All posts by brendan

Another Weekend, Another Defeat

Before I get started on today’s post, I shall take a moment to note just how right I was about the “how do we beat the bitch” bit: here’s the New York Times (seriously, the “bastion of old liberalism” the right is always railing about) on how the incident not only won’t hurt McCain, it’ll hurt Clinton. Sometimes knowing how the process really works can suck.

Anyway, I think enough time has now passed that I can begin to talk rationally about the pathetic collapse of the Democrats on the Mukasey nomination last week. Whether I will remain rational as I type is up for debate, but let’s give it a shot anyway.

capitol

So to begin, what the hell happened? The Senate theoretically has a 60-vote threshold in order to do anything, yes? After all, every time a war funding bill comes to the upper chamber, every Democrat in sight will begin to gnash their teeth and rend their garments over the awful burden of needing 60 votes to overcome Republican filibuster threats. Yet there were, if I recall, 40 votes actually cast against Mukasey, not to mention that Biden, Clinton, Dodd, and Obama had all declared their opposition to his nomination, and could easily have gotten back to Washington in time for a vote if given word that it was imminent. That, by my count, is 44. Now, I’m a history/poli-sci major, so math’s not my strong suit, but I’m pretty sure that 44 is more than the 40 votes which are required to sustain a filibuster well into 2009.
So if the Senate Democratic leadership really opposed the nomination, and had a tool at their disposal which would have prevented the nomination from succeeding, then why didn’t they use it? Glenn Greenwald’s got one theory, which I’m inclined to buy, but I’m also really blown away by the story I found on TPM about another possible explanation: that Reid struck a deal in which he would hold the vote and pledge not to stage a filibuster, in exchange for which several Senate Republicans would support a move to split the latest defense appropriations bill into one general funding bill (for troop pay, weapons development, base maintenance, etc) and one bill specifically doling out funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The theory here was basically “we keep getting rolled on Iraq because the President accuses us of threatening national defense by cutting the DoD’s budget. So if we separate that from war funding, he can’t use that weapon anymore.” So they’d take the hit of an executive-worshipping, torture-sanctioning Attorney General in order to bring a swifter conclusion to the war. Decent deal, right?

Well, let’s fast-forward to this week, when it actually happened. The Senate passed an appropriations bill, with no funding for the war attached. The House swiftly followed with a bill which would grant enough funds for the next several months, provided that the President started a withdrawal, with a goal of complete withdrawal by the end of 2008. And so it went to the Senate, where… well, what do you think happened?

Ah well, at least they’ve managed to defuse that whole “you’re risking America’s defense and not supporting the troops” thing, right? In fact, here’s Tony Fratto, White House spokesman, who I’m sure will have nothing but respect for the Democrats’ principled stand:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwWHJv7qhQY[/youtube]

So the war keeps going, the Republicans continue to use their “support the troops” mantra, and Mukasey is Attorney General. To quote Casey Stengel as he addressed the 1962 Mets: “Can’t anyone here play this game?”

The Straight Talk Express in All Its Glory

The newest bit of controversy on the campaign trail has been provided by the McCain campaign (really, he’s still running, don’t let the 3rd or 4th-place standing fool you). Let’s go to the clip:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLQGWpRVA7o[/youtube]
Note that the reaction of this noble, upstanding war veteran is not to admonish his supporter for insulting one of his fellow Senators, but rather to laugh and then discuss his numbers against Hillary Clinton (with a nice little reference to the “Democrat” party thrown in, which I won’t go into here, but may later). Consider this for a moment.

There are two potential ways I could address this. One would be to simply decry the overall descent of political discourse into name-calling and mudslinging. That seems too easy, though, and it’s not like today’s campaigns are any worse than the campaigns of the early Republic. Indeed, at least modern campaigns have the theoretical restriction of slander laws.
No, I think I’ll try to imagine a similar incident in which another candidate was insulted in an equivalently crude manner, and what would happen. And I don’t mean something along the lines of asking a Democrat “how do we get this asshole out of office?” in 2004. Asshole isn’t a charged enough word. But say that either Richardson or Obama were the Democratic frontrunner, and a voter asked McCain or Romney “How do we beat the (insert ethnic slur here),” followed by said candidate giggling and calling it “an excellent question.” One imagines the fallout would be rather substantial, even campaign-crippling. Remember this guy?

Yet weirdly, not only has McCain’s campaign not suffered in the polls (though it’s early, we’ll see what happens), they’re using the incident as a fundraising tool. You read that right. They’ve decided that CNN’s coverage shows their inherent pro-Hillary bias. After all, why run that clip unless they’re afraid that McCain would beat Clinton? As such, you should give lots of money to the McCain campaign, so that he can win the Republican nomination and put that uppity Democratic bitch in her place.

A few weeks ago I posted about the recent history of subtle Republican appeals to racial hatred. So it’s not exactly surprising to me when they go for this sort of lowest-common-denominator tactic. It is striking, though, how blatant they’re being about this one, and how easily they’re getting away with it. Surrogates of the Clinton campaign may well have been overstating a bit when they implied that the other Democratic candidates were ganging up on her at the debate because she was the only woman on stage, but the underlying point was no less true. Nowhere have I yet read any prominent reporter or columnist calling McCain for being sexist, only “too candid.” How much of this is due to underlying misogyny, as opposed to the media’s bizarre crush on McCain or their astonishing inability to ever call Republicans on their bullshit is hard to say. Most likely it’s a bit of each.
For a nice way to finish this off, let’s turn it over to CNN. I’d give you a bit of a preview, but I really can’t do justice to how gawdawful this is.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BnA_uPz7d8&feature=user[/youtube]

There you have it, folks. For a man running for President to tell one of his supporters to refer to a fellow Senator with respect is not a sign of character, it would be “buckling,” and “would look ridiculous.” It’s going to be a very long election year.

53-40

That was the vote to confirm Michael Mukasey late Thursday night as our 81st Attorney General.

So let’s see. Now Chuck Schumer will forward legislation explicitly banning waterboarding, since his good buddy Mukasey assured him that such legislation would be enforced. It’ll pass the Senate with something like 90 votes, then it’ll get through the House with similar support. The President will cheerfully sign it, with the new AG by his side, talking about the importance of the rule of law. This will be swiftly followed by the grand tradition of Bush-era bipartisanship, pictured below:

bipartisanship

A day after the bill-signing, Charlie Savage will find, buried deep within the Federal Register, a newly written signing statement which pledges to uphold the waterboarding ban, so long as doing so doesn’t infringe upon the President’s dual role as Commander-in-Chief and head of the unitary executive branch. The story will run on page A9 of the Boston Globe, and might get a two-paragraph blurb in the Washington section of the New York Times. None of the networks will mention it.

Then, sometime in mid-February, Democrats in Congress will claim to be “troubled” and “deeply shocked” that despite AG Mukasey’s previous assurances, evidence continues to roll in that US agents are using waterboarding. There will be an angry letter from Chairman Leahy demanding that Mukasey testify on these matters before the Judiciary Committee. The White House will say no, it being inappropriate for a member of the Executive Branch to be summoned like an errand boy before Congress. The Senate will drop it in the name of compromise.

And far from Capitol Hill, at some undisclosed location, a prisoner in American custody will have water poured down his throat until he begins to drown. This will be done again and again until he tells his captors what they want to hear. To protect our freedoms.

Another one about the AG battle

Admittedly, I’m really entertained by the idea of Pat Robertson endorsing Rudy Giuliani, but that’ll have to wait until later. For now my main concern is the coming Senate vote on Michael Mukasey. As I’ve mentioned previously, Mukasey was approved by the Judiciary Committee and sent on to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. He’s certainly got enough votes to pass, so the only chance of preventing his confirmation would be a filibuster, which would only require 40 votes. And even that might be a challenge.

I realize I’ve been harping on this one, and I think it’s fair that I explain why. Now, y’all may remember this chap, who has a pretty damn good claim on the title of Worst Attorney General Ever:

gonzales

During Gonzales’s tenure as AG, it appears that the Justice Department was transformed into a wing of the Republican political machine, and ultimately collapsed in a sorry wreck of scandal and resignations. Thus, the initial reaction of the Senate to Judge Mukasey was “he can’t possibly be worse than the last guy, let’s get him in there.” This opinion was only furthered by the perception that Mukasey had stood up to the Bush Administration in the Padilla case.
Of course, as is ever the case in these things, a quick look under the surface revealed multiple causes for alarm. Now, as clear as it was (and still is) that Mukasey would not go in for the sort of partisan shenanigans that were the hallmark of the Gonzales DoJ, his record on executive authority is less than reassuring. For example, in that Padilla ruling, despite its assertion that Jose Padilla had the right to legal counsel, Mukasey made it clear that he was comfortable with the President exercising a power to declare American citizens “enemy combatants,” and arrest them without charge.

Allow me to pause a moment to explain that one. Under Anglo-American law dating back to the Magna Carta (and arguably earlier), the government can not arrest you without charging you with a crime, then granting you access to a court of law in which you can defend yourself. For a judge to concede that an executive has an inherent authority to abrogate those rights by determining that you are an “enemy combatant” (a determination which is not subject to review by anyone but the executive) is to undermine one of the founding principles of our government. So, yeah, maybe a problem in the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.

The shit really hit the fan, though, when the Judiciary Committee began to question Mukasey on the use by American intelligence agents of “waterboarding,” which the press refers to as a “controversial procedure,” and the rest of the world refers to as torture. (For an excellent take on the press’s absurd attempts to present a “debate” about the merits of torture, check out this article.) Despite constant questioning, Mukasey refused to state that he thought the practice was illegal. This caused most of the Democrats on the Committee to declare their opposition to his nomination, and suddenly things were looking up.
However, apparently Mukasey met privately with Chuck Schumer and assured him that, should the Congress pass a law explicitly banning waterboarding, he would enforce said law. Now, there are many proper reactions to such an assurance, ranging in eloquence from Senator Kennedy’s to “Whoop-de-friggin-do, we already have about a half-dozen laws against waterboarding, why don’t you enforce those?” But Schumer’s was to vote for him.

So now, short a filibuster, we’ll have an Attorney General who, while neither a partisan flack nor a religious fanatic obsessed with the breasts of Justice, will not stand in the way of a President who claims the power to imprison citizens at will, ignore Congressional statute, and torture people. Indeed, he may even actively abet such claims. This is a problem. To explain why this is a problem, I’ll turn to Senator Lindsey Graham, who (despite his support for Mukasey’s nomination) gave one of the more eloquent statements I’ve heard on these matters during the Judiciary Committee’s vote Tuesday:

The world is not short of people and countries who will waterboard you. There’s not a shortage of people who will cut your heads off in the name of religion. There is a shortage of people who believe in justice, not vengeance.

Kennedy’s thoughts on Mukasey

kennedy

I’m going to have a lot to say about our soon-to-be Attorney General later tonight, but before I head out to work, I thought I’d turn over the floor to Senator Kennedy, who had this to say:

…we are told that Judge Mukasey agreed to enforce a ban against waterboarding if Congress specifically passes one. We are supposed to find comfort in the representations by a nominee to be the highest law enforcement officer in the country that he will in fact enforce the laws that we pass in the future? Can our standards really have sunk so low? Enforcing the law is the job of the Attorney General. It’s a prerequisite – not a virtue that enhances a nominee’s qualifications.

The full text of his statement is here.

Are we electing a president, or a strongman?

Machismo, noun.

Exaggerated pride in masculinity, perceived as power, often coupled with a minimal sense of responsibility and disregard of consequences.

I bring this up not to poke fun at that ridiculous pageant on the Lincoln four years ago (entertaining as that is), but to point out the importance of machismo in the Republican primaries. (As I write this, I’m watching the King of the Hill episode in which Hank worries that Dubya’s limp handshake means he won’t be a strong enough president. Coincidence is a funny thing.) All the GOP candidates are falling over themselves to prove how tough they’ll be on Iran, or immigrants, or Guantanamo prisoners. For the most part (especially on Romney) it looks to be ordinary electoral posturing.

But for Rudy Giuliani, the tough-guy act appears to be less an election-year persona than an ingrained element of his character. To wit, the following:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6V8gbrhq3HI[/youtube]

So what we have here is two claims. One, the bit about McCain. For those who don’t know, John McCain, as a pilot during the Vietnam War, was shot down over North Vietnam, captured, and imprisoned for five years, during which time he was tortured. But hey, Rudy ran a city for eight years, so he must be better informed on the topic. Next, that bizarre bit about “there would be a lot more Mafia guys running around” if he hadn’t used “intensive questioning” on them. As several others have pointed out, this means either that he doesn’t know the difference between torture and interrogation, or that he waterboarded domestic criminal suspects.

My suspicion is that he doesn’t mind people thinking it’s the latter. After all, the current President, in his aforementioned carrier landing and his decision to keep Saddam Hussein’s pistol as a trophy, has more than a bit wrapped up in the “Great Warrior against Terror” bit. How on earth does one top that? Ah, right, imply that as soon as we do manage to capture Osama, you’ll personally be the one to strap him to a chair and apply the electrodes. And given Rudy’s place in the polls, it appears it’s working.

This is why, as much as I’d love to believe the chatter that the Christian right will bail and vote for a third-party candidate rather than the pro-choice Giuliani, I don’t really buy it. The Republicans have spent fifty years now building the President-as-Protector narrative, and don’t show any sign of abandoning it anytime soon. Indeed, it’s only gotten stronger in the last six years. Just look at how easily the President still gets his way on matters relating to foreign policy and executive power, despite having worse popularity ratings than Nixon. Congress keeps handing him blank checks for the war in Iraq, and Tuesday the Judiciary Committee gave him his Attorney General nominee. (Speaking of which, thanks ever so much for that one, Senators Feinstein and Schumer. You’re an inspiration to us all.)
After all, he’s our Protector. We were attacked (as we’re never allowed to forget), and we haven’t been since. And the real kicker? If we’re attacked again, it doesn’t mean that he screwed up and should be held accountable; it means that his hands were tied by pesky civil libertarians and terrorist-coddling lawyers. Thus, he needs more powers. And if you think it’s been bad under Bush, just consider the idea of this sort of narrative with a leader who once tried to pull a Musharraf in his municipality.

I realize how alarmist this sounds, but think for a moment about how far we’ve moved politically in the last few years. I’ve just mentioned that a Presidential candidate clearly thinks torture is acceptable, and he’s in the lead. We’re discussing an attack on Iran, and the major concern of Americans isn’t so much that we’re about to invade a country that hasn’t attacked us for the second time in four years, but that we might rush into it. Ten years ago, could you have imagined any of this? We’re not through the looking glass just yet, but it wouldn’t take much of a shove to get us there.

Someone send this man a history book

Turns out I was wrong, Dick Cheney is interested in diplomacy. His definition of it leaves a tiny bit to be desired, though…

Well, I would love to have one giant peace conference, to see our adversaries come sit down on the other side of the table, and negotiate a treaty here — like we did at the end of World War II onboard the USS Missouri — and have the problem solved.

Seriously, he said this. Now, those of us who have opened a history book from time to time know that the “peace conference” on the Missouri was preceded by this:

tokyo

This:

a-bomb

And this:

hiroshima

Take a moment to really consider the implications of that quote, though. The Vice President of the United States either truly doesn’t understand basic facts about American history; or he thinks that the only way to negotiate with one’s enemies is to firebomb and nuke them into complete submission first. Neither is exactly encouraging.

Where have all the progressives gone?

As a quick question to start, how sad is it that upon hearing that Pakistan’s president had declared a state of emergency, suspending the constitution and indefinitely postponing elections, my very first thought was that somewhere Dick Cheney was scribbling down notes? And that were the Administration to take similar action, a fair number of pundits would think it was alright, what with the unprecedented threat and all? I just keep imagining the President making the announcement, quickly followed by a host of talking heads making like Mary Sunshine. It ain’t the happiest train of thought.

Anyway, tonight I wanted more to post about a fantastic piece running on Salon right now about this bloke (who does a freakishly good Donald Duck impression, by the way):

kucinich

It’s terrifically written and the tone is perfect, so I’d very likely have linked to it anyway, but when thinking about it in conjunction with Paul Krugman’s op-ed for the Times for Monday morning about the Dems’ unfortunate reluctance to be as liberal as the electorate would like, it became imperative.

(A brief aside: this isn’t going to be a post which argues in favor of voting for Kucinich. Partly because I’m not going to vote for him, but mostly because I’m going to bend over backwards on this blog to avoid endorsing individual candidates. That isn’t what politricks is for. When a candidate does something noteworthy, I’ll certainly mention them for it, but that’s all.)

Anyway, the Salon piece got me thinking a great deal about why it is that no mainstream candidate will put forth the kind of unapologetically progressive views that someone like Kucinich will. Especially with the public so clearly in favor of (among other things) better environmental regulations, universal health coverage, and a swift exit from Iraq. And it can’t just be a matter of traditional “I’ve got a real shot, can’t afford to offend the center” calculation, given that the prominent GOP candidates are falling over each other to figure out who can be the most hawkish on Iran or the most opposed to “socialized medicine.”
Part of it, certainly, is that we’ve been pounded on by the right, called “elitist” and “out of the mainstream” for so long, that we’ve started to believe it. Another big part is the simple fact that when your worldview allows for disagreement and debate, it’s hard not to seek compromise. It’s hard to imagine a progressive candidate being satisfied with the Bush-style “turn out enough of the base to eke out 51% and then ram your agenda down their throats” method of governance.

Still, it’d be nice, just once, to have a Democratic candidate for president who didn’t feel the need to flee from the “liberal” tag as though it were a plague rat. To watch a candidate asked about same-sex marriage say simply that everyone has the right to marry whom they choose, and that enshrining bigotry in the Constitution would be despicable. To say about global warming that leaving behind a flooding, drought-ridden world to our children, when all it would take to prevent it is a little ingenuity and sacrifice, is downright criminal. I know Jed Bartlet isn’t going to spontaneously burst forth from the annals of fiction anytime soon, but I’d at least like to have some reasonable facsimile around.

More than that, though, I want to know why, were someone along those lines to run, he or she would instantly be tarred as unelectable by the press, when a quasi-dictatorial ex-mayor and a former governor who hasn’t met an issue he couldn’t flip on are considered viable, even impressive candidates. And here I’m seriously asking, because I have no idea. Anyone who can explain it, please do.

Inconceivable!

The White House seems to have a default position whenever it’s asked about Iran, which is to claim that it’s “pursuing the diplomatic track,” or something to that effect. Every time I hear it, I start waiting for some reporter to stand up and tell Dana Perino, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” On Tuesday, the claim that we’re using diplomacy was buttressed by the point that Bush is meeting with the leaders of France and Germany next week. Can’t help but notice, though, how that’s not meeting with Iran.

See, it’s a funny thing about diplomacy. It requires intricate, obscure techniques, like talking to the other country. Not labeling their military a supporter of terrorists and freezing their assets. Not warning third parties that inaction will lead to Armageddon. If they were serious about this, they’d be proposing high-level talks at a nice resort on the French Riviera next month. That way, best case, they solve the differences between the two nations; worst case, they spent a week in Nice. Not much downside there. Beyond that, it’s not like it would lose Bush any political support. He’s already more than established his “tough-on-terror” credentials. To go ubergeek for a moment and use the post’s second obscure quote: “There is an old Vulcan proverb: only Nixon could go to China.” Same deal here. Of course, it’s so logical and so potentially worthwhile that it’s totally guaranteed that Bush won’t do it.

Instead, they’ll stick to what they’ve been doing: letting Cheney ramp up the rhetoric while Secretary Rice tells the Iranians that she’d be glad to talk to them about their nuclear program, just as soon as they agree to give up their nuclear program. Take a moment to digest the logic behind that one.

Oddly enough, it’s not an attitude limited to foreign policy. Check out the first set of answers regarding the Mukasey nomination here (video from TPM):

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPpCbwBgecw[/youtube]

See, Senate Democrats who are worried that Michael Mukasey might be a radical authoritarian who’s OK with letting the President waive Congressional law, ignore judicial orders, and allow American agents to torture prisoners? Just give him the keys to the Justice Department! Then you’ll have all the answers you want when you ask him to testify again. Or, possibly, when the Deputy AG arrives on the steps of the Capitol to inform you that your services are no longer necessary and the Executive Branch will take it from here.

A few quick ones for Wednesday

Couple short ones today…

I’ve always been kind of torn on Joe Biden. I’ve always liked his qualifications on foreign policy, and he’s clearly bright. On the other hand, there’s a rather distinct mouth-brain filter issue that makes me reluctant to make him the nation’s ambassador to the world. Still, when he wants to, the man can turn a phrase. From Tuesday night’s Democratic debate:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPOAKXBi9Pw[/youtube]

Meanwhile, over on the Hill, the Judiciary Committee is looking less and less likely to endorse the nomination of Michael Mukasey to be the next Attorney General. This is really remarkable, given that Mukasey seemed destined for a swift confirmation, what with his stellar qualifications of not being Alberto Gonzalez. However, as people began reading more of his judicial opinions, it became clear that whatever competence he might bring to the office, it also comes with a hefty dose of executive-authority worship. Beyond that, there’s the entire argument over torture. For those who haven’t been watching the fight, a brief overview:

In a round of hearings, the Judiciary Committee asked Mukasey about a method of interrogation known as “waterboarding,” in which a prisoner is strapped tightly to a board, a cloth placed over his face, and water poured over his head, so that in attempting to inhale, the prisoner inhales only wet cloth, making him feel as though he’s drowning. (In one iteration, anyway. As with most forms of torture, there are all manner of delightful varieties.) He dodged the question, claiming that he didn’t know what waterboarding was; that he wouldn’t even speculate on what it might be, since that would give al-Qaeda an idea of what they might face in US custody; and that he wouldn’t say whether he thought such a thing was illegal, as that might put US officials in danger of arrest.
The proper response to claims 1 and 2 is to simply call bullshit, anyone who’s read a newspaper in the last five years knows what waterboarding is, and that it’s been used on terrorism suspects in American custody. As for the third, if American officials have done something illegal, then they damn well ought to face trial for it. And if they did it because their bosses at Justice, the VP’s office, or the White House told them it was OK, then those bosses damn well deserve to be prosecuted. Do we really have to sit down a federal judge and explain to him the basic principle of American government that nobody is above the law? More on this one as the votes come in.

Finally, for those of you who like to finish your reading with a bit of schadenfreude, here’s a fun story out of Washington state. I must say, as many times in the last few years as I’ve heard the “closeted antigay Republican exposed in run-in with the law” story, somehow it just never gets old. Although this one can’t hold a candle to the best one of the year: the lamentable tale of Bob Allen, arrested for offering an undercover police officer $20 for the opportunity to perform oral sex on him. When asked about the occurrence, Allen claimed that, said officer being black, he was afraid for his life and willing to do anything to survive. That one may never be topped.

Back from a baseball break

Sorry for the recent lack of posts, had to take the weekend off to watch the Red Sox finish their World Series sweep. (My condolences to the Rockies and their fans. They had one hell of a run, they’ll definitely get another shot in the next few years.)

With the baseball season in the books, time to get back to politics. I promised y’all more stuff on Iran, and I do like to keep to that sort of promise. So let’s head in and get to the bottom of what may well be our third war in six years. We’ll start with a bit of historical background.

mossadegh

Any understanding of US-Iran relations needs to start with this guy. Mohammed Mossadegh, prime minister of Iran in the early 50′s, led his country on a number of reforms, most notably and controversially the nationalization of the oil industry, until then controlled by the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The Brits, amazingly enough, were annoyed by the loss of their oil, and asked the United States to take action. The CIA, in their inimitable way, put money into the right hands, and a military coup d’etat swept Mossadegh out of power in favor of the Shah.
This move proved fairly unpopular among the Iranian people, and thus the Shah maintained his power through the grand traditions of torture, repression, and secret police. He was supported in these endeavors, both financially and militarily, by the United States, who saw him as a valuable ally against Soviet expansion. Decades of oppression finally bubbled over in the Islamic Revolution of 1978-9, the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini’s theocratic government, and the seizing of the American Embassy in Tehran. Relations between the two countries entered a rather tense phase, with Iran supporting various anti-American terrorist causes (most notably Hezbollah) and the US supporting pretty much anyone who opposed the Ayatollah. For example, this guy, who you may recognize from his many appearances on South Park:

Saddam Hussein

Tensions eased a bit in the mid-90′s, largely due to a more moderate tone from the Iranian government toward the West and a generally receptive administration in the United States. After 9/11, Iran offered some cooperation (how much is still a matter of argument, there’s an excellent set of opinions here) against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Then, of course, we had the 2002 State of the Union and the “Axis of Evil” designation, followed by the invasion of Iraq. The hardliners within the Iranian government saw both (not unreasonably) as hostile moves, and used the opportunity to reassert control, purging the moderates and taking every opportunity to condemn American aggression.

And so here we sit, with Iran’s president giving bellicose speeches across the globe and our Congress declaring part of Iran’s military a terrorist organization. We’ve got prominent foreign policy analysts claiming that Iranians “have terrorism in their DNA.” It’s beginning to look very much as though the question of the United States attacking Iran is one of “when,” not “if.”

President Bush has apparently said on several occasions that he doesn’t want to leave Iran’s nuclear program as an unresolved issue after he leaves office. Yes, that’s right. A $9 trillion national debt, a still-flooded New Orleans, a collapsing healthcare system, and 130,000 troops in Iraq can be left to the next guy, but Iran we’ve gotta bomb tomorrow. And if you think Congress will stop him, you haven’t been paying much attention. For one thing, the new Democratic majority has been, shall we say, less than assertive in standing up to the President on matters of war.

For another, this is an Administration that has repeatedly made it clear that it feels Congress has absolutely no authority over the Presidency where war is concerned. Dick Cheney has said publicly that the first President Bush would have had the authority to invade Iraq in 1991 even if Congress had voted against it. Even better, remember that little resolution I mentioned earlier, which laid the groundwork for the President to declare part of Iran’s military a “supporter of terrorism”? Consider it in the context of the Sept. 14th, 2001 “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” effectively declaring the “War on Terror” underway. If part of Iran’s military is a terrorist group, then (according to these blokes) the President has the right to attack it without Congressional permission. And if the rest of Iran’s military counterattacks, then they’re supporting terrorists, and we get to go after them, too.

I wish I could say that this is a fluke, that if Congress can just find its spine for the next year or so and run out the clock on the Bushies, we’ll avoid a war. I’m more than a bit worried, though. Take a look at this debate, from Talking Points Memo:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-0E6ka8k54[/youtube]

The dude who doesn’t seem to understand the difference between Nazi Germany and, as Paul Krugman put it, “a country with roughly the G.D.P. of Connecticut” is Norman Podhoretz, who in addition to being the dean of Washington’s neoconservative dingbats, is the chief foreign policy advisor to Rudy Giuliani, the GOP frontrunner for 2008. With that reassuring thought, I’m off to bed. With any luck I’ll have something cheerier for you tomorrow.

Fox News: Redefining absurdity, every day

I’ve just spent the last ten minutes in convulsive laughter. It is quite seriously the hardest I’ve laughed in weeks. Tuesday morning, on Fox News, they blamed the California wildfires on al-Qaeda. I swear on Buddha’s boxer shorts this happened. Here, take a look for yourself (but first, move anything you could spill, knock over, or spit-take away from your computer):

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Px_mEucuaw[/youtube]

“Move along, folks, no global warming to see here…”

By request, we head over to Capitol Hill…

senate seal

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held hearings on Tuesday to discuss the effects of climate change on public health. Among those called to testify was the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the government’s main agency for monitoring illness and public health threats. You can read the text of her testimony here.

Now, you may have noticed that this testimony is less than comprehensive. It talks at length about the CDC’s ability to prepare for threats, and its capacity to monitor potential problems, which is interesting, but since that’s sort of fundamental to the purpose of the CDC, not terribly enlightening. Given that the hearing was entitled “Examining the Human Health Impacts of Global Warming,” one might think that America’s top agency for monitoring human health might talk about those impacts. But they didn’t. Did they forget? Have they actually just not bothered to look into it?

Oh, no, wait, what’s this on CNN.com? “Sources: White House Cut Testimony.” Ah, I see. Testimony discussing the potential health problems caused by global warming would have to acknowledge that global warming exists. Thus, the White House needed to edit the hell out of it to make sure none of those pesky scientific warnings get in there. This isn’t the first time the Administration has pulled this little trick, they’ve apparently been censoring NASA reviews of climate change for years now.

Now, part of this is just the standard Bush Administration secrecy fetish. But it’s also about the fight to discredit science in general. Science, you see, has this pesky habit of pointing out awkward things like cigarettes causing cancer, pesticides harming wildlife and humans, and fossil fuels warming the earth. Also, things like this little guy:

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And when the public becomes aware of these things, they tend to demand government action, which tends to be expensive for big business. So, what’s an enterprising corporation that wants to keep burning coal or dumping toxic waste to do?

They take advantage of the basic nature of scientific inquiry: namely, that nothing in science is ever proven, only not disproven. Doubt is central to the discipline; without it, there’d be no discovery. Thus, for just about any well-established theory, there’s some scientist who doesn’t fully agree with the consensus. So, all a company has to do is find that person and give him or her a big ol’ megaphone. Poof, you’ve got an instant scientific controversy where none existed before. And when you’ve got a business-friendly administration willing to suppress scientific facts which run counter to their ideology, it becomes all the easier.

PBS does Iran

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I’m in the midst of watching Frontline, which tonight focuses on the growing tensions between the United States and Iran. I’m continually amazed by the level of access and analysis they bring to their topics, and tonight’s is no exception. They’ve managed to get interviews with top American officials, as well as prominent members of the Iranian parliament. The whole piece is now online at their website, I highly recommend that you watch it.

One thing that struck me as especially staggering was a document known as the “grand bargain.” Soon after the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. received a document, apparently from moderates within the Iranian government, proposing negotiations over a set of basic issues. They asked that the U.S. stop trying to overthrow their regime, take Iran off the “Axis of Evil,” and agree to a set of security arrangements. In return, the Iranians would aid the U.S. in stabilizing Iraq, abandon all attempts to build nuclear weapons, and cease aid to terrorist groups in Lebanon and Palestine. The Bush Administration dismissed it without even bothering to reply.
Now, clearly there was serious disagreement as to how serious the offer was, the actual ability of the writers to follow through on it, and so forth, but how do you not pursue that? Worst case, it’s bullshit, in which case we’ve lost nothing. Best case, we put an end to 27 years of hostility and gain an incredibly valuable strategic partner in the Middle East. This is Diplomacy 101. Hell, it’s Art of War 101, winning your objectives without spilling blood.

I’m definitely going to have more to say on this later, but the combination of 3 am and detailed discussion of U.S.-Iranian relations rarely ends well. Come back tomorrow for politricks’ take on the events that got us where we are now.

A sojourn into the land of smears

It strikes me that I’ve been pretty heavily verbal lately, so I’ve decided to go for the visuals today. In this post, we’ll explore the wonderful world of campaign advertising. Now, I’ve written quite extensively here about the use of fear in politics, mostly in the realm of foreign policy. For example, this little gem, released in the final weeks before the 2004 election:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MU4t9O_yFsY[/youtube]

However, I’d like to spend today’s post discussing another sort of ad that’s been a winner for the GOP over the years: the sort that plays on racial fears. Here are two ads, from two different races in the 2006 cycle, both run by the supporters of white Republicans running against black opponents.

The first, run by supporters of Bob Corker against Harold Ford Jr. in the Tennessee Senate race:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vZF5ZTu2Go[/youtube]

And the second, run by the Kerry Healey campaign against Deval Patrick in the Massachusetts gubernatorial race:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2b64RSE26w[/youtube]

Now, aside from the traditional, almost cartoonish “the Dems’ll raise your taxes and take your guns” stuff in the Corker ad, the message running through these ads is pretty straightforward if you’re paying attention. Namely, “hey, white folks, you’d better vote for me, because otherwise that black fella and his friends are going to come after our women.” It’s not exactly a new tactic, this sort of imagery has been around for centuries, in contexts as varied as George Wallace’s warnings about “race-mixing” and King Kong (I’m serious, there’s a brief mention of it here). What’s surprising and saddening is how well it still works.

Bob Corker wound up winning his Senate race against Harold Ford by a slim margin, and it’s not absurd to think that this ad may have made the difference. Kerry Healey lost her race, but the “Deval supports rapists” tactic did gain her a bit of traction, and was just about the only time the Patrick campaign lost control of the public debate. And that was in Massachusetts, bluest of blue states.

The reason I bring this up is twofold. First, to get y’all ready for more of the same. There’s a pretty decent chance that the next Democratic nominee for President will be Barack Obama, and if that’s the case, I daresay we’ll be seeing more than a few appeals to our racist demons. Secondly, understanding these tactics can help us to put an end to them.

People use advertising that appeals to the worst in us because it works. The first President Bush got a huge boost from the Willie Horton ad. The 2000 whisper campaign about John McCain’s daughter in South Carolina arguably cost him the primary, and ultimately the Republican nomination. Why abandon a tactic that’s been proven to so consistently get results?

The only way that this sort of advertising will stop is if it stops working, and it’ll only stop working if we learn how to resist it. So when that latest campaign ad comes on the TV, stop and pay close attention. Political parties pay advertisers lots of money to find the weak points in voters’ psyches and exploit them. It’s not enough to listen to what they’re saying. You have to figure out what they’re trying to get you to think. Are they really addressing an issue, or just trying to make you afraid or angry? And if it’s the latter, why? We need to ask these questions. If we don’t, we’re just going to get more wolves, bunnies, and darkened garages, and democracy will be the worse for it.