Monday, July 31, 2006

Women need not apply in Dallas churches

Your blogstress has received a tip from a dear reader that the standing committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas has voted to stop ordaining women. (There are three other U.S. Episcopal dioceses that do not ordain women, including the Diocese of Ft. Worth.)

This would appear to be the response of the Diocese of Dallas to the election of Bishop Kathleen Jefferts Schori to the top leadership post in the Episcopal Church USA.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Black, white, drunk, not

Andrew Sullivan just made an amazingly ignorant comment while psychoanalyzing, on "The Chris Matthews Show," the leader of the arguably free world. President Bush's problem, Sullivan asserted, is that, as "a recovering alcoholic," the president sees everything as either black or white, and therefore cannot deal with all "the grey" that has occurred over the course of the last few weeks.

It seems that Mr. Sullivan is in need of a 12-step refresher course. It is drinking alcoholics who typically have the black-white worldview; in most recovery programs, alcoholics are taught to accept nuances (key phrase: accepting life on life's terms).

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Percentage of African-American population by state

Persuant to your blogstress's previous post on the nation's presidential primary set-up, herewith some useful statistics on race within the states discussed. Numbers represent the percentage of people who, on the 2000 Census, identified themselves as "Black or African American":

12.3 percent - United States of America

02.1 percent - Iowa

00.7 percent - New Hampshire

06.8 percent - Nevada

13.6 percent - New Jersey

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When the dealin's done

The notion of an early presidential caucus in Nevada (advanced, of course, by favorite son, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) seems to be gaining ground among Democrats. From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON - Democrats were lobbied hard by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and organized labor before they picked Nevada as the best bet to energize the party's early presidential voting in 2008.

A Democratic rules panel on Saturday recommended that Nevada hold a caucus after Iowa's leadoff contest in mid-January 2008, but before New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary. South Carolina was awarded an early primary a week after New Hampshire.
While this would probably prove to be something of a bone-warming respite for us frostbitten reporters who flock to Des Moines and Manchester in January, your blogstress offers an alternative, if only slightly less frigid, plan. Rather than have all the early candidate-settling voting taking place in states with unique characteristics, why not have an early primary contest in a state that is a virtual microcosm of the nation as a whole? Your cybertrix speaks, of course, of her beloved home state of New Jersey.

An early contest in Jersey makes sense in all kinds of ways -- not least of which, your Webwench's delight in being so near to her homies. But dig this: in terms of racial and ethnic make-up, as well as land-use mix and economic diversity, N.J. really does come closest of all the states to offering an electoral topography that is representative of America's.

New Jersey is also served by two major media markets, New York and Philadelphia, and is geographically small enough to traverse in three hours, in any direction.

Furthermore, unlike New Hampshire and Iowa, New Jersey has enough black people to constitute actual African-American communities. If the first three contests amount to New Hampshire, Nevada and Iowa, it would give the appearance that the major parties did not want black people anywhere in the mix of the early voting that determines who the actual candidates are. And we wouldn't want that, now, would we?

(Just asking.)

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

How to fight the right

Your blogstress has a new essay posted at The American Prospect Online that offers a suggestion for how to do just that.


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Religious left: still here

Reader Steve Bartin asks:

How does the religious left overcome the fact that it has lost over half its' membership since 1980? While the RR has grown? What went wrong with the RL?
Well, Étienne, mon ami, your blogstress must dispute your analysis that "religious left" has lost half its membership since 1980. A certain group of churches -- mostly mainline Protestant denominations -- may have lost a number of congregants, but to contend that they make up the whole of the "religious left" is a mistake. And they have lost no where near to half.

Because of the querant's lack of specificity, your cybertrix presumes that he refers to the much-vaunted membership drop in the mainline Protestant churches, a group comprising the Episcopal Church USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church USA.

While all but the Presbyterians have suffered losses, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives, the losses suffered by the others since 1989 range between 4 and 20 percent:
Episcopal Church USA

1980 2,786,004

2000 2,333,327

Loss: 452,677

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

1980 5,384,271*

2001 5,099,877

Loss: 284,294

*Comprising Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, Lutheran Chruch in America and the American Lutheran Church, which merged in 1988 to the present-day Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Presbyterian Church USA

1980 3,262,086**

2001 3,455,952

Increase: 193,866

**Comprising United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and Presbyterian Church in the US, which merged in 1983.

United Methodist Church

1980 9,519,407

2001 8,298,145

Loss: 1,221,262

United Church of Christ

1980 1,736,244

2001 1,359,105

Loss: 377,139

Although it is fashionable to attribute these drop-offs to the liberal actions of the main church bodies (with regard to acceptance of gay and lesbian people, ordination of women, support for affirmative action, immigrant rights and a woman's right to choose), a greater use of birth control among women in the liberal congregations when compared to their conservative and right-wing counterparts seems to have had the most profound effect on membership numbers in the mainline churches, where populations are showing their age.

The rest, I believe, can be chalked up to the fact that we live in a time of great change and great fear, and the mainline churches rarely offer the worshipper a visceral experience of the divine in the same way that evangelical and Pentecostal churches do. Nor do they offer scapegoats -- gays, immigrants, blacks, uppity women -- on which to hang those fears.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Moving the pieces around

President Bush just conducted a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at which the president conceded that more troops are needed in Baghdad. So, he's going to move some in from elsewhere in Iraq.

For his part, Maliki declined, when offered the chance via a reporter's question, to condemn Hezbollah.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. Senate's Democratic leaders called a press conference (via Real Player) of their own at which they warned Maliki that he's no friend of ours if, in his scheduled address to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, he neither denounces Hezbollah or his earlier plan to grant amnesty to insurgents who have killed U.S. troops. [Maliki's criteria for amnesty, according to Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) exclude only those who have shed Iraqi blood.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said he planned to attend the joint session, but would leave it up to the consciences of the individual senators as to whether or not they would stay away in protest.


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Sunday, July 23, 2006

A lovely delusion?

Meanwhile, in answer to Hans Johnson's missive on the defeat of Ralph Reed in the Georgia GOP primary for lieutenant governor, one of your blogstress's favorite writers reached out with this eruption:

Only the most delusional liberal could see Ralph Reed’s glorious defeat as anything other than Republicans cutting their losses. These people will chew off a foot to avoid losing the Senate or House in November, and they don’t need another high-profile grifter in the mix, even if he’s not running for Congress himself. The GOP threw Reed in front of the train, not the progressives.

Okay, Y, but what do you really think?

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Mea culpa (but not for everything)

When your blogstress wrote, for The American Prospect Online, an essay in which she threw up her hands at the notion of a cohesive, politically effective religious left, she knew not what she had done. Somehow, she managed to anger religious people on both the left and the right, and places in between.

Your écrivaine based her conclusion on the latest turmoil in the Episcopal Church over the place of lesbians and gay people in church life, deducing that while all the mainline Protestant churches in the US remain engaged in similar internal battles, there is no hope for producing a religious left movement that is up to doing full-scale battle with the forces of the religious right.

It is your cyberscribe's description of the Episcopalians' travails that rankled the Rev. Glynn C. Harper of Christ Church in San Augustine, Texas, who writes:

Dear Ms. Stan:

I am writing to tell you that I have seldom read as misinformed and misleading an article on any subject as your article "A Schismatic Canterbury Tale," which appeared as an opinion on the CBS News web site.

Not only were your statements evidence of a basic ignorance of the issues involving gays and lesbians in the church, but the entire thrust of the article was not merely misleading but, in fact, untrue. It would be difficult to point out all your errors of fact in the time I want to waste on refuting the article, but first of all the Archbishop of Canterbury has not even come close to "put[ing] forward a proposal for the schism of his own church." In fact, in an address he made to the synod of the Church of England, he has specifically rejected such an interpretation of his remarks.

Secondly, the statement that "half of the church’s 38 provinces to break with the its U.S. governing body, [has deprived] the latter of financial support" is either a complete fabrication on your part or evidence of the most profound ignorance.

The Episcopal Church is totally self-supporting and in fact is a major provider of funds for poorer provinces in other parts of the world, including the Anglican Church in Nigeria, whose archbishop Akinol is one of the Episcopal Church's major critics for its actions regarding the place of gay people and women in the body of Christ. The Anglican Church in Nigeria, may be the largest province in the communion in terms of membership, but it is also one of the poorest in terms of resources.

The greatest falsehood in your article, however it to suggest that the Episcopal Church is in any way near collapse. While it is true that the diocesan bishops of seven of the over 100 independent dioceses of the Episcopal Church have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to provide "alternative oversight," which would remove them as part of the Episcopal Church, there is no indication whatever that the Archbishop of Canterbury will do so or, in fact, that he has the authority to do so. His position in the Anglican Communion while influential is without authority over any of the autonomous provinces of the Communion. It is extremely unlikely that he would jeopardize his position of influence by undertaking an action that would not only offend the Episcopal Church, but the Anglican provinces in Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and South Africa as well as other moderate and progressive Anglican provinces who in some cases have been even more progressive than the Episcopal Church.

To place the problems in the Episcopal Church and other Protestant denominations in the United States as being central to a collapse of liberal Christian sentiment is to grossly misrepresent the facts and to indulge in pure fantasy. I hope you will belatedly research the subject you have written about so incorrectly and write an article apologizing for your ignorance and misinformed assertions.


The Reverend Glynn C. Harper
Vicar, Christ Church, Episcopal
San Augustine, Texas
Your blogstress does concede that she got the issue regarding the Episcopal Church's funding apparatus wrong, the result of haste and attendant sloppiness on her part. She is most sorry about this, both for having misinformed her readers and for the resulting impression that she is something less than impeccable in her journalistic habits. On the rest of her assertions, however, your net-tête is far less yielding.


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Friday, July 21, 2006

The Jarrett NSA files

Earlier this week, mes amis, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was taken to task by Senator Patrick Leahy, ranking Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for the administration's thwarting of an inquiry, undertaken by DoJ Office of Professional Responsibility Director H. Marshall Jarrett, into the role of Justice Department officials in signing off on the administration's domestic spying program, which is being conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA). Jarrett's inquiry was undertaken at the request of members of Congress, but was quashed by none other than President George W. Bush himself, according to Gonzales.

The indefatiguable Murray Waas has led the reporting on this constitution-crushing executive branch gambit.

Herewith you will find the attorney general's response to the committee regarding the stymied investigation and, more importantly, three memos penned by Jarrett expressing his frustration that his investigators were denied the security clearances they needed to complete the investigation, which was closed without conclusion. Your blogstress directs you to pages 7 and 8 of the posted PDF file, wherein Jarrett observes:

Since its creation some 31 years ago, OPR has conducted many highly sensitive investigations involving Executive Branch programs and has obtained access to information classified at the highest levels. In all those years, OPR has never been prevented from initiating or pursuing an investigation.

NOTE: If you have a problem with the embedded links, try clicking here: Jarrett-Gonzales-NSA-memos.pdf

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ralph Reed vanquished

Your blogstress's good friend (and certified hottie -- see photo #5) Hans Johnson, president of the data and strategy firm Progressive Victory, writes to remind us of a little-celebrated victory enjoyed by progressives this week: the defeat of GOP strategist and former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed in his primary race for his once-certain spot on the ballot as the Republican candidate for the office of lieutenant governor of the great State of Georgia. Seems that progressives were able to leverage the unravelling story of Reed's role in the Jack Abramoff scandal to liberal advantage. Herewith, Mr. Johnson's missive:

It is with relief and some reflection that we can all celebrate the defeat of Ralph Reed, purveyor of prejudice and candidate for Lt. Gov. in Georgia, in yesterday's GOP state primary.

His trouncing by a nearly 4-3 margin statewide in a primary vote -- where a late poll showed him running neck and neck with his opponent -- is testimony to 2 important dynamics:
1. The combined charges of intolerance, influence-peddling, and his corrupt profiteering through Abramoff schemes dented his moralistic armor. Evidence and journalistic exposé do indeed have an impact; they dissuaded even conservative GOP primary voters.

2. The hordes of allegedly malleable right-wing voters over which he enjoyed supposed dominion failed to materialize on his behalf. The notion of a spoon-fed, easily-led religious conservative voting bloc is a stereotype, fostered by lazy reporting, against which Reed has often railed. Yet he has also fed this myth when convenient, and sought to exploit it throughout his career.

On Tuesday, it exploded in Reed's face. A group of crossover Democratic voters who deliberately took a GOP ballot to vote against Reed may have played a role in the margin of his loss. Credit for this bump in anti-Reed votes goes in part to savvy Georgia activist Christie Ayotte; her wry encouragement to dump Reed through strategic voting ricocheted around the Web in the 48 hours before the vote.
The vote totals in the Georgia primary races should also give Democrats some heart -- and an added kick in the pants - heading into the fall. "D" total primary turnout in several bellwether races exceeded "R" turnout by 5 and in some cases 10 percent. At the very least, this shows Democrats to be viable against conservatives' operation in a state that many national progressives have wrongly written off for dead (Zell Miller rants still echoing in their memories). Democrats should not have to rely on such small margins for consolation in the state that sent Jimmy Carter to the White House, and which did not have a post-Reconstruction GOP guv till '02. But so it is. In short, the state is still competitive.

National Democrats neglect the Peach State at their peril. Republican strategists are eyeing it as another laboratory for redrawing state congressional lines. In the wake of the June Supreme Court ruling allowing mid-decade redistricting, their knives and scissors are sharp, should the GOP capture the state House of Reps. this fall and retain the state Senate and guv seat.

Dems have now moved back to near parity (seven R, six D) in the federal House delegation, after having sunk to just three seats before 2002. An '07 DeLay-mandering of the state might once more reduce them to that level. That would be a loss of three House seats, so the stakes are high. For progressives, there are strong federal and state grounds for keeping Georgia on our minds -- and in our contribution plans -- this election year.

In solidarity--


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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Success in the Middle East?

At today's White House press briefing, still in progress as your blogstress writes, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow answered a question about the prospect for diplomatic success in the current Israeli-Hezbollah conflict this way:

How on earth do you define "success" in the Middle East?
He then mumbled something about "thousands of years."

Snow also said that the White House does not consider the current conflict to be a war.

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Note to media:
"Christ" was not his last name

On MSNBC, Fox News refugee Rita Cosby -- whose reporting forte is more murdered co-eds than war dead -- just referred to Nazareth as "the holy city" that is "the birthplace of Jesus Christ." Nazareth, an Israeli town with a largely Arab population, had just been hit by Hezbollah rockets.

First of all, given Cosby's "objective" reportage of Nazareth as a place universally regarded as a holy city, one would hope she knew her New Testament a bit better -- or at least a few Christmas carols. The Gospels tell us, as even non-Christians know, that Bethlehem was the birthplace of the historical person known as Jesus of Nazareth. (There is much dispute whether or not this claim is accurate, or simply an attempt by Gospel writers to fulfill Hebrew scripture regarding the birth of a messiah, such as that found in Micah.)

But worse than that is Cosby's reference to "Jesus Christ." Christ was not the guy's last name; it is a Greek word that speaks to Christians' belief that Jesus, son of Mary, is the Jewish messiah -- not a belief shared by the Jewish people. At best, it's sloppy speech on Cosby's part, indicating ignorance and chauvinism.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Newt and the War of the Worlds

With his assertion that the Middle East is ablaze with the flames of World War III, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has successfully raised the hackles of your blogstress's many friends on the left. Your cybertrix, however, takes some pride in having suggested just that, days before Gingrich made his declaration. The difference between your Webwench and Newt (other than, presumably, the bustier) is that election strategy did not enter into your écrivaine's calculation, as it did into Newt's. (See Matt Stoller.)

A word to her progressive friends: The problem with Newt is that he's occasionally right -- and not in that broken-clock-twice-a-day way. To dismiss out of hand everything he says just because he says it never gets one very far.

The trick with Newt to pay very close attention, as Mr. Stoller did. Look not only for the ruthlessness, but also for the inherent contradictions in the whole of his body of orally disseminated work. He's so often off the cuff that he's prone to screwing up.

In a most delicious moment during the 1996 presidential campaign -- the last time Mr. Gingrich tested the waters for a presidential run -- your cyberscribe tripped him up simply by having paid attention to two speeches he made to two different groups, each of which represented one of the two major wings of the Republican Party: the religious right, and the business lobby. From "The Evolution of Al Gore" by yours truly:

As luck would have it, I was in New Hampshire at the time for Mother Jones, reporting a story on the takeover of a local school board by religious enthusiasts who were seeking to plant creationism in the local science curriculum. At a press conference, I asked Gingrich how he managed to square his support of the creationists with his vision of a high-tech America in which U.S. students were second to none in the fields of math and science.

"I think you can certainly refer to both creationism and evolution as something that people ought to be aware of -- together," Gingrich replied. "If you look at chaos theory and the degree to which the certainty of the 19th century is beginning to be replaced, I don't think there's any problem with teaching both."

In other words, because scientific theory is subject to its own evolution -- change that sometimes demands the discard of earlier theories -- what's the problem with presenting an idea that has no basis in science as equal to hypotheses that are rooted in scientific discovery?
To sum up: Don't do a knee jerk when Mr. Gingrich lobs his rhetorical grenades; step back, take a breath, and do a Google search. The results will be so much more rewarding.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

The cedar and the star
A lament for the Middle East

As she reads this morning of Israel's ground invasion of Lebanon, your blogstress finds her heart sinking ever deeper as the Middle East War intensifies.

One can't help but feel this thing deeply as the names of ancient cities on both sides of the border appear on the role call of towns bombed and attacked by missiles.

Yesterday, your écrivaine flinched as the town of Tyre appeared on the list; this is the place from whence Hiram, the architect and builder of Solomon's temple hailed.

Last night, as she watched the BBC News, your cyberscribe meditated on the graphic that accompanied the report: the flags of Israel and Lebanon, shown side by side. The former, of course, is adorned with the ancient symbol of the Jewish faith, the Star of David. At the center of the latter is a great cedar tree -- the wood used to frame the temple.

I do not argue that Israel has no right to defend itself; of course it does. But accusations of collective punishment do tend to ring true when the infrastructure of a fragile nation is attacked.

Of course, collective punishment is an old biblical theme; who can forget the fate suffered by all the people of Sodom and Gomorra? The difference is that that time, it was Yahweh who was calling the shots.

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Religion doesn't equal stupidity

From a reader and believer in Southern California, your blogstress received this missive regarding her essay at The American Prospect Online, "A Canterbury Tale."

I have a slight disagreement with your excellent article in TAP about the religious left. You wrote this:

"In seeking to create a counterpart to the religious
right, we tried to force our values through a narrow
hole. In essence, we bought into the religious
authoritarianism of the right, inferring that moral
authority proceeds only from religion. In this, we
have sold ourselves short."

I don't see it that way. The religious left isn't making the argument you suggest, not even implicitly. We are trying to do two things:

1. Convince religious people that leftist politics is a valid option for religious people. When the right has a monopoly on religion, religious people who otherwise might be sympathetic are given the false choice of being liberal or being against God. That may not seem important to the non-religious, but to us religious folk being anti-God is a deal breaker:-)

2. We are trying to convince secular leftists that religion isn't synomymous with bigotry and stupidity. That's important to the leftist political project because it helps guard against the tendency of SOME on the secular left to insult religious voters we need to take back the country from the right wing. And it is important to those of us who think we all actually need God in our lives because a good guy leftist might be driven away from God because he mistakenly thinks that God-belief requires shutting off his mind and his heart.

Success in the project to build a religious left ought not be measured by comapring our political strength to that of the religious right. We are successful to the degree that we move SOME people away from the false stereotypes. IMO that project is going well; I hope it gets better.

Your friend,

Keith Johnson
Hemet, California

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Obama on religion and politics

A reader named Matthew asks your blogstress to consider the words of Senator Barack Obama, delivered last week to the "Call to Renewal" conference convened by the Rev. Jim Wallis, a liberal evangelical. The left is quite abuzz about Obama's speech, in which he urges outreach by Democrats to evangelical Christians, ordinarily presumed to be acolytes of the right:

For some time now, there has been plenty of talk among pundits and pollsters that the political divide in this country has fallen sharply along religious lines. Indeed, the single biggest "gap" in party affiliation among white Americans today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called Red States and those who reside in Blue, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don't.

Conservative leaders have been all too happy to exploit this gap, consistently reminding evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design.

Democrats, for the most part, have taken the bait. At best, we may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that - regardless of our personal beliefs - constitutional principles tie our hands. At worst, there are some liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word "Christian" describes one's political opponents, not people of faith.

Now, such strategies of avoidance may work for progressives when our opponent is Alan Keyes. But over the long haul, I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people's lives -- in the lives of the American people -- and I think it's time that we join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.

And if we're going to do that then we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution.

This religious tendency is not simply the result of successful marketing by skilled preachers or the draw of popular mega-churches. In fact, it speaks to a hunger that's deeper than that - a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Them that know won't say
The Plame-Wilson press conference

Your blogstress just returned from a briefing at the National Press Club at which Valerie Plame Wilson, and her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, made short statements about the lawsuit they have filed against, among others, the vice president of the United States for the disclosure to reporters of Ms. Wilson's identity as an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Though called a news conference, no news appeared to have been broken there, with the exception of the announcement that today's briefing would be the last time that the Wilsons would make themselves available to the news media on the subject of their lawsuit until the matter was resolved (which could take years). Neither of the Wilsons took questions. Their lawyer, however, did. He just didn't really answer many of them.

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Master of meaningless indignation

Your blogstress wonders if any of her devotees are as tired as she of the Arlen Specter act, which features the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee pretending to take on the Bush administration over its routine desecration of Constitution, only to kick up some dust and pretend to do something about it.

The latest from Chairman Specter is a hard-won agreement for a one-time review of the administration's illegal domestic spying program. Herewith from Charles Babington and Peter Baker of the Washington Post:

Bush agreed voluntarily to submit his program to the court named for the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, contingent on Congress passing legislation drafted by Specter and administration lawyers.

The legislation would allow the Justice Department unlimited attempts to revise the program to meet the court's approval and would allow it to appeal adverse court rulings. It would also give the NSA in emergency situations a week rather than the current 72 hours to eavesdrop on a domestic target without requesting a warrant, and it would allow the government to send to the FISA court all lawsuits challenging the program's legality. Some suits, filed by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, are already pending in various federal courts.
This, thinks your Webwench, is worse than if no action were taken at all. The legislation on which the administration insists would take any challenges to its illegal spying program out of the transparent federal court system and into the secret world of the special court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), which usually acts as a rubber-stamping body for the administration, and whose deliberations -- and decisions -- are taken and issued in secret.

If this legislation passes, forget about ever getting a Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the National Security Agency (NSA) collecting your telephone records, or damn near anything else they wish.

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At the Pentagon, it's all double-super-secret background

Walter Pincus writes in today's Washington Post of a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that condemns Rummy's office, and the Pentagon at large, for marking "classified" all manner of documents containing only unclassified information:

The GAO reviewed only a "nonprobability sample" of 111 classified Defense Department documents from the Office of the Secretary of Defense. To understand how minute the sample is, the GAO reported that in the five fiscal years between 2000 and 2004, the Pentagon was responsible for 66.8 million new classified records. That is about 13.4 million a year.


In a broader administrative criticism, the GAO found that 92 of the 111 documents had some marking error, such as failure to include declassification instructions or the source of the classification as required.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

It's looking like World War III
Can the rapture be far behind?

With Israel's bombing of the Beirut Airport, your blogstress thinks it's safe to say that there's a war going on in the Middle East. Duh, you say? Well, mes amis, the experts will tell you that what's going on between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the Israelis and the Lebanese does not constitute a war, but rather represents two high-intensity conflicts, or some other sort of euphemism. For example, the following, from today's comprehensive report by Anthony Shadid, Scott Wilson and Debbi Wilgoren of the Washington Post Foreign Service :

"We are not at war, but we are in a very high-volume crisis, and we have an intention to put an end to the situation here along the northern border," said Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, according to the wire service reports.
For its part, the Bush administration, which has set the standard for military responses to terrorist attacks, appears to be trying to make a distinction between terrorism and war with regard to Hezbollah's abduction of Israeli soldiers -- the event that set off the current round of Israeli attacks on civilian centers. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared the Hezbollah attack to be "an act of war," which speaks to the Bush administration's War on Terror rhetoric. Talk about reaping what one sows.

It's difficult for your cybertrix not to feel for the people of Lebanon as well as the people of Israel. It seems to your Webwench that the Lebanese are taking heat that rightfully belongs to the Iranians and the Syrians. And just as Lebanon was looking like an actual liberal democracy.

Add to this mess the carnage elsewhere in the non-Christian world -- the sectarian killings in Iraq, the bombings of the Mumbai trains, the killing of Chenyan terrorist Shamil Basayev, the apparent proxy war fomented by Khartoum arising in Darfur and the escalation of Taliban attacks, and you'll find an arc of fire cutting a swath through Asia -- from Asia Minor to South and Central Asia -- adorned by smouldering coals at either end, in North Africa at one, and southeastern Europe at the other.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bloggers weigh in about religious left

Your blogstress finds herself most indebted to Atrios of that pithy blog, Eschaton, for linking to her piece, A Canterbury Tale, at The American Prospect Online, in which she, once and for all, throws in the towel at the notion of a cohesive religious left.

At AmericaBlog, John Aravosis echoes your Webwench's sentiment. Posting in reponse to news of yet another gathering of liberal religious figures, Aravosis writes:

I'm not convinced the religious left will ever get its act together. They just don't seem to know politics, or public relations, nor are they angry enough to be inspired enough to make a difference (our guys, silly people that they are, actually buy into all that Biblical stuff about loving thy neighbor - the religious right, on the other hand, has ignored all the love in the Bible).

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Rummy: The good news - we're finally keeping track

Speaking of South Asia, did anybody catch Rummy's performance yesterday in his joint press conference with beleaguered Afghan President Hamid Karzai? He actually had the gall to suggest that the fighting in southern Afghanistan between coalition forces and the Taliban doesn't speak to a resurgent Taliban; it just looks that way because the U.S. has gotten better at keeping track of Taliban attacks.

Was the U.S. military, until recently, really not keeping track of attacks on its forces by the reportedly routed enemy?

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Bombing Bombay Mumbai

Your blogstress finds it quite amazing that the terrorist bombing of commuter trains in Mumbai -- known to Westerners as Bombay -- are playing in this continent's broadcast media as a B-list story. Nearly 200 people were killed, and at least double that number injured, in those ghastly attacks, carried out during rush hour in India's largest city. Mumbai is to India what New York is to the U.S.: its financial capital, its multicultural Mecca, if you will.

(You'll recall that when the London tubes were attacked, the situation was treated almost as if the attack had happened on this side of the pond. But then again, the U.K. is a nation run by white people.)

The Indian government has been quick to lay responsibility for the assault (which, as of this writing, no group has claimed) at the feet of the Kashmiri separatist group Lashkar-e-Toiba, but your cyberscribe suspects the truth is a bit more complex.

Yesterday's bombings bear all the marks of an al Qaeda action: precision timing, significant casualties, and execution on the 11th day of the month. To blame Lashkar alone better suits Indian politics, tying the event exclusively to India's low-intensity conflict with Pakistan.

For al Qaeda, however, the aims are likely greater. Relations between the U.S. and India are improving, largely due to the former's deal for the export of nuclear technology to the world's largest democracy, which, like its neighbor to the north, already has the atomic bomb. In carrying out such an attack, al Qaeda also helps to destabilize Pakistan's U.S.-supported dictator, Pervez Musharraf, who is regarded as a traitor for his alliance with the U.S. in its so-called War on Terror.

Make no mistake: this attack will likely have significant consequences for U.S. foreign policy.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

A well-timed good-bye
For Ken Lay's survivors, that is

From Simon Romero, writing in today's New York Times:

HOUSTON, July 5 — In yet another bizarre twist to the Enron saga, the sudden death of Kenneth L. Lay on Wednesday may have spared his survivors financial ruin. Mr. Lay's death effectively voids the guilty verdict against him, temporarily thwarting the federal government's efforts to seize his remaining real estate and financial assets, legal experts say.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Adieu, Kenny Boy
Enron founder Lay is dead

CNN is reporting that Enron founder Kenneth Lay, major fundraiser for the presidential campaign of President George W. Bush, has died this morning, perhaps of a massive heart attack.

One wonders what he had for breakfast. A little OJ laced with Digitalis, perhaps? (Not that your blogstress doubts the official account or anything.)

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Suspicious minds

Photo: AP/WWP, courtesy U.S. Department of State

The very foxy Glenn Kellis, in his most recent post on his Ob:Blog, reveals the secrets of the recent interplay between the markets and and interest-rate woes:

What's really going on -- and it has become grossly obvious lately -- is the global stock markets are running purely on artificial liquidity supplied constantly, but unevenly, by the central banks. When there's an injection of cash, the markets rally. When the magic spigot is closed and the liquidity dries up, the markets drop.

Most recently, the cash injection from the Bank of Japan (BOJ), Japan's central bank, has been calling the shots. It's no coincidence that when the BOJ announced, in the middle of May, that the it would begin raising rates, the markets tanked....
So, now we know why Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi got that special tour of Graceland, with the U.S. president as his guide. Continues Mr. Kellis:
As long as the cash injections keep coming from one central bank or another, this addict will keep stumbling along, but when the dope runs out, it's going to be a painful withdrawal.
Or maybe we'll just go the way of Elvis. (Le roi est morte; vive le roi!)

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Burning the Constitution

What's the best thing about Independence Day in Our Nation's Capital? C'est facile, mes amis -- the Constitution is momentarily safe from the destructive hands of the country's lawmakers.

In recent days, your blogstress has meditated on the recent, by-a-whisker defeat in the Senate of a constitutional amendment that would have banned flag-burning -- at the expense of the First Amendment, which the New Yorker's ever-eloquent Hendrik Hertzberg describes as "the Constitution's crowning glory."

More from Mr. Hertzberg:

The flag is not a piece of cloth, any more than the Constitution is a piece of paper; and the flag’s sacredness is not damaged when a piece of cloth representing it is burned or trampled or used as an autograph book, any more than the Constitution can be damaged by the destruction of a printed copy. But the Constitution can and would be damaged, to the nation’s shame, by the addition of something as inimical to its spirit as the flag-desecration amendment.
You'll note, mes cheris, the distaste earlier expressed by your cybertrix for the "desecration" of any symbol. However, were she one to organize protests, she could envision a ritual Constitution-burning on the steps of the Capitol, a sort of performance art piece whereby people (mostly men) dressed in dark suits would step up to a flaming black-iron cauldron and toss in one of those parchment reproductions of the the original Bill of Rights document.

Better yet, let's see a Constitutional amendment introduced prohibiting the desecration of the U.S. Constitution -- the actual concepts and precepts, not the paper on which it's written. Now, that could call a few questions, huh?


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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Cast in stone

And so it was on a fair Saturday evening that your blogstress sauntered toward Union Station, there to board the train that would carry her to the friends with whom she would travel to hear some exquisite jazz at the hands of guitarist and guru Paul Wingo.

On Massachusetts Avenue, about to cross D Street, your cybertrix was accosted by a beautiful young man, who handed her a rather handsome paperback book, Ten Commandments, Twice Removed. "This is for you," he said, and quickly flitted away. He had brown skin and thick, curly black hair; despite the heat and humidity, he wore a long-sleeved white button-down shirt and charcoal dress pants held up by black braces. He darted across the street and began frantically approaching cars, passing books to the drivers.

For her sartorial part, your Webwench was done up for her Saturday night in a swingy skirt embossed with a design in silver, and a most fetching lace-encrusted silk camisole, exceeded only in delectability by the lace-encrusted push-up brassiere that took up residence beneath. She proceeded on her walk, pondering the gift of the book. Perhaps, she thought, he had mistaken her for an adultress. Or a wife-covetress.

NOTE: An earlier version of the aforementioned book was apparently published under the title, The Anti-Christ Agenda.

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Dana Priest has a moralist for breakfast

If you missed today's edition of Meet the Press, your blogstress advises you to view the podcast of the roundtable segment, wherein Bill Bennett, for whom gambling is a virtue, repeated his charge that the Pulitzer Prize won by the Washington Post for Dana Priest's reporting on the secret U.S. prisons overseas was "a disgrace." This time, however, Priest was sitting next to Bennett, cool as a cucumber, ably defending her position. Also present were William Safire and John Harwood, who might as well have stayed home, as Bennett stole the show with his eye-rolling and twitchy demeanor. From the official NBC transcript:

MS. [ANDREA] MITCHELL [(MODERATOR)]: Dana, let me point out that The Washington Post, your newspaper, was behind the others but also did publish this story. And a story you wrote last year disclosing the secret CIA prisons won the Pulitzer Prize, but it also led to William Bennett, sitting here, saying that three reporters who won the Pulitzer Prize—-you for that story and Jim Risen and others for another story-—were, “not worthy of an award but rather worthy of jail.” Dana, how do you plead?

MS. PRIEST: Well, it’s not a crime to publish classified information. And this is one of the things Mr. Bennett keeps telling people that it is. But, in fact, there are some narrow categories of information you can’t publish, certain signals, communications, intelligence, the names of covert operatives and nuclear secrets.

Now why isn’t it a crime? I mean, some people would like to make casino gambling a crime, but it is not a crime. Why isn’t it not a crime? Because the framers of the Constitution wanted to protect the press so that they could perform a basic role in government oversight, and you can’t do that. Look at the criticism that the press got after Iraq that we did not do our job on WMD. And that was all in a classified arena. To do a better job—and I believe that we should’ve done a better job—we would’ve again, found ourselves in the arena of...


MR. BENNETT: All right, now you’ve got, you’ve got, you’ve got three people on one side, you’ve got me on the other side. Let me just, let me just state my position.

It’s not time to break out the champagne and the Pulitzers. This is not about politics, not from my perspective. It’s about the United States of America and the security of the United States of America. The difference is, the government was elected. People may not like the Bush administration, but they were elected and they are entitled to due consideration on these matters. The American people, in fact, believe in a free press, as I do, and I don’t believe in prior restraint of the press. But the American people are saying, if you listen to them in very, very large and consistent numbers—and an awful lot of people across the board are saying this—is four times now, four times in eight months, Dana Priest’s story, the National Surveillance Security Agency monitoring story, the USA Today story about data mining...

MS. PRIEST: You know, I heartily appreciate your talking on behalf of all the American people because when...

MR. BENNETT:’s—it’s not—I’m not. I’m talking about a lot of the American—wait, let me finish. Let me finish.

MS. PRIEST: stories ran I received several—many, many people thanking me because they thought that they went—including...

MR. BENNETT: You don’t want to be—you don’t, you don’t want to put this to an opinion poll.

MS. PRIEST: ...including four-star...

MR. BENNETT: You do not want to do this on an opinion poll.

MS. PRIEST: ...including active-duty four-star generals.

MR. BENNETT: Can I, can I just...

MS. PRIEST: Some people think that the administration has gone too far in some of the counterterrorism measures they’ve taken, and that some of the things that we were—are revealing are creating a debate that could not have happened before.

MR. BENNETT: Yeah, and the shutting down of prisons...

MS. MITCHELL: Bill Safire...

MR. BENNETT: ...and countries that say...

MS. PRIEST: The prisons have been moved. They have not been shut down.

That’s a big difference.

MR. BENNETT: That’s a different...

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