Filtered news 1/17

Yessssssss! Video of Barack Obama his decision to form a presidential exploratory committee.

Ethics are bad? Shocking. Abramoff pal and lobbyist .

Homina, homina, homina.... In today's press briefing, David Gregory pointed out that Dems opposing this or that aspect of President Bush's war policies have long been painted by the White House as friends of the enemy. He then asks the key follow-up question: "What's an appropriate way to dissent?" It's a good question, and Snow has a fair amount of trouble coming up with an answer to it -- at first he appears to start denying that this charge has ever been lodged at Dems before cutting himself off. View it .

The lamest bunch on Earth President Bush appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday night. A host of media and conservative blogs were not terribly impressed with his performance:

New York Times : “Not much is new in the interview.”

Houston Chronicle : “It’s not surprising to see Bush digging in his heels, avoiding difficult realities, or simply inventing a new narrative that suits him better.”

Conservative Real Clear Politics : “As far as compelling television goes, Bush’s interview with Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes pales in comparison to Leslie Stahl’s sit down with the families of the Duke lacrosse players…”

: “I don’t care how you thought he did, I don’t know how many people watched it after CBS put these leaks out that Bush admitted this and said he was sorry and made Iraq worse and all this sort of stuff. The war at home here is a political war. Why then go to 60 Minutes?”

But ABC’s The Note — headed by an individual who has declared that traditional media — came to a :

“On Iraq, the President had his best TV performance in years, minueting with Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes,” but that was largely offset by the grim news coverage out of Iraq (and the Gang of 500 mindset, which demands a fight over funding).”

Late to the party: Now President Bush says Saddam's execution looked like "." Wasn't as fun saying it on day one, bud.

Blame Americans first! : The radical Islamists hate us because of our tolerance and liberalism. And they're right to hate us. So do I. I thought the 'wingers had already got their half dozen uses out of this guy and tossed him in the trash. But I guess he's . Turns out they've still got him on the payroll as "Rishwain Research Scholar at the Hoover Institution." It'll be fascinating to hear more about D'Souza's new book in which he makes a strategic alliance with Islamist terrorists against fellow Americans. It's an amazing thing. When D'Souza sees the violent proponents of extremist Islam, he sees allies and ideological kindred spirits. And the American right embraces him.

Anyone taking out the trash? USAToday about Pentagon Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles Stimson and his . Why hasn't this guy been fired yet? Has anybody asked Secretary Gates about Stimson's efforts to shut down trials for Guantanamo detainees? How about Tony Snow? Anyone in the White House press corps thought to pose this question yet?

Who knows the plans and why they were drawn up? So here's the way I see it. The Bush administration is clearly attempting to create a pretext to attack Iran and creating the conditions where a series of massive bombing raids can be undertaken to degrade, and possibly delay, Iran's nuclear program, which is so well hidden and protected -- in part as a reaction to Israel's bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor -- that it is impossible to stop. It's my view that this raid will set up another war inside Iraq against American assets there as well as inciting worldwide terrorist attacks against Americans and their properties around the world, including inside the United States -- without doing much to prevent Iran's nuclear program. It is, in other words, perfectly consistent with everything Bush and the neocons have done in the past. And of course, this being the Bush administration, you can count on it being done incompetently and dishonestly. we learn of Bush's strategy, outlined by Condi Rice, and Juan Cole is . Meanwhile, we learn of Wes Clark's concern that the raid is being pushed by "New York money people." I agree with Clark, but I agree that he also said what he said badly, though not anti-Semitically. Thing is, the anti-anti-Semites have a racket going. Criticize the neocons for what they are actually doing -- or even use the word "neocon" -- and you're an anti-Semite. That means they get to keep doing it even if it means they are acting on behalf of what they believe are Israel's interests -- they usually turn out to be wrong about that too -- rather than America's. We saw during the Lieberman primary that The Weekly Standard actually does care more about what's good for Israel than for America -- they said American Jews should behave that way, and so do Newsweek's embarrassingly crazy Rabbi Gelman and Mona Charen and a few others. If anyone on earth thinks Marty Peretz cares more about the fate of the goyim in America than the heroes in Israel, I've never met him or her, but I won't go on about that. I'll just say if you read , you'll get a small inkling of how the system works.

What liberal media? On the January 15 of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer teased a report on Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson's that he "would not vote for [Sen.] John McCain [R-AZ] under any circumstances" by claiming that "Senator John McCain likes straight talk" -- a reference to McCain's self-styled reputation as a "straight-talker," the theme of McCain's failed 2000 presidential bid. As Media Matters for America has , however, McCain has offered anything but "straight talk" on all manner of issues. He has displayed stark inconsistency on issues ranging from the Iraq war and the Bush administration to his opinion of certain conservative Christians -- a noteworthy fact during a report on Dobson's comments about McCain. The Associated Press on August 28, 2006, that McCain "would consider" speaking at Bob Jones University, "a school he criticized during the 2000 presidential campaign for its ban on interracial dating and anti-Catholic views." On May 13, 2006, McCain the commencement speech at Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, even though McCain denounced Falwell in 2000 as an "agent[] of intolerance." From the January 15 edition of CNN's The Situation Room at 4 p.m. ET:

BLITZER: And coming up, Senator John McCain likes straight talk. But you can bet he won't like what a leading Christian conservative is saying about him.

Ghosts of Straight Talk Past We cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood for Iraqi blood.

The bigotry never ends Once I clicked through to the article it had a different headline, but the Post frontpage had this listed as which sounded super-promising. And the text delivers! Virginia Delegate Frank Hargrove was giving a speech about why the Virginia legislature shouldn't apologize for slavery and said issuing such an apology would be like asking Jews to apologize for killing Christ. Double-whammy! The old alliance between black and Jewish civil rights groups revived in a single swoop. Obviously, though, if you're inclined to believe, as Hargrove apparently is, that Jews do, in fact, bear collective responsibility for Christ's death, then doesn't it seem like they should apologize?

All he had to do was follow the rules The track record of the Guantanamo detention program “can be summed up quite simply: .” More than 770 captives have been held there and . But in an interview today with the Associated Press, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales “blamed delays in trying terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay on “:

“It’s not for lack of trying,” Gonzales said, when asked about the legal fate of detainees who have been held at the military facility, in some cases for five years. “We are challenged every step of the way.” “We are trying as hard as we can to bring these individuals to justice,” he said.

The administration has been challenged because they have been operating under a shadow system of justice. During past hearings, the government “ as it determined that hundreds of men…were ‘enemy combatants.’” The Supreme Court rejected these tribunals because they “were .” If President Bush had simply followed the law, these trials could have happened years ago.

News flash! Torture doesn't work “There is to back up the U.S. intelligence community’s use of controversial interrogation techniques in the fight against terrorism, and experts believe some painful and coercive approaches could hinder the ability to get good information, according to a new report from an intelligence advisory group.” “The U.S. military has sold forbidden equipment at least a half-dozen times to middlemen for countries — — who exploited security flaws in the Defense Department’s surplus auctions,” the AP reports.

Corruption cover up profits Big Oil A “much-anticipated” inspector general report to Congress will allege that Interior Department officials “covered up” a problem with oil and gas leases that cost the treasury up to $10 billion. The report “also has been investigating whether Johnnie Burton, head of the agency that collects royalties, might have been told about the problem .”

The Decider still really likes making decisions. In his interview with 60 minutes, President Bush said “decision” twenty-four times in nine minutes. The chart “shows how often he said the word during each of the interview’s nine minutes, including two times when he practically shouted it.”

Bush's war at home (very strange) You've probably already seen some of the news about the Bush White House engaging in a seemingly unprecedented spree of firings of US Attorneys across the coutry. Conveniently, they're being replaced without senate approval under a provision of the Patriot Act. Bush has taken the unprecedented step of firing at least four and likely seven US Attorneys in the middle of their terms of office -- at least some of whom are in the midst of corruption investigations of Bush administration officials and key Republican lawmakers. We also know that they're taking advantage of a handy provision of the USA Patriot Act that allows the White House to replace these fired USAs with appointees who don't need to be approved by the senate. Given that these new USAs are being plopped into offices currently investigating Republicans and other administration officials and others into states with 2008 presidential candidates, there's certainly ample opportunity for mischief. So we're looking into just who the White House is appointing.

Well, let's start with the estimable J. Timothy Griffin, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas since December 20th. If you hadn't heard about Griffin's appointment, don't feel bad, . Griffin's appointment was annouced on December 15th before the then-US Attorney Bud Cummins had even been given a chance to resign. Cummins got the call on his cell phone the same day while he was out hiking with his son. Cummins, who subsequently said he got forced out for political reasons, resigned on the 20th, the same day Griffin was sworn in.

So who's Griffin and what experience does he bring to the job? Well, top of the list seems to be his stint at the White House where he worked for Karl Rove doing opposition research on Democrats. That was until late last year. According to , for the last ten years -- with the exception of two one year stint -- he has always worked as a Republican party opposition researcher digging up dirt on Democrats. Deputy Research Director for the RNC from 1999-2000. Research Director for the RNC from 2002-2005. Oppo Research Director for Karl Rove 2005-2006. Prior to 1999? Well, he was associate independent counsel investigating Henry Cisneros from 1995-96. After that he went to work for Dan Burton on the Hill to investigate Asian money contributions to the DNC.

Back in 2000, when he was in charge of digging up dirt on Al Gore, he apparently had a which read: "On my command - unleash hell on Al."

So clearly, Griffin's a pretty apolitical guy.

Now, why would Karl Rove want his top oppo researcher being the US Attorney in Arkansas for the next two years? And is Ed Gillespie suiting up to take over the Duke Cunningham investigation in San Diego?

So what other US Attorneys have been fired by the Bush White House so far? Here's the we've found so far. As far as we can tell, a running massacre like this is unprecedented. The administration is replacing U.S. Attorneys throughout the country. How'd they get that power?

It was an obscure provision in the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act, and it didn't take them very long to use it. The president signed it into law in March of last year -- by June, they were already moving to replace unwanted prosecutors.

Former Arkansas USA Bud Cummins the Wall Street Journal that "a top Justice official asked for his resignation in June, saying the White House wanted to give another person the opportunity to serve." Cummins was finally forced out in December, replaced with , formerly the research director of the Republican National Committee.

of the PATRIOT Act reauthorization, which was first drafted in July of 2005 and finally signed in March of 2006, changed regarding the appointment of U.S. Attorneys. Whereas before the relevant federal district court would have appointed a replacement within 120 days after the Attorney General picked one, now that pick stood without challenge.

How did this (brief, legalistically worded, but powerful) section get in to the bill? It's not clear. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has consistently referred to the provision as "little noticed." What is clear is that Feinstein and her colleagues did not expect the provision to be used in this way. We'll have more on this as we learn more.

Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) took to the senate floor earlier this afternoon to discuss the White House's firing of US Attorneys around the country and decision to appoint replacements without senate approval. .

Interview With Barack Obama Bumped by PD, because, uh, this is all anyone's going to talk about today anyway.

Over the past couple of months, I've been in touch with Barack Obama's shop off and on. Two or three weeks ago, they asked if I would be interested in interviewing the Senator as he rolled out some new initiatives on faith and politics. I knew our interview would be timed to coincide with his speech at the Call To Renewal convention (), but I didn't know the content of that speech until I received the text via a Network of Spiritual Progressives e-mail. Unfortunately, we weren't able to connect the day after his speech, but last Friday, I spent about half an hour talking to the Senator.


Q: What were you trying to accomplish with your speech?



    A: I have gotten frustrated at times in observing the public debate, seeing the degree to which the conservative right has been able to dominate the conversation about religion and politics, and to determine what it means to be a good Christian. Part of the reason they've been able to do that because progressives have not engaged the faith community as effectively as we could.

    What would you like to see come out of the speech?

    To some degree the speech has already accomplished what I intended, which is a conversation, a robust and fruitful one, hopefully. One of the points I was trying to make in the speech is it's not enough for progressives simply to say "leave your religion at the door" or "keep it private" - because that's not what conservatives do. I was hoping to start a conversation about how could we go deeper into a discussion about what religious values might mean in our public policy, and how can we do that in a way that respected diversity and tolerance.

    One of the charges that people have laid against your speech is that it was unnecessarily critical of the Democratic party.

    A: Which I found misplaced - some of it that response had to do with people reading the AP story that came over the wire instead of reading the speech. If you look at the speech, I was far more critical of the religious right, and give a vigorous defense of the separation of church and state. What I simply say in the speech - I think it's hard to deny, and as the reaction to my speech confirmed- is that there are a lot of folks in the progressive community, there are a lot of folks on the left, who are very sensitive to the topic of religion and feel that to acknowledge the other side's point of view is to give aid to the theocrats and religious bullies that are out there. It would be hard to read through that speech and see a harsh condemnation of the Democrats.

    Actually, what I said was, we've abandoned the field. I think there was one line in which I said there are some in the secular camp who dismiss religion. I don't think that's undeniable. [sic] I did not charge that to the entire Democratic party. So I think in some ways those characterizations of my speech were inaccurate.

    Now, I understand people's sensitivities, because I have a number of friends who feel that they have been beaten down by the Jerry Falwells and the Pat Robertsons of the world, that they feel that they're always on the defensive if they don't proclaim allegiance to evangelical Christianity. Non-believers feel that they're the ones who are outnumbered, you know, intimidated. They feel frustrated if there's some suggestion that Christians are somehow oppressed, which was not my intention in the speech.

    If I had more time in the speech, conceivably I could have fleshed out the degree to which people - I could have said very explicitly that this notion that's peddled by the religious right - that they are oppressed is not true. Sometimes it's a cynical ploy to move their agenda ahead. The classic example being that somehow secularists are trying to eliminate Christmas, which strikes me as some kind of manufactured controversy.

    Q: I've heard that same kind of critique from people who are secular. What I found a little more compelling was the notion that portraying progressives or the Democratic as being unfriendly to people of faith buys into Republican frames.

    Again, if you read the speech, what I said was not that Democrats or progressives are unfriendly to religion. What I said - there were two sentences in particular - primarily our problem is that we feel uncomfortable engaging in a discussion of religious values in the public square, which is very different than the "hostile" quote. I think it's true. We're much more sensitive, in many ways, in a good way. As a consequence of our belief in tolerance and respect for religious diversity, we are much less willing to express religious motivations in our public conversations. I don't think that's a controversial statement. I think it's something that's patently true.

    What I did say is that some secularists who believe religion does not have a legitimate place in our civic discourse. You know, I didn't say the majority of Democrats believe that, I didn't say that a sizeable minority say. I said some. And again, I don't think that's a controversial statement.

    This idea that somehow - that any time that Democrats or progressives engage in self-reflection we are adopting a Republican frame - the popularity of this George Lakoff critique of everything we do, I think hampers us from being able to improve our game.

    You know, I love Lakoff. I think he's an insightful guy. But the fact is that I am not a propagandist. That's not my job. My job and my intent in delivering a speech like this is I'm trying to speak truthfully as I can about what I see out there. If I'm restricted or prescribed in my statements because the media or Republicans - or Democrats - are going to interpret what I say through the Republican frame, I'm not going to spend a lot of time saying very much.

    Q: So you weren't thinking of the speech as a necessarily partisan opportunity?

    I don't know how you guys could read it as that. This has been an ongoing conversation I've had with the blogosphere. At some point, this may just be a fundamental disagreement that resolves itself in time. But I think the notion that the best way for us to win is to mimic Republican approaches to our public debate, and simplify and frame everything in terms that gives us strategic advantage, or perceived strategic advantage, is just not something that will work for us over time.

    I think the advantage that progressives and Democrats have is that we have the facts on our side, and if we just speak as truthfully and as factually as we can, and if we are willing to tolerate ambiguity and dissent in our own camp, and if we're willing to look critically at our ourselves, and reflect and remain open-minded to other points of view, over time, that's where the American people are. I recognize that there are folks who think that view is naive, but that's something I feel fairly strongly about.

    You probably saw what Atrios said: let's not talk about process, let's actually exercise some leadership. How would you -

    I, I, I, I don't think I understand the criticism. I mean, I didn't read the article.

    [I briefly describe Atrios' on the speech.]

    Part of the purpose of the speech was to dissolve this sharp line between quote-unquote evangelicals and other Americans. The country is much more complex than that. The lines between people who are - let me describe it this way: there is a group that is of fundamentalist Christians who are not going to vote for Democrats or progressives, no matter what, and we can guess whatever that number is. Then there's an enormous group of people who probably consider themselves swing voters who agree with Democrats and progressives on some issues, on opposition to the war, or what have you, who are also very committed to their church and their faith. From my perspective, the issue is not how do I persuade James Dobson to embrace the Democratic platform - that's not going to happen - the question is, for those people who are committed Christians or Orthodox Jews or Muslims, who could potentially be open to a Democratic agenda, but also consider faith very important and central to their lives, and evaluate what happens in politics based on those commitments, is there a way to talk to them? I'm certain that of the 70% of the people [in Illinois] who approve of my performance in the Senate, that decent percentages of that 70% fall in that category.


We had to break off at this point so the Senator could attend a police function in Chicago. Obama's press secretary Tommy Vietor and I later chatted about some of the questions I hadn't been able to ask. What I was most curious about was whether or not Obama had a plan to follow up on the speech. Vietor replied that his boss intended to lead by example, and considered the speech to be itself the start of the process. "If we're not talking to these people, Focus on the Family will," he said.

They have been reaching out: so far, Obama's spoken with (his home denomination), and made his Call to Renewal speech available through the and He's also been involved in working for a solution in Darfur through and Vietor tells me they're working on making some materials available through church bulletins.

I think I'll let the interview speak for itself, other than to make the observation that Obama's position stands or falls on how divided Americans are these days. He believes in a broad middle ground, an assumption that I'm sure will be dissected by many in blogtopia*. I think, provides an excellent opposing perspective. There are profound differences in our society, and it's not at all clear that we'll be able to overcome them in the near future.

Be that as it may, Obama and his people swear that his intention was really just to start a conversation on these topics. Boy howdy, did they ever. Will this lead to a new Religious Left to rival the Religious Right's political machine? I'm doubtful. But - even assuming that progressives want that kind of equivalence, which I'm not sure we do - where else to start?

*Minor edits made to interview for clarity. Never forget that coined the term "blogtopia."


January 17, 2007 - 8:39am