"I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, General Dempsey... We all talked together.
And I asked, in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add
considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq? And they all said 'no.' "
--U.S. Central Command Commander General John Abizaid Link The smearing of Obama ABC on Obama, or what's coming down the pike: "Obama's foreign policy proposals are just one target for his critics, who have many questions for the senator, including whether his church on the South Side of Chicago -- which preaches a message of black power -- is too militant to be accepted by mainstream America." Perhaps the ABC reporters are picking up on this article on Obama's church in the whacked right-wing sheet Investor's Business Daily. Think the war-drum media will notice? Today in Australia, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Peter Pace, declined to stand behind the assertions of that background Iranian IEDs briefing in Iraq. Meanwhile the Administration stonewalls on Pace remarks. The Washington Post follows up on Gen. Peter Pace’s claim that he has seen no proof of high-level Iranian involvement in weapons smuggling into Iraq:

Pressed repeatedly, Snow answered, “Look, the Department of Defense is doing this. What I’m telling you is, you guys want to get those questions answered, you need to go to the Pentagon.”

A call to the Defense Intelligence Agency brought a referral to the main Pentagon press office. That office referred a caller to the Washington office of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, which responded with an e-mailed copy of Sunday’s briefing slides — containing no mention of the “highest levels” allegation and a request for questions in writing. Written questions brought no response. An official from the Pentagon Joint Staff said last night that Pace had seen the briefing slides but had “no personal knowledge of any senior involvement by senior Iranian officials.”

As it should be (but shouldn't have to be) Sens. Dodd (D-CT) and Menendez (D-NJ) to introduce bill banning torture and reinstituting habeas corpus. The Founding Fathers would kill this man ‘It would be nice to have a secret government.’ The New Yorker profiles “24? creator Joel Surnow, whose show has become a foreign policy guide for the right: “Every American wishes we had someone out there quietly taking care of business,” [Surnow] said. “It’s a deep, dark ugly world out there. Maybe this is what Ollie North was trying to do. It would be nice to have a secret government that can get the answers and take care of business — even kill people.“ "Ted Haggard, the minister who was caught with a gay prostitute, has just finished a three-week
sex addiction program. He says he is now 'completely heterosexual.' Haggard says he will prove
he is completely heterosexual by having sex only with men who are completely heterosexual"
-- Conan A case to watch CIA agent says he was fired over Iraq WMD intel. U.S. News: “A federal judge has ruled that a CIA agent identified only as ‘Doe,’ allegedly fired after he gathered prewar intelligence showing that Iraq was not developing weapons of mass destruction, can proceed with his lawsuit against the CIA.” Who supports our troops? Bush wants cuts to veterans’ health care. “The Bush administration plans to cut funding for veterans’ health care two years from now — even as badly wounded troops returning from Iraq could overwhelm the system. Bush is using the cuts, critics say, to help fulfill his pledge to balance the budget by 2012. … Even though the cost of providing medical care to veterans has been growing rapidly — by more than 10 percent in many years — White House budget documents assume consecutive cutbacks in 2009 and 2010 and a freeze thereafter.” Do the math “It is an uncomfortable inconvenient scientific truth: we cannot pour into the atmosphere all of the fossil fuels that were buried in the ground over millions of years without creating a different planet, without destroying creation, without being miserable failures in our stewardship of the planet we were blessed with.” — NASA Institute for Space Studies chief James Hansen, in his latest “must read.“ "People ask, 'How did they turn Rev Ted Haggard, a clearly gay man into a heterosexual?'
It's very simple. You know when you were a kid and your father caught you smoking?
Then he decided to make you smoke a carton?
Ted's been a busy boy."
--Jon Stewart Bush-backed group getting Iranian weapons Via Think Progress, we learn that Iranian weapons shipments moving around Iraq – and the prototypical subject of an alarmist dog-and-pony show over the weekend – are actually typical of weapons destined for SCIRI, a Bush-backed rival group to al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army, according to a report from CNN’s Michael Ware (video available at Think Progress):

U.S. intelligence and military officials have stated that Iranian weapons shipments "are going to Shiite militias that include rogue elements of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi army militia." But U.S. officials have not been as vocal about possible Iranian support for a separate Shiite militia, the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution In Iraq (SCIRI). The Mehdi Army and SCIRI are rivals, and both have armed wings.

Yesterday, Kevin Drum speculated that Iran might be providing the SCIRI militia with weaponry. Drum wrote, "In other words, if we had to guess where the bombs were going, we might guess that SCIRI’s militia is getting a share of the action too." There’s no need to guess any longer. CNN’s Michael Ware has confirmed that Iranians have been supplying weapons to SCIRI.

Keep in mind that SCIRI’s head, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, was lauded by Bush just a couple of short months ago as "one of the distinguished leaders of a free Iraq," even though the Iranians captured in two raids on Christmas Eve, accused of attacking Iraqi security forces, were taken at al-Hakim’s personal compound, according to the New York Times:

BAGHDAD, Dec. 24 — The American military is holding at least four Iranians in Iraq, including men the Bush administration called senior military officials, who were seized in a pair of raids late last week aimed at people suspected of conducting attacks on Iraqi security forces, according to senior Iraqi and American officials in Baghdad and Washington.

...one of the raids took place in the Baghdad compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite leaders, who traveled to Washington three weeks ago to meet President Bush.

The weapons, the allegations, the players, the CNN confirmation ... things get curiouser and curiouser as sabers continue to rattle.

Oopsies Taylor Marsh: There is very little doubt that Iran is supporting the Shia factions and the Kurds in Iraq. However, the factions lran is supporting are the same factions that the Bush Administration is supporting.

McCain fishing for votes among the ignorant (which is the only place he'll find some) Yesterday was Darwin Day, commemorating the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and of the publishing of On the Origin of Species. The National Academy of Sciences, “the nation’s most prestigious scientific organization,” declares evolution “one of the strongest and most useful scientific theories we have.” President Bush’s science adviser John Marburger calls it “the cornerstone of modern biology.” Yet, on February 23, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will be the keynote speaker for the most prominent creationism advocacy group in the country. The Discovery Institute, a religious right think-tank, is well-known for its strong opposition to evolutionary biology and its advocacy for “intelligent design.” The institute’s main financial backer, savings and loan heir Howard Ahmanson, spent 20 years on the board of the Chalcedon Foundation, “a theocratic outfit that advocates the replacement of American civil law with biblical law.”

Note the company McCain keeps Falwell to host McCain “meet and greet.” “The Rev. Jerry Falwell will co-host a ‘meet and greet’ for Sen. John McCain a week from today at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Orlando. The Arizonan is attending, but not speaking at, the convention, billed as ‘the premiere event in Christian communication.’”

Feeling safer these days? FBI loses 3-4 laptops each month. New report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General finds, “Between three and four FBI laptop computers are lost or stolen each month on average and the agency is unable to say in many instances whether information on the machines is sensitive or classified.”

Blocking the courthouse door Stephanie Mencimer, a Washington Monthly alum who has just written a terrific book about the conservative tort reform crusade. The book is called Blocking the Courthouse Door, and Kevin Drum reviewed it for the January issue. Here's an excerpt:

Insurance companies have been dutifully warning the public since the 1950s that "you pay for liability and damage suit verdicts whether you are insured or not." But for its first three decades, their lawyer-bashing campaigns were both sporadic and desultory, a subject of interest only to a few conservative wonks camped out in little-known D.C.-based think tanks. That all changed in the late 1980s and early 1990s when a succession of Republican partisans, including Dan Quayle, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, and Grover Norquist, finally realized just how powerful an issue tort reform could be.

....Tort reform was already a natural Republican Party issue thanks to its support in the business community, but it was Norquist, in his usual bald style, who pointed out in 1994 that there was more to it than just that: The big losers in tort reform are trial lawyers, and trial lawyers contribute a huge amount of money to the Democratic Party. "The political implications of defunding the trial lawyers would be staggering," he wrote.

It's a great book and a much-needed antidote to the past decade's endless hysteria about the "tort crisis" in America.

Oldie but badie John Boehner explains why we should keep fighting in Iraq:

"If you don't like the president's plan, Steny, what is your plan for success?" Boehner asked, predicting dire consequences if the U.S. failed to shore up Iraq. "Who doesn't believe that if we withdraw and leave that chaos in the Middle East, that the terrorists won't follow us here to the United States?"

Jeebus. They're still using that old chestnut? You can almost smell the desperation.

Congressman wants to monitor all Internet activity The Agonist (cross-posted at The Seminal):

A bill introduced last week by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) is beginning to raise eyebrows.

[It] would require ISPs to record all users' surfing activity, IM conversations and email traffic indefinitely.

The bill, dubbed the Safety Act by sponsor Lamar Smith, a republican congressman from Texas, would impose fines and a prison term of one year on ISPs which failed to keep full records. (emphasis mine)

This is a terrifying development and it must be stopped before it gains any significant momentum. Background, Action items and contact information below the fold.

Under the guise of reducing child pornography, the SAFETY (Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today's Youth Act) Act is currently the gravest threat to digital privacy rights on the Internet. Given the increasing tendency of people, especially young people, to use the Internet as a primary means of communications, this measure would effect nearly all Americans in ways we are only beginning to understand. Also, given the fact that the Act requires all Internet Service Providers to record the web surfing activity of all Internet users, this amounts to the warrantless wiretapping of the entire Internet.

Does this worry you? Good. It should. If this continues, it is an OUTRAGEOUS violation of our privacy and civil liberties. Read the full article and start contacting people immediately. Contact list at the bottom of the article.

Nah, he'll just lie As the defense phase of Scooter Libby’s perjury trial begins, Vice President Cheney “is expected to make a historic appearance on the witness stand,” where he “may be forced to describe in uncomfortable detail how he directed the counteroffensive” against Joe Wilson.

Who supports our troops? Part II U.S. Army units in Iraq and Afghanistan lack more than 4,000 of the latest advanced Humvee armor kits, designed to reduce U.S. troop deaths from roadside bombs that are now inflicting 70 percent of the American casualties in Iraq. The Army has is giving priority to troops in Baghdad, but the upgrade is not scheduled to be completed until this summer. Shooter remembered “The scars may have gone away but our memories haven’t: Yes it was one year ago last Sunday that Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot his lawyer, Harry Whittington.” Even in Tasmania, where Cheney is scheduled to go fly-fishing this month, one resident wrote the newspaper, “PLEASE assure us that Dick Cheney is coming to Tasmania to fish and not to shoot.Deputy President Cheney. The AP on lessons of the Libby trial: “‘What didn’t he touch? It’s almost like there was almost nothing too trivial for the vice president to handle,’ said New York University professor Paul Light, an expert in the bureaucracy of the executive branch. ‘The details suggest Cheney was almost a deputy president with a shadow operation. He had his own source of advice. He had his own source of access. He was making his own decisions,’ Light said.” With all the intensifying intel bamboozlement about Iranian arms transfers to Iraqi insurgents, the essential question is still being ignored. Let me stipulate to my extreme skepticism about the administration's new campaign of charges about Iranian arms transfers into Iraq -- for specifics see this post and Juan Cole's detailed discussion. But let's consider the matter as though the stream of allegations were true.

Would it matter? Or to be more precise, what would be the answer to these three questions: 1) Would it tell us anything we don't already know about the clerical regime in Iran? 2) Is the volume of arms sales a necessary or suffiicient cause of our predicament in Iraq? and 3) Would successful aggressive action against Iran materially improve our current situation in Iraq?

The answer to #1 seems clearly to be, no. We've announced publicly on numerous occasions that we're hostile to the Iranian regime. And we occupy the countries to the east and the west. So it's not surprising that the Iranians would try to make our work in Iraq more difficult. And the people most eager to expand the war into Iran -- especially those folks -- consider the Iranian regime a hostile, aggressive and threatening player in the region. So, on all counts, there are no surprises here.

Question #2 seems even easier to answer. No one believes that whatever small flow of Iranian roadside bomb parts there might be has caused the chaos in Iraq. It might have upped the kill rate for these nasty weapons by, say, 10%, thus throwing a bit more gas on the fire. But the fire is already raging out of control. If Iran is helping kill American soldiers that might be a grievance we note for payback at a point when we're not otherwise occupied. But on the key point, it's clear that Iranian help with IEDs wouldn't be causing the problem. It would at best be aggravating the problem.

The answer to question #3, of course, flows immediately the answer to #2. Since it's not causing the problem, ending it wouldn't solve the problem. It wouldn't even significantly help.

Assume the best possible outcome to the sort of action that the Vice President and his clique appear to be angling for. We attack Iran -- either in crossborder raids or aerial bombing campaigns. The Iranians are duly chastened and stop all assistance, financial and military, to paramilitaries in Iraq. And this accomplishes? For our situation in Iraq, not much. We go from the IEDs of early 2007 back to the old style IEDs of 2006. In other words, for the outside chance of a temporary and marginal degradation of the quality of the IEDs used in Iraq we run all the risks of digging ourselves deeper into the current quagmire , getting still more American soldiers killed and further stoking anti-American animus in the region with the likely outcome of solidifying the regime in Tehran for decades to come. And after all that fun is done with we're back to the same situation in Iraq that we can't figure out a way to resolve today.

Hawk or dove, who denies that Iraq, solving the situation in Iraq is the singular issue of American foreign policy today. And who can honestly say that tangling with Iran helps us achieve that end in any meaningful way? Iran is a distraction. More specifically, this new Iran bogey is an effort to distract us or find a scapegoat for the administration's failure in Iraq. And let's not forget that the underlying charge is likely another fraud.

Same candidate, totally different spin. See how Rudy Guiliani's campaign doctors planned to sell the candidate to New York City voters back in 1993 despite 450 pages of dirt on the guy.

Bush family cleaning out the Treasury Link Excerpt: Bush's uncle, William H.T. Bush, was among directors of a defense contractor who reaped $6 million from what federal regulators say was an illegal scheme by two executives to manipulate the timing of stock option grants. The uncle, known as "Bucky," is the youngest brother of George Herbert Herbert Bush. "Bucky" was an outside, nonexecutive director of Engineered Support Systems Inc., a defense contractor whose profits were bolstered because of the Iraq war. ESSI employees and directors received about $20 million in unauthorized compensation as a result of backdating stock options, according to the SEC.

Who supports the troops? Part III consortiumnews.com Excerpt: The California Nurses Association reported that in the first quarter of 2006, Veterans Affairs "treated 20,638 Iraq veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder, and they have a backlog of 400,000 cases." A returning soldier has to wait an average of 165 days for a VA decision on initial disability benefits, and an appeal can take up to three years. This is unacceptable and reprehensible. An assessment of more than 220,000 military personnel returning from Iraq published in the April Journal of the American Medical Association found that nearly one in five has significant mental health problems. Repeated tours of duty increase the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder by 50 percent.

Cheney aide: Watch for war with Iran in '07 As the Bush administration ratchets up pressure on Iran, Vice President Cheney’s top national security aide has been quoted by the Washington Post — in the 10th paragraph on page A18 — that war with Iran is “a real possibility” this year:

Some senior administration officials still relish the notion of a direct confrontation. One ambassador in Washington said he was taken aback when John Hannah, Vice President Cheney’s national security adviser, said during a recent meeting that the administration considers 2007 “the year of Iran” and indicated that a U.S. attack was a real possibility. Hannah declined to be interviewed for this article.

Those with knowledge of the build-up to war in Iraq will recognize John Hannah’s name. In Bush’s second term, he replaced Scooter Libby as the head of Cheney’s national security staff. During Bush’s first term, he personally wrote the first draft of the infamous speech that Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered to the United Nations, according to Powell’s former aide Lawrence Wilkerson.

Moreover, Hannah was a top source for false pre-war intelligence from Iraqi exiles that was “stovepiped” past the intelligence agencies and sent directly to the White House:

For months, Cheney’s office has denied that the veep bypassed U.S. intelligence agencies to get intel reports from [Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress]. But a June 2002 memo written by INC lobbyist Entifadh Qunbar to a U.S. Senate committee lists John Hannah, a senior national-security aide on Cheney’s staff, as one of two “U.S. governmental recipients” for reports generated by an intelligence program being run by the INC and which was then being funded by the State Department. Under the program, “defectors, reports and raw intelligence are cultivated and analyzed”; the info was then reported to, among others, “appropriate governmental, non-governmental and international agencies.” The memo not only describes Cheney aide Hannah as a “principal point of contact” for the program, it even provides his direct White House telephone number.

John Hannah’s comments about Iran should be taken seriously. He knows how to mislead a nation into war.

Cheney: The anti-diplomat Last month, Japan’s Defense Minister — Fumio Kyuma — said President Bush made a mistake in deciding to go war against Iraq. “President Bush went to war on the presumption that there might be nuclear weapons,” Kyuma told an audience assembled at the Japan Press Club in Tokyo. “That decision was wrong.” For speaking with honesty and candidness about the decision to go to war, Kyuma will be treated to an official Vice Presidential snub, courtesy of Dick Cheney. The Japan Times reports:

When U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney comes to Japan this month, he probably won’t be meeting with Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma. Government sources said Sunday that the United States has asked that no meeting between the two be scheduled, conveying strong displeasure over Kyuma’s recent criticism of the Iraq war and the realignment of U.S. forces.

Japan withdrew its 600 ground troops from Iraq in June after more than two years of service. Cheney’s refusal to meet with Kyuma sends a chilling message to our international allies, telling the world that the Bush administration cannot handle public dissent. The Washington tip sheet The Nelson Report says Cheney’s actions are already having their intended effect:

Fallout from squashing Kyuma from both ends includes this posting, by an ex-pat observer in Tokyo, who asks “can the US have effective alliance relations only with countries which toe the line all the time, and never question White House wisdom? And from that, is a Japan that says ‘Yes, Sir!’ all the time like some kind of robot, what America needs?”

Obama and religion By now, you've probably heard that conservative Catholics are trying to keep the whole Edwards' bloggers controversy alive by demanding that the Obama and Clinton campaigns condemn the bloggers. I'm with the Carpetbagger on this: it ain't gonna happen. But here's the problem. From the letter sent to Obama:

In a recent interview you criticized "liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant" and stated "people are tired of seeing faith used as a tool of attack...[and] don't want faith used to belittle or divide." With that in mind, it is our hope that you will this as an important moment to publicly defend the Christian faith, condemn the blog posts of Marcotte and McEwen and call for their dismissal from the Edwards campaign.

By contrast, all they can work in the Clinton letter is a weak reference to a recent Newsweek article profiling her faith.

So Obama left them a nice little opening to use as a wedge against other Dems. No doubt when he fails to denounce the bloggers as demanded, he'll be labelled a hypocrite and insincere in his "support for religion". Meaning, he's not interested in playing the tribal game. But at least he can be self-consistent and decline to pile on with the thought that it would be using faith as a tool of attack.

And you know what? He'd be absolutely right.

Can we talk about religion? The elite discussion of religion, like many issues, has become perverted by the many incestuous connections of those people deemed qualified to comment on the issue.

Stepping back from the obvious issues, consider the case of Siegfried Widera, a Catholic priest and convicted child molester who killed himself in 2003. Widera began his careers in Southeastern Wisconsin, but when his problems came to light here, the Milwaukee Archdiocese pawned him off on the diocese in Orange County, California with only the barest of warnings.

According to church records, Widera moved frequently from parish to parish in California until 2002, when authorities issued 33 felony sex abuse charges against him. In 2002 and 2003, Wisconsin authorities issued 11 felony charges against Widera in two counties on accusations dating to the 1970s.

What makes this more than the ordinary pedophile tragedy is this: In Wisconsin, all the Catholic church records relating to Widera are sealed by state law. It's only in response to lawsuits filed in California that Wisconsin plaintiffs have been able to uncover what the church knew about him in his home diocese. Wisconsin is the only state in the nation to give the church this kind of protection; the law has been challenged twice and upheld both times.

That raises for me some legitimate political questions: is the Catholic church entitled to that level of protection? If so, how is it fair that only Wisconsin law carries this provision? What remedies should be available to potential victims seeking evidence in their cases against the church? I don't mean to prejudge any of the answers, only to say that they seem fair to ask. The Catholic church has been granted an enormous favor by this law, and citizens would be well within their rights to question that.

But suppose that the only people who were ever on the radio or television to talk about the issue were Archbishop Sklba, William Donohue, and the generally liberal head of an ecumenical peace-and-justice organization in Milwaukee that depended upon Catholic participation. Do you think that the issue would get a fair hearing? What if those same three people were basically the only ones who ever published columns on religion in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel? Would the issue even come up? The situation isn't quite that dire in the national media, but it's pretty bad. Because the voices on any number of subjects is so limited - and some of those voices are so transparently partisan, while others are hamstrung by their close ties across organizational lines - it becomes an open question whether or not the issues are being adequately covered.

A story from Israel makes the situation even clearer. Ultra-Orthodox Jews are taking it upon themselves to impose informally their strict moral policies. Among other things, they're enforcing segregation of the sexes on public buses, sometimes by harassment, intimidation and even assault.

Now, understand that Israel is in fact a fairly secular nation. My understanding is that most Jews there are at least occasionally observent, but for the most part, they don't participate in anything resembling a religious lifestyle. But some of the ones who do are, well, zealots. So the Ultra-Orthodox are not always popular. In fact, they're sometimes perceived as being obnoxious, if not downright troublemakers. Their program of "moral policing" can't be very well received. But again, if those leading the public discourse in the nation are an Orthodox Rabbi, an Ultra-Orthodox rabbi, and the Catholic bishop whose churches remain open only by grace of the Israeli government, will that conversation adequately reflect public opinion? In Israel, that's not just a hypothetical question. Traditionalist Jews and Arabs combined to scotch a gay pride parade in Jerusalem, and the Ultra-Orthodox forced an abject apology from El-Al because the national airline flew on the Sabbath.

Plugging this all back into our own situation, somebody like Bill Donohue is entitled to his or her opinion, sure. But if we don't understand that at least part of what's at stake in his charges against the Edwards bloggers is a desire to maintain control over how religion is discussed, then we're not seeing the whole playing field. This wasn't entirely about putting a dent in the Edwards campaign. It was also about forcing the media to address Catholicism with kid gloves, lest Big Bad Bill Donohue come stomping around again.

Unfortunately, that kind of bullying often goes unchallenged. It's bad enough with abortion, but it's even worse when it comes to same-sex marriage, which I have yet to find a rational secular argument against. We as faithful people need to demand an honest discussion of religious issues, meaning not one limited to partisan hacks and smooth operators with their own (unexamined) agendas. We need to broaden the conversation, in other words. Occasionally that's going to mean sticking up for unpopular people like Amanda or Shakes, but more often, I hope it will mean that we provide our own discourse, on the blogs and elsewhere. There's no reason people-powered politics shouldn't work in matters of faith, and lots of reasons why it should. Chief among those is that what we believe in is too important to hand it over to the "experts," never to be seen again.

"Bad" speech demands more speech From time to time, I have used a simple but effective object lesson with children and adults who insist on acting like children. Take an ordinary bubble wand and soap, and blow a few bubbles. Pause, and ask the assembled crowd: "Those are pretty neat, aren't they?"

And when they ooh and aah and agree, ask them to put the bubbles back in the jar. The obvious moral: choose your words carefully, because like bubbles, they're mighty difficult to put back once you've sent them out into the world.

I had thought that the controversy over Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwen's presence on John Edwards' staff roster was done once he issued a statement refusing to fire them. But apparently, having gotten past the immediate crisis, the blogosphere needs to chew the issue over some more. I don't know that I can adequately characterize all the different viewpoints that have been tossed in the ring so far, but I think people are coming back to variations on the same couple of themes: what is the best response to such attacks? And should religion be given a special exemption from criticism in the super-heated atmosphere of presidential politics?

The response to both those questions, it seems to me, is the phrase I used as the title of this post: "the solution to 'bad' speech is not limits, but more speech." That was the motto of an academic friend, and he repeated it every time the inevitable free speech debate came up on campus. In fact, he was an Afro-American Studies professor and former radical activist who'd dealt with intimidation campaigns, death threats, and Klan sympathizers in his class, among other things. This guy was hard-core about not limiting speech.

His point was again fairly simple. While it's tempting to tell people to STFU, it doesn't help put those bubbles back in the jar. In fact, nothing was going to undo what someone had said in a moment of stupidity or malice. But locking into a endless bickering match isn't very productive, either. So, the most helpful thing to do is not try to silence others, but to add your perspective.

At first glance, that approach might seem to depend on a naive trust in common decency, but it doesn't, really. The point is that what we consider bad speech can only dominate the public square if it is left unchallenged. So if you don't like what somebody's saying, don't tell them to shut up -- that's not a challenge. Instead, take away its power by supplying additional speech, so that it has to compete against something.

If you stop to think about it, this is the organizing principle of the blogosphere. Every time we challenge the veracity of the media narrative, every time we expose Presidents Bush and Cheney for the lying sacks of crap they are, every time we develop new frames for progressive arguments, every time we research and suggest alternatives to the current political structures of our nation, we are replacing bad speech with more speech. To the extent that conservative ideologues can no longer claim sole possession of national discourse, then, we've been successful.

Applying that to the specific case of Amanda and Shakes, I think the MyDD-spearheaded campaign of writing to the journalists who take transcription from people like Bill Donohue is exactly the right response. Make them tell the rest of the story: that Donohue is a loathsome individual and a political hack, not a neutral defender of Catholic values. (Oh, and let's not forget Michelle Malkin, either. My, my, no, let's not forget Malkin.) Rapid response works, and I hope the netroots continue to hone their skills in this area.

I also like the idea of encouraging pro-choice Catholics speak up, as Catholics for a Free Choice does. Another way to add to the response would be for bloggers to appear over at Edwards' site to put in their two cents. IIRC, it has space for citizen diaries. Why shouldn't people use them to agree or disagree with Marcotte and McEwen?

Edwards could have invited this kind of conversation in his response. I wish he had. It would have been a way of moving the conversation forward, instead of letting it remain a territorial pissing match.

I've been catching a bit of flak at my own site for sticking up for Amanda and Shakes. Some people feel - and not without justification - that what they had to say was mean-spirited and offensive. But again, limiting their speech is not as productive as adding our own speech. If religious people think that they could have done better, then they should say so. The same is actually true for those of you who think that they had a real point. If there is a case to be made for their perspective, then by all means, make it.

Jesse Lava at Faithful Democrats (link above) says that:


[W]e progressives would be foolish to simply accept disturbing comments such as those that Marcotte and McEwan seem to make a regular part of their blogging routine. If their slimy remarks had been directed at African-Americans, gays, Muslims, or other minority groups, progressives would be (rightly) up in arms. For both moral and strategic reasons, the progressive coalition should welcome -- enthusiastically -- a diversity of religious views.


I agree with that last sentence, but I think it cuts both ways. If we're to accept a diversity of religious views, then we ought to accept the a-religious and even anti-religious perspectives as well. As frustrating as I find some atheist rants to be, I understand that politics is a big world, and we're trying to build a big tent movement. We're not always going to get along. That's as true of religious discourse as any other kind: Jesus, as I recall, had some fairly harsh things to say about the Pharisees, and Paul actually invites some of his opponents to go castrate themselves in his letter to the Galatians. Rough stuff abounds. I plan on inviting those members of my site who were insulted by Amanda and Shakes to state their case, and don't forget the juicy details.

To bring this post at long last to my basic point, it seems to me that any faith or belief that experiences any criticism - no matter how harsh - as a life-threatening attack on the community is disastrously weak. Let me be very careful in explaining what I mean. There are times when people say things that are simply hateful and focused on people, not ideas, and we should all be held accountable for our words. But if I let your intemperate remarks lead to my own, whose fault is that? And if I let your nasty, filthy, bastardly comments throw me off the life to which I have been called, and which I have chosen freely, who will be held accountable for that? The great lie in Donohue's statements is that somehow these feminist nobodies* prevent him from being fully a Catholic. They don't. Neither does my presence on Daily Kos prevent anyone there from being an atheist, nor does the presence of atheists on Daily Kos prevent me from being a Christian.

In fact, there are times when I am with my congregation, sharing a meal or a good story or just a simple hug with one of the little old ladies, when I realize that I have it pretty good, and that is in some sense the best revenge. That's not to be nasty about it, but simply to say that the best speech isn't in fact always speech. It's deeds. And in the life that I take part in - the good one, the one that I help create and keep going - I get the last word by virtue of always having options available to me.

Bill Donohue can kiss my ass, then. Anybody who hates my religion or me can kiss my ass. Anybody who takes part in scurrilous personal abuse of somebody else for political gain can kiss my ass. I've got better things to do, like adding to the great living conversation I have going with the people I know and love, and I assure you, so do you.

*I'm a nobody too. Just about everybody in the blogosphere is.

Submitted by RKing on