Thursday, February 23, 2006

Abortion battle ramping up

That didn't take long.

PIERRE, S.D. - Lawmakers here are preparing to vote on a bill that would outlaw nearly all abortions in South Dakota, a measure that could become the most sweeping ban approved by any state in more than a decade, those on both sides of the abortion debate say.
If the bill passes a narrowly divided Senate in a vote expected today, and is signed by Gov. Michael Rounds, a Republican who opposes abortion, advocates of abortion rights have pledged to immediately challenge it in court - which is precisely what the bill's supporters have in mind.
Optimistic about the new additions to the U.S. Supreme Court, some abortion opponents say they have new hope that a court fight over a ban here could lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that asserted the legality of abortion around the country.
With these two additions, is it any wonder? Yes, Roberts was cagey about Roe v. Wade, but he (and Alito) had every reason to be. If nothing else, I'm sure that abortion opponents would want to nail down their positions, so they know how close they are to overturning Roe v. Wade if they can't simply do it now.

Of course, it might not even pass; apparently the State Senate may not go ahead with it, but somebody would have passed a law like this sooner or later.

Hat tip to Digby, who notes that the abortion debate is largely about punishing "loose women" as much as protecting innocents' lives (else why exclude the innocent children of rape and incest, as so many abortion opponents do?)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Sunni Cleric killed in retaliation.

BAGHDAD, Iraq Gunmen in Iraq have killed a Sunni cleric in Baghdad as protests erupted following an explosion at a famous Shiite shrine.
The Iraqi Army says the cleric was sprayed with bullets as he entered a mosque.

Shiite leaders have been calling for calm following an early morning attack at a shrine in Samarra. But a leading Sunni politician says militants have attacked 29 Sunni mosques nationwide. He fears the situation could get "out of control."
It could. FAST. Sistani needs to redouble his efforts, and bring every Shiite imam in the country onside that he can.

Yes, the Shiites would win a civil war. They'd win a broken country, though, and endure instability for a very long time. They don't want this, and the imams need to make damned sure that everybody knows it.

Spark of the Iraqi Civil War

I guess we're about to find out exactly how stable Iraq really is, becuase if this doesn't spark serious conflict, what could?

One of the most revered shrines in Shiite Islam was bombed early this morning north of Baghdad, causing the collapse of its dome, police and eyewitnesses said. There was no immediate estimate of casualties in the latest in a series of sectarian attacks in the country.

The attack on the Askariya shrine, also known as the Golden Mosque, in the city of Samarra sparked immediate and widespread protests among Shiites across Iraq and reports of reprisal attacks on Sunni mosques. The blast appeared designed to further inflame sectarian tension between Iraq's Shiite majority and the Sunni Arab population from whose ranks the bulk of the country's insurgency is drawn.

"The main aim of these terrorist groups is to drag Iraq into a civil war," said Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, in an interview on al-Arabiya, a Dubai-based Arabic news channel.Thousands of Shiite militia fighters -- many armed with pistols, automatic rifles and grenade launchers -- took to the streets of cities across Iraq after the bombing, even as Shiite political and religious leaders called for peaceful demonstrations and restraint.
It's good news that the Shiite leaders are calling for restraint; it also makes perfect sense, as they're quite aware where the power lies in Iraq. Unfortunately, so do those trying to start a war, and they know how to enrage the Shiites.

That said, it's unlikely that every, or even most, Shiites in Iraq will all of a sudden grab AK-47s and go fight. The bombers are counting on hotheads to ignore their leaders and execute a reprisal, preferably one that affects innocent Sunni and gives Sunni extremists the excuse they need for violence: one that doesn't directly involve them in the bombing.

That's why this isn't nearly as encouraging:

In Baghdad, news of the mosque bombing prompted thousands of Shiite men to abruptly leave their homes and jobs to report to offices of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. School boys, fighting-age men and graying elders marched on foot, or piled into buses and the back of pickup trucks, to report for action.

"We are waiting for orders from our clerics," men shouted outside the headquarters of Sadr, in Baghdad's Sadr City.

Over loudspeakers late in the day, a preacher at the Sadr headquarters blamed the bombing on Iraq's "occupiers," meaning Americans, and ordered that there be no retaliation against Sunnis.

If Sadr also avoids blaming this on the Sunni, that may help prevent civil war... but by foisting it on the Americans, things will become rougher for the U.S. in Iraq.

(Which is, of course, entirely in Sadr's interests.)

In any case, Iraq just became that much more dangerous.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cheney resignation?

I'm with Tristero and Bob Herbert. If it is proven that Cheney was drunk when he shot Harry Whittington, he should resign; but if he does, it's very much possible that the vice president to follow would be worse than ol' Dick.

He floats the idea of Vice-President Rice. While I'm sure that would be the logical choice for a Democratic president, a Republican has to deal with the "southern strategy". A black woman as Vice President would make a lot of people angry that Republicans really don't want angry.

(Nothing that they'll admit to, but regardless...)

Edit: Apologies to Tristero for giving credit to digby for the story.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Good try...

Over on Reclusive Leftist there are comparisons of the infamous pictures of Mohammed that are causing so much controversy and similar satirical pieces involving Jesus. Dr. Socks points out the similarities between, say, the "bomb in the turban" Mohammed and the joke about "Republican Jesus". He/she/it also notes that for some of the drawings (particularly a first one featuring Mohammed in the desert) the dark hair and aquiline nose prominent in the picture are accurate to the time, and another picture showing him wielding a dagger is accurate because "he's a warrior".

The problem with this, however, can be ferreted out if you look at the comparisons closely. In each case where Jesus was featured as opposed to Mohammed, the point of the cartoon was either a relatively harmless joke or an indictment of how Jesus' followers pervert or ignore his teachings, rather than the teachings and the man himself. "Republican Jesus" isn't supposed to be Jesus, but a representation of the selectiveness of his followers.

The representations of Mohammed and Muslims, on the other hand, have the clear implication not that Muslims are betraying their prophet's teachings, but that both the prophet and the followers are intrinsically ridiculous, and monstrously immoral to boot.

As for the drawing of Mohammed? It's not that he has an aquiline nose or black hair, but everything else- he has tiny, squinting eyes, what appears to be a low forehead, and a distrustful expression. The "warrior" picture is much the same, with a reference to the treatment of women under Islam to boot: represented by the fearful, full-body veiled women standing behind the prophet, and the protective stance that he has in front of them. The compared depictions of Jesus (a nearly angelic picture of Christ with a gun, and another joke about hypocrisy with a picture of Jesus riding a bomb saying "what would Jesus bomb") aren't really comparable.

There's more, but it comes down to a simple problem: for each picture, Socks has picked the most forgiving interpretation of Mohammed's pictures, and the most critical interpretation of the Jesus pictures.

I realize that he's trying to defuse the tension, and none of this justifies the violence going on because of these pictures. No speech act could. In order to defend freedom of speech, though, you need to be able to accept what it actually is.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Hullabaloo Over the Cartoons

I hadn't posted on the conflict over the Danish cartoons yet (although I have seen them).

If anybody is wondering, I agree with Tristero on the subject. Freedom of speech is vital, and a part of that is understanding what exactly that speech entails. In the case of the Danish cartoons, many call them satire; as Tristero points out, however, satire is used as a means of speaking truth to power. Since Muslims are for all intents and purposes powerless in Denmark and in Europe in general, and as they are seen as the encroaching "Other" by many in Europe, it isn't really satire. It's merely harsh mockery and ridicule intended to more precisely define the line between Us and Them.

This isn't to say that one can't satirize those that you disagree with; far from it. At some point, though, there has to be a point of shared agreement or belief. When Jon Stewart is satirizing the media, he's recognizing that there is value in the media's job, while simultaneously showing that they are doing it badly. When the Simpsons satirizes American society, they (at least when it works) demonstrate their empathy towards it.

Hence the reason, for example, that Ned Flanders is such a brilliant character. Yes, he's an object of satire, but they recognize that he is at his core a fundamentally good person, and extend the satire to people's reactions to him. Homer is another good example: he's somewhat dumb, but he reflects the foibles of all Americans, and the best episodes are the ones where the satire is done with the lightest and deftest touch.

There is nothing "deft" about the Danish cartoons, however. There's no respect, no acknowledgement of the positives in the mockery of the negatives. Heck, most of them barely make sense. They're just mockery and ridicule from an artist's pen.

Are they protected speech? I think so. Do they in turn, however, deserve scorn? I think so too.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Atrios and Assured Destruction

Eschaton caught flack from Byron York for suggesting that a nuclear Iran isn't the Scariest Thing Ever. Yorke:

Nuanced foreign policy analysis from the popular left-wing blogger Atrios, who doubles as a key player at David Brock's Media Matters for America watchdog site:

Look, I just don't get this stuff. I don't want Iran to have nukes. I don't think that's a good thing for the world. I certainly didn't want Pakistan or India to have nukes. But is a nuclear Iran really a threat to us? Certainly an Iran-with-nukes could blow the hell out of a city or two, but an Iran that did such a thing would pretty much cease to exist. It isn't mutually assured destruction, it's you f--k with us a little bit and YOU NO LONGER LIVE BITCHES!

Atrios' response?

He of the best hair in punditry gives us a preview of the coming political campaign. Anyone who suggests that Iran is not the biggest scariest monster in the world is going to have their comments misrepresented.

I of course never even implied the notion "who cares about a city or two?" The point is that the deterrence that kept a few thousand ICBMs coming our way from the Soviet Union should also work with smaller state nuclear powers, with the added benefit that "mutually assured destruction" simply becomes "assured destruction" - theirs, not ours.

North Korea can also presumably take out a couple of US cities, and that country is both more desperate as well as having a leader who is more likely be an irrational actor. Pakistan is under a dictatorship and is one successful assassination attempt away from who knows what. They too can presumably take out a couple of US cities.

I'm quite against nuclear proliferation in all of its forms and it would've been nice if we had been taking it more seriously. But thinking that Iran shouldn't have nukes is not the same as imagining that Iran with nukes is the "greatest threat to the Republic" that we face. I just have no idea how that computes.
Atrios was, and is, absolutely right. The point of mutually assured destruction is that both sides are deterred by the certainty of self-destruction in the case of a first strike.

Unequal situations (like the America/Iran one) just mean that only one of the parties is deterred, and in this case, it would be Iran. If the United States were attacked, they would have every right (if not the obligation) to respond in kind.

This is basic nuclear strategic thinking; York was and is an idiot by trying to fault Atrios for it.

The only issue is whether or not the Iranian leadership is insane enough to court annihilation by attacking someone else. This is somewhat more legit, but not for the U.S.: it'd be Israel that's the target in that case. I doubt that Ahmadinejad is actually that crazy; even if he were, he's not the entire leadership, and someone rational would probably end up putting a bullet in his brainpan. Iran almost certainly wants nukes for the same reason anybody else does: it guarantees the continuous existence of your regime from foreign invasion.

This isn't to say, however, that a nuclear Iran is a good thing. It isn't. The whole world would be better off with an Iran that eschews these weapons. As long as the U.S. keeps on making noises about "regime change", however, there's no way of stopping them, because they know that nuclear weapons can stave off the U.S.

Whether having that option be off the table is the REAL reason for the fearmongering, I can't say.

What I can say is that attempts by the right to monopolize foreign policy arguments, even in idiotic little blog posts like York's, doesn't do them any favors.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I'm With Bob Burnett

Watching you act like a package of vacuum-sealed weenies on national television has gotten old, Dems. Stewart was dancing around that issue last night on the Daily Show, but he knows, you know, and I know what it's really about: the consultant class, who are so frightened of "alienating" theoretical swing voters that they cajole otherwise decent public servants into dribbling pablum.

"There's a better way"? That's an election slogan, and election slogans don't do you any good if you aren't using them to back up a more concrete message that people can get behind.

(Just ask the Liberals.)

Kaine should have torn Bush a new orifice. Those Americans who could possibly ever vote for the Dems would have applauded him for showing some backbone in doing so.

(Note: that isn't all Americans. Die-hard hard-right movement conservatives would attack him. So? Alienating them is a good thing.)

Sadly, that's exactly what he didn't do.

Someday, I hope the United States gets an opposition party.

Iraq Reconstruction Was a Disaster

Is anybody actually surprised?

The first official history of the $25 billion American reconstruction effort in Iraq depicts a program hobbled from the outset by gross understaffing, a lack of technical expertise, bureaucratic infighting, secrecy and constantly increasing security costs, according to a preliminary draft

A little later, we see the almost certain problem here:

"It almost looks like a spoils system between various agencies," said Steve Ellis, a vice president and an authority on the Army corps at Taxpayers for Common Sense, an organization in Washington, who read a copy of the document. "You had various fiefdoms established in the contracting process."
Everybody wanted a turn at the trough.

What wasn't mentioned in the article, though, was that this was THE pet project of Bush neo-conservatives, and that the people on the ground over there were the very same breed as those who were arguing in favor of the war over here.

Amazing, really: I would have expected that they would have done and said and paid anything to have their pet project work out right. Instead, they screw it up, and the American taxpayers--that endless source of Republican rhetoric--get screwed out of their money.

Even the libertarians won't be happy, because Iraq was supposed to be a free-marketeers paradise after all was said and done. Instead, it's a mess.

Can't say I'll shed a tear for the whole lot. I save my grief for the poor Iraqis.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Comedy Gold

On a related note to the post below, the WP:

The bloggers and online donors represent an important resource for the party, but they are not representative of the majority you need to win elections,' said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist who advised Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. 'The trick will be to harness their energy and their money without looking like you are a captive of the activist left.'"
What the hell does a Kerry advisor know about winning elections?

(thanks to MyDD again)

MyDD and Alito

Matt Stoller over at MyDD reveals how miserable a Democratic failure the Alito confirmation was, the basic contradiction between Americans' views on abortion and the views of the nominee, and the way it could have been done right.

At its core?

As soon as Bush nominated Alito, new ad hoc unbranded groups would have broadcast ads around the country with pictures of a coathanger hanging on a rusty nail, saying that Bush wants to make abortion illegal and take us back to the time when women died in back alleys and doctors were sent to jail for providing medical care. There would have been a media firestorm over liberal extremists, which would generate free media. The next ad would have been harder hitting, showing sleazy used car salesman offering abortion services. TV networks would have refused to run these ads, generating more free media. These groups would then leak direct mail pieces that are even harder hitting, with pictures of women barefoot and pregnant. The advertising would have included the recent mining accident, and blamed Bush for it. All of these tactics would have been used to generate a climate of fear around crossing the pro-choice movement. Protests, live-site events, and cultural products would be sold around this campaign.
There's lots more, particularly about how the Dems would use surrogates but keep their distance, and a very nice point that "with the political space thus created, Senators would be free to preen and lecture us about maintaining a civil bipartisan tone around not killing women in back alleys."

This is something the Republicans have always understood, and the Dems always shie away from: if you can't say something for fear of re-election, get somebody else to say it for you. This is the very reason Rush Limbaugh and the AEI "scholars" exist. They "speak it as they see it", take some heat, but change the bounds of the debate in the process.

Of course, Stoller does miss one thing: the Dems have to have the desire to do anything. As long as they're focused on the kind of transparent triangulation featuered in, say, Carville and Begala's book, it's not going to happen. Democrats react to polling numbers- Republicans know how to create them.

Edit: fixed some messed up brackets, and a clarification: Carville and Begala do believe that the Democrats need to demonstrate a spine, but miss the point that there is no way that they can win everybody over on every issue. They want Dems to take stands on poll-tested issues, but that's precisely the problem, because everybody KNOWS that they're going to take stands on those issues. "I'm against those things that everybody hates" is stereotypical politics, not good politics. You need to be willing to buck the trend on at least a few issues, so that you're seen as driven by something that goes beyond the desire to get elected. Yes, you'll probably tick some people off, but that's the fun thing: if they agree with you on other issues, they'll back you anyway.

The Dems know enough to do this to their base (and, yes, this has to happen with the base to a certain extent), but don't know enough to do it to self-proclaimed "centrists". Sooner or later, you have to move away from the center, because your very existence as a candidate will define the center as somewhere between where you and your opponent stand. No matter how careful the positioning, you can't dodge that simple fact. If you can use it, though, to define yourself as someone that the voters can trust to lead and represent them, then you're already halfway there.