Saturday, February 25, 2006

Edvard Munch: Melancholy (1891)

No other artist captured the condition of modern man -- anguish, isolation, and alienation at the intersection of public and private, nature and civilization -- quite like Edvard Munch.

A retrospective of Munch's work is currently being exhibited at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Slate art critic Lee Siegel has an excellent slide-show essay here. Back in November, Slate's Mia Fineman took another look at Munch's incomparable The Scream here.

It's been all politics all the time here recently, so much engagement with a world that seems to have lost its bearings. Munch's Melancholy, a dazzling work of early expressionism, evokes a far more profound state of being. As a snapshot of the human condition, it's an invitation to contemplate the totality of existence, within and without, amid the deafening din of our current state of affairs.

Disengage. Reflect. Re-engage.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Portgate update: Exposing the incompetence of Bush's war on terror

Some interesting news and commentary on Portgate and the war on terror:

1) According to UPI, the U.A.E.-owned company at the center of Portgate, Dubai Ports World, is set to take over control of 21 American ports, not just six.

2) According to The New York Times, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey "will break the lease of a big container terminal at Port Newark" to block the takeover there. As well, the State of New Jersey is suing the federal government to block th deal: "New Jersey's suit argues that the federal Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which approved the deal last month, has not provided Gov. Jon S. Corzine with the information he needs to protect the state's residents. By withholding it, the suit argues, the committee is interfering with the sovereign rights of the state provided by the 10th Amendment to the Constitution." Stay tuned on that one.

3) At The Washington Post, Dan Froomkin argues that "the port imbroglio threatens to develop real traction". Why? Because of both "the widespread outrage generated by the basic facts of the case" and "all sorts of worrisome and problematic things lurking just below the surface".

4) At TAPPED, Matt Yglesias responds to the charge that those of us who oppose the Dubai deal are racist or otherwise xenophobic: "Tom Friedman says skeptics of the UAE port deal are 'borderline racist.' David Ignatius disagrees, saying we're straight-up 'racist.' I say bullshit. The argument being mounted is plainly contradictory. On the one hand, it's supposed to be illegitimate to worry about this because we can't discriminate between countries. On the other hand, it's supposed to be illegitimate because the UAE is a loyal ally in the war on terror. But if the second is the reason we shouldn’t worry, then we can discriminate between countries after all. And of course we can discriminate between countries when it comes to matters of national security. That's how national security is done." Exactly.

5) At Newsweek, Michael Hirsh examines the war on terror's "clumsy leadership": "It is time to have an accounting of just how badly run, and conceived, this 'war on terror' has been." He doesn't think the Democrats are up to the task, but now is the time, if ever there was one, to rise to the occasion and challenge Bush and the Republicans on an issue that they consider their own, national security. More from Hirsh: "How then did we arrive at this day, with anti-American Islamist governments rising in the Mideast, bin Laden sneering at us, Qaeda lieutenants escaping from prison, Iran brazenly enriching uranium, and America as hated and mistrusted as it ever has been? The answer, in a word, is incompetence." And that's putting it nicely.

All good reading. Enjoy. I'll have more on Portgate throughout the weekend and beyond.

This may very well be the wedge we've all been waiting for. The full scope of the Bush Administration's misdeeds is coming ever more into focus.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Portgate re-revisited: George W. Bush is the greatest president in American history

Well, I got it wrong. Bush is right. I'm wrong. There's nothing wrong with foreign control of U.S. ports. Nothing at all. It's not a security risk. How silly of me to think so.

Bush: "This deal wouldn't go forward if we were concerned about the security for the United States of America."

Phew. That makes me feel better. I mean, there's no reason not to trust America's Great Leader, is there? If he says all is well, then all must be well. It's as simple as that.

Let me pause to kowtow. Or to genuflect. Whatever works. It's all good.


And yet: "People don't need to worry about security"?

The Carpetbagger Report says that "this is one of those quotes that may linger a while". And: "The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee published a fairly devastating fact-sheet on port security, the concerns Dems have raised on the issue, and the legislative efforts that have been rejected by some of the same congressional Republicans who are raising questions about the UAE deal now." Via TCR, Kevin Drum hopes the issue of port security will now be taken more seriously and Matt Yglesias think that now might be a good time to challenge Republicans on port security.

Indeed, as I put it here, now is the time to go after Republicans on any number of issues within the overarching narrative of corruption, cronyism, and incompetence.

Steve Soto has a great post on the opportunity for Democrats at The Left Coaster: "And every Democrat in Congress should drop by a place of worship in the next week, and get down on their knees and thank the Almighty for what has fallen in their laps this week." Read it all. And also this, on Bush's really bad day yesterday.

The Heretik looks at Bush in the "maelstrom".

Crooks and Liars looks at the Bush family's ties to the U.A.E. -- I don't much care for Lou Dobbs, but he's right to address this side of the story.

Joe Gandelman has a round-up of softening views here.

And one of the best pieces I've read so far on Portgate is by Arianna herself: "Bush's reputation as the Great Protector who will do anything -- anything! -- to keep us safe, even if it means torturing, spying, and trashing the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions, is his one remaining political asset. And putting six of our major ports under the control of the United Arab Emirates threatens to undermine this rep in an irreparable way."

And she asks some intriguing questions that Bush's Portgate supporters need to answer: "Why was it approved in little more than half the 45-days mandated by Congress? Why didn't the president find out about the deal until it was already done? Why wasn't Congress briefed about the transaction before it was approved? What role did the corporate connections of Treasury Secretary Snow and newly appointed Maritime Administration head David Sanborn play in winning the White House's backing? Was the deal tied to the pending trade agreement the administration is negotiating with the UAE?"

And so: "For a long time now, I've been urging Democrats to relentlessly take on the president on national security. Well, he's just handed them the Mother of All National Security Cudgels. Start pummeling... before the GOP rebellion beats you to the punch."

Get to it, my friends.



Seriously. Would I joke about something like that?

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On the ground in Iraq

Just a day after the bombing of a key Shiite holy site, the Al-Askariya mosque in Samarra (also known as the Golden Mosque), and in the wake of reprisal killings of Sunnis, Iraq's leading Sunni party, the Sunni Accord Front, "announced it is leaving political unity talks after meeting with Talabani and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari," according to CNN.

For more, see The Washington Post: "A wave of sectarian strife and recrimination swept Iraq Thursday after Wednesday's bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra. The Interior Ministry said that more than 100 people have been killed in the violence... Officials in Baghdad, struggling to restore order, expanded an existing curfew in an effort to get people off the streets after dark and canceled all leaves for Iraqi security forces."

Meanwhile, according to Juan Cole: "The shoe seems to be on the other foot now, with Muqtada al-Sadr attempting to cool Iraq's Shiites down and Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani threatening to create a paramilitary to protect Shiites."

Iraq the Model is on the ground in Iraq and has these observations:

-- "Today is a day off in Iraq, emergency situation now officially declared with extended curfews 8pm-6am."

-- "Sistani has been calling for restraint and calm but it seems that some Shia factions are not listening to him but instead they are listening to their direct references or acting on their own."

-- "Baghdad looks more alive today but in a very cautious way, traffic in the streets is heavier than it was yesterday but still way below normal. There's some kind of shopping frenzy because people are trying to be prepared if the worst happens; people are stock-piling small reserves of food, cigarettes, bottled water, etc., especially after they heard some of the roads to/from Baghdad are closed and vehicles were turned away."

-- "The situation is still very tense but the good thing is that the Sunni have not returned the attacks and I hope the Shia have satisfied their vengeance by now because I don't want to even think of what can happen if this situation lasts longer than this."

All this is must reading.

We can debate whether Iraq is on the verge of civil war, whether a civil war is underway, or whether such concerns are simply overblown. To a certain extent, this may just be a matter of semantics. But, clearly, thesituationn isn't secure and the country, or parts of it at least, seem to be teetering on the edge of a slippery slope into all-out chaos.

Whatever my various critiques of the Iraq War, in particular of Bush's handling of it, let's hope that the "nightmare," as Andrew Sullivan puts it, doesn't become reality.

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Portgate revisited: National security and liberal internationalism

Portgate continues to be the lead story at Memeorandum.

How odd, though, that I disagree with Kevin Drum, who writes eloquently about the controversy here. I understand his points, and I'm all for liberal internationalism, but, for me, this isn't about "mindless anti-Arab jingoism". It's about allowing a weak spot in America's national security, ports, to be handed over (in part) to a foreign state-run company. The fact the state in question is Dubai only heightens my concern. This isn't jingoism, it's realism, given Dubai's connections to al Qaeda. I would like to see greater engagement with the Muslim world, too, but this isn't the way to do it.

Booman Tribune also has a balanced post here, as does Bradford Plumer here.

(And, to be clear, I'm not all that comfortable with any foreign state operating America's ports.)

So I tend to agree with Atrios: "Handing the keys of our ports over to a foreign government which is pursuing a variety of interests is not such a good idea, especially when that government is a hereditary oligarchy and not a liberal democracy."

And with Digby: "Why on earth would Bush do something this politically obtuse? After all the fearmongering and the talk about 'oceans don't protect us' for the last four years it's just inexplicable that they would go to the wall for a deal that looks so terrible."

And with Kos: "Democrats have been at the forefront of efforts to tighten port security for just about this entire decade. Republicans have stood in the way. And we now see the logical conclusion to their indifference -- the selling of our ports to a nation with extensive ties to the very terrorists who are trying to destroy us."

And with Kevin, elsewhere: "And given the Republican Party's five-year effort to caricature liberals as panty-waisted Osama lovers for doing nothing more than holding positions startlingly similar to Bush's on the Dubai port deal, we would need to be veritable saints not to get a frisson of pleasure from holding their feet to the fire over this. It's time for the modern GOP to get a taste of its own dog food... At the same time, it's not exactly nonsensical to have a few qualms about a state-owned Arab company taking over operations at half a dozen big U.S. ports, and you'd think someone in the administration would have been smart enough to figure this out."

And, I'm almost embarrassed to admit, with Michelle Malkin.

Indeed, is it too much to ask that America control its own ports -- run them, not just provide security? From Brad Plumer, I do see that partial privatization is often the best way to go, but aren't we supposed to be living in a post-9/11 world with new post-9/11 mindsets? Doesn't that mean we need to play by different rules?


Update: It looks like there was a secret arrangement, according to The Guardian. Does that make it any better? A bit, but not enough. If the roles were reversed, Republicans would be hammering Democrats on this, whether Clinton, Gore, or Kerry. The policy is, at best, questionable. But the optics are simply terrible for Bush. And that's where at least some of our attention needs to be.

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Was Cheney drunk when he shot Whittington?

Good question, if I do say so myself. And there's a weird story to the affirmative at some site called Capitol Hill Blue. Make of it what you will. Cheney's alleged inebriation makes for a rather tempting rumour, but, like Say Anything, I remain skeptical.

Let me know if you see anything more on this.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The World is Flat: Live Blogging Tom Friedman

The air is electric at Yale Law School this morning as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman is about to start delivering a talk based on his best-selling new book, The World is Flat. As a service to readers of The Reaction, my friends and I have developed a special "flatometer" that will document every time the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner uses the word "flat" or one of its derivatives. Stay tuned folks, as it promises to be a mind-flattening morning.

10:29 – Tom Friedman enters the room. The multitudes rejoice.

10:31 – The Dean of Yale Law School has just finished introducing the professor who will be introducing Tom Friedman. The audience chuckles mildly at tales from Tom's youth.

10:32 – The flatometer records its first observation. The professor introducing Friedman just mentioned the title of the new book.

10:34 – Oh no! It's revealed that Tom's remarks will last just 10 minutes before we move into a Q&A session! Opportunities for the flatometer have just flat-lined!

10:35 – "Most of you have read The World is Flat."

10:36 – "I just finished a 2.0 version of the book."

10:36 – "I wrote The World is Flat in just 9 months."

10:37 – "It's a reflection of how flat the world is."

10:38 – "This era of globalization is fattening the global economic playing field at the same time."

10:40 – "There are ten forces and dates that are flattening the world."

10:41 – "I call this first flattener when the walls came down and the Windows came up."

10:41 – "That was a huge flattener [i.e., the collapse of the Berlin Wall] for a couple of reasons. It allowed us to look at the world as a single flat plane for the first time."

10:42 – The rise of Windows was a huge flattener because the PC allowed individuals, for the first time, to become authors of their own content in individual form."

10:43 – "The second flattener is also built around a date. 8/9/95. Because on that date a small start-up company in Mountain View, CA went public. Netscape."

10:43 – "Netscape was a huge flattener for a couple of reasons."

10:44 – "Netscape's going public was a huge flattener for another reason – because it triggered the dot-com boom."

10:47 – "The third flattener doesn't really have a date because it was a quiet revolution over software that occurred in the late 1990s."

10:49 – "That friends was a huge flattener. Because when my software can connect with your software,... suddenly I could collaborate with anyone, anywhere, on anything."

10:50 – "The accidental convergence of these three things was the genesis moment of the flat world."

10:51 – "When they did, the world started to get flat."

10:51 – "We now open the world to your questions on anything about the flat world."

10:51 – Friedman's talk ends. Now for the Q&A session.

10:52 – "I was working on the 2.0 version of 'The World is Flat' when it suddenly occurred to me that we just got rid of the walls that determines who collaborates with who."

10:52 – "You download when the world is round. When the world is flat, individuals can upload their own content."

10:54 – "We haven't just got rid of the walls. We haven't just got rid of the ceilings. We've also got rid of the floors."

10:56 – He must have just said "flat" or "flattening" five times in two sentences. I can't keep up with this.

10:58 – My brain activity is flattening. Enough of this already…

11:01 – A brilliant question from an audience member. Amy Chua, the professor who introduced Tom Friedman, recently penned a best-seller herself called How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. The questioner asked whether the flat world is on fire!

11:05 – "In most of the world, you can't get from Saddam to Jefferson without going through Khomeini."

11:05 – Oops! I stopped listening for a few minutes there. Surely he must have said 'flat' at least 5 or 6 times…

11:28 – Tom Friedman thinks the opposition to the Dubai Ports World takeover smacks of xenophobic racism. He thinks it's a terrible message to the world that Americans should be able to buy foreign assets, but not vice-versa.

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Portgate: The hubris, incompetence, and cronyism of the Bush presidency

As many of you must know by now, "President Bush [has] endorsed the takeover of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports by a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates". And as if that isn't bad enough, "[h]e [has] pledged to veto any bill Congress might approve to block the agreement" -- see the AP story here.

This is the president who claims to be tough on national security, who seeks to fight the war on terror virtually without checks and/or balances, who won re-election over an eminently more qualified candidate by running a campaign of fear, who used that stupid colour-coded threat-alert system for partisan political purposes, who still claims that his leadership has kept America safe even as he wages a war in a foreign country that had nothing to do with 9/11, even as Osama remains on the loose and more serious threats like Iran and North Korea spiral out of control.

And now he wants to hand over America's ports -- one of the gaping holes in the swiss cheese of national security -- to a foreign government, to the UAE? And, as always, he'll stand stubbornly determined even as both sides of the aisle demand that he reconsider, as Congress seeks to check and balance his outrageously imperial presidency?

How is it that his approval ratings even hit the upper-30s? How is it that anyone still supports him at all?

Some conservatives, apologists for all things Bush, continue to set aside principle and the national interest for mindless partisanship. But even Glenn Reynolds and the usually apologetic Michelle Malkin aren't happy with this deal.

Honestly, who out there is not yet convinced of the harm that Bush is doing to America both at home and abroad?


This is a huge story in the blogosphere. See Memeorandum here. In particular:

RenaRF at Kos (with updates): "Why the HELL is the President so dogmatically sticking to this deal??

The Carpetbagger Report: "Bush is drawing a line in the sand here, but he's also taking a big risk. Right now, the White House has very few allies on this; opposition to the deal is bi-partisan and common on the Hill and statehouses. Lawmakers, especially those who are more worried about their own re-election that helping Bush's port deal, will see no upside to helping the White House out on this one." See also here.

Kevin Drum: "What it shows is that Bush still doesn't understand how much influence he's recently lost with his conservative base. In the brave new post-Harriet, post-Katrina world, outrage over the port deal has been driven equally by both liberal critics and conservatives like Michelle Malkin and administration uber-stalwart Hugh Hewitt, who are no longer willing to simply take Bush's word for it that they should trust him on this issue."

Digby: "If there are three hallmarks of this failed Bush administration, it is hubris, incompetence and cronyism. This port deal features all three." Hence the title of this post.

And this is important: Democrats can run -- and win -- on Bush's hubris, incompetence, and cronyism. Whether it's Iraq or Katrina or the NSA scandal or the Abramoff-DeLay corruption or now this. Yes, we need to focus on what we would do in power. Yes, we need to focus on health care and education and other key domestic issues. Yes, we need to present a viable alternative on Iraq, Iran, and homeland security. But -- YES! -- we need to hit this hard:


Am I saying this loudly, forcefully, convincingly enough? Come on already!

Joe at AMERICAblog: "Just imagine if a Democratic President cut this deal -- and defended it the way Bush has. Karl Rove would have a field day. This is a major political issue. Remember, Rove's the one who wants to make national security a political issue this year." Pam Spaulding makes a similar point.

Exactly. The politics of fear won't work this time. Hollow rhetoric won't work. Surely Americans now know better than to put their trust and safety in the hands of the Bush Administration and its allies in Congress?

See also Shakespeare's Sister and Seeing the Forest and Taylor Marsh and Firedoglake. And this scary thought from Think Progress: "Thus, the sale would give a country that has been 'a key transfer point for illegal shipments of nuclear components to Iran, North Korea and Lybia' direct control over substantial quantities U.S. military equipment."

Again: This is the wartime president? The national security president? This is the man who would keep America safe?

Bloggledygook offers a thoughtful reply to both sides (left and right in agreement), arguing that "this deal has exposed a nasty strain of racism that is running through both parties and partisans of every stripe" and that the deal is a great way "to engage 'moderate Muslims'".

But this isn't about engagement. And it's certainly not about racism.

It's about national security. It's about protecting the homeland. Isn't that what Bush always talks about? Isn't that what he always falls back on when things in the real world aren't going well, when he needs to scare up some support?

Just as the Cheney shooting revealed so much in metaphor about the Bush Administration, from Cheney's arrogance to Bush's ignorance, so does this story reveal so much about just what makes the Bush presidency tick.

Yes, it's about hubris and incompetence and cronyism. And ignorance and stubbornness and hypocrisy. It's about the nature of America's leadership.

Are you all paying attention?


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When anti-gay bigotry extends to adoption

According to USA Today, "Efforts to ban gays and lesbians from adopting children are emerging across the USA as a second front in the culture wars that began during the 2004 elections over same-sex marriage... Steps to pass laws or secure November ballot initiatives are underway in at least 16 states..."

Clearly, anti-gay bigots on the right are once again looking for a wedge issue to divide Americans going into this year's mid-term elections. Many of them are no doubt sincere in their bigotry, hoping to cement the status of gays and lesbians as lesser citizens without equal rights and as lesser human beings without dignity, but the electoral angle is obvious, too.

There's been so much bad news for Republicans -- from Iraq to Katrina to DeLay to Abramoff to the NSA scandal -- that the only way for them to win this year may very well be to use yet another "values" issue to vilify the opposition and to mobilize partisans. Given the predictably low voter turnout for mid-term elections, and with Republicans desperate to retain control of Congress, what could tip the balance once again, just as in 2004, is a mobilized religious right eager to show up at the polls in an effort to impose their divisive, bigoted "values" on America.

It's the same old strategy from the same old source: Karl Rove. And it's the two-pronged strategy of labelling the Democrats as soft on national security while using a wedge issue to boost voter turnout just enough to squeak past the opposition.

Knowing this, how will Democrats respond? By showing they're actually quite tough enough on national security -- and by stressing their alternative to Bush's incompetence on everything from Iraq to Katrina to America's ports. By discussing core domestic issues like health care and education in real and substantive ways, not just empty slogans like "No Child Left Behind" and insane ideological efforts like social security privatization. And hopefully, too, by standing up for justice both at home and abroad -- for the poor and the sick and the hungry and the homeless, for the abused and the war-ravaged, and, in this case, for gays and lesbians who only want to give unwanted children a good home.

It is time to repel this bigotry. Once and for all.

(See also Shakespeare's Sister (who is justifiably angry), The Next Hurrah (with a great state-by-state round-up of anti-gay legislation), Preemptive Karma (Republicans have been "so craptastically lousy at governance"), and Norbizness ("wanton, fundamentalist cruelty" -- well put).

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

John Paul Stevens, defender of liberalism in illiberal times

Thank goodness (or whatever God, god, or gods you prefer) for Justice Stevens. From the Post:

If anything, Stevens's influence has grown in recent years. He has a knack for building coalitions across ideological lines, and he makes shrewd use of his prerogatives as the senior associate justice. It is largely because of him that a court with seven Republican-appointed members, and nominally headed by a conservative, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, produced a string of relatively liberal results in recent cases.

In the past half-decade, the court has upheld affirmative action in higher education; approved a federal campaign finance law; abolished the death penalty for minors and the mentally retarded; rejected key claims of the property-rights movement; and given suspected terrorists held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, access to federal court.

In each of those decisions, Rehnquist dissented, joined by fellow conservatives Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas -- while Stevens, as the senior justice in the majority, either wrote the court's opinion or picked the justice who did.

Live long and continue to prosper, Mr. Justice Stevens.

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Blogging in China

Not too long ago, I wrote about Google's controversial decision to censor itself in return for access to the huge Chinese market. I argued in that post that "Google's censored presence in China may yet be the thin end of a wedge that is essential to opening up China to alternatives to its brutal totalitarianism".

Well, have a look at this piece in The Washington Post on the current state of blogging in China (no thanks to Microsoft, of course).

The case of Zhao Jing (a.k.a., "Anti") notwithstanding, there is at least an inkling of hope: "With as many as 16 million people in China writing blogs, the Internet has provided a platform for citizens to express their views, shattering the Communist Party's monopoly on the media. The state still controls newspaper, magazine and book publishing, but the proliferation of sites that let users publish and even broadcast audio and video online have undermined the party's ability to restrict who can address the public and attract an audience."

It's a fascinating story.

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Do Republicans believe in America?

Absolutely not, says John Aravosis -- and, as usual, he's onto something.

Check it out.

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The NSA scandal: A great opportunity for Democrats

The latest from Glenn Greenwald on the NSA scandal is, of course, a must-read. This should whet your appetite:

Ever since the NSA scandal began, Bush followers, led by Karl Rove, and even some frightened Democrats, have loudly insisted that this scandal is actually beneficial for Republicans, because they can use it to depict Democrats as weak on national security. Democrats want to hang up when Osama calls, while Bush is being aggressive in protecting our children from being blown up. As a result, they claimed, Republicans want this scandal to last as long as possible because it will only benefit Republicans politically and damage Democrats by highlighting their vulnerabilities.

While spouting that bravado, the Administration's actions reveal that they fear this scandal and want more than anything for it to disappear. At every turn, they have tried to prevent a meaningful investigation into the legality of their actions. If the NSA scandal is really the political weapon which the GOP can use to bash Democrats as being weak on national security, wouldn't the White House be doing the opposite -- that is, encouraging every hearing and investigation possible?

The supplemental claim we hear most from the Administration is that this scandal is dying. It will all fade away with some nice legislation designed to render legal the President's four years of deliberate law-breaking. But the NSA scandal continues to dominate the news. Every day brings more conflicts, more disputes, more internecine fighting among Republicans. Indeed, Republicans are all fighting with each other on virtually every aspect of this scandal -- when have we ever seen that?

Exactly. This is a scandal in and of itself, but it's also a rare opportunity for Democrats to pounce both on Bush's abuse of power and on deep divisions within the Republican ranks.

Don't believe the White House spin on this one.

And Democrats... don't let us down.


Some great blogs are commenting on this post and the NSA scandal more generally. For example: Hullabaloo, Booman Tribune, The Heretik, The Next Hurrah, Taylor Marsh, and State of the Day.

And this, in particular, from Obsidian Wings: "Regardless of where you stand on the NSA wiretap issue, it's a matter that cries out for Congressional hearings. It concerns important constitutional principles -- the rule of law, the separation of powers, and of course the fourth amendment. The best you can say about its legality is that it's debatable. And a failure to inquire into it would leave unchallenged the idea that the President can do what he likes without bothering to tell anyone, except for a few members of Congress sworn to absolute secrecy."

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Monday, February 20, 2006

It's time to probe the eavesdroppers

According to The Washington Post, the White House is continuing to resist Congressional efforts to look into the NSA scandal, that is, Bush's domestic eavesdropping program.

If ever there were a time for checks and balances -- especially after the debacle of the run-up to war in Iraq, the appointment of a presidential apologist like Alito to the Supreme Court, and all the recent talk of the unitary executive -- this is it.

Congress needs to act. Now.

But Democrats can't do it alone. Ultimately, it will take Republicans, the Republican leadership (Frist and Roberts, not just Hagel and Snowe), to rebel against the White House, to place love of country over love of party, and to demand that Bush relent.

For more, see The Left Coaster, AMERICAblog, War and Piece, TalkLeft, Nitpicker, Sisyphus Shrugged, and The Moderate Voice.

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Congolese constitutionalism and same-sex marriage

The Democratic Republic of Congo has a new constitution, highlighted by a president limited to two terms, an elected prime minister and parliament, and an independent judiciary: "All this is new for DR Congo, a country which is trying to emerge from years of war and which had its last free elections 40 years ago."

But, alas, the constitution also prohibits same-sex marriage. The Congo may soon be democratic, and that's a huge step forward for a country long beset by civil war and political crisis, much of it since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, but this one prohibition should serve as a reminder that democracy and liberty are not the same thing, that it's possible to have democracy without liberty, particularly liberty for all.

What, after all, is democracy without rights? Yet another form of tyranny.

We should celebrate this significant development and we should wish the Congolese well. The transition to constitutional democracy has not been an easy one and there are still obstacles ahead -- the first truly democratic elections are set for June. But we should also remember that democracy alone is not enough, that rights, natural rights, come first: Constitutionalism in this modern, Lockean sense is meant to build a political regime upon those rights.

The Congo still has a way to go -- but, then, so do we.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

The tyrannical rule of Richard B. Cheney

Yes, yes, I've already written a lot about The Shooting (see here, here, and here, for example), but the story still won't go away. At least not entirely. And that, in my view, is a good thing.

Questions and loose ends remain, but what is most interesting to me is the extent to which both the shooting and its aftermath reflect, in miniature, in metaphor, the Bush presidency: Cheney's arrogance, Bush's ignorance, the blind loyalty of the lackeys, the gutlessness of the partisan apologists, the utter contempt for the press, the disregard for the American people, the spinning of the truth into various contortions of misdirectional truthiness.

And now we have this excellent piece in Newsweek by Jonathan Alter on the imperial vice presidency of Dick Cheney. It's a must-read, but here are some key passages:

-- "Cheney believes in what might be called partisan accountability—you answer only to your own side, on your own terms, not to the jackals of the mainstream media."

-- "Cheney has simultaneously expanded the power of the vice presidency and reduced its accountability. Because his health made him the first veep since ancient Alben Barkley (under Harry Truman) with no realistic chance of moving up, he felt he could change the rules. Fears of terrorism made his decision to go to an 'undisclosed location' understandable, but he has taken secrecy about his whereabouts to inexplicable lengths."

-- "So Cheney has quietly figured out how to avoid answering the messy questions that are a vital part of a modern democracy... By not holding a press conference since 2002, Cheney is telling the men and women assigned to cover the White House that they are irrelevant. No wonder they went crazy after learning of the shooting accident from a Texas paper."

And here's where Alter sums it up brilliantly:

-- "The shooting could hardly be a better metaphor for Cheney. It neatly packages his faulty judgment, insularity and arrogance in a story that is not cataclysmic on its own terms but will prove hard to forget. That's too bad for Cheney, and certainly for Harry Whittington. But it is a blessing for anyone hoping to restore some accountability to a government that increasingly believes it is a law unto itself."

I recently referred to Cheney as a "tyrannical declassifier" (see here). But Cheney has proven himself to be a tyrant through and through.

Once upon a time, democrats knew what to do with tyrants. Nowadays, for all the high-falutin' rhetoric about the march of freedom and the spread of democracy, mostly from Cheney's alleged boss, we elect them to second terms.

Enough is enough, wouldn't you say?


Also in Newsweek, Evan Thomas looks back at "the shot heard round the world". Also a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the tyrannical rule of Richard B. Cheney.

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Reaction to the blogs: Third parties, feminism, and Canada's religious right

I haven't done a "Reaction to the blogs" post in quite some time -- this is where I draw attention to some good posts I've come across recently, mostly by bloggers who (like me) don't have the exposure of a Kos, an Atrios, a Drum, or a Digby -- but, as I try to put Canada's 2-0 loss to Finland in Olympic hockey behind me, let's get right to it:

At All Facts and Opinions, Natalie Davis looks at how "some Capitol Hill lawmakers are acting like spoiled children and spearheading an effort to limit electoral choice" -- specifically by pushing legislation (a campaign-reform bill that would establish a public-subsidy regime for Congressional elections, essentially to take private money out of politics) that would make it extremely difficult for third parties and third-party candidates to compete against Republicans and Democrats.

Anne Zook wonders about her blogging -- and then gets quite serious, in an ironic sort of way. Anne also links to a good article by Robert Parry at Consortiumnews (yes, the media do leave much to be desired).

Legally Blonde presents a laugh from law school.

Tart Juice examines the fine art of puttering.

Geeky Mom (a.k.a., Laura) tries to find a balance between parenting and working.

At One Good Thing, Flea tackles Mao, The Vagina Monologues, and feminism -- yes, all in one post.

Up here in Canada, The Galloping Beaver (one of the best blog names ever) "sheds some light on the gathering Christian fundamentalist groups who are now establishing 'institutes' in Ottawa in preparation for lobbying what they perceive as a 'friendly' government". Go for it, say I. It'll be the Conservatives' undoing -- and not a moment too soon.

Red Tory, also Canadian, addresses the cartoon controversy, rather provocatively, here and here.

Part-Time Pundit John Bambenek, who recently took the time to comment on my post on Ann Coulter (for which I thank him -- he's one of the best conservative bloggers out there), interprets the First Amendment.

At Casual Asides, D.J. Waletzky has written a long, thoughtful post on three topics: "No Blogging on Yom Kippur," "The Cult of Strength," and "Evolving Creationism".

This is just a start, and I'll be doing more of this from now on. There's a lot of excellent reading to be found in the blogosphere. Keep checking back for more recommendations. (And don't hesitate to get in touch with me with your own recommendations. I'm always happy to link to such good stuff.)

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