Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Political Cartoons

I have five Halloween political cartoons posted over at The Blue Herald here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Garry Trudeau and The Sandbox

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

Earlier this year I did a brief post on Garry Trudeau’s remarkable series in Doonesbury on B.D. struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Trudeau now has a great new feature for military service people and their families called The Sandbox. It already has some striking entries. (Here is the full cartoon excerpted above. Trudeau has a more general response section called Blowback).

Trudeau has a new book out centering on the B.D. cartoons. The War Within. Here is the link. The proceeds benefit Fisher House. Their mission: “Supporting America's military in their time of need, we provide ”a home away from home” that enables family members to be close to a loved one at the most stressful time -- during hospitalization for an illness, disease or injury.”

Finally, Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post has an absolutely exceptional profile of the reclusive, shy Trudeau here, and discussed it with readers here. It’s worth spending some time with this one.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Rightwing Cartoon Watch (10-25-06)

It's a few days later than usual, but I have the latest installment of Righwing Cartoon Watch up at the Blue Herald, here.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Eid ul-Fitr

Today marks the end of Ramadan in the United States, the holiday Eid ul-Fitr. Typically, this involves prayer, the visiting of relatives and friends, acts of charity, the wearing of new or special clothes, and special foods and feasts (sadly, in some hot zones the visiting and intermingling are just too dangerous this year). The Wikipedia entry does a pretty nice job of covering different customs for Eid ul-Fitr in different countries.

Happy Eid, or Eid mubarak!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Get Out the Vote!

While some of the poll numbers are looking good, it’s imperative to have a strong voter turnout on November 7th (after all, most Democratic groups met their district turnout goals in 2004, and look what happened!). Several states have anti-gay marriage initiatives on the ballot to draw out the social conservatives like prehistoric flies to homophobic honey. Taking the Senate in particular will be tough but very possible. Let’s get out the vote!

From Matt Stoller at MyDD:

Click here to be counted as someone who registered because of net neutrality. As Stoller says, “Save the Internet coalition will be able to brag about how many voters we have on our side to politicians when trying to convince them to support net neutrality.”

Click here for regular voter registration.

From Digby, here’s a site for The Secretaries of State Project, who seek to elect candidates who will protect voting rights.

Also from Digby, The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) allows bloggers to embed the Volunteer Web Bug to recruit election volunteers on their sites.

Remaining Registration Deadlines:

Alabama — October 27
California — October 23
Connecticut — October 24
Iowa — October 28
Kansas — October 23
Maine — October 17
Maryland — October 17
Massachusetts — October 18
Minnesota — pre-reg. October 17
Nebraska — October 20
New Jersey — October 17
Oregon — October 17
Rhode Island — October 17
South Dakota — October 23
Vermont — October 28
West Virginia — October 17
Wisconsin — October 19

If you miss your state’s deadline, in most states you can still cast a provisional ballot on election day.

Get Out the Vote!

Rightwing Cartoon Watch (10-15-06)

I have the third installment up at The Blue Herald, here.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Dance of the Straw Men

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Of all the faulty argument patterns typically employed by the GOP, the most popular by far is a straw man argument with an ad hominem attack nestled inside. President George W. Bush and his speech writers absolutely love straw man arguments, but typically Bush has let surrogates serve as attack dogs and deliver the harshest rhetoric against his perceived political opponents. However, in this election season, Bush has chosen to go on the offensive himself, throwing out a dizzying array of false and prejudicial charges against Democrats.

Dan Froomkin’s 9/27/06 column, ”Bush’s Imaginary Foes,” serves as a splendid in-depth examination of some of Bush’s recent straw men. The Fallacy Files entry on the straw man fallacy is a great overview with a look at the formal logic involved (or rather, ignored), and the Wikipedia entry is surprisingly good. As the Wiki entry puts it:

One can set up a straw man in the following ways:

1. Present a misrepresentation of the opponent's position, refute it, and pretend that the opponent's actual position has been refuted.

2. Quote an opponent's words "out of context" -- i.e., choose quotations that are not representative of the opponent's actual intentions (see contextomy)

3. Present someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, refute that person's arguments, and pretend that every upholder of that position, and thus the position itself, has been defeated.

4. Invent a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs that are criticized, and pretend that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical.

Some logic textbooks define the straw man fallacy only as a misrepresented argument. It is now common, however, to use the term to refer to all of these tactics.

In my studies, initially I had been taught that a straw man argument was #3, but #1 is far more common, and Bush revels in #4. Rather than merely pick an inarticulate Democrat to rebut, or misrepresent a Democrat’s argument, Bush often goes further and chooses to invent fictional Democrats who hold fantastical, ridiculous views that no sane person on the planet has ever held (of course, these evil and loony Democrats only exist in that happy parallel universe where we are winning, or on the verge of winning, in Iraq).

Froomkin’s piece deserves a complete read, but here’s a key section (emphasis in original):

"PRESIDENT BUSH: I, of course, read the key judgments on the NIE. I agree with their conclusion that because of our successes against the leadership of al Qaeda, the enemy is becoming more diffuse and independent. I'm not surprised the enemy is exploiting the situation in Iraq and using it as a propaganda tool to try to recruit more people to their -- to their murderous ways.

"Some people have guessed what's in the report and have concluded that going into Iraq was a mistake. I strongly disagree. I think it's naive. I think it's a mistake for people to believe that going on the offense against people that want to do harm to the American people makes us less safe."

OK, that's straw-man number one. Nobody I've heard of is suggesting that going on the offense against terrorists is bad. The question at hand is whether going on the offense against Iraq -- which had nothing to do with 9/11 -- made us less safe. By using this absurd straw-man, Bush leaves that issue unaddressed.

Bush: "The terrorists fight us in Iraq for a reason: They want to try to stop a young democracy from developing, just like they're trying to fight another young democracy in Afghanistan. And they use it as a recruitment tool, because they understand the stakes. They understand what will happen to them when we defeat them in Iraq."

Here, Bush makes it sound like the fight in Iraq is between the United States and terrorists. But of course the vast majority of fighting is now sectarian in nature, with U.S. troops caught in the middle.

Bush: "You know, to suggest that if we weren't in Iraq, we would see a rosier scenario with fewer extremists joining the radical movement requires us to ignore 20 years of experience."

Here, Bush paraphrases his critics somewhat accurately. But his ensuing argument is bizarre.

Bush: "We weren't in Iraq when we got attacked on September the 11th. We weren't in Iraq, and thousands of fighters were trained in terror camps inside your country, Mr. President. We weren't in Iraq when they first attacked the World Trade Center in 1993. We weren't in Iraq when they bombed the Cole. We weren't in Iraq when they blew up our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.”

Froomkin calls this last argument by Bush:

...perhaps the ultimate Bush straw-man argument, this one so absurd it almost defies description.

No one is suggesting that the invasion of Iraq was responsible for terrorist act that predate that invasion! The argument is that invading Iraq has made the threat of terrorism since then worse than it otherwise would have been. Reciting past terrorist acts is almost laughably nonresponsive. And yet it's a staple of Bush's argument.

The “We weren’t in Iraq on September 11th” argument, employed by Bush and Cheney before, is so nonsensical it indeed almost defies description. However, while it can be viewed as a straw man argument, it seems to be more specifically a modified version of the fallacy Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc, "After this, therefore because of this.” The Fallacy Files nicely describe this as:

Event C happened immediately prior to event E.
Therefore, C caused E.

In this case, C would be “Not invading Iraq” and E would be “9/11.” This is not a strict, typical formulation primarily because Bush’s reasoning is so ludicrous. The key underlying (false) premise of Bush’s entire statement is causality: our refusal to invade Iraq caused the 1993 World Trade Center attack, 9/11, and so on. If it’s difficult to find the right formal term to capture how poor Bush’s reasoning is, it’s quite easy to show why he’s wrong. Bush’s faulty argument pattern can also be put into syllogism form, where it’s obviously false:

• We were attacked on 9/11.
• We had not invaded Iraq yet on 9/11.
• Therefore, we were attacked on 9/11 because we had not invaded Iraq yet.

Because there is no causal relationship between the first and second premises, this is essentially:

• A
• Not B
• Therefore, A because of Not B

My immediate reaction when I first heard Cheney use the “We weren’t in Iraq on September 11th” argument was, “We also hadn’t invaded London!” For that matter, we also hadn’t invaded the more threatening North Korea. Or, to make the absurdity of the Bush/Cheney proposition abundantly clear:

• We were attacked on 9/11.
• On 9/11, ”Lost Control” by Kevin “K-Fed” Federline had not been released yet.
• Therefore, we were attacked on 9/11 because K-Fed’s “Lost Cause” had not been released yet.

Now, to be fair, before the war Iraq could legitimately be seen as a threat, if a contained one, while “K-Fed” is merely an aesthetic threat. Also, in contrast with his arguments for invading Iraq, not even Bush would argue that the world is better off now that the "Lost Control" video has been released. (For another connection, one could argue that the Iraq war was started by pasty white boys pretending to be gangstas.) The point is, because A and B have no causal relation, one can pick anything for B and it will have as much logical validity as Bush's statement — that is to say, none. The point of his argument, as with all faulty arguments, is to persuade or confuse the casual listener. And, case in point, it generally takes longer to skewer a false argument than to assert one (at least to the casual listener). All that said, because of the central role of false causality, the Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc pattern is probably the most helpful description of what’s probably Bush’s most egregiously bad argument for invading Iraq to date.

One of Dan Froomkin’s readers also pointed out a key element of the “We weren’t in Iraq on September 11th” argument that may be apparent from the discussion of the syllogisms above. As Froomkin wrote in his 9/28/06 column, ”Bush Rules”:

Jorge Ovalle writes: "'We weren't in Iraq when they first attacked the World Trade Center in 1993,' says President Bush. The stronger point is that President Bush consistently fails to distinguish between the terrorists who struck us on 9/11 and the Hussein-led Iraqi government. It is not surprising that half of the American people still believe Iraq had something to do with 9/11.

In other words, while there is no causal relationship between the two premises “We were attacked on 9/11” and “We had not invaded Iraq yet on 9/11,” with their underlying assertion Bush and Cheney are still trying to suggest a direct connection between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and 9/11. (Bush has flatly said there was no connection, but still conflates the two, as does Cheney, who also still insists the long discredited Atta-Iraqi meeting in the Czech Republic actually took place.)

Sadly, most reporters do not call Bush or other public officials on their use of straw men. Washington Post writer Peter Baker took a crack at it in a 10/6/06 article:

As Bush wound up a three-day campaign swing out west on Wednesday, for example, he attacked Democrats for voting last week against legislation authorizing warrantless telephone and e-mail surveillance.

"One hundred and seventy-seven of the opposition party said, 'You know, we don't think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists,' " Bush said at a fundraiser for Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) before heading to Colorado for gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez.

Asked about the president's statement, White House aides could not name any Democrat who has said that the government should not listen in on terrorists. Democrats who voted against the legislation had complained that it would hand too much power to the president and had said that they wanted more checks in the bill to protect civil liberties.

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) called Bush's comment outrageous: "Every member of Congress, from both parties, supports listening in on terrorist communications, but the president still hasn't explained why we have to break the law to do it. It is time for the president to stop exploiting the terrorist threat to justify his power grab."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino defended Bush's remark as a reasonable extrapolation of the Democratic position. "Of course, they aren't silly enough to say they don't want to listen in on terrorists, but actions speak louder than words, and people should know what the Democrats' voting record is," she said.

Perino’s infuriating, asinine justification is utter poppycock, of course. Bush’s remark is a stupid, prejudicial, pejorative “extrapolation” that can fairly be called a lie, especially since he and other Republicans have offered some version of this straw man for almost a year now, and have been repeatedly challenged on it. Froomkin noted this article, as did the Daily Howler, but while Baker deserves credit for his work, the Howler also feels Baker pulled his punches.

This brings us to one final point. Just as the logical problem with a straw man argument is its inaccuracy, the ethical problem with a straw man argument is its dishonesty. True scholars, philosophers and policy wonks are interested in the truth and honest discussion, whereas hacks are interested only in winning an argument, or “winning the half hour,” as Froomkin put it. Debate has something called the “Principle of Charitable Interpretation,” or the Principle of Charity.” In the practical sense, this entails that if one’s opponent says anything ambiguous, one is obligated to interpret it in the strongest manner possible — essentially giving one’s opponent the benefit of the doubt. Socrates would of course ask questions to clarify someone’s actual position, which is also a splendid idea. But this attitude of integrity and fairness, implicit in all serious scholarship, empirical research, and honest debate, is the precise opposite of the straw man approach. The straw man argument epitomizes intellectual dishonesty.

Given Bush’s parade of dancing straw men, it’d be easy to make the quip “If he only had a brain” (ad hominem, even if accurate), but one must be charitable and assume he knows exactly what he’s doing. In this case, he and his administration are scoundrels, not idiots. They simply refuse to engage in an honest, open debate on any level, even within their own party. Sadly, it’d be far more accurate to muse, if they only had a conscience.

(Edited slightly on 10/16/06 for emphasis and clarity.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Slippery Slope

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

Continuing this week’s examination of faulty argument patterns, we turn to today’s Washington Post. Some readers offered some splendid examples of the slippery slope, which The Non-Sequitur site describes succinctly as “alleging that accepting the conclusion of an opponent’s argument will invariably lead to an increasing series of dastardly consequences.”

Eugene Robinson’s column today was 'Values' Choice for The GOP, focusing on issues of GOP moral hypocrisy raised by the Mark Foley scandal. Among the other points he makes, Robinson observes that:

The culture war is supposed to be about morality, but really it's a crusade to compel Americans to follow certain norms of private behavior that some social and religious conservatives believe are mandated by sociology, nature or God. Republican officeholders have paid lip service to this crusade, all the while knowing that the human family is diverse and fallible. They know that the gravest threat to marriage is the heterosexual divorce rate. They know that Republicans drink, swear, carouse and have affairs, just like Democrats. They know that homosexuals aren't devils.

He ends with:

But Republicans positioned themselves as our national Church Lady and were rewarded with the support of the staunchest religious conservatives, who now feel betrayed. Faced with the spreading Foley scandal, the party has a choice.

The party can look America in the face and say, "Folks, we're all just human, and while we should strive to adhere to the highest moral standards, this whole idea of writing a specific, narrow, fundamentalist Christian view of morality into law is really not a good idea. Even those of us who thought that way when we came to Washington realize we were wrong. Condemning others just because they are different doesn't make us stronger or better, it makes us weaker and poorer. As Barry Goldwater would have said, live and let live."

Or the party can purge its gay staffers, maybe symbolically burn a few at the stake, and continue to pretend that you can legislate what is permitted to reside in American hearts and minds. Unfortunately, that's where it looks like we're headed.

As usual, Robinson’s discussion today drew some pointed comments, and as usual he picked plenty of comments from people who disagreed with him (emphasis mine):

Gainesville, Va.: I think it's important to be fair in presenting the position of conservative Christians. One key word is "conservative," in its original sense. So much of what we believe in is conserving the values and behaviors we grew up with. By and large the liberal agenda is change (increase tolerance). Thus we are asked to accept homosexual marriage (a new definition after four millennia of accepted usage of marriage as between a man and a woman), a culture that encourages unbridled sexuality of all types, and abortion, the killing of a fetus or baby depending on your beliefs. We never needed laws against homosexual marriage because prior to the decision of the Mass. Supreme Court, marriage was understood to be heterosexual. It is not conservative Christians who are out to legislate morality, it is liberal secularists who are trying to change the laws to support their views.

Eugene Robinson: I agree that the liberal agenda is one of tolerance. But it is not true that the specific moral standards advocated by conservative Christians have been in place for thousands of years. Nor is it true that all the values and behaviors we grew up with are worth preserving. When I grew up, for example, many people considered racial segregation a "value" worth defending. Our standards do change, and often for the better.

“Gainesville” receives many a response later from other readers. But the next question veers into classic faulty argument pattern:

Vienna, Va.: Mr. Robinson,

In your column today, you wrote: "Condemning others just because they are different doesn't make us stronger or better, it makes us weaker and poorer."

I see your point, but there is a strong counter argument. Shouldn't society instill strong moral standards about sexual behavior? At one time society frowned on people who committed adultery and engaged in sex before marriage. Now neither one is considered taboo. Is modern society better for this?

Today liberals are pushing to consider homosexuality as normal.

What is next? Should bigamy be deemed OK? How about polygamy? In your view, is there anything that society should deem inappropriate? Or should we just allow everyone to live and let live?

Eugene Robinson: That's the slippery-slope argument, and I don't buy it. Of course society has to draw a line between the acceptable and the unacceptable. But society's view of where that line should be drawn has changed many times in the past and will continue to change. The was a time when we considered women second-class citizens unworthy of the vote. There was a time when we thought smoking was cool. Things change.

Later on, another reader runs with the banner yet again:

Maryland: So you don't buy the slippery-slope argument? I recall over 20 years ago when the ERA amendment was being debated, and one argument against it, which its proponents denied, is that it would lead to same-sex marriages! I say it's just a matter of time before the NAMBLA crowd starts lobbying against child-protection laws as being discriminatory to their own particular lifestyle - but that's progress to the progressives, isn't it?

Eugene Robinson: But by your logic, women would never have been given full rights in our society, or blacks, or anybody except white men. Just because you decide to take one specific step in the direction of inclusion and tolerance does not mean you then have to take every imaginable subsequent step.

One more conservative reader takes a stab at it:

Washington, D.C.: Whenever a conservative says that we should keep something traditional like the definition of marriage, liberals trot out the same tired argument that without change women and blacks would never have gotten their due rights.

What does one have to do with the other? The definition of marriage is a completely separate issue than women's voting rights or blacks' civil rights. Why confuse the issue? Or can't you argue the case on its own merits?

Eugene Robinson: Interracial marriage was once illegal in Southern states. So, no, these are not completely separate issues.

The argument on the merits is simple, in my view. Two individuals are gay and want to make a commitment to each other through marriage. What is bad about that? How does that threaten me, or you, or anyone else? My marriage will not dissolve if gay people are allowed to marry. The world will not cease its orbit around the sun. We'll all be fine, believe me.

I was sorely tempted to quote the entire discussion, which is a quick read and very good, as always. Several moderate and liberal readers make excellent points and rebuttals to the conservatives, and the discussion is one of the better I’ve seen recently in having people of truly different viewpoints debate what it means to be liberal or progressive versus conservative when it comes to social issues. Eugene Robinson deserves credit for consistently selecting opposing points of view and delivering this level of discussion in an impromptu chat. However, in this week of conservatives conjuring dire, ludicrous pictures of legalized pedophilia and polygamy, Robinson deserves special thanks this week for highlighting the slippery slope.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Faulty Argument Patterns and Informal Fallacies

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

1. Nothing is better than eternal happiness.
2. A ham sandwich is better than nothing.
∆ A ham sandwich is better than eternal happiness.

Do I trust the word of a madman and forget the lessons of September the 11th, or take action to defend America? Given that choice, I will defend America every time.
President George W. Bush, 9/3/04

The first argument above is a silly example of the informal fallacy known as equivocation. “Nothing” means something different in premise #2 than it does in #1. (It’s no coincidence that equivocation overlaps with joke-writing.) The second argument is a classic example of a false dilemma or false choice. A world of possibilities exists beyond the ridiculously narrow and prejudicial choices President Bush presents.

It would be naive to believe that all pundits and politicians seek an honest discussion of issues and do their best to avoid faulty and unfair arguments. Most of them are intent on “winning the half hour,” as The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin puts it — they try out a few talking points, score a few points off their opponent, deflect a few questions and scuttle off before anyone can really subject their assertions to serious scrutiny. A good sound bite often advances one’s cause better than a substantive argument. The two are not mutually exclusive, of course, but the trick for wonks who aspire to political success defeating hacks is to find the right words. It is also essential to remember that many politicians, and the vast majority of pundits, are bullshitters, who may be accidentally accurate, but simply don’t care whether what they say is true or not.

If I could design a media literacy course for every American student, it would include a unit on common advertising techniques (buzz words, the false comparison, bandwagon versus snob appeal approaches, and so on). It would feature George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” and Neil Postman’s “Silent Questions.” And it would highlight faulty argument patterns, with a special attention to scouring the news for them and dissecting them.

The Web features several great sites on faulty argument patterns and informal fallacies. Critical Thinking on the Web features a bevy of other links (some are dead) and a good resource page of informal fallacies. The Wikipedia entries on logical fallacies are a good resource as well. Logical Fallacies.Info is also a good site with clear examples. The Fallacy Files is pretty exhaustive. The Stone Forest is a pretty readable overview of logical fallacies. The Non Sequitur: A Logical Analysis of Political Media is a great site run by two philosophy professors who follow the news and analyze it for informal fallacies. Their description of informal fallacies is also useful. Finally, Conversational Terrorism and The Woolly-Thinker's Guide to Rhetoric list argument techniques essentially designed for bullshitters that makes for funny reading.

For my own mea culpa, I certainly do not always uphold some Socratic ideal and cannot pretend to a, ahem, consistent rhetorical purity. A blog post can be a simple link, a short essay, or a cathartic rant, and all have their place. The key, it seems to me, is knowing with whom one is speaking, and the tone and level of the conversation. Casual dinner conversation tends to veer away from formal debate. In comparison, political blog threads tend to be more serious and earnest, depending on the site and the post. What seems immoral to me, if one purports to care about Truth, Justice, and the American Way — or at least, truth, honest discussion, and earnest problem-solving — is to come to a sincere debate with earnest people and not engage them in kind. Most political blog chatter features some combination of smart ass attitude with a serious point (a spectrum roughly from South Park to PBS’ NewsHour). The more “newsy” a political talk show is, the further towards the “serious” the pendulum typically swings. Crossfire increasingly became a parody of itself, while William F. Buckley’s Firing Line series, despite witnessing some truly ludicrous arguments over the years, also featured at least some sincere, intelligent people advancing substantive arguments.

It’s certainly possible to make a substantive point with some humor. I also don’t find any real moral problem with insulting a hack (or troll) for being a hack as long as one makes a substantive point as well — but let’s be honest, a great deal of dealing with a hack is calling bullshit on his or her abuses of rhetoric and misrepresentation of facts. The media is loathe to call someone a liar, and an artful liar can typically get away with it, because he or she only needs to “win the half hour” and be gone before the fact-checkers can catch up with him or her. Realistically, the honest — but witty! — debater needs a mastery of both rhetorical technique and the pertinent facts. I think it’s much harder to be a truly masterful, honest debater versus a bullshitting, spin doctor-hack, but it’s also so beautiful when someone does it right.

When dealing with a hack, one needs to come fully armed and ready to deal with bullshit and faulty argument patterns. When dealing with a true scholar or wonk, faulty argument patterns are likely to be rare, and one should avoid injecting them.

All that said — Socrates would make one helluva guest or host for Meet the Press.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Rightwing Cartoon Watch (10-7-06)

I have the second installment of Rightwing Cartoon Watch up over at The Blue Herald here.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Woodward Watch

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

If you’ve been following the news, there’s a slight chance you may perhaps have noticed that Bob Woodward has a new book out, State of Denial: Bush At War, Part III. Most Woodward books tend to be “events” among journalists and news junkies, and true to form, DC is abuzz about the book (in addition to the Foley scandal). In case you missed a few of the many excerpts or reviews, here they are.

The Washington Post printed two excerpts from the book, ”Secret Reports Dispute White House Optimism” and ”Should He Stay?” (focusing on Rumsfeld). Newsweek printed another section on Rumsfeld that can be read here.

The 60 Minutes interview is here.

(The Charlie Rose footage is not available yet, except in small clips.)

The Fresh Air radio interview, where Woodward actually gets choked up, is here.

The PBS NewsHour interview and transcript is here.

The transcript of the Larry King interview is here (the video is on YouTube, but in about 7 parts).

Howard Kurtz covered the book and Woodward for The Washington Post here. Dan Froomkin covered the book in his Friday, 9/28/06 column here and has been covering other accounts, and the Bush administration’s flimsy and failed denials since.

Michiko Kakutani reviews it for The New York Times here, and also looks over the “floodlet” of books on Bush in ”All the President’s Books.”

The Salon review, which zeros in on some key details, is here.

The book is sure to be dissected more in the coming month. But already, there’s corroborating accounts.

In The Washington Post, Tom Ricks (author of Fiasco) reports that ”U.S. European Commander Confirms Quotes in Book.”

Meanwhile, one of the most explosive and contentious charges deals with a July 10th, 2001 meeting called by George Tenet and Cofer Black with Condoleezza Rice to warn her about Al-Qaeda. Greg Sargent summed up many of the small contradictions and remaining questions here. Mahablog managed to answer some of those questions here, drawing on Dan Froomkin and Taylor Marsh. Marsh in turn cites an important Countdown segment and posts the video here. In a later post, Marsh examines and posts some of the Charlie Rose interview with Woodward, viewable here.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Bush is an Idiot, Cheney is a Dangerous Nutcase

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

This really can’t qualify as a “news” item. But over at Hullabaloo, Digby has two more striking, insightful posts up. ”Meanwhile, Back In Iraq” is primarily an examination of exactly how bad Iraq is — but it ends with a brief observation of the macho-unmoored-to-reality mentality of Cheney and the gang that lead to what Digby accurately calls a “meatgrinder.” Meanwhile, ”Nuts And Dolts” delves, err — skims — the intellect that is George W. Bush. As Digby writes:

I'm really beginning to resent all those people who say Bush really is smart, he's just incurious. No. He's clearly an idiot and an arrogant, immature idiot at that. He's been manipulated by a bunch of wily, evil men with competing agendas creating lawlessness, chaos and incoherence in our government.

Over the last six years when we watched Bush shift uncomfortably and babble incomprehensibly in response to complicated questions, when we saw him lash out at anyone who dared to question his judgment or his authority, when we observed him humiliating those around him, we weren't hallucinating and it wasn't an act. This intellectually deficient, petulent man-child was exactly what he appeared to be --- and his inept, arrogant administration is a perfect reflection of him.

The same post also offers this telling glimpse of Cheney:

Having figured out that the general was being too cautious with his fourth combat command in three decades of soldiering, Cheney got his staff busy and began presenting Schwarzkopf with his own ideas about how to fight the Iraqis: What if we parachute the 82nd Airborne into the far western part of Iraq, hundreds of miles from Kuwait and totally cut off from any kind of support, and seize a couple of missile sites, then line up along the highway and drive for Baghdad? Schwarzkopf charitably describes the plan as being "as bad as it could possibly be... But despite our criticism, the western excursion wouldn't die: three times in that week alone Powell called with new variations from Cheney's staff. The most bizarre involved capturing a town in western Iraq and offering it to Saddam in exchange for Kuwait."

The problem with Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush is they’re stubborn and relentless in pursuing a course of action, but never bother to get the course right before they set out. Even after Tenet and others disproved the Niger-uranium allegations, and kept on insisting they be removed from pre-war speeches, Cheney and his capos kept on slipping them back in, in each new draft, and in new speeches. Cheney apparently used the same approach for battle plans. And in many ways, the entire Bush administration is merely Cheney, Rumsfeld and their gang re-fighting all the battles of the Nixon and Reagan administrations.

The Bush administration would be a marvel of satire if only they were as fictional as the grandeur they think they possess. Being consistently flat-out, disastrously wrong apparently gives pause only to lesser men. They are the Peter Principle in action, raised to the level of Biblical plague. Their first National Security Advisor, Rice, was still fighting the Cold War, never mind that it had ended nine years previously (so was Cheney). One of their key lawyers (John Yoo) was meddling with constitutional law despite a stunning ignorance of the United States Constitution. Dick Cheney was pushing for a combative foreign policy despite his apparently disastrous handle on war strategy and tenuous grasp of reality. They had a brainless brain trust in the aggressive but unrealistic neocons of Wolfowitz, Feith, Addington, Libby, and countless other members of the Cheney cabal. Their outside “grey beard” was Kissinger, a man who, unlike even Robert McNamara, was still unwilling to admit obvious and cataclysmic mistakes 30 years after the fact and was also still fighting the Cold War on the most un-winnable front possible — Vietnam.

And Bush, the boy king, clearly has always been in way over his head, a dolt and an imbecile unwilling to grow into the job and too insecure to surround himself with wise men and women, smarter than he, to counsel him. He must insult academics, ridicule nuance and degradingly reduce the world to simplistic, black and white terms because he simply cannot engage on a higher plane, and must resort to bullying and power rather than reason or rightness to win. He has prized perceived loyalty over all competence, viewed dissent as disloyalty, and hewed to horrible, snap decisions with the mad desperation and stubbornness of a man terrified of actually — thinking. Bob Woodward believes Bush hasn’t lost ten minutes of sleep over the fact that they never found any WMDs in Iraq. The empty mind is the untroubled mind; ignorance is bliss. (Ignorance, in the empty mind, is strength.)

The Bush administration is a perfect storm of arrogant, pugnacious, deadly idiocy. The only thing we can hope for is that such storms are as rare in politics as they are in nature.

Yoo Know Nothing!

(Updated below)

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

John Yoo has a new book to shill, and thus is making the circuit again, demonstrating the same keen legal analysis that blithely excuses torture and the elimination of the Great Writ of habeas corpus. Let's be frank – Yoo's law degree and professorship not withstanding, his knowledge of the United States Constitution and the Federalist papers is inferior to that of a smart high school student. (Does that seem harsh? See the end of this post.)

The reason Yoo is still a player at all is because of his culpability in drafting the torture guidelines for the Bush administration. As with Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez (or President Bush, for that matter), Yoo's views are treated seriously only because of his position of power (or past position), not due to merit, insight, or basic knowledge. Yoo has been an useful idiot, all too willing (along with David Addington, Gonzales, William Haynes and others) to try to cobble together a legal justification for the Bush administration's desire for absolute, unchecked power in virtually every field. It is not as if Yoo or his compatriots had a starting point of "let's see what the law says here." Theirs are the actions of defense attorneys trying to protect their clients from prosecution for wrongdoing past, present and future. Reason, consideration of consequences, and examination of precedent do not often intrude, because even a casual flirtation with such dangerously sensible approaches would demolish their fanciful effort like the house of cards it is.

Yoo was on NPR this morning, offering some new nuggets as he commented on the new detainee laws (The Military Commissions Act of 2006). At least Yoo acknowledged that innocent people could be imprisoned. But one of his most laughable excuses for destroying due process is that that due process is — "too expensive."

Here’s the audio clip, as well as an excerpt from his book.

As was the case with Robert Bork, we would all be far worse off if the world were run by John Yoo. Of course, what can anyone expect from a man who so dispassionately asserts that the President of the United States has the legal right to have a child's testicles crushed?


Here’s a Yoo round-up, featuring analysis of some disingenuous and illogical gems from the man himself, for those who would defend his legal acumen, let alone his moral reasoning:

A Washington Post portrait.

Glenn Greenwald’s Yoo posts, plus a post on Federalist #69.

TalkLeft’s Yoo posts, including a piece on the WaPo portrait here.

Firedoglake’s Yoo posts, most specifically a piece on the WaPo portrait here.

Josh Marshall’s Yoo posts, including a piece on the WaPo portrait here.

Marty Lederman’s writings dealing with Yoo,

Law professor Michael Froomkin (at Discourse.net) on Yoo, in particular this post.

Anonymous Liberal’s Yoo posts.

Oh, and why not throw in the Lawyers, Guns and Money Yoo posts as well.

Finally, I have an older, tangential post on Alberto Mora which links one of Jane Meyer’s superb, in-depth New Yorker articles on torture and the battle over it inside the Bush administration.

Update: NPR now has reader comments posted on the Yoo page linked above. They played a few this morning (audio here). My favorite comes from a federal judge:

'Can This Be America?'

Listening to John Yoo talk about this new legislation was chilling. I'm a federal judge, and have taught constitutional law for 16 years. The very idea of holding anyone without trial, without the right to see the evidence that was used to justify naming them an "enemy combatant," and depriving them of the ability to challenge why they are even there is so repugnant to a constitutional democracy that I am shocked that this man actually claims to be defending American values. These are the tactics of the old Soviet Union, not of a country that stands for freedom and the rule of law.

I also quibble with his contention that U.S. citizens still have the right to habeas review. I've read the law. The president can form his own tribunal, which can determine who is an "enemy combatant" (not just an alien enemy combatant), and the decision of that tribunal would not be subject to habeas review. Moreover, persons targeted by this tribunal would not even have access to the military tribunal trial created under this law.

How easy it would be for a president to use such a law to make his political enemies simply disappear. Can this be America?
-- Leif Clark, San Antonio, Texas

Battle of the Defense Analysts!

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

One of the most frustrating experiences for a passionate, political news junkie is to see two talking heads go at it over some important issue and have your boy (or girl) let some major falsehood go unchallenged or fail to make a key, pertinent point.

The flip side is it’s very refreshing when someone really nails it.

On PBS’ NewsHour on Monday, 10/2/06, their last segment was “Defense Analysts Debate Whether Secretary Rumsfeld Should Go” (the link provides audio, streaming video, and sadly, a very incomplete transcript).

Lawerence Korb squares off with General Ronald Fogleman, and Korb politely challenges everything Fogleman says in praise of Donald Rumsfeld with detailed facts. When Fogleman asserts that Rumsfeld may be unpopular with the generals, but is well-liked by the rank and file (yeah, right! Thanks for the body and vehicle armor!) Korb challenges him on it, and brings up Rumsfeld’s use of an autopen to sign condolence letters. Every time Fogleman makes an assertion, Korb is right on top of it, and never lets the conversation just move on (as Fogleman clearly wishes it to). Korb lets no falsehoods stand. It’s fantastic.

While I of course no do not possess firsthand knowledge of Rumsfeld and his ways, it is Korb’s portrait that matches common sense, soldier accounts, the statements of all those retired generals, countless news reports, and books such as The Assassin’s Gate, Fiasco, and State of Denial. Rumsfeld has surpassed even Robert McNamara in infamy as a Secretary of Defense, and like Cheney and Bush, he will stubbornly keep leading as disastrously as he has for the past four years. It does the war effort no good to lie about how horrible the situation is in Iraq; lying about Rumsfeld’s catastrophic record doesn’t help the cause any, either.

Foley’s Pedophilia is all Clinton’s Fault

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

It’s hard to refrain from puking when one hears the GOP talking points circulating on Mark Foley, in characteristic violent conflict with all logic and facts of the case. “Dems’ sex scandals are far worse.” (They’re not, they’ve all been consensual – but who cares? Does that make Foley innocent? And why not condemn all wrongdoing?) “Dems knew about this abuse but deliberately sprung it now to affect the election.” (They didn’t, the GOP supervisor of the pages did not share the information with his Democratic counterpart and ABC's Brian Ross has reluctantly revealed that his source was a Republican.) The most hilarious line is probably “The GOP House leadership was afraid they’d be labeled gay-bashers.” (!!!) The list goes on and on — not to mention the implied assertions such as “consensual sex between two adult men is the same as pedophilia” and “all gay men are predatory pedophiles.” Somehow, for the hardcore conservative zealots, the GOP leadership’s deliberate covering up of this affair to hold onto a congressional seat, and Hastert’s lying, are not sins in comparison, if they’re even acknowledged at all. What about the welfare of the kids involved? What about the horrendous abuse of power?

Thankfully, some conservatives have dropped partisanship to condemn the real scoundrels. But when even the PBS NewsHour guest for the GOP is spouting off about the 23-year old scandal of Democrat Gary Studds (while ignoring the contemporaneous sex scandal of Republican Dan Crane), it’s pretty sad, pathetic and infuriating.

If I were to list every single example of this crap, this post would be pretty long. Over at Firedoglake, Trex offers a mini round-up and vents for many liberals:

Okay, so in the pantheon of lying Reich Wing flacks, it appears that Drudge was dispatched to blame the victims, Ben Stein was called out (It must be a serious political emergency when Karl Rove's office is asking F-list Mtv game show hosts to carry water for the RNC. I mean, who's next? Jenny McCarthy?) to blame the gays, Sean Hannity is (of course!) blaming President Clinton, and Katherine Harris is blaming, well, who, exactly? The media? The Democrats? Oh, and of course, Foley himself is blaming a combination of alcohol and the priest who molested him when he was a teen.

The fact is that this is a Republican scandal, made by Republicans, perpetrated on Republican Youth, covered up and hidden by, yes, Republicans. They have no one to blame on this but themselves.

John Cole has been sounding off on this issue. And Eugene Robinson offers his characteristic lucid analysis (followed by a discussion here). From Robinson’s column:

Former speaker Newt Gingrich suggested over the weekend that House leaders may have worried last year that if they pursued the Foley matter, they'd be "accused of gay-bashing." Clearly, in terms of his spinning skills, Gingrich has lost a step. The issue was whether a congressman was having improper communications with a child, not whether the congressman was gay; it would have been just as troubling if the e-mail had been sent to a female page. And anyway, it's a little late for the Republicans to denounce gay-bashing after raising it to an art form.

And from the chat:

Silver Spring, Md.: This morning on C-SPAN, one caller explained that the whole Foley scandal is really Bill Clinton's fault because of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Former Defense Dept. Spokesperson Tori Clarke said that she "wouldn't connect the dots in that way" but did carry her disagreement with that assessment any further. Do you think that a "Blame Clinton, Gays, and Demon Rum" approach will work very well for the GOP at this point?

Eugene Robinson: Wow, I missed that one. I can't imagine what the connection might be. In any event, no, I don't think that will work.


Alexandria, Va.: I find it fascinating that the GOP and its right-wing media echo chamber think they can spin pedophilia. Tony Snow: "simply naughty emails." Ben Stein: "-Foley is a poor misguided Republican man who had a romantic thing for young boys. He sent them suggestive e-mail. I agree, that's not great." Matt Drudge: The "16 and 17 year old beasts" were "egging him on"

This reaction strikes me as nearly as bad as the crime. Do they think this will work?

Eugene Robinson: I can't imagine that this will work, and in fact it seems to particularly enrage some sectors of the Republican base. Tony Snow did a quick about-face -- by mid-afternoon he had dropped the "naughty e-mails" shtick and was furrowing his brow in sorrowful concern. I imagine somebody told him how his blithe dismissal of the whole thing had sounded.

All that sane, responsible adults ask for in this case is the truth, justice, and a little compassion for the pages. But hey, Republican hacks — keep running with “Blame Clinton, Gays, and Demon Rum” instead; you’ve had plenty of practice.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Wonks versus Hacks

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

About twice a year I find myself re-reading a short, entertaining and insightful piece from March 2004 in The Washington Monthly by Bruce Reed titled ”Bush’s War Against Wonks: Why the President’s Policies are Falling Apart.” Bruce Reed served as domestic policy advisor for Clinton. He writes semi-regularly for Slate in a column called The Has-Been. He’s recently expanded on some of his ideas in a book co-authored with Rahm Emanuel titled The Plan: Big Ideas for America.

Here’s a teaser from the article:

Strip away the job titles and party labels, and you will find two kinds of people in Washington: political hacks and policy wonks. Hacks come to Washington because anywhere else they'd be bored to death. Wonks come here because nowhere else could we bore so many to death. These divisions extend far beyond the hack havens of political campaigns and consulting firms and the wonk ghettos of think tanks on Dupont Circle. Some journalists are wonks, but most are hacks. Some columnists are hacks, but most are wonks. All members of Congress pass themselves off as wonks, but many got elected as hacks. Lobbyists are hacks who make money pretending to be wonks. The Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the entire political blogosphere consist largely of wonks pretending to be hacks. "The Hotline" is for hacks; National Journal is for wonks. "The West Wing" is for wonks; "K Street" was for hacks.

After two decades in Washington as a wonk working among hacks, I have come to the conclusion that the gap between Republicans and Democrats is as nothing compared to the one between these two tribes. We wonks think we're smarter than hacks. Hacks think that if being smart makes someone a wonk, they'd rather be stupid. Wonks think all hacks are creatures from another planet, like James Carville. Hacks share Paul Begala's view that wonks are all "propeller heads," like Elroy on "The Jetsons." Wonks think the differences between hacks and wonks are as irreconcilable as the Hutus and the Tutsis. Hacks think it's just like wonks to bring up the Hutus and the Tutsis.

In every administration, wonks and hacks fight it out. The measure of a great president is his ability to make sense of them both. A president must know the real problems on Americans' minds. For that he needs hacks. But ultimately, he needs policies that will actually solve those problems. For that he needs wonks.

Reed proceeds to delve into Ron Suskind’s journalism on the Bush White House, among other things. The phrase “reality-based community” had not entered the lexicon yet, but Reed’s piece is clearly aimed not only at wonks, but at reality-based hacks. Sadly, they seem to be a rare breed these days.

Notice a Pattern?

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

I know, I know, it’s hard to keep up with all the scandals these days! Well, face it, if you’re in the GOP, you’re not spending any time actually governing the country, or discussing ways to make things better, be it in America or Iraq. And idle hands makes for securing the Devil’s massive campaign contribution to your war chest. Let’s recap, shall we? In the past week or so, we learned that:

1. The National Intelligence Estimate flatly contradicts President Bush on at least two key points. One, the war in Iraq has made the “War on Terrorists” even worse. Two, we’re losing in Iraq. Bush’s solution is to come out and play his usual poker game, claiming the NIE supports his claims – but only his diehard followers believe this crap at this point. President Bush is either a liar or delusional, but it’s an academic question. He’s unfit for leadership. But let’s note the pattern — Republican is incompetent, tries to cover it up, lies about it, is exposed and denies and downplays everything.

2. Abramoff and his staff visited the White House close to what, 500 times, versus the few times Scott McClellan, Karl Rove and George Bush claimed – hardly surprising, given the tightness of the Rove-Norquist-Reed-Abramoff-Ralston circle. E-mails with Rove show Abramoff had real influence, too (Rove offered to block a nomination at Abramoff's request). So — the Republicans are corrupt, try to cover it up, lie about it, are exposed, and try to downplay everything.

3. Like Cofer Black on Rice: The most explosive revelation so far of Bob Woodward’s new book, State of Denial, is that George Tenet and Cofer Black demanded a meeting with then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to warn her about the pressing threat of Al-Qaeda. Rice and the other Bushies brushed this and all warnings off, continuing to be more concerned about missile defense. This past Friday, Rice admitted the meeting took place, but as of this Monday is trying to pretend it never happened, let alone that she received such dire warnings. Meanwhile, members of the 9/11 Commission are upset that they were never told of this crucial, central meeting. Rice’s meeting took place on July 10th, 2001, about a month before a CIA briefer flew out especially to Crawford, Texas to brief Bush (since Bush doesn’t like to read and prefers personal briefings). The CIA agent delivered an important PDB, “Bin Laden Determined to Attack in U.S.” and Bush responded, “All right, you’ve covered your ass now.” So — the Republicans are incompetent, try to cover it up, lie about it, are exposed, and try to deny and downplay everything.

4. GOP pedophile Mark Foley wrote sexually predatory e-mails and IMs to at least one teenage boy in the Congressional page program. The GOP House leadership knew about it for at least ten months, but Hastert initially denied this, then didn’t, then offered qualifiers before issuing a denial with dubious explanations. It took the GOP a few days to get their stories straight. And the GOP tried to cut a deal with ABC’s Brian Ross to prevent him from exposing the predatory e-mails and IMs. The GOP, the supposed party of family values and national security, had no problem with one of their congressman asking a teenage boy who their institution was charged with safeguarding about how often he masturbated. While some of the details of the IMs versus the e-mails are a little unclear, and who knew what when, what’s crystal clear is the GOP should have launched an investigation and didn’t, and that they put their obsession for continued political party control ahead of the safety and well-being of minors in their care. They also attempted, and are still attempting, a cover-up. So — the Republicans are corrupt and creepy, try to cover it up, lie about it, are exposed, and try to deny and downplay everything.

Call me crazy, but I’m sensing a pattern here. And even some the rightwingers are getting disgusted now. (Foley is a perfect litmus test to see who's sane and who's erupting Kool-Aid from every orifice as they lead cheers for the apologist GOP faithful.)

What ever happened to “the buck stops here?” (Never mind – it’s been outsourced to India, along with the GOP’s credibility. Meanwhile, India has thoughtfully exported something back in return — a nifty concept called karma.)

The Republicans have always been corrupt and incompetent, it's just that the Foley scandal - and the lies around it - are very easy to understand on a gut level and produce the visceral outrage that should have been there all along for people that have remained on the sidelines, or supported the wrong side. Here's hoping for a high bounty count in the House.

Oh, and Denny, and Condoleezza, and Bush, and Tony Snow, and the rest of you? Keep on lying, please. It's political gold. ;-)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Yom Kippur

A happy Yom Kippur to all those who observe it.

Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement," is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Judaism 101's introduction is here and the Wikipedia entry is here.