(updated below - Update II)
(1) Matt Stoller details what increasingly appears to be the eagerness of the Democratic Congress to grant retroactive immunity to the telecom companies for having violated our country's eavesdropping laws in enabling the President to spy on the conversations of their customers without warrants. As I've noted several times, there are few things which Congress could do to further advance the Bush administration's evisceration of the rule of law in general -- and specifically to protect Bush officials from accountability for violating eavesdropping laws -- than enact a law providing this amnesty for past lawbreaking.
Yet as Stoller documents -- based on his conversations with Caroline Fredrickson from the ACLU -- several key Democrats in Congress are actively working to ensure that this happens. Stoller notes that "The Senate Judiciary Committee is hamstrung by Dianne Feinstein, who prevents a majority . . . ." On issues of intelligence, judiciary and oversight, Feinstein really has become the new Joe Lieberman, repeatedly siding with the right-wing of the Republican caucus on key issues and thus actively enabling the worst abuses of the Bush administration.
Meanwhile, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller "is working [in secret] with Kit Bond to draft something that can get to 60 votes" in order to ensure that they pass "something," even if that "something" is atrocious. At The Huffington Post, Art Levine echoes these reports and adds:
A grim sign is the way the ACLU, normally an ally of progressive Democrats, is being kept in the dark by the Democratic leadership about their plans to "compromise" with the administration, and copies of proposed bills are being kept hidden, at this point, from progressive advocacy groups -- so we will all have too little time to react and demand constitutional protection. It's the same recipe for constitutional disaster I described last month in The American Prospect in "Behind the Fisa Flop."
Stoller notes that the ACLU's Fredrickson is going to be blogging at Open Left over the next few days with some specific proposals for generating pressure to stop this legislation. This ought to be the type of abuse which bloggers, civil liberties groups, and even conservative and libertarian organizations devoted to the rule of law ought to be able to stop. It is a focused and narrow bill that has absolutely no justification and is nothing more than a lawless gift to the telecom industry and the Bush administration.
If pressure cannot be brought to bear to stop Democrats from enacting extremist, Bush-enabling special interest measures like this, what reasonable argument can be made to support the view that it has been even marginally better that Democrats control Congress? As I noted the other day, retroactive immunity is something the Bush White House tried but failed to obtain in October, when the Republicans -- under Bill Frist and Denny Hastert -- controlled the Congress.
(2) There has been an intense competition over the last several days in the world of punditry to determine who could issue the most extreme denunciations of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Even for those opposed to military conflict with Iran, there seems to be a solemn obligation to affirm that whatever else is true, the U.S. is in the Right and on the side of Good; Iran is Evil and purely in the Wrong; and that Iran's grievances against the U.S. are grounded in pure fiction, fantasy, and completely unhinged anti-American animus.
For that reason, it was actually refreshing to see the quite rational and fact-based discussion of U.S.-Iranian relations between Chris Matthews and Pat Buchanan on MSNBC Monday night, after Ahmadinejad's speech. The entire discussion is worth reading, but what was most notable about it was their recognition of indisputable facts which undermine the predominant American media narrative of the Evil, Hitlerian Iranian regime hating the angelic, freedom-loving, innocent, victimized United States (why do they hate us??):
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about a couple things. I thought -- you know, I'm not going to give him credit for anything big time, but he did score some interesting points. He said the United States backed Iraq in the war, the bloody horrible war with Iran that killed a lot of Iranians. That‘s going to help him back home, sticking it to us for backing Saddam all those years.
BUCHANAN: Right. . . .
BUCHANAN: Chris, to your point, he said two things. The Western nations invented chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The Americans used them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and they were used on our people in the war against Iraq, where you all supported Iraq against Iran. Now, all those are statements of fact, and they‘re very, very persuasive in the Arab and Islamic world in making his case.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, gentlemen, about human nature. It seems to me that the whole third world case against the first world is that we have humiliated that part of the world, manipulated their governments, used the CIA to put people like the Shah -- by the way, the Shah's not from royal blood or anything. They just created that throne for him. The CIA put him in there against the democratically elected prime minister. We have exploited that country for its cheap oil. We've taken advantage of that country. And now we say we want justice.
Is there not an Iranian case against the United States and the West, Mr. Weprin, or do you say they're dead wrong, the country's just wrong and we‘re right? . . . .
MATTHEWS: We took over their country, though, didn't we? Didn't we put the shah in power? Wasn‘t it Kermit Roosevelt and the CIA that put him in power?
BUCHANAN: No, it was Eisenhower. It was...
MATTHEWS: Yes. Eisenhower. It was under Kermit Roosevelt.
BUCHANAN: Yes. Yes, Chris, you‘re...
MATTHEWS: We did that.
BUCHANAN: Look, there's an Iranian case against the West and an American case against Iran. That's why we ought to sit down and put it all on both sides of the table. And I think we do have things where we disagree profoundly, but we have issues on which we agree. We both -- neither of us wants the Taliban back. Neither of us wants the Sunni Ba'athist dictatorship back. Neither of us wants an all-out war. Those are common interests.
There really is this child-like need in American mainstream political discourse constantly to believe that we are fault-free and that when there is hostility directed at us from other parts of the world, it is always baffling and unjustified and crazy and malicious. And the accompanying cartoon-like belief is that anyone who has hostility towards the U.S. is some demented, crazed, Hitler-like monster.
It really ought not be that difficult to understand that a country which rules the world by military force; invades, bombs and occupies other countries far more than anyone else; overthrows other countries' governments -- including their democratically elected ones -- and openly debates what other governments it should change; and issues endless lectures to the world about the evils of tyranny and nuclear weapons while constantly violating those sermons (and encouraging our allies to do so) with actions, is going to trigger rather intense and substantial hostility around the world, particularly in those regions where we are doing the invading, bombing, occupying and controlling. As George Washington explained quite clearly a couple hundred years ago, that is precisely why it is so ill-advised to engage in that behavior.
The idea that we are the source of all Good in the world and that all anti-American anger is irrational is just the opposite side of the same Manichean coin that holds that the U.S. is the principal source of evil in the world. But while the latter form of irrational moralism is relegated to the fringes (at least in American politics), the former predominates in virtually all political discussions. On an individual level, most people have little difficulty understanding that a refusal to recognize one's own faults is one of the most self-destructive attributes a person can possess. But when it comes to the U.S. collectively, recognizing America's faults -- the actions we take to trigger anti-American animus -- is virtually prohibited.
(3) Right-wing warriors who crave war with Iran have suddenly developed an extremely profound and sincere concern for gay Iranians and their rights. They, along with American media stars, are showing how extremely enlightened they are by mocking Ahmadinejad's statements about gay people in Iran.
It seems that everyone -- and especially gay people in the U.S. -- now have the duty to stand up and condemn Iran for its treatment of gay people. What a moving and spontaneous outburst of concern for gay rights this is -- a concern for human rights unmatched since the equally sincere crusading for Iraqi women's rights in the run-up to the invasion of that country.
The Wall St. Journal's James Taranto yesterday -- a long-time crusader for gay equality, of course, just like his paper's Editorial Board -- noted Ahmadinejad's comments about homosexuals in Iran and then very cleverly observed: "That last comment is especially delightful in light of the prespeech pro-Ahmadinejad commentary from the likes of [lesbian Daily Kos commenter] Sally Kohn and Glenn Greenwald" (among America's warrior class, opposition to war with Iran makes you "pro-Ahmadinejad" in the way that opposition to the invasion of Iraq rendered one "pro-Saddam").
Identically, Glenn Reynolds yesterday linked to this post which duly noted my failure to fulfill my duty to condemn Iran's treatment of gay people, and -- so scathingly and hurtfully -- displayed a photosopped image of me sitting next to my comrade, President Ahmadinejad, about which Reynolds said: "I still like the Glenn Greenwald photoshop."
Is there anything more transparent or absurd than our cheerleading warriors pretending to be concerned about gay Iranians? Mysteriously, they are silent about gays in Uganda, where homosexuality is a crime punishable with imprisonment, and silent about Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe has called homosexuals "worse than dogs and pigs" and routinely imprisons them. Gay Africans are widely oppressed -- including arrests, beatings and governmental attacks -- in numerous sub-Saharan countries, and our brave warrior class says nothing.
Gays in many other Muslim countries, including U.S. allies such as Egypt and the UAE, are treated brutally and oppressively. In Iraq, the country we Liberated, the government we support is involved in numerous violent attacks on gay Iraqis, and our ally, Shiite Ayatollah Ali Sistani, issued a fatwa "forbidding homosexuality and declaring that gays and lesbians should be 'punished, in fact, killed.'"
And in countries too numerous to count, including nations such as Jamaica right here in the U.S. sphere of interest, gay people are forced to remain invisible lest they be the subject of arrest and violent attack. Yet somehow, our bloodthirsty tough guys/new-gay-rights-crusaders could not be any less interested in the plight of gay people in these countries, where they have no interest (currently) in sending their fellow citizens to wage war for them.
And all of this is to say nothing of the measures their own political party supports right here in the freedom-loving U.S. While no rational person would compare the life of gay people in America to gays in Iran and many other nations, the fact is that the U.S. continues to have some of the most reprobate and oppressive anti-gay laws in the Western World, laws supported by the political faction pretending now to be so deeply concerned about the plight of gay Iranians.
In particular, the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits any recognition of gay relationships for immigration purposes, thus forcing many American citizens either to live outside of their own country to be with their partner or live in separation from the person with whom they want to spend their lives. Not only European countries, but numerous developing countries, now recognize gay relationships for immigration purposes (.pdf) because they refuse to place their gay citizens in that wrenching predicament.
Even more reprehensibly, the U.S. remains one of the only Western countries to ban anyone with HIV from immigrating to this country. Efforts to repeal both laws have been repeatedly blocked by the political party to which our warrior/gay-rights-crusaders pledge their allegiance. And that same political party happily continued its alliance with the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson even after they both blamed the 9/11 attacks on gay rights. And as Juan Cole documents, as we all scoff at the primitive ignorance of Ahmadinejad, we tolerate quite similar sentiments among some of our most respected political figures.
Our warrior tough guys are so desperate for more war, for greater feelings of vicarious strength from sending other people off to fight, that they will say and do anything to justify those wars. They'll even parade around as gay rights crusaders if that is what it takes.
UPDATE: Here is the formal position of the Texas Republican Party (.pdf) -- the party of George Bush and Tom DeLay and Rick Perry -- in 2006 regarding homosexuals in their state:
They believe that homosexuality should be a crime -- that gay people should go to prison for having sex with their partners. They "demand" that Congress block the courts from ruling that the U.S. Constitution protects gay people from being imprisoned for the crime of homosexuality. And they believe that gay people should be denied custody of children, presumably even their own children, strictly for being gay.
Let's talk more now in the most self-satisfied tone about how primitive and oppressive Ahmadinejad is and how the same people who wrote the Texas GOP platform are going to invade and bomb Iran and save gay Iranians and protect their rights.
UPDATE II: The Democrats are finally starting to get things done with the control they were given over both houses of Congress. For instance, the House today followed in the footsteps of the Senate in voting for a resolution condemning MoveOn.org, by a vote of 341-79. The roll call is here. The vote among House Democrats: 146-79 in favor. All 195 Republicans voted in favor of it.
Additionally, though I don't have all the details on the language in the final bill, the Senate voted overwhelmingly for the Lieberman-Kyl Amendment, designed to depict Iran as a terrorist state and our Enemy. It is unclear whether the most egregious and war-justifying provisions were removed, but Senator Webb, who was the leading Democratic Senator warning of its dangers, voted against it. Hillary Clinton voted for it (
I'm uncertain if Obama and Dodd were not present or if they voted for it, too).
These Senators -- along with 2 other unknown ones on the list -- opposed the Amendment:
Bingaman, Brown, Feingold, Hagel, Kennedy, Leahy, McCaskill, Sanders, Webb, Byrd, Biden, Lugar, Dodd, Boxer, Harkin, Tester, Inouye, Lincoln, Cantwell, Klobuchar, Wyden, Kerry.
Obama missed the vote, but the increasingly impressive Chris Dodd voted against it and said:
I cannot support the Kyl-Lieberman amendment on Iran. To do so could give this President a green light to act recklessly and endanger US national security. We learned in the run up to the Iraq war that seemingly nonbinding language passed by this Senate can have profound consequences. We need the president to use robust diplomacy to address concerns with Iran, not the language in this amendment that the president can point to if he decides to draw this country into another disastrous war of choice. We shouldn't repeat our mistakes and enable this President again.
The fully marked-up amendment (.pdf) is here. From what I understand, paragraphs 3 and 4 of the original bill (.pdf) -- two of the most dangerous -- were deleted before the vote, but paragraph 5 remained.