The Beltway Bandit

An online journal of politics, culture, and sports

Thursday, November 11, 2004

EARLY REVIEWS -- of Oliver Stone's $150 million epic "Alexander" are not good.

FAIR FIGHT IN THE CULTURE WAR -- Much of the credit for Mr Bush's victory goes, no doubt, to the Religious Right and its vast army of committed [and some of them should be] voters. Morals, values, this is what matters most to these voters and they supported George W. Bush in overwhelming numbers. These people blame liberals for coarsening American culture and they look to the Republican party to fix this mess. As Frank Rich brilliantly points out, they're blaming the wrong people and looking for help in the wrong direction.
Everything about the election results - and about American culture itself - confirms an inescapable reality: John Kerry's defeat notwithstanding, it's blue America, not red, that is inexorably winning the culture war, and by a landslide. Kerry voters who have been flagellating themselves since Election Day with a vengeance worthy of "The Passion of the Christ" should wake up and smell the Chardonnay.

The blue ascendancy is nearly as strong among Republicans as it is among Democrats. Those whose "moral values" are invested in cultural heroes like the accused loofah fetishist Bill O'Reilly and the self-gratifying drug consumer Rush Limbaugh are surely joking when they turn apoplectic over MTV. William Bennett's name is now as synonymous with Las Vegas as silicone. The Democrats' Ashton Kutcher is trumped by the Republicans' Britney Spears. Excess and vulgarity, as always, enjoy a vast, bipartisan constituency, and in a democracy no political party will ever stamp them out.

If anyone is laughing all the way to the bank this election year, it must be the undisputed king of the red cultural elite, Rupert Murdoch. Fox News is a rising profit center within his News Corporation, and each red-state dollar that it makes can be plowed back into the rest of Fox's very blue entertainment portfolio. The Murdoch cultural stable includes recent books like Jenna Jameson's "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star" and the Vivid Girls' "How to Have a XXX Sex Life," which have both been synergistically, even joyously, promoted on Fox News by willing hosts like Rita Cosby and, needless to say, Mr. O'Reilly. There are "real fun parts and exciting parts," said Ms. Cosby to Ms. Jameson on Fox News's "Big Story Weekend," an encounter broadcast on Saturday at 9 p.m., assuring its maximum exposure to unsupervised kids.

Almost unnoticed in the final weeks of the campaign was the record government indecency fine levied against another prime-time Fox television product, "Married by America." The $1.2 million bill, a mere bagatelle to Murdoch stockholders, was more than twice the punishment inflicted on Viacom for Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction." According to the F.C.C. complaint, one episode in this heterosexual marriage-promoting reality show included scenes in which "partygoers lick whipped cream from strippers' bodies," and two female strippers "playfully spank" a man on all fours in his underwear. "Married by America" is gone now, but Fox remains the go-to network for Paris Hilton ("The Simple Life") and wife-swapping ("Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy").

None of this has prompted an uprising from the red-state Fox News loyalists supposedly so preoccupied with "moral values." They all gladly contribute fungible dollars to Fox culture by boosting their fair-and-balanced channel's rise in the ratings.
The 22 percent of voters who told pollsters that "moral values" were their top election issue - 79 percent of whom voted for Bush-Cheney - corresponds almost exactly to the number of voters (23 percent) who describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians. They are entitled to their culture, too, and their own entertainment industry. And their own show-biz scandals. The Los Angeles Times reported this summer that Paul Crouch, the evangelist who founded the largest Christian network, Trinity Broadcasting Network, vehemently denied a former employee's accusation that the two had had a homosexual encounter - though not before paying the employee a $425,000 settlement. Not so incidentally, Trinity joined Gary Bauer and Fox News as prime movers in "Redeem the Vote," the Christian-rock alternative to MTV's "Rock the Vote."

But the distance between this hard-core red culture and the majority blue culture is perhaps best captured by Tom Coburn, the newly elected Republican senator from Oklahoma, lately famous for discovering "rampant" lesbianism in that state's schools. As a congressman in 1997, Mr. Coburn attacked NBC for encouraging "irresponsible sexual behavior" and taking "network TV to an all-time low with full frontal nudity, violence and profanity being shown in our homes." The broadcast that prompted his outrage on behalf of "parents and decent-minded individuals everywhere" was the network's prime-time showing of Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List."
But what does the Religious Right get from this alliance with the Republican party? What does the GOP do to further the cultural goals of the Self-Righteous Right?
It's in the G.O.P.'s interest to pander to this far-right constituency - votes are votes - but you can be certain that a party joined at the hip to much of corporate America, Mr. Murdoch included, will take no action to curtail the blue culture these voters deplore. As Marshall Wittman, an independent-minded former associate of both Ralph Reed and John McCain, wrote before the election, "The only things the religious conservatives get are largely symbolic votes on proposals guaranteed to fail, such as the gay marriage constitutional amendment."

Mr. Wittman echoes Thomas Frank, the author of "What's the Matter With Kansas?," by common consent the year's most prescient political book. "Values," Mr. Frank writes, "always take a backseat to the needs of money once the elections are won." Under this perennial "trick," as he calls it, Republican politicians promise to stop abortion and force the culture industry "to clean up its act" - until the votes are counted. Then they return to their higher priorities, like cutting capital gains and estate taxes. Mr. Murdoch and his fellow cultural barons - from Sumner Redstone, the Bush-endorsing C.E.O. of Viacom, to Richard Parsons, the Republican C.E.O. of Time Warner, to Jeffrey Immelt, the Bush-contributing C.E.O. of G.E. (NBC Universal) - are about to be rewarded not just with more tax breaks but also with deregulatory goodies increasing their power to market salacious entertainment. It's they, not Susan Sarandon and Bruce Springsteen, who actually set the cultural agenda Gary Bauer and company say they despise.
This is exactly correct. If blame for the coarsening of American culture can be laid at anyone's feet, it is at the feet of these Republican multimedia bigwigs who bankroll the GOP and then hide in the background, letting Whoopi Goldberg take the fall for all the filth. [I won't even go on about Fox News TV host/vibrator spokesmodel Bill O'Reilly.] It is not liberals who are polluting American culture with senseless sex and mindless violence. That deed is being committed, every single day, by the very men and women who bankroll the Republican party.

REWARDING INCOMPETENCE -- Mr Bush is apparently content to make few, if any changes to his foreign/defense policy team. Remember, folks: No mistakes!

THE SPECTER OF DEFEAT -- In January 2005, when a new Congress is sworn in and Mr Bush takes the oath of office for a second time, the Republican agenda for the next four years will be decided by a series of turf wars between Wall Street Republicans and the Religious Right. On some issues they will be able to cooperate and compromise. On other issues, it looks a bit more dicey. [Teehee.]
Evangelical leaders say that among their top priorities are new limits on abortion, a constitutional ban on gay marriage, and the appointment of conservative judges to the federal bench, including the Supreme Court. But their most immediate goal is to block Sen. Arlen Specter from taking the helm of the Judiciary Committee when the 109th Congress convenes in January.

The moderate Pennsylvania Republican -- fresh off his own re-election -- is a supporter of abortion rights and is seen as a potential roadblock to much of the evangelicals' agenda.

The fight taking shape over Sen. Specter is both an early test of wills over the direction of the Republican Party and a demonstration of the aggressive role evangelicals plan to play in the second Bush term. "I don't think there's any doubt that the White House or the GOP heard the bell loud and clear," says Carrie Gordon Earll, a senior policy analyst at Focus on the Family, an influential Colorado-based group that rallied campaign support for the president.

Almost immediately after the election, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, a leading figure among evangelical activists, began urging supporters to pressure Senate Republicans not to elevate Mr. Specter. Calls from activists across the country are now flooding switchboards on Capitol Hill. "In Dr. Dobson's view, Arlen Specter is not fit to be the chairman, seniority tradition aside," Ms. Gordon Earll says.

According to Election Day exit polls, 22% of voters identified themselves as white evangelical Christians. Mr. Bush won the support of 77% of them. Though there is no one set of qualities that defines all evangelicals, the self-identified group of Bush supporters are broadly Protestants who are interested in issues related to values, family and faith.
Evangelicals have a stake in many issues on Capitol Hill, from curbing underage drinking to preserving the tax deduction for charitable giving. But it is larger, more hotly debated social issues that draw much of their attention. As Mr. Bush works on his declared legacy-shaping goals, such as tax and Social Security overhaul, he is likely to be challenged to balance them against potentially divisive battles over values.

The debate over Sen. Specter could be the opening round. Mr. Bush backed the senator over a more conservative challenger in the primary, and campaigned for him this fall. But the White House is adopting an arm's length posture on whether he should head the Judiciary Committee, which among other tasks vets judicial nominees. "That's a matter for the Senate to decide," says Mr. Bush's press secretary, Scott McClellan.

Mr. Specter got into hot water with conservatives immediately after the election when many interpreted some of his remarks as a warning to the White House not to nominate judges opposed to abortion. Mr. Specter says his remarks were misread and has been calling other Republican senators to assure them he will help advance the president's agenda if given the chairmanship. He has asked for a meeting next week with Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to straighten things out, according to other members.

But the senator's assurances haven't slowed the controversy, in part because of the importance of the Judiciary Committee to evangelical leaders. Besides screening judges, the committee would steer any proposed constitutional amendments -- including a ban on same-sex marriage. That initiative failed in the current Congress, but is expected to be reintroduced. In last week's election, 11 states approved referendums that will ban or limit gay marriage. Mr. Bush campaigned vigorously in favor of a federal amendment.
As the article notes, Senator Specter has been busily prostrating himself before his fellow Republicans and the White House, assuring all and sundry he can be relied upon to roll over for any judge Mr Bush sends his way. Nevertheless, the Religious Right simply does not trust him [I'd never suggest that his Jewish religion has anything to do with it] taking Specter out is apparently the opening salvo of the inter-Republican fight over which interest group will be the biggest gorilla for the next four years.

I don't think the Religious Right will succeed, simply because other Senators, many with their own committees to run, will be wary of setting an example wherein outside pressure groups are permitted to decide who becomes a Senate chairman. If Specter could be taken out by the Religious Right, any of them could also be taken out by some business group wanting a more sympathetic leader of the Banking Committee or the Transportation Committee or what have you. It's a dangerous precedent to set if you're a veteran Senator jealously guarding his turf--which describes most in the Senate.

Nevertheless, it is possible Specter will be blocked from taking the Judiciary Chair from Senator Orrin Hatch [R-UT], who is term-limited and must relinquish his post. It could happen. Personally, I hope it does. I've got no love for Snarlin' Arlen, who is the phoniest moderate in the U.S. Congress. Besides, a humiliating defeat for Specter [instead of the humiliating "victory," which seems more likely], would send a powerful message to genuine Republican moderates in the Senate. Senators Chaffee, Snowe and Collins--there is no place for you in the modern, medieval Republican party.


Much blood has been spilled. Never forget it.

SNOUTS IN THE TROUGH -- Yes, we've all known for some time that Halliburton has its snouts in the trough. What is increasingly emerging, however, is the fact that the company has got its two front trotters in the trough, as well.
The U.S. ambassador to Kuwait and other senior U.S. officials put pressure on Halliburton to award a contract to a Kuwaiti company suspected of overcharging to bring fuel into Iraq, according to State Department documents released on Wednesday.

The documents, portions of which were released by Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, also said the State Department received information in the summer of 2003 that Halliburton officials demanded kickbacks and solicited bribes from Altanmia Commercial Marketing Company of Kuwait.

Altanmia is at the center of an investigation into whether Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root, or KBR, overcharged in 2003 for getting fuel into Iraq, which despite being oil-rich suffered a shortage of refined products.

A draft Pentagon audit at the end of last year found evidence KBR might have overcharged by at least $61 million for bringing in fuel under its no-bid U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contract.

According to the documents, on Dec. 2, 2003, Richard Jones, the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait, sent an e-mail directing unidentified officials: "Tell KBR to get off their butts and conclude deals with Kuwait NOW! Tell them we want a deal done with Altanmia within 24 hours and don't take any excuses."

The e-mail added: "If Amb. Bremer hears that KBR is still dragging its feet, he will be livid," referring to the U.S. civilian administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer.
Last month, just days before the U.S. presidential election, the Army Corps of Engineers top contracting official, Bunny Greenhouse, said deals given to Halliburton were the worst case of contracting abuse she had ever seen. Greenhouse is set to be interviewed by the FBI about her allegations.
One e-mail about an Aug. 4, 2003, meeting between U.S. Embassy officials in Kuwait and Altanmia, reported the Kuwaiti company's claim that coalition and KBR officers "are on the take; that they solicit bribes openly; that anyone visiting their seaside villas at the Kuwaiti Hilton who offers to provide services will be asked for a bribe."

In another "sensitive but unclassified" document, the wife of a senior KBR manager reportedly lost her diamond watch at the Kuwaiti Hilton, where most KBR staff were staying, and her husband demanded the hotel buy her another one.
Congressman Waxman [D-CA] has asked Congressman Tom Davis [R-VA], chair of the House Government Affairs Committee, for hearings on Halliburton. You may be sure Davis, the Bush admin, and Congressional Republicans will not be too keen on investigating one of the top donors to the Republican party.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

IRAQI INSURGENTS STRIKE BACK -- Not in Fallujah, where the media and the Bush admin thinks the real battle is being fought, but in Ramadi.
Rebel fighters massed in the centre of the restive Iraqi city of Ramadi Tuesday after US military snipers withdrew from their positions following 24 hours of clashes, an AFP correspondent said.
US snipers left a hotel from where they were able to control most of Ramadi's main roads, but the military remained in its headquarters in the governor's office nearby, the correspondent said.

Other US soldiers left the city for their bases in the east and west of the city.

As the snipers departed, large crowds of armed insurgents, their faces hidden by scarves, began dancing in the street and shooting in to the air, yelling "Allah Akbar" (God is great).

Banners proclaiming solidarity with insurgents in Fallujah, where US-led forces launched a massive offensive to retake the city on Monday, were hung in the streets.

"The residents of Ramadi condemn the attack against Fallujah and we appeal to the inhabitants of Ramadi to wage jihad against the American occupants who want to eradicate Islam," said one man who did not want to be named.
This battle to win over the average Iraqi doesn't seem to be going too well, does it? And the Iraqi insurgents, like successful insurgents the world over for thousands of years, refuse to be drawn into any pitched battles with a superior enemy, preferring to withdraw in the face of larger armies and regroup to attack the soft underbelly from a different angle.

THE WAY FORWARD -- I've been thinking about where the Democrats should go from here for a while and it seems like most liberals in the blogosphere have posted on this subject already. I have not because I decided to take a bit more time formulating my thoughts. [Or perhaps I'm just a bit slower than most.] I was settling on a stridently anti-Washington, D.C. theme for the Democrats, but struggling to put it all together. As luck would have it, that ol' liberal warhorse, Jimmy Carville, lent a hand.
"We can deny this crap, but I'm out of the denial. I'm about reality here," Mr. Carville told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "We are an opposition party, and as of right now, not a particularly effective one. You can't deny reality here."

He said the party is desperately in need of a compelling narrative to tell voters, rather than the "litany of issues" the party stands for now.

He said Mr. Bush and Republicans presented just such a story: "These guys had a narrative — we're going to protect you from the terrorists in Tikrit and from the homos in Hollywood. That's it," he said. "I think we could elect somebody from Beverly Hills if they had some compelling narrative to tell people about what the country is."
One possibility, he said, was to embrace a reform-oriented, anti-Washington agenda. That would require the ability of members of Congress to reject pork projects for their districts and stake the party's fortunes on fiscal discipline.

During the Carville-run 1992 campaign, Mr. Clinton, the last Democrat to win the presidency — albeit, both times with less than a majority vote — took on rap artist Sister Souljah and promised to focus on pro-business policies that would lead to economic growth.
This is exactly correct. The Bush admin and its servants in the Republican Congress are not going to get things right. They're not going to control spending, they're not going to win in Iraq, they're not going to fix Social Security, and they're not going to solve the healthcare crisis. What they're going to try to do is enrich Republican party financiers at every turn. Mr Bush is claiming a mandate to make his tax cuts permanent and privatize Social Security, but as Mr Carville correctly notes, the Bush-Cheney campaign focused almost exclusively on opposition to terrorism and homosexuals. The voters are in for a bit of a shock when they find out what Mr Bush is really planning to do.

So what should the Democrats do about all this? The first thing is to realize what they are and what they are not. Democrats are not the party of Washington anymore, the Republicans are. Democats are not the establishment anymore, the Republicans are. If Democrats are outsiders they must begin to behave like outsiders. Democrats must be harshly and publicly critical of everything the ruling party does which does not meet with Democratic approval. Democrats must hold the ruling party responsible for everything they do and everything that goes wrong. Democrats have an obligation to aggressively represent the interests of the 48 percent of the electorate which voted for them and that means opposing most of whatever Mr Bush is likely to do.

What's more, the Democrats have an obligation to come together on a program for what they would do in office, similar to the Contract for America the GOP used to such great effect in 1994. [Indeed, Democrats should study exactly what the GOP did from January 1993 to November 1994 and emulate it wherever appropriate.]

In addition, Democrats must begin to speak seriously about national security and war. There can be no more attempts to finesse the issue or neutralize it or "take it off the table." Democrats must speak forcefully about war and the best way to defend Americans and our national interests. They must do this convincingly, claiming every bit of national security credibility the Republicans routinely do. In other words, Democrats must treat national security issues as seriously as they treat Social Security or taxes or the environment. The party won't win elections until it does this.

Finally, the party needs to turn away from the beltway [says the Beltway Bandit] and towards the provinces. The Beltway Democrats have had two bites at the apple--2000 and 2004. It's time for the party to return to what works: Choosing a successful governor to lead them back to power. It worked in 1976 and it worked in 1992. It can work again. The right governor is out there somewhere. The party must choose that man or woman and then wage a relentless campaign against Washington. In 2006 and 2008 the party should be running as the party of outsiders, the party of insurgents, the party of citizens fed up with the stench of corruption, venality and incompetence that is Republican Washington.

Down with the Establishment, Democrats! Therein lies your path back to power.

TOM TOLES GETS IT -- Insert grim chuckle here.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE -- When George W. Bush insists that he needs the line item veto to control spending, all sane people must surely suspect they've left the real world and entered The Twilight Zone, a universe where up is down and black is white. Mr Bush has never vetoed a single spending bill. He's the all-time drunken sailor of spending. Now he wants the line item veto to pull out a few million here and a few million there? What a laugh. He set the house on fire and now he wants to spend his time dusting the mantelpiece.

Not everyone is a big fan of the line item veto. The Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional and certain members of Congress are not exactly eager to see it return.
"It is a malformed monstrosity, born out of wedlock," thundered Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia
Take his word for it. If anyone would recognize a malformed monstrosity born out of wedlock it'd be someone from West Virginia.

SPANKING PERVERT -- is "a very Christian person":
RED BANK, Tenn. - Two young women complained to police that they were spanked by their 57-year-old employer for mistakes on the job, and the boss now faces criminal charges.

One of the women told police that on her first day at the Tasty Flavors Sno Biz, before any spanking, owner Paul Eugene Levengood made her sign a statement that said: "I give Gene permission to bust my behind any way he sees fit."

The separate complaints prompted two sexual battery charges against Levengood of Cleveland, who was freed on a $2,000 bond pending a Nov. 16 court hearing.

Levengood could not be reached for comment Tuesday, and his Tasty Flavors Sno Biz shaved ice business in this Chattanooga suburb was closed.

According to police documents, one of the women reported that on Oct. 30, her fourth day on the job, Levengood called her "into the back room of the store" after she forgot to put a banana in a smoothie drink.

She said that as punishment Levengood "bent her over his knee and spanked her behind 20 times."

She said that was one day after he "snapped a photograph of her behind" as she reached for a flavor bottle on a shelf.

LaMance said one of the women showed him photographs that had been kept at the store. The photos of women were shot from behind and in some cases do not show faces but "all you see are their behinds," he said.
At the company headquarters in Minneapolis, sales manager Tom Novetzke described Levengood as a "very Christian person."
The whole time I was reading this story I was waiting for a quote from some defender of this guy testifying to the fact that he is a good Christian. Sure enough, I wasn't disappointed.

LIES MAKE BABY JESUS CRY -- Your science is no match for our lies!
Women seeking abortions in Mississippi must first sign a form indicating they've been told abortion can increase their risk of breast cancer. They aren't told that scientific reviews have concluded there is no such risk.

Similar information suggesting a cancer link is given to women considering abortion in Texas, Louisiana and Kansas, and legislation to require such notification has been introduced in 14 other states.

Abortion opponents, who are pushing these measures, say they are simply giving women information to consider. But abortion rights supporters see it much differently.

"In my experience, this inaccurate information is going to dissuade few women from going ahead and having the abortion," said Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "What it does do is put a false guilt trip and fear trip on that woman."

More than a year ago, a panel of scientists convened by the National Cancer Institute reviewed available data and concluded there is no link. A scientific review in the Lancet, a British medical journal, came to the same conclusion, questioning the methodology in a few studies that have suggested a link.

Still, information suggesting a link is being given to women to read during mandatory waiting periods before abortions. In some cases, the information is on the states' Web sites.

"We're going to continue to educate the public about this," said Karen Malec, president of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer, an anti-abortion group.
What would Jesus do? Apparently, He would lie through his teeth.

NEW ATTORNEY GENERAL -- will be Alberto Gonzalez, the current White House counsel. I don't think this makes much of a difference either way. Sure, Gonzalez is the man who signed off on the Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib gulags, but someone else would have done the same if he had not. Mr Gonzalez was also general counsel for Enron, so you can see that his appeal to Mr Bush is clear. A willingness to dispense with law is a precondition for serving in the Bush administration. Gonzalez is a moral vacuum, but that makes him no different than most in the Bush admin and no different than anyone else Bush would be likely to appoint Attorney General in Gonzalez's place.

Straight male seeks Bush supporter for fair, physical fight - m4m

Reply to:
Date: Wed Nov 03 19:11:50 2004

I would like to fight a Bush supporter to vent my anger. If you are one, have a fiery streek, please contact me so we can meet and physically fight. I would like to beat the shit out of you.
It just doesn't get any better than that.

LIBERAL CHRISTIANS -- are trying to battle the notion that right-wing social conservatives have a headlock on the followers of Christ. There are liberal Christians in America and they want to make their voices heard.
Battling the notion that "values voters" swept President Bush to victory because of opposition to gay marriage and abortion, three liberal groups released a post-election poll in which 33 percent of voters said the nation's most urgent moral problem was "greed and materialism" and 31 percent said it was "poverty and economic justice." Sixteen percent cited abortion, and 12 percent named same-sex marriage.

But the religious leaders acknowledged that the Christian right had reached more voters than the Christian left. Some said it was time for "moderate and progressive" religious groups, as well as the Democratic Party, to rethink their positions.

"One of the things a few of us are talking about is a reassessment of how the Democrats deal with an issue like abortion -- could there be a more moderate ground, where even if they retained their pro-choice stance, they talked about uniting pro-choice people together to actually do something about the abortion rate?" said Jim Wallis, editor of the liberal evangelical journal Sojourners.

If the Democratic Party were to "welcome pro-life Democrats, Catholics and evangelicals and have a serious conversation with them" about ways to reduce teenage pregnancy, facilitate adoptions and improve conditions for low-income women, it would "work wonders" among centrist evangelicals and Catholics, Wallis said.
As someone who considers himself a liberal Christian, I welcome any robust attempt by my fellow progressive believers to assert themselves politically. I don't see any problem with the party allowing anti-choice speakers to address the convention more often--in fact I think that's probably overdue. In addition, I don't think the party should defend what critics call "partial-birth abortion" except in cases where the life of the mother would be endangered without the procedure. However, I don't think the party should compromise on stem cell research, which is a matter of putting science ahead of ideology.

Clearly, Democrats and progressive Christians need to work harder to draw a clear connection in the public mind between liberalism and the parts of Christian theology which emphasize social justice and intolerance--which is most of Christian theology. That synthesis must be made and an aggressive argument to the public that progressive politics and Christianity ought to walk hand in hand should follow naturally from that. This should have been done a long time ago. What the party must not do, however, is compromise its core beliefs on freedom, equality and social justice. If they do that, what's the point of being Democrats at all?

DeanNC -- There has been a lot of blogosphere chatter about Howard Dean becoming the next head of the Democratic National Committee. My view is that the next head of the DNC is not the most important thing for Democrats to be thinking about right now, but I'm fine with Dean in that position. In fact, I rather like it. Dean is a take-no-prisoners sort of public speaker who does fine on television when not in the middle of a snarling rage. That becoming head of the DNC would preclude a run at the presidency in 2008 is gravy. No doubt many Deaniacs believe the loss of John Kerry clears the path for their guy, but the fact is that voters will care little more for a liberal from Vermont than they did for a liberal from Massachusetts. In fact, they'd probably care a bit less for him. The White House is just not in Howard Dean's future. He could, however, become the man who helped begin the Democratic party walk down the path to retake the presidency. Not a bad legacy to leave.

FALLUJAH FALLOUT -- The assault on Fallujah is not terribly popular with Sunni Iraqis [or any Iraqis, probably] and the repercussions were not long in coming.
A powerful group of Sunni Muslim clerics called Tuesday for a boycott of national elections set for late January to protest the U.S.-led attack against the Sunni insurgent stronghold Fallujah.

The group's director, Harith al-Dhari, said the election was being held "over the corpses of those killed in Fallujah and the blood of the wounded."

In the past weeks, al-Dhari's Association of Muslim Scholars has been warning it would call such a boycott if a Fallujah offensive took place.
Holding an election after two months of martial law is problematic enough, I think most reasonable observers would agree. But holding an election after two months of martial law and one major section of the population abstaining would be a disaster. What's the Bush admin plan for dealing with this? Do they even have a plan?

DON'T MISS THE POINT -- All this chatter about U.S. Marines re-taking Fallujah misses the point. The key to winning any war, including a war of insurgency, is not to hold territory, but to destroy enemy forces. The U.S. has taken most of Fallujah and will soon, no doubt, take the rest. What good does that do? The enemy left Fallujah before this attack even began and will regroup to launch new attacks once they are in a position to neutralize superior U.S. firepower.
Although U.S. troops have punched into the center of the Iraqi city of Fallujah, they might later encounter many more insurgents who have escaped, perhaps to fight another day in another place.

"I personally believe that some of the senior leaders probably have fled," said Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, the multinational ground force commander in Iraq.
The continued violence means that even if the battle of Fallujah is successful, the problems will not be over.

"We don't know how many people can go underground, simply go back into the population, or how many can escape what is a loose surrounding force around the city," said military analyst Tony Cordesman, an ABC News consultant. "We have to understand this is a battle. It is not a war."
That's the truth.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

NOT SINCE THE UNABOMBER -- has a handwritten letter contained such unintentional hilarity.
The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved. The rule of law has been strengthened and upheld in the courts.
-- John Ashcroft, resigning.
Absolutely priceless.

FALWELL TO LEAD NEW COALITION OF JERKS -- He's back, though he never really went away. Jerry Falwell says he will soon head up a new coalition of evangelicals to overturn pro-choice abortion laws, elect more awful people like George W. Bush to the White House and think up ways to do more harm to American gays.

FALLUJAH BURNS -- The U.S. news out of Iraq is heavily censored, so we go to the BBC for information about what is going on in the city during the U.S. attack.
From my window, I can see US soldiers moving around on foot near it.

They tried to go from house to house but they kept coming under fire.

Now they are firing back at the houses, at anything that moves. It is war on the streets.

The American troops look like they have given up trying to go into buildings for now and are just trying to control the main roads.
Recently, many Iraqis from other parts of the country have been joining the local men against the Americans.
cannot say how many people have been killed but after two days of bombing, this city looks like Kabul.

Large portions of it have been destroyed but it is so dangerous to leave the house that I have not been able to find out more about casualties.
A medical dispensary in the city centre was bombed earlier.

I don't know what has happened to the doctors and patients who were there.

It was last place you could get medical attention because the big hospital on the outskirts of Falluja was captured by the Americans on Monday.

A lot of the mosques have also been bombed.

For the first time in Falluja, a city of 150 mosques, I did not hear a single call to prayer this morning.
I guess this is what the Neocons mean when they say it is better to be feared than loved. But is it working?

BLEEDING IRAQ -- The battle for Fallujah is bloody:
U.S. Army troops, Marines and some Iraqi forces punched their way through and past the center of Fallujah on Tuesday, but at least 3 U.S. soldiers lost their lives and more were wounded in battles with Sunni extremists.

The fighting in the city and elsewhere in Iraq has cost the United States at least 14 lives over the past two days, according to Pentagon figures. Eleven died on Monday, most in attacks outside Fallujah, marking the highest one-day U.S. toll in more than six months.

Outside Fallujah, meanwhile, insurgents kept up attacks on Tuesday. Raids on police stations in and around the city of Baqouba reportedly killed 45 people, most of them police. The attack was claimed by the terror group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to an Islamic Web site.

Iraqi authorities later imposed the first nighttime curfew in more than a year on Baghdad and surrounding areas under powers granted by an emergency decree announced last weekend.

Hundreds of guerrillas were also swarming the streets of Ramadi, another insurgent stronghold 70 miles west of Baghdad. Gunfire rang out in the city center, and a destroyed car smeared with blood was seen.

Warren of alleyways
In Fallujah, U.S. troops found lighter-than-expected resistance in the Jolan neighborhood, according to NBC's Kevin Sites, who is with one Marine contingent. Sunni extremists were thought to be holed up in Jolan, a warren of alleyways in northeastern Fallujah where the assault began.

But heavy street clashes were raging in other northern sectors of Fallujah amid fierce bursts of gunfire, residents said. At least two American tanks were engulfed in flames, witnesses said.

Small bands of guerrillas — fewer than 20 — were engaging U.S. troops, then falling back in the face of overwhelming fire from American tanks, 20mm cannons and heavy machine guns, said Time magazine reporter Michael Ware, embedded with troops. Ware reported that there appeared to be no civilians in the area he was in.
But a wounded U.S. soldier told a Reuters reporter Tuesday that he had seen 50 wounded comrades. “A buddy of mine and another soldier were killed and I have seen about 50 other wounded (U.S.) soldiers since the fighting began,” he said while awaiting medical evacuation from the city. He declined to give his name.

A U.S. military ambulance driver also said he had witnessed many casualties.
The U.S. has superior firepower so Fallujah will definitely be retaken by the Occupation forces. At that time, the U.S. will have the option of sticking around to occupy the city, thus making themselves a target for every sharpshooter and car bomber in the area, or withdrawing from the city and allowing it to be retaken by the insurgents. Those insurgents had already mostly left the city when the attack began, leaving behind only a skeleton crew to make the Americans bleed for the city.

BIG RIG IN IRAQ -- Is the Bush administration going to try to rig the Iraqi elections? Consider for yourself.

ARAFAT NEAR DEATH -- after suffering a brain hemorrhage. What will the Palestinian liberation movement be like without Yasser Arafat? Looks like we will soon find out.

SOCIAL INSECURITY -- Jonathon Cohn at The New Republic has written a timely and excellent piece examining the false promise of Mr Bush's Social Security "reform"--which is another way of saying privatization.
So the first question to ask of any proposed reform is whether it would similarly remain true to the program's founding ideals. When it comes to private account schemes, the answer is "no." At a time when many Americans already fret over how recent Wall Street dips affected their 401(k) plans, privatization would tether their financial security even more closely to the economy and stock market. In general, privatization schemes envision people converting their accounts into annuities (which pay out a fixed sum of money every year) once they reach retirement age. But that means people who retire at the bottom of a bear market will be locked into benefits much lower than those who retire at the top of a bull market.

Privatization advocates insist that the accounts will yield so much interest that even those retiring during downturns will end up better off than they would under the present system, in which interest accumulates much more slowly since Social Security's money is invested in ultra-safe, relatively low-yielding government bonds. But that's a questionable argument, in part because people would likely reduce outside savings as their Social Security accounts grew, leaving them even more vulnerable to last-minute downturns in the market. It's also fair to wonder whether seniors would even tolerate fluctuations in benefits from year to year or whether they'd demand that the government make up the difference. As it is, some privatization schemes envision the government guaranteeing a minimum return on benefits--a guarantee that would push the program's costs even higher.

And that's only the beginning of the financial problems with privatization. Remember, most of the money coming into Social Security right now goes right back out as benefits. If some workers use that money instead for their private accounts, the system will run out of money even faster than it would now--forcing the government to make up the shortfall of several trillion dollars. Privatization advocates euphemistically call this a "transition cost," arguing that it simply means paying off now a debt that must be paid off later anyway. Others say it simply means making the debt that Social Security owes over the long term "explicit" rather than "implicit."

But what's so simple about that? If the government chooses to take on the entire long-term deficit of Social Security right now, it's got to find the money for it. Since it's safe to assume Bush would neither cut spending nor raise taxes to come up with this cash, the government would likely borrow it. That might have been fine just a few years ago, when the government was running budget surpluses and actually paying down its existing debt. But now, thanks in good part to the Bush tax cuts, we're back to running high deficits and accumulating debt--enough, many experts fear, to cause economic calamity (by, say, pushing up interest rates) if Bush suddenly throws a few trillion dollars more on the pile. "If interest rates go up four or five times in a few weeks or months, it's a real shock to the system," says Henry Aaron, a Brookings Institution economist, "and you could have yourself a merry recession or even a depression."
How does that sound so far? Don't worry, though. It gets worse.

FIGHTING IN THE SOUTH -- New Donkey has some interesting thoughts on Democrats fighting an uphill battle to compete in the south. The gist: It won't be easy, but it is not impossible either--unless we fail to try.

Monday, November 08, 2004

A MANDATE FOR WHAT? -- Jacob S. Hacker & Paul Pierson at The New Republic have an interesting article on what the election meant and whether Mr Bush has the mandate he claims.
There is a more fundamental objection to Republicans' claim of a clear mandate for an ambitious domestic agenda: It is, put simply, a bait and switch. If one can bear to recall events of only a week ago, the Republican campaign was based on two main pillars: fear and mud. Overwhelmingly, the "positive" case for Bush's reelection rested on the relentless drumbeat of the war on terror.
In fact, everything we know about American opinion suggests that Bush is out of step with the public on all the issues he is now putting at the top of his "to do" list. During the election campaign, polls found that most Americans continue to be highly skeptical of the Republican tax-cut agenda and convinced that they have not benefited from it. In the final debate, Bush had to resort to the fudge of pointing out that the majority of his tax cuts went to "low- and middle-income Americans"--and while they did, the majority of benefits from his tax cuts did not.

On Social Security, administration officials have had four years to develop specific proposals. They have held back precisely because once an actual proposal is outlined it becomes clear what a dreadful deal it will be for most Americans. Indeed, when surveys mention the potential downsides of private individual accounts, public opinion has remained rock solid against privatization--and there is no evidence of a strong shift in favor of Bush's stance. A year ago, for example, the Los Angeles Times found that only a quarter of Americans supported private investment accounts in Social Security if it meant a reduction in guaranteed benefits--a feature of all leading privatization plans. The same basic story holds for other domestic policy issues. The point isn't that the majority of Americans aren't conservative on some topics--they are. The point is that their views have not changed fundamentally, and they remain overwhelmingly hostile to the top domestic priorities on which the administration is now claiming a mandate.
These are excellent points. The Bush admin did not campaign on Social Security privatization and though Bush would talk about his tax shift permanent, it was hardly a centerpiece of his campaign. I strongly suspect the GOP is about to engage in massive overreach and am quite content to witness it.

TWO U.S. MARINES DIE -- in Fallujah. More of the same to come.

COMES THE REVOLUTION -- Want to know what the Christian Right think of the 2004 general election? Wonder no more.
The president's margin of victory — 51% to 48% — was clear but hardly a landslide. The voices that spoke decisively on Nov. 2 were those of churchgoers, and what they said is even clearer.

"The voters have delivered a moral mandate," D. James Kennedy, president of Coral Ridge Ministries in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., declared. "Now that values voters have delivered for George Bush, he must deliver for their values. The defense of innocent unborn human life, the protection of marriage and the nomination and confirmation of federal judges who will interpret the Constitution, not make law from the bench, must be first priorities, come January."
"I voted for Christianity," one man told a student pollster. He is the human face to Samuel P. Huntington's incendiary argument that America's national identity rests on two pillars — a British concept of civil society and a full-blooded Christianity.

Bush's supporters set out to reclaim that identity, none with greater commitment than evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics (talk about strange bedfellows). These are folks who take their Scripture straight up, and the Solomons of polling science hadn't worked them fully into their calculus. "Moral values" hints at broad predispositions, but the churchgoers came out and said it: This was not a quadrennial choice of change or continuity, even with a war going badly and an economy moving slowly. This was an election about same-sex marriage, about abortion, about the role of religion in American life.

"Now comes the revolution," Richard Viguerie, the conservative direct-mail fundraising pioneer, said Wednesday. More ominously, Viguerie wrote in a letter to other conservatives: "Make no mistake — conservative Christians and 'values voters' won this election for George W. Bush and Republicans in Congress. It's crucial that the Republican leadership not forget this — as much as some will try. Liberals, many in the media and inside the Republican Party, are urging the president to 'unite' the country by discarding the allies that earned him another four years. They're urging him to discard us conservative Catholics and Protestants, people for whom moral values are the most important issue."
I tend to agree with these people. The Christian Right delivered [big-time] for George W. Bush on November 2 and he owes them. Columnists like David Brooks and activists like Grover Norquist, who hold the Christian Right in as much contempt as I do, can dismiss the values election all the want but it isn't going to work. The Christian Right believes they are responsible for the election victory and they are coming to claim their due. The Republicans who believe in war and tax cuts, but not theology [like Mr Brooks or Mr Norquist] are kidding themselves. The Christian Right has won the politics and now they intend to win the politics. Anyone in the GOP who gets in their way is headed for trouble.

BLUER COLORADO -- Chris Bowers over at MyDD has some interesting information about the gradual Colorado trend toward bluer politics. Dems made fairly impressive gains in the state, though Bush still won it by a narrowing margin. Hope for the future. Take it where you can find it.

IRAQI KURD DESERTS -- from U.S. forces just before the Occupation attack on insurgents in Fallujah. Big deal? Well, this Iraqi Kurd desertedafter receiving the battle plan for the Fallujah attack. The Pentagon says they do not believe this deserter will inform the insurgents about the battle plan. They had better hope not.

SENATOR NELSON -- Democrat from Florida has a target on his back. Having taken the open seat occupied by Bob Graham [D-FL] on November 2, Florida Republicans are now targeting Bill Nelson, the only Democrat holding statewide office in the state. The only candidate I'd worry about is Jeb Bush, the current governor, who is term-limited and must leave Tallahassee in 2006. Governor Bush, however, says he does not want the job and won't run for it. Not sure I trust him any more than I trust his brothers or his father or his mother, but if the governor is actually being truthful for a change, Bill Nelson will be difficult to beat. If the GOP want to put up Katherine "The Ghoul" Harris [R-FL] against Nelson, I'm all for it.

NOT HER -- Josh Marshall makes some good points about the implausibility of a Hillary Clinton presidency and how it says nothing good about the American polity for the White House to become the property of two competing families.