Saturday, May 30, 2009

"Two Angry White Men."

During a segment of Andrea Mitchell's show on MSNBC, Pat Buchanan got hot and angry regarding Judge Sonia Sotomayer's comment regarding white men. After Buchanan refers to Sotomayer as "that woman," Bob Shrum tells Pat that he owes her an apology.


Andrea Mitchell signs off by saying, "I'm Andrea Mitchell, live in Washington, between two angry white men."

The Torture Debate


Torture is a topic that is being debated by politicians, pundits and the public. The following excerpt is from an article by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship regarding torture titled, Everyone Should See "Torturing Democracy."
In all the recent debate over torture, many of our Beltway pundits and politicians have twisted themselves into verbal contortions to avoid using the word at all. [...] No political party would dare make torture a cornerstone of its rejuvenation if people really understood what it is. And lest we forget, we're not just talking about waterboarding, itself a trivializing euphemism for drowning.

If we want to know what torture is, and what it does to human beings, we have to look at it squarely, without flinching. That's just

what a powerful and important film, seen by far too few Americans, does. "Torturing Democracy" was written and produced by one of America's outstanding documentary reporters, Sherry Jones. (Excerpts from the film are being shown on the current edition of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS - check local listings, or go to the program's web site at, where you can be linked to the entire 90-minute documentary.)[...]

As the editors of The Christian Century magazine wrote this week, "Convening a truth commission on torture would b e embarrassing to the US in the short term, but in the long run it would demonstrate the strength of American democracy and confirm the nation's adherence to the rule of law.... Understandably, [the president] wants to turn the page on torture. But Americans should not turn the page until they know what is written on it."

The debate will continue as long as those who support torture continue to use fear, panic, ignorance and patriotism as their basis of justification.

Something Down The Drain?

Suck It! By Michael Davis

How to get something you dropped down the drain, without using a pipe wrench or a plumber.

An amazing trick! The 1-minute video shows you how to easily retrieve anything that went down the drain…without a pipe wrench or a plumber.

UPDATE: You must use a Wet/Dry shop vacuum. In the video, he mentions "any vacuum will do".

"Here You Have a Racist"

Media Matters has assembled a collection of the right's most unhinged, delusional reactions to Sonia Sotomayer's nomination. The Nation's editorial, The Real Sotomayor, confronts the negative right-wing smear attack against her.
The minute Judge Sonia Sotomayor rose from President Obama's shortlist for the Supreme Court to become his official nominee, the conservative smear campaign against her went from simmer to full boil. Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice repeated unsourced accusations, of the kind first made in an article by Jeffrey Rosen in The New Republic, that Sotomayor is "an intellectual lightweight" who was "picked because she was a woman and Hispanic." National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru dubbed her "Obama's Harriet Miers," while his colleague Mark Krikorian whined that "putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English." Politico reported that Republicans were weighing how to attack a "Latina single mother," and Mike Huckabee claimed that "Maria Sotomayor" comes from the "far left" and would unduly let her "feelings" influence her decisions.

Every element of this right-wing assault is false. Judge Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton and served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal (as did Justice Samuel Alito). Her seventeen years of experience on federal courts vastly outstrips the combined years of experience John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas had when they were nominated--seven in total. As the author of more than 700 opinions, she has proven herself to be a pragmatic centrist cut from the same cloth as Obama. Indeed, unlike Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Justice Thurgood Marshall, she was not a central member of the legal movements to advance women's and minorities' rights. For example, she once voted down a constitutional challenge to the global gag rule on abortion. Moreover, she has on occasion disappointed progressives with rulings in favor of corporations.

Finally, it should be noted that Judge Sotomayor's first name is, in fact, Sonia and that she has no children. Of course, to a conservative movement bent on running a character assassination based on ugly racist stereotypes, these are inconvenient details.[...]

Have the conservative pundits looked in the mirror lately...?

Getting Ugly!

G. Gordon Liddy looking angry

G. Gordon Liddy speaking as a truly sexist, racist, ignoramus! On the nomination of Sonia Sotomayer for the Supreme Court, Liddy said:

Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something or just before she’s going to menstruate. That would really be bad....
What's too bad is that Liddy actually gets airtime to speak his tripe.

Think Progress has more:

Yesterday on his radio show, conservative host G. Gordon Liddy continued the right wing’s all-out assault on Judge Sonia Sotomayor. First, just like Tom Tancredo, Liddy slammed Sotomayor’s affiliation with the civil rights group La Raza — and referred to the Spanish language as “illegal alien“:

LIDDY: I understand that they found out today that Miss Sotomayor is a member of La Raza, which means in illegal alien, “the race.” And that should not surprise anyone because she’s already on record with a number of racist comments.

Finished with the race-based attack, Liddy moved on to denigrate Sotomayor’s gender:

LIDDY: Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something, or just before she’s going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then.

Finally, Liddy disputed the entire idea that there’s anything wrong with the paucity of women and total lack of Hispanics on the Court:

LIDDY: And everybody is cheering because Hispanics and females have been, quote, underrepresented, unquote. And as you pointed out, which I thought was quite insightful, the Supreme Court is not designed to be and should not be a representative body.

Listen here:

Liddy and his radical colleagues, mostly on the radio, are so far failing to get the conservative leadership on board with their racist and sexist attacks. Last night, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) called the attacks “terrible” and “wrong.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) was asked if he agreed with Newt Gingrich’s characterization of Sotomayor as a “Latina woman racist.” “No, I don’t agree with that,” Hatch replied.

Update: Read more on right-wing hate in today's Progress Report.


Karen Tumulty flashes back to what Liddy's former boss, President Nixon, thought of having a woman on the Supreme Court.

Friday, May 29, 2009

GOP Wants to do away with Empathy?

On the issue of the nominee for the Supreme Court, Obama has spoken of the quality of empathy.
"I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation," Obama said. "I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes."
According to Major Garrett at Fox News, conservatives "are likely to line up against any "empathetic" Obama nominee for the Souter seat."

"President Obama has referred to this nice word empathy," says Wendy Long, legal counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network. Long clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas, whom Obama has described as one of the kinds of judges he opposes because of their lack of judicial training and lack of empathy.

"(Obama) thinks judges should have empathy for certain litigants who come before them. Of course if you have empathy for everybody who comes before you, there are two sides to every case. If you have empathy for both sides then that's the same as having no empathy at all. So what he means is he wants empathy for one side and what's wrong with that is it is being partial instead of being impartial. A judge is supposed to have empathy for no one but simply to follow the law."

However, just three and a half years ago, Republicans thought empathy was a pretty righteous quality in a Supreme Court nominee.

TPM unearths a must-watch video in which Samuel Alito says that in his rulings not only does he apply the rule of law but he explains how empathy and his own heritage play a role in his decisions.

Alito: Have to Consider Life Experiences when Ruling Cases

h/t: The Plum Line

War is Hell...For Both Sides

Iraq Vet: "How Many Nine-year Old Boys Have You Held in Your Arms, Crying for Their Father?"
By Kristoffer Rehder

I don’t remember how old I was when my father asked me this peculiar question, maybe sometime during my high school years. And I don’t know why he asked me or how it came up in conversation, but when it did, it hit me like a brick. “How many dying boys have you held in your arms, crying for their mother?”

To this day I have never held anyone dying in my arms, and no one crying for their mother. I don’t remember how I answered his question. I was dumb founded.

My father fought in the Vietnam War. He was an Infantry Scout Dog handler where he walked the point man with his German Sheppard, Beau. They led they way and looked for Charlie, ambushes, booby traps, tunnels, and weapon caches. My father and Beau were a team. They walked out in front of the patrol and Beau would alert my father if he smelled trouble ahead. The lives of the men they were leading through the jungles of South Vietnam was theirs’ to protect.

Years later after my father asked me this disturbing question, he explained what had happened to him years ago in Vietnam. One day my father and Beau were leading a patrol through the jungle, when Beau threw up a signal to my father that he smelled danger, so he signaled for the patrol to halt. The Lieutenant ran up front and asked why “his” patrol had stopped. My father explained to the LT that his dog had alerted him that there was something ahead to be cautious of. The LT became angry, “That’s bullshit, this area has been cleared. Charlie hasn’t been in the AO for days,” the LT then ordered them continue on with the mission. Against my father’s better judgment he continued to lead the patrol deeper into the jungle.

Within a few minutes they walked right into a heavy ambush. Beau had been right. The patrol was pinned down and had to fight their way out of it. They were able to break contact with the enemy and pull back to safety.

However, during the firefight, a soldier in the squad took a bullet to the lower stomach and was bleeding fast. This young soldier happened to be a good friend of my father. Seeing his wounded buddy, he ran over to him yelling for a medic to come and assist. The soldier was lying on the ground, holding his guts in his hands, crying out for his mother. All my father could do was hold his friend and provided what comfort he could as he died in his arms.

After my father told me this experience, he confessed that he still felt guilty for this young man’s life. He said he wished he could have tried to convince the LT not to continue the patrol any further. Maybe there was more my father could have done.

In my father’s face I could see the heavy guilt and anger as a tear rolled down his cheek. Right then I knew that my father had just shared something with me that he probably hasn’t shared with too many others. I didn’t know what to say. But I did gain a better understanding as to why he asked me that question years ago.

As I mentioned, I have never held anyone dying in my arms crying for their mother. So the answer to my dad is no I have never experienced that. But let me ask you this, Dad: How many nine year old boys have you held in your arms, crying for their father? How about a boy clinging to his lifeless father that you just killed?

In the summer of 2003, I was working a check point outside the small city of Al-Hawija in Northern Iraq. I was in the Army, in the Infantry, just like my father was, but instead of patrolling the humid jungles of Vietnam, I was fighting an urban guerilla war in the extreme heat and sand of Iraq.

Our check point was set up outside of town and we were stopping every vehicle trying to enter. We were searching the vehicles for weapons, explosives, suspected bad guys, stuff to build IED’s, and other contraband. Our check point looked like this: 300 meters out we had a warning sign written in Arabic that said, “Slow Down. Prepare to Stop!” 150 meters out we had another sign that said, “Deadly Force will be used if you do not stop!” We then had a maze of concerinta wire set up for the vehicles to weave in and out of before coming to a stop in an area that we nicknamed the “pit”. In the pit we searched the vehicles, and when nothing was found and they were clean, we waved them on, and allowed them to enter the city.

On that summer day back in 2003, my squad was manning the check point into Hawija. It was a slow day with not much traffic. I think it had something to do with the mid afternoon heat. When the temperatures reached over 130 degrees, most of the Iraqis wisely stayed inside and off the roads. Most traveled at night when it was cooler. But one vehicle did approach our check point. So I peered through a pair of binoculars and spotted a small white Toyota pick-up truck heading towards our position. I put the binos down and raised my weapon to the ready position.

The white truck approached the first warning sign, but did not attempt to slow down. My squad leader ordered a warning shot to be fired as a sign of force, so the man next to me fired off a three round burst with his M-16 over the top of the truck. The truck was not slowing down. It soon approached the 150 meter second warning sign. Fearing that the truck could be loaded down with explosives on a suicide run, our squad leader ordered everyone to open fire on the truck. I raised my weapon and put 30 rounds into the driver’s side windshield. The man next to me with the M-240B machine gun opened fire and sprayed about 150 rounds into the vehicle’s engine. With each bullet weighing 180 grains, he put about a pound of lead into its engine block.

Black smoke started to billow out from under the hood, as the little truck started to swerve back and forth. It ran into our concertina wire and eventually came to a stop inside the pit. Immediately I slammed in a flesh magazine and fired off a few more rounds into the driver side door. Our squad leader then yelled for a cease fire. The firing stopped but my adrenaline was still pumping. The driver of the truck was hanging out the driver side door, hunched over. Blood was running out of his head, chest, and arms, turning the side of the truck a dark liquid maroon. A squad member opened the driver side door, and his body fell to the ground. I can still hear the thud it made as he rolled out of the truck.

Wildly, the passenger side door flew open, and I saw a young boy, eight or nine years old, jump out and run around the front of the truck. He dove on top of the bullet riddled body, screaming and crying, all in Arabic so I am not certian what was being said. All I could do was watch in horror.

As it turned out, the driver was the boy’s father. Fortunately the boy was not injured as we all fired our shots into the driver’s side of the truck. The boy was wailing hysterically holding onto his dead father. He was now covered in his father’s blood and it took three of us to pry him away. We managed to drag the boy from his father’s body and over to one of our Humvees. We held the boy so he couldn’t see his father lying on the ground in a pool of blood. Our medic walked over to the body to check it out. There was nothing the medic could do. The damage had been done. The medic just stood over the body and kicked it a few times and then flung his arms up into the air, telling us, “fuck this!” We all knew he was dead. I don’t think you could count all the bullet holes in his body.

They loaded the young boy into the Humvee and drove him off. To where, I don’t know. I never saw the boy again. We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to clean up the carnage. We packed the father’s body into a body bag and tossed it into the back of another Humvee like it was a old bag of trash. Where they took him, I also don’t know. I never asked where they took the bodies after we killed them. I really didn’t care either. My job was just to kill. The rest was up to someone else. I don’t know whose job was worse.

Next, we had to figure out what to do with the truck. It was completely disabled and the inside of it was covered with blood and chunks of flesh. No one wanted to climb into the truck, so we called in the mechanics and they towed it out of our check point. Later on the mechanics told us after checking over the truck that the breaks were broken. The truck wasn’t trying to run our check point, it just couldn’t stop. It turned out just to be a father and son coming back into town after what had to be a grueling day working out in their watermelon fields. The back of their truck was full of watermelons and shovels. Maybe they were on their way into town to sell their melons at the market and perhaps make enough money to get the breaks on their truck fixed.

Could this shootout have been avoided? I don’t know. Myself, and the others in my squad were just following orders. We were ordered to open fire on the truck, and we were just doing our job. A job that was illegally ordered by a Congress and White House without any recognition of international law, let alone humanity. How were we to know if the white Toyota truck wasn’t loaded with explosives, ready to blow us all up? And how were we to know that the truck was just a father and son coming back from their fields and that the breaks on their truck were faulty? And how to you explain this to the young boy who watched his innocent father be killed by American Forces occupying his country?

That was over five years ago, making him a teenager by now. Maybe he will be driving a white Toyota pickup truck tomorrow, approaching a collation check point somewhere in Iraq. And I can damn sure bet you that he won’t be hauling watermelons.

Kristoffer Rehder was first deployed to Kirkuk, Iraq in 2003 where he served in the 4th Infantry Division, 1-12 Infantry Battalion for 13 months. In 2005 he was redeployed to Iraq for an additional 400 days despite being classified as 50% disabled by the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Minnesota for severe PTSD, hearing loss and bad knees. He now lives in Montana and can be reached at

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A GOP Conundrum

It was apparent even before President Obama named a Supreme Court replacement for Justice Souter that the GOP would oppose his choice. It really didn't matter who the nominee was. What mattered to the GOP was that Obama, a "screaming socialist liberal," was the one who would choose the nominee.

Judge Sonia Sotomayer has presented the GOP with a conundrum. How will they oppose her? She was of course nominated in 1991, by President George H. W. Bush to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In 1968 she was confirmed, with solid Democratic support, and support from 25 Republican Senators, for the seat she presently holds as a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The GOP's answer is to call Sonia Sotomayer ‘not the smartest’ and an ‘intellectual lightweight’.

The Booman Tribune responds to these allegations with a witty article which is on point, BrainPower: Karl Rove v. Sonia Sotomayor.

Karl Rove is just one of several Republicans that have chosen to call Sonia Sotomayor stoopid in a transparent effort to make her selection look like an affirmative action pick.

This morning on Fox News, Karl Rove questioned whether she was smart enough to be on the Supreme Court. “I’m not really certain how intellectually strong she would be, she has not been very strong on the second circuit,” he said.

Let's take a look at Karl Rove's academic accomplishments:

In the fall of 1969, Rove entered the University of Utah, on a $1,000 scholarship, as a political science major and joined the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity...

...In December 1969, the Selective Service System held its first lottery drawing. Those born on December 25, like Rove, received number 84. That number placed him in the middle of those (with numbers 1 [first priority] through 195) who would eventually be drafted. On February 17, 1970, Rove was reclassified as 2-S, a deferment from the draft because of his enrollment at the University of Utah in the fall of 1969. He maintained this deferment until December 14, 1971, despite being only a part-time student in the autumn and spring quarters of 1971 (registered for between six and 12 credit hours) and dropping out of the university in June 1971. Rove was a student at the University of Maryland, College Park in the fall of 1971; as such, he would have been eligible for 2-S status, but registrar's records show that he withdrew from classes during the first half of the semester. In December 1971 he was reclassified as 1-A. On April 27, 1972, he was reclassified as 1-H, or "not currently subject to processing for induction". The draft ended on June 30, 1973.

Sonia Sotomayor's academic accomplishments appear to suggest a more robust intellect (not to mention, superior character):

She earned her A.B. from Princeton University, summa cum laude, in 1976, where she won the Pyne Prize, the highest general award given to Princeton undergraduates. Sotomayor obtained her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal.

Any questions?

America's Pot-Pie Threat

Who knew that frozen foods could be deadly? Jim Hightower writes about giant food corporations and the frozen food industry in his article, Death by Pie.

Out in Arizona, an old tombstone bears an epitaph for a young gunslinger: "I was expecting this/But not so soon."

Gunslinging, of course, is a high-risk business. But today, some of us can expect to have the following marker on our graves: "Here lies a guy/Killed by a pot pie."

America's pot-pie threat lurks in an ingredient that today's producers of frozen foods don't list on their packages: salmonella. In just one salmonella outbreak in 2007, the Banquet brand of pies sickened an estimated 15,000 people in 41 states.

The true culprit in such poisonings, however, is not the little deadly bug, but the twin killers of corporate globalization and greed. Giant food corporations, scavenging the globe in a constant search for ever-cheaper ingredients to put in their processed edibles, are resorting to low-wage, high-pollution nations that have practically no food-safety laws, much less any safety enforcement.

Egregious Examples are to be Found.

Consider the case of ConAgra Foods, a massive conglomerate that sells 100 million pot pies a year under its Banquet label. Each pie contains 25 ingredients sourced from all over the world -- often from subcontractors who don't report their sources. Until the 2007 salmonella contamination of its pies, ConAgra did not even require suppliers to test for pathogens, nor did it do its own tests. Since poisoning one's customers turned out to be a bad strategy for earning repeat business, the conglomerate now runs spot checks -- but even when it detects contamination in a pie, it has not been able to determine which ingredient is the bad one.

In fact, as The New York Times recently reported in an extensive expose, food giants concede that their supply chains are so far-flung that they "do not even know who is supplying their ingredients, let alone if those suppliers are screening items for microbes." Meanwhile, the industry's lobbying front, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, has aggressively fought federal efforts to require a tracking system. "This information is not reasonably needed," the GMA curtly responded when such a rule was proposed.

ALARMING CONSUMER ALERT: Today, contamination has become so widespread that major frozen food purveyors admit they can no longer ensure the safety of their products!

Perhaps you're thinking that, surely, this self-indictment of the reckless globalization process has prompted corporations to change their systems and suppliers in order to ensure you and me that their foods are safe to eat. Ha! What a silly dreamer you are.

The Corporate Solution/Not!

That could squeeze their profits, so instead they've come up with a much more corporate-friendly solution: They're shifting their contamination problem to you and me!

You'll notice that frozen food packages now contain precise, almost frantic instructions (complete with illustrations) on "kill steps" that we must take to keep their products from poisoning us. Banquet, for example, has a four-step diagram on the back of its pot-pie packages, directing consumers to make sure that the pie is heated to an internal temperature of exactly 165 degrees "as measured by a food thermometer in several spots."

Do such directives actually make frozen foods safe? An official with the Blackstone Group, the Wall Street equity firm that owns Swanson and Hungry Man brands, curtly states that the level of risk to consumers depends on "how badly they followed our directions.

When Heat Isn't Enough

His snotty attitude aside, following corporate cooking instructions to a "T" doesn't do the trick. The New York Times tested the directions on various brands of pot pies -- and all failed to achieve the magic level of 165 degrees. "Some spots in the pie heated to only 140 degrees even as parts of the crust were burnt," wrote reporter Michael Moss.

This is absurd. Frozen foods are supposed to be a consumer convenience, not a risky science experiment. Instead of thrusting faulty instructions at us on how to avoid "death by pie," how about just requiring conglomerates that profit from these products to accept their responsibility to put safe ingredients in their pies?

Accepting responsibility. A novel idea!

Here is why these two journalists probe microwave pot pies but don't eat them. WATCH:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Expressing Plain Truths

Joe Bageant says that, "Rednecks do have a way of getting right down to the bone of the matter."
When it comes to expressing plain truths, few are as gifted as American rednecks. During recent travels in the Appalachian communities of West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky I've collected scores of their comments on our national condition and especially President Barack Obama.[...]

Rednecks instinctively know this:
"It don't matter who gets to warm his butt in the White House chair," says a West Virginia trucker. "The top dogs eat high on the hog and the little dogs eat the tails and ears. That's what them bailouts is all about, and that's the way it is no matter who's president. So you might as well vote for the guy who looks like the most fun because you gonna be watching his ass on television for the next eight years."
There is some truth in that!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Barack's Message About Sonia

How Smart!!!

Barack Obama has a You Tube message about his choice for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayer.

Pass on Barack Obama's message to friends and family

The Pros and Cons of the SCOTUS Pick

The news of Barack Obama's choice of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court has set off a slew of opinions about his choice.

Glenn Greenwald/Salon - Obama's choice of Sotomayor deserves praise
This nomination should be judged principally on two grounds: (1) her judicial opinions (which Scotusblog's Tom Goldstein comprehensively reviews here) and (2) her answers at her confirmation hearing. But based on everything that is known now, this seems to be a superb pick for Obama.

His choice of Sotomayor is a prime example of his doing exactly that, and for that reason alone, ought to be commended.

John Nichols/The Nation - Obama's Pick, Sonia Sotomayor, Reflects America

Sotomayor was not the most liberal of the prospective jurists, but that did not matter to conservatives who have been preparing for a fight. Wendy Long, counsel to the right's Judicial Confirmation Network, came out swinging: "Judge Sotomayor is a liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written. She thinks that judges should dictate policy, and that one's sex, race, and ethnicity ought to affect the decisions one renders from the bench."

That's a reference to a case involving applications for promotions within the New Haven, Connecticut fire department, in which Sotomayor was a member of a judicial panel that objected to tests used to evaluate candidates for promotion when no minority candidates ranked at the top of the list of those who took the test.

That white male jurists agreed with Sotomayor will be lost on her critics. But her record is generally seen as being very much in the mainstream of legal debates about diversity and affirmative action.

The swift strike at this nominee provides a reminder of how important this confirmation battle will be to conservatives, who see the fight to block Obama's first high-court pick as essential to the renewal of their sagging political fortunes.

Via Think Progress: Jeffrey Rosen allowed unnamed sources to attack Sotomayor as “not that smart” and lacking “penetrating” questions on the bench.

Via Crooks and Liars: Media Matters did a roundup of the Sotomayor attacks a few weeks back, including the hit job done by a New Republic writer:

Despite the glaring flaws, Rosen's assessment of Sotomayor was widely adopted by other media figures.

Mark Halperin, Time's conventional-wisdom maven, announced "Jeff Rosen Raises Warning Flags on Sotomayor" and described "Jeff" Rosen as "the New Republic's legal eagle." (What of Rosen's thin sourcing and dishonest quoting? Who cares! It's Jeff! He's a legal eagle!) The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder touted Rosen's piece as a reflection of "the respectable intellectual center." (Ambinder's colleague, Ta-Nehisi Coates responded: "You don't get to be the 'respectable intellectual center' and then practice your craft in the gossip-laden, ignorant muck. Not for long anyway.")

If the "respectable intellectual center" approached the prospect of a Sotomayor nomination by doctoring quotes in order to trash her intelligence, you might wonder what the disreputable fringe did. Well, National Review's John Derbyshire and Mark Hemmingway described her as "dumb and obnoxious," but they weren't really moving the ball forward in the anti-Sotomayor campaign; they were just interpreting Rosen's work.

Fox News' Andrew Napolitano told listeners on his radio show that Sotomayor "has a reputation for not being a very hard worker" -- like Rosen, citing anonymous law clerks to back up the claim.

Even David Letterman got in on the act. Here's Bob Somerby, describing Letterman's Sotomayor sketch:

Letterman's clip was openly racial/ethnic, a throwback to what once seemed to be an earlier day. With it, he gave viewers a throwback first impression of a sweaty, crazy, yelling jurist -- of a woman who graduated summa cum laude from Princeton in her real life, among other acts of distinction. But this astounding bad judgment by Big Humor Dave followed an act of grotesque judgment by the New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen. Rosen authored a gruesome post built on anonymous sources which -- let's be honest -- openly trafficked in racial stereotypes.

Dumb. Lazy. Temperamental. It's enough to make you wonder how she made it from the South Bronx to Princeton, Yale, and a federal judgeship. And remember: She didn't get there the George W. Bush way. You know many lazy, stupid people who win Princeton's highest academic prize?

Worst of all, there's no reason to think that the treatment Sonia Sotomayor received from the media over the past week will stop with her. The coverage of Sotomayor has clearly been built at least in part on gender and racial stereotypes, so we can probably expect similar coverage of other women and minorities who are mentioned as possible nominees.

Monday, May 25, 2009

One Man's View of Religion

Quotes of Robert Heinlein:
God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent -- it says so right here on the label. If you have a mind capable of believing all three of these divine attributes simultaneously, I have a wonderful bargain for you. No checks, please. Cash and in small bills. [Notebooks of Lazarus Long, Time Enough for Love, 1973]

Men rarely if ever manage to dream up a god superior to themselves. Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child. [Notebooks of Lazarus Long, Time Enough for Love, 1973]

One man's theology is another man's belly laugh. [Notebooks of Lazarus Long, Time Enough for Love, 1973]

History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it. [Notebooks of Lazarus Long, Time Enough for Love, 1973]

The nice thing about citing god as an authority is that you can prove anything you set out to prove. [If This Goes On, 1940]
[h/t Gil Ross]

Bush's Biblical Fantasy Mind

Even though George W. Bush is not now our President, it is still important to reflect and understand his reasoning and actions which guided his decision for the Iraq War. Clive Hamilton's article in CounterPunch is on point.

In Bush, God Iraq and Gog, Hamilton sheds light on the biblical prohesy which led George W. Bush to war.
The revelation this month in GQ magazine that Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary embellished top-secret wartime memos with quotations from the Bible prompts a question. Why did he believe he could influence President Bush by that means?
The answer may lie in an alarming story about George Bush’s Christian millenarian beliefs that has yet to come to light.

In 2003 while lobbying leaders to put together the Coalition of the Willing, President Bush spoke to France’s President Jacques Chirac. Bush wove a story about how the Biblical creatures Gog and Magog were at work in the Middle East and how they must be defeated.

In Genesis and Ezekiel Gog and Magog are forces of the Apocalypse who are prophesied to come out of the north and destroy Israel unless stopped. The Book of Revelation took up the Old Testament prophesy:

“And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle … and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”

Bush believed the time had now come for that battle, telling Chirac:

“This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins”.

The story of the conversation emerged only because the Elysée Palace, baffled by Bush’s words, sought advice from Thomas Römer, a professor of theology at the University of Lausanne. Four years later, Römer gave an account in the September 2007 issue of the university’s review, Allez savoir. The article apparently went unnoticed, although it was referred to in a French newspaper.

The story has now been confirmed by Chirac himself in a new book, published in France in March, by journalist Jean Claude Maurice. Chirac is said to have been stupefied and disturbed by Bush’s invocation of Biblical prophesy to justify the war in Iraq and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs”.

In the same year he spoke to Chirac, Bush had reportedly said to the Palestinian foreign minister that he was on “a mission from God” in launching the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and was receiving commands from the Lord.

There can be little doubt now that President Bush’s reason for launching the war in Iraq was, for him, fundamentally religious. He was driven by his belief that the attack on Saddam’s Iraq was the fulfilment of a Biblical prophesy in which he had been chosen to serve as the instrument of the Lord.

Many thousands of Americans and Iraqis have died in the campaign to defeat Gog and Magog. That the US President saw himself as the vehicle of God whose duty was to prevent the Apocalypse can only inflame suspicions across the Middle East that the United States is on a crusade against Islam.

There is a curious coda to this story. While a senior at Yale University George W. Bush was a member of the exclusive and secretive Skull & Bones society. His father, George H.W. Bush had also been a “Bonesman”, as indeed had his father. Skull & Bones’ initiates are assigned or take on nicknames. And what was George Bush Senior’s nickname? “Magog”.

Just remember, Bush isn't the only one who believes in Gog and Magog.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Shadow of the Past in the Present

The Scopes "Monkey Trial"
Tennessee vs John Scopes

Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan during the trial

This Week in History notes that in 1925, John T. Scopes was indicted for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution. Scopes, a football coach and substitute high school biology teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, agreed to be arrested and put on trial for teaching evolution. He was challenging the legitimacy of a four-day-old state law barring Darwin’s theory from the public school curriculum.

In 1995, the Washington Post had an article indicating that "policymakers in 19 states are weighing proposals that question the science of evolution."

The growing trend has alarmed scientists and educators who consider it a masked effort to replace science with theology. But 80 years after the Scopes "monkey" trial -- in which a Tennessee man was prosecuted for violating state law by teaching evolution -- it is the anti-evolutionary scientists and Christian activists who say they are the ones being persecuted, by a liberal establishment.

They are acting now because they feel emboldened by the country's conservative currents and by President Bush, who angered many scientists and teachers by declaring that the jury is still out on evolution.
The chart below is from 1997. It shows Where (and How) Evolution is Taught in the US. This map is taken here from the website Science Against Evolution, which quite cleverly tries to win the debate for creation by arguing that the theory of evolution itself has been discredited by scientific evidence and by numerous scientists. However, the map is drawn up by a proponent of evolution, as can be deduced from the remarks on the map and even its colours (green is good, red is bad).

Scientists generally accept the theory of evolution as the back-story of how animal species (including humans) came into being over a period of several billion years. Religious literalists maintain their belief in creation, as laid down in the Bible: God made the earth and all that is on it (including humans, after His own image) in one week, a couple of thousand years ago.

These are the extreme positions in a debate that has been raging for years now in the United States, and more particularly in the school system. Since each state can determine what should be in the local schools’ curriculum, the teaching of evolution and/or creation differs throughout the country. Yet contrary to what one might think, it’s not so that creation is taught in the Bible Belt states (in the South), and evolution in more liberal states (everywhere else).

The map first appeared in 2002 in Scientific American, and was based on data collected by Lawrence S. Lerner of California State University at Long Beach.

In 2005, NPR reported on Teaching Evolution: A State-by-State Debate.
School boards and legislatures across the country are continuing to debate how to teach students about the origins of life on Earth. Policymakers in at least 16 states are currently examining the controversy.

In some states, advocates of "intelligent design" -- the theory that an intelligent force had a role to play in the creation of the universe -- are pushing for the concept to be taught side-by-side with evolution. In other states, schools are incorporating the idea that evolution is "theory, not fact."

In March of 2009, CNN reported that Texas Board of Education had to deal with a controversy in new science standards.

The debate pitted proponents of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution against supporters of religion-based theories of intelligent design, or creationism.

A final 13-2 vote approved language that will be printed in textbooks beginning in 2011 and remain there for 10 years, CNN affiliate KPRC-TV in Houston reported:

"In all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental observation and testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the students."

An interesting article from The Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life is on Religious Groups' Views on Evolution.

The Pew Forum also published an article in 2009 titled, Fighting Over Darwin, State by State. The article notes action in 14 states in which the teaching of evolution has stirred controversy.

So if evolution is as established as the theory of gravity, why are people still arguing about it a century and a half after it was first proposed? (See Evolution: A Timeline...from 1809 -2007) The answer lies, in part, in the possible theological implications of evolutionary thinking. For many, the Darwinian view of life - a panorama of brutal struggle and constant change - goes beyond contradicting the biblical creation story and conflicts with the Judeo-Christian concept of an active and loving God who cares for his creation.

But while theologians, historians and others argue over evolution's broader social impact, the larger and more intense debate still centers on what children in public schools learn about life's origins and development. Indeed, the teaching of evolution has become a part of the nation's culture wars, manifest most recently in the 2008 presidential campaign, particularly in the attention paid to Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's statements in favor of public schools teaching creation science or intelligent design along with evolution. And while evolution may not attain the same importance as such culture war issues as abortion or same-sex marriage, the topic is likely to have a place in national debates on values for many years to come.

The debate continues.

Adding Color to Dick Cheney

In this very funny SNL skit, Dick Cheney sits for makeup before an interview for Meet the Press. WATCH:

It's Our Way or No Way

Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia was founded by the late Jerry Falwell. This independent, fundamentalist Baptist university made headlines recently when it revoked its recognition of the campus Democratic Party club, saying “we are unable to lend support to a club whose parent organization stands against the moral principles held by” the university.

THEN: According to the Lynchburg News Advance

“It kind of happened out of nowhere,” Brian Diaz, president of LU’s student Democratic Party organization, which LU formally recognized in October.

Diaz said he was notified of the school’s decision May 15 in an e-mail from Mark Hine, vice president of student affairs.

Hine said late Thursday that the university could not sanction an official club that supported Democratic candidates.

“We are in no way attempting to stifle free speech.”

Part of Hine’s e-mail said, “The Democratic Party platform is contrary to the mission of Liberty University and to Christian doctrine (supports abortion, federal funding of abortion, advocates repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, promotes the “LGBT” agenda, hate crimes, which include sexual orientation and gender identity, socialism, etc.)” LGBT refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

AND THEN: According to Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr.

“That club still has the right to exist,“ Falwell said, although it cannot use the university’s name in its activities.

“They still can meet on campus,“ in certain rooms, he said. “There is absolutely no animosity at all toward any of these kids.

“They are good, Christian kids who sit with me at ball games. I just hope they find a pro-life family organization to affiliate with so they can be endorsed by Liberty again.“

RESPONSE: Mike Signer, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor

“The decision of the Liberty University administration to revoke the recognition of the students’ Democratic organization is deeply troubling. It is even more problematic that the school has decided to continue to recognize the campus Republicans.“

Prolonged Detention: Stunning!

'Prolonged Detention' is more than a catch phrase from the Obama Administration.

Glenn Greenwald has an in depth and interesting overview of the, Facts and myths about Obama's preventive detention proposal.
White House Counsel Greg Craig told The New Yorker's Jane Mayer in February:

"It’s possible but hard to imagine Barack Obama as the first President of the United States to introduce a preventive-detention law," Craig said. "Our presumption is that there is no need to create a whole new system. Our system is very capable."

The New Yorker's Amy Davidson compares Obama's detention proposal to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Hilzoy, of The Washington Monthly, writes:
"If we don't have enough evidence to charge someone with a crime, we don't have enough evidence to hold them. Period" and "the power to detain people without filing criminal charges against them is a dictatorial power."
Salon's Joan Walsh quotes the Center for Constitutional Rights' Vincent Warren as saying:
"They’re creating, essentially, an American Gulag."
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Will Bunch says of Obama's proposal:
"What he's proposing is against one of this country's core principles" and "this is why people need to keep the pressure on Obama -- even those inclined to view his presidency favorably."

The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder -- who is as close to the Obama White House as any journalist around -- makes an important point about Obama that I really wish more of his supporters would appreciate:

[Obama] was blunt [in his meeting with civil libertiarians]; the [military commissions] are a fait accompli, so the civil libertarians can either help Congress and the White House figure out the best way to protect the rights of the accused within the framework of that decision, or they can remain on the outside, as agitators. That's not meant to be pejorative; whereas the White House does not give a scintilla of attention to its right-wing critics, it does read, and will read, everything Glenn Greenwald writes. Obama, according to an administration official, finds this outside pressure healthy and useful.
Rachel Maddow finds this proposal from Obama not only contradictory but stunning. WATCH:

During the Bush/Cheney Administration, on many occasions I used the following phrase.
"If you aren't completely appalled then you haven't been paying attention."
I am now saddened to use it during the Obama Administration. But I do believe that Glenn Greenwald is correct when he states:

It's not just the right, but the duty, of citizens to pressure and criticize political leaders when they adopt policies that one finds objectionable or destructive. Criticism of this sort is a vital check on political leaders -- a key way to impose accountability -- and Obama himself has said as much many times before.

It has nothing to do with personalities or allegiances. It doesn't matter if one "likes" or "trusts" Obama or thinks he's a good or bad person. That's all irrelevant. The only thing that matters is whether one thinks that the actions he's undertaking are helpful or harmful. If they're harmful, one should criticize them. Where, as here, they're very harmful and dangerous, one should criticize them loudly. Obama himself, according to Ambinder, "finds this outside pressure healthy and useful." And it is. It's not only healthy and useful but absolutely vital.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

It Took Only 6 Seconds...

Before Mancow said Stop to Torture!

On May 22, 2009, WLS radio host Erich "Mancow" Muller allowed himself to be subjected to waterboarding live on his show.

"I want to find out if it's torture," Mancow told his listeners Friday morning, adding that he hoped his on-air test would help prove that waterboarding did not, in fact, constitute torture.
But only after 6 seconds Mancow signaled to stop the experiment.
"It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that's no joke," Mancow said. "It is such an odd feeling to have water poured down your nose with your head back...It was instantaneous...and I don't want to say this: absolutely torture."
How long would Dick Cheney last?

Interesting Question

Deep Thought by Josh Marshall

Why is Dick Cheney's daughter the only person he can find to go on TV to defend him?
Watch Part I & Part II of Nora O'Donnel's interview with Liz Cheney, who wants us to "remember we are at war."

The Many Sides of Terror

The following article, Yet Another Bogus 'Terror' Plot, by Robert Dreyfuss brings into question the significance of the latest arrests in this 'War on Terror'.

By the now, it's maddeningly familiar. A scary terrorist plot is announced. Then it's revealed that the suspects are a hapless bunch of ne'er-do-wells or run-of-the-mill thugs without the slightest connection to any terrorists at all, never mind to Al Qaeda. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle: the entire plot is revealed to have been cooked up by a scummy government agent-provocateur.

I've seen this movie before.

In this case, the alleged perps -- Onta Williams, James Cromitie, David Williams, and Laguerre Payen -- were losers, ex-cons, drug addicts. Al Qaeda they're not. Without the assistance of the agent who entrapped them, they would never have dreamed of committing political violence, nor would they have had the slightest idea about where to acquire plastic explosives or a Stinger missile. That didn't stop prosecutors from acting as if they'd captured Osama bin Laden himself. Noted the Los Angeles Times:

Prosecutors called it the latest in a string of homegrown terrorism plots hatched after Sept. 11.

"It's hard to envision a more chilling plot," Assistant U.S. Atty. Eric Snyder said in court Thursday. He described all four suspects as "eager to bring death to Jews."

Actually, it's hard to imagine a stupider, less competent, and less important plot. The four losers were ensnared by a creepy FBI agent who hung around the mosque in upstate New York until he found what he was looking for. Here's the New York Times account:

Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, the imam at the mosque where the authorities say the confidential informant first encountered the men, said none of the men were active in the mosque. ...

Mr. Cromitie was there last June, and he met a stranger.

He had no way of knowing that the stranger's path to the mosque began in 2002, when he was arrested on federal charges of identity theft. He was sentenced to five years' probation, and became a confidential informant for the F.B.I. He began showing up at the mosque in Newburgh around 2007, Mr. Muhammad said.

The stranger's behavior aroused the imam's suspicions. He invited other worshipers to meals, and spoke of violence and jihad, so the imam said he steered clear of him.

"There was just something fishy about him," Mr. Muhammad said. Members "believed he was a government agent."

Mr. Muhammad said members of his congregation told him the man he believed was the informant offered at least one of them a substantial amount of money to join his "team."

So a creepy thug buttonholes people at a mosque, foaming at the mouth about violence and jihad? This is law enforcement? Just imagine if someone did this at a local church, or some synagogue. And the imam says the people "believed he was a government agent."

Preying on these losers, none of whom were apparently actual Muslims, the "confidential informant" orchestrated the acquisition of a disabled Stinger missile to shoot down military planes and cooked up a wild scheme about attacking a Jewish center in the Bronx.

It gets even more pathetic:

The only one of the four suspects who appears to have aroused any suspicion was Payen, a Haitian native who attended the Newburgh mosque. Assistant imam Hamid Rashada said his dishevelment and odd behavior disturbed some members, said the assistant imam, Hamid Rashada.

When Payen appeared in court, defense attorney Marilyn Reader described him as "intellectually challenged" and on medication for schizophrenia. The Associated Press said that when he was asked if he understood the proceedings, Payen replied: "Sort of."

Despite the pompous statements from Mayor Bloomberg of New York and other politicians, including Representative Peter King, the whole story is bogus. The four losers may have been inclined to violence, and they may have harbored a virulent strain of anti-Semitism. But it seems that the informant whipped up their violent tendencies and their hatred of Jews, cooked up the plot, incited them, arranged their purchase of weapons, and then had them busted. To ensure that it made headlines, the creepy informant claimed to be representing a Pakistani extremist group, Jaish-e Muhammad, a bona fide terrorist organization. He wasn't, of course.

It is disgusting and outrageous that the FBI is sending provocateurs into mosques.

The headlines reinforce the very fear that Dick Cheney is trying to stir up. The story strengthens the narrative that the "homeland" is under attack. It's not. As I've written repeatedly, since 9/11 not a single American has even been punched in the nose by an angry Muslim, as far as I can tell. Plot after plot -- the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge! bombing the New York Subways! taking down the Sears Tower! bombing the Prudential building in Newark! -- proved to be utter nonsense.

There are many followers. The real question is that without the informant, was there a leader!