Saturday, October 15, 2005

Bill Kristol's culture of conservative victimhood

At The Weekly Standard, that bastion of occasionally intelligent conservative commentary, Bill Kristol examines the ongoing investigations into the allegedly illegal or otherwise unethical behavior of four prominent conservatives: Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Karl Rove, and Scooter Libby. Here's Kristol's assessment:

What do these four men have in common, other than their status as prosecutorial targets? Since 2001, they have been among the most prominent promoters of the conservative agenda of the Bush administration. For over four years, they have helped two strong conservatives, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, successfully advance an agenda for change in America. To the extent these four are sidelined, there is a real chance that the Bush-Cheney administration will become less successful...

Meanwhile, a kind of ideological criminalization of active, visible conservatives has become almost second nature to the left and the elite professions, including journalism and teaching, in which they predominate...

Why are conservative Republicans, who control the executive and legislative branches of government for the first time in living memory, so vulnerable to the phenomenon of criminalization? Is it simple payback for the impeachment of Bill Clinton? Or is it a reflection of some deep malady at the heart of American politics? If criminalization is seen to loom ahead for every conservative who begins successfully to act out his or her beliefs in government or politics, is the project of conservative reform sustainable?

We don't pretend to have all the answers, or a solid answer even to one of these questions. But it's a reasonable bet that the fall of 2005 will be remembered as a time when it became clear that a comprehensive strategy of criminalization had been implemented to inflict defeat on conservatives who seek to govern as conservatives. And it is clear that thinking through a response to this challenge is a task conservatives can no longer postpone.

The problem with Kristol's analysis lies in his own partisanship and his inability to look with disinterestedness at what are some fairly serious accusations. For him, the investigations reflect an atmosphere of "them" against "us" -- specifically of Democrats and liberals against Republicans and conservatives. That is, he and his friends on the right are the good guys promoting "the conservative agenda of the Bush administration" (whatever that means: is it really all that conservative?) and
"successfully [advancing] an agenda for change in America" while his enemies on the left are engaging in "a kind of ideological criminalization of active, visible conservatives".

Call it Bill Kristol's culture of conservative victimhood: We are innocent victims of partisan persecution! We didn't do nothin'!

(Rather odd for a half-neocon, half-Straussian, no?)

But here's the question he dare not ask: What if DeLay, Frist, Rove, and Libby are (gasp!) guilty?

Yes, it does seem that something is rotten on Kristol's beloved right. There are ongoing investigations and much that is merely alleged, but could it really be that there's no fire behind all the smoke?

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Photos of freedom from Iraq

Here are some photos of the Iraqi referendum from Baghdad blogger Sooni, "a free Iraqi person" as he put it in his very first post in April.

Also check out his recent posts on the pre-referendum situation in Iraq here, here, and here. As a bonus, he criticizes Celine Dion here.


See also more photos, interesting observations, and intelligent commentary at Iraq the Model.

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Dear Zarqawi, love Zawahiri

And here's Juan Cole, author of the excellent blog Informed Comment (probably the best blog on the Middle East -- academically sound and usually right on the mark), commenting on the letter allegedly from Zawahiri (al Qaeda's #2) to Zarqawi (al Qaeda's #1 in Iraq and the cause of much trouble).

The letter may be a forgery, perhaps even a Shiite one.

At Slate, Fred Kaplan points to "
the possibility that a Yes vote on Iraq's constitution this weekend might mark a small step toward a stable, somewhat democratic government after all." But here's the key: "The result to watch is not only whether the constitution passes or fails, but even more whether the Sunnis turn out to vote—and then, in the next few months, what the Shiites and Kurds do in response."

The Times has a preliminary report here. What an incredible, incredible story.

Whatever our positions on the war, we should all be hoping that this works out for the good of Iraq and for all Iraqis.

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Fitzgerald, Miller, Rove, and The Plame Game

Just a quick post to mention that my friend The Anonymous Liberal -- albeit an anonymous friend out here in the blogosphere -- is doing some excellent work on the various aspects of The Plame Game. Check out his (or her) blog and scroll down through all his (or her) recent posts for some astute reporting and commentary.

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Friday, October 14, 2005

A worm in the Apple: iPod nation and the cult of cool

Also at Slate, media critic Jack Shafer points out that Apple -- as in: the Mac, the Cube, the iPod -- isn't quite everything it's cracked up to be. Or, rather, its much-ballyhooed products aren't:

I don't hate Apple. I don't even hate Apple-lovers. I do, however, possess deep odium for the legions of Apple polishers in the press corps who salute every shiny gadget the company parades through downtown Cupertino as if they were members of the Supreme Soviet viewing the latest ICBMs at the May Day parade...

The inordinate amount of attention paid to Apple's launches must be, in part, a function of the company's skill at throwing media events, stoking the rumor mills, and seducing the consuming masses. All this, plus the chatter-inducing creativity of Apple's ad campaigns, and its practice of putting its machines in pretty boxes make writing about Apple products more interesting than assessing the latest iterations of the ThinkPad or Microsoft Office.

Sure, Apple's a trend-setter, and its products look cool (and perhaps are cool), but Shafer points out that there's a good deal of effective manipulation behind the image that's been projected onto popular culture -- to the point where Apple loyalists have become a cult of their own and where everyone seems to have (or want) those white wires coming out of their ears.

Personally, I like (and use) Dell. Is there anything wrong with that?

Maybe I'm just not cool enough. Or maybe -- just maybe -- I haven't been manipulated into submission.

(I'll have to ask Apple loyalist and sometime Reaction contributor Vivek Krishnamurthy for a rebuttal. Feel free to provide your own.)

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Sign of the Apocalypse #21: From Tomkat to Tomkitten

Back on June 18, I posted SOTA #9: Katie Holmes-Cruise, scientologist. To me, the whole Tomkat thing was surely a sign of impending doom, more so even than the emergence of Brangelina (SOTA #7).

Well, now we're up to SOTA #21 -- and it's all gotten so much worse. Tomkat will soon welcome Tomkitten into the world -- yes, Tom and Katie are having a baby.

What's worse, Tomkitten will be a Scientology baby delivered by means of Scientological birth, or "silent birth". What the hell does this mean? Here's how Slate's Dana Stevens puts it in an absolutely hilarious (and, in its own way, quite terrifying) review (loaded with side-splitting Scientological jargon) of this major development in the world of the celebrity-industrial complex:

In his book Preventive Dianetics, Hubbard elaborates on the goal of this practice: Apparently pretending to all concerned that pushing a human being out your coochie is not only painless, but downright relaxing, will "save both the sanity of the mother and the child and safeguard the home to which they will go." Furthermore, L. Ron goes on to admonish, "the maintaining of silence does not mean a volley of 'sh's,' for those make stammerers." After a delivery that's "as calm and no-talk as possible," the baby should "be wrapped somewhat tightly in a warm blanket, very soft, and then left alone for a day or so." This strategy of non-care may be convenient for parents with promotional junkets and postpartum photo-ops to attend...

I can't go on. There's just so much wrong here and I'm hoping to go into the weekend in a good mood. But be sure to read Stevens's typically astute piece for a devastating deconstruction of the whole Cruise-Holmes nonsense.


For those of you who are new to The Reaction, check out the right sidebar for links to previous Signs of the Apocalypse. They're sure to amuse, disturb, and eat away at your faith in humanity -- assuming that you have any left.

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Harold Pinter wins Nobel Prize for Literature

Last week, I hedged on ElBaradei's Nobel Peace Prize win. Although I acknowledged that the Nobel Peace Prize is more often than not a prize with a political message -- in this case a pro-U.N. and likely anti-U.S. message with regards to the containment of nuclear proliferation -- I concluded that it wasn't necessarily inappropriate for the Nobel Committee to recognize the IAEA's efforts 60 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Well, we can debate all that.

But not this, which is unabashedly and unambiguously political. British playwright Harold Pinter has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature: "Harold Pinter, the English playwright, poet and political campaigner whose work uses spare and often menacing language to explore themes like powerlessness, domination and the faceless tyranny of the state, won the Nobel Prize for Literature today."

Now, I could argue that there's no way Pinter should have won -- but, fine. He's a brilliant, "Pinteresque" writer, and some of his plays stand out as masterpieces of the genre.

Besides, the Nobel Prize for Literature is hardly the definitive statement on a writer's work. Many of its winners have been truly deserving (such as, in recent years, Guenter Grass in 1999, Jose Saramago in 1998, Octavio Paz in 1990, Naguib Mahfouz in 1988, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1982). Some have been completely and utterly ridiculous picks (such as last year's winner, Elfriede Jelinek). Others are merely overrated (such as 2003's winner, J.M. Coetzee). And, of course, some of the truly great writers didn't win at all (such as Italo Calvino, Mikhail Bulgakov, Karel Capek, Raymond Queneau, and Junichiro Tanizaki). Personal picks for the future: Milan Kundera, Don DeLillo, and Josef Skvorecky.

But, all that aside, here's what really matters:

He is vehemently opposed to the Iraq war, to the British government under Prime Minister Tony Blair and to what he sees as bullying American imperialism in the Middle East and around the world. A recent poem, "The Special Relationship," refers to the alliance between the United States and Britain but concerns itself with bombs exploding, limbs being blown off and the atrocities committed at places like Abu Ghraib.

If Mr. Pinter's poems are often cries of pain against war and state-sponsored destruction, he also gives impassioned speeches and writes polemics against what he once he called "the nightmare of American hysteria, ignorance, arrogance, stupidity and belligerence."

"We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery and degradation to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East,'" he said last March, accepting the Wilfred Owen Award for his anti-war poetry. "But, as we all know, we have not been welcomed with the predicted flowers. What we have unleashed is a ferocious and unremitting resistance, mayhem and chaos."

In other words, whatever his merits, he was in the right place at the right time, and the Nobel Committee went for the politically correct pick (from its rigidly leftist perspective). Which is unfortunate, because it seems to me that Pinter's rabid anti-Americanism distracts and perhaps detracts from his undeniable and at times quite profound contributions to literature (which set him well apart from Jelinek, whose win demeaned the award entirely).

As was the case last year, the Nobel Committee seems to have forgotten that this is an award for literature, not politics.


Needless to say, the right-wing blogosphere is pissed off. If you care, which I barely do, see Michelle Malkin, Power Line, and Outside the Beltway.

But here's Roger Kimball, whom I generally respect (despite his opposition to Grass and Saramago -- great writers whatever their political leanings), at The New Criterion: "The Nobel Prize committee long ago demonstrated that its prizes for the arts were exercises in politically correct sermonizing. By choosing Harold Pinter, they have demonstrated that their sermons are ridiculous as well as repellent."

The Nobel Committee could have done a lot worse than Pinter, whatever the right's grumbling, but it also could have done a lot better. And that's the shame of it all.

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Learning to love Harriet Miers: Fear, loathing, and acquiescence among conservatives

Some on the right are already beginning to relent. While certain high-profile conservatives like David Frum continue to attack the nomination, others worry about the fragmentation and disintegration of the conservative movement in the wake of Harriet "Yoko Ono" Miers's nomination to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court.

See, for example, this post at, one of the leading right-wing blogs:

Now is the time for acceptance, and a more dispassionate look at what is in the best interests of conservative Republicans like me. The nominee is who the nominee is. Perhaps that will not end up being who is confirmed, but the nomination itself cannot be undone. Even a withdrawl [sic] would have ramifications...

A wiser approach than fanning the flames of discontent would be to learn from the experience while making the best of a less-than-optimal situation. Perhaps Ms. Miers will turn out to be an outstanding jurist, even if we feel she was insufficiently vetted or a poor choice.

Yes, that stench that has you holding your noses even as you long for more is the immediate olfactory by-product of the right's slow, withering decay into its constituent elements of corruption, hypocrisy, and ideological insanity. Conservatives loathe the Miers nomination, but they fear losing power, and so some of them -- the unprincipled ones -- are acquiescing to a nomination that itself reeks of cronyism and incompetence. And it's continuing to tear them apart.

You want proof of the "insanity" of which I speak? Here's how the post ends: "The war on terror swings my choice. It is not the time to cede the majority." Ah, but they clearly ceded reality a long, long time ago. (Does it not amaze you -- even you long-time opponents of the conservative movement -- just how absolutely disconnected the right is from what's actually going on in the world?)


In other, related news, Miers-booster Hugh Hewitt mentions that Karl Rove's "support for the Miers nomination is not merely enthusiastic, but adamant and even vehement".

And Miers-critic John Fund deconstructs the vetting process inside the White House and reports that "[a] last minute effort was made to block the choice of Ms. Miers, including the offices of Vice President Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales". (Read the whole thing. Hat tip to The Raw Story for the link.)

For more from the right, see Confirm Them and Bench Memos.

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1 mother, 16 children

Yes, it's true: "Michelle Duggar just delivered her 16th child, and she's already thinking about doing it again." More from CNN:

Jim Bob Duggar, 40, said he and Michelle, 39, want more children.

"We both just love children and we consider each a blessing from the Lord. I have asked Michelle if she wants more and she said yes, if the Lord wants to give us some she will accept them," he said in a telephone interview...

Michelle Duggar, 39, had her first child at age 21, four years after the couple married.

Their children include two sets of twins, and each child has a name beginning with the letter "J": Joshua, 17; John David, 15; Janna, 15; Jill, 14; Jessa, 12; Jinger, 11; Joseph, 10; Josiah, 9; Joy-Anna, 8; Jeremiah, 6; Jedidiah, 6; Jason, 5; James, 4; Justin, 2; Jackson Levi, 1; and now Johannah.

How nice of "the Lord," but let me be more blunt: This has nothing to do with God or a god or the gods. Rather, it has everything to do with Jim and Michelle fornicating without birth control while maintaining a child-like belief in divine omnipotence.

Faith is no excuse for ignorance and irresponsibility.

Someone needs to tell them to stop. Now.

(And what kind of a name is "Jinger"? And "Joy-Anna"? And "Jessa"? One wonders what "the Lord" has in store for these kids. The whole lot of 'em.)

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

The wrath of the blogosphere: Attacking Richard Cohen's take on The Plame Game

Much is being made in the blogosphere, and especially the liberal blogosphere, of Richard Cohen's column in today's Post. Here's the gist of his piece:

The best thing Patrick Fitzgerald could do for his country is get out of Washington, return to Chicago and prosecute some real criminals. As it is, all he has done so far is send Judith Miller of the New York Times to jail and repeatedly haul this or that administration high official before a grand jury, investigating a crime that probably wasn't one in the first place but that now, as is often the case, might have metastasized into some sort of coverup -- but, again, of nothing much. Go home, Pat.

No, Mr. Fitzgerald, don't. We don't know what happened, but the truth must come out. Whether or not you indict anyone is less important, I think, than that. Did anyone intentionally leak Valerie Plame's identity to the press? If so, who? We need to know.

I like Richard Cohen a great deal, and I generally agree that the press must be protected from intimidation and permitted to protect its own anonymous sources. But if a crime was committed, then a crime was committed. Period.


Around the (unhappy) blogosphere:

The Left Coaster: Cohen's column "reveals a depth of ignorance so profound, about so many aspects of American political life, that it is difficult to imagine why the Washington Post believes he is qualified to comment about anything that requires logical thought or knowledge about the American legal system, American history, beltway politics, or the Valerie Plame affair." Well, I wouldn't go that far -- again, I like his work -- but this column is indeed pretty bad.

Pandagon: "Can anyone make some sense of this? Prosecuting the people who tried to intimidate those who were brave enough to speak up about how we were getting into Iraq is somehow (surely in some pristine tour de force display of impeccable logic) going to intimidate future truth tellers from speaking up?"

The News Blog: "Judy Miller's own colleagues don't believe this has to do with the press. Nor do any of the reporters who testified before the grand jury, including Bob Novak. This is about the security of the United States and those who help provide it. There is NOTHING trivial about a conspiracy based in the White House, especially one to expose a CIA officer who worked undercover."

Eschaton calls Cohen a "wanker".

Matthew Gross: "It goes without saying that Cohen has no way of knowing what the 'intent' of anyone was in the matter; but it is also worth saying that intent has nothing to do with it, and lack of intent does not absolve a person of a crime."

The Next Hurrah: "But if, as Joe Wilson claims (and I believe) this leak happened to shut people up, then how does sending Fitz away help the cause of press freedom? Cohen is willing to trade away legal protections for physical safety in the name of legal protections for people who leak for political sport. What Cohen is really defending is the system of leaking in DC."

AMERICAblog: "I used to love this guy. He was one of the best op ed writers in the country. Now, I don't know what he is." And: "No one would write such a thing unless they truly had no idea what it means to work with classified information or the intelligence community or in the entire field of foreign affairs. ANYONE who has dealt with highly classified information and CIA agents, and I have from my time on the Hill and during a summer job at State, is acutely aware that outing the identity of an undercover CIA agent -- let alone one who works on weapons of mass destruction issues in the Middle East -- is an extremely dangerous venture."


I hardly think it's in any way helpful to call Cohen a "wanker" or any other such childish epithet. Cohen's been wrong before, and he's wrong on this one -- to the extent that a columnist with opinions can even be "wrong" in any precise sense -- so let's just say that I disagree with him on this one even as I continue to believe that he's a worthwhile read and that much of his work is extremely good. The problem is that the blogosphere lends itself to name-calling, ad hominem attacks, and knee-jerk negativity, often at the expense of reasoned analysis and disinterested criticism. (I'm guilty of that myself from time to time, I know.)

Which is why I think Kevin Drum at Political Animal, one of the truly best bloggers out there, has it right both in terms of style and substance:

I'm sure he's correct on the assassination front, but my guess is that outing Plame might very well have been deliberate, a way of sending a very strong message that this administration was not to be fucked with. I don't know this for sure, of course, and neither does Cohen, because Fitzgerald has kept a very tight seal on his investigation so far. But that's exactly why Fitzgerald should finish his investigation and let us know his conclusions...

I think Cohen is fundamentally wrong to treat the outing of a covert agent in the same way that he treats the nonstop revelation of minor secrets that practically defines official Washington. Outing an agent represents a far more serious kind of breach, and deliberate or not, it's exactly the kind of thing that anyone with a security clearance should treat as a flashing red line. It just isn't something you risk talking about, especially for so trivial and malicious a reason as the leakers apparently had.

That said, though, I'm on his side when it comes to charges. If Fitzgerald has evidence that White House officials leaked Plame's name as part of their PR counteroffensive against Joe Wilson, then he should bring relevant charges — including perjury and conspiracy charges if those are applicable. But if he can't make the case — either because he can't prove the leak or because he can't prove that Plame was truly covert — then he should go home. Like Cohen, I really don't want to see him hand down indictments solely for tangential perjury or conspiracy charges or some other consolation prize. I'd enjoy seeing Karl Rove frog marched out of the White House as much as anyone, but not at that price.

UPDATE: Well, this is going to go down in history as one of my most unpopular posts ever. All I can say is: Let's wait and see what Fitzgerald comes up with. If he hands down serious charges, great. If they're fundamentally trivial, like the stuff that Ken Starr brought against Bill Clinton, not so great. But we won't know until he finishes up.

I can see how Kevin's post would be unpopular, especially among those out for blood, but popularity isn't the measure of right and wrong, good and bad. It's an excellent post, and it pretty much sums up my own thoughts on the matter. We may disagree with Cohen, and his column today may not exactly be a highlight of his career, but let's not overdo it.

Take a deep breath, then blog.

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Blacks reject Bush

Wonder just how far Bush has fallen? Consider these poll numbers as reported by Dan Froomkin in the Post:

In what may turn out to be one of the biggest free-falls in the history of presidential polling, President Bush's job-approval rating among African Americans has dropped to 2 percent, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.

The drop among blacks drove Bush's overall job approval ratings to an all-time low of 39 percent in this poll. By comparison, 45 percent of whites and 36 percent of Hispanics approve of the job Bush is doing.

A few months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found Bush's approval rating among blacks at 51 percent. As recently as six months ago, it was at 19 percent.

51 to 19 to 2. There's one of the key indicators of Bush's recent decline and fall. Now, to be fair, this poll has a huge margin of error, and the number is probably more like 10 percent. Here are some other (likely more accurate) numbers:

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, released September 13, about two weeks after Katrina hit, found Bush's job approval among blacks at 14 percent, compared to 42 percent among the general population. Exit polls showed that 11 percent of black voters voted for Bush in November 2004.

[Late Update: The Pew Research Center is just out with its latest poll, which has a larger sample, and it finds Bush's approval rating among blacks at 12 percent, down only slightly from 14 in July. Here are those results.]

So it's more like 51 to 19 to 12. Which still says a lot.


Around the blogosphere:

The Carpetbagger Report: "A stunning 28% believe the country is headed in the right direction, another all-time low in Bush's presidency, and generally a sign that voters are anxious for significant change."

The Moderate Voice: "Bottom line: you get a sense that it's going to be a very unhappy three years in the White House, no matter what choices they make. What can happen to drive Bush's numbers up? Even if there is another terrorist attack, Bush has angered so many people that the kind of unity and trust in the aftermath of 911 is unlikely... even if the worst happened again."

Think Progress: "To be fair, the margin of error on the poll is 3.4%. So Bush’s actual approval among African Americans could be anywhere from -1.4% to 5.4%."

Crooks and Liars, which has graciously linked to The Reaction twice in recent days, has some video of Tim Russert reporting on the poll numbers.

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Reaction to the blogs: Dobson, Frist, Miers, and polygamy

Here are a few posts that caught my attention this evening -- needless to say, they're from some of my favourite blogs:

Zoe Kentucky at Demagogue has a (suitably) long post on James Dobson's ridiculous "con game": "Dobson confirms that he was confidentially reassured by Karl Rove that Miers is conservative and that Rove talked to him before Miers was officially nominated." And -- surprise, surprise -- Dobson's blaming the whole debacle on the Democrats. (Zoe also has a link to the full transcript from Dobson's radio show.)

Echidne of the Snakes comments on Bill Frist and The Enron Era: "You know, there is market space for a blog just on the legal problems of major Republicans. No one blogger can cover it on top of all the other interesting Wingnuttia news." Hey, I wish I had the time -- but who does? (See my recent post on Frist's crookishness.) Plus, Echidne's got a post on sex (which is always a pleasant diversion from the rigours of political blogging).

The Anonymous Liberal destroys the convenient lie going around the right-wing blogosphere (and Bill O'Reilly's bile-fueled rants) that the Netherlands has endorsed polygamy. How convenient? -- because some on the right are using it in their fight against same-sex marriage (i.e., if you legalize same-sex marriage, polygamy (and who knows what else?) is right around the corner -- the politics of fear and ignorance, and truly an insult to loving same-sex couples). Be sure to check out all the links.

Kevin Drum at Political Animal writes about the future of the Republican Party: "[I]t's true that the activist base of the Republican party is pretty far distant from the middle of American politics, and George Bush recognized this in his first term, mostly steering a center-right course. However, in his second term it's all falling apart, just the way conventional political science suggests it should. The more that Bush panders to the Republican base (Social Security, Terri Schiavo), the more he loses the support of Middle America. At the same time, the more he tries to tack to the center (Katrina, Harriet Miers), the angrier his base gets. Centripetal forces are tearing the Republican coalition apart, and suddenly Beltway buzz suggests that Republicans might actually lose Congress in 2006." An important post to ponder.

See also Kevin's latest post on Miers: "In re Bush v. The Base, the most perplexing question about the Harriet Miers nomination has been 'Why?' It's such a breathtakingly dumb move that it's hard to figure out why even a guy like George Bush would undertake to nominate her." There's an interesting explanation out there: Miers's support for "broad executive branch power". (In other words, Bush needs all the help he can get, and Miers would be there for him on the Court.)

Carla at Preemptive Karma notes that Control Room "star" Josh Rushing has been labelled a "traitor" by Fox News for taking a job with Aljazeera. Excellent documentary, interesting guy, blatant libel.

Steve Soto at The Left Coaster revels in "the conservative crack-up... spurred in large part by the Miers nomination and Katrina". He links to a Howard Fineman piece in Newsweek, which suggests that "the neo-cons have given up on the Bush Administration". See also fellow Left Coaster Eriposte's excellent overview of Patrick Fitzgerald, who's trying to get to the bottom of The Plame Game (calling Mr. Rove... calling Mr. Rove...).

At Charging RINO, Jeremy Dibbell continues his important Redistricting Watch series. As someone who absolutely despises gerrymandering (a serious threat to democracy), I must say that Jeremy's really doing some great work on this. See this post for links to all the others.

Steve Clemons at The Washington Note has an update on John Bolton's performance at the U.N. Yes, a Bolton Watch may indeed be in order.

And Annie at AmbivaBlog has a "chilling" post on al Qaeda and Iraq. Be concerned. Be very concerned.

More later.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

How Harriet Miers is the right's Yoko Ono

Is the White House serious about Miers? I have my doubts. So does conservative blogger Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters: "It's either feast or famine at the White House with the Harriet Miers nomination. Given the chance to lay out a positive, substantial case for her nomination to the Supreme Court, the Bush administration has remained largely silent. However, given an opportunity to smear the base that elected them, the administration has seized practically every opportunity to do so... It's enough to start making me think that we need to send a clearer message to George Bush. The White House needs to rethink its relationship to reality and its so-far loyal supporters."

Well, ain't that a shame...

The Republican Party and the conservative movement that has sustained it are coming undone -- and we get to watch. With one stupid nomination to the Supreme Court, Bush has exposed the fault lines on the right. The plates, delicately held in place by conjoined aspirations and recent electoral success, are shifting once again. Here's what I wrote back on September 26, well before the Miers nomination was announced:

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

The Miers nomination is The Big One, the G.O.P.'s "Vietnam". Unless the nomination is withdrawn, and unless Bush tries again to achieve just the right balance (which may now be impossible in any regard), the disintegration of the Republican coalition will continue.

In the end, it wasn't Iraq or Katrina or the economy or terrorism or moral values that brought the coalition down, it was a sad excuse for a nomination to the Supreme Court. Yes, years from now historians will point to Harriet Miers as the right's Yoko Ono.

We liberals and moderates have known of Bush's incompetence for a long, long time. Now conservatives are getting their own taste of it -- and how bitter it is!

And how truly incredible that in this age of political polarization Bush's greatest accomplishment could well turn out to be the alienation of virtually the entire political spectrum.

I knew you had it in you, Mr. President.



See also (in chronological order):

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Swallowing bacteria; or, how to win a Nobel prize

Australian researchers Robin Warren and Barry Marshall recently won the Nobel prize for medicine. For what, you ask? For discovering that most stomach ulcers are caused not by stress but by a bacterium, specifically by Helicobacter pylori. They made the discovery back in the '80s, but it took "a long time to convince the medical community, who viewed them as eccentric." No surprise there. It's long been thought that ulcers are caused by stress, and Warren and Marshall were undoubtedly rocking a boat that doesn't much like to be rocked. According to Marshall, "[t]he idea of stress and things like that was just so entrenched nobody could really believe that it was a bacteria". However:

Thanks to the their work, stomach and intestinal ulcers are often no longer a long-term, frequently disabling problem.

They can now be cured with a short-term course of drugs and antibiotics.

It is now firmly established that the bacterium causes more than 90% of duodenal (intestinal) ulcers and up to 80% of gastric (stomach) ulcers.

So how did they do it? How did they finally convince the medical community that they were right -- so right that they won the Nobel prize for their "bloody obvious" discovery? Well, Marshall himself actually swallowed the bacterium and "became very ill".

Now that's dedication.

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The plight of the Togolese schoolgirls

Here's a curious little story -- though no doubt quite important to those involved -- that I found the other day at the BBC:

Schoolgirls throughout Togo, a small West African country nestled between Ghana and Benin, were recently sent home to shave their heads "because teachers say they waste too much time playing with their hair". Indeed, "[s]chools blame the distraction of fashion for girls' low academic record," and "[t]wo weeks ago, the education minister urged more moderation in girls' dress and hairstyles in the classroom":

"They must know how to organise themselves and use their time in order to succeed in their studies instead of wasting their time - three hours, sometimes days - with their hair," said Madame Olympio, a teacher at Lycee Nyekonakpoe in the capital, Lome.

"Girls' success rates are lower than boys," she said.

Pupils from both junior and senior schools have been affected by the schools' ruling and hairdressers in the capital have been doing swift business since Monday morning.

But some girls have been refusing to return to class because they don't want to lose their locks.

Needless to say, "[t]he decision has been the a big topic of discussion in the capital with opinions deeply divided".

I would tend to agree that the state schools have "acted overzealously," but something tells me it's best not to get on Madame Olympio's bad side.

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"Wallace and Gromit" warehouse destroyed

No, it's not nearly of the magnitude of the earthquake in Pakistan, which puts so much in perspective, but in its own way this is a very sad story:

Fire has destroyed the "Wallace and Gromit" warehouse in England.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Democracy in Deutschland (addendum fuenf)

The long, drawn-out drama of Election 2005 has finally come to an end. For now.

As I wrote in my last post on the election (addendum vier), it was looking more and more likely that Gerhard Schroeder's SPD and Angela Merkel's CDU (along with the CSU, its Bavarian sister party) would form a so-called "grand coalition". With the SPD-friendly Greens and the CDU-friendly FDP unwilling to join together in support of one of the two major parties, and with little desire for minority government, a union of the SPD and CDU emerged as the only viable option short of another election (which may yet happen if the two sides can't work together peacefully).

And so a "grand coalition" it is, for the first time since the '60s. The BBC reports here. According to Deutsche Welle, Merkel will be chancellor. The CDU, which edged out the SPD in the popular vote in last month's election, will hold six cabinet posts, including defence and education. The SPD will hold eight cabinet posts, including foreign affairs, health, labour, and justice. CSU leader Edmund Stoiber is expected to be given the economy ministry. Schroeder likely will not have a post in the new government.

See also Der Spiegel:

Angela Merkel has arrived. Almost. There's only one hurdle remaining between the leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union and the chancellery -- a parliamentary vote. Nevertheless, on Monday it became clear that, sometime next month, she will almost certainly become the first female chancellor in German history...

On Sunday night, as Merkel continued talks with Stoiber, Schröder and SPD party chief Franz Müntefering, the group reached a breakthrough. Then, on Monday morning, after meetings of the executive boards of both the CDU and SPD, the party leaders gathered for a final meeting. In the end, it served as a mere formality. The CDU leadership had already unanimously approved Merkel's actions -- and the national councils of both the CDU and CSU would approve the deal later in the day. A different story unfolded over at the SPD, where the executive leadership had greater problems pushing the grand coalition through -- there were abstentions as well as votes against doing business with the Christian Democrats.

But there is still much left to do. Coalition negotiations will continue well past this initial agreement, and, once in power, it's not at all clear that the two adversaries will work well together. Indeed, it would not surprise me if the "grand coalition" were to fall apart and another election were to be called sooner rather than later.

Which could lead to a more stable coalition government or throw Germany right back into another mess.

(See also Davids Medienkritik for more.)


Update (10/11/05): The Economist reports here, focusing on what kind of chancellor Merkel will be:

What kind of chancellor will Ms Merkel be? One thing is already certain: she will be no German Margaret Thatcher. The comparison was always a bit far-fetched, but her standing as chancellor in a grand coalition renders it obsolete. Already weakened by a disappointing election result, she is unlikely to ever be the chancellor-president Mr Schröder became, but rather a first among equals in a collective—and possibly fractious—leadership that will include the CSU’s Mr Stoiber and his SPD counterpart, Franz Müntefering.

This means that Ms Merkel will struggle to implement the main planks of her proposed reform programme: a flat-fee health-care premium to lower non-wage labour costs, further labour-market reforms, such as loosening Germany’s strict protection against dismissal, and radical tax reform. On top of this, Germany’s dismal fiscal situation needs tackling and its federal system needs overhauling.

In foreign policy, too, there won’t be much change, at least as long as the grand coalition holds. Ms Merkel opposes full European Union membership for Turkey but will be blocked from pushing "privileged partnership" as an alternative. It is also unlikely that there will be much of a rebalancing of Germany’s foreign relations to give more priority to transatlantic relations.

But, again, there's this: "Much can still go wrong before a new government is in place."

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Mad about Miers: Disharmony on the right, caution on the left


Right Wing News has conducted a survey of 79 "right-of-center" blogs on the Miers nomination. The results:

1) Do you think George Bush made:

A) A good or excellent decision in selecting Harriet Miers as a nominee for the Supreme Court? (9% --7)
B) A bad or terrible decision in selecting Harriet Miers as a nominee for the Supreme Court? (49% -- 39 responses)
C) A so-so decision? (20% -- 16)
D) I'm not sure yet. (22% -- 17)

2) Has the decision to select Harriet Miers:

A) Made you view George Bush more favorably? (4% -- 3)
B) Made you view George Bush less favorably? (53% -- 42)
C) Neither? (33% -- 26)
D) I'm not sure yet. (10% - 8)

3) Would you prefer that George Bush:

A) Continue to support Harriet Miers? (41% -- 32)
B) Withdraw the nomination of Harriet Miers? (34% -- 27)
C) I'm not sure yet. (25% -- 20)

4) If the Harriet Miers nomination is not withdrawn by President Bush, then at her confirmation hearings, would you prefer that Republican Senators:

A) Vote to confirm Harriet Miers? (33% -- 26)
B) Vote against Harriet Miers? (34% -- 27)
C) I'm not sure yet. (33% -- 26)

Who'd have thought that Bush could have split the right so effectively? Well done, Mr. President.

(My friend Pieter Dorsman at Peaktalk was one of the respondents. His view: "Bush made a poor decision in nominating Harriet Miers." But he's standing by the president and doesn't think the nomination should be withdrawn.)


Some conservatives, like those at Power Line, seem to be circling the wagons, reversing initial hostility to the Miers nomination -- whether out of blind loyalty or out of a recognition that Miers is actually one of them (which seems to be what Dobson is saying in his vaguely cryptic way). Others, like the Journal's John Fund, are going the other way:

I interviewed more than a dozen of her friends and colleagues along with political players in Texas. I came away convinced that questions about Ms. Miers should be raised now--and loudly--because she has spent her entire life avoiding giving a clear picture of herself. "She is unrevealing to the point that it's an obsession," says one of her close colleagues at her law firm...

Conservatives shouldn't care about her personal views on issues if they can convince themselves that she agrees with Chief Justice John Roberts's view of a judge's role: that cases should be decided the way an umpire calls balls and strikes, without rooting for either team. But the evidence of Ms. Miers's views on jurisprudence resemble a beach on which someone has walked without leaving any footprints: no court opinions, no law review articles, and no internal memos that President Bush is going to share with the Senate.

Fund presents a long list of reasons to doubt Miers's conservative credentials and qualifications for the Court. I don't mind her lack of conservative credentials for her lack of qualifications is indeed troubling. Either way, she's an unknown, and that should worry liberals as much as conservatives. Yes, she could turn out to be another Souter, but she could just as easily turn out to be a lightweight justice pushed to the right by colleagues and clerks alike. Similarly, she could turn out to be a pragmatist like O'Connor, but she could just as easily turn out to be a partisan hack without the experience and judicial philosophy to stand firm against those who would try to influence her.


Around the right-wing blogosphere:

Professor Bainbridge is still "so disappointed in Bush".

The Anchoress has some links to other right-wing blogs.

Confirm Them makes a solid case againt Miers (one I -- not a conservative -- would tend to agree with): "By choosing someone with such close personal ties to him and with qualifications that are, at best, marginal, the deference to the President’s choice and the presumption of confirmation are eroded, even to the degree that the burden of proof now shifts to the President to show that she is uniquely qualified for the bench and was not chosen simply out of personal loyalty. Without solid, concrete reasons to support her — reasons that apply specifically to her qualifications and temperament and not simply abstract, general arguments — she should be rejected."

Instapundit remains baffled by the whole thing: "More and more, I have to wonder what the White House was thinking with this. First of all, when you're already under fire for cronyism, and you nominate someone who's, well, a crony, you ought to be locked-and-loaded in terms of response. They weren't."

PoliPundit has done a Fund a switched sides: Information that has come out over the last week has caused me to believe she is not a conservative. So I’m changing my position: Harriet Miers should not be confirmed by the Senate.

And here's Captain's Quarters: "[T]he Democrats may want to rescue Harriet Miers from the clutches of the Republican base. They're delighting in the civil war that has erupted in the conservative ranks since her nomination, but the majority of them should realize that Miers will be the best nominee they can expect from George Bush. She may be a cipher, but she has some history of flexibility on affirmative action during her political and legal career. Her lack of credentials also means that their normally apoplectic support base will not go crazy over her confirmation. Faced with replacements such as Michael Luttig, Michael McConnell, Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen, and Edith Hollan Jones, they'll take Miers."

Will they? Maybe. We'll have to see how Democratic senators play this one. I agree that it's tempting to take Miers as the best that Bush has to offer, especially with so many conservatives doubting her conservatism, but I continue to worry about her lack of qualifications -- and it worries me both as a partisan (in this case) and as someone who cares about the quality of American government:

Miers may or may not be a conservative, but she does not belong on the Supreme Court. Period.

(See also The Heretik's round-up. And Joe Gandelman's latest at The Moderate Voice.)


My previous posts on the Miers nomination (in chronological order):

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Mad about Miers: Specter, Dobson, and the collapse of the Republican coalition

The Miers debacle continues:

The Washington Times, an unabashedly conservative publication, is reporting that "[n]early half of Senate Republicans say they remain unconvinced that Harriet Miers is worthy of being confirmed to the Supreme Court". Included among Miers's doubters: Senators Brownback, Coburn, Dole, Allen, Thune, and Lott. For his part, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter may be right that there's been "a stampede to judgment" in response to Miers's nomination, but doesn't the fact that the stampede is being led by Republican senators from the generally moderate Dole to the unambiguously conservative Brownback say something about her qualifications, or lack thereof, for a seat on the Supreme Court?

The New York Times is reporting that the SJC may "[call] the evangelical conservative James C. Dobson to testify on what he has been told about [Miers]". Dobson, you may recall, has already endorsed Miers's nomination (even as other leading conservatives like Brownback remain unconvinced -- see my previous post on reactions from across the spectrum):

Mr. Dobson, the influential founder of the conservative evangelical group Focus on the Family, has said he is supporting Ms. Miers's nomination in part because of something he has been told but cannot divulge. He has not disclosed the source of the information, but he has acknowledged speaking with Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, about the president's pick before it was announced.

On his radio program last Wednesday, Mr. Dobson said, "When you know some of the things that I know - that I probably shouldn't know - you will understand why I have said, with fear and trepidation, that I believe Harriet Miers will be a good justice." He added, in a reference to aborted fetuses, "if I have made a mistake here, I will never forget the blood of those babies that will die will be on my hands to some degree."

How typical of the Bush Administration to act in such a way, but do we need the SJC to find out for us what is abundantly clear, namely, that Dobson has been assured that Miers is fundamentally pro-life and will, if confirmed, work to erode, if not reverse, America's abortion laws? Or is Bush now just spinning his own base?

Bloomberg has more on this.

Schumer: "Karl Rove ought to let the public know what kind of assurances he gave James Dobson." Yes, absolutely.

Specter: "I think she may well turn out to be the best-qualified person he could find once we give her a chance to be heard." I've always liked Specter, but has he lost his mind?


Around the blogosphere:

AMERICAblog weighs in. Also here.

So does TalkLeft.

Legal Fiction has some good stuff on Miers and the apparent disintegration of the Republican coalition.

Daily Pundit: "I'm beginning to think that John McCain may step in and kill this nomination in order to keep it from splitting the base he's going to need for his own campaign in 2008." Unlikely, I suspect, but it'll be interesting to see how McCain deals with this continuing crisis in the Republican Party.

And the moaning and groaning on the right continues:

Power Line, which initially reacted with disappointment to Miers's nomination, questions Specter's (and others') concerns about Miers's alleged lack of qualifications. And now thinks that she should be confirmed. Can you say, cowardice? Can you say, toe the party line?

Hugh Hewitt, one of Miers's backers from the get-go, claims that constitutional law really isn't all that difficult (and that Miers is therefore qualified), but The Volokh Conspiracy remains understandably unconvinced: "To be fair, I agree with Hugh that Supreme Court Justices don't need to be academic super stars. But they do need to be reasonably self-aware. And my guess is that self-awareness tends to come most often from the experience of testing and evaluating arguments again and again, whether as a judge or in some other forum." Um, exactly. See George Will's anti-Miers column for more along these lines.

RedState, linking to a piece by Ed "Captain's Quarters" Morrissey in the Post, comments on the fragmentation on "the right side of the blogosphere".

Speaking of which, Morrissey's piece, "How Harriet Unleashed a Storm on the Right," is a must-read, especially for those of us who wish to understand the right even as we work to accelerate its collapse. It includes an excellent breakdown of the main factions on the right and within the Republican coalition. It begins:

Well, he's finally done it. By nominating White House lawyer Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, George Bush has managed to accomplish what Al Gore, John Kerry, Tom Daschle and any number of Democratic heavyweights have been unable to do: He has cracked the Republican monolith. Split his own party activists. And how.

The president's surprise pick to replace Sandra Day O'Connor has ignited a massive debate among his former loyalists, especially in the blogosphere, where I spend a fair amount of time. Wails of betrayal are clashing with assurances of the president's brilliant strategic thinking. Meanwhile, the heavyweights of punditry drop columns like artillery shells into what already may be a conservative civil war.

(A conservative civil war? Joy to the world. Salivate, my friends, but don't get ahead of yourselves.)

See also the Brothers Judd.

At The Claremont Institute, a think-tank populated with Straussians that make me embarrassed to be a Straussian myself, Ken Masugi shows just how crazy the right can be (and is) -- hint: he thinks Thomas was indeed "the most qualified nominee" when Bush I tapped him for the Court.

Instapundit and Michelle Malkin have useful round-ups, both with loads of links.


You know, I haven't often linked to the right-wing blogosphere during the six months or so that I've been writing The Reaction, but the right's self-destructive response to the Miers nomination continues to amuse and encourage me -- (even as I agree with Will, Krauthammer, Kristol, and certain other sober conservatives that the nomination of such a disturbingly unqualified candidate is pathetic).

Yes, how enjoyable it is to revel in the misery and misfortune of the Republican coalition!

Schadenfreude, the Germans call it. (Go look it up.)

And here it's fully appropriate.

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Karl Rove's missing e-mail

This story is getting more and more interesting. And, in its own way, more and more Watergate-like (no, I'm not going there... not yet...). Now, according to Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is looking at an e-mail written by (possible liar) Karl Rove to Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley shortly after the former's conversation with Time's Matt Cooper on July 11, 2003:

The White House's handling of a potentially crucial e-mail sent by senior aide Karl Rove two years ago set off a chain of events that has led special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to summon Rove for a fourth grand jury appearance this week. His return has created heightened concern among White House officials and their allies that Fitzgerald may be preparing to bring indictments when a federal grand jury that has been investigating the leak of a CIA agent's identity expires at the end of October.

What we're talking about are "discrepancies in testimony between Rove and Time reporter Matt Cooper about their conversation". In other words, someone's lying. Guess who?

Oh, then there's a notebook that just turned up at the Times's Washington bureau, prompting Fitzgerald to summon Judith Miller back before the grand jury.


Around the blogosphere:

AMERICAblog calls Rove "a conniving political mastermind" and "Mr. Sleazy Smarty Pants": "Rove was probably so used to lying to reporters... who never called him on it... that he thought he could get away with lying to anyone."

Donklephant (one of our favourites) calls it like it is: "a mess".

Think Progress weighs in with the details, but see all the comments (mostly from the left).

Needlenose addresses Rove's lawyer Robert Luskin's dubious account of discovering the conveniently forgotten e-mail.

The Stakeholder, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's blog, is similarly skeptical.

The Next Hurrah has a long post on Judith Miller and what she might have been working on back in July 2003. Definitely worth checking out.


See also this account from AP: "After mentioning a CIA operative to a reporter, Bush confidant Karl Rove alerted the president's No. 2 security adviser about the interview and said he tried to steer the journalist away from allegations the operative's husband was making about faulty Iraq intelligence. The July 11, 2003, e-mail between Rove and then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley is the first showing an intelligence official knew Rove had talked to Matthew Cooper just days before the Time magazine reporter wrote an article identifying Valerie Plame as a CIA officer."


Which brings me to this key question: What did the president know, and when did he know it?

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