You want efficient government? Elect Democrats.

House Democrats brought their "100-hour" legislative agenda to a successful close Thursday evening.... The House finished work on all six measures in about 42 hours of floor time, less than half the limit set on their self-imposed clock.

Today's legislation would repeal subsidies to oil and gas companies and creates a Strategic Renewable Energy Reserve to invest in clean, renewable energy resources. Thirty-six Republicans voted with the Dems. To recap the first 100 42 hours, in addition to today's action the House passed bills to Iimplement the 9/11 Commission recommendations, increase the minimum wage, expand stem cell research, lower prescription drug costs, and cut student loan interest rates. Speaker Pelosi, take a bow.

The wages of sin are excellent! The Medicare prescription drug program increased U.S. drug sales by $2.5 billion in 2006, bolstering earnings at Pfizer Inc. and UnitedHealth Group Inc. as well as other pharmaceutical and insurance companies. “Purchases under the benefit, offered through the Medicare health program for the elderly for the first time last year, accounted for one sixth of the growth in sales.”

Must see TV. Colbert meets O’Reilly, parts one and two.

I loved his stuff; I wish I could be half as clever “Hi, I’m Art Buchwald, and I just died.” Famed Washington humorist Art Buchwald passed away yesterday, but he leaves on a funny note. Watch his video goodbye at the New York Times, and his farewell column in today’s Washington Post.

Ike or Nixon? Harold Meyerson on whether war-weary Republicans will eventually embrace the conciliatory politics of Dwight Eisenhower or the scorched-earth politics of Richard Nixon:

The guy to watch in all this is the pooh-bah of Fox News, Roger Ailes. Nixon's onetime aide guides a TV network that is Nixonian to its bones -- Fox's raison d'etre is to bash liberals, real or imagined. But Ailes can't be insensible to the war's effects on Republican electoral prospects. If Fox News were to break with Bush on Iraq, that would be proof positive that even the Nixonians believe there's no way, politically, they can salvage this miserable war.


The Fool in Chief's folly The retired generals are back, this time testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on escalation.

"Too little and too late," is the way Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, a former chief of the Central Command, described the effort to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.... "The solution is political, not military," he said.

"A fool’s errand," was the judgment of Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who commanded troops in the first Gulf War. He said other countries had concluded that the effort in Iraq was not succeeding, noting that "our allies are leaving us and will be gone by summer."

Indeed. It's going to take some damned creative thinking on the part of Congressional Dems to figure out how to stop this one, because the opposition of all the retired generals, Republican Senators, and the majority opinion of the American public hasn't put a dent in The Escalater's determination to do this. Here's what they've come up with in the Senate so far.

The insider's scoop on the recent Doomsday Clock move by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: It’s 5 minutes to Doomsday.

Dubya's thin skin The White House Correspondents' Association has apparently asked this year's comedic guest -- Rich Little -- not to give the president any grief since things are so bad for him already. And also no mentions of Iraq. The president is still recovering from the long dark night of the soul that was last year's Colbert appearance. Aravosis:

Poor embattled president. Gosh, someone might tell a joke about him. I mean, sure, he tortures people for a living, throw out habeas corpus, illegally spies on our phone conversations and the US mail, and oh yeah, killed 35,000 civilians in Iraq this past year alone - but having a joke told about him... now that crosses the line.

Colbert last year. ...watching again months later, it's much more subversive than I remember. One that didn't get away Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) sentenced to 30 months in prison. That's the longest sentence from the Abramoff investigation so far. Is this level of stupidity a kind of torture? or What liberal media? Mike Allen: (Time magazine White House correspondent) "[T]here's probably not many people who watched that clip of Senator Obama saying at the convention, 'We worship an awesome God in the blue states, too,' who know that Senator Obama had 100 percent from Planned Parenthood when he was in the state legislature." True. Only atheists support family planning and reproductive health. Just shoot me. What liberal media? Part II Facts? We don't need no facts. Big Oil still cashing in John Judis details the sweet deal foreign oil companies are about to get in Iraq. Opening the Iraqi oil industry up to foreign investment is a perfectly reasonable idea, but the clearly correct way to do this would be to have different firms offer competing bids so the Iraqi state gets the best deal possible. Instead, the Bush administration just had BearingPoint devise some arbitrary terms that -- surprise! -- are super-favorable to oil companies. The never-ending war, and excuses for war As you're recall, Bush is going to fix the Iraq War by firing George Casey and listening to Fred Kagan instead. Kagan said we should send 50,000 additional troops to Iraq for at least 18 months. Bush agreed. Which is why he's sending 20,000 troops and now has general Casey saying they're home by summer. Or, rather, that they "could begin to be withdrawn by late summer" but only "if security conditions improve in Baghdad." A classic Iraq War formulation. As I recall the baseline occupation force was going to begin withdrawing in late 2003 if security conditions improve. The whole thing has, at this point, become an exceptionally cruel farce. Meanwhile, Iranian efforts to defend their tanks against our airplanes are "offensive" actions that the United States needs to worry about. I can't really blame China Last week, the Chinese sent a missile up into orbit and obliterated an old satellite of theirs, creating a speeding debris cloud that will threaten other satellites for years. Why'd they do that? As The New York Times reports, the Bush administration has been working on a "a powerful ground-based laser weapon that would be used against enemy satellites." And they don't want to give it up:

In late August, President Bush authorized a new national space policy that ignored calls for a global prohibition on such tests. The policy said the United States would “preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space” and “dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so.” It declared the United States would “deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests.”

The Chinese test “could be a shot across the bow,” said Theresa Hitchens, director of the Center for Defense Information, a private group in Washington that tracks military programs. “For several years, the Russians and Chinese have been trying to push a treaty to ban space weapons. The concept of exhibiting a hard-power capability to bring somebody to the negotiating table is a classic cold war technique.”

Ah, it's like 1986 all over again

Iraq in a nutshell Shorter Nouri al-Maliki: Just give us all your guns and then get out. We'll take care of the rest.

They'll never say it, but Dean was right The Iraq section of Howard Dean's February 12, 2003, speech at Drake University is strikingly spot-on. It's notable, in particular, because Dean, has never really acquired a reputation as a national security thinker, even among his fans. The Dean speech is also noteworthy for containing a perfectly good proposal for, even at the late date, extricating the USA from the situation in a favorable manner.

Why is bigotry so hard to kill? This is truly unfortunate:

Lauding someone for their style on Capitol Hill is a lot like celebrating the best surfer on Florida’s Gulf Coast — it’s all relative, and some would argue irrelevant. Washington has never embraced fashion (nor, for that matter, has the fashion world embraced Washington), and for understandable reasons. In political circles, fashion is a loaded term, smacking of frivolity and vanity. . . .

But with the ascent of Nancy Pelosi, 66, widely recognized and admired for her Armani and easy fashion savvy, the days of the dowdy Washington dress code may be numbered. At least that is the hope of a number of women on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats, who see Mrs. Pelosi, the new speaker of the House, as a fashion leader, too.

It's almost shocking how openly anti-feminist the press feels free to be about this kind of thing -- I recall the intensive coverage of Condoleezza Rice's footwear choices during her early days at Foggy Bottom ("look -- a girl Secretary of State! what'll be next?) with much this same tone. And, no, the knowing irony several paragraphs down doesn't make it better.

The price of war It's not a coincidence that the administration's pre-war cost estimates -- anywhere from $0 to $50 billion -- were so badly off-base. Nobody in their right mind would have agreed ex ante to spend over $1 trillion (so far!) in order to take out Saddam Hussein. The venture was sold as something that would be cheap and easy because it only made sense under the theory that it would, in fact, be cheap and easy. Indeed, I assume most of the prime movers behind the war actually believed it would be cheap and easy. This, after all, is the typical failing of the militarist. Diplomacy, compromise, patience, etc., all seem too hard better to reach for the easy answers of the bombs and tanks. In reality, there's nothing easy about it.

Public support for the war has pretty much cratered:

As he seeks to chart a new course in Iraq, Bush also faces pervasive resistance and skepticism toward the U.S. commitment -- more than three-fifths [62%] of those surveyed said the war was not worth fighting.....Asked about Bush's recent announcement that he would dispatch another 21,500 troops to Iraq, three-fifths [60%] said they opposed the move, while just over one-third [36%] backed it.....A narrow majority -- 51% -- want Congress to try to block Bush from sending more troops to Iraq.....Americans divide in similar proportions when asked whether Congress should attempt to require Bush "to begin withdrawing the troops already in Iraq." Exactly half said Congress should take steps to begin removing troops (42% opposed such an effort).

Somebody remind me. How long did it take before public opinion turned this sharply against the Vietnam War? (Answer: It's a trick question. Opposition reached 61% in 1971 but never exceeded that number. The Iraq war is now more unpopular than the Vietnam War ever was.)

Election forecast: Will 2008 make 2006 look mild? Political Wire provides an excerpt from the latest Evans-Novak Political Report:

The gloom pervading the Republican Party cannot be exaggerated. The long-range GOP outlook for 2008 is grim....A nationally prominent Republican pollster reported confidentially on Capitol Hill after the President's speech that if U.S. boots are still on the ground in Iraq and U.S. blood is still being spilled there at the end of the year, the GOP disaster in 2008 will eclipse 2006.

I'm not sure how seriously to take this. Robert Novak is obviously pretty plugged into Republican politics, but he's also a longtime war opponent and may simply be cherry picking the gloomiest pronouncements making the rounds.

Still, it's pretty ironic. As the Washington Monthly reported several months ago ("A Higher Power"), the whole point of James Baker's Iraq Study Group was to avert the looming self-immolation of the Republican Party by providing George Bush with a plausible, bipartisan plan to get out of Iraq:

"Baker is primarily motivated by his desire to avoid a war at home--that things will fall apart not on the battlefield but at home. So he wants a ceasefire in American politics," a member of one of the commission's working groups told me. Specifically, he said, if the Democrats win back one or both houses of Congress in November, they would unleash a series of investigative hearings on Iraq, the war on terrorism, and civil liberties that could fatally weaken the administration and remove the last props of political support for the war, setting the stage for a potential Republican electoral disaster in 2008. "I guess there are people in the [Republican] party, on the Hill and in the White House, who see a political train wreck coming, and they've called in Baker to try to reroute the train."

So given this chance of an honorable exit, what does Bush do? He furiously dismisses Baker's report as "a flaming turd" and instead insists on pursuing a strategy that virtually nobody thinks will work. The damage this is doing to our country is obviously the most depressing aspect of all this, but if there's any kind of silver lining it's the fact that Bush's tantrum-based foreign policy is apparently taking down his entire party with him. It couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch.

Coercion, not turture, of course I've said to the people that we don't torture, and we don't. - George W. Bush Since George Bush has claimed time and time again that, "we don't torture," I hope someone asks him why it was necessary for the Pentagon to announce:

...its new courtroom rules for prosecuting prisoners held as terrorists, allowing military tribunals to consider hearsay evidence and testimony obtained through coercion, but not torture.

Since we don't torture, why would this be an issue? Perhaps because the new manual:

...makes a distinction between torture and coercion, allowing testimony that came as the result of coercive techniques used by military and intelligence officials until late 2005, when Congress passed a law banning cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners.

Apparently coercion is still coercion, while "coercive techniques" are what we used to call torture.

Luckily, "all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people," are in place because these new procedures follow the Military Commissions Act. After all, what civilized person could object to secret evidence, indefinite imprisonment, losing their right to challenge their detention, or having George Bush determining what interrogation methods could be used on them?

At a Pentagon briefing, Dan Dell’Orto, deputy to the Defense Department’s top counsel, said the new rules will “afford all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people.” Dell’Orto’s view is not shared throughout the Pentagon’s counsels office. Col. Dwight H. Sullivan, the Chief Defense Counsel in the Office of Military Commissions, issued a statement yesterday criticizing the new rules:

The rules appear carefully crafted to ensure than an accused can be convicted — and possibly executed — based on nothing but a coerced confession. The rules would allow an accused to be executed based on nothing but hearsay…. The rules’ broad protections for classified information threaten to swallow everything. These rules are particularly scary coming in the wake of new Guantánamo classification guidelines that make even the prisoners’ own name classified as ‘SECRET.’ The rules violate the principle that the jury shouldn’t be allowed to see anything that the defendant can’t see. Witnesses can be shielded so that the defendant can’t see them, but the jury can.

Read Sullivan’s full statement here.

What's in your wallet? $8.4 billion: The cost of the Iraq war per month. “The Pentagon has been estimating last year’s costs for the increasingly unpopular war at about $8 billion a month. It rose from a monthly ‘burn rate’ of about $4.4 billion during the first year of fighting in fiscal 2003.”

It won't F-in' matter Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “appears to be under pressure from the highest authorities in Iran to end his involvement in the country’s nuclear program, a sign that his political capital is declining as his country comes under increasing international pressure.” Bush destroyed Iraq without a reason, what makes anyone think he'll wait for a "reason" before doing the same to Iran?

Reid to challenge Bush on Iran. “When the Democratic leaders of Congress offer their State of the Union prebuttals at the National Press Club later today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., plans to challenge for the first time President Bush’s authority to pursue an incursion into Iran without prior congressional approval. ‘This morning, I’d like to be clear,’ Reid plans to say according excerpts of his speech obtained by ABC News, ‘The President does not have the authority to launch military action in Iran without first seeking congressional authorization.’”

The far right pretending to be the middle When you see an op-ed called, "A Middle Ground For Stem Cells," it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to assume that what follows will be an attempt to find a middle ground in the debate over stem cell research. Well, you know what happens when you assume.

Among the many clues that the author of this piece might be slightly to the right of Randall Terry, is this description of an embryo that could be used for research:

That embryo is human, and it is alive; its human life will last until its death, whether that comes days after conception or many decades later surrounded by children and grandchildren.

You can almost hear future generations crying out, "Don't kill Grandma!"

Maintaining his version of the middle ground, the author describes stem cell research as "embryo-destructive." He says that advocates of federally funded research shouldn't judge a human life because of size or because they don't look like us, adding, "surely America has learned the hard way not to assign human worth by appearances." Trotting out the Declaration of Independence, common humanity and inalienable rights in arguing his "moral case," the author says:

President Bush’s stem cell policy seeks to meet that challenge. It encourages scientists to pursue the cells they seek without destroying life.

But whenever George Bush, or anyone speaking in his defense makes this claim, it's time to ask them to answer the questions posed by Senator Tom Harkin last year on the floor of the Senate:

So I ask, if using discarded embryos to extract stem cells is murder, isn't it then immoral to allow federal research on existing lines of embryonic stem cells as the current administration's policy permits? Murder is murder, Mr. President. [...]

And if it's really murder...why isn't the President using his authority, his moral authority, to shut down all the in-vitro fertilization clinics in America? By his definition of murder, these clinics are institutions of mass murder.

Perhaps the author could address those questions the next time he waxes poetic about protecting our "highest ideals."

And by the way, the most obvious clue as to the author's agenda comes in the blurb at the end of the op-ed:

Yuval Levin, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a former executive director of the President’s Council on Bioethics.

Mr. Levin would have a long way to go to find the middle ground.

Good, but is it too little too late? Ten major companies — including General Electric, DuPont, and Alcoa — “have banded together with leading environmental groups to call for a firm nationwide limit on carbon dioxide emissions that would lead to reductions of 10 to 30 percent over the next 15 years.” And why only 10?

Feingold (my senator) rips Gonzo In addition to Gonzales's stunning statement on habeas corpus, he had some interesting things to say (or obfuscate, stonewall, avoid, dissemble) about a variety of issues, including us anti-American bloggers (note: this is Greenwald's transcript, not the official one):

Feingold's first question - "do you know of any one in the country who opposed eavesdropping on terrorists?"

Gonzales: Sure - if you look at blogs today, there is a lot of concern about all types of eavesdropping, who don't want us eavesdropping at all.

Feingold: Do you know anyone in government who ever took that position?

Gonzales: No, but that is not what I said.

Feingold: It is a disgrace and disservice to your office and the President to have accused people on this Committee of opposing eavesdropping on terrorists.

Gonzales: I didn't have you in mind or anyone on the Committee when I referred to people who oppose eavesdropping on terrorists. Perish the thought.

Feingold: Oh, well it's nice that you didn't have us "in your mind" when making those accusations, but given that you and the President were running around the country accusing people of opposing eavesdropping on terrorists in the middle of an election, the fact that you didn't have Congressional Democrats in "mind" isn't significant. Your intent was to make people think that anyone who opposed the "TSP" did not want to eavesdrop on terrorists, even though that was false. No Democrats oppose eavesdropping on terrorists.

Gonzales: I wasn't referring to Democrats.

Feingold didn't have all the fun. Here's Chairman Leahy, on the case of of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was detained and sent to Syria, where he was regularly tortured for almost a year before being released without charge:

Leahy: "We knew damn well if he went to Canada he wouldn't be tortured. He'd be held and he'd be investigated. We also knew damn well if he went to Syria, he'd be tortured. And it's beneath the dignity of this country, a country that has always been a beacon of human rights, to send somebody to another country to be tortured."

The bulk of the oversight hearing centered on the announcement yesterday that the adminstration will now comply with FISA and the FISA court will now oversee the program. But, and this is a big "but," Congress can't see the order:

"Are you saying that you might object to the court giving us a decision that you publicly announced?" committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked. "Are we Alice in Wonderland here?"

Responding, Gonzales said "there is going to be information about operational details about how we're doing this that we want to keep confidential," he said.

As Greenwald says, what has probably occurred here is that one of the FISA court judges has agreed to issue an order that basically covers all of the surveillance activity the administration has thus far done illegally. Despite the assertions by Gonzales that the Intelligence committees received appropriate briefings about this order, at least one GOP legislator disputes that, saying that committee staffers were briefed without Congress members present.

The upshot of today's oversight hearing is that no more questions have been answered that existed before the hearings, and indeed, we have a few more. I suggest that the Committee schedule hearings with Gonzales on at least a weekly basis, and that they warm up their subpoena powers. They're gonna need them.

What liberal media? Part III Apparently tired of smearing Harry Reid, John Solomon is now on the Edwards beat. (And tomorrow the man himself is on Washington Journal.) I don't understand the story. The gist of the article is that the Edwards sold their DC house actually below the original asking price to a couple that is no friend of unions. And remember, Edwards isn't even in government. The piece breaks new ground in journalistic lameness even in the context of Solomon's already impressive record in that regard. In any case, a reader brought it up in the WaPo chat this morning with Postie Jonathan Weisman and well ...

Arlington, VA: Can you explain why John Edwards' real estate transaction warrants front page coverage today? I read the article a couple of times, and frankly, I'm at a loss trying to decipher what John and Elizabeth Edwards did wrong. Now, if the buyers used part of proceeds from the questionable stock sale to buy the house, that's the buyers' problem, not the seller. And considering the Edwardses sold the house for LESS than what they were asking, I ask again: what did they do wrong?

Jonathan Weisman: Umm, this is, for obvious reasons, a sensitive question. I for one was looking for more of a connection between the Edwards and the buyers. I didn't see it. Frankly, I bought a house from some people named Buckmaster DeWolf and Rosemary Ratcliffe. I love their names but I met them for about 15 minutes as we signed our papers. So what?

That was pretty much our impression too. We'll have more on this soon. And click here for our past fun with Solomon.

Dubya's next war The BBC reports that a group of eleven Congressmen have introduced legislation regarding a potential attack on Iran:


The bipartisan group of 11 congressmen, led by a Republican, have put forward legislation that states that no previous resolution passed by Congress authorises a US attack on Iran. One of the Democrats who supports the legislation said that a new resolution was needed because the Bush administration had lied so many times in the run up to the Iraq war. But it may prove more of a symbolic move as, to become law, it would need the support of the Senate and the House of Representatives and to be signed by the president himself.


The legislation was introduced by Walter Jones, Republican from North Carolina. Here are his words about it:


"Today, there is a growing concern - justified or not - that some U.S. officials are contemplating military action against Iran," Jones said. "This resolution makes it crystal clear that no previous resolution passed by Congress authorizes such use of force. The Constitution of the United States declares that, while the Commander in Chief has the power to conduct wars, only Congress has the power to authorize them."
"One of the many lessons from our involvement in Iraq is that Congress needs to ask the right questions prior to exercising its Constitutional authority to approve the use of military force," Jones said.
"It was for this same reason that, in 1999, I joined 25 members of Congress in going to the U.S. Supreme Court to compel President Clinton to follow the Constitution and halt U.S. military action in Yugoslavia unless Congress granted him the authority to use military force in that manner," Jones said.
"If the President is contemplating committing our blood and treasure in another war, then he and his administration must make the case to Congress and the American people why it would be in the national security interests of the United States to engage militarily in Iran," Jones said.
"If a military venture against Iran is necessary, it should be easily justifiable to Congress," Jones said. "If no military action is contemplated, then there should be no objection to this commonsense resolution."


The letters, emails, and phone calls of concerned citizens seem to be having an effect. Let's keep it up! Because the cause for concern is very real. By the way: Iran shot down one of our pilotless spy drones a few days ago as it was attempting to cross the Iranian border.

What liberal media? Part IV Howard Fineman's latest in Newsweek has to be seen to be believed. If I were writing a parody of the genre, I wouldn't change a word. And a note to Fineman: please don't try to make up for this by writing a companion piece about the Republican primary field. It won't be any better just because you're taking on people I don't like.

Standing against bigotry Yes, yes, I know the arguments that the law must be upheld regardless of how one feels about it. I still think this bit from my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin is pretty cool:

The city of Madison, Wis., swears in hundreds of elected and appointed officials in an annual ritual each April. This year, many may turn their oaths of office into a political protest. In a move that has raised concern on the left and the right, the City Council this week voted to let officeholders announce they are taking the oath under protest because they deplore a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. After swearing to uphold the state constitution, officeholders will be allowed to add that, in their view, the gay-marriage amendment "besmirches" that document. "I pledge to work to eliminate this section from the constitution," the protest statement reads, "and work to prevent any discriminatory impacts from its application." Madison Mayor David J. Cieslewicz called the statement a fair way to resolve a "crisis of conscience" in his famously liberal city. "Many of us felt that we couldn't, in good conscience, swear allegiance to a state constitution that openly discriminated against gays and lesbians," he said.

I wouldn't have thought of it, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy it from afar.

More on Dubya's next war The growing regional hostility in the Middle East between Shia and Sunni has been getting a lot of play lately, and Marc Lynch says it's for real. Here's his report after spending a week in Cairo:

Anti-Shia stuff is really spreading rapidly, and seems to have the Egyptian government's approval (at a minimum). Sensational-looking books about the Shia are all over the bookstands, along with stories in the tabloids and scare-mongering editorials....Even Egyptian TV has been hosting some pretty nasty anti-Shia rhetoric.....Why all this anti-Shia discourse now? One popular theory is that the Egyptian government, backed by the US, wants to prepare the ground for confrontation with Iran. By this theory, the government is stoking hatred of the Shia as a pre-emptive move to shape the political space in such a way as to make it hard for Iran to appeal to Egyptian (and Arab) public opinion in the event of a war -- and to prevent a repeat of anything like the outpouring of popular support for Hassan Nasrullah last summer.....Whatever the case, I've seen a lot more anti-Shia discourse than I expected or have ever seen before, and it alarms me.

Read the whole thing for additional observations. Among other things, he reports that "everyone here seems keenly aware that the United States has backed off of democracy promotion." No surprise there. Of course, "anti-Shia" is more or less synonymous with "anti-Iran." Laura Rozen has more on the subject here.

Saint McCain's halo hits the floor Steve Benen has updated his John McCain Flip-Flop Index. His latest turnabout comes on campaign finance reform, an issue that was once near and dear to his heart, and brings the number of McCain flip-flops to 15. That's pretty impressive. And Josh Marshall points out the obvious corollary: McCain's strength has always been among independents, but independents don't like panderers. Is it any wonder that his poll numbers have collapsed?

Dubya on "sacrifice" George Bush talks to Jim Lehrer about sacrifice and the Iraq war:

LEHRER: Let me ask you a bottom-line question, Mr. President. If it is as important as you've just said -- and you've said it many times -- as all of this is, particularly the struggle in Iraq, if it's that important to all of us and to the future of our country, if not the world, why have you not, as president of the United States, asked more Americans and more American interests to sacrifice something?....

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night.

Is Bush getting even worse with every passing day? I swear, he can hardly open his mouth these days without saying something so dumb and tin-eared it just makes your jaw drop. It's like reading the second half of "Flowers for Algernon."

It’s a sin to tell a lie: Defusing Religious Reich fibs, New Jersey AG says clergy need not do same-sex unions

The Religious Right just lost another weapon in its battle against legal rights for same-sex couples.

The Attorney General of New Jersey this week released guidelines for officiants at weddings and civil unions. In a letter to the Registrar of Vital Statistics, Attorney General Stuart Rabner wrote that only public officials, not religious leaders, would be required to preside over same-sex nuptials if they did the same for heterosexual couples.

In October 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the equal protection provisions of the state constitution required lawmakers to give same-sex couples equal marriage rights. Shortly before the end of the year, New Jersey legislators voted to create civil unions, but stopped short of using the word “marriage.”

The Religious Right immediately decried the decision, charging that gay people had gained “special rights” at the expense of Christians’ religious liberty.

“There is no end to the slippery-slope of same-sex marriage,” Jerry Falwell said shortly before the decision came down. Legalizing same-sex unions would essentially “criminalize faith” because churches would violate the law it they discriminated against gay couples, the Christian Coalition warned its members.

After the New Jersey bill became law, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins rhetorically asked if it would be used “…to force homosexuality on our houses of worship?” He said “the church must be prepared to defend its right of conscience and conviction” against the “counterfeit” being forced upon it.

Religious people need to prepare for no such thing. As Rabner’s letter points out, religious leaders’ right to refuse to perform same-sex unions is constitutionally protected.

“Even when the acts of religious institutions are ostensibly or colorably at odds” with the state’s anti-discrimination laws, the letter says, the state cannot force people to alter their religious beliefs or practices.

The letter also made clear that marriage rites and marriage rights are different.

“While the state must make marriages and civil unions available on equal terms, the performance of a religious ceremony is not necessary for solemnization of either a marriage or a civil union.” Thus, the fact that some religious leaders will preside over traditional marriages but not same-sex unions, will not deny the latter couple the full rights and responsibilities of marriage.

The New York Times interviewed one Episcopal minister in Wayne, New Jersey, who will not perform same-sex unions because she believes doing so would violate church doctrine, but said of the AG's letter: “I think it’s pretty obvious that this is what the separation of church and state is.”

It is indeed. Church-state separation means that the state forces nothing on the church and the church forces nothing on the state. This way everyone enjoys equal rights under the law and still preserves the right to freely exercise his or her religion.

Submitted by RKing on