Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Our Complete Failure is A Sure Sign of Our Success

Orwell would laugh his ass off. Proving yet again that the chief qualification for being a member of the chattering class is merely to chatter, however vacuously, I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, Terry Jeffrey, the Editor of Human Events magazine, and paid CNN commentator. (He - is - paid!!!!!) Apparently, the severe rioting, killing and vandalism in Iraq set off by the mosque bombing is a sign that the Bush strategy... wait for it... is working. A hat-tip to Atrios for linking the video hosted by Think Progress.

I know Mr. Jeffrey is a conservative, but based on this one clip he seems to be of the hardcore apologist camp versus the, err, sane. Regardless of the context or explanation one gives for his comments, it is the runaway winner for Stupidest Thing Said Publicly so far this year. (Scratch that... the winner to date may be Alberto Gonzales' claim that George Washington and Lincoln authorized electronic surveillance. But Gonzales knew he was bullshitting, and I'm not yet sure about this guy. At best he's deluded.)

"If we can get past this crisis, maybe we can form a government that does bring stability to Iraq," he also says. Okay. That's a nice hope we all share. But that's if and maybe. That's a bit like being asked to assess the coming NFL season and saying, "If the 49ers win the Super Bowl, they'll be World Champions." Whatever happened to assessing the actual situation versus the one in Candyland?!?

Dear Mr. Jeffrey: You are not a member of the Bush administration. (Not officially, anyway.) You are not obligated to make shameless statements about the Iraq insurgency being in its "last throes" and defend that statement not only a month later, but yet again eight months later! You are not obligated, as Bush and McClellan both seem to be, to respond to every upsurge in violence by saying, effectively, 'the bad guys are scared because we've got them on the ropes!' Uh, just as we have for the past three years... Dear Mr. Jeffrey: you have no obligation to be stupid. In fact, since you're being paid to appear on television, our simple and reasonable expectation as viewers is you'd offer some sort of, y'know, insight. Did this idea really sound good to you when you sketched it out before appearing on the program? Or did your, um, "powers" of extemporaneous spinning just fail you spectacularly?

I'm interested in finding a transcript or a fuller clip, mainly to see if Wolf Blitzer or his other guest offered Jeffrey some Prozac. I know I wanted to reach through my computer screen and shake him - "Stop! Do you realize what you're saying?!? For the love of God, man, why? WHY?" Yet again, I lament - why are people of this caliber allowed on television? As long as you financially reward stupid people, you will have stupid commentary! Just say no, CNN! Please, no more Bush apologists, no more asinine contrarian wannabes, no more "analysts" so addled that black is white, ignorance is strength, and disaster is a victory.

(Okay. Rant over.)

Go, Go Coast Guard!

In his Washington Postcolumn "Federal Diary," Stephen Barr highlights the heroism, ingenuity and dedication of several members of the United States Coast Guard during Katrina and its aftermath. If FEMA and other areas of government under the current administration can rise to this level of competence, we'll all be better off. But bravo to the worthy individuals Barr notes, as well as the many others who have gone unsung.

Monday, February 20, 2006

NSA Round-Up

As I've mentioned before, much of the best writing on the illegal NSA wiretap program has come from lawyer Glenn Greenwald. One of his recent posts comprehensively links all his previous posts on the subject. You can read it here.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Porn Police Strike Again!

Wow. It's nice to see that common sense prevailed in this case, when homeland security officers entered a library in the DC area and announced they were there to put a stop to porn viewing. They of course overstepped their bounds, and kudos to their superiors who realized this, as well the librarians who stood up to these guys. While I find this story mostly funny and bizarre, it's a reminder of the old truisms: some people cannot be trusted with power, and all power needs oversight.

Questions remain as to why the hell these guys thought they had any right to pull this stunt in the first place. As with the FBI porn squad of an earlier post, you have people working to harass citizens who are not breaking the law! I'm sure these guys thought they were doing the right thing on some level, but it was unquestionably a flexing of muscle on their part. Personally, I think it's a glimpse into the fascist streak of many of those who claim to be patriots, who simultaneously demonstrate an ignorance of, or disdain for, the principles our country was founded on. That's the very real, sinister, important undercurrent to this story. But, especially since everything turned out all right in this case (don't mess with librarians!), it's mainly just a good, funny tale.

The article's very short, but it ends thusly:

Although many library systems in the United States use filtering software, the D.C. and Fairfax systems do not, and Montgomery uses such software only on computers available to children. Leslie Burger, president-elect of the American Library Association, said the reality is that "libraries are not the hotbed of looking at porn sites."

Still, Montgomery plans to train its homeland security officers "so they fully understand library policy and its consistency with residents' First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution," Romer said in his statement.

Yeah. Sounds like a little remedial education is in order. Of course, perhaps if the officers involved spent more time in a library reading, it wouldn't be necessary.

Dionne on Phony Populism

E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post pens a good op-ed for today on the phony populism of the Bush administration. As Dionne himself points out, none of what he's writing about is groundbreaking - he's just covering the same old BS and noting the current flavor (although it's a flavor well loved by Bush throughout his political career). But it's a nice snapshot, capturing one of Bush's classic straw man arguments as well as one of Cheney's classic misdirection tactics. Like many of the best op-eds, this latest piece from Dionne also provides a nice analysis of the truth behind a politician's claims, in this case skewering Bush's shilling about the benefits of Health Savings Accounts for average Americans.

Dionne last year penned a good op-ed on William F. Buckley, Jr. and how he helped cultivate the "liberals are elitists" meme. Some liberal bloggers gave Dionne flack for it, but as I've written before, I've also found some admirable aspects to Buckley as well. (Several blogs, however, posted some of the racist articles from The National Review in the 50s, none of which I had seen before. The pieces were disturbing, and remind me I need to re-evaluate my opinion of Buckley... Meanwhile, the magazine as it currently stands features mostly predicatable, apologist rhetoric.)

But even if Buckley championed a sort of faux populism, Goldwater advanced it, and Reagan might have perfected it, surely Bush and Rove have added a major chapter to the playbook. Ann Richards updated an old quip to observe that George W. Bush "was born on third base, thinking he'd hit a triple." It really is rather extraordinary that the Bushies managed to tag Kerry with a silver spoon while Bush is the son of a former President of the United States, among other things! Back in 2004, I heard a few people express reservations about Kerry being essentially a blueblood, but when Bush's family was pointed out, their reaction was "oh, yeah." Still, the basic feeling seemed to be, Bush was a former screw-up, and a good ol' boy, or at worst, a dumbass, so he really wasn't part of that hoighty-toighty world of his dad and all that... And the fact that he went to Andover, Yale, and Harvard has never stopped Bush from degrading northeastern "liberal" eductional institutions.

But this is the reason he should govern? A revealing 2004 poll showed Bush over Kerry in terms of "who you'd rather have a beer with," but the the bigger question this raises is, how important is it to you that The President of the United States (despite in Bush's case being a teetotaller) be a good drinking buddy to you? Yes, I'd like to like my president, yes, I'd like to think he cares about someone like me, but more than anything else, I want him (or her) to do the job well! Kerry was not an overwhelming candidate, and most people choose their politicians on a gut feeling or a general read (or a specific issue) versus careful analysis. Still, I've never quite bought the whole argument that the president needs to be a "man of the people"... Sure, he should be personable and have "the common touch," but does that mean he must also have only an average intellect, or average competence? Doesn't what's inarguably one of the toughest, most important jobs in the world call for a man or woman of extraordinary ability and strengths? Bush's backers feel that he has great instincts, and an unique and potent managerial style. Okay. I would strongly disagree. However, at the very least the man needs good "Vulcans" about him then, men and women smarter than he who will serve as honest brokers. And the administration as a whole must function well and make good aggregate decisions.

Americans distrust elites, a friend of mine reminds me. However, the central political con job of the past forty years is that being part of an intellectual "elite" is dangerous, while being entrenched in a good ol' boy socially elite network is not. Thus may class warfare by the ruling class be practiced in the name of populism.

And so many major questions remain. For the Bush administration - to what degree will ideology trump empiricism and practicality? When does one stop campaigning and instead govern? When will the main focus be not spin or public relations but actual job competency?

For the American people - to what degree should social issues trump economic self-interest and the public interest? For the conservatives - how long will you accept leadership that does not actually follow conservative values? And, more to the point, to what degree will the American people accept whatever the hell a politican says, despite all evidence to the contrary?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Cheney's Interview

True to form, Crooks and Liars is fresh out of the gate, posting clips of the Fox News Cheney interview. I'm sure the full thing will be on the web shortly.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post provides the transcript.

Expect much, much commentary and parsing on this subject from the blogosphere in the next few days.

I posted my immediate reaction over at Crooks and Liars:

Questions remain. Okay, I'll buy that Cheney wouldn't be thinking about the press first, but there's no way in hell it didn't occur to some of his staff, and to Andy Card and Rove at the White House. Cheney cops to the method of disclosure being ultimately his decision. Add in that the cops didn't get to interview him that night, and yes, we have a picture of Cheney doing things his way, as always, and most likely ignoring the advice of the White House. Also, was the gun modified in any way? I've read a few posts on other sites about modified chokes, which would alter the typical spray pattern. If the choke was normal, by most accounts Cheney must have been closer than 30 yards. But Cheney wheeled around and fired at a target while facing the sun? Huh? I'd like some more detail, here, too, because it seems awfully reckless. As to the leaks, Hume predictably ducks the obvious question: "Mister Vice President, did you either instruct or authorize Scooter Libby to disseminate the classified NIE to Judith Miller and/or any other reporters?" Hume asks Cheney to comment on the leak about the CIA black op prisons and the illegal NSA wiretaps, but glosses over the Plame leak - And what exactly is the VP's authority regarding declassifying material? "Mister Vice President, did you direct or authorize the leaking of Valerie Plame Wilson's identity?" "You say Scooter Libby is a good man - was it right that he leaked Plame's identity?" "Was the leaking of the NIE proper? Was the leaking of Plame's identity proper?" My god, the questions are endless, even without getting into his energy task force, the Saddam-al Qaeda claims, the manipulation of pre-war intel, thousands of lives saved by illegal wiretaps, or "last throes"... If nothing else, this interview shows for the first time Dick Cheney not quite apologizing, but admitting a mistake.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Hume did in fact ask Cheney about whether he authorized Libby to leak classified information, although he did so in a pretty tame, indirect way, easy for Cheney to dismiss. Hume did not pose the question directly to Cheney about either Cheney's role or push him to make a judgment about the importance of the leak. Cheney went to Hume and Fox because he's a friendly face. Hume asks the question, but must know he wouldn't get an answer, and he doesn't push for more.

Honestly, I would give Hume decent but not certainly stellar marks for the interview, and almost wish there were two separate interviews for two very different subjects. For the shooting, questions remain, but the main purpose of the interview was to allow Cheney to tell what happened and take responsibilty for the action. Cheney does deserve credit for not blaming Whittington for being shot, as some earlier apologists bizarrely did. I would still like clarification on a number of points, but frankly, this is not the sort of situation that calls for a extremely confrontational interview.

In contrast, the leaking of classified information calls for just that. Cheney is well established as a liar. At the very least, any sane human being must acknowledge that he's repeatedly made statements that are questionable, problematic or demonstrably false (the Saddam-al Qaeda connection, it's certain Saddam have WMD, thousands of lives saved, "last throes," to name just a few) Cheney has repeated such statements about Saddam and al-Qaeda even after the CIA took the extraordinary step of politely but publicly correcting him. Cheney's motto has been described by White House staffers as "Never explain, never apologize," and regardless of the circumstances the man sticks by it. In his interview with Cheney, Jim Lehrer gave him a chance to correct the record yet again, but Cheney held fast to his ludicrous statement from May 31st, 2005 that the Iraq insurgency had been, and apparently still was, in its "last throes." Hume, like Jim Lehrer, poses some of the necessary questions, but when Cheney dodges them, there's not that much follow-up. Both men take a polite, respectful tact, with Lehrer pressing Cheney much more, but when Cheney offers a non-answer, an evasive answer, a ridiculous answer, or a lie, he's not really called on it. Hume may be a decent reporter - and the most balanced at Fox News - but he's made far too many partisan comments to be viewed as truly objective. In contrast, when Cheney gives a BS answer to Lehrer, Lehrer has to decide - how hostile do I get? How far can I push this? Lehrer is a great reporter, but he's also quite a civil one, and it seems for such an recalcitrant subject as Cheney, one needs more a bulldog - like say, Patrick Fitzgerald. Of course, Cheney would never consent to such an interview.

Here's the section on classified information from Hume's interview with Cheney:

Q On another subject, court filings have indicated that Scooter Libby has suggested that his superiors -- unidentified -- authorized the release of some classified information. What do you know about that?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's nothing I can talk about, Brit. This is an issue that's been under investigation for a couple of years. I've cooperated fully, including being interviewed, as well, by a special prosecutor. All of it is now going to trial. Scooter is entitled to the presumption of innocence. He's a great guy. I've worked with him for a long time, have enormous regard for him. I may well be called as a witness at some point in the case and it's, therefore, inappropriate for me to comment on any facet of the case.

Q Let me ask you another question. Is it your view that a Vice President has the authority to declassify information?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: There is an executive order to that effect.

Q There is.


Q Have you done it?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I've certainly advocated declassification and participated in declassification decisions. The executive order --

Q You ever done it unilaterally?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't want to get into that. There is an executive order that specifies who has classification authority, and obviously focuses first and foremost on the President, but also includes the Vice President.

Q There have been two leaks, one that pertained to possible facilities in Europe; and another that pertained to this NSA matter. There are officials who have had various characterizations of the degree of damage done by those. How would you characterize the damage done by those two reports?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: There clearly has been damage done.

Q Which has been the more harmful, in your view?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't want to get into just sort of ranking them, then you get into why is one more damaging than the other. One of the problems we have as a government is our inability to keep secrets. And it costs us, in terms of our relationship with other governments, in terms of the willingness of other intelligence services to work with us, in terms of revealing sources and methods. And all of those elements enter into some of these leaks.

Q Mr. Vice President, thank you very much for doing this.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Brit.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Honk If You Hate Freedom

As usual, Glenn Greenwald covers in a more comprehensive way many of the points I'd love to hit. He starts by pointing out that in most current conservative circles, one can no longer be a "conservative" if one dissents with the Bush administration. He moves on to discuss the consistently violent streak of many prominent "conservative" voices. Not surprisingly, these two traits are of a piece.

UPDATE: Apparently, Glenn's gotten a great deal of conservative reaction to the post I linked! Here's his response.

Those Nutty Lefty Stalinist Bloggers

From The Chris Matthews Show this past weekend:

DAVID BROOKS: Whoever the Democratic candidate, that is the weakness of the Democratic party, they’ve got the blogs and the netroots who are semi-nuts and they insist on a Stalinist line of discipline.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: I love your objectivity.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s objectively true. I did a psychoanalytic test.

Crooks and Liars has the video. Brooks goes on to claim, when questioned, that there are more nuts on the left than the right. (And verily, there was much laughter.)

I try to respect David Brooks, because he tends to be more independently-minded than many of the conservative herd, and he occasionally makes some good points, as he did in two columns in the wake of Katrina asserting that compassion for the poor is a good thing. Yes, yes, it may be an obvious point, but it was nice to hear a conservative acknowledge it, since George Will and Rush Limbaugh (among others) took a stance opposed to Brooks. Plus, they were good pieces and it's always a small triumph when a pundit or columnist has neither drank the Koolaid nor taken a ridiculous contrarian position in a vain attempt to establish his or her free, bold thinking (see Richard Cohen).

My serious comment on Brooks is this... Okay, this is good-natured joshing on the one hand. On the other, how firmly does Brooks believe this? I'm not going to fault a conservative for thinking that that liberals are nuttier than his side. Still, speaking of "objective analysis," you'd be hard pressed to find racist posts or comments on a liberal site, whereas it's pretty commonplace on several prominent conservative sites such as Little Green Footballs. The same goes for expressing extremely violent thoughts towards one's political opponents. You can certainly find liberal bloggers and comments on their sites that use insulting language speaking about Bush and other conservatives. It can quickly become pretty infantile, even if the poster finds it cathartic... but you'll find this on sites of all political stripes. Meanwhile, it's commonplace for conservatives - but not liberals - to express a desire to see the opposition beaten, tortured, or hung. Ann "raghead" Coulter is not a fringe figure. Then there's Michael Fumento, who "joked" that if Cindy Sheehan did lash herself to the White House to protest the 2000th American soldier death in Iraq, it would be best to "Leave her there and maybe the crows will do the world a favor and eat her tongue out."

While the conservative netroots - and conservative media - consistently demonstrate views that seem much more extreme than those of any true conservative I know, I can't honestly say the same about the left. Does Brooks really think the liberal "netroots" are far outside the mainstream, and a weakness of the Democrats? I'd have to disagree... just as I'd have to disagree about there being discipline, Stalinist or otherwise! (Brooks was almost certainly indirectly referencing the Howell-Brady debacle at The Washington Post... of course, the underreported story of that is, when you're a major news source, get the story right, and when you make a mistake, admit it promptly rather than trying to defend it for two weeks!)

My less serious comment about Brooks (over at Crooks and Liars) was this:

Stalinist? Well, the neocons are mostly old Trotskyites gone hardcore right-wing, but I've always been more fond of Lenin myself. ;-)

At least Brooks avoided the classic Nazi comparison blunder! I'm hoping for a Mussolini reference next time!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Franken on The Wellstone and Coretta Scott King Memorials

Al Franken has a great post on the Wellstone and Coretta Scott King memorial services. This is why the quality of news coverage matters so much... the "first draft of history" is often wrong, and inaccurate takes on important stories become crystalized, turned into memes, and later accepted unquestioningly as part of the conventional wisdom. When I saw any footage of the Wellstone memorial, one of the only clips the news showed was Mark Wellstone speaking passionately, and as I recall, politically. As the critical comments about the memorial started flowing in, my first thought was, jeez, man, give him a break, he's just lost both his parents and his sister. I think we can cut the guy some slack.

Of course, that didn't happen. As Franken says, "reasonable people of good will were genuinely offended," and I understand that. But all that could easily be solved with a simple apology later. Where was the prominent conservative standing up to say, "let's remember Mark Wellstone's devastating loss and support him rather than criticizing him?" And, come on, Paul Wellstone was an extremely passionate man and one of the most progressive Senator our country had. How does one not get a bit political honoring a man, his wife, his daughter and their aides who have dedicated themselves to securing health care for mental illness, eliminating poverty, and achieving social justice?

The news coverage did go on to point out that most of the memorial was very civil. Still, they pulled the familiar old second-rate hack trick of playing up the "controversy" only to half-heartedly dismiss it.

Down in Atlanta, similar issues played out. How, for instance, does one honor Coretta Scott King and avoid mentioning her anti-war stance, her anti-poverty initiaves, and those pesky civil rights? More to the point, why the hell should anyone involved in the memorial service bother worrying if some conservative is "offended" by the mention of the deceased's legacy?

I also have to wonder why the hell anti-feminist Kate O'Beirne was on Hardball to comment on the King memorial service. I mean, she's not as bad as David Duke, but come on. She calls Jimmy Carter "shameful" and possibly our worst post-president? She conveniently ignores the fact that Carter, like King's husband MLK, won the Nobel Peace Prize? She conveniently overlooks that Carter was a family friend? I doubt very much that the O'Beirne weas marching in Selma.

In contrast, Reagan in his death suddenly became, listening to commentators, one of our greatest presidents ever and a virtual saint on earth. Everyone's due their good press, especially when they die, but the networks were not lining up liberals to discuss Reagan... it was all conservatives, just as shamelessly it was a parade of former Nixon aides decrying Mark Felt when his identity as Deep Throat was revealed, and a host of conservative commentators sniping at Wellstone and King's memorials. Since when do political enemies get to seize the microphone and deliver the eulogy? Mark Shields and either David Brooks or Paul Gigot spoke of Wellstone on the Newshour right after his untimely death. Shields spoke passionately, and his counterpart (Brooks or Gigot) also spoke of the enormous personal respect Wellstone had won from some of his staunchest opponents.

For those people who are offended by the 23-second standing ovation Reverend Lowery got at King's memorial when he declared there were no "weapons of mass destruction" - guess what. You weren't the audience for those words. Deal with it. Of course, you could also do as CNN and Fox News did, and edit out the standing ovation and applause and fail to indicate that to the viewers at home... but those attending the memorial were there to honor King, not Bush. Bush was a guest. One could say he should be treated civily. One could also look at him as a party crasher. Why the hell should anyone censor themselves for Bush's sake? Does that honor King? Is he really so fragile he can't take some honest, on-target criticism? Do something to improve the Katrina reconstruction, then we'll talk.

I side with those folks who believe civility is nice, but it should never supercede civil rights.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Liveblogging Gonzales

Gonzales' opening statement can be read here. Meanwhile, several bloggers covered the hearings. Glenn Greenwald, who has consistently written fantastic posts on the NSA wiretaps, weighs in here. He's sure to expand on it tomorrow. You can also see part of his brief C-Span interview here (courtesy of Crooks and Liars). ReddHedd of Firedoglake covered Gonzales in four entertaining and insightful parts; you can read #1 here, then scroll up (She also has some good comments on Greenwald's appearance right below). John Aravosis of Americablog also liveblogged the event, and the original Wonkette Ana Maria Cox stopped by her old blog to offer some snark here.

Mattthew Yglesias at The American Prospect and Digby at Hullabaloo had the same reaction I did, although they go into more detail - why the hell are these Repulican Senators handing away their power? They're choosing not even party solidarity, but unswerving loyalty to George Bush... and putting Bush not only ahead of their own constituents, but their own constitutional authority. This is unusual. Still, I suppose it's impressive in one sense that our duly-elected can be both self-denying and unpatriotic at the same time.

Dibgy also has a good post invoking both Rove and Nixon. Digby nicely lays out what many of us have known: this is an old battle, and the illegal NSA wiretaps are just more of the same. On a similar note, Dan Froomkin compiles a few "History Lessons" on clashes involving Rumsfeld, Cheney, and George H.W. Bush within the Ford administration. Of course, back then the Republican president choose to check his own power in regard to wiretaps.

But we all know Ford was a commie.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Gonzales Not Under Oath

This is shameful, gutless, and unconscionable on the part of Specter and the Republicans. Baseball players must be under oath, but not energy execs, or the Attorney General, even when he has already lied under oath?!!? Where's the Republican with some backbone to dissent? Kudos to the Democrats for raising the issue. May they continue to hammer it home. Typically, Congress has been very defensive about protecting its own powers... but the Judiciary Committee Republicans appear largely bought and paid for. I'm absolutely disgusted.

Crooks and Liars has the video of this sorry state of affairs. Specter of course does not offer a compelling argument - come to think of it, really any argument - for not putting Gonzales under oath. Gonzales himself claims he has no objection to going under oath - of course, an oath didn't stop him from lying before. And now, with Specter's move now he can claim it wasn't up to him. Convenient. At least he's getting some grilling...

One of the best lines in Syriana comes at a barbeque when one character explains to his client, "we need the appearance of due diligence." Until Republicans start grilling the President and the Attorney General for willfully breaking the law, they have no credibility. As Pat Roberts continues to stonewall on intelligence investigations and the Abramoff scandal grows, the Republicans remain the party of cosmetic fixes. The Constitution be damned; they will sacrifice the rule of law and civil liberties in order to retain power. Some Republicans, including far-right fanatics like Grover Norquist, oppose warrantless wiretaps. Congress possesses quite a few Republicans who have spoken out on this as well... but they need to either become more vocal, or get on more committees! It's very clear now that the opposition party must have subpoena power.