New progressive action center website

MovingIdeas.org, sponsored by The American Prospect, is a progressive policy and action center with new resources for the continuing fight for a progressive future. MovingIdeas.org is a gateway to all things progressive: action alerts, reports, analyses, commentary, press releases, links, and more. Currently highlighted on the site is an analysis of Social Security that includes a compilation of the best resources on the issue from leading progressive policy and activist organizations.

Fighting back, fighting torture

Digby's blog says it well:
"Better keep your heads down, little wingnuts. We're OUT OF CONTROL. Who knows what we'll do next! It's quite liberating being completely out of power after hearing the right insult, browbeat and demonize us for more than 15 years. After this over the top post election end zone dance in particular, we no longer have anything to lose by making it our business to simply f--- with Republicans for the pure entertainment value. In some ways it's a kind of political insurgency. They refuse to compromise, they insist on being demeaning and crude, so all that's left is to make their lives unpleasant is a thousand little ways every single day. And the really fun part is that we represent 49% of the people so there are quite a few of us around."

And more specifically:
"I see that the right is fulminating about the Democrats' objection to torture as an American value. Yeah, it's tough, isn't it? Alberto Gonzales certainly wasn't afraid to use the word torture. In fact, he personally asked for a definition and a legal finding as to whether the president had the authority in wartime to ignore the laws against it, both American and international. Why the squeamishness about the word now? Perhaps because they have waded into quicksand on this issue and they know the only thing that will save them is if the Democrats throw them a lifeline by refusing to expose the shallow prurience of their 'values.' We should not do it. We should turn the spotlight back on those who made a fetish of morals and show them for what they are. The right is going to accuse us of not caring about winning the GWOT but we should stand tough and not flinch when we say that torture is immoral. They are now caught in the bind of having to defend it (indeed, some relish defending it) and it is indefensible on both moral and practical grounds. We should not be afraid of their bluster. It is the sign of their weakness. Let them bellow. The American people know that torture is wrong. They know. That does not mean, of course, that some don't think we should use it. Even so they know it's wrong . And because the modern Republican party has sold themselves as the party of values, this discussion leaves them uncomfortable, squirming and impatient. Their smugness has turned to waspishness. They want desperately to change the subject. This is the dawning of a new values debate and one which is far more defining for a great nation than tendentious posturing about personal sexual morality. This goes to the very core of what we, as Americans, really are. It's time for us to take that fight to those who constantly use their cramped definition of morality to bludgeon us into a corner."

Reframing the term "pro-life"

Kos makes a great Lakoff-like suggestion:
"I wanted to pass on a term that I heard a Benedictine nun use when she was being interviewed on Bill Moyers' PBS show 'Now.' She accused those evangelicals who touted 'pro-life' positions of actually being 'pro-birth' only because they abandoned responsibility for maintaining infrastructure for deteriorating schools, health care, etc.--as well as ignoring the plethora of war dead, which always includes so many children.
I've been struggling for a term for so-called pro-lifers who look the other way on war, post-natal care, social services, death penalty, and other life and death issues.
Pro-birth. That does the trick."

What does "supporting the troops" mean?

Daily Kos writes:
"I support the troops by appreciating and recognizing the sacrifice they and their families make in serving in our Armed Forces. I support them for risking their lives for the national security of our nation. I support them BY opposing the scandalous policies of the Bush Administration in Iraq. I support them by understanding that they are not to blame for the Iraq Debacle, but among its victims. I support them by opposing the Bush policy of torture and suspension of the Geneva Conventions. I support them by denouncing war criminals, because to do otherwise is to dishonor our troops."

Defining Bias Downward

Michael Hoyt of the Columbia Journalism Review writes:
"Without some rough agreement on what is significant, citizens will not get the intellectually honest debate that citizenship requires. Journalists, whatever their inner political leanings, must work harder at being honest brokers of information, worthy of respect...Honest conservatives, meanwhile, should consider a pair of New Year's resolutions: First, recognize that challenging political power and holding it to account is the legitimate role of the press in a democracy, not some liberal plot. Second, swear off defining any story that is uncomfortable to you as an example of liberal bias. Such a tactic probably won't work in the long run, anyway. As somebody once noted, facts are stubborn things."

Bonus Quotes of the Day

"Get some devastation in the back."
-- Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), quoted by the AP, to a staff photographer taking a picture of him before leaving tsunami-stricken southern Sri Lanka.

"I have been asked to stay and have accepted. I can't imagine life after Don Rumsfeld."
-- Paul Wolfowitz on his decision to remain as Deputy Defense Secretary.

"This White House has made an art of creating crisis where a crisis does not exist."
-- Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).


Media Matters

MMFA announces the top ten most outrageous statements of 2004!

The compassion of Christian conservatives is so touching!

Bill Berkowitz of "Working For Change" notes:

It took President Bush three days to ready himself to go before the television cameras and make a public statement about Sunday's devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck southern Asia. Even though he was late, and much more money will be needed, the president pledged at least $35 million in aid to the victims of the disaster. But, as of December 30, some of the president's major family-values constituents have yet to be heard from: It's business as usual at the web sites of the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, and the Coral Ridge Ministries.
These powerful and well-funded political Christian fundamentalist organizations appear to be suffering from a compassion deficit. Organizations which are amazingly quick to organize to fight against same-sex marriage, a woman's right to choose, and embryonic stem cell research are missing in action when it comes to responding to the disaster in southern Asia. None of their web sites are actively soliciting aid for the victims of the earthquake/tsunami.
In fact, there is no mention of the giant earthquake and tsunami that devastated southern Asia. There are no headlines about the dead, injured or the tremendous damage; there are no urgent appeals for donations; there are no phone numbers to call; there are no links to organizations collecting money and providing aid for the victims.
While many Christian evangelical organizations have rushed to help the victims, why aren't the nation's major religious right political groups -- quick to claim the moral high-ground at every opportunity -- putting their organizational muscle to good use? Why hasn't the devastation from the earthquake/tsunami been on the radar screens of these groups? Are they all on a values vacation?

"Just Shut The Hell Up" Department

Eric Boehlert of Salon notes yet another way Fox News is not ready for prime time:

On the eve of the Alberto Gonzales confirmation hearings for attorney general, Fox's Bill O'Reilly was doing what he likes best Wednesday night, uncorking a verbal tirade against guests who believe -- unlike Gonzales -- that the U.S. should observe the guidelines of the Geneva Convention. Torture, Iraq and patriotism were all bound up in a typical us vs. them "debate." And the best part for Fox News? It had nothing to do with the tsunami that devastated South Asia. To date, the news outlet has covered the disaster haltingly, exposing itself once again as, first and foremost, the home of angry Republicans.
Whereas rival CNN has torn up its regular programming and dispatched an army of staffers to the ravaged region, Fox News appears to be going through the motions on the colossal story. Rather than breaking news, Fox feeds off partisan sparks. And it's hard to get angry about a natural disaster because empathy does not lend itself to outrage -- although that hasn't stopped the high-priced talking heads at Fox from trying to turn the tsunami into a contentious issue.
If the Republican National Committee doesn't have an angle on the story, then neither, apparently, does Fox News. And the last time we checked, there were no GOP talking points on natural disasters of biblical proportions. The best Fox News could do in terms of political spin was to bolster claims by the Department of Defense that the Bush administration was not slow to react to the crisis. Fox also routinely referred to the White House's "initial" aid package as being worth $35 million, not the more accurate and paltry sum of $15 million. At one point during the Dec. 31 telecast, a picture of George Bush appeared in the upper left-hand corner of the Fox News screen with the words "Stop the Bush Bashing," according to News Hounds, a Fox News watchdog site.
Two things have become obvious to news consumers in the aftermath of the tsunami. The first is that even when faced with covering a global humanitarian crisis, Fox News is incapable of turning off its robotic partisanship, not to mention its ever-present sense of victimization. Secondly, Fox News can barely call itself a serious news-gathering operation. Fox News is "not a news station," argues filmmaker Robert Greenwald, whose 2004 film "Outfoxed" was critical of Rupert Murdoch's news operation. "They put their money and resources into paying O'Reilly and [Sean] Hannity millions and millions, not into having reporters and real journalists around the world."
Over the past few years that limited approach, along with Fox's healthy dose of attitude and laserlike focus on domestic issues, has been enough to propel the network to the heights of niche cable news ratings. But when pressed to actually report on a story of worldwide significance, the cable news outlet looks distinctly second class. Flipping back and forth between CNN and Fox News this week for tsunami reports is like hopping between a Cadillac and a Pontiac.
As the Financial Times noted this week, "While CNN, the only U.S. news network with a strong global presence, was able to mobilize its correspondents in the region and fly in big-name reinforcements, Fox had to rely on untested freelancers, some of whom appeared to have never stood in front of a television camera before."
On Wednesday afternoon during "Studio B," Fox host Shepard Smith kicked off the latest relief updates and touted Fox News' "team coverage" -- which consisted of a single reporter in Phuket, Thailand, and a lone reporter in the network's Washington bureau. Back on the night of Dec. 30, when CNN was going wall-to-wall with its tsunami coverage, Fox was airing, as the Los Angeles Times noted, a rerun of O'Reilly interviewing actress/fitness guru Suzanne Somers.
That's why Variety concluded, "The most comprehensive coverage of the catastrophe last week came from CNN, which reaped the full benefits of its 24/7 news cycle, robust international bureaus and savvy field reporting by hotshot anchor Anderson Cooper."
But not Fox News. With its competitors dispatching their A-teams to South Asia, Fox's big guns -- O'Reilly, Brit Hume, Tony Snow, Chris Wallace, Greta Van Susteren -- all remained safely ensconced inside East Coast studios. That's because they're not reporters but Beltway creatures of comfort, who rarely stray beyond the 202 and 212 area codes.
Bill O'Reilly blamed the "liberal press, which hates Bush" for criticizing his early response to the disaster, noting the initial $15 million pledge gave "secularists" an opening to go after Bush. (Secularists?) Belittling a Democratic strategist on his show, O'Reilly bellowed, "Nothing in your liberal world is going to be good enough. You guys -- you've got to get off your contempt, your hatred." Yet the only ones surrounding the tsunami coverage with hatred were the team at Fox News, which apparently feels naked without it.
O'Reilly also mocked Germany for only donating $27 million: "They're America's biggest critics, France, Germany. And they're just pounding us day in and day out. And they -- and when it comes down to crunch time, they don't have anything to give." Germany has since upped its pledge to nearly $700 million, dwarfing the U.S.'s aid package.
Meanwhile, Hannity decided that the wake of the killer tsunami was the perfect time to attack the United Nations: "The U.N. has proven themselves incapable, not trustworthy enough, to handle this or any other humanitarian effort." Hannity dismissed the suggestion of his guest, Bill Orme of the U.N. Development Program, that, "This is a time to concentrate on the victims of this troubled disaster and what we can do together to help them out first."
Of course, this being Fox News, it's not surprising that partisan pundits bungled the facts. Hannity blasted U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland for having "the unmitigated gall and audacity to lecture North America and America and the world about being stingy." Egeland did no such thing. And Fox-friendly pundit Ann Coulter accused former President Bill Clinton of attacking Bush in public for being too slow to respond to the disaster, which is patently false.
Leave it to Fox News to make the tsunami story about Clinton. And leave it to Fox to grow bored with the biggest natural disaster news story in nearly half a century.

The Torturer General

By Marguerite Feitlowitz, the author of "A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture," a 1998 New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the PEN New England-L.L. Winship Prize.

"It seems surreal: The president's nominee for the highest legal position in the land is a proponent of torture. In his notorious Jan. 25, 2002, memorandum to Bush, Alberto Gonzales clearly fancies himself a shrewd thinker, a smooth operator when it comes to finessing the inevitable outrage of our allies when they learn that we have violated the Geneva Conventions. His suggestion for rebuttal to, among others, Secretary of State Colin Powell, who argued that the Conventions applied to the Taliban and al-Qaida? "First, some of the language [of the Conventions] is undefined (it prohibits, for example, 'outrages upon personal dignity' and 'inhuman treatment')." Are personal dignity and inhumane treatment really so mysterious? So fungible?
The universal horror elicited by the photos of Abu Ghraib attests to the innate human ability to recognize humiliation, degradation and abuse. As we saw in those photos, young soldiers -- acting in accordance with the climate established high up in the chain of command -- displayed, mocked and toyed with the genitals of prisoners who had also been beaten up, deprived of sleep, chained, hooded and made to stand for hours on one leg on elevated boxes lest they fall into the gaping jaws of trained attack dogs. According to Gonzales' reasoning, none of these practices constitute torture unless they result in years of protracted suffering or "organ failure." In other words, only if a prisoner dies, or almost dies, can one know if one is actually committing torture.
I spent nearly seven years interviewing survivors of the torture centers of Argentina's "dirty war" (1976-83): relatives of desaparecidos ("disappeared"), human rights experts and activists, peasants and labor leaders -- in short, three generations of Argentines from all walks of life whose families were torn apart by the dictatorship. Torture is a crime that never ends: It is written on the body, inscribed in the mind and seared into the soul. Neither individuals nor regimes nor societies survive unscathed. The secrets and shame, lies, guilt and corruption last for generations -- censoring rational thought, inhibiting democratic impulses, hobbling democratic institutions.
Democracy relies on trust, on a social compact. Torture violates every precept, every moral value, associated with democracy, a form of governance the Bush administration purports to cherish. Yet the growing evidence of the U.S. government's policies on torture directly threatens our ability to defend basic human rights, and to promote democracy, both at home and abroad.
Gonzales cites the need for "flexibility" in what he calls "a new kind of war." This line, as old as the hills, is the immemorial favorite of torturers and the powers they serve. "This is a fight for Western, Christian civilization," intoned the generals of Argentina's dirty war, echoing the rhetoric of a whole line of crusades, dictatorships and dirty wars going back to the Inquisition. "We believe in a country where the love of liberty and personal initiative will be ... great ... [We fight] for love of life, for respect of those who have fallen and will fall," declared the grand orator of the Argentine junta, Adm. Emilio Massera (later convicted of numerous crimes against humanity and to this day under house arrest).
The rhetoric comes terribly close to what we hear from high authorities in our own country today, from officials who have defended the use of torture in their own mismanaged crusade for democracy. Gonzales in his memo asserts (as though it weren't an old, long-disproved chestnut): "The nature of the new war places a high premium on ... the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists ... in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians." Yet reliable information is rarely gotten through torture: Prisoners die, pass out, become incoherent or are simply too traumatized to talk. My own research, and that of other experts, documents that the vast majority of those subjected to torture know nothing of any military value. The idea that a terrorist attack can be thwarted in the nick of time in the torture chamber is more a daydream of perverse "heroism" than sound military or intelligence policy.
Torture does not make us safer or more secure. (We need only read the headlines.) Torture defiles the perpetrators. (Look again at the photos of our criminal young soldiers at Abu Ghraib.) Regimes that torture send out the message that a penchant for brutality is a valuable skill set, a ticket for advancement.
Alberto Gonzales has paved the way of his own advancement with memos that are intellectually slovenly, that impute definitive powers to the executive, and whose attempts at shirking the basic moral precepts of international humanitarian law are not very skillful. If he is confirmed as attorney general, our nation will be shamed, shunned and endangered."


What Democrats Need To Do

From the "Daily Kos" blog, January 2:
The problem wasn't our message on values - the problem was our failure to properly label the GOP as extremists.  What happened was the GOP drove a high turnout of their values voters without paying any price whatsoever with socially moderate voters (because of the terrorism/security issues). The differences were blurred by us, instead of highlighted. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, said that Democrats, despite their best efforts, had been outgunned on voter turnout by Republicans and that they didn't push back hard enough against what she described as false attacks. "I don't subscribe to any of these notions that we have to examine our conscience as to who we are," Ms. Pelosi said. "We know who we are. We know what we stand for. We'll make it clearer in the non-presidential election year what the differences are between the Democrats and the Republicans."

Beware the Democratic "Centrists"

David Sirota, of the Center for American Progress, criticizes the corporate-sponsored Democratic Leadership Council for claiming, despite wins by economic populists in red states like Colorado and Montana this year, that progressive policies are hurting the Democratic Party.
According to Sirota, the DLC is funded by huge contributions from the likes of Philip Morris, Texaco, Enron, and Merck and tends to push a corporate agenda "under the guise of centrism while allowing the DLC to parrot GOP criticism of populist Democrats as far-left extremists...Worse, the mainstream media follow suit, characterizing progressive positions on everything from trade to healthcare to taxes as ultra-liberal."    
Sirota asks: Is this really true? Is a corporate agenda really "centrism"? He argues that, despite overwhelming evidence that large numbers of Americans support universal health care, fuel emission standards, drug imports from Canada, and other progressive economic policies, "DLC Democrats apparently have not gotten the message that their current definition of centrism is actually pulling the party further and further out of the mainstream. Instead, insiders are doing their best ostrich imitation: putting their heads in the sand, pretending nothing is wrong and continuing down the same path that sells out America's working class - the demographic that used to be the party's base."
He explains that the DLC has issued a "heartland strategy," telling Democrats to "jettison economic populism, which has been used to elect Democrats in various red regions in America...The strategy conveniently avoids the issues that might make the DLC's corporate backers uncomfortable...Instead of engaging in grassroots funding efforts, it is openly relying on corporate contributions...hijacking centrism to sell out America's middle and working classes."

The Wretched Excess of the Bush Inauguration

According to Jim Thompson, editorial page editor of the Athens Banner-Herald, there will be plenty of pomp and pageantry associated with the Bush inauguration, "a $40 million exercise in wretched excess that seems oddly inappropriate at a time when American soldiers continue to die in a war the Bush administration clearly expected would be over by now."
The $40 million will come from private donors and ticket sales. More than a dozen corporations or individuals have forked over $250,000 to help fund the inaugural events, including Exxon Mobil, Occidental Petroleum, Chevron Texaco, former Enron president Richard Kinder, and the Georgia-based Southern Co. Nearly a dozen others have contributed $100,000.
Thompson makes a great suggestion: "If Bush really wants his inaugural to focus on this country's soldiers, maybe he ought to go where they are. Maybe he ought to load his family into an unarmored Humvee for the 10-mile trip from Baghdad International Airport to the city. Maybe he ought to take the oath of office in a field hospital, surrounded by the blood and death that are the stark reality of the war."
And he concludes: "Mr. President, just as strapping into a flight suit doesn't necessarily make you a fighter pilot, an inauguration - no matter how many flags wave or how many marching bands play - doesn't necessarily make you a leader."