. Not only that, but pigs seem to have a beneficial effect on people, especially if people can get to massage a pig. Massage a pig?

Dafne explains: "Once I bought a three-week old piglet from a farmer and she was very nervous, scared of everything. So I started to massage her and immediately she became calm. And then I discovered that pigs have a sort of 'secret spot' at the point where the front legs meet the body - their armpits, if you like - and if you massage them just a little at this spot, the pig will go into a sort of trance."

And it's true. Not one minute after Dafne had begun to massage, that very same nervous piglet, the now a seven-year-old sow called 'Aagje', slowly toppled on to her side and lay there quietly in a state of contented bliss.

"Once I was on television," continues Dafne, "and many people called me to ask if they could come and see the pigs for themselves and maybe even try the massaging. So I held an open day and it was amazing. I saw people crying as they came into close contact with these animals and I realised that apparently there is a need to be with pigs."

As a result, Dafne Westerhof set up a workshop called 'Communication with Pigs'. And not only that; she now runs regular courses on 'Communication within the Workplace' and 'Stress Management', which involve contact with the pigs. But tyrants beware: pigs, it seems, are extremely sensitive to people's vibes and group dynamics.

You know what, it sounds like a wonderful idea, and I hope it proves successful. Those of you who love animals, as I do, know just what it means to have them in your life and how much better your life is to have them around -- and not just dogs and cats, although my cat, Keiko, is truly one of the loves of my life.

Our society tends to view animals, especially those that are raised for human consumption, as lesser creatures to be used and abused and completely disregarded. Maybe it's time we appreciated them for what they bring to our lives and for the intrinsic value that they themselves possess.

Dafne Westerhof deserves our admiration.

And, yes, I love pigs. Go massage one.

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The Bill Bennett fiasco (update)

Click here (or scroll down) for my analysis of the Bill Bennett story. Here's an update on the response from the White House and Capitol Hill:

Congressional Democrats blasted former Education Secretary William Bennett on Thursday for saying that aborting "every black baby in this country" would reduce the crime rate, and demanded their Republican counterparts do the same.

"This is precisely the kind of insensitive, hurtful and ignorant rhetoric that Americans have grown tired of," said Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Illinois.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters on Friday that President Bush "believes the comments were not appropriate"...

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, had called on President Bush to condemn the comments by Bennett, who was anti-drug chief in Bush's father's administration.

"What could possibly have possessed Secretary Bennett to say those words, especially at this time?" Pelosi asked. "What could he possibly have been thinking? This is what is so alarming about his words."

But Bennett has been standing firm:

"I was putting forward a hypothetical proposition. Put that forward. Examined it. And then said about it that it's morally reprehensible. To recommend abortion of an entire group of people in order to lower your crime rate is morally reprehensible. But this is what happens when you argue that the ends can justify the means," he told CNN.

"I'm not racist, and I'll put my record up against theirs," referring to Pelosi and other critics. "I've been a champion of the real civil rights issue of our times -- equal educational opportunities for kids."

"We've got to have candor and talk about these things while we reject wild hypotheses," Bennett said.

"I don't think people have the right to be angry, if they look at the whole thing. But if they get a selective part of my comment, I can see why they would be angry. If somebody thought I was advocating that, they ought to be angry. I would be angry."

"But that's not what I advocate."

Asked if he owed people an apology, Bennett replied, "I don't think I do. I think people who misrepresented my view owe me an apology."

Well, perhaps. There certainly has been misrepresentation of his "view," particularly by those who have taken his statements out of context. But this should not let Bennett off the hook. I don't think he's a racist -- anyone who looks at his career and at what he's said and written over the years can see that -- but he shouldn't have used a sensitive racial example to make a point about how reductio ad absurdum arguments are philosophically and politically problematic.

As a public figure with a good deal of experience dealing with the media -- indeed, as a high-profile member of the media himself, as someone with high-level political experience -- he should have used his head before his mouth and considered just how his comments would likely be taken once out there in the public domain. In short, he should have known better.

I'm not sure who needs to apologize to whom, nor even if apologies are necessary, but this is already an overblown story that should go away. Bennett's critics should think about what he actually said before calling him a racist, but Bennett himself should take some time to mull over what was an astonishingly stupid thing to say.

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Friday, September 30, 2005

The Bill Bennett fiasco

Apparently, racial sensitivity is not a virtue. Here's what right-wing author, pundit, and gambling addict Bill Bennett said on his radio show the other day, according to Media Matters:

Addressing a caller's suggestion that the "lost revenue from the people who have been aborted in the last 30 years" would be enough to preserve Social Security's solvency, radio host and former Reagan administration Secretary of Education Bill Bennett dismissed such "far-reaching, extensive extrapolations" by declaring that if "you wanted to reduce crime... if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." Bennett conceded that aborting all African-American babies "would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do," then added again, "but the crime rate would go down."

See here for Media Matters's continuing coverage of this overhyped, overplayed story. See here for Joe Gandelman's round-up at The Moderate Voice.

Needless to say, Bennett's remarks have prompted an outpouring of outrage -- and, to a certain extent, justifiably so. If nothing else, his comments were profoundly insensitive. But the question is, were they false?

At National Review Online, Andrew McCarthy argues that "Bennett made a minor point that was statistically and logically unassailable". Furthermore, he argues that, taken in context, Bennett "emphatically qualified his remarks from the standpoint of morality" and "ended with the entirely valid conclusion that sweeping generalizations are unhelpful in making major policy decisions". The problem with the outrage directed at Bennett is that those who are outraged are taking his comments out of context, focusing solely on the de-contextualized part that Media Matters quotes (see above). Clearly, Bennett was not arguing that all black babies should be aborted. Rather, he was making the point that such generalizations are largely pointless from a philosophical (and policy-making) perspective. Furthermore, what Bennett said was, from a statistical perspective, right. McCarthy again:

Statistics have long been kept on crime, breaking it down in various ways, including by race and ethnicity. Some identifiable groups, considered as a group, commit crime at a rate that is higher than the national rate.

Blacks are such a group. That is simply a fact. Indeed, our public discourse on it, even among prominent African Americans, has not been to dispute the numbers but to argue over the causes of the high rate: Is it poverty? Breakdown of the family? Undue police attention? Other factors — or some combination of all the factors? We argue about all these things, but the argument always proceeds from the incontestable fact that the rate is high.

The rate being high, it is an unavoidable mathematical reality that if the number of blacks, or of any group whose rate outstripped the national rate, were reduced or eliminated from the national computation, the national rate would go down.

Again, there may be any number of reasons for the relatively high crime rate among blacks, and some of those reasons may be serious social problems that need to be addressed. But, again, what Bennett said wasn't objectively wrong (although, I admit, it probably depends on your definition of "crime"). If anything, what he said was just plain stupid. I mean, I could say, for example, that the rate of gambling addiction would be lower if only Bennett himself had been aborted. Isn't that true? Of course it is. Or that the rate of defrauding shareholders of Tyco would be lower if only all white men had been aborted. Also true.

Majikthise has more such examples here. Pandagon does, too, along with a vitriolic critique of McCarthy, here: "In general, it's never a very good idea politically to theorize about the wholesale abortion of an entire race of people." Well, exactly.

Other bloggers posting on this:

Oy. I could go on and on, but these are the best. Echidne has another good counter-example: "Quite a few people are discussing Bennett's statement out of context but even within context it's fairly bad. He picks African-Americans as the group to use in his stupid example, and that is racist. Because if he had really wanted to make the point by picking a group with very high crime rates he should have suggested aborting all male fetuses. And don't you now go saying that I have advocated that, because I didn't. I just pointed out how one can see that Bennett uses an 'out-group' for his example, and by doing that he others the members of that group."

And, again, that's pretty much my view. Bennett's point was, strictly speaking, accurate, but as a reductio ad absurdum argument it was astonishingly insensitive and politically irresponsible. I wouldn't go so far as to call it racist, but it's close, if only because Bennett could have picked any group and picked one that has been the target of institutionalized racism (and, yes, genocide).

Gandelman sums it up well (see link above):

"Bottom line: no matter what his intentions, how his friends (or even enemies) defend him, by the relentless rules of the game in 21st century America as a political commodity Bill Bennett will be damaged goods except to those who already agree with him. On the other hand, if his foes press taking his radio show off the air, Bennett will garner lots of support from even many who criticize him. If he's given the boot for a big mouth, than many talk show hosts on the right and left ought to bend down, too. But Bennett has heightened the controversy. It was bad enough that he made the original comments, that he tried to quickly qualify them. It was bad enough when his foes leaped on it to make it a political issue. And it was bad enough when he decided to go on the offensive against the Democrats. Bill Bennett had a mouth dysfunction and, when his critics pushed the political button, he pushed the polarization button.


But let me be clear about this: I'm no fan of Bill Bennett. In fact, I dislike him immensely. Not as much as DeLong -- who calls him "a loathsome fungus on the tree of American politics, a man who has worked unceasingly to make America a worse place" -- but close. Bennett claims to be something of a philosopher, even a Socratic philosopher, but this incident proves once more that, whatever his "learning," he's a stupid, stupid man who often says stupid, stupid things.

Ah, yet another embarrassment for the right. Add William Bennett, America's self-appointed morality cop, to the list.

(See my previous posts on the end of conservatism and the moral absolutism of the right, both of which are applicable here.)

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DeLay and deny: The demise of The Hammer and the future of the Republican Party

(I wrote this for The Moderate Voice last night. I thought I'd double-post it here back at my home base.)

Speaking of Tom DeLay, the (now former) House Majority Leaders was, as you all know by now, indicted on Wednesday on charges of criminal conspiracy:

A Texas grand jury indicted House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) yesterday on a charge of criminally conspiring with two political associates to inject illegal corporate contributions into 2002 state elections that helped the Republican Party reorder the congressional map in Texas and cement its control of the House in Washington.

The indictment forced DeLay, one of the Republicans' most powerful leaders and fundraisers, to step aside under House rules barring such posts to those accused of criminal conduct. House Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the third-ranking leader, was elected by Republican House members yesterday afternoon to fill the spot temporarily after conservatives threatened a revolt against another candidate considered by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

Although the indictment had been rumored for weeks among top Republicans, based on what several described as a difficult meeting in August between DeLay and the Texas prosecutor behind the case, it shook the GOP political establishment and posed new problems for the party as it heads into the midterm elections next year.

DeLay bitterly denounced the charge as baseless and defiantly called the prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, "an unabashed partisan zealot" engaging in "personal revenge" because DeLay helped elect a Republican majority to the Texas House in 2002. "I have the facts, the law and the truth on my side," DeLay said, reading from a statement, before declining to answer questions.

If he has the truth on his side, why didn't he answer questions? Is it because he'd have had to lie?

The reactions to the indictment and subsequent resignation, along with Blunt's accession, have been predictably diverse both in the mainstream media and in the blogosphere, depending in large part on partisan inclination. See Joe Gandelman's post at TMV for a solid round-up of highlights.

Obviously, DeLay himself faces some serious problems — problems even he may not be able to overcome:

For the first time in more than a decade, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) arrived at work yesterday without a leadership title attached to his name. Sidelined from his post as majority leader by a criminal indictment in Texas, the man who accumulated extraordinary power on his way up the ladder faces a difficult and uncertain road back to those heights.

The money-laundering indictment back home represents just one of the obstacles DeLay must overcome before he can seek restoration as a member of the House GOP leadership. The other obstacles include a possible House ethics investigation; the scandal involving well-connected GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, which has touched former DeLay staff members; and a 2006 reelection campaign that would have been difficult even without the indictment.

Even if he is able to beat the indictment in Texas and avoid other potential problems, there is no guarantee that his colleagues will want him back. At some point, they may decide that it is in their interest politically to move beyond the DeLay era, regardless of the status of his legal situation.

With post-DeLay leadership fights already in the offing and with growing concern about a deteriorating political climate that has less to do with DeLay than with Iraq, gasoline prices and President Bush's problems, House Republicans may find themselves torn between personal admiration for DeLay and a cold-eyed judgment of what is best for the party. "They've already turned the page," a GOP strategist said yesterday.

If so, then so much for DeLay, so much for The Hammer ruling the House with an iron fist, terrifying his friends into submission and throwing his enemies into fits of discombobulation.

And good riddance I say. And so say many liberals and Democrats for whom DeLay was the personification of the dark side of the Republican Party, if not of the Republican Party itself. But is this really the best way to look at it? Would it not be better for Democrats to have DeLay stay on as the face -- the ugly mug -- of the Republican Party? Better the focus on DeLay, after all, than on independently popular figures like McCain and Giuliani. This is precisely the argument made by John Dickerson at Slate just after the indictment was handed down, and it's one that should give pause to DeLay's opponents:

Democrats would have to be nuts to root for DeLay's scalp, something many of them admit in private. He's the best villain they'll ever have. DeLay's got troubles hanging from him like charm bracelets. Not only does he have the Texas mess, but he's been knocked three times by the House ethics committee for misusing his post, and he's been closely linked to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. At the level of personality, he positively oozes meanness, making him a perfect foil for Democrats. His poll numbers have been tanking. And now he's under indictment. DeLay makes an even more potent symbol bookended by Senate Majoriy Leader Bill Frist, who is having his own ethical inquiries into his stock sales.

Regardless, such partisan considerations and political calculations notwithstanding, DeLay's indictment is merely one more problem for the a Republican Party that is rotting from within. The Times:

The indictment of Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the House majority leader, on Wednesday was the latest in a series of scandals and setbacks that have buffeted Republican leaders in Congress and the Bush administration, and transformed what might have been a victory lap into a hard political scramble. Republicans are still managing to score some victories -- notably, Judge John G. Roberts Jr.'s expected confirmation as chief justice of the United States on Thursday -- but their governing majority is showing signs of strain.

In the House, Mr. DeLay's indictment removes, even if temporarily, a powerful leader who managed to eke out, again and again, narrow majorities on some difficult votes. In the Senate, Republican ranks have been roiled this week by an investigation of Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, who is under scrutiny for his stock dealings from a blind trust.

Moreover, the string of ethical issues so close together -- including the indictment and continuing investigation of the Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was close to Mr. DeLay, and the arrest of David H. Safavian, a former White House budget official who was charged with lying to investigators and obstructing a federal inquiry involving Mr. Abramoff -- is a source of anxiety in Republican circles.

"Even though DeLay has nothing to do with Frist, and Frist has nothing to do with Abramoff, how does it look? Not good," said William Kristol, a key conservative strategist and editor of The Weekly Standard.

At the same time, the White House is grappling with a criminal investigation into whether anyone leaked the name of a C.I.A. operative, an inquiry that has brought both Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's top political adviser, and I. Lewis Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, before a grand jury.

And the administration is struggling to steady itself after the slow response to Hurricane Katrina and defend itself against sweeping accusations of incompetence and cronyism in domestic security.

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Bill Kristol -- one of the better conservative pundits and an extremely bright man I've had the good pleasure to meet (like me, he's a Straussian, though on the other side of the political divide) -- surely knows that.

As USA Today put it, "[t]he Bush administration is already struggling on three fronts": the response to Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, and the War on Terror. DeLay, Frist, Plame/Rove, and Abramoff/Safavian -- this mix of scandals just adds to Bush's struggles.

To be sure, all of these issues (Katrina, Iraq, terrorism) and scandals (DeLay, Frist, the Plame Game, Abramoff) may be viewed independently of one another. And it's not as if Democrats are currently presenting a viable alternative to Republican leadership, whether in Congress or the White House. But, taken together, the barrage of ignorance, incompetence, and scandal has given Democrats an opening, and it will up to them to take advantage of it. For, despite John Roberts's successful confirmation, Republicans are reeling. As Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), former Clinton insider and current chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has put it, "[t]heir party has run out of both legitimacy and intellectual steam". And here's David Gergen, former presidential advisor, ubiquitous talking head, and current director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard: "We've seen the hubris. And now we're seeing the scandals."

Dan Balz in the Post:

Bad news often comes in bunches, but for a Republican Party that not long ago looked ahead to an unfettered period of growth and expansion, yesterday's indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) represented one of the most significant blows the party has suffered in a year replete with problems.

Since the fall of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in 1998, no two Republicans have been more responsible for the GOP's recent electoral and legislative successes than DeLay and President Bush, a power tandem whose strengths have complemented one another repeatedly. Bush has been the party's public face, direction-setter and most effective campaigner. But in Washington, DeLay has been an iron force who bent the system to his will and priorities.

Over the years, DeLay raised and moved vast sums of money to buttress GOP candidates, kept the party's often-narrow majority together to move a Bush agenda that drew little Democratic support and changed the terms by which K Street lobbyists did business with Congress. With muscle and determination, DeLay ruled the inside game, and his indictment is therefore all the more significant — a powerful symbol that the Democrats will attempt to exploit as an example of the GOP's abuse of power.

The indictment — which Republicans say is politically motivated — adds to the gathering headwind that now threatens the Republicans as they look toward the 2006 elections. Whether this becomes the perfect storm that eventually swamps the GOP is far from clear a year out. But Republican strategists were nearly unanimous in their private assessments yesterday that the party must brace for setbacks next year.

On almost every front, Republicans see trouble. Bush is at the low point of his presidency, with Iraq, hurricane relief, rising gasoline prices and another Supreme Court vacancy all problems to be solved. Congressional Republicans have seen their approval ratings slide throughout the spring and summer; a Washington Post-ABC News poll in August found that just 37 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is doing its job, the lowest rating in eight years...

For Democrats, there were many cautionary notes yesterday, despite their obvious glee over DeLay's indictment. On a practical level, the House is now so gerrymandered by redistricting that far fewer districts are genuinely competitive, making the Democrats' task of scoring big gains there more difficult. Nor is there much evidence yet that the voters see Democrats as an attractive alternative, no matter how sour they may be about the Republicans.

But the DeLay indictment represents a powerfully disruptive force inside a party whose success has been built on discipline, cohesion and the mastery of the mechanics of politics at a time Republicans can least afford it.

And this may be the best quote I've read so far: "'Tom DeLay was like Tito in Yugoslavia,' said James A. Thurber, a professor of government at American University. 'He ruled with fear and also resources to reward people. Now without DeLay, the House will be balkanized.'"

To which I say: Bring it on! (And then bring DeLay back, just before the 2006 midterms.)


Regardless, these are largely partisan concerns. Republicans are rallying around DeLay, sincerely or not, and Democrats are openly cheering even as they quietly want DeLay to remain in the public eye, a symbol of Republican corruption to run against in 2006 and 2008.

But what about what DeLay actually did? Well, it's not just this charge of criminal conspiracy. It's a career of corruption. The New Republic summed it up well in an editorial posted yesterday:

Throughout his Washington career, there is little wrong that DeLay hasn't done. He has transformed the House Republican majority into an arm of corporate special interests that benefit from an unprecedented "pay to play" culture of rewards for political donations. As symbolized by his well-known chumminess with the oleaginous Jack Abramoff, he has unapologetically blurred the lines between officeholders and lobbyists, deeply integrating K Street into his party's political and legislative strategy and treating it like a House Republican patronage machine. And DeLay, more than anyone, has been responsible for running the House of Representatives like a one-party dictatorship, both shutting out the Democratic minority (even denying them simple meeting space) and militantly smothering intraparty dissent.

Those are just the overarching themes of DeLay's disgraceful tenure in Congress. One could type for hours without exhausting the list of particular offenses for which he should have been ostracized by now: He has allegedly threatened K Street firms that failed to hire Republican lobbyists in sufficient numbers. He was admonished last year by the House ethics committee for essentially selling access to energy-industry executives just as Congress was wrapping up a major energy bill. The ethics committee also slapped DeLay for offering to endorse the candidate son of Republican Representative Nick Smith in exchange for Smith's vote in favor of a GOP Medicare bill. Then the ethics committee rebuked him a third time for his wildly inappropriate enlistment of the Federal Aviation Administration to hunt for a group of awol Texas legislators back in 2003...

Of course, even DeLay himself is merely a cog in a Washington Republican machine that has abandoned morality in its fanatical pursuit of power. Beyond rooting for a jury in Travis County, Texas, to return a guilty verdict in the months ahead, Democrats need to make clear to the public that his indictment represents a mere fraction of the Republican Congress's corruption. The House ethics committee, for instance, must continue to investigate Abramoff's sleazy lobbying, which envelops several other GOP congressmen and reveals the disgusting influence K Street lobbyists enjoy over federal lawmaking. Within the panoply of DeLay's countless other ethical (and potentially legal) offenses, Earle's indictment is relatively trivial. But a conviction would be a fitting end for the career of a mean-spirited, intellectually primitive, and ethically bankrupt man. And, with any luck, it could be the beginning of a desperately needed fumigation of Capitol Hill. That much DeLay, a former exterminator, would understand.

Democrats needs to run against DeLay and everything he represents even as they focus on sexier issues like Bush's mishandling of Iraq and Katrina.

The problem is, fumigation alone won't be enough. In the end, Democrats need to convince Americans than they can govern on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, that they have the ideas -- and the leaders -- to take over from the Republicans.

They have a lot of work yet to do.

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Schwarzenegger rejects same-sex marriage bill

Not too long ago, the Governator looked like the sunny face of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party -- conservative on economics, crime, and national security, but otherwise socially permissive. I was never much of an Arnold booster, whatever my agreement with many of his core views, and I watched his ascension to power in that faraway dreamland of California with a strange mixture of curiosity, outrage, and resignation -- and, well, optimism. After my initial shudder wore off -- a celebrity-worshipping culture picks a larger-than-life celebrity: how very California! surely a Sign of the Apocalypse! -- I was prepared to give him a chance to prove himself.

Well, I don't live in California, and it's a long way from the America I know best (New England and the New York tri-state area, plus western New York), but it's not too hard to tell that the thin veneer of popularity (if not legitimacy) has worn off.

And now we have the allegely libertarian Schwarzenegger, the man who once said that he didn't care whether same-sex marriage was legal or not, vetoing a same-sex marriage bill that recently passed the California Senate and Assembly:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger [yesterday] vetoed a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage in California, saying that although he believes gay couples are "entitled to full protection under the law," the bill would have wrongly reversed an initiative California voters approved five years ago.

"I do not believe the Legislature can reverse an initiative approved by the people of California," the governor wrote in his veto message.

Schwarzenegger's rejection of the measure was expected, even though when he was asked about same-sex marriage last year he said, "I don't care one way or the other."

The bill, AB 849 by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) was the first sanctioning same-sex marriage to clear a state legislature without a court order. It passed the Senate and Assembly earlier this month with no Republican votes and without a vote to spare after lengthy, debate.

Leno accused Schwarzenegger of "hiding behind the fig leaf" of Proposition 22, which 61% of California voters approved in 2000. It says that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

"The governor has failed his test of leadership and has missed a history opportunity to stand up for the basic civil rights of all Californians," said Leno. "He cannot claim to support fair and equal legal protections for same sex couples and veto the very bill that would have provided it to them."

Schwarzenegger's veto will not end the debate over same-sex marriage in a state whose residents are evenly divided, 46% to 46%, according to an August poll.

The California Supreme Court is likely to decide next year whether state laws that define marriage as being between a man and a woman are constitutional, including Proposition 22.

Voters may also consider the issue directly next year. Two petitions are in circulation for initiatives that would define marriage in California as between a man and a woman and ban recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages.

So wot's, uh, the deal? Is he preparing for a future presidential bid? Perhaps, but the Constitution would need to be amended first, and I highly doubt that he'd have much of a shot getting through the Republican primaries and convincing Americans that he's anything other than a cigar-chomping action star on the decline. Or is he just a populist who won't accept anything other than majority vote in a referendum? Perhaps, and both the recent votes in the Legislature and the trend in public opinion towards acceptance of same-sex marriage likely mean that the people will soon have the final say. Or will Schwarzenegger find some excuse to reject even that?

(Wherever he's coming from, he should show some courage. Isn't that what a true action hero would do?)

Massachusetts is leading the country in the East. It's time for California to lead in the West. Schwarzenegger or not, it seems that Californians are about ready to do just that.

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Behold, the giant squid!

I've been somewhat unwell the past day or so, hence the paucity of posts, but if the giant squid can make an appearance, well, so can I.

Yes, the giant squid, one of the great monsters of the deep and one of the most curious creatures on the planet, has finally been filmed live in its own habitat:

Like something straight out of a Jules Verne novel, an enormous tentacled creature looms out of the inky blackness of the deep Pacific waters.

But this isn't science fiction. A set of
extraordinary images captured by Japanese scientists marks the first-ever record of a live giant squid (Architeuthis) in the wild.

The animal—which measures roughly 25 feet (8 meters) long—was photographed 2,950 feet (900 meters) beneath the North Pacific Ocean. Japanese scientists attracted the squid toward cameras attached to a baited fishing line.

The scientists say they snapped more than 500 images of the massive cephalopod before it broke free after snagging itself on a hook. They also recovered one of the giant squid's two longest tentacles, which severed during its struggle...

The Japanese researchers used sperm whales as guides to help them pinpoint likely giant squid haunts. Over the years whalers have reported finding a high number of large squid beaks in the mammals' stomachs, pegging sperm whales as primary predators of large squid.

Quite extraordinary. (Certainly more so than the indictment and subsequent resignation of that monster of the political deep, Tom DeLay.)

For more, see Slate's "explainer" on why giant squids are so hard to find. And on how they differ from your everyday, garden-variety squid:

What's the difference between squid and giant squid? The giant squid isn't just a big ol' version of a regular squid—it has its own genus, called Architeuthis. (There may be several species of giant squid, but no one knows for sure.) The lesser-known "colossal squid," of the genus Mesonychoteuthis, may be even bigger and nastier than the giant squid. It has a larger beak than the giant squid and has hooks on its tentacles. While a few specimens of colossal squids have been discovered, no one has yet seen one in its natural habitat.

Think about that the next time you bite into that grilled calamari appetizer or that succulent piece of ika sushi.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Sign of the Apocalypse #20: Anna Nicole Smith goes to Washington

Ah, the Supreme Court. The locus of gravitas in the federal government. Why not open its doors to the personification of trash? Yes, Anna Nicole Smith will have yet another day in court, the highest court in the land:

The Supreme Court shed its staid image Tuesday, giving stripper-turned Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith a new chance at a piece of the fortune of her 90-year-old late husband.

The court said it would hear arguments early next year as part of Smith's effort to collect as much as $474 million from the estate of J. Howard Marshall II. The oil tycoon married her in 1994 when he was 89 and she was 26...

At issue for the court is a relatively mundane technical issue: when may federal courts hear claims that are also involved state probate proceedings. But the facts are eye-catching.

The 1993 Playmate of the Year and self-described "blonde bombshell" claims her husband promised her millions but that his scheming son cut her out of the estate.

Gimme an A!
Gimme a P!
Gimme an O!
Gimme a C!

You know the rest.

(Curious tidbit: A.N.S.'s lawyer's name is Howard Stern. Howard K. Stern.)

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Hurricane Rita: Cameron Parish, Louisiana

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Laura Bush to appear on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

In other words, a desperate move by the Bush White House to look good after looking so bad during the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Here's how The Seattle Times puts it:

Facing criticism that he appeared disengaged from the disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina, President Bush has been looking for opportunities to show his concern. But the White House will take the effort a step further Tuesday, venturing into untested waters by putting the nation's first lady on reality television.

Laura Bush will travel to storm-damaged Biloxi, Miss., to film a spot on the feel-good, wish-granting hit "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Mrs. Bush sought to be on the program because she shares the "same principles" that the producers hold, her press secretary said.

That may be true -- I'm sure the First Lady has a good heart -- but then why did "the Bush team [contact] the show for a booking instead of the other way around"? Does it have anything to do with the fact that Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is a top-15 show? Or that "it is considered one of the strongest family hours on television"? Or that Bush is looking to cover up his thoroughly irresponsible response to Katrina?

True, American attention spans are reputed to be quite short, but vague claims of accountability, an overhyped presidential speech that was little more than a big fat bribe of federal money to make up for negligence and incompetence, and this latest manipulation by way of tear-jerking reality TV won't be nearly enough to erase the memory of what really happened, and didn't, as those flood waters poured into the poorest sections of New Orleans and whole communities along the Gulf Coast were flattened.

Go ahead, Mr. President. Wag the dog. Just don't expect everyone to play along this time.


For more, see:

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Hurricane Rita: Erath, Louisiana (Vermilion County)

For more, see ErathNews, an interactive online newspaper.

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Just who were those peaceniks in Washington?

In a recent post, I commented briefly on the political passion of the demonstrators in Washington over the weekend. Whatever the number, it was an impressive show.

But let's look behind the scenes for a moment. The demonstration was organized by two groups, International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice. Just what are these two groups? Who leads them and what do they really stand for? For that, let's turn to Christopher Hitchens, a commentator whose enthusiastic pro-war militancy leaves me uncomfortable but whose credentials as a (former) left-winger (in the real, European sense of that term) are undeniable. Here's what he had to say at Slate yesterday:

"International ANSWER" [is] the group run by the "Worker's World" party and fronted by Ramsey Clark, which openly supports Kim Jong-il, Fidel Castro, Slobodan Milosevic, and the "resistance" in Afghanistan and Iraq, with Clark himself finding extra time to volunteer as attorney for the génocidaires in Rwanda. Quite a "wide range of progressive political objectives" indeed, if that's the sort of thing you like. However, a dip into any database could have furnished Janofsky with well-researched and well-written articles by David Corn and Marc Cooper—to mention only two radical left journalists—who have exposed "International ANSWER" as a front for (depending on the day of the week) fascism, Stalinism, and jihadism.

The group self-lovingly calling itself "United for Peace and Justice" is by no means "narrow" in its "antiwar focus" but rather represents a very extended alliance between the Old and the New Left, some of it honorable and some of it redolent of the World Youth Congresses that used to bring credulous priests and fellow-traveling hacks together to discuss "peace" in East Berlin or Bucharest. Just to give you an example, from one who knows the sectarian makeup of the Left very well, I can tell you that the Worker's World Party—Ramsey Clark's core outfit—is the product of a split within the Trotskyist movement. These were the ones who felt that the Trotskyist majority, in 1956, was wrong to denounce the Russian invasion of Hungary. The WWP is the direct, lineal product of that depraved rump. If the "United for Peace and Justice" lot want to sink their differences with such riffraff and mount a joint demonstration, then they invite some principled political criticism on their own account. And those who just tag along … well, they just tag along.

To be against war and militarism, in the tradition of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, is one thing. But to have a record of consistent support for war and militarism, from the Red Army in Eastern Europe to the Serbian ethnic cleansers and the Taliban, is quite another. It is really a disgrace that the liberal press refers to such enemies of liberalism as "antiwar" when in reality they are straight-out pro-war, but on the other side. Was there a single placard saying, "No to Jihad"? Of course not. Or a single placard saying, "Yes to Kurdish self-determination" or "We support Afghan women's struggle"? Don't make me laugh. And this in a week when Afghans went back to the polls, and when Iraqis were preparing to do so, under a hail of fire from those who blow up mosques and U.N. buildings, behead aid workers and journalists, proclaim fatwahs against the wrong kind of Muslim, and utter hysterical diatribes against Jews and Hindus.

And there's your demonstration.

Look, I'm not saying that everyone who attended the demonstration is some sort of jihadist sympathizer or somehow equates being against the Iraq War with support for some of the most loathsome regimes on the planet. But it's truly shameful that what was a vocal (and perhaps justifiable) protest against a war that was more or less botched from the get-go was in fact organized by such loathsome groups.

Unfortunately, a movement tends to be defined by its extemes. The anti-war movement would do well to detach itself from the pro-war extremes that organized Saturday's event. Otherwise, it'll all remain quite blurry.

The enemy of your enemy is not always your friend. Especially when your "friend" is pro-war in the worst way.

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John Kerry on film

Apparently, filmmaker and lifelong Democrat Steve Rosenbaum has made "a potentially devastating behind-the-scenes look at the Massachusetts senator's failed presidential campaign":

It features, among other not-ready-for-prime-time moments, Clinton scowling and rolling her eyes over an apparent Kerry gaffe during a presidential debate; Kerry pretending to interview himself and babbling in Italian while waiting for a real interview to begin; Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) cursing at reporters during a campaign stop; and Kerry message guru Robert Shrum confidently declaring a few days before the 2004 election: "Zogby [a prominent pollster] just announced who's gonna win. Us!"

See the full story here.

Excited? Me neither. (Although, as a Kerry supporter who is still lamenting the result of last year's election, I wouldn't mind seeing it, if only to acquire a better understanding of what went wrong when all should have gone so well.)

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Katrina, Rita, and climate change: Is there a connection?

With Katrina and Rita dominating the news recently, there's a good deal of talk out there about the relationship between hurricanes and climate change (or global warming). And it comes down to this: Are these larger, more powerful hurricanes related to climate change, or not? In other words, has climate changed caused these larger, more powerful hurricanes? (Of course, there's also the lingering question of whether climate change is myth or reality, but, to me, this is a no-brainer akin to evolution -- yes, it's a reality, however much head-in-the-sand naysayers insist on living in denial and avoiding one of the major problems of our time (or any time).

According to USA Today, Admiral James Watkins, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, finds two major culprits, the natural cycle of hurricane frequency, which is currently on the upswing, and climate change, which is raising sea levels and ocean temperatures, thereby intensifying hurricanes. In other words: "The recipe for a hurricane is simple. Conditions are ripe whenever large thunderstorms occur over tropical seawater heated to at least 80 degrees. Essentially, hurricanes are circling weather machines, sucking the heat out of the ocean and turning that energy into high waves and heavy rains."

Reuters: "Scientists say it's not easy to tell if global warming caused hurricanes Katrina and Rita but on Monday they forecast more unpredictable weather as Earth gets hotter. Even skeptics agree that global warming is under way and that human activity is at least in part responsible. Climate experts also agree that this warming is likely to make the weather more extreme -- colder in some places, hotter in others, with droughts and severe rainstorms both more common. 'Global warming, I think, is playing a role in the hurricanes,' said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. 'But a lot of what is going on is natural. What global warming may be doing is making them somewhat more intense,' said Trenberth, a member of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.'"

And there are calls for something to be done. The Boston Globe's Derrick Jackson:

As the media screams about the one-two punch of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the question becomes how many more times does America need to be knocked to the canvas before we answer the bell on global warming...

In this tragic season of hurricanes, research continues to increasingly tie global warming to an increase in the intensity of tropical storms.

One was published last month in the journal Nature by Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Another was published last week in the journal Science by atmospheric researchers at Georgia Tech and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

While there has been no increase in the actual number of storms worldwide, the Georgia Tech/NCAR study found the number of hurricanes that reached categories 4 and 5, with winds of at least 131 miles per hour, have gone from comprising 20 percent of hurricanes in the 1970s to 35 percent today. This is with only a half-degree centigrade rise in tropical surface water temperatures.

The percentage of big storms in the North Atlantic has increased from 20 percent to 25 percent...

In the 1970s, no ocean basin saw more than 25 percent of hurricanes become a 4 or 5. Today, that percentage is 34, 35, and 41 percent, respectively, in the South Indian, East Pacific, and West Pacific oceans. The biggest jump was in the Southwestern Pacific, from 8 percent to 25 percent.

Emanuel, who formerly doubted that hurricane intensity was tied to global warming, said that he was stunned when his research showed that just that half-degree rise in tropical ocean temperatures has also seen a 50 percent rise in average storm peak winds in the North Atlantic and East and West Pacific in the last half century.

Meanwhile, the right-wing (head-in-the-sand, denial-inhabiting) Washington Times has unsurprisingly come out against any link between climate change and larger, more powerful hurricanes like Katrina and Rita. Admittedly, it bases its case largely on the testimony of the director of the National Hurricane Center, Max Mayfield, who blames the natural cycle of hurricane frequency, but its presentation is decidedly (and characteristically) one-sided -- the case for climate-change (and for its impact on hurricane frequency and strength) is reduced to John Lawton, chairman of Britain's Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, who is quoted to look like an idiot.


Regardless (why dwell on the hopelessness of the right?), my friend Grace Miao sent me a link to RealClimate, "a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists". A recent post -- "Hurricanes and Global Warming -- Is There a Connection?" -- is a must-read. Here's an excerpt:

Katrina was the most feared of all meteorological events, a major hurricane making landfall in a highly-populated low-lying region. In the wake of this devastation, many have questioned whether global warming may have contributed to this disaster. Could New Orleans be the first major U.S. city ravaged by human-caused climate change?

The correct answer -- the one we have indeed provided in previous posts (Storms & Global Warming II, Some recent updates and Storms and Climate Change) -- is that there is no way to prove that Katrina either was, or was not, affected by global warming. For a single event, regardless of how extreme, such attribution is fundamentally impossible. We only have one Earth, and it will follow only one of an infinite number of possible weather sequences. It is impossible to know whether or not this event would have taken place if we had not increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as much as we have. Weather events will always result from a combination of deterministic factors (including greenhouse gas forcing or slow natural climate cycles) and stochastic factors (pure chance).

Due to this semi-random nature of weather, it is wrong to blame any one event such as Katrina specifically on global warming -- and of course it is just as indefensible to blame Katrina on a long-term natural cycle in the climate.

Yet this is not the right way to frame the question. As we have also pointed out in previous posts, we can indeed draw some important conclusions about the links between hurricane activity and global warming in a statistical sense. The situation is analogous to rolling loaded dice: one could, if one was so inclined, construct a set of dice where sixes occur twice as often as normal. But if you were to roll a six using these dice, you could not blame it specifically on the fact that the dice had been loaded. Half of the sixes would have occurred anyway, even with normal dice. Loading the dice simply doubled the odds. In the same manner, while we cannot draw firm conclusions about one single hurricane, we can draw some conclusions about hurricanes more generally. In particular, the available scientific evidence indicates that it is likely that global warming will make -- and possibly already is making -- those hurricanes that form more destructive than they otherwise would have been.

The key connection is that between sea surface temperatures (we abbreviate this as SST) and the power of hurricanes. Without going into technical details about the dynamics and thermodynamics involved in tropical storms and hurricanes (an excellent discussion of this can be found
here), the basic connection between the two is actually fairly simple: warm water, and the instability in the lower atmosphere that is created by it, is the energy source of hurricanes. This is why they only arise in the tropics and during the season when SSTs are highest (June to November in the tropical North Atlantic).

SST is not the only influence on hurricane formation. Strong shear in atmospheric winds (that is, changes in wind strength and direction with height in the atmosphere above the surface), for example, inhibits development of the highly organized structure that is required for a hurricane to form. In the case of Atlantic hurricanes, the
El Nino/Southern Oscillation tends to influence the vertical wind shear, and thus, in turn, the number of hurricanes that tend to form in a given year. Many other features of the process of hurricane development and strengthening, however, are closely linked to SST.

Hurricane forecast models (the same ones that were used to predict Katrina's path) indicate a tendency for more intense (but not overall more frequent) hurricanes when they are
run for climate change scenarios.

Fascinating stuff, and a balanced assessment of the relationship between climate change and hurricane frequency and strength. There may be more to the story than climate change, and it may be true that we are witness the upswing of a natural cycle, but it would be wrong to claim that climate change has had nothing to do with what's been going on. Indeed, such claims are nothing if not grossly ignorant grotesquely irresponsible.

Which is yet one more reason why the problem of climate change must be tackled. Now.


Previous posts on climate change at The Reaction:

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Sign of the Apocalypse #19: Mr. and Mrs. Kutcher

Ashton and Demi, the new Harold and Maude.

No, I really don't care, and it may not even be true for all I know. But I'm sure the timing of this publicity stunt, wedding or not, has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with the start of the new season of Kutcher's truly obnoxious show, Punk'd. No, they wouldn't do that, would they? Hollywood doesn't work that way, does it? I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

(You realize they think we're fucking stupid, right?)

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SCOTUS-talk: Gonzales may be back in play

According to, a conservative blog that has (or at least claims to have) sources close to (if not in) the White House, Alberto Gonzales may be back on the shortlist of candidates to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court:

Word in legal circles is that Priscilla Owen is set to become the next justice appointed to the United States Supreme Court. Unfortunately, I have received reliable information late this afternoon that Karl Rove, among others, is making a last minute push for the President to consider Alberto Gonzales, despite previous assurances from inside the White House, Justice Department, and Senate that Gonzales was not being considered.

A third party source tells RedState that Rove is pushing for Gonzales and that Larry Thompson's name has gone off the radar. This afternoon I contacted my White House source who says Karl Rove "believes that Gonzales is conservative and, given the current docket, will have time to prove it before midterm elections."

Rumors, rumors -- but I hope they're true. There are, after all, far worse candidates than Gonzales for liberals and moderates who hope for a continuation of the current balance on the Court. Like Priscilla Owen, for example.

My previous posts on Gonzales:

Is Gonzales Spanish for Souter?

Gonzales: Just too damn liberal?

In search of civility

A question of loyalty: Bush and Gonzales

What to label Gonzales?

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Lynndie England found guilty

Breaking news:

Lynndie England, one of the figures at the center of the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal, has been found guilty:

Presented with starkly different portrayals of the young soldier notorious for her grinning photos with naked Iraqi detainees, a jury of Army officers convicted Pfc. Lynndie R. England today of mistreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

The verdict was reached after barely two hours of deliberation in a military court in Fort Hood, Tex., and it resolved the final case against the nine enlisted soldiers involved in the prisoner abuse, which created an international scandal when it came to light last year. Military leaders and officials in the Bush administration have acknowledged that the prisoner mistreatment has undermined America's credibility in the Middle East, exposing grave breakdowns in the unit guarding Abu Ghraib.

Private England, 22, was found guilty of six of the seven counts against her, including four counts of mistreatment, one for conspiracy and one for indecency, and she faces up to 10 years in a military prison. The sentence is to be decided by the jurors on Tuesday. She was acquitted on another conspiracy charge.

Here's what I wrote back in May, after England's first trial was thrown out by a military judge who rejected her guilty plea (read the post for the full analysis):

I have no doubt that what England did was wrong. Those horrendous pictures that for a time were all over the media (before the short-sighted media and their memory-deficient consumers grew tired of the whole sordid affair) are irrefutable evidence of the abuse at Abu Ghraib. And England, like Graner, should be punished. But isn't it obvious what's going on? They're scapegoats. Graner was surely following orders and may or may deserve the severe punishment he's received, but there's no way England should be punished with a long prison term. She did what she was ordered to go in a climate of abuse that was sanctioned by the highest reaches of the military and civilian establishment, including the highest reaches of the Bush Administration. But while Graner and England are brought up on charges, their superiors are doing nicely. Alberto Gonzales, former White House counsel, is now Attorney General. Donald Rumsfeld is still Secretary of Defense. And no general has yet been punished... Oh, wait. There's one. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, head of the Army Reserve unit that was involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal, has been demoted to Colonel (three other generals have been cleared of wrongdoing). And that's it.

It's a sad story. I have no excuse for what happened at Abu Ghraib and for what surely must be going on at other American facilities around the world (and for what's happening in foreign facilities where the U.S. is shipping some of its prisoners for torture). The abuse of prisoners by the American military is a stain on the United States and a serious roadblock in winning the "soft" war for the hearts and minds of those who would inflict terror on us or who otherwise repudiate our way of life.

Once upon a time, the noble thing to do was to take responsibility at the highest levels, not least in the Oval Office. Now, the ignoble thing to do is to assume no responsibility whatsoever and to blame convenient cogs somewhere down the hierarchy (while being promoted and otherwise rewarded). The buck doesn't stop with Lynndie England, but she, and others like her, will take the fall. That's "justice" for you.

I stand by it. Lynndie England may or may not get what she deserves, but she's the scapegoat, plain and simple.

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Washington's anti-war demonstration

With all my posts on Hurricane Rita this weekend, I've neglected a major event in Washington, D.C. Here's the story:

Tens of thousands of people packed downtown Washington [on Saturday] and marched past the White House in the largest show of antiwar sentiment in the nation's capital since the conflict in Iraq began.

The demonstration drew grandmothers in wheelchairs and babies in strollers, military veterans in fatigues and protest veterans in tie-dye. It was the first time in a decade that protest groups had a permit to march in front of the executive mansion, and, even though President Bush was not there, the setting seemed to electrify the crowd.

Signs, T-shirts, slogans and speeches outlined the cost of the Iraq conflict in human as well as economic terms. They memorialized dead U.S. troops and Iraqis, and contrasted the price of war with the price of recovery for areas battered by hurricanes Katrina and Rita...

Protest organizers estimated that 300,000 people participated, triple their original target. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who walked the march route, said the protesters achieved the goal of 100,000 and probably exceeded it. Asked whether at least 150,000 showed up, the chief said, "That's as good a guess as any.

Given my own conflicted views on the Iraq War, I won't add commentary here or otherwise judge it one way or the other. It was what it was. A significant anti-war protest in the nation's capital. Wherever you stand on the war and the occupation and the reconstruction efforts, it's good to see such political passion every now and then. Let the debate continue.

(See also Joe Gandelman's take at The Moderate Voice.)

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Republicans could challenge next SCOTUS nominee

John Roberts's passage through the Senate has, thus far, been relatively easy (despite some lingering concerns) -- and nothing is likely to change. But some Senate Republicans are already preparing for a more rigorous examination of President Bush's second nominee (the one to replace the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor), who may be announced as early as this week.

The Times is
reporting that "both socially conservative and more liberal Republican senators say they may vote against confirmation of the next nominee if the pick leans too far to the left or the right on prominent issues like abortion rights." This means that the fragile Republican coalition that has united moderate and conservative Republicans could finally come undone, tearing the party apart, with moderates like Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Olympia Snowe of Maine potentially opposing any nominee who isn't a pragmatist in the mold of O'Connor and conservatives like Sam Brownback of Kansas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma potentially opposing any nominee who isn't far to the right on key cultural issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and so on. Then there are those in between, like Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Trent Lott of Mississippi, and, of course, John McCain of Arizona. How will they vote -- not least when at least two of them, Frist and McCain, are looking ahead to a presidential run in 2008?

And then there are the Democrats. They put up
an intentionally weak fight against Roberts, but they won't give up so easily this time around -- there's even been talk of a filibuster!

I suspect that a nominee like
Alberto Gonzales (or a pragmatist in the mold of O'Connor) would go through without much opposition from Democrats, but the Brownbacks and Coburns, not to mention the right-wing base of the Republican Party, would never accept any such "liberal" or "moderate" nominee (i.e., a potential Souter). But where will Democrats draw the line? What is too conservative for them? What nominee would warrant a filibuster? And: Where will, say, Sam Brownback draw the line? What is not conservative enough for him? What nominee would warrant his opposition?

The Roberts nominations was easy. Roberts for Rehnquist. A conservative for a conservative. Like for like, more or less. But now? Conservatives want the Court to tilt further to the right, moderates want to keep it pretty much where it is now, with an "O'Connor" for O'Connor, and liberals... well, some will object to any Bush nominee, no matter what, standing firm out of principled idealism and looking ahead to a more liberal Court, but others, prudently confining themselves to the reality of the moment, want exactly what the moderates want, which is a continuation of the current balance.

What will Bush do? He has any number of options, from a Gonzales across to, say, a Michael McConnell, but, whatever he does, whomever his nominee, he risks fracturing the Republican Party down its own San Andreas Fault. With his severely low approval ratings, with many high-profile Republicans already looking ahead to 2006 and 2008, and with so much else at stake in terms of the direction of the federal judiciary and the course of American life for decades to come, his choice could prove to be The Big One that finally tears it apart after years and years of unity and common purpose. Unless Bush achieves just the right balance -- that is, unless he nominates the perfect candidate -- this could turn out to be the Republican Party's Vietnam.

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