No More Apples
"Adam ate an apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It's a shame we ran out of apples." -- The Sage.
"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." -- John Kenneth Galbraith
"Reality has a liberal bias." -- Stephen Colbert
We are proud members of the resistance.
Tuesday, November 23
Great read by Pierre Tristam:
It's time to doff the veil. The United States isn't immune to the fundamentalist El Nino circling the globe. Iran has its mullahs. Afghanistan has its Taliban. Saudi Arabia has its Wahhabites. We have evangelicals, whose world view is different from those doctrinaire brigades in dress only.
What they all have in common is the subordination of private and public conduct to God's law as they understand it and the rejection of the secular values of the Enlightenment on which America's constitutional principles were founded, what historian Garry Wills sums up as "critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences."
Quashing those principles may not be what we want as a society. But, for now, it's what we're headed toward. Secularism is by nature accommodating and diffuse where zealotry is grasping and single-minded. And George W. Bush's born-again Republican Party (which has very little to do with Ronald Reagan's GOP and nothing to do with Nelson Rockefeller's and Prescott Bush's) depends for survival on its arranged marriage with evangelicals. The two feed on each other in a symbiosis that will survive so long as national values are defined by the fundamentalists.
Evidence of scandalous presidential deception on, and incompetence in, Iraq; of negligence the summer before the 2001 attacks; of officially sanctioned brutality and torture in military prisons from Guantanamo to Kabul; of routine contempt for due process and other constitutional rights; of wanton cronyism within the administration; of suppressing or faking evidence to manipulate favorable congressional votes (on the true cost of the Medicare prescription law, on tax cuts, on pollution rules) -- none of it matters. What matters is that a self-proclaimed Chosen One is in the White House claiming to be doing God's will and elevating it where he can.
SOME HAWKS/NEOCONS NOW PUSHING FOR EARLY WITHDRAWAL FROM IRAQ
Doh! The hawks are beginning to tire of their circling:
A growing number of national security specialists who supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein are moving to a position unthinkable even a few months ago: that the large US military presence is impeding stability as much as contributing to it and that the United States should begin major reductions in troops beginning early next year.
Their assessments, expressed in reports, think tank meetings, and interviews, run counter to the Bush administration's insistence that the troops will remain indefinitely to establish security. But some contend that the growing support for an earlier pullout could alter the administration's thinking.
Those arguing for immediate troop reductions include key Pentagon advisers, prominent neoconservatives, and some of the fiercest supporters of the Iraq invasion among Washington's policy elite.
The core of their arguments is that even as the US-led coalition goes on the offensive against the insurgency, the United States, by its very presence, is stimulating the resistance.
MORE AT STAKE THAN ROE V. WADE
EJ Dionne references Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer's recent series of lectures at Harvard University, which offer an alternative to the theories of conservative jurists such as Justice Antonin Scalia.
Conservative politicians, including President Bush, say that they oppose judges who "legislate from the bench" and that they hope to fill the judiciary with "strict constructionists." That sounds good, because we want democratically elected politicians, not judges, making the crucial decisions. Yet, at this moment in our history, it is conservative judges who want to restrict the people's right to govern themselves.
That may sound sweeping, but the current trend among conservatives is to read the Constitution as sharply limiting the ability of Congress and the states to make laws protecting the environment, guaranteeing the rights of the disabled and regulating commerce in the public interest.
This new conservatism is actually a very old conservatism. It marks a return to the time before the mid-1930s when judges struck down all sorts of decent laws -- for example, regulating the number of hours people had to work without overtime pay -- reasoning that such statutes violated contract and property rights. Such rulings denied legislators the ability to resolve social problems and make our society more just. The pre-New Deal judiciary that many conservatives are now trying to restore was the truly "imperial judiciary."
Breyer's master concept is "active liberty." He argues that the point of our Constitution is democracy -- to guarantee "the principle of participatory self-government" that gives the people "room to decide and leeway to make mistakes."
He suggests that justices who focus primarily on the Constitution's text and "the Framers' original expectations narrowly conceived" miss the Founders' basic intention. Their purpose, Breyer says, was "to create a framework for democratic government -- a government that, while protecting basic individual liberties, permits citizens to govern themselves, and to govern themselves effectively."
Almost all of the journalism about judicial nominations focuses on filibusters, personal conflicts and partisan advantage. But this battle is so much more important than that.
Will judges invoke their own narrow, ideological readings of the Constitution to void progressive legislation? Or will they join Breyer in viewing the Constitution as a framework that "foresees democratically determined solutions, protective of the individual's basic liberties"? The fight over judges is not about politics, narrowly conceived. It is a struggle over what kind of democracy we will have. Breyer has helped us understand that.
ELECTION FRAUD IN THE UKRAINE
What Bush should do:
President Bush must also end his administration's passivity in the face of massive and malign Russian intervention in Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin, who has been consolidating an authoritarian regime in Moscow, now seeks to install a client government in Kiev; he channeled hundreds of millions of dollars into Mr. Yanukovych's campaign and personally traveled to Ukraine before each of the election's two rounds. Yesterday Mr. Putin brazenly issued a statement congratulating Mr. Yanukovych, even though Ukraine's election commission had not finished counting the vote or declared an official result. To its credit, the administration summoned the Russian ambassador in Washington to a meeting with a State Department official, Assistant Secretary A. Elizabeth Jones, who expressed concern about Mr. Putin's action. The next step is for Mr. Bush to clearly and publicly challenge the Russian president on his neo-imperialism -- and to design a U.S. policy to check it.
Somehow this whole thing is such a fresh reminder of the problems we're suffering from right here in the good old USA that I find it amazing that anyone could expect Bush to act with integrity and boldness in the face of his buddy Putin, whose soul he saw shining through Putin's eyes. Bush and Putin are obviously soul-mates, both believers in imperial rule. And I find it amusing to think that Bush will be able to scold Ukraine Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych with much credibility for voter fraud when I expect that our own questionable election is looked upon askance by a good portion of the world.
NO MORE OVERTIME FOR YOU
Dems try, fail to overturn Repug overtime regulations. This is your president, Republicans. He'd rather shut down the government than permit hard-working wage-earning Americans to retain their right to overtime pay. That's values for you.
An attempt to block the Bush administration's proposed changes in overtime rules was killed before the 2005 spending bill received final congressional approval over the weekend.
Democrats attached an amendment to the Senate's version of the bill that would have overturned the overtime regulations, which went into effect in August. The amendment, which would have prevented any worker previously covered by overtime from losing that protection, was deleted in a conference committee.
The White House had threatened to veto the entire $388 billion spending bill if the overtime amendment was included.
Favorite bumper sticker of the week: Support unions, the folks who gave you WEEKENDS. Better enjoy them before Bush takes that away, too.
RONNIE EARLE ON MORAL INDICTMENTS
Travis County, TX (Austin) District Attorney Ronnie Earle:
Every law enforcement officer depends on the moral values and integrity of society for backup; they are like body armor. The cynical destruction of moral values at the top makes it hard for law enforcement to do its job.
In terms of moral values, this is where the rubber meets the road. The rules you apply to yourself are the true test of your moral values.
The thinly veiled personal attacks on me by Mr. DeLay's supporters in this case are no different from those in the cases of any of the 15 elected officials this office has prosecuted in my 27-year tenure. Most of these officials - 12 Democrats and three Republicans - have accused me of having political motives. What else are they going to say?
For most of my tenure the Democrats held the power in state government. Now Republicans do. Most crimes by elected officials involve the abuse of power; you have to have power before you can abuse it.
There is no limit to what you can do if you have the power to change the rules. Congress may make its own rules, but the public makes the rule of law, and depends for its peace on the enforcement of the law. Hypocrisy at the highest levels of government is toxic to the moral fiber that holds our communities together.
The open contempt for moral values by our elected officials has a corrosive effect. It is a sad day for law enforcement when Congress offers such poor leadership on moral values and ethical behavior. We are a moral people, and the first lesson of democracy is not to hold the public in contempt.
Monday, November 22
EYE OF THE CAMERA
Kevin Sites, the NBC News reporter who captured on camera for the world to see that Marine killing the unarmed wounded Iraqi in the Falluja mosque, explains to the Devil Dogs of the 3.1 (with whom he was embedded) what happened, what he saw and why he reported it:
"These were the same wounded from yesterday," I say to the lieutenant. He takes a look around and goes outside the mosque with his radio operator to call in the situation to Battalion Forward HQ.
I see an old man in a red kaffiyeh lying against the back wall. Another is face down next to him, his hand on the old man's lap -- as if he were trying to take cover. I squat beside them, inches away and begin to videotape them. Then I notice that the blood coming from the old man's nose is bubbling. A sign he is still breathing. So is the man next to him.
While I continue to tape, a Marine walks up to the other two bodies about fifteen feet away, but also lying against the same back wall.
Then I hear him say this about one of the men:
"He's fucking faking he's dead -- he's faking he's fucking dead."
Through my viewfinder I can see him raise the muzzle of his rifle in the direction of the wounded Iraqi. There are no sudden movements, no reaching or lunging.
However, the Marine could legitimately believe the man poses some kind of danger. Maybe he's going to cover him while another Marine searches for weapons.
Instead, he pulls the trigger. There is a small splatter against the back wall and the man's leg slumps down.
"Well he's dead now," says another Marine in the background.
I am still rolling. I feel the deep pit of my stomach. The Marine then abruptly turns away and strides away, right past the fifth wounded insurgent lying next to a column. He is very much alive and peering from his blanket. He is moving, even trying to talk. But for some reason, it seems he did not pose the same apparent "danger" as the other man -- though he may have been more capable of hiding a weapon or explosive beneath his blanket.
But then two other marines in the room raise their weapons as the man tries to talk.
For a moment, I'm paralyzed still taping with the old man in the foreground. I get up after a beat and tell the Marines again, what I had told the lieutenant -- that this man -- all of these wounded men -- were the same ones from yesterday. That they had been disarmed treated and left here.
At that point the Marine who fired the shot became aware that I was in the room. He came up to me and said, "I didn't know sir-I didn't know." The anger that seemed present just moments before turned to fear and dread.
The wounded man then tries again to talk to me in Arabic.
He says, "Yesterday I was shot... please... yesterday I was shot over there -- and talked to all of you on camera -- I am one of the guys from this whole group. I gave you information. Do you speak Arabic? I want to give you information." (This man has since reportedly been located by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service which is handling the case.)
In the aftermath, the first question that came to mind was why had these wounded men been left in the mosque?
It was answered by staff judge advocate Lieutenant Colonel Bob Miller -- who interviewed the Marines involved following the incident. After being treated for their wounds on Friday by Navy Corpsman (I personally saw their bandages) the insurgents were going to be transported to the rear when time and circumstances allowed.
The area, however, was still hot. And there were American casualties to be moved first.
Also, the squad that entered the mosque on Saturday was different than the one that had led the attack on Friday.
It's reasonable to presume they may not have known that these insurgents had already been engaged and subdued a day earlier.
Yet when this new squad engaged the wounded insurgents on Saturday, perhaps really believing they had been fighting or somehow posed a threat -- those Marines inside knew from their training to check the insurgents for weapons and explosives after disabling them, instead of leaving them where they were and waiting outside the mosque for the squad I was following to arrive.
But observing all of this as an experienced war reporter who always bore in mind the dark perils of this conflict, even knowing the possibilities of mitigating circumstances -- it appeared to me very plainly that something was not right. According to Lt. Col Bob Miller, the rules of engagement in Falluja required soldiers or Marines to determine hostile intent before using deadly force. I was not watching from a hundred feet away. I was in the same room. Aside from breathing, I did not observe any movement at all.
Making sure you know the basis for my choices after the incident is as important to me as knowing how the incident went down. I did not in any way feel like I had captured some kind of "prize" video. In fact, I was heartsick. Immediately after the mosque incident, I told the unit's commanding officer what had happened. I shared the video with him, and its impact rippled all the way up the chain of command. Marine commanders immediately pledged their cooperation.
I knew NBC would be responsible with the footage. But there were complications. We were part of a video "pool" in Falluja, and that obligated us to share all of our footage with other networks. I had no idea how our other "pool" partners might use the footage. I considered not feeding the tape to the pool -- or even, for a moment, destroying it. But that thought created the same pit in my stomach that witnessing the shooting had. It felt wrong. Hiding this wouldn't make it go away. There were other people in that room. What happened in that mosque would eventually come out. I would be faced with the fact that I had betrayed truth as well as a life supposedly spent in pursuit of it.
The Marines have built their proud reputation on fighting for freedoms like the one that allows me to do my job, a job that in some cases may appear to discredit them. But both the leaders and the grunts in the field like you understand that if you lower your standards, if you accept less, than less is what you'll become.
There are people in our own country that would weaken your institution and our nation –by telling you it's okay to betray our guiding principles by not making the tough decisions, by letting difficult circumstances turns us into victims or worse…villains.
So here, ultimately, is how it all plays out: when the Iraqi man in the mosque posed a threat, he was your enemy; when he was subdued he was your responsibility; when he was killed in front of my eyes and my camera -- the story of his death became my responsibility.
The burdens of war, as you so well know, are unforgiving for all of us.
THIS IS OUR FUTURE FOR FOUR (OR 14 OR 40) MORE YEARS
Thank God for sharp Dem eyes. Josh Marshall reports on another outrage:
Some things, like the DeLay Rule, are outrageous but not that surprising.
But what I'm about to describe is outrageous and almost literally unbelievable.
As you've probably heard, the congress is pushing through a big omnibus spending bill this weekend. And at the last minute, Republican leaders tried to slip in a provision that would give certain committee chairman and their staffers unlimited access to any American's tax return, with none of the standard privacy protections applying.
You heard that right.
They could pull anyone's tax return, read it over and do whatever they wanted with the information. Those who would have this power would be the chairs and ranking members of the senate and house appropriations committees and subcommittees and "their designees."
The key is that the privacy rights provisions, and criminal and civil penalties that go with them, don't apply for the appropriations committees.
At the last minute, Senate Democrats caught the language (keep in mind these omnibus bills can be like phone books), protested and the Republicans beat a hasty retreat. Some of it is discussed in this AP article at MSNBC, though they lamely call it a "tax-disclosure gaffe."
The Republicans are acting like it was all an innocent mistake. And it seems clear that there are Republican senators who didn't know anytihng about it and are pissed. But clearly this was no accident, unless provisions have started to write themselves.
Late Update: Here is the text of the provision in question (emphasis added)
"Hereinafter, notwithstanding any other provision of law governing the disclosure of income tax returns or return information, upon written request of the Chairman of the House or Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service shall allow agents designated by such Chairman access to Internal Revenue Service facilities and any tax returns or return information contained therein."
But we don't have to worry. Our Republican Senators are too busy trying to buy the president a yacht, underfunding No Child Left Behind and cutting pell grants to have time to sift through their enemies' (read: Democrats') tax returns. Oh, wait! Their designated agents (read: political consultants, committee staffers, private detectives...is there any limit? I don't see it in the language) can do it for them!