The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, May 27, 2005

Erica Jong - President Bush and the Blastocyst

Erica Jong
President Bush and the Blastocyst

Bush is the reality show President. Not only is he kissing babies, he's symbolically kissing blastocysts. He put on an amazing show on Tuesday surrounded by adorable infants and children who were adopted as embryos thanks to The Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption Program of The Nightlight Christian Adoption Agency. Who can doubt that encouraging infertile couples adopt embryos is a good thing? This is a no brainer (even if you're not Christian). But until Bush and Laura themselves adopt all the embryos that might otherwise be doomed to waste their sweetness on the desert air, his blastocyst reality show will be show and tell and nothing more.

If every three-day-old embryo has the legal protection of a human life, how far are we from the time that sperm and egg cells are also protected as incipient human lives? Philip Roth had a spoof on this three decades ago when he imagined the Christian Right outlawing male masturbation on the grounds that it was anti-life. At the time it seemed like slapstick comedy, now we are catching up with Roth's wildest fantasies.

Nature is full of waste. Of all the fertilized blastocysts created for in vitro fertilization only a few actually implant. One female proponent of (Christian) blastocyst adoption, Kate Johnson, had eleven blastocysts implanted before one lived. Do the other ten (which failed to thrive) represent human lives? What about all the eggs flushed away by menstruation in a woman's life? We ovulate many more times than we get pregnant. Any woman who is sensitive to her own cycles knows that each twinge in her lower belly (mittleschermz, the OB-GYNs call it), represents an incipient human life. But that egg may be damaged and never implant or it may never be fertilized, or if fertilized it may die for reasons unknown. Miscarriage is common. Pregnancy is precious and makes one feel like a goddess (unless one throws up for nine months as my daughter did), but it would be nightmarish to have to take care of every blastocyst a woman may create in three decades of fertility. Even women who have six children--like one of my sisters--eventually reach a point where they have more children than they can care for psychologically and financially. While I can empathize with earth mothers and fathers who want to have as many children as possible, even such couples cannot use every blastocyst they create.

The political agenda here is obvious. By exalting the blastocyst, we are diminishing the rights of the mother. Give us a break, George. Your wife had one pregnancy and two daughters. How many blastocysts will you adopt to show you care?

Rep. John Conyers - Wither "A Current Affair" and "Inside Edition?"

Rep. John Conyers
Wither "A Current Affair" and "Inside Edition?"

Just a few years ago, you had to wait until that one brief half hour before prime time to get a much needed dose of celebrity journalism and bizarre "human interest" stories. "A Current Affair" and "Inside Edition" had cornered the market on celebrity news, high profile trials, and stories about people whose marriages had gone wrong. Every once in a while they hit a trifecta -- a high profile trial involving a celebrity whose marriage had gone wrong.

Those programs no longer can lay sole claim to that journalistic niche. The findings of a Congressional Research Service analysis I requested indicate that high profile competitors have emerged, and they are not just on for a half an hour, they are on 24 hours a day. Perhaps you have heard of them: they are called CNN, MSNBC and the Fox News Network.

On the last day of April, a Saturday morning, I awoke to alarming cable news. It seems that Jennifer Wilbanks, a Georgia woman, had disappeared on the eve of her wedding. According to the pundits on the cable news channel, she was very likely a victim of foul play. Maybe, they wondered, it was her fiance. It was on CNN, Fox and MSNBC. It must have been terribly important.

In the meantime, a story was breaking in Great Britain. A top secret British memo had been leaked to the Sunday London Times. The memo, comprising the minutes of a July 2002 meeting between Prime Minister Tony Blair and top government officials, in which they described recent conversations with their counterparts in the United States.

At the time, President Bush was telling the Congress and the American people that he was "willing to look at all options" and that military action was not "unavoidable." He was singing a different tune to our friends across the Atlantic, though. According to the minutes of the Blair meeting, "Bush had made up his mind to take military action" by the summer of 2002.

What about the botched intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction? For the past year and half, allegations have persisted that the Bush Administration pressured intelligence analysts to reach foreordained conclusions and massaged raw data to make the case for war. Here, the memo speaks loudly. According to the British Government, with respect to the American government's efforts to justify the war "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

Didn't know about that?

Here's why: according to a Congressional Research Service analysis(pdf), you would not have seen it on the cable news networks. Because these two stories "broke" within a day of each other, I asked CRS to analyze how often each was covered during prime time in a three day period soon thereafter. The Jennifer Wilbanks, "Runaway Bride," story was covered eleven times, eight as the lead story. The story about the classified British minutes was not mentioned once. Since then, the minutes have garnered only brief mentions.

Other stories the analysis found to be of great national import: the Michael Jackson trial with fourteen stories; the Scott Peterson case, (nineteen stories); and Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl(fifteen times).

Back to Jennifer Wilbanks. In case you hadn't heard, she turned up and was just fine, except for a case of "cold feet."

In the meantime, since the story of the British government's meeting broke, at least 64 of our troops have died in Iraq. In all, we have lost over one thousand, six hundred and fifty of our fellow citizens, along with tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

The minutes of the British meeting appear to indicate that Congress, which has the sole power to declare war, was deliberately misled in the exercise of that power by this Administration. I do not know what could be more serious.

I turned on cable news yesterday and found out that Ms. Wilbanks had been charged with making a false statement. Also, Michael Jackson's defense rested its case.

Still no word about the British minutes.

Debra Pickett - Freedom's just another word for dodging tough questions

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Freedom's just another word for dodging tough questions

May 27, 2005


The news from Washington is like a bad Broadway show, the kind that promises to make you laugh and cry and be better than "Cats."

The comedy came first. On Monday, President Bush stood beside Afghan President Hamid Karzai for a "Joint Press Availability."

Asked if the Iraqi insurgency was getting more difficult to defeat militarily, Bush answered with a classic Dubya-ism.

"No, I don't think so," he said, "I think they're being defeated. And that's why they continue to fight."

It's the sort of answer that makes you pause and scratch your head for just long enough to give him a chance to change the subject. He's quite masterful at doing this, which made me wonder if he hadn't taken Karzai aside before the press conference and whispered in his ear, "Listen, Hammie, these reporters are tricky. You better let me handle 'em. I've got 'em wrapped around my finger with this whole newspeak war-is-peace idea Karl found in some book from the 1980s."

But Bush's Orwellian logic -- good for only a cynical chuckle -- was definitely not the comic high point of the afternoon. Instead, for sheer free press-thwarting brilliance, Karzai easily won the day.

After the two men made some opening remarks, talking about the glories of bringing democracy to Afghanistan, Bush announced, "And in the spirit of the free press, we'll answer a couple of questions."

Afghanistan's 'free' press

The first question dealt with the military's treatment of Afghan prisoners of war. It was full of facts and details and built-in follow-ups, so you could tell the reporter asking it would probably never get called on again. And, after this rocky start, Bush decided to let the American reporters cool their heels for a while.

"Somebody from the Afghan press?" he asked next.

There was an awkward silence, which Karzai gamely tried to fill in by asking, "Anybody from the Afghan press? Do we have an Afghan press?"

Then he spotted the single reporter his government had permitted to travel outside Afghanistan.

"Oh, here he is," Karzai said, as the room filled with the not-quite-warm laughter of people who suspect they might actually be the butt of a joke but aren't sure.

It turned out, National Public Radio journalist David Greene reported later, there were nine other Afghan reporters who were to have followed Karzai on his U.S. visit but, at the last minute, the Karzai government decided to withhold their travel permits for fear the journalists might try to escape their troubled homeland.

Bush seemed genuinely surprised that the Afghan reporters weren't there -- American journalists had been asked to fill in their empty seats -- so it seems that Karzai forgot to mention to his good friend that the whole free press thing has a slightly different meaning in the burgeoning democracy that is Afghanistan.

I imagine they had a pretty good laugh about that one.

And I bet Bush was jealous.

Making a grown man cry

Later in the week, the comic first act on Pennsylvania Avenue gave way to a tragic second act on Capital Hill.

Reports are divided as to whether Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) was crying or just fighting back tears as he spoke on the Senate floor on Wednesday. But either way, he was obviously very emotional as he begged his Republican colleagues to reconsider their party line support of John Bolton, the Bush nominee for ambassador to the United Nations.

"I know some of my friends say, 'Let it go, George. It's going to work out,' " Voinovich said. "I don't want to take the risk. I came back here and ran for a second term because I'm worried about my kids and my grandchildren."

It was also clear that Voinovich was worried for his political life. Conservative groups are already running ads against him, and Bush allies have been busily trashing him to anyone who'll listen.

The pressure, Voinovich told one interviewer, has been "overwhelming."

Listening to Voinovich's desperately cracking voice was utterly heartbreaking. And so was this line, written by Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Sabrina Eaton after the close of the senator's speech: "With that, Voinovich returned to his seat and fidgeted with a yellow highlighting pen until he regained his composure."

Anyone who has ever cried at work knows exactly what that moment felt like, trying so hard to fight back tears that it only makes you cry more. It is the loneliest feeling in the world.

'Cats,' at least, was quick

I think we heard the Bush administration in full voice this week, laughing at those who ask questions, wringing tears from those who would dare dissent.

If it were a Broadway show, you could buy a ticket, watch the show and then walk out into the open air. But this is our real life, and there are not even fire exits.

E. J. Dionne Jr. - Assault On the Media

Assault On the Media
"Assault On the Media

By E. J. Dionne Jr.

Friday, May 27, 2005; Page A27

So it turns out that the FBI has documents showing that detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, complained about the mistreatment of the Koran and that many said they were severely beaten.

The documents specifically include an allegation from a prisoner that guards had "flushed a Koran in the toilet."

And yesterday, Pentagon officials said investigators have identified five incidents of "mishandling" the Koran by military guards and investigators. It was the first time Pentagon officials had acknowledged mistreatment of the Muslim holy book, though they insisted that the episodes were minor and occurred in the Guantanamo facility's early days.

What, then, is one to make of the Bush administration's furious assault against Newsweek magazine for bringing allegations about the abuse of the Koran to popular attention?

Let's be clear: Newsweek originally reported that an internal military investigation had "confirmed" infractions alleged in "internal FBI e-mails." The documents made public Wednesday include only an allegation from a prisoner about the flushing of the Koran, and the Pentagon insisted that the same prisoner, reinterviewed on May 14, couldn't corroborate his earlier claim.

But it's also clear, to be charitable, that not all was well in Guantanamo. That's why the administration and its apologists -- more about that word in a moment -- went bonkers over the Newsweek story.

The war on Newsweek shifted attention away from how the Guantanamo prisoners have been treated, how that treatment has affected the battle against terrorism and what American policies should be. Newsweek-bashing also furthered a long-term and so far successful campaign by the administration and the conservative movement to dismiss all negative reports about their side as the product of some entity they call "the liberal media."

At this point, it is customary to offer a disclaimer to the effect that my column runs in The Post, is syndicated by The Washington Post Writers Group and that The Washington Post Co. owns Newsweek. I resisted writing about this subject precisely because I do not want anyone to confuse my own views with Newsweek's or The Post's.

I write about it now because of the new reports and because I fear that too many people in traditional journalism are becoming dangerously defensive in the face of a brilliantly conceived conservative attack on the independent media.

Conservative academics have long attacked "postmodernist" philosophies for questioning whether "truth" exists at all and claiming that what we take as "truths" are merely "narratives" woven around some ideological predisposition. Today's conservative activists have become the new postmodernists. They shift attention away from the truth or falsity of specific facts and allegations -- and move the discussion to the motives of the journalists and media organizations putting them forward. Just a modest number of failures can be used to discredit an entire enterprise.

Of course journalists make mistakes, sometimes stupid ones. Dan Rather should not have used those wacky documents in reporting on President Bush's Air National Guard service. Newsweek has been admirably self-critical about what it sees as its own mistakes on the Guantanamo story. Anonymous sources are overused. Why quote a nameless conservative saying a particular columnist is "an idiot liberal" when many loyal right-wingers could be found to say the same thing even more colorfully on the record? If the current controversies lead to better journalism, three cheers.

But this particular anti-press campaign is not about Journalism 101. It is about Power 101. It is a sophisticated effort to demolish the idea of a press independent of political parties by way of discouraging scrutiny of conservative politicians in power. By using bad documents, Dan Rather helped Bush, not John Kerry, because Rather gave Bush's skilled lieutenants the chance to use the CBS mistake to close off an entire line of inquiry about the president. In the case of Guantanamo, the administration, for a while, cast its actions as less important than Newsweek's.

Back when the press was investigating Bill Clinton, conservatives were eager to believe every negative report about the incumbent. Some even pushed totally false claims, including the loony allegation that Clinton aide Vince Foster was somehow murdered by Clinton's apparatchiks when, in fact, Foster committed suicide. Every journalist who went after Clinton was "courageous." Anyone who opposed his impeachment or questioned even false allegations was "an apologist."

We now know that the conservatives' admiration for a crusading and investigative press carried an expiration date of Jan. 20, 2001.

When the press fails, it should be called on the carpet. But when the press confronts a politically motivated campaign of intimidation, its obligation is to resist -- and to keep reporting."

Just Shut It Down - New York Times

Just Shut It Down


Shut it down. Just shut it down.

I am talking about the war-on-terrorism P.O.W. camp at Guantánamo Bay. Just shut it down and then plow it under. It has become worse than an embarrassment. I am convinced that more Americans are dying and will die if we keep the Gitmo prison open than if we shut it down. So, please, Mr. President, just shut it down.

If you want to appreciate how corrosive Guantánamo has become for America's standing abroad, don't read the Arab press. Don't read the Pakistani press. Don't read the Afghan press. Hop over here to London or go online and just read the British press! See what our closest allies are saying about Gitmo. And when you get done with that, read the Australian press and the Canadian press and the German press.

It is all a variation on the theme of a May 8 article in The Observer of London that begins, "An American soldier has revealed shocking new details of abuse and sexual torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay in the first high-profile whistle-blowing account to emerge from inside the top-secret base." Google the words "Guantánamo Bay and Australia" and what comes up is an Australian ABC radio report that begins: "New claims have emerged that prisoners at Guantánamo Bay are being tortured by their American captors, and the claims say that Australians David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib are among the victims."

Just another day of the world talking about Guantánamo Bay.

Why care? It's not because I am queasy about the war on terrorism. It is because I want to win the war on terrorism. And it is now obvious from reports in my own paper and others that the abuse at Guantánamo and within the whole U.S. military prison system dealing with terrorism is out of control. Tell me, how is it that over 100 detainees have died in U.S. custody so far? Heart attacks? This is not just deeply immoral, it is strategically dangerous.

I can explain it best by analogy. For several years now I have argued that Israel needed to get out of the West Bank and Gaza, and behind a wall, as fast as possible. Not because the Palestinians are right and Israel wrong. It's because Israel today is surrounded by three large trends. The first is a huge population explosion happening all across the Arab world. The second is an explosion of the worst interpersonal violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the history of the conflict, which has only recently been defused by a cease-fire. And the third is an explosion of Arabic language multimedia outlets - from the Internet to Al Jazeera.

What was happening around Israel at the height of the intifada was that the Arab multimedia explosion was taking the images of that intifada explosion and feeding them to the Arab population explosion, melding in the minds of a new generation of Arabs and Muslims that their enemies were J.I.A. - "Jews, Israel and America." That is an enormously toxic trend, and I hope Israel's withdrawal from Gaza will help deprive it of oxygen.

I believe the stories emerging from Guantánamo are having a similar toxic effect on us - inflaming sentiments against the U.S. all over the world and providing recruitment energy on the Internet for those who would do us ill.

Husain Haqqani, a thoughtful Pakistani scholar now teaching at Boston University, remarked to me: "When people like myself say American values must be emulated and America is a bastion of freedom, we get Guantánamo Bay thrown in our faces. When we talk about the America of Jefferson and Hamilton, people back home say to us: 'That is not the America we are dealing with. We are dealing with the America of imprisonment without trial.' "

Guantánamo Bay is becoming the anti-Statue of Liberty. If we have a case to be made against any of the 500 or so inmates still in Guantánamo, then it is high time we put them on trial, convict as many possible (which will not be easy because of bungled interrogations) and then simply let the rest go home or to a third country. Sure, a few may come back to haunt us. But at least they won't be able to take advantage of Guantánamo as an engine of recruitment to enlist thousands more. I would rather have a few more bad guys roaming the world than a whole new generation.

"This is not about being for or against the war," said Michael Posner, the executive director of Human Rights First, which is closely following this issue. "It is about doing it right. If we are going to transform the Middle East, we have to be law-abiding and uphold the values we want them to embrace - otherwise it is not going to work."

Howard Kurtz - Flushing Out The Story

Media Notes Extra
Flushing Out the Story

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 27, 2005; 8:51 AM

So the newly declassified FBI documents showing allegations of U.S. guards abusing the Koran have made a huge splash in the media, right?

Uh, no.

There were only a few mentions of it on television yesterday. The big stories were "American Idol," Paris Hilton's soft-porn burger ad, Jacko, a guy threatening to jump off a bridge, the allegedly wounded Zarqawi, the Bush-Abbas sitdown, Bolton and more filibuster fallout. The Koran ? That was last week's obsession.

In other words, "Magazine Retracts X" is apparently a more compelling story line for TV than "Is X True?"

The New York Times and Washington Post (which owns Newsweek) fronted the new Koran allegations, but that was about it for prominent play.

Now I don't contend that these FBI papers, unearthed in an ACLU lawsuit, get Newsweek off the hook. Newsweek made a bad mistake. But you'd think they would be getting more attention.

Let's parse the wording. Newsweek erred by saying in its ill-fated Periscope item that a forthcoming military investigative report would cite an allegation of the Koran being flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo. That was wrong, and Newsweek's anonymous source backed off.

The FBI documents don't prove that these Koran incidents took place--indeed, it may be impossible to prove one way or the other. The papers simply say that detainees have alleged to FBI interrogators about a dozen instances of defiling the Koran since 2002 (some of which have been written about before). It's possible that the detainees are all making this stuff up. It's also possible that Newsweek's source was onto something, but just confused about which document said what.

In any event, after the pummeling that Newsweek took, this would seem to be moderately important news. But it's not being treated that way, except by a few newspapers. And most of the crowing takes place among left-wing and moderate bloggers.

The latest, from the New York Times: "An American military inquiry has uncovered five instances in which guards or interrogators at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility in Cuba mishandled the Koran, but found 'no credible evidence' to substantiate claims that it was ever flushed down a toilet, the chief of the investigation said on Thursday.

"All but one of the five incidents appear to have taken place before January 2003. In three cases, the mishandling of the Koran appears to have been deliberate, and in two it was accidental or unintentional, the commander said, adding that four cases involved guards, and one an interrogator. Two service members have been punished for their conduct, one recently."

The Nation's Ari Berman gets right to the point: "No sooner does Newsweek retract its Koran desecration story then a flurry of news reports attest to just what Newsweek seemed to be reporting."

Marc Perkel writes under the headline "Newsweek was right after all":

"As it turns out and FBI memo has revealed that American jailers at Guantanamo Bay actually did flush the Koran down the toilet. This was on top of International Amnesty's report calling Guantanamo the 'gulag of our time' comparing it to communist prisons. Makes me wonder if all those corporate media apologists are going to apologize to Newsweek for being right all along?

"Have you noticed that the corporate news media is barely mentioning it?"

But isn't Newsweek, which kicked up the fuss, part of the corporate media as well?

Andrew Sullivan says the Koran stories are all too easy to believe in light of other documented abuses:

"SURPRISE! FBI documents provide countless claims by inmates that desecration or abuse of the Koran was deployed as an interrogation technique at Guantanamo. For good measure, we even have a toilet story. At this point: Did you really believe otherwise? Yes, these reports are from inmates; and, yes, those inmates are obviously biased, even trained to lie. But the sheer scope and scale of the protests, the credible accounts of hunger-strikes in Afghanistan and Gitmo, and the reference, cited below, of interrogators conceding that they too had heard of such techniques, seems to me to resolve the question.

"The U.S. has deliberately and consciously had a policy of using religious faith as a lever in interrogation of terror suspects. Is this 'torture'? It is certainly part of psychological abuse. It is also beyond stupid. Do you really think that throwing the Koran around is likely to prompt an Islamist fanatic to tell you what he knows? Did anyone ask what the broader consequences might be of such techniques - in polarizing Muslim opinion against the U.S., in providing every left-wing hack rhetorical weapons against the United States, in handing the Islamists a propaganda victory that makes all our effort to spread democracy in that region that much harder?

"Still, we can be grateful for Scott McClellan for one thing: he dared the press to provide substantiation for the Newsweek claim. We've now got it. Will administration defenders finally concede we have a problem?"

But Penraker questions why the detainees would be making these allegations:

"That's what their manual tells them to do. They've been trained to spout the most incendiary accusations possible on release from prison. These were people who were willing to kill hundreds or thousands of people at the drop of a hat, or to hack the head off a living innocent - are we supposed to believe everything they say?

"The [New York] Times seems to. . . . This is all talk. This is terrible journalism. Shout the allegation to the rooftops, mumble the truth under your breath. Front page treatment for each and every allegation.

"The Times, by magnifying each incident out of proportion, by not supplying necessary information (by alerting its readers to the instructions in the manual) may be guilty of getting numerous prisoners in other countries tortured or killed."

Terrible journalism? We shouldn't report what FBI documents say because the detainees might be lying? The Times says in the third paragraph that these are "accounts of unsubstantiated accusations."

We Move to Canada (that ought to provide a hint of their outlook) says "These days, whenever I make brief forays into mainstream media, or when it jumps out at me and I can't avoid it, I see or hear the phrase 'now-retracted Newsweek story,' or 'a story in Newsweek, which has since been retracted'. That's the party line: the story was false, Newsweek retracted it. Even though the story was true, Newsweek wasn't the first to report it by any means, and the retraction was coerced."

Under pressure, sure. But coerced? Did the White House threaten to flush all its copies of Newsweek down the toilet?

Balloon Juice decries "the silly mentality of those attacking the media because Isikoff . . . was right about the allegations but wrong about the exact source, who lied to them. Then, that is used as a bludgeon to in effect attempt to censor the media in what really is just another saga in the age old battle of the right versus the media. It is enough to make a man insane."

Joe Boughner at Megalomedia points the finger at Rummy:

"We're waiting for your apology, Mr. Rumsfeld. So. The FBI has reports dating back to 2002 of allegations of desecration of the Koran by U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay. They were just declassified. Now, who remembers when the Pentagon said there were 'no credible and specific allegations' of Koran desecration? I do! I do!"

On the filibuster front, OpinionJournal's Peggy Noonan accuses the Gang of 14 of "sheer, exuberant egotism":

"John McCain wryly reminded us not to miss A&E's biography of his heroic Vietnam experience. Joe Lieberman referred to the group as 'this band of brothers, and sisters.' But my favorite was Lindsey Graham, who said, 'I know there will be folks "back home" who will be angry, but that's only because they're not as sophisticated and high-minded as I am. Actually they're rather stupid, which is why they're not in the Senate and I am. But I have 3 1/2 years to charm them out of their narrow-minded resentments, and watch me, baby.'

"Oh, excuse me, that's not what he said. That's only what he meant. It was the invisible scroll as he spoke. The CNN identifier that popped up beneath his head as he chattered, however, did say, 'Conceited Nitwit Who Affects "Back Home" Accent to Confuse the Boobs.'

"Oh wait, that's not what it said. It said, 'R-South Carolina.' My bad.

"Actually, what Mr. Graham said was, 'People at home are gonna be mad at me for a while.' He said he decided to support the deal because 'kids are dyin' ' in Iraq, 'Social Security is comin' up,' and 'this is a lot bigger than me.' If only he knew that is true."

The New Republic rips the filibuster deal as smoke and mirrors:

"This compromise was a classic case of moderate deal-making in Washington--and we don't mean that as a compliment. Congressional moderates are forever celebrated for 'bucking their parties' and 'standing on principle,' regardless of what they actually accomplish (or what principle they stand on). In recent years, their pathetic 'victories' include trimming the first Bush tax cut from an insane $1.6 trillion to a merely outlandish $1.3 trillion; forcing an extremely modest reduction of Medicaid cuts in this year's budget; and, as Noam Scheiber pointed out last week, lamenting John Bolton's nomination as U.N. ambassador without actually blocking it.

"All these episodes were treated as triumphal achievements, and so was this week's defusing of the nuclear option. A typical story in The Washington Post declared it 'an extraordinary moment' for the moderates, who 'have demonstrated that there is an alternative to the partisan polarization that has been so much in favor in both parties.' A Post editorial proclaimed the deal 'a great achievement,' saying the 14 Senate deal-makers 'managed to put principle above self-protection.'

"Really? We fail to see how that's true. Compromise itself, after all, is not a principle. And the chief principle at stake--that every extremist should not be elevated to the federal bench--has been trammeled. Nor has the life of the filibuster (itself not a principle either, just a procedural tool) been guaranteed. Signatories merely agreed to filibuster future nominations only in 'extraordinary circumstances.' Everything depends on the interpretation of this absurdly fuzzy clause--a matter upon which Republicans and Democrats will most certainly differ. Which means what the moderates have come up with is not a resolution so much as a postponement."

Would this be a pseudo-filibuster:

"Senate Democrats today delayed a vote on John R. Bolton's hotly contested nomination as U.N. ambassador, as an attempt to override their stalling fell short," says the Los Angeles Times.

"With Republicans needing 60 votes to end the debate, the vote was 56 to 42. . . .

"In an allegation against Bolton made Wednesday, the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said that Bolton might have mishandled U.S. intelligence material."

I knew that DeLay had his share of critics, but I never imagined he'd be at war with TV detectives, as the New York Post reports:

"House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has fired off an angry letter to NBC, saying a character on Wednesday's 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent' 'slurred' him.

"In the episode, Detectives Goren and Eames were investigating a right-wing group's connection to the murder of an appellate judge.

"'Maybe we should put out an APB [all-points bulletin] for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt,' said Eames.

"In his letter to NBC entertainment chief Jeff Zucker, DeLay wrote, 'This manipulation of my name and trivialization of the sensitive issue of judicial security represents a reckless disregard for the suffering initiated by recent tragedies and a great disservice to public discourse.'

"'Law & Order' creator/executive producer Dick Wolf fired back, 'Up until today, it was my impression that all of our viewers understood that these shows are works of fiction . . . but I do congratulate Congressman DeLay for switching the spotlight from his own problems to an episode of a TV show.'"

Those godless Hollywood heathens will stop at nothing!

I haven't blogged on the House passing the stem-cell bill--Is Bush really going to use his first veto against that popular measure?--but

Walter Shapiro has some thoughts, starting with the president posing with babies:

"As warm and cuddly as these adoption stories may be, nobody is claiming that the countless embryos in the freezers of fertility clinics will somehow all produce new Tanners and Noelles to gambol at a White House photo-op in some future conservative administration. The stem-cell issue does not present a zero-sum choice between childbirth and research. Unless Bush wants to demand that all residents of China and Korea start adopting American embryos, there inevitably will be a huge mismatch between the number of available frozen cells and would-be parents.

"With more than 18 months to go in the congressional session, it will be near-impossible for Bill Frist to block Senate passage of stem-cell legislation until the 2006 election. Congressional approval will confront Bush with one of the most far-reaching political decisions of his second term. Does he wield the veto pen? Presumably, Bush would stand firm on what Tuesday he called 'the grave moral issues at stake.' That stance is perhaps comforting if you are a frozen embryo, but it offers fewer tangible benefits to those who happen to be living. And as Richard Nixon might point out from the Other Side, the living tend to be the most active voters, even after factoring in the political traditions of Chicago.

"The House vote illustrated the growing fissures in the Republican coalition between anti-tax libertarians and religiously motivated conservatives. Now that the Bush tax cuts are virtually permanent, free-market zealots may begin to wonder what they continue to gain from their oddball alliance with politicized evangelicals. . . . As for Bush himself, his legacy may be to have presided over the transformation of the GOP from the party of the War on Cancer to the party of the War on Medical Research."

Columbia Journalism Review weighs in on survey findings that are "flying directly in the face of conventional wisdom. Mainstream journalists exert much energy and angst -- not to mention gnashing of teeth, rending of garments and wringing of hands -- trying to keep their copy both resolutely non-partisan on the one hand, while nonetheless exposing charlatans, fakes, knaves and churls wherever they find them on the other. It's a balancing act that has given more than one editor ulcers.

"Turns out maybe they should loosen up a little.

"The Annenberg poll found that the public is far more sympathetic to the idea of a partisan press than journalists are. Whereas only 16 percent of the journalists polled said it was 'a good thing if some news organizations have a decidedly political point of view in their coverage of the news,' 43 percent of the public thought it sounded like a swell idea.

"Among the journalists, 80 percent thought a partisan press was a 'bad thing,' but only 53 percent of the public thought so."

So much for the idea that news consumers want a no-spin zone.

BTW, I'm off for a few days. You media critics are on your own."