Conversely, I see Nemo as smart but a tad paranoid, even hysterical now and then; too quick to ascribe sinister motives to people, when more common human foibles -- laziness and incompetence -- can usually explain bad behavior.
So for quite a while now I've been studiously ignoring the ranting of left-wing bloggers who insist that the news media is consistently claiming that Bush's poll numbers are going up even when they're not.
Yeah, yeah, I said, big deal. Some numbnuts on Fox News says something stupid like that every day. But there's no pattern to it across the media.
So I thought. But read this paragraph from the AP about tonight's State of the Union speech (via the MSNBC web site):
The speech comes as Bush’s job approval ratings have rebounded somewhat, but still hover in the high 30s to low 40s in most polls. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted from Jan. 26-29 of 1,011 adults showed Bush’s approval rating at 39 percent, which was unchanged from last month’s poll.Get that?
Unchanged from last month's poll.
Yet in the same paragraph we're told that his poll numbers "have rebounded somewhat". If both those statements appeared in the same story, I would shrug it off as sloppy journalism.
But in the same paragraph?
What do we call that?
John Kerry is that guy. It is perhaps his most annoying trait: he is too insincere to act out of pure conviction, but not insincere enough to act purely out of political calculation. Instead, he tries to figure out what his clear conviction would be if he was indeed a man with clear convictions, then decides whether or not that is really what he wants to do. As you might imagine, this is a complicated and time-consuming process, which is perhaps why Kerry always seems to be running into the room at three in the morning with a game of Pictionary in his hands.
Perhaps Kerry is building liberal street cred for a 2008 run. Perhaps he was stung by the New York Times editorial on Wednesday -- entitled "Senators In Need of a Spine" -- which said this:
Judge Samuel Alito Jr., whose entire history suggests that he holds extreme views about the expansive powers of the presidency and the limited role of Congress, will almost certainly be a Supreme Court justice soon. His elevation will come courtesy of a president whose grandiose vision of his own powers threatens to undermine the nation's basic philosophy of government — and a Senate that seems eager to cooperate by rolling over and playing dead.
It is hard to imagine a moment when it would be more appropriate for senators to fight for a principle. Even a losing battle would draw the public's attention to the import of this nomination.
Or perhaps Kerry was stung by my own post the other day in which I criticized Democrats for being unwilling to fight for a principle, "even if you get the hell beat out of you."
If I was the one who spurred you to action, Senator Kerry, let me just say this: deciding to lead a filibuster of Alito's nomination a week after his hearings concluded isn't what I had in mind. I wasn't suggesting that you set yourself on fire and jump off a bridge just to show people that you actually have convictions. I was suggesting that you -- and Democrats like you -- should try to lead rather than follow, fight rather than stand pat, sieze the initiative before events slip out of your control and the Republican talking points become embedded in the media.
The Democrats capitulated on Alito a long time ago. There was never any organized opposition to his nomination and it's too late to build it up now. But there are plenty of issues -- from domestic spying to the looney-tune theory of the unitary executive to the Abrahamoff scandal -- that do require rapid and decisive action from the Democrats. But there is nothing to be gained by trying to fight battles that have already been lost.
In the House on Wednesday, Democrats David Obey of Wisconsin and Barney Frank of Massachusetts said they would introduce legislation to eliminate all private money for House elections, turning instead to public financing.
"The problem with politics is more fundamental than meals or trips with lobbyists," Obey said in a statement.
Taking a different approach, Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minnesota, Wayne Allard, R-Colorado, and Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, unveiled a plan to create an independent commission, similar to the 9/11 Commission, to recommend ethics reforms.
"What is at stake here is clearly the credibility of the institution," Coleman said at the hearing.
Great! Appoint a commission, which should report back in a year or so -- after the 2006 election, of course -- complete with a list of recommendations that the Congress will gratefully accept; and then the Congress can debate the proposed changes in the lobbying laws, a few of which might be implemented in a somewhat watered-down form, but most of which will be labeled as too draconian and too impractical and will be quietly disposed of.
Similar to the 9/11 commission? Who does Coleman think he's kidding? This isn't about intelligence failures leading up a devastating terrorist attack. This is about dismantling a pay-for-play political machine built and operated by the Republicans in Congress. Everyone in Washington knows how the machine works. It isn't necessary to appoint a blue-ribbon commission to study the problem. But it is necessary to destroy the machine.
[P]rominent Democrats — joined by a few Republicans — accuse Bush of improperly expanding presidential power and dangerously constricting the rights of Americans. Bush and his allies have fired back by escalating charges that Democrats would weaken America's security by imposing unreasonable restraints on the president.
These exchanges establish contrasts familiar from debates over law enforcement and national security throughout the 1970s and '80s, with most Republicans arguing for tough measures and many Democrats focusing on the defense of constitutional protections.
That emerging alignment worries some Democratic strategists, who believe it may allow Bush to portray Republicans as stronger than Democrats in fighting terrorism, as he did in the 2002 and 2004 campaigns.
"If Democrats want to be the party of people who think [the government] is too tough and the Republicans are the party of people who are tough, I don't see how that helps us," said one senior Democratic strategist who asked not to be identified while discussing party strategy.
It doesn't surprise me that the "senior Democratic strategist" quoted in the story did so only on condition of anonymity. Apparently, hiding under a rock is this person's natural inclination. It's probably the same sniveling weasel who convinced a lot of Democrats in Congress to vote with Bush on the tax cuts and the Iraq war. I can see this genius giving advice now: Look, if we give them what they want, maybe they won't try to paint us as cowards and traitors in the next election. So how'd that work out for you, then?
Reminds me of a line from the movie I'm very fond of, White Hunter, Black Heart: "You gotta fight when you think it's the right thing to do. Otherwise, you feel like your gut's full of pus. Even if you get the hell beat out of you. If you fight, you feel okay about it."
It's no fun to lose. But it's a whole lot worse to betray all your convictions, sell out everything you stand for, and lose anyway. Or even win.
Still and all, the righties hoped for a miracle. They hoped that Cameron would prove to be a nutty, inflexible ideologue who was just posing as a sensible moderate in order to get elected. Alas, conservative hopes for a cynical and politically suicidal conversion to right-wing sophistry have been dashed:
Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe, but my faith in David Cameron is being sorely tested. He and his Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, have said that they will put "economic stability" above tax cuts.
Ye gods! How dare they?!?
Not only does this ignore the fact that the two are by no means incompatible and that the tax burden on British citizens has increased to the point where it threatens economic stability, but they appear to be being economical with the truth about the Conservative party's history. Nick Robinson, political editor of the BBC, has been told by "Cameroonies" as he puts it that, "Margaret Thatcher did not pledge to cut taxes in her 1979 manifesto."
Nick's index finger must be broken, because it only takes a couple of mouse clicks to find the 1979 manifesto, and there, clear as day, is this:
"We shall cut income tax at all levels to reward hard work, responsibility and success; tackle the poverty trap; encourage saving and the wider ownership of property; simplify taxes--like VAT; and reduce tax bureaucracy."
A better distillation of the conservative approach to tax I cannot imagine. Now why would "Cameroonies" be disavowing that?
I dunno. Maybe because every Tory leader since Thatcher has shouted for tax cuts, and every Tory leader since Thatcher has lost?
Back then, you'll remember, the neocons were shouting that Iraq was an Islamo-fascist state that was on the brink of acquiring nuclear weapons. Neither of those assertions were true about Iraq, but both are true about Iran.
Too bad, then, that we are bogged down in a ground conflict with the wrong country. But if you think the neocon's thirst for war has been slaked by our three-year-old adventure in the middle east, think again:
Only military force THIS YEAR can prevent this nightmare. Bombing alone won’t do it – it will only postpone things, and Iran’s mullahs won’t just sit there while we’re bombing them. War is a two-way street. They have spent years preparing for this conflict, and will try to stop Persian Gulf oil exports. There will also be an instant massive uprising by Iranian-led Shiite militias in southern Iraq.
Half-measures in war only make things worse....
Hmmm, maybe the neocons have learned something from the Iraq war after all.
....If we really want to find out how much Iran’s mullah regime can hurt us, and relearn the lessons of Vietnam, we need only bomb without invading. That will maximize our losses. Those who advocate mere bombing have not considered that Iran might already have some nuclear weapons.
Israel does not have the military capability we do. Israeli air attack against Iran’s dispersed and hardened nuclear facilities will at most postpone Iranian production by a few months. The United States Air Force can postpone it for as long as we keep up the attacks, but the mullahs will counterattack such that we’ll be at war whether we want to be or not, only with no chance of victory while we’re afraid to win.
Aside from the usual neocon impatience with diplomacy and economic sanctions, there is also an unstated realization that, if we start dropping bombs, the Iranians have a formidable economic weapon at their disposal: namely, all the oil they are sitting on, oil that we need. The Iranians are also threatening to scuttle enough ships in the Strait of Hormuz to make access to the Persian Gulf impossible. That is a threat they are quite capable of carrying out. People squawked when gas was $3.00 a gallon; what do you think they'll do when it's $5.00 a gallon? Or $7.00 a gallon?
The only effective way to stop the mullahs from building nukes, while minimizing our losses from their counter-attacks, is to overthrow their regime by invasion and conquest as we did against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.
The neocon plan outlined in this article is certainly fanciful. It calls for 120,000 troops to quietly sneak up to the Iranian border, then -- leap across the Iranian frontier in a surprise attack!
Even assuming that we could subdue Iran with 120,000 troops -- an assumption I am not prepared to accept -- where exactly are the 120,000 troops supposed to come from? The simple and brutal truth is that our military is already stretched to the breaking point with the occupation of Iraq. The article implies that the invasion force will be composed of the same soldiers currently stationed in Iraq. So what happens to Iraq in the meantime? Will no one notice if all the soldiers in Iraq pack up in the middle of the night and head for the Iranian border? Will the insurgents just sit on their hands and wait quietly until the American soldiers come back to Baghdad and Mosul?
Not bloody likely. The truth is, the war we're fighting against the phony Iraqi threat is coming back to haunt us; now that a real threat is emerging in the region, we don't have the troop strength to deal with it -- not without initiating a draft or pulling out of Iraq. Or both.
It took the Apollo spacecraft three days to reach the Moon; New Horizons will cross the Moon's orbit in only nine hours. Even so, it will take the probe nearly ten years to reach Pluto.
That's one of the dazzling things about this mission. It really helps to bring home the immensity of the universe we inhabit. New Horizons will, at its peak, be traveling at more than 45,000 miles an hour, the fastest any space probe has ever traveled. Yet it will still take ten years to span the distance that light can travel in only six hours. The nearest star is four light-years away. There are a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, and untold galaxies in the universe. It's difficult to get a sense of the scale of the universe, but on those rare occasions when we do -- when we are able to glimpse it -- the effect is truly staggering
It is missions like New Horizons that make me think that NASA's exclusive goal should be exploration, pushing the envelope of technology and territory. The 1970's and 1980's were terrible times for the space agency; it was saddled with the task of developing a "space truck" that would become the shuttle, charged with making space travel routine.
Leave that for others. The success of the Mars Rover program shows that NASA's best work is done when it's asked to do what no one else can, when it's given something amazing to reach for.
David Thibault, editor in chief of Cybercast, made it very clear to The Post's Howard Kurtz and Shailagh Murray that Murtha was facing accusations about his 1967 service now because "the congressman has really put himself in the forefront of the antiwar movement." In other words, if Murtha had just shut up and gone along with Bush, nothing would have been said about his service.
As it is, the charges are remarkably flimsy. Former representative Don Bailey (D-Pa.), whom Murtha defeated in a 1982 congressional primary after a redistricting, said that Murtha had told him he did not deserve his Purple Hearts, Kurtz and Murray reported. Bailey, who won a Silver Star and three Bronze Stars in Vietnam, recalled Murtha saying: "Hey, I didn't do anything like you did. I got a little scratch on the cheek."
Authentic war heroes (including McCain) often play down their own heroism. In any event, what we know about Murtha, McCain, Kerry and, yes, Bailey, is that they served in combat in Vietnam. What we know about Bush and Vice President Cheney ("I had other priorities in the '60s than military service'') is that they didn't.
Exactly why Dionne was surprised is beyond me. Nothing surprises me about these guys anymore. Nevertheless, Dionne presents another gilt-plated example of Republican idiocy, mendacity, cruelty, and moral hypocrisy. Nope, nothing surprising here except that there was anyone one left to be surprised; but we might as well document it for posterity:
...the right has demonstrated that its attitude toward military service is entirely opportunistic. In the 1992 presidential campaign, when the first President Bush confronted Bill Clinton -- who, like Cheney, avoided military service entirely -- conservatives could hardly speak or write a paragraph about Clinton that didn't accuse him of being a draft dodger. In October 1992, Bush himself assailed Clinton. "A lot of being president is about respect for that office and about telling the truth and serving your country," Bush told a crowd in New Jersey. "And you are all familiar with Governor Clinton's various stories on what he did to evade the draft."
But from 2000 forward, the Republicans had a problem: They confronted Democrats, first Al Gore and then John Kerry, who actually did go to Vietnam, while it was their own standard-bearers who had skipped the war. Suddenly, service in Vietnam wasn't the thing at all. When a Democrat went to war, there must have been something wrong with the way he did it. Gore's service was dismissed because he worked "only" as a military journalist. You can even find Bush's defenders back in 2000 daring to argue that flying planes over Texas was actually more dangerous than joining the Army and serving in Vietnam the way Gore did.
The Republicans had an even bigger problem with Kerry, who did unquestionably dangerous duty patrolling rivers. Not to worry. The Swift Boat Veterans simply smeared him.
It seems like every reporter and columnist out there has seen exactly how the Republicans play this game. So how come they keep getting snookered every four years?
Right Side Redux typifies the blogger take on the Forum -- a bit like a child allowed to eat at the table with the grown-ups:
Big kudos to Patrick Ruffini, the technical director for the RNC. Again, about a dozen or so bloggers attended the event. Today was especially exciting because I got to meet Michelle Malkin. The rumors are true...
My God! You mean she does have both male and female genitalia?!
...she's as pleasant as seems on TV.
Ah. The GOP seems to have lowered the bar on pleasant demeanor, apparently.
Meanwhile, Captain Ed eagerly took notes during Mehlmann's presentation to the bloggers. (For all the talk about an "exchange of views" with the wingnut bloggers, it looks very much like a one-way conversation.) Anyway, Cap'n Ed shares his exciting notes with us:
1. Positive agenda for change -- Defending the status quo won't do.
Need to be seen as reformers -- leadership already turning towards that. We need a smaller government to combat this kind of corruption. Reduce government, reduce corruption.
Ha, ha! Well, you guys have only been in the majority for 12 years. Rome wasn't built in a day, you know.
But then how do we reform lobbying and government? Full and quicker disclosure. Keep in mind that what Jack Abramoff did was theft and kickbacks, and that should always be aggressively prosecuted.
2. Election is a choice, not a referendum -- Easier than in 2004, and that probably gets back into local choices.
Keep whistling through that graveyard, boyo.
3. Motivate and persuade simultaneously -- Still have to excite the base while finding new voters for the GOP.
Immigration will prove a major problem for motivating the base. Need more money, technology, and people at the border. "If you're not protecting the border, you're not protecting the country in a post-9/11 world." Guest-worker programs enforce the law; supply and demand disincentivizes people from following the law. We need to integrate the demand into the reform to leverage as much support as possible.
Now, why is the GOP spending so much time pretending to be interested in the viewpoints of bloggers who will simply parrot the party line anyway?
The answer, I think, is the RNC's desire for centralized control of the right-wing blogosphere, and the blogger's not-incompatible desire for access and approval.
It's a symbiotic relationship. The RNC was clearly startled by the pushback against the Harriet Miers nomination -- a pushback that began in the blogs. They don't want to see it happen again.
99% loyalty won't do. They want 100% loyalty -- and the surest way to get it is to bring the bloggers into the tent, talk strategy with them, make them feel as if they're important players. All bloggers want to feel important, of course, but I think this is a desire that runs much deeper in Republicans. They want to be read not only by other bloggers, but also by Ken Mehlmann and Karl Rove and all the muckety-mucks in the Central Committee. Above all, they want to believe that they're not just amplifying the views of their betters, but that they themselves are helping to formulate public policy.
It's the heartiest breed of astroturf in the world. The people distributing RNC talking points on the blogs really believe that they themselves helped craft the policy. They really believe it's a grass-roots effort.
Boehner has had not one, but two endorsements from high-profile and respected Texas conservatives in the past 24 hours - Pete Sessions yesterday, and veteran Sam Johnson this morning. This, coupled with editorials noting Boehner's personal reluctance to engage in pork-barreling and political earmarking throughout his career, really seems to have ignited a positive fire about John among conservatives who are critical to the race.
The Blunt faction, of course, is distributing gloating emails of its own. All the same, there's a lot of queasiness among Republicans right now about both the front-runners. Boehner and Blunt are both seen as insiders, guys tied very closely to Tom Delay and his pay-for-play political machine.
Of the two, there might be a bit more queasiness about Roy Blunt. This is a guy who slipped legislation favoring the tobacco industry into a Homeland Security bill in 2002. Turns out he happened to be boinking the tobacco lobbyist who wrote the legislation.
Then he divorced his wife so he could marry the lobbyist. What won't this guy do for a campaign contribution? Talk about being in bed with the tobacco industry!
Not exactly the reformist image the Republicans are looking for.
Just to refresh your memory, here is a passage from that Times piece:
The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days. Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face. "Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"
At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.
"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying. Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen.
It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.
Back where I come from -- an America that used to value the rule of law -- that's called torture and murder. Both are illegal, even in the U.S. military.
Yet the only officer implicated in this crime won't be punished. The military has dropped all charges against him.
The officer, Capt. Christopher M. Beiring, led a reservist military police company that was guarding the main American detention center in Afghanistan when the two men were killed within days of each other in December 2002. The prisoners died after guards kneed them repeatedly in the legs while each was shackled to the ceiling of his cell.
Well, that was the story "Captain" Beiring told investigators, anyway.
I know what you're thinking: how do you knee somebody in the legs when they're chained to the ceiling? I would think you'd need a blunt instrument -- a 2 x 4 or a lead pipe, something like that.
Captain Beiring, 39, had been charged with lying to investigators and being derelict in his duties, in part by neglecting after the first death to order his soldiers to stop chaining up prisoners by the arms at the behest of military interrogators who wanted to deprive them of sleep before questioning.What a patriot, this guy.
"They certainly had a case to investigate - two guys died," Captain Beiring said yesterday in an interview. "And, obviously, some soldiers did some stuff wrong and needed to be punished. But I think it got blown out of proportion. At some point, they were just playing politics."You literally got away with murder, Beiring. Quit while you're ahead.
"Captain" Beiring is right about one thing: someone is most definitely playing politics. The word has come down -- presumably from the highest levels of the administration -- that no officers will be implicated in these sorts of incidents. This will save the Bush administration a little embarrassment in the short term, but it will do enormous damage to our military in the long run
Recently, "Captain" Beiring has expressed unhappiness that his eight-year-old daughter found out about her daddy's extracurricular activities by googling his name.
I have a message for "Captain" Beiring's daughter.
If you've googled your way to The Lost City, honey, congratulations and listen up. Your old Uncle Mike has something important to tell you.
Your daddy's a murderer and a traitor. He has disgraced the uniform he wears and the country he serves. He is lucky not to be busting rocks in Leavenworth until your college graduation. He pretends that he is a patriot, but he isn't. He is just a thug who has wrapped himself in the flag. He is protected by very powerful people. But those people won't be able to protect him forever. The day will come when he will be held to the same standard that American soldiers have always been held to in wartime. And when that day comes, he will not bluster and he will not brag. He will turn to you with his palms up, desperate, and say what these people always say: "I was just following orders."
On that day, honey, don't pity him. You're better than that, I'm sure. Just look him in the eye. Until he understands that you expected better of him -- not just as a father, but as an American.
MITCHELL: Do you have any information about reporters being swept up in this net?
RISEN: No, I don't. It's not clear to me. That's one of the questions we'll have to look into the future. Were there abuses of this program or not? I don't know the answer to that
MITCHELL: You don't have any information, for instance, that a very prominent journalist, Christiane Amanpour, might have been eavesdropped upon?
RISEN: No, no I hadn't heard that.
The way Mitchell framed this question makes it clear that she she's not picking a prominent journalist at random; she seems to have some specific knowledge about Amanpour being wiretapped.
Since the New York Times first broke the story of the illegal wiretap program, the administration has been trying to brazen it out, claiming that it will do what it must to protect the lives of Americans.
But if it turns out that the administration is secretly wiretapping journalists, the excuses get a lot harder to make. Would there be such an urgent need to wiretap a CNN reporter that there would have been no time to obtain a warrant from the FISA court? Seems more likely that bypassing the FISA court was necessary because the wiretap was clearly illegal and would never have been approved.
As Josh Marshall pointed out, Amanpour is married to James Rubin, who served as foreign policy advisor to the Clark and Kerry campaigns. If the administration is tapping Amanpour's phone and email, no amount of political tap-dancing will get Team Bush out of this situation. It would be clear that Bush isn't conducting secret wiretaps in order to protect the American people, but to spy on his political opponents. And the obvious next question -- a question the Congress would have to actually ask for a change -- would be, does there exist a Bush administration "enemies list"? How many American citizens are on it? And how much unwelcome attention are they receiving from the NSA?
Earlier today, NBC deleted the Christiane Amanpour reference from the Risen interview transcript, saying they were still investigating that aspect of the story.
Maybe so. But it's time that Congress started living up to its own responsibilities.