Sunday, October 31, 2004

Reformation Sunday

Reformation Sunday
Originally uploaded by mizm_sf.

Reformation Sunday! In honor of it, here's an article about the place where Martin Luther did his best thinking (thanks for the heads-up, C.A.W.). Here's a nice collection of readings by Luther and other reformers.
  • A dispatch from a Reality-Based Community:
    A comprehensive four-year study of warming in the Arctic shows that heat-trapping gases from tailpipes and smokestacks around the world are contributing to profound environmental changes, including sharp retreats of glaciers and sea ice, thawing of permafrost and shifts in the weather, the oceans and the atmosphere...

    The report says that "while some historical changes in climate have resulted from natural causes and variations, the strength of the trends and the patterns of change that have emerged in recent decades indicate that human influences, resulting primarily from increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, have now become the dominant factor."

    The Arctic "is now experiencing some of the most rapid and severe climate change on Earth," the report says, adding, "Over the next 100 years, climate change is expected to accelerate, contributing to major physical, ecological, social and economic changes, many of which have already begun."
  • Matthew Yglesias agrees with me about the impact of the new OBL tape; so does Digsby; and Richard Clarke; and, um, the Bush Campaign, who are calling it (with uncharacteristic candor) Osama's "little gift." I'm not saying it's going to sway the election to Bush; I'm just saying I think that's the intent. (Here's a little theory to chew on.)

    (Update: I wrote that paragraph last night (but didn't post it until today), and today's polls are showing that - regardless of the intent - it doesn't seem to be working; folks are either largely unmoved by it, or it just confirms their earlier position (and here).

  • It sounds remarkably shallow to call Farnaz Fassihi's Baghdad Diary a "must-read." But you really must read it. (You might have seen an excerpt of it earlier, either here on Left At The Altar or in an email that circulated widely.)

  • Look quickly! There are genuine reporters working for Knight Ridder!

  • An extra big thanks to the Packers, but we still have to do our part and GOTV!

Friday, October 29, 2004

  • Has bin Laden been reading the news, too? Seeing his single most effective recruiting tool flagging in the polls and the headlines, and heading into the last weekend before the elections, bin Laden releases a videotape to give everyone the jitters? Just a thought. Unlike some hopeful bloggers, I doubt that this helps Kerry. Yes, it reminds people that bin Laden is still alive, when he could have been captured three years ago - before the job was "outsourced," as Kerry says. But the Bushies have been working hard these three years to Keep America Fearful, and a fearful America is a trigger-happy America. They like a president who shoots first and asks questions later. (If ever.) Repugnicans are already trying to spin this into a "bin Laden endorses Kerry!" development, but be real: Bush is the best thing that ever happened to bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

  • How long had Bush been planning the invasion of Iraq? Since before he was president.

  • The Cult of Personality:
    "I want you to stand, raise your right hands," and recite "the Bush Pledge," said Florida state Sen. Ken Pruitt. The assembled mass of about 2,000 in this Treasure Coast town about an hour north of West Palm Beach dutifully rose, arms aloft, and repeated after Pruitt: "I care about freedom and liberty. I care about my family. I care about my country. Because I care, I promise to work hard to re-elect, re-elect George W. Bush as president of the United States."
  • The Block the Vote Republicans pulling out all the stops, folks. Please read this courtroom drama from Ohio; and more about it here (I'm with Atrios: let's see some indictments!). Also read this analysis from New Donkey. Jeanne of Body and Soul says she was listening to right wing talk radio (God bless her; I can't do it no matter how I try to sell myself on the anthropological importance of it) and heard a woman talking "about the epidemic of Democrats stealing and mutilating Bush-Cheney yard signs, and how you 'never' hear of Republicans doing that kind of thing, and it just goes to show you the difference in values between the two parties..." Indeed. Democrats are pulling up yard signs (if in fact they are) and Republicans are destroying voter registration forms, stealing absentee ballots from the elderly and low income voters, illegally challenging voter registrations in court, and trying to move polling centers without telling long-time residents (I'd hunt down my links for those examples, but I'm too tired; you can find them in many previous entries). Yeah, there's a difference in values, all right.

  • The Battle of the Bulge isn't over. A NASA photo analyst takes a look at the evidence, in Salon, and says "I am willing to stake my scientific reputation to the statement that Bush was wearing something under his jacket during the debate... This is not about a bad suit. And there's no way the bulge can be described as a wrinkled shirt."

  • A perspective on precision bombing -- The Lancet thinks up to 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed. Please read Juan Cole's post on this.

  • Steven Waldman (editor of Beliefnet) has a thoughtful article in Slate, pondering whether Bush helps or hinders the evangelical cause with his militant anti-intellectualism.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Lunar Eclipse from a window in San Francisco!

Lunar Eclipse from a window in San Francisco!

Did you catch last night's lunar eclipse? The next one comes in 2007. The pic above (or below, or wherever it shows up) is mine - taken through the bedroom window with a digital camera that isn't much for night work (I didn't bother trying to use it with my baby telescope - a Bushnell Voyager - because the three of us always end up arguing. But if anyone has rigged a Fuji Finepix 3800 to a telescope successfully, please share your secrets). For a much better selection of photos, take a look here.

  • I heard this with my own ears as I ironed my clothes this morning: While Bush was on the campaign trail trying to twist Kerry's explicit criticism of Bush into charge of "denigrating the action of our troops," his thug Guiliani was on TV... denigrating the action of our troops.

  • Another glorious news day for the Bush administration:
    WASHINGTON (AP) -- The FBI has begun investigating whether the Pentagon improperly awarded no-bid contracts to Halliburton Co., seeking an interview with a top Army contracting officer and collecting documents from several government offices.

    The line of inquiry expands an earlier FBI investigation into whether Halliburton overcharged taxpayers for fuel in Iraq, and it elevates to a criminal matter the election-year question of whether the Bush administration showed favoritism to Vice President Dick Cheney's former company.

    FBI agents this week sought permission to interview Bunnatine Greenhouse, the Army Corps of Engineers' chief contracting officer who went public last weekend with allegations that her agency unfairly awarded a Halliburton subsidiary no-bid contracts worth billions of dollars in Iraq, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press....
    And -- Videotape by an embedded news crew appears to show that the now-missing explosives WERE presnt immediately after the invasion (via Daily Kos), thus blowing the administration's "they could have been gone before we got there" trial balloon.

  • Harold Myerson:
    If John Kerry is elected next Tuesday, the tsunami of volunteer activity within the independent groups will be in large part responsible. Whether this tsunami can be bottled — whether this coalition will take on a permanent life of its own, become an enduring progressive presence in American politics — is a question of resources, opportunity, Zeitgeist and even law (the legal status of the 527s may be under attack if Bush wins). But the leaders of progressive organizations, Democratic elected officials, and the hundreds of thousands of phone bankers and precinct walkers, each for their own reasons, want the outpouring of 2004 to become a fixture of American politics. “Progressives have been waiting for decades for a citizen-based movement to happen,” says Ed Cyr. “One that’s independent of the party, that’s integrated, that’s effective.”

    “This is it,” says Cyr. “It’s happened.”
  • Alternet has a good feature on the possible reasons for the rise of pentacostalism and the relative decline of prostestantism. I'm still mulling it over, so I don't have much commentary on it. See what you think.

  • Jay Rosen thinks Sinclair's attempt to air "Stolen Honor" was just the beginning... (thanks, A)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

I hear from family that Bush is in Findlay, Ohio today. Not exactly a battleground part of Ohio. Maybe he needs a good dose of blindly adoring throngs to get him through these last campaign days. It's "hard work," you know, fending off the missiles of reality that keep threatening to penetrate Bush's carefully guarded cognitive air space. He must be needing a faithful flock of conservative white voters to give 'im some love.

Other stuff --
  • The BBC has an interesting story on the likely color of Christ's skin - spurred by a recent poll that named him the Top Black Icon.

  • The New Yorker's endorsement of Kerry and repudiation of Bush is quite good and very effective. Too many words, probably, for the Fox News crowd, but I sure wish a few of them would read it.

  • Don't forget the lunar eclipse tonight! If you're in the Bay Area, here's some info. If you're elsewhere, or want more general info about the event, check Stardate and/or Sky and Telescope. That Sky and Telescope feature includes some links to possible live webcasts of the event - which might be necessary for those of us presently enduring murky, wet, nighttime skies.

  • MoveOn.Org provides this link to My Polling Place, to check your polling location. I need to verify the info before I can vouch that it worked for me, because it didn't give me the same location I had last time.

  • Josh Marshall explains very succinctly why the GOP is trying so hard to suppress the minority vote.

  • Like Kos and General Wesley Clark, I don't agree with Bush very often. In fact, the last time I agreed with him was when he assured us his administration never stops looking for ways to harm us. But I'm 100% behind him on this: "... a political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not a person you want as your Commander in Chief."

  • Dare we hope... Is Delay going down? If his frantic smearing, just today, of the political blog Daily Kos is any indication, his evil flying monkeys are coming home hungry, and he knows it.

  • The LA Times story on potential voter fraud quotes a pretty wild assertion by an Ohio GOP rep:
    David Beckwith, a GOP spokesman in Ohio, said there were a number of "Democratic front groups" holding registration drives in the region and that "the fraud accusations have been worse than in 40 years."

    He said multiple Democratic registration forms were signed "in the same hand," Democratic signatures were traded for "cash or crack cocaine," and a woman's husband, dead for 20 years, was registered in the Cleveland area.

    "This has been sloppy and haphazard," Beckwith said.
    Any proof of that, reporters? See, Dems have recovered actual stacks of discarded voter registrations and secret emails to back up their allegations.

  • Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman describe 12 ways the Bushies are trying to steal the Ohio election (the last one, though, was recently reversed).

  • A reminder that Bush does not appeal to all evangelical Christians...
    Some, such as Wendy Skroch, a 51-year-old mother of three who prays regularly at the evangelical Elmbrook Church in this heavily Republican Milwaukee suburb, blame Bush for failing to fix a "broken" healthcare system and for "selling off the environment to the highest bidder."

    Others are like Joe Urcavich, pastor of the nondenominational evangelical Green Bay Community Church, where more than 2,000 people worship each Sunday. He is undecided, troubled by the bloodshed in the Middle East.

    "It's hard for me to say that Christians should be marching against abortion and carrying signs, and then turn around and giving a pep rally for the war in Iraq without even contemplating that hundreds and hundreds of people are being killed on a regular basis over there," Urcavich said.

    "I'm very antiabortion, but the reality is the right to life encompasses a much broader field than just abortion," he added. "If I'm a proponent of life, I have to think about the consequences of not providing prescription drugs to seniors or sending young men off to war."


    Within the evangelical community, the complicated fabric of politics was underscored this month when the board of the National Assn. of Evangelicals unanimously approved a document laying out a new "Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility."

    The document embraces traditional opposition to abortion, gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research. But it also mirrors aspects of the Democratic Party platform, quoting scripture to endorse policies that encourage racial and economic equity and promote a cleaner environment.

    "You can't shoehorn the Bible into one political party's ideology," said Richard Cizik, a vice president of the association and an author of the report.
    Obviously, I'm "cherry-picking" paragraphs to make the point, but the whole article is pretty interesting.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Did you notice? I finally figured out how to stick "bullets" in here to delineate items. It helps greatly on those days when I'm too braindead to think of a little tagline for everything...

  • Apparently campaign reporters aren't reading CJR's Campaign Desk, because they're not getting any better at reporting on the campaign. But then again, with sarcastic smackdowns like this one, I'd probably be afraid to read it, too - for fear of finding myself the featured "stenographer." But CJR is right. Whatever happened to reporting in the old research and fact-checking sense of the word?

  • George Will forgot himself a few times recently, but this latest column proves he's the same "clueless" aristocrat he always was: "Should the electoral system be twisted in knots, paralyzed and exposed to vast fraud just to accommodate people too clueless to show up at the proper polling place?" George, all undue respect, "cluelessness" has little to do with it; one side, your side, is systematically and even illegally disenfranchising voters by physically destroying voter registrations, moving polling locations, and stealing absentee ballots.

    On a related note, in conversations at work and home, I've been describing the spectacle of this election so far (re: coordinated repugnican efforts at intimidation and blatant fraud) as coming perilously close to what we'd see in a "banana republic." I'm not the only one. If you need more evidence of the degree of organization these thugs are achieving, check out the Guardian feature picked up by Daily Kos:
    Two e-mails, prepared for the executive director of the Bush campaign in Florida and the campaign's national research director in Washington DC, contain a 15-page so-called "caging list".

    It lists 1,886 names and addresses of voters in predominantly black and traditionally Democrat areas of Jacksonville, Florida.

    An elections supervisor in Tallahassee, when shown the list, told Newsnight: "The only possible reason why they would keep such a thing is to challenge voters on election day."

    Ion Sancho, a Democrat, noted that Florida law allows political party operatives inside polling stations to stop voters from obtaining a ballot.

    They may then only vote "provisionally" after signing an affidavit attesting to their legal voting status.

    Mass challenges have never occurred in Florida. Indeed, says Mr Sancho, not one challenge has been made to a voter "in the 16 years I've been supervisor of elections."

    "Quite frankly, this process can be used to slow down the voting process and cause chaos on election day; and discourage voters from voting."

    Sancho calls it "intimidation." And it may be illegal.

    In Washington, well-known civil rights attorney, Ralph Neas, noted that US federal law prohibits targeting challenges to voters, even if there is a basis for the challenge, if race is a factor in targeting the voters.

    The list of Jacksonville voters covers an area with a majority of black residents.

    When asked by Newsnight for an explanation of the list, Republican spokespersons claim the list merely records returned mail from either fundraising solicitations or returned letters sent to newly registered voters to verify their addresses for purposes of mailing campaign literature.

    Republican state campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker Fletcher stated the list was not put together "in order to create" a challenge list, but refused to say it would not be used in that manner.

    Rather, she did acknowledge that the party's poll workers will be instructed to challenge voters, "Where it's stated in the law."

    There was no explanation as to why such clerical matters would be sent to top officials of the Bush campaign in Florida and Washington.
  • Fiddling while the planet burns... Which reminds me - have any of our readers read Boiling Point? I'm waiting for a cheap used copy to turn up somwhere. (FYI, Book Browse has provided a very long excerpt from chapter 5 that reviews the Bush administration's arrogant dismissal of the Kyoto Treaty, and the efforts of states and other nations to show some policy-making leadership, and provides some very sobering reality checks on the rise and spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria.)

  • Like rats from a sinking ship...

  • The Revealer liked Nicholas Kristoff's recent column, too, and adds this:
    Culture warriors, a request: Before you rail against The Revealer, do us this favor: Open up your Bible and review all the relevant passages -- all of them, not just Leviticus and Paul. Take another look at 1 Samuel, with the same sophisticated eyes that allow you to perceive homosexual innuendos throughout Hollywood. Revisit Ruth. Consult the work of at least one biblical scholar who doesn't simply confirm your opinion, whatever it is.

    What's the worst that could happen? You might conclude that the question doesn't have such a clear answer. You might strengthen your argument by engaging thoughtfully with evidence to the contrary. Or, we suppose, you might end up demanding that women be veiled.
  • Hmm -- I turned the TV to "mute" when the interview with Bush started this morning, so I missed this rather significant...flip-flop.

  • In the newspaper endorsement sweepstakes, The Cleveland Plain Dealer - which made news over the weekend when its publisher Alex Machaskee said he would overrule his editorial board and force them to endorse Bush - decided not to make any endorsement. I think we can count that one in the Kerry column!

  • Eric Alterman today:
    But of course Bush and Cheney are not superheroes; they are, collectively, the head of the single most incompetent, ideological and fanatical administration in U.S. history. When they promise to achieve something genuinely difficult, you can bet the kid’s college fund that they are either deluding themselves or lying, quite possibly both...
    He's got more from his Book on Bush about numerous nuclear sites left unsecured immediately after the invasion of Iraq.

  • We can all start watching Fox News now. Mr. Murdoch says it shows no favoritism toward Bush.

  • Go to The Progress Report to get the clickable version of this report; I'm just pasting the plain text below. But here's what you need to think about if you were thinking of staying home on November 2 and letting George Bush pick Renqhuist's presumed replacement:
    The Scalia/Thomas Majority

    Chief Justice William Rehnquist underwent surgery yesterday related to "a recent diagnosis of thyroid cancer." Rehnquist's serious condition – even as he is expected to return to the bench on Monday – "gave fresh prominence to the future of the Supreme Court." Bush has said publicly that the Supreme Court justices he admires are arch conservatives Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. If re-elected, it is possible Bush could get three or more appointments, "enough to forge a new majority that would turn the extreme Scalia-Thomas worldview into the law of the land." The result: "Abortion might be a crime in most states. Gay people could be thrown in prison for having sex in their homes. States might be free to become mini-theocracies, endorsing Christianity and using tax money to help spread the gospel. The Constitution might no longer protect inmates from being brutalized by prison guards. Family and medical leave and environmental protections could disappear."

    A SCALIA/THOMAS MAJORITY WOULD OVERTURN ROE V. WADE: In the second presidential debate Bush was asked, given the opportunity, who he would appoint to the Supreme Court. Bush responded that he wouldn't pick a judge who supported "the Dred Scott case, which is where judges, years ago, said that the Constitution allowed slavery because of personal property rights." Why would President Bush reference Dred Scott v. Sandford, which hasn't been good law since the end of the Civil War? Because "to the Christian right, 'Dred Scott' turns out to be a code word for 'Roe v. Wade.'" Dred Scott has been compared to Roe v. Wade by prominent conservatives such as George Will, Peggy Noonan and Michael Novak. By referencing Dred Scott, Bush made it clear that "he would never, ever appoint a Supreme Court justice who condoned Roe." If Roe v. Wade is overturned, "there's a good chance that 30 states, home to more than 70 million women, will outlaw abortions within a year; some states may take only weeks." (For more on Bush's misuse of the Dred Scott decision read this new column from American Progress).

    A SCALIA/THOMAS MAJORITY WOULD CRIMINALIZE PRIVATE SEXUAL CONDUCT: If Scalia and Thomas controlled the Court, "states could once again criminalize private, consensual conduct between adults, and could prevent local governments from enacting even the most basic anti-discrimination protections for gay men and lesbians." Last year, when the Court ruled that the police violated a gay man's right to liberty when they raided his home and arrested him for having sex there, Scalia and Thomas sided with the police.

    A SCALIA/THOMAS MAJORITY WOULD END FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE: The Family and Medical Leave Act "guarantees most workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a loved one." Last year, the Court upheld the law, but Scalia and Thomas voted to strike it down, arguing that Congress exceeded its power in passing the law.

    A SCALIA/THOMAS MAJORITY WOULD ALLOW STATE-SPONSORED RELIGION: Justice Thomas has suggested that "despite many Supreme Court rulings to the contrary...the First Amendment prohibition on establishing a religion may not apply to the states." If that view prevailed, "states could adopt particular religions and use tax money to proselytize for them."

    A SCALIA/THOMAS MAJORITY WOULD LEGALIZE SEX DISCRIMINATION: If Scalia and Thomas were in charge, "public universities, such as the Virginia Military Institute, would be able to discriminate against women in admissions." Also, federal law "could no longer be used to protect students from sexual harassment or other types of discrimination at the hands of other students."

    A SCALIA/THOMAS MAJORITY WOULD LEGALIZE BRUTALITY AGAINST PRISONERS: A recent case considered a Louisiana inmate who "was shackled and then punched and kicked by two prison guards while a supervisor looked on." The beating left the inmate "with a swollen face, loosened teeth and a cracked dental plate." The Court ruled that the inmate's treatment violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Scalia and Thomas dissented, arguing "the Eighth Amendment was not violated by the 'insignificant' harm the inmate suffered."

    A SCALIA/THOMAS MAJORITY WOULD GUT ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIONS: A Scalia/Thomas majority would make short work of the law that protects our air, water and land. Scalia and Thomas, for example, voted to strip the EPA "of the authority to prevent damaging air pollution by industries when state agencies improperly fail to do so." Already, federal judges appointed by Bush "were less sympathetic to environmentalists' pleadings than those appointed by previous Republican presidents... ruling in favor of environmental challenges 17 percent of the time."
    While we're at it, we could give Theresa Chambers her job back on November 3.

Monday, October 25, 2004

(I haven't been able to log into Blogger until now - that's all day. I know beggars can't be choosers, and Blogger IS free, but there are other freebies out there, and I'm investigating them.)

A digression before moving on to the story of the day. As I've mentioned a few times, I'm back in school parttime. Since I'm still (for the moment) working fulltime, there are some logistical kinks: I work until 7:30 or so at night, come home, and then try to do my assigned readings for my two classes before I fall asleep. Then on Saturday and Sunday, after chores, church, etc., I re-read all the stuff I read at night during the previous week - because I don't remember any of it.

This leaves the problem of recopying and reviewing my copious sanskrit notes to... well, never. So one of my last fulltime salaried purchases was a very cheap (counting rebates) and very light Averatec laptop computer to use in class (almost everyone else uses a computer; I look like a graying luddite by comparison). Among other fun things, it has an 80 gigabyte harddrive, which is more space than I can fill in a very, very long time. It came with Works, which many of you may know is the stripped-down Office-like suite from Microsoft. I own Office, and I figured I could always load it onto the laptop. But having an empty 80 gigabyte harddrive is kind of like having a new car (which I've had once, too): there's a brief spell when you take leave of the Reality-Based Community and believe you can keep the thing free of clutter and want very much to do so.

You delete junk files more rapidly, you run the defrag utility every couple weeks and it returns messages that say, basically, "oh, come on!" It's like not letting the dogs or plants or friends-bearing-coffee into your new car. Eventually, you re-enter Reality. But I'm in that special Clutter Free Mental Zone, right now, so I don't want to load all my favorite space-hogging programs onto the new computer. Besides, I thought, surely Office can read Works documents, even if Works can't read Office.

What was I thinking? This is Microsoft, for crying out loud! Of course it can't! Because my printer isn't working, I sent the documents to myself to print at work (shhhh), and discovered I need a special program to translate the documents. The point of this long story? It's my community service for the day: the program you need, should you find yourself in a similar fix, is here.


It's probably just killing the Bushies that they can't keep the media conversation on truly important things like the fact that John Kerry reminded us all that Mary Cheney is gay, or that he forgot who all was at a meeting he attended, or that his wife forgot Laura Bush was a teacher and a librarian once. Because these are the things on which elections turn! But they keep losing the headlines in a very big way. I think NYT "broke" today's big story on the missing 380 tons of super explosives but Juan Cole reminds us - it's not the first time since the invasion that things terrorists might like have gone missing. Confident that everyone is as gullible as a Bush supporter, the Pentagon first floated the "explanation" that they didn't tell us about this sooner because they didn't want the enemy to know. That would be the enemy who presumably took the stuff? Josh Marshall observed that though the administration's press 'droid Scott McClellan says it's the fault of the Iraqi interim government - because they had responsibility for securing the site - the stuff's been missing for a year (and Condi claims to have only learned about it last month?), which is - oh - about a year before the Iraqi interim government took over. Actually, Marshall has been tracking this story since it broke and has some interesting analyses and connections.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

I happened to catch Kenneth Branagh's "Henry V" on KQED Saturday night. A wonderfully adapted production, I thought, right up until it veered strangely into a romantic comedy at the end. That was a little jarring. It left the unshakeable impression that Henry had invaded France and sacrificed tens of thousands (of their men, not his) to win Catherine's hand in matrimony. Did I miss something? Or, more likely, forget something about the play? It is sitting on my bookshelf, but I dare not read anything that hasn't been assigned by one of my professors this semester. (I'm not even doing terribly well at that...)

I survived my first midterm in 15+ years, but couldn't summon enough brain cells to organize my various links and post them this weekend. So, apologies for the more jumbled than usual hodge-podge that follows. I've been saving stuff up since Friday.

Without further ado ---

  • I know we're all very busy right now, but a little something to think about after November 2? We're using up the planet. Really.

  • I always worry when Nicholas Kristof gets "off topic" and writes about anything other than Africa, because he's such a weeny when he gets on his "liberals-and-conservatives-could-be-friends-if-liberals-would-just-let-conservatives-have-their-way" kick, but he does a decent job discussing biblical cherry-picking.

  • Are you in or around Ohio on November 2? Can you vote early and then help get people to and in and out of the polls? Republicans are paying thousands of recruits $100 to intimidate newly registered voters at the polls. Dems are trying to counter the ploy. Oh, and in Florida, unidentified "partisans" are knocking on doors (of low-income, minority and elderly residents... hmmm...), announcing that they are from the Elections office, and offering to hand deliver the resident's absentee ballot for them.

  • State media conglomerate Sinclair backed down and showed what was apparently a relatively balanced treatment of the anti-Kerry documentary. The power of consumer persuasion! They lost many advertising dollars, but Mark Hyman has probably guaranteed a nice appointment for himself should Bush manage to return to the White House.

  • Here's a great fact sheet to print out and leave in strategic locations.

  • I wanted to link to this when I posted about the US finally seizing Zarqawi's financial assets, but I couldn't find the link. Kevin Drum put it up again, though, noting that it's worth remembering from time to time: the US could have taken out Zarqawi in June 2002, but the administration chose not to, fearing it would undermine its case for attacking Iraq.

  • Another one bites the dust? Scott McConnell tells The American
    Conservative "Kerry's the One:"
    Bush has behaved like a caricature of what a right-wing president is supposed to be, and his continuation in office will discredit any sort of conservatism for generations.

    The launching of an invasion against a country that posed no threat to the U.S., the doling out of war profits and concessions to politically favored corporations, the financing of the war by ballooning the deficit to be passed on to the nation’s children, the ceaseless drive to cut taxes for those outside the middle class and working poor: it is as if Bush sought to resurrect every false 1960s-era left-wing cliché about predatory imperialism and turn it into administration policy. Add to this his nation-breaking immigration proposal - Bush has laid out a mad scheme to import immigrants to fill any job where the wage is so low that an American can’t be found to do it - and you have a presidency that combines imperialist Right and open-borders Left in a uniquely noxious cocktail.
  • The Washington Post attempts to measure progress in the War On Terror:
    As the war on terrorism enters its fourth year, its results are sufficiently diffuse -- and obscured in secrecy -- to resist easy measure.

    Interpretations of the public record are also polarized by the claims and counterclaims of the presidential campaign. Bush has staked his reelection on an argument that defense of the U.S. homeland requires unyielding resolve to take the fight to the terrorists. His opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), portrays the Bush strategy as based on false assumptions and poor choices, particularly when it came to Iraq.

    The contention that the Iraq invasion was an unwise diversion in confronting terrorism has been central to Kerry's critique of Bush's performance. But this account -- drawn largely from interviews with those who have helped manage Bush's offensive -- shows how the debate over that question has echoed within the ranks of the administration as well, even among those who support much of the president's agenda...
    Now, this wouldn't have anything to do with an upcoming US election, would it? --
    Two months ago, a team of soldiers from a highly classified special operations squadron arrived in the southeastern mountains of Afghanistan, along the Pakistani border. They were back to hunt bin Laden, many of them after a two-year gap...
    Bush told us he eliminated Al Qaeda, but --
    Early this year, the CIA's then-station chief in Kabul reported a resurgence of Taliban and al Qaeda forces in three border provinces.
    And then Bush says Kerry doesn't understand the terrorist threat? --
    Jihadists "metastasized into a lot of little cancers in a lot of different countries," Gordon said recently.

    They formed "groups, operating under the terms of a movement, who don't have to rely on al Qaeda itself for funding, for training or for authority. [They operate] at a level that doesn't require as many people, doesn't require them to be as well-trained, and it's going to be damned hard to get in front of that."
    Finally, remember how Ron Suskind quoted Rev. Jim Wallis telling Bush about terrorists, "Unless we drain the swamp of injustice in which the mosquitoes of terrorism breed, we'll never defeat the threat of terrorism" ? --
    The formal White House strategy for combating terrorism says that the United States will "use every instrument of national power -- diplomatic, economic, law enforcement, financial, information, intelligence, and military" to triumph. A central criticism in the Sept. 11 commission's report is that the efforts at nonmilitary suasion overseas lack funding, energy from top leaders and what the commission's executive director, Philip D. Zelikow, called "gravitas."

    Most officials interviewed said Bush has not devised an answer to a problem then-CIA Director George J. Tenet identified publicly on Feb. 11, 2003 -- "the numbers of societies and peoples excluded from the benefits of an expanding global economy, where the daily lot is hunger, disease, and displacement -- and that produce large populations of disaffected youth who are prime recruits for our extremist foes."
  • Two especially relevant Nonsequiturs, here and here!

  • Now, about those elevated terror risk announcements the administration has been issuing since August... "Little Evidence of Qaeda Plot Time to Vote"

  • Finally (at least until I catch up on today's news), I'm just curious -- Every single news segment I see of Bush at a campaign event seems to run the same part of his speech: that stupid "he can run, but he can't hide" line. They show it so often I'm starting to think they get paid for it. But my burning question is: does he actually use that line at every single event? Is it really such a crowd pleaser?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Unreality-Based community --
A new study confirms and expands on what a study last month warned: Bush backers are frighteningly ill-informed about their candidate's policies and stands, and seem to project their own beliefs onto him. You know, I want to think better of Bush supporters; I want to think that they work as hard as I do to educate themselves on issues and world events and projected outcomes and policy objectives, and that despite that, we have very different views and arrive at very different conclusions. But they're making it harder for me. I'm used to asking "What are they thinking?!" Now I'm starting to ask "ARE they thinking?!" Great legions of people who get their "information" from Fox News, the RNC, Bush/Cheney campaign events, and the pulpits preaching Rovespeak, and from their own fantasy image of Bush -- they will decide our future if we fail to get out (and protect!) the vote.

Yeah, we knew that --
A federal judge says Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell can't be trusted, and went so far as to say he "apparently seeks to accomplish the same result in Ohio in 2004 that occurred in Florida in 2000."

We knew that, too --
About that "slam-dunk"? George Tenet apparently told an audience that the war in Iraq was "wrong." (Via Josh Marshall, here's the original story.)
A friend recently got back from a trip to the south of France and emails the following:
"I watched the news on French and British television, including CNN International. CNN International's coverage of what was going on in Iraq presented a far different war than the one we're being shown here in the U.S. Disturbing images of bloodied and mangled women and children -- not just the usual angry Iraqi insurgents waving guns and shouting -- but innocent civilians; weeping, devastated men and women wondering when will it stop. These are the real images of this war and everyone in the civilized world is seeing them...except us."
She also sent this article from the Guardian:
General Odom said: "This is far graver than Vietnam. There wasn't as much at stake strategically, though in both cases we mindlessly went ahead with the war that was not constructive for US aims. But now we're in a region far more volatile, and we're in much worse shape with our allies."


General Odom remarked that the tension between the Bush administration and the senior military officers over Iraq was worse than any he has ever seen with any previous government, including Vietnam. "I've never seen it so bad between the office of the secretary of defence and the military. There's a significant majority believing this is a disaster.

The two parties whose interests have been advanced have been the Iranians and al-Qaida. Bin Laden could argue with some cogency that our going into Iraq was the equivalent of the Germans in Stalingrad. They defeated themselves by pouring more in there. Tragic."
Coincidental joke currently zipping around the internet (thanks, A): Q: "What's the difference between the war in Iraq and the war in Viet Nam?" A: "George Bush had a plan for getting out of Viet Nam."

The Moral Urgency of Electing John Kerry --
Beliefnet has a column by Rev. James Forbes, "The Moral Urgency of Electing John Kerry." He argues that a vote for Kerry stands for more than a vote against Bush; he shows how Kerry's positions and behavior align more truthfully with what he calls Prophetic Justice Principles.

But another good reason to go to that page is to rock the vote: A sidebar poll asks "Which candidate best exemplifies Christian values?" and when I voted, Bush was polling at 64% and Kerry at 36%. I don't have time to rant, but this is appalling. I guess it's too much to hope that a few fundamentalists and right-leaning evangelicals will read that Ayelish McGarvey article I pointed to yesterday?

The Bigs begin to realize there's such a thing as a "liberal Christian" --
WaPo's EJ Dionne:
Thus may some good come out of this often rancid campaign: The myth that religion lives only on the political right is being exploded, and honest debate among believers will again be a normal part of the nation's public life. That's a benefit to democracy and to faith communities, too.
And the New York Times:
"No one says these Christians are as well organized, well financed or politically formidable as conservative Christians. But they are rousing people, mainly in areas that lean Democratic, around issues of social justice like the environment, the war and, most often, poverty."
(After the elections, we'll concentrate on changing that first sentence.)

I'm certainly no fan of Pat Robertson --
but I have to wonder if the Rovians are off their game a little this week -- if they've been worrying about those missing 4 million evangelicals, is implying that Robertson lied about his conversation with Bush going to win them over? (Funny: Digsby asks "Can this marriage be saved?")

Ah, that Liberal Media Bias --
Where Kerry-up-3 points on Bush is described as a "dead heat," but Bush-up-1 is "opening a lead."

Ok, they're not ALL bad --
Republicans for Kerry. (Update: former KY Senator Marlow Cook is on that list, but you really must read his terrific editorial.) (Thanks for pointing it out, A.)

The Civil Rights President --
"This report finds that President Bush has neither exhibited leadership on pressing civil rights issues, nor taken actions that matched his words." Blumenthal on Bush's Civil Rights record and a notably underreported report, "Redefining Rights in America-The Civil Rights Record of the George W. Bush Administration, 2001-2004."

Stolen Air Time --
Sinclair is beginning to buckle (but that's no reason to let up on the pressure) From the WaPo:
"Under mounting political, legal and financial pressure, Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. yesterday backed away from its plan to carry a film attacking John F. Kerry's Vietnam War record, saying it would air only portions of the movie in an hour-long special scheduled for Friday."
We won't get fooled again --
Democrats are leading the early voting in Nevada.

(And for the record, I'm a "proud member of the reality-based community" too!)

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

West Wing returns tonight!

I don't get to spend much time online today, but there are a few things I want to share.

First, please read this Guardian column by Markos Moulitsas, who runs Daily Kos. Reading it will help you grasp - in a way that sporadic individual postings (and even that clearing house I pointed you to recently, which is run by Daily Kos) do not - the scale of election fraud the Republicans are trying to accomplish. Read it and pass it around!

Then read The End of Democracy. (Thanks, J.) Perlstein wonders why no one in Washington is fighting this administration's assault on democracy:
...Democratic insiders use politics to explain their inaction away. They've seen the focus groups: Accusations of a president draining the lifeblood from democracy just won't play in Peoria. "It's what the folks in this business, we call an 'elite argument,' " says Jeff Shesol, who was a speechwriter for President Clinton and whose firm, West Wing Writers, develops messages for some of the most prominent Democratic campaigns. "It pitches too high to reach the mass electorate."

Julian Epstein, another Democratic consultant and frequent talking head, puts it more simply. "People will think you're whining," he says.

Peter Fenn, a Washington advertising guru who frequently represents the Democratic side on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, says reaching voters on this point is hopeless: "Their eyes glaze over when you deal with process kind of issues."


So much for using the Democratic presidential campaign as any kind of check on the corruption of the democratic process. The consultants have spoken; they've decided it's not worth the fight.
You really should be frightened. Read the sidebar, too.

This story broke in the LA Times yesterday. The Bush administration is suppressing a critical, name-naming report on the security/intelligence failures leading up to 9/11 -- until after the election.

The Sinclair bureau chief who criticized plans to air "Stolen Honor" was fired.

Juan Cole shows how Bush's aggression in Iraq is helping to spread Islamic fundamentalism.

Prospect's Ayelish McGarvey takes on the topic of Bush's religiosity in a way that no journalist has dared:
Like no president in recent memory, George W. Bush wields his Christian righteousness like a flaming sword.

Indeed, hundreds of news stories and nearly half a dozen books have evinced a White House that, according to BBC Washington correspondent Justin Webb, “hums to the sound of prayer.” Yet for the past four years the mainstream press has trod lightly, rarely venturing beyond the biographical to probe the depth, or sincerity, of Bush's Christian beliefs. Bush has no doubt benefited from the media’s reluctance; Newsweek, for example, in the heat of the run-up to the Iraq War, ran a cover package on the president’s faith under the headline “Bush and God” -- a story whose timing lent the war the aura of having heavenly sanction. Even lefty believers like Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners, and Amy Sullivan, journalist and Democratic adviser, politely maintain that Bush’s faith is strong, if misguided.


This is a huge mistake, because when judged by his deeds, an entirely different picture emerges: Bush does not demonstrate a life of faith by his actions, and neither Methodists, evangelicals, nor fundamentalists can rightly call him brother. In fact, the available evidence raises serious questions about whether Bush is really a Christian at all.
Read the whole thing. The Revealer has some additional thoughts about it.

Lastly -- I'm taking a "vacation day" to study for my midterms, and I just happened to stare at the TV while I heated up a piece of leftover pizza (using a trick I learned in Cook's Digest: warm it up on the stove, in a covered frying pan, and the crust stays crunchy while the cheese melts!). A robot named "Asimo" was visiting "Regis and Kelly" and I gotta tell you... Well, I burned my pizza. Watch some of the movies on Asimo's web site, and tell me it doesn't freak you out a little.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

I think the very best movie/theater/book reviews are the ones that not only give you a sense of the production, but help you connect it to history or politics or culture, to the works of other artists, to your own life, etc. My good friend Cristina White has written several such reviews, which she quietly circulates among friends. This time, she wrote one for Left At The Altar and I'm honored to share it with you:

by Cristina L. White
Friday 15 October 2004

Last night I saw Ellen McLaughlin's adaptation of The Persians at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley. This tragedy by Aeschylus is the first extant full length play in the western canon. It is an account of the stunning defeat suffered by the Persian Navy at Salamis, when King Xerxes brought an overwhelming force against the City of Athens, and saw his navy decimated by the Greeks. The playwright Aeschylus spent his youth in the military. As a soldier in the Athenian Army, he fought with the winning side in two wars against the Persians, at Salamis and at Marathon. But his play is not about winning or losing; it is about the horrific misery of war, for both the victor and the vanquished.

In March 2003, when America invaded Iraq, Tony Randall was the artistic director of the National Actors' Theatre. He made a decision of political conscience, and canceled the entire spring season in order to mount The Persians. As I watched this brilliantly written tragedy unfold, I had to keep reminding myself that it describes an actual war that occurred roughly 3000 years ago. It often seems a thinly disguised dramatic rendition of our pitiable situation in Iraq, for there is so much in the play that echoes our own time. King Xerxes' father, Darius, led an unsuccessful war against Athens at Marathon. Some years later, when Xerxes mobilized his armada for an invasion against Athens, it was not to defend Persia. He went to win the war that his father had been unable to win.

There is a moment in the play when the Queen Mother, Atossa, calls on the ghost of her husband. Darius comes to her from the dead, and asks how these thousands were lost, how did this war come about? Atossa answers that Xerxes does not bear the blame alone. She points to his advisors, who were incessant in their praise, and made the young king think he was a god who could do no wrong. I thought of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, all those who urged Bush forward to a preemptive war. It is impossible to see this play and not think of Iraq, impossible to hear the Messenger cry out the names of those cut down in their prime at Salamis, and not remember all those who have fallen in Iraq, never to know the seasons of their life.

But after the heartbreak of watching this tragedy in which there are so many astonishing parallels, I felt the greatest misery in what is most different between the account of that war in Athens and this one in Iraq. At the end of the play King Xerxes returns to his home. His splendid battle uniform is bedraggled by dust and dirt and blood. He is full of grief, in agony over the thousands who have fallen in his war. His voice and his body are broken with sorrow.

I thought of George W. Bush, swaggering onto that battleship to proclaim Mission Accomplished. I remembered him strutting as he took the stage at the Republican National Convention, full of pomp and circumstance. I recalled him leaning into the camera and grinning during the debates, declaring that freedom is on the march in Iraq. This man, who has never felt anything more painful than a bad hangover, never had his flesh broken except for scratches caused by errant back brush on his Texas ranch, never faced anything more frightening than the prospect of being choked by a pretzel, this man sent our thousands to Iraq, to kill and be killed. This self-declared "war President" is so fearful of the reality of war that he will not allow the American people to see the flag draped coffins of our kith and kin and countrymen, those who died for us, all of them, forever gone. So far from battle, far from the torn and bloodied bodies, far from the devastation of American and Iraqi lives lost, George W. Bush struts before us, untouched by sorrow. As the cradle of civilization is each day destroyed by the war machine, he confidently insists that the world is a better place because he has led us, and he wants to lead us still, and again. This son of power and privilege and wealth, this boy-man who has never known the horror of war, his suit and his shirt perfectly clean, George W. Bush swaggers onto the world stage, and grins. That is our tragedy.

(copyright 2004, Cristina L. White)

Monday, October 18, 2004

Proving once again that Bush is a "uniter, not a divider" -
The man behind the bulk of the carnage in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has apparently teamed up with Osama bin Laden (remember him?) (maybe you'll recognize him when he's miraculously captured during the next two weeks).

"Stop fact-checking us!" --
Apparently stated with a straight face: "The Bush campaign should be able to make an argument without having it reflexively dismissed as distorted or inaccurate by the biggest papers in the country," says spokesman Steve Schmidt. Meanwhile, the Post suddenly realizes that there is an effective difference between exaggerating the truth, and telling bald-faced lies (guess which campaign specializes in the latter?).

Perhaps it's time for a constitutional amendment --
stating that no one with a sitting state governor in the immediate or extended family member can run for president? Seems pretty logical to me.

Geez, poor Tom Delay just can't get a break --
First, he gets a "tsk tsk" by the ethics committee (and is incensed by it) and now his pet redistricting scheme is not merely being rubberstamped?!

This is rich --
Putin urges voters to vote for Bush!

GOP Block the Vote --
The efforts intensify.

Bush gets a little election help from the UK --
The US has asked the UK for more troops, and they're actually "considering" it.

The Emperor has no reason --
A senior Republican, experienced and wise in the ways of Washington, told me last Friday that he does not necessarily accept that Bush is unstable, but what is clear, he added, is that he is now manifestly unfit to be President.
I'd quibble with their regurgitation of RNC anti-Kerry talking points --
But an uncommon (for a Republican paper) voice of reason can be heard in The Tampa Tribune's decision not to endorse Bush this year.

Just brilliant --
You can all go back to carrying guns and other weapons onto Dulles and Reagan National Airport property, now. Doesn't that make you feel safer? (thanks, J)
A brief rant: I just noticed that Blogger published two versions of my last posting, so I took the second one down. The first one, you see, "crashed" and didn't show up anywhere, so I gave up and re-entered it (with a bit of muttered cursing, since I often add things to my draft once I'm in Blogger, and those are lost if Blogger crashes). This happens a lot, and I'm getting miffed. Don't be surprised if I move the blog to another address in the not-so-distant future. I'll keep you "posted."
Not surprisingly, bits of that eye-opening Suskind article are showing up everywhere today, including Kerry's stump speech. The (particularly) arrogant Bush aide quoted in the article has certainly gifted our lexicon; I've seen his "reality-based community" designation dozens of times today - including at the top of Matthew Yglesias' blog. But Jeff Sharlet, of The Revealer has an interesting take. He asks, "is George W. Bush the first magical president of the United States?"
What’s surprising about Suskind’s summary of Bush’s “walk,” to borrow an evangelical term, is how small a role Jesus Christ seems to play in it. God gets a few cameos, but even he’s a supporting player. Front and center, though, is faith.


Believing, it seems, is more important to the President than the substance of his belief. Jesus Christ’s particular teachings -- well, those are good, too. But what really matters is that if you believe you can do something, you can.

What Suskind misses, and what Bush’s more orthodox Christian supporters seem to dodge, is that this is not Christian doctrine by any definition. It is, in fact, a key element of the broad, heterodox movement known as New Age religion.


Christian fundamentalism, meanwhile, is the child of the Enlightenment, a functionalist view of faith that’s metaphorically “scientific.” It's scripture as read by a cranky engineer who just wants to know how God works. The Bible, for a fundamentalist, isn’t powerful literature demanding our ever-changing discernment; it’s an instruction manual.

But Bush, we’re told time and again by supporters and detractors, is not a details man. Not much of a reader, either. He is a “heart” man, as pollster John Zogby’s Wizard of Oz characterization of the candidates would have it (Kerry the Tin Man, all brains and no heart, vs. Bush the Scarecrow, nothing but heart and straw).


In this particular sense, Bush does seem to be a descendent of the Enlightenment: He’s Rousseau’s noble savage, operating on the pure, animal instincts that’re true because they are, and are because they’re true. The noble savage does not live in what Bush’s aide contemptuously calls “the reality-based community”; he is in and is of a “nature” more real than reality, which, in an unexpected nod to postmodernism, Bush believers seem to dismiss as a social construct.


Suskind reads McKinnon's comment (mizm note: referring to ‘When you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it’s good for us. Because you know what [Bush supporters] don’t like? They don’t like you!’) as an attack on snobbery; in fact, it’s an angry defense of positive thinking, of creating one’s own reality. Bush believers long for absolutes, but they don't care about empirical definitions. They're not literalists, which means they're not Christian fundamentalists. They don't trust language, which is why they read clunky, soulless translations of scripture, when they read it at all. Bush himself doesn't study the Bible; he samples phrases and invokes them like spells.


Bush feels. The press, so far, does not. In grappling with Bush’s presidency, it has expanded its range, developed a more nuanced understanding of traditional Christian fundamentalism, recognized liberal evangelicalism, and acknowledged the limitations of Enlightenment thinking. But it still can’t account for the kind of magic that says, If you believe you can do something -- become president despite losing the popular vote, launch a war without evidence, and maybe, if you REALLY believe, get re-elected anyway -- you can.
Matthew Yglesias today:
Suskind's article along with other pieces of evidence of what one might call the creeping Putinization of American life (the Sinclair incident, the threatening letter to Rock The Vote, the specter of the top official in the House of Representatives making totally baseless charges of criminal conduct against a major financier of the political opposition [shades of Mikhail Khodorovsky], the increasing evidence that the 'terror alert' system is nothing more than a political prop, the 'torture memo' asserting that the president is above the law, the imposition of rigid discipline on the congress, the abuse of the conference committee procedure, the ability of the administration to lie to congress without penalty, the exclusion of non-supporters from Bush's public appearances, etc.) are beginning to make me think this assessment may have been misguided. Terrorist forces operating in and around Chechnya have done some horrible things -- I was in Moscow for the big apartment bombings -- but ultimately the most harmful thing they have done was to enable Putin to tighten his grip on power.
This Knight-Ridder piece begins:
In March 2003, days before the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, American war planners and intelligence officials met at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina to review the Bush administration's plans to oust Saddam Hussein and implant democracy in Iraq.

Near the end of his presentation, an Army lieutenant colonel who was giving a briefing showed a slide describing the Pentagon's plans for rebuilding Iraq after the war, known in the planners' parlance as Phase 4-C. He was uncomfortable with his material - and for good reason.

The slide said: "To Be Provided."

A Knight Ridder review of the administration's Iraq policy and decisions has found that it invaded Iraq without a comprehensive plan in place to secure and rebuild the country. The administration also failed to provide some 100,000 additional U.S. troops that American military commanders originally wanted to help restore order and reconstruct a country shattered by war, a brutal dictatorship and economic sanctions.
(via Kevin Drum, who notes fittingly "Reality based community indeed.")

Well, this must be causing fits of apoplexy --
amongst those white evangelical and ultra-conservative Christians who call it
"sacrilege" when Kerry quotes the Bible. Now we can't shut him up!

Please tell me --
What kind of "Christian" faith teaches that God hates anyone? And why don't the Bushies condemn such talk? (And why haven't Dems done a better job of pairing Phelps with the brand of faith that Bush professes?)

Rove Watch --
There's a bunch of fun stuff in Dan Froomkins round-up today, not least of which is speculation on what Karl Rove has planned for us in the coming two weeks - Osama bin laden? A cave full of wMD? Plus interesting observations on campaign strategies (Vice President Cheney's face and biography was deliberately excluded from Oregon Voter's Pamphlet mailed out this week; he must be dragging Bush down in the polls there?)

I hate paying attention to polls --
but this is interesting.

Maybe you really can't go home again --
Is Ohio becoming the next "Kansas?" Angry evangelical congregations on the rise, the most draconian Marriage Protection act in the country (if passed, it will force cities and universities to stop offering domestic partner benefits), ever more rabid attacks on the teaching of evolution in schools... Choke down this excerpt from the Salon piece on Ohio's marriage initiative:
"Preaching like a street-corner revivalist, Johnston musters quotes from both the Bible and Dostoevski to make the tautological argument that those who reject his vision of Christianity lack the foundation to make any moral arguments. "The proof for the Christian ethic which condemns homosexual marriage is the impossibility of the contrary," he says. "Reject the Christian ethic and you have no basis for making moral judgments."

The audience stares at him in open-mouthed amazement. Looking like she's been slapped, McClellan walks out of the room and starts crying. "My father was a D-Day lander and a World War II hero," she says later. "He freed two concentration camps. All I could think of was here are all of these people who have fought and given their lives to keep our country free of maniacal people like that guy. This guy reminded me of a Hitler youth. At this stage of our evolution, why is there such a maniacal hatred of people?"

Had she checked out Johnston's Web site, she wouldn't have been so shocked. Unlike national religious right leaders, Johnston isn't coy about his agenda. He publishes poems like "America's Final Crisis," which prophesies that, unless the country adopts biblical law, "You'll be governed by queers and whores" and tyrannized with a "U.N. branded sword." In case that's not clear enough, he also offers a tract titled, "Convincing Reasons HOMOSEXUALS are HELLBOUND!"

During a question-and-answer period, someone says they'd once heard Johnston call for the execution of gays and lesbians. He vigorously denies the charge. Later, he tells me that the decision to put gays to death is a matter best left up to the states. "If we ever had a nation sufficiently Christian" to make homosexuality illegal, he says, imposing capital punishment for homosexuality would be a subject for "an in-house debate. There were capital crimes in the Bible, and that would be
something debated."

Sunday, October 17, 2004

I can almost see how, having lost the popular vote and been appointed to the presidency by a bare majority of the Supreme Court (in a decision which will corrupt, compromise and undermine the authority of the Court forever more), George Bush might think his "election" was divinely ordained. What believer isn't wont to think, when blessed with a favorable outcome despite all practical odds, that an otherwordly power has ordained it. What grieves and distresses many of us about Bush's conviction is that, instead of accepting his perceived call with humility and gratitude, he uses it to justify and advance his own whims and those of his wealthy and powerful friends. Afterall, he seems to believe, if God ordained his presidency, then God must also agree with his pets and peeves!

There is a remarkable profile in today's New York Times Magazine, "Without a Doubt," by Ron Suskind, which explores the uncommon "certainty" of George W. Bush. It is worth reading, if only to begin to grasp (if you haven't already) the new world order Bush is trying to impose.

The piece opens with a remark by Bruce Bartlett, former advisor to both Reagan and Bush Sr.:
"Just in the past few months," Bartlett said, "I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do." Bartlett, a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who has lately been a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush's governance, went on to say: "This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them...

"This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts," Bartlett went on to say. "He truly believes he's on a mission from God.

Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence." Bartlett paused, then said, "But you can't run the world on faith."
The old pro Bartlett, a deliberative, fact-based wonk, is finally hearing a tune that has been hummed quietly by evangelicals (so as not to trouble the secular) for years as they gazed upon President George W. Bush. This evangelical group -- the core of the energetic "base" that may well usher Bush to victory -- believes that their leader is a messenger from God.
The president believes it, too:
All of this -- the "gut" and "instincts," the certainty and religiosity -connects to a single word, "faith," and faith asserts its hold ever more on debates in this country and abroad. That a deep Christian faith illuminated the personal journey of George W. Bush is common knowledge. But faith has also shaped his presidency in profound, nonreligious ways. The president has demanded unquestioning faith from his followers, his staff, his senior aides and his kindred in the Republican Party. Once he makes a decision -- often swiftly, based on a creed or moral position -- he expects complete faith in its rightness.

The disdainful smirks and grimaces that many viewers were surprised to see in the first presidential debate are familiar expressions to those in the administration or in Congress who have simply asked the president to explain his positions. Since 9/11, those requests have grown scarce; Bush's intolerance of doubters has, if anything, increased, and few dare to question him now. A writ of infallibility -- a premise beneath the powerful Bushian certainty that has, in many ways, moved mountains -- is not just for public consumption: it has guided the inner life of the White House.
This is one key feature of the faith-based presidency: open dialogue, based on facts, is not seen as something of inherent value. It may, in fact, create doubt, which undercuts faith. It could result in a loss of confidence in the decision-maker and, just as important, by the decision-maker. Nothing could be more vital, whether staying on message with the voters or the terrorists or a California congressman in a meeting about one of the world's most nagging problems. As Bush himself has said any number of times on the campaign trail, "By remaining resolute and firm and strong, this world will be peaceful."
Suskind says Bush wasn't always this way. He talked to the Rev. Jim Wallace, founder of Sojourners, was briefly a trusted advisor of Bush. Wallis told Suskind, "When I was first with Bush in Austin, what I saw was a self-help Methodist, very open, seeking," Wallis says now. "What I started to see at this point was the man that would emerge over the next year -- a messianic American Calvinist. He doesn't want to hear from anyone who doubts him."

Suskind gives a colorful illustration of the infallibility bubble in which Bush lives and moves --
In the Oval Office in December 2002, the president met with a few ranking senators and members of the House, both Republicans and Democrats. In those days, there were high hopes that the United States-sponsored "road map" for the Israelis and Palestinians would be a pathway to peace, and the discussion that wintry day was, in part, about countries providing peacekeeping forces in the region. The problem, everyone agreed, was that a number of European countries, like France and Germany, had armies that were not trusted by either the Israelis or Palestinians. One congressman -- the Hungarian-born Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California and the only Holocaust survivor in Congress -- mentioned that the Scandinavian countries were viewed more positively. Lantos went on to describe for the president how the Swedish Army might be an ideal candidate to anchor a small peacekeeping force on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sweden has a well-trained force of about 25,000. The president looked at him appraisingly, several people in the room recall.

"I don't know why you're talking about Sweden," Bush said. "They're the neutral one. They don't have an army."

Lantos paused, a little shocked, and offered a gentlemanly reply: "Mr. President, you may have thought that I said Switzerland. They're the ones that are historically neutral, without an army." Then Lantos mentioned, in a gracious aside, that the Swiss do have a tough national guard to protect the country in the event of invasion.

Bush held to his view. "No, no, it's Sweden that has no army."

The room went silent, until someone changed the subject.
Bush creates his own reality, and the rest of us live in it --
(Suskind writes) In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
I keep thinking I can't be surprised by anything else that comes out of this White House*, but the arrogance captured in that aide's comment reels me each time I re-read it. (*OK, I'd be surprised by support for family planning and realistic AIDS education, equal pay, roadless areas in our nation's forests, stricter emissions controls, universal health insurance... You get the idea.)

Jim Wallis apparently hasn't been invited back to the White House, ever since he told Bush, "Unless we drain the swamp of injustice in which the mosquitoes of terrorism breed, we'll never defeat the threat of terrorism." That is not the kind of thing Bush wants to hear. That's not Bush's reality. The God who appointed him president is a mighty and vengeful God who wanted the US to invade Iraq and who wants a Federal Marriage Amendment, not one who worries about justice and poverty.

But the profile ends with Wallis' very thoughtful words:
"Faith can cut in so many ways," he said. "If you're penitent and not triumphal, it can move us to repentance and accountability and help us reach for something higher than ourselves. That can be a powerful thing, a thing that moves us beyond politics as usual, like Martin Luther King did. But when it's designed to certify our righteousness -- that can be a dangerous thing. Then it pushes self-criticism aside. There's no reflection.

"Where people often get lost is on this very point," he said after a moment of thought. "Real faith, you see, leads us to deeper reflection and not -- not ever -- to the thing we as humans so very much want."

And what is that?

"Easy certainty."

Saturday, October 16, 2004

I was on a big deadline at work yesterday, and should be studying for my midterms today, but I've collected a few items to share.

First, you just have to see what Eric Alterman had to say yesterday:
I am going to go on record here saying forget the polls, which were wrong last time and will be wrong again this time. If Bush somehow wins, it will require an even bigger steal than four years ago. Nobody who voted for Gore is voting for Bush. The Democrats have registered millions of new voters who don't show up in the polls. Idiots who share Ralph Nader's belief that there is not a "dime's worth of difference" between the two candidates are far fewer than last time around. And lots more people have cell phones and can't be reached by pollsters.

I'm not saying Bush can't win; I'm just saying I don't think he can win honestly."
And then Alterman's trusty correspondent, the inimitable Charles Pierce, wrote in on John McCain:
"And, let us recall that the Avignon Presidency thought nothing of smearing John McCain's wife and child when it needed a win in South Carolina four years ago. I mention that because it appears that McCain himself has forgotten it.

Outside of Dukakis in the tank, there never has been a more pathetic political image than McCain, apparently shot full of whatever it is they use to bring down a moose when it gets into the suburbs, dragged out to stand there with C-Plus Augustus for that transparently phony man-of-the-people stunt on Air Force One yesterday. My god, John, how do you face your wife after that? How do you face your child?"
Good point --
Where was Lynne 'Mother of the Year' Cheney when Alan Keyes called her daughter a "selfish hedonist"? Salon has a very thoughtful column on the homophobic hue and cry from the Republicans:
"If Mary Cheney is distraught this morning, it's likely her mother is the cause. And it's perplexing to millions of gay Americans today why the press has not grasped how horrible she acted toward Mary Wednesday night.

Maybe it's understandable. Most of you out there have never been a homo.

Let me share a personal story to illustrate how this works for a gay person. I came out to my parents when I was in my 30s -- they were shocked, then understanding, but also a little queasy about it. The queasiness was much less about them accepting me as it was their friends accepting them.

That's the part that stings. No matter how old you get. Once you're happily out of the closet a few years, you don't bat an eye at someone hearing you're gay. Even on national television. Even if your father's the vice president. (Especially if your father's the vice president -- don't you think she's used to it by now?)

What rips your heart out is when someone close to you denies your sexuality in public. Or shudders at the mention of it, so you can see how desperately they want to.

It may sound like a subtle implication to a straight person -- clearly it does; even the most liberal straight pundits appear oblivious to it -- but a gay person hears it scream out loud and clear. You people still feel there's something to be ashamed of here.

One of the happiest days of my life came when one of the old ladies at my mom's Catholic bridge club mentioned what a nice young husband I'd make. My mother, in her 60s by then, laughed it off. "I don't think that's going to happen," she said. "He's gay."

I was stunned when I heard the story. It had taken her years to get to that point. And it meant everything to me.

She didn't care what the bridge ladies thought. She cared more about me.

I doubt very much that Mary Cheney gives a rat's ass if some church lady in Idaho knows she's gay. But her mother cringing at the church lady knowing -- that's gotta hurt like hell."
(I would just like to add that if Mary Cheney votes Republican this year, she deserves these parents.) Raise your hand if you didn't already know that Mary Cheney is a lesbian. I gotta hand it to the Republicans and their media accomplices. Making such a big deal out of Kerry's non-outing of an out lesbian Republican daughter has distracted nicely from one of Bush's biggest screw-ups in all three debates -- his snide denial of saying he wasn't worried about bin Laden ("Gosh, I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those ex-ag-ger-a-tions") (yeah, you had to hear it) - apparently forgetting that he was on tape (one network showed the clip immediately) saying precisely this: "Well, as I say, we haven't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don't know where he is. I -- I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him, when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban."

Josh Marshall noted that that whole answer is interesting, because it shows how Bush views terrorism - as state-sponsored, and not individually-organized, a philosophical difference from Kerry that became even more clear in the NYT Magazine profile on Kerry last week.

One more thing about the last debate --
A lot of folks have already commented on the potential blowback of Bush's repeated suggestions that people who are having trouble finding work or insurance just aren't educated enough, so I'll leave that alone. But I haven't seen anything about another whopper: when Schieffer asked how the flu vaccine shortage could catch us so offguard, Bush snapped, "Bob, we relied upon a company out of England to provide about half of the flu vaccines for the United States citizen, and it turned out that the vaccine they were producing was contaminated. And so we took the right action and didn't allow contaminated medicine into our country." That "company out of England"? The European facilities of US-based Chiron.

As for Zarqawi --
Well, they've only been calling him Public Enemy Number 1 for a couple of months, now, so I can see how they'd only just now get around to freezing his assets...

I can think of a few pockets to check --
The administration cannot account for billions of dollars - that's BILLIONS of dollars - spent in Iraq.
"We found one case where a payment ($2.6 million) was authorized by the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) senior adviser to the Ministry of Oil," the report said. "We were unable to obtain an underlying contract" or even "evidence of services being rendered."
Have the October surprises begun? --
Josh Marshall wonders if Karl Rove has begun some of his infamous last-ditch dirty tricks - this one involving distribution of a flier crudely attacking Bush, so that it can be attributed to Democrats. It's crude, but so is openly shredding Democratic voter registrations, and apparently it all works. Tapped has more. (By the way, the Village Voice is keeping track of election frauds in the making.)

A malaria vaccine in 5 years? --
Sign me up to join a vaccination team. A child dies of malaria every 30 seconds, and that's insane.