Saturday, April 08, 2006

Queen Jenna

By Creature

Maureen Dowd wins the newly minted Creature Quote Award for best quote regarding the whole Bush I-am-the-leaker affair. Maureen, the floor is yours:

Really, W. should fire himself. He swore to look high and low for the scurrilous leaker and, lo and behold, he has himself in custody. Since the Bush administration is basically a monarchy, he should pass the crown to Jenna. She couldn't do worse than this bunch of airheads and bullies.

Maureen also provides us with a talking point to counter the rabid right-wing spin:

If the administration were seriously trying to declassify something in the national interest, wouldn't it have President Bush explain his decision or have his Scottish terrier yip it out from the podium, rather than having Scooter whisper it in Judy's ear?

That is the bottom line. If it was so important to rebut Joe Wilson, then just come out and do it. No secrets needed. However, rebutting was not enough for these criminals. No, they wanted Wilson destroyed, and that meant bringing down his wife as well. Dick Cheney was angry that his office, that he, was being touted by Wilson as the impetus for his trip to Niger. Dick Cheney would not let that stand. I imagine stomping feet, chest beating, explicatives being tossed, a fist on a table, a pace-maker zap, and finally the word goes out: "Destroy Joe Wilson."

For more Dowd, here is the evil pay-to-view TimesSelect link. For free Dowd, go here.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Immigration bill stalls in Senate

From the Post:

Efforts to rewrite the nation's immigration laws collapsed in the Senate yesterday, renewing doubts about Congress's ability and willingness to tackle the complex, emotional issue in an election year.

A tenuous bipartisan compromise, announced a day earlier, fell apart when Democrats rejected conservative Republicans' demands for numerous changes, some designed to limit the number of illegal immigrants who could become eligible for citizenship. Trapped between the conservatives' demands and the Democrats' parliamentary powers to limit amendments, GOP leaders conceded a setback. But they vowed to try again when Congress returns from a two-week recess.

The Senate may not be able to hammer out a deal that appeals to at least 60 senators (enough to block a filibuster), especially if proposed deals include a provision for deportation and/or the denial of legal status to some immigrants. But make no mistake about it, this will continue to be a huge issue this year. Whether Congress likes it or not.

For more, see my recent post on illegal immigration at the One America Committee Blog (including all the great comments from readers).

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Liberalism and socialism

Just a quick note tonight to let you know that there's an interesting discussion going on in response to my recent post on the center of gravity in American politics, "Liberalism unbound". The discussion concerns liberalism's apparent shortcomings and the possibility of socialism as an alternative. Plus, other commenters weigh on such issues as the ideological nature of centrism and the success of the Republican Party.

Scroll down a bit -- or, to go right there, click here. Please feel free to add your own comment(s). As always, I and my co-bloggers enjoy hearing from you and engaging with you in the comments sections of our posts. We learn a lot from your contributions to The Reaction.

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Leaky thoughts

By Creature

So... Libby testified that Cheney said that Bush had authorized the release of classified information for the political purpose of smearing Joe Wilson. Not only a mouthful to say, but bad, bad, politically damning stuff. The President has been implicated directly for the first time in this entire Plame affair. I have no doubt that Bush was in on the leaking. That being said, this is how I believe the story will play itself out.

The next move is all Cheney's. He is next in line to take the fall. After yesterday's revelation, the only way to get the president off the hook is for Cheney to say he lied to Libby about having presidential authority. Of course, this is a lie. As I said, the president is part of the game, but protecting the president is what these people are all about. Cheney will take a buckshot to protect the president. Cheney will say he acted alone. He will claim he had the power to unilaterally declassify intelligence (as he hinted on Fox during his Whittington confessional). He will claim the president knew nothing and all the talk of the president being a part of this affair will be moot. This also insulates Bush from the firestorm surrounding his own words regarding finding and firing the leaker. He did not lie to the American people because, thanks to the vice president, he can still claim ignorance.

End result -- and this was their backup plan all along if the political heat got too hot -- Cheney steps down, taking the final presidential-protecting blow. Even further, maybe the president fires Cheney to show some political strength. Cheney is dispensable, mainly because his work is done. He got his war and he got his oil.

Or, how about the director's-cut-alternate-ending: They throw Libby under a bus and say Cheney never said that...

Update: The above post made the assumption that Bush would NEVER actually admit to authorizing the declassification and subsequent leaking of information. But it seems he fully admits it and he sees no problem with it. Silly me. The Carpetbagger Report has more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Follow the mendacity

Guest post by J. Kingston Pierce of Limbo

(Ed. note: This is our third guest post. J. Kingston Pierce, who writes the blog Limbo, is the senior editor of January Magazine, an online literary journal, and an accomplished author. And what can I say about Limbo? It's a truly excellent blog, generally on the liberal side of things. The writing is among the very best that I've come across in the blogosphere, and each post combines acute analysis, passionate commentary, and a ton of links. This post, first published yesterday, should give you a good idea of Jeff's approach to blogging. I'm sure you're going to like it (unless, of course, you're a Bush supporter, in which case you might want to take notes and think long and hard about why you still are one). I'm very pleased to have Jeff with us at The Reaction today. Hopefully we'll be able to feature more of his work here in future. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out Limbo regularly. -- MJWS)


George W. Bush endorsed the leaking of classified intelligence information before he opposed it. How's that for a monumental flip-flop, my friends?

The same prez who now wants to prosecute whoever blew the whistle on his warrantless domestic spying operations (a.k.a., "Snoopgate") is alleged to have given Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, permission to leak information -- including reports about Saddam Hussein's storied weapons of mass destruction -- from a classified "National Intelligence Estimate" (NIE) on Iraq to New York Times reporter Judith Miller in 2003. Word of this comes from a new court filing by Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the continuing CIA leak scandal. Seems he received the info straight from the horse's ass... er, horse's mouth -- the indicted Libby himself, according to a story in [yesterday]'s New York Sun.

Even if this allegation is true, Bush may not have broken any laws. As Salon's indispensable War Room blog notes today, "[a]n executive order issued by Bush in March 2003 gives the president and vice president specific authority to declassify documents at will. (See Sec. 1.3 here.) It is plausible, if not likely, that the president's authorization of Libby to talk to Miller about the NIE amounted to declassifying the document." However, observes the Sun, "the new disclosure could be awkward for the president because it places him, for the first time, directly in a chain of events that led to a meeting where prosecutors contend the identity of a CIA employee, Valerie Plame, was provided to a reporter." (What this new document does not include, though, is an admission by Libby that Cheney or anyone else in the Republican administration gave him permission to reveal Plame's identity to the press, in retaliation against her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who in a July 2003 New York Times op-ed column had questioned Bush's rationale for attacking Saddam. Still, Fitzgerald says he has evidence of a coordinated effort by the White House to discredit Wilson.)

Furthermore, news that Bush and Cheney were complicit in this leaking contradicts, or at the least illuminates obfuscations in, several of the most emphatic statements made by the prez or his surrogates. To wit:

I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action. (Bush, 9/30/03)

Speaking to reporters: I want to know the truth... I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is, partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers. (Bush, 10/28/03)

And, of course, there's White House spokesman "Stonewall Scotty" McClellan's statement to newsies on October 7, 2003:

Let me answer what the President has said. I speak for the President and I'll talk to you about what he wants... If someone leaked classified information, the President wants to know. If someone in this administration leaked classified information, they will no longer be a part of this administration, because that's not the way this White House operates, that's not the way this President expects people in his administration to conduct their business.

It seems pretty clear from all of this that the Republican administration intended -- once more -- to mislead the American public. But Libby's statements, as reported in the Fitzgerald filing, leave Bush with ample wiggle room. It's the difference again between truth and "truthiness". Consider: Although he may have authorized Cheney to inform his top aide that he was free to divulge "key judgments of the classified NIE" to reporter Miller, the prez could still argue with a straight face that he didn't know that Libby had in fact done so. McClellan further covered Bush's posterior by saying that "if someone leaked classified information," that individual would "no longer be part of this administration". This gets back to Salon's point, that Bush's giving Libby his permission to speak with Miller might -- I repeat, might -- constitute declassifying the NIE in question. Even the prez's seemingly straightforward statement in July 2005 that "[i]f someone committed a crime [by leaking classified information to reporters], they will no longer work in my administration" is little more than a legalistic equivocation, if what Scooter Libby did cannot, because of Bush's consent, be considered a crime.

None of this adds up to Bush demanding anywhere near "the highest standards of conduct," as McClellan once insisted the prez did. Instead, we're talking about Bush's very own version of the "it depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is" defense. How can he honestly expect Americans to trust him, when he demonstrates at nearly every opportunity that he can't be trusted? But then, honesty -- or lack of it -- is what this issue is all about.

HYPOCRITE-IN-CHIEF: There's a good piece in Slate about Bush's role in the Libby-Miller leaking, written by the masterful John Dickerson. My favorite part:

The press corps -- and bloggers -- will likely compile a yards-long list of occasions when the president has denounced leaking, but it's worth asking the philosophical question: Can the president even be a leaker? For a leak to be real, it has to be unsanctioned. Once a piece of secret information gets unwrapped (by the president no less), it's not a leak, it's part of a communications strategy. It's national policy. So, maybe he's not a leaker.

But he is certainly a hypocrite. It's one thing to declassify information; it's another thing to present information to a reporter as though it were classified to preserve the shadow authenticity that comes with a leak. Bush wanted to have the information out there but not have to account for it or explain it.

All presidents engage in this hypocrisy, but Bush has made it Texas-sized by putting on such a show about leaks during his time in office. He's done everything short of forming a Department of Anti-Leaking. The most recent example has been the attack on the New York Times for printing leaks about the NSA wiretap operation, but President Bush has been at it for years. In October 2001, after reading a Washington Times story that described terrorist camps in Afghanistan that the CIA and Pentagon had targeted for destruction, Bush told aides, "an act of treason was committed in the newspaper this morning." He called the four top congressional leaders to inform them that he had ordered the FBI, CIA, and Pentagon to sharply reduce the number of lawmakers eligible for classified briefings on the war. Members of Congress, Bush was saying, could not be trusted. Bush backed down a week later, and the pertinent members of Congress were quickly brought back into the loop.

Read the whole story here.

READ MORE: "Libby Says Bush Authorized Leaks," by Murray Waas (National Journal); "The Deception Bush Can't Spin," by Joe Conason (Salon); "All of a Sudden, It's a Scandal Again," by Steve Benen (The Carpetbagger Report); "Something Doesn't Add Up Here," by Anonymous Liberal (Unclaimed Territory); "Court Papers: Bush, Cheney OK'ed Leaks," by John Nichols (The Nation); and "The Founders Never Imagined a Bush Administration," by Gary Hart (The Huffington Post).

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Discovering the Gospel of Judas

From The New York Times: "An early Christian manuscript, including the only known text of what is known as the Gospel of Judas, has surfaced after 1,700 years. The text gives new insights into the relationship of Jesus and the disciple who betrayed him... In this version, Jesus asked Judas, as a close friend, to sell him out to the authorities, telling Judas he will "exceed" the other disciples by doing so."

The manuscript was discovered in Egypt. "The 26-page Judas text is said to be a copy in Coptic, made around A. D. 300, of the original Gospel of Judas, written in Greek the century before." It may be "the most significant ancient, nonbiblical text to be found in the past 60 years".

An incredible discovery. As one scholar put it, referring to the Gospel of Judas and other major Gnostic texts: "These discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic religion, and demonstrating how diverse -- and fascinating -- the early Christian movement really was."

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Bush's "bamboozling ballet of dissimulation and denial" on global warming

From The Annals of Duh, our new series at The Reaction that highlights the obvious.

The Washington Post reports this: "Scientists doing climate research for the federal government say the Bush administration has made it hard for them to speak forthrightly to the public about global warming. The result, the researchers say, is a danger that Americans are not getting the full story on how the climate is changing."

It's important to report this, of course, but it's no surprise that the White House is giving climatologists a hard time. As we all know, Bush doesn't care about climate change (or global warming, or whatever you want to call it). He doesn't even believe in climate change. Which is to say, he doesn't respect science, at least not nearly enough given the very real threat of global warming and related climatological change.

Whatever else he does, he puts politics before science and the economy before the environment. Consider this: "NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] scientists... cite repeated instances in which the administration played down the threat of climate change in their documents and news releases. Although Bush and his top advisers have said that Earth is warming and human activity has contributed to this, they have questioned some predictions and caution that mandatory limits on carbon dioxide could damage the nation's economy."

Clearly, we need a president who understands and cares about the environment, one who is willing to adopt far-reaching policies to deal with climate change. Hmmm. Who might that be? If memory serves, someone who fit the bill ran in 2000 (and won the popular vote). Perhaps he might be tempted to run again?


On a related note, see this book review by Rob Nixon at Slate. Nixon reviews "[t]wo ambitious new books on global warming, Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes From a Catastrophe and Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers, both of which look extremely good.

Here's Nixon's best line: "Indeed, the Bush administration has turned foot-dragging over climate change into a veritable performance art—a bamboozling ballet of dissimulation and denial."

That pretty much sums it up.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Our adult talking points

By Creature

Last night on Hardball, Howard Dean was everything the Republican party is not. He was an adult. A reasoned, sober, realistic adult, ready to offer the American people a true alternative to the Republicans in November. An alternative, if not in policy directly, at least in rhetoric completely. As Chris Matthews tossed out the GOP talking points, Dean was prepared. It was impressive. He was hitting the mark on all fronts.

-- Will the Democrats be impeachment-censure crazy if they take control of the House and its subpoena power? No, because Democrats take impeachment seriously. We don't jump to conclusions, not like the Republicans in the '90s. Democrats believe in facts. We believe in respect. America comes first, the party comes second. Revenge is not on the agenda. We have real, serious issues to discuss. From universal healthcare (that 36 countries have and we don't - go Dean!) to deficits, government must get working again. Investigations will come, but these issues have been neglected for too long.

-- Is Tom DeLay still a poster boy for Republican corruption? We don't need Tom DeLay and here's a thug list for you. A procurement officer, a senate leader, a house member, Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff (not Libby, but Dick -- way to taint the VP!), and let's not leave out Karl I'll-be-indicted-any-minute-now Rove.

-- But the Democrats can't come together on Iraq? Putting Joe aside (brilliant!), we all basically agree. It's about withdrawal. It's a matter of when. It's a year of transition and the Iraqis better get their act straight and form a government because we won't put up with it. Oh, and by the way, we will listen to the military before we go to war. And if we go to war, the troops will have adequate armor.

Dean masterfully countered the caricature the Republicans portray the Democrats as, and he did it without sounding shrill. Thank you, Howard Dean. You have won me over, all over again.

For those of you inclined to skim: Shorter Howard Dean -- We are the adults.

Put your money where your mouth is: Support Dean and the DNC here.

Watch, read, and learn: Transcript and video can be found here.


Sorry, but I can't let this post end without noting that Chris Matthews is an ass. Please, Chris, don't laugh at your guests and look incredulous when they are speaking. It makes you look like the
DeLay-loving partisan hack that you are.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Scientists discover "missing link" in Canadian Arctic

Evolutionary news from The New York Times: "Scientists have discovered fossils of a 375 million-year-old fish, a large scaly creature not seen before, that they say is a long-sought 'missing link' in the evolution of some fishes from water to a life walking on four limbs on land."

Fascinating stuff. And surely "a powerful rebuttal to religious creationists". But I'm sure they and their ID-pushing compatriots of denial will offer up some see-no-truth, hear-no-truth spin in response. And I'm sure it will be as silly as usual.

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Liberalism unbound: Shifting the center of gravity in American politics

Given my past association with Centerfield and my present association with The Moderate Voice, given the fact that many of my friends (bloggers and otherwise) define themselves somewhere between liberal and conservative, given my own definitely liberal political philosophy, and given my own firm place in the liberal blogosphere, I have often thought about the meanings of centrism and moderation.

They aren't the same thing. To me, moderation is a tone, a temperament, a virtue. Moderation eschews absolutism. It promotes independent thought and calm, reasoned discourse. It rejects knee-jerk partisanship and talking points masquerading as truth. Centrism is, well, an "ism". It seeks to be an ideology of sorts somewhere between what is generally considered to be left and right. But what does that even mean? What is left? What is right? And what, for that matter, is the center? Doesn't the center shift over time, back and forth like a pendulum?

Though the center of gravity in American politics does shift over time, I have long believed (and argued) that America is fundamentally a liberal society. Whatever the challenges to liberalism, whatever the ebb and flow of partisan politics, whatever the public perception of liberalism and what it means to be liberal, America is a country deeply rooted in the political thought of John Locke, the liberal political philosopher par excellence. To be sure, there are non-liberal and even anti-liberal elements alive and well in America. There always have been, and that isn't likely to change anytime soon. But it seems to me that the basic elements of liberalism -- individual rights, representative democracy, the universal truths elaborated in the Declaration of Independence -- cross partisan lines and dominate American life. President Bush's expansion of executive authority certainly threatens this commitment to liberty as enshrined in the Constitution, and that should worry us and rouse us in opposition, but even this threat hasn't undone liberalism.

Regardless, it's true that the center, and hence centrism, has been anything but fixed. Barry Goldwater's crushing defeat in 1964 marked perhaps the nadir of American conservatism, and it seemed at the time that liberalism was without a serious challenger as America's dominant public philosophy. The rise of the conservative movement in the 1970s began a rightward shift that overcame this dominance, propelling America through the Reagan presidency, the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, and continued Republican success at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Even Bill Clinton couldn't do much to reverse this trend. He was merely the right Democrat for a largely Republican era.

But things have changed. Perhaps the inevitable gravitational force of change is pulling America back to the left, the cycle of political history. But there must be other factors. The conservative movement is virtually bankrupt intellectually. Whatever was left of it, specifically the neoconservative segment of it, has been largely discredited by the debacle in Iraq. There may be no liberal movement to rival the conservative one, at least not in a concerted way, but liberalism has risen once again. It is now able to balance conservatism in a way that seemed impossible for a generation. And the Republican Party, the electoral bottleneck of the conservative movement, has fallen into decay and corruption, a victim of its own success, not to mention of its own internal contradictions and disreputable ideas. Finally, in that regard, Americans are catching on. Conservatives have had their chance. This is their America. Is it the America Americans really want?

As well, conservatives have successfully defined the parameters of American politics. This has been an intentional strategy that has been best documented in David Brock's The Republican Noise Machine, a penetrating examination of just how the conservative movement, both on its own and through the Republican Party, changed the course of American politics and the direction of American life. Within these parameters, "liberal" became a bad word. Conservatives demanded equal time, even for their most disreputable ideas, and the far right was gradually brought into the public square even as the left, anything and everything smacking of progressivism, was vilified as extreme and un-American. The result was the almost imperceptible shift of gravity to the right. This makes sense. If you cut off the left and push the right-wing extreme even further to the right, the scales will tip and the center of gravity will move right to establish balance once more.

But, as I mentioned, things are changing. And they're changing not least because liberals are fighting back. Democrats, many of them, are still unsure of themselves and unwilling to stand up for what they believe in, but liberals, the courageous ones in the blogosphere, the punditry, and the political arena, have had enough. It isn't just the cycle of political history, the inevitable swing of the pendulum. Liberals are now pulling the center of gravity back to a more appropriate, a more honest and real, place much closer to what we generally consider to be liberalism.

Who are these liberals? There are many, including Al Gore and John Edwards. But perhaps the best recent example is Russ Feingold, whom we praised in this space for advocating the censure of the president (see here, here, and here). In terms of a different issue, consider this example from The Carpetbagger Report: "The right wants to write bigotry into constitutional stone. The left wants gay people to be able to get married. All of a sudden, Democratic proposals for civil unions is a reasonable middle ground, whereas a few years ago, civil unions were deemed radical by conservatives. The goalposts have been moved away from discrimination... When the right denounces Feingold for his position, Dems can simply offer their 'reasonable' alternative."

This is exactly how to do it. Liberals and Democrats, stand firm. Stand up for what you believe in. Do not give in. There may be room for compromise, for "centrist" policy, but do not abandon liberalism. Do not allow the other side to define the parameters of American politics and thereby the center of gravity thereof. Do not succumb to absolutism, do not turn immoderate, but also do not sacrifice your principles, our principles, for the sake of short-term political gain.

Remember that America is fundamentally a liberal society. If presented with conviction and compassion, a liberal vision for America will resonate once again with Americans. Don't expect 1964 all over again, but there's no reason why liberals can't balance out conservative efforts to define the parameters of American politics. If they succeed, if we succeed, America may soon look and act more like itself again.

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Exterminating Tom DeLay

There's a lot out there on the DeLay resignation (or, rather, on DeLay's decision not to run for re-election), but one of the very best commentaries I've read is by our good friend J. Kingston Pierce of Limbo. His excellent post -- and I highly recommend that you read it all -- is here. It's full of valuable links and sound analysis.

Here's a snippet: "Undoubtedly, Republican strategists are hoping that Tom DeLay’s resignation will eliminate him as their party’s public face -- the poster boy for the “culture of corruption” label with which Democrats hope to tar their rivals, and thus end 13 years of GOP control on Capitol Hill. But DeLay’s departure probably comes too late. Already, Gallup polling shows a dramatic shift in party loyalty among Americans, with 49 of Americans now calling themselves Democrats or leaning in that direction, while 42 percent define themselves as Republicans or lean that way."

Cautious optimism. Check it out.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Who is the real John McCain?

As some of you may know, John McCain was on Jon Stewart last night. Stewart, who obviously likes and respects McCain a great deal, asked why McCain had agreed to speak at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. McCain tried to laugh it off as just another commencement address, which it obviously isn't. McCain, looking ahead to '08, is playing (and pandering, at least rhetorically) to the right. Stewart finally asked if he was "going into crazy base world". McCain said yes: "I'm afraid so."

The real John McCain -- unmasked, if only for a brief moment, by John Stewart. Crooks and Liars has the video here. Kevin Drum comments here.

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Republican scandals: Ongoing, coming to a head & taking a toll

By The (liberal)Girl Next Door

It’s kind of fun sitting back and watching the myriad of Republican scandals coming to a head and taking a toll on a normally united party, although I’m cautiously optimistic about how these developments will translate into a big win for Democrats come November.

Over the last few weeks we have heard that Patrick Fitzgerald may be getting ready to lay out his case against Karl Rove; Gayle Norton resigned from her post as Secretary of the Interior perhaps due to the Abramoff investigation getting closer and closer to her office door; Andrew Card has “resigned” as chief of staff to President Bush, most likely in an attempt to appease Republicans on the Hill who are begging the White House for a shake up; and Tom DeLay has withdrawn from his Congressional race in Texas. The ongoing investigations into the Republicans’ “pay-to-play” style of governing, and the White House’s potentially illegal retaliatory politics and ensuing cover-ups, have been chugging along behind the scenes and we may be in for a summer of fun. Iced tea and indictments -- sounds so refreshing I can hardly wait.

With President Bush’s approval numbers stuck in the 30 percent range, the war in Iraq continuing to spiral out of control, and the possibility that he could lose his brain (Rove) to the CIA leak case and more GOP legislators to the Abramoff probe, it’s hard to see how the Republicans dig themselves out of this hole of their own making. And now that John McCain has decided to make nice with the fringe elements of the religious right, there doesn’t seem to be anyone left in the Republican Party who can counter the “out of touch,” “in it for themselves,” and “party of corruption” labels. When the mavericks of the party join the fold, who’s left to speak to and for moderate Republican voters?

I was listening to Pat Buchanan on Hardball last night and he made some very astute observations. He said that the economy is doing well, in a macro-economic sense, but that Middle America isn’t sharing in the prosperity. He went on to point out that the loss of jobs due to transnational corporations moving their operations to other countries is a very real concern that is not being addressed because working Americans have been abandoned by both parties. I can’t think of a better indication that the country has moved too far to the right and that politicians in Washington D.C. are firmly in the pockets of big business than Pat Buchanan making the same arguments as liberals. Too bad most Democrats won’t talk like that. It would certainly go a long way toward winning back the support of working Americans if they did.

As these investigations come to a close, there will likely being some fireworks and a few opportunities for Democrats to celebrate, but I’m not dusting off my pom-poms just yet. While it’s always nice to see opportunists and criminals publicly served their just deserts, being against something doesn’t foster the same optimism as being for something. Bush promised to be a “uniter, not a divider,” and we know what a load of crap that was. It’s still a nice idea, though. We are a divided country, but we do seem to be coming together, if only slightly. If a liberal like me can agree with Pat Buchanan (on the rare occasion, but still), clearly there is room for building consensus.

I hope there are some potential leaders out there who really care about uniting the country, leaders who will inspire us, appeal to our better natures, and challenge us to be better citizens, both of this country and of the world. But in order to inspire us to be better, we must be presented with something better, too. We need leaders who are not afraid to take on the transnational corporations. After all, they are not good global citizens, nor do they have any allegiance to this country, so why should we tolerate politicians that protect them at our expense? Support is a two-way street. Speak to us and for us, and we’ll help you every step of the way. I’m not holding my breath as we wait for these leaders to emerge, but I am starting to believe in the possibility that they are out there.

That’s progress, right?

(Cross-posted at The (liberal)Girl Next Door.)

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Amnesty uncovers U.S. prisoner rendition program

I'll have more on this soon, when I do a fuller post on rendition and torture, but I wanted to link to this important story. According to the BBC, Amnesty International has released a report that "provides detailed accounts of the experiences of three Yemeni men who claim to have been held in at least four different secret US prisons between October 2003 and May 2005".

Amnesty also claims to have "records of nearly 1,000 flights, mostly using European airspace, which were made by planes that appear to have been permanently operated by the CIA through front companies" and "records of about 600 other flights made by planes confirmed as having been used at least temporarily by the CIA" -- likely for the purposes of transporting prisoners covertly "to countries where they have faced torture or ill-treatment".

In addition, also according to the BBC, "European governments were almost certainly aware of the CIA's secret prisoner flights via European airspace or airports". See also here.

And consider this: "Poland has announced a formal inquiry into claims that the US CIA operated secret prisons or interrogation centres on its territory." Remember, though, that Poland is a key member of Bush's "coalition of the willing". This inquiry could turn out to be a farce.

Stay tuned.

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Massachusetts to adopt near-universal health care

Incredible news from my former home state, according to The New York Times:

Massachusetts is poised to become the first state to provide nearly universal health care coverage after the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill today that Gov. Mitt Romney says he will sign.

The bill does what health experts say no other state has yet been able to do: provide a mechanism for all of its citizens to obtain health insurance. It accomplishes that in a way that experts say combines several different methods and proposals from across the political spectrum, apportioning the cost among businesses, individuals and the government.

Let's hope this is the thin end of the wedge and that other states soon follow Massachusetts. I need to look more closely into the details of this plan, but it seems quite sensible at first glance. And if it ends up providing health care to 95 percent of the state's uninsured, what is there not to like about it?

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Saskatchewan says no to polygamy

You know, I really like the new HBO show Big Love, but Saskatchewan is absolutely right to stand firm against a polygamist sect, The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, that may be trying to set up a new community in the province.

For those on the right who think otherwise, polygamy is not the same as same-sex marriage and should not be tolerated. The leader of this sect, which is based on the Utah-Arizona border, is under investigation and is being sought by Utah officials. The sect itself "has been under close scrutiny amid allegations of welfare fraud, sexual abuse and forced marriages". Polygamy is against the law, but so, too, are child abuse and sexual exploitation.

We should have none of it in Canada. Which means that we should crack down on polygamy in Bountiful, B.C., and prevent this sect from settling in Saskatchewan. We are a tolerant society, but tolerance can only go so far.

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America's underage sex tourism problem

Read this chilling article from Reuters on underage "sex tourism" in Georgia -- the U.S. state, not the former Soviet republic. Truly horrifying.

Thankfully, there seems to be an effort underway to combat the problem, which is far more widespread and far more serious than I ever realized.

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Sign of the Apocalypse #32: Katie Couric heads to CBS

According to The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, long-time Today Show co-host Katie Couric is set to take over the CBS Evening News from Bob Schieffer. An announcement is expected this week. (Update: It's official.)

Why is this a SOTA? Not because of Couric herself, although I don't think she's the right person to take over a nightly network news broadcast (although, in terms of ratings, her popularity may help her lead the show out of the basement). No, it's that this isn't about the news, nor about broadcasting integrity or excellence. It's about entertainment. It's Network. We've known this all along, of course, but now it's just so transparent. And so grotesque. Consider this: "Couric's pending departure has been the focus of intense media speculation, both because of her celebrity and the historic nature of the move."

Can Couric report the news with the appropriate gravitas? Perhaps, but she's a morning-show host, not an anchor (in the more traditional sense of that term). Does that even matter anymore? Maybe not. The era of Cronkite and Chancellor -- even the era of Brokaw, Rather, and Jennings -- is over. Is she enough of a journalist? Maybe not. But, again, it's not at all clear that an anchor even needs that sort of experience anymore. Besides, even Brokaw hosted Today.

Other than her celebrity, which is what this is all about, is this "historic"? Well, it's different. No woman has ever hosted a nightly network news broadcast by herself. Fair enough. But then why not hire Couric's possible replacement at Today, Meredith Vieira, currently co-host of The View? She's a former 60 Minutes correspondent "with deep roots in network news". Well, because she's not enough of a celebrity, because she's not a celebrity of Couric's caliber.

Remember: This isn't about the news and the reporting thereof. And it's certainly not about journalism. It's about ratings. It's about the show. It's about money. CBS has lagged in third place for a long time. Couric -- who is expected to make even more than the $15-16 million she makes at NBC (there's another SOTA for another time) -- may change that.

Good for Katie Couric, but still a Sign of the Apocalypse.


Update: For an alternative view, see Slate's Troy Patterson, who says that he is "disinclined to regard this as a sign of the apocalypse". I wonder if he's read The Reaction.

Also, this post was quoted (but not linked to) at The Philadelphia Inquirer's Blinq blog -- see here. The author of that blog, Daniel Rubin, considers this SOTA "a little heavy handed". But at least he correctly identifies me as a "liberal blogger".

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Breaking news:

Tom DeLay will not seek reelection. According to the Post, the disgraced former House majority leader "told House allies last night that he will give up his seat rather than face a reelection fight that appears increasingly unwinnable".

The writing was clearly on the wall, wasn't it?

Now let's hope that the justice system punishes him accordingly for his various and sundry transgressions. He may be the face of Republican corruption (see here), but he's also a criminal who must be held accountable. Resignation isn't nearly enough.



More from the Post, more on the "federal criminal investigation that already has reached into his inner circle of longtime advisers": "DeLay faces a trial later this year on money-laundering charges in Texas that stems from an October 2005 indictment related to corporate contributions to state elections in 2001 and 2002. Since then, two former aides and one of his most prominent contributors have pleaded guilty in a separate federal probe to crimes including conspiracy; wire, tax and mail fraud; and corruption of public officials."

Good stuff.

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Florida 73, UCLA 57

The Florida Gators beat the UCLA Bruins 73-57 in Monday's NCAA championship game. Did I see that coming before the tournament started? Nope. I had UCLA going to the Final Four, but I had Connecticut winning it all. And I had Florida, a #3 seed, losing in the second round.

Last year I correctly picked North Carolina to win it all. This year I clearly had no clue.

Such is life.

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Democratic banality, Republican incompetency

At Slate, Fred Kaplan argues that the new Democratic national security plan, Real Security (which our own LGND examined here), "reeks of banality". Perhaps, but it's a start -- and starting is better than not starting at all. Besides, as Kaplan goes on to say, it's not as if Bush and the Republicans have a better alternative:

The real contest will begin when both parties nominate their candidates, at which point this document may or may not be a dead letter. For now, though, the Dems have hoisted a banner: real security vs. rhetorical security; tough and smart vs. tough and, well, not so smart. Let that debate begin.

Yes, let it. This is one Democrats can win.

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What would happen if the Democrats took back the Senate?

Ryan Lizza (he of TNR fame) looks at Senator Chuck Schumer's dream of regaining a majority in the Senate in our must-read of the day, an excellent piece (make sure to read the whole thing) at New York magazine called "The Bush-Cheney Era Ends Here". Just what would happen? Consider this:

Democrats have a dream. They dream that they will wake up on November 8 and that West Virginia senator Robert Byrd, the 88-year-old antiwar firebrand, will be in charge of appropriating every dollar spent in Iraq. They dream that Patrick Leahy, the Vermont senator who led the effort against Samuel Alito, will be the man deciding which Bush judges get considered. They dream that a senator from South Dakota named Tim Johnson will be running the now-dormant Ethics Committee, aggressively investigating GOP lobbyists looting their way through Washington. They dream of a vote on a minimum-wage increase and public hearings on global warming. And Democrats soothe themselves to sleep every night with visions of beating six years’ worth of secrets out of the Bush administration -- on pre-9/11 intelligence, the Plame affair, Katrina, Dubai Ports World, Halliburton -- through the fearsome power of the subpoena.

Democrats needs to win six new seats to take back the Senate (and, thereafter, to hold Bush accountable): "Unlike reclaiming the House, or the far-off presidential race, it is a goal that seems tangible, achievable... Winning all six of these races as well as the open seat in Minnesota while holding on to all their vulnerable incumbents is hardly a sure thing for Democrats. But the national climate is getting more poisonous for the GOP, and polls show that the mood of the country is as sour now as it was at this point in 1994 when Democrats were turned out of power."

Schumer is the man leading the way as head of Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. From all appearances, he's doing a great job. November is still a long way off, but it's been a long, long time since the Democrats looked this good. A Democratic-controlled Senate may still be a dream, but there's hope yet.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Koufax congratulations

Please head on over to Wampum for the winners of this year's Koufax Awards. The Reaction didn't make it to the final round of voting, but I appreciate all the support we received. I'm also happy to note that our co-blogger Creature's blog State of the Day did make it to the final round for Best New Blog. The Reaction, State of the Day, and The (liberal)Girl Next Door all received multiple nominations.

In addition, some of our favourite bloggers (and some of our best friends in the blogosphere) did extremely well: Crooks and Liars won Best Blog. Echidne of the Snakes won Most Deserving of Wider Recognition, Shakespeare's Sister won Best Group Blog, and Glenn Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory, to which the Anonymous Liberal contributes, won Best New Blog.

I would like to mention, too, that Steve Benen's The Carpetbagger Report, for me one of the highlights of the blogosphere (and I blog I very much look to for inspiration and guidance), finished in a virtual four-way dead-heat for Best Blog, along with C&L, FireDogLake, and Hullabaloo. All great finalists, all deserving, and it's great to see Steve among them.

Congratulations to all the winners. And congratulations again to all the nominees. I'm proud to be among them.

The Koufax Awards are all about celebrating the best and the brightest of the liberal-progressive blogosphere, and, as far as I'm concerned, there's a lot to celebrate out there.

Go see for yourself.

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Immigration cartoons

Two great and illuminating cartoons -- the first from The Moderate Voice, the second from State of the Day:

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Explosion at Toronto Tim Hortons

As some of you may have heard already, the big news in Toronto yesterday was the explosion at a Tim Horton's coffee shop at the intersection of Yonge and Bloor, the epicenter of the city (and just around the corner from where I live).

Initial reports, since proven false, suggested that a man with explosives strapped to his body blew himself up in one of the washrooms, prompting fears of terrorism. According to CTV, it now seems that "an unidentified man went into the coffee shop's washroom carrying a gasoline container," which then exploded: "Investigators do not know what ignited the gasoline or what the deceased man's motives were. Suspicion is focusing on either suicide or arson. They say he was definitely not a terrorist."

I drove by Yonge and Bloor about an hour ago (on my way home from somewhere else) and police were still at the scene. For more, see The Globe and Mail.

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Progressive hypocrisy: Unemployment and the state of French politics

An update on the new French employment law and the protests against it -- which I've already looked at here, here, and here. According to the BBC, President Chirac has "vowed to enact a modified version of the legislation".

How modified? -- "[Chirac] pledged to shorten from two years to one the period in which youths under 26 could be fired -- and said employers would need a reason for the dismissal." But his decision has been "condemned" by unions and students, and it looks like a planned general strike will go ahead this week. And, of course, there will be more demonstrations.

If you click on the links to my previous posts above, you'll see that the new employment law left me somewhat ambivalent. With youth unemployment in France at 20 percent (40 percent in "France's poorest communities"), something needs to be done, perhaps something drastic, to deal with an obviously serious problem. However, it's not at all clear that a "law [making] it easier for employers to hire and fire people under 26" is the right something, and it's perfectly understandable that students and others who would be affected by the law would respond with anxiety and hostility.

But I think I'm with Chirac on this one (let me know if you think I'm way off). The modifications to the law seem quite sensible to me. They would prevent an employer from simply firing an employee under 26 at will. Whatever my general criticisms of Chirac, I think he does understand "the anxieties expressed by many young people across France" and I think his efforts "to defuse the situation" have been sincere. In addition, "has also told employers not to put the law into practice yet, as he wants to hold more talks with business leaders and trades unionists".

Not that the opponents of the law will back off. This is now a cause. Once the French are in the streets, it's awfully hard to get them out again.

And it's about more than the law itself. It's about France's decaying welfare state, the plight of its immigrant communities (some of which exploded in riotous anger just last November), its place in an increasingly globalized economy, and the state of its politics, particularly its reformist, progressive politics.

As Keelin McDonell put it last week in The New Republic, these protests expose "a French progressive movement on the brink of collapse," a movement that is astoundingly conservative in its opposition to any and all change to the status quo of the French welfare state, a movement that "has become intellectually arid and xenophobic". After all, just to take this case, neither students nor workers (nor their political representatives) have "put forward an alternate plan to boost employment and secure a place for France in the international economy". I understand their concerns about globalization and the free market, and I share some of them myself, but I'm not sure how opposition to the new employment law and, indeed, opposition to all market-oriented reforms can be in any way productive. It seems to me that these protesters would rather the international economy didn't exist, that they are living in some halcyon past that exists only in their imagination, in their own personal and political self-romanticization.

Which is all quite French. And a recipe for disaster. How else to explain youth unemployment at 20 percent, or at 40 percent? The fact is, the international economy does exist and France needs to find a way to be a part of it. If nothing else, what about that unemployment? Statistics are statistics, but these are real people without real jobs. What do the protesters -- what does the French left -- have to say to them? The protesters, the barricade-builders who revel in putting their crackpot theories into action on the streets, will ultimately return to their classrooms at the Sorbonne and the comforts of their leftist ideologies, but those 20 to 40 percent, many deeply entrenched in segregated immigrant communities, still won't have jobs.

The employment law may or may not have been ill-conceived, and it may or may not be the answer (it's likely just a small part of the answer), but Chirac at least understands that something beyond maintaining the status quo at all costs must be done. It's a shame that those who are set to strike and to continue to protest don't seem to get that. Which means that those who are most in need of help might not get what they need most -- hope, opportunity, a job.

Those out on the streets may consider themselves to be the progressive defenders of social justice struggling valiantly against the reactionary forces of capitalism, but mostly they are just embittered, hypocritical, and utterly self-interested conservatives in abject denial of reality.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Doin' the White House shuffle

It's the ongoing non-story story.

The magicians of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., as I called them recently, are trying to deflect attention away from all the bad news that continues to plague the White House, both at home and abroad, by creating non-news of their own. That non-news has to do with high-level personnel shuffling at the White House itself. Is it news that Card resigned? Not really. Is it news that Bolten was tapped to be his replacement? Not really. But the Washington press, the chattering class that lives and breathes all things ITB (Inside-the-Beltway), is easily lured into the trap. Who's in and who's out is sexy stuff. America doesn't really care who the chief of staff is, but the ITBers find such palace politics engrossing. These are their friends and contacts, after all, and it's all so much juicier than, say, health care policy or some complicated crisis on some distant place that they really don't know anything about.

But there's only so much media attention to go around, and more focus on personnel means less focus on policy. Who's in, who's out, who may be in, who may be out, who may move up, what it all means, if anything at all.

Yes, that's precisely what the White House wants.

I don't blame the ITBers for reporting on such matters, but there's something to be said against overkill, particularly when it's manipulated overkill, the White House pushing stories, or non-stories, that serve its own self-interest.

So it shouldn't come as any surprise that Card's resignation and Bolten's appointment to replace him has been followed by yet more of the same non-story. From the Post: "The White House is planning additional staff changes that could come as early as next week as part of a broader effort to repair relations with Congress and revive the Bush presidency, according to several Republicans familiar with the emerging strategy."

This will go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on... until the White House wants it to stop. The ITBers will eat it up -- and I suppose I'll keep reporting on it selectively here at The Reaction -- but...

Who cares? I mean, aren't there more important things going on in the world?

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Buckley on Bush

From Bloomberg: "William F. Buckley Jr., the longtime conservative writer and leader, said George W. Bush's presidency will be judged entirely by the outcome of a war in Iraq that is now a failure."

Okay, so let me think this through: Bush's presidency will be judged entirely by what happens in Iraq. Iraq has been a failure. Therefore, Bush's presidency has been a failure.

Which is what I and so many others have been saying all along, and not just because of Iraq. The failure is more general than Iraq. I suppose Buckley is leaving the door open slightly for an outcome somewhere short of failure, but, as of right now, one of the giants of American conservatism is implying that Bush's presidency has been an unqualified failure.

Thanks. Just wanted to clear that up.

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Premium blend

By Creature

BREAKING: Bush brings banter back to presidency. Country waits for punch-line. From today's Washington Post:

Call it the let-Bush-be-Bush strategy. The result is a looser president, less serious at times, even at times when humor might seem out of place. Aides used to dread such settings, worried about gaffes or the way Bush might come across in spontaneous exchanges. But with his poll numbers somewhere south of the border, they concluded that Bush handles back-and-forth better than he once did -- and that they have little left to lose. [emphasis added]

Sorry, but it sounds more like a hail-mary strategy to me. If Bush's handlers think letting Bush-be-Bush will help in him out of his political spider-hole, they are sorely mistaken. The public is done. They want a serious leader to get us through serious times. It's not about image, it's about policy. Sorry, funny guy, you are lame, beyond duck:

When the crowd laughed [at the wrong guy], Bush protested, "I'm the funny guy."

Funny like in thousands-of-dead and billions-in-debt funny.

Laugh more -- and that's at him, not with him.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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By Creature

I have a confession to make... I've lost my censure fire. The nail in my censure coffin came on Friday, when the Judiciary Committee held a censure hearing and nobody showed. Sure, there were speeches and a bit of posing. Sure, some headlines were made. But what a sad sight it was seeing only three democrats sitting at the table. Piss, poor, sad. Even Sen. Specter, who only agreed to hold the hearings for his own political agenda, said, "I thought they would attract more attention." You would think, wouldn't you?

I have another confession to make... The negative spin on the Democratic side may have done me in even before Friday. As I look back over my posts from the week I realize I didn't even rah, rah the hearings once as they approached. Am I a bad blogger, or simply a disillusioned citizen? That's easy, the former could never be true (snark?), so I'll bet on the latter.

And I know I would not be feeling so censure defeated if the Democrats had only stood behind Sen. Feingold from the word go. That Monday morning, the day after his This Week appearance, the Democratic party should have called a unity press conference with Russ in the lead. They did not. Instead the chose to cower. Instead they chose to run. Like a bunch of spineless rats they scurried from the big-bad-Republican cat. I agreed with Russ at the time. Censure seemed at least reasonable. Censure could have been sold to the American people. Impeachment, no. Too extreme. Trust me, impeachment is what I wanted. Impeachment, followed by indictments, ending with prison time (with a little taring and feathering thrown in for good measure). This is what these criminals deserve. So, I was go, Russ, go. Now, I wish he had left the cat in the bag. If only to have spared me from these feelings of disgust and despair over the party they call Democratic.

I'm going to assume after Friday's debacle censure is dead. And while I'm glad the president's misdeeds made it to the dance for a brief time, I'm reluctantly admitting that the resolution was premature. It was born out of frustration. It was understandable, but it was premature nonetheless. November is the key. And yes, the conventional wisdom has gotten to me.

For the wonkey and newsworthy side of censure I will send you to Glenn at his home somewhere in Unclaimed Territory. Come back after you learn something.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Condi Rice, literally and figuratively

Believe it or not, there's a lot that I like about Condoleezza Rice. Last June, I even asked if it was finally time to give her her due. At the time, she had just called on Egypt and Saudi Arabia "embrace democracy by holding fair elections, releasing political prisoners and allowing free expression and rights for women". Plus, she had "met with Sharon and Abbas to help hammer out an agreement for a peaceful Israeli withdrawal from Gaza; told Syria to 'knock it off' in Lebanon, where it continue[d] to foment instability; and pressured Pakistan to return Mukhtaran Bibi's passport so that she [could] travel freely". And impressive list of rhetorical accomplishments from Colin Powell's replacement at Foggy Bottom. Finally, it seemed, Rice had grown up. No longer the sycophantic tutor to the foreign affairs neophyte in the Oval Office, she was tackling some of the world's most pressing and dangerous problems.

And she is still at it. According to Bloomberg, Rice said at a press conference in England that "the U.S. will no longer give explicit support to governments that are not elected, suggesting that spreading democracy now takes priority over maintaining political stability". Of course, that still leaves ample room for implicit support, but at least it's something.

And so, too, was her refreshing acknowledgment on Friday that the U.S. has made mistakes in Iraq: "I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them I'm sure". Thousands? Yes, probably. She didn't "cite specific mistakes," but one wonders if her boss can name a single one.

Unfortunately, the refreshment for us critics of the Bush Administration and its gross mismanagement of the Iraq War was short-lived. There have been thousands of errors, but: "[W]hen you look back in history, what will be judged is, did you make the right strategic decisions." This is true, in a way, but it's a cop-out. There may have been thousands of errors, but they don't really matter much in a larger historical context. What matters is the strategy -- the war itself, not the details of its conduct. And when in "history" will judgement be made? Next year? 10 years? 100 years? Instead of a issuing a refreshing acknowledgment, Rice simply did what her boss, her Cabinet colleagues, and their apologists have done throughout this self-made quagmire: avoided responsibility.

See, things may be bad now, and there may have been some "errors," but, well, who are we to say that it's all been a failure? Indeed, we're in no position to say that it has been. Only with the benefit of hindsight, only out there in some distant future, only with "history" behind us, will we (or anyone) be able to determine the Iraq War's success or failure. So Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice herself, and the various other architects of this war get off without any real blame whatsoever. It may look like they fucked up, but, hey, let's wait a century and see how it all turns out.

And in case you missed it, Rice claimed on Saturday that she was speaking "figuratively, not literally". Which means what, exactly? That there haven't been "thousands" of errors. That there have been, like -- what? -- seven? Or none -- do we need the benefit of hindsight even to acknowledge that there have been any at all? Is it possible that all those errors could turn out to be blessings in disguise? She may be right that "the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein and give the Iraqi people an opportunity for peace and for democracy [was] the right decision". At the very least, let's debate that, given what we now know about what they knew -- that Iraq wasn't an imminent threat to the U.S., that Saddam wasn't building a nuclear arsenal -- in the lead-up to war. But, once more, all we have is the abdication of any real responsibility for what happened, and for what went wrong.

Do I need to remind you that this is precisely how this presidency operates? Do I need to persuade you that this is absolutely reprehensible?

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