It occurs to me on this Memorial Day that the biggest challenge ahead is getting politicians, pundits, other elites, and to the extent that it's necessary the American public back to the radical consensus which seemed to hold between the end of the Vietnam War and September 11, 2001: War is bad. Ava Lowery of Peace Takes Courage has put together a video for Memorial Day video_wmv Download (557) | Play (267) video_mov Download (266) | Play (126) Anti-war groups = terrorists. “The Alabama Department of Homeland Security has taken down a Web site it operated that included gay rights and anti-war organizations in a list of groups that could include terrorists.” Today's Must Read: checking in with the soldiers in Iraq on Memorial Day. What do they think of the war? Let's remember: It's all because of a pointless lie There's a very troubling, but not very surprising article in today's Times about the outward flow of jihadists from Iraq into neighboring countries. Lebanon, Jordan are cited as examples. But one could likely list all the neighboring states and Europe and the United States as destinations for fighters either trained in the Iraqi insurgency or wielding methods honed there against American troops.

On its face it is almost a storyline you might expect war supporters to embrace -- Iraq as the central front in the 'War on Terror', a breeding ground of terrorism now spreading to other countries. Again we see the leitmotif of the president's war on terror -- evidence of the abject failure of his policies marshaled as evidence of the necessity of pursuing them.

We're so far deep into this mess that sometimes I believe we're past the point of argument. You look at the evidence and you either see it or you don't. Or perhaps more agnostically, you look at the evidence and one of two completely contradictory narratives makes sense. Whichever is right, the assumptions brought to the issue are so divergent as almost to defy argument or debate.

At moments like this, a thought, actually an email, comes back into my head. I've referred to it a couple times over the years. But it was one TPM Reader TR sent in back on July 27th 2003, almost four years ago and only about four months after the war. This was back when what was then called the 'flypaper' theory of the Iraq War was first kicking into gear in the right-wing press.

From: xxxxxxxxxxxxxx



Date: Sun, 27 Jul 2003 18:28:22 -0600

X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 6.00.2600.0000


Being based in Iraq helps us not only because of actual bases; but because the American presence there diverts terrorist attention away from elsewhere. By confronting them directly in Iraq, we get to engage them in a military setting that plays to our strengths rather than to theirs'. Continued conflict in Iraq, in other words, needn't always be bad news. It may be a sign that we are drawing the terrorists out of the woodwork and tackling them in the open.--Andrew Sullivan

Now that's extraordinary. Kind of like saying "by having a dirty hospital, we fight germs on our terms," or something ridiculous. Its not as if there's a finite number of "terrorists"--chances are anyone fighting us in Iraq never would've thought twice about attacking us elsewhere before we invaded--we're breeding germs is all. Part of the reason Saddam was so brutal was because he had plenty of people as brutal as he going after him all the time--now we've unleashed those forces against our troops. Has there yet been any sign that our real nemesis, Osama and al Qaeda, are in Iraq? No. What we're really doing is diverting our resources while al Qaeda sits back and reaps the windfall of our distraction and formulates their next attack. What horrible logic to rationalize the continuing deaths of American soldiers caught up in a situation that had nothing to with al Qaeda, nuclear weapons, or anything else of significance.

TR, as you can see, starts by clipping a passage from Andrew Sullivan's site. And Andrew's moved a long way on these points over the last four years. I only include this now for the sake of completeness, to share with you the email in its entirety.

Of course, give it time, give it time. This was only four months into the war. And, as you know, eventually some folks in Iraq adopted the name al Qaida, namely al Qaida in Mesopotamia. So now we can say it's al Qaida. And of course al Qaida, or whoever still owns the rights to the franchise, is happy to call it that too since it puffs up their own organizational profile.

TR's point isn't one that others haven't made. But at the time I got his note it struck me as so hilarious and bitingly on point, hilarious because it stated in this unvarnished fashion, in disbelief, the essential ridiculousness of the premise of the entire fight. And while it seems obvious, the argument he was attacking really is still the central one animating our policy in Iraq.

Oh the hopeless stupidity, the ugly bigotry... A burning question for CNN: “Who works harder? Blacks and Latinos on the job.” "It's sort of like punishing your child by saying, 'If you don't get your grades up,

you are grounded ... unless, of course, you would like to go out. And by the way,

you are grading yourself and I keep the marijuana in the silverware drawer.'"

-- Jon Stewart, on the supplemental bill featuring waiveable consequences

if the Iraqis fail to meet benchmarks, Old school media (we called "the press") With all the hackery and spin littering the Sunday morning talk shows, this commentary from Bob Schieffer on "Face The Nation" Sunday was refreshing to see. Schieffer is old school and has a strong grasp of history, which is evident in this clip. Somehow, I doubt we'd hear this kind of talk from Tim Russertvideo_wmv Download (3174) | Play (3232) video_mov Download (1282) | Play (1970) Schieffer: "I had breakfast the other day with the ambassador from one of America's strongest and closest allies. We got to talking about Iraq and Vietnam, and he asked me what I thought the great lessons of those years have been. I said, first, that we can help people but we can't do it for them, and, second, that America leads best when it leads by example – when we demonstrate how our system works by practicing what we preach, not by resorting to the methods of those who oppose us."

The Creation Museum, a $27-million tourist attraction for those who don’t care for modern science, will open its doors this morning near Cincinnati. The LA Times had an interesting editorial on the facility.

[B]efore the first visitor risks succumbing to the museum’s animatronic balderdash — dinosaurs and humans actually coexisted! the Grand Canyon was carved by the great flood described in Genesis! — we’d like to clear up a few things: “The Flintstones” is a cartoon, not a documentary. Fred and Wilma? Those woolly mammoth vacuum cleaners? All make-believe. Science is under assault, and that calls for bold truths. Here’s another: The Earth is round.

Smart guys don't get elected (even win they win) Al Gore has contributed an op-ed to the Guardian: (h/t Gregory)

The pursuit of "dominance" in foreign policy led the Bush administration to ignore the UN, to do serious damage to our most important alliances, to violate international law, and to cultivate the hatred and contempt of many in the rest of the world. The seductive appeal of exercising unconstrained unilateral power led this president to interpret his powers under the constitution in a way that brought to life the worst nightmare of the founders. Any policy based on domination of the rest of the world not only creates enemies for the US and recruits for al-Qaida, but also undermines the international cooperation that is essential to defeating terrorists who wish to harm and intimidate America.

Yeah, what he said.

"What kind of democracy is this - when the people do speak,

and the people's voice is unambiguous...but nothing happens?"

-- Andrew Bacevich, Sr., who lost a son in Iraq... Link

The end of the dream? Everyone knows that income inequality has been widening dramatically in the past three decades, as the rich get (lots) richer and the working class mostly stagnates. But hey — this is America! At least we still have lots of social mobility, right? People here go from rags to riches all the time, unlike those stagnant European hellholes Oh:

There is little available evidence that the United States has more relative mobility than other advanced nations. If anything, the data seem to suggest the opposite. Using the relationship between parents' and children's incomes as an indicator of relative mobility, data show that a number of countries, including Denmark, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and France have more relative mobility than does the United States (see Figure 3).

Well, Horatio Alger died a long time ago, I guess. Still, at least things are getting better. Maybe middle class kids aren't becoming CEOs, but at least they're doing better than their fathers. Right?

In a word, no. American kids used to do better than their fathers, but not anymore. The economy might be growing at a healthy clip, but men today actually make less than their dads did in 1974:

The story changes for a younger cohort. Those in their thirties in 2004 had a median income of about $35,000 a year. Men in their fathers' cohort, those who are now in their sixties, had a median income of about $40,000 when they were the same age in 1974....This suggests the up-escalator that has historically ensured that each generation would do better than the last may not be working very well.

Bummer. No more up-escalator. And it's not just individuals. If you look at families it turns that they're doing a smidge better than in the past, but only because more families have two earners these days. However, even that small improvement has gone away in the Bush era. Income used to increase along with productivity growth, but that slowed down starting in 1974 and then disappeared entirely starting in 2001. Just a coincidence, I'm sure.

All these charts come from the Economic Mobility Project, a joint effort of the The American Enterprise Institute, The Brookings Institution, The Heritage Foundation and The Urban Institute. The full report is here.

That whole silly immigration thing... I don't really have an opinion immediately at hand about whether we suffer from a glut of Nobel Prize winners and should clamp down on giving them permanent residency here, but baseball is another thing entirely. Reducing the number of visas available for power hitting shortstops is clearly beyond the pale. Barry Frank, a top honcho at uber-agency IMG, explains the realities:

Look, baseball is basically becoming a Hispanic game. And don't forget who their employers are — men of considerable means and power. The owners are not going to let their stars get away because of some silly Washington law. I think you're going to hear some noise.

Indeed. These are men of considerable means and power. They can hardly be expected to sit still for a silly Washington law, can they?

What we do to our kids -- for money "What are we to think of people who encourage our children to stop snitchin' about rape and murder?" is one of the many serious questions davidincleveland tackles in A rant about race and role models.

Who supports the troops? “The system for delivering badly needed gear to Marines in Iraq” has failed to meet over 90 percent of the “urgent requests for equipment from troops in the field.” Among the items held up “were a mine resistant vehicle and a hand-held laser system.”

"I really don't see what's stopping Obama from becoming the next president."

-- Andrew Sullivan, Link Let the record reflect that racism died on May 25, 2007 and Andrew Sullivan was a witness. Wow - this racism-free America smells like a breath of fresh air!

The lies just keep on a comin' GSA administrator Lurita Doan claims she can’t remember the details of the partisan Rove PowerPoint session that was given to her employees because she was busy using her Blackberry. The Office of Special Counsel (which found that her partisan activity violated federal law) looked into the claim:

The special counsel sought to corroborate the BlackBerry distractions, yet when investigators reviewed Doan’s personal and government e-mail messages during the post-lunch meeting, there was no evidence that Doan would have been particularly distracted.

“The documentation establishes that Ms. Doan received nine e-mail messages to her private e-mail account on Jan. 26, 2007, with the latest one received at 1:08 p.m.,” the report states. The meeting took place from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. “The documentation Ms. Doan provided concerning her private e-mail account did not establish that she sent, read, composed, deleted or moved any messages during the January meeting.”

Bush Administration To ‘Skim Off Border Patrol Agents’ For Duty In Iraq During a visit to the U.S-Mexico border last month, President Bush stated that “securing the border is a critical part of a strategy for comprehensive immigration reform.” Yesterday, Bush claimed that his administration had already “stepped up efforts to improve border security,” touting his attempts to “double the size of the Border Patrol.”

Today, however, such commitments ring hollow as Govs. Janet Napolitano (D-AZ) and Bill Richardson (D-NM) have found that the defense contractor DynCorp has been authorized by the Bush Administration to hire as many as 120 “current and former U.S. Border Patrol agents.”

DynCorp “is offering $134,100 for a one-year stay, plus a $25,000 signing bonus,” a reported 70% pay raise. Further, “[t]he first $90,000 in income is tax free, and housing and food are free.”

Richardson and Napolitano both expressed outrage about the plan, saying in a letter to Bush that the plan “makes no sense“:

[A]t a time when violence is once again flaring up on our own border, it makes no sense for the United States State Department to empower a company to hire away as many as 120 veteran Border Patrol agents to serve as mentors to train Iraqis… We should be focused on supporting our nation’s security efforts along the Mexican and Canadian border instead of hampering [the Border Patrol] by sending our best agents to a war zone in Iraq.

The Bush administration’s attempts to “skim off Border Patrol agents” for duty in Iraq is made worse in light of the recent decision to withdraw half of the 6,000 National Guard troops temporarily stationed at the border.

The Bush administration had promised to replace the Guardsmen with an “equal number of new Border Patrol agents,” but “fewer than 350 new agents have been hired.”

Cheney insanity watch Joe Klein thinks that Steve Clemons' report about Dick Cheney's plan to goad Iran into attacking us so that we'll be justified in counter-attacking is probably correct. Today he reports this:

Last December, as Rumsfeld was leaving, President Bush met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in "The Tank," the secure room in the Pentagon where the Joint Chiefs discuss classified matters of national security. Bush asked the Chiefs about the wisdom of a troop "surge" in Iraq. They were unanimously opposed. Then Bush asked about the possibility of a successful attack on Iran's nuclear capability. He was told that the U.S. could launch a devastating air attack on Iran's government and military, wiping out the Iranian air force, the command and control structure and some of the more obvious nuclear facilities. But the Chiefs were — once again — unanimously opposed to taking that course of action.

....Bush apparently took this advice to heart and went to Plan B — a covert destabilization campaign reported earlier this week by ABC News. If Clemons is right, and I'm pretty sure he is, Cheney is still pushing Plan A.

Ve haf vays uf makingk you patriotic Before September 11, 2001, the song "God Bless America" was played in Yankee Stadium only on holidays. But since mid-October of 2001, it has been played before the bottom of the seventh inning at every game. It seems like that would be punishment enough, but George Steinbrenner has taken the punishment a step further: While the song is being played, fans are not allowed to leave their seats.

"Not allowed" means that off-duty uniformed police officers, ushers, security personnel, and aisle chains are used to restrict the movement of patrons. One end of each chain is held by someone to prevent the chaining system from being a fire hazard.

A spokesman for the Yankees said that the system was put in place after hundreds of fans complained that other fans showed a lack of respect for "God Bless America" by not observing silence while it was played. The spokesman also said that no one has complained about the system. The Mets do not restrict movement during the playing of patriotic songs. However, several other teams do, but with personnel only, not chains.

The New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has stated that since Yankee Stadium is private property, the restriction practice is not illegal. However, if someone is arrested for disobeying the rule, the ACLU would consider stepping in.

Anybody listening? From a federal judge in the sentencing of Animal Liberation Front arsonist Kevin Tubbs to 12 years in jail:

"Fear and intimidation can play no part in changing the hearts and minds of people in a democracy."

Noted without comment.

Ronny Reagan on Rudy Giuliani "I think He's Crazy." I'd always wondered about Rudy Giuliani's switch during the 1980s from Associate Attorney General to US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The latter job clearly has certain advantages if you're looking to run for mayor, but at the same time it seems like a demotion. Mark Kleiman explains that part of the issue is that Giuliani's signature policy initiative at Justice was failing. "The speculation when Giuliani took what was at best a lateral transfer (Associate AG is the #3 job in the Department) was that he'd figured out that his counter-drug efforts had been a disaster and wanted to be out of the way when the fecal material hit the air-moving equipment." Team Giuliani notes in its defense that, sure, Reagan may have thought Rudy was crazy, but at least he passed along a form letter praising Rudy when he nominated him for his demotion to the US Attorney job.

Another gutless senator Senator places hold on OPEN Government Act. A bill called the OPEN Government Act has been locked down in the Senate by a secret hold. Public Citizen reports:

The bill in question is a bipartisan effort to update the seminal Freedom of Information Act to make the government more open and accountable. It recently overwhelmingly passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. The House version of the bill, “Freedom of Information Act of 2007,” passed on March 15 by 308 to 117. More than one hundred organizations and thousands of citizens have expressed support for the bills.

Yet, when Senators Leahy and Cornyn tried to bring the bill to a vote on the floor last Thursday, the vote was blocked by “Senator Anonymous.” Some Republican senator called the Minority Leader’s office and objected to a vote on the bill, but asked for anonymity and did not publicly state the reason for the hold.

CBS Exposes Bush Admin’s ‘Outrageous Delay’ In Providing Marines With Bomb-Resistant Vehicle While President Bush has been busy politically demagoging funding for the troops, CBS Evening News highlighted a disturbing report tonight that the administration waited over a year before acting on a “priority 1 urgent” request to send blast-resistant vehicles to Iraq, the so-called Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles. Calling it “an outrageous delay,” CBS noted, “The Marines in the field asked for 1,200 MRAPs in February 2005 — but so far, they’ve received less than 100.” The report also noted that the problem is widespread and systemic:

A Marine Corps document obtained by the Associated Press says that of 100 requests for critical gear sent in last year, less than 10 have been filled. It blames red tape and the failure of bureaucrats to take risks. “Unnecessary delays cause … deaths and injuries,” the document says — and nowhere is it more true than with MRAP.

For American troops in Iraq, the heavy-duty armored vehicle has proven to be a life-saver. As a testament to MRAP’s effectiveness, top Marine commander Gen. James Conway said recently, “We have yet to have a Marine killed in the al Anbar Province who is riding inside an MRAP.” He added, “How do you not see it as a moral imperative to get as many of those vehicles to theater as rapidly as you can?”

As AmericaBlog noted, the Marine Corps lied about why it had failed to fulfill the urgent request for the priority equipment, claiming it was not “a budgetary decision” when internal documents prove that it was.

In an open letter to President Bush, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) urged the administration to publicly make MRAP production a national priority. He wrote, “How is it possible that with our nation at war, with more than 130,000 Americans in danger, with roadside bombs destroying a growing number of lives and limbs, we were so slow to act to protect our troops? … We need to know how and why this happened so that it does not happen again.”

At least 1,419 U.S. soldiers have been killed by roadside bombs in Iraq.

“I lost my son to a war I oppose.” Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University, writes about the recent loss of his son in Iraq:

What exactly is a father’s duty when his son is sent into harm’s way? Among the many ways to answer that question, mine was this one: As my son was doing his utmost to be a good soldier, I strove to be a good citizen. […]

I hoped that [my anti-war] efforts might produce a political climate conducive to change. I genuinely believed that if the people spoke, our leaders in Washington would listen and respond. This, I can now see, was an illusion. […]

I know that my son did his best to serve our country. Through my own opposition to a profoundly misguided war, I thought I was doing the same. In fact, while he was giving his all, I was doing nothing. In this way, I failed him.

Read his full op-ed.

We Must Be Able To Do Something I understand where Adele is coming from. We're good liberals, we gaze on the horror that we (yes, all of us) are responsible for, and are compelled to try to fix it. To make it better. To somehow unsh*t the bed, if just a little bit. To unpollute the river which is now a sewer of trash, filth and bodies. To fix the civil infrastructure. To somehow make it up to them.

You see this in Michael Ware, who understands full well what a clusterf**k things are but doesn't think the US can leave. They f**ked it up! They have to fix it!

But even if we imagine that somehow there exists, if not a magical pony plan, at least something, some way to improve things just a bit. The reality is George Bush and his merry band of incompetent psychopaths are in power for the next 20 months. 20 more months of the war-as-product-for-domestic-consumption rather than as an occupation to be understood. 20 more months of thinking about this being about "terrorists" and "the enemy" instead of series of conflicts we're in the middle of (yes there are people engaging in terrorism and yes there are "bad guys," but this problem isn't solved by rounding up all the bad guys and killing them).

And 20 months from now when President Wise and Benevolent Democrat takes office there will be no political interest in helping Iraq. We'll pay $100 billion to fund the war, but there will be no interest in paying $100 billion to support the peace, if such a thing were even possible.

We can dream of bringing in the international community, but they will largely have no interest in contributing funds as long as the money pit of US contractors is still there. Who would be stupid enough to throw more cash into that giant black hole?

The fact is that right now the choice is, as it has always been, between Bush's war and getting out. There's no Peter Beinart's war, there's no Tom Friedman's war, there's no Adele Stan's war. There is no good liberal way out of this mess.

We will owe the people of that country tremendously, but the reality is we'll be far more likely to send them the bill than to try to repair the damage we have done.

I can be tempted to punch people Insights from Sean Hannity: John Edwards’ “primping” is evidence that he does not “understand[] the nature of the battle in the war that’s being waged against us.” The irrlevance, the trivialization, the dishonesty.... I can't help but want to stick my fist in it.

Give credit where it is due For all of the Republicans' many, many flaws, they're generally quite adept at manipulating language. A program to allow warrantless searches on Americans becomes the "terrorist surveillance program." A policy that allows more pollution becomes the "clean skies initiative." A withdrawal policy in Iraq becomes "cut and run." And as Andrew Sullivan explained yesterday, torture becomes "enhanced interrogation techniques."

I'm not sure where exactly this came from, but George Tenet seems to have been the tipping point. But it's important to note that Tenet has a very personal interest in lying about torture. After all, he will be subject to war crime charges if he concedes that he authorized it. But in his rewording, he has also, it seems to me, conceded something very important. He was clearly concerned that the term "coercive" in the newspeak phrase "coercive interrogation techniques" could be legal peril. It implies physical or mental pressure so severe it renders any choice to cooperate moot. It implies, inevitably, "severe mental or physical pain or suffering," in order to extract information. That is the only relevant legal and moral criterion for torture. Is the information coerced, i.e. is the physical or mental suffering so severe that the victim has no choice but to tell the torturers what the want to hear? If it is, it's torture, under American and international law. And Tenet is a criminal.

Abuse of common English is one of the hallmarks of political mischief. I don't think any journalist should let a politician off the hook on this one. Words matter.

They do, indeed. And where do the words "enhanced interrogation techniques" come from? According to one of Andrew's readers: from the Gestapo.

Bush’s draft dodge. Center for American Progress senior fellow Lawrence Korb and research associate Max Bergmann write in today’s Los Angeles Times that if Bush wants to maintain his escalation, he should call for reinstating the draft:

That would be the responsible path. Yet the president will never call for the draft. He knows the country would never support the level of sacrifice for this war that implementing a draft would demand. But this is one of the very reasons why the all-volunteer Army was designed the way it was — to prevent a commander in chief from fighting a war that lacks the support of the public.[…] If the president is committed to fighting the war in Iraq over the long term, instead of simply running out the clock on his presidency, he should have the courage of his convictions and call for reinstating the draft. If not, the only responsible course is to set a timetable to bring the troops home.

Congress showing results. The 110th Congress has now been in session for 150 days. During that time, the House has passed all 10 bills it promised during the 2006 campaign, including enacting the 9/11 Commission recommendations, lobbying reform, a minimum wage hike, and stem cell research. The Senate has passed 6 of the 10; 3 others are currently being considered. The White House has signed just two of the bills. It has vetoed or threatened to veto 5. See the New York Times chart on the right for details.

Prosecutor Firings: Goodling's Testimony, the Gift that Keeps on Giving Monica Goodling, former Department of Justice (DOJ) White House liaison and Senior Counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the House Judiciary Committee under the protection of a use immunity this past Wednesday. Former Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Paul McNulty bore the brunt of her freely flowing testimony. Goodling noted, referring to the DAG's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, "The Deputy's public testimony was incomplete or inaccurate in a number of respects." (McNulty could face a criminal investigation.)

But McNulty is not the only one that stands to catch fire from the former DOJ White House liaison's testimony. While admitting that she may have used a political litmus test to screen career positions, as well as political appointees, she pointed a finger at the department's Office of Legal Counsel, claiming that in 2005 Kyle Sampson told her "some years earlier" the office had said civil service rules (rules that bar politics from being weighed as a hiring factor for civil service employees) do not apply to immigration judges as they do to other career positions. The Office of Legal Counsel has fired back claiming the office never held such an opinion.

And, as TPMmuckraker points out today, the appointments of immigration judges during Bush's tenure do look sort of fishy, calling upon a Legal Times article from last year for its information:


Among the 19 immigration judges hired since 2004: Francis Cramer, the former campaign treasurer for New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg; James Nugent, the former vice chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party; and Chris Brisack, a former Republican Party county chairman from Texas who had served on the state library commission under then-Gov. George W. Bush.

But the plot gets a little thicker. Goodling's lawyer, John Dowd, released a response to the Office of Legal Counsel's response. (And round and round we go.) Dowd wrote that Goodling realized there was no official order made by the Office of Legal Counsel and that Acting Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin had made the suggestion. As TPM notes, this means it "came from the top." Stay tuned.

Latest cover for hate crimes: "Adolescents Play Pranks..." Last November, someone set fire to the central wing of a high school in Jena, Louisiana. Then white students beat up a black student because he went to their party. Soon after that, a white adolescent pulled a shotgun on three black adolescents in a convenience store, and then four black students jumped a white student as he came out of the school gym. Following that incident, in which the student received minor injuries, six black students were expelled and were charged with attempted second-degree murder. They face up to a hundred years in prison.

Conversely, the white boy who beat up the student at the party was charged with simple battery, and the boy who held three others at shotgunpoint was not charged with anything. However, his victims were charged with aggravated battery and theft after they grabbed the shotgun in self-defense.

If this sounds like scenes from a 1950s newsreel, that's because Jena is stuck in time when it comes to the issue of racial equality. Enter Jena mayor Murphy McMillian, who says that "Race is not a major local issue. It's not a factor in the local people's lives."

No kidding--he said that.

The latest incident at the high school involves some black students who attempted to sit on the "white side" of the school yard. There, they saw three nooses hanging from a tree. Enter school superindendent Roy Breithaupt, who says that "Adolescents play pranks. I don't think it was a threat against anybody."

Again, he really said that.

The Jena community isn't alone in dismissing violence and threats against women, people of color, the disabled, and members of the LGBT community as "pranks" and "jokes." But this particular piece of denial is so over the top, it would probably shock most reasonable people. The local ACLU calls Jena a "racial powder keg."

Barney Fife does homeland security Apparently the gumshoes over at the IRS have been investigating nonprofits for potential ties to terrorism in Keystone Cops fashion. According to a report by the agency's watchdog, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, IRS agents pour over nonprofit filings manually, cross-referencing them with a terrorist watch list that is woefully inadequate. "As a result, the IRS provides only minimal assurance that tax-exempt organizations potentially involved in terrorist activities are being identified," the watchdog reports. And that's not even the worst part. Responding to the dismal report in a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson today, Montana Democrat Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, reveals that IRS investigators resorted to racial profiling when looking into potential terrorist financing. "IRS personnel told TIGTA that they primarily look for 'Middle Eastern sounding names' when considering which tax filings to flag for further review." How has this screening process worked out for the IRS? Not very well. Baucus writes: "TIGTA investigators found that the current IRS screening process has never identified any person or organization with links to terrorists."

Duel at High Noon Via CBS News:

Tensions in the Texas House boiled over in a parliamentary showdown between Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick and some GOP and Democratic insurgents.

It was a moment that has been building for weeks, with House members defiantly challenging the leader they put in power. Dissatisfaction has been building and on Friday night frustration turned into anger.

Craddick survived a five-hour rebellion on the House floor that included a bold attempt to boot him from office, the physical restraint of insurgent lawmakers trying to overtake the speaker's podium, and the House parliamentarian nearly pushed to tears before resigning.

Republican Rep. Fred Hill, who has filed his candidacy to replace Craddick, made a parliamentary request that would allow the 150-member chamber to vote to oust Craddick.

Craddick refused to recognize Hill to make the motion. Read more…

Top U.S. Climate Scientist Issues New Warning On Catastropic Sea Level Rise James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute Of Space Studies and the top U.S. climate scientist, has issued a new warning about the threat of a catastrophic rise in sea levels. He warns further that many scientists aware of such a rise are reluctant to discuss it out of fears of appearing “alarmist.”

From Hansen’s new paper in the journal Environmental Research:

I suggest that a “scientific reticence” is inhibiting the communication of a threat of a potentially large sea level rise. Delay is dangerous because of system inertias that could create a situation with future sea level changes out of our control. I argue for calling together a panel of scientific leaders to hear evidence and issue a prompt plain-written report on current understanding of the sea level change issue.

Climate Progress has more. This week, CNN’s Anderson Cooper has been reporting live from the source of much of this sea level rise — the disappearing glaciers in Greenland. Last night, Cooper interviewed biologist Jeff Corwin, who laid out the massive changes taking place in Greenland:

Today, it’s actually losing ice at about 100 billion tons a year. I mean, that’s incredible. One hundred billion tons of ice is disappearing. And, of course, it just doesn’t go up in smoke. The ice melts. Not only do you have to deal with water being lifted up, with the potential sea level going up virtually 20 feet, but also salinity. People aren’t thinking about this problem. What happens when a saltwater environment becomes more fresh lake?

Experts Charge Bush Ignored Contradictory Intelligence Reports In Coast Guard Speech In his commencement speech at the Coast Guard Academy this week, President Bush discussed “2-year-old information, declassified by the White House a day earlier,” which asserted that Osama bin Laden had instructed al Qaeda in Iraq to attack the United States. Using the intel to stoke fears of terrorism, Bush argued for the continuation of his stay-the-course policy in Iraq, claiming “Al Qaeda’s leaders inside and outside of Iraq have not given up on their objective of attacking America again.”

As ThinkProgress noted, President Bush has a history of selectively declassifying intelligence that works to his political advantage. Counterterrorism experts now tell Newsweek that “the president’s characterization of the intelligence may have been incomplete” and that he appears to have “ignored contradictory reporting about what actually happened.”

Here are a few examples of Bush’s “incomplete” intelligence:

1) BUSH MYTH: Zarqawi was a top al Qaeda operative before the war. A Senate Intelligence Committee report published last September said that the CIA learned “‘from a senior Al Qaeda detainee’ that before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Zarqawi had actually ‘rebuffed several efforts by bin Laden’ to recruit Zaqawi to work with Al Qaeda.” But in reality, it was only “after the U.S. invasion of Iraq that Zarqawi permanently set up operations inside the country and then formed much closer ties between his Iraqi insurgent organization and the central leadership of Al Qaeda.”

2) BUSH MYTH: Zarqawi “welcomed” bin Laden’s orders. “A U.S. counterterrorism official familiar with the original intelligence told Newsweek that some of the intel showed that Zarqawi actually resisted bin Laden’s instructions at the time, sending word back to the Al Qaeda leader that he had his hands full orchestrating attacks against U.S. forces inside Iraq.”

3) BUSH MYTH: Bin Laden wants to use Iraq to launch attacks against the West. Rand Beers, a former national-security aide who served under both Clinton and Bush, pointed out that “most of the recent intelligence reporting on terror plots aimed at the U.S. shows that the plans were hatched in Pakistan, not Iraq, and were initiated during the same time frame (in 2005) that bin Laden was ordering Zarqawi to open up a cell.”

Once again, President Bush has been caught fixing intelligence around his policies instead of shaping his policies around intelligence.

At a White House press conference this week, NBC's David Gregory asked the president a highly relevant question: "Can you explain why you believe you're still a credible messenger on the war?" Bush didn't hesitate. "I'm credible because I read the intelligence, David," he said.

How exquisitely true to form. It's one thing to read intelligence reports; it's another to take the reports' warnings seriously.

Months before the invasion of Iraq, U.S. intelligence agencies predicted that it would be likely to spark violent sectarian divides and provide al-Qaeda with new opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a report released yesterday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Analysts warned that war in Iraq also could provoke Iran to assert its regional influence and "probably would result in a surge of political Islam and increased funding for terrorist groups" in the Muslim world.

The intelligence assessments, made in January 2003 and widely circulated within the Bush administration before the war, said that establishing democracy in Iraq would be "a long, difficult and probably turbulent challenge." The assessments noted that Iraqi political culture was "largely bereft of the social underpinnings" to support democratic development.

More than four years after the March 2003 invasion, with Iraq still mired in violence and 150,000 U.S. troops there under continued attack from al-Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents, the intelligence warnings seem prophetic. Other predictions, however, were less than accurate. Intelligence analysts assessed that any postwar increase in terrorism would slowly subside in three to five years, and that Iraq's vast oil reserves would quickly facilitate economic reconstruction.

In other words, the White House managed to reject what intelligence agencies got right and embrace what the agencies got wrong.

In a strong dissent, Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.), the committee's vice chairman, said the inquiry itself was "a bad idea," and called on the committee to stop asking questions about how badly the administration screwed up before and start focusing on "the myriad of threats we face today."

Of course. What’s done is done; let’s not dwell on who cherry-picked what in order to kill whom. Please. Accountability demands answers. Even more importantly, the same White House that made these tragic mistakes before is still at it. If we don't take note of how tragically wrong the Bush gang was in 2003, some may forget why they lack credibility in 2007.

Corruption watch Former Tennessee senator, stunningly bad actor, and possible presidential candidate Fred Thompson has seen fit to shut down his political action committee. The PAC in question has raised $66,700 for election campaigns and committees in the four years it has been in existence. It has also paid $178,000 in consulting fees to Daniel Thompson Associates. Daniel is Fred Thompson's son, and while it is legal to hire a family member to consult for your PAC, it is quite obviously questionable for that family member to get more than two and a half times the funds raised to support the PAC's reason for being. Thompson, who is known for how little he accomplished in the U.S. Senate, is getting a closer look from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Rational isn't always good In The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan argues that although people are rational in the marketplace (which is a good thing, since this assumption is required to make classical economics work), they become foolish and incoherent when they step into the voting booth. Chris Hayes lays it out:

The idea is this: People are rational when they pay for the consequences of their decisions. But in elections, the odds of your vote determining a given election are so slim that the price of voting your irrational whims is nil. This gives people the freedom to indulge delusional notions about the economy. And that results in a populace who are capitalists in the market place and socialists in the voting booth.

Needless to say, Caplan thinks we're at our best in the former case and quotes legendary economist Joseph Schumpeter to describe the latter: "[T]he typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field. He argues and analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interests. He becomes a primitive again."

There's way too much to unpack here for a single blog post, but allow me to make one wee point: there's a distinction between "rational" and "good," and most of us know it when we see it. Thomas Jefferson, for example, kept slaves because it was, after all, a rational thing to do. He needed the money his slaves brought in and he was too weak-willed to forego that money and free them. However, he also argued that slavery was wrong and should be banned — a position that's usually presented as an unfathomable paradox. But it's not. Jefferson wanted slavery banned because he understood that individuals often lack the willpower to do individually what they know is right. Sometimes it takes the power of community action to force ourselves to do good things that we can't (or won't) do on our own.

In the marketplace we are competitive, selfish, meanspirited, and xenophobic, so it's no surprise that left to its own devices that's the kind of society a free market will produce — in fact, has produced at various points in history. But although we're seldom strong enough to personally sacrifice our own immediate economic self-interests (yes, that means you too), we often recognize as a society that we ought to do better. And so, as long as the rules apply to all of us, we occasionally allow our better natures to be shamed, cajoled, or inspired into insisting on it. And civilization slowly progresses because of it.

So slavery and child labor are gone, even though both were efficient means of production in their time. We went to war against Nazi Germany even though Hitler was as good a trading partner as the Weimar Republic. We pass minimum wage laws because our guts tell us that it's wrong to expect an adult in a rich country to work like a dog seven days a week for subsistence wages. And some of us continue to press for national health care not simply because it addresses known market failures (though it does), but because we think it's fundamentally wrong to make people beg, plead, and scrape in order to receive decent medical care.

The free market rejects all of these things. But in the voting booth, sometimes the better angels of our natures take wing for a moment and persuade us to try to make ourselves into better people. The free market pushes back, of course, and warns us that we can't always have everything we want. Thankfully, though, it doesn't always win. Rationality is a high virtue, but it's not the only virtue.

It cost you nothing to smile... Way back in February 2006, Barack Obama and John McCain got into quite a dust-up over a lobbying reform measure. McCain wanted a task force, Obama preferred using standing committees, and McCain lost his cool. (It's a long story.)

Yesterday, as you've probably heard, their rivalry grew considerably more intense. McCain took a shot at Obama over his war-funding vote; Obama responded in kind. McCain took another shot, highlighting a typo in an Obama transcript that the media finds fascinating, followed by a cheap shot by a McCain campaign aide to the Politico.

Now, it's possible this became fascinating to the political world because it was a slow news day, but I think we know better. We're talking about two of the most powerful personalities in American politics, both of whom are top-tier candidates for the presidency, and both of whom seemed to revel in trading shots yesterday.

There are plenty of opinions available about which of the two came out on top as a result of the scuffle, but one thing I noticed yesterday, watching Obama deliver his response to McCain's initial shot, was that he seemed to enjoy mixing it up a little bit. Obama is running a campaign in which he frequently talks about changing the way politics is done. His stump speech emphasizes above-the-fray concepts and bipartisanship. It's led plenty of Democrats to wonder if Obama is aggressive enough to swing a few elbows when he has to.

Indeed, the conventional wisdom suggests one of the central questions about Obama is whether he can take a punch. My question has always been the opposite: can he deliver a punch?

That was what made yesterday's back-and-forth interesting to me. Obama almost smiled calling McCain out, by name. It was one of the first, if not the very first, direct shots he took at the Republicans' top tier. It was almost as if Obama was delivering an underlying message to Dems: "Don't worry, I'm not nice all the time."

Good for him.

The War Prayer In 1904, disgusted by the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and the subsequent Philippine-American War, Mark Twain wrote a short anti-war prose poem called "The War Prayer." His family begged him not to publish it, his friends advised him to bury it, and his publisher rejected it, thinking it too inflammatory for the times. Twain agreed, but instructed that it be published after his death, saying famously:

None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.

"The War Prayer" was eventually published after World War I, when its message was more in tune with the times. Now, Washington Monthly's publisher, Markos Kounalakis, who was affected by Twain's words when he covered the war in Yugoslavia in the early 90s, has made "The War Prayer" into a short video for release this Memorial Day weekend. It features stunning illustrations by Akis Dimitrakopoulos and is narrated by Peter Coyote, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Erik Bauersfeld. You can view it here.

GOP: It's OK if we do it, but not if they do it When Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama joined 12 other Democratic senators in opposing Bush's war-funding package, Republican presidential candidates pounced. If Dem presidential hopefuls are willing to reject funding for the troops in a time of war, we now have proof, the GOP concluded, that they must hate the men and women in uniform.

* Giuliani: Obama and Clinton have "moved from being not just anti-war, but to being anti-troops."

* McCain: "[I]t is so irresponsible to tell these young men and women who are serving in uniform with the orders of their commander in chief that you're not going to give them the necessary ability to defend themselves."

* Romney: "Voting against our troops during a time of war shows the American people that the leaders of the Democrat [sic] Party will abandon principle in favor of political positioning."

Got it. But I have a quick follow up question: If opposing money for the troops in a time of war is necessarily anti-military and un-American, why did Bush reject war funding less than a month ago? If supporting the military means supporting funding measures, didn't the president deny those in uniform the resources they need? Or is it more likely that rejecting funding for the troops in a time of war is perfectly acceptable to Republicans, just so long as they think there's a good reason to do so?

Training the enemy In the New York Times today, Michael Kamber writes that after spending a week with an infantry company in Baghdad he can find virtually no one who still believes they're doing any good in Iraq:

The pivotal moment came, he says, this past February when soldiers killed a man setting a roadside bomb. When they searched the bomber's body, they found identification showing him to be a sergeant in the Iraqi Army.

"I thought, 'What are we doing here? Why are we still here?' " said Sergeant Safstrom, a member of Delta Company of the First Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division. "We're helping guys that are trying to kill us. We help them in the day. They turn around at night and try to kill us."

...."In 2003, 2004, 100 percent of the soldiers wanted to be here, to fight this war," said Sgt. First Class David Moore, a self-described "conservative Texas Republican" and platoon sergeant who strongly advocates an American withdrawal. "Now, 95 percent of my platoon agrees with me."

....On April 29, a Delta Company patrol was responding to a tip at Al Sadr mosque, a short distance from its base....When the battle was over, Delta Company learned that among the enemy dead were at least two Iraqi Army soldiers that American forces had helped train and arm.

...."Before that fight, there were a few true believers." Captain Rogers said. "After the 29th, I don't think you'll find a true believer in this unit. They're paratroopers. There's no question they'll fulfill their mission. But they're fighting now for pride in their unit, professionalism, loyalty to their fellow soldier and chain of command."

The reports of individual soldiers provide a very limited view into how well or how badly the war is going. But eventually their voices add up, and it sounds like Delta Company has figured out the truth: that they're mostly just training Iraqi soldiers to be more efficient at killing both Americans and each other. They're inflaming a foreign civil war, not defending America, and the fact that their commander in chief continues to insist that they risk their lives anyway represents a betrayal of trust rarely equaled in modern history. These guys deserve better. They deserve a president who understands when to fight, how to fight, and how to win. George Bush plainly understands none of these things.

Cato ended every speech with "Carthago delenda est!" — Carthage must be destroyed. We need just the opposite. Does anyone know the Latin for "We must leave Iraq"?

Cheney insanity watch II Did Dick Cheney really say this?

As Army officers on duty in the war on terror, you will now face enemies who oppose and despise everything you know to be right, every notion of upright conduct and character, and every belief you consider worth fighting for and living for. Capture one of these killers, and he'll be quick to demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States. Yet when they wage attacks or take captives, their delicate sensibilities seem to fall away.

This, of course, is exactly the sort of thing one would point to as an example of the moral superiority enjoyed by a liberal democracy when fighting a group of murderous fanatics -- we treat people in accordance with domestic and international law in a manner consistent with the basic principles of human rights and human dignity; they do not. But in Dick Cheney's America our delicate sensibilities fall away too.

Surging Towards Armageddon Let's hope that was just a bit of hyperbole.

Neocon media "Two Hillary Clinton biographies create gossip storm in Washington" -- that's a headline in The Los Angeles Times. The reporting in the article, however, doesn't support that at all:

The books are "interesting and perhaps illuminating, but they didn't drop any new revelations into the campaign," said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, who headed up public opinion surveys for Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004.

Even some Republicans saw no reason for Clinton to be concerned about the books' fallout. "It doesn't strike me that there was anything new in either of these books that I didn't already know about Hillary Clinton," said Whit Ayres, a longtime Republican pollster and strategist.

The Clinton campaign heartily agreed, pouncing on an early wave of ho-hum reviews from political bloggers. "The biggest news here is three reporters have spent the last 10 years combined looking at Sen. Clinton's life and finding nothing new to report," said Howard Wolfson, the campaign's communications director. "They've got zero."

The only reason anyone's talking about these books at all is that newspapers keep writing stories on them. The LAT's reporter, Stephen Braun, at least had the good sense to report how pointless this all was. But then along comes the headline writer to say it's the talk of the town. Obviously, Memorial Day Weekend is tough for everyone in the news biz, but this is really pathetic.

The slow restoration of constitutional rights begins. The Senate Armed Services Commitee has passed legislation “that would grant new rights to terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including access to a lawyer regardless of whether the prisoners are put on trial.” It would also “narrow the definition of an enemy combatant and tighten restrictions on the types of evidence used to prosecute and keep a person detained.” The legislation “has raised red flags at the White House as potential veto bait.”

Neocon media Post Reporter: ‘So What Is This Caging Thing?’ In her recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, former Justice Department official Monica Goodling tried to dismiss voter suppression allegations against Karl Rove-protege U.S. attorney Tim Griffin. As ThinkProgress noted, she called the voter suppression tactic — known as “caging” — just as “direct-mail term.”

In today’s daily chat, Washington Post congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman was asked about why Congress didn’t follow-up on her erroneous testimony:

Orlando, Fla.: I want to know why Congress didn’t jump on Monica Goodling’s testimony about caging? Aren’t they aware that it is illegal? Thank you.

Jonathan Weisman: They jumped on lots of stuff. I thought Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama won the prize for best performance as a grand inquisitor. So what is this caging thing?

The allegations against Griffin are serious. They are serious enough that Goodling briefed Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty on them before he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Congressional sources have also told ThinkProgress the Bush administration was worried about the allegations and decided not to proceed with the Griffin nomination before the Senate because it would draw attention to this very topic.

In 2004, BBC reporter Greg Palast obtained two e-mails — prepared for the executive director of the Bush campaign in Florida and the campaign’s national research director — that listed “1,886 names and addresses of voters in predominantly black and traditionally Democrat areas” of the Jacksonville, FL Naval Air Station. Palast explains:

Here’s how the scheme worked: The RNC mailed these voters letters in envelopes marked, “Do not forward”, to be returned to the sender. These letters were mailed to servicemen and women, some stationed overseas, to their US home addresses. The letters then returned to the Bush-Cheney campaign as “undeliverable.”

The lists of soldiers of “undeliverable” letters were transmitted from state headquarters, in this case Florida, to the RNC in Washington. The party could then challenge the voters’ registration and thereby prevent their absentee ballots being counted.

In 2004, African-American leaders denounced the caging scheme as “another ’shameful’ Republican effort to keep blacks from voting.”

So to respond to Goodling and Weisman: caging is a voter suppression tactic. Suppressing votes on the basis of race is not only illegal under the federal Voting Rights Act, but also unconstitutional.

Former Bush speechwriter attacks right-wing nativism: In today’s Washington Post, Michael Gerson, formerly a speechwriter to President Bush, criticizes conservatives for “letting fear rule” in the immigration debate:

But the real passion in this debate is not political, it is cultural — a fear that American identity is being diluted by Latino migration. Tancredo is the lowbrow expression of this fear. Professor Samuel Huntington of Harvard University, whom Tancredo calls an intellectual mentor, presents the highbrow version. Huntington argues that Mexican migration is a threat to American unity and to the “core” of our cultural identity. “America,” he says, “was created as a Protestant society just as and for some of the same reasons Pakistan and Israel were created as Muslim and Jewish societies in the 20th century.”

There are many problems with this argument, not least of which is that about a fifth of Hispanics in America are Protestants, mostly evangelical Pentecostals and Baptists. Almost all of Bush’s political gains among Hispanics have come from this group, which gave him 44 percent of their vote in 2000 and 56 percent in 2004. Hispanic Protestants tend to be conservative on social policy. And many conservatives, I’d be willing to bet, would feel more cultural affinity with Hispanic Baptists in their church pews than they would with Huntington’s colleagues in the Harvard faculty lounge.

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