Best quote of the day, from GOP strategist Ed Rollins on why the Republicans lag nearly $100 million behind Democrats in presidential fundraising:

"The Democrats, they're out there, they're hungry. We just got fat, dumb, and happy."

Turning Tutu Away

What issue could possibly cause a university to disinvite Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the ever-grinning South African human rights crusader, from giving a talk on peace and nonviolence? As Scott Jaschik at InsideHigherEd reports, an Israeli/Palestinian issue did. The University of St. Thomas in Minnesota rescinded an April speaking invitation to the Nobel Peace Prize winner because criticisms he made of Israeli policies were judged to be "hurtful" to some Jewish people. Tutu's main crime was uttering the name Hitler during a 2002 speech in Boston about Israel's occupation of the West Bank. But while the Zionist Organization of America criticized Tutu for his "vicious libel that Israel is comparable to Hitler," Jaschik points out that interpretation is a stretch.

Tutu references Hitler in a part of the speech, delivered to the Palestinian ecumenical group Sabeel, where he encourages the audience to challenge the U.S. "Jewish lobby" and reminds them that radical change is possible:

"People are scared in this country [U.S.], to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful. Well, so what? ... The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end, they bit the dust."

Tutu's use of the phrase "Jewish lobby" is regrettable, mainly because the pro-Israel lobby he is referring to is not made up exclusively of Jews (remember Texas preacher John Hagee's Christians United for Israel?). But one minor slip five years ago is hardly grounds for blacklisting him. It's also worth noting these dialogue-squashing disinvitations aren't the province of one particular group or ideology. Witness the University of California's recent stay away order to former Harvard president Larry Summers.

—Justin Elliott

It looks like military sources on the scene of the Nisoor Square massacre support the horrifying descriptions put forward by the Iraqi government and by the New York Times. (That Times article is a must-read, by the way.)

"It was obviously excessive, it was obviously wrong," said the U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the incident remains the subject of several investigations. "The civilians that were fired upon, they didn't have any weapons to fire back at them. And none of the IP or any of the local security forces fired back at them," he added, using a military abbreviation for the Iraqi police. The Blackwater guards appeared to have fired grenade launchers in addition to machine guns, the official said.

Of course, none of this stopped the Pentagon from handing Blackwater another contract. But it may lead to the beginnings of oversight.

Chaos in the Alabama State Senate! After Democratic State Sen. Lowell Barron of Fyffe called State Sen. Charles Bishop of Jasper a "son of a bitch," Bishop responded by punching Barron in the face. Watch the video!

And just to double the funny, the Calhoun County GOP actually gave Bishop — the puncher, not the punched — a trophy of a boxer. He deserved the honor, said the local party, because of the extent to which Bishop went in the "defending of womankind."

Update: I'm going to use this as an opportunity to post one of my favorite videos from YouTube. It's two politicians from the Czech Republic sorting out their differences. Note the subtitles.

Larry Craig is sticking around, even though his guilt was reconfirmed yesterday. Craig, who earlier said that he would resign if his guilty plea was not withdrawn, released a statement making it clear he intends to serve out the rest of his term.

"As I continued to work for Idaho over the past three weeks here in the Senate, I have seen that it is possible for me to work here effectively," Craig said. "I will continue my effort to clear my name in the Senate Ethics Committee -- something that is not possible if I am not serving in the Senate."

Republicans are not happy. "It's embarrassing for the Senate, it's embarrassing for his party," said Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada.

This is completely awesome.

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee Jay Rockefeller writes to acting attorney general Peter Keisler, asking why the New York Times has copies of secret torture memoes that the Justice Department has so far refused to turn over to the appropriate Congressional oversight committees, among them his.

Letter below:

October 4, 2007

The Honorable Peter D. Keisler
Acting Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Mr. Acting Attorney General:

The New York Times published an article today entitled "Secret U.S. Endorsement of Severe Interrogations" that describes the classified opinions provided by the Department of Justice on the legality of the CIA's interrogation practices, as well as the internal deliberations surrounding those classified opinions. As Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence I have repeatedly asked the Department of Justice to provide those classified opinions; the Department of Justice has never provided a formal response.

This letter reiterates my longstanding request for the opinions of the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel analyzing the legality of the CIA's interrogation program. In particular, please provide the principal classified Office of Legal Counsel opinions issued since December of 2004 on the legality of CIA's interrogation program. This should include Office of Legal Counsel opinions assessing the legality of the CIA's practices under section 2340A of the U.S. criminal code, which implements the Convention Against Torture; the substantive provisions of Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture; the Detainee Treatment Act; Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions; and the War Crimes Act, as amended by the Military Commissions Act.


The legal black hole in which private contractors have been operating in Iraq may be narrowing. Earlier today, the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of a measure that would extend the reach of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) to include any contractor (or subcontractor, at any tier) working outside the United States for any federal agency in any place where the U.S. military is engaged.

This is the second proposed revision of MEJA since 2000. The law initially covered only civilians working directly for the U.S. military overseas. A 2004 amendment expanded its jurisdiction to include employees of any federal agency supporting a DOD mission abroad. But the law still does not apply to civilians working in areas not directly related to the U.S. military.

Blackwater operators involved in the September 16 shootings in Baghdad, which left 17 dead and another 24 wounded, were protecting U.S. diplomats under a State Department contract. It is therefore unclear whether the incident would fall under MEJA's jurisdiction. All contractors are immune from Iraqi law.

This loophole would be closed by the bill—sponsored by David Price, Democrat of North Carolina—that passed the House today by a margin of 389 to 30; all dissenting votes were cast by Republicans. A similar measure is expected to come before the Senate. If senators vote in similar numbers, any veto from President Bush could be easily swept aside.

The White House issued a statement yesterday, opposing Price's bill as carrying "unintended and intolerable consequences for crucial and necessary national security activities and operations." An AP reporter asking for clarification was referred to the Justice Department, which refused comment.

For its part, the private military industry appears to be in favor of Price's bill. The International Peace Operations Association, an industry trade group, has expressed its support, as did Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince in his testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday.

I loathe the Blue Angels. Always have. Maybe it's the screaming noise pollution. Or maybe it's the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars wasted on what is essentially a PR stunt. I used to think it was mostly those things, when for the past 10 years, I have had to brace myself for oohs and ahhs on the streets of San Francisco when the Angels come to town.

But now I hate them even more, and less. More because I now have a cousin who's an Air Force pilot who's flying real fighter jets in a real war in Iraq. It's one thing to waste millions of dollars during peacetime, but wholly another to do so when we are sinking hundreds of billions into a war of desperation.

And less because, well, the Armed Forces are desperate for recruits. So the show of speed and acrobatics serves an actual purpose these days. The military needs to spread the patriotic flame amongst everyday citizens, whether it's the Navy's Angels above the Golden Gate or the Marines handing M16s to kids in Times Square. Without a draft recruiting tactics have to become more and more creative. I am not hoping for an onslaught of enlistments necessarily, but it would be nice if we all woke up and realized what the stretch of our military means for those currently fighting, and, who knows, the buzz of a fighter jet might be just the thing to wake us up.

I just want to echo Ezra Klein's thoughts on what he calls the "Democratic hack gap."

Here's what he means. Ann Coulter, that crazy-eyed banshee who moonlights as a conservative commentator, recently said, "If we took away women's right to vote, we'd never have to worry about another Democratic president. It's kind of a pipe dream, a personal fantasy of mine."

Soooo, that's pretty nuts. But liberals won't make a big deal out of it for two reasons: (1) they just want Ann Coulter to go away, and pulling their hair out over her latest piece of insanity will just draw more attention to her, and (2) this quote is obviously out of Coulter's quasi-tongue-in-cheek rhetorical register, and because it appears half-serious liberals feel stupid arguing its merits.

Fair enough. But Ezra points something else out. He writes, "There'll be a fair amount of meta commentary on why this doesn't make it into the papers, or get the sort of coverage that the "Betrayus" ad did, but not a lot of genuine, direct outrage that would actually launch it into said papers. But there should be. It's a despicable thing to say."

He could just as easily replace "genuine outrage" with "phony outrage" — functionally, it's the same thing. We need more Rush Limbaughs on the left, the argument goes. More Sean Hannitys and Michelle Malkins. Dare I say, more Ann Coulters.

Whether or not we'd still want to be liberals if we shared our political space with the likes of those is up for debate (we don't win just for playin' nice, folks), but the fact that the hack gap exists cannot be denied.

News out of the Minnesota airport bathroom today. The judge in the Larry Craig circus/retrial took one look at the Idaho Senator's attempt to withdraw his guilty plea and said, "No way, buster."

"The defendant, a career politician with a college education, is of at least above-average intelligence," the judge wrote. "He knew what he was saying, reading and signing."

No word on whether Craig will now (finally) resign.