Republicans fighting to unite church and state

Very interesting column by Duke University Law Professor, Erwin Chemerinsky, in the Washington Post today.  Apparently, the House has passed a bill that basically punishes attorneys who win cases that show the government has violated Americans' first amendment rights regarding separation of church and state.  Here's the deal:

A federal statute, 42 United States Code section 1988, provides that
attorneys are entitled to recover compensation for their fees if they
successfully represent a plaintiff asserting a violation of his or her
constitutional or civil rights. For example, a lawyer who successfully
sues on behalf of a victim of racial discrimination or police abuse is
entitled to recover attorney's fees from the defendant who acted
wrongfully. Any plaintiff who successfully sues to remedy a violation
of the Constitution or a federal civil rights statute is entitled to
have his or her attorney's fees paid….

Despite the effectiveness of this statute, conservatives in the
House of Representatives have now passed an insidious bill to try and
limit enforcement of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,
by denying attorneys fees to lawyers who successfully challenge
government actions as violating this key constitutional provision…The bill, if enacted, would treat
suits to enforce the Establishment Clause different from litigation to
enforce all of the other provisions of the Constitution and federal
civil rights statutes.  Such a bill could have only one motive: to protect unconstitutional government actions advancing religion. 
(emphasis mine)

When it comes to separation of church and state, I'm definitely with Thomas Jefferson.  Government was not created to enforce and encourage a particular set of religious views– at least not in this country, maybe in Iran. 

I knew them when…

My good friends (okay, they may not want to admit to that) and NCSU Political Science colleagues, Bill Boettcher and Mike Cobb, had their research featured on the front page of today.  I am impressed.  Daily Kos apparently gets over 600,000 daily hits.  I think it is safe to say that their research (on tolerance of casualties in Iraq) will therefore reach a far greater audience and have potentially far greater impact than publication in the very best political science journals could ever bring about.  It's a brave new world out there.  On occasion, a political scientist makes into an Op-Ed in a major paper, but this clearly shows that the blogosphere is now becoming an avenue for political scientists to have a real impact on policy debates. 

Boettcher and Cobb argue that tolerance for casualties in Iraq largely depends upon what Americans see as the goal.  If our goal is simply preventing civil war, as it increasingly seems to be, tolerance for additional American casualties is much reduced.  They also have some pretty cool new data on attitudes towards Iraq– I'll talk about that when their findings are public.

Call me crazy

but I think the Democrats need to borrow a page from Karl Rove's playback and fight back and fight back hard on the legislation just passed on the treatment of terrorism suspects.  Rove, of course, famously attacks his opponents at their perceived strength.  So, how about attacking Republicans on their “strength” on security.  What about something like this for an ad:

“Mike Dewine doesn't think we need the U.S. Constitution.  Mike Dewine voted for a bill that would allow George Bush to name you, or any American citizen, an enemy combatant, have you shipped off to prison, tortured, and deny you the right to even try and prove your innocence.  This is how nations like Iran and the Soviet Union operate.  Those are not the Constitutional American values that I believe in.  Tell Mike Dewine you stand up for the Bill of Rights.”  Throw in some images of Bush with notable totalitarian figures, Constitution with the circle/slash over it, etc. 

Okay, I'm no political advertising guru, but I think something along those lines (distorting things for political gain as much as possible while retaining the essential truth, as political ads do) could potentially be effective. 

Constitution? We don’t need no stinkin’ Consitution

How do Republicans live with themselves these days?  Seriously?  Complete and massive denial of reality?  Capitulation of all decent values in order to support the torturer-in-chief?  I'm especially curious how all the conservative Christians reconcile Jesus' message (he didn't spend a lot of time preaching against gays) with this pro-torture administration.  Anyway, thanks to Kevin Drum for highlighting this Bruce Ackerman column which concisely sums up the problems with the Republican bill to deal with suspected terrorists:

The compromise legislation, which is racing toward the White House,
authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy
combatants, even if they have never left the United States….It also
allows him to seize anybody who has “purposefully and materially
supported hostilities against the United States.” This grants the
president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be
designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a
Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military

Not to worry, say the bill's defenders. The president can't detain
somebody who has given money innocently, just those who contributed to
terrorists on purpose.

Get that?  United States citizens can be arrested and held without the right to prove they have been unjustly imprisoned.  This is not America!  This is the sort of practice of every totalitarian regime that has ever existed.  This could not be a more disturbing and blatant undermining of core American values.  I believe there is a word for a leader who can imprison his citizens on his own say-so and keep them their indefinitely: dictator.

The army

Great article in by Fred Kaplan in Slate, entitled, “How Bush Wrecked the Army.”  Apparently, top generals, active and retired, are concerned that are efforts in Iraq are basically ruining the quality of the U.S. Army.  The choice tidbits:

Meanwhile, to meet enlistment targets, the Army has raised the maximum age of recruits to 41, lowered their required aptitude scores,
and?in another recent gulp?relaxed moral and disciplinary standards.
The Army has always waived these standards to let in a small number of
applicants. But since the Iraq war, this number has risen
substantially. In 2001, just 10.07 percent of Army recruits were given
moral waivers?i.e., were allowed into the Army, even though they had
committed misdemeanors or had once-prohibited problems with drugs and
alcohol, records of serious misconduct, or disqualifying medical
conditions. By 2004, this number had risen to 11.98 percent. But in
2005, it soared to 15.02 percent. And as of April 2006, according to a
fact sheet obtained from an Army officer, the number has leapt to 15.49

Schoomaker's central complaint is that he doesn't have the money to
maintain the Army's global missions. The president and the Congress can
pony up the money (a lot more money) or scale back the
missions. To do otherwise?to stay the course with inadequate
resources?is to invite defeats and disasters.

In case that's not clear enough, “staying the course” without adequate resources is exactly what we are doing. 

The story in Afghanistan

Very nice story yesterday in the News & Observer about how the diversion of military resources from Afghanistan to Iraq has allowed for a dangerous resurgence of the Taliban.  It's not a pretty picture:

Afghanistan has become Iraq on a slow burn. Five years after they
were ousted, the Taliban are back in force, their ranks renewed by a
new generation of diehards. Violence, opium trafficking, ethnic
tensions, official corruption and political anarchy are all worse than
they've been at any time since the U.S.-led intervention in 2001.

failing to stop Taliban leaders and Osama bin Laden from escaping into
Pakistan, then diverting troops and resources to Iraq, the Bush
administration left the door open to a Taliban comeback. Compounding
the problem, reconstruction has been slow and limited, and the U.S. and
NATO didn't anticipate the extent and ferocity of the Taliban
resurgence or the alliances the insurgents have formed with other
Islamic extremists and with the world's leading opium traffickers.

are only 42,000 U.S. and NATO-led troops to secure a country that's
one-and-a-half times the size of Iraq, where 150,000 U.S.-led coalition
troops are deployed. Suicide bombings have soared from two in all of
2002 to about one every five days. Civilian casualties are mounting.
President Hamid Karzai and his U.S. backers have become hugely

Though I'm sure conservative readers would like to complain about the liberal bias of the article, I'd argue that is has a reality bias (as Stephen Colbert says, “reality has a well-known liberal bias).  It is refreshing to have a reporter just call things as they are, rather than rely on a facile “he said, she said” style of reporting in which objective reality has no place.  And as for the substance, it really speaks for itself.  There can be no doubt among sensible people (i.e., those outside this administration and their apologists) that the war in Afghanistan was far more important in preventing future terrorism than the war in Iraq.  Yet, by the use of our military resources, this administration has made the opposite (and wrong) judgment. 


David and I just finished watching a great nature documentary, “Life in the Undergrowth.”  This terrific documentary following the lives of insects, spiders, slugs, and other creepy-crawlies is the latest in a tremendous “Life of” series of documentaries by Sir David Attenborough (earlier efforts included Birds and Mammals).  In quite a interesting coincidence, by favorite podcast, Quirks and Quarks, back from a summer hiatus had a feature this week about one of the insects featured in the series, the blister beetle. 

In an amazingly complex and sophisticated feat for an insect, here's what they do… the tiny beetle larvae climb up the stem of a small desert plant, they group together into roughly the size of a female solitary bee and release pheromones that mimic those of the female.  The duped male comes into mate (psueudo-copulation being the scientific term for this) and soon discovers he's covered in beetle lavae.  He recovers, flies off, and when he finds a real female to mate with, the beetle larvae jump on her.  She unwittingly takes them into her desert burrow where they feed off the food she brings for her own larvae, before devouring it, becoming adults, and starting the whole cycle over again.  Pretty amazing. 

As amazing as that is, I found the amazing adaptation of a particular ichneumon wasp even more fascinating.  The caterpillars of the blue alcon butterfly mimic both the pheromone and smell of ant larvae so that they are taken into ant nests and fed and cared for along with the ant larvae.  They are reasonably good uninvited guests, only taking the food and care before becoming butterflies, not eating the ant larvae.  While the ants are completely fooled by this, the ichneumon wasp is not.  Somehow it detects which nests have the caterpillars inside, flies in, and when attacked by the ants releases a pheromone that makes them attack each other instead (perhaps the military should be investigating this).  Once the ants are busy attacking themselves, she lays her eggs in the caterpillar.  A few months later the caterpillar goes into a cocoon and what emerges is not a butterfly, but an adult wasp.

“You're writing about the bugs?” Kim asks looking over my shoulder.  But I just thought these were such amazing things in the insect world that more people should know about them.  If you don't agree, you probably didn't make it to this point in the post anyway.

Where is torture just a game?

Answer: in newsrooms.  Unfortunately, the majority of the coverage of the Republican compromise on torture follows the media's “game orientation.”  The sad truth is that most reporters are not all that interested in policy and are much more interested in the game of politics– who's winning, who's losing, etc.  Rather than reporting on the policy implications of this compromise– will it really make us more safe?  less safe?  what kinds of torture are we endorsing or eliminating?  is this good or bad for our country?  i.e., tough questions, the media would rather focus on the political winners and losers.  Did McCain get what he wants?  Did Bush get what he wants?  Who's the “winner” in the compromise?  And who is the loser when the press takes this narrow and short-sighted approach to covering news?  A: The American public.  The Carpetbagger has a nice take here

Afraid of gays? The VA Tech College Republicans will protect you

Interesting little tidbit from Virigina Tech.  Apparently, they have a “safe zone” campaign where faculty and staff display “safe zone” stickers “in order for their promise to provide
an understanding environment for those who would like to speak frankly
about their sexuality.”  In response, the College Republicans have created their own campaign:

?A Conservative ?Safe? Zone,? the original fliers read. ?Join College
Republicans.? Below the text lay the tell-tale safe-zone triangle (its
coloration altered from its original rainbow stripes to a red, white
and blue ensemble) with an elephant head superimposed over the right of
the figure.

It's gotta be tough for those College Republicans at Virginia Tech.  Good thing they have their own gay-free safe zones to hang out in. 

Feeling safer yet? You’re not.

The big news this weekend was the fact that the National Intelligence Estimate revealed what those of us in the “reality-based” community have known for years: Iraq has increased, not reduced the threat of terrorism.  In a nutshell:

The war in Iraq has become a primary recruitment vehicle for violent
Islamic extremists, motivating a new generation of potential terrorists
around the world whose numbers may be increasing faster than the United
States and its allies can reduce the threat, U.S. intelligence analysts
have concluded.

A 30-page National Intelligence Estimate
completed in April cites the “centrality” of the U.S. invasion of Iraq,
and the insurgency that has followed, as the leading inspiration for
new Islamic extremist networks and cells that are united by little more
than an anti-Western agenda. It concludes that, rather than
contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism
struggle, the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position
” (emphasis mine)

A few additional choice comments on the matter from Josh Marshall:

An NIE isn't some random government white paper. It represents the consensus judgment of the entire US intelligence community, with input from all the different agencies, from CIA and DIA to INR and FBI and all the others. In other words, this is the collaborative judgment of the people actually fighting the War on Terror.

For the last six weeks and, in fact, the last six months, the White
House and the president have been engaged in a coordinated campaign to
convince the public that despite the setbacks and mistakes, the war in
Iraq is a critical component of fighting the War on Terror. Making that
argument is their plan for the next six weeks until the election. All
the while, they've been sitting on a report that says that's flat
wrong, a lie and that precisely the opposite is the case.

That's a cover-up in every meaningful sense of the word, a
calculated effort to hide information from and deceive the public. And
it's actually a replay of what happened in late 2002, when the White
House kept the Iraq WMD NIE's doubts about Iraqi weapons programs away from the public.

The president has made very clear he wants the next six weeks to be
about Iraq and the War on Terror. By all means, let's do it. But first
the president has to come clean about what he's keeping hidden from the
public — the fact that the people he has fighting the War on Terror
are telling him that what he's telling the public about Iraq and the
War on Terror flat isn't true.

Just to be clear, the comprehensive view of the American intelligence community is that the war in Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism.  George Bush can keep insisting otherwise, but he will keep being wrong (and keep lying). 

Moral failure

Great, great essay in The Washington Post today from Ariel Dorfman, Duke University professor, author, and playright on how torture corrupts the whole society resposible.

I will leave others to claim that torture, in fact, does not work,
that confessions obtained under duress — such as that extracted from
the heaving body of that poor Argentine braggart in some Santiago
cesspool in 1973 — are useless. Or to contend that the United States
had better not do that to anyone in our custody lest someday another
nation or entity or group decides to treat our prisoners the same way.

find these arguments — and there are many more — to be irrefutable.
But I cannot bring myself to use them, for fear of honoring the debate
by participating in it.

Can't the United States see that when we
allow someone to be tortured by our agents, it is not only the victim
and the perpetrator who are corrupted, not only the “intelligence” that
is contaminated, but also everyone who looked away and said they did
not know, everyone who consented tacitly to that outrage so they could
sleep a little safer at night, all the citizens who did not march in
the streets by the millions to demand the resignation of whoever
suggested, even whispered, that torture is inevitable in our day and
age, that we must embrace its darkness?

Are we so morally sick,
so deaf and dumb and blind, that we do not understand this? Are we so
fearful, so in love with our own security and steeped in our own pain,
that we are really willing to let people be tortured in the name of
America? Have we so lost our bearings that we do not realize that each
of us could be that hapless Argentine who sat under the Santiago sun,
so possessed by the evil done to him that he could not stop shivering?

What could I possibly add to that incredibly eloquent entreaty against torture.  Think about reading the whole thing (it is not very long). 

The torture compromise

So, much I could say about the torture compromise, but I'll try and keep it limited, so I don't spend half my day typing away.  A few key points.  This compromise only limits egregious violations of the Geneva Conventions.  As to what sorts of “intense interrogation” i.e., torture, still goes, that's all up to President Bush.  As Andrew Sullivan puts it:

I should add that it is essential to the integrity of language and law
that the word torture not be defined out of existence. Waterboarding,
hypothermia, long-time-standing, and various forms of stress positions
are torture, have always been torture and always will be torture. What
we must do is what Orwell demanded: speak plain English before it
evaporates from our discourse, refuse to acquiesce to the corruption of
language and decency.

Here's today's News & Observer on the compromise:

But the agreement does specify that it would prohibit “grave
breaches” of the Geneva Conventions, including torture, rape,
biological experiments and cruel and unusual treatment. It's troubling,
frankly, that these clearly unacceptable abuses even have to be
specified by the United States, which has long set an example in humane
treatment of prisoners.

And as to breaches that are not “grave.”  The compromise gives President Bush the freedom to torture all he wants (as Sullivan's quote suggests).  The editorial continues:

And what about the part of the agreement
that permits use against suspects of testimony that was coerced? That
would apply if the coercion had occurred before a 2005 ban on cruel and
unusual punishment went into effect, and if a judge deemed the
testimony reliable. But in other words, some suspects will be subject
to having evidence used against them that would be illegal except for
an arbitrary deadline.

In addition, individuals, under this
agreement, could not protest violations of the Geneva Conventions in
court. How is that rule fair?

I'll have plenty more to say on the topic.  But for now, I just wanted to make it clear that the “principled” Republicans basically caved in to the “torturer-in-chief.”